One of a Kind
Timeline: Season 2, 'The Dark Ages'
Disclaimer: don't own. Just using for a fanfiction. Belongs to M.E.
Xander awoke with a start as he felt a foreign sensation invade his nose.
"Wakey, wakey, Boy," the peculiarly English voice called out, "You're missing everything."
"Oh, yeah," Xander muttered, even as he saw Ethan Rayne set down a dish filled with tattoo equipment…he really hated himself for leaving the library in a huff after Cordy had insulted him by saying he'd turn out just like his dad…and for going out after Ethan, "And what is it, exactly, that I'm missing? A free prostate exam?"
"Something like that," the British man said dryly as he sat down beside the table that Xander was tied to, "But, actually, you're about to be initiated."
"Can I revoke my nomination," Xander asked.
"No," the Englishman said, "Besides, I already voted you in."
"Oh, joy, I get to be a part of the heavy metal black magic cult…I'm joining the Sex Pistols on a newt buzz."
"I actually quite enjoyed the Sex Pistols," Ethan muttered, "But, enough of that. Time to get down to business," the Englishman set himself down on a chair beside the table as he said this, "You know, I do hope you aren't taking this too personally. You see, I rather like you, boy, it's just that…I rather like myself much more."
"How noble," Xander muttered, "I get to die so a pansy can live. Joy."
"Sweet child," Ethan said with a sneer, "Now, this might hurt for…just a moment," he muttered as he grabbed the tattoo needle, "But, don't worry. That should go away after the searing pain kicks in."
Xander gritted his teeth as he felt Ethan began to dig into the flesh on the right shoulder blade with the needle. Ironically, if it had not been for Ethan's former enterprise on the Hellmouth, Xander would not have been able to handle the pain as greatly as he was. Soldier guy had had several tattoos during his time, and Xander had inherited the memories of each one…including the pain.
"You can go ahead and scream if you like," Ethan whispered into his ear.
"No, thanks," Xander muttered, "As they say, I have to…keep things…frosty."
"Oh, yes, that's right," Rayne said aloud as he continued to dig, "You're that boy who bought the rifle for the soldier costume…I wondered why you had been muttering during your sleep. The nightmares keeping you up?"
Xander resisted the urge to gasp as he realized that the ponce of a man had heard his mutterings during his dreams. Ever since that fateful Halloween, his dreams had been plagued with nightmares…jungle firefights, the killings, and, the most dramatic of the memories, the KIA's of his group.
"…Every night, I go to Hell," Xander answered coldly, "I should rip your innards out from your body and choke you with them."
"That's not very appealing," Rayne stated dryly as he continued on.
"Oh, well," Xander said, "What's happening right now ain't very appealing to me, either."
It was sometime the next day when Xander Harris underwent another traumatic event. After being saved by Angel, due to Willow's timely idea that the demon possessing Jenny could be killed by Angelus, he had gone home, left in tatters. During the entire time that British bastard had mutilated his body, he had had flashbacks…of Korea…of Vietnam…of every single death that had ever been caused by his lateness…his inability…every single death he had ever seen.
He hadn't caught a wink of sleep.
He had spent his time addressing two things: whether or not he was going to spend the money needed to get rid of Ethan's tattoo and what was going to happen now. No one had said anything to him, but, he knew…from Buffy's look of indignity…Willow's stare of sympathy, marred with annoyance…Angel's look of contempt…Giles's glare of disappointment.
Xander held no problems in the fact that he had made a very rash decision. Yet, that wasn't the thing that was making him assess it. The fact that his instincts, which had been on high alert ever since the dreams had started, were telling him that something that was getting closer was the thing that was making him worry about his friends' opinions of himself.
So far, his instincts had told him of death and mayhem…they hadn't failed him, yet.
It was no secret to him that most of the gang either considered him a jealous bastard or a poor geek…which, in reality, both were technically true. He was jealous of Angel, not because Buffy had chosen him, but because he had simply done the whole mysterious thing and gotten underneath Buffy's skin with a simple stare…something he would never be capable of and, quite frankly, never wanted to be capable of. He was a warrior, not a Tall, Dark, and Broody redemption seeker or something. He was a soldier, not some character out an Anne Rice novel.
He was a true warrior, not someone who played the part.
And, he was a poor geek…for obvious reasons. Plus, he was a bastard. The father he had now was nonexistent, so, he didn't consider him accountable…period.
While these facts were true, the large majority of the group also thought of these facts in a different light. Whereas Xander considered them simply things he had overcome (though he still detested Angel in every sense of the word), they considered these things to be flaws. They considered him useless…and, even after all he had done, that would not change. His instincts told him so, and he trusted his instincts.
The only question was as to whether or not this event would be the straw that broke the camel's back.
Xander sat in his room that night, thinking. The group had been edgy around him, and he knew why, despite the fact that they all believed that he didn't. They had come to the conclusion that slaying was simply too dangerous for him, and that it was in his best interests to force him out.
As though he had never fought before…as though none of the others had ever made a mistake (Buffy, putting herself above the others when she got back from the summer…Willow, not trusting them about Malcolm…Giles, not telling them about Eyghon…Angel, not helping the group out during the Harvest, though he'd never be called up on it), and that was the biggest affront they could have made to him. They put themselves above himself, as though they were, in some way, shape, or form, better than he. In reality, they were on equal ground. They each had something to contribute, be it computer skills, strength, intellect, or, in his case, an insight into modern day weaponry. He had offered a few times to Buffy about looking into more modern weapons for the Slayer, only to be shot down. Slayers were grunts, plain and simple. They had no time for things as useless as strategy, whereas they can simply start pounding away at the wall with their fists.
Alexander Harris had come to a crossroads, of sorts, forced upon himself by one reckless act…would he be forced from the group…or would he be left alone, living in his own little niche of Hell?
Xander was jolted awake as, yet, another dream rampaged through his already extensively damaged psyche. That one had been particularly rough…it had been the night he had died…
His entire platoon had been lost to a savage group of Vietcong during a night raid on their HQ. He lost about thirty-seven men that night, including his CO, who had been one of his best friends during the entire war, and his little brother, a private…he had been their NCO…the first to get up and grab his rifle…the last to die. At least he had died nobly.
The Vietcong had taken him alive and were going to process him into a POW camp when he got a hold of their commander's knife. He had made a last ditch effort to make the raiders back off from the base, knowing that if they took any supplies from it, that they would take everything they could and use it against his own boys. He had known, too, that even if they did back off, that they would be right back as soon as he let the bastard go, or, if he tried to hold him hostage, one of their boys would take him out. That didn't matter…all he had wanted was to try and buy a little bit of time for the Spec Ops squad that had been out on a mission to find out what was happening and get the Hell outta there…or call in reinforcements to try and reclaim the area.
Instead, he had been nailed in the back by their second wave.
Sergeant First Class Alexander Howell, NCO, died that day, and his BDUs had been shipped back to the states, then, somehow had made their way into the Surplus store that Xander had bought them from. The consequences of these events…were right before his eyes as he stared down at his own shaking hands.
Xander sat inside the high school library, his fingers on his forehead as he waited for the rest of the group to arrive. The cowards had purposefully told him the incorrect time for the Scooby meeting, as though he couldn't guess what the time really was from all the other ones. If they were going to try and keep him out, they were going to have to do better than that. At least show some smarts and start having meetings at that time a little before you changed it, just simply to throw him off.
But, then…they probably didn't even think he was worthy of that.
He looked up as he heard the doors open. He had come to a decision during his sleepless night, that if they were going to kick him out, it was going to be done on his terms.
"Hey, all," he greeted the group in a monotone as he surveyed the surprised looks of the three individuals present, "Ready for the meeting?"
Buffy, unsurprisingly, came forward with a look of sheer disbelief in her eyes. She hadn't been expecting him to show up at the correct time.
"Xander," she smiled at him sweetly, trying to catch him off guard, but failing miserably, "I didn't think you were coming."
"Why, Buffy," he asked, wanting to dance away from the subject to keep them on their toes, knowing that they would eventually slip up.
"…There's nothing big going on," she said, an obvious lie based solely upon her tone, then justified as Xander spied the quantity of books in the Watcher's hands.
"Then, what's with all the books, Buff," he questioned her, "Doing a late night study session with the G-man?"
"Don't call me that," Giles interrupted, only to hastily put his head down underneath Buffy's gaze.
"As a matter of fact, yes," Willow said in a sweet voice, trying to talk down to him as she had done in the past, "Trust me when I say…it's really boring."
Xander nodded, as though considering her words, then stated, "If it's so boring, why don't you go out on patrol, instead."
The two girls shared a look, before Buffy said, "We just got back…and ran into Giles on the way back."
"Huh," Xander said quietly, "Odd. Giles usually stays with you or at the library, in case you need him. And, I thought you all had just come in. Or, maybe you did a short patrol, what with the sun just setting two hours ago."
Willow glared at the 'blonde' girl that happened to be her best friend. She had tried to speak up beforehand, knowing that Buffy was terrible at making up a convincing lie…that didn't involve Angel.
"Or," Xander interrupted her thoughts with his next tirade, "Maybe you all just decided that I wasn't cut out for this and decided to cut me out of the loop."
All three shared a look as they realized that they had been busted.
Here, he could tell that they expected him to start fighting them about it, that he would try and convince them of his worth, of his ability, only to eventually fail before the Slayer's fury as it was unleashed. That was where the young man held the most power.
They thought they knew him…but, they really had no idea who they were dealing with.
"It's because of Ethan, isn't it," Xander asked, scratching the cloth that was directly above the tattoo itself.
The two women shared a look, even as Giles retreated to the safety of his office. He obviously didn't want to hear the two girls start screeching at him.
"Yes," Willow said after a moment, "It is."
Xander stared at the two, waiting for one of them to begin, but, it was very clear that they had little more to say over the issue. Whereas once, Willow would have defended her friend, she was now more Buffy's friend than she would ever be Xander's…it wasn't right, and Xander knew that. He also knew that he had done the same thing for quite some time.
Here was where the line would be drawn…and here was where the fate of their friendship would be determined.
"So," he took a breath to adjust his tone to a grave one, "Instead of sitting down with me and addressing your concerns with me, you decided to just cut me loose…correct?"
The two girls slowly nodded. He momentarily considered that they were feminists, then rejected the theory almost immediately. Buffy was too identified by Angel to be a feminist, though she refused to acknowledge Xander as much more than a doormat…while Willow was still somewhat making doe eyes at him, though it obviously was not enough to convince her to fight for him. Buffy meant more to her than her lifelong friend…
How skewed was that?
Besides, if anything, she was little more than a sheep now. Buffy's brainwashing (he recognized the subtle way that Buffy had slipped into Willow's mind, he had seen it done by both drill sergeants and Vietcong) had done that to her, and Xander didn't like it one bit. He really thought they would be better off if they hadn't have met Buffy or, at least, if Buffy had become friends with other people…a lot of things would have been different, maybe better, maybe worse.
He'd never know.
"I didn't even…get the chance to defend…myself, did I," he asked them, his voice betraying nothing at all.
The two girls stared at him, not sure what to say. Before he could continue, however, Buffy said, "We didn't want you to get hurt."
Typical Buffy…same arguments, same idiocy.
"But, you're perfectly fine with Willow getting hurt," he countered, knowing exactly what her next argument would be.
"Willow doesn't go out looking for trouble," she answered him…as expected.
"No," he agreed, "Trouble comes to her. I remember, after all, I was one of the beasts chasing her, from what I was told."
He could see Willow shifting uncomfortably as she remembered the hyena incident. He had known that that little example would serve to illustrate his point, knock a potential enemy off her game a little, and make Buffy say something that was incredibly predictable.
"You were possessed," she countered, "And we didn't know that they would come after you."
Again, no disappointment.
"Then, why didn't you stay," he demanded, "You had no idea of the danger, you had no idea of the habits of a hyena, and you had an inkling as to the strength level I had, and should have known that I was stronger than you…I restrained you, and nearly raped you, as I recall."
"…You didn't," Buffy started, growing more uncomfortable with the eerie calm that Xander was speaking in.
"I pulled your pants down to your knees," he stated calmly, "I saw your panties. That was when you threw a punch at me, then poked a thumb in my eye. Then, you hit me with a desk. You knew what I was capable of, yet, you choose to leave me with a girl with little to no experience in violence just so you can go question a guy who may or may not have the answers."
She gaped at him for a second, startled by his revealing of the events that had occurred that day, only to close her mouth tightly and say, "He did have the answers, and, as I recall, you had had the same amount of experience fighting the undead."
"Granted," he allowed, "But, I'm stronger, I have a better technique and am in better shape than Willow, but, apparently, that doesn't matter since she can still patrol. Plus, he may or may not have had the answers, Buff. It was a guess, lucky, perhaps, but...still a guess that I wouldn't have wagered Willow's life on."
"Riddle me this, Buffy…I get the cold shoulder due to a mistake…why don't you?"
"What," Buffy questioned, not really understanding him and still too confused over the last bit of conversation.
"Well, I get thrown out because I made one mistake…why not you?"
"Mistake," Buffy laughed, "What mistake have I made?"
"…I'm blaming that one on the bleach," Buffy reddened as she realized what he was referring to, "Because, even the ditziest ditz I know wouldn't ever have forgotten the events which led up to four people being captured and nearly killed, if it hadn't been for a timely intervention by a chagrined Slayer, a distant vampire, and a wounded nerd."
She flinched as his words struck her, then idly berated herself for forgetting that one.
"My mistake would have killed me, Buffy," Xander pressed forward, "But, yours nearly killed four friends. You endangered lives to 'keep us safe.' You called us civilians…I haven't been a civilian for a long time, Buffy…we haven't been anything near civilians since Jesse died."
This time, Buffy had the decency to at least look shamed. Willow, meanwhile, was furiously blinking away the tears as she saw her best friend, in what was her mind, assault her bestest friend…not for the reminder of her dead friend.
"So…I suppose that Willow will be leaving to, or be given the incorrect meeting times, since you're too much of a coward to tell her the truth," Xander stated, dryly.
Buffy opened and closed her mouth in rapid succession, searching for an answer. Willow stared at Buffy…she had been expecting to be instantly reaffirmed of her inclusion to the cause.
"Buffy," the blonde didn't turn to her redheaded friend, "Buffy, tell him. I'm not going to be kept out, I haven't done anything to deserve it!"
The Slayer turned her gaze back to her friend, but did not answer. Willow stared at her, shocked. She had presumed that she worked underneath different rules with the Slayer, but, as she stared at her friend, she could tell that Buffy was having a furious battle of wills…and Willow was losing.
Xander smiled inwardly. He knew that he would be leaving, most likely, but, if he did, he wanted Willow to know what to look out for so that she wouldn't be dropped as he had.
"I am not going to allow you to kick me out, Buffy," he stated, standing up as he did so, causing both to turn their heads to him, "But, I know you. If things don't go your way, you tend to spaz out, so, in order to make sure that you have a better chance at living, since you tend to fight with your emotions more than you do reason, I'm going to leave…you and Willow and Giles are on your own from here on out."
Buffy sighed happily as she realized that the end of it all was near, and she was going to get what she wanted, and keep her friend.
"And," she returned her full attention to Xander as he said, "Since being around you tends to have some kind of an emotional effect, I've decided that I don't want to be your friend anymore…"
Buffy stared at him, tears threatening to spill out as she realized what it might mean…she had always assumed that Xander loved her too much to be away...would he make good on his threat?
The redhead felt her inner dam brake as she heard this, and began to openly cry in the middle of the library. She couldn't accept it, wouldn't accept it…Xander was going to be her friend forever, would wait on her, be there when she needed him…be hers.
"Xander," Buffy stifled out, "Xander, please-"
"You want me as a friend," Xander told her, "But, not as someone to fight alongside. If you want the former, you have to have the latter. Make up your mind, Buffy. Tell me, right here, right now…that you're willing to let me fight beside you, and I will remain friends with both of you."
Willow instantly rounded her gaze upon Buffy, and it was shouting out pain that would come if the Slayer answered with anything aside from 'Yes.'
But, Buffy could not say yes. She couldn't force herself to, for, in her heart of hearts, she knew that she was doing the right thing…giving him a better chance at her dream…and she had no doubt that she would do it to Willow if the time ever came.
"Then, I'm outta here," Xander said and, without any pause, he left the building.
Xander sat in his room that night, thinking. He had just left his friends, his two best friends ever, possibly forever, and…
He felt good about it.