32 - Love and Pansies

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Oh, no. That little wench was not getting away from Xander.

He followed her out of the stable and grabbed her arm. Her reaction made lightning look slow. She turned around, her fist balled and ready to slam into his face. His large hand closed around her fist before she made contact, but that didn't deter her. Her knee came up—and Xander caught her offending limb between his legs before it did something he really didn't want it to do.

Then, as if something in Fye broke, she went limp, all the fight gone from her. She stepped back, her eyes glistening with moisture.

Xander had seen Fye cry before. He had seen her fake tears, which were amusing. He had seen her angry tears, which were terrifying. These tears were different, though. He didn't know how to describe them, but he knew they made him hurt inside even more than he was already hurting.

"Fye..." he said. "I told you, I'm not leaving until I know exactly how things stand between us."

"I love you," she said weakly. Her tone indicated that there could be no worse news. Loving Xander was tantamount to a widespread natural disaster or a dead puppy, apparently.

Xander blinked, trying to puzzle out her meaning. He understood what she had said, but not why she had said it the way she did—or why lately she had been acting as if Xander carried ten different types of plague.

"And..." he prompted.

She wrapped her arms around herself. Xander had never seen her look so vulnerable, so... defeated. "And," she said, "I don't want to lose my identity."

"I still don't understand."

She rolled her eyes and wiped her moist cheeks. "Of course you don't understand. Xander, you... I... It would be far too easy for me to just..."

Xander waited, wondering if she would ever get to the point. It was cold outside, and he had to get ready for a journey. And he would prefer that she break his heart sooner rather than later so he could just get it over with.

"What, Fye?" he finally asked.

"One time, Xander. All it would take is one time. If I get pregnant, I... I become a mother. I would have to take care of a mewling little person. If I survived giving birth. Do you know how many times I've heard of women dying while giving birth or shortly afterward? I don't want that. Ever. But you look at me like... like you look at me sometimes, and I... I start to forget what I really want because you... because I want you. I don't want to want you. And I don't want to disappoint you or hurt you, either. Getting married was a bad idea. I'm sorry I agreed to it. I thought it might work, but I was so caught up in everything, and now..." She shrugged. "Now I'm scared."

Xander melted inside. Fye the Fearless, Fye the Brave, Fye the Indomitable Knight... was afraid of loving him. Afraid of the things that most women wanted more than anything else.

She stood there, waiting for his reply. His brain went into overdrive trying to think of what to say, desperately groping for some words that might assuage her doubts.

Finally, he started talking, hoping that his words wouldn't make things worse. "I love you, Fye. Yes, I want in the way that men always want women, but not just for that. That..." He shrugged. "That can wait. For as long as you want it to wait. Or forever. We can be as chaste as nuns on Sunday. Or we can kiss and do other things, which I would certainly prefer, but the main thing is that I want to hear you laugh with me and scream insults at me, and I want you to look me in the eye. Is that too much to ask?"

She looked at the ground for a moment, and Xander felt the cold grip of failure start to reach for him. He had said something wrong, and when he left tomorrow, he might not have any reason to ever come back—aside from Kaylin. He had to come back to check on his favorite half-sister.

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