East Of Eden
by Victoria P.

"So send them forth, though sorrowing, yet in peace"
-- Paradise Lost, John Milton

In the cool pre-dawn dim, Xander pulls up in front of the house and parks the car.

He gives the horn two quick taps and pops the trunk before getting out.

She stands on the porch, surrounded by luggage -- handbags, duffels, a knapsack over one shoulder.

As he mounts the steps, he thinks of all the time they've spent in this house -- and all the time he's spent repairing it recently.

That will no longer be necessary. Giles' sacrifice has seen to that. Giles' and Buffy's and even Spike's.

All gone, lost in the final battle with the First.

And Xander knows that while it may have been their last battle together as Buffy's slayerettes, the First is not gone. The Hellmouth is sealed, but evil still walks in the world, and always will. He's come to accept that it's not always something outside of them that causes the evil, that people can do just as much damage to each other as hordes of marauding demons that look like extras from Lord of the Rings.

Wherever there are people, the First will flourish, no vamps or demons necessary.

He puts that thought out of his mind for the moment. He's got more pressing matters to worry about, like fitting all her stuff in the trunk. He's only got one bag, himself, twenty-two years of living stripped down to one suitcase. His baggage is all on the inside, and he'll carry it with him the rest of his life.

He helps Dawn carry the bags to the car. They don't speak. They don't need to.

The house already looks lonely, with its windows boarded up and its lawn unkempt. He laughs softly and she looks over at him.

"In any other town, that'd be an eyesore," he says.

In Sunnydale, it's a monument to the Slayer and all she's done to save the world.

Thanks to Giles' generosity, the house is paid off, the deed in Dawn's name. They'll never have to worry about having a place to live, even though they're leaving it now and don't know when -- or if -- they'll return.

None of the potential Slayers -- none of the ones who survived, anyway -- were called upon Buffy's death. It's Faith's successor they're after now roadtripping to save the world, or at least the Slayer line.

In the end, saving the Slayer is saving the world, and Xander's done both enough to know.

He remembers the last time he left Sunnydale with such purpose. He slipped a copy of On the Road into the glove compartment this morning, but he's lost his taste for the Beats. Much to his own surprise, his reading material lately - - when he's not in research mode -- is comprised mostly of Robert Frost and John Donne. Lying on top of Kerouac, dog-eared and filled with scribbled notes, is Willow's copy of Paradise Lost.

It seems fitting.

It's the only thing of hers he's taken, though he's sure Dawn has some of her clothes in one of the many suitcases he's loading into the trunk. With Willow gone, he's an exile, even if he and Dawn never leave town.

All he wants now is all he's ever wanted -- a home, a place to belong.

He never thought he'd have to do it without Willow, though, and he's not sure he can.

He hopes he and Dawn can make a home for themselves, starting in a blue Honda Accord that's currently loaded down with the accumulated detritus of two lives and an air of grief that would choke people less accustomed to mourning.

They stand silent, staring at the house for a stretch of time that feels like forever, but Xander knows it's only been seconds.

"Let's go," he says at last.

They get in the car and drive, heading east into the sunrise.

"Som natural tears they drop'd, but wip'd them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through EDEN took thir solitarie way."
-- Paradise Lost, John Milton


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