This disclaimer is for this entire story. I do not own BTVS or Highlander, nor the characters used in this story (except for Joel, an original character that I choose to release the rights to for public posterity and enjoyment) , which is being written for fun and is a not-for-profit endeavor.
Reviews are much appreciated, especially constructive criticism which are specific enough for the betterment of this story and future prose.
I would like to take a moment and thank Listener, my superbeta, who has gone above and beyond the call of duty with this one. Thanks, man. You're awesome!
In the end, it wasn't as Joel had thought it would happen. He'd always known, in that abstract sort of way in which one knows such things, that he would die in his bed, alone, on a cold, cold night, and be found a few days later by his landlord because someone would call about a smell coming from his little two-room apartment. No one would show up at his funeral, and he would be buried in some insignificant little corner of a graveyard that no one ever visited. And he had been okay with that knowledge.
His life was that of a simple, uncomplicated little man's that could not have been less exciting if he were a vegetable lying in a hospital bed somewhere. But he wasn't unhappy. No, in fact, he was content. He would never be so adventuristic as to call himself happy, but content was. . . okay. What else could one ask from life, without having to deal with inevitable downs that came with the ups? He had seen what those downs could do to a person.
Indeed, he had seen what they had done to his mother after his father had been killed in a car wreck when Joel was eleven years old. Indeed, he'd seen what the world had to offer, people he'd counted on and loved being ripped apart by bullets and IED's in Fallujah. He wasn't having any more of that. He wasn't even going to think
about those things anymore. Down that way led to darkness. . . So he was content.
Content with his job at the bank. Content with movie nights on every first and third Fridays, alternating with reading fanfiction on the second and fourth. He was content with working out in the relative seclusion of thethe private gym two blocks from his apartment building, silent repetitions and quiet grunts of pain as he followed Tony Horton without even the slightest thought of giving up, though he scarcely needed a recording of a man telling him to dig deeper. Joel didn't need to dig deeper. Joel didn't quit because Joel didn't do things like quit. Quitting was failure, and failure made a person down. Joel didn't get down.
Joel, as a rule, made sure that he knew the outcome to everything he was going to do, and had every day planned out. He would get up at 4:30 A.M. every morning, fix himself a bowl of Oat Bran with one scoop of raisins, and half of a small grapefruit. He would then dress himself in a jogging suit and walk to his gym, presenting his membership card to the barcode scanner at the door, let himself in, and warm-up. He would then, depending on what time of the year it was, engage in a session of P90X or Insanity, followed by 25 laps in the Olympic size pool in the underground complex beneath the gym. Then he would sauna, shower, get dressed, and walk the additional six blocks to work. At work, he would say a quick good morning to Janine and Sandra and then head to his office, where, for the remainder of his day, he denied or granted customers loans. After work, he would head back to the gym, swim fifty laps, sauna, shower, dress in his jogging suit, and head home, where he would watch approximately one and a half hours of television, and read something before going to bed. His life was predictable. And he liked it that way.
And so, on this Sunday night, backed against the corner of a low wall on the roof of a twenty-two story building with a knife sticking out of his chest, he knew for certain that he'd been wrong. Dead wrong. And he certainly hadn't seen this coming.
24 Hours Later
Dim moonlight glinted off of the steel handle on the heavy wooden door as Buffy crept closer to it, trying with all of her being to ignore the bumbling idiot behind her that obviously did not know the definition of stealth, with his heavy footsteps and his even heavier breathing. Not to mention his incessant need to carry on a conversation when they were supposed to be friggin' quiet! And what was up with the AC in this place? It was as if they'd set it to--
"Holy fuck!" Xander almost yelled as she pulled the door to the morgue open to let out a blast of cold air. "I think I need to go back for my nutsack that just froze off and rolled down the hallway!"
Buffy hid a grin as he took the words right out of her mouth, but turned around to punch him lightly in the arm, hoping he got the message that he needed to shut the hell up. A punch which, though light in Buffy's mind, was hard enough to send Xander sprawling. Stifling an exclamation of surprise, Buffy bent over and pulled him up, whispering that she was sorry, but he needed to be quiet.
Clutching his bruised arm in place of his long-since bruised ego, he silently nodded and clamped his mouth shut. When was he going to learn to keep his big mouth shut? And when was Buffy going to learn that she punches like a freaking mack truck?
Buffy turned her attention back to the dark room in front of her, trying to ignore the frigid air that tried to seep into her very bones. God, she hated morgues. They weren't like graveyards, where there was plenty of wide open spaces where she could fight anything that just happened to decide not to stay dead. Here, though, not so much. Too many tables, drawers, and sharp objects for her comfort. Just as this particular case of the wiggins started to become a full blown case of the creeps, Xander bumped into a metal cart behind her and made her almost die of a massive coronary. Absently tossing another punch his way, she ignored his muffled yelp of pain as she dug a crumpled bit of paper out of her pocket and checked the number on it one last time, just to make sure.
She walked up to the wall of drawers, checking the plaquette on each one until she located the one they'd travelled all this way for. Drawer number twelve. Her mouth dry, she reached a shaking hand out and grasped the handle, hesitating for the briefest of moments before pulling it back, the click of the lock disengaging sounding like gunfire in the total quiet enveloping the duo holding their breath as they looked inside.
He was still there. Buffy and Xander let out a heavy sigh of relief at the same moment, and Buffy allowed herself a quick glance back and a brief grin, savoring his goofy expression as he calmed her nerves more than she had ever thought possible.
Xander had been her rock, these past few months. He'd been there for her for the past eight years, and even more so after Anya died. She suspected that he'd needed her almost as much as she'd needed him, though she never entertained the fantasy that he would ever admit that to her. No, he thought that he had to be tough for the Slayer, like Spike had been, solid like Angel had been, good like Riley had been. Smiling even more deeply, she thought back on the night before, at the hotel they'd finally stopped at after hours upon hours of driving. The night they'd first slept together. And it most definitely will be the first of many, if I have anything to say about it,
she thought with a lingering grin. He'd been so kind and gentle, as if he were afraid that he'd hurt her. That first time they made love, it had been slow and sweet. After about an hour of laying there in his arms, talking, she'd initiated things again, thinking that if she'd take charge, he'd get into it a bit more and lose at least some of his timidity.
Well, he'd taken the hint, and had quickly taken charge himself. She would have been stunned at his domineering attitude if he'd given her the chance to. . . They'd gone from gentle and sweet to a passion that left her toes quivering and Xander's entire body giving out on him. She had to admit that she'd never experienced anything like it before. While it was true that she and Spike had had some knock-down drag-out fuck sessions, she'd never come quite like she had when Xander picked her up, carried her over to a rocker-recliner, hooked his knees over the arms and deposited her on his cock without ever sitting her down. She'd ridden him like that while he played with her clitoral hood, tapping on it and gently squeezing the tender mound around it. Not long after, mind-altering, earth-shattering, universe-stopping orgasms came shivering throughout her entire being, eminating from her clit, G-spot, and the hand that grasped her left breast, and pulsing to her very core.
She'd later, after she and Xander were recovering from total utter exhaustion (well, "utter" described Xander's fatigue, anyway), she'd asked him where he'd learned that particular move from, and he'd grown quiet and still. Lifting her head off of the bed, she was surprised to see tears welling up in his eyes and sliding down the side of his face that she could see from where he lay crosswise under her legs. He didn't answer, but then again he didn't have to. Buffy twisted her body so that she was laying directly beside his, and held him as silent shudders of grief wracked his body.
Later on, before she drifted off into oblivion, this time with his arms wrapped warmly around her, she thought she'd heard him whisper into her hair, "I miss her, but I'm with you now." It had broken her heart, what he'd said, but it had also given her some hope. He didn't think of their time together as just sex, just another notch in his belt. And he didn't think of her as a replacement for the woman that he'd loved, either. What they'd just shared had been a binding of souls. However temporary it may be, she didn't know—but she intended to relish it while she still had it. While she still had him.
She couldn't fool herself into thinking that he was in love with her. Nobody who actually knew her could really love her. They might love the idea
of her, but the reality of who she was and what she did eventually drove out all of the pretensions that masked the ugly truth of these men who thought they loved her. Angel, in love with the innocence of the young girl who was everything he wished he could be. Riley, who fell in love with the idea of a woman who was pure and strong; who wanted a wife in a house surrounded by a white picket fence waiting for him while he was off fighting the good fight for God and country. Spike. . . Spike loved her because though his obsession with her was the salvation that she offered, she still wanted to sin with him. She made him good by mere proximity. But fucking one's personal Messiah? Heaven-bound for sure.
So no, she held no illusions where Xander was concerned. But maybe, just maybe, he might be able to love her someday. She just had to prove herself to him. And as long as he kept trying to prove himself worthy of her, she didn't have to worry about whether he was going to find someone else. Because last night, as she drifted off, she had the sinking feeling that she was falling in love with him. And she was okay with that.