Rating: R (mostly for violence/gore…or at least I tried to hit the R-rating the prompt called for)
Disclaimer: I don't own Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or any of the characters therein. Although I wish I owned Dean Winchester. :)
Summary: They are neither past nor present, caught in this strange hiatus of being, somewhere between who they were and what they are.
Notes: This is a sequel/companion piece to Stopping for a Stranger. It could probably stand alone, I suppose.
**TEAM ROADHOUSE: Written for the spn_btvs Weekly Challenge # 9. Prompt: Xander/Lenore – hiatus – R**
There's blood in his mouth when he wakes. Coppery sweet, it's both sickening and enticing. His recent memory plays like a movie on fast-forward, rapid-fire images: pulling over, flat tire, beautiful woman, sharp pain, blood, blackness. They fly by in a blur, like scenes from someone else's life, and understanding sets in much quicker than he'd like.
He's dead. More to the point, he's a vampire.
Already he can feel his conflicting natures warring within him: seven years of Hellmouth-honed, survival instincts clashing with newer, more primal instincts that call out for blood and savagery. He feels himself changing, fights it even though he knows it's already a lost battle.
Suddenly, she's there by his side, that beautiful stranger from the side of the road – Kate, she tells him. She's his sire, part of him knows while another part – the part that's still him, still Xander – balks at the very idea. With a smile touched by malice, she feeds him pretty lies about his new existence. About this gift she's given him. He hears the lies for what they are, death and damnation, but he plays along anyway, feigning an attentive ear.
Between lies and promises that sound like commitment, he realizes the truth of the matter. He's been around long enough to recognize a vendetta when he sees one, and he knows that he's been drafted into her a blood-war; he's a tool of her making to satisfy her vengeance. To be used in such a way, like a mere pawn…it rankles him. The very thought of it floods him with a blinding rage the likes of which he's never known. It's a liquid anger that boils in his very blood, now, threatening to burn away all of what he once was. It's so overwhelming that it blocks out all else except the desire to kill and cause pain. Anyone would do, at the moment, even torturing those Winchesters that Kate keeps going on about sounds like an exquisite idea.
But like driftwood in a raging river, a small piece of the Xander he used to be comes floating back to him. It's not the Winchesters, whoever they are, or anyone else that his anger should be directed at, it's Kate. He holds on to that knowledge, that piece of himself – more like a distant memory now – that used to know the difference between right and wrong and where vampires fell on that scale. He imagines that the remaining bits and pieces of him are like broken glass and that if he just clutches tight enough, lets the shards embed in his palm, he'll be able to keep what's left of himself from slipping away.
She explains what they are, and it isn't until then that he realizes they're not like the vampires he's seen before. Sunlight hurts, but it won't kill.
Beheading will, though, she tells him, never realizing what a fatal error she's made by sharing such information with her newly-claimed mate. And dead man's blood is like poison to them. That might come in handy someday, Xander thinks and makes a point to remember it.
It was the remnants of his old self that led Xander to start this, but the creature he's becoming will be the one to finish it. They were both in agreement, the old Xander and this new creature, about what had to be done. Kate had to die. How she would die was where the two disagreed. The former Xander would have gone for a clean and quick death, no muss no fuss. But this new creature, slowly seeping its way into Xander's skin, is not content with quick. Violence runs his veins now, and he wants slow; it doesn't count if she doesn't scream.
Tied to a chair, she whimpers, cries; the knife – dipped in dead man's blood – cuts through her flesh with the easy glide of a blade through water. It's bitter irony: he hopes to claim some redemption and reaffirm his hatred of evil through the death of this vampire – the one who sired him, even – and yet each cut and each torturous scream drives him further from what little humanity he has left. It's his deliverance and his downfall in one fell swoop.
By the time the machete and her severed head hit the floor, the chair and walls are drenched in her blood, and shadows and vague inclinations are all that's left of the man he used to be.
Lingering instincts from his former life have instilled a knee-jerk reaction to turn to his friends in times of trouble, and for a brief, flickering moment, he honestly considers going home. There are only two ways that could end. They would either try to save him or kill him. He can't decide which outcome bothers him more. Though hope valiantly tries to worm its way in, he knows he can't be saved. Once a vampire, always a vampire. Even if they did try to save him, they would eventually have to face the truth.
Which leads to the other outcome: death. The former Xander would have rather died than live as a vampire and perhaps if he'd been given the option sooner that's what he would have chosen, but the vestiges of who he was are fading quickly now and cannot overtake the creature's will to live. He's more vampire now than human.
His futile efforts to force his past and future to co-exist leave him feeling like a burnt-out husk, dead and hollow; the two cannot coincide. He's no longer human, will never be human again; likewise, there is no place for humanity in a vampire's existence, there's only the driving need to feed and survive. By any means necessary.
Life, or unlife, stalls. He can't go back, and he can't go forward. He waits for something give, to break. To take him closer to what he was or further to what he'll be.
The moment he sees her, he knows they're in the same place. Not just where they are physically, in that dinghy bar on the outskirts of another nameless town – though obviously it's that too – but in that space where nothing's the same and nothing changes.
They're just about to go under when they finally meet, grab on to each other like a makeshift life raft, ineffectual at best; neither can help the other find the shore, but maybe together they can tread water for a little while longer.
They gravitate to one another. Xander bites down the urge to destroy her in the same way he killed Kate.
She watches him with dark, hooded eyes. "You need to feed." The words come out on a husky whisper, inaudible to all in the noisy bar except him. It's an understatement. He hasn't fed since he was turned, and by now he's nearly mad with hunger. Providence is all that's kept him from slaughtering whole families, and if she suggests hunting them now, he won't be able to decline the offer.
Fortunately, his luck holds.
"If you kill humans, it'll draw attention," she explains in that low whisper. "There's some livestock a few miles over." She turns and leaves without further invitation.
Xander's too far gone to quibble over the prospect of feeding from livestock, couldn't stop himself from following her even if he wanted too.
Cow's blood is even more disgusting than he ever imagined it could be, and his first try at drinking it finds him on his knees, retching into the grass.
She wipes the blood from her own mouth with a sympathetic but stern look. "You have to do this." Her hand grips his shoulder so tightly that it hurts. "You'll die if you don't."
It takes three more tries before he's able to keep anything down.
They stay on the move, and other than discussing where they're going next and who's driving, they don't talk. Silence speaks to their void of self more than words ever could.
Xander doesn't tell her that he kills their kind – or at least used to, maybe still does. Doesn't talk about demons, Hellmouths, Sunnydale, Willow, Buffy, Giles, or where they might be now and if they're looking for him. He doesn't mention how she looks like someone he used to know way back when, before the earth swallowed his childhood home, before his blood stained the ground of some backwoods highway.
She doesn't talk about where she's been or what she's done, the things that haunt her, what she has lost – herself? Family? Friends? Maybe she's like Xander. Or maybe she's more like Kate. Xander doesn't care either way.
They are neither past nor present, caught in this strange hiatus of being, somewhere between who they were and what they are.
It's not an ideal situation, but at least they're not alone.
Moonlit scenery slides by outside the car window, days pass, and drinking the blood of livestock becomes bearable for Xander, at least enough that he's not in danger of starving to death.
Xander thinks he should have been able to wrap his head around all of this by now, but he hasn't. Who he was is like some foreign memory, and he can't hazard a guess, yet, at what he is now.
They mark each other's skin with teeth and nails, try to make it something recognizable, something theirs. Maybe they can claw their way out of their stasis into a new existence, a life they've made with their own two hands, a life together.
But the scratches and teeth marks fade and each morning finds them back at the same standstill. Two steps forward, two steps back. The past, tenuous and elusive as it is, keeps them from moving down the path to what they are becoming.
"You were a hunter, before."
It's not even a question, and he doesn't pretend to misinterpret her meaning. He hunted vampires, not to mention various other demon-types. He wonders what it was that gave him away, but it doesn't really matter. That's not who he is anymore. There are times when he considers taking it up again. He could keep fighting the good fight, be like Angel – as distasteful as that thought is to him – but that's the past, and he doesn't really have the heart for it anymore like he did back then. He feels more purposeless now than he ever did that year after graduation when he bouncing from one dead-end job to the next. At least he was alive then.
Her face is turned away from him, her profile softly lit by the dawning light that pours in through the motel window. The light must be making her skin sting, but she continues staring outside like she's looking for answers. And then the words come out, steady and quiet, like she's telling a story of fiction that has no real bearing on her.
"He was a hunter, too. We had thought we were finally rid of him after our run-in with the Winchesters, but he was more persistent than we gave him credit for. He set fire to our home, middle of the day. I was the only one to survive. It seemed like a miracle at first, but once I realized that Eli and the others… It was more like a curse. I'm the only one that's left."
She pulls the shades, shutting out the sun, and joins him in bed without another word.
The next night, in the dying light of another day, they pack their things into the car. It's become routine for them. Days spent sleeping in motels, nights on the road. Like clockwork, they're on the road again, following black highways that shine blue at night.
"I never would have done that," he tells her quietly, like the previous night's conversation never ended. He doesn't really know if what he says is the truth, but he likes to think he'd have let her family live...they couldn't have been any worse than Angel – with a soul.
Those two simple words make Xander feel more alive than he has in months. "What was his name?" Xander asks.
There's a sharp intake of breath, and she swallows before she spits out the words, like they're leaving a bitter taste on her tongue. "Gordon Walker."
Xander makes note of the name, stores it for later – for what exactly, he's not sure, but it might be useful one day.
A couple of hours before dawn, they cross the state line into California. "I grew up around here, you know."
"Oh, really?" she asks, wry lilt of the mouth and a raised eyebrow. Of course, she doesn't know. He's never mentioned his past before.
His lips twitch, almost like they want to smile, and suddenly he's regaling her with tales of high school and dates gone wrong. The remembrance is not completely without pained longing, but he's surprised by the ease with which the words come out. There's a barely perceptible shift, he doesn't notice it now, but with time it will become more apparent. The present is less like a vast, bottomless ocean, the past no longer an anchor tied to his legs.
With time, he might even learn to swim. Maybe they'll learn together.