A/N This is just a little mood piece that popped out of my head in about half an hour one night. After a couple of weeks I couldn't seem to take it any further, so I stopped trying. I may use it to launch a story or two down the road, but for now; this is it. As always, I have no proprietary claim on BTVS
Buffy hated hospitals; hated them with a fiery passion. Fortunately, due to her slayer status, she rarely had to spend any time in one. However, this led to another conclusion, that as much as she hated being in the hospital, she hated visiting someone in the hospital even more. If she’d been a shrink, Buffy probably would have brought up the issues of Cecelia and Joyce; but she wasn’t and the only thing that came to her was that someone she cared about had gotten hurt because of the world that she was a part of.
Buffy looked up from the hard plastic chair as a nurse came into the waiting room. “You can see him now.”
Buffy didn’t speak; she just nodded in acknowledgment and walked through the doors that the nurse had come out of. She didn’t need directions, ever since the joining spell she’d had a link to both Xander and Willow that made her aware of where they were; she allowed it to guide her to him. She opened the door and looked in, studying her friend as he lay there. He was deeply tanned and whipcord thin, Africa had refined him somehow, burning everything unnecessary away and leaving just the steel. That was what worried Buffy, much more than his injuries. Something had changed in Xander; he was no longer the laughing, irreverent prankster that he had been. It bothered Buffy how little they saw of each other, but considering what they did, free time was at a premium. What really bothered her though, was how little effort the others put into keeping in touch with Xander. The exceptions being her and Giles; but these days Giles idea of warm conversation was one that only had two requests for help or information. Buffy couldn’t remember when she’d last seen a genuine Xander grin on his face. “Hey Xander.”
“Hey Buffy, what brings you down?”
“I needed to work on my tan, how are you feeling?”
“Like I got chewed up and spit back out,” he replied, he then sat up. “How’s Lelani?”
“She’s gonna be fine, the Doc’s say she’ll be out in a day or two, and for the record she wants to kick your ass to the Nile and back for jumping in like that.”
“Wow, a slayer being mad at me; there’s a surprise,” he replied with an ungodly amount of sarcasm in his voice.
“Don’t worry about it, I just explained that that was just Xander being Xander; I think she understood.”
“That’s good,” he muttered. Then his eye fixed Buffy with a hard look, “so what merits the personal treatment Buff?”
“I came down to see you, simple as that.”
“Your not gonna try and tell me to stop or something like that?”
“We both know that would be useless,” Buffy said with a sigh. “Even if I did try and get you to stop, you’d either ignore me or just find a way around whatever I tried to block you with.”
“True, so you’re just here to see my handsome face?”
“That and I’ve got a request.”
His gaze sharpened noticeably, “what request?”
Buffy sat down on the edge of the bed and returned his gaze, just a bit softer than what he was sending out. “You’ve still got your Soldier memories, don’t you?”
Reluctantly, Xander nodded.
“I want you to look at those and then look at yourself as a soldier would. I mean, think about it Xander. You’ve basically been in combat mode for twelve years now. What do your soldier memories say about that?”
Buffy watched as the emotions rippled across Xander’s face as he examined his situation as dispassionately as possible. Finally he returned her gaze, “so you are here to take me out of the game.”
“No,” she replied. “I’m here to suggest you get a bit of R&R.”
“And if I say no?”
“Then I’m watching your back until you change your mind.”
“You’d stay down here in Africa, because of me?”
“Would you do the same thing for me?”
“You know I would.”
“Well, there’s your answer.”
“OK Buff, no guarantees, but I’ll think about it.”
“That’s fine,” then she leaned forward. “Now that the awkward part of the reunion is over, tell me how you’ve been.” She was there for hours as the two friends caught up on each other’s lives.
TWO WEEKS LATER
Xander hated Cleveland, and Buffy really couldn’t blame him. First of all, the weather was rotten. It was spring in Northern Ohio which meant that you had to deal with a pattern that went something like: Snow, Thaw, Snow, Thaw, Freezing Rain, Ninety Degrees. Even crazier than the weather was how everyone was behaving. Dawn was subtly trying to gain his attention by channeling her inner Jenna Jamison and wearing clothes that most porn stars would dismiss as too revealing. Faith managed to look like a scared deer whenever she was in the same room as Xander and then got as far away as possible as soon as she could. Buffy figured the fugitive act was due to the apology that had never occurred. Willow was almost as skittish, afraid of what Xander would say after being pretty much ignored for almost five years. However, any time she approached him, Kennedy would start acting like a five year old that was loosing her favorite toy and Willow would back off. Giles apparently couldn’t grasp the whole concept of vacation because he kept trying to send Xander to various hot spots around the world and only backed off after Buffy threatened to serve his best Darjeeling as iced tea. Robin seemed jealous all the time and Andrew was just Andrew. As for the baby Slayers, well they made Dawn look subtle; there was suddenly an epidemic of broken doors, broken bookcases and problems with the plumbing. The solutions to this would always include both alone time with Xander and some sort of bikini, lingerie, exercise clothes combinations. All in all it was about as relaxing as tap dancing in a minefield.
I’ve gotta get the hell outa here,” Xander told his friend.
“Sorry,” Buffy replied, “I never thought it would get this bad.”
“It’s not your fault Buff, there’s no way you could have known that everyone would go mental.”
The two were currently sitting in a small bar just two or three blocks from Slayer Central. “They’re gonna kill me for this,” Buffy muttered.
“For what,” Xander asked; a puzzled look on his face.
“This,” Buffy replied. Then she preceded to hand him a bank book and cell phone along with a plane ticket. “I booked you one way to Las Vegas, there’s a guy out there; Lorne is his name. He’s from some demon dimension but he’s a great guy and he used to work with Angel. I told him you were coming. After that, well you decide where you go and how long you stay. He can help with that, he’s got connections like you wouldn’t believe. The cell phone is pre-paid and I’m the only one with the number and the two of us are the only one’s that know about this bank account so Willow can’t trace you that way.”
“Look at you, Miss double O Buff,” Xander said with amazement. “Making with the conspiracy; I’m impressed.”
“Listen Xander, take as long as you need, go wherever you need to, but promise me that you’ll come back here.”
“Sure Buff, but why?”
She leaned forward, her eyes boring into his. “After all this help, I want a date with you mister and I figure you owe me. So its gonna be flowers and dressing up and dinner at somewhere other than White Castle, the whole enchilada.”
Xander sat there, speechless for practically the first time in his life. “Why,” he finally managed to stammer out, “after all these years, why?”
“Because I’ve looked at my life and decided it was time to adopt a new boyfriend choosing paradigm.”
“I’m finally getting my head out of my ass and since you’re the best guy I’ve ever known; I don’t want to jump back into the dating pool until I’ve given you an honest try. It might be great or it might be awful, but I’ll be damned if I spend the rest of whatever time I’ve got wondering ‘what if’.”
“OK then,” Xander said after a moment of thought. “When I get back its me and you, formal wear and Wendy’s.”
“Jerk,” Buffy said, then leaned across the table and kissed him. “You better get going, your plane leaves in about two hours.”
“Yes ma’am,” Xander replied with a grin and headed out the door of the bar.
Buffy sat there for a while after he left; thinking about what she’d done and what the fall out would be like. “I hope he’s not gone too long,” she mumbled to herself as she got up and left, she didn’t know how they would survive without their heart.
FOUR MONTHS LATER
Xander smiled as he roared up the Kansas Turnpike headed toward Topeka. He was in Angel’s old Plymouth, and while he was less than thrilled with Deadboy in general, Xander reluctantly had to admit that the brooding wonder had good taste in cars if nothing else. Ultimately Xander was headed for Chicago. Why Chicago, well that was because Lorne had told him that it was where he needed to be. Lorne had made with the cryptic and would only say that he’d start to find what he needed in the Windy City. Xander had been reluctant to leave; his time in Vegas had been fun, relaxing and enlightening all at the same time, and he’d found a good friend in the green demon. They had talked a lot about Cordelia, and each had helped the other finally grieve over her loss. They had discovered a mutual love of bad movies and eerily similar senses of humor. Despite that though, Lorne had been insistent so Xander had taken off.
Xander turned up the radio and smiled as he barreled down the highway. For the first time in too many years he felt happy and carefree. He would go to Chicago and find whatever the bar’s name was and then let his heart guide him; at least according to Lorne. Then he would move on from there. Xander knew that he would eventually make it back to Cleveland; he didn’t want a pissed off Buffy after him after all, and the responsibility he had accepted still lay on his shoulders. But until he was ready to go back, Xander was on a journey to rediscover himself. The last few years, he’d been surviving; he needed to remember how to live. He started singing along with the radio as the old Plymouth ate up the road.