Summary: Spike/Xander AU. In a Sunnydale without Buffy, Spike is being held captive by the Initiative. When a newly de-souled Angelus arrives in town, he may be the only one with knowledge enough to help stop him. Enter Xander, new Initiative recruit, and the only person able to hold the vampire's interest for more than five minutes.
Xander Harris made his way hurriedly down the whitewashed corridor, the glaring overhead lighting giving his Californian tan an unflattering yellow cast. His standard issue boots thudded with every measured step, and, as had become his custom, he kept his fingers resting on the butt of the handheld tranquiliser gun holstered at his belt. Next to it was a stake, but he used that less often.
He headed determinedly towards Director Walsh's office, having been called away from field duty to come meet with her. The message hadn't told him what said meeting was about, though, and he couldn't help but be curious as to what the Director would want with a newbie like him. A stray flash of smugness travelled through him at the thought of having caught the attention of someone so high up, only to be replaced by the more classic Xander-panic that instantly insisted he'd done something wrong and was about to be fired or locked up or whatever it was they did to punish secret agent guys these days.
Yup. That's me. Xander Harris: secret agent. License to tranquilise. Codename: Xan-man. Status: nauseas.
Grimly clamping down on the tremor of insecurity, he quickened his pace.
In his junior year of high school, Xander had accidently been possessed by a soldier spirit. As a long-term resident of the little town of Sunnydale, it was by no means his first supernatural experience, but it was probably his most significant. He'd walked away from that interesting Halloween experience with a new world open to him, a wealth of militant knowledge and instinct having been deposited into his head overnight. To this day, he was sure it had been the fighting skills he'd learned during the possession that allowed him to survive the next few years without getting bitten or eaten or sacrificed by something that went bump in the night.
He'd never been a promising student who'd go on to college and university and make a life for himself. Not like Willow. He'd already started down the road of dead-end jobs when it had happened, and God knows where he'd be now if not for that incident leading him to the Initiative.
When first they'd contacted him, he'd been a little sceptical, he had to admit. Oh sure, he'd known about vampires and ghosts and other oogedy-boogedies back then – What Sunnydale citizen doesn't, if they're being honest with themselves? – but a secret government agency? Come on. Really.
So no, he hadn't exactly believed Riley when the agent had tried to explain the truth of things to him. Back then, Riley Finn had been nobody to Xander other than some guy Willow had met at college, and he'd half suspected the redhead of playing a practical joke on him, brought on by the marathon of James Bond movies they'd watched the week before, during which Xander had claimed he'd make a great secret agent. Riley had been somewhat perplexed when Xander began referring to him as M.
In fact, it had taken a full tour of the Initiative Headquarters and an introduction to Director Maggie Walsh before he'd been ready to believe. Something about the woman's cool, calculating, efficient demeanour had at last convinced him that a government agency really had been present in Sunnydale for years, keeping the town safe.
Of course, the troops of armed commandos and multitude of caged demons were pretty persuasive, too, I suppose...
They'd been watching him for years, the Director had told him, ever since the possession. She'd had no qualms about admitting that they'd briefly considered him a Hostile after coming into such intimate contact with the supernatural, but changed their minds after further observation. If he wanted to put his pilfered militant skills to use, she'd said, he would be a welcome addition to the agency.
Xander, fresh out of high school, living in his parents' basement and fairly lacking in job skills, had found this offer even more baffling than anything he'd seen or heard so far.
"Who, me?" he remembered asking incredulously. "You want me?"
Director Walsh had just shrugged. "You already have the skills. You're one of the few people in this town observant enough to notice what goes on around here, and smart enough not to dismiss it. And..."
"Well, we've noticed you possess something of a... magnetism."
"Demonic magnetism, to be more precise. Our scientists would be very interested in discovering the source and nature of such a trait, if you agree."
Xander had agreed. Dived on the opportunity while foaming at the mouth, actually. That had been just over ten months ago, and now here he was: a fully fledged field agent, out there waging war against the forces of evil. Well, at the very least, tasering them and bringing them back for observation. But phrasing it like that diminished something of the drama.
Finally he reached the Director's door and knocked smartly, waiting until he heard the short invite before stepping inside and offering a perfunctory salute.
It was not only the Director present in her office. Beside her desk stood the weedy little Dr. Angleman, and on the far side of the room was Rupert Giles. Xander had previously known the latter as the school librarian, and had been understandably surprised the day he arrived to find Giles already an Initiative member. The man had turned out to be the local demonologist, possessing extensive knowledge of the supernatural and occult. As a result, he – along with every other Sunnydale citizen able to prove themselves useful – had been absorbed into the agency's number.
Currently they nodded to each other in vague recognition, before simultaneously turning their attention to the Director.
"Gentlemen, we have a problem."
Xander shifted uneasily, not liking the grim tone he heard in her voice. He wondered absently why he was here, feeling awkward, a lowborn foot soldier among the higher-ups.
"You'll all be aware of the recent stir in demonic activity over the past fortnight. The vampiric community, in particular, has proven increasingly disruptive. Agitated, even. Well, we've discovered the cause. Another Master vampire has arrived in Sunnydale, a member of the powerful Aurelius family. I've asked Mister Giles to create a profile on this particular Hostile. If he would care to share with us the results of his research?"
But, strangely, she didn't look at Giles. Instead she stared straight at him, and Xander was suddenly inexplicably certain that the following information was entirely for his benefit.
Don't be stupid. This is the Director here, Harris. She's hardly likely to care what you think about the latest marching orders, is she?
Yeah? asked a second little voice in his head, the one that usually got him into some kind of trouble. Then why are you here, hm? Must want something from you...
"Yes. Well." The ex-librarian was taking off his glasses to absentmindedly polish in a gesture Xander recognised from school. "As the Director indicated, this is not just any fledgling vampire we're dealing with here. He's known as Angelus, or the... the Scourge of Europe. At the best part of three hundred years old, and with a reputation of pure, almost artistic evil preceding him, I believe it safe to say he will be like nothing we've encountered so far. His lesser deeds are quite enough to turn the stomach."
Dr. Angleman was casting dubious looks at the other man. "Now, Rupert, let's not blow this out of proportion. This is still just a vampire, remember. We've got enough of them locked up down in The Basement to know they're not that dangerous."
The Englishman visibly bristled at the dismissive tone. "It would be wise not to underestimate Angelus. He does not behave like others of his kind. From everything I've read of him, he's the only vampire who doesn't kill out of necessity or instinct or even just because he can – to this creature, cruelty is an art form."
"Oh come on..."
The Director interrupted them with a firm cough, before turning a calmly curious gaze towards Giles. "If he does, in fact, live up to this reputation, why haven't we heard of him before now?"
The ex-librarian shifted his weight and again removed his glasses. "It would appear that, until recently, Angelus has been subject to... to a curse, of sorts."
"Curse? As in, magic?"
"The vampire was cursed with a soul, made to suffer torment for every act of evil he'd ever committed, unable to achieve true happiness because if he did, he'd... well, he'd..." The man trailed off awkwardly, leaving the group to draw the pretty obvious conclusion.
Vampire evil. Vampire guilty. Not guilty enough to stay celibate. Vampire evil again, Xander summed up concisely in the privacy of his own mind.
They all cast a glance at Angleman, who was looking both amused and derisive as he scoffed, "You and your spellbooks, Rupert. Look, a vampire is a vampire is a vampire. No souls, no curses. Maybe this one just got tame in his old age, is all. Gonna be doing the bastard a favour, putting him down."
It was impossible to tell which man Director Walsh agreed with – if either – when she said neutrally, "Still, it would be a great opportunity for study if we could capture another Master vampire. Especially this one."
That put them back on track.
Giles coughed. "Well, as a matter of fact, I do believe Angelus has arrived here not only because Sunnydale is the site of a Hellmouth, but also because several members of his vampiric, ah, 'family' were recently in the area, including his consort and sire, Darla, and –"
The Director finished his thought with a cold smile. "And William the Bloody, who currently happens to be in our possession."
William the Bloody? That would be Hostile 17, right? The Billy Idol lookalike?
"It may be possible to, uhm, exploit the connection somehow? Use a vampire to catch a vampire?"
She nodded once. "Yes, the idea had already crossed my mind. In fact, it's where you –" she turned to Xander "– come in."
He blinked, caught off guard. "M-me?"
"Yes. Several times we've attempted to gain information from Hostile 17," she said, causing Angleman to suddenly become very interested in the floor, "and each time failed. Sometimes disastrously." Angleman flushed, Giles smirked. "Hostile 17 is no fledgling himself. Not only does he have the potential to prove useful in securing Angelus, as a Master vampire he may possess knowledge about his race – about the demonic community in general – that could prove invaluable to the Initiative's efforts."
So? What does that have to do with me? Just a field agent here, not important enough for this. Oh please don't ask me to play bait or something...
Director Walsh tapped her fingertips against her desk, the only sign of her frustration. "Unfortunately, Hostile 17 proves immune to most interrogation techniques. He doesn't care about solitary confinement or sensory deprivation. Complains if we deprive him of blood, but never breaks. Even truth serums serve only to inebriate him."
"He sang 'My Way'..." Angleman recalled in a subdued mutter, offside.
Xander raised his hand. "Permission to speak freely?"
"Why exactly am I here? I mean, I'm not entirely clear on what use you think I can be..."
"You forget you have your own special abilities, Agent Harris."
He stared at her blankly.
She sighed. "When we first met, I told you I was interested in the demonic magnetism you exude. True, we don't yet fully understand the nature of such a trait, but we know it makes you attractive to their kind."
Oh God. I knew it. I'm the bait. I'm the fucking bait! They're gonna take away my gun and my stake and send me for a nice little midnight walk, see what jumps out at me...!
"While it did originally occur to me that you might be useful in luring Angelus, Mister Giles here assures me that the vampire is too canny for such an obvious ploy."
Xander let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding.
"You might, however, be the breakthrough we're looking for when it comes to Hostile 17."
"I want you to talk to him, Agent Harris. Interview him, if you can. That magnetism of yours may come up with results."
Magnetism? What magnetism? I've never known what the hell she's talking about when she says that!
"Wh-what would I be asking?"
Director Walsh waved a hand. "Ask him about Angelus. Ask him about his own history. Ask what he knows of occurrences on the Hellmouth. Ask anything, just get him talking. We don't expect results immediately, but give it time Agent."
"But I –"
"Mister Giles has spent the most time and made the most progress with Hostile 17. Report to his office tomorrow at 18.00 and he will accompany you to meet with the vampire."
Xander forced himself not to scowl. This 'interview' was going to cut into his patrol time. He was supposed to be out dusting vampires, not making idle chitchat with them!
But his expression, as ever, remained neutral. He'd gotten pretty good at that since joining the Initiative. Learned to internalise.
And with that, he knew he was dismissed. Saluting a final time, Xander turned and left the room. He'd taken a good thirty steps before he allowed himself to let out a heartfelt curse.
Well, Harris, you did always get saddled with the dirty work. Why break the habit of a lifetime?
But why me? demanded a particularly whiney voice somewhere in the back of his mind.
Because you had to go and be the demon magnet of Sunnydale, didn't you? Great. Just... great.
It was early morning by the time he signed off and made his way home. The sun was just rising, painting the sky shades of pastel green and yellow. Everywhere was calm and quiet, idyllic, as if Xander hadn't just spent the last eight hours with monsters and murderers and freaks of nature.
He pulled his battered old car into his parents' driveway and turned off the ignition. Rested his forehead against the steering wheel, closed his eyes.
Moments like these, it was as if nothing had changed. Still driving the same crappy piece of junk. Still living in the same depressing basement. Same parents, who never noticed he'd been gone all night. He was the same loser he'd always been, in the daytime.
What would Willow say if she knew what I did every night?
He wasn't allowed to draw attention to himself, the Director had explained. That meant no drastic changes – no suddenly getting his own apartment, no new flash car, no getting a life, even though he had the money nowadays. Continue with his string of demeaning jobs, getting fired every month because he had to take off without warning, or call in sick, or turned up three hours late because he'd been so tired from the previous night's raid that he physically hadn't been able to wake up on time.
Sighing, he slammed the car door behind him and made his way over to the basement entrance, slipping quietly into the gloom. Maybe, if he was lucky, he could grab a couple of hours sleep before he had to wake up, don the latest humiliating neon uniform, and make his way to the Meat Palace to begin flipping burgers...