BUT THIS WAS NIGHT THE LAST

Xander should have been packing but he wasn't, he was thinking. He and Buffy were scheduled to fly to London first thing in the morning so they were doing the farewell party tonight which meant that he needed to get packed before the party because he was pretty sure he wouldn't be in any condition to pack afterwards. But instead he was staring at the object in his hand and thinking. He'd be the first to acknowledge that they weren't original thoughts but he'd like to think he'd grown up a bit since the last time he'd given them any serious consideration.

Xander closed his eye, unfortunately his thoughts kept leading him back to the same place, into a position he didn't want to be in. The position of being forced to take a leap of faith, something that at times worked well but usually ended with much badness. Xander was definitely a look before you leap kind of guy now, experience had taught him that, eight years of teaching high powered girls how to survive had taught him that. But in this case he couldn't look, so if he leapt it would be blind. He shook his head and set the object off to one side and tried to get back to packing but his eye always seemed to dart back to the object.

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Buffy was packing slowly for two reasons. Reason one was that she had quite a few clothes; true she would never be in the Cordelia Chase category, but she did have a lot. Reason two was that she was distracted. She didn't know why, or more accurately, she wasn't ready to admit to herself the reason she was taking her time. She was in the process of folding a blouse for the third time when the door to her room burst open.

"This is all you've gotten done, the seasons move faster than this Buffy."

Startled, Buffy glanced at the two intruders "I'm moving fast Dawn; I've just got a lot of stuff."

"Come on B, you were on shirts an hour ago when you threw us out. You said we were distracting you and now you're moving even slower." Faith turned to Dawn "pitch in little D, we're helping now."

"Why?"

"Cause I don't want to have to box all this crap up and ship it to her in England cause she was standing around with her thumb up her ass while she was supposed to be packing."

"I don't have my thumb up my ass" Buffy shot back at the smirking slayer.

"So what is it you're thinking about that's slowing you down Buffy?"

"I dunno; the future I guess."

"What about it?"

"Well I've been working at this for eight years, that's longer than I was in Sunnydale; what if I don't like what Giles wants me to do, what if I have to work with a bunch of jerks; what if . . . . . . ."

"What if you're not working with Xander any more" Dawn chimed in.

"Yeah, that too" Buffy said, blushing a little."

"Damn B, you really think Jeeves would break you two up?"

"I don't know and that's what's screwing me up; I mean I don't want to start something up with Xander only to have us split up a month later on some council whim."

"So you and Xander huh?"

"Yes me and Xander, come on Dawn we've been like best friends for eight years, we've worked closely together . . . . . . ."

"And you want to get on and ride him like Secretariat."

"Yes Faith, I do" Buffy said with a sigh "but I want to have a relationship with him, not just be a sex-buddy."

"Hell B, he's been your boyfriend for the last eight years, just without any of the perks."

"I know that, come on Faith, I'm not an idiot; but after all the shit I've put him through, I'm not sure he'll believe that I'm serious."

"Or that he'd be willing to risk everything on you again" Dawn added.

"Yeah" Buffy sighed again, looking away.

"That's what's really got you in a twist, isn't it B? Not that Jeeves will split you guys up but that you've finally found the right guy and you're afraid he'll say no cause of all the times you've shot him down."

Buffy just glared at the dark haired slayer for a second "I think I liked you better when you weren't so smart."

"Let me ask you something Buffy" Dawn said before Faith could reply "how far are you willing to go to convince him to give you another chance?"

Buffy thought about this, truthfully it was what had been occupying her thoughts for the last few days; 'how far was she willing to go'. She thought of all the times that Xander had saved her in either the literal sense or just emotionally, and the all too little thanks that she had given him. She remembered the things that he had told her when she was feeling down, things that she remembered word for word to this day. She even recalled a little speech he had given Dawn when neither of them knew she was around; 'extraordinary' was as good a word as any to describe Xander. So how could she now, after all those years, all those rejections, all those ego slaps that she had consciously or unconsciously delivered; how could she now tell him that her feelings had changed and have him believe her. What would she do to make him believe her; or maybe a better question was what wouldn't she do. Because she believed that having Xander in her life was essential, and if that meant quitting the council just to be with him, to go where he went, well that was something she was willing to do. This startled her, the realization of just how far she'd go to keep Xander in her life, the realization of just how important he was to her. She looked up at her sister and her friend and said "as far as I have to".

"Then you're gonna be OK" Dawn said with a smile "cause Xander can be stubborn, but he isn't stupid. He'll see what you're willing to do and he'll come around, and if he doesn't just call and we'll straighten him out."

"Now that you've got your love life figured out Blondie, can we get this crap packed" Faith asked with a smirk.

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It was a conversation she really didn't want to have, it was gonna stir up all kinds of buried feelings but Willow figured it would be better to get it out of the way before all of tonight's festivities. Steeling herself she knocked on the door and waited till she heard a faint "come in" to open it. "So, your packing all done?"

"Yeah, just sitting and thinking now."

"So, you gonna ask her" Willow asked, getting right to the point. She really hated this topic because it reminded her of all the times she had wanted to end up with this guy. She was mostly over it, gay after all, but the memories still stung.

Xander sighed "that's one of the things I'm thinking about."

"What's to think about" Willow wondered "you two are crazy about each other, everyone knows it."

"Nearly everyone" Xander shot back "lets say I ask and she says yes, yahoo, go us; but then we get to England and Giles assigns her to Australia and me to Siberia."

"You know how unlikely that is?"

"Yeah, my head does; but my gut reminds me of how many times I've been Love's Butt-Monkey. It's like I pissed off Cupid somewhere along the line and now he uses my love life as some kind of living illustration of Murphy's Law."

Willow didn't really have a rebuttal to that, after all Xander's dating history was legendary for all the wrong reasons; so she tried a new tack. "But I told you what she said, it's a sure thing."

"Yeah and I thought asking Dawn to marry me was a sure thing or at least a chance to not be horribly humiliated, and look how that turned out."

"True, and speaking of Dawn, why didn't you stay and ask her the next day, you know she would have said 'yes'?"

"I know and we probably would have been happy, but I would have always wondered."

"Wondered what?"

"If what she said the first time was the way she really felt and she was marrying me out of pity or to spite Buffy or for some other reason. It wouldn't be fair to either of us to go into a marriage with that kind of doubt."

Willow looked at him, and exasperated expression on her face "why do you always do that?"

"Do what?"

"Think the worst about yourself, put yourself down; it's like you never think you're good enough."

"Do you really want me to answer that?"

"Of course."

"Think about it for a second Willow; think about what I grew up with, how my parents treated me, heck how all adults seemed to treat me. Remember when your parents tried to bribe you into staying away from me?"

Reluctantly Willow nodded

"Every day at school with Cordy and her sheep telling me how worthless I was and then the rest of the students would follow suit. If it wasn't for you and Jesse I don't know how I would have made it out of there sane; but I did. But then I had to deal with my friends telling me they didn't want and didn't need me, wanting me to stay 'fray-adjacent', like it was their decision and not mine. So to answer your question, I'm just saying what I was told the first twenty years of my life. Your folks are shrinks, isn't there something out there that talks about how you were raised determines the way you see yourself?"

Willow reluctantly nodded; her eyes wide with both shock and guilt.

Xander saw the guilt and took his friend into his arms "it wasn't your fault, at least not mostly, and I've pretty much got the self esteem issues dealt with; Africa helped a lot with that. There I was just known as that 'crazy one-eyed American' and I was able to show myself what I could do."

"I'm still sorry" she pause for a second, just enjoying the feeling of being held by her best friend when another thought struck her "so other than Buffy, what were you thinking about?"

"Huh"

"Well you said that she was one of the things, so what else was there?"

"I was just wondering; you know, not to sound to cliché but what if this is as good as my life gets. What we've done here, what I've done here; what if the rest of my life is just some long downhill run from this. I don't wanna look back and see that the high point of my life occurred before I was thirty and I basically hadn't done Jack since then."

"It's just one cheery thought after another with you isn't it?"

"Willow, not helping" Xander said, but Willow could also hear the playfulness in his voice.

Taking his concern seriously for a second, she thought and said "that's not gonna happen Xander."

"How can you be so sure?"

Because I know you, ya big dummy. Let me tell you something Xander; ninety percent of the people in this world are simply inert, they exist and that's about it. You've got one percent that are saints and one percent that are jerks; the other eight percent are simply people that do what they say they'll do. You're in that eight percent, heck you wouldn't know how not to be in it; so one way or another you'll always be making a difference. And if in the rest of your life you only accomplish half of what you have in the last eight years then you'll still have had one hell of a life."

Xander sat there, holding Willow in his arms and really thinking about what she'd said. "Thank you" he finally said "thank you for believing in me like that."

"Hey" Willow replied, her voice muffled from talking into his chest "it's part of the whole 'best friend' deal; you've done the same thing for me."

Xander felt something and pulled her face away just a little and saw tears there "then why so sad?"

"Cause I'm gonna miss you ya big doofus. I've got two best friends and they're both leaving tomorrow."

"It doesn't have to be that way, you know?"

"What doesn't?"

"Well I don't know about the 'best' part but there's gonna be two people here that are really worth the effort to be friends with."

"You really think the three of us could work out?"

"Yeah I do; but if the fertilizer hits the windmill, then your two best friends are only gonna be a phone call away."

Willow hugged Xander back, burying her face into his chest once again "I really love you, you know that?"

"Right back at ya Wills."

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It was a happy little ceremony where the laughs were plenty, the speeches were short and the food was excellent. They had rented out the back room of a local restaurant for their shindig, early on the stories had bounced around with all of the slayers seeing how much they could embarrass Xander and Buffy with tales of mangled English, funny reactions to being startled and wardrobe malfunctions. Unfortunately for the slayers, the Scoobies were able to give as good as they got and in the end everyone had enjoyed themselves. Gag gifts from the Cleveland slayers and support people were showered on both Xander and Buffy who appreciated the effort and the creativeness, although they both thought the chocolate covered bugs were a bit much. Then Xander gave a short speech thanking everyone. Buffy, surprisingly, gave an emotion laden thank you to everyone and ended with a reading of the names of the slayers and watchers who had died during their watch, and their families. When pretty much everything had been said and done, Beverly stood up "can I have everyone's attention for a second. I know we're all practically in food comas, but there's one more thing from all of us. We wanted to find a way to thank you both for all that you've done and all that you've given us so we had these made."

With that Jennifer opened up a large flat case, much like a guitar case, and turned it towards Xander and Buffy. They both gasped at what was inside. They were weapons, a sword and an axe; both black with silver designs on the flats of the blades. Both exhibited the obvious craftsmanship of an expert weapon maker, both were obviously as deadly as they were beautiful. "The sword is for Buffy and the axe is Xander's" Beverly announced unnecessarily as they each had already instinctively picked up the weapon meant for them.

"We might have some trouble with security because of these" Xander joked but the gratitude was clear in his eye. Buffy didn't say anything publicly, but she personally thanked everyone that was there. And so the celebration ended with tears and love and sharp, lethal objects; it was a group of slayers after all.

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Xander was up early the next morning. He told himself that it was so he'd have time to answer any last minute questions that Dawn had, but the truth was he was getting ready to do something he had done too much of in the past. He was getting ready to ignore what his rational mind told him and follow his gut. Keeping the time he had force Deadboy to take him down to the Master's cave in the front of his mind, he picked up the box and headed for Buffy's room.

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"Of course I'm gonna miss you imp, how many sisters do you think I have?"

"I know it's silly, but I'm really getting used to having you around again, and now you're leaving."

"I know" Buffy said, looking at both Dawn and Faith "it's been great catching up with both of you, so I promise to be around as often as Giles lets me. And if you really need to talk, you've got the number" she finished, holding up her satellite phone.

"I can't believe you get one of those and we don't, that's totally not fair."

"You got that right D, but remember; her watcher is the one OK'ing the purchase order."

"Watcher's pet" Dawn said, sticking her tongue out at Buffy.

Buffy laughed and for a minute it was just like it had been back before their mother had died, and her heart almost broke at the thought. She moved forward and hugged her sister "you'll be fine, trust Faith and Willow and the girls, but mostly trust yourself; promise."

"I promise" Dawn said, returning the hug.

Buffy moved on to Faith "you've gotta carry the banner for the 'chosen two' now, you up for it?"

"Sure thing B, I'll let these wanna-be slayers know what being a real slayer's all about."

"Absolutely, just make sure you don't take em to a strip club after slaying."

Faith pouted "why the hell not, it's a good way to work off the H&H."

"Yeah" Buffy said, sarcasm thick in her voice "I can see it on the nightly news, a pack of teen-age girls attack male strippers in Cleveland, film at 11."

"OK, OK; I'll control myself, I promise."

"I know you will Faith" Buffy said with a chuckle; she then darted forward and hugged the brunette slayer. She did this for several reasons, but mostly because she knew how uncomfortable it made the younger woman.

Buffy then moved until she was facing one of her oldest friends. That hadn't been true when Willow had first arrived, but in the time she'd been in Cleveland they had rebuilt their friendship until it was as strong as it had ever been. The two women looked into each other's eyes and in a matter of seconds they held a conversation without sound; saying goodbye, pledging their friendship and promising to keep in touch. "I'll take care of him, I promise" Buffy finally spoke.

"I know you will, and he'll take care of you."

"I know"

Leaning in, Willow whispered "be happy Buffy, no-one deserves it more."

"Love you Willow."

"Right back at you missy" Willow shot back hugging her friend.

Unfortunately further conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door. Before anyone could respond, Xander opened it a bit and half-stepped in. "Sorry to interrupt but I found some stuff in my room that I think belongs to you Buffy". He handed her a shoe box and then looked at her.

Buffy opened the shoe box and looked in, one of her scrunchies was there along with a pen that Dawn had given her two Christmases ago; there really wasn't much else of note. Just some socks and a beat up jewelry box. Wait a minute, a jewelry box, she didn't remember owning a jewelry box like this one, it looked like it had been through the mill, in fact the only box that she remembered looking like this was the one . . . . . . . Buffy froze, remembering a night at a café in Rome. She looked up at Xander, now she knew what was in the box and the look in his eye confirmed that he was asking her what she thought he was. She blushed lightly, Xander had just proposed in front of some very smart and observant people and not one of them had any idea about what was going on. It was a very Xander thing to do. Taking a deep breath she thought about her answer but in truth she didn't think long, after all it wasn't a difficult question. "Yep, everything in here belongs to me, thanks Xander" Buffy smiled a little as he let his breath out and his body sagged slightly in relief.

"No problem Buff, I just didn't want that stuff to end up in the wrong hands" then he looked at his watch "we really need to get going guys, it's getting kinda late." Xander backed out of the room, smile still on his face; she had said 'Yes', he didn't think he'd stop smiling for at least a month.

For her part, Buffy stashed the stuff in her carry-on bag, leaving the ring right on top, she looked forward to putting it on once they were in the air.

THE END

A/N This really is the end, honestly I was surprised that the story ended up where it did. I had started out just wanting to do a little study about Xander and it just grew. The titles of the last two chapters are from the poem 'Ends' by Robert Frost; something that I don't own the right's to, mores the pity. Neither do I own the rights to Buffy, which is the providence of Joss and all the parasitic suits that live off his creativity. I'd like to thank everyone that took the time to read and review the story, your feedback means a lot to me.

POE1911