Sandy Places in the Skin

Xander was used to being out this late at night. Not so much alone, these days; now that he knew what was out there, he had less of a tendency to want to be alone, even with the stake in the waistband of his jeans and the cross around his neck. Knowing and being prepared for the children of the night didn't make it any safer to actually be out and about.

Normally he would have had an escort home. He didn't mind when they weren't at school, when it wasn't just a big human guy threatening him. He was more than happy to let Buffy, fifteen year old blonde girl with a cute smile walk him home, protecting him from all the bad things waiting in the dark.

All the bad things between him and home. Once he reached his front porch, he was on his own. But Buffy was at Willow's tonight. Some girl thing he hadn't been invited to. It was just as well. He didn't want them to think of him as one of the girls, anyway. Even if Buffy did let him braid her hair. It was just an excuse, running his fingers through her hair was just for combing it. 

Really. 

But it left him alone, tonight, walking along the streets of Sunnydale towards his house. Quiet, residential streets where you knew nothing worse than a dented fender and a burned meal could occur to traumatize the residents within. Unless you knew, unless you'd 
seen. 

Xander hurried home, hoping the vampires would stay away. Knowing he was going to be late, and wondering, in a tiny voice in the back of his head, if he wouldn't rather the vampires came.

A late night out, helping Giles and Buffy with their Fight Against Evil. Nothing you could say to convince even a parent who was listening, why you were late and had once again ruined a shirt beyond rescue. He was rapidly going through every shirt he hated -- quickly learning that battling evil was a great way to rid his wardrobe of those *things* his aunts and mother saw fit to gift him with. But the loss of the shirts would only lead them to realize he needed more, and that would be another trip to Goodwill and another round of 'I can't wear these and maintain even my friends' dignity'.

Maybe he'd borrow a couple bucks and buy them himself. Tomorrow, or this weekend at least, before his mother noticed that his laundry pile was growing smaller than even a fifteen year old boy could allow. He glanced behind him at the thankfully still quiet, still deserted street and hurried more. He was going to be late. Maybe the shirt wouldn't even matter.

He tugged the jacket around him, glad he'd left the stained clothing in a trash bin. Being cold now was nothing compared to that smell. Even his father would notice a smell like Corga demon blood mixed with human sweat. Not something you'd want to bottle up and sell, unless you were trying to market a pesticide for the most stubborn cockroach.

One more turn, and Xander was on his own street. Everything, even in the dark, was familiar. Nothing changed, not even the car outside the Danson's house, though they acquired a new one every year. A new used, beat up, rusted and barely working car that sat outside and only moved when Richard Danson gave it a shove and a kick while he tried to make the engine run. Xander didn't bother checking his watch; he knew he was late. Mrs. Simmons' front light was out, and that meant it was after eleven o'clock. 

He was late. He ran, anyhow, the last few yards to his house. Slipping through the half-clipped bushes of Mr. Forster's yard, he headed for the front door. It wouldn't be locked, the fun of making Xander sleep on the porch had dimmed, recently, paled in comparison to the new game. 

Waiting. Letting him in. 

Xander opened the door without any hesitation. Not because he knew what was coming, not because fighting off other-worldly horrors gave him strength. It did, but not the kind he needed. He entered quickly because he knew his father would have seen him approach, and skulking outside only made things worse.

*CRASH*

"You're late."

"I--"

~~~~~

He wasn't going to stop. Xander wasn't sure what brought the thought into his head, but he didn't doubt it once he thought it. Arms over his head, turned away as best he could, he knew his father wasn't going to get bored or satisfied and walk away.

He had tried, once, to knock his father's hand away, and received double the blow for his trouble. Not sure what it had been, something solid and hard and not his father's hand. Maybe fighting vampires was a bad thing, then, giving him courage to do what he very obviously oughtn't have done. 

If he stayed where he was, he was going to get hurt. Xander considered and rejected the option of running upstairs to his room. He'd only be followed. He crouched a bit more, holding back a grunt, and thought of the back door -- the front was locked, now, the tiny 
click so loud in the deathly silence of the unlighted living room. He couldn't go to Willow's house. Not anymore. Not since he'd lied when he was thirteen and told her it was over.

Not anywhere outside, to wait out the morning. Even vampires were worse than this. Death, unlife... surely that was worse. That left one place, and Xander lifted his head to gauge the timing of the next blow, and flung himself away. Past his father, through the living room and kitchen and out the back door. Screen door slamming against the wall, Xander found his footing and ran, ran as fast as he could, knowing that even had he cared, his father couldn't follow him for long.

He ran through the alley and onto the street, Kepler's Street, so aptly named for the poor white trash who lived there without any dreams at all of reaching for stars. He ran down to Nevada Ave, turning left and pounding pavement right in the center of the street. There would be no traffic here, not at this hour, not anything he had to worry about until he reach 12th and would have to walk, have to take to the sidewalks and pretend that nothing at all had sent him out here.

He was panting when he slowed to a walk, struggling to take in deep, filling breaths and praying -- hands quickly checking that he hadn't lost his cross, hadn't lost the stake. The cross was still there, the stake long gone. He didn't know where, wasn't about to 
backtrack. For all he knew it was lying in the living room, kicked aside or simply ignored. Maybe the cross would be enough to save him. He clutched it in one hand as he hurried. It was late, too late to be safely outside even for someone who could not turn back. Even the Slayer would be tucked up safely in her sleeping bag, thinking of whatever girls talked about on sleep overs when no boys were present. 

It wouldn't be far, but there were places in between here and there where the groups of people huddled in the shadows could be anyone. Anything. Waiting for a stupid, scared mortal to come rushing by, to surround and capture and take and make him wish he'd stayed home where the pain was terrifying, but familiar. 

Wasn't deadly worse than that? Xander glanced around, trying to both keep an eye on everything and look resolutely ahead, seeing nothing. If you can't see it coming, it can't frighten you as badly. He hadn't believed that one for a long time, but right now it seemed to be a good idea.

Close your eyes and the vampires won't be able to find you. 

His heart was pounding as if he'd never stopped running, and when he turned onto Oak Street he thought again about sprinting for the door. Half a block, now, and if he were being stalked he might actually outrun them. If he weren't being stalked, the sprint would only catch the attention of whatever bored predator had missed him so far. Xander wanted to squeeze his eyes shut and will himself to the doorway -- just inside the doorway, safely past any boundary of invitation. 

Finally he saw the small complex just ahead. No fewer shadows, but less time for anyone waiting to kill him make an appearance. He hurried, then, not quite running but jogging through the outside walkway towards the front door he knew, not well enough, but knew. He was suddenly struck by the very real doubts that this had been a good idea. 

He knocked anyway; he had to. He certainly couldn't turn back. He wouldn't be sent back, that much he knew. Sunnydale so dangerous at night that even if grudgingly, the offer would be made to let him stay. Or possibly give him a ride back, in which case it would be so late that his father would have gone finally to bed. Maybe.

"Yes?" as the door opened. Then, "Xander! What on earth?" Giles looked at him, looked past him, then stepped back and motioned him in. Xander stepped inside, the unbound strain of relief winding through his body. He didn't answer Giles' repeated question.

He got as far as the living room, then stopped. Now what?

"Xander?"

He turned, and wondered how to explain his presence. He hadn't considered this part, hadn't thought past getting out and getting here, all in one piece. Alive, and not undead.

"Oh my god. What happened? Vampires? Did you--" Giles had come forward and was looking at his face. Xander licked his lip; it was bleeding.

He shook his head. Giles was pulling him towards the couch, urging him to sit while he fetched the first aid kit. He sat, left leg bouncing as he looked around, wondering what he should say.

"What was it, did you get a good look? It's been quiet the last few nights, that's why I let Buffy take the whole night off. Apparently--"

"No." 

"No?" Giles looked surprised.

He could have said yes. Call it a demon or vampire or just something big and awful that he hadn't seen. But then Giles and Buffy would feel guilty for leaving him and the rest of the town undefended, and he didn't want to take this night away from them. A night off, a night free of fighting evil. It wouldn't be fair to dump this on the shoulders of a Slayer who only wanted to sometimes be a girl.

"What, then?" Giles was dabbing at his face, cleaning something. Xander couldn't feel it yet, the pounding of his heart still filling his bloodstream with adrenaline. Xander stared over the other man's shoulder, at a large wooden something adorning the wall. A mask? A plaque? Something in dark, carved wood, showing something which could have been fierce if it weren't hanging here, in the safe haven of Giles' home.

"I was late."

"Late for what?" Giles was able to place a bandage on Xander's cheek while waiting for an answer. Then he looked Xander up and down and asked, "Are you hurt anywhere else?"

Xander nodded. He didn't move. He was comfortable, sitting here on the couch. He could lean back and close his eyes and nothing, absolutely nothing would happen to him. He felt himself shake, and jerked his eyes back open wide.

"Xander?"

"I was late getting home." He stood, and took off his shirt. He didn't know what was under there, what if any bruises they would find. But he was starting to hurt, now, and there was no reason now to stop. "I got home past curfew."

He looked up to find Giles staring at him, and the glassy, shocked expression felt awfully familiar. 

"Giles?" 

"You'll stay here, tonight, Xander. You can stay here." Giles reached up for one of the bruises on his chest, laid a hand there briefly, lightly enough so Xander could barely feel it. "I'll get you an ice pack."

"Thanks, Giles." Xander dropped his shirt and sat down, and this time, closed his eyes.