Title: Blindsided (Below The Surface—Xander's Remix)

Author: M. Scott Eiland

Summary: Xander tries to comfort Dawn, who doesn't want comfort.

Rating: PG-13 for language, sexuality, and other themes.

Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Pairing: Dawn/Xander

Disclaimer: The Buffyverse isn't mine—all hail Joss!

Spoilers: All seven seasons of BtVS—set about a year and a half after "Chosen."

Original Story: "Below The Surface" by Roni (sroni2004).

My thanks to Roni for providing a lovely story for me to remix.

BLINDSIDED

Xander nodded to the shopkeeper and left with his purchase. It had been a while since he had been sent on ingredient retrieval duty, but Willow had needed a substantial amount of black widow webbing and a few dried frog tongues for a ritual she was working on, and she had asked very nicely if he would swing by the local magic shop to retrieve the items—and he was more than willing to fit it into the shopping trip he had planned.

He had only been in Cleveland for a few days—he had been away in Africa for six months, helping to track down Slayers to either train in place or to spirit back to London or Cleveland for more formal training. After a few close calls, Buffy, Willow and Giles had put their heads together and decided that Xander needed to take a break from the grueling duties, and asked him to come to Cleveland for a few weeks while they discussed the best way to continue his mission. Which might be a nice way of saying "there's no way in hell we're sending you back in there, Xander"—but unless they pick someone better for the job I'm going back. I'm not going to let them get all protective of me again—that never ends well. Xander dismissed the thought and was walking back to his car when he was nearly bowled over by someone storming out of a doorway. He managed to stay upright with a shuffle-step backward and looked over at the person—who had stopped—and started to snap: "Hey—other people have the right to use the sidewalk too, you—" He was looking down at the sidewalk and saw a rather spectacular pair of legs terminating in a classic pair of black pumps. He gradually raised his head and saw a tall, slender, and very feminine form in a black evening dress that was cut in a way that accented the curves of the woman wearing it without being overly revealing. He hesitated for a moment—feeling a sense of danger for no reason he could identify—then raised his head the rest of the way. He saw a beautiful young woman—no older than eighteen or nineteen—with long brown hair and huge blue eyes. . .and an expression that practically shouted "I'm horribly embarrassed right now." He smiled easily and commented, "On the other hand, sudden collisions are an underrated way of meeting people." The woman's expression turned to one of sheer mortification, and Xander was about to comment on it when he took a good look at her again, and his jaw dropped as an inner voice in his head shouted NOT AGAIN! Unfortunately, the evidence of his eyesight forced him to include that, yes, he had fallen into that particular pit again. He coughed uncomfortably and mumbled:

"Hi, Dawn."

Dawn flushed slightly, and was about to speak when the door she had come out of opened, and a young man in a sports coat came out, staggering slightly and smelling of booze. His eyes fell blearily on Dawn and he called out, "You left—we were having such a good time."

Dawn turned on the new arrival, and Xander shivered a little at the disgust in her tone as she replied, "No, you were having a good time—I was having dinner with a guy who was drinking way too much and who thinks that groping under the table is on the list of things to do on a first date. I'll find my own way home."

Xander saw the drunk's eyes narrow, and he intercepted the younger man as he was about to step closer to Dawn. "The lady's had enough for the evening, friend—why don't you call a cab and go home? You've had enough fun for tonight."

"Why don't you mind your own business? This is between Dawn and me and I don't have to put up with your cra—" The drunk stopped in mid-sentence as he noticed that the man challenging him had about thirty pounds and three inches on him—with none of it looking flabby—and that the man's single eye was blazing with an implied promise to gut him where he stood if he didn't back down. The drunk stepped back, muttered something under his breath, and staggered back into the restaurant.

Xander relaxed in mild relief—given his experiences of the last year, there was a good chance that a brawl with a normal human would lead to that human needing serious medical care, and he knew that Giles wouldn't appreciate the attention such an incident would create. He started to turn to Dawn, saying, "Well, that was an uncomfortable moment-at least for a date that didn't involve actual attempts at homicide—" He finished turning and saw that Dawn was glaring at him with an unnerving intensity. He took a half step back and asked, "What?"

Dawn shook her head at Xander in exasperation and muttered, "Forget it—it doesn't matter. I'm walking home."

"Two miles back to the Slayer compound, at night, wearing those shoes, in a town with a Hellmouth in it? Not likely, Dawn." Xander was almost relieved at having to pull rank on Dawn—it was a convenient reason not to think of other things. "My car's right here, and we're going to the same place. Get in."

For a second, Xander thought that Dawn was going to ignore him—and he really didn't have a plan for dealing with it if she did. To his relief, Dawn emitted a frustrated snort and followed him back to his car. As they pulled away from the curb, Xander turned to Dawn and asked, "I'd heard you were around, but I hadn't gotten the details—how long are you staying?"

Dawn shrugged nonchalantly. "I'm looking through colleges to apply to—I'm going to start next fall." She fell silent, and pointedly looked away from Xander for the rest of the drive.

The car pulled into a parking space in front of the Slayer compound—a three-story house of recent construction—and Xander looked on with concern as Dawn immediately stepped out and stormed through the front door. He looked over, considered the idea of leaving Dawn alone with whatever was bothering her, and rejected it. He got out of the car and jogged up the steps of the house, entering the front door.

He caught up with her just as she reached the door of her room and said, "Dawn, you were so pissed off that you were ready to walk through a demon combat zone to get home rather than wait five minutes for a cab. Now, I'm not Mr. Common Sense all the time, but that seems to me like a sign that you might want to talk to someone about what's bugging you."

Dawn opened the door of her room and walked in, and didn't bother to turn around as she called out, "You know—I'm pretty sure that you and basically all your close friends have had tons of really crappy dates, and except for the times that those dates were trying to kill you, you didn't need an intervention. I'm fine—go away, Xander."

Xander stepped into the room and closed the door after him: Dawn was still standing a few feet away from him, her hands down at her sides, her body tense and shaking. He reached out to touch her shoulder and whispered, "Dawn—it can't be that bad—"

There were times that Xander suspected that Dawn had ended up being Chosen when Willow's spell went off, and that she had just decided to keep it to herself. The speed with which Dawn turned around and slapped him across the cheek caused that suspicion to come back momentarily—though it vanished for good when he registered that his head was still attached to his shoulders, even if it was ringing like a church bell right then. Dawn's eyes were blazing with anger, and she wound up for another slap. Xander took a half-step back and pulled out an old reliable: "HEY! I know you're pissed off about something, but this isn't a good way to deal with it." Dawn's hand came forward again, and he caught her wrist without trouble.

"Maybe not, but for some reason it felt right." Dawn snarled as she brought her left hand up—but Xander snagged that hand too and held her in place as she struggled. He felt a burst of frustration—he had never seen Dawn so angry, and he didn't have a clue as to how to deal with her in this state. He stared into her eyes and searched for something he could work with—he would never fully understand the impulse that made him lean down and kiss her, pulling her into his arms with one fluid motion.

Xander felt Dawn relax for a moment, and for a moment he forgot who he was holding and why he was holding her. The almost-whimpered "Xander" that she murmured against his lips reminded him forcefully of the reality of the situation—and he was fully returned to reality when she bit his lip almost hard enough to draw blood and introduced her heel to one of his shins. He released her and stepped back—and was not surprised to see the fury in her eyes. He managed to find his voice again and muttered, "What'd you do that for?"

Xander watched Dawn's shoulder twitch—as if she was going to slap him again—but she took two deep breaths and replied, "Xander, I am not some brainless bimbo who's hysterical over a broken fingernail. Hell, I'm not even some poor girl who's just found out that vampires existed and needed to be saved by a big strong hero. You are not going to ever pull that 'kiss her to shut her up' game with me again, or I'm coming back with that taser and probably that big troll hammer and going to town on you—are you getting me?"

Xander considered denying her accusation, but he realized that he wasn't quite sure why he had kissed her, and that the other probable reasons he might have done so would get him in even bigger trouble. He shrugged and said, "You're right, Dawn—I'm sorry. I was just worried and wanted to help."

The anger in Dawn's eyes faded and changed to an emotion that Xander did not recognize. She nodded slowly and replied, "OK, then—as long as you understand that." Xander relaxed, and was therefore caught flat-footed when Dawn stepped forward and kissed him ferociously. It was fully five seconds before he was able to gently extricate himself, and the unfocused look in her eyes and the oddly goofy smile on her face made him nervous. He heard her whisper distractedly, "Shiver me timbers," and his discomfort grew by leaps and bounds.

Xander took two steps back and prepared for a quick retreat: "Dawnie—"

The anger in her eyes had returned, and she snapped, "Xander—if you tell me you regretted that I will never speak to you again."

Xander considered that threat and decided a roundabout approach was in order: "Dawnie—you've been like a younger sister to me for a long time. We went out for ice cream together—I took you to ballet lessons—"

"I'm not suffering from amnesia, Xander!" The anger in Dawn's eyes had faded somewhat, replaced by frustration. "I remember all of it—including that you've saved my life more times that I can count. . .and that I've wanted to kiss you like that since before I really existed."

Xander felt a chill—knowing something and hearing it are two very different things: he felt a pang of retroactive sympathy for Buffy having had to deal with his own confession to her on that spring day in 1997. He shook off the memory and decided to deal with the present crisis with a direct lie: "I've never thought of you in any other way, Dawnie—I'm sorry."

Dawn smirked at him and replied in a dangerous whisper, "Oh, really? Do you always stare at the legs and body of someone you think of as a sister?" Xander winced—he had hoped that she had missed that. Dawn nodded, and added in an uncanny imitation of Willow's voice: "Right there with you." Xander's eye widened, and Dawn nodded, "I still sneak peeks at Buffy's diary—she was kind of freaked out when you two were checking me out that night."

"Well, of course we were checking you out—you were wearing those jeans and that top and you looked—" Xander responded without thinking for a moment, and felt a chill as he realized what he was saying and shut up in mid-sentence.

Too late—Dawn pounced. "Looked like what, Xander? Don't stop there, things are just getting interesting."

Xander hesitated for a long moment. What the hell, lying hasn't worked, maybe honesty will. He looked at her wistfully and said, "Beautiful—and it scared the hell out of me. After we found out what was going on, I tried to write it off to that stupid spell. . .but it wasn't the spell. You had grown up while I wasn't looking, and I couldn't keep you in the place I had you before. I didn't know what to do about it."

"It's been over two years since that happened—how did you deal with it?" Dawn's eyes shone with curiosity, and her tone was gentler.

Xander shrugged. "Ignored it—it worked well enough for most of my problems when I was growing up."

"Yeah, that's really been a successful approach." Xander opened his mouth to protest, but Dawn gestured for him to be silent, and he subsided as Dawn added, "Sorry—that was out of line, but it's going to stop now, Xander—I'm not going to let you ignore it any more."

For the first time, Xander felt a bit of anger of his own: "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Xander—I remember everything that happened with you and Willow and Cordelia, and there's no way in hell I'm letting you file this whole thing under 'Fluke' and pretending it never happened." Dawn's tone was level and calm, but there was a hint of desperation in her eyes as she continued, "It's not a fluke, Xander—have you even looked at another woman since Anya died?"

Xander felt a stab of pain at the reminder of Anya, and he turned away and muttered, "Yeah, because there are mobs of girls wanting to date one-eyed former carpenters out there. I'm not exactly prime dating material, Dawn."

Dawn snorted in disbelief. "You know, I don't know what I'd find more infuriating: the idea that you might actually believe that or that you're floating it as a line of BS to make me back off."

"I'd roll my eyes here, but I'm lacking half of the qualifications." Xander didn't bother to hide the annoyance in his voice this time.

"Don't even try that with me, Xander—I've seen you do stuff like this with the others for years, and I can handle your 'A' game." Dawn glared at Xander again for a moment before her eyes softened and she went on in an earnest whisper: "You know that I used to have an insane crush on you—I wasn't subtle at all about it, and you're not that clueless about how girls react to you. You never told me you knew, but you made sure that I realized that you weren't going to sweep me off my feet and rescue me from junior high school. You treated me really well, and let me get over that whole silly crush on my own."

Dawn hesitated, and Xander looked at her for a moment before prodding, "I'm sensing that there is a big 'but' coming."

Dawn nodded reluctantly. "The crush went away, but there was something left in its place. I accepted that you were with Anya and that I'd rather you be with her than alone—I was happy that you were happy. When you called the wedding off, I was furious at you, because I knew that you still loved her, and I couldn't figure out why you'd do that to both of you. It took me a while to realize that you thought you had to protect her--from you." She paused, and Xander remained silent, not denying her words. Dawn nodded, and she snapped, "What is it with you? You throw yourself into fights with insanely powerful creatures to protect people who could snap you like a twig if they wanted to—I get that, it's just how you're built. But Anya was over a thousand years old and was predisposed to think all men are scum. . .but she knew you inside and out and trusted you with her heart—why didn't you trust her judgment?"

Xander needed a couple of deep breaths before he answered, "It's not really fair to blindside a guy who really does have a blind side."

Dawn shook her head implacably. "You're not answering the question, Xander."

Xander set his jaw and snapped, "Suppose you're right, and that I was being an idiot—that's hardly a news flash as far as my love life goes, Dawn: why are you pushing this now?"

For the first time, he had the feeling that he had caught her off balance, and her reply showed it: "What do you mean?"

Xander scowled in annoyance. "Anya's been dead for almost a year and a half, and we haven't always had an ocean between us—why are you telling me this now?"

Dawn looked down, and Xander could hear the hesitancy in her voice as she replied, "Anya's death hit you hard, and I didn't know how to deal with it. I figured that between that and the fact that I wasn't eighteen yet—you and your damned Angel issues, it wouldn't have mattered to me—I'd just mess things up if I tried. By the time I turned eighteen, you were away and I was starting to think it was hopeless—I'd never be able to get you to look at me like I wanted you to." The frustration was back on her face, and Xander watched as she gathered herself and continued, "Do you realize that tonight was the first real date I've ever been on? He's a cousin of one of the secretaries at the compound—she offered to set me up with him for months before I said yes. So I get all dressed up and—"

"And the guy turns out to be a jackass. I'm sorry that happened to you, Dawn." Dawn started shaking her head and chuckling bitterly. Xander looked at her in confusion and asked, "Did I miss something?"

"I had it all figured out—I was going to go out with this guy and have a great time, and then I'd see you again and know that I could go on even if you never came around." Dawn's voice was just above a whisper, and Xander strained to hear her as her shoulders slumped slightly. "He was all right at first, and I couldn't understand why I wasn't enjoying myself. After a while he starting drinking too much and acting like a jerk—and do you know what I felt? Relief. I knew that I wouldn't have to see him again and that I wouldn't have to feel guilty about not returning his phone calls. But as I was storming out I realized that I'd still have to face you—and I ran right into you just as I was thinking that, and you started checking me out until you realized who I was. Now do you get why I was so pissed off?"

"I think you might be reading too much into a bad date, Dawn." Xander's comfort reflex kicked in, and he looked at Dawn with a half-smile as he suggested, "There are good guys out there for you, Dawn, you just have to keep looking."

"I know—I've always known. I'm looking at him, and I don't want to look anywhere else ever again." Dawn's expression turned implacable again, and Xander was reminded of just who this young woman had been raised by—he could see a bit of Buffy's epic glare, mixed with Willow's Resolve Face and the quieter stubbornness of Joyce and Tara. He felt another moment of sadness at the fact that Dawn was no longer the little girl she had been, but that emotion was quickly displaced with others that had him shifting uncomfortably. Dawn noted the reaction and added, "I can't take it any more, Xander. I don't want to settle for some other guy who doesn't really know me and who isn't the one I want—it wouldn't be fair to either of us. Since the beginning, you've been the one who's thrown himself into insane danger to protect all of us, without any special powers for backup. I've mourned you a dozen times thinking you had to be dead, and you've always come back. When Buffy asked you to drag me out of Sunnydale before the last fight, you did it—even though I know it had to be killing you to leave everyone else behind—because you knew that Buffy trusted you to protect me, and when I made you bring me back and we had to fight anyway, you proved she was right. Xander, you're my hero—you always have been."

Dawn's last words struck a familiar chord with Xander, and he snorted in amusement: "More from reading Buffy's diaries, I see." Dawn shrugged—not denying it—and Xander reached for his last trump card: "What makes you think that I'm not still in love with Buffy? Cordy always worried about that—even Anya was a little paranoid for a while. I already left one wonderful woman at the altar—why do you think I wouldn't do the same to you?" Dawn started laughing, and Xander scowled again, "What—you think it's funny that Buffy might finally decide to be attracted to me?"

Dawn shook her head and replied, "No, you big jerk—I'm laughing because you think I don't know that you've been over her for years—probably since before she sent Angel to Hell." Xander stared at her, and Dawn added, "I read her diaries, remember? There have been a bunch of times over the years when she was alone, and hurting, and you were a big part of what kept her going. Did you think she wouldn't notice that you never used those times to try to make something work between you, after what you said to her just before she died the first time? By the time that she started college and you bailed her out with that Sunday bitch while the others were busy, she pretty well had you figured out. She's known for years that you're over her—and she's fine with it, even if some of those entries did come off as a tad wistful."

Xander was startled, and his expression changed before he was aware of it. Dawn smirked and pointed out, "You wouldn't look so relieved right now if you weren't really over her—you'd be annoyed with yourself or pissed off. So put away the Buffy card, Xander—I'm not buying it."

Xander slumped slightly and shook his head in mild bewilderment. "So where does this leave us?"

Dawn stepped closer until they were almost touching and swallowed hard before replying, "I'm in love with you, Xander. I'm not going to stop being in love with you. Maybe you can do better for yourself than me, but I'm a pretty good catch, if I do say so myself—and I believe with my entire soul that there's no one out there better for me than you. I'm going to fight—"

Something gave way inside Xander, and he stared in wonder at the stunning and rather frustrated woman in front of him before smiling slightly in acceptance as he tried to interrupt: "Dawnie—"

"—with everything I have to convince you I'm right—"

"Dawnie—"

"—and if you think that you can run off to Africa or China or Tahiti and hide from me—"

"Dawnie—"

"—you've got another thing coming because there's no way that—"

"DAWN!!"

Xander sighed in relief as his shout stopped Dawn's tirade momentarily. She glared at him and snapped, "What?"

"You don't need to fight—I give up. It's kind of stupid to keep fighting when, well—you're right. Except for thinking I can do better than you—there's no such person." Xander watched as his quiet words caused Dawn's eyes to light up in a way that warmed his heart—but there was one more thing he needed to ask her. "Dawn, really—why me?"

He watched her consider the question for a moment before she put her arms around his neck and whispered, "Because you were always the one there for me, Xander—even beyond what you did for the others. When the truth came out about me, you never missed a beat and never treated me with any less respect or love than you did before. You've been straight with me when I needed it, and I cannot imagine how I would have made it through the last four years without you to lean on. I stayed away when I thought it was right for you, but I can't do it anymore—I won't. You're the one—you always will be."

Xander looked down into Dawn's happy—if still a bit worried—eyes and sighed before saying, "Well, if I'm the one, I might as well get started on the job." He bent down and kissed her again, and they stayed that way for a few minutes before Xander pulled away and muttered, "Now I can prepare for the next part of the job—dealing with Buffy and Willow removing various important parts of my anatomy."

Dawn looked up at him and smiled. "Relax—I told Buffy and Willow over a year ago that I was going to do this someday, and extracted promises of no mayhem on your body from either of them. Willow was pretty happy: Buffy. . .well, I think she was mostly skeptical."

Xander nodded slowly. Blindsided again. "Well, let's worry about Skeptical Buffy later." He kissed her again, and the room was silent except for the creaks of the floorboards as their feet shifted.

--end--

As always, comments are welcomed and desired.