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A BETTER PERSON
"So," Xander said, taking a seat next to Andrew on the couch. "It's just me and you now... what's wrong?"
Andrew grunted, shrugging his shoulders. "Nothing," he said, the silent sigh apparent in his voice.
Xander nodded. "Right, cause when you're happy you sulk on the couch all night watching a television that's not even on."
Andrew shrugged again. "There's nothing on."
Xander shoved a bag of chips into Andrew's listless hands and turned to more fully face him. "Look, life is good now," he said, nodding encouragingly. "The First is... incapacitated for the moment, and..."
"For the moment," Andrew said, his eyes growing wide. "What do you mean for the..."
"I mean, it's The First Andrew... we beat it down, but it's not possible to kill it."
"Oh," Andrew said with a sarcastic look. "That's comforting."
"Andrew," Xander said, shaking his head in aggravation. "The point is, we're not facing imminent danger right now. Okay? It's been four months now that we've been in Cleveland. And you've been walking around like a zombie for the past week, and... as much of a spaz as you are, it's just honestly not like you."
Andrew laughed softly. "Maybe I'm maturing."
Xander gave him a look softened by a smile. "What's going on?"
Andrew sighed again, sitting up straighter, setting the bag of chips next to him and facing him finally. "It's just... I shouldn't even be here."
Xander frowned. "Why not?"
"Because," he said softly, looking away. "I was supposed to die back there, and..."
"And isn't that cause for celebration? Cause, ya know, for me? The whole not dying thing... pretty much a good thing."
Andrew looked at him, shaking his head sadly. "You wouldn't be saying that if it were you that Anya died for."
Xander looked down for a moment, fiddling with his fingers. Taking a deep breath he faced him again, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Look, it is what it is, okay? It's not your fault..."
"I sat huddled in a corner, Xander," Andrew yelled, shrinking back. "I didn't DO anything!"
"That's not what this is about, Andrew," Xander said, shaking his head. "There's something else."
Andrew rolled his eyes, crossing his arms as he faced the blank tv screen again. "No there's not."
Xander looked at him, sighing. "This is more than just guilt. I know what guilt looks like, Andrew, I've seen it on enough people to last me a life time."
"It's just..." Andrew paused, chewing on his lip. "It's just... why did it have to go this way?"
"Andrew, you can't go back and change the..."
"No, Xander, I mean, why did it have to go this way? All along, why did it have to go this way? Why did me and Jonathon ever team up with Warren? Why did... why all of it. Not just..." He paused again, shrugging. "Not just Anya."
"Well," Xander said, leaning back into the cushions and laughing. "That's a heady question for a Saturday night."
Andrew sighed again and Xander thought if he did it again he'd surely run out of breath to sigh with. "Forget it, this is why I didn't want to talk about it."
Xander reached up and caught his arm as he started to get off the couch, gently pulling him back down. "Talk to me," he said softly. "What's up?"
"I just, at the time," Andrew said, avoiding his eyes, instead playing with a loose thread at the bottom of his shirt. "At the time that I... with Warren and Jonathon, we... there were all these reasons," he said, taking a deep breath. "I know there were, there had to be... but... I look back now? And I just can't... I can't remember one of them. Not one."
Xander smiled slightly, nodding. "Companionship... solidarity... a feeling of fitting in..."
Andrew looked at him, shrugging. "But isn't that pathetic?"
Xander laughed. "Yeah," he said, nodding. "It is." He sat up, catching eyes with Andrew. "But it's something that everyone wants."
"But to the degree I was willing to go," Andrew asked softly. "The things we did, Xander..."
Xander nodded, putting a comforting hand on Andrew's back. "But you've changed now... you're not the same guy."
Andrew nodded, smiling. "Yeah, I have... or rather... I've un-changed."
Xander's face screwed up in confusion. "Heh?"
Andrew laughed. "I didn't used to be like that. In highschool I was a loser, and... I hated like... everyone. But not really. But yeah, I hated them. Cause..."
"Cause they didn't accept you."
He nodded. "Cause I was the nerd. I was the spaz, and... and nobody liked me. Except Jonathon... and I thought Warren for awhile... and that's it."
Xander nodded, pulling on Andrews shirt to settle him back into the couch. "Believe it or not, man, I was right there with you."
Andrew shook his head. "No, you weren't. You really weren't, cause you had Buffy, and Willow."
"Okay," Xander said, nodding. "You're right, I wasn't *right* there with you. I didn't actually hate anyone... except a few people, but they deserved it, but... yeah. No, I wasn't exactly in the same place..."
"Cause, Xander," Andrew said, looking at him. "You might have been a loser, but I was worse. I was the loser to the losers, okay? I was bottom of the rung..."
Xander frowned, feeling for Andrew. "I'm sure you're wrong..."
"Why do you think I did the monkey's in the school play thing, Xander?! I hated them! I hated everyone! They treated me like I was... worse than the really bad things."
Xander shook his head. "Sorry, Andrew."
He nodded. "Except now I don't hate them anymore," he said, his eyes filling with tears. "And that's almost worse."
"Because hating them made it not hurt," he said, looking away and wiping at his tears.
"Ah," Xander said, nodding. "Look, Andrew..."
"I'm not trying to excuse what I've done, Xander," Andrew said, a pleading look on his face. "I'm just... I just wish I could figure out where exactly I stopped being... Andrew."
"Well," Xander said, holding up his hands already in surrender. "And this is just me thinking out loud, but I'd venture to say Warren had a hand in that."
"Yeah," Andrew said. "But I let him do it."
"Friends can be persuasive."
Andrew snorted. "Xander, he wasn't my friend..."
"Well, no, but you thought he..."
He shook his head. "No, I mean... yeah, you're right, but... no. I mean, he wasn't just a friend... he was... I..."
Xander nodded, putting his hand on Andrew's shoulder. "I know."
"You do," Andrew asked.
Xander nodded again. "Anyone with eyesight could see you loved him, Andrew. The way you reacted when Willow turned into him..."
Andrew looked down, nodding. "I loved him... and he... he said he did too."
"Some people are willing to hurt whoever it takes to get what they want," Xander said softly, keeping his hand on Andrew's shoulder.
"And I believed him," he said, his voice taking on a desperate tone. "I *believed* him?"
"You had The Blinders on," Xander said, scooting closer to put his arm around Andrew before he could break down. "You have to find a way to forgive yourself..."
"But why couldn't it have been you, Xander," Andrew said, looking up at him.
Xander pulled back slightly, his eyes widening. "Me..."
Andrew laughed. "You should see your face, Xander... it's like you bit into a lemon."
Xander laughed. "Sorry, I just..."
"I didn't mean that, Xander, I meant the friend part," he said, smiling. "Being in this house has taught me what *real* friendship feels like, and... I've never actually felt that. Not just the kind of friendship where people tell you what you want to hear, but what you *should* hear. Cause it's what you *need* to hear. Cause you'll be a better person for it."
Xander nodded. "That's understandable... But I'm smart enough to realize what I have with Willow and Buff is something that can't be compared with. You can't try to..."
"I'm not," Andrew said, sounding slightly annoyed. "I'm just saying... whether or not I loved Warren, he didn't love me. He *left* me, just took off. He left me there, didn't even look back. And then he died."
Xander looked down. "I know."
"And you wouldn't have *done* that," he said, looking up at him with a smile. "Whether we were just friends or..."
"You wouldn't have left me." Andrew laughed, rolling his neck slightly. "You didn't even leave me when things got bad, when I wasn't even part of your group."
Xander smiled. "It's what I do," he said, shrugging. "Couldn't just let you sit there... like you or not, I couldn't just leave you there."
Andrew nodded. "See? That's what I meant. Why couldn't it have been you? Why couldn't I have met you first? Why couldn't *you* have been my friend instead of Warren?"
Xander shrugged. "I don't know, Andrew," he said honestly. "Wasn't supposed to yet, I guess."
"Yeah," Andrew said quietly, smiling to himself. "Thanks."
Xander laughed, extracting his arm from around Andrews shoulders. "For what?"
"For listening," he said, looking at him with something that looked like wonder. "For actually giving enough of a shit about someone like me to ask."
Xander smiled, thumping him on the back. "Like I said, man... you've changed. Besides, it's nice having someone around that knows what I'm talking about when the geekdom starts taking over."