Xander was in his usual lunch spot reading the Kimmelman book, Observations on Vampires. Since only Seniors were allowed to leave the school grounds, he had a spot under a tree near the edge of the grounds where he usually sat and read while eating lunch. People rarely disturbed him there, so he was surprised when someone cleared their throat nearby.
Looking up, he saw the girl, Mary, from Halloween night. “Xander, right?”
He nodded, closing the book and marking his page.
“I didn’t get a chance the other night, but I wanted to say thank you.”
He didn’t know what to say. “Oh, umm, that’s ok. Glad to help.”
Mary sat down. “Seriously, I think what you did was incredibly brave.”
Xander was sure his face was bright red. “Not really, more like stupid. I mean, not stupid because I helped you, but stupid because I think I was just too dumb to be scared… Ok, I’m just going to shut up now.”
Mary was smiling at him, but in a friendly way, not like she was laughing at him for displaying incredible social ineptitude. He settled for just smiling back at her.
“Anyway, I didn’t want to bother you, I just wanted you to know that I’m really grateful for what you did for me, and for all the others. So, thanks.”
“Your welcome. I’d say anytime, but I really hope that nothing like that happens again.”
“Yeah, let’s hope not.” Mary got to her feet and stood for a moment a little awkwardly, brushing dirt off her backside. “I’ll see you around.”
He just smiled again and nodded and Mary walked off. He watched her for a moment, a little bemused. It was surprising that she acknowledged what had happened. So many people in Sunnydale repressed things so fast it made his head spin. He’d overheard several people discussing the “gang” that had messed up Halloween, one guy had even claimed he knew one of the kids involved and that the kid had been arrested by the police. Xander sometimes wondered if he had been that blind before his eyes had been forcibly opened to the reality of the Hellmouth. He hoped not.
The one good thing was that the same blindness had let him ask about his two kids who’d changed that night. He’d had nightmares about them all night but he had no idea of their names or addresses and no way of checking on them. Fortunately, the school had kept records of which kids had gone out with which student. He’d been outside the administration office when they’d unlocked the doors this morning and had been able to persuade - ok, badger - the front desk staff into checking on his two missing kids. He’d told them the kids had been chased off by the “gang members” and the staff had finally agreed to call their parents. He’d made it pretty clear he wasn’t leaving until they did make the calls for him. Finally, someone had pulled the lists and made the two calls and confirmed that his two kids had been found and had eventually gotten home safely. Learning that the kids he’d abandoned were all right had filled Xander with such relief that he’d had to cling to the counter for a moment until his legs steadied. Even after rehashing it in his dreams all night, he still didn’t know how else he could have handled the situation and was just grateful it had turned out all right.
He’d thanked the staff profusely and guessed that they had finally decided he had good intentions because they gave him a note for his first period teacher. Walking through the empty halls on his way to class, Xander wondered if little kids were as good at repressing as the adults in town, but anything they remembered was probably being dismissed by their parents as Halloween fantasies.
Xander watched Buffy go off hand in hand with a boy he’d never seen before, leaving Willow sitting by herself. This was the chance he’d been waiting for. He walked over and sat down in a chair diagonally across from her. “Hey.”
After a brief, awkward pause, Xander started. “I went by your house on Halloween. I knew you’d been out with a group of kids and I was really glad you were ok.” Willow opened her mouth, but he hurried on. “I didn’t knock, I just looked in and I could see you were all right.” Willow looked surprised and pleased and Xander took a deep breath and continued.
“Willow, we’ve been friends since kindergarten. Isn’t there some way we can find a way to still be friends? Maybe we can agree not to talk about vampires and demons and Buffy and Mr. Giles. After all, we were friends for years without any of them in our lives.”
“I don’t know if its that simple, Xander.”
“I know, but don’t you think it’s worth the try? On Halloween, I couldn’t even think about going home until I knew you were ok. Yeah, things haven’t been right between us for a long time now, but I still care about you, a lot. I mean if you suddenly took up, say the marching band or something, it wouldn’t end our friendship. We just wouldn’t talk about it because you’d get mad when I mocked your uniform and stuff. Ok, that’s probably a bad example, but you see what I’m getting at.”
“I’ve really missed you too, Xander. But every time we talk, it feels like you’re mad at me.”
“I have been mad at you, Willow.” Xander knew they couldn’t do this without being truthful. “It’s felt to me like you just forgot Jesse and that really made me angry.” He held up a hand to stop her. “I’m not saying I’m right, just that that’s how it feels to me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it over the last few days, and I guess I haven’t ever really given you a chance to explain.”
“That’s right, you haven’t. Xander, I loved Jesse and I really miss him. But it’s been really unhealthy the way you’ve been obsessing over his death.” It was her turn to stop Xander from interrupting. “No, I let you have your say, you need to let me finish.”
Xander closed his mouth reluctantly and nodded. “You have been obsessing, Xander and Jesse wouldn’t have wanted that. He wouldn’t have wanted you to shut yourself off from everyone the way you’ve been doing.” Xander didn’t have an answer to that, he knew it was true. It wasn’t like he hadn’t thought it often enough himself.
After a short pause, Willow continued. “The other problem is that we can’t ever really go back. We know about Sunnydale and demons and the Hellmouth. And that’s changed things. I don’t want to be one of those people who pretend nothing happened or just accept the official explanations, no matter how lame. Did you know they are actually trying to blame what happened on Halloween on kids from another town? And people are accepting it. I can’t decide if it makes me more angry or sorry for them.”
“No, Xander, let me finish. Buffy’s my best friend and I like helping her. It’s important. I mean, we help save people and we’ve even prevented an apocalypse. I’m not going to turn my back on that, not even for you.”
Xander was hanging on to his temper by a thread at this point. Had Willow always been this much of a know it all? Involuntarily he smiled. Well, yes, but formerly it had only been about school and stuff that she really did know better than he and Jesse had. He ignored the pang it cost to hear her describe Buffy as her best friend. He had difficulty describing his current relationship with Willow as friendship, so it wasn’t fair to hold that against her. “I’m not asking you to turn your back on it, Willow. Despite what you think, I’m not ignoring it either, I’m just dealing with it differently than you are. Can’t we find a way to still be friends without all of this stuff interfering?”
“It’s pretty important stuff, Xander. And to be honest, it makes me wonder if I ever really knew you when you aren’t willing to help us. The Xander I thought I knew would have been right there with us, helping people this whole time.” Willow’s eyes were sad but unflinching as she spoke.
Xander needed to leave, because the last thread had just snapped. “There’s more than just Buffy’s way of helping, Willow. I’m not asking you to give up saving the world. I’m just saying we could still be friends outside of that.” He got to his feet abruptly. “Think about it. I’ll see you around.”
He left before his temper completely boiled over. The conversation hadn’t gone as he’d hoped, but then not much had in the last eight months. He wished he could blame it all on Buffy’s influence, but Willow always had had a tendency to be a bit self-righteous. It hadn’t really bothered him when it was over things like schoolwork and the merits of science fiction movies but it was a lot harder to take when she was so obviously lumping him in with the deaf, dumb and blind of the town.
And how exactly did keeping Buffy’s identity as the Slayer secret help things? His stride lengthened as his angry thoughts continued. Wouldn’t it be better if she did some sort of show and tell and staked a vampire in front of people? Maybe teach vampire self-defense courses or something. How many of the people in this town carried crosses? Even a rudimentary knowledge would help stave off some attacks and make the town at least a little less vampire-friendly.
He probably couldn’t blame Buffy for that. Hadn’t Spike said that the town had been just as ignorant and blind the last time he was here? Maybe it was something about the Hellmouth itself. Xander remembered how difficult it had been for him to accept that vampires were real, even after he’d seen one staked. He hadn’t really believed until he’d tasted Jesse’s ashes on his lips and there were a lot of days when he wished he could forget the whole thing.
Lost in his thoughts, Xander hadn’t even noticed where he was going. Glancing at the hall clock, he groaned. He was at the opposite end of the school from his next class and would have to run to make it on time. As he broke into a run, dodging other students, he was almost grateful for the activity. It was hard to think while broken field running, maybe that’s why so many of the jocks seemed to be complete morons.
Spike looked up at the sound of a minor scuffle by the door. Lucius was dragging in a dark haired boy, who was struggling and complaining.
“What’s this? I don’t remember ordering take out.”
Lucius grinned, “he asked to be taken to our leader.”
“Please tell me you’re making that up.”
“He’s not, that’s what I said.” The boy squirmed a little so that he was looking at Spike. “I know who you are.”
“Yeah, I know who I am, too. So what?” The boy smelled… off, a sour unpleasant taint of sickness and medications overriding the smell of fear and excitement.
“I came looking for you, Spike. You are Spike, right? William the Bloody?”
“Don’t forget Slayer of Slayers, I’m particularly fond of that one. So, how did you find me?” He signaled Lucius to let the boy go, he was obviously no threat.
The boy straightened up, rubbing the back of his head where Lucius had been gripping him. “That doesn't matter. I've got something to offer you.” Spike just looked at him and the boy hurried on. “I-I'm pretty sure this is the part where you take out a watch and say I've got thirty seconds to convince you not to kill me?” He smiled eagerly, “It's traditional.”
Spike couldn’t believe his ears. He took a rapid stride forward and grabbed the boy by the ear, twisting his head sideways, pleased that the gasp of pain took the smile off the boy’s face. “Well, I don't go much for tradition. And I doubt you have anything I’d be interested in.” He tightened his grip. “Either tell me your little plan now or die, those are your options.”
The boy was struggling in his hold now, tears of pain filling his eyes. The smell of his fear peaked sharply, increasing the unpleasant odor of sickness. “I wanna be like you. A vampire,” he gasped out.
“I've known you for two minutes and I can't stand you. I don't really feature you livin' forever.” Spike reached up with his other hand and cleanly snapped the boy’s neck. Dropping the body, he looked over at Lucius. “Get this out of here, don’t want him stinking up the lair.”
Lucius bent down and heaved the body up over his shoulder. Spike stopped him, “Good work, Lucius. When a human comes here looking for me specifically, I don’t mind taking a minute to deal with them personally. Gives a bit of interest to the day. Too bad this one was such a prat.” Spike hesitated, refusing to think about why he was doing this. “Pass the word along to the others, right?”
Lucius nodded, looking a bit confused, but Spike simply shooed him off. He hadn’t killed the dark haired boy because he was disappointed it wasn’t another human. He just hadn’t liked the way this one smelled, that was all.
Xander slipped out the basement door as the argument reached a crescendo. He’d seen this coming from the moment his father had gotten home already half drunk and had headed straight for the liquor cabinet. Xander had already been quietly making himself a sandwich when his father announced that he’d quit his lousy job and told his boss to shove it.
Dad always quit his jobs. Tony Harris was never fired, to hear him tell it. Xander grabbed the sandwich and a can of soda and went down the stairs to the basement. His parents were usually too focused on each other during these fights to notice him, but he had learned the hard way a long time ago that calling attention to himself when his parents were fighting was not good.
The sun was setting as he finished his sandwich, sitting on the curb a couple of blocks from his house. He’d been three houses away before the last faint sound of yelling had died completely but he’d kept walking until he was on a street where he didn’t know anyone well. It really embarrassed him that his parents cut loose the way they did. Fortunately, they usually only got really bad once or twice a year; his dad usually managed to hang on to his jobs for about six months, and his “quitting” was the reason for most of their fights, although they did have some doozies around the holidays.
Finishing his soda, Xander realized that he hadn’t planned for this. His parents’ last big fight had been before Jesse died and he’d spent the night at Jesse’s that night, like he usually did. He knew that, if he asked, Willow would let him in, but nothing had really been settled after their talk and he just couldn’t ask a big favor of her while things were so wrong between them. He considered asking Mr. Olsen, but that would involve explaining why he needed a place to stay and that would be humiliating.
Well, sitting here all night wasn’t going to happen. Climbing to his feet, he wondered if any of the little restaurants were open all night. That was a possibility. He tossed the can away and set off to check out his options.
His feet betrayed him. They took him unerringly to Jesse’s grave but that was fine. He hadn’t been stopping by as often recently, so he settled down for awhile to bring Jesse up to speed on the most recent events. He was telling Jesse about the unbelievably lame official explanation of a gang from a neighboring town and joking about which of their neighbors should take the rap, when a voice interrupted him, nearly scaring him out of his skin.
“Bollocks. Someone did a spell.”
Xander leapt to his feet, his heart hammering, and stared at the vampire sprawled on the little bench nearby. “Don’t do that! You scared the crap out of me!”
Spike grinned unrepentantly. “Vampire, pet. Scaring humans is what we do.” He’d been out walking when the sound of a voice talking quietly in this usually deserted area of town had drawn him. As he got closer, he’d recognized Xander’s voice. His boy was so preoccupied, he hadn’t noticed Spike even when he’d sat down on the bench and listened. Now he cocked his head curiously at the boy. “Talking to yourself, are you? That’s generally not a good sign.”
“I was talking to a friend.” Xander explained reluctantly. He didn’t want the vampire to think he was crazy.
“No one here but us. So, where’s this friend?” Spike was unprepared for the wave of grief that followed his question. The boy looked away and Spike could smell the salt of tears.
“He’s dead.” The reply was muffled.
“Mmm. Sorry and all that. Lost someone myself recently.” Spike couldn’t believe he’d said that but was pleased when Xander looked back at him, eyes tear-bright but cheeks dry.
Spike waved away the sympathy. “What’s special about this place?” He noticed Xander’s eyes kept tracking to a particular spot on the scraggly grass and heard the evasion in the boy’s voice as he shrugged.
“We used to come here when we were kids.”
Silence fell and Spike was considering leaving when Xander spoke again, his voice barely audible. “I buried him here.” He looked up at Spike and his eyes were filled with pain. “I brought his ashes here after I staked him.”
Spike’s eyebrows rose. “Your friend was a vampire?”
“He was when I killed him.”
Oh, that made more sense and several other facts suddenly clicked into place. “That’s why you’re reading those books, innit? Why you were at the factory that night?”
“Yeah. Stupid, I know, but I wanted to learn more about vampires.”
“Why? For most humans, it’s pretty simple - a sharp piece of wood and a pile of dust. That’s all most humans care about.”
Xander was staring at him now, dark eyes burning intently as they bored into Spike. “When a person becomes a vampire, does part of the person survive?”
“Well, that’s the eternal question, pet. As many answers to that one as there are people to ask.”
“What’s your answer?” The boy’s voice held an edge of desperation, as if Spike was his last hope of an answer.
“I’m not human, boy. I’m a demon.” Xander’s stare didn’t waver, he seemed to be trying to will the truth out of Spike and Spike found himself continuing. “But I remember being human. I remember my family and I remember dying. Just don’t know if that was me or not.”
Xander surprised him by sitting back down on the grass. It was the first time the boy had looked even slightly relaxed in his presence. He drew his knees up and rested his chin on them, his eyes going back to that spot in the grass. “Does your demon have memories from before you were a vampire?”
Spike had never thought about that before. It was an interesting question; the boy had clearly been thinking about this a lot. “No. The demon just… is.” He knew that was far from clear, but he couldn’t really explain it better than that - the way the demon existed in the here and now, no conscience, no regrets, no remorse - and he wasn’t sure he wanted to go into it any further. He couldn’t believe he’d let himself get drawn into this conversation to begin with, but the smell of grief had subsided and Xander was obviously mulling over his words.
“Of course, my Sire would be the first to tell you that I’m not a normal vampire,” he said sarcastically, wanting to change the subject. The boy surprised him again by grinning at him in understanding.
“Yeah, my dad is a complete jerk too.”
Spike smiled at that. “Yeah, that fits Angelus to a T. ‘Course I usually call him things like ‘wanker’ or ‘git’.”
“You English have the weirdest… Angelus? Do you mean Angel? Angel is your dad?”
“Sire,” Spike corrected. “You know Captain Hair Gel?”
Xander gave him a quick, delighted smile at the description. “I don’t really know him. He’s kind of dating someone I know and I’ve met him once or twice. We didn’t get along.”
“Knew there was something about you I liked.” At Xander’s startled look, Spike continued, “Anyone who hates Angelus can’t be all bad.” He considered Xander’s words. “You know the Slayer? Or is Angelus cheating on her?” He almost hoped it was the latter, that would be sweet.
“A little bit. She’s friends with a…friend of mine.”
Spike heard the brief hesitation and wondered what caused it. “So, why are you here talking to a vampire? Slayers are usually pretty single-minded about what to do with vampires.”
“Noticed that. I don’t really get along with her.” Xander was beginning to shift a little, clearly uneasy with talking about people he knew. “Hey, thanks for recommending Kimmelman. It’s way better than the last two vampire books I read.”
Spike went along with the change in subject. “Yeah, Kimmelman has some idea of what he’s talking about. Rumor was he was part demon.”
“Really? Wow. Or are you just saying that because humans can’t know about the mystery that is vampires?” The boy was smiling, laughter in his eyes for the first time since Spike had met him.
“Well, it’s true we are superior.”
“Please. You guys may have the cool super-strength thing but geez, no garlic bread, no beach parties, no matinees at the movie theater, and I’ll bet you’re afraid of picket fences.”
“Strength, speed, reflexes, and immortality.” Spike countered, bizarrely enjoying the exchange.
“Yeah, immortal as long as…” the boy’s voice faltered and his eyes darkened with sorrow again as they went back to that spot.
After a short, awkward silence, Spike said quietly: “Don’t fret yourself over killing your mate. The demon wouldn’t be worried about it if it had killed you.” He didn’t add that a fledge as young as Xander’s friend had probably been did sometimes retain ties to their human friends and family. He was unliving proof of that.
Xander sighed, obviously still troubled, and got to his feet. “I should go,” he said.
“I’ll walk you home,” Spike was surprised to find himself offering. “Strength, speed, much better at getting home safely,” he added quickly.
“Umm, that’s all right, I’m good.” Xander said desperately.
Spike cocked his head. The boy was embarrassed, not afraid. “Come on.” He set off walking towards Xander’s house, with the boy trailing after him, sputtering excuses.
Spike just kept walking.
They were a couple of blocks from the boy’s house when Xander finally explained the problem. “Spike? My parents were kind of having this big fight, that’s why I’m outside so late. I’m really not up for walking back in on it.”
Spike stopped. The boy was looking down, obviously humiliated at having to explain. “How long ago did you leave your house?” he asked.
“What? Oh, umm, a couple of hours, I guess.”
“Do you really think they’re still fighting? Most humans haven’t got that kind of stamina. They get tired, their voices go, someone goes to bed and someone falls asleep on the couch.”
“Oh.” Xander obviously hadn’t ever thought about it. He’d probably never tried to come back before morning before. Spike wondered why he was so sure that this wasn’t the first time Xander had fled his house and repressed a growl, not wanting to scare the boy.
“Tell you what. We’ll swing by the house for a look-see and take it from there.”
As predicted, the house was dark and quiet. “See, humans have no stamina.”
Xander gave him a relieved smile. “Thanks, Spike. Ummm, see you around?”
“Yeah, small town and all.” Spike strode off without waiting to see if Xander got inside. If he listened for the door quietly opening and closing, that was no one’s business but his own.