Summary: Buffy sees Xander in an unguarded moment, and comes to a realization.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters portrayed here, they remain the property of their respective owners/creators. The quoted movie dialogue, as noted in the story, is from "Chasing Amy."

Rating: PG-13, for language and themes.

Time Frame: Fourth season, a few days after "Living Conditions."

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


CATCHING XANDER


Willow was working at her desk quietly when Buffy entered the room, and she turned to greet her, only to notice that her best friend looked as if she really wanted to beat the crap out of someone, but couldn't. She smiled reassuringly and asked, "Rough time on the microeconomics quiz?"

Buffy snorted in annoyance and replied, "No, amazingly enough, I think I aced it. . .I'm mad about something a little more run of the mill for me. . .my brilliant ability to seek out guys who aren't right for me." She sat on the foot of her bed and mumbled, "I can't believe I was so damned blind."

Willow sighed, and walked over to sit next to Buffy, grasping her right hand and squeezing before asking, "Something's wrong with Parker? What happened?"

The Slayer sighed, then replied, "It started during the whole mess with Kathy. . .I came back to the room and he was there, chatting her up; of course, I was so pissed off at Kathy by then that it never even entered my mind that he had been hitting on her. I didn't think anything more about it until the other night when we were all at the Bronze. Xander took me aside and let me know that he was getting creepy vibes from Parker. . .nothing he could put his finger on, but he thought I should know about it in case something Hellmouthy was involved."

Willow nodded, and Buffy continued, "I couldn't feel anything weird about Parker, and put it down to Xander still suffering from post Angel trauma-" Willow laughed a bit nervously, causing Buffy to frown before she continued, "-and I didn't think anything more about it until after Psych class this morning. Parker had to go to another class, and I watched him walk past Riley Finn. . .from what I've seen, Riley's about the most friendly person you're ever likely to run into here. . .but he bristled when Parker walked by. I walked over and asked him rather bluntly why he didn't like Parker."

Willow laughed and commented, "You've been picking up tricks from Cordelia. . .Riley couldn't have been too comfortable when you did that."

Buffy nodded and replied, "Yeah. . .he looked pretty edgy. . .caught between honesty and the guy code, I guess. He asked why I wanted to know, and I told him that I had been seeing Parker. He frowned, started to say something, then stopped and was quiet for a minute before giving me the names of three sophomores in the class who had dated Parker last year, and suggested that I talk to them."

Buffy paused and scowled, and Willow looked at her in concern and asked, "How bad?"

"Let's just say that if Snyder hadn't become Mayor chow in June, he'd be higher on my 'willing to date' list than Parker is as of now. . .any one of those women would have cheerfully tied him up and left him for vamps to feed on, and from what they said, I couldn't blame them. . .what a pig." Buffy's voice was harsh, and she elaborated, "He's in it for the chase. . .once someone is dumb enough to sleep with him, he walks."

Willow's eyes narrowed, then she sighed and smiled at Buffy, commenting, "At least you found out before you did something you'd regret. . .chalk it up to experience and move on." Buffy nodded absently, and Willow thought of something and a glint of mischief appeared in her eyes as she commented, "Looks like Xander's instincts were right on the money."

Willow watched Buffy smile as she replied, "Yeah. . .that's our Xander. . .protecting our honor even when we don't want him to. . .as annoying as that was with Angel, he had it right this time."

Willow nodded, then decided to point something out to Buffy that she had noticed: "You know, Buffy. . .Parker looked a lot like a certain someone we both know and love."

Buffy blinked, then thought about the idea for a moment before her eyes widened and she uttered a rather vile curse. Willow flinched, and Buffy turned to Willow and grated out, "And why didn't you share this little insight with me before?"

Willow raised an eyebrow, then replied, "You've got eyes. . .I assumed that you had noticed it. .. but you never mentioned it." She frowned in concern and wondered out loud, "Do you think it bothered Xander?"

Buffy's eyes widened again, this time in concern, but she quickly relaxed and responded, "Xander hasn't thought of me in that way for a while. . .I'm sure of it. The whole thing with Faith probably cured him of any Slayer obsession he might have had, and-" She paused, looked at Willow, and looked a bit embarrassed as she continued, "A couple of weeks back, when the whole thing with Sunday and her crew went down. . .I was a total mess until Xander showed up at the Bronze and said the most wonderful things to me. . .he had so much faith in me. . .told me that I was his hero and that whenever he had doubts about himself he asked himself what I would do. I swear, if we didn't have a serious bitch of a vamp to take out, and if he had made the slightest move on me. . .I think I would have attacked him right there in the Bronze." Buffy sighed, then looked down and concluded, "But he didn't. . .and I'm pretty sure he won't, so that's that."

Willow felt a pang of sadness about her two best friends, and looked into Buffy's eyes as she asked, "Would you like him to?"

Buffy looked back at her friend, and her expression turned frustrated as she replied, "I don't know, Willow. . .my feelings for Xander have gotten so confused at times over the years. . .I've gotten so furious at him. . .and then at other times he's been sweeter to me than anyone I've ever known. I just don't know how I'll react until the situation comes up." Buffy saw a glimmer in Willow's eyes and interjected, "Don't you say anything to him, either. . .if he does have feelings about me still. . .and if he thinks there's a chance and I shoot him down again. . .that would be one of the few unforgivable things I could do." Buffy blinked, then looked down and whispered, "If there's something there, Willow. . .I have to be the one to take the chance, and I'm just not ready right now."

Willow squeezed Buffy's hand again, then sighed and changed the subject: "All right, then. . .I think a night on the town without stinky Parker is the order of the day. Oz will be here at nine. . .why don't we call Xander and head out to a late movie together?"

Buffy nodded and smiled, replying, "Sounds like a plan." She excused herself to go to the bathroom, and Willow looked after her, wondering if she would be able to untangle her confused feelings about Xander quickly enough to do either of them any good.


* * * * *



Buffy walked back into the room as Willow was hanging up the phone. The redhead smiled and commented, "He'll be here at about eight thirty. . .when Oz arrives we can all drive over to Main Street. "

Buffy nodded, then asked, "So what do we do in the meantime?"

Willow caught the edge in Buffy's voice: suggesting studying would not be welcome right then. She thought a moment, then brightened and replied, "The RA has scheduled a videofest for the main lounge starting at six. . .they're going to be showing some good movies. "

Buffy shrugged and replied, "Sounds good. . .a night of serious distraction sounds good to me." They talked for a few minutes, then glanced at the clock and gathered their things, with Willow leaving a note on the door for Xander and Oz to meet them in the main lounge before they left.

There was a fairly good-sized crowd, and Buffy and Willow found seats in two of the armchairs near the back just as the first movie started. "Big Trouble in Little China" was an old favorite of Buffy's, and the silly looking demons and magic being tossed around were nice changes from the deadly serious versions she had to deal with on a regular basis. Willow quietly worked on an outline for one of her classes while watching Buffy laugh and smiling at her best friend's improved mood.

The movie ended, and Willow caught Buffy's eye and waved at her: the Slayer waved back and winked at her just as the RA slipped in the second movie, "Chasing Amy." Buffy smiled: she liked this one too, though the ending was a bit weak. Buffy noticed that Willow was putting her work away and grinned: Willow liked the movie too.

The two friends watched quietly with the rest of the group, and by the time Holden began his big speech to Alyssa, they were completely focused on the dialogue. Buffy closed her eyes and listened to the words:

"I love you. And not in a friendly way, although I think we're great friends. And not in a misplaced affection, puppy-dog way, although I'm sure that's what you'll call it. And it's not because you're unattainable. I love you. Very simple, very truly. You're the epitome of every attribute and quality I've ever looked for in another person. I know you think of me as just a friend, and crossing that line is the furthest thing from an option you'd ever consider. But I had to say it. I can't take this anymore. I can't stand next to you without wanting to hold you. I can't look into your eyes without feeling that longing you only read about in trashy romance novels. I can't talk to you without wanting to express my love for everything you are. I know this will probably queer our friendship -no pun intended- but I had to say it, because I've never felt this before, and I like who I am because of it. And if bringing it to light means we can't hang out anymore, then that hurts me. But I couldn't allow another day to go by without getting it out there, regardless of the outcome, which by the look on your face is to be the inevitable shoot-down. And I'll accept that. But I know some part of you is hesitating for a moment, and if there is a moment of hesitation, that means you feel something too. All I ask is that you not dismiss that -at least for ten seconds- and try to dwell in it. Alyssa, there isn't another soul on this fucking planet who's ever made me half the person I am when I'm with you, and I would risk this friendship for the chance to take it to the next plateau. Because it's there between you and me. you can't deny that. And even if we never speak again after tonight, please know that I'm forever changed because of who you are and what you've meant to me, which -while I do appreciate it- I'd never need a painting of birds bought at a diner to remind me of."


Buffy opened her eyes and was about to sigh when she heard a sudden intake of breath slightly behind her and to the right. She turned and saw Xander staring at her with wide, sad eyes and a slack jaw. He flinched when he saw Buffy turn and look at him and quickly turned on his heel and left the lounge.

Buffy blinked, and was about to call out to Xander when she noticed Willow watching her. She turned to her best friend and looked at her with an expression of sudden discovery in her eyes. Willow nodded solemnly and inclined her head in the direction of the departed Xander before turning back to watch the movie. Buffy felt a moment's irritation at Willow's casual manner before she got up and left the lounge.

Buffy walked for a while, and found Xander about to head down one of the side staircases. She silently moved up behind him and touched his arm as she called out softly, "Xander."

Xander stiffened, but didn't pull away. He turned back to Buffy and managed a smile before greeting her, "Hey, Buffy. . .I saw you and Willow were caught up in the flick, so I didn't want to bug you before the Oz man got here-"

Buffy absorbed the lie, then just looked at him: not a glare, just a quiet, calm stare. Xander began to squirm, then sighed and stated, "You're not buying that, are you?"

Buffy shook her head solemnly, and both of them were silent for a moment before Buffy commented, "It's quite a speech, isn't it? Take out a few of the specifics, and it's everything that you'd want to say to someone you were really in love with, but would be way too terrified to say in real life. . .putting your heart right out there where the person you're trying to tell how much you care for them might stomp on it with both feet and walk away isn't exactly a fun concept."

Xander looked at her for a moment, then looked down and shook his head as he replied, "No, it isn't." He sighed, then added, "Particularly when I'm not exactly Mr. Wordsmith. . ."

Buffy laughed, and sat down and leaned against the wall next to the stairwell. Xander sat next to her, looking irritated. Buffy turned, shook her head at him and replied, "Xander, if you're fishing for compliments, you should be more up front about it. Do you think I've forgotten how you talked Angel into taking you to the Master's lair?" Xander blinked, and Buffy nodded and added, "Yeah. . .Angel told me. . .every damned word." As Xander absorbed this, Buffy continued, "And how about you keeping your cool and trying to tell me how important I was to you when I was standing in front of you with nothing but a raincoat and a smile and trying to throw myself at you?" Xander flushed, and seemed about to reply when Buffy continued relentlessly, "Oh. . .and two weeks ago. . .did you think that I pulled it together and kicked Sunday's ass because I really, really wanted my stuff back? You kicked me in the ass to get me going, and said some absolutely beautiful things to me. . .and I'm never going to forget it."

Xander sighed, then looked down and whispered, "I can think of some other times where I said some things that weren't so beautiful, Buffy."

Buffy closed her eyes briefly, then responded, "Yeah. . .I know. It's been pretty bumpy between us at times, and I'll admit there were times I was seeing your face on that practice dummy that I spent so much time beating into kindling." Xander winced, then noted the glint of humor in Buffy's eyes as she continued, "But I've noticed that you always seem to come through for me even when you're pissed off at me. . .the night the Master rose, the time you stepped between me and Faith right after you found out I was hiding Angel. . .Xander, even the time you lied to me about Willow casting the curse. . .you were trying to protect me. We've been through hell together. . .and we're still friends. . .that means something."

"Of course it does. . .we'll always be friends. . .even when we're fighting over the applesauce at the retirement home. . .nothing will ever change that." Xander's voice was quiet and gentle, and Buffy had to restrain herself from hugging him as she calmly looked into Xander's eyes and waited for him to speak again. After a moment, Xander blinked, then asked, "Was there something else you wanted to tell me, Buffy?"

Buffy sighed, then responded, "Xander. . .I've been going merrily along for awhile now, assuming that any feelings of the romantic kind that you had for me were ancient history, that the blowups, the whole thing with Faith, and various other crap that has gone down in the last three years had totally swept away any trace of you being attracted to me. . .was I wrong?"

Xander looked into Buffy's eyes, and his first impulse was to lie. He opened his mouth to say something dismissive, and found that he couldn't do it. He blinked, suppressed the urges he was having to turn away or flee, and swallowed once before replying, "Yeah, Buffy. . .big time. . .I'm sorry."

Xander braced for a negative reaction, only to see a calm, appraising look appear in her eyes as she responded, "All right then, Xander. . .we just heard about the most amazing speech that anyone could ever give to someone they were in love with. . .what can you offer me, Xander? What words would you assign to the feelings you have for me?""

Xander saw Buffy go silent and start looking at him with an expectant expression, and his mind went completely blank, to his horror. He began sweating, and Buffy watched patiently as he struggled to come up with an epic expression of his feelings for her. After what seemed like forever, he sighed, blinked, looked into Buffy's eyes with an expression of utter failure on his face as he uttered the only words that he could bring himself to say: "I love you, Buffy."

Xander closed his eyes in shame, and was startled to feel a strong arm around his neck and warm lips meeting his. He managed to keep his composure and returned the kiss with some enthusiasm. After a moment, Buffy pulled away and gave him a level stare for a few seconds before nodding and stating bluntly, "OK. . .works for me."

Xander blinked, then stared and managed to say, "Huh?"

Buffy stood up, pulling Xander to his feet, and they walked for a while until they found an empty study area. They sat next to each other and Xander waited for Buffy to explain. The Slayer sighed and began, "Flowery words are nice, Xander. . .but they don't make or break a relationship. . .we both know how that movie ends. . .Alyssa and Holden broke up."

Xander nodded in comprehension, and Buffy continued, "Of course, they had a problem that made things rougher on them. . .there's another good speech in that movie, Xander, where Silent Bob talks about his problems with Amy. . .how he couldn't handle knowing about her past, and imagining that she wanted him to live up to it somehow. . .just like what finished Alyssa and Holden." Xander frowned, and Buffy continued, "Xander. . .you've been there from the beginning: you know what my past is, every bit of it from the moment I set foot in Sunnydale. You know how things went down with me and Angel. . .and you know that, as much as I love him, I don't want that back. . .it was just too painful for me, and for him."

Buffy went silent, and Xander watched the complex play of emotions on her face as she struggled to clearly express what she was saying. Buffy sighed, then continued, "Ever since Angel lost his soul, I've been trying to figure out what I wanted. . .things didn't work out with Scott Hope because I had to lie to him. . .going back to Angel and playing on-again, off again, keep it cool or else was just misery for both of us. . .and Parker was just a sleazebag who happened to look a lot like someone I'd trust with my life in a heartbeat." Xander swallowed hard, and Buffy smiled at him and concluded, "Xander. . .this whole thing was never about you chasing me. . .it was about opening my eyes and realizing that I wanted to catch you." She looked down and closed her eyes, whispering, "If I'm not too late."

Buffy heard the rustle of fabric, and Buffy looked up to see that Xander was holding a handkerchief and waving it in the manner of a white flag of surrender. Buffy smiled, and Xander smiled back and replied, "You win, Buffy. . .you've caught me. . .and I've suddenly come up with a whole lot of things that I want to say about that." Buffy looked at him expectantly, and Xander grinned at her and added, "But somehow, I think they can wait for another time." He leaned forward and kissed her, and they stayed that way until they heard the sound of a clearing throat. Buffy and Xander looked up and saw Willow standing at the doorway with Oz: Willow looked vaguely smug, while Oz looked calm as always, except perhaps for the trace of a smile at the corners of his mouth.

Willow smiled at her two best friends and asked, "So. . .are we going to catch that movie, or are we interrupting something here?"

Buffy grinned, then stood up and replied, "Miss a night on the town? Not a chance. . .besides, can't deprive our dates the opportunity to shower us with abundant snack food at the theater." Xander winced, thinking of his limited funds, but Buffy had captured his arm by slipping her own slender arm around his elbow, and the amused look she gave him let him know that she had divined his thoughts. * Yep, I'm caught * he thought, looking down at the visibly contented young woman next to him. Somehow, it didn't bother him all that much. He smiled back at her as the foursome left the dorm for a night at the movies.




As always, comments are welcomed and desired