Epilogue

 

Almost a month had passed since the whole Angelus incident, and Xander was finally released from the hospital. It had been a long recovery for him both mentally and physically, and as for mentally, he never really expected to recover all the way.

To celebrate his release from the hospital, Buffy and the rest of the group decided to plan a welcome home "hootenanny," as Oz had suggested. In order to make up for Buffy and Xander missing dinner that fateful month ago, Joyce insisted on having not just them, but everyone over for a big feast—well, so to speak. She spent most of the afternoon toiling over numerous concoctions in the kitchen with the help of her daughter, naturally. By the time the entire guest list had arrived—Giles, Willow, Oz, Faith, Cordelia and Xander—the meal was ready.

The each took their seats around the elaborately set table, and while they waited for the food to arrive, the chatted amongst themselves.

First came the appetizers—soup and salad—and Xander was so happy, he announced to Mrs. Summers, "You know, I think I going to like living here."

"Wait a minute, Xander. You’re living here now?" Joyce questioned, in complete shock. She looked to Buffy for an answer, but her daughter just gave a shrug.

"Well, of course I am. You treat me like a god. How do you expect me to ever want to go back to my place where all I ever get is TV dinners and fast food?"

Joyce rolled her eyes and continued ladling out soup. Rupert Giles mimicked the older woman’s reaction, making it quite his own. "Uh, thank you, Mrs. Summers, for having us all over for such an exquisite dinner. Everything looks marvelous."

"Why thank you, Mr. Giles. I so glad all of you could come. Buffy was very instant about this whole shindig."

"Shindig? Mom, please, this is the 90s."

Oz interjected, "I like that word just fine, Mrs. Summers. It’s a good word. We need more words like it nowadays."

"Gotcha. Well, come on, you guys, eat up. The main course is… ready," Joyce proclaimed, eyeing Buffy with a smile on her face. "I don’t want you to eat it cold." They all did as ordered without complaining. "Who’s ready for the main entrée?"

"I hope you guys like chicken. If you don’t, tough. Eat it anyway or you’ll face the wrath of my trusty stake. I spent all day making that bird, so you better eat it."

"Buffy, I think I speak for all of us when I say ‘Let’s eat.’ We’ve all seen what you can do with that stake, and I don’t think any of us want to risk the consequences." There was a round of smiles and nods in agreement with Xander.

Xander was handling this whole recent Angelus experience rather well, Buffy mused. During the first week or so, Xander had seemed distant and lost. He spent most of his time just staring off into space, or when he thought Buffy wouldn’t notice, he would watch her surreptitiously. Of course she’d known, but she never let that on to Xander.

What she really wanted to know was what exactly went on during his period of capture. She wanted to know why he kept an eye on her all the time now. Was it a result of the torture, or was it worse? Buffy didn’t believe for one second that Xander had told her everything about what happened, and she suspected she never would. He kept that secret closely guarded.

"Good choice," Buffy agreed, returning to reality. As she spoke her mom brought out the perfectly roasted chicken… from KFC. Everyone laughed and made jokes about Buffy’s funny method of cooking. "Fine! Fine! Laugh if you like, but it took me all of ten full minutes to order that, so I’m still gonna slay you if you don’t eat it!"

They all passed the food around and conversed pleasantly the whole while. No one mentioned vampires or demons or the paranormal, just school and life and work. Soon they had reached the conclusion of their meal, and the cake was ready to be served. It was huge and completely covered with frosting; it read "Welcome home, Xander!"

"This is almost as great as my birthday," Xander squealed.

Buffy suddenly jumped up out of her chair and ran upstairs, all heads turning to follow her. She came bounding back down in seconds with something in her hand. "Which reminds me…" She thrust out her hand in front of her and opened her fist.

Lying in her palm, glistening like the sun, was the golden cross she’d used to find Xander. "So, you found it after all? That’s how you found me? I almost forgot about it." He snatched it out of her hand and held it up to the candle resting in the middle of the table. The flame danced and flickered and seemed to possess the cross just as a demon would.

"I’ve had it on my dresser for all these weeks. I can’t believe I kept forgetting to return it to you."

"It doesn’t really matter," Xander admitted. "I have it back now." They exchanged smiles and then resumed eating their cake.

Before long they’d polished off the rest of the cake, and as Joyce and Buffy cleaned off the table, the other guests moved out into the living room to get comfortable. They exchanged pleasant conversation until Buffy and her mom returned. Then Cordelia got her first bright idea. "What say we all go to the Bronze to finish off tonight?"

Buffy looked at Joyce Summers and smiled sheepishly. "Can I go? I mean, would you mind if I left?"

"Why is it I’m always alone?" Joyce muttered miserably to herself.

"Giles’ll stay with you, won’t you Giles?" Buffy offered.

Giles floundered, "I, uh, I mean I sorta have to, um…"

"Oh, that’s no problem! You can take my mom along with you, that way she can see the sorta thing we do on a regular basis."

"Well, uh, if she wants to, she can join me. I could always use the help."

"Great!" Buffy exclaimed joyously. "It’s settled then. Mom, you’re with Giles; the rest of you guys are with me!"

Rupert and Joyce just sat there staring at Buffy as she gathered her friends and hurried them out the door and into their cars.

"So," Joyce offered.

"Ah, yes. Would you perhaps like to accompany me to the, uh, library, and we, I mean, I could show you exactly, ahem, what I do."

Buffy’s mom sighed heavily, quickly clearing the table. "Sure, let’s go. Say, how is it we adults always get the short end of the stick? Why don’t we ever get to have any fun?"

"Because we’re supposed to be the a-dults," Giles admitted as he headed out the door with Joyce Summers in his wake.

@~~`~~~

When they reached the Bronze, the entire Scooby Gang met up and headed in together. Instantly they were blasted with loud music, a thousand different smells and the sight of a throng of rowdy teenagers laughing, dancing and socializing. Buffy and her company fit right in, taking their usual table and sitting down to a drink.

Once they had finished their sodas, Willow and Oz took the opportunity to get up and dance. Then, Cordelia was offered a chance to dance with some guy named Mike. Xander obviously didn’t even care anymore, for he took the risk and asked if Buffy would "cut a rug" with him. But Buffy didn’t want to leave Faith alone at the table, even if she did want to dance with him; she knew what it was like to sit alone while everyone else went off do dance with someone. "I’m fine, B," Faith protested. "Go dance with Xander."

"But—"

"I don’t wanna hear it. You know, you’re not the only slayer anymore. I’m your equal, and that means I can kick your butt. So you better get out there and bust a move, or I’m gonna make you." Faith immediately shooed Buffy away, taking a big swig of her Pepsi.

Buffy reluctantly took Xander’s arm, and he led her out onto the floor. She kept glancing back to see Faith sitting by herself at the table. Buffy felt the urge to run back and sit with her, but instead entered Xander’s welcoming arms, wrapping her own around him. "Well, please don’t be too eager to dance with me; it might inflate my ego."

"And we certainly wouldn’t want to do that, now would we? Lord knows, it’s plenty big enough for the both of us." She smiled at him, forgetting about her slayer friend for the moment.

The dance was nice and slow; they moved flawlessly across the floor. And one dance flowed into another as though it was still the first one. As Xander tightened his hold of her, the music started.

How can I just let you walk away,

Just let you leave without a trace,

When I stand here taking every breath with you? Ooh.

You’re the only one who really knew me at all.

Buffy lifted her head from his shoulder and looked up into her partner’s eyes. "Xander?"

"Hmm?"

"What happened last month during the kidnapping? You never told me what you and Angelus talked about? What did he do exactly?"

How you just walk away from me

When all I can do is watch you leave?

Cos we’ve shared the laughter and the pain,

And even shared the tears.

You’re the only one who really knew me at all.

It was at that moment that Xander realized it was Phil Collins singing again. He remembered what his music had represented but a mere month ago: pain, suffering, loss, darkness. Those terrible feelings rushed back into him in tsunamis. "I don’t wanna talk about," he announced, turning his head from hers and releasing Buffy from his grasp.

So take a look at me now,

Cos there’s just an empty space,

And there’s nothing left here to remind me,

Just the memory of your face.

"Xander, wait! Why won’t you tell me? What’s wrong?" He simply kept his back to her and tried his hardest to tune her out. If he couldn’t hear her, maybe the pain would go away.

Take a look at me now,

Cos there’s just an empty space,

And you coming back to me is against all odds,

And that’s what I’ve gotta face.

"Just leave me alone, Buffy; I don’t wanna talk about it!"

"Why, what are you hiding from me?" she cried desperately. Xander stormed off the dance floor, trying to look as mad as he possibly could, though he could never be really angry with her. He didn’t bother to even glance back at her tear-stained face. It was the hardest thing he’d ever done, and he had to struggle to repress every urge within him to just run back and kiss her and say he was sorry. But he couldn’t bring himself to repeat all of the things Angelus had told him, and he couldn’t tell her, or anyone else for that matter, about his phantasmagoric dreams.

I wish I could just make you turn around,

Turn around and see me cry.

There’s so much I need to say to you,

So many reasons why.

You’re the only one who really knew me at all.

She watched as he stampeded through the bystanders and fought his way to the exit. Buffy was weeping terribly, her arm stretched out before her in a futile attempt to bring him back to her side.

So take a look at me now,

Cos there’s just an empty space,

And there’s nothing left here to remind me,

Just the memory of your face>

She can’t know, she can never know. If I tell her, it will hurt her deeply, and I never want to do that. Then he realized that that’s what he was doing to her now by leaving her alone—the thing she never wanted to be again—and he stopped dead in his tracks. But if a little pain keeps her from the excruciating pain, I’m willing to risk it. Xander resumed his brisk pace, this time actually adding speed.

Take a look at me now,

Cos there’s just an empty space.

But to wait for you,

Well that’s all I can do,

And that’s a what I’ve gotta face.

That’s not all I can do, Buffy thought. No way I am letting him leave here; he has to know! Buffy ran as quickly as she could while navigating through the teenagers and finally caught Xander by the shoulder right before he could walk out the door forever. "Xander, no!"

"What?" he snapped harsher than he should have. He saw the terror and the sadness in her eyes and immediately he felt terrible. What have I done to her?

"Don’t go. I, I…" she stammered, unable to get the words out of her throat. Go for it; it’s now or never! "I love you!"

Take a good look at me now;

I’ll still be standing here.

And you coming back to me is against all odds

And that’s a chance I’ve gotta take!

"You, you… love me?" he squeaked out. Oh my god

She gulped and nodded, adding, "I love you more than anything, Xander, more than anyone. And I’m not going to lose you again." Before he could respond with even the slightest breath, she managed to take it away by pulling him tight against her, holding his head in his hands, and doing what she had longed to do for a month now; she kissed him.

It was slow and deep, filled with every emotion the two had kept inside them. The kiss spoke on a thousand different levels words could never do. It conveyed feelings so secret that Buffy had hardly recognized they existed. He was so soft in her arms, as his muscles had relaxed completely in the moment. His arms folded around her back, his hands pressing her harder against him. The moment their lips had met, Buffy had felt a current of electricity race all through her, leaving a tingling sensation coursing through her veins and clouding her mind. There was only three things left in Buffy’s world: Xander, herself and the passion-filled kiss.

For Xander, he had never needed their lips to touch for him to know that he loved her unconditionally; he felt those effects all day, everyday. The purpose of the kiss was to show him how much Buffy truly loved him in return and how endless that love was. Boy, it was fantastic—like nothing he’d ever dared to dream. Her lips were soft and unblemished, her hair was silky and vibrant, and she smelled so damn good! Xander held her so close he could feel her heart beat much in the same erratic manner as his own. He never wanted to let her go, not if he could help it.

The hypnotic sounds of the last few strains of the song lingered in the air, the fading keyboard creating the perfect ambiance for the kiss.

Xander thought how ironic it was how a singer who could stand for such horrible things as torture and death could now stand for such wonderful things as love and hope.

Just take a look at me now…

With those closing words and a clatter of cymbals and drums, the song came to an end and Xander broke their contact.

The slayer inhaled and exhaled rapidly. The kiss had left her breathless as few things ever did. At that moment, she would have given anything for another one, so she leaned closer into him (if that was even possible), staring into his cinnamon eyes to show him just how much she was in love with him.

Suddenly, a gust of strong wind ripped through the club and swept Buffy’s blonde hair onto Xander’s face. She turned around to discover the entrance doors to be flung wide open with two shadowed figures charging into the room. The silhouettes slaked over to Buffy and Xander, their shapes becoming more familiar by the second. "Mom! Giles! What are you to doing here?"

"Buffy, I need to speak with you immediately," Giles commanded in his exasperated state. "Do you recall me telling you about the weird feelings I experienced at the old Sunnydale Fabrics plant?"

"Yes???"

That’s when Giles took notice of the fact that Buffy was holding Xander’s hand and that his arm was around her waist. "Did I, uh, interrupt something?"

The couple simply laughed a little nervously and shook their heads. Later, we’ll finish this later.

Giles paused to take in the scene and then smiled approvingly of the pair. "Anyway, while your mother and I were researching, we made a discovery. There seems to be an evil presence here in the Hellmouth…"

His voice faded away and Buffy simply squeezed her love’s hand. Here we go again.

The End