Buffy the Vampire Slayer was created by Joss Whedon

He Can't See It
Chapter 1: He'd Give Up All His Comfort

3:06 PM

The question hung in the air between them, raising the tension in the recently relaxed atmosphere to staggering levels. His inquisitor stared up at him, but he couldn't take his eyes off the subject of their discussion as she descended the final steps towards the meticulously detailed company car that represented a weekend of quality time with her estranged father.

"Willow, how can you…?" he trailed off, mentally recalling the petite blonde Slayer in full vampiress game face. "I mean, that's really bent! She was…"

Those hypnotic yellow eyes that had looked at him with raw, burning hunger. Fangs gleaming in the dim light as she snarled in attack. A deep, almost purring, growl that wormed its way into the little nooks and crannies of his brain where traces of the savage Serengeti still lingered, waiting to pounce on something just as wild and passionate and…

"… grotesque," he finished, weakly.

"Still dug her, huh?"

Miraculous as it may sound, Xander Harris was actually stunned into silence by the frank words of his longtime best friend. Some part of him registered the understanding mixed with a pinch of disappointment in her voice and, in the interest of lightening the mood, the silence was broken.

"I'm sick, I need help."

"Don't I know it," his redheaded companion responded in kind, laughing it off as she followed him away from the front steps of Sunnydale High.

Xander shrugged his backpack a little higher onto his shoulder as he slowed his steps, letting Willow catch up. The pair settled into a comfortable pace and started on the familiar route towards home. They weren't exactly neighbors, but living on the same side of town meant that they could still walk home together and not have to part ways until the last couple blocks. After the day they'd had, it would be a welcome slice of normalcy.

"So, a Buffy-free weekend," he said, earning a shy smile from the girl when he didn't sound especially disappointed. "Haven't had one of those in awhile. So what's the plan? I'm up for anything that doesn't involve clowns or nudity. Unless we're talking female nudity, then it's negotiable."

"Really?" squeaked Willow before she could stop herself. "I-I mean, we could go to the Bronze. Oh, or the movies! I don't think there are any clowns at the movies."

"How soon she forgets McHale's Navy," the boy sighed, mock wistfully. "But still, the old multiplex doesn't sound too bad. I think Fifth Element's still out. I don't know what it is about that girl…"

"Mila Jovovich?"

"Bless you," deadpanned Xander. "Anyway, back to that girl, I don't know what it is about her in those previews but, wow. You know?"

"Maybe it's the red hair?" offered Willow, as casually as she could force herself to be.

"Could be. Can't say it doesn't add to the sex appeal," he said, failing to notice that his friend's smile and her blush were steadily growing. "But I think it may have more to do with all that gymnastic alien butt-kickery she gets up to."

Willows face darkened a bit, this time having nothing to do with a blush, while Xander idly wondered if a Slayer could do all those stunts without the wires and digital effects. Barely thinking about it, he chuckled to himself and put an arm around her waist, pulling them hip to hip and letting her blush make a comeback in a big way.

"Besides," continued the unfazed teen. "What do I need another gorgeous redhead for, right? So, you buy the popcorn, I slip the usher five bucks so he'll let us sneak in the back exit?"

The "gorgeous" comment was still bouncing around Willow's pleasantly addled brain when the activity managed to shake loose a memory that brought her down to reality.

"Xander…" she whined as only a sixteen-year-old girl could. "I can't."

"Oh, come on," urged her friend. "You know no movie is worth what they charge for tickets. Besides, they more than make up for it at the concession stands. I mean, did you ever wonder why they call it 'concessions'? You concede a little piece of your soul every time you shell out eight bucks for a box of Sour Patch Kids!"

"No, I mean I really can't," Willow pouted, helplessly. "I have to go to my grandmother's for Shabbat dinner… we're staying 'til Sunday."

"Oh," he let go of her and slowed to a stop, stopping her as well when she saw that hiding his disappointment didn't come quite as easily this time. "That's nice. So, what, three whole days of bra-burning anecdotes and rants about George Bush?"

"No, not Grandma Esther. We're visiting Grandma Marnie from dad's side," explained a glum Willow. "So, it'll be more stuffing me with food 'cause I'm too skinny and trying to get my dad to move us all into my great uncle's kibbutz outside Tel Aviv."

"Grandma Marnie? Yeesh," he sympathized. "I'm just relieved she never showed up during this whole thing with Billy and the daytime night terrors."

"You have nightmares about my grandmother?" she half-scoffed.

"She hit me in the head with a soup ladle!" Xander reminded her, absently rubbing a spot on his scalp.

"Xander, that's not fair," she said, with a poorly hidden smirk that told him she wasn't all that offended. "She was upset that you were using your yarmulke to play Jewish Pirate."

"I thought you loved Long Jon Silverman!" gasped her friend, eyes wide at the betrayal.

"Of course I do, you know that. Especially after he totally saved my bat mitzvah after your parents…" the playful look disappeared as she silently cursed her thoughtless words. "I mean…"

"Yeah, I know what you mean," he cut in mercifully, wanting to dwell on the unpleasant equation of his parents plus an open bar equaling one giant embarrassment. "Who doesn't love a Jewish Pirate? Yarrrr! Ahoy Vey, me mateys! We set sail on the L'Chai seas!"

The transformation was complete: an accent that was a vague mix of Treasure Island and Long Island, a staggered posture to simulate a peg leg, a squinted eye for the missing one he normally covered with his yarmulke, and a curled finger for a hook hand. A hook hand that launched itself at the young girl's unprotected ribs. Too late, she tried to back away, but the dread pirate Silverman takes no prisoners.

A few seconds later, Willow was trying to catch her breath as she let the last batch of giggles escape. Suddenly, she looked up, her face serious and not a little worried.

"'Hath not a Jew eyes'?"

"Aye, most do, Willselleh" answered Xander, still in character. "But I lost one of me own and am forced to wear this round, tastefully embroidered eyepatch…"

"No, Merchant of Venice for Ms. Miller's English class!" she snatched his hook hand so he couldn't launch a second attack and looked him dead in his non-squinty eye. "We're supposed to have read it all by Monday and turn in an outline so we can have the final paper ready by the end of the week."

"What are you so freaked out about? We'll just do what we did all this year, spend the weekend before going over it so you can translate all that Shakespeare gibberish for…" it sunk in even as he said the words. "… But we can't do what we did all this year. 'Cause you're gonna be at Grandma Marnie's. Willow, I can't read this stuff! The only word I remember from when we read Hamlet was 'bunghole' and that's because I giggled like an idiot every time I saw it!"

His eyes, wide with panic, started to dull slightly. The corners of his tightly pressed lips were twitching like mad and it looked like it was taking every muscle in his body to keep his shoulders still.

"Oh, just do it, already," groaned Willow. "You know you want to."

The resolve held for another half second before he jerked his hand from hers and used it to cover his mouth as it erupted in uncontrolled snickering.

"I'm sorr-heehehee… Sorry," he said, finally. "It's a funny word."

"Okay, listen to me," her hands were on his upper arms and her face was serious. "I can make up an extra outline while I'm at my grandma's, but you have to read the whole thing. I mean it. The whole thing. I'll call you tomorrow night and you better be at least be up to Act Three. Do you have your copy with you?"

"Locker," he answered quickly, not wanting to test the patience of arm-grippy Willow.

"Go get it," she released him so she could point an authoritative finger. "I have to get home. We need to drive all the way out to Calabasas before sunset. Well? Go!"

She made a shooing gesture and he mumbled an agreement before practically tripping over himself to run back to the school. He was about fifty feet away when he heard her calling him again.

"Xander, come back!"

He skidded to a stop on the dry grass and ran back just as fast until he was standing in front of her again, awaiting further orders.

"Goodbye hug?"

Her innocent little girl tone and doe-eyed expression was enough to make him remember who he was talking to. Xander was someone who tended to defer to the people he considered experts in their fields, be it Buffy on patrol, Giles in matters of demonology, or now with Willow and homework. Laughing, he scooped her up and spun her around once before holding her a few inches off the ground and giving her a squeeze.

"Have a good trip," he said, warmly. "I'll be here when you get back."

She didn't let go right away when he set her back down, content to leave her face buried in the crook of his neck a little longer. He didn't rush her, rubbing light circles between her shoulder blades until she was ready to pull back. Then, with a last smile between them, they headed off in opposite directions.

3:13 PM

Xander navigated the main hall of Sunnydale High without much urgency, not even bothering to hurry past Cordy and her Cordettes' little drama queen bitching session.

"It's like a conspiracy or something!" screeched a voice that could make you forget the supermodel class face it came from. "Three hundred freaking dollars for one bottle of skin cream and it barely lasts two months. I mean of course I could afford cases of the stuff, but that is so not the point. Nobody screws Cordelia Chase and gets away with it!"

"That's right! At least, not without springing for dinner," he chipped in, walking backwards so he could face them. "Or a ride in any car with a Blue Book value high enough to feed the nation of Rawanda. Or a .315 batting average, minimum."

Thoroughly pleased with himself, he spun back around and continued on with a slight spring in his step as he listened to the harpies toss their insults at his back. The high faded the moment he caught sight of his locker. Shoulders sagging, he went about getting it open as he thought about his grim immediate future.

"An entire weekend of Shakespeare…" he groaned, softly. "If I have to waste my time with some guy that died four hundred years ago, he could at least have the decency to be a vampire. Hey, maybe I should cruise the mausoleums, find some neck-sucker old enough to understand this garbage."

His fingers froze on the locker's dial. With a pathetic sigh, he let his head thump against the smooth surface.

"And this is why I can't be by myself for this long," griped the lone teen. "I start talking all kinds of crazy… sort of like right now with the talking to myself. Oh, this is shaping up to be a super fun weekend already."

He straightened, and then winced when he realized that he'd forgotten where he left off on his combination.

"Yep," spinning the dial a few times to reset it, he started over. "Nobody could possibly be having a crappier day than me."

Screaming like a co-ed in a slasher flick, Jonathan Levinson ran down the same hallway as fast as he could. As fast as he could while desperately trying to hold the tattered remains of his shirt and shorts together, anyway. Xander watched, stunned and slightly disgusted, as the height-challenged blur of pale pudge ducked around the next corner just as his pursuers burst into the hall after him.

Jimmy DeLuca, Vic Sloane, and Justin Adams were oddities, even for Sunnydale High. Relics from a bygone era, a time of leather jackets, sock hops, and overused hair products. These modern-day greasers probably wouldn't last five seconds against real L.A. gangbangers but, in a little high school most would consider safe if you ignored the demonic activity, they pretty much had the run of the place. Xander, himself, had been hassled a few times, which made watching the nightmare-induced hallucination of Jimmy's mother smother him with mortifying amounts of affection all the more satisfying.

What they were doing chasing the pint-sized Poindexter, he wasn't sure. Then he remembered something he'd seen while combing the halls for cand… er… clues. Apparently, Vic's worst nightmare had something to do with his favorite punching bag growing about three feet and putting on two hundred some odd pounds of solid muscle. Unfortunately, Jonathan's Incredible Hulk phase ended with the rest of the weirdness and with it any chance of defending himself against angry tough guy wannabes. Strange, though, that his clothes didn't go back to normal.

'Chalk it up to the Hellmouth picking on the little guy,' Xander thought bitterly.

Now, Xander had a choice to make. He could turn around and open his locker, allowing him to snatch up his copy of Merchant of Venice in an effort to get a head start on his forced weekend plan of homework, or he could catch up with the Hunt for Nerd October so he could stand up to three guys that had handed him his own butt more times than he'd ever admit. The smart choice was fairly obvious.

He didn't bother picking his bag up when he took off after them. After all, anybody who'd steal a decades-old Salvation Army reject backpack that smelled vaguely of rotten deli meat and shame probably needed it more than he did.

3:14 PM

He shouldn't have been surprised at how long it was taking to catch up with them. Really, it was all about motivation. It wasn't fear and self-preservation moving his feet, or even the bullies' natural sadistic tendencies and near samurai-level need to save face. For him it was… was…

Okay, he'd have to figure that one out pretty soon. Hopefully sometime before he found them. Running past the mouth of one of the lesser used corridors, Xander skidded to an ungraceful stop and turned.

There he was. Scared, almost naked, and cornered in a dead-end hallway.

"Dead-end?" he wondered, again out loud, but thankfully quiet. "Nah, too negative. Then again, the only other word for it is cul-de-sac and now is definitely not the time to start thinking like the French."

He took a step forward. Heavy. Deliberate.

Another. Then another.

Then he stomped.

Twice.

"Oh for the love of…" he shook his head in frustration at the blatant disrespect for a cool, subtle entrance. "Hey, Jon-o! What's up? These guys your fan club or something? Judging by the shredded duds, I'd say they all wanted a piece of you."

That one got their attention.

"Harris?" Apparently Jimmy wasn't used to interruptions, especially from a frequent victim. "This ain't about you. It's between us and him. Turn around and walk away."

"Geez, Jon-o, what'd you do?" he asked the cowering nerd directly, totally ignoring the others. "Refuse to go back with them to 1955 in old Doc Brown's De Lorean? Does the thought of malt shops and poodle skirts scare you, 'cause I know it scares me."

This time it was Vic, dropping the tattered collar of Jonathan's polo shirt to turn and get directly in Xander's face.

"Hey, you look at us when we talk to you!" the taller bully bit out. "Either you leave, or we make you leave!"

"Okay, okay, I get it," Xander said, hands raised to chest level in mock surrender. "You guys really love your 50's hot-rod flicks. That doesn't give you the right to steal the dialogue. Why not try something a little more modern? I hate to break it to you guys but, 'Grease?' No longer the word."

Unbeknownst to him, a door on the far wall cracked open just a little wider, revealing more of the blackness within. It was unbeknownst because the only thing he beknew at that moment was the pain in his back as the three of them slammed him into the bank of lockers behind him. Jimmy pulled his sunglasses further down his nose so he could look Xander eye to eye.

"How's that for modern, geek?" he sneered, digging a knuckle into the trapped teen's ribs. "I'd hate to think we weren't performing up to your high standards."

"Oh, you wanted a performance review?" asked Xander, strained but defiantly upbeat. "Well, in that case, I can probably think of a few things off the top of my head. Run. First, obviously, there's the outfits. Run. I know, I know, leather jackets have a timeless quality. Run, Jon-o. But, there's timeless and then there's just plain outdated. Jonathan, run. And don't get me started on the sunglasses indoors thing. I mean, seriously, do you really want to be that guy for the love of Pete, Jon-o, why the hell aren't you RUNNING!?"

Behind the four, against all reason, Jonathan was just standing there, staring. His expression held shock and his arms hung loosely at his sides, letting his shredded shorts sag down even further and reveal an unsettling amount of his He-Man and the Masters of the Universe briefs.

"W-why are you doing this for me?" he asked, surprise blinding him to his present situation.

"Honestly? It was either this or homework," the taller boy answered, before his features took on the all the characteristics of someone bound and determined to do something stupid.

As the leather-bound tormentors tried to process his response, Xander burst into action pulling all three into a crude headlock, with his right arm around two greasy heads and his left around the neck of the third. They started struggling against him instantly, confusion making them just as likely to hurt each other as they were him.

"Now get out of here!" he shouted over their protests, looking Jonathan straight in the eye. "'Cause I bet ya they're still pissed after they're done with me."

That was enough for Mr. Levinson as he squeaked out a barely audible "thanks" before he turned and hauled ass, hopefully to someplace that sold pants in dwarf sizes. He was already out of sight by the time Jimmy and Vic overpowered Xander's right arm and together they roughly yanked him off of a slowly purpling Justin.

"Okay, Harris," Jimmy had a hand on either side of Xander's head, making it look like he either wanted to make out or, more likely, rip the whole thing clean off his shoulders. "I don't know where you got the balls to do that to us, but I think you need to be reminded what happens to losers who play hero."

"It ends of up comically backfiring in a way that no one gets hurt but everybody still learns a valuable lesson?" he asked, hopefully.

In less than five seconds, Xander was off his feet. Two thugs had a shoulder each, the remaining one holding his legs, as they lifted him to chest height.

"I'm serious guys, I think the valuable lesson thing works!" he struggled frantically, hating that they were overpowering him so easily.

"Alright, I got your lesson, hero," answered Vic with a too-wide grin, as he gestured with his head. "Come on, get him over this way!"

They shuffled across the hall to the door, not bothering to notice as it seemed to be closing slightly the closer they got. With his free hand, Vic yanked the door open. Seeing that it was empty and, more importantly, filthy, laughed and held up three fingers. After a quick look around, Jimmy nodded and let out a short laugh himself.

"One…"

Lowering him to about waist level, the hoodlum triplets let Xander's body swing back before guiding him back towards the door.

"Two…"

"Whoa, hang on," the suspended teen panicked as he saw where he was headed. "Let's talk about this a second! I admit it, maybe that Grease thing was in poor ta--"

"Three!"

Xander cried out when he felt the uncomfortable weightlessness that goes with being tossed like a rag doll, but the sound was cut off by the heavy thud of his forehead slamming into a dust covered sink. Catching the corner of the sink, he spun in mid-air and ended up on his back in a groaning heap.

"Oh man, did you just see that?" a startled Justin asked his friends.

"Priceless," Vic answered, clearly more amused than worried.

"Guys, what if he got a concussion or something?" the blond made to go and check when Jimmy stopped him.

"No worse than he deserves," was the dark response. "That kind of disrespect on our own turf, it serves him right. Let's get out of here."

With that, Jimmy flipped up the collar on his jacket and stormed off. To his credit, Justin hesitated a little before following. Vic stood there a little longer, enjoying his view of the Good Samaritan lying there in pain.

"See ya on Monday, Harris."

The last thing Xander saw before he passed out was Vic slamming the door shut. The last thing he heard was a rattling sound, like someone trying to work a locked doorknob. The strange thing was that it seemed to be coming from the inside.

9:42 PM

He awoke to darkness. That's not entirely true. It was dark when he woke up, but that wasn't the first thing he'd noticed. More accurately, you could say he awoke to massive skull pain. Bringing a hand up to his forehead, he traced a finger around a lump that he would've sworn was the size of half a grapefruit. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been this bad off, definitely not since January. Considering that January was the month he started battling the undead, it literally added insult to injury when he remembered that he was in the shape he was because of three completely normal humans, leather fetishes notwithstanding.

He was shaken out of his self-pity by a low shuffling noise to his left. Sitting up as quickly as he could, he was reminded why people with head injuries shouldn't try to sit up quickly. Flat on his back again, he scooted away from the sound as fast as he could, feeling behind him for a wall and pressing himself up against it when he found one.

"Who's there?" he asked the darkness, voice rasping a little from a dry throat. "Who are you?"

For a few seconds, nothing. But, before he could speak again…

"Can… can you see me?"

The voice was fragile, fearful and hopeful with a strange uncertainty, a hesitancy that could only come from lack of practice speaking. It was female, and there was a pleasant richness to it. The way he'd describe it was like thick hot chocolate. That is, it's how he would have described it if he hadn't been freaking out.

"No, no I can't see you… Oh, my God! I'm blind. I'm BLIND!"

"You're not blind," the voice assured him, taking on a slightly bitter tone. "It's just dark in here."

"How do you know?" he countered. "You're not the one with the head wound, here. I could be blind in the dark, did you ever think of that?"

There was a cross between a growl and a sigh before the voice spoke up again, this time clearly annoyed.

"I'm telling you, you're not blind. Look over there, to your right. You can see a little crack of light coming in under the door."

Sure enough, when Xander looked, he could make out a single thin line of dark blue cutting through the black. Not nearly enough to see by, but more than enough to prove that he wouldn't have to beg his parents to spring for a seeing-eye dog.

"Oh, heh… sorry. Just a little unhealthy paranoia on my part," he offered, weakly, before a question formed in his mind. "So… where are we?"

"The spare janitor's closet," was her prompt answer.

He couldn't help himself.

"We keep spare janitors?"

"They put in a new janitor's closet in North Hall two months ago," she explained solemnly, but he thought she might have been holding back the laughter on purpose. "That one is the main one and this one's the spare. Not that anybody uses it."

"Why don't they use it?" he asked, not sure why he was dreading the answer.

"The door's broken. The lock sticks when you shut it, and they can only unlock it from the outside."

Ah, hence the dreading.

"No… Oh, no…" he scooted towards that line of light, hands searching until they found the doorknob, but it wouldn't give. "No, no, no, no… HELP! We're trapped in here! ANYBODY!?"

He pounded on the discouragingly solid door as he shouted. His whole body jumped when he felt something grab his wrist but, thankfully, he was able to preserve some small amount of his manliness by not shrieking at the noticeably dainty hand. Just the same, the owner of the no longer disembodied voice jerked her own hand away when she felt him flinch.

"I already tried that, right when we first got locked in," she explained, clearly not thrilled at the situation. "Nobody came. It's been more than five hours, probably closer to six. There's nobody here this late at night. We're stuck until the janitor comes in the morning. He doesn't use this closet anymore, but he still has to clean in front of it. We'll hear it and start yelling for him to let us out."

Xander let out his own bastardized mixture of sigh and growl and slumped back against the wall, muttering despondently about a ruined weekend that'd been pretty crappy from the get go. He was a good two minutes into a very angry run-on sentence when he realized he'd been the only one saying anything. As a young man whose two best friends were women, he recognized the silent treatment when he heard it. Or didn't hear it… whatever. Still, not of the good.

"But enough about me," he spoke up, louder and much more friendly. "How'd you end up in here? Not that I'm complaining. If I woke up alone in here, I probably would've totally freaked. Luckily, you were here and I only partially freaked. There is a difference."

"I was hiding," her answer was plain, not angry but she still had her shields up, metaphorically speaking.

"Hiding? So, you remember all that weird stuff that happened today?" he asked, then continued when he heard her mumbled yes. "Wow. I wasn't sure if anybody else did. After it was all over, people were just walking around like everything's normal. Well, not Jonathan. And not you either, I guess. Was it real bad? Your nightmare, I mean."

Not a word. Either it was really bad, or it was back to the silent treatment. He decided to try another tactic. One that, honestly, he should have used much earlier. Then again, considering his upbringing, it was amazing he had any manners at all.

"Sorry, let's start over," he said, gently. "Alexander Harris. Call me Xander."

"I know who you are," she snapped, with a resentment that caught him totally off guard. "We've only gone to the same school since kindergarten. I've been in, like, half of your classes. Not that you'd ever notice me. Oblivious, self-obsessed sheep, blindly following whatever shiny…"

"Okay, I think I get the gist," he cut in on her, mid-rant, not wanting her to get any angrier. "People don't notice you, they don't pay attention, and I'm one of them. Am I close?"

She didn't answer, but she did stop her grumbling. She'd started pacing half way through, but stopped that as well. He took her silence as an invitation to continue.

"It'd be easy to make excuses. Up until this year, it was always just me and my little tight knit group. Jesse McNally and Willow. Heck, sometimes it was just the two of us and we didn't even let Willow hang out. I mean, it's what you do in this town, right? You make too many friends, one of them ends up missing and you never see them again. But that's not good enough. I'm sorry. I don't know if it's worth anything or not, but I'm sorry if I ever ignored you. It wasn't on purpose. Believe me, if I had the ability to ignore anybody on purpose, the only time I'd ever see Cordelia would be flashbacks, you know like the vets had after Vietnam? Just substitute 'Charlie' with 'Cordy'."

And then he heard it. Something less than a laugh and yet so much more.

Girly giggle.

"Marcie," she said.

"Marcie?"

"Xander," her answer.

"Marcie," he tried out the name he'd managed to worm out of her, and found that he liked it. "Nice to meet you… again."

"It's like you said, right?" she offered, shyly. "Let's start over."

"Well, alright!" he beamed, a smile clear in his voice, before another thought crossed his mind. "Uh… I think this is the part when people usually shake hands but, with the pitch black closet and the you being a girl thing, there's a lot of ways I could screw… that… up?"

He could feel the feather-light caress of her fingertips on his cheek. Slowly, cautiously they made their way down to his jaw line, to his neck, down across his chest to his shoulder. They traced lines all the way down his bicep, forearms, wrist, until finally the delicate fingers wrapped around his larger hand. With a languid motion she brought his hand up, then down. Up, then down.

"Whuh…" Xander breathed, his voice suddenly thicker. "Good handshake."

10:04 PM

"You're serious? Never?"

"Never ever."

"Not even once?"

"I don't even get why anybody would."

"Oh, now I know you're lying."

"Okay yeah, maybe I get the why," Xander admitted, grudgingly. "But the second she opens her mouth it's like she projects these waves of anti-sexy. And that was before I heard her sing. Oh God, she sang The Greatest Love of All and, I swear, for about an hour after that I was firmly against the idea of love. Being in love, falling in love, I almost beat up the captain of the tennis club because I heard him say he just beat somebody forty-love."

"Wow," Marcie mused, a short laugh later. "I bet you're the only guy in school that wouldn't kill to be with Cordelia Chase."

"Hey, you're talking to one of the founding members of the We Hate Cordelia Chase Club."

"Get out!" exclaimed the girl, gleefully. "There's a club? Where do I sign?"

"Doesn't exactly work that way, we were never much for contracts and whatnot," he explained. "We were seven and a half at the time, and you know how seven-year-olds get about paperwork. You ever try getting one of them to file your taxes, forget about it."

"We?"

"Me and Wills. Otherwise known as Madam President Rosenberg. I was the Treasurer."

"The Treasurer?" she all but scoffed.

"Hey, Treasurer is a vital office in any fledgling organization! You watch what you say about it or you can forget about me sponsoring your membership."

"Oh, please forgive me Mr. Treasurer," begged Marcie, with absolutely no sarcasm. "So, what does it take to be a member?"

"Well, you need a sponsor," Xander reiterated. "Then you need to be able to meet your membership dues."

"I have to pay dues?"

"One cookie every six weeks," he answered, totally serious. "Preferably Oreo, but we accept all major brands. Except Fig Newtons, that's a good way to get kicked out."

"Oh really," she smirked. "And these dues would be payable to… who?"

"Why else would we need a Treasurer?"

11:19 PM

"No, I'm fine."

"Oh, that's good. Great. But, you know…" Xander began, almost but not quite casually. "if you were, uh, scared, you know, of the… dark? You could always sit here, you know, next to me? I mean, it's nothing to be ashamed of, right? Everybody gets scared sometimes."

"Everybody?"

"Well, not everybody. I'm not scared, if that's what you're saying. Macho guy like me? Please. Real men don't get scared of the dark. Even when it's… really dark. So dark you can't tell when something's gonna creep right up beside you and AAAAAAAHHHH!!"

"Take it easy, macho man," Marcie soothed him, patting his knee just to the left of where it brushed hers. "It's just me. I have to sit close, right? So you can protect me."

"Yeah, uh, yeah," he wondered why his voice had cracked two years after puberty. "That's right."

12:33 AM

"Oh, God… Kill me now."

"You've got nothing to be embarrassed about," she comforted, but could resist throwing in, "believe me, nothing at all."

"Where did you see," he asked softly, a defeated tone in his voice. "Classroom or hallway?"

"Hallway," answered Marcie, too cheerfully for his liking. "You were running pretty fast but I saw the whole thing. So, do you work out, or do you just roll out of bed looking like that?"

"I roll out of bed in an old t-shirt and pajama bottoms, thank you very much," he huffed. "You know, it's not fair. You've seen me in my underwear and I'm not even sure what you look like."

Even as he said the words, he could feel her stiffen slightly. The pressure of her thigh against his, something that had been relatively constant for the last hour, lessened. They were still touching, but he could tell she was thinking about pulling away.

"Is it really that important?" she asked, a little coldness seeping for the first time in hours. "What I look like?"

"Well, it's…" he knew enough to be sure that his next words mattered, big time. "No, it's not important. I already know that I was an idiot not to notice you, right? I just… It's weird, isn't it? It's not like we met in some chat room, I'm sitting right next you having a real conversation. I make a joke, and I hear you laugh, but I don't get to see what your smile looks like. Does that make sense?"

She didn't answer right away and it scared him, really scared him. He was about to apologize when he felt her shift her weight. When she spoke, he could tell she was facing him.

"I… I want to try something," she said, her voice halting. "Don't freak out, okay?"

"Okay," he answered, playfully. "Even though telling somebody that is the best way to freak them out."

"Just trust me."

Xander couldn't stop a gulp as he felt her take his hands. Nor could he hold back the slight trembling as she slowly lifted them up. The man in him would never admit that he felt even a little relief when she took them higher still until they were level with her face.

"See me this way," she urged him. "Like you were blind and this was the only way."

Not trusting himself to say anything, he reached out, hoping to God his palms weren't sweaty. Gently, he traced over the lines of her face, starting from the outside and slowly working his way in.

"Tell me," she said, softly but anxiously. "What do you see?"

"Uh…" he idly wondered how a story about him in his boxers had turned into… this. "You've got the dangly kind of earlobes."

There was a few seconds of deathly quiet before the two teens shared a much needed laugh. Marcie slapped him lightly on the shoulder as if to tell him to be serious.

"Okay, um, your hair's really soft… and it's about down to your shoulders."

"Yeah… I've been letting it grow for a couple of months."

"What color is it?" asked Xander, now actually trying to form a picture in his mind as ran his hand through her hair.

"Brown," she answered automatically. "Well, sort of a light brown. My friend Kirstin… she, uh, used to say it was auburn. I guess it has some red in it. Now, come on. What else?"

"What else? Hmmm…" he'd heard the change in her voice after mentioning her friend, but didn't miss the obvious desire to change subject, either. "Well your face… it's… what's the word… it slopes down… Heart-shaped! That's it. Geez, and it's soft. I didn't think you could get skin to feel like this after age zero."

"Oh… thanks," she mumbled, and he felt her face warm just a little. "It's… the way my skin feels is very important to me. I use this stuff… it's a cream. Expensive, but it works."

"I'll say," the two words slipped out before he could stop them. "I mean, it's obviously working. The proof is in the punim, right?"

"The what?"

"Yiddish," he explained. "It means 'face'. Sorry, I was a Jewish pirate earlier today, and I guess I didn't get it all out of my system."

"Jewish pirate?"

"Long Jon Silverman, but that's a story for another day, another closet," he said firmly, and enjoyed the movement in her cheeks that told him she was smiling. "Now, where were we?"

"My punim."

"Right," said Xander, wondering how she made Yiddish sound… naughty. "Okay, two eyes, always a plus. You got the long eyelashes but I don't feel any of that gunky stuff like when my aunt tries to make hers look thicker with makeup. Smallish nose. Hey, it turns up a little. Very cute. Then there's your… lips."

"Uh-huh…"

"And, well… there they are. All soft… and… um, m-moist… and…"

The pad of his right thumb glided across her bottom lip as slow as dripping honey. He could feel the hitch in her breath, the shudder that seemed to travel in waves across her body.

"Mmm?" she murmured, her voice coming in a husky tone that no woman, no human woman, had ever used on him before. "And what?"

"Lipish?" he offered, lamely. "Sorry. That was almost a moment, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," said Marcie as she shifted back to her original spot. "Almost. S'okay, though."

If she hadn't been sitting right next to him he'd never have heard her whispered follow-up.

"After so long with nothing, 'almost' curls my toes."

1:19 AM

"… And, by the time we got there, he was covered, I mean covered, in bright green applesauce. It was dripping down his face, the food coloring was all in his hair, we both knew it'd take like three showers before it came out, and, I kid you not, it was trailing out of his shorts. As in, it was inside his shorts and gravity wanted it out just as bad as he did!" Xander barely got out the sentence before he started laughing just as hard as the girl next to him. "No wait, wait! It gets better. The first thing he says, the first thing, he just looks right at us and says… 'You should see the Lunch Lady'."

A three second pause to let it sink in and they were falling all over each other, laughing so hard they were gasping for air a full minute before they even started composing themselves. Even then, one would start up again and inevitably set the other off. Soon, as they sat there breathing deeply, the atmosphere suddenly shifted. It was Marcie that spoke first.

"You really miss him, don't you?"

He let the question hang a little, looking for a simple answer to a question that was much more complicated than it should have been.

"It's crazy… He's there and then he's gone. Everything's normal, and out of nowhere this thing happens and this giant part of your life just goes away. Of course I miss him, he was always there. We knew everything about each other, the good, the bad, dreams for the future. He was going to make a million dollars and marry Cordelia. I was going to play guitar for Guns 'N' Roses and plan a global concert tour so I wouldn't have to be at their wedding. And then I wake up and realize that he doesn't get a future. He never even got out of high school. How is that fair, right?"

She didn't respond, just put a hand on his knee and squeezed. It helped. He went on.

"But then I catch myself thinking, 'hey, better him than me' and I'm disgusted with myself. I mean, he didn't ask to be… he didn't ask for what happened to him. He was walking through life oblivious, just like I was. And now it's like, things are starting to turn around for me a little bit and I wonder if he's watching me from wherever he is. And every time I make a joke, or I say something stupid that he totally would've caught me on… But, because he's gone, I backpedal and try to talk my way out of it. I smile that goofy smile and Willow or Buffy laugh and it's like Jesse was never there. I'm living like he never existed and I hate it."

He wasn't going to cry. Macho guy and all that. No way.

"He… he'd want you to make friends," said Marcie, softly. "He wouldn't want you to be alone. Not alone, not if he cared about you at all."

In a rare moment of bravery, Xander put his hand on top of hers where she'd left it on his knee. Something had been bothering him for awhile. Something she'd said.

"Your friend, Kristen…?"

"Kirsten," she corrected without thinking.

"Where is she?" he was nearly whispering now. "Marcie, did something… happen to her?"

He felt her try to pull her hand back. He let it off of his knee but held on to the hand itself. Before long, she stopped trying to get loose and gripped it tighter. She put his hand in both of hers and rested her head against it.

"She wasn't my first friend," she said, emotion saturating the tone. "That was Grace. Grace lived next door from us when we were both still in the womb. For her second birthday, she got a new puppy and, when my parents saw it in their yard, they asked if I could come over to play with it. Stupid dog bit me and I cried for like five minutes before Grace went and got this ratty stuffed gorilla and let me hold it so I'd feel better. It smelled really bad, but I stopped crying. And that was it. We were stuck with each other."

You could practically hear her memories as she spoke. Talking about nothing, laughing about less than nothing, fights about nothing that ended their friendship forever… for about ten minutes. Just like him and Jesse.

"Kirsten moved here from Vermont in the second grade," Marcie continued like, if she stopped for too long, she wouldn't' be able to finish at all. "She was wearing these big, thick boots like you need in a place like Vermont, but Cordelia zeroed in on them her first day of school. Girls weren't supposed to wear big, clunky boots. Grace and I found her at lunch, sitting by herself on the swing set, crying. I gave her half my cupcake and Grace threw a dirt clod on Cordy's new white blouse. After that, it was the three of us, always. We knew everything about each other, too. I mean, if there was something Grace didn't know about me, Kirsten could tell you, and anything Kirsten didn't know, I'd already sworn Grace to secrecy about it. Sure, nobody else hung out with us. We didn't need anybody else. I didn't need anybody else."

A small voice in his head told Xander that the story was about to get much worse. Deciding to be proactive, he gently urged his hand out of hers only to offer her his other hand and put his now free arm around her shoulders. She seemed grateful for it and leaned in, much closer than he would've been comfortable with at the start of their night together.

"The summer after junior high, I got invited to stay with my aunt and uncle in Montana. It was great. They had a ranch, and I got to ride horses and swim in their pond. The air's so much cleaner up there you can taste the difference the second you step off the plane, and the stars… It was one of the best summers of my life and I couldn't wait to tell them all about it. But when I got back, they were gone. Just… gone."

He knew not to say anything just yet. All he did was hold her a little tighter as he felt more than heard her fighting back a sob.

"One night they went out and they didn't come back. Their parents went to the police, but they were totally useless. Said they probably just ran away from home. Met some guys that got them into parties, got them drugs… Kirsten hated going to parties, and Grace never took anything stronger than children's Tylenol because she was paranoid that it'd combine with her asthma medicine and make her head explode. Besides, they'd never leave. Not without me. Never."

"I… I don't think they did."

There was a quick intake of breath as she sat up. Even in the dark he could feel her eyes on him.

"What are you saying?"

"There's a chance… a really good chance, that I know what might've happened to them."

This could be a very bad idea. A horrible idea. Doing this involved telling secrets that weren't his to tell, not to mention saying things that could very well earn him a private room at the local nuthouse. Then he thought about what it would have been like if he hadn't been the one to stake Jesse, if it'd been Buffy instead. He thought about not knowing, how he'd feel if she kept it from him. He took a deep breath and made his decision.

"The world is older than you know…"

1:25 AM

Both teens were completely silent. One was suddenly overcome by the totally new reality they had been thrust into and the million questions that needed answers, the other just waited for the first to say something. Eventually they just got fed up with waiting.

"So…?"

"Yeah?"

"Well, you just said 'the world is older than I know' and you went quiet. What does the world being older have to do with Grace and Kirsten?" Marcie asked, confused but prepared to be furious if he was jerking her chain.

"Sorry, I…" Xander mentally kicked himself, wishing he paid more attention. "Man, this would be so much easier if Giles was here!"

"Giles? You mean, Mr. Giles? That new librarian?"

"Yeah, it's his speech. It… Look, I'm just gonna say it. And you're probably gonna think I'm messing with you or that I'm crazy, but I don't care. You have a right to know, if that's what happened to them. I don't think they ran away, I think they were attacked, that something might have attacked them."

"Something?" she repeated, cautiously. "You mean like… an animal?"

"No, something else. There are things it this town, Marcie. Things you wouldn't believe unless you've seen it. I didn't believe it until I was up to my neck in it."

"What are you talking about, Xander?"

"Jesse wasn't killed in a gang shooting," he said, and then he let it all fly. "It was a vampire. He was killed by a vampire. Then she turned him into one, and then he turned to dust when I put a stake through his heart."

"You… Jesse…" she didn't sound angry, or even upset, but there was the natural disbelief he'd expected. "A vampire?"

"They're real. So are demons, witches, giant praying mantis women that bite the heads off virgins. It's all real. And this town brings them all here. There's something here, underground. It was here when the first Spanish missionaries came, they could sense the evil here. They called it the Vaca del Infierno. They built Sunnydale right on top of it!"

"'Vaca del Infierno?' We're on a… Hell… cow?"

"What? No! BOCA! Boca del Infierno, I always got them mixed up in Spanish. The Mouth of Hell. It's like some big dimensional convergence where hell is butting right up against the Earth, and all that negative energy seeping out of it does things. It brings the demons, the vampires, like a porch light brings moths, but nobody does anything about it because the police here are a joke and it's easier just to believe that its gang members or wild dogs or anything except for what it really is!"

He was holder her tighter now. Waiting for her to start squirming, to try and get away. Who cares how crazy it sounded? He wanted her to believe it, needed her to. Because he knew, if she didn't, she'd hate him for making jokes about her dead friends, just like he knew he'd have hated her if their positions had been reversed.

"I… believe you," she said, and he could hear it in her voice.

"You do?"

"It explains so much. It… it makes sense now. What happened… magic. It's real."

"I've seen it, it's all real. That nightmare thing today, that's the Hellmouth. It twists everything. Makes it darker, scarier. I think it brought the things that got them."

"That's what did it…"

Even as a best case scenario, he hadn't expected this. She seemed… relieved. If that ever came at all, it was supposed to come later, much later, after she decided anything was better than not knowing. He was sitting there wondering when he felt her tense again.

"Why?"

"Why what?" he asked, hoping it was something he could actually answer.

"Why are you still here? You knew about this before today, why stay? Why didn't you leave after… after what happened to Jesse?"

That's when Xander Harris said something else that, if he'd thought harder, he might never have said.

"Well… I can tell you but, for you to understand, there's something you need to know about Buffy Summers…"

4:27 AM

"'One of the girls'?"

"It's what she said."

"And you're sure she wasn't joking? She did get hit by some super drunk spell right? And drunk people always think they're funnier than they really are."

"Nope," he stated with glum finality. "As much as I've tried to convince myself she didn't really mean it, it's easier to believe in Vino Veritas."

"What's that?"

"'In wine, the truth'," he explained. "It's Latin."

"You know Latin? A few hours ago, you were trying to warn me about the Hellcow, and now you're quoting Latin?"

"Don't think of it so much as quoting Latin. It's more that, if there's an old saying that has anything to do with wine, whiskey, beer, scotch, vodka, the list goes on… everybody in my family knows it. I can talk about booze in more than ten languages. It's my birthright as a Harris."

Marcie patted him lightly on the arm that hadn't left her shoulder for more than a few seconds since he'd put it there. At this point, they could claim that they were sharing body heat, considering that even southern California can get a little chilly at night. That was only if somebody had found them like that, of course. Since it was just the two of them, Xander was perfectly fine with the idea that it just felt comfy.

"It'd be easier if I knew, you know?" he spoke again, moving on to less dismal but more confusing topics. "What is it about Buffy that makes me do this? She's like catnip for Xanders. She's Xander-nip. Why?"

"You mean besides the obvious parts that guys typically like to 'nip'?" she teased, worming a finger into the spot just below his ribs that she'd found by accident a little while ago, reveling in his squirming as he tried to resist the powerful tickling feeling. "I have seen her around school, you know."

"It's not that. Not just that, anyway. Initial attraction, sure, but that can't be it. I don't know what it is, but she's got this… thing."

"Does that 'thing' come with being the Slayer?"

"No. Well…" he actually had to think about that a bit. "I don't think so. Then again, she's the first Slayer I ever met… Maybe it is some kind of freaky Slayer vibe. But then why me? I've seen guys totally blow her off. Not, you know, a lot. But I've seen it."

"Do you think, maybe, you're over thinking it? The more time you spend dwelling on it, the more it's gonna have a hold on you. Whatever it is."

"But I can't not dwell on it," he said, sure that her solution was way too simple. "Look at what it's doing. My relationship with my two best friends… outside this closet, of course… it's based on a lot of pretending."

"How do you figure?" she asked, concerned but he could detect a hint of preening from when he'd corrected himself.

"Well, Buffy pretends not to notice the way I feel about her, because it's important that her best guy friend isn't just being nice so he can get in her pants. I pretend not to notice that Willow's had a crush on me since puberty, because I think I might actually love her too much to consider her a sex object. Then Willow has to pretend that she doesn't see any of it, when I know it's got to be like pulling teeth for her. Nobody wants to hurt anybody's feelings, but it's like we're all trying to have everything and we wind up settling for whatever we can spare without stepping on anybody's toes."

"Why not Willow?" asked Marcie, tone neutral. "And don't give me that sex object thing. I don't buy that for a second. It seems like it'd solve all your problems if you'd just go for her. She'd be happy, Buffy'd be happy and you'd have a girlfriend that's known you long enough to have your proper care and feeding committed to memory."

"I can't be with Willow."

"Why not?"

"I can't be with Willow!" harsher this time.

"Why not?" she shot back, not willing to let go.

"Because!" he shouted, finally. "Because…"

"Because of your mom and dad?"

It brought Xander's mind to a dead stop. He wasn't sure why he'd done it. Maybe it just slipped out because he was that afraid of letting the room go quiet, and he'd been running out of other things to say.

Not likely.

As weird as it was to admit, he was pretty sure it hadn't been an accident. Being there with somebody, somebody that laughed at his jokes, somebody that called him on his B.S., somebody that had been hurt, ignored. Not only that, there was something about sitting in the dark with a stranger that made it feel like… well, he'd never been in a Confessional, but he imagined they were sort of like this. If he said something here, it wasn't really bringing it out into the light of day. It was secret, safe.

So, he'd told her. About what happened to his mother sometimes. Never too often, because the neighbors would talk, but sometimes his mom would wear sunglasses in the house, or a scarf on a hot day.

He talked about what had happened sometimes when he was younger. Never too often, because the other kids might talk to their folks. The last time it'd happed there'd been a close call with Willow. Playing doctor with child prodigy using a real physician's desk reference made diagnosing blunt force trauma pretty darn likely.

What made him a little sick was the fact that he wasn't all that angry. Mostly he felt regret that it hadn't stopped just a little sooner. That broken arm had pretty much ruined a promising season of kiddie league baseball. Besides, it's not like it happened any more. To him. And what if his mom still walked into a door every once in awhile? It's her fault for staying with him. It's her fault for making him grow up in that creep's house when they could've just left.

"Oh, my God…"

The answer. The real answer, and it'd been staring him in the face for years.

He knew he was going to turn into his father someday.

It wouldn't happen overnight. It never did. Couples starting out always have fights. That's why they invented make-up sex. So he'd fight. And nobody likes to lose, right? So he'd do it the right way, make her see his point of view calmly and rationally. Until that didn't work, then he'd just be louder. And then, someday, when he's shouting at the top of his lungs and she's shouting back just as loud, he'd get so angry that his hand would "move on its own." When that happens, there's a few different ways it can play out.

He begs her forgiveness, promises to never do it again. Maybe they both have a good cry.

She slugs him back, or worse. Plenty of knives in a kitchen.

Maybe she just walks out. Takes whatever she can carry with her and gets the rest in the divorce settlement.

Willow would wonder what she did wrong.

He knew it. He knew how she was with him, when it came to her Xander. She'd take it. Just like his mom did.

"She'd just take it," he said, not even a little embarrassed by the wetness around his eyes. "If I turn out to be like that… like my father, she'd just keep taking it and blaming herself."

"And Buffy?"

Buffy?

"Buffy'd kill me," he almost had to laugh at how simple it really was, at the heart. "I hit her, I break my hand and she breaks my neck…"

Now he really was laughing.

"Fear of Buffy might actually be enough to keep me sober. You think?"

He laughed until his shoulders shook, then stopped when the laughter threatened to turn into sobs. It was like a weight on his shoulders had been… not lifted. In fact, it was more like he'd been carrying the weight all his life and now he was feeling it for the first time. It explained everything. Willow, Buffy, everything. It was a prison sentence in his ears, and it poisoned everything he'd ever thought about the two girls who'd been rapidly becoming the most important people in his life.

"You don't need some supergirl, Xander," there was firmness in her voice that his drifting mind latched onto instantly, desperate for something solid. "Just… someone who won't let you push her around."

"Yeah?"

Just like Buffy on patrol. Just like Giles with his demon lore. Just like Willow in a study session. Whenever Xander felt like he was out of his depth, he deferred to whoever sounded like they knew what they were talking about.

"Someone who wouldn't wait half a decade to tell you how she feels."

"Someone…"

There was sharp rise in body heat, and he was pretty sure it wasn't just his. He felt her hands snaking up his chest before they grabbed a fistful each of his dark, wavy hair.

"Someone who knows what she wants and who's not afraid to take it."

"Take it?" he muttered, his mind dizzy from breakthroughs, breakdowns, and about a tidal wave of hormones.

He could hear the smirk in her voice.

"Don't mind if I do…"

Her lips crashed against his. It was clumsy, the first landing way off center, but she tightened her grip and guided him right where she wanted him. On instinct, he let his hands drop to her waist and dragged her into his lap, not straddling so much as laying on him with her legs off to one side. The same instinct ran his palms up her arms, probably with the intention of releasing his hair. They never made it that far, stopping halfway to find themselves on either side of her head to deepen the kiss even further. Mouths opened, each trying to trap the other's lips and both succeeding about half the time. They pressed closer and closer, trying to fill in every inch of space that'd been between them, neither hearing the groans and grunts that escaped. Primal, single-minded determination to make a moment last forever.

Funny thing, humans and their need for oxygen…

The teens pulled apart, gasping like they'd run the hundred meter dash. For awhile there was only the sound of their breathing, until it got slower and softer and eventually went back to normal.

"Well…" said Xander, ever the first to make an observation. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think you had somebody in mind already."

She buried her face in his chest with a short laugh, her smile something he could feel even through his shirt. When she pulled back, she leaned much further than he'd expected and didn't bother to let go, so he quickly found himself in very much the same position he'd landed in face up on the floor of the janitor's closet. There was one minor difference, one that let out a distinctly happy sigh as she used his shoulder for a pillow. The sigh of happiness was followed closely by a yawn of… well, indeterminate emotion, really.

"Tired?" he asked, getting a lazy confirmation. "Yeah, me too. It's been a long, long night. Best one I've had in a while, though."

"Me too," she cooed, sleepily. "Best night in so long…"

"So… I guess I'll see you in the morning, huh?"

Her only answer was to huddle in even closer, holding on tight to him as he surrendered to his fatigue.

9:30 AM

"Mother of God and all her wacky nephews!"

Xander spasmed awake at the exclamation, his reflex action of sitting up reminding him of his still recent head injury. Forcing back the pain, he propped himself up on one elbow and squinted against the light streaming in through the open door.

"What in the… Kid, you spend the night locked up alone in there?" asked the silhouetted figure in the doorway, clearly the one that'd shouted and woke him up.

"Alone…?"

He immediately noticed the sudden chill or, more specifically, the lack of her added warmth. His head swiveled around the distinctly empty closet. Swiveling one's head, yet another great way to aggravate a head injury. Grimacing he brought his free hand to the area, touching lightly to confirm that it was still extremely tender.

"Geez, kid," the janitor, whose nametag identified him as either "Roy" or "The guy wearing Roy's shirt," winced sympathetically. "What happened? Your forehead try to swallow a goose egg?"

"No…" he managed with some difficulty, still trying and failing to clear his head completely. "Where'd she go?"

"She? You mean it was a girl that put you in there?"

"What? No! I got thrown in by Danny Zuko and the freaking T-Birds, now where is she!?"

"Settle down, kid," the older man chided, offering a hand to help Xander up. "Where's who?"

"Marcie!" he shouted, still slightly angry at the suggestion that a girl could throw him into a closet and totally not appreciating the irony of that line of thought. "The girl, the one that was in here with me all night. About this tall, medium length sort of auburn hair. Where'd she go?"

"Go? You were all by yourself in there when I opened the door. Yeesh! Look at the crack in this sink… That where you got the lump?"

Thinking back, with some difficulty, he nodded.

"Well, maybe I dropped out of med school a little early, but I'd say you got knocked out and had yourself one hell of a dream. You're lucky. Last time I passed out on the floor, I sure as heck didn't get to spend the night with no girl in no closet."

A dream? Xander swayed slightly, putting a hand on the wall to steady himself. He shook his head, not willing to believe the night before had been some kind of trauma-induced hallucination. No, it was real. She was real! But… why would the janitor lie about something like that. His feet started moving almost on their own. He needed to go, needed to step outside and clear his head.

"Whoa, hold up, kid!" Possibly-Roy clapped a hand on his shoulder to halt his progress. "I can't just let you walk out of here, the shape you're in. I got a key to the main office, we'll call your folks."

That woke him up in a hurry.

"Uh, yeah… I don't think that'd be the best idea. See, my parents…" said the teen, wondering how best to explain that his parents wouldn't be going anywhere this early on a Saturday. "They're away on business."

"Fine, is there anybody else you can call?"

10:01 AM

Rupert Giles had just sat down to a proper English breakfast, one of his few old home pleasures here in the colonies, when he'd received the call. Now, dressed in a long coat over a sweat suit and slippers, he found himself reaching into the mini-fridge in his office to retrieve a cold compress. He'd already checked the boy for a concussion using the basic field medic training standard for all Watchers, and had given him a rather favorable prognosis provided he reduce the swelling on his forehead.

"I'm telling you, Giles," the young man insisted, after gratefully taking the offered ice pack, "I don't see how I could've just dreamed the whole thing."

"The human mind is a-a great deal more complex than one would imagine," explained the Watcher, gently. "In the face of significant injury, it does whatever it can to, well, to cope while the damage is repaired."

"So that's it, I was… coping?"

The pseudo-librarian removed his glasses, but was forced to clean them on his sweatshirt when he recalled he'd left his handkerchief, not to mention his suit, back at his flat.

"Perhaps if you were somewhat more forthcoming with your accounts of what supposedly went on in the custodian's closet, I could be of more help. You've given me remarkably little to go on."

"It's… private."

"Yes, I imagine it would be, you and this Marcie… alone all night."

"It wasn't like that!" snapped Xander, way too quickly. "Not really. Hey, what about what the janitor said? The only reason he even found me in the first place was because he heard pounding on the door. Well, when he got there, I was still out like a light. How do you explain that?"

"Any number of ways, actually. You could have been thrashing about in your unconscious state. Or that blow to the head might have caused enough disorientation that you've simply forgotten," he reasoned, then took pause when he saw Xander seem to deflate. "Then again, there's still a chance she might've stayed out of sight, possibly out of fear of reprisal. As you mentioned, she had been hiding in a place off limits to students. If you're set on finding this young lady, perhaps you should enlist Willow's assistance. I'm sure, with the help of that godless machine, she could easily compile a list of any students by that name."

Xander almost voiced his agreement when he felt the gossamer weight of a memory, like a ghostly caress against his lips.

"I, uh, I really don't want to bug Willow with something like this," he said, failing so miserably at acting nonchalant that he probably qualified as being just plain chalant. "But, hey, you're like a member of the faculty, right? You totally have the access! Just go to one of the secretaries, tell 'em a girl checked out a book and it's overdue, but she… Oh, but she had this completely unreadable signature, so you only know her name is 'Marcie'. It's perfect!"

"Hang on, now see here…" Giles began, just about reaching his limit.

If he had been asking for the favor from Willow, or even Buffy, now would be the time he'd use the "big puppy dog eyes" routine. This was different, a promise between men, and required a different approach. He stared him straight in the eyes, jaw set, head unbowed. As it had been done since the dawn of man, a single plea passed between them, unspoken but understood by males the world over.

Come on, dude, this could get me laid!

"I'll see what I can do," he relented, turning to head out the door. "Now, we should see about getting you home. Your parents must be positively frantic."

"Giles, you are the man," Xander praised, following close behind. "Just for this, I promise nobody'll ever know you wore something that wasn't tweed."

As the two left the library's smallish office, neither paid any mind to the object floating in mid-air, coming to rest on Gile's desk right in front of where Xander had been sitting.

There, on the polished wooden surface, was a single Oreo cookie, fresh from the package.

10:03 AM

Hollering behind him for Giles to wait, Xander strode back into the office with his nose in the air and sniffing furiously. His eyes darted around the room before the target was acquired.

"Score!" he said, snatching up the little chocolate and cream treat. "Free cookie!"

Author's Note:

Back after so long and this is what I give you? Hardly seems fair, wot? Actually, I'm quite ready to defend this particular work. Not because I thought it was any good, no sir. Because the original idea came from the mind of the ever-impressive Ted "dogbertcarroll" Carroll who you may know from such Buffy fics as Lacking an Anchor, Walking in the Shadows, and (if you're reading this Mr. Carroll, this is one that could really used an update) the superlative Avatars and Interpretations. Some time ago, on the yahoo group of nonjon, who happenes to be one of the top gods in my fanfic pantheon, Mr. Carroll saw fit to post a laundry list of significant Buffy ideas. I've yet to hear of one of them being used so, dare I believe it, I might be the first.

I know, for a fact, that this is my first instance of a…

Of a…

Ppllll…

Plaaahhh…

Aw hell.

Plot bunny. There, I said it. This is the first time I ever fell prey to a plot bunny. Ye gods, I hate that term.

In any case, I hope I did justice to what began as a fantastic idea had by someone that isn't me.

Anyone who reads my work and is wondering why I came back from a fairly dry spell and am suddenly doing Buffy fics, believe me when I say I'm as shocked as you are. This is something I felt I had to do but, unless I get a huge positive response to lead me elsewhere, I'll be updating Can't Take the Sky followed immediately by Badical Nindo.

May hardy blessings fall at your feet, with tonnage that could crush steel-toed boots,

Blessed be,
-Brother Bludgeon