Author's Note: An old, non-crossover story of mine, presented here unaltered except for the fixing of typos. It just addresses something that, at the time I wrote it, I'd never seen addressed.
Disclaimer: The Buffy characters are owned by Joss Whedon.
X X X X X
Willow, Oz, Xander, and Buffy were all sitting in Buffy's living room. Willow and Xander's eyes were glued to the set; Buffy and Oz, while watching the set on a regular basis, weren't being quite so fanatical about it.
The Sci-Fi Channel, see, was doing an all-weekend Star Trek marathon, and while Willow and Xander were huge fans of the old series, both Buffy and Oz could easily have found more entertaining things to do.
"Why do we have to have this here?" Buffy'd protested mildly as Willow, Xander and Oz had piled into her living room.
"Easy, Buff," Xander'd cracked back. "Your mom's the parent not home this weekend."
"I'm going to have to talk with her about that at some point," she muttered, but conceded the point. After all, the last time there had been an opportunity for some time away from Giles and the constant pressure to do things Slayery-- well, disaster had struck all the way around. Best not to go there. So if the price of peace was watching Star Trek episodes for 48 hours, it was a small price to pay.
Besides, Buffy suspected that Oz would have been happy watching someone read a crossword puzzle dictionary if it meant he could spend time with Willow.
Anyway. Will and Xander were discussing something on the screen.
"Don't you ever wonder what happened to some of these characters?" Xander asked.
"Shh," Willow said, nodding her head towards Oz. "He doesn't know yet."
"No, really, go ahead and spoil away," Oz answered. "I don't mind."
"Well, we know what's going to happen to most of them. Kelso, Dr. Dehner, Gary Mitchell--they all die."
"I was thinking about Dr. Piper, actually, Will..."
"I know. My guess is he just didn't function as a character. Besides, isn't his fate covered in one of those hundreds of novels?"
"Not that I know," Xander answered.
"Wow, Xander...something you read without being forced?" Buffy commented. "Don't tell Giles. He'd be likely to drop dead on the spot."
"Hey!" Xander protested. "I read voluntarily all the time!"
"The backs of cereal boxes don't count," Oz commented.
In his best Pinky voice, Xander said, "Oh. Well now, that's different, then, isn't it?" Everyone laughed.
A couple of minutes later, Willow pointed to the screen. "See, this is something else I don't get."
"What's that?" Xander asked.
"Well, look at the relationship between Kirk and Gary Mitchell. They're quite clearly best friends."
"Well, they never referred to him again in the entire series. That's 79 shows, he was Kirk's best friend, and after the pilot episode it's like he never existed."
"And you think that doesn't happen in real life, Will?" Buffy blinked. Something was different about Xander's voice.
"Yes! I mean, no, it doesn't!"
"Hmm-hmm." And for the rest of the episode Xander said nothing, but just sat there, his face as rigid as stone. This despite Willow's constant attempts to draw him into conversation, and the puzzled, hurt look on her face. This was followed by irritation on Oz's.
Buffy couldn't figure it out either. Once the episode ended, Xander got up, his expression not changing even once, and said, "Thanks for having me over, Buff. Maybe we'll do it again later." Then he grabbed his coat and stalked out of the front door, leaving three stunned people in his wake.
After a few seconds, when it became obvious that Xander wasn't coming back, Buffy said, "Hold on, I'll be right back," and charged out the door after him.
She caught up with him halfway down the block, where by grabbing his shoulder and squeezing she finally forced him to stop. As he spun around, Buffy said, "Alright, what was with THAT little performance?"
"I don't feel like talking about it," he said, as he wrenched out of her grip and started walking back down the sidewalk.
She matched him stride for stride. "Too bad, because I do. Now, I don't get it. You're in the middle of a Star Trek discussion and all of a sudden you clam up like this. I just don't get it. You that attached to the character or something?"
"Not funny, Buffy. I wouldn't expect you or Oz to get it, but Will--her I expected better of. You know what today is, don't you? The date, I mean?"
Puzzled by the oddness of the question, she answered, "January 10th. Why?"
"What happened two years ago on the 10th?"
Buffy thought for a moment. "That was the night of the Harvest, wasn't it?"
Xander nodded forcefully. "Hmm-hmmm. The night of my very own Gary Mitchell. Think about it and you'll see why I'm so upset at Willow. And even more than that, at myself." He walked off and Buffy thought she knew where he was going.
"Xander--that's dangerous in the dark--"
"I got protection. And right now there's something more important to do anyway."
Seeing that the only way she was going to be able to stop him was to knock him cold--and lacking any really good reason to do that--she let him go.
She walked back to the house, where Willow and Oz were sitting expectantly in the living room.
"He's angry at you. Will, but even more than that he's mad at himself. It was your Gary Mitchell comment that set him off."
"But why?" Willow asked. Oz echoed the sentiment.
"You wouldn't know this, Oz. What happened two years ago this night? And, more importantly, what did Xander have to do on that night that we never, ever seem to talk about?"
Willow worked it out aloud. "Two years ago....we'd just met you...it was the night of the Harvest, and Xander--oh my God!"
"But I haven't forgotten!"
"But do you ever talk about him? Every time you talk about the past it's always you and Xander, you and Xander," Buffy said gently.
"A lot of the time it was," Willow protested, though it was clear that her heart wasn't in it.
"But not all the time," Buffy prompted.
Willow let out a huge sigh. "Not nearly." She looked at Oz. "Could you drive me to the Temple Beth El cemetery on the west side of town?"
"Yes, but...would the two of you explain what's going on?"
"On the way." Then they all walked out to Oz's van.
X X X X X
Xander stood there, saying nothing. What could he say? The writing on the tombstone was expressive enough, written first in Hebrew and then in English:
Yeshua "Jesse" Block, 1980-1997
How could he have forgotten?
He owed Willow an apology...if only for how rude he'd been.
Though she should have remembered, dammit! Even if she wouldn't have felt all this guilt.
Not like she had a reason to, though. She wasn't the one who'd plunged a stake into a friend's heart.
He stood there silently for ten more minutes when he heard a gentle footstep behind him. "I was wondering what took you so long," he said gently.
The voice that answered wasn't the voice he expected. "Oh, really?" it said, dripping with scorn and puzzlement.
Xander spun in place. "Cordy?!" he demanded. "What are you doing here?" She was dressed conservatively, in a long black dress, and was carrying an armload of flowers.
"I guess I just got addicted to hanging around cemeteries," she answered, but the anger had faded. There was no real anger in the jibe. "What do you think? I'm here for the same reason you are." Then she pointed at the headstone. "Could you excuse me?" Xander stepped aside and let his ex-girlfriend put the flowers down on Jesse's grave.
There was an awkward silence. Even when they'd been dating, they'd rarely been part of emotional moments this intense. This one seemed to top them all. Finally Xander ended the quiet by asking, "So, why are you here? I mean, all Jesse ever did was bug you for dates."
Cordy began to snap out an answer, then realized Xander's question hadn't been hostile, and, a bit more thoughtfully, said, "Guilt."
That hadn't been what he'd expected. "Guilt? Why would you--"
"Because," she snapped back, "If I'd just agreed to dance with him--or paid any attention to him at all--maybe he wouldn't have become what he became."
Xander's eyes narrowed. "Hold it, hold it. How do you know what he became? You weren't even in the know back then!"
"I'm not stupid, Xander!--and DON'T snap some stupid joke. Even you have to admit I'm not stupid." She stopped. Eventually Xander realized that she was waiting for him to acknowledge this, so he nodded his head. Cordy went on, "It wasn't hard to figure out, with what I learned later. The way he attacked me, the way he was so confident--the way he was going along with the big freak on the stage who wanted to kill everyone...the only thing I hope is that the end came quick. I mean, he was a jerk to me, but I never wanted this. And if I'd only said yes. One dance! What harm would one dance have done?"
Xander took this in. "Did you know that I was the one that killed him?"
His ex's head jerked upright like it had been yanked by a hangman's noose. "No." After a second, she added. "God! You must feel almost as guilty as I do!" Then, following a visible mental adjustment, "Or more," almost inaudibly.
"Or more," he agreed, knowing that despite the way Cordy had phrased that, no insult had been intended.
"Do you replay the events of that night over and over again, like I do?" she asked.
"Actually," Xander answered, his voice almost a whisper, "and I didn't realize this until tonight, I've been repressing it. I hardly even think about it--and do you know this is the first time I've talked about him at length with anyone since...since.. since I killed him?"
"God! Two years?"
A third voice chimed in, "Two years." Xander and Cordy both turned...and saw Willow standing there. She walked up and hugged Xander as Cordelia gracefully stepped backwards out of the way. This wasn't the kind of comfort she could provide, at least not anymore. When Willow pulled back, she looked at the cheerleader oddly and said, "I'm surprised to see you here."
"Amazing what guilt'll do, isn't it?" Cordy said wryly. "Look. The two of you were his friends, and I never was. I've done what I came to do...I'll do the rest of my mourning in private." Then she walked off towards the now almost deserted parking lot, just out of sight among the trees.
As she vanished, Willow turned to Xander. As one they blurted out, "I'm sorry," then laughed for half a second before remembering where they were.
Xander began. "Look, I was mad at myself, not you, really. I DO wish you'd remembered our very own Gary Mitchell--" he gestured down to the tombstone-- "but you don't have as much reason to. He was more my friend than yours, and you're not the one who plunged the stake into his heart."
"Stop trying to protect my feelings," Willow answered. "I knew him for over ten years. He was as much my friend as yours. We just don't let ourselves think of him too much. We don't like to remember our failures...and we failed Jesse."
"So we just pretend he never existed?"
"We don't have to...any more. Not if you don't want to. But I think you're more worried about forgetting him than anything else."
"We almost did!" Xander protested.
"Jesse shouldn't be defined by the day he died, Xander. He should be defined by all the days that came before that." Xander stood there, the anguish still plain on his face. "So, I'll tell you what. Let's sit down and have a talk. Just the three of us, the way it used to be."
Xander let Willow pull him down onto the grass in front of Jesse's grave, and she began talking. About Jesse, about everything the three of them had done together. About the "We hate Cordelia" Club, of which Jesse had been a charter member. This, of course, was pre-hormones, but still...
Finally, Xander joined in.
X X X X X
Buffy, Oz, and Cordelia watched the two friends from concealment in the trees.
"I still think--" Oz began, but Buffy cut him off.
"No. We're not a part of this story, and we never will be. Jesse belongs to them." She looked down at Cordelia and grinned briefly. "Even Cordy managed to figure that out."
"Yeah, well," she shot back. "Just don't expect it again anytime soon. I've about used up my quota of nice on you people for, oh, the next six months or so." Buffy noticed, though, that she wasn't in any hurry to leave.
"But--" Oz said. "I want to do something."
"We will. This is night. It's a cemetery. We live in a town that has lots of undead." Steel entered her voice. "And not a single one of them is going to disturb Xander or Willow. Do you understand me?"
"But--" Cordy protested. Buffy silenced her with a look. "Yes," she said reluctantly. "I understand." Oz nodded, and Buffy passed out stakes, crosses, and holy water. In the background, Willow and Xander could be seen, having an animated and not altogether unhappy conversation.
Then they settled in.
As long as it took, they'd be there.