With all her strength reserves emptied, Buffy slipped to the floor, her ankle finally weakening under her own weight. Of course, she never hit the ground. She felt those magnificently strong arms encompass her; their familiarity was a wonderful comfort for her. The slayer felt his muscles tense and struggle to let her down carefully on the ground with as little turbulence along the way as possible. He sat her down gently, his arms snaking their way away from her almost instantly because Xander was unsure if Buffy wanted this physical contact. How wrong he was.
Instantly, Buffy embraced him, squeezing him so tight he could hardly breath. "Ah, Buff? Could ya ease up a little? I… can’t… breathe…" She pulled away, embarrassed that she’d let her emotions get so carried away. Her face reddened, adding only its prettiness. "Glad to see you, too."
"Oh, Xander," Buffy said, reaching out for another hug and eagerly receiving one. As he released her, Xander cringed at the sight of Buffy’s blood on his clothes.
"You okay?" he asked, concerned, as he started to make a tourniquet from his shirt for her arm.
"I’ll be fine." Naturally, even the slayer winced as he tightened the cloth to stop the bleeding. The fabric stretched taut across her wound, painfully pressing the tears of skin into each other. A ferocious red streak absorbed through the bandage in seconds.
Moments passed in silence as Xander tended to the miserable blonde. His gaze was focused precisely on the task at hand, and Buffy tried to relax under his touch. Then: "We did it," she triumphantly announced though her eyes said that she wasn’t exactly as happy as she wanted to be.
"More correctly, you did it. I was busy spending most of my frequent flyer miles while you kicked some vampire booty."
Buffy shook her head defiantly. "But if it weren’t for your mad flying skills, we’d all be demon food, me especially. By the way, are you a superhero in your time away from us?"
"Code name: Captain No-Aim. You’ve already witnessed why I’m called that."
"Couldn’t’ve done it better myself."
"You’re probably right," Xander jested, shooting a warm smile Buffy’s way.
Their jocular mood softened a bit though when Buffy proclaimed, "Angelus is gone for good this time; I can feel it."
"So can I, Buffy, so can I," he murmured, catching her gaze with his own. "Thanks."
"You know something particularly crazy?"
"Now what can be any crazier than what we’ve just seen here?"
Buffy paused momentarily, keeping him hanging on her every word and in anticipation of her response. When Xander’s stare became intense enough, she answered, "I actually missed you."
Their light mood was back, seeping in slowly from the hallway. "Oh yeah?" he asked, trying to sound surprised. "That right? I guess that is pretty crazy. Who’da thought that you would miss me? Crazy, absolutely crazy, I tell ya," he repeated.
"Oh, of course! No one was there to call Giles G-man and drive him totally nuts. I swear, I think he actually missed you, too! Sometimes, when it was really quiet, I do believe I even heard him calling himself G-man."
The familiar mirth inched its way back into Xander’s eyes. "Really?"
"Yeah. Did you really expect someone to take over that job for you? That was rude, Xander, very rude. Shame on you!" Buffy shot him a disapproving look.
"I’ll forgive you so long as you never do anything like that again. We clear?" she scolded playfully.
He nodded, then, "Crystal."
Buffy chuckled slightly, then took on a more serious tone. "Xander?"
Looking her in the eyes and adjusting her bandages: "Hmm?"
"What was it like?"
The slayerette looked quizzically at her. Well, duh. "Hell. What do you think it was, a bed of roses?"
Buffy ignored the smart-ass remark at the end and just asked, "How did you do it? How did you survive it without, you know, contemplating suicide?"
Xander cast his eyes downward, unable to look at her and lie. He had thought about killing himself, but he didn’t want her to know. Obviously, she respected him for not thinking about it, but that would all change the moment she found out he had. "Where’d that come from?" he inquired nervously, trying to avoid the subject.
Suddenly, her breaths become louder and more pronounced. "You did, didn’t you?" she spat disgustedly.
She jabbed him in the stomach with her elbow then scuttled on her hands and knees to the other side of the room. The slayer struggled hard to get back on her feet, but to no avail. "How, how could you even think of killing yourself, you, you selfish jerk! Did you even think for a moment about how that would affect your friends if you’d gone through with it? They walk in here after trying so hard to save him from the jaws of the evilest beast only to find him dead of his own choice! My God. It would literally eat away at their souls to know he didn’t even care enough to wait for them, didn’t trust them enough to believe they would find him."
She was rambling now, and it wasn’t even about Xander’s suicide attempts anymore. Buffy was suffering from emotional overload; Xander could tell. So he let her babble onward until she could hardly speak anymore. Poor girl. First, her former lover—of all people—who was supposed to be dead and in Hell, had kidnapped her friend. Second, Xander had had almost died twice: once by Angelus’ hand and once by his own. Lastly, Buffy had to deal with the pain killing Angel had caused the first time all over again. To top it all off, she was a slayer for life, and she knew more events like this were still lurking on the horizon.
By the time she had finished her half-coherent lecture, she was in tears. These weren’t just any tears either; they were the tears she had dammed up long ago and needed to release. Still, Xander was quick to console her. At first she fought weakly with her fists, but then, upon realizing that this was the kind of comfort she needed, Buffy relaxed into his comforting grip.
Faith had long since faded into the background, and she stood there observing the two with curiosity. Did they even realize how much they were in love with each other? It was almost comical how the two cuddled and comforted each other all the time, but neither ever made a romantic move. Once Faith had noticed she had ceased to exist in their little world, she sneaked out of the meat locker and eased into the hall. There, barreling down the hallway was the troop of four that was responding to the desperate cries it had heard earlier like the police would do.
"Are you okay?" "Did you find Xander?" "Where’s Buffy?" Each person was frantically shouting questions to Faith, who silenced them with a finger to her lips. She quietly motioned to the open room she’d just emerged from.
With wide, excited eyes, they all peeked into the locker and surveyed the scene for themselves. Ropes, crossbows, dust (Angelus), blood, and so forth lay strewn before them. Luckily for Giles, Jenny’s hideous corpse was concealed by the open door, although the stench was unavoidable.
Cordelia craned her head and saw the two of them, her boyfriend and his slayer. Their arms were around each other and Xander’s ruddy cheek was pressed affectionately against Buffy’s. She was weeping on his shoulder, yet she seemed strangely happy. Cordelia couldn’t see Xander’s expression, but she was sure it was pretty much the same.
Cordy knew the moment she would lose Xander was rapidly approaching, and she’d tried to make ready for it, both emotionally and mentally, but as it turned out, she wasn’t prepared in the least. The sight had caught her completely off-guard, and she was so furious that she wanted to break something, anything, Xander’s scrawny neck, but she didn’t; she remained motionless, trying her best not to let her emotions run away with her.
The fact that she had lost Xander to Buffy, of all people, that really irked her. Buffy had never expressed any interest in him before, so why now? And why him? Didn’t she know he was taken? Besides, she was only supposed to love Angel; he was her one and only. Dammit! Xander was just supposed to be Buffy’s friend; at least, that was the way she had always viewed him. Never like this, no, never. The nerve of some women! Get your own man! Cordelia could think of a ton of smart remarks to send flying that blonde bimbo’s way, but she didn’t because she thought of Xander.
Oh, what he had to be feeling now. Alone and scared. He obviously loved Buffy, so, although everything inside her told her to go charging over there and haul him back to her side by the collar, Cordy remained frozen in place.
Gradually, everyone else became aware of the two’s presence and turned to stare as well. Cordelia felt a reassuring hand on her shoulder and found it to belong to Willow, who was smiling lightly to sooth her as best she could. The would-be witch squeezed gently, conveying the message: "I’m sorry." The simple gesture helped to ease her pain, but as suspected, didn’t alleviate it. Nothing would for a long while. Some wounds could only be healed by time.
You love someone else. I’ve got to let you go, and that’s what I’m doing, letting you go. For what else can come of a relationship without love? Nothing. So good-bye, my love. I’m letting go…
Cordelia knew exactly what she was going to say to him now. She hoped she’d find another someday to fill the vacant spot Xander had left in her heart, and somehow Cordy knew she would. She was more than sure of it, it was assured, for she was the gorgeous and practically perfect Cordelia Chase. Who could resist? she thought, smiling happily.
Standing in the entryway to the dank meat locker, with one arm around Oz and the other resting on Cordelia’s shoulder, was Willow.
She mused over the warm scene before her. She knew Xander had always wanted to hold Buffy like that, always wanted to be close to her like that, and now his wish seemed to be coming true. His dream, long in the making, of being this close to the slayer was at last at hand. She wondered if Xander knew he had finally hooked Buffy on the drug that was Xander Harris. Knowing Mr. Oblivious though, Willow figured not.
At first, the wannabe witch felt the flush of jealousy course inside her, and she was even a little angry, but she quickly overcame those damaging feelings the moment Oz squeezed her hand. This was what her best friend—not her boyfriend—yearned for, and as she said before, "All I ever wanted was for you to be happy, and if Buffy makes you happy, bless you both." Last night, she had finally overcome those childish feelings of puppy love for the real thing with Oz.
As she was watching the romantic movie before, she remembered something very important—Cordelia. With scrutinizing eyes, Willow studied her carefully. Despite what the majority of the world thought, Cordy did have feelings and most of them were for Xander Harris. She genuinely cared for him even if she didn’t necessarily show it to all. Maybe she even loved him a little, Willow didn’t know. But one thing was for sure; she wasn’t the ice queen like she liked to portray all the time. A sight like this had to hurt even the hardest of hearts.
To Willow’s surprise, she actually found Cordelia smiling. She didn’t appear mad in the least; she simply watched the two comfort each other and didn’t interfere like everyone had expected Cordelia Chase would. "Should we wait for them outside?" the brunette queried.
"Uh, yes. Let’s give them a few more minutes. If they don’t…" Giles paused, searching for the right word for the occasion. " ‘Finish’ by then, I’ll come in and retrieve them." They all nodded in silent agreement and walked out of Anderson Meats together, this time accompanied by Faith. Silence drifted along with the troop as they remarked to themselves about the situation.
When they reached the front door, the Scooby Gang waltzed outside, all relieved of the terrible burden they had borne earlier that day.
It was now nearing 7:30 p.m., and the sun was beginning to settle into bed in a beautiful, clear evening sky. All traces of the violent storm had disappeared, the black clouds had vanished, the lightning was gone, and the thunder had ceased its incessant booming. The only thing left to signal its existence was the saturated earth and the piles of windblown leaves. The preternatural quiet of the outdoors seemed almost welcomed by a world thrown into such chaos. Birds had stopped chirping long ago and cars couldn’t even be heard in the streets. The best part of all was the glowing red sun—a bright shining orb of pulsating light hanging precariously low in the evening heavens. The brilliant light twinkled in the remaining raindrops, creating a spectacular rainbow the likes of which Sunnydale, nor the world had ever seen. The fantastic arrays of colors shone down upon the slayerettes’ faces, giving them hope for a better tomorrow—one filled with joy and happiness instead of pain and melancholy.
"Looks like there’s a happy ending in store for us after all," commented Willow. Oz nodded and pulled her closer. She rested her head on his chest and stared relentlessly at the dazzling light show above their heads.
"Maybe for some of you, but I broke my best nail in the stupid plastic doll factory."
Giles groaned. "Those were mannequins, Cordelia."
"I know!" she shouted defensively. "I’m not as stupid as yo…" Cordy stopped short, for she couldn’t very well say Giles looked stupid because he looked about as intelligent as he was—and he just looked so very British. Then she corrected, "Oz looks."
The werewolf sighed heavily. Even with the bickering surrounding her, Willow remained happy. Their rainbow had come. Just like in the fairytales. Everything worked out in the end.