rowaine (rowaine) wrote in bloodclaim,
rowaine
rowaine
bloodclaim

Update: Surviving, Part 4

I must apologize for two things, dear readers. First for being a bit later than promised -- I found out yesterday afternoon that we are getting a new washer and dryer first thing in the morning, which meant I had to spend the past day and a half drywalling and painting :P Second, the Spike I promised is here, but it's minimal for now. He shows up more next chapter, then pretty consistantly from there on out. Hope you'll enjoy this one anyway.

See Part 1 for details. Story is still in the mild stage, and sorry but Spike hasn't shown up yet (that's next week's chapter).

Previously: Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.


~ Part 4 ~

To say that the next few days were 'hectic' for Xander would've been an understatement.

He managed to grab a few hours without Corey on Sunday afternoon, leaving the happy boy with the Lowenski's while he turned in the rental car and located a used car salesman who was willing to deal with just about anyone (including an unemployed construction worker missing one eye) for the right price. Did he feel fleeced over spending twice as much as the little extended car pick-up was worth? Not really. The whole trick to finding a car is to treat it like going into battle: know your opponent! Most used car salesmen don't know squat about automotives -- which means that they jack the prices up on the 'pretty' cars, and lower the rates on ones that have scratches and dings. Which works great for me, since I only have to pay a couple hundred over Blue Book value for a sturdy truck that'll outlast most of these so-called luxery cars. Gotta love the irony of it.

Xander drove off the lot in a nine year old, green Ford Ranger. He turned two corners, parked at an auto parts store and grabbed everything he'd need to give it a full tune-up, then sent it through a gas station car wash after he'd filled the tank. He found himself whistling Disney tunes as he worked and laughed at himself, but really, was there a more relaxing way for a man to waste time on the weekend? Manly Man doing Manly Things -- Arh Arh Arh! I haven't felt this much like Tim Allen in years. Mmm... power tools...

The mere thought of power tools sent him on another mental tangent. To find a job, or not to find a job... I don't want to jeopardize my place with the Council right now. Cus really, if there's a chance that I stay right here and be Watcher for just one or two girls, or even a home base for visitors or half-way house for newly found SiTs, that would work out fine. Not like I can ignore the whole demonic nightlife -- was in too deep to play oblivious over ten years ago. But spending all day every day sitting around here will drive me nuts. Unless...

Unless he set up a part-time job for himself, using the Sunnydale relief fund's 'insurance money' as a cover for not needing full-time employment. He could work at home at his own pace, and still have plenty of time to do whatever came up for the Council... and with his search for Spike. And doesn't that sound like a cheesy spin-off of a Star Trek movie. The idea had merit, and best of all, it just felt right. Right in the same way that picking up Corey had done. Right in the 'yellow crayon' incident with Willow, which had led to a lifelong friendship.

Which made him more than a little nervous.

Things that feel 'right' like this usually end up being part of some prophecy, found in between huge chunks of moldy text. Gods, I really hate being used as a pawn by the Powers! But the choices suck -- get rid of Corey, leave Giles and the girls hanging, leave Spike thinking that he doesn't matter... no way, no how. Xander paused, one hand wringing his shopcloth too tightly, as he considered what he was about to do. A thin stream of sweat dripped down his back, the feeling so eerie that he almost gave in and did what everyone would expect me to do the easiest thing, to just let someone else make the decisions. Not this time, not ever again. Just look what happens when I 'go with the flow'! Engaged before I'm ready, therefore breaking the heart of my best girl. Dropped in Africa without backup because no one else wanted the job. So many years of not speaking up about my parents... Nope, not this Scoobie. Not. Ever. Again!

So, along with his new mode of transportation, Xander came home with a Plan. He knew it needed fleshing out, but it was a Good Plan, and he was determined to see it through.

~ * ~


Locating his boy upon arrival was easy: follow the sounds of joyous laughter into the backyard. He found Gabe and Myrna out on the patio, passing old photos to Corey and telling the stories that went along with each one. This is another thing that I missed out on, growing up. My grandparents were all dead before I went into third grade, and I can barely remember seeing them more than twice a year up to that point. But not Corey! He'll have grandparents and uncles and aunts and as much of an extended family as I can find for him. And yeah, so they won't be biological. So what? Family by choice is better than family by birth. Birth parents have an obligation to love ya -- not that they always do a good job of it -- but the family you choose likes you too, and they don't run when all Hell breaks loose.

As he stepped fully out into the yard, he was spotted, squealed at, and tackled by a bundle of five year old mass of sugar-propelled energy. Corey flew into his arms and demanded to be swung in circles while he relayed, at great length, everything he'd done since joining 'Grammy' and 'Pappa' for the afternoon. And even knowing how it would end, Xander did as requested. Father and son flew in tight circles across the green yard, lauging and talking in broken sentences until Xander's impared vision caused him to trip over his own feet. They fell in a heap halfway across the grass, still giggling madly.

This -- this is how it's supposed to be. Of course, there's supposed to be two parents, but nothing I can do about that right now. Not going to take time away from my boy while he's getting used to everything. For now, this is enough.

That evening began a new ritual for Xander. On orders from Myrna (seconded by Gabe and passed by Corey), they were to join the Lowinski's for Sunday dinner. He tried to demure, not wanting to be more of a pest than necessary to the elderly couple, but was told to stop being silly. Of course they wanted him there! He and the dear lad were a blessing, so stop making so much noise about it. Outnumbered -- and not really wanting to object, other than for form's sake -- Xander gave in, and had a wonderful evening with his new family.

Just after Myrna asked his son to help wash up after dinner, Xander was dragged outside for a man-to-man talk.

Lighting a pipe, Gabe sat quietly for a moment, staring off into space. He puffed, exhaled, then nailed Xander with a knowing look. "Son, there's more to your story than you've told us." A wrinkled hand was raised against Xander's startled objections. "Hold on, just a minute, nobody's asking for details right now. You'll tell us what you want, when you want to, and no one's making demands. So long as you take good care of your boy and don't bring home unnecessary trouble, me and Myrna will back you up as much as you'll let us."

He didn't know what to say. Oh, there were dozens of replies he could've made -- saying no, the old man was wrong... that, of course, he was never in the midst of trouble... that he would always be there to take care of Corey -- but he didn't want to lie either. The Lowinski's had been so good to them already, that spinning some mundane tale to them felt as wrong as ratting Dawnie out to Glorificus. Xander opened his mouth and was about to respond when that same gnarled hand stalled his answer.

"I'm gonna make some guesses here, and you can confirm them. Or not." Another puff of sweet-smelling pipe smoke. "No matter how much he looks like you, the boy isn't really yours by birth. How you came by him isn't much of a mystery -- he knows things most kids wouldn't, unless they've been raised hard and fast to learn of the ugliness of this world." Xander hesitated for a heartbeat, then nodded once. Gabe inclined his head before continuing, "If I had to make an educated leap, I'd say you found him, fell in love with the tyke, and he had no one to look after him. The two of you get along well enough, but you both get surprised easily by things most families take for granted." Another nod. "All well and good there -- the boy needs someone to take care of him, and I'm betting he's done a world of good for you too."

Xander's mind was completely blank. They had always sneered at the 'Sunnydale syndrome', where people conveniently ignored anything that didn't fit their version of reality. But here, with this all-too-perceptive old man... he was caught between flight and fight instincts.

"Your past is just that -- in the past. So long as there won't be cops showing up on our doorstep looking for a fugitive," Gabe grinned to show he was mostly teasing, "well, we won't have much cause for complaint. Your check was good, cleared through the bank with no questions asked. Which means that it was legit, or so well done as not to make a difference." Again, Xander's mouth opened, and closed with a snap. "But I'm betting... and here's where me and Myrna don't agree... that you just came out of some hush-hush active duty, found your hometown at the bottom of a sinkhole, and came to LA to cool your heals while you figured out what to do. Saw Corey sitting on some corner and took him in before your brain caught up with ya, then pulled in a few favors to put down roots. All quick decisions, and things have moved so fast you haven't had time to question them much."

He was so close to the truth, and yet so far away that Xander didn't know how to merge the real facts in with this version to keep his wonderful neighbors safe. But how safe are they, really? Isn't knowing the truth about things that go bumpy in the night better than risking your life every time you check the mail after dark? Oh gods, what do I tell him that won't get me in trouble with the Council, but can possibly save their lives...

Warm flesh closed around his wrist, making Xander jump in his seat. His head whipped up to meet Gabe's clear stare. "Don't worry too much, Son. We won't be turning you in or asking too many questions, alright?"

The evident concern in the old man's face and words made Xander's decision easy. "Gabe, what I need to tell you, and Myrna too, should wait til after I get Corey off to bed. He can hear parts of it, but... not tonight." With a small huff, Xander pushed himself out of the lawn chair and held up a hand to assist his neighbor. "Let me get him in the tub and tucked in, then I'll be back over, ok?"

Hearing the resignation in the younger man's voice, Gabe nodded and let himself be pulled to his feet. He tapped his ashes into a flower pot, stuffed the pipe back into his pants, and clapped Xander on the shoulder as they headed back inside. With a grin, he asked, "So, should we set out the good stuff and make it a night of drunken confessions, or do we leave that for later?"

Xander shuddered and immediately turned down the offer. "Let's not do the drunken part. Please?"

"Ah, that makes sense. Your call, Son. We'll have tea ready for you, whenever you've got the boy asleep for the night." Gabe's tone indicated that he understood the shiver of disgust, and appreciated Xander's need for sobriety. No more questions were asked, and they moved into the living room to watch a game of checkers already in progress.

~ * ~

Getting Corey to fall asleep took far less time than Xander could've hoped for. He'd run and played and been entertained with fanciful tales most of the day, plus the excitement of signing up for school in the morning, and was completely exhausted. With one last brush of fingers through soft hair, Xander turned down the lights and left the door cracked, giving just enough illumination from the living room so that the boy wouldn't hurt himself if he woke up and needed to find the bathroom while Xander was next door.

It couldn't be put off for long. Breathing deeply, he collected his thoughts and reasons and wrapped them around his shoulders like a metaphorical security blanket. Or Spike's duster. He knocked softly on the Lowinski's door, waiting patiently for one of them to let him back in. Get it over with. See if they still like me when they think I'm insane. Wonder if they'll try to take Corey away... No, they aren't that type of people. I hope. Right, let's just see how little I can get away with telling them, and not worry til something weirder than normal happens.

Myrna opened the door with a smile and invited him inside. Must remember to warn them about issuing invitations. When he'd taken a seat on the sofa, Xander cleared his throat and looked at both Lowinski's before starting his tale.

"Gabe, you were partially correct early, when you said I'd been on assignment for some hush-hush project. But I don't think it was quite the same as you believe..."

~ * ~

An hour later, Xander sat back with a sigh. He hadn't revealed everything, but he had definitely told more than the Council would approve. But how was he to sleep at night, to look at himself in the mirror without flinching, if he left these loving people in the dark?

The Lowinski's had excused themselves to talk the subject over in their kitchen, leaving Xander to collect himself.

Would've been easier to prove I'm not crazy if I had Spike here for 'show-n-tell'... Hell, he'd probably love Myrna! Classy old lady, reminds me of Joyce. And Gabe's just crusty enough to call Spike on his bullshit. I can see them arguing and fussing and holding long debates about all sorts of things -- and loving every minute of it. Gods, I must be in bad shape if I miss the Bleached Wonder more than my girls. But no matter how many crimes he pulled, how many 'little white lies' he told the group, he was always brutally honest about the big stuff. Unlike Giles and Andrew, and who knows who else. Shifting his cup in its saucer, he toyed with the pretty little spoon, smushing the thin wedge of lemon in the thin pile of tea leaves at the bottom of his cup. They even know how to make 'proper' tea. Dammit Jim, I'm a carpenter, not a Watcher! Why does it feel like I'm the only one willing to do the job this time? And alright, I sorta understand G-man not wanting to make first contact, seeing as how he tried to have Spike killed not too long ago... But Andrew always idolized him, shouldn't that count for something? Maybe, maybe not.

More fiddling with his cup kept his hands occupied, showing the high level of tension he was feeling. He wasn't supposed to be Plan Guy -- that was Giles' department, or Buffy's, or even Willow's once in awhile. He was the comic relief who occassionally fetched donuts or fixed windows. But it couldn't be helped, not this time.

So. New Plan A: Get Corey registered for school tomorrow, recheck his supplies, and drop him off thing Tuesday morning for his first day of class. Then grab the phone book and get Wolfram & Hart's number, see if they'll direct me straight to Spike. If not, arrange a meeting with Deadboy and guilt trip him into telling me how to get ahold of Spike. Sounds simple enough, right?

Xander mentally poked at his plan, testing its durability. It seemed solid enough, direct in a way he was good at. Not that he was terribly comfortable with direct, but he could pull it off better than subterfuge at least. He sighed again, setting his tea cup down on the coffee table and flopping into a slump on the sofa. Who am I trying to kid here? No matter how I do it, something's going to screw up. That's just the way it works for me. Every time, any situation. Hell, I can manage to break an Erector set -- and that metal stuff they use isn't easy to break, let me tell ya. Never on purpose though. Think the Powers give partial credit for intentions? The road to Hell... probably not. Another sigh, followed by a groan of frustration. He's going to be so mad, so... hurt. Can't say I'd blame him for it either. He goes up in a big ball of flames for the good of all humanty -- but for Buffy and Dawn in particular -- and what do we do? Not even acknowledge his return. Fuck! Well, at least I'm used to being his target practice. He can take it all out on me, get rid of the worst of his anger, then maybe be ready to deal with the others. If there isn't still a ban about telling the girls. But... that ban, doesn't seem to make much sense, except for Giles I guess. What the hell kind of power play is going on here? Cus yeah, I'm not the sharpest crayon in the box, but this is just wacked.

A warm hand touched his knee, nearly causing Xander to jump out of his skin. He took a few deep breaths to regain his composure and smiled apologetically at his hostess. "Sorry, you caught me in a rare moment of deep thought."

Myrna grinned at him, patting his leg gently as she sat down beside him. "Oh hun, I'm sorry to have startled you." She looked searchingly at his face. "Are you doing alright? That was quite a story you told -- brought up a few aching memories, I should guess."

He snorted, then tried on a smile to soften the effect. "Just a few, yeah. So, umm, have you called the nice young men in their clean white coats yet?" he asked, only half in jest.

His eyebrows rose to his hairline as the dear old lady returned his snort with one of her own. "Certainly not. You don't honestly believe that Gabe and I have lived this long without seeing a few... odd things ourselves, do you?" Her tone went from serious to jovial in the blink of an eye. "Besides, not all non-humans are evil. Why, some of our best tenants were a sweet little family of Bracchens. They were new to California, don't you know. Moved for business or some such. They had the loveliest children --"

"Myrna, love of my life, you'll put him to sleep with all your tales of babies," Gabe said from the doorway.

"Oh hush, you old coot! I'm sure I've done no such thing."

Amused, releaved, and feeling way too comfortable, Xander left the couple to their happy bickering. As much as they tease and bait each other, they sorta sound like me and Spike. And how's that for a mega-strange thought to have about the Billy Idol impersonator. Did we always sound like an old married couple? Mentally groaning at the image of a set of vampire dentures in a little glass on the bathroom sink, side by side with a package of Depends, Xander had to physically restrain himself from beating his head against the wall. Vampires don't age the same as humans, but their bodies do eventually change. See the Master's bat-faced self as Exhibit A. But do they ever lose their teeth? Must remember to ask Spike. Or maybe Deadboy... I can just see how that conversation would go. Yo Broodmeister, have you been fitted for fangy dentures yet? Mwahahaha!

It wasn't until he noticed the abrupt silence in the room (with the Lowinski's staring at him with raised eyebrows) that Xander realized he had performed a perfect cartoon villian's cackle. Outloud. Oopsies, guess they might have to rethink the part about calling an asylum for me soon. Nah, just have to share the joke. I'll bet they'd have fun with it.

He did, and they did, and it was another hour before Xander said his final goodnights to his wonderful neighbors. His hand shook with chuckles as he tried to put the key into the lock, wasting a few minutes fussing at yet another inanimate object. When he finally managed to get the door open, he forced himself to quiet down so as not to wake Corey. Poor kid's going to need his energy for tomorrow. If I remember the drill, he'll be excited as hell til we get to the school, then the nervous confidence killers will pounce by the time we find his classroom. Same shit, different generation. You'd think they could work out the kinks in the system by now.

A whisper of premonition made Xander pause inside the threshold, peering out into the late evening before he closed the door. Across the street from his home, a single ember flickered in the darkness -- the memories flooded in of Spike lurking under Buffy's bedroom window, silently guarding his obsession during her brief hours of rest. He blinked his eye to chase away the spectres, and the tiny glow was gone.

Damn, I must be more tired than I thought. No way would Spike be here, stalking me. Hell, he doesn't even know I'm back in the U.S. yet. Right?

Xander shook his head roughly, trying to dispel the instant warm creepy thought of being the blonde's new victim of affection. He was going to need a good night's sleep, with a hyperactive five year old bouncing off the walls as he signed up for school. Ah, how I wish I had that much enthusiasm for anything these days. Let's just hope that Corey keeps up the thrill of being in school. Wouldn't want him to get bored and turn out like me, huh? Snickering quietly, he closed and double locked the front door, heading to bed for a much-needed rest.

~ * ~

Muttered curses fell softly into the still night air. He'd been spotted. The boy wasn't stupid, for all he acted the part around most people. In future, he would have to be more discrete in his... observations. With a swirl of black leather, the watcher moved deeper into the shadows, away from the temptation to be found at the Harris home.

~ * ~

Twin sighs of relief burst from the two men as they shut the door on the Estrogen Brigade. They exchanged a startled glance and burst out laughing.

"Bit hard to take, innit?"

"Yeah. I mean, I love them all -- they're my girls! -- but damn, you'd think we couldn't feed or entertain ourselves without them handing us the forks or adjusting the volume."

Somehow, the blonde managed to make even a snort sound British. "Just tryin' to show ya how much they love ya, mate. Should be thrilled to have such good friends. Thick-n-thin and all that rot."

"Hey now, you don't get to blame me for all of this... solicitousness."

"Woah, a ten dollar word from the carpenter. Wonders never cease."

"Yeah, yeah. Mock the one person without advanced schooling. I'll have you know that I occassionally read. For pleasure. Once in awhile..."

The Look looked him over, pinning him in place. "Sure ya do, whelp. Not like your folks, for all you've had to make different choices than the birds."

"Sometimes... just sometimes... I kinda wonder what would've happened if I'd known back in tenth grade what I'd up with now. Maybe studied harder (or at all), taken school more seriously. Hell, might've just dropped out completely, left home and Sunnydale far behind."

"Now hold on there, Harris. Don't go thinking you're less of a person for not having gone straight into uni after high school. That's not it, not at all. So, while the girls are sitting in their classes taking notes on global warming and women's sufferage and all, you've learned responsibility and how to be accountable for not only yourself but your whole crew. You've learned more practical, real world skills than they'll have for several years yet. Don't doubt yourself so much, Xander. Nothing good'll come from it -- mark my words."

"Can't help but doubt... Spike, you probably know better than the rest of the gang how I was raised. There's some things that you just never get over."

"Don't have to get over it, just learn to accept that you're worth more than the sum of your parents' screw-ups."

"I hope you're right. Hope one day I can believe it..."


Xander sat upright in bed, wondering how long the earthquake was going to last and if he'd remembered to secure the dishes properly. Before his mind woke up enough to register that the rest of the room wasn't shaking, a handful of bouncing young boy landed in his lap.

"Mornin', Daddy," Corey stammered the new title, peering up at his guardian to see what reaction he had invoked.

The creepiness of his dream didn't fade away so much as be washed off by a tidal wave of warmth. Xander wrapped his arms around his son and gave him a cuddle. "And good morning to you too, my little soon-to-be schoolboy! Mmm, you smell like a --" he growled low in his throat and nibbled Corey's shoulder, causing the boy to laugh and squirm "--kindergartener! Just what I wanted for breakfast!"

"Uh huh, Daddy! We're sposed ta have pancakes an' sausages an' juice 'fore we go to school," the last word stressed, indicating that Corey's stomach was still in second place for his attention.

Lifting his boy across one shoulder, Xander bounced them off the bed and toward the kitchen. "Your wish is my command, oh master mine."

Whatever lingering images remained from his dream were pushed aside for later pondering. His most important task of the day was making sure Corey was taken care of. And somehow, that thought prodded his personal demons back into the darker parts of his mind. I might not have as much education as alot of people, but this -- this I can do.

~ * ~

Corey's new teacher was young and perky and bubbly, and in a strange way reminded Xander of a fourteen year old Willow after too much caffeine. He left his son to get acquainted with Miss Vrba, opting to investigate the classroom instead of having a wacked double-vision of two petite redheads -- ten years apart in age but otherwise so very much alike -- stuck in his head.

How cute, a Hogwarts theme. Well, at least the kids will be amused. Gah, don't think I could sit under the Whomping Willow all morning, with Dumbledore leering down at me. This is me shuddering. Blech!

Several other kids joined them, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed who came up with that saying? and ready to learn their ABC's. Their mothers trailed in with less enthusiasm... except one that seemed all too happy to have the last of her seven children finally start school.

Xander waited patiently through all the introductions. What he needed to say to the teacher wasn't supposed to be common knowledge... although, that might be easier. Deciding to go with the grapevine approach, he walked casually over to the young woman.

"Ma'am, if I could have a few words with you please?" She nodded perkily and made her excuses to the mother of seven. Together, they stepped a few feet away from the frolicking horde, but still within easy hearing range of most of the mothers. "Just wanted to let you know that, well, me and Corey have had some problems recently. Mainly, we used to live in Sunnydale --" he waited for the gasp of horror-slash-sympathy "-- which is where he lost his mom. She and I weren't together at the time, so Corey and I are just now getting to know each other again. It took me a few months afterward just to locate him." She hmmed and rested her tiny hand on his arm for a moment. "Anyways, I hope we don't have any serious problems with his attention span or anything, but it wouldn't surprise me if he's sorta blocked out alot of that time, y'know?"

Miss Vrba's sugary voice immediately returned with, "Oh yes, my! I can't imagine how difficult this must be for the both of you. Rest assured, I'll keep my eye on the darling boy and notify you at once if there are any problems."

Xander gave her his most winning smile, the one to woo over even the hardest hearts (without being too much of a flirt). "Thank you so much. We're adapting slowly, and he seems really excited about starting school, but I don't have much more than a list of former babysitters to go by. It looks like he can recognize numbers and letters, but not always call them by the right name. He's great with colors though, and shapes and normal objects. His vocabulary has regressed a bit, but I think with time and stability he'll work through that one."

"Dear me, you've done wonders already, if he can recall all that after his terrible ordeal." She patted his arm again, offering a warm smile of approval. "We've got more than a few in this class who never went to pre-K, and so we'll start off the beginning of the year slowly. Corey won't be pressured to remember more than he's comfortable with, I promise."

Laughing, Xander quickly interrupted, "I think you might have it backwards -- Corey wants to fill his head with numbers and letters and words and math. He's been keeping me on my toes asking a million questions about how to read and add and all that, and I'm embarrassed to admit how much of a slacker I was in school. But if my son wants to throw himself into learning, then I want him to have the very best opportunities available."

Oohs and aahs surrounded Xander as the assembled mothers happily gushed (quietly and in whispered tones not meant to carry -- and failing) about what a wonderful single father he was, and how they wished their own husbands cared half so much. The dad in question blushed in response, but glanced over at his boy with an expression of such loving devotion that he immediately became a favorite.

"Of course you do! I always love seeing such enthusiasm with the parents, but sadly it isn't always present." Miss Vrba cast a quick look around the room, silencing the chatterboxes before they could interrupt. "Hmm, if Corey is so interested in learning to read before I introduce basic words to the rest of the class, perhaps you'd like to check out the school library's volunteer program? With Corey being in the morning class, he could have lunch here, or with you, and then spend an hour or so at the library with some of our wonderful tutors."

From across the room, the little boy in question perked his ears up and faced his father. Xander didn't need to ask for confirmation -- Corey's eyes were wide and hungry, having been starved of learning 'normal' things for so long. When Xander smiled and nodded, he opened his arms just in time to catch a chattering boy. He hugged his son tightly, saying a quiet prayer of thanks for another small blessing thrown their way. "That sounds like a great idea, thanks again. It would seem that the Corey Monster agrees, hmm?"

"Yes please thank you when's the first day can we go now to see what kinds of books they have please?"

Only through years of training in the art of babble allowed Xander to interpret his son's breathless questions. He chuckled and lifted the boy up onto his shoulder, bringing forth a squeal of giggles, and said his goodbyes to the ladies, children and teacher.

The library was fairly well-equipped for an elementary school. Not only did it have plenty of books for all levels of readers, it also sported twenty new computers, two 'movie rooms', and several cozy nooks for reading groups. Father and son deemed it good, thanked the librarian for letting them in before school officially opened, and went in search of lunch.

Well, if nothing else, Corey has inherited my appetite. And my ability to attract the female of the species with a well-timed smile. Not that I've always attracted the right females, but still... They stopped by a Mexican food buffet and proved without a shadow of a doubt that they were indeed related.

By the time they got home -- after a stop at the largest chain bookstore Xander had ever seen, followed by a trip to the hardware store for supplies -- Corey had begged for floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the living room and on two walls of his bedroom. The answer required no thought, hence the expedition to Home Depot. As they pulled into their driveway, Myrna called out a hello from her position at the front hedges. She immediately yelled for Gabe to come help unload, and then cajoled Corey into helping her weed while the men 'made a mess' out back. Her promise of baking cookies after they'd washed up was not a deciding factor. Not at all.

To Xander's delight, Gabe introduced him to the wonders to be found in the large, secure shed in their backyard. Over the years, the older man had built up his inventory of power tools and created an oasis of carpentry heaven. Xander moaned in pleasure, running his hands over various machines with the blissful expression of a child at Christmas. Between the two of them, Corey's bedroom shelves were cut, sanded and ready to be installed before Myrna called them to get cleaned up for dinner.

And ok, so basic shelves are beginner level carpentry. It just felt so good to be back to working with wood! And damn, Gabe sure knows a thing or two, doesn't he? What I wouldn't have given to apprentice under him, instead of the drunken lout they stuck me with at my first construction job. Hmm... wonder if we can squeeze in a few other changes sometime soon...

The remainer of the day passed easily. Corey was content with his school future. Xander was bursting with ideas for remodeling their new home, and he hadn't forgotten his plans to find Spike. And the Lowinski's had the comforting sounds of young people gracing their ears once more.
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