High school was a riot to the senses. A confusion of sights, sounds and smells in one sun drenched, beige stucco faced, petri dish of a building. Mobs of sweaty, hormone ridden, unwashed teens who squealed and shrieked like stuck pigs at each other over inane, ultimately useless minutia. He loved it and hated it at the same time. It was infuriating to say the least.
He leaned on the hood of his mother’s car, ankles and arms crossed as he frowned at the school building. Students flowed in and out of the many doors and hallways like milling herds. Watching them made saliva gather at the back of his mouth. Teenagers. They looked so much like prey, like weak little gazelle or strutting zebra. Just begging to be chased, caught and feasted upon.
He shook his head with a snort. He’d have to bump up the schedule for ditching class to raid a vampire nest. If he was getting this hungry at the bounty of walking meat that lay before him then the pack would surely be feeling it too.
Rhonda was lounging on the hood beside him, all sass and curves as she filed her long red nails. She also watched the students intently as they milled around the quad before first bell rang, her tongue peeking out to lick her full, red lips.
She made a noise of approval as one of the swim team walked by, tilting her head as she openly ogled his ass. He turned back as she whistled and flushed pink as she gave him a saucy wink. Luckily, his friends laughed and pulled him along towards the school before he could see the sharp, cold look on Xander’s face.
“Mmmm, I could make a meal out of that.” she murmured softly, just for Xander to hear “And I would suck his dick too.”
He barked a laugh, making several passing students turn and stare. He ignored their whispers. “Just don’t actually eat him. We don’t need the Slayer on our backs the first day out.”
He knew that Rhonda was a smart girl, that she could hold her own in a fight. In fact, she was famous for throwing down in the halls. But he was still wary of taking on any confrontations with Buffy while things were still coming together.
Tor had taken Kyle and Heidi over to her house to pick up some ‘essentials’ before heading to the school and Xander was already feeling antsy at them being so far away. He knew that he needed to trust that they would be safe from most hellmouthy dangers in the bright light of morning but the bonds were still too new for him to not be paranoid.
“What’s got you treading so lightly around this blanca anyway?” She gave him a side eyed look from below her long, loose, brunette curls. “She’s just some blond airhead who got kicked from her old school for burning down the gym. Even if she’s some chosen warrior for good as you say, it’s still five against one. We would strip her down to bone in minutes.”
“First of all, the Bufster’s tougher than she looks and she’s taken on bigger and badder baddies than us and has survived way longer than most Slayers would on a hellmouth.” Xander huffed, “She’s also smarter and more wily that you’d assume from her looks and valley girl attitude. You don’t know her like I do. Don’t underestimate her. Plus, with both Giles and Willow on her side as the brains of the operation to her skill and brawn, she’s made a pretty tight ship of the territory in less than a year.”
He looked up at the bright blue sky for a second, listening for the sound of Tor’s car getting closer. When he couldn’t catch the strains of the now familiar engine, he sighed and glanced at the curvy latina who had stopped the pretense of filing her nails and was staring intently at him without blinking.
Xander shrugged and slung an arm around her shoulder. “Besides, she my friend and I like her. There’s also the fact that she’s saved my zeppo ass, like, a dozen times over since I met her. I’m grateful for that even though it uppercuts my manhood and kicks it into a corner to cry cause she’s like a foot shorter than me. But you know… that’s life on the hellmouth. ”
Rhonda scoffed. “There’s a peek of the Harris I used to know. Didn’t think you were still in there. You’re different now, from how you were just yesterday morning.”
She curled her lip and looked off into the distance, distracted by her own thoughts. “I guess we are all different now. I feel different. Like I’m both myself and not myself. Like I’m trying to fit into my own skin. And I’m don’t know if I like the new me yet but I’m not sure I liked the old me either.”
Xander nodded, nudging her shoulder with his. “Same. I know that I’m different now and it’s not bothering me as much as it would have bothered who I was yesterday morning. I’m not freaking out or running to Giles or Willow for help. All I know for sure that I need you guys close. It doesn’t matter that you were all raging douchebags before and I was a weird, outcast dork who trailed like a puppy after the strange and pretty new girl. You’re mine and that’s all that matters.”
She made a face at the douchebag comment but her mouth curled into a contented smile. “I’m glad we’re yours too. Even though I still want to punch you in the throat sometimes, pendejo.”
He grinned at her. “As long as you’re okay with me punching you back, bitch. I’m the fucking alpha of this pack and I believe in equal opportunity ass kicking.”
She was still laughing when the others pulled up just in time for the bell. Tor had a huge bag of beef jerky with him and held it out to the others to grab. “We stopped at the 7/11 after Heidi’s house. We, like, just ate breakfast and I’m already hungry.”
The blonde nodded, flushed pink and smiling. “I went ham on my mom’s leftover ham. Left the chewed up bone for the dog. Hopefully she’ll think he did when she gets home.”
“Way to screw the pooch there, Dee.” Xander chuckled and the others groaned at his lame pun. “Still, thank you for thinking about the rest of us. This was a great idea.”
He ran his hands across the backs of their necks, bonds thrumming as they purred and preened under his touch. He scented both Rhonda and Kyle as well as they headed for the school, warning them about keeping a low profile, especially around the other, all too human, students.
“Let me set some ground work with the Slayer then we can skip out at lunch to hunt. All these teenagers walking around is making my stomach growl.”
With a last order for them to all touch base with at least one other pack mate between classes, he watched as they all parted ways for classes; before taking a deep breath and heading for his own.
If he had his way, he would give up on school all together. Institutionalized education seemed like such a waste of time when one considered what lay in the world beyond. That is to say, they wouldn’t have stayed ignorant. Tutors could be hired for any subject under the sun, and a few subjects from places where there was no sun.
Still, he wanted to remain as low profile as possible for the moment, and having five teens drop out of school at the same time would raise flags, even in the weirdly laissez faire authority of the Hellmouth.
He certainly didn’t want to draw the attention of the Slayer, her Watcher and, in turn, the shadow organization the Watcher worked for. So he would stick to appearances for the pack’s sake, for now.
A good alpha plans. Tracks prey. Learns weaknesses. Triumphs over enemies.
He hummed his agreement, glad to hear the whisper in his head once more. He was serious when he told Rhonda about how not freaked out he was by not freaking out about this whole thing. He felt as if something had finally settled within him, something ancient and powerful; curled around him and over him.
It fit. It felt right.
He didn’t twitch and flail about like a spaz any more, stumbling around clumsily like a newborn whelp. His body felt like his, wild energy thrumming through to the tips of his fingers and his toes. The change felt comfortable, as sudden as it was, and he was aware of how jarring the difference in his personality and mannerisms would seem to someone else. This time yesterday, he’d been a totally different person. It was one of the things he would have to carefully smooth over with both Buffy and Willow.
He deftly avoided Buffy’s annoyed glances, wanting to talk to Willow first. The red head would be easier to handle, her feelings for him far from hidden. He caught her at the lockers, waving away the others as they lurked around the end of the hallway.
Thankfully, Willow was facing away from their glares, babbling worriedly at Xander as the pack glared at her back then broke up reluctantly. Heidi stuck around, pretending to check her makeup and watching them from her mirror. Xander rolled his eyes at their blatant maneuvering around their alpha’s wishes, even as his pride surged at the same time at how protective they were being.
Willow seemed more like prey in the light of morning, her wide eyes filled with hurt from being abandoned the night before. His affection for their longtime friendship warred within him with irritation at her simpering. Willow had been his friend since the yellow crayon and he was loathe to throw all of that history away but her whining voice felt like a rusty blade scraping along the inside of his skull.
He made himself spin her a tale of dumb teenage boy hormones, blathering on about how glad he was that she was such an understanding friend and how he appreciated her as a sister he never had. He forced himself to sling an arm around her slim shoulder and keep talking as her scent soured and got a bit acrid to the end.
She kept up a brave face as he pulled away to go to his next class but he could hear her soft sobs as she ducked into the nearest bathroom. Buffy appeared out of nowhere, following her friend into the bathroom and he hung around in the hall, listening as they commiserated about loving stupid, clueless boys.
He figured playing oblivious and placing Willow squarely in the sisterly zone would have been the best option. Rejecting her outright or leading her on would each have caused different problems for him down the road and if he’d poisoned the well with the redhead, he’d have made things contentious between him and the Slayer. Buffy would have been torn between them and fellow female best friend Willow would have won out over dumb horny male friend Xander.
Giles would have sided with the girls, unsurprisingly, and Xander would be pushed out of the circle of confidence. He didn’t need that kind of hassle. Not with his pack’s status so tenuous. He’d rather they were angry with him as a dumb human boy than as an supernatural enemy. Teenage drama was easier to handle.
He bearded Giles in his den, slipping into the library during his free period. Spinning a tale about seeking relationship advice about Willow’s crush was hilarious as it was vomit inducing. Giles’ pinched expression and stuttering excuses made Xander wanted to laugh in his face and rip out his throat at the same time, shedding once and for all the hope that the man could and would fulfill any kind of father figure duties in this lifetime.
At least he’d turned the man off the subject and skewed his response toward any question of Xander’s changed behavior for the time being. If Buffy of Willow came to him with suspicions, he would be quicker to dismiss it as teenage shenanigans than something more sinister.
Lunch rolled around before he could speak to the blonde. She seemed annoyed with him over Willow and had taken to avoiding him in the halls. It was strange behavior for someone who often lead with confrontation. There was nothing for it though because his stomach was growling for meat and the rest of the pack weren’t in any better position.
He’d had to stop Kyle from luring Lance into a deserted hallway, glaring at the shuffling teen as the confused and scared nerd got hustled away by Heidi’s brilliant smile. After the boy was out of earshot, Xander had shoved Kyle up against the wall, cracking it a little as he growled low and loud.
“What did I say?” he bared his teeth, hands digging into Kyle’s arms until he winced in pain. “No Humans! We went over this.”
Kyle growled back but couldn’t break the alpha’s hold. “Why? We’re stronger than them. Why can’t we just take what we want?”
“Because then we would be no more than animals!” Xander pulled him forward then slammed him back into the wall, making the cracks spread outward like a spider’s web. “Do you want to be ruled by your hunger like some new fledge? You want to live in the shadows hunted by those who want to put you down like a dog? Do you want to go home and look at your family like food? Wake up one day covered in their blood because you couldn’t distinguish them from prey?”
He turned to the others who were standing shocked and silent. “Do any of you?”
Kyle looked stricken. Xander eased his hands a bit but still kept a solid grip.
“We feed on vamps cause they are already dead. Nobody will miss them. They’ve already been mourned. Humans may look like prey, like meat, but if we become the things that preys on humans, what would that make us?”
He shook Kyle. “What would that make us?”
The boy bowed his head and whispered. “Monsters. Animals”
Another shake. “And what does they do to feral animals who attack and kill humans?”
“They kill them.” Rhonda murmured, a look of understanding in our eyes. “They put them down.”
He reached up and tilted Kyle’s face up so that he could look into the boy’s dark eyes. “We may not be 100% human anymore but we are not dumb wild animals and I won’t see us hunted and killed as such. To survive we need to be smart. We need control. We can’t give in to our base instincts, become the animals people expect us to be.”
He took a careful step back, letting Kyle slump against the wall as the others crowded closer. Xander let them scent both him and Kyle, the dark skinned boy whining softly as they touched and nuzzled him.
“I need you to trust me.” Xander spoke softly. “Trust your alpha to look out for the pack. You’re mine and I will not let you go or leave you behind. You’re mine and I will fucking tear this place apart before I let any one of you go. Do you understand? Do you hear the truth in my voice?”
Kyle shuddered and fell into Xander’s chest, tucking himself close as the others purred and crowded closer. Xander sent reassurance through the bonds, along with a healthy dose of possession. Or rather unhealthy, because he thought that being so possessive over others was a bit creepy but that didn’t stop him from clinging tightly still.
After pulling themselves together, they easily snuck out of the school and raided a nearby nest, feasting happily on two of the three sleeping vamps. The last one tried to make a break for it and got a face full of sunshine for it. Tor, chasing after the vamp, had gotten a mouthful of ash and they’d all gone weak with laughter as he hacked up ash and whined about how gross it tasted.
The vamps had a store of cash and valuables which Xander didn’t hesitate to confiscate, promptly handing it over to math whiz Rhonda. If they made a habit of raiding nests, they would be able to build a nice enough nest egg to provide for the pack in no time.
Hunger sated for the moment, they made their way back to the school, as Xander still had to talk to Buffy and Tor had a quiz that he really needed to do well on. Rhonda had Maths which she loved and Heidi had a project idea that she wanted to discuss with her professor. Kyle came along because he didn’t want to ditch and be alone for the rest of the afternoon.
Watching them as they snuck back unto the grounds, Xander re-evaluated the prospect of completing their high school education. They weren’t Honor Roll students by far and some of them were on the brink of failing classes but the pack seemed to get joy out of learning. He’d have to think about getting tutors for the weaker subjects. He’d talk to the pack about it. Let them discuss and make a decision.
Yes. Good leader. Wise leader. Listen. Watch. Learn.
Xander preened, even though the praise sounded a bit like a light scolding there at the end. It may only be a strange voice in his head but he’d take it. Now if only he could get through his conversation with Buffy just as easy.
He’d just spotted her slim form in the crowded hallway when the sound of loud squealing froze him to the spot. He blinked, surprised as a pig dressed in a costume zipped through the halls and right into the Slayer’s arms. The pack froze with him, all four of them taking in slow breaths, scenting the air. He could see Tor’s lip twitch from the corner of his eye, Heidi already at full devilish grin. Even Rhonda was smirking as Kyle turned to send a pleading look Xander’s way.
“You guys. Just. Ate.” The alpha sighed loudly, watching as Buffy and Principal Flutie hustled down the hall the opposite way.
Tor gave him a cherubic smile, his blue eyes big and shamelessly adorable. “We’re growing teenagers, man. We’re always hungry.”
Heidi nodded eagerly. “There’s proven biological evidence to back up that hypothesis.”
Xander rolled his eyes at them all. “Just don’t get caught.”
He shook his head in exasperation as they took off down the hall, the afternoon bell ringing, signaling the return to classes. He may have drawn the line at hunting humans but as far as he was concerned, pigs in costumes were fair game.