Title: To Dream The Impossible Dream
Rating: Nothing worse than the show.
Summary: Second in the Dreams Series.
To Dream The Impossible Dream
'There are days when no matter what you do or say, it doesn't make a blind bit of difference. Then there are days when everything goes your way, when it feels like you can do no wrong and that everything just seems to fall into place.
While you hope that you have more of the former than the latter, you know that realistically the opposite will be true. A pessimistic viewpoint some might say, but that doesn't make it any less true.
What do you do then when you only experience the former, that the latter is nothing more than a distant memory? What do you do when you go to sleep each night hoping that you won't wake up, only to do just that? What do you do when you realise that death itself has decided to leave you alone only because it enjoys seeing your misery more than it would enjoy taking your life?'
Xander looked down at the words he had just written in confusion, which wasn't all that surprising given that he hadn't realised he'd written anything until that very moment. He would feel more surprised if this had been the first time it had happened, but as it hadn't he only felt a moment of frustration before the blanket of depression settled on him once more. On more than one occasion he had zoned out for a few minutes, only to find he had been writing his innermost thoughts on whatever he had to hand.
It was nearly three months since his experience with the Ytin'e'res demons and he was nowhere near over his ordeal, nor would he ever be given what he had been able to fathom. Dipping into his road trip fund, he had gone out and invested in several texts pertaining to them and had found out that what he'd managed to do that night should have been impossible. No one had ever escaped from their grasp before, let alone had the strength to kill them. That meant that, as far as anyone knew, he was the first to be under their spell and live to tell the tale.
There had been documented cases of victims being rescued by way of the demons being killed whilst they were in their thrall, only for them to die shortly after the event anyway, so they really didn't count as far as Xander was concerned. Xander had wondered many times over the last few months just how they had managed to die, given that he had tried on several occasions and failed.
It seemed that there was a side effect of his ordeal that he had yet to reveal to the others; he was for all intents and purposes invulnerable, and he had proven that fact to himself on numerous occasions.
So far he had tried overdosing on painkillers, hanging, waking in front of a truck, jumping off Kingman's Bluff, allowing vampire's to drain him dry, and even blowing his head off with his father's shotgun, and each time he had, unfortunately as far as he was concerned, recovered.
He would probably find his situation cool, and incredibly useful in his nocturnal activities, if it weren't for his determination to end his life.
Three weeks ago he had stopped trying to kill himself after trying the Highlander approach to ending an immortal's life. The memory of feeling his head leave his body, land on the floor and roll a few feet away, only for it to make the return journey a few moments later put paid to him ever trying that method again. It had also resigned himself to the fact that, at least for the moment, there was nothing he could do to end him miserable existence.
It was after that decision that he had truly began to slowly but surely distance himself from the others, if only to keep what little sanity he had left. He knew that Giles no doubt had an idea what he was going through, not the unkillable thing but the depression, and didn't want or need to hear any more of his attempts to counsel him. He had managed to get the older man off topic so far, but he knew that with every passing day he would become more and more determined to 'help' him through his ordeal.
Willow had been trying to perk him up whenever she saw him, thinking that by being extra happy it would in some way rub off onto him. He hadn't expected any less, and to begin with had allowed himself to hope that she might actually succeed, but when he found himself snapping at her to shut up he knew she wouldn't. The flash of hurt that had appeared on her face only caused him more pain, and had gone out of his way to ensure they were never around each other for more than a couple of minutes at a time.
His only other option would be to tell her exactly what he was going through, but he knew telling her the truth would only hurt her so he kept away, knowing that if she eventually decided to corner him with her Resolve Face he'd have no choice but confess.
Cordelia had in a way been the easiest person to deal with. Their relationship had never really had much in the way of depth, and they had argued as much if not more than they agreed. In time that might have changed, but given the circumstances as they were, he couldn't see that happening. He had considered dumping her, only to decide that it would be far better for her to make her dump him, therefore enabling her to save face at school.
It hadn't been that hard to do in the end; he had picked a fight with her and allowed it to get more personal than he would normally allow, and she'd lashed out with equal ferocity and publicly ended whatever it was they'd had by throwing her lunch over him and storming out. Since then he hadn't needed to keep his distance from her, as she was more than happy to do that herself. He thought that it might have hurt more than it had, but given the amount of pain he felt every second of every day, it was barely a blip on his radar.
He had found himself mildly shocked and annoyed when he discovered he found Angel's presence tolerable, if only because the ensouled vampire's dark mood matched his own so well. He had found himself in the vampire's company on more than one occasion when he had gone out in the hopes that a demon would succeed where he himself had failed, and on each occasion Angel had tried to broach the subject of what had happened that night, only for Xander to tell him in no uncertain terms what he could do with his concern. He hadn't wanted the vampire to be near him in case he sensed anything different about him, or witnessed him 'die' at the hands of some demon only to revive moments later, as he knew he would inform Buffy and the others as soon as he could, but now that he no longer went out on suicide missions he barely saw him.
Then there was Buffy.
As always there was the flutter in his chest whenever he first saw her, only for the unbearable pain of his shattered dreams reared its ugly head a moment later. He found himself at times wanting to hurt her as much as he hurt himself, wanting to make her hate him and tell him to leave her alone, but found himself incapable of doing so. He loved her, and while he had the demons to help him realise that it would never be reciprocated, he would not and could not blame her for feeling the way she did. That only made him hurt all the more, especially when she showed true concern for him, as she had been doing more and more in recent months.
It was a vicious circle really; the more he saw her the more it hurt, but the more it hurt the more he needed to see her. She was the only thing after all that gave him even the smallest respite from the pain, even if it did only get worse right after.
He tried to console himself with the fact that while his dreams would never be realised, he still had her in his life, but quickly found it to be pointless. How could he, when he had experienced perfection? No, he had to remove her from his life altogether, and hope that he would one day come to terms with his life.
His plans, like everything else in his life, went up in flames only two weeks later, when Buffy decided that he needed an 'intervention'. He had been left a note in his locker to meet someone in the janitor's closet, the writer stating that they had information on the latest big bad Buffy and the others were facing and would only talk to him, stating that as he was the 'normal' one of the group they had less to worry about from him. He had considered ignoring the note, but despite everything else he was going through he didn't think he could live with the guilt of not doing whatever he could to keep his friends safe.
Of course, when he got there, he quickly found that instead of it being an informant, it was Buffy, who had quickly moved past him to lock the door, effectively trapping him. To ensure he wouldn't be able to retrieve the key, she had taken the clichéd route of putting it in her bra. As clichéd as it was, they both knew he wouldn't attempt to get the key without her permission, something he knew he wouldn't receive.
"I've had it up to here with you're fray adjacent crap Xander, so you're not leaving this room until you tell me what the hell is wrong with you!" she stated firmly, her tone the one she used on Willy whenever she needed information, or when a vampire had actually got in a lucky shot.
"It's none of your business what I do or who I do it with," he had replied forcefully. He knew that under different circumstances he would find it funny that she was complaining about his distancing himself from them when before his ordeal she had wanted him to do just that. "The last time I checked," he continued, "the world didn't revolve around you, Buffy Anne Summers, and it's about damned time you realised it too."
His harsh reply shocked Buffy enough that she stopped herself from retaliating the way she would normally do, which would be to go on the offensive. She knew he was doing what he had to in order to leave, even if it meant making her angry enough to not want to speak to him again. She cared for him too much to allow her own anger cloud her judgement, so she changed tactics.
"Please tell me what's wrong Xander. I know I don't have a right to know everything that's going on with you," she said quickly, forestalling any further protests, "but when someone I care about is hurting I need to know if there is anything I can do to fix it."
The way he flinched when she mentioned she cared about him hurt her, more than she thought it would. She knew she wasn't the best at showing that she cared, but she didn't think she gave the impression she didn't at all.
"I'm going to ask you a question Buffy," he said slowly, "and I need you to promise me that you'll give me an honest answer. Don't think about how I might take the answer; I need to know the absolute gods honest truth. Do you promise?"
Buffy thought about it for a while; she knew that the question and resulting answer would have something to do with whatever was wrong with him, and part of her wanted to say whatever she had to in order to help, but the other part knew he would work it out if she did lie and would probably make things worse.
"Alright, I promise. What's your question?"
"Could you ever see yourself in a romantic relationship with me? Could you ever see yourself being able to love me?"
She could tell by the look in his eyes that he already knew the answer, and it hurt to see the pain that knowledge caused him. What hurt her more was the little flicker of hope she could see there also, despite everything. She knew she had to tell the truth, se had after all promised to do just that, but found that never wanted to lie more in her life. After almost five minutes of silence, the tensest five minutes either teen had experienced, she answered.
"No, I can't."
Her heart broke as she saw that little flicker of hope wither and die, and tears welled up in her eyes as she saw his face become etched in pain and resignation.
"Did you ever talk to Giles about just what those demons did to me?" he asked, his voice sounding like he looked, completely broken. "What I had to have done to break free of their hold on me?" He went on without waiting for her to answer, not that he expected her to, needing to get this out before he lost his nerve. "Those demons stop their victims from escaping by allowing them to live out their most fervent dreams. They give you what you want the most and you're so happy, so filled with bliss, that you couldn't care less that they're killing you."
"That's why they were all found with smiles on their faces," she realised, always wondering how those victims had found anything to smile about.
"They had nothing to frown about as far as they were concerned. They did the same to me; they allowed me to experience my most cherished desire, my most ardent dream, and I had never been so completely happy in my entire life, nor will I ever again."
Xander took a couple of steps towards Buffy, and while she didn't normally like anyone inside her personal 'bubble', the look on Xander's face made her not care.
"Everything felt so real; every sight, every sound, every smell, every taste…" he raised his hand to her face, as though her were about to caress it, before suddenly dropping his arm down to his side once more "… and every touch was so real that at first I believed that it actually was."
Buffy now had a good idea what his fantasy was, and despite the gravity of the situation, couldn't help but feel warm abut the fact she played a big part. She had always known of his feelings for her, and had done her best not to encourage him, but had always found a certain level of comfort in the knowledge there was someone out there who thought the way he did, even though she didn't feel the same.
"I won't go into the details, but I eventually realised that it was only an illusion, and that my dreams would never, ever, come true. It was then that I escaped my death, and had my vengeance."
She remembered the horrifying scene she witnessed that night, and couldn't remember seeing anyone or anything so incensed as she had Xander as he stood over the remains of the demons that had taken him.
"I can understand why you would be upset, but just because…" her eyes widened in shock and dismay as the true consequences of her answer flashed before her eyes.
"They didn't just use my hopes and dreams against me, they took them away." He took several steps away from her, until his back touched the wall behind him. "What does anyone have left to live for if they know there's never a chance to fulfil their dreams?"
"You can't… you haven't…" she stuttered, finding herself unable to voice her thoughts. She knew enough about depression to understand what a person would consider of they felt they had nothing left to live for, and her mind found it simply impossible to complete any though that included Xander taking his own life, knowing that the pain she would feel from them would be debilitating.
"You're right that I can't kill myself, but you're wrong that I can't try." He saw her confusion and found himself explaining. "I have tried, numerous times in fact, to do just that and under different circumstances I would have succeeded several times over. You see, when I said I escaped my death, I truly meant it; I cannot die. I've gone so far as to put my father's shotgun in my mouth and pull the trigger, and all that happened is that I made a big mess in the kitchen. Any damage I receive heals in moments, no matter how extensive. I have nothing left to live for, and yet no way to die. This is why I've been keeping away; I can't be around you anymore knowing that all I'll ever be to you is a friend, not after what I've experienced." His shoulders slumped and his body looked like it was barely holding itself up. "Can I have the key now please?" he asked softly, brokenly.
She retrieved the key without a word and dropped it into his hand, which he had ensured remained far enough away for to be unable to touch him. She noticed that and went to grasp it, but he wrenched his away sharply. When he saw the hurt his movement caused, he once again found himself explaining his actions.
"Please don't. Part of me wants to hold you and never let you go, while the other is afraid that if I touch you and it feels different to what I felt, that even my memories would vanish. Right now they are all I have left, even if they are false."
He walked by her, careful to maintain a respectful distance, and unlocked the door.
She said the words between heaving sobs, tears falling down her cheeks as she took in everything he said and the ramification of them.
He turned to look at her, silently deciding that this would be the last time he would do so, and smiled sadly.
"So am I Buffy, so am I."
He closed the door and walked away, doing his best to ignore the sounds of Buffy breaking down behind him.