Title: Nothing is Easy

Rating: PG                                          Spoilers: Season 7, through to Showtime

 

Summary: Xander reflects. "The world was going to hell in a handbasket. And while that was something the Scoobies usually stopped, this time they seemed content to sit back and go along for the ride."

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Was it really so hard to see why I despised Spike?

The very first time I saw the vampire, he was threatening the girl I loved.

The second time Spike had made an appearance, I was forced to go get Angel—Angel!—because I wasn't strong enough to help.

And the third time, I nearly lost a chunk out of my neck. You don't forget that kind of thing.

Then it all went downhill from there: threats, kidnapping, mental manipulation, illicit kisses that bitchy ex-girlfriends just happened to walk in on … And more recently, the boning of said girl I will always love. The attempted rape of same.

And now Evil Undead Jr. was Soul-boy Jr. Back again. "He's changed."

Whatever.

I hated him regardless.

The world was going to hell in a handbasket. And while that was something the Scoobies usually stopped, this time they seemed content to sit back and go along for the ride.

This became crystal-clear the afternoon that Buffy showed up on my doorstep.

*****

"I need a favour," she said, stepping into my apartment.

I remembered a time when those words would have drawn Anya running from the living room to peer suspiciously at the blonde standing in front of me.

"A favour?" she would have asked. "What kind of a favour? Will it put Xander in danger without any kind of remuneration other than friendship? Because Xander's had plenty of both, and they aren't helping us pay the rent—"

But Anya didn't live here any more. Anya. Another reason to hate Spike.

"That's what I'm here for," I said, forcing a smile, using a mock heroic voice. 'Cause that's all I was to Buffy—a mock hero. She might protest otherwise, say I've saved her and saved the world more times than she can count, but I've counted every single one. And somehow, they never seem to add up to anything important. Not where she's concerned. Not when there's the Evil Undead around, either one would do. Brood boy or the bastard—I hate them both.

"Good." Buffy had that look on her face. The closed, no-argument look. "I'm going to bring Spike here tomorrow morning. He's going to stay a while."

I don't remember what I said. But it was something Buffy didn't like because the closed look grew bars and all-night security. Impenetrable.

"Xander. I need you to do this for me."

"Why?" I burst out. "Why should I help Spike? He's getting what he deserves. Loony boy killed and raped for a century. Does he deserve my pity? No. Does he deserve yours? Buffy, what the hell's the matter with you? How can you defend this … this thing after what he did to you. He's EVIL."

"He has a soul now."

I threw up my hands in frustration. "God!"

Her voice softened. "Xander, the basement. It's killing him—"

"Good!"

"No, not good. This thing from beneath … the devouring thing … I think it's talking to Spike. I think he can help us figure out what it wants, what it is."

"Help us? Hurt us, more likely. Buff, I was there in the bathroom with you, remember? I saw what he did to you. There is no way I am helping that scum. Not even for you!"

But the thing about Buffy is: she always gets her way. Spike used to call himself her bitch. I guess that's the one thing we had in common.

*****

Spike leered at me, cigarette dangling between his lips. "Your move."

I glared back, but in a half-hearted way. No one I knew could glare like Cordelia Chase, and no one could leer like Mr. the Bloody; I knew better than to even try.

I  circled the pool table, lining up for my next shot. The ball sank into the corner pocket.

"You're getting better," Spike said. "Not so much of a waste of time, my playin' you."

I'd learned to ignore him for the most part. But that was a compliment. And those were few and far between.

"Gee, thanks, Spike. But it's you who's my inspiration."

"Oh?"

"You said you'd stake yourself with a pool cue the day I finally beat you. I live for that day."

He took a drag on his cigarette and leaned over, all feline grace and muscle. I'd never seen anyone—anything—that moved like him. In one shot, Spike sank the rest of the balls.

Balls.

"Sorry, pet. Guess you'll have to wait a little longer." He tossed me his flask.

I took a slug. The liquor burned down my throat. "One hundred and fifty-seven games to zero." I drank more. " Again?"

"Yeah."

It was July of the summer that Buffy was dead.

*****

When Buffy and Dawn brought Spike around the apartment, I made it clear that I was not happy about the arrangement. I could see that Dawn wasn't sure about how she felt. Her eyes darted around nervously. She tossed her hair in that way that only teenage girls can master. She stood as far from her sister's would-be rapist as she possibly could.

Am I sorry I told Dawn what Spike had done? No.

When they left I turned to the vamp, ready to let loose with all the threats I could think of. "If you touch anything …" "If you even …" "Don't … or else I'll …" They died on my lips, unsaid.

You see, I was sure that it was all an act. When Spike came into the house that night when Nancy's boyfriend went all Tremors, he seemed fine to me. Arrogant? Check. Unrepentant? Certainly seemed like it. Asshole? Always.

And when Buffy came back later that night, tears in her eyes and trembling, and told us in a strange, empty voice that Spike had gotten a soul, for her, I knew that it must be a trick.

The few times I saw him rambling, I assumed it just his way of trying to get back into our lives and back into the Buffster's pants.

But I realized he wasn't faking when I saw the creature curled up in the corner of my living room. He whimpered and muttered and clutched his head. Spike has never been an actor. A performer, yes. But with ol' Spike, it was always 'What you see is what you get.' And this wasn't Spike. But I didn't know who it was and I was damned if I wanted to find out.

*****

I left Anya to watch him. I thought he was killing people and I left Anya with him.

 It was dark, but the moonlight streamed in through the bedroom window. Her face was limned with silver.

"Xander?"

"Mmm?"

I could barely speak; I was languid with contentment. Sex with Anya did that to me.

"Do you love me?"

I forced myself onto my side, turning over to face her. I traced one finger down the curve of her breast.

"You know I do, Ahn."

"Do I?"

I sighed. "Well, I hope so. We're going to be married and all in less than a month."

"How can you love me?"

"Let me count the ways."

She moved and clicked on the bedside lamp. I squinted against the sudden glare, but could clearly see the worried expression on her face.

"What is it?"

"Xander, I've killed people."

I sat up in bed. "A long time ago, honey."

"A few years ago."

"Like I said, a long time."

"Why is it a long time ago for me, and not for Spike?"

"Spike! Do we have to talk about Spike?"

"See? You hate him."

"He's a demon, Ahn, of course I hate him."

She gave me that look. "I'm a demon."

"You were a demon. Now you're my fiancée." I attempted a cuddle, but she pushed me away.

"Spike is a vampire. He's just doing what he has to do to survive. I was a vengeance demon by choice. For a thousand years. I still would be if my amulet—" "Anya! Stop it!"

"You don't think Spike can change, can you?"

"I don't trust him."

"Because he's a demon."

This was a conversation I wasn't going to win. I kissed her and did that thing with my tongue. Afterwards, we slept.

*****

I'm tired. Tonight Buffy killed an Ubervamp and rescued Spike. I fixed a window and found a place for the big fight. I stood and watched. Anya went off with Giles on some fact-finding mission. Anya and Giles, while I fixed a window.

Even though we've all been under incredible pressure because of the little slayerettes and the First Evil, I've watched Buffy worry about Spike. Is he dead? Is he hurting? How can she save him?

She says its because she needs his strength—he's the only one that can help her train and protect the girls. Does she think we're blind? Stupid? No. I know she doesn't. She's just afraid of getting hurt. Aren't we all?

Dawn is unhappy that Spike's back. I'd claim credit for that, but then, Dawnie's upset about a lot of things these days. She told me that Buffy had promised to show her the world. But the best laid plans and all that, and it's not Buffy's fault that the First Evil picked Sunnydale for its fall getaway.

I can see Dawn's getting jealous of the attention Buffy's giving the new girls. I can see what she's feeling, that she feels normal and useless and in the way. I can try to comfort her, but then that begs the question, who'll comfort me? Dawn might not have super-strength or a chosen destiny, but she's certainly special. She's a millennia-old ball of glowing energy, for god's sakes. That's not normal; that's not mundane. Mundane is fixing windows. Mundane is worrying your ex-girlfriend is falling for your ex-librarian. Mundane is—

I used to think that when I got older, everything would become clearer. I'd become less of a fumbling imbecile. I'd learn how to talk to girls, and how to keep them. Stuff would make sense. As I got older, everything would become easy.

But whenever I look at Spike, all I see is a guy with over a hundred years of experience who fits in perfectly with a group of twenty-year-olds. Making the same mistakes any one of us could make. Mostly immature, but rising to the occasion when it really mattered. I hate that. I hate that the passage of time doesn't ease the way through life.

I look at Spike, bleeding and broken, tortured beyond anything I've seen—even from that time with Glory. I see his half-closed eyes as he watches Buffy move across the room, his inhalation of her scent when she passes. He kept himself alive, for her.

I look at Spike and I don't know what to think any more.

I hate that nothing is easy.