A/N: I know there have been other stories that used this premise – the kids are all grown up, looking to settle down, and Buffy ends up with the wrong bloke only to realize her mistake. However, I've never written anything like this, and I thought the song and idea fit well. If you don't know the tune, it's "Cath" by Death Cab for Cutie. Enjoy, chicas, and thanks! ~Charlynn~
A One Shot
She stands with a well intentioned man
But she can't relax with his hands on the small of her back
As the flashbulbs burst she holds a smile
Like someone would hold a crying child
"I'm so glad you could come."
She smiled, and she made small talk, and she tried to forget the fact that it was after dark, and she wasn't outside patrolling. That wasn't her life anymore.
"Oh, Buffy, you look beautiful."
"Thanks, Mom," she blushed, shying uncomfortably away from the unwanted and, what she felt, unwarranted compliment. "But the dress isn't new. I've worn it before, many times."
"It's not the dress, sweetie," her mother corrected. As she lifted a soft, age worn palm to caress her daughter's face, Joyce explained. "It's how happy you look. You just glow. I always knew that this was the type of life you were meant to lead – normal, safe, married. I'm so proud of you."
She knew that she was supposed to agree with her, but she just couldn't. Instead, she settled for saying, "I know," and offered the only parent she had really known since she was fifteen another fake smile.
But her mom didn't seem to notice her lack of enthusiasm, perhaps because she had more than enough for the both of them. "Is everyone here yet? I don't want to get started late."
"Nope, we're still waiting on Willow and Giles."
As she said the name of her high school best friend and her former watcher, Buffy could see a glimmer of unease and displeasure enter her mother's gaze. Joyce Summers made absolutely no effort to hide her dislike of both Willow and Giles. To Joyce, they were the final reminders of a life her daughter had thankfully left behind for good. She worried that their continued presence in the onetime slayer's daily existence would drag her back into the supernatural world she was attempting to forget, and it certainly didn't help matters that Willow was a practicing Wiccan and that Giles still attempted to slay vampires on his own. However, even if she had turned her back on her calling, the twenty-three year old couldn't turn her back on two of the people who had meant the most to her during her relatively short life thus far. Seeing as how it was the only source of contention now between them, though, her mother easily was able to push her irritation aside.
"Well, if they're not here soon," Joyce warned her only child, "then we're going to have to get started without them. I refuse to serve cold food to your guests."
"Of course, Mom," Buffy quickly agreed. "And don't worry. They'll be here."
"Alright, if you say so." Frowning, the older woman glanced around the private dining room, obviously searching for something or, more precisely, someone. "Now, where did that wonderful fiancé of yours disappear to?"
This time Buffy's smile was genuine. She couldn't help herself. Her mom truly did love the man she was going to marry the next day. He was the son she never had, and he was everything Joyce had always wanted for her daughter. Seeing the two of them together could always bring a sense of calm and peace to the otherwise tense young woman. Because of them, her life was no longer in a state of constant turmoil.
They helped her find closure with her past, and they presented to her a healthy, functioning, ordinary present and future. Because of their love and support, she gave up slaying, she had a real, decently paying job that she enjoyed the majority of the time, and she had relationships with friends that did not revolve around the killing of vampires and demons. The changes that she had slowly initiated during the past five years were because of them, and, in turn, she was able to make the two people who meant the most to her in the whole world supremely happy. After what they had done for her, saving her from herself, it was the least Buffy felt she could do for them in return.
"Xander's right over there, Mom," she pointed out her fiancé who was mingling and talking with some of their other guests. The former slayer immediately recognized the three men her groom was animatedly chatting with. They were two of his fellow construction workers and his boss.
"Oh, if you'll excuse me, I want to go say hello before tonight's festivities begin. With so much going on, I might not get a chance to later."
And, with that, Joyce disappeared into the slight crowd, weaving and bobbing her way through various family members and friends who were attending the couple's rehearsal dinner. Occasionally, she stopped momentarily to exchange pleasantries, but, in general, Joyce had her sights set on her future son-in-law, and no one was going to stop her from getting to his side. If nothing else, her mother could be a force to be reckoned with when she had her mind set on something. Buffy knew that better than anyone else.
"So, rehearsal party, huh," a familiar voice asked off to the bride-to-be's right, snapping the Buffy away from her thoughts.
Glancing at the latest arrival, she stated, "yeah," allowing the word to draw out and hold so much unspoken meaning.
"You know, I have to tell you: five years ago, I never would have predicted all of this." As Willow's words faded, her eyes scanned the dimly lit, richly decorated room.
"Yeah, sorry," she apologized, but Buffy could tell that her friend wasn't actually particularly remorseful. "It's just…"
"That was a long time ago," Buffy barked, her words harsh and bitter. "Things change."
And they certainly had.
Soon everybody will ask what became of you
Your heart was dying fast and you didn't know what to do
Five years before, Angel had just left her, disappearing into the smoke of the night after they managed to stop the mayor from ascending. Although she had been warned of what her on and off again boyfriend had been planning, the souled vampire telling her himself, it had been an entirely different story for Buffy to confront the reality of his actions. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she now realized that she had believed Angel would never truly go, or, if he did, that he would come back. But he hadn't.
All that summer, she had waited for him to return, but, when she realized that he was gone for good, she was too broken to even think about picking up the pieces of her life. College started, and she went to class like a wind up automaton. Willow encouraged her to start dating again, but she knew that nothing and no one would ever compare to Angel, so she refused to even try. Giles tried to distract her with her slayer duties, but how could she save the world any longer if she couldn't even manage to save herself?
Months had gone by where she had just been existing, a shell of her former self. Soon, months turned into a year, and, before she knew it, she was a sophomore in college with no recollection of how she had passed her freshman year. It wasn't until fall break of that year when she had finally started to come awake again, and that was only because Xander had literally kidnapped her and taken her away from Sunnydale for a few days. They had gone to the beach, spending nights in his car and all day by the water. They ate cheap hot dogs from vendors, and neither of them mentioned the past at all.
At first, he had just been her friend again. When things started to get too tough, too heavy, Buffy would run to Xander, and he would distract her with a silly joke or an equally silly movie. Eventually, though, she realized that her old high school pal still wanted more from her, and, after everything he had done for her, surely she could learn to love him in return. And that's exactly what she did. They shared their first kiss that Christmas, she slept with him after dating for six months, and, by the time she graduated from college two years later, they were engaged to be married.
"Everything is different now."
Plastering another grin upon her wooden face, the onetime slayer and now gym teacher asked, "what about you, Wills? How are you? Is there anyone new in your life, anyone special?"
"Nope," Willow said cheerfully. "I'm still happily flying solo. Relationships just complicate everything, and, right now, between school, work, and my magic, I just don't have time for love."
"I've been thinking about going back part time to get my masters," Buffy revealed, "but I guess a lot will depend upon whether Xander and I decide to have kids right away or not."
"Kids, huh," her former best friend prodded.
"Yeah, Xander's always going on and on about wanting to be a t-ball coach, and you know my mom just about goes wacky every time she sees a baby. I think it's something genetic in women. Once they reach a certain age, all they can think about is becoming a grandmother."
Raising an auburn brow, Willow pointedly asked, "and what about you?"
"Yeah, how do you feel about becoming a mother?"
"Oh, well, it seems like the next logical step," Buffy responded, avoiding Willow's concerned gaze. Smoothing out invisible wrinkles from her basic, little black dress, Buffy explained her response. "I mean, you know what they say: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage."
She laughed slightly at her own little joke, but the woman across from her didn't return the merriment. Instead, Willow frowned. "Life doesn't have to be a nursery rhyme, Buffy. It's allowed to be whatever we want it to be. And you don't have to live it for anyone but yourself - not your mom, not Xander, just you."
Thankfully, before she could even fathom coming up with a retort, the door to the private dining room opened, emitting another guest. "If you'll excuse me…"
"Yeah," Willow agreed sadly, shaking her head in disappointment before walking off without even a glance behind her to see who had interrupted them. However, Buffy soon noticed, and she grimaced inwardly. One naysayer down; one to go.
Approaching her former watcher, Buffy greeted the older, still somewhat emotionally guarded man. "Hey, Giles."
"Buffy," he returned affectionately if not warily. Such warring emotions were quite opposing, but she was used to hearing them expressed by Giles when they were around each other. "I'm sorry that I'm late, but I ran into a small problem on my way here. Nothing to worry about," he was quick to reassure her, "but, still, after I handled the threat, I was covered in vampire dust and really needed to change again for the party. I hope I didn't…"
"I can't do this," she moved away from the person who represented her old life, her painful past more than anyone else still in her present. Without saying anything more, she turned around and practically sprinted across the room, burrowing herself into her fiancé's side. As Xander's arm came to rest around her small waist, she stiffened slightly as the man she was going to marry the very next day pulled her even closer against him. But the always jovial Xander didn't seem to notice her reaction. Rather, he just kept talking to his friends, blissfully ignorant of his betrothed's apprehension. And, just like the dutiful wife she would soon be, Buffy joined into the cheerful conversation, giggling at the jokes, smiling at the wistful memories, and appearing curious and as though she was on tenterhooks when a story reached its rather anticlimactic high point.
No one noticed that she was faking it the entire time.
It seems that you live in someone else's dream
In a hand-me-down wedding dress
With the things that could have been are repressed
But you said your vows and you closed the door
On so many men who would have loved you more
As a little girl, she had imagined her wedding many times. In fact, she would often act it out upstairs in her mom's bedroom, sneaking into her parents' closet and trying on her mom's wedding dress without her knowing. Now, years later, here she was – same dress, different location, and that's where the similarities between her childhood fantasies and her present reality stopped. First, her father wasn't there to walk her down the aisle, she didn't have six bridesmaids, all in pink, standing up beside her, and the man across from her didn't resemble one of the five members of New Kids on the Block as she had planned as a seven year old.
Then there were her adolescent fantasies, but her wedding did not resemble the visions of happily ever after she had conceived as an idealistic teenager either. Instead of marrying a souled vampire, she was joining her life to a living, breathing, very much human man. Rather than a small, intimate affair at night to accommodate Angel's sun allergy, she and Xander were exchanging their vows during the very peak of the noonday sun in front of a very large and very packed church full of curious and supportive guests. And, instead of a billowy, fairytale, princess dress, she wore a borrowed gown, one that was dated and slightly drab but exactly how her mother had envisioned her on her wedding day.
The ceremony progressed, and she was disappointed in herself when she had to admit that she didn't particularly pay close attention to what the minister had to say. Not only had she heard his words of wisdom and the matrimonial oaths the evening before when they had gone through their rehearsal, but it was the same tried and true ritual billions of others had gone through before her. Every woman had a basic version of the traditional wedding ceremony memorized long before they ever stood at the altar themselves. It wasn't until her soon-to-be husband started to speak, beginning to recite his written vows that Buffy perked up and actually listened closely.
"I'm not good at this sort of thing," the always quirky Xander prefaced his speech. "As anyone who knows me could tell you, all you have to do is look at my high school transcripts, and you would realize that I only managed to gradate because my best friend, Willow, pulled me through by the skin of my teeth, kicking and screaming the entire way." Taking a deep breath, Xander plunged on. "To be perfectly honest, I never thought this day would happen. Don't get me wrong. I always hoped that it would, but I just didn't believe it would ever be possible. The first day that I saw Buffy, I fell head over heels in love with her, literally, but she only saw me as one of the girls."
At this, there were several snickers throughout the crowded cathedral, and, for the first time, her fiancé cracked a smile of his own. "Talk about an ego crusher," he quipped, earning quite a few more chuckles. "But I persevered. Pretty big word for a slacker like me, right? I stuck in there, I was Buffy's friend through thick and thin, and, eventually, when I had pretty much given up hope of this beautiful, smart, funny, strong, sexy as hell girl ever returning my feelings, she finally started to see me – me, Xander Harris, screw-up extraordinaire, as more than just one of her best buds."
Finally addressing his bride, he continued sweetly, "before you came into my life, I just… was. There wasn't anything to look forward to, and there was nothing to fear either, but I know now that a person shouldn't really be able to live like that. You had all this passion for life, Buffy. Nothing and no one could ever put you down for long, because you'd get right back up, swinging for the knockout. You brought excitement to my life. You made me want to fight, and smile, and laugh by your side for as long as I could. And you taught me what love – real, true, honest, selfless love is. For that, I can never thank you enough, but I'm going to try for the rest of my life. I love you Buffy Anne Summers… soon-to-be Harris."
That was the only reaction she could muster. Everyone around her was teary eyed and sniffling after the poignant, perfect speech Xander had made, and the man across from her was smiling so brightly, so widely, his exuberance meant for and because of her, but, still, she couldn't respond in kind. Oh, she knew that she needed to recite her own vows now, and she would, but, after what her fiancé had just said, anything she followed up with would just be a letdown, a disappointment, because she didn't live for him, she didn't smile for him, and she certainly didn't love him the way that he loved her.
"You saved me," Buffy finally admitted, shrugging her shoulders in a very self-effacing manner. "Four years ago, I was a mess. I know it, you know, and everyone else here today knows it. I was a zombie, walking through my own life without actually experiencing it, and it wasn't until you took me away from the pain, and the memories, and the loneliness and forced me to live again that I finally realized just how much I was sacrificing all in the name of…"
Swallowing roughly, Buffy left her sentence open ended. Though she and everyone else in that church knew the word that would finish her last thought, she wouldn't hurt the man she was marrying by actually saying it out loud. "And you've taught me so much, too. You taught me how to truly enjoy a loaded, rather disgusting, when I actually think about it, pizza with every single topping imaginable on it. You taught me that doggy-paddling is much more fun than actual swimming. You taught me that Clint Eastwood kicks everyone's ass." Remembering where they were, she blushed slightly and apologized to the minster. "Sorry." After a few giggles from the congregation, she continued. "You taught me how to drive, how to balance my checkbook, and how to browbeat my landlord into actually doing his job. But, most of all, you taught me how to live again, and, for that, I will cherish you, Xander Harris, for the rest of my life."
"You better," the man across from her teased, "considering we're getting married today."
Once more, their guests all laughed, and, in that moment, Buffy was glad that their wedding was something everyone in attendance could and did enjoy… even if she wasn't quite capable of doing so herself. From that point on, the rest of the ceremony went by quickly. The rings were exchanged, the minster pronounced them married, and, finally, she kissed her new husband for the first but certainly not the last time. And, as they turned and were presented to all of their family and friends as Mr. and Mrs. Xander and Buffy Harris, she smiled wistfully to herself, that far away, locked up portion of her heart wondering what that ghost from her past, that ghost that still haunted her day in and day out, would think if he saw her there that afternoon.
Soon everybody will ask what became of you
Your heart was dying fast and you didn't know what to do
The whispers that it won't last roll up and down the pews
She made her way out of the church, somewhere in the melee getting separated from her new husband as the hordes of people gathered to celebrate their union wanted to congratulate the both of them separately. Just as the men wanted to tease Xander about willingly signing himself up for a fitted ball and chain, the women wanted to gush about her dress, her hair, her shoes, her jewelry, and they wanted to tearfully dab at their moist lashes as they reminisced about the newlyweds heartfelt, original vows to each other.
But, underneath the current of excitement and joy, Buffy could perceive an underlying sense of doubt and worry. She noticed the looks those who knew her best were giving her when they thought she wasn't looking. Her mother, Giles, Willow, they all glanced at her with suspicion written firmly across their features, and she knew what their unvoiced expressions meant. Despite their feelings about her wedding, one way or another, all three of them wondered if she would stick it out, if she would honor her pledges to Xander, or if she would run away like she had so many other times in the past, whether literally or figuratively in her mind. And then she heard murmurs from others as well. Despite the fact that she wasn't sure if they were real or imagined, the sentiments expressed behind them were true nonetheless.
She never said she loved him.
Did you hear how she talked about her past? There was something different about her voice, and the way she left that sentence unfinished…
Do you remember that mysterious boyfriend she had during high school, that older, really handsome man? What was his name again? Angel, I think. Well, they say that, when he left her, she went crazy, suicidal even. I hate saying it, but I don't think she'd be even half as upset if Xander, her husband now, ever left her.
By the time she reached the doors to the church which were wide open to let in the warm, afternoon sunshine, Buffy started to run. Although she could hear the people behind her shouting and asking what was wrong, she ignored their questions, their appeals, Xander's heartbroken pleadings. She ran and ran until it felt as if her legs would break apart from her body and her lungs would snap with even just one more inhalation, but, still, she didn't stop until she stumbled into the dirty, litter strewn parking lot of Sunnydale's one and only bus station.
And if our hearts were dying that fast, they would have done the same as you
I'd have done the same as you
Although she didn't have any money on her, she pawned her wedding band and engagement ring for a ticket to Los Angeles. The trade, financially speaking, was highway robbery, but, for a newly reawakened Buffy, it was a bargain. At that point, she would have done anything and paid any price to get out of the town she called home and to the only person who had ever truly made her feel at home. Her life was in shambles, but, for the first time in five years, she was going after what she wanted, whom she wanted, instead of waiting for him to come to her.
When she had kissed Xander, when she had slept with him, when she had agreed to marry him, and when she had spoken her vows just mere minutes before, her intentions had been good. He honestly had saved her from herself all those years ago when he took her away for a weekend, and, in return, she had wanted to give him the only thing he had ever truly desired since she had known him: herself, but, as she walked down the aisle as his new bride, she had realized that she had been cheating the both of them, because the woman Xander had married was not the Buffy who had first come to Sunnydale as a naïve, impressionable fifteen year old. By being with someone she wasn't in love with, she had sacrificed herself and cheated one of her best friends. But no more.
Xander might never forgive her, and she was really and truly sad and sorry about that fact, but she could live with it. What she couldn't live with was never being able to forgive herself. So, better late than never, she was taking control of her life once more, for better or for worse. After all, she was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She saved the world at night, and slept and prepared during the day. She was never going to be normal, and she would never be able to live a normal life. Angel was just going to have to get over himself and his martyr complex, and, if he refused to, well, then, she would just have to kick his ass into submission, everyone's good intentions – including his and her own - be damned.
Right then and there, on a bus going towards L.A. and the only man she had ever been in love with, she stopped paving her own road to hell.