Accept No Substitutes
Summary: Buffy finally notices that Parker looks a lot like a certain friend of hers, and decides to have a long talk with Xander as a result.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.
Rating: PG, for themes.
Time Frame: After "The Initiative" (this is your spoiler warning, folks).
Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (email@example.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.
ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTES
This is definitely the superior Xander. Accept no substitutes.
-- Buffy, in "The Pack"
Buffy pondered the wording of her next sentence as she looked over at the forlorn figure of her best friend Willow. They were sitting in the study lounge on their floor of the dorm, but Willow clearly did not have studying on her mind. Buffy was still getting over the close calls that she had just had: Spike coming into their room and attempting to kill her, and those crazies in the commando outfits trying to grab her for God knows what reasons. * Damn it, she's hurting enough over Oz leaving, she doesn't need this! * Buffy wrote two more sentences, finishing the Psych paper that she would deliver to the typing service in the morning, then turned to Willow and asked, "Hey, Will, how about we take a study break and head over to the Bronze. . .we can hang out and lord it over all of those high school kids."
Willow managed a wan smile and replied, "That would be fun. . .but the Bronze has too many Oz memories for me, Buffy. . .I think I'm going to have to stay clear of it for a while. Maybe we could catch a late movie?"
Pleased that Willow was at least considering something that might be fun, Buffy began thinking about what was playing, only to be interrupted by the entrance of a young man who flopped into one of the chairs on the other side of the room and began looking over an upper division sociology textbook. She knew that face all too well: Parker.
Buffy had gotten to the point where she could be in his presence without being a nervous wreck: the whole "Cave Slayer" thing, while unpleasant, had helped her put the whole thing into perspective. Still, she did dislike him intensely, and she saw no reason to remain in a room where he was present, when she had a perfectly good dorm room where she could study. . .or use Willow's computer to check show times for that night. She was preparing to get up and call out for Willow to follow her when the door to the lounge opened again, and she smiled when she saw who had come in: Xander.
Buffy knew that the past few months had been difficult for Xander: being excluded from the college experience that the rest of his friends were participating in was clearly causing him unhappiness; yet, he still managed to be supportive at the times when she most needed it. His supportive words when she was at her lowest point since sending Angel to hell had inspired her to come through and beat that bitch Sunday and her gang of vamps, and when she was wallowing in self-hatred and calling herself a slut, Xander had tried to convince her otherwise. . .but the magic beer had interfered with his best intentions. He actually seemed to be getting something positive out of his whole relationship with Anya. . .who would have thought it? She watched as Xander looked around the room, but instead of spotting his two friends first, he spotted Parker, and his eyes narrowed.
Buffy watched his expression as he stared at Parker, and abruptly she realized what he was thinking. * He's wondering at how someone could choose to carelessly discard what he had wanted for so long. * She felt a quick pang of guilt, then checked herself: she didn't owe Xander an explanation of who she found attractive. . .who was he to judge her, given his track record for choosing romantic interests (excepting Willow, and even that was screwed up because they were sneaking around)? She continued watching as Parker looked up and noticed that Xander was glaring at him. She caught her breath and waited to see what would happen.
Parker was annoyed. He recognized the guy staring at him as being one of Buffy's friends. * For God's sake, I slept with her once, and now I have to take abuse from all of her hangers on for eternity? * His jaw still mildly ached from that nasty punch that Finn had clocked him with. . .he had decided to not use that particular metaphor again, it seemed to offend. He was damned if he was going to take abuse from some townie! He looked at the young man who was staring at him, and met his gaze with a look of utter contempt.
Xander saw the contempt in Parker's eyes, and he knew what was going through the older man's mind. * I don't have to answer to you, you pathetic loser. I'll be scraping guys like you off of my shoes for the rest of my life. * After a long moment, Xander looked away and departed from the lounge without saying a word.
Buffy divined the nature of the silent exchange between Xander and Parker, and her blood boiled with repressed rage. She turned towards Parker and delicately cleared her throat, then as he turned towards her, she transfixed him with a truly lethal glare.
Parker was startled to see that Buffy was in the lounge, and the glare she was directing his way was quite terrifying. Parker was an intelligent young man, and he decided to carefully evaluate his situation regarding one Buffy Summers. She had twice effortlessly rendered him unconscious, a casual nasty comment about her had caused him to be sucker punched by a TA, and now she was giving him a glare that implied that she was ready to disembowel him. A survival instinct that had as of yet remained dormant within the junior suddenly awakened: he must put as much distance between himself and Buffy Summers as would be humanly possible given that they went to the same school. Without uttering a sound, he gathered his books and slowly left the room.
Buffy had seen the fear in Parker's eyes when he departed, and she was pleased at the revenge she had obtained on Xander's behalf. She was reviewing the sequence of events in her mind with a smile on her face when a sudden realization shocked her into incoherence. At length, she collected her thoughts, reconsidered the conclusion she had just come to, and realized that she had seriously screwed up.
Willow saw the complex play of emotions on Buffy's face, but could not understand what had caused them. She walked over to her best friend and called out, "Hey, what's wrong, Buffy?"
Buffy paused for a long moment, then turned to her friend and spent thirty seconds explaining the realization she just had. Willow listened intently, then blew air through her lips and replied, 'Well, no kidding, Buffy. . .I noticed that right away."
Buffy was startled and glared and snapped back, "What, it was that obvious?. . .why didn't you say anything?" Willow looked at her for a long moment, then sighed and replied, "If he had been a nice guy, I didn't want you to freak out and mess up something good just because he looked a lot like Xander. . .and besides, Xander doesn't have a whole lot of sympathy coming in this area from me, if you know what I mean."
Buffy remembered Willow's long years of suffering from Xander's ignoring her obvious feelings for him, and nodded before replying, "Fine. . .you're off the hook. . .but what about me? I think I've really hurt him this time, and I don't know how to fix it."
Willow smiled gently and leaned over to squeeze her best friend's arm. "Just go talk to him, Buffy, that usually works. You two usually communicate pretty decently. . .at least when Angel isn't involved." She winced as she realized she had brought up a less than pleasant subject, but Buffy nodded absently without any negative reaction and left the lounge.
She saw him standing next to a drinking fountain, looking towards the rapidly receding backside of Parker. He heard Buffy approaching, and turned to her with a sardonic grin. "What did you do, Buffy, give him one of your patented Glares of Death? I know that I've had to get rid of more than a few sets of underwear after getting one of those."
Buffy tried to avoid laughing, and failed miserably: after a moment, she stopped and looked at Xander with a serious expression on her face as she commented, "Xander, I appreciate your desire to defend my honor at all costs. . .but you don't have to lock horns with Parker any more. I've dealt with it. . .he's a jerk, life goes on." She looked at him and smiled before commenting, "Besides, we both know that Parker was just a pale imitation. . .and I accept no substitutes."
Xander was startled by the comment, and he had to take a long moment before asking Buffy, "Aah. . .Buffy, would you care to clarify that last statement? Clearly, you were seriously attracted to Parker. . .who happens to look a lot like me, and you are not so attracted to me. So what is all this about, 'accept no substitutes?' You decided he was worth sleeping with. . .not me."
He expected Buffy to at least look defensive, but she looked at him with a look of utter calm and determination as she replied, "Xander, I don't pretend to understand how attraction works. You and Willow were practically joined at the hip for years, then only when it was inconvenient for both of you did your attraction go both ways. Giles and I are in close, constant contact in the course of my training, yet we have not had so much as a single stolen kiss. . .and I'm quite aware that Giles is considered a hottie by some in our age bracket, as unsettling as that is. Parker sold me a line. . .and I fell for it. I'm able to deal with the fact now that just because I was fooled doesn't make me a bad person. . .and just because I'm not inclined to fall into bed with you doesn't make me a fool, either. It just means that we aren't in a place where that is going to happen, Xander. I'd depend on you to defend my life without hesitation, and I know that you feel the same way about me. What's a fling with a jerk of a junior against that?"
Xander looked dazed by the sudden burst of words from Buffy, and she continued, "Xander, I owe you my life. . .and believe me, I believe in repaying my debts. But when it comes to love, I think we owe ourselves the chance to try to find that one someone who fits us the best. . .and I have a feeling that I'm not the one for you. . .or you wouldn't have stayed with Anya this long. You've been seriously involved with two women since I've known you, Xander: both are significantly better people for the experience, even though your relationship with Cordelia ended badly. " She paused for a long moment, then laughed out loud. After a moment, Xander asked with a frown, "What's the joke?" She met his puzzled gaze, and he could see the affection there as she replied, "I think I've got you figured out, Xander. . .it's all about coming to the rescue, isn't it? Ampata, Cordelia, Faith, Anya. . .they were all seriously screwed up in one way or another, and you just couldn't resist the lure of a woman with a problem. . .and vice versa."
Xander glared at her and snapped back, "Oh, that makes a lot of sense. . .and I suppose you, as the model of stability and sanity are totally unsuited to that psychological profile, right?" He felt guilty as soon as the words left his mouth, but he was surprised to see that Buffy's reaction was a grin. She shot back, "Yeah, I'm a mess, Xander, but most of my problems are tied up with my lousy love life. . .Slaying is relatively stress free compared to it. If I somehow managed to get a nice, stable relationship going, I'd be in pretty good shape. Cordelia, on the other hand, was almost impossible to be around before you started dating her. . .afterwards, well, she was still no bed of roses, but she was a lot better person than she had ever been before. Anya had been a revenge demon for a thousand years, for God's sake, and now you've got her to the point where she saved all of our asses on Halloween by getting Giles when we needed him. . .who would have guessed that? Even Faith. . .I was kicking myself for not telling you before about how she thought about guys. . .I thought that I had let you step into something nasty. But I bet you would have done what you did anyway, thinking that you could make Faith look at things differently. . .you know, Faith was asking me about you just before the whole Balthazar thing. . .I think whatever you two had together did affect her somehow. . .maybe it scared her and caused her to act as she did. . .I don't know, but you did have an impact on her."
Xander blinked: having one's inner psyche laid bare by one of your best friends is not the most pleasant thing in the world. After a moment, he shot back, "What about Willow? She's probably the most stable one of us, and I was attracted to her."
Buffy nodded, and replied, "Well, no kidding, Xander. She's Willow. . .beautiful, intelligent, and fun to be around. . .you'd have to be completely clueless not to notice it eventually. . .but when you guys got caught, your first instinct was to go back to Cordelia and beg her forgiveness." Xander started to interrupt, but Buffy smoothly continued, "Yes, you were feeling guilty over the whole thing, but after Cordelia told you it was over for certain, and Oz was making Willow wait for his decision, you could have pressed her to make it work with you. . .but you didn't. . .you two had the attraction, but neither one of you chose to try to make it work when you had the option to."
Xander nodded, acknowledging the truth in Buffy's words, but he was still unconvinced on the central issue: "That's all well and good, Buffy, but I am still attracted to you. How does that fit into your little psychoanalysis of me?"
Buffy smiled ruefully and replied, "Well, I like to think that I'm worthy of an occasional longing glance even from guys who don't devote their lives to watching my back." She gave a stage double blink to punctuate the comment, and Xander laughed and acknowledged the point as she continued, "But I think that if we ended up as a couple, you'd get bored with me after a while. . .and that would hurt a lot, Xander."
Xander opened his mouth to protest, then saw the downcast look on her face and asked gently, "Buffy, you talk a good game about my little quirks. . .but have you ever given a thought as to why you don't see me as boyfriend material?. . .it might help a little if you could let me in on what you are feeling on that subject."
Buffy sighed and replied, "Xander, don't you think I'd be thrilled if I woke up tomorrow morning and realized that I was madly in love with you? It would make my life so much easier. . .someone who I could trust completely, who would unhesitatingly lay down his life for me, as the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Maybe I'm afraid that it won't work, and that when we break up that you'll never want to see me again. . .that I'll lose you forever. Maybe I'm scared that if we get closer you'll take even more dangerous risks, and that I'll have to be at that funeral that we just missed having to have for Cordelia. . .for you. I just don't know, Xander. It could happen tomorrow, and if it does, I'll be happy about it. . .because you are precious to me, Xander, and this whole Parker thing has made it clear to me that, whatever the reasons are that I haven't fallen for you up to now, it isn't because you're not attractive to me. . .because you definitely are."
She squeezed his arm as he pointedly looked away from her as she said, "Xander, you've been my White Knight all along. . .but sometimes, the White Knight has a destiny that takes him from his Lady Fair. . .and I think that ending might be a happy one this time." She stopped and gently caressed his cheek. "I do love you, Xander, but that is still different than wanting to be with you. . .I hope that you can forgive me." She dropped her eyes, and Xander waited no more than a few seconds before replying, "Well, duh, Buffy, after all. . .you are my hero. . .not forgiving you would be rather counter-productive."
They embraced, and Buffy was relieved to note the gentle nature of the hug. . .it seemed that Xander would be content to leave things as they were for now. Arm in arm, they walked back into the lounge, where they immediately spotted Willow and Anya.
Anya looked at the two of them with narrowed eyes, then brightened as Xander moved over to her and affectionately slipped his arm around her waist while kissing her on the forehead. Xander met her gaze and smiled, causing her to giggle briefly and tighten her own grip around him. Buffy, sensing that things had calmed down to reasonable levels, called out, "All right, let's go back to our room and let's find a good movie to watch." She tossed the key to Xander and said, "Go on in. . .I need to ask Willow something."
Xander and Anya departed into Buffy and Willow's room, and Willow-who seemed to have perked up a bit-asked excitedly, "So what happened?"
Buffy gave Willow a wan smile and replied, "I think we've come to an understanding. . .but I just don't know, Willow. Love sucks sometimes, you know. . .and I have no idea how things are going to work out." She sighed and commented, "Oh well, that issue will still be around tomorrow. . .let's just concentrate on finding a decent movie to see."
Willow nodded and they departed the lounge, walking into their dorm room laughing and talking. Whatever issues the discussion had raised, they would have to wait for another day.
As always, comments are welcomed and desired