Even so, I couldn't even sleep last night. I ended up working on Water Hold Me Down until the early morning hours because it was impossible to even try going to bed.
I called in today because I felt like crap and desperately needed sleep. I've been napping off and on all day, but the heat won't let me do more than that. I also started chugging Gatorade today, which has done a lot to make me feel better. Me thinks I've been losing electrolytes in this heat. Until this massive heat wave breaks, I think I'm going to lay in a store of the stuff, because drinking a gallon of water a day is just not cutting it.
So, if you feel like reading some of my heat stroke-inspired revelations I had while writing Water Hold Me Down, enter at your own risk.
BtVS, petty cruelty, the fear of being alone, and why Marty!Stu!Xander! doesn't work for me.
These next few parts of Water Hold Me Down have been difficult to put together. I'm writing the next two alternate universe installments from alternaXander's point of view. While I've always said that I love Xander for his faults (which is true), I really hate accentuating that petty side of Xander (which is there, let's be honest).
Xander in Living History — which I have to upload the earlier parts of that to here from Fan Fiction Dot Net — and Water Hold Me Down (not so much in Whisper) at least recognizes he can be petty and does try to keep a tight leash on it. I think it's pretty well-grounded in canon. During S7, we did see Xander steadfastly refusing to comment on Spike. We know he's not happy about the situation, but he once he makes his feelings known at the beginning of the season, he simply drops it after 'Sleeper.' Buffy's decision to look more into Spike's activities, instead of confronting Spike with what she'd heard from Holden, signals to Xander that Buffy will do exactly what she wants to do with regards to Spike. You can see he's not happy with it, but he stops arguing his point after that episode.
So, my fanwanky argument for the purposes of Water Hold Me Down, is that Xander is somewhat aware that he can be vindicitively petty and does his best to keep that from affecting his actions. He doesn't always succeed (in fact, he can fail spectacularly), but he does try.
AlternaXander, by contrast, is still too focused on past slights in Water Hold Me Down. Although he actually does have a reason to feel like he's been slighted, it's not necessarily a good reason (or I should say, Xander will question those reasons once he finds out near the end of the story). The fact that alternaXander is still carrying a grudge for what happened around the events that sparked the long process of him getting separated from the other Scoobs on at least an emotional level makes it impossible for him to realize that he just might be wrong about what really happened and why. When Xander points out that maybe the alternaScoobs may have had a point, alternaXander is going to see that as a betrayal, rather than someone who's trying to see all sides of the argument.
So what does this have to do with Marty!Stu!Xander!?
Writing this AU has clarified why I hate Marty!Stu!Xander! stories: it's because they tend to accentuate Xander's petty side. I'm sure the authors don't see it that way, since they're very clearly going for that "lone hero" angle. However, that's not how it comes across, especially when Marty!Stu!Xander! has the inevitable blow-out with his "so-called" friends that catalogs every little even slightly bad thing they've done to him. The authors seem to forget that the Scoobs can be extraordinarly and thoughtlessly cruel to one another, but it's in a way that shows that they take each other somewhat for granted. They're occassionally nasty to each other because they can. They know (at least up until Giles takes off during S6) that no one is going anywhere. I'm not saying that it's right or even a good thing. What I'm saying is that I think that's the subconcious undercurrent in all their interactions in during the series itself.
In fact, S6 had a "leaving" theme written all over it. Giles leaves the Scoobs and Sunnydale. Xander literally disappears from Sunnydale after his wedding tanks. Tara leaves Willow because she feels like she's being treated as a piece of meat (I know Tara said it was over magic issues, but the truth is Tara showed little concern about Willow's magic issues until she realized she was being manipulated by that same magic). Willow leaves everyone behind when she goes on her killing spree, although you could argue that she mentally leaves her friends behind as she gets pulled more and more into magic. Anya abandons her humanity the moment something doesn't go according to her life plan. Spike flees town after the attempted rape to "fix" things (I say he wanted to get the chip out based on what I saw on screen; others argue that he left to get a soul. I won't argue that point one way or the other, so let's agree to disagree). Buffy spends most of S6 so isolated that one could argue that she's mentally and emotionally checked out (something that we got whacked with during 'Normal Again') to the point of potentially being a danger to herself and others.
The only person who isn't actually running, in fact, the only person fighting to keep them together, in S6 is Dawn. Her fear of being left behind (which eerily echoes Xander's same fears in 'Fear, Itself' and 'Restless') is so strong that she's able to attract the attention of Hallie who grants her wish that no one ever leave her in 'Older and Far Away.'
Given that S6 was litered with everyone abandoning their roles or their posts in one way or another, it's no wonder that Buffy in S7 believed that when the chips were down, the only one she could count on was herself and Spike. Of everyone who "left" Sunnydale, Spike is the only one who left because he did her wrong. I'm not saying it's true, or not true, but looking at it from Buffy's pov, that's the way it does look. Toss in that Spike said he got the soul for her, it's no wonder why she forgot all the times her friends stood by her in the previous 7 years. Every single one of them did abandon Sunnydale (and her, to an extent) for various reasons just the year before. With all the pressure she was under, it's no wonder why, deep down inside, she believed it could happen again when things got really rough with the First.
Call it the "attaboy-oh shit" rule: One "oh shit" equals ten "attaboys." It isn't about, "What have you ever done for me?" It's about, "What have you done for me lately?" And Buffy's most recent memories of the Scoobs have them runing away from trouble or causing trouble that lead to bigger trouble. That's the thing most fresh in her mind and that's the thing she's afraid of: that she really can't trust her friends to be there with her until the end.
That fear became a self-fulfilling prophecy when the Scoobs finally rebelled against her generalissimo ways and her lack of empathy for anyone not her or Spike. ("Hi, Xander! How's the eye? Let's go attack Caleb again using the same tactics that nearly got us all killed as before!") To an extent, yes, Buffy brought it on herself. Everyone simply had enough of being harranged and she just led them into a trap. It wasn't until Giles spoke up and said that Buffy only trusted Spike that Willow and Xander finally decided that they had enough. And people forget: Buffy chose to leave the house rather than work within the new framework with Faith as the leader.
So, how does this apply to Water Hold Me Down?
Xander's Characterization in the 'Whisper'-verse: On some level, Xander still thinks in terms of 'the pack.'
I realized with this story that I don't tend to write Xander as a loner or a lone wolf. He can be secretive. He can be uncommunicative. But, by and large, Xander is more comfortable operating within a group. While I wouldn't say my version of him wants to be the head cheese, he's not afraid of taking over if he has to. In the version I tend to write, he'd rather have some recognition for what he does contribute and some authority to go with his responsibility. In short, he's the perfect second-in-command. Or, as Terry Pratchett would put it, "he's the ideal sargeant" in that he has mad networking skills, knows where the bodies are buried, and never says everything he knows.
It's not that Xander can't operate on his own. He can do it if he sets his mind to it. It's just that he's not comfortable operating in that manner. Part of it is that he doesn't think he's capable. But part of it, let's be honest, is maybe that Xander doesn't want that much responsibility. (Something that does actually come up.)
I guess I think of Xander as the beta male in a wolf pack. He can work with anyone he thinks of as part of "his pack," even if he doesn't particularly like them. But, if another beta (like Robin, say) oversteps their bounds, he'll jump in with the smackdown or argue against them until they "learn" their place in the pack, something which can be both good and bad. I suppose this makes Buffy and Giles the alpha female and male in Xander's "pack" within the world of the Whisper-verse.
I honestly don't think Xander wants to be the alpha — although he does want to be recognized for what he does contribute to the pack. I think it boils down to the fact that he doesn't really think that the extra perks of being one of the alphas is worth the headache. However, if something happens with the male and female alphas, he is capable of stepping up to the alpha male role on at least a temporary basis.
The big question is what Xander would do if someone else he didn't think "deserved it" tried to step into the alpha role absent Buffy and Giles.
I realized this in going back to check some things I wrote in earlier chapters to make sure I was being consistent. Xander knows, at least within the world of Water Hold Me Down, that he is not very good at operating alone. He's painfully aware that he lacks Willow's or Giles's brainpower and that he lacks Faith's and Buffy's extra skills. However, he doesn't really see his strengths come into play because his strengths are so closely tied to his weaknesses. Other people see those strengths, and some of them are even a little leery of them. While he might get a flash that he might be a frightening figure to some people, he doesn't actually attribute it to the fact that he is who he is. He externalizes it: it's because of something he did, or said, or represents. In his mind, it has nothing to do with who he is.
Just the same, he doesn't realize how well he actually did while he was on his own. Because of his "not very good" research skills, he was able to transmit vitally important information to Giles and spur alternaFaith and alternaRupert to transmit additional critical information. He instinctively figured out that alternaRupert's "problem" of fate being messed up wasn't the problem; the problem was the mindset Rupert was working with. His automatic assumptions about alternaFaith's abilities and capabilities have won him a key ally without him realizing it. And let's not forget, Xander's "not very good fighting skills" are going to critically come into play.
If I can point to any consistent characterization I put into writing Xander it's this: he believes that he needs to operate within a group and acts accordingly. Furthmore, if he needs it, then almost everyone needs it (again, this can be good or bad depending on who he's dealing with) because one person (in his mind) can't be good at everything.
Now that you've been subjected to my blowhard reasoning behind Xander's characterization, how does this play into alternaXander's characterization?
Giving alternaXander a voice. I just wish he'd shut up.
If you're curious, these next two alternate universe parts were the two parts I recently nuked. I had originally written them from Xander's pov, but realized something: it didn't work.
For a start, Xander's still missing key information about his alternate version. As a result, in Xander's eyes, alternaXander comes across as completely irrational and possibly even teetering on the brink of nutso-hood. Understandable on some level, since Haley is missing. But, at some point, alternaXander verbally attacks Xander, an attack that, from Our Hero's pov (and possibly the reader's), seemingly comes out of the blue.
It's no secret that, for purposes of this story, the readers know a hell of a lot more about what's going on than the characters trapped in it. However, the two secenes in question come across as incredibly confusing when viewed from Xander's limited pov. The information comes out jumbled and disjointed when viewed from Xander's perspective. However, I'm now faced with another problem: telling these next two parts from altrnaXander's pov might have some people wondering why Xander's not picking up on what alternaXander's saying.
So, I settled on this: I'd rather think people reading the story thought that Xander was being a thick-o than confuse the hell out of them and possibly throwing them out of the plot.
Another reason for the change from Xander's to alternaXander pov: to illustrate something of a key difference between the two of them.
Xander has somewhat internalized alternaXander. While Xander doesn't "get" him completely, he at least recognizes that they are the same guy. Even when he thought he was in the midst of a delusion, he always recognized the "evil twin" as being part of himself. Even though he knows this is reality, Xander still recognizes bits of himself — just as he recgonizes bits of his Faith and his Giles in alternaFaith and alternaRupert — inside his alternate self. While Xander is not the most self-aware human being on the planet (hell, he's not even the most self-aware person in his circle of friends), he is self-aware enough to at least see the good and bad in his alternate version and accept that a lot of those same characteristics apply to himself. As a result, how Xander refers to his alternative version is very fluid, going from "other Xander" to "other him" to "evil twin," and back-and-forth along the the scale. AlternaXander doesn't have a fixed identity in Xander's mind and he just applies whatever's appropriate.
AlternaXander, on the other hand, views Xander as a complete mystery. He doesn't understand him or the way he thinks. In fact, he assumes that they probably don't even think alike, an assumption that, to his mind, is confirmed by the end of the next two story cycles. Instead of accepting that this less-than-pleasant person from another universe shares a lot in common with him, he puts up a very rigid mental wall between them. His references to Xander are rigid to the point of repetition by constantly refering Xander as a "mirror-Xander." In addition, Xander reminds him more of other people, but never of himself. And so, alternaXander manages to mentally kill any hope of actually communicating with Xander on any meaningful level. Xander's been "otherized" and doesn't realize it. So, in a sense, alternaXander is right. By the time these two story cycles in the alternative universe are done, they really don't think anything alike. The sad thing is, the reasons for that aren't because of their different expereiences, but because alternaXander has decided that it's the case.
It's a tricky thing to write, but I think I actually pulled it off. We'll see.
Then, there's the other big reason: you the readers deserve at least a partial payoff on where it all went different. This is a point where alternaXander is forced to work with people from his past that he never thought he'd have to work with again. A lot of the past is going to be strong in his thoughts while the group plans to search for Haley and that poison would be bubbling in the back of his mind. It was a perfect time and way to give readers some of the information without giving Xander the same information.
Best of all, Xander's left stunned and hurt by alternaXander's verbal attack, so much so that it does affect him in some insidious ways (specifically in PTSD ways), because, remember, Xander has already internalized alternaXander as someone who shares more common traits than not (unlike his counterpart). So any judegement alternaXander passes on him is going to carry a lot of weight.
In other news, I want to thank whiskyinmind for reccing Ishmael Sings of the White Whale for concrit at club_joss.
I'm hoping people read it and there's a good discussion, even if someone just pops in to say that they really didn't like it and states why. I don't know why, but I usually do get a small nugget of something when people are willing to elaborate on the reasons why they don't like a story, usually because it points out some issues I have to work on in my writing.
Although, I'm not sure how coherent I'll be for any discussion because, still really hot.