It's snowing. Not early, light, melt right-a-way snow. Hard core snow. That requires shovels.
Yes, I know. New England. Winter. Well, technically late fall. But we've been spoiled the past few years in that snow doesn't really start to fly until December.
*grumble snarl growl*
Well, looks like it's a good day to unpack those last four boxes I've been meaning to unpack. Scrub the apartment. Do laundry.
Continued from Part 2.
The strangest part of the whole business, Xander decided, was that he actually wasn’t that embarrassed to have a guy watching him shower and get dressed. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was used to living in somewhat crowded conditions; or if it was because he was too exhausted and hurting to care; or if it was because he was more than half-convinced he was dreaming the whole thing.
Other him had aged sorta okay. The hair was shot through with silver, not a lot but enough that it stood out once you noticed. The face was slightly weather-beaten, like this guy had his share of days working in the sun. There were also some crow’s feet around the eyes, nothing pronounced, but enough to give the face character. He wasn’t sure how much of the box-like build was fat or muscle. Other Xander was nowhere near his own pre-wedding flab, but he probably could stand to hit the gym and shave a few calories off dinner.
Needless to say, all of this was put on the “it’s a dream” list. There was no way he wasn’t going to be bald, heavily scared, fat, arthritic, and toothless, probably all as a result of getting the snot beaten out of him multiple times before he hit thirty. Plus, aging gracefully? It wasn’t in the Harris genetic code as far as he knew.
Just in case that it was real and he was deluding himself, he did everything he could to make sure that the other guy was on his right side. Hell, he didn’t bother to hide the fact that he was keeping his good eye on other Xander. If you think for one second you’re going to get a chance to jump me, you are sadly mistaken whoever you are, Xander grimly thought.
That wasn’t to say there wasn’t a little bit of weirdness, which really was par for Xander’s course, but other Xander had a distinct air of being uncomfortable.
“Sheesh. You’d think you never saw a twin before,” Xander grumbled as he took the proffered Tylenol with bad grace when he emerged from the shower with a towel around his waist.
“Once was enough, thanks.” Other Xander said as he stared as his chest. “Just out of curiosity, not that I care because I am on the not-caring train, where did you get those scars?”
Xander looked down and saw his Willow-shaped souvenirs, the ones he still did his best to hide from certain redheaded witches. He’d been surprised that he didn’t get a matching set on his face, but he’d always supposed that the poultice Giles forced on him probably had something to do with that.
“Kingman’s Bluff?” Xander hesitantly asked.
Other him looked very confused.
Okay, if this is a dream, shouldn’t he know what I’m talking about? Xander’s caution kicked in and he said, “Just a bad run-in. It’s no big.”
“Same thing with that scar there?” other Xander pointed at the spot where Xander got stabbed in the gut by his last date gone really wrong.
“Different fight, but yeah. A souvenir from my last year in Sunnydale.”
He was not at all comforted by the fact that other Xander still had no clue what he was talking about. Thankfully, other Xander seemed to decide that he preferred the not-speaking thing and didn’t ask any more questions, much to Xander’s great relief.
Yet more unreality waited for him with respect to the clothes. The boxer shorts and jeans were a size or two too big around the waist and thighs, which meant he actually had to use a belt. The t-shirt and flannel shirt fit okay, but were a little tight across the back of the shoulders and a little loose around the gut. Not a huge deal, even if he felt like he really was wearing someone else’s clothes. On the upside, other him was at least the same height, so it could’ve been worse.
Now decent and no longer stinking up the room, Xander was ready to go face Anya and whatever passed for her idea of breakfast. If memory served, it was probably some form of sugary cereal with whole milk and juice from a jelly glass. If he were really lucky, there’d be burnt toast and coffee that tasted like the water merely waved at the beans on its way through the filter.
Yikes. He was looking at his impending breakfast of champions like it was a bad thing. Against all reason, Andrew had spoiled him on the breakfast front. Of course, breakfast for him generally happened around noon. The 9:00 on the digital clock meant it was way too early for him to be awake.
The house itself didn’t even register until Xander hit the staircase to the ground floor. He was caught off guard by the swooping curves he’d have to travel. The dark banister contrasted with the busy dark carpet on the stairs and the white walls were just a little too disorientating for his one eye to take. He grabbed the banister before he pitched forward.
“What’s wrong?” other him asked. He accentuated his point by poking Xander in the small of his back with the meat cleaver.
Xander held himself very still. “Stairs.”
“What about them?”
He doesn’t know! Wait? He doesn’t know? Which meant one thing: other Xander had two eyes and had no clue that this Xander was flying half-blind with a fake one. High on the freak-o-meter and definitely one for the “it’s a dream” list, but if other Xander didn’t know, Xander wasn’t about to tell him.
“They’re…nice,” Xander said as his brain scrambled to find cover. “Hey! This banister! American cherry wood. Am I right?”
“Yeah,” other him sounded surprised. “Most people think it’s mahogany, but…”
“The dark stain makes it look like it. Gotchya.” He was definitely babbling, delaying the moment of truth when he’d have to feel his way down the stairs. “But I know my wood, that’s for sure. Can’t fool this carpenter, right?”
“Right.” Wow. Could other Xander sound any more suspicious?
Xander took a deep breath and began his clumsy decent. He managed to get down ten steps before other him took umbrage.
“What’s with the School of Funny Walks?”
“Concussion!” Xander blurted out. “I’m still feeling a little woozy about angles, and sweeps, and curves. So, I just want to take my time, you know? Not fall and break my neck because if I had to do that, you’d have to get rid of the body, right?”
“You really don’t know when to shut up, do you?”
Xander bit his tongue and focused on getting down the stairs, trying to ignore the impatient breathing of the man behind him. Once he hit the ground floor, he couldn’t resist looking around. “Holy…you live here?”
“Yeah,” other Xander sounded confused.
“This is nice.” Xander was twisting this way and that, craning his neck to take in the woodwork, the hardwood floors peeking out beyond the edges of the thick Oriental carpets, the stained glass above the front door, the obviously expensive wallpaper and paintwork, and the high quality furniture he could glance at through doorways in distant rooms.
This house looked very much like the old robber baron homes he and Giles had looked at when scouting Cleveland for fixer-upper properties. While the price was nice on a lot of what they saw, many of the homes had paperwork problems in the form of city zoning (no schools or other businesses allowed), environmental easements (100-year flood plains are a bitch), historical preservation (Historical Commission people can be so unreasonable), or something similar that would’ve made it difficult to expand or alter the buildings.
Hence how they ended up in a row of brownstones in Cleveland’s more urban environment. They were already working on buying out one or two of the neighbors and, with minimal work and expense, could renovate the houses to suit the new occupants.
He always felt they were compromising on the Cleveland headquarters. From the first moment he saw one of the stately homes, he really wanted to live in house just like that. Or rather, just like the one he was standing in, spare Xander or no.
Xander wandered over to the front door and he squinted up into the sunlight streaming through the stained glass. “How did you get this? I mean, this is nicer than cousin Digby’s house back in Sunnydale.”
Xander turned around and saw that other him seemed very confused about his reaction. The funny thing was he could see the mental calculus going on behind the eyes: This guy is surprised I have nice stuff. This guy is surprised that it’s even possible I have nice stuff. Who the hell is this guy?
At the moment, this guy was a guy who was giving himself a hard pinch because this dream was crossing right into “please, you’ve got to be kidding me” territory.
Nope. Still awake. Or asleep. Or whatever the hell he was.
“I saw that,” other him had the cleaver back up in a defensive position, “and if anyone should be pinching anyone, it should be me pinching me, not you pinching you.”
“I could always pinch you and split the difference.”
Xander swallowed hard when the other him scowled. He knew that scowl. It was the kind of scowl Tony would get when they were out of beer. Oh yeah, the Harris genes were strong with this one.
“Into the kitchen,” other him rumbled as he waved his weapon to a spot behind him.
“Sure,” Xander said meekly and did as ordered.
The kitchen was as impressive as what little he saw of the house. It was large and sunlight bright. There were butcher-block countertops, numerous cabinets, and an island in the center that looked like it was built for the kitchen. If other Xander was a carpenter, all of it was probably a custom job.
The thing that really floored him was the confusion of countertop kitchen appliances all neatly arranged around the kitchen. He could tell what some of them were, thanks to Andrew’s love affair with all things cooking, others he had no clue. The bigger appliances—from refrigerator, to stove, to dishwasher—were all classic stainless steel and looked expensive.
On second thought, the kitchen was more impressive than the rest of the house, if only because it wasn’t at all what he expected and was everything he could possibly want.
“Sit,” Anya ordered as she placed a cup of coffee on a table set in a nook.
Other Xander prodded him with the meat cleaver when he hesitated. He chose a chair that would at least keep his back to a wall, but still give him a clear view of the room out of the corner of his right eye.
When he settled, Anya placed a bowl of oatmeal in front of him. “Something quick.” She sounded almost apologetic.
As her hand pulled away, Xander saw the wedding band and he gave his other self a sharp look. “Married?”
That gave the twosome pause. Not surprisingly, Anya spoke first, “What did you think?”
“I, unh, not sure what I thought,” Xander quickly focused on the bowl as he felt reality slipping around under his feet. At least the oatmeal looked real, which was probably why he didn’t want to eat it. He needed something to hold on to and this seemed to be his best bet.
“Wait. You’re not married?” other Xander asked.
Okay, still must be dreaming, only now the dream was switching to nightmare mode in a Xander-Harris-this-is-sooooo-not-your-li
“Unh, no. No. I’ve never been married,” Xander said numbly. The small part of his brain that could think clearly let out a warning yelp that maybe he should watch what he said. The nightmare people didn’t seem to know everything about him, like the fact he had one eye. If he kept crucial information about himself quiet, it might come in handy if he had to fight his way back to the waking world.
Anya and other him were exchanging confused looks.
“Never even got close to married,” Xander clarified.
Their disbelieving eyes were back on him like a snap. If he didn’t talk fast, they were going to figure out he wasn’t telling the truth.
He leaned back and tried to look relaxed. “Me and Anya, I mean my Anya…you know how it is.” Why no, I don’t, came the snarky mental voice. Why don’t you try telling us?
“You broke her heart didn’t you?” Anya accused.
“Ahn…” other him began.
“No. I do know how this goes.” She swooped closer while Xander froze. “Why are your intestines still inside your body?”
“Ahn! That’s enough!” other him yelled.
Xander opened his mouth to say something, but Anya beat him to the punch.
“Sorry, hun.” She was standing with hands folded in front of her and her head down like she was some bad little girl.
Xander hid his hands under the table and clenched his fists. This is so wrong. This is completely wrong. Anya would never…
Except she kind of was starting to back off on some things in the lead-up to the wedding. He just assumed it was because they were both jittering their way to the altar and she was trying to avoid a fight. Lord knows he did his share of backing down when things got heated. But as close to a fight as they sometimes got, he certainly didn’t remember snapping like that at Anya.
Or maybe he did.
All of a sudden, he wasn’t sure.
Anya turned and gave him a tight smile. “I didn’t mean for it to sound like it did, so I’m…”
“Anya sometimes jumps to conclusions. Right, hun?” other Xander interrupted.
“Right,” Anya agreed quietly.
“You don’t have to apologize,” Xander said. “I mean, it’s a fair question. How often have you seen it, you know, some commitment phobe strings a girl along until she gets sick of it and leaves or…or makes a wish, right?”
Anya’s face softened at that, making her look more beautiful than Xander thought possible.
Xander took a breath and plastered a smile on his face while he kept focused on Anya. “I promise that it wasn’t like that at all.” Struck by sudden inspiration, he added, “We were just orgasm friends, you know? For the record, she left me, not the other way around.”
“I like that,” she sounded pleased, “‘orgasm friends.’ Did you hear that?”
“Yeah.” Other Xander didn’t sound like he was buying.
“Would you prefer ‘fuck buddies?’” Ooooo, he was really pushing his luck now.
Anya giggled a little at that and other Xander shot her an unhappy look.
Anya drifted over to other Xander and looked up into his eyes. Xander supposed she was appeasing other him in some way he didn’t understand. “Well, it does prove he had sex with another me,” she said. “He even hesitates a little before saying orgasm just like you used to.”
Other Xander’s shoulders slumped slightly as he said fondly, “What am I going to do with you?”
Xander relaxed. Thanks to Anya, he won. Glory be.
“So,” Anya said, not taking her eyes of her husband, “what happened?”
Other Xander looked back at him and smiled an unpleasant smile. “She’s asking you a question.”
Okay, maybe he had a little more lying to do. “I was just spinning my wheels, not really going anywhere. Anya just wanted more out of life. Actually, she wanted out of Sunnydale. Even invited me along for the ride.”
Anya’s look was less friendly now. “Unh-hunh.”
“So, ummm, she left. Last I heard she was happy,” Xander’s imagination was quickly running out of steam. Better to leave the lie vague. “I haven’t heard from her in a little while, so I guess she’s doing well.”
“So what is that other me doing?” Anya asked.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Xander quickly answered. “Soooo, married, hunh? How did that happen?”
“It’s a very romantic story,” Anya fluttered.
“If it involves me, why do I doubt that?”
“You might say there’s a lot of doubt to go around,” other him said. Xander noticed that other him didn’t seem ready to believe anything that came out of his younger twin’s mouth.
Xander schooled his face as best he could, not at all confident that he’d be able to fool Anya’s supposed husband but willing to give it a shot. “So, are you going to tell me about it or leave me hanging?”
He was hoping other him would prevent Anya from answering that question since he seemed sensitive about the vengeance demon thing. He was sadly disappointed.
Anya actually looked at other him for permission to spill the details, an act that completely blew Xander away. Other Xander gave her a slight nod, which resulted in Anya’s face lighting up in that happy smile that made Xander’s heart shatter.
Something told him he wasn’t going to like this romantic story one little bit.
“It’s like a portkey,” Willow announced as she entered the living room.
“A port what?” Buffy asked.
“You know, like Harry Potter,” Kennedy answered as Willow flopped onto the couch.
“Since when do you read kiddie books?” Faith asked.
“Since my girl likes them,” Kennedy said as she went to Willow’s side and began gently rubbing her girlfriend’s temples. Willow groaned appreciatively.
“Still waiting for an answer,” Buffy said.
“It’s a dimensional key,” Giles said as he made his own tired entrance into the room. “Wherever Xander is, he’s not in our dimension.”
“Then where is he?” Buffy demanded.
“That we were not able to determine,” Giles said as he settled himself in a chair. “There is some good news, however.”
“I’m game for some,” Faith said.
“The crystal ball was custom-made,” Giles said. “The only person it can possibly affect is Xander. Everyone else is safe.”
“Good news would be, ‘We can get him back,’” Buffy grumbled.
“Actually, I’m not sure how good the good news is,” Willow said while Kennedy continued to work. “They must’ve gotten a hold of something of Xander’s to make sure it only reacted to him.”
“Like what?” Faith asked.
“Clothing. Jewelry. Hair. Just something he owns or is part of him,” Willow answered.
“Fuck. Could be anything,” Faith sat back. “We’re not always careful about retrieving all the cross-bow bolts or arrows. Something could have ripped his clothes and taken off with a piece. And when you’re fighting, who’s going to fucking realize that something yanked hair out of your head?”
“You’re the one who works most closely with Xander. Have you ever noticed anything specifically targeting him?” Giles asked the dark-hared Slayer.
Faith thought hard, but wasn’t able to come up with anything. “No. And if our perps ain’t in a rush, all they’d have to do is wait around. There’s plenty of shit they could grab if they were after one of us and we wouldn’t even notice it was gone.”
“And if one thing’s for sure, they planned this,” Buffy said angrily. “I just don’t get why Xander and not someone else. We’d react the same way if anyone else got grabbed.”
“Because whatever is responsible for this thinks Xander’s the perfect bait to get what it wants,” Giles said.
Download (Good for seven days): Once in a Lifetime (Stop Making Sense version) by Talking Heads