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Reckless Choices

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Possession is an overused word. Officially it is the state of having, owning, or controlling something. In the supernatural sense, it is the domination and subsequent takeover of a body by another entity. It is not simply the presence or even the influence of another. Possessions also do not take place immediately. They start as an impulse, a drive pushing you to do things you wouldn’t act on before. Make mean things seem funny, dangerous things look like good ideas. Most assume possession before the victim truly is possessed. The improperly termed ‘possession’ will eat away at the conscience that keeps you in check. That part of you that understands you core values, that lets you feel how you affect others, keeps you caring, keeps you you. Once that is devoured that's when you are possessed. There is no going back from true possession. Who you were is gone. The demon has taken your place.

 

For vampires it feels immediate, looks immediately. Die a human, awake a demon. Soulless, without conscience. But if that were true the sire would not have to wait. There would not be time for the body to be buried or mourned. Most vampires cannot remember the time between, those who do imagine it as a dream. The ones that recognize it as real? Most go mad.

 

The time it takes for a vampire to wake up varies drastically. The Watchers Council theorizes that it has something to do with the amount of blood used, or the purpose of the new life, be it minion or childe. In truth it has much more to do with strength of spirit. Conviction of self, a will to live.

 

Most possessions, barring the creation of vampires, are done by such a strong demon or spirit that the struggle is minimal. In this type of possession, nothing of the host remains. Even the original soul of the body is gone. Not gone as in passed to heaven. Gone meaning obliviated, destroyed. Sacrificed some would say.

 

Vampires are only barred because the ritual of possession by the demon is also the birth of one. The demon they become has everything in common with the person they were. Similarly, there are the lesser known possessions. Those which involve spirits not fully developed. Primal. Studying these incremental possessions are how we know anything at all about the way the mind is twisted into something else.

 

Death and birth are far more complicated than a simple circle of life. Even failed 'possession' leaves its scars on the host. Changes them in ways more integral than you can imagine. Much like the Ship of Theseus, can you truly say that who comes out is the same as who went in?

 

Xander slammed open the door and tore into his house. He didn’t stop to take his shoes off or drop his book bag. He didn’t even have a bag to drop. It was still untouched where he left it the night before. Tossed in a corner of his room. No reason to bring it on a field trip day after all. Following a familiar pattern, he made a beeline for the kitchen. The smell radiating from there was intoxicatingly savory. It had struck him the moment he opened the door to his home. A few seconds and he would be at the source of the scent.

 

“Close the door.”

 

Someone nearby was saying something. It was a voice he knew. Within a fraction of a second, he assured himself that it didn’t matter. When was the last time he had eaten? He was so hungry his mouth was watering just thinking of taking the first bite. A juicy hamburger, a rare steak, chicken wings. He wanted something greasy. Something fatty, something with tendons he could rip apart between teeth and hands.

 

“I said close the door! I’m not paying to air condition the whole goddamn neighborhood!”

 

He was being shouted at. A buried instinct of his made him consider slowing down. Consider turning around and addressing this man behind him. He didn’t. If anything he moved faster. Again he told himself the voice didn’t matter. He continued forward into the kitchen, pulled by the rich scent wafting out from within. There was a pan sizzling on the stove. Seeing the source magically made the smell stronger. He could practically taste it on his tongue through the air.

 

Crackle, sizzle, pop. The grease from the pan was flying over the sides. It covered the smooth top of the burners in a halo of tiny dots. It was exactly what he wanted. In front of it now he reached for the bacon frying within. A sharp sting on the back of his hand made him draw away.

 

“Xander, stop that! You’ll burn yourself.”

 

His eyes flashed up to the location of the sound. His mother. He stared at her, unable to comprehend why he had just reached for what he knew would burn him. Yes he was hungry. That shouldn’t have stopped him from remembering common sense. She, with wide, bewildered eyes, was likely wondering the same.

 

The slam of a door had him snap his head to the side. There was nothing in the doorway to the kitchen yet but he kept his gaze trained on the entrance anyway. The sound had made his mother jump. He didn’t like seeing her startled. Without considering what he was doing he took a step forward, placing himself directly between his mother and the doorway.

 

The other male in the house crossed the threshold in the next moment. “You know how I feel about leaving the door open. I’m not made of money.” his stance was tense and irritated. Eyes trained on Xander.

 

“I need a drink.” He declared. A moment of silence in the room followed. “Now.” He added, clearly discontent that his son was not hurrying to do what was expected of him. Xander refused to budge. He stood between the two and said nothing. He did nothing but stare at the man before him.

 

“The hell is with the way you are acting? That's how people in the ghetto look at each other. You don’t look at me like that. Not here. Not with me.”

 

Xander was in tune with reading body language from the moment his mother jumped. He could see the ripples of tense muscles in the man's arms and face. They were tightening in preparation of a fight. Were, like normal, Xander about to run from this, he would be showing reflections of fear.

 

Instead he was pumped with a naive confidence that he could stand up to his father. He hyper focused on making sure he didn't look scared. Xander knew fear, knew it too well, and he was very afraid now. He already told himself he had to keep his chin up and eyes straight ahead. He mentally checked his stance, his hips were turned a slight sideways which made it easier to get away. He had to fix that. He was not going to run this time.

 

The eyes in front of him grew narrow. The man's shoulders were lined up over his hips which in turn were over his feet. It was a solid line down to his base, strong foundation. Not one easy to take down but it made for a big target. He could still drop it. Barrel in with a low center of gravity. Grab the legs, cut up fast and send him to the floor. It would be quick.

 

That would be his plan of attack. It wasn't a plan that would see the light of day but it felt satisfying to daydream. In reality he could never bring himself to do it. He just had to keep his mother safe. What that meant to him was being the punching bag his father wanted so that she wasn't.

 

“You have a problem with me Xander? Say it." His father baited him on. "Right here, say it to my face. Come on. Be a man and say it!”

 

They were only words. He repeated the mantra religiously but still felt the rage build inside him. Xander was past words right now. The only part of them getting through was intonation and he didn’t like what he was hearing.

 

“Jessica.” He addressed the woman over Xander’s shoulder. “Get me a beer since Xander wont. I don’t want to deal with this sober.”

 

His mother moved and there was no time to question it. Leaving her unguarded was dangerous. Something inside him screamed threat so much louder tonight. He tried to sidestep with her but to know exactly where to go, he would have to be looking. It was dangerous to take his eyes off of the man so he could only guess by the shuffling sounds she made. That’s what he tried to do. He did a poor job of it being more concerned with the menace in front of him.

 

“You think I’m a threat don’t you?”

 

Xander watched with wide eyes as his mother slipped past him and over to the enemy. For a moment his eyes flicked to her face. She flashed him an apologetic expression before handing the chilled can over. Without a hint of lost threat the man quickly cracked it open. The sound was ominously familiar. It brought back the memory of too many sleepless nights.

 

“Let me tell you this.” A step forward.

 

Xander wasn't here anymore. All his instincts had been screaming at him to protect his mother. She was in danger. She needed him, but she wasn’t with him. She was with the monster. It was too much for him, he regressed into the 6 year old boy who was ripped a new one for chewing loudly at dinner. I messed up, I did something wrong. He wanted to fall on his knees and beg forgiveness but real men don't beg, real men stay strong and take it without crying. He had to be a man, it was the most important lesson.

 

While he was struggling to surface from the unpleasant memories, his father encroached on his space. They were inches away from touching. He looked angry but worse there was a hint of pleasure there. A sadism that sparkled in his eyes. He liked the fight, a part of the man loved it when Xander missbehaved. He liked punishing him, flexing his control. The thought made Xander flinch.

 

“You don’t know what a real threat is.”

 

He hadn’t noticed that he was moving backward until he hit the stove. He had chosen to put himself in front. Braved the vanguard to protect his mom. Now here he was, trapped with nothing to show for it.

 

As a last ditch effort he looked to his mother again. She was scared. That was what he had been trying to save her from. She wasn't going to help him now. Even pleading with his eyes, she wasn't going to help him. She didn't trust him enough. She didn't believe that he was stronger than his father. And she was right, he was scared now too, terrified.

 

If there is one thing to know about animals it’s that they are most dangerous when trapped. The most cunning, the most ruthless. Same with humans. When you feel your life is really in danger, that’s when you fight back the hardest. It’s analogous to primals, just more pronounced.

 

Xander's body moved without him telling it to. The immature primal inside of him took over, as terrified as Xander but more willing to act. He groped at the air behind him, looking for something. A searing pain enveloped his palm the moment he touched the hot metal pan. It didn’t make him stop, instead he swung it out in front of him. He didn’t react to the feel of his skin smoldering, even as it grew worse. Keeping hold on the metal was causing his skin to blister and blacken, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered at that moment but getting free. Grease splattered all over the floor. The can of beer that just a moment ago was held firmly in one hand was now on the other side of the room pulsing out onto the tile floor. His father shouted, his mother screamed. All while Xander fell back on old habits and ran.

 

The shriek that passed her lips was one of terror not pain. She had not been so much as touched tonight. Her family had been fighting, that was nothing new. And then? How had the situation escalated so quickly? What did Xander do?

 

Oh god Tony.

 

She pulled him up to a sitting position from where he fell. She was petrified of what he would look like. Images of his face horribly disfigured filled her mind. She couldn’t see properly with tears filling her eyes. Her vision was mostly blobs of color with the torrent that was seemingly impossible to stop. She could see blurrily that his face was red. Oh no. God no. Only he wasn’t holding his face. He was holding his arm. She forced herself to breath which calmed the tears slightly. Then she wiped the water away with her shirtsleeve. Seeing clearly now she could tell that the red of his face wasn’t a burn. It was anger.

 

That’s to be expected right? Anger is a natural response to pain for men. And Xander too, he had just overreacted. Everything would be okay. Her mind was full of excuses for his actions. It had become so natural it was instinctual. The truth could be right in front of her and she wouldn’t see it.

 

She internally scolded herself for breaking down. Useless, you're being useless. Try and remember your EMT training from college Jessica. Burns, you know what to do for burns. Cool it down, keep it clean. Pain is good. It means that the nerves are still there. He doesn’t have a third degree burn. At worst it’s a second degree. She was wetting a towel with cold water in the sink when her husband stood. He stumbled out to the doorway and shouted after Xander in the dark.

 

“You better not come back if you know what's good for you! You hear me?! You’re an animal!”

 

She ran to his side and caught him before he fell again. She was able to guide him to slide down the wall instead of collapsing. Once the cloth was draped over his arm she spoke.

 

“I’ll go get the silver sulfadiazine. You can apply that while I drive us to the ER.”

 

“No hospitals. Just bring me another beer.” Not a second passed before he continued with an afterthought. “Actually I’ll take the cream too. But beer first.”

 

He was clutching the cloth against his arm and trying to stand. She didn’t help him. Nor did she argue that he go to the hospital. She was calmer now, knew better than to argue the point. Their son was gone, his pride couldn’t stand any more hits than that tonight.

 

In the dark outside Xander ran through the mostly empty streets of the suburb, driven by nothing but adrenaline. His hand throbbed. The skin was far too hot. The air had not yet cooled so it whipped against him without the relief of a desert night breeze. That was yet to come. Instead it added to his miserable state of being.

 

Xander and the primal spirit had been in agreement. Now they were pulling different directions again. The person he once was wanted to find a hole and curl up. He lost everything. He was worthless. The primal wanted to act. Wanted to work off the energy that had been building within them. The primal wanted anger. Anger was easier to understand than sadness, than guilt. Anger was easier to act on. The state Xander was in left no room for a fight, right now the primal was driving. The Xander of before too distraught to be making decisions.

 

He knew they weren’t alone. There were others. This one had a pack. He could find them but they were sure to already be looking for him. It wouldn’t be long.

 

And it wasn’t. The four others came from the side of the street. Circled around him, unsure yet if he was worthy to be one of them.

 

"What happened to your girlfriends Xander?"

 

"Yeah?" Another one of the cut in. "Did they break up with you for being too pathetic?"

 

As if anything they said could make a dent after what he had just been through. Xander knew what to do. He knew how to prove himself and wanted it. He wanted the fight. The desire placed in his head by the primal was more than tempting. It was intoxicating. That he could be something more than useless. Mean something. Be someone. Be the leader of this pack.

 

It took seconds to single out the current alpha. He was closer than the others. He moved first. The rest only followed. Xander had never seeked out a fight before. Arguments sure, he knew how to make people bleed with words, not fists. Still he knew how to defend himself. If this wasn’t over quick he could win by outlasting the other.

 

His eyes followed the brunet. All four had circled him but only the other brunet matered. Kyle, his mind managed to supply. He was the one who they were waiting for to decide. A smile snuck onto other primal's lips when their eyes locked. It wasn’t cruel or hateful. If anything it encouraged Xander. His stance now was an echo of his fathers. Solid, threatening, muscles tense and ready. The pain in his hand was again nothing to him. His fingers rolled tight into the burnt palm, thumb outside the fist. He may not know how to fight but he had heard plenty of bar brawl stories Best way to win was to end it before it starts. Throw the first punch as a finisher.

 

He moved faster than he knew he could. All at once his arms flew up, both to strike and to block. His left leg drew back. An imaginary T drawn between his feet’s wide stance. The rotation added to the momentum of his right arm as it snapped forward. His fist twisted as it approached the target. Thumb pointed inward by the time his knuckles connected with the bridge of his opponent’s nose. He could feel the snap of his arm at extension reverberate through him. Just as quickly as he had thrown it out he brought the arm back like a rubber band.

 

All of his pent up anger was unleashed in the compound movement. He had been coiled like a spring just waiting to be let go. Now that he had, adrenaline rushed through his body for the second time that night.

 

His untrained punch had been enough to knock the other back but not enough to knock him out. Good, he wanted more. This small taste of violence was not enough, his every nerve was screaming for more.

 

To his credit, Kyle completely ignored the red streaming down his face. He snapped his vision back to Xander and spit out the blood which had made its way down into his mouth with a grimace. Then they lunged at each other. Who moved first was impossible to tell. The three remaining primals watched the fight in rapture. They cheered, jeered and laughed in enjoyment of the spectacle.

 

Xander was right in predicting the outcome of a prolonged fight. Where his competitor had been focused on offense, Xander had iron defense. The hits that did land were nothing in comparison to what he knew. The old alpha was tired out far before Xander. When that much was clear he dropped the defense and turned to a brutal onslaught of shots. They weren't practiced and they weren't pretty but they were angry. He didn't have to hold back and he enjoyed every second of it. At his victim’s whimper of defeat Xander gave one last hard kick to the boy who had fallen. Just hard enough to make it clear who was in charge. Clear who decided when it was time to stop.

 

He dragged his eyes from the bloody mess at his feet to the eager faces of the other three. His pack. Old memories flickered within him. He already had a pack. He was supposed to meet Buffy and Willow at the Bronze. He had to go soon, besides it was about time he got something to eat. The Bronze was as good enough place to eat as any.

 

“Get him cleaned up. Then you can find me.”

 

They scrambled to grab the other and then ran off. He could get used to this. Before leaving himself he decided he should do something about his injury. He couldn't feel it, being still riled up from his fight, but knew it was there. He brought the hand up and opened it so he could see. What met him was unexpected. Rather than an angry burn there was only a faint scar over his skin.

 

The rest of the pack would be back sooner than expected. Best he make the most of it.

Chapter Text

She was more beautiful that he remembered.

 

Beyond the physical beauty he could always see, she exuded power, strength and energy. He could feel that now. She was a raging fire and he was a moth, drawn to her. Had been even before he knew knew the depth of it. Now he wanted her more than ever.

 

And the way he wanted her. He wanted everything, he wanted to possess her. He wanted that power and beauty to be his and he wanted everyone to know it. He couldn't see the way his thoughts were twisting. That or he didn't know enough to care.

 

There was also a lot going on in here. So much energy. It was calming to have his girls here but there was so much else that caught his attention. Like food, god was he hungry.

 

People spoke behind him, beside him, in front of him. Buffy’s voice was one of them. Was she expecting him to pay her more attention? He leaned over and took her scent in. He was expecting a smell that was richer, saltier more… Her. It threw him off, she smelled wrong.

 

"You took a bath." He felt sorry for it but she would smell like herself soon enough. All sweat and hormones. She should dance, that would help, and he could watch. Better yet he could join. He could press himself against her and make her smell like him.

 

Or maybe not, that idea was overbearing, Buffy wouldn't appreciate it.

 

He thought of the smooth burn scar on his palm. Now would be as good a time as any to share his newfound superpower. He could be a help to Buffy this way. They could fight side by side. Someday he might even save her life. In the heat of the moment he would kiss her and she would him kiss back, finally seeing him as more than a sidekick. It was a daydream, sure, but the hard part was over. He had power now, all he needed to do was use it.

 

He noticed right away when the pack entered. They stalked into the club looking around. Kyle wasn't better yet. He couldn't move with the same grace he had before but it was subtle. He had only healed enough for his cuts to close up. The blood on his face was washed away while a jacket hid the marks Xander left on his arms and torso.

 

They cut around to the table behind and started pestering the blimp sitting there. Good, he wanted them around. Whatever happened to him had happened to them.

 

Cutting back to his earlier line of thought he addressed Buffy and Will. “Listen guys I wanted to talk to you about something”

 

Rhonda shot him a death glare from the moment she heard. Words no longer had meaning. Her eyes pierced him and petrified the words on his lips.

 

She was telling him to say nothing. Not asking, not suggesting. She was telling him. Questioning her look never crossed his mind. He had been misled, Kyle as a human was an alpha but as for the hyenas, Rhonda was boss.

 

Buffy and Willow were people Xander trusted. That wasn’t true for her, they hardly had a reason to trust him. So he had bested Kyle, it wasn’t enough. Being in charge meant more than looking big. What was good for himself may not be good for the whole. So he refrained. At least for now.

 

"Hello? Earth to Xander?" Buffy pushed on his shoulder. "Are you there? What were you trying to say?"

 

"Oh, yeah." He searched his mind for something else to say. "I haven't eaten yet. Want to get some hot wings?"

 

"Kind of figured that from the state of my croissant."

 

Willow chimed in too. "I'd eat some if you wanted to buy."

 

The night out at the Bronze was reminding him what it felt like to be alive. He danced, flirted and enjoyed himself. He had the inhibitions of being a few drinks deep but none of the overconfidence. He knew exactly how much he could handle. Blood pounded within the confounds of his veins in time with the beat of the music. Both of his families were here. His chosen families. Buffy and Willow of the old and the larger one he had adopted during the night. He wished it would never end.

 

"I don't know about you two but I'm exhausted.” Buffy had just walked back to the table where drinks and food waited for her. Xander was busy chewing on one of the bones that remained of his order. His eyes hadn’t left her from the moment she stepped away.

 

“I'm ready to call it a night, Will said she is too. Are you coming Xander?"

 

There was no hiding the disappointment at Buffy wanting to leave. The selfish part of him longed to go with her, walk her home. If only to be near her longer. Unfortunately, he had more important things to do. "I'm going to stay."

 

"Xan, it's a school night." Willow. Worrying about him again.

 

"Maybe you should go back to minding your own business." Woah, back up. Where did that come from? "I just mean that I'm not ready to go home yet."

 

She had wide eyes at his outburst but acquiesced when Buffy took her arm. "Come on Willow."

 

The girl gave him a glare on behalf of their mutual friend as they both left. Xander matched it with an innocent smile before she turned around. His eyes shamelessly dropped down her shapely figure, lingering on her ass a second longer before taking in her toned legs

 

It didn’t take long for the empty space at the table to be filled.

 

"You don't have to go chasing tail you know." Hedi was leaning over the table to show off her cleavage as she spoke, an extra button undone on her top. Behind her, Rhonda was leaning back against one of the supports. Looked like this was all her idea and now she was waiting to see how he’d react. Both were clearly into him, he could smell it as much as see it.

 

"You have girls here that are more than capable and willing.” Heidi went on. Her tongue teased against the corner of her mouth and she made sure he noticed the way she looked at every part of him. “We could even share."

 

"I know what I want" He might have seemed unflustered if it weren't for bone in his hand snapping under the force of his fingers tensing.

 

Even having declined the offer he let his eyes drift back down to the blonde's chest. In his head he was a swooning, babbling mess at the sex appeal being handed to him on a platter. Still on the surface he kept his calm. With some effort he tore his eyes away and looked again to the door out of the club. She wasn't here anymore but he could still pick up the scent of her sweat intertwined with shampoo.

 

"I know exactly what I want." More for himself than anyone else he repeated the statement under his breath.

 

He didn't go home. There was nothing left to go home to. Instead he worked out somewhere to stay by talking to the others. Kyle and Tor would let him borrow clothes and they all figured whatever about his school things. It wasn't like he did homework anyway.

 

Rhonda wanted to take him home but he decided against it. It was best to take the time and reaffirm his standing with Kyle. He also just wanted a glimpse of how big a bruise he had made the guy. She smiled sinfully at his explanation and let it go.

 

Twenty minutes later he and Kyle were across town. "This is it." There was none of the usual vibrato in his tone.

 

Xander looked around the room the two had climbed into. It was big. He had a desk and TV and nice looking bed. He even had his own bathroom.

 

"I can take some sheets and make myself a bed on the floor I guess."

 

"I'll take the floor." Xander offered it before he even considered what he was giving up. "Easier to hide from your parents if they come in."

 

"Wouldn't worry about them. Dad's on a business trip and mom's never up before me." He noticed an insecurity there that wasn't visible before.

 

"I get it." Far more was communicated in that moment than what was simply said aloud. It wasn't much between the two, but there is a camaraderie that forms between people who go through similar traumas. He gave recognition with the phrase, but also an out.

 

'This isn't something we have to talk about, because I get it.' That was all it took for the bully to go back to normal.

 

It occurred to Xander belatedly that the guy was worried about him. Worried about what he was going to do with getting a tour of his home life. Only, Xander couldn't care less. He knew a crap situation when he saw one, and this was nothing. A dad that's always gone and a mom who's around but not present? Sounded like Christmas not having to deal with them. Except not Christmas because his Christmases were the boozy eggnog version of awful.

 

Morning saw him sneaking out while the other teenager was still sleeping. He had thrown some clothes in a bookbag not unlike his own and bolted. He idly considering stashing it someplace as he made his way to campus.

 

_-_-_-_-_

 

The sound of shuffling in her room woke her early that morning. "Tony?" She was still half asleep. "What time is it?"

 

"It's late, I have to get to the job site."

 

She rubbed her eyes against the light in the room and flickered her eyelids until her pupils adjusted. Her husband was grabbing clothes from the dresser by the foot of the bed. He was less than half dressed, a ripped white undershirt and boxer briefs all he had on.

 

She knew herself too well to think she would be able to fall back asleep. Feet firmly on the floor, she wet her mouth with last night's water glass on her nightstand.

 

"What time did Xander come back last night?"

 

"He didn't."

 

Her heart skipped a beat. "Stop messing with me Tony. What time did he come in last night? I know you were by the door."

 

He stopped what he was doing and turned around to face her where she sat. "Why do you think I'm late woman?" Not unsurprisingly, his voice was filled with anger. "I was up all night waiting for him to try and sneak past me."

 

She couldn't believe her ears. What did he mean her baby didn't come home? He had to have. She forgot everything else and ran down the hallway to his bedroom. He wasn't there. Just like her husband had said, he wasn't there. The room was untouched, a mess, but untouched. His CD player lay strewn on his bed with headphones still plugged in. A pile of clothes at the foot and his backpack under the window.

 

He hadn't come back. He really hadn't come back.

 

-_-_-_-_-

 

He wasn't sure what he was doing here. He never cared for school, even less now. Willow had been trying to shove the crap down his throat but he showed her. That had been more fun than he expected, but not satisfying. He liked the tears she shed and the pain he caused but he wasn't sure he liked it being her. Still it was necessary. She and her frustrating hyper awareness of him was getting in the way.

 

His only saving grace at the school was being a part of something bigger than himself. All five of them were currently hanging around at a picnic table after eating. The 'razorback' was hardly more than an appetizer. One that stuck unpleasantly between his teeth. The rest seemed content to relax after their meal but Xander was antsy. He had eaten yet still wasn’t sated. He wanted more prey, Preferably something that would put up a fight.

 

Ronda stretched beside him and draped herself over his arm in one fluid movement. Her fingers started to play over his chest while her eyes slowly made their way up to his own. She met him with a look that was full of carnal promise. Her mind had taken a similar track to his own. Instead of her actions being the enticement she wanted, it clarified who he was hungering for. His body protested every inch of distance he moved from the willing girl. His primal however, had early on garnered a taste for conflict. He hungered for conquest. She was already his, or maybe he was hers. Either way it made her uninteresting. The primal wanted a challenge and there was no question who that meant.

 

Buffy.

 

She was looking for him. That made the whole situation sweeter. He considered stalking her for a bit but decided it was against his style. It might be her type but he wasn’t going to play into that. Xander came up behind her as she was looking at picked over pieces of Herbert.

 

“Xander.” Her voice was soft and sweet. It was lovely but not what he liked most about her. He wanted her bite not the bark. Maybe he could bait it out of her. She tried to get past him but he mirrored her steps.

 

Trap her. it worked to bring your monster out.

 

“This is ridiculous.” Buffy turned away but before he knew it she was on top of him.

 

Aggression is good. So good he was loving every second.

 

“Been waiting for you to jump my bones.” Being so close only made him want her more. He wanted to touch her. Wanted to kiss her. Wanted to own her. He flipped the two of them over and sat on her. He didn’t sit high on her where her legs wouldn’t reach to wrap around him and flip herself on top again. He didn’t bring his knees up to her shoulders and lock her arms. He left holes. He wanted her to fight back. He wanted her to shove him off.

 

“Get off of me.” There she was, there was the spunk and defiance that made her so enticing.

 

“Is that what you really want?” He meant the words as more bait. Even so, she was more than able to throw him, maybe she did want this. He was at least as strong as her now. That was a rush. He liked feeling her struggle beneath his grip. He liked smelling her fear.

 

With a lean in he made to smell her, touch her. And if it wasn't all the most unbelievable thing he ever experienced. She was heavenly. He let down his guard and she threw him off.

 

Part of him wanted to comfort her. He wanted to tell her everything was alright and there was no reason for alarm.

 

‘It’s all a game sweetheart. I won’t hurt you much. Just enough to be fun.’

 

The words that did flow out of his mouth were instead a continuation of before. He didn’t pay them much attention. Instead he backed her up towards the wall, watching himself push into her space as if it were a movie.

 

“Look, Xander I don’t want to hurt you.”

 

He grabbed her by the wrists again and slammed her up against the vending machine. “Now do you want to hurt me?”

 

He was so close to her. It was intoxicating. He pressed into her and held her there even as she shook him. He gave into the sensation, felt her in ways she didn't want to be felt. He knew he had crossed a line but his body was already acting. He didn't have the willpower to stop anymore, so why couldn't he just enjoy it?

 

He knew there was a reason. Even as he buried his head against her neck he knew there was a reason. He owed Buffy his life. He owed her his respect. He owed her to listen when she said no. She hadn't exactly been saying no but she wasn't saying yes either. Rationally he knew she didn't want this. But how was this different from every time he had actually said no? How was this different from not wanting to drink and being coerced into a drunken stupor? How was this different from praying to a god he wasn't sure he believed in, for the chance to fall asleep without fear of what might happen in the night?

 

He knew the answer. He was the difference. He had the say. He had the control, the power. Power was what he wanted when this started. The primal had given him a taste of that and this was the cost. He could have all he wanted if he just gave in.

 

He noticed she was panting against him. “Xander.” Her voice was airy and it made him draw back to look into her eyes. He hoped that there might be something new waiting for him there.

 

What she had for him turned out to be headbutt. He recoiled but didn’t allow himself to let go.

 

“There it is!” He sung the words out through the pain with a devilish smile. “I was waiting for you to come out. You’re an animal Buffy. Just like me.” He dropped her wrists and caressed her sides. “You like this. Just like I do. You crave the danger of it.” He took away the opportunity for her to respond by catching her lips in a kiss. His hips moved into hers of their own will and he felt her try to buck him off. His earlier thought repeated in his mind ‘she doesn’t want this.’

 

He wasn't given the chance to see if he could make himself stop. As much as he considered her a challenge he never considered her seriously fighting back. It was all a game to him. She pulled up her knee and caught him between the legs. He had to step back, not just in firery pain but also the flash of nausea accompanying it.

 

She pushed the advantage by literally pushing him. The extra force caused him to lose his balance and again he tumbled to the floor. She didn’t follow him this time. No, what followed him was the flat side of a desk.

 

When he awoke he felt unshackled. Ironic considering he was locked up, but he felt more like himself. Less drawn to do things he normally wouldn’t entertain the thought of. From the other side of the library's restricted access he could see her.

 

"Willow."

 

"How are you feeling?"

 

"Like somebody hit me with a desk." Buffy had done that. He deserved it too. God, what a prick he had been. He had been terrible to Will as well. None of it seemed worth forgiving. "What am I doing here?"

 

She called him sick, said he needed to rest. Something about it made him angry. "Buffy and her all-purpose solution. Punch 'em out, knock 'em down." What was he really angry about though? "What would she do to somebody who's really sick?" He practically spat the question.

 

"That's not fair! Buffy's saved both of our lives."

 

And it hit him why. He was angry because she didn't want him. "Before she came, our lives didn't need that much saving, did they?" He looked at Willow, she wanted him. He said as much before. The primal recognized it where he hadn't. "Weren't things a lot simpler when it was just you and me?"

 

"Maybe" and she dropped some of her defenses, soft underbelly visible again.

 

"When we were alone together."

 

Had he really just said that? It was never 'just you and me' they were rarely ever alone together. He had always divided them with Jesse. He took a step back within himself to clear is mind.

 

"I know there's something wrong with me." It was painful to admit but this was his friend. "I think it's getting worse." He never would have done what he had to Buffy otherwise. He never would have been so turned on by her panic.

 

They kept talking. With each thing he said he felt a little less secure that he was the only one talking to Willow.

 

"If I'm so dangerous, how come she left you alone with me?" He needed to know. If he really wasn't safe he didn't want Willow hurt.

 

"I told her to." She replied simply.

 

"Why?" It was more than a simple question. The part of him that was still him needed to know why she would put herself in harm's way.

 

"Cause I know you better than she does. And I wanted to be here to see if you were still you."

 

"You know I am." He struggled to catch her eyes. She cared for him. "Look at me." More than that, she loved him. "Look." She had done for him what he tried to do for his mother. She wanted to protect him.

 

"Xander"

 

Just when he thought they made a connection he lost control. The primal shoved him back and jumped to grab the keys from her.

 

The softness in her eyes died. "Now I know."

 

"Let me out! Let me out!" The primal screamed while Xander finally broke. What fragments of his heart were remaining shattered. It was all over. He lost.

 

There was nothing left for him to give to his friends because there was nothing left of him. All that was left was to find a secluded corner in his mind, curl up and die. He couldn't watch himself fail to protect, no, he wasn't that noble. He couldn't watch himself hurt the people he loved anymore. It was too painful. They would better off without him.

 

Every second after that ate away at Xander. Every action cemented the primal as true owner of his body. He had given up. The only hope he had was that he might be able to scavenge enough strength to kill himself and the monster.

Chapter Text

"Didn't your mom teach you? Don't play with your food."

 

Buffy.

 

His eyes drew up to her standing above him on the roof of the car he had just been attacking. She stood proud and confident. It made him want to scream.

 

Buffy, leave! Run! Don't let me hurt you anymore!

 

He couldn't command his own mouth to speak. Instead the primal part of him reveled in the return of his favorite target.

 

"Come on. You know what you want." She was playing with him, being her worriless sassy self and it was going to get her killed.

 

Buffy please. He wanted to beg. There are too many of us.

 

She ran and he was hot on her heels in no time. She jumped fences and cut over lawns but it didn't matter. He was gaining on her. The rest were just behind him, following his lead. He could feel them, feel their excitement and hunger. This wouldn't be like before. She couldn't turn the tables on him again, not while he had her outnumbered.

 

She drew him to the zoo and down the path to the hyena house. The place where this all started. He watched as her form disappeared around the corner into the building. This was it, the dead end. Snarling he whipped around the corner and tackled her. Seconds and the rest were on her as well.

 

Words were shouted that he couldn't understand but something deep within him did.

 

Energy cascaded over him. Waves at the feet of the creature inside growing into swift river rapids. The spell lifted and he felt something change. The energy washed away the primal spirit, the attuned senses and the power. He slipped into the cockpit of his body but it was off, as if the seat had been moved and he wasn't allowed to fix it. A moment ago he felt like half a man. Now he was whole again but not all of it felt like him.

 

He had no time to ponder because it registered that his friend was being held with a knife to her throat. He ran for her. There was no thought to the action, only the instinct of protecting his pack.

 

His pack. Pack had never been his word. He recognized that now. He tried to shake the feeling off. He would remove the word from his vocabulary if he had to. He grabbed Willow and Buffy fought the man who took in Xander's and the others' monsters. The result was a rabid mess of a person. Watching the fight was enough to make it sink in. That beast had been him.

 

Buffy flipped the zookeeper over the railing, leaving the three of them to hear his screams as he was ripped apart below them. Xander's mind flashed back to the terrified squeals of Herbert. He was still replaying the nightmare long after their enemy was dead.

 

Giles poked his head around a door to the side. "Did I miss anything?"

 

There were many things he had to address. So many it was overwhelming. It would be so much easier not to talk about it. Pretend all was normal. He felt horrible for everything he had done. He was beating himself up already, the last thing he needed to hear was how awful a person he was from his two best friends. If he had to talk about it, he was sure that he would break.

 

Luckily, no one pushed the subject on the walk home. Fueled by guilt he walked Willow all the way to her doorstep.

 

"Thank you. You know you didn't ha-"

 

Her words cut off as he wrapped her in a hug. "X-Xander!" She was stiff at first but slowly started to relax into his embrace. Her own arms came up to mirror his. When they both let go she was the first to speak.

 

"What was that about?" Her face was redder than her hair.

 

His whole body shrunk back in embarrassment. One arm reached to scratch the back of his head while his eyes looked everywhere but at her. "I just was scared seeing you like that is all."

 

"Oh, well thanks."

 

He looked up at her and said his impulsive thoughts before he could talk himself out of them. "I love you Will." He looked in her eyes for a moment and then he took off, even more embarrassed.

 

Willow said nothing from her position on the porch of her house. She was too surprised to say anything. Rationally she knew he meant it platonically but her heart sang at the promise of her feelings being returned.

 

_-_-_-_-_

 

It was dark outside and he had nowhere to go. It terrified him to be out so late knowing just how powerless he was. First thing he did was grab a piece of wood sharp enough for a stake. It made him feel no safer. He knew he didn't have the finesse to use it.

 

Just another late night walk to clear your mind Xan. Calm down.

 

If only he could be blissfully unaware of the monsters in the night. Maybe he could sneak in the window of his bedroom after his parents fell asleep. Would have been smart to have asked Giles if he could crash on his couch.

 

Strangely enough the place his feet took him, was back to Kyle's. When he saw the house before him it didn’t take much convincing for him to follow the same path up into the second floor window. Without supernaturally strengthened muscles, it was a much harder climb.

 

He pushed up the unlocked window and pulled himself in to the room. He was careful not to make too much noise. It took some effort when a nail sticking out the corner of the window dug into his arm. He wanted to curse but all he let himself express was a sharp exhale through gritted teeth.

 

Once he finally finished clambering into the window he looked around the room. No one was there. He hadn’t expected there to be. He wasn't even sure what he was doing here. With his hands stuffed into his pockets he walked over to the dresser on which the TV was situated. Beside it was an N64 and a DVD player. Kid was really spoiled.

 

An image flashed in his head of taking one or both of them and smashing it against the wall. His hands twitched with the desire but he willed them to stay put.

 

Xander walked from there to the desk on the far wall. There were pictures in a messy pile on one side. He didn't bother moving them around to see the parts that hid beneath. He could tell from the top they were various shots of the four of them, Kyle, Rhonda, Tor and Heidi.

 

What were they to him now? He couldn't go back to just seeing them as trash. His heart constricted painfully just thinking of using that word to describe them. Maybe that was why he was here. See if there was something he could salvage of this. As bad as it had been, he didn't want to let them go. He could still feel a connection between them.

 

The door to the room creaked open and Xander spun around. Kyle stood there, staring at him in disbelief. A second passed before he watched the brown eyes flick to the open window and back to Xander. Then they drifted down to the cut Xander could still feel burning. He brought the arm up and rotated it with his other hand so he could see. The fabric of his shirt was ripped straight through. Beneath it, he was bleeding. There was more blood than he expected from the amount of pain.

 

Kyle walked passed him into the on suite bathroom. Xander didn't move. He wasn't sure what was expected of him.

 

"You coming?" That solved one mystery.

 

As he walked in Kyle was pulling things out of a cabinet and from under the sink. He didn't say anything, just put his hand out and waited for Xander to give him his. In his head Xander was questioning every step. This meant there was something there that was real, something that wasn’t just from the possession. He hoped that was what it meant. Kyle ripped the hole in his sleeve wider before starting to work.

 

When the isopropyl hit his skin he had to take in a terse breath. Everything hurt so much more but all his other senses were dimmer. His skin felt like paper for how fragile it was. Did Kyle feel the same?

 

"How are you feeling after… You know?" He couldn't bring himself to say it.

 

"Shut up."

 

"Okay." Xander acquiesced and hung his head low.

 

Kyle finished by applying a large square bandage over the damaged skin then looked up so that they caught eyes.

 

Xander turned his sight back down fast. He started speaking unsteadily. "Listen, things weren't great and I want to apologize, but-"

 

He was cut off from saying any more when Kyle grabbed the front collar of his shirt and pushed him against the wall in a flash. For a moment they just stared at each other. Kyle's eyes were narrowed and dangerous, his mouth set and jaw clenched. For the hundredth time that night, Xander didn't know what to do. For everything he imagined this was not one of the scenarios he pictured. He didn't dare let his wide eyes move from Kyle's. His shoulders were up near his ears, while his free arms were held eye height with wide hands. He needed to make himself seem as unthreatening as possible.

 

It didn't take much longer for Kyle to start speaking. "I don't care who you are, what you did, or what you are sorry for.” His words were set to a slow and steady tempo. “All I know is that if you ever show up here again, I will kill you."

 

I'll kill you

 

The words echoed in his head. Now two voices were saying it over each other. Human voices, because it meant something more coming from a person. It was just the expected reaction from a vampire. ‘Grr arg, I’m going to eat you.’ But from family and from someone he thought of as a friend, it hurt as much as if one of them had actually done it.

 

"Try to talk to me and mine, and I'll do the same." He took a deep breath, possibly to control his anger. "You even look at Rhonda or Heidi and I'll make you beg for it first." Then he stepped back and tossed him away in the direction of the bedroom.

 

Xander stared back, dumbfounded. His mouth was open and growing dry. He closed to wet it before trying to speak again. Kyle didn't let him.

 

"We aren't friends. We never were and never will be. Now get out of my house."

 

He scrambled to the window and climbed out it without grace. He practically fell from the second floor and landed on his side painfully. The window loudly snapped shut above him.

 

He pushed himself into a sitting position on the grass with shaking arms. All of him was shaking. Not major tremors but enough to make his muscles feel hollow and overworked. There probably wasn't a way that could have gone worse if he had tried.

 

He had been holding in so much for so long and it wasn’t possible anymore. He broke down. Water flowed from his eyes and his breath became an irregular series of pants and hiccups. But he wasn’t crying. He couldn’t be crying. Crying was weak, and he just couldn’t let himself be that.

 

Hours passed in numb silence once he had exhausted his supply of emotion. All he did was walk. He didn’t care anymore if a vampire wanted to make him into a snack. At least if that happened he wouldn’t have to feel like this anymore. He wouldn’t be constantly reminded of the ways he didn’t measure up in anyone’s eyes. Cars occasionally drove by. It occurred to him that must be really late by now but he didn’t have a watch. With each passing car he let himself walk farther out into the road. His primal chosen dark clothes were making it hard for the late night drivers to notice him. The displaced air would whip by him as they flew past. They were almost close enough to touch.

 

He saw the headlights of one coming and it just seemed clear to him in that split second. He stepped forward as if he were just trying to cross the street. The car slammed on its horn and swerved. A second later it was stopped, crooked, on the side of the road. The slam of the car door reverberated in his bones. He stood there in the middle of the street replaying what he had just done in his head. A man came up to him and threw his hands on Xander's shoulders which finally made him look up. It was a college age kid with bloodshot wide eyes.

 

“Are you alright? I didn’t even see you. Let me take you to the hospital or something.” The twenty something’s breath smelled like alcohol. Anger flashed through him but Xander did his best to shrug it off.

 

“No I’m fine, leave me alone.”

 

“Listen man you have to let me do something.” his hands dropped from Xander’s shoulders. “I almost killed you.”

 

He chuckled despite himself. “Yeah almost.”

 

“Are you…” the guy gestured to his head for a moment. “Alright?”

 

The anger boiled up in him again. “Are you alright?!” The rage flowed through him more readily than sadness had earlier. “You reek of weed and booze!” He shoved the guy. “What the hell are you doing driving?”

 

“Bro calm down, nothing actually happened so we are all good right? I’ll give you my word I’ll never touch another bottle.” The guy was trying to say something as he backed away hands up, but Xander couldn’t care less. Channeling the beast that was now a part of him, he drew his arm back and slammed a right hook into the bastard’s jaw.

 

-_-_-_-_-

 

“Xander!”

 

His mother’s voice rang out to him before he saw her. He turned his head towards the voice from where he sat just as she wrapped him in a bear hug. He didn’t return the hug. He couldn’t because his hands were cuffed in his lap. He did enjoy it though. He leaned into her familiar embrace and lost himself in her comforting scent until she pulled away.

 

“Xander I’ve been so worried.” Her hand brushed against his cheek. The two of them were on a bench in the brightly lit Sunnydale Police precinct. “Where were you?” She almost whispered. She must not have been looking for an answer because her voice continued and picked up volume. “Did you eat enough? Did you stay warm? Are you sick?” Her concern was thick and real. Tears started streaming down her face before she embraced him again.

 

“I’m okay mom." He lifted his arms against her. "Just a little tied up."

 

The officers who had responded to the anonymous 911 call found Xander still raging. He felt calm now but the damage was already done.

 

She came back up and looked at him with watery eyes. “Oh Xander I’m so sorry. I never should have let any of this happen.” She stood up and started figuring out what she needed to do in order to take her son home.

 

The police tried to convince her to take him in for a psych evaluation which she didn't take kindly to. “My boy’s not crazy, and he doesn’t need doctors poking around in his mind. He just needs his momma and a good night’s rest."

 

"Ma'am we have reason to believe that he may have been trying to kill himself tonight."

 

"You just shut up about that!" She shouted and pointed an accusatory finger at the officer. Xander winced at the outburst which was so unlike his mother. "Now uncuff my boy and let me take him home. You aren't charging him with anything are you?"

 

"No ma'am, the other suspect admitted blame for everything. Being that your son is a minor and has no previous record, we are likening Mr. Harris's actions as misguided self defense."

 

She walked back over to Xander and faked a strong smile. It looked to him, like it was held together by sheer willpower. He half expected it to shatter at any moment. Once he had his hands free again she grabbed his arm and started walking for the door.

 

“Come on, I’ll take you home.”

 

It was the last place he wanted to go but he knew it was the only place he had. They loaded into her sedan and she took off from the police station. It was several minutes before he noticed that they weren't heading the direction of home.

 

"Mom? Where are we going?"

 

Her mouth twitched downward for just a second. He might have missed it but he was watching her for any sign of what was going on. Finally she spoke.

 

"Your father didn't want to come pick you up when we got the call." Light would cross her face as they passed under a streetlight and then be lost to dark again. "He said…" She shook her head before continuing. "You don't want to hear what he said."

 

He really didn't. Still, some part of him needed to know. "Tell me."

 

She made a heavy sigh before going on. "He said it was your mess and that it was about time you learned to clean up after yourself."

 

The only sound in the vehicle was the gentle rumble of the engine and the tires against pavement. It wasn't silent but he heard every detail of the noise with clarity. Listening to that meant not thinking and that was exactly what he wanted to do just now. He didn't want to feel anything but numb.

 

"...Thanks."

 

Xander thought that the conversation was over but his mother didn't stop. "He wanted to leave you there... That he meant what he said... and you couldn't come back." She was having a hard time saying the words. They were being cut off by sniffles and gasps of air. It was amazing she could keep driving. He saw it all. He saw the light reflect off red, wet cheeks. He saw the way her breath came in unsteady pulls. He saw it and didn't feel anything, not the slightest twinge of empathy.

 

Jessica counted to eight in her head and repeated it again and again until she felt she was calmer. Her eyes flicked over to her son but all he did was quietly stare out the window at the passing scenery. She couldn't know what was going on in his head. As much as she wanted to, it wasn’t possible.

 

Every second of the drive she questioned her decision to choose Xander over Tony. She just wasn’t strong enough to handle this all on her own. There had to have been some way she could have done better. Some way she could have convinced her husband to let their son come back.

 

Standing off with the police officers had taken everything she had. Now she had to use reserves that didn't exist to keep from turning around and driving to the comfort of home. It was like running on fumes.

 

They pulled into the parking lot of a crappy motel on the edge of town. She had hastily packed two bags, one for each of them. Her son had been taking care of himself alone for two days. The least she could do now was take his side. Even if that meant staying in a sty.

 

Xander showered first while she made a quick run to the nearest convenience store. She needed some courage to get through this. It didn't take long to pick out a beverage but halfway up to the register she saw chips and decided to pick some up. She was pretty sure he liked the spicy Doritos.

 

Still towel drying his hair Xander came out of the bathroom back into the tiny, two bed room. Allen Trebek was listing off so called interesting facts about the Jeopardy contestants on TV. His mother was watching it with feigned interest and nursing an IPA. She was propped against the headboard of the closer bed in their dingy motel room. He sat down on the same bed instead of crossing in front of the game show.

 

Her hand brushed against him and caused him to look back at her. She had a small smile that wanted to say 'everything was going to be okay' but couldn't quite believe it herself. He slumped the rest of the way onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. There were watermarks and discolored splashes of what? He didn't want to know. His mother's hand drifted into his mostly dry hair and gently started massaging his scalp. With the comfort, he closed his eyes and let himself relax. He drifted off listening to the TV.

 

"In 1776 this future Secretary of the Treasury served as a captain of a New York artillery company"

 

Xander heard the buzzer followed by a faux question/answer.

 

"Who is Alexander Hamilton?"

 

In his dream addled mind he heard his own name spoken. It sucked him into the first of many nights of restless terror. He betrayed his friends and family again and again, unable to control himself. He lost each one of them, all in different ways of his own making.

 

The next morning his mother drove him into school without a complaint. She tried talking a few times but he again stared out the window and said nothing. She would fade off for a while without the encouragement of responses. Then, without warning, would jump into some other topic with renewed energy. His mind wasn’t with her. He knew she was scared of being left in silence but there was a lot weighing on him. He had to face his friends today. He wasn't sure how he could handle acting like nothing happened but it could only end up worse if he let them know the truth.

 

One thing was for sure. He wasn't going to let himself lose them too.

Chapter Text

Xander and his mother were lounging in front of the TV. They had just finished their fast food picnic in front of the premiere of a new show called Stargate SG1. His mom loved everything about the original Stargate movie so he was dragged into watching it with her. It was actually pretty good, and he’d always thought Amanda Tapping was hot, so he was pretty excited for next week’s episode .

 

"Just so you know, I spoke to Grams and Pa." It seemed to him like a random thing for his mom to bring up. "They are expecting us next week."

 

Xander turned his head from the ending credits of the pilot. "We're moving?"

 

"I wasn't planning on living in a one room motel forever." She rolled her eyes like it was obvious.

 

"But…” He searched for some excuse to stay. “But what about school?"

 

"Your grandparents live in a good school district. Won't be too hard to transfer you over.” She stood and started to clean up the picnic laid out between them on her bed. “It was where we were going to raise you originally anyway."

 

"But it's the middle of the semester.” He said panicked. He was quickly up on his feet, following her while she tidied up. “I can't leave now. What about my friends?"

 

"You can stay in touch." She offered without missing a beat. Her hands kept busy gathering trash into the plastic bags their food came in.

 

Stay in touch? He didn’t want to just stay in touch. He wanted to be here with them, fighting with them. He couldn’t do that over the phone.

 

"Mom you don't understa-"

 

“You think I don’t but I have had to move before too." She gave him what he assumed was supposed to be a reassuring smile. "You’ll make new friends. It’ll be fine. Willow can visit us in Arizona whenever she wants.”

 

“I really doubt Willow’s parents are going to drive her that far.” And Buffy probably won't be able to leave the Hellmouth. He added internally.

 

“She can take a bus, or a train. You can also visit here. Gives you some insensitive to get your driver's license. Take turns traveling." She tied up the trash and set it next to the door to be taken care of tomorrow. "I know your grandparents are going to love having you around.”

 

“Yeah I’m sure." He said sarcastically. "I bet they have tons of silver they need polished and yard work that needs to be done.”

 

“Do I need to remind you that they were the ones that bought you the super nintendo you love so much?” Her expression was harsh only for a moment. "Really Xander," She offered exasperated. "What is more important to you, friends or family?” She had turned to face him, hands on her hips. “It feels impossible to leave them now but you won't feel that way forever. Blood is thicker than water."

 

What do you say to something like that? Buffy and Willow didn’t feel any less important to him, but family will always be there for you. 'Whether I like you or not.' His parents told him hundreds of times. His aunt, his uncle, all of them had said it in one way or another. 'Family is forever.' His aunt had told him distance doesn't matter. 'If you get in trouble, give me a call and I'll use every connection I have to help.' His uncle had told him something similar. 

 

Even his dad had said it. 'You need something you come to me. Don't go off talking to your mom or aunt. You come to me first.' He could still remember the weirdly intimidated way he felt in that conversation. His father had made him promise. They were talking about something which outwardly seemed like it was good for him. Dad was telling him how much he would do for him, but there was a dangerous tone to his voice. A threat that said you have to agree.

 

That voice didn't only make him scared for himself. It made him scared of what the man was willing to do if he asked it.

 

"We will be leaving Friday night." His mother's soft tone cut into the dark memories. "I'll write down the address and number for you to share with your friends."

 

Xander stood there, mouth agape. He didn’t have an answer for how to fix this. He couldn’t leave but he couldn’t not go with her either. After all, blood is thicker than water.

 

_-_-_

 

The pans crashed together with a loud clatter as he stumbled in the kitchen. He steadied himself with his right hand against the counter. The clack of the mostly empty glass he held echoed through the cabinet underneath. Throwing his head back he finished off the pint then set it down. He scratched at the beard he hadn’t bothered to shave in several days, maybe weeks. No one was bitching at him about it scraping her when he gave her a kiss.

 

One more try and he had a frying pan on the stove. He pulled open the tin of spam on the counter and tossed some in to sear. Then he reached for the whiskey bottle only to find it empty. Wasting no time he went to the cabinet in the corner where Jessica kept her cocktail liquors. He grabbed out the vodka, twisted off the cap and messily poured a few fingers worth in the bottom of his pint. His sober mind would have called it two shots, but even his sober mind would have underestimated it.

 

One of the last cans of his thirty pack was out in the next second. The beer hit the clear liquid at the bottom with a splash. When he couldn't fit in anymore he dumped some of the drink over his dinner, a sizzle as it hit the hot metal, and drank the rest.

 

Not much later he took the pan off the heat. He swiped up the grease with bread and folded it around the slice of over processed meat. 

 

Next he knew, sunlight filtering in through the blinds woke up him up in his chair. A pounding headache signaled the start of the worst hangover he had had in years. Making that sandwich was the last thing he remembered. His limbs protested movement but he either needed water or more alcohol to start feeling better. He opened the cabinet to grab a fresh glass. Inside it had three shelves. The bottom two were overflowing with tapered pint glasses from different bars and breweries. The couple Guinness glasses mixed in were obvious to see with their uniquely curved shape.

 

On the top shelf were Jessica's wine glasses.

 

He sighed and grabbed a glass at random from the lowest shelf. Tap water filled it twice. The first time it was gulped down so fast he hadn't bothered to stop running the faucet. The second time he sipped at it while shuffling to the bathroom for the bottle of ibuprofen. There was a stain on the wall of the stairs. The ache in his bones told him that he had probably fallen down them last night.

 

It took an hour for the painkillers to kick in and it wasn't a pretty one. He spent most of it reclined with an arm over his eyes but he couldn't fall back asleep. He wished he could still talk to his parents. His father would tell him what to do now, how to fix this mess. His mother would just listen to him. For hours if he needed it. Only, he was dead and she was on the other side of the country in a nursing home paid for by his mostly estranged younger sister.

 

She might not even recognize his voice anymore.

 

Still he picked up the phone. There was one person he had. He had his brother.

 

-_-_-

 

The next day Xander dawdled in the library after Will and Buffy left for last period. He skipped ninth more often than any of his other classes. Jesse and him had taken it together. Only class he had in his schedule with just Jesse. Buffy, Willow or both were in the rest of the classes he had shared with his late best friend. It felt weird to sit there alone. On top of that, he hadn't been able to focus all day. The things his mother had said were bouncing around in his brain.

 

“Hey Giles you know that saying 'blood is thicker than water'?”

 

“Ah yes, there are many references to that over the course of history.”

 

“So you know it then.”

 

“Indeed I do. What were you wondering about it?”

 

“Is there any truth to it you think?’

 

“In which manner?’

 

“Huh?”

 

“Several versions of the saying exist. Some of which are direct contradictions of each other." He closed his book making Xander realize his explanation was going to take a while. "There is the most prevalent, which you stated: Is teughaidh fuil no burn if I remember correctly." He spouted off something that sounded both archaic and angry. "There is also the other contemporary version: The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. Many believe this to be the full quote but there is no backing to that claim. This version means that the relationships we choose or, more aptly, earn in battle, hence the blood, are more important than those we are born into. There are also a few others but they generally fall into those two categories. Given all this, my answer would be dependant on to which quote you are referring.”

 

About half of what Giles said sunk in. The other half was scrambling around his head looking for a brain cell that wasn't already occupied. “I really don’t know.”

 

“What is all this about Xander?”

 

“Nothing." The boy had a contemplative look that was unlike him. Giles had often seen him struggle to understand something but this was different. He was working through a problem but rather than having trouble coming to a solution, it looked like he already had and was upset with the answer. "I just was curious is all. History project." He added quickly. "Thanks G.”

 

He watched as Xander ran distractedly out of the library. Giles had no idea what was causing him to act this way. He did however wish him the best. No matter how frustrating the kid could be. 

 

_-_-_

 

Dirt and grass filled his mouth as he hit the ground. Hard. 

 

Every single time he tried to help Buffy this happened. A smarter guy would have given up by now but no one ever envied Xander for his brains. He scrambled up to his knees, spitting gritty saliva. Behind him he could hear grunts of Buffy fighting the demon which knocked him down. He turned just in time to see the Slayer land a hit on the demonic beast.

 

“Willow!” She called out to their friend and immediately Will tossed Buffy her sword. She barely managed to parry the claw slash that was brought down over her face in time. Clashing sounds of metal on metal rang out across the neighborhood. Whatever this thing was, it was slowly gaining the upper hand. He could tell because Buffy wore a grimace and wasn’t offering her usual comedic relief to the life or death situation. A particularly rough hit had her stumbling back in the grass towards the closest house.

 

“Hey!” Willow surprised him as he was rising to his feet by throwing rocks at the demon to get its attention. “Look over here you big freak show!”

 

It got the thing’s attention but her smile left her face quick when she realized just what that meant. Faster than Xander could react Buffy recovered and ran at the monster. She used a tipped over lawn chair as a springboard and swung to decapitate the thing.

 

All three of them were frozen in place when the sword bounced back against armor hard skin. Buffy took a backhanded hit and flew into a car, denting it and setting off the alarm. The brute joined the noise with its own warbled screech. 

 

Taking the opening Xander ran for Willow. Willow gratefully grabbed his hand and the two ran to Buffy to regroup.

 

“Buff, what are we supposed to do now?” His voice wasn't very easy to hear over the blaring chorus.

 

“If Giles’s sword couldn’t cut it then we need to find something sharper.”

 

“Or a weak spot in the armor” Willow added.

 

“It’s not like we have the time to go running back to Giles.” Xander said as his two cents. “As much fun as it looks, this guy won't keep up his Alanis Morissette impersonation forever.”

 

Something crossed her face and he knew she had an idea. Though he had no clue what the singer had to do with it, he was happy to help. She looked at them seriously. “Do you both trust me?” 

 

“Of course.”

 

“With my life.”

 

Their responses sounded over top of each other. Neither Willow nor Xander had any doubt in Buffy at this point. They hadn’t even been friends for six months yet but the bond was there. This was family.

 

Little over half an hour later the trio was laughing as they re-entered the library. They looked like they had been through hell. Buffy had both her arms swung over the broadsword and wore an especially gorgeous smile. She had several bruises and a spattering of rips and tears across her jeans but she wore it well. She was like a real life Xena warrior princess. Willow’s sweater was wrecked so she stripped down to the tank top she had on underneath. Xander had given her his not quite as dirty overshirt to keep warm. His baggy pants dragged heavy with mud. He had slipped when the auto sprinklers turned on in one of the yards. 

 

At the time he was so frustrated that he had shouted at the lady peeping out her window at their fight. “People like you are why droughts happen!”

 

Now he couldn’t care less. He was safe and so were his two best friends. After the demon was dead they had all laughed at the way he floundered. It had kind of been hilarious after all. In the end, Buffy had managed to turn the creatures claws on itself.  She stabbed it straight up through the jaw. Not a pretty way to go.

 

Willow and him left while Buffy stayed to give a report to Giles. They split at their usual spot even though he had to double back to make his way to the motel. He hadn’t talked about his current living situation and was hoping he wouldn’t have to talk about moving either. He walked into the temporary home determined. His mother was already packing their suitcases with all the things they didn’t need for tonight or tomorrow.

 

“I'm not going to leave my friends mom.” Too scared of losing his nerve he didn't greet her when he came in. He was doing everything he could to project confidence in himself. “I can't.” He had to tell her how it was going to be. She didn’t need to stay but if she left he wasn’t going to be joining her. “They need me, but more importantly I need them.”

 

“Well,” She said looking up at him from where she was working. He prepared himself for what she was inevitably going to say. “I guess you’ll be happy to hear that we are going back home then.”

 

She was going to tell him he had to go with- Wait.. “What?”

 

“Dad and I came to an agreement. Uncle Rory helped a lot, helped us figure out what happened.”

 

How could this just suddenly be okay?

 

“It was our fault. We should be there for you more, you obviously were going through something after Jesse disappeared.” His throat felt tight at the name. They hadn’t once talked about his friend’s death. “Anyway, you and I are both going back to the house.” She smiled at him. “It will be like nothing ever happened.”

 

Like nothing happened? Was that even possible? Things would just go back to the way they always had been. Did dad even admit he had done anything wrong? No, he didn’t want to go back. He didn’t want to be scared again. Here was better.

 

“But.” She punctuated her explanation, and his jackrabbiting thoughts, with the one word. She made sure he was looking in her eyes before continuing. “You are never going to raise a hand at your father again.”

 

I’m never going to raise a hand to him again?!” He exploded on her. “What about him ? Did he agree to never raise a hand to us again?

 

“I don’t know what you are talking about Xander. Your father is a good man. He is a tough love person but he is a good man.”

 

“He’s a jerk!”

 

“Stop that right now Xander Lavell Harris! I won't listen to you talk about him that way.”

 

“But he is!” he insisted. “He’s a jerk and a hypocrite and an abuser!”

 

“Tony is many things but he is not an abuser.” She took a calming breath and spoke again more calmly. “He loves us both very much and tries to do the best by us. He doesn’t always succeed but he always tries.”

 

Xander didn't take his mother's lead on calming down. His words contained just as much fire as they did before. “Just last week you agreed with me about this! You were crying and wondering how he could be so mean to you!”

 

“Don’t confuse your father's and my relationship with our dynamic as a family. It was wrong of me to let you see that.”

 

“What was wrong about it?" He asked angrily but very confused. "You needed me. I was here for you, I wanted to be here for you.”

 

“It’s warping your perception of him unfairly.”

 

“What’s there to warp? He’s a monster!”

 

“Xander! Don’t make me tell you twice!” Her face softened and she reached out a hand to him but he withdrew from it. “You’ll see.” she said sadly. “It’ll be better this time."

 

You'll see.