With a Little Help From My Zeppo

Summary: Xander gives Buffy some advice on how to deal with Riley's ultimatum.

Timeline: Season 5 – AU during 'Into the Woods'.

Warning: Swearing. …Okay, and some anti-Riley speaking.

Disclaimer: BtVS characters belong to Joss Whedon / Mutant Enemy. I claim no rights to any copyrighted material. Please do not copy or take this story without my permission. Dialogue copied from .

A/N: This is for those that believe that I can't write a Buffy story that is kind to Xander! I just refuse to turn him into Super-Xander. He's a normal guy and if he's to help, it will be that way.

Cut to scene with Buffy and Xander in the warehouse…

XANDER: Take this, for instance. You don't wanna deal, so you hide? It's not very Slayer-like.

BUFFY: Just leave me alone, Xander. You have no idea what's going on.

XANDER: No? Good, so you and Riley *aren't* imploding? It doesn't take a genius. What I can't figure out is how you never saw it coming.

BUFFY: What? Who told you?

XANDER: Nobody told me anything, Buffy. It was right in front of my Xander face. The guy would do anything for you.

BUFFY: The guy got himself bit by a vampire! He lied to me. He ran around behind my back and almost got himself killed! And now he tells me that he's leaving with some covert military operation at midnight unless *I* convince him not to. Now tell me that you understand. Because I sure as hell don't.

Xander took a deep breath to consider those revelations. He remembered the conversation with Riley the day they moved him out of his parents' basement and how in love the guy seemed. Now though…Man, Buffy just had the worst luck with guys! If they didn't blow her off once they got what they wanted from her, they became obsessed with being the center of her world.

Maybe it was a good thing she turned him down all those years ago. It was much better to be a friend that she could count on than it was a guy that would destroy her when she didn't live up to his expectations of her. Riley was such a prick for doing this to her – especially now of all times!

He put a comforting arm around her shoulder before answering, "I guess you're right, Buff. What he did was beyond shitty. And his timing couldn't be worse. You already have so much on your plate with your mom and Glory and he pulls this crap. I could advise you to run after him and beg him to stay-"

"What?!" Buffy yelled, trying to pull away.

"…but that would just be the part of me that wishes you could have a normal boyfriend," he continued, ignoring her outburst. "I mean, if you couldn't choose me, then at least it would be a guy like me."

She stepped back into his embrace. "There are no guys like you, Xan. Well, except for that thing with Toth," she teased, her mood lightening a little.

"Don't remind me!" he mock-shuddered. He was glad that she felt good enough to razz him.

"But Riley…" Buffy faltered, "…he said that it was my fault for him going to the suck house. I 'didn't need him enough' or some crap like that. It hurt him that I forgot to call when Mom went into the hospital. Here I thought my focus should have been her, not my boyfriend's feelings," she added sarcastically.

"Not to mention that if he's stupid enough to give you an ultimatum, he deserves what he gets," Xander snarked. "And while I'd still like you to fall for a normal guy, I will add that you deserve one who can be strong enough not to mind when you're strong without him. But you should remember that it's okay for you to lean on someone when you need to. I'm sorry if we've made you feel like you can't do that in order to be the Slayer. Maybe the Slayer can't accept help, but Buffy can…and she should."

She turned to look him in the eyes and smiled appreciatively at him. "Thanks, my Xander-shaped friend. It helps to know that you realize there's two sides to me and one of them is sometimes weak. Double thanks for not expecting me to chase after Riley."

He snorted, "Who, the human Slurpee? Not worth a second thought if you ask me." Xander narrowed his eyes at the small blonde. "He's also not worth going ballistic over, 'k? That was scary watching you today, Buff – both at the suck house and outside in the alley just now."

"I'll give you the warehouse, but I wasn't given much of a choice in the alley; they wanted payback and weren't about to let me go."

"Okay. Well, that's enough broody behavior for the night; don't want to become copies of Deadboy, do we? What do ya say we go find the gang and have a Scooby night?" he prodded with waggling eyebrows.

"Sounds perfect. Anya's very lucky to have you in her life, you know," Buffy answered with a grin.

"I think it goes both ways, but you're more than welcome to tell her that," he smirked.

Cut to scene with Riley in a clearing…

Shot of Riley standing next to a helicopter, looking around.

Riley continues to look around, checks his watch. Behind him the helicopter blades begin to turn slowly.

Riley looks at the ground, looking very disappointed. The helicopter blades move faster and faster.

Riley stares at the two trees between which he wants Buffy to appear. She doesn't. He turns and gets into the helicopter next to Graham.

Shot of Riley inside the helicopter, staring grimly out the front window.

Back to Buffy…

Buffy stood out on Giles' back patio, staring as the helicopter rose and flew away. In a moment of clarity, the staggering relief she feels at his departure shows just how wrong the relationship was. Xander was right, she deserved a guy who could be her rock when she needed and – more importantly – understand when she didn't.

A/N: I'm thinking of expanding this into Riley's return in Season 6 to a much happier Buffy – with her new man.