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 11

Everyone was standing around chatting after the late breakfast when a pale yellow convertible came roaring up the dirt road, sending up a cloud of dust, scattering gravel as it came to a halt.

"Hi, everyone!"

Serena's slightly nasal tone called out as she leaned back against the white leather seat. Her face split into a megawatt smile as she pushed back her large sunglasses up to the top of her head. The sunglasses pushed back her flowing waves of dark hair with expensive highlights to cascade down her back. Everyone froze with the exception of RJ. He was drawn over to the side of her car as he walked with the sprightliness not normally seen in men his size. Ruby's mouth settled into distaste as her eyes followed RJ progress until he was breathlessly leaning over the side of the convertible. He looked absolutely thrilled that Serena had appeared as he basked in her gloriousness. With a small laugh, Serena basked in the admiration as she knew full well that she had achieved the attracting the attention of everyone in the group as she pulled the latch on her car door. RJ dutifully pulled it back as she stretched out her long brown legs to stand and twirled about to reach over to grab her bag and towel.

"Watch this..It won't be more than a minute before she asks about Bill." Ruby mumbled to Buffy as she turned her body lightly away on her toes. "She's about subtle as a hungry bobcat. Watch her face."

"Ruby…Come on, now" Anya gently warned as she tilted her head at the young woman who was so protective of her brother.

"Well, look at her. All pearly teeth and shiny nails, stretching out against her car…Lord, I want get her a scratching post."

Serena leaned against the car as she showered RJ with her attention. A moment later, she casually turned her head to regard the crowd. Sure enough, in the next instant, the sparkling joy dropped off Serena's face like rainwater when she was told Bill was not there. She looked down to straighten her bikini top before looking with a slightly diminished smile, and a shrug of her shoulders. She proceeded to wrap her arms around RJ's bicep as she simpered up into his face.

"Poor little mouse." Ruby uttered as she stared at the big man's happy yet awkward response to Serena's glamorous onslaught of attention.

"Yeah, he's suffering." Anya commented deadpan with a wink at Buffy.

A local rafting company soon stopped by to pick up the group from the campground and ferry them out to a low water crossing about three and half miles up the river. On the way to the river, a constant stream narration and questions from Holly about tubing could be heard as she sat in her seat next to Anya. The little girl's voice carried through the van as she told Anya about how much she liked tubing, how much the caravan was squeaking and bouncing and wanting to know when they were going to get there. Buffy felt a blush on her cheeks as she heard Holly emphatically tell Anya that Buffy had not gone tubing before and she was going to show her. It seemed that she had become a special project for the little girl. Anya's voice patiently responded and encouraged the little girl to prattle on as she caught Buffy's eye with a sly smile.

Everyone was glad when the rather chaotic ride in the caravan came to end when it pulled up to a cleared area by the river bottoms. Sitting beside the river, was an industrial type truck with a metal cage on the back that was filled with the inflated black inner tubes. Once the van had pulled to a stop, everyone had piled out of the caravan onto the pale river rocks that comprised the parking area blazed white heat up into the air in the unforgiving Texas sun. Buffy could feel the heat of the stones seep through the bottom of her thin soled inexpensive sneakers she had bought at the grocery store. Everyone gravitated toward the back of the van where the coolers, towels and sun screen were stored. There was a cacophony of voices and motion as people grabbed their sunscreen and began slathering themselves and others. RJ and Xander pulled out the coolers out of the back of the van and placed them on the ground while Russell and Micah went over to the truck and started handing down the inner tubes.

Turning from the back of the van, Xander's eye caught brief flurry of motion as Holly took off for the river with Anya in close pursuit. Suddenly Ruby appeared in front of him, asking him to cover her back with the sunscreen that she waggled between her fingers. He found himself smiling at the pretty strawberry blonde and gallantly took the bottle of sunscreen from her hand. As he was smoothing the cream down from Ruby's shoulder onto her shoulder blades, he saw Anya pulling a stormy looking Holly back toward the van. Holly's feet stamped in the dust cover rocks, sending up little puffs of dust as she trudged along at the end of her mother's hand. Once there, Anya sat down on the edge of the van's floor and bent down to smear a thick coating of sunscreen across Holly's face. Her face frozen in a not quite successful stoic expression, Holly stood there with arms stiff by her side as her mother methodically coated her in the sticky substance. Micah walked up with Holly's floaties in his hand. It appeared that between the two adults, the little girl seemed well in hand before she even got near the water.

Russell and RJ took a couple of the inner tubes down the river where they secured the coolers. Ruby corralled Xander and Buffy over to the truck where they picked up their inner tubes. They slung them over their shoulders as they navigated the short slope down to the low water crossing. The water was a dark blue with ripples from the current visible in the shade from the overhanging pecan trees. Buffy made a sound of shock when he placed her foot in which made Xander laugh since he was still yet to enter the river. Buffy reached over and gave him a sharp tug which made him stumble a few steps into the river with a yell about the temperature. Ruby told them that they would get water soon enough, that it was only the heat that made it so bracing. Many of the group had waded into low water area with their gigantic black inner tubes by now when Buffy turned back to the slope. Serena stopped at the top of the slope and called for RJ to help her down the slope. RJ bounded up the slope to assist while Ruby turned her back and rolled her eyes.

Finally, the last stragglers of the group approached the river. Anya and Micah walked down to the river's edge, each holding one of Holly's hands. Holly was now bedecked out in her floaties and tiny red sunglasses as she approached the river between her parents. Micah was balancing his large black inner tube and Holly's smaller yellow inner tube over his shoulder and upper arm as he leaned over to keep hold of the little girl's hand to keep her from falling down the small slope.

Once on the riverside, Anya and Holly waded into the river a few feet while Micah attached Holly's small inner tube to her mother's by a short cord that he wrapped around both. Micah held the inner tube for Anya as she ungracefully as it skidded along the surface of the river a few feet with the momentum of falling into it. He then picked up Holly and placed the kicking and delighted little girl in her small yellow inner tube. Anya reached over to wrap her hand around Holly's tube to keep her near.

"Come on, Daddy!" Holly demanded with all her little girl possessiveness when she turned around to see her father standing there. "The river's getting away!"

Micah hopped to please the demands of his little girl as he turned to fall into his own inner tube. Once everyone saw that the little family was now ready to embark, the remaining people who were still standing, quickly climbed in their tubes. The group set off. The group started their slow progression on the river. It was slow going at first as everyone was still bunched together. As they progressed, the group began to spread out slightly.

Buffy, Xander and Ruby were at the back of the group near Anya, Micah and Holly. Ruby had been kicking water at Xander every time he was not looking. Ruby was obviously enjoying her little game until Xander caught her at it. It soon turned into a full on splash war between the two of them. Eager to stay out of the splash zone, Buffy drifted back farther toward Anya and her little girl. Buffy leaned over in her tube toward Holly.

"Wow! I like your sunglasses, Holly! You look so good in them." Buffy complimented the little girl who looked so stylish in her yellow inner tube and heart shaped sunglasses.

"I know." Holly responded non-chalantly.

"Our modest child." Anya commented as she smiled over at Micah who was bringing up the rear.

"Hi. I don't think we've met." Buffy leaned out and waved. "I'm Buffy."

"Nice to meet you, I'm Micah." The man nodded his head that reminded Buffy of manners of bygone days.

"That's MY daddy!" Holly joined in to clarify her ownership of the handsome wavy haired man in the inner tube.

"Yes, I only exist to serve my princess." Micah smiled at the little girl who nodded at Buffy and seemed to thoroughly believe the statement to be fact.

"You're a very lucky little girl to have a daddy like that, Holly."

"Uh huh." Holly uttered and then turned around to address Micah. She announced imperiously. "Daddy, I want to ride with you in your inner tube!"

Micah rowed forward with his arms and soon had Holly transferred from her inner tube and onto his. Holly ended up sitting on his stomach where she appeared to be holding court as she leaned back against the wall of the inner tube.

The river lazily cut through the harsh Texas landscape. From the river, there appeared to be sections of the of the countryside that looked like deep green groves and other sections where rocks jut up so dramatically it looked like an earthquake had just happened. And like the changing scenery, the river also varied. There were areas of slow deep water but there were also sections that were punctuated with faster moving shallow water. With the child with them, Buffy accompanied Micah and Anya around the alternative slow water routes, so none of their quartet got unexpectedly dumped out into the water.

Buffy could see Xander and Ruby were having a great time up ahead, going through the small bunches of river rapids on the opposite side of the river. She laughed as Xander was ungainly toppled out of his inner tube at the end of one of the rushing water sections. With almost walrus like grace, Xander surfaced sputtering and floundering about as he grabbed for his inner tube. Ruefully smiling while Ruby teased him, he awkardly climbed back into his tube to her obvious amusement.

Buffy looked back at Anya to see if she had seen Xander and Ruby. Micah had floated forward to be even with Anya, his inner tube had rotated so he drifted backwards. Holly was now on her stomach, draped across her father as she was intently dipping her hands into the slow cool water. The little girl was busily dancing her fingers in the river, making small droplets fling into the air in crescendo. Watching the water droplets catch the light, something else caught Buffy's eye. She noticed Anya and Micah were holding hands just under the water level as they looked meaningfully at each other. Buffy quickly looked over at Xander, wondering if she should say something to him. From Buffy's perspective, it looked like Anya and Micah were not over. Not over by a long shot, she thought.

A little bit before four, the group had reached the pick-up point by the river rafting company. Everyone stood up in the shallows and walked with their inner tube out of the river. After climbing out of the cool water of the Llano river by balancing her soaked sneakers on the water worn stones, Buffy stood on the river bank watching the interaction between Xander and Ruby. She realized that all afternoon had passed and Xander had not spent one second of it with Anya. Looking at him, he really didn't seem too miserable about it, she thought as he and Ruby were smiling crazily at each other.

Later, as the group bounced down the road on the bouncing and sternly padded seats of the caravan of the tubing purveyor, Buffy relaxed against the back of her seat. She had enjoyed herself on the tubing trip as she felt her cool damp swimsuit between her and warmth of the vinyl seat. She was tired but not exhausted. She could not keep her excitement totally penned up about the plans for that evening. She was already thinking about a battle plan for tonight: what she would wear, her hair, which perfume, what she would say…Tonight, the group was having a cookout before going to the music concert. Best of all, Spike was going to be there.