Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc., not me.
Warnings: violence, moderate language, AR character deaths
Number: 1/6 (probably)
Summary: The whole point of being blackmailed was to stop Buffy and company from finding out she was doing magic. In the aftermath of the post-Valentine's spell, Amy decided on a touch of revenge. Fortunately to her mind, she also happened to owe Cordelia an apology…
A/N: One thing to be stressed, and applied to the entire Divergence series: in each story, there are going to be initial minor disrepancies from canon (check Ch3 from GtOoD for the reason behind this) – kinda like the Muslim practice of deliberately leaving minor flaws in their artistic works to avoid perfection and thus avoid encroaching on Allah's territory. Fortuitously, these 'flaws' are usually a result of not being able to recall the correct trivia of events off the top of my head at the time of initial writing (usually over fanon/timeline sequencing aspects, though not always) – at which point it's just a matter of A), making sure I haven't missed something obvious and/or pooch-screwing plotwise, and B) at least making the errors consistent.
There are a few possible cases of such flaws herein. I say 'possible', because I've deemed them minor enough to fit my purposes.
Timeframe: BtVS S2Ep16 Post-'Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered', stretching through Ep18 'Killed By Death'. Epilogue…later.
Pairings: canon to start with, apart from one obvious divergence.
Character Bashing?: not really. The key to this is to keep in mind that we're dealing with the mindsets of junior-year highschoolers (refer chapter title).
Feedback: Yes, please! And feel free to point out any of those aforementioned flaws you happened to spot. After all, there's always the chance that I just flat-out missed one…
Defaced, Derailed and Divergent
Chapter One: Meh… (or, Teenagers Can Be Idiots)
Xander became aware of lazily swimming up through a sea of sedatives, floating in a calm expanse of lassitude and all things 'meh'. Memories fishtailed past without hurry, eventually assembling a rather nice picture, a good dream where his final battle had gone off without a single damn hitch…mostly, though the crying at the end of it seemed out of place.
Meh, it was probably his sense of realism trying to tell him something. 'Ah well, time to find out what went wrong…'
There were eyelids. After a while he managed to remember where they were and how to make them work. Xander briefly debated whether it was worth putting on some sort of Face. 'Nah. Can't be bothered.' And so the 'meh' had spoken, for it was 'meh'.
Xander opened his eyes, wondering vaguely what the other dropping shoe was going to be.
Said footwear turned out to be a sensible ladies' dress-shoe, with an tastefully understated yet still painful-to-be-hit-with heel, which looked a lot like someone he really should've remembered back when all this started.
"…Crap," Xander Harris rasped.
"Language, Xander," Joyce Summers responded. And boy, did that heel look painful… "And you, young man, have a lot of explaining to do."
It was somewhat unnerving, watching Xander's reactions as he haltingly responded with a mumbled apology. From the times they'd met, the tells were…different. Didn't fit in with the normal genially goofy patterns. Something was missing – the stresses were different, somehow. Less underlined, more subtle. Less…shallow, maybe. Less forced?
His guards were down, or at least his usual guards were down. That was good, though it remained to be seen what his new guards were like.
There'd been an instant, just one instant, where sheer terror had reigned when he'd realised who she was. Later, another instant where his vague wariness had ratcheted up to paranoiac-like levels, only to dwindle to nothing in the next instant as his eyes darted down to the small crucifix sitting prominently where her collarbones met. Between, though? There was simply no facial expression to speak of. Just hints, the sort of hints that meant things too specific, too generic to be anything else. Blinking, yawning, eyes unfocused and cloudy with exhaustion and/or medications and never meeting hers.
Xander huffed out a breath, something touching his blanked-out face that looked like resignation. "What d'you already know, Mrs. Summers?"
"I know about vampires." There. She said it, as…ridiculous as it still sounded coming from her mouth.
His eyeline dropped again, almost by accident, to her neck – to the cross she'd started wearing. It wasn't something she felt particularly enthused about, but she could see the point of making it a habit in this town.
"…And?" What? "Werewolves, demons, Hellmouths, magic…?"
She got the feeling he'd started running down a list, only to stop as he ran out of impetus. Or interest.
"I know all that."
"So…" Not a hint of anything. "…Oz?"
"Daniel is a werewolf. Willow is a witch. Buffy is a…" her lips twisted, "Vampire Slayer. Mr. Giles," twisted further, this time in well-banked fury instead of consternation, "is her Watcher. And Mr. Angel is a vampire with a soul."
Xander nodded to each, but stopped with the last one. "He has his soul back?"
"Yes," she told him. "Your computer teacher put it back in yesterday morning." Joyce watched his face light up for a moment, then slide into curiosity. "And then he visited yesterday evening, and told me everything."
Xander's eyebrow twitched, in a manner that wouldn't have looked out of place on 'Oz's' face. "…Huh. More courage than I expected outta him." Joyce couldn't help it, she smiled at that. It had been a rather long talk, at one point during which she'd made a very similar observation. And while he was not so ready to admit whether he was now, he'd freely conceded that he had been something of a coward. "Does Buffy know yet?"
"Not unless Angel's told her, and I told him not to."
She stopped, took a deep breath, and kept her eyes peeled for his reaction.
As one might expect after over a century of direct experience, Liam O'Reilly (now known as Angel, previously known as Angelus – Joyce had asked a lot of questions) had an excellent level of skill when it came to reading into facial expressions, body language and all the various tells of a person; both as a minor noble and as a vampire, he'd developed something of a habit of assigning them names and appellations after the fashion of the European nobles (Richard the Lionhearted, Galahad the Chaste, etc.). As applied to Xander Harris, however, the desperately helpful Angel had informed her of three possible…versions.
The first, was the one Joyce was familiar with: Xander the goof. The Xander who acted like a clown, even if he hated clowns (to the level of one of his worst nightmares being about a killer clown, apparently). And thinking back, she could see his point – in her acquaintance with the young man, Xander certainly wore his heart on his sleeve… The challenge, according to Angel, was spotting where he was serious about what he was saying, which he usually was but not to the degree where most people were inclined to take him seriously.
The next, was one that only Angel really had any familiarity with: Xander the serious. To all accounts, he didn't appear much outright. Xander had the tendency to use various brands of humour, in varying mixtures of jocular versus sardonic, in most of his dealings. But Angel had (with a certain level of discomfort) told her of one instance of Serious Xander that he'd witnessed, and another that he'd heard of. That Xander was hard, pragmatic and slightly psychotic – a lot like his father, Angel speculated.
Goofy Xander would have, upon hearing her previous statement, pulled a face as if he'd smelled something bad – Xander the goof pathologically disliked Angel in all his forms. And Joyce could easily figure out why – because Angel was so very serious all the time…not to say 'brooding'.
Serious Xander's reaction, Angel was fairly certain, would have been a contemptuous narrowing of the eyes – Xander the serious also disliked Angel, mainly because he regarded the souled vampire as a cryptic coward. Angel had explained that a lot of what he did for her daughter had involved keeping eyes and ears in the demonic underground, or acting as Mr. Giles' dogsbody in places where the Watcher could not safely go. He had also mentioned that he'd avoided the company of people for a hundred years, for fear of what might happen should he lose control of his inner demon. Which, given that Xander knew and cared for none of this, would look a lot like cowardice.
Both versions of Xander, Angel had posited and Joyce had agreed, were versions that she could easily deal with. It was just a matter of the right approach, editing out the humour as opposed to merely ignoring it, applied with a generous dollop of 'don't lie to your mother'. She was close enough for it to work, at least.
What his actual reaction was…was an absent nod. Which, as it didn't fit with the other two, was likely confirmation that the Xander Joyce was dealing with was an entirely different animal. (Only not literally, Angel had stressed for some reason.) One that Angel had only experienced through the demon's perspective – more specifically, through the one fight that led to Angelus being captured and Angel's soul restored, the one who he'd likely passed out as – and now awoken as. Angel hadn't really had time to assign any specific theme to it, other than maybe just 'Xander the maskless'.
This was the Xander who had, to all reports, managed to somehow kill first Drusilla the Mad (Angelus's childe, an insane vampiric seer), then kill William the Bloody (Drusilla's childe, who had killed two Slayers…and been beaten across the head with a fire axe by Joyce herself when he attempted to kill Buffy)… And then – and this much was confirmed – round it out by capturing Angelus himself. How he'd prevailed against Angelus's childe and grandchilde was apparently the subject of a great deal of conjecture in the Sunnydale underground, though there were a number of clues if one knew where to look.
What Joyce knew was his list of recent injuries, though some had needed to be explained to her (the good medical staff of Sunnydale General being well-practiced at obfuscation). Moderately beaten, with bruises, scratches and fractured ribs, at least twice. Severely drained of blood (or 'anemia', as the doctors called it here), which landed him in hospital the first time. Choked at least once – while still in the hospital. Lightly concussed at least twice. Another beating, more choking, moderate draining, a stab wound to the far-left side of his chest, and first-degree burns dotting his hands and both calves…
None of which had stopped him from putting Angelus down.
This Xander, though he probably didn't know it, had been given another name by the demons of Sunnydale: Death-seeker. Apparently said moniker came about after Drusilla's demise, causing harm to Spike's sire being a widely acknowledged method of excruciatingly painful suicide by proxy. Spike's death had if anything reinforced the perception of Xander Harris as a boy either utterly devoid of a danger sense, or actively seeking it out.
For this Xander, Angel had only three pieces of advice for her: Be honest; Be logical; and Be very, very careful.
Joyce blew out an exasperated huff. "If you're thinking I'm not happy about my daughter hiding something like this from me, you'd be right. The first thing I thought of doing was tracking her down and screaming at her – it's probably a good thing she was out on…patrol when Angel visited. I can see that wouldn't have gone well." She slumped; 'Be honest', Angel said – easy for him to say…' "…For one thing…she did try to tell me once."
His eyes unfocused for a few moments, unfocused more at least, as he considered this.
"For two months. Sunnydale High was the only school in the California system that would accept her by the time she was released." Joyce sighed, both at the memory and the bland one-shouldered shrug Xander offered in response. "So she had her reasons…
"The second thing I thought of doing was tracking Mr. Giles down and screaming at him, demanding he stay out of my daughter's life. It was Angel who talked me out of that."
Xander nodded. "Hizza believer," he slurred.
Joyce grimaced. "An educated believer. I'd never convince him. And even if he left, they just send someone else – yes, Angel said all that." The grimace became something more like a snarl. "And, he told me about Kendra." Something flickered across Xander's features, but she couldn't catch what it was; Joyce could try to guess, but she had other priorities right now. "So whoever they sent next could be even worse."
She regathered herself. Here was a point at which she had to tread the line of honesty carefully.
"He suggested that I needed more information before I came to any decisions about what to do about…all this, before I talk to Buffy. He also said that you, Xander, were the one to talk to."
"Why?" he asked blandly.
"Two reasons. First, because you're the best one to ask. Ms. Calender and Daniel wouldn't know enough, Willow would tell Buffy the moment my back was turned, and Mr. Giles… at this point I still want to scream at him. You, though, are stuck here. So even if you wanted to tell Buffy, you can't until she visits or you get out." Xander nodded. She braced herself.
"Second… I want to know what happened to you. What did you do? Where did you go? How did you end up like this?" This was where she needed to tread the line between honesty and caution. Joyce continued gently, "As of now, you're on the hospital's suicide watchlist. You need to talk to somebody, or you're not going anywhere for a while. And I can see why you would have a hard time talking to a counsellor about it, because when I look back… all it really did for Buffy was get her to say it was all a cry for attention. It didn't fix anything. She kept out of trouble for a while, until we moved here. And then…" Joyce trailled off helplessly. That she knew now what was behind Buffy's antisocial behaviour didn't change the fact that she hadn't known that for the past year. Or make it all that much easier to accept it now.
Xander remained silent, staring at the wall, still blank.
She really hated having to say this. "Maybe Mr. Giles… can talk to you. Or look into hiring counsellors that know about this kind of thi—"
"Doubt that," Xander suddenly interrupted. "He'd ha' brought one in for Buffy if he could."
"Well." She shrugged. He had a point. "I gather the hospital staff are fairly…lax about this sort of thing. They told me if you talked to me about what's wrong, they'll take my word for it and let you go." Joyce shook her head, baffled at their attitude. "That still seems wrong. But it's that, or talk to one of the hospital's psychologists, or…"
The young man kept on staring at the wall, a minute furrowing of his brow the only clue of what he was doing. She hoped he was considering matters, and not just being stubborn.
"Please, Xander, I need to know how to deal with my daughter. I am so close right now to just packing up and taking Buffy out of California. I know she does good things and it's probably a terrible thing for the world and all, but it's Buffy and… I need to know. If I have to deal with all this, I need to know, Xander."
For a seemingly endless moment, she thought he'd remain silent. And then a heavier sense of resignation with a hint of dread settled into his eyes, and she blew a discreet sigh of relief.
"…Started with Valentine's Day," Xander began.
"Gave Cordy a necklace, nice one. She took it, dumped me anyway… Wanted her to feel what I felt, right? So did a spell." He gave the room a washed-out grimace, which wore away after an instant like everything else he'd displayed so far. "Went wrong – worked on everyone else but her. Sorry 'bout that, by the way."
Joyce repressed her own wince. She did remember, now, chasing after him with an axe (and what was it with her and fire axes, anyway?), just one of a large mob of women and girls each after Xander's head (or his heart, but mostly his head). It had not been her finest moment, to say the least. Though not her worst moment, either – after the events of the past two weeks, the day that she'd packed off her daughter for the L.A. sanatorium had firmly established itself in the place of that dubious honour.
Angel had gone over what little he knew about it, mainly through Angelus having to track down his 'childe' Drusilla after she fell victim to the spell.
"And…the other girls hurt her when it kicked in."
Cordelia glared down at her English book. Twice already she'd turned that glare on one or another of her sheep, and had to suppress a grim smile of satisfaction at the way they'd flinched. Oh, how she'd make them all sweat with trepidation over what she'd do to pay them back for what they'd done to her…
She wouldn't go too far, though. Cordelia was in the fortuitous position of being expected, even entitled to lash out – and though she would magnanimously accept their humbled, wretched apologies eventually, she couldn't deny it felt good to make them earn it.
She would accept those apologies, though. After all, it had really all been that damn Harris's fault.
And hers, a little…okay more than a little. Dumping him on Valentine's Day at the urging of the same friends who'd turned on her later, that probably had been a bitch-slap too far. But oh, how he'd earned it afterwards. Madison had spilled the beans – after the beating (stopped only by two of the male teachers barging in and breaking it up) that had landed her in hospital for four days, the witch had obviously decided she couldn't use her tricks to bury a potential legal suit deep enough to get away with it, and told all in an effort to deflect the blame. And it had worked. Cordelia had been angry before – then she was furious with Harris. That he planned to hurt her like that… that wasn't a step too far, that was charging past the state lines and over the horizon.
Cordelia's dreams after that had been horrible. If Xa- Harris had gone that far already, what was to stop him from going further? She'd heard from Madison about some of what the other girls had tried – would Harris have turned her away if she'd tried something like that? What could he have had her do, before he dumped her back? If he dumped her back, after all…that?
Deep down she knew, he probably wouldn't have had her do anything. Maybe that was why she'd told that friendly but mucho-weird Swedish nurse Anya just before she'd checked out yesterday morning that Harris was suffering enough for her tastes already.
She didn't look at Harris as he threw out a cheeky response to the teacher's latest question. But she did note the way that Summers and Rosenberg glared at him from the other side of the class. And she also happened to glimpse, just out the corner of her eye, the flinch that Harris almost managed to hide without even appearing to glance in the direction of the other pair of losers that he was in the doghouse with.
Yep. No friends, no life. He was hiding it, but he was suffering every bit as much as he deserved. And that was good enough for her to ignore him until she left Sunnydale the hell behind, literally, and forgot all about him and the way he'd betrayed her trust.
Cordelia didn't ignore the inner flicker of guilt at her hypocrisy. No, she stomped on it until it stopped moving – it wasn't something she could afford right now. Not if she wanted to salvage anything from this.
("Hmph…unsatisfying. Had you not interfered…"
"…Hrm. Well, Anyanka and Halfrek do some fine work. It would be…an annoyance, finding replacements for them. Very well, I'll allow this to stand. However: my forbearance is far from infinite. Do Not interfere again."
"I like that young woman. Maybe I should offer her a job…")
"So yeah, went way wrong… Heh. So much trouble with Giles. Buff an' Wills though…"
Buffy caught the flinch too, and had to stop from smiling. She'd almost forgotten how good it felt, seeing one of her friends sweat over her forgiveness. Sure, it kinda left her feeling a teensy bit guilty, but she couldn't say he didn't deserve it. The fact that Xander had at least retained enough self-control to turn her and Willow down was pretty much the only upside of the fact that Xander had screwed up by the numbers and ended up getting Cordelia seriously hurt.
As it was, it was just one more complication on top of a complicated and headache-y life. Willow was still shook up a little over the whole werewolf-boyfriend thing, Amy had popped back up on the radar with her latest disastrous stunt, Giles and now even Willow (a little) were showing signs of wanting to cosy up with Ms. Calender again… And of course Angel was always in the background. What was he planning next? What if he managed to pull off something terrible in the confusion of normal Hellmouth life?
What if, as Willow had mentioned yesterday while trying to justify how a round of innocent bonding on her part with Ms. Calender over poopyheaded best friends had somehow morphed into something much more important, they might be able to cast the curse again and get him back?
No, with all that on her plate – the last thing she'd needed was Xander pulling something like what happened last week. He needed to learn that. So she'd let him sweat for a while longer, probably forgive him next week. He was still one of her friends, so it was important not to break him. But he was strong – and hardheaded and stubborn and sometimes downright foolish; he'd live through it for that long.
Next to her, Willow nervously smiled back at her best friend, or best non-Xander friend anyway – she'd caught that little twitch at her mouth, and knew what it meant.
Willow really felt for Buffy, but at least her life seemed to be going well. Great even! Which was a big surprise, what with her boyfriend being a werewolf, and her magic-teachers tiptoeing around each other. But she was learning all kinds of things! Oz things, and magic things, and even girl-things from Buffy! Willow had always seemed to miss the odd cue, even though her parents had tried to teach her to recognise them like a good little daughter of psychologists should. Now though, she had Buffy to watch for the cues she put out – after knowing her for a year now, Willow was finally getting the sense of which ones she could realistically follow without looking like a spazz.
It was kinda weird when she thought about it, actually. She was finally learning how to be normal, and fit in a little better – at the same time that she was learning how to be so much more than normal. She was learning not to care so much about whether or not she fit in. 'Normal' was, a little more each day, looking like just another option that she could take if she wanted to. And the opportunity to have that choice just made her very happy. And a little guilty, but still happy.
Angel and Xander were the flies in the herbal ointment right now, though. Angel had gone to ground after last week, but he had to be planning something bad, and Xander had just been a…a poopyhead with that whole thing after Valentine's Day. But even there, it wasn't like there was nothing she could do. It was still a little wigsome working with Ms. Calender (or Ms. Kalderash, as it turned out), but they were making lots of progress on the soul curse! And as for Xander (she frantically tuned out the image of what a fool she'd made of herself over Amy's spell – it was just a good thing Oz had recent experience at not being able to control himself too, because otherwise things could've gone even more wrong than they had)… well, that was another thing she was learning from Buffy. She'd always relied on her Resolve Face to make sure Xander didn't do poopyheaded things in the first place – but now that she had Buffy giving her the confidence to let her best friend sweat, this was looking like something she could keep in reserve for when Xander did something exceptionally stupid like this.
But right now, Willow was in class. So she put aside her glee over learning so much from so many different sources, and her forbidden little thrill of righteous feminine scorn over Xander's deserved taste of suffering, and the niggling sense that she'd forgotten something terribly important (which was easy, because that was something she tended to have bad dreams about before tests anyway), and buckled back down into learning something a bit more official.
"…Yeah, they kinda dumped me too." A bitter little quirk of the lips accompanied the statement, probably at the word he'd used.
'Oh. Ohhhh… That explains it.'
It wasn't exactly a satisfying explanation. But it was the sort of ploy she could see Buffy pulling; Joyce had heard rumours from certain other parents back in L.A. about Buffy orchestrating that kind of behaviour; though nothing she could get further details on, it did happen to be something similar to what she remembered back in her own time in school. It was also the sort of ploy that Willow would follow – Joyce rather liked the girl, but as bright and generally nice as Buffy's friend was it was clear that she was both socially… naïve, and more comfortable being a follower for the moment.
More to the point, it was also the sort of ploy that Xander might misunderstand if no-one made sure to explain it to him. Her daughter had obviously forgotten that it was a boy she was dealing with – a teenage boy, which didn't help in the least. They tended to be literal-minded at the best of times.
Buffy had misjudged, and so had Willow. They'd thought they were making him sweat – instead, they were breaking him.
It was yet another reason she was so furious with Rupert Giles. This sort of thing was exactly what happened when you place so much pressure on teenagers. They made those sort of mistakes already, simply as part of normal life and learning how to live it. And then he puts that on their shoulders?
It was a master craftsman's work, that Face. Or at least he liked to think it was. It was the work of years. Xander had hated clowns ever since his sixth birthday, and that hatred had matured over the years (punching that nightmare-clown in its greasy Face had helped a lot on that front) – but that didn't mean he didn't get some of the lessons. Slather on the goofiness thick enough, in the traditional cheesy ways, and people stopped wondering too hard about what was underneath it. Not that too many people had cared, really – Willow and Jesse, their parents, occasionally his parents – and really Willow was the one to watch out for. But not even Willow had commented for a long time now. She hadn't even gave any sign of noticing. Which was good, because that was what it was important for.
It was something that he was so tired of, that Face. But it was also something that he'd kept glued on out of long habit, so he joked and bumbled his way through English class, and grabbed his stuff, and ambled out of the school gates and walked all the way home and snuck up the stairs and shut the door of his room – before the Face fell and shattered like a porcelain opera mask.
Only for a moment, though. Then his jaw clenched and his cheeks tightened his eyes to slits with frustrated anger. Another Face, one of his rarer ones.
Yeah, okay. He'd screwed up. That was obvious – being chased all over town by every female who came within range of him had bashed that into his head and other assorted body parts. Finding out that Cordelia had been seriously beaten hadn't made him feel any better, either – he'd wanted to make her feel like he felt, but not in the physical sense!
(There were still bruises and scratches from the impromptu lynch-mob, not that anyone else had cared to notice…apart from those seniors that beat the crap out of him the next day for 'hitting on their girlfriends' after school, as they'd phrased it in their heads to soothe their egos. At least they'd kept it below the neckline, so's not to discourage anyone else who wanted their own justice later.)
Xander was all over the 'I screwed up' theme, no mistake about that. But where did the others get off shutting him out like this? Cordy…yeah okay, she had her reasons. Giles was still extremely angry, in his British way – he'd sent Xander scurrying from the library in shame with a frosty glare, the single time he'd dug up the courage to go in and see what was going on. Ms. Calender was just set on ignoring him, which was probably the best thing she could do. But Buffy and Willow? Hadn't he turned them down? Had they no idea how damn hard that had been? Did he get no credit whatsoever for that? No mitigation on his sentence?
Not even a stern, "You're still in the doghouse, Xander!" from Willow? Nothing? Not even a word longer than 'Hmph!'? Hell, they were talking to Amy more than him!
Xander must have noticed her face tightening and misinterpreted, because he pleaded (or as close as he could come to it at present), "Don't blame 'em. Willow in nothin' but my shirt in my bed…Buffy in nothin' but a raincoat, tryin' a striptease…heh, an' that's before Amy turned her 'nto a rat."
Joyce tried not to wince, since he was on a roll. That, she hadn't heard about.
"All that… they shouldn't 've wanted me like that… shouldn't want me like that." Self-loathing flashed by and was gone under the blank. "…Can't forgive that."
The Face drained away once more, unscrunching to unsmiling slackness as he stared into his wardrobe's mirror. His not-face, the one he'd kept hidden for years now, kinda like the way Harmony had been caking hers in make-up anywhere in public since she hit middle-school – for so long that it had been getting harder to think of himself without a Face, harder to drop it. For so long that he'd even tried becoming his best-known Face.
…Who was he kidding? He deserved every bit of this. Xander should've listened better that time with the burning book, should've remembered that the school sat on a Hellmouth. Should've figured love goddesses wouldn't appreciate guys like him wanting their help just to screw someone over.
Should've just seen the writing on the wall.
He was Xander Harris. And things never went right for Xander Harris, no matter what he did. Or… (Buffy, and a cave, and another dance)… (Willow, and Ampata, and desiccation on the floor)… (Cordy, and a stretcher, and that damn kiss in the basement that came out of nowhere, and the most horrible Valentine's Day he'd ever experienced)… they just never did him any good. His whole damn life should've made that clear by now. Xander was the bit part, the sideshow, Joe Schlub with a Purpose – but still Joe Schlub of the Sunnydale Schlubs, not like Willow (so smart, and so bright, and god she'd be powerful when she grew up and left him and all these other idiots behind…and he'd thought that before the magics). No, it wasn't that he couldn't help – it was just that he could only help in the ways that any random schlub could, which mostly revolved around doing what any good friend would.
Magic up your female friends to try to seduce you? Yeah, not the thing a good friend would do. So they'd wised up and thrown him away.
Yeah, it hurt. But after playing fast and loose with the only two good things he had going after Cordy dumped him, Xander deserved to lose them both.
He sighed, quietly. 'It was a good little run there,' Xander decided. He'd got through most of his childhood with a couple friends, lost one friend but gained another in his place (…kinda – he was actually pretty sure by this point (refer: Ford) that she'd never really had male friends and didn't quite know what to do with them unless they were pigeon-holed like Oz), had a hot girlfriend way over his standards for a couple months… Yeah, it was a good little run while it lasted – sucky as some parts of it had been recently, at least it had given him two reasons to keep going and ignore the inevitable.
Well, the inevitable had caught up with him. His family had never paid more than lacklustre lip service to the fantastic idea of him ending up as anything more than a Tony-clone. A career in the fast-food industry, as Snyder had so charmingly put it, had been looming on the poor, ill-dressed, lazy, clownishly sardonic boy's horizon for years… that or, it turned out as he got older and something that could pass for wiser if you didn't look too close, being Xander-feed for something living in a sewer. And now his distractions from that were gone, and he could see the grey road paved with mediocrity stretching away before him. Or a short, painful death, much closer.
As Xander Harris stood and slouched back out of the house for an aimless walk, he found that he honestly couldn't decide which path was more horrifying to him. He also found that he couldn't rustle up the necessary feeling to care that the sun was getting low in the sky. Hell, he'd only even tooled up on his way out because he was running on automatic.
Joyce supposed she should correct his misapprehension. But really, it was probably better for her to get the whole story out of him first. There were already enough complications as it was.
"So, then you met…um, that," this time she did wince, "vampire lady."
"Drusilla, yeah her. She wanted… Don't think the spell wore off prop'ly for her. Or…I'unno. She wanted me."
The mad seeress swayed side to side almost absently, hypnotic in her movements if not by any effort on her part. The poor suffering kitten followed her with his eyes anyway, those broken soulful pools she wanted to see filled with something so much more…sharp.
It was time. He was so close, so very close to falling into oblivion, into the malignant flows of rebirth. Just a little closer, and she would see the rise of something so very, very glorious and vicious and fun, so much fun when she broke him to shards later…so much more fun when Spike got jealous and punished her for it. So she reached out and caressed his face, and set her other arm around his shoulder, and leaned in for the first bite, just for a taste…
Xander's body shuddered, his legs weakened, his eyes began to dim. He couldn't bring himself to care much as fragments of Xander's life flashed before his eyes. It wasn't much of a life. Moments with his friends scattered like flotsam on a leaden sea of casual neglect and occasional terror, friends that he wasn't likely to see again and who wouldn't miss him, and one friend he'd killed and just might.
One last image, as his eyelids drifted closed. The last time he'd seen Jesse. The betrayal dawning as his face crumbled to dust—
Desolate eyes staring through the wall, forgetting their witness, "…I don't know why I even bothered killing her. Was just, arm round, stake in, drop…"
Joyce saw the lie, clear as day.
It was like an epiphany. Maybe it was an epiphany. Definitely it wasn't something that he could put into words worthy of its impact until much later.
Amidst the sinking wreckage of his ignorantly mundane life, he couldn't find the last time he'd seen Jesse. Sometime that day he met Buffy. That night, maybe?
It should've been obvious.
That betrayal…that wasn't Jesse. That was just something that thought it was. A pale imitation. Not even an evil twin – just something puppeting his best friend's carcass for a laugh.
It should've been obvious. Maybe that, in the end, was the reason why vampires were so dangerous. Or at least, so he thought afterwards. Maybe it was too obvious, so obvious you took it for granted and then forgot to remember it. It was so easy, when all they did was hiss at you, throw hackneyed lines at you, try to tear you apart. But when they thought they knew and loved you, thought they were them and onto a good thing and wanted to get you in on the action?
That wasn't Jesse. It could've been. It was easy to forget, especially when you repressed like crazy. It could've been – Jess never was particularly bright, and in his ignorance might well have thought it a good thing. But it wasn't.
Jesse had ended when the blood demon stepped in.
Drusilla wanted him. Drusilla was going to turn him. And Xander would end when the blood demon stepped in.
And who would have to dust the monster that puppeted his carcass?
So, almost of its own accord, one hand pulled out the stake he hadn't even noticed he was carrying and one arm looped around Drusilla's back and one piercing fist closed in like it was his own chest. And the last thing Drusilla the Mad saw as she arched in shock was Miss Edith shaking her head sadly over her killer's shoulder.
So close…yet not close enough. Never close enough.
Bereft of his demonic support, Xander fell to his knees and toppled over like a marionette with its strings cut.
The epiphany was put into words later. But at that moment, as blood loss took its toll on his consciousness, it boiled down to:
"I hate vampires…" Xander mumbled under Joyce's uncompromising stare. "No way 'm I letting one move in."
'…Close enough,' Joyce eventually decided. She could read the subtext well enough to be going on with.
She remembered that evening quite well. Buffy had come haring in through the front door, completely ignoring for once the fact that she was meant to be in her room doing her homework before bed, and babbled on the verge of hysteria about finding Xander. Gangs on P.C.P., and barbecue forks, and Xander being seriously hurt and she was calling her friends and getting them to meet her at the hospital and sorry mom but she was really in a rush… In the end, Joyce had given up on the lecture until later and drove her down to the hospital herself, with only a promise from the English librarian that he would drop her back convincing the worried woman to go back home. If nothing else, she'd decided at the time, any lecture would have made absolutely no impression on her panicking daughter.
As it turned out (so Angel thought), Xander had been aimlessly wandering towards one of her usual patrolling grounds for that night, and Buffy had found him on her own scheduled pass-through from one graveyard to another. No wonder she'd been so frantic – he could've bled out or been killed by something else, and it was only through luck that she'd been able to save him.
Angel had told her a little of the atrocities this Drusilla had perpetrated. The newly re-ensouled vampire had practically cringed with anguish as he told her of the monster that Angelus had twisted the former nun-to-be into. From what he'd added of what he knew through his brief catching-up period with Buffy and her comrades, Mr. Giles had subsequently spent a great deal of time castigating himself over the magnitude of his error, one that he at least recognised when it slapped him in the face – unlike her daughter and her friends, who (being children, and stressed-out children at that) missed it until much too late.
Just because his friends were ignoring him, didn't mean their enemies were going to do the same. No, that encouraged them to do just the opposite.
But there was still much more to this story she needed to know. "I drove Buffy here that night. Do you remember them visiting you then?" He nodded absently. "Do you remember what they said?"
Xander's dazed eyes went a little crossed as he wracked his memory.
"Nup. Guys looked pi— angry though…s'all I know. Think was…Ms. Calender, left me th'cross. Gotta thank her for that…"
Janna Kalderash, or Jenny as she'd begun rebelliously thinking of herself over the past few months, sighed regretfully as Rupert hurried out after his charge and her friends with a frustrated glance at her.
"That," she muttered, "could've gone better."
Buffy had not dealt well with this, not at all. After the Slayer's mother had finally left, she'd exploded – wept and wailed and at one aurally painful moment shouted at the boy who was obviously not hearing a word she said. Willow if anything had been even worse, daring exactly one look before burying her face in Oz's shoulder and bawling her eyes out between babbling tearfully about what an idiot she was and how she should've seen something like this coming.
Rupert had mainly stood there and looked thunderous. Whether at Xander, his friends or himself was up for debate. Any or all options would be justified. What the hell had Xander been thinking?
…No, Jenny had a creeping suspicion she knew. After all, she'd gone through much the same thing just weeks ago. In fact, Xander had handled her period of being ostracised pretty much the way she'd just handled his – awkward avoidance, knowing that the other was in some measure justified but unwilling to give the appearance of abandoning their loved ones. (As a woman, Jenny had felt violated and more than a little annoyed with the boy after his ill-advised spell. As a Kalderash however, Janna couldn't help but concede that it would have been a particularly poetic piece of vengeance had it worked as planned.)
Though, there was one difference. Jenny had been a little surprised when Rupert and Willow approached her after the post-Valentine's Day fiasco, but gratified and hopeful at the result. Rupe had shamefacedly conceded that neither of them was blameless in the matter of keeping secrets. And Willow's help with working on the translation program had brought her work on the original soul curse forward in leaps and bounds – in fact, they might actually have what they needed before the week was out.
More, she might actually owe Willow her life. One late night in the school's computer lab, plugging away furiously at the translation program with a desperation borne of the death of her Uncle Enyos and his Clan's delegation, she and Willow had felt the unnerving sensation of being spied on. From then on, they'd been careful to work in pairs, lock the doors and windows and never wander off alone… alone as Jenny might've been that night and on following nights, had she been left without Willow's help.
Xander should not have doubted they'd do the same for him. They would have accepted him back soon enough, even ignoring this latest drama. Jenny had only logic to rely upon, over those painful, lonely weeks – the hope that allegedly wiser heads, one British head in particular, would snap out of it and realise that she was their best hope for restoring the curse. And hoping for calm and rational decisions on the Hellmouth had all too often proved to fall through.
On the other hand, Janna had her family…or at least (her features hardened like stone) the rest of her family. Sure, she was in the doghouse for the moment – but it was acknowledged that she was doing her best to reinstate the clan's punishment. If she pulled it off, all (or at least most) would be forgiven. And even if she didn't, she was still Kalderash – Janna hadn't transgressed badly enough to be disowned and cast out.
It did not escape her notice that Xander's parents hadn't bothered to come to the hospital – nor that Willow had been unsurprised at this. Furious, yes – only a couple minutes ago she'd managed to un-cling herself from her boyfriend for long enough to swear to Xander that she'd give his parents a good stern piece of her mind, before attempting to storm out. (She'd managed three steps before collapsing on Oz again. They'd eventually followed when Buffy fled only a minute later.) But not surprised.
Jenny sighed again. "What a mess…"
She turned to follow the path the others had taken. Then she paused, looking down at the insensate brunet. Pale under the room's bright fluorescents. Small in the way that so many looked when they lay in hospital beds. Vulnerable, in a way that Xander usually never seemed to be. Something about the tears stuck in his lashes…
Vulnerable… not a good thing for him to be after an attack. But she really did need to follow up with Rupert and Willow. So Jenny did the best she could, pulling a wooden crucifix with a six-inch bottom length sharpened to a pyramidal point from her purse, and clasped it into the hand that wasn't rigged up with sensors. Watching Xander's grip tighten around the haft instead of loosening was a heartening thing to see.
"Hope you don't need that, Xander. Good luck." Jenny flipped the bedsheet over so that the cross was hidden but would fall away if he lifted his arm, and hurried out to catch up with the others. She felt for the boy, but it simply wasn't her problem to deal with – and the sooner she could get the curse restored and the current crisis over with, the sooner the people with the tools to be dealing with this could get to it.
"…'cause Spike came in next."
Ending A/N: In the closing chapter of GtOoD, I stated that I would apologise for the angsty angstossity of what else I'd written in that time period, should I ever post it. It is now being posted. So, y'know…
…Meh. (And sorry, I guess.) Yeah, it's angst. A few months' dust and some hard-eyed editing, and I nevertheless got something I could feel reasonably shameless about posting as part of the Divergence series. ('Reasonably' being the key word here… coming from the guy who posted GtOoD in all its clichéd, parodic glory in the first place.)
Initial inspiration for this fic largely comes from one I read a couple years back, Mediancat's 'Stalker Girl'. I remember reflecting that Jenny hanging round to actually explain the punishment - pretty much the equivalent of Willow's herein-absent 'you're in the doghouse, Xander!' - was quite possibly the only thing stopping Xander going off the deep end post-fic with sheer guilt. If not for that, from there I could easily see him going to ridiculous (not to mention borderline-suicidal) lengths to get his friends back. Here? yeah, he's not so lucky.
In the meantime, I hope you've enjoyed reading this latest addition to the Divergence series. The next instalment will be up in a few days. Until then…