Summary: The summer after Willow's breakdown and near world-ending-destruction, Buffy and Xander find a different way to connect and deal.
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon owns all.
Original story: Not Okay by sroni
Notes: Story starts almost immediately after the season 6 finale.
It started that night. They sat together, just the two of them, quiet, absorbing. It was over, and Willow was even actually maybe possibly going to be okay. Maybe even be the same as she was. Maybe.
It was late, but neither could sleep. Willow had finally found sleep, after hours of shifting between a sobbing mess and utter catatonia. Giles had found sleep. Dawn had found sleep. But Buffy and Xander – they sat awake and quiet on the couch; they were buzzing. Come morning, Giles would be whisking Willow off to England to start her healing process, the house would be alive with movement, with change, but that night – that night, there was only silence.
After some time passed in the silence – maybe ten minutes, maybe two hours, neither could tell – Xander inhaled sharply, the weight of the day hitting him. His face dropped to his hands, his shoulders started shaking, but still he didn't make a sound.
Buffy simply watched him for a few moments. She watched him as he crumbled, not knowing what to do, not feeling like she could – should – do anything. But he wasn't stopping and she couldn't just watch anymore, so she shifted closer, smoothed a hand over his trembling shoulders.
She leaned in to murmur softly into his ear, “It's all going to be okay. She's going to go away, she's going to learn to control it, and then she'll come back, and she'll be... she'll be Willow again. It will be okay.”
He pulled his hands away from his face and squinted at her through the dark, through his red eyes. “Does even a tiny little part of you actually believe that?”
“A tiny little part of me does,” Buffy offered with a rueful smile.
He shook his head, searching for words. “I just... I can't...”
“Shh,” Buffy whispered soothingly. “You don't have to talk. I know. I know.”
She let him break down again, let him hide his face and fall apart, this time with her roaming hand keeping constant contact with his back, soothing him. She rested her head on his shoulder, and eventually his shaking subsided and his breathing evened out. He found she was right – they didn't need words. It was enough to have her there, feeling her close by his side, knowing that they were going through the same thing. He rested his cheek against the top of her head and more than a tiny part of him started to feel like maybe things would eventually be okay.
They stayed that way for the rest of the night. They sat there in silence, not saying a single other word, until the sun was about to come up, then walked outside to watch it rise. After nearly losing it all, the simplicity of the world at the very beginning of the day made them feel warm. Dusk faded with the moon, the sun came up, and it was beautiful. And for an instant, they were almost able to forget the terrible events of the day before – for an instant, they were just happy. Truly happy, and at peace. And they'd both so recently began to think they'd never ever feel that way again.
One day, weeks after Giles had taken Willow away to England to heal, and after weeks of those left back home trying to heal themselves, Dawn decided she couldn't take it anymore.
“You know what? I love you guys, I do – but you're both always here. Always. Here. I'm at a prime 'coming into my own, finding myself' age here. I don't need you constantly hovering. It's helped to have you around with everything that's happened in the last few months, but I need my space. And seriously? If I can't have like one week in which I don't see either one of you, I'm totally going to scream.”
Buffy and Xander exchanged questioning glances, but just for a moment, because truthfully they'd had their fair share of togetherness too. Then Xander promptly announced that he had a work site to get to while Buffy headed to the computer to do some research.
Five hours later, she knocked on Dawn's door, and Dawn was about to huff about 'her space' all over again when Buffy handed her a colorful printout.
“Summer camp? Are you kidding me? I'm not nine.”
“It's not for little kids! It's like a super cool artsy-fartsy summer camp for kids around your age, who are all – you know, looking to find themselves. Summer camp's just a name so the parents don't get freaked out. It's really more of a... summer getaway! A well-supervised summer getaway.”
Buffy left it at that, not trying to push the issue further, figuring that it probably wasn't going to be Dawn's thing but at least this way she could show that she'd made some effort to take an interest in curing Dawn's restlessness. However, much to her surprise, Dawn did a little bit of her own research on the camp's website – on which some of the displayed pictures from the prior year's summer included some very cute young men, and she became convinced. She did, after all, need some time away, and she could just tell her friends she was going to a spa.
Mere days later, Xander was loading Dawn's bags into the trunk of his car and Buffy was waving from the doorstep. “Have fun! Don't have sex.”
Later that night, when Xander had returned from dropping Dawn off – “and then there were two!” he chirped as reentered the Summers house – they found themselves once again sitting quietly on the living room couch, side by side. This time the TV was on, but they were both only pretending to pay attention to it.
“So do you want to... Well, I mean – do you want alone time too?” Xander asked, after about ten minutes of non-talking time.
“What? No. I'm – I mean, do you?”
He looked at her hard, both trying to read if she was being honest and to make sure she could see that he was. “No. Honestly, if I wasn't here with you right now, I don't know what I would do. Being here with makes me feel a little better about, you know, everything.”
Buffy smiled. “Back atcha. But... what do we even do with ourselves now? I mean, like you said, now it's just us two. No Dawn, no Willow, no Giles, and Anya's... well. There aren't too many people we can call to hang.” She knew better than to even mention Spike's name. “And lately it's been all quiet on the demon front.”
“Who says we need to hang with anyone else to have fun? We're already a decent duo – I've got you if I get in trouble and need someone's ass kicked, and you've got me if you want someone to get in the way and tell inappropriate jokes!” Xander wrapped a friendly arm around her shoulders. “Hey, are you hungry?”
“Is that your way of implying that what's missing from our duo is someone who can cook?” Buffy teased. “Because I really can't help you out there. My cupboards are bare. But – yes, I am hungry. Starved, in fact. Do you have any food at your place?”
“I can't remember the last time I saw inside a grocery store. So, that would be a no.”
Buffy's shoulders slumped a little.
“So...” Xander continued. “Why don't you put on something pretty and I'll take you out someplace nice?”
Buffy looked at him skeptically, but smiled a little. “Really?”
“Really. When was the last time we just had a nice, relaxing night out and spoiled ourselves?”
Buffy's slight smile turned to a full blown grin and she nodded. “Okay! Give me twenty minutes.” She ran up the stairs.
Their nice, relaxing night out ended with some not so relaxing fisticuffs against a group of four aggressive but stupid vampires in a graveyard on the way home – but the duck à l'orange had been fantastic.
It quickly became a routine for them – what started as one night of spoiling themselves turned into a regular need to get out of the house. They ended up going out four times in a little over a week – mostly dinner, but once a movie. At the end of the third night out, Buffy jokingly thanked him for “a great date” as he dropped her at her door, and at the end of the fourth night out, they shared their first real kiss.
It was sweet, gentle, innocent, and a total accident. They went in for each other's cheeks but both aimed right and just... missed. Missed and then lingered. She blushed a little and then stammered as she excused herself and entered her house.
They didn't see each other for four days after that, and on the fifth, Buffy sighed, picked up the phone, and admitted, “I'm lonely. And bored.”
“I'll be over in fifteen minutes,” Xander offered.
It was tacitly understood that he was coming over to take her out, so she quickly changed into something flirty and cute, put on a little makeup, and greeted him at the door with her purse in hand.
At the end of the night, their kiss was deliberate, and longer. He broke it first. “You're not just doing this because you're lonely, are you?”
She didn't even open her eyes to look at him, didn't hesitate at all, as she shook her head and whispered, “I don't think so.”
He thought that answer was “good enough,” and let her pull his head back down to hers with one hand while she turned the doorknob with the other.
Six days after that, Dawn came home. “That was completely false advertising,” she started complaining the moment she walked back into the house. “It wasn't picturesque, it wasn't a creative environment, there was way too much time wasted on singing kumbaya, and there weren't even any cute guys. Except for one, but I'm pretty sure he was actually a demon.” She narrowed her eyes. “What?”
“What what?” Buffy asked.
“You guys look weird. Why do you look weird? Did something happen while I was gone?” She paused, and her eyes momentarily bugged out of her head as she glanced up the stairs and then back at Buffy and Xander, who were standing innocently as far away from each other as they could while remaining in the same room. “Did something happen to my room?”
“Weird?” Xander laughed nervously. “How do we look weird? Nothing weird here. Buffy, you don't look weird to me at all. Do I look weird?”
“You look a little weird.” Buffy rolled her eyes, but the edges of her mouth twitched upwards. “Dawn, nothing happened to your room.”
Dawn stared at them both for a moment longer, skeptical and trying to figure out what it was that they weren't telling her. She then promptly ran upstairs to check on the state of her room, not trusting their word, or their totally weird faces.
As she vanished from sight, Xander turned to Buffy with eyebrows raised, but she cut off whatever he was about to say with, “Don't even.” She shook her head wearily.
Two weeks passed, and eventually Buffy couldn't handle the secrets and lies anymore. Xander had no argument, since it had been her choice to keep things quiet in the first place, so they simply sat Dawn down, and told her.
Thirty seconds of awkward silence passed. Buffy gently pressed, “Now I know this is probably kind of a shock for you...”
“Are you kidding?” Dawn gaped. “I'm just shocked that you thought this would be news to me.”
“Wait, what? Uh, I mean... what?” Xander sputtered.
Buffy crossed her arms. “You knew?”
Dawn looked at them skeptically. “Oh, come on. You haven't exactly been subtle. Did you think you were being subtle?” They exchanged glances and then looked away, but neither said anything. Dawn started laughing. “You actually thought you were being subtle? Come on, guys. These walls are thin.”
Buffy's eyes widened. “But we haven't even... done... that... yet.”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “Well, I heard other things... Wait, you haven't?”
“We're, uh, taking our time,” Xander answered. Buffy gave him a sharp warning look. “Not that that's any of your business. Or anything you should even be thinking about. Don't you have homework or something?”
Buffy rolled her eyes, but put her hand over his casually, comfortingly. “We just... we've both made messes of relationships in the past, rushed into things, and... we want this to be special.”
A long silence followed. Dawn looked at Xander, eyebrows raised. Buffy's gaze and face soon mimicked her sister's. Xander looked between them somewhat uncomfortably until his eyes widened suddenly. “Oh! Yeah, I'm on board with the specialness. This was not a one-sided decision, no siree. I want to wait too. Obviously. Yeah...”
Dawn shook her head disbelievingly and then stood up. “Whatever. I totally don't need to know. Any of this. But you guys do your thing. I'll just... keep to myself until school starts up again.”
“You don't have to–”
Dawn raised a hand to silence her sister. “This isn't me feeling neglected or left out or anything. If you guys are happy together, I'm happy for you – really. I just... don't really want to be so close to the action that I can tell when you've stopped waiting. The thought alone is just...” She shook herself in disgust. “Actually, I may need to take a walk around the block to get that image out of my head. Or maybe just a couple blocks away to Janice's. And then maybe to a movie. Can I have twenty bucks for the ticket and snacks? To make up for my mental trauma?”
Buffy didn't even consider arguing. The conversation had gone much better than she'd expected, and she was glad to be done with it. Dawn ended up walking out of the house with thirty dollars.
“You just got played,” Xander whistled.
“Whatever. As long as she's okay with this, I'm completely happy. Do you think she was really okay with it? Do you think she was faking? Maybe it's awkward for her, maybe she's uncomfoarmm-”
Xander muffled the rest of her words with his hand. “Relax. If she says she's fine, she's fine.”
“Oh, you think so?” Buffy challenged, wrestling his hand away. “Because I think she's pretty good at lying.”
“I also think she's really good at complaining when she doesn't like something,” Xander pointed out.
“Are you calling my sister a whiner?” Xander raised an eyebrow. “Okay, so she can be a whiner. I wonder where she gets that?” Xander raised the other eyebrow. “Hey!”
“I didn't say anything!” Xander narrowly avoided Buffy's swat to his shoulder, laughing. Then, suddenly, his brow ruffled and his smile turned to a frown. Hesitantly, he asked, “What about Willow? When Willow gets back, do you think she'll be okay with this?”
“I... don't want to think about that yet.”
Xander nodded, paused thoughtfully, then added, “I think she will.”
“You think she'll take the 'I'm happy if you're happy' approach?”
“If she comes back and is her old self again, which I'm betting on, because... well, the alternative sucks, then yeah. I think she'll be supportive. I think it's all going to be okay.”
Buffy gripped his hand firmly in her own. “Does even a tiny little part of you actually believe that?”
Xander smiled. “Yeah. A pretty big part of me does.”