Title: Life…and Cupcakes
Rating: PG (PG-13 maybe)
Disclaimer: Buffy and friends are owned by Joss, Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox, The UPN and whoever else has rights to the show.
Summary: Post Season 7 (...so, like, 2003ish, I guess). The Scoobs are driving around on the escape bus trying to find potential slayers and figure out what they should do next. BXy friendship piece.
Distribution: I don't know why anybody would want this, but if somebody does…sure.
Feedback: You know it.
This is archived at my group: The Unattainable (groups./group/theunattainable/)
There weren't as many of them now as there had been when this all started.
Even when that beaten down school bus had rumbled out of Sunnydale as fast as it could ahead of the expanding crater, there weren't as many of them as when it had started. Their numbers, down to 30 by the time all of the survivors made it out, had dwindled and grown in varying rates.
They were down, now, to about 18 (give or take).
They usually picked up one or two more girls from the towns and cities they passed through. Girls who were wigged when their slayerness had been activated out of the blue…girls who ignored it, girls who they – the ones in Sunnydale – didn't know that they had affected and never had the time to find before.
Willow had agreed to help Giles locate the children. Create a beacon so they all knew who they were looking for. She didn't really care either way though. Xander could see that much – his friend's blasé attitude towards the whole thing. Buffy had said something about the novelty having worn off. Sleeping in a bus in Carlsbad can suck it out of the best of them, that, and there were 53 of them at the time.
Xander knew what she was thinking though. If there were hundreds – thousands – possibly. If the spell that they had used to activate the girls really worked the way it was supposed to, and one assumed that there were slayers all over the world, there could be hundreds of thousands. A million girls who had the potential to be called into the lines of the fight on the side The Just in case the one before her kicked it. How were 4 people supposed to find all of them…convince them to fight the good fight and die doing it. To save the world a lot…just don't look at the guy with the eye patch – hardly anyone ever actually loses their eye in the line of duty. Might be stabbed a few times though, neck broken, thrown off a building, you'd, of course, have to get used to being punched repeatedly in the face…Buffy's slogan pitch "Get on the bus and we'll drive you to your lonely death".
Xander and Willow had laughed bitterly at her joke. At the fact that what she had said would even pass as humorous to them. He had suggested "Sign on the dotted line, there's a shit list waiting for you!"
Willow said that they should make t-shirts.
"We don't need a beacon," Buffy argued to Giles one night. She had been pacing back and forth, but then she spoke she had stopped and squared her shoulders to him. Giles looked up in the grave light at his charge, almost defiantly while Xander, Willow and Dawn studied the breathing in the sudden silence of the room. "We don't need to find every single one of these potential slayers, Giles. Newsflash we won."
The older watcher shook his head. "There is no winning, Buffy." She looked so small and frail before she had locked her stance and her gaze to face him. She had looked helpless and frightened when she had flung her arms out to the side to emphasize the futility of the proposed plan of action. "Don't tell me you're so naive that you still don't know that. About the balance – the struggle of good and evil."
The rest of the occupants of the room must have seen her shoulders tighten from their perches around the table behind her. Another worn linoleum table in a dingy motel room that they were fortunate enough to have for the night. Dawn, at least had the room and she was willing to share it with Buffy and Willow. It was a voiced understanding that when there was a room to be had and it was one of the girls 'time of the month', they got dibs.
Xander never got a room by himself. He just occasionally took the offers of the girls to split one of theirs. Usually it was Willow, but sometimes Buffy. He noticed that most of Buffy's room occupancies coincided with her little sisters…he didn't bring that up though. When Willow's offers were given he had noticed that he often ended up splitting with Buffy anyway…his oldest friend didn't really sleep much anymore. None of them did, he supposed. He didn't bring that up either.
A lot of stuff was kept inside…until something like this happened. Everybody knew what was coming. A 'Buffy/Giles Smackdown Royale', Xander had joked mirthlessly to Buffy after one of them when he had gone after her when she had stormed off. He was glad they mostly stayed in cash-up-front places because that way they could leave before checkout time and there was no discernible information that the hotel management had to locate them after. Like ghosts. Ghosts who could get so enraged that they throw furniture through walls and rip doors off hinges.
Happened now more than it should and was filed, with the other things that had led to it, in the folder marked 'Do not mention until ready to punch things'.
Xander had started to get up, his mouth opening and a warning, "Giles," slipped out. 'Edgy Buffy' was not what anyone needed. He was held at bay by Willow's hand on his forearm and the slight shake of her head. He still did have the worst habit of trying to rush to the rescue of a damsel in distress. Buffy would always be the damsel in his eyes… "She hasn't been in distress that you could save her from in a long time, Xand," Dawn had told him one night on the bus, "She's a big girl, now." He had tried to dole out the sternest look he could muster with one eye in bad lighting to the younger Summers girl, but if she had noticed she didn't let on. "There has to be a point where you know the difference between right and wrong, y'know? You just pick for yourself what it is you want to do with it."
Turns out that Dawn had gotten pretty good at the understanding talks thing. His little Dawnie was a big girl now, too. He resided to never let her or her older sister know that they would always be his damsels, even if they thought they weren't. Sometimes he wished the same thing, but found that those times were few and far between.
"Naïve?" Buffy questioned with a bitter laugh that showed that she was unaware of anything but what Giles had said. "Wouldn't I have to be if I thought that we were going to find all of these people? That they were going to all want to help? Nobody wants this, Giles. Look at us!"
She was right. They were ragged and worn. Sleeping in different motels every night – when they weren't they slept on the ground or the hard rubber and metal seats of a rickety old school bus. They spent a lot of time outside and it seemed like the smell of sweat and dry dusty desert air had permeated their pores. They were tired and hungry…
Nobody in their right mind would give up anything to have the lives that they were leading. The forgotten members of a rejected battalion who had sacrificed their individual everything and everyone for the good of the whole.
After The End, the old Council elders had divvied the organization spoils amongst themselves and hit the beaten path. Xander had joked that they must have even made off Buffy's pension plan and 401K savings. The rat hole motels that they could afford two or three rooms in every other night came from the money that Giles was able to procure from people he didn't name. The few good men who didn't abandon The Council and were going to help rebuild. Make a better order to help the girls who had the calling. In various stops they would wire Giles some money that they were able to set aside from their reconstruction ventures. Not a lot, but enough. Enough to show that they, unlike their predecessors, knew that they had a responsibility to these children…after all, these girls who agreed to stay were the ones who were going to willingly lay down their lives and do it namelessly at their beck and call. There should be a sense of debt.
Their nomad band's numbers shrank as the ones willing to stay on were called to various new upstart houses throughout Europe to train and live and work. They usually left in groups of five, and eventually, in keeping with the original plan, all of them would be gone. Dawn was actually listed to relocate with the next faction going to Rome.
Buffy, herself, had been assigned the final group and she would rejoin her little sister. The Slayer never mentioned her future ventures after the reformation, though. She just was glad that Dawn'd be getting to go back to school…she'd be safe again, provided for and she wouldn't be sleeping in a pay-by-the-hour bed. Deep down, Xander knew that was her sense of satisfaction that maybe she wasn't a complete failure as a provider… "Just a partial one," Buffy had sighed when she spoke of it.
Now, though, voices were rising.
"We don't need to find them, we need to screen them." Buffy kept her voice low and tight. "We're wasting our time, but I suppose that's fine with you. You watch. I fight. We fight." She gestured to the small band of silent spectators behind her. "You've got all the time in the world to spend looking for people who don't want to be found. And the rest of us are just supposed to fall into line until…"
"If there is something else that you would rather be doing Buffy, then by all means, don't let your Calling deter you."
Giles shouldn't have interrupted. He had the worst habit of doing that to his Slayer now, and his tone always ended up sounding more condescending than everyone hoped he meant. Like, since everything in Sunnydale had ended, all the underlying events of the past umpteen months since the First came into their scope of their consciousness - Buffy's death and resurrection, her choices and actions, Spike and her brash reactions to the situation at hand, her raising her little sister and responsibilities that came therein – he thought she needed the guidance he offered again. Thought she needed his direction. Dawn flinched and shrunk back in her seat.
"Fuck my god damned calling." The slayer's bark was bitter. "We saved the world and gave up everything. Everything, Giles, for this. I just want…I want…"
Xander felt the cool breeze that passed when Buffy turned on her heel and stomped quickly to the door. The sound of car engines in the distance and the vacant desert outside when she opened the door and left were a welcome change from the steely silence that she had left inside the room in her wake.
"We're heading to Phoenix tomorrow. Assemble the girls and inform them of the new destination." Giles cleared his throat and refocused the remaining members – the standing leaders - of the rest of group.
Giles had probably hoped for more effort being put into telling the remaining 18 potential slayers – 'The Final 18', Xander had dubbed them – about the bus trip to Arizona in the morning. As it was Dawn, just went to the other 2 rooms that they had down the hall and shouted the information through the doors. Willow did pretty much the same thing on the bus and Xander was left to inform the ones who had pup tents set up in the desert across the street.
All in all it took 10 minutes. Nobody really asked for any further explanation. The less questions, the better, though. There was something to be said for people who will follow anybody blindly – made moving easier.
Xander assumed that Willow had returned to Dawn's room for the night, and none of them had seen Buffy. After he was done telling his fellow – sister…whatever – desert dwellers the news and wake up time he went for a walk into town. The town that consisted of a few crappy fast food places, two gas stations, a bar, a couple of stores with blinking neon signs and something that looked like a strip club. It was a clear night – quiet and calm. It was soothing. He walked a lot of places since they left – the quieter a town was the more he wandered around it. He never really saw anything though, he thought once while staring out of the dirty window on the back of the bus one day they were relocating – he just lost himself in his mind and wandered.
Now he was back at the camp site. He wondered if people driving by, or the ones who could see their little 6 tent set up, were suspicious or thought it was weird. Not that it mattered much. He just wasn't going to sleep on that bus if it could be avoided, and he was happy that he wasn't ever going to be qualified for a room…cuz eww. He had suggested some tents before they crossed state lines for that very reason, and more than a few slayers agreed with him readily – some even looked at him with a new found sense of awe at his practical genius.
He wondered what the potential slayers – the newbies – would think if the idea had only popped into his mind after he was forced to realize that traveling with women wasn't something that he never wanted to do again. He had been ruined to the concept that, when he was a kid he knew he would have thought, was like a letter straight out of one of the magazines that he stashed under his bed.
Real life did have that sucky tendency not live up to fantasy though.
Girls, especially teenagers, talked a lot. Complained even more. Yelled and shrieked and generally just ruined his already lousy day. The tent at night was his oasis. He sat out on the cool hard earth and stared, now, at the vast midnight blue/black sky.
There were so many stars and the sounds of the whole natural world engulfed him. The tent dwellers were the calmest of the lot – had been from the start. They appreciated this type of thing with him, and rarely did anyone interrupt each other when the little temporary community was pitched.
"He got his time off, y'know?" Buffy asked instead of giving an actual greeting before she plopped down beside him. Xander kept his gaze fixed with the sky. "When I died. He left. And when I came back – he didn't. He got his time."
She leaned back on her palms beside him and mirrored the way he was sitting – legs outstretched and head tilted towards the heavens. She readily accepted Xander's wordless offer when he handed the bottle, still wrapped in a crumpled paper bag, to her that he had on his opposite side. He did find something worth procuring in that town, so the walk was not for naught.
It was already opened and Buffy took a deep gulp, closing her eyes to the sting.
"You can do it." Xander spoke finally. He never turned to look at her. "I won't tell anyone."
The noise escaped and Buffy let the accompanying shudder rattle through her body. Her initial reaction to whiskey was always the same as the ones that followed it. Xander had, over the past weeks, watched her drink entire bottles and react to each gulp the same way.
Something about Spike. Buffy had slurred that to him one night, and Xander didn't know why exactly – he still had so much of his own stuff to work through – but he dedicated an inordinate amount of time trying to forget the whole detailed explanation that she gave him. He had only listened because she was talking and seemed to want him to know. He hadn't and didn't, but he couldn't change that now.
She took another gulp and handed the bottle back. Xander felt her eyes on him as he winced while he drank. "I never get any time." Buffy continued after a moment. "It…I just want…"
"Betty Louise Plotnick."
"Yeah." Buffy sighed. She wondered how Xander remembered that. She barely did. "I want to be regular."
"You thought that now was the time." Xander took a deep breath and reclined more against the ground. "Giles doesn't." She was silent beside him. "Ahn and I used to come camping in the desert. Places like these…minus the hourly-rates backdrop…she actually really like this type of thing." Buffy held out her hand and Xander passed the bottle back to her. "The outside. The earth and the smells. Eating beans and cooking tortillas in a skillet."
"Peeing on the ground." The Slayer supplied finally.
"Rock climbing…falling asleep under the stars…"
"…asleep on the ground that you peed on." She did manage a sincere grin at his smirk.
"I never thought she'd get into the whole Grizzly Adams lifestyle – because of the, like, no money required aspect. But, she really loved it."
Anya really loved him. Buffy almost said it, but instead swallowed it down with another gulp of whiskey. He got wistful sometimes to. Mostly, they let him. Gave him the same distance when the need to wallow came over him that he gave to them when they needed it. She hoped that this was one of those moments that she didn't have to say much.
Xander had shut his eyes and shook his head inside to clear it. The other reason he wasn't frazzled by the group's desert jaunts and sleeping outside during them was because they reminded him of her. Anya would always hold him so tight during the nights they spent camping – said she loved the wilderness because it gave her a much more practical excuse to sleep in his arms. He would tell her that she didn't need an excuse to do that. He had been crazy to walk out on that woman…and he still wouldn't change it. All of his time with her made him who he was, after all.
"So if you could be doing anything at all, you'd be looking for East Cupcake, Illinois." Xander offered. Giles had posed that question earlier, but with a larger aire of assholeness. His voice sounded raspy and he cleared his throat before taking another swig from the bottle Buffy had set on the ground between them. "Then what?" She offered no answer. "You'd get bored, probably."
She glanced at him, but Xander wasn't looking at her. "Slayer's are strong." He continued as if lost in a deep wandering thought. "The calling, or whatever, it made you strong. When we did that spell to make the army – we made a bunch of girls really unnaturally strong and fast."
"Dangerous." Xander had ignored her cynical comment. "We gave people who have the potential to kill huge monsters and demons the strength do to that without batting an eye, and they're all just out there."
"I didn't ask for this either." She sneered at him for a moment.
"You're good." He offered readily. The One Who Sees. "You didn't ask, and you still chose to do good with it. What if you didn't? What if you didn't have a Watcher or something? What if you were just walking around one day, y'know? What if you weren't the type of person who you are, Buffy, and you weren't a good guy. And now you have the power to kill somebody with your bare hands and the skill and speed to get away with it. We did that. That could be happening."
Buffy snatched the bottle away from him and finished what was left in it. They had drunk a lot. That was the realization she came to when she wiped the back of her hand across her lips. The night seemed all bleary now. "I just wanna go to East Cupcake. Faith got to. Giles got to. You got to." She sighed and leaned back on her elbows. "Camping." Her voice was a bark of disbelief. "And I don't wanna ruin the Cupcake for all the other ones who just got super strong in the middle of a family dinner. I had mine ruined." She saw Xander shake his head at her sadly. "And now nobody wants me to be able to fix it."
They sat for a moment and a coyote howled in the distance. Xander was vaguely aware of Buffy mimicking the noise beside him. He grinned when he turned to see her and snorted out a laugh. Her head tilted back in a dark silhouette and she howled at the darkened sky. He turned back to the void and did the same.
"KEEP IT DOWN!"
Both tried to stifle their embarrassed laughter and failed miserably. "We're dorks," Xander conceded finally. "Drunk dorks." Buffy was laying completely back against the hard dirt, muted giggles still bubbling over the surface. He didn't know what was still so funny, but kept his gaze on her. "It's late."
"It is." Her laughter quieted and they spoke in whispers.
"You should go to bed, Buff. Early start tomorrow. Phoenix." More deserts. The thought made Xander shed a grin he fought to bite back. "Want me to walk you back to the motel?"
Her head shake preceded her short vocal refusal. "Gonna stay here for a sec."
Xander nodded and sat up. He pulled his knees to his chest and hugged them to his body. Buffy stayed reclined beside him and he stared out across the empty desert. He thought that she may have even fallen asleep…or maybe he did, in the dark silence…until he heard the sand and dirt shifting beside him.
Buffy was on her feet and stretching her arms over her head before he was able to process her exact change in position. He thought he could see a faint smile on her lips when he looked up at her slowly, but still readily accepted the hand that she held out to him to help pull him up. She kept her gaze trained to his face when he was standing and saw him fidget at their proximity.
Dawn had chastised her recently about doing things like this…something about her being Xander's damsel. Had actually even used that word. Buffy half suspected that Xander had described her as such first. It sounded like something that he would think – one of those things that she didn't think he would ever say aloud, though. Her little sister had commented that since she had made the mistake of telling her that, Buffy had to promise that she wouldn't use it against him.
She didn't mean to, honestly. She didn't want to hurt him and knew that whatever he felt was simply residual…but sometimes, it just felt good. Feels good to be looked at like he would. Fidget in his place when she was close…and she was selfish, sometimes, too.
Buffy raised her hand tentatively to his cheek and traced a line there. Felt his shaky exhale pass her cheek while her fingers quested up his jaw bone to the edge of his eye patch. She grinned a little more and straightened out the hard fabric barrier – recovering the slight discoloration of his scar. Her voice was a whisper. "You're good."
Xander gulped as Buffy repeated his earlier statement. She had moved from in front of him before he had come up with a proper reaction and turned his head to watch her walk away. Slowly. She was moving very slowly and her steps were occasionally misplaced. His mouth quirked into a grin at her slightly askew stride. Then it fell open when he watched her hands reach behind her and brush the dust off of her backside.
"Stop staring at my butt, Xand."
His mouth snapped shut at her comment. She hadn't even looked over her shoulder to deliver it. The fact that she didn't seem to have set the motel across the street as her final destination had only registered as an afterthought. Xander stood still and defied her. He stared straight at her when Buffy bent to pull off her boots before she crawled into his pup tent.
He had removed his sneakers before he followed her path. "I just haven't had that good of a view in a while." That was the best he could come up with while Buffy opened the sleeping bag he had set up for himself and slipped in. She gave a slight 'burr' and shiver and Xander moved quickly to follow her.
He wondered if sleeping in the same clothes that they had worn all day would be uncomfortable, but knew that it was something that he couldn't voice. 'The File' rule. That was when Buffy yawned and supplied an alternative.
"Is't ok if I crash n'here?"
That was a dumb question. Something else that Xander couldn't mention. She was already there and half asleep. "Yeah." He said instead.
Sometime during the night Buffy had shivered. A teeth clattering exhale of breath that coincided with her full body tremor that made Xander reach for her. That part may have been habit. Sleeping with a woman for so long in the past. Knowing that body was so close to him and he could reach out and there was, really, no other place to go in the small space they were in. And Buffy, the tiny person next to him, was shivering cold.
The reason why Anya had loved to camp with him.
Xander had reached for her and Buffy had stilled long enough to let him pull her body closer to his. The fact that it made him slightly warmer was something that he hadn't considered, but she had stopped shaking.
That wasn't how he had woken up, though. Xander had the opportunity to rouse from his uncomfortable slumber with the arm that had been slung over Buffy's waist, now bent awkwardly under her body, her elbow under his chin, and a mouth full of her hair. It was just another bitter realization – like traveling with women had been – that it didn't taste as good as it smelled (sometimes…another downside of sleeping on a bus for an extended period of time that he couldn't fault her for exactly).
He only guessed that maybe she hadn't slept with another body in the bed for longer than he had. Or she forgot that he was even there.
"Shit." He sat up as slowly as possible and tried to dislodge his arm. That was surprisingly easy since his initial movement made Buffy roll slightly. He rotated his sore limb and adjusted his eye patch with the other hand. His fingers brushed the hardened scarred area along the same path that he remembered Buffy's taking the night before.
Xander crawled stiffly to the flap of the tent. His time with Buffy was part of what made him who he was, too. He didn't regret anything about that either.
The rough metallic scrape of the zipper when he pulled it down made her stir. Xander froze when he heard the groan behind his back. A glance he cast over his shoulder to assure that she was still asleep only served to reveal that she was shivering again.
"Where'reyou going?" She was still asleep, at least partially. He watched her shift further on her side and hug herself. " 'ss cold." A slight breeze blew through the partially opened flaps.
"Bathroom." Xander muttered and shook himself from her sleep addled stupor. He crawled outside into the cold air of the desert. He waved at the meandering potentials who were also waking up to start their new journey. They all had to pack up and reload the bus. They had to move on and send off some more of their compatriots to the new Council. Buffy had to wake up and face Giles again.
There'd be more fighting to go along with that. Especially after Dawn left for Rome when they finally did reach Arizona. He knew that was where the next departure point was, at least. There might even be more girls to find.
…More deserts to sleep in…
Xander finished his business and kept his head down and made his way past the girls who were bypassing the free motel lobby coffee and brewing their own in a kettle over a newly kindled fire.
Any lonely soul driving by at his ungodly hour would definitely think they were weird, Xander smiled to himself. He lifted up the flap to his tent and let himself back inside. Buffy was still asleep. He squinted at her hard for a moment and crawled back up to her side, reaching out tentatively to shake her shoulder through the sleeping bag.
"Wake up, Buffy." His voice was gruff. Xander cleared his throat and tried again. "Time to get up, Buff." Less drill sergeant sounding. He shook her slightly. "We gotta pack up."
Buffy shifted further into the sleeping bag, yet, at the same time still pressed her shoulder further into the warm palm that was pressed against it. A surprising juxtaposition of movement for him to witness. Pulling away and drawing closer in the same second. Her voice was just above a murmur to him in the moist morning desert air… "East Cupcake Arizona."