Title: Nothing the Same
Feedback: yes, please
Concrit: any and all
Disclaimer: don't own them, never will, just playing with them
Spoilers: Anything from Season 1 on.
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 awhile back by wickedchocolate. I took the first part of the bunny only: Xander never got over Jesse’s death. After he dusted Jesse, he was never the same. Xander isolated himself from Willow and wanted nothing to do with Buffy.
previous parts here
Spike had lingered dangerously long at the hospital. Xander would not get the final clearance to be released until he’d seen the doctor, who made his rounds well after sunrise. The sky was already streaked with pink before Spike reluctantly left Xander’s room and sought the safety of the tunnels. He’d left with a gentle kiss and a promise to be at Xander’s house immediately after sunset.
Xander had napped while waiting for the doctor, having spent most of the night awake and talking with Spike. He’d drifted off once or twice, waking from restless dreams of deadly flames, to find Spike by his side, reassuring him by touch and voice that he was real. Each time he’d stayed awake for awhile, not wanting to waste the time Spike was there on sleeping.
As arranged, he’d called the school library when they discharged him. He knew the hospital had called his house at some point after they had identified him but Xander wasn’t surprised when his parents didn’t come to see him. The hospital had probably gotten a hold of his dad, he guessed from the careful questions about whether someone else would be available to take him home. Giles had told Xander that something would be arranged. The false enthusiasm he’d shown for the mundane task told Xander that someone on the hospital staff had probably said something to Giles about his parents. So much for medical confidentiality.
To his pleasure, Oz showed up to drive him home. Oz just casually said that his van was easier on injured people than Giles’ little car and said his classes that morning were boring and it was no trouble. He drove Xander to his house and followed him upstairs room with a blessed lack of comments about the state of the living room and the stale scent of booze that seemed a permanent feature of the downstairs rooms.
He’d invited Oz to stay awhile, and Oz, with a fine disregard for the school district’s truancy policy, cheerfully blew off the rest of his morning classes to sitting talking and watching tv with Xander. Xander was cleared to return to school tomorrow but had been released on the condition he spend the day quietly in bed.
Not surprisingly, Oz was a very restful person to be around and having someone to talk to gave Xander a break from his restless thoughts about Angelus and bite marks.
He surprised himself by telling Oz that he and Spike were dating. It wasn’t something he’d planned on telling anyone yet but somehow he found himself talking to Oz about Spike. Not girl talk, not gushing or anything, just saying that they’d become very close and were kind of dating.
Glancing over at Oz nervously, Xander was reassured when Oz received the information with the same unflappable calm that was his reaction to pretty much everything. “Huh,” was all he said in response.
Xander tried to imagine Willow being so accepting and his mind boggled. Even in his most wildly optimistic moments he couldn’t see Willow taking the news that Xander was falling in love with a male vampire with anything other than shock and vocal disapproval. Really vocal disapproval.
His thoughts screeched to a halt and he re-played what he had just been thinking. Falling in love? Was he falling in love with Spike? Xander found himself smiling and an expanding glow of warmth filled him. Apparently he was.
Remembering that he wasn’t alone, he looked quickly at Oz, hoping he hadn’t noticed Xander sitting there and grinning like a complete idiot. Oz looked at him and one corner of his mouth quirked up slightly.
“When I met Willow for the first time,” he said out of nowhere. “I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I’d only seen her a couple of times and never even spoken to her and I couldn’t get her out of my head.” His eyes met Xander’s in quiet understanding. “Then we started dating and it was like I’d found the center of my world and nothing made sense unless she was with me.” He smiled. “That’s when I knew I loved her.”
Xander smiled back at Oz and couldn’t help thinking how lucky Willow was to have found someone so right for her. Even though things weren’t the same between Willow and himself, he was really glad he liked Willow’s boyfriend. Anything else would be unnatural.
Sitting in comfortable silence with Oz, Xander wondered how long he’d been in love with Spike and why he was so completely un-freaked by the idea.
Xander was miserably self-conscious about the bite mark on his neck. After Oz had left, he’d removed the bandage covering it and anxiously studied the mark in the bathroom mirror. It looked huge: a raw, red bite mark, unmistakable for anything other than what it was, even in Sunnydale.
The white flag of the bandage was too conspicuous and Xander decided against putting it back on. As the sun lowered in the sky, he burrowed anxiously in his closet like a girl before a big date, trying on various combinations of his few shirts until he found the one that seemed to cover it up best. He hated the mark for its own sake, because Angelus had put it there and because of what he was afraid it meant: that Angelus had put some sort of claim on him.
The books he’d read on vampires talked about marks and claims. Like everything else in the books, the authors disagreed on what they meant. Xander had jokingly considered asking Spike to collaborate with him on a book about vampires. At least with a vampire as co-author, they would get the facts straight. Then he and Oz could write about werewolves and set the record straight there.
Realizing his mind was wandering into bizarre territory and he was fingering the bite mark again - something he found himself doing frequently - he dropped his hand and finished getting dressed.
The books described bite marks as generally falling into two categories: natural wounds from feeding and Claims. Obviously, every time a vampire drank from someone, they left a bite mark. The disagreement came over people who lived through an attack versus people who were deliberately marked by a vampire. Some of the books said it was the same thing: just a wound that eventually healed. Others said that vampires “marked” or “claimed” a human by biting them, with or without specific rituals, in order to show their ownership of the human.
The idea of being owned wigged Xander out and the books that equated Claiming with slavery didn’t help but some of the books talked about it more like it was a partnership - a kind of protection in exchange for services deal. Spike had said he wanted to “mark” Xander when he was ready, which sounded like something a lot more than just a bite mark.
The question was, did Angelus think he had some kind of claim on Xander now that he’d bitten Xander?
Spike arrived shortly after sunset, standing under Xander’s window and looking up at him. Xander opened the window and called down quietly to Spike that he’d meet him at the front door. He turned to walk downstairs when Spike startled him by jumping up and catching the edge of the roof, swinging himself up easily.
“No need to bother your folks, luv,” Spike said quietly as he crouched on the roof outside Xander’s window.
Xander grinned. “Come in, Spike,” he invited, pushing the window all the way open and stepping back to give Spike room. He’d given the vampire an open invitation to his home at the hospital but Spike had just shaken his head and told him it didn’t work that way. The invitation had to be specific and while the vampire was at the house. Otherwise, all vampires would have to do was overheard someone else’s invitation to have a free pass. Which made sense to Xander. Whatever it was that prevented vampires from entering people’s homes - and Spike described it as an invisible, but tangible barrier - whoever or whatever set it up had obviously put some thought into it. Something to balance the scales maybe, given that vampires were stronger and faster than the humans they hunted.
It had felt wrong when he realized that he’d never invited Spike into his home. Granted, he didn’t usually invite people over, not even in his younger years. His dad had never liked other kids hanging around and Xander had generally spent his time at Jesse’s and Willow’s houses or outdoors. But it wasn’t like they’d never been inside his house.
Spike was going to drive Xander absolutely out of his mind if he kept this up. What was the point of dating an evil, blood-sucking, creature of the night, vampire if they wouldn’t act like one? Xander had been all set for some serious nookie while laid up and instead he’d found himself ensconced with a mother-hen, worry-wort.
Spike didn’t want to do anything other than put one arm around Xander and occasionally kiss him gently. Every time Xander tried something more, Spike stopped him, telling him his ribs were still injured and they had to wait for him to heal.
Ok, Spike was right; twisting and moving too quickly sent short stabs of pain through his ribs and led to some shallow, slightly wheezy breathing but it passed quickly and wasn’t a big deal. Damn vampire could hear his breathing and got worried every time it got even slightly irregular. The fact that Spike was probably right just made Xander grumpier.
Spike couldn’t help smiling as Xander shifted away from him. He wouldn’t dream of telling Xander he was cute when he pouted but that’s what he was doing and it was adorable. Not enough to make Spike give in, his boy was ignoring the pain he was in and Spike wasn’t going to let him. Even though he wasn’t naturally patient, Spike knew that straining the injured ribs now would just lead to a longer healing period.
“What does it mean for a vampire to mark someone?”
Xander’s voice broke the silence between them. He was carefully casual, not looking at Spike, pretending to concentrate on the movie currently playing on the telly. It wasn’t a surprise, Spike had known they were going to have this conversation sooner rather than later, and again he cursed Angelus for his interference.
“A mark says you belong to the demon who marked you.” Watching Xander intently, Spike was reassured that he saw only curiosity and not fear as Xander looked over at him. “Demons are possessive, luv. ’S just the way we’re built. Never met a vampire who wasn’t.”
Spike was aware that Xander had been subtly trying to hide the bite mark from him. It touched him that his boy knew Angelus’ mark bothered him but covering it didn’t conceal the fact that it was there, that Angelus had left his mark deliberately. Spike could smell the lingering trace of Angelus beneath the antiseptic and soap that overlay his Sire’s scent.
“Some get marked accidental like, something interrupts the vampire while feeding or some such. Long as the mark is on them, other demons know to stay away or risk the wrath of the one whose mark is on ’em.”
“With a real mark, it gets renewed. Keeps it fresh. Let’s other demons know the marked human is under the demon’s protection.”
“So, can vampires tell the difference?” Xander asked.
“Not at first,” Spike answered reluctantly but truthfully. “But if it isn’t renewed, the mark fades and others know the human isn’t really marked.”
“Oh,” Xander said faintly and lapsed back into uneasy silence.
“Xander,” Spike waited until Xander looked at him before continuing. “Angelus marked you out of spite, ‘s why it hurt. A real mark doesn’t hurt, luv.” Spike traced a finger seductively along the unmarked side of Xander’s neck. “A real mark is pleasure like you’ve never known.”
Desire flared in Xander’s eyes and Spike leaned over to kiss him.
Spike left Xander’s house when it became apparent his boy couldn’t stay awake any longer. He made arrangements to meet Xander at the library the next day shortly after sunset.
Spike had used the tunnels to approach the library, arriving well before the scheduled time to listen at the tunnel entrance. Spike waited until he was sure the librarian was alone before entering through the stacks. His boy wasn’t due to arrive for another little bit and he wanted to talk to the Watcher alone first.
The Watcher jumped, startled at the unexpected voice. “Spike.” he greeted cautiously, “I believe you’re a bit early.” Spike noticed he moved with seeming casualness to stand near a collection of weapons on the shelf.
“Wanted to talk to you before my boy gets here,” Spike admitted, ignoring the Watcher’s defensive position. There was an uneasy pause as Spike struggled with himself. What he had come to say went against every instinct he had, asking humans for help protecting Spike’s property. The Watcher simply waited for him to go on, studying Spike intently as Spike fidgeted. “This thing with Angelus is going to get ugly,” he finally said. “I want Xander kept out of it.”
It was obvious he’d surprised the librarian but his stiff posture relaxed slightly. “I agree,” he said easily. “The boy is hardly equipped with the fighting skills necessary…”
Spike snarled at him and the Watcher’s hand dropped to the weapons near him. “My boy escaped from Angelus and his minions on his own armed with nothing but guts,” he said angrily, his eyes flaring yellow at the disrespect. “This has nothing to do with any lack of skill or courage.”
“I’m sorry, but wasn’t that why you want him kept away from the battle?”
“I want him out of this because Angelus lost face over him: a human child showed up a Master Vampire. That’s not something Angelus is going to either forgive or forget. Angelus needs him back to show he hasn’t lost control and every other demon in this town with aspirations for power is going to want Xander for a trophy to show they can keep him when Angelus lost him.” The Watcher’s mouth opened in a silent “oh,” of realizations and Spike’s fists clenched in frustrated anger. He kept himself from lashing out physically only with an effort. “The story of what happened is all over town. Some of Angelus’ former minions are spreading the word that Angelus is weak.”
Giles’ head went up alertly, like a hunting dog on a fresh scent. Moving away from the weapons, he stepped towards Spike. “Then this is the time to take him on, when he’s vulnerable,” he said.
Spike pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Angelus has been turning a lot of minions, building a power base. Newly turned fledges aren’t worth much but enough of ’em can shift the balance through sheer numbers. Is your Slayer up to handling Angelus and 20 minions?”
“I’d rather we not put that to the test,” Giles answered honestly. “Buffy’s good but Angel is her weak spot. She can’t let go of her love for him.”
“Head games have always been Angelus’ specialty,” Spike noted, wondering if the Slayer would be any use to him after all. If the silly bint couldn’t stop mooning over her one-time lover, she wouldn’t put her heart into the fight with Angelus which just made her a liability.
“Buffy will acquit herself adequately in a fight, but I fear we cannot rely on her for a killing blow.” Good, the Watcher was being straightforward in his assessment of the situation. “My greatest strength lies in my books,” the Watcher continued, gesturing around him in illustration, “however I am trained in the use of a number of weapons and am quite good with a crossbow, so I am of some use in a fight.”
“Yeah, heard you took out old bat-face himself.”
The Watcher smiled with remembered satisfaction. “Indeed.” Bringing his gaze back to the present, he looked searchingly at Spike. “The remaining question is: how far are you willing to go against Angel? I understand he’s your Sire. Are you prepared to kill him?”
“Too right I am. Bastard’s gone too far and I’m willing to accept any help I can get in taking him down.” Spike made a frustrated noise. “I can’t be sure of taking him out alone. He’s back at full strength and he’s got too many minions guarding his back to be an easy target.” The Watcher had been honest, so Spike gave him the same courtesy. “In a straight fight, I don’t know if I can take him. He’s over a century older than me and that gives him an edge.” He looked the Watcher straight in the eye. “That’s why I’m here. Together, your Slayer and I are a match for him.” He couldn’t help adding: “That is, if she gets her head out of her arse.”
He could see the Watcher agreed with him, and settled himself comfortably to wait for Xander to arrive.
The Slayer trailed into the library last, looking pale and tired. Spike eyed her suspiciously, scenting the air deeply and frowning at the taint of sickness that accompanied her. Seeing his eyes on her, the Slayer managed a scowl in his direction but her heart clearly wasn’t in it. She dropped down into a chair immediately as if she needed the support, apparently unable to stay on alert even with a vampire she didn’t trust in the room.
Perfect. The Slayer was too sick to back him up which meant that Angelus would have the time to finish establishing his Court. In another few days, he’d have doubled the number of minions he had now.
Xander went immediately to Spike’s side, keeping a wary eye out for trouble. Giles was studying Buffy worriedly. “Buffy, all you feeling all right?” he asked.
“I’m fine, Giles, just a little tired,” the Slayer responded, sitting up straighter and trying to look alert.
“You’re a bloody liability, is what you are,” Spike snorted.
“Who asked you anyway?”
“Don’t need anyone to ask, ‘m not hunting with someone who can barely stand straight and will be useless in a fight.”
Buffy shot to her feet, knocking her chair over behind her. “I don’t hunt, I patrol, and I can take you any day of the week.”
Spike noted the way her hands gripped the edge of the table to steady herself and exchanged a quick look with the Watcher. Seeing the understanding in the Watcher’s face, Spike acted. His fist came up, deliberately slowly, and when she laughed and dodged it easily, he swept her legs out from underneath her. She fell to the floor with a crash and Spike was peripherally aware of the Watcher’s tense stance and of his boy moving to block the redhead from interfering. Content the two who mattered understood this demonstration, Spike pounced.
The Slayer’s illness made her slow. She tried to bring her legs up to kick him, tried to buck him off, but he was able to pin her easily. He morphed into game face, just for fun, and lowered his fangs toward her neck. Her struggles renewed and Spike relented, knowing he could only push this so far. Despite his craving for the rich, heady taste of the blood pulsing so tantalizingly close to the surface, he forced himself to sit back and shifted back to human guise. “You’re dead, Slayer and some lucky vampire has the bragging rights.”
Xander cleared his throat sharply, cutting into the mutual glare between Spike and Buffy. They both looked at him with irritation. “Separate corners, you two,” Xander ordered and waited until Spike had bounced to his feet and stepped away from Buffy. “Buffy, Spike’s right and you know it. Even I can tell you look sick. If it’s the flu that’s been going around, going out on patrol would be stupid and could get people killed. Including yourself.”
Spike grinned nastily at her and she opened her mouth to snap at him but Xander overrode her. “Spike can patrol in your place,” he volunteered.
“Not bloody likely!”
Their matching indignant shouts overlapped. Spike stared incredulously at his boy and Buffy argued as she climbed slowly to her feet. “He’s what I patrol against. You want to send the mass murderer out to protect the helpless?”
“What she said. ‘m no bleedin’ white hat, boy.”
“Spike, you agreed to work with Buffy and Giles until we can kill Angelus.” He held his hand up sharply, and Spike subsided, still grumbling under his breath about being evil. Xander switched his stare to Buffy, who still looked mutinous. “You’re too sick to patrol. If you try, you’re either going to collapse or you’re going to get yourself killed. Working together means we do each other’s jobs when one of us isn’t able to do it.”
“Xander’s right.” Giles had been listening quietly. He’d forced himself to remain still during Spike’s demonstration knowing Buffy often had to be shown things. Now, he stepped forward to Xander’s side. “Buffy, you need to go straight home and go to bed. Spike has kept his word about the truce. He has a common interest in keeping the number of Angelus’ minions down, therefore he can patrol in your place for a night or two.” Giles looked sternly at Spike. “Are you willing to keep an eye on things until Buffy can resume her duties?”
Xander’s argument had already swayed him and the Watcher had a point. If plans to take on Angelus had to be put on hold because of the Slayer’s weakness, Spike would need to spend the next couple of nights with his ear to the ground anyway. Grudgingly, he agreed. “Fine. I’ll make sure things stay calm for the next couple of nights. But I’m not staking harmless fledges just because I stumble across ‘em. If they’re Angelus’ - fine, they’re dust. But if someone else turned ‘em, I’m not staking ‘em.”
“That will be sufficient.” Giles agreed readily, ignoring Buffy’s sputtering protest. “Thank you, Spike.”
Giles immediately bundled up Buffy and Willow, ignoring Buffy’s protests that she could do a quick sweep through town, and swept them out of the library, intent on driving them home.
Spike and Xander looked at each other, Xander apologetic, Spike still having trouble believing he had just agreed to patrol the Hellmouth for the White Hat Brigade.
“Are you ok with this?” Xander asked hesitantly.
“Not gonna be able to show my face anywhere in town if this gets out.”
Xander hastily suppressed a smile. “Spike, I don’t know how to break this to you, but you’ve got to be on everyone’s weirdo list already since you’ve been seen hanging out with me.” He took a step closer and reached out, closing his fingers around Spike’s in a warm grip. “I probably ruined your reputation a long time ago.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way, pet.” Spike leaned forward and kissed him, letting Xander hold him close when he tried to break off the kiss before it got serious. Listening carefully, Xander’s lungs sounded clear and Spike brought his hands up, burying them in Xander’s hair, holding him steady as their tongues dueled.
He stepped back after a long interlude, grinning as Xander opened his eyes and smiled sappily at him. “Let’s get you home, luv and I’ll see about Angelus’ minions.”
“I could go with you,” Xander offered half-heartedly.
“Not until you’re ribs are fully healed and you’ve had a few more self defense lessons,” Spike countered, touched by the offer. He knew Xander didn’t really want to go with him. His boy wanted a ring side seat for the inevitable fight with Angelus but that was an exception. Xander still preferred to chase vampires off rather than kill them and that wasn’t an option with Angelus’ people. Plus, there was no way Spike was letting Xander roam the Hellmouth at night until Angelus was taken care of. Xander’s value to other demons would disappear once Angelus was dust.