Yeah, that sums it up. Still getting into the swing of things with the new job, still staring despondently at boxes that need to be unpacked, still sobbing over how much I owe in taxes this year (tax cuts my ass...only if you're earning in the six figures I think).
My fault, really. I'm getting into that "hit the gym first thing in the morning" swing of things after 3 months of not going thanks to new job and the pre-move hellish commute. And I have to do it. Three months away has added 15 pounds. GAH! So, up at 5:30 a.m. to make it to the gym by 6:15 (I'm a putterer first thing in the a.m.) and then off to work. Once I get into the swing of things, I'll be a-OK, but getting used to a schedule I followed for *years* after three months away? Not fun.
First, props need to be passed out. My new Willow-Xander LJ icon comes courtesy of hils via buffy_icons.
The icon for this entry comes from delectableoomph.
Is it bad that I'm now considering getting a paid account so I can have more than three icons? Probably. I know I'll be getting an expansion pack too if that happens.
Anyway, here's the new edition of Living History
Up to Part 40 here
Continued from here
Giles's fingers hovered over the journal. His tea was long forgotten as its temperature devolved into ice cold. The tick of the wind-up travel alarm clock didn't even register.
Inconceivable. His mind had been stuck on that one word for the past five minutes.
His hand drew back, but his eyes didn't leave the worn leather surface. Much as it shamed him to admit it, he simply lacked the courage to open it. Taking Xander at his word, while perhaps the coward's way, seemed infinitely safer.
The Watcher looked up and studied Xander's profile. The young man was standing with his back to the room, head leaning against the window, eyes closed. If Giles didn't know any better, he'd think that Xander was so exhausted that he'd fallen asleep on his feet.
That Xander was exhausted was a given. There were bags under his eyes and his face was pale and drawn.
In short, he looked positively miserable.
It's like watching a Jenga tower. Every time he turns around another block is pulled out from under his feet. How long before he topples, I wonder?
If someone had told him that the world's most irritating 15-year-old boy would someday be capable of creating such an intricate and delicately balanced ouroboros, he would've never believed that individual. Because at the time, to be brutally honest, he was fairly certain that said 15-year-old boy didn't have the brains of a mayfly.
How did that irritating child turn into this man? How did that happen? How did he miss it?
Worse, what if it was there all along?
"Inconceivable," Giles muttered.
"You keep saying that. Please. Find another word," Xander said in a dead voice without opening his eyes. "Unbelievable. Incredible. Fascinating. Oh boy. Flamingoed up. Something, anything else. Just not inconceivable."
"How are you holding up?"
Xander snapped his head around, eyes opened just wide enough to show that he was suffering from a headache, possibly brought on by stress, exhaustion, and the desperate need to just stop for one moment so he could finally fall apart.
Giles knew without asking that if he were waiting for Xander to crumble or to even admit he was ready to crumble, he'd be in for a very long wait indeed.
"Been better." Xander seemed willing to admit that much as he turned around to face the room, crossing his arms as he did so. He looked down and added, "I'm sorry about Willow. It was..."
"...exactly what I would have done in your place."
Xander looked at Giles, no expression on his face.
"All things considered, you've shown remarkable restraint."
Xander shot the pile of Robin's things a nasty look. "Yet another first for the record books."
If Giles didn't know any better, he'd think Xander was more upset about Robin becoming his roommate than even himself. Actually, he looked more upset than even Robin did, and considering that Robin had just cut off his relationship with Faith...
"Don't let this business with Robin distract you. I'm certain it'll blow over," Giles said.
"Says the guy who didn't get ringside tickets." His gaze remained fixed on Robin's pile.
"I...oh, dear. Don't tell me."
"Finito. Kaputski. Over-and-out," Xander said absently. "Christ, what the fuck can I do about this? How do I fix this?"
"I hardly think that's your responsibility."
Xander looked back at him, blinking owlishly. "I...suppose."
"I know you're rather exhausted, but you're quite sure?"
Xander ran a desultory hand through his hair. "Dead sure. This sounds like something I would do. I'm just enough of an idiot to leave crap like this to blind luck."
"Or intelligent enough to leave it up to fate."
"I hate that," Xander snapped.
Giles looked down at the journal again, unable to escape the notion that Xander was hiding something, although he would be damned if he knew what it was. Catherine's group seemed bound and determined to prevent any further information leaks, and it was easy enough to check the journal to see if Xander left something out on purpose.
Then again, Xander always did have trouble with the concept of fate and destiny. Giles could only imagine the affect Catherine was having on that particular worldview. One thing he did know, if Xander's current stance was anything to go by, was that Xander was going to go down swinging at whatever was waiting for him.
"Be that as it may, now that we know where to look, it behooves us to..."
Giles's door swung open and Robin walked into the room with the last of his clothes. "Giles, once again, thank you. My only other choices were Andrew or Xander and I really don't think that would be a good idea right now."
"Gee, you think?" Xander snarled.
Robin froze when he heard the voice.
"Don't worry, not telling tales out of school," Xander bit out. "Believe it or not, I'm actually here for business reasons, not soap opera reasons."
The principal carefully put the box down and in a guarded tone said, "I didn't say you were."
"It appears that we've been the subject of a con," Giles interrupted.
"I knew it!" Robin crowed.
"Perpetrated by Xander," Giles added.
Robin's eyes narrowed into a glare as he fixed on the irritated younger man. "You son of..."
"That is, Xander in 2008," Giles broke in.
"What we have boys and girls is a very big circle." Xander smiled into his own anger. "The Crew from the Future were supposed to be here all along."
Robin's expression turned thoughtful as his mind focused on business. "But the journal..."
"As Xander explained to me, the entry was a plant," Giles said. "He theorizes that since he now knows and will know in the future that J'Nal landed wrong on the first try..."
"He wrote the entry so they'd have a target they'd be sure to miss so they'd end up where they should be in the first place," Robin finished thoughtfully.
"Glad you understand it, because I'm still confused." Xander's voice had eased into I'm-still-furious-but-this-is-more-impor
"But you just explained it to Giles," Robin pointed out.
"Not the concept. The tenses. How do you do a future past tense anyway?" Xander said. "And if you try, will some English Nazi try to correct you? Because I gotta tell ya, high school English teachers aren't going to buy it for one second. I should know. I've tried."
"Always with the smart mouth," Robin muttered.
"Beats breaking things," Xander said airily. "Walls. Windows. Dishes. Hearts."
"That's quite enough," Giles snapped.
Xander shut his mouth and hunched his shoulders, but Giles could see he was still fuming.
"What we need to do is conduct a diligent search of Erie Street Cemetery," Giles continued.
"I'll get the girls on it tonight," Robin nodded.
Giles and Robin looked at Xander in surprise.
When Xander saw he had their attention, he added, "Daylight would be better for scouting. Send the team out tomorrow morning."
"You do realize that it's going to look odd that you have a group of girls scouring the cemetery during broad daylight?" Robin asked.
"Like it doesn't look odd they're cruising the local cemeteries at night?" Xander pointed out. "Look, there is clue about where these caverns are. 'By the Angel Vaslik's wing.' My bet is that it's probably a statue, or a crypt, or a headstone. So we're going to, what? Send them out into a cemetery at night to read headstones in the dark? Sure, Slayers have got better eyesight, but it just would be a hell of a lot easier to do it during the day. Bonus, less chance of getting tangled up in a vamp rumble."
"Took the words out of my mouth there," Giles agreed.
"Fine. Use common sense to beat down what was an otherwise fine plan," Robin shook his head. "We still need a cover story."
"Class trip?" Xander asked.
"To a cemetery," Robin deadpanned.
"Not a terrible idea," Giles slowly said. "Perhaps, only if asked mind you, the girls could say they were doing a history or genealogy project for their studies. I'll have to bow to your superior knowledge on this, Robin. Would such a project be possible in, say, a progressive private academy like our own?"
Robin thought about it and slowly nodded. "Yyyyyeeeeeessss. It is possible. But, I'd think you'd know just as well since you did work at the old Sunnydale High School."
"Oh gag me," Xander mumbled.
Giles fought against showing any amusement as he dryly said, "Yes, well. I tried not to actually interact with students."
"Because it would've been too hard to explain about all the nekkid witches in the books," Xander volunteered. "Those illustrations were definitely a corrupting influence on young minds."
When Robin and Giles gave Xander a pointed look, he added, "So it was just me then?"
"It certainly explains why some pages were more dog-eared than others," Giles gave Xander a half-a-smile.
"Count on you to use priceless books for cheap thrills," Robin shook his head.
"Was 15 when I saw my first naughty woodcut," Xander said in a fake-dreamy voice. "Betchya that's why I've got a thing for..."
Giles delicately coughed.
"Sorry." Xander ducked his head. Giles had a sneaking suspicion that some part of Xander was trying to recapture the easy banter of Scooby planning sessions past, forgetting that Robin could easily take his jokes the wrong way. "Ummm, look, there's a better reason for checking out the site during the day than just looking for something that says 'Vaslik' on it."
"Frankly, I'd think that's reason enough," Robin said with an arched eyebrow.
Xander shoved his hands in his pockets and said, "There's something trap-y around this grail."
Giles felt his blood run cold and saw Robin freeze in a similar manner. One word echoed in his mind: Caleb.
Xander's face twitched into an aborted smile. "The good news is we've already got the heads up."
"From you," Robin said quietly.
Xander slowly nodded. "More good news, it sounds like traps, plural, of the 'Indiana Jones' variety than..."
Giles watched as Xander suppressed a barely imperceptible shudder.
"Yes, this business about the ground rises to protect the entrance. Any idea what it means?" Giles asked.
"From beneath you it devours," Robin muttered under his breath.
Xander's body went very still and Giles glanced back at Robin, who seemed lost in thought.
"If it was that, I'm pretty fucking sure I wouldn't be dropping cutsey wootsey hints about the fun and games," Xander said in a flat voice.
Robin looked up startled. "I-I-I didn't say you would it's just..."
"Don't go there," Xander interrupted in a monotone. "Don't ever go there. If you even suggest that I'd play games with people's lives like this..."
"Xander, I'm certain Robin didn't..." Giles began.
Xander kept his eyes on Robin, but his voice sounded less tight with anger. "Maybe it's something under the ground. Vampires. Zombies. Hell, maybe the ground itself does an impression of a classic California earthquake. I'm thinking that it's something that can be overcome without anyone getting killed."
"Agreed," Robin nodded.
"Teamwork that splits the team?" Giles asked. Inconceivable had become interesting. In a lot of ways, the journal had become a window into how Xander's mind worked.
Robin snapped his fingers. "Something that's easily distracted."
"So definitely a thing, then. Probably means we're going to have to have one group keeping whatever it is busy above ground while the other group goes below." Xander rubbed a hand through his hair. "Just for the record? Not in love with the idea of fighting a below-ground action."
Robin and Giles exchanged looks.
"Xander? You most certainly don't have to go," Giles said gently.
"Yes I do," Xander said quietly. "At the very least, I have to go."
"Why?" Robin asked.
Xander deflated. "So I can see what happens with my own two...I mean my one eye and then write about it using the kind of words that make me reach for a dictionary." Xander shot Giles a dirty look. "And no, I'm not going down there because of 'destiny' and 'just because some book says so,' for the record."
Giles held up his hands, amazed that Xander continued to insist on his schizophrenic approach to the whole business.
"You mentioned fighting below ground?" Robin said.
Xander wrinkled his nose. "Grail's got a reptile guardian, as in a snake. Probably the only thing Ass...I mean, me was at all resembling clear about. It's a snake. That hates walnuts. My guess? A big snake. Lovely. Thought I was done with big snakes after graduation, but nooooooooo..."
"Xander," Giles sighed.
"Sorry. He's not real clear about how to kill it. 'Teamwork that shatters the team.' What the hell does that mean? 'Must be killed by a splinter?' What the hell is that?"
"You recited that from memory?" Robin asked.
"Been staring at the damn thing most of the day," Xander muttered. "Still bugged about the walnuts, though. I mean, what are we supposed to do? Raid the grocery store and pelt this thing with salty roasted goodness? As weak spots go, that one's a beaut."
"Be easy to kill if that's the case," Robin pointed out.
"Right. Send Andrew to Stop & Shop and have him load up," Xander rubbed his forehead. "Don't ask me why, but I don't think it's gonna be that easy. Remind me to punch myself in the nose come September 2008."
"Done and done," Robin promised.
"Yes, be that as it may, a daylight scouting is definitely in order," Giles interrupted.
Robin nodded. "I've got a few girls in mind. Good attention to detail. Diligent. I'll get right on it."
"Who are you sending?" Xander asked.
Robin headed for the door. "I've got a few candidates."
The moment Robin left, Giles watched Xander's eyes narrow in thought.
"What is it?" Giles asked.
"Be nice if he gave you the list of candidates he had in mind," Xander grumbled.
Giles leaned back and studied Xander a moment. "Oh?" he prompted.
"He should've talked it over with you as well as Buffy and Faith since he doesn't train personally with all the Slayers. While him and Faith in the same room is gonna be tension central, keep 'em focused on business and I'm pretty sure they'll listen to you."
"I quite agree. About Robin running his candidates by us."
Xander looked Giles. "So tell him that."
Giles crossed his arms thinking back on the journal entry and what it said to the listener who paid attention. "I rather think you should."
Xander threw up his hands. "Fine. I'll drag Robin back here and hunt down Buffy and Faith so he'll vet the list with you guys."
"And you should also be involved with the vetting," Giles added.
Xander stopped, studying Giles out of the corner of his right eye, face looking confused. "Yeah. Okay," he said uncertainly.
"Be as rude as you like about it."
Xander looked grim as he followed Robin's path. "Now that's something you don't want."
From inconceivable to interesting to fascinating, Giles mused. Yes, the journal certainly painted a very clear picture indeed about the author, certainly more than the author would ever be comfortable letting on. It seems to me that you think no one should have to stand alone.
You know it's coming, right? Feel for Robin right now, he's not gonna know what hits him...