Inside you’re ugly
Ugly like me
But I can see through you
See to the real you
~Lyrics from “Outside” by Staind
“I don’t know how to deal with this. He never said anything…never acted differently,” Willow said, her own voice scratchy from the constant tears she had been crying since Tara had first explained to her the reason she and Buffy had been called to the apartment.
“We have to take him to a psychologist. This isn’t something we can deal with by ourselves,” Tara whispered quietly.
“Tara’s right. This isn’t a Scooby problem. This is a Friends of Xander problem,” Buffy said decisively. “We need to help him and have a professional help him.”
“And if you three bints wake him up, you’re going to need help because I’m going to rip your limbs from their sockets and beat you about the head with them,” Spike whispered angrily from the bed, where he had Xander wrapped in his arms under the blankets. His eyes glowed a feral yellow in his defensiveness for his lover.
“Sorry,” Willow whispered back. The three girls sat in silence for a few moments, watching Xander rest in Spike’s protective arms. Buffy sighed.
“I hate just sitting here. I feel like I should be beating something up, or researching or something. That’s what we do in times of crisis.” She ran a hand through her hair agitatedly, sighing a second time.
“You don’t touch him, Slayer. He’s mine,” Spike growled quietly.
Buffy’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Who? Xander? I know he’s yours.”
“Not Xander. Harris Sr.,” Spike replied. Buffy’s eyes flared with the same anger Spike was feeling at Xander’s father.
“We shouldn’t do anything until we know for sure what happened,” Tara said gently, trying to calm both the vampire and the slayer. “And then we should let the police…”
“You’re suggesting we let the Sunnydale Police Department do something in this bloody town?” Spike interrupted with a sarcastic snort. “They can’t even find their own arses to wipe.”
“You can’t hit the bastard anyway,” Willow growled, uncharacteristically enraged, at him, taking Tara’s hand.
“Will’s right, Spike. We have to deal with this another way. I could hit him,” Buffy replied, the glint of the hunt coming into her eyes.
“Who are we hitting?” Xander asked groggily, rubbing sleep from his eyes as he sat up and looked at the worried vigil around him.
“You fucking woke him up,” Spike gritted out angrily, eyes glinting golden in the slayer’s direction.
“You’re the one growling in his ear!” Buffy argued, but Spike wasn’t listening. He was crooning to Xander, and petting his dark hair.
“Feeling a little better, luv?” His voice was quiet and subdued, though the hint of protectiveness was still present.
“I don’t know why I’m so tired. I got lots of sleep last night,” Xander mumbled wryly in reply.
“Do you remember anything from before?” Willow asked, placing a hand on Xander’s covered foot in support.
“Before…” Buffy, Willow, and Tara could see the emotions crumble across his face as he did remember the hours prior. They could see his chest rising and falling heavily as he began to have difficulty breathing. His face turned red with the flush of embarrassment and fear. It seemed to them as though he was about to have another panic attack.
“Xan? Luv, it’s okay. Just stay calm, we’re going to help you. It’s okay,” Spike was whispering in his ear, petting him, and holding him. Xander closed his eyes and took some deep breaths, until he was calm enough to speak.
“Sorry. I just…” he croaked out.
“It’s okay, Xander. You don’t have to apologize for any of this,” Willow replied.
“Ready to talk about it yet?” Spike asked carefully.
“I… No,” Xander said. “I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, Xander. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Buffy answered.
“Can you just answer one question, though, Xander?” Tara said softly, her eyes wide and understanding.
“I can try,” he said, after looking into Spike’s eyes for the barest hint of a moment.
“You said something about having to go inside,” Tara offered. Xander’s heart sped up, and his breathing became erratic again. After allowing Spike to smooth Xander’s hair and calm him again, she continued. “What exactly did that mean?”
“I… I’d go inside, when he came into my room. He’d…when he came in, I’d go inside, and then I wouldn’t have to be there when he…I could just go inside.” Xander’s eyes half-closed, and his body was tense. His voice was so quiet it was almost inaudible, and his hands clenched into nervous fists.
“Inside where?” Buffy asked, ignoring Spike’s glare as he continued to try to soothe the shaking man.
“Inside. Just inside. Inside my head, inside myself. Inside is anywhere that’s away from him.”
There was a pregnant pause as the rest of the group considered this.
“Is that where you were last night? Is that why you couldn’t remember what happened?” Spike asked quietly.
“I think so, because I can remember most of it now. I remember how he’d…” Xander said, his voice breaking off as tears sprung to his eyes from the memories. “I’m so sorry I scared you,” he said on a hitching sob.
“Shh. Luv, it’s okay. It’s okay. Love you anyway,” Spike murmured into the dark hair, rocking Xander in his arms.
“We need to start thinking about the next step,” Buffy said delicately. “What we’re going to do now, how we’re going to handle things.”
“There’s nothing to handle,” Xander replied hastily, sniffling as he wiped his eyes and tried to extricate himself from Spike’s arms. Spike held fast, though he didn’t trap the young man.
“How can you say that?” Buffy cried. Spike glared at her.
“No, Buffy’s right. There are things that need to be done. The police, counseling. We have to…” Willow agreed at Spike’s displeasure. She was leaning forward tensely in her chair, fidgeting erratically with her hands.
“We don’t have to do anything. I don’t live with him, and he’s not around, and I barely speak to him as it is. Why can’t we just leave it alone?” Xander argued. “It’s over and done, and there’s no reason to go back to it.”
“You can’t run from it, Xander. This is going to affect you, and you have to do something about that,” Willow answered, her voice still gravelly.
“It’s my life, and I’m dealing with this my own way. Which means none of you have to be involved,” he told her, glaring as he sat up and tried to leave the room. Spike held fast to his arm, though.
“Xan…” he started.
“Let go of me,” Xander warned through clenched teeth, spinning around to glare with both fear and anger at his boyfriend. Spike flinched back as if slapped.
Xander’s eyes softened slightly, and his face fell into regret, but he shook it off and allowed a stony expression to take its place, and left the room.
The rest of the group sat, staring at the door in despair, until Buffy stood. “I’m just gonna…” she said, gesturing to the door. She nodded decisively and stepped out after Xander. He was in the kitchen, leaning with his forehead against the refrigerator, breathing unevenly.
“Xander?” she said quietly. “Why don’t you want us to help you?”
“I can’t…” He stopped. After a few more breaths, he continued. “These things…they make me different. The things I know, remember, feel…I’m not the same, and you guys shouldn’t have to…I can’t be me anymore,” he tried to explain.
“How can you not be you, Xander? Who else can you be?”
“Him,” he whispered, so low she almost couldn’t hear.
Back to Mercy
Next Chapter - "Smoke"