First Learn to Love One Living Man
By James Jeffrey Roche (1833-1908)
...comrade love is as a
a welding blast
Of candid flame and ardent temperature:
Glowing most fervent, it doth bind more fast;
And melting both, but makes the union sure.
The dross alone is burnt-till at the last
The steel, if cold, is one, and strong and pure.
*There are quite a few subsections in this section,* William thought, examining the labels on the shelves. *Mystery, Romance, Coming Out...* He made a face. *A whole section devoted to tales of debutantes making their social bow? Frivolous. It's hard to believe there's much of a market for such drivel. Still, I suppose it's a part of this era that I have a good chance of understanding. Might as well start there. Let's see... The Front Runner. That must be about the number one debutant of the season.*
He picked the book off the shelf and frowned at the cover illustration. It was of a pair of shoes. When one considered how much dancing was done during a young girl's first season in society, that wouldn't be an unreasonable choice, but these types of shoes... They certainly weren't dainty dancing slippers. He'd seen a great many like this in the clothing store. Xander had called them running shoes, so he supposed they were a metaphoric allusion to the title, but most debutants of his acquaintance would never have grasped that.
He started flipping through the book, but quickly stopped, frowning to himself. It seemed to be concerned with a middle-aged man, and he could find no mention of a nubile daughter that he needed to launch into life. It must have gotten into the wrong section. He put it back on the shelf and chose another one by the same author. The Fancy Dancer--that had to be about the upper crust.
It wasn't. From what he could gain, it was about a young priest and an American Indian. Another mistake in shelving. He put it back on the shelf, and chose another one at random. *Summer Idle. Now, that's odd. The summer was always a time for society to retreat to the country. There was a round of balls and such, of course, but it would have been horribly unfashionable for a young girl to make her social bow then.*
And again the book seemed to have nothing to do with the coming out of a well-bred young lady. This time instead of quickly replacing the book, William started to leaf through the book. There was a sixteen-year-old boy who was going through the restless phase of adolescence. One summer the next-door neighbor's college age son comes back to spend his vacation. The boy helps the neighbor with yard work, and falls into a friendship with the older boy. They play athletics together, visit the public pool... The local girls are smitten with the college boy, flirting and trying to impress him, and the boy is jealous... Then William realized something startling.
*He isn't jealous that the girls are interested in his new friend instead of him--he's just jealous that they're interested in his friend at all.* He kept reading. The description of the young man's body, displayed in a tiny bathing costume, was extremely sensual. William could almost envision the sleek body, shining with water. An image came to him unbidden of Xander Harris in his underwear. He found himself wondering what Xander looked like wet, and he quickly turned the page in an effort to distract himself.
The next scene seemed promising for distraction. *Ah, the two are working on one of those infernal automobiles together. Yes, surely there's nothing less sensual than that. Soulless machinery--cold mechanics in a garage. Nothing erotic about that.*
Some day Xander would explain to William the 'special' relationship between American men and cars.
The sight of the younger boy, shirtless and sweating, bending and stretching to reach into the depths of the engine, with one dark smear of grease accentuating the tan sweep of his back was apparently too much for the older boy to resist, and he fondled the boy's buttocks. The boy was so startled that he banged his head against the hood. William didn't do anything that painful--he just dropped the book.
He stared down warily at where it lay near his feet, then looked up and glanced around quickly before bending down slowly. He pretended to study the books aligned on one of the shelves, running a finger casually along their spines, then glanced down again and made an 'oh, dear--someone has been clumsy' expression before he picked up the book and quickly put it back on the shelf. Then he took a step back and considered.
*I begin to believe that 'coming out' may not mean the same thing to people these days as it does to me. So far none of these books have dealt with socially prominent young ladies entering society. Wait! There's one called Senior Dance, and there's a young girl on the cover.* He felt relieved as he reached for the book. *Surely this one...* He read the first paragraph.
Dear diary, Marcie Compton has the most perfect breasts on the face of the earth, lots perkier than mine, and she likes to show them. She bounced past some of the football team today and one of the guys said wouldn't you like a mouthful of that? And I thought, oh yeah...
"Oh, dear lord." He picked up the first book and flipped it over. He'd learned that most of these books had a brief description on the contents on the back. He read
A classic tale of gay love, but more importantly, of accepting one's self...
*Gay love? As opposed to melancholy love?* He picked up another one.
Joshua likes basketball, rock n' roll... and other boys. His life gets more complicated when he falls in love with his boss. The trouble is, Mister Kraus is engaged--to Joshua's aunt.
He put it away and picked up Summer Idle again, flipping to the section that had first startled him, then another couple of pages.
Paul leaned back on the bench as Martin said, "Those are the tightest jeans I've ever seen." His hand cupped Paul's crotch, squeezing gently, "And getting tighter every minute." "You're kind of full of yourself," Paul whispered. Martin popped the snap and pulled his zipper down, then reached inside. Paul closed his eyes as Martin's hand slipped under the waistband of his boxers and closed around his prick. "Maybe a little," Martin admitted. "How'd you like to be full of me?"
William rested his forehead against the top shelf. "I don't believe this."
"Don't believe what, buddy?" The book went flying as William jumped and whirled, throwing himself back against the shelf. Xander frowned at him. "I haven't seen that sort of expression since you were up against that vamp behind The Bronze. What's wrong?"
"I... just... uh..."
Xander smirked. "I bet you found the Joy of Sex, didn't you? Yeah, I know I was a little speechless the first time I saw that." Xander looked past him, studying the contents of the shelf. His eyebrows went up, and he smiled slowly. "I forgot about this section."
"Alexander, I believe that all these books are about," William lowered his voice, "homosexual themes."
William was too involved in his discovery to notice the irony in Xander's voice. "Yes! I know it's hard to credit, but I really believe... Do you suppose that the term 'gay' could be a code word for same sex love?"
"Uh, no, William."
"But the signs in this section..."
"It's not a code word. It passed from being a code word into common usage a LONG time ago. But yeah, all these books have some form of gayness in common."
William stared at the books, and his voice was wondering. "And they're just sitting out here in the open." He looked around quickly. "Perhaps we should go. We don't want to be arrested if the police raid this establishment."
Xander fought down a chuckle. "That's not likely to happen. You don't even get the Mothers for Decency picketing these days. Especially since this is not pornography, but erotica."
"Xander, he used the word... Well... A vulgar term for a man's endowment."
"Endowment? Christ, Will, someone left him something in their will?" William stared at him. "I'm yanking your crank. I know what you're talking about. Okay, how to explain this? There's a lot more allowed out in the open than there used to be."
"I know that. I've seen how your women dress."
"I mean in attitudes, ideas, and life choices." Xander sighed, looking up at the ceiling, as if for inspiration. "This is hard to explain, since there ARE no hard and fast rules. Well, except getting explicit with nuns, or the pope."
Xander looked at William sharply. His tone had been dry. "That would make the confessional ineffective. A lot of it depends on where you are. For instance, you're going to discuss different things in a bar than you would in a church... Wait--you could discuss the same things, but it would be from a different perspective. Okay, you'd discuss different things with a bartender than you would with your grandmother... Wait--I've met Oz's grandmother, so that's not one hundred per cent." He sighed. "Actually, the only way to understand it is to experience it. But you're not going to get in trouble for reading this," Xander held up the book, "unless, say, you read certain portions out loud in public." He eyed William, and got hit by a naughtiness bolt. He flipped a page. "Such as 'Paul gasped in ecstasy as his sensitized flesh was engulfed by the moist heat of Martin's mouth..." William paled. "'He moaned as the tip of Martin's tongue made contact with the tip of his prick...'" Now William blushed, looking as if he'd suddenly acquired a sunburn. His eyes were huge, and he had the traditional 'deer caught in the headlights' look. Xander had pity. He shut the book. "Still, it's better to read this sort of thing in privacy. Sometimes it makes you..." he nudged William with his elbow. "you know--anxious?" Will swallowed hard. "So, you gonna buy this?"
"I... I..." *I want that book! Oh, but I can't let him know I'm interested in it.* "It's... a fascinating study in modern morals, I'm sure, but as you know, I'm without funds." *And if I wasn't afraid of being tossed in the gaol, I'd probably steal it.*
"Yeah, I'd forgot. Tell you what, this is on Angel. See anything else you'd like?" Will stared at him a moment, then silently pointed at The Front Runner, and The Fancy Dancer. "Good choices. It's always best to start with the classics." He took the books. "And a piece of advice--if you run into a very cheap looking paperback, and the title contains 'Hot', 'Studs', or 'Backdoor'--don't read it. You're not ready for it yet."
Your Love's Protracted Growing
You'll love Me Yet
Robert Browning. 1812-1889
You'll love me yet!-and I can tarry
Your love's protracted growing:
June rear'd that bunch of flowers you carry,
From seeds of April's sowing.
I plant a heartful now: some seed
At least is sure to strike,
And yield--what you'll not pluck indeed,
Not love, but, may be, like.
You'll look at least on love's remains,
A grave's one violet:
Your look?--that pays a thousand pains.
What's death? You'll love me yet!
That evening Angel and Doyle came up from the basement. Neither one of them looked all that happy. "Look, Doyle, I'm not asking you to completely change your schedule..."
"The hell you're not."
"But only for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. I'd just like to have someone around to keep an eye on Spike during the daytime."
"You mean William."
Angel paused at the head of the stairs, leaning against the landing with a sigh. "Yes. It's been a long time."
Doyle studied him. "You don't talk about him much. I mean, not about how it was with you two before the whole soul business. I know you acted as his sire, even if Drucilla did bring him over." Angel shrugged. "But I've seen enough of vamps to know that the sire/childe relationship can encompass a wide variety of things. Anything from tender parent/child interaction, to..."
"I was Angelus then, Doyle. How do you think it was?" Doyle didn't quite flinch. "Exactly. I put him through a lot. Now that he's William again, I owe him."
"So it's the whole redemption thing again, is it?"
There was a particular sort of tone to his voice, and Angel looked at him sharply. "Doyle, I never lied to you. Yes, there was sex when I was with Spike--lots of it--with him, and with anyone else who took my fancy for more than a few minutes. But that changed when I was ensouled." He reached out and laid his hand on the half-demon's shoulder. "There hasn't been anyone else since you."
Doyle looked mollified, but said tartly, "There bloody well wasn't me for too damn long, you repressed git. I thought I was going to have to just stick my hand down your pants to finally get your attention."
Angel smiled. "You had my attention a long time before we got together, but you know how I am."
"Slow to start, but hell on wheels once you get going." Doyle sighed. "All right, I suppose I can shift around and sleep nights again for awhile. Just remember that when it's over, you're going to be the one having to deal with me while I get readjusted."
They made their way upstairs to the kitchen. Xander was sitting at the table, sipping a soda while he studied a notepad. He glanced up as they entered and said, "You guys seriously need to load up on the groceries. Your refrigerator is even barer than mine at home, and that's saying something."
Angel got a pint of blood out of the refrigerator while Doyle went to the coffee maker. "We don't do much cooking around here."
"I know you don't need to," Xander indicated Doyle, "but there's him, and I know from past experience that Wesley can chow down with the best of us."
"The extent of Doyle's culinary efforts is anything microwavable."
Xander watched as Doyle sat at the table and started sipping his coffee. "He can't even manage Hamburger Helper?"
"The last time he tried he misread the amount of water to use, and it ended up as soup."
"He can speak for himself," said Doyle. "Now that he has had caffeine."
"Tell me," said Xander, "How do you regard caffeine?"
"As one of the four basic food groups, up there with salt, grease, and chocolate."
"We're going to get along."
Angel had poured the blood into a mug, and now he slipped it into the microwave, then punched the buttons. "Xander, you grew up in California--the land of sprouts, organic vegetables, and the macrobiotic diet. How did you develop your eating habits?"
"Comes from a childhood spent fixing my own meals. I don't think I saw a green vegetable except at school between the ages of six and twelve."
Doyle leaned over and peered at the notepad. "What are you doing?"
"Well, when we got back from the shopping trip, I made a tour of this place to see for myself what needs to be done. You aren't to the pulling down phase, but you might be better off selling the sucker to someone who'll cut it up into condos."
"No," said Angel firmly. "If there's one thing I've learned, it's that a vampire needs a place of his own. If I sold this place, I'd just have to use the profits to buy somewhere else, and there's no guarantee that I'd find something suitable. Property is at a premium in Los Angeles."
"All right, but you're looking at some serious work here. I can do a lot of it, but at some point you're going to have to spring for additional help."
Angel glanced at the pad. "It doesn't look all that bad." Xander silently flipped over three more pages. All of them were covered in small writing. "Oh. Well, just start on it, and we'll see how things go from there."
"I don't suppose you have a load of tools, paint, plaster, wood, tiles and such hanging around, do you?"
"There might be some. We have a few storage rooms I haven't been in."
Xander flipped over to a fresh page and started writing. "I think I know what you're talking about. I ran across SOME supplies, but they won't be nearly enough, and some of it's bound to have gone to pot. I'm going to start a list of the bare minimum I need to get started, and I'll check to see if we have it. If not..." He smiled at Angel. "Prepare to have your plastic worn out a little more."
"Speaking of which..."
"I kept the designer label purchases to a bare minimum--no tuxedos. Hey, you're a vampire--aren't you required to have evening clothes?"
"After all the time you've spent on the Hellmouth..."
"Jesus, Angel," said Doyle, "I've just met him, and I can tell he's jerking your chain--why can't you?"
"I'm one of his blind spots," said Xander cheerfully.
"Where is he?" asked Angel.
Angel stared at him. "'Our' room?"
"Oh, don't you want to sleep there, too! Wait--are you using the imperial plural? Like that 'how are we?' garbage medical people always pull? Anyway, three in a bed is just too crowded. Well, for sleeping purposes, anyway." He smirked. "Don't start speculating. The reason is on the second page of the 'to do' list. You only have one decent room on that floor. Actually, he's not too bad as a roommate. Doesn't snore, or kick."
"Why isn't he down here?" Doyle asked.
"I told you--he's reading," said Xander.
"What's that got to do with it?"
Xander winked at him. "You haven't asked me what he's reading."
Doyle smiled back. "Not porn?"
"If it isn't, it's a very close approximation of it. Actually we did purchase some legitimate literature, but I have a feeling he went straight for the stroke book."
"I don't believe this," Angel said heavily. "You bought what is basically a Victorian gentleman porn?"
"Technically, you bought it for him," Xander pointed out. "And get real, Angel. As if they didn't have nasty books back then. Hell, Fanny Hill is sort of the standard of porn."
"Yeah, but it wasn't... it wasn't..."
"They used better grammar," said Xander bluntly, "and a few different descriptive terms."
"You bought him Fanny Hill?" asked Doyle, obviously amused by Angel's disconcertion.
"Nope. That sort didn't seem to interest Will."
Xander drew out his one word reply, pronouncing each syllable separately. "Heh-ter-o-sex-u-al."
"Let me get this straight," said Angel. "William is not only reading porn--he's reading gay porn?"
Doyle gave him an annoyed and defiant look. "You have a problem with that?"
"I... no, I just... Wesley's in the office, right? I'd better go check and see if there's anything that needs... I'll just go check."
He left, and Doyle called after him, "As if ya don't know that there's nothing urgent unless I have one of those damned visions."
"Visions?" asked Xander.
"Splitting headache, jumbled flashes of people in peril, over riding urgency to do something about it. That's what we do here. If we're lucky, we sometimes actually get paid for it. What bugs me is that if the Powers can give me the damn visions, why can't they make them so that I don't feel like someone's set off a dynamite cap in my skull? And why can't they ever include the damn address? It'd be a lot easier if I got 'demon arriving at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, 2 am tomorrow. Bring an axe.'"
"Ah, but that would make life too simple."
Doyle poked a finger at the list. "You won't have to be calling in extra help right away. I'm available to help out."
Xander quirked an eyebrow. "Really? I sort of got the impression that you operated on the same schedule as Angel."
"By choice, not necessity."
"He asked you to keep an eye on me, didn't he?"
"Don't be getting paranoid. He asked me to keep an eye on William."
Xander's expression hardened. "So it's not that Angel doesn't trust me, it's that he doesn't trust me to take care of William. That's so much more complimentary."
"I'm sure it isn't like that. He's such a worrywart..."
"It is like that." Xander sighed. "But I can't blame him, with our history. And it isn't like I trust him all that much."
"But you brought William here."
Xander gave him a cynical look. "What makes you think I had all that much of a choice? He sort of landed on me, and I couldn't just leave him out at the curb. As busy as they are in Sunnydale, I figured I'd better..." He noticed that Doyle was looking past him, and he looked around. William was standing in the door. His expression was neutral, but his eyes... *Oh, crap. Didn't I just sound like Mister Duty Bound?* "I was wondering if you were going to come down, or if you had everything you needed in the room."
The teasing had the effect he wanted. William blushed, and said, "I just wanted to ask you a question. Who is Calvin Klein, and why would the boy in this book be wearing his undergarments? Do they have some sort of a... relationship?"
"I'm sure some guys have relations with their Calvin Kleins, but actually they just call the underwear by the name of the designer."
William's eyebrows drew together. "Someone specifically designs men's underwear? There's a market for that?"
Xander looked at Doyle. "Got a copy of International Male around here?"
"Don't bother," said William, as he turned away.
"Hang on!" said Xander. "No point in you going all the way upstairs if you're going to have to trot back down again." He looked at Doyle. "Got dinner plans?"
"Other than eating--no," said Doyle.
"Let's see if Deadboy and Tweeds want to come along. We can hit a Chinese restaurant and do a group dinner. We should be able to get a load of dishes with a group that size."
"Angel won't actually eat, but he might come along just for company."
"Fine," said Xander, "It'll mean more food for the rest of us." He got up and moved past William. "Hang on. I'll go ask, and... Where are you going?"
William was headed back toward the stairs. "Upstairs to change."
"Will, you dog, have you been doing something that made you sweat?"
"I just thought that since we're going out..."
"Lesson in modern living--most normal people do not change clothes more than once a day unless they've gotten dirty, or have an important event coming up--otherwise the laundry will kill you. Dinner out at a Chinese restaurant does not qualify."
"But it will just take a moment, and..."
"Will..." Xander pointed at a chair. "Sit." William stared at him. Neither Xander's gaze, nor his pointing finger wavered.
Finally William took a seat. "I'm only doing this because, upon reflection, you make sense."
"I haven't been accused of that too often." He left.
Doyle and William looked at each other for a moment. Doyle said, "Ya know, from what Angel told me about Xander Harris, I didn't expect him to be so forceful. Seems like he might have grown up a bit since Angel last saw him."
William hesitated, then said, "He's... an unusual young man. He's behaved very responsibly--I'm sure I don't know what I would have done if he'd turned me away. But there's also a certain..." He paused, reaching for the word. "A whimsical quality? That isn't what I want to say, but it's as close as I can come." He scooted his chair a little closer to the table. "He hasn't spoken much of his life. I gathered that he was once involved with a girl named Cordelia." Doyle rolled his eyes. "Yes, she seems to have that effect on people."
"Never met the girl, but from what I've heard from Angel and Wesley, I'm not grief stricken."
"I was wondering--would you know if he's involved with any other girl? He was very friendly with Willow, and Buffy is very attractive. Frightening--but attractive."
"From what I've heard, Willow is his best friend from way back, and Buffy," Doyle shrugged, "every adolescent male has to have a crush on a pretty blonde somewhere along the line, don't they?"
William hesitated, then said softly, "Mister Doyle, I hate to be so forward..."
"Will, what you consider forward almost counts as stand-offish these days."
"I've gathered that. I'm trying to acclimate myself, but I never was all that at ease in social situations, and I'm having a truly hard time reading social clues now." He took a breath. "Do you think that Alexander likes me?"
Doyle pursed his lips. "D'you mean like, or like?"
Xander entered. "All set. Wesley's gonna ride his motorcycle, and he offered to give someone a ride, but I declined for both of us. You still get palpitations in an enclosed car--I hate to think of what riding a Harley would do to you. C'mon. Doyle, since it's Angel driving, I won't even dispute you for shotgun."
As they left the kitchen, William was saying, "But if the area is so dangerous that you feel the need to go armed, shouldn't we choose another place that's more secure?"
"Ah, geez," grumbled Xander. "Now I have to figure out how they came to call riding in the passenger seat--front--riding shot gun. Okay, I think it goes back to the old west, when they ran stagecoaches, and someone had to look out for bandits and Indians..."
As Doyle followed them down the hall, he thought, *Does he like you--as in, like a friend? Dunno, Will. Don't think he knows, yet, but I'd bet he's leaning toward it. Does he like you?* He watched Xander's dark head bending toward William's bright one, as he gestured through his explanation. *I wouldn't be at all surprised.*
Much Depends on Dinner
Notes: Saccharine was invented about 1879, but wasn't widely known or used till the World Wars made a sugar substitute necessary.
All human history attests
That happiness for man,—the hungry sinner!—
Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner.
Don Juan. Canto xiii. Stanza 99, by George Gordon Noel Byron, Lord Byron
"Of all the odd situations I've been in of late," said William, "I think I can safely say that this one must be the furtherest from any conception of what I might possibly do that I've ever had."
"I thought you had restaurants in Victorian England," said Xander.
"We did. We did not, however, have restaurants dedicated to serving Oriental cuisine, and we most certainly did not have an eating establishment called the Prancing Panda Palace."
"It does great business with the tourists," said Doyle as they went into the restaurant. "They come from all over just to have their picture taken with the sign."
"There can't be many ten foot tall tu-tu wearing purple pandas," agreed Wesley.
"You saw that, too?" said William. "Thank goodness. I feared I was hallucinating."
"You people just can't appreciate it's gorgeous tackiness," said Xander. "And I wouldn't care if the waiters wore the purple tu-tus. The prices are reasonable, and the food is good."
Angel was staring around at the decor, which consisted mostly of crushed plum velvet, tassels, and gilt. He winced. "As long as looking at the surroundings don't take away your appetite."
The restaurant was busy, and they had to wait for several minutes behind a rope while a circular booth in the back was cleared. Then a tiny Oriental woman bustled up to lead them back to their seats. It was hard to tell her age. Her hair was iron gray, but her face was smooth and placid. Wesley went in first on one side, then Doyle and Angel. On the other side Xander urged William in first. Before he slid into the booth, William gave the hostess a bow of thanks. The woman watched him with suspicion, then decided to be amused instead. "Just don't call me mama-san and we'll get along fine," she said in unaccented English. She passed around menu, saying "your waitress will be here shortly."
They opened the menus and began to peruse it. "Well," said William, "I recognize a few things, at least parts of the names. Beef, pork, shrimp, and chicken are familiar enough, but some of these others... I'm glad that they have descriptions below the names, because quite frankly I would have never guessed what Moo Goo Gai Pan could possibly contain. And who is General Tso?"
Wesley perked up. "Now that's a fascinating subject. His full name as Tso Tsungtang, and he was a great Chinese general not too far before your own time. He defended the Qing Dynasty in the Taiping Rebellion, fighting from 1860 to 1864. He subjected the captured rebel leaders to the infamous 'death of 10,000 cuts', and..."
"Wes?" said Xander. "Little more information that is strictly necessary." He looked at William. "Chinese version of The Colonel," said Xander.
"And the colonel would be?"
"God, there's so much to teach you. I'm going to have to set up a television watching schedule for you. Let's get this settled before she comes back. I get the feeling that's a lady that doesn't like to be kept waiting. Can we all agree on the Imperial Dinner? That gives us appetizers, soup, two entrees, fried rice, and egg rolls for the base, and then since we have five people we can get two more dishes at the same price. We better stick mostly to the less incendiary dishes. Thank goodness this is mainly Cantonese, and not Hunan or Szeuan."
They settled on crispy orange beef, moo goo gai pan (so that William could find out what the heck it was), mu shu pork, and sweet and sour shrimp. Xander had been lobbying for barbecued ribs, but William insisted on a vegetable medley. The other men watched with varying emotions as Xander and William carried on a spirited argument. Wesley thought that from what he knew of the former vampire, he would be one of the least likely persons in the world to favor a healthy diet. Angel reflected that Spike would have had little patience with debate, and would probably have just throttled Xander. Doyle thought it was sort of cute--they were already acting like a couple.
The waitress, another tiny Oriental woman (but much younger than the hostess) arrived just as William was saying, "...and I've seen what beriberi can do to a person, so I'm not anxious to court the disease myself. It it's distasteful to you, you needn't eat it, but you have to deal with the fact that SOME of us are adults, and don't object to a bit of greenery in our diet."
"Look," said Xander as the waitress set down a china teapot and several handleless cups, "if I'm worried about vitamins and minerals I'll eat a Flintstones Chewable, or pop a One-a-Day. But if you have to have it, have it. Just don't go trying to help my plate--I can eat around it." Wesley was pouring himself a cup of steaming tea. "Wes, you're the only person besides Giles and Willow that I've ever seen drink the hot tea in a Chinese restaurant."
"Well, prepare yourself to add to your tally," said William, taking the teapot and pouring a fragrant stream into his cup. "This looks like an excellent brew. I do believe that they actually allowed the water to come to a boil before steeping it." William was looking around the table. He looked to the waitress and said politely, "I hate to trouble you, but I'll need the sugar bowl."
She stared at him. Xander pushed the rack of condiments toward him. "Those little paper packs, sport. NO! Not the pink ones, the white ones."
William examined the different colored paper packs (white, blue, and pink) with curiosity. "Why not?"
"If you don't want to court beriberi, you damn sure don't want to risk getting what they claim Saccharine can give you."
"Paper packets? How ingenious!"
William took four and tore them open, pouring the white granules into his cup as the others watched in bemusement. "Need some tea with your sugar, Will?" said Xander wryly.
"I know. I've been teased many times for not having grown out of my nursery habits." He was looking around the table again, and now he looked up at the waitress. "Milk?"
She blinked. "I guess I can get you some non-dairy creamer. You might need to crush it if it's set up. We haven't used it for a while, since not many people ask for it, and I don't know how long we've had that box of creamers."
William sighed. "Thank you, but don't bother." He reached for the packets again. "I'll make do."
"Jesus," said Xander. "I'm going to get diabetes watching you, and I'm the original Cola Kid."
They ordered, with everyone but William asking for a beer. William declined. He said that he might have taken wine if they had it, but that he considered beer to be for lunch--something to drink with your bread and cheese. Xander promised to eventually cure him of this odd tendency. A few moments after the drinks came William looked up, face going stiff with alarm, and said, "No one panic, but there's a fire!" He started to rise. "Quickly, we must make sure the women and children get out safely, then call the fire brigade, and..."
Xander caught his arm, tugging him back down to his seat. "Will you chill, will? It's just our first course." The waitress brought over a large, round, deep wooden tray. Various foods filled the depressions around the rim, and a bowl of Sterno blazed in the center. "You use the fire to finish grilling the beef strips threaded on those skewers, see?"
As she set the tray in the middle of the table William said, "I see, but I don't understand. I thought that the whole point of going to a restaurant was to have someone else cook your food. And it can't be safe to carry a bowl of fire about. Shouldn't they place the tray on the table before lighting it?"
Xander started to say something, then stopped and thought. "Actually, that's a good point. I wonder if the fire marshal knows about this?"
Doyle was reaching for a fried wonton. "Can we just eat before we worry about having the place closed down for code violations?"
They ate. William was introduced to sweet-and-sour sauce, plum sauce, and duck sauce, and advised to stay away from the mustard. He stated firmly that while he might not have the appreciation for sauces that a Frenchman would, as an Englishman he felt highly competent on the subject of mustard. Two glasses of water later he was willing to admit that perhaps he'd over stated.
He watched with interest as the waitress loaded the table with filled plates. "I don't recognize a thing but the vegetables," he said, "but it all smells delicious."
Doyle was staring at a pair of chopsticks, then laid them aside and reached for a fork. "I'd die of malnutrition if I tried to eat with those."
Xander and Wesley had also taken silverware, but Angel had stripped the wrapper off his chopsticks and was eating rice. "It just takes a little practise, Doyle."
"Why should I annoy myself just to pick up something that's no bloody use outside a Chinese restaurant?"
"Damn, Will. That's a talent I never would have expected you to have," said Xander.
William had helped his plate with a little of everything and was eating--with chopsticks. "What talent?"
Xander pointed with his fork. "That."
William glanced down, seeming to notice the chopsticks for the first time. He immediately dropped the bit of food he'd been lifting. "What on earth? I hadn't even noticed that I'd picked up these devices." He studied his own hand, as if curious as to how the sticks had appeared in his grasp. "I don't understand. I've never used these things before."
"Sure you have." William looked questioningly at Angel. "You spent a lot of time in China, and back around the turn of the century they didn't have a lot of flatware. You learned then."
William looked bewildered. "But I don't remember it."
"Apparently some part of you does."
William tried to pick up some more food. After a moment he laid them down, reaching for a fork. "Well, I don't seem to be able to do it if I think about it." He frowned. "This is very frustrating."
"Don't sweat it," said Xander. "I guess ninty per cent of the customers use forks."
"That's not what I meant. It's this not knowing, not knowing what I know or don't know, or..." He trailed off. "I apologize for babbling."
"Don't," said Wesley. "You're in a situation that many people would find maddening. You're coping quite well."
"Much of that is due to Alexander."
Xander looked up from wrapping his mu shu pork to find everyone looking at him. "What? I HAVE to use my fingers to do this."
"I'm sorry," said Angel, "but the idea of Xander Harris acting as anyone's mentor..."
Xander was about to say something snarky and indignant, but he didn't get the chance. William said sharply, "I'm getting a bit tired of your attitude, sir. Mister Harris has sheltered, clothed, and fed me in my distress. He's offered support and instruction, which is more than many would do," his eyes narrowed, "or indeed have done."
"Hey." Angel sounded surprised, and almost hurt. "I'm giving you shelter and clothes. Who do you think paid for it all?"
"And who went with me to offer advice, and make sure I didn't end up dressed like a prat? I don't know exactly what our relationship was supposed to be before I lost my memory but I'll tell you frankly, so far I don't feel that forgetting it was much of a loss." He picked up his fork. "Now, I believe that this discussion should cease, or we'll all have indigestion."
The meal progressed. Angel was feeling a little stunned. William's behavior didn't fit either Spike, or what he remembered of William. William had been shy, almost diffident. Spike had been aggressive to the point of belligerance. It was as if the two personas had melded--William smoothing and gentling Spike, Spike strengthening end empowering William. Angel had thought that he knew both, but now he was beginning to wonder if anyone ever truly knew anyone else.
Near the end of the meal Xander stood up. "Gotta go visit the can."
William looked curious. "Can? I remember that they'd begun to can things commercially, but why would you want to go visit one?"
William looked blank. Wesley said, "He's going to visit the loo. You know--the water closet."
William blushed, and Xander said, "C'mon, everybody has to eventually. It's a fact of life."
"I know. I'm just not used to it being bandied about in common conversation."
"You have yet to encounter teen comedy movies. Be right back."
While he was gone, the waitress brought a fresh pot of tea, and William poured himself a cup. He reached for the little rack that held the packs of sugar, and frowned. There was only a single white pack left. *Ah, well. If I'm violating some minor social rule, I'm sure I'll be forgiven.* As the other three men chatted, he opened three of the pink packs and stirred them into his tea.
He was taking his first sip when Xander returned. "Will, what's wrong? Did you eat one of those pepper pods I warned you off?"
"No." William's voice was strangled, and it got the attention of the others. "It isn't heat. It's... I don't know how to describe it, but I'm not sure if I'll EVER get this taste out of my mouth. Good God. It's sweet, but it goes beyond that, it's..."
Xander noticed the torn open pink packs lying on the table. "Aw, geez. Didn't I warn you about not using the pink ones? How many did you put in?"
"My usual amount--three of the pink, one white."
"I'm surprised your spoon didn't just stick in it when you stirred. I told you not to use those."
"There weren't enough of the white packs, and I thought that surely sugar was sugar."
"That's NOT sugar, Will. It's a no calorie artificial sweetener."
Xander blinked. "Man, I'd forgotten that there had to have been a time when people weren't obsessed with calories. They didn't have calories back when you...? No, of COURSE they had calories--if you have food, you have calories. But you didn't know about calories?"
"I suppose not, because I'm still not sure what you're talking about."
"It's scientific, and I'm not going to do the Mister Wizard thing right now. There's an easy rule of thumb--the better something tastes, the more likely it is to make you fat."
William poked irritably at the torn paper. "Then this must be one of the least fattening things in existance."
"But why would someone subject themselves to something so foul just for the vanity of remaining a bit thinner?"
"That's right--you haven't met Cordelia."
The waitress came back. "All right, gentlemen?"
"Marvelous, thank you," said William. "Though you might consider posting a warning sign about that odd sugar in the pink packs."
"Um... I'll mention it to the manager. Other than that...?"
"My compliments to the chef."
She smiled. "I'll be sure to tell LeRoi. Not many people think to send back a good word. Now, you get a complimentary dessert with the meal. Would you like almond cookies, or fortune cookies?"
Wesley requested almond, Angel and Doyle declined. "I'm not much for sweets," said Doyle, "and I sure don't want anything I'm going to eat trying to tell my fortune. I have enough to do with prognostication as it is."
"Fortune cookie," said Xander promptly. "That's pretty much the whole point of the meal, as far as I'm concerned."
"Then I'll have the same," said William.
The girl set down a plate containing one round cookie, topped by an almond sliver, and two crescent shaped cookies. As Wesley took the round one, Xander grumbled. "One cookie each. That's not dessert--that's a tease. Hey, wait!"
William had picked up one of the cookies and bitten into it. Surprised, he picked the thin strip of paper out of his mouth. "What on earth?"
"That's the fortune," said Xander, picking up his own cookie and snapping it open. "You get some sort of mystical or proverbial gobble-de-gook in each one. And there's usually a series of 'lucky numbers' on the back, if you want to play the lottery. The fortunes are usually pretty bland--nothing interesting like 'your husband is cheating on you' or 'the blond in the corner is hot for your bod', or even 'that sock you're looking for is under the dryer'."
"That's because everyone's afraid of being sued," said Doyle. "If someone got the first one you mentioned, then went home and shot her spouse, the legal wranglings would go on for decades."
"Well, they could still make them a little more interesting. They're either vague, or just some sort of Pollyanna, buck up shit. What's yours say, Will?"
William examined the paper as he munched on the cookie. "How nice. It says 'Your secret desire is close'."
"Good for you. Mine will probably tell me to be cautious, or something." He read the paper, then stared at it silently.
"What's it say?" asked Wesley.
"We gathered that," said Angel. "But specifically what--and don't go on about it being private, or I'll get suspicious."
"It says exactly the same thing that William's does."
Wesley put down his tea cup. "Now that's strange. There are thousands of those little sayings in circulation at any given time, and they change them regularly. What are the odds of you two getting the same one?"
Doyle was looking between William and Xander. "Yeah--what are the odds?"
T B C
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