Disclaimer: Okay, so, I looked in the mirror a second ago and Joss Whedon was not staring back, so, therefore I do not own BtVS or Xander. Darn.

Authoress Note: Reviews make me happy!

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"A Thing of Darkness"

"This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine."

-Prospero, William Shakespeare's The Tempest, (Act V, Scene I)

Buffy Summers took a deep breath and held it for a moment before exhaling slowly, attempting to steel herself for what she was about to see, picturing all of it in her mind. Everyone would already be there, she knew that much. Giles and Willow and Kennedy and Faith and Andrew and Dawn, all just sitting there waiting for Death or for Buffy, whoever got there first. Buffy rested a slender hand on the door-handle; did she dare enter?

The walls seemed to close in around her, the stifling African heat pressing up against her. It was just a door. She'd gone through thousands of different doors in her lifetime - this one should be no different. But, it was. Going through that door in the tiny, African field hospital was the hardest thing that the slayer had ever done.

"Look who's decided to grace us with her presence." That voice - the sardonic British accent, the sarcasm - Spike. But, she had seen him die…gone…exploded into a cloud of dust…au revior. Yet, he stood right in front of her, a cigarette behind his ear, completely at home in the moonlight that streamed in through the netted walls of the square room. Buffy registered two things in that moment: her little sister chastising the blonde vampire, and her own, semi-lucid thought of:

But, almost all of her conscious self, the part not distracted by Willow's big and tear-filled eyes, was still and taken by the vision before her. Her underutilized imagination came nowhere near to creating the terror in the scenes that had flashed before her while debating her entrance.

Nothing could ever come close.

"Buffy…"

Nothing.

Before her, Xander Harris lay dying.

She swallowed hard and blinked a few times, hoping to wake from the nightmare. If only it had been a nightmare. If only it had been a bad dream, it would have disappeared, but the slayer's terror was all too real; everything was all too real.

Everything.

"Buffy…" His voice was weak and broken, trembling, riddled with pain.

An empty chair appeared at Xander's bedside, courtesy of Giles, and Buffy immediately occupied it. Taking Xander's hand was purely a matter of instinct. Soon, the inability to speak appeared with the aching need to say everything that she had neglected to say. A sob escaped her and the room suddenly fell deathly silent except for the sounds of breathing.

Xander's breathing was ragged. "You…came."

"Xander, I-" Buffy's breathing was broken by tears.

He interrupted her by falling into a fit of hacking coughs. Willow seemed not to know what to do with herself - her hands first covered her mouth to stop herself from crying anymore, then she set to busy herself with the task of making Xander more comfortable. She fluffed his pillow, and helped him into a more vertical sitting position.

The thousand thoughts that were running through the blonde slayer's mind were dominated by I shouldn't have gone to Rome, I

He wouldn't be dying if he hadn't.

After what felt like an eternity and a day, the coughing subsided. Xander feigned his trademark grin. "On that note Buffster…" he paused, catching his breath, "How've ya…been?"

The slayer couldn't stifle the squeak of a sob that escaped. "Oh…for God's sake Buffy, don't cry." Xander patted the bedside next to him. "Come here. You too, Will."

Buffy and Willow moved to either side of Xander's bed as he closed his eyes as grimaced as though a great pain shivered through him.

They slayer's hands were shaking.

Then, an idea. Buffy nearly jumped to her feet, "Spike!" The blonde vampire raised his eyebrows as if to answer What?. "Couldn't you, can't you save him? Like-"

Spike's voice was soft and low. "He won't let me, love. I already tried."

"But-"

"Buffy, no." Though Xander's voice was still weak, it now held a certain resolve. "I don't want to live like that." He then made an attempt at his trademark grin, "And…thanks for the offer, dude…but I really wouldn't want to spend an eternity with Captain Peroxide…as my sire." His little attempt to laugh tore at Buffy's heart.

She lay down next to him with her head on his shoulder, and although Xander was hot and fevering, he didn't care. He liked having her close. "Xander," she began, "There's something I've gotta say," He took a short breath and nodded, waving her on through, "Xander, I was thinking on the plane here, I was just thinking about my life. And all the people in it. And, Xander, do you know who I kept thinking of? You. Xander Harris, I kept thinking of you." She choked back tears, "Xander, I couldn't think of anyone but you."

His voice was just barely above a whisper, "And you finally realized…"

She finished the sentence. "That I love you."

Willow looked up at Buffy with doe-eyes. Then, she smiled sadly. Xander turned away from Buffy, coughing, "Good timing, Buffster." The slayer almost laughed through her tears. Xander was still cracking jokes. "For what it's worth…" he coughed a few times. Willow wiped the sweat from his brow with a damp, cool rag. "The feeling's…mutual." Everyone saw how much this had taken out of him, and everyone cried.

Xander took a shaking breath, his face pale like the moonlight and his voice was nearly gone. "Buffy, I can…I can feel it…this is…this is," A sharp intake of breath, "It."

They slayer gently kissed his forehead and took Xander in her arms. "Shh," she cooed as she stroked his black hair, "Everything will be alright." She once again looked into the eyes of Spike, silently pleading. The vampire looked away, averting his gaze out of shame and simply shook his head.

Buffy had no idea how long she sat there in that godforsaken field hospital, cradling Xander in her arms like that, holding him as close to her as she could, hoping, praying, for a minute until finally Giles had to pull her away with the simple solace of, "He's gone."