Title: Living With Regret

Author: VladtheImpish

Rating: T

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters depicted in this story, nor will I earn anything from it.

Summary: The worst mistakes are those that cannot be rectified.

Living With Regret

The Apartment of Buffy Summers

London

23rd October 2008

'It wasn't meant to be this way.'

That thought had been the mainstay of Buffy's existence for the last three days. 72 hours since she'd made the biggest and worst decision of her life, she'd had that thought too many times to count.

If she could take it back she would, but it had been one of those all or nothing moments and that's exactly what she'd been left with.

Nothing.

Looking out of her apartment window, watching as life went on, her thoughts are once again taken back to the moment she could never take back.

Flashback – Three Days Ago

The soft sounds from the string quartet filter through the restaurant, a perfect accompaniment to the exquisite food and the excellent company. This wasn't their first date by any stretch of the imagination, but every date felt as perfect as the last and Buffy wondered how she ever got so lucky to have the man opposite her in her life.

Taking a sip of her merlot, she pondered just what has her man so on edge tonight. She knew it wasn't anything bad, she knew him well enough to tell that much, but beyond that she had no idea. The last time she'd seen him as nervous was the first time he asked her out, and a lot had happened since then.

She guessed he had something to talk with her about, but was unsure how to start. She remembered the first time he corrected her about that, telling her he never wanted to talk to her, but talk with her. Their relationship was a two-way street in every aspect, a refreshing change to her previous relationships where she needed to be the one who controlled the pace. She wouldn't have it any other way.

Knowing that he needed a gentle nudge to get the conversation flowing, she reached over and took his hand in her own, once again marvelling how someone who worked with their hands the way he did kept them feeling so soft. Of course, she was biased in all things pertaining to him, but he was the same with her so it was okay.

"Xander honey, what's wrong?" she asked softly, gracing him with a smile as his eyes locked with hers.

"Nothing's wrong Buff, I'm just a little nervous is all."

"You know you can tell me anything."

"I know," he said with a smile, the smile that always made her heart melt and her stomach do somersaults, "and that's one of the million things I love about you."

"Only a million?" she teased, loving the look he sent her way.

"I want to ask you something, and I'm worried about the answer."

"I can't think of a thing you could ask me that you should be worried about."

"Will you marry me?"

'You just had to prove me wrong, didn't you?'

She had to admit that the question wasn't a big surprise; she just wished he hadn't asked it. Marriage was the biggest commitment a person could make and one she never thought she would do. It still wasn't.

Buffy Summers was in love with Xander Harris. It was a simple statement of fact, like saying water was wet or the sky was blue. She had never loved a man as much as she did him, and she doubted that she ever would. She always thought it was a cliché when she heard other people say it, but Xander made her feel complete. The thought of him not being a part of her life has caused more than one panic attack from the overwhelming feeling of loss it conjured up.

Despite all of that, there was only one answer she could give him.

"No."

To say he was shocked was an understatement. He looked like he had just been stabbed in the stomach repeatedly. "No? No comments about it being sudden, no asking for time to think about it, just no?"

"It's the only answer I can give you Xander, the only answer I could ever give you to that question."

"Can I ask why? I won't say I deserve that much, despite the incredibly strong urge to do just that, but I'd really like to know why you won't even consider it."

Xander did deserve that much; he deserved that much and so, so much more. The problem was she couldn't give him an answer he would understand or think was valid. She could hear the pain in his voice and see it in his eyes, and it hurt that she was the cause. She could see the furtive looks they were receiving from the neighbouring tables, no doubt listening in on their conversation, and could see that Xander noticed as well, adding humiliation to the pain.

They'd discussed their insecurities on more than one occasion, both before and after they started seeing each other, and they had got past all but one.

Buffy was the Slayer.

She knew that in reality she was a Slayer, one of hundreds and thousands all around the world, but the fact that there were more of them around now didn't change the fact that she had the Slayer essence coursing through her veins like lava.

Statistically it was a miracle she was still alive, given the average Slayer died within two years of being called. Even taking into account the two times she wasn't alive, she was still ahead of the curve. Twelve years, almost thirteen in fact, since the day she was first Called and her world changed. She was the exception that proved the rule that a Slayer had a short expiry date.

It was a rule not even Faith could ignore, drained by a newbie vamp that caught her unaware eighteen months after their final battle with the First. That had been a wake up call to them all, as she hadn't gone down fighting to avert an apocalypse, but changing a flat tyre. To know that even the best of them could fall victim from a simple run of the mill vampire made them all very aware of their own mortality, and that every day could be their last.

How could she take the vows of marriage, 'til death us do part' in particular, when she knew that her death was not only certain, but overdue?

Buffy knew that Xander was aware of the pitfalls that their line of work, the prosthetic eye he now wore instead of the eye patch made sure he couldn't forget, but when it came to her, he still thought that they would grow old together. Making it to thirty seemed like a bridge too far and she had no evidence saying otherwise.

She knew that of she told him all this he would say he understood, only to ask again at another date, and she couldn't do that to him. To stay with him now would only be leading him on, allowing him to think that things would work out the way he wanted when, no matter how much she wanted to think otherwise, it wouldn't. That meant there was only one thing she could do, the one thing she hoped would never happen.

She had to break his heart.

"I just don't want to marry you, and I never will. That's just the way it is," she told him, not emotions showing at all.

She could pinpoint the exact moment her realised there was no chance of persuading her otherwise, that his hopes and dreams would never be fulfilled. It was when the pain in his eyes changed to resignation and loss. She tried to hold back the tears that threatened to form in her own eyes, knowing that she had just put the death nail into their relationship.

She watched as he stood up on shaky legs, dropping a wad of bills on the table to cover the meal. He looked at her for a moment longer, transferring every ounce of love he had for her, before it disappeared behind the mask she hoped and prayed he would never use with her.

"Goodbye Buffy."

The finality that came with those two words caused a wound to her heart that she knew would never heal. His tone was tinged with such deep-seated sadness that it was her undoing, and she began to cry silent tears as she watched him turn and leave, knowing this would be the last time she would ever see him.

He left, and he took her heart and happiness with him.

End Flashback

She found out the following morning that he had called Giles the moment he had left the restaurant and requested a transfer back to Africa, a request that the head of the reformed watchers Council had no choice but accept. Xander was on the next plane out, only packing what he needed, leaving everything else.

Everyone had asked what had happened, and she had endured one ass reaming after another as they all told her what they thought of her decision. They had no qualms in asking repeatedly what had possessed her to refuse his proposal; her refusal to answer only enraged them further and ensured that she would have to endure her misery alone. It was what she deserved and she knew it, but their scorn was nothing compared to what she thought of herself.

She now sat in her darkened apartment, realising that her reasons for saying no were insignificant to the pain of being without him, and that it was too late to change things. She knew Xander almost as well as he knew himself, and while she knew he loved her as much now as he did three days ago, he would never risk his heart on her again.

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. That was a lie. She knew exactly what she had and let it go anyway, and now she had to live with the pain of its loss.

If she were lucky, she wouldn't live with it long; she was after all a Slayer.

The End