She was always aware of his eyes on her.
He burned Buffy with his gaze. During meetings, at meals, on patrol. She could feel each of his carefully hidden glances. There was a yearning to them, an unconditional love that sought fervently to be returned.
He had always loved her. She knew that. But after Cordelia and Anya, she wasn’t sure if it was still there.
Then there was the rebuilding of the Council and Buffy wasn’t really paying attention anymore. He was one of her best friends. She trusted him with everything.
Those coffee-colored eyes watching her lovingly nowadays were best ignored.
The wedding was beautiful.
Dawn’s chestnut hair fell in soft waves across her bare shoulders. A strapless white gown gathered at the waist and flowed to her ankles. Her happiness was palpable, and Buffy loved that her sister had found The One.
As she stood next to her sister, supporting her as the Maid of Honor, Buffy couldn’t help but mentally evaluate her life.
She was thirty-seven. She had survived fifty-nine apocalypse attempts and personally thwarted thirty-three of them. She had seriously dated nine men, each of whom ended up as a complete failure in the relationship department.
In all seriousness, Buffy was thisclose to adopting a cat from the Humane Society and just dealing with her lot in life as an old maid.
But then Buffy felt the burning of his stare and she turned her head slightly to look back into the audience.
He caught her eye and smiled. It was a friendly smile but his eyes hinted at a deeper emotion that unsettled the slayer.
She was pretty sure he loved her.
But she didn’t love him. Not like that.
When she was in the hospital after a car accident (a car accident! She had suffered the wrath of a hell god without a stupid hospital visit and this is what got her stuck in here!) he was the first one to visit her.
His hand enveloped her own, and Buffy marveled at the strength and warmth of his touch.
He stayed with her the entire day, even though her other friends and family just came in to visit for an hour or so before they returned to their lives.
But he didn’t leave. Not even after the nurse demanded that he obey visiting hours.
Instead he just slipped her a twenty and asked for a pillow.
Her windpipe had been crushed so she couldn’t talk, but that was alright. He filled the air with stories that had her performing a little gasp-choking-laugh that had him simultaneously concerned and amused.
She just liked the sound of his voice. It was rich in warmth and made something in her chest ache.
Later, when he thought she was asleep, he whispered “Don’t ever scare me like that again. I love you, Buffy.”
She didn’t love him. Not like that.
But…she thought maybe he deserved a chance.
No one was surprised when they began dating. Dawnie was ecstatic and Giles grinned like a proud parent.
It was only Willow who gave her an odd look of disbelief…as if she knew the truth of Buffy’s heart.
She didn’t love him. Not like that.
But he was kind and gentle and he made her laugh and took care of her.
Buffy was getting older. She knew she would probably die alone if she continued down her old path. And her dating history made it pretty clear that anyone she loved was wrong for her.
So maybe he was right for her, after all.
They were married two months later.
Willow warned that maybe they were making a rash decision but he had just stared at Buffy with a look so loving it made her heart ache and said “No. The only mistake was waiting twenty years to make her mine.”
Buffy had smiled, unease in her heart, and had wondered if she was making the right decision. But then she remembered that she was the only one without someone, and her stomach settled.
This was a smart decision.
Sex with him wasn’t like it was with Spike or many of her other past lovers. It was gentle, as if she were an object of worship.
Buffy wasn’t used to that.
But…it was kind of a nice change. And Anya had been right – he really did know how to handle a woman in the bedroom.
Two years into their marriage they had twin girls. Alexandra and Tara.
Buffy feared for them. She feared that some unnatural beastie would try to get the girls. Or that they would be Called once they hit puberty and join the ranks of the Slayer Army.
One night, as she breastfed both babes, she confessed her fears with shining eyes. He cupped her chin and swore that nothing would ever happen to any of them.
Buffy may be a slayer and able to protect herself, but for the first time in a long time, she felt safe with a man. She did not doubt that he would take care of them.
It was that night that Buffy thought her feelings for him changed.
It wasn’t love…but it was something like it.
Sometimes, when it was just the two of them, she was terribly worried that he figured it out.
That she didn’t love him. Not like that.
He would hold her tightly as they watched old ‘80s movies, as if he was afraid she would run away if he let her.
And sometimes he would have this look in his eye…but it would disappear as quickly as it appeared.
She may not love him. Not like that. But he was her husband and she didn’t want him to ever be in pain.
He took the family ice skating on the twins’ eighth birthday.
As she demonstrated to the girls the fundamentals of skating and (of course) showed off a little bit, she happened to glance over at him. He stood motionless at the side of the arena, carefully watching each of her movements. There was adoration in his gaze, and pride as well.
When he caught her looking he mouthed ‘I love you.’
Blushing at his sheer admiration, she smiled and mouthed back ‘Love you, too.’
It was becoming less of a lie.
Alexandra helped Buffy make the pumpkin pie crust while he played video games with Tara.
In the course of their work, Alexandra ended up with flour on her cheeks and nose.
Buffy giggled at her little Thanksgiving dinner chef and Alexandra responded by mischievously rubbing the flour onto Buffy’s cheeks as well.
In that moment, Buffy realized how much her little girl was just like daddy. She had certainly inherited her father’s sense of humor.
He came into the room five minutes later with Tara, wondering what all the commotion was, and he stared in bafflement at the display of flour all over the linoleum and both Buffy and Alexandra. When he chose to make a smart comment, they showed him no mercy.
When the great Thanksgiving Day Flour Battle was over, Buffy had pinned Xander to the kitchen floor completely covered with flour. As her legs straddled his waist and he begged for mercy, their daughters cheered in victory.
Buffy suddenly realized how much she loved her life.
She bent down to give her husband a soft kiss that soon turned passionate – halted only by their daughters shouting “Ewwwww!”
Buffy had handed over the reins of leadership to the Slayer Army a long time ago. She and her husband still worked at the Watchers Council but she was rarely involved in the day-to-day dealings of fighting demons.
After all, she had a family now. Teenage girls (who fortunately were not slayers) and a man who loved her. There were more important responsibilities in her life.
In addition, her body was not as it once was.
Joints creaked embarrassingly at times. Muscles once imbued with unnatural strength were not quite so unnatural anymore. Her footing was not as sure as it once was.
But Buffy could not, in her heart of hearts, ignore a situation that immediately needed her help.
It was a powerful enemy and the younger girls were being slaughtered.
She picked up the Slayer Scythe one last time.
He found her in the wreckage.
Soft hands caressed her skin, being careful not to damage her many open wounds. His voice whispered urgently, distressed. “Stay in there, Buff. An ambulance is coming. You’ll be fine.”
Buffy had died three times before. She understood the cool shadow that washed over a person when Death arrived at their doorstep. The darkness was a tangible creature and her skin became colder as her body all but emptied of her hot blood.
She had to tell him. Before it was too late.
Eyes sticky with blood blinked open with force, ripping several lashes that had stuck to the skin under her eyes.
The first thing she noticed was his brown hair, streaked with silver, bent over her body. She heard the sobbing next. A tear fell onto her bare stomach and it practically sizzled in comparison to her cooling body.
She tried to speak, but only a croak came out.
Frantic café-colored eyes met her own. “Buffy, don’t talk. Save your strength.” His hand shook with fear as he pressed it against her paling cheek.
It felt like dead-lifting an automobile, but Buffy pulled her hand up to place it over his hand, pressing it tighter against her cheek. She needed to feel him, to understand that this was all real.
“Xander, I love you.” Buffy’s voice was so soft that she worried he wouldn’t hear her.
But he had to know.
She used to not love him. Not like that.
…But now…oh goddess, she loved him. She really did. Please don’t her away from him!
But he did hear her. His expression changed from anxious to a softer look…then he just looked sad. “It’s okay Buffy, it’s okay,” Xander whispered. “I know.”
“No.” Her voice was ragged, punctuated by wheezes, but she gripped his hand tighter. It was important that he understood. “I really love you.”
Then the shadows deepened and Buffy became colder, and finally she became still.
Xander stared down at Buffy’s body as her final breath drifted into the air. A moment of pure shock passed as he stared down at her without any sign of movement, but then a primal howl ripped from his throat and he began sobbing violently.
Finally, he was spent.
He stared at the remains of his wife.
“No, I really love you.”
Her voice…her declaration had been so sincere. Xander so desperately wanted to believe her…but he knew.
She didn’t love him. Not like that.
But he had been selfish enough to inject enough love into their relationship for the both of them. She was…she had been a fantastic mother. Their daughters were as caring and as lovely as Buffy.
They had been happy.
Which sometimes is maybe all anyone can wish for in life.