Title: "Encore"

A one-shot.

By: Shawn

 

Summary: Ask yourself what's worse. To be with someone you know truly loves someone else, or to truly love someone involved with a close friend?

 

Category: Angst/Romance

Rating: NC-17

Ships: Buffy/Xander. Buffy/Angel, Xander/Willow

Timeline/Spoilers: Everything up to the beginning of season seven, except the whole thing with the First did not happen until February of 2003. In this story from the beginning of Season Seven until February 2003, BX have been dating and are a couple. The entire battle with the First took place from February through March, with the Scooby Gang and Angel's team defeating it. Sunnydale was not destroyed, nor did Spike or Anya die. Xander did not lose an eye. Angel did have his soul-curse broken. This story picks up in May 2003, but contains flashbacks as well that are noted. This story ignores Angel season 3. All else is explained within.

My personal archive: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ShawnsLibrary/

Email: DayShawn1974@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: I shall make no money off this, but I wish I could, lol.

Authors Notes: As I've done in the past, just assume the Watchers Council provides all it's Slayers with the very best birth control imaginable *watches Brooke snicker*

Dedicated to: Brooke, who continues to amaze me with her upcoming BtVS novel "Two People."

 

 

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Today I begin to understand what love must be, if it exists. When we are parted, we each feel the lack of the other half of ourselves. We are incomplete like a book in two volumes of which the first has been lost. That is what I imagine love to be: incompleteness in absence.

~ Edmond and Jules de Goncourt

~~~~~~

 

******

 

******

 

 

The Passion

A new nightclub in Sunnydale

Saturday, May 17, 2003 10:30 PM

Sunnydale, Ca

 

 

Today's music left little for someone as old as him to desire, a collection of overpaid untalented artists going over the same emotions time and time again, and yet even he could appreciate a slow song. A soothing melody capable of calming an uneasy soul. Especially if he's holding the woman he loves more than life itself, clutching her to him in such a way that he intends to never lose her again.

He's taking the hand that's been dealt to him and running with it.

Despite the elimination of his curse at long last, Angel had little to be grateful for in recent months, save this miracle of a second chance. At least he hopes he will have a second chance. Hopes he can win again what he once held. Win the fullness of Buffy's heart. Win back a shot at the future his soul let go of long ago.

Amidst the dimmed lights, packed house, and soothing vocals of the live bands lead singer, he swayed in the corner with his lady love, imagining the future he's denied himself until now, but no longer. Opportunity knocks once. Twice if you're lucky, and he counts himself among the lucky, even with the life he's led.

In Angel's eyes, Buffy is the sum of all things soft and pure in the world. His salvation, redemption, and the light at the end of a very dark and ugly tunnel known as his life. She's ferocious. The kind of woman you would gladly lay down your life for. Courageous and complicated. Sensual. Savagely sexual. Irresistible. When the call came for his help to face her greatest enemy, coming to her aid was a after thought. Upon his arrival he found a new world ending as the one he hoped to build began.

She'd fallen in love... deeply, painfully in love, and it ended. Ended mutually, though the reasons why were of no concern to him. Only that it ended at all.

Buffy's relationship with Xander terrified him like no other for the simple reason that even he could not imagine them not working out if Buffy sincerely fell in love with Xander. Not after their friendship, history, and loyalty to one another. If that blossomed, he felt it would not end. Even if it killed him, he'd applauded her happiness. That was an expression of true love, after all. But they were hit with so many problems all at once and everything just fell apart in a short period of time. When the First was defeated Angel begrudgingly admitted to himself he expected them to reunite once the smoke cleared. When they didn't he felt he didn't need a big neon sign pointing at him to make a move.

The move back to Sunnydale came as a shock to his inner circle. The business of doing good could be done anywhere, and even with his soul curse removed, his work would continue. He vowed that, and has lived up to it. At the end of the day he had his life to live, so choosing to live it with the possibility of Buffy in it was what he wanted. So he pursued, and in a matter of weeks they went on their first date in years. Then another, and another. He found the girl he loved had transformed into a new woman, though he could still sense her former self within. His patience paid off, as now he and Buffy were lovers again. A one time affair so heated he couldn't move the next morning. Just thinking about it gave even a vampire the chills.

But what did it mean to her?

Angel hoped the world, as it did to him. He hoped that their time apart would aid them rather than be their downfall. He wished for her to not shrink away when she saw Xander, or avert her gaze elsewhere. He wished that in her quieter, reflective moments she would share with him rather than shrug it off, say nothing's on her mind, then walk away. He wished that nagging little voice in his head whispering fowl utterances of 'she's not your girl anymore' would just go away. Flee from his subconscious forever. Buffy would not accept him back into her bed if she didn't want... need him there. Desire him as he always knew she had.

He refused to believe otherwise.

He hated her explanation that Xander awakened her heart again. When he first learned of their relationship he wasn't all that surprised. He figured at some point in time they might date briefly, then resolve that friendship was all that was between them. To hear from her own lips how deeply she loved another man broke something inside him, even as he wished her the best. That relationship is the past now. If Buffy needs time, she will have it. If she needs them to slow down, she'll have that too. If she needs... she will have it in abundance because he loves her and it's now or never for them.

Never, was the answer Buffy gave to the question she asked herself when she thought of Angel ever asking her out dancing. Of course that was years ago. A lifetime and so much has changed.

In his strong embrace, she feels safe, but no more safe than when Giles hugged her. That rush of passion and affection simmered... no, withered to a nice encounter at best. It's not the same, no matter how she wishes it was. No matter how hard she tries. There's no blueprint for recapturing the past. Younger wants and loves gave way to greater clarity as time went on. Buffy felt they shared a love at one time so intense it left her as breathless as him when they were close, and now she's found comfort in his welcome arms rather than no comfort at all. Settling is a ugly dirty word for the single, but what of those that had gotten used to the loving affection of a man?

She's not sure she can ever love him the way she once had. The way she knows he desperately wants her too. The girl who did just isn't around anymore. This girl is living in her footsteps, sick of walking alone.

A floor below them sat another couple enjoying a night out on the town. A new and surprising couple who Buffy never in a million years thought would ever hook up. Then again, she's seen a lot of things she never thought she would.

A broken hearts pieces are swept away after while. The emotional crazy glue it takes to put it back together felt out of reach until you truly wanted to even bother with it again. Buffy's heart is still broken. The pieces sitting inside a shoe box in her closet, along with her pride, the hammer that crushed it.

Her cold, lonely nights now came with a man to match. But if Xander and her were such a bad idea, as she has to tell herself to get to sleep every night, then why did it feel so special? Why did he touch her in a way no one ever had before? Why did something so good and beautiful swell up inside her whenever they kissed?

The height of the body holding her is right, but the scent is all wrong. The slow dancing felt nice, but without the little naughty jokes whispered to elicit a blush from her, or to make her smile. Dancing, without the magic. His kisses are cool when pressed to her lips, experienced, yet lacking what she felt when she was seventeen. The twenty-one year old just kisses back. She knows Angel's heart is hers for the taking. He can't see that hers is not. He won't allow himself to see. It belongs to another, and his attempt to win it are appreciated, yet futile.

Again, she feels that she may be using a man. Something she swore she would never do again.

Casual dating is what she calls this. Is her label of choice. No commitments made. Nothing lasting, only a good time with a handsome man on her arm. The beginnings of a young woman’s life post-Slaying. Post Xander, she regretfully reminded herself, then pushed those feelings away because they hurt far to much to look at. Together, they parted on their own terms.

Some people say parting is such sweet sorrow. Did they 'part' with the man they loved because the First evil reared it's ugly head, turned their lives upside down, force-fed a truckload of teenagers into her home, brought a apocalypse along, combined with work, stress, as well as not one but two of her hated ex-lovers in his face every single day until the arguments and tension exploded and they simply called it quits?

Sighing, she swayed to the rhythm of the music in his arms, enjoying the kisses he sprinkled along her neck, ghosting her skin with a cool sensation. The protective touch of his strong hands squeezing her hips... Wrong! It's all wrong. And unfair. Angel deserved better than to be compared to another. His love is good and sincere, it's just not her hearts desire anymore. And maybe if she were a better person she would tell him that so that he could stop wasting his time. Two nights ago she gave into a basic human urge, and had sex with the former love of her life. What Angel described as a revelation in his heart, for her, it was good sex. Very good relaxing at the end of a work week sex. No more, sadly enough. A physical release enjoyed by a single woman. Once upon a time making love to him was all she thought about.

Now she can't stop thinking about who Xander might be making love to later on tonight. She can't allow herself to imagine the flames of hair covering his pillow, or the pale skin his every caress was dedicated to pleasing. A love she knew so well, loved so dearly, and let slip through her fingers.

"I can't tell you how badly I've missed dancing with you," Angel whispered in her ear, eyes shut, inhaling the earthy scent of her perfume.

Her reply came in the way she laid her head on his shoulder, all the while torturing herself with memories of another time she danced the night away in the arms of a man who loved her...

 

 

~~~~~~

Flashback

~~~~~~

 

Bellville Cemetery

Thursday, October 22, 2002 11:30 PM

Sunnydale, Ca

 

 

"Ha-chooo!"

Xander's second sneeze in as many minutes earned him a sideways grin as they finished up their patrol. His third however, made the Slayer stop dead in her tracks, grab his wrist and pull him around. "How many times have I told you do not dust the vampire and then run through the lingering dead dust to dust another vampire? That's to much dust inhaling."

"I didn't inhale." He sneezed again, only louder.

"Okay, Bill Clinton."

"Funny, Buff. Real Fun... Ha-chooo!!" As beautiful as she looked by moonlight, her chuckling at his expense could not be tolerated. "Is it just me or is the dust of the dead lingering in the air longer? It used to be wham, bam, stake, thank you ma'am. Now it's wham, bam, stake, dust lingers until it produces a coughing fit, thank you bronchitis."

Loving him as she does, he's quite the Diva when he wanted to be. Bitch, moan, complain. "Just don't inhale," she suggested, looping her arm through his as they trekked across the grass. "You stake the vamp, then step back, let the wind catch the dust, then move on to the next. It's in the Slayer manual. I could show it to you when we get home."

"I'm going to invest in a gas mask tomorrow. No more taking the dead in my mouth again." Well, when your girlfriend starts staring at you like you're nuts and you realize what you just said could be taken so many eww-worthy ways, Xander had to back peddle. "That was just a little bad dust humor."

"That was bad humor, period. I have worked very hard to remove any ideas that vampires can expect anything like that from me. I suggest you do the same."

"I really like the sound of that," he cheesed at the sentiment.

"As I knew you would." The stone walk way spiraled around a mausoleum, nearly a third of the way through the cemetery. A standard patrol turned into a necessary one when their contacts at the morgue gave them specific information about the deaths of five bikers who all died from massive blood loss due to trauma on the neck. No rocket scientist was needed to figure out that one. "It smells salty tonight. I think it's gonna rain." Peering skyward, the darker clouds were evidence looming. "Yep. Rain. And I didn't bring a umbrella." Being twirled around suddenly, Buffy's giggling as she's pulled into Xander's embrace, now gazing up into a set of pretty brown eyes.

"I shall protect you from the rain, my lady. I shall drape my jacket over your head and usher you out of the offending weather."

"Such a romantic." She leaned up, he bent down and kissed her so sweet she's hanging on to his lips with hers, thinking about all those loves songs that now made sense. Stealing smoochies on patrol held a quality all

their own. "I still can't believe," as they started walking again, "That Willow's on a date with a guy tonight."

Xander's still going over that one in his own head as gusty winds picked up around them. "Me either. The founding member and CEO of the 'Gay Now' party seems to be wavering a bit."

"Well, she told me it's not that she doesn't desire women anymore, just that some of her guy feelings are back. She really did love Oz once upon a time, so it's not that much of a stretch, I guess."

"Bi."

"What, you're leaving me?"

"No, Buff. I mean she's Bi. At least I think she is."

"Oh... Right... I knew that's what you meant." Slightly embarrassed much.

"You knew nothing," Xander accused in her face, ignoring that little pout of hers he adored.

"I knew plenty and then some, so there." Turned up nose, regal stance, defiant in the face of the truth.

Skipping toward the angelic headstone ahead, Xander tugged her hand until she's against him, then wrapped his arms around her in a loose embrace. "You think she's going to be okay?"

Slipping in a little closer, Buffy turned in his arms, leaning her body back into his. "Yeah," she expressed

hopefully. "Wills has had a very tough year and she's just trying to figure out what she wants and how she wants it. I can relate. When you lose a loved one your entire life is turned upside down. She's just trying to find her bearings again."

Xander rested his chin on her shoulder. "We'll be there to help her."

"She's strong and she'll be fine. We have to support whatever she wants to do, and we shall. Willow knows she's not alone."

"Except when she's trying to destroy the world again."

"Okay, except then."

"And no dating vampires."

"Why am I not surprised you added that one in."

"And no three way with us."

"Go ahead. Keep pushing." The slow descent of his hands from her waist to her hips came with a gentle grind against her backside. The solid feel of him brushing against her sent a heat wave through her body, warming her insides. She didn't hide it well.

"I'm all for the pushing," he groaned in her ear. When she escaped his grasp he followed close behind. Having a couple of months to get over the 'Oh My God I'm Really Dating Buffy' phase, he's settled nicely into the 'Oh My God I'm In Another Serious Relationship' phase.

"Bad Xander. Bad, bad, bad," she playfully chastised him, knowing full well he testing to see if tonight’s Slaying 'affected' her at all. It did, but she's not caving in yet. "And another thing. I'm not filling those water balloons anymore. It was your idea and so you should be the official water balloon filler."

"Buffy, I'm already the official Summers home window repairman, sink unclogger, door rebuilder, dish washer fixer, lawnmower operator, and..."

"Slayer pleasurer," she chimed in over her shoulder, imagining the naughty smirk on his face.

"My most important job for sure." Catching up to her, he added, "But this Slaying gig is more about you than me. The holy water balloons were my brilliant design," he applauded himself, even as a rumble in the sky

boomed in the distance. "Imagine the genius in tossing a holy water balloon into the face of an emerging vampire from the grave, thus rendering him blind and screaming from the burning and such. Then he's easily stakable."

"Or, one can accidentally burst in your jacket pocket all over the front of your pants and you can look like you peed on yourself." She didn't point to the slowly drying wet spot on the front of his jeans, but alluded enough. "Perhaps the humor of a grown man peeing on himself would double over the vampire in laughter, thus making him an easy target."

"Go ahead, laugh it up."

"I am, but on the inside. I shall spare you my verbal haha's. I do love you after all."

"You're a short strong meanie."

"And you still look like you peed on yourself."

"You're so lucky I love you too." Buffy's wearing her hair up tonight, his personal favorite. The style that insures he can't take his eyes off her, as if he ever could. Her easy charm, quick biting wit, and sinful sex appeal have him thoroughly snared in her web. As great as that is, to hear her talk to others about how happy she is with him, and how she's never felt so secure and loved in a relationship before fulfilled something in his heart he never imagined. "I have a surprise for you tomorrow." Evading her curious glance, he knew how much she loved surprises.

"Does this surprise involve shopping?" she asked half-hopefully, easing up on his side. "I do like shopping. I don't do enough of it, but I like it. And unlike my sister, I don't steal."

"Perhaps after the surprise there will be a little shopping." Her fist pumping 'Yay' stole his heart. She could be such a kid sometimes, same as him. Just another of her quirks he liked. "It's so sad that on the day we both catch that nasty 24 hour flu bug we have to take the day off work."

"Which gives us a three day weekend to be lazy as heck."

"And raise heck."

"Heck yeah."

That first drop of rain hit her blue jean jacket, though she didn't seem to notice. Xander's in such a good mood he doesn't care what Mother Nature has in store for them. "So, do you want to know what my surprise is?"

"Nope. Hence the appeal of being surprised."

"I could give hints."

Wiggling his eyes brows to bait her was but one of his many weapons. She won't make him work to hard tonight. "Fine, gimme a hint."

"It's a cold surprise."

"Are you buying me my favorite ice cream?"

"Nope, try again."

"A bag of ice?"

"Uhm, no. That's what ice trays are for."

"Okay, give me another clue. A good one. And make it snappy."

Self-assured that she's going to love her surprise, he's on cloud 9. "You'll need blades."

"Are we going to kill somebody? I really don't think a good activity on a off day of work is murder."

"No, but I bet ice skating would be." Keeping his gaze straight ahead at the fence, not far from the parking lot, he recognized out the corner of his eye the most beautiful beaming smile coming from a woman who doesn't smile near enough. She didn't say anything right away, though she did take his hand again, gave it a gentle squeeze and held on. Buffy doesn't gush. It's not her style. She's bubbly and quirky when she wants to be, but when things affect her to close to home, she turns quiet, closes shop on her own feelings. "What's on your mind?"

"Nothing's on my mind."

Her flimsy dismissal and shrug would simply not do. "Buff, talk. Or I will bend you over my knee and spank you."

Her snort preceded, "You wish." He didn't push, but he wanted his answer. He won't let her hide from him, and she knows it. Well how do you tell a guy that his taking you ice skating in the middle of the day for no special reason other than he knows you like it, especially when you know he sucks at it just turned your heart inside out? The Slayer is not now, nor will she ever be sappy, and yet she fell in love with him all over again. She doesn't say 'I love you' thirty times a day, or even need it said to her as often. She enjoyed her hand holding in private, never in public and she's not to big on PDA either. Xander's understanding of her ways is another reason in a whole mountain full why she's deeper in love with him than he realizes or she can say. He reaches her in a very scary way. "You're so good to me."

"It's what you deserve."

"Am I good to you too?"

The girl who could bend steel, beat a Hellgod down to it's knees with her bare fists, and be brought back from the dead still worried she didn't know how to express her feelings well. She questions herself harsher than most realize. Her insecurities are legendarily hidden. Having known this about her for years, Xander sought to ease her mind. "I am treated oh so well, and spoiled beyond words by the best girlfriend ever in the history of girlfriends." He stopped walking when they reached a clearing. He cradled her hands between them, drawing her full attention. "I feel very loved by you. I always have. You make me so happy, and I wouldn't trade you for the world. Not even two worlds."

Spoken seriously, without his usual air of humor. Something she needed at the time. More importantly, she believed him. "Thank you." Buffy watched with a curious eye when he whipped out his Walkman, turned it on, then hooked the ear pieces on the collar of his shirt. Suddenly music's playing. Something slow, like what a radio station airs late at night for lovers. "What are you doing?"

With as much rhythm as he could muster, Xander did a little twirl when he stepped away from her, then extended his hand in a flamboyant pose. "May I have this dance, oh most beautiful Slayer?"

Tongue in cheek with a smile, she's blushing as much from his insanity at setting a romantic moment in a cemetery as how sweet it was. Without going out of the boundaries of who he was, never trying to be someone else, she felt so special at how hard he works to make her feel special. And to think one movie date and tacos afterward led to an actual romance. Love's so crazy sometimes. "You're nuts."

"You're short. No ones perfect." Another cute pout, ignored as such. Xander sprung into action, grabbing her around the waist before reaching for her hands, dancing to the airy tunes coming from his neck. "See how much better I am at this. Check your feet. No foot prints. That's progress, baby."

"You're so cool," spoken to his heart as they swayed back and forth, even doing a little dip, then back to the swaying. The past and all it held faded away when the silence settled in, surrounded them as leaves blew across the lawn, the wind whipping her hair ever so gently. Xander held her to his chest, kissing the top of her head as he began detailing the naughty jokes he heard at work and why they were so politically incorrect. His explanations were laughable, which was his intent. She fired back with a few she heard in the halls of Sunnydale High, offering her take why the youth of today are so messed up. It's light, this relationship of theirs. They argue loud and angry, then make up by doing something nice for the other person. It's not perfect every day, but never terrible either. Just a nice balance for a new couple falling in love.

Tonight’s dancing came with a backdrop of marble and stone, green grass beneath their feet, and foreboding clouds above. A far cry from most clichéd romantic settings. Then again, Buffy never considered herself one for the traditional. This uniquely Xander-like moment, where she's laughing and happy in his arms, felt so right.

"... that's why we work so well. Early on I let you know who was the boss. I looked you square in the eyes and said, you're the boss."

"We came up with a perfect understanding. You won't try to run my life, and you won't try to run yours, either."

"See! That's smart. I adore you. I'm glad we took our time. You have to walk carefully in the beginning of love; the running across fields into your lover's arms can only come later when you're sure they won't laugh if you trip."

"I'd laugh."

"Yeah, but you'd trip too."

"Good point. I'd laugh from the ground." His large arms gave her an emotional haven she's never experienced before. Sharing her whole self with him seemed like an after thought after so many years of friendship. It also felt kind of wet seeing as how the heavens just opened up over them, raining down like cats and dogs. "MAKE A RUN FOR THE CAR!!"

"YOU DON'T HAVE TO TELL ME TWICE!"

Xander's 2002 Ford Crown Victoria sat thirty feet away in the parking lot. Buffy and Xander dashed at top speeds, hurdling a few tombstones through the pouring rain, now accompanied by lightening and thunder, signaling a violent storm on the way. They reached the car, with Xander letting Buffy in, as she unlocked his side.

"Turn on the heat." Buffy pulled her jacket off, joining his in the back seat. "Man, it's raining buckets out there. That's Noah's ark type weather."

"I know. And to that song about it never raining in Southern California, I say hey!" Xander complained as he looked out the front window as the rain pelted his car in hard droplets. A hand through his damp hair sent trickles of water down his neck. "We got drenched in ten seconds flat."

A quick check in the mirror revealed her drowned rat status as well. "Yeah, and it sucks ass, pardon my French."

Speaking of French, a drop of moisture collected at Buffy's throat slowly descended between her breasts, disappearing when absorbed into her shirt. Her non-bra status alluded him until now. The chill affected her, and now him as well.

Thankfully, his car had great legroom for a guy his size, and for Buffy it was incredible. She really liked his

new car. Apparently, so did Xander, seeing as how she noticed he hadn't pulled out of park yet. Her honey's wearing this lazy sexy grin, his seat pushed back as far as it would go. Oh no, he's not fooling anyone. "Uhm, Xander, we're parked in a cemetery during a thunderstorm." Wind blew the rain so hard it blurred their vision through the windows.

"I can see that, Buffy," he pointed out, then sneaky as a snake, reached for her hand and pulled it in his lap. "It's a very rainy looking thunderstorm. Lots of wind and cool stuff like that."

Steady rain assaulted the cars top in a constant tapping. Clearing a deep breath. Buffy paid it no mind, feeling her attention pulled elsewhere. "Aren't we going home?"

"Do you want to go home?"

Before she could reply her held hand was methodically trailed up his thigh until it reached the hard bulge of a straining erection inside his jeans. Her mock frown changed in an instant when she squeezed the offending appendage. It throbbed in the palm of her hand, as if aching for her continued touch. "You're supposed to keep your stake in your back pocket, Xander."

"That's not a stake, Buffy."

"Oh, I can see some similarities."

And with that bad-girl gleam in her eyes, the game was on. "Care to elaborate?"

Whenever she licked her lips slowly, it turned him on, so she did just that. "It's hard like a stake."

God, the way she touched him made him never want to be touched by another woman ever again. She could stroke him just that good. Ignite his spirit like no other. "Tr... true."

"It's long, like the best stakes are." Her fingers gently undid his belt buckle, then the button on his jeans. "It's the right shape. Thick, just the way I like my stakes."

Appreciative of her little compliment as he was, her wink just about killed him. When she kicked off her shoes, his body responded. She stared at him like she was on fire, which was the way she made him feel. "It's still not a stake, Buffy." The sound of his zipper falling overtook his every sense, as Buffy's moody hazel eyes refused to let his go. Some moments in life weren't about anything but timing and need, so they pushed all other thoughts aside..

"You want to stake me with it, don't you?" Filthy cute voice, taunting him with what he wants so badly, driving him mad as she pulled away from his jeans and went to work on her own. Thankfully, her limited height and the excellent leg room allowed her to pull them off along with her panties. The primal glare written all over his face left her breathless. "It's still raining so hard."

"Emphasis on the word hard."

"This parking lot is empty. No ones around and it's a raging thunderstorm outside. Whatever will

we do?" Innocently pondered, and before he could answer, she moved like a cat, quick like, and straddled his lap. Her knees on either side of his thighs.

"Uhm, my drivers manual didn't mention anything about..."

Mouths and hands came together in a frantic frenzied jumble, feeding on their sudden hunger of lust. Xander couldn't tell where his body left off and Buffy's began, they were merged together with such desperate fusion. As if they would never let go of each other. He fisted his hands in her hair, pulling her even closer. His tongue sought hers, found it, plundered the hot, sweet recesses of her mouth like a man dying of thirst.

His hands couldn't settle on one place. First, her soft damp hair, then the narrow curve of her waist, then the gentle seductive swell of her hips, then... Fingers gently returned the stroking he received moments ago, cupping her heated moist sex in his hand, then tipping two fingers gently inside her, feeling that initial clench. The sensation left his cock envious.

With a moan of pure longing, Buffy's head fell back as the rain pounded around them. Xander buried his lips in the base of her throat, in that irresistible notch that he knew she loved when he did it. The duel fingers moving inside her were notoriously slow, yet deep, and now she's writhing in his arms, arousing shocking desires with her mouth and hands.

Xander's free hand traveled under her soaked shirt, moving freely up her spine, caressing the lithe, arching muscles of her back, then kneading the lush, pliant flesh of her breasts. Beneath his thumb her nipples were as hard as pebbles. She gasped sharply, then dissolved against him with a moan of unmistakable pleasure as the fingers inside her pumped harder, corkscrewing in a way that left her slowly rocking them in. She used his shoulders for support. Her fingers clenched in his hair, the pulse in her throat beating rapidly against his lips like a trapped butterfly. "Oh God," escaped so low and husky. She held onto him for dear life as he boldly thrust inside her.

Holding her like this, with her arms wrapped tightly around his neck, her head resting on his shoulder, stirred some deep and primitive instinct inside him. Buffy ran her fingertips lightly along his eye brows like a blind person acquainting herself with his features, showing her affection through a light touch.

Then he was kissing her again, reveling in the excitement and tenderness she aroused inside him with each flick of her tongue, each stroke of her hand, each muffled moan of encouragement and delight.

"Uhnn..." she sighed at the missing fingers she gently pulled away from. She's close, but needed him inside her now. The very next second she watched as he brought them to his lips, lapped them dry of her juices, then sucked on them. Everything in her suddenly wanted him in her. "You just made me so hot."

"I love you so much," was all he could muster when he pushed up her shirt, his mouth traveling a roundabout route across her flesh, along the sweet valley between her breasts. When he finally captured her nipple between his roaming lips, she gasped sharply, arching her back. Xander swirled his tongue around the taut, succulent morsel, eliciting whimpers of pleasure as he suckled her softly, pulling as much of her within the hot confines of his mouth as he could. He simply could not get enough of her taste, and so he suckled harder, his aching shaft throbbing when her hand held him to her by the back of his head.

Buffy's lips parted as her luminous eyes took on an even brighter sparkle in the dimly lit front seat. The feel of his warm mouth, wet tongue lashing the underside of her breast while his hand squeezed the other, her nipple sensitive against his palm. The sensations cascaded over her in waves of liquid heat. Buffy pulled him by his hair backwards, then back to her, lips dancing a slow waltz over his, leaving him dizzy with her tongue in his mouth.

When she splayed her hands across his chest beneath his shirt, Xander was positive she could feel his heart beating a mile a minute. The sound of it filled his own ears when she lifted off him just enough for him to get his jeans and boxers down to his ankles. "Thank God for this cars leg room."

"Thank the Harris's for making the man I love."

"Buffy," her name gasped from his lips the second her fist wrapped around him, stroking him rigid, shaking until she poised just above him. "You sure aren't the shy type."

"Jerk." Yeah, she loved him and needed him even more. When the tip rested at her entrance pleasure spiraled through her like an out of control rocket, making her shudder as she took those first two inches inside her, rocking back with as much room as she could until a few gently torturous grinds later, he was nestled full and thick inside her. So hard she felt impaled to her limits, stretched and full of him. Possessed and possessive.

Xander watched her eyes, saw them flicker with passion. They grew huge as he finally sheathed himself in her sweet warm softness. Her body molded around his like a second slick skin, hot and greedy in the way her inner walls pulled on him.

Buffy made a little sighing sound like, "Ohh..." Her eyes lashes fluttered shut, her lips trembling, her arms wrapped around his neck, holding him snugly as she began to ride him ever so slowly as the storm raged outside the car.

When they began to move together, it felt as natural to Xander as breathing. Except breathing had never felt this good. Nothing had. Ever.

Buffy's eyes were open again now, so that Xander could see the reflection of his own incredible pleasure there. They blurred into a beautiful sea green when he lowered her mouth to hers. Sliding, stroking, thrusting... their tongues performed a sensual joust that mimicked the rhythm of their bodies. This love of theirs...

Xander's hands kneaded her firm backside, urging her to move faster, begging. Her lips were ripe for his every kiss. Her hips writhed and quivered over his lap, her up and down so decadent his eyes rolled in the back of his head, heart pounding beneath his chest. Her sex held his in the most fierce embrace, as tight as he could bare, so slick the noises turned him on as much as they way she rode.

In full control, Buffy nibbled his tender lips as she rolled her slim hips in hard circles, forcing him to move within her, getting them both off so good it didn't make any kind of sense. Her riding built in tempo, her voracious appetite caught wind and flew, needing this dark hot brand of love making to satisfy her. Xander's gripping her hips, using all the room he had to impale her on his lap, all the while devouring her mouth, capturing her every whimper, capturing her tongue in his mouth.

They fucked... grinding, hot, panting, gripping, heated, slow and lazy, hot and fast. The sound of flesh slapping together as hard as they could left them holding onto to one another so tight as they just wouldn't stop... couldn't stop... God, just don't stop.

Xander felt a new kind of pressure building inside him, an urgency of sensation and need that surged through his blood, set fire to his skin and made forget everything else in the universe besides this enchanting, sexy, wonderful woman. "Buff..." he groaned, clamping his jaws together as if that could hold back the oncoming tide. "Honey, I can't... close... need you..."

Her breath against his face made his skin even hotter.

"That makes... makes two of us," she panted as her body went off. Seconds later he felt a violent tremor pass through her. Her fingertips gouged into his shoulder blades, intensifying his own excitement. "Oh Xander... yes, fuckyes..." she cried out, her eyes huge and glittering. Her climax tore through her like a hurricane, bathing Xander in it's wake.

Loving every second of this, Xander watched the spasms of pleasure ripple across her beautiful face while she writhed on his lap. Even as he tried to heroically hold back just a few minutes later, something exploded inside him, sending burning hot lightening bolts of release and pure, glorious physical sensation crashing through him again and again as he clutched her to him so tight, lifting her higher with erratic hard thrusts.

He thought he called out her name. He thought he could read her lips crooning, "Yes, yes..." Except he couldn't hear anything above the roar in his head. He was at long last, wrung dry, empty, clutching bonelessly on to her as she did to him. "You're spectacular."

Sprinkling baby kisses all over his face after her intense climax, Buffy felt her breathing return to normal. "So are you, honey," she complimented with a very satisfied smile on her face. Gently lifting off him, she remembered a few napkins she left in his glove compartment a few days ago. The best she could do until she got home as far as

a cleanup. "That was very wow-worthy."

"That was Penthouse Letter wow!" Xander exclaimed with pride, remembering the few issues he'd read and how the letters didn't seem like they happened in real life. He knew different now. Time to pull himself together. "Ready to go home?"

Buffy nodded as the storm seemed to die down to a trickling rain. The skies had begun to clear. "I'm hungry, then I need sleep."

"I just need you."

Sometimes he left her speechless, and so in love.

 

 

******

The Present

******

 

The Passion

A new nightclub in Sunnydale

Saturday, May 17, 2003 11:00 PM

Sunnydale, Ca

 

 

There's nothing quite like a night on the town.

The Apple Martini consisted of one part Absolute Vodka, one part DeKuyper Sour Apple Pucker, and one part Apple Juice. The directions to make one were easy, seeing as how all you had to do was pour all the ingredients into a shaker, shake well, and strain into a Martini glass.

As far as Willow was concerned, she'd fly half way around the world on a broom like the witches did in the cartoons she watched as a little girl for one of the Apple Martina's she's drinking from now. A priceless spirit at the end of a long week. Her second of the night, and she's feeling alright. "Check out that one over there," Willow pointed to three guys standing up against the far well, specifically the one on the right. "If his shirt were any louder we would need ear muffs."

With his arm draped over her shoulder, Xander pretend-squinted at the guy wearing the super bright yellow shirt that looked like it was painted on. "It's so tight on him. How can he breathe? I can make out his ribs. Did he wear that shirt on a dare?"

"It's like seeing Big Bird at a night club? There's something so wrong about that. I am perturbed."

"Well, if he walks home at least he won't get hit while crossing the streets."

"And when he gets home he can peel that shirt off. Maybe it's a really big sticker that looks like a shirt."

"It's just sooooo yellow."

Picking out the strange and different among the people around you could be fun when it wasn’t you for once. "You know, Xander. We used to have a fashion sense as bad as his once upon a time, with all the 'inappropriate for outside the home' clothing."

"I blame poverty more so than my lack of fashion taste."

"You had nine of the ten worst looking shirts in state of California. I believe you owned the tenth, only it was in the cleaners."

"This coming from the girl who wore long sleeved wool sweaters in the summer time?" he teased.

"Hey, that's not my fault. I'm pale. I burn easy." Her compassion-seeking pout earned her a surprise when Xander kissed her out of the blue, caressing her lips softly until he released her. Unexpected, even as warmth slithered up her spine. "What was that for?"

'For being you,' he thought of saying. Choosing a shrug instead, he offered, "Another drink?"

Evaded, though she paid it no mind. "Why not. Bring me another Apple Martini. And make sure you get the cute little umbrella this time." Enjoying herself was the only item on tonight’s menu. Xander left their corner table, on his way to the bar. Suddenly, he spun around before he got there, and when he looked at her, he did his hand symbol for having to go to the bathroom. The Vulcan hand symbol from the Star Trek movies. Her best friend was such a adorable dork at times, just like her. All her friends if she's honest. A family of cool dorks. She did it back in acknowledgment, shaking her head the whole time.

Finishing the last of her Apple Martina before the next arrived, Willow felt and enjoyed the appreciative stare of a very nice looking brunette with gorgeous brown eyes, sitting alone to her left. Willow secretly glanced long enough to get a good look at her, quite delicious, but not long enough for the eye contact necessary to get her to come over. Tonight, she's with Xander, and that's enough. More than enough.

Still, there's nothing wrong with feeling attractive.

The live bands playing some good music. The club's packed, the crowds lively, and she's out of the house and on a date instead of in the house moping about her lack of dates. She's out with a handsome guy who's company she enjoys probably more than anyone else’s. The brainy witch with issues is just a gal out on the town with her best friend tonight. Okay, it is a date, and she's calling it that on the inside. It's their fourth so far, though this might be the first one that really and truly felt like a normal date. Up until tonight the only difference between their recent dates and evenings they spent together in the past was the kissing involved. Tonight, however... Tonight already saw the kissing and the dancing and more than likely sex later on. Sex with a guy, geez! When did that start sounding appealing again?

On the crowded dance floor near the stage, there's this couple she's had her eye on since the moment she arrived. Something about the chemistry they gave off, no doubt lovers, drew her to them like a moth to a flame. The guy's hair had that crazy guitar player style from the eighties appeal, but Goddess, did he know how to move his hips. He kept a rugged smile on his face and didn't look like he took life to seriously. He had one of the nicest, tightest butts she'd ever seen poured into a pair of jeans. Then there's the girl he's with. A total Cordy-clone, complete with a rack only given to those select few girls by a kind God or Goddess, if you prefer. Real breasts that were more than a handful on her slim frame. She had short dark hair, with a set of Angelina Jolie lips. Could probably kiss you into a coma if she wanted. She didn't look like the type that would go for the guy she's with. She resembled a model, while he had that average Joe Sexy thing going. It was just something about the way they moved together. Both were attractive in their own rights. Both caught her eye equally.

Somewhere along the way back from the dark side, or whatever bad corner she'd turned last spring, when she set foot back in Sunnydale, more had to be done in her life than placing a cap on her magic use. Going as far as she did last May had more to do with the grief she felt over Tara's death... her beloved Tara, than her actual problems with magic. She knew she had a problem with magic back then, but never as bad as that being the main reason she snapped for a time. And as much help as the Witch's Coven were over the summer, when she returned home so many things were different. For her and everyone around her.

First came the train that hit her the second she stepped off the plane. Xander and Buffy's new romance caught her off guard and at first, left her feeling like a bit of an outsider. She's never, not even when he dated Anya seriously for years, felt second in his life. Maybe she's always feared being second if Buffy and romance entered the equation. Xander's caring for her did not change, but she was clearly second to Buffy now, and without Tara, the loneliness began creeping in.

Then something else crept in. Something very strange and unexpected. A moderately cute guy with the most luscious dark eye lashes she'd ever seen, who sat two rows back in her Eastern Studies class, one who always made her laugh with his dead on impersonations of celebrities asked her out one day after class. All he really asked for was lunch, but still, it would be alone and with a guy. Why not, she figured, and accepted, and to her surprise enjoyed.

Lunch turned into dinner, then another as he shared with her the grief over losing his sister to cancer two years ago. When she revealed her lover who passed away last spring was a woman, he didn't flinch. He had a compassionate way about him when it came to listening. She never told him she was gay. He never said he was straight. There were no labels, only two poeple enjoying each others company. A kiss was a kiss, and seeing as how she'd kissed and done plenty more than that with Oz, her first with Jeff wasn't near as awkward as she thought it would be. Thus began her re-evaluating of the 'Gay Now' stance she took a few years ago. Respectfully, 'Gay Now' turned into 'Can I Find A Nice Special Person Now, Gender Non-important.'

Her friends were kind of shocked, but supportive, so all was well. At the end of the day she's Willow Rosenberg. A single child who knew a lot about magic, hacking computers, demon terminology, and the ills of magic addiction. To those who loved her, she was a wonderful person. What else would you want to be?

Several dates with Jeff later saw her break things off when he wanted a more serious relationship, while she's still moving on with her life. Amicable best described the end of things between them, as friends.

The new year came and went, then February hand delivered the First, who reared it's ugly head and turned all their lives upside down. It's mind games and world-wide attacks sent the Scooby Gangs lives in a tailspin as they were tested to their very limits. Two hard months of fighting and discovering the way to defeat the First with the help of Angel and his crew, as well as a bevy of untrained S.I.T's. Nonetheless, the Scoobies averted yet another apocalypse, just not the one that destroyed Buffy and Xander's relationship.

The day they told her they were a couple, Willow politely pulled Buffy aside and begged her not to hurt him, then warned her if she did it would never be forgiven. A mutual breakup didn't prevent a subtle coolness between her

and Buffy. Especially with Spike hanging around tossing in his snide remarks, and Angel's more than obvious reason for moving back to Sunnydale. Xander and Buffy were both too hard headed and full of pride to admit either of them were wrong and just admit they still loved each other the way everyone around them knew they did. Doing her best friend duties, she pleaded with each of them to rethink this. Neither listened.

Then came night she found out Buffy had gone on a date with Angel. That straw broke the camels back. Willow had enough. As if the ink wasn't even dry on her breakup with Xander, she's already back in the vampires arms. Willow moved out of the Summers home the very next day. Maybe she didn't understand Buffy's reasons or motives, or maybe even her true feelings, but she cared for Xander more. Her choice was made.

Consoling your best friend over a breakup takes patience and understanding. Affectionate friendships between single people can evolve any number of ways, but rarely stay the same. That doesn’t mean they all turn physical, seeing as how many never go that route. But in Willow and Xander's case, two lonely souls who felt even more lonely as their other friendships fractured around them, late night movie watching led to snuggling that led into a passionate make out session. Thus began their liaison, as she calls it in her head.

Both admitted to having held onto a sweet curiosity for the other. A longing that didn't need to be sated, but lingered in their subconscious since high school. What would she be like... What would he be like... They've known each other for so long. The love they shared never wavered from what it always was, even as their first liaison revealed more than a little passion.

The night they made love... and that is what it was, though not in the widely understood meaning of the term, was as shocking as it was terrific. Two close friends, both single, both longing for a lost love, crossed a line and it was pretty damn spectacular. Nothing like making love to her Tara, which in feelings and sensations was vastly different, as it had to be in comparison to him and Buffy. Still, she held no regrets, having satisfied a curiosity she had for years. Yeah, Buffy. Take that!

Willow had him back.

Right, wrong, good, bad, or simply all to human, she'd taken back what was hers. But what did that exactly mean? Did she want her old place or the new one Buffy held not long ago?

That next morning, well, things turned from bad to worse to oh shit! When the knocking at his front door wouldn't cease, and he didn't even roll over, Willow slipped out of bed, into one of his work shirts, and answered the door. That old phrase, some days it doesn't pay to even get out of bed, well that certainly applied to Willow when she caught the angry, hurt glare of Buffy when she opened the door. Join the club, seeing as how they weren't exactly on speaking terms at the time. Buffy's pain was hidden behind her pissy attitude and demands to see Xander now, though she wouldn't specify why she wanted to see him. Being a gentle soft spoken kind of person, Willow held her tongue, playing the good little Willow until her patience was at an end due to Buffy's bitch status. They weren't listening to each other, nor trying. Every damn person on this planet, when provoked long enough, when their explanations are being completely ignored, will lash out. And when Willow did finally lash out, she tore Buffy's heart with it.

"The reason he's not out here is because he's exhausted and asleep. I fucked his brains out three times last night... all night, and he can't get up."

Yep, even Willow could drop the F-bomb once every blue moon. Ouch!!

Not only in words, but in the shocking punch Buffy threw that sent Willow off her feet and over the couch in the living room, busting her lip. Not to be outdone, the force blast of magic that hit Buffy's chest sent her through Xander's front door and into the hallway. By that time a frantic Xander raced out and worked to keep the ladies apart, who both started yelling and crying at each other, things were as messed up as they'd ever been. This wasn't them and they knew that. Had loved each other for years, still did, and now everything was all wrong.

"So here we are," Willow considered bleakly as she awaited for Xander's return. Fractured friendships weren't her cup of tea, and yet that's what she's dealing with. Buffy was out of line with her that day at Xander's apartment, though in hindsight she knew Buffy was still in love with Xander, despite what she refused to say. She was out of line too. On a night like tonight she misses Buffy. Misses the fun they shared with Xander and Tara once upon a time. Even the time after she knew Buffy and Xander were dating, things began to settle down and when she saw how happy they both were, how could she see fault in that? She loved them both far to much than to do anything except root for them.

But who is she rooting for now?

The wound that Tara's passing left in her heart still hasn't healed. The tingles Xander elicits within her, she hasn't felt in such a long time, that feel so good, but it's not the same as it was with Tara. It had zero to do with her being a woman or him a man. It had everything to do with loving someone versus being in love with them.

It's been a few minutes now, and still no Xander. Becoming a little worried, Willow's search for him ended on the other side of the bar, where she followed his line of vision to the second floor of the club. The look on his face said it all. Mute anger, jealousy, and sadness shrouded within a scowl as he watched Buffy and Angel slow dance. Willow's heart is open to him and the possibilities they share, but all of that is pushed aside, for now all she can see is the most special person to her in the world watching the most special person in the world to him in the arms of another man.

Her heart went out to him.

Xander however, wanted to send his fist out to Angel's face. Wanted to pound into him all the rage he felt at watching him hold Buffy so close in his arms. Not one time he'd caught them kissing or dancing in the past could compare to tonight. Not all of them combined. Not even close.

Spying on them, fuck, he's almost as bad as Spike back in the day. There's a note of shame within his chest. Standing in the shadows by the bar, as soon as the drinks arrived he made the mistake of looking up. The sight of Buffy's hazel eyes shut, her head resting comfortably on another mans shoulder... Angel's shoulder, it stole the very breath from his lungs. How could what they shared turn back into this nightmare? How?

As much as he'd like to compare them to a train wreck, he could no more steal his eyes away from the damning sight of them. Yesterday he accidentally walked in the back room of the Magic Box and heard Dawn complain to Anya about Buffy sleeping with Angel again. He didn't want to believe it. Didn't want to face up to what it probably meant.

Painful thoughts emotionally flung him back in time. Took him to early Saturday mornings he spent with Buffy in bed critiquing cartoons of today compared to their youth, laughing under the covers. He remembered times she'd stop by his job to have lunch with him, just because. He especially remembers sleeping with her, and how she reached for him in the middle of the night. With her eyes closed, still fast asleep, she reached for him. Held onto him until morning, and woke him with a kiss.

He'd given her his best, he felt.

Given her his very best. All that he had and then some. Xander knew that he had shown her the type of man he was, the type of man he's working on becoming, and felt she loved them both more than enough. He listened, shared, loved, fought, understood, stood his ground, apologized, and accepted apologies. He placed his heart and soul into their relationship, and genuinely felt she'd done the same. Apparently, he needs glasses. In the end, when all hell literally broke loose around them, she wanted to walk away, so he let her go. At least that's the way he saw it.

Holding onto a woman that doesn't want to be there is something he swore he'd never do. Angel's everyday presence cemented things. Minus his curse, he's here to stay. Buffy refused to acknowledge that. Refused to get Spike out of their lives. Refused to listen to him over them, all the while refuting her claims of jealousy and a lack of understanding what her responsibilities were as the Slayer. Day after day things had turned progressively worse until... somebody wanted out, or at least didn't say they wanted to stay in... and that was that.

No matter. Don't think about it. Time to move on. He could start by moving his feet.

"Sorry I took so long. The line at the bathroom was crazy. I think some of those people went in there twice."

Same smile, same grin, same Xander. All wrong, Willow knew for certain as he sat her drink down, then moved in

beside her. "I saw them too, you know."

He could never fool her. Not a day in his life. Perceptive and beautiful, his Willow. "Sorry, Wills. I don't want to spoil the mood."

"You're not," she assured him with a hand on his wrist. "But you don't have to try and hide how watching Buffy with Angel makes you feel."

How could he express the physical pain he felt as seeing them together? That answer was simple. He

couldn't. "I want to be over her."

Déjà vu, part two. High schools version was easier. "But you're not."

She didn't ask. Of course she didn't have too. Lifting his eyes to meet hers, he searched for her feelings on the matter. "How does that make you feel?"

"Somber."

Not a straight forward answer. He could take that any number of ways, as he's sure she meant him too. "Care to clear that up a little?"

"When you're hurt, I'm hurt. When you're happy, I'm happy. Right now, you're not happy. Hence the somber."

"Way to evade the question," he smiled behind his drink. "I love you, Willow."

"But not like Buffy."

"Do you want me too?"

That does seem to be the million dollar question. One she's asked herself in recent days. The inner struggle of life continues. "I'm open to the idea," she answered truthfully, holding his gaze. He's almost surprised... "But if all we ever share is friendship, I'll never regret it. I love you with all my heart, and I am shocked how great the sex was."

"Hey!!" Her giggling didn't help matters much. Then again, she giggled during the three times they went at it in his bed. If there was a category for fun sex, it's what they had. Light-hearted, to the point and then sleepy time. Nothing deeper than that. "You should have known I would be a great and powerful lover."

"That particular appendage of yours isn't one I've given much thought about in recent years."

"It's one heck of a magic wand, isn't it," he leered, leaning in closer to her, so close...

"Look up." He halted a breath away from her lips, then tilted his head when her finger tipped his chin. She appraised his reaction as Buffy and Angel descended the stairs before finding a table across the way. Emotionally distanced, Xander pulled back to his seat, his facial expression betraying nothing, though it told Willow all she needed to know. The second Buffy entered the picture, his intentions toward her died. Yeah, it hurt, just like old times, but it was the truth and the truth often does. "She saw us earlier."

"She did?" Willow nodded, then sipped her drink. Xander shrugged it off. "Whatever."

"She's hurting too."

The fowl words spat out of his mouth, as unwelcome as the taste. "It doesn't look like it from where I'm sitting. I doubt she'll be thinking of me when she's 'with' him tonight."

"And you were thinking of her when you were 'with' me?" she threw in his face, though gently. "Sex isn't love, Xander. Not even great sex. If they are sleeping together again that still doesn't mean she doesn't love you. As much as I love you and as hot as we were together, if I could have Tara back today you know where I would be."

"Yeah, with the three of us." He screeched when she kicked him under the table. "Sorry. My mouth sucks sometimes."

"Sucks very well, I seem to remember." It's interesting to her how she enjoys his desire. Something she hadn't thought about in years. That final piece of the Xander puzzle she never knew, she now knows all to well. "Why won't you fight for her?"

"Why won't she fight for me?"

"She doesn't love him."

"How can you know that?"

"Because she can't look stop looking at us. She can't take her eyes off you."

He had no intention of giving Buffy the same. Not anymore. Not when she's sitting at a table with her vampire-lover, looking so sexy tonight 'for him', when he knows their evening will likely end in his bed. God damn them both!

After downing his drink in one long gulp, Xander recalled the last time he and Buffy were out on the town, so to speak. Enjoying drinks at a table amidst a crowded room...

 

 

~~~~~~

Flashback

~~~~~~

 

Sunnydale High Homecoming Dance 2002

Sunnydale High School

Saturday, December 16, 2002 9:40 PM

Sunnydale, Ca

 

 

"Did we ever look that young?" Buffy whispered in Xander's ear over the loud music as she surveyed the dance floor full of teenagers as far as the eyes could see. Officially, Buffy was tabbed to help chaperone the event. Unofficially, she's there to keep an eye on her little sister and her date. "That girl over there in the sky blue gown, she looks eleven. She can't be a teenager. We could not have ever looked that young."

"We're not that old, you know. I feel quite spry and youthful, myself."

"When I was in high school I had to have been taller than the girl over there dancing with the guy whose side burns are way to long."

"Honey, you weren't taller than anyo..." One arched warning eye brow came his way, so he quickly

amended, "But you were far more beautiful, amazing, outstanding, cute, and cool than anyone else. You exemplified the very best a high schooler had to offer. I feel the School Board should erect a statue of you in front of the school in your honor."

"Nice save."

After a little self-pat on the back, Xander took another bite of the blueberry frosted cake on his paper plate, humming at the taste. "This is some good cake."

"Soft, light, and baked to perfection," Buffy added her own high marks for the cake. Surrounded by a few hundred formal dressed teenagers, even after seeing them at work each day, she couldn't help but to feel that there had to be a youth conspiracy or something going on. "Please someone, name the outlet store selling those horrible dresses. I bet it's built on a Hellmouth." Her eyes scanned the room again. "And look at that young man over there with his hands all over his dates butt. I think I'm going to have to step in and remind him this is a dance and not a orgy." When she tried to stand Xander gently grabbed her wrist, tugging her back in her seat.

"Look," he pointed across the ballroom as Principle Wood uttered something in the boys ear that sent his hands back around his dates waist. "Alls well that ends well. Now let's get back to enjoying ourselves. You won't have to Slay any teenagers, so please calm down."

Her boyfriends handsome smile aside, she couldn't help but to pick up on his infectious enthusiasm at attending tonight’s Homecoming dance. Being around teenagers for eight hours a day, especially when dealing with their problems left her not exactly looking forward to tonight. Add in that Robin explained it was mandatory for the counselors to attend and she was one very unhappy Slayer. When she initially told Xander she had to be here, she expected him to be as unhappy about the prospect of attending a glorified teen party as she was. Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

Not only did he agree to go with her without putting up a fight, but ran out and bought a tux, which in her opinion, he looked absolutely dashing in tonight, as well as a new three hundred dollar dress for her. He's taken her out on the dance floor four times already, even going so far as to sing in her ear, off key mind you, but it's the thought that counts.

Seemingly enthralled by the couples pictures being taken across the ballroom, Buffy considered that maybe she wasn't seeing what he saw because she wasn't looking close enough. Tonight had work written all over it up until she walked through the elaborately decorated entrance and saw the gorgeously designed new ballroom. Had she forgotten how much a certain dance meant to her once upon a time? One that the wonderful man sitting next to her asked her to. A date she turned him down for.

My, my, my how the years have flown by.

Buffy shifted her chair just that much closer to his. Proudly, she pulled his hand in her lap, cradling it between her own. Suddenly, the music wasn't so bad at all. Dawn had most of the songs they're playing anyway. The D.J. played a variety of music. He played a little rap, R&B, Latin, alternative and jazzed it up with some slow music. The kids were all well behaved so far. The cake was... well, it was cake, so it couldn't be that bad. And the man beside her, wearing the silliest of grins over a bunch of guys mean mugging for the camera, he just loves being with her. For him, this is a day that made up for one six years earlier. "I should have said yes."

Rocking his head back and forth a little, Xander leaned her way, knowing full well what she's talking about without having to ask. "When you shot me down for that dance I drowned my poor sorrows in country western music and the one dirty magazine I had. To add insult to injury, that Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue wasn't all that dirty." Oh yeah, he's gonna milk that ole guilt for all it's worth. She's squeezing his hand, smirking the whole time. "All I wanted from you was one little dance. I just wanted to be your date and show you how much I liked you. Then you told me 'no' in several languages, including sign, as well as said it using a sock puppet of yourself, followed by a huge cardboard neon sign that read 'No!!!'. You broke my heart, stomped on it, ran over it with your jeep, took a group of puppies out and had them pee over it, then covered it with..."

"I get the picture," she shut him up, then yanked at his collar, pulling him to her. She hummed before kissing away all those bad memories, swiping her tongue slowly over his. A few cat-calls from a couple of students walking by shamed them into stopping. "Want me to go beat them up?"

"Nah, baby. You look entirely to good in that dress." And good God did she look hot tonight. When he took her to the mall to buy something new and they saw it at the same time, it's was all over. Made by Alyce Designs, the slinky black dress featured a V cut neckline with thin spaghetti straps off each shoulder, lace up back, and a split off the left leg in the front. Xander told her every teen boy in that school who didn't drool over her already will be faking problems left and right the next day after Homecoming just to be in a room alone with her after they see her in that dress. Buffy turned all heads when he escorted her in. "Sweetheart, have I told you enough times how beautiful you look tonight? How you shame every woman or boy dressed like a woman here?"

A typically Xander-like thing to say. Hardly unwelcome. "No, not nearly enough times, so continue." He's told her every ten minutes, and hasn't stopped touching her all evening, hovering close. "Do you think we should check on Dawn again?"

Xander wasn't going for that. "Let D have her night alone without her super hero sister hanging around. We trust her."

"Did you really buy her pepper spray?"

"I sure did. Told her to aim for the eyes if her date got fresh. She's got a little vial of holy water too, just in case."

"You are the best boyfriend who has ever boyfriended before."

"And you, my dearest," as he pulled her hand to his lips for a smooch, he whispered to her, "Are the love of my life."

He doesn't lie to her, and yet she marvels at how what he just confessed could possibly be the truth. Surely Anya held that lofty position. He almost married her, after all. Perhaps even Willow in a round about way. But after barely five months of being together how could he place her there? And then he goes and looks at her in that special way only he can, when she can't feel as if she's anything less than first in his life. "You're so sweet to me."

"And you, my Slayer baby, have that big, long new couch in your office." Wagging his eyes brows in such a lecherous way, she's rolling her eyes at the implications. When his hand slipped under the table and started rubbing her thigh, she brushed it off.

"Down boy."

"You mean go down?"

"No, honey. That couch is for me to counsel the youth of America on. And some of those youths are larger than others, hence the bigger size and longer length. That couch is not, I repeat, not for us to do naughty things on. You aren't thinking about the youth of America."

"You're No-Fun Girl."

"You're Horny Guy."

"You are so lucky Horny Guy loves No-Fun Girl."

"No-Fun Girl will put out for Horny Guy later, alright." He's mocking her by silently mouthing her

every word. "Behave, sweetie."

"For you," he promised, then backed out of his chair. "I need to make a trip to the little men’s room. Be back in a flash." His Vulcan sign never ceased to exasperate her. That's partly why he did it.

"Just don't get lost, you nut," she joked as he left their table. Following him out of sight, Buffy lounged back and waved as a few appreciative students walked by. She had to admit seeing some of the sweet faces of young romance lifted her mood considerably. Everyone’s so nervous before the dance until they actually arrive, and then it's no big deal. Remembering other responsibilities, she pulled her purse in her lap and searched for her cell phone. Giles and Willow are handling tonight’s patrol and she wanted to make sure they were okay. "Where is it? I know I put it in there. Oh great, senile at age twenty-two. Wonderful." Suddenly, Buffy realized she's talking out loud to herself. Hopefully no one noticed. At least Xander had his phone.

Feeling no Slayer-like vibes tonight, Buffy allowed herself a day dream. Excited, nervous teens paraded around her in a non-stop hormone driven example of the exact same things she used to do, thought wistfully to herself. 'Enjoy it now, kids,' she considered telling each and every person at the dance. 'Real life's just around the corner.'

Thankfully, this coming summer she can look forward to putting real life on hold for a week. Her Christmas present to Xander this year was going to be a little three day spa retreat for New Years. She searched and found one heck of a deal online back in early October and was saving for it already. That was until two months ago when she took her deposit back. On the way to work one morning she was listening to her favorite radio station, who at the time were holding their oddest contest ever. A free one week, all expenses paid trip to Jamaica for the first caller that could correctly name each and every cemetery in Sunnydale in alphabetical order, as well as correctly identify one deceased person buried there.

Can you smell the irony?

Lady luck was on her side and she knew it. Buffy not only won, she amazed the DJ's with her detailed knowledge of the cemeteries, their addresses, and their closing times. She even knew their prices. They asked her what line of work she was in and she replied with a stutter, "Uhm, gr... grave digger."

Never let it be said Buffy Summers didn’t have a sense of humor.

On Christmas morning she will present to her sweetie the vacation of a lifetime. One she knows he's never had purely for enjoyments sake. A reward for so many things, to many to count, but most of all for his precious love. For the way he loves her so well.

The party's jumping and she's ready to hit the dance floor again. Why not, she figured. You only live once. Okay, maybe not in her case, but still. Might as well soak up all this pomp and circumstance because tomorrow night it's back to the cemeteries, vampires, and whatever else crept in the night.

Ah, there's her man, looking oh so good in that black tux as he strode back to her, wearing an absolutely devilish expression on his face. "Did you do something bad?"

"Always with the accusations. Did you do something bad, Xander? Did you eat all my Raisin Bran, Xander? Did you steal the change I left on my night stand, Xander? You came before me and you can't go to sleep until I get my happy, Xander," he mocked until he was close enough to kiss her again. "I did no badness at all. None. I am devoid of badness." Cheerful grin in place, his true motives were well hidden. "I did forget to give you this. I accidentally took it before we left your house."

Buffy grabbed her cell phone from his hand. "Did you take it out of my purse?"

"Uhm, no... nope, it was lying beside it."

Buffy thought about that one. Well, she was in a rush before they left. But she could have sworn she put it in her purse. Eh, no biggie. "Okay."

His plan was working perfectly. So perfectly his smug grin was even smuggier. "Buff, I think you have a

message." He pointed to the little red button blinking on and off.

Any doubts she had about him being up to something were laid to rest when. Yep, he was definitely up to something. She knows that smile. That's his 'I'm up to something' smile. Deciding to play along for now, she flipped her phone and dialed in to check the message. One message and it's brand new, taped a few minutes ago. Surprise, surprise. "Did you do something bad?" she questioned him yet again, to which he looked away. He's not even denying the badness now.

The message played...

'Buffy, when you hear this message you will most likely be wondering if I did something bad. Remember, I know you. And since this isn't bad, you don't have to worry. I just wanted you to know that I love you with all my heart, and that I think you look hotter than the sun tonight. I could not have been happier walking into the Homecoming dance with the most beautiful woman there on my arm, and I am so proud to be yours. I'm so proud that you are mine. Every time I look at you tonight I realize how deeply I desire you more than any of other women I have ever known or seen on TV or any movie that you'd have to buy in the back room of a sleazy video store. I have never, ever, not even my grade school Madonna-crush phase, wanted a woman as badly as I want you. Honey, you're all I think about morning, noon, and night. You're my every dream, every fantasy, and my hope for the future. I'm sure by now you're asking yourself why am I leaving this as a message and not saying it to your face. The answer is simple. Hopefully, I say it often enough for you to know your place in my world. But should you ever doubt it, or have a really bad day, or we argue or you miss me, you can listen to this and know that I have never loved anyone as much as I love you. That I want you by my side always, and that you are the sexiest woman alive. You are my number one reason for getting up in the morning, Buffy. Don't ever forget that.'

His intention wasn't to make her cry, but low and behold she's wiping away stray tears, her lips trembling as he pulled her in arms, so safe within his embrace. "Crying messes up your make-up, you know."

Sniffling against his shoulder, she murmured, "I don't care if I look like a Goth girl." Starting at his neck until they reached his face, her small hands held him close to her. "That is the sweetest gift anyone has ever given me. It was a message from your heart to mine."

"Well, Verizone and their wireless telecommunications network had a hand in it too, but yeah, that's what you make me feel, Buffy. I love you."

"And I love you too. I know I don't say it enough, but Xander," she paused as the emotions threatened to overwhelm her. How did something this good find her after so many bad experiences? "You're my heart." She kissed him slowly, flying together, deepening as the seconds lingered by, not giving a damn who might be watching. This is for them, and them alone. Mindful they aren't at home, Buffy ended the kiss with a sigh, her eyes still misty as she gazed at him. "What am I going to do with you?"

"You could start with the Kama Sutra and work your way from there." Men don't have a one track mind, they have a car that only wants to drive on one track. He just wants to drive with her.

"Hmmm, interesting," she graced him in a whispery tone. Casting a quick glance at the clock on the wall, Buffy knew the dance was probably going to last another hour or so. And while it was far from the deplorable experience she expected it to be, she's feeling greedy with her Xander-time and being alone with him became her

priority. "Let's take a walk."

"Anywhere you go, I shall follow. Especially when your little sexy butt is moving like that," he chanted behind her until she spun on her heel, grabbed his hand, and drug him out of the ballroom, past the curious teens watching their counselor and her boyfriend, and into the schools hallway. "I was just admiring..."

"I know what you were admiring, Horny Boy." He settled beside her as they strolled down the hall past the lockers, holding hands despite how silly that always looked to them when they were in high school. "I don't think I ever walked down the halls of this school holding a guys hand before."

"That's funny. Neither did I."

"Could you be serious for even a moment?" She smiled until Xander tugged her backwards, then turned her around. His back to a locker, he pulled her flush to his chest, trapping her in his arms. As if she wanted to be anywhere else.

"How's this for serious. I'm head over heels in love with you."

Others have caused her to blush by various means, but none with declarations of feelings the way he could. Having grown up in a home devoid of affection, here stands a man who so easily gives it. All for her. Every little bit and it's never enough because she can't get enough. In so many ways this feels like the first true love she's felt in her life. And to think it's been right under her nose all along. "I'm madly in love with you too."

"Good, cause if you weren't I'd probably be crying right now." he pressed a gentle kiss over her lips, holding her closer. "Did you enjoy yourself tonight."

"Yes, surprisingly enough. I had a great time chaperoning this shing-dig with you. Of course, we didn't really do anything. Oh, but there was cake. That's gotta count for something."

"As long as you had a good time."

It mattered to him that she did. It was written all over his face.

Xander's smile sparkled when she rested her head on his shoulder, closing her arms around his waist. Reconsidering the past, this school held many bad memories for him. His insecurities were amplified daily here, and as a teenagers right of passage, he ate crap more times than not. Was talked about, disrespected, passed over, judged, and generally labeled a dork. Years later the insults he could once hear so clearly he remembered who said them became quieter and quieter... the faces of those who looked down on him began to blur... names were harder to remember. To think he graduated high school only three years ago, and yet once you hit the real world, three years felt like ten. This isn't even his old school. He helped build this new one. It seems all the insults and beliefs that he'd never amount to much didn't even matter any more. He couldn't say he even held any grudges. His career's building towards something real and lasting. His love life... the woman in his arms... She's the icing on the cake.

The man he saw in his bathroom mirror every morning didn't have a hard time looking at himself anymore.

It occurred to Xander suddenly, that if he could run into any ten of the worst poeple who made fun or looked down on him in high school and bring them here now, show them what he makes every two weeks at his good job, take them to his very nice apartment, let them take turns driving his new car, and let them see the vision of loveliness that sleeps in his arms almost every night, he would avoid them. He'd hope that maybe if they didn't get a good look at his face they'd not recognize him and just keep walking by. That's called letting the past go and knowing who you are, not who you're told to be.

Buffy lifted her chin to see him. "You're quiet."

"Just thinking."

"You gonna share?"

He softly caressed her cheek, lost in her smile. "Life is so funny, sometimes. I remember walking the halls in high school just hoping I wouldn't run into certain people, or that I'd get through a couple of tests without getting an F, or that I could just say or do something to impress you."

Painfully honest, all his inner thoughts. "And now?"

"I guess I just realize better now that so much of what happened in high school didn't matter at all. At the time it was my entire world and every day felt like the most dramatic day ever. Now it's all just memories. Some good and some bad, but still only memories."

Buffy could relate, recalling her own hopes. "I just wanted to have a normal life. I wanted a boyfriend who I could date and got to the Bronze with. I wanted a guy I could introduce to my Mom and understand my crazy life. I wanted Angel to miraculously show up outside the high school on a motorcycle all human and waiting for me. Then I'd hop on and we'd ride off into the sunset."

"I wanted to have a car. Any kind of car, so that I never had to walk to school again. It seemed like all the cool kids had a car."

"I never wanted to be the Slayer. That job does terrible things to a girls shoes."

"I wanted to see Cordy's boobs in all their glory."

"And you did. See, you did accomplish something in high school."

"Yay me," he joked while stroking his hand down her back. "In the face of all that madness and mayhem, you were so courageous back then. You still are."

"I was scared out of my mind and flying by the seat of my pants. I just hid it well. And I had a lot of help."

"Fear never stopped you. I've always admired that about you."

"Peoples opinions and beliefs about you never stopped you either. I've always admired that as well."

Even in heels she's barely to his neck, though she encompasses his entire world. Falling hopelessly in her moody hazel eyes, he simply has to kiss her, and does. Freely wanted, desired, cherished as she kissed him back as heartfelt.

It felt mystical the way her mouth sucked and her sweet tongue worked his. Where had she ever learned to do that? He never wanted to know and didn't care because she was now moaning into his face, through her nose, as

she sucked harder on his mouth and eagerly worked her little body against him. He stroked the indention of the small of her back, and then moved his hands to cup the supple globes of her backside, kneading them gently.

"Come on," Buffy ordered breathlessly, her eyes dark with unmistakable wickedness as she drug him down the hall at a gallop, turning a corner towards the administration hall, and then to the door of her new office. Producing her key, she gave him a wink, then unlocked the door and let them inside. "You're a bad influence on me."

Xander managed to lock the door behind him with his back turned, now stalking her inside the dark office. He slipped out of his shoes the same time she slipped off her heels. "I have a very old fantasy, Buff. Wanna hear it?"

"Let me guess. You always wanted to have sex with me in the school?"

Darn she's good. "Okay, you spoiled it, but yeah."

"In the library?"

"Uh huh," he advanced until she was backed against the wall, with no where else to go. He secretly loved his height advantage over her. "Your office will have to do."

Common sense time. Gotta use that common sense. Oh crap, common sense is being thrown out the window as soon as he shrugged that tux jacket off his broad shoulders. Damn did he look good to her in that tux. Even better nak... Bad Buffy. Bad, bad, bad. Then the little voice inside her head reminded her 'You brought him here.' "I could get fired if we got caught."

"Everyone’s at the dance. No one will miss us. We won't get caught," he promised her.

Sex in her office... that's just wrong. Big capitol letters wrong! Especially when she has to sit in here every day and... God, he smells good tonight. "I have to work here, Xander," she did her best to not smile, failed, but was happy the blinds on her windows were all drawn shut. "What if someone knocked on the door?" Could her voice sound any shakier? Nope.

"You like it exciting, Buffy." She couldn't hide from him when he began softly kissing on her neck, tempting her with his touch. Her palms braced against his chest to push him away, yet only succeeded and grabbing hold of his dress shirt. "You like it when you shouldn’t do it. When it's bad for all the best reasons." Pressed into her, she can feel what she's done to him. What she's reduced him to. A desperate man. "I need you."

"I need you," she whimpered in a soft, little voice the second before his lips claimed hers. She reached behind his head to draw him closer, indulging a long deep kiss that sent her blood racing. Her tongue was gentle at first, then hungry and demanding. Xander matched her passion as his became more insistent, moving around her mouth, slithering his tongue under her lip and around her cheeks, a tell-tale sign of his raging arousal.

Buffy made little moaning sounds as her heart slowed and her lips trembled when Xander suddenly knelt before her as if in worship. His hands began at her ankles, taking his time massaging his way up her leg, easing her dress with his ascent. Her muscles tensed beneath his soft lips over her smooth thighs to her hips, where he eased down her black thong underwear. His eyes held hers as he slowly drew them down her legs and off her feet.

Even though he's the one on his knees, she felt as a slave to him. Felt his dominance ghost all over her body, holding her captive. His absolute fierce need of her was undeniable. Xander eased her thighs apart, then pushed her dress up to her hips.

"Ahhhh!" whimpered from her kiss swollen lips when his face buried between her legs, his warm mouth enveloping her whole as she hooked a leg over his shoulder. She could hear the hungry sucking, his appetite for her, voracious. She concentrated on the length of his long tongue delving inside her, turning her knees to Jell-O. "Oh my God!!" she exhaled when he created a air-tight vacuum around her sex, sucking harder, then adding his hands to the fray. He squeezed her butt until she gave him her ultimate trust and lifted her other leg from the floor, draping it over his shoulder, completely being supported by his body. Her palms laid flat on the wall, assisting him as he devoured. Her hands were gripping his hair tightly, shoving his mouth against her, drowning him in

her scent. Her face burned in a shameless blush.

Suckling the weeping petals of her labia, his fingers kneaded her firm little ass. His tongue feverishly worked over her glistening clit, then dissolved into long slow licks with the flat of his tongue, up and down, ending at the swollen bud of her clit. He wet it with the tip of his tongue, then encircled it with his lips and sucked hard.

"Xannnder!!!" Buffy threw back her head and wailed, her hips rolling into the pleasure. His tongue flicked against her clitoris before drawing it back inside, nursing faster. All he could hear were her high pitched squeals and moans, and they made him go absolutely crazy with desire. Her hips gyrated eagerly against his mouth as she tossed her

head in wild abandon, her climax roaring through her. The savage onslaught of his tongue caused her mouth and eyes to open widely in surprise. She moaned in joyful anguish as the sounds illustrating his hunger left her breathless, quaking with tremors as her thighs clamped around his head.

Every lick left her 'cooing' and sighing his name. Her taste on his tongue, divine. Delicious. He could never get enough of doing this to her, and if it weren't for the now painful ache in his pants, he'd never stop. His licks became slow laps that gently eased her down, with her feet hitting the floor, her legs slightly wobbling, her back to the wall that held her up.

"God," she panted barely before his kiss arrived, taking her in full lush movements, plundering her

succulent mouth. Her hands were working on his belt and zipper before he could get to them. He's shoving them down and off frantically, the need to join with her dominated his every thought. "Now! Here!"

Bending downward, Xander hooked his arms under Buffy's knees, hoisting her high against the wall. Not once did his mouth leave hers, as the tip of his cock poised at her entrance, and with a slow ascent, heaven opened around him, drew him in it's tight moist depths.

Biting at his bottom lip, Buffy swore she could feel his heart beat from where they were joined. His hands shifted lower, cupping her backside for support as she twined her legs around him, arms around his neck. They began to move slowly at first, up and down as one. Her back pushed up against the wall every time he impaled her, buried every throbbing inch inside her heated core, kneaded her cheeks as he rode her deeper than any man had ever been.

Her head flew back in a rush of emotional sensations every time Xander thrust up into her, lifting her time and time again, forcing every inch to fit, thick inside her greedy, grasping confines. Her face screwed into the most agonizingly beautiful expressions Xander had ever seen. He's lashing the sweat from her neck to her cheek, panting hard every time he lunged upward, taking her faster, grunting from his lustful exertions.

Xander's jaw slackened. He increased his tempo, ramming home with a vengeance, his legs muscles straining with every lift of her small body. He shuddered and groaned, lost in a tornado of passion. Her body spasmed as she leaned forward on him, bracing her body as her fingernails clawed back at the wall.

Rigid and throbbing, Xander fucked her harder, lunging deep, driving his cock with one long swift movement after another.

"Couch, now!"

Her order, his command. Never more grateful for the slim physique of the woman he loved, Xander carried her the short distance to the couch, laying her down still connected to him, covering her body with his. "I want to tear this damn dress off you!"

"Fuck me and I'll take it off afterwards."

"Buffy..."

"It cost you three hundred dollars..."

"Good point." Delving his hips into the cradle of hers just for that little mewing sound she made every time he thrust inside her. Buffy clamped her thighs around him as tenderness grew to passion. A shudder ran across her stomach as their tempo increased, their bodies colliding with an unquenchable thirst of need.

The sight of his thick cock disappearing inside her with his every lunge sent Buffy's pulse racing. The length that filled her expertly as she held on for dear life sent waves of crashing sensations throughout her lower regions. God, she needed him so badly. Needed him like this, making love to her as if the world were about to end, loving her with everything he had.

He groaned from the haven of pleasure that swept over him. His strokes retreated and attacked, his shaft slick with her arousal, her body pulling decadently on his as he felt her quivering beneath him. Her humming noises grew in decibels until he heard her cry out in a convulsing release so Earth shatteringly satisfying she drug him off the cliff with her. His body went rigid, then detonated, as his erratic short thrusts filled her with liquid heat, filled her until he had nothing left to give.

That made quite the adorable pair. Panting for their every breath on her new work couch. Buffy, with her dress bunched around her waist, eyes glazed over, wearing a silly grin on her face. Xander, his chest heaving, with his long sleeved dress shirt drenched in sweat, lying on top of her in a pose one might mistake for someone who recently died. Well, at least he died happy.

They were both trembling and shuddering, their labored breaths coming in unison. Gradually, their motions slowed, and then they were still, making soft "Ohh," noises.

Gently withdrawing from her, Xander allowed his body to fall over on the floor next to the couch. "You're more exciting than a loud, big-budget summer blockbuster action movie."

"As always, your words charm me to no end." She felt deliciously shaken, sated, and feminine. "How am I ever going to listen to some poor teen talk to me about peer pressure or their parents on this couch and not think of what we just did?"

"Easy. Just buy a couch cover."

She's laughing because she wished she thought of that first. "My office smells like sex."

"Mmmm, sex."

"I'll open a window before we leave." When she sat up and looked at him, oh yeah, he's grinning from

ear to ear. "You're such a bad influence on me."

"You love being bad."

"No, I just love you."

 

 

******

The Present

******

 

The Passion

A new nightclub in Sunnydale

Saturday, May 17, 2003 11:45 PM

Sunnydale, Ca

 

 

Reminiscing about the way things used to be would never bring those things back to you in a truly tangible

way. Sometimes you just had to cut your losses, pack your emotional bags, and walk away. Eyes forward to your next adventure in life.

Xander figured if that sounded to good to be true, then it had to be. He's living proof of it.

He didn't want to look backwards anymore because every time he did, it hurt that much more, and he felt like a fool. A fool for believing in something he should have known had zero chance of truly working out well in the end. A fool for believing in a complex woman who could not change, and in himself, who's bad luck followed suite. A fool for his unsharable secret dreams of a fall wedding, and in the years to come, beautiful children with hazel eyes and dark hair.

Dreams laid to ruin, rubble around his feet. Left with nothing save his foolishness.

Xander's thoughts drifted to his career. His accomplishments thus far in life weren't bad at all for a man his age. To be perfectly honest, his future looked brighter by the day. The man deemed a loser by his own father, a loser in his own right, had risen above such titles. Having a career gave him a direction to focus on, while loving Buffy gave him a reason to never lose that focus. Never had he felt as rich as he did when her love and his career illuminated his life.

Now, he's left with just a career.

Lost in the kaleidoscope of sparkling light within the ice in his drink, Xander let his facade drop to reality as the lights dimmed for the bands second set. With Willow having excused herself to the ladies room, he's left with the doubts that filled his mind.

Being with Willow these past couple of weeks only reinforced the love he's had for her since the day they met as children. When one fell, the other ran to offer a pick up. It's been that way. It is that way. It's always going to be that way.

It's just not the same as it was with...

And that's the thing. Willow did not deserve to ever be compared to another woman. She's amazing in her own right, and priceless in his eyes. Beautiful. Sexy. Brilliant. His closest friend and confident. And now, his lover, incredible as that was to believe. She's not offered nor asked any less than him, and has only confirmed she's open to the possibilities of them. He's failed her in not revealing that Buffy has damaged him to the point of not ever being sure he could trust his heart again. He'd never say that, not even to her. Revealing that weakness would cost him to much. Give Buffy to much power. So he dons his mask daily, quick with a joke and a smile, ready to help anyone, anywhere, anytime.

All the while hiding the simple fact that something’s off in his life. As if he's living in shadows rather than the light, forever seeking what he cannot have. What's been denied him for reasons that still didn't make sense.

His breakup with Buffy, at the time it happened, felt like the culmination of every argument they had ever had that resulted in them both deciding their relationship was no longer worth fighting for. He's beaten himself up enough over what he could have said or done differently. He's hated her in his heart a thousand times for the lie of her professed love for him. If she truly loved him she would have listened to his worries over how she was dealing with the pressure of the First. She would have kept Spike on a tighter leash. She would have... and it never ended, his blaming of her and himself, Spike, Angel, the sun, moon and all the stars in the sky.

At the end of the day, the other side of his bed was still vacant. Filled one sweet night in recent days...

The burning hatred Xander held within himself for missing her so painfully was manifested in a smiling face for all his friends. As soon as the First was killed he expected to have a sit down with Buffy and for them to work things out. Being apart had to have been killing her the way it was killing him. He was sure of that.

He was positive.

He was wrong.

Then came Angel's announcement that he was moving back to Sunnydale. That was all the writing on the wall for him to see that the wall wasn't in his home anymore. Angel was back, and so Buffy was gone.

Teenage years revisited. Same soup, just reheated.

They never got around to that talk after that. Distance and space came with less and less patrols as the demons and vamps ran from Sunnydale and it's multiple Slayers. Weeks later it felt to Xander like their relationship had only been a dream.

Nothings ever torn him up inside as bad as having experienced Buffy's love in all it's glory, then losing it, then watching her share that same sweet love with another. He summoned every ounce of manhood he could muster to keep from crying every damn night she's not lying next to him. The physical ache of loss in the pit of his stomach left him gasping for air. A man could feel emotions as every bit as deeply as any woman could. He just wasn't emotionally equipped, blame God or whoever, to express them the same. At least not men like him, who gave his loved ones the 'Xander' they needed to see to be okay about things rather than the real 'Xander' he was when her beloved sleepy voice didn't yawn goodnight before he fell asleep.

Now what?

His attraction to Willow wasn't false. When he made love to her, he felt love, and so he had no regrets. Her passion shocked him as clearly as his shocked her. Problem is, in his heart of hearts, that love was of a caring comfort, and not what you share with someone you're in love with. They've felt that depth of emotion before. They enjoyed each other on a lonely night, unplanned, and haven't since.

Xander refused to use her. Willow's precious to him, and deserved the very best he or any other person had to offer. Apparently, his best still wasn't good enough. He can't let her go either. Not with Buffy having clearly moved? How could he have ever been so stupid...

"Mind if I take a seat? I won't keep you long."

Sometimes life could really crap on you, and then crap on you some more. A guest dressed in all black appeared out of nowhere. A familiar voice. Xander lifted his head to see Angel standing in front of his table. He didn't see Buffy anywhere in sight. This was the last thing he needed to deal with. Whatever. The sooner he dealt with Angel, the sooner he'd leave. With a casual hand gesture, Angel nodded. He grabbed a chair from a vacant table nearby. "I just wanted to talk to you for a few minutes. Buffy went to make a phone call."

If he's here to gloat, Xander swore under his breath he'll be eating that chair he's sitting on. Having zero to say to him so far, he extended his arms in a 'the floor is open' pose.

A real man did what he was about to do. At the very least he respected Xander, even if he didn't like him. "I'm in love with Buffy and I want to build a strong committed relationship with her. I want to do whatever it takes to make things work this time. Those are my intentions. What I would like to know is if you are going to fight for her, or walk away for good?" Xander's expression remained neutral... Angel gauged no reaction at all. He waited and waited and waited until he lost his patience. "Are you going to say anything or just sit there?"

"No one fights for Buffy. She chooses. That's how it is. That's how it's always been."

Having any man, especially him, infer that he understands something about Buffy that he did not left a fowl bitter taste in Angel's mouth. Controlling his temper would be a requirement for this conversation. "She'll choose me."

Interesting. Xander's seen Angel confident, cocky, beaten, hurt, and broody. Those Angel's, he knows. This one... Never would he have asked a rival in the past what his intentions were. Perhaps he's not so sure of things as he'd like to pretend. "Who are you trying to convince? Me, or yourself?"

"I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything," he quickly assured Xander, his eyes dark, hidden as his motives. A note of worry flashed across his face, and in his voice. "I'm sorry you two didn't work out. She's very fond of you. It just wasn't meant to be. I know her life and world. I know her place in it. Her demons, internal and otherwise. I know her in a way that will always bind us. And I know that at the end of the day we are meant to be together. We've been through to much for it to be otherwise."

Clapping his hands together seemed only fitting. "You're so full of shit it doesn't make sense," Xander cursed from across the table as he leaned forward, fists planted on the surface. "Before February you saw Buffy four times in three and a half damn years. That doesn't make you an expert on her in any way. You saw bits and pieces of her life at best. I've seen it all." His fist smacking the table accentuated his ending point.

"You can't see the darkness we are destined to be a part of. You can't see the true Slayer."

"You can't see the woman because if you do, you'll know she's lost to you. I never thought you would stoop to Spike's crap to justify why you're better for her than someone else." Angel held his peace, startled for a moment to be compared to Spike, then quickly recovered, even as his jaw tightened.

"Buffy and I have a connection you can't understand."

"Four meetings in three and a half years isn't a connection, it's keeping up with an old friend."

"You wouldn't understand."

Anger swelled within his chest as Xander lashed out, "I wouldn't want too. I don't need too. I've been by her side for years. It's not about who knows her best that wins the Slayer prize, but make no mistake about it. No one knows Buffy Summers better than I do."

A matching anger glared back at Xander from across the table. "She's a Slayer, Xander. Whether you like it or not. It's her destiny. She operates in a world you refuse to acknowledge is a major part of her life and always will be. A life you can't ever truly be a part of."

He's acting strange. Not sounding like himself. Concerned, but about what? "I know the Slayer every bit as well as you do. I've got the scars to prove it. I've seen what her life's like out there fighting things most people could never comprehend. I know how it's worn her down as the years stroll on by. But let's see if you understand this. Do you know what Buffy eats for lunch at work everyday?" Such a simplistic question, it's meaning far deeper than the surface revealed. Angel didn't move a muscle. "What's her favorite ice cream? How much money does it cost to fill her car up with gas? What color does she hate? What song makes her think of her mother? What was the last thing her Dad said to her? What does she think about the false memories of growing up with Dawn that she never lived? Who scared her the most that she's fought? How much does she get paid every two weeks? Who was her first crush? What was the last thing she thought when she jumped off Glory's tower? Answer any of those question if you can Angel, because I can answer any you have about the Slayer."

Angel held his peace, stone faced, the truth shone bright for him to see in the dimly lit night club.

"How much is her water bill every month? Who makes her favorite pair of shoes? Where does she want to go on vacation to? What does she think of religion? What's her greatest fear in life?"

"Enough!" Cold, with a note of barely restrained rage. His shoulders set hard, eyes focused. "I suppose knowing the color of her first grade book bag makes you her soulmate?"

Xander knew Angel would never get it, and to that end, never truly get her. "Knowing the 'woman' who Slays is different than knowing the Slayer. I never figured you to use that part of her life to draw you two together. I always thought you loved her more than that."

"Don't you dare question my love for Buffy. I only want what's best for her," Angel snarled.

"I assume that's you?"

"Always."

Then why is he here? There had to be a reason. "Buffy fell in love with you when she was seventeen. A teenager fell in love with you. You, this grown vampire, well over two hundred years old fell in love with what the U.S. Government still considered a child."

"So now you're calling Buffy a child?"

"Would you prefer I call you a pedophile?"

"So now you're demeaning her feelings at the time? The same girl you claimed to love at the time? The same girl who never once choose you?"

"A teenager fell in love with you, Angel. A grown woman fell in love with me."

"And fell out of love months later," it pleased him to recall. "Doesn't say quite as much, does it?"

They stared each other down, a war of words declared as the crowds around them partied and danced. Never the wiser of this tense confrontation. At last, Xander asked, "Why are you here?"

"I want you to let her go."

It didn't take a detective to begin to put two and two together. Angel's insecurities were slowly revealing themselves. His world isn't as stable as he'd like everyone to believe. "I already have. We did break up, you know. Again, why are you here?"

"Buffy needs to move on."

There's that vein in his neck... "There you go again. Robbing her of choices."

"I'm not robbing her of anything."

"Then stop deciding she needs to move on and just let her in her own time. Stop trying to force it. It's so obvious she's not as over me as you wished she were."

"A week ago she was over you," he offered with a smug head tilt, knowing what he was about to do wasn't right, but felt good to throw in his face. "And under me... and on top of me... behind her... for hours."

Even as he had prepared himself for that inevitable comeback, jealousy gripped his soul, as well as the will to give Angel a view of the bigger picture. "Did you make love to her?"

"All night," was his proud reply. "In 'my' bed, taking her at 'my' whim, hearing her call 'my' name."

"Did you enjoy it?"

What's his game? Xander wasn't making sense to him. "We're here tonight having a good time, so what do you think?"

Xander figured he might as well play the jerk for once. "Did she go down on you?"

"What kind of question is that?"

"It's a simple one. Did she?"

"Yes." Xander's pathetic smirk gave him no clue of what he was thinking.

"Did she tie you up?"

"She's bad as she wants to be."

"Did you fuck her in the shower?"

"Yes."

"Did she cum for you?"

"Over and over."

"Screaming?"

"For me, only!"

"Has it happened again?" When his rival swallowed hard, Xander knew all he needed to know. His crude questioning aside, the man across the table from him is living a lie, and what's worse, he knows it. "How about this, Angel. Listen closely. You just might learn something," he began with a mean-spirited grin. "You've slept with Buffy twice in your whole unlife. I've slept with her well over a hundred times. And after the first time, several straight days in a row. Everything you've done with her, I've done in triple digits. So don't come trying to throw your sex life in my face. The only thing you accomplished was taking a seventeen year olds virginity, and then got some pity sex from my ex, who hasn't been back to the 'well' since then. Whatever could that mean?"

"If she could hear you now..."

"She'd be pissed as hell at the both of us for talking about her like she's a possession!" Xander concluded with a small smile, leaning back in his chair. "When I fell in love with Buffy and she told me she was in love with me I didn't drive to L.A. to throw it in your face. I certainly didn't ask your intentions. I didn't ask you jack shit because I knew where I stood. The old Angel would have acted the same way. If you could look in a mirror right now, you'd see a scared man who's hanging on to his last shot by his fingernails. Any questions about Buffy you have, ask Buffy, not me. We broke up. If she can't give herself to you the way you want then maybe the problem isn't me, it's you."

"I'm still in love with Buffy. Are you?"

The easy, quick answer was obvious. He couldn't deny to anyone, especially himself. But he could keep it to himself. "I want her to have whatever it is she wants in life."

Shoving his chair back, Angel declared, "You and her, it's over."

"You're afraid," Xander called out when Angel stood to his feet, turning to walk off. "She doesn’t love you and you know it," he proclaimed after the parting vampire who disappeared into the crowds, forever in the shadows.

Sighing, Xander shook it off and finished his drink. He wondered would any man ever truly understand Buffy Summers. He sure as hell didn't.

But he does love her with all his heart.

 

 

******

15 minutes ago.

The ladies room.

******

 

 

Buffy so rarely cried that when she did finally break down, it's an emotional cliff dive that left her barren and lost within.

Very few things were as pathetic to her as crying in the ladies room all by yourself, yet low and behold, here she is. A cliché of a cliché. Surrounded by the red walls and tiled flooring of her own personal hell, aka a bathroom stall. She's embracing a moment to release it all. To let it all go for a time. All the pain and loneliness she's felt ever since her break-up with Xander. Ever since half her heart walked right out of her life.

Sobbing softly in her hands, she's failed miserably at recreating the past. Every kiss, every caress, every soft touch felt illuminated against what she shared with another. It paled in comparison. Just a few minutes ago she lied to Angel about needing to make a phone call just to get away. The sight of Xander and Willow huddled close, laughing and enjoying themselves like lovers shattered something inside her. This wasn't closure. Not even close. What she felt for Angel in the past is not what she felt for him now. Not what she felt she would ever feel again. But what could she do? Break up with him and crush his heart, all the while bearing the loss of two close friends, one of whom is the man she loves?

Her strong shoulders could only bear so much. The Slayer fought vampires. The Slayer couldn't fight depression.

If no one had ever fallen in love with anyone in her little inner circle she'd be at Xander and Willow's table right now, talking and laughing with them, dancing, joking about the past over their drinks. Enjoying themselves. They always had fun together. The original three, from here to eternity, Xander joked once upon a time. As nice as being with them with no emotional strings attached would feel, her heart doesn't want that anymore. Her heart ached for the absolute love it knew when she... So many of her wants aren't the same as they used to be. A night on the town with friends was nice, but a night on the town with the man who reawakened her heart, along with her best girlfriend... Buffy felt it was time to stop torturing herself.

She's alone. Angel keeps talking about destiny. Maybe being alone is hers. Maybe...

How did things turn out so bad? Well, for her, she's used to this. Her Dad wants no more contact with her than a phone call a month. Her mother passed away. Tara passed away. She died, went to heaven or whatever that good place was, and then was resurrected. And just when for the first time ever in her life everything made sense and she finally felt like she could breathe, she gave it up when her love didn't want to fight for them anymore. Her best wasn't good enough. Every monster and demon she's Slayed, even cheating death, yet none of those things could keep her dearest possession. The heart of the man she loved.

So where's her silver lining? Where's that pot of gold at the end of the fucking rainbow? Hasn't she had her heart broken enough times already?

The stalls to her left and right were empty. She's been quiet enough to not draw the attention of the only other person in the bathroom, who arrived a few minutes ago. Alone by choice here, but alone in life otherwise. Her best friend is sleeping with the man she... the man who made her favorite breakfast every Saturday morning just the way she liked it. The man who gave the best foot massages she's ever felt after a long night of patrolling. The man who loved it when she slept in his shirts. The man who was her opposite in so many ways, but that never mattered because he loved her and showed it so often she never doubted it. The man who swore to her she was the love of his life, and when it was time to discuss forever, she was it, period, and there would never be another, ever.

Xander gave her the one thing no other man ever had before, or since. He made her feel as though she could share her every thought and feelings with him, and she did. She trusted him that much. She trusts him that much still.

Sadly, he's her past... her deepest regret.

Angel's as lonely as she is. Buffy knows that. Can feel it, knowing he misses his friends, his family, back in L.A. He's here in Sunnydale pursuing her. He's in love with her and ignoring that acute perception he's known for. He'll feel like a fool for having moved back to Sunnydale only to discover her love no longer waited for him. Buffy knows she's said all the right things. All the safe things. No commitment. No labels. Let's take our time and see what happens. He nods, smiles, and agrees. He's lying. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and is deeply in love with a woman deeply in love with another man. She hasn't said the words he desperately longs to hear. Yes, she shared her body one night for the thrill, but that didn't erase the last seven years. How could it?

He's a good man. Handsome. Courageous. Far from a fool. A real hero in this day and age when that title was bestowed for lesser deeds. Buffy would always hold a warm place for him in her heart, but that was all. No more, made painfully obvious tonight. Seeing Xander out with another woman... his lover, is just killing her inside. If he knew she slept with Angel would he even care? Part of her wanted to tell him just for a reaction. Any kind of reaction. Anything was better than the brief moment tonight their eyes locked and then he looked away, as if she were a stranger.

Everyone involved in this mess deserved better.

The last of her tears fell, emotions purged in a girls time honored tradition of crying in the ladies room. Collecting herself, Buffy used a few tissues to dab her eyes, smoothed her dress down, and then exited the stall.

And ran right into Willow.

The Wiccan looked up the second she heard the stall door open. She thought she was alone, washing her hands at the sink. The sight of Buffy standing there, obviously having just cried her eyes out, pushed all else between them aside. A wave of fierce protectiveness came over her. Her friend's in pain, so she had to help. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Quick, precise, and without detail. This confrontation was the last thing she needed. Buffy approached the other side sink. She splashed a little bit of water on her face, puffy eyes shut as she inhaled a deep breath. Steady, girl, steady.

"Usually people don't cry over nothing." Willow tore a paper towel for her, handing it over, and one

for herself. She wouldn't look at her. Willow suddenly felt cold. "Buffy, I know things are..."

"Don't!" The Slayer's glare halted her words.

What were the right words? How will they possibly get past this? And how does she deal with the undeniable proof Buffy still loves Xander? Why else would she be crying alone? Willow hated whatever part she's played in her sadness. "We were always able to talk to each other, Buffy."

"So what do you want to do? Compare notes on how Xander fucks?" Buffy coldly remarked in a crude manner. Hurt feelings often manifested themselves badly in verbal warfare. "You seem to be the new expert."

Being close to Buffy meant you needed a certain amount of thick skin and patience. But everyone had their

limits. Willow's olive branch was falling apart. "That's uncalled for."

"No more than what you said to me at his apartment the morning after you slept together."

Sighing, Willow regretted that momentary lapse in control. Even as part of her reveled in her conquest, she had talked to Buffy about Xander enough times over the course of their relationship to where she sincerely felt the Slayer deeply loved him. "I apologize for that."

With a snort, Buffy had little use for her apology. Her heart wrenched when she noticed a faint mark on Willow's neck. A love bite, she hated herself for recognizing. Hated what the blemish made her feel. "Whatever," she shifted away, facing the mirror... facing anything other than Xander's affection on another woman’s body.

Their reflection in the bathrooms mirror didn't mimic anything like the close friends they once were. The reflection did reveal something else. Touching a finger tip to her neck, Willow's ever observant eye knew what had affected Buffy so much, and what she had probably decided was the cause. The errant pulling of a hair pin left the minor scratch on her fair skin. To the naked eye it probably resembled a hickie. Seems she couldn't catch a break tonight. What's worse is that she couldn't see any marks on Buffy's neck. Angel would have left far more than a hickie had he bitten her in the heat of passion. On a shared movie night four months ago Buffy admitted that when Spike did it, the pleasure was amplified ten-fold. So why hadn't she let Angel, a man who meant far more to her than Spike ever did, do it? This girl's a mystery wrapped inside a mystery. "Why did you hurt him?"

"We hurt each other," Buffy added, not needing to ask whom she was talking about. She's so jealous..."It was a two-way street."

"Xander loved you in a way I have never seen him love anyone else."

"Except you, right?" Buffy probed for a deeper understanding of where they stood, and hated herself for

doing so. Willow evaded the obvious inclination. Such different roles they played out tonight.

"I'll always have him." Spoken as truth in the face of the woman that she did feel stole some of what she's always possessed. Loving Buffy as she did, there were times in her teen years when she was jealous of her. And there was some satisfaction in feeling the Slayers jealousy now. Satisfaction ended when she looked into her somber hazel eyes. "Some things aren't meant to be."

Buffy's never known her to speak in riddles. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"You're unhappy with Angel," she pointed out rather than asked the obvious. Buffy's poker face gave away nothing, though when she crossed her arms Willow knew that was a defense mechanism of hers. One she's used

for years. "You don't have to say it. I can see it. I know when you're unhappy."

"My relationship with Angel isn't any of your business."

"No, but we used to be so close, Buffy. I know you just like you know me?"

"I used to believe that. Now I'm not so sure."

Right or wrong, Willow felt this needed to be said. "Xander overheard Dawn telling Anya that you're sleeping with Angel." Her friends visible flinch was quickly shrouded in a grim determination to not cry.

Buffy's jaw tightened as she struggled to reign in her emotions. Her inner turmoil wasn't for anyone to see... not anymore. Especially not her. "And I should care, why?"

"I'm suddenly asking myself the same question," Willow stated in the face of Buffy's attitude. She's annoyed, frustrated, and near tears herself. The gap between them was less than a foot, but in reality it was miles and miles.

"I couldn't let you two be the only ones getting laid."

That hurt her friend to say, her throat constricting with every breath she took. "Buffy..."

"Give it a rest, Willow. You absolutely loved throwing it in my face how you fucked him." The very thought of Xander making love to another woman made Buffy sick to her stomach. Muttering 'dammit' under her breath, she's brushing tears from her cheeks again, doing her very best to hide them.

"You came in his apartment screaming and yelling at me. You wouldn't listen to me or calm down, so I lashed out at you... I was wrong to say what I did, and I'm sorry."

"What kind of girl dates her best friends ex-boyfriend?"

"What kind of girl dates a vampire for the third time?" Willow fired back.

"You know there's a difference. You know I loved Xander with all my heart."

"You also let him go, didn't fight for your relationship or make him feel like it mattered to you, and then as soon as Angel moved back you're dating him three weeks later. How do you think that made him feel?"

"Xander's not some victim here, so quit trying to play his protector. He gave up trying to work things out with me. He distanced himself from me when Angel moved back, but I wasn't staying away from him. He made assumptions based on his own insecurities."

"There seems to be a lot of that going around."

"I would never have dated any of your ex's."

"I dated a werewolf and a witch. You don't like short guys and you aren't gay. Try again." Any other time they would have cracked up laughing over what she just said. Any other time...

"Look, you won." Her admission damned all the fight left in her.

"I didn't win anything," Willow whispered back as her tears fell.

"So you're not going to make love to him tonight? You haven't already today?"

"That's none of your business. And I doubt Angel's only going to want a kiss on the cheek at the end of the night either."

Buffy couldn't stop herself, walking forward, face to face with Willow. "Go ahead," she asserted with a deathly mean quality. "Have him tonight. But just know this. I've had him over a hundred times, in every way. Begging for me. Loving me with all he had," she delivered with a ferocity as her emotions threatened to crest

the surface. "He's shed tears in my arms over how good it felt to be inside me. You'll never touch him the way I did. Never."

There's a time to be a woman, a time to be a friend, and a time to be a bitch. Having reached her breaking point, Willow made her choice. "Xander's bed..." she began counting off with each finger, "His sheets... his pillows... his skin. They smell like me now."

Damn...

Flat line...

"We're through." Swallowing hard on the hurt that threatened to eat her whole, Buffy turned on her heel towards the door. She suddenly stopped cold, her heart racing wildly, and then faced Willow one last time. "Are you in love with him?"

Had she ever seen her best friend look so terrified before? Or so sad? "Not yet," Willow answered truthfully, wiping away her own tears as a friendship fractured even more. "You deserve to be happy too."

"He loves you now."

Just tell her the truth. Do it! Something held Willow back. "Don't assume that."

"Don't hurt him," Buffy issued her own stern warning, her hands trembling at her sides. "Not like I did. He deserves better than he's ever had."

"He wants you." The words shot out for her dear friend, damning everything else, hoping she saw reason. Willow knew she had to try one last time to make this right. "He only wants you."

Sad laugher escaped her lips, settling in the air around them. "He's always wanted me... He got me. He had me. And he still let me go." With those parting words, Buffy exited the bathroom, and in Willow's heart, their friendship as well.

 

 

******

Ten Minutes Later

******

She'll sleep in his bed tonight...

Despite Xander's most valiant efforts to push thoughts of Buffy out of his mind, push the painful images of her curling up alongside another man who's watching over her as she slept, he lost that battle. He's still losing it, his eyes having never vacated the exact spot in the crowd where Buffy and Angel disappeared from his sight as they exited the club.

His blank gaze fell to the drink sitting in front of him, set adrift in the dark colors of liquor. How many days had his father drowned his sorrows and failures this way? He didn't want to think about that.

Having heard from Dawn's own mouth, Xander knew about the first night Buffy and Angel had gone out on

a date since the vampire's return to Sunnydale. The younger Summers had been Buffy and Xander's most ardent supporter when they announced their relationship. She hated to tell him, but felt he had a right to know. Brushing off the deep wound in his heart, he thanked her for the info and walked off... somewhere... and just kept walking.

Xander couldn't sleep the night of Buffy's date, and many since. He's tried to get them out of his mind by throwing himself in his work. By distancing himself from his friends so that he wouldn't have to face their pity. By removing Buffy's pictures from all over his home. Pictures of them in happier times than he's ever felt before.

He misses her viciously, and especially late at night when he reaches for her in his sleep and she is not there.

Xander knew once Buffy and Angel reunited, his world would never be the same again. As the days turned into weeks he saw them as less as possible, and only when absolutely necessary. He didn't ask anyone about the details of their relationship. He didn't know where they were in their reconciliation, nor did he care, Angel would drape his arm over her shoulder whenever he was in the room, and Buffy never shook it off. He lived through that, somehow.

Is she happy?

Restless, he's laid awake at night asking himself that question a million times. Is she happy? Is she smiling? Does she feel loved beyond measure? Is she laughing? As soon as his subconscious whispered a hopeful yes, his head demanded an answer to what was it about Angel that made him able to give Buffy those things? What was so damn special about that vampire?

Xander wondered why his best wasn't good enough, because Lord knows he gave it to her.

Minutes ago when Buffy returned from wherever she'd gone to her table, her eyes appeared haunted, as if she couldn't catch her breath after running from something. Her unheard words spoken in Angel's ear led him to rise from his chair. They left that very moment.

Did Angel kiss her passionately against his car, his hands tangling in her silky blonde hair?

Did laughter rush from her lips over some intimate inside joke?

Did she touch him in a way that told him she wanted him tonight? Wanted him the way she once wanted...

"Enough!" Xander muttered out loud, shoving his drink away, the small shot glass turning sideways, almost careening off the table. Damning his entire evening, which up until to the last thirty minutes hadn't been all that bad, wasn't worth it. Buffy made her choice and wasn't looking back. Maybe it's time he started looking forward.

Forward ahead of him was a returning lovely red head, who had more than a few appreciate stares trail

behind her. As if caring for her wasn't enough, he had to admit a part of him did desire her. Best of all, she wanted to be by his side. "Long line in the ladies room?"

After taking her seat next to him, Willow's shoulders slumped as she shook her head. "Nope. No line at all. Only one person other than me."

"Ah, the advantages of a mostly empty bathroom. Your kidneys must have leapt for joy."

"Buffy was the other person," she revealed, catching the way his face hardened at the mention of his

ex's name. "We ran into each other. We talked... or attempted to talk, or something." Uncertainty laced her voice.

Knowing her as well as he does, Xander could tell her encounter with Buffy wasn't a good one. "Spill."

Sighing, Willow began her tale. "I looked up from the sink and there she was, walking out of one of the stalls. Xander, she had been crying. She wouldn't tell me why." The play of emotions that miraged over her best friends face told her so many things he could not say. "We talked about you two, us, and her and Angel. For a moment I thought we could... I was being naive, I think. It got kind of nasty for a second there. At one point we were both wiping away tears and trying to get the other to admit stuff." Her eyes slipped shut when Xander's hand rose to caress her cheek. "I don't know what to do," she admitted.

"Are you alright?"

It's moments like these when his gentle brown eyes are solely focused on her and it's easy to see that he cares so deeply for her, that she reconsiders giving him back. Now where did that come from? "I'm cool. I'm Willow, so I'm cool."

Pleased that she seemed alright, Xander again hid his uneasiness. Buffy was crying by herself in the bathroom, but why? Something’s tugging at the back of his mind, like a idea just out of reach or the melody to a song you can't remember the title of. Something elusive. He shook it off, wishing away all thoughts of Buffy. He wished he could bleed her out of his soul and be done with her already. He wished she wanted to sleep in his arms tonight. He wished for so many things... "As luck would have it, and mine's always sucked, I had a run in with Mr. Dark and Broody not long after you left. Do you know that his hair still doesn't move at all. It's like he's wearing a hat."

Xander's easy going grin charmed her, even as the humor wasn't reaching his eyes the way it usually did, and Willow noticed. "I take it you fella’s didn't chat about the Lakers?"

"That would require Angel to actually have a personality, Wills." A shared smile, little, but at least it

was there. "We said what two men who have dated the same woman and hate each other would say."

"Crude, vulgar, bitchy, Cave-Man like things that Buffy would rip your testicles off if she heard?"

Xander pointed to his nose. "You're so smart."

"And I know you so well." He's hurting badly, hiding behind the Xander he thinks she needs to see. She wishes he knew she would accept him under any circumstances. Even if it's a heartbroken one. "You okay?"

Her caring dissolved his guard. The word 'Yeah' lived on the edge of his tongue, and was knocked aside by the truth. "No. But I'm still alive and kicking. I can't make a woman love me that doesn't. And I can't keep loving a woman who doesn't want my love. So I gotta pack up my bags and move. Second star to the right, and straight on till morning. That's what Captain Kirk would do."

Star Trek and real life. Only Xander would find the correlation. "Do you want my honest opinion or my not so nice opinion on this situation?"

"Which one will get me laid tonight?"

"If I knew for a fact making love to me was what you truly wanted, and not just a pastime so that you wouldn't have to think about what Buffy might be doing," she leaned over to him with a smirk, "You'd be one happy carpenter tonight."

He kissed her as a surprise. She surprised him right back, taking his dare, slipping her arms around his neck as they lingered on, deepening the kiss... Hot, steamy, sweet... Safe. Caring. Considerate. Kind. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. Only missing one ingredient.

The warmth of her breath brushed his lips moist, the puffs of gasping air matching his own. Her eyes shone dark and lovely in their dimly lit surroundings. "Let's get out of here. I want to take you home."

Savoring the moment, Willow did not open her eyes after their lips parted, holding onto the last precious seconds of something divine, and just out of her reach. His seductive throaty request came with no room for misunderstanding. He wanted her tonight, in his bed, her body making love to his. He wanted her... He wanted to forget 'her'. He needed something real and wonderful to help him sleep. He wanted someone that had never let him down. But everything you want isn't necessarily good for you. Isn't right. Isn't the way things should be at the end of the day. No one in the world knew Alexander Lavelle Harris better than she did. No one's loved him longer than her. No one ever will. And deep down, she knew what that meant. "It's time to say goodbye."

Standing to his feet, Xander smiled.

 

 

******

 

******

 

 

Angel's car

Sunday, May 18, 2003 12:30 AM

Sunnydale, Ca

 

 

Situated in downtown Sunnydale, traffic near the night club could be best described as a bitch, though Buffy had never used that term to describe her best friend before the way she did in her head now. Then again, it probably applied to her as well.

Just another in a long line of fucked up nights for Buffy Summers, the Slayer mused as the streets flew by.

Sitting on the passenger side of Angel's car with her hands resting in her lap, the club dwindled in the rear view mirror, until at last it faded away, like so many loved ones in her life. She hasn't said a word since they left the club. Hasn't wanted to. Angel's understood, or at the very least extended to her his patience. Willow however, gave her a piece of her mind.

Buffy wouldn't mind giving her a piece of her fist again... but that's juvenile and petty. The thought of purposely hurting Willow wasn't an option. Buffy still loved her. Would still run to her if she was needed, even with a heavy heart. The little green monster inside the Slayer yelled that she's jealous at the top of it's lungs. After her break up with Xander, Buffy had only gone out with Angel on a few platonic times, and two weeks later Xander's dating Willow. No one knew Buffy's plan was to date a few guys, not just one, and see what happened. Expand her horizon and spread her wings. All those cool things Cosmo magazine said girls needed to do after a painful break-up.

Whatever.

Even that's a lie, and lying to yourself simply is not possible. After the First was destroyed she had every hope in the world of her and Xander sitting down and hashing out their differences. Both had related to the other that their relationship was better than any they had before, or could have dreamed of having. Just after the new year, intimate in the dark late night whispers, jokes, and teases were even leaning toward the deepest commitment of all. Then, as her love life always seemed to go, everything came crashing down around her. She had to start all over again, except this time, she didn't have it in her to look far. Her loneliness felt crushing this time around.

She continued dating Angel because he wanted to be there. He made it known clearly that she was his priority, and that however she wanted things to be, that's the way they were going to be. He gave her the keys to the boat, sat back, and told her to drive. What was she supposed to do? Who was she supposed to turn to when her very best friends were gone. Angel's handsome and kind, and the nights are cold and lonely. He never pushed for sex, and probably wondered why she wasn't chomping at the bit, especially with his curse gone. He lived in the past, with their intense desires of yesteryear. He refused to see the woman in front of him for who she was today because he needed the version of her from years ago. The one that needed him the way she needed air.

That girl is long gone..

So was Xander.

Probably dancing the rest of the night away again, holding Willow, mimicking on the dance floor what he'll do to her later in bed. Once under the moonlight he confessed that he had been nervous their first time because he knew she's been with Angel and Spike. Vampires with incredible stamina, durability, and erotic experience. He might have been a Viking in the sack, but still a mortal one. Buffy didn’t think telling him the truth, that he turned her body inside out and twisted, would do. She wasn't sure he would believe it if she told him he was her best lover ever because when it came to her, he still had insecurities. But for the rest of that precious night she made the sweetest love to him, over and over and over, even whispering her love verbally through tears of exquisite pleasure...

'No!' she mentally smacked herself, fists clenched under her purse and out of Angel's view. Taking a deep breath, she vowed to stop thinking about Xander and Willow at all costs. Problem was, how could she? Willow couldn't possibly appreciate the little things Xander did for her after work, like bringing her dinner and sharpening her stakes while she ate, all after working a full shift himself. Tara more than likely did those loving little things for her. Oz was young, but a really nice guy. No one treated Buffy that way. She didn't need a man to take care of her, and certainly wasn't used to one trying. Not in the little ways that had zero to do with the Slayer, and everything to do with the woman. Angel couldn't for obvious reasons in the past. Riley was often to busy, and when he wasn't she just let it go for so many reasons. Spike tried to take care of her the best he knew how. His best wasn't the way she wanted, nor did she return anything resembling something good for him. She used him the way he used her, so they were even at the end.

But Xander...

Her throat constricted, muscles tensed, forcing back the moisture threatening to fall from her eyes. Night time's the worst time of day when you're not with the one you love. Memories come running after you when the sun falls. Xander used to sing the most stupid songs while washing dishes. And no matter how many times she told him he sounded terrible, he'd always mess with her until she joined in for at least one tune. Is Willow singing with him now? Does Willow cuddle next to him on 'Horror Movie Sunday Night' when they veg out on his couch and watch DVD's? Does he whisper in her ear when he's inside her that she's his whole world?

Even while dating Angel, Buffy felt like she had no one at all. That's so unfair to both of them.

So here she is, resigned to an evening of her choosing. She could end the night wallowing in self pity and jealousy in her big empty bed, or she could go home with the handsome sexy man next to her and relieve some pent up tension. Ego aside, he's dying for the latter, his eyes having seduced her all night. Or at least tried. He's her friend more than anything else these days, no matter that they slept together once since his return. Reluctantly, Buffy admitted to herself she's tried to turn them into something they can never be. Something she had and lost and regrets every single day. "There's a Three's Company Marathon on Nick at Night that starts in thirty minutes."

"Three's Company..." Angel pondered as he drove, repeating the name a time or two in his mind. "I never watched it, sorry. I don't watch much TV. It's a comedy, right? The name sounds kind of familiar."

"Yep," Buffy chirped next to him. "One of the zaniest comedies of all time. Every Saturday night they show it for four hours in a row. It's based in the seventies, and since you lived through them, you might recognize a few things."

"Way to remind a guy of his age?" he smiled, matching her own... that barely fluttered her lips. At least she's talking again. "We can watch it if you want." Her non-committed shrug left him somewhat cold. Almost as cold as the wave of emotion he felt when she returned to their table after having obviously cried. She told him that she ran into Willow, it was unpleasant, and she's ready to leave. He didn't push. He should have pushed. But if he did he feared he might learn what made her cry. And he did fear that.

Donuts of wondrous frosted and chocolaty varieties, along with ice cold milk made up the 'Saturday Night Three's Company Fest' Buffy and Xander used to take part in. A weekly ritual meant to stimulate the taste buds and tickle the funny bone. Buffy remembers laughing so hard at barely two episodes while snacking on the donuts, then making love on top of the covers just because. They were carefree, so close it felt like two souls sharing the same body. These days Buffy felt like her laughter was gone. Who's laughing in Xander's arms now? Who's being teased for leaving crumbs all over the blankets? Who's wrestling with him over the remote? Who's kissing him and making him smile? Who's exhausting him with her body? Who could ever have loved doing those things more than she did? No one, but it didn't matter. Willow's there now...

Somehow, someway, Buffy knows she has to let go. She just doesn't want too.

His patience nearing it's end, Angel couldn't hold his silence on this particular topic any longer. Her mood went from sour back in the club to withdrawn, as she acted now. "Are you going to tell me about your talk with Willow?"

'No,' came to mind first. He deserved better, so Buffy gave him that. "There's not a lot to tell. We ran into each other, exchanged words, it sucked, and I left. End of story."

"You were crying."

Just this side of fragile... "I cry sometimes."

"Why?" When she didn't answer his own inner voice answered for her, speaking of things he did not want to hear, yet could no longer ignore. "She's one of your oldest friends. I know it isn't easy seeing her with Xander. It was never easy for me to see you with him."

Her heart did understand that. What more was there to say?

"I had a run in with Xander." That grabbed her attention immediately. The somber expression she wore on her face flipped a switch in his head. She's tense beside him. Curious as she is weary. "To be honest with you, I approached him."

"Why?" came in a terse tone of voice.

Angel summoned his resolve. "I wanted him to know how I felt about you, and if he wanted you back." She's not fooling him, even with her legendary poker face. A knot of pain throbbed in his gut at the hope of what he might reveal was Xander's reply. He prayed he was seeing things. "I'm willing to bet my talk with Xander mirrored yours with Willow."

"Explain to me why you felt he had to know how you felt about me."

"It was a gentlemanly thing to do."

Who was this man and where was the Angel she knew? "Our relationship is none of his business. Not him or anyone else’s."

She's good and angry with him. The fiercest emotion he's seen all night out of her, and again, it's over Xander. Has he been so blind? "We didn't talk long, Buffy. And what we did say wasn't good. In hindsight I wish I hadn't approached him. I'm sorry if I upset you."

Lips forming a tight crease, Buffy looked down and away. "Don't worry about it. Xander and I broke up and we're done. Everyone’s dealing with it in their own way. We're all going to run into each other from time to time, even with most of the vampires and demons gone. Sunnydale is still a small town."

"Do I make you happy?"

Blunt and to the point. Buffy refused to lie to him. "You make me feel safe and loved because I sincerely know you love me. You're a good friend and I trust you. I love you too."

His list of conquests included countless demons, vampires, wizards, and even a law firm from Hell. But even Angel could not muster up the courage to ask her if she was in love with him, or even capable of falling again if she wasn't. He feared asking because he felt he already knew the answer. "My place is ten minutes away."

"Keep driving."

 

 

******

 

******

 

The Summers Home

Sunday, May 18, 2003 1:30 AM

Sunnydale, Ca

 

 

With hands in his pockets, Xander considered for the tenth time since dropping Willow off at her dorm that not only was this a bad idea, but one that will only cause him even more pain in the very near future. Still, he had to know for sure. Questions needed answers, and since he's never lived his life by fear, he couldn't let that stop him now.

The second floorboard on the front porch squeaked, and even though all the lights are out, Xander carefully navigated it by stepping over it, choosing the path of the quiet as he did. Two seconds later he's standing at the front door. His hand rose into a fist to knock, then fell by his side.

He considered calling Dawn's personal phone in her room, but decided against waking her up in the middle of the night. A cranky Dawnster, he did not need. He'd rather face the Master again than that. He dare not call Buffy's for fear of who might answer, or what unthinkable activity he might be interrupting. Taking a quick glance to his right, her Jeep's parked in it's usual spot, and Angel's car was no where to be found. That didn't mean much since they could have taken her car to the club. Either way he's made up his mind. The course is set and he'll see it through to whatever conclusion fate deems.

He needs closure, one way or another, and so he is here.

Still possessing a key to the Summers house, he pushed it in the lock, turned it, waited for the click, then sneaky as he could let himself in. If Buffy woke up and found him, then they'd have it out tonight. If not, he resolved to be here when she either woke up or returned first thing in the morning.

God, he didn't want to see her walking through the front door first thing in the morning. The implications would only make what he hopes to accomplish even tougher than it already is. If she walked in smiling it just might kill him. It just might.

Darkness bathed in shadows all around him, as his eyes adjusted to the lack of light. He pulled his jacket off, hanging it by the door, then walked toward the living room. Suddenly, a voice shot out from the kitchen.

"You are so busted!"

The Slayer was still awake.

One calming breath later, Xander took the short journey necessary to enter the kitchen. He found her with her back to him at the counter near the refrigerator. She's divinely sexy in her casual sleeping attire. Her old pink pajama pants and a white tank top. Without her house shoes, she's knee high to a grasshopper. Utterly gorgeous by the moonlight shining through a cracked window, illuminating her luscious blonde hair. The sheer ache he felt for her seemed without end. It's been so long since he held her last.

"You thought you could sneak in here after curfew and put one over on your sister, but oh no, I have extra sensory Slayer perception. I know the ways of teenage badness. I can smell it, and it reeks of badness. I could sense the badness, having done plenty of it in my own teen years. You have a curfew and you are going to abide by it, do you hear..." Buffy spun around with a spoon in her hand, aiming it at who she thought was her late arriving sister. Sound vacated her mouth the second she saw Xander standing in the kitchen entryway, his brown eyes focused solely on hers. She's instantly breathless.

"It's a good thing I'm not Dawn, or I'd be in major trouble." His try at sounding like his typical self fell on

deaf ears. Her captivating beauty stole his ability to think. He's suddenly off guard, feeling exposed before her. On the counter sat the Slayers greatest weakness. Her favorite ice cream, Ben and Jerry's Chunky Butter Pecan. She's snacking in the dark, barefoot and alone... unless Angel was upstairs in her bed waiting for her. "I'm sorry if I surprised you."

"You can't surprise me. I'm the Slayer."

"Oh, I surprised you. I know I did. You thought I was Dawn. I used a key, but I am not the Key."

"I had you pegged the second you hit my porch. I heard the door open."

"I opened it like a girl. All soft like. Hence, the surprise." He smiled just enough. She fought hers... a little. It was as close to an intimate moment that they've shared in over six weeks.

So many questions swirled around her mind as to his late night visit. None seemed to matter as deep down, she's so glad to see him, even if she has no idea why he's here. It was easy to forget the last couple of weeks and enjoy that cute smile of his, and how handsome he looked in that body hugging black shirt. How his jeans hung low on his hips just right. He arouses a treasure of deeply personal emotions within her. Love and hate equally sat at the same table.

The painfully lovely vision of Buffy standing there hurts ever bit as much as it heals. On one hand, nothing would please him more than to scoop her up in his arms and kiss away the last couple of weeks entirely. Forget everyone and everything because he'd have his peace of mind again. Have his hearts desire. But things weren't that easy in real life. In your head, you could think anything about anything. Make up your own happy endings on a whim. Forgive the impossible to forgive. In real life, you had to deal with issues before moving on. Tonight, one way or another, he wants to move on. "Am I interrupting you?"

Small head shake as she held up her spoon. "Just munching away. Had a late night craving, so..." She nodded toward the bucket, shuffling her feet, not on top of her game as usual. He has her off balance by his

mere presence. "Is everything okay? Are you alright?"

Where to begin? Words often failed him, but she's worth risking it all for. "I'm... I'm fine. I'm good. I just wanted to talk to you." He scratched his head, glanced over his shoulder, then back at her, nervously. "If you're busy, or have company we can talk tomorrow or... or something."

"No... no," she equally stumbled over her words, tapping her spoon against her thigh. "I'm... I'm alone tonight. Angel isn't here. I hope Dawn is though," she worked to cover up the butterflies dog fighting in the pit of

her stomach. Alone together in the dark, and right now if he reached for her just once she's be gone. "What did you want to talk about?"

She's alone. At least Xander could exhale the breath he'd been holding. Courage gave him a step forward, swallowing hard on the tension. Buffy appeared as uneasy as he was. Kind of like a blind man trying to navigate a mine field. An emotional one at that. "I want to talk about us, if you don't mind."

"Us?" she quoted him on a sigh, her arms crossing protectively. Was this a confession of being in love with Willow? And if it was, would she ever recover from that? Positive thinking wasn't this girls strong suit when it came

to men. "There is no us."

"Then that's what we need to talk about."

She wished the shadows would reveal his eyes in greater detail. She could always read him that way. Loved him that much to know him that well. He's here for a reason. Whatever that was, she had to see it through. "Where do you want to start?"

They're barely six feet apart, yet the chasm felt like miles. He's in search of all the right words, with no clue how to find them. "Uhm, got any of that ice cream left?"

It never ceased to amaze Buffy how his sweet tooth not only matched, it surpassed her own. She can tell he wishes he said something else. Maybe sharing her ice cream will ease some of the overwhelming tension in the room. She grabbed a second spoon and took a chair at the table, motioning for him to join her. "Here you go."

Showtime. Xander pulled up a chair next to her, then grabbed the spoon from her hand. Catching sight her spoon, and then his own, he went looked and forth a few times before noting, "Your spoon is bigger than mine."

"Are we experiencing spoon envy?"

"Or a spoon conspiracy, perhaps. Yours is bigger, thus being able to eat larger portions. I think I was set up."

He's actually trying to use the puppy dog eyes to get him a bigger spoon. The nerve of this man, Buffy thought to herself. Kiss him. It's the only thing on her mind. She wants to do it so bad her toes are tapping on the floor beneath the table. Sadly enough, she can't because she gave that carefree privilege up. "You came to talk, so talk." Ouch, she winced inwardly. That came out a bit harsher than she intended.

Xander centered himself, sitting up straight. Deciding that you had to do something felt good until you actually had to do it. "Things are pretty bad between us right now. It's like we're not even friends."

How could they be friends again after being together the way they were? After experiencing something so pure and wonderful, and then letting it slip through their fingers. "Break-ups aren't easy to get past."

"Some friendships can survive them."

"Most don't."

Is that the way she wanted things to be? Xander simply could not believe that. "Why did we break up?"

"Isn't it obvious."

"I thought so at first, but now... look, things were going crazy around that time and..."

So she wasn't the only one who felt outside influences played a huge role in their breakup. His doubts matched her own. Precarious waters ahead. "I remember you didn't like the way I was handling the S.I.T's or why I felt keeping Spike here was the safest move I could make." Xander acknowledged his understanding with a nod. "I didn't feel you trusted my decisions making abilities, and I felt you had other reasons, like jealousy in a way, for arguing with me on every little thing. We argued because we were both worried about each other, stressed out over the First, working full time jobs, researching how to destroy the First, as well as feeding and training seventeen teenage girls."

"I felt like you were listening more to people have haven’t been by your side since day one than us, your closest friends."

"I felt like you did not understand that with the First, we were dealing with the full on prospect of the Hellmouth opening. I didn't have a guide book on what to do, but I knew Spike was being used by the First for some reason. I had to find out that reason, and that meant keeping him near by."

"I felt you were way out of line with how you handled Wood and Spike. I might not agree with the premeditated murder plot Giles cooked up, but if someone dug up your mothers body and started walking around in her dress, and you had to see it, you'd want to kill that person too. Every day Spike wears that trench coat, Robin thinks of his mothers death. Your anger toward him and Giles was misplaced."

"I felt that maybe since things were happening so fast, so violently, that you might cut me a little slack and support me rather than fight with me every single day on every single thing."

"Then low and behold, Angel rode back to town on his heroic chariot to save the day," Xander bitterly reminded her. "I think on some level, because he had the amulet with him..."

"You felt left out," she finished for him, having considered this at the time. If they didn't have anything in common at all, they had their multitude of insecurities.

"This isn't easy for me to admit, alright. But for once I wanted to stand tall at your side. And again, I couldn't. That place seems to be reserved for vampires. One on each side."

It's always the vampires that stand between them, not at her side. He couldn't see that because he wouldn’t allow himself too. Then again, there's a note of truth if she looks closely enough. "I'm not perfect."

"That's not a newsflash."

"But how often do you hear me admit it?"

"True."

"I make mistakes. I mess up. And there were times back then when I could have said and done things very differently. In hindsight, I should have handled the Giles and Wood situation better. Maybe I could have gone easier on the girls, or at least dropped the whole drill sergeant act. But you do need to understand this. At that time I was scared out of my mind, stressed out, and just trying to find a way for all of us to survive. I may have needed Spike and Angel's muscle on the battlefield, but I needed you at home. I needed you by my side. I needed your support and love. I always needed you. After while, I didn't feel like I had you in my corner anymore."

She felt alone, even then, and for that he is sorry. "And I suppose I failed you?"

"I think we failed each other, Xander. I think we share equal parts blame in not communicating then the way we are now at this table." The baby steps they're taking in the dark might just lead them to the light. How did the precious world they were building together turn into rubble at their feet? And further more, was she the only one who still wanted that world. "Do you miss me?"

It cost her to ask, and for him to answer. "Sometimes..." Buffy stared at him before nodding slowly, then looking away. "Sometimes meaning all the time," Xander confessed at last. They can't look at each other right now. They just can't. "Mostly at night, I guess." Leaning back in his chair, Xander rubbed at his eyes, tired, both physically and emotionally. "I could always find you in the middle of the night. I could curl around you and nothing else mattered in the world. Being with you gave me everything I truly valued in my life."

After listening to his heartfelt confession, Buffy was moved to tears. For him and herself. "I miss you in the afternoons the most." Having her fill of ice cream, she stuck her spoon in it, then pushed the carton toward him in case he wanted more. "I could always count on you coming to my house about an hour after you got off work. You'd go home, shower away the construction mans grease and grime, then drive over. And as soon as you saw me you wrapped your arms around me, gave me a kiss, whispered something funny in my ear, and asked me what I wanted for dinner." Her joys had become so simplistic once she found sincere happiness. "I miss the way you made me laugh all the time. You're so positive it's hard to be depressed around you. I've never dated someone I wanted to be around all the time. With you, I never wanted to be apart."

Hearing her say those things touched him deeply. "I made a ton of mistakes too, Buffy. I want to take my fair share of the blame. I'm still struggling with my own insecurities."

"So am I."

"I just... I guess I just don't know how you fell out of love with me."

"If I answer that, will you?"

Xander stared directly into her eyes, as serious as he's ever been. "That doesn't apply to me."

"Me either."

Silence. Deafening silence. Revelations of the heart took time to absorb. Especially when they meant so much to you, and you desperately wanted to believe them. Xander and Buffy just sat there, staring at the table.

"Why are you with Angel?"

"It's better than being alone."

"That's brutal."

"No, that's the truth. The answer is just brutal," Buffy declared. "Why are you with Willow?"

"We're just close."

"How close?"

"You lost the right to ask about my love life when you no longer wanted to be a part of it."

That stung, but didn't deter her. "Are you in love with Willow?"

The fact that she's trying so hard to give him her best 'I don't care what your answer is' face, spoke to his soul from hers that his answer did indeed matter. It meant the world. "I love Willow, but no, I'm not in love with her. We're not even a official couple, as the old folks might say."

That didn't make any sense to Buffy. Could he be lying to her? No. Never. "She's your girlfriend. Your lover," spat out at the end hatefully enough.

"She's my best friend, who I've kissed and had a few dates with. I only slept with her that one night."

Once... Buffy's cried herself to sleep over only one time. Her thoughts about them in recent weeks included a fully committed relationship, complete with the 'I'm in love with you's' and nights of passionate love making. Her conversation with Willow tonight suddenly rang in her head. Things she looked like she wanted to say, but the Slayer refused to listen. And now the truth is revealed. "I didn't know."