Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

By Nickeltaffy

Disclaimer: The characters used in this story are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I do not own them.

Synopsis: After Chosen, what if Anya and Spike were given a second chance, this time in Texas with new lives, new memories and new friends. What if Xander and Buffy find out and come to reclaim them, but discover that they're now the outsiders.

Chapter 1

Xander angrily slammed the door shut on his rented midsize sedan, the varying and constant wind kicking up the dust around them. He had pulled off the bumpy two lane state highway and pulled just inside the parking lot of what looked to be an abandoned truck stop. He wrestled the crumpled map out flat on the hood of his car, trying to discover his location and the best way to get back to the correct route. He could have sworn he did not miss the sign that would have redirected him back to the interstate. Now, he was stuck in the middle of nowhere, at an aging little used truck stop on the edge of a town that consisted of a lonely country church and a feed store. This job is going to kill me he thought. When he had joined the oil surveying company, he was intrigued at the thought of travel. He thought of the exciting sights and people he would meet. Surely, that would take his mind off the loss of Anya.

It had been over eight years ago, when the Scoobies had defeated the first and closed the Hell mouth. Anya, Spike and a number of potentials had been lost in the fight, but they had been considered acceptable losses. The loss of Anya had never been acceptable to him, neither had Spike's loss to Buffy. In the years after the Sunnydale, the Scoobies had drifted apart, each going on with their own lives. Buffy and Xander had never lost touch, perhaps because they could recognize the loss the other was bearing. The people they had lost always hovered around the edges of their minds, Buffy and he were never able to let go of them. Even after several failed attempts to move on with different relationships, each night after they turned off the light, their thoughts would always drift to the special people not in their lives anymore

Xander was fighting a losing battle with keeping the map flat in the oncoming wind. He had no idea where he was and the map was not helping. He looked up at the name truck stop sign that said: Git Gas and Go. Hmm, that didn't help. He looked toward the dilapidated building with the rusty gas pumps standing in front. Xander thought I haven't seen pumps like that since the last time he a saw a movie made in the fifties. There was an old beat up 1968 Mercury Comet sitting to the side of the building with patches of paint missing. Xander was surprised if it was still running, but it wasn't up on blocks, so it must be. There was a well used 1970 Chevy short bed truck parked in front of the building which looked like there were some bales of hay and wire in the back with a large burlap bag of some type of animal feed.

"Didn't anyone buy a new car in the last few decades around here?" Xander mused.

Xander screwed up his courage and did the one thing that men try to avoid at all costs. He was going to have to ask for directions. He crumpled up the map between his two hands and stuck it under his arm as he made his way to the gas station building. He could smell smoke and barbeque as he came closer to the building. He could see there were a couple of large industrial size barrel smokers sitting off to the side near the brown scrub brush that were steadily outputting that delicious smell. Texans took their barbeque very seriously. There was not going to be any plastic packages of meat with cheap barbeque sauce reheated by microwave being called barbeque in Texas. It had to come right off the cedar and hardwood smoker to be considered true barbeque. Xander was persuaded by the delicious smell, that as long as he was there he might as well have lunch.

Xander approached the aging building with windows that sported several layers of dust. He imagined that in its' heyday, this place must have been quite the showpiece for this area. Now over fifty years later, the constant wind and dust along with age had taken its toll on the building. Xander pulled open the warped screen door and stepped cracked once shiny tile inside. He first noticed the country music was playing from a little radio which had a particular tinny air to it, since the speakers had seen better days. He was surprised to see a small market with a butcher's counter at the other end of the building. There were four short aisles filled with limited variety of standard grocery stock. There were two small tables with peeling edges sitting along the front window, each sporting a pair of mismatched dubiously supportive looking chairs. Each table sported a roll of paper towels to serve as napkins and a salt and pepper set in cardboard tubes. Back on the back wall, there was an obviously hand painted sign with the words "Bathrooms along the side" with an arrow under it.

"So, this must be what is considered fine dining in these parts. I hope I don't need a reservation" he snickered to himself.

Xander looked over the cash register counter. No one was behind the counter, so Xander walked along the windows. His eye caught a poster advertising the rodeo in the county seat from two years ago. He rolled his eyes. Why did he have to get caught in the town that time forgot he asked himself .

Suddenly there was a banging at the back of the building. A big man came in carrying a large tray of barbeque in front of him. He had obviously just come back from the smokers. He called back to someone who was following him.

"..don' care what you tell him."

He noticed Xander. The man straightened himself and smiled at Xander as he put the tray down behind the butcher's counter.

"Sorry, I'm just setting up for lunch. How yall doin today? What can I help ya with?"

"Uh, Yeah. I was just going to ask for directions. But now that I can smell that barbeque, I think I will stay for lunch." Xander slowly approached the butcher's counter.

"Sure, just give me a few more minutes to set up and I'll be right with ya." the big man replied.

Xander turned around and sat down at the nearest table. A soft female voice abruptly spoke up at the other end of the counter. Xander could not see the owner of the voice, since the butcher counter blocked his view.

"RJ, I gotta get goin. I am going to get two loaves of bread and a jug of milk. I'll leave you the money by the register." she said with a soft Texas twang.

"You got it, Annalee. See ya later. Have a good day, now."

Xander heard the sound of two loaves been pulled from the grocery shelves and the sound of the refrigerator door open. He looked over to see a rack with multiple issues of car magazines along with the Farmer's Almanac facing him. He picked up a magazine about classic cars and opened it as he waited for his lunch. He looked up to see a small woman with medium length brown softly curling hair pulled to the back of her head with barrettes. She was dressed in a weathered flowered blouse and overly faded blue jeans stop by the cash register. She kept her back to him as she pulled out a couple of dollars out of her jeans and placed by the register. Xander's eyes went back to his magazine.

"See ya later, RJ." the woman called out as she went out the door which slammed behind her with a bang.

Xander had only caught sight of her through his peripheral vision. He went back to reading about the Dodge Charger. Then for a moment, he caught his breath. There was something eerie familiar about the woman that just left. He told himself that he was just being silly and went back to his magazine.

The woman walked to the far side of the pickup. She placed her groceries on the passenger side and then walked around to get in on the drivers' side. She began to fasten her seat belt and start the engine of the truck.

With a sudden sound, RJ raced around the counter. He got to the front door and yelled out to the truck. Xander looked up and watched with amusement, to see a big man move that fast.

"You tell Clay when you see him that he needs to come see me!" RJ called out to the truck that had pulled back and was just beginning to move forward.

"You got it!" she laughed and called back leaning out of the truck's driver side window.

Xander looked out the dusty window at the woman at the smiling from the truck. His heart stopped when he saw her face.

It was Anya!