Title: Nothing the Same
Pairing: Spike/Xander, eventually
Rating: PG for now
Feedback: yes, please
Concrit: any and all
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will, just playing with them
Spoilers: Anything from Season 1 on. Major ones for The Harvest & School Hard.
Summary: AU from The Harvest. Xander doesn't deal well with Jesse's death and everything changes from there.
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. And 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; he 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 he 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 him, 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 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 had risen as her own temper ignited. 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.
“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.
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. Again, they had no one on watch outside. No one even challenged him when 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. He 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, 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, he 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, it was possible he had some power that could be a problem. As the speaker approached rapidly, Spike judged his moment from the sound of the idiot’s footsteps and, when the minion was almost on him, Spike’s fist flashed out 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, he 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. I mean really, letting himself get dusted by a Watcher. Just showed how much The Master 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 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 rapid, deadly accuracy at the vampire who’d first challenged him. No way would that one 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. _____________, the one you 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 spied 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. Spending so much time looking after Drusilla, Spike had never really been able to assert the privileges of a Master. To busy looking after Dru to properly rule minions. Even before she got 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 them outside the power structures. He’d been strong enough to look after them both for over a century, and even if he hadn’t loved her, Dru’s visions had frequently been useful. But 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.
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. And 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. He 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 this useless waste of time. 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 they had enjoyed for years. He’d always suspected that Mrs. McNally knew what they were doing, but if she did, 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 waive 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.” He 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 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 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.
“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?”
“You one of those gits who moon about; dreaming of becoming a vampire?”
“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 athletic move 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 too. 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.