Slayer Headquarters, Scotland
Post-Wolves at the Gate

Buffy watched. She’d come up to the east tower restless, unable to sleep, thoughts of Tokyo leaving a strange dissatisfaction and too many unanswered questions. She worried about her slayers and the looming threat of Twilight. How could they make a difference in the world if they were busy scrambling to protect themselves? What would happen the next time someone tried to steal back the gift she’d given to her girls?

She thought briefly of Satsu, of her courageous heart, her seemingly yielding yet unbreakable spirit. The reed that bends, but never breaks. She’d seemed so submissive at first, so polite. And she still was. Yet underneath all those respectful manners and quirky clothes lay a steely strength. Sound. True. Whole. A completeness that had drawn Buffy like a lodestone, inspired a need to reach out and touch. To understand. For a brief moment and some moments that were not so brief, Buffy hadn’t felt alone. She’d been warm. Loved. But her heart didn’t answer the call and she’d known this haven wasn’t meant to last. Satsu understood her retreat, loved her still in spite of her weakness. The Tokyo squad was in good hands, the best hands, gentle and maddening hands…

She sighed as she reached the top of the stairs then blinked in surprise, startled to find Xander standing alone and gazing out into the night sky. He stood so perfectly still she wondered if he was imagining himself on sentry duty. Her lip curled slightly as she realized her stealthy tread had failed to gain his attention. Distracted from her worries, she leaned her shoulder against the stone of the archway and wondered what he was thinking. His shoulders slumped slightly, a burden weighing him down. Renee. He was thinking about Renee. She should go. Xander had said repeatedly that he didn’t want to talk. He hadn’t cried again since that moment he’d fallen to his knees and embraced her on the battlefield. Her arms curled over her mid-drift as she remembered how tightly he’d held her. Like he was dying inside and holding onto her was the only thing keeping him alive. Her eyes stung as she imagined the hollow look in his eyes. He’d been broken in that moment. Beyond hope or reason.

She’d cradled his head and stroked his shoulders, murmuring his name and whispering comforting lies. Eventually his sobs had become subdued and she’d felt a restless tension grip him, his entire body giving one great shake as he fought for control. She’d cupped his cheek and raised his face to look at her, unsure of what to say but desperate to take away his pain. She knew how to carry it so much better than he did. His jaw had clenched as he’d looked into her watering eyes and he’d jerked his head away, shoving himself off the ground as he drew in ragged breaths. She’d reached out for him, missing the contact, knowing he still needed her, but he had avoided her touch. In that instant, a new pain had taken hold inside her. He didn’t want her help.

She should go. Buffy turned towards the dark stairwell, then looked helplessly back at Xander. She should let him be alone. It’s what he wanted. No. Not alone. Not Xander. Xander was meant to laugh and joke and tease, not stand in silence contemplating the cruelty of the world. She looked down at her hands frustratedly, then back at the broad expanse of his back. Reaching out slowly, she raised her right hand to touch his shoulder, only to stop and let it drop listlessly to her side. He didn’t want to be touched. He didn’t want her to comfort him. She leaned her head back against the cool expanse of stone, her chest shaking as she tried to control her breathing. She closed her eyes, squeezing them shut as she shook her head slightly. She blinked back oncoming tears, seeing Xander's frozen stance through the liquid haze.

She would stay. He didn’t want her to comfort him, but he needed her. She’d watch over him and keep him safe. She’d be waiting for when he was ready. She would give him comfort and friendship and love. All the things he needed but couldn’t bear right now. Until then she’d stand guard. He wasn't alone. He never would be.

***A/N - I love feedback. Please feed me.