The Xander Zone, Part 2

The backstory – just how did Buffy and Xander connect?

Author’s Notes: This is pretty much AU, though it does take off from canon.See previous parts for notes.

Rating: Adult; explicit sex

Disclaimer: Own nothing. All belongs to Joss, ME, Fox,

Pairing: Initially B/Other, ultimately B/A.

Distribution: My site, EverySixSeconds; sites currently with permission to host my fics; all others please ask.

Originally posted: 10.9.2003

Sunnydale, Six Months Earlier…

“You got to be kiddin’ me.” Xander Cage braced both hands on the balcony railing as he looked down at a petite blonde sitting at a table near the dance floor, watching as her friends danced.

“Have I ever made jokes with you about serious business?” Augustus Gibbons questioned as he adjusted the cuffs of his sleeves. He felt somewhat conspicuous in the dance club, clearly out of place by both his age and his dress in the Sunnydale club known as The Bronze.

“No, but there’s a first time for everything…” X, as he was known to his friends, turned around and leaned back on the railing with his elbows. “Although, I did think you were pulling my leg when you sent me after that first demon in Tajikistan.”

“And now you know that demons and vampires actually do exist.” The director of the NSA replied with bored indifference, his gaze roving the crowded club speculatively.

“Yeah. The last coupla months in Cartegena sort of proved that,” Xander replied with a smirk.

The outskirts of the Columbian capital had become the hunting ground for a several groups of vampires. The eldest vampire, Arturo, had been young when turned and abandoned by his sire, so the typical vampire familial pattern had broken down – there was no strong, single leader, no defined boundaries of acceptable behavior, as much as either existed among vampires at any rate. Instead, they had splintered into several smaller warring groups that were hell-bent on exceeding the other in destruction, death and mayhem. Family members of the recently turned were particularly vulnerable to the other groups as forms of retaliation, as they were either murdered or turned and forced to serve those that had once been their enemy. X and a small team of highly trained specialists were dispatched to the area, where, after almost two months they were finally able to wipe out the various vampire nests.

Xander stayed on for an additional couple of weeks, tracking and finally killing a Manikesh demon that had been living in the area undetected thanks to the vampire activity. It had been the first demon expedition where he had, at the urging of his Internet video producer, taken his small video crew. Augustus had chastised him about that later, but hadn’t explicitly forbid him from doing it again.

“Do let me assure you that werewolves, ghosts and other creatures of the night exist as well, along with hundreds or thousands of types of demons we’ve yet to identify. Santa Clause and Bigfoot, however, do not.”

“Okay. So I believe you.” Xander turned and glanced down at the girl again. “But, I’m finding this whole Slayer business a little hard to swallow. And that’s even without the being brought back from the dead part.”

“Let me get this straight, you believe in ghosts, werewolves and vampires, but you do not believe that there could be such a person as a Slayer to oppose them?”

“Not one that looks like that, no. Someone a little more… sturdy… you know, more of Xena type, broader shoulders, square jaw. Probably even would have that hair on the lip thing goin’ on,” X replied flatly, his deep voice sounding like a rumble. He watched as the petite blonde came to her feet and moved across the crowded dance floor with a purpose.

Augustus paused, a fleeting smile crossing his lips. “I’d take her on a money line bet over your punk ass any day.”

“You’re confidence in me is overwhelming.” Xander sighed dramatically, noting that the young woman had gone through the back door and into the alley. He rolled back around to face the man  who had been his direct manager for almost four years now, since his first undercover assignment for the NSA.

“My confidence in you is why you’re here.” The scarred black man turned and walked toward the balcony stairs. Several pairs of eyes followed them as they made their way outside, albeit for different reasons. Augustus Gibbons, with his heavily scarred cheek and dark blue wool suit, looked decidedly government employed and out of place in the hip club. X, with his tattoos, shaven head and large muscular frame, attracted attention for an entirely different reason… much of it from the female population, although he seemed largely oblivious to the attention stirred in his wake.

Once outside, the two men walked a short distance to the Espresso Pump. Augustus ordered two Café Americanos and they took a table in the far corner. Out of habit, they sat with their backs to the wall looking out into the center of the coffee shop and on to the street.

“In the past two months, there have been four break-ins in the holdings that once belonged to an operation that was referred to simply as The Initiative. A great deal of The Initiative’s work was around the domestication of demons, turning the creatures into harmless shells of their former selves. Other projects were, well, let’s just call those unsanctioned.” The NSA director took a sip of his coffee before continuing, “The majority of the intelligence was believed to have been moved to another facility when the Initiative was disbanded, but quite frankly, they were sloppy and irresponsible.”

“And?” Xander’s gaze flicked absently over the patrons of the coffee shop before dropping to glance at the dark rich brew in his cup.

“And we need to find out what was of such interest to prompt four thefts,” Augustus paused thoughtfully. “One, we can understand. Maybe it’s just kids fooling around, maybe it’s just a recon to check things out. But four? Four means that not only did they find something worth stealing, but it was interesting enough to come back.”

“So you want me to find what’s been gafted.” X finished as he lounged back in his chair, setting aside the cup of coffee that he had decided appeared to be just short of road repair tar. “And who’s behind it.”

“That’s the first part of this little assignment. The second has to do with the Slayer herself.” The NSA director said as he glanced at Xander speculatively.

The young agent shifted his position, one arm stretched on the back of the chair next to him. His casual demeanor hid his interest – from everyone except those who knew him well, like Augustus.

The scarred government agent smiled slightly. “Let’s just say that it was more than a little surprise to see her back on the job after reports of her death. Resurrections, I can assure you, are rare despite the magic that proliferates in this rather obscure aspect of society. We’d like you to keep an eye on her, see how she’s handling things. Make sure she’s adjusting properly.”

“Why?” X questioned bluntly. He wasn’t opposed to getting to know the young woman at all… in fact he rather liked the idea. He just didn’t like the idea that it was part of his job.

“Why? Because helping her out helps us out.” Augustus tapped the table lightly then took another sip of his coffee. “We don’t have to deploy a team in this area when we have Ms. Summers on duty. She’s efficient, capable and, perhaps more importantly, appears to be morally incorruptible. Without her handling the preternatural as well as the less supernatural creatures in this area, we would have more messes on our hands than we could possibly deal with. Despite what you might think, the NSA only has a few highly trained specialists that can and do what you do.”

Standing, the NSA director finished with a smile. “Besides, I think you’ll find that you can learn a thing or two from Ms. Summers.”

Several images of the beautiful blonde drifted through his mind before X smiled. “You’re not wrong about that.”

After several days of following the Slayer covertly, Xander had to admit he was more than impressed. Her fighting skills were well honed, her moves strong, lithe and graceful and more often than not, placed with perfect accuracy. He also noticed though, that there was an underlying abandon in her attacks and that she took more risks than he thought necessary, as though she no longer cared whether she lived or died.

That observation, combined with the melancholy expression all too often on her face when she thought no one was looking, made it all too obvious to him that she was hiding her unhappiness. Her isolation and sadness stirred something in Xander’s heart that he thought had been untouchable since Yelena’s disappearance almost two years ago. It was also something that he recognized from experience.

Just after Buffy stabbed the scaly lizard-like creature in the throat, Xander came out of his hiding place on the outskirts of the small clearing. The clapping of his hands echoed loudly in the stillness of the night.

“Stalking is illegal in pretty much all 50 states,” Buffy said over her shoulder. She hadn’t turned around, currently engrossed in determining what to do with the body of the demon now prostrate at her feet.

“What makes you think I’m a stalker?” X questioned with a smile in his voice was he came closer to where Buffy stood. He surveyed the demon briefly before turning his gaze to her profile.

“Well, let’s see… How about the fact that you’ve been following me for days? Or that I’ve seen you at the Bronze for the last few nights? Oh, and then you turn up here… out in the middle of nowhere where I just happen to be.” Buffy finally turned to look at the man that had walked up behind her so quietly. Her highly attuned Slayer senses had told her that he was there, but otherwise he had moved soundlessly through the tall grass. That was unusual, particularly for such a large man. “I may be blonde, but I am not going to buy the idea that you and I have the same schedule.”

“You caught me.” Xander open his arms playfully, holding them out to his sides. “The question is, what are you going to do with me?”

Rolling her eyes, Buffy reached down to grab the demon’s claw like feet. Without a word, Xander grabbed the other half of the creature and helped her toss the body in a small ravine to the left of a thick growth of trees.

“Thanks.” The Slayer said brusquely, wiping her hands on her pants as she turned on her heel and began to walk away. It was only her curiosity at why the guy hadn’t reacted in surprise on seeing the body of a dead demon that prompted her to continue the conversation with him.  Still, she braced herself in case she would need to go on the offensive.  “Now, maybe you’ll tell me what you want.”

“Maybe I just want to talk to you,” X said good-naturedly, falling in step behind her.

“I’m not interested.” The diminutive blonde tossed out as she pushed her way through the shrubs surrounding the small meadow.

“Even in a conversation?” Xander questioned, dodging the swinging brush as he followed her. “How about a cup of coffee?”

“I don’t think so.” Pausing, the diminutive Slayer turned and glanced warily up at the man behind her. He wasn’t classically handsome, yet he was undeniably attractive.  He was also tall and obviously powerfully built, the black thermal style shirt stretched tightly across his broad shoulders and thick chest.  His eyes were deep set and serious as he looked down at her.

“I’m harmless.” Cocking his head to the side, he smiled. He was pleased by her interested albeit subtle perusal – it was at least a step in the right direction.

“You expect me to believe that?” She arched one dainty eyebrow skeptically, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I’m mostly harmless. Is that better?” His rich deep voice rumbled from his chest and despite her reservations, Buffy felt a spark of interest as the sound rolled over her like warm honey.  That deep voice definitely added to his attraction.

She tossed her hair lightly, an almost flirtatious gesture that had rarely been seen since her high school days. Pursing her lips slightly, she studied him in the dim moonlight for the space of a few seconds. “I don’t think I believe that either.”

As Xander studied her face, he debated his options, the possible things he could tell her that might eventually win her trust or, at the very least, provoke her interest enough so that she would continue to talk to him. Finally he settled on the truth.

“Look, you know something about The Initiative and I could use your help.” His expression was serious all teasing and pretext gone.

Her expression wary, Buffy looked over the man in front of her again. He looked nothing like anyone she had every seen in the Initiative, much less anyone with government or military connections. Still, it never hurt to be cautious. She’d learned long ago that things weren’t always what they appeared.

“Who are you?” She asked directly, her eyes intent on his as if determined to see the truth through his eyes.

“Name’s Xander. Xander Cage. But my friends call me X.” X extended his hand in greeting, as if they were meeting at a more formal social occasion rather than on a dark Sunnydale street. “I’m here to do a little clean up and check out the recent thefts. My boss and the other government types he works for don’t want to see their research fall into the wrong hands. Something I think you might agree with.”

“You work for the government?” The petite blonde questioned skeptically, both eyebrows lifting in surprise.

“I know it’s kinda hard to believe, but yeah.”

After several long seconds, Buffy hesitantly extended her hand. “I’m Buffy. Buffy Summers.” She wasn’t sure why she thought she could trust him, but she did.

They talked as they walked, Xander telling Buffy what little he knew about the break-ins at the Initiative’s facilities and she in turn told him what she knew about the clandestine organization and their operations in Sunnydale.

Buffy was surprised and a little flattered when he insisted on walking her home, smiling slightly when he teased her that it was for his own protection. She doubted that a man that was a big and looked as intimidating as Xander had to worry much about, even in a town as full of demons and other riff-raff as Sunnydale.

“You’ve been a big help, thanks,” Xander said as they neared her porch. “It’ll save me some leg work, no doubt.”

“Sure,” Buffy replied softly. It had been a long time since she had felt so comfortable with anyone. Since her return, her friends had treated her differently, as if she were fragile or perhaps not completely competent. Spike seemed understanding enough, but Buffy knew that his underlying motives were selfish and controlling. Xander… X… just made her feel… normal.

Her hand was on the doorknob when she heard his voice again, calling out to her from where he stood halfway down the walk toward the street.

“I was thinkin’.” X began almost hesitantly, “If you’re interested, maybe you could help me out. You know, check this out with me.”  Sensing her hesitation, he winked and gave her a roguish smile, “I could really use the extra muscle.”

At her door, Buffy smiled, a rare, genuine smile. And after a few seconds, she nodded.

Xander ordered a cranberry juice and club soda then made his way through the crowd to take a position along one side where he could easily see the door. As he watched for a familiar blonde head, he thoughtfully contemplated the events of two nights prior.

He and Buffy had been following footprints in a remote part of the woods when they were ambushed by a group of three vampires. He managed to take out two of them before Buffy reached him, giving her a first glimpse of his fighting skills. She had been sufficiently impressed with his expertise, as well as the demon knowledge he had shown her over the course of the previous two weeks, and had told him so. He, in response, had kissed her.

She returned his kiss hesitantly at first, then with gradually more ardor until they were both breathless and panting. Several heated kisses later, his forehead resting against hers, he had offered to accompany her on future patrols – especially if they ended so pleasantly – and Buffy had jerked away from him as if she had been stabbed.

Her eyes wild with panic, she had told him that she didn’t need his help and that she no longer wanted to see him. He didn’t need her help any more with the Initiative so there was no reason for them to see each other any longer. She had turned and run from him then, disappearing into the dark night.

So Xander had given her space. If he had learned anything about Buffy Summers in the last two weeks, it was that she was not only beautiful, but intelligent, funny and possessed with an incredibly keen sense of intuition. She was also extremely gun-shy of anything that seemed to come too close to touching her emotionally. He surmised that she had been badly hurt and rather than risk any such pain again, she had simply closed herself off.

Tonight, however, he was going to find her. He had given her enough space.

Buffy slipped through the backdoor of the Bronze, having completed a sweep of the alley behind the club as part of her usual pattern. She took a seat at one of the small tables across from the dance floor, her eyes scanning the crowd for her friends even as her thoughts were preoccupied.

She felt that she had to pay her dues tonight and see her friends, since she had admittedly avoided Willow and Xander, as well as Dawn, several times over the last couple of weeks in order to spend time with X. It hadn’t taken her long to start calling the NSA agent by the abbreviated name written in tattooed ink across the back of his neck; Buffy wanting in all ways to differentiate him from her high school pal by the same name.

X talked to her as if he valued and respected her thoughts and opinions; he treated her like a partner or equal. Buffy sighed softly. It had been so long since anyone had treated her that way. Even Angel rarely had…

Shifting her thoughts abruptly away from her vampire ex, Buffy mulled over the short time that she had known X. The night after he introduced himself to her, she had shown him around Sunnydale – starting with the Initiative’s former base of operations. They spent many hours searching through much of the debris together, exchanging theories on what the thieves would have taken and following up on the few small leads that they found. Under the guise of additional research, they met for dinner or coffee, occasionally spending hours in conversation about anything but the Initiative or the break-ins. Gradually she found herself opening up to him, sharing stories about slaying and demons. In turn, Xander told her about the world of extreme sports and his travels around the world now as a some sort of government operative.

But then… then he had kissed her.  Feelings sparked inside her that she thought had been long gone.  And then on top of that when he had offered to patrol with her… she had panicked. It was too much, too close, too soon.

A small noise in front of her brought Buffy’s head up with a jerk. Her gaze landed on the man currently occupying her thoughts. Her heart skipped a beat, forcing her to acknowledge her interest in the impossibly large, tattooed man with the shaven head now standing in front of her.

“I may be outta line here.” Xander said thoughtfully, shrugging his broad shoulders, “but there are better ways to deal with your issues than closing yourself off.”

“You are way out of line,” Buffy replied, a niggling bit of attraction along with an unexpected sense of pleasure moving through her at seeing him again and hearing the deep rumble of his voice. She had to admit she was pleased that he had sought her out.  But to what end?  Relationships – of any kind – were hard and cold and painful things to be avoided. The warmth that flickered in her expression faded abruptly. “Besides, you don’t know anything about my issues.”

“No, maybe not. But I’m not going anywhere soon.” Pulling out a chair, X spun it around and sat down with the back facing the table. Crossing his arms in front of him, he leaned forward. “So why don’t you tell me?”