Title: After the Rain

Author: Brooke

Email: yabbadabbadome13@yahoo.com

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: I don't own anything. I wished I owned the two Xanders' from "The Replacement" though. Buffy and friends are owned by Joss, Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox, The UPN and whoever else has rights to the show.

Summary: Fluff. That's about it.

Distribution: I don't know why anybody would want this, but if somebody does…sure.

Feedback: Definitely!! Tell me if it sucked or if you liked it. Whatever. Just write back!

A/N: Beginning of Season 7, so just assumed that everything up to that has happened.

This is dedicated to Lexxie because she said that she wanted a fluffy story a while ago. Here ya go, chica J

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The music was pretty good, Buffy thought absently and swirled her drink around in the red plastic cup. She was sitting alone in one of the huge coffee house style chairs in the corner of the Bronze switching her focus from her cup to the stage. She hadn't come to dance or party…she just needed to get out of the house. Dawn had left for her friend's house, Willow wasn't back from her recovery things with Giles, Xander was still at work, and her house was entirely too big and quiet for her to be comfortable with.

She knew it was time to do something when she had actually asked herself what Spike might be doing, and considered finding out if he wanted to come watch a movie with her or something. The fact that she had considered that option sent her upstairs to change and head out on her own because she was obviously going stir crazy.

Buffy had thought about just doing a patrol sweep of a few cemeteries, but on the way to Eternal Peace the skies had opened up and decided that Southern California was entirely too dry for Mother Natures tastes. She had quickly changed her destination to the night club as it had been the closest shelter to her at the time and she needed distraction anyway.

So now she sat. It was fairly relaxing…she didn't have to think about anything in particular; nobody would show up to ask her what was wrong or why she wasn't with any of her friends. In fact, it was a little unnerving that most of the people milling around the packed dance floor were students at Sunnydale High…where she worked. She wouldn't see anybody that she knew because they didn't frequent the 'It Spot' in Sunnydale anymore. Buffy briefly wondered when the time would come that she wouldn't even bother showing up either…if she should already have moved past the childhood haven of the once taboo and almost mystical offerings of the much smaller feeling transformed factory.

"Ah, cover bands. Gotta love those who try to imitate Blink."

Buffy smiled slightly and turned to glance over her shoulder when she recognized Xander's voice behind her. "Hey," her greeting was heavier than she had meant it to be so she tried to supplement it with a warm smile. She watched Xander's face fall into a slightly more serious expression and pulled a chair up across from her.

"Hey." He exhaled and wiped her palms down the rain speckled front of his jean legs. Xander watched her stare reflectively in the green liquid in her cup. "Remember a time when I would kneel in front of you and toss out inspiring words of wisdom?" His eyes crinkled in the corners when he offered her a smile.

"Why not do that now?" Buffy breathed out.

"My heart says 'why not', but my knees say, 'whadaya kidding?!'"

Buffy exhaled a slight chuckle. "Getting old Xan?"

"Nah," he waved a hand at her dismissively. "I'm like a fine wine. Better with age…"

"Riper?" Buffy questioned with a raised eyebrow. She pretended to take a deep breath and then frowned, "I'd say riper."

"Say what you will," Xander gave her a superior smirk. "I'm a workin man." The smile fell from his face again and he tilted his head to catch her eyes, which were darting to every tangible object except for him in front of her. "You need inspiring words?"

Buffy shrugged. "Can never hurt."

"True."

Buffy spoke while Xander seemed to be mining her silently and trying to figure out what was wrong so the he, in turn, could make it all better for her. "I just had to get out of the house. Think, and all."

"You left a quiet empty house for a teen packed night club to think?" he asked skeptically.

"You went by the house?" Buffy asked instead of answering his query.

Xander shrugged. "Thought maybe I could mooch a meal out of you."

Buffy didn't believe him. She knew if she had been there, Xander probably would have used her kitchen for his disposal, but she knew that he went to her place everyday after he was done work. They had never really discussed it, it was just something that he did and she had grown to expect. She sighed and took another sip of her drink. "Too quiet in there…"

"Dawn went to Kat's already?"

"Right after school," Buffy nodded. "I was about fifteen minutes away from going over to her house and getting her back."

"That would have gone over well," Xander laughed a little. "Why else?" he tilted her head towards her cup. "Sprite's fermented friend helping you process?"

Buffy looked away almost guiltily and shrugged. "I really just needed a change of pace."

"Alright," Xander nodded his head to the beats and glanced around the club. He suddenly snapped around to face her and found Buffy's eyes trained to the tables just over his shoulder. "Is this solo fun?"

Buffy chuckled at his apprehension. "Xan, I'd be honored if you'd Bronze it with me."

Xander relaxed and smiled brightly. "Well, I'd be an idiot to turn down a request from a beautiful lady," he wagged his eyebrows at her and earned a polite giggle. "So…" he leant back in his chair, "What were you thinking about?"

"A whole lotta nothing," Buffy said offhandedly after regarding him for a second.

"Oh yeah? How's that working out?"

"It kinda gives me a headache."

"Hmmm, maybe if you talked it out." Xander watched Buffy open her mouth to protest but spoke quickly to curb her. "I know you don't do the talking out feelings and all, but sometimes it…"

"Somebody always eats the strawberry out of the Neapolitan ice cream before I can even get a scoop." Buffy said and looked Xander in the eyes. She smiled at his confusion when his brow furrowed. "That's what I was thinking about."

"Ice cream?"

"Well…yeah…part of it." Buffy shrugged. "I said it was a whole lot of nothing."

"You weren't joking. Why don't you just buy strawberry so it'll last longer?"

"I like all of the flavors in one bowl." She pouted, "Why else would they put them all in the same box? You're supposed to mix them together and have three times the cream goodness."

Xander bit his lower lip and plucked the cup out of Buffy's hand. "You're cut off," he laughed a little.

The Slayer shook her head at her friend. She wasn't too upset about Xander taking the foul tasting drink from her except for the fact that now she had nothing to distract her. "And then I thought that it was probably you."

Xander's eyes went wide and he shook his head vigorously. "Nun uh…I…it was probably Dawn…"

Buffy quirked an eyebrow and filed the fact that he had just given himself away. "And then I started thinking about you."

He stopped his stammering and found himself being dissected under Buffy's gaze – the 'Slayer eyes', he had dubbed the look she was giving him. "Alright. I ate the strawberry! But that ice cream had been there forever and it was going to waste…"

"What would you do if I said that we should go home?" Buffy ignored his confused and wild-eyed look.

"I…I…"

"You would drive to my house." She stated. "Home."

Xander nodded dumbly.

"Why?"

"Huh?"

"Why is it that every morning you always come over and every night, after you've worked nine hours, you come back? I was thinking about that."

Xander dropped his gaze not quiet knowing what she was getting at. "We car pool…"

"Is that all?"

The music was entirely too loud, and he didn't know when it had changed. "Yeah Buff." He shrugged and looked away. "We're friends…and we're…gas prices have skyrocketed. Have you noticed that? 2.58 a g…gallon…that's insane and…"

"It's home." Buffy stated, quietly interrupting his ramble.

Xander's eyes darted away from her for a moment before finding the stage exceedingly interesting.

"Nothing to say?" Buffy broke into his quiet world with a quiet inquiry. Xander turned to look at her and she suddenly felt bad, the conviction that she was going to put into pressing the issue further melting away under the confused, almost lost, look in his eyes. But her mouth was moving despite her brains protest, "You always have a comeback, a quip…astute observation that you can toss out. Here's your chance. Vent. Tell me…" Buffy suddenly trailed off.

"Tell you what?" Xander's voice cracked. He peered at Buffy through the dim lights and she dropped her eyes to her lap. HE was as fixated with her fingers running over the denim lines of her jeans as she was, but he shook himself out of his reverie. "What is it that you want to hear, Buffy? You tell me that. You always have demands…expectations…You always know exactly what you want, so tell me how you want that question answered."

Buffy's voice was a just above a whisper, a meek imitation of the Slayer in her true form, and was even out shadowed by Xander's own tone. "Forget it."

He'd have thought that he stepped over a line. Xander didn't think that he had yelled at her exactly…but there was definite voice raising. Tones used that he didn't think mere mortals used with Slayers and lived to tell their tales. Xander didn't know why he was always the first to relent, but, none-the-less, he swallowed and softened his tone. "Sorry…I just…I'm sorry, alright Buffy."

Buffy raised her eyes and regarded the man in front of her again. Xander had leant forward, his brown eyes soft and holding a hint of shame. She smiled, not because he felt bad, but just because he cared so much. She had never been one to disregard her own anger for the sake of others, but Xander here, he would fester in misery before he'd ever see her in pain. Not just her, Buffy reminded himself, anybody. He had, countless times, put aside his own feelings for her own, or Giles, Willow, Cordelia…hell, even Angel. Who knew what Xander really thought half the time. She managed a small smile and raised an eyebrow, "I'd ask why, but questions seem to make you Mr. Hyde, so I'll let it drop."

Xander let out a small chuckle this time. He was silently glad that Buffy was able to sense that the comfort level had plummeted and resorted to tried and true humor to cover it up. "Mr. Hyde?" he sounded skeptical. "On a Slayer? Believe me Buff, when UPS delivers my death wish, you'll be the first to know." He shifted nervously in his seat and took a sip of the drink that he had taken from Buffy earlier. "Until then it's all hearts and flowers for this construction guy."

"Lil' feminine, don't you think, Construction Guy?"

He narrowed his eyes at her and stuck out his bottom lip. "Maybe, but I'm the envy of all the other guys cuz of it. I've got four hot girlfriends to come watch me at the site." Xander loved how Buffy's eyes went slightly wide as he finished his statement and he could see her mind working up a response while he relaxed, with a smile, in his seat. He could hear the rain pick up outside. The sound of it pelting the sheet metal roof drowning out the music at times.

"I was not watching you." She protested finally, and hoped that Xander couldn't recognize any lack of conviction. "I brought you lunch cuz you left it in the car and it made it smell like sandwiches. I hate that smell."

Xander just nodded. "You stood off to the side for fifteen minutes while I was measuring out those ramps, and you thought I didn't see you. It's Ok though, Buff. I know its hot to see a manly man all hot and sweaty." This time Buffy blushed and Xander smirked wider. "But thanks for taking the time to try to justify yourself."

Her lower lip poked out more and she turned away from Xander in a huff, only to revert back to her previous position a second later. "Four?"

"Huh?" Xander's brow furrowed. "I had better put this down," he set down the red cup he was still holding. "I think you catching a vicarious buzz."

Buffy kicked him in the shin just hard enough to get a wince from him. "You said four hot girlfriends. "From my count, there're three."

"Oh…" Xander's smirk was unbridled and he motioned Buffy to lean closer to him. Buffy did so suspiciously and he scooted closer to hear his, apparent, secret. "Dawn's what now? Seventeen?" He heard Buffy gasp and fell back into his chair, moving with the punch that came aimed to his shoulder. Xander opened his eyes to see a red cheeked Buffy trying not to laugh with him.

"Pig."

"I just wanted to see your face. Priceless."  Xander sat upright again and then creased his brow in mock deep thought. "I wonder what else I could say to get you to turn that shade of red? Hmmm…"

"Don't test it Xander." Buffy warned. "The blood flows to my face and my fists first."

Xander nodded. "Got it. Don't be attracted to Slayers little sister. Check."

"Good boy." Buffy smiled and patted his knee gently. She swallowed when his smile dies at the contact and his eyes dropped to her hand, which she withdrew sheepishly.

Xander exhaled a deep breath and slapped his palms down on his knees. "So…" he licked his lower lip and pushed himself up. "I think I should be heading home…My home…apartment…"

Buffy shook her head and giggled at his stuttering. "Ok."

"You…"Xander looked down at her as Buffy seemed to have refocused on the band again. He turned his eyes away for a moment and surveyed the teenagers packing the club – remembering when he was one of them. "You wanna stay here?"

Buffy glanced up at him. "I can stay here," she told him confidently.

Xander nodded. "For sure," he looked around again. "You're not at all a sore thumb."

"Hey," Buffy protested. "It's a club. Clubs are for young people, one of which I am…"

"Miss Summers?" a boys voice called from Xander's right and Buffy turned to face it. She smiled brightly at the, if Xander were to judge, fourteen year old.

"Yeah?" Buffy's eyes were wide and her voice a high pitched squeak.

The boy smiled. "Hey. We thought it was you, but then Sydney said that there was no way you were at the Bronze." Xander watched Buffy try to smile with an audible gulp. "I was right though," the boy continued. "Well…she owes me a five spot now," he beamed. "I'll see you on Monday."

Xander watched Buffy watch the boy walk back to his table and rocked on the balls of his feet. "Well, I wouldn't want to have an old lady walking around in the rain. Probably bad for the arthritis. Whatdoya say us old fogies get outta here and go get us some pitted prunes?"

Buffy simply grabbed her bad, a slightly dazed look in her eyes, as she pushed herself out of the chair. "We should get fiber too." She commented as she headed towards the exit ahead of Xander. She turned and spoke to him over her shoulder, "Old people need more fiber right?"

"I wouldn't be regular without it." Xander clenched his lips together in hoped of not smiling, and nodded.

Buffy frowned and let Xander push the door open for her, "That's another thing that you never tell me about." They stepped outside and the rain began to pour down on them immediately. "Jesus!" Buffy exclaimed while Xander lifted his coat tail and tried to duck under it for shelter.

"Car's this way." He said hurriedly and placed his hand on the small of Buffy's back, guiding her in a run out of the side alley and to the main street. Xander pointed ahead of himself and hit the unlock button on his key ring as Buffy ran ahead of him a few steps. By the time he slammed his door Buffy was shaking her hair out and running her fingers through it. She seemed unaware that such a simple series of movements had all but halted his breath in his throat. Xander sat his mouth slightly agape, watching her in slow-motion in his mind. Time seemed to disappear and he could count the water droplets that were flung from her blond hair at each turn of her head, eyes closed, lips parted slightly.

"Xan? Xander?"

"Isstt? Yeah?" Xander snapped back into reality from wherever he had been. Maybe Buffy was right. Maybe there was more to his actions then he knew. She had been the one who had taken all those psychology courses – well, one course – but more than he had ever been interested in learning about. Maybe he always went to Buffy's for more than the superficial reasons that he gave himself. It was home for him…and sometimes…sometimes he just needed to see her.

Buffy shifted in her seat. She had seen him staring at her tons. Ever since she was sixteen. The frequency dropped and picked up accordingly, now being one of the up sweeps that had her questioning him earlier. However, it was one of those things that Buffy had learned to live with. Like being the Slayer,  only less life threatening and painful. Warm and happy…fluttery, even, in the pit of her stomach… Buffy swallowed that feeling and simply shook her head.

Xander offered her a smile that he hoped didn't seen too forced. "Albert Hammond was wrong," he let out a breathy chuckle and started his car.

"Who?" Buffy asked, genuinely confused as she tried to focus on the downpour outside.

Xander tilted his head to her. "You know," he said in a disbelieving friendly tone. "It never rains in Southern California." He sang the last part so that Buffy would catch the tune.

"Oh."

Xander sighed, but Buffy seemed content to not even look at him. He didn't know what he'd done wrong, if anything, but he just let it drop. "Oh."

They sat in silence for long moments…or it seemed long to them. Buffy only lived about ten minutes from the Bronze walking, so the drive was nothing. And she just knew that they were headed to her place. All Buffy wanted was for him to admit why. She had never been one to font her feelings openly, and she knew that it would go so much smoother if he would just give into what she knew he wanted. Finally, Buffy had realized after so many years, she was in the same place that he was. She wanted Xander at her house in the morning, and before she went to bed. She wanted him in between those times too, she had begrudgingly admitted to herself. And if he was so keen on saving gas money, if he would just give in it would save that much more.

To Buffy, it was beyond logical. Even more than that, more than the rationality of what she in the darkest corners of her mind had recognized that she wanted…it was her heart. Her heart wanted this man who had spent the better part of seven years protecting her heart, body, and soul and asked for nothing in return. This man whom she had always been good enough for. Not the Slayer, not pre-destined, but just Buffy. He loved her, and dammit, she just needed him to tell her so they could lock up this deal.

But why should he? Buffy pondered, not able to see very far through the flooding water. He had told her once and she had said no. She told him to his face that she loved Angel; had broken his heart over and over again and thought little, if nothing of it. Why should Xander put himself out there for her again. Even if now she wanted him to, and was confident that she could be everything that he wanted her to be…everything he already saw her as; she had ignored his courage of heart too long. Maybe too long to have any type of chance of having him be the one to make her happy. Any chance of proving to Xander that he was her hero too.

He watched her out of the corner of his eye. Buffy had been in reflective mode in the Bronze when he had found her, and aside from a few chuckles and reminiscents she had fallen back into the land of the mute. "Ya know," Xander swallowed and glanced quickly to her, seeing that he had pulled her attention back inside the car.   He was driving slower because of the rain, and slick roads were no joke in the outskirts of LA, so he knew this uncharacteristically long drive would need some vocal distracters. "We should drive to the sun."

"Huh?" Buffy face a mask of confusion while she looked at him. All her thinking about him telling her that he wanted to be with her, so that she could return the sentiment hadn't left her prepared for left-field statements like that.

Xander laughed again, trying mostly to comfort himself in the mist of Buffy's wired behavior and silence. "My grandfather," he started, "when I was a kid, and it would rain. He'd always say: Alex, let's drive to the sun." He gulped and cast her another look, "It was fun."

"Common sense is winning out, here," Buffy decided to humor him. "But what exactly does that entail."

"Just driving," Xander shrugged. He pulled onto Revello Drive and was almost happy that it was almost over. Xander made a mental note to himself to just sleep in tomorrow – screw forcing down Dawn's peanut butter and jelly breakfast quesadilla with a smile. He'd relegate his visiting the Summers place to Apocalypse…apocaltpsi…whatever. At least until he figured out the plural of the word. "The rain just reminded me of it," he told her, keeping his eyes ahead.

Buffy watched him smile and felt herself grin. Xander's childhood had never really been a topic of discussion with them. Buffy had always just figured that that was a part of his life that only Willow would ever be privy too, and it was kinda nice to see him smile over it with her. "You just drive until you get where?"

"Well," Xander said unsurely as he pulled into Buffy's driveway and turned off the car. She sat and waited for his answer, looking him dead in the eyes and making no move for the door handle. Xander was lost again. He hadn't expected her to run from the car, but prolonged interest in an irrelevant story was not Buffy form, where he had been involved. Or maybe it had, recently; but not often enough for him to be used to it. For him to have adjusted to being her sole focus, just as he sat now. Xander  turned to face her, his grin widening at Buffy's patiently intrigued expression. "To the sun. Pick a direction, get in the car, and drive until its sunny again."

Buffy smiled at him and narrowed her eyes. "Just go? That sounds nice."

"Well, we'll do it one day." Xander dropped his gaze at Buffy's small voice. He had forgotten that having the option to just go wasn't in the cards for her.

"It's raining now," Buffy looked him in the eyes again.

Xander couldn't read her. Buffy's voice sounded oddly hopeful and filled with a childlike innocence, while her face remained neutral.

"Let's find the sun now," she made the request at Xander's silence.

"Grandpa Harris also made it a point to not start the quest when there's seven hours till daylight, too," he smiled back and saw her eyes drop back to her lap. "Torrential downpour, not the best time to go careening down the 405 in the dark." Buffy nodded, but didn't speak, leaving Xander to feel bad yet again. "But…uh…you know, it rains more than once a year…"

"So Hubert Humphrey was really wrong, then, huh?"

The question threw him, but she looked so adorable peering at him. All wet, with her make up beginning to smear, and with a slight innocent pout. Still, it was his turn to say, "Huh?"

"The guy who sung that song…Hubert, Albert…it never rains in Southern California…" she sang the last part just as he had.

Xander smiled and nodded. "Well, it'll probably be like this tomorrow. Once daylight breaks, we can see how far we have to go to see the sun."

"Which way are we going to drive?"

"Umm…you pick." Xander shrugged. "Lady's choice."

Buffy smiled and nodded. The windows were beginning to fog up from the wet heat in the car, but she made no move to the door handle. "Do you…" Buffy hesitated and focused on a point just beyond his shoulder. She didn't know why, exactly. She had invited Xander in hundreds of times, even after she settled that she wanted more than a friend from him. "Do you want to come in or something?"

"I should get going…it's late." Xander spoke quickly and tried to not return the nervousness with which she posed her question. To tell the truth he had never been nervous about such offers until Buffy began to not be able to look him in the eye when she proposed them.

She nodded again and now reached for her door handle, fully aware that Xander's eyes were on her. Buffy hesitated and turned to face him again. Her eyes locked with his as if by accident and Xander turned his to the LCD clock on the dashboard. "It's raining pretty hard still."

"Oh," Xander cut her off. "You want the coat?" He started shrugging off his jacket for her. "I don't know how much good it'll do your hair, but every little bit helps, right?" When he looked up again to hand the garment to her, the Slayer was out and glaring at him. "Not that your hair is bad," he backpedaled with wide eyes. "It's good. Perfect. Very…umm…Maxim." His hopeful smile received an increased glare. "I like Maxim."

Buffy laughed and bit her lower lip. "Thanks…I guess. Very Xander compliment." This time he made a face at her. "I like Xander." That was as direct as she had gotten with him, and the fact that she could feel the warm smile, that she had put on with the intentions of softening the meaning that could be derived from that statement, take on a more sly and predatory nature, pretty much announced that she didn't make a slip of the tongue.

"Well, Xander likes you too." He wiggled his eye brows at her. "Almost as much as Xander like Maxim." He could relax as long as he kept things light. Xander, for the life of him, would never be able to figure out what got into Buffy some times. Sometimes she seemed to be gunning for more then friends, which was fine with him, he guessed. He hadn't really given much practical thought to that concept, but had broken it down to: Buffy…good, girlfriend…good; so put your hands together. But other times, she just didn't seem half as interested. And he couldn't read how to proceed simply because they were neck and neck in their frequency, and he didn't want to guess wrong and have his heart stomped on again.

"The roads are slick, Xan." Buffy refocused. "You can come in…wait it out."

"This from the girl who just minutes ago wanted to drive in the dark until morning?"

"Xan…" Buffy's warned, but her voice remained soft.

"This wouldn't have anything to do with you having to spend the night alone." Xander pressed with a sustained grin. "I'm not going to play second fiddle to Dawn. Giles, maybe. Willow, alright. But I draw the line at the Dawn-miester…too much pressure there."

"No Xander. No second fiddle to anybody." Buffy stopped and met his eyes. She wondered if he would take that in all its possible connotations. "I just don't want to worry about you while you drive home," she felt the tension – the one that made her stomach knot up in anticipation whenever they were alone now. "Plus, this way I'll make sure that you'll keep your promise." Buffy opened the door and hopped out into the rain. She turned and looked at Xander who was sitting motionless in his seat still and tossed him a wet smile, "First thing in the morning we gotta find the sun, Xan. So move your ass."

Xander watched while Buffy ran to her porch and jumped up the three front steps without breaking her stride. She shook the water from her hair again and unlocked the front door, not even casting him a backwards look before entering her house and turning on the lights inside. Xander smiled softly and shook his head while he made up his mind. That's what she was waiting for. He could very well, just start the car and drive away…or he could just take his friend up on her offer. Xander decided, for his better health, he had better choose the ladder.

Buffy heard her front door shut a moment later and turned to see a soaking Xander Harris standing in her kitchen doorway. She turned and smiled brightly at him, "Smart, too."

"I knew an ass whomping was in my future if I backed out of your driveway," Xander nodded. "I thought I'd save us both the time and effort."

"A wise choice to stay Xander shaped." Buffy approached him with a cup in hand, which she gave to him on her way out of the room.

"You know," Xander turned and followed Buffy as she made her way upstairs. "Usually when people are done running through the rain they have a cup of something hot. Tea, cocoa, cider…"

"Well, in the Summers house at the end of the week we have water and about a cup and a half of juice, which is for Dawn's breakfast." Buffy tossed over her shoulder and flicked on her bedroom light.

"But Dawn's not here," Xander whined while Buffy disappeared into her bathroom, only to return with towels a few moments later. "Why can't the guest have something with flavor?"

"Listen Kato," Buffy smirked and tossed a towel over his head. "If you don't want the water, then I'll drink it."

"There's not even any ice in it." Xander snatched the towel from his face and rubbed it back over his hair.

"Fine," Buffy made a move to grab the cup. "Give it."

"No," Xander moved his hand away. "It's mine." He smiled while he escaped Buffy's half hearted grabs for him cup. "Nmmhmm…" he jumped away from her while trying to guzzle down the water. "Nope," he beamed from the other side of the wicker chair in the corner of her room. "All gone."

Buffy's pout and glare held something else in them that Xander didn't know how to respond to, so he stayed silent. "Dry off Xander," she said after a moment. Buffy turned her back to him and continued to towel dry her hair while she headed towards her dresser.

"Oops," she turned with a sweet smile to see Xander shifting uncomfortably in his wet clothes. "I only have girl clothes here. Looks like somebody's sleeping in their birthday suit."

Xander narrowed his eyes at her. "And you want me to drive with you tomorrow? You've got another thing coming lady. C'mon," he moved to Buffy's side at her dresser and pulled open a drawer. "You've got to have some man clothes in here," he poked through one drawer which was full of blouses. He shut it and moved lower, turning his back to Buffy's protests as she weakly pounded his back. "Riley slept here plenty of times…he didn't leave an…" He reached into the drawer he had opened without looking and snatched his hand back quickly. "Sorry…I…sorry…"

Buffy chuckled nervously and pushed the drawer shut. "You riffle through an underwear drawer like a pro. Been hanging out with Spike?" His eyes fixed to the floor. "Sorry," Buffy said instantly. "I didn't mean it like that…Not like Spike…"

"No…" Xander shook his head with a shrug. "It's…I shouldn't've…"

"You can try to fit into this," Buffy held out the pair of shorts that she had gotten for herself with a smile.

Xander glanced up and eyed the garment. "If I can, I think one of us'll want to fall on a stake." He smiled at her and Buffy shrugged. "I'm guess it'll be you, cuz I look pretty in silk."

"Hopefully, I fall on that stake after I see that, then." Buffy tossed back over her shoulder on the way into the bathroom. "Look in the chest for some of Riley's things," she told him before shutting the door.

Xander nodded even though she couldn't see it. "Hey, Buff?" he called out while digging through the wooden cedar chest that she had directed him too.

"Yeah?"

"Can I ask you a question?" he found a tank top folded on top of a pair of swim trunks in the bottom of the chest and pulled them out.

"You can ask me two." Buffy replied through the door.

"Is there…I mean…I think I've been picking up…things. You know?"

"Not exactly," Buffy flung open the bathroom door and Xander stumbled back, hitting the floor with a dull thud while he tried to get his other leg into the shorts. He glanced up to see Buffy blushing but not looking away, and he tried to smile through the aching throb in his back.

"Sorry," Buffy giggled a little. "I didn't know you…sorry."

"S'lright," Xander grimaced. "Um…can you turn around. I'm not fully troued here." He was thankful that the bed seemed to be blocking full frontal, but if he stood up, that may change more than he was ready for it to. If possible Buffy turned even redder and turned back into the bathroom. He pulled up the shorts and yanked his shirt on quickly. "Ok."

Buffy turned around in increments, glancing behind her to make sure he was dressed before turning to face him. "Picking up what?" she asked as she breezed into the room and to the side of the bed opposite him. She pulled back the covers on her side and looked at him when he didn't speak. "Pick up what?" she repeated, giving Xander her full attention.

Xander gulped and tore his gaze away from the bed. "Kinda wired to have a conversation like this over a bed," he ran his hand through his drying hair and hoped Buffy's renewed smile wasn't because now he had to add bad hair to his list of problems. "Especially in these shorts. These are grounds for breakup by themselves." He gestured to the floral print nylon bottoms he was wearing. Buffy just continued to look at him and Xander cursed the fact that they, thanks to his bringing it up, were even beyond the realm of his self-depreciating humor. He watched as she pulled her leg up and folded it under her as she sat on the side of the bed, fixing him with a questioning gaze.

"I dunno," Xander sighed and plopped down next to her, only facing the wall ahead of them. "I just feel different, I guess." He turned to look at her. "Maybe you're right. I don't just come here to car pool. I dunno."

She had been trying to focus on the sound of the rain in order to keep control of the blush that her accelerated heartbeat was bound to cause. But when he looked at her…told her exactly what she wanted to hear…She did always know what she wanted from him, he was right. And yet, she was still unsure of how to proceed exactly. "Then why?" she pressed while running her fingers over her comforter.

"I don't know," Xander sighed and stood up. "I just…" a crack of thunder distracted him from his thoughts, but he wasn't lucky enough to have it do the same to Buffy. She was all ears with rapt fascination. "Do you…are there…between us? I mean, I think, and I'm not completely sure here, but…lately…" Xander turned to face Buffy and found her eyes locked with her hand in its job tracing patterns. "There have been, huh? Between you…whoa…"

"Yeah," Buffy gulped. "I, uh…there have been things." She looked him in the eyes. Her own were watery despite her better attempts to keep it under control. "Is that wrong?"

"No," Xander shook his head immediately. "No. Of course not."

"Then why are you still standing over there?" Buffy asked quietly, eyeing his maintained position by the door.

"Small aneurysm at the news," Xander whispered. He took a deep breath and took a measured step closer. "The movement's helping me get feeling in the left side of my body again."

Buffy stood up finally and walked to where he stood at the foot of her bed with much less trepidation. "I can help." She stopped just short of him and raised her gaze to meet his lowered one. They were standing toe to toe and Buffy instinctively leant up against him, still not touching, but not leaving any room for that not to be the next course of action. "Better?" Her voice was barely a whisper.

"Yeah," Xander nodded in the same fashion. "This isn't, like, witchcraft or anything, right?" he asked hesitantly. Buffy's response was a mumble noise of negation. "Nothing to do with Angel?" Another negative noise. "Good." He took another deep breath and leant down a little further.

She followed his movement and suddenly clenched in fear. "Xander," she pulled away from the closeness marginally and thought she could just see his heart break again before her eyes. "I don't want us to not be friends." She slipped her hand up to his chest in hopes of reassuring him some.

"I've been your friend for seven years," his voice was quiet for no reason, and was drowned out slightly because of the blood pounding in his ears. "I haven't gone anywhere."

"This has never happened before."

"I kissed Willow," Xander didn't step back as Buffy made no move to retreat from his presence either. "She's still my best friend, and I had only been thinking about kissing her for those few weeks."

Buffy's smile returned and she grinned up at him again. "And me?" he fingers were tracing patterns on the thin cloth of the shirt now while she leant I closer again.

Xander's throat constricted again before he swallowed the lump. "Seven years," he answered truthfully. "Give or take."

Buffy let her eyes drift shut and suddenly she was encircled gently in his arms. "Is this alright?" he asked nervously.

She swallowed one more time and tried to find her voice. She didn't know if she's succeeded until she felt him act. "Do it," her lips brushed against his they were standing so close together. And then they were fully together, firm and soft and closed around her lower lip before taking her whole mouth. Buffy moaned a little and responded whole heartedly. She flicked her tongue out against Xander's lower lip and felt his mouth open slightly. He didn't give her a chance to take control of the kiss at his invitation, but instead, delved is own tongue into her mouth and pulled her tighter against his body.

Xander pulled back after several long moments with a deep breath, but kept his eyes closed. He ran his hand up Buffy's side slowly and felt her breathy laugh on his face, just before his fingers skimmed over her neck and up over her face to trace her hairline. At his extended quiet Buffy leant forward again and pressed another short kiss to his still open mouth. "I think I need a blanket," Xander said after another moment.

"Yeah." Buffy kissed him lightly again and leant into the palm of his hand. "I think so too."

He opened his eyes, only to find that Buffy hadn't yet, and he smiled at the blissful expression on her face. "The couch."

"The couch." She let her eyes flutter open and found him studying her. "Blanket." She let her body slide back down his until she was standing on her flat feet and bit her lip. Buffy rested her hand on his forearm for a moment before stepping back out of his arms. "Here," she reached behind her and grabbed a folded duvet off of the foot of her bed and handed it to him.

Once the blanket was in his arms Xander used their closeness to press another hard kiss to her lips and felt Buffy melt into him again. Her hands were on his chest again and she pushed herself, with effort, away from him. "Couch," she reiterated with another warm smile.

"Right." Xander nodded. "Crack of dawn we've got a road trip to take. Need to rest up." He received a nod in  response and then felt Buffy give him a gentle nudge to the door.

"G'night Xan." She followed his path to the door before leaning up for another quick kiss. "Oh God, okay…for real," she smiled. "Night."

"Night, Buff." He smiled again and stepped out into the hall. He didn't move as she slowly closed the door while not breaking eye contact with him. Xander sighed and turned slowly, heading for the stairs but stopped when the door flung open and the Slayer launched herself out of the room and back into his arms, forcing him to wrap them around her waist. Not that it wasn't one of the best things he'd even been forced to do.

"You move too slow," Buffy whispered around his mouth. She held his head in place and kissed him hard. "Okay," she pulled back suddenly and Xander followed slightly. "Going to bed…" she kissed him again. "…Now."

Xander repeated her action with a grin. "Now." He let her go and Buffy took a step back to her room. "Couch?"

"Couch."

"Kay." Xander jogged down the stairs quickly and Buffy hovered in the hall until she saw the lights in the living room click off.

The Slayer quietly ducked back into her room and shut the door, but was unable to fight the skip and giggle that burst through as soon as she was sure that she was alone. Buffy jumped up onto her bed and continued her dance before flopping back with a huge smile on her face. Xander smoochies…oh, so much better than she had thought. They were in a completely different category than any she'd ever had. She didn't even want to compare him to anybody. Xander was, and always had been in a completely different class than any other man in her life; and not just because he had never left her. He had left her. That's what made him stand out. Xander could live without her, she loved him because, no matter what, he didn't want to. She loved him.

Buffy ran that thought through her mind while she turned off her bedside lamp and crawled under her covers. She was well aware that she was still wearing her giddy school-girl smile as she pulled them up to her chin and shut her eyes. She let her thoughts carry her off to the most peaceful sleep she had allowed herself to have in the longest time.

She felt a slight pressure on the side of her head and she turned more into her pillow. Buffy drifted back from sleep and the first thing she had conscious recollection of was the smile that was still on her face. If she had cared, she'd have thought she looked stupid, but she didn't – she just tried to follow the movement of the warm hand combing gently through her hair.

Buffy scrunched her nose and squeezed her eyes shut before opening them slightly. "Xan?" She saw his smile as he didn't move from his position crouched by the side of her bed and her eyes adjust to the bright gray light in her room.

"Hey." Xander whispered. He was pretty sure they had matching idiotic expressions on at this point.

"Is it dawn?" Buffy rolled over and sat up, rubbing her eyes. "How long have you been in here? Is it still raining?"

"Yes. Ten minutes. And no." He answered all of her questions while keeping his eyes trained on her and pushing himself up to sit on the side of her bed.

Buffy stretched and yawned into her question, "What are you looking at?" Her playful tone, belayed her mock glare.

Xander shrugged and tilted his head. He regarded her for a moment and finally got what his grandfather had said to him on one of their last drives to the sun. It wasn't always about getting to it…escaping the rain and basking in bright unbridled hope. The best part didn't come when the journey was over. It was the time spent getting there. Driving aimlessly for hours was always more fun than when he finally found those rays poking out from behind some distant mountain. He loved when they had found it, but now, Xander knew that the journey had made it that much more worth while. Maybe that was true for life too…sure it was. He had always seen her, had driven aimlessly in search of it, and now he could bask…

Xander tucked some of her sleep haggled hair behind her ear. "I didn't even need the car."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The End