Xander stared at the retreating backs of his friends longingly as they continued chattering happily about something Professor Walsh mentioned in class that day, his eyes following as they left without even noticing him behind the counter.
The GAP at Sunnydale Outlet Mall had decided to remain open later in order to maximize sales for the upcoming school year as well as taking advantage of those shoppers just getting out of evening classes at UC Sunnydale.
This unfortunate series of managerial decisions along with the necessity of paying rent in order to remain non-homeless had led to Xander's current situation – namely minding a counter while his friends from school enjoyed themselves, patrolled, and in all other ways enjoyed the party that college was sometimes said to be.
Riley lead his team consisting of Graham and Forrest along a patrol route outside the Sunnydale Outlet Mall, tracking a device they had managed to shoot into the hide of a shape shifting HST they had interrupted while it fed on a student earlier.
The beast kept changing forms to mirror those of people from the surrounding crowd, making it impossible for any member of his team to get a clear shot.
"There!" Riley exclaimed as the dot representing the beast darted into The GAP where the evening crowd was slowly in the process of departing. Xander watched listlessly as three men came inside seemingly following a nervous young woman. Three men following a woman immediately set Xander on edge and awakened his protective instincts.
As the men moved to bracket the girl, Xander jumped from behind the counter, but was too late to interfere as their encroachment as the 'girl' in question metamorphosed into a large genderless reptilian humanoid with a pair horns curling to bracket its face and fairly bulky exoskeletal plates resembling armor sprouted from the rest of its body just before it flung Graham across the room and into a rack of jeans.
The Sunnydale natives with practiced precision and Sunnydale denial syndrome in full force quickly vanished out the door, leaving Xander alone with the three men and the shapeshifting demon.
Xander quickly noted the effectiveness of their weapons – namely the lack thereof as the blasts from the oversized tasers the two standing men fired at the demon splashed off and Forrest was flung into the discount shirt section with a mighty crash, sending shirts everywhere and leaving the single standing figure to be quickly overpowered and knocked unconscious.
Although he didn't recognize this type of demon in particular, Xander knew blessed silver tended to cure many ills 'And even makes my peanut and jelly sandwiches taste better,' he reflected with a grin as he watched the tall black man tackle the demon away from his downed comrade – impacting one of the dressing room mirrors and shattering it, sending shards of silvered glass cascading to the floor with a musical tinkle.
Xander rushed forward, driving the blade he'd swiftly unsheathed from behind the small of his back into the demon's throat as somehow Forrest managed to hold it in position long enough for him to plunge the blade home. The demon proceeded to dissolve into softly glowing blue ooze.
Forrest looked down at his now glowing and sticky clothing in disgust. "Now, this is never going to come out."
Xander quickly spoke up with a grin as he cleaned and sheathed his blade, "Well, we are in a clothing store." Causing Forrest to look at him incredulously as the other two members of the squad came to and began to pick themselves up out of the mess.
"So," Xander trailed off, "for demon hunters you're not very well equipped," he said as he shook hands with Forrest.
"You see a lot of this sort of thing?" Forrest questioned just as Riley tapped his shoulder and made the sign for recall, causing Xander to quirk an eyebrow in recognition as Forrest quickly broke off the conversation with an apologetic shrug and headed out the door, waving as they left leaving Xander standing in the center of the destroyed store – the manager slowly emerging from the rear...
Xander blinked back the moisture in his eyes as he looked around the dingy basement that seemed to fairly well encompass and showcase the current trends of his life; no Jesse – the stake in Sophomore year had seen to that, no Willow (this brought more moisture, or was that just dust?) she'd fairly well repudiated him after the Fluke, no Cordelia – that ship sailed on to LA with no passengers; she couldn't accept his nightlife and he couldn't abandon his friends, even if it looked like they'd abandoned him. No Buffy – college and her insidious need to keep him fray adjacent had removed her from his life fairly well, Giles went hand in hand with his Slayer; emotional attachment overriding his common sense much of the time on that particular matter.
Forcing these unpleasant thoughts away for the moment, Xander stood and without any extraneous preparations headed out into the darkened Sunnydale streets – the need to be somewhere, anywhere but in the basement which so accurately symbolized his life of late sending him out dangerously under prepared for a veteran of numerous battles against the denezins of the Hellmouth.
His mind wandered along with his questing feet as he walked past the abandoned house the McNally's used to live in, then on to Willow's parents home, pausing in each case to stare longingly in through the darkened windows at remnants of a happier time.
A lovely blonde woman, driving home from a showing at her art gallery, watched these proceedings concernedly, some worry for the bright young man on her features as she noted Xander approaching her own home as she shadowed him there.
Xander had finally reached the crux of his problems; staring out at the home that had brought so many changes into his world along with the new family from LA that it sheltered. Climbing the tree to stare in through Buffy's darkened window merely revealed her empty room, the contents of which he'd seen in the dorm room she shared with Willow.
Xander's eyes once again filled with moisture, this time threatening to fall as unhappy thoughts of just how few times he'd been invited to see the two there, or otherwise, just sank in further, driven home by the desolate surroundings.
A few moments later, bringing with her the smell of hot chocolate Joyce spoke up and disturbed his quiet reverie. "I have some hair gel if you'd like."
With a yelp and a muffled thud, Xander fell from tree, staring up at Joyce from his new position flat on his back. "I'm not that pathetic am I?"
"That depends, are you pining after my eldest daughter?" Joyce replied, chuckling a bit as she helped him up from the ground and handed him one of the two mugs she was carrying.
"No, just missing having friends," Xander replied somewhat morosely.
"Honestly, if you'd actually been peeping it would have been less sad. It doesn't happen so much anymore, but in my day it was one of the ways a young man might show his interest."
Dawn's head popped out of her window. "Xander! You came to see me?" she declared excitedly. "Hold on a minute, I'll be right down."
Joyce finished her earlier statement with a grin at Xander, "Tell me Xander, are you an old fashioned young man?"
"Oh no, I mean, I'd never..." Xander trailed off with a massive blush.
Waiting until Xander had taken a drink of his hot chocolate Joyce announced, "Pity," with a grin as Xander coughed and choked sending hot chocolate all over the ground.
Grabbing Xander's elbow gently, she guided the coughing and very embarrassed teen into the livingroom and out of the dangerous Sunnydale evening.
Dawn jumped up, and prepared to race downstairs only to pause at her door as she realized what she was wearing; the thick flannel pajama top her mother had purchased to replace a very tight Carebears tshirt she'd almost outgrown, which while not very mature would definitively show off her presents from the puberty fairy quite nicely.
She wouldn't have kept the shirt, but Buffy's jealous glares made it worthwhile. The flannel wasn't something she wanted Xander to see her in, unless her mom would allow her to wear it completely unbuttoned, but the Carebears tshirt would do nicely. She swiftly stripped off the flannel top, ignoring the bouncing of her unrestrained breasts as she pulled on the tshirt.
Joyce had just led Xander inside when they both noticed Dawn posing at the head of the stairs. She was wearing clothing that Joyce was sure that her daughter hadn't worn to bed, showing off quite well that she'd taken more after her mother's side of the gene pool, unlike the not quite so blessed Buffy.
She covered her grin as Xander watched her youngest bounce down the stairs, clearly searing into his brain the fact that while there were many ways of describing Dawn – little girl was no longer one of them. Dawn had definitely come into her own.
Bouncing down the stairs Dawn quickly showed off her imitation of a brunette tactical missile, pressing herself full length to Xander as she wrapped her arms enthusiastically around him quite clearly demonstrating her new bounty. "Xander! Wrong window, mine's one down; I decided not to steal Buffy's old room. I'm so glad you're back, I was hoping you'd be back before the summer was over – this place is soo dead when you're not around!"
Dawn continued happily chattering as she steered him to the loveseat and plopped down beside him, seemingly quite content to stay pressed full length against his body, much to her mother's hidden amusement.
A few moments after Joyce had sat down and gotten comfortable Dawn proclaimed excitedly. "Oh, mom and I went to the beach; it was the only fun we've had all summer since you've been gone. I'll show you the pictures we took!"
With this statement Dawn ran upstairs, giving Xander a fine view as she dashed off. Joyce leaned forward with a grin. "So, Xander are you certain you're not an old fashioned boy?" Xander spluttered blushing furiously as Joyce continued, "at least we know you wont be needing my hairgel."