Title: "After"
Author: Shawn

Summary: 24 hours after a blissful and secretive first time...

Rated R: For language Category: Romance/Humor Ship: B/X

Timeline/Spoilers: Set in a alternate Season Seven where Spike never returned and Tara is still alive. No 'First' ever came to Sunnydale, Anya left town for parts unknown, and so our story begins.

Email: personal archive: http:groups. Mutant Enemy owns it all.

Dedicated to: Lexie, who received really good news this week. smiles

Authors Notes: If you're in the mood for a light hearted fun story that's offering romance and humor, then hopefully this story is for you. Enjoy.


I love you not as something private and personal, which is my own, but as something universal and worthy of love which I have found.
Henry David Thoreau


The Magic Box
Friday, November 18, 7:30 PM
Sunnydale, Ca


Knowing your best friend, and then knowing your best friend very well are two starkly different things.

Lucky enough for Willow, she knows Buffy as well as anyone, so her curious perusal of the Slayer who sat across from her on the long oak table in the front of the Magic Box came with a slight note of wonder. Just a touch of gentle mystery.

Whatever is Buffy humming to herself about? Why is she happily researching the Demonic Encyclopedia for background information on Sunnydale's newest tourist when she would usually be munching snacks and complaining about researching, only to disappear in the back to train, where she would later be found reading a trashy love novel while munching snacks?

She's wonderfully predictable that way.

Lifting her eyes over her research material, Willow took in the fullness of her best friends appearance. She's having that rare 'good hair' day women dream of, and Willows pretty damn envious of that. There's a joyful glow about her skin, and her eyes were bright and full of mischief. Casual clothes for Buffy, faded blue jeans and a white sleeveless scooped neckline top made up her Slaying outfit for the evening. But it wasn't the clothes that captured Willow's attention. Oh no, it was her constant soft humming of some song she couldn't place with that little quirk of a smirking smile curling her lips as she flipped pages. Her gaze darted ever so often at the front door, as if she were waiting for someone in particular. Well, in fact, Giles and Xander are due back in a little while so they can brainstorm over the reported sightings of human-sized Rats running around the docks. Still, for some reason Willow was sure Buffy's seemingly serene mood wasn't do to a potential night of hunting rats. "You come up with anything yet?"

Startled out of her inner thoughts, Buffy shook her head. "Nope. I haven't found one page on demonic super-sized rats so far. But I'm only on page 45 of 7450. Alas, the night is young."

Ever the exaggerator, Willow frowned at the sight of her huge encyclopedia and how far she's in it as well. "When is the Council going to get their computer database up and running so that we don't have to pull out the old dusty books to find what we're looking for. I'm a point and click sort of girl these days."

"The Watcher's Council is so far behind the times I expect the Demonic Encyclopedia to be ready for eight track or a cassette tape before we get one on CD."

"Maybe fifty volumes of VHS tapes."

"Their cheapness is legendary."

"When they refused to help you pay your phone bill last summer after Dawn accidentally called Argentina and the phone company threatened to turn it off, I knew then that they just didn't care. How can they refuse to pay the Slayers phone bill? They don't even send us stakes. We've all got splinter wounds from making them ourselves."

"Yeah, my next door neighbors don't understand why me and all my friends are constantly bring logs of wood in my house when we don't have a fire place. My house is the pariah of the neighborhood."

"It's still the number one stop for kids on Halloween. That's gotta count for something."

"It does, but Xander shows favoritism. He rewards the kids with the better costumes more candy, thus shortchanging the kids with costumes he didn't like. That's costumism and it's just not right."

"Discrimination in any form sucks."

"Like a two dollar ho."

"Like Paris Hilton."

"As I said, a two dollar ho," the Slayer laughed with her best friend at the rich heiress/amateur porn stars expense. "I sure hope those big Rat-men sightings are false or as hoax of something. I mean really, what am I supposed to do? I am a Slayer of demons and vampires. I am not pest control. The city has a department for that. And pest control, unlike me, gets paid for slaying their enemies. Plus, rats wig me out. I can't stand even putting the little traps down the couple of times we had them at my house."

"I remember your legendary cursing fit when one trap accidentally snapped on your thumb. Dawn still talks about that night. She said you used every bad word that existed, and seemed to channel bad words from other languages as if you were possessed."

"She called me the Cursorcist."

"Dawn has a way with words."

"Speaking of my bratty little sister and living bill, is she really in the back doing her homework or just dodging the important work of researching the Rat-men?" Buffy angled towards the back area, listening for signs of her sister talking on her cell phone or any other activity that had nothing to do with school. "I know she has to be done with her Algebra by now. How long could it take?"

Having refereed many bouts between the Summers sisters, Willow always enjoyed them as she flipped through pages, and caught out the corner of her eye Buffy yet again sneaking a peak at the front door, sighing, then back to her own book. What was that all about? "Is Xander bringing you dinner or something? You keep staring at the door."

Deer in headlights look aside, Buffy replied slightly nervous, "Oh... uhm, nothing. I just wanted to get this rat-hunting show on the road so we can call it a early night." She leaned back in her chair, rocking it on it's back legs just to see if she could hold it steady, for the heck of it. "I wouldn't mind a little late night Bronzing to end the week. I'd rather kick up my heels than kick some vamps tonight."

"Hey, I never asked you how last nights patrol with Xander went." The hard thump that accompanied Buffy's wild yelp when she suddenly tipped to far back and fell on the floor shocked Willow, as she stood and rounded the table. Dawn came running from the back too, grinning when she saw her older sister sprawled on the floor. "Are you okay, Buffy?"

"My pride is wounded. That's all," she replied, her heart still racing the second Willow mentioned last night, which sent her off her feet, literally. "I'm good."

"Buffy, Buffy, Buffy," Dawn immediately began to taunt as she circled her grounded sister, who calmly rose back to her feet and set her chair up straight. "You've had thirty some odd years to learn how to properly sit in a chair."

"Twenty-two, actually. A number you won't reach if you don't shut it."

"What happened to your good mood? You were humming in the car this morning on the way to school, and you baked cookies when you got home. They actually had taste to them. Where did that happy Buffy go and leave this restless uncoordinated version behind? Where is she?"

"Did you finish your Algebra?"

"As much as you did when you were in High School."

"Hey, I nightly had to protect the city. I had reasons why allot of my assignments were incomplete. You have no excuse, other than incompetent phone usage and a penchant for stealing things that don't belong to you."

"I DIDN'T KNOW I WAS CALLING ARGENTINA AND THAT BLOUSE LOOKS BETTER ON ME CAUSE I HAVE THE BIGGER BOOBS."

"HOW DO YOU MISTAKINGLY DIAL 1-351-5745-345623 AND THINK THAT'S A NUMBER IN THE STATES? OUR PHONE BILL WAS SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS. I MEMORIZED THAT NUMBER SO I AND YOU WOULD NEVER FORGET!" Buffy yelled back at her. "And tissue paper does not make your boobs bigger."

Aghast, Dawn cupped her breasts. "These are real."

"Yeah, real with the help of Charmin."

"Just because you are a member of the Itty Bitty Tittie Committee doesn't mean mine aren't real."

"My boobs are perfect for my height," Buffy assured her, "And I own a car, which you do not. And last I checked Charmin didn't make automobiles, so watch your mouth."

"Whatever." Deciding to let this go because she needs the car this weekend for a concert, deep inside Dawn knew that one day when she had her own car if she didn't run her sister over she'd at least make sure it was better than hers. "So, how's the Mickey Mouse hunt going?" Buffy tugged at her wrist to sit down in her chair, pushing the Demonic Encyclopedia in front of her.

"You're just in time to help." Watching her younger sister huff and frown gave Buffy a happy, who then ruffled her hair until Dawn shoved her away, but was smiling just the same. Sisters often went from hate to sisterhood again in a split second. "Research and enjoy."

Dawn turned the book open, offering a sarcastic "You're far too kind." Suddenly, all eyes peered up when Giles and Xander ambled into the Magic Box at long last. They looked quite guilty for some reason. "Where you guys been? It's researching time."

Following Giles inside, Xander made eye contact with Buffy for a split-heart stopping second, causing both to suffer a flushed grin they quickly hid. "And good evening to you, Dawn." Willow waved his way and he waved back. "Did you find the rats?"

It never ceased to amuse her when Xander just assumed she'd already have this figured out. "Not yet, but you are in time to help us research. Grab a Demon Encyclopedia and get to work."

Something's up, and the Slayer can tell. Buffy carefully watched a quiet Giles as he hung his coat up. Upon turning around, a napkin fell out of his jacket pocket. For some strange reason she had to see that napkin, so she went and grabbed it off the floor. When she read what was printed on it, she just shook her head, her temperature rising as did her voice. "You two are so busted!"

Crap. Crap. Double crap. Giles painted on his best older father-figure type pose, hands in his pocket as he prepared to address the Slayer. "Buffy, whatever are you referring too?" Playing dumb was never his strong suit. Xander was no help at all, seeing as how he was trying to back his way out of the room.

"Don't you dare move, Xander," Buffy ordered, then walked over and laid the napkin on the table like it was evidence in a criminal investigation. "While Willow and I were going blind as we choked down the stale air surrounding these old books, and poor Dawn was slaving over Algebra homework, you two were at the International House of Pancakes eating breakfast food for dinner." The Slayer stared at their hands. "I see no doggy bag, so I doubt you brought anything for us. Explain yourselves now!"

Why ever had he let Xander talk him into taking a little detour for a quick bite to eat. "Well, it was dinner time and neither of us had eaten dinner, so the conclusion was reached that we needed food."

Buffy snarled, "You could have called and we could have met you there. You could have called and asked us what we wanted and brought it here. But oh no, you were selfish and greedy with the good food. You're both evil. Evil I say."

"You tell'em, Buffy." Willow even clapped here support.

A little hi-five the witch's way, Buffy continued. "What did you eat?"

The Slayers glare wasn't often focused his way. Giles took a step back. "Well, food, of course."

"WHAT DID YOU EAT!"

"Pan... pancakes."

"What kind of pancakes, and don't you for a second say they were just the normal kind. I know you, Rupert."

Oh boy, she used his first name. A sure sign of Buffy-anger if there ever was one. "Blueberry..." he spoke in a low tone. "They were blueberry pancakes."

"HANG'EM!" Dawn offered as a suggestion. "Hang'em high!"

Buffy grabbed a pencil and threw it so hard near Xander's foot it embedded in the flooring, stalling his attempted getaway plan. She swore she heard him swear 'Damn' under his breath. Turning her attention back to Giles. "What else did you eat? What else did you deny the rest of the team? Talk!"

"Buffy, he's had enough."

"Hush Xander."

"He told you the truth."

"I want all of the truth."

"YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!" All eyes turned on Xander, with Willow giggling at him and even Buffy cracked a smile. "Oh come on, I couldn't resist that one."

"You are all so very strange. And yes, I do blame American television," Giles declared in amusement. "Buffy, I regret to inform you that we ate a heaping helping of blueberry pancakes covered in syrup, cheese eggs, a steak omelet and some sort of raspberry pastry item. It was quite a good meal and for only eight dollars. Now are you satisfied?"

"No," the Slayer replied with no intention of letting him of the hook. "I'm hungry. Willow is hungry. Dawn is hungry. How are we supposed to patrol on a empty stomach? You two just blew us off and left the little ladies with all the work. Well I will not stand for it."

Dawn chimed in, "You already fell down sis, so you better stand."

"Shut up, Dawn. Or I won't buy any more Charmin." Dawn quickly shut up. "Now here's what's going to happen. You are going to go in the back and grab all our restaurant fliers and then bring them back out. Willow, Dawn and I are going to decide what we want for dinner, order it, and then you and your cohort," she tried to glare at Xander, but he was kind of staring at her in a soft way, "Are going to pick it up and pay for it."

"Now you listen here, Buffy. I am your Watcher."

"I KNOW YOU DIDN'T PAY TAXES LAST YEAR!"

You could hear a pin drop.

"... I do believe that new Chinese place on Fosters just opened." Smiling in time with her own, Giles made his way towards the back area, with Willow and Dawn tagging along behind. Victory belonged to the Slayer. All of a sudden she's alone with Xander... just as they were last night. "Sorry I had to get tough with you guys, but I will not stand for unfair treatment."

"You look so beautiful when you're being unfairly mistreated."

All at once she's shuttled back in time to last night when they took an impromptu trip to the movies after an early patrol and Buffy felt she was shortchanged on the size of her popcorn at the snack counter. Xander whispered the exact same thing to her there as well. "Looking for a repeat of last night, I see."

A dare and a challenge accompanied her arched brow. Xander knew her all to well as they circled the table, closing in on each other. "I certainly wouldn't be opposed to it."

"You were bad."

"How so?"

"You should have called me so we could have had dinner together. Hence, the badness."

"I wanted to have dinner with you, I just got out of work late and met up with Giles."

"You should have called me."

Sighing to himself, Xander paused to collect his thoughts. "Hearing your voice wouldn't have been enough, Buffy. Not after last night."

His sincere confession came with it a sense of awe as she was sure he had to be remembering how close they sat while watching 'Die Another Day' in the theater. Closer then they ever sat together at the movies before. Then again, feelings have been simmering just below the surface between them since last summer. Last night simply brought everything to a boiling point. "I'm hungry"

Sweetness laced her soft voice, tugging at his heartstrings. Already she's got his stomach tied up in knots. Her sparkling hazel eyes held him captive, and all he wanted was to kiss her. "You order and I'll pay."

"That worked well for us last night."

"I would have bought you a large popcorn and a Sprite years ago if you just asked."

A tease for a tease. Buffy held her arms crossed as he moved in front of her, leaning back against the table. They haven't been this close since she left his bed in the wee hours of the morning. "How was your day?"

A simple enough start, Xander surmised. "I had the most productive day I have ever had the construction company."

That slightly crooked sexy smile of his revealed all. "Tell the truth, Xander."

"I got absolutely nothing done all day long. All I could think about was you," he offered truthfully. even at his own expense. "I might have assisted someone in building something and I think I signed my name to a contract or two. For all I know I could have signed myself up as a background singer for Destiny's Child world tour."

"I sincerely doubt that one," she laughed and hoped the others would bicker in the back a while longer. "So, you had a good day?"

"I just thought about you."

"It's not every day best friends make love all night long," she asserted out loud for the very first time, acknowledging what had happened. What is was and what it was not. He seemed more than a little pleased by her description. "I couldn't think about anything but you at work today either. I was... distracted all day long. I saw some students, but can't remember one thing they said. I took one page of notes all day long and didn't even write down one name."

"Last night must have been pretty special for you to have been affected like that."

He's carefully asking her a personal question without asking, and she knows his game. "It was very special."

"For me too," he assured her, exhaling the breath he held. She's wearing some new perfume that's wrecking havoc on his senses. Something tropical, gracing her skin the way his tongue did last night.

As a nervous silence settled in around them, his hands caught her attention... those same strong hands that caressed her entire body to so many passionate awakenings. Her body gaze a small shudder from the memory alone. "It was all so... unexpected."

"The movie or the love making?"

"Love makings," she corrected him with a light blush fluttering her cheeks. On her every blink she can mentally scan intimate photos of their endless passion under the warm covers last night. Slow, and deeply passionate, their souls touched, and it was so far beyond simple sex, and yet the very best sex either had ever had. And she knows he feels the exact same way. "I counted three times last night," she noted with a cute little bite of her bottom lip. Okay, four if you count... you know."

Oh he did know and enjoyed every second of it. "Would you kindly turn your back so I can pump my fist in the air."

"No," she chuckled, taking a step closer. Either his body's giving off heat, or she's in it. Buffy looked over her shoulder, then back to Xander. "I'm ah... I'm sorry I left before you woke up. I wanted to get home before Dawn woke up."

It hadn't surprised him to wake up alone, and nor did he take it as a bad sign. "Did you?"

"Yeah, barely." She needed him to understand this. "I wasn't trying to hide what happened, and I don't have any... I don't regret any of it. It's just you and I haven't had a moment to sit down and talk about last night, so it's not something I want to broadcast until we do."

"I agree with that." Casting a quick glance to the back, Xander's left hand reached for hers, caressing her small fingers on the palm of his hand. Touching her wasn't his dream anymore, but felt like a right he now owned. However did a James Bond movie and two glasses of wine at his apartment lead them to the absolute best night of his life? "I didn't bring you back to my place last night for... you know. I wasn't trying for that."

"I know, Xander. I know you. I never thought that."

He nodded his appreciation, though still unsure of their next step. "I wanted to spend the whole day with you."

Buffy's smile seemed to light up the room. Her hand felt so warm in his. Just like last night. Never in her life had she made love holding hands before. It felt like a borderline religious experience. "I came so close to calling in sick for work today."

"Yeah, but here we are, the responsible adults."

"Yeah, responsible adults." It's funny to her how they are avoiding the big stuff and just talking as they normally would. He's calmer than she expected him to be. Heck, so is she. "So now what?"

The hell if he knew, Xander said with his free arm as he stretched it out. The last thing he wanted was to endanger their friendship, but damn it all to hell, he had every intention of taking his last shot with her and seeing what would happen. "I don't know. I guess we could..." At that very moment Giles, Willow, and Dawn came rushing back into the front of the store.

"Dinners going to have to wait. We just got a tip from one of our informants that a large Rat-like man was seen by the docks ten minutes ago. We need to check it out now," Giles informed them as he made his way to the weapons chest.

Buffy and Xander's complicated relationship will have to be put on the back burner for a little while longer.


Sunnydale North shore Docks
Friday, November 18, 8:45 PM
Sunnydale, Ca


As strange a moment as this is for him to take a quick looksie at his watch, Xander did just that. The time, and his current situation cruelly mocked him, especially seeing as how at this exact moment twenty-four hours ago he was enjoying himself immensely, snuggled up to a warm affectionate Slayer in a packed dark movie theater.

Enjoying a movie these days without the trademark loudmouths who yell at the screen and give the story away, or being devoid of running children felt like winning the lottery. Xander wouldn't have traded the two and a half hours he spent with his arm around Buffy's shoulder as she fed him and herself popcorn, while critiquing James Bond's hand-to-hand combat techniques for the world. Never before had they been so openly affectionate, though best friends could do what they were doing, but this was different. Lingering looks and softer voices weren't the norm for them sharing a movie night.

In stark contrast to the slightly windy night air kissing his face, inside that warm theater every single time Buffy brought a piece of popcorn to his lips, he kissed her finger tips. She allowed him to kiss her fingertips, offering more popcorn, never shooing him away or laughing off the gesture. She took it as it was meant to be taken. Flirting physically and outright. Not even a little typical of their friendship, and yet that friendship started changing over the summer they spent so much time alone when Willow and Tara were away with Giles in Europe, so maybe this is all natural progression.

No silly giggling existed here on the docks. Not the way Buffy did last night as they enjoyed the movie and each others company, talking quietly amongst themselves. She smelled so good, Xander recalled as the scents surrounding him now couldn't hold a candle to the sensuous aroma she emitted. They left the theater and traveled back to his place for no real reason other than it was close by. Upon arriving they turned on some late night TV, Melrose Place of all shows, and over a couple of glasses of wine two friends mocked one of the worst trashy nighttime soaps ever to grace a television screen.

That first magical kiss happened when courage and a little alcohol gave the twenty-three year old Xander the forwardness he lacked as a teenager. Then again, maybe Buffy's giggly "Will you just kiss me already," pushed him to finally cross that line, and so he did. Kissed her flush, firm, and full on the lips until she was lying on her back on the couch in the dark of his living room, with him stealing her breath away. Melrose Place stayed on about an hour as they kissed through the entire episode, sometimes slow and gentle, other times harder, with an intimate passion lurking beneath. A split second of a look... a shared longing gaze, as they rose to their feet, clasped hands in that knowing way, and walked hand in hand to his bedroom, where they made love for hours...

Nope, nothing even remotely that good here, Xander surmised, his sword held high at the ready. He stood back to back with Buffy. Giles, Dawn, and Willow brandished axes and swords as well, huddled in a circle by the docks as the Scooby Gang found themselves surrounded. "Are they gonna talk?"

Ten of them in all. At least there's enough space to fight in. Buffy scanned the scene, her acute senses sharp and ready for any attack. "Can they talk might be the better question."

"I told Giles we should have stopped off and bought some cheese."

"I heard that, Xander. I'd like to inform you that in all my years of training with the Council, Velveeta and American Cheese never came up as a weapon to use in the war on evil."

"Yeah, well did you even encounter a gang of giant rats before?"

"Xander's got you there, Giles."

"I'm going to ignore you, Willow, seeing as how the rats might attack any moment."

"I could be at home watching the American Pie marathon. Instead, I'm about to be attacked by big shoeless rodents. This sucks like a porn star," Dawn complained, her sword held outward. When she felt everyone's eyes on her, she added. "Not that I ever watch that... or even know where to find it... shutting up now."

As soon as the Scoobys exited Giles van they met with Clem by the gate, who was walking by the docks and saw the Rat-men that were reportedly in the area. Upon clearing the entrance, the Scoobys walked along the shore until the first Rat-man jumped out at them. Standing somewhat crouched, around 6'2 and maybe 200 pounds, the Rat-man wore a thick black hooded cloak, it's long whipping tail sticking out underneath it's robe. The rats face bore an uncanny resemblance, as expected, to a normal rat, only super sized. It didn't attack, but lifted a jeweled sword in a fighting stance. Before Buffy could make a move, nine other Rat-men jumped out of nowhere, all armed, and surrounded the group.

All of the Rat-men were positioned in fighting stances, their razor sharp teeth exposed. Out of the shadows from behind came another Rat-man. One whose cloaked hood was down, exposing a golden cross on a red jeweled chain around it's neck. A few of it's brethren parted as he walked past, moving just in front of the Scoobys, it's arms crossed, clawed nails lying over his arm. "Identify yourselves."

Hmmm, this Rat-mans deceivingly English accent caught the Slayer a bit off guard. At least they can talk. "You first."

Having had his fill of young humans for a lifetime, the Rat-men's leader stepped forward, asserting it's towering physique over the shorter woman. "I do not have the patience, nor the time to play games with a group of wannabe heroes obviously high off pot or some other Earthly hallucinogenic. There are vampires in the area and you might get hurt or killed. I suggest you leave while you still can."

"First off, we do not smoke pot. And on the off chance that a few of us experimented with one joint, one time, I assure you we did not inhale nor did we even finish it between the three of us." Giles quirked a interested eye brow while Buffy, Willow, and Xander all looked away. The rats extra long whiskers kept Buffy staring for some strange reason. She had to shake off the oddity of it. "Let me tell you something, Mr. Rat Man."

"My name is Moe."

"Moe the Rat?" Dawn asked timidly.

Moe nodded. "Young lady, I have a last name and it is not rat. It is unpronounceable in the human language."

"Moe, Larry, Curly, whatever your name is, I don't care." Buffy got his face now, not caring anymore. "I am the Slayer and vampires are 'my' job. You're in 'my' town and I suggest you start giving me some answers before I start hacking limbs." Buffy felt kinda weird as Moe took a step back, though not in fear. He looked her over, gauging something, from head to toe, then shook his head.

"You cannot be the Slayer. We were told by a reliable source that the Slayer weighs nearly 350 pounds and suffers from a severe case of dry scalp and dandruff. Your hair looks far to luminous for you to be the Slayer."

"EXCUSE ME!" Buffy exasperated as felt Xander move by her side, nudging her.

"Let's not provoke them just yet."

"They think I'm fat," she whispered over her shoulder. "They think I don't wash my hair and have dandruff. They got a lot of nerve, being rats and all."

"Calm down, Buff. They had to have gotten their information from somewhere. Let's keep talking before all the swinging of weapons and screaming starts."

Arms still crossed, Moe watched them curiously, then signaled to his group to lower their weapons until this little mystery was solved. "Let me formerly introduce myself and my brothers. I am Moe." He took a polite bow. "The gentleman to my left holding the sword is Kerry."

"Howdy," he nodded at the Scoobys.

"Jackson, Jr, and Jules are the names of those by the boat behind you." All three rats saluted their leader and said 'Hello.' "Kimble, Curtis, Leila, and Matty are the others surrounding you with their weapons. We are the Krull. Our appearance gives off the impression that we are in some way far distant cousins of what you commonly refer to as the rat. That could not be farther from the truth. We hail from an alternate dimension. We are warriors, come to Earth to seek out the Slayer we've heard so much about."

"To fight me? To kill me?" Buffy questioned glaring, her sword at the ready.

Laughing, Moe lifted his hands, shaking his head. "No, no, no. Far from it. The only thing we love more than a good fight is a good story, and from what I've heard as we've traveled around the country, the Slayer has had quite the storied career. She defeated a Hell-God, put down the Master, crushed Angeles, and even killed a demonic political figure. We just had to meet her. We are such fans of hers and amazing career." Around the Scoobies, all of the Rat-men nodded their agreement.

Giles and Willow exchanged curious looks, as Dawn still seemed wigged out by the fact that the tall Rat-Man sounded like Hugh Grant. Xander figured, eh, it was just another night on the Hellmouth.

Upon hearing many of her accomplishments, Buffy cracked a little smile, shrugged, and said. "I guess I have kicked a lot of booty over the years."

"No, my petite friend, you are not the Slayer. You do not at all fit her description. In Kansas a month ago we had a confrontation with your ex-boyfriend over a card game he cheated on and he told us all about you and your A-Team."

"Scooby Gang," Xander corrected him. "Except, we don't have a dog."

"Ah, yes, my apologies. I knew it had to be some name of a group from the seventies or eighties."

Ex-boyfriend? Buffy knew Angel was still in LA and the last letter she received from Riley had him overseas. That left only one ex-something who she dumped and is now making her seethe with rage. "Spike!"

"You spit out his name in disgust. Why is that?" Moe noted with as much of a grin as he was capable of. "He told us he was the love of your life."

"Spike is garbage's garbage, and never was a love of my life. I admit we uh... look, I was depressed last year and made some bad choices, but I never loved him. He lied to you about that. What else did he say about me and my friends?"

The Rat-Men began chatting amongst themselves, smiling as wide as their mouths were capable of reaching. Moe motioned for them to simmer down, then addressed Buffy. "He was drinking himself silly and telling the most god awful poetry, but he knew details about the Hellmouth and the Slayer that the reports that reached our dimension never said. He told us the Slayer used to be the most beautiful woman in the world until he dumped her and she ate her self fat, gaining nearly two hundred pounds do to the grief of losing him. He even cried."

Her jaw tightened and she grinded her teeth. Buffy gripped her sword harder, anger blazing her eyes. "That lying jerk. I dumped him. Everyone knows I dumped him!"

Moe continued. "He said your Watcher was 91 years old and Slayed in a wheel chair."

"I'll put him in one next time I see him," Giles replied.

"He stated that your male midget sidekick, the one who still wets his bed as a adult and worked in construction during the day carries all the Slayers stakes. He told us that was all he was good for."

Xander could hear the chuckles around him, and simply would not stand for that. "I haven't wet my bed in well over a decade, thank you very much. Tell them, Willow."

"Well, there was that time..." Seeing his wide eyed expression made Willow laugh. "No, he is no bed wetter. Stealer of snacks yes, but his sheets are dry."

Moe nodded, happy to hear the tall grown man did not pee on himself in his sleep. "The Slayer has a witch on her team. A tall, gangly African American woman with a foot made of wood. We were told she lost it heroically saving someone from a werewolf and it was gnawed off."

"I ONLY LET OZ KISS MY FEET ONCE AND IT FELT TICKLY!" Willow yelled, then retreated backwards, as embarrassed as ever, her cheeks matching her hair. "I am happily Gay Now, Jewish, and my feet are still mine." She even kicked both her feet out, one at a time, to show them. "I am going to do things to Spike that will make him useless to a woman!"

All the Rat-Men, Xander and Giles gave a collective "ewwww."

Gauging things as they've gone so far, Moe couldn't help but believe he just might have been wrong about them. "The Slayers brother, Dan, is apparently a thief, correct?."

"I AM NOT A MAN!" Dawn suddenly felt light headed.

"Moe, what you heard is only half right," Buffy just had to tease, dodging her sisters glare. "My sisters name is Dawn," she pointed to her, "Thankfully, her days as a thief are behind her. She's a reformed kleptomaniac."

"I too have a sibling that had to overcome a criminal instinct. It's never easy."

"True. So true." Moe and Buffy nodded in unison, sharing a moment as Dawn stared evilly at them, until Xander smooched her cheek and she smiled.

"Buffy, it seems me and my brothers have made a grave error in trusting the word of a clearly drunk pathetic vampire. I apologize profusely. We only wanted to meet and talk with you about your amazing conquests. See, this is our vacation, and we wanted to meet Earth's greatest warrior and her band of courageous comrades. Believed it or not, they write books about you in our dimension. You're all quite the celebrities there."

Pride shined on Buffy's face as she extended her hand to Moe, shaking it. "Sorry, but my phone number isn't listed as The Slayer. I wish there had been a easier way for you guys to find me."

Moe's tail shook back and forth. "Hey, we slayed a few vamps the last couple of nights for you, and we're talking now, so it been worth it. And if we run across this Spike again, we'll teach him a lesson he won't soon forget."

About thirty minutes passed as Scooby's and Rat-Men began introducing themselves, talking and laughing about things as Willow did a few magic tricks and Buffy lifted the back of Giles van to show off her strength. They started hitting it off pretty well, and seeing as how this is the Hellmouth, as a cop car drove past and saw ten human-sized rats talking and laughing with a group of people, all of whom were holding, or carried a weapon of some kind on their hip, the cops shrugged and made their way to the nearest donut shop.

Despite being rats, they didn't smell bad at all and their English accents were pretty cool. "Hey guys, I know this bar not to far from here called Willy's. All kinds of people are welcome there. How about we all pile in our cars, head there, and grab some food and some drinks. What do you say?"

Comments left and right from the Rat-Men about being hungry and needing a drink led Moe to a most enjoyable inevitable conclusion. "We'd be happy to accompany you and your team to the seedy bar. Lead the way."

"Yay for drinks."

"Not for you Dawn."

"Ah, rats."

"Ahem."

"Sorry, Moe."



Willy's Bar
Friday, November 18, 9:45 PM
Sunnydale, Ca


Their flimsy excuse at best excuse for leaving their friends behind wasn't lost on them, secretly grinning as they strolled down the dimly lit hallway. Agreed upon with but a intimately knowing glance, talking was soon replaced by the softest liquid sounds of their hungry kissing.

Xander's taking his own dear sweet time, tasting Buffy's delicate lips, her slim frame trapped within his strong embrace. Pressed against the door the very second they entered Willy's private office in the back of the bar, he pulled her where he's longed for her to be all day, caressing the small of her back with gentle circles, dying a little each time a shuddering whimper of air escaped their merged lips.

Buffy pondered had she ever been clutched so close to another person, as if a seconds worth of separation might shatter their whole world?

Vaguely aware, the Slayer felt his heartbeat through his kiss, his chest, and the warmth of his embrace. He's nibbling her lips in a way that's making her weak in the knees, as her hands are filled with the collar of his jacket, pulling him closer... ever closer.

Their mouths swayed a rhythmic dance, methodically learning every precious nuance, all the kissing styles the other person liked best. Their tongues overlapped and slid alongside as their tender kissing grew louder in definition. A desperate greedy longing of moist affection.

The outside world, with all it's trials and tribulations, faded away in this small sparsely decorated office. Evaporated into thin air, leaving in it's wake only this man and this woman. Leaving their slow burning fire to blaze once more, building in intensity.

Xander could not stop thinking about her even as he kissed her. Buffy, who made him want to make promises he couldn't keep. Buffy, who he'd live and die for. Buffy, who wasn't just any woman. She was the 'only' woman. And now that he's sampled paradise, nothing and no one else will ever do. No soft lips save hers. No delicate hands that lacked her tender touch. No joyful laugher devoid of her familiar voice. Her moody hazel eyes for the rest of his life, and nothing else will do.

It's just this side of funny to Buffy as she's engaged in one of the very best, most loving kisses of her life that she realizes this is one of the very best, most loving kisses of her life. The past is where it should be, so she's living in the here and now. Living to kiss him for as long as he'll have her. Living to uncover all his mysteries and secrets. Living to travel the path that'll enlighten her as to why now after seven years he's touching her heart so profoundly.

Her heart trusts this man like no other. He is necessary. Vital to her, and now... wanted. Desired. Dare she admit it to herself... loved.

Sly swaying of gently merged lips and eager tongues as arms tightened their possessive hold, drawing the other closer, gasping little puffs of air between them. Fluttering heart beats against a old mahogany door, all the while muted sounds of eighties music filtered in the distance. Xander paid it all no mind. He wouldn't breath if it interfered in kissing Buffy, so he was glad his body knew to do it on it's own. This is it... his shot... his last shot to capture her heart, and win, lose, or draw, he's going to give it his all.

"Okay, okay..." Buffy murmured, struggling to catch her breath, only to moan a sensation of pleasure as Xander's warm mouth found her neck, suckling her ravenously. Deliriously sexy laughter bubbled out of her as she played in his hair. Growling against her pulse, he sampled the softness of her skin. "Slow down, Xander. I'm not going anywhere."

"Tell that to the nagging little voice in the back of my head." He soon found his face being pulled away from her neck, now held by her hands, fingers gliding softly over his cheek, her gaze forcing him to focus on her.

"I'm not going anywhere," Buffy reassured him, smiling her most joyous smile for him alone. "Willy thinks we're using his office telephone, you know. If we're gone to long he'll start asking questions. And if he doesn't, you know Dawn will."

Her beautiful eyes had the ability to make him not care about anyone's opinion. "I'm just not thinking about that right now," he told her as his arms locked around her slim waist, drawing her flush to his chest. He pressed a lingering kiss to her forehead, then another, sighing from the simple joy of holding this woman... the one... the only one his heart needed as surely as it needed air. "They'll survive a little while longer without us."

"Okay." They're being intimate, and again, she's shocked that she realizes it rather than in the past when she had to think about it after the fact. Perhaps maturity is finally setting in. "So, what shall we do?" His lips captured hers once more, playing with her heart as he sought every part of it. He devoured her glorious mouth passionately without that carnal flavor that required immediate lovemaking. No, he wants it. She can 'feel' that much, but this kiss isn't about that. This is all about her and how she makes him feel. He's kissing her with such reverence, as if he never wanted it to end, and she can feel herself falling in love so deeply.

"We can do that some more."

Buffy's lips curled around another slow kiss. "I'm all for that, but shouldn't we talk about last night? At least a little bit while we're alone?"

When she's right, she's right, he begrudgingly admitted. "Okay, you win."

"Yay."

She's far to cute when she wants to be. Or maybe he's just fallen so hard for her again. Without releasing her from his arms, Xander sucked in a deep breath to begin this most important conversation. "I've wanted to make a move on you since August."

She knew that, and if she wasn't so scared herself, would have given him far more blunt hints that she would have been receptive. Alas, unlike the other men before him, she couldn't bring herself to rush things. "Why didn't you?"

"I was scared."

"Of what?"

"Of what all guys are scared of when they think their falling in love and don't know how the girl feels. I was scared of rejection. Believe it or not, Buff. Guys fear that more than you know. I know I do."

His honesty matched her inner most thoughts. His ability to express how he feels without thinking is both a gift and a curse. In matters of the heart he's her hero, though she's never told him that. "We spent almost the entire summer together, and I wasn't dating anyone. You could have asked me out. I thought by August you knew I'd say yes."

"I did think that, but some fears die hard," he explained, gazing down at her. "You can get older and achieve a few personal life victories under your belt and all that, but still have insecurities and fears when it comes to the people that matter most to you in life. I wanted to date you because I could feel all those old feelings coming back, as well as the much stronger new ones. And for me, it was easier to keep my mouth shut and enjoy your friendship than to hear you shoot me down again."

She had her nice little speech already set and ready to go on how if you don't try you will never know if you could have won. It's all shot to hell as she applied it to her own life, and all the times she's walked away and taken the easier way out. She decided to go with the truth. "I wanted you to ask me out."

"Now she tells me," he sarcastically remarked, to which she ducked her head and laughed.

"My feelings for you are changing," she confessed as her voice dropped an octave. "I don't know what's changed about you or me or us. I just know that I'm very attracted to you, and that what I'm feeling is far greater than just friendship. When I spend time with you I have the best time, and when I'm not with you I miss you. I think about you more and more every day. It's a bit overwhelming because for the longest time I thought we'd be just good friends for the rest of our lives."

"I did too. And I would have never regretted that."

"Neither would I."

"But this is so much better." Every time she smiled his way, she worked her way deeper in his soul. "When we made love that first time..."

Closing her eyes slowly, Buffy's lips trembled. "... it was so good," she blushed.

Hopelessly staring at her inescapable beauty, Xander tensed, recalling every taste, touch, and sound they made as one. "For two perfect hours," he reminded her with another short kiss, twitching his nose against hers.

As much as she loved taking a guy down a peg every now and then, he had every right to feel proud of the way he made love to her. Just thinking about it made her body blush. Last night he took her somewhere she's never been before, and a woman remembers that. "We couldn't stop kissing the whole time."

"It was so warm under the covers," he remembered in a hushed tone.

"I've never made love holding hands before."

"Neither had I."

Floored by the intense deepening emotions flowing between them, Buffy buried her face in his chest, shutting her eyes. "That second time..."

Somehow, in the middle of the night, spooned together so closely... he'd slipped inside her again. "We were so sleepy at first..."

"I could barely keep my eyes open, but it felt so good... you felt so good. I thought I was dreaming."

"I found that little spot behind your ear that makes you giggle."

'I know where all your ticklish spots are now."

"The faces you made every time you... they haunted me at work all day long. I couldn't see anything but you no matter where I looked."

"I could hear you chanting my name in my head as I tried to get something done... they way you held me after we... you held me for hours."

"That third time..."

"... yeah," her voice faltered, her tongue darting out to moisten her lips.

Xander tipped her chin with a finger to face him. "I heard what you said."

"I heard what you said too," she fired right back in his face, defiant as ever.

Whispered 'I loves you's' in the dark... over and over in the wee hours of the morning as they made love before sunrise.

Xander gently brushed some of her blonde hair off the side of her face. "We can talk about that later if you want?"

Buffy nodded, exhaling her own deep breath. "I'd like that. I do want to talk about it, but I'm so hungry right now." Xander's laughing at her expense, but it's cool. "Let's get out here, get me something to eat and just have a good night out with our friends. A perfect way to end the week."

"You'll hear no argument from me. Let's go." Another kiss and they're out the door, walking down the hall back to the bar. The music's volume increased as they reached the open space of the bar and pool table area. Up ahead on stage, Buffy and Xander stopped dead in their tracks as they watched two of the Rat-Men singing karaoke with Willow and Giles. They're singing, much to Buffy and Xander's hysterical horror...

"LIKE A VIRGIN, HEY! TOUCHED FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME. LIKE A VIRRRRGINNN, WHEN YOUR HEART BEATS, NEXT TO MINE!"

Starstruck, Buffy's seen and heard so many strange, garish, and bizarre things over the years she's served as the Hellmouth's Slayer, but this just might take the cake. "Are you seeing what I'm seeing?"

"Well, seeing as how neither of us smoke crack, I think we're watching two humanoid Rats singing karaoke on stage with Willow and a clearly enjoying himself Giles."

Clearly disturbed, Buffy pointed a shaky finger at her Watcher. "Look how wide he's smiling. I didn't know he could smile that wide. Did you know he could smile that wide?"

"If you were to ever tell me that I would one day see two grown Rat-men, Giles and Willow singing a old Madonna song together on the same stage in a bar filled with horny, and not in a sexual way, demons; I'd say you were mental hospital bound."

"Then again, there was that one time we all were singing..."

"Let's not go there." Buffy looped her arm through his, clearly not caring who might be watching. "To tell you the truth, they don't sound half bad."

"Yeah, I know," she agreed with no small amount of surprise. "Obviously the world is ending tomorrow."

"Oh yeah, definitely," Xander nodded.

"I MADE IT THROUGH THE WILDERNESS. SOMEHOW I MADE IT THROUGH. DIDN'T KNOW HOW LOST I WAS UNTIL I FOUND YOU."

Xander and Buffy, surrounded by a packed house of adoring demons of all shapes sizes and horns, looked on as their friends and the Rat-Men entertained the masses. Surely, they felt they were trapped in a episode of the Twilight Zone.

"I WAS BEAT. INCOMPLETE. I'D BEEN HAD. I WAS SAD AND BLUE. BUT YOU MADE ME FEEL. YEAH, YOU MADE ME FEEL, SHINY AND NEW... LIKE A VIRGIN, HEY! TOUCHED FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME..."

A Karoth demon slapped his Wolf-like pal on the shoulder. "Those four should cut an album."

"I know I'd be there to buy it."

Xander followed the demonic duo as they made their way to the bar. He could only shake his head. "Okay, Buff, let's get you some grub." When he didn't hear anything he turned around and found Buffy staring at one of the pool tables against the side wall. When he looked himself, he saw a hulking green thing with one eye counting ten dollar bills in Dawn's hand, all while she held a pool stick in the other.

Buffy stalked over, wanting answers and wanting then now. "Dawn, what in the world are you doing?"

Reaching in her back pocket for a wad of tens to go with the wad she just won, Dawn waved the money in her sisters face. "Do you see this? It's half your weekly paycheck. I just hustled five demons in a row at pool. I'm on a roll, sis."

Oh great, her little sisters resorted to a life of pool hustling. "Look, Dawn, if you lose a game and can't pay up, the demons in this bar won't take to kindly to that. I'd like to not have to scrape you off the floor."

"Buffy, first off, I'm not going to lose. Spike wasn't good for much, but he did bring me in here enough times to teach me the game well. Plus, he knew what was the best table and the hot spots. I only play twenty bucks a game and if I win three more games I'll have enough to do some serious clothes shopping."

"Dawn..."

"And pay off the rest of the phone bill." Thoughts racing through her sisters head always amused her. Buffy, in Dawn's estimation, had a small committee of little mental people who worked together to decide what she wanted to do. Tonight at least, they seem to have reached a quick conclusion.

"Keep playing and be cool, okay."

Hi-fives to all the committee members. "Gotcha, sis."

"And don't order any drinks behind my back," Buffy tossed over her shoulder as she walked off.

"I can't. Willy said if I did and he gave one to me you'd break both his legs, then his arms, then his... he named what it was, but I didn't know what it was. All the same, he told me you'd break that too."

"He told you right, Dawn. Say no to alcohol," Xander chimed it, smooching Dawn's cheek as he crossed past her.

"Are you saying no to alcohol tonight?"

"Oh yeah, sure." Xander drew a little halo symbol over his head with his finger.

"LIAR!"

Xander shrugged, following Buffy with a grin on his face. Looking ahead, Moe motioned for them to join him at his table.

"The least I can do is buy the Great Slayer and her companion something to eat," he conceded with a kind gesture. "After all, you are our dimensional hosts."

Ever the gentleman, Xander pulled out Buffy's chair, then leaned down and whispered, "We've known him for about two hours and already he's buying us dinner. Rats are so much higher on the food chain than vampires."

"Why thank you." His new friends amusement aside, Moe pointed to his ears. "Good hearing."

"A fact I shall remember," Xander said in reply as he pulled up a chair.

Upon Buffy and Xander's agreement, Moe ordered a large platter of steak tacos and a pitcher of beer. Over the next hour he fascinated them with the stories of the famous Scooby Gang's exploits he'd heard of in his dimension versus what really happened. Some things were very correct and similar, while others were way off base and came out of nowhere it seemed. All the while they enjoyed themselves immensely.

"I was never eaten by a horse-beast and had to crawl my way out of it's rectal orifice!" Xander rapped his knuckles on the table top to emphasize his point, as Buffy laughed by his side. "I did survive a hit from a troll hammer." Moe's eyes lit up while Buffy rolled hers as Xander began spinning a tall tale stretched just enough for him to come out sounding oh so heroic...

"So, you fought of ten adult Trolls with your bare hands in a rain storm, while running uphill and carrying one of your wounded teammates?"

Buffy hid her laughter as best she could, going so far as to turn away while Xander nudged her foot under the table and proceeded to acknowledge Moe's comment as the truth.

The stories just kept on coming.

... Buffy had to admit, "Unfortunately yes, a exact robot duplicate of me was made... and yes again, that Spike guy you ran into had sex with it."

Moe scrunched up his rat-face, looking ill. "This Spike character is truly a pathetic waste of space, isn't he?" Buffy and Xander nodded in unison. The tall tales of adventure came and went as the minutes ticked by, the steaks tacos disappeared, and the beer pitcher's beer level edged lower and lower.

"HONEY, I KNOW I KNOW I KNOW TIMES ARE CHANGING. IT'S TIME WE ALL REACHED OUT FOR SOMETHING NEW.THAT MEANS YOU TOO. YOU SAY YOU WANT A LEADER. BUT YOU CAN'T MAKE UP YOUR MIND. I THINK YOU BETTER CLOSE IT. AND LET ME GUIDE YOU TO THE PURPLE RAIN... PURPLE RAIN, PURPLE RAAAINNNN! ... PURPLE RAIN, PURPLE RAAAINNN!"

Cheesing as wide as his mouth would allow, Moe cheered the karaoke singers on. "The artist formerly known as Prince is quite popular in our dimension. Kerry and JR know his songs so well, and your two friends sing exemplary." Moe didn't notice the blank stares of his two guests as they felt the train-wreck syndrome come over them. Neither Buffy nor Xander could look away, or even hear much seeing as how the entire bar roared their approval while the two Rat-Men, Willow and Giles took a collective bow, then broke out into another Prince song, When Doves Cry.

"Xander?"

"Yeah Buff?

"When the world ends tomorrow, will you hold my hand."

"Yes... yes I will."

Time strolled by, with their friends still singing, Dawn still winning, and Buffy, Xander, and Moe glossing over their many adventures.

"My people are born and bred warriors," Moe explained. "We also have a great affection for American television. We warrior and we watch TV. It's what we do."

"I shop, sometimes," Buffy added.

"And I carry the bags when she lets me," Xander tossed in.

"Coming to your dimension is like a grand vacation, and so me and my brothers just had to meet the Slayer and her warriors. Buffy, Xander, I cannot thank you enough for such an entertaining evening. My wife will be thrilled to hear about it. Would you mind if we all took some pictures before we call it an evening?"

The Slayer looked to Xander, who nodded, and then back to Moe. "Why thank you. And yeah, taking pictures to mark this momentous occasion of rat and human mutual fun would be of the good."

A very pleased Moe whipped his tail about. Having enjoyed many stories of their years surviving on the Hellmouth, he found himself curious about a more personal subject. "I know how tough it is to be a warrior on the side of good and maintain a relationship. So tell me, how have you two managed to blend living the lives of a warriors while cultivating your love?" Twin deer-in-headlights looks crossed Buffy and Xander's faces, eyes wide as they stared straight ahead, clearly having not expected the conversation to take this turn.

Xander did some kind of thing with his hands, though it wasn't sign language, but he hoped it would have been. "Uhm, we aren't... We're just... well, it's not like we're just, but..."

"It's a little bit complicated, I think," Buffy chimed in, her own hands trying to convey what she's unable to put together vocally. "We're technically closer than best pals, but... officially, we're just two regular folks who smooch a little..."

The young were often curious to Moe. Add in the unpredictable drama-like oddities of humans and they made for quite the entertaining species. "There's no doubt in my mind you are both madly in love," he declared, enjoying their uncomfortableness just a bit. "Humans give off distinctive scents and auras my people can pick up on. Your individual scents no longer exist. You both smell exactly the same, and your auras have merged into one being of pure light. There's no clearer sign of love to my race than when two peoples auras become one." Although a little caught off guard and embarrassed, neither Buffy nor Xander denied his claims. "If I'm invading your privacy to deeply, I apologize."

"No, it's alright. We're just.." Honestly, Buffy didn't know what to say. More than a few things were still up in the air, as far as officially went. Still, Xander's looking at her as if he has all the answers, and in her heart, she pretty much knows he does. Knows where they stand and will be sooner rather than later. "We haven't been lovers for very long."

Xander added, "It's kind of a new thing."

"A spectacular thing."

"Stupendous."

"Amazing."

Moe looked back and forth between them, smiling wide as he motioned over their shoulder. "Your friends look surprised by that."

Fear danced within their eyes as if facing the ax of a executioner. Buffy and Xander slowly glanced over their shoulders, only to discover the clearly shocked, wide-eyed expressions of awe on Giles and Willow's face. The Watcher broke first, offering a slow accepting nod, a hint of a smile, then shook his head and walked off towards the bar, mumbling something about steak tacos. Willow... well, Willow kept the glassy eyed stare for another minute or so longer, then shrugged. She leaned down between them and wrapped her arms over their shoulders.

"It took you guys long enough. Tara owes me twenty bucks when she gets back from visiting her parents. I told her so and I will tell her so. Now pardon me as I enjoy my evening not being the designated driver and purchase an alcoholic beverage. Oh, and don't think there won't be a full and very detailed grilling about your new status tomorrow. Trust me, there will be."

"IT'S PRADA SHOE TIME BABY!"

Moe, Willow, Xander, and Buffy laughed at Dawn's victorious exclamation from across the bar.


Xander's apartment
Saturday, November 19, 8:00 AM
Sunnydale, Ca


The softest wisps of warmth exhaled on his bare chest gently pulled Xander from that lazy land of sleepiness, as his eyes slowly opened to the new day. The very next thing that came to his slightly foggy mind was the weight settled over his body. The slight weight as it were, bringing with his realization one of the most genuine smiles he's ever woken with. Yawning the last of his drowsiness away, his arms wrapped tighter around Buffy as she slept so peacefully in his arms, her head nestled on his chest, legs twined with his.

He didn't mind that her normally gorgeous blonde hair was sticking up every which way, or that she had one sock on and one off under the covers. He didn't care that her comfortable gray lady boxers weren't all that sexy, or that her 'Hello Kitty' tank top had a ketchup stain on the front, or that she snored a little louder than he did. Nope, not one of those things mattered because he didn't wake up alone, he woke up with her. Woke up with her body still sprawled out over his, as if even the need to stretch out in the middle of the night could not overwhelm the need to sleep in his arms.

And so he exhaled peacefully, grinning as the sun shone through the curtains of his bedroom window.

Having returned to his apartment around 3:00 AM last night after partying quite hard with the Rat-men, Buffy and Xander stumbled their way upstairs to his apartment, used the bathroom, brushed their teeth, undressed amidst no small amount of laughter as both almost fell over, and promptly fell asleep. No long night of lovemaking or anything like that. They hit the bed with their eyes nearly shut, crawled in under the covers, found each other and that was that.

Feeling every bit like 'the man,' Xander tenderly squeezed the woman of his dreams, adoring her sleepy face as the didn't move a muscle, her arms laid down by her sides. This is bliss and he's old enough to recognize it. He can drive a nicer car and get a bigger apartment, but without someone to share those things with, what is the effort to achieve them truly worth? Zero. Less than that if it meant not being this in love. This infatuated with another human being who's mere sleeping in his arms made his heart sore while still residing inside his chest.

Another lazy yawn as his fingers rubbed slow circles underneath Buffy's shirt, over her lower back, soothing her slight grumble back to a deeper sleeping state. That felt like true power, even though it was only affection.

Xander knew that later on today Willow and Dawn will demand full disclosure on what's happened in the last two days and why they weren't told immediately. He's looking forward to the conversation, seeing how he intends to infuriate them as much as possible. Yeah, there's nothing in the world quite like messing with your good friends. He's sure Buffy will do the same thing.

There's nothing in all the universe as amazing as being as lazy as you want to be with the woman you love. Soft, safe in his arms, protected from everything in the world, sleeping so peacefully he just knew she was where she wanted to be.

"I'm drooling on your shirt."

One soft chuckle later. "It's okay," Xander yawned again, a flood of affection for her swelling within him. "I can afford a new one. Two even."

Her lips curled into a smile against his chest, her legs rubbing against his under the covers., She's so warm in his embrace, enjoying the most comfortable place she's found in years. "How long have you been awake?"

"Only a few minutes."

"Are you getting up any time soon?" she asked most humorously.

"No, so you can stay right where you are."

"Mmmm, good." Having always been a woman that needed her space in bed, Buffy's pleasantly surprised to find how easy it was to sleep like this. Xander's a pretty big guy, like a man-pillow, she smiled to herself. "I have a hangover."

"Me too."

"Those rats tried to drink us under the table."

"Actually, at one point, we were drinking under the table."

"Oh yeah."

Last night had so many high points, funny and crazy as they were. Xander's sure more will come to mind as the day wears on. "You're missing a sock."

"It came off when I was taking off one of my shoes. I thought that if I bent over to pick it up I might fall over."

"Buffy, you did fall over. I caught you before you hit the floor."

"No, you fell over and I caught you. I remember because you were so sleepy you called me Benny."

"I remember now, Benny."

"Oh hush," she whispered a tease against his chest, planted a little kiss there, then sat up a on her forearms, gazing into his loving brown eyes. Her very best friend in the whole wide world is now the man in her life. The only man. Clearly, as if her eyes have opened for the very first time, the best man. "We had mad fun last night."

"Poor Giles. All he could do was watch, sing, and eat steak tacos."

"Dawn walked out of there with six hundred dollars. I'm still shocked by that. At least she can buy clothes and not steal them,"

"Willow... Willow did something, I think... Something with some light and all the colors."

"It was magical, I'm sure. Of course after my seventh shot I think I remember Prince actually being at Willy's bar last night."

"You mean he wasn't?"

"We got plastered."

"Yeah, well, you only live once."

"Ahem."

"Okay, twice if you're incredibly beautiful, sexy, and super-duper strong-like."

"You say the most romantic things." They stayed that way, staring, as the winds of change blew in around them. Where was the long, complex talk about the past, present, and future they surely were avoiding? Were they avoiding it? Or were they just living in the moment? Maybe silently deciding that what was the use in going over things and overanalyzing everything? Perhaps the only thing that mattered was how they each felt when they woke up this morning. "I love you, Xander."

"I figured as much," he said before he even realized he said it, enjoying her quirked brow. "I love you too. I'm in love with you, I mean."

"Me too, I mean," Buffy quickly amended, tilting her head shyly. "Okay, so aren't we supposed to talk about Angel, Spike, and Anya or something?" Xander shook his head. "What about how we're in love after all this time? Aren't you curious about what changed between us." Xander shook his head yet again.

"Are you happy?"

"I'm happier than I've been in the longest time."

"Do you love me?"

"Absolutely."

"Do you want to date me and see where our relationship takes us?"

"Yes," she slowly nodded, smiling.

"Well I feel the exact same way, and I'm tired of thinking. I want to outlaw thinking. Thinking only gets me in trouble."

"I could tease you so many ways with what you just said, but I love you and so I won't."

"I'm so lucky."

"So am I."

"I guess only one question remains."

"And that is?"

"What do you want for breakfast?"

"Let's discuss that after."

"After what?" His smile grew brilliant as she descended, her lips brushing softly against his.

"After we make love."

"After?"

"Uh huh."

"Sounds like a plan."