Worked late tonight, due to a tight deadline. That and the fact that I tend to lose all track of time when I'm writing, and boy was I writing today. Of course, I stupidly over-caffeinated myself, which meant I had to do some self-medication to counteract the effects so I can actually fall asleep tonight.
Ummm, the liquid Kava Kava it works a lot better than I thought it would.
*stares at pretty colors for a little bit*
This is a late b-day pressie for nwhepcat to make up for the fact that there was no way in hell I was going to finish Water Hold Me Down in time for her b-day; my entry into the slayerversathon for mara_sho; and my very belated annual Christmas story.
I won't be posting on weekends, just FYI, especially this one. I've got a busy one lined up.
Title: Behold, Little Padawan! (aka Five Adventures Xander Harris Never Had Wrapped in One True Christmas Story)
Author: Lizbeth Marcs (liz_marcs)
Rating: PG (Language)
Genre: Five Things, future fic, adventure, mystery, monster hunt
Characters: Xander, Faith, Andrew, OCs
Pairing: None (typical, hunh?)
Warnings: Links to Snopes.com, the Urban Legends Reference Pages may lead to disturbing stories and/or images. Please click with caution.
Summary: As Andrew tells five positively true (he swears!) stories about Xander Harris to a gaggle of Chicago Slayers, a stressed-out, exhausted Xander blows into town to help with a demon hunt. Toss in Faith who’s hopped on the bandwagon for reasons of her own, and it’s another classic Harris Christmas Special.
Author’s Note: Set Christmas 2006. The source of all urban legends used in this story is Snopes.com, the Urban Legends Reference Pages. Links to the urban legends that inspired the five things are provided.
Disclaimer: Xander Harris, Faith Lehane, Andrew Wells, and all associated characters and organizations are the property of FOX and Mutant Enemy. All urban legends used in this story was compiled by Snopes.com, the Urban Legends Reference Pages. Any mention of real life events and real people is not meant to imply that the people or incidents in question as they are used in the story have any relationship to reality. All original characters and the plot are mine. No payment was asked for or received in the writing of this story and no profit was earned. No copyright infringement on FOX, Mutant Enemy, or Snopes.com, the Urban Legends Reference Pages is intended.
The magi, as you know, were wise men — wonderfully wise men — who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest….
— The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry
Andrew passed out his Christmas Cookie Special — spheres chock full of Diamond walnuts, Sunkist raisins, Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips, and M&Ms with just enough baked peppermint-flavored cookie dough to hold it together — and waited patiently for the Slayers to thank him appropriately.
He was a master at creating cookies that could tame the ravenous appetites of the little ones. Most of the time, the Slayers could only manage two or three little bites before they were completely full. Buffy herself once told him that his Christmas Cookie Special could kill a Slayer’s appetite just on sight, bless her generous heart.
As his little flock of fluffy chicks nibbled the cookies, Andrew couldn’t contain his good news any longer.
“Guess who’s coming for Christmas,” he announced.
His girls exchanged questioning looks, but he could see they were salivating for the news.
“Well, not for Christmas, actually. He’s coming to help us with dreaded threat of the Emu,” Andrew amended. “It just so happens that it coincides with Christmas. But he would so totally come even if there were no Emus.”
“You mean the Emokillsus,” LaTisha corrected him.
Andrew waved a dismissive hand. “I knew what Xander meant when he named that demon species. I know for a fact he named it after certain flightless fowl from that time when he helped the Crocodile Hunter stop the spirits of the emus from possessing hapless zoo patrons who made the mistake of looking into their cage at the Australian Zoo.”
“Isn’t the Crocodile Hunter dead?” Terri asked suspiciously.
“This was before that,” Andrew answered with rolled eyes. “Besides, that’s what they want you to believe. Killed by a stingray? As if.”
Kristin raised a hand. “Unh, why is being possessed by an emu a bad thing?”
“They bite,” Andrew simply said. “And when they possess a human, the infected human goes around biting people. Then the bitten people also get possessed by emus.”
“Like a vampire,” Helen nodded sagely.
Andrew grinned. “Very good, little Padawan!”
Terri made a face. “But the Emokillsus aren’t from Australia. They’re from the Rwanda. Besides, that’s not what the Emokillsus actually do. They actually—”
“I didn’t say the Emu demons were the same thing as the evil emus. I said Xander named these demons after the evil emus,” Andrew corrected her.
Terri looked very doubtful about this, but then again Terri always looked doubtful about everything. Andrew figured it was just part of her personality. Plus, sometimes she was so smart that she crossed the line into — and he really hated to say this about any of his beloved students — being a little bit dumb.
It was time to put some of her doubts to rest, Andrew thought. If he didn’t, then that doubt might spill over onto Xander and they couldn’t have that, especially with the threat of the dreaded Emu running around Chicago. Xander was the world’s leading expert on the Emu, not to mention the man who discovered them, fought them, and named them.
“Draw close my little Grasshoppers, because I need to tell you this story about Xander,” Andrew announced.
“Oh, goodie!” Cheryl cheered. “I love Xander stories.”
Terri rolled her eyes again. “At least we know he’s real. The question is now, ‘A real what?’”
Andrew shivered. He was right. Terri was too doubtful for her own good. That could only spell TROUBLE, with a capital TR and a capital OUBLE.
“Susan? Turn down the lights a little. I need to set the mood,” Andrew ordered.
Susan grumbled about moving out of her comfortable spot on the couch.
“Never mind, then,” Andrew magnanimously said. “I don’t need dim lights to tell this one. In fact, it might be better if we left the lights on.”
The Slayers settled themselves into more comfortable positions so they could hear Andrew’s tale of blood-curdling horror.
“Now, I know for a fact this is true. Back when I was in Rome working as Buffy’s personal assistant, I received a very disturbing anonymous report about the strange doings at Cambridge University. That’s, unh, in England by the way.”
“But if you were in Italy working for Buffy, why would someone send you information about something that was happening in England?” LaTisha asked.
“Because I used to be Mr. Giles’s personal assistant and my network knew they could come to me and I would make sure the Council would at least look into the trouble,” Andrew patiently explained.
“Oh. Okay,” Susan said, even though LaTisha was still frowning about the answer.
“Anyway, my sources told me that there was a string of murders happening at Cambridge University.” Andrew dramatically dropped his voice. He found these little touches helped in telling the story. “The murderer, or murderers, would wait until a student was alone in their dorm room, sneak in, and kill them. They’d then leave a little note for the roommate, saying stuff like, ‘Aren’t you glad you weren’t here?’ and ‘It could’ve been you.’ My favorite was, ‘You should’ve invited your roommate to the party.’”
“Okay, now that is creepy,” Susan interjected.
The Slayers subtly shuffled their positions so they were sitting closer together.
Andrew almost stopped telling the story right there. He hadn’t reached the worst part. However, this was too important to let slide.
“Then, the murderer got even bolder,” Andrew said. “She — or he, since we didn’t know who was doing it at the time — would wait until it was lights out and both the students were in bed. Then, she — or he — would kill one roommate while the other was sleeping and leave a note.”
“I’ve read about this,” Helen nodded. “Serial killers will escalate when the thrill of the simple kill doesn’t give them the juice any more.”
“This one time, a girl woke up in the middle of the night and heard a strange noise. She asked if her roommate was all right, and got a snore as an answer, so she went back to sleep. When she woke up the next morning, she saw her roommate’s bloody corpse in the bed, only this time the note said, ‘Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?’”
Terri’s frown deepened.
“This other time, a guy woke up and heard this dripping noise. He reached down to the floor, to check where his cat was before he got out of bed. When his cat licked his hand and started purring, he figured he was half-asleep and hearing things and went back to dreamland.” Andrew took a deep breath. “When he woke up the next morning, his roommate was hanging from the shower rod. Worst of all, the cat was dead, too.”
Some of the Slayers made whimpering sounds.
“He found a scrawled note on his roommate’s pillow. It said—”
“People can lick humans' hands, too?” Terri asked. “I’m pretty sure someone forwarded me this email three years ago.”
Andrew sniffed. “Sometimes those urban legends reveal the truth. Besides, we think the killer got the idea from the email.”
“Riiiiiiight,” Terri said as she settled back with a grin.
“Anyway, as soon as I got message, immediately called Mr. Giles. As it turns out, there was a ‘questionable death’ reported at Cambridge just that very morning. Mr. Giles was originally going to do only a cursory check, y’know, just to make sure that it wasn’t a supernatural killer or anything. But my report changed his mind. That’s when he sent in,” Andrew paused for dramatic effect, “Xander Harris to investigate.”
“What did he find out?” Cheryl squeaked.
“Patience, Half-Pint,” Andrew said as he raised his hands. “It goes without saying that Xander immediately sprang into action. He soon discovered that all of the victims had their throats ripped out and all their blood was drained form their bodies.”
“A vampire!” Kristin exclaimed.
“Very good, my straight-A student,” Andrew nodded.
“Wait. I’m confused,” LaTisha interrupted. “How can anyone sleep through someone getting their throat ripped out? Vampire or not, you’d think the victim would be make a lot of noise.”
“And how did the vampire get in, anyway?” Terri asked suspiciously.
“I’ll answer that very, very soon,” Andrew sniffed.
“Can’t wait to hear this,” Cheryl eagerly said.
“Xander noticed that the killer had a pattern. Each dorm was only hit once, and that only one dorm hadn’t hosted a murder,” Andrew said. “So, Xander decided to watch the building. He put on a security person’s uniform and sat in the security booth for three days, day and night, watching the comings and goings of all the students.”
“How did he eat?” Kristin asked.
“Never mind that. When did he go to the bathroom?” Terri smirked.
“He made arrangements,” Andrew said shortly. “Where was I?”
“Xander getting a sore butt,” LaTisha reminded him.
“Xander’s a real man. His butt wouldn’t get sore. Not if he was sitting on it in the line of duty,” Andrew assured the group. “Anyway, on the third night, his eagle-eyed guardianship paid off. Right at 2 a.m., his murderer walked right through the front door.”
“How did he know this person was the murderer?” Susan asked.
“Because the murderer was none other than,” Andrew took a deep breath to stretch the tension in the room, “Drusilla!”
Cheryl let out a screamlette.
“Drusilla, the most evil and most powerful of the Angelus line left alive. She can put you under thrall so deep that you won’t make a noise while she’s killing you,” Andrew said. “And Drusilla hated Buffy and all her friends, because they were able to steal Angel and Spike away from her and help them stay on the side of the light. She had been itching for revenge for years and years and years! And here, right here in Cambridge, she’d finally get her chance!”
“How did Xander get out of it?” Cheryl asked as she huddled closer to Kristin.
Andrew grinned. “Well, Xander sees her and cries, ‘Drusilla!’
“And Dusilla sees Xander and she hisses, ‘Harris! At long last, I shall have my revenge! I will drain you dry and leave you hanging from the flagpole so the crows can eat your remaining eye. It would be two eyes, except that Caleb tragically took that other eye away from you when you bravely ran back to save the helpless Kennedy from his nefarious clutches! I should kill Caleb, too, for robbing me of my fun! Except that Buffy already killed him! So I’ll just kill you and be happy!’”
Terri made a hurry-up motion with her hand. She was looking very bored, but Andrew wasn’t fooled. Terri was on pins and needles waiting for the end.
“But Xander thought fast and brought out his secret bottle of holy water, which he sneakily and secretly had put in his pocket just in case he ran into a vampire while standing guard. While Drusilla laughed her evil laugh and closed in on him, Xander took off the cap and threw the bottle right in her face. She screamed, ‘Ahhhhhhhhhh!’ Then she covered her horribly burned face and ran out of the building. Xander chased after her, stake in hand, but when he reached the outside, Drusilla was already gone. All that was left of her was her sobbing voice echoing all over the place. The last words he heard were, ‘I’ll have my revenge on you! Just you wait and see! We will meet again, Xander Harris!’”
“And did they? Meet again?” Cheryl asked.
“That is a story for another day,” Andrew said darkly.
“Never mind that. How did she get in to begin with?” LaTisha asked.
“That’s the best part,” Andrew grinned. “Xander knew that even though he had foiled Drusilla’s latest murder scheme, he had to prevent her from trying again. He may have scared her off, but he knew Drusilla would come back, especially if she thought he’d be there waiting for her. Her desire for revenge that was strong. Anyway, he questioned all the students and faculty in an effort to find out who invited her in. No one could remember doing that, or at least none of them admitted it. Xander was at his wit’s end. He couldn’t stay in Cambridge forever, since he had other duties. See, the Council was about to send him to—”
“Why not just send some Slayers in to pretend to be students?” Terri asked. “Seems to me that would be the smart thing to do.”
“Slayers can’t be everywhere,” Andrew pointed out.
“And Xander’s just one guy, so he can’t be everywhere any more than six or seven Slayers can,” Terri argued.
“Slayers have very important things to do,” Andrew huffed. “You can’t just send in six or seven Slayers and let them sit there in case something might happen.”
“But you said that Xander—” Susan began.
“Are you going to let me finish?” Andrew asked.
“We’re sorry,” Cheryl shot Susan glare. “Please finish.”
“Anyway, Xander was going crazy trying to figure out how Drusilla got into the dorms. Until one day he looked up and realized that carved over every door of every dorm were the words, ‘Let everyone who seeks knowledge enter freely.’ In Gaelic.”
“Xander can read Gaelic?” Cheryl asked.
“Well, no,” Andrew was forced to admit. “Xander noticed that all these doors had a saying carved in stone over them, and that the order of the letters was the same over every door. So, he sent the words to Mr. Giles so they could be translated and that’s how he found out what they said.”
“Okay. That does sound smart,” Terri grudgingly admitted. “The rest of it though…”
“It’s absolutely true,” Andrew said. “I know because I was the one who let the Council know about it to begin with.”
Helen nodded. “He kinda has a point.”
“Anyway, Xander told the college, and the college quickly plastered over the open invitation to prevent Drusilla, or any other vampire, from gaining access to the college dorms ever again,” Andrew said. “Cambridge University has been vampire-free to this very day, thanks to Xander Harris.”
“All passengers please put their seats in the upright position and check their seatbelts. This plane will be landing at O’Hare in 20 minutes. The temperature on the ground is 26 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind is blowing in northwesterly direction at 6 miles per hour. The weather forecast indicates a white Christmas Eve. Thank you for flying Delta Airlines. The Captain and the Crew, on behalf of the Delta Airlines family, wishes all of our passengers a happy holiday season.”
And on behalf of myself, I would like to shove your holiday season wishes right up your ass, Xander grumpily thought.
He attempted to get comfortable in his cramped seat, gently push the napping and drooling business traveler off his shoulder, and tried catching the eye of the stewardess so she could take away his five empty and mangled coffee cups. Why he bothered flattening and folding them into sharp points, he had no idea. If there was a demon or vampire on the plane, what was he going to do? Make them eat cheap, super-thin Styrofoam and hope like hell his carefully folded points gave demonic throats ouchies as they went down?
If only he were a little less paranoid about flying. He wanted nothing more than to use the hop from Bangkok to Chicago to catch up on his sleep, but if he did that he could almost guarantee that some demon that no one had ever heard of before would show up and try to eat his nose.
What day is it? he wondered as he scratched his three-day growth of a beard. I know I crossed the international dateline, so it’s either yesterday or tomorrow. I should probably ask.
Xander stifled what promised to be a face-shattering yawn.
On second thought, he was too tired to ask what day it was. Besides, he was very sure the answer would only piss him off because no matter what the answer was, it was going to be, “A day when you’re not on your first vacation since before Sunnydale bit the dust.”
Right now Clem was probably digging his little demon-y toes in the pink sands of Bermuda and ogling the stray kitties. It wasn’t fair. That was his vacation. Sure, it was only five days. Yes, he’d be staying at the local Council house “just in case” his infamous obscure-demons-only magnet managed to attract something with teeth and claws during the short time he was there. And yes, Giles insisted that he take it or else he’d find himself at the wrong end of a medical leave order and staying in a little rubber room somewhere in Bath. Yet, at some point he started looking forward to it, despite the many, many misgivings he had.
As it was, he had to rebook at immense cost because he had to go to Thailand at the last minute and chase after soul-eating ghosts that didn’t even exist. Then to have his vacation delayed again because of the five black-star badness in Chicago…
And it was all done on — irony of ironies — Giles’s request. The same Giles that insisted he get some R&R in the first place. It was enough to make his head explode.
At this point he was never getting that vacation, or at the very least he wasn’t going to get that vacation for less than a million dollars. Might as well let Clem enjoy it. Besides, he owed Clem one since he agreed to come to Thailand and make funny faces at the gangster running the soul-eating ghost scam while Xander threatened the guy within an inch of his life. Not too many demons would be willing to drop everything to lend a hand, no matter how many stray kittens you promised to feed them when they arrived.
Clem was as ecstatic as anyone would be who’d been offered a free trip to Bermuda. The guy even offered to take a lot of pictures and send them via email so he could show his appreciation for the unexpected gift. Xander told him not to bother and to just enjoy the sun and surf. Besides, the last thing he wanted to see was Clem holding up a purple fizzy drink with a screaming yellow umbrella in it and wearing nothing more than swim trunks and flip-flops.
His swim trunks. His flip-flops.
He told Clem to keep his ex-beach gear. He liked Clem and all, but sharing clothes was so not a goal.
God, he hated his life. It was days like this when he almost — but not quite — was sorry that dying would cause even more complications than staying alive did.
The plane finally landed after circling the airport for 45 minutes — 25 minutes after the pilot promised they’d land. Then he had to restrain himself from shoving people out of his way as he got off the plane. He’d spent far too much time cooped up in shiny metal tubes slinging through the sky, nervously watching for Matheson demons (or any other demons for that matter), and dealing with other people’s B.O. If he had to get up-close-and-personal with one more annoying so-and-so, he was committing justifiable homicide.
Oh, wait. He had to at least check in with the Head Watcher in the Chicago Council House before he could slink off to a bed and fall headfirst into blessed oblivion, preferably for two days.
Right. Two days’ sleep, Xander thought as he finally got clear of the deplaning throng and adjusted the shoulder strap on his carryon bag. I might as well ask to win the pan-European lottery so I can retire to a life of luxury in Tahiti surrounded by barely legal topless human women who are free and easy with the sex and an ironclad guarantee that it won’t turn into a Hellmouth within 6 months of me moving in.
Wait. Was there a pan-European lottery he could win? Or did he mean one of the multi-state lotteries? What was the name? Big Numbers? Millions and Billions? Mega Greed? One of those, anyway.
He was way too tired to be sure that he was right about any of that.
Welcome to Loopyville, population of one, Xander thought as he trudged past the security checkpoint. Always happens whenever I head east across more than four time zones in one jump.
Just think Bermuda. Pink sand. Feral chickens. Women in string bikinis. Swinging gently back-and-forth in a hammock. Cooler of perfectly chilled German beer within easy reach. Warm sun on skin. The roar of the ocean in the ears. The smell of SPF 45 sun block…
“Well, don’t you look like a piece of shit,” said a female voice in his ear.
Xander yelped and jumped almost a foot.
“And you’re sleep-walking, too. That can’t be good,” she added with a shit-eating grin.
Just perfect. Faith. Fucking Faith is my contact. It took everything Xander had not to give in to the urge to beat the Slayer senseless with his carryon. Even though he knew that any attempt to beat on Faith would result in his ass getting kicked from here to Dallas, it was still a very, very close thing.
Faith crossed her arms and her grin grew wider. “Don’t you look thrilled to see me. Nice fake eye, by the way. Heard you upgraded from the patch. ’Course right now your eyes don’t match ’cause the right one’s so bloodshot it’s glowing red.”
“What are you doing here?” Xander grumbled as he once more adjusted his carryon.
“Was called in to lend a hand with our five black-star threat,” she shrugged. “Me and Robin spent six months in scenic Chi-Town helping to set up the Council House here back in the day. G figured you’d appreciate having someone on your team who knew the lay of the land.”
Xander gave her a bleary-eyed glare. “And why can’t the local Slayers do that?”
“Ain’t got my experience, do they?” Faith pointed out. “And if you’re wondering, luggage pick-up is this way.”
Xander figured he had to have heard the first part of that wrong, but he didn’t have a chance to ask Faith anything. She had set off at a brisk pace, leaving Xander to scramble after her.
“Slow down,” he called. “I’ve been airport hopping all the way from Thailand. My legs are still numb from the lack of circulation.”
Faith dropped her pace just enough so he could hobble next to her.
“When did you go to Rwanda?” Xander asked when he finally caught his breath.
Faith shot him a what-the-hell look. “Ain’t never been to Rwanda.”
“But you said you had experience fighting these demons,” Xander pointed out.
“I didn’t say that,” Faith said slowly, as if he were too stupid to understand what had she said.
“What I said was that the gals in the Chicago house don’t got my kind of experience. You, my friend—”
“I’m not your friend,” Xander snapped. The words were out of his mouth before he even realized he said them. Fuck it. He couldn’t even begin to muster the energy to care.
Faith shot him another look, this one unreadable. “Yeah. Okay. Fair enough.”
Xander stopped and frowned at the hurrying crowd. “Are you sure we’re not lost? ’Cause I don’t see any signs pointing to anything called luggage pick-up.”
“Taking us on a short-cut,” Faith answered.
Xander groaned with frustration and again fell in next to Faith.
“What I was tryin’ to tell you is that you are looking at the most senior Slayer in all the Western Hemisphere,” Faith continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted. “When that little five-star rating comes up, that means you need firepower, and I got it spades. From what I gather, the five black-star rating don’t even begin go do justice to these Emokillsus things.”
Xander winced upon hearing the species name before he stopped and rubbed his head. There were a million reasons why Faith was the worst choice for backup that Giles could’ve sent him, none of which had anything to do with his personal Faith-shaped issues. “Faith, have you actually dealt with these demons before?”
“Hell, no,” Faith cheerfully admitted.
“Since you’ve never been to Rwanda, that’s not exactly a shocking answer,” Xander dryly remarked.
“What the hell does Rwanda have to do with anything?” Faith asked.
“You obviously didn’t actually read up on these demons, either,” Xander said.
“Didn’t get a chance.” Faith set off again for luggage pick-up. “Got the call for help and got my fuzzy ass here ASAP. I figured I could do a little bedtime reading tonight, and then get the high points reinforced by you tomorrow.”
“If you actually read the dossier, you’d know that these demons are from Rwanda,” Xander said. “They don’t live anywhere else.”
“Then what’s one doing in sunny Chicago at the height of the competitive tropical suntan season?” Faith asked.
“That’s what I’m here to investigate,” Xander said. “Personally, I think there’s a good chance that it’s a case of misidentification and it’s probably something else. Only reason why I’m not totally prepared to dismiss it is because it’s hard to mistake these demons for another kind. They’re pretty distinctive.”
“For someone who looks like he’s about ready to drop to the floor and curl up for a nap, you’re pretty coherent,” Faith grinned at him.
“I blame the caffeine. I may have over-medicated myself,” Xander mumbled. God, he hoped Faith wouldn’t try to draw him out with small talk. All he wanted was some blessed silence before hitting the sack. He was willing to break out the duct tape to get it if he had to.
Unh, remember: From here to Dallas if you try, his brain reminded him.
Right. Grin and bear it. He could do that.
“Oh, by the way, if any of the Slayers ask you about me killing a Vulcan, try not to laugh,” Faith said.
Xander shook his head to clear it. He had to have missed Faith saying something to him before that bizarre statement. “Why would anyone ask me about you killing Mr. Spock?”
“Andrew told them,” Faith said shortly.
Xander stopped. The strap of his carryon slipped off his shoulder and it fell to the ground with a thud.
Faith, realizing that he had fallen behind, turned around and looked at him. When it became clear that he wasn’t moving another step, Faith trotted back.
“What’s eating you?” she asked.
“Andrew? Andrew is here?” Xander asked.
“Yeah. They shipped him up after that thing happened with Willow in Brazil.” Faith frowned. “Guess G figured he couldn’t get into too much trouble here. No Hellmouth to piss off.”
“Oh, fuck me.” Xander put his head in his hands. “Why did no one tell me this? Why did no one warn me? Suddenly this whole Rwandan demon in Chicago thing makes sense.”
Faith brushed a long strand of hair out her face. “Care to explain how?”
Xander raised his head and fuzzily regarded her with his one good eye. “I just want you to know that my life is one big Irving Berlin musical, complete with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers providing the interpretive dance.”
“You know what? Why don’t I run interference with the headcheese so you can get right into bed and catch some zees.” Faith actually sounded worried. “You’re beginning to lose what little sense you were making two minutes ago.”
Xander’s travel alarm clock began whooping at 8 a.m.
He slept through it.
An irritated someone began pounding on his door somewhere around 8:30 a.m.
He slept through that, too.
By 9 a.m., fist pounding turned into kicking.
It was the sharp crack of wood that promised to give way under the assault that caused Xander to sit bolt upright in bed.
Let it never be said he didn’t recognize the sound of a threat even when he was comatose.
Xander blearily looked around the guest bedroom while his brained sputtered to life.
The kicking got more insistent.
Xander picked up his travel alarm clock and flung it at the door with all his might. The slam of metal against wood — he had long ago learned that the cheap travel alarms never survived more than two weeks when he owned them — achieved its dual goal. The kicking stopped and the alarm cut off.
After a beat of silence, during which Xander flopped backwards onto the bed fully intent on going back to sleep, a hesitant, young, female voice called, “Mr. Harris?”
Right. He was in a Council House here in—
Shit. Where the hell was he again?
He stumbled for the door and flung it open, realizing just a beat too late that he was still dressed in the same clothes he wore when he left Thailand. He vaguely remembered following someone to get to the bedroom, but at that point he was so exhausted that nothing really seemed to sink in.
A Mexican-looking girl eeeped in surprise as she stepped back.
Xander blinked at her as he sagged against the doorframe. “What town is this?”
Mexican-looking girl frowned. “Chicago?”
“You askin’ or tellin’?” Xander mumbled.
Now it all came back. Chicago. Possible presence of a Rwandan demon. Faith. And, oh shit, Andrew.
Xander rubbed a tired hand over his face and felt the now four-day-old beard growth scratching against his palm. Wait. He crossed the international dateline. So would that make it five-day-old growth, or three-day-old growth?
“What day is it?” he hoarsely asked.
Oh. Okay. He only had three-day-old beard growth. Much better than the four-day-old growth he would’ve had if he stayed in Bangkok.
Mexican-girl seemed to have gotten over her surprise and was now giving him a dose of fisheye. “Are you drunk?” she asked.
“Kid, if I were drunk, I’d be flat on my ass. I’m that tired.” Xander’s voice was gravely with exhaustion. “The smell of little liquor bottles that’s probably smacking you in the Slayer nose is thanks to a Japanese businessman who hates to fly spilling his security blanket on me somewhere over Hawaii.”
“Terri,” Mexican-girl snapped.
“The name is ‘Terri.’ Not ‘kid.’”
Xander snorted. “Right. Kerrie…”
Oh, he couldn’t even begin to deal with the attitude right now. If he was going to have to deal with snotty baby Slayers with rotten personalities, then he needed to mainline caffeine, stat.
“Whatthefuckevah,” Xander snarled in response. “If I don’t get coffee, as in now-ish, I’m going back to bed and sleeping for a week. And you, my little Terri-fied torturer, can fight your own Goddamn demons.”
The Slayer’s eyes narrowed. Clearly she didn’t like him. Xander didn’t give a rat’s ass.
“Fine. You won’t get me coffee? Then I want the kitchen. Tell me where it is. Draw me a map, use sign language, hell, use semaphore. I don’t care. Tell me where the coffee lives, or I go back to sleep.”
Terri, Kerrie, Verri, Berri, or Whateverthehellhernamewas pursed her lips in such a way that Xander was powerfully reminded of dear ol’ Ma whenever she was drunk and felt the need to share her discontent with the world — or more specifically, her discontent with him.
Stay strong Xand-man. Don’t let her Jessica you.
“Down the hall, down the stairs, turn left into the hall, follow it to the end,” Slay-girl finally spit out.
“Mercy buttercups.” Oh, yeah. He needed coffee he had any hope of smoothing out the gravel in his throat.
As he lurched down the hall, Slay-face called after him, “It’s merci beaucoup.”
Xander flipped her the bird over his shoulder, just to say that she should go fuck herself if she couldn’t recognize a bad joke.
By the time he hit the bottom step, the smell of coffee was tickling his nose hairs. By the time he shuffled into the kitchen, he was mumbling “coooofffffeeeeeee” in the same way that some zombies said “brains” or Homer Simpson said “donuts.”
He was definitely closer to the zombie-brains side of his personal vin diagram.
Stupid jetlag. Stupid international dateline. Stupid Bermuda-denying emergency.
Xander nearly sobbed with relief when he saw mugs lined up in regimental order next to the coffeemaker and that there was enough sludge left over to fill one of those mugs. He greedily snatched a harvest gold yard sale special out of the mug lineup, and poured himself a hit.
The coffee looked and smelled like it had been sitting on the burner for too long and that the only way to beat its taste into something resembling coffee instead of squid ink would be the liberal application of cream and sugar. He was so beyond caring that he wasn’t about to go on a hunt for anything. He let out a contented sigh as he set the now-drained carafe aside and prepared to gulp down his caffeinated lifeline.
“Good morning, Mr. Harris.”
In the midst of jumping and spinning around to face the latest interruption, Xander lost hold of his mug. The coffee — the last remaining drop of coffee in the house for all he knew — splashed all over him and began sinking into his filthy clothes as the mug fell out of his hands and bounced off his booted foot.
“A-a-a-a-are you all right?”
Xander tore his eye away from his lost coffee and fixed the girl was a glare. This one looked like she had been sent from casting central to play the part of the bubble-headed blonde cheerleader. Slayer or not, she looked like just the type that Cordelia would’ve smushed beneath one stiletto heel before eating her heart for breakfast.
“How old are you?” Not exactly the question Xander planned to ask, but the girl’s earnest face and big blue eyes distracted him.
The blue eyes blinked with surprise. “Sixteen.”
Xander snorted. “On what planet? You have to be 12. Tops.”
“I’m getting my driver’s license,” the girl protested.
Great. Just what the world needed. Yet another Slayer behind the wheel. Why the Council wouldn’t spring for chauffeurs to haul Slayers from Point A to Point B was a mystery for the ages.
Xander finally remembered what he meant to say. “Coffee, or you die.”
The girl swallowed, scurried to one of the cabinets, and pulled out a can of Maxwell House and a pack of coffee filters. She then held both out to him like she was making a peace offering.
Xander quickly snatched them away and began going about the business of making fresh coffee.
“Unh, Mr. Harris?”
Oh, Jesus. She was still there. “Yes,” he said in his overtired gravelly voice.
“I think you’re putting too much coffee in—”
Xander turned his bleary eye to her. “What’s your name?”
“Well, Cheryl, it’s like this. I am what we call a very non-dead zombie. If I wish to become an only slightly non-dead zombie, then I need espresso. Sherri? Does this look like an espresso machine?”
“Cheryl. And, unh, no.”
Xander manically grinned at her. “Which means that I have to make homemade espresso, otherwise known as hillbilly wake-up juice, rocket fuel, newspaper ink, motor oil, brain grease, bladder buster, ulcer helper, and taste bud destroyer. Are you following me, Cherry?”
“Cheryl. And, I, unh, think so.”
Xander nodded as he put in scoop 20 for the 10-cup carafe. “Then unless you know a better way to destroy my stomach lining, go away.”
He then hit the toggle, folded his arms on the counter, and lay his head on top of it so he could watch the coffee bubble into the glass carafe.
“Mr. Harris?” Blondie asked.
Oh, Christ. Now what? Xander thought with despair.
“Mr. Harris, are you okay?” Blondie asked.
“I’m fine. Right now, there’s pink sand running through my toes and I’m working on my sunburn. This afternoon, I plan to go snorkeling with a mysterious international swimsuit model. Said swimsuit model will later join me for dinner and then will invite me back to her vacation bungalow where she will reveal that she is also an Olympic gold medal gymnast, and not, as always, a new and exciting demon that no one’s ever heard of who wants use my intestines as streamers for the local demonic office Christmas party. But before taking my unlikely step into something resembling normal guyhood, I plan on sucking down several bottles of cool, foamy beer and not — and I want to stress this very much — not a purple fizzy drink with a screaming yellow umbrella in it. Nor do I plan to eat kittens. This is in direct contrast with certain demons who are wearing my swim trunks and flip-flops even as we speak.”
Blondie gasped. “Illinois has pink sand?”
Xander raised his head and gave what he hoped was a baleful glare.
“Wow.” She shook her head. “I learn something new every day.”
It was moments like these that reinforced Xander deep-seated belief that Giles had plotted his, Willow’s, and Buffy’s deaths more than once during high school.
Blondie suddenly looked shy. “Unh, Mr. Harris? Can I ask you a question?”
Xander held up a finger. “You get one. Then you go away.”
She took a deep breath. “Is it true that you threw a demon into Mount Vesuvius?”
Xander blinked at her. “Why would I throw a demon into a volcano? Not that I haven’t been tempted, but there are easier ways to kill a—”
The girl’s shoulders slumped. “So it’s not true, then.”
Xander frowned as he wondered where the hell the question even came from. Not even Andrew would tell a story like that. “The closest I can think of is the time Buffy and me lured an escaped Arctic Womyx to Old Faithful so Buffy could kill it using Old Faithful as a high-powered hot water canon.”
The Slayer perked right up. “Really? Was there an explosion? And lava and stuff? Did it blow the top off a mountain?”
“Whoa!” Xander held up his hands to make the questions stop. “I am not telling any gory details. If I tell you, you tell your buddies, who will tell Andrew. Andrew will then turn around and blab it everywhere. Sooner or later, it reaches the wrong kind of ears. There will be criminal charges. Federal criminal charges. Then civil penalties. I will be in jail and bankrupt not just for the rest of this lifetime, but for the next ten lifetimes.”
She grinned as if Xander had given her the best present ever. God knows why. He was being dead serious.
“Can you tell me anything at all?” she begged as she bounced on the balls of her feet.
Xander glared at her, but she didn’t seem to be in the least bit intimidated and she showed no signs of leaving him alone. “Tell you what. I’ll give you a piece of advice instead. Then you let me drink coffee in silence.”
The coffeemaker wheezed out its last.
Xander snatched a fresh cup off the counter top and began pouring as he giggled evilly. At long last, coffee was his.
“What’s the advice?”
“What advice?” he asked as he wrapped his hands around the mug and deeply inhaled the smell.
“The piece of advice you promised,” the girl insisted.
Xander licked his lips and prepared for his taste of heaven while his brain scrambled to remember whether he had made any promises.
Advice? What advice could I possibly gi—
Oh. Yeah. That advice.
Xander cleared his throat in a desperate attempt to push aside the gravel in his throat. “When dealing with the U.S. Department of the Interior, especially the National Parks and the Fish and Wildlife services, remember that they do not have a sense of humor. None. At all.”
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