Title: Nothing the Same
Pairing: Spike/Xander eventually
Rating: PG for now, NC-17 eventually
Feedback: yes, please
Concrit: any and all
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will, just playing with them
Warnings/Squicks: starts as a Season 1 fic - No Spike for the first couple of chapters
Summary: AU from The Harvest. Xander doesn't deal well with Jesse's death and everything changes from there.
Notes: Based on the plotbunny posted here a couple of weeks ago by wickedchocolate. I took the basic premise of the bunny, but Xander took me in a different direction.
First time I've posted anything on-line. Any and all comments are greatly appreciated.
Xander heard the phone ring, and his father swearing loudly. He opened his door a crack and listened, hearing his father yelling into the phone: “how the hell should I know where that stupid kid is?” before slamming down the handset.
He waited until his father’s heavy tread passed by and he heard the door to his parents’ room close, then he slipped out to the kitchen. Without turning on the light, he dialed Jesse’s number, not surprised when the phone was picked up on the first ring and an anxious voice answered. He kept his own voice low so his father wouldn’t hear. “Mrs. McNally? It’s Xander, sorry about my dad.”
“Xander, have you seen Jesse? He hasn’t come home yet.”
He was able to answer calmly because he’d been practicing, expecting this call. “We missed each other at the Bronze tonight, I got there after he left. Someone said they’d seen him leave with a girl.” It was all true, which helped, but he hated lying to her. On the other hand, if Jesse was ok, then Jesse could deal with his mom grounding him when they got him back. Telling Mrs. McNally that Jesse was missing and last seen with vampires wouldn’t go over well. Better for her to think he was sleeping with some ‘ho than to try and explain what was really going on. Especially when he wasn’t sure he believed it himself.
“I don’t know, Mrs. McNally. I’m sorry.”
“Thank you, Xander. Go back to bed before you get in trouble with your parents. If you see Jesse before I do, tell him he’ll be lucky if he’s allowed out of this house by the time he graduates. And tell him to call me immediately.”
“I will. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, Xander. Thank you for calling.”
Xander set the phone down quietly, hoping he’d done the right thing and headed for bed. First thing tomorrow, he was getting a whole lot more information about what the hell was going on. Then he was going to find Jesse and…and actually, that was probably enough for a school day.
It had proved to be more than enough. He’d followed Buffy down into the tunnels, despite everyone telling him not to. But he just couldn’t stay in school like it was a normal day, when Jesse was in trouble. Sure, Buffy had promised to find him, and she seemed cool and all, but he didn’t know her at all hardly and she was asking him to take a lot of stuff on faith. Ok, yeah, he pretty much believed in vampires now, and she seemed to know how to deal with them, but hey, how bad could it get?
Ok, that kind of thinking had gotten him where he was now. Yes, they’d found Jesse, but now they were trapped in a dead end, and he was really starting to panic. “What do we do?” he asked desperately.
“I’ve got an idea, you can die.” Turning, Xander stared in disbelief at Jesse’s face. The bones had shifted and the familiar planes were altered until he could hardly recognize his best friend. He shook his head, denying the evidence of his eyes, this wasn’t happening.
Too bad he was fast losing the ability to deny the evidence of his own eyes. “Jesse, man, I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? I feel good, Xander. I feel strong. I’m connected, man, to everything.” Jesse’s voice was subtly different and his head tilted up slightly in an unfamiliar gesture. “I can hear the worms in the earth.”
“That’s a plus.”
“I know what the Master wants. I’ll serve his purpose. That means you die.” He moved closer. “And I feed.”
Xander wondered later if he would he have just stood there and let Jesse kill him, if Buffy hadn’t shouted at him to use the cross she’d given him. His hands moved in response to her shout, bringing the cross up between them, and Jesse stepped back slightly, moving away from it. Xander couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from the changed features of the friend he knew better than he knew himself. “Jesse, man, we’re buds. Don’t you remember?”
“You’re like a shadow to me now.”
And then Jesse was gone, thrown from the room by Buffy, and they were scrambling through the ducts and out into the sunlight, leaving the tunnels, and Jesse, behind.
Afterwards, Xander was grateful that they had to put all their energies into stopping the Harvest. It kept him from thinking, kept his body moving and doing. If there had been time to think, to let himself feel, he never would have made it through that night.
So he’d found himself in the alley behind the Bronze, with Willow and Mr. Giles, trying to find a way inside. Vibrating with nervous tension, he wanted to get the librarian moving. “We have got to get in there now, before Jesse does something stupider than usual.”
“You listen to me.” Mr. Giles turned towards him, pointing an emphatic finger for emphasis. “Jesse is dead. You have to remember that, when you see him, you are not looking at your friend, you are looking at the thing that killed him.” He looked sternly at both Willow and Xander, to ensure they were accepting what he’d just said.
Xander bit back a retort, knowing there wasn’t time for an argument. He needed to talk to Willow about Jesse. He wasn’t buying what Buffy and Mr. Giles were saying: that no trace of the human remained inside the vampire. Not after what he’d seen in the tunnels beneath the cemetery. He’d talk to Willow later. Right now, they had to stop the Harvest.
Inside the Bronze was chaos incarnate. People were screaming and running and he helped Willow and Mr. Giles get the people moving towards the back door. All the while, his eyes were searching the shadows for Jesse’s familiar form. Finally, as the place began to empty out, he spotted Jesse pinning Cordelia to the floor. Xander ran over, he had to stop Jesse before he did something neither of them could live with.
“Jesse, man! Don’t make me do it!” Standing behind Jesse, Xander raised his stake threateningly.
Jesse turned to look at him without releasing his hold on Cordelia. Xander flinched as he saw the demonic features on his best friend. It was worse this time because Jesse was grinning at him, displaying a mouthful of fangs. “Buddy!” He leapt to his feet with a graceful strength alien to Jesse’s coltish, just post growth-spurt frame. Behind him, Xander was peripherally aware of Cordelia scrambling to her feet and running off through the chaotic darkness of the Bronze.
Xander was still holding the stake up warningly. “Jesse! I know there’s still a part of you in there,” he said desperately.
“Ok, let’s deal with this. Jesse was an excruciating loser who couldn’t get a date with anyone in the sighted community. Look at me! I’m a new man!”
Jesse’s hands flashed out, grabbing Xander’s coat and spinning them both around, shoving Xander up against a metal support beam. Xander raised the stake automatically and it came to rest against Jesse’s chest. Jesse just looked down at the wooden tip resting over his heart and grinned. “Ooh!” he said mockingly, then looked up into Xander’s eyes. He smirked, “Gonna put me out of my misery?” It was obvious he wasn’t worried about Xander actually staking him.
Xander stared searchingly at the changed features. Despite the yellow eyes and brow ridges, Xander could still only see his best friend standing there. The feeling that it was still Jesse was so strong, that he found he was waiting for Jesse to laugh and tell him what an idiot he was for believing in vampires, that it had all been an elaborate joke. For a long moment, they both just stared at each other, Xander seeing fifteen years of friendship. Seeing Jesse, who shared his love of science fiction and comics. Jesse, who let him climb in his window and sleep over when his parents got too drunk. Jesse, who traded mock insults with him, wrestled with him, laughed with him, who’d been there for him for as long as he could remember.
You’re like a shadow to me now.
The stake vanished with Jesse and Xander’s whole body began to shake. He leaned back against the pillar for support, his breath coming in ragged gasps. He kept his eyes firmly fixed on the far wall. No way was he going to look down and see what was left of his best friend.
His avoidant gaze was caught by the sight of Buffy posed aggressively on the stage. Moving on automatic pilot, he found himself joining Buffy, Willow and Mr. Giles at the base of the stage. He looked back towards where Jesse’s ashes lay, barely registering the quiet conversation among the other three.
You’re like a shadow to me now.
Buffy offered to walk Willow home and Xander nodded and set off towards his own house, lifting a hand in farewell. He could hear the two girls talking quietly, their voices fading as the distance grew. When he couldn’t hear them anymore, he ducked into the shadows outside the arc of brightness from the streetlights and looked back. Once he was sure they were out of sight, he changed direction abruptly, heading back towards the Bronze.
Getting back inside was easier than he’d feared, apparently neither fleeing employees nor saving-the-day heroes do a good job of locking up behind them. The back door was only closed, not locked, and it yielded easily to his pull.
Stepping inside, he listened carefully for a long moment, his eyes scanning the dim room for any movement. Finally, sure the place was empty, he made himself walk over towards one particular small scattering of dust, stopping well outside the pattern, and forced himself to look down at it this time.
Tears burned in his eyes and he dropped to his knees, one hand reaching out to touch. He stopped short of actually touching and his hand lingered in the air, ghosting over the dusty remains. You’re like a shadow to me now. Jesse’s words burned inside him and he snatched his hand back, bowing his head to his knees and let the grief take him.
It was the cold that finally penetrated and broke him out of his now silent mourning. His eyes were red and swollen and every muscle protested as he uncurled. Stiffly, he climbed to his feet and found a janitor’s closet, rummaging inside until he found a broom and dustpan and a small box that had once held some sort of cleaning supplies. Returning to the spot, he looked down one last time. “I’m sorry.” The quiet words sounded loud in the empty space. There was nothing else to say.
It felt wrong to sweep up the remains of his best friend like litter from a walkway and renewed grief clutched at his heart and burned in his eyes. He bit his lip and refused to think about what he was doing, using the broom with short, slow strokes, trying to get every speck. He tipped Jesse’s remains into the box and cradled it to his chest, again fighting back tears.
The vase was short and round and dark blue. Jesse would have laughed himself sick at the sight of it. Or he would have if he hadn’t been currently residing in it. It was cheap looking and wrong, but at least it was better than a cardboard box marked “Industrial Strength Hand Cleaner”. It was hidden in the back of Xander’s closet in case his mom decided to do one of her infrequent cleanings of his room or his dad came looking for stuff to pawn.
It was just temporary, he told himself, until he could figure out what to tell Jesse’s mother. No way would she buy that Jesse’s body had been accidentally cremated and that he had somehow ended up with the ashes. And that was the best story he’d come up with so far. He really needed to talk to Willow about what to do, and that meant telling her what had happened at the Bronze.
Tomorrow, he decided. He’d have to go back to school, he couldn’t stretch being “sick” more than 2 days, and he had to figure out something to tell Jesse’s mother. He’d talked to her twice more and she was frantic. She was an ok lady, and he hated lying to her and telling her he didn’t know anything, but he didn’t know what else to do. He’d talk it over with Willow and they’d decide.
“Willow, Jesse’s dead.”
Despite all his practicing, the words still stuck in his throat, his chest so tight it was hard to breathe. He’d finally been able to find Willow alone, without Buffy around, and all she could talk about was cheerleading practice and Buffy trying out and how they should go watch and support her. In another life, he would have been all for watching cheerleaders do their thing, but right now, Willow’s interest in it felt like a slap in the face. He’d finally had to just come right out and say it.
Willow gave him a peculiar look. “I know, Xander. You and Buffy told me when you got back from the tunnels.”
“No. I… He was killed at the Bronze.” He’d finally said it. It didn’t matter that the words came out in a choked whisper, he’d finally said it. Things had to get better now, didn’t they?
Willow looked, oh, god, she looked happy? “You mean, the vampire got staked at the Bronze? That’s a relief.”
“What!? How can you say that? He was our friend.”
“Jesse was our friend. The thing at the Bronze was a vampire. I’m glad it was staked. I don’t like the idea of a vampire walking around in Jesse’s body. It’s ookie.”
Xander was reeling. He’d practiced this conversation a hundred times and it had never gone this way. “It was still Jesse. He was in there. I could tell. When…when we found him in the tunnels, it was still Jesse.” How could he explain to her the instinctive recognition? Jesse had hugged him, had talked to him, and it was Jesse. There was a monster in there with him, but his friend had still been there.
“Xander,” Willow was giving him her patient, you’ll-solve-the-equation-even-if-we-hav
“No.” He shook his head stubbornly. “Either Mr. Giles doesn’t know what he’s talking about or he’s lying. A demon animating a corpse, a..an empty shell, wouldn’t have the person’s memories, their mannerisms, wouldn’t talk the same, walk the same, be the same. He was different, but he was still Jesse.”
Willow bit her lip, her eyes worried. Xander had been distant, quiet, not himself when they’d talked on the phone since that night at the Bronze. It had only been two days, and she knew he was grieving - they both were - but she had let herself get caught up in the excitement of the new world that had been opening up for her. And she knew she had been spending too much time with Buffy and not enough time with Xander. She knew he hadn’t really been sick and she should have gone to see him after school instead of hanging with Buffy. She’d never had a best girl friend and they had been getting to know each other, spending practically every free moment together. A wave of shame swept over her, how could she have let Xander down like that?
Maybe she could get him interested in researching demons with her. She put a comforting hand on his arm. “Why don’t we go to the library so Giles can explain it to you,” she suggested. “It hurts that Jesse is gone, but we should be glad the thing that killed him is dead.”
She was completely unprepared for the glare that Xander shot her. “I don’t trust Mr. Giles.”
He cut her off before she could say anything else. “Look, Willow, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.” He took a deep breath, and pushed back his anger. “I need your help,” that always got Willow’s full attention. “I don’t know what to tell Jesse’s mom. We have to tell her something.” He looked at her pleadingly and her eyes filled with tears.
“Xander, we can’t tell her the truth. She’d never believe it.”
“I know. But I’ve spent two days trying to come up with a good lie. I need your help because I haven’t come up with anything.”
“Maybe we should let her think that Jesse ran away.” Willow looked away, biting her lip, then continued quietly. “If we tell her anything else, she’d want to know how we knew. There would be a lot of questions, maybe even from the police. It could get back to Buffy and cause trouble for her.”
Xander couldn’t believe it. “I don’t care if Buffy has to answer a few questions. We can’t leave our best friend’s mother hanging like that without any idea that her son is dead!”
“Xander, what Buffy does is important. And…and maybe it’s better if Jesse’s mom has some hope that she’ll see him again some day,” Willow said, struggling for optimism.
“Oh, yeah, that’s a great life you’ve got planned for her - spend the next 20 years looking for someone who’s dead.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what to do either. But we can’t cause Buffy trouble, what she does is too important.”
He glared at her. “Jesse used to be important to you, too. Tell you what, you go to your world saving cheerleader practice and I’ll figure this out on my own.”
“That’s not fair, Xander.”
“Guess what? I learned three days ago that life isn’t fair. Deal with it.” As angry as he had ever been at Willow, he turned and stalked off, ignoring her calling after him.
He’d finished filling in the small hole and was carefully folding the sod back over it when he was interrupted.
“Isn’t that sweet?” The unwelcome voice dripped with sarcasm. “Maybe I can help you with your little problem.”
Xander stood up quickly and turned to face the speaker, wiping his hands on the back of his jeans and surreptitiously checking that the stake and cross he carried everywhere with him now hadn’t dropped out. Except for the fangs, yellow eyes and bumpy forehead, the vampire who’d spoken looked like one of the frat boys who sometimes hung out at the Bronze - a little older and better dressed than the high school crowd. Perfect.
“So, what’s it like to be a vampire?” Xander asked sincerely, casually edging towards the shovel he’d left resting against the bench. Just in case.
Astonishment looked weird on a vampire’s face. “What’s it like?”
“Yeah. You know, what do you do when you’re not actually killing people? I mean, do you hang out with other vampires, watch movies, or do you do demon-y things that humans don’t know about?
“This isn’t a date, moron. We don’t do small talk before I eat you.”
Xander rolled his eyes. “Please, do I look like I dressed for a date? Believe me, you are so not my type. I just want to know what vampires are like. So,” he gestured hopefully, “anything you feel like sharing is good.”
“What are you - some kind of freaky Oprah fan?”
“Nah, hate daytime talk shows. Give me a good sci-fi show or something with explosions any day.”
“Well, explosions yeah, but not that geeky sci-fi crap. Oh, god, you’re a Trekkie, aren’t you? I should eat you just for that.”
“Not me, Aliens and Babylon 5 are more my thing. So, you watch tv a lot?” Xander brought the conversation back to the subject.
“Well,” the vampire said defensively, “sometimes. The days get long cooped up inside, waiting for sunset.”
“I can imagine,” he nodded sympathetically. “So, do you have friends among the other vampires?”
“And again with the encounter group. You know, I’ve changed my mind. You are too weird to eat. I’m gonna find someone who’ll scream and try to run like a proper meal. I don’t like a lot of talking while I feed.”
Xander watched in disbelief as the vampire moved off, shaking his head and muttering about how weird humans were getting these days. “Hey!” he yelled at the retreating back, feeling somewhat insulted. He sighed and leaned down to pick up his shovel, “I don’t want to hear it,” he muttered to the small grave. “You sure were willing to talk about what it’s like - ‘worms in the earth’, man? Way to sell people on how good it is.”
He hesitated, almost as if he thought there’d be an answer, then shook his head sharply, dispelling the idea. “See you, man,” he said quietly, and winced at the silence that was the only response. “Later, dude,” he whispered Jesse’s signature farewell to himself and walked away.