Happy Hour

Summary: Happy hour at the Bronze finds the blossoming of new love. . .or does it?

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators.

Rating: PG-13, themes.

Time Frame: Post-"Superstar" (alternate time line).

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.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.

Note: Dedicated to victoria p., our beloved Miss July, on the occasion of her birthday.


She sat at the bar alone, idly toying with her drink as she watched the happy hour crowd mingle, laugh, and otherwise enjoy themselves. She wore a black evening dress that stood out in the otherwise casually dressed clientele of the Bronze. Her red hair was cut to medium length, barely touching the line of her pale shoulders. Her eyes were green, and the lights of the room struck emerald sparks in them as a look of calm amusement crossed her features.

She had been sitting there, unmoving, for fifteen minutes. Several high school seniors had seen the stunning young woman sitting alone and had taken it upon themselves to alleviate her apparent loneliness: she had turned them all aside with quiet, polite words that had disappointed, but not angered them. They continued to watch her covertly, whispering among themselves, and she perceived their object of interest and smiled sadly.

A young man walked through the entrance of the Bronze: he was tall and lean, and his dark eyes scanned the room as if he owned it. He saw a familiar face or two and smiled at them, receiving friendly greetings in return. After a moment, his attention fell on the lone figure at the bar, and a quirky smile appeared on his face. Without hesitation, he slowly began walking towards her. One of the boys who had tried and failed nudged him as he walked by and commented, "Can't blame you for trying, but that lady isn't looking for company tonight. . .it's a shame. . .a beautiful woman like that wanting to be alone."

The new arrival smiled and replied, "I like a challenge." He gave a nod to the boy and walked over next to the young woman and stood for a moment before asking, "Excuse me, miss? Is this seat taken?"

The redhead turned and saw a dark-haired young man, about twenty or so, who looked at her as if he had known her all of his life. She quirked a smile at him and shrugged, commenting, "It's a free country. . .have a seat."

He pulled up a chair and ordered a drink, then turned to her and asked, "The obvious question, I suppose, is why someone as lovely as you is alone here on a Friday night."

She raised a delicate eyebrow at him and replied, "Yes, it is a rather obvious question at that. . .but since you asked. . ." She sipped from her drink and began, "I was involved with someone for a long time. . .then he made a mistake and hurt me very badly. I wanted to try again. . .get past it, but he decided to leave rather than hurt me again. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me. . .I was not well for a long time after that. . .but I've decided to get on with my life, so I got dressed up and came here. . .my friends and I come here a lot. . .it feels safe." She smiled inquisitively at him and asked, "So why are you here alone on a Friday night? A man as attractive as yourself must have all sorts of women fighting each other to be with you."

The man winced, as if a bad memory had been summoned, then smiled sadly and replied, "I was involved with someone until recently. . .beautiful, smart, but very difficult to be with. . .we had issues over her former career, and we ended up breaking up over it." He sighed and commented, "Oh well, water under the bridge. . .tell me, are you seriously interested in anyone else right now?"

The woman raised an eyebrow at the personal question, then replied, "There is someone. . .my best friend. . .I've had feelings for him for the longest time. . .but he didn't notice me for years. . .then when he did, it was when we were involved with other people. . .it blew up, and things haven't been the same between us ever since. . .I miss our closeness, and the feel of his arms around me. . .I'd love to have that back." She met his eyes with her intense green ones and asked, "What about you. . .is there someone you want to be with?"

He nodded and replied, "Yeah. . .and the situation was a lot like yours. . .except I was the clueless dolt who had no idea how she felt until just the right moment to make a big mess. We pulled away from each other. . .and I regret it more than anything I've done my entire life. I'd do anything to have that closeness back." He smiled at her and replied, "So what's stopping you from doing something about it?"

She sighed and replied, "When I was messed up over my breakup. . .I did some very hurtful things to my friends. . .and he got the worst of it. I've apologized, but I'm not sure that he will ever really forgive me. . .I'm afraid that it's just been too much."

He looked at her and was silent for a long moment, then responded, "You'll never know unless you ask. . .and it sounds like something that is important to you." The fast dance tune playing over the speakers died down, and he turned to the DJ and nodded. The DJ winked at him and reached for a certain CD. After a moment, the opening strains of "Unchained Melody" began playing. The man reached out his hand to the woman and asked, "Would you care to dance?"

The green-eyed beauty looked at him for a long moment, apparently contemplating the question, then took his hand, following him out onto the dance floor right past the envious group of seniors who had tried to get her to dance earlier that night. She settled into his arms as if she had been there for years, and they quietly danced to the song for a few moments before she commented, "You're a very good dancer."

He laughed softly and replied, "Thank you. . .my best friend taught me everything I know."

She looked up and smiled puckishly at him before commenting, "She must be quite a teacher."

He nodded and replied, "She's the best." As the last chords of the song died out, he leaned down and softly kissed her, stroking her hair as he did so. After a moment, he withdrew and she gave a throaty laugh before beckoning him to follow her to a corner booth.

They sat down, and the redhead looked up into her best friend's eyes before whispering, "Not bad. . .but you can do better."

Xander nodded and replied, "You're right. . .I can." He leaned forward and kissed her again, and there was no further conversation between them until they left the Bronze twenty minutes later.

* * * * *

Anya watched Xander and Willow leave the dance floor and rolled her eyes, commenting, "They do the same thing every Friday. . .it's getting old already."

Buffy chuckled, snuggling closer to Riley as she watched her best friends find their favorite booth yet again. She turned to Anya and replied, "It's a tradition. . .they spent so much time apart before they finally got together, they like to remember how it finally happened between them. You're over a thousand years old. . .don't you have any traditions?" Buffy saw Anya begin to open her mouth, and realized that she did not want to hear the answer to that question, and interjected: "Never mind."

Tara, who had been quietly sitting next to Giles sipping herbal tea, commented wistfully, "They really do look cute together." Buffy looked sadly at Willow's new friend, who clearly had a few unresolved feelings about the redhead. Ironic, really. . .one unrequited attraction in the group replaced by another. . .the eternal circle. She sighed and turned back to Anya, querying, "Where's Jonathan tonight?"

Anya brightened at the mention of her boyfriend, replying, "He said something about needing to pick something up at the store. . .I'm thinking that it's something for me. . .is that shallow?"

Buffy hid a wicked smile and replied, "Oh no, Anya. . .just be yourself with him. . .I'm sure he'll appreciate it." Anya had been rather down after the breakup with Xander, and Buffy had seized on a casual comment by her after the infamous Superstar Jonathan incident to get them together. . .they would both get in less trouble if they were preoccupied with each other. Jonathan obviously had a strong survival ability (after all, he had lived through any number of soul-curdling hazards at Sunnydale High. . .including a brief period of dating Cordelia), and fixing him up with the sexually voracious former demon seemed rather logical in retrospect.

Anya nodded happily, and Buffy glanced over to the booth again. . .Xander and Willow were clearly not paying attention to the world around them at the moment. She sighed. . .Xander was definitely over any lingering attachment he had retained for her. . .and there was a part of her that was disappointed. Still, this thing was a long time in coming, and she wished them all of the happiness in the world. Silently, she raised her glass in the direction of the corner booth, and the others at the table echoed her gesture in honor of Xander and Willow. . .who would have appreciated the gesture, had they had the slightest inkling it was going on.

As always, comments are welcomed and desired