Summary: Buffy visits Las Vegas, only not really. And Xander's a hermit, only not really.
Val met her at the airport, still dressed for work in her tight black dress and tasteful black heels. Buffy spotted the sign that said “Summers” before the mass of bright red hair underneath it, and Val’s movie-bright smile was next. She’d already spotted Buffy.
“Welcome to Las Vegas,” Val (“No, seriously, don’t call me Valerie. It’s a thing.”) said, when Buffy had fought her way back through the crowd to her side, clinging to her bag for all she was worth. Slayer strength didn’t do much against thieves, and Giles frowned on the kind of scene that would happen if she was forced to chase a thief through a busy American airport. “How was your flight?”
“Long,” Buffy said gloomily. “Long, and tiring, and did I mention long?” She relinquished her bag gladly when Val grabbed for it, willing to turn pickpocket protection duty over to the other Slayer. “The guy in front of me kept dropping his seat back into my knees.”
Val swung the duffel up across her back- balancing on her heels with an ease that left even Buffy impressed- and shot a grin over her shoulder at Buffy. “Well, we’ve still got some traveling left to do. Dana still has the roaming teleport key and she’s god-knows-where in the city, so we’re driving out.”
Nobody but Buffy seemed to be tempted to stare at Val, who looked jarringly out of place with Buffy’s scuffed-up duffel slung over her shoulder, otherwise looking like a movie star with her cocktail dress and strappy heels and perfect makeup. Or if they were staring at her, it wasn’t because of the tiny, pretty girl carrying a bag that was half as big as she was. This is Las Vegas, Buffy reminded herself. Things are different here.
“As long as there’s legroom, I’m all for it,” Buffy declared. She wasn’t going to think about it. She was not-thinky Buffy for this trip. Thinking about things, historically, had only ever gotten her into trouble. “Lead the way.”
The drive out into the desert was quiet, unbroken by unwanted questions or chatter from Val. Buffy had always liked the other Slayer for that.
Val had been in the first batch of new Slayers to come to the New Council, back when it was just the Scoobies and a handful of war-torn ex-Potentials desperately trying to stretch between London and Cleveland, playing whack-a-mole with the new batch of crises and trying to build something out the wreckage. Val had shown up knowing exactly what she was, got a little training to deal with her new Slayer strength, and then headed back to her job at a Vegas casino, declining the offer of a place at either HQ and forgoing the offer of company.
The demon community in Vegas is like the mob, she said. Send too many Slayers in, and you upset the balance.
You really don’t want to upset the balance.
No, they really didn’t. So Vegas, which wasn’t exactly a two-bit demon town, was a one-Slayer city, not counting visits like these or Dana (which nobody did), and the Watchers stayed the hell away. (Unless you counted Xander, which nobody did either. Anymore.)
So far it was working out. Probably better than anything else the Council had done, Buffy thought bitterly. At least Val hadn’t started a war with the demon world.
That she knew of, anyway.
Val pulled off the dusty highway and onto an even dustier side road, which incidentally was also a whole hell of a lot bumpier, too. Buffy clung to the door handle and gave fervent thanks that the Jeep had such great shocks.
“Enjoying the leg room yet?” Val teased, and only laughed out loud when Buffy threw her the death glare. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
“You know, I distantly remember kicking your ass on a daily basis,” Buffy said thoughtfully. “Maybe we should try that again. For old time’s sake.”
“I’d love to see you try, old-timer. Careful, though. You might break a hip.”
“Kids these days,” Buffy said sadly. “No respect. Also, no fear. I’m the oldest living Slayer, you know. I know stuff. You should probably be afraid of me.”
“When you can serve drinks to billionaires from Japan, then we can talk about fear,” Val said. “After my night job, slaying vampires is just about as exciting as taking out the trash.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it,” said Buffy, who still had shuddery nightmares about the Doublemeat Palace. The Council gave her a very nice paycheck for saving the world these days, and Buffy was very, very happy about it. “Just how far out are we going, anyway?”
“Not much farther,” Val said, slowing the vehicle and turning off. “Since we’re here.”
The house that Xander built was a small, cottage-type affair, built backward up against a huge slab of rock that jutted skyward like a beacon. For all she knew, it could be built back into the rock, for extra security or make just extra space. Willow had gone a little overboard with the magic when Xander had moved here- protection spells, no-violence spells, air-conditioning spells, even a looped teleport so Xander could see his clients without actually showing them the way to his home. A spell to cut out a little rock would be pretty much nothing for Willow.
Buffy stood in front of this quiet, charming little house in the middle of nowhere, and said, “Maybe you should wait around a minute. You know, just in case.”
“In case what? He throws you out? Don’t be stupid.” Val stretched into the back and tossed the duffel down to Buffy, perhaps harder than strictly necessary. “Besides, if you really need to get out, just use the ‘port key. Xander keeps the other one on the mantel. All you need is the keyword and you’re home free.”
Buffy frowned up at her. “So what’s the keyword?”
“You’ll just have to ask Xander for that, won’t you?” Val laughed and put the Jeep in gear. “See you in a couple days.”
And then Buffy was left standing in a cloud of dust, staring at taillights as Val drove away.
Really, seriously not afraid enough, she thought, and resolutely turned back to the front door. It was pretty ordinary, as doors went, but in Buffy’s mind it loomed with as much menace as a Haxel beast protecting its harem.
Then it opened, and Xander stuck his head out. “You might as well come in,” he said. “I could hear you coming from ten miles away.”
Buffy smiled weakly and fought the urge to turn around and run. “Didn’t know I was so loud.”
“Upside of living in the desert is that you don’t get so much static. Downside is that without the static, one or two signals can come in pretty much loud and clear.”
“Right.” She’d known that, Willow had given her the briefing on All Things Xander before she’d left Scotland, but it was one thing to be told, and another thing entirely to be smacked in the face with the reality of the situation. It was… Buffy groped for an appropriate Giles-word.
Yes, disquieting covered it pretty well.
Xander, like any good professional telepath, kept his mouth shut and waited for her to process her freakout without pointing out that he could, in fact, hear her freaking out. He was tactful like that.
But you know? She’d been there, and she’d done that, and gotten the fucking t-shirt, and she’d really hated the way everyone had treated her like she had some kind of icky disease. Xander was probably used to a certain amount of weirdness by now, but she’d be damned if she’d treat him the same way.
“So, you gonna invite me in anytime soon?” she asked, one eyebrow raised. “Or are you gonna leave your best friend standing out here with her bag in hand?”
“I know, it’s almost like my momma didn’t raise me better than that,” Xander said. He stepped back and gave her a sarcastic little bow, holding the door open. Message received: come in if you can.
Fuck it, she thought, and hurtled over the threshold, throwing herself into his arms with a cannonball hug.
He hugged her back instinctively, every line of his body radiating shock for a moment before he relaxed. She buried her smug grin against his shoulder. Hah. Surprised the telapath.
“Even I couldn’t possibly keep up with your thought processes,” Xander commented dryly over her head. “Such as they are.”
She leaned away just far enough to glare up at him. “That was mean. You’re becoming a mean person, Xander. You need to keep better company.”
“Yeah, well, that’s why you’re here, right?” This was Xander-grin #34: I’m adorable and charming in a dorky way, so please don’t hurt me. Buffy snorted and punched him in the arm- but not hard enough to actually hurt.
“Yeah, dork. That and, you know, not having seen one of my best friends in six months. That whole thing.”
His face went kind of wonky for a moment, not pulling-faces wonky, but serious-Xander wonky, and she knew he was thinking about why he left. But he didn’t say anything, just slung one arm around her shoulder and looked determinedly cheerful. “Well, since you’re in anyway, I might as well show you around.”
She wrapped her arm around his waist and laid her head on his shoulder. “Yeah, you might as well. It’s not like you’re getting out of here without a crowbar and maybe some dynamite.”
“Yeah, that’s the Buffy I remember.” He drew her inwards, toward the living room. The mantel was bare, except for an ornate mirror that looked like it belonged in one of those overwrought Gothic novels that Dawn had been reading lately. Even from several feet away, Buffy could see the haze of magic on it. “By the way,” Xander said, as casually as could be. “The keyword is vado.”
She craned her head back to look him in the face. She couldn’t tell if it was meant to be a warning, or just forgiveness before the fact, if she decided she had to run. Maybe it was both. “I don’t think I’ll be using it.”
“It was meant as both, and you should know anyway. Just in case.”
She wanted to argue, to say that she could deal with it just fine, thanks, that she didn’t have any secrets left from him, didn’t have any shames that were too great for him to see- but ultimately, she didn’t need to tell him. He could hear her just fine.
Xander rested his cheek against the top of her head. “Yeah. I can.”
“Someday you’re going to have to tell me why Renee came back to Scotland looking like she’d gone ten rounds with a yeti, you know,” she said conversationally.
She could feel the downcurve of Xander’s mouth against her hair. “Oh, you know, the usual. Every relationship has to have some secrets, I was invading her privacy, all the good stuff. She couldn’t deal with me the way I am, I can’t turn it off, it’s the same old story, really.”
Buffy snorted, trying to lighten the moment. “Clearly she’s just lacking a few important bits of her backbone. You won’t see that kind of thing from me. I’m made of sterner stuff.”
“I’ve always thought that.”
She could remember a thousand different moments with Xander, a hundred different times where it Might Have Been. It was never the right time. “Hey, did you hear that Spike was alive again? Or undead, whatever.”
He stiffened, not expecting that question from whatever he’d heard in her head. “Yeah, he comes to visit, sometimes, with the rest of the LA posse. When did you hear?”
“About a week ago. Giles finally let it slip.”
“Ah.” Xander exhaled, slowly. “Val said your flight was coming in from London.”
“Now you’re just stating the obvious.”
A long pause. She knew what hope could taste like, when it’d been so long since you’d had any. “You didn’t go to Spike?”
She hid her smile against his shirt. “Nope.”
“Instead, you took in your head to see me.”
“Any particular reason?”
Buffy twisted around in his loose hold till she was standing in front of him, not next to him, till she could look him in the eye from head-on. Nonverbal language was just as important as any other kind. Spike had taught her that the hard way. “I think you already know.”
He closed his eyes. “You weren’t thinking about this when you arrived. You were afraid of me. What the hell happened?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Okay, first? Totally not afraid of you-you, just afraid of, you know, what might happen. Which is pretty normal, I’ll have you know. I’m the one who fucked up your cure, okay? I thought you might be mad at me.”
Xander made a little non-word of negation. “I never blamed you. Not ever.”
“Good to know. And to answer your actual question… I had to make sure you were still Xander.”
Once upon a time, he might have said something like, “What the hell else would I be, a little green man from Mars?” or “I’m still human, Buffy,” but this Xander, this Xander who had to live through the demon’s gift that had almost killed her and would never have a cure, this Xander didn’t say anything like that. He just looked at her seriously and said, “So what’s the verdict?”
Just because someone changed, didn’t mean they changed who they were. If nothing else, Buffy had learned that much. “How could you ever doubt?”
He dropped his forehead against hers. “You’re gonna give me a heart attack one of these days, Buff. No amount of telepathy in the world is gonna help me figure you out.”
“Good,” she whispered. A tiny tilt of her head and her mouth was right against his ear. “Wouldn’t want to make things easy on you.”
He huffed out a laugh. “Like you’ve ever done that in your life.”
“Then I can’t change now, can I?”
He grabbed her chin and kissed her, almost too fast for her to react. “Never.”
She grinned at him and bit her lip, considering. Even in her own head, it was all kinesthetic, nonverbal, things he couldn’t overhear. She’d always been better at the physical, anyway.
She grinned. “Try to keep up.” And she ran.
Behind him, she heard him curse, but she was already out the door and gone. She had no idea where the hell she was running, and she was likely to get herself lost, but that was okay. She knew Xander was going to chase her. He’d catch up to her eventually.
He always did. And some things didn’t change.