Alex Hill stares down at the carpet as he clutches the edge of the bed. Even though Spike is still in the room with him, Alex doesn’t say anything to Spike. He’s afraid he’ll make things worse if he tries to talk.
Spike doesn’t say anything either. Instead he just moves around the room, which Alex knows because he can hear Spike. After a few moments, he hears Spike close the drapes (without Alex asking him to), and Alex’s shoulders relax. At least he won’t have to look at the sky.
After Spike is done moving around the room, Alex feels the bed underneath his butt dip. Alex looks up and sees that Spike is sitting on the edge of the bed with him.
When Spike sees Alex looking at him, he looks away. “What you must think of us right now I can’t imagine,” Spike says.
Alex doesn’t say anything. Instead, he just looks back down at the carpet.
“Bad manners. All around,” Spike says, as if someone forgot to say ‘please’ or ‘thank you.’
Alex just stares at the carpet and doesn’t say anything.
“C’mon. Out with it.” Spike sounds very, very tired.
Alex looks up at Spike.
“I know there’s something eatin’ you, so best I hear it now when it’s just the two of us,” Spike says. “If it comes out later in front of the others, there’ll be wailing and gnashing of teeth. So let’s head that bit off at the pass. Make our lives a li’l bit easier.”
Alex swallows. Spike did tell him to say whatever was on his mind. “They, unh, they don’t want me here, do they?”
Spike makes a face. “What?”
Alex clears his throat and hopes his voice doesn’t shake. “I mean, everyone’s worried about vampires and the sky and the monsters finding Zander and the monsters in the other universe invading. They probably don’t want to protect me, too.”
Spike shakes his head. “The things that come out of your mouth. I just don’t know.”
Alex looks back down at the floor. He may not be smart, but he’s smart enough to know when someone’s calling him stupid.
“For your information, you’re probably the best protected person on this sorry old planet of ours right about now, and likely to stay that way,” Spike says.
Alex looks up at Spike again with a frown. After the fight he just saw, what Spike says doesn’t make any sense.
Spike jerks his head toward the window (which is now completely covered by the drapes so that not even a crack of sky can get through). “If you could stand to look out there, you’d see ’em. Row after row of the military’s finest, all courtesy of,” here Spike does a funny salute, “one Special Agent Riley Finn, supreme leader of the 10th Wanker Brigade and Volleyball Team. All of ’em come complete with Teutonic jaws, nipples out to here, and stomachs sucked in to there. An’ they’re all armed to the teeth, for all the good that does any of us. Tin soldiers, every last one, all perfectly cast from the same great, big bloody spoon and shined to perfection.”
Alex stares at the drapes. While he’s glad he’s protected from the monsters, he can’t think of a reason why he’d be that protected.
There’s a knock on the door. Before Spike can say, “come in” or “go away,” the door swings open and Faith walks into the room.
“So, what set B off so bad that she’s throwing things?” Faith asks. “And why the fuck is Rosenberg crying her eyes out?”
Alex cringes when he hears Faith say the really bad f-word.
Faith stops moving and looks at Alex. “Shit. Never mind. I think I just figured it out.”
Alex wonders what Faith figured out.
“I don’t hear any fighting,” Spike says.
“They’re in the bungalow next door,” Faith says with a jerk of her head, even though her eyes don’t leave Alex. “So, where the hell is Xander?”
Alex is on his feet before he realizes that he even moved. “You lost him? How could you lose him? Zander’s the one with the spell, right? If you lost him the monsters will invade and we’ll all die!”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Faith holds up her hands. “We didn’t lose him.” She looks at Spike. “We didn’t, right?”
Spike makes a face. “Due to an unexpected change in the schedule,” he says schedule so it sounds like shed-jule, “and a great, big bloody bunch of psychic monsters prowling the streets, it appears breaking Harris out of his cocoon has been called on account of apocalypse.”
Faith lets out a low whistle. “You mean to tell me that Harris’ll be casting the spell as is?”
Spike just nods. “Red said she fixed it so he can still do it.”
“So you didn’t lose Zander?” Alex asks as he sinks back onto the edge of the bed.
“Nope,” Faith says. “Just was expecting to see him here instead of you. Guess I got the wrong bungalow.”
Spike glares at her. “So this,” he waves his hand at Alex, “doesn’t bother you.”
The way Spike is acting makes Alex feel a little worried. Even though Spike just told him there were a lot of soldiers outside protecting them from the monsters, Spike didn’t say that they’d have to stay there, did he? What if the superheroes decide that the soldiers have more important stuff to do and send them away?
“That’s cold shit. Not sayin’ it ain’t,” Faith says with a shrug. “But that’s G when an apocalypse is on the line. Explains the tears. And the throwing things.”
Spike snorts. “This whole business from top to bottom. It’s like baggin’ a kitten and tossin’ it in the river.”
Faith looks back and forth between Alex and Spike. “Ahhhhhhh,” she says, like she just figured out something else.
Alex really begins to worry. He thinks that maybe he should ask Spike why he’s so mad, but he doesn’t want to ask in front of Faith.
“Alex?” Faith asks.
Alex looks up at her. He hopes he looks brave, instead of scared.
“You’re looking like someone just killed your dog,” Faith says.
Alex hunches his shoulders. “It’s just that everyone’s fighting and…” He swallows. He really doesn’t want to admit he’s scared that the superheroes won’t protect him. Besides, if he says that it would be like saying that he thinks Spike is lying. He knows Spike isn’t, but he also doesn’t think Spike can promise that he’ll be protected forever.
Faith waves a hand. “Fighting when the world’s about to end? That’s what all the little Scoobies do. It’s like their calling card or something. Back me up here, Spike.”
“It’s a ritual,” Spike tells Alex. “Wouldn’t be an apocalypse if we skipped the bit where that lot started screamin’ at each other over some nonsense.”
“Yeah, but tradition this time around is missing that special ingredient.” Faith says it like a joke, but she looks a little sad when she says it.
“Guess it’s up to me then.” Spike gets to his feet. “I should go have a look-in. If you could stay with—”
Before Spike walks five steps, Faith grabs him by the arm. “Unh-unh. You, me, and Alex are gonna stay out of it.”
Spike yanks his arm away from Faith. “You can’t possibly be willing to let—”
“Look, it sucks. I hear that in stereo.” Faith’s not yelling, but she sounds like she means business. “But this is Harris’s party, so we stay out of it.”
“How is this,” Spike waves at Alex, “Harris’s ‘party?’ Seems to me he’s not had any say in the matter at all.”
Faith grins with all her teeth and shakes her head. “Didn’t no one tell you?”
Spike looks at Alex before looking back at Faith. “Tell us what?”
Faith’s grin gets even bigger. “Harris designed his little, unh, whaddyacallit. His cocoon.”
Alex forces himself to sit very still. He can’t figure out what Spike and Faith are talking about. He should probably ask, but he’s kind of afraid to.
Spike looks at Alex again before looking back at Faith. He shakes his head. “I don’t believe it.” Spike says it like he’s really sure that he’s right.
“Hey, I only know what Kenny told me,” Faith says. “And she told me right after her and the girlfriend went kaput.”
Alex wonders who Kenny is.
Spike snorts and crosses his arms.
“Kenny was here and we weren’t,” Faith says with a shrug. “And you know she wasn’t telling me just ’cause she wanted to protect the girlfriend’s rep. Hell, she even managed to get some choice potshots in at the ex anyway, but it didn’t take too much digging to not only figure out the whole deal, but get confirmation and everything.”
Spike plops back on the bed so hard that the mattress bounces. He leans towards Alex and says, “Lemme ask you something. I’m havin’ a bit of trouble understanding this bit, so maybe you can explain it to me.”
“Explain what?” Alex asks.
“Okay, remember how I told you back at that diner that Harris had to go undercover?” Spike asks.
“And how his friends had to cast a spell so he’d think that was his real life,” Alex nods. “Yeah, I remember.”
“You told him that?” Faith sounds surprised.
“It’s like I told you,” Spike says. “I had to explain how we all got in this mess, didn’t I? Had to tell him why I didn’t believe him when he said he didn’t know any bloke named Xander.”
Faith coughs. “Right. Got it.”
“Right,” Spike nods. “Now, Alex, what Faith just told me here is that Harris designed, unh, his undercover fake life. Follow?”
Alex frowns. “Why wouldn’t he?”
“Why wouldn’t he what?” Spike asks.
“Well, I mean, since he was going undercover and everything, and since he wasn’t going to remember his real life anyway…” Alex’s voice trails off as he looks at Spike. He’s not really sure he understands this part right, so he hopes that Spike will correct him if he’s wrong.
Spike just nods.
Alex feels a little proud that he did get it right. “What I mean is,” he says, “if Zander has to live a fake life, it makes sense to me that he’d be the one to make it up. Right?”
Faith starts laughing while Spike stares and stares at Alex like Spike doesn’t know what to say.
“Classic,” Faith hoots. “That’s just classic.”
Spike shakes his head really, really hard. “Right. Okay. But let me ask you this. Would you willingly and deliberately poke out your remaining eye with your own thumb?” Spike asks.
Alex’s mouth drops open. “Zander poked out his own eye?”
“Hunh?” Faith asks.
“What? No. No, he didn’t do that,” Spike quickly says. “Let’s just say he did something similar. Like fixed it so he wouldn’t know that monsters were real.”
Alex is really confused. “Why would he do that?”
“Oh! I know,” Faith says as she hooks her thumbs in her belt loops. “He did it so he wouldn’t be busted if he reacted to one if he saw it from a distance or something. Y’know. The monsters couldn’t spot him anyway, ’cause he was all disguised and everything. But if a monster saw him reacting to it like he knew what it was, it might start sniffing around where it shouldn’t.”
“Okay, that makes sense,” Alex says.
“That’s neither here nor there.” Spike is scowling at Faith like he doesn’t like what Faith just said. “Still waitin’ on that answer.”
“What answer?” Alex asks.
“Would you poke your other eye out with your own thumb if your mates asked you to?” Spike asks.
Alex doesn’t know what to think. He isn’t sure if it’s because Spike asked him that kind of question, or if it’s because Spike thinks he might answer yes.
“Wrong question,” Faith says. She turns to Alex, “Would you poke out your remaining eye with your own thumb if you knew it would save the world if you did it?”
Alex thinks the question doesn’t make any sense. Maybe Faith is making a joke. Alex looks at Spike to see if he guessed right, except that Spike is looking at him like he expects Alex to answer the question. If Spike thinks that Faith is serious, she probably is.
Alex hunches his shoulders as he thinks about his answer. He wants to say ‘yes,’ because that’s what a hero would do. But the truth is he’s pretty sure he’d say ‘no’ if someone asked him to do that. He doesn’t want to say that to Spike and Faith, though, because he knows that they wouldn’t like that answer.
He decides to kind of answer without really answering. “How would poking my other eye out save the world? And, unh, how would people know that it would save the world?”
Spike points at Alex. “See?”
“Didn’t exactly hear a no,” Faith says.
“Didn’t hear a yes, either,” Spike says as he crosses his arms.
Alex looks down at the carpet so Spike won’t see that he’s a little bit hurt by what Spike just said. He should’ve known that Spike would know that he really wanted to say, ‘No, I wouldn’t poke out my other eye to save the world.’ He should’ve known that Spike knew he wasn’t a hero.
“Look, I only know what Kenny and the others told me, okay?” Faith sounds a little mad. “According to everyone I talked to, Harris kept breaking Rosenberg’s cocoons. He’s the one who decided if you wanna job done right, you gotta build it yourself. Hell, Alex can see it, and he don’t even know how it went down. Why can’t you?”
Alex looks up and sees that Spike is staring at Faith like he can’t believe what he just heard. “Harris kept breaking Red’s spell until he got his way? The most powerful witch on the planet? He’s stubborn, but he's not that stubborn. Pull the other one and see what happens,” Spike says.
Oh, Alex thinks. Rosenberg is Red, which means that Rosenberg must be Willow’s last name or another nickname.
“Fine,” Faith says. “Don’t believe me. It’s true, though. Just imagine Rosenberg creatin’ that nice little cocoon complete with a sweet fake life and wicked awesome fake memories. Then picture Harris livin’ the fat life in his head when suddenly he hits a spot in his memories don’t make no sense. From what I heard, he’d worry at it and worry at it until he started noticing all the other shit in his memories that didn’t make any sense. Once he got to thinking too hard about it, he’d start picking the damn memories apart, which meant he was pickin’ his entire fake life apart. Rosenberg would have to step in and try to patch it up, but once Harris went down that road, it was over and Rosenberg was fighting herself a losing battle. Next thing everyone knew, there’s Harris going bananas because he’s got two sets of memories in his head: the real ones and the fake ones. Rosenberg had to banish the cocoon and start over. It was a real lather, rinse, repeat situation.”
Alex kind of got lost right around the time Faith said “wicked awesome,” mostly because he was trying to figure out how something can be wicked and awesome at the same time.
Spike starts laughing so hard that he makes Alex jump. “You mean…you mean…” Spike says between ha-has, “…that…that…Harris…bleedin’ Harris…outsmarted Red usin’ logic? Oh, that’s the topper, that is. That’s just too much.”
Faith grins at Alex and winks at him. “Just tellin’ you what I heard. Broke the first cocoon in a week.”
Spike stops laughing. “First coccon?”
“Broke the second one in four days.” Faith crosses her arms.
Faith’s still grinning at Alex, like she’s just told Spike this great joke. Even though Spike’s not getting it, she seems to think that Alex does. Except that Alex doesn’t. He tries to grin back at Faith, but he’s pretty sure that his grin isn’t that good.
“Second?” Spike asks like he can’t believe it.
“Hey, what can I say? Willow sucks at building cocoons,” Faith says with a shrug. “From what I get, Harris’s big plan was to keep it real. Just rip out the crap you needed him to forget, implant one or two fake memories at some key points, and then just blur all that shit together so it’s a confusing mess. For the big finish, completely erase everything immediately before the fake life becomes real life. Once that’s done, you not only fix it so that he’s afraid to ask questions, you make sure that he can’t figure out that there are questions that need askin’.”
Alex scrunches his face. He’s feeling very lost again.
Spike looks like a light bulb went off over his head. “Alex?”
Alex startles. He didn’t expect Spike to ask him another question. “Yeah?”
Spike shakes his head really hard, like he’s trying to shake something off his head. “I need your help again, ’cause once more I’m havin’ a bit more trouble wrapping my head ’round this. So I need to ask you a question, and mind that it’s just so I can understand something. Not saying that it’s real or nothing, but I want you to honestly answer me.”
“Sure, Spike,” Alex says.
“’Member how you said you were in AA?” Spike asks.
Alex quickly looks at Faith. He doesn’t want Faith to know that he used to drink so much that he got into really bad trouble before he woke up in a homeless shelter.
Faith just shrugs. “Maybe I know how that is with the 12-steppin’,” she says.
Alex stares at her. Faith’s a superhero. She shouldn’t be like him at all. Then he remembers that Iron Man sometimes has problems with drinking, so maybe he shouldn’t be surprised that sometimes real superheroes can have problems with drinking too much.
Looks like the comic books got something right after all.
Spike clears his throat. “About this whole AA business...”
“Right. Sorry,” Alex says.
“Before you sobered up in that shelter of yours, how much do you remember, exactly? I want details. Leave nothin’ out,” Spike says. The way Spike’s looking at Alex makes Alex feel uncomfortable.
Suddenly the memory of his eye hurting and the smell of spilled wine creeps into Alex’s head. He starts shaking so hard that he hugs himself to try to stop it. Except that he can’t. He keeps shaking and shaking so hard that he can hear his teeth rattle.
He hears Spike say, “Bloody hell.”
Alex can feel himself curling up, no matter how hard he tries to stop it. “N-n-n-nothing. I don’t remember anything,” he stutters. It’s not really the truth, but he doesn’t want to talk about how he thinks that maybe a priest touched him in a bad way when he was drunk and that he thinks that’s when he lost his eye.
He can’t…he won’t…he can’t, can’t, can’t…
“Yo, it’s okay.” Alex can feel someone touching him and he tries to jerk away but the hands won’t let him go. “You don’t gotta answer. It’s okay. Just…don’t answer that.”
Somehow Alex stops shaking enough so he can look up. He’s surprised that Faith is kneeling in front of him and looking up at him. She looks really scared.
“You okay?” Faith asks.
Alex is still shivering like he’ll never be able to stop. “I don’t…I swear I don’t remember anything.”
“That doesn’t look like nothin’,” Spike says. Spike sounds like he’s standing behind Alex.
Faith looks up. “Cram it, Spike.”
“An’ they just went along with this. Unbelievable.” Spike sounds like he’s about to start yelling.
Alex really wishes he could stop shaking now. He’s kind of surprised that Spike’s not already forcing a glass of water in his hand and telling him to drink it.
Faith glares at Spike as she stands up. Then she just shrugs. “Way I heard it, as soon as Harris gave ’em his thoughts he and Rosenberg really got into it. By the time it was over, they were screaming at each other and Rosenberg was boo-hooing her eyes out.”
“Red still did it, didn’t she?” Spike says as he walks over to Faith and back into Alex’s line of sight. Spike shoots Alex a glare, like somehow Alex made Zander and Willow get into a fight.
“Yeah, well, this was the part Kenny loved telling because it was all, ‘And Willow thought she knew better and wouldn’t listen to Xander,’” Faith says. “At some point Rosenberg lied and said she’d do it, except she slapped on her own special cocoon instead of Harris’s. She did it twice, in fact. Neither one of those puppies lasted more than a day. It was like the harder she tried the better he got at breaking them. It was weird, y’know?”
“Stubborn,” Spike says as he glares at Alex. “Always has to get his own bloody way.”
Alex hunches his shoulders. He doesn’t understand. Spike’s acting like he’s really mad at Alex instead of Zander.
Faith suddenly steps in between Alex and Spike so that Alex can’t see Spike at all. “Yo, turn the glower down three notches,” she says. “Harris didn’t know what he was doin’ when he was under. I mean, Jesus, you know how it is. Survival instinct. As long as he was capable, he was just going to get better ’n better at breaking those cocoons. Everyone could see it. They had to give in. Harris didn’t give ’em a choice.”
“The plan was arsed up from the get-go,” Spike says. Spike then starts pacing. Alex can see that Spike really wants to leave the room, probably so he can go and ask Willow and Buffy if what Faith said was true.
“Yeah, well, it’s like Robin says. Desperate plans are never the best ones,” Faith says.
Spike stops pacing and he looks at Faith. “You two are back together, are you?”
Alex guesses that Spike must be asking Faith about a boyfriend. Except that Robin is a girl’s name, unless the person being called Robin is Robin Hood.
Faith makes a “pffffft” noise. Even Alex can tell that means no.
“You’re too good for the likes of him,” Spike says as he starts pacing again.
Oh. So Robin is a boy’s name, Alex thinks.
Faith shakes her head. Then she turns around and sits down next to Alex on the side with his good eye. She elbows Alex in the ribs and grins at him. “Spike’s right, y’know. Harris’s cocoon was one screwed-up idea.” She suddenly shrugs. “Still, you gotta admit that it worked.”
Spike spins around and glares at both Alex and Faith. “Worked, did it? This, to you, is working.” Spike waves his arms around the room. “If you’d just had the week we had, I’m very bloody sure you wouldn’t say the plan worked.”
Alex agrees with Spike, although he doesn’t say so. Sure, Zander got to L.A. and everything, which is really important since he’ll be the one stopping the monsters (Alex hopes). But what about him? It seems to him that everyone confuses him with Zander. Even Spike thought he was Zander. Plus, if the plan was so great and worked so well, how come all the monsters tried to attack him?
“Until Andy got his stupid ass turned, no one even got close,” Faith says. “They were sniffing around places like East Bumfuck, Canada, for Christ’s sake. I think the closest they got was Atlanta, and that was waaaaaay before they got their hands on Andy. If it wasn’t for that, the plan would’ve gone off without a hitch.”
Alex suddenly gets an attack of the giggles. Even though he knows that “bumfuck” isn’t a nice word at all, Faith said it in a way that made it sound really funny.
Faith grins at Alex as she says, “After Andrew went stoolie it was one thing after another. I mean, I was right in the middle of it when things started going down. It was like watching dominoes. We figured out that things had gone to shit right about the same time you did. We knew you guys were still hanging in there, but that’s about all we knew until you called G.”
Alex is relieved to know that the superheroes really were looking for him and Spike after they figured out something had gone wrong, even though Zander’s the one they really cared about.
Spikes stops pacing and shakes his head. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“Andrew?” Faith asks. “That’s easy. Andy screwed up and got himself turned.”
“Not that. Me an’ Alex here were attacked. Twice,” Spike says. “Rupert said none of you lot could actually pinpoint our ’zact location at all, but it seems someone could track us nice an’ easy.”
“Yeah, well, they were hot on your trail,” Faith says. “Someone was probably sniffing after your scent or something. Let’s face it, some of those de— I mean, monsters have a pretty good sense of smell last I checked.”
Alex looks down at the ground. He doesn’t know why, but he suddenly feels really, really guilty, like it’s somehow his fault that the monsters could find him and Spike.
“Alex?” Spike asks.
Alex looks up.
“What’s goin’ on in that head of—” Spike begins.
The door suddenly opens and Spike’s mouth snaps shut as he turns around.
Alex sees that Buffy is standing in the doorway. Her eyes are all red like she’s been crying. Behind Buffy he can see Willow (her eyes are all red like she’s been crying, too). He can see the man standing behind Willow. The expression on the man’s face is weird. Alex can’t tell if he’s sad like Buffy and Willow or mad like Spike.
Faith stands up.
“Oh, bugger,” Spike says as he turns back around toward Alex. He crosses his arms and looks down at the floor.
Buffy slowly walks over to Alex. “I, unh, Alex? I need to talk to you.”
“Buffy—” the man begins.
“Giles,” Buffy holds up a hand but she doesn’t turn around. Instead, she just keeps looking at Alex. “I’m doing this. I’m the one who made the promise. I’m the one who can’t keep it. So. I’m. Doing. This.”
That’s when Alex knows. They’ve changed their minds. They’re going to leave him to the monsters. He clutches the edge of the bed and tells himself not to panic. He could be wrong. He’s wrong about lots and lots of things. He’s probably wrong about this, too.
But he doesn’t think he is. The way Spike is acting and the way Faith is looking at Buffy makes him think that he’s right. He’s surprised that Buffy’s sad about it, though.
The man — Giles — just folds his arms. His expression changes and now Alex thinks that maybe Giles is really sad, too.
Buffy takes a deep breath and looks down at Alex. “We need your help.”
Alex is so surprised by what Buffy just said that for a moment Alex wonders if Buffy is talking to him. Everyone in the room is a superhero, except him. So why would Buffy say that the superheroes need his help?
Except she’s standing right there in front of him, and she’s looking right at him, so she has to be talking to him.
“Xander…” Buffy clears her throat. “Xander needs to get somewhere. So he can, unh, cast a spell to close the dimensional tear thing-y.”
Alex looks at Spike.
Buffy turns her head so she can look at Spike, too. “Does he know this part? About Xander having to cast the key-locking spell?” she asks.
“Keyeloche spell,” Giles says.
Spike nods and looks away. “Can’t believe you’re doing this,” Spike says. “You of all people.”
Alex has a feeling that Buffy is about to say something bad. She’s probably going to tell Alex that they won’t protect him from the monsters after all and that all those soldiers outside have to go away because the superheroes need their help protecting Zander. That has to be it.
Buffy is looking back at Alex. She looks really uncomfortable, like she can tell that Alex has already guessed that she’s going to tell him that the superheroes won’t protect him.
“The thing is…the thing is…Xander can’t get to where he needs to go unless, unh, unless you help,” Buffy says. “Help him I mean. Get there. To where he needs to go.”
Alex blinks. He doesn’t understand. How come he has to help Zander? Why can’t the superheroes do it? What can’t all those soldiers that Spike told him were outside do it? Unless it’s because he (and Spike and, before he forgets, Willow) are the only people who can see that the sky is tearing itself apart. Maybe they need Alex to help them find the crack that’s going to let all the monsters through so Zander will be able to find it.
Alex swallows hard. He doesn’t have any special powers (except that he can see that the sky is falling apart, although he doesn’t know why he can see the sky falling apart), but he doesn’t know if he can tell if one crack is different from all the others.
Buffy clears her throat with a shake of her head. “Let me try this again.” She takes a deep breath. “The thing is…the thing is…time’s running out and, ummm, we don’t have enough time to get Zander out of…out of…” She helplessly looks at Spike.
“There may have been talk about Harris bein’ in a cocoon of his own devising at some point after you lot left,” Spike mumbles. He’s not really looking at Buffy when he says this.
Buffy nods once. “Cocoon works.” She looks back at Alex. “See, Xander’s in this, unh, cocoon and it’ll take hours to break him out. Normally it’d take only a couple of hours, but there’s all this magic floating around. Because of the dimensional tear. Anyway, because of all this wacky and weird and wild magic, it’ll take a lot longer than normal to get him out and we don’t have time to set him free. We have to, unh, keep him hidden in it right up until just after he casts the spell.”
Alex still isn’t sure why Buffy is telling him this, so he doesn’t say anything.
Buffy closes her eyes. “Please tell me you understand.”
Alex glances at Spike, but Spike’s still not looking at either him or Buffy. Since Spike isn’t going to help him, he looks at Faith. When Faith sees Alex looking at her, she bites her lip and looks worried. Then she gives him a little nod.
Alex still isn’t sure what he’s supposed to say, but since Faith thinks he should say something (and because he can’t figure out what Spike thinks he should do), he makes a guess. “Zander’s hiding in a cocoon and you can’t get him out because there’s too much magic?”
Alex frowns. “So how’s he going to cast the spell?”
Buffy’s smile is kind of small. “He’ll know what to do. Don’t worry. Spell’s as good as cast. I mean, as long as we can get him to where he needs to go. This is kind of where you come in.”
Alex waits. He can feel his heart thudding in his chest. There are butterflies in his stomach. But his brain, weirdly enough, feels very quiet. It’s like Spike saying “steady on” when he panicked earlier, except not in words. It’s more like a feeling.
He really wants to stand up and start pacing because he’s so nervous; except that something tells him it would be a Very Bad Idea if he did.
“There’s another reason why we have to keep him in his, unh, cocoon,” Buffy says. “See, the streets are full of…full of…monsters that can read minds. They already know that Xander’s here. Somewhere. They just don’t know where. They can’t find him. Or they won’t be able to as long as he stays in that cocoon. They don’t know he’s still in this cocoon, which, yay for small favors. So they don’t know what to look for. They know what he looks like, sort of, but that’s about it. As long as Xander stays out of sight, and as long as we can get them to think that Xander’s somewhere that’s an elsewhere, they won’t know where he is until it’s way, way too late.”
In a blinding flash, Alex understands. He starts breathing hard as he jumps off the bed and stumbles away from Buffy. “Bait,” he says.
Buffy wildly looks around. “Bait? What bait?” She looks back at Alex. “Bait?”
Alex keeps stumbling backwards until he crashes against a wall with a thud. All of the superheroes look like they want to run over to him. Alex throws up his arms so he can fight them if they get close (although he doesn’t know what good it will do since they have superstrength and he doesn’t). His back starts to hurt because he’s pressing against wall as if he could somehow push his way through it into another room and escape.
Alex suddenly wishes that he had the ability to walk through walls like Kitty Pryde.
“You’re going to use me as bait to fool all the monsters because they think I’m Zander so Zander can go wherever and cast that spell,” Alex says. He’s breathing so hard that he’s gasping. He feels like he can’t get enough air into his lungs and that he’s going to pass out.
Buffy’s shaking her head really hard. “Bait? I didn’t say bait. I know I didn’t say bait. Where did you get that you’re—”
“You guessed correctly,” Giles says.
Everyone spins around to look at Giles. Giles looks really angry and a little bit sad.
“He’s not bait!” Willow yells.
“Lying to Alex will not help him or us,” Giles says. “It’s best if he understands the truth.”
“Truth?” Buffy’s voice sounds really high. “That’s the truth?”
Giles ignores her. Instead he slowly walks across the room to Alex. Alex wants to slide along the wall away from Giles, but he knows it wouldn’t do any good. He can’t escape. There’s one witch and four superheroes (he guesses that Giles is a superhero) between him and the door. If they really want to stop him, Alex knows that he’ll be stopped. There’s no point in trying to get away from Giles. So he stays where he is.
“Giles…” Buffy begins.
Giles holds up a hand to stop her from talking as he creeps closer and closer. Giles doesn’t stop until he’s standing right in front of Alex.
Alex wants to scream at Giles. He wants to throw a punch right at his face. He doesn’t though. If he attacks Giles, the other superheroes will attack him. So he forces himself to stand still and he bites his tongue to stop himself from saying anything.
“You guessed correctly,” Giles says. “Xander must arrive, unharmed, at the proper location so he can cast a spell. That spell, as I’m sure you’ve been told, will save not just those of us in L.A., but the entire world.” Giles clasps his hands behind his back. “If Xander is stopped or severely injured before he gets there…”
“Everyone dies,” Alex whispers. He can’t help it. The words just kind of slipped out.
Giles smiles at him then. Alex doesn’t know why, but he feels kind of warm inside, even though Giles just told him that they want to use Alex to fool all the monsters into thinking he’s Zander.
“Precisely,” Giles says to him. “Now rest assured, you will be under heavy protection at all times. Some of the very people standing in this room will be guarding you, in fact.”
Alex is confused. If he’s going to be used as bait, why would they want to protect him? Shouldn’t they have him stand somewhere where all the monsters can see him? And shouldn’t he be alone so the monsters will think it’s safe to go after him? That way all the monsters will be distracted while Zander goes to cast the spell.
Giles shakes his head. He reaches a hand up to his glasses, like he wants to take them off. Instead, his hand is half-way there before it drops back down to his side, like he wasn’t really reaching for his glasses at all.
“I promise you,” Giles says very quietly, like he’s only talking to Alex, “we’re not going to chuck you into the street, or toss you in the middle of a scrum, and we’re most certainly not going to dangle you in front of any demon like you are a carrot. We will be protecting you at all costs.”
Alex can feel his knees get weak and he wants to slide down to the floor. All he can feel is relief. Even though Giles just told him that the superheroes are going to use him as bait, he also just said that the superheroes were going to protect him from the monsters.
It’s good enough. He’ll take it, even if it means that he’ll be bait.
Giles reaches out and rests a hand on his shoulder. It feels warm. Comforting. Almost like a hug. “If we simply throw you to the wolves, they’d know that you were not Xander. No,” Giles shakes his head, “if we’re to convince them at all, you must be heavily guarded at all times and surrounded by our best people. Then, and only then, will they believe that you’re Xander.”
“Do you think they’ll attack us?” Alex asks.
“Nothing’s going to happen to you,” Buffy says. One minute it’s just her voice, and the next minute she’s there in front of Alex and standing next to Giles. It happens so fast that Alex jumps a little bit. He guesses that superspeed is one of Buffy’s superhero powers.
“I promise you, you’re going to get out of this just fine.” Buffy looks really fierce, like she wants to go outside and dare every monster in the world to attack Alex just so she can beat them up. “You’re not going to get hurt. You’re not even going to see hurt. You’re getting out of this no matter what. Understand?”
Alex looks at Spike, but Spike’s looking at Buffy with narrow eyes. Spike’s expression doesn’t make Alex feel relaxed at all.
“I swear,” Buffy says quietly. “I can keep this promise. I know I can.”
Alex glances at Spike again, except now Spike is looking at some point on the floor. He’s frowning very hard. Alex isn’t sure if it’s because Spike is thinking, or if it’s because Spike doesn’t think Buffy’ll keep her promise. Spike’s expression isn’t telling him anything at all.
“I know this all sounds quite foolish to you,” Giles says.
Alex quickly looks at Giles.
“All these people. All this power. And you’re the only one who can do anything to save the world,” Giles glances over his shoulder before looking back at Alex. “But without your help, everything we’ve fought for, everything we could yet do, will come to naught and this sorry old world will be lost. We are truly in your hands.”
Alex looks around the room. There’s Spike, patting down his pockets like he really needs to find his cigarettes again. There’s Willow standing near the door, watching Alex with very big eyes. There’s Faith, leaning against a wall with her arms crossed, also looking right at Alex.
And right in front of him are Giles and Buffy. They’re just watching him like they’re afraid he’ll say no.
Alex wants to say no. He wants to tell them to find someone else. He wants to tell them that he can’t do this. He’s not a superhero. He’s not a hero. He’s not even a sidekick.
But he can do one thing. It’s the one thing he knows he can do, because Spike told him he could: don’t blink.
He’s not sure that not blinking is going to be enough, even if he is just playing bait so Zander can cast the spell and save everyone.
Giles clears his throat to get Alex’s attention.
As soon as Alex is looking Giles right in the eye, Giles asks, “I’m afraid that time is growing rather short. So we need your answer. Alex, will you help us?”