It took RPIT about a week to finish their investigation into the Orb of Daedalus and the death of the woman known as both Sabine Delacroix and Brett Anne Williams. Dolph had told Willow and Buffy not to leave town without RPIT's permission, so they spent the time playing tourist in St. Louis, with Xander and Jason acting as the tour guides. In the end, RPIT concluded that Theodore had probably killed Sabine, and that the Scoobies and I had taken appropriate actions in destroying the Orb. Buffy had claimed they were a little bit disappointed that they weren't getting deported. She had always wanted an excuse to spend time in London shopping, and there were a number of museums that Willow wanted to visit. So they ended up flying back to California and the Hellmouth, and Jason seemed genuinely sad to see Buffy go home.
A month after that, Xander came to my house to say his own goodbyes.
"Are you sure about going back to Sunnydale?" I said.
"Not many things in life I've been sure of, and I'm sure about that. I mean St. Louis is a nice enough place to end up on a vacation and all, but when Buffy and Willow came out here last month, it reminded me of where I'm really supposed to be, and what I'm supposed to be doing."
"If you can say that getting clawed up by werewolves and then almost getting yourself killed on a monthly basis counts as a vacation, then I'll give up and say that your life is actually stranger than mine is."
"Back home, it's getting my life and manhood threatened on a weekly basis, so it really has been a sort of break. It's strange, but in a weird sort of co-dependant way, the threats do get rather comfortable and homey after a while."
"Richard said something about you going back there last week to see if you could control your beast around the Hellmouth."
"Yeah. It's definitely harder to step away from the giant cliff than it is here, but I made it through the test okay, and I do have to say the hunting out there is a lot more interesting than the same old boring deer," he said, letting a little bit of the wolf inside him flash across his face. "Richard also talked to the ulfric of the Santa Ynez clan for me, and Carlos is cool with me bunking with them for the full moon, even though he thinks I'm insane for living in Sunnyhell the rest of the time. I think I can handle that better than the idea that for the rest of my life, I've got to get some sort of special permission from some other ulfric every time I want to so much as make a run down to the City of Angels. Makes me feel like I'm back in first grade and having to ask the teacher for a bathroom pass all over again. I hate to think what it would have taken to drive myself back to California from here."
"So you're going to fly then?"
"Considering how road trips number one and two seemed to turn out so well for me, no way in hell would I try driving home again. At minimum, I'd run into actual space aliens somewhere near Roswell. Fortunately, I've got enough money saved up from work that I can both fly home and have the Delta shipped there with one of those big cross country freight companies, complete with truck driver with those nude lady mud flaps. Speaking of which, I've got to go meet up with Jason in a few minutes so I can get my car dropped off at the freight yard."
"Believe it or not, I'll miss you." And I would, even though there were times when it seemed like he could almost drive me crazier than Jason could.
"I'm going to miss all you guys too," he said, stepping forward and drawing me into a tight hug. "You know if St. Louis ever gets too dull, you and Jason and Stephen could come out and visit. I could show you all the sights, introduce you to some non-human species that would make your biologist's heart go all a pitter-patter, and maybe introduce you to a couple of people who allegedly knew Jean-Claude way back when. You never know when that sort of blackmail material involving his messy and embarrassing past might come in handy."
"As serious as I ever am."
"I'll have to keep that in mind. Don't suppose your friends could turn up any dirt on Malcolm as well?"
"I could try. Willy owes me a couple."
"Let me know if you do. And if you ever find yourself in need of a break from the Hellmouth, remember you've still got friends here."
"I'll do that. And I need to tell you thanks for everything you've done to help me. I could have been dead if it weren't for you and the rest of the pack. I could have gone crazy with the afterwards, but you all wouldn't let me. It used to be that there were about seven people in the world that thought I was worth much, and my own parents aren't even on that list. Even when you didn't know me, and I was just some guy you pulled out of a chicken coop, you thought I was worth the effort of trying to fix."
I thought he was going to say more, but instead he leaned his head close to mine, and licked his tongue along my lower lip. It was the way a lesser wolf would show respect to his lupa, and an oddly formal gesture from one of the least formal people I knew. Then he let go of me and walked toward the front door.
"Be careful and stay safe."
"I only will if you will."