Yes, I'm blaming nwhepcat. Shut up.
Written for the Dark Xander Fic-A-Thon.
All previous parts here.
Continued from Part 1.
“This is bullshit,” Faith grumbled while Xander nervously glanced at him.
Spike didn’t pay either one of them any mind. Both of them got why they had to play this one different than the usual solidarity routine. Just the same he thought it best to reinforce the plan.
“Now Faith, try to keep the tongue in your pocket for at least a day. I know more ’n that’s asking for miracles and we need to save up for when we really need them,” Spike said.
“Still bullshit,” Faith muttered.
“And Harris, you’re checking into the MGM Grand,” Spike continued as if Faith hadn’t spoken.
Xander opened his mouth to protest, but Spike cut him off.
“No arguments. I find out you’ve checked into some fleabag motel off the strip where you’ll be trapped in your room all day, I’ll turn your skull into a hat and rent your stomach out to be used as a whoopee cushion at children’s birthday parties, understand?” Spike asked with a meaningful glare. “Locking yourself away means you’ll have nothing to do all day except think.”
“God knows we don’t want that,” Faith snickered.
“At least I know how,” Xander said without looking at Faith.
“Now children, let’s put on our happy family face,” Spike interrupted the threatened bickering. “And Harris, I’m being deadly serious on this. I want you tanned, rested, and ready when they call you out. That means I want you out of your room and mingling with the common people. Have a little fun for God’s sake. Blow wadges of cash on craps. Spin up the roulette wheel. Pretend you’re James Bond and try baccarat. Pick up a lady and get your rocks off. I don’t care, ’specially since I plan to pad the expenses to cover whatever your little heart desires. We need them to see you as human, and we need them to see you as a victim. That means you best be acting like a puppy who’s been repeatedly kicked crossed with an honest-to-God-one-of-the-guys human being.”
Xander’s eyebrows rose. “Would that be before or after I rip open a blood bag with my teeth, suck down the contents, and then smack my lips while burping appreciatively like it’s the five-star, five-course meal at the Four Seasons?”
Spike’s smile had an edge to it. “Your other option is to follow your instincts, lock yourself away, spin up the brain until you reach your comfortable level of morose, and act like Angel whenever you come out to play.”
“That’s subzero,” Faith said appreciatively.
Xander’s right eyelid twitched. “Fun it is.”
“Good. Glad we have that sorted.”
“That was a low blow,” Xander grumbled as he slouched in his seat.
Faith smacked Xander on the shoulder. “Watch who you’re dissing.”
“Long as it hit the ’nads the way I wanted, I’m happy,” Spike informed him without a trace of sympathy. “Now everyone on your marks.”
All three of them emerged from the car, and right on cue a gang emerged from the house. It was the usual scene Spike had played in before; only this time there was going to be a change in the ending. At least one of them needed to be the eyes and ears of their little group and that meant breaking ranks. Faith’s attitude tended to show up in her sneer and sooner rather than later that mouth of hers would mark her as untrustworthy. That left only one candidate for the job.
Spike surveyed the welcome wagon as Xander and Faith moved to flanking positions on either side of him. It wasn’t hard to guess that the snappy dresser in the lead was Watcher Martin Clark, especially since he was surrounded by chicklets that looked like Slayers who desperately wanted an order to go for the kill. No sign of her Highness, though. Spike was rather counting on her already being here to keep a lid on the potential ugliness.
Well, his plan didn’t actually need the witch poking about. Just would have made it easier, is all.
Martin didn’t bother with the niceties. “He’s not welcome.”
So far, so good. The usual pattern still held. Spike hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and drawled, “Seein’ as we’re here at your request—”
“Rest assured, no one here requested him,” Martin announced.
Spike made a show of scratching his head. “Funny that. Giles and Rosenberg called us in special, seeing as Harris here knows our vampire better ’n anyone.” Spike turned a dazzling smile on Xander. “Ain’t that right, Harris. Betchyer all wibbly over the big reunion.”
Faith released a low whistle between her teeth. She knew ugly words needed to be said before anyone would be convinced of anything, but it appeared she was just figuring out how low Spike was willing to go.
Xander stiffened at the barb. “Not really.”
“Maybe you should have thought of that before you turned her into a monster like you,” Martin snapped.
Xander stared at Martin and didn’t say a blessed word. Spike wished he could say if Xander’s silence was because he agreed, or because he knew there’d be no point in trying to defend himself. Knowing the way Xander’s brain worked, Spike was willing to bet on the former rather than the latter.
Spike stepped forward and spread his hands before the scene descended into something really nasty. “Now, now. No need to be fighting amongst ourselves, ’specially with sunrise so close and nasty death so near. Just invite Harris in so’s he’s got a place for the day. Promise he’ll be leaving soon as the sun sets.”
“Once he’s in, he can get in at any time,” Martin insisted as if Spike was too stupid to remember the invitation rules from his own undead experience.
“Might be grateful for that if something goes wrong,” Spike countered
Martin drew himself up to his full height. “Several of the girls here buried friends.”
Spike resisted the urge to remark that just about every Council house he had ever visited in the company of Xander just happened to have several Slayers that “buried friends.” If he believed every single assertion laid on him, he’d think that Xander slaughtered hundreds of Slayers, instead of the more than two-dozen he actually did.
“Fuck this noise,” Faith grumbled as she crossed her arms. “I’m sick of this shit.”
“Then maybe you best find better company,” Martin said.
Spike’s hand shot out to stop Faith’s threatened forward momentum as he narrowed his eyes and considered his position. This one was like a bulldog, all right. He made all-human Xander in his most anti-vampire moments sound like a regular fang-hugger. Least Xander knew the difference between vampires with souls, vampires with chips in their heads, and vampires without either leash, however imperfectly and conveniently at times. This one was not about to start splitting hairs to see the distinctions, even for the sake of convenience.
Spike was torn between relief and worry. Martin would be an easy mark to play. All he needed to do was express some good old fashioned hate for Xander and disgust over the fact that he had to serve as the Council’s appointed babysitter and he’d have Martin buying him drinks. However, there was no getting around the fact that even though he had heat and heartbeat, he used to be a vampire. Martin just might be willing to throw him out with the trash as well.
Bugger all. Might as well pour it on. “Lest it escape your attention, Harris here is our ace in the hole. Bond of the sire and all that. Not saying she’ll be happy to see dear ol’ dad fighting on our side. In fact, I’m willing to bet she’ll be reaching for a stake to put him out of our misery.” Spike shrugged to show that he didn’t much care if that was the outcome. “Seems to me all your worries’ll come to naught.”
“In the meantime, he’s still not invited.” Marin suddenly smiled. “Besides, I can’t guarantee his safety once he’s stepped over the threshold. There are some very hard feelings about the fact that he’s not decently dead.”
Spike didn’t like the way the chicklets nodded. Nope. He didn’t like that one bit. Telling Xander to lose himself in a city-sized casino with plenty of exits and even more places to hide was starting to look like a genius plan that guaranteed his continued existence instead of yet another useless attempt to remind Xander that he was a damn sight more man than monster.
“Spike, let it go,” Xander said. “You heard the man. No is no. Besides, I really need to find a dark place before the sun’s up. I don’t think he’s about to change his mind if I charge for the door at the first hint of pink in the sky.”
Spike grinned. Xander’s timing had gotten impeccable since he died. Spike slowly swiveled his head until he was looking at Xander straight on. “Dunno. Can we trust you?”
Xander blinked at the unexpected question.
“Soul’s still a little new,” Spike continued in a calm voice. “Temptation might be too much without us keeping you in line.”
Xander’s jaw clenched in such a way that Spike thought sure that he’d forgotten the plan.
“I’ll behave,” Xander finally said.
“Well, best get going, then,” Spike ordered as he turned away. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Faith was fuming.
“I need the keys,” Xander said.
Spike looked back at him and raised an eloquent eyebrow.
“Please,” Xander added in a near-growl.
“I expect you to go where I told you to go,” Spike said as he tossed the keys up in the air for Xander to catch. “Change the plan, I’ll take it out of your hide.”
“Okay,” Xander said quietly as he turned away.
“Well, problem solved to everyone’s satisfaction,” Spike announced as he turned back to Martin and rubbed his hands.
“For the time being,” Martin added as his hate-filled glare followed Xander’s progress.
Spike heard the beep of the locks disengaging and added, “Oh, Harris?”
There was a pause. “Yes?”
“Be sure to listen to that soul and be a good little neutered vampire,” Spike said without turning around to look at Xander. “Would hate to have to order Faith to stake our least favorite attack dog before he had a chance to show everyone his new tricks.”
Spike saw Faith clench her fists out of the corner of his eye.
Xander’s only response was the slam of a car door.
The worst part about Spike’s barbs back at the Council house, Xander decided as he nervously tapped the Council’s Visa card on the front desk, was that he knew Spike didn’t mean any of it. It would’ve been a hell of a lot easier to bear if there was at least a little bit of venom behind the words.
“We have you booked into a Grand Tower room for a 3 p.m. check-in,” the older blonde behind the counter said without looking up.
Xander startled. “I…unh…have been traveling all night and I really need to…ummm…can you get me in a little earlier?”
The woman looked up at him. “Check-in is at 3 p.m.”
Oh, God. The thought of wandering the casino alone for the next 9 or so hours bordered on terrifying. It wasn’t like he could leave and find another option. The sky was already turning pink by the time he finished mummifying the cooler with duct tape and dragging it and his luggage inside to the bell desk for storage. The threat of turning into a charcoal briquette wasn’t the problem. It was Willow’s subliminal orders that he stay undusty. Sun equaled dusty, ergo any near-brush with the daylight was going to leave him muscle-locked short of the goal until he backed away from danger.
Xander hoped he looked exhausted instead of scared out of his mind. As he leaned forward, he surreptitiously pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. “I’m really, really, really tired,” he said. “I desperately need sleep like you wouldn’t believe. I’m, unh, meeting a friend here so we can travel together to a funeral.”
The woman raised a disbelieving eyebrow, like fictional funerals were just one of the many excuses she’d heard over the years.
“My friend has a gambling problem. We’re trying to get him some help,” Xander quickly added. He slipped $50 out of his wallet and slid the bill across the counter. “Please.” Please accept it. Please, please, please because I don’t want to do that thing I do and make you give me a room in a now-ish way because that would be a bad-Xander thing to do.
The woman stared at it for a beat before looking first to the left and then to the right. “Small tip,” she remarked.
Xander smiled a relieved smile and checked his wallet. He had five more $50s, six $20s, and an assortment of $10s, $5s, and $1s. He suddenly felt grateful that both Spike and Faith kicked his ass until he agreed to carry this much cash while they were in Vegas. He pulled out another $50 just to be on the safe side. As he slid the new bill across the counter, he noticed that his original $50 had disappeared.
The second $50 vanished with a casual swipe of the woman’s hand and she was soon tapping away at the keyboard. “I can get you into a room at 11 a.m., single bedroom Signature Suite with kitchenette, but you’ll be charged for your stay in the Grand Tower room last night.”
“What? Why?” Xander fought to keep his voice at a normal level.
“Check-in is at 3 p.m.,” she repeated as if he hadn’t heard her the first two times.
Ahhhh, new guests check in at 3 p.m. There was obviously some room for negotiation on existing guests. “If I’m paying for last night, then why can’t I go to a room right this second?” Xander desperately asked.
“You requested an upgrade from your existing Grand Tower room,” the woman said without looking up from the screen. “I can’t transfer you before 11 a.m. because that’s when checkout is for the other existing guests.”
Five hours. Yikes. It was better, but not by a whole lot. He didn’t have much of a choice. He’d have to deal, unless he wanted to resort to bad-Xander tricks. If he did that over a check-in time for a hotel room when no one’s life was in danger, God knows where it would stop. Before he agreed to the scheme though, he needed to clarify one thing.
“Upgrade?” Xander tentatively asked. “How much of an upgrade?”
The woman looked up. “Last night’s stay was $89.99, plus tax. Your stay in the Signature Suite is $269.99 a night plus tax.”
Spike will be ecstatic. I got a room that isn’t the cheapest in the hotel, Xander giddily thought as he slid the credit card across the counter. And Faith’ll look at the fact that I soaked the Council for a night I didn’t use as a bonus.
Within moments the transaction was complete and Xander had a room number and a key card to go with.
“Thank you for staying at the MGM Grand and enjoy your visit,” the woman chirped as he turned away.
Woo. Hoo, Xander sourly thought as he trooped into the main casino. He hoped he’d be able to find a dark bar in a corner where he could hide for the next few hours.
By the time he reached the open main floor, however, the combined stink of sweat, cigarette smoke, booze, and pheromones that hung over the space like a hangover made him light-headed. Thank heavens the casino floor was mostly empty in the early Sunday morning hours. If he’d been here on a Friday or Saturday when the tourists and the local weekend partiers crowded every available space, he would’ve been found jammed into a corner somewhere rocking and mumbling incoherently.
Maybe the heavy after-Saturday air wouldn’t have affected him so badly if he’d fed himself the way he should have. It was one thing to test how far he could push Willow’s implanted ‘thou shalt not dust thyself’ orders, it was totally another thing to do it when he knew he was heading right into a hell-on-earth-starring-Kennedy situation. Then again, Spike didn’t cook up his plan to split up and stash the vampire in a big ol’ casino until after his blood break on the way to Vegas. He might’ve actually sucked down some extra blood if Spike had come up with the idea before then.
I can do this. I can, Xander thought as he bowed his head, jammed his hands in his pockets, and forced one trembling foot in front of another.
What the hell was Spike thinking when he ordered him to the MGM Grand? Xander had no flipping clue. It could have been worse. He could be stuck in the Bellagio with the memories of what he and Kennedy did while they were there. At least the MGM Grand was virgin territory. Thanks to Kennedy freaking out when she saw a redheaded Slayer, they couldn’t stay long enough to scope out the territory like he wanted. He was so pissed that he came very close to dusting her during the punishment he laid down on her after they left.
It said something about his current predicament that he was torn between feeling guilt over murders he committed the last time he was here, or relief that what he’d done wasn’t nearly as bad as what he’d planned. At least one good thing came out of his and Kennedy’s brief foray into high roller Vegas living: the Summerlin Council house. Last time he was here, the closest Council training facility was in Los Angeles. The Vegas Slayer beat was treated as a plumb reward assignment for a few Slayers and Watchers who’d somehow “proven” themselves. Shortly after he and Kennedy left town, the Council started treating it more like the potential minefield it really was.
No. Be honest. That’s not why I’m flipping out, Xander dispiritedly thought as he concentrated on forcing himself across the casino floor. I’m afraid of being alone, full stop. The whole lack-of-blood having or being here before just gives it an extra kick.
Xander felt an impact behind him. As he startled and spun around, he thought for a moment that he’d been talking to himself again and that Spike had responded in his usual don’t-be-an-idiot way.
“Whoa! Sorry,” a young guy apologized.
Xander blinked. The build, the hair, and the age gave this one a Jesse-like appearance.
The man fidgeted. “Fast reflexes, man. Never seen anyone move that fast.”
How many times did I kill Jesse last year? Xander wondered. He hated that he didn’t know the answer to that because he’d lost track. Guys that reminded him of Jesse always equaled an automatic and very messy death sentence. He still had no idea why that was.
The man who bumped into him got increasingly nervous, probably because Xander was still staring and not saying anything. “Hey, it was an accident. Didn’t mean to slam into you like that. I tripped.”
Xander looked down at the tips of his boots and mumbled, “No big deal.”
“Unh, yeah. Good. Sorry again.”
Xander looked up to see the man was backing away.
Although he nodded and made a show of turning to go in a different direction, Xander kept his random human contact in his peripheral vision. Most days he hated the fact that Willow jammed a new left eye into his head after she jammed the soul into his corpse, but right now he was very happy that she did.
As soon as the man turned around and started wandering to a new part of the casino, Xander changed directions and started following him. As he did so, he checked his back pocket. The wallet was still there; so maybe it really was just an accident and not an attempt to pick his pocket.
He really should let this go. There was no harm done.
At some point, his target settled at a blackjack table that had only one other man sitting there. Xander folded himself into a group that was watching a player riding a hot streak at another table. The man sat there for a few hands and exchanged a few words with his fellow player before moving to another table.
Xander eventually found himself moving across the casino like he was a piece on a chessboard in an effort to keep Jesse-like in his sights while the man hopped from place to place. Sometimes he settled at a table game, sometimes it was one-armed bandit. Always the same pattern, too. He’d pick a spot that had one or two men nearby, play for a little bit, exchange pleasantries with his fellow patrons, and then move on. As far as Xander could see, it didn’t seem to matter if the guy was winning or losing while he played. He’d still move on after 5 or 10 minutes.
Eventually, Jesse-like guy circled back around to the front of the casino where the theater-like Race & Sportsbook Room was located. Xander paused before following after him when he saw the subdued lighting, hundreds of Hi-Def television screens, theater seating, and very light population of gamblers.
I should walk away right now. This is only going to end in someone’s tears. I know this already, Xander thought as compulsion forced him to enter the room.
He almost scuttled back out when he saw that only a few screens in the Race & Sportsbook Room were tuned to either a sporting event or a horse race because he was afraid he’d be spotted due to lack of televised distractions. However, Jesse’s look-alike had settled next to an older man watching soccer deep in the interior. True to form, he had engaged his fellow gambler in a conversation.
If Xander were capable of breathing, he would’ve sighed with relief. His target’s attention was focused on the older man, so there was no need to do more than walk casually to a nearby seat and sit in it. While he wasn’t thrilled to be near the exit back into the casino, the layout of the room didn’t give him too many options. His present position was far enough away that Jesse-like guy would have to deliberately look his direction in order to see him while still being close enough for Xander to watch for Jesse-like guy’s next move.
At first, there was no indication that the man was about to break his pattern. However, as 5 minutes bled into 10, and 10 bled into 15, Xander could see his usual conversational style subtly change. Where before his discussions with his fellow gamblers seemed somewhat distant if pleasant, now he leaned toward the other person involved in the chat. His physical movements were more animated and a charming smile that revealed startlingly white teeth occasionally flashed. He even threw in a few casual touches as he drew the older man deeper into the conversation.
As the interaction between the two men dragged on, Xander’s eyes increasingly narrowed with suspicion. It was entirely possible that he was looking at another vampire, but he couldn’t be sure. Their collision on the casino floor was so brief, and he had been so distracted, that he simply didn’t know if Jesse-like guy had a heartbeat or whether the man — or vampire, Xander mentally amended — breathed when he spoke his apology. He couldn’t even recall if the look-alike had a reflection and he had no way to check from where he was.
All he could do was wait and see what this man or creature did next.
When Jesse-like guy finally stood, the movement was so sudden and fluid that Xander took it as confirmation that his suspicions were right. He ducked down out of sight, but not so far that he couldn’t continue watching the scene. He knew that he didn’t have to worry too much about being spotted because the man — vampire, Xander cheerfully amended — had finally settled on what to eat for breakfast and wouldn’t be heading back into the casino.
Xander grinned when he saw that he had guessed right again. His prey had opted to head for the far corner of the Race & Sportsbook Room. Surprise, surprise, the area was even cast in a little bit of shadow and was away from the screens that were actually showing something worth watching.
The older man didn’t move until his younger companion had almost reached the corner. Then, he stood and stretched before he, too, began casually heading in the same direction.
Xander moved low and fast between the rows of seats after the departing couple as he considered his next move. The older man wasn’t acting like the vampire had charmed him with more than a smile and a conversation, so that meant he was basically walking right into his death of his own free will.
Even though it wasn’t the first time he’d seen it — you mean lured people of both sexes and all ages the exact same way, a dark thought reminded him — he was surprised that it worked in this case. As vampires went, the Jesse look-alike was so second-rate it wasn’t even funny. It seemed to Xander that he had too many face-to-face conversations with too many people in the casino before he finally changed tactics, walked into this room, and settled on a victim. The smart move would’ve been to randomly kill someone on the strip while it was still dark out, swipe the hotel keycard, and stay gratis in the victim’s room while he ate his fill at night. Hell, he did it not just in Vegas, but in just about every town he hit both before and after he murdered Kennedy. The way he saw it, cemetery crypts were for suckers. He was ashamed to admit that he still felt that way.
Xander paused to watch the vampire pull a set of keys out his pocket and head for a door that was hidden in the far corner. It was painted the same color as the walls so it blended in. Chances are the vampire killed an actual hotel employee to get his hands on those passkeys. It would give him unfettered access to every part of the casino, the attached hotel rooms, theaters, restaurants, and mall.
Maybe the vampire wasn’t as second-rate as Xander thought.
His thoughts, already happily humming over the idea that there might be a little violence in his immediate future, began doing the Snoopy dance. The vampire may actually be a smart one, which meant that the fight would be something resembling fun. It would be the perfect thing to work off some of the tension over being trapped in the casino while still half-starved.
Plus, we’d really hate to break our unbroken record, wouldn’t we? Xander cheerfully thought. If Jesse’s a vampire, I’ve got an excuse.
No. A vampire that reminded him of Jesse. Not Jesse. He had no reason to forget that this time.
The vampire unlocked the door and exited the Race & Sportsbook Room without looking back at the older man, who was making a show of watching a pre-recorded horse race. Now that the threat of being seen and recognized had disappeared behind the door, Xander gracefully stood and openly watched as the remaining man turned, bowed his head, and followed his future murderer out of the room.
Xander couldn’t resist rolling his eyes. There were days when he wondered if people stuck signs on their foreheads begging the neighborhood evil vampire to eat them. At least he could honestly say that this particular question was one he had years before he got drafted for the undead monster softball team.
Xander reached down, pulled the concealed stake out of his boot — Pointed wooden objects are not allowed near your torso because we don’t want accidents to happen, Willow had ordered — and quickly moved to the camouflaged door. So fast and silent was his passage that the scattering of the hard-core gamblers in the room didn’t seem to notice his presence. If they weren’t slouched in their chairs and napping as untroubled as babies, their empty eyes were glued to a screen. A ghost like him obviously wasn’t worth worrying about.
When Xander reached the door, his grin broadened. So far, so great. He was looking forward to this. He grabbed the door handle and gently pulled on it to determine how much force he’d need to break the deadlock without snapping the handle off. To his surprise, the door soundlessly opened. He frowned down at it in disappointment. Just his luck. He was up against a stupid vampire after all. He was in for a very short, very unsatisfying fight.
“Better than nothing, I guess,” Xander grumbled.
He eased open the door about an inch since he wanted to listen and figure out where the target and victim were in the room. Plus, he didn’t want to spoil the surprise. Unfortunately, the surprise was on him. He heard heavy breathing from two people and something that sounded like a muffled moan. He really didn’t need the scent of two sexually excited bodies to wallop him across the nose to confirm what his ears heard.
Xander let the door go, stumbled back a few steps, and waved his hands in front of his face in a vain effort to get the smell away from him. Okay. So didn’t need to come across that, thanks. Guys? This is a hotel in a city full of hotels. Think you could at least pick one of your rooms to do this in like normal adults? A closet is so high school.
Xander paused to scowl at the door, which had closed as silently as it had opened, before he stomped off to a distant chair. When he dropped into it, he realized that he picked one that afforded him a clear line of sight to where Jesse-like guy and the older guy were getting it on.
Xander angrily mumbled as he jammed the stake back into his boot, “Way to go. That wasn’t at all being an obsessive stalker. That wasn’t at all acting like a vampire.” Now that the truth was out, Xander had to finally admit that he followed the man simply because he reminded him of Jesse and not because he suspected that he was Up To No Good.
“I’m not in for a long morning. Not at all,” Xander grumbled as he slumped in his seat and fixed his eyes on the color bar test pattern on the screen in front of him.
Now that his hopes for a head-clearing fight had been cruelly dashed, the dull grey helplessness that had gripped him when he first entered the casino made a triumphant return.
He closed his eyes, rubbed his forehead, and desperately wished he could fake even a tiny sigh of defeat. He was only driving himself crazier. Right now he was so hungry that crazier than his usual had real bloodbath potential. He couldn’t risk it. He had to hold off until check-in. Once he got to his room, locked the door behind him, and sucked down a few blood bags, then and only then would it be safe for him to deal with the thinky-thoughts.
Xander checked his watch to see how much longer he’d have to wait before he could hide himself from innocent bystanders. To his surprise, it was almost 8. Unbelievable. He had spent almost two hours stalking some innocent guy. On the upside, he could probably hang in this relatively quiet oasis for another hour or two before business in this room picked up enough to set him dangerously close to the edge. Sure, it still put him short of the 11 a.m. check-in, but wandering around a crowded casino and its attached mall for an hour or so struck him as doable.
Xander relaxed and almost smiled. He could do this. Better, he’d be able to honestly look Spike and Faith in the eye and say that he enjoyed the casino’s amenities. Hopefully they wouldn’t question him too closely about what he actually did and would take the happy news at face value.
Just as he was about to sink a little further into his brief moment of Zen, he was disturbed by the sound of someone moving very fast across the plush carpeting. It struck him as being enough out-of-place in the laidback atmosphere that he felt compelled to twist his neck so he could look over his shoulder to find the source. That’s when he saw Jesse-like guy heading right for him.
The man spotted him and hesitated just a beat, a clear sign to Xander that the human was not only surprised to see him, but also remembered his face. Jesse-like guy then began moving again as he shoved something in his back pocket. It happened so quickly that had Xander been human, he might’ve blinked and missed the man’s momentary pause.
Now that definitely doesn’t seem right to me, Xander thought as he hopped to his feet. As the man continued making his way to the exit that would take him back into the casino, Xander debated whether he should follow his prey or find out what happened to the older guy.
The body decided before his brain did, because he found himself already running for the camouflaged door by the time he made his decision to check on the older guy. Xander quietly snarled as he reached out once more to test whether the door was locked. Thankfully, the departing man hadn’t stopped long enough to lock the door behind him.
Shit. I should’ve been paying attention. I knew he was acting suspicious. I knew it, Xander berated himself as he opened the door.
The strong smell of come and blood immediately hit Xander’s nose and he froze. He knew he had to go in there and check on the older guy because clearly he’d been hurt. However, the aroma wafting out of the room was positively, mouth-wateringly delicious.
“I’m such an idiot,” Xander whispered. Between not eating properly for days before he got to Vegas, stalking Jesse-like guy, and now walking into a situation where he’d be in serious danger of vamping out, he had managed to end up so over his head that he couldn’t hope to crawl out.
There was nothing he could do. He had to go in and at least check on the man that had been left behind. Summoning casino security to deal with it was out of the question. He needed to keep a low profile. Trying to explain how he got tangled up in something like this would not help with that.
Just in case any of the gamblers in the room were paying attention, Xander maneuvered so the bulk of his body would hide the fact that the door was open. He inched it open a little more, slipped inside as soon as it was feasible, and let the door close softly behind him.
One good thing about vampire sight was that the eyes saw more in near-pitch black than they did in broad daylight. He was in a large, neatly ordered supply room that had plenty of space to maneuver. The remaining man was curled up in a defensive position in the center of the floor with his pants and underwear pulled down to around his ankles. He looked like he’d been beaten with a blunt object.
Xander immediately went to the man’s side and crouched down. As he did so, he could feel his vampire face fighting to break free and had to concentrate on keeping it in check. He didn’t know how much the victim could see of his surroundings, let alone whether he was even aware of them, but he didn’t want to take the chance that he’d terrify the man on top of everything else.
“H-h-h-ello? Are you okay?” Xander stammered, partially because he was busy fighting against letting the monster face break through.
The man moaned and wetly coughed.
Oh, that does not sound at all good. Xander tentatively reached out and gently put a hand on the other man’s shoulder. He didn’t dare get any closer; otherwise he’d end up flashing fang despite his best efforts. “C-c-can I get anyone for you?”
The question acted like a bucket of cold water. The man managed to rally enough to give him an emphatic, “No.”
“You’re hurt.” Xander fought to keep his voice calm. “There has to be someone. A friend? Family? Anyone?”
The man’s hand fluttered and made contact with his wrist. Xander startled and backed off, but not before he saw the flash of wedding band gold on the man’s ring finger.
The man repeated through swollen lips, “No. No one. Please.”
Xander’s eyes narrowed in anger as he finally figured out the character of Jesse-like guy’s hustling. “What did he take?”
“I’m f-f-f-fine,” the man weakly protested as his hand flopped back to the floor.
Xander looked around and spotted a mop with a heavy wooden handle that had been tossed aside. It looked distinctly out of place in such a neatly organized storage space. “What did he take?” Xander repeated with quiet insistence.
“No calling security and bringing them back here. Got it,” Xander interrupted. “I saw where the guy who did this went. Tell me what he stole from you, and I’ll take care of it.”
It appeared the man was more worried about being forced out of the figurative closet than he was about getting out of the literal one. “B-b-b-but—”
Xander swiftly closed in, firmly grabbed the man by the shoulder, and said, “If it makes you feel any better, you’re not the only one here who’s got a secret to keep.”
The man winced as he turned his head in an effort to look at Xander.
“I promise to keep this quiet,” Xander quietly told him. “While I’m looking for him, you can stay here. Recover. Just tell me what he took, and I’ll get it back. You won’t have to wait too long.”
“W-w-wallet,” the man finally admitted.
“Right,” Xander said as he hopped to his feet. “Stay here and pull yourself together. Don’t go anywhere before I get back.”
On that, he raced out of the storage closet and across the Race & Sportsbook Room. When he hit the entrance to the casino, however, Xander realized that he’d probably promised more than he could deliver. There were too many casino exits in his immediate vicinity. If the hustler was smart, he took one of the nearby walkways to either the Tropicana or New York, New York or he strolled right out the front door near the guest services desk. If he went out of any of those exits, the bastard was already in the sunlight and beyond his reach. This was assuming that the asshole wasn’t a guest in the hotel and already on an elevator up to his room.
It didn’t help that in the stale after-Saturday-night atmosphere of the casino, his vampire senses were more of a hindrance than a help. A human would have better luck trying to find Jesse-like guy in this miasma.
Still, he made a promise. He had to at least give it a shot. The victim wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, so he had a little time to give the main casino floor the once-over.
Xander moved swiftly around the casino’s perimeter as he searched for that terrifyingly familiar face in the slowly swelling crowd of gamblers and tourists. As he did so, Xander reviewed everything that he had observed about the man’s movements. He kept his cool and wasn’t prone to panic. The way he worked the floor and chose his target indicated that it wasn’t the first time he’d done something like this. He didn’t even run after he had beaten his victim. He simply moved out of the area as quickly as possible in a way that wouldn’t draw the attention of most people. Hell, he barely broke his stride even though he knew a witness had seen him leave the scene of the crime.
Xander paused and re-calculated a few assumptions. His prey knew how to feel out people and he knew how to blend in. Someone like that was going to use the crowd to cover his tracks.
He studied the flow of traffic on the casino floor for a few moments. When he finally spotted the pattern, his face broke into a delighted grin.
“Mall. Which will get you to the monorail.” Xander muttered as his grin broadened. “Gotchya.”
The hunt was on.
Xander had to suppress a whoop of joy as he backtracked toward the guest services desk to get to the mall entrance. He slipped between the gamblers, the gawkers, and people who were just passing through the casino to get from Point A to Point B so gracefully that he knew that he barely registered with any of them.
The real fun was in seeing the Star Lane Shops. Had Xander’s heart been even close to working condition, it would’ve beat out a few halleluiahs. The whole thing was enclosed and half the shops were still shuttered, despite the number of people using it as a pass-through to get to and away from the MGM Grand. It wouldn’t be too hard to spot anyone striding away from the casino like he was on a mission to reach the monorail before it left the station.
Xander trotted down the center of the mall all the way up to the monorail exit, but still no joy. None of the people he saw bore any resemblance to the man he was looking for. Either Jesse-like guy broke into a run when he hit the mall, or Xander had simply guessed wrong.
He glared at the stairs up to the monorail and quickly dismissed the notion that his target didn’t head this way. He was too good at tracking people and demons that he wanted to track. True, he had occasionally been wrong in the past, but only when it came to monsters like him. He was never wrong about humans.
He turned away and considered the mall once more. If Jesse-like guy picked up the pace and reached the monorail stop above before he got here, it was yet one more thing he couldn’t do anything about. The best he could do was conduct a more careful sweep of the mall on his way back to the hurt man he left behind. At least then he’d be able to honestly say that he did the best he could under the circumstances. That probably wouldn’t be much of a comfort, but at least the guy would be able to keep his secrets and a little bit of his dignity.
It wasn’t much of a happy ending, but at least it was something.
Xander was in the midst of retracing his steps back to the casino when he noticed the service door tucked between two storefronts.
Xander paused and considered it. Like the door to the supply closet off the Race & Sportsbook Room, this was concealed well enough that most people would probably miss it if they were walking by. However, a guy with keys to all the secret places in the casino would most definitely know it was there.
Would someone like Jesse-like guy use it? Xander had to concede that it was possible. It wasn’t like the man knew that Xander couldn’t follow him into the sunlight. If he was spooked enough over the fact that he and Xander had openly crossed paths a second time, he just might bolt to someplace like this and wait until he was sure that he was free and clear before making good on his escape.
Like the door in the Race & Sportsbook Room, the service exit off the mall had a door handle and deadlock. If his target was hiding in there, Xander was willing to bet that he didn’t lock the door behind him since he seemed to like quick escapes. It made sense. Pausing to lock and unlock doors might cost him precious time. It could spell the difference between getting caught and getting away with it.
Xander casually strolled over to the service exit and tested the door. Score one for being right again. It was unlocked. It was entirely possible that a legitimate casino employee had forgotten to lock it, but gut instinct told him that he had cornered his guy.
Don’t get too excited. A lot depends on what’s behind here and how well my guy knows the backstage territory, Xander cautioned himself as he repeated the process of inching open the door just wide enough for him to slip through.
The fluorescent light immediately behind the door was on, but the rest of the corridor was pitch black. Xander looked up at the sickly yellow light and smiled. This was a hella smart move. If Jesse-like guy were using the darkness to hide, he’d be able to see anyone who entered the corridor long before the new arrival saw him. Furthermore, if a human randomly stumbled out of the mall and into this area, they would think long and hard about chancing the darkness.
Xander was still grinning when he looked straight ahead of him and deliberately moved several paces forward. Now that he was out of the light, he could clearly see the rest of the corridor. There was another door at the far end, but Xander saw that this one wasn’t locked with a deadbolt. Whoever wanted to get behind door number two not only needed a security card, but also had to know the right combination to punch into the keypad. If this had been Star Trek, Xander was pretty sure casino security would’ve added a retinal and handprint scan, just to be on the safe side.
Not that door number two mattered. Jesse-like guy was crouched low in a corner right next to the impenetrable barrier. He may have the passkeys that would get him off the casino floor, but he obviously didn’t have the kind of clearance necessary to get him beyond a certain point.
Xander took a few more steps forward into the dark, just to see how the man would react.
He had to give his target a lot of credit. He didn’t panic. Instead, he shifted position, reached behind him, and pulled out a blunt object that had been tucked into the back of his pants. Thanks to the fluorescent light behind him, Xander could see the subdued, dull glint off of whatever was in Jesse-like guy’s hand. Xander relaxed. Whatever it was, it was metallic. If it made contact it might hurt, but that was about it.
Xander crossed his arms, leaned against the wall, and considered how he should approach this situation. Obviously the man wanted to get out of this with as little trouble as possible. Much as Xander was itching for a fight, this suited him just fine. He couldn’t afford to attract attention any more than his target could, so quiet was definitely better for him, too. Leaving a bloodied and bruised human in a corridor that was off-limits to casino patrons was not the definition of “quiet” in that it would attract the attention of casino security if Jesse-like guy was discovered. Chances are if Jesse-like guy were cornered, he’d give a very detailed description of the mysterious casino guest who jumped him, mugged him, and then left him to be found in a compromising position.
Besides, the guy was human — barely in Xander’s book, but still human — so he couldn’t just wade in with fists and fangs. If he did that, he might accidentally kill the man.
Might as well start with words and see how it goes from there, Xander decided.
“I don’t mean to be a pest,” Xander said to Jesse-like guy, “but I need something from you.”
Xander had to suppress a chuckle when the man startled at being addressed.
“I think you took something that didn’t belong to you,” Xander calmly continued as he walked a few more steps forward. “A wallet. The guy it belongs to would really like it back. If you’ve already grabbed the cash, I’m pretty sure he won’t make too big of an issue out of it. He’s more worried about the credit cards. Oh, and he doesn’t want to lose the pictures of his family. You know. The sentimental value factor.”
Jesse-like guy shifted uncertainly out of his crouched position, got a better grip on his weapon, but still kept silent.
Xander spread his arms to show that he had nothing in his hands and hoped that the man would read it as him not being a threat. “I’m not accusing you of stealing,” Xander pressed. “Really, I’m not. I’m sure you grabbed the wrong wallet by accident. Or something. I’ve been there, buddy. You get into this thing with this other guy and…yeah. Then after the big O, sometimes you get a little punch drunk and don’t realize that you’re putting your shirt on inside-out or wearing the wrong pair of pa—”
Jesse-like guy interrupted his polite request by yelling and charging him with his weapon raised over his head.
Xander neatly moved out of the way, grabbed the raised arm, and flipped his attacker onto his back. A short metal pipe clattered out of his opponent’s hand and rolled back into the darkness. Xander had to step away once the man was down. The smell of sweat, recent sex, anger, and fear, all flavored with a hint of the older man’s blood was almost too overpowering for him to handle in his half-starved state.
“What did you do that for?” Xander angrily asked to cover up his attack of nerves. “Was I hurting you? No. Did I even try to hurt you? No. All I did was ask you to give me a wallet that isn’t even yours and you go all ‘Hulk smash’ on me.”
Although the man had the wind knocked out of him, he was making an effort to get away by scrambling backwards to the light and the door that would take him into the mall.
“Oh no you don’t. You’re not getting away that easily,” Xander informed Jesse-like guy as he darted forward, hauled him to his feet, and shoved him against the cinderblock wall.
The man “ooofed” on impact, but still tried to slide away using the wall as support. He was apparently an old pro at being at the wrong end of someone’s fists. Xander closed in and placed his hands on either side of Jesse-like guy’s head to prevent him from moving in either direction.
Ooooo, so close. Wait. Bad. This is bad. Very bad. Danger, Xander Robinson, danger. Back slowly away and no one will get hurt.
His brain was very smart. His brain knew what it was talking about. He should listen to the brain. The body, however, had other ideas and wasn’t about to move away. Even if he wasn’t trying to prevent Jesse-like guy’s escape, the smell coming off of him was making him too dizzy to move.
Well, I know who was on the receiving end. He’s wearing that other guy on his face like cologne. Xander licked his dry lips with his cool tongue and leaned in closer. “Look, just give me the wallet and I walk away. You want me to walk away, okay? You definitely want me walking away. So, please, just hand it over before ugly happens.”
Jesse-like guy gave up trying to escape and went with braving out the situation. “I don’t know about any wallet,” he insisted.
Xander swallowed. The heat of a living body pressed unyieldingly against him was not doing anything for his concentration. “The guy you left curled up on the floor with his pants down around his ankles says otherwise. So why don’t you just—”
“I’m not a fag,” Jesse-like guy vehemently spit.
The assertion was so patently ridiculous that Xander started giggling, which served to increase the light-headed feeling he was already fighting. He leaned even more heavily against Jesse-like guy in an effort to stay upright and pressed his forehead against the man’s.
“Guy came on to me,” Jesse-like guy protested as he shook his head to get Xander to back off just a little bit. “He had it coming.”
“Now that’s just bullshit,” Xander said between hiccupping giggles. “You were the one that got the ball rolling by dropping to your knees. You’ve got sperm-breath. I could smell it from three feet away.”
Jesse-like guy released another outraged shout and started struggling to break free.
Xander’s reaction was automatic. He clapped the man across the right ear with an open palm hard enough to stun him. He then pressed even harder against Jesse-like guy to keep him upright.
Xander once more half-drunkenly pressed his forehead against his captive. The scent, the heat, and the human’s physical reactions wrapped around him like a shroud. The terrified beat of the man’s heart and the subvocal whinny of fear in the man’s short bursts of breath mesmerized him past any point that could be remotely considered safe.
Jesse — Wait, Jesse-like guy. No wait, Jesse. Yes, yes, Jesse — finally clued in that he was in a danger that was of epic proportions. “Please, please, please…”
“Oh, you prefer guys all right, and don’t you just hate it. That’s why you choose them, right? That’s why they’ve got to pay hard for playing with you,” Xander whispered across Jesse’s lips.
“Not like that. Please. I’ll give you the wallet. Please,” the man begged.
Jesse’s scared voice sounded so much like music that Xander couldn’t even begin to focus on the actual words. “You’re very good, you know,” Xander murmured. “Very, very good. I’ve been watching you. I love how you find a guy who’s interested, but you keep feeling them out before you take your pick. You always go with the guys who can’t do anything to you after you make them pay for your slut routine.”
“I-I-I’m sorry,” the man hyperventilated.
Xander looked into Jesse’s eyes and ordered, “Shhhhhhhhhhh.” He pressed a single finger against Jesse’s lips and watched as the man’s struggles slowly quieted under his gaze. Once Jesse calmed down, Xander leaned forward so he could enjoy the smell, but he was careful that his eyes didn’t leave Jesse’s face. He hadn’t earned that kind of trust yet.
“You always were a slut-boy. Made a lot of noise about wanting Cordelia, didn’t you?” Xander asked in a soft voice. “Didn’t think I noticed you watching me whenever you thought I wasn’t paying attention.”
Jesse’s heartbeat was getting slower now. His breathing was getting more relaxed and becoming more even. Hot breath blew across Xander’s face in such a way that he began to tremble with the need to draw all that living warmth into himself.
Useless, though. He could smell, he could touch, he could plunge into mouth, ass, and cunt and feel it around him, but there was only one way to get that warmth inside him. One way. Only one.
Jesse wouldn’t mind. No, he really wouldn’t.
He had to remind Jesse, though, because Jesse always forgot. Xander didn’t know why that was. Looking back it was now pretty clear that he was totally blind to what Jesse really wanted. ’Course he was too stupid to see it back then. Maybe if he heard the worms moving in the earth just a little bit sooner, he would’ve gotten that forever after instead of nevermore.
“You wanted me. In the Bronze. I know you did. You were going to take me with you, not Cordelia. Me. To you she was just a toy with tits, but I was still real. You said I was just a shadow, but if I was just a shadow, why’d you talk to me?” Xander whispered as he began gently stroking Jesse’s neck.
Jesse gasped and leaned into the touch. His eyes half-closed and he licked his lips, like he knew he was finally getting what he always wanted.
The pulse under his stroking fingertips started to flutter at a faster pace and the breathing started to get ragged around the edges. Jesse was so open to whatever would happen next that Xander couldn’t resist taking a taste. He wrapped the hand that wasn’t busy stroking the pulse point around the back of Jesse’s head and pulled him in for a bruising kiss.
The resulting muffled moan in Jesse’s throat vibrated through Xander’s mind and forced everything else out. His whole universe consisted of Jesse’s hard cock rubbing against his, the pounding of a beating heart drumming against his chest, and the nearly unbearable heat of Jesse’s beautiful, wet mouth.
He could’ve kissed Jesse forever and it wouldn’t have been nearly long enough to draw all that heat into him. He had to stop this. He had to get that heat into him another way.
Xander broke the kiss. Jesse gasped for breath through his bruised lips and groaned a protest.
He was so close. It would be so easy. No one would know. He wouldn’t have to kill Jesse this time. Just a taste, a little taste to take the edge off. It wouldn’t be bad. Jesse would live this time. He wasn’t doing anything evil. Really, he wasn’t. He’d stop before it got to the screaming. He would this time. He would. It wasn’t like before Willow got him. It was different now. Jesse knew that. Of course he did.
Xander buried his face in Jesse’s neck and whispered, “That’s right. That’s good. Yeah, like that.” His tongue snaked out between his lips and he licked along the line of Jesse’s neck. The acrid taste of sweat and salt flavored with the droplets that came out of Jesse’s quickie blowjob tasted better than anything he’d put in his mouth for more than a year.
Jesse’s reaction was more responsive than Xander dared hope. Jesse began rubbing harder against him as the tiny noises in his throat became louder and more insistent.
The human mask gently slipped away, but Xander was careful to keep the fangs from touching the skin on Jesse’s still-virgin neck. He let his tongue and lips work the area just above the pulse point. He wanted the first taste to be sweet, so he had to time this just right. The bitter taste of fear could come after the sweet. The bitter was always better after the sweet.
Okay, maybe he’d get a little bit into the screaming. He could stop himself before it got too far beyond the screaming. He could stop himself anytime. Anytime. Screaming was the best part. He had to have a little bit of screaming. He needed a little bit of screaming. Jesse would understand.
Xander felt like he was dancing on the knife’s edge while Jesse’s dry humping became increasingly desperate and demanding. He knew he couldn’t hold out much longer and shifted his weight so that Jesse could feel how much he wanted him. He didn’t have to keep up the pressure for too long before Jesse threw his head back with a shout and his hips jerked, once, twice, three times.
Xander came in his jeans as he bit down.
The flood of blood — the flood of life — slipping down his throat walloped Xander back into reality. He jerked out and away so violently that his fangs ripped along the skin of his victim’s neck.
He hated that it earned him yet another mouthful of stolen warmth.
He hated himself for swallowing it anyway.
Xander slapped his hands over his vampire face and stumbled backwards until he slammed into the opposite wall. “Run!” he shouted into his palms.
“Wh-what? How? Who are— What are—”
“I said run!” Xander roared.
Xander dropped his hands and lunged toward the terrified man, although he wasn’t sure if it was because he was trying to get the man to move or if it was because something inside was urging him to finish what he started.
Considering that the man was still bleeding from the neck and probably scared out of his mind, he moved surprisingly fast. He scrambled to his feet and lurched for the door. Before he finished his escape, however, he reached into his back pocket and threw the stolen wallet at Xander with every ounce of strength he probably had left.
The wallet landed far short of its goal and it hit the floor with the muffled slap of leather on cement.
Xander recoiled from the reminder of what he’d done and once more stumbled back. His hands began pressing against his forehead in a vain attempt to get the ridges to subside back into human form.
He might as well have been trying to reshape granite for all the good it did.
He crashed into a cement wall with a bone-shattering thud and slid down it until he was left curled up on the floor with arms wrapped around his head.
That’s when the ghosts finally intervened. Too late to stop him, though. It was way beyond too late.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry…” he mumbled.
He didn’t need to remove his arms. He didn’t need to look up. He knew the ghosts were there. He could feel the gaze of their empty eyes stabbing into him. These didn’t belong to Willow. They belonged completely to him.
He knew they were his because he wanted to say, Please make this stop, but the words remained trapped in his head.
He wanted to say, Please finish this, but all it did was bounce off the interior of his skull like a taunting echo.
The ghost Slayers knew, of course. All 28 of them — there should be 29 because of Kennedy, but she never joined her dead sisters for the fun — just stared down at him and clutched their useless stakes in their insubstantial hands.
I’m tired. I can’t do this anymore. Please let me go. They wouldn’t do it unless he asked them. Too bad he couldn’t ask. He couldn’t ask anyone who was willing to do it. He couldn’t even ask anyone who was unwilling to do it. Willow made sure of that.
Several hundred other ghosts — the beautiful and the ugly, women and men, children and adults, the poor and the rich — crowded behind the Slayers.
Useless, the non-Slayer ghosts whispered to one another.
Your soul is broken, the Slayer ghosts said to him.
Knew it, the non-Slayer ghosts smugly muttered to each other
He’ll never learn, the Slayer ghosts said.
Too stupid, the non-Slayer ghosts agreed.
“You’re not wrong,” Xander mumbled as he curled into an even smaller ball.
Even though he was still hiding behind the darkness of closed eyes, even though his arms were wrapped around his head so tightly that his fangs cut into his arms, Xander could feel the chill of ghosts closing in for the kill.
He wanted to say, Do it. Please do it. Anything after dust has to be better, even if there’s nothing after.
Even if he could ask, there was no point to it. No matter how hard the ghosts staked him, stabbed him, and clawed him, they couldn’t give him what he really wanted.
Although Xander knew he’d pretty much abdicated all rights to pray to any god whatsoever, in the darkness of his own head and in the presence of all his ghosts, he did the best he could.
Just this once. All I need is once. Please, please, please, please…