Before I Sleep
A/N I have no claim on either BTVS or the works of Robert Frost. Enjoy.
BEFORE I SLEEP
SLAYER TRAINING CENTER, CLEVELAND OHIO – 3 YEARS LATER
Buffy Summers hurt, it was like an ache in her bones, and not from the seemingly ever present cold; but for a different reason entirely. She had known this day would come, it had been planned for and even rehearsed; but when it hadn’t occurred quickly, she began to forget. She had forgotten that it was inevitable. She had forgotten what Spike had told her so long ago, forgotten that all the bad guys need is one good day.
In many ways, Cleveland had been eye opening for both her and for Xander. One of the issues was simply the sheer size of the place. It wasn’t Sunnydale where you could hit all the cemeteries every other night just by walking, transportation was required, even if it was simply bicycles. More territory to cover meant that groups were more isolated and more vulnerable since back up was much further away. For three years they’d been adapting to that reality and while things were better, they weren’t perfect yet.
Another difference had been the police. While Sunnydale Syndrome was in effect to a limited degree, the force hadn’t been hand picked by mayor Wilkins and so they were a lot more competent than the cops had been in their past. The ‘Good Samaritan that just happened to be there’ routine got old before the end of their first full week of active patrolling. Putting their heads together, they came up with the idea of opening a Martial Arts school and using that as a base for a ‘Take back the Night’ program. This made dealing with the police a lot easier, and it also brought in some cash, which is never a bad thing.
The last big issue was simply the fact that they were dealing with slayers. Headstrong young women who were used to getting their way, used to being the Alpha wherever they were and instinctively wanting to work alone. Dealing with this all the time was like herding cats and Buffy had a much greater appreciation for what Giles had gone through back when they’d all been in high school. What made it even more frustrating was the constant nature of the struggle to get the slayers into a new mindset because for everyone that bought in, there was a newbie who was fighting it tooth and nail.
Because of all of these things they’d been cautious, possibly too cautious; with the upshot being that they hadn’t lost a girl yet. At first Buffy had anticipated someone dying fairly early in the game but whether it was luck or Xander’s overcautious nature, they hadn’t. Not until tonight.
Tonight a slayer had died, one of theirs; and it hurt. At the moment Buffy couldn’t tell what hurt more, the fact that the girl was dead, or the fact that she had survived an apocalypse only to fall a year later to a lucky strike by a newbie; either way it was devastating. She had known, of course, that slayers died since she had done so twice, but when you hear about it occurring somewhere like Istanbul or Buenos Aires or Moscow it lacked the emotional impact of seeing someone you have cared about and trained with for over a year bleed out in front of you. She wished she were numb or angry or anything except hurting, but that was what she was and it didn’t feel like it was gonna change any time soon. Sadly whatever she felt it wouldn’t change the facts of the situation. Mary Delaney from Cork Ireland, dead at 18. Buffy thought that sometimes life sucked beyond all reason.
Buffy thought back to what had happened, playing the scene over in her mind. They had been out on patrol; her, Xander, Mary and the three junior slayers when they spotted a vamp chasing a girl into an alley. They left the three slayerettes at the entrance to the alley in case anything tried to get in or out; she and Xander had gone to save the girl and left the slaying to Mary.
The first two parts of the plan had gone off without a hitch, the girl was OK and the perimeter was secure; they all then focused on the last part as Mary battled the vamp. It was hardly a fair fight. Mary had experience, a year of very advanced training and the confidence that came from knowing that you’d stopped the world from ending. She was pummeling the vamp almost at will. No one had seen it coming, including the vampire who had struck out in a blindly defensive move.
Had it been any shallower it wouldn’t have done any damage, and a quarter of an inch to either side and it probably wouldn’t have even required stitches; but the strike was in just the right spot and just deep enough to clip her carotid artery. It was such an insignificant hit that Buffy doubted it had even registered on Mary’s pain meter, but after she had staked the vamp Mary had become aware of the freshet of blood pouring out of her neck.
Mary had turned to where Xander and Buffy were standing, her eyes wide and crimson stained hands held out in supplication, as if begging the two of them to allay what she feared, she then collapsed to the pavement. The two of them had rushed to her, trying to determine the extent of the damage and stop the bleeding at the same time telling the baby slayers to call 911. Xander had immediately slapped a bandage over the wound and then started checking the young slayer’s vital signs; Buffy was holding the young girl’s hand and looked up into Xander’s eye, the pain Buffy saw there told her all she needed to know.
Realizing the truth she was soon whispering quietly in Mary’s ear, telling the young Irishwoman that she’d be just fine, and they’d be laughing about the whole incident soon enough. But Mary could tell that she was hurt badly and soon tears were running out the corners of her eyes and she was saying how she didn’t want to die. Buffy’s heart broke when she heard what the young girl had said, remembering her response when Giles had told her that she would die at the hands of the Master; so Buffy told Mary what she remembered of Heaven and even asked the girl to say ‘Hi’ to her mother when she got there. Shockingly this got a small smile from the Irish slayer, and then with a glance and a smile for Xander and a sigh, Mary Delaney closed her eyes died in that alleyway.
Xander stayed there to talk to the police, and tell them the story of a mugging prevention gone wrong. After three years there were a few guys on the force that understood what really went on after dark and they helped out where they could. Sadly, there was a dead body this time but they’d had time to plan for this and contingencies were in place in case some prosecutor got feisty. It hurt at times to not be able to tell the truth but the world just wasn’t ready for the existence of vampires and demons and boogelies that go bump in the night.
Meanwhile Buffy took the three junior slayers home, then gathered all of the other personnel there, slayers and watchers and support staff and told them all what had happened. When she was done Buffy discovered that everyone was looking at her, as though she had some magic words that would make everything better.
She felt out of her depth. Stirring speeches were more of Xander’s thing, other than bad slaying puns she wasn’t much for the verbage. Unfortunately, though that was one of the functions of leadership, and right now she was in charge; she slowly eyed the room praying that the right words would come to her.
“I hate this,” she started. “I hate having to stand here and tell you what I’m gonna tell you. I hate talking about death, but unfortunately it’s a part of slaying. Those of you here that are slayers, most of you will die painful and gruesome deaths; because what you are fighting won’t try to just knock you out or give you a good bruise. They are trying to kill you just as much as you are trying to kill them. You’re out there almost every night, so that means that sooner or later something bad will happen and unfortunately not all the skill, training or support will stop that. All the bad guys need is one good day, or for you to have one bad day and that’s the day you’ll finally retire.”
“So why do we fight, given the inevitable conclusion? Well everyone has different reasons, some because they enjoy fighting, others because they’re doing their duty and combating evil and still others because they’re simply doing what they’ve been told to do. But all that’s incidental, because in the long run what we’re really fighting for is each other.”
Buffy looked around the room again. “All of you are my sisters and my friends, I would trade my life for yours without even thinking, and I believe that you all would do the same. Mary was eighteen when she died, but in that time she saved hundreds, maybe thousands of people, because you never know how many lives a vampire will snuff out if you let it go. Mary also helped avert an apocalypse, so there’s another six billion people that are still walking around in the world thanks to what she’s done. And then there’s us, she pulled all of us out of a scrape at one time or another. So honor her and when you think of her, think of the difference she made with her life and think of how poor a place this would have been without Mary Delaney. The hardest thing about this world is living in it; so live and remember that you’re here because of Mary. And also remember that there are thousands of people out there who could say the same for you.” Buffy looked around, it hadn’t been ‘Win one for the Gipper’ but it seemed to have done the job. The faces of the Slayers and the others in the room had changed; she could now see recollections of good times and happy memories flashing in everyone’s mind. As far as Buffy was concerned that was the best memorial she could offer the fallen. Figuring that she shouldn’t push her luck with words, the senior slayer left the room and quietly walked upstairs, leaving the rest of the house to each others comfort. Maybe one day what she’d said would make the hurt less, but she didn’t really believe it.
Buffy stood in her darkened room, looking out her window and waiting. She knew he’d show up, he always did when something bad had happened. It was one of those things she had come to expect here in Cleveland. She didn’t know what she would have done here if Xander hadn’t been with her, Buffy did know it wouldn’t have been a place she would have wanted to be. Buffy smiled to herself only Xander could make living on the mouth of Hell fun, well as much fun as hunting demons every day could be. So she stood and waited, refusing to acknowledge the pain she was feeling until her Xander shaped friend was there to make it better.
She reflected, as she stood there waiting on how many times Xander the comfortador had been there for her. As she sifted through her memories, she realized that some of the best memories she had were of times that he had been there for her. She recalled the ‘Puffy Xander’ speech and the ‘Hero’ speech that he had given her, words that had stayed with her and had kept the darkness in her heart at bay on more nights than she would admit to.
After a wait that seemed like hours, Buffy heard a car approaching and her heart brightened when it turned out to be Xander’s Jeep. He pulled into the driveway of Cleveland house and parked. As he got out Buffy released a breath she didn’t even know she’d been holding. She would never admit to anyone, not even herself; how nervous she became until she was sure that he was safe. Buffy watched as he leaned for a moment against the hood of the jeep, the pain that the night’s events had caused were clearly etched on his face. Buffy wanted nothing more at that moment than to go to him and somehow ease his pain, but she couldn’t; at least not yet.
First, she knew; he would have to comfort the baby slayers and take care of what they were going through. Only after he was sure that everyone else was dealing would he allow himself to grieve. Buffy vowed that she would be there for him, offering him the same comfort that he so easily gave to others.
Buffy watched as Xander took a deep breath, straightened, squared his shoulders and headed for the front door. Soon he passed out of her sight, but she could follow his progress easily enough. Without straining her senses, Buffy heard the front door open, followed by a communal gasp as the slayers saw who it was, and then the sound of feet as they all moved to him, seeking comfort in the shelter of his arms.
Buffy found that a part of her was jealous of the attention Xander was giving the younger slayers. A small part of her wanted him to ignore the others, come upstairs and take her in his arms and assure her that everything was gonna be alright; wanted him to put her first. Reason and maturity squashed the feeling almost as soon as it popped into her head, but the fact that it had been there at all surprised her a bit.
Downstairs Buffy could hear the sounds of crying and muted comments from Xander as he soothed the girls. He was so much better at that than she was, Buffy acknowledged. After a short time he sent them to bed; Buffy was aware of the slayers moving past her door as they headed for their rooms. Then she heard the tread of his boots on the stairs, followed by the sound of her door opening. He didn’t knock, tonight he knew he didn’t need to. As soon as he spotted her, Xander moved across the room and took Buffy into his arms. Buffy allowed herself the luxury of leaning back into his comforting bulk as his arms moved around and engulfed her and his head came down and rested on hers.
So protected, Buffy finally allowed the tears to come. They streamed down her cheeks and made the streetlights visible outside her window blur and waver. No words were spoken, none were necessary. Solace was offered and accepted. At last the tears dried and Buffy closed her eyes and relaxed. When she did so, Buffy realized that the top of her head was damp. Her first thought was that Xander must be drooling or something, but then she felt his body shuddering periodically and she could hear the muted sobs and she realized that Xander was crying. Buffy had never seen Xander cry, she was sure that he did; but he always was so private about his serious emotions that it had never been seen by either her or Willow.
Slowly, so as to cause as little disturbance as possible, Buffy turned herself in his arms so she was facing him, and wrapped her arms as far around him as they would go. She held him as tightly as she could, without doing any damage, for a couple of minutes then eased up and asked, “Why did she have to die Xander?”
“I don’t know Buff, God knows I wish I did. All I can remember is one thing Giles told me a long time ago.”
“What did he tell you” Buffy muttered.
“He said, ‘Xander my boy, there are two rules to slaying, rule one is that young girls die; and rule two is that there isn’t a bloody thing anyone can do about rule one’.”
“That doesn’t sound like something Giles would say.”
“Well he was pretty well drunk at the time; it was about a week after Glory’s tower. I’m not an idiot; I realize that if you fight demons every night, sooner or later your number is gonna come up. And I’m okay with me dying, but someone else dying hurts so damn much.”
“I hate it too, Xander,” Buffy replied. “But if there’s an alternative out there I’d like to hear it; everyone dies, no exceptions.”
“Says the girl that’s been resurrected twice,” Xander said with a snort. His body was no longer shaking, his crying was done.
“Well, special people get special treatment,” Buffy quipped.
“So how does that translate to you being brought back twice?” Xander asked; mock perplexity in his voice.
Buffy smiled and buried her head back in his chest, “jerk,” she muttered. She heard a weak chuckle and realized that her effort to change his mood had actually worked; in her mind she was high fiving herself. Then Buffy sighed, her mood changing again. “I just wish we could have done something, maybe there’s some witchy medical stuff we could learn or teach.”
“Maybe there is and that’s something we can look into. Everyone wear a healing amulet or something like that. But don’t be too hard on yourself Buffy, you did what Mary needed the most tonight.”
“When Mary knew she was dying, you held her close and made sure she knew that she was loved; there is nothing you could have done for her that would have been more important.” Xander pulled the petite blond closer to him and murmured, “Thank you for doing that, for letting her know that she had family with her when she died.”
“What about her real family?” Buffy asked, bothered that she couldn’t remember.
“Orphan, remember,” Xander said. Then continued with some venom, “Damn fool drunk drivers, they’re worse than demons.”
Buffy remembered now, and felt ashamed that she had needed to ask. Then something else occurred to her. “Are the police gonna be any problem Xander?”
“I don’t think so Buff, I didn’t have any weapons on me and I stayed with the body, so that kinda rules me out as a suspect. And while the Cleveland PD aren’t as inept as Sunnydale’s finest, there’s still that kind of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ vibe going on. Maybe an active Hellmouth just makes people indifferent.”
“But if they do try to make trouble . . . . .”
“Well we’ve got that lawyer on council retainer, or if worst comes to worst I could just disappear, go back to Africa or somewhere.”
“Try the lawyer first,” Buffy muttered. “I like having you here.”
“Absolutely,” Xander replied. “I like being here,” he turned his head and kissed the top of Buffy’s head. Then Xander yawned and said, “But as much as I like being where I am right now, I need to hit the sack Buff.” He went to disentangle himself from his friend, but she didn’t seem willing to let go. “Ummm Buff, I kinda need you to let me go.”
Buffy just looked up into his eye and asked, “could you stay here tonight Xander, please?” She then played very unfairly by shooting him her best puppy-dog eyes. Buffy knew they were to Xander what kryptonite is to Superman.
Collapsing faster than a house of cards in an earthquake Xander said, “alright Buff, just sleeping, right?”
Buffy gave him a little grin. “Spoilsport” she said. Then becoming serious added, “that’s fine Xander, I just don’t think I could handle being alone tonight.”
Xander breathed an exaggerated sigh of relief, which brought out a, “hey,” from his friend. “No problem then Buff, just two friends sharing the same bed and keeping the bad dreams away, I think I could use that myself tonight.”
“Yaay,” Buffy said. “Slumber party in my room; now turn around you so I can change.”
“Try to stand somewhere other than in front of my mirror.”
“Now who’s being the spoilsport?” Xander replied.
When they were both ready, they climbed into bed together, both being a little careful about personal space because neither was completely comfortable with what was going on. Because of that, sleep didn’t come easy for either of them. Finally Buffy asked, “you still awake Xander?”
“Yeah Buff, what’s up?”
“Well aside from both of us, I was wondering something?”
“Did you ever think about the two of us being. . . . .”
Xander snorted a laugh, “You gotta be kidding me Buff. Hell I couldn’t think of much else the first year and a half I knew you. After that there were periodic flares where I’d daydream about you finally looking at me ‘that way’, but you made it pretty clear that that wouldn’t happen. And then when you chose to be with Spike rather than coming to me or Will, well lets just say that it was tough to even think of you as my friend those last couple of years in Sunnydale. I mean that summer when it was just the three of us was great, but I was rebuilding my feelings for you and then when Will and Spike showed up everything kinda went back to the way it was. Anyway I just gave up on there ever being an ‘us’ some time ago.”
It hurt Buffy to hear her friend talk about how he had felt, or rather how her actions had made him feel all those years ago. They had both made their peace with the past, but it still hurt. “And now?”
“Well we have this amazing friendship, we are an exceptional team, and we’re doing important work. If we started dating everything would change. Even if we were great together, how this place functions would change and probably not for the better. God knows what would happen if we tried dating and it blew up. And that’s the problem, if it would just affect you and me I’d be more than willing to take that chance. But it wouldn’t just impact you and me, it would also jeopardize the training that’s going on, and that would be bad for a whole lot more people. Now if Giles called up tomorrow and told us that we’d done enough and he was giving us council spots in England and that two people we actually trusted were taking over here, I’d ask you out before the phone was hung up, but until then I think we should just kinda stay the way we are. What do you think?”
Buffy thought for a moment then said, “I guess it seems too coincidental for me Xander. Think about it, the times I’m interested in you, you’re not interested in me; whenever I’m ending a relationship, you’re starting one or vice versa; the times when neither of us have any romantic entanglements, there’s an apocalypse or some other major event that keeps us apart. Maybe it’s the Powers telling us we’re just not supposed to be together. And while I know you just love messing up prophecies this feels like something we should just leave alone. Because I agree with you, if we get together and then everything blows up, it won’t be just us paying the price, but the entire council, and as much as I might love you, I’m not ready to risk that.”
Xander sighed, “So do you think either of us will ever find anyone?”
“I don’t know, I mean we both seem to have found some ‘interesting’ short term involvements.”
“If you’re referring to those three researchers that the council sent over, then I deny all knowledge.”
“Well what about Abigail, that female watcher trainee, or Dierdra, that little brunette at the magic shop.”
“Why don’t you not mention them? Then I wouldn’t be forced to mention Allen or Marcel, the watcher trainees, Steven the warlock and Tran the aikido instructor.”
“You know about them, huh?”
“No offense Buff, but you do tend to be a bit vocal. The entire house knows about them.” Buffy blushed a nice crimson as Xander continued, “At least I tried to keep all my ‘rendezvous’ in my workshop, or somewhere other than the house.”
“That would explain the poison ivy Marcy got on her . . . . .”
“Yeah, that would explain it,” Xander agreed. “Honestly Buff, unless we leave here together, I can’t see us getting together as anything but friends. And when it comes to long term stuff, I can only think of three women that would care for me, accept my friendship with you, and understand about my job. One’s dead, one’s gay and the other said ‘no’.”
“I guess we’re both kinda hosed cause I can’t think of any guy that would accept my friendship with you except for Giles and just let me say EWWWWW right now.”
“So I guess we just have to stay friends.”
“Yeah, I guess so; goodnight Xander.”
Xander rolled to his side and kissed Buffy on her forehead, “Goodnight Buff.”
There was silence for a moment then, “Xander, did we just reach a well thought out mature decision.”
“Yeah Buff, I’d say we did.”
“Growing up sucks, you know.”
“Right there with you Buff.”
With that said the two friends fell asleep side by side.