Not posted to web site LJ only

Up to Here

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

Authors notes: this story is post-NFA. Xander is back from Africa and has been sent to Cincinnati to help Andrew with the Slayer's house. Andrew is Head of House, responsible for keeping things going. Xander is working construction and spending part of his time fixing the house up. But he's starting to lose his temper at the chaos around him. And the fact that no one can keep their hands off his things.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

Xander opened the back door and walked into the hall, hung his tool belt on the hook and dumped his boots underneath. He wondered if he'd find them there in the morning. Probably not, but he could hope.

"Andrew, I'm home. Did you find my phone?"

Andrew stuck his head out of the door to the office, a converted bathroom. "No. The last person I saw with it was Dana. I can't find her. I'll keep looking for it." Xander rolled his eye and sighed.

"Ok, thanks. Did you find any of my stuff?"

Andrew shook his head. "Sorry, no."

Xander snarled to himself. He was really getting tired of losing his gloves, hats and scarves. Cincinnati was too cold to go without.

He gave up and went into the kitchen, rummaged through the refrigerator and dragged out what proved to be the last of the lunch meat he'd bought the day before. He made a sandwich and settled at the table to eat.

"Thanks! Gottagobye" Rayna snatched the sandwich nearly out of his hand and scuttled out the door, slamming it.

"Fuck!" Xander watched her with disgust as she climbed into his truck and hunted for the keys, which were now firmly in his pocket. He'd learned that lesson quickly. He'd come out to go to work and found his truck missing one time. He wasn't going to go through that again.

She slammed back into the kitchen and shoved a grubby hand under Xander's nose. "Keys! Gotta go."

Xander shook his head. "It's my truck. You don't get to demand. If you ask nicely the answer is still no. You don't have a license."

Raina started to argue with Xander but Andrew intervened, pulling her aside.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

Xander settled down to sleep but was startled out of his doze by a scream. "Damn it. Will you girls keep it down? Working man here. Up early?" Xander settled back again only to be awakened again no more than an hour later. And it went on all night, every night.

Morning couldn't have come at a better time. Xander was having a nightmare so he was glad to be up.

He wandered wearily into the bathroom, remembering to lock the door. He turned on the shower and took off his patch. His socket was getting infected again. Africa hadn't done him a bit of good.

Xander fished around in his shaving kit for a razor, hunted again and gritted his teeth. He'd bought a dozen razors just two days ago and now he couldn't find one. He rubbed his hand over his face and decided to just forget it. Instead he got out his cleaning kit. He was supposed to clean out his socket every day. He found himself doing it much less often than he should.

He filled the bottle, with its bent straw like tip, with tap water and dropped in the tablet of cleanser. He shook it and waited for the minute it took for it to sterilize the water. Then he pried his eyelid back and squirted some of the solution into the empty socket. It burned a little and the stuff flowed out tinged with something nasty. He started to worry when the next squirt brought out what looked like sawdust.

"Eeewww! Gross! Why do you have to do that? Its just . . . "

Xander turned on Donna and snarled. "Out! Get out! Locked door? What don't you understand about that? And don't come knocking either. I'm taking a shower in peace for once." Xander slammed the door in her face, leaving her complaining on the other side.

"Well! What's wrong with him? All I ask is he not do that in the bathroom. Why can't he do it in his room. It's gross." She wandered away to complain to Andrew.

Xander turned on the shower and waited for it to warm up. He was tired of taking his shower with cold water and swore that if anyone turned on anything or flushed a toilet he was going ballistic. He didn't ask much, just some pocket money and a place to lay his head.

Of course, half way through someone started the dishwasher. He finished washing the soap off in a freezing cold shower.

He dressed hurriedly and grabbed some toast. He didn't get to eat it all, he got one bite and someone snatched the rest out of his hand in a flurry of hair and his scarf.

He went in search of his boots. One was kicked to the end of the hall by the back door. The other was under the couch. He grumbled, glad he'd decided to get an early start. He might just get out the door on time for once.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

"Xander? I need to borrow a tool."

Xander shook his head. "No, not a chance. I need those tools to work. You'll just bust it. What do you want done?" Xander got up from the couch well aware that he'd just lost his seat.

"I just want this cut. Just give me that saw thingy and I'll do it. Slayer? You know? Capable."

Xander grunted. "Yeah, capable of reducing a $500 tool to junk in a second flat. You can't cut a piece of marble with a saws-all. And why do you want to. It's a beautiful piece of marble."

"Well, it's too long to go into my room like that and I want to use it for a table top."

Xander shook his head. "Give it to me. I'll get you some nice ply wood and finish it up. I'll look like marble and I can use the real thing for something else."

Lizzy pouted a little but finally agreed. Xander took the marble down to his truck and shoved it into the bed.

Thirty minutes later Xander was examining the saws-all with disgust. "I told you to leave my tools alone, didn't I? This is ruined. Thank god it's my second best."

Lizzy shrugged. "Well, I still need a table top so I thought I'd just saw that piece of old counter top up and use it until you got whatever it was done. What's the big deal? Just get another."

She sauntered off, completely ignoring the fact that she'd not only ruined the saw but the new counter top for the kitchen. Xander gritted his teeth and went to find Andrew.

Andrew was hiding in his room. "What's the what, oh god of construction?"

"The house owes me $300 for a new saws-all. Lizzy just ruined my second best. And I'm tired of this shit. No one touches my stuff. No one. I want my scarf, mittens, gloves, hat and socks back. Now. Go find them. I'm putting a lock on my room, too."

Andrew started to say something but decided against it. Xander was as easy going as they came but when he got mad. Well, just say, he was the only one who'd ever backed Angelus down on force of personality alone. And he was older and wiser now. Andrew scurried to do as he was told.

Xander sat down at Andrews desk and had a good think. He was tired. He didn't get enough sleep, couldn't keep his hands on anything and the last cell phone bill had been outrageous.

"Xander? Um . . . the house account is almost empty again. Could you wait for the money for . . . three weeks? That's when . . . um . . ."

Xander rubbed his face wearily. "When my . . . I repeat, my check from the Council gets deposited into the house account." Xander levered himself up from the chair and decided. "Forget it. Here's the deal . . . I've had it up to here." Xander made a cutting motion about eyebrow high. "No more. No more Mr. Nice Guy. I want all my stuff. You know it's mine because it doesn't fit anyone else in the house. Search this dump from top to bottom. I have two pairs of gloves, a pair of mittens, a watch cap, a scarf and a sweater missing. No one kicks my boots around anymore. And I want my cell phone. . .NOW! The last bill was almost $1200. I'm getting a detailed invoice and the house is responsible for any calls I didn't make myself. Do you understand? I'm done. Stick a fork in me, done."

Xander closed Andrews door carefully so as not to slam it out of the frame.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

Xander glanced at his watch and decided he had time to do what he wanted. He booted his computer up and threw up his hands figuratively and literally. All his files were gone, again. He was glad he had made a habit of backing up everytime before he logged out. He stuck the jump drive in the USB port and did a little checking on his bank account. He knew that his Watcher's pay was going into the house account. He changed the deposit, thanking his lucky stars it was before midnight at the issuing bank. Then he checked his electronic deposit from his job. Somehow or other it had been changed to deposit into the house account too. He was going to be seriously overdrawn if that happened. He changed it back and reinstalled the passwords on everything. Then he backed up to his USB, deleted all his new files and shut down the computer. He put it in his brief case and took the brief case to his truck.

He started to tuck the case under his seat and was disgusted to find the source of the smell he'd been noticing the last few days. There was a malt cup shoved under the seat.

Xander shrugged, opened one of the tool cubbies mounted on the bed of the truck. He put his brief case in it and rummaged around in the cab to find the rest of his electronics. He put all that in the cubby and locked it. He also locked all the tool bins and the tail gate.

He cleaned out the cab with quick efficiency, dumping all the junk, trash and all, in a box. He carried the box into the house and smacked it down on the kitchen table.

"Whoever owns this, come get it. I'm going to search the house for my stuff. If I find anything of mine anywhere but in my room, that's it. I'm sick and tired of all my things disappearing. You're all . . . "

He noticed several pairs of startled, puzzled and wary eyes gazing at him. The only wary ones belonged to Andrew.

"WHAT?"

"Well, geeze, have a spaz. Who would want your dumb ol' stuff anyway?"

Xander eyed her for a moment. "Well, you for one. Those are my socks. The ones Willow knitted for me. They're mine so take them off."

The girl did and tossed them in the general direction of Xander's chest. They missed and fell on the floor.

"Pick. Those. Up. Now." Xander suddenly filled the room. "Don't throw things at me. You may be a slayer but you're not The Slayer. I may not be Giles, but you will respect me. I'm not just some chump off the streets."

All the girls gaped at him, no one had ever seen Xander angry before.

The nameless slayer picked up the socks and handed them to Xander mumbling something.

Xander took them and nodded gravely. "Thank you. . . now. . . anybody who has any of my stuff will return it to me before 9pm tonight. Do not kick my boots around." He glared around until everyone was shuffling their feet. "I have to get up and go to work. Who do you think supports this zoo? The Council sends money, but I'm the one who makes sure things get fixed, stakes get whittled and you all have hot water. Which I would appreciate my fair share of. Thankyouverymuch."

Xander motioned to Andrew to follow him. Andrew crept into the office behind Xander and stood in front of the desk like a school boy reporting to the headmaster.

"I don't care how it happened. I don't what to know. All I've got to say is . . . if I ever find out how or who started depositing my, I emphasize my, paychecks into the household accounts, I'll be calling the law. That's stealing. Period. It's my money, I work hard for it. I have expenses of my own. The Council will support this house by themselves from now on. Got me?"

Andrew nodded vigorously. "Yes, sir. I got it. I don't know how it happened and I meant to fix it. I really did. But I got distracted and then it just . . . well . . . it was handy and you didn't say anything. And I just . . . I'm sorry. Really. How much is it?"

Xander shrugged. "I'll let it slide as I'm still ok. But that's it. No more. If you find out who did it, you tell them they're lucky I'm such an easy going guy or they'd be in jail so fast their head would spin. And no sneaking down to me-hi-co. I've got my eye on you. Understand?"

Andrew turned pale and nodded again. "Yes. And I'll get out a search warrant for all your things, shall I? I'll make sure that you get everything back. Everything. I swear."

Xander pinned Andrew with a glare that rivaled Angelus at his best. "See that you do . . . now . . . I'm going out for a while. I'll be back by . . ." Xander glanced at his watch. "Seven. Have a check for me for $300 dollars. I don't care if it runs this animal house short. I might be late as I'm eating out. I haven't managed to get a complete meal in this zoo for three days. Someone just snatches it right out of my hand. If the girls are too lazy to cook for themselves let them go hungry. It's not like I'm the only one in this house that can cook."

Andrew hung his head and shuffled his feet. "Well . . . I sure can't and Polly nearly burned the house down. That's what happened to the big cook pot. Um . . ."

Xander gave Andrew a disbelieving look. "Don't tell me. I don't want to know."

Andrew watched in dismay as his only ally walked out. They'd agreed to cut down on eating out to help conserve the house funds and no take out either. That was when Andrew had realized that the only one who knew how to cook was Xander.

It wasn't fair to him to have to come home from work and cook so Andrew hadn't told him. He'd just stocked up on sandwich fixings and hoped for the best. Which had turned out not to be very good. That was one of the reasons the house funds went so fast. They were all eating take out pizza, hamburgers and frozen dinners. It was very expensive to keep fifteen active slayers in food when no one could cook.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

The absolute last straw came just as Xander was returning to the house, Xander over heard something that finished it all.

"I don't see why Mr. Selfish has to have the first shower. It's not like he's anyone anyway. We're all slayers. Who's he?"

Xander just slipped up the back stairs and went to his room. He got out his duffel bag. The one the council had given him when he'd returned from Africa. His backpack was so worn out it burst on him.

He opened his dresser and scooped out his underwear, socks, and t-shirts. When he opened the closet all he had to do was take the hangers off the rods and fold his three pairs of clean jeans. He stuffed them into the duffel first then dumped the rest of his stuff on top. He grabbed his sneakers and tucked them into one end of the bag and zipped it half way closed.

Xander then invaded the privacy of everyone in the house. He searched each room for anything that was recognizably his. He found his good calculator in Hazels room on her desk. He left a nasty note telling her that if she was trying to do calculous with a contractor's calculator it was no wonder she was flunking.

He found his sweater on the floor of Jennifer's room, thankfully it only stank of her perfume, she hadn't tried to wash it. By the look of the clothing strewn around the floor, she never washed anything.

His gloves were in Marsha's room, along with his watch cap and scarf. He added them to the growing mass of laundry that was collecting in the end of the duffel.

He also found some things he'd thought he'd left in England. One last sweep of the house assured him that he had everything he was going to get back.

He returned to the living room/kitchen complex and walked in on the house meeting.

"Ok. All of you shut the hell up. I'm talking and the first one to interrupt me is in trouble."

He glared around for a moment making sure that everyone was silent.

"Fine. One. Who am I? I'm Alexander Lavelle Harris. Look me up. I'm the one who stood by Buffy's side when she battled the First. And anyone who has a problem with my eye, or lack thereof, talk to Caleb. It's gross because I don't have a chance to take care of it like I should. You're all a little too squeamish for slayers so grow up."

"Two, my stuff is mine. If you want to steal from each other that's your problem. Since you don't seem to be able to keep your hands off my stuff I'm taking it away. And the phone. I want my phone back. You're all getting a bill as soon as I can figure out who owes me what. And believe me you are getting a bill. So are your parents."

"Three, I'm not supporting this house anymore. I was supposed to get a rest here. I was sent to support Andrew, not babysit a bunch of prima donnas. The house expenses have been coming out of my pay. No more, if you can't stay within the budget the Council has given you, ask them for more money. I'm moving out."

Xander picked up his duffel and wondered if he was crazy or just stupid. He actually had less now than he'd had when he came here.

He marched out to his truck, tossed the duffel into the passenger's seat and drove off. He didn't realize the weight he'd been carrying until he was out of sight of the house.

He drove around for a little while, stopped at a Laundromat and washed his clothing. The sweater, gloves, hat and scarf went into one machine on gentle, the rest into another on hot. It didn't take him more than an hour to wash everything and another half hour to dry and fold. While he was waiting for the wash to do up, he thought hard.

What did he really want from life? He'd been the hero, the White Knight, and what had it gotten him? A missing eye, a collection of truly interesting scars and – nothing. He had five sets of underwear including socks. Three pairs of jeans, not too worn, and two for work. Three shirts, two flannel, one denim. A lap top that was outdated by three years. And a truck full of tools.

That truck of tools was his salvation. He could do something worthwhile, even if he didn't want to 'slay' anymore. And he didn't. He was 22 years old and felt 50. Things hurt that no one else even knew they had. So . . . no more patrol, no more Mr. Fix-it, not for free anyway, and definitely no more living with a bunch of inconsiderate, rowdy slayer types.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

Xander checked into the local YMCA and paid for a week. The clerk was chatty and helpful.

"If you need a job, we have a service here. And we have sample sizes of lots of toiletries like shaving cream and razors if you need that. Companies donate discontinued samples all the time."

Xander rubbed his still unshaven chin. "I need a razor and shaving cream. Thanks" he took the things from Hal and nodded.

"Job fair tomorrow morning. You could have a job for Monday."

Xander shook his head. "Don't need a job. I've got one. Thanks for asking though."

"Well, just thought . . . you know. You're here instead of at home. Wife toss you out?"

Xander gave up. "No. I'm not married. It just got impossible at the place I was staying. Stuff getting stolen, that sort of thing. I'll stay here until I get a place of my own. Not like I can't afford it." Xander stretched. "I work construction, so it's not like I'm poor or something. And that reminds me. I've got a lot of expensive tools in my truck. Is there any place safe to park it?"

Hal thought as he led Xander to the elevator. "Well, there's a lot down the street that has a night attendant. I bet if you got there while the boss is there he'd make arrangements for you to park right by the booth. Might cost though."

"More than losing a couple a thou of tools?"

Hal blinked. "Doubt that. Let's get you settled so you can hurry down before George is gone."

"You know him?"

"Friend of mine. Good guy. He'll probably accommodate you for a few bucks extra for the attendant."

Xander nodded his thanks and entered the room he was assigned. The key card opened this door and the lockers that were his. Hal pointed to a door half way down the hall.

"Don't have separate bathrooms. It's communal, but the stalls have doors. And if you get up early there's usually no one in the showers. What time do you have to be at work?"

Xander grumbled. "Eight. Monday. Today's still Friday, isn't it?"

Hal smiled sympathetically. "Yeah. Better dump your stuff and get to the lot."

Xander did dump his stuff, cramming it all into the foot locker at the foot of his bed.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

George met him at the driveway of the parking lot.

"You Harris?"

Xander just rolled down the window and nodded. George pointed to a spot right by the attendant's booth.

"Park there. You'll have to be out by eight Monday, though. It's reserved. The guy is usually here at eight. Ok?"

Xander pulled up and parked in the indicated spot and climbed out. He got his briefcase out of the cubby and went to talk to George.

"You say I have to be out by eight? That's fine because I have to be at work by eight. Thanks for taking care of me. What do I owe you?"

George settled on ten dollars a night. And a fiver for the attendant. Xander was sure he got off easy because parking in the area was premium. He knew the cost would break him up if he stayed around too long but he wasn't going to stay at the Y for more than a week. If he took longer to find a place, he'd go to stay at a residence hotel.

Xander handed over his keys with some hesitation.

George smiled over his outstretched hand. "We're bonded. And insured. No one drives the vehicles unless there's some sort of emergency. Ok?"

Xander smiled back. "Sorry. Roomies have me a little gun shy. They took off with it a couple of times. I was late to work once."

"Damn, that sucks. And . . . minding your business here, you ought to get a cell phone . . . "

George blinked as Xander swore luridly, in six languages only one of which had originated on this continent.

"Cell phone. I didn't get it back. I'm so fucked. Damn. What now."

George shrugged. "Why don't you just cancel it?" Xander blinked once. "Or report it stolen?"

Xander pointed one finger at George and announced. "That's it. Stolen. And I saw a store for my service right around the corner. See ya. Thanks."

Xander hurried off for the store. He was going to get himself a new phone, a simple one. Something easy to use, without all the froo-froo that this one had.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

The clerk in the Sprint office was really helpful. She smiled at him first thing, ignoring his patch.

"How can I help you, sir?"

Xander put on his best helpless male expression and started explaining. "Well, see. I lost my cell. I didn't even realize it until one of my roommates asked to borrow it. And the bill has been outrageous lately. I think someone pirated . . . is that right? . . . the number or something. Anyway. I want to cancel the service on that number, get a new number and a new phone. Ok?"

"It'll just take a minute. Do you have your police report?"

"Didn't report it stolen. I don't need the hassle."

She looked a little dismayed. "If you don't have a report, I'm afraid your insurance won't cover it."

Xander smiled gently. "Don't have insurance. I just want to cancel the account, or change the number. Something to keep people from calling me trying to get . . . um . . . never mind." Xander could feel his face getting red.

Instead of scorn, he got a gentle smile. "Oh, ok. I'll just cancel the number, shall I? It'll take a day. But I can get you a new phone and shut that one off. That happens automatically. When you get a new phone, the old one is deactivated. You'll get a text with the new number and it'll show up when you turn the phone on. How's that?"

Xander grinned at the girl. "That'll do great. Thanks a bunch. I get to pick out a new phone. All by myself. Somehow that's turning out to be a bigger deal than I thought."

He browsed for a while with Carol keeping an eye on him from the background.

He finally picked the phone with the least special features he could find. It was a phone. It had voice mail. It had text messaging. What else did he need?

"I like this one. How much?"

Carol laughed softly. "That's the one you get free with a new account. I'll see if you can't have it free."

After a little fiddling she did manage to get it for him free. Xander thanked her and walked out of the store. Some people were in for a nasty surprise.

He'd barely taken three steps when the phone rang. Just rang, no funny tunes, no sprightly ditties. It just chirruped sharply.

"Xander."

"Hey, where's Lizzy. What are you doing with her phone?"

Xander snarled softly. "Don't know where Miss Sticky fingers is. This is my phone, so what are you doing calling her on it?"

"She gave me this number. Man, I'm sorry if she's pulled another one. This is her brother."

Xander huffed softly. "Well, this is my phone like I said. Don't call again. Ok? Oh, and the bill is huge. I'll send you a copy."

"Ok." The sigh that sounded over the phone was soft but definitely there. "Got a pen?"

Xander took his pen and pad out of his pocket and wrote down the address the man gave him. After pocketing the articles again, he headed back into the Sprint office and told Carol to send him a printout of the last three months activities on his phone. She agreed and asked for an address. He gave the Y and left again.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

The phone rang three more times on his way back to the Y and each time the caller asked for a different girl. Each time Xander told them it was his phone and not to call it anymore. He got two indignant boyfriends and an upset father.

The boyfriends were told that he was the owner of the phone and the girls were just using it without authorization. His adult growl shut one up, the other said he'd meet Xander in a parking lot. Xander snorted and said 'wanna fight? Find me.' and hung up.

The father was a different matter. Xander told him the truth and wound up with another address. He decided to turn the phone off for the night.

This brought up the thought that he wondered if he was going to have a roommate. He stopped at the desk to ask. Hal told him that they usually had to double up but the last month had been slow so he didn't know yet.

Xander just nodded and said. "I don't mind a roomie as long as he keeps his hands off my stuff. I'll remember to lock everything up, but still . . . "

Hal made a sympathetic face. "Hate it when I have to keep an eye on every single thing and lock stuff up all the time. You have problems with a roommate. You tell me right away."

Xander nodded at Hal in a friendly fashion and headed for the elevator.

He slept like a log that night and stayed in bed until nearly ten. It felt so good, just sleeping in shouldn't be such a luxury.

When he decided to get up, he took care of business and took his stuff back to his room. He locked it all up in the standing locker and checked to make sure his foot locker was locked firmly.

Then he went to check on his truck. He remembered he was supposed to get it by eight on Monday but he wanted to check on it anyway.

On the way to check on his truck he stopped at a restaurant and had waffles, sausage, eggs, toast, coffee and orange juice. He enjoyed eating in peace and not having to guard his food. He paid, left a tip and ambled out headed for the parking lot.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

The attendant looked up and smiled at Xander. "Nice truck. And a bunch of expensive tools. I can see why you wouldn't want to leave it on the street. Wanna beer? I'm not supposed to drink on the job but my relief guy is early so . . . " the attendant held out a bottle which Xander took.

They drank in companionable silence for a while. Then Xander sighed.

"Somethin' wrong?"

Xander shook his head. "No. Something right. Finally. You up for a long, suspiciously self-pitying story?"

The attendant shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"

So Xander told his story. Leaving out slayers and demons, blaming his eye on a crazy coworker going postal and his stint in Africa on the Peace Corp.

When he finished, the other man shook his head, saying softly, "Well hell. I'd have thought living in a house full of girls would be great, but that sounds like hell."

"It is. Couldn't keep anything I needed. Rude much. Screaming in the middle of the night. All sorts of stuff. And not all girls are that bad. I lived in another house full of girls and it wasn't that bad by a long shot. So, I moved out. I'll find a place soon. I don't need much. Just a studio would do fine. If you know of anything, could you clue me in?"

"Sure. Don't know of anything just now but I'll put the word out." The man looked up and smiled. "Well, there's my fiancé. See you around."

Xander picked up the beer bottles and carried them to the trash barrel waving to his new found friend.

He checked his truck one last time, got out his laptop and headed back for his room wondering if there was a way for him to get on the 'Net. If not at the Y, maybe he could find a Net Café somewhere nearby.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

He spent the rest of the day at a hot spot café drinking coffee and surfing just because he could. He upgraded a couple of programs and grumbled softly. It was taking forever to download. He decided one of the things he was getting after an apartment was a new laptop.

Downing the last of his coffee he shut down the computer and closed it. He paid his tab at the register and left to spend the next hour just walking around window shopping. It was nice to be able to shop without having to put up with hyper teenagers dragging him all over. Or being called to rush back home for some domestic disaster or other.

He wandered until he was hungry again and spent the next thirty minutes contemplating whether he'd rather eat Thai or Italian. Deciding on Thai, he walked in the direction of the Thai restaurant he'd seen earlier.

It was nearly deserted this early in the evening but he got seated. The waiter eyed him for a moment then came over to say, in broken English, "No buffet yet. Too early. You want, come back in two hour. Or I get menu. You order. Ok?"

Xander replied, "I'd rather eat sit down. Bring a menu please."

The menu was duly brought and Xander took his time deciding on his preference. He enjoyed the tea the waiter had brought with the menu. He liked tea. It reminded him of Giles and Wesley.

He decided on a dish of spicy pork and noodles. He liked the peanut sauce. And a side of saffron rice, not a typical Thai dish, but he asked and the waiter said they could do it.

Xander ate in peace and quiet. It was nice. He nibbled on the pork enjoying the sauce, who would have thought that peppers and peanuts would go together?

When he left, he tipped a bit too much but the waiter had hovered quietly and kept the tea pot full as well as bringing him extra rice. And the little buns with sweet bean paste had been specially made for him too.

He enjoyed just wandering around without having to justify himself to anyone. He was grown up, but it had always seemed that someone wanted to make sure he didn't enjoy himself. He thought of Spike with some fondness. The vampire had driven him nuts but he'd also taught Xander that sometimes making trouble could be fun. Xander had no intention of pulling a Spike-inspired stunt but he did give an unhappy looking secretarial type a rose and a sniffling little girl his bandana. He also contemplated the mess he'd left behind him.

He hoped that the girls were realizing how much he'd actually done for them. He thought not.

He ended his stroll at the Y and wandered in.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

Xander decided that he'd better take care of his eye socked, it was beginning to feel sore. He knew that meant he was getting an infection.

When he got to his room, he fished his kit out of the foot locker and opened it. He took out his bottle and the sterilizing tablets then headed for the shower room. He had to get the socket clean and keep it clean or he was going to have real problems. Sympathetic infection was a real possibility.

Xander took off his patch and tried to see into the empty socket. He couldn't see much. The light was wrong.

"Excuse me."

Xander clapped his hand over his socket and whirled around. "Oh, didn't see you there. Sorry. I'll just . . . um . . ."

The man advanced on Xander quickly. "Hey. Got something in your eye? Let me see."

Xander dodged the man's hand, keeping his firmly over the eye in question. "No, there's nothing in there. Really. It's ok."

"Look. I'm an EMT. I'm visiting a friend who works here. You can trust me. I'll show you my credentials if you like. You ought to let me take care of that. Something in your eye is bad. You could scratch the cornea, then you'll really be in trouble."

Xander eyed the man for a moment then decided an explanation was a good idea. "I'm sorry. I'm a little flinchy. There's no eye to scratch. I'm trying to get the socket clean. And you so do not want to see that. It's kinda not so good."

"My name is Steve. Let me take a look. I promise not to puke or anything. Swear. Ok?"

Xander hesitantly removed his hand and let Steve look into the empty socket. Steve peered and grumbled, finally saying, "I need my kit. I've got a little flashlight. This doesn't look good. I'd like to examine it better and clean it out. If I don't like the look of it, you ought to see a doctor."

Xander nodded. "If it doesn't stop hurting soon, I'm going to. Just . . . um . . . thanks, I'll wait right here."

Steve rummaged around in his thigh pocket for a second and gave a small exclamation. "Here it is. Just give me a sec." Steve had Xander tip his head up a bit then pried the lids apart carefully. He used the flashlight to examine the interior of the socket. He clicked it off and sighed. "You've got some infection in there. It's mostly caused by . . . I'm not sure what it is. It looks like bits of sawdust. You've got to be careful of foreign matter in there."

Xander nodded. "I know. But it's really hard to take care of something like this when you've got no privacy and all the girls in the house are squeamish. I . . .moved out. That's why I'm here. Um . . . will you clean it for me. I don't want to impose on you, so if you don't that's ok. But I'd really appreciate it. If you don't mind."

Steve blinked at this example of Xander's version of Willow-babble but grinned. "I don't mind. In fact I was going to suggest that I clean it for you. Do you . . . oh, there it is. I'll just mix this up. Sit down there and relax." Steve indicated a small stool sitting next to one of the stalls.

Xander fetched the stool while Steve dropped two tablets in the bottle and started to shake it.

"You supposed to do that?"

Steve looked up and nodded. "Didn't you read the instructions on the box?"

Xander sighed and said sourly, "If I could have kept hold of the box I probably would have. Living in chaos is guaranteed to mess things up."

Steve gave Xander a sympathetic smile. "Well, you're supposed to shake it for one minute so the solution oxygenates. Then squirt it into the socket. Come over here and lean over the sink."

Xander complied with Steve's instructions and held as still as he could while Steve squirted the solution into the socket. He gritted his teeth as the sting got worse.

"Sting? If it does, it's doing its work. Don't worry. Once the infection is gone, it won't sting anymore." Steve quit washing and told Xander to sit up so he could check to see if the socket was clean yet. It seemed to be, so Steve turned to the sink.

He'd stopped the sink so the solution wouldn't go down the drain. He examined the stuff carefully, even going so far as to stir it with a tongue depressor he pulled from a pocket.

"Well. Not too bad. Mostly sawdust. A little puss. And some lint of some kind or other."

Xander started to put on his patch again but Steve stopped him.

"Don't do that. It's dirty. You really need a new one. Let me put a square of gauze over that. I'll just tape it over once. Then you get a new patch. Ok? And you should leave it open for a while after you clean it, so it'll dry properly. If you've got squeamish people around, put gauze over it for the night. Understand?"

Xander said that he did and allowed Steve to tape some gauze over the wet socket.

"Thanks man. I've got a new patch in my duffel. But this feels good. I think I'll just leave it on for the night and put on the new patch tomorrow. I'll be going by a pharmacy on my way to work. I'll pick up some more squares and a roll of tape. Thanks. That really feels better."

Xander offered his hand to Steve who shook it. They exchanged some pleasantries and Steve left. Xander ambled off to bed, to lay there reading until he was sleepy.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

Sunday was a repeat of Saturday and Monday morning dawned with Xander rested and ready. He had taken his shower the night before and got up early enough to stop for breakfast before getting his truck.

He got to the parking lot at 7:15am, in plenty of time to get his truck. Except the man who rented the spot during the week was early.

Xander hurried up just as the man was saying quite patiently. "Well, I'll give him five minutes then I'll have to insist. I have an early meeting this morning."

Xander jingled his keys in his hand. "Excuse me. I'll move my truck right now. Ok?"

"Sure. It's ok. I understand about your tools and so on. But could you make it a bit snappy. My meeting is at 7:45 and I'd like to get there a bit early to set up my equipment for my presentation."

Xander just hopped into his truck and backed it out leaving plenty of room for the Mercedes to get into its spot.

Xander found himself nose to tail with the car. The driver motioned for Xander to roll his window down. He expected the man to give him some kind of grief now that he was 'safe' in his car. But instead he called, "I'll be leaving at about 4:30. Just so you'll know. Have a good day."

Xander smiled back. "You too. And thanks."

Xander whistled all the way to work.

He was still whistling when he parked. He stopped when he realized that his boss was waiting for him.

"Hi. Something?"

"Tried to call you early this morning. One of those . . . girls you live with told me you moved out. And that the payment for the furniture was late . . . um . . . look. None of my business, but if you rent stuff, you'll never own anything. And . . . well, forget it. Just. . . you need to be here an hour early for the next couple of days. Ok?"

Xander nodded. "Sure thing boss. Um . . . I've moved out from there. I'm actually looking for a place. A studio for now. But I want to buy a house or condo. I figure I might as well buy something. If I need to move, I can always sell out. Equity is equity. You know?"

The supervisor gave Xander a look of dawning respect. "I do. Not many young fellas your age think like that. Let me make a call. Come on."

Xander and his supervisor walked to the site together while the man talked on his phone. When he got done, he gave Xander a piece of paper with an address on it. He looked at it and smiled. It was in a good neighborhood just a few blocks from the site. Nice area, good roads. Parks. And a decent strip mall within walking distance.

"Thanks. I'll head on over tonight. I hope that'll be good."

"Just fine. I made you a tentative appointment for five. Give Cheryl a call at noon and she'll set you up."

Xander worked hard all day, stopping for lunch from a venders truck. He was still sweaty when he pulled up at the apartment house for his appointment with Cheryl.

She was waiting for him just outside the building.

Greeting him with outstretched hand, she started making excuses immediately.

"I'm so sorry. We just got the former tenant out and haven't had time to clean yet. We'll get it done tomorrow and if you like the place you can move in the next day. If that's ok."

Xander allowed that it would be, if he liked the place.

Which he did.

It was small, just a studio. But it was nice. The large room was sunny and bright. The bath room off the main room was large and clean.

The main and only room contained a small kitchenette with a two-burner stove and tiny oven, a single sink and a six-foot refrigerator. But it had a long counter top and a dish washer.

The rest of the room was empty of furniture but Xander didn't mind. He could make anything he needed. He decided on the spot.

"I like it. I'll take it. If you take off the damage deposit, I'll take it as is and clean it myself."

The woman nearly fainted in delight. The apartment was so small that it was hard to rent. This was a boon to her, especially as she didn't have to find someone to clean it.

"I'll move in tonight if that's alright. I don't have much, not even a bed. But a quick trip to IKEA will take care of all that. Ok?"

The deal was made on the spot with Xander signing the lease on the kitchen counter.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

Cleaning the apartment didn't take that long, it wasn't that bad. The bathroom had been nasty but a bucket of hot water and plenty of Mr. Clean took care of it easily. Sweeping and moping took care of the rest of the apartment and Xander was a happy man. All the rest of the week was taken up with assembling furniture. It was good.

He got a full size bed and hid it behind shoji screens.

Deciding against a kitchen table, he just bought three stools to set at the free standing breakfast bar he built at the end of the room, extending out from the far side of the kitchen. This allowed seating for four without taking up a lot of floor space.

He also got a couch, entertainment center, tv, DVD player, and a recliner chair, a couple of tables made up the set and created a comfortable, homey atmosphere.

His call from the rental center interrupted him on Wednesday night. He told the man that he didn't want the furniture any more and they could pick it up whenever they wanted to. That took care of the last of his responsibilities at Cincinnati's Slayer Central. He wondered how Andrew was going to explain that one. Most of the living room and dinning room furniture had been rented on Xander's credit. He'd silently resented that one but made no protest.

He hadn't minded helping out but the lack of respect and the fact that the girls took total advantage of him, even interfering with his work, had finally made it impossible. He hadn't realized how miserable he'd been until he left.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

Xander enjoyed his life. He worked. He came home. He put his boots in the same place every night and they were right there in the morning. His tool belt hung above them with his hard hat. He showered before he went to bed and never ran out of shaving cream or razors or shampoo.

He kept his eye socket clean, so the infection cleared up within a week.

His bed still had blankets on it every day and he never had to look for anything.

He could watch what he wanted on TV, and drink beer and eat pizza. If he ran out of groceries, it was because he forgot to buy whatever it was.

All in all, he was a very happy man.

~ ~ o O o ~ ~

Now where this came from I don't know. I spent most of the day writing it.