Summary: Season five unfolds differently for Xander.
Spoilers: BtVS:The Replacement, AtS:Redefinition
Disclaimer: Characters and setting belong to Joss Whedon, ME, and/or 20th Century Fox.
AN: I had to jiggle the BtVS and AtS timelines a little in order to make this story work. It shouldn't be too off-putting, I hope.
Part 1, Steadfast Friends
The chill night air slapped him in the face the moment he stepped out of Willy's. It would perhaps be more accurate to say he fell out, narrowly missing the ground by a hair's breadth. But miss it he did, feeling very proud of himself.
With arms out for balance, he slowly, gradually, carefully, straightened himself to his full height. He stayed that way for a moment, just to make sure he really could stay that way. Then he looked to the left, squinted a bit, and then to the right.
Where the hell did I park?
This was so not a good part of town to be alone at night--not that any part of Sunnydale was--but Willy's had the distinct advantage of not checking IDs too carefully. Or at all, in fact. And the usual crowd recognized him as a close friend of the slayer, thereby rendering him 'untouchable' if they knew what was best. They did.
Not seeing his car on first, second and even third tries, on a whim he started toward the left, taking a few fumbling steps.
He still didn't understand why she did it. Neither had a half-dozen long-necks improved his understanding. Things were going so well for them, he'd thought. He had developed a true affection for her, even daring to think he might be in love, only needing the right moment to tell her. So what went wrong? He just didn't get it.
Hadn't she been the one to complain one time that there should be more to their relationship than just sex? And then she went and bitched the other day when, on the night before, they didn't have sex! He had felt absurdly good about it at first, because all he wanted to do that night was cuddle with her, arms wrapped tightly around her, holding her close. He wanted to protect her from any evil marauding bunnies that might attack in the night. He just wanted to love her.
Didn't she understand that?
The demons, vamps and other assorted ne'er-do-wells scattered around the dirty smelly bar had giggled (or did their demon equivalent) at him, playfully pointing at the morose Zeppo who imbibed bottle after bottle.
Damn demons! he raged. Damn ex-demons, too! And damn the demony horses they rode in on!
At least Willy had the good grace to desist from any understanding bartender talk.
That's right! Damn ex-demons! he raved some more into the uncaring dark.
He looked up again for his car, hoping this new spot, about three yards from the previous, would give him a better perspective.
What color had John called it? Champagne, that's it.
To him it just looked like light brown. It was only a non-descript four-door sedan, used, but John had taken good care of it and was willing to sell it to him for a song.
Now he had real wheels...which he couldn't find, dammit! All the cars looked the same under the ugly orange street-lighting. Or was it the alcoholic haze that caused that lighting trick?
The crashing sound from the alley just ahead startled him out of his angry befuddlement. Years of experience kicked in when he next heard the familiar deep growling of a vampire in feeding mode. Adrenaline began to pour through his system and in moments, though still far from sober, was much better able to walk--until he tripped over a low object near the corner of the alley.
What the hell?
Looking back, he saw a toppled suitcase had had the rude audacity to jump in his way and ruin his stealthy attack. But more noises from the alley made him quickly forget the offensive valise.
What he saw--no surprise--was a vampire struggling with its victim, trying to bite down on the exposed neck. The vamp-chow's face was obscured by the attacker but he could tell it was a dark-haired woman. He could also see that the victim was doing a more than respectable job of defending herself. Nevertheless, the attacker's strength and speed would eventually win out, he could grasp that much as well.
Time for another episode of White Knight to the Rescue! he chuckled quietly under his breath. Xander pulled a stake out of his jacket and restarted the stealthy approach, tip-toeing in an extremely exaggerated fashion toward the couple. Only then did it finally dawn on him that he really was in no shape to be taking on a vampire. Too many beers for the adrenaline to overcome sufficiently. Heck, he was barely capable when stone cold sober, and now drunk as he was, he was about to try something supremely stupid.
He was committed. Oh well, he thought, shrugging it off, just one more item on a very long list.
Maybe he could try the Breath of Death tactic? He'd seen it work in 'Blazing Saddles', why not now? The idea made him giggle again, but only just a little as he tried mightily to maintain some semblance of stealth.
To an ill-informed observer his odds were on the order of a hundred to one, going against, but the mystical energy from the Hellmouth has all kinds of side effects, not all of them bad. Even a drunk Zeppo can get lucky at times.
This time the vampire was a freshly-minted newbie, still dirty behind the ears, too fixated on its victim, too sure of its own strength and immortality, and not paying nearly enough attention to the noises behind him. Whatever it is, the vamp figured, he could easily handle it after finishing off this feisty morsel. Too late the quiet whooshing sound attracted his undivided attention, just before the sound ended abruptly with incredible pain in his back. A pain already dissipating in the slight breeze.
Ridiculously overjoyed at the kill, Xander had forgotten about not following through too strongly when staking a vamp. He wasn't prepared for the sudden loss of resistance and, overbalanced, stumbled awkwardly as the vampire dusted. His momentum carried him forward and down, and hard, into the ground.
Fortunately he re-discovered one of the wonderful consequences of being both drunk and pumped on adrenaline: you really can't feel much pain.
Hmmm, it's not so bad down here, he mused. Maybe a quick nap to recharge before Going In Search of Car.
He looked back toward the alley entrance, on the off chance a pillow might have followed him to provide backup. That's when he noticed the victim for the second time. Specifically, he noticed the lower part of her legs. Very nice feet, very nice legs. And he should know. For a geek loser he knew quite a lot of good-looking girls.
That'll show you, Blayne!
His leering eyes sketched a wobbly line up the smooth curve of calf, up to the thigh, past the hemline of a dark skirt not nearly short enough to get a good peek under, even from his low vantage. Spoil-sport. Nicely rounded hip, slim waist...hmmm, swelling chest. His gaze lingered there for awhile. Quite an interesting point of view. And quite a full chest. He'd known of only one other person who had a figure like this girl.
Eventually his gaze made it all the way to the intended victim's face.
"Oh, crap!" he moaned, closing his eyes shut to shield himself from this new nightmare vision.
"Yeah, Harris, there does seem to be a lot of that lying around." that other person disdainfully sniffed.
He didn't usually mind getting into verbal fisticuffs with Cordelia--okay, he never minded--but he definitely needed to do so from a better position than on the ground at her feet. His sublime and skewering insults just wouldn't have the same oomph if launched from down low.
After two initial failed attempts to stand, with no help from her of course, he managed to achieve a precarious stance. He found her suddenly gone, and gaped in confusion until he heard a light tapping echo from behind. He looked over his shoulder to see her standing impatiently, arms crossed, tapping her toe as she waited. She returned his glare, though much more effectively since she retained the ability to focus.
He turned to face her fully, ready to deliver the clever and blistering verbal fusillade he'd prepared on the way up.
This'll show her to mess around with Alexander Lavelle Harris!
His mouth was already open when he realized he had forgotten it all.
"You had something to say? Or are you trying to catch flies?"
He did! He was sure he did. He was even reasonably certain it would have been clever, amusing, and scathing, all at once. A deadly stiletto of an insult. The mother of all put-downs. A real "11" on the snark-o-meter.
"G'way," he said sullenly, whereupon he turned and staggered back toward the street.
He rolled his eyes when he heard the sharp clicking of her heels rebounding off the alley walls. "Jeez, rains it pours" he muttered to the sky. Too bad it isn't raining, then maybe she would go away. If only to protect her perfect hair.
He rounded on her when he sensed she had approached closely enough. "Now what?" he demanded loudly as he spun about.
That was a big mistake, as he very nearly fell over again. The last long-neck was beginning to reassert itself now that the adrenaline had started to work its way out his system. He fortunately didn't fall this time, for which he was extremely grateful, catching himself with an outstretched arm on the nearby wall. Good wall, he thought, you're a nice wall. Solid, steady, steadfast. The way a friend should be. I think I'll call you Charlie, affectionately patting the wall.
She swallowed the tart comment already on her lips, concerned at this very unusual, unexpected behavior of his. She had never seen him like this before, so unwilling to take a shot at her, and then just walking off like that. What's wrong with him? she worried.
"Are you--You're drunk!" It was obvious, of course, but it just surprised her so much to see him like this way, barely recognizable as the Xander she used to know.
He turned from his new-found friend to glare at the three of her, "Wow, Cordy, you're really amazing! Can you also tell I'm not as drunk as I'd like to be? Or is that beyond your uncanny powers of observation?"
Upset, she pressed her lips together, not sure what to do. Not much more than a year ago, she would have gleefully cut him to bloody ribbons where he stood. Now was different. Now was another year removed from the hurt. That stupid cliche about time and healing wounds seemed to be true. She also knew she was different person, a more caring person, in some measure due to the very person in front of her.
"Whadda you doin' here anyway? Need me to getcha' donut?"
The trip up from LA had been boring and she'd spent much of the time pondering various scenarios of her reception and how she would respond in each. This was going far worse than anything she'd imagined. The bus had broken down in Santa Barbara, forcing a delay of several hours and causing her arrival in the dangerous hours of the night. She couldn't call anyone because her cell phone account was past due and had been deactivated, and the phones at the bus station had all been vandalized.
She had dithered at the station, not wanting to go out into the night, but also aware it really wasn't any safer inside the public building. Nor did she like the way the two winos, one fat and bald, the other skinny and bald, were looking at her. Crossing her fingers she decided to make a dash for the Espresso Pump, which was on the good, safe side of town, only a few short blocks away.
Maybe I should have crossed my toes as well? And why wasn't the Slayer doing a better job of keeping the place clean, huh?
Just her luck she ran into the one vampire the slayer hadn't yet gotten around to exterminating. She really hated this town! And if things were any different she would never have come back.
In the end, despite the cool and confident front she'd initially put on view for Xander, she knew she was on shaky and uncertain ground.
"I, uh, that is, umm..." she sputtered a little, not prepared to deal with this. "I'm here to visit. Uh, my parents."
He rolled his eyes over to the wall and smirked. Hey Charlie, we know better, don't we?
Eyes rolled back to her. "Ha! Nice try, Cordy. Your dad's still servin' an' Mom's been MIA for months."
"I'm visiting friends."
"Harmony?" he said with a sly smile.
"Yeah. Like it's any of your business," she snapped.
"A shwing and a miss. Stee-rike two!" he announced gleefully, cocking his arm out out to the side, with two fingers extended. Then he leaned in close to her. "She's a vampire! Ya' got one more try."
"Whatever. Jerk!" Her ire was up in the face of his antagonizing attitude. She might be a nicer Cordy, but he sure made it all too easy to revert back to the old Queen C.
He made a dismissive noise and gesture and did his level best to forget about the girl before him. Slowly this time, he turned back to the street and fumbled through his jacket pockets, digging for his keys. Ah ha! There's the little devil's, he giggled to himself, jingling them in his pocket. See ya' later Charlie! Thanks fer bein' there.
Her eyes widened in sudden concern as she realized what he was intending to do. "Xander! Stop!"
"Still here?" Damn. A bad day that just kept getting worse and worse. The last thing he needed was his ex- to, to, to...to whatever ex-s did.
"Give me those!" she demanded. He may be acting like a real putz, no shock there, but she wasn't going to let him drive in his current condition.
"Why? You wanna scratch my car?" He leaned back into the wall. Ah, good Charlie. Always there when I need you. Unlike some people, like Anya, who will not be mentioned. Anya, Anya, Anya. Not gonna mention her ever!
"Hey, bitter much?" she retorted, then continued more calmly, trying to be reasonable, "Xander, you can't drive. Not like this."
"Sure I can, jus' wastch me!" He peered around. "Soon's I find car. Oh!" There it is! It was right in front of him, practically the whole time. He gave the wall a reproving look. Charlie, why didn't you tell me? Oh yeah, no eyes. S'okay, I forgive you. See ya' later.
He gave Charlie one final pat and angled toward the vehicle, parked on the far side of the street. She scrambled to retrieve her fallen suitcase and hurried to catch up with him. Her efforts earned her one short glare as she fell into step alongside him. She rolled her eyes and kept pace. Just as he was aiming the keys at the door-lock she snatched them out of his hand.
"Hey! Gimme those!"
"No." She held the keys up and away from his outstretched grasping hand.
Time to pull myself together, Xan-man. Get serious. She has every right to be disgusted with me. Hate me. The dress meant nothing. Everything meant nothing. Oooh, very philosophic, very Zen. I'll write a song! Find Oz and get him to record it!
He fell back against the car, moving slowly, and sighed deeply. His hand went to his face, covering his eyes as he spoke slowly, carefully annouciating each word.
"Cordelia. I'm tired. I do not want to fight with you. Not now, anyway. I jus wanna go home. Please," he begged. "Whatever shit you want to dump on me can wait till tomorrow. You can cut me all you want and stomp all over the pieces and have a good laugh. I'll be more than happy to oblige."
"But right now... Give. Me. THOSE. GOD. DAMN. KEYS!" On the final roaring word he swooped to snatch them from her. She dodged easily, nearly causing him to fell over again.
"I'll drive you back. There's no way you're getting behind a wheel."
He sagged against the car, head back, eyes closed again, trying to fight the dizziness. Even he knew when it was time to give up.
"Who knew you could care so much, huh?"
"It's not you I'm caring about. The people around here have enough to worry about with the demons and vampires. They don't need you adding to their problems."
"And again, who knew you could care so much?" Maybe if he wished hard enough she'd go away in a poof of smoke? He waited five seconds then opened one eye and peered over.
Damn! The wish demon shows up for her, but not for me!
The simmering annoyance with him was verging on outright anger. Yet despite the anger caused by and directed toward him, a part of her was hurt that he was still so bitter over everything in their past. Okay, she hadn't exactly forgiven him, not in so few words as such. But after the prom they'd been able to reestablish a somewhat friendly relationship with each other.
So what's his problem? Well, first off, he's a drunk moron.
But she stuffed her anger back in place and waited him out.
"Fine. You win."
Going around the car he waited for her to get in and unlock the door. Falling into the seat, he closed his eyes and settled back. He heard her throw something into the backseat but didn't bother to look. The engine started and the car began to move, pulling away from the curb, then taking rights and lefts.
How does she know where I live? he wondered.
Xander fell asleep before he could pursue any further down that line of thought.
He opened his eyes slowly and looked around, seeing his parent's house outside the passenger window. "No," groaning, "I don't live here." Better and better every moment, he groused.
"What? This is your house, right?"
"Used to be."
"Then why didn't you say something before?"
"Oh, and I'm just supposed to know?" she snapped.
"You figured out I'm drunk. You couldn't figure this one out, too?" he answered wearily.
She drew a deep breath and started counting backwards from ten in pig Latin. This was something she'd had good practice with when she was dating him before. She'd had even more practice after dealing with some of Angel's and Wes's idiosyncrasies.
"Alright, Xander, Just where do you live?" she ground out, struggling unsuccessfully to keep the edge out of her voice.
He had to think a moment, he'd only had the place a few nights, and mostly knew its location by landmarks.
"San Pedro and Montgomery. I think." he said drowsily.
"You think?" she cried, incredulous. But he was asleep again.
Unbelievable! Boy, he really pisses me off! He's infuriating! Why am I being so nice to him? Well let's see, I'm penniless and have nowhere else to go. And, oh yeah, that damn last vision in Caritas. Stupid PTBs, stupid Angel, stupid Darla. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I'm a saint, that's got to be it! If I can't be an actress then I'm a friggin' saint.
She gave a deep and gusty mental sigh as she glanced at him one more time.
All things considered, I'd rather be an actress.
She smacked the steering wheel hard, once. The sudden but brief pain radiating from her palm cooling off her internal rant-fest.
And he had helped her many times before. The last a gesture of such unselfish caring, when she was most vulnerable and he have humiliated to no end. She still felt warm inside whenever she recalled the incident. It was something she still appreciated to this day. She even appreciated the cover story he ad-libbed, and the delicate way he acknowledged her thanks without revealing anything about her situation. Though she had never asked him why he did it, she had her suspicions, and that too made her feel good inside.
Sighing again, audibly this time, she called up a mental map of the town, startled to discover the given address was in a very upscale area of town. Not as posh as where she used to live, before the IRS rearranged her life, but still very nice. She couldn't begin to imagine how Xander managed to have a place like that.
She glanced occasionally at the snoring lump in the passenger seat while continuing the trip to the new destination. He seemed to be dressing a little better than she last remembered, clothing at least coordinating, if not stylish. And he still looked pretty good, physically. She liked that he'd let his dark hair grow out a bit.
After a few minutes she pulled over to the curb at San Pedro and Montgomery, where two buildings stood on opposite corners. She lightly shoved him to wake him up. "Which one?" she asked without preamble when his eyes started to flicker open.
He made several faces as he tried to rouse himself, then squinted from one to the other and back again. "That one", pointing. He managed, with some difficulty, to stay awake for the last few yards it took to drive to the indicated building and pull into a spot. She handed him the keys after turning off the engine.
Taking them from her, he got out without saying a word. He noticed she also got, which surprised him. He stared dumbly at her and then at the keys in his hand. Car key, apartment key, a couple for locks at work, Magic Box key. He looked back up at her, still not able to figure out what she was doing, just standing there.
An odd thought occurred to him then and he started to fight with the keyring, managing to get the car key off after much effort. As she watched him curiously he handed it back to her. "Thanks. Um, I don't need the car tomorrow. Take it wherever you're staying."
She bit her lip, looked away briefly, visibly struggling internally, and nervously bouncing on her feet before she answered. "I don't have any place to stay."
He looked back at the both of her for several long moments, watching them split and merge in a weirdly erotic way. The earlier bitterness and antagonism toward her slowly leached away. It wasn't her he was upset at.
"You can stay in my place if you want."
Cripes! Did I just say that? Whoa, I must be really shit-faced!
Still, it was a pretty safe offer and he knew Cordelia would refuse it. Except she didn't. To his immense surprise and consternation she nodded her head. He reminded himself to call Giles in the morning and find out what apocalypse was going down this weekend. Someone really should have warned him.
His outward response was to shrug his shoulders and head off to the building's entrance. She followed him into the lobby, onto the elevator, and down the hall, once or twice helping steer him in the right direction whenever he thought a wall was a nice place to run into. Neither of them said a word the entire time. He was tired, drunk, and stunned at her unexpected presence. For her part she was just resigned to the whole humiliation and didn't want to add more to it by acknowledging it with any chatter.
Arriving at his door, it took him three tries before he found the right key. He struggled some more unlocking the door, Cordelia's growing impatience palpable, oddly pleasing him.
His apartment. The one he'd specifically got to share with Anya. Stepping into it brought back the pain. He paused after stepping over the threshold, looking around the darkened rooms, letting the pain wash over.
It's just, you think everything's finally come together.
He'd had some recent good luck. A beautiful girl who actually seemed to like him, or so he'd thought at the time. Another derring-do bit of chivalry, saving Buffy from the Toth. Discovering he had a "cool" side to him, someone who was competent and confident. Hey wow! A job promotion. Wow again! A new apartment way far away from his parents. Double wow! For once, everything was good and well in his life.
He should have know better. The signs were all there, after all.
Soon after getting the apartment (or rather, after his "cool" side did) he called Anya to share the good news. He didn't expect her to pick up and wasn't disappointed when her chirpy recorded voice answered. She was pretty upset and in one of her contrary moods. So he left a message, knowing she would get it and come over later and they could kiss and "make up".
But CoolXander soon had more things to worry about when UncoolXander burst through the door, waving a heavy piece of scrape pipe from the construction site at his head. If that weren't enough, moments later the demon who caused all the trouble strode through the opening, gratuitously knocking the door off its hinges. Buffy and Riley's breathless arrival on its tails provided the next bit of fun. The four of them were able to kill the thing, suffering nothing more than a burn in the carpet.
Then he needed to get reintegrated. It worried him a little the next day when she didn't show up, but maybe she needed some more time. And he was busy dealing with the door, the nice manager-lady not charging him if he would do the work himself. Plus, after work, there was more boxes to move out of the basement.
He was starting to get a little antsy the next morning when no one picked up his phone calls. There was important stuff at work that day and he couldn't get off. He was almost frantic the whole day, barely keeping it together. After leaving work in the early evening and driving over to her place he found it all cleaned out. No message, no forwarding address. Nothing.
He then went to see the gang at Giles' new store. No one else had seen or heard from her either. Despondently, he returned to his apartment. He found A note had been put in the mailbox, written out in her tidy scrawl. He opened it hastily, nearly shredding it in has desire to see what it might say.
What he found inside the envelope was a 'Dear John' letter. Christ! she even addressed it that way, not knowing it was a euphemism. The details didn't matter and he didn't bother to finish reading it, letting it drop to the ground.
Anya was gone. She never got his messages. She never returned his phone calls. She never came over. Apparently she had split while he was being unsplit.
Afterward, he drove aimlessly around town, making random turns, not paying attention to where he was going. He wasn't surprised when he found himself in front of Willy's by the time the sun set. What the hell. He had a cashed paycheck to blow and tomorrow was Saturday. Figuring he had nothing to lose, since he was relatively safe as a friend of the Slayer, he got out of the car and opened the door. And if one of the regulars did decide to kill him then so much the better. He waved to Willy as he entered the gloom, set his money on the bar and told him to keep 'em comin'.
That was several hours and many beers ago.
Inside, the apartment was still spartan, occupied only by the modest furniture provided with the rent, and a bunch of unopened boxes. He shut the door after Cordelia slid past him and went into the living room proper. While she slowly spun around to get a look at everything, without a word he headed for the master bedroom, not bothering to find sheets or blankets for her, or even make sure she was okay.
"Xan--," she uttered when she noticed his retreating back. He looked back, gave her one short, baleful glance and entered his room, slamming the door behind him. She next heard his body crashing onto the bed, followed by utter silence.
She sighed, then offered, "Thanks," to the otherwise empty hallway.
Sighing again, with a shake of her head, she resumed her inspection of his apartment. The far end of the spacious and modern living room had large windows, with an exceptional view over the town. A sliding glass door let onto a large patio outside. How the hell could he afford this? she wondered in gaping astonishment. Did it have ghosts, too?
Poking around some more, she soon found the extra bedroom, only to discover more boxes...and no bed. However, near the door, in an untidy stack, were unopened packages of linens and blankets. Returning with them to the living room, she spent a few moments making up the sofa as comfortable as she could. Then she did her own collapse, bone tired, and immediately fell to sleep.
She dreamed of sunny days in the park and bright emeralds.