Title: "Blessed"
Written by: Shawn

Summary: Sometimes, only through tragedy can we come to understand how truly blessed we are.

Couple: Buffy/Xander

Rating: R, but you can email me or go yo my Yahoo group for the NC-17 version.
Category: Drama/Comfort/Romance/Angst

Timeline/Spoilers: The story takes place 16 months post the BtVS series finale "Chosen" It ignores all Buffy references made about her and the Scoobies during "Angel" season 5. It's all my universe after the BtVS series finale.

Notes: Pain, Love, Tragedy, Insight, Time, and Awakenings are hopelessly intertwined aspects of life.

Authors Notes 2: As years past, the people around you change. Sometimes, hopefully, for the better. Other times, maybe not. We live, learn, experience life, love and loss. We mature, and begin to see the world and the people in our lives in different ways than we had in the past. We have no choice but to accept some of our mistakes, as well as some of the things done to us, and move on. Life is all about change. Nothing stays the same way forever. People change... Feelings, relationships, just everything. It can all change.

Dedicated to: Lexie, Brooke, and White Werewolf for all of their support, kindness, and understanding. I sincerely appreciate your friendships. Thank you.


Quote:
"One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life; That word is love"
- Sophocles

Xander's apartment

Hyde Park Gardens Marble Arch, London. W2

Monday, September 20, 2004

London, England

Somber.

The very definition meant dark and gloomy, melancholy, something dismal. No truer meaning of the word could be found than what was plainly written on the faces of the two weary individuals who entered the darkness of an unlit apartment, illuminated only by the errant streaks of lightening as a raging thunderstorm roared.

They hadn't said a word on the ride over because there was so little... no, there was nothing to say. Nothing to add. Nothing to make anything better. Sad endings are a fact, sometimes. Police officers, soldiers, and fireman no doubt lived with nights like these on a regular basis. Truth be told, so had they, though nothing this vile and mean spirited in long while.

Surely ghosts walked with them tonight. And would for some time, if only in their memories.

When Xander at last flipped the light switch on the wall he pondered for a moment, had Buffy ever truly looked as awful as she did tonight. Battered, bloodied, her clothes drowned in dirt and mud. If someone as beautiful as her in his eyes looked that bad, he had to look five times worse. He certainly felt it.

Standing, or rather, dripping in the doorway, Buffy gingerly took two steps inside, just enough to close the door behind her, locking them in... or them out from the world itself. Her head's killing her. A migraine headache, most likely. Casting a glance at her very best friend, she once again hated herself for ever bringing him into this fight, as well as reminded herself how lucky she was to have him by her side.

Exhaling one long deep breath, Buffy brushed her hair back with her hand, moving some of it off her face, only to catch sight of her bloody hand at the end, dripping from her fingertips. She knew she had a small gash somewhere on her scalp and it's still bleeding. Capturing Xander's eyes with her own, she didn't need to ask where the Scooby Gang's homemade first aid kit was, seeing as how she knew his home like the back of her hand. Giving a short nod, she slipped out of the living room, on her way.

Honestly, he felt like sitting down and getting sloppy drunk, then crying himself to sleep. He can't seem to see the good in what took place tonight for the bad he knew would linger forever. At least alcohol would make him forget for a little while. But only a little while...

The living rooms maroon carpet had muddy footprints all over it, as well as sprinkles of blood. That pretty much matched his clothes. He can't seem to care in the least. Despite the shoulder pain making it hurt to even move, he managed to slip his coat off, dropping it without a second thought to the floor. Two deep rips adorned the front, exposing the cotton inside, while blood stains covered both sleeves. A testament to the night he's lived through yet again.

His boots are the next to go, followed by the belt around his jeans, laid over a kitchen chair. It was easier to catalogue what didn't hurt on his body than what did, and it wasn't much.

Buffy's coat came flying from the bathroom into the living room, landing just in front of his sofa. Xander could imagine her flinging it out of her sight the second she saw how much blood covered it. Blood that wasn't all theirs. Blood that belonged to dead children. Shutting his eyes to what's tearing him apart, he can hear her sobbing softly in the bathroom, no doubt allowing the flood of emotion to immerse her.

What he would give to take all her pain away. To take it on even himself if he could, so that she would never cry again. Never feel as if her efforts didn't matter.

Wiping away a lone droplet of moisture from his own eye, Xander gave himself a physical once over. One loose tooth, a split lip, possibly a strained shoulder, a twisted ankle, sore knuckles, and an assortment of minor cuts and bruises all over his body. Oh well, he's still breathing. Buffy's alive. Those children are alive... at least some of them.

Good was done tonight, though it might take days for either of them to accept it.

Tired and ready to collapse, Xander ignored the loud crackling thunder and driving rain assaulting the windows as he walked over to the fire place, tossing a few logs before lighting it. Losing himself in the seductive lure of the flames, the added warmth did wonders on his dull senses, allowing him a somewhat clearer head again. Upon looking up, his heart clenched at the sight of Buffy wiping more tears away as she approached him with the homemade first aid kit. She's a master at hiding her emotions, though she lets her guard down around him far more than most. "Did you eat the candy bar inside?"

Levity, even now. He's amazing in small doses. She can't smile, but at least she wanted to. "It's was a Snicker. You know I love Snickers. I really had no choice in the matter."

He knew she loved Snickers. That was the whole reason he started hiding them in there. "Always with the eating of my chocolate. The things I endure," he shook his head, gathering a few throw pillows, then spacing them out in front of the fire place.

On the outside it resembled a gym bag, but in reality the homemade Scooby Gang first aid kit contained everything a normal first aid kit did, except triple the number of items, as well as a assortment of drugs, painkillers, liquid stitches, and even a few minor magic spells for healing that you wouldn't normally find. Buffy sat the large black Nike bag on the floor, and when she looked up, she noticed the painful wince on Xander's face. "Your shoulder?"

"Yeah," he nodded. "I feel like I was hit by a truck. And then a bus. Then a old lady driving a mini-van." The fires in full bloom, offering heat to their chilled bones. Xander stood in front of it, gazing at the flames. "How are you?"

Buffy was drawn closer to him, wondering what about fire fascinated him so much. "I'm thinking about the phone calls being made to the parents of the children we couldn't save tonight. I'm dying a little for them. I feel pretty lost."

Extending his hand, hers slipped around as he pulled her to him, then motioned for her to sit on the floor. Rarely is she ever so open with her thoughts and feelings. Tonight's jarred her a great deal. Join the club. "I can't fathom why anyone would ever want to hurt a child. Not even something that wasn't human." His voice, the ghost of a ghost. He could only stare straight ahead. "We did our jobs tonight, Buffy."

What you know in your head and what you feel in your heart are two very different things. "Xander?"

"What?"

"I'm sick of my job."

If he could take her away from it all, he would. Even if he couldn't leave himself. Scooting nearer to her, they embraced at the same time, needing and taking the comfort the other gladly offered. They clung to one another for untold moments, breathing in deeply, warmed by the fire.

Gently pulling away, though still in a loose grasp, Buffy got a good look at his face, almost wishing she hadn't after the fact. "You're a mess," she managed to smile.

"You should see the other guy."

Always with a joke and a grin. Gently, with the back of her hand she rubbed some of the blood off his cheek, tenderly tracing his stubbled chin, grazing softly over lips. His eyes shut under her careful study. Two months shy of twenty four, he's so handsome and older than his years. Her life's intruded so viciously upon his, and yet he won't leave. Her gift and her curse if he should ever die. What a man he's become. "We need to get you cleaned up, okay."

"Hey, I'm alright," he tried to assure her in his manliest tone of voice. "I'm a tough guy, remember."

Tonight at least, Buffy wasn't buying it. "Raise your right arm." He tried, failed, smiled, tried again, winced, shook a little, then gave up. "See," she pointed out. "You need help." Without talking a second thought, she began unbuttoning his shirt.

"Covered in blood, barely able to move, and you choose this time to undress me." Mischief sparkled in his eyes, for hers only.

"I would have undressed you three months ago," Buffy didn't mind recalling one bit, hiding herself from his face as her emotions threatened to crest the surface. "You wouldn't let me."

Aching as the pain was, it felt so good to be free of the soaking wet bloody shirt. Buffy tossed it aside as Xander sat on his knees in front of her. "I wanted to give you time."

"I didn't want time."

"Did you want me?"

"I wanted to see if I wanted you. You were being stingy with the Xander-goodies."

"I have goodies?" It took all his might not to cry out from the sharp pain as she cleaned, then treated a laceration on the left side of his body with antiseptic spray before bandaging the wound. "Way to bring the pain, Buff."

"Way to change the subject, Xander." Using a damp towel, she dabbed at his face and neck, gently cleaning him up, relieved that the bruising wasn't as bad as she feared, though dismayed by the raised welts forming around his shoulder. He's moving his arm a little better now, but it's still very sore and stiff. If they weren't so burnt out and the storm outside wasn't so bad she'd insist on taking him to one of the Council doctors.

Watching her walk to his kitchen and back with a glass of water, he pulled some extra strength Tylenol from the first aid bag. Taking the glass from her hand, he downed three tablets, then drank half the water. He handed the glass back to her, watching as she did the same. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Superficial cuts and bruises aside, Buffy felt at ease that Xander was alright after tonight's brutal fight. Leaning back on the floor, she took off her shoes and socks, wiggling her sore feet finally after nearly three and a half hours of running through a muddy forest. "That feels so good."

Rising up beside her, Xander just had to ask, "So, do I get to take your shirt off now?"

Ignoring his eye brow wiggles, she hid a blush. "Again, three months ago you could have."

Chapter and verse, Buffy sought to remind him of three months ago. She'd asked him out twice, and he turned her down both times, explaining that he just didn't feel right about anything happening with them just yet. A little bruising of Buffy's ego didn't stop her, seeing as how busy they were. She had every intention of discovering why he said no when his eyes told her yes.

A year and four months removed from Sunnydale, relocated to London as Giles and Robin began the immense task of rebuilding the Watchers Council. The Scooby Gang assisted as expected, setting up camp while facilities were purchased, new Watchers and agents were recruited, and the new S.I.T's were trained. Hidden funds were discovered to further their new ventures, as well as the Scooby Gang's education. Things changed as they inevitably do. Time passed. Old wounds healed. New priorities arose. Eyes were opened to possibilities never imagined. Friendships evolved...

Buffy and Xander simply grew closer.

A night like tonight, hate filled as it was, would only deepen their connection.

Silence settled in as Xander cleaned Buffy's cuts and scrapes, teasing her about the Playgirl magazine he found at her place the other day as he applied the band aids that wouldn't be needed in twenty four hours. Even without an ounce of makeup on, she glowed by firelight, as beautiful to him as ever. He hated that such beauty had to see the things they saw tonight.

"Owwowwoww," Buffy shrieked, wincing as Xander gently moved her hair aside to find the scrape on her scalp. "You're close."

"I see it. Hold on." Pressing softly to clean any dirt away, Xander was able to separate her hair enough to get a good look at the wound. She was thrown against a stone staircase head first. That's what probably caused this. "And to think I used to call you hard headed."

"You never called me hard headed."

"Well, in my head, I did. So there." She managed a chuckle, sighing as the antiseptic soaked in. Blowing his breath to dry it in, Xander felt she wouldn't get an infection at least. Leaning in, he pressed a kiss on the top of her head... unable to resist, he placed another on the nape of her neck, allowing his face to linger against her skin for a few seconds more.

"Kiss me there again," she whispered before she could stop herself, lost in his sweet affection. His soft lips found her, reverent, as if he worshipped...

With no small amount of surprise, Buffy couldn't imagine a man touching her with a more gentle caress than Xander. A man who's suddenly left her speechless after three kisses that weren't even on her lips. He knew she could literally bend steal, and yet he treated her as if she were the most innocent person he had ever met. His adoration is craved, and sorely needed tonight.

Nine children were kidnapped without a trace in the last ten days. The police were baffled, seeing as how some of the disappearances took place in broad daylight, with parents telling the authorities they only turned away from their child for a second. All were between the ages of four and seven. The media were as troubled as the police, especially with no ransom demands or clues to go on. No bodies were found. No phone calls made. Nothing at all to give anyone an idea of why these children were taken.

The Scooby Gang caught a lucky break when one of Willow's demonic black magic detectors discovered a creature had been released from hell that needed a sacrifice to resurrect it's dead brothers, who's bodies were buried in a cursed cemetery. The sacrifice called for the blood of twenty children, bled until death, in order to bring his race back to life. He has halfway home until Willow found a way to track it.

The Scooby Gang did just that, spread out all over London tonight with a small army of Slayers and new Council agents during a torrential rainstorm. Buffy and Xander used their demonic detector in the forest, until they caught a beacon and found the beast when it attacked a woman and child getting into a cab. Chasing it to it's lair, they discovered it turned out to not even be that far from where Xander lived. Buried beneath Marble Arch underground station, the beast had already bled four of the children to death, their pale, limp bodies strung upside down from the ceiling as blood absolutely covered the ground beneath them. A more gruesome sight neither Buffy nor Xander had ever seen.

The beast, horrific in appearance, possessing a speed and agility not of this world, was wild and vicious. It could heal itself during the battle, as Buffy made up the brunt of their attack, while Xander moved in when it went after her, burying his ax in it's back and legs. It fought as insane as it looked and lived, with no style or form. It was only when Buffy severed it's head, and then split it in half while Xander set it's body on fire did they win. Upon freeing the children, they were horribly frightened and hysterical, crying and running as soon as Xander was able to untie them.

The dead children... whose screams were not heard had to be taken down. Even with the knowledge that the police had officers who did this sort of thing, Buffy and Xander could not leave those children hanging. They slowly lifted them all down, lying them side by side. Four small dead children...

One hour ago, as Giles used his connections to get word to the authorities of what happened, the parents arrived at the station, desperate for any news. For those that were reunited with their children, jubilation. For those that ran into that station, what they found...

"You're quiet."

Buffy lifted her eyes, meeting a soft brown pair. "What's to say?"

"I don't know. I just don't think we shouldn't talk about what happened."

"Fine. You start."

She's always edgy when children are involved. The one thing she fears because of her calling she will always be denied. "Six kids are going home tonight."

"Four aren't."

"We did the best we could."

"Tell that to the parents of the dead kids."

Always, she took the weight of the world on her small shoulders, never knowing a moments peace. The Slayer. The Oldest living and best there ever was. Xander never worried about her much. Buffy though... she was a whole different story. "If we only think about the bad we won't see the good."

Not thinking of anything more than him, Buffy turned her back to him. Xander moved in her personal space until she sat between his legs. Until he could hold her and she could lean back and let it all go. Let herself be held and taken care of, if even for a moment. With him only could she do this. "I've never seen anything as bad as those children's bodies. Not in all my life."

"Me either," he whispered over her shoulder, gathering her closer as they sat by the fire, soaking in the warmth as the storm blustered outside. "At least it's over and no more parents will have to suffer."

"Are you afraid to die?"

Asked out of the blue, surprising as always. Xander didn't really need to think about it. "No."

"Me either," she considered as if it made no sense. "That's crazy," she shook her head. "We should fear death."

"I fear yours."

"You've seen it twice."

"And it killed me both times."

In these unguarded moments, his feelings cannot be hidden from her. Not in the way his arms held her close, or how the warmth of his breath caressed her neck, or the calming tone of his voice. Spike knew the Slayer, and wanted her to race the night away with him in the darkness. Angel saw her as the light at the end of a long dark ugly tunnel that was his life. She loved, loves... loved in the past, him as deeply as she could. Unfortunately, as life continues, that Buffy Summers is no more. As gone as her mother and the city she protected. The Buffy Summers who is here today, wearing not a trace of makeup, lying in the most unsexy dirty clothes ever, her hair as limp as it's ever looked, in desperate need of a shower, is loved so well by this man named Xander. "I don't know what I would do if I lost you."

"Some nights after good wins and the Big Bad bites the dust we all laugh and joke like it's no big deal. But we all know there will be nights like tonight where we just have to live with the bad stuff. That's growing up, I think."

"I've known that for years, and yet, it offers no comfort."

"I could lie to you and tell you we'll never have another night like this again."

She didn't want lies, only him. For once, she asked for exactly what she needed. "Just tell me you love me."

"With all my heart, I love you." When she shifted in his arms, gazing into his eyes, he knew this would be that perfect first kiss, if only tonight hadn't yielded such desperation and despair. Instead of giving in to what's been brewing between them for months, they hugged closer, holding onto one another so tight.

Then the power shut off, drowning the room in only the fire of the flames.

"Great. Just great," Xander complained, his head lying on Buffy's shoulder as he stroked her hair. The feel of her soft hands on his back felt beyond soothing. Oh, if he could only hold her for the rest of his life. "At least we have the fire."

"And each other."

"Always."

"Promise?"

"Promise."


90 minutes later


On any normal night a boisterous thunderstorm served as the perfect backdrop for Xander to be able to fall asleep pretty easy and well until morning. Rain was far more effective on him than any sleeping pill. There's something about storms... something elemental and emotional... something rare and even sexy.

The weather could affect a persons mood in such profound ways.

Having rained for the last three hours nonstop, Xander couldn't find any comfort or relaxation, having tossed and turned ever since he laid down. Making the couch his bed tonight had been his gentlemanly idea, even as the prospect of sleeping next to Buffy caused butterflies in his stomach. She protested at first on the grounds of his sore shoulder and the fact that they've been close friends for so long, but gave in eventually due to her own exhaustion. The black sectional couch in his living room was more than big enough for a man his size, so room wasn't a problem.

The problem was death. Specifically, four dead children.

Sitting alone in the dark, staring up at the ceiling only accentuated the point that he's to wired tonight to fall asleep as he normally would. He's worn out, both mentally and physically. Not the crackling blaze of the fireplace, nor the booming thunder in the heavens could turn his mind off. Could help him forget. All he wanted to do was forget...

Hunched over with his face in his hands, Xander allowed the grief to set in. True, he did not know any of the families personally, nor was he ever going to have any contact with them to offer his sincerest condolences. The Council's policy on secrecy prohibited it. But when he shut his eyes to the world he's taken back in time, hours ago, where he's staring up at the bodies strung high from their ankles, deep red gashes slit on their neck, wrists, thighs, and feet. Bled like cattle over a alter of demonic symbols. Using life to raise the dead. Barbaric in every way. The youngest, Xander surmised, was four years old. A little girl with auburn hair like Willow's, but with facial features similar to Faith's. He never saw the color of her eyes, nor did he have the courage to look. The other children he and Buffy 'rescued' felt so light in his arms...

He would cry, but that's isn't his character. It's not that he's emotionally detached or lacks caring. He's just shed far to many tears over lost loved ones to have anything left for strangers, even precious innocent children. Joyce, Tara, Anya, even Cordelia not long ago. Buffy twice... he has no tears left.

Okay, enough is enough. Rising off the couch, he's needs something to get his mind off things. A distraction of any kind would be welcome. The last time the power went out, a little over four months ago, he bought a radio that ran on batteries as well as had a cord. And since the last time he used it was a month ago, it should still play.

Lifting it off the floor of his closet, Xander shut the door, then returned to the couch, setting the radio on the table. Soft footfalls caught his attention as Buffy appeared in the doorway of his bedroom, yawning as she watched him. Her sleeping attire caused his body to shiver with affection. She's always had that kind of an effect on him. The beautiful sight of her wearing one of his long sleeved sweatshirts, her underwear and a pair of white socks forced him to swallow hard. "You couldn't sleep either, huh?"

Buffy acknowledged with a shake of her head, playing with the hem of his sweatshirt. "Nope. Just lying there, staring up at the mirror over your bed," she simply had to tease, enjoying one of the first smiles he's given her since... "I never knew you had a kinky side, Xander. The things that mirror must have seen."

"Not as much as you think."

"Not yet," Buffy replied while holding his eyes captive, the hint of a challenge sweetening her words. Soon, they both knew, though would not say. "The power's out. How are you going to play the radio?"

Looking down at it, Xander flipped the 'on' switch, then moved the lever to the radio setting. Soft music filled the room, finally drowning out the storm. "The Energizer Bunny does not lie. It keep going and going and going." Lifting the back cover, he showed her the Energizer batteries. "I think ahead."

"You are soooo smart," Buffy exalted with a grin, coming around the couch to take a seat next to him. Sitting back, she tucked her legs beneath her. The music worked it's best to soothe her, and after a night like tonight, she needed it. "That's not your usual music taste."

"You expected some depressing country western music with references to my wife leaving me, the steel mill firing me, and my dog being shot accidentally by my best friend who's cheating on my sister, who he married with my Dad's shotgun pressed to the side of his head?"

"Xander, you really need a girlfriend."

"I have my eyes on a girl or two," he offered her that to chew on, catching the way the fire places flames illuminated the room around them. She'll take the bait when she's good and ready. Buffy knows how to play with boys oh so well. "In my need to branch out and explore new and exciting musical horizons, I discovered this kind of music helped me relax when I actually had to clean up this apartment of mine."

"Or, you bought this radio so you wouldn't go crazy from the quiet and the station with the soft music just happened to be attuned as soon as you turned the radio on." He's busted red handed. Quirky eye arched, she considered him, wishing tonight had been enjoyed over a bottle of wine, stories of the good ole days, and perhaps finally getting things right between them. "I'm right, aren't I?"

"I'm pleading the fifth."

"We're in England now, Xander. That no longer applies."

She's so damn cute, with her hair pinned back. The position she's sitting in offers his hungry eyes an ample amount of toned leg and thigh to feast on. Calculated... no... not tonight. Any other night, but tonight. "Did you call Dawn or Giles?"

"The phones are out. My cell phone is too."

At that very moment another window rattling thunder sounded in the distance, signaling the storm had lost none of it's snarl. Xander sighed. "I guess we just have to wait it out."

"I don't suppose you have any batteries for your flat screen TV?" He gave his best 'I wish' face. So did she.

"We could make out?" Scratching behind his neck, he managed to shy away from her, waiting patiently.

"Three months ago..."

"Always with the three months ago. I swear if we..." The music stopped suddenly, followed by the British accent of a newscaster breaking in. As soon as he began talking Buffy and Xander could not move, stoic, as he presented his story over the airwaves.

''... of the children were found alive, though apparently malnourished and unkept. Unfortunately, the real tragedy of tonight could be found in the gruesome discovery of the bodies of four dead children. We are unable to release their names at this time, but all of the families of the missing children have been notified. The anonymous tip that led to the children's location is still being investigated. To repeat,..''

Having heard enough, Xander turned off the radio, shoving it so far away from him if flew off the table, crashing to the floor, breaking part of the handle on impact.

It was common knowledge that the world wasn't fair and the good guys don't always win. Part of growing up is accepting those facts about life. But how do you accept violence to children? You can't. Making peace with that isn't easy in the least. If it ever is then you're in deep trouble

"I cried on your pillow, Xander... sorry." Why she told him that, she doesn't know. Nothing seems to make sense tonight. Nothing until Xander took her hand in-between his, tugging it in his lap as he shifted next to her. Just being near him helped her cope. "Why do we always get the short end of the stick?"

"I wish I knew, Buffy." In reality, they did know. Tonight hadn't yielded them the short end of any stick. Only a dark memory that would last a lifetime. "I feel terrible for the families who lost their children tonight. I really do. But we can't forget the six families who have their children back safe and sound. We did some good tonight."

For some strange reason Xander had the ability to ground her, even as he needed to believe in what he said himself. "That sick demon's dead, so we can be grateful for that. He won't ever hurt anyone else."

With as much power that resides within the small hands he caresses, she's still vulnerable to the same things all of us are. Wondering if your best, if all your efforts at the end of the day, count for one damn thing. "You did a great job tonight."

"So did you," she squeezed his hand over hers as they lingered close, enjoying the quiet between them, wishing for a lighter moment when things could be different. Romance instead of comfort. Kissing instead of a shared grief. Whatever the case may be, Buffy felt it was time to set the record straight on a few things. "I'm over Angel and I was never in love with Spike."

Mildly surprised, Xander longed to tell her with the utmost confidence that neither of the people she just mentioned mattered to him. But he couldn't... yet. "Wow, Buff. That came out of nowhere."

"No, that came from three months ago when you refused to go out with me because you were worried that I might be trying to cling onto you so that I could fight not running to Spike, who we had just found out was alive."

Busted, using her knowledge of the way his mind worked perfectly. "It's not easy for me to believe your feelings for me could suddenly turn from the 'friendship' switch to the 'he's datable' one."

He's insecure, still. Does he see that in her eyes as well? "Life's funny that way," she shrugged. "I don't want you because I am fighting any feelings for Spike. What I feel for him is gratitude for helping us defeat the First. That is it." Clear and decisive, she left no wiggle room for him to deny she was telling the truth. "A part of me will always love Angel because he was so many firsts in my life. But I have seen him three times in almost four years. I've made my peace that a life with him isn't something I want anymore." Xander listened attentively enough. She just hoped he would allow himself to feel what she's saying. "You, my very best friend, have been flipping new switches in me for months now. I can't pin point one particular thing it is that's changed about you. I just... I love the person you are." She wanted to tell him she loved him, but the words died on her tongue. "You make me laugh so hard, and want to be the best, and believe in me more than anyone else." He's nearly blushing. "I am so proud of the things you've accomplished. I even think you dress better now. Oh, and you're car doesn't have that funny orange smell anymore." She's stuttering a little, while he's laughing at how she's trying so hard to make him see that she likes him. "You make Carmel popcorn just the way I like it. You never get mad when I steal your fries when we eat lunch together. And you look so good in a suit and tie." Okay, that one made her feel seventeen again. "Well, that's my 'I Like Xander' speech. How'd I do?"

"I'm shocked."

"Why?"

"Because guys like me don't win the girl. We always end up as the girls best friend. We never catch her eye."

"Maybe she needs glasses. Or contacts, which I do wear now, by the way. Maybe if I had them years ago we'd be farther along in our... whatever it is we are."

It's not often Buffy is shy around him or anyone. Revealing as much of herself as she just has wasn't something she did very often or ever. "You mean the world to me."

If you would have told her two years ago that Xander Harris could say something to make her heart skip a beat, she would have laughed in your face. My how the times have changed. "I kinda want a boyfriend."

"Hey, aren't you supposed to say 'you mean the world to me too'?"

"I'd say that to my boyfriend," she asserted flirtatiously.

"So what you are really saying is, I would just say it, but you'd only say it to someone you are involved with?"

"Must everything be so complicated to you?"

"I think I shall remind you who..." he pointed to himself, "figured out that Rubix Cube Faith bought."

"Faith got pissed at it and peeled off two of the four colored sides. You only had to match two colors."

"You couldn't do it."

The nerve of him... so kissable. "I... I didn't want to."

"Buffy?'

"Yes?"

"What do I mean to you?"

Deeply personal, asked without a shred of his trademark humor. Rain pelted the windows in a rhythmic beat as the flames of the fireplace kept them warm. Buffy spoke without thinking, choosing to fly by the seat of her pants. "You are closer to me than any man has ever been, and I want you closer than that."

The friendship line has been officially crossed.

Taking it all in as best he could, Xander gave a slow nod, clearly pleased, slightly unsure of what to do next. Buffy saved the day by deciding for him.

"How about I make us some hot chocolate? It's the least I could do since you're putting me up tonight." His eyes lit up the way they always did when anything chocolate related was mentioned. She had him all figured out.

"You go girl." Sassy head shake and all. Shooing her with his hands, he found himself two steps behind her, standing in the kitchens entry way as she puttered around, knowing where everything was as if she were in her own home. Buffy made moving around in the dark look easy.

The art form of making hot chocolate aside, Xander had to accept that Buffy honestly and truly does have romantic feelings for him. Scary indeed. It's just not easy to accept. If he ever let her in... all the way in, and then she up and decided one day she wanted out, it just might kill him. Literally kill him. He loves her that much and more. But if he never tries, never trusts and takes the chance, he could miss out on seeing if her love matched his dreams. The richness and pleasure of sharing a romantic life with her. Possibly even building a life with her.

Her positives are numerous. She's crazy beautiful, with a sex appeal that causes every man to crave her, and any man that's had her to become obsessive. She's that addictive. She's also courageous, fiery, quirky, sweet, proud, and able to overcome whatever life throws at her.

She's the kind of girl you can't help falling in love with, even if a part of you wonders if that's a wise thing to do.

She's also prone to run when faced with things she does not want to deal with. She can make horrible decisions at times. She doesn't always know when she's hurting those she loves, and her priorities can be skewed backwards and sideways.

She's so human it's not even funny.

And yet, here she is. All five foot nothing in height, moving barefoot about his kitchen in the dark, wearing his clothes with the sensual appeal of a runway model. Casually gorgeous. Not an ounce of makeup on a face that needed none. She's bruised and has scratches and about seven Band-Aids on her body. She's his heart, from the soles of her little feet to the crown of her head, she's his heart in every way. He aches for her when he dreams. "Buffy, will you move in with me?"

Huh! What! Her back to him, waiting for the water to grow hot enough, Buffy knew she had to have heard him wrong. "Excuse me?"

Feet moving of their own accord, Xander shuffled behind her. Laying a gentle hand on her shoulder, he turned her around so that he could see her face. "I know this sounds crazy..."

"It does."

"And I know it's coming from left field."

"Left galaxy is more like it."

"And I know we haven't even kissed yet."

"And you only have one bedroom." There wasn't anything innocent about that smile. Ah, she got him. He was already thinking ahead, not that she minded. Not at all.

Okay, he knows he's caught red handed on that one. Hand in the cookie jar, and that jar had written on the front, 'Buffy's Goodies'. He's afraid of everything he's asking her for, and he asks anyway because she means so much to him. "I hate it every night when you leave here and I'm all alone and there's nothing good or even remotely entertaining on TV. I hate saying goodnight to you over the phone, when I just want to whisper it in your ear." Standing emotionally naked before her, his hands closed around hers, bringing both to his lips, where his kissed her knuckles. Blushing, Buffy felt like a goddess. "I'm some what of a slob, but I am getting better at it. I think you could help me to become a cleaner person. Also, I'm kinda lonely, and you're my favorite person, so you should be here. I don't even mind that you've gained a little weight. Twelve pounds is really nothing. I think you look great with the added cushion and all. Oh, and we've known each other for almost ten years and can still stand to be in the same room together. That's gotta count for something."

"It does," she assured him as her voice dipped low, having not expected any of this. She's so unprepared. "Why now, Xander? Why tonight?"

The answer lodged in his throat, finding freedom at last. "Tonight, four families received the worst possible news any family could ever receive. They have lost so much and nothing will ever change that. So I figure that every single day you live, you need to live it to the fullest and face every fear you have. Well let me be honest with you, Buff. I fear nothing more than being with you. But it's the one thing I want more than anything else. It's the one thing that I feel will make me happy. I need you in my life, Buffy. I need you so much..."

Spoken as if she's the very air he breathes, necessary for his continued existence. As if she fulfills something he lacks. Surely, she does. She loves him... deeply loves him. There is no doubt about that anymore. "We're not even officially dating."

"Move in with me."

Whispered against the shell of her ear, as she's held tight, clutched to his chest so that nothing could ever take her from him. Buffy gently bit her lip, thinking out loud. "How do I know this isn't just a response to tonight?"

"Move in with me," he declared a second time, holding her gaze, now her body as well, so close he can feel her heart thump against his chest.

This is very scary territory for her. She's starting to smell commitment in the air. "This would be a huge step, Xander."

"Buffy, when it comes to you, I don't want to miss a thing."

Dipping her head against his chest, her eyes slipped shut, exhaling a bewildered breath, "This is crazy."

"Please."

Why? Over and over she asked herself that, standing in the darkness within his embrace, his hands stroking her back, his love soaking into every crevice of her heart. If she answers with her mind, she'll make sense and be unhappy, alone again and afraid. If she answers with her heart... "Xander?"

"Yes?"

"My lease is up at the end of the month."

Fireworks, the very second he kissed her. The very second their lips met, meshed, loved, changing everything they ever knew about one another. Everything that's ever been between then. One long agonizingly lazy kiss after another, groaning into each others mouths the whole time, daring and luscious. Decadent. Filled with the want and desire denied of far to many lonely nights, now set free at last.

They kissed until his entire sink filled with water and overflowed onto the floor.


One hour later


Could anything ever hope to equal Buffy Summer's kiss?

The answer was simple.

No.

Not even the sweet taste of milk chocolate, which paled in comparison to the irresistible flavor her tongue assaulted his senses with not long ago. If he concentrated hard enough, he could still hear the soft purring noises she made as he kissed her so deeply, until they found themselves standing barefoot in a puddle of water, at last noticing the sink had filled to overflowing, making a mess of his kitchen floor.

Laughter erupted, spoiling the sensual mood, even as it lightened things up, allowing them both a moment to breath. Suddenly, things were back to being simple, never mind the steps taken forward. They were, are, and always will be the very best of friends. Romance aside, they slipped back into their old roles just as easy as your most comfortable pair of house shoes. Cleaning up as best they could in the dark, they enjoyed their hot chocolate together as they talked a little about things of no real importance, and agreed, minus another kiss, to talk again first thing in the morning when clearer heads would prevail.

The profound changes that took place tonight in their relationship were not to be taken lightly.

Alas, that was an hour ago.

Standing nervously, with his hands in the pockets of his sweatpants, Xander could still feel his heart racing. Staring at the door to his bedroom, he pondered how odd that was, seeing as how this is his apartment. His domain. He's free to come and go as he pleases. Through sleep-blurry vision, he managed to make it from the couch to here. He's not completely sure how. All he knows is that he's been drawn to Buffy by images he just can't shake. He needs to see her. He needs her...

With only the intention of calming his own inner fears, Xander carefully turned the door knob as quietly as he could, slipping inside, leaving the door cracked so he could make a speedy exit. Just as soon as he had what he came for.

His peace of mind.

Shadows of the night sky played over his bed through the curtains, casting an almost mysterious veil over his bed. The alluring sight of Buffy sleeping peacefully under his covers, clutching his pillow to her as she rested caused something warm to clench in his heart. A perfect picture indeed. Unable to stop himself, he came around to her side of the bed, hating the squeaks his floorboard emitted. Spurred on by the knowledge that she's a deep sleeper, he knelt by her side, allowing himself a few moments to watch over her.

Strands of her silky blonde hair adorned his pillow as she slept, just a bit longer than she wore in the past couple of years. He hadn't noticed until now her new pink nail polish, smiling at the girly side of her she attempts to hide these days. In her most unguarded moments, she's revealed to be this beautiful young capable woman, and nothing more. Not the teacher/hero/legend of the next generation of Slayers, nor the figurehead of power behind the new Watchers Council. Xander works with that woman, but he loves this girl. The one who has even more trouble driving now that she has to on the other side of the road, yet has still managed to, and with great glee as she constantly reminded him that she doesn't have as many tickets as he has. She's rediscovered her spunk in the last year. Her spirit of old, as she's moved onwards towards the things she wants out of life, and not just what was expected of her.

Buffy confessed to him one night that Giles offered her an out. Upon investigation, the Scooby Gang discovered the former Watcher's Council's immense hidden finances, as well as located eleven Watchers who had gone into hiding after the First began stalking them. With Giles, Willow, Xander, Robin, and Faith onboard, there was a structure set to begin rebuilding what was lost. If she wanted to take Dawn and go somewhere to start over, maybe go back to college or start a business, she need only say the word.

The word was that her legacy is forever connected to Slayer line, and as it's rebuilt, she intended to oversee it every step of the way to insure no one ever went through the hell she did. When that's done, and only then, she'll reevaluate her life and decide what she wants to do next, then she will simply do it.

Of course she asked Xander what he wanted to do now, as well as offered him exactly what Giles offered her, explaining he had earned no less. A free education is a gift, and as years past he saw the more education you have, the better off you'll be. Having enjoyed his time in the construction field, despite the hard labor, he's taking college level classes in engineering and architecture at a London university. Hey, it's all free and he gets a damn good paycheck from the Council these days to live on. Taking advantage of a situation is smart, and though a bit wacky at times, Xander Harris was far from stupid.

None of that led him to her bedside tonight. Not the driving rain, still assaulting the windows in moist rivets as it fell. No, he's here to see her... to enjoy the sight of her peaceful form... to know with his own eyes that she is safe and sound.

Unable to resist, Xander reached out to her. Gentle fingers trailed along the curve of her cheek, down over her chin, marveling at the lovely vision before him. Her lips were simply made for kissing. There are well over one hundred reasons he's madly in love with this woman. No, not the teenager he fell in love with as a sophomore, nor the vixen he created in his mind as puberty took command. No, he's genuinely fallen in love with the woman who apologized to her friends and family on an airplane on the way to England for her behavior in the past year leading up to the destruction of Sunnydale. See, she did not have to do that. Friends accept imperfections because they love you. Family forgives. That's why they are family. Nonetheless, she gave them what she felt they deserved. She promised, and has kept the promise that her priorities are them, and everything else... everyone else, will not be an issue.

He's fallen in love with the woman who came to his new apartment one night and asked him to look at her as a man, and not her best friend, and tell her if she's lost to much weight. Never a vain woman, Xander figured she'd seen or noticed something she didn't like. She shrugged, just this shy of self-conscious. He told her that she could never look anything less than amazing to him, and that stress, depression, and grief had allot to due with a persons weight, be it gaining or losing. She understood that, having her answer within his understanding and caring for her. The next day Buffy hired a personal trainer, for herself, without a real goal other than to eat a bit healthier, work out, enjoy food rather than run from it when her minds on a million other things.

On the anniversary of Anya's death, she hand delivered him flowers just because. She remembered the day without having to be told. She cared enough to help him deal. That night, his love became new, and for her only.

"You're staring."

Lost in his own thoughts, he never even noticed her eyes were barely open, watching him with a drowsy expression. "Sorry."

"What's up?" she yawned, rolling onto her side. "Is something wrong?" If she looked up the word 'weary' in a dictionary, she'd see his face next to it. He needs a shave, a comb, and a few less bandages. He needs her... "Xander?"

How to explain? The last thing he wanted was for her to think he woke her up over something juvenile. "It's... it's silly, okay. I'm sorry for waking you up." Stretching his neck about, Xander tried to rise when Buffy's hand rested on his shoulder, stalling him. "Buffy..."

"Tell me. Please."

What she asks, she doesn't know is difficult to answer. So close to her. So deeply connected to her that exposing anything about himself felt right if he shared it with her. "I had what children across the world commonly refer to as a bad nightmare. It was about you..." he paused, shaking his head, a bit embarrassed. "It had to do with tonight. I'm sure it's just a reaction to what we saw and everything. I just had to make..." he sighed, scratching his head, "to make sure you were okay. Even though I know you were. I mean, you're a grown woman and a Slayer, and all." he laughed at the end, putting on his best Xander-face for her benefit.

There were so many ways to show someone how you much you care for them, and then there were the personal ways that were unique to specific people you in turn cared for. His eyes conveyed a vulnerable streak as he awaited what she thought of what he said. If he had the ability to read minds, he'd know how close to crying she was over how he cares for her. Even if it's all over a bad dream.

Sitting up in bed, Buffy swung her legs around until she sat Indian style, offering her him best smile. In his need to mock her, he assumed the same position on the floor. "I'm fine, sweetheart." She even surprised herself with the endearment added at the end. It felt good to surprise him. God, when was the last time she called someone sweetheart? Had she ever? "And I love you for checking up on me."

He's still smiling a little from being called sweetheart. "Even if I woke you up?"

She assured him, "I don't mind you waking me up."

"I hate it when people wake me up."

"Yeah, well I can see how you probably wouldn't like a sexy, handsome half-naked man waking you up in the middle of the night. I would though."

"Okay, is that a compliment or should I be jealous?"

"You confuse easy."

"It's taken you nine years to figure that out?"

"No, it's taken me nine years to see the real you while finding out who the real me was."

"I'll bite. Who's the real you?"

"You bite?" she leered, dabbing her bottom lip with her tongue just to tease. She could still taste his kiss on her lips. Still feel the heat. "Come to think of it, biting isn't all that bad."

The male instinct to jump the little minx was calmed by the curiosity of her answer. "Be serious."

"And that's coming from you?" she laughed right back, enjoying how they can dance this dance they do so well, never boring of it. "I'm still a work in progress, Xander. Still finding out how I tick and tock. But all the work being done is work I want to do. Work I choose. That's the biggest difference, I guess."

Xander leaned forward, until his elbows rested on the bed, just in front of her. His sheets, pillows, and covers will carry her scent from now on, and he just loves that. "It terrifies me to say this, but I'm absolutely crazy about you."

Nothing could have prevented the blush that snuck up on her. She's fiddling with his pillow, trying to keep her composure. "Crazy in what way?" she inquired, mischief dancing within her moody hazel eyes.

She makes him work for everything. Perhaps that's a good thing. "Crazy enough to wake you up in the middle of the night."

"That's not so crazy."

"Crazy enough to let you wear my shirt to bed."

"You 'love' how I look in your shirt." Oh, she can tell. His eyes alone betrayed that fact. Such arousal, no doubt a guy thing.

"Fine," he chuckled in the face of her smirk. "Tell me how crazy I should be?"

"Crazy enough to fall in love with me."

"To late," he whispered at last, crossing that final hurdle where all things vague became clear. He saw the raw emotions playing behind her eyes, the feelings she must be experiencing. "I guess the only question left is how you feel about me, my soon to be roommate?"

Never let it be said that Buffy Summers made it easy on a guy. "I feel that you need to make room for me in your closet."

Ever the diva that drives men wild. "You're short. How much room could your clothes take up anyway?" He knew that if she were wearing shoes, she'd have thrown one, or possibly two at his head by now. "You'll have all the space you need."

"What about the TV? Who controls the remote"
-
Was she kidding! "Now hold on a second, Buff. The remote control, like King Arthur's sword Excalibur, is meant for a man to wield, and a man only."

"If we don't share the remote, Xander," Buffy leaned over in his face, naughty grin in place, "We don't share the bed."

Damn feminine wiles. Damn weakness he has to Buffy-flesh. Damn penis with a mind of it's own. "Sharing sounds appropriate."

"I knew you'd see it my way."

"Okay, enough games, Buff. How do you feel about me?"

Having witnessed such a blatant disregard for human life tonight, Buffy wanted to share the best of what life had to offer. Shifting up and off the bed, Xander's surprise at her slipping onto his lap was only eclipsed by the sudden spike of arousal that shivered throughout his body.

"I want to be serious for a minute, okay?" she asked, looping her arms around his neck as they sat face to face. "Tonight has been a very emotional night for both of us. Very painful. Odds are we'll never forget what we saw." She took her time to convey how serious this all was to her. "But I've had romantic feelings for you in the very unfriendly sort of way for the last three months. I haven't tried to hide it. I've been ready to pursue something with you. Until tonight, you've been distant and unwilling. How do I know you won't wake up in the morning and feel the same way you did before we had our mortality tested?"

"Buffy..." Her palm covered his mouth, silencing him.

"I, Buffy Anne Summers, of sound mind and body, admit that I am an emotional coward. I'm sorry about that in advance. You won't be getting anything resembling a perfect person here, nor would I expect that of you. But with you, I have to be certain you truly want to be with me, and you're not just scared of dying without knowing what it would be like to be with me. I need to believe you are in love with me. I truly need that."

Saying the words would have been enough for a woman who's heard them sincerely meant. Buffy's had them distorted and bent backwards more times than she could count by the men in her life. Wrapping her slim form in his arms, Xander pressed his forehead to hers, sighing. "Tonight was a eye opener for me, no doubt. But my feelings for you have been around for a very long time."

"With you, a relationship would be so different than any I've had before," she pleaded with him to understand. "You're irreplaceable to me. And I want to be yours."

Marry her. It's the first insane crazy thought that came to mind. "I want to yours too, Buffy. I love you more than anything else in the world, and in case you haven't noticed, the world's a pretty big place." She laughed in his arms, caressing the hair on the back of his head with her fingertips. "Believe in me the way I've always believed in you. Trust me."

She did. She does. She always has. He's the only man she's ever without fail, trusted. He's earned her trust and loyalty. He's won her heart. Taken it for his own, leaving her pleased at his possession. "Xander, I'm crazy in love with you too. If Gucci made a straight jacket, I'd be wearing one." Lifting her eyes to meet his, she smiled warmly and brushed a lock of her hair out of her eyes. "Is that okay with you?"

"That is so okay with me. You have no idea how okay that is with me. In the history of things that have ever been okay, this ranks right up there with such famous okay things like..."

"Honey, you're babbling."

"I grew up with Willow," he offered as his best excuse. "She was a bad influence. I've been telling people that for years."

She smiled at him, then shifted her body, and wrapped her arms around him, hugging tightly, her chin resting in the crook of his shoulder and her mouth pressed up against his left ear. Breathing in this beautiful new world, her soul needed to rejoice "I don't think I'll be able to stand it another second if you don't make love to me right now."

"... Buffy," his voice softly called out her name, choked with such emotion and desire. His hands slid up her back and pushed gently at her shoulders, moving her body slightly away from his so that he could look into her eyes. His vision suddenly blurred as he looked at her, she was utterly gorgeous. Her expressive hazel eyes were searching his and silently pressing for an answer, and he guessed that he owed her one. "I'm so lost in you,"

With her lips quivering slightly, she pressed them against his and started to kiss him passionately, their arms both tightly wrapped around one another, tongues caressing, their warm bodies rubbing together and low murmurs escaping their lips as they made out. As he slid his hands through her hair their kiss became even steamier, more electrified, a new urgency seemed to take hold as they lost themselves in each other's arms. A moan passed into his mouth and Buffy pressed her breasts provocatively against his chest, moving up and down slightly so they rubbed back and forth, consuming his heart.

Forcing himself up, Xander lifted Buffy off his lap, in his arms, falling forward on the bed, now covering her body with his own. Her legs caught hold of him, as if her body melted into his as their tongues began to wrestle with a ferocious intensity. She was panting hard and unashamedly enjoying every moment that they kissed. Even when one of them accidentally touched a sore part or nicked a Band-Aid, they never stopped kissing.

Xander groaned against her lips, "I've wanted you for so long."

Staring in the face of his utter hunger for her, Buffy slipped her hands under his shirt, gently raking her nails down his chest. Thank goodness she's on the pill. "You don't have to want anymore. You have me. I'm yours. And you're mine." Her hair was tousled and her eyes were shining with mischief. Her mouth was wet and slack from their kiss, her sweatshirt slightly rucked up, exposing even more flesh to Xander's hungry eyes. Getting a hold of himself, he let his arms drift from her back to her sides, where they touched bare flesh. Even her bruises were attractive as he caressed her.

Their lips never parted, not a single time as they undressed to the sound of rain pelting against the window, with stray thunder echoing in the heavens.


Finally, blissfully, they finished, gently dislodging, lying side by side and in desperate need of a shower...

They considered talking. They really did. But sleep wanted them more than anything else, and so they succumbed to that, giving into a peaceful slumber at last. At the end of a horrible night made beautiful by the simple understanding that as bad as life gets, there's always something you can feel blessed you have in your life.

For Buffy and Xander, it's each other and their love.


The End. No Sequel Enjoy:)