Title: Best Friend with Benefits [1/1]
Authors: Sonya and carynsilver
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com
Summary: Here is our take on what might happen at the Sunnydale High School Class of '99 five year Reunion.
Disclaimer: We do not own Buffy or any of the original characters or ideas from the show. They all belong to Joss, Mutant Enemy, etc. All we own is our own creative genius (unless that's too strong a word :) and any characters we make up.
Distribution: Ashley's site... anyone else should ask us first.
Feedback: Love it, want it, need it! (But no flames please.)
Spoilers: Up to "Something Blue" (BtVS) and "Hero" (Angel)
Author's Note: This is our contest fic for Ashley's site anniversary. If it's good, maybe we'll win a T-shirt. :) If it's not, at least we had fun writing it... Let us know what you think! Song lyrics and title come from the song "Head Over Feet" by Alanis Morissette.
You're the best listener that I've ever met
You're my best friend
Best friend with benefits
What took me so long?
You've already won me over in spite of me
Don't be alarmed if I fall head over feet
Don't be surprised if I love you for all that you are
I couldn't help it
It's all your fault
The phone rang, it's shrill sound rousing Buffy Summers from a sound sleep. She'd been up late, grading final exams for the intro-level Psychology class she taught at UC Sunnydale, the night before and consequently noon found the graduate student still snoozing on this particular Sunday. After the fourth ring, her answering machine picked up. Buffy listened to see if the person on the other end of the line was worth picking up the phone for.
"Hi! It's Buffy! Leave a message at the beep, unless you're someone I don't want to talk to... then don't bother. Bye!"
"Buffy! Are you asleep? Wake up! It's URGENT!"
The voice of her best friend, Alexander Harris, caused Buffy to groan, but she sat up, wiped the sleep from her eyes and picked up the receiver. "This had better be good, Xander," she growled into the receiver.
"Did you get it?"
Buffy blinked. What on earth was he talking about? "Get it?"
"It! The big it... the it that leads us to a night of endless torture."
"Huh?" Then Buffy began to get worried. In her night jobs as a former Slayer and a highly-placed Special Operative with the Initiative, she had seen more than her share of bad things. And Xander, as Dr. Walsh's right hand man, also had plenty of opportunities for scoping out badness to come.
"What's wrong, Xander? Is something coming? Some apocalyptic, the world is going to Hell in a hand basket unless we pull out all the big guns and stop it scenario? Should I call Lynne?" Buffy didn't know Lynne Jacobs very well -- the Slayer who had been called after Faith -- but she did have the girl's phone number.
"Just go check your mailbox," Xander said in a monotone.
"My mailbox? Are the demons now sending themselves to us in junk mail?" Buffy demanded sarcastically. "Will the horror never stop?"
But at his insistence, Buffy grudgingly got up, put on a robe and went to her mailbox. Inside was some junk mail (but no demons), a bill or two and a small, square, cream-colored envelope. Her name and address were written on the front in elegant script. As she padded back inside her small apartment, Buffy slit open the envelope and pulled out an invitation.
It read: Valued Graduate of Sunnydale High School's Class of 1999, We welcome you to attend your class's five-year reunion commemorating the re-opening of our new and improved campus (but this time, please don't blow it up!). The card went on to give the time and place -- next Saturday night, 7 p.m. at the new school.
She went back to the phone with a feeling of dread coalescing in the pit of her stomach. "It's worse than I thought, Xander."
"Isn't it?" Xander sighed deeply. "I'd prefer to have to mate with a huge, slimy, squiggly Chaos demon than spend a night schmoozing with our former classmates at the new school."
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Well, OK, maybe I was exaggerating, but you get the point!"
"I don't want to go either," Buffy admitted. "Then again, I am a little curious. Don't you ever wonder what happened to some of the people in our class? The ones that weren't killed, I mean?"
"All the people I care about, I know where they are," Xander said bluntly. "Why should I care about all those people who thought I was a loser?"
"No one thought you were a loser," Buffy protested. "Well... except maybe Cordelia. But she got over it." She paused, and then added, "Are you really not going to go?"
"No!" There was a silence, and then, "Well... are you going to go?"
"I'm thinking about it," Buffy answered hesitantly. "They did elect me Class Protector. I probably should be there to run security if nothing else... Xander, I think you should go."
"I'll think about it," Xander finally promised.
"I can't believe I've been here for two whole hours," Xander grumbled to himself. He was sitting at his desk in the underground office filling out reams and reams of paperwork. He glanced at his watch. It was already nine o'clock. "If little Miss I Don't Have to Come to Work on Time Because I Used to Be the Slayer doesn't get here soon I'm gonna..."
He trailed off when his door burst open and Buffy breezed in with a garment bag. "Good morning!" she said with a bright smile. She laid the bag over the back of a chair and then perched on the edge of his desk. Swinging her legs back and forth nonchalantly, she asked, "So... What'cha doin'?"
Xander glared at her. "YOUR paperwork!"
"So how's it going? Almost done?"
"Yes," he growled. "No thanks to you!"
Buffy shrugged. "Hey, you're the high ranking muckety-muck officer -- I just work here. And I only work here part time at that. Paperwork isn't part of my job description."
"You've got Dr. Walsh wrapped around your little finger," Xander accused. Dr. Walsh was Buffy's mentor in graduate school, in addition to heading things up at the Initiative.
That made Buffy laugh. "NOBODY has Maggie wrapped around their little finger."
Xander raised an eyebrow. "I think the fact that you call her by her first name proves my point."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Whatever... Subject change time! I rented you a tux. You need to try it on and make sure it fits OK."
"A tux?" Xander questioned.
"For the reunion, silly."
"The reunion that I'm not going to?"
"That's the one!"
"Did the fact that 'I'm not going' escape your attention?" Xander asked. Actually, the moment Buffy had indicated that she wanted him to go he had basically capitulated on the issue. He could never refuse Buffy anything. But before admitting that, it was his duty as her best friend to milk this for all it was worth. "Why do you want to go so badly anyway? You sounded kind of down on the whole idea on Sunday."
"The more I thought about it, the idea grew on me. When we were seniors, I wasn't able to get into the whole graduation thing," Buffy explained. "I was too busy worrying about Faith, the Mayor and his Ascension, Angel leaving... I missed out on all the fun stuff. Now I'm going to make up for lost time."
"Hope you have fun," Xander replied, "without me."
Buffy turned and looked at him. Her smile fading just a little bit. "Do you really not want to go? I thought you were just... well... just being antisocial or something." She paused, and then added quickly, "It just won't be the same if you aren't there to back me up, Xand."
That was it. That was all he could take. "All right," he said, forgetting his resolve to make her suffer, "I'll go. But you have to do one thing for me."
"Anything!" Her brilliant smile was back again.
His grin could only be described as devilish. "Be my date?"
Her green eyes widened. "What happened to Dominique?"
Xander had been going out with Dominique -- a college student who worked at Giles's bookshop while studying Engineering at UC Sunnydale -- for about a month. 'Had' being the operative word. "We broke up last night."
"Why?" Buffy demanded, followed by, "And you didn't tell me?"
"That was the next thing on my to-do list," Xander assured her. "And as to why, it was too much of a strain for me to keep up my secret identity with her. All those lies -- it made things too hard. Besides, I don't think she was The One anyway. She was just somebody to kill time with."
Buffy hopped off the desk and walked around it to give him a hug. "I'm sorry, Xand, but you're right, I didn't really think you two were perfect for each other anyway. And, yes, I'll be your date."
"Good," Xander said, returning her hug. When he pulled back, he paused a few inches from her face. For a second, his old feelings for her surged back into the forefront of his mind, and he wanted to kiss her. Her lips were right there, millimeters away from his own. <Bad, Xander!> he chastised himself. <Buffy is your friend, not your bed toy.> He let her go quickly.
Moving away with a slightly puzzled look on her face, Buffy said, "I worry about you, Xand. Ever since Anya left you haven't dated anyone for very long."
"Well, when my girlfriend of three years chose to get her vengeance demon powers back instead of staying with me, it kind of put a damper on that whole Xander has self-esteem thing," he said, but there was only a hint of bitterness in his voice. In all actuality, he had gotten over losing Anya -- he just hadn't found anyone else worth dating for longer than a month. Well, scratch that, he knew one person, but she was emotionally unavailable for more than friendship, and had been for a long time.
"You're a fine one to talk about worry," Xander said aloud. "You haven't dated anyone at all since Riley. It's been over a year now."
Buffy paled a little. "Do you think Willow will be at the reunion?"
Regretting that he had brought the whole mess up again, Xander gave Buffy his most sympathetic and supportive look. "Whether she is or she isn't, I'll be there to back you up."
Buffy managed a smile and replied with just a touch of sarcasm, "With a gallant savior like you on my side, I think I'll be OK."
"Ouch! You burned my scalp!" Buffy looked at her mother accusingly in the mirror.
Joyce shrugged. "I'm sorry, honey. I'm trying. I told you I'm not very good at this."
"Well, I thought you'd be better than me doing it alone," Buffy replied in a smart-alec tone, "but now I'm beginning to doubt it."
Her mother just smiled easily. Years, and marriage, had mellowed her. "Hush, and see if you like it better now." Joyce stepped back, letting Buffy stand up and turn around.
Looking in the mirror, Buffy smiled. "I take it back, Mom. You did a great job."
The sound of a doorbell echoed throughout the house. Buffy jumped. "Oh, no! He's here already! Go stall him!"
Joyce looked at Buffy in confusion. "You're going with Xander, right?"
"Well, yeah," Buffy said, hurrying back into her old bedroom -- now a library -- where her dress was hanging, "but that doesn't mean I don't want to look good."
"Buffy! Joyce! Xander is here," Giles called to his wife and step daughter from downstairs.
"Go stall!" Buffy hissed, waving her mother down the stairs. Joyce finally gave in and disappeared.
Xander stood in the entry hall completely rigged out in his tux. In his hand was a single, white rose.
"I heard you weren't very enthusiastic about the reunion," Giles said.
"I'm not," Xander replied, "but Buffy is."
Joyce smiled at him from her position under Giles's arm. "She's enthusiastic enough for both of you."
"I will never understand that girl," Giles complained. "When she was in school she hated all this 'rah-rah stuff' as she would put it..." He trailed off when he realized that Xander was no longer paying attention.
"Wow," Xander said, gazing up the stairs as Buffy walked down them slowly. She was a vision. Her hair was a mass of honey-blonde curls cascading down her back, with two sparkling clips holding it back from her face. Her dress was form-fitting at the top, and flared out into a full skirt at the bottom, but it was the color -- a smoky blue with some kind of gauzy, sparkly overlay -- that really made the simple garment stand out. Well, the color and Buffy's smile, he decided. "You look beautiful," he said when she reached the bottom. He walked over and handed her the rose.
Buffy smiled at him. "At least you managed to stay articulate this time. You're growing up, Xander." She took the rose and Joyce helped her secure it to one of the clips in her hair.
"Well, I could manage some salivating boy talk for you, if you want," Xander teased.
"That's OK," Buffy replied. "I prefer to understand my compliments."
"Are you ready?" Xander asked, holding out an arm.
"Wait!" Joyce cried, whipping out a small camera despite Giles's groan. "Pictures!"
"Mom!" Buffy protested.
"Now, Buffy, I didn't get to do this at your prom..."
"I was busy chasing down Hell Hounds. What did you expect?"
"Well, I'm making up for that now!" Joyce exclaimed. Grabbing them by the arms, she positioned them as she wanted them, and snapped several pictures.
When Joyce was done, Buffy asked, "Can we go now?"
"Yes, you may," Joyce agreed happily. "My motherly urge for photographs of you in formal wear has been sated."
"Good." Taking Xander's arm again, Buffy waved to Giles and then hurried out of the house.
They hopped in Xander's car and drove to the new school. When they got to the new campus, it looked amazing. There were several buildings, and all of them were brilliantly lighted for the event. The parking lot was almost full. Xander had to hunt for a space. Buffy surveyed it all with delight.
"Would you believe it took them five years to build this?" she asked absently.
"When you factor in contractor difficulties, the funding debacle and the time the Hellmouth re-opened the third time destroying a year's worth of work on the old site, then, yes, I would." Xander hopped out of the car, and hurried around to open her door for her. "Ready?"
"I think so," Buffy said, suddenly nervous. <What if Willow is in there? What if she brought Riley?> she thought, feeling the butterflies break dancing in her stomach.
"You can handle it," Xander said confidently.
Looking into his eyes, Buffy realize he knew exactly what she was thinking. His confidence in her won her over, and she got out of the car. "Let's do this," she said.
The inside of the school was ablaze with warm lights. Maroon and Gold balloons floated everywhere, there was a huge buffet of food running along one wall of the commons area and a band was playing subdued rock music in the corner.
"Ohmigosh!" Buffy exclaimed, pointing at the band. "Isn't that Devon?"
Xander took a second look at the lead singer, and gaped. "It is! He must've started a new band when the Dingoes broke up."
Buffy smothered a smile, "And this band knows quite a few more chords!"
"Buffy! Xander! Long time no see!"
The duo turned around to see a familiar face grinning at them.
"Jonathan!" Buffy cried, moving over to give the guy a quick hug. Though she never would have dated him, she'd had a soft spot for the guy since their conversation in the tower. "How've you been?"
"I've done pretty good for myself," Jonathan replied a bit smugly. "So," he said, "how long have you two been together? When we were in high school, I always thought you two would make a great couple."
"Um... we're not a couple," Buffy corrected him. "We're just friends."
"Neither one of us had dates, so we decided to come together," Xander hastily supplied.
Buffy smacked him in the arm, and whispered, "Way to make us sound desperate!"
"Oh," Jonathan was saying, and then something caught his eye. He was staring at a gorgeous woman who was walking their way.
"Hey!" Xander said, "Isn't that Gina McKenzie, the supermodel?"
Buffy suddenly realized that Jonathan was wearing an Armani tuxedo, and she was stunned when the statuesque supermodel wearing a short, tight dress came up and took Jonathan's arm possessively.
"Guys, I'd like you to meet my fiancée Gina," Jonathan said, smiling up at the woman next to him. "Gina, this is Buffy Summers and Xander Harris, two of my old friends."
"It's a pleasure to meet you," Gina said to them both, then she looked at Buffy meaningfully. "Jon speaks very highly of you."
Buffy blushed. "Thanks," she muttered.
Xander had been thinking about something, and suddenly blurted out, "Hey, Jonathan, are you the J.P. Levenson that solved the Y2K thing?"
Jonathan shrugged modestly. "It wasn't hard. Just a few computer programs here, server updates there..."
A girl with sleek, dark hair waving at them from the punch bowl attracted Buffy's attention. She interrupted gently, "Jonathan, I am so happy for you, but Amy is waving to us over there."
"We should get together while we're in town," Jonathan said.
"That would be great," Xander replied, sneaking a glance at Gina.
Frowning, Buffy grabbed Xander's arm and started pulling him away. "Yeah, give me a call. Nice to meet you Gina!" As they walked away, a cluster of former 'Cordettes' walked up and began fawning all over Jonathan. Buffy smiled. It was nice to see the guy finally getting what he deserved. And Gina was really nice. At first it was almost comical to see the short guy with the tall model, but when it became obvious that they really cared about each other, the height thing didn't seem to matter anymore.
When they got to the punch bowl, Buffy dropped Xander's hand to give Amy Madison a hug. "How are you! I haven't seen you much since Anya de-ratted you."
"The one good thing that came from her leaving," Xander muttered under his breath.
"I've been studying practically 24-7," Amy replied. "I had to make up the rest of senior year, and catch up on college and wicca stuff, but I'm almost done." She looked at the two of them a little closer and then asked, "When did you two get together?"
Buffy sighed. "We're not. We just came together."
"Oh," Amy replied, giving them a confused glance. "So what have you been up to? What happened to that guy you were seeing when I lost the excess hair and the cheese cravings? Wasn't his name Quinn, or Glenn, or Finn or something?"
Buffy felt Xander put a comforting hand on her back as she answered the innocent question. "Riley Finn. Well, he and I had what you might call a parting of the ways."
"What happened?" Amy asked.
"He cheated on me," Buffy replied shortly.
Suddenly, Xander's hand on her back tensed. He leaned in and said, "Speaking of Riley, trouble at six o'clock."
"How much trouble?" Buffy asked.
"Trouble times two."
Slowly, Buffy turned around and saw Willow and Riley making their way over to the punch bowl. She stiffened her spine, grateful for Xander's reassuring presence.
Sensing the tension in the air, Amy beat a hasty retreat. "Call me later, Buffy. We should get together and catch up on old times. My number's in the book." Then she was gone.
Buffy looked the other couple over as they crossed the room. Willow had grown her hair back out, and it was piled on top of her head in a mass of curls. A few auburn ringlets framed her always pale face. Willow never could tan well. The girl's dress was a deep red that brought out the burnished beauty of her hair. She looked radiant, except for the look of fear deep in her eyes. Buffy figured that she and Xander were probably the only ones who could recognized that look.
Next to Willow, Riley seemed even bigger and bulkier than Buffy remembered, especially in his tuxedo. <Working as a Demon Scout/Deep Cover Field Agent for the Initiative must be agreeing with him> she thought. The old feelings of anger, pain and betrayal swirled around in her when she looked at both of them, but surprisingly, she noticed, the feelings she'd had for Riley seemed to be gone, leaving only the darker emotions in her heart for them. She could honestly now say that she was no longer in love with Riley Finn.
And then they were there, standing in front of her. Buffy plastered a fake smile on her face and tried to stay calm. Xander reached down and took her hand. Willow gave Xander a hurt look. He winced but didn't say anything or let Buffy go.
"So..." Riley said, trying, as he always did, to break the tension, "how are you, Buffy?"
"Fine, fine," Buffy replied in a too-bright tone. Then, bowing to an aggressive whim to show them that she was still functioning even after their betrayal, she added, "Dr. Walsh made me her chief TA when I started grad school, and that merit scholarship came through for me. What about you guys? Is life on the road treating you well?"
A look rife with silent communication passed between the two lovers, and Riley finally answered, "We're doing OK. And how are you, Xander? Still living in your parents' basement?"
Xander frowned. "You've been in deep cover too long, Finn. I've actually got my own apartment now."
"Well, good for you," Riley replied.
Irritated, Buffy added, "Xander's being too modest. He's actually Dr. Walsh's right hand man now. A few months ago she promoted him to Lt. Commander and put him in charge of all the troops here in Sunnydale."
Willow smiled and looked for a second like she wanted to give Xander a hug, but she stopped herself. "That's great, Xander! I'm so proud of you." She looked around their little circle and the happiness fairly bubbled out of her. "We're all so lucky. I wasn't going to mention this, but then I saw that you two are together now, and that makes me so happy, and we're all doing so well in our career choices, and I have to tell you guys about the biggest thing in my life..."
"Willow..." Riley warned, but Willow paid him no heed whatsoever. Buffy waited, knowing that some new blow was about to hit, but it was one she couldn't dodge. She was so busy waiting that she didn't even think to correct Willow's wrong assumption about her relationship with Xander.
"Riley and I are getting married!" Willow crowed delightedly. She held out her left hand, and Buffy saw an engagement ring flash in the fluorescent light. That was all Buffy could take. With a pained look at Xander, she let go of his hand and ran out of the room.
Xander looked at Willow sadly. "How could you do that, Wills?"
For her part, Willow looked confused and guilty. "But, I thought that if you and Buffy were... well, that it would mean Buffy is over Riley."
"Buffy and I are not together. We're just friends."
Willow's face darkened with a blush. "Oh, I wish I hadn't..."
"I wish you hadn't, either," Xander said, unable to control the hint of anger in his voice.
Willow jumped on that anger immediately. "Well, you're one to talk, Alexander Harris. I mean, Riley and I know what we did to Buffy was wrong, but we didn't know how to help her. We hoped our feelings would just go away, but they didn't. You should know something about that. You're my oldest friend. I can't believe you would take her side -- especially after having been in my shoes."
"We were in those shoes together," Xander replied cuttingly, "and *I* learned my lesson." He sighed, and got control of himself. He really didn't hate Willow, and he had to tell her so.
"Look, Willow, when you left with *him*," Xander started.
"Hey!" Riley protested, "I have a name, you know."
Xander glared at the other guy. The bonds of lifelong friendship might still link him to Willow, but that didn't mean he couldn't hate the last man to tromp on Buffy's heart. He continued, "When you left with *Riley,* Buffy was crushed. She lost her lover and her best friend at once. She was left without a support system. She needed me. It took us awhile to build our friendship back up to what it was before our senior year, but we did it."
He realized he was babbling, so he moved on. "Willow, I love you. You're my friend and I'll always love you, but you have Riley to hold you up. Buffy has no one." He turned to leave, but a hand on his arm stopped him.
"Xander, tell her I'm sorry." Willow's eyes brimmed with tears.
He pulled her into a quick hug. "I'll try." Then he hurried after Buffy.
Xander went through the doors that connected the commons area to the rest of the school. A hallway branched out in two directions. Xander paused, wondering which way to go. Somewhere to his left he heard a muffled sob. He jogged in that direction. Then he found her, leaning against a locker. He went over to her and enfolded her into his arms where she would be safe to cry her heart out.
Buffy sank into the familiar embrace, and after a couple of moments she found that her tears were spent. She looked up into Xander's chocolate brown eyes and sighed.
"Feel better?" he asked gently.
"A little," she replied.
He looked at her strangely, and then he said, "I didn't know your feelings for Riley were still so strong."
"It wasn't even that," Buffy said slowly, still sorting it out in her mind. "I mean it was, but it wasn't."
"Huh?" Xander wrinkled his brow in confusion.
"I can categorically say that I am not in love with Riley Finn anymore," Buffy said firmly. "Willow is welcome to him."
"Is that a teary thing?" he asked.
"Well, the thing is," Buffy said, "the absence of love makes the bad feelings stronger. All I see when I look at them is betrayal and pain. And they're happy. And they're together. And I'm alone. And people keep thinking that you and I are together, and that just makes it worse because it hammers in the fact that I'm alone even more." The disjointed torrent of words finally stopped, and she looked up at him. Buffy realized she was still standing in the circle of his arms.
His eyes were focused on her like she was the only thing in the world that mattered. "You will never be alone, Buffy. I'll always be here for you."
For just a second, she thought he was going to kiss her. And the thought of that happening didn't make her feel uncomfortable like it used to. She actually found herself wondering for a fleeting second what it would be like to kiss him. Then something dimmed in his eyes and he pulled back, only her concerned friend once again. "Want to go home?"
She nodded, quickly covering up her disappointment when his arms pulled away from her and she was left without the warmth of his touch. "I've had enough of a flashback to high school to last me a lifetime."
They started walking out to the car, and instinctively their hands found their way into each other, forming a secure link between them. When they stepped out into the parking lot, they saw a familiar, shapely figure walking toward them.
"Buffy... Xander..." Cordelia looked at them and arched one delicate eyebrow. The fact that they were holding hands didn't escape her attention. "So, when did you two start getting it on? I mean, last I saw you were both still pining after your respective absent significant others. You two being the dumpees must have, like, bonded you or something, right?"
Xander held out a hand to silence Cordy's tirade. "Look, we're not together like that, Cor. We're just friends."
Cordelia snorted derisively. "Whatever you say, Xander."
"So," Buffy said, hoping to change the subject, "how's Angel?"
"He's as good as he can be," Cordelia replied.
"Still stuck in brood-mode?" Xander asked.
"You know Angel," Cordelia answered with a grin.
"But we heard he had a new lady in his life..." Buffy hinted.
"You mean Kate?" Cordelia paused, and then said, "Well, she's still around after four years, so that's gotta say something, but she when she found out the truth, she wasn't exactly thrilled that she wouldn't be able to get everything she wanted from the relationship."
Buffy's nod was full of understanding.
"So, they're taking things *very* slowly," Cordelia finished.
"Well, good for him!" Buffy said, genuinely happy for her former lover and one of her oldest friends. "He deserves someone."
"But does Kate deserve him?" Xander muttered under his breath, wincing when both girls gave him annoyed glares.
He was saved when a man that Xander didn't recognize jogged up to them, stopping when he reached Cordelia's side and slinging an arm around her shoulders. "Well, Princess, I parked the car like ye asked. But it was nearly impossible ta find a parkin' place in this mess. Yer reunion thing really must've packed out the house." He frowned, absently running a hand through his short, dark hair. "I didnae realize that yer class was so large. I was under the impression that this was a small town, from what ye told me about it."
Buffy's eyebrows shot up. "Doyle?"
The Irishman looked up at her and smiled. "Slayer! Fancy meetin' you here."
Buffy's brow crinkled with confusion. "But I thought you were dead."
He shrugged. "I get that a lot."
Doyle gave Cordelia's shoulders a quick squeeze, and she smiled at him. Grinning back at her, he gave her a kiss on the cheek and then turned his attention back to the others, though his arm never released its hold on her shoulders. Giving Xander a cursory glance, his smiled grew wider and he extended his hand in a friendly gesture. "Ye must be Xander. My princess has told me about ye, though I haven't actually had the pleasure of makin' yer acquaintance."
Xander shook the other man's hand and grinned, replying, "Whatever she's told you about me, none of it's true." He made the boy scout sign with his right hand. "Scout's honor."
Doyle laughed heartily. "I'll remember that fer future reference."
Changing the subject, Buffy asked, "So, are you two dating?"
Cordelia smiled. "Well, I put up with him on a regular basis, so that's got to count for something!"
Doyle nodded, adding proudly, "She and I have been datin' fer the past three years." Then he asked what seemed to be the most popular question of the evening. "So, how long have the both of ye been seein' each other?"
Xander frowned. "Why does everyone keep asking us that?" he wondered aloud before answering Doyle's question. "We're not actually dating."
Doyle looked honestly confused. "Why the hell not, man? It's obvious that yer in luv with each other. What's stoppin' ye?"
Xander and Buffy looked at each other for a second, neither of them actually coming up with a good answer. Finally, Xander said, "Well, we're just friends. That's how it's always been."
Doyle just shook his head and mumbled something that sounded a lot like "morons" under his breath. Cordy jabbed an elbow into his ribs to shut him up and smiled brightly. "Well, Tact Boy and I are going to go make the rounds inside. Mingle and all of that. Maybe we'll see you guys later?"
Xander nodded. "Yeah, sounds good." He scribbled something down on a piece of paper and handed it to Cordelia. "That's my phone number and Buffy's, too. Give us a call and we can go get lunch tomorrow or something, okay?"
Cordelia nodded before taking Doyle's arm and practically dragging him inside the building. They could still hear her voice as she griped at Doyle while they walked. "That was really smooth back there. Way to make with the tension-filled questions!"
Doyle, for his part, seemed to take her anger in stride. "I was just pointin' out the obvious, hon. It's not me fault if they cannae see it fer themselves." Then the school doors closed behind them, blocking the sound of their voices.
The silence was awkward as Buffy and Xander continued on to the car. When Xander opened the door for her, Buffy reluctantly let go of his hand. She got in, and he closed the door, leaving her alone while he walked around to the other side. For some reason, she felt incredibly lonely, and her hand was unusually cold without his. <OK, Buffy> she ordered herself <what are you doing here? Don't be stupid.>
The other door opened, and Xander slid in and started the motor. Buffy smiled brightly at him, as if none of these awkward feelings were swirling between them.
"So..." she said, "that was... interesting."
"Which part?" Xander glanced over at her as he drove back to Giles and Joyce's house where Buffy had planned to spend the night.
"All of it," Buffy answered honestly. "Parts of it were extremely awful and pain-filled, but, you know, that was the way most of high school was for me."
"I think everyone feels that way," Xander replied thoughtfully. "When I first started dating Cordelia, I though she had the perfect life -- beauty, popularity, plenty of money -- and then I found out that she had as much pain on the inside as I did."
"I always felt like I had more pain than everyone," Buffy said softly.
"With all the Angel trauma, I can see how it felt that way," Xander agreed. They pulled up at her house. He parked along the curb and turned off the motor. "So, you've decided that today is better than yesterday?"
"Some parts of today still suck," Buffy answered, "but overall, it's better."
They got out of the car, and Xander walked her up to the porch. The porch light bathed them in a golden glow as they walked up the steps. The sound of Masterpiece Theatre on TV could be heard vaguely through the closed door.
"Now *this* is what I remember high school dates being like," Xander remarked as they paused by the doorway. "Porch lights, parents waiting inside... if this were high school, I'd be all nervous about whether or not to try for the good night kiss."
Buffy looked up at him. The weird feelings that had been around all night came forward again. She knew Xander was just supposed to be her friend, but some part of her was wondering. The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. "Would that be so bad?"
Xander froze, and looked into her eyes. For so long, he had ordered himself not to be in love with her, to give up the childish crush for the love of friendship. In that instant, he realized that love is love, no matter what you tell yourself to call it.
They looked at each other for a moment that seemed to go on and on, and then they both moved closer. Buffy could see the tiny gold flecks that lightened Xander's dark eyes. Xander could feel Buffy's breath on his face. Later, neither was sure who made the first move, but then they were kissing.
It was a passionate kiss that sent tingles from their lips all the way to the tips of their toes. When it ended, they were both gasping.
"Wow," Buffy murmured.
"Wowza," Xander corrected.
They stared at each other for another minute, eagerly taking in details that they hadn't known before.
Then Buffy said, "Umm... good night, Xander. See you tomorrow." Then she retreated into her mother's house and closed the door.
Xander looked at the closed door for a minute, confused. But then, he was always confused where Buffy was concerned. It was time for him to go home. As he walked to the door, there was a new spring in his step, and he couldn't help but whistle a jaunty tune.