Please don't forget to do my Xander in Africa soundtrack poll, although at this rate, I can safely say that most people are yawning at the prospect. Of those interested, it's running 2-to-1 for me to wait. Perhaps that is wise advice, since the major overhaul I did on the tracklistings this weekend appear to be a little more conduscive to coming up with something. Certainly the first CD of 18 tracks flows much better and I think it's finally in its final form. The second CD, I think, is almost there, but some tracks may need to be shuffled.
For people intersted, the first CD is titled (tentively): World on Fire: Into the Heart of Darkness. The second is titled (tentively): Alegria: Fighting Back to the Light.
I think waaaaay too much about this.
*ahem* Now the moment you've been waiting for: AlternaGiles. OurXander. Together again for the first time.
Ain't pretty. Nope. Not at all.
All previous parts can be found here.
Continued from Part 24.
The world was still spinning when Giles felt someone grab his arm.
“Rough trip?” asked a smoky female voice.
“Better than most,” Giles assured her.
“Axe,” Faith announced as grabbed it out of his hands.
Giles was still getting his bearings. “Where is it?”
Faith jerked her head. “Careful, Rupert. You don’t wanna hurt his feelings now, do you?”
Giles stepped forward when he spotted what looked like a young man leaning against the car with arms crossed. This, then, was apparently his mysterious creature. The first thing that struck Giles was that the creature was so pale that it nearly stood out in the darkness. The second thing he noticed was that it held itself very still, as if waiting for Giles to acknowledge its presence.
“C’mon,” Faith said. “I’ll go introduce ya so it’s all formal like.”
As Giles followed her a few yards across the pavement, he was unaccountably startled to see that the creature looked so much like the Xander Harris he remembered. In fact, it looked almost exactly like that man; an impossibility since Xander Harris was at least in his mid-thirties by now. The only difference that Giles could see was that this look-alike carried more muscle mass, which made it look somehow harder, more guarded, and far more worldly wise than the boy he remembered.
Faith sarcastically presented the axe to the creature upon reaching it. “Does this meet with your approval?”
“It’s fine,” it said shortly as it held out its hand for Faith to hand it the axe, even as it kept its eyes focused on Giles.
“Psych,” Faith said as she snatched it back. “Sorry, Junior. I’m keeping it for me until it comes time to chop his head off.”
“Whatever,” the young man said wearily.
“You claim to be Xander Harris,” Giles said without preamble.
The young man’s eyes slowly blinked, putting Giles in mind of a hunter sizing up potential prey and deciding whether it was worth the bother to attack. “I’m Xander Harris,” the young man finally said. “Or, as the theory goes, a Xander Harris.”
Faith groaned. “You’re not gonna go on about shrimp again, are ya?”
“Shrimp?” Giles asked.
“The theory is that I’m from an alternate dimension, said theory being from the other Xander and his lovely wife Anya,” Young Xander said.
“We shall see about that,” Giles stated.
“Color me shocked,” Young Xander said sardonically. “You’ve already decided he’s wrong.”
“I hardly think they’re qualified to render any such judgment,” Giles began.
“Don’t sweat it. I think they’re wrong, too,” Young Xander smoothly interjected. “So it would make sense that you don’t buy it either.”
“As I was about to say before you interrupted,” Giles hated that he was thrown off-balance by Young Xander’s easy agreement regarding the real Xander’s competency to judge such matters, “I have far more information at my fingertips about you than they do, so I suspect they are quite mistaken about you as a result.”
Young Xander cocked his head as a tiny, unpleasant smile began revealing itself. “Of course,” he said. “Then again, that’s why you’re here. To fix it. So, at a guess, what? You picked up a disturbance in the Force and you’ve been researching?”
“Fuck me,” Faith said softly.
Giles grabbed her arm before she could do something rash. There was no telling what killing this creature out of hand would do. The web was so destroyed at this point, that Lady Haversham’s people were concerned that its sudden death might result in a cascade effect. They couldn’t act against it until they knew where they stood.
This was truly a no-win scenario. The longer this creature roamed loose, the more problems it caused. However, summarily removing it from the board may cause even greater problems. They had to get it back to Council headquarters and locked up. Quickly. Were time not of the essence; were it not for Willow’s warning that only he could deal with this creature; and were it not for Faith’s report alerting him to the fact that there was an untrained Slayer in a town full of vampires and that this creature found her first and formed a rapport, Giles would’ve ordered a wet works team to California to capture this thing and bring it back.
“You are aware, then, that your very presence may be killing our world,” Giles said.
“Let me guess. All kinds of things are happening with no cause and effect, like someone’s suddenly controlling the universe? Things you knew to be true yesterday aren’t true today?” Young Xander asked.
“Rather more messy, I’m afraid,” Giles stated evenly.
“Well, if it helps, I want to get out of here as much as you want me gone.” Young Xander waved a hand, as if dismissing the concern. “And truthfully, I’m not even sure how I’m doing whatever it is I’m doing. Hence, my big plan to call you when I stumbled over Faith waiting for me.”
“Not helping,” Faith stated.
“Indeed. This does not put my mind at ease,” Giles agreed.
“Believe it or not, I don’t mean any harm,” Young Xander shrugged. “Things are just happening. I can’t control how they happen. If I could figure that out, I’d be exiting stage right and you could go back to hallucinating your way through whatever this is without me.”
“I hope you don’t mind if I don’t take your word for it,” Giles said.
“Just curious, but if I were Buffy or Willow, would you be so suspicious?” Young Xander asked.
“I would be suspicious no matter who you claimed to be,” Giles snapped, furious that this creature would be so crude as to rub Buffy and Willow in his face.
Young Xander held up his hands by way of apology, even though he didn’t look terribly sorry for the stinging remark. “Of course you’d say that. But since I’m pretty sure I’m out to get me right now, I’ll have to share in the ocean of disbelief we’re all swimming in.”
“See what I’ve had to put up with?” Faith asked.
“We appear to be at a standstill, then,” Giles said.
Young Xander’s gaze moved back and forth between Giles and Faith. “If I were in your shoes, I’d be thinking that I had the advantage, since you’ve got Faith on your side to keep an eye on me. If anything, I should be nervous about you, don’t you think?”
“Funny how you don’t act it,” Faith said.
Young Xander stopped swinging its head back and forth so it was looking directly at Faith, although Giles noticed that Young Xander kept him firmly in the peripheral vision of its left eye.
“No. I’m really not,” Young Xander said after a beat. It suddenly clapped its hands. “Look, this guy in our trunk isn’t going to behead himself. So what do you say we get a move on. Oh, and I’ll do the chopping. I seriously need a shower anyway and I plan on dumping the clothes. Since I figure you’ll be going for the deluxe cheap motel rooms, I might as well take advantage of the first hot running water I’ve seen all day.”
Everyone remained where they were. Faith tensed and untensed the muscles in her body, but otherwise remained still. Giles crossed his arms. Young Xander regarded them with near amusement as it swiped something away under its left eye.
“Fine. I’ll move,” it said as it turned its back on them and reached for the backdoor.
The spell broke and Faith went for the driver’s door. Giles waited patiently for Young Xander to open its door so he could follow the creature into the interior.
After Young Xander opened the door, it turned his whole body around, which Giles found somewhat odd since it seemed so unnatural. A look over its left shoulder would’ve been move efficient. “Aren’t you getting in the front with Faith?”
“I rather think I should stick close to you,” Giles said.
That seemed to give Young Xander pause.
“Ahhh, you are worried.” Giles couldn’t help himself.
Young Xander gave him a tight smile. “You’re still crackling.”
“Crackling?” Giles asked.
Young Xander waved in the direction of Giles’s entrance. “From the spell that sent you here.”
“You can feel—” Giles began.
“Forget it,” Young Xander interrupted. “I’ll live.
Faith stuck her head out the window. “Get yer ass in gear.”
Young Xander tossed off a half-hearted salute. It moved carefully as it got in the car and shoved over to the far door so Giles could follow. As Giles entered the car, Young Xander tossed several shopping bags into the passenger side front seat. The Watcher was barely settled when Faith threw the car into gear and scrubbed out.
“Careful,” Young Xander snapped. “You’ll draw attention.”
Faith grumbled something incomprehensible, but slowed down.
“Just what we need,” Young Xander muttered. “A body in the trunk and you’ve got to drive like a Slayer.”
“I drive just fine,” Faith snapped back.
Young Xander shook its head and began rummaging around for the lap belt companion to the car’s automatic shoulder belt.
“So where do you come from?” Giles asked.
“Cleveland,” Young Xander answered shortly as it snapped itself in.
“A different Cleveland,” Young Xander amended.
“A little more detail, if you would,” Giles said.
“The last thing I remember, I was in my room and I picked up this crystal ball. That triggered some sort of spell. I think. Next thing I know, I felt like I was being yanked backwards and I ended up in an alley in the lovely town of Zihuatanejo standing eyeball-to-eyeball with a vampire wearing nothing more than my fluffy bunny slippers and a smile. Someone’s gotta pay for that.”
“You’re seeking revenge?” Giles asked.
“No. I want them to replace my fluffy bunny slippers,” Young Xander deadpanned. “They were pink and everything. Do you know how hard it is to find pink fluffy bunny slippers for my feet my size?”
Faith snorted her amusement from behind the driver’s wheel.
“My question was serious,” Giles snapped.
“If there’s revenge to be had? All for it. Actively rooting for it, even. Especially if I’m the one that gets to go medieval on someone for this mess,” Young Xander said. “But I’ll trade all the revenge I’m due for just a shot at getting out of here and waking up in my own bed.”
Giles fought against showing any surprise. Young Xander seemed forthcoming enough. He had fully expected that he’d have to work at getting the creature to talk. He felt no comfort in knowing that Willow had predicted that this creature would trust him without question.
Young Xander half-smiled, obviously misreading the reasons for Giles’s silence. “Yeah. The whole crystal ball scenario sounds pretty unbelievable to me, too. Thing is, that’s the last thing I remember. Who knows if I’m even remembering it right.”
Giles felt a little overwhelmed by Young Xander’s willingness to admit that it may not have the full picture, provided it was telling the truth. “Why would you doubt yourself?” He discovered that he was genuinely curious about the answer.
Young Xander leaned back against the seat and its face was lost to the shadows. “A lot of things could have the same effect. I’ve been guessing at what’s really going on and I keep going from one extreme to the other, starting with this being a dream up to the fact that I could be dead, if you can believe it.”
“Dead?” Giles asked.
“I’ve been trying to work it out, but I’m not you, see?” Young Xander said “You’re smarter than I am, and you know how to find information and where to find it. If I found it, I probably wouldn’t even realize what I was looking at. That’s why you’re here. If my inner Giles figures it out—”
“Rupert,” Giles interrupted.
For once, Young Xander seemed thrown off. “Unh…”
“Rupert,” Giles forcefully repeated. “You calling me Giles belongs to a far happier time.”
Young Xander turned away and stared out the window. “This is because he left?”
Giles heard the slight emphasis on ‘he,’ almost as if Young Xander couldn’t bear to say Xander’s name.
Young Xander turned back to him, but its face was so lost in the shadows, that Giles couldn’t even begin to read its expression. “Funny, isn’t it? You telling me to call you Rupert feels like you’re putting up this wall to keep me away,” it held out its hand with the palm facing Giles to illustrate this point, “or maybe to keep him away. I don’t know.”
Once more Giles was surprised, this time by Young Xander’s perception. He’s the one who sees, Willow had said. In the elsewhere he dreams, but here he sees what is.
The hand dropped. Young Xander dipped its head in acknowledgement and said, “Rupert.” Giles was fairly sure he imagined the hesitation just before Young Xander spoke and the way it had clipped his Christian name short, almost as if saying it hurt on some level.
“As you were explaining about your predicament,” Giles prompted.
“This place is so…weird is the wrong word.” There was something unsettling about the fact that Young Xander’s voice drifted to him out of darkness. “Odd, maybe? I dunno. It’s made up of all these extremes. There’s no middle ground anywhere, is there?”
“The world is hardly made up of black and white,” Giles said as he hoped Young Xander would drop its guard and give more of itself away. “But then again,” he added, “you always did see the world in such stark contrast.”
There was a chuckle that fed Giles’s unease.
“And now I see it in two dimensions, especially when stairs and sidewalks are involved.” Young Xander shifted in its seat so that the sickly yellow light from the streetlights flashed quickly across its face before it was just as quickly reclaimed by the dark. “But good and bad is beyond extreme here, you know? On the one hand, you’ve got all the shiny people living fat and happy in Zihuatanejo, your basic seaside resort in your basic Southern California climate. It’s a ten o’clock, all is normal, do you know where your children are kind of world.”
Faith snickered from the front seat. “You should leave the ’burbs more often,” she remarked.
“And you’re bothered by this?” Giles bristled.
“No. God, no,” Young Xander said with conviction. “It’s just…okay, it’s like you’ve got this really nice house. It looks good from the outside, it’s got everything you can want in a house. It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s just perfect when you look at it. But when you actually look at the structure, you find out the whole thing is riddled with wood rot.”
“You believe this world is rotten?” Giles asked. He could feel his heart speed up. If this creature truly believed that and was doing everything it was doing to “fix it,” that meant it was treading the same path that lead Willow to her current state. He suddenly realized that Willow may just have tricked him into keeping this creature alive long enough to make killing it outright an impossibility until they had more information. Willow could very well want this creature in her sphere of influence.
“No,” Young Xander said slowly.
Giles was not comforted by the doubt he could hear in Young Xander’s voice.
“What I’m saying is that this, whatever this is, has a shiny surface, but look underneath and it’s all floating on this big ocean of badness.” Young Xander leaned forward; close enough for Giles to see the quizzical look on its face. “It’s all secrets and lies, sex and videotape, but everyone just doesn’t want to see it because then that might mean admitting something’s gone really, really wrong.”
“The world always has been thus,” Giles stated. “But you’ve always refused to accept it.”
“Oh, I accepted all right. I may have been in the kind of denial that would buy Freud a swimming pool and a trip to Aruba, but I accepted,” Young Xander said. “Eventually you have to choose which side you’re on, right? Can’t be both. Have to be one or the other. And once you choose, you can’t unchoose. The funny thing is, I just don’t seem to belong anywhere. Not in happy shiny land, and not whatever this thing underneath is. So why bother choosing at all?”
Giles rolled his eyes. This one’s bloviations could rival the First. “And what did you choose?”
“It’s very dark here, you know,” Young Xander said quietly, as if it didn’t hear Giles’s question. “This place is so twisted up that I keep wondering what happened. But what really drives me crazy is the light parts are so bright that you just want to stand in it forever, even if it makes you squint. Then, when the sun sets, you kinda notice how much darker than dark the night gets. How did the night get so cold here?”
“Someone fell asleep when they was in Sunnydale,” Faith stated.
“You think?” Young Xander twitched its head, as if considering that point. “I don’t know. That answer doesn’t feel right to me.”
“Hunh?” Faith asked.
“Although at this point, it’s as good as any explanation I’ve got,” Young Xander said. “Is it a bad thing that part of me actually likes that idea?”
“What are you talking about?” Faith asked.
Giles was fairly certain that any attempt to discover any sense in Young Xander’s ramblings was a lost cause. The only thing they would be able to establish for certain was whether or not they were dealing with a human being, but not much beyond that.
Young Xander straightened up in its seat. “Here looks good.”
“Now what are you talking about?” Faith demanded.
“Body. Trunk. Vampire-to-be. Thick bushes by side of the road,” Young Xander said with irritation. “Remember?”
Faith pulled over and looked around. “Good as any place, I guess.”
“I’ll take the axe,” Young Xander said as it freed itself from its seatbelt.
“Nope. I’m keeping it.”
“Faith,” Young Xander said, “I’m dumping the clothes anyway. While I’m not expecting a fountain of blood since the body’s pretty much been drained, there’s still going to be a mess.”
“Fine. I’ll hold on to it until chop-chop time,” Faith reluctantly agreed.
“Gi—Rupert, can you help me carry the body?” Young Xander asked.
“Of course.” Giles was morbidly curious to see if Young Xander was capable of defiling a body—albeit to prevent a vampire rising—considering that he couldn’t remember the real Xander Harris ever considering doing such a thing.
It took a bit of a struggle to get the body out of the trunk, mostly because the dead weight was awkward, although the fact that the dead man was heavy-set to begin with didn’t help. Despite the problems, they were able to get the body into the dense underbrush without being seen.
Young Xander insisted on removing the trash bags from the body before doing the deed. There was another exchange of words between the creature and Faith before she reluctantly handed over the axe, grumbling her discontent.
Young Xander, by sharp contrast, remained silent as it set about separating head from body. It took several swings to complete the severing, but Young Xander carried it out with grim determination. Once the operation was complete, Young Xander took a trash bag, picked up the severed head, and deposited it inside before handing it off to Faith.
“What the fuck?” Faith asked. “This ain’t going in the car.”
Giles was about to answer, but Young Xander beat him to the punch.
“If they find this body and sew on the head within the next day or two, we could end up with a vampire anyway,” Young Xander said. “We dump the head somewhere else, especially a place where there’s lot of rats, you can be one hundred percent sure that Ramirez is going to stay dead.”
Faith scrunched her face with disgust as she held the bag out away from her body. “Rats. Fucking hate rats,” she muttered.
“You’ve never done this before?” Young Xander asked her.
“I let the Tweeds take care of this shit,” Faith said. “I stake ’em after they claw themselves out of the ground. This jumping the gun ain’t my thing.”
“I’m rather surprised you have,” Giles remarked to Young Xander.
“Nope. Haven’t,” Young Xander quietly said. “This one’s my first.”
As Giles contemplated that, Young Xander went over to a large bolder and began beating the axe against it.
“Now what are you doing?” Faith asked.
“Trying to break the head off,” Young Xander said between swings. “Make it harder to trace.”
“And how is that—” Giles began.
“Fingerprints on the handle,” Faith said with a nod. “Good call. Give ’em part of the ‘murder weapon,’ but make ’em look for the other half.”
There was a sharp crack. A few more swings finally broke the axe head off and the handle was deposited in the bag with the head.
“You think keeping them together is a good idea?” Faith asked with raised eyebrow.
“Just for now,” Young Xander said with a shrug. “We’ll dump the head back in Zihuatanejo. God knows they have enough restaurants there. And where there’s restaurants, there’s rats and dumpsters. I figure you could use that Slayer strength to chuck the axe handle into the ocean.”
“I gotta admit, Junior,” Faith said with a speculative glance at the bag. “I’m loving that plan.”
“Not bad for a first-timer, I guess,” Young Xander said wearily. It looked down at the jeans it wore and winced. “I won’t be able to walk into a motel dressed like this. It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would, but it definitely looks like blood and it definitely looks like blood splatter.”
“You could always change here,” Faith pointed out.
Young Xander looked around. “Good thing I picked up a week’s worth of clothes. Just grab the bags in the front seat.”
Faith disappeared, leaving Young Xander alone with Giles. The creature leaned against a tree with its arms crossed and head down.
“This is your first time,” Giles prompted.
The pause stretched long enough to make Giles wonder if Young Xander even heard him.
“Like I said,” it finally answered.
Faith burst back through the brush before Giles could try a new tact. “Didn’t know which one you wanted, so I just snatched them all.”
Young Xander tiredly nodded, grabbed the bags, and moved behind the boulder to change. The operation was done in less than a minute and it emerged wearing a sweatpants and a sweatshirt. “For sleeping in,” it said by way of explanation, even though no one had asked. “But if I’m going to wreck clothes, might as well wreck the cheapest ones.”
The rest of the drive back to Zihuatanejo was done in silence. Young Xander stared out its window. Faith focused on the road and her driving, although Giles could see her occasionally glancing into the backseat via the rearview mirror.
As for Giles, he focused on Young Xander. The creature was, in many ways, a terrifying apparition. It wasn’t that Giles disapproved of how it handled the situation with the dead store employee. If anything, Giles heartily approved. If it had been anyone else, he would’ve been the first to say, ‘Well done.’
The thing that gave him pause was the fact that Young Xander Harris had been coolly methodical about mutilating the body and planning on how to dispose of the evidence. The real Xander Harris could never be described as methodical. The real Xander Harris, to Giles’s mind, would’ve been making bad jokes and nervously looking over his shoulder while Buffy or himself did the hard work. The real Xander Harris would’ve been commenting and possibly complaining as the job was carried out.
Yet, he did not see Young Xander so much as wince during the operation itself, something made all the more extraordinary by the fact it had admitted to never doing such a thing before. That is, Giles silently amended, just as he did for everything Young Xander did or said, if you can believe what it says.Continued in Part 26
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