End of the line, folks! Another couple of selective rewrites. Fortunately, this is the last segment and I don't have to sweat it anymore. Hope y'all enjoyed! Thanks to those that stuck with me through something that's become very old hat in Buffy fic circles. And now, for something completely different! (Only, y'know, not.)-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
Although she'd had to restrain the impulse to greet Angel with the reflexive kiss, she did welcome him with open arms and warmth. After the issue of Caleb had been attended to, (which, by the way, ew), they stepped outside the crypt that the Guardian had been waiting in. The current topic of discussion: Why didn't Buffy want Angel coming back to the house to help with the First?
"No, it's not Spike," Buffy grumbled in exasperation. There was a time when it could've been, but recent events had rather neatly taken care of that potential issue.
Angel's nose wrinkled. There was still something that she wasn't saying. The other recognizable scents on her was simply the rest of the Scoobies. Giles, Willow, Dawn...
"Xander?" Try as he might, Angel couldn't help but sound a little incredulous.
Buffy rolled her eyes. "You'd think with as many times as you've caught me fibbing, I'd remember about that damned nose after all these years."
"Sorry Buffy, but I'm a little surprised. I thought he'd been out of the running years ago."
"I am not
a foot race." Buffy whirled around peevishly. "And I didn't exactly go around trying to figure out the best way to annoy you. It just-" She waved her hand as she cast about for a word. "Happened."
Angel held his hands up peacefully. "Okay, okay. Didn't mean to have it come out quite that way. It was just an out-of-left-field moment." When he could see some of Buffy's ire begin to bleed off, he matched her pace as they left the graveyard. "So, how'd it happen?"
Buffy eyed him sidelong, looking for signs that Angel was either fishing for information or looking for another fight. Not seeing any of this, she began to summarize the whole last year or so. How Xander was there to help out, pick up the slack when she was frazzled from trying to be both the Slayer and Dawn's guardian. How he helped when the crisis with the first came up. She bypassed more personal moments like initial kisses or their time alone in some stranger's house. Angel simply walked and absorbed it all attentively.
After a time spent in silence, Angel offered up one probing question. "How serious are you two?"
"That's a whole bucket of definition that we're so not in a place to dip into right now." Buffy shook her head wearily. "Especially since we don't know if I'm going live to the end of the week."
"On the bright side, Xander can always just bring you back again." Angel's head tilted as he caught the pronouns involved in Buffy's last sentence. "Isn't Xander going to be there with you?"
"I sent him away with Dawn." Buffy informed him quietly.
Angel was surprised again in a short time frame. Both that Xander would go and that Dawn would go quietly. "How'd you manage to pull that off?"
Buffy made a face. "I had him chloroform her and spirit her off in the middle of the night."
"Ten to one says they're back at the house by the time you get there. Either Xander will have changed his mind, or Dawn will talk him into going back somehow." Oh, if Angel only knew how feisty Dawn had become of late.
"Don't say that. If they can get somewhere out of the blast radius, it'll put my mind at ease." She wrung her hands fretfully.
"Honestly, I think it'd be a good thing if they came back." When Buffy turned and looked at Angel as if he'd sprouted a second head, he began to clarify. "There are only two non-powered humans that Angelus has ever been afraid of, to the point where they could make him back down. A demon hunter from my pre-soul days, and Xander."
Buffy blinked. She hadn't caught that vibe when the gang had rescued her from Angelus in a graveyard, back when she was fighting that uber-flu virus.
"He may not have any powers or special training," Angel continued. "And he may not be my favorite person on the planet. But he'll find a way tunnel straight through the Hellmouth if he thinks it'll help you, and he won't stop until he reaches China."
Absurdly, Buffy was struck with the sudden mental image of Xander's head poking upside-down
out of the ground in Peking, a la Warner Brothers cartoons. "I never thought I'd hear you say something like that about him."
"Remember when I said that you deserved someone that can take you into the light?" Buffy nodded and Angel continued. "If I got to pick anyone for that, I'd pick Xander."
This day just couldn't get more surreal. "Well, you don't
get a vote, but thank you. And like I said, there's nothing concrete laid out yet. Plenty of time for that sort of thing when the world is saved."
And then the conversation turned to strange analogies of cookie dough and while it was entirely likely that Xander would be that cookie connoisseur, planning that far in the future wasn't in either of their things to do quite yet. -:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
After a brief chat with Spike and handing over the medallion, Buffy trundled upstairs where her room was blessedly Potential-free, (she hoped she wasn't going to find girls stacked in a room like cord-wood later), she encountered Xander on his way down the stairs, adjusting his eye-patch self-consciously.
"Doing a last minute bed check?" Buffy asked, as they paused.
"Just did it. I was kind of restless while you were off questing for answers on the Ronco Slay-o-matic there and giving Spike his obnoxious costume jewelery." He gestured to the Scythe. "Figured you'd want someone keeping an eye out until you got settled in."
"I appreciate it. So where do you think you're going now?" Buffy crossed her arms and peered challengingly up at him.
"Uh." Xander replied intelligently. "Going to go find a few inches of space to crash out?"
"I think I can make you a better offer than that." Buffy slipped her hand through his and tugged Xander off to her room. After a little initial confusion in getting settled, Buffy eventually got comfortable with her arm draped over Xander's middle and her head pillowed on his chest.
"How is this feeling?" Buffy reached up to touch the tazer marks on his neck lightly.
"Medium-well." Xander snorted sleepily.
"Sorry about that. I figured she'd put up a fuss, but I never thought she'd find a way to knock you out and drive back." Buffy made a face. "And where'd she learn how to drive, anyway?"
Xander raised his hand. "Guilty. Back when you were getting settled in at Sunnydale High as a councilor, I started giving her some basic driving lessons. Y'know, in case you had to work late and I wasn't available to pick her up. Stuff like that."
Buffy lifted her head up to stare at him in some consternation. "Just how many things have you gone and done when I wasn't looking, this year?"
"No idea what you're talking about." Xander replied virtuously. "I don't make a move around here without your consent."
"Mm-hmm. Keep telling yourself that." She poked his middle in feigned irritation. "You should take credit for a few things, now and then. Who knows, maybe we would've had The Talk months ago."
"I didn't do those things for credit, Buf." Xander ran his fingers through Buffy's hair and left them tangled there so he could rub the back of her neck. "I did 'em because they needed doing."
"You could still mention so I know they don't need doing any- Hey. No fair distracting me with neck rubs." Xander didn't respond, electing to let his fingers do the talking. For a bit, the only sound was of Buffy making noises of contentment. "Ngh. You win. I'll tell you our secret plans." Then the only sound she made was purring until Xander eventually drifted off to sleep.
Which Buffy was thankful for, because while she had been made comfy from Xander's attentions, she hadn't been able to sleep. And since the First had come calling, wearing Caleb's face, that was a trauma that she figured he could do without. (Although she wondered if Xander's rather sharp tongue could tick the First off. Scratch that, she knew it could. Better he stayed asleep.)
And after that little chat, Buffy felt... oddly energized. The penny dropped. Alone
? Not so much. Not if she and Willow had anything to say about it. She'd have to bounce this off the gang tomorrow, but right now she was going to go and drape herself over Xander and kiss him soundly.
"Mmph?" Xander woke up not entirely displeased with this turn of events. "Good morning to you too?" He tilted his head, seeing the strangely exuberant look in Buffy's eyes. "What is it?"
"We're gonna win." Buffy informed him with solemn glee. -:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
Buffy looked vaguely confused as she walked in on the role-playing game in progress. "So, to de-stress from the impending mayhem of fighting, you're playing a game about fighting?"
Xander shrugged. "Keeps us out of the pool hall. Also, I get to be taller than Giles for once."
Giles favored him with a withering look. "You're still being smug because you got the killing blow in on Trogdor."
"Now, now. I only did that because of Amanda's time flux." Xander replied with feigned modesty.
Buffy sat down on one of Xander's knees so they could both still see the game board. "Alright. I'm looped enough to say this. Let's see what this stuff is like." She looked at Xander and Andrew expectantly.
Xander stared at Buffy in surprise. "Man, the world really must be coming to an end. And, ow." After Buffy's swat on his shoulder cooled, he looked at Andrew.
Andrew shrugged. "She can always play Anya's character." He gestured to the dozing ex-demon who hadn't done anything for a good couple of hours now.
After that bit of consent, the group tried including Buffy in on the game, who made random comments throughout that really wasn't going to help with the current game events. By the time all of them were drooping and ready for a catnap before they headed for the high school, Buffy's overall opinion was:
"It's like caffeine free, diet fighting." She announced. "What boxing would be like if the fights were called by golf announcers." There was no adrenaline rush for her in this. And she didn't quite get the 'trying to be someone else' thing. She'd tried that when she was Anne in L.A, and that hadn't gone so well.
The group broke up with Andrew huffing over her derision, Giles and Amanda too tired to care, and Xander teasing Buffy about some of her preconceptions about the role-playing crowd.
Buffy looked at Xander thoughtfully. "Hm. Maybe I should get me an elf princess costume."
This sent Xander's brain into a downward spiral, and it turned out that after they got back to the room, there wasn't as much sleeping being accomplished as they'd originally intended.-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
"What are we going to do now?" Dawn asked as they stood at the edge of the crater that was once Sunnydale.
After Buffy finished smiling at the sudden vast amounts of possibility before them, she turned around and seized each of those standing with her into a hug. Even Faith. She just needed to reassure herself that the people she loved most were still there.
Leaving the best for last, she curled her arms around Xander's neck and buried her face in his chest as Xander returned the embrace.
"I'm sorry about Anya." Buffy whispered.
"I'm sorry about Spike." Xander offered in return.
And then they simply held that posture for a little while. Basking in the reassurance of their mutual survival.
"I vote we stop in L.A. and invade Angel's hotel for a while." Xander chortled. The appearance of some 30-odd Slayers could very well cause Angel to have a heart attack. Or start his heart back up and then
cause it to seize.
Buffy snorted. Some things were never likely to change. "I think we'll puzzle that out later. We've got the time, now."
After a few moments, everyone got back on the bus by mutual unspoken consent. They still had wounded to tend to, and they needed to figure out how to care for some forty-odd disaster refugees. To say nothing of the non-trivial problem of figuring out what to do with all the Slayers that they'd just made.
Buffy and Xander collapsed into a seat together, Buffy tucking her chin under Xander's head and pulling his hands so they secured around her middle. They exchanged a brief glance as they began to realize just how much they'd both lost that day. Perhaps they could take something away from this. How to avoid such a cascade of events in the future. Or rebuild the Watcher's Council in their own image. They'd just changed the world in such a fundamental way, there was no telling how that was going to turn out. But for now, the fact that they'd survived and emerged victorious was more than enough.
Although, Buffy wouldn't mind having some alone time with Xander very soon, once her stomach healed. And she strongly suspected that he wouldn't object much either. But they could figure these things all out later on.
They had the time, now.