CHAPTER 5 - THE GOING GETS TOUGH
“I forgot my bag, I left it-” Buffy’s head poked through the door and she noticed Spike still inside. “God Spike, why won’t you ever leave?”
Spike closed his eyes and counted to ten. Ten deliciously different ways he could pull her arms off. Could he really bear a night making small talk with the Scoobies, trying to translate their inane chatter on the fly? Discuss the state of affairs on the Hellmouth with the Slayer? Could he do it and would they want him there? Not without trying to kill someone and, hell no, were his answers. Not even to spend time with Xander could he put up with that tonight. Bloody hell. He was angry at himself for being the cause of his own disappointment.
“On my way out now Slayer.” He looked at Xander, trying keep his face neutral so as not to show any of the deep loathing he was currently feeling for the slayer. He had a feeling he wasn’t too successful as he told Xander, “Not tonight.” Turning quickly and striding out the door he failed to see the look of disappointment and confusion cross Xander’s face.
“Don’t let the door hit you Spike,” Buffy said as he passed. His response was silent- two fingers in the air- before he shut the door behind him.
Bloody relentless harridan; would she never let up? Spike lit a cigarette, turned in the direction of his crypt and began the walk home. He’d fought all manner of beasts but that bloody Slayer, none could match her for ripping a man’s balls off and handing them to him with a little pink ribbon. Didn’t matter what Spike did to help those people, it was never enough for her. Not that he was looking for her approval, he wasn’t in it for a pat on the back. But her constant indiscriminate sniping was eating away at him and he had no opportunity for a counterblow. Not if he wanted to remain part of their group. And god how that chafed at his demon. He would love nothing more than to disembowel the lot of them. But even if he had not been chipped there was still Xander to consider. And the way to a man’s heart was definitely not through his friends’ stomachs.
As far as those meetings went, a short night was a good night...usually. Tonight though, he could have stood it for just bit longer. Xander had seemed happy enough to see him. Definitely happy enough to notice Spike admiring his form. And the scents he was giving off! There was no mistaking that. Maybe he had been a little hasty in leaving. What if he just went to the Bronze and lurked a little? Sat up on the balcony, nursed a few drinks. Watched the boy for a bit, who could that hurt? But why? Well, why bloody not, nothing else to do. Damn town had never been so quiet as this past week. Decision made, Spike retraced his steps via the Magic Box, heading for the Bronze, muttering to himself about evil masters not being so bloody indecisive.
He’d rounded a corner, just a block from the store when he heard her voice again. The slayer and the boy were walking away from the shop and Spike could see Buffy animatedly re-enacting some fight or other. But it was Xander that held Spike’s attention. The difference in him from the young man he had seen enter the shop such a short time ago was astounding. Where was the tall, confident and happy man? Where had this slumped, dejected looking boy come from? Before they could see him, Spike ducked into a darkened alcove. Their voices came to him clearly.
Xander led Buffy out of the shop and towards Anya’s apartment. She was chatting about some demon or other that she had stabbed, sliced, dismembered…or something; his mind was back in the Magic Box. Spike hadn’t looked like a guy who was about to say no. Not that Xander would really know, he’d never done much asking, was always the askee. He must have totally misread Spike the whole evening. That made sense though. A master like Spike couldn’t be interested in him, no matter how shiny and new he made the outside. That hint of revulsion, disgust, or something similar on Spike’s face had shocked him though. He’d been prepared for possible rejection, but for Spike to have felt like that towards him? What he definitely didn’t misread though, was how much the vampire was restraining himself when it came to Buffy’s derision. Even if it turned out that Spike still hated him, he couldn’t take much more of the tension between the two. When she got herself revved up, everyone was on edge.
He knew Spike wasn’t popular with his friends, but he also knew that it was pretty much just Buffy who had major issues. Willow and Tara, he could see, were beginning to soften, although were still very wary and kept out of his way. But Buffy? It was like she had this second mission to see how far she could push Spike. He broke into her graphic description of the demon’s entrails. “Buffy why do you do that?”
“I’m the Slayer Xan, duh, where have you been the last five years?”
He shook his head, “No, not the demons. I mean why do you have to goad Spike like that?”
“And again, I’m the slayer Xan.” How did she always manage to make him feel five years old with that tone?
“What? You think he can’t take it?”
“Actually Buffy, I’m trying to see why he should have to.” He stopped and faced her. “Where does it get you?”
“It gets me nowhere, it often gets him gone.” She told him with a satisfied look.
“But we need him here.”
“We need him when we need him, other than that? I don’t care.”
“I do though. He’s done so much for us, and he puts up with nothing but crap from you. Just doesn’t seem right”
“Xander what’s with you?”
What was with him? Tired of old nonsensical patterns, frustrated by his friend’s lack of faith in him, looking for a new start, wanting to begin something new and not knowing how or even if he could. He shrugged. “Just asking why.”
“Why? Ok. Vampire. Souless. Demon. Psychopathic. Annoying.” She counted off on her fingers. “Isn’t that a good enough reason?”
“Not from where I’m standing.” He counted on his own fingers. “Chipped, defenceless, half starved, working with us, saved your life last week, saved all of ours the week before, tortured by a pissed off Hell god to protect us. More?”
“No, Xander. That’s about enough. I have no idea what’s going on, you’re not yourself this week. Tonight you’re acting like someone I don’t know. You’re defending Spike. You break up with Anya and couldn’t even face us after. You ran away by yourself hoping it would all blow over.” She shook her head at him. “I don’t know, maybe you just made a really bad decision with Anya and you’re not in a good place right now. It’s not too late to fix whatever you did. I mean you didn’t even talk to us about it first. We could have stopped you. You two had a great thing going and you’ve just thrown it all away. ”
Xander listen to her skewed summation of him with astonishment. A burst of adrenalin pulsed through Xander’s body. Fight or flight? “Who the hell do you think you are?” Fight it was.
“I know exactly who I am Xander. I’m the Slayer.”
“Yes. You’re the Slayer. Huge responsibility, which you handle pretty well. You have a hard life and you do amazing things. I have more respect for that than you realise. But Buffy, being the slayer means you deal with the demons, protect the world. It doesn’t mean you get to pass judgement on me and decide how my life is or how it should be.”
“You think that’s what I do?” She asked him.
“I know that’s what you do. I broke up with Anya, so I must have done something wrong. Did you even talk to her about it before you took a flying leap into that conclusion? I took some time out for me to deal with it and its all about how it might affect you. You know why I didn’t talk to you about it before? Because I didn’t need you to hold my hand. I am capable of directing my own life without you telling me how.”
“Xander, just take a step back and look at how you’ve been acting, the decisions you’ve made.”
He stared at her unbelievingly, what did she think he’d been doing? “Buffy I just spent a whole damn week ‘stepping back’. And I will tell you this for free. I like what I saw. I’m basically happy with me. I made good decisions. I’m happy with those too.”
She laid a hand on his arm. “Well I’m not happy. I’m worried.”
He shook her off. “But that is your issue Buffy. I won’t make it mine. You need to deal with it yourself. And I would rather you just got on with it and left me the fuck alone.” Xander was struggling but managed to rein in his temper
Buffy reached out her hand again. “Calm down Xan. Let’s go back to Anya’s and we can all sit and work this out.”
Xander shook his head slowly as he took a few steps away. He looked down at her with barely contained anger. “No. No. There is nothing for me to work out. You go back to Anya’s. You talk to Anya. Get your facts right. Then maybe we’ll have something to work out. I love you Buffy, but right now? Right now, I have had enough. Enough of being belittled, enough of being patronised. Enough of being the funny, little boy who’s allowed to hang with the big kids.”
He gritted his teeth and ran his hands through his hair. “Just go please Buffy.” When she opened her mouth to speak again he held up his hands to stop her. “No more, please. Just go now.”
He turned his back to her and heard her hesitant footsteps heading away. When he could no longer hear her, he let go the control he had been barely holding on to. Xander leaned his forehead against the lamppost that was spreading a harsh pool of light around him. Hands gripped tightly around the cool metal, he anchored himself to this solid support; heart racing, head pounding. His eyes were burning and he felt sick to his stomach. He drew in great hitching breaths trying to calm himself. As unsettled and agitated as he was, he registered the warm night breeze carrying the familiar and not altogether unwelcome scent of smoke and leather.