A Free Man In Rome
by Tesla

Xander was grateful that no real apparition of himself had ever come and foretold the future. It would have been interesting, though, to know how his sixteen-year-old self would have taken things. You'll get to third base with Cordelia Chase. She'll break up with you over Willow. In between those two events, every female and quite a few males will chase you through the streets. You'll save Buffy Summers' life. You'll save the world. You'll fall madly in love and get engaged and then you'll dump her. You'll lose an eye and your beautiful darling will get killed.

Xander at 16 would have wanted the sex explained to him again. I grope Cordy? I get laid? And oh, don't forget the parts he'd never have believed, the stuff about having one slayer strip for him, another break his cherry and nearly his windpipe, how he hated Angel so much, hated vampires so much and then had one live with him. Twice. How about that Cordy getting impaled on a rebar? And it turned out that Xander didn't realize how much she loved him until he hurt her so badly, and how he once would have gloated to see her brought low, and yet---didn't. How he hated Angel all over again when he heard that Cordy died alone in a hospital bed, without even the damned Soul Boy near her.

You'll survive all that, and one day, you'll be sitting in Rome drinking the best coffee you've ever had in your life, and you'll be thinking about your girl. You'll think of her when the sun went down and the purple skies made everything soft and romantic and melancholy. And it won't hurt as much. It'll be a bittersweet memory of love, because, when you get down to it, he's always been a fool for love.

It was love for Buffy that made him go to Angel and shame him into going into the Master's lair after her; love for her, and for the Scoobies and Giles, and even his family and his stupid little town, that made him keep going into the lairs of other villains, patrol the cemeteries and back alleys and beaches of Sunnydale with the Junior Justice League. Once Cordelia had gone to Los Angeles, Xander had been the only average human amongst the Slayer-Watcher-Witch-Demon crowd. Poor old Riley couldn't stand being average, and Xander could bet anything that Riley was shooting his way through Cadmeon's Demonlogy in an effort to make himself feel super-human.

Wasn't how it works, Xander could have told him. You do it for love of your gang, your guys, your Band of Brothers---or, sisters as in Xander's case. Not because you want to tell yourself that your individuality and your specialness is what made you leave Iowa. You shove stakes in your waistband and holy water bottles in your pockets and go forth and fight evil, not for the fame and fortune or even your mother's smiles, but because of the smell of crayons in your hot hand, the way you felt when you made a whole class and teacher laugh at your joke, because your mom had once bought you a guitar you couldn't play, because you had never ever felt six feet tall and bullet-proof, but because your friends couldn't save the world without you and there was something about Buffy's wide, wide smile that told you that.

You do it for love of that world, of even the asshole undeads, of even the loud bickering parents and the drunken uncles, of the ex- girlfriends who came back to your side, of the nice lady at the Espresso Pump who always gave you refills, of the classmates who you mourned and had to dust. The little girls who squared their jaws and picked up stakes, and followed you and your friends into a hellmouth, when they could have turned and run.

You didn't look for the world to love you back, or even care. He'd seen enough deprivation to make his life in the Harris basement look like bloated luxury, saw enough real desperation and horror to know that he'd never lost hope, not compared to people who had never had any.

Of course, sometimes someone did love you back, he thought, watching a familiar figure walking down the sidewalk towards him. So maybe he wouldn't be as philosophical if he didn't know that, in about fifty- five seconds, he was going to have someone kissing him. In the soft purple of twilight, in Rome.

Because it was still about love.


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