Six Years In

Author: Beleg_Cuthalion1 <beleg_cuthalion1[at]>

Rating: PG, slight language.

Disclaimer: The characters do not belong to me; they belong to Joss Whedon and Co. Only the story is mine.

Category: B/X angst

Your life changes quietly and in the dark sometimes. Other times, and Xander was far more used to this kind of change, were huge and loud. Blow up fights, untimely deaths, great declarations of love; all these were life changing and can't escape notice. Those kinds of transitions were common. They seemed to come every two years for Xander, at least recently. Six years ago Anya had died and his hometown had been destroyed in a cataclysm. Four years ago, he had gotten married. Two years ago he had found out his wife was pregnant.

Change is not always visible; it can be precipitated by no particular event and is entirely internal to the individual. None the less, your whole life can be changed in a second, quietly and in the dark.

He had been unable to sleep, laying and listening to Buffy's soft breathing next to him. He was tired but something kept him awake. He needed sleep but it seemed miles away. His mind leapt from thing to thing; work problems, Buffy's insistence on helping the new council, little Amy; too many things. It was then that he glanced at Buffy and thought, seriously, that it was very possible his life would have been better if he had never married her.

He didn't leap up in surprise and reprimand himself. He wasn't shocked or surprised. In fact, he considered that such ideas don't come from nowhere. It must have been in his mind; it couldn't have leapt fully formed into his consciousness. He lay still and watched his wife sleep. She was beautiful as she had ever been. Her hair was fanned out on the pillow and she must have been dreaming because he could see, barely in the dark, her eyes moving behind her eyelids and her face scrunched up like she was thinking for a second. He thought that she looked wonderful, but still he lay and looked at her and tried to envision a life without her.

The thought stayed with him for weeks. It came at him unawares, when he should have been thinking of other things. After those weeks, the day to day routine of life with a job and family drove it from his mind. He and Buffy got along and were as affectionate as a two year old and very busy schedules allowed.

One morning, he was awakened by the phone ringing. Buffy was not in the bed so he let her get it. It rang eight or nine times and just as he reached for it, it was picked up. That being taken care of; he got up to get ready for work.

Buffy was frowning at him when he entered the kitchen, holding the baby on one hip. "I had Amy," she said, "you could have answered the phone."

"Sorry," he muttered. He leaned over as he scanned the refrigerator for something to eat.

"You never help," she muttered.

Xander stood up straight and sighed. "What did I do?"

"Nothing. I'm sorry," she said.

He wondered if that were a continuation of her remark about his lack of contribution, which was a bold faced lie in any case. "What's wrong?" he asked. His mood was a result of long nights full of thoughts he didn't like and little sleep; as a result he found he didn't care what her answer might be.

"That was Giles," she said. "I have to go." Xander turned sharply and saw that she was looking down instead of at him. Amy was starting to fuss, probably upset by the tones in their voices. He very, very gently shut the refrigerator door. He slowly moved to the table where Buffy sat and slid out a chair. Sitting down carefully, he stared at her. His extreme display of calm was one of his greatest signs of anger; anger that would once have had him screaming at Buffy. She had always been the only one who could bring it out in him, but that he refused to display such feelings in front of his daughter.

Buffy sat for a moment and Xander thought that she might keep holding Amy as a shield against him. Instead, with a glare at Xander, she took the baby into the playpen and lay her down. Amy fussed but settled fairly quickly.

Xander waited at the table and felt his anger drain away. He wanted to be angry, he should be angry, but he could only muster up the energy to be dejected and disgusted. Buffy came back after the baby quieted and sat across from him. "I know how you feel about this," she began.

"Just go, Buffy," he said, interrupting. "We've had this discussion time and time again and I'm sure we're not going to change our tune." His voice held no emotion at all.

"Xander, I have to do these things," she said.

"I said go, Buffy," he replied, "what do you want me to do? Put up a big fight because I don't like it?"

He could see in her eyes that was what she wanted, in a way. She wanted him to stomp around and be all protective to show how much he cared and then for him to give in to show how much he respected and supported her. This time, he wasn't prepared to put on a show for her. "No, of course not," she quickly lied.

"Then we have nothing to argue about," he said. "When do you leave?"

"Noon flight," she answered.

"Must be a big deal," he said neutrally.

"It is," she said. "I can take Amy to day care. I have the service calling and rescheduling my appointments. I guess all I need to do is pack."

"Sounds like you've got it all under control," he said. "I'll see you when you get back." He stepped over and kissed her. "I love you," he said automatically. "If you see Willow, tell her I asked about her."

Buffy nodded, but he knew the likelihood of that was low. Things that Buffy was asked to become involved with weren't important enough to warrant Willow's attention and if she were needed, Buffy was superfluous. "I will," Buffy said and added, "I love you, too," just as automatically as her husband had. She watched him out the door.

When he had been gone long enough that she was sure he wouldn't come back, Buffy went to her dresser. She had to reach all the way under the things in her sock drawer and all the way to the back, but the letters were where she had left them. She lay on the bed she shared with her husband and read the last one again.



I'm getting worried about you. I know you've said nothing directly, but I can read the dissatisfaction between the lines of your letters. I don't like that. You have said that Xander is very good to you and loves you and is a good father to Amy but are you happy with him? Is he making you happy?

Are you happy, Buffy? You should be. You deserve to be.

I have no real right to ask you that, I suppose, and I expect no answer. Maybe you should ask yourself and keep asking till you get the truth.

In any case, I am and will always be there for you in any capacity you want.

If you need or want a break, feel free to come to L.A. anytime, with warning or without.




She smiled at his terseness; he had never been one to talk too much. She reread the letter again before getting up to pack a bag. Idly, she wondered if she should call Giles and let him know where she would be in case he really did need her.


Xander was on auto-pilot all day at work. He was absolutely useless. His mind was full of nothing but the fact that Buffy had left again. Against his wishes and what was clearly best for her family, she had again heeded the call to battle from the council. Xander had words with Giles before about calling on Buffy; more then once, in fact. Right after the baby came it had gotten so acrimonious that now he and Giles barely spoke. He had envisioned the older man being a Grandfather to their children but it had not happened.

He had come to see Amt once, but it had been badly marred by an argument between the two men over exactly the subject at hand. It had ended with Buffy giving him an ultimatum of sorts. She had said that she would do what was needed and that was the end of it. She had responsibilities, she said.

He had agreed. She had responsibilities to her family; to him and their daughter. She had responsibilities to the people she counseled. Those just weren't as important to her.

Somehow, he made it through the day. He left and picked up Amy at daycare. At least he had his little girl, the light in his life. When he got home, Dawn was waiting for him on the front porch. She was 23 now, just out of college and getting her career started. She had done well and Xander was proud of her and the effect he had on her life. He had financed her education, the latter parts of course with help from Buffy's income. He had, he believed, even been a good example.

There had always been a bit of rebellion in Dawn and that had grown as she became independent. There were parts of her life he simply didn't want to know about. She drank more then he or Buffy ever had and somewhere had picked up smoking. There were a quite a few different men around her place and it had been made clear that this was no one's business but hers. Fundamentally, she was still a good girl, enjoyed being around them and absolutely doted on Amy; she just had a little wild streak. Xander still loved her like a sister and the stray thought wandered through his mind wondering if that would last.

Dawn threw her cigarette away and stood when he got out of the car. "Give my girl to me," she said.

He gestured towards the backseat and said, "Help yourself."

Dawn got Amy out of her car seat and the little girl was thrilled to see her Aunt Dawn, bouncing in glee to show it. "Buffy left me a message," Dawn said in a deceptively bright tone.

"Yeah," he said, "gone again." His tone gave Dawn pause.

"Did you fight?" she asked. Dawn had still been living with them for some of the early renditions of that battle.

"No," Xander said, taking a seat on the porch.

Dawn sat across from him, playing with the baby. "You're okay with it now?"

"Why bother fighting?" he asked, sounding defeated. "It doesn't change anything."

Dawn cradled Amy against her shoulder and looked at Xander. "What's going on, Xander?" she asked. "You guys are starting to scare me."

"Can I speak in confidence?" he asked. "Just between you and me?"

Dawn froze for a moment at the implications of what he was saying. "I can't tell Buffy?"

"That's what I mean," he said.

"Go ahead," Dawn said, her voice showing her fear. "I'll keep it to myself."

"First, I love you dearly. You're one of the best things in my life and I don't want to loose that."

"Xander," Dawn said, interrupting, "What are you telling me?"

"That things are very bad between Buffy and I right now," he said, "and if it goes worse…" He stopped and took a deep breath, "I still love you and never want to loose contact with you."


Buffy entered the hotel where Angel still lived, now with only one roommate. Cordy had died in a coma years ago. Winifred Burkle, who Buffy barely knew, had been killed and Gunn, who Buffy knew even less and whose first name she couldn't recall, had left soon after. Wesley was active in the new council and traveled so much he had said that he called his suitcase home.

The singing demon, Lorne, was still around but was apparently drinking so much he may as well not have been. His "good time Charlie" façade had cracked when Cordelia died and finally shattered when Fred passed. Angel's world had changed completely, and maybe that was why he had sent that first letter to Buffy and started the exchange that had resulted with her coming through his door with a suitcase in her hand.

The old place had looked almost cheerful when she had stayed here years ago, after the end of Sunnydale. Now it just looked grim and shabby, suffering perhaps from the lack of women. She remembered that it had been here that things had really begun with Xander and was glad that the memory could still give a small pull at her heart.

"Buffy," his voice said, breaking her revere, as sudden and unexpected as it had ever been. Angel had not lost his stealth.

"Angel," she replied. It was the first time they had been alone together since she had left the hotel, following Xander and with Dawn in tow. She felt a sense of relief to be away for a time. Things with Xander were just so difficult. He had pulled back, away from her. He didn't have love in his voice when he spoke to her anymore and that scared her. He barely even had friendship in his voice and that scared her even more.

"Xander and Amy are well?" he asked, clearly uncomfortable with the question.

"They're fine," she answered.

"Good." They stood and stared at each other.

"I'm not here to have an affair with you, Angel," Buffy said suddenly. "I wanted to get that straight right off."

"Okay," Angel said, imperturbable as ever. "Why are you here?"

"I don't know."

Angel nodded. "How long are you staying?"

"I don't know," Buffy repeated, this time softly and fearfully.

He gestured to the staircase. "I have a room all ready for you," he said and he led the way up. Buffy followed him.

Later, when she had settled in she heard the knock she had been waiting for. "Come in," she called.

Angel opened the door and entered, carrying a bottle and two glasses. He settled in a chair. "So, tell me," he said, pouring a glass for Buffy and one for himself. She took it and gagged at the taste, only then realizing he had given her raw whiskey of some kind. She wasn't a drinker.

After a moment's consideration she turned the glass up and let the foul stuff burn its way down her throat. She winced for a moment and then looked at Angel. "It's… hard."

"I'm sure it is," Angel said. "Tell me anyway."

"I think," Buffy said, "sometimes I think, lately I mean, that Xander…" she trailed off, unwilling to go on.

"That Xander what?" Angel asked, working at concealing an incipient rage. He had warned the boy at the wedding about doing this, making her unhappy. Xander had said it was no longer Angel's concern.

"That Xander doesn't love me any more," Buffy said, small and quiet and miserable.

"Is their another woman?" Angel asked.

"No," Buffy replied with assurance. "I would know. He can't even hide my Christmas presents and I don't look for those."

Angel ached to go to her, he wanted to cross the small space between them and hold the woman that part of him still claimed as his own. "But you've looked?"


"You said you didn't even look for your presents. Does that mean you've looked for evidence of another woman?"

Buffy nodded. "I did, about a week ago. He had just been so distant and awful. No, not awful, just cold, I guess. Like he didn't care about anything I said or did. He went out and I, well, I sat and brooded a while. That wasn't the first time an affair crossed my mind, but it was the worst. I went crazy and searched the whole house, checked all his clothes for perfume or lipstick, looked everywhere I could think of for anything."

"You found nothing?" Angel said.

"Nothing, but that's not why I know he's not cheating. I just know. That's all."

Angel nodded, accepting her certitude at face value. He would, of course, be checking that himself. He sat silent for a moment. He had a fantasy just then. A silent, selfish part of his soul begged for this chance. She could leave Xander and bring Amy and come to him. They could be together. His curse was broken now, his soul safe. Willow had seen to that, and he still shuddered at the memory. He wanted it and felt that maybe a part of Buffy did too. The one thing he couldn't do was ask for it. Instead, he said, "Do you still love him?"

"Yes," Buffy said in a swift, sure voice that twisted right to Angel's heart, "I still love him more then anything in the world except my daughter but if his feelings have changed, we need to figure out what's best for both of us and for Amy."


Dawn had seen to Amy and put her down for a nap while Xander prepared a small dinner. When they were seated, Dawn pushed her plate away and dashed at the tears suddenly on her cheeks. "What's happening, Xander?" she asked plaintively.

"I don't know. There's just so much. We're both getting so busy with everything; work and Amy and stuff. That's stress enough right there. Some marriages can't stand even that. Then there's the fact that she runs off whenever the council snaps its fingers and I'm not allowed to have a goddamned opinion about it."

"Is it that bad?" Dawn asked.

Xander sighed. "We walk around the house and are terribly civil to each other. We sleep together and say we don't have sex because we're tired. I think we're just simply drifting apart. It happens."

"But you seemed to be so crazy about each other," Dawn said.

"We were," he replied. He gestured at her ignored plate and said, "Eat. No reason for you to go hungry. You're too skinny anyway."

"Am not," Dawn said almost wistfully, starting to eat.

The next thing Xander said made her drop her fork. "It could have been you, couldn't it?"

"What!" Dawn said. "Xander, what the hell did you just say?"

"Back when Buffy and I first became involved, after we moved here, what if I had made another call? What if I had waited for you? How would our lives be now?"

"First of all," Dawn said, her voice deadly serious, "get over yourself. Second, I don't know what you're thinking, but it probably wouldn't have happened then and it goddamn sure isn't going to happen now. Third, never say anything like that to me again."

"That's not what I meant," Xander said in a pained voice, "I've just been thinking a lot about how things turn out; wondering where I made the mistake that got me here. Not even thirty with a child and my marriage falling apart." He chuckled bitterly, "And you get over yourself, too."

"Xander," Dawn said, "do you love Buffy?"

"Yes," he said simply and the sound of his voice gave her the first sense of hope since they had been talking.

"Did it ever occur to you that maybe you should be saying these things to her?"


"Then what's best?" Angel asked.

"That's what I don't know," Buffy said.

"Right now, in your heart of hearts," he said, leaning forward, "do you want to stay married?" She didn't speak but nodded in the affirmative. Angel also nodded and thought in silence for a moment. Finally he said, "Get out."

Buffy's head came up, "Excuse me?"

"Get out of my house," he said gently, even lovingly. "You can't stay here."

"You're throwing me out?" she asked incredulously.

"I'm throwing you out," he said. "You run away from things, Buffy; often to Los Angeles, apparently. You can't do that this time, at least not with my help. So, get out of my house and go home." He stood and walked out without another word.


The phone rang at Xander and Buffy's home. He picked it up. "Xander?" Buffy's voice said.

"Yeah, it's me," he said.

"I'm at the airport," she said. "I'm coming home."

"That was a quick one," Xander said.

"That doesn't matter," she said. "I want to come home." Strangely, it sounded almost as if she were asking permission.

"Dawn is here," Xander said. "I'm going to send Amy with her and when you get here, we're going to have a discussion."

"Good," Buffy said, "That's good. That's what I wanted." Her voice suddenly broke and he heard her crying, "I love you, Xander. I really love you and…"

"I love you," Xander said, near tears himself. "But we have to talk."



It took several hours, but very late that night Xander and Buffy sat in their living room, facing each other, both terrified. "Who starts?" Buffy said.

"I will," Xander said, "I've been thinking about what I want to say." Buffy gestured for him to go on. "I've been thinking about it a lot and this is the thing; I just don't feel that Amy and I are the most important things in your life and I believe we should be."

Buffy felt a surge of anger but clamped it down. Neither of them could get angry tonight. "You are the most important things, but you aren't the only things."

"That's what it feels like to me," he said.

"Because I keep going when Giles calls me?" she asked.

"That's the biggest part of it."

"You know he's like a father to me," she said. "How can I deny him?"

"Like this, 'No. I want to have a long life with my family and this isn't the way for me to do that'"

"It's not that simple," she said.

"It never is."

"Is that why you've stopped really talking to me and started walking around here like it's the last place on earth you want to be?" Buffy asked.

Xander flinched and wanted to deny it, but he knew she was right. "I guess so. Yes. It hurts, Buffy, when you ignore what I want over and over; when it's important I mean. I tried to make that clear to you but you kept going. I finally just gave up."

Buffy nodded. "I thought we had settled that."

"You thought that because that's the way you wanted it to be," he said.

"And you let it build and fester till you gave up on us?"

"No," he said, "that wasn't all. I think maybe that's just the big, visible issue. We both, our lives have changed. We have other things to worry about, normal things. That's good, but maybe we're like shell shocked veterans. There was so much to hold us together back then. Maybe now we're recovering from it all and seeing that we aren't right for each other or we don't need each other so much any more."

Buffy sat silent for a moment, letting his words sink in, realizing that he was in large part right. "So that's how you feel," she said, "maybe if we could have talked before we wouldn't have gotten to this point."

Xander shrugged, "Maybe."

"All I saw was you getting more and more distant and not letting me have a clue why," Buffy said, "till I gave up trying." She took a deep breath. "There's something you have to know."

"I don't like the sound of that," he said.

"I lied to you. Giles didn't call me. I went to see Angel." Xander's whole body tensed. "Nothing happened," she went on, "It wasn't like that. I just needed to get away from you and he was available. We've been exchanging letters and I've been hiding it from you."

"No, Buffy," he said. "No. That is unacceptable."

"I know," she replied, "I know, but you don't know how much you hurt me when it seemed like you had stopped loving me."

"That doesn't excuse it," he said.

"No, it doesn't."

"I never stopped loving you," he said.

"You stopped showing it." They were silent for a long time, at a stand off, both looking for away out of it. Finally, Buffy continued, sounding tired and broken. "Do you want a divorce?"

The line was crossed. The mention of the word had been a barrier both had seen and not wanted to breach. Now it was out there and the sound of it was like the crash of a gauntlet thrown down.

"I don't know, Buffy," he said. "Angel? Why did you have to go to him?"

"I'm sorry," she said. It sounded weak even in her own ears.

Again they were silent for a time. This time Xander broke it. His head had been down, looking at the floor. He suddenly looked and Buffy saw something in him she hadn't seen in a very long time, perhaps because she hadn't looked; Xander's superlative strength. His eyes flashed and she was reminded that this was the man who had mocked a dead man while a bomb ticked down to his death. This man, her man, had stood unflinching in the face of gods and demons. This was, she was reminded, a man who had never run away in his entire life. "No," he said, "I don't want a divorce but things have to be different. We've been taking each other for granted and that stops now."

Buffy nodded. "They say marriage takes work. Neither of us have been working at ours."

"You have to start considering how much I hate it when you leave," he said.

"You have to stop bottling things up and tell me how you feel," she replied.

"This communication with Angel has to stop," he said, "that's my only demand."

"All right," Buffy agreed. "Those are the easy parts. Like you said, we've just been growing apart. What do we do about that?"

"That's where the work comes in," he said. "This isn't a sure thing, Buffy. You going to Angel and lying to me, even if you didn't touch him or mean to, that's almost more then I can take."

"I swear to God," she said, "I will never lie to you again."

"I see how it's partly my fault that you did it, but you made the decision to lie and run off. If you ever do it again…"

"I know what will happen," she said. "It won't. You can't pull away from me. Do you understand that thinking I had lost you drove me crazy? You can't do that again."

Xander nodded. "I'll try. That's all I can promise."

"And I'll try," Buffy said. "That's all we can do."