Summary: Two more characters, another opportunity to learn something about themselves.
Notes: None, really. I tapped myself out writing the story. Feel free to alert me of anything that should go here when you shoot me your feedback. Which you will do. Right?
"Argggh! Where the hell are you hiding you Andelusian sand flea?! I swear I'm going to find you, tear you into little tiny pieces and space every single one! Where are you?!"
"Nowhere you'd ever think to look." The subject of her search whispered to himself as he crouched in a dark corner of his captain's cabin.
"Okay." The captain demanded quietly, towering over his engineer. "I don't care how embarrassing it is. Tell me what you did or I'm giving you up, and it doesn't really sound like she's in the mood for mercy or forgiveness."
"It wasn't that bad."
"I'll be the judge of that. Talk now before I start to see her side of things."
"Okay, okay. That crack she made on the bridge today was one too many. All I did was... reroute a couple things in her room."
"Oh, God... such as?"
"Which is now connected to..."
"The reclamation system."
Placing both hands over his face, the taller man sighed and continued the inquisition through his fingers.
"So... an enraged half naked woman is now storming through the corridors of my ship covered with..."
"Let's see... ground up food waste, used fuel and sewage."
"She's been callin' me short every day for two weeks! I was supposed to let her get away with that?!" the perpetrator complained.
"You are short!"
"So? We got a purple part-time doc in the med-bay, an ego-maniac runnin' weapons an' your head's too big for your neck. Do I rub that in anybody's face?"
Closing his eyes, the ship's beleaguered captain breathed deeply and counted slowly to ten before speaking again.
"I know you're planning on doing something about this mess. I'd suggest you share that plan right now. Hello? Either you say something or I'll tell her exactly where to find you..."
The other tried to comply, but was struck suddenly by an overwhelming wave of dizziness. As he watched, his hands began to disappear, followed by his wrists. The terrifying event shocked him into speech, but all he could manage was a few exclamations.
"Whoa... oh, man... this can't be good..."
His commander finally opened his eyes again, worried by the panic he heard in his friend's voice, and his jaw fell open in amazement. For several minutes he searched the room, tearing through the closet and dropping to his knees to look under the bed, but finally he had to concede the impossible. In the few moments he'd been looking away, the other had vanished.
A minute later, the victim of the re-wired shower exploded into the room. Wrapped only in a towel, she braced one hand on the captain's door frame, breathing heavily through her nose and dripping filth on his floor.
"If you don't let me kill him this time... I'll take you instead. Where is he?"
He turned and looked at her in utter confusion.
"Uh... you won't believe me, but he really was here a minute ago..."
"That's enough. Calm down. You know I'll gladly send you straight to hell before I let you hurt him... not that you could."
"Look... unless you want your pretty blond hair ripped out by its ugly brown roots, you'll get out of my way..."
"It was a prank for God's sake! It didn't hurt anyone, least of all you, so get over yourself and leave him alone."
"It's pink! The wanker painted my bleedin' crypt baby pink! There's lace everywhere... frilly fabric hangin' over my bed... it looks like a scene outta freakin' Cinderella an' he's gonna pay!"
"You deserved that and a lot worse. After what you did, my suggestion was pissing in a mug of holy water, handing it to you and telling you it was plasma."
"Wha' I did? Me?!"
"Yes, you!" the red-head by the stairs finally interjected, pointing at the large table in the center of the shop. "You know what he went through with his family and you still sat right there Saturday night making stupid jokes and tasteless comments. I nearly broke your leg kicking you in the shin and you still wouldn't shut up."
"I haven't got a bloody clue what you bints are talkin' about. For your information, the whelp's life ain't as interestin' as you think. He ain't exactly the next face you're gonna see on the flippin' Biography channel."
The blonde frowned at the source of her constant aggravation, willing her anger to remain, but it insisted on draining away. She didn't really want to believe him, but she found herself doing so anyway.
"So you didn't know about his family, but could you learn to take a hint? If the looks we shot you were any dirtier there'd have been a mudslide inside the building!" she countered.
"It's okay." The prankster announced quietly, emerging from his hiding spot among the books on the second level and making his way down the stairs. "I'm right here."
"Stay back." The blond warned him.
"No. He can't really do anything. Let him yell at me all he wants. I've had my revenge."
"You don't have to..." the redhead began, touching his arm gently.
"I can handle whatever he can dish out. I just... I had to make you to stop. He doesn't have a right to know... not about me or my so-called family or..."
"I'm really sorry. You're right. Those out of the loop stay out of the loop." The blonde apologized, moving to stand beside her friend. "Stay here, okay? I'll take care of him and be right back. We'll talk." She promised, whirling back around to hustle the victim of the joke out of the store. The red-head looked nervous for a few seconds, then followed.
"I should... just to make sure she doesn't..."
"I know. Go ahead." he assured her, studying his shoes intently. When the toes appeared to be slowly evaporating, he blinked and rubbed his eyes as if his sight were failing him, but it didn't change what he was seeing. Within seconds both feet were gone and he'd begun to tremble in fear.
"Oh, God... what is this? I hate this town. I've always hated this town... I'd be safer living in the Bermuda Triangle... If I survive whatever this is, I'm moving to Venice Beach..."
It was several minutes before either woman re-entered the building, but by the time they did, their friend had disappeared.
A SHORT WHILE LATER:
As he slowly regained some sense of place and position, the young man raised a hand to his head and moaned. Reluctantly, he slit his eyes open and looked around him. He found he was still crouched in a corner, but the room was utterly different. Everything around him was stark white and there was no furniture, nothing on the walls and no door, at least not one he could see. Another young man stood against the far wall, eyes vacant with shock. Realizing that his only course was to wake his fellow prisoner, he moved cautiously through the small space and approached the other man.
"Hey. Hey, buddy. You okay? C'mon kid, wakey wakey. You gotta help me find a way outta this place."
The eyes of the taller man focused suddenly and he jumped back, moving swiftly into some reasonable semblance of a fighting stance. "Easy, junior! I don't wanna fight."
"If you back off you won't have to."
"Gotcha. No problem. Stay cool, okay? I was just wonderin' if you knew somethin' about this place I didn't... that's all."
"Wish I did. Where are we?"
"God's washroom? How the hell am I supposed to know?"
"Yeah..." the other agreed wearily, finally taking a minute to do a quick visual sweep of the room. Studying the other man, he sensed no aggression from him, so he marginally relaxed. "Sorry. The defensive thing... it's instinct. Where I live you learn real fast to stay on your toes."
He slowly approached the shorter man, holding out his hand.
"Huh. Yeah, I... I get that. Been there myself more than once. Seamus Harper."
"Good to meet ya."
"You too. How did you end up here?"
"Not a damn clue. I was hidin' from one a'my shipmates, I look down an' my hands are goin' transparent. Next thing I know... I'm in the whitest room in the universe."
Xander paled slightly.
"It was my feet. The toes of my shoes disappeared, then the rest of me followed right behind. You said ship... So you're a sailor?"
"Uh... nah, not like that. Ship, comma star. You know... whole lotta darkness... stars... a planet once in a while... okay, so you don't know." He said, confused as to Xander's reaction. The other was smiling as if he were placating a crazy person. "Man, I wish I understood this..." Harper mumbled, backing off even farther and beginning the search for an escape route on his own. His retreat seemed to relax Xander somewhat.
"Yeah...like a friend of mine once said, everything's falling into place, but that place is nowhere near this place."
"Huh. I like that. Gotta remember to tell Dylan that one..."
"Hunt. He's the captain. He don't run the ship a'course."
"Captains never do. They just stand around and say things like 'Engines ahead warp 5' and ' Make it so.' and 'Throw him in the brig!' "
"Right. You don't look so good, kid. Why don't you have a seat on the floor while I check this place out?"
"Yeah... there's an idea. I'm really okay, though. I will be..." Xander demurred as he slid slowly down the wall into a sitting position. Harper instantly recognized something fragile and unstable in the younger man's voice and halted his examination of the large space. Moving to Xander's side, he crouched and studied his companion carefully.
"I know the feelin'. It never really gets any better 'till you're a million light-years away an' a long time gone."
Harris suddenly looked up, his eyes wary and his face tense. He rose quickly to his feet and strode away.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Harper sighed and ran a hand through his hair, standing as well, but maintaining distance.
"Yeah. Okay. I get it. Subject closed, on to a new topic. What was up just before this happened to you anyway?"
"I was hiding too. A friend... kind of a friend was running his mouth about stuff he... he just shouldn't have been. I got really mad."
"What'd you do?"
"The guy thinks he's a macho man so I took some fabric and paint and turned his apartment into princess central. Walls, bed, everything soft, pretty pink. Oh, and lots and lots of lace. Just before I started turning into the invisible man, he was facing down our other friends and screaming for my throat."
Harper nearly collapsed he was laughing so hard.
"Man... gotta remember that too... even better than what I pulled..."
"I switched the piping on somebody's shower." He admitted, swiping tears from his eyes. "Made it so instead a'water... it was connected to the sewage an' fuel recyclin' lines."
Xander gaped then began to laugh.
"Oh my God... he must've been after you with a gun..."
Harper grinned wider and blushed, though out of pride not shame.
"You did that to a woman?! My man, you have balls to spare!"
"She kept callin' me short. I only take that for so long before I retaliate, ya know?"
"Oh I know." Xander replied, a spark flashing briefly in his eyes and speaking volumes about his, as yet unfulfilled, desire for much more destructive and final revenge.
"I see you do."
"I told you..."
"Yeah, yeah. I've done the same thing all my life practically. Nobody'd understand, nobody really cares, no matter how much they say they do. I keep thinkin' if I say it didn't happen enough times, someday it'll be true. It ain't worked yet. I still have nightmares. Not as often... but they're still there. Nothin' can change that, least of all revenge."
"It would for me." Xander replied darkly.
"You need more things to wake up screamin' about, Harris? That what you're lookin' for? Trust me, let it go while the blood's still on their hands. You don't want it on yours."
"You make it sound so simple. It isn't."
"You're right about that. Hurts like hell, matter of fact. It's still the best thing for your peace a'mind."
"How... how long has it been for you? Since the last time somebody..."
"Years. Not since I got old enough and strong enough to do damage myself."
"Stranger... or someone you knew?"
"I knew of him. Didn't really know him. Where I was raised everybody knew who was in what gang, knew their favorite game to play with the local kids... but if you were smart you never got close enough to exchange names."
Xander laughed bitterly and pushed away from the wall.
"It's been about a week for me."
"Nineteen... I'm nineteen freaking years old... and still living with my parents... 'cause some ugly voice in the back of my head says I don't have the right to leave... or to stop my bastard of a father when he tries to..."
Abruptly, Xander turned away and moved into a corner of the room, his back to Harper and his fists clenched so tightly he wasn't sure he'd ever get them to uncurl again.
"Kid... God, I'm sorry. I figured you'd come far enough from it... I never shoulda brought it up, I know. It's just I know the territory. I thought maybe I could drop some advice that might help get ya through the bad nights."
"It's... not your fault." Xander ground out. "I'm the weak one. Nobody else is responsible for the fact that I'm too pathetic to stand up for myself..."
Harper, instead of the sorrow he expected to feel, suddenly found anger welling up in his belly. Before common sense had a chance to kick in, he reached out and swung Xander around by one bicep, his burst of emotion preventing him from seeing the shock and fear on the younger man's face.
"Are you shittin' me, Harris?! If you were weak, you really think you'd still be here? To get as far as you have, in half-decent condition... that takes strength, damn it! You're alive, talking sense and you ain't scarred... not beyond what can be fixed, anyway. How can you not know how tough you really are?"
After a moment, Xander shook himself and pulled his arm free from Harper's grip. Stepping back, he struggled not to acknowledge that what he was seeing in the other man's eyes was the same mix of terror, loss, fury and resignation that he found every time he looked in the mirror.
"You don't know... you can't."
Harper moved backwards as well, a little shaken when he realized what he'd done.
"I am so sorry, man... I don't... hearin' you beat yourself up like that, I just reacted..."
"What you said... I don't understand where it came from..."
"Hey, I grew up in a war zone, man... I know a fellow soldier when I see one. The kids who never wanted to fight... maybe those especially... they've got a look that's hard to miss. You watch their faces around strangers, you can see it happen... they go from 'God, please don't hurt me' to 'Get too close and I'll rip your nuts off ' in about two seconds. I do it myself all the time. I hate it... but I ain't found a way to change it yet."
"No... you're making that up. You have to be. I'm the only one..."
"... who gets it? Who ever felt that way? Sorry to bust up your little fantasy world, kiddo, but there's millions of us out here... all with the same hellish dreams, fightin' the same fight to keep goin' one more day with the memory-monkey on our backs. You're not the only damaged innocent the universe has ever known. If you'd drag your eyes away from your own pain for a minute... you'd see that."
"Right... I'm supposed to take on everybody else's issues on top of mine? If I did I'd have slit my wrists years ago."
"Did I say that? No. All I said was you need to look. Once you know that nobody else exactly has a perfect life... it can lighten up your burden a whole hell of a lot. I was a major little bastard before I changed my perspective... broody, selfish, mad at the world every minute of every day. Then I landed on Dylan's ship. I found out that he'd been pulled away from a home and a family, through no fault of his own... and he'll never see either one again, The guy who runs our weapons... he's isolated from his whole damn race. When I started puttin' my gettin' raped a few times up against their problems... I finally saw how stupid my attitude was."
Xander's eyes went wide as he began to turn his focus to his friends. Buffy; weighted down with the duties and responsibilities of someone twice her age, yet still managing school and being a child of divorce who rarely saw her father. Willow, the A student whose parents barely knew she existed, never mind that she was becoming a very powerful witch and dealing well with all the attendant worries and fears her growing power carried with it. Even Spike; unwillingly made immortal and forced to suppress his gentle, sensitive nature in order to survive in a world that hadn't treated him kindly, even before he'd become a vampire.
"Yeah. Now you're seein' a little more clearly."
"So... oh God, I can... I can talk to them... you're saying they'll understand... not just throw false sympathy at me, but really understand..."
"It's a good bet."
"Who did you tell?"
Harper flushed again, this time out of intense humiliation, and turned away. "You didn't? Then what was all that about, you hypocrite?"
"I am not! I've tried, I swear I have... the words... at the last minute I just always convince myself they don't wanna hear it, ya know?"
Xander shifted away from where he leaned on the wall and moved a step or two back towards Harper.
"Who would you tell? If you could make the words come out, who would it be?"
"God, I don't know... probably Trance. She takes care of our gardens... does a million and one other little things. She always listens, no matter what. She'd help me get over the nightmares and put the past away for good, I know it... and she wouldn't ever let on to anybody else if I asked her not to."
"I know somebody like that... his name's Rupert. He's always taken care of us kids... watches over us like we were his own. I tell you what... I'll make you a deal. You tell your friend... and I promise to tell mine." He offered, holding out his hand. Harper studied the appendage for a long stretch of minutes, fearing it was a promise he'd never be able to fulfill, but eventually he sealed the bargain. In the middle of the handshake, however, he discovered that the skin on both their fingers was becoming transparent.
"I see it. I won't let you down... or myself. Not this time."
"Good, kid. I... I promise I'll get the truth out... somehow. Jeez, this feels so weird..."
"You want weird? You need to see my neck of the woods..."
"Wish I could, Xander. I'd stick a force-lance where the sun don't shine and change your old man's perspective but good..."
"Where in the devil... Willow, you're absolutely sure he didn't go home?"
"I checked, Giles... actually went into his basement, but he wasn't there. I can't believe I left him alone knowing how he was feeling..."
"It's not your fault, Wills. You did the right thing." Xander said quietly from a few inches behind her. His best friend squeaked, jumped and turned to confront him all at the same time.
"Xander! Where did... how did..."
"Later, okay? I swear, you'll hear the whole bizarre story later." He vowed, moving to the counter in the small magic shop, behind which Rupert Giles was standing and staring at him with his mouth slightly open in shock. "Giles... I really need to talk... about something serious. Can we go back to your apartment?"
"Well... of course, of course. Go on out to my car. I'll be there in a moment... when I recall where I left the keys."
Still slightly in shock from his experience and abruptly being dropped back into familiar territory, Harper slowly made his way out to the corridor, only to be confronted by the now cleaned up victim of his practical joke. She glared and began his well deserved dressing down, but his expression made the ugly phrases and insults die before they could exit her mouth.
"What happened to you?"
"Uhhh... can we talk about it in a few hours? I promise, you'll get the apology you deserve tonight, okay? Right now... I gotta find Trance an' get some stuff off my chest. Long overdue stuff..."
"I guess so... Harper, are you sure you're alright? You look... shaky."
"I'll be fine... tonight, about nineteen-hundred hours, your quarters."