Title: Morbid Curiosity

Author: DC – devils_symphony@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: None of the characters that feature as significant are mine. They belong to Joss, even if they are a little twisted by me. No one will be hurt and will be returned once I'm finished with 'em. Well, not too hurt.

Pairings: This is undecided, but they'll be slashiness

Summary: Fantasy AU-ness. Xander's the new kid on the block. He finds friends in a black leather clad girl named Faith and her little social group – Tara, who out "nices" everyone, Gunn, the cool street guy who goes by last name, and William, unwilling fashion victim to his eccentric clothes-making mother. After a traumatising event at his last school, L.A public, Xander came to embrace the solace that was Sunnydale. Screw solace, anyway. Xander finds himself in a world of vampires, slayers, stake wielding and morbidly cheery Principals. And oh yeah, that stupid thing called adolescence. With vampires, creepy librarians and bitchy cheerleaders to conquer, Xander has to wonder, how much therapy is really needed?

Distribution: Whack it on your site like cheap porn, I don't care. Just mail me with your web address, and remember to give all the credit to me. Remember that I'm a narcissist, so flattery will get you everywhere.

Reviews: Reviews make me feel tingly and happy. Nice comments make me bouncy and wanting to write more, and flames keep me warm, so bring in both!

---

The Welcoming of Xander

---

The sun was shining and the future was bright, and Xander Harris was drinking his first coffee. Okay, so it was a weakened cappuccino with a few truckloads of sugar added, but it still counted that it was coffee. And he was enjoying it. It was all very well and symbolic, as this was his first day at Sunnydale Highschool, tenth grade. It wasn't a big transition, L.A to Sunnydale, but it was enough that Xander had it rebuild friendships from scratch. Ten years of schooling when it came to friends were wasted – and now he had to build some sort of trust between other people as fast as possible. 'Is that possible?' he wondered as he paused outside of the building, finishing off his Starbucks. Perhaps, but he knew that it wouldn't happen today. Xander would have to wait and see, and possibly call his L.A friends when he got home.

Dumping the now empty paper cup into a trashcan, Xander started up the steps and into the Sunnydale Highschool building. It was friendly and familiar to those who had attended the school before, or large and daunting to those who hadn't. Xander settled to the thought that it was friendly and daunting, just to be positive and balanced. Now, what was he meant to do when he got here? Or yeah, Principal Flutie. As this thought passed through his head, he didn't bother to suppress a snort – Flutie? I wonder how many times he was beat up as a kid, thought Xander, as he looked around for a clue of how to get to the principal's office. He mostly ignored the milling crowd of students around him, some bumping him slightly, or skirting around him.

"Lost?" Xander turned to see a girl of his age standing there, half-smiling at him. "You have a lost vibe. Need help?"

"Um, yeah," he said, and then smiled. "I'm not that transparent, am I?"

"Well, the wide-eyed looking around tells me otherwise," she said. Xander quickly took in her appearance, so that if she ever walked up to him again, he'd actually remember her. She hard dark brown hair, the chocolate coloured tresses hanging loose and cascading down her shoulder blades. Her equally brown eyes looked at his, amused, and Xander thought for a second that she was taking him in as well. She wore all black and her lips were coloured a dark red, and for a moment, Xander thought her to be a senior. But she looked too young, despite her rather mature attire.

"I'm lost," he said, shrugging helplessly. "I've never seen the place before." It took him a short while to notice that they had started walking down the halls, going slower than the crushing mass of people around them. "I'm meant to be in the principal's office about five minutes ago."

"You I trouble?"

"Nah, but it's a kind of meet-and-greet 'welcome to the school I'm sure you'll make loads of friends' kind of appointment."

The girl laughed lightly, adjusting her sling bag in search of a comfier position. "Well, Flutie's office is up those stairs, and two doors down from the Student Esquires office. I'll lead you there if you're real nice and tell me your name."

"Xander Harris," he replied, awkwardly putting out a hand.

"Faith Phillips," she said, taking his hand and shaking it firmly – too firmly. Xander gave her a bright smile instead of the wince he felt like pulling. "Well, welcome to our school and I'm sure you'll make loads of friends," she repeated, smirking.

"Bunches, even," Xander said, pulling his hand back as they started up the stairs.

"What class you got first?"

"No clue. I was forced to bring all my things, hope for the best and wish that I don't get gym class today."

"Tenth grade, right?"

"Bingo."

"Well, most tenth graders don't do gym today, so you're in luck, Harris," Faith said, and she stopped outside a door reading 'Principal'. "Well, here we are."

Xander looked at the door blankly, and then returned the smile she gave him. "Here we are. Thanks for the twenty second tour of the entrance to the Principal."

"Be happy I didn't charge you," she said, starting further down the hall, backwards so she still faced him. She waved before turning. "See you around, Harris!" she called over her shoulder, and Xander waved 'goodbye' by way of reply. The day had started off rather well, Xander felt, as he knocked on the door in front of him. Now, if only everyone could be helpful.

---

"Welcome to our school, Mr Harris," started off Flutie, jovial demeanour rather uninfectious and bouncy. Xander paused a little as he sat down, a half smile playing out on his features. "I'm sure you'll find Sunnydale High very accommodating. So!" The principal sat down, clasping his hands together and resting them on the desk. He smiled brightly. "Tell me in your own words why you changed for Los Angeles public to Sunnydale High!"

Xander blinked, and shifted a little. "Oh, sorry, I thought my dad already-"

"Oh, he did," said Flutie, waving his hand, dismissive. "I just want to hear it from the mouth of Alexander Harris. You know, the students perception of an event is so very different from their parents, I feel. So I like to give the youngsters a chance!"

"Um, okay," said Xander, slowly. More shifting uncomfortably. "But you see, my dad had a job offer here anyway, but the main thing was that...there was this..."

"Murder."

"Yeah, murder." He looked down at the floor. "It was a friend of mine, and no one kind of knows how she died, but...the school counsellor said that it would probably help that I go to a new school and start over, leave memories behind."

"Mm hm," said Flutie, looking sympathetic. "And they say you were the one that-"

"Yeah," said Xander, glancing up. "I found her." Flutie nodded gravely, before sighing.

"I am sorry for your loss, Mr. Harris, and it is not a great reason to start at a new school. I'm sure that it is a very hard thing you are going through. Which is why you will be meeting with our school counsellor tomorrow during your second class."

Xander looked up. "I'm fine, really, I already-"

Flutie put up a silencing hand. "No-no, I insist. Just a brief meeting, and if you wish to never go there ever again, that is entirely up to you. But otherwise, here is your new time table-" -a piece of white paper with a grid and text inside was handed over- "-and I hope that your time here at Sunnydale will be a happier one. So again, welcome to our school and I'm sure you'll make loads of friends!"

---

With a map drawn on the back, Xander found it easy to get to his next class, which was Social Studies. Surprisingly enough, he wasn't late, despite the meeting with Flutie, which had gone better than Xander had expected. It was obvious that the reason he was here was going to be brought up, but the counsellor – that had been a little shock-worthy. Hadn't the man known that Xander had already been taking therapy and enough school counselling to last a lifetime? But one meeting shouldn't be too bad...he'd blab on about how he was doing fine, he'd already made friends here – even if he hadn't, if that's the case – and how life is going great for him. Lots of smiles and you're off the crazy label.

As he walked into the classroom, Xander was more than happy to see Faith was in his class. She smiled and waved, than shrugged apologetically when those who must have been her friends took all the seats near her. Xander waved it away and settled down on one of the two empty seats in the class, after exchanging greetings and smiles with the teacher. To the left of him was a window showing a courtyard with empty benches and vacant ground that he was pretty sure would fill up with people when break began. To his right was a girl with dark brown hair and brown eyes, like Faith, only with a slightly more tanned complexion, and with a much brighter ensemble of clothes. The kind of girl that when she smiles, everyone else smiles on command. The kind of girl who, when she waves her well-manicured hand, the football team would come running for her. The kind of girl who'll spend a hundred bucks on shoes and a handbag to match. The kind of girl who wouldn't ever even look at the likes of Xander Harris.

She now glanced disdainfully at Xander, raised a perfectly sculptured eyebrow at his mismatched attire and turned away to talk with friends. Xander, who had smiled hopefully when she had glanced at her, now felt the normal plummeting feeling he got whenever some such thing happened. Self consciously, he looked over what he was wearing. Baggy jeans, sneakers, a rather old looking green T-shirt and a Hawaiian unbuttoned shirt over it. It wasn't that bad – kind of like a clown had dressed him, sure, but not that bad. Or maybe it was. Xander sighed, and decided he didn't care. He glanced back at Faith, who was talking avidly with some other guy. Sighing wistfully, Xander turned back to the board, where the teacher was righting 'Environmental Impact: What We Do To The World'.

"Now, if you'll open your books to page twenty-three, we'll get started." Xander froze. He didn't have a book. He looked around as everyone opened a blue book with a picture of the world on the front, and he pitifully took out a notebook and a pen. Suddenly, a well-manicured hand slapped down the assigned book in front of him.

"Me and a friend will share, but you can borrow this," the girl next to him said, giving him an expression that said 'don't get your hopes up, little boy'. "Just give it back afterwards," she added, even as she turned away from him. Xander smiled a little as he opened the book. She may be a potentially fatal bitch, but at least he had a book. He opened it up, and on the inside of the cover, the words 'Cordelia Chase' were written, with a love heart above the 'i'. He rolled his eyes a little bit at the swirly, immature, girly writing, and then resigned to tedious Social Studies.

---

Social Studies ended, and now it was Math – one boring subject after another. As Xander walked down the hall, checking his map so he didn't get lost, the girl he had sat next to in SS, Cordelia Chase, caught up with him. "Hey, we didn't really get a chance to say 'hi'," she said, giving him a bright smile, completely opposite to the disdainful looks she gave him in class.

'Well, Xander, you're a very handsome man, why not?' he thought sarcastically. "Hi," he managed, slightly shocked at her change of tune.

"I'm Cordelia Chase," she said, flirtatiously flicking a lock of brown hair out of her eyes. When Xander didn't react to her flirting, she frowned slightly, but continued. "You're name's Xander Harris, right? It's on your school bag."

"Um, yeah," he said, looking over his shoulder at his school bag, which did indeed have Xander HARRIS in big print in Vivid pen. He gave her a lopsided half-smile. "Don't worry, there isn't some guy out there, named Xander Harris, who's now minus a school bag."

Cordelia laughed, though you could tell she didn't fully find the joke that funny. "So, what do you do for fun?" she asked as they kept walking. "Football? There's some spots on the team that are vacant, and trust me, our school's like totally dying for some players."

"Oh, no, I'm not a sporty kinda guy," Xander said truthfully. "Dirt and tackling and helmets don't really do it for me. I mean, sure, there's the tackling, but padding? Not attractive."

Cordelia's eyebrows raised at his babbling, and the determined look in her eyes dulled when she must of realised that she was dealing with a guy who'd be classified as a 'loser' in her books. "Right," she said half-heartedly. She shook her head. "Anyway, just so you know, if you wanna get far in this school, stick with me. I'm a pro at separating the cool people from the losers."

"I'll remember that."

---

Break, finally. Xander emerged from the confinements of the building, and went to sit on a bench that hadn't been taken over by hordes of chatting teens. He placed his bag down and started rummaging through it, taking out a chicken roll. Forsaking himself to the idea that he was going to eat alone, he unwrapped the roll from its plastic wrapping prison and bit into it...just as Faith and three other students he didn't recognise surrounded him.

Faith, who had perched on the bench next to him, slung an arm around his shoulder. "Yo, Xander," she said. "Lunching without me?" A black boy, the one Faith had been talking to at the start of Social Studies, sat down on the other side of Xander, as the other two, a guy and girl, contentedly sat down on the bench opposite.

"This isn't an attack, is it?" asked Xander, feigning worry.

"Nah, we just felt sorry for you, and decided to make you an ex-loner," said Faith.

"Ah, gotta love pity," said Xander, smiling brightly.

"Indeed. As you know, I'm Faith," Faith said, and then pointed at the girl opposite her. "That's Tara McClay." Strawberry blonde hair twisted up in an alligator clip, a shy smile, and a peasant styled floral print top over worn jeans and sneakers. She waved, as shy as her smile, whilst taking out a jam sandwich of sorts. "She's the brainy one who we get all of our work off."

"My purpose in life," Tara offered, voice soft and quiet.

"That one's William Wyther," said Faith, gesturing to the boy next to Tara, who was twisted off the cap of a bottle of coke. Glasses, chestnut coloured hair, chiselled features and a timid smile. Xander blinked at what the boy, William, was wearing. It was something that would've looked good on someone maybe ten years older and had a lot of confidence, a nice car and a lot of money. A plain white T-shirt was covered by a fine cream coloured shirt that was almost see-through, and across the hem, collar and sleeves was a neatly printed pale green vine with small, blue flowers. He wore tight-fitting blue jeans that reminded Xander blazingly of all sixties movies, and plain white sneakers on his feet. It reminded Xander of that term, what was it? Metrosexual? "His mom's a fashion designer, if you're staring at the flowers," Faith said. William shrugged.

"It's a curse," he said, in a cultured English accent. He smirked gently. "I'm her victim and she won't allow me to walk out the door without one of her creations on me." Xander winced supportively and that earned a smile.

"And I'm Gunn," said the black guy next to him, holding out a hand. Xander took it. "Charles Gunn, but y'know, I'm one of those idiot street guys who have to go by their last names."

"He has issues," Faith stage whispered.

"She's the one who started calling me Gunn," Gunn said, talking to Faith through Xander, who looked over at Faith for an answer.

"Gunn's a wicked cool name compared to Charles, right?" she asked Xander, who looked at Gunn, who shrugged.

"I guess, but don't go blaming me of issues, woman," he said with a smile. Xander looked him up and down as he had done the others – pretty much the normal 'street guy' apparel, the stuff that white guys wear to look cool but end up looking try-hard-ish and that black guys wear to look cool and end up looking cool as a consequence.

"They're flirting, don't be scared," Tara assured, ignoring the pointed glares from both Faith and Gunn.

"Oh no, I picked it up," said Xander, looking innocent as he bit down on his roll.

"Aw man, don't go ganging up on us with them!" moaned Faith.

"Come to our side," said William to Xander, before blinking at Gunn's glare as innocently as possible. "What? I'm not allowed to recruit and you are, Charles?"

"Recruit?" asked Xander, looking at Tara.

"We're at war with them," said Tara, "being the only sane ones in this group. It's not so much as an in-joke as it is a bad, on-going one. I try to stay out of it."

"Traitor," said William offhandedly.

"Metro," said Tara, and giggled as William's shoulders slumped in defeat.

"I'm obviously in the middle of something politically complicated, I'll leave..." said Xander jokingly, standing up. But he was instantly pulled back down by Faith.

"Nah, you're in love with us already," said Faith unhelpfully. "You wanna stay with us."

"Yeah, nowhere else to go," said Xander truthfully, taking another bite out of his lunch.

"Hey, I saw Queen C give you the cold shoulder in SS," Gunn said. Xander smiled.

"Cordelia? Nah. She's the nicest Sunnydalian I've met so far," he said sardonically.

"No way, Tara out nices everyone," Gunn said, and Tara chuckled bashfully. Suddenly, Gunn looked up and his smile faded. "Yo, speak of the devil, heading this way." Tara looked behind her and then down, and William patiently shut his eyes, clasping his untouched drink. Faith rolled her eyes and went to look through her bag for her lunch, just as Cordelia stopped just behind William and Tara. Xander looked at her blankly, waiting for her to speak.

"I was going to offer you to have lunch with us," Cordelia said to Xander, indicating a couple of friends behind her, who smirked at him, "because I thought that you had a chance in hell of being cool. But you know what? You look cosy here. Freaks among freaks, losers among losers." William opened his eyes and looked at Xander, giving him a small half smile and a roll of his eyes, and Xander nodded subtly in agreement.

"Hey, you wanna back off, you and your minions are kinda blockin' my light," said Faith casually, amusement gone from her eyes and she looked up at Cordelia with cold indifference.

"Whatever, gothic-girl," said Cordelia with a roll of her eyes. A blonde behind her laughed as if it were the funniest thing in the world to call someone 'gothic-girl'. "You know that the eye shadow makes you look like slut, right?"

"Because your seat belt width skirts are so incredibly wholesome," murmured William before Faith could say anything. He glanced up at Cordelia, then back at the ground.

"Whatever," said Cordelia, the comment bouncing off her inflated ego.

"Hey William," said the blonde who laughed before. "What happened to the pink? Or is blue flowers in fashion this season?" She and other sidekick laughed like twittering birds, high shrill and staccato. William shifted, glaring at the ground.

"Tell your mom that all of the clothes she makes you model, are a little too retro to be cool," Cordelia said, smiling triumphantly at the boy's uncomfortable stance. "A lot too retro, actually. It's no wonder she flunked in England, and trust me, she ain't gonna do any better over here." A blush burned in William's cheeks as he glared at the ground, looking furious but too meek to stand up to the overbearing bitch.

"Hey!" snapped Tara, standing up angrily. "B-back off C-Cordelia!" she stammered.

"O-or w-what? You'll floral me to death?" asked Cordelia, gesturing to Tara's shirt. "Did William's mom make you wear that, 'cause-"

"Hey, you know what?" asked Xander loudly, standing up as Tara sunk back down, exchanging a glance with William. He spread his arms wide, looking at Cordelia as coldly as he could. "I'm good here, thanks for stopping by and being the concerned watch-student for the newbie. But hey, I'm fine. You can stop badmouthing everyone and sashay off with your little sidekicks there."

Cordelia tilted her head at Xander, ignoring the death glares she received from both Faith and Gunn. "You still have a chance to leave these losers behind," she said. "If you want to know the right people that'll actually pay off in later highschool years, come with us now. You're cute, your wardrobe's a disaster area but can be fixed-"

"Thanks for the compliment and offer, but I'm not interested," Xander said, his hands dropping to his sides. The two sidekicks sneered, and Cordelia placed her hands on her hips. "So run along now. I have a sneaky feeling you're not wanted here."

"He's right," said Faith, standing and crossing her arms. "Fuck off."

"You've made an enemy, Harris," Cordelia said, ignoring Faith. "Later, losers." She turned on her heel, walking away, minions filing out behind her. Xander and Faith sunk down into their seats.

"You have, y'know, made an enemy," said William, his blush faded.

"But you made friends of us, dude," said Gunn, putting a friendly arm over Xander's shoulder, who shrugged a little.

"She's a bit on the mean side," said Tara, shrugging helplessly and apologetically.

"A bit? Man, Gunn's right, this one out nices everyone," Faith said, sharing a smile with the meek blonde in front of her.

"She's the loserish side of school, right? I'm in the right zone for the cheerleading and footballing?" asked Xander jokingly, looking around at everyone, who glanced at each other.

"You're on the loserish side," said William, sipping is drink, "welcome."

"Not again," sighed Xander, and then smiled brightly. "Oh well, at least I'm in my element."

"That's the spirit," said Tara with fake peppiness, nodding resolutely, stammer gone.

"Queen C didn't trash you so much," said Xander, looking at Gunn, who shrugged.

"Well, I ain't a geek in her oh-so ignored opinion, and I'm not a goth either, or a fashion victim," said Gunn. "So she doesn't have much to go on except for the fact I hang out with them."

"Hey, who're you calling a geek?" asked Tara sarcastically.

"Or do you mean me? I get confused with such tags," said William, shaking his head.

"You're the goth, obviously," said Faith with as much sarcasm as Tara.

"You tease me. I wish I could be gothic, just once, a bit of black," the Brit groaned.

"Well, you know what they say, that the bullies are just insecure about themselves," said Xander, and all five snorted cynically. "Anyhoozit, I was wondering where the library is. I need to read up on Antarctica's environmental threats, of threats against Antarctica's environment, or something. Either way, I need books. Someone point me in the right direction."

"That's William's area. He's the only one here who gets books from there, because me and Gunn just leech off Tara, who doesn't need the books 'cause she already knows all the crap," said Faith unhelpfully.

"What a great, important life I lead," Tara said, giving a mild, playful glare to Faith.

"Did you want to go there after school?" asked William, ignoring Faith, looking at Xander after patting Tara supportively on the shoulder. "I need to return a few books and get more, I'm happy to lead you the way and show you the ropes, so to speak."

"That'd be a help," said Xander, nodding 'yes' at the offer.

"And hey, maybe, once Will lugs a new pile of books home and Xander reads up on the environment threatening thingy, maybe we all meet at the Bronze," said Gunn, ignoring William's pointed and defensive glare.

"The Bronze?"

"It's the only place worth going to in this small-ass town," said Faith.

"You'll like it," piped up William. "We may be a little underage, but there, we can pretend to at the right age and look longingly at the forbidden bar and its alcohol."

"It's a club, I gather?" asked Xander.

"It's a club," confirmed Tara. "It's at the bad side of town, two blocks away from the good side. Not a lot of town to share, really, but it is pretty hard-core for Sunnydale."

"Which ain't saying much, bet hell, we like it," said Faith. "So, Harris, you there?"

Four expectant eyes looked at him, two sets brown, and two sets blue. Xander shrugged and then smiled his normal happy-go-lucky smile. "I'm there."

---

The bell rang, loud and clear, and the English teacher floundered as the students started packing up instantaneously. "And remember your homework! Read one chapter and be prepared for the quiz tomorrow!" he said, even as students start filing out. Xander grinned, rather pleased with his first day of highschool. It had gone quite great, which was a surprise. He had made friends and enemies alike – always a good balance – and he had been dismissed of most homework, excepting Social Studies, as most reports had already been started before he had gotten there. Plus, he had something to do that night.

Outside, he and his new friends gathered. "So, we meet at the Bronze at what, seven?" asked Faith.

"Sounds fine to me," said Xander, and the other three nodded in return.

"Okay, see you then, Xan, Will," said Faith, already heading towards the exit. Gunn waved and followed her out. Tara hugged both William and Xander in turn, before running after Gunn and Faith. Xander blinked, dazed at the girl's friendliness at such short notice.

"Library's this way," said William, and they started walking in the opposite direction. "What school did you come from?"

"L.A public."

"Any good?"

"It was school," said Xander dryly, earning a small laugh from William.

"Allow me to rephrase: any good, as far as schools go?"

"It was okay. The cafeteria scared me, though most cafeterias scare me. Ooh, let me guess, is there a butch woman-male with a moustache as long as a pony's tail who serves up slop in a big spoon? Is her apron stained with gore, apparently food?"

William blinked and paused walking, and Xander looked at him expectantly. "Not entirely. We have heated benches and food in plastic containers." He smiled apologetically. "Did I smash your expectations, Xander?"

"No, just my stereotypes," Xander sighed as they resumed walking. "Pity, I wanted to ask her out on a date. Hey, you think there's a butch woman-male with a moustache cooking everything behind the scenes?"

"Possibly?" asked William. "We might. Our school's rather strange, so its all very possible."

"Strange?" asked Xander.

"Yes, well," sighed William. "A lot strange things happen that are…" He seemed to flounder for he right word. "Unexplainable, to most."

"Like what?" asked Xander, curiosity taking over his words.

"Just things," William said, shaking his head. "A lot of people just don't want to know." Before Xander could ask another question, William stopped out from two double doors. "I present, the library," he said, with a flourish concerning the pen he was holding and fidgeting with. "It has books and a librarian in a suit to go with. Enter if you dare."

"I'll take that dare," said Xander, with a lopsided smile, and William smirked with amusement as Xander mimed kicking open the doors before pushing them open the normal way. The two walked in, and William casually put his bag down on a table, and Xander did the same.

"This way to the books you're interested in," he said, walking up stairs that led to the next level. Xander followed, just as someone's voice called out.

"Ah, William, I thought you'd be here." Both William and Xander turned to see a ratty looking man in a cheap, casual suit – if there was such a thing – with his nose stuck in a book. His voice was growly, tinted with a cockney accent. "You'll recall the incident with the invo-"

"Mr. Rayne!" said William suddenly. Xander glanced at him, confused at the note of panic in William's voice. The ratty man, presumably Mr. Rayne, looked up with a look of 'what now?' before catching sight of Xander. His eyes widened slightly, before settling into a normal expression. "This i-is Xander H-Harris," he stammered, earning another glance from Xander. 'What's he so jittery about?' he wondered. "I'm, um, showing him some reference books for Social Studies, if you don't mind…?"

"Indeed," said Mr. Rayne, walking forward to where Xander stood at the bottom step. "Ethan Rayne. Young Wyther here is a little too formal at times, and most other's just call me Ethan, despite Principal Flutie's protests." He extended a hand to shake and Xander took it a little reluctantly. There was something creepy about Ethan Rayne; something weathered into the wrinkles around his eyes that said 'evil' to Xander. There was something about Ethan that said that the man had seen a lot, and done a lot in return. Not everything he had done was nice, either. Xander withdrew quickly, shivering a little. He felt like he'd shaken hands with someone whose fingers had touched other's blood, whose hands had shaken hands with the Devil, the kind of hands that had snapped someone's neck-

Now he was just freaking himself out. Xander gave Ethan a small, hesitant smile, taking a slightly shaken step back and almost knocking William over, who had descended the stairs a little. "You should get back to work," Ethan said, and then looked up at William. "You and I need to chat about that incident the other week. Bring Faith and the others as well."

"Yes sir," said William. Ethan nodded, gave a small smile to Xander and turned, heading towards the office; the book he had been reading closed under his arm. "Come on," the younger Brit said quietly, quickly ascending the stairs, Xander following.

"Well, on the Richter scale of freakiness I give that guy a 7, with a little shiver and shudder as a side dish," said Xander, shuddering to emphasise. William laughed nicely, disappearing behind the shelves of books, and Xander, again, followed. "Hm, you think I had enough metaphors in that sentence?"

"I know what happened at your school," William said, out of the blue. Xander's blood chilled, and he focused on William's finger, that was running along the spines of some colourful reference books. "That girl that was…stabbed in the neck? I read about it in the paper," he said, locking his eyes with Xander's. William took off his glasses, fidgeting with them a little. "I'm sorry to ask but…is that why you came here? To…get away from it?"

"Um," croaked Xander, and he coughed a little, "yeah, I guess. She was a friend."

William looked at the ground. "I'm sorry for bringing it up then. But I have to ask…do you know how she died? The real reason?" Xander gave him a hard stare, causing William to look away now and then, a slight red hue spreading across the teenager's cheeks. "I-I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-"

"There was no reason," said Xander hoarsely, good mood evaporating. "She was stabbed by some guy that had gotten into the girl's locker rooms. She died from blood loss. They said that the guy used scissors, because they would be available in a school, and the puncture wounds were identical and mirrored each other. Do I need to go on?"

"N-no, I'm sorry, I d-"

"What was your point, exactly?" snapped Xander, anger bubbling, He instantly regretted it when William jumped an inch.

"That's the sort of strangeness that occurs here," the Brit said quietly, putting his glasses back on. "Deaths, unexplained, spontaneous. Weird diseases with odd side effects like deformation in the teeth and brow. You should see our graveyards. We're a small town, but we have more graveyards than convenience stores." He glanced at Xander. "Just so you know. I didn't want you to be shocked when you find out."

"I see I came to the right place then, therapy be damned," said Xander, anger completely gone now. His temper rose quickly, but it was usually short lived. He smiled a little, to indicate a peace. William laughed weakly, but returned the smile.

"Okay," he said, looking relieved that the subject had passed, "let's find you a book on Antarctica."

---

The Bronze wasn't hard to find. One only had to wander the streets of Sunnydale for a while, follow a few dressed up teens if you wanted, before you ran into it eventually. Though Xander had taken a taxi, so he hadn't needed to experience this, really. The drive had been short, and only seven bucks. Xander decided to walk, next time. He had dressed up in what he hoped wasn't a 'disaster area', as Cordelia had so adequately put it. Jeans, Doc Martins he had worn once before in his life, a plain blue button down shirt with thin, vertical white stripes oddly spaced out and a brown leather jacket, the jacket being the most expensive piece of clothing he had ever owned. It had been given to him by his mother, in a vain attempt to make him look older and classy. It never really worked, especially since Xander wouldn't come within an inch of the hair gel she had offered, leaving the tangled black curls unruly and unkempt.

He opened the door to The Bronze, and smiled faintly at the surroundings. It was cool – there was no other way to put it. An upbeat rock band was playing music, and masses of teens and college students danced in groups and in pairs. There was a balcony which held seats and tables, and more seats and tables were also dotted on the bottom floor, as well as a few couches and armchairs. A bar ran along the side, offering coffee and soda for the underage Bronzers and alcohol for those fit to flash an I.D card.

Carefully, he weaved his way through the masses, smiling apologetically if he bumped into anyone. Finally, he saw a familiar face amongst the throngs. Tara sat at a table with a tall glass half filled with lemonade. She sucked absently at the straw, occasionally moving the slice of lemon around in it. She wore a dark green corset type top, which would have looked slutty if not for the long sleeved white blouse underneath, buttoned all the way to the top. Her hair was still swept up in a clip, and she wore the same jeans and sneakers she had at school.

"Hi Tara," Xander said in greeting, sliding onto the chair opposite her. She blinked in surprise and smiled, extracting the straw from her mouth.

"Hey, you made it," she said. She kept her tone gentle and quiet, but she seemed to pitch it loud enough to be heard over the music and conversation.

"So I have. Are you waiting for someone I don't know?" asked Xander. "I can move."

"Oh no," she said, shaking her head, "unless you want to leave, I don't mind."

"Why would I?" asked Xander, smiling, and hoping it looked nice and gentlemanly. It seemed to work, as Tara giggled a little bashfully, sipping at her drink. "Has Faith and Co. arrived yet?" Tara shook her head, pushing her drink away.

"No, but I think we're early."

"Fashionably?"

"Rightly so." They shared a companionable grin.

"So therefore they'll be fashionably late."

"But we'll still be fashionably early."

"Or not."

"Hm. Dorkily early?"

"Sounds about right."

"Hey!" said a loud voice, and Tara and Xander looked up to see Faith settled in the seat between them, holding a beer bottle. She hadn't bothered to change her clothes since school that day.

"So, you charmed the bartender into giving you illegal alcohol sans I.D card or are you secretly eighteen?" asked Xander, tilting his head at her.

"Neither," said Faith, taking a swig as if she had been drinking beer all her life. "Got some college dude to buy it for me, pussy just needed a little dance and some light conversation and I had him buying me said illegal alcohol."

"As goes the normal Bronzing routine," added Tara, rolling her eyes a little, a small smile playing out across her features. Xander laughed a little nervously as Faith winked at him, and he looked around desperately for some male life. Almost as if on cue, Gunn and William arrived, after stealing a chair so all five could gather around the table. Both wore what they had been wearing at school, except William seemed to have managed to smuggle out a denim jacket to cover the subtle but noticeable floral design his mother had bestowed upon him.

"Faith, every time. You do know it is against the law for a minor to drink beer?" asked William wearily when he spotted the beer bottle in question. Faith grinned, sculled it and slammed it down. Gunn laughed and William shifted uneasily.

"So you gonna arrest me, English?" she asked cattily, slouching into her seat.

"No, but if you keep going on own path of destruction, you will be one day," William said as seriously as possible.

"Hey, I didn't choose that path," said Faith, with a poisonous glare.

"Let it go Will," said Tara, and that would have been the end of the conversation. But it seemed that the argument would go on for as long as William knew Faith and vice versa. Faith stood, shaking out her hair a little before walking around Xander, and placing a hand on William's shoulder.

"You gotta cut loose a little bit, Ivy," she said, and William rolled his eyes a little at the nickname. "Come on, I'm bored as hell. Dance with me." Sighing as if he was being subjected to a dreary, boring activity, William stood, if a little reluctantly, shooting a half smile towards Faith.

"You annoy me."

"Yeah, but you ain't gonna turn down a lady, right? You're too polite, or something." William, even as he glared at her, walked out onto the dance floor. He said something and she laughed loudly, but the loudness that was the Bronze drowned out his words. Xander looked at Tara.

"That was strange."

"Yeah, but it's normal for Will and Faith," said Tara, waving it away. "Besides, I think Faith has a crush on William, and she just enjoys winding him up."

"No way Tar," said Gunn, shaking his head, "William has it in for the girl. He starts arguments with her all the time, and she just strings him along. But hell, whatever. He likes the ride, so let him enjoy it while he can. Faith will get bored."

"Gunn, that's horrible," said Tara, scolding. "They're friends and Faith would never-"

"None of us no what the hell Faith's capable of," Gunn said, not as if in argument, but as if he was stating a fact. "I don't think she even knows." Xander shifted uncomfortably. He felt like he was in way over his head, as if he was trying to keep up with the world politics and not just the politics in a social group. "Hey, Xan, man, sorry 'bout all this. Tension's a little high, y'know. There was this thing that happened last week, but don't worry, it'll blow over."

"We're usually a lot nicer to each other," Tara agreed, half-smiling.

"I hope so, I don't want to, I dunno, get in the middle of a fight, make things worse."

"Nah man, chill, it's not like that. Hey, look," Gunn assured, and then pointed towards we're William and Faith were dancing, both smiling and chatting, Faith's arms flung around the boy's neck, his hands resting lightly and politely on her waist, distancing himself. "They're cool with each other, and we're all great friends. It's not like World War Three or anything."

"We've been through a lot," added Tara, "but we're not closed off from having new friends, or whatever. So I hope you don't feel that way."

"It's fine," said Xander truthfully, and Tara smiled supportively, a slight bit of worry reflecting in her greenish blue eyes. "But I am thirsty, so if you'll excuse me…" He stood. "I'll be back, and next time, I won't quote Terminator." Tara laughed lightly and Gunn smiled. Xander started towards the bar, and when he glanced back the two were dancing with each other near where William and Faith were. Despite what Tara had said, Xander felt like he was intruding. But he had to take the group's friendliness at face value. Analysing them would lead to frustration and probably a lot of headaches.

He got to the bar and ordered a Coke, sitting down to drink it there. "Take solace in the fact that you actually met people," he murmured, and, with this thought in mind, he seemed to cheer up a little a she passed over the dollar notes. As he sipped at his drink, Xander saw, out the corner of his eye, a couple heading towards a door, which, Xander assumed, was a back exit. He didn't take too much notice until he saw the girl struggle against the vice-like grip the guy had on her wrist. The door was kicked open, and with a shout of protest, the girl was pushed out, the guy following and 'fwap', the door was closed.

"Oh Xander, man, don't even," Xander muttered to himself, defiantly turning away, sipping at his coke. He sighed. "This kind of hero complex gets me into too much trouble," he sighed, ignoring a stare he got from a neighbouring Coke drinker at his talking to himself. Looking around to see if anyone was looking at him, Xander opened the door slowly, peering out into a dimly lit alley way, road lights sparing only a little bit of illumination. Glancing back into the Bronze, Xander caught Faith's stare from where she danced on the dance floor. Ignoring her, Xander stepped out, closing the door with a faint 'click'. He was debating whether to just forget it or not, when a muffled scream reached his ears.

"Man, this is what happened when I found her," sighed Xander, taking a tentative step forward. 'Yeah, and look at where she is now – dead, you moron,' said a little voice in his head. 'You still feel guilty over her death? Fine. Redeem yourself and fucking do the right thing, you idiot.' Xander broke out into a run towards the corners of the alley, where the screams had come from. As his eyes adjusted, he slowed to a walk, to see the struggling figure of the girl pressed up against the wall, a hand over her mouth. The guy pinned her there, his head bent over her neck, and she whimpered.

"Hey, let her go!" yelled Xander, his voice hitched with fright. Looking around, he picked up a discarded and empty beer bottle. When the man didn't turn, Xander hurled the glass object at him, and he winced as it shattered over the stranger's back. The guy turned and... he snarled? His brow was hideously deformed, and he had fangs too big for his mouth. His chin was smeared with blood. "What the…" whispered Xander, backing away. The monster let the girl drop, and she went into a quivering crouch, crying softly in pain and fear. Suddenly, the monster seemed all too real, too familiar.

"Boy, I'd let you run, but you pissed me off," growled the monster, the demon, the vampire... "So, here's your choices. I snap you're neck, or drink you dry. What's it gonna be?"

"Or you crumble into a big pile of dust, how's that one?" Xander looked over his shoulder at Faith, who now stood beside Xander. In her hand, she held up a pointed piece of wood as if it were a dagger. Xander couldn't see how such a thing could work against this evil thing before him. More footsteps and Xander was dragged back.

"You okay, sweetie?" asked someone, Tara.

"Will, man, you got the water?"

"Tara, is he hurt? Yes, Gunn, let Tara have it."

"I'm fine," Xander said vacantly. Gunn stepped in front of him, wielding a similar piece of wood.

"So you and your teen friends gonna stop me?" asked the monster, and he laughed as if it were the funniest thing.

"Well, yeah, we've done it before," Faith said, stepping forwards. "Hey, you know who the Slayer is, vampire?" So it was a vampire. Xander shuddered, and he felt Tara place a soothing hand on the back of his neck, her other arm tangled with his when she had pulled him back.

"The Slayer?" asked the vampire. His cockiness seemed to diminish. "Yeah."

"Great. You know who I am?"

"The...Slayer?"

"Bingo. Gunn, what we got for our winner?"

"A stake in the heart."

"Sounds great." Suddenly, with a growl, the vampire lunged forward, hands outstretched for Faith's neck. The dark haired girl jumped nimbly aside, grabbed the back of the vampire's leather jacket and hurled him into the wall. Xander jumped an inch, almost knocking over Tara and William, who both put out a friendly hand to support him. Gunn leaped forward, stake in hand and ready to stab into the vampire's chest, when he was kicked away, landing on Faith. Both collapsed with two differently pitched grunts. The vampire hissed at them, before storming over towards where Xander, Tara and William stood, teeth bared. William quickly jumped in front, wielding his own stake, and was, equally as quick, knocked off his feet in a stinging punch to the jaw. Tara stepped forward, holding a glass vial of water. She uncapped it deftly and splashed it on the vampire's face. He was instantly hissing, a hand clapped over his eyes as he howled in pain. Steam rose, as if Tara had thrown burning acid.

"William!" she cried, quickly helping the boy up, who held a hand to his jaw.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," he muttered, glaring bloody murder at the vampire. Faith, now on her feet, stepped forward and plunged the stake into the distracted vampire's heart through his back. Xander gaped a sit exploded into a cloud of dust. Gunn stood shakily, pocketing the stake and rubbing his stomach where the vampire had kicked him. Faith swept a few locks of dark hair out of her eyes, and smiled at Xander.

"Welcome to the Hellmouth, I'm sure you'll make loads of friends!"

~~~~

Woo, I had fun writing that! So, what do you think? Hate it, love it? Do you want the slashy side of this story to make its presence known? What do you want to happen? Who do you want to get with whom? I already have ideas mapped out, but I'd love to hear your comments and suggestions.

And hey, this is un-beta'd, so there may be one million mistakes I didn't pick out. Do I have a volunteer beta? Do I need a beta? Come on, read and review! The next chapter should be up shortly, by the way. So, yeah. :)