It wasn’t that she didn’t like him. It was just that he was Xander - with all that implied.
He was faithful and loyal, and he tried really hard to be helpful. But he was just…Xander. There was no mystery about him, no magic. He didn’t make her heart skip a beat when he loomed out of the darkness. He didn’t startle her with his unexpected sweetness or the tenderness in his eyes. He couldn’t fight vamps off with one hand, while punching demons with the other.
On the other hand, he was good company, and made her laugh, and he really liked her.
There was the whole ‘not-turning-evil-if-we-sleep-together’ bit; at least, no more evil than boys were said to turn once they’d gotten sex. Buffy didn’t have much experience in that area.
And then there was Willow.
It was fairly plain that Willow and Oz were pretty much a couple, even if they did have a few things to iron out what with phases of the moon and stuff. But Buffy had encouraged Willow out of her shell for over a year now - especially when it came to guys and Xander. Which really should have gone in the same category since Xander was a guy, but Willow didn’t think of him as ‘a guy’ when it came to relating to him, even if she did in the romance stakes.
Buffy didn’t really think of Xander as ‘a guy’ either, if it came to that. He was just ‘Xander.’
“Earth to the Buffyverse,” Xander interrupted her train of thought. “Have you been listening at all?”
Buffy glanced up at him in the dark of the cemetary. He was regarding her with exasperation, the distant streetlights illuminating his face. Beyond him, Willow regarded her anxiously.
She sighed. She’d completely zoned out and missed most of what he’d said. Giles would have told her off if he’d been here. Sunnydale cemetary an hour short of midnight was not the safest place in the world, and while she’d been off with the flowers, they could have been attacked and she would have been about as much use as...well, as Willow. “I’m sorry, guys,” she said, smiling to try to take the sting out of her inattentiveness. “I was...miles from here.”
“As was evident from the ‘not listening’ part,” Xander half-joked. Buffy sensed he was a little miffed at her lack of attention and tried to make it up to him. It wasn’t his fault that he was Xander.
“Was it good miles from here?” Willow asked, a little anxiously. “Or bad miles from here?”
She shot the red-headed girl a faint smile. “Good miles from here. Mostly.”
Willow looked as though she wanted to ask more, but held her tongue.
Xander didn’t. “Let’s guess, you’re still moping about...”
“Xander!” Willow smacked him on the arm and he stopped, glaring at her.
“What was that for?”
“Ix-nay on the oping-may!”
Buffy restrained the urge to laugh. Or maybe that was the urge to cry. Willow was sweet, but her ‘cunning’ was decidedly transparent.
“It’s been a month,” Xander hissed, evidently having forgotten that Buffy stood right behind him.
A month? Had it really only been a month since she turned seventeen? It seemed like no time and a lifetime.
God, she missed him.
Willow and Xander tried to distract her with other things - silly, sweet things that made her laugh when she only wanted to cry. Giles didn’t say ‘I told you so’ or anything like that, but was helpful and supportive - when he wasn’t sending her out to slay something.
Buffy did her homework, fended off her mother’s questions, went on patrol, fought the demons and the forces of darkness, yadda, yadda, yadda...
But the world around her was a bleary, dreary grey.
The few bright lights in the midst of it all were her friends and her Watcher. The friends she’d been constantly forgetting tonight. The friends who were bickering about sensitivity and thoughtfulness regarding their behaviour towards her before her very eyes.
“Guys,” she took their arms, pulling them on. “Enough with the arguing in the middle of the cemetary...”
And not too soon, either, Buffy realised as a woman drifted out of the shadows. Her clothing was antiquated and her dark hair blended with the night, but she moved with a surety and a certainty that no mortal woman had.
“It’s the Slayer,” Drusilla murmured to herself as she emerged from the shadows, her eyes fixed balefully on Buffy. “And her little friends...”
Buffy had a momentary wild urge to look around her for Angel. Because if Drusilla was here, then Angel couldn’t be far behind...
God, she hoped Angel wasn’t here. Not while Xander and Willow were here with her. Not when she wasn’t sure she was up to fighting him.
She stepped forward, trying to shield them from the madwoman. Around the stake, her fingers tightened, her instincts calling her to attack, even as her logic warned her to be cautious. Drusilla was dangerous - and for more reasons than that she was a vampire. Then, too, Buffy didn’t know who else was hiding in the shadows. Her Slayer senses told her nothing, but she’d been wrong before.
“He’s not here,” the vampire intoned in her dire voice. Buffy didn’t ask who the insane woman meant. “He won’t be coming back, Slayer, not to you. Not to anyone.” The heavy eyelids drifted down, languorous veilings, concealing the eyes that saw so much more than just the world around her. “The angel flies around and around,” she twirled her fingers in the air, and something dangled from her fingertips. It glittered silvery in the dappled shadows. “And there’s no rest for him, no rest at all...”
“Buffy?” Willow suddenly sounded much younger than her sixteen years. Possibly eight years, although that might be stretching it.
“Drusilla wouldn’t be out here alone,” she said, glancing around, but keeping her eyes on the dark shadows around them. “Have you got the water with you?”
There was a moment of scrabbling around in pockets, before Willow brandished the bottle.
“Good. Take the nearest exit and don’t look back.” She hadn’t anticipated Drusilla’s presence here in the graveyard, and it was a danger she didn’t want her friends to risk.
“Buffy,” Xander protested.
“Just go,” she didn’t dare take her eyes from the vampire. In her own way, Drusilla was as dangerous as Angelus, as dangerous as Spike. When she heard no movement from her friends, she yelled at them, “Go!”
Their footsteps pattered away into the night, but she could feel their reluctance, their fear for her, and it warmed her through to her core.
Drusilla hadn’t turned to flee, even though she had to know she’d be in danger from Buffy. She seemed unafraid of the Slayer - or maybe just unafraid of Buffy.
Buffy remembered Angel telling her about how he’d driven Drusilla mad, then turned her. “She’s not like other vampires,” he’d said. “You can’t approach her the way you’d approach Spike or any other vampire. She sees things differently.”
Certainly there was no reason for her to begin swaying as though he was dancing to some music that couldn’t be heard by human ears. “I found a keepsake,” she sang, dreamily, changing the topic with disconcerting swiftness. Something dangled from her fingers, silvery in the dappled shadows. “A pretty little thing. It’s a keepsake for the kitty, but she’s grown up all tawny and vicious.” The dark eyes rested on Buffy, “Did you know that if you bite her, she’ll taste delicious?”
The rhyme made no sense, but Buffy was beyond caring, now. If Drusilla was here alone...
She struck out at the vampire, angling her stake up at a slight angle, aiming for the heart. Her wrist was caught in a grip that was more like steel than flesh and she gasped as something dug into her flesh.
“Naughty Slayer,” the madwoman crooned. “You’ve been a bad girl!”
Buffy just saw the slap coming and wrenched her hand from Drusilla’s enough to duck it. “Yeah, somehow I don’t think your idea of a good girl and my idea of a good girl are likely to get along,” she kicked out at the vampire and Drusilla stumbled back, one arm curled around her chest protectively. “So, I’ll just stake you and be a ‘bad girl’ anyway!”
She was the Slayer, how difficult could one insane vampire be?
Whether it was Drusilla’s ‘othersense’ or just very good vampire reflexes, Buffy couldn’t get the woman in to a position to be staked. On one hand, she seemed to be without any skills in fighting; yet on the other, she didn’t leave any openings for Buffy.
Buffy got angrier and angrier as Drusilla fended her off, time and time again. She didn’t have time for this - they’d come to the cemetary to check a few newly-dead-probably-vamped people, and this was taking up precious time...
Then Drusilla slapped her across the face, hard enough to make her see two pale, sinister women standing before her. She felt hands clamp down on her arms as the vampire flung her through the air, until she crashed against one of the tombstones.
Ow. Her muscles ached, but she wasn’t going to get any time to recover: Drusilla was striding across the intervening grass, her movements intent. “Will the kitten scream when she’s bitten?” The woman said, her eyes holding Buffy’s in hypnotic intensity even as she vamped into her demon face. “We’ll find out soon, Miss Edith...”
“Buffy!” They both turned at the cry, and Drusilla barely had time to get her arms up to block off the worst of the holy water that Xander threw over her. “Take that!”
The shriek echoed through the cemetary, an unholy wail of pain that reverberated through Buffy’s body. Xander waved a stake at Drusilla, and the vampire hissed at him, then took off, whimpering, her skirts trailing out behind her as she fled into the night.
Buffy looked up as Willow crouched down beside her, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” She was okay. A little the worse for wear perhaps, and her heart was beating like crazy, but...she was okay. “I told you guys to go!”
“And we decided not to,” Xander said, in a tone of voice that dared her to object.
“You were about to become Drusilla-food,” Willow said, helping Buffy up and brushing her off. “That was worth coming back.”
“Besides,” Xander added, “We couldn’t leave you all alone in the cemetary, with the crazy vamps trying to kill you. I mean, you’re the Slayer, but we’re the Slayerettes...”
“And some sidekicks we’d be if we didn’t stick around to help.” There was a solemnity to Willow that made her assurance all the more touching.
It was as pat as if they’d rehearsed the argument. Maybe they had.
Buffy didn’t really care. For once, the Slayer had been saved by her ‘Slayerettes’ and, from where she was standing - even a little sore and a little dirty - that was a good thing. But she wasn’t about to let them get away with that. “You guys could have been killed.”
“But we weren’t,” Xander said, unnecessarily. “And you could have been killed and we stopped that.”
“Yeah. And it was kinda good to hear Drusilla scream. Even if it was loud enough to wake the dead.”
They were facing her, so only she saw the shadows move behind them. Drusilla’s scream had woken at least one dead.
Willow and Xander were unceremoniously shoved out of the way as she leaped into the fray.
The advantage of looking out for the newly-undead was that they were usually just a little disoriented about their surroundings. It made staking them remarkably easy - especially compared to the fight Drusilla had just put up.
This newborn vampire was dust within moments, and Buffy turned back to her friends, intent on reprimanding them exactly as they deserved. “You shouldn’t have come back. You put yourselves in danger!”
“Buffy,” Xander said in the tone of voice that said she wasn’t getting it, “We’re in danger anyway. Whether or not we put ourselves in it. You’re Buffy. We’re not going to leave you to fight these things alone.”
“Darn tootin’,” Willow said, as though that was the end of the conversation.
Buffy argued it on and off for the next hour as she staked newly-risen vampires one after the other. Xander and Willow ‘helped’ from time to time, but Buffy was always hyper-aware of their shortcomings regarding slaying and took pains to make sure they never got injured.
As they walked back from the cemetary, Xander and Willing bickering with the comfortable sniping of old friends, Buffy wondered why she was suddenly so worried about them. They’d come along with her to the cemetary before, gotten themselves in all kinds of danger - sometimes with her, sometimes without her. And they’d always gotten out so far. So why the sudden concern, Buffy?
Maybe it was because she’d lost one friend to the darkness already. She didn’t want to lose any others.
They saw Willow up to her front door, waited for the door to shut behind her. Then they meandered along the street to Xander’s.
“You know, I get the feeling that you’re not really here at all,” Xander said. His words were mild, but Buffy felt the sting in them anyway. As he’d shown earlier tonight, he didn’t like her moping. Specifically, he didn’t like her moping over Angel.
When it came to Angel, Xander could be irrational.
Or maybe, he was just rational about Angel where Buffy became irrational about him.
Xander was, in many respects, a typical guy. He spoke without thinking, he thought about sex a lot, he admired girls for their physical attributes first and their personality second, and he could be a pain in the backside.
On the other hand, he was also loyal, kind, and sweet in his own style. He looked out for her and, although she’d never given him any hopes in that direction, she knew that if she so much as batted an eyelash at him, he’d come running.
There was a certain pleasure in that thought. Buffy was, even amidst the Slayer thing, a teenaged girl.
But he was just...Xander.
And he was waiting for an answer.
“I’m...sorry,” she said, knowing it was a totally inadequate apology for her inattentiveness all night. The only thing she’d really been focused on was Slaying and, after that, keeping Xander and Willow out of danger.
Evidently Xander agreed with her opinion. “Buffy, ‘sorry’ doesn’t cut this. You’ve been zoned out all night. You’ve been zoned out all day. And although Willow might be okay about making all kinds of excuses for you, I’m not Willow.”
“I’d noticed,” she muttered. A moment later, she realised he’d stopped in the pathway, and turned to look back at him.
“Look,” he told her, angrily, “I’ve been supportive, I’ve been thoughtful, I’ve been nice about this. But I never liked Angel much in the first place, and I knew he was trouble from the start. I just...” The anger which had buoyed him so far just seemed to drain away, leaving him looking slightly sheepish in the streetlight. His hands were dug deeply into his pockets and he looked like the shy, uncertain teenager he was. “I just hate seeing you mope over him, Buffy.”
It wasn’t just words, something said to impress her about how much he cared. Buffy knew Xander well enough to see that. It really bothered him - and at least as much because he was her friend as because he’d always seen Angel as a rival he couldn’t fight, couldn’t best, couldn’t do a thing about.
But she wasn’t in a mood to be thoughtful about this.
“Do you think I’m doing this because I want to? God, Xander, I’d love not to think about it, not to feel about it! I’d love to not mope and forget that one of my friends is now gone because...because...” She could feel the tears coming. They wavered on the edge of her eyelids, ready to spill over.
“I...” He huffed, uncertain about what to do, what was expected of him. “I just...”
She didn’t want this confrontation. Not now. Not ever. Yes, she’d been stupid as far as Angel went. A part of her acknowledged that. He was a vampire, she was a vampire Slayer. She should have given him a wide berth, she should have been cautious, she should never have let herself act on her attraction...
Too late for should haves. Far too late.
All she could do now was repair the gaping hole torn in her life.
And her friends would be there to help her.
She didn’t realise there were arms around her until she found her face turned into Xander’s shoulder. Then she wrapped her arms around him and let him comfort her. It felt so good to be held.
By Xander, no less.
They walked to his house with her under his shoulder, and, for a little while, Buffy felt...safe. Just like an ordinary girl out with her ordinary boyfriend, going home after a night out. The night held no horrors, and the day no grief. She was normal for a brief few minutes, because the boy she was with was normal, too.
At the gate of his house, she paused, pulling away from him. He glanced at her. They’d said not a word since their outburst on the sidewalk, just walked in silence and companionship and friendship and love.
“You know, you could stay the night,” he said, only half joking.
He knew her answer even before she shook her head at him. “Xander...”
His mouth quirked a little with a kind of bitter resignation, but he didn’t say what he was thinking. Instead, he bent his head down to hers, brushed his lips past her cheek, and slipped something cold and metallic into her hand.
Then he was gone up the path and into the house.
Buffy looked down at the bracelet she held in her hand. It glittered, silver in the night; the thing Drusilla had been holding. How the vampire got hold of it, Buffy didn’t know. How Xander picked it up, Buffy didn’t know.
But the words gleamed at her, inscribed in a flowing cursive script, and she felt deep warmth flow through her body as she read Xander’s words to her.
They were true now as they’d been true then.