The New Adventures of Buffy and Xander

Episode Seven: "Step by Step"

Summary: With only a simple task to do, Buffy and Xander are determined to enjoy themselves... but just how much?
Disclaimer: All BtVS stuff belongs to Joss Whedon, UPN et al and the Quantum Leap stuff belongs to Bellasarius Productions.
X-Over: Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Quantum Leap
Episode Rating: PG14
Spoilers: None for this episode.
Author's Notes: 1. Set after 'Crush' but before 'IWMTLY'. 2. Having decided that the Key didn't match any of her outfits, Glory gave it up and became and became editor of her own fashion magazine. 3. British spelling. *_*'s indicate word emphasis and //_//'s indicate direct character thoughts.



"Huh" was Xander's first word as he blinked away the white light that had crackled over them both. He looked down and found that, whilst he wasn't wearing a skirt or anything else that screamed female, he wasn't wearing much of anything else. Only a towel.

In his hand he appeared to be holding a bottle of something and on closer inspection he realised it was sun protection cream. He was also sitting on the edge of a sun bed with someone else laying stretched out on their front on the lounger beside him.

Buffy. Wearing just a bikini.

Buffy opened one eye and looked around. //OK, I'm lying down. It's warm. There's a pool… better than unconscious criminals…// she trailed off in her thoughts when she realised someone was sitting by her thigh. She twisted her head around and squinted against the sun that was behind Xander's head.

"Nice change of scenery huh?" she said.

Xander set down the bottle of lotion on the ground. There might have been a faint smile on Buffy's lips but he could see in her eyes that she was still upset from what had happened just a little while earlier.

"Much better" he smiled warmly.

"And you don't have breasts anymore"

//OK, so she wants to keep this light for a while. I can do that//. "Well, until I look in a mirror or Sean tells me," Xander smiled back "I'm not gonna take your word".

Xander looked around at their surroundings. They seemed to be in someone's back garden. Actually garden was a poor term. More like garden, verging on small National Park.

They were both by a pool underneath a hot sun that beat down nicely on them both. Behind them about fifty feet away was a large, expensive looking house. Both Buffy and Xander seemed to be the only people about.

Buffy rolled over so she lay on her back. "This is nice," she said, closing her eyes.

"Then you stay here," Xander said patting her thigh lightly. "I'm going to find something other than a towel to wear"

"'Kay". Buffy settled back as she felt Xander's weight leave the lounger. Buffy sighed, a little agitated. //He shot some one. A person. Not a vampire, demon…// she paused in her thoughts //… for me//.

Xander turned around when he hit the top of the marble steps that led up to a patio. He ran a hand over his hair as he watched Buffy try to relax. Xander knew she was only trying. He'd seen her tense enough times before to know when she was faking it.

Xander closed his eyes and sighed //I had to stop that guy// he told himself. Xander opened his eyes again and started across the patio. "I've told her before" he murmured softly to himself "No one hurts any of my girls"

Xander walked over to the closed French doors that opened onto the patio and pushed gently on them, opening them quietly. He wasn't quite sure if he and Buffy really should be here and if they were, he then didn't want to run into anyone that he might have to talk to.

But it was as quiet inside as it had been outside. Xander looked slowly around the conservatory he found himself in. It wasn't that big (about the size of his apartment), considering the size of the rest of the house and it was nice and bright with lots of wicker furniture and greenery.

There were three doors leading off from the conservatory. Two were open; one looked like it led to a kitchen and one into a hallway, the other was closed and frosted glass panels meant that Xander couldn't quite make out what was behind it. //Oh well, I guess we can explore later//.

Xander took the exit leading into the hallway and wandered along, passing a couple of closed doors on either side, until he reached the main lobby. A grand staircase was situated right in the middle opposite the front doors and to the left and right were double sets of closed doors //More exploring…//.

Xander had still yet to hear anyone or anything. He stood at the foot of the stairs and slowly turned around on the spot. "Y'know this is *so* much nicer that the place I got blown up at". He grinned to himself and began to climb the stairs. "Hey Sean?"

The hologram did not appear. Xander just shrugged and continued up until he reached the next level to find it was as grandly decorated as the ground floor and also as empty. He was left with three hallways to go down, all with rooms leading off them. Xander chose left, trying each door on either side - a couple were bedrooms and some were barely decorated or just empty. It wasn't until he reached the last door on the right that he figured he'd found a room that actually looked lived in or that at least some one had been in it recently unlike the others.

Xander went in to the room - a large bedroom decorated in blues and purples; a large, oak four poster against the left wall with the covers in disarray; a desk against the right wall by the door with a switched open laptop computer in the middle of it and books stacked up beside it; a few comfy chairs in one corner around a TV; a large wardrobe, the doors of which were open and a few items of clothing on the floor infront of it; and French doors that opened onto a small balcony.

Xander walked out onto the balcony and leant against the railing, looking out at the back garden he'd just come from. He smiled when he saw Buffy still lying by the pool and he decided just to leave her by herself for a little while. Xander walked back into the room and looked inside the wardrobe and pulled a pair of jeans off one of the shelves and held them up against himself.

"And clothes that fit. Also good". Although he didn’t think he'd gotten used to wearing other people's clothes *just* yet, Xander realised that he didn’t have much choice. So, opening a couple of the drawers he found some clean boxer shorts and dropped the towel, pulling the jeans on. Xander picked up the other clothes and put them back in the wardrobe, holding back a short sleeved shirt that he then put on.

Xander then stepped to one side and looked in the full-length mirror that hung on the wall that he'd avoided looking into when he'd been changing. Xander's reflection showed a reasonably well built man in, Xander's guessed, his early thirties; better than average looks; short, sandy blond hair; blue/green eyes; and about a weeks growth of stubble. Then something else in the refection caught Xander's eye - a wedding ring. Xander then looked at his own left hand and noticed for the first time, that he too was wearing a gold band.

"Oka-aay" Xander held his hand up closer to his face "I won't lie and say I'm not glad it's not *my* ring"

"Not even if I told you who the little wife was?"

Xander turned around and saw Sean standing behind him. "Gee, let me take a guess" Xander said lightly. "Could it be the blonde by the pool?"

"Your powers of deduction astound me"

Xander rolled his eyes "Sean, there's no one else here"

"You noticed that too huh?"

"On my little stroll through the house, yeah" Xander replied, wandering over to the balcony again "What's the deal here?"

Sean followed him outside "You and Buffy are Mr and Mrs Delamere. Douglas and Rosa. A charming couple by all means. Swimming in cash and all sorts. I think these people like to call it *old* money. This place" he swept his arms wide "Is the family home"

"Uh huh" Xander leant on the railing and glanced sideways at Sean. "A family consisting of just me and Buffy. This place is huge" Xander continued "There's no, like, uh, staff?"

"Want someone in a maids uniform to call you sir, huh?" Sean replied "Sorry, no. You fired them all a few days ago"

"How nice of me"

Sean shrugged "Like I said - charming couple. And no one else will work for you"

"Somehow I think I'll cope". Xander let his gaze drift around the grounds of the house before it finally fell back onto Buffy who still lay by the pool. "So why are we in this couple then?"

"Simple actually" Sean replied, following Xander's gaze "You've just got to stop some disks from getting stolen. Computer data that got into the wrong hands" he elaborated "Didn't cause too much damage, but we'd like it if it never happened in the first place". Sean paused "That really is a *tiny* bikini she's wearing isn't it?"

Xander's head snapped around to look at Sean "What?"

Sean snorted "Like you weren't looking"

"I was *not* looking" Xander insisted.

"Like you weren't looking at those girls in the changing rooms?" Sean raised an eyebrow.

"That was *totally* different"


"It just was"

"Ooh, nicely argued" Sean smirked "Got me convinced"

"Is there anything else you wanted Sean?"

"Just to remind you that you don't need to shoot the burglars"

"Do you want me to say sorry for shooting that bastard?" Xander asked, "Because you'll be waiting a long while if you do"

Sean shook his head "Might have done the same thing if I was in your shoes" Sean admitted "But emphasis on the *might*" he paused "You could have just waited it out. The cops were on their way"

"He had his dirty hands all over her" Xander said, anger in his voice "He wasn't going to put them anywhere else"

"And you two are used to looking out for each other, yeah, I get that" Sean said "It's nice that you're protective of each other" he added "But you've got-"

"Sean" Xander cut him off "Save the advice. Sorry" he then added apologetically "But you don't really know me"

Sean glanced over to Buffy then back to Xander "Maybe that's what she's thinking"


(A couple of hours later)

Buffy turned off the water and smoothed her hands over her hair to take some of the water out of it. She slid open the door a little and grabbed a large towel off the rack, wrapping it around herself before stepping totally into the now steam filled room. Buffy wiped one hand across the mirror on the door of the medicine cabinet, taking off enough condensation to see herself in. Her new self.

Rosa had Mediterranean looks - Buffy thought Spanish, although she hadn't asked Sean. Rosa had thick, dark hair that almost touched her waist and hazel eyes that Buffy thought were eerily piercing.

Buffy sighed as the mirror began to steam up again. She grabbed a bathrobe off the back of the closed door and draped it over her shoulders before exiting the bathroom and entering the bedroom.

It was the same room Xander had found earlier that was apparently Rosa and Douglas' little love nest. She and Xander had flipped a coin to see who got to sleep in it and she had won; Xander staying in the next room that was joined via a bathroom.

Buffy lost the robe and the towel and got changed quickly into the clothes she'd found and put out earlier - some underwear, loose, grey cotton trousers and a white, wool v-neck tank. She went into the bathroom again and found a smaller towel to wrap round her hair and then she started to make her way down stairs again.

Buffy found Xander in the kitchen, his head buried inside the refrigerator. "Hey" she said softly, as not to startle him "Whatcha looking for?"

"Something edible" Xander replied. He stepped back and held out a plate towards her that had something lumpy and green on it. "Any clues as to what it is?" he asked "Or are you thinking, like me, that I should just put in the trash"

Buffy stepped closer for inspection. "Trash?" she suggested after a moment, wrinkling her nose in distaste.

Xander nodded and went to dispose of it. "See if you can find anything" he called over his shoulder "I haven't been through the cupboards in the corner yet"

Buffy pushed the refrigerator door closed as she went past "Can't we order take out?" she said, "I could really go for Chinese right now"

"Judging by all the cartons and boxes in the trash" Xander replied as he walked back over to her "I think that's all this couple has been eating"

Buffy turned around to face him "Maybe we should keep up the tradition" she suggested "Come on, I'm sure these people can spare thirty bucks to feed us"

"You don’t want to sample my culinary delights?" Xander asked, smiling. He rolled his eyes when Buffy just raised an apprehensive eyebrow. Xander perched himself on one of the stools by the breakfast bar "OK. Find thirty bucks and I'll even let you order for me"

"In that case, both their wallets are by their bed" Buffy smiled smugly "You can go get and I'll order"

Xander narrowed his eyes playfully "I should have known you'd already have this planned out". He got off the stool. "Don't forget egg fried rice" he added as he headed out of the kitchen "If I'm not back in an hour, you will come looking for me won't you?"

"Sure" Buffy called after him. She dug one of the cartons out of the trash and dialled the number on the side.


About ten minutes later Xander made it back down to the kitchen. Buffy was sitting on the stool he'd previously occupied. She'd taken her hair out of the towel and had combed it through so it now hung in damp tresses down her back. Buffy also seemed extremely interested in playing with a cocktail stirrer she'd found, tapping it with no particular rhythm against the marble counter surface. Xander put both wallets on the counter infront of her and put a hand on her shoulder. Buffy started and flinched away from his touch.

Xander withdrew his hand "Hey" he said softly "Sorry, I didn't mean…" Xander sat on the stool next to her "I didn't mean to startle you"

Buffy met his concerned gaze briefly and gave him a small, half-hearted smile before becoming distracted once again by the stirrer she held in her hand.

Xander cleared his throat quietly "Buffy? Are you gonna tell me what's wrong?" he paused "Or do I already know?"

Buffy didn't answer him. Xander reached out and gently took hold of her hand, stilling it. She didn't flinch away this time and Xander took the stirrer from her fingers before covering them with his hand again.

"Buff? If it's about me shooting that guy, then I'm gonna say now that I'd quite happily shoot him in the kneecaps if he turned up here. He doesn't do that to you-" he squeezed her hand gently "-or to anyone" Xander paused "He deserved it"

Buffy hesitated briefly before she looked at him, her eyes began to glisten "It's just I'm not-" she stopped for a moment, gathering herself "I'm not used to being the one that's rescued" Buffy dropped her gaze from his and stared at her hand that was covered by Xander's. "I'm not used to *having* to be rescued"

"Buffy, I know how you feel OK? Believe me, I've had to be rescued from things for years"

Buffy looked back at him and saw that he was smiling warmly at her. She tried to smile back, but she didn't quite manage it. "I don't like feeling…" she sighed "I just don't like it" she sighed again "Do you?"

"Which part?" Xander replied, still smiling a little "The fact that you don't like it or whether I like getting rescued all the time?". He answered his own question before she could. "Buffy, I don't like that that you feel like… like you do, OK? And, yeah, it does get to me a bit that I sometimes get into things that require me screaming like a girl and having to be saved, but," he smiled "I get a little compensation. I mean, look at the girls I get rescued by. Gotta learn to love that"

There was a flicker of a genuine smile on Buffy's lips. "Y'know maybe we should make a list"

"List? For what?"

"A list for everything we let ourselves get rescued from and others we want to get out of ourselves" Buffy replied "We could post them in the training room"

"In that case, your list of things to get rescued from, is gonna be pretty short"

Buffy smiled softly and her tone became serious as she kept her gaze locked on Xander's. "I can think of a few things" she said, pausing briefly "Recent events included"

"Buffy, with Slayer power you would have kicked that guy's ass" Xander replied, getting off his stool and standing before her. "Hell, you would have kicked all their asses" he added "And not even have broken a sweat"

"Xand, I had my super powers when I let that pig Parker use me. It doesn't-"

"Buffy, that wasn't the same, it-"

"I know" Buffy replied "'Cos you didn't…" she trailed off, taking a breath before trying again "Because you didn't have to shoot Parker"

"I couldn't wait for the cops Buffy" Xander still kept his eyes locked with hers "I couldn't let him get any further"

"I just don't know how it makes me feel" Buffy admitted "What to make of it. I…" she sighed "You put a bullet in him. I don't know whether to *feel* like maybe I don't know you as well as I thought I did, or to feel angry with my*self* because I *should've* known that you *could* do that, or that it's just plain sweet that you care so much" she allowed herself a smile "Maybe I'm just confusing myself… I just don't know…" she shrugged "But I do know that you're *still* my *friend* and nothing changes the fact that I'm now going to do this"

Buffy slid off the stool and wrapped her arms tightly around Xander, taking him a little by surprise. She rested her head against his shoulder so the back of her head was pressed tight against his neck.

"Thank you" Buffy said softly, closing her eyes as she felt Xander's arms encircle her, holding her as tight as she was he.


Buffy drew back "Thank you" she said again.

Xander smiled. He took hold of Buffy's upper arms. "Hey, come on" he said "Let's make this a happy leap, OK? It's a nice easy one. We've just got to hide some disks so they don't get stolen. Simple" Xander smiled, adding, "No fishnet stockings required"

That earned him a small laugh from Buffy. "Didn't I tell you that you had the legs to pull of heels, huh?"


(Next morning)

A shrill beeping in her ear made Buffy wake with a start. Cursing loudly, she thumped the snooze button on top of the radio alarm and rolled over on to her back, her eyes still shut. "Ugh. Why does she have an alarm when she doesn't work" Buffy groaned sleepily "She has nothing to get up *for*"

Buffy opened her eyes then immediately wished she hadn't when a bright ray of sunlight hit her as it beamed in through the uncovered balcony windows. Buffy screwed her eyes shut again, but she could still sense the brightness. Buffy pushed back the bed covers enough so she could clamber out of the bed and headed towards the windows. She was just about to let the drapes fall when she heard a quiet splash from outside.

Pushing her bed mussed hair out of her face and adjusting the cotton nightie that she was wearing so to be decent, she padded out onto the balcony. The morning sun was still bright, so Buffy put a hand up to shield her eyes as she peered out into the back garden to investigate the noise.

It turned out to be Xander. Apparently he had donned a pair of swim shorts and had decided to take an early morning swim. Buffy leant against the balcony rail and watched Xander as he started to swim lengths.

"He's swimming *now*?" Buffy muttered to herself and then yawned. "He's got all day to do that"

"Yeah, but there's just something about swimming in the morning…"

Buffy glanced across at her companion "Sean," she said sleepily "Don't you ever take time off?"

Sean shrugged "I've learned to live on little sleep" he grinned "Plus there's a half naked cute guy swimming"

"Let me reiterate. Don't you *ever* take time off?"

Sean sighed "Actually I got bored in the office" he admitted "Thought I'd drop by and see what you two have got planned for today"

"As little as possible". Buffy yawned again. "In fact vegging out infront of the TV is probably one of my best ideas yet". She let her gaze fall again on Xander as he continued to swim. "Although… I think the pool is heated…"

"Plus… half naked cute guy swimming"

"There is that" Buffy paused "Wait… " she looked to Sean, expecting to find him smirking, only to find him not there at all.

Buffy returned her gaze to the pool "That guy is such a bad influence"


(Twenty minutes later)

Xander was sitting on the edge of the pool, his feet dangling into the water at the shallow end. He had his hands planted either side of his thighs and he was leaning back, his eyes closed as he warmed and dried himself in the early morning sun.

Then he heard the tinkling of glasses beside him and he opened his eyes and saw Buffy holding a tray with two glasses on it, both filled with orange juice. Buffy was wearing a swimming costume with a sarong tied around her waist, her hair was tied back and she wore sunglasses.

"Woah, check out the beach babe" Xander grinned.

"It's a pool. Not a beach". Buffy smiled graciously "But thank you anyway"

"No problem" Xander smiled back "It makes a change from your usual morning attire of a t-shirt you can trip over and bed hair"

Buffy swatted him, hard, on the arm as she sat alongside side him, setting the tray just behind them both. "That's real nice considering I just brought refreshment" Buffy said "I poured it from the carton into the glass all by myself y'know"

Xander rubbed his arm where Buffy had hit him "Hey I was being nice when I said you looked nice"

"I know ". Buffy stuck her tongue out at him when Xander gave her a pained look.

"Well thanks for this," he said, taking one of the glasses. "I didn't wake you when I got up did I?"

"Nah". Buffy splashed her feet a little in the water. "Just saw you when I went onto the balcony" she took a sip of her own juice "Good swim?"

Xander nodded as he then proceeded to down half of his drink. "Thought I'd make good use of the place while we're here," he said. Xander turned to her and grinned "Tennis after lunch?"

Buffy grinned back "I'll have to check my diary, but I think I can fit it in. Wait. You can play?"

Xander shrugged "I can try. Plus you won't be hitting any super strength volleys my way"

Buffy pouted "Hey, I'd play fair even if I had my preternatural strength"

"Yeah?" Xander gave her his 'I-know-better' look. "As fair as you play when shooting hoops?"

"I'm short" Buffy retaliated, hoping she sounded at least mildly convincing "I've got to compensate some how"

"By somersaulting over me so you can score a three pointer?"

"Yeah-huh". Buffy took off her sunglasses and laid them on the ground behind her and grinned again when she saw Xander rolling his eyes. "Come on" she said, undoing her sarong and tugging it from underneath herself "Wanna do some more lengths?" Buffy slipped elegantly into the pool "Race ya"

"You're on" Xander replied "I'll just give you a couple of minutes to warm up"

"Hah" Buffy scoffed as she kicked her feet a little so she moved backwards "More like you still need time to recuperate"

"Do not" Xander shot back, kicking water up with his feet in her direction, but Buffy moved quickly enough out of the way. "I'll have you know I'm in perfect condition. The peak of fitness, the height of-"

"Wetness?" Buffy grinned as Xander swiped the water she'd just splashed at him off his face. And then tried not to notice the how the rest of the water began to form droplets on his chest and began to roll down his chest and towards his navel…

… well she *tried* not to notice.

Which was probably why she didn't get out of the way quickly enough when Xander splashed her a second time.

"Fine" she said, pushing stray, wet locks of hair out of her face. "Guess I deserved that"

"Yup" Xander agreed as he set down his glass and joined her in the water "Y'know. I think as well as hiding disks-" he continued as he kicked his feet and swam away from her into the middle of the pool "-what we could do is try and lighten up". Xander turned around to face Buffy, who hadn't moved, and began to tread water. "We need to have fun"

"What's that again?" Buffy joked.

"Exactly my point" Xander replied "It's like I said yesterday, it's time we got some time for ourselves. And it might not be much for now, but…, well, we've got until tonight at least"

"Uh huh. OK" Buffy swam up to him and began to tread water beside him "So what do you suggest we do?"

"Well… there's still tennis if you wanna. We could hang about here and then have brunch. Maybe find a place to hide the disks after that and then …uh… your go"

"Ooh I know, we could just veg and take full advantage of Douglas and Rosa's disgustingly huge entertainment centre until the time comes for us to eat again" Buffy suggested with a smile "And then," she carried on, "All we've gotta do is wait out the disk stealing guys"

"Great. See? We've got a plan"

"Simple but effective" Buffy grinned "All though I think finding something to eat might be more of a challenge than finding a good place for the disks"

"I think I saw pizza in the deep freeze" Xander told her "And there may have been bread that wasn't trying to make it's own back supply of penicillin"

"Ahh, something to look forward to as I practice my swan dives"

"And you want to practice swan dives because…?"

"Eh, you never know" Buffy replied as swam past him towards the steps at the deeper end of the pool and proceeded to climb out. She turned around and faced Xander as she stood at the edge of the pool. "Anyway, I've still got my-" she air-quoted the next six words "'Couple of minutes to warm up'. I'm still gonna race you. And beat you" she grinned "Naturally"

Xander rolled his eyes "Fine. Do your belly flops into the water". He saw Buffy stick her tongue out at him before he moved to the side of the pool, turning his head back around just as Buffy had stepped up to the foot of the diving board.

And suddenly wondered why his mind was playing everything in slow motion. Baywatch style.

Xander stared for a moment. Then blinked. His mind went back to normal speed, but the image was still there.

He had been serious when he'd told Buffy how she looked this morning. Luckily he'd managed to stop his mouth over taking his brain when he'd opened his eyes and first seen her and also the usual accompanying goldfish impression and/or a version of the Homer drool.

Buffy's swimming costume was now wet and therefore clinging to… well, just *clinging*. It wasn't as if it was *that* revealing, but it was a little low cut at the front and quite high cut at the legs… and… Buffy had legs.

OK, *obviously* Buffy had legs. Xander knew that. He'd just seen her walking, but… now they were *those* kind of legs. Attractive legs. Legs that went right up to… other things. Legs that he shouldn't be looking at. Legs that he shouldn't be looking at because he had a girlfriend. Who also had legs. Xander liked Anya's legs. They also went up to other things. It was probably because he had liked Anya's legs so much and was actually allowed to touch them; that he'd slowly stopped noticing Buffy's legs.

Xander decided he should stop thinking about legs. He was getting all confused. And possibly drooling.

Xander closed his eyes, hoping that when he opened them again Buffy's legs would just be things that she used for walking, running and kicking the evil undead.

Unfortunately when he opened his eyes again, it was just in time to see the evil grin on Buffy's face as she leapt off the edge of the diving board, quickly tucking herself into a ball… and dive bombing him.

Xander pushed his wet hair off his face and scowled at her "Swan dive my ass" he said as she resurfaced.

Buffy just laughed. "Fun remember?"


(Next morning)

"Xand?". Buffy knocked again on the bathroom door, one of two that separated the two bedrooms they were both sleeping in. "Xander?". She still didn't get a reply so Buffy opened the door and went in.

A pyjama clad Buffy walked over to the window and opened the curtains a little to let the light in and then looked back to her friend who just rolled over, his bare back now facing her and face buried in the pillow.

Buffy sighed "Xander, wake up"

"Is the world ending?" was the muffled response.

"Not that I know of"

"Then why do I have to get up?"

"Because," Buffy replied as she sat down heavily on the bed, causing Xander to finally remove his face from the pillow and look at her. "-we're still here"

Xander rolled onto this back and brushed hair out of his eyes so he could look around the room before his gaze finally settled back on Buffy. "Oh yeah" he paused briefly "No burglars?"

Buffy shrugged and then showed him the disks that they'd hidden the night before and obviously hadn't been stolen. "They're still the same ones. No one snuck in and replaced them… but, if we're still here then-"

"Buffy it's too early in the morning to start confusing me" Xander yawned "What does Sean say?"

"Sean says thieves came, thieves broke big huge vase in the lobby and thought it had woken you so they made a run for it. However, they'll be back and that's why you're still here"

"And a good morning to you too Sean" Xander greeted.

"I guess that was the short explanation?" Buffy asked.

"Well its not like there's really a whole lot else to it" Sean replied. "But enough about me, look at you two all cosy and sporting matching bed hair"

"I beginning to think you say stuff like that 'cause you know we can't hit you" Xander said.

"No I say stuff like that-" Sean countered "-because you both have bed hair, Buffy's wearing her jim jams and you're naked underneath that coverlet"

Almost automatically Xander hoisted the covers up and hugged them to his chest. "Am not" he replied weakly. Then he paused and narrowed his eyes at Sean "How do you know, anyway?"

"It's sorta like a sixth sense thing with me" Sean replied, grinning.

Xander was about to shoot back a reply but was cut off by an accusing look from Buffy.

"You let me come in here when you were naked?!" she said.

"When? He still is" Sean pointed out with a smirk.

"Do you mind?" Xander scowled at Sean "And do you still have to be here?"

"Completely" Sean replied "I haven't told you when the disks get stolen again"


"Tomorrow. Around midnight. Y'know if you keep scowling like that, your face will change"

"How do you know he's scowling Sean? You aren't looking at his face" Buffy pointed out.

"Neither are you" Sean retaliated.

"For Gods sake!" Xander groaned with frustration mixed with a little embarrassment "Why is everyone focusing on me being naked?!"

"I am not!" Buffy said indignantly at the same time as Sean just shrugged as if the answer was obvious.

Xander kept scowling at Sean "Go away"

"Fine" Sean sniffed "I've got a perfectly nice naked man waiting for me when I get back anyway"

As Sean vanished, Xander turned his scowl to Buffy, although it had lessened considerably. "And for the record, you came in here all by yourself. No *letting* at all on my part"

"… and what *part* would that be?"

"I don't suppose there's *any* chance of you disappearing like Sean?"

"Why Xander, you're not ashamed of yourself are you?" Buffy feigned shock "And *you*… an ex *stripper*"

"Y'know, I just thought of a hiding place for those disks" Xander retorted "You could just shove them up your *ow*!". Xander rubbed his thigh through the covers where Buffy had just smacked him "You should be ashamed. Hitting a defenceless naked person like that"

"Ha" Buffy got up and started to take her leave. She stopped and turned back to him when she got the still open door to the adjoining bathroom "D'ya think you could get your defenceless naked self up and together soon?" Buffy asked "If we're gonna be here and looking after these-" she waved the disks at him "-then we're going to need food"

"Groceries?" Xander gave her a blank look "You want to go shopping?"

"Yes. For food. To eat" Buffy said slowly, with a smile "That we need to live"

"Uh huh, following you so far" Xander replied "But, uh, I don’t see how that requires both of us"

"… Oh"

Xander missed the tiny frown that appeared on Buffy's face as he started to bat the pillow back into something he could lay his head on comfortably. He buried his face back into the pillow and waved one hand in Buffy's general direction. "Have fun shopping" Xander mumbled before he pulled up the covers over his shoulders and attempted to get to sleep again.

Buffy just stared at him for a couple of seconds before speaking again "Well… I guess I could go by myself…" she waited for any type of response from Xander. She didn't get one.

"Yup, guess I could go by myself…" she muttered to herself as she left Xander's room and headed back towards her own. "Not like it might have been fun or anything…"


(A few hours later)

Buffy grunted with frustration as she thumped the grocery bags down onto the one of the many counters in the kitchen. She managed to catch a packet of macaroni before it toppled out and onto the floor, but instead of finding a cupboard to put it in, she just threw the packet on to the counter despondently; whereupon it skimmed across the shiny surface and into two glasses that stood unwashed and knocked them both onto the floor.

Buffy winced at the sound of smashing glass and stepped back as a few tiny shards skittered their way across the tiled floor towards her.

"Wonderful" Buffy said tersely as she studied the mess on the floor "The perfect end to the prefect morning"

With a sigh, Buffy set about picking up the larger pieces of glass and set them on some newspaper she'd laid out on one of the counters. After she'd got up what she could, Buffy grabbed a dustpan and brush and started to sweep up the tiny slivers that were left.

"This was not what I wanted to be doing this morning," Buffy muttered to herself as she swept "Fun? Pfft. Phooey. I bet he's not even out of bed yet" she continued "Stupid, annoying, naked id-"


"Gah!" Buffy yelped and slipped forward, hissing as the hand that she'd put out to stop herself sprawling on the floor landed on a tiny shard of glass. "Ow. God damn" Buffy cursed as she started to get to her feet.

"Oh crap. Damn. Rosa I'm sorry". A deep male voice accompanied the equally male hand on Buffy's arm, helping her up. "Are you OK?"

Buffy turned around, "Yeah, I-I think". Buffy faltered a little when she encountered a face that she didn't recognise. "Just a, um, scratch"

The man frowned and took hold of her hand that had a small red line down the centre of the palm. "Yeah…" he spoke slowly as he studied her hand, moving it into better light "I think the glass is out too. Best run it under the faucet anyway". He gave Buffy an awkward smile as she moved to the sink "Sorry again. Didn't realise you were cleaning"

Buffy cast a sideways glance at her new companion. He was around sixty and stood about six feet tall. His hair was cut short all over and was greying, almost completely white at the temples; his eyes were blue and piercing; his face was weathered but the easy expression on his face seemed to say that he'd weathered in a good way.

"So, uh… what can I do for you?" Buffy asked apprehensively.

"Just wondering if Doug was here" he answered "I called his office - god knows why considering he's never there anyway - I just thought he might find it worth his while to actually *see* the people who work for him. Anyway, they said he'd told them a few days ago that he was going to be working from home"

"Um… I think he's a-around, um, somewhere," Buffy said haltingly. "I've not been here this morning". Buffy took her hand from underneath the water, nodding towards the grocery bags before examining the small cut on her hand "Had to go out for food"

"I thought that was what you had Marie and Angela for?"


"You fired them again didn't you?"

"W-we might've done"

"And the rest of the staff?"

"Also fired"

The man raised a single eyebrow. "I see"

"There were, uh, valid reasons"

"I'm sure there were-" his sentence got broken when his attention was caught by someone else entering the kitchen "Oh well, perhaps my errant son here could explain why you let go perfectly good staff". A questioning look was shot Xander's way as Xander strolled into the kitchen from the back of the house.

"Uh… yes. Yes he can" Buffy smiled brightly at Xander over the older man's shoulder "And while *he's* doing that, I can go and put a Band-Aid on my hand"

"What? Staff? Oh wait I remember about that. Hey what's wrong with your hand?" Xander asked Buffy as she was almost out of the kitchen.

"Just a scratch" Buffy informed him "I'll be fine. You go chat with your dad" Buffy gave him another too bright smile and headed out of the kitchen.

"Great" Xander muttered quietly under his breath before looking back at the other man in the room "So, um, what can I do for you?"

"You can tell me why I retired early so you could 'work from home' and I say that sarcastically because you seem to have spent most of the morning either in or by the pool and now I find out that you've fired perfectly good staff *yet* again"

Xander blinked. "Well I can say in all honesty that I really don't know what to tell you"



(One hour later)

"What the hell happened to you?" Xander gave Buffy an accusatory look. "You just left me there with that guy. I coulda done with some help you know"

Buffy was in the sun lounger that Xander had previously occupied outside by the pool. She was the perfect picture of relaxation, languishing comfortably where she sat under the sun, dressed in shorts and a more modest bikini top than the day before.

Buffy peered at Xander through her sunglasses. "Hmm?"

Xander stood with his arms crossed, still wearing the swim shorts he'd had on earlier and a short sleeved shirt he'd put on and wore unbuttoned. "Why couldn't you come and give me a hand?"

"Because it was nicer out here". Buffy shrugged her shoulders lightly. "Plus you only had to bluff a little. I didn't think it was a biggie"

"Actually I had to bluff a lot Buffy. You might have got the friendly end of him but I didn't. Sean was no where in sight and I had *no* idea what I was supposed to say. And nothing that I *did* say was right" Xander's hands dropped to his sides. "You know, I get enough crap from my own father without having to take it from someone *else's*"

Buffy didn't even get a chance to respond before Xander walked away from her and back towards the house, a look on his face that was a mixture of hurt and anger and confusion.

"Damn" Buffy cursed, jumping up from her lounger and going after him. "Xan wait"

"Just forget it Buffy" Xander's tone was softer but he didn't turn around as he spoke. "You just stay here and enjoy the sun. I was thinking about breaking out Doug's Playstation anyway"

"Xander". Buffy kept after him and caught hold of his arm. "I didn't know, OK? I'm sorry"

Xander stopped and turned around to face her. He hesitated before finally he sighed. "Me too" Xander said softly. "I shouldn't have snapped at you. You couldn't have known". Xander ran a hand through his hair. "Although I would be interested-" he gave Buffy and expectant look "-in why you decided to sneak out on me"

"I didn't sneak out on you" Buffy replied, albeit a little too defensively. "I just thought it was something you could handle and this weather is really too good to miss and OK I snuck out are you happy now?"

"Not really" Xander's arms were crossed over his chest again. "Because I still don't know why"

"Because… because, ugh, you know what? It doesn't matter" Buffy began to head back to the house "It's stupid"

Xander stared after her for a couple of moments before following in her footsteps. "Buffy? Come on. What's stupid?"

Buffy turned around, walking backwards as she spoke "It doesn’t matter OK? I'm sorry I snuck out and that Doug's dad yelled at you". Buffy turned around again and walked through the open patio door and into the conservatory.

Xander was still following after her. "Uh uh. You don't get to cop out like that Buff"

"Why not?" Buffy walked into the kitchen "And stop following me. Go sit back out by the pool and hey you put the groceries away"

"Well you went out for them" Xander replied as Buffy turned around to face him. "And I don't want to go out back by the pool" he carried on "I wanna know what you think is stupid"

Buffy looked to where the grocery bags had once stood. "… I think I am"

Xander frowned "What? I don't get it"

Buffy sighed "Fine. I'll tell you" she looked back to him "I was pissed that you didn't want to go shopping with me"

"I agree. That's stupid"

"Tell me about it". Buffy sighed again. "I just though it would be a fun thing to do together". She shrugged lightly. "That's what you said you wanted," Buffy said, sounding a little awkward. "To have, y'know, fun"

"I did say that didn't I?". Xander shook his head lightly and the corners of his mouth twitched up at the corners "Then I guess we're both stupid, huh?"

"Eh, you didn't really miss much anyway" Buffy began to smile too. "I got my ankles rammed at least twice by vicious old ladies with shopping carts. I thing Doug and Rosa might have employed them at one point judging by the dirty looks they gave me. Also I knocked over a display of soap powder and I had to hide behind the fabric softener"

"You probably should have stayed in bed". Xander smiled. "But, if it's any consolation, I got pretty bored here without you". Xander went to shove his hands in his pockets then realised that his shorts didn't have any, so instead settled for hugging his arms to his chest and shuffling his feet. "I guess I've just got used to having you around so much"

Buffy couldn't help but smile. "Xander, you've had me around since high school remember?"

"I know" Xander matched her warm smile. "It's just last year, we all kinda lost track of each other and now, even before we left everything was going great, like it used to be"

"The Three Musketeer's huh?" Buffy allowed herself a moment of nostalgia. "I know what you mean". Buffy took the stool next to him. "And this leaping thing has given us the chance to build on it even more"

"We've had our moments"

"And we'll have more"


(Two hours later)

"OK. So are we taking bets as to what's on it then?". Buffy studied the yellow floppy disk she held infront of her. Both she and Xander were in Doug and Rosa's bedroom. Buffy had slipped on a t-shirt over her bikini top and Xander had changed into jeans. Buffy sat at the desk by the window, the laptop computer open and switched on infront of her.

"Lost Tomb Raider Three files?". Xander rested his forearms against the back of Buffy's chair and leant forward slightly over her shoulder. "The plots they thought were just *too* stupid for Sunset Beach?"

"Xander, d'ya think if it were any of those, that Sean would have told us and not avoided the subject when we asked?"

"OK, so what are *you* expecting then Buff?" Xander asked as Buffy slipped the disk into the machine. "Government secrets? Plans for a new satellite?"

Buffy pouted. "What's wrong with wanting it to be all James Bond-y?"

"Absolutely nothing" Xander watched and waited as Buffy went through the motions of opening up the files. "It's just, if the computer explodes because you opened the wrong file, I don't think it'll qualify for our list of fun things to do"

"It might be a funny explosion". Buffy turned her head up to look at Xander who rolled his eyes. Buffy smiled. "Come on, this was your idea" she pointed out.

"I know, I know. Go on then. Double click away"

Buffy grinned and turned back to the screen. "Huh. Looks like most of these are just text documents. OK. Let's try this one…". Buffy double clicked on the first icon. "Ah. Any idea what the password might be?"

"Uh... try another one". Xander watched Buffy try another and then more icons, trying to open them, but they all asked for passwords. "I'm guessing that Doug's not going to have them written down somewhere if these files are important enough to get stolen"

"So much for fun. OK, last one. Ooh! We're in!"

"OK, so what is it?"

"Just text. And I think it's in Russian. It's definitely something that I can't read"

"Great" Xander sighed as Buffy kept scrolling down the document, looking for something that they could at least try and make out.

"Y'know what?". Buffy stopped scrolling when she came to a page full of equations. "Willow would be great at all this"

There was a moments pause before a softly spoken "Yeah" came from Xander.

Buffy turned her head up to him again and lifted her hand up enough so she caught hold of one of his forearms. "I know". She smiled sympathetically and gave his arm a gentle squeeze. "Come on, lets go and hide these disks up again and then we can get out the Playstation"

"How 'bout a movie instead?" Xander suggested "There's a disgustingly huge entertainment centre remember?"

"Sounds good". Buffy smiled. "I hope you remember where you unpacked the popcorn to"

"I do. And I think it's great you consider popcorn to be one of the necessary foods you were going shopping for"

"Impulse buy". Buffy blinked innocently at him before turning back to the computer and starting to close it down.

Xander raised an eyebrow "And the chocolate sauce?"

"That's personal"

"Ooh. Kinky"

Buffy took the disk out and shut the lid on the laptop. Standing up, she faced Xander and smiled enigmatically. "Wouldn't you like to know?"


(Early evening)

"Buff? I thought we resolved our differences about this morning?"

"We did"

Xander glanced sideways at Buffy as she sat next to him on the couch. "Then why did you just make me sit through 'Meet Joe Black'?"

"Because you said I could pick first"

"It has to be the most boring film ever, Buffy"

"I know. But Brad Pitt just looks so pretty in it"

"Great" Xander said sarcastically "You get eye candy and I get-" he stopped and grinned "-I get to pick the next movie"

"Well if it's 'Porky's', you can think again" Buffy replied "I hid that tape while you were making drinks"

"Nope, I got something better" Xander reached down beside the couch and then proceeded to show Buffy what he'd produced. "Classic stuff"

"Xander, I said pick *one* thing off the shelf. *That* is *not* one thing"

"Actually, technically it is" Xander pointed out, not hiding his grin "It being a box set an' all"

"You can't seriously expect me to sit here and watch all three 'Back to the Future' films?"

"Buffy, it's not likely to be the biggest challenge of your life" Xander ignored her exaggerated pout and started to get the cassette out. "Suck it up, sit back and just enjoy"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Fine" she said with a sigh. "You put the tape in and I'll go get more soda and chips"

"I don't want anything diet" Xander called out to Buffy's retreating form as he put the first tape in the VCR. "And I put those dips you bought in the refrigerator"

"Do you want anything else?" Buffy called back.

"Nah". Xander grabbed the remote off the floor just before he sat back on the couch, settling himself back and kicking his feet onto the coffee table.

A couple of minutes later Buffy reappeared and rolled her eyes again when she saw Xander. "You've really got this loafing thing down haven't you?" she said, handing him a can of Coke.

Xander shrugged, smiling. "Sofa, TV and food… it's like my natural habitat".

Buffy sat back down next to Xander, settling the bowl of tortilla chips on her lap. "Whilst mine is midnight in a graveyard with a stake and crucifix". Buffy kicked her feet up next to Xander's. "I got me a dangerous habitat"

"Oh I don't know Buff. Get trapped in one of those folding couches, a person could be there for days before anyone finds them"

"Death by upholstery"

"Horrible way to go"

They sat in silence for a couple of moments as the movie got started.

Buffy broke the silence first. "D'ya think I'm taller than Michael J Fox?"

"Everyone's taller than you. Ow". Xander rubbed the spot on his thigh where Buffy had smacked him. "Well they are," he added weakly.

"Just shut up and watch the film Xander"

"I just love it when you get bossy"


It was two thirds of the way through the second film when Xander felt a weight against his shoulder. He cast his eyes down and found that it was Buffy's head and that she appeared to be asleep.

"Great" Xander said softly. He tried nudging Buffy's head gently back upward with his shoulder, but she seemed content to stay where she was. Xander took the bowl of chips off Buffy's lap and set it on the end table beside his end of the couch.

Buffy still didn't stir. She had her arms folded loosely across her chest and when Xander moved to get the remote to turn the volume down, Buffy fell a little more against him.

"What am I a pillow now?" Xander murmured. He tried shifting her again, but a small frown appeared on Buffy's face when she got moved. Xander knew he was going to get a dead arm soon if he didn't move either Buffy or his arm, and Buffy seemed happy where she was, so Xander gently prised his arm from between himself and Buffy and raised it, slipping it over her shoulder.

Xander looked at her again and a smile pulled on his lips when he saw that the frown had disappeared from Buffy's face. "Happy now huh?" he said softly "Yeah, well so long as you don't drool you can stay"


(Two weeks later. Midnight)

Sean couldn't believe it. Two weeks had passed and still no sign of Buffy and Xander leaping out of Doug and Rosa Delamere's cosy little lives, even though they had both been successful in seeing that the disks didn't get stolen.

It was beginning to bug him.

Especially as it didn't seem to bug Buffy and Xander. In fact, they didn't seem bothered by it in the slightest.

Their days were spent relaxing by the pool, playing tennis, making full use of the gym facilities, flicking through the multitude of cable channels on the disgustingly huge TV, listening to music or watching videos. Any other time they got between those activities, barring mealtimes, was spent with them both talking, usually about nothing, sometimes about people and the things they missed back home. Whatever they talked about though, Sean noticed, Buffy and Xander made sure they didn't bring each other down. Most of all though, he noticed just how much more comfortable they seemed with each other - it wasn't often that they were apart… and if Sean didn't know better he could have sworn…

Right now, however, Sean noticed a slight disturbance on the force.

"Hey, did you just sneak three more men into North Africa?" Buffy exclaimed.

"It's my go" Xander stated. "And they're my extra ones for actually *having* Africa"

"But you said you weren't going to attack my Brazil" Buffy retaliated. "And now you're, like, all-all poised and stuff"

"I am so *not* *poised* Buff. And, anyway, how do I know you haven't got three of a kind with your cards and won't dump all your men in Brazil, huh?"

"Well look how many you've got in North Africa" Buffy pouted. "I'll have too!"

"Oh my God" Sean groaned softly. "Could this get any more pathetic?"

"*Hey*. We're doing this to stay awake". Xander shot a pointed look at Sean. "*You* said maybe if we *caught* these theives, we'd have more of a chance of getting *out* of here"

"And *I'm* beginning to doubt that they even exist anyway" Buffy added. "I haven't heard or seen anything of them and neither has Xander. All *we* know, is what *you* tell us"

"Well if you two managed to stay just that little more alert when these guys were around then maybe you would've" Sean shot back. "You must get so tired doing nothing all day"

"I'll have you know, it's very tiring" Buffy retorted, hoping that Xander wouldn't notice her sneaking an extra man into Alaska while his attention was on Sean. "We've done all that swimming" she continued "And there's the tennis, not to mention the horse riding" Buffy smiled at Xander when he turned back to her "That was fun. We'll have to do that again tomorrow"

"Oh, so you're not planning on catching these thieves then?" Sean said sarcastically.

Xander took the extra man back out of Alaska and Buffy pouted at him. Xander pulled a face back and looked to Sean. "Well when your little radar thing goes off" he said "And says they're here, then I'll get off my ass"

"Ditto what he said," Buffy added. "Maybe by that time, I might've actually won a game of Risk. And I don't care what you say Xander," Buffy said, taking hold of her dice "You're poised"

"Am not"

"Are too"

"This is bordering on the ridiculous"

"Is not" both Buffy and Xander shot back in unison to Sean.

Sean arched an eyebrow. "Really? Guys, you hid the disks in a packet of sanitary towels and stashed them at the back of a cupboard in the bathroom"

Buffy arched one of her own eyebrows in response. "And tell me that's not one of the last places you'd look". Buffy allowed herself a smug smile when Sean scowled slightly. "See? No guy is ever gonna look there anyway"

"I even avoid the aisle in the supermarket," Xander added.

There was a self-satisfied expression on Buffy's face as she looked at Sean. "See? Xander agrees with me too"

"Well maybe that's because I'm not under your thumb". Sean smiled a little too sweetly back at her.

"I am *not* under the thumb" Xander protested.

Sean kept smiling sweetly. "Then why are you ignoring her sneaking those men into Iceland?". Sean grinned wider when Xander opened his mouth to reply, but didn't say anything, Sean just received a scowl before Xander turned back to the game and Buffy's butter-wouldn't-melt expression.

Sean just smirked.


(One hour later)

"I hate… to… say this" Xander wheezed as he tried hard to get an entire sentence out. "But Sean… was right". Wheeze. "This is border-…-ing on the ridic-… -ulous". Xander stared down the drive that led from Doug and Rosa's house down to what passed as the main road.

"I think when…" Buffy struggled for breath like Xander, and sank forward as she stood, her hands resting just above her knees. "Sean said that, he… meant… us playing… games. But I can see… that attempting… to chase after-" Buffy stopped again as she managed to stand upright. "A high performance… sports car on foot… could be seen that way "

"I think it was a Porsche" Xander said, finally getting a complete sentence out. "Did you get the license plate?"

"Before or after they tried to run me down?"

"You OK?"

Buffy nodded. "I'm fine" she told him as he came over to her. "Nothing a stiff drink won't cure". As Xander nodded in agreement, Buffy looped her arm through his and they made their way back up the drive towards the house. "And I think it would've been nice of Sean to mention that they had tapped the phones"

"Yeah. They were probably high-tailing it out of there before you even put down the phone on the cops"

"Hmm" Buffy sighed as they took the few steps up towards the front door. "Such a shame we'll have to spend some more time here"

"Buffy Summers" Xander chided, a smile on his face as he closed and locked the door behind them both. "Are you telling me you're glad those guys got away?"

Buffy faced him and shrugged "Maybe…". Buffy flashed Xander an enigmatic smile before she headed off towards the den. Apparently Doug and Rosa only used their grander rooms for entertaining. The smaller room that they'd found off the conservatory was more cosy and more what they were used to. "Do you wanna grab something snack like from the kitchen?" she called over her shoulder to Xander.

Xander stood at the foot of the stairs. "You're not tired?" he called back.

Buffy stopped and turned around. "I still need that stiff drink" she replied, running a hand through her hair. "Wanna join me for a night cap?"

Xander didn't take long to think about it. "Sure. Why the hell not?". He started off towards the kitchen to grab some food. "But just one. I don't want this turning into some kind of drinking session"


(One hour later)

"No fair" Buffy whined. "You finished the bottle"

"You shouldn't have given it to me". Xander slid off the edge of the couch and onto the floor. He winced when he realised his ass was now in a half empty bowl of tortilla chips, although thankfully missing the dip. "Wonderful" Xander groaned as he lifted himself up and pushed the bowl out of his butt's way before sitting back down again - all to the sound of Buffy laughing.

"Serves you right" Buffy giggled "For drinking all my tequila". Buffy was sat cross-legged on a large cushion in the middle of the low coffee table that sat between the TV and the couch. She looked down at Xander who had now discarded the once full, large bottle of Mexico's finest and was currently brushing tortilla remnants off the rear of his jeans. "Now you have to get more snacks. You've had your ass all over them now"

"Well I would" Xander replied, his voice feeling thick in his throat as he spoke. //OK definitely drunk here. Probably not as much as Buffy, but still… drunk//. "But I can't remember where I put the food place"



"Well where ~hic~ did you see it last?"

"… Can't 'member"

"Poor baby". Buffy stretched sleepily and clambered off her perch, only to crawl over towards a cupboard a few feet away. "Xannndeerrrr" Buffy was whining again "I can't find the alc'hol"

"That's the TV"

"Well where's the alc'hol then?". Buffy sat back on her heels for a moment before she collapsed slowly onto her back, her knees bent upwards as her feet were flat on the floor. "You're hiding it" Buffy hiccuped "I knows you are"

"M'not hiding it" Xander protested. He shuffled his way over to her on his hands and knees and laid down on his back beside her, mirroring her position, although lying in the opposite direction. Xander's head was a few inches away from Buffy's and he turned towards her. He reached out an arm and started patting the floor the side of him that Buffy wasn't "I think there's some JD somewhere here. Got it". He held it up a two-thirds full bottle of Jack Daniel's. "Want some"

Buffy pulled a face and shook her head "Eww no. Only if you want me barfing all over you". Buffy turned her face towards him. "Ach'ly, I think if I drink 'nymore of an'thin', I'll be sick"

"So what d'ya wanna do now?"

"I dunno" Buffy rolled over on to her side and propped her head up with her hand, her elbow resting on the floor. "Just wanna stay here. I wanna be Rosa for a little bit longer"

"We'll have to go sometime y'know"

"But… if we stayed a little longer" Buffy's voice was softer, as if she expected anyone else to hear, "It wouldn't be *so* bad would it?"

Xander rolled onto his side so that he was facing Buffy, his head propped up on his hand. "Guess not" he replied "But Sean's people won't like it much"

"Tough" Buffy had a petulant look in her eyes. "They're the ~hic~ onesh who dragged us into this in the firsht place". Buffy hiccuped again. "I've been through 'nough as it is. They owe me a vacation. It's just not the one I wanted on the beach with the… the um…"

"Cabana boys?"

"Them. And cocktails"

"Well," Xander looked around. "We've got alc'hol so that's cocktails. Guess I'll have to do as cabana boy"

Buffy giggled. "I'd better tell you they're nekkid cabana boys in my dream"

"S'good job m'not 'shamed of my body". Xander grinned when Buffy giggled again. "S'nice to hear you laugh" he said. "You should do it more often"

"Haven't had musch of a chance to recently have I?" Buffy smiled a little sadly and cast her gaze down at the carpet. "'Specially not back home"

"They'll be fine y'know" Xander reached and took hold of Buffy's free hand that was now plucking at the thick carpet infront of his face. "I promise"

Buffy met his eyes and smiled. "I was getting mushy again wasn't I?"

"Little bit" Xander smiled back. He somehow managed a shrug. "Happens to me every now and again though, so don't worry 'bout it too musch"

Buffy gave a half nod of her head. "Promise not too". Buffy took her hand from Xander's and pushed some hair back off her face. "I think it makes it easier that these last two weeks have ~hic~ been pretty fantastic"

"Fantastic huh?"

"Mm hmm" Buffy nodded. "All good"

"Even without cabana boys?"

Buffy nodded with a smile. "You're a pretty darn tootin' subsewhasit"



"You're welcome" Xander smiled warmly. He sat up, sitting cross-legged n the floor, almost infront of Buffy. "Y'know you've made this a great time too"

"Aww that’s so sweet". Buffy reached up and ruffled Xander's hair. Rolling his eyes, Xander batted Buffy's hand away. "Wassa matter?" Buffy giggled again, reaching for his hair again. "Poor Xandie doesn’t wike it?"

Xander caught hold of her hand though and Buffy shrieked, trying to pull away when she saw the mischievous glint in Xander's eye. "Xand I swear". Buffy couldn't help but giggle as he tried to hoist her up. "I shwear if you even so musch as think about ticklin' me…"

"Aw c'mon Buffster" Xander had managed to get her at least up to her knees, still managing to keep hold of her wrist. "You agreed you needed to laugh more"

Buffy ducked out of range of Xander's other hand. "Not under torture though. *Hey* stop it… Xand… Ooh y'know, *fine*" Buffy matched Xander's playful glint "Two can play at this game. "Buffy ducked again out of the way of Xander's hand and managed to scoot under his defences and get a dig in his side.

"Hey!" Xander's voice came out as a half shriek as he automatically doubled over. He caught Buffy's hand with his free one as she tried to get him a second time, grinning smugly at Buffy who was now half sitting in his lap.

Buffy, who's arms were now being held out at either side of her, just rolled her eyes and smirked at Xander. "So how do you plan on tickling me now huh?"

"There is a flatal flaw, I'll admit that"

"So whadda we do now?"

"I'm open to suggeshtions"

"Ooh I know" Buffy's eyes sparkled. "We could drink more"

"I thought you said you'd be sick"

"I feel better now. I want tequila" she pouted. "Buffy want drink"

"No. You'll be sick. I know you. And stop pouting and doing that quiv'ring thing with your lip". Xander laughed when Buffy stuck her tongue out at him. "The wind blows you'll stay like that". He dropped Buffy hands and adjusted his legs so that Buffy shifted into a more comfortable position in his lap. "And we're s'posed to be looking after each other 'member? That means I don't want you getting ill"

"Oh… well…" Buffy searched for a response. "Well… you can't have 'nymore either 'cos I don't want you getting sick 'n stuff". Buffy smiled. "See? This is me looking after you"

"You're doin' a wonderful job"

Buffy beamed. "I am?"

Xander nodded and then had to steady himself when Buffy suddenly threw her hands around his neck and pulled him into a hug. "Aww you're the nicest guy ever"

"S'nice. Thank you. Can you let me breathe now?"

"Oop sorry". Buffy relaxed her hold on Xander and pulled back, her arms though still around his neck. "Better?"

"'Specially now I know you're looking after me"

"Ditto. But I'm a handful. My mom said so. So you've got a big responsabibble on your hands with me"

"Responsabibble?". Xander managed to hold back his snigger for all of two seconds.

Buffy started laughing too, although not as hard as Xander. She dropped her arms from around his neck when he brought one hand up to his mouth to try and smother his guffaws.

"It wasn't that funny" Buffy chuckled. "Although it's good to hear you laugh too"

Xander took a couple of deep breaths, his laughter calming down. He then ran both his hands though his hair, before letting his hands lightly encircle Buffy's waist. "Yeah?"

Buffy nodded, giving him a warm smile. "Yeah". Buffy reached out and absently brushed a lock of hair back behind Xander's ear and then for a moment everything seemed to slow, both allowing themselves to be caught in each others gazes for just that little bit more than was usual for people who claimed to be just friends.

Buffy was the first to draw herself away, deciding to treat that moment as if it were just something ordinary. She smiled "Wanna watch TV?"

"Sure" Xander smiled back "Sounds good"

"OK. Let's see what's on". Buffy moved from Xander's lap to the spot on the floor beside him that wasn't covered in bits of tortilla chips. She grabbed the TV remote and turned the television on, absently flicking through the channels. "Oh hey look" Buffy went back one channel. "Grosse Point Blank has just started. We're watching this" she turned her face up to him "No arguments"

"You just want to drool over that Cusack guy"

Buffy kicked his foot with hers playfully. "Just shut up and watch the movie"

Xander shook his head lightly and settled back. He cast a furtive glance at Buffy as she became a little more intent of watching the screen; the pale blue light emanating from it flickered over her features. He watched her for a few seconds more in silence before turning to his attention to the TV.


(Two days later. Early afternoon)

Another uneventful two days had passed which was just the way Buffy and Xander liked it. Sean on the other hand was still despairing with their less than enthusiastic approach to catch the men that were after the information stored on the two floppy disks, but both Buffy and Xander claimed that there wasn't a whole lot they could do and it wasn't Buffy's fault that she tripped over a bump (that then disappeared) in the carpet whilst she was chasing after the thieves who had, once again, escaped with nothing.

And Buffy knew that if she couldn't be back home with her family and friends then this was the next best place she'd rather be.

So, in a sort of compromise with Sean, both she and Xander had decided to be a little bit more constructive with their time. Deciding to use the time to share their skills with one another, they'd flipped a coin to see who got to go first. Buffy had won and had decided to teach Xander Tai Chi. Or at least the basics of it, thinking that they could work on it still when they got back home and that it would also keep them both fit in case they got into more situations like they'd already experienced.

Buffy loved playing teacher. Xander was a quick learner and he seemed to make it more fun than when she did this with Giles. Xander was a great person to spend time with. She loved the way they were talking about everything under the sun, loved the way he kept her in check when she got home sick, and loved the way he could just smile at her and she'd instantly feel better.

//Because that's what friends are for// Buffy smiled to herself. She sat in the large room that Doug and Rosa had converted into a gym. All the equipment was around the sides of the room so the two large non-slip mats could be set out in the centre of the floor.

Then she heard a noise behind her and turned around to see Xander, just clad in loose grey sweatpants, enter the gym. Buffy allowed herself a spilt second of ogling. //After all, I am human//.

"Sorry I'm a little late" Xander apologised, "I thought I'd better shower after being in the pool. I think the filter has packed up and there's some stuff floating around in it. I'll check it later"

"OK, but just note now, that is *not* one of your many handyman skills I care to learn. For one thing, I don't have a pool"

"Noted" Xander replied with a smile. "I'd offer a crash course on quippy things to say when a big three horned demon is beating on you, but you've got that down. Unless you want shelving, I'm pretty much out"

"Xand, you're plenty talented. I'm sure there's lots of things you could teach me"

"Oh definitely" Xander answered, a hint of a smile on his lips as he lowered his voice conspiratorially. "But our relationship isn't on that level"

"Y'know, with that ego, I'm surprised you got through the door"

"But there's also a reason why I have that ego" Xander grinned. "So, where do you want me today?"

"Here's fine" Buffy replied. "OK. We'll start with the breathing exercises. Do you remember them from yesterday?"

"They're the ones where I have to take air in and out of my lungs aren't they?" Xander joked. Buffy swatted him on the arm. "Sorry" Xander look a little chagrined. "I remember. It's just…" he pretended to get emotional. "It's only my second time. I was a Chi virgin yesterday, remember?"

"I know" Buffy pretended to sympathise. "Such a sweet cherry to take too"

Xander put a hand on her shoulder and his other on his chest. "I'm just glad it was you"

Buffy allowed herself to smile. "Let’s just get started now OK?"

Xander smiled back. "Sure". Xander took his hand from her shoulder; he dropped his arms to his sides. "But, honestly" he added "Just so you know, you *are* a good teacher. We should've done this earlier"

"We should've" Buffy agreed. "Come on, we haven't got all day y'know"


(Forty minutes later)

Buffy was starting to wind them both down and Xander decided that it was about time he fixed all his concentration back onto what Buffy was trying to teach him. And not on how incredibly formfitting the white Lycra vest that Buffy was wearing was. Or the fact that her body formed these perfect lines when she was moving and…

//OK, stop it now Xander. This is just getting ridiculous. It's that thing with the legs all over again.//

"So… come on-" Buffy started and brushed back some errant hair from her face, then she noted the extra concentration on Xander’s face. "Uh Xand? You can relax during this y’know? It’s not illegal"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Sorry"

Buffy gave Xander an odd look as he came to a standstill the same time as she did. "What were you thinking about?"

"Oh, nothing" Xander replied glibly.

Buffy gave him a look that said 'Yeah right', but she let it pass. "Anyway, as I was saying," she continued "I was gonna ask if you minded if I hit the sauna first seeing as how you hogged it yesterday"

"I was *not* hogging it" Xander protested "I just lost track of time"

This time Buffy said it. "Yeah right. I thought I was gonna have to come in and drag you out before you sweated to death or something"

"Can you do that?"

"Well I knew I might have to watch where I put my hands" Buffy replied "I didn't want to be grabbing anything and you meant sweat to death didn't you?"

Xander nodded "Unless you wanted to grapple with me naked" Xander paused briefly "I meant me naked not you because that would be wrong and actually me being naked would also be wrong I should just stop now shouldn't I?"

"I know I should really ask if this is a bad time" another voice came from the entrance to the gym, interrupting the twosome's babbling. "But this is fairly important"

Xander cursed inwardly when he saw that it was Doug's dad that had spoken. The man who had caused the only black spot since Buffy and Xander had been here. The man had been calling nearly every other day until finally, a week ago, Buffy had thought of a solution and spoke to Vaughn herself telling him the "truth" that she and 'Doug' were working on their marriage and that if he wanted any grandchildren at all he'd better stop calling. It had appeared to have worked.

"No, no. It's fine," Buffy said, glad for the distraction from thoughts of grappling with naked Xander. "We were just finishing up here anyway"

"What can we do for you?" Xander asked, noticing out of the corner of his eye that Sean had deigned them with his presence.

"I've been talking to Murphy" Vaughn replied, taking a few more steps into the room, before he glanced at Buffy, as if wondering if he should continue with her there.

"It's fine," Xander said, reading Vaughn's mind.

Vaughn gave him a quick nod then spoke. "Those reports on the new design for Q-Pro have become knowledge at Leicester"

Sean spoke quickly "Murphy is the contact at Leicester, a rival firm to yours-Doug's"

"So that's not good news then" Xander stated the obvious. "So what do we do?" he continued, hoping that either Sean of Vaughn would have an answer that he didn't.

"Murphy said that old Frank Leicester wanted to know what was in them" Vaughn replied. "You know they've almost caught up with us with some of the aspects of the system. If they can get hold of anything that'll put them ahead of us…" Vaughn trailed off, shaking his head "It could mean millions for the company"

"Just nod and agree" Sean told Xander helpfully. "What?" he added when Xander shot him a glancing look "He's telling you everything anyway"

"And I'll say it again" Xander said "That's not good. And I'll say this again too. What do we do?"

"Um, just throwing this in" Buffy interjected "But what exactly would this Leicester guy do to get hold of these, uh, reports?" Buffy shot a pointed look at Xander "He wouldn't… say… try and get hold of them… illegally… would he?"

"I wouldn’t put it past him" Vaughn replied before Xander could get a word in. "Although Murphy didn't say anything like that. Just that they knew we had them. Murphy didn't know about the information we got from Moscow either". Vaughn looked at Xander "Doug, I tried to get into our computer files at the office but Kate, who I realise now you *did* actually hire for her brains, said only you had access to those files. Are they safe on that system? I know you've had attempts from hackers before"

"Which is why you put fake reports up on the system and have copies of everything here" Sean told Xander.

"The disks" Buffy murmured. Sean nodded at her. "Go get them. I think if Vaughn takes them" Sean started tapping away at Gizmo's keys "Then we might stand a chance of getting you out of here… bingo" Sean looked back up at Buffy "Eighty seven percent chance you'll go if Vaughn takes them. He has higher security" he added.

Buffy hesitated before she nodded and took her leave of the three men. Xander meanwhile was relaying the information from Sean back to Vaughn.

"… We've had incidents here," Xander was saying, "The other night there were people in the house. We tried to catch them but… no luck"

"Did you call the police?"

"Nothing was taken"

"But with *this* information here" Vaughn gave Xander an incredulous look. "You *should* have called the police"

"They *didn't* take anything" Xander reiterated firmly. "Nothing was damaged except for maybe a couple of flowerbeds"

"*Doug* I *don't* understand you sometimes-"

"Well *I'm* not *asking* you too" Xander kept his gaze firm. "I *wasn't* *worried*"

"*I'm* worried" Vaughn shot back. "I still have interests in this business, whether you do know or not. I *really* hope you're enjoying your time at home with Rosa-"

"I am!". Xander cursed inwardly, never meaning to raise his voice. "Sorry" he made sure he kept his gaze on Vaughn "But I *am* happy here. I've had a great time"

"Me too" Buffy said as she came back into the room. She smiled softly at Xander "It's been great". Buffy dropped the smile for Vaughn though as she held out the disks she'd just retrieved. "Here. If you're that worried about them, why don't you take them. They're not safe at your system at work. Which is why the ones there are fake. Doug's idea" she added when Vaughn raised an eyebrow. "You keep going on about your security" //Well I hope he has// "They'll be better off with you"

Vaughn looked between both Buffy and Xander. "These are the only copies?"

"Safe enough on these" Xander replied. "They're encrypted". Xander ignored the 'Huh?' look Sean gave him.

Vaughn took the disks from Buffy. "They'll be safe with me". Vaughn looked at Xander "Nice thinking about having false information. Well, I'll uh…" he trailed off a little when he noticed Buffy slip her arm around Xander's waist and her expectant look. "…Leave you two it then shall I?" he finished.

Xander put his arm around Buffy's shoulder "Well there were some other… things I had planned… with my wife"

Vaughn coughed. "Yes, I remember Rosa telling me about it on the telephone" he lightly waved the disks at them both. "I'll just get on with these then. Nice to see you both". Vaughn cleared his throat and made a hasty exit.

Buffy tilted her head up to look at Xander and smiled sadly. "I guess the honeymoon is over". She glanced at Sean. "So are we out of here?"

"Well…" Sean was fully engrossed in whatever information 'Gizmo' was spouting at him. "That seemed the most scenario likely to do it… but, um" he looked at them both "Well, you're still here"

"You don't say" Buffy said dryly. She extricated herself from under Xander's arm, giving him a pat on the small of his back as she walked over to where she'd put a towel. "Hey, does that mean I can still use the sauna?" Buffy turned back to Sean and looked at him hopefully.

Sean looked at her exasperatedly. Xander just laughed. "Buffy" Sean said, going over to her "I realise that you've grown attached to this place, but" he stopped "Oh for God's sake this is just pointless, I know it. Buffy, go take your sauna"

Buffy grinned back at him "There you go that wasn't so hard was it". Buffy looped the towel around her neck and bounced her way over to Xander. "So are you going to do something constructive?"

"Well I'm rethinking fixing the pool filter, seeing as we might leap out of here any second. But if we don't, I'm thinking… food?"

"Simple but good" Buffy replied then started out the door. "Save some for me would you?"

Sean waited until Buffy was out of earshot. "She's not going to be a happy bunny when she has to go is she?" he said to Xander.

"Maybe if she knew she was going home" Xander suggested "You might see the smile stay"

"We're still working on that Xander" Sean responded "We're getting there. But, no," Sean added, answering the question in Xander's eyes. "I can't tell you how soon"

"But you're working on it yeah?" Xander sighed and headed out of the door.


A couple of minutes later after Sean had departed to try and discern what the hell was going on, Xander had his head stuck in the deep freeze looking for a pizza of some description that he could defrost.

He was left alone in relative silence, so it was unsurprising that when he heard his name being shouted, Xander started and ended up smacking his head hard on the edge of the door.

"Ow! *Ow* Jesus *Christ* that hurt!" Xander pressed his palm to his head and backed away from the freezer.

"Oh my God Xander I'm sorry!" Buffy's voice was filled with concern as she rushed over to him "I didn't mean to make you jump, I'm sorry. Are you OK? Oh God" Buffy's words tumbled out hurriedly as she ushered Xander over to a low stool a few feet away. "I'm sorry. I changed my mind about the sauna 'cos I just got hungry and thought I'd join you instead, I didn't know where you were then I saw your ass sticking out and I just yelled. I'm sorry. Are you bleeding?" Buffy tried to prise Xander's hand away from his head gingerly " Xander I'm so sorry, let me see OK?"

"Buffy, it's OK. I'll live" Xander let Buffy examine his head "It's OK, just stop saying sorry, you're beginning to scare me" Xander smiled to reassure her. Then he winced as Buffy's fingers hit a tender spot.

"Sorry" Buffy smiled apologetically. "Y'know, I think you will live" Buffy moved to stand infront of him "Just a bump"

"A big bump" Xander pointed out, trying to look through his hair at her. "Is it bleeding?"

"Well if you didn't have so much hair to get out of the way to see" Buffy began, brushing said hair apart on Xander's scalp "I'd be able to tell you. But no" she said, "I don't think its bleeding". Buffy probed a bit more and winced herself along with Xander when she caught the bump again.

"Sorry, right?" Xander still managed to smile.

"Sorry" she agreed. Buffy drew back so she could look at him. "Do you want some ice?"

Xander shook his head lightly "I'll manage"

"Sure?" she said, absently stroking his hair back into place.

"It's fine"

Buffy smiled softly and her hand cupped the side of his face, her thumb brushing more hair from his forehead before it travelled absently down to his cheek. Buffy's thumb stilled when she met Xander's gaze and she felt her heartbeat quicken. Her breath caught for a second before she quickly averted her gaze, not wanting to get drawn into his chocolate pools. Buffy dropped her hand from his face and studied the floor for a few seconds before she felt Xander's fingers underneath her chin, tilting her head back up to him.

Their eyes met for again for a moment and then lips met lips in a kiss neither of them remembered leaning in for.

But all they had for a brief moment, was the feel of each other's lips pressed softly against their own before a flash of white light streaked with blue engulfed them both.


Xander started when he suddenly found himself no longer attached to Buffy's lips, but instead found himself seated at a large, oak desk that was covered in pieces of paper - documents Xander realised when his eyes adjusted to the dim light, the only lamp turned on in the room being the bankers lamp on the desk.

The desk he sat at was just off centre in the study he was in, the walls of which were lines with bookcases, all filled with old and dusty volumes of some text or other. The only window in the room was behind Xander and it was framed with plain brown and slightly worn curtains. A few end tables were against some of the bookcases; one had a dying potted fern, one had a stack of telephone directories on it; two had piles of newer looking books piled on them; and one other hand a framed picture of possibly some one's family. In the one place on all four walls that wasn't a door or a window, was a black, rickety looking filing cabinet.

One thing that wasn't in the room was Buffy.

Xander pushed his chair back and got up from the desk. "Buffy?" he called out, softly. "Buff?"

There was no answer.

Xander moved from behind the desk and headed towards the door. He tried the handle and the door opened easily, leading him on to a dark corridor. Xander left the study door open to give him some light as he walked cautiously out, trying to adjust his eyes and see where he was.

He carried on a few more steps, studying the walls to see if he could make out a light switch, but had no luck. All he could see was the peeling wallpaper. "Buffy?" he called softly again. He waited a few moments for an answer, but when there was none he tried calling Sean.

There was no answer from the hologram either.

Xander continued along the dark corridor. The light from the study was quickly fading and Xander couldn't see any light further up.


No one answered.



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