“This plan is trouble,” Buffy hears Rona say as she and Faith enter the house, returning from their reconnaissance of the vineyard. “Okay, Buffy doesn't care how many of us she puts in danger.”
She knows that Faith can see her flinch at Rona’s brutal words, at hearing the girl’s sincere belief in her own total apathy towards the potential’s life. Worse yet, she can understand Rona’s anger, pain, despair--and has to wonder they aren’t deserved. She’s done her best, trying to weigh her concern for the girls against the need to push them to their best and the knowledge it might not be enough. And yes, maybe she’s been a bit cold, distant--but girls have already died and if Buffy lets herself feel anymore, it threatens to overwhelm her, and then where will they all be?
Buffy is the Chosen One--the one girl with the strength and skill to hunt the vampire. And okay, she’s gotten as far as she has because she hasn’t just worked alone like all the Slayers before her, but still, she was never prepared for this leadership role. This isn’t her calling, and it’s no surprise she’s failing.
But then Xander breaks in. “Let me tell you something about Buffy,” he says. “In fact, you should all listen to this.”
“Uh, we kinda were,” Kennedy points out with her standard smart-aleckness, and Buffy has to hold back a chuckle in order to keep her presence in the house a secret.
“I've been through more battles with Buffy than you all can ever imagine,” he tells the potentials, and she knows it’s true. Every single battle she has faced in Sunnydale, from the Harvest to the Harbingers. “She's stopped everything that's ever come up against her. She's laid down her life, literally, to protect the people around her. This girl has died two times, and she's still standing.
“You're scared?” he asks them. “That's smart. You got questions? You should. But you doubt her motives, you think Buffy's all about the kill, then you take the little bus to battle. I've seen her heart--and this time, not literally. And I'm telling you, right now, she cares more about your lives than you will ever know. You gotta trust her. She's earned it.”
Buffy can feel her eyes beginning to mist with unspent tears, Xander’s words warming her heart as she listens to his impassioned defense of her. And that’s just Xander. Even when he’s mad at her--and she knows he is, and again, not without justification--he has her back, because he has always loved her, and always will. He was the very first friend she had made in Sunnydale, and he is still with her, seven years later. That Xander will fight for her, would die for her, without so much as a second thought, is one of the foundations of her universe, the bedrock upon which everything else she knows rests.
Faith turns towards Buffy with a smile. “Damn!” she says, deliberately pitching her voice to announce their presence to the rest of the house. “ I never knew you were that cool.”
“Well,” Buffy answers in her best deadpan, “you always were a little slow.”
Don’t be angry with Xander. He only did what I told him to do. This isn’t the place for either of you. Please know that I love you and that everything I do is for you. I promised once to show you this beautiful world and I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen.
Buffy sighs, but she doesn’t know what else to say, she slips the note into an envelope and goes to find Xander. It wasn’t even a decision who to go to with this; there’s no one else in the world she would trust with this task. Not Giles, not Willow, not Faith or Spike or Robin. Certainly not Anya or any of the potentials or, perish the thought, Andrew. So she finds Xander. “Xander?”
Xander looks up at her. “Yeah?”
“I need you to do something for me,” she says.
“Sure,” he says without hesitation. “What is it?”
Unsure how to explain, she passes the bottle she’s holding to Xander. He takes the bottle, looks at it, then looks back at her, questions in his eyes. “Chloroform?”
Buffy nods. “For Dawn,” she says, and there’s a moment of confusion before she sees the realization set in, as he looks at her with shock in his eyes. “You got it?” she asks simply.
“Wait,” Xander says. “I’m not to the ‘got it’ place yet. I’m still in the neighborhood of ‘you gotta be kidding.’”
“You know it’s for the good,” she says.
“I don’t,” he answers forcefully. “Buffy, do you get that? If I do this, that’s it for me for this fight. I feel like you’re putting me out to pasture.”
“Of course I’m not putting you out to pasture,” she says, because--“What does that even mean?”
“Well, you know, it’s like when a cow gets old and loses an eye or its ability to be milked,” Xander explains. “The farmer takes it and puts it in a different pasture so it won?t have to? fight? with the priests.”
Buffy just waits patiently for Xander to finish mixing his metaphor.
“Look,” he says, “I don’t need you to protect me.”
“I’m not,” Buffy says automatically, but she has to wonder if maybe she is. Dawn and Xander are the two people whose loss she absolutely could not bear, and this way she is able to keep both of them safe, or at least as safe as can be in this world.
“I got hurt but I’m not done,” Xander insists. “I can still fight.”
“I know. That’s why I need you to do this. Xander, I need someone that I can count on no matter what happens.”
“I just always thought that I would, that I would be there with you, you know, for the end,” Xander says, and Buffy’s heart is breaking, and she knows she’s not getting through to him, and there’s only one way she can think of to make him understand, to communicate to him just how much he means to her.
There’s a moment once her lips touch his when he doesn’t move, when he just stands frozen in shock, before he relaxes and his lips open and he begins kissing her back, tentatively at first and then more aggressively. The kiss isn’t as long as she knows either of them would really like, but it’s long enough to say all the things to him which she doesn’t know how to say in words.
Once it’s over, she smiles shyly up at him and says, “Stay safe, Xander.”
He nods, takes the letter and the bottle of chloroform, and leaves.