Chapter Nineteen - I'll Stand By You

"According to this list…" Willow began to read from a printed handout in her hand.

Oz frowned as he noticed Xander walking out of the library doors and so he automatically glanced at Buffy. She looked up at Xander quickly, chewing on her lower lip, and then her eyes fell dejectedly to the floor. Despite what his girlfriend had said about Xander agreeing to the curse, he was beginning to think otherwise, and as he looked at Buffy, he was wondering if she was doing the same.

With a sigh, he stood up and approached Willow who had stopped reading for a moment while Giles went into the office to get an Orb of Thesula, which he had been using for a paperweight. He tapped her shoulder and moved his head in the direction that the other male slayerette had gone. She smiled warmly, squeezed the hand that rested on her shoulder, and nodded before she started again to read the list, "And besides that we need…"

The door slammed loudly behind him and he saw Xander leaning on a wall of the empty school hallway, "Hey."

Xander looked up and gave him a half-smile, "Hey, what are you doing out here?"

"Funny…was just about to ask you the same thing," Oz replied as he approached him and leaned against the opposite wall, "I'm guessin' you're not with this whole curse thing."

"Ya think?" he replied sardonically, "Look, I appreciate the effort of my best bud's guy to give me a pep talk, but I'd rather not."

"Look Xander, I may not be the world's expert on girls…well…me and every other guy on this planet, but I'm thinkin' it would be in your best interest to go and have a talk with Buffy," he said. "I know you told her that you were okay with this, but you're obviously not, and as far as I can tell, you're only going along with this because you don't want to hurt her."

"Of course I don't want to hurt her, Oz…she's…she's…" he said and paused before continuing softly, "she's everything to me, and I don't…I don't…"

"No need to elaborate, I know the feeling," he said with a grin as he thought about Willow, "but you can't go along in life not expressing what you think is right…I mean, think of how I would look if I went about satisfying the status quo? No nail polish that's for sure. I'm not saying that if you tell her how you feel it's going to change her mind about anything, but at least she'll *know, * y'know?"

"Um…Oz…Willow wants you…for something," Buffy said as the door closed behind her and she approached them. Her eyes fixed totally on Xander's face, although she was talking to Oz.

"Sure," he said and very little conversation occurred until they were sure he was in the library.

"I…uh…heard what you and Oz were talking about," she said, "I - I thought you were okay with all of this…I mean, I know you don't want this, but you said…"

Xander took a deep breath, "I know what I said and I am okay with this…sort of. Angel and I, let's just say that we've exchanged very little words - wouldn't even amount to one conversation - over the time he was hanging with us. But in those words, we found out how much both of us…loved you, and in finding that out…we hated each other even more when we didn't say anything at all. Then when he turned to the other side, that hate grew with every time he attacked us…and whenever he hurt you…he hurt me. I don't want to give Angelus a reward for killing Miss Calendar…I don't want to give him a new lease on life for doing what he did to us. Angel died…Buffy…long before we even knew him…that was his death. If you ask me, he's had plenty of chances at life, and knowing you…having the chance to love you…having the chance for you to love him back… was probably the best of all. I know…I can relate, and maybe that's what I'm afraid of…maybe in the back of my mind…and somewhere in this mortal heart of mine…that's what I'm afraid of. That maybe if he found so much in you, then you might have found a lot in him …more than you'll ever find in me… just Xander, class clown extraordinare."

She looked into his eyes and blinked in surprised and sighed, "How can you possibly think that? You and Angel are…different. I could never in my life compare you two. I have to say, though, that he's very special to me, still, and maybe I still love him…just not the way I did before. But you…you're not *just* Xander…you're more than that - more than you can possibly imagine - to me. I love you."

He had to smile, no matter how many times those words came from her, he could not believe that they were for him. "And I love you, but beyond that, no matter how strongly I feel about you, there's this part of me that doesn't know whether I'm going to be able to handle it…having Angel back, standing there and watching while you give him back his soul-"

"Xander…what are you - " she began as her eyes looked at him worriedly.

He smiled and Buffy's expression faded with each of his words, "But there's a stronger part of me still that will do anything to make you happy, anything to see you smile. I understand Buffy, and even if I didn't…I'll still stand by you."