Xander Harris politely held open the door at the entrance of the Los Angeles mall, as the trio leaving the shopping center passed by the man into the passageway leading to the sidewalk in front of the mall building.
The first person through the door, an extremely beautiful blonde woman stunningly dressed, gave him a thankful smile and seemed to totally ignore his eyepatch, which only increased Xander's good mood at being so close to a true Hollywood fox.
The next passer-by, a big lug of a guy, nodded politely as he brushed past Xander and crowded right after the woman, as if to declare to the world and the slightly scary man holding open the door that she was his and nobody's else.
Xander just maintained his easy grin and continued keeping the door ajar, as the last of the trio skipped through the entranceway, a pretty girl on the cusp of her teens who was clearly part of the family that were now all out of the way. Xander casually stepped through the entry while letting go of the door, and then he abruptly froze.
The Sunnydale survivor stood unmoving in the doorway, until the closing door smacked him on his ass. This caused him to stumble forward a step, and then the man whirled around to incredulously stare through the glass door of the mall.
The girl following her parents in their exit from the mall now turned around the corner of the building's passageway onto the front sidewalk, giving Xander a perfect glimpse at her profile just before she went out of sight. An instant later, the one-eyed man with a look of disbelief on his face burst through the doorway, shoving it open so hard that only the automatic braking mechanism on that panel kept it from slamming against the far wall and possibly shattering.
"WAIT! WAIT! HOLD UP!" bellowed Xander, rushing down the passageway, to skid to a stop on the front sidewalk, looking around frantically.
There wasn't anyone on the sidewalk or anywhere else.
"What the…." choked Xander, staring in total bogglement at the bare concrete walkway across the entire front of the building, with not a single pedestrian in sight. Xander then looked at the parking lot beyond the lane running by the sidewalk. Again, nobody was present in the lot filled with cars.
The brunette man scratched his head in honest puzzlement. Even if the three people he'd been chasing had all broken into a flat-out run right after hearing him shouting at them, there was no possible way they could have gotten out of sight so quickly. So, where the hell were they?
"Are you sure he can't find us?" whispered Steven Mills, standing stock still with his back flattened against the mall building front, as he uneasily watched the stranger with an eyepatch just a dozen feet away from them now turning around on the sidewalk in vigilant circles, clearly searching for the Mills family.
Celeste Mills, keeping her hand in her glowing purse that was beaming out their camouflage force field, said calmly in a normal tone, "Yes, as long as we don't move. However, if he starts running his hand along the wall towards us, be prepared to act as a common water bird with webbed feet, short legs, and a broad, flat beak."
"I think you mean 'duck', Mom," absently said Jessie Mills. Worried over their predicament, the young girl missed how her dad and her new stepmom smiled at each other in delight at another example of his daughter's acceptance of Celeste joining their family. Instead, in an anxious voice, Jesse said, "I thought all that stuff was over with, about the institute and your contact with the aliens, Dad. Do you know this guy?"
Steven shook his head, adding, "Never saw him before. He's certainly memorable--"
The astronomer broke off, as they all stared at the man now slapping the palm of his hand against his forehead, as this person broke out in a wide grin, while whooping, "OF COURSE! What else could you expect on today?"
Not realizing he had a bewildered audience, Xander now happily stood with his arms akimbo and his fists resting on his hips, as he beamed around, calling out, "Goooood one, Wils! Though, you might have stretched it out. Maybe had me yelled at by a bunch of fake cops for pestering those people. Nah….a really good prank would've had me arrested by a pair of phony policewoman, who after taking me into a private room, they would've given me a strip-search!"
Celeste leaned over to her husband, and whispered, "What's a strip-search?"
Steven gulped, and then whispered back, "Tell-- No, I'll show you later."
The scientist then worriedly glanced at a fascinated Jessie staring at the man now eagerly looking around and speaking into thin air, "Wils? Wils?"
Finally, after a few more moments of this, the hidden family watched the man give a rueful shrug and walk away to go back into the mall passageway. As Celeste started to take her hand out of her purse, about to turn off the alien concealment device, Steven quickly said, "Honey, no! Leave it on!"
"What?" A frowning Celeste kept her hand in her purse, as she glanced over at her husband, who was himself intently watching the mall entrance where the man had disappeared.
Sure enough, about a couple of seconds later, the one-eyed man's head popped out again from the passageway, to glance around in a final attempt to catch the redheaded prankster who'd played such a good joke on him. However, with a last look back, the man resignedly seemed to accept his defeat, and disappeared again from the family's sight.
Giving a relieved sigh, Steven looked at his wife, and suggested, "I think we'd better stay here a few minutes, just to be sure."
Nodding in acceptance, Celeste then frowned. "Is there some particular reason why that man expected something to happen to him today?"
Jessie grinned, and as her stepmom's attention switched to her, the girl chortled, "Yeah, 'cause it's---"
"Monday! No other specific reason!" hastily interjected Steven, aiming the most ferocious paterfamilias glare he could achieve right at Jessie that plainly managed to convey the silent message of, "SHUT UP, NOW!"
Jessie blinked, and then she developed a serious pout at her daddy that would ordinarily reduced her father to goo. However, even though Steven dearly loved his new wife, the fact that she was an alien from outer space who'd decided to join the human race and was eager to learn all about homo sapiens and their strange customs sometimes made explaining things more trouble than they were worth.
Considering that several weeks ago the result of Celeste learning about President's Day was her insisting on that specific holiday the family should consume their breakfast while all of them wore George Washington wigs and at the end of the meal, it was necessary for everyone to join in reciting the Gettysburg Address, Steven didn't even want to think of what would happen if his wife ever learned about April Fool's Day.
His attention was brought back to Jessie clearing her throat and glowering at him. Her grumpy face suddenly changed into a slow grin that sent unexpected chills down Steven's spine at his daughter's look of absolute doom and pure evil.
Jessie Mills now sweetly said, "Okay, Daddy, my lips are sealed about you-know-what. Instead, why don't I explain to Mom exactly what consists of a strip-search?"
The next day, Willow had to wonder why Xander was hanging around her and giving her such a wicked grin that if she'd been a guy, the first reaction to this would have been a prompt check to see if the barn door was open. Since she had a busy day lined up, the witch just shrugged, made a mental note to ask him later what was going on if he didn't talk first, and went about her business. She soon forgot all about it, since Xander never said anything.
The man, on the other hand, was in two minds about Willow's silence over the whole thing. Either it was part of the prank, which was something to be admired, or she truly didn't know anything. In that case, the encounter at the mall was just something fairly weird that had happened to Xander Harris. *Alert the media,* snarked the man in the privacy of his thoughts. No big deal, really.
Still….Xander had to admit to himself, it had been both strange AND nice to see Willow Rosenberg's exact double, looking just like his bestest bud in her first year of high school, when it was just him and her and Jesse, no Buffy, no Giles, no knowledge about the dark side of Sunnydale and the Hellmouth….. When they had all been innocent.