Title: Emerald Spark (21/21)
Feedback: Please be gentle.
Distribution: Gimme credit and a link.
Rating: Just a little bad language.
Spoilers: Anything and everything.
Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to other people. I'm just borrowing them for a while.
Summary: After Halloween, everything changes. Sequel to Blackest Night. Part one of Emerald Flame.
Author's Note: Tsk. Xander simply has too many things to do and not enough time to do them.
Xander rubbed his temples, "I. Don't. Remember. Okay?" He sighed and threw his head back, "All I remember is that there was a ghost of a guy who killed someone and then killed himself and that Buffy was getting heavy on the Slayer visions about it."
"You can't remember anything else?" Buffy frowned. "Are you sure?"
"You have to understand, Buff, with everything else that was going on at the time, this was a pretty minor incident, I was barely involved, and from my perspective, this was decades ago. You try remembering what happened when you were five."
"You stole my Barbie," Willow pointed out.
"And you broke a yellow crayon," Xander shot back. "But do you remember what Rodney Munson got detention for back then? Aside from the locker monster incident, I barely had anything to do with this."
"Still," the redhead persisted, "people got shot. What could be going on that people getting possessed and shooting other people is a minor incident? And why isn't it happening now?"
Xander's gaze involuntarily flicked back to Buffy for a split-second before he answered, "Let's just say the major incidents have been taken care of."
He missed the dark look flashing across Buffy's face as Faith asked, "So what's the plan, sensei?"
He shrugged, "Giles? You're the expert here."
"How kind of you to remember that," the Watcher said dryly. "We know whose ghost it is. James Stanley. In nineteen-fifty-five, he shot a teacher, Grace Newman, and then shot himself. What we need to know is why he's here. What issues are keeping him in limbo?"
"I'll go check it out, and we'll go from there," Xander offered.
"The risk is too great," Giles said. "You could get possessed."
"We need more info, right?" Xander pointed out reasonably. "About why he's sticking around?"
Faith's eyes widened in realization, "Shit, X. You're wanting to get possessed."
"I've got some... protections... that might keep me safe," Xander hedged. "Even if they don't work, my training with the ring should let me break free."
"And what if you can't?" Buffy frowned.
Xander shrugged. "The ghost's MO is pretty simple. Two get possessed, one shoots, the other gets shot. As long as I'm the only one in there, I should be safe. I'll scan the school before I go in. Faith, I'll need you to set up a barrier to keep anyone else from getting in."
"This is a bad idea, Xan."
"I'll be taking every possible precaution, Buffy," Xander said. "That's why I have to be the one to go in. Anyone else would be in even more danger."
Faith's ring glowed, and Cortana's image appeared before them, "I want to go on the record as agreeing with the Slayer, Reclaimer. This is crazy." She paused, then smiled, "Unfortunately, I like crazy."
"Cortana, you're staying in Faith's ring," Xander said. "The last thing I want to find out is if an AI construct can get possessed."
"In any hell, on any Earth,
Nothing's changed since this oath's birth.
Let all who would try to end this Earth Run now, run fast, for all they're worth.
"It won't help them anyway."
The lantern's green glow faded as Xander finished charging his power ring. With so many unknown factors, he wanted the ring at full capacity when he went in.
"That's one heck of an oath."
He turned his head and smiled faintly, "It's one I came up with a long time ago, Buff." He gestured at the lantern, "Just topping off the ring before I go in."
"Don't do this, Xander," she said, stepping forward and placing a hand on his.
"Buffy," he said gently, clasping her hand between his, "we don't have any better options. And this ring means I can't stay 'fray adjacent' anymore."
"This is a suicide mission!" she snapped, glaring at him, and for a moment, he remembered another argument they had, in a future that never would be.
"Damn it, Buffy!" he snapped back, yanking his hands away from hers and stepping away from her, even as she moved to follow. "At least when I launch one, I'm the only one going in!"
Buffy stumbled to a halt mid-step.
Xander sighed and shook his head, turning away. "Forget it, Buff. It's not important."
"Well, it's important to me," she said, placing a hand on his arm. "Xander, what happened?"
"Don't, Buff," he said, shrugging her hand off. "That... was a bad year. For all of us. Just... just don't. 'Cause it's not gonna happen this time around. I won't let it."
"Was I really that bad?" she asked, letting her hand fall back to her side.
"Six or seven years in the battlefield, no rest, no time off," Xander said quietly. "We'd all gone a little nuts by then, Buff."
"You're avoiding the question."
"Now is not the time for this, Buffy."
"Yes, it is," she argued, crossing her arms. "If we go on your schedule, it'll never be the time to talk about this."
"Buffy..." he said, turning back to face her.
"You've changed a lot since Halloween, Xander," she continued, not really hearing him. "You're... more secretive, more cryptic." She began waving her hands around as she continued, "Okay, you're older, you've got power, you've got responsibilities. I get it. Really, I do. I mean, hello?" She waved at him. "Slayer here. But... I miss my Xander-shaped friend." She bit her lower lip and shrank back a bit, folding her arms. In a small voice, she hesitantly admitted, "I... I don't know who you are anymore, Xander. And... and that scares me."
There was a long moment of silence.
"Tomorrow night," Xander said finally. "After we deal with the ghosts. I promise."
They stood before the school, outside the wasp swarm engulfing the building. A faint green sheen glowed around Xander. He looked at Faith and said, "Don't forget the sewer access."
"I won't," the junior Green Lantern said. Energy flared and surrounded the school grounds. "Okay," she said, "it's sealed off."
Xander nodded, then turned to face the school. A wave of green energy washed across the interior of the dome. He breathed a sigh of relief as the scan completed, "Good. Nothing human or humanoid, alive or undead. I should be safe." He turned to face the others again, "Anyone have anything to say?"
"Just one question."
"Is the proton pack construct really necessary?" the redhead asked.
"Of course not," Xander answered, then shrugged, "but... well... who you gonna call?"
"You have so earned a smack there, mister," Willow scolded, hands on her hips.
"Be careful," Buffy said quietly, reaching up and touching the energy barrier. It felt warm and hard to the touch.
"I will," Xander said, his hand reaching up to touch the opposite side of the barrier.
"Yo, X, I can't keep this up forever," Faith said.
"Right," he nodded, then turned and headed into the school. They watched him as he vanished through the front door.
"Sooo..." Faith drawled, her voice dripping with innuendo, "what was that all about, B?"
Xander stood in the school, waiting for the ghost to make his presence felt.
"You can't make me disappear just because you say it's over," a woman's voice declared.
Xander felt the ghost take control. "I just want you to be able to have some kind of normal life," he said, stepping toward the woman, "We can never have that, don't you see?"
"I don't give a damn about a normal life!" she snapped. "I'm going crazy not seeing you. I think about you every minute."
Xander's hand stroked her cheek, "I know. But it's over. It has to be!" He turned and walked away. Footsteps followed, and the walk turned into a run.
"Come back here!" she demanded. "We're not finished!" She grabbed his arm and spun him around, "You don't care anymore, is that it?"
"It doesn't matter," he retorted, tear streaking down his face, "it doesn't matter what I feel."
"Then tell me you don't love me! Say it!"
"Is that what you need to hear?" Xander whispered. "Will that help? I don't. Now let me go." He turned to leave, but she kept a grip on his arm.
"No. A person doesn't just wake up and stop loving somebody!"
The gun came up. In his mind, Xander started panicking.
"Love is forever. I'm not afraid to use it, I swear! If I can't be with you..."
"Oh, my God!"
Xander poured his will into his ring as his body turned and fled.
"Don't walk away from me, bitch!"
They emerged on the balcony. "Stop it!" she demanded. "Stop it! Don't make me!"
"All right," Xander stopped at the balcony. "Just..." he turned. "You know you don't want to do this. Let's both... just calm down. Now give me the gun."
"Don't. Don't do that, damn it!" she snapped. "Don't talk to me like I'm some stupid..."
The gun went off.
There was a faint flash of green light.
"XANDER!" No one was certain who cried out his name first. Faith dropped the barrier, wrapping it around herself and charging through the wasp swarm.
The ghosts moved on, and Xander pulled away and stepped back from the woman who had provided the host for James. He had barely managed to fight through the possession enough to use his ring to protect himself from the bullet.
"You love me," she said bluntly.
He hesitated for a moment, "Yes. Now leave."
"Why?" she frowned.
"Because all we do is hurt each other," he replied honestly. "Just... go. Please. We're not good for each other. We never were. We never will be. I mean nothing to you. So, please, leave while that's still true."
Her face flared into its full demonic visage. He didn't even flinch. She scowled and teleported away.
"Goodbye, Ahn," he whispered.
"Sensei? You okay?"
He turned, "Hey, Faith. Call the others. It's time I put all my cards on the table. I've got a promise to keep." He paused, then added, "And we'll need some booze. There's no way I'm telling this story sober. Or more than once."
Xander looked around the room. He met the gazes of each of the legal adults present: Giles, Jenny, Joyce, Rebecca, and even Patrice. How the lady cop wound up at this meeting, he wasn't sure, but with the determination he saw in her eyes, he didn't have the heart to turn her away. Buffy had been hesitant about having Joyce in on the conversation, but Xander had finally convinced her to come clean with her mother on some parts of the Slayer deal. Then there were the teenagers like himself: Buffy, Willow, Tara, Faith (with Cortana in her ring), Cordy, even Oz. It just didn't seem right to him to leave the werewolf out of this.
He pulled out a bottle of vodka and placed it on the table. He looked at the legal adults present, daring them to say anything. No one did.
"Let me tell you a story," he said, pouring the liquor. "Of battles won, a world saved, and the prices paid. Of lives lived, loves lost, and a second chance at getting it right. I am Xander Harris, Green Lantern of Sector Two-Eight-One-Four, and this... is my story."
And that's the end of Emerald Spark. Watch for Emerald Ignition, coming soon! Also, if anyone wants to play in the Emerald Flame sandbox, let me know.