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 10

It was early the next morning, as the bright light from the morning sun illuminated the living room of the cabin. Dressed in a simple t-shirt and demin shorts, Buffy slipped out of her bedroom, turning to gently close the bedroom door behind her. She tiptoed toward the living room as the almost Teutonic like rumbling snores from Xander's room floated under the bottom of his door. She knew that he was still sleeping off last night's escapade into small town Texas nightlife. She stopped momentarily to slip on the new flip flops, she had purchased yesterday. Stretching, she rubbed the back of her head as she yawned as she walked out on the wooden porch of the cabin.

The sun was still low in the sky and caught on the ripples of the river flowing by. It sent bright fragmented flashes of light up into her face. She covered her eyes to look out at the landscape before her. The early light from the glaring sun had lit up the tan dried ends of vegetation so that they seemed to achieve a sandy glow as a mockingbird would flit amongst them while singing its morning song. She had planned on sitting on the front porch to reminisce over last evenings events, but she was surprised to see the activity going on at the river banks. It seemed that some of the Texans had gotten up early and were already milling about.

Giving herself a brief check and smoothing her hair behind her ears, she began to make her way down the hillside toward the river.

"Good morning." She called out to two women who were walking toward her along the river bank. One was Anya who looked bright and chipper and smiled at Buffy as she saw her approach. The other was a bedraggled looking Ruby, who seemed to be sluggishly putting one foot in front of another.

"Good morning. I see you're up early." Anya replied with a bright smile on her face as she and a dazed looking Ruby stopped to regard Buffy.

"Yeah, well I didn't want to miss anything." Buffy smiled as she shrugged. "What's going on?"

"Well, we're just waiting for everyone to appear. I am afraid I dragged Ruby out of bed early." Anya stopped and placed her hands in the back pockets of her shorts.

"Mornin. Good Lord, it's early!" A rather subdued Ruby muttered as she rubbed the sleep out of her eye and yawned. "Some kind of friends I got."

"I warned you that I don't sleep in anymore when you mentioned sharing a tent." Anya said as she shook her head about how seriously Ruby took her warning.

"Yeah, but I didn't think you were serious. I mean who gets up before seven AM on a weekend?" Ruby replied, raising her hand in exasperation.

"Someone who lives with a small child in the house. I would love to sleep late. I remember there were times that I used sleep till almost noon. Now, I wake to the sounds of cartoons and by a little girl's demands for breakfast. Now, if I don't hear it, my internal alarms go off." Anya stated as slightly shrugged her shoulders. She then turned to Buffy. "What are you doin up so early?"

"Oh, well. I guess I am just an early riser as well. Xander was still sleeping, so I snuck out of the cabin so I wouldn't wake him." Buffy confided in the two women.

"Buffy, please share your skills with Annalee on how to sneak out and let your friends sleep in." Ruby almost whined as she shifted to Buffy's side and looked pointedly at Anya. "Now that you two kindred spirits have found each other, I am going back to bed."

"Okay. Go. I am surprised you any energy for such drama so early in the morning." Anya commented, tilting her head at her friend who clumsily turned to leave.

Buffy and Anya watched Ruby stagger off back to the tent to get some sleep. They smiled at each other when Ruby held her arms up in front of her blindly grasping for the tent flap before she finally found it. Buffy then turned to Anya.

"So, what do we do for breakfast around here?" Buffy asked.

….

Seeing no one else about, Buffy invited Anya back to the cabin. Buffy was lucky enough to discover a stash of coffee in a cupboard. With a little of Anya's help, okay with a lot of Anya's help, she was able to operate the stove top coffee pot. Before long, she and Anya were sitting on the edge of the front porch balancing a cup of coffee in their hands. In between them, the package of powdered donuts stood open. As the women sat there, they would occasionally pull a donut out of the package to daintily dip in their coffee before bringing it up to their mouths.

They began to talk as they looked out over the river. Buffy began to realize that this Anya was much more down to earth than the flighty ex-demon had been. There continued to be a complete air of honesty about this Anya or rather Annalee but it was tempered with concern and mothering nature. She was able to see that Anya in this incarnation was more content and confident. There was none of the grasping quality that she had previously sensed about Anya back in Sunnydale. Although she liked Anya, she had never really considered her a friend. Buffy had always categorized her as Xander's girlfriend rather than a true friend. As she sat there, next to Anya, she realized that maybe she had underestimated the ex-demon. She became aware that she could easily become friends with the woman sitting next to her. In fact, she knew that she already had.

The women had been sitting on the porch for a good hour when they heard the noise of the door opening. A groggy looking Xander with a bad case of bed hair stuck his head out from behind the door. His half cast eyes took in the women sitting on the porch.

"Is that coffee?" He asked in a gravelly voice as he blinked his eyes

"Yeah, it's on the stove." Buffy said as she smiled at Anya who was smirking at the spectacle of Xander in morning.

"Hmm." Xander mumbled as he pulled his head and haphazardly turned to go into the kitchen.

Just then a large black and gold pick-up truck rumbled into the campsite. Anya stood up and placed her coffee mug on the edge of the porch.

"Oops. Look who's here already. I better go down and meet them. Holly is better than an alarm clock." Anya said as she took a few steps away from the porch to watch the pick-up.

"Who's Holly?" Buffy asked as she looked from Anya down to the truck.

"She's my little girl." Anya answered as she covered her eyes to peer down at the campsite.

"Oh! That's right. You said you were a mom. You have a little girl?" Buffy's eyes opened in shock as she tried to recover herself as she uttered. "Well, I'd love to meet her."

"You will. She and Micah are going tubin with us this afternoon." Anya replied without removing her eyes from the truck where a dark wavy haired man was releasing a little girl from a booster seat.

"Who's Micah?" Buffy asked, clearly stunned as she looked back and forth from the truck to Anya.

"Holly's father and my ex. This is his weekend with her." Anya smiled as she gave this interesting spec of information to Buffy. Anya began to move toward the path as she called back to Buffy. "I better get down there. See ya!"

About five minutes, Xander appeared in dressed, hair combed and a cup of coffee in his hands and much wider awake. His face fell when he saw that Anya was no longer on the porch.

"Good morning! Where's Anya?" He asked in a much chipper voice as he placed himself alongside Buffy on the porch.

Buffy lifted up her hand and pointed down at the scene taking place in the campsite. Anya was holding the hands of a little girl who was navigating walking on one of the railroad ties that surrounded the campfire area. The little girl stopped and bent her knees to make a tremendous leap off the tie to land on the ground beside Anya. Anya's hands carefully kept the little girl vertical as she landed to make sure she didn't fall. Anya laughed as the little girl's face turned up to her in triumph.

"Hey, Holly's here." Xander said as he brought the cup of coffee up to his lips for another swallow

"You know about her?" Buffy asked, surprised.

"Yeah, I met her the first night. She's a sweet little girl." Xander answered, knowingly.

"She and Anya's ex are going tubin with us." Buffy commented and wondered. "You okay with that?"

"Sure. It's plenty okay." Xander responded, with a hard won maturity that the past events had blessed him with.

"Wow. You have really changed." Buffy remarked. Looking off in the distance, she added. "I used to know a Xander who didn't like any curveballs thrown at him."

"What can I say? I've grown up." Xander announced with a deprecating shrug.

"Yeah. Haven't we all?" Buffy said as she leaned over to him with a small smile.

…..

It was late morning when everyone gathered in the campsite after having woken and having breakfast. Buffy made her way over to Ruby who she saw congenially talking to a large burly man.

"I see you're now part of the living again." Buffy commented as she approached the blonde woman who was laughing with the large man.

"Yeah, I am not my best with less than five hours sleep." Ruby smiled as she turned to greet Buffy. "Buffy, have you met RJ? Buffy, this is RJ. He and Bill have been a pair of good old boys together since forever." Ruby said as she good naturedly patted RJ on the back of his shoulder. "RJ, this is Buffy."

"Hi, nice to meet ya." RJ ducked his head as held out his hand.

"Nice to meet you too." Buffy answered with a smile as she took his oversized hand.

"I think I saw you last night at club. You were dancing with Bill." RJ said as he gave her hand a small shake along with a wide smile.

"Yeah, I did dance with Bill." Buffy replied, a small blush appearing on her cheeks as she pulled back her hand and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.

"He's a pretty good dancer, isn't he?" RJ vocally surmised as his eyes went to Ruby. "Or so I'm told."

"I don't have any complaints." Buffy responded feeling her cheeks getting hotter under the affable scrutiny of RJ and Ruby.

Luckily for Buffy, the interrogation was timely interrupted by the arrival of Anya along with her little girl. Anya stopped in front of the group and brought the little girl in front of her, holding the child's hands in each of hers.

"Hi, Buffy. I want you to meet my little girl. This is Holly." Anya said as she smiled down at the little girl twisting between her arms. "Holly, this is Buffy. Say Hello."

"Hello." The little girl parroted as she looked up at Buffy, but never stopped twisting. "You're pretty."

"Why, thank you." Buffy responded, laughing. "So, are you. I hear you're going to go tubin with us today. Have you been before?"

The little girl nodded vigorously.

"Well, I have never been. Is it okay if you can maybe help me later?" Buffy asked as she leaned down to the little girl's level.

Holly looked up at her mother questioningly. Anya smiled and nodded, assuring the little girl that it was okay. Holly looked back over at Buffy and nodded emphatically. Anya chuckled as she knew that Buffy had already made a friend out of Holly. As Anya looked up, she caught Ruby's eye and after their long conversation in the tent last night, she knew what she had to do.

"So, Bill couldn't make it. Huh?" Anya asked. All eyes of the adults flew to Buffy's face to see her reaction. Buffy could not stop the disappoint from flashing across her face.

"He had to take Maureen back home this morning. Her fiancée had leave and they're supposed to go cake tasting today in Fredericksburg." Ruby sighed. "You know Bill, he's going to stop by and see if the folks have any problems with the store."

"Oh, does that mean he's not coming back?" Buffy tried her best to sound casual as her heart lodged in her throat.

"He'll be here for the cookout and the concert tonight." Ruby replied, her eyes going stealthily around to her old friends. She added with a smile in her eyes. "I don't think you could keep him away."