Chapter Twenty-Three - Saying Goodbye

The Bronze, as usual, was a misty atmosphere and everyone looked in the boundaries of Happy…except for three particular teenagers that sat at their regular table.

"Oh come on, man, cheer up," Oz tried as he looked at Xander's depressed expression that was slowly, but surely becoming permanent, "You can even make wolf jokes at me. Give me your best shot."

Xander gave Oz a Look, "As tempting as that sounds, Wolf Boy, I'd rather not…I don't even know why I let you guys drag me to the Bronze, anyway…"

"It was for your own good," insisted Willow with a sigh, "We wouldn't have had to 'drag' you if you had come willingly. You've been cooped up in that room of yours for God only knows how many weeks. I mean, even your parents called me because they were worried. I even heard a rumor from the teachers that you're actually doing your homework."

"Maybe it's because I am…what do you think I'm going to do for hours on end by myself?" he said.

"Precisely why you're here," she retorted, "I'm all for you doing better in school, Xander, but I'd rather have you getting your usual C's and D's and be nominally sane then how you are now…besides I think you're wigging out the teachers."

He sighed as he turned the straw in his glass of soda and then looked up at them and stood up, "I know you guys mean well…and I know I'm acting like Sunnydale's Resident Recluse, but I don't need this right now. I don't need *people* right now…even if some times they are a werewolf and a witch. I just need to be alone. I'll eventually pull myself out of the trenches, and when that happens, I'll make sure to give you guys a call. Catch ya later."

As he walked slowly away from them Oz turned to Willow, "You think he's gonna be okay?"

"Eventually," she nodded, "except he won't be the same Alexander Harris I've known all my life…that's all."

The back door of the Bronze slammed loudly behind him…twice…and curiously, Xander turned to see who was following him.

"Cordelia," he said.

"Xander," she returned as she walked towards him, "Haven't seen you about the Bronze much. Surprised me, today, to see that you climbed out of the rat hole you dug yourself into a few weeks ago…although judging by your clothes, I don't think you found your way to a store before that."

"As charming and charismatic as ever," he concluded, "What do you want, Cordelia? Do you want to throw your windbag comments at me, about how you knew it wouldn't last or about pitfalls or did you just feel that age-old impulse to insult me? Whatever it is…I don't care…I really don't. So, why don't you just go back to doing your "popular girl at the Bronze" façade and don't even bother?"

With that he began to walk away, but turned when he heard her say, "I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry."

He frowned, "Sorry…for what?"

"For just about everything…for Colin, for that stupid 'pitfall' line, and believe it or not, about you and Buffy," she replied sincerely, "I kinda saw a certain permanence to it."

"Wow…a rarity from Cor - never mind…thanks," he said, "I better go, maybe I'll see you around?"

"If you find yourself outside, again, you can count on it," she nodded, "And…um…Xander?"

"Yeah, Cordy?" he said smiling lightly as he used his coined nickname for her.

Her eyes met his warmly, "No matter what's happened, no matter who she's with right now, I really do think she still loves you."

Xander nodded in neither agreement nor argument, but just acceptance and continued to tread where he had began initially. As his feet pounded on the sidewalk bounded for home, he thought about what she had told him, about how she was sure that Buffy loved him. As much as he wanted to believe so, despite how Buffy had hurt him, but he couldn't. Not after what happened after that phone call…not after meeting her and talking her for that short, painful period of time that ended in good-byes…

…He exhaled deeply as he saw her in the distance in the usual graveyard setting. He didn't know why he agreed to come meet with her on her patrol when he knew that it would have been just as easy for what was inevitable to occur on the phone. Xander had told her he'd think about it, but as usual, he obliged.

"Hey," he said softly a few feet away from her.

She turned to see him and the corners of her mouth lifted slightly, "Hey, yourself…I was beginning to think you wouldn't show."

"Y'know I'd do anything you ask of me," he replied looking straight into her eyes and when she noted that he meant what he said she looked away.

She laughed nervously, "You're probably wondering why I asked you here, right?"

"Actually, I have a pretty good idea as to why I'm here, but just for the hell of asking…why am I here?" Xander said.

Her eyes fell from the floor and to his eyes, "I - I wanted to explain myself…what I did earlier."

"Explain? What's there to explain?" he asked with a shrug.

"Xander, don't be like this - "

"Don't be like what? Angry? Hurt?" he said as he shook his head, "I'm sorry, Buffy, but I don't have your ability to make feelings just go away."

"T-that's really harsh - " she tried to begin again, but Xander's anger got the better of him.

"You want to talk about harsh? What do you call telling your undead boyfriend former that you love him in front of your boyfriend and then taking off without telling me anything? A simple, 'I'm sorry,' would have suffice…it would have hurt, but at least, it would have meant you knew I was alive, or do you not care about the living anymore? What you did was unexplainable…there is nothing you can say to me that makes it explainable."

Buffy took a deep breath as she looked at Xander's hard-lined expression, "I care about you, Xander, and I realize that no matter how hard I try to explain what I did, I wouldn't be able to because it was wrong. I don't even know why you're here…you must hate me so much for doing that…for leaving…with Angel…"

She stopped as he gently lifted her chin so that her eyes met eyes no longer angered, but soft and sad…his eyes, "I don't hate you, Buffy…I could never hate you…I lo - I could never hate you."

"I'm sorry, Xander…I am so sorry. I don't know why I did what I did, but I saw him there and I just…everything just kinda made my mind all fuzzy. I just…I don't know how to…" she trailed off and turned away as she felt her throat tighten and the onslaught of tears that were just as soon blinked away.

He hadn't realized how much this would all hurt. Ever since she had called, he had played this event in his mind, but there was nothing that could have made him feel anything then, except for the numbness…the coldness that had preceded his initial pain when she left with Angel. And that pain couldn't even compare to how he felt now. He finally perceived that he was really going to lose her and that no matter what he did or say, there was nothing he could do about it. Nothing. Knowing that…and *feeling* that…the world - his world - stood at a standstill. He didn't know how he was going to wake up in the morning anymore or what he was going to think about when he went to sleep because for the longest time it had been her. In these past few months, he had been able to say…to think…to feel in those moments that she loved him. And it seemed to him that his first and last conscious thoughts of the day, not to mention the countless in-between, would continue to be of her…of how much he loved her, wanted her, and needed her. Just like it had been before, except this time, he would be left with the knowledge that for awhile she had loved him, but now she didn't.

"I don't want to…this isn't…" she continued to try and as Xander saw her in this state, he just wanted to walk over to her, hold her, and try to take away the pain he realized she was feeling in doing this. As much as he wanted to hate her for what she was about to do to him…he couldn't. Even though he knew that he was the cause of her struggle and knew whatever it was she was going to say to him…how much it was going to hurt him…he wanted so bad to hold her and make it better…and he did.

For a rare moment in his life, Xander acted on impulse. He walked behind her, held her close, and took the time to remember the moment that would probably be the last time she would ever be this close to him, before whispering in her ear, "Buffy, just tell me good-bye…that's all you have to do. Tell me good-bye and I'll go. Not because I want to, but because I want you to be happy…even if it's not going to be with me."

Buffy closed her eyes and took in the warmth of his embrace and as she felt her eyes give way to her tears and slowly wiped those that had fallen away from the sides of her face, she whispered, "Good-bye…Xander."

Reluctantly, his arms let go of her and immediately she felt a chill and shivered, but only for a moment as she felt a familiar Xander-scented jacket wrap over her shoulders. She turned around to thank him, but he was gone.

Sighing, he finally looked back at her some distance away and felt cold. Not from the lack of his jacket, but from the fact that he felt something missing…whether it was part of his heart or his whole heart that was gone, he wasn't sure, but he was betting on the latter. And before he continued the lonely tread home without her and his heart, he whispered in the night, "Good-bye, Buffy…I love you…"