Rock Bottom

Xander's POV

Here I was minding my own business wallowing in my own self-pity, when Buffy has the audacity to knock on my door and invite herself in, knocking the door down in the process. I don't actually see her as I've got my eyes closed, but as I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my skin and Spike has been nothing more than pothole filler it could only be one person. My assumptions are confirmed when my nostrils flare as her unmistakable scent assaults my senses. I consider reminding her that she had a key, given to her when we were hiding from the Initiative, but I didn't see the point.

"Hey Xand, what are you doing?" she asked brightly. She thinks she can fool me with her false enthusiasm, forgetting how well I know her.

"Considering calling the police and reporting a burglary," I reply in an attempt to make her believe I'm my usual self. The impish smile that I'm sure has appeared on her face because of my comment would normally amuse me. Nothing amuses me anymore.

"You just want to see me in handcuffs don't you?" she asked flirtatiously, trying to get a rise out of me I guess.

"Never crossed my mind," I replied. I was telling the truth, that thought hadn't entered my head at all. It's further proof of how I'm feeling, as my mind has never put a filter on my thoughts before.

"How long are you going to act like this?" she asked, her patience running out as quickly as ever. I'm not sure whether it's a Slayer thing or a woman thing, but her patience with Y chromosome carriers has always been on the low side.

I can think of a few ways to answer her, but I decide to go with the road less travelled by me, honesty. "A few more days and it probably won't matter."

It was then I guess that she finally saw me. I'm sure that she'd been looking at me since she broke in, but she hadn't seen me until that moment. I haven't had anything to eat or drink in a couple of days and have barely moved from my spot on my makeshift bed. It's fair to say that I've probably seen better days, but if I have anything to do with it I won't be seeing many more.

"I'm not just going to stand here and let you kill yourself Xander," she states with authority. I'm sure that Buffy sometimes forgets that she only has jurisdiction over the supernatural, as I've been constantly told by her and my other friends that I'm 'normal' that must means she doesn't get a say in the matter.

I finally open my eyes and look at her, my vision is a little blurry but I can see that she's looking worried for me. It's only taken five years. I know that's harsh, but I've rarely been given much consideration by her the last couple of years unless I was needed for something.

"Then sit down, or even better walk away and leave me alone. Anyway, I'm not killing myself. There are no guns, knives or poisons in the immediate area and I'm not dangling by my neck. I'm simply lying here, doing nothing, and not harming anyone. If you don't want to be here, leave. It isn't as though you were invited in the first place."

Buffy decides to change tactics with me and uses the glare that is usually reserved for the demons she kills. "You're coming with me and you have no choice in the matter."

I sigh and close my eyes again, knowing that I wouldn't be able to resist, even on my best day I'd never be able to go up against a Slayer and win. I guess she takes that as my implicit consent because she comes over and picks me up in her small but Slayer-enhanced arms. I hear her gasp when she feels how light I am; even before I decided to just lie here I had been eating less and less.

"You can now add kidnapping to your list of crimes," I manage to say, my throat feeling extremely dry due to our conversation. It hadn't been much of a conversation, but I haven't really drunk anything in a while so my fluids are low.

I can feel her eyes boring their way into me and I can't help but open my own. She looks me straight in the eyes; her face is set like stone and she uses a voice that meant that she would brook no refusal. "If it means that you get better, it's worth it."

I sigh, knowing I can't talk her out of this action, and close my eyes once again. I can feel it as we move outside of the basement and onto the sidewalk. "Unless Anya is waiting for me at your house, you're wasting your time."

Her step falters slightly so I know that I've got to her with that last comment, but it doesn't phase her for long and soon she striding toward her house. Neither one of us spoke again during her trek to the house of Summers, something I was pretty glad about. All I wanted was to be left alone.

She somehow manages to open the door without releasing me and takes me to her bedroom laying me down on her bed. If I said that this scenario had never entered my thoughts before I'd be labelling myself as a liar, but once again those sort of thoughts never reach my consciousness. If this were any other time I'd be kicking myself. Once she'd adjusted me so I looked comfortable, although she never actually asked if I were, she left the room. Around a minute or so later, I feel someone at the door. When the smell of strawberries and sandalwood hits me I knew who it was. I open my eyes to see Willow standing there, happy face in full force.

"Hi Xander, it's so nice to see you! How are you feeling, good I hope?" she asked perkily.

I have to wonder why she even bothered putting up a pretence; I've known her so long I sometimes can't think of a memory before I met her and yet here she is trying to make me believe she's filled with the joys of Spring. I'm able to see straight through her to the fear and concern she's trying to hide from me and for a moment I feel a sliver of warmth entering my heart, only for it to leave a moment later.

Just like Buffy, Willow hasn't given me more than a fleeting thought these past couple of years; not out of malice but simply because I became less important to her once she started college and started going out with Tara. The difference is that it hurts more from Willow than it does from Buffy; she's been my friend since I knew what the word meant and for her to have so little interest in my welfare, at least until now, has pained me greatly.

Deciding to cut to the chase, I'm not really in the mood to go through the motions like I normally would, I stare blankly at her for a moment before speaking. "Just do whatever spell Buffy has told you to do and get it over with. I don't have time for or want your inane happy talk Wills so don't even bother."

Willow looks shocked at the tone I used on her but I really couldn't care less. They can't leave me to my own devices; they shouldn't expect me to welcome their intrusion with open arms, especially when they've been so lacking in that department until now. Willow looks down at her feet for a second or two and then begins chanting something, no doubt a spell to keep me from escaping. I doubt I'd be able to get to a sitting position let alone leave the house. As she finishes her spell and turns to leave, I can feel the darkness closing in and soon I'm enveloped by it.

I'm not sure how long I was out, but when I woke up I was no longer in Buffy's bedroom. Instead I found myself lying on the couch in the living room. It was light outside so I knew it was daytime, but apart from that I had no idea what time it was or even what day it was. I hear noises coming from the kitchen and a few minutes later I notice Dawn walking in with a bowl of soup and some dry bread.

As what usually happens when the youngest Summers girl enters the room I smile softly at her as I try to sit up. It's then that I feel a strange sensation in my right arm and notice that they have me on an IV; theft is now on the list, as they must have taken it from the hospital. That explains why I wasn't feeling as weak as I had done when Buffy let herself into my home.

Dawn gingerly sits down next to me, a full but false smile plastered on her face. It doesn't bug me as much as her sisters and Willow's did, mainly because I know she has gone through a lot with her mom already and doesn't know how to deal with me.

"Hey Xander it's lunchtime, think you can eat something?" she asked timidly.

I really don't want to hurt her feelings, but they all need to understand that my body is mine to do with what I choose and they have no right to interfere. I silently pray that she'll forgive me one day before I reply. "Whether I can is different to whether I will Dawn. Short of having me admitted to hospital, where I would simply discharge myself after explaining how I was abducted from my own home and forcibly brought in, there's not a damn thing you or anyone else can do to make me do anything. Unless of course you feel like trying to control my mind with a spell and forcing me to eat. There is a word for that: Rape. Are you willing to do that?" I asked.

I actually wouldn't put it past Willow to do just that; casting a spell on me so I was more compliant to their wishes if I keep refusing to do what they want. I can see the hurt and shock in Dawns eyes and face; I feel horrible that I'm the cause of it, but I won't be swayed. I'm sure that some of that shock is to do with what I said; I doubt any of them have actually thought about what they're doing to me, Dawn the least of all. She's simply too young and innocent to understand that things aren't black and white in the world but shade upon shade of grey.

The problem is, age and innocence aside, she's still a Summers woman, which equates to being bloody minded and stubborn as hell. After a few moments she schools her emotions and puts on the infamous 'Summers determination' expression. "We'll do whatever it takes to make you better," she said quietly but determinedly.

I sigh knowing that the only way she'll leave me alone now is if I hurt her more than I already have. There's only one thing I can say that I know will get me the peace I desire. "Just remember that you'll never get me to do it willingly, force me and I'll hate you all forever."

Tears well up in her eyes, and where once I would have brought her into a hug to make her feel better, I don't. She turns and runs into the kitchen and after dumping the food, runs up the stairs to her room, slamming the door behind her. I really didn't want to do it, but she left me no choice. When will they get it through their heads; I want to be left alone so I can die in peace. A couple of minutes later Buffy comes down.

"What did you say to Dawn?" she asked angrily. It seems I've inadvertently scored a double header; the quickest way through Buffy's defences has always been Dawn.

"Nothing but the truth, I've been told that it hurts." She's standing right in front of me now, her hands balling up into fists in a conscious effort to control her temper. Because I'm lying down and she's standing, she is in the unusual position of being able to look down on me, which she is trying to use as much to her advantage as possible. She forgets that she before has never intimidated me and I won't be now. "Why are you doing this Buffy? None of you have really taken much interest in me for the last couple of years, so why now?" I asked her.

She takes a defensive pose, seeing my comment as an attack. Well she should, because it was.

"We have taken an interest in you Xander, we just had other things as well."

I momentarily glare at her but stop, as I just don't have the energy or the motivation. While the pain of being slowly ostracized by the only people in the world I considered family, apart from Anya, has caused me more than one sleepless night, I just can't make myself feel the same strength of emotion about it anymore. "The only times I was ever round here was when some demon was needing to be researched or something needed to be fixed. The only times you ever came round to see me was when you needed something, never just to see me. When was the last time you asked me here just to hang? When was the last time we talked about something that wasn't to do with the Hellmouth? When was the last time you asked me anything to do with my own life, or even how I was?"

With ever question I asked, the realisation that she couldn't remember started to become more and more apparent in her eyes and her anger went with it. If the circumstances were different I probably would have got a sense of satisfaction out of the situation. However the circumstances aren't different and all I feel is hollow; I just can't make myself care anymore.

She finally responded to my questions. "I don't know," she said in a small voice, sounding nothing like the Buffy I knew.

"That's all the proof you need right there. So tell me, why now? Why have a sudden interest in me now?" I asked, partly to distract her from making me eat and partly because I was truly curious. I doubt I'd get another chance to find out if I have my way.

"You need us Xander, you can't go through this alone."

"What I choose to do and how I choose to do it are mine and mine alone. What gives you the right to interfere?" I asked her, wanting, needing to know why she won't let me end my suffering.

"She died Xander!" she shouted at me, "We all knew her, we all cared for her… in our own ways and we all miss her. Do you think that she would want you to be like this?" she asked.

How dare she think she knows Anya better than me; she barely talked to her and when she did it was to tell her to be quiet or if she needed her knowledge of demons. I know her better than anyone and I know exactly how she'd want me to act. "Yes, this is exactly how she would want me to be; slowly dying because she is no longer here. A single conversation with her would have told you that."

"Well I don't want you to die," she pleaded to me.

"I didn't want Anya to die, but she did. You can't always get what you want Buffy. Besides, I don't care what you want, not anymore. You'll soon find another Butt Monkey."

She suddenly bends down and lifts me into the air off the couch. I can tell that she's hasn't gotten over how light I am by the look in her eyes. "Now listen here! You are not going to let yourself die! I won't let you do it! I can't let you do it!" she shouted at me. There are tears in her eyes now and I have a momentary urge to console her but the urge passes as quickly as it arrives. I know that I'm close to getting the peace I need so I push the envelope.

"There isn't much that you can do about it, Slayer."

The hurt on her face when I call her Slayer almost makes me want to take it back. Almost. The almost drops me to the ground because of what I said, but she instead lowers me gently back onto the couch. I watched her as she checks that she hadn't removed the IV before speaking again.

"Please Xander, I don't want you to die. Mom, Willow, Dawn, Giles and Tara don't want you to die."

Why can't she just let me be? I want to die; it's what I deserve… "I've already told you that we don't always get what we want. I didn't want Anya to die and she did. Why should you get what you want when I didn't?"

"I can't give you an answer to that Xander and you know it. All I know is that we did everything we could to save her, we'll do everything we can to save you."

"You've tried, you've failed, move on."

"You know I don't give up that easy."

"Maybe you should, some people aren't worth saving."

"You are."

This time I do feel something, something that suddenly coarse through my system like hot magma. Before I know it, I'm standing up and looking down on her with a face filled with rage. "NO I'M NOT! I let her die, I couldn't fight them and I let her die."

The energy it took for that outburst leaves me feeling drained, my knees give out and I slump bonelessly to the floor. I felt a sharp scratching sensation as the Iv comes out and feel the wetness of my blood as it slowly trickles down my arm, but I don't really register the pain as something far worse has my attention.

I've finally told someone else the truth; I'd let Anya die that night, it was my fault she was no longer here and I deserve nothing less than sweet oblivion. I hadn't meant to tell anyone for fear of seeing the shame and disgust on their faces. I can feel her kneeling down beside me, no doubt disgusted by the sight of me. Though I try not to, I open my eyes and look at her. Instead of the expected rage or distaste, I see compassion and something I cannot fathom.

"You were surrounded by a large gang of vamps Xander," she said to me in a soothing voice as she presses a cloth against my arm to stop the bleeding. "When we arrived Anya was already dead, you were unconscious and surrounded by at least six dust piles. You did absolutely everything you could to protect her Xand, everything."

My earlier outburst seemed to break down the walls I'd erected around my emotions. I feel tears in my eyes, which surprises me as I thought I had used up a lifetime of them already. "It wasn't enough, it's never enough." I'm crying in earnest now, no longer able to bottle up the guilt I feel over letting her die.

She moves closer to me and pulls me into an embrace. I feel the warmth of her body, hear the slow regular rhythm of her heartbeat, and smell the scent of the perfume she wears mixed with the natural vanilla essence I've always associated with her. I try as hard as I can to fight it, but the comfort I feel in her arms starts to get to me. "There are times when no matter how hard we try, we won't save the day. But for every time we don't, there are so many more times when we do. We have to do what we can when we can and just try to cope with when we can't."

Without even realising it, I've put my arms around her and start hugging her with everything I have, which in the state I'm in isn't a lot. "I can't get past all this pain, all I want is to be with her again. There's no way I'll survive this place without her here with me."

"All the time she is on your heart and in your thoughts she will be with you. I know it sounds selfish but I need you, we all need you. Please let us help you." She's slowly rubbing gentle circles on my back, doing whatever she can to make me feel better and I hate to admit it but it's working. I don't want it to work, I don't deserve for it to work.

"Why can't you let me die? It's what I deserve, it's the least I deserve."

She pulls away from me slightly so I can see her face; her expression is so caring that it shocks me. I don't think I've ever seen so much emotion on her face, at least not directed at me. "You don't deserve to die Xand, no more than Anya did or anybody else. The problem is that at some point or other everybody dies, no exceptions."

I try not to listen, knowing that if I do I might begin to believe her. I do my best to block her words out, doing it the only way I know how, the way I've done it my entire life. "She was the only one who never made me feel worthless. My parents have for as long as I can remember, constantly telling me how I would never amount to anything and I would end up exactly like them. You, Giles and the others did whenever you told me to stay out of the fight 'for my own good'. Do you realise that I have spent the least amount of time in hospital out of all of us? The worst I've ever got was a broken arm. I can go one-on-one with a vamp and win but you all made me feel like I was weak and should stay inside and allow 'the professionals' to do the work. Anya was the only one who never tried to keep me from doing what I felt was right and even supported me in it. When she did worry about me, it wasn't because she didn't think I could handle myself, she was worried that I would get hurt trying to protect the rest of you. Now she's gone because I couldn't save her and with her went any reason I had to continue living on this cesspool called a planet."

I feel her gently cup my face in her hands and tilt my head so I have no choice but to look at her. All other emotions have left her eyes and all is left is the one I have never seen her send my way before and I still do not know what it is. I see her take a breath before speaking. "You have a reason."

"And that is?" I asked.


Buffy's POV

"NO I'M NOT! I let her die, I couldn't fight them and I let her die."

The anger and pain in his voice almost brings me to tears, I've never seen him so emotional. I'm able to hold them back; not because I don't want to cry, but because I know it will only make him worse. This has been eating away at him and the last thing he needs is me crying my eyes out, especially when he's crying also. Another first in my life, I don't think I've ever seen him cry before; I'm sure that he has done but he tries so hard to hide how he feels from everyone.

We all knew that he was feeling depressed over Anya's death, but no one thought that he actually blamed himself for it. I doubt I'd ever forget that night two months ago; we had managed to get there just in time to see him collapse after staking a vamp, leaving five circling him. Before any of them had a chance to advance on him we charged, Willow and Tara combining their magical ability to send balls of fire at them while I took them on with my twin Wakizashi blades. They never stood a chance; the moment we saw the state that Xander was in all any of us saw was red and the only ending was dust.

We could see that Anya was dead straight away, her neck was at an unnatural angle and her eyes were staring blankly ahead. We all felt the pain of losing another of our group but were unable to allow it to consume us as we still had Xander to worry about. We had managed to get him to hospital just in time; the doctor's said that he had internal bleeding and a punctured lung where one of his ribs had snapped and splintered into it. While they hadn't said it, we could all tell that they weren't optimistic that he'd live to see another sunrise. As always however Xander beat the odds and pulled through, leaving hospital a week later.

He had been upset but understanding over that fact we had cremated her while he had been in hospital; she had several bite marks on her body and we didn't want to run the risk of her rising as a vampire. None of wanted to go up against another friend and definitely not one that had a thousand years of knowledge and experience of being a demon. Xander had taken her ashes and scattered them on the beach, saying that she had enjoyed going there sometimes and relax.

He hadn't been like this for long; mom had made it her mission to look after him when he came out of hospital and he made no indication that he would resist, knowing the futility of it. The problem started when she left to see her sister; he had immediately gone back to his parent's basement and with his doctor telling him not to return to work and his boss agreeing with him, he had nothing to do but think and had slowly but surely got worse until I had no choice but to intervene a couple of days ago.

Now I knew the root of his depression, I had a better chance of getting him over it. I kneel down next to him, careful not to startle him as his eyes are shut. I notice a thin red line on his arm and realise that he must have yanked his IV out during his outburst. I notice a cloth on the back of the couch so I grab it and place it against his arm to stop the flow while I speak to him, keeping my voice low and as soothing as possible. "You were surrounded by a large gang of vamps Xander. When we arrived Anya was already dead, you were unconscious and surrounded by at least six dust piles. You did absolutely everything you could to protect her Xand, everything."

"It wasn't enough, it's never enough," was his only reply before the crying intensifies.

I know exactly how he's feeling; it's the same feeling I have every time I'm waiting at someone's grave for them to rise. Every newbie I stake is a person I was unable to save and sometimes I feel overwhelmed with guilt. Sometimes I've even thought about letting them go my guilt over their death so great, but I know that if I did that then I'd be responsible for more deaths. I know that I'll never get them all, all I can do is get as many as I can when I can.

Seeing him so open and vulnerable pulls at my heart and before I know I've enveloped him in my arms, rocking him lightly back and forth while threading my fingers through his hair. This would be extremely romantic if this was under different circumstances, but right now romance is the furthest thought from my mind. Well not the furthest… there's time for those kinds of thoughts later, right now I need to try and pull Xander back from the abyss he's been staring at for weeks. "There are times when no matter how hard we try, we won't save the day. But for every time we don't, there are so many more times when we do. We have to do what we can when we can and just try to cope with it when we can't."

I think I'm starting to get through to him as he begins to hug me back, wrapping his arms around me and squeezing with all his might. I say nothing, even in his weakened state he's still got quite a grip on him but my body can take it as well as dish it out so I'm not in pain. He says nothing for a while and when he does speak I'm thankful for my enhanced hearing otherwise I'd never have heard him. "I can't get past all this pain, all I want is to be with her again. There's no way I'll survive this place without her here with me."

Again I know how he feels; when I watched Angel getting sucked through the portal Acathla opened I was a hairs width away from jumping in after him, preferring an eternity in hell with him than a lifetime her without him. I didn't give anyone a chance to help me through it; I hightailed it to LA and tried to escape everything and everyone and it took me months and an encounter with a group of demons to get me to a place where I could come back. I'd never wi… I'd never want anyone else to feel the pain that I did back then but Xander is feeling it and I'll not rest until I can get him through it. "All the time she is on your heart and in your thoughts she will be with you. I know it sounds selfish but I need you, we all need you. Please let us help you."

"Why can't you let me die? It's what I deserve, it's the least I deserve."

There's no way I can let that pass, so I gently move him away slightly so I can look into his eyes. He looks at me with such sorrow that it's almost painful to see, but my gaze never wavers from his, as I need him to know how sincere I am. "You don't deserve to die Xand, no more than Anya did or anybody else. The problem is that at some point or other everybody dies, no exceptions."

I can see it in his eyes; I'm starting to get through to him but he's fighting it, his guilt warring with his common sense. "She was the only one who never made me feel worthless. My parents have for as long as I can remember, constantly telling me how I would never amount to anything and I would end up exactly like them. You, Giles and the others did whenever you told me to stay out of the fight 'for my own good'. Do you realise that I have spent the least amount of time in hospital out of all of us? The worst I've ever got was a broken arm. I can go one-on-one with a vamp and win but you all made me feel like I was weak and should stay inside and allow 'the professionals' to do the work. Anya was the only one who never tried to keep me from doing what I felt was right and even supported me in it. When she did worry about me, it wasn't because she didn't think I could handle myself, she was worried that I would get hurt trying to protect the rest of you. Now she's gone because I couldn't save her and with her went any reason I had to continue living on this cesspool called a planet."

It hurts to hear him speak like that and it hurts even more because it's true; all except that last sentence. I'm just not sure he'll think it enough. "You have a reason."

"And that is?" he asked me, his tone indicating that he doubts I can come close to giving him an answer. I take a deep breath before I give him one.

"Me." This wasn't the way I wanted to tell him, but the way he was talking before told me I didn't have much choice. The thought of losing him now, when I am finally ready to reciprocate the feelings he had sent my way for so long, was more than I could bear. He just looks at me in confusion, as though he isn't quite sure he heard me correctly, or even at all. "Xand, did you hear me?" I asked him, his face still held in my hands.

"What?" was his intelligent reply, causing me to suppress a smile; now wasn't the time for smiles. I need him to know that I am being serious about this and not just saying it to convince him.

"I said that you do have a reason to stay in this 'cesspool called a planet' and that reason is me."

"I must be closer to death than I thought," Xander said after looking at me like I'd just grown a second head.

"Huh?" I replied intelligently. I guess great minds think alike.

"I've got to be in a state of deliriousness at the moment, there is no way you could have meant that the way you said it," he clarified, talking in a voice that that sounded so certain of what he was saying that it actually hurt a little. I can't blame him for thinking that way given our history.

"No, you're not close to death and if I have my way won't be for at least another sixty-seventy years. No, you're not in a state of deliriousness; you're of sound mind and body, more or less. Yes, I did mean that the way I said it."

He just keeps looking at me with that same expression and while part of me is annoyed that he looks that way, there's a bigger part of me that can't blame him. While this isn't a new thing as far as I'm concerned I haven't given him even the slightest hint that I've ever thought of him as more than a friend. Hell, sometimes I haven't even given him that much. In trying to hide how I felt about him I ended up practically excluding him from my life completely, a thought that.

"What do you expect me to do with a piece of information like that?" he asked me, although I doubt he expects an answer. "You expect me to suddenly want me to get up and about so we can live happily ever after?"

Knowing that I won't be able to have this conversation in the position we're currently in, I let go of his face and gently lift him back onto the couch, sitting next to him so that we're still close together but not touching like we were. "I'm hoping that you'll do the getting up and about part, anything else will be a exceedingly pleasant bonus," I replied, deciding that for once in my life, I'd have an honest conversation with someone and let the chips fall where they may.

"Why now? Why, after everything that we've gone through together, after all the time you ignored or rebuffed my advances, have your feelings suddenly changed for me?"

It's a valid question, and I knew that the answer I'm going to give him won't be one he'll be expecting, but he deserves to know. "This isn't exactly a new thing for me, in fact I've been feeling this way for quite a while. It started when you gave me that pep talk last year when you came back from your road trip…"

"What?" he asked in a raised voice, something of a rarity from him. Apart from his outburst earlier, he's barely changed the tone of his voice the entire conversation. I realise that this is probably our longest conversation in years and I'm shamed by that fact. I decide to ignore his question and continue with my explanation of when I started to see him as more than a friend.

"… The way you looked at me when you said that I was your hero removed the mental blocks I'd put in place where you were concerned years ago. That first night in Sunnydale, Willow put up major signposts saying 'Xander-Poaching is punishable by death', so I stopped seeing you as boyfriend potential and labelled you in my mind as an honorary girl."

"Wait, you thought I was boyfriend potential back then?" he asked with wide eyes.

I nodded, "I nearly said yes when you asked if you could have me."

"Wow, I mean, wow."

I'm not surprised that that shocks him; to be honest I was as well when I remembered. I had done such a good job at emasculating him in my head that I had completely forgotten that I'd considered him cute when I first met him. I'd allowed a lot of things he had done for me over the years to slip my mind, all to keep his position as 'one of the girls' in my head.

"Well, when those mental blocks disappeared I saw everything that you'd done for me in a new light and I was very pleased with what I saw."

"So why didn't you say anything?" he asked, absently picking up the glass Dawn must have left on the side table and absently taking a sip. Inwardly I'm elated but I do my best not to show it. I know that if I made anything out of it, he'd close up even more than he was and I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to pull him back.

"Several reasons really; I didn't want you to think you were rebound guy; something I know you would have thought. I was scared that you didn't feel the same way; especially due to the way I treated your feelings for me in High School. I was scared that if we got together and something went wrong the friendship we had would be ruined and you'd leave. Not exactly original reasons I know, but they were enough for me to not say anything. I tried to ignore the feelings I had by going out with Parker and we all know how well that turned out. When I had finally decided to tell you, Anya was on the scene and being the other woman wasn't on my list of things to be before I was thirty."

No matter how strong my feelings, I could never be like the 'woman' that had gone after dad all those years ago. I know that dad was far from blameless over what happened, but if she had respected the fact he was married, he and mom might still be together. Another 'what if?' that makes up my life.

"You're suggesting of course that I would have left Anya for you. I don't think so," he said with a dismissive wave of his hand, a sliver of natural expressionism coming through. I hope it doesn't stop there, although I hope it might start becoming more positive.

"If Anya were here now I know for a fact that I'd have a snowball's chance in Hell, but you gotta admit that back then you were with her more for the great sex than because of her." He says nothing but I can tell he agrees with me, however reluctantly. "Anyway, Riley entered my life and I started to get over my feelings for you but they never left; that was why I couldn't tell him I was in love with him. Sure, I loved him, but not enough to remove you from my heart. I had my part to play in the end of our relationship, but finding him in that vampire whorehouse was definitely the death nail. With him out of my life, I had nothing to distract me from my feelings for you, and I found that I no longer wanted a distraction. I still wasn't going to say anything to you, but I no longer wanted to ignore the way I felt abut you either. When you gave me that pep talk a couple of days before… well before, I almost jumped you there and then, Anya or no Anya. To be honest that was more the final straw for my will power, my defences had been weakened by some other things I'd found out you'd done."

"Like what?" he asked.

"Like the fact you managed to have all of mom's medical costs paid for, not to mention paying off the mortgage for this place."

I'm sure that his face would have paled if it had any colour to do so. "How… how did you know I did that?" he asked me.

Again, another valid question, and this time I'm certain he won't like the answer. "Angel found out and let me know."

"Trust Deadboy to rat me out," he groused.

"How did you get Wolfram & Hart to do that?" I asked him. While I no longer had feelings for Angel, we do keep each other informed on what's going on just in case our troubles overlap. The way he talks about Wolfram & Hart I would have thought helping out the mother of the (well 'a' if you count Faith, which I try not to) Slayer would be the last thing they'd do.

When Angel told me about it, it was more to warn me that Xander might have changed sides than it was to let me know what he'd done for me. That was the last time I heard from him because we got into an argument; I had told him in no uncertain terms that there is no way Xander would ever turn on us and when he tried to convince me otherwise I slammed the phone down on him.

"Well it helped that I saved the lives of two of their employees," he replied.

"What?" I asked, shocked that he wouldn't have told us. Saving two people who work for an evil law firm (in the supernatural sense, not the ambulance chaser sense) isn't exactly an everyday occurrence.

"If I'd known whom I was saving, I'd have driven past and let the vamps have them. When I told you that I had to stay in Oxnard because my car stopped working, I wasn't entirely truthful on how. About two miles south of Oxnard I saw a limousine surrounded by half a dozen vamps and a few other demons. The car got mangled when I used it as a weapon knocking them down and allowing the limo to get away. Anyway they found me in Oxnard a couple of days later; Lilah reminded me of Cordy but without the warm centre and Lindsay simply made my skin crawl. They both said that they owed me one for saving them, but I had no intention on collecting until Joyce got ill. I got on to Lindsay and he dealt with her medical bills and the mortgage."

"Why? You could have had anything, why that?" I asked.

"Joyce is as much of a mom to me as she is to you, there's no way I couldn't do what I did."

I had already known what the answer was; it was pretty difficult not to know how he felt about mom. When we first found out about her illness he tried to put up a calm front but I could see the worry in his eyes and the fact he had to hold onto the chair in front of him to keep standing. Another thing I was glad to see was that he didn't change how he treated her; everyone, myself included, started treating her with kid gloves but Xander never did. I think that was partly why mom was so adamant that she would look after him when he got out of hospital, but nowhere near the only reason.

I know for a fact that mom loves him almost as much as she does Dawn and myself. Once she knew I was interested in him, she would tell me about the things he did for her the summer I ran away; the odd jobs he did around the house and the art gallery, keeping her company at night by having dinner with her, and even cooking the dinner himself once or twice. It was then that I found out she had given him a key to our place, 'so he always had a place to go' was how she put it.

Mom is the only person I've confided in about my feelings for him and she was pretty much elated that I'd 'finally taken notice' of him. I remember having conversations with her during High School where she would make thinly veiled hints that Xander would get the 'Mother Seal of approval' if we ever started going steady, but I always either flat out said that nothing would happen between us or I'd just ignore the hints completely.

I'm just glad that she's at her sister Patty's at the moment, as I know seeing Xander like this would not do her any good. She's still feeling a little fragile at the moment and I know that she would have ignored all that to help Xander get through his depression, something which would have only set her own recovery back.

"So what did Lilah do for you?" I asked, knowing that he'd hoped I hadn't picked up on the fact he only told me what Lindsay did.

"She didn't do anything for me, I already told you that."

I rolled my eyes and smiled slightly, happy to see him quip again, eve a poor one like that. "I meant how has Lilah repaid her debt?"

"Oh. I persuaded her to have her bosses deal with Glory; I know that they want the world to end, but they want it on their terms. Having Glory around jeopardised their plan so they, reluctantly, granted my request. She may have been a goddess, but nobody is above the law."

My smile had gotten wider with every word he said. "That means that Giles doesn't have to be in England helping the Council researching how to defeat her. He can come home!"

He smiles softly at me, his eyes showing something other than sorrow for the first time and it gave my heart hope. "There is that added bonus yeah."

"Thank you!" I pull him into a hug that he reciprocates, happy that Giles can finally come home. Before I know what I'm doing I'm kissing him, pouring every ounce of emotion into it. He stiffened for a moment before slowly kissing back, massaging my lips with his. The urge to take it further was great, but I knew that Xander wasn't ready so I reluctantly pull back. I'm momentarily worried to look at him, in case I had gone too far. When I do look at him, he's shocked but I don't see any anger there, something that makes me sigh in relief.

"Buffy, I…" before he can go further, I press my finger to his lips to stop him. I can feel his pulse and the sensation causes me to lose my train of thought for a moment.

"Shh, that was something I've wanted to do for a long time. I know that you still love Anya and won't be ready for anything else for quite some time. I wanted to have one kiss from you when we didn't have to feel guilty about it; I'm not expecting anything from you, except maybe staying alive. The most important thing to me at the moment is getting you better. There is one thing I want you to promise me though."

He gently moves my hand away so he can speak. "What's that?"

"When you're feeling better and feel ready to… move on with your life, I want to be first on the list of people you'd want to move on with."

His smile vanishes and his stoic expression returns. "I'm not going to move on with anyone."

I knew I had gone too far but I had thought I had gotten through to him. I had to do something before all of my progress is lost. "Do you believe in heaven?" I asked him.


"Do you believe in heaven?" I repeated.

"Well, uh, yeah."

"Do you think that Anya's there now?" I asked softly, knowing I was walking a fine line.

"I… I guess so," he answered, his voice hitching slightly.

I know I might go too far with this, but I'm running out of options. "You do know that suicide is a mortal sin, meaning that you don't get to use the up escalator."

"I'm not killing myself," he responded.

"You letting yourself die which is the same thing. You may well be right that Anya would like to see that you're so devastated by her passing, but I doubt that she'd want to see you damned for all eternity. She loved you Xander; The Patrol Saint of Scorned Women, someone who spent a millennia cursing men, fell in love with you. That must mean she sees something in you that she never saw in any other man, do you want that to be for nothing?"

"Of course not!" he exclaimed.

"Then don't do this. Stay with us, and one day you'll get to see her again and she'll be able to tell you how proud she is of you. Don't let this beat you Xander, be the man she fell in love with."

Be the man that I fell in love with.

Xander is quiet for a while; obviously mulling over everything we've talked about. I say nothing, simply sitting there next to him and silently praying to whatever deity is listening. I don't know how long we sit there in silence but to me it felt like forever; I knew that if I hadn't gotten through to him now, the only way to keep him alive would be to use the spells that willow had found allowing us to control his actions. I know that if we use them he'll never forgive us and we'll lose him anyway. While the thought brings a hollow feeling to my stomach, I'd live with it; I'd rather he live and hate me than die.

Xander saying one word, bringing me out of my thoughts. "Okay."

"Okay what?" I asked him, needing to actually hear the words from his lips before I allow myself to believe them.

"I still feel guilty about what happened and I probably always will, but you're right that if I do this I won't be acting like the person Anya loved. Allowing myself to die won't make anything better and it won't bring Anya back, I just needed someone to make me realise it."

I can't help the 1000-watt smile that appears on my face; I'd never heard a better thing in my entire life. "I'm so glad you think so, I wasn't looking forward to beating you into submission."

"I'm not into H/C Buff, something you might want to remember."

"I'll do that," I replied happily, not entirely sure what he was on about but not really caring.

"Um, Buff, about what you said before, it's going to be a while before I'd be ready to consider anything with anyone," he said uneasily, afraid that he'd hurt my feelings probably.

"Doesn't matter," I replied honestly, "when you're ready I'll be waiting. I'm going to be straight with you; I can't see myself being with anyone else but you right now. I love you, I'm in love with you, and I don't see that changing any time soon. I won't rush or pressure you into anything, I promise you that, but I won't hide the way I feel about you either because it hurts to do so."

"Wow. I really don't know what to say."

"There's nothing to say," I said, "I just needed to let you know how I felt. As I said, I'm not going to rush you, I just had to let you know."

"Listen Buff, about some of the things I said. I want to apol…" I cut him off, knowing what he wanted to say.

"Don't worry about it Xand, there's no need to apologise. Everything you said was true after all."

"I could have made more of an effort, I could have come to you all and told you how I felt, I…"

I cut him off once again, "You did everything you could Xand and you know it. As far as talking to us about it is concerned, I think that bottling things up until they explode is another symptom of living on a Hellmouth."

"That sounds like a theory I can stand behind. Buffy, there is something I need you to know; there has always been a little piece of my heart labelled 'Property of Buffy Summers', just as there's a piece of my heart labelled 'Property of Willow Rosenberg'. While I had pretty much given up hope of there ever being an 'us' years ago, I couldn't say that the thought of there being an 'us' sometime in the future has never crossed my mind. Before we could ever think about that, we need to rebuild our friendship first; your friendship means a lot to me and don't want to lose it if I can help it."

I do my best to keep the hope out of my eyes, but by the smile he gives me I know I didn't succeed. He's right though; no matter how much I want Xander as much more than a friend, he is my friend and we need to re-establish that foundation before anything else could happen. When we finally do get together I want us to last so I will do whatever is needed to ensure it.

"I agree, we've all been drawing further and further away from each other and we all need to make more of an effort to fix that. I tell you what; how about every Thursday, no matter what is going on we all get together and talk, watch a movie, eat a pizza or two, anything that isn't related to slaying. We've started to see each other as colleagues instead of friends and that needs to stop."

"That's another theory I can get behind. I want to thank you Buff, for pulling me back."

"Well, you've been there to do it for me for the last five years, it would have been rude not to return the favour."

We smile at each other before slipping into a comfortable silence. About ten minutes later, Xander is sleeping soundly next to me; our conversation had taken a lot out of him. I stand up and reposition him so he's more comfortable, cover him with a blanket and gently kiss his forehead. I know it will take time and energy to get things the way they were, and even longer to get them the way I want them, but looking down at him as he sleeps peacefully I know that it's more than worth it.

The End