I feel icky, complete with scratchy throat and tired eyes. *bleh*
But this begs to be posted tonight. I'm (fingers crossed) going to be finishing my PAL-a-thon story next week, so I don't know whether there'll be a new part next week. The next section needs to be polished up a bit.
And enjoy the download with this one. Devonsquare's a local band that almost made it big. They're great live.
Xander woke to the smell of bacon assaulting his nose. He blinked against the bright sunlight and pushed himself up to a sitting position.
Yikes. He slept in his borrowed clothes. He hated falling asleep while still fully dressed. Besides, he hadn’t done that since…Okay, did it last week. Gotta break the habit.
Despite the familiar icky, wrinkly feeling, Xander’s spirits were on an upswing. First off, the sun was definitely shining and he was pretty sure the sun didn’t shine in hell. Secondly, there was bacon. Hell couldn’t possibly have bacon because…well…it’s bacon, isn’t it? Bacon equaled home and a damn fine breakfast in Xander’s mind. No way, no how did hell have bacon.
Xander stood and stretched. “What we have here is a case of the freak-itis. Gotta stop jumping at conclusions that aren’t there.” Xander yawned with a lip smacking finish and scratched his ass. “Yup. Not a great situation, but jeez, over-react much?”
Morning pep talk over, Xander peeled off his clothes, grabbed a bathrobe, and scooted into the bathroom for a quality morning piss and wake-me-up shower.
The fact that he managed to land on the perfect morning shower temperature and that the bathroom was stocked with his favorite toothpaste—cinnamint, thank you so very muchly—added a much-needed boost to his emotional state.
By the time he started rummaging around for a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, Xander was firmly back in the camp that he was hallucinating as a result of demon poison or a spell gone really wrong. While it wasn’t a pleasant hallucination, it certainly wasn’t the hellish scenario his overtaxed brain cooked up last night.
Xander gave himself the once over in the mirror. “Yup. This is what we call a case of overtired, over-freaked, and just plain over-the-top.” He snorted. “I’m dead and this is hell. Yeah. Right.”
Easy to buy the hell thing in the dark after a night of watching yourself nearly get killed while yourself pretended to be Batman and then see yourself go home to a celebratory fuck. Little harder to buy it after collapsing into bed, getting a good night’s sleep, and waking up to the smell of bacon.
As for where his friends were, there could be a lot of reasons why he hadn’t seen or heard anything yet. Willow might not be able to do the Vulcan mind-meld thing she did with Buffy because, hello! Human boy over here. Buffy might be able to take that kind of personal invasion because she was Slay-girl. Plus, it could have something to do with the magic sensitivity thing he got stuck with. Maybe Willow tried it and his body in the waking world reacted badly, so they decided to let it go.
Besides, he’d much rather they were working on a cure to fix him. The sooner they found a cure, the sooner he’d wake up and that, in Xander’s mind, counted for nothing but good. He was more than willing to forgo any mind-bending visits from Willow if it meant he’d get out of this even an hour earlier.
If he really wanted to be honest with himself—god knows someone has to do the honesty thing right now because no one else is, except for Haley and I’m not even too sure about her—maybe it was a good thing no one could invade his mind. How the hell could he ever possibly explain this hallucination to someone else when he couldn’t figure it out himself?
Xander gave his reflection a final nod. Time to be rational-guy. He really had to get off the emotional roller coaster and start looking at this situation for what it was. Dire? Sure. Fatal? Maybe in the future if his friends didn’t manage to wake him up. Already dead? He didn’t feel dead, so definitely not.
And did he mention? Bacon. Dead people eat deep fat-fried flowering onions with lots and lots of horseradish or cruchy things they can dunk in a convenient mug of blood, at least according to Spike. Bacon? Not so much.
It was on that happy thought that Xander padded downstairs to the kitchen wearing his borrowed sweats. His positive outlook boosted higher when he found a decent breakfast waiting for him.
“You missed him,” Anya said while she reached into the oven to retrieve an omelet that had been left warming. “He’s already at the shop.”
Xander watched Anya bustle around him as she put food and coffee on the table. This whole “Anya cooks” thing more than anything else—even more than watching himself off vampires with Olympic-like archery precision—just reinforced the idea that this was a hallucination.
Anya and cooking? It just didn’t compute. Half the reason why he gained weight before his not-a-wedding was because they were constantly eating takeout. Neither he nor Anya knew how to cook and, to be brutally honest, he couldn’t imagine a world where Anya would bother to try. Well, obviously he could because here was fake Anya doing just that. Still, it was wig-worthy that his brain shoved Anya into a Martha Stewart-ish mold. Willow’s mother would have a field day with this.
“Sleep well?” Anya asked as she poured herself a cup of coffee.
He could see she was delaying the inevitable. Well, he wasn’t exactly in a rush to tell her about last night either, hallucination or not, because he really didn’t see what good it would do. He dug into breakfast.
Yet another surprise: the omelet was good and the coffee was nothing short of perfection.
“So, we’re back at the college library today, right?” Xander said between bites. While he doubted they’d find anything helpful, it was still worth a shot. If his hallucination was the result of demon poison, it might have a magical component. Take Buffy’s sitch, for example. She had to solve her hallucination before she’d take Willow’s antidote. He might have something similar. He might have to solve the riddle of his own hallucination before whatever cure Willow found would work.
And that meant research.
Anya settled into the seat opposite him with her full cup, but gave no indication that she was going to drink her coffee. “Since Xander’s working at the shop all day, yes. But if you’re still here tomorrow when he’s got to make a few deliveries, we can’t go.”
Oh, oh. Looks like the hallucination is going to roadblock me. Might as well hear the excuse I’m giving myself this time. “Why not?” Xander asked between chews.
“Too risky for both of you to be seen in public at the same time,” Anya explained. “He ran into Jules—You remember the librarian, right?—and she asked if he found the mystical design he was looking for. We need to coordinate things better to avoid problems. Plus, he doesn’t want a situation where people are spotting him in two separate places at the same time. Too many questions.”
Xander fought back a smile. Oh, yeah. He’d see the other him’s thinking on this even if he had both eyes poked out. Of course. Because there are rules and end zones. I don’t fit the rules, so I’m the one that has to hide so he can go around pretending to be super-duper normal. We’ll just see about that, asshole. “He doesn’t want anyone to see me, period.”
“Can you blame him?” Anya closed her eyes with a sigh. “We just want to live a normal life and you’re not. Normal I mean.”
Xander snorted his angry amusement at that.
“You don’t approve,” Anya said tightly.
Xander shoved the plate away and sat back in his chair. “Ahn, you’re an ex-Vengeance Demon. You’ve been alive more than 1,200 years. Just how fucking normal do you and my evil twin think you can ever possibly be?”
“The key word is ‘ex.’” Anya’s eyes glittered dangerously. “How dare you throw my past back in my face. Xander would never…”
“I’m not throwing anything in your face,” Xander shot back. “But, c’mon. This isn’t you and I know it’s not you. I mean, look at you. You’re little miss hostess with the mostest. You had a wine and cheese party for your suburban friends the other night. You’re playing bookkeeper for the family business. I bet you even go to parent-teacher’s night, for Christ’s sake.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Anya’s hands curled around her coffee cup.
“What’s wrong with it? What’s wrong with it?” Xander started laughing. “You’re not normal and you’ll never, ever be normal so why the hell are you pretending? What really kills me is that you’re so desperate to hold on to ‘normal’ that you sent me, a complete stranger, out last night to spy on the guy you married. C’mon, you’re better than that. The Anya I remember would’ve just outright asked what the hell was going on. She wouldn’t be hiding behind someone else, let alone someone she wasn’t sure she could trust.”
Anya went white with hurt and anger. If he thought for one second that this was real, he would’ve felt guilty about it. But since it was his hallucination, he could do and say whatever the fuck he wanted. He was done dancing. Time to make the hallucinations dance to his tune. It was his brain, therefore his rules. Tough shit if fake Anya didn’t like it.
Xander’s new attitude worked because Anya broke eye contact first. “So, what did you see?” she mumbled.
He hesitated for a moment. You know, it’s entirely possible that this is real. You know other realities exist, his conscience pointed out. Unh-unh. Not a chance. Too many things were piling up on the “it’s not even close to real” side of the equation.
He obviously hesitated a little too long, because Anya slumped. “Oh god. He is having an affair, isn’t he? But how? How did I miss all the signs?”
The ache in her voice killed what small desire he had to cheerfully dump the truth in her lap and let her know just how not-normal her normal life really was, hallucination or no. Plus, if he shattered her happy little world, hallucination Anya might go back on her word to help him get out of here. He couldn’t afford to alienate anyone right now, especially since any one of these ghosts might hold his ticket out of this mess.
Xander uncomfortably cleared his throat. “He isn’t having an affair. Honest. He really is doing what he says he’s doing. Taking in the night air.”
“You’re lying. I can tell you’re lying.” Anya closed her eyes as her chin began to tremble. “Oh god. I’ve seen this too many times. The man starts roving. His friends know what’s going on. But they lie and lie and lie to cover for him because that’s what men do.”
Pure instinct propelled Xander out of his seat and onto his knees next to Anya’s chair. He felt a sharp pang of irrational guilt when he saw that tears were beginning to leak from under her eyelids.
“I’m not lying about him having an affair. You’ve got to believe me,” he said evenly.
“Why should I believe you?”
“I’m not his friend.”
Anya sniffed and looked suspiciously at him.
“I’ve totally got no reason to lie. Hell, if anything I’ve got motivation to lie and tell you that he is having an affair.”
“No you don’t.”
“Oh yes I do.” He reached up to wipe the tears from her face, cursing himself every step of the way for giving in to instinct. “I mean, how come he’s the lucky guy that landed you, right?”
The compliment got Anya to smile and huff a half-laugh. The familiar mannerism got Xander to smile back and he couldn’t resist pulling her into a hug. As he buried his nose in her hair, the familiar smell of her and the familiar feel of her arms hugging him back chased all sense from his head.
Next thing he knew, hands were wandering where they probably shouldn’t if this were real. And if this were real, he probably shouldn’t be kissing her like he was and enjoying the fact that her tongue was fighting with his in a way that made him ache.
If this were real, he wouldn’t have ripped her blouse open, causing buttons to pop off and scatter around the kitchen. He wouldn’t have let her push down the sweatpants he wore. He wouldn’t have cleared the kitchen table off with a sweep of his arm while she tugged at his sweats. He definitely wouldn’t have pulled her jeans off as he kissed down the length of her body.
Since it wasn’t real, since it was all a just a hallucination, he had no problems with the fact that he pushed her down onto the kitchen table.
And he didn’t feel the least bit guilty when he slid into her and her legs wrapped around his waist.
Faith held her super-sized mug filled to the brim with black coffee and trembled with rage. “What. The. Fuck. Is. That. Dog. Doing. In. The. Parlor.”
The baby Slayers gathered around Jack looked up.
“Why isn’t he locked away upstairs with the rest of the freak show?” Faith demanded.
They all started talking at once.
“He needed a bath.”
“And his breath smelled.”
“Fleas. There were lots and lots of fleas.”
“He looked so sad.”
“We didn’t want to bring dog food up to the room and…”
Faith resisted the urge to whip her mug at the heads of the collected dumbasses. “I don’t fucking care. He is a kidnapper. Get me? He fucked with one of our own. He’s got fleas? Tough shit. Let him scratch his goddamn nuts off.”
Jack whined and shrunk back, but not before Faith saw a big red bow tied around the dog’s neck.
“What the…the hell…” Faith sputtered. “He’s not a fucking pet!”
“Letting him suffer is just cruel,” Jeanne said. “I like dogs and I can’t stand…”
“He’s not a goddamn dog!” Faith exploded.
“Thank you,” said a voice behind her.
Faith spun around, well prepared to rip whoever said that a new asshole. She was greeted with the sight of Rona, Vi, Barbara, Sally, and Lisa—all Slayers who patrolled with her and Xander on a regular basis—standing with their arms crossed looking even more pissed off than she was.
“They wouldn’t listen to us,” Rona said in a flat, angry voice. “Kept saying we weren’t the boss of them.”
“Plus, I don’t see them offering to help the rat,” Vi added. “Oh, that’s because he’s not cuuuuuute. Or how about the snake, hunh? Oh, wait. That’s because he’s scaly.”
“But give them an ugly mutt and you can see P-E-T written on each eyeball,” Lisa agreed while Barbara and Sally glared daggers at Jack.
“Thank god someone around here has some fucking sense,” Faith turned back to the baby Slayers gathered around Jack, one of whom was scritching the dog behind the ears. “I got news for you guys. Evil ain’t always ugly, get me? Sometimes it comes in wrapped in a pretty package and next thing you know you’ve got a set of fangs in your neck.”
“He’s not a vampire,” said one of the members of the Jack-is-a-dog-let’s-scratch-his-stomach club.
“And he’s not evil,” another club member agreed.
“Just desperate,” a third chimed in.
“Let me explain this one more time,” Faith stated. “Because of him and his buddies, Cyclops ain’t here. Because of him and his buddies, we may not get him back.”
Most of the baby Slayers around Jack looked ashamed of themselves for losing sight of that. A couple of holdouts looked defiant and Faith silently cursed. The news of Anya’s demon past had earned sympathy points for the kidnappers. Hell, even Faith had to admit she was sympathetic, but that didn’t mean they had any right to target Cyclops as part of their revenge.
She was afraid of this. Cyclops landed in the natural authority slot for a lot of the baby Slayers sometime during his run in Sunnydale. Because of the whole Anya thing, she figured some of them might start to look at him differently and question the how and why of that. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. The only good thing I can see out of this is that the damage to his rep ain’t nearly as big as I thought it would be. Still, all you need is one to start with the gossip.
“I see you need a little more convincing.” Here Faith favored the dumbasses with a feral grin. “If we don’t get Cyclops back, I get to be your new house mother.”
There was a moment of silence.
Jeanne picked up the dog and ran up the stairs so fast that she was a blur while Jack yipped his distress.
Faith held her mug up in a salute. “Thought you’d see my way.”
As the baby Slayers broke up the party, Tammy, flanked by more than a half-dozen of her buddies, approached Faith. “We…I mean I…I guess some of us kind of…I mean…I want Xander back as much as anyone, but I think some of us kind of kind of forgot.”
Faith’s first instinct was to snap at the girls in front of her that the next time they forgot something like this it might be the last. But Tammy looked so apologetic and miserable, that Faith just didn’t have the heart to beat the lesson into that thick skull.
“S’okay. I’m kinda with you guys on that. They got a little screwed by the deal Anya laid on them.”
Faith could hear Vi, Rona, and the others behind her make disagreement sounds. Tammy just looked relieved she wasn’t on Faith’s permanent shit list. The girls behind Tammy shuffled uncomfortably.
“But I feel like I gotta stress this,” Faith added. “All those dudes did pull some bad shit, nothin’ really bad I know, but bad enough that someone felt justified enough to nuke their asses. Ain’t just or right, but there it is. They got a legit beef with Anya and no one else. They stepped over the line when they went after the guy who didn’t do nothing to them. Hell, if they knocked on our front door and told their tale of woe, you can bet your sweet ass Cyclops would’ve been the first in line to try and set things right.”
“’Cause he’d feel guilty,” Vi said behind her.
Faith fought the urge to roll her eyes. Vi had a habit of putting Xander on a pedestal, although Vi’s pedestal wasn’t as high as Andrew’s. Looked like this whole Anya thing hadn’t changed that for either one of them. She hoped like hell that Xander never did anything to fall off.
“Look, hate to break up the pity party, but I think Faith’s kinda busy,” Rona said. “You know. Xander save-age.”
Faith silently thanked Rona as Tammy and her crew scattered, especially since she wasn’t really sure how she could end the whole conversation without stomping all over people’s feelings.
“So any news? On the Xander save-age front,” Lisa asked.
Faith turned around to face them as she took a sip from her mug. “Slow goin’. B’s pretty convinced she’s got the ticket.”
“Which is?” Barbara prompted.
Faith hesitated. She didn’t want to throw Cyclops in a bad light in front of Slayers willing to back him to the hilt. The disturbing thing was that she wasn’t sure why it was important she protect his rep.
“Wow. That bad?” Sally asked.
Deciding that the truth was probably a hell of a lot better than anything the five girls could come up with on their own, Faith said, “Nah. B’s got this crazy theory that our rare universe is one where Xander quit the game.”
“Like that’s gonna happen,” Vi said.
Faith shrugged. “Hey, I don’t see it neither, but you’d be kinda surprised. Our Cyclops wouldn’t, but there are universes out there where he did. The number’s low for sure, but we ain’t hit on the one-of-a-kind circumstances yet.”
Vi frowned while Rona said, “Hell, I wouldn’t have blamed him if he called it quits after Sunnydale. I know there are days I’d like to turn in my union badge.”
“Union badge?” Faith asked with amusement. “You’ve been hanging around the one-eyed wonder too much.”
“We’re thinking of making Look for the Union Label as our team fight song,” Lisa grinned.
“And printing up membership cards showing we’ve paid our dues,” Barbara added.
“Xander’ll get a kick out of it,” Sally agreed. She hastily added, “When he gets back.”
Faith tried not to laugh as she wondered how she ended up working with Team Cock-Eyed Optimist. “You do that. But I ain’t singing. I only got so many cool points and I ain’t spending them over a stupid song. Look, I gotta motor, guys. B’s insisting she’s got it right. Jeeves wants to try something else because he doesn’t think it’s the right track. Me? I just step in when they’re ready to strangle each other. Frustration level’s a little too high in there.”
“Wait. What about Willow?” Sally asked.
Faith spared a worried glance at the staircase. “She’s been in an out all day. Not really coherent, to be honest. But when she’s sleeping, she’s sleeping. No sign of no nightmares. Kennedy’s sticking with her just in case.”
“Here’s hoping it’s over. For Willow, I mean,” Vi said.
“I’ll drink to that,” Faith agreed.Continued in the next part
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