And Back Again
by Olivia

Xander Harris looked into the mirror and stared at his own face. The room was badly lit and half his face was covered in darkness. He noticed that the visible half had begun to show signs of wear. Creases were appearing under his eyes and his cheeks sagged. Too many years of worrying had melted a sad look into his eyes.

He sat in a chair in his bedroom facing the window. His wife's sleeping form lay in the bed. It had been fifteen years since he had yelled that he was done putting up with it, the danger, the fighting, and the pain. And he had left, just walked out the door and left. Him, a construction worker who had known about the existence of vampires and demons since he was sixteen. He, who had watched Willow and Anya die, being killed while a helpless slayer had stood by and cried. He, who had left her then. And he, who hadn't looked back, because he was too afraid of what he might have seen.

He looked to his sleeping wife and remembered the day they had met, at a job site. She had been a high and mighty architect and he had been only a construction worker. He smiled, some things he did not regret. But for weeks now there had been rumblings of a new power that had come to town; one that would take out the slayer forever. He knew though that his time in that world was over, the world of demons and vampires, the world of things that go bump in the night. But no one could deny the stake hidden in his pillowcase and the holy water in the birdbath outside. He would never mention the book of protection spells that stood in the bookcase enclosing a picture of a dear friend who had died from the abuse of her own magic and the poison of magic from another.

He thought about the night, knowing that later the slayer would be fighting yet another battle for her life, one he knew she was likely to lose. The years affected everybody he knew; slayers were not immune. He knew Buffy would not run, she had never run like he had, never looked away from her inescapable fate. What could he do for her, he thought? He would be killed before her, neck broken by the beast's great claws. A sacrifice that wouldn't even give Buffy time to escape, though he knew she would never try. His life was his own and Buffy had no part of it. He had no special powers and no great skills. What strength he had left could barely carry him to bed at night. What weighed down on him, though, was far greater, the weight of regret and shame and love for a girl whom he had known and countless times followed into unconditional battle. A girl who had given him hope that he wasn't useless, a girl he knew would fight until her death. Xander looked at the clock and saw that he would probably not live through the night. Kissing his wife on the cheek, he grabbed his jacket and the stake from his pillowcase and closed the door softly behind him.


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