Title: Home and Heart A Buffy the Vampire Slayer story. By: Ghostrider Summary: What happens when your heart is ripped apart by those you love? A slayerette's return after years of absence causes old wounds to be ripped open. Rating: R

Author's Note: This story takes place approximately 8 years after the events in the this season's last episode. Personally, I don't like the ending, it's too convenient. So I rewrote it to what I would have wanted to see.

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, Fox, Mutant Enemy, the WB and UPN own the characters.

Chapter 14

*** 0034 AM, July 15th, The Bronze, CA ***

Groaning, Alex tried to turn onto his back; before he could do more than roll to his side, however, he was lifted off the floor. The next thing he knew, he was looking into the pissed-off gameface of the last vampire.

"That was my kid brother you just murdered, you bastard. Now, I'm gonna hurt you", the vampire hissed. "Hate to break it to you, bro, but his dietary habits sucked. Ya see, I'm a food critic and drinking blood is just so passe. Ergo, he had to go", Alex quipped, willing the room to stop spinning around. "And use a breath mint if you're gonna get up close and personal, will ya? The fumes alone are hazardous to one's health."

With a roar that shook the building, the vampire threw Alex across the room. Alex's body crashed through a door, his body then impacting a steel table, slamming what little air he still had in his lungs out and toppling off the tabletop to the floor with a thud. Dazed, the young Marine shook his head, trying to get a clear look at his surroundings. A loud roar of rage coming closer spurred him into action and Alex quickly started to scamper backwards, using his legs and arms to propel him.

The few people that were in the room, the kitchen, Alex belatedly realized, fled hastily through a side door as the vampire stormed inside, noticing his prey on the floor, moving backwards rapidly.

"Hello, are we going somewhere? Did I give you permission to get away, little man?", the vamp mocked as he began to stalk his prey.

He struck out with his right arm, clearing a countertop of its contents, spilling pots, pans and ingredients all over the place. Alex had moved as far as he could in the small space, his back impacting on a solid object. His mind still blurry from the two solid hits he'd taken, he looked up and behind him. Suddenly, a grim smile lit his face as he turned back to his opponent.

"Not such a smart mouth now, hey, meat?" "That was your kid brother? And you have the courage to tell that to people? If I had a brother who was as stupid as him, I'd change my name and disappear. Guess you've got even less brains then he did", Alex said mockingly, only slightly succeeding to keep his voice from wavering.

The vamp's eyes grew wide and he roared in rage, charging forward. Alex's hands flew upwards, wrapping around the long handles of two frying pans on the industrial stove and threw the contents onto the charging vamp, hitting him straight on. The vamp roared in pain as the burning oil made contact with its face and hands. Instantly, Alex pushed himself back on his feet, a bit unsteadily, but determined and swung out his left hand, quickly followed by the right, resulting in loud, satisfying CLUNKS. The vampire was thrown against a counter, but quickly retaliated, using his right arm to swipe several jars and plates in Alex's direction. Crouching low to avoid the onslaught, Alex extended his left arm, slamming the front end of the frying pan straight into the vamp's exposed belly, doubling him over. His right hand surged upwards, the bottom of the second frying pan connecting with the vamp's chin in a sickening crunch, sending the demon somersaulting to the floor.

Still a bit disoriented, Alex moved to finish the vampire off on unsteady legs but the vamp had other ideas. It quickly got up, throwing several quick punches towards its opponent.


Alex had blocked the incoming fists with the two frying pans, the power of impact almost snapping his wrists. However, the impacts did more damage to the vampire's fists, breaking the bones inside. As he screamed in equal parts rage and pain, Alex quickly smashed the frying pans against the sides of the vamp's head. If the situation wasn't so deadly, he would have burst out in laughter as the vampire tried to hold his head to stop the shaking. It was reminiscent of a scene from a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Not giving him a change to gather his wits, Alex pressed the attack, using the frying pans as he'd used the broken pieces of the pool cue earlier. He rained down hits on the vampire, knocking the creature around the kitchen, smashing him into cabinets, the meatlocker and walls.

After a particularly vicious hit slammed the vamp over the center counter, Alex quickly rounded it, ready to finish the fight. The vampire had other ideas, as it threw one of the big kitchen knives it managed to pick up from the floor at him. Jumping to the side, Alex bumped into the counter, his already bruised ribs taking the hit and causing him to loose his grip on the frying pans. Seeing his chance, the vampire jumped up, hands outstretched, ready to wrap them around Alex's throat. Alex's arms flew upwards, between the vampire's arms, slamming them away. He then grabbed the vampire's coat and pulled him forward even as he moved to meet the vampire and slammed his forehead into the vamp's face. Dazed, the vampire almost fell backward, only Alex's hands on his coat keeping him from doing so.

Pulling him close again, Alex slammed his right knee into the vampire's crotch; he then smashed the vampire's head into the left wall, immediately pulling him back and repeating the move, this time hitting him against the steel doors underneath the central counter of the kitchen. As the young Marine kept walking towards the industrial stove, he continued to slam the vampire alternately into the wall and any solid object on the opposite side. Finally, he threw the dazed vampire to the floor, its face completely shattered, the bones deformed and pushed into themselves. Had he still been human, he'd probably be dead already. Alex grabbed a bottle of corn oil, liberally squirting it all over the vampire, then lifted him up by his bloodsoaked hair, pushed him facefirst into the burning flames on top of the stove. The vampire's scream echoed through the building as the oil on his face caught fire, quickly spreading to the rest of his oilsoaked body. He tried to put out the flames by batting at them with his hands, only succeeding in setting his arms on fire. As he writhed on the floor, his body began to break down rapidly and in agonizing seconds, the last vampire that had entered the Bronze was dust.

"You know, you think a vamp would know better then go into a kitchen. I mean, they know they can't stand the heat, yet they just happily take a stroll inside", Alex said, giving Cassandra, Dawn and her friend a lopsided grin as they stormed into the kitchen.

"Xander! Are you alright?", Dawn fairly screamed as she ran towards her friend, Cassandra and Stacey behind her.

"Five by Five, Dawnpatrol."

The young brunette leveled stern blue eyes at him, her arms crossed in front of her.

"Maybe Four by Four... No, scratch that. That's what he hit me with. Okay, enough already, Dawn! My ribs hurt, my head hurts, I'm pretty much in complete pain. Satisfied?" "No, that's why I'm taking you to the hospital right now."

Alex suppressed the groan that threatened to slip his lips; Dawn could be so bossy at times... It must be something genetic with the Summers women. Or maybe it was women in general. Right now, he didn't want to think too hard. Or rather, he couldn't think too hard as his head hurt enough already.

"No, no hospital. I've been hurt worse before and I didn't need any hospital then. I'll just go home, take some Marine candy, hit the shower and get some rest. In the morning, I'll be right as rain", Alex said, grinning as he put an arm around Dawn and steered her towards the entrance.

"You're gonna eat candy after the thrashing you got? You really are nuts", Cassandra stated, shaking her head as she and Stacey fell into step behind the pair as they walked back into the main room of the Bronze.

"I said Marine candy. Advil? You know, those powerful, over-the-counter painkillers?", he added sarcastically. "I'll just pop a few with water, get me a hot shower and a warm bed. Does wonders for one's disposition", Alex tossed back as he gave Dawn his trademarked lopsided grin. The younger Summers pulled herself closer to him, mindful of his injuries but not wanting to deny what the combination of his smile and being this close to him was doing to her insides. She could happily stay in his embrace for a very, very long time. Behind the pair, Cassandra and Stacey gave each other identical knowing looks. Dawn had it bad for the young man.

"Come on, let's get you home, soldier boy", Cassandra said, shaking her head. "I don't need an escort home, Cassandra", Alex said, stopping in front of his motorcycle and turning towards her. The look the young Slayer leveled at him was met by an equally stubborn stare from the young Marine officer.

"Look, mister, I don't care if you're fucking Iron Man, you got thrashed pretty badly in there. I'm not gonna explain to Buffy and the others that I let you go home while you're in no shape to drive, let alone ride a motorbike. Even if you got home safely, they'd still kick my ass."

Cassandra's stance, crossed arms, frown marring her forehead, one leg bent, showed that she wouldn't brook an argument. Alex sighed internally, again wondering what it was with him and the women in his life.

"I could drive you", Dawn offered brightly. Alex smiled at her, pulling her tight to him.

"Thanks, Dawny, but that's not necessary. We don't want to get Cassie here in trouble, right", Alex said, throwing his keys to the younger Slayer. Catching it, she looked at him in surprise.

"You want ME to drive you home?" "Hey, you're the one who doesn't want to get into trouble with Buffy. Besides, there is no way I'm leaving my bike here, so you might as well give up and get on. You do KNOW how to ride a motorbike, right?", Alex finished, smugness dripping from every word. Doing his best not to show any pain to his companions, he let go of Dawn, dropping a kiss to her forehead.

"You wanna follow us and take Cassie back?" "You sure you don't want me to tuck you in", Dawn said softly, looking up through lowered lashes, a coy smile gracing her lips. Alex fought the flush he felt rising to his cheeks.

'Oh man! Dawn is flirting with ME! This can't be happening! Got to put a stop to this right now!'

"Definitely no tucking in for you, lady." "I'd just be returning the favor, after all the times you've tucked me in", Dawn replied in her best little girl voice, her lips pouting slightly.

"That's not the same! Not even remotely!" "Why isn't it?" "Because... because..."

Alex had taken a step back from Dawn, trying to think of a valid reason why it wasn't the same, but his mind was a blank. Stammering and waving his arms about wasn't helping, so he turned his attention back to Cassandra and Stacey. The identical grins they wore told him not to expect any help from that corner, so he turned back to Dawn. Taking a deep breath, he prepared himself to speak.

"It's not the same coz I wasn't thinking what it is you're thinking." "Who said I was thinking anything, Xan", Dawn countered in a too sweet voice. "Implying, thinking, hinting at... whatever it is... Oh, for crying out loud! I'm so outta here!"

In a huff, Alex turned around and stalked to the dark green motorcycle and got on; turning back to where the others stood, he raised an eyebrow at Cassandra. The three girls looked at him, then turned to look at each other. Then, they broke out into hysterical peals of laughter. Alex turned away in disgust at himself, for being manipulated so easily, doing his best impression of Lieutenant Mumbly as he muttered some of the more colorful curses he'd learned back in boot.

*** 1717 PM, July 15th, 1630 Revello Drive, CA ***

Buffy Summers looked around the house. Every single room had been thoroughly cleaned out. Not a spot of dust anywhere, potpourri filled the air with sweet scents. Indonesian noodles were ready to be cooked, vegetables washed and chopped and chicken and pork were marinating in the fridge. Surveying everything, the elder Summers smiled slightly. Everything was on schedule; in a few minutes, she was going to start cooking, then wash up. Tonight was an important night. Probably the most important night of her life. Tonight, for the first time in years, Xander Harris would set foot in her home. Tonight would be the night that would decide whether eight years of absence and resentment could be overcome. Tonight would be the night where they would find out if it was possible to bridge that gap and to capture what had been lost.

Buffy Summers wasn't the young college student who'd felt that she knew what was best for others anymore. She liked to think that time and circumstances had made her face some harsh truths and take appropriate actions.

'Now you just have to proof it to yourself, but most importantly, to Xander', flashed through her mind. For the last eight years, Buffy Summers had done nothing else but play each and every encounter with Xander through her mind. All the little and big things he'd done for her, all the times he'd saved her life. All the times he'd stood up to her, told her the harsh truth... every thing, every event, major and small she had gone over. Every time she hurt him, every time she had used him, or pushed him aside.

Buffy had finally grown up, her maturity matching her age and not for the first time, the daughter of Joyce Summers wondered how it was possible that the young man known as Xander Harris had always been the more mature of their little group. Yes, he was always cracking jokes, half the time at his own expense, or acting the fool. But when it was crunch time, he'd shown a maturity that was way beyond anything she'd ever witnessed, even from adults. At times, Xander had even shown a maturity that dwarfed that of Giles. Looking at a very old picture of her, Xander and Willow together, Buffy couldn't help but smile at the memories. The White Knight had returned. It was time to see if they could keep the heart of the Scoobies where he belonged.

Buffy picked up the frame holding the newest picture she had of her best male friend. It was a copy of the one in his military file; he was dressed in full uniform, the white cover, black jacket with red trim. To say he looked good enough to eat was an understatement, Buffy thought. But that wasn't the reason why she'd asked Willow for a copy. It was the look in his eyes. It showed nothing, not a single emotion. They were cold, lifeless eyes. They held the same look she'd seen these last few days since his return and it hurt her in a way Buffy never would have thought possible. Oh yes, he joked at times, telling humorous stories as only Xander could. To a casual acquaintance, it would look as if nothing had changed. But Buffy knew better. Through it all, his eyes never lost that cold look, the guardedness they possessed now. The walls Xander Harris had built up since his childhood had become as impenetrable as granite. With a start, Buffy realized that in all the years they'd been friends, she'd never learned anything about his childhood. Nothing except the stories Willow had told her. A sudden feeling of shame enveloped her and Buffy swore to herself she'd do anything, anything at all to show Xander that she'd changed. She was going to earn his forgiveness. He wasn't going to walk out of her life again without a fight. A fight she intended to win. As Buffy prepared herself to start working on dinner, the phone rang, cutting through the silence in the house.

"Summers Residence." "Buffy? Giles. I need you to come to the shop immediately!" "Giles? Come on! Xander is coming over and I still have a ton of stuff to do", Buffy whined. "Now, Buffy!"

Without waiting for an answer, Giles had thrown down the phone and the only sound Buffy heard was the steady dialtone. For an instant, she looked at the phone as if it was something from another planet, before the tone of Giles' voice send a jolt of alarm through her. Forgetting everything else, Buffy grabbed her jacket and was out of the door in a flash. Giles' tone had been one he barely used; it had been the tone of Ripper and she knew better then to argue with the Englishman when he was in that state of mind. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong...


*** 1732 PM, July 15th, The Magic Box ***

Buffy burst into Giles' shop, frantically looking around and fearing the worst. Giles had never been this short with her and it was freaking her out big time.

"Giles! Giles!" "I'm here, Buffy. No need to yell", Giles said as he came out of the trainingroom, carrying the large First Aid kit.

"Giles, what the hell is wrong with you? Xander is coming over tonight and I've got a ton of stuff to do", Buffy said, the edge to her voice clearly showing her displeasure.

"I'm afraid that'll have to wait, Buffy. Angel and Wesley have gotten some rather disturbing information."

Looking towards the large round table Giles was walking towards, Buffy caught her first glimpse of the two men mentioned. What she saw shocked her; both Wes and Angel looked like they'd gone ten rounds with a demonic Mike Tyson. Which was saying something because she'd always thought the former World Champion had to be a demon. It would explain the biting of his opponents.

Both men sported numerous bruises, cuts and scrapes, their clothes torn and dirty while both looked to be in a great deal of pain, judging from the painkillers and empty glasses on the table. The feeling of dread she'd had in the pit of her stomach since Giles' phone call intensified and the elder Slayer turned towards her Watcher.

"Okay, so what's the sitch?"

Giles turned to look at her as he continued cleaning Wesley's wounds.

"We know who our opponent is." "Okay. Good. So we research, then we slay. Piece of cake."

The grim look the three men gave her made Buffy Summers swallow.

"Right?" "I'm afraid it'll be a bit more complicated than that, Buffy", Wesley stated calmly as he eased out of his jacket slowly.

"You see, we're about to face the Devil himself."