A/N I still have no proprietary claim on either BTVS or Criminal Minds. As always, constructive criticism is appreciated with the caveat that all flames will be turned in at the lost and found counter at my local Wal-Mart.
Maintaining a comfortable silence, Xander followed Buffy to the short term parking lot. As they approached the car, Buffy flipped Xander the keys. At his inquiring look she just shrugged and said, “you’ve had a rough couple of days, I doubt you’re up for my driving.”
Xander just gaped at Buffy, sure that he couldn’t have just correctly heard what she had said. She saw his expression and gave Xander a dry little smirk, asking without words if he was the only one allowed to be funny. Xander tried to contain his laughter, he really did, but it just welled up inside him and spilled out. And with it came the emotions that he had been suppressing, his anger, horror and sorrow and his laughter turned to tears as it all spilled out of him in a cathartic burst. He would have collapsed onto the pavement if Buffy had not been there to support him. Together the two sank to the pavement; one finally releasing all the emotions his activities had brought to the fore and the other there just to support her friend. It took a couple of minutes, but soon Xander was under control again. Buffy looked at her friend for a moment, then asked, “you good to go?” When Xander nodded, Buffy stood and helped Xander to his feet and then silently got into the car. It wasn’t that she was indifferent to how Xander was feeling, she was just wary of pushing too hard too fast. ‘This patience crap gets old quick,’ Buffy mused.
For his part, Xander wasn’t sure what to think. He’d been ready for an inquisition when Buffy had met him but that hadn’t occurred, and now she had backed off immediately and not pried into the why’s of what had just happened. Half of him was ecstatic at Buffy’s change in attitude towards him; the other half was simply waiting for the other shoe to drop. As he eased into the driver’s seat, he looked over at one of his oldest friends; and yes, despite the rocky parts, she was still his friend and he was hers; and tried to figure out what was going on with her. Seeing nothing, he put the keys in the ignition and started the car. They were out of the parking lot and on the highway back towards slayer central before either of them spoke.
“I met Kevin,” Buffy started, “he’s a nice guy.”
Xander sat there for a moment, waiting for either elaboration or recriminations and questions, but nothing came. Finally he replied, “yeah, he is. I’m glad I was able to track him down.”
“Yeah, family is important,” Buffy said with a sigh. She and Dawn had tried to get in contact with her aunt Arlene after the collapse of Sunnydale, only to find out that she’d died the same day that Sunnydale took the plunge. “It was weird though, watching him work a computer. He was like a cross between you and Willow.”
“You mean a smart Xander.”
“No,” Buffy said with a frown, “more like ‘techno savvy’ Xander. You’re smart, you just don’t steer it to technical stuff like computers and math.”
Conversation trickled off as traffic picked up and Xander was forced to concentrate on his driving. Truth be told, he was glad for the enforced silence because it gave him a chance to think. It was obvious that something had changed Buffy’s attitude towards him, and something Kevin had said was clearly the reason. And as pleasant as this change might be, Xander didn’t want his friends walking on eggshells around him. “Hey Buff,” he started, “I figure you and Kevin had words about me, but you don’t have to change who you are for me.”
Buffy didn’t even look over at Xander but replied, “I’m not changing for you Xander, I’m changing for me. Sure, Kevin was the catalyst, but he just pointed out some unpleasant truths about my behavior. And as much as I wish I could foist the blame off on the folks around me, the more I thought about it, the more it became really clear that I was the one with a majority of the problems. So I figured I could either keep going the way I was and all too soon I’d alienate everyone except maybe Andrew or I could change the way I treated other people and become a better version of me.”
“Why wouldn’t you alienate Andrew,” Xander asked, confused.
“He seems to like the abuse,” Buffy deadpanned. She was able to maintain control until she turned and saw the look of incredulity on Xander’s face, then Buffy lost it. Xander joined her and their laughter echoed in the car as they headed for home.
As they were nearing Slayer Central, Buffy quietly asked Xander to pull over. Seeing the serious look on her face, Xander quickly did as she asked and pulled to the side of the road. “What’s up Buff?”
“While we’re still away from prying ears, I just wanted to tell you how sorry I was.”
“That’s OK Buff, I understand . . . . .,” Xander started but Buffy interrupted him.
“Not about how I was acting, I’ll spend a lot longer making up for that; no, I’m sorry about what happened with Amy and what you had to do. I can’t imagine it was easy or the burden you must be carrying. I mean, you’ve practically known her as long as Willow and there’s a shared history with the weirdness that was Sunnydale. Anyway, if you ever feel the need to talk then I want you to know that I’m here for you.”
Xander just gazed at his friend for a moment, she was sincere, he was certain about that. While he wasn’t convinced that Buffy could get past their very different views on the matter of deadly force against humans, there wasn’t any reason to be rude. “Thank you Buffy.”
Buffy leaned forward with a smirk, “you might want to work on the sincerity there Xan.” Then she leaned back and her expression turned serious again, “I know we have different views on how you handled things, but like I said, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. And while I’m not convinced that you’re right, I’m not certain that you’re wrong either. So when I say that I’m willing to listen, that’s what I’ll do; listen. Let’s face it, if we’ve learned nothing else from the past few years we’ve learned that holding things in and dealing with them yourself doesn’t work. So let’s try and learn from the past for a change.”
Xander was quiet for a while, then he smiled and leaned forward and gently kissed Buffy on the forehead. “OK Buff, I promise that when I need to talk, you’re the first person I look for.” His face slipped into a grin, “unless it’s about sports, then I’m talking to someone with a lot more testosterone than you.”
“Deal,” Buffy replied with a laugh.
Xander turned, started the car back up, “thanks Buffy,” he murmured and drove them both home.
Things quickly got back to normal at Slayer Central, or at least what passes for normal. Several people noted Buffy’s change in attitude but few of them noted her radical change towards Xander, or Xander’s partial withdraw from life in the house; those that did were worried.
Xander dodged as Amy screamed and threw things at him, in a way it was like dealing with a lesser powered Glory. Instead of screaming about her key, Amy was carrying on about how it should have been Willow.
“Go away Xander, I don’t want it to be you, I don’t hate you,” Amy yelled as she threw a glass at Xander that missed by at least two feet.
“But I’m what you’ve got Amy. Now how about we bind your powers, then afterwards we can go for pizza or something like that?”
“Its way too late for that Xander,” Amy replied, panting from her exertion. “I’ve done too much, given up too much to turn back now.” The manic look wasn’t gone from her face, but it was subsumed by a look of near heartbreaking sorrow. “Walk away while you can Xander, I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if I have too.”
“I can’t walk away either Amy, I think you know that.”
“I figured as much,” the witch sighed. “Sorry about this,” she said; then uttering a word of power that summoned lightning, she flung her arms out at Xander.
Expecting this, Xander had studied her usual tactics, he just stepped back so that he was behind a piece of rebar that was stuck into the ground and closed his eyes. Just as he had hoped, the lightning followed the metal into the ground, leaving Xander un-scorched. He opened his eyes to see Amy gaping at him like a freshly landed trout, seemingly unable to comprehend what had just happened. Using the small amount of time her shock bought him, Xander reached under his baggy Hawaiian shirt and pulled out an Army issue .45 that he had liberated at the same time he had acquired the rocket launcher; and shot Amy. The bullet hit her in the gut, causing her to shriek in agony and fall to the ground. Xander rushed over, keeping the gun trained on her the entire time; but stopped just out of arms reach. “It’s not fatal Amy,” he said to her, hoping that she understood him. “I can have your powers bound and then we’ll get you patched up, what do you say?”
Amy opened her eyes and spat a couple of words back at Xander, neither of which were “happy birthday”; then her eyes started to bleed black.
Seeing this, Xander unhesitatingly put a bullet in her heart. Amy spasmed once, then went limp. Xander carefully approached the body of his former friend, his sight blurry from the un-shed tears in his eye. As he reached down to check her pulse, Amy’s hand suddenly reached out and grasped at Xander’s. It missed and he pulled back a bit and put one more bullet into Amy, hitting her between the eyes. He watched as the life faded from her eyes, but there still seemed to be something there, some base awareness and Xander knew what he had to do. Putting the gun away, he slowly walked back to the duffel bag with his weapons and pulled out his axe. He adjusted his grip and headed back, looking at everything except the body. One swing and a meaty ‘thunk’ later it was done, but then he made the mistake of looking at the head as it rolled away. At first it was Amy, but it rolled over and turned into Andrew, another roll and it was Dawn and when it finally came to rest, he was looking at Willow’s head.
Xander gasped and jerked upright, he’d had the dream again. He let out a long, shuddering breath then fell back onto the sweaty sheets, trying to get that last image out of his mind. His eye shot open when a voice drawled from the dark near his door. “So are you gonna tell me what’s up or do I have to keep telling the rest of the house that you’re nightmares are just flashbacks to the time you walked in on Dawn in the shower?”
“Not now Buffy,” Xander groaned.
“Fair enough Xander, but people are starting to get really worried about you. And I’m always here if you want to talk.”
“I know,” Xander replied, gratitude mixing with the exhaustion in his voice. “Thanks for that Buffy.”
“Not a problem, and since you’re up, do you mind talking about something kind of related to what’s going on with you?”
“As long as there’s no yelling.”
“Sure, Buffy replied and eased over and sat on the corner of Xander’s bed. “I’ve been thinking about something the last couple of days,” she started.
“I thought I smelled wood burning,” Xander quipped weakly.
“Jerk,” Buffy said and swatted his leg, but there was no strength behind it. “Anyway, what I was thinking was that you could probably do with some help on your little outings. Don’t get me wrong, I know you’re good and I know that you’re lucky as well, but that only takes you so far. I don’t want to wake up one morning and find out that you’re at the bottom of some river, sipping sewage, because whoever it was that you were talking to had more help than you realized. I’m not gonna argue the rights or wrongs of what you’re doing, all I’m saying is that if you do this, you really need someone to watch your back.” Buffy gave him a rather arch look, “you taught me that.”
Xander’s eye opened a look of mock irritation on his face. “Evil woman, using compassion, logic and my own words against me.”
“Something else you taught me,” Buffy replied with a grin.
“So,” Xander said with a smirk, “any suggestions as to who my designated back watcher should be?”
“Well,” Buffy replied, “I do know of someone who’s already in on your little secret that’s pretty good with her fists and has been known to keep her mouth shut on occasion.”
“Sounds ideal,” Xander slurred, exhaustion taking its toll. “You’ll be Robin to my Batman.”
“Sounds good,” Buffy replied, heading for the door. Then she froze and whipped around, “but I am not wearing spandex,” she hissed at the grinning man on the bed.