Falling To Pieces

Falling to Pieces

By Bastard Snow

Rating: PG for language and adult themes
Summary: A couple of years after “Chosen.” Xander never lost his eye because I’m too lazy to remember to write it that way.
Notes: Disclaimer: None of the characters portrayed herein are my property, nor do I make any claim on them. So don’t sue me.

***

After the last battle in Sunnydale, he had been in mourning, and everybody had been sympathetic, and spared no effort in helping him, or being there for him, or whatever he needed. And then, after a few months, he wasn’t in mourning anymore, and things were, in general, good.

It was two years later, now, and he was in a bad mood.

Those who knew him knew that this was not an uncommon occurrence. Most of them didn’t know why, though they often tried to pull it out of him. There was just one person he felt he could confide in. And she was damn tired of hearing him whine.

“Jesus, Xander,” Dawn said, slamming her book on her desk. “When did you become such a coward?”

“I’m not a coward,” he said from his seat on her bean bag chair. “I just… it’s futile.”

Dawn rolled her eyes, spun around in her chair and hurled her pen at him. He caught it without looking, something he’d grown accustomed to doing in these late-night chat sessions the two shared. Xander capped the pen and lobbed it back to its owner.

“Well if it’s futile, move on. For crying out loud, just get over it!”

“I tried!” Xander said. “I’ve been trying for over a year, you know that.”

“I know I know that,” Dawn said. “But like you said, it’s been over a year!”

“Yeah? And how long did you have a crush on me?”

Dawn spun back towards her work, muttering something about fighting dirty.

“Anyway, you need to leave soon,” Dawn said.

“What? Why? I thought tonight was just us hanging.”

“Yeah, well, it was going to be, but Ethan’s coming over and we’re going to have sex, so unless you want to be here for that…”

“DAWN!” Xander yelled.

“I mean, as I’ve said before, I’m open to you staying, joining in even… Ethan might not be too happy about it…”

Xander rolled himself off the bean bag chair and scrambled to his feet, grabbing his keys from her bookcase.

“This isn’t over. I’m going to be able to horrify you one day.”

“What, with tales of sex?” Dawn asked.

“Yeah,” Xander said. “But they’ll all deal with Andrew.”

“Yeah, cuz he’s going to have sex in this lifetime.”

“Keep pushing me and I might have to resort to extreme measures.”

“Oh, ew!” Dawn squealed, turning back towards him with a horrified look on her face. “Oh, even with you in the picture, that’s nasty.”

“Me? What? NO! I meant a hooker!” Xander shuddered as Dawn faked gagging herself. She shook her head and stood up to see him to the door of her dorm room.

“Seriously, Xander,” Dawn said “Do something about it. You know she’s not going to hate you, or hurt your feelings if she says no. And hey, maybe she’ll say yes.”

Xander leveled a disbelieving glare.

“I’m just saying, it’s a non-zero chance.”

Dawn leaned up and gave Xander a hug, which he returned in kind.

“Okay,” he said. “Have fun tonight.”

“Got it covered.”

“Make sure he does, too.”

“Have fun?” Dawn asked. “I think I can guarantee that.”

“I meant, make sure he’s got it covered,” Xander said.

”Yes, Dad.”

“If your father ever talked to you about sex, I will eat my shoe.”

Dawn kissed him on the cheek. “Now leave,” she said, shoving him out the door by his butt.

“I still can’t believe you’re dating a guy named Ethan,” Xander said, shaking his head. “Talk about karma.”

“GO!”

Xander smiled, then turned and headed off into the night, alone.

***

“Hey guys,” Xander said when he returned to the Slayer Compound. He found most of the girls huddled on the couches in front of the big screen TV.

A chorus of “Hey,” and “Hey, Xander,” from the assembled junior slayers, and a single “You’re blocking the TV!” from Rona greeted him.

“Faith was looking for you,” Vi said without looking at him.

“Know where she is?” Xander asked.

Vi and Kennedy pointed vaguely towards the gym, and Xander waved his thanks as the girls huddled together even closer while giving off small shrieks.

Xander made his way back to the gym area and found Faith wailing on a punching bag like it borrowed her favorite leather pants and brought them back ruined.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Xander said.

“What?” Faith asked, grabbing the bag with both hands to stop it swaying.

“They’re slayers, and yet they get scared at horror films. Isn’t that a bad thing? Shouldn’t monsters hold less fear?” Xander asked as he tossed Faith a towel from the rack.

“It’s not the monster, it’s the build up,” said Faith, nodding her thanks for the towel as she wiped her sweat off. She grabbed a water bottle off a table and took a large drink. “Suspense, and all that. Although most horror movies recently have sucked.”

“That’s for sure,” said Xander. “What’s up? Vi said you wanted to see me?”

“Yeah. B called. Her and Red are getting in tomorrow, they were hopin’ you could pick ‘em up.”

“I thought Andrew was picking them up,” Xander said.

Faith shrugged. “Said they’d rather have you. Can ya blame ‘em?”

Xander conceded the point with a nod. “What time does their flight get in?”

“’Bout three,” Faith said. “Info’s on the fridge.”

“Got it,” Xander said. “Thanks. You all right?”

“Fine, why?”

“Just asking.”

“Hey, I thought you were hangin’ with the brat tonight,” Faith said as Xander started to walk off.

“Ethan happened,” Xander said without stopping.

Faith turned back to her punching bag. “Ethan,” she said. “A.K.A mini-Xander.”

“I heard that!” Xander called.

“You were meant to!” Faith retorted, before once more laying into the bag.

Xander headed towards the kitchen, where he grabbed the note Faith had left and a beer, before wandering off in search of his current partner-in-crime-due-to-lack-of-options. He found Andrew playing the newest Star Wars game.

“Hey, Xander,” the younger man said without turning around. Xander noticed over Andrew’s shoulder that the Millenium Falcon was engaged in a space battle with some nasty looking TIE Interceptors.

“How do you always know it’s me?” Xander asked, leaning against the door frame.

Andrew grabbed a sip of his Jolt Cola before answering. “Uh… you’re the only one who ever actually comes to my room,” he said.

Xander kicked off from the door frame, went in and sat on the edge of the bed. “I think that’s because everyone else is afraid to. Have you seen this place lately?”

“What?” Andrew asked. “It’s clean.”

“Yeah, clean, and littered with posters, flyers, pictures and all sorts of other geek memorabilia. There probably isn’t one other person in this house who could even name all the shows and movies this stuff comes from.”

On the computer screen, the Millenium Falcon exploded in a ball of flame. “Blast!” Andrew said, before swiveling in his chair. He pointed to a bookshelf Xander had built for him. “Don’t forget games,” he said. A plethora of roleplaying books, from Dungeons and Dragons to Call of Cthulu to Shadowrun, littered Andrew’s shelves and his room. In his closet, bagged and boarded, were a few hundred issues of Dragon Magazine.

“Right, games,” Xander said. “Can’t forget those.”

“Weren’t you supposed to be at the dorm with Dawn tonight?” Andrew asked.

“She’s with Ethan,” Xander answered, as he popped the top on his beer and prepared the same answers he always gave the younger man.

“Yeah, but, isn’t she, like, in love with you?”

“No, she’s in love with Ethan.”

“Yeah, but isn’t he, like, you, only smaller?”

“No, I can safely say Ethan is his own person,” Xander said.

“But, isn’t it kind of eerie how much you two look alike?”

“What can I say?” Xander responded, smiling. “Girl knows quality work.”

Andrew shrugged. “So what’s up?” he asked, slapping his palms down on his legs.

Xander shrugged. “Hoping you had something to do. The girls are watching some crappy horror film, Faith’s in the gym - I assume there was another fight?”

“Oh. Yeah,” Andrew said.

“Did you mark the board yet?”

“No, I thought you’d want to be here,” Andrew said.

“So which was it?” Xander asked, standing, grabbing a dry erase marker and taking the protective ‘So Faith won’t kick our asses’ cover off of the white board. “Did we have a ‘Faith, I don’t feel you’re committed to this relationship?’ Or a ‘Robin, you’re smothering me?’ Or was it the rarely seen, yet ever popular ‘A watcher and a Slayer should not be together?’”

“Tonight we definitely saw a return of the ‘Robin, you’re smothering me,’” Andrew announced as Xander put up another tally on the board. “And for a special treat, we were given a show-stopping, synchronized rendition of ‘I can’t take this crap anymore.’”

“Wow,” Xander said, drawing the word out. He put two asterisks next to the tally mark. “Sounds like I missed a doozy.”

“It was a grade A performance,” Andrew said. “Ebert and Roper give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.”

Xander considered the board. “What are we up to now?”

“Twenty-one since we started counting,” Andrew said.

“Hmm,” Xander said, his hand stroking his chin. “We’re in… Rona’s territory?”

“Still Vi,” Andrew said. “Rona picks up at twenty-two through twenty-four.”

Xander nodded. “And after that is… Amanda?”

Andrew nodded. “Why do they stay together?” he asked. “I mean, they fight all the time. It just seems they might be… happier.”

“Maybe,” Xander said, sitting on the bed again and reminiscing. “But, it’s a comfort, having someone you can go to. To talk to about your day, or your problems. Somebody who you know is going to be there for you. It’s rare. You don’t… want to let that go, if you’re lucky enough to have it in the first place, and smart and brave enough to grasp it when it’s there.”

The two men sat there, silent.

“You know, plus all the hot, sweaty sex, which, with a Slayer? Wow.”

“I got some new figures,” Andrew said, pointing to a couple of bags on his desk. “We could break out the paints.”

“Nah,” Xander said, finishing off his beer. “I think I’m just going to head to sleep.”

“Okay,” Andrew said.

“Oh, and I’m gonna pick up the girls tomorrow.”

Andrew nodded. “I thought you might be. The Mystery Machine is gassed and ready to go.”

Xander smiled at Andrew’s name for the Chevy Suburban that Giles had purchased for the Slayer School. “Have fun killing Imperials,” Xander said.

“Okay. Goodnight,” Andrew replied, turning back to his computer.

Xander walked back to his room and fell asleep within moments of hitting the pillow.

***

Xander woke as his bed shook violently.

“Earthquake!” he yelled, suddenly awake. He jumped out of his bed and steadied himself in the doorway. Then he noticed his bed was the only thing shaking.

Xander turned around and saw three young slayers on the opposite side of his bed, all wearing evil grins on their faces. Xander glared at them.

“Vi. Amanda. Zoë,” he said gravely.

“Hi, Xander,” Vi and Zoë said. Amanda waved shyly. The three girls giggled.

“What’s up?” he asked, eyeing the girls cautiously.

Amanda and Zoë shared a giggle, as Vi just grinned wider.

“Um… you are,” said the young redhead.

Xander’s eyes went wide then looked down. To where he was only wearing boxers, and there was a well defined tent in them. Xander grabbed the jacket from his wall and quickly covered himself. The trio giggled more, and stood up, led by Vi, who strode over to Xander with confidence.

“It’s your eleven a.m. wake up call, courtesy of Faith,” Vi said, patting him on his cheek. “She just never specified how we were to wake you, is all.” Vi leaned up and planted a hard, wet kiss right on his very surprised lips, then winked at him. “Thanks for the show.”

Amanda and Zoë slipped passed him with embarrassed grins on their faces, and followed as Vi sauntered off.

Xander shook his head, closed his door and went to take a shower. Afterwards, shivering, he dressed and headed down to the kitchen for a late breakfast.

“Afternoon, soldier,” Faith said, smiling at Xander as he sat down with a bowl of cereal.

“You fight dirty,” he grumbled.

“Dawn put me up to it,” Faith said. “Or rather, she told me to get Vi to wake you up.”

“That girl has gotten a lot more confident since Sunnydale. Why me?” Xander asked.

“Boytoy, you’re a hot commodity around here,” Faith said. “There’s you, Andrew, Giles, the UPS guy and Wood, who’s spoken for at the moment. Oh, and Kennedy for those who swing that way.”

“She’s back on the circuit?” Xander asked. He knew Willow and Kennedy had split up a while ago, in what was rated by Andrew as the “Lesbian Break-up of the Century.” It had yelling, tears and almost some torn clothing, before Xander had stepped in and pulled Willow away, and he and Buffy had comforted her while she cried. The junior Slayers had taken care of Kennedy.

“Yeah, she was just recently declared open season,” Faith said.

“Any takers?”

“Not yet, but I’ll be sure to let you know. Give you material for your late-night spank sessions.”

“Hey!” Xander said.

“Like I can’t hear,” she said. “Your room’s just above mine.”

“I uh…”

“Did you know you talk in your sleep?” Faith asked. “And that sound carries through vents?”

“Faith, I swear, if you say -“

“Calm down, X,” she said. “Secret’s safe, and all that. How come you haven’t made a move?”

Xander looked at her like she had just grown a third eye.

“What?” Faith asked in response to his look.

“You know what.”

“Oh, that?” she asked. “Screw it man, people change. I say go for it. You guys’d be wicked cute.”

“That’s what Dawn said.”

“Yeah?” Faith asked. “She wasn’t drooling over you?”

“Why does everybody think Dawn’s in love with me?” Xander asked. “She’s in love with Ethan, for cryin’ out loud!”

“He’s right,” Dawn said as she walked into the kitchen. She smiled at Faith and gave Xander a hello-kiss on the cheek. “I am in love with Ethan.”

“Thank you,” Xander said. “And don’t you live somewhere else?”

Dawn raised an eyebrow. “House meeting,” she said.

Xander looked to Faith, who shrugged. “I’d’ve got to it eventually,” she said.

“Who called it?” Xander asked.

“Robin,” Dawn said.

Xander nodded, slurped up the last of his cereal and grabbed a Pepsi from the fridge. “Damn, it’s too bad I’ve got to pick up the girls at the airport,” he said, smiling mischievously.

“Oh, not fair,” Dawn said.

“Hey, you’re the one who got me woken up by the newly crowned queen of making me horny,” Xander said.

“A light breeze makes you horny,” Faith said.

“Yeah, but not the way a big ol’ kiss on the lips does,” Xander said. “And Vi’s not exactly an ugly girl.”

The two girls waved him off.

“If you’re skipping the meeting, you don’t get to complain about a hottie waking you up,” Dawn said.

“Complaining about who doing what?” Andrew asked as he walked into the kitchen.

“Don’t worry about it,” Dawn said.

“Keys to the Mystery Machine?” Xander asked.

Andrew pointed to the key rack by the garage door.

“Makes sense…” Xander said.

“One day, I swear I’m gonna get that thing painted green,” Faith said. “You know, if I have some money.”

A bell rang out through the house, and Andrew immediately went towards the meeting room.

“Rounding up the cattle,” Xander said. “That’s my cue. Have fun guys. Dawn, make sure he doesn’t yell at Andrew too much? Kid’s fragile.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dawn said.

Xander smiled at her, mussed up her hair, much to her dismay, grabbed the keys and left.

With still a few hours to kill before he *actually* had to pick up the girls, Xander drove to the nearest Home Depot and started looking for some nice wood that he could use to build something. He didn’t know what he wanted to build, nor did he have any specific idea of what he wanted to build it out of. But good lumber almost always has its uses.

Xander found a dozen nice looking eight-foot oak planks with a beautiful grain. With a grin on his face Xander grabbed a cart, purchased the wood and loaded it into the Suburban.

Checking his watch, Xander smiled, knowing he was going to see her again. And then he frowned. He was going to see her again, and still knew he couldn’t have her. Sighing, Xander slipped the monstrous vehicle into gear and headed off towards the airport.

“Goddess, I thought that flight would never end,” Willow said, rubbing her forehead. She and Buffy were just disembarking, and she was searching through her purse for a bottle of aspirin. “And I really don’t want to deal with Andrew going on about the newest… whatever it is he’s probably excited about. I don’t know how Xander puts up with him. Do you think… could you look after our new recruits? I think I’m going to take a cab home.”

“What, and miss my famous tour of Cleveland?” a voice asked.

Willow looked up, saw Xander and a grin broke out on her face.

“Xander!” she yelled. Willow skipped up to her long-time best friend, and wrapped her arms around his neck. Xander returned the redhead’s embrace warmly.

“I missed you,” Willow said, her headache forgotten.

“I missed you too, Will,” replied Xander, an almost sad look in his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, instantly worried.

“Ask me again, sometime,” he said, a soft smile on his face. “Hey, Buff.”

“Hey yourself,” Buffy said, moving in for a hug of her own.

“Got your message,” Xander said.

“Obviously,” said Buffy.

“You called him?” Willow asked.

“Well, you were all bad mood-y,” Buffy said. “I thought that a Xander-shaped surprise might cheer you up.” Willow grinned again, wrapping her arm around his waist, and causing his to move without thought around her shoulders.

A group of girls was rapidly gathering around the trio.

“This everyone?” Xander asked.

Buffy did a quick head count and nodded. “Yup. Five newbies today, a couple more who couldn’t leave at the drop of a hat, and a half-dozen after that with contact info.”

“Ladies, I would like you to meet Xander Harris,” Buffy said, introducing him. “He’s the guy you’re going to go to when you need, well, anything. Need a new bookshelf, go to Xander. Boyfriend broke your heart, go to Xander. Life’s in danger and there’s no way out of the situation without dying, go to Xander. He fixes things. Trust him, and your life will be better and very likely longer.”

Xander wrapped his arm around Buffy’s neck and pulled her back to him, planting a sloppy kiss on the top of her head.

“Ew… boy germs,” Buffy teased, sticking her tongue out despite the fact she was facing away from Xander.

“Good haul,” Xander said as the group walked toward the baggage claim. “That’ll almost fill up the third floor.”

“Yeah,” Willow said. “Good thing we’ve got another two after that.”

Xander laughed. “Yeah. I really need to start working on finishing up the fifth,” he said. “The floors are pretty much fixed up, but there’s still some work to be done on some of the walls, and I think I’m going to need to call in a plumber.”

The group continued to chit-chat as they gathered their luggage and headed out to the Suburban and back to the Slayer compound, during which Xander did give a funny and completely inaccurate history of the city of Cleveland.

“Ladies, feel free to leave your luggage here,” Xander said, leaving the Suburban in the driveway. “We’ve got people who take care of such things for you.”

“Uh, Xander,” Willow said, looking over at him from the passenger seat.

“What? I’ll get Andrew to do it.”

“Not that,” Willow said, pointing towards the steps up to the front of the former-hotel. “That.”

Xander sighed. “Skipped out on a house meeting,” he said, seeing Robin standing there, looking angry.

“You had to come pick us up,” Willow said. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“The uh… meeting was before noon.”

“Oh.”

“Guess I better go face the music.” Xander began to slip out of his seat, before getting back in and leaning over to give Willow a hug. “I’m glad you’re back,” he said.

“Me too,” said Willow.

Xander smiled at her, hopped out of the car and approached Robin as the new recruits headed inside with Buffy and Willow for the tour.

“What’s up?” Xander asked.

Robin glared at him, glanced over his shoulder to see that all the girls had gone inside. Once the door shut, Robin turned back around. Then he smiled.

“Did she actually wake you up with a kiss?” Robin asked with a chuckle, pulling out a cigarette and lighting up.

“They woke me up by shaking my bed like the world was breaking. Vi only kissed me after I covered up my uh… morning condition. When did you start smoking?” Xander mimicked some angry hand motions.

“Last night.”

“Fight?”

Robin nodded, pointing his cigarette at Xander as though he were making some important point. “What’s the pool up to?”

“What pool?” Xander asked innocently.

Robin rolled his eyes. “Can I put some money down?”

“What on?” Xander asked.

Robin grinned. “Marriage.”

Xander’s eyes went wide. “Are… have you?”

“God, no,” Robin said. “Not even close. And if I’m wrong, I’m out, what, five bucks?”

Xander coughed. “Uh. Fifty.”

“Jesus, you guys are running a scam,” Robin said, reaching into his pocket for some cash. “How much of the house is in on this?”

“Everyone but you, Faith, Giles and Chao-Ahn,” Xander said, taking the money. “Though I guess I have to cross you off that list now. So anyway, what’s really up?”

“Just thought you might want a heads up on this morning’s meeting, since you skipped it,” Robin said, glaring at him.

“Hey, I have to keep up appearances. I mean, for whatever reason, everyone thinks we hate each other. Might as well let them think what they want.”

Robin filled Xander in on the meeting, Xander looking impatient the whole time and occasionally gesticulating and yelling something incomprehensible. Robin then left to go for a walk, leaving Xander the acting job of walking inside looking pissed.

***

“Do they really think they’re fooling anybody?” Willow asked, looking out the window at Robin and Xander pretending to have an argument.

“I presume they think they’re being clever,” Giles said, handing a cup of tea to Willow and one to Buffy before pouring one for himself.

“They’re not doing a very good job of it,” Buffy said from her seat.

“Yes, well, boys will be boys,” Giles said. “How was your trip?”

“Exhausting,” Willow said.

“But productive,” Buffy said. “We picked up a total of eight girls, convinced five more. We’re really doing well, I think.”

“Yeah,” Willow said. “But I’m ready to quit.”

“Quit?” Giles asked, suddenly flustered. “Ah, but, I had thought that you wished to be involved in- in- in the training of these girls, and there are only so many people in the world with experience such as yours, and we really-“

“I meant quit looking, Giles,” Willow said, reassuring the man. “Traveling around looking for them was fun for a while, but I’m tired now and I want to set my feet down.”

“Oh,” Giles said, visibly relieved. “Ah, yes, that shouldn’t be a problem. I’m sure any number of people might wish to travel. Perhaps Xander might -“

“No!” Buffy said, a little too forcefully. Giles turned to her, surprised. Willow just looked back out the window. “It’s just, the girls here rely on him so much,” Buffy explained. “And, uh, there’s the repairs, which, you know he’ll be offended if you bring in outside help to do that.”

“We’ve had many outside contractors in,” Giles said.

“Uh huh,” said Buffy, “but only after Xander looked and decided what was needed. He was a foreman on a construction crew, he knows what we need. Plus, I think the slayers might riot if we took away their eye candy.”

“Yes, they do seem rather… affectionate towards him,” Giles said, considering the idea of that many energetic, confident and by all accounts *horny* young women having their favorite ‘eye candy’ taken away. He shuddered involuntarily. “Well, I’m sure we can work something out. There is no need for you to continue these trips if you don’t wish.” He turned to the young woman. “Willow?”

“Huh?” Willow asked, turning to Giles. “I’m sorry, I’m just kinda out of it. I think I’m going to go take a nap.”

“Very well,” Giles said.

Willow waved a half-hearted goodbye and left Giles and Buffy to talk.

“Is she all right?” Giles asked. “She seems a little… sad.”

“Oh, yeah,” Buffy said. “She realized something about someone… or, well, herself, really, and isn’t happy cuz she thinks…” Buffy sighed and decided to stop talking around the issue. “She likes someone and is pretty sure she has no chance.”

“Well, at least she’s moving on from Kennedy,” Giles said, his hand clasped in front of him. “What about yourself? Are you… how are you, um…”

“Well, there’s a guy I’ve got my eye on,” Buffy said. “But you know, there’s the inevitable fear, and worry and everything. I just… now is not the time.”

“Ah,” Giles said. “You know, you’re not required to go on every search for new Slayers either, Buffy. There are others who could handle it.”

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “And I might take you up on that. I’m pretty tired myself.”

Giles smiled at the young woman he thought of as daughter, and she smiled back.

The two continued to talk.

***

“Yeah,” Willow said quietly. The door opened and a shaft of light came in from the corridor.

“Hey,” Xander said. “You okay?”

“Sure,” she said, sitting up in bed. “Come in.”

Xander slipped inside, shutting the door behind himself. “What’s up?” Xander asked. “You’re goin to bed early.”

“Oh you know, flying takes it out of me,” she said, patting the bed beside her.

Xander smiled and sat down beside her. Willow leaned into him and he wrapped his arm around her.

“The girls give you trouble?” Xander asked.

“Nah, you know. Just… worn out. Over all worn out.”

“Why don’t you take a break,” Xander said, as the pair lay back as one on her bed, Willow snuggling up to Xander’s warmth.

“That’s what this whole nap thing was about,” Willow said.

Xander chuckled. “I meant from the search for Slayers,” he said. “You don’t always need to be going out.”

“Oh,” Willow said, yawning. “I actually just told Giles I don’t want to do that anymore.”

“Oh,” Xander said.

“Yeah. Great minds.”

“And, somehow, you and me.”

Willow smiled. “Well, for now, I just want to sleep.”

“Okay,” Xander said, extracting himself from her embrace gently. Xander pulled the covers of her bed up and tucked her in, kissing her softly on the forehead. “Sweet dreams, Willow.”

“You too, Xander,” she said, as she passed out, not realizing he wasn’t about to sleep. Xander smiled and quietly left her room.

“How come I don’t get the tuck-in service?”

Xander jumped and turned around.

“Jeez, Buff, you startled me.”

She stood there pouting. “I don’t think it’s fair you tuck in one best friend and not the other.”

“Tell ya what, next time you want to go to sleep at 5 pm, I’ll tuck you in, assuming I’m here.”

“I want that, too.”

Xander jumped again and turned around.

“Sorry, Vi, that’s a best-friend only service.”

“But Xander,” she said, batting her eyelashes evilly and pressing herself up against him, “we could be such *good* friends.”

“I ab, ah… duh hhu…”

“That’s Xander-speak for ‘Thank you, you’re a wonderful girl, and sweet, for a girl who’s trying to butt in on best-friend action, but no, and I don’t know a way out of this without sounding like an ass,’” Buffy filled in, rather cattily.

Xander shot a sidelong glance at Buffy, then an apologetic shrug towards Vi.

“Just so you know, the offer’s there,” she said, before sauntering off, swaying her hips hypnotically.

“Everybody knows the offer’s there,” Buffy muttered.

Xander looked down at his friend.

“What?” Buffy asked, frowning at Vi’s retreating figure. “Not like she’s subtle.”

“I guess,” he said. “That was kinda… um. Bitchy.”

“Hey! I’m not a bitch!”

“I didn’t say that,” Xander said, mentally chastising himself. “Uh. And I didn’t mean that. Well, I did, but what I meant was, it was bitchy, which is normally very much the opposite of you, so I was surprised and found it worth mentioning.”

Buffy frowned. “Good attempt at a save, but I can only give you a 6 on the execution.”

“And if we were ice skating that would be good… oh, God, why do I know that?”

“I think that’s my fault,” Buffy said, looping her arm into his and leading him down the stairs. “The whole bad ice-skating movie obsession.”

“The Cutting Edge shall forever be ingrained in my mind,” said Xander.

“Now come on, take me to dinner.”

“Work, work, work,” Xander said, smiling down at her.

Buffy stuck her tongue out at him and they walked out to the car.

Xander woke to a dark room, drenched in sweat and breathing heavy. He sat up in bed, looking around and trying to figure out what his nightmare had been. He had been plagued with nightmares - even the occasional night terror - since Sunnydale. He considered it a blessing that he didn’t always remember them; he saw enough monsters when he was awake. The victims in his dreams had changed slowly over time, from Anya to -.

There was a knock at his door.

“Yeah?”

The door opened and a blonde head popped inside. “You okay?” Buffy asked.

Xander was still panting. “Yeah,” he said. “Just… nightmare.”

Buffy slipped inside his room and sat down on his bed next to him. “What was it this time?” she asked, hugging him despite his sweat.

“I don’t know,” Xander said. “Can’t remember. It was probably something about…” he glanced down at Buffy. “About a girl.”

“Anya?” Buffy asked.

Xander shook his head. “No,” he said. “It was…” he glanced away. “Someone else.”

“Dawn?” Buffy asked.

Xander’s head whipped around. “What? No! Why does everybody think --“

“Ethan,” Buffy said simply.

Xander plastered his hands to his face and shoved himself back on his bed. “Dawn’s in love with him, not me,” Xander said. “I really wish… I want. People to stop doing that. Dawn and I are not in love, we just… we get along really well.”

“Okay,” Buffy said quietly, lying down next to him. The two friends lay there for a few minutes, silent.

“How’d you know I was up?” Xander asked.

“Faith heard you yelling in your sleep,” Buffy said. “She would have come herself, but… she thought you’d want it to be one of us.”

Xander rolled his head to the side and kissed Buffy softly on the forehead.

“What was that for?” she asked.

“Being my friend,” he said. He felt her smile in the darkness, and the pair lay there for another minute, when there was another knock at the door.

“Yeah,” Xander said. The door opened and Willow popped her head in.

“You disappeared,” she said, pouting.

“I got caught up,” Buffy said.

“Come on, Will, there’s room for all three of us here,” Xander said.

“No there isn’t,” she said.

Xander grinned. “There is if you both cuddle up close to me?”

Buffy swatted her friend on the arm, but complied by then moving herself even closer. Willow walked around the other side and lay down on the bed.

“See?” he said. “That’s better.”

“You just like having a couple of hotties in bed with you,” Willow accused.

“Um. Does the word ‘duh’ have any meaning to you?” Xander said. Willow and Buffy chuckled. “I missed you guys,” he said.

The pair nodded their agreement, and Xander lay in bed silently with his girls.

“You stink,” Buffy said.

“It’s the sweat,” Xander explained. “I should shower.”

The two girls nodded. Vigorously.

“Okay,” he said, sitting up and sliding off the bottom of the bed. He walked over to the wall and flipped the light switch, eliciting annoyed groans from the girls. “I’m gonna shower. You girls gonna be here when I get back?”

“No, I need to sleep,” Buffy said. “Some of us didn’t take four hour naps in the middle of the day.”

Willow stuck her tongue out at the blonde. “I’ll be here,” she said. “We were just watching some TV.”

Xander smiled at his redheaded best friend. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll be back soon. Night Buff.”

Xander grabbed his towel and stepped into the bathroom, shutting the door most of the way behind him. Buffy said goodnight to Willow and went off to her own room. Willow took the opportunity to do a little snooping. Hearing the water running and Xander singing - tunelessly - in the shower, Willow looked around Xander’s room. Framed pictures of herself, Buffy, Dawn, Tara and Anya sat atop his dresser, as well as a picture of the whole group in the Magic Box. Willow decided it must have been taken by Riley, and she wondered where he got them. She was pretty sure they hadn’t been there when she left on her last trip.

Moving away from his dresser, Willow looked around the rest of the room and found it to be sparsely decorated. Deciding that further investigation was needed, she paused for a moment to make sure she could still hear the water running, then went down on her knees and started looking under his bed.

Shoving aside a box of comic books, and a box of CD’s, she found what she was *really* looking for; Xander’s stash of porn. Pulling out what magazines she could find, Willow started flipping through them, looking, due to interest in Xander that she was recently made aware of, for any trends in what the girls looked like.

She didn’t find any.

But she did notice that the pages of the magazines weren’t worn at all. They were stuck together not by what most would expect, but by static electricity, built up from disuse. In fact, the more she looked at the magazines, the more she felt this was precisely the first time they had been touched since they were purchased.

Willow frowned, put the porn back under the bed and got up to look around some more. She found books, everything from a single encyclopedia volume to Neuromancer, to a surprisingly worn out copy of 1984. Willow looked finally at Xander’s walls, which were bare except for a single poster from a Maroon 5 concert the Original Sunnydale crew had attended - sans Giles.

She turned back to the pictures on his dresser, and picked up his picture of Tara. She smiled while looking at it, and rubbed her thumb over Tara’s face lovingly.

“Andrew found those,” Xander said from behind her. She jumped and dropped the frame on the ground, the glass shattering.

“Oh no!” she cried, crouching down to pick up the pieces. “Oh, Goddess, I’ve ruined it. Oh, Xander, I’m so sorry, I didn’t -“

“Hey,” he said, crouching down next to her, wearing naught but a towel. Xander grasped her wrist gently with one hand, and tilting her head up to him with his other. He saw tears streaming down her face.

“Hey, it’s okay,” he said gently.

“No, it was the last picture… of her, I didn’t have… any…”

Xander stood her up and pulled her into a hug. “It’s okay, sweetie,” he said, embracing the young woman gently. “Like I was about to say, Andrew found out the Magic Box website was still up. Apparently Anya bought like a five-year contract or something, and the server space wasn’t in Sunnydale. She had pictures of all of us on the site for… in case anything happened to us.”

“Really?” Willow asked.

“I promise,” Xander said. He walked over to his footlocker, kicked it open, reached inside and grabbed a bag. “I had him print them out on photo paper while you guys were gone. Took ‘em to a store and got a whole set framed for everyone.” He walked over to his best friend and handed her the bag.

Willow wiped away her tears and took the bag, opening it slowly. She reached inside and pulled out a framed picture of Tara, and then one of Xander.

“I was gonna give ‘em to you guys tomorrow, but… I figure now’s a good time.”

“Oh, Xander,” she said, throwing her arms around him. “You are the bestest best friend I could ever have. I love you.”

“Love you too, Wills,” he said, smiling at the embrace.

“Xander?”

“Yeah?”

“Your towel’s slipping.”

“I noticed.”

“Gonna do something about that?”

“When I can figure out how to extricate myself from this situation with some semblance of dignity intact, yes.”

“How about I close my eyes?”

“I can see that working.”

Willow closed her eyes, felt Xander disengage from the hug and back away.

“Okay,” Xander said a few moments later. Willow opened her eyes and saw Xander in front of her wearing his gym shorts. “Much better,” he said.

Willow smiled at him and lay back down on his bed, pulling out the rest of the photographs. “These were all on the website?”

“Yeah,” Xander said, sitting next to her. “There’s a couple others that aren’t as good quality. I think one of Riley, and maybe even Spike. Didn’t bother with those.”

“Mmm,” Willow muttered, leaning into her friend. Willow snuggled up to him, nestling her head into his shoulder.

“Hey Will?”

“Yeah?”

“Did you ever think what might have happened… if we had ever gotten our timing right?”

“Mmm,” she responded. Xander looked down and saw the redhead asleep on his torso. Xander chuckled.

“Always asleep when I say the important stuff,” he said. Xander leaned down, kissed her softly on her forehead and turned off his bedside lamp and passed into a peaceful, dreamless sleep that, somehow, smelled of strawberries.

***

“Move it along,” Andrew said quietly.

“What?” Kennedy asked.

“Keep moving without disturbing anything,” Andrew said, urgently. “And don’t knock.”

“Why not?” she asked, turning on the young man.

”Because you’re not allowed in there, and nobody is to be disturbing the occupants of the room,” Andrew whispered.

“Since when am I supposed to listen to you?” she asked, cattily.

“Since his orders come from me.”

Kennedy closed her eyes and turned around to find Faith standing behind her, arms crossed over her breasts.

“Help ya with something?” Faith asked.

“I… uh, my shelf. Fell.”

“New or old?” Faith asked.

“It was there before we bought this place,” Kennedy said.

“You mean before Giles did,” Andrew said, having gained confidence from Faith’s presence.

Kennedy whipped her head back around and glared. Andrew withered under her stare and sat down next to the door.

“Kennedy,” Faith said, drawing the younger slayer’s attention back to her. “Either learn to use a hammer, or wait until later.”

“But -“

“But nothin’. You don’t get to go in that room, or disturb anybody who does.”

“Like who, for instance?” Kennedy asked, indignantly.

“Hey guys,” Buffy said, skipping up to the door like a little kid. She saw the staring match between Kennedy and Faith. “Problem?”

“Handled,” Faith said, not taking her eyes off the young Slayer.

“Good,” said Buffy. She patted Andrew on the head, turned the knob and went inside.

Kennedy frowned. “How come -“

“Andy,” Faith said. “Kennedy needs a history lesson.”

Kennedy’s eyes shot wide. “No. I don’t. Really. I’m good.”

“Oh, sure you do,” Faith said, smiling at the younger woman. “After all… there will be a test.”

Kennedy groaned. Andrew stood and ran off to his room to get his materials to teach the History of the Scooby Gang. He returned a minute later with some papers, a number of transparencies and even a self-published book. Kennedy sent one last, pleading look at Faith, who merely smiled at her. Kennedy groaned and followed the young nerd to one of the conference rooms on the first floor.

And then Faith realized her dilemma. She wanted to keep people from going in the room, but doing so was really, really boring, and she wanted to hit something right about now.

“Stephanie!” she called out. A young slayer who was walking down the stairs with a group of other girls turned at Faith’s call. The blonde girl turned to her friends for a second, then jogged over to Faith.

“Yeah?” she asked.

“Chores,” Faith said. “You’re off for a week if you take this job.”

The girl’s eyes lit up. “What’s the job?”

“Nobody but the M.I.C. goes in this room,” Faith said. “Not Robin, or Andrew or anybody. Got me?”

Stephanie nodded. She knew very well who the ‘Mega Inner Circle’ contained. “How long?”

“’Til they come out,” Faith said. “Andrew finishes up Kennedy’s lesson and wants to take back over, that’s fine.”

“Kennedy has a lesson?” Stephanie asked.

“History.”

Stephanie winced in sympathy for the girl. “Sure,” she said. “Can I go grab a book first?”

Faith nodded and waited until the girl returned before heading off to the gym. Stephanie actually didn’t mind the job. She got out of chores for a week and all she had to do was stop people from going in a room. And as a bonus, she thought as she delved into her book, she got to find out whether Renaldo was the Masked Intruder or if he was merely the innocent, guitar-playing, well-muscled, devilishly-handsome and oh-so-sexy wandering bard who happened to show up wherever the Masked Intruder did.

Five minutes into Stephanie’s sitting, Amanda and Rona approached carrying a loveseat.

“Can’t go in,” Stephanie said, standing.

“Buffy asked us to bring this up,” Rona said.

“Uh…”

The door opened, much to Stephanie’s relief.

“Oh, good,” Giles said, when he poked his head out. “We were rather running out of sitting room.”

Giles opened the door fully and allowed the two young slayers in, before promptly thanking and shooing them out after they had put the couch down. The door slammed shut behind them.

“What’s going on in there?” Stephanie asked. These two girls had been with the Sunnydale group, and she thought they might have some insight.

“No idea,” Amanda said, Rona also shrugging her ignorance.

Stephanie shrugged back at them and went back to her reading.

***

“No,” Xander laughed, sitting on the newly-arrived loveseat he currently shared with Buffy, who was leaning comfortably against him. “It wasn’t like that at all. It was more of a… I don’t know… a scowl with an over-extended forehead. I don’t think you have the brow for it, Wills. When Angel threatened me, it wasn’t so much that I was scared of him as a vampire, it was more… I was afraid he’d headbutt me, and somehow I’d be stuck brooding for the rest of my life.”

“Well, what do you expect?” Dawn asked, leaning back on Xander’s bed with the aforementioned redhead. “She’s not a vampire either.”

“Oh, but I was!” Willow said.

“Mmm, yes, I recall,” said Giles, tossing some popcorn into his mouth. He was in an abnormally jovial mood. “I believe I had nightmares about what I saw that night.”

“I had dreams, too,” Xander said, grinning. “I wouldn’t classify them as nightmares though.”

Buffy swatted at his thigh. “When did Angel ever threaten you, anyway?”

“What, other than when he offered me to Spike as a snack, or when he left me for dead in the street, or when he tried to kill me outside of your house but Drusilla stopped him?”

“Yeah,” Buffy said. “And besides, that last one was when he was Angelus.”

“Ah,” Xander said. “Which totally excuses it.”

“Don’t avoid the question,” Giles said, interested. “When did Angel threaten you?”

“Well, if we’re separating, I’m not sure *Angel* ever really did. I threatened him once, but that’s beside the point.”

“Whoa, wait, what?” Willow interrupted. “When was this?”

“When Buffy died the first time,” Xander said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. He grabbed the popcorn from Giles and took a handful, which he took turns feeding to himself and the room’s resident slayer. “I went down to Angel’s apartment, he accused me of being in love with her, of which I accused him right back, then stood with a cross aimed at him till he took us down to the Master’s lair. I told you guys this.”

A chorus of disagreements greeted him. “You never told us any of that,” Buffy said. “Doofus.”

“Sorry, I thought I had. I mean it was kind of a busy day,” Xander said.

“So, if Angel didn’t threaten you,” Giles said, eating some more popcorn, “then Angelus did?”

Xander nodded again, to the confusion of most.

“Just when was this?” Willow asked, sternly. “And why am I all of a sudden thinking you’ve held a lot back from us?”

“I know when it was,” Dawn said, smiling.

“You do?” Xander asked, confused.

“Uh huh. I was there.”

“Wait, no way were you there,” Xander said. “If you were there, where were you when you were where you weren’t?”

“At the hospital,” she said.

“You understood that?” Giles asked. The three young women around him all nodded. “I guess I really am showing my age.”

“Awww!” the girls intoned. They all rushed to hug the elder man and lavish him with praises and reassurances.

Xander rolled his eyes. “Dirty old man,” he said, smiling.

“You wish you had my skills,” said Giles.

Silence reigned in the room for a moment, before everybody burst out laughing. Willow and Dawn resumed their positions on the bed, and Buffy hers by Xander.

”So what happened at the hospital?” Willow asked.

“Oh,” Xander said. “I uh… well, there was - “

“Buffy had the flu, and Angelus showed up - with flowers, to either kill or turn her,” Dawn said as though the question had been posed to her. Everyone else let her speak, as they knew she was more likely to give all the details than was Xander. “And so Xander’s sitting there and he sees Angelus walk in, so he stands up, right? And then they talk back and forth, and Angelus says he’s going to kill everyone, and Xander says basically go ahead and try, dickcheese…”

“I never said dickcheese,” said Xander, as Buffy and Willow were chuckling.

“But the bit I remember was when Xander looks at Angel like he’d kill him right then and there, and Angel says… oh, what was it?”

“’You still love her,’” Xander said.

“Yeah,” said Dawn, frowning. “There was more to it, though. Before and after.” They all looked to Xander.

He coughed and smiled. “I think the full thing was uh… “ He paused in order to drop his voice some, and add venom. ‘Buffy’s White Knight. You still love her. It must just eat you up that I got there first.’”

“Yeah, that’s it,” Dawn said, reconciling Xander’s account with her memory.

“Wait, this was junior year?” Buffy asked.

“Uh huh,” Xander said, nodding.

“When she had the flu,” Willow said, thinking back to that time, “weren’t you dating Cordelia?”

“Uh… yeah,” Xander said.

Buffy was looking up at Xander, with a type of gaze he’d only seen from her once or twice before. “What did he say back?” Buffy asked.

Dawn smiled radiantly, her false-memory having returned to perfection. “He said, ‘You’re gonna die, and I’m gonna be there.’”

Buffy looked at Xander for another moment, then exchanged a glance with Willow as Giles watched the interaction with interest. Dawn watched as Xander glanced at the woman he was in love with, then away to the door.

“So,” Dawn said, breaking the silence. “Any other adventures we don’t know about?”

Xander shrugged. “I threatened to kill your sister once,” he said. That made all three not involved in that particular incident sit up and take notice.

“You did what?” Giles asked.

“It’s true,” Buffy said, nodding solemnly. “It was actually the summer after I died - again, the first time. When those vampires kidnapped all you guys to resurrect the Master?”

“I recall being kidnapped and knocked unconscious,” Giles said, Willow nodding along. “I fail to recall any death threats.”

“It was very sweet,” Buffy said. “Not, you know, at the time, but looking back, it was.”

“Well, tell!” Willow said. “What happened?”

Buffy looked up at Xander, who shrugged.

“Okay, well it was like this,” she said. “I had fallen for the ruse, and you guys got kidnapped by the other vamps. All except Xander, cuz he wasn’t near the Master when he died. Right?”

“Um, yes, that’s correct,” said Giles.

“Well, I go back to the library as Xander’s waking up, and I’m all distraught and asking him things, and I said ‘Where would they have taken them?’ And Xander looks at me for a second and says, in, I swear, one of the scariest moments of my life, he says ‘If they hurt Willow, I’ll kill you.’ But they didn’t, and we’re all still alive, some of us again, and nobody had to do any killing of Buffy.”

Willow and Dawn were both looking at Xander with big puppy dog eyes, and Giles was cleaning his glasses.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that,” he said. Simultaneously, the girls got off the bed and gave him big hugs. Which he enjoyed.

“Xander,” Willow said, “I think that is one of the sweetest things anybody’s ever done for me.”

“What is it,” Xander said, looking directly at Giles, “that girls find so appealing about threatening to kill someone?”

“Xander, I am more than twice your age. I have had dealings with women all my life, women of all ages, shapes, sizes, religions, and ethnicities. I have dealt with women in positions of power, and women who were subordinate to me, and I have found only one constant between them.”

Xander waited with rapt attention, ready to hear the information that would forever demystify women for him.

“Don’t try to understand them. You will only be rewarded with a headache,” Giles said.

Xander’s face fell, and he leaned back on the loveseat, his arm surrounding Buffy’s just-close-enough form, landing his hand comfortably on her hip.

“All right, so what about you, Giles?” Dawn asked. “Any secrets we don’t know about?”

“That would be why they are called secrets, wouldn’t it?” Giles asked. “But who’s to say that we’ve heard all of Xander’s?”

“Oh come on,” Xander said, looking around nervously. “How many could I possibly have?”

Most everyone seemed content with that, but Willow gave him an odd look, before turning back to the conversation, which currently seemed to be interrogating Giles.

Xander looked around the room, each person with small bag of photographs near them. He couldn’t remember a time since Sunnydale when the people he loved the most had looked so happy. And that made him happy.

“Hey,” Buffy said, looking up at him.

“Yeah?” he asked, brushing a strand of hair out of her face.

“You okay? You got all quiet all of a sudden.”

Xander smiled down at her. “Yeah,” he said, looking around the room again. “I’m good.”

Buffy leaned up and kissed her friend on the cheek, then settled back into his side.

Stephanie awoke with a shudder, and looked up into a pair of inquisitive green eyes.

“Hey,” Willow said.

“Oh, hi,” Stephanie replied. “Sorry, I… fell asleep.”

“That’s okay,” Willow said. “What were you doing out here, anyway?”

“Oh, uh, Faith asked me to uh… make sure nobody disturbed you guys,” she said. Stephanie stood up and stretched out her muscles a bit. “What time is it?”

“Almost dinner time,” Willow said. “You can go now, we’re pretty much all done in here.”

“Okay,” she said. “Um. Do you mind my asking what… was going on in there?”

Willow smiled at the girl. “Just some old friends getting reacquainted.”

Stephanie smiled back at her, nodded, and walked off.

Willow stepped back into the room where Dawn and Xander were sitting on the foot of the bed doggedly attempting to kill as many aliens as possible. Halo was the game of the hour.

“Ha!” Dawn half-whispered. “Your warthog is mine!”

“I got gunner!” Xander said, mashing some buttons down on his own controller. Willow smiled at the odd faces Xander made while playing. Looking down on the loveseat, she saw Buffy passed out and curled in an adorable little ball, covered by Xander’s jacket. Giles was sleeping on Xander’s bed. Seeing no other viable seating options, Willow walked over to the foot of the bed and sat on the floor, leaning herself up against Xander’s legs.

Xander barely noticed the extra pressure on his legs, though he was aware of Willow’s proximity. He idly played with her hair during a lull in the on-screen action.

“Hey, guys,” Faith said, poking her head in the door.

Xander and Dawn waved distractedly at the dark-haired slayer.

“Hey, Faith,” Willow said. “What’s up?”

“Just to inform, dinner’s ready in ten. Andrew cooked somethin’ wicked, smells like heaven,” she said.

“Okay,” Willow said. “We’ll be down soon.”

Faith nodded once and retreated from the room.

“Hey guys?” Willow said.

“Yeah?” Xander asked.

“I think we should wake everyone up. It’s almost dinner time.”

“AH!” Xander yelled as his character died. “You just shot Church you team-killing fucktard!” This sent Dawn into a fit of giggling.

Giles and Buffy woke from their slumbers as Dawn chuckled malevolently.

“What was it you said, Will?” Xander asked as he attempted to respawn.

“Nevermind,” she said. “It’s taken care of. And really, fucktard?”

“She killed me!” Xander said, shouldering the young girl playfully. “And on purpose.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Dawn said, looking every bit the precious innocent. Xander’s character died again.

“That’s it,” he said, dropping his controller on the ground. “I give up. Did I hear something about food?”

Willow laughed at his predictability. “Yes,” she said. “Faith said dinner’s almost ready.”

“Dinner?” Giles asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Is it so late already?”

“You were asleep for almost an hour, G-man,” Xander said as Dawn respawned his character for him and killed it yet again. “What are you doing?” he asked the girl.

“I need the ammo,” she explained.

Xander grinned evilly, causing Dawn to frown. He tapped Willow on the shoulder, and the redhead leaned forward and turned off the power on the console.

“Oh, no fair,” Dawn said, shoving Xander away from her.

“Hey, I didn’t turn it off,” he said.

“Yeah, but you did that not talking with thing with Willow, and she did it, so I blame you.”

“Yeah, but it’s just as well,” Buffy said. “It’s food time.”

“Correct!” Xander said. He stood suddenly, then leaned down and hooked his arms under Willow’s shoulders and lifted her into the air with surprising ease. Willow gasped at her sudden airborne state, then smiled when Xander dropped one of his arms to her knees.

“Come, my lady,” he said, cradling her in his arms. “It is time to slay yonder feast.”

Xander carried her out the door and down the stairs, before setting her down at in the hallway. He looked back up the stairs and saw Dawn herding a still-tired Slayer/Watcher combo out his door.

“Come on, Wills,” he said. “Let’s go get us the good seats.”

***

“Hey, guy.”

Xander looked over his shoulder to see a petite blonde approaching. “Hey, Buff,” he said, turning back around.

“Whatcha doin?”

“Lookin’ at stars,” he said, tipping his bottle up to the sky.

“Mind some company?”

“Not at all,” he said, smiling as the petite young woman stood next to him at the railing. “What’s up?”

Buffy sighed. “Do you miss Anya?”

“Yeah,” he said looking down at his friend. “Of course I do. Why?”

“Well,” she said. “I worry about you, you know? You’re… in a bad mood a lot, lately. And there’s all these girls who have a serious lust on for you, and yet you remain celibate…”

“A serious lust on…” he said, chuckling. “Okay. Well, contrary to popular belief, I may have grown up enough to not just have sex with anybody offering.”

“No, I know… but, Xander, some of these girls aren’t that much younger than you… how come you haven’t even, you know, dated one of them. You’ve never even gone out on one date.”

Xander smiled at his friend’s concern. “Checking up on me, Summers?” he asked.

“Well, my sister has apparently become the font of all things Xander, so I thought I’d take a drink from her spout…” Buffy frowned. “That sounds really bad.”

“Yes, it does,” Xander said.

“So how come with the not dating? I mean, I thought you had… kind of… gotten past the Anya thing,” Buffy said.

“I have,” Xander said. “But, I don’t just want to go in to something because of a hot girl. If I did, you can bet Vi would be out here instead of you. I…” he sighed and shrugged. “It needs to be a right girl.”

“A right girl,” Buffy repeated. “Okay.”

“So who are you out here snooping for?” he asked.

“How do you know I’m not out here for me?” she asked.

“If you are,” he said, “it will be the shock of my life.”

“Well, suppose I am out here for me,” she said. “Say I wanted to be the girl in your life. What would you say?”

Xander was silent for a minute. Buffy was content to stand close to him, taking his warmth as she always had, and wait for his answer. Feeling her shiver a little in the cool Cleveland night air, he pulled her in a little closer, a gesture she loved him for.

“I think,” he said finally, “that if you wanted to be the girl in my life, I would have little choice but to let you. And I think that the two of us would be happy together, living a good life. We’d have kids, and they’d grow up to be beautiful and smart, and probably good with hammers. It would be a good life.”

“But it’s not the one you want,” she said, a sad note to her voice. Xander stayed silent in response. “So who, then, if not me?”

Xander smiled. “I’ve got a deal for you. You tell me who you’re out here for, I’ll tell you if that’s who.”

“Still don’t think I was out here for me?” she asked.

Xander shook his head.

“How come?”

“A feeling,” he said.

“What kind of a feeling?” she asked, pulling herself even closer to him and purposely rubbing her leg up his. “Was it a sexy feeling?”

Xander looked down at the girl, a wry smile on his face. “You’re really trying to convince me.”

“Is it working?”

Xander made a point of checking the front of his pants. “Well, you’ve got one vote.”

Buffy laughed and smacked him on the arm, then buried her face in his shoulder. “Oh, you did not just do that.”

“I actually think I did. I blame the beer,” he said, laughing. Xander sighed.

“So, really, though, what kind of a feeling was it?”

“This afternoon, when you asked me how I was. I had looked around and saw everyone I loved most in that room. Everyone who had been my life for the last decade, and for the first time… I just, I got the feeling that everything was going to work out right. Not just good, or okay, but right. Like how it should have been.”

“And that doesn’t mean me?”

Xander turned to the girl, picked her up by her armpits and set her down on the railing.

“Buffy,” he said very seriously. “I love you. I don’t want you ever to doubt that. I meant what I said earlier. I think that if you and I were together, we would be very happy, and we’d have great kids.”

“But it’s not me,” she said, hanging her head.

Xander placed his finger under her chin, and lifted her head up so their eyes met, and was surprised to find genuine tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Hey,” he said, pulling her into a hug. “Hey, I’m sorry. I really thought you weren’t here for you. I…”

“Still meant everything you said,” she mumbled, wiping tears from her eyes. “And, I wasn’t out here for me. I just… what you said, it sounded nice, and I all of a sudden wanted that.”

“Yeah,” he said. “But not with me, you don’t.”

“Oh, how do you know?”

Xander smiled and pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. “I know,” he said simply.

Buffy laughed. “Yeah. I guess you would. And besides, have you seen the guns on the UPS guy?”

Xander looked at his friend, head cocked to one side. “The UPS guy?”

“Oh yeah,” she said, drawing the words out with a dreamy look in her eyes. “He will be mine. Oh yes, he will be mine.”

“Somebody’s been a bad influence on you, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me.”

Xander shook his head and wiped away one last tear with his thumb, and pressed his forehead to hers. “You are a beautiful young woman, Ms. Summers, and are going to make some guy very happy one day very soon.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he said. “And hey, if neither of us gets our dream, I’m not opposed to some friends-with-benefits sex. You’re still a hottie.”

Buffy looked at him with false indignity.

“It’s the beer, what can I say?”

“Yeah, and don’t think I didn’t notice that bottle says IBC.”

“I uh…”

“What do you want me to do about the girl?” she asked, hopping off the railing.

“What girl?”

“The girl I came out here for, dummy.”

“Oh,” he said. “If you can’t tell me, tell Dawn. She’ll confirm or deny. And tell her I said it’s shiny.”

“Shiny?” Buffy asked.

“Trust me.”

“Okay. And, how come you can’t just tell me who it is?”

“Gotta make you work for something, Buff,” he said. “And if it is the girl, and, by the way, I’m fairly sure it isn’t, tell her that I like to be woken up by a naked woman.”

“Wait,” Buffy said. “You have a feeling things will work out right, but you don’t think this is the one?”

“I said they’ll work out right. I never said when.”

Buffy smiled at him and nodded her head back at the house. “Wanna escort a girl back inside?”

“No, I need a few more minutes out here.”

“Okay,” she said. Buffy leaned up and kissed Xander gently on the lips, surprising him.

“Wha...”

Buffy smiled and winked. “For luck.”

Xander smiled, watched the young woman who had been the focus of so many of his adolescent fantasies walk back inside, and looked back to the sky. He was surprised to see a meteor shoot across the sky.

Xander knew some people wished on falling stars, but he knew first hand how dangerous a wish could be. Best not to tempt fate, he thought. A second meteor shot across the sky, and he thought maybe someone was trying to send him a message, but the rogue rock had vanished by the time he decided what to do.

The third meteor made up his mind. He muttered a simple wish…

The phone rang. And again. On the third, it was picked up.

“What?” asked the drowsy voice.

“Sorry, did I wake you?”

“Yes, Buffy, you woke me. Go away.”

“Wait, Dawn, I have a question to ask you.”

There was silence.

“Fine. Make it quick.”

“What’s shiny mean?”

Dawn was instantly awake.

“Buffy?”

“Yeah?”

“Did you talk to Xander?”

“Yes.”

“Did he tell you to tell me that?”

“Yes.”

Buffy could almost hear her sister’s smile growing on the other end of the phone. “Bring coffee,” the young girl said before hanging up.

Buffy was confused, but curious enough to comply. She slipped on her coat, grabbed the keys to one of the smaller cars and headed off for a coffee shop, and then the local college campus.

She was met at the door to Dawn’s residence hall by Ethan.

“Come on,” he said. His eyes were bloodshot and had bags under them, but Buffy was pleased to note he was fully dressed and smelled nothing like sex. Buffy followed the young man, who really did look an awful lot like Xander, and soon came to Dawn’s room.

She found Dawn hunched over a notebook filled with various scribblings. Conspicuous by their placement by her desk were a couple of large, unopened boxes.

“Okay,” Dawn said. “This is what we need to do. I’ve got a list of people we’ll need to involve, and items we’ll need for this whole thing to work.”

“Whoa, whoa, Dawn,” Buffy said. “What are you talking about?”

“Xander said it’s shiny, right? So we need to get working.”

“I don’t even know what shiny means,” Buffy said. “And anyway, I don’t even know who his ‘right girl’ is yet.”

“He didn’t tell you?” Dawn asked, confused.

“I was talking to him on behalf of a girl, and he said to tell you who it was, and I said what if you didn’t believe me, and he said to tell you it was shiny.”

”Oh, that loser!” Dawn yelled, her face turning red. “I’m so going to kick his ass.”

Ethan was by her side in an instant, stroking her arm and saying something into her ear so quietly that Buffy couldn’t hear it. After a few seconds, Dawn had calmed down significantly.

“Sorry,” she said to her sister, while taking Ethan’s hand in her own. “It’s just, shiny usually means everything’s a go. I thought he was finally taking the initiative on this whole thing, and I was excited, because they really would look cute together.”

“When did you and Xander develop your own language?” Buffy asked, wondering how much over her sister’s life she had missed out on.

“It’s not a language,” Dawn said. “It’s to protect me in case something happens. Somebody claims to be… from him, or something, I’m not really sure. And anyway, it was Ethan’s idea. But it came to mean, just…”

Buffy smiled at her sister’s boyfriend, who looked away, shyly.

“Okay,” Dawn said, having calmed down. “So, who was this girl who sent you to feel out Xander?”

Buffy told her. The grin came back.

***

Xander woke up very slowly. Something was not quite right, and he couldn’t quite figure out what. He rolled over and was greeted by the sight of breasts. Pointy, bulbous, plastic breasts from an anatomically correct blow-up doll.

“Ha, ha,” he said to himself. “Very funny, Buffy. Guess I was right.”

Xander slipped out of bed, after shoving the doll to the floor, and slipped on a t-shirt and some gym shorts before heading down to the kitchen, where he found Amanda and Rona eating cereal.

“Hey, girls,” he said.

“Hi, Xander,” they replied. Xander grabbed a bowl, his favorite cereal, and the milk, and sat down across the table from them. He mixed his ingredients and dove into his cereal without further thought.

Rona and Vi giggled. Xander looked up at the quizzically, and they only giggled more. It was then that he noticed the writing on their shirts.

“Whuzzat say?” he asked. Rona stood up and stretched out her shirt for him to see. It read ‘I’m Cool With Stupid.’ Xander shook his head, and looked at Amanda’s shirt, which read ‘Stupid is Pretty Nice.’

“This some kind of a theme?” he asked.

“Oh, we just picked these up,” Rona said.

Xander shook his head and went back to his cereal. When he finished, he dumped the bowl in the sink.

“Oh yeah,” Rona said as Xander was leaving the room. “Dawn’s here. She was looking for you earlier. Looked pissed. And Faith said something about a broken… something. I think she’s in the gym.”

Xander groaned and slammed his head against the wall. “Okay,” he said. “Thanks.”

Rona nodded, and Xander left the two giggling girls to themselves and headed for the gym, to deal with Faith before Dawn. He found the raven-haired beauty teaching a couple of the new recruits a few steps.

“Hey,” he called.

Faith turned at his call, blocking a kick with her forearm as she turned. “Hey,” she said, jogging over to Xander. He was plainly looking at her chest. “Eyes up here buster,” she said with a smile. “Those ain’t for you.”

“Huh?” he asked, looking her in the face. “Oh. No, I was reading your shirt.”

“Yeah, that’s what they all say.” She winked at him. “What do you think?”

Xander read the shirt again. “‘I’ve Got Stupid’s Back,’” he read. “I’m seeing a pattern in shirts today.”

“Yeah, weird, ain’t it? I saw that too. Anyway, I was wondering if you could take a look at my headboard. I think I heard it crack.”

Xander shook his head. “Made up with Robin?”

“Hell yeah,” she said. “Makin’ up’s the best part.”

Xander sighed. “I’ll be happy to take a look at it, but change your sheets first?”

“Already done,” she said.

“Okay. I’ll try to get to it today.”

“Oh, B was looking for you,” Faith said, as she walked back towards her students. “Think she went to see Jeeves.”

“Thanks,” Xander said. “Seems everybody’s looking for me this morning.”

“Hey, you’re a popular guy, ace. Catch ya later.”

Xander padded through the house, looking at the girls’ shirts. A bunch of them were watching TV. Kennedy wore a shirt that said ‘Stupid Saved My Life.’ Vi wore a shirt that said ‘I Want to Sleep With Stupid.’ The newer girls, those who he didn’t yet know, were dressed as normal. Xander shook his head and continued on. Giggling followed him out the room.

As he was about to knock on the door to Giles’ office, he saw Andrew coming down the stairs wearing a shirt that said ‘Stupid is My Friend.’

”Andrew!” Xander yelled, motioning for the young nerd to come over to him.

“Yes?” Andrew asked, clearly nervous. “What is… going on?”

“You tell me. What’s with all the shirts?” he asked.

“Shirts?” Andrew asked, innocently. His act failed completely.

“Andrew,” Xander said, a warning tone in his voice. The young man sighed, and cast his eyes down to the floor.

“Xander,” he said, looking up. “I’m not going to lie to you.”

Andrew nodded and skipped off towards the kitchen, leaving Xander alone in the foyer.

“What is with these people today?” he muttered aloud.

“What’s with today, today?”

Xander turned and saw Ethan standing in the door to Giles’ office.

“Oh, hey, Ethan. Empire Records.”

“Very good.”

“That’s an easy one,” Xander said, shrugging. “Do you have any idea what’s going on here?”

The young man smiled. “They’re waiting for you,” he said, tilting his head towards Giles’ office.

“Who?” Xander asked.

Ethan just grinned, turned around and walked back into Giles’ office. The back of his shirt said ‘I am Not Stupid!’ Xander followed him into the room, where Buffy, Dawn and Giles were sitting and drinking tea. Ethan sat next to Dawn, who clasped his hand and kissed him on the cheek.

“Ah, Xander, I’m glad you’ve arrived,” Giles said. Xander looked, jaw agape at the older man, who was wearing a t-shirt that read ‘Stupid is Like My Son.’ “We have important business to discuss.”

“Giles, what the hell is going on?” he asked. “Has everybody in this house gone completely nuts?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Giles said, brow creased. Xander looked over at the sisters, and saw Dawn wearing a shirt that read ‘Stupid Loves Me.’ Buffy wore a sweater.

“Buff. Thank God. You’re not insane. What the hell is going on? Everybody’s wearing these… Stupid shirts!”

“They’re not stupid, Xander,” said the petite blonde, looking at her sister.

“Can somebody please tell me what the hell is going on?” Xander asked, loudly.

“Hey, guys.” Xander turned and saw Robin come into the office. “Sorry I’m late, I had a couple of errands to run. Is everything ready for the meeting?”

“Yes, it is,” Giles said. “Xander could you - Xander?”

The young man was too busy staring at Robin’s shirt, which read ‘I Respect Stupid.’

“I think it’s a bit hot in here, Giles,” Robin said. “Xander seems flushed.”

”I agree,” Buffy said, drawing Xander’s attention. She removed her sweater to reveal a shirt that read ‘Stupid is My Best Friend.’

“Okay, that’s it,” Xander said. “You are all crazy people. I have to get out of here.”

Xander ran out the door and took the stairs to his room two at a time. He rushed inside and decided a shower would clear his head. He grabbed a towel and headed into his bathroom. He tossed his towel onto the rack, and went to turn the water on, very hot. As he passed the mirror over his sink, he noticed writing on his forehead. Taking a moment to decrypt the message, Xander finally got the joke.

“Stupid,” he read, the word written backwards on his forehead.

“Xander?”

“Just a second!” he yelled. Xander scrubbed at his forehead with a sponge and some hot water.

“Xander, can I come in?”

He recognized the voice as Willow’s, and shut the water off, both in the sink and the shower.

“Will…” he called through the door. “I… no. I can’t take this right now, okay?”

“Xander, please come out,” she said, her voice gentle, but pleading.

“Will… this… damn word won’t come off,” he said, slumping down against the door. “It’s stuck.”

“No, it’s not,” she said. “And, it was for a good cause.”

Her voice was right on the other side of the door, at the same level as his head.

“Yeah,” he said. “Telling me I’m stupid.”

“That was Dawnie’s idea,” Willow said. “And from what I’ve seen, there were lots of other messages in there as well.”

“Yeah,” he said. “I just… why permanent marker?”

“Xander, please come out,” she said. “I really need for you to come out.”

Xander closed his eyes. “Okay,” he said. “But only because it’s you.”

Xander stood, opened the door and stepped into his room. And he froze. Willow stood there, in front of him, an adorable grin on her face, the one he loved so much, but his eyes were unable to leave her shirt.

“Xander?” she asked, sounding a little worried.

His brown eyes slowly dragged up to her deep green ones. His eyes asked hers a question. She nodded. Xander’s eyes slowly went back down to her shirt, where he read the words again. ‘I’m In Love With Stupid’ it said.

“Really?” he asked, his eyes watering. “Because… because that’s a thing that… that you can’t just say. You can’t just say something like that and then not mean it, and you can’t take it back, there is not taking back a statement like that, and -”

“Sometimes, when you’re falling to pieces,” she said, reaching up to touch his lips, “your mouth, it just does the sweetest thing.”

Xander looked up into her eyes, which were tearing up as he watched. “Oh, God, Willow I hoped it was true. I wished… I know I shouldn’t have, but last night I wished…”

“I think somebody heard you,” she said, stroking his face with her fingers.

Xander ran his hands through her hair. “I still don’t know how to get this off my forehead,” he said.

“Let’s see if I can help,” she said. Willow leaned up and kissed Xander tenderly on his lips, a kiss he returned quickly and forcefully. Xander felt a tingling on his forehead, but refused to break the kiss first. When eventually they had to come up for air, Willow inspected his forehead. “There. All better.”

“Magic?”

Willow nodded. “Best kind. Cured with a kiss.”

“But will it stay gone?” he asked.

Willow frowned and considered the spot where the words had been.

“Better go for another dose,” she said. “Just to be sure.”

Xander grinned and dove in for another kiss. Willow pulled away just as he reached her lips, and he looked at her, confused. She muttered a few words, and suddenly all sound from outside of the room vanished from his senses. Xander raised an eyebrow, questioningly.

“Well,” she said. “You’re not stupid anymore.”

“And?” he asked, still not sure what she was doing.

Willow smiled. “And… that means my shirt is wrong.”

Xander grinned.

And outside of his room, a confused Slayer and Key were wondering where all of the sound went.

The End

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