soldtoarmenians: (s7)
[personal profile] soldtoarmenians

January 28th, 2003

Usually if Xander was going to sneak off by himself -- not that he was the king of sneak these days since a) cellphone and b) everybody who needed to know knew where he was hiding -- he'd take his laptop and hit the Espresso Pump. Free wireless, all the coffee-flavored sugar he could suck down, and the open-air cafe thing gave him a front-row seat for keeping an eye on the stuff he really wasn't sneaking away from because hi, hellmouth. Not like you could get away from it.

But today he'd walked up to the coffee shop, taken one look inside, and with a sigh, turned right back around. Strike one hidey-hole, then.

On the other hand, a full Espresso Pump meant there was one place he could probably guarantee was completely empty of what the Espresso Pump was full of. Which was why, weird and Willow-at-15 as it might be to drag his laptop into the wifi-free Bronze and watch classic Mister What off his hard-drive instead of dancing to the not-bad music of the girl onstage, that's exactly what he was doing.

It's not that Isabel was looking to get away from her fellow vagabonds. But if she spent another minute listening to Max and Liz coo at each other in newly wedded bliss or refereed another round of Michael and Maria's bickering, she wouldn't be responsible for what she did. Even generally good natured Kyle was getting on her nerves. It had been seven months since the military had tried to kill them, seven months since they'd gone on the run, seven months since she'd left her husband. Isabel was tired, frustrated, and desperately wanted things to change.

She'd mumbled an excuse and slipped out the door of the hotel room she was in theory sharing with Maria, but in reality with Kyle, and walked through the quiet streets of the town till she came to the only place that seemed to have anything going on. After getting a bottle of water at the bar, Isabel searched for a place to sit, frowning when the only open seat was next to some guy staring at a laptop. Still the chair looked comfortable, and if he was as involved in the screen as he appeared, he wouldn't up for small talk.

"Excuse me, is this seat taken?"

"Well, we did have that cartel of chair-smugglers in town last week, but I think they mis--"

And then the voice caught up with him. And he looked up. And stared.

"Yes or no? It's been long day and I'd really like to sit and relax for a bit." She raised an eyebrow at the staring and looked down, checking for anything out of place.

He pulled out the chair without sparing the braincells to think about it, because it's what you do. He was still too busy staring.

The hair was different in cut and shade, but the face... didn't really look older, even, just maybe kind of tired. Definitely not changed enough that he could have a moment of doubt who she was, after hearing her speak.

"I'm sorry, do I have something on my shirt? Or have I grown an extra head during the walk over?" Isabel asked, using her best ice princess voice.

And he knew, really he did -- this wasn't the first time he'd heard a voice from Fandom that... wasn't, and this really wasn't. But it was the first time there'd been a face to match, and it was this face, and so he said, "Just the one, unless the alien-fu has side-effects I don't know about." And he pretended, just for a second.

It took everything in her to keep her face carefully blank. "I have no idea what you're talking about," Isabel said as she started to edge away.

He could be wrong. Not about the face or the voice, but he had met unrelated doubles of both before - just not outside Fandom. On the other hand, if this was her and she'd never been someplace where her secret was out...

Xander moved his laptop screen slightly so it wasn't between them at all, and said quietly but not like he was purposely whispering, "Sorry, you just look exactly a lot like somebody I used to know from school. That was kind of a running gag with us. She liked tabasco sauce on her twinkies, so clearly she wasn't from this planet."

Isabel looked carefully around the club; no one was paying them any particular attention and she was tired of running. Taking a seat on the edge of the chair, she studied him warily, slightly reassured by the fact that his eyes were warm and kind. "It's an aquired taste. I've never heard of anyone else really appreciating it."

Xander reached for the soda he'd carefully kept out of spill-on-my-laptop range, and took a drink, before answering. "She had a brother; he might've. I never got the chance to meet him before I left."

"Funny that, I've got a brother of my own. And he likes it as much as I do." She took a sip of water, wondering if he'd possibly run into the Dupes at one point. But that didn't seem likely; Isabel doubted they'd ever left New York before they came to Roswell and by then, Zan was dead. But it didn't hurt to be careful. "This friend of yours, was she from New York?"

Buh? Xander blinked, but still kept his voice down when he shook his head and replied, "New Mexico."

And that made absolutely no sense to Isabel. "New Mexico? Let me guess, Roswell?"

"Well, yeah." Now it was less staring, more peering.

"But that makes no sense," Isabel protested. "I would have known...How do you...Who the hell are you?"

So much for pretending. Xander smiled, only a little sadly because he hadn't been pretending very hard. "My name's Xander Harris; I live here. And yours is Isabel Evans, or at least you do a really good impression."

"Isabel Ramirez actually. But that's only because I got married," she admitted. "I was Isabel Evans before that." Isabel shook her head. If she was smart, she'd leave now. The less people knew about them the better, but she couldn't help being intrigued by Xander's story. "I still don't understand how you know everything. I never left Roswell and I don't remember seeing you around there."

"Married..." Xander repeated softly. "Wow." Because she really didn't look much older than when he'd known her, and... she should be even younger, though Fandom math still hurt his brain even if he'd managed to get enough of a grip on the regular kind to deal with construction plans. Shaking his head, he said, "Never been to Roswell. I met you in Virginia."

Then he held up one hand as if to hold off the inevitable. "Before we do the no I didn't you're crazy routine, can I get you a drink? Your throat'll get dry; I speak from experience."

Isabel smiled, "That would be great. Thank you. I take it it's a long story?"

"Half a year or so, but I can probably Cliff-notes it down to a month. Two, tops. Diet Coke?" He was already rising from his chair and taking a step towards the bar.

"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you know that," she said. "That's fine. I'll just wait here and keep an eye on your computer." Isabel watched him walk away, once again looking around the club for anything suspicious.

Xander returned with a drink for her and a refill for himself, setting them on the table and sliding back into his seat. He pushed the drink across to her and reached for his laptop. "Can I maybe show you something and cut out the part where you worry about whether I work for NASA or the FBI or America's Funniest Home Videos?"

She took a sip of the drink and nodded. "Okay, as long as it's not porn or anything like that. Because then you might end up wearing my drink."

"Check. Stay away from any folder that I have to go down more than five levels and enter a password to open." Not that he'd {twinkies} changed {twinkies} the password {twinkies} since he put it on in the first place.

Instead he just minimized Grave of the Robopeople and opened the Photos folder on his desktop. One click down and then he was scrolling through thumbnails and there.

The screen was taken up by a picture of a boy and girl sitting on a bed. That they happened to be the boy and girl sitting at this table was... kind of the point.

Isabel stared. "God...That's me. At least that looks like me before I did this," she said, absently pushing back her much shorter and darker hair. "Where are we?" she asked, hesitating over the word, but not sure how else to describe it. Another dupe maybe? But that made her think of Lonnie and she'd prefer not to do that if it could be avoided.

"School," Xander answered. "Virginia, like I said." He tapped an arrow key and the viewer skipped to the next picture. This time it was the two of them staring at a small tv, the camera obviously behind it and on a timer, or possibly activated by alien-fu. He couldn't even remember himself. "Except not quite the Virginia you'd get to if you crammed a case or two of tabasco in your trunk and started driving east from here." He glanced up. "And not quite you, but I'm thinking you figured that part out already."

"I'm starting to get that," she nodded. "So it's either some weird sci-fi parallel universe thing or I've got another, this time not-so-evil, duplicate running around the East Coast." Isabel shook her head and leaned closer and studied the picture. "You said we were friends? What kind exactly? I don't think it could be casual, not if you know about...stuff. Did we date?"

"Not each other; we were roommates for a semester." He filed away the bit about evil duplicates to ask about later, if there was a later - Xander was still getting the feeling that if he asked her too many questions at this point, she might bolt, and he... really didn't want that to happen. Didn't realize how much he didn't, until he pictured it.

"Roommates? It must have been an extremely progressive school." Isabel grinned, "I take it you didn't snore?"

"No, though I occasionally got pillows levitated at me for yelling at the radio broadcast." He tabbed through a couple more photos to one of Isabel sitting by a campfire next to a boy with wild, sticky-up hair and a dorky grin, and pointed. "There's your boyfriend," he said. Tab, tab, point. "And mine." Who...was a boy with wild, sticky-up hair and a dorky grin. But cuter. Not that Xander was biased. "...okay possibly we didn't date because we were too much alike?"

"We went camping? Why?" Isabel asked, surprised as she remembered the last time they'd gone camping and the trouble that resulted. "They're both cute though. In that dorky sort of way. But what's with the hair? My friend Michael's the only person I've ever seen do that deliberately." She hit the back arrow, going back to the picture of the other her and her boyfriend. "She looks happy."

"Summer camp, after I graduated. And she was... gonna be a junior in the fall." He laughed. "Bridge's hair did its own thing, mostly; Greg did it on purpose." Xander looked at the picture too, and couldn't help smiling at the expression on Isabel's - his Isabel's - face, because yeah. "She was happy. Is, I hope. It's been a long time since I've seen her."

Isabel hoped she was also, because she couldn't remember the last time she was truly, truly happy. It might have been when she and Jesse returned from their honeymoon, with the future shining bright before them. But even then, she still had Kivar's promise to be back, echoing in the back of her mind. "Surely you've talked to her? Or emailed her?"

"I still send e-mail sometimes." Not as much as he used to. Things seemed either too big for words on a screen, after last spring, or too small to bother explaining to his own inbox when you could sum most of it up as 'still alive, yay.' So he sent that, every so often, just in case. "One-way ticket, though." Xander reached for his soda again. "You weren't wrong about the weird sci-fi; it's another dimension, and once I got back here, ours got cut off from it."

"So your friends, your boyfriend, they're all back there?" she asked quietly. "Oddly enough, I can kind of relate."

"I've got friends here too," Xander said. "Good ones, the family kind. But yeah. Different world." He studed her face, identical and yet completely different at the same time, and added, "What about you? You were looking at my Isabel kind of like happy's something you heard of on Smile Time once when you were four."

Isabel smiled, but it wasn't real. "Sometimes it feels like that. You know how you're cut off from your Isabel? I've got the same problem. My parents, my husband, they're back in Roswell. And I can't contact them or there's a good chance we'll wind up dead."

Xander thought of the argument they'd had the night he found out what she was, and the things she'd told him the next morning. How completely freaked she'd been by the idea of Veronica investigating her, let alone when the truth came out to everybody over the radio, because after the life she'd led in Roswell, the idea that people in Fandom might not care was one Isabel was barely ready to comprehend.

"People found out who weren't supposed to?" he asked.

"You can say that," Isabel sighed, trying to figure out the one point where it all went wrong. Deep inside she was pretty sure that it all started to fall apart when Max healed Liz. After that it seemed like they were on a whirlwind ride of more secrets, more people finding out what they were, people getting hurt or killed. But at the same time, she wasn't sure she'd be willing to trade Liz's life if she had it to do over again. "The military found out about us. And not just in the general sense of gee, something's odd in Roswell. They knew who we were, what we could do. And seven months ago they tried to kill us all at graduation. We had no choice but to run. And we're still running."

Xander blinked twice, then snorted. And quickly held up a hand to indicate he wasn't laughing about her situation. "Sorry, it's just, that's how I got to Fandom High, where I met you. Her. Somebody was gonna kill us all at graduation, here, so we got shipped off to other schools." After a second he added, "Also, you're running, and you ran here which kind of deserves a round of hysterical laughter all on its own. Possibly from both of us."

Isabel stared for a moment, not understanding at all. "Someone tried to kill your graduating class? Why? Were they pissed that they didn't make valedictorian? As for how we wound up here, we're just following the coast. Maybe we'll wind up in Seattle one day."

"Actually it was the Mayor; he was planning on eating us. Though one kid did turn hellhounds loose on the prom because he didn't get a date." He sighed and shook his head. "Let's just say you'd be safer in Seattle. Hell, right now you'd be safer in Santa Clara, and they've got almost as many damn vampires as we do."

"Hellhounds at the prom? Vampires?" she asked, a look of disbelief on her face. "That sounds like the plot of a bad horror movie."

"We have better special effects." He gave her a look. "Is it really that hard to believe considering where you come from?"

Isabel had to laugh at that. "Okay, you do have a point. It's just I never really expected to run into any of them. Is there anything special I need to worry about? Or if I just keep all the movie cliches in mind will I be okay?"

"Vampires don't sleep in coffins, they can't fly, and if you come across one with peroxide-blond hair and a leather jacket, he's on our side, so don't set him on fire, but don't play poker with him. Some of it's hype, some of it's true; the stuff that's true is usually worse." Xander glanced at the stage, where the singer was unstrapping her guitar and placing it in its case. It was still earlyish; must be a set-break. "A lot worse, right now. I wasn't kidding when I said almost anyplace would be safer."

"There's a friendly vampire? What is he? Looking to make up for his past wrongs, just like in Eternal Champion?" Isabel asked, taking a sip of her soda. "What do you do? How do you deal with it?"

Xander snorted. "There is a vampire like that, in L.A. - the making up part, not the friendly part - but Spike doesn't have a soul; he just doesn't kill people anymore."

Even without a computer chip in his head, which had an easy, one-word answer - Buffy - that explained everything and nothing, even to Xander. It didn't explain why there were more names than just hers on the list of people Spike would go out of his way to protect now, for instance.

He took a drink of his own pop. "We deal with it by...dealing with it. Somebody has to. Helps that we've got two Vampire Slayers in town."

"Do you ever think about leaving? Just getting away and going somewhere where you can have a normal life?" Her lips twisted at the end of the question; she'd given up normal a long time ago.

"What is this word you speak of, n...ooooor-mallll?" Xander pointed out reflexively, but then he added, "Maybe, a long time ago."

There'd been that road trip he was going to take if they survived graduation, before they knew how they were going to survive graduation. He might've thought, a couple of times, about just driving and not turning back around, but he knew it wouldn't have happened. Sunnydale had a way of sucking you back in.

"But I'd still know the bad stuff was going on, even if I wasn't there; I'd just be leaving my friends to handle it without my help. Besides--" He smiled. "I'd never have met half the people I love if I had anything like a normal life."

"And again with the 'I get that.' Max saved Liz and because of it; I've picked up two sister-in-laws, the equivalent of another brother, and another father figure," Isabel said. "The reason I'm here tonight is because I couldn't take another minute with them, but at the same time, I couldn't imagine just walking away."

"Are you sure Max is your twin?" Xander grinned and shook his head. "Not that I'm hiding from my friends - I'm just wussing out and leaving them to deal with the invasion for a night."

"His face is the first one I saw when we came out of the pods," she laughed. "So we're twins this time around. I'm not so sure about before." Isabel sat back in her chair, amazed to find that it felt like she'd known Xander for a long time. "There's an invasion? And you just weren't in the mood to fight the bad guys?"

One side of Xander's mouth quirked. "The bad guys seem to be laying low right now - but if you see bald dudes in robes with no eyes? Run the other way - or feel free to set them on fire. No, the invasion's what we're protecting from the bad guys. They're--"

There was a flash off in the courner, the blue light from the neon sign outside invading the darkened club as the double doors pushed open -- and stayed open, a steady stream of giggling, chattering teenage bodies pouring in.

"--here. Crap."

"I'll keep that in mind. Bald, no eyes, torch them," Isabel said as she eyed the invasion and didn't see anything scarier then a group of girls approximately her age or slightly younger. "You've been invaded by teenage hormones?"

"Bingo. They're potential vampire slayers. Buffy's house is full. They're spilling over into Faith's and my apartment. Not that I don't like girls. Yay girls, big fan. But they're fifteen year old girls. I'd like to be able to take a shower again without having to rivet the door shut at some point."

Isabel snickered. She could see where walking in on Xander in the shower would be an entertaining sight. Idly she wondered if she'd ever done something similar when they were roommates. "Do you want to get out of here then?" she asked, glancing at her watch. "I should be getting back anyway. Max tends to twitch if he doesn't know exactly where everyone is. And I left without leaving a note."

"Yeah, but..." Xander frowned over at the girls, who were swarming the bar at the moment. "I really don't like the idea them hanging out in here by themselves - Bronze can be vamp central on bad nights."

He stood up -- despite the fact that this meant there was a good chance they'd see him -- and scanned the... ah. Buffy stood near the end of the bar, her arms crossed and 'bitch, please' clearly written on her face as Rona and one of the other potential Slayers tried to bicker the bartender into serving them anything besides soda.

Her gaze traveled across the club too, always on watch, and as Buffy's eyes settled on Xander, he shot her a tiny, furtive wave. She raised an eyebrow, then grinned and jerked her thumb towards the door, mouthing 'Run. Run now,' at him.

"I think we're good to go."

Isabel followed his gaze, a bit surprised to see the tiny blonde in charge. "She's your vampire slayer? She's so little." She took a last drink of her soda then set the glass on the table. "Lead the way. Do you want to sneak out the back door to avoid them?"

Xander was packing up his laptop already. "She's Buffy; I've got two." He said it mostly because it made him snicker to think of the look on Faith's face if she heard the phrasing, and because she wasn't here to hear it. Or throw things at him. "Faith's taller and more likely to drink milk straight out of the carton."

He slung his bag over his shoulder and headed towards the back door - a door he'd snuck in times past counting, when they were trying to shut down something evil that had already set up shop in here.

"Faith and Michael would probably get along well then," Isabel laughed as she followed him. "He always thought using a glass was a waste of time because then you would have to wash it."

"Silly people," Xander said. "That's what plastic party cups are for." They pushed open the door and escaped into the night.

January 31st, 2003

"On the plus side, " Xander said as he and Isabel neared the parking lot of the Sunnydale Motor Inn, not for the first time this week, "you're getting out of here before you get vamped. Or possibly catch something even worse from this place." He jerked a thumb toward the motel.

"Yeah, you should have seen Maria freak out when a cockroach ran across the floor," Isabel said. "It was rather amusing. But we need to keep moving. We already stayed longer then we should have."

Xander's mouth curled into a wry smile. "If I were a little more selfish I'd point out that you're probably safer from the army and the FBI here than almost anywhere else. The only time the military ever tried to investigate this place, Buffy chased them off, and usually it has a Somebody Else's Problem field like you wouldn't believe. "

"If I hadn't just spent the last few days seeing what you guys deal with on a regular basis, I'd almost be tempted." Isabel smiled. "I still can't believe you don't have Z-case investigators crawling all over the place."

"Apparently people want to believe in aliens more than they want to believe that their neighbors might rise from the grave and rip their throats out," Xander deadpanned. "Go figure."

"I know. What's up with that? I mean everyone knows there's no such thing as aliens." She frowned as they turned the corner and the Inn came into view and her steps slowed. "So what will you do now? Keep protecting the girls?"

"Until we figure out what the First Evil's up to and can take the
fight to it somehow," he answered with a nod. "Which is gonna be kind of a challenge with the whole can't touch it thing, but easy would be boring, right?"

"Anything that appears easy at first glance is usually a trap," Isabel replied. "Trust me. I know this from experience." Looking ahead she could see Max standing near the van, acting as if he was rearranging some of the bags but in reality glancing up and down the street. "I think this town has even made Max twitchier."

"Then your brother's a smart guy," Xander told her. "Twitchy keeps you alive in Sunnydale."

"Max has his moments. Although honestly I think the twitchiness has less to do with the town and more to do with him being worried that I'm going to tell him I want to stay." Isabel smiled and bumped against Xander's arm. "And despite what I said earlier, I really am tempted. I feel like I've known you forever."

"I cheat," Xander pointed out honestly. "I've got inside information."

"Which still boggles my mind. Although after everything else I've seen and heard while I'm here, I'm not sure why." Tilting her head, she studied Xander. "I bet she misses you."

"She'd be in college now, if it's been as long for her as it has for me." Xander paused to lean against a tree, knowing that getting much closer would bring them both in sight of Max and Isabel's friends. "So would the Willow and Dawn there." Again, he didn't add, in Willow's case. Nor did he try to describe the second star to the left and straight on til morning alternate future that certain other members of their graduating class would have returned to by now.

"Or she's gone back to Antar, helped save the planet and is living the life of a princess," Isabel said with just a touch of sarcasm, following Xander over and ducking behind the tree. "I hope they reconsidered. I hope she's at college, with her geeky boyfriend, and enjoying her life. Maybe she'll be lucky and get the happy ever after."

"Or maybe she married Marty Blank and moved to Michigan," Xander said with a small grin. "Most people probably aren't gonna end up with the person they were dating at sixteen. But yeah - whatever she's doing, I hope it's right for her."

"Not Michigan, it's too cold. But maybe Marty, he sounded like a nice guy," she joked. "And I'd argue about who people wind up with. But then again, most people aren't emo aliens." Isabel motioned down the street where Max and Liz were gazing soulfully into each other's eyes. "Those two have been in love with each other since grade school."

Xander peered cautiously around her at them, and smiled. "Willow and I had a thing in kindergarten. There were irreconcilable Barbie-related differences, though." Yes, he was glossing over years of awkward...something... on both their parts. "We eventually figured out we work better as family."

"And there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes family is all that keeps you together." Isabel glanced at her watch and sighed, willing time to slow down. "So do you have an email address?"

"Two, even." Xander reached into his pocket and pulled out one of his business cards from the construction firm, unable to avoid double-taking at it even months after he'd been handed them. "Well, three, actually, but unless you want to get accidental lumber orders, I'd skip using the business account."

He scribbled his cell number on the back, then his UCSD e-mail address, and beneath that,

"I don't know how long the college one'll last after I graduate, though Willow thinks she can rig something up to make them forward. Then she uses complex words like root and domain and I smile and nod."

"Alex used to babble like that when he was trying to hack something," Isabel said as she took the card and carefully tucked it away in her purse. "Usually Maria would hit him in the head and make him stop." She laughed softly at the memory. "I don't have an email address right now. Obviously I can't use any of my old ones and there hasn't been a reason to get another. At least not till now. I'll have to think of something offbeat as a name."

"Took me months and months to come up with purplefrog," Xander offered. "It's this wacky, obscure play on the fact that I used to have a purple frog."

"A purple frog? Oddly, that doesn't surprise me given all the other stories you've told me," Isabel laughed. "I'll come up with something soon and let you know. It'll be nice to have someone who gets it to talk to."

"It'll be nice to have someone who gets it to hear from," Xander responded with a grin. Then his voice turned more serious. "Be careful, huh? Wacky clone shennanigans aside, you're the only Isabel we've got around this dimension."

"Trust me, I plan on it," she said, equally serious. "I have no desire to wind up dead or as anyone's lab rat. We're going to keep a low profile. And hopefully in a few months, we'll find some place safe to settle down for a while."

"Try and avoid Neptune." Possibly the serious quotient dipped a little. "It's gonna get hit by a meteor in a few years. In an alternate universe, granted, but it never hurts to take precautions."

"I will keep that in mind," Isabel said with a small laugh. "Any place else I should avoid? Are dinosaurs going to hatch out of Mt. Hood? Or are other aliens going to turn up in Boise?"

"There's another hellmouth in Cleveland, but it's not as active as this one."

"There's another one? Okay, note to self. Avoid Cleveland." Isabel heard a shout and stuck her head around the tree. Michael, Kyle and Maria had joined Max and Liz at the van. Immediately Michael and Kyle began their usual argument about who was going to drive. Turning back to Xander, she managed a weak smile. "I guess this is it."

"Stay much longer and you'll go native," Xander said with a nod. "And then it's Hotel Sunnydale. You can check out any time you like..."

"But you can never leave. I'm still not sure that would be a bad thing. So," she said, holding out her hand. "Thanks for everything. The past few days have been the most fun I've had in a while."

"Oh God, Sunnydale's warped your mind already." Xander shook his head in mock-sadness, and took her hand. "There's this quirky local custom we have called sucking out all your blood and stuffing you in a locker a 'hug'," he added, tilting his head, unsure whether that was stepping over the line of I-know-you-but-I-don't or not.

"One should always follow the local customs," Isabel said, nodding seriously. "Ignoring them leads to badness and the poor tourist being sacrificed to the local boogie man."

Xander chuckled as he put his arms around her and squeezed. "Or in our case a fight to the death between the 800 local boogeymen trying to see which one gets you. It's fun; there's switchblades and dancing."

"Oh, with boogeyman gangs called the Jets and the Sharks? Or would it be more like the Werewolves and the Zombies?" she asked as she squeezed back, in a tiny corner of her mind still amazed that she could feel so comfortable with someone she'd only met three days before. "Tell Faith and Dawn I said to take care of themselves. And once I get an email, if they want to write, it wouldn't be a bad thing."

"Actually there is this loan shark guy in town who pissed off a really literal gypsy." Xander reluctantly let go, and smiled. "Dawn'll write. Faith.... "

He was about to say she wasn't exactly big with the correspondence, but then, who did she have to send e-mail to? The Angel he'd known back in school might be able to operate a Blackberry without electrocuting himself, but this one, not so much.

"Who knows. She might surprise us all. Start sending you recipes. Or possibly porn links."

Isabel snorted. "Those could be useful. I can pass them on to Kyle to keep him occupied or else I can show them to Max and Liz and see if I can inspire death by blushing." She looked around the tree and spotted Max peering up and down the street searching for her. Stepping out from behind the tree, Isabel waved until he spotted her. "Five minutes," she called.

"Can you do me a favor? If, or should I say when, you see your Isabel again, tell her I said be happy."

"You could try that too," Xander told her, not calculating the odds on whether he'd ever be able to do as she asked. "I know things get crazy - hi, I live in Crazytown - but stranger things have happened than finding a way to be happy even when the world goes nuts."

"I'm trying. It's just hard," she shrugged. "But this was a start."

"I'm glad." He smiled. "I have more tips if you need 'em." Xander waved his hand as if he was about to impart some great wisdom. "Ice cream helps, for instance. And coffee with lots of chocolate in it."

"You should write a book," Isabel suggested. "Because those do sound like good ideas. They'd be even better with some Tabasco."

"In coffee?" That was real aghastination, not fake, in Xander's voice.

"No!" she laughed. "The taste buds are weird but not that weird. Tabasco's for the sweet stuff. Well, and for everything else too. Except the coffee." Isabel looked down at the ground and scuffed the toe of her shoe. "So, anyway...thanks..."

Xander grabbed her hand and gave it a half-shake, not quite letting go. It felt weirdly formal after hugging her, but also right. "Get out of here," he said with a small quirk of his lips. "While the getting's good."

Reluctantly, Isabel let go of his hand after one last squeeze. "Bye, Xander," she quietly. She turned and walked away, waving at Max and ignoring the curious glance he gave her.

Xander didn't follow them to the Welcome To Sunnydale sign to make sure they made it out of town. He thought about it, but he didn't. He did stay behind the tree for a long time, though, until he was watching the tail-lights fade into the darkness of the on-ramp, before he finally turned and headed for home.

[Preplayed with [ profile] izzyalienqueen, Best. Roomie. Ever. OOC = AOK.]

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January 2007

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