Word Count: 3,647
Disclaimer: I’m afraid that I own none of this, aside from plot. Hell, I don’t even own the alphabet that it was written with.
A.N A huge thanks to Sparrow, for giving me one hell of a guiding hand with the editing process over the first few chapters, and pointing out what to watch out for in later ones.
Right Of Claim Two: Innocence’s Death
Prologue: Empty (What You Want)
“Tell me how to sit around
‘Cause I don’t think you want to know me now”
- Seether – Empty
Shifting restlessly in the midst of a broken, uneasy sleep, Rupert was unaware of the touch of magic that kept him unconscious, forcing his body to rest if not his mind, , as used to the brush of Ethan’s power as he was these days. Normal sleep was hard to come by with everything that was on his mind, and an exhausted person was not what the world needed standing between it and the endgame.
Bloodshot eyes and constant weariness had been his companions over the last few weeks, ever since that night which should have been nothing more than a triumph, when the Master had been put to ground.
The Slayer had smiled, and laughed, and dragged him out to celebrate with her other two friends, whilst Ethan had disappeared to do the gods only knew what. She had seemed fine then, a teenager without a care in the world. But thinking back, maybe he should have wondered at just how fine she had seemed, considering how close she had come to meeting her own death.
That was the curse of hindsight, though. Everything looked more obvious in retrospect.
It was only about a week after the event that he had found out what he should have already realised, how truly prepared the Slayer had been to face her own death. That was something that no innocent should ever have had to prepare themselves for, let alone a child of Buffy’s age. Because even with everything she had seen and done, she was still a child, still an innocent in the strongest sense of the word.
She may have been the Slayer, the one girl in the entire world, but that didn’t change the fact that she was still only fifteen; and a far more innocent fifteen then he had ever been.
After she had returned from her week at her father’s home, she had settled back to life in Sunnydale quickly enough, patrolling and fighting when trouble came up, and still putting on that act that nothing was out of the ordinary. It had taken him a few days to realise that she was avoiding everyone’s company outside of when it was necessary.
Then he had tried to spend some time with her properly, to disprove his own suspicions, and while she hadn’t refused outright, she had closed off, shutting him out completely as soon as he’d said hello.. No order, no amount of nudging or pestering had been able to make her talk to him. But he could see from the set, closed expression on her face just how far she had let withdrawn.
It was as though a part of her had said goodbye to everyone and everything that mattered, and that she couldn’t believe she hadn’t died. Now, she couldn’t make herself want to live beyond the necessary, automated motions.
He had heard of the same effect in people who had been told that they were terminal, and then informed that it was a mistake. Most of them didn’t respond with joy, like one would have expected, but shock and even, in some cases, outright anger. At that moment the purpose of her life had been to give it up to save the world, and that had been denied to her.
It was only when he had tried to push her again, that she had snapped at him.
That was when his sleepless nights had begun. Even after so brief a time he loved her like she was some once-misplaced piece of his life, which he supposed that she was. He didn’t think that he could have cared about her any more if she had actually been his daughter, separated by years and life.
He was strong enough to admit that it broke his heart to see her like this. Strong enough to admit, if only to himself, that he hated the fact the he couldn’t think of any way to bring the girl that she’d been before back to life, aside from letting time do its work. He wasn’t entirely sure that time would be enough. If he could have thought of a way to shock her back to reality, then he would have done so without hesitation.
Of course, he dared not discuss it with Willow and Xander, because the absolute last thing that he wanted was to weigh them down, when they had already seen what the pressure of the world could do. Even though they had both shown an unquestionable strength, they were still children. If he were to be totally honest with himself, he would admit to feeling overprotective towards Xander, too, because he had some idea of what life would have in store for the boy.
Ethan’s advice was also less than useful; that he should push Buffy harder, send her to face more situations where her own life depended on her wits, so she couldn’t be distracted by anything else, and certainly not her own attitude.
He knew, of course he knew, that Slayers in past generations were raised solely as weapons; intelligent, well-primed and self-sufficient, but weapons none the less. The old belief was that humanity weakened a Slayer, made her less than able to do her job to the level of efficiency that was required, because it was impractical to expect a human to face things that didn’t have any sense of morality.
Before he had seen Buffy’s humanity as a source of strength, but now he found that he was questioning himself, and what he’d allowed. Perhaps she would be less numb, more like herself, if she’d had less to loose when she had faced the Master.
He also had to question his attempt at allowing Buffy something that resembled a normal life and wonder whether it was no more than a self-centred response to his own past.
If he had cut her off from her friends, then would she have turned to him, or would she have turned on him? He had no idea, although he suspected the latter. Or maybe he should have pushed her harder, manipulated her into believing she was to be invulnerable? She would hardly have been the first Slayer to succumb to such a belief, after all. Not that the first option would have been all that possible, or the second at all practical. He just didn’t have that much control over her.
Of course, it was a moot point anyway; if she’d had less to loose, then she wouldn’t have been herself in the first place.
Never mind the fact that trying to get her to do something that she didn’t want to do was the start of a fast route down the long road to insanity.
There was no doubt as to whether he would be the only on questioning himself, either. After all, there were still plenty amongst the Council’s ranks that didn’t believe he was the right person for this. There were still times when he doubted it himself even though he was here, stumbling through the dark in a situation that there was no precedent for. Although what he was doing felt right, he had to wonder whether he was sending the world to its end simply by being here.
Then, there was the other thought that he couldn’t avoid, which crept back to taunt him, when he was at his weakest; that maybe it would have been better for the world if Buffy had been killed alongside Merrick. His heart ached at the thought of never meeting her, but it wasn’t his feeling and thoughts that were important. It was the fate of humanity that mattered.
Buffy closed her eyes, leaning against the wall of the dank alleyway where she’d fought and brushed the fresh dust off her clothing. The rough brick surface scraped against her skin and the chill air raised goose-bumps on her arm in that one spot where the vampire’s claws had almost tagged her. In all honesty she didn’t know why she hadn’t allowed it through her defences. Maybe she could just blame on some old instinct, something like claws and skin don’t mix.
Yeah, that was it. Anyway, she’d practised that particular move so often that she could do it in her sleep, which she damn near was.
Looking at the rip in her sleeve, she sighed. It wasn’t even that she particularly liked feeling like this, but she just didn’t know how to deal.
She had seen the darkening circles under Giles’s eyes. What it took to worry a Watcher bound to a vampire she didn’t exactly know, but it looked like he was getting close to the edge of his limit.
She had also seen the concern in her friends and in her mom’s actions, and even though she could pretend not to notice it, and she wasn’t sure how to deal with that either. Not when she couldn’t even really muster the energy to care about herself these days.
Her mom didn’t even know what was wrong, but she knew, from the way mom behaved around her lately, that she had noticed a marked change in her attitude, ever since she had come back far too late on prom night. If parental oblivion was no longer working to her favour, then she knew that she really had a problem.
Sighing, she shook out her arm, loosening the muscles up a little, and pushed herself away from the wall.
She could wish it as often as she wanted; that her life was different, that she didn’t have all of these monsters and people around her that she didn’t have any choice but to deal with, but it didn’t make a single shred of difference to the truth. She hated the concern of those around her, because she could no longer care about herself.
It was that simple, and in the same moment it was that complicated.
Without any conscious thought about it she found herself walking towards the direction of Angel’s mansion. The only time that she ever felt anything, these days, was when she was with him.
It was as though with every kiss that she stole from the darkness she felt a little more comfortable within her own body. She didn’t know whether it was because for those few moments she was shrugging off the expectations of the world, or because being with someone that didn’t have to care, she no longer felt as thought she were under any pressure to care about the world herself, or if it was a combination of the two, or something completely different.
All that she knew was that when she was with him she felt herself relax and was comfortable in her own head and in her own body. Her skin didn’t feel too tight, and the expressions that flitted across her face no longer felt like a mask that she was forcing herself to wear for the benefit of the people around her.
In those few moments she could once again belong to herself. She no longer owed the world her life, humanity, future and freedom, because Angel was just for her. He was the only tiny part of the world that was hers and hers alone, that didn’t heap exception and expectation onto her shoulders until it weighed her down so badly that she no longer felt as though she could stand up straight under the weight of it.
She knew that Giles had told her to be careful to watch herself around Angel, but she saw no reason to be anything less that herself, and certainly no reason to deny herself his company or his affections. After all, a vampire wasn’t human, wasn’t alive. She loved him, and furthermore, she felt that he genuinely cared about her. Since he had a soul and he didn’t kill she couldn’t see any way that it could possibly end in heartbreak.
Giles had called the soul a curse and it was clear that there were times that living was painful for Angel, but she didn’t see how any of that could ever hurt her, not when he wouldn’t allow any harm to come to her, either from himself or from anything else that might have dared to threaten her.
Who knew, maybe with his protection she might even eventually have the time to recover enough to want the world to exist around her again.
It was dark, but far from too dark to see. He’d closed the bedroom door, and jammed a wedge under it, in spite of the fact that such a thing would give his dad just one more thing to yell about if he tried to come it. Not that Tony needed the excuse, when he was perfectly happy to yell at a breath that was too loud.
So, the door was jammed, and he’d pulled the curtains even though it was the middle of the afternoon. The water-stain on the wallpaper that had once been white seemed darker than it usually was, and it was almost like one of those 3D pictures that he had never got the hang of looking at the right way.
Half-covering it was an X-Men poster that he’d conned the guy in the comic store into letting him have, and slightly off from that was a framed picture of himself, Willow and Jesse. He hadn’t bothered to put anything else up, half-because he had nothing else that he wanted to stare at, and half-because his dad had told him that if he punched any more holes in the wallpaper with drawing pins then he would be spending his next several weekends re-papering the room.
He glanced up from the comic that he had been staring at without reading, towards the sound of creaking, from the loose floorboard which he had long ago got into the habit of steeping over. Weight settled on the end of his bed as Jesse sat down and Xander sat up a little further, offering him a tentative smile.
Exactly the same sort of expression that Jesse gave right back to him, as he reached down and rested a hand on Xander’s ankle, thumb drifting lightly over the gap between bones as he sat, one leg over the end of the bed and the other arched up, head twisted back to meet his gaze. Xander didn’t say a word, simply wondered if it would ever feel less awkward, less personal or less intense. They hadn’t moved past the occasional kissing, and the unsure touches, but he supposed that there had to be a moment, even for him, when it would finally feel like it was all falling into place.
It was as much a case of the fact that according to Life! With Tony Harris real men didn’t do this, as it was all of his sure uncertainties. If that made any sense at all. Or maybe it was on par with the fact that he was still worried about trying to please someone who only saw him as a way to add child welfare cheques to the beer tab.
Jesse shifted, stopped with the ankle-rubbing, and twisted himself so that he could stretch out fully over Xander, muscle to muscle, not that Xander had too many muscles, and body to body. His heart was pounding in his chest, like it wanted to burst out, and that wasn’t uncommon either, not when things got to here. The truth of it was that he liked Jesse. Maybe not in the same sort of way that he loved Willow, but that was a no-go option, he’d already proven that.
Willow was smart; she deserved someone who was her equal, someone that could give her everything that she deserved out of life. As much as he wished it could have been, that someone wasn’t him.
Without trying to let his mind think too much about things he raised his hands and rested one on Jesse’s shoulder, and slipped the other under Jesse’s shirt, resting it against his side, as the hand that wasn’t supporting Jesse’s full weight slipped under Xander’s shirt in return and began to play over his chest, cool fingers drifting over the hidden expanse of skin, as he licked at suddenly dry lips, and Jesse smiled at that and leaned down to kiss him.
Xander closed his eyes as Jesse’s tongue pushed into his mouth. He wasn’t stupid, he knew that one of these days, and probably one soon at that; this wasn’t going to be enough for Jesse. Probably wasn’t going to be enough for him either, but he would face that hurdle when he got to it.
For now, this would do them.
Jesse’s hand slid higher, feeling cooler than it had before against the heat of his skin, and a pair of fingers pinched at a nipple that was already standing as he deepened the kiss, pushing his tongue further into Xander’s mouth, like he’d turned on a tap that was marked confidence. He wasn’t just kissing him, he was invading his mouth, like all that mattered was getting to know every single inch of it, and he could remember, but he couldn’t quite remember the only time that Jesse had ever kissed him like this, and all of a sudden something about this felt wrong, between the hand that wasn’t warming, and the lips and tongue that seemed to be getting cooler as this continued, and he opened his eyes in order to see Jesse again, and tell himself that he was overreacting.
As his eyes opened the first thing the he realized was that the afternoon had changed to night-time dark. The second was that he wasn’t flat on his back in his room any longer, but pushed back against the wall in the depths of the Bronze, bright light playing over the swirling crowed that he couldn’t touch, making the entire scene feel surreal. Jesse leaned into him, pinning him with an unnatural strength that Xander had never known him to have. As he looked into those eyes that he’d thought he would know for the rest of his life, they blazed yellow and his face changed, ridges erupting from his forehead.
He wasn’t sure where the stake had come from, but it was grasped so tightly in his hand that he could feel splinters biting into his palm, and even if he didn’t know anything else, he knew that he wasn’t going to use it, not on Jesse, and Jesse knew it too .With a leer, he nudged a knee between Xander’s legs and pressed it up to rub against Xander’s half-hard cock, and he told himself that it was adrenalin alone that was doing that to him. Jesse’s tongue left his mouth as he tilted his head to one side, and buried his nose into the hollow at the side of Xander’s neck.
He inhaled deeply, as though trying to drown himself in the way that Xander smelled, before that cold tongue slipped through parted lips, and tickled at the side of his neck. A strength that he knew he couldn’t fight still held him there. A cool breath, over the dampness made him shiver, as Jesse spoke.
“You smell like you were made for me,” he breathed, eyes glowing with something that seemed like more than just hunger, before leaning in a little further and biting at the side of his neck. Xander gasped and raised a hand to the sting of it, although he had no idea what he was planning on doing, whether he wanted to try and shove him away, or draw him closer and give up there and then, surrender and tell him to take what was his.
The decision was torn from him, even though it hadn’t really been a decision anyway, as someone fleeing in the panic was slammed into Jesse’s back, and the stake was driven home. In his desperation to get away from the ash he pulled backwards, and slammed his head against the wall.
A sharp pain bloomed from the point of impact and the world swum away, and as he blinked his bedroom swum into focus. It wasn’t the first time that he had woken himself in such a manner since that night, pain spreading from where he’d slammed back against the headboard and he couldn’t do anything aside from lay there, gasping for breath and shaking.
The panic passed and was slowly replaced by a maudlin mood as the night began to drag past. He raised a hand and played a finger over the scar, the last thing that Jesse had left him with. He had spent more nights than he could count, trying to figure it out.
In the books that he’d read, more books than he’d ever seen before in his life, it said that a vampire carried a person’s memories but that the soul was gone. But the memories didn’t explain why Jesse had made the declaration that he had. He’d tried to figure it out himself, but hadn’t achieved anything beyond giving himself a headache.
He knew that there was always the possibility of asking Giles, of course, and seeing what he had to say about it, but for some reason he was reluctant to do so. Almost like something was telling him to be afraid of what he might turn up, which was just stupid really, wasn’t it?
And yet he still couldn’t shake it, that maybe his reluctance wasn’t quite so stupid.
Either way, the wondering was driving him up the wall, and that wasn’t good for himself, or for any of his friends. Not for the first time, he told himself that he was going to bring it up next week.
Not for the first time, he told himself that this time he would actually follow through with it.