Guard Your Heart


“Guard your heart, boy.”

His mom said it a lot. Mostly when she was drunk and glaring blearily at his father passed out on the couch, but some things stick with you.

Especially after Amy Yip shows your valentine to Cordelia Chase and suddenly your eleven-year-old legacy is crying in the bathroom like a girl.

Let it never be said Xander Harris was unteachable. He fought his attraction to Cordelia with every damn fiber of his being, knowing how hard his feelings were going to snap from hate to love the minute he let them. Guard your heart, boy.

And how much it was going to hurt when it snapped back.

And it did. He never expected he’d be the one to screw it up, though, in hindsight, he probably should have. Loving Cordelia was so damned easy. Stoking the fire with her snide comments, softened with secret smiles until he’d catch a fleeting glance of that vulnerable, sensitive girl that hid just underneath her skin, and he’d fall so hard it felt freefalling in a high-rise elevator. Guard your heart, boy.

And when it was over, the pain was familiar and different. Because he couldn’t forget the way she tasted when she kept applying her vanilla lip-gloss across the library table like a nervous tic, but the coldness in her eyes brought back Amy Yip and the hate was comforting like that.

Xander wanted to think he’d grown up since she’d moved away. He hid in Anya. Guard your heart, boy. There was no danger of loving Anya. She was invulnerable, untouchable. Fundamentally un-fathomable. His laughter felt empty because he never felt out of control when she was around. But he let it play out because he knew enough to know that this was as much as he had any right to hope for. She loved him. Anya was happy with him. He could do that right, at least, and if any part of him thought about going after what he really wanted, well, he knew better now. Guard your heart, boy.

Until he didn’t any more.

It was scary how much he believed of what the demon showed him. His capacity for cruelty and violence, sure. But it was the bitterness he saw that clinched it. Cordelia had sewn those seeds in very, very fertile ground and they’d been growing ever since. Xander didn’t want to think about who had been tending them since she’d left. Guard your heart, boy.

Because it should have been obvious to anyone who’d been looking, but for some reason they’d either pretended not to notice or been so preoccupied it had never occurred to them that he’d been sublimating again. Guard your heart, boy.

It didn’t matter. Anya was gone. His failed experiment in settling over, he resigned himself to being alone. He shared that in common with Buffy. No matter how much she wanted to, she never let anyone in completely after Angel. It was sort of comforting. Loneliness was something you just had to accept sometimes, propaganda be damned. Guard your heart, boy.

The video changed everything.

Xander hadn’t ever really felt that much hate before that he could recall. It was without a doubt the worst thing he could remember feeling since Cordelia, and so tied up in everything he was he didn’t know if he could even breathe in that moment, standing there with the three of them. He looked unhinged. He felt unhinged. Guard your heart, boy.

It wasn’t Anya’s fault, even though she felt guilty, and it wasn’t Spike’s fault no matter how much he beat on him and it wasn’t even Buffy’s fault because she couldn’t have known. It was just too much, though, and far, far too late and so he took himself away and holed himself up in his apartment. Alone.

The shooting, Kingman’s bluff, Spike going off the rails, it was all pretty much a blur. He’d been on autopilot since that night in the alley. Would have probably stayed coasting along until fucking Buffy had to go and rub his face in the debacle by sending Spike to live in his closet.

It was hard to remember when the moment was that everything snapped, but it was definitely before Willow said anything because he remembered thinking it was too damn late when she told him off for bullying Spike.

All he saw, anymore, when he closed his eyes was that lost look and hair like dandelion fluff that made him want to beat the walls into submission. Guard your heart, boy.

He already watched Spike across the table at breakfast as he guiltily sipped from his mug of blood and Xander had to restrain himself from telling Spike to stop apologizing for existing. Guard your heart, boy.

It was too late when Spike tensed up and went away behind his eyes when Buffy talked about going after the First and Xander clenched his fists to stop himself taking Spike’s hand. Guard your heart, boy.

It was much too late by the time hot tears slipped down into his pillow as he lay listening to Spike’s screams of terror from the closet and expended every ounce of energy he had restraining himself from going to him. Guard your heart, boy.

Xander had learned his lesson well. Guard your heart, boy. When Spike took him out of that vineyard he hadn’t stayed in his grip one second longer than was necessary. Guard your heart, boy.

The end was coming. They all knew it. Everyone was going out of their way to make sure everyone knew how much they loved them, knowing they might never get another chance.

He settled for fucking Anya on Spike’s cot. It smelled like him and he could almost pretend it was Spike he made love to as Anya writhed above him.

Guard your heart, boy.

He kept his eyes closed and tried not to call out the wrong name.

Guard your heart, boy.

Buffy gave Spike the necklace.

Guard your heart, boy.

Spike turned the corner.

Guard your heart, boy.

Xander didn’t look back.

Guard your heart, boy.

Buffy dropped into the bus alone.

Guard your heart, boy.

Guard your heart, boy.

Xander stared numbly into the crater. Somewhere beneath the rock and ruin his heart had burned himself up saving the world. The wind blew across the desert and whistled desolately, snapping his shirt.

Just an empty hole.

Xander walked back to the bus alone.

The End

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