Ahhhh, a Xander-iffic-ish post. Sort of.
First, I want so show much love to crazydiamondsue for her Ode to Xander S1&2. It'll leave a smile on your face and a song in your heart because...*sniff*...it's Xander. Go and read, if for nothing else than the parade of Xander LJ icons in comments. *sniff*
Then entrenous88 made me go *guh* this ayem with some de-loverly recent pictures of NB. He be looking fiii-iine. As in 10 years younger fine. As in, "Holy shit! You look gorgeous!" fine. *fans self*
The whole thing reminds me of the infamous "Xander is a hottie" thread on a now-nearly dead BtVS discussion board when a whole bunch of us discovered that at least half the Xander fans on said board were female. We had been so brainwashed that the "only" Xander fans out there were male, that we all thought we were weirdos for liking the character. Hell, we were made to feel like weirdos back in S5 and S6 for being female and liking Xander as a character. I can't begin to tell you how many times the assumption was made that I was self-hating gay male back in those days, an assumption that still puzzles me to no end.
Yup. Still there.
See? This is why I love all of you. You make me feel less weird.
Finally, let me hate on all of you who have Monday off. Some of us still have to work, you know. So no rubbing it in.
Right. There's a story part in here somewhere...
For the Scatterlings and Orphanages Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot.
For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 24.
I had no choice.
I would have to face my greatest fear: the village’s communal commode.
Most people in my predicament might laugh off the situation with, “It could have been worse.”
I am not one of those people.
I dashed across the compound, dove into the thatched hut, ripped the cover off the hole in the ground, and stuffed my hands in my mouth to prevent myself from giving voice to the groan that normally accompanies a cramped voiding of the bowels.
I couldn’t think of a worse time for my sturdy constitution to fail me.
God knows how long I precariously crouched over that hole while my body rejected whatever had caused the commotion.
The only good news was that the whole disgusting business eventually stopped and the pain in my abdomen faded beyond memory. Thankfully, I didn’t feel anything resembling illness, which intellectually I knew I should have. Instead, I felt quite peckish.
I will not get into the horror of how I had to clean myself. Suffice to say, I didn’t have time to grab any pages from Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s report before I fled my hut so I'd have something to accomplish the messy task.
I also would not recommend rubbing your befouled hands in the dirt after such an episode. The result can be summed up in one word: “Yuck.”
I helplessly stared at my hands as I realized that I would have to somehow retrieve my soap from my luggage without fouling all the other contents. I would have to use the water in the covered earthenware jug to clean the worst of the mess before I could even hope to get to my soap. I remembered Dave telling me that I should ask Dr. Mboto for something antibacterial, but I had not yet visited the good physician. I suddenly regretted my failure to do so, despite the fact that Mr. Harris had all but ordered me to make the time to meet his medical team.
It was far too late to rectify the situation. I would have to do it first thing in the morning.
I dropped my hands with a sigh. Keeping my arms carefully away from my sides, I cautiously picked my way across the ground. Once more, my eyesight sharpened to such an extent that I could avoid stepping on the worst of the rocks and stones.
Now that the gastrointestinal storm had passed, I didn’t feel ill at all. Quite the opposite in fact as my body once more hummed along its pace, although my stomach growled with hunger. Perhaps there was some wisdom in at least doing what the others in Rome were doing, so to speak. The incident showed that it was possible for me to at least momentarily fall ill, although it appeared that I recovered quickly and with few ill effects in the aftermath.
As I made my way back into the village proper, I noticed that there was a light on in Mr. Harris’s mudhut and that the Toyota had been parked alongside. I smiled to realize that Dave must’ve made it back safely and was even now reporting into Mr. Harris.
Dave was back. Mr. Harris was awake. They were no doubt talking.
I debated with myself. I could go back to my hut, wash up, and then sneak back to listen at an open window.
However, Mr. Harris had already been exhausted to the limit of human endurance earlier in the day. It would not be out of bounds to think that Dave was making only a quick report and that by the time I was finished cleaning myself the conversation would already be over and the hut gone dark.
For all I knew, on the other hand, Mr. Harris could be sound asleep. The light in the hut had a flickering quality to it, so that meant candles had been lit. Unless Dave had woken up the exhausted man, I highly doubted that such weak light would wake Mr. Harris.
I debated a few moments before deciding that my best course of action was to divert from my path and investigate the situation. If Mr. Harris was asleep and Dave was merely preparing for bed, I would lose nothing from a few moments delay. If Mr. Harris was awake and he and Dave were talking, I might overhear something worthwhile.
Much as I didn’t like the prospect of standing out in the open with befouled hands, the opportunity was too good to pass up.
I quietly stole up to Mr. Harris’s mudhut. I was lucky for once. All of the windows were open, so I had my choice of listening posts. I opted to stand on the side of his hut that faced away from the village. I had a decreased chance of being seen that way.
Because I was not used to moving as silently as possible — indeed, I made it a habit to be as clumsy and as noisy as I could when I walked to throw off suspicion — I had to so concentrate on my movements and steps that the murmured voices within washed over me as nonsense syllables. When I had finally picked my spot and settled as comfortably as I could under my chosen window, the soft voices came into focus.
“—isn’t,” Mr. Harris said.
“Everyone will be after your head,” Dave answered in strained voice.
There was a long, drawn-out sigh. “This is different how?” Mr. Harris asked.
“The difference is the people who like you will be after your head.”
“I’m not wrong,” Mr. Harris stubbornly insisted.
“Look, usually you can pull off the most amazing shit, but this?” Dave asked. “There’s no way.”
“There’s a way. I told you there’s a way. I spelled it out. I put it in 30-foot high letters. The way is wayed. There is wayness even. I’m very wayed.”
“Well, at least you really are from California,” Dave mumbled.
“I want you to keep your distance from this,” Mr. Harris sounded like he was moving around inside. “I don’t want to jeopardize—”
“Should have thought of that before you asked me to get my ass up here ASAP,” Dave pointed out.
“I need you here in case it does go wrong.” It sounded like Mr. Harris was pacing.
“Ah-hah!” Dave exclaimed.
“Ah-hah? What’s with the ah-hahing on me?” Mr. Harris stopped moving.
“You are worried.” Dave sounded quite smug.
“Only an idiot wouldn’t be worried.” It sounded like Mr. Harris had started pacing again. “I’m not that much of an idiot.”
“No, you’re just out of your sun-baked mind,” Dave remarked.
“Truer words have never been spoken,” Mr. Harris agreed.
“Plus, you had me yanked into this up to my ass the second I got here,” Dave added.
“I know, I know, I know,” Mr. Harris said with frustration. “Those goddamn monsters. Of all the times for them to—”
“Well, that had to be taken care of first.” Dave sounded almost contrite.
“If it goes wrong, we can still recover from this,” Mr. Harris said. “A little bit of denouncing wouldn’t go bad for you.”
“Forget it. No.”
There was a slap on something wooden. “Dave…” Mr. Harris began.
“And I said forget it, Xander. It’s not going to happen.” Dave sounded very firm. “You plays your cards, you takes your chances. If I weren’t willing to take the consequences, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be hiding out in Dogon country and pretending to know shit.”
“Are you out of your mind?” Mr. Harris asked in frustration. “If you do the stand-up guy routine, you can forget even getting to the interview, let alone getting the tweedy nod. No. No. No. It’s too damn important for you to throw it away.”
“Look, I’m Kavitha’s Watcher no matter what the Council says,” Dave huffed. “Even if they send in a replacement, there’s no way Kavitha would accept me getting completely cut out. At worst they send someone in to give me the evil eye for a while, but in the end they have to live with it. So what? I don’t pick up a paycheck from the Council and have to live off my research grant a little longer until I can find something else? Big deal. It’s not like I’m paying for food or housing right now. Jesus, you of all people know how this works, so I don’t see where you’re coming from. I mean, c’mon, there’s no way the Council can even begin to think they can sever that connection. The way you’re talking, I’d think that the Council doesn’t know—”
“I know how it works,” Mr. Harris quietly interrupted. “Giles is guessing how this works. Some of his rebel Watcher buddies from the old days is trying to figure out how it works. The vast majority of the Council? Is just now getting rumors that something’s at work and the smarter ones are starting to panic.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Dave demanded.
There was a scrape and the heavy sound of a body dropping onto something wooden. There was a long, drawn-out, exhausted sigh.
“Xander?” Dave tentatively asked. “Xander, what the hell is going on?”
“This is my fault,” Mr. Harris said dully. “I’ve been putting this off and putting this off because I didn’t want to—”
“Didn’t want to what?”
“I changed my mind,” Mr. Harris said. “I am that much of an idiot.”
“And you’re not making any sense.” Dave’s frustration was clear in his voice.
“We’re something new,” Mr. Harris said quietly.
Silence followed this statement. In that moment, my eyebrows crunched low as I tried to puzzle out what I had heard.
“People all over the world…” Mr. Harris began. He interrupted himself by clearing his throat. “Something went wrong. No. That’s not the right word. Something went different. Strange. I don’t know. It’s not like it was. Giles knew there’d be changes, but we’ve all been blindsided by this.”
Dave’s voice interrupted the verbal wandering. “Still waiting for clarification.”
There was a silence that stretched out for just a little too long.
“Xander?” Dave quietly prompted.
“I was going to tell you.” Mr. Harris’s voice was soft. “If you got the interview I was going to tell you because I’d have to tell you. It would look bad if you didn’t know and—” There was a sudden scrape of wood and the sound of footsteps.
“Tell me what?” Dave asked. I could hear in his voice that he was tense, as if he knew that whatever he’d hear in the next few moments would change his life even more than it already had been.
“Do you know what’s worse than an angry Slayer?” Mr. Harris asked quietly.
I startled and then hugged closely to the wall. It sounded like Mr. Harris was standing next to the window near which I crouched. If he looked out the window I’d be very easily seen.
“A crazy one?” Dave asked by way of an answer.
There was another beat of silence. “A grateful one,” Mr. Harris finally said.
The answer took me so by surprise that of their own volition my eyes snapped up to the window. From my perspective, I could see the outline of Mr. Harris’s profile. It took everything I had to not expel a breath in relief. I was on the side with the eyepatch. He couldn’t see me at all. However, I didn’t dare move to a better-concealed position. He was close enough to the opening that he’d hear any sound I made.
“Unh, oooookaaaaay,” came Dave’s cautious response.
“I will not have a village full of grateful Slayers, do you understand me? I can’t allow it. It wouldn’t be right,” Mr. Harris’s voice was intense, almost hard, and definitely angry.
“Grateful? To who? You?” Dave cautiously asked.
“Wasn’t my idea anyway. I was just there. Even if I had anything bad to say about the plan they wouldn’t have listened to me.” Mr. Harris muttered this so softly that I doubted Dave even heard him.
“Who are you really?” Dave’s question sounded suspicious in both word and tone.
Mr. Harris startled like he’d been slapped. “What?”
“Who are you?” Dave repeated with a more certain voice.
“Yeah, Eva mentioned something about being taken by surprise when you mentioned a few things about me.”
I wasn’t entirely certain what surprised me more: that Mr. Harris used my Christian name, or the tone of defeat in Mr. Harris’s voice, or the fact that Dave was confronting Mr. Harris so soon after our talk.
I shivered. Mr. Harris was going to soon know that I had planted those seeds of doubt. I knew that I would most certainly pay for it.
“Where do you want me to start?” Dave sounded irritated.
I saw the outline of Mr. Harris’s profile slump. “Let’s hear it,” he said in a dead voice.
“You could’ve knocked her over with a feather when I said that you told me you were an ex-stoner surfer boy scared straight. It was like the woman couldn’t believe her ears,” Dave said. “Then I find out that you’re one of the most experienced Watchers they’ve got. No, not just that, but that you’ve been doing this since you’re 16, so even if the Council didn’t get blown up, you’d still be one of the baddest asses in the Council.”
If the First Council hadn’t been blown up, Mr. Harris wouldn’t be a Watcher at all, I furiously thought.
There was an irritated huff of breath. “Eva’s been getting down with her inner bee on the busy front,” Mr. Harris said sarcastically.
I wasn’t entirely sure if that rejoinder even made sense.
“So she wasn’t just trying to sow a little doubt about you in my mind,” Dave said.
I winced. Apparently Dave had quite handily seen through me. I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not I should admire him for checking to see if I were telling the truth, especially since I was sure the fallout for me would be most dire.
When the silence once more lasted a beat too long, I hazarded a glance up at window. Mr. Harris’s head was down and I could detect a trace of unhappiness in what little of his posture I could see.
I simply couldn’t make sense of this. Thinking back on what little I was able to glean from Dave, and the now-certain knowledge that Mr. Harris had actually downplayed his experiences, I could guess that Mr. Harris had presented himself as just another Watcher in the employ of the Council. In one way, he exalted himself by claiming the right to be called a Watcher, despite his lack of breeding and education. Yet, by hiding his past, he was also presenting himself as someone less than who he really was.
I’ll be honest, dear reader. Such a contradiction made my head hurt.
"Did you lie to me?” Dave quietly asked. “Did you?”
Mr. Harris didn’t say a word as he moved away from the window.
I released my breath in relief and cautiously shifted so my chances of discovery would be smaller should Mr. Harris come to the window again.
“Xander, talk to me,” Dave sounded like he was pleading.
“What do you want me to say?” Mr. Harris’s voice sounded rough.
“Know what I don’t get about you?” Dave asked. “You’re damn good at making people think they know all about you. You act open and honest, you joke around, you get them to spill their guts to you, maybe you tell them a little something about yourself in return. But when it really gets down to it, they don’t know you at all.”
“Dave…” Mr. Harris began.
“I don’t believe this,” Dave sounded frustrated. “Do you trust anybody at all?”
“How can you even say that?” Mr. Harris had the nerve to sound shocked at this accusation.
I couldn’t resist smiling. This had the potential to turn into something quite nasty. Dave was probably one of Mr. Harris’s closest allies outside of Mr. Giles. If this turned into a full-blown argument between the two men, Dave might be willing to turn on Mr. Harris and aid me in my work.
“It’s like I told Eva,” Dave said. “I can list facts and figures about you, except it turns out that you lied to me so I can’t even do that much. Not only that, I have no clue how you think or even why. No one does. Half the time you floor everyone, including Ally, when you suddenly come up with some plan or the other and it’s like there’s a completely different person talking using your mouth.”
“Like when?” Mr. Harris demanded.
The way Dave said that one word caused a shiver to go down my spine.
“You walked really close to the line there,” Dave said. “Real close.”
“I didn’t do it, did I?” Mr. Harris retorted.
My ears pricked. My, my, my, my, I thought. I had won the national lottery.
“Only because we looked at you like you were nuts,” Dave said. “Jesus Christ! That first plan of yours was so cold it was subzero. I tried to argue you out of it, but you didn’t listen to me. Ally was the one who got you to back off and it took her an entire day to do it! And I still get the feeling that you’re sorry that you didn’t get a chance to do what you wanted.”
“Fine. I listened to you. Look where it got us,” Mr. Harris said in a low, angry voice.
Resentment and anger, I noted. Frustration that his plans were foiled even by his closest allies. Insistence that he was still right, despite the fact that he had been forced to take another course of action that turned out to be successful despite his protests. Had Mr. Harris any inclination to trust the people around him, I am sure that whatever happened in this Gao, whatever that was, killed the instinct. Despite his superior position, Mr. Harris had once more found himself to be inferior to the people around him.
“We hit them where it hurt, which is what counts and you know it. As for the other things you wanted to take care of, I’m still not convinced it would’ve solved anything in the long run. There are some long-term problems there. There’s nothing you or I can do to make it go away, and you know it,” Dave said. “And that’s neither here nor there. You’re still missing my entire point.”
“Make it,” Mr. Harris ordered.
“It wasn’t just the plan. It was the way you told us the plan.” Dave sounded like he was desperately trying to put something he couldn’t quite explain into words. “I know you’re practical guy at heart, but that was just damn cold-blooded and it came from nowhere. It didn’t even begin to fit what any of us thought we knew about you
“Cold-blooded?” Mr. Harris sounded like he had been completely taken aback.
“You were more terrifying in Gao than when we found Liwaza,” Dave said quietly. “At least there you had an excuse. There was a heat of the moment factor with Liwaza and you at least managed to get yourself to back off before you went too far. But Gao was something else entirely.”
“Terrifying?” Mr. Harris sounded shocked. “Me?”
I rolled my eyes as I recalled the testimony of his fellow townsfolk. Mr. Harris clearly lacked any sort of self-awareness of the picture he presented to others.
Dave started laughing. “You don’t even see it, do you?”
There was silence.
Dave’s laughter died down.
The silence continued.
“Xander?” Dave quietly asked.
“Hello? Xander? Are you even in there?” Dave asked.
“Practical? Cold-blooded? Terrifying? Me?” Mr. Harris asked in befuddled near-whisper.
There was something else in his voice. I couldn’t quite put a name to it. Whatever it was, I suddenly felt sorry for him. In his own way, he was as deluded as those civilian Sunnydale survivors. He had convinced himself that he was not as dangerous a man as he really was, despite the fact that he had been fighting and killing vampires and other demons since he was a mere boy.
There was another scrape of wood and I could hear someone moving inside.
“You’re making it sound like that’s all I said you were,” Dave cautiously. “I know that’s not true. You know that, right?”
The response to this was movement. The footsteps sounded like they were heading towards the door. I held my breath and prayed mightily that whoever was leaving wouldn’t walk to an area where I could be seen.
“Xander, stop!” Dave shouted.
The footsteps stopped.
“Look at me,” Dave said. “C’mon, buddy. If you’re not going to tell me to fuck off, at least turn around and look at me.”
“You know? I might be more convinced you were looking at me if you didn’t turn your head so that I was staring at that eyepatch,” Dave said in a light tone.
“You don’t know what you’re asking me,” Mr. Harris said in a very soft voice.
“Then help me understand, at least a little bit,” Dave said. “You said yourself that we’d have to have a talk before I went to London, so you might as well tell me now instead of later.”
“Might as well,” Mr. Harris agreed quietly.
The lost tone in Mr. Harris’s voice confused me, although I suspected that the fact that I was utterly clueless as to his motivations had much to do with that.
“Sit,” Mr. Harris said quietly.
In response, there was the sound of wood scraping.
“I’ll give you the broad outlines now,” Mr. Harris said, just as quietly, just as defeated. “The details…later, okay? I promise when this over I’ll head on down to your place, we’ll load up on the millet beer, and open season. You can ask me anything you want.”
“Why not just tell me everything now?” Dave said suspiciously.
“Telling you everything you want to know will take days. It’s long. It’s complicated. And it’s really, really hard to explain,” Mr. Harris said. “Don’t know if you noticed, but we don’t have days. We’ve maybe got hours. So, outline now, details later.”
“And if they don’t give me that interview?” Dave asked suspiciously.
Mr. Harris responded to this with a sigh. “Fine. One way or the other, you get the walking tour through my head. Trust me, you’re not going to like what you hear.”
“When?” Dave pushed.
“Whenever,” Mr. Harris said with frustration. “You give me the date and time and if I’m not running around some shithole, you got me. Satisfied?”
“I have your word on that?” Dave asked.
“Do you want a spit shake? Contract signed in blood? Pinky swear? Step on a crack, break your mother’s back? What?” Mr. Harris asked with anger. “Tell me what you need so you’ll actually believe me.”
“No offense, but right now I’m not sure what to believe,” Dave said. “If Eva was blowing hot air up my skirt, that’s one thing. But your reaction tells me that Eva could’ve said a hell of lot more and she didn’t. Right now she’s looking slightly more credible than you are.”
That reaction, that one word, told me all I needed to know. Mr. Harris had already deemed me untrustworthy.
“Apply that to me now that I know you haven’t been straight with me and we’re square,” Dave said.
There was the sound of footsteps and the scrape of wood. There was a sound of a body settling onto a creaky chair.
“Right,” Mr. Harris said. He sounded very, very tired. Not so much physically tired, but tired in the same way that soldier does when he wishes to lay down his arms for just one moment without fear that it could mean his death. “It all starts with one girl in all the world.”
“One girl?” Dave asked.
“That’s how it usually starts,” Mr. Harris said.
I shifted to make myself more comfortable. I had a feeling I would be mightily entertained. I suspected that Mr. Harris would spin a tale that would make a fool like Anne Rice seem like a trustworthy source of vampire lore. Once I knew what sort of lies he was willing to feed his people, I could begin attacking his façade more efficiently.
I grinned in anticipation. No doubt that I would be positively shocked and suitably horrified before Mr. Harris was done.
I take no comfort in the fact that I was right.
Before Mr. Harris was done, I was horrified.
Not because he lied, but because he told the truth.