Description: Buffy finds out that Xander is spending the summer in Oxnard, and is seriously ticked off at him over it.

Disclaimer: None of the characters appearing in this story belong to me, they belong to their owners/creators. I just decided that Xander was in for some deep trouble at the hands of Buffy.

Rating: PG, for theme, language, and other miscellaneous events.

Time Frame: Mid-August, during the summer after GD2 (this is your spoiler warning, folks).

Author's Note: This is a follow-up to "Cease Fire," in which Xander and Angel resolved some long-standing issues, and "Force of Nature," in which Buffy encountered Scott Hope again and they resolved some of their own issues. During the conversation between Xander and Angel, Xander indicated that he had insufficient funds for his planned cross-country drive, and was planning to spend the summer in Oxnard to give him some distance from Buffy while she dealt with the aftermath of Angel's departure.


Xander yawned and rubbed his eyes: it had been a long evening, and he was looking forward to getting back to the room he was renting from the nice older couple a couple of blocks away. They were very reasonable about the rent, and aside from good-natured inquiries about why a nice boy like him didn't have a steady girl, they tended to not pry into his life. . .which was how he wanted it.

The shift ended, and Xander waved to the guy who would close up the place as he walked out of the back entrance along with Walter, the other dishwasher on Xander's shift. Xander was preparing to say goodnight to Walter and walk back to his room when he saw the glint of blonde hair in moonlight. He stood speechless as the figure walked forward into plain view: Buffy.

Walter noted Xander's reaction and turned to his co-worker and whispered, "She's hot. . .think I should go for it?"

Xander rolled his eyes: Buffy heard the comment and transfixed the hapless young man with her most devastating glare as she grated out, "Go away."

Primal fear raced down Walter's spine like lightning, and he found himself halfway across the parking lot before even realizing that he had decided to flee. He quickly got into his car and departed, vaguely hoping that the blonde vision wouldn't do to Xander what her glare had implied she was ready to do to him if he didn't get out of Dodge.

Left alone to face the approaching blonde menace, Xander decided to take the initiative in starting the conversation: "Ah. . .hey, Buffy. . .so, what's a nice girl like you doing standing in the parking lot and looking pissed off outside of a place like this?"

Buffy turned her glare on him with full force, and for a long moment Xander wished that he had taken off with Walter. . .then he remembered to be surprised rather than afraid. He looked at his friend and asked, "How exactly did you find me here? Oxnard isn't exactly a tourist attraction, Buffy."

Buffy blinked, then motioned for him to follow her. Deciding it would be in the best interests of his continued health, Xander followed her to the small motel a few hundred yards away from the strip club, and opened a room with a key. She motioned him in and indicated that he should sit on one of the twin beds. He did so and waited for her to speak.

Buffy stared at him for a long moment, then began, "My summer was going pretty well, Xander. Sure, I have to deal with the annoying tendency for vampires to get out of hand. . .but I had Willow and Oz to help me, so things were basically O.K. We had been getting your postcards, and we were all happy that you had been able to get out and about after graduation. . .then a funny thing happened the other day: I got a call from a certain ex of mine."

Xander was seriously pissed off, and he didn't bother to hide it: "Damn it! Dead Boy sold me out. . .that's what I get with telling him anyth-" His voice trailed off as he saw Buffy staring at him, and he realized he had seriously screwed up as he mumbled, "Ah. . .it wasn't Angel, was it?"

Buffy visibly paused to calm herself, then continued in a wavering tone that implied that she was restraining herself from screaming at Xander: "Scott Hope called me. His brother lives here, and he was on a visit to him when they walked past the club. . .and Scott recognized you as he walked by. He called me, and we assumed that he had simply mistaken someone else for you. . .but then Willow did some digging through some computers and found out that you've been working there since the end of June. So, how did you swing the postcards? Some re-mailing service?"

Surprised at the mundane nature of her question, Xander cautiously answered, "One of the guys on the basketball team was going on a cross-country drive, and I gave him the postcards to mail as he went along. . .he should run out soon. . .and you're being way too calm about this, Buffy. . .should I be making funeral plans?"

Buffy just looked at him for a long moment, then quietly replied, "I don't know what I should be feeling, Xander. We thought you were on some great journey of self-discovery, then we find out that you've decided to voluntarily exile yourself forty miles away from home. . .and don't give me some lame excuse about running out of money. I spoke to Cordelia before she left for L.A., and I know about her situation. . .and how you paid for her prom dress. You may not have had enough money to go on the road trip of your dreams, but even if your car disintegrated, you were a ninety minute bus ride from home. . .or you could have called one of us, and we would have been here in an hour to get you. Or you could have called Angel, I suppose, since you saw fit to tell him what you would be doing rather than one of us." Xander winced, realizing that mentioning Angel had to be painful for Buffy, but she looked angry rather than hurt as she asked, "The last time I saw you two together, you were squabbling like a couple of eight year olds. . .and you confide in HIM!"

Buffy's voice raised to an uncomfortable level as she concluded, and Xander hastened to explain, "Ahh. . .I went to see him just before he left. . .I wanted to apologize for jumping on him over the whole nearly killing you thing. . .it wasn't his fault. We ended up talking over a few things and I mentioned what I would be doing, since he wasn't going to be talking to any of you." He chuckled and commented, "I guess I owe him an apology for thinking he ratted me out." He blinked in surprise and asked, "Since when are you and Scott on speaking terms. . .last time I heard, he was on your 'let him never be mentioned again' list about where I have Praying Mantis lady on mine."

Buffy laughed involuntarily, then replied, "I ran into him at the hospital Graduation night. . .he was sweet. . .apologized for dealing with the breakup the way he did and told me that his mistake was playing out of his league to begin with. . .flattering, if nothing else." She gave Xander a thoughtful look and commented, "You know, at any other time I'd be thrilled to hear that you were bonding with Angel. . .but I still need to know what made you decide to run away from home, Xander, since there was no great mission of self-discovery involved."

Xander's eyes went cold, and he replied curtly, "I don't think I owe you an explanation, Buffy. Maybe I had some issues to work out. . .I'm hardly the only member of our little group to go on an unannounced trip to nowhere."

Buffy's eyes flared, and she paled momentarily before swallowing hard and replying, "Well, let's see, Xander. When I left, my mother had just given me an ultimatum about never coming back, Kendra had just died because I let Angelus bait me, and I had just sent Angel to hell with my own hands. It hasn't been an easy year for you, but I don't think it was as bad."

She watched him intently, expecting remorse, but instead saw his face harden as he responded, "All right, let's review. I nearly got Cordelia killed because I couldn't keep my hands off of Willow, and nearly wrecked Oz and Willow's relationship in the process. I slept with someone who, though I couldn't know just how screwed up she was, I still should have known to handle her with kid gloves; as a result, I helped to push her over the edge and nearly get myself killed. Not quite your baggage, I admit, but enough to give me cause to give a little time for deep thought on my way of doing things."

Buffy met his eyes and didn't yield an inch as she replied, "The difference is, Xander, your last screw-up. . .assuming I accept that last one as being your fault and not Faith's. . .was months ago. Maybe you couldn't have come to Willow, or Oz, or even Giles about it. . .but you could have talked to me, damn it! If anyone could identify with having screwed up feelings about Faith, it would be me."

Xander was silent for a moment, then replied, "I know, Buffy, but I had other reasons. . .and they involved you. I knew you needed space. . .you needed time to get over Angel."

Buffy blinked in confusion, then retorted, "What. . . I'm trying to get over losing the love of my life, and you thought that being without one of my two best friends in the whole world would be good for me? What were you thi-" She saw the look in his eyes then, and her face fell as she whispered, "Oh."

Xander turned away, unable to face her as she processed what she had just learned. After a moment, she blew air through her lips in exasperation and asked, "Well, damn it, if that was the problem, why didn't you just go for it, damn it? Angel's out of the picture, and you're not with anyone. . .what in the hell were you waiting for?"

Xander chuckled abruptly, and when he turned back to Buffy he could see that his reaction had angered her. He hastened to explain, "I'm sorry. . .but Angel asked me basically the same thing when he figured out why I was leaving." He noted her irritation at his response, and elaborated, "He said that, even though we never got along, he knew that I would always look out for you. . .guess that gives me points in the prospective-boyfriend-for-the-ex sweepstakes." Buffy laughed involuntarily at the comment, then sobered as Xander continued, "Buffy, do you have any idea what you mean to me? When you came to Sunnydale, my life had no real meaning beyond hanging out with my two best buds and hoping against hope that someday I could get out of the hellhole that was Sunnydale. . .little knowing that it was literally a hellhole. You gave my life meaning: I could face death against the Master, Angelus, or a screaming horde of Apocalypse demons or zombies knowing that it would be for something. Do you think I want to endanger all of that by being Rebound Guy for you. . .and when we're done having you never want to see me again?"

Tears came to Buffy's eyes, and she took a long moment to compose herself before whispering, "Do you think that little of me, Xander? You cheated on Cordelia, and even she still eventually forgave you to the point where you parted on decent terms. . .do you know what you mean to me? In spite of everything, in spite of the fact that I've done some things that must have driven you to total exasperation, you've always been there for me when it counted: you brought me back from the dead. . .you stood watch over me against the most evil monster we've ever faced. . .you saved all of us when we were too busy with stopping the apocalypse to help you. . .yeah, you've said some horrible things to me, and I came close to ripping your damned head off over them. . .but if I had to choose one person to stand at my side in a battle to the death, it wouldn't be Angel, and it wouldn't be Giles, it would be you, because I know that you would lay down your life in an instant for me. . .and you think I would drop you over a bad breakup. . .how dare you!"

Xander went white with shock at Buffy's words, and tears came to his own eyes as he replied, "I didn't know you felt that way, Buffy." He looked away and continued, "It wasn't just that, Buffy. . .I wanted you to have a chance to process the whole thing. . .the funny thing is, on some sick level I was glad when you were with Angel. . .I knew deep down that as long as he was around that I didn't have a prayer with you, and I could just concentrate on being one of your best buds. . .I think that subconsciously I knew that all along, and it's one of the reasons I always resented Angel so much. . .that was one of the reasons I went to see him on Graduation Night: I wanted to make it up to him a bit."

Buffy nodded and sat down next to Xander on the bed as she asked, "Well, Xander, Angel is out of the picture now. . .neither of us can hide behind him any more. . .what are you thinking now?"

Xander looked into her softly inquiring eyes as he contemplated her question, then replied, "I love you, Buffy. . .but I keep hearing you say that you don't think of me in that way. . .and even if you think now that things have changed, I keep thinking that someday you're going to decide that you were right all along. . .and I'm absolutely terrified that I will lose you forever once you come to that conclusion."

Buffy watched Xander for a long moment: she could see he was pale, sweating, and generally showing signs of being under severe torment. She had no doubt that he was being completely honest with her, and she considered her answer to him for a long moment to give him the courtesy of the same level of honesty. She sighed, and responded, "Xander, I said that to you over two years ago, at a time when I was already in love with Angel, and when I had known you for a grand total of three months. I was being honest with you. . .but things have happened since then. You have saved my life on a substantial number of occasions since then, for which I once again thank you with great enthusiasm. . .and you've grown up quite a bit, too. Things have just never been right before: you were with Cordelia, I was all screwed up over Angel, but things are different now. You're not seeing anyone. Angel's gone. . .I can never be with him, and I have to move on. . .who better to do that with than the guy who has been with me through thick and thin. . .who has been my White Knight from Day One." She met his gaze with a look of complete sincerity, and Xander had no doubt she was being straight with him as she continued, "Xander, we both know that there are no guarantees with this sort of thing. . .relationships are not easy under any circumstances, but I promise you that if things don't work out, I'll always want you to be at my side, as one of my best friends and my most faithful defender, if not as my lover. How about it?"

Xander looked at her as he tried to take in the completely unexpected turn their conversation had taken, then replied, "I'm going to need some time on this, Buffy, but I think I'm ready to come back to Sunnydale, as bizarre a concept as that is. . .is that an adequate response as far as you're concerned?"

Buffy smiled and replied, "It's a start." She stood up and began to pace, considering how to proceed as she continued, "I bought you a one-way ticket for the bus. . .we could be out of here by tomorrow at eight."

Xander laughed and replied, "Tomorrow at eight sounds fine to me, Buffy. . .but you might as well get a refund on those tickets. My car is running fine, and we could be back in Sunnydale by nine, if that sounds O.K. to you."

Buffy smiled and met his eyes with a look of genuine pleasure as she replied, "Sounds fine to me." They both smiled and embraced, and as Xander left to pack up his belongings for the trip home, Buffy felt more contented than she had since Xander had left two months before.



Xander had just started coming up with a suitable retort to Giles over his whole screwed-up shelving system when he saw the door open and a familiar figure enter through it. He blinked and called out, "Anya?" He vaguely heard the exchange between Anya and Giles, and he allowed himself to be led out into the courtyard. He listened patiently as Anya indicated that she had come back to find out what kind of relationship they had, then abruptly interrupted her as she started laying down ground rules: "Whoa, Anya. . .there's a bit of a problem with all of this."

The former demon raised an eyebrow and replied, "Really? Cordelia isn't in the picture any more, and Willow is happy with Oz. . .what could possibly be in the way of us pursuing a relationship?"

The delicate sound of someone clearing their throat reached Anya's ears, and she turned to see Buffy standing there with an annoyed expression on her face. Anya blinked in surprise, and Buffy coldly replied, "The obstacle would be me, Anya, and I'll thank you to take your mitts off of my boyfriend."

Anya turned and gaped in shock as Buffy continued, "Feel free to stick around. . .but as for Xander, he's taken, and I suggest you leave. . .now." Buffy focused her nastiest glare on Anya, and after a moment the former demon decided that whatever her feelings were for Xander, they definitely were not worth having a pissed-off Slayer on her case. She nodded abruptly and departed, and Buffy watched the departure carefully, not willing to trust Anya until she had clearly gone. Buffy turned and gave Xander a mock glare as she purred, "So this is what happens when I turn my back for a few minutes. . .every ex-demoness in town comes after you." She walked over to Xander and nestled her head into his chest as she murmured, "Now how can I keep that from happening any more?"

Xander shrugged and replied teasingly, "I don't know, Buffy. . .it seems to be an occupational hazard with me. . .guess you'll have to keep a closer eye on me from now on. Think you're up for that?"

Buffy wrapped her arms around Xander's neck and pulled his head down for a kiss. After a moment, she drew back and looked into his eyes as she whispered, "Definitely."

As always, comments are welcomed and desired