Hero Chapter 2 (2/8)
There was hardly anybody in the club; a couple of kids in the squashy couches under the stairs, doing some hard-core studying so they could party later. The bartender and his assistant were cleaning up a little and re-stocking. Angel was on door-duty, which was good. Friday nights tended to be a little crazy with the students getting psyched for the weekend and Angel was so big, and so calm. He kept them all pretty mellow. Plus, nobody wanted him to do his wrestling moves on them - it hurt when Angel twisted you into a pretzel.
"Hey guys," Angel said, nodding at them as they dragged the first relay of equipment up on the stage.
"Hey Angel, how's it hangin'?" Devon yelled and Angel just grinned. Oz whacked Devon with a coil of cable and he grinned back and they both went off stage again to grab more stuff. Will concentrated on untangling and plugging in cords, arranging the amps and getting things turned on, warming up. He grabbed a roll of duct tape out of a milk-crate by the edge of the stage and taped some cords down. It made for a little more work but he and Devon got pretty animated, jumping around, and there was nothing that made you feel like more of a fool than getting your foot tangled in your own mic cord and falling flat on your face. Something Devon had actually done on stage, in the middle of a show, and the memory made Will grin as he bit tape off the roll and laid strips down.
"What're you grinning at, blondie?" Will glanced up and saw Tara and grinned a little harder. She was the waitress at the Bronze. Been there for three years, working as many hours as possible while she got her degree at UC Sunnydale. She was everybody's favorite.
"Hey Tara!" Will jumped up and hugged her - gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Tara hugged back and then sat down on an amp, a spray bottle and smudged cloth dangling from her fingers.
"I'm just remembering the time Devon 'bout knocked himself unconscious tripping over these bloody cables." He couldn't stop the grin and Tara grinned too - giggled a little while looking around, making sure Devon didn't hear her. He was still pretty touchy about 'The Incident'.
"Oh, yeah. Jesus, that was funny. How're you doing? Haven't seen you around for a couple of weeks."
"Doin' all right. We had a couple shows to do down in Oxnard, and dad got a bunch of new books in, I've been helping him organize. Built a couple of shelves but they're not too good. We need a real carpenter."
"Yeah? Uh...if I suggest...somebody, you're not gonna get mad, are you?"
"Why would I get mad?" Will bit off another strip of duct tape and finished with the amp cord - looked up at Tara, who was biting her lip.
"Well - that kid - Xander? He's actually pretty handy with a hammer and nails." Will just stared at her for a minute, then sighed.
"Well, I'll talk to dad. I saw him outside tonight - he looked sick, like he had a fever. He said he was goin' to Willow's - I hope he does."
"Me, too. He helped her, you know? He fixed a broken window, a couple of messed up stairs. He really seemed to know what he was doing. Willow kinda thought - you know - if he could get some little jobs, earn some money... maybe it would help. To just - be normal for a little bit. You know?" Will stood up and tossed the duct tape into the crate and ran his hands back through his hair.
"Yeah, she's probably right. Me and dad - we have 'research parties' sometimes - let him come over and go through the books, look for...whatever. He'll eat, when we do that - sleep over sometimes." Will shrugged and was surprised when Tara stood up and hugged him again.
"You guys really help, you know? Letting him... Just - being there for him. Willow really appreciates it." Willow and Tara had been circling around each other for six months, and Will hoped that they'd take that first step pretty soon and go on a date. He hugged Tara back, just as hard.
"We - well, mostly me, but dad too - we just can't help it. The kid is so..." Will doesn't know how to finish that - doesn't really know how to put into words the feelings that Xander evoked in him. He was so scared, that kid - so lonely, and so wounded. And his world was so dark and scary; full of monsters and pain and evil that he can't stop or control - just battle, endlessly. Will felt like, if he didn't help him out - do what he could - it'd be like...like stepping on Superman's cape, or trying to de-mask Batman. Or taking a little, bedraggled kitten and putting it in a box by the highway. It just wouldn't be right. And that smile... Will shook his head, breaking himself out of his thoughts. Oz and Devon staggered back on stage just then, loaded down with more equipment and he moved to help them.
"Hey Tara! Man, you are lookin' hot tonight!" Devon leered at the dark-blonde woman and she grinned back, doing a little 'hoochy-mama' hip shake.
"You know it, Devon! Me and my 'eau de bleach', we're hot stuff." Tara misted a tiny squirt of her bleach-water mix towards Devon, who squeaked and jumped back, making a cross with two fingers.
"Get that stuff away from me, you evil woman!" Tara laughed and jumped down off the stage, heading over to some tables and her final wipe-down before traffic started getting heavy. Oz poked Devon in the butt with a mic stand and Devon pounced on him and gave him a hard, smacking kiss.
"Don't start anything you can't finish, man!" Oz did the same hip-roll Tara had, grinning up at Devon from under his eyelashes.
"Right. Stop right bloody now. We've got work to do. You two can shag each other silly after we set up." Will grabbed Devon and pushed him towards a pile of equipment and Devon pouted but went, bending to pick up another amp and move it to the edge of the stage. Oz blew Will a kiss.
"Wanna get silly with us?" he asked, bedroom voice, and Will grabbed him around the neck and planted the wettest kiss possible on his cheek.
"You know it, hot stuff," he whispered, and started giggling as Oz squirmed away, making an 'ewww' face and wiping his cheek off.
"Jesus, Will - a little control would be nice. Check the drool." Will just batted his eyes at him and then they all got to work. About forty minutes later everything was set up and Oz went to the sound and light booth up on the catwalk to do the check. That took about fifteen more minutes and then they were done. Will turned the mic off and put it in the stand - looked over at the clock that was above the bar. Seven-twenty, or thereabouts. They had almost an hour to kill until their first set at eight-thirty.
"C'mon, let's go get something to eat," Oz said, coming to a stop next to Devon and putting his arm around the taller boy's waist.
"Yeah, I'm starved. And you guys need to tell me the story with that kid." Devon hugged Oz to him a little and the three of them went over to the bar. The crowd had filled out a bit and some kids were dancing to the canned music that was blaring - some girl singer with an annoyingly lisping voice that Will hated.
"Hey, Clem! We're hungry, mate." Will climbed up onto a bar stool, smiling over at Clem, who was the head bartender and manager of the place. He was tall and balding with big, basset-hound eyes and droopy jowls. He'd lost a bunch of weight in the past year, and his skin had sagged down off his jaw a bit. He kept saying he was going to get a 'nip-tuck', but he hated spending money. Will was pretty sure he'd do it himself if he thought he could
*Fuckin' tightwad. He'd BETTER have got the damn toilets in the back fixed or I swear I'm gonna take a fuckin' sledgehammer to 'em.*
"Will - gentlemen. The usual?"
"Yeah, usual's good for me - that okay?" Will turned to Devon and Oz, who were locked mouth to mouth and totally oblivious. "Usual, Clem," Will smirked, and Clem just shook his head, jowls flopping, and moved down to the window at the back of the bar to place the order.
Ten minutes later they had 'fish and chips' - although Will refused to touch it - a sampler of appetizers and a Blooming Onion, and they carried it all backstage to the green room. Which was actually a truly vile shade of pinkish-grey, but it did have a couple of worn couches and a long row of thrift-store vanities with mirrors for getting ready and cleaning up afterward. Will sprawled down on a couch with his onion and a beer, and they all ate in silence for a couple of minutes until Devon took a long drink and burped.
"Ooo-kay. So - tell me about this guy. Why in hell does he think you're a vampire, and what was all that about the full moon, Oz?" Oz and Will exchanged glances and Will sat up, leaning his elbows on his knees. He lit a cigarette and puffed for a minute.
"When me and dad moved here, that was...the summer of '98. Dad was gonna work at UCS but the professor he was replacing wasn't leaving until spring of the next year. We got over here so early mostly 'cause of mum dying, but also - dad just didn't want to have to scramble for a house and stuff while trying to get settled at the job, you know? So he took a temporary job with Sunnydale High to just keep himself busy. And that's when we met Xander. Well, dad met him. He hung out in the library a lot - read books and stuff, wanted to talk about stuff. He was really into...mythology, the occult, things like that." Will drank the last couple swallows of his beer - remembered with a small smile how pleased his dad had been, that a 'Southern California' boy had wanted to spend so much time in the library talking about Latin and ancient cults. Stuff like that was his dad's hobby, something he didn't get to indulge in too often in the rarified atmosphere of collegiate English Literature.
"He was cool, I guess - dad liked him. I only met him once that first year. I came into the school to help dad with some stuff, and I started talkin' to this blonde bird. That Buffy Summers, remember her, Oz?" Oz nodded.
"Yeah. Anyway, she was cute, and she was all over the accent, you know," Will rolled his eyes, "and we were talking and out of nowhere, this kid comes up to me -" Will stopped talking and shook his head, remembering.
"What the hell are you doing here, Spike?" Brown hair and brown eyes and a scowl like thunder. Skinny, gangly kid grabbing his shoulder and pushing him and Will was too stunned to do anything but gape. "You're really pushing your luck, Spike - just because Buffy didn't stake you before doesn't mean you got a 'get out of a dusting' free card." Next to him, the blonde girl made an angry sort of noise and stepped between them, frowning.
"Look, just get out of here, would you? I'm just having a conversation. Leave him alone." The boy had blinked at Buffy, weaving a little like he was drunk or stoned or something, then he'd smiled, and Will had been amazed at the transformation.
"Sure, Buff. If you say so. I gotta go meet Willow anyway." He'd shot a last, hard look at Will and then was gone, and Will had just stared after him. That smile had stayed in his mind for a long time.
"He thought I was somebody else. He called me 'Spike'. Buffy said he was kind of stalking her or something and I thought, you know, bloody jealous ex or something. Didn't think much of it. But - the kid tried to blow up the high school during graduation ceremonies." Devon's eyes went wide at that. He was from Barstow, out east in the fuckin' desert and had come to USC about six months ago. Met Oz and joined the band when their first singer had quit to 'find himself' up in Portland.
"Seriously? Dude, tried to blow it up how?"
"His dad - well, foster dad, his real folks just disappeared on him - was some ex-Army guy or Reserves or something and somehow Xander got a hold of a bunch of C-4. He had it all over the school. He almost did it, too, but the principal found some of the - fuck, demolition wire or something? Called it in. It was crazy. Xander kinda lost it, just - went nuts. Dad said they had to taser him, then they carted him off." Will stubbed out the cigarette butt and leaned back on the couch, hands behind his head, looking up at the ceiling as he remembers all this.
"Took him down to that place near Oxnard," Oz said quietly, and Will nodded. Oz had been in that graduating class - had come that close to losing his life. He'd known Xander in a peripheral sort of way for three years.
"You knew him?" Devon asked, and Oz nodded.
"Yeah. I'm in his - his fantasy world or whatever, too. He thinks I'm a werewolf." Devon just stared at his boyfriend, and after a minute Will went on with the story.
"After that - well, he was a juvenile when he tried that, and they did some drug therapy and stuff for like...six months and then he got released. About - I dunno, a month later? He shows up on our door. He's all fuckin' - beat up. Bloody and ragged. He said - he told us he'd had a run-in with some demon, didn't know what, exactly, but he knew my dad would have it in his books somewhere. He..." Will stopped again, rubbing his eyes. Xander had been thin and bruised - split lip and probably cracked ribs and some cuts on his back. Attacked by someone, but no hope in hell of finding out, since all he did was talk about demons. His eyes, so wide and wild, his hands shaking over the books but a determined look on his face. 'We've got to figure out what it wants - how to kill it. Before it hurts somebody else.'
They'd looked through books and fed the kid leftover chicken until he fell asleep at the table. When he woke up the next day he seemed to think they'd gone out and gotten the demon - killed it - and he couldn't believe 'Giles' was letting 'Spike' live with him.
"He just - slid us right into the fantasy, man. My dad is a Watcher - somebody who knows all this occult stuff and knows about demons and stuff. And I'm a vampire only for some reason I'm good or something - I help kill other vampires and stuff. And - Angel's a vamp, too, but he has a soul for some reason. Oz is the werewolf, and Buffy was - she was the Slayer." Devon slowly ate the last mozzarella stick and wiped his hands, looking wide-eyed from Oz to Will.
"What's the Slayer?"
"She's - and it's always a girl - is some sort of super-woman. Stronger and faster, and she's chosen out of all the girls in the world to be the Slayer and kill vamps and stuff. When the Summers moved away, he was really - fucked up. Kept saying Buffy was dead and that the other Slayer was - crazy, or something, and how would we keep the Hellmouth safe without her..."
"Wait - 'Hellmouth'? What's that?"
"That's Sunnydale," Oz said. He leaned up against Devon and looked over at Will, his eyes sad.
"Yeah. There's like this portal or something to hell and supposedly it's under the high school. The Hellmouth. That's why there's all these demons and things, and that's why he has to fight. So nobody will open the Hellmouth and let all the demons out." They sat there in silence for a few minutes, and Devon finally let out a low whistle.
"So - wow. How come he's running around lose? Why isn't he in a hospital or something?"
"Yeah, we wondered too. They sealed his juvenile record. And when the drug-therapy they were doing seemed to be working, they cut him lose. He didn't have insurance or anything, so... They just kicked him out. He can't afford the drugs and - I don't think he'd take the bloody things anyway. He's an adult, he's - fuck, twenty? Just a couple years younger than us. And since he doesn't really hurt anybody, not any more than those wankers over on Fraternity Row, so... They mostly leave him alone."
"He goes over to the Treehouse sometimes, lets Willow feed him, give him clothes. But he's real nervous over there just lately. " Oz got up and began to gather the plates and empty bottles and Will stood up to help. Willow ran a shelter and free clinic down near the river, called it The Treehouse. She had some group down in L.A. - a bunch of lawyers or something - who gave money and organized donations of needles and food, things like that. Her ex, a former Sunnydale resident named Cordelia had set it up. Willow was, in Xander's world, a powerful witch, and the gentle quasi-hippie red head did her best to keep him grounded in the real world. She was one of the few people Xander trusted completely.
"Man. That's just..." Devon couldn't seem to come up with anything more to say and after a minute he moved over to a vanity and started putting on some stage makeup and fixing his hair. Oz gave Will a brief smile and a one-armed hug, and Will smiled back.
*Damn. I can't think about him right now. Gotta get the energy back up, gotta get ready to go out there and kick ass.... Damn kid... Okay, fuck - let's do this.* Will snapped on the boom box that sat on the floor and Black Sabbath poured out, loud and screaming. Will grinned and started singing along - went to a vanity and grabbed a stick of black eyeliner and started to fix his eyes. Beside him, Oz was drumming on Devon's shoulders and Devon started singing too, spiking his hair up with mousse. They were all wearing their 'gig' uniform of tattered jeans and 'Dingoes' t-shirts. Oz's t-shirt was three sizes to big, Devon's had the sleeves ripped off and the collar cut down, and Will's was skin-tight and slashed raggedly here and there, showing a little skin.
*Yeah, we look good...*
In a few minutes they were amped, getting excited again and ready to play, and Will pushed Xander and his dark world away into a corner of his mind and tried to forget.