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The Heart and the Whole

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Summary: Season 7, post-"Potential." My one hetero-ship fic, and it's Buffy/Xander. I had to try it.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Romance > Buffy/XanderPatKFR13112,0096143,98731 Jul 0631 Jul 06Yes
Disclaimer: Belongs to Joss and FOX. I'm only making money in my head. Which is sad.



The potential slayers had just begun warming up down in the basement. Buffy walked around, watching them each do their own thing. Kennedy had taken Amanda under her wing, filling in the blanks concerning "Slayer" history and the First Evil's plan, while she did sit-ups and the new recruit held her feet. Molly and Vi were once again testing their weapon-handling abilities, leaving Rona to hammer the punching bag. It all looked rather productive.

And the blonde had slipped into the role of instructor easily. Maybe she'd learned a thing or two from Giles over the years. The girls showed promise; she liked them. More than anything she wished she could say they'd all survive, but she couldn't. Even if she and Spike managed to shape them into effective, nearly perfect soldiers for the upcoming battle, some (or all) wouldn't make it.

She didn't dwell on that, though she'd accepted it, and hoped they had, too. Her co-instructor occupied the majority of her "dwelling time," lately. The vampire remained a source of confusion for her, which was really something she didn't want. Or need. What she did need was to go into the next, few months with a clear head. If she couldn't, that put her team at a disadvantage. After all, she was the leader.

Her musings were ended when the punching bag hit the floor with a thud. All the girls stopped what they were doing to look at the fallen object, and at what Rona did to the poor chain that had been suspending it. "Anybody else think Rona's got a little 'aggression hangover' from last night?" Kennedy smirked, however, she was impressed.

"Or she could just, uh...ya know, re-really hate gym equipment. I know I do. Especially the rope they make us climb in class; I always get burns." Amanda contributed, awkwardly. She received amused stares as a result of her effort. "Just me then, I guess."

"Well, I think she was just tryin' ta show off." Molly spoke with her thick, Cockney accent, and grinned at Rona.

"That wasn't even *close* to showin' off." Rona said cockily, messing around. Then her teacher walked over, causing her to become humble on the spot. "Sorry, Buffy."

"S'okay. Just your 'Inner Slayer' raring to come out." Buffy assured her. "And it was probably an evil chain, anyway." Her students smiled at her joke. "Pretty sure we have a spare. I think Xander keeps it with his repair stuff; I'll get him to fix it." She jogged up the stairs--if she didn't ask now, she knew she'd forget. "Try not to break anything else while I'm gone."

***

She emerged into the kitchen and heard Xander and Dawn's voices in the living room, so she headed right through the adjoining entryway--

"...Not even Buffy."

--Then quickly backpedaled, staying out of sight.

Okay, from her brief glimpse, she saw that they were sitting at the table, and that her sister was researching. But what were they talking about? Why was she mentioned? Why? For the first time in weeks, the First Evil got shoved to the back of her thoughts. She remained hidden, and listened to the private conversation, promising to confess to a priest later. Only about eavesdropping, however. Not about...her, "Crypt Activities" last year, nor anything related to them. Hell no.

"Know what?" The teenager asked in response to whatever he had said.

"How much harder it is for the rest of us." Xander answered.

'Harder? What's harder?' The slayer was puzzled.

"No way," Dawn argued, "they-they've got the--"

But he interrupted her. "Seven years, Dawn. Working with the Slayer...seeing my friends get, more and more powerful. A witch, a demon...hell, I could fit Oz in my shaving kit, but come a full moon, he had a, wolfy mojo not to be messed with. Powerful--all of 'em." She could tell he'd moved from the chair. "And I'm the guy who fixes the windows."

'How can he think that's all he does? He's family. He's the glue that holds us together.' Buffy frowned. 'Fine, maybe it's an overused phrase, cliché even, but it's the truth...that we don't mention very often. Still...'

"Well, you had that sexy, Army training for a while, and...and the windows really did need fixing." Her sibling countered.

The petite blonde nodded agreeably. 'Valid points.'

"I saw what you did last night." He spoke, and obviously he didn't want this to be solely about him.

"Yeah, I..." The embarrassment in Dawn's voice was clear as crystal. "I guess I kinda lost my head when I thought I was the Slayer."

"No, you thought you were all special--'Miss Sunnydale 2003.'" He paused. "And the minute you found out you weren't, you handed the crown to Amanda without a moment's pause. You gave her your power."

"The power wasn't mine."

'Mom would be proud of you, Dawn.' Buffy smiled. 'Willow told me she was freaked by it...guess she wasn't, though. I mean, she does know how to handle herself. But she could've told me this...am I that out of touch? 'Sergeant Buffy' has been sorta busy lately...' She sighed. 'Damn the bad guys.'

He sat again. "They'll never know how tough it is, Dawnie. To be the one who isn't 'Chosen.' To live so near to the spotlight and never step in it. But I know. I see more than anybody realizes because...nobody's watching me." Pain was evident in his statement, and the blinders were off for Buffy; that was the reality. "I saw you last night...I see you working here today. You're not special--you're extraordinary."

Inside, she felt something resembling happiness. 'God, Xander, I'm sorry. I'm never gonna take you for granted again. That was amazing...sometimes I forget how great of a guy you are. And if I was talking, I'd be speechless right now.'

Silent tears flowing like a river, she risked a peek to see Xander lean forward and kiss her sister's forehead, and then get up. He started to leave when Dawn, who was crying as well, said, "Maybe that's your power."

"What?" He questioned.

"Seeing...knowing." She elaborated.

Buffy didn't catch the tail end of what they were saying, because she found herself taking a sudden trip down memory lane, her eyes still very much watery.

***

One by one, she went through them. All the way from the beginning:

{"Can I have you?}

{"Xander, what're you doing here?"
"Something stupid--I followed you.}

{"Do you have any idea why I love you so, Xander? I'll tell you! You're not like other boys at all. You are totally, and completely one of the girls!"}

{"You're acting a little overly, aren't you? I mean, you could have any guy in school."
"He's not any guy. He's more...Owen-y."
"Sure, he's got a certain Owenosity, but that's not hard to find. I mean, a lotta guys read. I can read."}

{"Oh, my God! I ate a pig? I mean, the whole trichinosis issue aside, yuck!"
"Well, it wasn't really you. This is definitely the superior Xander. Accept no substitutes."}

{"I don't want to spoil the friendship that we have."
"Well, I don't want to spoil it either. But that's not the point, is it? You either feel a thing or you don't."
"I don't. Xander, I'm-I'm sorry. I-I just don't think of you that way."
"Well, try. I'll wait."}

{"Buffy."
"Xander?"
"Welcome back."}

{"Xander? Did I ever thank you...for saving my life?"
"No."
"Don't you wish I would?"}

{"Ampata's there alone. And I-I don't know how good his English is. He's here from South A...South America. Hey, y'know, maybe he could translate the seal."
"Oh, yeah. Fall for the old, 'Let Me Translate That Ancient Seal For Ya,' come on. D'ya know how many times I've used that?"}

{"I just--present company excluded--I have the worst taste in women of anyone in the world, ever."}

{"I remember how I felt when I heard the prophecy that I was gonna die. I wasn't exactly obsessed with doing the right thing."
"Yeah, but you did. You gave up your life."
"I had you to bring me back."}

{"Alright, Willow said something. Uh, a name. What was it?"
"A bozo! Not a bozo."
"A bezoar."
"That's it! Okay, so now...we look it up?"
"In what?"
"A book?"}

{"When are you guys gonna stop making fun of me for dating Cordelia?"
"I'm sorry...but never. I just think you could find somebody more...better."
"Uh, parallel universe, maybe. Here the only other person I'm interested in is, um...unavailable."}

{"Come on! It's a party! Aren't you gonna open your present?"
"It's not that I don't want to. Sometimes the remote impossible possibility that you might like me was all that sustained me. But not now. Not like this. This isn't real to you. You're only here because of a spell. I mean, if I thought you had one clue what it would mean to me...but you don't. So I can't."}

{"Oh, yeah. I remember coming on to you, I remember begging you to
undress me...and then a sudden need for cheese. I also remember that you didn't."
"Need cheese?"
"Undress me. It meant a lot to me what you said."
"C'mon, Buffy, I couldn't take advantage of you like that. Okay, for a minute, it was touch and go there..."
"You came through. There might just be hope for you yet."}

{"Flowers for milady."
"I think they call those balloons."
"Yeah, stick 'em in water, maybe they'll grow."}

{"Shh! I'm undercover."
"Not under much."}

{"Are we cool?"
"Yeah! Just seeing the two of you kissing after everything that happened, I leaned toward the postal. But I trust you."}

{"By the look on your face, I'm guessing you and I are gonna be manning the drive-through window side by side."}

{"And they burst in, rescuing us, without even knocking? I mean, this is really all their fault."
"Your logic does not resemble our Earth logic."
"Mine is much more advanced."}

{"I know the feeling."
"Right. I mean, you went through it with Angel, and you're still standing. So tell us, Wise One, how do you deal?"
"I have you guys."}

{"What is this?"
"What do you mean, what is it? It's my thing."
"Is this a penis metaphor?"}

{"Buffy, I've gone through some fairly dark times in my life, faced some scary things...among them the kitchen at 'The Fabulous Ladies Nightclub.' Let me tell you something--when it's dark and I'm all alone and I'm scared or freaked out or whatever, I always think, 'What would Buffy do?' You're my hero. Okay, sometimes when it's dark and I'm all alone I think, 'What is Buffy wearing?'"
"Can that be one of those things you never, ever, tell me about?"}

{"That's because he got hit by the Buffinator. Now he's powerless."}

{"Boy smells nice."}

{"If he's not the guy, if what he needs from you just isn't there...let him go. Break his heart, and make it a clean break. But if you really think you can love this guy...I'm talking scary, messy, no-emotions-barred need...if you're ready for that...then think about what you're about to lose."
"Xander..."
"Run. "}

{"Maybe I could change. You know, I could-I could work harder. I could spend less time slaying, I could laugh at his jokes...I mean, men like that, right? The-the joke-laughing-at?"
"Or maybe you could just be Buffy, he'll see your amazing heart, and he'll fall in love with you."
"Xander, that's...aw!"}

{"How you doing? Having o' the fun?"
"You know, I am. Dancing with you is way better than trying to hook up with some good-looking guy."
"I think I liked it better when you were kicking me in my puffy groin."}

{"You're one of the decent ones, Xander. I hope I'm as lucky as you guys someday."
"You wanna get lucky? I've still got, what, fifteen, twenty minutes?"}

{I don't know what I'd do...without you and Will."
"Let's not find out. I love you. You know that, right?"}


The memories continued all the way up to her newest one: him being incredibly caring and sweet with her baby sister. She kept replaying them, seeing the boy Xander was, and the man he'd become. She saw how he could break through Cordelia's shield, how a 1200-year-old demon turned human could fall for him, and why Dawn and Willow both had had crushes. He was a loyal, decent guy, and the only...whoa. The light bulb decided to switch itself on.

Eyes growing large, Buffy gulped. "Oh, crap."

Just like that, Spike was no longer the primary issue.

***

"Dawn?"

The brunette teen jumped as her sister, who was instantly at the table, called her name. Stealth was creepy. "Y-you scared me." She frantically wiped at her eyes, in attempt to get rid of the evidence. "I'm supposed to be too young to have a heart attack--ask any doctor. Or med student...but only if they're like that cute guy on Scrubs."

The blonde smiled sheepishly. "Sorry." She was spun by her realization, and the one thing she knew was, she had to talk to Willow. "Um, listen, can you do me a favor?" Dawn's attention was all hers. "I want the girls to spar today, but I just remembered that I, uh, need to ask Willow...a-a magick question, so--"

"Why?" Dawn interrupted, concerned. "Is she slipping again? She's not, is she?"

"No...no, she's doing great. There's just this spell I wanna ask her about. To maybe use against the First." Came the quick reply, which seemed to be satisfactory. "But, could you supervise till I get there? Get 'em started? You know the routine."

"Can I critique them? And make them do an insane amount of pushups if they give me lip?" Enthusiastic, the high school student practically leapt from the chair.

The slayer shook her head, smiling wryly. "Mostly watch. Give pointers if you can. You've fought your share of nasties, and you know how to defend yourself. Help 'em--I expect a full report when I come down." She stared at her sister, searching her eyes for any sign that she wasn't taking this seriously--she saw none. "Whaddaya say?"

"That I better hurry before they get bored and wreck something cause they wanna be all tough and 'Slayer-y.'" The younger girl was only half-kidding.

"Thanks," Buffy said, grateful and sincere, "appreciate it."

Dawn smiled at her, clearly not minding. "I'm part of the team, right?"

"Yep." The blonde softly uttered, while the brunette walked toward the basement.

She went through the foyer, and turned to ascend the stairs, when the front door opened, and Xander came in. Immediately, she sized him up, and became bashful, her face taking on the appropriate color. She had to get a grip; he was still the person who'd been her best friend and stood at her side for seven years--he was Xander. But never, "Xander the *Guy*." Before, he was just one of the girls, and boy, had she sold him short.

Now...now, she looked at him differently. As a single woman might look at a single man who had all the qualities she could ever want in a...gulp.

She wanted to run, but she had to tell him about the punching bag. Usually it would be a minor problem, except she'd already told the troops that was her reason for delaying training, and they had so much bottled up, it was hard for them to go two seconds without slamming their fists into something. Plus, they were packed with unspent energy due to the high from their first staking.

Following her and Faith's example and finding release elsewhere would be bad, because she wasn't going to be responsible for corrupting youth. Definitely not, so there was one choice available to her. "Xander! Hi!"

Her hair got tucked behind her ears, and she felt like she was fifteen years old, at Hemry, worrying about what a boy was going to think of her. As foolish as it was, for that speck of time, her life was uncomplicated. It was nice. 'Pull yourself together!'

"Hey, 'Person I Saw Five Minutes Ago.'" He smiled, not knowing what had brought on the perkiness, but it was a welcome thing. "You seen my keys anywhere? I gotta pick up some materials for the job I swore to high heaven I'd be at tomorrow, only, funny thing. When I walked to my car just now--after a thorough pocket-search--I realized something...pretty important."

"It wouldn't let you in?" Buffy completed the tale for him, slowly grinning.

"Not even if I begged." Her friend deadpanned, and she casually pointed to the small table beside the door, where the keys were sitting. "Aha! I can always count on 'the Buff' to get me out of a jam." He grabbed them.

"All part of the position. I slay, I open those annoying, pickle jars with the really tight lids, and I un-jam things." She quipped. "Sacred callings are broader than most people think."

"I finally get that. 'The Slayer' wasn't who bailed me out, though; she would've been overkill." Her eyebrows rose at this. "Sure, she would've found my keys...and then found the grossest possible way to use them against a big, slimy evil, with a name that no one should *ever* have to pronounce." His tone was light, but he was being honest. "She's a wiz in the 'demon-extermination' department, hands down, but 'the Buff'? She tackles life's other mysteries--the everyday stuff, like keys going missing. Minus the extra, gory bonus. She's damn good at it too, I hafta say."

The compliment made her blush. "Well, I am getting better. I can almost work the stove, and-and the bill-paying is less frightening now."

"And let's face it, bills are definitely the First Evil's handiwork. A plan of attack that's subtle, yet deadly. Devious bastard." He smirked, and his expression became curious. "What happened to 'Boot Camp'? The girls decide to make signs and protest?"

"Not yet." Buffy matched his smirk. "Dawn's temping for me, cause I was just gonna go see what Will's up to." She explained, while remembering her reason for this whole conversation. "Uh...oh. Rona snapped the chain on the punching bag, and I sort of wanted to ask if you'd mind--"

"No sweat." He told her, amicably, anticipating her request.

She frowned, because she realized she was reducing him to 'Mr. Fix-It.' "Wait, don't worry about it. You're busy, you have a life of your own, an apartment you probably miss, and it's wrong--"

He put his hands on her shoulders--she quieted. "Take me two seconds." At her nod, he continued. "So are you and Will gonna talk strategy that I oughta be in on? Or is it gonna be a 'Females Only' gab-a-palooza?"

"Strictly girl talk." She said with a chuckle. "We wouldn't cut you out, Xand. You're still our Heart...always have been. Never forget that, okay?"

Neither of them knew what to say after that, so they shared a smile before heading to their separate destinations. Xander was glad she was taking a break from preparing the troops; she needed it. Buffy, though, was thinking that preparing the troops would've been the less stressful choice. 'Nah, that wasn't too obvious. Ahh!'

***

"Who died?" Was the first thing the redhead asked when the blonde burst into her bedroom.

First Dawn, then Xander, and now Willow--did they all really think that she couldn't have something else to say besides the slayer-related, 'Doom and Gloom?' If they survived this year, she was changing that perception. She was sick of the shadows; she wanted to live. Buffy Summers had earned the chance to have a life other than one which only involved patrolling the night. Once she stopped the 'Creator of All Things Evil,' she figured she was entitled at least to some vacation time.

"My timing." Buffy muttered, closing the door and flopping face-first down on the bed beside a sitting Willow, who was skimming her notes from class. "It's dead, and it's a vampire, so it sucks. My timing sucks."

The witch's fear melted away, and she saw that the commander who'd been in charge for the past month and change, wasn't here. She contained a giggle. "Why?"

"Cause it does." The comforter muffled the reply, and then she rolled over onto her back. "You should've heard him, Will." She sighed, seeing the unvoiced question in her eyes. "Xander."

"What'd he say?" Willow was intrigued; her best friend was conflicted, the reason involved her other best friend, and there was something familiar about Buffy's behavior she couldn't place. "Buffy?"

The girl being spoken to sat up, and breathed deep. "Hope you have tissues handy." She recounted what she'd heard downstairs, and how her view of him had shifted. At the end, Willow grabbed the box of tissues off of the windowsill. They were put to good use back on the bed. "Why now? Why didn't I...?" She trailed off, her head falling onto the nearest shoulder. "Help me."

"Help you..." The hacker was uncertain as to what she was supposed to do. "...Not wanna date him?"

Buffy exhaled. "I don't know. I mean...I don't know."

"Because I can't. I wanted to date him for years, and if I wasn't a gay woman who's totally secure in her sexuality, I probably still would." Willow smiled when the head weighing on her was lifted. "He's an awesome guy. The best." Then she pouted. "And we're jerks...I had no idea he felt like that."

"We belittle and ignore--we have to stop." The slayer stated, before it registered that she used the word, 'belittle' and used it correctly. "You're fine with this?"

The redhead raised her hand. "'Woman Secure In Her Gayness,' remember?" She smirked, which got her arm playfully punched. "Besides, you know, the huge apocalypse we're waiting for, your timing isn't so bad. You're both single...unless Spike is..."

"Whatever he was, he's not it anymore." Buffy told her, much to her relief. A grimace followed. "Anya's gonna *kill* me. But Xander might not even wanna try; I told him I didn't wanna be with him--"

"When we were sixteen." Willow briefly interjected.

"--Because I didn't want our friendship ruined." The blonde finished, shooting her housemate a look. "What's different?"

"Not much." The witch began. "Except how you feel. Oh, and we've grown up, you have a sister, I'm some sorta big, scary magick user..." She grinned a little, but it wasn't exactly filled with mirth. "His crush-y feelings have been over for a while, that's true; sometimes, though, I just think they're...different, not gone. It's the way he looks at you." She paused. "Tara asked me once why you guys never got together. It was post-Riley--she thought you'd be really happy." Just when Buffy thought she was going to have to comfort, her friend laughed. "And cause I was anti-Anya then, I kinda secretly wanted you to break them up."

"You wanted me to be 'The Other Woman'?" Buffy smacked her, shocked. "Willow Rosenberg! Shame on you!" A mischievous glint appeared in her eye. "Speaking of you and crushes, what're you gonna about Kennedy's? She's my best student; be gentle with her."

Willow's eyes bugged out--she knew? "Buffy! Okay, maybe she flirts, but it hasn't..." She sighed, heavily. "I've never been somebody's crush before; I'm not sure how to handle it. I mean, come on, she's too...and then there's Tara...and I'm-I'm avoiding right now. Any-anyway, this is a 'You and Xander' conversation. We'll have a 'Me and Not Kennedy' conversation, later. Focus."

"What?" The slayer said, innocently. "I am focused. You think I should ask him out." She chewed on her lip. "How can I, though? The First could attack at any time, and I can't just go up to him and ask. It's risky. Too risky."

"I think you should do what you wanna do." The hacker said as a sort of, non-answer. "I think, even if you guys don't happen, you'll still be friends. When you turned him down in high school, yeah, he was hurt, but you two were still close after. Then with our fluke? It caused awkwardness that eventually passed. Us Scoobies have been through a heck of a lot--we're not easily broken."

Buffy smiled. "Nope, we aren't, are we?"

"Plus, you said it yourself; things've already changed. He's not Xander anymore, he's *Xander*, and you'll be mopey if you don't give it a shot." Willow spoke the truth. "Let's go through the list. What do you like about him?"

Switching to an Indian-style position, Buffy concentrated hard. "He's kind, sweet, considerate, funny...he's good with Dawn, he always tries to cheer people up..." Her face lit up so much that Willow was thinking she should've worn sunglasses. "He *gets* the slaying; he can hold his own, but knows when to back off. He's not afraid to speak his mind, either--whether I wanna hear the other side or not. I need that; I'm stubborn. Ooh, and he was a major help while you were in England. He hovered, to make sure I was dealing. It was...nice, being hovered around."

"Good list." Her friend cleared her throat. "Now the fun stuff." She prodded, grinning a wide, completely mirthful grin. "Are you attracted to him?"

The bill-payer of the house stared at her oddly. "Uh, that's why I started this, Will." She understood what she was being asked, but she enjoyed stalling, and Willow's 'Impatient Face.' "Yes...he's handsome. His body, uh, upper body...it wears shirts well. A-and he seems, ya know, very toned. Toned and firm. In a manly way. Construction has probably given him great abs, too. I bet they're well-formed." She flushed, and tried to hide behind her hands. "God, I've checked him out. Did I just push it to the back of my brain or something? Cause my mental picture has details. Specific ones."

"Hang out with him tonight; I know you want to. Say, 'Caution? I'm throwing you to the wind,' and go for it. I'm completely behind this." Willow suggested, enthusiastically. "We can take one night off, can't we? Before things get crazy? It'll be good for everybody." There was a pleading touch to her words. "Me, Spike and Dawn could take the girls to the movies--we'll watch out for any eyeless people." She felt sorry for the potential superheroes. "Let them be kids. At least for a couple hours."

Fingers were spread apart, and hazel eyes shone through the gaps. "I can't believe I'm gonna do this." The redhead across from her, beamed. "If we...couple, what's next? Double dates with you and Kenn--?"

A pillow was thrown just as Xander rapped gently on the door, then opened it. He was suspicious when both of his friends put their hands at their sides and looked guilty, though he let it slide. "Sorry to interrupt, the, uh...shenanigans, but the teen, Xena-lites are gettin' a little antsy. Should I tell 'em you're on the way, or that there's a pillow fight goin' on?"

"I'm on the way. In fact, I left already." Buffy said, thinking he could tell.

"Then I probably don't have to pass it on, but I'll head back down just in case." He smiled at both them, and began to shut the door, but then he stopped. "Oh, punching bag's all set."

She smiled back, gratefully. "Thanks."

When the door was closed, Buffy fell back onto the mattress with a sigh, and Willow laughed. Goddess, they were going to be good together.

***

Later, in the afternoon, Buffy went to Anya's apartment and braced herself. She was planning on this becoming ugly, but she considered the ex-demon a friend and wanted her to find out now, instead of by accident down the road. The woman had been his fiancée; it was the right thing to do. And keeping secrets didn't ever pay off, so she was trying a new approach. Which must have meant that she had high hopes for the evening, and thought it wouldn't blow up in her face.

She came with the excuse that she wanted to relay the news that there wasn't going to be a meeting at the house tonight, and she was invited in. Currently, Anya was getting her a drink, and she was on the couch, acting not nervous. She was almost certain she was failing. Joining her, her host gave her a glass of lemonade; she sipped, and then set it down. Thirst wasn't a problem.

"Coaster." Anya instructed, and she waited until the apologetic slayer corrected her mistake. "Have we pretended enough yet? Because you could've just dialed ten, easy-to-remember numbers and called me instead of coming here, but you didn't...so ignoring the fact that the phrase makes no sense, let's not, 'beat around the bush.'" Her guest paled considerably. "You want Xander. And you want me to be accepting and supportive."

"Um, basically." Buffy admitted, clearly astonished. "But how...?"

Anya threw up her hands. "I don't get any credit anymore! I used to be a legend, damn it." She grumbled, shaking her head. "I was the 'Patron Saint of Scorned Women,' Buffy. I've seen the, 'I Want Him Now, but I'm Going to Break it to You Gently' look, on thousands of faces. Yours isn't even that original."

The blonde quickly settled on a blank expression. "That doesn't sound like a look; it sounds like a Jerry Springer episode."

"Part of me wishes you'd get horribly disemboweled," The natural brunette was upfront, paying no attention to Buffy's opinion, "but since no one in the vengeance community will give me the time of day, that's out. Plus, I have morals now, and the world needs you to try and stop it from ending, no matter how hopeless it is." She got a weak smile. "Another part of me wants to smash the most expensive thing you own. With some type of bat, maybe...or a crowbar. It just has to swing fairly well." She frowned. "But I can't do that, either, because it conflicts with my love of money and material goods, which are both promoted by 'Capitalist America.'" She waited until the other girl couldn't get any more fidgety. "Oh, and I'm kidding. Mostly."

"Uh...huh." Buffy finally said, unable to process all of what was just spoken. "Look, Anya--"

"I promise I won't despise you when you start sleeping with him. Or curse you or anything. I mean, c'mon, we're over. He left me at the altar, and I crushed any hope we had of getting back together." The 1124-year-old told her. "I never did understand why you weren't sweaty and excited around him--it's good to know you were just repressing. I'm sure vampires and soldiers from the Midwest are thrilling, but they're not Xander." She sighed, while the listener forced a cough. "I won't lie...there's a good chance I might act jealous occasionally, or maybe just glare, but it's nothing personal. That'll only be me regretting my life choices."

The slayer sympathized, and searched for something to say. "He still loves you." She hadn't forgotten that.

"Well, yeah, of course he does. In eleven centuries, I've had my share of sex, but Xander made all the other men--who had a lot more experience and better technique--seem like impotent, small-penised virgins." Anya said, in a clinical fashion. "Except we'd be in bed, and you'd always come up." She saw the embarrassment on Buffy's features. "Relax, it was after we were both tired and satisfied. Anyway, when we'd get to the intimate, post-coital conversation, he always *had* to mention you. How he was concerned that you weren't happy...which quickly became very annoying. I only listened because I figured it would eventually stop." She paused, smirking at her own ignorance. "He's loved you for a long time; I hope you can handle the orgasms. Hmm, with Slayer Stamina, you probably will."

The second wave of embarrassment passing for Buffy, she liked this new bit of information, but didn't like the idea that she was partially the cause of Xander and Anya's breakup--in a sense, she was 'The Other Woman,' and hadn't known. She was a miniscule reason, though. "This wasn't exactly the kind of support I was looking for," She grinned lightly, "but I'll take it."

The once immortal had considered the larger ones again and again, and the truth was, they'd gotten carried away. Neither of them had had a relationship like that before; being insecure they clung to it, afraid it wouldn't happen twice, afraid to tell one another how they felt. Rushing into the marriage hoopla, they hoped to attain security for the rest of their lives--wedlock wasn't only about that. Obviously they weren't meant to go that far.

Xander helped her to make the transition from being a demon and living by those rules, to being human, and having to start from scratch. He made the world not such a crappy place, while she slowly assumed her new role. A role consisting solely of being his girlfriend, his fiancée. Blame didn't rest with him; she alone limited herself to that definition. She did discover things about who "Anya" was through their relationship, however, there was only so much he could do. And the first time that thought occurred, she knew she had to go out on her own.

She helped him, too. Pushed him to leave the basement behind. Gave him confidence. While she was with him, he found a steady job he was skilled at, got his own place...he matured in many ways. Including sexually. He'd always defined himself in relation to his friends, and judged himself by their accomplishments. He still had trouble with the latter, but at least he knew who 'Xander Harris' was now, what he was capable of. Maybe Buffy could help him be comfortable with that.

They needed each other during a certain period of their lives, and they'd be forever grateful that they had someone to guide them through.

"Be careful--for a male, he's surprisingly fragile." Anya advised, then turned on the TV, and clicked to HGTV with the remote. The women cocked their heads at the same time, strangely absorbed in the show. "Are all interior decorators this flamboyant?"

***

Down past the ice rink and drive-in on Route 17 was "Builder's Central," a warehouse/store where Xander was picking up materials for work. He should've been in and out, but he'd had to shop and baby-sit Andrew, who begged to tag along. Of all the bad decisions he had made while on this earth, his saying "yes" to the five-year-old in the adult body was right up there with the worst ever.

"So you're like, in construction?" Andrew asked while pushing the cart, which was a gift for his keeper, because it wasn't about Star Trek, Star Wars, or comic books.

"Yup." Xander said absently, perusing the shelves.

"Did you ever see anybody slice off a body part with a saw?" The fair-haired geek wondered. "You know, like in that Itchy & Scratchy cartoon on the Simpsons?" He thought a second. "Well, that was kinda a log saw--" He shut up as he leaned too far forward against the cart, and because his weight was on it, it got ahead of him--he fell. Jumped right back to his feet, though. "I'm cool, I'm cool."

Xander just shook his head, and shrugged his shoulders at fellow customers. "He's in a special school."

"No, I'm not. Why'd you say that?" Andrew complained, eyeing the cart like it was going to attack him. Getting no answer, he moved on. "Hey, guess what? I was in the bathroom earlier, and I could *so* hear Willow and Buf...the Slayer, through the vent. You're the luckiest guy in our small, insignificant galaxy. Even luckier than Luke when Yoda told him he didn't have to train anymore, and that he was already a Jedi." He looked depressed. "I wish I could be a Jedi."

The more masculine of the two men ceased his scouring, a headache impending. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Buffy's gonna seduce you a la Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate cause she wants to totally be your girlfriend." Andrew said, much too excited. "I wonder what it'll be like, you know, with her having super-powers and all? I think Peter Parker, a.k.a. 'The Webslinger' and Mary Jane Watson have a pretty healthy relationship. They're a classic example of two, different halves coming together to form a joyous whole of love to combat the Forces of Darkness."

"Wait a sec. Back up." Xander was dreaming--there was no way this was true.

"Only, since Buffy technically has the Spidey-Sense, you might hafta be MJ." Andrew babbled continuously. "I dressed up as a girl once. It was a triple, dog dare, so I like, had no choice. And cause I also said 'Night Gallery' was better than 'The Twilight Zone' after I drank a bunch of soda." He added as unnecessary preface. "Didn't like it that much, though. Except the wig--I liked brushing the hair."

All right, he had to be lying. "If you don't get quiet, I'll drag your ass over to the duct tape, grab a ladder, strap you to the highest shelf, and leave you inhaling sawdust. Am I gettin' through?"

The nerd looked heartbroken. After a series of agonizing facial contortions, he exploded in a whiny rage. "I just wanted us to bond! But you can go suck on Bantha poo-doo, you...you Nerfherder!" Xander smacked the back of Andrew's head, and the guy was meek again. "Right. Duct tape. Comprende. And...ouch."

He *was* lying, wasn't he?

***

The chatter of teenage girls was deafening, dominating all other sound in the Summers' foyer. It was arranged. Willow would do a shielding spell that'd hopefully hide the SITs presence from the Priests inside the theater, and Spike would hang back near the exit doors, keeping his eyes peeled. If he saw a robed figure, he'd handle it. If he saw two or three, he'd handle it. If he saw more than that, he'd signal the redhead mentally to tip her off. Then they'd either fight or scram. Also, those comfortable with weapons easy to conceal, were carrying them.

Their bases were covered as much as possible, and Anya had no problem assuming responsibility for Andrew. She stood next to Willow with him, just outside the group of teens, and Spike was on the other side, standing in the doorway. They all wanted to leave, but were waiting for Buffy to emerge from the kitchen and give them an official send off. She entered with cordless phone in hand, and went directly to the witch, a nervous yet excited look on her face. None of the younger generation even registered her presence. It was good that they could get lost in normalcy, still.

"Remember, call me when the movie's over, and if I'm...if we're not here when you get home, call the cell so I know you got in." Buffy said, trying to be authoritative while catching the butterflies in her stomach. "Just watch your back."

Willow spoke reassuringly. "We will--we'll protect them, Buffy. Want a guarantee? I have my own, y'know."

The slayer smiled and hugged her friend, whispering, "This is crazy." Her smile only got returned, as the redhead squeezed past the girls to the front door. Then, surprising both herself and Anya, she hugged her as well. "You didn't have to do this."

"But I am...I'm feeling very magnanimous. So you're welcome." Anya said as they separated, and then she double-tapped Buffy's shoulder encouragingly. "Good luck."

They both turned their attention to Andrew who'd opened his arms wide and closed his eyes, looking to be the next recipient of the blonde's affection.

Wordlessly, his temporary warden grabbed him by the arm and started pulling him to the door. "We're gonna have plenty of non-sexual fun tonight, Andrew. First, the History Channel has a special on the Inquisition. Then, whatever they 'censor,'" She rolled her eyes, expressing her distaste for the concept, "you're going to learn about in graphic detail. The Rack' is probably my favorite of all the classic, torture devices. It was so...inventive. And really revolutionary for its time. You can't fully appreciate the levels of pain without hands-on experience."

His voice shook considerably while he offered an alternative. "Couldn't we just play 'Mall Madness'? Or 'Dream Date'?"

"All right, let's move out, kiddies." Spike announced, lighting a cigarette.

"Have fun!" Buffy called to the group, walking to the door as they went out into the night.

She could hear Vi asking their vampire bodyguard, "Excuse me, Mr. Spike...sir? Can you, put-put that out? Uh, please? Smoking really isn't healthy. You might wanna read the statistics."

As they were leaving, Xander arrived. He stepped onto the porch, and looked at her questioningly. She said she wanted to hang and maybe watch a movie while everyone was skedaddled. All day he hadn't found that odd, but it was suddenly suspicious. Except he couldn't figure out why, so he just blocked the curious thoughts from his mind. Andrew's earlier ranting wasn't even a remote possibility. Besides, he was so over--

"Don't disappoint her, Harris!" His ex-fiancée yelled to him.

Dawn, who'd thought nothing of her sister spending the night at home with a friend also, was now questioning it. The witch caught Xander's car keys as he tossed them to her, and noticed the wheels turning in the young brunette's head. "I'll tell you later." Then they strode to the vehicle they were borrowing.

The Brit, however, had put it together. The two, once lovers shared a long, knowing look, until she smiled at her guest and allowed him to come in. With one, final glance at the bleached vampire, she shut the door.

Getting to the sidewalk, he stamped out the burning nicotine. Wasn't much else to do. He wanted her to have what she deserved, and he'd...respect that, because he respected her. Because he lo...sometimes having a soul had a crappy downside. Turning back, he headed up the driveway to the Jeep where the rest waited for him.

***

"You, too." Buffy told the delivery guy twenty minutes after the occupants of her house had vamoosed, before closing the door and entering the living room with a large, brown, paper bag full of Chinese food. "Dinner is served."

"God bless the Chinese for redefining, 'Mystery Meat,' and making it into something delicious." Xander said with a small smile. "You don't know what you're eating, and you'd probably go blind if you gave it serious thought, but it doesn't matter, because one bite and you don't care. Man, is it addictively tasty."

"Must be the MSG." She quipped, placing the food down next to the sofa, which her guest rose off of. "K, help me move."

She referred to the coffee table. Xander did as instructed, and together they put the furniture out of the way; their efforts made the room seem bigger, producing enough space for her plan. Disappearing into the dining room, she soon returned with a stack of placemats, napkins, paper plates, and a tablecloth she laid on the carpet. Plates were the first line of defense against stains, then placemats, and the cloth was the last stand. Lowering to the floor, she began removing the bag's contents.

"Takeout. On the living room floor. In front of the TV...gimmie a moment to take it all in." Xander sat near her, awed. "Buffy, one day you're gonna make some guy very happy--you know that, right? If you ever hand over control of the remote, prepare for marital bliss, cause our whole gender'll start proposing. Jewelry stores would get cleaned out."

"All men would flock to me, huh?" She smirked, wondering, 'Even You?' "Well, as boosting as that is to my girlish ego, this can't be known. I'll never hear the end of it if Dawn or Molly find out we ate in here, and I'm not even gonna think about how my mom would flip." She frowned, instantly feeling like they were being spied on from above. "You're sworn to secrecy. I'd only say to hell with 'Dining Etiquette' for you, Xand."

He gasped exaggeratedly, resting his hand over his heart. "Do you have any idea how long I've waited to hear you say that? To me? I am so yours."

"That was easy." She chuckled, knowing he was kidding, but she got a rush nevertheless. She could play, too. "But why would I wanna keep you?"

"Because I'm housebroken and I'll ask for directions?" He offered, humbly.

The slayer grinned. "Interested so far. If the rest of the application is that good, you're headed to the top of the pile." She chuckled again when he began to pray. "Start the movie?"

"Yes, ma'am." He grabbed the DVD remote off of the sofa, and following a few button presses, the FBI warned them not to break the law. Accepting chopsticks, he dug into the carton of fried rice. "You get chicken?"

"You mean by that General guy?" She examined a few cartons, and then nodded affirmatively. "One order of 'General Sanders' Chicken."

"Sanders is the Colonel, Buff. Tsao is the General." He corrected her, dipping his chopsticks in to snatch a piece.

"Of what? Don't high-ranking, military people have better things to do than invent chicken recipes?" She rightly questioned, taking a piece for herself.

"I betcha the Base food made 'em go AWOL." He deduced, savoring the meal. "And let's be glad they did." Confirming that he wanted to play the film, he set aside the fried rice, reached for a tiny, plastic bag with more eatable products inside, and opened it. "I love this stuff, I do, but if you're gonna call it 'Pizza,' it's gotta have cheese. Callin' something 'Pizza' without it, is just plain wrong."

"Now I remember why I missed these movie nights--where else can I get bizarre rants that come outta nowhere?" Buffy was already experiencing enjoyment; he was fun to be around.

"Yeah, I've got them down to an art." Xander lightly joked.

"It shows." Her flirting was subtle...was he picking up on it? She didn't want to push. "Dawn bought this right before school started and has been begging me to watch it. She says it's the best movie ever."

"A guy at work got the Director's Cut a few months ago. Said he was moved, so it has to be worth a look-see." Her friend said to her, seriously. "Trust me, Chuck doesn't get choked up very often."

They ate and absorbed 'Almost Famous' for a half-an-hour or so. Despite not being huge fans of 70's rock, the songs complimented the scenes, and the characters and time period all seemed to mesh well; Buffy was considering expanding her musical library. The simplistic, 'realness' of the lives portrayed was a stark contrast to the fantastical reality of theirs in Sunnydale. She wanted simplicity, while Xander wished he could interview rock stars. He still craved that extra level of 'coolness' at times.

"Lucky kid." He commented absently, seeing her looking in his direction.

Buffy blinked, caught unaware. "What? Oh...oh, yeah. Absolutely." Then she averted her eyes.

She'd been stealing glances at him throughout the film, and had tried being discreet. Not discreet enough, apparently. Now she didn't feel hungry, and when he saw that she'd stopped consuming, with a mouth full of egg roll, he guiltily snapped the lid on the container of soy sauce and slid it away. She smiled at this; he had no clue how endearing that action was. Maturity and goofiness in one package...when did he become damn near perfect? Or so good-looking? She swallowed, returning her focus to the unfolding plot onscreen.

He might've been clueless as to the specifics, but he was getting a vibe. The geek's comments had colored his view of the evening--he couldn't help that. Before, he could dismiss their exchange as playful banter, except that wasn't cutting it anymore. He knew she was looking at him, and he desperately searched for platonic reasons why she found his form engrossing, but he was running out. Was she going to seduce him? Had she started to? Well, the more important question was, *why* would she want to?

'Sweet Moses...' "A spell!" He vocalized the remainder of his thought loudly, yet quickly recovered. "That Penny Lane...she just casts a spell on whoever she's around. Prime example of the 'Unattainable Woman.' I've come across a few in my day." He waited to see where she would go with it.

"Maybe she's afraid of getting hurt." The slayer ventured, treading carefully. "Maybe she thinks acting unattainable is the easiest thing, because she doesn't wanna risk hurting anybody else, either." She paused, gearing up for the risk. "But maybe one day she'll realize...that even though she's constantly surrounded by people, she's been pretty lonely most of her life, and decide that...she's ready to be fully 'tainable.'" She laughed softly. "Or possibly, '*a*ttainable.' If there's...still interest."

Xander was speechless. "Uh..." He had zip.

Thoroughly embarrassed, she cleared her throat, and stood. "You done? Cause I should put the leftovers in the fridge. I could cope with the reaction to the 'table-less eating,' but if they knew we got Chinese and didn't save any? I'd be paying for at least two weeks. A mistake like that has a ripple effect. Punishment after punishment...it can get ugly."

She gathered all of the cartons she could manage, then made a break for the kitchen. He was left thinking that he should've been more eloquent; in an attempt to earn back some points, he assisted, carrying the rest of the batch in. He handed Buffy the food, she loaded it into the refrigerator. It was small-scale teamwork, but it was something. They didn't speak, though--the Summers' residence had mummed, which was unusual as well as awkward.

Next, while he threw out the used napkins and paper plates, she folded the tablecloth, returning it and the placemats to the appropriate drawers in the dining room. Soon there were no other distractions besides the sound of the movie playing. The blonde was at the far end of the table away from her friend, who stood inside the kitchen's entryway, looking in at her. *It* remained unspoken, however, both felt the change already.

There was no going back, but Buffy had to delay, had to 'beat around the bush.' What *did* that mean? "Wh-where are you working tomorrow?"

"Public Library, probably." He answered, not liking the uneasiness. Though he did smartly rule out witchcraft as the culprit, which may or may not have been progress. "Or as I like to call it, 'The UberVamp Whooping Spot.' Ah, the memories."

The slayer blushed and grinned. "Kicked his ass, didn't I?"

"Royally. You showed the girls a thing or three. Slayer, teacher, counselor--you're a triple-threat." Xander smiled. "When we send the 'King of All Evil' packing and pawn his throne...I think you've got yourself a niche to carve."

"Could say the same about you." She replied. "You've got real talent, Xander. You can build things...then put 'em back together if they break. In my opinion? That's not a bad." She wasn't entirely speaking to his constructing abilities.

And he knew that. "Few years in the Union, and I'll be making more green-colored dough than my dad ever did, so that's a plus. It's all about the Benjamins, baby." Too much MTV was definitely watched in his old, basement apartment. "Only bummer of the job is, right after ya build something, odds are it gets rubble-ized by those feisty demons."

"Not always." Again with the hidden meanings. Why couldn't she be straight and to the point? "Biggest bummer about the counseling and the teaching is, I might lose one of the kids." Oh, the black hole she loved to jump in. "Don't you hate it when the glass is half-empty?" He nodded, moving closer to her. "Least we like what we do."

"Yeah..." He agreed, sick of dancing around whatever the subtext might turn out to be. "Buffy?"

Eep. Change in voice tone and proximity. Inches separated her from a male, chestal region. Xander's chestal region. "That's my name."

A deep breath was inhaled and exhaled. "Are you trying to seduce me?" Her eyes grew as large as saucers, and she fell into that region, laughing incredibly hard. Once she was reduced to giggling, he unsurely spoke up again, sighing. "Didn't think so. Why'd I let Andrew--?"

Her eyes narrowing, she removed herself from his rather comfy chest. "That...little...sh..." She bit her tongue. "Troublemaker."

Baffled, he flat out asked, "If he's full of it, then...what's happening here?"

No more bushes. "You don't wanna finish the movie, do you?" She questioned back, to which he promptly shook his head. "Take a walk?"

***

Their stroll had taken them to the Promenade, which was quieter than normal. Most likely because of the recent vampire attacks in the area--those who frequented it were intelligent enough to stay home. The slayer and her more than capable companion weren't scared off; they'd faced a lot worse, and could deal with demons on the low rungs of the 'evil' ladder if it came to that. And anyway, the peacefulness would allow the talking to go smoother.

A bluesy tune from the blind man on the corner's harmonica was prominent, drifting through the air. Xander had his hands in his pockets as he walked, and Buffy was hugging herself. They'd said little to each other up to this point, but it wasn't like back at the house. They were getting their heads together, appreciating this simple trip, happy to not have a destination in mind. Nearing a bench, he gestured to it, as they were both getting eager to discuss.

She sat down first, then he followed suit. For a moment she stared at the stars above her head, before turning to him to begin. "I heard what you said to Dawn, today." His mouth opened in silent surprise, and then formed an O. "It-it wasn't planned or anything; I just came upstairs looking for you...and couldn't stop listening." She paused a second. "Mostly, it made me feel extremely grateful that you're in my life."

Xander was wary of that statement. "Mostly?"

"It also made me wanna knock some sense into you, and I'm going to." She smirked when he closed his eyes and cringed. "Verbally. So I want you to pay attention, because this has needed to be said for a while." Her hand rested on his knee. "Don't ever sell yourself short, Xander. You do a lot more for me, for everyone, than you think."

"Ya know, that's exactly what the regulars at the 'Fabulous Ladies Nightclub' told me...after they were good and liquored up." He tried passing it off as a quip, but the delivery was weak. "Just so we're clear, the vow still stands--*no power on this earth*."

"Got it." She swore, saving the image of 'Stripper Xander' for later, as it would be a hindrance at the moment. "But I'm not drunk, and I'm not under a thrall. There's no 'Cave Buffy,' 'Love Spell Buffy,' or 'Slayer Buffy,' here right now. Only 'Buffy Buffy,' and she means what she's saying."

Xander released a slow, controlled, breath. "It's this problem I have. What's it called again? Oh yeah--insecurity. We're old friends."

"I can't name the hundreds of small things you've done that made a difference," She began telling him, "but bringing me back to life, saving Giles from Angelus, being my key guy at Graduation, giving me the...'heart,'" A smile was shared, "to beat Adam, planting a wrecking ball between Glory's eyes...and gee, saving the *world*, are the big things that come to mind. All of which had nothing whatsoever to do with windows. Didn't need superpowers for any of it; who you are was enough." She gripped his hand. "I admire you so much, it's scary."

"Well, damn--my morale's gonna bust through the ceiling. Much like the Wonkavator." He admitted somewhat bashfully, not knowing if he believed her or not, but then again, Buffy wouldn't lie to him about this stuff. "But I've always had my wacky, self-esteem issues...they're hard to shake."

"Believe me, I'm the 'Issue Queen.'" She sympathized. "I just wanted you to know that you're not, 'Mr. Constructo' to us. We don't keep you around because of one thing you can do; we keep you around because of the things you don't even realize that you do. We love you, ya dope. If you start forgetting that, I'll be there to set you straight." They stretched that brief period of time for as long as they possibly could. "And I'm attracted to you."

To his credit, he didn't completely shut down. "In a, 'Wow, nice painting, but art's really not my thing so I'll just leave it on the wall,' way?" A feeling he had suppressed began to stir.

"No, I'm into art. Very into." The blonde assured him. "I wanna leave the wall bare." She turned redder than a beet. "Uh, not bare..."

"I was set up, wasn't I?" He questioned, preventing his brain from going off in a thousand various directions. She shamefully lowered her noggin, like a kid caught stealing candy. "Who knew?"

"Willow, who probably blabbed to Dawn, who'll blab to the girls...I guess Andrew knows..." She looked pissed off at that. "I think Spike does, and...Anya."

"*Anya*?" He exclaimed, now totally flabbergasted. "And she was cool with it?"

Buffy nodded. "She cares about you, and had all good things to say. Hope you live up to the hype." He gulped. "It wasn't easy for her, Xander. She tried to hide it, but couldn't completely. I think if I was anyone else she'd probably have me killed, but deep down she wants you to be happy--must think I can help with that."

"Oh." He rose to his feet and took a few steps, raking his hand through his hair.

She decided it was better to stay put, because she couldn't decipher what he was thinking. "If I'm six years too late, you can tell me. Or if you're not ready to date again..."

He faced her. "I've been ready. It's just...I stopped actively having more-than-friendly 'Buffy Thoughts,' because bankrupting Vegas seemed like the safer, less delusional way to go. I kinda never expected to have this conversation."

"You think I did?" She was right there with him. "But I've thought about it, and actually narrowed it down. I've felt like this since 'Puffy Xander.' But you were involved, so I convinced myself it was a Riley-missage side effect. And we had the 'friends' boundary." She gave him a minute to process, enjoying the memory. "Listening to you and Dawn, it hit me again. Stronger than last time, and I can't ignore it. Even though I personally think the timing sucks, maybe it doesn't." Then her brow crinkled. "Actively?"

"I love Anya, it just isn't the kind of love you build a marriage around. If I didn't realize that till after the wedding, I would've stayed with her anyway, and wouldn't have ever cheated...the 'Till Death Do Us Part' line means somethin' to me. I'm not my parents." He was being almost achingly truthful. "But thank god I made the choice I did. I still have that same dream where you say you wanna give us a shot, which wasn't fair to her, subconscious escapades or no."

'Definitely one of the good ones.' "This isn't a dream."

"Hey, wide awake, I know," He told her with a smile, "but--and this is my issues talking--I'm at the bottom of your list. On the one hand, I can't believe I made it, so gladness there, but on the other...because of the ranking, I'm feeling like 'Last Resort Guy.'"

She should've seen this coming. "You want the truth? Ideally, you should've been 'First Resort Guy.' But you know how I know that? Cause years of bad decisions and the surviving of life's hoops has provided plenty of hindsight. I don't know if we would've worked back then, though. Now, I am currently of the good and feeling surprisingly positive. We're adults, we've experienced...things..." She faltered slightly. "If it wasn't for them, would we be here?"

There was a long silence before he responded, with a comical, self-assuredness. "First resort." He nodded approvingly. "Yeah."

"Come here so I can smack you." She playfully threatened. "I'd like to do the 'dating' thing. I can't guarantee it'll be the typical definition, thanks to the 'King of All Evil,' but if you want to, I want to."

He sat next to her once more. "What about Spike?"

The question was genuine, his tone lacking an edge, which was why she answered him. "Not gonna lie. Somehow feelings developed. He got a soul for me, and he wants to be better...how could that not happen?"

"But all you two did was have naughty, 'Crypt Playtime.'" He reminded her, non-judgmentally.

"So you and Anya *weren't* just 'playtime buddies' in the beginning?" She asked, barely restraining the grin. He gave her a look which communicated, 'Touché.' "The feelings aren't love-related. They could've become that...except I'm sitting here with you."

"Are you saying that you could...?" He trailed off, unable to finish.

"Go further than 'Friend Love'? I can see myself headed in that direction, yeah. You're a great catch, Xand, and the best man I know...next to Giles, who I *don't* want romancing me." The smile she graced him with could light up a room. Then she went shy and coy. "Interested or what?"

A scream came from across the street, from a girl resisting the grip of a hungry vampire. Buffy sprinted over, taking the stake she'd brought out of her pocket, and dusted the demon before it knew what was going on. She was too busy for banter. After advising the girl to stick to lighted areas and go home, she returned to Xander, who loved to watch her in action. She moved with determination so fluidly--she'd always be his hero. As well as his friend, and something new.

Buffy Summers was offering him a chance. Buffy Summers found him attractive. What he'd wanted since sophomore year of high school. He'd turn her down...why? Pulling her into his lap, he wrapped his arms around her waist. Pleasantly surprised, she didn't say a word. Only felt what it was like to be sitting with him like this.

"This better not count as our first date."

"How come?" She wondered, her voice soft.

"Cause I'm supposed to take you out for prime rib, prove that chivalry ain't dead, and stake the vamps for you." He sighed contentedly when she chuckled. "You want this, right?"

"I do." She reiterated, the redhead having armed her with this confidence. "Sorry I took forever, but it's worth the risk, don't you think? S'only an extension of the boundary, really."

"Pinch me." She dutifully carried out his request. "First...yeouch. Second, I think you're swell." He cleared his throat. "Oh, my 'Smart, Funny, Beautiful-slash-Hot, Ass-Kicker of Hellish Fiends' lady friend, will you go out with me?"

"Eh...sure." She said with false nonchalance. "Why not?"

"Lovin' the enthusiasm." Came the sarcasm, as her phone began to make its existence known. "And the ringing."

In her other pocket was the phone. Retrieving it, she clicked it on. "Will?...Good, that's a relief...You're home? Why didn't you call when the...Oh. But they're all okay?...He did? I'll have to thank him." Xander looked worried, but she mouthed, 'It's fine.' "No, I'll be there soon...I'll fill you in, I promise...Yeah, he is..." A devilish grin appeared on her face when Willow decided to press her luck. "So where'd you and Kennedy sit at the movies? In the back, or...?" She brought the phone away from her ear, and switched it off. "Huh. She hung up."

"There news?" He wondered.

"They had to leave before the movie was over cause a couple, Fengrel demons decided to crash. Tore the screen apart, tried to eat the audience…the usual. But Clem was there, and Willow says he got pissed." She understated his reaction. All she knew was that he took care of it. "Good news--no Priest sightings. Bad news--my class is sulking cause they didn't get to fight."

He could guess how fun they would be to live with. "I feel your pain, so as my first, official, boyfriendish act, I suggest we go get caffeinated on my dime, thus delaying the return to 'Cranky Teenville.'"

"As your girlfriend, I agree with that suggestion." She smirked, leaving his embrace to pull him up upright.

Hands connected, fingers entwined, they left the Promenade the way they'd come, engaged in pointless speech. "I'm giving you fair warning--my body temp clocks in at 98.6, I have a reflection, and my canines are a little on the dull side. Think you can handle that?"

"Darn." She pouted dramatically. "Here I was hoping you could brood on command...Brat."

"Hate to tell you this, but your seduction technique is kinda 'Third Grade'-esque...Pizza-Face." He retorted.

"What if I was wearing a raincoat?" Buffy innocently pondered.

Xander then tripped, and it was only due to his girlfriend's generous nature, that he didn't succumb to the laws of gravity. Victory was hers.

***

At the Espresso Pump, there were four other people there besides them. Including the starving singer/songwriter playing acoustic guitar, who was annoyed at having to perform for such a small bunch of people that probably weren't listening. But the owner was paying him to do a full set, so that's what he had to do. Buffy and Xander were sitting at a table, chatting over coffee. The girl at the register couldn't believe they'd just gotten 'normal' drinks. There was a ridiculous variety to choose from, and everybody knows that variety is the spice of life.

They didn't care.

"I keep waiting for this to be weird." Buffy revealed, aware of his hand covering hers. "But it's not even close. It's...normal. 'Us Normal.' Not like it was with Riley. That started feeling weird the second I gave in."

"We haven't done anything--" Xander began, his insecurity poking its head out of the sand yet again.

"--Too couple-y yet. I know." She finished, considering that. "This is the best non-date I've ever been on...but if we're gonna build on the foundation, I say we test it out first. Weirdness means I just had a great time with my best friend, and we'll deal. I don't want this whole day to be a fluke, though. I really, *really* don't."

He didn't either.

Thankfully, the guitarist gave them an opening. "Uh, this next one's called, 'Just Be.' I actually tried to go for a message here." His lame joke didn't go over. "Anyway, it's a slow tune...hope you like it."

{It gets away from us sometimes
As we play the roles we're meant for
Aging and growing and growing apart together
Before we know we're running behind}

"Can't ask for a better cue." Xander said, standing up and taking the blonde's hand.

Moving away from the table, Buffy's arms encircled his neck, and he pulled her to him, holding her waist. They swayed gently to the music, damning the onlookers.

Wasn't weird so far.

{People and places, they all move so fast
Racing against the numbers and hands
Struggling, stumbling, tripping, falling
Towards the same goal

{Suddenly we stand side-by-side
And the rush freezes
Cause we can't help
Asking why we're rushing at all}

She tried to maintain eye contact with the emotion-packed brown looking back at her, but in his arms, she felt the need to let go. There was safety here, a protectiveness she was the recipient of for once, instead of the giver of. She didn't want to avoid that anymore, especially because she knew Xander respected, and didn't underestimate her. Lids drooping as she continued to dance, she was being supported by the chest that so fascinated her. And the song went on.

Nope, no weirdness here.

{Do we want the time back,
We spent wearing different clothes?
Do we want it to tell us what we missed?
Oops, the train just left the station

{A step behind the answer beyond us
That's always a step ahead
What else to do but stay and breathe
And maybe speak, "Hello"

{Hours melt, minutes crumble
Wordy silence flows between us two
Easier than we thought it should
While we remember before the blur}

He truly was the luckiest guy in our small, insignificant galaxy. He'd danced with Buffy before, but this...wow. She demonstrated her trust in him, her affection for him, solely by the way she stood relaxed against his body. He couldn't give this up; he'd wanted this closeness for so long, and it surpassed all of his expectations. They were going to be good--given enough of a future, they'd be great. He could tell...despite not yet having signed and sealed the pact.

Maybe the weirdness was lost somewhere.

{We hear the ticking and go again
Knowing speed leads to nowhere
There's no win without seeing
And no seeing, without breathing a while

{Sometimes life gets away from us
But at least we've kept in view
Eventually we'll catch up, yeah
Not passing up the chances}

As the song wound down, she looked up at him with a hopeful smile. "Kiss me?"

"I'm not him." He spoke quietly, referring to every other guy she'd been involved with.

Translated, that meant a lot of things, but primarily it said, 'I'll listen; don't shut off. Talk to me.'

She craned her neck to meet his incoming mouth, responding on his lips. "Good."

{When it's okay...to just be}

Kissing would have to now occur on a daily basis; that conclusion was quickly reached. They were testing. A kiss had to be able to last. Their inaugural one was making record time, but the phone decided a minute was sufficient. It erased doubts left and right, however. They wanted this relationship to exist, to work. Buffy answered the nuisance, while she and Xander grinned like giddy fools.

(How's the date going?)

"Fine, Dawn. Better than." The sister informed her.

(Andrew said--)

She growled. "Whatever he said, we're at the Pump, and we were in the middle of something, so..."

(You're doing it at the Espresso Pump! You slut!)

"Excuse me? We're not..." She sighed--she was going to strangle the dork. "What'll it take to end this conversation?"

(Drinks. For everybody. And I'm sorry, okay? Cause Willow's saying Xander could so easily be a man-slut, and she's right, I guess. And...oh. Now Kennedy's all hetero-bashing. Is there something going on with them?)

"Ask Willow." The slayer was feeling devilish again. "And then ask her if she likes where she's living. We'll bring home hot chocolate; I'm not taking orders."

"What just happened...that was bribing, right?" He asked, as she ended the call, toying with the idea of crushing the phone.

"Basically." She linked their arms, and they walked to the purchase area. "C'mon, time to spend our paychecks."

"I know I'll object to this once the haze wears off."

"That was a mighty impressive display, Xander." She said, complimenting and eying him, wondering what else was impressive. "Say, um, if you had to...how would you describe your abs?"

The End

You have reached the end of "The Heart and the Whole". This story is complete.

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