Rating: I'm going to say 15, just to be on the safe side.
Disclaimer: Don't own them, never will - I'm still just playing in that pretty big sand box ("Don't worry, it's not coming for me yet.")
Notes: I'm so, so, so sorry for the huge gap between this and the previous part. I wrote most of this whilst watching the finale of ER - that's how long it's been sitting on my computer waiting for me to finish it.
Huge thanks to Sam, hopefully the 'chicklet' comment reads better now, I almost want to say it's a pop culture reference but it's not really 'popular' enough to be that! The film I'm referencing is Psycho Beach Party in which Nick Brendon plays a surfer called Starcat, opposite the lead female who is given the name "Chicklet"
Anyway, enough notes - the previous parts can be found here: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/1755282/1/
Buffy finally felt her embarrassment begin to fade as she pulled a carton of orange juice from the huge refrigerator that she wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised to see was fully stocked with a staggering amount of junk food. She found it oddly reassuring that despite everything that had changed, some things remained the same. Reaching for the glasses stored in a nearby cupboard, she started a little when Eilidh spoke from behind her.
“So how long have you two been together then?”
”Nearly eight years.” The answer was automatic and she didn’t think anything of it until she turned to see the other girl raising her eyebrows in surprise.
“Really? You guys still seem kinda…” She reached for the perfect word, “New, I guess.”
Buffy coloured again as she realised what she had said and her first reaction was to back-pedal furiously but she stopped herself with a small smile and elaborated, “Yeah, we’ve been together eight years. It’s just that neither of us knew it until a day ago.”
“What took you so long to figure it out?”
The very question Buffy had been asking herself all day.
“Oh, you know how it is. You meet someone, you like him, you call him one of the girls.” Eilidh’s eyes widened as she imagined Xander’s reaction to this tiny blonde calling him a girl. Buffy nodded laughing and continued, “another guy comes along and even though the first guy saves your li… butt a few times, you can’t see past tall, dark and handsome.” Perfect description of Xander, Eilidh thought but kept it to herself, not wanting to interrupt Buffy’s train of thought.
“A lot happens, but not much changes really,” the blonde carried on. “Except tall dark and handsome leaves and eventually not-so-tall, peroxide and passably cute comes onto the scene. Through it all, the first guy’s still there, still saving your li… butt and never asking or expecting anything in return. And then one day, suddenly, he’s not there and you get this horrible glimpse of what life would be like without him, and you realise how blind you’ve been all along…” Buffy trailed off into silence with a wistful smile. “Sorry, sometimes I ramble, I picked that up from a friend.” She shrugged a little, “I guess the answer to your question is this: I have no idea. Anyway, I’m hungry, want something to eat?”
That earned her a laugh from Eilidh, which in turn drew her out of her growing maudlin state of mind as she re-evaluated her life with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
Eilidh helped out and they ended up making a huge pile of sandwiches, laughing and joking the whole time until Buffy felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end. She turned to see Xander still sitting where she’d left him on the couch. He wasn’t watching her, however, he was following Eilidh’s movements carefully and she frowned a little as she saw suspicion on his face. She wondered at that and realised it was one more thing to add to the ever-growing list of things they had to talk about and soon.
Three sandwiches each and an hour or so later and Buffy could feel the conversation beginning to flag. They’d carefully skirted around any topics that might bring the mood down. The culmination of the past day’s worth of worrying, travelling, worrying, fighting and then worrying some more was finally taking its toll on her. Before she could say anything, however, Eilidh piped up with, “Sorry to be a party pooper, but I really have to get some sleep.” She yawned widely as if to emphasise the point and they both saw her try unsuccessfully to hide the wince of pain the movement caused her. “So, can I crash on your couch?”
“Oh yeah right, you’re sleeping on the sofa when you’ve got a gaping knife wound in your side? That’ll look really good on my ‘New Man’ resume.”
Buffy snorted a laugh, “Uh, Xand? I don’t think they call it a ‘New Man’ anymore – you’ve gotta get with the times, dude.”
He looked stricken then said in all seriousness “And this from a chick who just used the phrase ‘get with the times, dude’?” He shook his head and sighed in mock despair. Ducking, he almost but didn’t quite manage to avoid the pillow Buffy threw at him.
“Did you just call me a ‘chick’?"
“Okay, you’re right. Sorry, I shouldn’t have called you a chick. Someone as short as you is more like a chicklet.”
She rolled her eyes, “You’ve been watching that film again haven’t you?”
The confused look on his face was almost convincing. Almost. “What film?” The sheer innocence radiating from him was let down by the glint of evil in his eye.
“Just because Willow said that guy with the stupid name looks a little like you doesn’t make it a good film.” Suddenly Buffy found herself thinking that maybe it might be worth watching it again, after all the one time she watched it she remembered the lead guy had spent a lot of the film shirtless…
Realising where her mind was wandering off to, Buffy blushed a little and forced her attention back to the conversation at hand.
“Hey! Did you just make a comment about my height?”
He shrugged at her, grinning a little. “Hey, if the shoe fits… speaking of, how do you find shoes to fit with feet so little?”
There was an outraged shriek and Buffy launched herself at him with fingers splayed. Eilidh watched with a grin as a tickling match ensued, Buffy hadn’t been exaggerating earlier – they’d been together a long time.
“Right, well I’ll take the bedroom then. Thanks.” She could have sworn there was no way either of them could have heard her over the giggles and shrieks but they stopped instantly.
“G’night Eilidh. If you need anything just shout.” Buffy grinned up at her and Eilidh found herself smiling back automatically.
“Yeah, night Eilidh.” Xander’s tone was a little more reserved that she’d heard from him earlier, but perhaps he was just worried about her. After all, she had taken what seemed to be a mortal wound and had lost a great deal of blood.
She turned her smile to them both and headed for the bedroom feeling a little light-headed. As she reached the door she turned slightly to see them talking together quietly, trying not to disturb them further she pulled the door gently closed.
“Wanna tell me what’s wrong?” Buffy kept her tone low to keep any hint of anger or frustration from her voice.
“Yes, but not here. Not now.” She hadn’t expected him to agree so readily, she’d thought she’d have a struggle getting him to tell her about whatever it was that was bugging him.
“Why not? Where else is there?”
He stood quickly, holding out his hand to help her to her feet. “Let’s go for a walk, the walls have ears.” He looked pointedly at the closed bedroom door, under which they could both see the shadow of someone standing directly on the other side.
The night air held a chill that was actually welcome after the dusty heat of the day. There was an easy silence as they walked across the square now lit with the aid of torches adorning the walls of the cafés and stalls on all sides. Notable by their absence were the glaring neon and fluorescent signs that filled most of the piazzas in Rome. Buffy finally had the chance to take in the sight and sounds around her without the overriding panic and worry.
It wasn’t often that she had this opportunity to stop and really appreciate the world around her. That was something she had promised herself that she would take the time to do after Sunnydale and yet it hadn’t worked out that way. When she and Dawn had first arrived in Italy, they’d planned on exploring but Council business kept her busy for the first week and by the time she was free, Dawn had enrolled in school and quickly been surrounded by nice, normal friends. It was almost as if once she was away from the Hellmouth’s influence, the former Key had blossomed into a social butterfly and Buffy had no desire to play the tag-along older sister.
She’d tried hard not to let it bother her – she threw herself into her work for the Council until she was simply too busy to be lonely. Now though, she realised just what it was she’d been denying herself. She watched him covertly as he gazed out across the ruins of the Almoravid mosque towards the magnificent Al Koutoubia Mosque built to replace it when it was discovered the original was improperly aligned with Mecca.
The parallels with that work and the rebuilding they themselves were doing didn’t escape her. She loved the work she was doing now, helping to rebuild the Council. Mentoring girls who were terrified of who they had become, afraid to be themselves. That all gave her life purpose, there was no denying that, but right now, standing here with Xander, her life felt complete.
Grinning a little at how sappy that sounded in her head, she turned to face him and rested her elbows on the railings now behind her. He looked so serious, so lost in thought that she tried to lighten the mood a little.
His focus snapped to her and he smiled gently, “I dunno. I just…” he paused to collect his thoughts. “I’ve been here on and off for six weeks. I’ve walked past this place so many times I’ve lost count, but I’ve never really ‘seen’ any of it, y’know? Sure, I’ve done the whole tourist thing, seen the mosque all lit up like this, but I never really appreciated it ‘till now. I guess I was just too busy.” The smile widened into his typical lopsided grin, “Or maybe it’s the company that helps me see it in a new light.”
“Smooth, Xan. Very smooth.” In truth she was surprised to hear her own thoughts echoed like this. This man never ceased to surprise it seemed and now that she was seeing him with a new appreciation she recognised that if he was genuinely worried about something then there was a good reason for that.
It was clear that for whatever reason he didn’t want to tell her everything, but she now had a new weapon in her arsenal to pry the information from him. She turned on the charm.
“So talk to me. Tell me about the caves and what happened there. Tell me why you dropped out of contact and tell me why you don’t trust Eilidh.”
He didn’t move for the longest time and she began to wonder if he’d heard her or if he was getting lost in his own thoughts. Eventually, he looked at her and sighed.
“This isn’t going to be easy, Buff. If I tell you all you want to know you’re going to hear a lot of things you don’t want to. You have to know I would never hurt you. I’m not making anything up to hurt you or to score points. It’s all true. Do you trust me not to lie?”
The expression on his face was one of beseechment but there was no need, she knew in her heart that he wouldn’t lie to her. Not able to find the words to convince him of her belief in him, she nodded mutely. He looked away for a moment, collecting his thoughts, before re-establishing eye contact.
“It all starts with Spike.”