Title: A Little Bit Louder and a Little Bit Worse
Spoilers: Through Chosen and Not Fade Away
Disclaimer: I don’t own these guys, I don’t own their world, and I don’t own my car. But all of them are fun to take out for a spin once in a while.
Summary: Mysterious stranger with a warning to deliver? Haven’t we heard this one before?
Notes: Written for electricalgwenfor the Xander round of maleslashminis. I swiped the title from "I'm Henry the VIII, I Am." You know the part: Second verse, same as the first. A little bit louder and a little bit worse.
That was it! Faith wasn't using his car to teach basic car repairs ever again. Xander was sure Stacy and Sholanda had used the class as a chance to get revenge on Xander for confiscating their iPods when he caught them sneaking out last week. They'd looked singularly unimpressed with his "When I was your age, I only broke curfew to save the world" speech, and they were both in Faith's auto shop class (subtitle: Slayers Don't Call AAA). It wasn't hard to draw the connection between the disgruntled young Slayers and his suddenly malfunctioning car.
Just wait until he had those two in his wood shop class (subtitle: Whittle Your Own Damn Stakes). He'd teach them not to mess with the Xan-Man. He looked at his car, sitting dead at the side of the road, and knew that future revenge wasn't going to help him now. The car was steaming gently like a cup of tea, and was just about as mobile.
Xander kicked a tire and wished he'd given into Faith's taunting and taken her class. He just hadn't been willing to reveal himself as less competent than the girls in yet another arena. (He'd expected them to best him at fighting, but his spectacular defeat at the hands of fourteen year old Fatima in last year's spelling bee had been humiliating.)
A rock clattered against the sidewalk behind him, and Xander spun around to find a slender young man leaning against a street light a few yards away, his arms crossed and his eyes on Xander. He was close enough that Xander knew he'd kicked the rock on purpose; if he could get this close without making a sound, there was no way he'd accidentally given himself away.
Xander tensed and slid his hand to the back of his waistband as unobtrusively as possible, pulling out the stake he kept there. When the man caught sight of it, his wary, watchful look dissolved into an amused smile.
"I know what you're thinking," he said. "Don't worry. I don't bite."
"Yeah, 'cause the people who do always admit it," Xander scoffed. "What do you want, then, if you're not after my tasty, tasty blood?"
The guy uncrossed his arms and took a step forward. Even in that brief motion, he possessed a grace that Xander had never owned despite a lifetime of window shopping. "The same thing you do," he replied, his smile going a bit feral.
"Okay," Xander said in his best humoring-the-crazy-person voice. "What do I want?"
"To kill them. To kill them all." He took another step forward, and Xander changed his estimate from feral to completely wild. This man had never been tamed.
Xander pressed himself a little closer to the car. "But I don't want to kill them. Ground them, yes. A good spanking, maybe, if they weren't already at an age where that gets misinterpreted."
"Joke if you want, but don't turn your back on this. You've gotta be ready," the stranger said, bouncing a bit on his toes, as though to demonstrate what readiness looked like. Either that, or he needed to go to the bathroom.
The car was solid and reassuring behind Xander's back, and he still held his stake firmly in front of him. He let those comforts support his voice, so he sounded brave and prepared when he asked, "Ready for what?"
"For the Harvest," the man said.
Xander shook his head. What the hell was wrong with vamps and demons that they never learned their lessons? They should know by now that the Slayers were going to stop their apocalypses and massacres and harvests. Why didn't they just give up, stay in their little demon houses and play canasta? (Xander wasn't sure what canasta was, exactly, but it had always sounded vaguely supernatural to him.)
Mystery Guy had started walking away while Xander was caught up in his incredulity. He was melting into the shadows like he'd been born there, and the sense of second hand deja vu was suddenly strong.
"Hey," Xander called out. "You don't happen to know a big, broody vampire named Angel, do you?"
The man turned around, and there was something complicated happening behind his eyes. There was a darkness there, so Xander was surprised when he suddenly smiled, sweet and almost proud. "Yeah. He's my dad."
Then he was gone, and Xander was left with a broken car and approximately three million unanswered questions.
"You know, he's really not that broody if you catch him in the right mood." Only three years of silent, sneaky young Slayers could have prepared Xander for Cryptic Warning Man to suddenly pop up beside him at the grocery store. "In fact," he continued, "if you catch him during reruns of The Carol Burnett Show, he can be downright jolly."
Xander put down the bag of broccoli florets he'd been examining (weighing nutritional value against the probability of whining) and stared at the man skeptically. "Jolly? Angel?" Those were two words Xander had never heard together in a sentence before. "You're kidding."
The guy shook his head, bright blue eyes dancing with remembered mirth. "The Muppet Show, too." He leaned closer, as though sharing a secret. "He likes to sing along with the musical numbers."
Xander shook his head in disbelief and reached for a bag of corn (fewer vitamins, but more likely to be eaten without tantrums). He couldn't help but notice the man's reflection in the glass door of the freezer case. He dropped the corn in his laden cart. "I got the impression that being a vampire meant never having to ask if your date was on the pill," he said, in what was probably the least smooth attempt at digging for information ever achieved by mortal man.
The man didn't look offended, though. He just shrugged. "There was a prophecy and a mystical whatsit. I really don't understand it, but I'm not going to complain." He seemed ridiculously easy going to be the fruit of Angel's loins. "I'm Connor, by the way."
"Xander," Xander replied.
"Yeah, I know," Connor said with an impish grin. He really looked nothing at all like Angel. In fact, if Xander hadn't seen him doing his wild jungle cat impression the other night, he would have thought Connor was just a college kid here for ramen. Xander pushed his cart to the next aisle, where he got down to the really important shopping. Ice cream. "Did Angel send you to warn us?" he asked as he loaded the first carton of ice cream into the cart. "Because he and I were never the bestest of buddies. I would have expected him to contact Buffy."
Connor swept his hair back out of his eyes. "Angel didn't send me. I went to a bar for my twenty-first birthday, and I met this guy." Xander's eye went wide, because he hadn't expected this to be *that* kind of story. Although it was kind of encouraging. But Connor shook his head at Xander and said, "Not like that. Geez! I mean, he's nice, and I guess you could call him cute, but he's a little too green to be my type."
The lack of "How dare you? I'm not a fag," rhetoric was even more encouraging, and Xander let himself watch Connor's pretty pink mouth as he continued. "He knew me from ... it's complicated. He used to be friends with my dad." Xander was so startled he almost grabbed a tub of sherbet instead of Faith's Chubby Hubby. He found it easier to believe Angel suddenly had a grown up son than to believe Angel had friends. "Anyway, he called me Lambchop and made me sing for him, and then he told me to come here and find you. Say hi, pass on the warning about the Harvest, yada, yada, yada, be on my way."
"Yeah, about that," Xander said. "I thought the Harvest was a once in a century thing. By my count, it's about ninety years too soon for another one."
Connor stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "Don't ask me. All I know is it's supposed to be happening on Tuesday, when the moon is dark. Lorne said something about interdimensional travel and time passing differently for the head vamp guy, but I didn't really get it."
Xander snagged one last carton of rocky road out of the freezer case and started pushing his cart toward checkout. "Do you think you could call him up and have him explain it to our brainiacs?" he asked, scanning for the register with the shortest line. Not that it mattered. As soon as he committed to a line, it would slow down so that every other shopper in the store got to check out before he finally made it to the front of the line. He'd asked Willow if it was a curse, but she said it was completely normal.
Connor ducked his head, and his long bangs fell back into his eyes. He bit his lip and Xander had to wonder if Connor was toying with him. The hair, the lip ... if Connor was a girl, they'd be clear signs of flirting, but Xander's experiences with guys had been a lot more direct ("Meet me out back?" "Sure."), so it was hard to tell.
"I don't think he'd be happy to hear from me," Connor said. At Xander's questioning look, he flushed. "He totally had it coming," he said. "I mean, he called me Lambchop. He was asking for it."
"What did you do?" Xander asked, filled with the dreadful anticipation that comes only from hearing about someone else's wrongdoings. It always reminded him of listening to Cordy gossip or watching Jerry Springer.
Connor looked up at him through his eyelashes, and yeah. There was definitely toying going on. "Remember he had me sing for him? I sang The Song That Never Ends."
Xander stopped stock still in the middle of the grocery store. "You're evil," he said, awe and admiration evident in his voice. Connor flushed again, and Xander took a deep breath and licked his lips. "Do you want to come home with me?" he stammered out. "To talk about Harvest-y stuff, I mean."
Connor shifted uncomfortably. "You live with a couple dozen Slayers, right? As the mystical lovechild of two vampires, I'm gonna have to decline. I'll catch you later, though." He gave Xander an uninterpretable look and an easily interpretable wave, and then he was gone again.
Xander still had three million unanswered questions, but this time he also had a cart full of rapidly thawing groceries. He shook himself and picked a checkout line.
Xander refused to admit to Buffy and Willow, but he was looking for Connor everywhere he went. He'd scanned the crowd for him at the mall and when he was dropping off his van-load of Slayers at school. He'd thought he had caught sight of him at Burger King this morning, but the slim figure with the straight brown hair had turned out to be a girl, and Xander had felt pathetically like the principal from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
He’d looked for Connor so hard he’d given himself a headache, and that was when he’d decided enough was enough. He only had one eye left, and he wasn’t going to wear it out looking for Connor. Besides, so far Connor had always been the one to find Xander. All he really had to do was put himself somewhere open to the public and wait. That was the theory, anyway.
Which was why Xander was currently loitering around the park, earning suspicious glares from vigilant mothers and delighted pirate yells from small children. He’d brought the heels from several loaves of bread to feed the ducks, which provided plausible deniability for when the girls asked him what he’d been doing. He was methodically distributing the bread, making sure that the big, boisterous ducks didn’t keep the slower, smaller ones from getting their share, when he heard a familiar voice. He’d gotten used to Connor appearing silently, it was a shock to hear him coming, but he was clearly not trying to be Mr. Stealthy this time.
“No, I promise I’m not trying to live on American cheese and bologna. Okay, okay. I’ll eat a vegetable today.” Connor stepped around a tree and spotted Xander, nodding in a way that was at once a greeting to Xander and a concession to the person on the other end of the conversation. “Ketchup counts as a vegetable, right?” he asked teasingly. “Uh huh. Listen, I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know I’m alive. I love you, too. Bye.”
He hung up and closed his phone, coming to stand next to Xander at the edge of the pond. “Sorry,” he said. “My parents.” As though that explained it all. And if he’d been Joe Schmoe, maybe it would have, but as it was ...
“Wha?” Xander asked intelligently. “I thought Angel was your dad.”
Connor stuffed his phone in his pocket and hunched his shoulders. “I- Let’s just say I didn’t have the most normal upbringing a child could have,” he said. The stormy, tired look in his eyes made it clear that that was an understatement. “I have two different sets of memories, and three different families, and sometimes it’s a little hard to tell if I’m Connor Angel or Steven Holtz or Connor Reilly. But my parents love me and Angel loves me, so mostly I just try not to think about it too much.”
Xander looked away from the naked, frustrated look on Connor’s face. He had a tiny, vague idea of what that might be like. He’d enrolled in a psych class at the local college as moral support for Buffy, and the section on repressed memories had sent him into a freak out about the way Dawn’s arrival had rewritten his life. It was about six years overdue, but that hadn’t made it any less painful. Xander wasn’t going to badger Connor and bring that kind of thing up.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t curious. He asked tentatively, “Is that why you did the General Hospital thing?” Connor looked at him like he was crazy, so he clarified. “You know, baby one season, handsome young scoundrel the next.”
Connor smiled at him, a sunny look that washed away the pain of memory for just a moment. “You think I’m handsome? Ooh, and a scoundrel. Like Han Solo.” He batted his eyes at Xander, which was entirely unfair on someone with eyelashes like Connor. His smile became fixed as he continued. “Time moves differently in other dimensions. I ... In one set of memories, I didn’t grow up here.”
Xander nodded. “Okay,” he said. He looked at Connor, who was tensed to withstand more questions, and resisted the urge to wrap his arms around him. Instead, he offered him a piece of bread. “Watch out for the one with the fluffy head,” he advised. “He’s a mean little bastard.”
Connor’s fingers skated over Xander’s as he took the bread, giving Xander a warm look in exchange. Xander’s unanswered questions were down to one million, but they didn’t seem that important anymore.
The Harvest, Xander decided, was the most annoying ritual ever invented by vampire kind. Usually rituals had to be conducted at a particular location, which made them fairly easy to find and then disrupt. The Harvest, though, was all bound up in the Vessel, who could seek out victims wherever he damned well pleased. It sucked, in more ways than one.
They’d coordinated a surveillance plan for Tuesday night, with Slayer teams watching for the Vessel all over town. It was Andrew’s team who caught sight of her, a tiny, dark haired vampire woman with the symbol drawn on her forehead. She was fast and powerful, and she brought a lot of friends with her. Andrew and his girls called for back up and trailed her to a crowded dance club, which only confirmed what Xander had known all along. Vampires had no imagination.
Xander hadn’t called Connor, (mostly because he didn’t know his phone number, which had been the cause of a lot of silent pouting when Xander had realized it), but Connor was there outside The Four Elements when Xander showed up with the reinforcements.
“So, is this club any good?” Connor asked, spinning a stake in his hand. “I hear it’s kind of dead.”
“You, my friend, need to work on your puns,” Xander told him. Connor looked just like he always did, wearing a short sleeved green tee shirt layered on top of a long sleeved gray one, his hair falling in his face. But there was a vibrant intensity in his eyes, a sleek grace in his movements that reminded Xander that he’d thought Connor feral when they first met.
“Maybe you can help me out with that,” Connor offered, his smile promising more than his words. Then Emily, one of Andrew’s Slayers who’d been stationed at the door, gave the signal, and it was time.
The battle was fierce, fought over and through and around the crowd of club-goers, colored lights painting them all so that the blood looked unreal. The Vessel was standing on the stage, two bodies slumped at her feet, and she smirked defiantly at the first Slayers through the door. After three had entered, her smile fell away, and when Connor launched himself through the air, she began growling.
Connor in motion was a thing of beauty. He was apparently made entirely out of muscle (either that or springs and rubber bands), because he wasn’t still for a moment. He whipped from vampire to vampire like a brown-haired cyclone of destruction. Xander had never seen anything like it from someone with a Y chromosome. Connor wasn’t the one who took out the Vessel, but he cleared the way to her, burning through vampires like a wildfire, leaving only ash behind.
Xander had a stake and a small axe, but he wound up near the back wall with a bunch of leather clad club kids, ostensibly playing guard, but really just watching. He should have been watching the girls, making notes on who fought well and who made mistakes, but he couldn’t drag his eyes away from Connor.
And when the Vessel was dust and Connor stood, panting over the remains of his last opponent, he looked across the room and met Xander’s eyes.
They went out for coffee. It wasn’t Xander’s usual thing; he was more of a post-Slay pizza kind of guy, but coffee had meaning. Willow always said coffee was the non-relationship drink of choice, and right now Xander and Connor had a non-relationship.
Xander stirred his third creamer into his coffee, watching the paleness bleed into the dark, losing cohesion but staining the rest of the coffee a lighter, brighter shade. He thought there should be a metaphor for life in there somewhere, but right now he was too nervous to think of one. He added four sugars and looked across the table at Connor.
“You know,” he said conversationally. “When Angel showed up to warn Buffy about the Harvest, it was the start of this tragic, passionate love affair.”
“I heard about that,” Connor said, watching Xander over the rim of his own cup. He took his coffee black, and Xander refused to be intimidated by that. “I don’t do tragic.”
Xander gave him an uncertain smile. “Well, that’s good. Because tragic is, by definition, kind of bad.”
Connor nodded. “I think I could pull off passionate,” he offered, putting his cup down. His eyes were bright, and so was his smile, and Xander reached across the table, over the detritus of sugar packets and napkins to take his hand.
He’d only come into the diner with one question, and it had been answered.