Summary:Xander contemplates life after the First Evil. *Warning* accurate spoilers for "Chosen" the BtVS season finale is included.
Spoilers:Warning again, accurate spoilers for "Chosen" the BtVS season finale is included.
Rating:PG-13 for language
Required legal disclaimer:I own nothing. Really, I don't. All characters, settings, and the basic reality of the Buffyverse is owned by ME. Don't sue me. You'll only get some pocket lint for your troubles.
Archive allowed:Please let me know if you want it for your Web site or to share on your mailing list. However, credit me and keep my name on it, otherwise I will be very, very annoyed.
Feedback:Yes! Yes! Yes! Private or public. Good or bad. While I won't remove bad reviews and will take constructive criticism to heart, I reserve the right to ignore you if your review boils down to two words: "It sucks." without telling me WHY it sucks. Trolls, on the other hand, will be summarily shot.
Special thanks:To Cyberwulf for issuing a challenge on the Anti-B/S list based on the Linkin Park song "Breaking the Habit." Despite its origins, this isn't a songfic and Spike doesn't even appear. I'm kinda weird that way.
Land of the Blind
By Lizbeth Marcs
Xander stumbled into his temporary home at the Oxnard Days Inn clutching the Red Cross pamphlets and assorted legal paperwork to his chest.
He shut the door behind him, leaned against the wall, and slumped to the floor.
"Are you okay?"
Xander startled and looked up to spy Andrew watching him from one of the twin beds. Xander fought the urge to growl at the tow-headed creature and not for the first time cursed Buffy for insisting that he room with the boy. He wanted alone time. Hell, he needed alone time.
"Xander?" Andrew prompted.
Xander thought he should be touched by the worry etched in Andrew's face. He desperately tried to remember the last time anyone worried about him. Oh, sure, Willow was worried while he was laid up in the hospital and zonked out on pain meds, but that was the result of traumatic events, namely, the loss of one eye.
Physical hurt brings on the sympathy. Emotional hurt? Not so much,Xander bitterly reflected.
He was being unfair. He knew he was being unfair. Everyone was feeling the emotional burn, but it seemed to him that everyone had someone to turn to. Willow had Kennedy. Faith had Wood. Buffy, Dawn, and Giles were relying on each other.
And here comes Andrew expecting Xander to do, what? Share his pain? Assuage his guilt because he killed Jonathan and cost Anya her life?
A bitter laugh bubbled in Xander's throat, prompting Andrew to shrink inside himself.
"Get out," Xander ordered.
"No." Andrew sat up and crossed his arms, trying his best to look stern in the face the famous Harris Brick Wall of Pain. "I don't think you should be alone right now."
"Get out, before I throw you out," Xander harshly said.
"I need quiet. You are not quiet."
"I promise not to disturb you," Andrew meekly replied.
"I can hear you breathing, so not quiet enough."
"But Buffy said I shouldn't leave you alone. She said you might need a friend."
Ahhhhh, Buffy told Andrew to keep an eye on him and play buddy-buddy because god knows she can't be bothered to do it herself. Hell, she can't even pretend to do it herself.
How very reassuring to discover that like everyone else Andrew actually didn't give a shit because, really, Xander's whole world would've been turned upside down if Andrew was something approaching sincere. Andrew was just doing what he was told like the lapdog he was born to be.
Like Xander used to be, before he lost the eye. Like Spike used to be, before he apparently became the Messiah.
A thousand retorts crossed Xander's mind, starting with, "Do you always do what Buffy says?" and ending with, "Keep doing what Buffy says and you'll poke your eye out, kid."
Xander was pretty certain that he earned karma points somewhere when he reigned in his temper and didn't snap at Andrew the way he wanted. He fought to keep his voice level as he said, "Look, Andrew, I appreciate the fact that Buffy ordered you to be my friend…"
Andrew cut in with a protest. "That isn't what she…"
"…but I really, really need to not have you here," Xander kept talking as if Andrew hadn't spoke. "I've got a ton of paperwork to go through and I really, really don't need babysitting duty." When Andrew looked like he was about to protest, Xander dangled temptation in front of the man-boy's face, "We'll talk when you get back. I just need you out of here until, say, 9 p.m."
"Ooookay," Andrew slowly agreed. He got off the bed and headed for the door. "Xander? You can read my new comics, if you want. Picked them up today."
Xander wasn't in the least bit touched by the offer, but he put on a good show. "Thanks. I will. If I have time." He hoped his smile didn't look too sickly.
"Cool," Andrew happily nodded before he disappeared behind the closing door.
Xander let out a shuddering sigh and fought back the tears. He couldn't let himself cry because he desperately needed to stay in control just a little longer and once he started crying he'd be useless for days. Plus, crying when you've got a raw and wounded empty eye socket? Can you say searing, fiery pain boys and girls?
The broken man placed the pile of papers on the floor next to him. He immediately removed the Red Cross pamphlets about recovering from disaster, advertising councilors to talk to, resources he had access to, and advice about all the bureaucratic bullshit he'd have to deal with now that he was classified as a "disaster victim."
Oh, yeah, I'm a disaster victim, but I made my own fucking disaster. Alexander Harris, this is your life,he bitterly thought.
What has he gotten out of fighting the good fight?
If you asked him a year ago, he would've said self-confidence, the feeling that he was making a difference, the courage to move beyond a crappy childhood and not become dear old dad, and good friends. Okay, so he was still fighting the emotional fallout over his not-a-wedding, his former intended was a vengeance demon riding a little too close extinction, and his childhood friend was now a murderer with a magic habit. But, hey! On balance, life may not of been great, but it didn't suck.
Here it is at the end of the day and what did he have? What did he really have?
One eye, no job, the clothes on his back, a wallet in his pocket, a dead ex-fiancée, and, apparently, no friends.
Oh, and money, lots and lots of it. He picked up the thick file folder with something akin to reverence. Anya never took his name off her accounts. Combined with his own savings, he had almost $750,000 in the bank, more than enough to start life over somewhere far, far away from California and find his feet.
Seemed Anya was as much a demon with her money as she was a demon for vengeance. He knew Anya played the market and was usually extraordinarily lucky in her stock picks, but he had no idea how good she actually was. He wondered if Anya was ever going to tell him how much her "rainy day" accounts actually held or if she was waiting to surprise him on the honeymoon they never took.
Yeah, but the big question is did she mean for you to have it if something happened to her or did she just forget to take your name off the paperwork?Xander asked himself. He decided that he simply didn't have the energy care about the implications of his silent question.
He opened the manila folder and stared at the Wolfram & Hart letterhead. The sticky note bore a message from Deadboy himself offering his condolences about Anya's death.
Now there was a perfect snapshot of where his life now stood. The only person outside of Andrew who had expressed any sympathy for Anya's death was a souled vampire whom he didn't like and had every reason to dislike him.
Xander wished he had the energy to hate Angel for being so fucking noble, but instead he found he was pathetically grateful for this one small attempt at common decency. He gently rubbed a fingertip over the yellow slip of paper as if he could absorb some of that decency into himself because, if he were being honest, he felt dirty.
There he was, standing on the edge of the crater that was once his home, the home he helped fight to keep safe for seven fucking years. While lots of people had fled in the weeks leading up to the big fight, there was no telling how many people stubbornly refused to leave town and were now dead. Anya and Spike counted as two right off the bat.
And what did he do? What did Xander, self-designated heart of the Scoobs do? He joked about not being able to go to the mall after the big fight was over. The fucking mall. How cold was that?
What's even colder is that we're all counting this a big win for the good guys,Xander sighed as his head thumped back against the wall. Yeah, the First Evil isn't ruling the world under an iron fist, so in that sense, it's a win. But if this is victory, I sure as hell don't want to taste defeat.
And if he could actually joke about being unable to shop until he dropped because his whole world had effectively ended, then maybe it was time to leave the stage before he lost what was left of his soul. Leave the fight to people with the special powers and the destiny because he was proof positive that normal humans really didn't have a role to play in the war that was fought after dark.
Time for him to stop pretending he even mattered in the good fight.
Xander hauled himself to his feet and crossed the room. He pulled a leather satchel out of one of the bureau draws and studied it. It looked so much like the pouch he carried around during his high school days that it was frightening. He simply couldn't resist when he saw it yesterday in one of the shop windows while aimlessly wandering around Oxnard. He pulled out his credit card and bought it on an impulse he couldn't name, even if at the time he was convinced he was dead broke and had no idea how he'd pay for it when the bill found him.
He also couldn't explain why he felt the urge to hide his purchase from everyone he knew as he smuggled it up to his room and shoved it in the draw.
He put the legal paperwork inside and slung the pouch over his shoulder. Now leaving Oxnard: a one-eyed man with nothing but the clothes on his back, a wallet in his pocket, and a pouch promising a new future. Destination? Anywhere but here, Xander thought.
He glanced out the window and saw the late afternoon sun prepare for its final red display. If he left now, he'd be down to the bus station and gone before full dark and before anyone knew he was missing. Assuming, of course, they'd notice he was missing.
Xander checked himself in the mirror, gently touched the eye patch, and then gave his reflection a curt nod. He turned and left the room without a backwards glance. He gently closed the motel room door and nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard a delighted squeal. He spun around only to be confronted with a beaming Willow.
"Aren't we the happy girl," Xander muttered.
"Some good news, but I want it to be a surprise," Willow breathlessly replied.
"You got good news?" Xander immediately perked up as hope welled up unbidden in his heart. "You found out your parents are still alive?"
"What?" Willow startled. "No. I mean, I know they're still alive because they were at a conference when everything went kablooey."
"Kablooey," Xander deadpanned. "That's one way of putting it."
"No, this is better news." Willow's eyes shined as she made this pronouncement.
Xander fought the biting retort that nothing could top discovering your family made it out alive. He had spent the past few days trying to find out whether his parents escaped Sunnydale, but their names stubbornly remained on the list of the missing maintained by the Red Cross. He may have hated his parents, but it would've been nice to know that he wasn't the last Harris standing.
His reply was much more mild than he wanted. "What can possibly be better?"
Willow dove in and grasped Xander's upper arms out of sheer joy. "Trust me. Better. I'll talk to you tomorrow after Giles has a chance to talk to you."
Not going to happen,Xander stubbornly thought.
Willow whirled away and practically danced down the hall. "I'll talk to you tomorrow at lunch! I gotta find Kennedy!"
"You do that," Xander called after her retreating back.
Alone again, he took a deep breath and walked down the hall to the stairs without crossing anyone's path. So far, so good.
His luck held until he reached the lobby where he stumbled across Wood and Giles in deep conversation. He turned to retreat back into the stairwell only to be brought up short by Giles's voice.
"Xander! There you are! I was about to call up to your room."
"You would've missed me, then," Xander shrugged noncommittally. "I'm heading out for some fresh air."
Giles got up from his chair and quickly stepped to Xander's side. "Then I'm glad I caught you. I do need to speak to you on a matter of some importance."
"Can it wait?" Xander hated the defeated tone in his voice. "It's been a long day with lawyers."
"Lawyers?" Giles sounded surprised.
"I had some legal issues to straighten out. Anya's death opened me up to inheritance taxes and the lawyers were letting me know about it," Xander shrugged.
"Ah, yes. I see." Giles paused awkwardly. "Yes, of course it can wait. I do understand that you might need some space right now, but we really do need to talk at length about our next step."
"I thought your next step was Cleveland," Xander commented.
"Well, yes, for some of us, not all of us. That's what I wanted to talk to you about. I think you may do more good elsewhere," Giles smiled a proud smile while Xander's heart sank. "I want to discuss it more detail with you tomorrow, say, over breakfast? I think you'll be very, very pleased about the options I plan to put before you."
Xander gave Giles a dispirited nod while the older man clapped his arm and returned to talk to Wood.
Of course you're not getting an invite to Cleveland. What did you expect? That the people you fought beside for seven years would think you were an asset? Nope. Giles is going to have a long, painful, heart-to-heart about your future options, none of which involves including you in the picture,Xander glumly thought as he headed for the lobby doors.
Yeah, he had decided to retire from the field. Yeah, he could agree with the sentiment that he really had nothing left to offer. But, geez, wouldn't it be nice if someone made some kind of noise that indicated he was still wanted.
Not a half-hour later he stood in the Oxnard Bus Depot, clutching his ticket to Las Vegas, and impatiently tapping his foot. The bus would leave in fifteen minutes and carry him to his shiny new life. He could hole up in a Vegas fleabag motel for a week or two and decide where to go from there.
He wondered if anyone would be willing to hire a one-eyed man for anything. Maybe he could consider returning to school as a non-traditional student, hell, he had enough money for it, and get a degree that would land him a professional job, one where the lack of an eye wouldn't matter quite so much.
"So this is it, then. You're just gonna leave."
Xander jumped at the female voice and scanned the lobby only to discover Faith had been standing in his blind spot. He wondered how long she had watched him while he was distracted.
"You care, why?" Xander asked.
Faith shrugged, hooking her thumbs through her belt loops. "I don't."
"Then why are you here?"
Another eloquent shrug from Faith. "Ran into Andrew. Dude's worried about you."
"'Dude' is under orders to worry about me," Xander retorted. "It's nothing personal with him."
Faith flashed him the kind of wicked smile that telegraphed she knew something he didn't. "Don't be too sure of that, heartbreaker." Her smile disappeared. "Although if you get on that bus, you really will be a heartbreaker."
Xander snorted and pointedly turned away from her.
"Y'know, I could drag you back to the motel," Faith commented as she skittered into Xander's line of sight.
"You could try," Xander countered.
"What? Like you could kick my ass," Faith chuckled. "I said I could drag you back to the motel, but I won't. It's your life, party boy and I won't stop you, even if I think you're making one big-ass mistake."
"A mistake?" Xander sounded incredulous. "I'm making a mistake by leaving before I'm asked to leave? What? You want to watch while the last of my dignity is taken away? I think I'm owed the opportunity to walk away instead of being pushed away."
Faith cocked her head in confusion. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Faith, I know that you're all wrapped up in the Woodman and that I rate somewhere below getting your teeth drilled in order of importance in your life, but I think even you'd notice that I'm in the 'not wanted' column," Xander snapped.
Faith blinked. "Ahhhhh," she wisely nodded.
Xander let out a bitter chuckle. "I can see you're not exactly shocked by this news."
"More like pennies dropping into slots," Faith replied. "I was wondering what was up with you."
"You were wondering about me," Xander said in a dead voice.
"Well, not you specifically and not me specifically," Faith said with a studied nonchalance. "I've been hearing worried noises whenever your name comes up."
"I bet," Xander snorted.
Faith's darkened dangerously. "Fine. Be like that."
"Be like what? Realistic?" Xander retorted. "I know where I stand, Faith, and right now it's right over the town line into Looserville."
"Then you don't know nothing," Faith quietly said.
"What? You haven't figured that much out about me? I really must be even lower on your list of things worth noticing than I thought."
"Look, Xander…" Faith began with a sigh. She closed her eyes, shook her head, and began again. "I know you're feeling a little helpless right now. Fuck. We're all feeling a little helpless. I know you want to give up, but, Jesus, you're not the only one. If you left your fucking room you'd know that."
Xander crossed his arms. "My bus is boarding in five minutes, Faith. So if you've got a point, now's the time to make it."
"Fine. Point. I never thought I'd see the day when I could look up the word 'coward' and see your picture," Faith growled.
"Are you calling me a coward?"
"Yeah. Coward. Chicken. Yellow. Wimp. You name it, you are it if you get on that bus."
"How dare you!" Xander yelled, not caring that the bus terminal fell silent and everyone was watching him. "Do you have any idea what I've given up? Do you have any clue about what I've lost? I think I've sacrificed enough."
"You want me to feel sorry for you? Well you're asking the wrong chick because, unlike you, I don't get to walk away," Faith shouted back. "Besides, how long do you think you're gonna be able to stay away? How long before you pick up a stake again and start taking long nighttime walks?"
"You are so wrong about me it's not even funny," Xander growled.
"Nope, I got you pegged. I know people. You say you'll walk away, hell, you might even mean it, but you won't. Seven years tells me that all of this," Faith waved aimlessly around the bus terminal, "has gotten under your skin. You'll never get away from it because your conscience will bug the shit out of you until you find yourself hanging out in dark alleys."
"Are you saying I'm addicted?" Xander asked with an amused tone. "That's almost as stupid as the 'crack magic addiction' Willow claims she has."
"Sounds stupid, but it ain't," Faith said. "The time for you to walk away has come and gone. You're in too deep now. You start running, you'll keep on running, and you'll be a hell of a lot worse off."
"If you call me grasshopper, so help me god, Faith…"
"So you're staying, then?" Faith asked with a grin.
"Yes you are," Faith confidently countered. "You're gonna stay until you talk to Giles."
Xander's shoulders slumped in defeat. "Fine. If I wait until I talk to Giles, do you promise to leave me the hell alone?"
"Yup," Faith quickly agreed.
"You must really hate me," Xander dejectedly commented. "You realize he's only going to make suggestions about how can I leave the Scoobs and still save face, right?"
"Oh, like you weren't leaving anyway."
"That's not the point," Xander responded as he shoved the ticket in his pocket and headed for the lobby exit.
Faith trotted to catch up and slipped through the glass doors as they swung shut behind Xander. "What is the point?" she asked.
"No point now, since the whole point involved me leaving with my head held high," Xander glumly answered as he shoved his hands in his pockets.
"There is that," Faith nodded. "C'mon. Let's get you tucked in before anyone knows you're not in your room."
Xander turned to follow Faith as she headed back to the motel. "Is there a reason why you're doing this?"
"Maybe," came the infuriatingly vague reply.
"Is this something you're doing because you think it'll help with that road to redemption of yours?"
"Nah. Just trying to build up brownie points with you so I can use them down the road, so no redemption cookie for me."
Something in Xander stirred and he seized on it. Someone was having a real conversation with him. Okay, it was Faith, but at least it was a conversation. He'd take what he could get before Giles passed sentence on him in the morning. "So, what is a redemption cookie? What does it taste like? And does it come in chocolate chip?"
Faith sharply glanced at him before her expression relaxed. She looked like she was fighting a smile. "Redemption cookies taste kinda like sackcloth and stick between your teeth. It's a real bitch. They taste nothing like brownie points at all."
"Which, I assume, taste like brownies," Xander responded.
"Only when you cash 'em in, which I plan to do for many, many years to come. Just warning ya now," Faith lightly said.
"Like I'd be in any position to help you," Xander snorted. "Thinking you've got that backwards, Faith."
"Nope. I don't." Faith reached out a hand and pulled Xander to a stop. She furtively looked around before pulling Xander down so she could whisper something in his ear.
Whatever Faith said caused Xander's one good eye to open wide in shock. He rapidly blinked as Faith let him go and regarded him with a broad smile.
"Now don't tell Rupes I said anything to you, otherwise I'm in deep shit," Faith reminded him.
"Giles is gonna ask me to be a what?" Xander asked.
Faith chuckled and resumed her walk to the motel, confident that Xander would follow close behind her. "Yeah, like you could ever really walk away," she quietly said.