Summary: During the events of "The Zeppo", Xander takes a different path while fleeing from O'Toole's gang than he might have. . .leading to him encountering Buffy, instead of Faith. Follow-up to "Left and Up, or Straight Ahead?"

Disclaimer: These characters remain the copyrighted property of their owners/creators. . .I'm just steering them down the road not traveled.

Rating: R, for sexuality and violence.

Time Frame: "The Zeppo", alternate timeline. This story takes place in the "Straight Ahead" alternate universe, which originated in my story "Left and Up, or Straight Ahead?", in which the course of history in the Buffyverse was altered by the transformation of Jenny Calendar into a vampire in "Passion", rather than death by broken neck as happened in the televised series. Readers are directed to the above story for details, or you can catch up by noticing stuff that just doesn't match your memory of things. Either way, enjoy.

Archiving: Please do, but e-mail me at because I'm interested in where stuff I write ends up, and I'll want to see what else you've got there.


Xander pressed the accelerator pedal to the floor, leaving the screaming gang of what he knew now to be the newly risen dead behind him. That had been too damned close. . .Jack had been within an eyelash of killing him and then allowing him to identify more closely with Dead Boy, Giles, and Miss Calendar than he ever cared to. So much for Buffy and the others' great plan to keep him alive by keeping him out of trouble. . .he was on his own, with the others apparently preoccupied with some new threat to all of existence. He decided to head for the school and at least let the others know that a bunch of psycho undead were wandering the town. . .they might want to deal with them later. As far as he was concerned, he had had enough danger for the night.

There was a fork in the road ahead, and either path would let him reach the school in about the same time. Arbitrarily, he chose left: only later would he hear that the other path would have led him to Faith fighting one of the Apocalypse demons, and that she had been in serious trouble until Giles showed up and helped her defeat it. For now, he kept going along the darkened road, impatiently waiting to finish the trip so that he could. . .wait, who was that ahead? His headlights caught her blonde hair first, then her familiar features. Buffy waved as he approached, and Xander was preparing to pull over when he saw the horrifying shape of one of the Apocalypse demons. He shouted, "Buffy, look out!" as the demon charged her: she whirled and moved to engage the demon on the lawn of one of the houses. Xander was angered as he realized that their position would prevent him from using the car as a weapon against the demon. He pulled over and ran for the bag that Buffy had dropped when she engaged the creature. He searched through the bag and quickly pulled out the crossbow and loaded it. Now, if she would only notice. . .abruptly, she saw him standing there and risked a flying kick to send the demon sprawling. As it struggled to its feet, Xander let loose the bolt, which struck the creature in the shoulder and caused it to emit a horrifying wail. It turned on Xander, but Buffy struck it again to get its attention as she shouted at Xander, "Toss me the sword!"

Xander quickly located the nasty three-foot blade, and tossed it to Buffy, who was having an easier time fending off the demon's attacks as it only had one good arm left. With ferocity that impressed Xander even given what he had seen her do in the past, Buffy quickly began causing grievous injuries with the sword. Before long, the creature could no longer defend itself, and Buffy finished it off with a true thrust to the heart. It wailed one more time and crumpled to the lawn.

Xander walked up to her as she stood there, breathing heavily. "Are you okay, Buffy?" he asked, taking the sword from her and replacing it in the bag along with the crossbow.

She looked up at him and grinned ruefully before replying, "Not if I have to keep fighting these damned things." She shook her head and asked with a laugh, "Now why was it again that we thought you should stay out of fights?"

Xander took her comment as a heartfelt apology, and shrugged. "Beats me, Buffy. You know me, the good soldier and all that." He nodded back at his car, and asked, "Back to your house?" She nodded in reply, and they loaded up and took off. Along the way, they exchanged stories. Xander was appalled at the level of danger implicated by the whole damned thing, but he wasn't shocked: Willow had just been way too upset for something trivial to be involved. Now that he was out of the clutches of Jack and his gang of the undead, he would damned well help.

Buffy, on the other hand, was impressed at the level of danger that Xander had managed to deal with completely on his own, and felt renewed guilt at their attempt to exclude him. We tease him about his little inadequacies, she thought, but he's as important to the group as any of us in his own way. He was as good as any of them in a crisis, and at times his ability to stay cool under fire had been crucial, as it had that horrible night last February when Jenny and Giles had been turned, and Willow had gone into a screaming rage at the newly ensouled Angel. Xander had intervened and got them back to dealing with the problems facing them, with the result that they got Giles and Jenny back, albeit as ensouled vampires rather than as the living beings they had been two days before.

Then there had been last summer, after Kendra died saving her life. She had gone on Slaying, but her heart wasn't in it, and she had almost died more than once. Her friends had all tried to intervene, but she had refused them all-even Angel, who she was afraid to see in her weakened state, lest they lose the resolve they had to keep apart. One day, there was a knock at her bedroom door, and she opened it to find Xander. Her mother-who had found out about her daughter's special status not long after the return of Angel-had let him in against her express request, and she was ready to throw him out when she saw a glint of something in his eyes that made her let him stay. They had talked for long hours, while she poured out her intense guilt about the death of the only living person who could understand what it meant to be the Slayer, not to mention the brave and loyal friend that she had been aside from her role as the Slayer. When he left at last, she was not yet what she once was, but she was on the road to recovery. . .thanks to Xander, who had not taken no for an answer at just the right time.

They arrived at Buffy's house and went inside. Joyce was out of town, and Faith was not there, though the clutter in the bathroom reflected the presence of the second Slayer, who had stayed there since not long after the death of Kikistos. Buffy looked at her friend and commented, "I need to wind down a little before I shower, Xander. Should we grab some munchies and veg out for a bit?" He looked at her and laughed out loud. "Apocalypse be damned! I want some cheesy chips!" They went to the kitchen for supplies, then settled next to each other on the couch.

Xander reveled in the presence of snack food, and it was a moment before he noticed that Buffy was studying him intently. "What's wrong, Buffy?" he asked, wondering if there was cheesy chip dust on his cheeks.

The Slayer smiled and replied, "Nothing. I just . . .we've been so busy lately dealing with the ridiculous number of crises that pop up that I realized that we hadn't talked lately about how you're doing. Anything new?"

Xander laughed and replied, "Other than almost being recruited by the world's first zombie street gang? Naw, you know me. . .lonely boy 'tis I." Spike had really screwed things up when he kidnapped him and Willow in a mad attempt to regain the fickle Dru through love magic. . .Xander could have told him what a lousy idea that was. Unfortunately, it had led to a crisis-fueled romantic moment between Xander and Willow. . .just as Oz and Cordelia burst in to rescue them. After a lot of contrition, Oz had forgiven Willow, but Cordelia had dumped him without further ado, only agreeing to be civil (mostly) in public if he'd back her story that she had dumped him because he was a loser (great for self-esteem, that had been) and not because he had cheated on her. Since then, things had been quiet on the romantic front for him. . .not that he was inclined to start up so soon after almost a year with Cordelia. . .he needed time to regroup. He looked back at Buffy and asked, "Why. . .what did you think might be going on with me?"

Buffy looked back at him with an expression that seemed familiar somehow, though he had never seen it on her face before. She hesitated for a moment before haltingly replying, "It's just that. . .you know I never thought you should have been with Cordelia in the first place, though I have to admit she isn't the totally shallow bitch that I thought she was. I thought you deserved better. . .and now that you aren't with her anymore, you might find someone who is."

Xander smiled at his friend's sentiments, and replied jokingly, "Got anyone in mind, Buff?", waiting for her to laugh as he looked back into her eyes. . .and saw something else that looked familiar, and he had seen it on her face before, though he couldn't remember when. She moved closer to him, and he could feel her breath as she replied quietly, "Yes, I do."

Xander's brain refused to accept the plain meaning of her words and manner, and for a moment gibberish ruled the day in his brain. Then he remembered where he had seen that look in her eyes before: when the love spell had misfired and sent every woman in Sunnydale into love-crazed madness over him. Buffy had tried to seduce him, and it had taken every ounce of his willpower to resist, and it was only knowing that the whole thing was his fault that had won the day in favor of resisting temptation. He gasped and snarled, "Oh great! The Hellmouth has reactivated that damned love spell. . .now I'm going to have to hide in a bunker for six months." He was contemplating the horror of encountering Faith under the influence of the spell when he felt a warm pressure on his lips and strong arms around his neck. After a moment he pulled back to see Buffy looking intently at him. After a moment, she spoke in a soft, reassuring tone: "Just me, Xander. No black arts involved."

Painful memories resurfaced, and for a moment Xander was back in the moment when she had turned down his invitation to the dance just before she died and he brought her back. He laughed a little bitterly and retorted, "Really? And what happened to you just 'not having the feeling,' Buffy?" He waited for her face to show hurt and for her to turn away, but it didn't happen.

She looked at him and replied calmly, "You're not that person anymore, Xander. . .and I mean that in a good way. You've grown up a lot. . .you've put aside your resentment of Angel when you realized that it was necessary to do so. . .you managed to resist taking advantage of me when I know how tempting it must have been. . .I have more respect for you than I've ever had for you before." She looked him up and down with a mock leer and commented, "Besides, you did look pretty hot in that Speedo last year." Xander blushed, remembering the fish men incident. He moved closer to her and asked, "Are you sure. . .I'm not sure I could deal with any more rejection at this point."

She looked at him and kissed him again, and this time he returned the kiss with interest. For a few minutes, there was silence as their hands explored areas that had been previously out of bounds for their relationship. After a few more minutes, they broke apart and looked hungrily at each other. Buffy broke the deadlock by standing up and practically yanking Xander to his feet. They went up the stairs to her bedroom, and Xander began to feel that he was definitely in the Twilight Zone as she closed and locked her door and pulled the window closed. By unspoken agreement, they slowly undressed, each taking in the wonders that the removed clothing revealed. To his embarrassment, Xander felt his throat closing up as he took in the sight of her. . .he had been right all along, she was an angel, and the thought of her being here for him in this way totally overwhelmed him. Abruptly, he remembered a practical issue and looked into her eyes: "Uh. . .Buffy. . .maybe we shouldn't. I'm not carrying any. . .I mean, Cordelia and I didn't. . ."

She spared him the conclusion of the sentence by interrupting in a cheery tone: "Not an issue, Xander. I'm on the pill. . .have been for two months, and I don't think that either of us is at risk otherwise, given our histories."

He laughed and replied, "I guess not." Her exact words suddenly came home to him, and he burst out, "Wait a minute. . .two months? That would put it about the time Cordelia dumped me. . ." He looked at her in bewilderment as she nodded in confirmation, "Exactly. Now stop talking and start kissing." She finished removing her bra and let it drop to the floor, distracting Xander for a moment as she moved up to him.

They embraced, and the insecurities of the two young people who had both been through so much seemed to disappear like a burst soap bubble. Skin brushed against skin with the feathery whisper of silk against fabric, and the subtle sounds of their embraces soon were accompanied by his gasping and her soft cries. For long minutes, there was nothing else in the world but the two of them, and when it was all over, they held each other as if to let go would be to shatter the reality of it all.

It had to end sometime, and it did when Buffy glanced at her clock radio. "Oops, we've got to motor, Xander. . .end of the world and all." She got up and dragged him down the hallway, "Come on, we'll shower together. . .save time." Xander followed with some enthusiasm, only to find that she was all business now, slapping his hands away when they intruded during the five minute shower.

They dressed quickly and headed to his car. They were back in "danger" mode, and yet things were different. . .the way that they stood closer together, the way that she laughed when he said something. . .things were indeed different. Now all they had to do was survive the night and see where it took them.

It was Buffy who had spotted the odd contents of his backseat, and he cursed as he realized-thanks to his military knowledge-what the zombies had meant by 'baking a cake." He explained quickly, and Buffy commented, "Well, it looks like you get non-Hellmouth duty tonight, Xander. Go get them." He reluctantly agreed, and he drove her to the school in silence. As he drove away after dropping her off, he watched her in the rear view mirror: she stayed there, watching him until his car turned a corner and sped off in search of Jack's gang.


Xander walked through the hallways of Sunnydale High, feeling pretty damned good about things. For one thing, the world was still there. Buffy had called him early in the morning with a blow by blow of the sealing of the Hellmouth; apparently, it had been touch and go for a while, but Angel, Giles, Faith, and Buffy had managed to hold off the Hellmouth demon's tentacles long enough for Jenny and Willow to weave the complex spell that stopped the menace. . .for now. Injuries had been limited to bumps and bruises, and the remaining Apocalypse demons had bugged out. Not a bad night's work, all in all.

Xander had had a harrowing time of it, on the other hand. Impromptu questioning of one of Jack's gang (which had been terminated by a mailbox-related decapitation) had placed the bomb in the basement of the school, almost directly below the library. He had taken out ( with some inadvertent assistance from the Apocalypse demons) all of Jack's gang but the man himself when he found himself facing the angry dead guy over a ticking bomb. Xander drew on all of his bravery and loyalty to his friends to stare down the undead gang leader as the timer ticked down towards zero: it was only at the last second that Jack frantically stopped the timer. Xander had turned away and warned him that he didn't want to see him around, and he seemed to have followed the directive, since he wasn't around.

He entered the library and saw that all six of the combatants from the Hellmouth sealing were present, along with Oz, who had spent the night as a rather ornery werewolf. Willow was speaking as Xander walked in, and she paused to wait for him to exchange greetings with the group. Willow, flushed with excitement over the whole thing, burst out with, "It's a good thing you weren't at school last night, Xander." He smiled at his best friend and replied, "Oh well, give me the quiet life." He could see Buffy visibly restraining herself, and Faith also seemed to be champing at the bit -Buffy must have told her at least about the gang. He also noticed that Angel was smiling faintly, and Xander remembered that the vampire had pretty good information sources around town. . .he probably knew what had happened. He restrained the welling up of pride within him and asked, "Anyone want me to grab them some breakfast?" Everyone said yes except Oz, who commented that he was strangely full this morning. Just then, Cordelia walked in and heard the tail end of the breakfast orders. She had been reasonably civil to him, but she could not resist this opportunity: "So, off on another of your dangerous donut seeking missions, Xander? I can see why they can't do without you."

Annoyed, Xander turned away from Cordelia and noted some reactions: Faith looked disgusted, Angel annoyed, and Buffy. . .she was standing up as if to deliver an angry outburst at Cordelia's insensitivity. Xander looked over at Buffy and their eyes locked. Obeying an irresistible impulse, he walked over to her and swept her into a kiss that rivaled anything that they had shared the night before. At first, she seemed surprised, but after a moment she cooperated thoroughly with the kiss. At length, they broke apart and looked around the room to gauge reactions. Giles looked thoroughly flustered, and was polishing his glasses furiously while looking at the opposite wall. Jenny was smiling gently, as if she had expected this for some time. Oz, characteristically, was quiet, perhaps saving discussion for later. Willow looked shocked. . .Buffy and Xander both anticipated long conversations with her to make sure that she would be okay with this new development. Faith was grinning openly. Buffy couldn't look at Angel, but Xander could see the look of resignation on his face: he looked at Xander and nodded once, then disappeared into the tunnels. As for Cordelia, she turned white for a moment before whispering, "I knew it," and slowly leaving the room. Buffy actually felt sorry for her for a moment, then the sympathy was lost in the joy of the moment. She cleared her throat and began, looking over the faces of her friends as she did so:

"Uh. . .we've got something to tell you."

As always, comments are welcomed and desired