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Misconceptions and Corrections

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This story is No. 3 in the series "Fallacies Can Lead to False Impressions". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: A different resolution of Buffy and Xander's meeting at the Bronze at the beginning of Season Four. No inter-character violence. No bashing.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > DramaGreywizardFR1314,9853286,67020 Jul 1120 Jul 11Yes
Disclaimer: They all belong to Crack-Head Joss and ME. Deal with it. I have.

Time Frame: Starts in Season Four, Episode One, 'The Freshman,' and then goes seriously AU.

Spoilers: None intended, but if you don’t know what happened up to this point, why are you reading this story?

Character Bashing: No bashing intended, whatsoever, but if you think Buffy comes across as a whiny, needy, self-centered idiot in the story, that's entirely Joss' and Marti's fault because it's exactly how she was portrayed for a good part of this particular episode.

Feedback: Of course!

Archiving: Talk to me first, please.

Author’s Note 1: Many thanks to Bill Haden and Theo (Starway_Man) for beta-ing this story.

Author's Note 2: Some parts of the initial conversation are taken verbatim from a transcript of the Season Four episode, 'The Freshman,' which can be found at http://www.buffy-vs-angel.com/guide.shtml.

Author's Note 3: As usual, “word” indicates speech, :: word :: indicates mental communication and { word } indicates a character's thoughts.

~~~

The Bronze, Sunnydale
September 28th, 1999


As Buffy Summers entered the Bronze nightclub, she noticed that the band on stage (whoever it was that they'd gotten to substitute for Dingoes Ate My Baby tonight) was playing a slow, sad song. It was the kind of depression that only Seattle could produce.

Looking around and not seeing anyone she knew, she'd just started walking over to an empty couch when she spotted a man across the room turned three quarters away from her that might have been Angel. As the guy turned enough so that she could see his face, Buffy let out a heartfelt sigh when she saw that it wasn't her former lover.

Standing there, trying to decide whether or not to stay, the Slayer heard someone say, "The whole world in front of her, and she comes back to this dive."

Spinning around, she saw Xander Harris standing behind her with the same mocking, sarcastic grin he'd taken to wearing last year, as they'd dealt with all of the various problems that the Scooby Gang had faced.

"Xander!" Buffy exclaimed as she gave him a one-armed hug, grateful for the sight of a familiar face while favoring the shoulder that she'd injured during her earlier encounter with the vampire gang at the old frat house last night.

"Hey, Buff," Xander nodded, giving her the typical almost-smile he'd been offering pretty much everyone and everything since about halfway through senior year in Sunnydale High.

"Oh, when did you get back?," Buffy inquired, relived to see that now she wasn't alone any more.

"Couple days ago," Xander answered with a shrug.

"You freak of nature," she halfheartedly scowled at him. "Why didn't you call me?"

"Well, I knew you guys were starting the whole college adventure," he said, "and I didn't want to, um, you know... help you move."

"I missed you. How was your trip?" Buffy half-babbled. "Is America nice? I hear it's nice."

"I really kinda doubt that, but I gotta admit that there's definitely some purple mountains' majesty out there," was the somewhat puzzling answer she got back.

"What'd you do? What'd you see?" Buffy asked, shrugging off the enigmatic aspect of the other's reply.

"Well..."

"Tell me!" she demanded.

"Grand Canyon."

"You saw the Grand Canyon?!" Buffy demanded enviously.

"Actually, I saw the movie 'Grand Canyon,' on cable one night. Really lame," Xander commented offhandedly.

"Huh?" Buffy said, a puzzled expression on her face.

"Basically, I got as far as Oxnard and the engine fell out of my car," Xander explained, "and that was literally.

"So, I ended up washing dishes at 'The Fabulous Ladies Nightclub' for a couple weeks while I tried to earn money to pay for either the repairs or a new car," he then went on, as Buffy listened. "Then I met a guy who needed some help with a problem he had, and I ended up making enough money helping him to get my car fixed up and then I left town the same night I got an offer to be a male stripper, and there is no power on this or any other Earth that will make me tell you anything more about that part of my story.

"Anyway, after that, I spent some time traveling around the country with the guy I met, met some more interesting people he knew and learned a lot of things I didn't know before I left town," Xander said with an indifferent shrug.

"So, how's college working out?" he concluded his clearly edited account, throwing the conversational ball back to Buffy.

“Male stripper?” Buffy had to say it, seemingly fascinated by the concept.

“No power on this or any other Earth,” Xander reiterated firmly. “Now - how’s college working out for you?”

"Okay," the blonde shrugged, banishing her previous line of thought. "College is good."

"Uh-huh. Now tell me that again, with even less feeling," Xander said, giving her an extremely dubious look.

"No, really!" Buffy protested, as they sat down on the nearest couch. "I, I mean, Willow's practically in heaven with the whole knowledge-everywhere-you-look thing – and Oz has this really cool house off campus with the band."

"And that's why you're sitting here alone at the Bronze, looking like you just got diagnosed with cancer of the puppy," Xander nodded disbelievingly.

"It's just... there was this vampire," Buffy admitted, looking down at her hands, "and she took me down with, like, almost no effort at all, and I just... I don't know how to stop her."

"Then where's the rest of the gang? Let's get everyone together and kick her ass!" Xander said immediately, sounding much more like the guy who'd provided her so much dearly-needed support back in high school.

"No," Buffy shook her head. "I don't want to bug them. I mean, they're just starting school, and they don't need this," she said, her voice clearly conveying her lack of confidence and insecurity.

"They don’t need –? Okay, Buff, what's the 'what' here?" Xander asked in apparent disbelief, wanting to cut directly to the heart of whatever issues were bothering the tiny blonde.

"It's just, what if I can't cut it?" Buffy said, still staring down at her hands

"Can't cut what?" Xander asked in confusion. "Slaying?"

"Slaying," Buffy nodded. "You know, and everything else."

"Oh, for God's sake," Xander muttered as he let out a loud sigh, which made Buffy look up at him in surprise at his reaction.

Seeing that Buffy was now actually looking at him, rather than wallowing, like a life-sized Mr. Gordo, in the lake of self-pity she'd created, Xander locked eyes with her.

"Seriously, Buff?" he challenged her. "That's what's bothering you?

"Sure, I can get that you're feeling kinda lonely and everything 'cause Willow's all hyped up about finally living on a college campus, but you gotta remember that she's been Knowledge Girl for pretty much her entire life. And the fact that she can spend even more time with Oz and not have to worry about school night curfews or anything like that isn't something that's gonna depress her in the least, either," Xander noted.

"Plus, I get that since you've moved out of your house, you aren't spending much time with your mom, and you're feeling all kinds of uncertain about that, too," he went on.

"And frankly, I know how much your moving out of the house is affecting your mom because I've already been by to see her," Xander added parenthetically. "She isn't exactly thrilled about it, y’know, living all alone in that big empty house - but she figures that it's just part of your growing up, and she’s just gotta deal.

"And I also get that Giles is being all man-of-leisure-y, but he's kind of entitled to that now, seeing as we're all supposed to be adults and be able to live our own lives without having to be told what to do and all."

"Xander, that's not –" Buffy began, sputtering as she began trying to refute his comments, but Xander simply continued on, ignoring her attempt to disagree.

"But come on, Buff, let’s face it. You're eighteen, going on nineteen, you're in college, and you've been a Slayer for over three years now – including time served in LA," Xander said, pointing out the obvious facts that it seemed to him his one-time romantic fixation was either ignoring or hadn't realized. "You're not dead or in a coma like Faith, so obviously something's been going right for you - and if you can't hack it alone while the other people in your life adjust to all the changes in their own lives, then really, what's that say about you and your abilities, and how much having us around to support you has mattered?

"And if you're still feeling down in the dumps, think about this," Xander continued, "however bad your life is right now, mine's a lot worse. And why, do you ask?

"You don't have to pay rent, I do. You don’t have to get a job, I do. You're smart enough for college, I'm not. And when you graduate, you'll have non-Slaying prospects in your life – but the Slaying's about all I can really look forward to in my life – apart from the sort of job Cordy always sneered at me I’d get, back in the bad old days.

"Because there aren't a whole lot of job opportunities out there for people who can carve stakes, no matter how nifty-looking they might be," Xander finished up, staring at Buffy with an expression she really couldn’t figure out

"Xander, it's not just that – dealing with the new college deal-y and everything," Buffy protested, once he'd finished his semi-diatribe. "This nest of vampires I went up against last night, their leader – she kicked my ass with, like, almost no effort.

"I think she mighta broken my arm, too, but it's been feeling a little better today," the Chosen One added, looking down and biting her lower lip as she remembered the ease with which Sunday had beaten her down.

"Oh, is that all?" was Xander's surprising and – at least in Buffy's opinion – less than sympathetic response, and she looked up to see him smiling at her with what seemed to be a bit more concern than he'd been showing her so far.

"Buff, c'mon, don't you remember? You've gotten your ass kicked by vampires a whole lot of other times before now, and you still managed to dust their asses eventually, right?" Xander reminded her, and Buffy's mouth twisted at his seemingly insensitive, but nonetheless accurate comment.

"C'mon, let's go out to my car," he suggested/ordered as he got up from the couch they'd been occupying, grabbing the blonde's hand and pulling her up with him.

"I've got just the thing to help you resolve this little problem you've got," he informed Buffy as he led her towards the exit. "Something I picked up while I was touring the country.

"By the way, any idea where these vamps that were giving you grief are staying?" he asked. "Or do we need to call Giles for some research-y fun and games?"

"No, I've got an idea that we can check out, first…"

***

Outside the Psi Theta fraternity house
A short while later


"Yep. Abandoned buildings are always a good place to start when you're checking for leech infestations," Xander nodded approvingly as he and Buffy watched several game-faced vampires entering the building they were surveilling.

"So what's this new 'something' that you got while you were on your trip, that you said can help with my vampire problem, Xand?" Buffy asked as she followed him back to his car – which he had babbled about with typical male enthusiasm ("It's a Jeep Cherokee XJ with 242 cubic inches displacement and a hundred and ninety horses under the hood, Buff!" ) – and watched him open and reach in through the rear window.

"Oh, this little beauty here, actually," Xander answered as he carefully removed whatever it was he had been referring to from inside the vehicle and turned to show it to her.

"Xander! What are you doing with that? That's a gun!" Buffy gasped with shock when she finally got a good look at the object in his hands.

"Actually, Buff, it's a customized Remington 870 twelve gauge shotgun with a folding stock and an extended magazine," Xander patiently corrected her.

“But, but – you’re only eighteen! You can’t possibly have a license for that!” Buffy yelped.

"Yeah, well, I figure that in this town, what the Sunnydale PD doesn’t know won’t hurt 'em in this case. Besides – you're gonna love it, once you see how well it handles problems of the undead variety like the ones inside here," he assured her.

"Xander! You can't use shotguns against vampires!" Buffy declared vehemently. "They won't do any good at all!"

"They won’t? What makes you say that, Buff?" Xander calmly asked, his reaction the complete opposite of Buffy's after she first saw the weapon.

"Well, 'cause they don’t kill vampires, and you should know that!" she exclaimed a bit heatedly. "Remember what happened that night with Darla and Angel, during sophomore year? Guns don’t work against the things that go bump in the night!"

"Uh, actually, Buff, they do," Xander informed her. "At least, if you use the right ammo, anyway.

"That's one of the things I learned this past summer," he noted. "Although you're partially right – trying to use regular twelve-gauge shells against a vamp just pisses them off, Deadboy being a perfect example like you said. You need to use the proper ordnance, if you want to dust them one shot-one kill."

"That’s ridiculous, Xander," Buffy immediately shook her head in disagreement, and Harris briefly wondered whether it was Buffy’s natural antipathy towards guns or the training Giles had given her that was talking right now. "I mean, if that was true - then why would the Council have the Slayer using crossbows and axes instead of shotguns against vamps and demons, like you said?"

"The Council, Buff? Are we talking about the same Watchers Council that cares so much about Slayers' well-being that they made Kendra fly on from Jamaica in the wheel well of an airplane rather than pop for a ticket? The ones who refused to pay any of Faith’s living expenses when she was in Sunny D? The same ones who forced you to fight a crazy vampire in a locked room after taking away your powers?" Xander asked facetiously, his lips twisted in a parody of a smile. "The people whose attitude towards Slayers is pretty much ‘When we say jump, you ask how high’? Seriously, THAT Council?"

The expression on Buffy's face made it clear she had no reasonable response to his questions, so Xander merely turned and reached back into the trunk of his car to grab a handful of shells from a cardboard box on the floor of the trunk and drop them into the pockets of his jacket.

"C'mon, Buff," Xander said as he quietly closed the trunk cover and begun feeding the shells he was holding into a slot in the side of the shotgun. "I'm gonna show you just how effective even one normal human person can be, if you use the right tools for the job."

***

Fairfield Street, Sunnydale
Less than an hour later


Buffy glanced over at the dark-haired youth sitting behind the steering wheel of his car and wondered about exactly what her friend might have experienced over the course of the past few months to produce the changes she now saw in him.

At first glance, Xander seemed to be pretty much the same as he'd been when he'd left three months before – but if one looked closely, they would see that he carried himself much differently now than he had back then. The uncertain and hesitant attitude he'd previously displayed had been replaced with a self-assurance and quiet confidence in his own worth which were light-years distant from that of the insecure and self-doubting young man who'd left on a journey of discovery across America.

The overbearing ruthlessness he'd displayed when he'd blatantly ignored her protests about using guns against vamps had definitely rankled – and yet he'd led Buffy (still protesting his idea, but going along with him in order to make sure he'd survive long enough to see that she was right), in a devastating and astonishingly effective blitzkrieg assault against the nest she'd tangled with the previous evening.

That was a facet of his character which she'd glimpsed occasionally in the previous three years that he'd spent helping her with the Slaying, but still, also something Buffy hadn’t seen for quite a while – ever since Faith had tried to strangle him, if memory served correctly.

The cold and completely pitiless way he'd methodically interrogated the few vamps whom he'd allowed to survive their initial attack, however, in order to ascertain whether there might be any additional members of their nest that they would need to be on the alert for – now that was an aspect of Xander's character which she couldn't recall ever seeing in him before tonight, the Slayer reminded herself.

If Buffy hadn't known Xander personally, and been completely certain of his loyalty to her before she'd seen that side of his persona, she would probably have found him more than a bit frightening and off-putting, she decided.

And probably kind of intriguing, and maybe even a little attractive, too, in a bad-boyish kind of way, Buffy reluctantly acknowledged to herself. Boy, reading ahead in her psych textbook was suddenly not all that comforting, she decided parenthetically.

Actually, Xander's actions and behavior earlier that evening had reminded her more than a little bit of that time back in sophomore year when he'd been possessed by a Primal Hyena Spirit. He'd been dark, edgy, enigmatic – and actually kinda hot, she admitted in the privacy of her own thoughts. And while the way he'd expressed his interest in becoming more than just friends with her had definitely been more than a little unsettling, it had also been kind of exciting, in a Harlequin bodice-ripper kind of way, she quietly reflected to herself.

In any event, despite surface appearances, the Xander Harris who'd departed Sunnydale twelve weeks ago was a substantially different person than the one seated behind the wheel of the car she was now in.

{ The question is, exactly what happened to Xand to cause those changes? } Buffy wondered, as she continued to stare at the youth driving the Jeep they were currently riding in.

The way he'd ignored answering her questions earlier was probably a good indication that he wasn't interested in sharing any of that information, but the Slayer's curiosity simply wouldn't allow such an intriguing question to go unanswered.

"So, you said you met some interesting people and learned a lot of things you didn't know, while you were on your road trip," Buffy broached the subject Xander had apparently been avoiding earlier in the course of their conversation.

"Yep, I did," Xander nodded, not taking his eyes off the road ahead of them.

"So, then, who did you meet – and what exactly was it that you learned on your trip?" the tiny blonde asked/demanded.

"Well, as for question number one, it’s no one you know, or have even heard of – 'cause they had absolutely no idea who you might be, so their names wouldn't mean anything to you, Buff," Xander replied.

"And as for question number two, I showed you part of what I learned earlier on tonight, back at the frat house," he went on, again not telling her anything at all substantial about his trip, and obviously doing so deliberately, to judge by the faintest hint of a smile that was hovering around Xander's lips.

"C'mon, Xand," Buffy cajoled him, starting to grow annoyed with his reticence. "Friends tell their friends all about their trips and stuff, right? Sometimes with slide shows, even?"

"Yeah, they do, Buffy," Xander agreed with a nod.

"So why aren't you all spilling with the details, then, Xand?" Buffy complained, pouting in what Xander had to admit was an exceedingly cute fashion.

"Well, for one thing - because we're not really friends, Buffy," he answered simply.

"WHAT?!!" Buffy exclaimed loudly, jerking upright in her seat from her previous slouching position, an expression of complete shock on her face as she turned her head to stare at him.

"I said, it's because we're not really friends, Buffy," Xander calmly repeated himself.

"Yes we are!" Buffy insisted, wondering if she was dreaming or something.

"No, we're not," Xander shook his head, flat-out contradicting her. "We *were* friends once upon a time, when I was still ‘one of the girls’ and all. But nowadays, we're more like casual acquaintances, or people who work together – but who don't really have anything else in common."

"That's not true, Xander," the Slayer shook her head in disagreement. “Come on, what the hell brought this on all of a sudden?”

"It is true, and this is anything but sudden, actually," Xander replied, nodding his own head in affirmation of his words. "We haven't really been friends for quite a while now, Buffy.

"Not since the beginning of junior year, I’d say," he then noted in an almost casual tone of voice.

Seeing the puzzled frown on Buffy's face as she considered his comment, Xander elaborated on his statement.

"That night when you lap-danced me at the Bronze," he reminded her, bringing an embarrassed flush to the Slayer's face as she recalled exactly how she had humiliated him, in front of most of their schoolmates – the same guy she'd just referred to as her friend.

"And considering you did it just to make a point to Deadboy, and that humiliating me was just an incidental consequence of your actions, I’d say it was probably the meanest, cruelest thing you could ever have chosen to do to me, Buffy," Xander informed her, his voice still not deviating from its casual tone.

"Well, I… I was under a lot of stress back then," Buffy protested feebly, feeling as though her face was burning with embarrassment at the memory of what she'd done.

"Yeah, I guess so, what with the way you ground the Master’s bones to make your bread," Xander agreed in that annoyingly detached and unruffled tone, something which nonetheless gave Buffy a momentary flare of hope that their friendship's status wasn't nearly as wretched and pitiful as it appeared to be. His next words shattered that hope into tiny bits of rubble, though.

"But as I recall, once things finally did calm down, afterwards, you never bothered to apologize to me, for what you did," the man who'd saved her life three years previously pointed out in that same composed voice. "Sure, I acted like all was forgiven the next day in class, and truth is – it pretty much was. But you never even said 'I’m sorry' – you just acted like everything was all hunky-dory again, and that you hadn't treated me like a stripper's pole in full view of everyone who was watching that night.

"So, at least from my viewpoint, it looked like our friendship was pretty much over from that point onward, mainly 'cause it never really meant all that much to you, Buffy," Xander said, still not even glancing over at the petite blonde who was staring at him with a mixture of shock, horror and dismay at this particular revelation.

"Wh-, wh-, then why did you keep on helping me? With the Slaying?" Buffy finally managed to ask, her face a mask of confusion and bewilderment.

"Because, like I said, we don't have to really be friends to work together," Xander answered, either not noticing, or not caring about, the pained expression on Buffy's face, which appeared in response to his comment.

"What you do is pretty damn important, Buffy," Xander continued, giving her a quick glance, apparently to see if she was paying any attention to what he was saying, "and that's why I was always glad to help out doing what I could, where I could. But even since that night with the Sisterhood of Jehovah, or whatever they were called, it seemed to me like you simply didn’t want my help anymore – since you kept saying I should stay 'fray-adjacent', to use your own words back then.

"In fact, you really only seemed to be willing to let me help after we learned that we needed to blow up the Mayor during his Ascension, and I told you I could mix up as much explosives as we needed from fuel oil and fertilizer, to use with all that C4 we stole along with the rocket launcher," Xander noted, as he pulled his jeep back into Stephenson Hall's parking lot.

"And again, tonight, of course," he added as he turned the car's engine off and swiveled slightly on the front seat so that he was now facing Buffy directly. "But I think that that was mostly because you were feeling sorry for yourself and you wanted to have someone listen to you and tell you things weren't as bad as they seemed.

"So, did it work?" Xander asked. "My pointing out that things really aren't as bad as they seemed?"

"No!" Buffy half-shouted her answer at him. "No, it didn't help at all, God damn it!"

The Slayer's eyes were brimming with tears, and numerous tear-streaks already marked her cheeks, and her lower lip was trembling as though she were about to break into a crying fit.

"I mean, if that was supposed to be your idea of a pep-talk, it SUCKED! You told me that we're really not friends, and that you've only been helping out because you didn't want the world to end – not because you actually cared about me!" Buffy spat out bitterly, trying to keep a tight hold on her currently chaotic emotions.

"No, that's not what I said, Buffy," Xander corrected her with that annoying, infuriating calmness. "I did start helping you out with the Slaying because I cared about you, very much. And I’m sure you know that, too, if you cast your mind back to the aftermath of an encounter with a certain Inca Mummy Girl.

"I mean, hell, if I’d never cared about you – then I would never have forced Deadboy to take me down into the Master's lair two and a half years ago, and you would have stayed dead in that pool of water I found you in, and the whole world would have been sucked into Hell if you hadn't killed the Master after I resuscitated you," he told the emotionally distraught blonde who was completely focused on what he was saying.

"What I’ve been trying to tell you tonight is that at some point after Deadboy had to save my ass from Faith’s tender mercies, you apparently decided you could treat me like I was some sorta pet dog or something, and that I would just accept that, and not care that you treated just about everyone else we knew better than you treated me," Xander said quietly

"Don’t get me wrong – I kept on helping you and I kept on caring about what might happen to you, and I don’t regret that in the slightest. But from last February onwards, I stopped thinking that you were automatically right about everything you said or did, because of everything that had happened ever since the start of junior year, and that you couldn't make a mistake, just because you were the Slayer," he said with brutal honesty. "I finally realized that you were basically just a normal teenage girl who'd had a helluva lot of responsibility dumped on her shoulders, and that you could screw things up just as easily as the next guy."

Xander's eyes seemed to soften a bit as he looked at Buffy, and he continued his explanation.

"I guess we stopped being friends when you stopped thinking about me as a friend, and you started thinking you could use me to make yourself feel better about whatever might be bothering you, Buffy," he said quietly. "Friends don’t treat each other like that.

"Like I said, I learned a lot of things about myself this past summer, Buffy," Xander said quietly, "and one of those things is that I'm not going to let people treat me as though I'm worthless – because I'm not.

"You're smart, you're beautiful, you've got a good sense of humor and you're basically a very good, and very nice person, Elizabeth Ann Summers," Xander said gently.

"I'll always be willing to help the Slayer with anything she needs," he quietly told the blonde, locking eyes with her as he spoke. "And your being the Slayer has absolutely nothing to do with any of what I just said about *you*.

"I think you'd make a very good friend to have, Buffy," he said.

"But that's your decision to make."

Finished with what he felt he needed to say, Xander then lapsed into silence – something that would have been completely uncharacteristic of him just a few months earlier in his life.

Tearing her gaze away from the brunet stranger who looked exactly like someone she had at one time called a friend, Buffy nodded and got out of the car, watching silently as Xander started the car again and drove away from UC Sunnydale without once looking back.

As she watched the taillights of his car disappear into the night, Buffy shook herself as though awaking from a bad dream, and began heading back to her dorm, where Kathy, her apparent roommate from Hell, was probably lying in wait.

{ And given that the school's located in Sunnydale, if only barely, that title could actually be quite literally true, } Buffy mused to herself as she walked up the dormitory stairs, trying to clear her thoughts and regain her emotional equilibrium before she could begin considering the situation concerning Xander.

Buffy was heading down the hallway, just about to enter her dorm room, when the thought suddenly hit her like a freight train.

{ What the hell did Xander mean, when he said he *forced* Angel to take him down into the Master's lair to save me? }

FIN

The End

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