Title: "The Amazingly Accurate and True Journal of a Crazy Summer Road Trip"
Volume 1: The Takeoff (1/6)
Written by: Shawn

Summary: Six-day a week work schedules for the last several months, a very active Hellmouth, pot smoking elderly neighbors, and the sheer insanity of living in a eleven person household reaches a boiling point for Buffy and Xander on a hot summers night.

Rated: R for adult language, naughty humor, and BtVS-styled violence.
Category: Romance/Humor/Action-Adventure

Ship: BX always!

Timeline/Spoilers: Post the BtVS finale "Chosen." In 2003 the Scoobies traveled with Giles and Robin to England to help rebuild the Watchers Council. That lasted for two years until April of 2005 when Buffy, Xander, Willow, Dawn, Faith, and six S.I.T's were sent to Cleveland in May of 2005 to officially keep a day to day watch over the Hellmouth there. BX began dating in 2005 just before they left England. All else is explained within.

Timeline/Spoilers Notes: I have not and never will write a story with a one-eyed Xander because it made no sense whatsoever, IMHO, for him to lose the eye. It felt like they weren't using him for anything and he wasn't important to the plot, so lets just take something from him. rolls eyes Xander has both of his eyes here.

Disclaimer: I own Zippo. Joss and Mutant Enemy own it all.

My personal archive: http/groups. Notes 1: No angst, sadness, or heavy drama here. Just a crazy, action packed, romantic story about two people and a road trip that will change their lives forever. Hope you enjoy it. Fun times are ahead.

Authors Notes 2: The Scoobies and S.I.T's live in a seven bedroom, three bathroom home.


The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready. -Henry David Thoreau

Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey. -Babs Hoffman

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. -Augustine (354-430)

I am one of those who never knows the direction of my journey until I have almost arrived. -Anna Louise Strong

It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end. -Ursula K. LeGuin


The home of Xander Harris, Buffy Summers, Dawn Summers, Willow Rosenberg, Faith Williams, Sandy Parkens, Claire Saunders, Bella Reyes, Monique Thompson, Cassandra Vernicova, and Mya Simmons 1750 Pickens Lane Sunday, July 19, 2006 11:45 PM Cleveland, Ohio

"You're glowing, honey. And not in that sexy, beautiful sort of way you normally do?"

Xander's uncanny ability to convey the obvious never ceased to amaze Buffy, who's racing towards the side door of their home. He parked nine seconds ago. "You're glowing too, you know. And that's not the bad part."

"Just hurry inside before we start attracting flies," he said over her shoulder as she fumbled with her house keys. He's been breathing through his mouth for the last thirty minutes, and doesn't even want to think about the damage done to the interior of his car on the ride over. Sweet salvation lived under the jets of a shower faucet. The sooner the better. Thankfully, Buffy's just opened the door and walked inside. "At last."

Buffy flew into the house and kicked off her shoes, then rounded the short hallway, stopping just inside the living room entrance with Xander on her heels. Faith, Willow, and Dawn all looked up at the same time, staring at her and Xander in a shocked manner. Buffy met their curious expressions with as much dignity as she could muster. "Yes, I am fully aware we are glowing."

Dawn's face slowly but assuredly squinted until she placed her hand over her nose and mouth. "Oh my God, you two smell rotten. Did you fall in a trash bin or something?"

Unsettled by the odd state they arrived in, Willow sprinted from around the couch she had been sitting on watching TV to stand in front of her two oldest friends. The rank odor they effortlessly emitted forced her to take a step backwards and suppress a gag. They were covered from head to toe in a glowing green slime. Even their hair was drenched down to the scalp in the disgusting mucus. "Are you two alright? What happened?"

Xander shrugged, as if this was all so normal for them. "What happened was after we finished our patrol we took in a late movie, and then went for burgers and shakes at Burgers and Shakes Diner," he explained as he glowed next to Buffy. "After dinner we heard rumbling and rattling noises coming from behind the restaurant. Like any couple of self-respecting good guys, we had to investigate and BAM! There was the Gorphin demon we'd been looking for the last three weeks trying to eat a homeless man. It seems 'Mr. Big, Bloated, and Disgusting' found the poor guy rummaging through the trash. Buffy and I ran to my car, retrieved what all the cool guys carry in their trunks these days."

"Two swords," Buffy nodded.

"And ran back around the restaurant. After a bit of witty banter and the general death threats, as per the super hero/villain confrontation manual mandates, we engaged the green puss monster in a fight." Xander took a look at himself and Buffy covered in the monsters blood. "As you can see we were victorious as well as ..."

"Slimed?" Faith chimed in, laughing from her Lazy Boy recliner. "Fuck, you two look like the crap that crap crapped on."

"That smell is like death itself."

"Thank you, oh compassionate sister of mine," Buffy noted Dawn's way with a disapproving scowl. The scent wafting from her clothes was beyond fowl. No cleaners would be able to save the blouse she's wearing. And she really liked her blouse. "Xander stabbed it from the front and I stabbed it from behind."

"Double penetration." Faith nodded, just to screw around with them. "I'm down with that," she winked. The comment flew of Dawn's head, but Willow blushed just the same. Xander and Buffy felt not a ounce of amusement at the moment. "Then what?"

"IT BLEW UP!" Buffy shouted as her anger rose to a higher level. Her clothes were ruined. Her shoes. Heaven knows she has to get into a hair salon as soon as possible. Whatever will she tell them about what happened? Some days her life sucked so badly. "That thing simply exploded all over us in one big gooey burst. It didn't turn to dust like it was supposed to. It didn't fade away or melt or sink into the ground or anything nice and normal. Oh no, it went Poof all over us."

Willow worked harder than Faith and Dawn to restrain her laughter at her friends expense, but alas, the amusement overwhelmed her as she took in the sight of her two best friends covered in glow in the dark goo that smelled like they had taken a nap naked on a pile of rotten fish. She approached them with her arms out, about to extend a comforting hug, then thought better of that and stepped back farther. "Well, at least the mucus demon is off the streets and won't eat any more homeless people. That's a good thing. In times like these I feel we have to focus in on the good things."

"No, Wills. A good thing is a very long, very hot shower followed by the ritualistic burning of our clothes," Xander said as he and Buffy started for the stairs.

"Uhm, guys," Dawn called out with a half-smile, half-step backwards cause Buffy just might be about to go into a postal rage. "I hate to be the bearer of more bad news, but a water main burst down the street and all the water is off until noon tomorrow." Their blank expressions were almost comical if the situation weren't insane enough. Faith's snickering in the background. "We do have five gallons of spring water in the kitchen and there's some water left in the water hose in the backyard. You could clean up a little in the kiddy pool Faith won at the amusement park."

And with that bit of knowledge, Buffy lost it. Eyes widened, teeth bared, jaws and fists clenched. "Are you saying you expect me to take a bath with a water hose in a freaking kiddy pool outside in the backyard?" Her voice rose a arc higher with every word, signifying Mount Saint Summers was about to blow. Faith's continuous laughter only increased her ire. Willow steadily backed away, sensing a psychotic episode on the horizon. Even Xander shifted aside a little from her, and made non-verbal eye contact with Dawn on a possible escape route out the house. "You have got to be kidding me?"

"Are you sure all the water is off?" Xander looked around and found only nods. His luck just kept getting better and better as he got older. "This is almost as bad as that night Dawn made all that Mexican food." He shuddered and his hand rested over his belly in a protective manner.

"Nothing!" Willow declared with a shaky hand as the memories of a hospital stomach pump ran through her mind, "Absolutely nothing compares to the horrors of Mexican Night. Do not even speak of it again." In her best English accent she said, "Tis a thing of evil, it was. A night of mayhem and debauchery."

Dawn frowned. "Hey, standing right here."

"Sorry, D. Mexican Night will go down in infamy. Your cooking almost murdered us," Faith remembered none to fondly. "We sent some of what was left to the Council scientists. They're still working on it."

"Well that's the last time I'll cook dinner for any of you."

"GOOD!" came from everyone in the room.

Dawn gave them all the middle finger.

Buffy stood there shaking her head in complete frustration. Covered in glow in the dark goo and smelling like trash, and this was a Monday. Work sucked. Slaying sucked. Home sucked. She needed something to kill. Or strangle. Or at least maim a little. "Come on, Xander. It doesn't look like we have any other option unless it's the YMCA."

"Bathing in a kiddy pool will no doubt be a highlight of my illustrious life," he grumbled behind her.

"I'll go up stairs and get you some towels, soap, shampoo, and clean clothes," Dawn offered. "Faith, grab some sheets so they can have some privacy."

Faith rose from the recliner. "Okay, but I'm not getting to close to the smelly twins. They're funky, but not in a cool 70's music sort of way."

"I hate you all," Buffy tossed over her shoulder as she walked towards the back door. "Haaateee" she hissed.

"YEAH, WELL AT LEAST WE SMELL GOOD!" Dawn shouted while running upstairs, grinning the whole time.

20 minutes later

As beautiful as her slender nude figure was to behold by moonlight, Xander never in a million years thought he'd be hosing Buffy down while she stood in the center of a Sesame Street kiddy pool in their backyard at night. He worked on her hair first, using the hose while she massaged the shampoo through her scalp, then rinsed away the soap from her body the way she had done for him a few minutes ago. "I'm just washing that goo right outta your hair, just washing that goo right outta your hair," he sang and listened to her sweet laughter as the water flow began to slow down. "You better finish up. We're just about out of H20."

They're both naked as the day they were born with two large white sheets and a high fence shielding them from the neighbors who lived on both sides. Blindly reaching for the towel she laid by the side of the pool, Buffy motioned for Xander to turn off the water, then began drying her face and hair off. "That feels so much better. It wasn't a true shower, but at least we smell better."

"We are Zestfully clean once more," Xander said before wrapping a larger towel around her slim form, drying her off with his arms around her. She gave him a quick kiss in appreciation as he held her close. "All better?"

"Yep," Buffy returned his lighter shift in mood. A men and women's pair of workout sweats were quickly donned. "We no longer glow. I think that's a positive turn of events."

"Amen to that, my dearest Slayer love."

While dressing, Xander sniffed the air and suddenly found himself recognizing an all to familiar scent. From the first day they moved into this house after returning from London, the two elderly couples who lived in the homes on either side of them sat in rockers on their back porches most nights and engaged in a very interesting hobby. "Suddenly, I want snacks."

Sniffing the air herself, Buffy laughed. "It's like we have Cheech living on one side and Chong on the other. Or maybe Snoop Dogg. Those couples smoke so much pot it boggles the mind. We get second hand high every single night. If I fail a mandatory drug test at work I'm hiring some elderly goons to beat them up."

"Honey, you must remember. They smoke it for their glaucoma."

Buffy just rolled her eyes. "They drive faster than we do and have perfect eye sight. I caught Old Man Jackson staring at the girls sun tanning in the backyard the other day like he was a kid in a candy store. He didn't even have his glasses on. And don't get me started on Mrs. Gertrude. I saw her eyeing you like a piece of meat when you were cutting the grass the other day with your shirt off. I thought her fake teeth were about to fall out of her mouth. Those same teeth hold her joint every night."

"Are you implying that they don't smoke marijuana for their health and eye sight?"

"Okay, now you're making fun of me. And after yet another ten-hour work day with no end in sight I'm to tired to be made fun of. I need a good nights sleep beside you." His arm slug over her shoulder, tugging her closer as she leaned into him. "But before that, let's snag a couple bags of Doritos."

"Second hand high, baby?"

"Second hand high," Buffy repeated, following Xander back inside the house.

15 minutes later

Clean once more, Buffy strolled into her bedroom and hopped on her bed. She shut her eyes for a brief moment to enjoy the quiet and the comfort after another long day of work and stabbing monsters with swords. But for some reason she wasn't surprised when the quiet and comfort she savored soon came to a crashing halt.

A household of eleven people that all slept on the same floor could drive anyone insane. And after having gone insane for a short period of time, she would rather not repeat it.

The sound of Xander's fist banging loudly on Mya and Cassandra's bedroom door in a effort to intervene on yet another argument between Slayer-powered seventeen year olds was quickly drowned out by the voices coming from Buffy's answering machine. Seated on her side of the bed, she deleted an offer from a new satellite dish company in town. The house had six receivers already. There was a message from Giles, but it didn't seem to important, so she'll call him back in the morning. Then Captain Paul's deep baritone voice told her that all three teams reported no strange or unusual activity on their sweep of the city tonight. Buffy was most pleased to hear that, figuring with a grin it was because her and Xander already took care of it.

Unlike Sunnydale, which at best was a small suburb, Cleveland was a huge city of 495,817 people and stretched 77.6 square miles. It's the 33rd largest city in the entire country and contained twelve cemeteries alone, all double the size of the mere three in Sunnydale. Couple that with a brand spanking new Hellmouth near Cuyahoga River spewing forth and drawing in other-worldly baddies called for a greater force than the core Scoobies and a group of S.I.T's going on nightly street patrols could possibly muster. With a new Watchers Council in place, updated for this day and age, Giles and Robin recognized the potential problems in advance and made the necessary contacts in City Hall to arrange a special 'off the books' task force within the Cleveland Police Force called 'Underground Vice.' Twenty-five specially trained and armed non-uniformed police officers who work closely with the Scoobies in protecting the city, keeping watch over the new Hellmouth, and a ear to the street for any strange happenings.

As sworn in police officers, albeit 'off the books', Buffy and Faith worked and trained at the CPD with the other officers full-time, while the S.I.T'S, along with Willow, Xander and Dawn worked evenings. A city the size of Cleveland was to huge to do things any other way, and after a year and some change the Scoobies and the Police Department have settled into a solid working situation. Thankfully, Xander's old boss in Sunnydale had a brother-in-law who was starting his own construction company in Cleveland. Xander's work record was so good, and his relationship with his former boss in particular that a job was arranged on the strength of that alone. Six months later he was a crew chief again. A position he held before and had ample experience in.

The last message finished with another delete. Buffy yawned, settling back on her king sized bed, finally able to relax for the first time since 8:00 AM this morning. Ten hours of fielding anonymous phone calls about the paranormal, going over possible vampire reports and false claims of 'underworld activity,' as well as staking out a old used car lot that turned up nothing was just another long day in a years worth of very long, six day a week schedules. She's burned out not only by that, but a lack of quality time with the man she loves and a house full of crazy people, specifically six seventeen-year old girls who acted seventeen every chance they got.

Secretly, she loved her girls. But sometimes she wanted to strangle them. She suddenly with a smile wondered how often Giles had that exact same thought about her. She figured with no malice at all it had to be more than a few times.

Just down the hall she heard Xander rolling off a string of reasons why fighting over the same boy was not only insane, but that they didn't want his over-worked sweetheart to come down the hall, tear their bedroom door off and make them sleep in the backyard the way she did two weeks ago. And heaven help them if their loud shouting woke Faith from a fitful sleep. He reminded them they wouldn't be able to call the police because Buffy and Faith were the police.

Blissfully, silence seemed to reign supreme. Yet again Xander's calm temper and insightful, albeit funny, threats have brought peace and serenity to the household. Buffy just loved that man. Against rhyme and reason, she adored him in simple moments like these when he could have easily left the girls for her to deal with since she is their Slayer teacher, but instead kissed her cheek and told her to get in bed and relax because he was going to take care of it. All because she's his honey.

It felt so nice to be someone's honey again, she thought in a pretty good mood.

Now if only she could find something to watch on TV until Xander came to bed she'd be even better. She pressed the buttons on the Sony twenty-inch TV's remote, but nothing happened. She pressed them again, and came close to throwing the remote at the wall until she remembered the promise she made to her boyfriend she wouldn't throw any more TV remotes at any walls ever again. He got so tired of fixing the big holes. "Ah ha," Buffy announced to herself when she discovered the true culprit must be the weak batteries she admittedly hasn't changed in a couple of months.

"A girls gotta do what a girls gotta do." Buffy remembered Xander threw a pack of triple A batteries in his top dresser drawer the other day. She hopped off the bed and walked over, then pulled open the dresser and began rummaging through the various items of oddity. One bright orange stress ball, three Spiderman comic books, a Darth Vader action figure, around six dollars in change, two scratch-off lottery tickets he didn't win anything on, ten loose keys, a half eaten cookie that made her frown, a picture of her that made her smile, a marker, and various receipts and business papers. She found the batteries pretty quickly, but one receipt seemed to call out to her. She doesn't know why she zeroed in on it, but when she did she plucked it with her hand and read it, then smiled... then reread it... then reread it again.

On Christmas morning this past year Xander presented Buffy with five gifts, all of which she loved, but the one that had her on a giggly Cloud-9 trip all day long was the pair of round diamond ear rings secured in platinum that she fell in love with on sight. They were beyond beautiful and cost an amount she still hadn't managed to get him to admit to. With the receipt now in her hand the mystery was solved. She saw they cost two thousand dollars. Jesus... The money never mattered to her as she loved the ear rings no matter how much they cost. No, that wasn't a big deal at all.

What was the big deal was that the receipt showed two purchases from Zales Jewelers. One was the ear rings, but the second was... Buffy blinked once... then again... then squinted her eyes to make sure she was clearly reading what she thought she was reading... It might help if she breathed, but she couldn't... the staring continued... she turned on the small lamp on her night table so that there was more light in the room to insure she was reading what she thought she was reading correctly.

At long last Buffy inhaled and exhaled five very long breaths, sat down at the edge of the bed and held the receipt in her shaky hands. If she's reading this right the cataclysmic implications were Earth shattering and... and... "Oh my god," Buffy whispered to herself as a swell of powerful emotion swept over her almost to the point of lightheadedness.

All because right under the purchase of the diamond ear rings was the purchase of a diamond platinum three-stone semi-bezel engagement ring. A seven thousand dollar diamond engagement ring. A seven thousand dollar engagement ring that Xander repurchased for... suddenly, her mind went through a number of equally zany as they were probable scenarios, but in the end common sense led her to one unmistakable truth.

The ring was for her.

Oh God...

Ever since that fateful rainy night in London fourteen months ago when they took a walk just for the hell of it after work, something changed between them. Something new sparked and not because of any fundamental changes individually. Sunnydale was two years behind them. Joyce, Tara, and Anya passed away from their lives. Teenagers had become adults. Lovers and loves had come and gone. Losses happened as life deemed. And through it all they had maintained a special friendship, even through the rocky periods. That friendship led to a hug of sorts under a tree in the park they wandered in to during the storm. That led to a tender, careful first kiss that Xander dared to try and Buffy found herself enjoying immensely.

They talked that night for three more hours, and even on the phone before they went to bed, but never about the kiss. And they didn't talk about the second kiss they shared three days later in a elevator on the way to Giles office. And even after a wonderful first night of passionate lovemaking a month later, afterwards they chatted about everything but what was happening between them. Then one day over lunch they talked and everything was okay. There was no need to over think what made you happy. It really was that simple because love often is at the end of the day.

That beautiful first day led to this one. Buffy's eyes focused on that the receipt until they shut from staring for so long. She simply could not fathom being in this situation. It was inconceivable for the lifestyle she led. It was more than true that she was absolutely in love with Xander. That in the last year she's grown to enjoy living her life with him by her side. Her very best friend was also her very best confidant, lover, and warm safe place whenever life got to be a little to much. She's years removed from Spike, Riley, and Angel. Two have moved on and one disappeared, but she doesn't look for him in the night. She spends her nights in the arms of a man who makes her the center of his world, as he is the center of hers.

Cleveland was not Sunnydale. Working for the CPD and Watcher's Council wasn't the same as being a high school counselor. Dawn has a sister, but doesn't need her the way she used to because she's grown now. Things are different in so many ways. She's not the woman she used to be. Xander isn't the man he used to be. Nothing is the same anymore.

As if suddenly hit by a jolt of electricity, a clarity of the soul sent Buffy barreling towards one inescapable truth. She's spent the last fifteen minutes thinking about how wonderful the last year of her life has been and how different things are and not once has the idea come to her that she didn't want to be Xander's wife. Sure, the idea of him asking her is terrifying. Her knees are shaking and her fingers are fumbling and her heart's doing back flips. But at age twenty-five, with a real career now and the aspects of her Slaying life finally in order, she's in a different frame of mind. A altered, better than it's ever been before place in her life. She's in a committed, loving relationship with a man that knows every drink she likes and how to make them. He knows her favorite breakfast order at IHOP. He knows exactly how she liked her stakes shaved down and doesn't mind when she gets emotional during her period. He's sincerely over who she's dated in her past. He knows her shoe size, her favorite cereal, the first Halloween outfit she ever wore, how utterly imperfect she can be and still he loved her with all his heart. He's loved just the same in return.

A light shined, though not in the bedroom, but within her heart. A brilliant, blinding light and a understanding. She's searched her feelings for the answers to her life's greatest questions. The how's and the why's and the when and the who and all of those things led her to the love she felt every morning she woke up next to Xander. Buffy calmly walked back over to the dresser and placed the receipt back inside under some other papers. She walked back over to the bed and climbed on, now hugging her pillow to her chest. Someone wants to marry her. To share forever with him, and she's charmed to no end by that.

Her mind was clear, her heart was sure, and her path was set. She looked up when the bedroom door opened, revealing her honey in all his teenager-frustrated glory. "Did they get to the hair pulling part or did you stop them at the name calling?" She watched him cross the room in three long strides and hop his large body on the bed so hard she practically bounced in the air. She laughing by the time his arms wrapped around her, pulling her back to his chest as he sighed affectionately. "You could have warned me before you dive-bombed the bed."

"Yeah, but what fun would that have been. And you got a seconds worth of hang time, sexy." He pressed his lips to the side of her cheek, his arms snug around her waist. She's still smiling which was a very good sign. His day might have sucked and being slimed certainly wasn't of the good, but this was everything he needed as far as reason to make it through every day. Buffy's love. "Mya has a date with Chad on Friday."

Buffy glanced surprisingly over her shoulder. "Do you mean Cassandra's Chad?"

"One in the same."

"He's playing them both?"

"It appears so, although they don't see it that way. They think the other girl is trying to muscle in on her turf. Neither of them blame Chad for dating them both."

"Why do I get the feeling both of them will wind up pregnant in New York on the 'Maury' show doing a DNA test next year?"

"Let's hope I got through to them first."

"What did you say?" She shifted sideways in his arms, her hand resting over his heart as she leaned into him.

"I told them that Chad is laughing behind both their backs and that they need to leave him because obviously he has lied to both of them."

"What did they say?"

"It appears," Xander groaned, "They are both in love with Chad and think the other is lying."

"I think it's time to send in our secret weapon."

"You don't mean..."

"Oh, I do. It's time Chad met Faith." Xander leaned over her and brushed his lips on hers, kissing her softly. "At least Dawn sees through him."

"Yeah, Willow too."

"Honey, Willow's gay."

"Yeah, but Chad has a 2005 Mustang. Never underestimate a woman's reaction to a hot car."

"Since you had no such automobile in high school however did you manage to charm Cordy?"

"That old cliché about opposites attracting. I think that best sums it up. And she did dump me, you know."

"After she caught you about to sex up Wills and she fell and almost died."

"Okay, the bringing up of my less than admirable relationship memories is not conclusive to me getting a good nights sleep." Buffy slipped her arms around his neck and surprised him with a very long, very hot kiss that told him good times were definitely ahead. Alas, his pyschic abilities weren't so good seeing as how she broke the kiss, then crawled off the bed and was now pacing back and forth in front of it. "Please don't tell me you want to play charades."

She ignored that, continuing her brisk pace back and forth. She only hoped she'd get this right. "Xander, I want to talk you."

A man never, ever wanted to hear a woman say that because having a penis meant you're paranoid to begin with. His heart suddenly caught in his throat as he rambled off possible queries. "Are you pregnant, or leaving me, or pregnant, or you think I'm cheating on you or are you pregnant or..."

"Geez, Xander. I'm not pregnant or leaving you and I would never cheat on you," Buffy declared in a exasperated tone of voice, hands on her slim hips as she stared him down. "Just relax, okay. This is a good thing. A very, very, very good thing." She saw his eyes widen and his mouth open partially. She suddenly wanted to hit him. "No, not your birthday three-way with Faith. That will never happen. We've discussed this already."

He lowered his head. "I know, I know."

His sad little boy expression never ceased to win her over. "Xander, I'm done baking."

"That's cool by me. We got a bakery right down the street that makes great apple pies. Plus, and honey please don't take this the wrong way. I never liked your baking all that much anyway. I like baking that includes actual taste. But I do love you," he added at the end.

Oh crap, five minutes into this and Buffy felt she was already losing her train of thought. And his. "This has nothing to do with pies or pastries, alright. This is about me and my life and a representation of where I am right now in my life." She watched him sit up and take things a bit more seriously. Good. That was a start. "This isn't a bad thing, I promise," she began. "I just want you to know that I am done baking. I am ready to be frosted and put on the shelf for sale. Just slap a price tag on me." There. She said it and was very proud of herself.

'What the fuck' was the first thought that ran through Xander's mind, followed by making sure their bedroom window wasn't open and she hadn't gotten royally second-hand high. He sat upright, nodding as seriously as he could, all the while going over what she had said and how despite his outward expression of keen interest and caring, he didn't have a clue what she meant. "I like the way that sounds." A term he read in Maxim Magazine once when it was polled ten thousand men what was the best, most appropriate and safe thing a man could say to any woman when he had no clue what she was talking about. He loved Buffy with all his heart, but as with most women, sometimes she said things that flew right over his head. "I really like the way that sounds."

Buffy exhaled a sigh of pleasant relief, smiling. "You do?"

"Yes, absolutely." If he slipped off to the bathroom he could probably call Angel from his cell phone and see if he ever understood the baking speech Buffy gave him years ago. The last time they spoke he hadn't, but maybe he had greater insight since Cordy came back from the dead again. What exactly was baking supposed to mean? "So... uhm... you seem pleased to be done with all the baking and such."

"Oh, I am," Buffy nodded as she rejoined him on the bed, cuddling up to his side. "I've baked and baked and baked and in a lot of ways I think I stayed in the oven far too long and maybe a little overcooked. But now I'm all done and ready to be eaten."

For some strange reason he just doesn't think she means that in a sexual way. But now to be outdone with the whole maturity angle, Xander quickly added, "I'm done frying."

'What the fuck' Buffy suddenly thought, trying to wrap her mind around that one. Frying? When did he start frying? Was he gay? No, of course not. He made love far to good to be gay. "Uhm, okay."

Xander desperately wanted to sound smart and mature to her. "Yeah, see I was flame boiled and grilled and microwaved for a long time, but when I started frying I just... well, I knew I couldn't fry forever, so now I am done frying. You can take me off the skillet and put me on a plate with some mashed potatoes and some Cole slaw."

He doesn't smoke crack and she knows that for a fact. She'd laugh at how that rhymed in her mind if it made a damn bit of sense. Nonetheless, she nodded and offered, "You're the greatest." Cosmo's number one line to say to a man when a woman had no clue what in the world he was talking about. And it worked damn well

Obviously, he had said everything just right. Buffy settled into his arms peacefully, hugging onto him. They cuddled in the center of the bed and all was right with the world. Xander had his girl, whom he loved more every day, and at the end of this long tiresome day that was all he needed. "I want to petition for 36 hour a day days."

"Why is that?"

"Because there's never enough time to do all the things you want or need to do. And you can never get enough sleep."

"So there are things you want to do and don't have enough time for?"

"All the time," he answered. "I'm overworked and I never seem to get enough time with you. We barely get a few hours all week long until Sunday. These six day a week work runs have been dragging me down, but thankfully the Hancock project is finished."

"I know how you feel. When I get home I just want food and sleep. Maybe some sex here and there."

"Or there and here."

"Wherever," she chuckled in his arms. "I love you."

Said out of the blue and always graciously accepted. "I love you too, sweetheart."

"Will you love me next year?"

"Of course."

"And five years from now?"

"Have you gained weight?"

"Yes."

"Yeah, I'll still love you. There'll just be more to love."

"And how about 15 years from now?"

"Fifty years from now when we are old and gray and I have to push your wheelchair through the cemetery while our grandkids fly around on hover boards Slaying vampires, I will still love you. My loving of you is pretty eternal." Women are interesting to him. Buffy most of all. "What's with you tonight?"

Her hand settled over his chest, her head on his shoulder. "I think I'm just making sure we both know where we stand." Mustering up all her courage, Buffy lifted her head to look into his eyes. "I don't want to just date you forever. I do want more... someday," her voice softened at the end. "I guess I just wanted you to know that. And to feel confident in that."

He saw in her eyes the answers to his hearts greatest questions. He didn't know why now, or why tonight. She's never been predictable. He'd never change that about her. Buffy was giving him a definitive sign that he understood without fail. Xander sat up and was about to... "WHAT THE HELL!"

The bed disappeared.

Buffy landed with a thump on his body, but Xander's larger one smacked hard into the floor. Both sat up immediately, with Xander grabbing his backside, howling in pain.

"My butts on fire!

A quick knock came at the door. "Uhm, guys, I hope what Xander just yelled had to do with the beds disappearing, Willow said, "And now some lewd sexual stuff. Anyway, one of the girls was doing a spell and it went crazy wrong and all the beds disappeared and... OH GOD FAITH, NO! DAWN TRIP HER OR SOMETHING! RUN BELLA RUN!"

Buffy laughed at the whole scene and the night and just everything in general. She laughed because her life was funny even more than it was tragic and maybe she didn't see that until she was twenty-five years old, but she sees it now. And suddenly, she knows exactly what needs to be done. Watching her honey rub his now sore butt, she bent over and whispered an idea in his ear. A familiar one.

"That's a crazy idea at this time of night."

"I'm a crazy kind of gal."

Insane though her suggestion was, the possibilities for doing what he's wanted to do for months now couldn't be passed up. "Grab the Post-It's."

The Next Morning 8:20 AM

Having spent the night sleeping on the couch pillows from downstairs, Faith woke up suddenly out of a dream and rolled off them and onto the hard floor in her bedroom. "Godamnit!" she swore as the pain in her elbow lanced hot. She rubbed the offending bruise, her face already broken into a scowl.

What a way start her day.

Drowsy, peering through blurred vision, Faith sat up. She stared at the spot where her Queen-sized bed once was. She shook her head, yet again wondering why she ever listened to Buffy when the elder Slayer offered her free room and board as well as a nice and steady Watchers Council paycheck to relocate to Cleveland and help her train the S.I.T's and keep watch over the new Hellmouth. She had thought that her ability to refrain from violence while in prison was a testament to how far she'd come as a person, but oh no. This eleven person household she lived in, with it's always occupied three bathrooms, constant fighting over everything, and the stupid teenage boys trying to sneak in and out at all hours of the night have tested her patience to it's limits.

Last night was almost the straw that broke the camels back. Or Bella's back. Like Buffy, she's pulled forty-eight hour work weeks for the last couple of months and it's driving her nuts. She required such simple things after having dealt with prison a few years ago years. She asked that no one drink her beer. That no one ever go in her room without her permission. She asked that no one eat any of her Home Run Inn frozen pizzas. That no one ever go anywhere near her motorcycle. That no one ever make fun of the NC-17 trashy romance novels that arrived at the house in Selina Cortez's name, of which she always signed for, ever be discussed.

EVER!

A quick glance at herself on the mirror on her dresser revealed a less than her usual hot self. Her long dark hair stuck up on one side of her head and slumped flat on the other. She had a terrible nights sleep and suddenly remembered that she won't be able to take a shower until noon. Also... oh no... she hadn't thought of that... oh crap, could things get any worse.

Faith raced from her room and down the hall towards the nearest bathroom. She found Willow standing in the hall looking quite perturbed. The witch appeared every bit as disheveled as she did. "Wills, please tell me we can at least flush the toilets?"

"I'm afraid not. Emphasis on the word afraid." Willow calmly shut the bathroom door. This was bad. Real bad. "It seems that unless we use the facilities at the Burger King down the on Maine Street, we'd better avoid all liquids until noon."

"You have got to be kidding me?"

"I wish I was."

"WHY WON'T THE TOILET FLUSH!" came shouted from down the hall.

Willow and Faith knew the day was going to be a long one. A very long one indeed. As they walked down the hall, knocking on the S.I.T's doors to wake them up, they stopped at the next bathroom door. "Uhm, Mya. Did you... you know, already?"

"Yeah," came softly through the door.

"Dammit, girl. You knew the water was shut off last night," Faith argued. "What were you thinking?"

"I thought that was only for the faucets and the showers."

Faith made the hand gesture of choking someone, but Willow walked her away to avoid the violence. "Just close the lid and put a sign on the door so no one walks in, alright."

"Okay."

Faith grumbled all the way downstairs, heading towards the kitchen. She was in serious need of food when she found Dawn, Monique and Cassandra staring at something out of her line of vision. "Morning, bitches."

"Morning, teach," the two S.I.T's said at the same time, using Faith's pet name among the girls.

"Sup, D?" Faith looked ahead at the refrigerator, with Willow on her right side. "What the hell?"

"My thoughts exactly," Dawn said. On the refrigerator's freezer door was a folded up sheet of notepad paper. Below it on the door itself were eight little Post-It notes. "We just got here and saw them. I knocked on Buffy and Xander's door, but no one answered."

"You know how they like their early morning bang-bang."

"Faith, references to my sisters sex life freak me out." Faith shrugged next to her.

Willow stepped forward and grabbed the note stuck to the freezer door by a cow magnet. "This is Buffy's handwriting." She turned around, facing the small group that gathered and began reading. "When you all wake up and read this letter Xander and I will be on the road leaving Cleveland as fast as the State of Ohio driving laws allow. We are overworked, stressed out, tired of fighting over the bathrooms, cereal, who ate the Pizza Rolls, who's turn it is to control the living room TV, and all things concerning loud music late at night. We slept on the floor last night after we took a bath in a Sesame Street kiddy pool outside in the backyard as our elderly neighbors smoked pot around us. If we don't get some space between us and you guys we just might go crazy. And crazy doesn't look good on me or my honey. So here's the deal. We have left for a six day road trip that will give us time to enjoy ourselves, relax, and not kill any of you in your sleep. We have our cell phones with us, but do not, and I repeat, do not call us unless one of the following things have happened. One, an apocalypse is coming and you have tried to stop it yourselves AT LEAST THREE TIMES and Giles hasn't arrived yet to help you. Two, someone died and you have a body as proof. Missing does not count. Three, one of you wins the lottery. If none of those three things happen then we do not in any way, shape, or form want to hear from you. We have left a number of Post-It notes as gentle reminders of things to do and not do in our absence. Xander wrote the Post-It's, so any misspellings are his as I am writing this letter, which he has not seen. Anyhoo, stay safe, watch each others backs, and for goodness sake if a apocalypse is happening please, please, please try to stop it yourselves before calling us. See ya in seven days." Willow stared at the letter, especially the last part. "Buffy signed it, the Harris's."

Dawn's smile came slowly but grew until it lit up her whole face. She's been sworn to secrecy ever since the day Xander asked her to help him pick out Buffy's engagement ring. It looks like one way or another Buffy's coming home with it on her finger. "Let's read the Post-It's," she offered to pull their thoughts away. Faith brushed in front of her first, with everyone looking over her shoulder.

'Dear Faith. Don't beat up anymore of your dates.'

"Hey, I only did that twice."

'Dear Dawn. Don't drive your car until the gas meter reads empty.'

Dawn pouted. "Xander picked me up three times and he's never let me forget it. My Neon can get another twenty miles on E. I know it can. It says so in the manual."

'Dear Willow. I know it was you that ate the rest of my Cocoa Pebbles last Saturday, and then lied and said it was Dawn. But I still love you.'

"He wrote that so small... and he still loves me." Willow seemed amused.

"Cereal Liar!" Dawn growled at Willow. "I knew it was you who snitched and said it was me. You're a lying snitch!"

"MEXICAN NIGHT!" Willow threw in her face, to which everyone around them groaned and looked away.

"I'll never live it down," Dawn whined to herself.

'Dear S.I.T's. Condoms prevent unwanted pregnancies.'

'Dear S.I.T's: Missing curfews will be enforced by sleeping in the backyard.'

'Dear S.I.T's: Ronald Fordman is not ever allowed in this house, EVER!'

The legend of Ronald Fordman made all of them shudder, never to be spoken of again.

'Dear Faith: The habits of our neighbors are not habits in our home.'

"That jerk," Faith laughed to herself. "I only toked one up with the Sayers that one time. They said it would help me with my eye sight."

"Sure they did, Faith," Willow teased.

'Dear Selina Cortez: I enjoy reading your trashy smut books when you aren't home.'

"I knew it was either the X-Man or Dawn," Faith nodded.

Having heard her fill, Bella stood behind the group, listening to everyone's comments. "Uhm, gals. Since Xander is gone, who's gonna do the food shopping around here?"

Faith glared at her. "Why don't you do a spell and make some food appear rather than making beds disappear."

"That was a accident."

"I want my bed back."

"Why. It's not like you're getting any action anyway."

Stunned silence...

Then running...

"MYA, TRIP HER! FAITH STOP, PLEASE! RUN, BELLA, RUN!"


The Last Stop Off Interstate 75, Exit 189 Monday, July 29, 2006 6:45 PM

Cars versus airplanes? That was the question.

Buffy knew that airplanes were the faster, easier way to travel. But Xander had always told her there's something to be said for the good old-fashioned road trip. Packing your bags at a moment's notice and hopping in the car with the windows down, radio blaring and no particular destination in mind. That feeling of freedom was supposed to be second to none, and if the first day of their road trip was anything to judge it by then she agreed wholeheartedly.

She even welcomed the sweltering heat because with it came the great outdoors.

The Last Stop was your typical run-of-the-mill convenience store/gas station hybrid. The two working gas pumps were the odd numbered ones as the evens were so old and rusted that had to have been out of order for years. Lottery tickets, cigarettes, newspapers, drinks, Fix-A-Flats, motor oil, and everything else expected could be found inside the small blue and white store. All in all it was perfect for the highway traveler, and best of all, it had two partially well-kept bathrooms.

Of all the cultural, religious, and financial differences people in the world had today, one thing held them all together. Everyone had to pee at some point in time.

Leaning against the passenger side of her boyfriend's gray 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee, Buffy sipped her can of Iced Tea while waiting for him to return. They stopped for gas, water, snacks, and a couple of magazines after having had a blast on the open road all day long. They blazed outta town pass the Ohio River with the radio jacked up loud and not a care in the world, all the while stealing kisses at stop lights that angered people behind them. They plotted their course on the fly and have gotten lost twice already before finally finding their way. Disney World in Orlando, Florida was their destination of choice. They chose the land of Mickey Mouse because it was the exact opposite of everything they had seen and experienced the past three years. Work, responsibilities, the Hellmouth, and a house full of loved ones, albeit nutcases, were behind them.

Buffy honestly couldn't recall the last time she ever had as much fun as she's had already, and they're barely inside of Kentucky. They had laughed a lot today, she thought, remembering. The silliness of sneaking out of the house at 5:00 AM this early in the morning, writing their goodbye letter and posting the Post-It's, coupled with the odd looks and behind the back whispering they received at the closest car wash where they cleaned up the interior of Xander's car after last nights slime fest only strengthened their resolve to have the time of their lives on this trip.

Lifting her arms lazily above her head, Buffy laced her fingers together, stretching. A trucker honked his horn in appreciation. He even tipped his hat as he turned his eighteen-wheeler back onto the highway. The gentle ego-boost didn't hurt one bit. Buffy took it in stride. She's dressed in faded blue jeans and a thin black short-sleeved tee shirt with the word 'Princess' on the front. Xander said she looked extremely sexy wearing that black ladies cowboy hat he bought her two weeks ago at the mall. She didn't think much of it, and was never a hat wearing sort of person, but it drove her honey wild and that night she wore it and nothing else.

They had made love all night long until it fell off her head. Wearing it today made her feel sensuous.

Smiling to herself, Buffy sighed as the excitement of the next week swept over her. Not only was she going to spend some serious quality time with the man she loved while enjoying a vastly overdue vacation on the open road, but she was going to get engaged. That last part simply blew her mind as well as left her lightheaded and giddy. The Poster-Girl for strange, weirdly epic and tragic relationships now found herself in a truly loving, sincere, actually going somewhere relationship. For ten years Xander's been her friend. For more than half of that he's been her best friend. And with the exception of one moment in a funeral home she had never looked at him that certain way before. It certainly had nothing to do with her belief in his courage or loyalty. Those were undeniable. But seeing him as a man meant seeing him as a potential man for her and that just never came up.

She couldn't fake feelings that she didn't have for him at that time. She loved him. Always had. But it just wasn't that romantic kind of love, or that chemistry that physically drew you to another person.

Then something changed when they moved overseas. Maybe it was the change in scenery, or that they were all working for the Watchers Council in a far more serious capacity that forced all of them to grow up faster and take on more responsibilities than they ever had before. There were meetings and training and introductions to all the new people who were recruited to work for the Council or had survived the First's attacks. Their lifestyle in Sunnydale resembled something so simplistic compared to their new lives in London.

Xander had always been nice looking to her. And then good looking as time passed. And now even hot. But his looks didn't make her fall in love. His dark side, or mysterious nature, or dangerous attraction weren't what changed within her in how she saw him. She had grown past that at long last. It was as if she looked up one day and finally saw the twenty-four year old man and not the sixteen year old boy. The man who had finally learned how to dress to magnify his good looks and build. The way he grew into a humble confidence in how he carried himself and acted in public, while never losing that zany side of him in private that always made her laugh. The ways he romanced and treated her were foreign to her previous suitors behavior to say the least. Angel never cooked her dinner. Neither did Riley. Spike just didn't know how and the Immortal only knew how to order food in Italian. So much for eternal life.

Xander learned how she loved to be kissed and mastered the technique. He accepted how she craved her space at times, while appreciating his need to break through her protective emotional shell and force his way in. He waited patiently for her to place her trust him with her heart, and he never, not even once, took a choice away from her. In short, he did everything new, which turned out to be everything right, and she fell in love with that twenty-four year old man not for the man he wasn't, but for the man he grew into.

And now, as she's waiting for him outside this gas station she's shocked by how badly she wants to be married to him.

Buffy Summers had boyfriends and lovers before. She's tasted the wilder side of life, and the darker aspects of her own boundaries. She discovered herself in London. She finally figured out what made her happy and what didn't. What inspired her and what held her back. She didn't just want to move forward with her life. She actually did. And with no man at that time either. She experienced what Xander had for years already. A complete independence. She had her own apartment separate from Dawn. She made her own money and paid all her bills herself. She had no help save what she did for herself and even if her job wasn't normal, her real life was. Two years flew by as a greater appreciation for Xander evolved into something so much more. And now she's days away from having him ask her to marry him.

Angel, Riley, Spike, and the Immortal... Jesus, three of her former beaus didn't even have real names. And the one who did ditched her for a demon infested jungle. Two didn't have pulses, and one didn't need the one he had.

No matter, though. Things worked out just fine.

Shaded from the sun by her cowboy hat, Buffy lifted her head when she saw Xander exiting the gas station. The shades she picked out for him looked great, and coupled with his Los Angeles Dodgers Baseball jersey, worn jeans, boots, and that stubble she refused to let him shave this morning, he a rugged look going. Dear God, she thought breathlessly, the man was almost criminally sexy. Wherever did he develop that great walk?

There was something about Buffy when she wore that cowboy hat that flipped his every switch. Xander raked his hand through his short dark hair and sighed. She's so beautiful sometimes it hurt to look at her. Her lips were soft and parted, lovely. Her eyes were lit with a secret amusement. "I hope you haven't been out here romancing truckers," he teased upon reaching her. He tossed the bag he was holding in the backseat, then pressed against her. "Cause that guy who honked his horn at you was bigger than me and if you want me to defend your honor then you need to get hit on my a less menacing looking, shorter guy. Think Oz in height and weight." He paused, enjoying her gorgeous smile. "Better yet, let him be small like that little guy from the Austin Powers movies. I could take him in a fight. And I'd look gopod doing it."

Buffy simply wrapped her arms around his neck, pulled him down and kissed him to her hearts content for the longest time, even until one of her legs curled around the back of his. Despite the cool sensation from the Iced Tea can he felt against his neck, Xander's tight hold around her slim waist sent waves of heat throughout their bodies. Crushed together, their lips merged hungrily and passionate, never mind being outside or anything else. And when Buffy finally allowed his tongue to slip from her mouth she was practically off her feet, with her back pressed into the car door and her weight supported by Xander's strong arms.

"Jeez, Buff. We're you trying to get pregnant through that kiss?" he joked, pecking her soft lips one last time.

"Of course not. We should wait at least another year or two before we go there. When we have our own home and we're far away from the Hellmouth and stuff." Though the moment was marked by romantic levity, her voice remained calm and assured. She smiled a little, but never allowed it to bloom so that he could take it as a joke. She wanted him to know she wasn't joking at all. He was the one, she thought with absolute certainty. "What are you thinking?"

"That I love you more than I have ever loved anyone in my entire life. And that candy bars cost entirely too much these days," he smiled, lowering her back to both feet again, his arms loose around her. "I bought a Snicker and it was eighty cents. I just about had a seizure."

Buffy looked up, feeling as though she'd received a precious gift when he fell in love with her. There's a light within his eyes that spoke of a truly good person. Her husband... "And still you bought that eighty cent Snicker, didn't you?"

"Well, yeah."

"And a Whatchamacallit?"

"You know I love those."

"And some chocolate raisins?"

"They keep me regular."

Laughing, Buffy framed his face and gave him another kiss, then swatted his behind. "Let's hit the road, honey." She gently shoved him away, then watched as he rounded the car. She climbed back in and shut the door. She grabbed the map from the backseat while Xander got back in, strapped on his seatbelt and started the engine. "Did you ask the attendant if we were right about the turnoff into Bellefonte, Kentucky? I don't want to miss out on seeing a real wax museum."

Just as Xander was about to pull out of the gas station, in the rear view mirror he saw a old man walking out of the gas station waving at him. The person behind the counter looked around eighteen years old and when he gave him his change, he might have been a dollar short. No matter, Xander thought. He's worked jobs like those before and making a fuss over a dollar just wasn't worth the effort. The old man had to be the manager, who was probably in the back. "The guy at the counter said he was lost coming to work today, which was his first day. We'll wing it honey. I'm pretty sure we're right since we both have good eye sight from all the second hand pot we've inhaled in the last year." Buffy laughed as they sped off, back onto the highway.

Sixty-nine year old Mr. Graham Saunders held his hand to his fast beating heart, having ran from the back area of the gas station to the front as soon as Johnny, his new employee asked him about some directions to a place called Bellefonte, Kentucky. Having owned and operated this gas station for the last thirty seven years, Mr. Saunders knew how to get anywhere from anywhere as well as knew the places that needed to be avoided like the plague. He yelled as loud as he could and waved his arms about, but the driver of the car never stopped. Probably couldn't hear him either. For if he did he would have heard him yelling...

"STAY AWAY FROM BELLEFONTE! THE ZOMBIES WILL KILL YOU ALL! IT'S A PLACE OF EVIL! BEWARE OF THE ZOMBIES! THE DEAD WALK THE STREETS IN BELLEFONTE!"

The End of Chapter 1

Chapter 2 "The Dead Zone"