Nothing the Same


by
Orchidluv



Part Four

“Xander!” Willow ran to catch up with him in the hallway. It was the first day of classes after summer break and she was determined to get their friendship back on track. She knew if she tried she could still reach him, he couldn’t have changed that much. Somewhere inside, he was still her Xander.

He turned and looked at her, eyebrows raised in silent query.

“We’re going to the Bronze tonight, Buffy and me, I mean. Would you like to come with us?” Her eyes were hopeful.

“Sorry, I’m busy,” he said briefly, turning away.

Her hand on his arm stopped him in mid-turn. “Please, Xander. It’s been so long since we’ve spent any time together.” The neutral judge gave her an 8 out of a possible 10 on the Willow scale of pleading eyes. “I miss you.”

He was surprised to find that it no longer had any effect on him. “As I said, I’m busy.” Despite the fact that they had their next class together, he strode off without waiting for her.

He’d hardly seen Willow all summer. Her parents had taken her on a trip immediately after school was out and she’d been gone for a month. That had been almost enough time for him to have gotten over the anger that had filled him every time he remembered that the week before she left had been Jesse’s birthday. Willow had let it go by without a word or sign that she even remembered what day it was. Worse, heading home from Jesse’s grave that night, Xander had seen her and Buffy out walking. Unable to stop himself, he’d followed them - straight to the Bronze. Stepping inside for the first time since Jesse died, he’d watched from a distance as Willow and Buffy met up with Angel. Seeing Willow laughing and joking like that had infuriated him. Willow wasn’t the kind of person who forgot birthdays. She was always the first to start talking about them, sometimes weeks in advance. Since second grade, she and Jesse and Xander had celebrated all of their birthdays together. They’d even found a way to get together the year Jesse had chicken pox and the year Xander was in the hospital with a broken leg. Yet there she sat. Apparently, not even the presence of a vampire reminded her of what day it was. She’d obviously written Jesse off completely; fifteen years of friendship erased after only a few weeks.

He’d left the Bronze and avoided Willow when she called to tell him she would be gone and that she hoped she’d see him when she got back. With the school closed and no more access to Mr. Giles’ books, Xander had gone to Angel’s apartment, something he’d been trying to work up the nerve to do ever since he’d followed the vampire home after the spring dance. He’d hoped to talk to the vampire but it had been a complete waste of time. Angel wouldn’t talk to him at all, wouldn’t even let him into his apartment. He just kept telling Xander that he was in over his head and that Xander should go home and stay away from vampires before he got himself killed. He refused to tell Xander anything about what vampires were like, saying that he wasn’t going to participate in “a boy’s morbid curiosity”. Xander had managed to keep just enough hold on his temper not to smack Angel across his smug face with the cross he carried in his back pocket.

Over the course of the loneliest summer Xander had ever spent, he’d begun seeking out vampire lairs during daylight hours, hoping he could watch them safely during the day. From the books he’d read, he had an idea of what he was looking for, the kind of places that vampires stayed in, but vampires had seemed pretty thin on the ground during the whole summer. He didn’t know if it was a summer thing, or if it had something to do with the Master’s death, or what. Personally, if he burst into flame at the touch of direct sunlight, he wouldn’t choose to live in Southern California but that hadn’t seemed to bother the vampires last spring. He’d found a couple of places that looked like vampires might have stayed there and he’d kept an eye on them, checking back once in awhile, but mostly he hadn’t found any sign that Sunnydale even had vampires. Sometimes, he caught himself wondering if he hadn’t made up the whole thing. If he wasn’t just Xander, the crazy loon who talked to himself in the little park on the edge of town. He’d become so lonely that one day he’d found himself considering digging up Jesse’s ashes, just to prove to himself that they really were there, that he hadn’t made up his best friend and that Jesse really had existed.

Stopping by Jesse’s house had cured that fixation but it hadn’t helped his loneliness. Mrs. McNally had begun crying almost as soon as she let him in the house and had fled the living room, leaving Xander standing there awkwardly not sure what to do. Finally, he’d simply left, closing the door quietly behind him and feeling worse than when he’d arrived. He hadn’t been back since, which made him feel guilty and like a complete coward on top of everything else.

He’d welcomed it when Willow first called after she’d gotten back into town. It was only mid-July and he’d already read everything on the summer suggested reading list. The list that he and Jesse usually “lost” before they’d even gotten home on the last day of school. Willow would tell them what the books were about and that had always been good enough for them. This summer, Xander had actually read everything on the list, spending the hot afternoons with a book in the shade under the trees near Jesse’s grave. None of his usual summer activities had held any appeal because he’d always done them with Jesse. It felt like betraying Jesse to go alone to the beach, or the swimming pool, or the basketball court. Mostly he knew it was ridiculous, that Jesse wouldn’t mind, but a part of him was simply unable to move on and couldn’t even contemplate trying to make new friends. Which was probably just as well. He was pretty sure he’d be a lousy friend right now.

He and Willow had gone out for ice cream but it hadn’t been long before she was talking about how Xander should come help her and Mr. Giles research to back up Buffy in her fight against “the forces of darkness.” She’d chattered on about how important the research was, about how Buffy, Giles and Angel had gone into the tunnels together and killed the Master after Giles’ research had shown him the flaw in a seemingly infallible prophecy predicting Buffy’s death. She described how they had killed the Master by firing crossbows at him simultaneously. She didn’t even notice Xander flinch as she eagerly described how many times they had had to shoot him before one of the bolts had finally struck the Master in the heart, thereby preventing the Hellmouth from opening and saving the world. For someone who hadn’t been there, she gave a pretty vivid description.

It was only later than he noticed that his part in slapping some sense into her two heroes had obviously not been mentioned. Not that he cared if two people he had no respect for gave him credit or not but it sure didn’t do anything to change his opinion of them.

Their ice cream date had ended disastrously. Willow kept complaining about how much he had changed and pushing him to join her merry band of Slayerettes - although he did get a sardonic laugh at the idea of Mr. Proper English Tweed guy and a vampire being reduced to 60’s girl group back-up singers. When she told him that she missed Jesse too but they couldn’t spend the rest of their lives grieving, Xander had exploded. They’d ended up in a shouting match and being thrown out of the ice cream parlor and that was the last time he’d seen her, until now.


~*~*~*~*~


Watching from her locker as Xander rebuffed Willow, Buffy sighed. She quickly grabbed her books and snapped the door closed, spinning the lock. She moved casually to Willow’s side and gave her a bright smile. “Ready for the truly epic boredom that is English Lit?”

Willow pulled her eyes from Xander’s retreating back and managed to smile back at her. “It’s not boring,” she corrected automatically. At Buffy’s wholly expected skeptical look, she warmed to the comfort of familiar ground. “It’s important to know this stuff.”

“Yeah right, because in no way will it throw me off to be calculating the precise arc of my stake through geometric formulas in the midst of battle. Oops, my bad,” she shot an amused look at Willow, “that was for your ‘you need to learn geometry’ pep talk. I meant it wouldn’t throw me off to be reciting Shakespeare during fights.”

“Ok, maybe not in the middle of a fight but it’s important to know math and sciences in the computer age.”

“I notice you’re not defending Shakespeare,” Buffy teased, knowing she was letting herself in for a speech on the virtues of reading the Bard.

Good mood restored, Willow shifted gears as they entered the classroom, launching into the anticipated defense of the playwright. Buffy unobtrusively steered Willow over towards two free seats near the windows, letting Willow’s chatter wash over her without really listening. She shot a hostile glare towards Xander, slouched as usual in the last row, wanting to shake him until his teeth rattled. He didn’t look up from doodling in his notebook.

From everything Buffy had heard, Xander used to be the class clown. A complete loser apparently, without any of Willow’s smarts, but goofy and amiable and always cracking jokes. Granted, most of that information came from Cordelia, which meant it wasn’t particularly reliable. Certainly it didn’t fit Willow’s sadness over losing her life-long friend. But Willow also talked wistfully about how much Xander had changed in the past year. Willow kept trying to reach him and he kept rejecting her, leaving Buffy to try and comfort Willow when she got depressed every time Xander pushed her away.

The way Willow described him, Xander was loyal and brave and a great friend. He certainly wasn’t the moody, bitter, sarcastic loner that Buffy knew. As far as she could tell, Willow had been his only friend, and apparently he didn’t even want to be friends with Willow anymore. He couldn’t seem to deal with the fact that Willow and Buffy were close.

Probably he was just jealous of their friendship. Thank god, Willow seemed to finally be getting over him. Buffy knew that Willow had had a giant-sized crush on Xander for years. She had been trying to steer Willow away from Xander, encouraging her to look at other boys, trying to help Willow get over her shyness and to give someone else a chance. And it seemed to finally be working. It was taking her less and less time to snap Willow out of the depression Xander could send her into. Now all she needed was to find Willow a boyfriend and presto, Xander would be of the past. And it couldn’t happen soon enough - Willow was too nice a person to waste her life away mooning over a jerk like Xander Harris.


~*~*~*~*~


“Mr. Harris.”

Standing at his locker, Xander looked up and was surprised to see the librarian calling to him.

“Please come to the library for a minute.”

“I have class.”

“This won’t take long and I will give you a note.”

Shrugging, Xander slung his backpack over one shoulder and followed Mr. Giles into the library. “What’s up?”

“I understand that you made a habit last year of taking books out of my private collection.”

He didn’t bother denying it. “I returned them.”

“That isn’t the point. Those are my private volumes and they are not available to be checked out by students.”

“That’s probably why I didn’t check them out.”

“Technically, you were stealing them.”

“Actually, I think technically I was borrowing them.”

Giles sighed heavily. “Are you intending to continue taking my books this year?”

“That depends. Will you let me borrow them openly?”

“Mr. Harris, you have enough information about what really goes on in this town to know that I need to have those books available for reference. I don’t wish to be overly dramatic, but the fate of the world can rest, quite literally, on my access to those books. I cannot just lend them out to students. And that is quite leaving aside the fact that many of them are extremely valuable and irreplaceable.”

Xander had crossed his arms stubbornly during this speech. “Did you ever even notice that any of them were gone last year? I only ever took one at a time.” He considered that for a second. “Ok, at the most, two.”

“Mr. Harris, those books are my private property. I would be well within my rights to call the police.”

“Come on, we both know you’re not going to do that.”

“And why wouldn’t I?” Giles took his glasses off and rubbed his forehead tiredly. Xander repressed a smile, the librarian had obviously not anticipated his bluff being called.

“You think Snyder and the school board are going to approve of some of the books you have? I really don’t think you’re going to risk calling attention to your true role here in Sunnydale.”

Mr. Giles glared at him silently for a long moment but didn’t try to refute Xander’s point or the implied threat.

“Look, can we maybe do a compromise thing here?”

At the librarian’s heavy sigh, Xander knew he’d won. “What are you proposing?”

“How about I take only one book at a time, openly, kind of a private check out system. Any time you need the book I have to save the world or whatever, I’ll bring it back immediately.”

“Why are you reading these books?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

When the librarian just continued to stare at him, Xander looked away, uncomfortable for the first time since the conversation began. After a long pause, during which the librarian waited silently for a response, Xander finally answered reluctantly. “Last spring, I learned that vampires exist and that a lot of them live in Sunnydale. Not to mention the whole Hellmouth thing. Don’t you think it makes sense for me to want to learn more about it?”

Mr. Giles continued to study his face intently and Xander now met his gaze squarely. What he’d said was true, it just wasn’t the whole truth.

“And yet Willow tells me that you have refused her repeated invitations to join us in our research efforts.”

Well, two points for the old guy.  He  obviously sensed that Xander wasn’t telling him everything. Xander’s jaw tightened at the confirmation that Willow had been talking about him with Buffy and Mr. Giles. “She probably also told you that she and I aren’t really friends anymore.”

“I know she regrets that very deeply.”

He made a sharp motion with his hand, cutting the librarian off before he could say anything further on the subject. “Not the issue here. Do we have a deal on the books?”

Mr. Giles sighed heavily. “I suppose if I don’t agree, you will simply continue to pilfer my collection.”

Xander’s mouth quirked up on one side but he didn’t admit that that was his plan.

“Very well, we have an agreement.”

“So, what would you recommend?” Xander nodded towards the office and, ignoring Mr. Giles’ put-upon sigh, began describing which books he’d already read.

Two minutes later, he had his first quasi-officially checked out book on vampires and a note for his third period teacher. Reading it out on the way to class, Xander was amused to learn that he was late because he had been assisting the librarian with moving furniture.


~*~*~*~*~


The only bad part about his new semi-official borrowing status was that Willow of course learned about it and continued to press him to join their research sessions. Xander really didn’t want to get into another fight with her, so he kept ducking the question. Unfortunately, she took that as encouragement and sought him out several times, telling him again how important what they were doing was.

She told him about how some kid vampire she called The Anointed One had tried to revive the Master and how vampires were coming back to the Hellmouth after the summer lull. She’d tried to convince Xander to help them research the Anointed One and couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that he was absolutely horrified at the idea of Buffy staking a six year old kid. “But it’s a vampire,” she’d said, as if he had missed the beginning of the film and needed a plot summary. “I know it’s kind of squicky, but that’s the only good thing about vampires - no bodies to clean up.”

He’d left abruptly, ignoring her calling after him and ran outside, where he concentrated on breathing deeply until the nausea subsided. Willow had always been one of the softest hearted people he had ever known. For god’s sake, she wouldn’t even step on spiders. He and Jesse used to laugh at her because she always insisted on putting spiders outside instead of squashing them. Xander would never understand how she could talk so casually about killing things that walked, talked and acted just like people.

One good thing came out of the conversation. Willow probably didn’t realize it, but she had given him the location of The Anointed One’s Court, as the latest book Mr. Giles had lent him called vampire groups. Well, “Court” or “lair” or “nest”, depending on circumstances he was still struggling to understand. He suspected Mr. Giles had deliberately given him a book that was difficult to read in an effort to discourage him. If so, he obviously didn’t believe that Xander had already plowed his way through a good third of the librarian’s vampire books. Anyway, according to Willow, the unsuccessful attempt to revive the Master - and why had the Master left bones behind? - had been in a factory near the edge of town. From Willow’s description, it sounded like one of the places he’d found over the summer that he’d thought vampires might have stayed in. If they had moved back in, he was going to check it out.


~*~*~*~*~


The old factory was two stories high and the windows on the ground floor had been blacked out. A catwalk ran the length of three sides of the building below the second floor windows and some of those windows weren’t covered over.

Climbing up to the catwalk proved surprisingly easy, even while trying to be as quiet as possible. Despite the fact that it was well before sunset, he didn’t want to alert any vampires that might be inside to his presence - after all, he might be crazy but he wasn’t an idiot. He firmly suppressed the little voice trying to tell him that what he was doing was both crazy and idiotic. Xander moved along the catwalk, keeping below the level of the windows and heading towards the end of the building. From his explorations over the summer, he knew that the main floor was a large open room and that his best view would be down the length of the building.

Reaching the end of the building, he crouched down and peered inside the window. The interior was unevenly lit, with pools of shadows where the lamps and the few patches of sun didn’t illuminate. There was no-one obviously present, so Xander settled himself cautiously to wait for the sun to set.

He didn’t have to wait that long. The sun was still just above the horizon when a small boy walked down the spiral staircase leading to the second story rooms in the back of the factory. He was followed by several vampires who entered the main room from different areas and clustered around the boy. Xander felt his heart begin to pound and he almost called out a warning to the boy but stopped himself before he uttered a sound. The kid was the only one not showing demon features and he was clearly not afraid of the vampires surrounding him. Xander pulled out his cross and clutched it tightly as he watched. The boy climbed onto a raised seat of some kind and began speaking, Xander couldn’t hear the words but the vampires were nodding and listening with respect. The books he’d read talked about hierarchy in vampire groups, although with way too many different theories on how it worked, and he suspected he was seeing an example. What he couldn’t figure out was why all the other vampires would follow a kid. Did the boy have some sort of special power or was he like one of those underage kings of England and the others accepted him as their ruler through birthright? Xander fervently wished that he could hear what was being said because the silent play he was watching wasn’t really telling him anything.

Gradually becoming aware that his knees were killing him, Xander shifted cautiously so that he was sitting and for the first time realized he didn’t have a plan for getting out of there. The sun had set and at least one vampire had already left the factory. He really wasn’t prepared to stay on the catwalk all night and he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of climbing down with vampires wandering around. Absently rubbing some feeling back into his lower legs, Xander was forced to wonder once again if he’d gone completely crazy. Sitting in the growing darkness on the second floor of a building filled with vampires, he honestly couldn’t come up with one good reason why he was there.

Reading about vampires was one thing. Deliberately seeking them out in their homes was another. Leaning back against the lingering warmth of the brick wall, Xander seriously considered whether he was trying to get himself killed.

Despite looking for them since spring, he hadn’t actually encountered more than a single vampire at a time since that night at the Bronze. Having finally found what he’d been looking for, what he’d discovered was that he was (A) no wiser and (B) scared to death. Which probably meant he didn’t really want to die. 

Great, and you decide that now?  He asked himself sarcastically. You couldn’t have figured this out before you climbed up here?

Drawing his legs up, he rested his face in his folded arms and forced himself to think about what exactly he was looking for. It wasn’t hard, the answer was right there in the question that haunted him waking and sleeping: he wanted to know, once and for all, if he’d murdered Jesse. Even if the answer was yes, it would be better than this limbo he was trapped in. It was the uncertainty that was killing him, that was causing the dreams of Jesse begging Xander to help him, that was trapping Xander in this miasma of guilt and grief that he couldn’t see his way out of. 

Ok, and how exactly is spying on a bunch of vampires you didn’t know before they were vampires going to help you with that?

Put that way, it wasn’t going to help. So, what the hell was he doing here? The books might be confusing and contradictory but at least they wouldn’t get him killed. He didn’t trust Mr. Giles or Buffy to give him straight answers and Angel had refused to help. He knew there were other Watchers, but didn’t have a clue how to find them. Plus, they would probably just give him the same party line that Mr. Giles did. Which pretty much left him back at square one. Square two, he thought, remembering his aborted attempt to talk to the vampire at Jesse’s grave. Well, Mr. Giles still had a lot of books he hadn’t read. Maybe he’d find something in one of them. And at least reading books won’t get me killed or leave me sitting on a catwalk outside a vampire lair in the dark. Xander decided it was way past time for him to get the hell out of Dodge.

He checked inside the factory again and saw that there were fewer vampires in sight. Moving cautiously, he backtracked to the ladder leading down, grateful it wasn’t near any of the doors. Crouched at the top of the ladder, Xander hesitated for a long minute, checking for any signs of movement. Everything was quiet and he tucked the cross he’d been clutching the entire time back into his pocket and began climbing down slowly, trying to be absolutely silent.

He’d just reached the ground with one foot still on the ladder, when a hand closed on the back of his collar, yanking him off the ladder. He yelped in shock and found himself slammed face first into the brick wall of the factory. The breath whooshed out of him and before he could move he was spun around and slammed into the wall a second time, this time his back taking the impact. Still struggling to get his breath back, he caught his first glimpse of his attacker: yellow eyes and hair that shone white under the streetlamps.

“You’ve got a real death wish, mate.” The vampire cocked his head to one side. “It’s almost interesting.”

A/N - snippet of dialogue borrowed from the episode Lie to Me





Part Five


Xander froze. For an endless moment, the only thought in his head was: careful what you wish for. Snapping out of his paralysis, he began slowly edging one hand behind himself, trying to be inconspicuous. He managed to pull the cross out of his back pocket and was bringing it up to ward the vampire off when a grip like steel closed around his wrist. The vampire smashed his hand into the brick wall and Xander gasped in pain as the cross fell from his suddenly nerveless fingers. The vampire kicked it further away.

“Now, now,” he drawled. The vampire’s English accent somehow just added to the unreality of the situation. “It’s not polite to pull a weapon in the middle of a conversation.”

“Is that what this is?” Xander asked hopefully. Conversation sounded so much better than any other option he could think of. He could do talking.

The vampire took half a step back, releasing Xander, who stayed leaning against the wall, willing his legs to stop shaking. “Dunno yet, could be,” the vampire answered, fishing around in his pockets for a moment. Xander briefly considering running like hell but, the second his muscles tensed, the vampire’s eyes flashed back to him and he growled. Xander subsided, knowing he couldn’t outrun the vampire anyway, not with his still trembling muscles. Except for that, he was pretty sure Olympic sprinters wouldn’t be able to catch him if he got the chance to run. He was surprised when the vampire found what he was looking for and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.

“You smoke?” he blurted out without thinking. He knew vampires didn’t breathe, could they get anything out of smoking if their lungs didn’t process oxygen?

The vampire just looked at him over the flame of his lighter. “Not like it’s going to kill me.”

The tone didn’t encourage sharing and that was the end of that conversational gambit. The vampire seemed content for the moment to just stand there, smoking and studying Xander. The intensity of his gaze made Xander twitchy but he wasn’t about to complain. He was pretty sure that complaints would lead to seriously bad things he didn’t even want to think about.

“What’s your name?” he finally asked, unable to stay quiet any longer.

If anything, the stare intensified. “Spike.”

“Was that your name when… before you became a vampire?”

“No.”

Before Xander could get another question out, the vampire - what kind of a name was Spike? - had slammed him back against the wall, holding Xander with one hand around his throat. Xander clawed at the fingers restricting his breathing but the vampire just tightened his grip, shaking him a little.

“You seem a little unclear on the pecking order, boy.” It was disconcerting to see the cigarette still dangling from the vampire’s lips. Keeping him pinned obviously took no more effort than it would take for Xander to pin a kitten. Less, he thought resentfully, because a kitten had enough teeth and claws to do at least a little damage. The inhumanly strong grip didn’t ease up until Xander’s struggles had stopped, more from a complete lack of oxygen than acquiescence. Just before he passed out, the vampire released him and he sagged against the wall, barely able to stay standing as he gasped for air.

“What were you doing up there?”

Xander took several more deep breaths while he thought frantically. “I was lost?” he finally said hesitantly. Xander wasn’t sure which would be worse, lying or admitting that he’d been spying on the vampires inside the factory. The rising growl told him that lying wasn’t going down well as did the fact that the vampire grabbed him by the throat again. Ok, it had been a lame-ass try but the lack of oxygen and the fear of impending death had seriously hampered his ability to think of a better story. “I was watching the vampires inside,” he rasped out around the restricting grip. Spots were beginning to swim before his eyes and oxygen was becoming a serious issue again when the vampire eased off. Xander took several whooping breaths, almost missing the vampire’s next question.

“Why?”

When he’d gotten enough breath back to speak again, Xander tried a shrug. “Curiosity?” he offered, really not feeling like sharing the whole story.

The vampire cocked his head. “How long have you been watching them?”

“A while.”

“How. Long.” A not particularly gentle thump of his head against the wall accompanied each word.

“About an hour,” Xander admitted.

The vampire gave a short laugh and let go of Xander’s throat. “Not only a death wish but incredibly bad timing. You need a keeper, boy.”

With anyone else, Xander would have snapped something back at that crack. With this guy, he didn’t want to push his luck. He stayed quiet, watching the vampire warily as he gingerly rubbed his throat.

The vampire began pacing up and down in front of him, just a couple of short steps up and back. Xander debated whether he should go for the stake he carried but given the flickering glances the vampire kept shooting in his direction, he decided against it. He was beginning to have a lot of sympathy for those stupid animals that froze in front of predators, hoping not to be seen. Right now, he felt remarkably like one of them.

The vampire suddenly stopped in front of him and gave him another long stare. Scared to take his eyes off him, Xander just stared back. The vampire leaned closer and Xander would have flinched back except his backside was already trying to become one with the wall. The vampire grabbed a fistful of Xander’s jacket and pulled him forward. Xander resisted, trying unsuccessfully to brace himself against the pull. He pushed hard against the vampire’s chest but the vampire simply grabbed his wrists and forced them behind him. Xander was struggling wildly now but it wasn’t having any effect. The struggle took place in an eerie silence as Xander was terrified of alerting the vampires inside the factory by screaming. One vampire was more than he could handle, he really didn’t need others coming out to see what was going on. The vampire transferred both wrists into one of his hands and grabbed a fistful of Xander’s hair, yanking Xander’s head back, exposing his neck. He dipped his head and Xander felt a tongue rasp along the length of his neck.

Sheer terror broke his silence. “No!”

With a snarl, the vampire suddenly pushed Xander away from him and he smacked into the wall once again. “What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Me!” Xander yelped incredulously. The pain of being smashed into the wall yet again momentarily had anger overriding fear. “I didn’t do anything. I’m the attackee here, nimrod.” His heart was still hammering in his chest and he could hardly believe he wasn’t dead. It suddenly occurred to him that he had been less than diplomatic with the serial killer. “Umm, sorry, cancel the nimrod.”

“Stay away from me, boy, if you know what’s good for you.” The vampire stalked off, coat billowing dramatically behind him. Xander watched him go, stunned and confused by the sudden release and dazed to find himself still alive.

“Yeah, I could make a dramatic exit too, if I had a really cool leather coat,” he muttered resentfully, wishing his legs would stop shaking so he could get the hell out of there.

He didn’t realize the vampire had heard him. Spike found his lips twitching at the snarky comment until he realized that he was allowing himself to be amused by a human child. He snarled and stalked past the door to the factory, completely forgetting his original intention of thrashing the idiots inside. Never big on introspection, Spike refused to even consider the question of why he wasn’t going back and simply killing the boy.

He really needed a drink.


~*~*~*~*~


An hour later, staring moodily into his fourth drink, Spike found himself wondering why the hell he had come back to Sunnydale. Oh, he knew why he was here. Dru had told him to come and so here he was, love’s bitch, faithful to the end, still loyally doing whatever Dru said. He just didn’t know what the bloody hell he was supposed to do now that he was here.

Dru’s visions weren’t exactly a reliable guide, after all. Sometimes she was spot on but other times she could be so far off the mark it was downright bizarre. He snorted, downing the drink in one go and signaling the bartender for another round. A bit of fang got the service moving faster, the barkeep hastily splashing an extra measure into his glass.

After all, it had been one of Dru’s visions that had sent them to Prague. She’d insisted that the stars told her they would only sing to her there, in Prague. And they’d had fun, for several weeks. But there were too many people who believed in the old ways there and Dru had nearly gotten herself torn apart by a mob. Spike had barely been able to save her and they’d had to leave town in a highly undignified fashion that he still didn’t care to think about.

Then Drusilla had gotten sick. Spike hadn’t felt so helpless since he’d been human. Nothing he did helped and she’d gotten steadily weaker; unable to hunt, barely able to feed, fading a little more each day until she was too weak to even leave their bed. She’d lain there for days, skin mottled with bruising, while Spike had raged helplessly. He’d beaten and bribed minions, ordering them to find a cure, promising them the world on a platter if they succeeded and painful, lingering death by torture if they failed.

And they had failed. They’d researched and sought out witches and seers and they’d gotten nowhere. Drusilla herself had slipped further and further away from him, talking in a frail voice about the things her dolls told her. It had been all Spike could do not to rip Miss Edith to bits, just to stop her talking to Dru, so that maybe Dru would see him as he sat by her side night after night begging her to eat something.

During those desperate days, Drusilla had told Spike he needed to go to the California Hellmouth. She’d insisted his “destiny” awaited him there, whatever the hell that meant. She’d rambled on about the dark energy beneath the books and a wounded kitten and how the flowers all withered and died until he found himself promising her they would go to Sunnydale just so she wouldn’t talk about it anymore. She’d smiled and slept then, and he had gathered her carefully in his arms and held her.

She’d gone silent in her last few days, too weak even to speak anymore. Spike had stayed with her, holding her, trying to coax her into drinking a little, talking to her softly about the fun they would have when she was strong again. Sometimes, he thought a faint smile would cross her lips as he talked to her about the glorious years when they had cut a bloody swath through Europe. And then one morning, he had woken to an armful of dust and his Black Goddess was gone.

He didn’t really remember how he’d gotten to California - he hadn’t been anything approaching sober the entire trip. Somewhere along the way he’d acquired an old car and he had a dim recollection of racing the sunrise across the desert while drinking himself into yet another stupor. He was vaguely surprised to find himself still intact when he’d sobered up enough to discover that he was in southern California and not far from the Hellmouth.

Having come so far, he kept his promise to Dru. He’d arrived in town earlier this evening not long after sunset and within an hour he’d learned that Angelus was in Sunnydale. Still acting the complete git and apparently panting after the Slayer du jour. Angelus had staked his own Sire over the bint - some 16-year old school girl, still only playing at being the Slayer part time. Spike shook his head. Unbelievable, even for Angelus.

Unlike most vampires, Spike had very little patience for ritual and traditions, but family had once meant something to him. Staking your own Sire was a bit over the top. His whole clan had become a serious embarrassment. The Master had let himself get killed by a Watcher and his successor was a child so recently turned he still smelled of the dirt from his grave. That child was the current Master of the Hellmouth.

It was obvious that his destiny was to take over as Master of the Hellmouth. There wasn’t any one else fit for the title and Drusilla had foreseen it. Other than a scattering of minions, he and Angelus were about all that was left of the Aurelius clan and Angelus was barely even a vampire any more.

Signaling for a refill, Spike wondered where the night had gone wrong. He’d learned what he needed to know about the power structure in the town shortly after arriving and had headed over to the factory where the child who called himself The Anointed One held what could laughably be called his Court. Spike shook his head in disgust. His Court. A bunch of vampires so weak they would follow a child with a fancy name. Spike couldn’t see that anointing had done anything for the boy or The Master who’d apparently set such store by the child.

Circling the building, he’d been disgusted to find the boy king had set no sentries. There’d been no security at all, as evidenced by the fact that a human was spying on them and they hadn’t even noticed. It wasn’t even a professional demon hunter, just a boy with no special skills. That he was just an ordinary boy was obvious from the way he was dressed and his almost complete lack of weapons. When the boy started down the ladder, his movements gave away the fact that he had no training or experience in stealth. He was quiet enough, but a professional would have gotten down from the catwalk in half the time, not to mention would have heard Spike coming as he met the boy at the bottom of the ladder.

The boy had been frightened but surprisingly able to control it and Spike had been curious enough not to kill him immediately. The boy had reeked of grief and loneliness. Fear and anger were also there, adding to the scents wafting off the boy. It was an intoxicating mixture and Spike had found himself inhaling deeply, relishing the mingled scents. He’d looked into dark eyes half covered by thick dark hair and seen the sadness and loneliness living there and for a moment, it had been like looking into Dru’s eyes again.

He’d found himself leaning forward, drinking in the rich, dark scents, had even tasted the boy. Reveling in the taste and scents, he realized that he’d completely forgotten about Drusilla and was considering turning the boy. Considering molding all that loneliness and anger into a perfect, dark Childe.

Revolted, he’d shoved the boy away from him. The last thing he needed was a Childe. He’d loved Drusilla with every fiber of his being, but she had taken a lot of looking after. He was not about to saddle himself with another burden. Still, the boy continued to intrigue him. He found himself wondering what was tormenting the boy and what had driven him to watch vampires in their lair. Regardless of what the boy had said, it was more than mere curiosity that brought him to the factory. The smell of grief had nearly overwhelmed Spike when he’d asked why the boy was there.

Abruptly slamming back his last drink and tossing some bills onto the bar, Spike left. He needed to concentrate on his promised destiny. It was too late now to follow through with his original plan, so he needed to find a decent crypt for the day. Tomorrow night, he would tackle the Anointed Infant and take over his Court. That was why he was in town, after all.

And if he dreamed of Drusilla’s voice talking about a wounded kitten, well that was just too bloody bad. Dru and her kitten could sod off.





Part Six

Willow waved a cheerful paintbrush at Xander. “Hey, there. Step up and grab a brush.”

On his way home after his last class, Xander gave her painting preparations a dubious look. “Not really feeling the need to let my inner impressionist out. What brings on this sudden yen for creativity?”

“Principal Snyder. Not so much a yen for creativity as a yen to avoid expulsion.”

“Right.” Xander’s tone was so skeptical that a cynic might have called it sarcastic. “Snyder would give the swim team detention before he expelled you. You bring the whole school’s test scores up.”

“Well, not for me so much as for… others a little more on the edge with him.”

For once she hadn’t said Buffy’s name, for which Xander was grateful - maybe she really had gotten the message and wasn’t going to keep trying to shove them together like some misplaced National Brotherhood Week project. Giving her a small smile, he looked down at her still blank project. “What’s the occasion requiring of banners?”

Willow began outlining a careful ‘P’ on the banner. “Parent-Teacher night, of course. This Thursday, remember? Aren’t you coming?” She looked up and froze as she saw Xander’s smile die and the now-familiar hardness return to his eyes. Sighing, she set down the paintbrush.

“Xander, you can’t keep doing this.”

“What? Remembering my best friend?” he spat back at her.

“You can’t keep not doing anything that reminds you of him. When was the last time you went to a movie? To the Bronze? Did anything but stay at home and feel sorry for yourself?”

“The last time I went to the Bronze was on Jesse’s birthday.” He needed to stop; Xander knew he needed to walk away before things that couldn’t be forgiven were said but he couldn’t stop the resentment from spilling out of him. “And guess who was there? You were. With Buffy. Having a great time. You didn’t even remember what day it was, did you?”

“I remembered.” Willow’s voice was so quiet Xander could barely hear her. “I’m sorry, Xander, I should have called you. But Buffy wanted to go out before we both left town and it was her last night in town. I knew you wouldn’t want to go with us, you’d made that pretty clear, so I went to the Bronze with her. But I should have called you and I didn’t forget. After I got home, I went through all my photo albums and remembered all our good times together.” Her voice was pleading now and she had tears in her eyes. “I know you think I’ve forgotten Jesse but I haven’t. But I’m not going to shut myself away from everyone or stop making new friends because he’s gone and you shouldn’t either.”

For once, Willow’s tears did not move him. “It’s a hell of a strange way of remembering someone: to never mention his name, never talk about him, and everything we used to do together, you’re now doing with those new friends you like so much. Dammit, Willow, since fourth grade, the only reason you and I ever went to Parent-Teacher night was to run interference for Jesse with his mom. It was an annual tradition, just like our birthdays. And this year, you’re doing it for Buffy, aren’t you? Or are you going to claim your parents are coming this year?”

“No, I’m not going to say that. But just because I’m helping Buffy out on Parent-Teacher night doesn’t mean I didn’t love Jesse!” Willow’s voice rose with anger.

“It’s a funny kind of friendship when you let someone else replace him ten minutes after he’s dead!”

“Just because I’m not wallowing in his death or using it as an excuse to become a complete jerk, doesn’t make you better than me, Xander Harris!”

“I never said I was better than you, Willow. Just more loyal.”

Stalking off, Xander heard Willow’s running feet and the sound of her tears fading into the distance. His anger didn’t last much longer than the doors of the school, but stubborn pride kept him walking. He wasn’t wallowing in Jesse’s death. Ok, he was having trouble dealing but he’d rather have ‘issues’ about his best friend’s death than be the kind of person who could just compartmentalize their grief and get on with life like nothing had happened. Jesse deserved better than that.


~*~*~*~*~


Splashing water on her face in the bathroom, Willow reached for paper towels and scrubbed them roughly across her face, trying to erase the signs of tears. How dare Xander accuse her of forgetting Jesse? Just because she didn’t talk about him to spare Buffy’s feelings didn’t mean she hadn’t loved him.

Wadding up the paper towels, she threw them with far more force than necessary into the trash. She was loyal - look how hard she’d been trying to keep her and Xander’s friendship alive. Hey, peacemaker here. She was the one who’d been trying. Not like Mr. ‘I’m more loyal than you’ Harris.

Ok, yeah, maybe she shouldn’t have called him a jerk, even if he was acting like one.

But she wasn’t doing anything wrong by having Buffy for a friend. It was Xander who had the problem, not her.

She practiced a cheerful smile in the mirror and sighed. It looked completely fake. Oh, well, no-one would really expect her to be cheerful about being drafted to do Snyder’s work.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike entered the factory quietly, with none of his usual flair. Ordinarily, he loved a good entrance but he could be inconspicuous when the occasion warranted it. Until he knew exactly how much of the Master’s Court remained and which minions had transferred their loyalty to the Anointed One, a bit of caution was called for.

Except caution obviously wasn’t going to be necessary with this bunch of complete gits. Once again, they had no one on watch outside. No one even challenged him as he walked into the factory’s main room, they were all too busy conducting some ritual to even notice an intruder.

Spike stood in the center of the room for a full minute watching the minions chant. Oh, bloody hell, they were calling on the spirit of St. Vigeous. Spike shook his head in disbelief. Some wanker gets a bunch of locals worked up into going on a rampage and 400 years later, they’re worshipping him. Sure, Vigeous had made a right proper go of it, but killing peasants in eastern Europe in the 1500’s had been a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. He smirked, if that was all it took to become an icon then in another 400 years they might just be offering prayers to the Scourge of Europe. That would be a bit of all right. Vigeous hadn’t even survived his glory days, unlike the four of them that had earned the Scourge title.

His smirk faded. Two of them were dust now. Spike didn’t give a rat’s ass about Darla - whiny bitch that she’d been, but by the gods, he’d make sure his Dark Princess was remembered as she deserved.

“You know,” his raised voice sliced through the ritual, bringing it stumbling to a halt, “some people might say that demons who can’t do for themselves without help from a bloke whose been dead for four centuries are demons who’re just a useless lot of nancy-boys.” Enjoying the outraged silence as the vampires all turned to face him, he continued after a bare pause. “In fact, I’m someone who would say that.”

He stood with calm arrogance, thumbs tucked inside his belt, ignoring the rising growls and focused solely on the child in the center of the group. “You’re that Anointed Guy, aren’t you? I’ve read about you.” He sauntered forward with seeming casualness as if he hadn’t just deliberately shoved a stick into a hornets’ nest.

“How dare you interrupt? You have ruined the ritual.” It was one of the minions that spoke up, moving forward threateningly.

“Yeah, I guess I did, but I got so bored standing there, waiting for you idiots to notice me, that I just couldn’t help myself.” Spike kept his eyes on the Anointed One - he was the wild card in the mix and it was possible he had some kind of power that could be a problem. As the speaker approached rapidly, Spike judged his moment from the sound of the footsteps on the concrete floor and, when the minion was almost on him, his fist flashed out at the precisely correct moment and he dropped the other vampire with one clean blow. It always impressed vampires as young as these when you could take someone down without even glancing in their direction. Given that he had been the first to move, the vampire he’d dropped was likely the strongest of them, or at least he’d thought he was.

Stepping over the body without even glancing down, Spike moved forward, still studying the Anointed One. “So, I understand that you’ve had some problems here - losing The Master and all. That’s a bad piece of luck.” His tone gave clear lie to his words. After all, The Master had let himself get dusted by a Watcher. Just showed how much old bat-face had lost it over the years he’d been trapped inside the Hellmouth.

“Who are you?” the child asked.

“Spike.” Still easily dominating the room, he strolled over to the remnants of the ritual circle, tsking mockingly at the incense burners and chalked symbols. Blithely crossing the spell circle’s boundary, knowing it would impress vampires superstitious enough to pray to St. Vigeous, he stopped in the center and pulled out a cigarette. Lighting it, he took a long drag before deliberately dropping the cigarette inside their sacred circle.

“So, you people thought you’d call on the power of St. Vigeous to get it done, eh? Bollocks. I’ve never felt a rush of sudden power on the Night of St. Vigeous. Never needed that kind of help either.” He looked around scornfully, seeing the vampire he’d decked just now getting to his feet and that the others were off-balance and uncertain. “’Course, it’s obvious you lot need all the help you can get.”

Predictably, two of the youngest charged him, furious and intent on proving how worthy they were. Spike had a stake out and both were small explosions of dust before anyone else had time to move. Insultingly, he put the stake away again. “Sorry about dusting your boys,” he said to the Anointed One, “self defense and all that rot.”

“Now. I’m moving in and I’m taking over.” Shoving his hands into his pockets, he surveyed the remaining vampires. “Anyone who wants to test who has the biggest wrinklies around here, step on up.”

Not surprisingly, no one took him up on the offer. Good, at least some of them had a sense of self preservation. What was surprising was that the boy wasn’t saying anything. A vampire with any power at all would never let another vampire behave like this in his Court and there was no way the child ruled by physical strength. Which probably meant ‘Anointed One’ just was a fancy, mean-nothing title the boy had been given. Spike had been intending to leave the boy alive for awhile, at least until he had ensured the loyalty of the remaining minions. But the boy hadn’t said a word about Spike interrupting the ritual, which made him too weak to bother about. Besides, he’d never been the patient, long-term plan sort.

“Oh, one more thing…” The stake was out again and Spike spun around in one fluid move and sank it into the Anointed One’s heart, jerking it back quickly so he didn’t lose the stake in the dusting. The boy didn’t even lift a hand to defend himself, vanishing into dust like any other vampire. So much for Anointing. “Well, two things really.” He threw the stake with swift, deadly accuracy at the vampire who’d first challenged him. No way would that one ever accept Spike as leader of this merry band.

Looking at the stunned remnants of the Court, he said: “From now on, there’s going to be a lot less ritual and a bit more fun around here. Am I clear?”

The thoroughly cowed minions just nodded.

“Good.” Spike perched one hip on the edge of the raised seat the Anointed One had been sitting on earlier. “So, what were you all asking St. Vigeous for?”

The minions shuffled their feet for a moment before one of them took a half a step forward. “We were raising power to take out the Slayer on Saturday. Jacob, the one you just killed, he was going to be our champion.”

“Well, that would have been a spectacular fiasco. Too bad I staked him, we could have sold tickets.” Spike stood up and walked around the factory, taking in the layout, entrances, and several obvious vulnerable spots, including the window where the human boy had been spying on them.

“First order of business is a little talk about security. I want a system set up within the hour so we have someone on watch at all times. You -” he pointed to the vampire who’d spoken up about the ritual, “you’re in charge. I don’t like the results, your successor sweeps you up in the morning. Are we clear?”

“Yes.” Spike would keep an eye on that one, he might be a little more intelligent than the others, maybe even worth keeping around.

“Now people, let’s use our heads for thirty seconds, shall we? If it isn’t too much of a strain for some of you. Are any of you even aware that there are two threats in this town? A Slayer and a 240 year old Master vampire who is helping the Slayer to kill us. Now, who thinks the Slayer is our biggest problem?” He waited, eyebrows raised but no one dared answer.

“You lot aren’t ready to take on a group of pregnant housewives, much less either a Master vampire or a Slayer. Save that for the professionals.” He’d tell them later about the notches in his own belt. “The next couple of nights, those who manage to impress me will get to not be staked through the heart. Those who don’t think they’ll measure up, you’ve got your chance to hit the road now. And I do mean the road out of town.”

With that parting shot, Spike simply strode out of the factory without a backward glance at any of the minions. They needed a chance to talk it over and argue about whether any of them had the guts to challenge him. Most of them would stay, more’s the pity. Useless bunch for the most part. But it wouldn’t hurt to let them sort themselves out on their own.

As he set off walking, re-learning the town after all the years away, Spike wondered why it hadn’t been as satisfying as he had thought it would be, finally exercising his rights as a Master Vampire. During the years he spent so much time looking after Drusilla, Spike had never really been able to assert the privileges of a Master - too busy caring for Dru to properly rule minions. Even before she’d gotten sick, Dru’s vague spells made her a weak link in vampire power circles. She was too easily used against him, so he had kept the two of them outside the power structures. He’d been strong enough to look after them both for over a century even without family or a Court.

He’d loved Drusilla, but even if he hadn’t loved her, Spike was smart enough to have recognized how useful her visions could be. He’d always understood that a vampire that talked to dolls and stars and sometimes had to be restrained from wandering into the sun didn’t inspire respect in the average minion - they were too short-sighted to understand the usefulness of a seer. Minions and Dru had never been a combination that Spike had tried to make work. And now he was going to learn first hand just how useless most minions were. As if he didn’t already know. What he wouldn’t give to have Drusilla by his side again, healthy and brimming with ideas for terrorizing the locals.

The next few days would be full of boring business: learning which of the minions could fight, finding out who had any useful skills, and weeding out the dead weight. He sighed. Actually taking over the Court had been fun, if way too easy, but now he was feeling like a bureaucrat. Well, he’d just have to put up with it for a couple of days.

Besides, he needed to decide what to do about Angelus.


~*~*~*~*~


Parent-Teacher night found Xander sitting in a diner finishing the second book Mr. Giles had loaned him under their new agreement. This one was easier to read than the first one but so far had done nothing but re-hash the same old theories over and over. It was starting to piss him off. He’d figured that with the librarian guiding him, he would find some answers to his questions but it looked like Mr. Giles was deliberately giving him useless books. Xander hadn’t decided yet if he was going to confront the librarian or just go back to pilfering his books but he was going to do something. Soon. Like as soon as he finished the useless waste of time he was reading. He didn’t want Mr. Giles to be able to argue that he hadn’t finished the book when Xander told him he wanted a better one next time.

He was resolutely not thinking about Willow. Maybe it was stupid to remember a tradition that revolved around keeping Mrs. McNally away from any teacher that had it in for Jesse but it had been a game the three of them had enjoyed for years. Xander had always suspected that Mrs. McNally knew what they were doing but if she had, she’d played along. She’d probably felt bad that neither Xander nor Willow had parents who cared enough to come.

Visiting Jesse’s grave was the only way he could try to honor their Parent Teacher night tradition. He’d sat in the little park for awhile, talking out loud, reminiscing about some of the crazy things they’d done to keep Jesse’s mom away from one teacher or another. Childish, yeah, but it had been fun. Remembering how close the three of them had been just made him angry all over again that Willow would once more choose Buffy over Xander and Jesse. He knew she didn’t mean it like that but going to Parent-Teacher night without Jesse felt like a betrayal of their friendship.

Sighing, Xander flipped ahead in the book, seeing there were only a couple of chapters to go. He’d been sitting in this little diner since just before sunset, not wanting to go home or anywhere near the school. It wasn’t much of a place but it was nearly empty so they didn’t mind him sitting here and it was about as far from the school as you could get in Sunnydale. He really wasn’t up to another fight with Willow.

The book was suddenly tweaked out of his hands.

“Hey!” he began and looked up to see a young man settling down on the opposite side of the booth and beginning to flip through the book. The protest died in his throat as he took in the slicked back white hair and black leather duster. He froze. It was the vampire from outside the factory, it had to be.

Scrambling quickly to his feet, Xander pulled his replacement cross out of his pocket; he’d been too shaken to remember to pick the old one up outside the factory and too nervous to go back for it. Turned out you could buy large crosses in a bunch of different stores in town.

The voice clinched it. “Drovinius’ Vampyre Chronicles, eh? Why’re you reading this twaddle?” He didn’t even look up at Xander, who stood there, clutching his cross, and poised on the brink of flight but reluctant to abandon the book if he didn’t have to. He could just imagine the librarian’s reaction to Xander telling him the book had been stolen by a vampire.

“Why do you say it’s twaddle?” Still nervous, Xander lowered the cross slightly but didn’t put it away. It seemed rude somehow to wave it at the vampire if he wasn’t actively trying to hurt Xander but relaxing his guard would violate his recent decision that he wasn’t suicidal.

“Doubt Drovinius would have known a vampire even if one was draining him. Second and third hand sources, that’s all he used.” The vampire still didn’t look at Xander, keeping his focus on the book.

“You read books on vampires?”

“Had to do something to pass the time before they invented the telly now, didn’t I?” The vampire slapped the book closed and shoved it back to him. Xander hurriedly snatched it up before it tipped his glass over and tucked it safely into his backpack. He was pretty sure coke stains would bring his borrowing privileges to a screeching halt. The vampire seemed completely at ease, stretching out sideways in the booth and pulling out a cigarette.

“Umm, I don’t think they allow smoking in here,” Xander offered tentatively.

That got him a flickering look as the vampire lit up. “What are you - The American Cancer Society?”

“No, it’s just…” Not really wanting to explain that he was afraid the vampire would kill the first employee who insisted he stop smoking, Xander gestured lamely towards the No Smoking sign.

“Don’t really care about their soddin’ rules.” He pointed with his cigarette towards the other side of the booth. “Sit down or clear off, mate.”

“It’s my table,” Xander started to object but realized he really wasn’t prepared to follow through on anything. Not sure why, he found himself sliding back into his side of the booth, still keeping one hand on his backpack and the other on his cross. There was a pause while Xander watched the vampire nervously and the vampire seemed content to just sit there smoking and studying the far wall. No employees came running over to tell him to put his cigarette out, so either the staff was really lax or the aura of danger Xander sensed radiating off the vampire wasn’t his imagination. And wasn’t that a comforting thought.

“What would you recommend?” Xander finally asked.

“For what?”

“To read. You know, since Drovinius is a bad choice.”

“Why are you reading about vampires?”

“Is your name really Spike?”

The vampire looked at him briefly. “Not exactly an answer to my question.”

Xander started to bring up the cross. “Hey, no head thumping necessary. I just couldn’t keep calling you ‘the vampire’ in my head.” He couldn’t leave it alone though. “You said it wasn’t your name when you… before you became a vampire. Do vampires usually change their names after they become vampires?”

“Need a refresher on the pecking order, do we?”

“No! That’s ok, I’m pretty sure I’ve got it. Really sure.” He sighed quietly. The vampire - Spike - obviously wasn’t big on answering questions. Just big on being scary and confusing. There was a long pause during which Xander found himself pretending to study the faux wood grain of the table top while taking frequent wary glances at the vampire.

“Try Kimmelman. He at least knows what he’s talking about.”

The silence had gone on long enough that Xander jumped a little when the vampire spoke. He opened his mouth but Spike was still talking.

“You planning on being a vampire when you grow up?”

“What?”

“You one of those gits who moon about; dreaming of becoming a vampire some day?”

“No!”

“Thought not. Most of them don’t bother to learn anything about vampires first.”

“People want to become vampires?” Xander was appalled, but he couldn’t help remembering Jesse talking about how good it felt to be a vampire. Then he hastily added: “No offense.”

“Not likely to take any.” Spike seemed unconcerned by Xander’s insult to his entire… race? Species? He was back to his smoking and staring at the wall thing and Xander wondered if this vampire was somehow different from other vampires and if his luck was really running to finding the one vampire in the world willing to talk to him and that vampire was an atypical weirdo.

“Why are you reading about vampires?” Spike gave him a look that suggested he would not be happy if he didn’t get an answer this time. Xander had already experienced cranky Spike and didn’t want to go there again. But he was not going to talk about Jesse to a vampire.

“Well, I know Sunnydale’s on a Hellmouth so I just figure it’s safer to know.”

From the suddenly intent stare he got, he wasn’t sure Spike accepted that but all the vampire said was: “How do you know about the Hellmouth?”

Oops. Had he already said too much? Xander didn’t think much of Buffy and her Watcher, but he didn’t want to point vampires in their direction either. “Everybody knows,” he said quickly.

“Please, last time I was in town you could drain someone in front of their entire family and they would all swear it was an accidental death. It’s one of the attractions of the place - no-one sees anything. Not like Prague…” he stopped abruptly, angrily stubbing his cigarette out on the table.

“Prague?” Xander asked only to flinch back, raising the cross hastily as the vampire suddenly flashed into vamp-face and snarled at him.

“None of your business,” the vampire snapped. In one swift, athletic leap, he was up from the booth and walking away, his features flowing back to human as he stalked out of the diner.

Xander stared after him for a long time, wondering what that had been about. He had a weird idea that Spike just wanted to talk to someone. Did vampires get lonely? That seemed ridiculous on the face of it but he couldn’t think of anything else that made any more sense. If the vampire wanted information, he was certainly capable of beating it out of Xander or anyone else he chose to. And his questions hadn’t seemed to cover anything that would be useful to anyone, much less a demon up to no good.

Shaking his head, Xander walked over to the counter and asked for hot chocolate. He really needed to settle his nerves before going home. Not to mention giving the manic-depressive vampire time to clear out of the area.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike swore as he walked through the town. He really needed to find something to beat up on. He couldn’t believe he’d gone into the diner when he’d seen the tousled dark head bent over a book. Then he’d sat there and talked to the boy like a teenage girl with a crush. What the hell was wrong with him? Why did the boy call to him the way he did?

He was just out of sorts from spending all his time trying to whip those minions of his into shape, Spike decided. Too much like work for a self-respecting demon. He had NOT noticed that the boy still smelled good, or that his dark eyes still held pain and confusion.

Spike’s feet turned unerringly in the direction of the rowdier of the two demon bars in town. He was going to get good and drunk and thrash everyone in the place. That would take care of these odd, unsettled feelings that had been plaguing him.

A/N - bits of dialogue borrowed from the episode School Hard.




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