Title: A Promise to Betty Louise
Disclaimer: See Part 1
Feedback: I'd be honored!
Pizza and brief lighthearted disputes over which one of them got to pick what films would be viewed. Channeling the life that was buried in the rubble of their old town. Giles opting for documentaries about the environment and healthcare, Willow wanting (to Xander’s welcome surprise) comedy, he had picked horror…
They had ended up watching some kind of sappy romantic thing with Kate Hudson because Buffy was still the most stubborn about getting her way over the little things. Buffy, no matter how many arguments she engaged in with Giles…no matter how many of them she may even have started, and the rest that she was always willing to finish - could still sway some of his opinions with a well timed pout.
Xander was a victim of the same curse…Fated since that day in September so long ago.
They had watched some Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn flick after. Buffy and Willow’s, Dawn before she had left; their votes, he had learned a long time ago, vastly outweighed proposals made by anybody in the group with a Y chromosome.
Laughing with all of them again was a memory that Xander hoped would outlast the darkness of their recent pasts. He hoped that one day he’d look back at his life and only evoke memories like these new ones that they were creating. Ones where he’d recall without a shadow of a doubt that these people were his best friends and know why he had picked them and they had picked him… know that they were his family and always would be. He tried not to dwell on the one other person who he sometimes wished more than anything was still there to share these types of things with him.
He still spent a lot of time trying not to dwell…not to feel guilt when that emotion was always so close to the surface for so many different reasons. Normal reasons. Overcomplicated reactions.
When they had been watching the movie, he had devoted himself to embossing the moment in his mind. Trying to engrain it and he had zoned out; the grin that had spread over his face had drawn Buffy’s attention before he realized that he was even wearing it. Her face remained a neutral mask while she silently watched him. She’d’ve been adamant, right then, that he not do what he was doing, Xander was sure. Things in his mind sometimes lent to the over-complication. She always just told him to stop doing that.
He always just looked back at her and reminded what they both knew. Had experienced in the past and were exercising in the present. Just stopping is easier to talk about then to accomplish. Like taking a deep gulp of whiskey, that always provoked the same reaction in her. Repetitive and predictable, two things he had never applied to Buffy until recently. She would always frown.
Xander, for her benefit alone, shook himself from his reverie then and accepted her subtle satisfied nod when she recognized his refocused attention to the television screen. He had been surprised briefly that he had felt her gaze on him at all in the first place. That he would feel the urge and need to forgo his own emotions because he didn’t want her to worry about him when she shouldn’t; when Buffy started to come before himself again…he wasn’t able to pinpoint when that had started again, but was fairly certain that it would be something else that he wouldn’t be able to appease her by ‘just stopping’.
Then there was the surprise over the fact that she read him at all – that she saw what nobody else, not even Willow, saw in him. That had lasted slightly longer than his reaction to his personal revelation.
Buffy wouldn’t have before. Perceptive in a different way than Sunnydale. Revealing more and more everyday what must have always been buried under her surface. Altered and polar, but still in the same packaging. Xander promised himself that he would remember to tell her that later. Tell her when they were alone again because she needed to know….would appreciate knowing.
Appreciative was another new thing that he applied to her now, as well. Still situationally, of course – dependant on the person and location. Some received it more often than others, but those who did reaped more frequently. Picking out the ‘New Buffy’, he had called her once, was easier for Xander than finding the newness in himself. He liked it more, he admitted, than thinking about himself.
Since then, ‘New Buffy’ had self appointed herself a new role…one she admitted to counter his own self-depreciation, was better than her other pre-destined one. ‘Less fangs and goo?’ he had tried to joke. A week later he had still been wearing the bruise that had formed when he had been pinched for the effort. He regretted that he couldn’t be afforded the same method of retaliation when she had shot out a pithy counter negating him about the goo.
Buffy, now, was always readily available to be his personal reflecting surface. She always seemed happy to do that for him because, as she had whispered to him one night while they shared a seat in the back of the bus, he needed to know too. ‘New Xander’, she had added in a quietly reflective tone and he had been able to feel her accompanying grin more than see it through the darkness. The expression, which he had subconsciously memorized since, had felt warm when she did it… brushed the lips that bore it against his ear.
That movie night in Phoenix would always be too short in his mind. Part of him would have drawn it out forever if he could…put it on loop and devote an eternity to appreciating each of their laughs and individual smiles. Expressions that none of them afforded themselves as frequently as before everything that had happened.
The fact that it had continued long after even Giles had given up trying to keep his eyes open, Xander knew, meant that they all wished the same thing. Even when the Watcher had left, the three of them…they yawned and pushed through…held on and savored the seconds.
Hours later, all the lights save the TV, had been turned out and laughter had ceased, replaced by the hum of the window-fitted air conditioner.
His eyes closed to the glow, Xander still lay awake and listened to the sounds of the room he hadn’t left. The room Buffy had proposed that he stay in again. Their room. The sentiment had passed silently between them even as her statement resulted in Willow beaming again and proclaiming that the last ‘Scooby Movie Night’ should rightfully be a final ‘Scooby Sleep Over’. Xander had loved Willow’s sincere bright smile. He had loved Buffy’s veiled recognition. Both equally, if he were to be completely honest, but for vastly dissimilar reasons. Buffy had slurred to him before (when he was trying to shrug off one of her recountings of Spike) that he was a bad lair…always be honest, she had made him promise and vowed to do the same.
On the other side of the room he concentrated on Willow’s even breathing. Calm in the shadowy light that the moon was casting through the thin curtains. Once upon a time, he remembered laying in a sleeping bag on her floor and thinking that the sound was the most soothing thing in the world. He used to be able to fall asleep to that sound.
He probably still could – that mixed with the ever present exhaustion that would well up every time lights turned out now. But nothing would ever reduce the amount of comfort that the even inhales and exhales of his best friend gave him. Proof that he was safe…and that she was too. That they, at least, had made it.
‘Twenty-four hours.’ Willow had laughed once reflecting on the ease of any given day. She and Buffy had just started at UC Sunnydale. He had just started driving an ice-cream truck. He needed pep talks too…things said that Anya had still been trying to grasp at the time. ‘Easy.’ He remembered her sliding her hand through the air smoothly. When he had been suitably reassured he had called her Fonzy and hugged her as tight as he could.
He kept trying to apply her old philosophy. The rest of the hours just kept getting to him sometimes, he guessed.
The time, that night, had been like what they had made it from. The waning dusk of another smooth twenty-four. Like when they were younger. Familiar and safe. Something that he feared that if he fell asleep would disappear by morning.
Now, he basked in the memory where, if he shut his eyes, he could almost be able to recall the plush feel of the fresh comforter that Willow’s mom would always make sure he had, or the airy sweet scent that always permeated Buffy’s room.
Only difference now was that no parents had popped their heads in to wish them good night…told them not to stay up too late…bought up more snacks. The difference between the soft expensive carpet that had covered the floors before and the thin cheap fabric that smelled slightly mildewy now. Even the fact that Giles had excused himself two hours prior to get some sleep in the second room down the hall (Xander was fairly certain that, regardless of Slayerness or circumstances, neither Buffy’s nor Willow’s parents would have been keen on his hanging out in their rooms back in high school.)
Xander thought it was odd that something could be so far removed from something so comforting, and yet, still stir the feeling of it. He had the far off thought that if he put himself in situations that would evoke those memories then they would be engrained…never fade…when he would close his eyes he’d always be back to then.
Now, like he had before, he lay on the floor while the two girls took the beds. Even that reminded him of when Buffy and Willow would, in all complete innocence, be sharing the mattress. Innocence had very little to do with his overactive teenage imagination at the time though. Xander smiled to himself in the dark and let his mind wander back to those brief glimpses. Like old times.
That was a smaller part of the reason that when Giles had questioned if he was going to head back down to the other room with him, he had declined. Said that they were going to watch one more film. If it bothered Giles, he had hidden it well. Xander had felt a little bad that he was letting him go alone, if not simply for the fact that it seemed to only reinforce the divide.
Buffy even offered, somewhat half-heartedly in tone, that he could stay too. Xander had appreciated her attempt, even if it was transparent…even if Giles must have read it as such by his demure decline of the offer. The Watcher had simply asked Xander if he had his key before departing.
Xander had known that the simple acceptance reflected what Giles already knew…the divide – the one that had began as ‘Adults vs. Children’ and had, over time, morphed into something much more obscure. Xander wouldn’t be back to the room, but he nodded anyway.
Part of him now wondered why he was so willing to forgo, even, a worn out mattress as opposed to the rough carpet over cement that he was resting on currently. A larger part of him knew.
He thought it odd that so many of his own reflections he knew he could discern in Buffy now. The comfort. The need for a home that wasn’t anymore. He couldn’t even fault her, because he knew he did the same thing…had picked her to show him the past that he wished he loved more at the time.
She was comforting to him…and he was to her. She had been there and so had he.
Part of him knew that the first time…the beginning of their mutual usury, had been the result of him simply being male and sitting next to her. She had laughed at him when he voiced the notion – ‘Mutual usury?’, she had arched an eyebrow and let whatever reaction she had to his terminology go unspoken and fade away. Xander, for his part, kept babbling…talking…not really knowing, but everything was falling out of his mouth in an insecure rush, he was certain. He knew that Giles was completely ruled out. He was the only other guy.
When she had responded it hadn’t been very elaborate, but it was semi-sincere. There were ‘guys’ everywhere. The tension then had broken him and he, out of reflex, tried to alleviate it – asked if he was special. It didn’t work…the feeling that the nature of the conversation they were having then was causing; it didn’t dissipate. ‘You’re Xander’, she had responded simply…said it with an air of wistfulness. He read it in her eyes and reflected it back ‘You’re home’.
Funny that the last part happened completely without vocalization. Mutual understanding to compliment their mutual usury.
‘My blanket’, he had murmured to her one evening. He wished that he couldn’t remember because it sounded so lame in his mind now, but it was what it was. He had said it and Buffy had heard him. Buffy hadn’t pushed him away – hadn’t acknowledged it then or since, but he remembered her not pushing him away that night.
That’s why he was opting for a floor. It came back to that need for home…the fucked up normal that they both – all – missed.
Sandwiched between a drippy air conditioner beneath a drafty window covered by a cheap polyester sheet, Xander was reminded of home. His new home, a semblance of what that could or should be, he corrected when the lone hand dropped discretely over the edge of the mattress above.
There were a lot of secrets back then, too. Secrets and angst and drama that at least one other was bound to know about, but never outted. Xander wondered if the same flash of loneliness that he felt at the sight of Buffy’s hand extending off the side of the bed was born from the same place inside as Giles’…if he felt, on some level, the way Giles had earlier before he made his way down that empty hallway that evening.
Lost in some abstract and foreign way and wondered…knew that Buffy missed the fact that the one other, the one who always ended up knowing, had left that afternoon. Her sister, he was confident of deep down, was right, even though Buffy would probably never admit it fully…she got off on having a secret – secrets – that were sometimes very much the opposite of that.
He had rolled to his side and folded his arm under his head when he noticed her hand. He studied the pale skin in the flickering lights cast by the television that they had subconsciously refused to turn off. He waited a breath with the full knowledge of that the impassive gesture was; the reason she had suggested the movie night not end, the reason they had their room…the comfort they took and craved and used to last until tomorrow. Still, he smiled when her head appeared just above the appendage. He kept the expression when he saw her match him softly.
He reached up to her hand and pressed their fingertips together, smiling at her as if anything was said the spell might be broken. A shared sentiment, as Buffy let him spread out his palm to the point where her smaller hand lost contact with his fingers and fell into the spaces between.
Just simply touching…connecting. Xander had the far off notion if Buffy knew that often times her actions would coincide with things he was thinking about. Wondered if his actions sometimes were reactions of her emotions too. Lonely…and then a hand reached out of nowhere from the one person he expected it from. Hoped she expected it from, too. That he grounded her the way she rooted him.
He watched her study their joined appendages and pull the corner of her lower lip between her teeth. Still silent in the flashing blue hues. When his grip squeezed slightly he drew her attention back to his face sharing another grin before she extracted her hand from his own.
If it hadn’t been like it was for them, he’d have been nervous. He had reacted that way in the past…been unsure. Around her and in general let his confidence waiver; he knew that he had used it to scare himself away from situations like the ones he encountered now. It was odd to him that once they had left Sunnydale, he noticed Buffy did the same thing. Wondered if it took leaving to help the Slayer learn to be Buffy…wondered if it took leaving for him to dedicate enough of himself to notice that about her.
There used to be so many things…things about their life before that kept them all apart. Lead completely separate lives within each others strata.
Buffy sat up on her mattress and Xander watched her glance over to Willow’s neighboring bed before turning back to the television. She stared at the screen for a moment longer and then climbed over the side opposite him. The soft footfalls crossing the room belayed their unspoken agreement.
The implicit reason that Dawn claimed Buffy was using as ‘her purpose’. That Xander was using to hurt himself and her. That he would always pick the floor beside her over a room down the hall.
He listened to the sound shuffling over the threadbare carpet and her duel acceptance of what they both knew. Finally accepting comfort and allowing herself to revel in the feeling of home. Allowing somebody to try to make her feel safe…loved – even if that somebody wasn’t even positive that they could offer that to any other because they didn’t know how and never really had. Because the somebody was using her for the same assurance.
The bright light only spilled from the bathroom for a moment before Buffy pushed it closed. Xander rolled onto his back when he heard the soft click it made.
Everything about the desert had been easy…easier than this…than now. The longer it lasted…they stayed, the more over-complicated it became, he knew. And it wasn’t even necessarily him. He was positive that she allowed herself to slip in a mirroring fashion. She had to, and he knew because he had caught it in her eyes, too. It wasn’t her, though, either. It wasn’t totally them or fault or blame.
What they were – he and Buffy – it was still simple. Still the tent and the bus and diners and everything in between. Everything before this and since. It was still them passing a bottle of whiskey in a paper bag back and forth.
It was always things about Sunnydale…things that they still, inexplicably, fought to preserve, that made it difficult. Hard.
Them passing back and forth between *needing* it not to end and, simply, just never *wanting* it to end.
Xander groaned quietly when he pushed himself up from his makeshift bed, and kicked his legs free of the blanket. A quick glance cast towards where Willow was still resting in the twin bed that was opposite Buffy’s before heading towards his duffle bag.
A large part of him longed for the past, even while recognizing it for what it was. That much was sure of his life now. He had spent so much time into making it that. And sometimes larger part of him wanted…wanted …warmth and comfort and the feel of Willow’s mothers freshly washed comforters and the scent of Buffy’s room.
He dug out the small foil packet that he knew was in his khaki pants pocket. Neither of them had ever discussed the purchase after the first time. The first box had just been included in a jumble of other 7-11 purchases they had made one night. Sodas and chips, other odds and ends he and Buffy had been assigned to get, and he had just tossed them onto the counter. Xander had guessed that she shared the sentiment right then that protection couldn’t always be just praying to every god they knew of that the repercussion level would eternally be set to null.
He had been mildly surprised when they had run out and bought the second box on a completely dedicated mission to do so. Would have never guessed that Buffy would have suggested one with a larger quantity on that repeat voyage. Filed the pat on the back that the ‘New Xander’ she had let him meet gave himself that night in the ‘Don’t Talk About’ folder.
He bit his lip, folded his fingers over the packet and followed Buffy’s path towards the bathroom. His eye only squinted briefly when the light inside the small tiled room illuminated the space around him before he let himself in and softly pushed the barrier closed.
Willow, for her part, let herself stay silent. Even if she had wanted to speak when she had heard Buffy sit up in her bed. She had wanted, then, to ask if it was a second wind. One more movie, maybe…hopefully, even. She couldn’t remember the last time she had hoped for something…anything…
She never got the chance to let the notion form itself before her once and again roommate climbed out and padded to the bathroom. Bit her tongue when she had caught the yellow glow from the that lit the room briefly…and held her breath when she had heard Xander, her best friend – their best friend - follow the Slayer’s path.
A thump against the door that had closed behind them made her heart clench for a split second. The muffled whine that followed made her gulp and she tried not to focus on the deeper tenored snuffled groan that happened after.
The sounds, the ones she had discerned and recognized for what they were, muted slightly when one of them had turned on the sink faucet. The coinciding high-pitched whines masked further when the shower spigot was put into use.
A husky whisper and another deep groan and a louder thump…rapid succession…and Willow kept her peace. Closed her eyes and willed herself to be like the new people that they all were, or needed to be.
Laying in the bright blue light from the TV for countless minutes before the sounds stopped. Before the water turned off, the toilet flushed and the bathroom door opened again. She kept her eyes closed to the sound of two pairs of footsteps padding back across the room to their respective sleeping spaces. Buffy on the other twin bed and Xander on the floor at the opposite side under the window.
“Night guys.” She almost was successful at not letting her voice crack when she had decided to finally speak. Not born of emotion, but the simple fact that she hadn’t spoken in a while…she was apparently, after all, not supposed to be awake.
Emotion would have been Sunnydale Willow. Willow in the past tense. Now, there was just acknowledgment. Shock would have been her friends back in Sunnydale, too. Even a surprised intake of breath. Buffy and Xander, it seemed, in the past tense.
“Night Willow.” Buffy beckoned from her bed and Xander finally flicked off the television.
The last noise in the room after it was cast in to darkness was the subtle creak if Buffy’s mattress when Xander crawled into the space with her. She knew that sound, as well. And Willow, without another word, let herself drift off into her usual dreamless sleep.
She always woke up early now. Earlier than the rest of them if she had even ever went to bed to begin with. He knew last night that she had. He recalled the soft snoring that had roused him from his own slumber and the welcome shock that followed when he lifted his head to glance over Buffy and had seen the relaxed facial features of his best friend across the room.
Drew a strong sense of comfort that she was able to rest, if even for a few short hours.
When Xander had woken in the morning, though, Willow wasn’t in the other bed anymore. Buffy was still resting, her back to him, on the other side of theirs. His friend had been quiet that morning and he felt a brief flash of worry behind the reasoning of that.
The sole clue that he had that possibly nothing was wrong was that Willow’s bags were organized neatly on the foot of her bed…the bed that she had made before departing, he smiled to himself when he noticed that next.
Xander remembered when they were kids and he would sleep at her house, Willow would always make her bed every morning. She would always chastise him because, when she stayed at his, he would always just fan out the top blanket and leave the room. It made him smile that the trait still seemed to be preserved.
“I’ll never get why she makes hotel room beds.”
Buffy’s groggy comment before she turned to face him made him smile again.
“She’s Willow,” Xander chuckled and shrugged. He watched her, gauging for any sign of a reaction, and picking up none. Buffy sat up with a yawn and glanced over at where he had lain back down against the pillows. He let his lips quirk slightly, “Coffee?”
Buffy nodded at him then as she stood up and stretched. “Last night…” Sounding unsure, at last she appeased him without realizing that he had been waiting. “Do you think Willow’s mad?”
He shrugged again and sighed. Xander had been hoping that when she finally did acknowledge it, she would have discerned the answer. Had sifted the irrefutable and sure Slayer out of the heaps of Betty Louise and Buffy and been able to reveal it to him. “Would it matter if she were?” he posed the alternate question to Buffy and waited intently for her answer. Positive or negative…the truth.
She seemed to pause for a long moment, studying his face hard, as if the answer might be written there. Her face tensed until the sigh passed her lips and their corners turned up minutely. Maybe she found what she had been searching for. Buffy simply shook her head once. “Did it matter in the desert?” she asked him in a hushed tone next. She added next, still in a private whisper, “When your mental Studio 54 started?”
His own reminiscent gaze and negative head shake made her grin more prominent. It hadn’t mattered then…it would have been what it was regardless. Just that realization made his heart beat faster for a moment. She had started telling the truth to him, long before she demanded the same from him. Her expression just then betrayed something that he didn’t know if she had even admitted fully to herself. Guys were everywhere and he was Xander. Special.
‘Strong’. She told him once even before ‘The Tent’. Kept talking even when his chuckle had tried to refute the claim, and had offered earnestly, ‘It takes a strong man to do what he’d done…does…for as long as he’d done it.’ She had thanked him for that. He had thanked her even more deeply for saying it.
His promise to Betty Louise, Xander knew…the one he had made to himself and Dawn. The one to make her know and accept that Betty Louise Plotnick was really the ‘New Buffy Anne Summers’ he kept seeing peek out at him, kept telling her about…
He’d kept it already. He knew because in the past, he knew, the numerous things that wouldn’t have happened…that she wouldn’t have accepted if they had. He knew because Buffy, for what might be the first time, didn’t seem to be worried. She wasn’t and it was honest and shone through her eyes with an unspoken revelation...that it was just another morning.
Another normal morning.