But before we start, a few announcements:
I got some attention recently. White Knight Awards honored me with the Best New Author Award!
Also Felon Fodder is nominated in Round 15 of the Shadows and Dust Awards
in the category of Sundown Category (best dark). Hugs and wet kisses to stretfordditto !
I was notified awhile ago about this and am finally posting about it -
I'm nominated in Round 20 of the Shades of Grey Awards
in the categories of Slash (romance) and Outstanding Author.
Okay enough of that silliness.
Image by me. This chapter beta'd by the lovely and very talented Gmom (no lj account).
Previously on Felon Fodder:
“I’ve been hearing about you. You’ve made a name for yourself. When I found out about your little field trip yesterday, I felt it was time we meet. So I pushed the paperwork through. And here you are.” As Walker spoke, Xander could hear an odd accent slip into his speech, but he couldn’t quite place it.
“Alright, I’m lost. What field trip? Listen, it’s not good to be caught off guard here, Walker, so why don’t you start from the beginning.”
Walker sat back down behind his desk and folded his hands into his lap. “From the beginning is a very long time ago, Harris. But I guess we have to start somewhere. How about this. We can start by you addressing me properly. Call me Watcher.”
Chapter 14 - Exposition Song (and Dance)
Xander took an involuntary step back. “Call you…what?”
“Watcher,” he said again as he gestured toward a folding metal chair. “Sit before you fall.”
Xander did what he was told. He rested his palms flat on the desk, leaning forward. “Okay. And why, of all the names to choose from, would you want to be called Watcher?”
“Oh, I got busted fifty years ago for peeping in little girls’ windows. I liked to, ya know, watch. The name kinda stuck.”
Xander blinked a few times, letting a grimace spread over his face. Watcher burst out laughing.
“No, you moron. I’m a watcher, just like you’re thinking. At least I was. A long time ago. I‘ve since retired from the Watchers‘ Council.”
“Well, yeah sure. I don’t suppose you get a lot of slayers in here, huh?”
Watcher was still smiling a gentle smile and Xander felt himself relax. “You could say that, yeah. But I was retired before I wound up in here.”
“What’s the story there?”
“Oh, it’s long and tedious. And we’ve got other more important topics to discuss. Would you like some tea?”
Xander couldn’t help but laugh long and hard. By the time he composed himself, Watcher was pouring the tea.
Xander had just barely cooled down his first sip of tea when Watcher began pressing for information. “Tell me about your trip to the infirmary.”
“I will, but how do you know about it? That was just yesterday.”
“I’ve been here forever, young man. I know almost everything that goes on.”
“That nurse Adams told Numbers that it would take a few days to push the paperwork through to get a work assignment. You telling me that you cut the red tape in less than a day to get me assigned here?”
Watcher leaned back in his chair with his surprisingly delicate teacup cradled softly in his palm. “I’ve been hoping to get you into the library for quite some time. It was a coincidence that you found yourself in the infirmary. When I heard about it, I just pushed the final step.”
“I don’t believe in coincidences.”
“Is that right?”
They each took a sip of tea. There was something far away in Watcher’s eyes. He’d seen it before and recognized it immediately. It was the same look that Giles had when the leftover Scoobies had debriefed about the destruction of hell-god Glory. When they had asked about Ben. Giles had told them that Ben was dead, but no amount of coaxing would get their watcher to tell the whole story. Everyone assumed the light in the Giles’ eyes had burned out because of Buffy’s death. But Xander noticed that the light never returned, even after Buffy did.
And Watcher had the same darkness. A smile and charm that never quite reached his eyes. Xander prayed to the Powers That Suck that his own eye wasn‘t that dead-looking, and marveled for a moment that he had not looked in a mirror since his arrest. Then he thought of Spike, and the spark that still shined in his cellie’s eyes and face, and Xander’s train of thought hopped the track for a minute.
By the time he refocused, his tea was gone and Watcher was giving him a curious look. Xander gave him an embarrassed grin.
“Where’d you go?” Watcher asked.
“Home,” Xander whispered, but then shook his head clear, sat up straight, and set his teacup on the desk. “Never mind. So tell me what you know about this demon. Starting with how you knew I’d find out about it.”
“Well, you’re Xander Harris, are you not? You’ve been fighting the forces of darkness for, what, twelve years now?”
“And you know about me how?”
“I’m not completely cut off from the world.” Watcher opened a desk drawer, pulled out a slightly yellowed newspaper, and set it in front of Xander. “I’ve been getting the Sunnydale Times for years. This was the final edition.” Xander picked up the paper. The front page headline read: “Mass Exodus - Local residents flee in fear. Evil definitely not involved, officials say.”
Xander chuckled. “Denial up until the very end. Fools all.” He threw the paper back on the table. “What’s this got to do with how you know me.”
“Didn’t you ever read your own town rag? You’re mentioned more than once. Along with your friends. Willow Rosenburg, Rupert Giles, and of course, Buffy Summers. That’s one slayer who didn’t exactly keep a low profile.”
Nodding, Xander resigned himself to the fact that his name would be known in the world. If people knew what they were looking for. “And this demon. What is it?”
“I’m afraid that I know little more than you do.” Watcher opened a manila folder that had been sitting in front of him. “I believe the first attack was about six months ago.” He set a mug shot in front of Xander. “Albert ‘Muscle’ Warner. Was in for rape and attempted murder. Had a private cell and was found one morning missing his heart. There were no suspects at the time.”
Xander nodded, flipping through preliminary autopsy reports that Watcher had also handed him. “Says here that the heart was removed neatly, but not with any surgical instruments.”
“Yes. I’m assuming our demon’s physical appearance includes some kind of extremely sharp claws that can be used like knives.”
“Okay. What else?”
Watcher handed over another stack of papers with a mug shot on top. “Andre ‘Bang-Bang’ Williams. Aggravated assault. Missing his lungs and kidneys. Same method of removal. They arrested his cellie, Martin ‘Roadie’ Rhodes, for his murder and are currently trying to connect him to the first one.”
“So this Bang-Bang was killed at night with his cellie in the house. What does Roadie have to say?”
“That he’s innocent, of course. Claims he didn’t hear a thing. Woke up one morning to a blood-soaked house.”
Watcher took the last paper from the folder and set it on the table. This one was just a mug-shot, no police report or autopsy, so Xander took over the exposition. “Federico Hernandez. Possession with intent to sell, assault on a police officer. Was found in his private cell in the mid-afternoon, but there was no head count that morning, so it could have happened at any time in the previous eighteen hours.”
“Sounds like you know more than me. And method of death? I haven‘t been able to get the paperwork, yet.”
“Missing all his skin and bones.”
Sitting back in his chair, Watcher crossed his arms over his chest. “Interesting.”
“I would have said sticky and vomit-worthy, but whatever. You thinking this is the same demon?”
“I certainly hope so. Don’t really like the possibility of more than one other-worldly evil in this place.”
“Other-worldly evil,” Xander repeated. “Funny thing. How we make the distinction.” Xander leaned back and mimicked Watcher’s position. “What’s the next step?”
“Well, we need to know what we’re dealing with. If it’s killing randomly, or if it has a purpose. Make sure it’s one demon, and if so, why is it taking different parts. Then how do we find it and kill it. And all that before it kills again.”
“So, step one is…?”
Xander sighed. “No matter what I do, no matter where I go, fucking research.” He glance around him at the shelves and shelves of lawness. “Ah-ha! Unless there’s precedent from a previous court case, I don’t see these particular tomes to be large with the demonic info.”
“Have more faith, young man.” Watcher told him, going over to the last row of shelves and removing a book at random. He brought it back to the desk and placed it in front of Xander.
Looking at the dark blue cover, Xander read aloud, “’Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2002.’” He raised an eyebrow at Watcher.
Xander flipped to what he thought would be the front page, but discovered that the blue cover and binding was just a disguise. Opening the book revealed another cover. This one was brown and aged, its title scripted on a yellowed square of parchment, barely attached with flaking glue. “The Habits and Patterns of the Ancient Hollows.”
Xander breathed in the familiar scent of moldy paper and wasted hours and then glanced back up at Watcher, giving him a half-sneer. “I hate you.”
Xander invited Watcher to lunch with him and his, but the elder man politely refused, producing an apple and an energy bar from a desk drawer, explaining that he was a light eater. “And besides, I’ve grown accustomed to the company of my books, and prefer not to expose myself to the madness of the mess hall.”
Exiting Building D, Xander blinked rapidly against the harsh sun. He hadn’t noticed until that moment how dark the library had been. As he stepped out of the shadow of the building, he was greeted almost immediately by Spike and Justin. They both practically ran up to him, but also managed to conceal that look of excitement the moment they got close. Justin ducked his head before he could make eye contact. The young boy opened his mouth as if to say something, but then shut it again when nothing came out.
The three fell in step together as they started toward the mess hall. “So, how’d it go?” Spike asked.
“Well, Spike,” Xander grinned at his cellie while clapping him on the back, “you’ll never believe it.”
Spike raised an eyebrow at him. “I’ll believe just about anything at this point.”
Xander desperately wanted to tell Spike everything, but he couldn’t get any alone time with him during lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent back in the library pouring over the autopsy reports, looking for any minute detail that could be of some use, and trying to find a book that might give them a smidgen of information. By five o’clock, they felt pretty unaccomplished.
Again, Xander invited Watcher to dine with his friends, but he said that he had a standing commitment in his own cellblock, so they would have to meet another time. Leaving Building D, Xander was reminded of the not-so-small task that he had to perform that evening. Back up Numbers.
Spike, Numbers, Gator, Justin, and BigBob were waiting for Xander just outside the building. Xander stepped up to Numbers and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “You ready for this?” Numbers nodded frantically, but his eyes were wide with panic.
Jesus met up with them in the middle of The Yard. He had been their scout. “CK’s in his house with Bitters and TommyBoy.” Numbers nodded again. He seemed to have misplaced his voice. It was a tad unsettling.
Xander took point as they made their way up the stairs leading to the second tier of Building 5. This conversation with CK was going to be unpleasant at best, but he felt a strong sense of pride for the six people behind him. Other than Numbers, not one of them had to be there. They knew that with this confrontation, extraditing a favored Yard Trick from the clutches of the leading gang in the prison, they were making themselves an enemy. A vicious vindictive enemy.
And yet, they all walked across the second floor porch with confidence, heads held high. It was a commitment that he never expected from his fellow inmates. They weren’t a gang. They had no initiation or oaths of loyalty. They were just felons. Felons who were offering themselves up as fodder for the protection of a small frightened recovering meth addict. These were definitely his people.
They made a pretty impressive wall in front of cell 31. CK, Bitters (the Car member that Xander had been calling Ink Head before he knew his name), and TommyBoy looked up as the shadow of bodies fell over the house. TommyBoy was instantly terrified. He scrambled up off the floor and gave a pleading look to CK. With a simple nod, CK released the Yard Trick and TommyBoy pushed past the seven on the porch, disappearing down the stairs.
CK and Bitters were sitting on either end of the bottom bunk, backs against the wall. Both scooted forward until they were on the edge of the mattress. CK leaned forward with his hands clasped in front of him as Xander and Numbers stepped into the house. “Harris,” he acknowledged, without a glance to the younger man beside him.
Xander gently placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “CK. Numbers here has something to tell you.”
CK’s eyes were filled with amusement as he regarded his Yard Trick. “Oh, yeah? This oughtta be good.” He stood and positioned himself directly in front of Numbers, a little too close for Xander’s comfort. Xander had an impulse to push CK back, but resisted the urge. He was determined to let Numbers handle this as much as possible. So for now he remained still and kept his mouth shut.
It was quiet enough that Xander heard Numbers gulp. Finally he took a sharp deep breath and spoke, a little too loud. “I got a job!”
CK tilted his head and smirked. “A job? Who the fuck would give a waste like you a goddamned job?” Xander’s right hand immediately curled into his fist.
Numbers looked over at him, and Xander managed to smile through his anger, trying to transfer his own bravado into his terrified friend. After a moment, it appeared to have worked. Numbers turned back to CK. “I’ve been assigned to the infirmary. It’s daily work, so I won’t be running your errands anymore.” Numbers’ mouth stayed open like more was going to come out of it. He suddenly looked surprised and his mouth snapped shut. He glanced at Xander again, then to CK he said, “That’s it.”
Bitters got up from the bottom bunk and stood behind CK. Tension sank into the air like a blanket, and Xander felt his face go red as his insides began winding themselves up for a fight. He felt the five outside the cell each take a tentative step forward.
CK tore his eyes away from Numbers and focused on Xander, but not with the disdain that Xander had expected. The face staring at him was fairly expressionless. Then that stoic gaze flitted from Xander to the folks behind him. Spike. BigBob. Gator. Justin. Jesus.
Returning the look to Numbers, CK’s face suddenly brightened. A smile took over his face that resembled a cross between a used car salesman and the President of the United States. CK slapped a hand onto Numbers’ left arm and held it there. “Congratulations, boy! Looks like someone other than me has finally discovered your impressive talents. We’re sure gonna miss your company, but hey, you gotta go where the man tells ya, isn’t that right?”
“Uh, yeah,” Numbers agreed.
CK removed his hand from Numbers’ arm and held it out between them. “Well, good luck to you, son.” On impulse, Numbers shook the offered hand.
“Okay, then,” Numbers said brightly as he backed out of the cell. Xander turned to face his friends and gave them a sharp head nod, indicated to take off. Most of them took the cue and walked with Numbers back down the stairs. Spike stayed behind, stepping into the cell to stand beside Xander.
CK remained grinning at Xander, and Xander matched it. He was surprisingly relaxed for someone who knew that his time in Ely was about to get ten times worse. Xander was well aware that every move he had made up to this point had cost CK something. He knew that CK would be gunning for him. CK, however, felt the need to spell it out.
“Well, Harris, you’ve got brass ones, don’t ya? Seems that you’ve arranged to have my best Trick taken away. You also saw to it that my right hand got his brains bashed in.” Turning to Spike, CK continued, “Plus you kept my best toy for yourself. Not that I can blame you for that one. He does give great head.”
Spike let the comment pass right over him. No expression, no flinch. He stood as still as a vampire, arms folded across his chest, head slightly cocked.
When he got no reaction from either of them, CK turned back to Xander. “You have to know that you’re not getting out of Ely alive.”
Xander let the smirk fall from his face and breathed out a heavy sigh. “You may be right, Cop Killer. Maybe there’s gonna be an upcoming battle that I won’t survive. But if this is the end of the line, if everything I’ve ever been has been leading up to this, then there is no way in hell that my life is going be ended by a waste of space like you.” Then CK sneered as Xander concluded, “You’re beneath me.” Xander barely saw the flinch from the man beside him.
Spike and Xander turned around at the same time and left CK and Bitters alone to ponder their own insignificance.
It wasn’t until hours later that Spike and Xander found a moment alone. After dinner with their friends, BigBob had invited everyone to his and Justin’s house for a game of poker. They played for cigarettes, stamps and candy. Each one purposely lost a few hands to Justin, even though he had never played before and didn’t know a thing about keeping a poker-face, just so the youngest member of their crew would have his own cigarettes and stamps to barter with in the upcoming months. Xander generously lost several candy bars, ‘cause every eighteen-year-old boy deserves chocolate. Even in prison.
By the time the game broke up at the sounding of the evening bell, Xander was giddy. He couldn’t remember the last time he had sat around playing poker with the guys. In fact, Xander had never in all his twenty-seven years not had women in some aspect of his life. It was surprisingly refreshing. He never knew he could feel this at ease around other people. Nobody cared what each other looked like, or what they were wearing. Nobody had to apologize for cussing or farting. The conversation drifting from cards to drugs to cars to sports to women and around again, everyone talking over each other and laughing at inappropriate moments, and the insults and friendly jabs flying as wildly as caged birds. It was fantastic.
Walking into their house, Xander was babbling like his old high school days. Throughout their evening cleaning ritual, he explained to Spike about Watcher. Spike responded with short grunts of interest, asking simple questions like, “How’d he find you?” and “What’s he in for?” and “How did he get his books?” Some of which Xander could answer and some he couldn’t.
The lights went out just as they were done getting ready for bed. Xander crawled under the covers next to Spike, turned away on his side and pressed his back against Spike’s chest. “Christ,” Xander yawned, “I’m exhausted.” He closed his eyes, but then felt Spike scoot away from him slightly.
Before he could question it, Spike pulled Xander onto his back, cupped the side of his face, and turned his head toward him. Xander only had time to breathe in a quick gulp of air, then Spike’s lips were on his, heavy and wet. Xander didn’t even have to make the decision to accept and respond, he simply wrapped his arms around Spike’s shoulders and pulled him closer, deepening the kiss and bringing their hard chests together.
It wasn’t subtle, it wasn’t questioning, it wasn’t tender. But it also wasn’t angry or violent. Xander quickly realized that it was Spike’s way of telling him something. Something far more important than what Xander had been babbling about just minutes before. And Xander didn’t care. Whatever the meaning, whatever the implications -- Xander accepted the passion, the want, the need that he felt in that kiss. And gave it right back.
After forever, they parted, panting, bodies tight and hot with desire. Xander must have had a confused look on his face, because Spike immediately started explaining. “It was idiotic, Xander, the dancing we were doing. I’m so tired of the dance.”
Now Xander really was thoroughly confused. “What dance? I don’t remember music.”
“There’s always music. Loud aggressive tinny music, and when it stops I’m always the one left without a chair. Not gonna let that happen this time. I’ve got you here, and you can’t get away.”
Xander smoothed a hand over Spike’s hair and rested his fingers on the back of his thin muscular neck. He could feel Spike’s pulse pounding hard, just beneath the surface. “What makes you think I want to go anywhere?”
Spike laid his forehead against Xander’s shoulder and sighed. “They always leave.”
Xander placed a kiss on Spike’s temple. “I’m not ‘they.‘”
Pushing himself up slightly on his elbows, Spike took hold of Xander’s eye patch and slipped it off Xander’s head. Xander was surprised at how little he cared. Was surprised that feeling this exposed in front of Spike didn’t make him want to curl up and hide his face.
Spike ran his hand lightly over Xander’s entire face, rubbing at the small indentation next to his left eye caused by the patch strap. Almost to himself, Spike whispered, “You’re not, are you?”
Not since his time with Cordelia did Xander have so much fun kissing. This was different though because he didn’t feel like a teenager. He felt like a grown man making a very deliberate decision to share his passion with another man.
And the kisses were intense, but not mind-blowing. And he was hard, but not achingly. They were warm, but not overheated. Their hands roamed, but stayed above the clothes and only brushed lightly over new territory. They didn’t let it worry them, and neither pushed for anything more. It was a comfort. A comfort with no promises.
They would come up for breath from time to time, and Spike asked more questions about the demon and Watcher. Finally he said, “I just think it’s a little odd that a watcher shows up right when we need his services. Don’t you think we should probably check this guy out, somehow?”
Xander agreed. “I’ll call Giles tomorrow. Tell him about the Big Bad and see what he can dig up about Watcher.”
The kissing grew softer as the night fell deeper and soon they were asleep, foreheads pressed together, each with a satisfied smile.
Neither one of them noticed the beam of light that normally shown into their house was being blocked by a large figure at the window, watching. Quietly. Patiently.
tbc in Chapter 15 - One on Ones