As the horse he was riding left the barn, forcing him to duck under the door lintel, Xander Harris squinted his remaining eye against the bright Swedish summer sun outside, shivered in his damp, bare skin, and wondered if other, normal people had these kinds of vacations. It wasn't even like he'd wanted to take a break from his duties in the first place.
The New Council troubleshooter had been perfectly content for the last couple of years during his searches for new Slayers throughout the entire African continent after leaving behind himself a destroyed Sunnydale and the remaining members of the Scooby Gang. Those people, on the other hand, were becoming a bit concerned about their increasingly-hardened friend, particularly after hearing some of the hair-raising stories about what the One Who Sees had done in order to find and protect his charges.
On his mount, Xander sardonically conceded to himself that he might have gone a little too far on his last mission, when he'd killed two demons that had been about to attack a tiny village in Ghana where a novice Slayer had been living. But, hey, back there all the kids and even some of the adults had laughed when he'd grabbed the heads of those monsters he'd just decapitated, rammed his fists up their throats, and used the severed heads as sock puppets during his explanation about Slayers, the New Council, and exactly how dumb it was to mess with Xander's girls.
That had resulted in him being promptly yanked back to the castle in Scotland, where nervous glances and whispers about 'burnout' had followed after a tall, lean, deeply-tanned man stalking down the ancient building's corridors, a massive battle-axe casually resting on his shoulder, and a fierce look from his single eye bestowed upon all there. Soon after, he'd found himself in Giles' office full of his friends telling him he needed to take a vacation, right now.
"Yeah, fine, whatever," had been Xander's indifferent response, startling those who'd expected more of an argument from the man, and making them all eye him suspiciously even when he'd obediently left for his flight to Sweden, the largest demon-free part of Europe, where he was going to have fun, or else. Actually, Xander had his own cunning plan working then, in that he'd go along for a few weeks with what his friends had forced him into, and when they were finally satisfied he had a nice rest, get on the next airplane back to Africa, and take out all of his irritation upon the nearest evil demon that had the misfortune to encounter a very grouchy Xander Harris.
So, he'd joined his tour group, shuffled along with them through various Swedish museums, churches, opera houses, and palaces, none of which Xander gave the slightest damn about, and pretty well hid the fact that he was totally bored out of his skull. The smörgåsbords, however, were about the only thing he liked, with the man happily putting back on some of the weight he'd lost over the last couple of years. During one of his scarfing raids on the buffet meal in his hotel, Xander was in the middle of chewing on his bredda smörgåsar, until the one-eyed man unexpectedly coughed up a masticated piece of herring onto his plate at what he'd just overheard during an idle conversation from two natives behind himself.
It seemed that there was in the next village over from their hometown a very strange young girl who was rumored to possess incredible strength, far beyond that of a full-grown man. In the next moment, a casual Xander turned around and smoothly introduced himself into their conversation, managing to get the name of the exact place where this girl was living, before thanking his newfound acquaintances, and then making a beeline for the nearest private phone. Where, a couple of minutes later, he was holding the receiver of this device away from him at arm's length, wincing at the names he was being called by a certain red-haired witch, who was furious about Xander's involvement when he should have been concentrating on his vacation.
Xander managed to soothe a grumbling Willow long enough for her to promise she'd check and call him back. An hour later in his hotel room, a now-puzzled Wiccan informed Xander that not only hadn't any Slayers died recently (yay us!), she'd just finished a magical scan taking in a few hundred square miles around that place her Sunnydale pal had just told her about, and there was absolutely no sign of any Slayer there. Oddly enough, that information had tipped the scales for Willow's grudging approval when Xander had announced he was going there anyway. After all, even if it was a wild goose chase, what was the harm? At the very least, he'd have a pleasant jaunt out in the Swedish countryside.
A day later, Xander regarded with approval the large, old, rambling house before him that still possessed a certain ramshackle charm, perhaps due to the evident fact that someone living there thought there were more interesting things to do with their life than keep everything around them in spick-and-span condition. Even if that house's owner and/or resident really wasn't a Slayer, Xander liked them already, if only because it had been remarkably easy to find her.
All he'd had to do was to go up to the first villagers he'd seen when the man had driven into the small town, and ask them in perfect Swedish (due to his magical translation necklace from Wils, natch) about a strong girl. The only thing kind of weird about it had been their prompt reaction to those exact two words, when they at once pointed in a specific direction and described this house perfectly. There was also their somewhat strange expressions during all that, a peculiar mixture of amused pride accompanied with exasperated wariness.
Shrugging, Xander stepped through the open gate in the fence around the house. Actually, from the way vines had thoroughly covered the gate door, it hadn't been closed in months, and the man idly considered that while he walked along the path in the overgrown lawn to the porch and the front door. Stopping at this panel, Xander lifted his right hand to begin knocking, until he abruptly froze in shock, keeping his arm up in mid-air, as his remaining eye stared with horror at this entire panel beginning to ominously bulge outwards in his direction, and also giving creaking sounds of immense strain at the same time.
Faster than he could react, the front door was blasted off its hinges, propelled right at Xander, to then smash into him hard enough to knock the man off his feet as he now fell onto his back, with the door following along after to painfully land upon him, leaving only his head exposed for a dazed Sunnydale survivor to watch with absolute consternation what happened next.
A tidal wave of some whitish, oozing, semi-solid liquid slurped through the doorway, flowing at an incredible speed over the door and completely covering Xander's head, as this strange substance continued to pour out from the house into the front yard. Actual terror now seized Xander as he instinctively held his breath and tried fruitlessly to push off the door to escape from whatever vile stuff that was about to suffocate him. Fortunately, after a few more moments, the stream of pale sludge tapered off, dropping to a sullen trickle as Xander felt the weight of the muck covering his face beginning to dribble away. Gasping for breath, and then anxiously coughing and spitting to get rid of whatever had just gotten into his mouth, Xander suddenly stopped this panicky action, to instead lick his lips, as he now tasted….oatmeal?
Preoccupied by this astonishing occurrence, the one-eyed man, with his face completely covered by that overcooked foodstuff and still pinned under the door while unable to see anything, ignored the sloshing footsteps coming nearer, until his burden holding him down was abruptly hauled off him, with Xander himself then being yanked off the ground by a hand gripping his shirt collar. Dangling from this hand easily lifting him high up in the air so that his feet barely touched the ground to skid along the remains of the oatmeal flood, Xander was rapidly carried away, as he frantically wiped his face to see who was doing that.
In the middle of this, Xander was unceremoniously dropped face-down onto the ground, with that part of his head managing a direct landing into a deep puddle of pure rolled oats intermingled with water. Just when he successfully accomplished a quick push-up to get his head out of the puddle, Xander felt two small hands grab the waistband of his pants, to then effortlessly pull that item of clothing down his legs and over his boots. Opening his mouth to roar in protest, a still-blind Xander instead howled with real distress as he was then hit by a strong stream of very cold water.
Ten minutes later, Xander looked around while seated on the horse, in nothing but his underwear, as he glowered at his hosed-down pants and shirt mostly oatmeal-free and dangling out to dry while pinned onto the washing line next to the house. Also attached to this length of cord were another male's shorts and shirt, child size, next to a girl's blue sundress and another girl's short patchwork dress, all of this clothing still damp from being hurriedly cleaned under the garden hose.
As his tour of the grounds continued as part of the apology for getting in the way of their escaping lunch, Xander just had to ask. Tapping the shoulder of the boy also in his underwear seated in front of him on the horse, the older man cleared his throat, and inquired a bit plaintively, "Does, uh, this kind of thing happen often?"
The boy and his undressed sister too at the very front of the horse, who from quick introductions Xander knew were Tommy and Annika Settergren, twisted around in their seats to grin at their visitor. His attention caught by this, the horse also turned his head to watch with equine curiosity his riders, though Xander didn't pay all that much attention, as he was promptly answered by the pair of children's enthusiastic nods and giggles that incidents such as had just happened to a certain American today were not all that uncommon at the Villa Villekulla.
Xander did notice that the horse nodded, too.
A strangled, "Right, okay. No problem. Just another day in the life of Xander Harris," came from the man, which evidently satisfied all his watchers, as they turned back to look ahead during their journey. Including the horse.
Xander then slowly leaned his body to the right, very carefully, since he wasn't used to being bareback on a horse, even if that animal was totally still, with its legs dangling a foot above the ground. Not to mention the ground itself passing by was pretty far down. Finally, he managed to peek past the side of the horse, at where a nine-year-old girl, her red hair pulled in braids so tight they were sticking straight out from the sides of her head, dressed only in her own patched underwear, mismatched stockings, and oversized men's shoes, was strolling along while casually carrying over her head the horse, Xander, and the other two children.
Her own rider, a small monkey crouched on the super-strong girl's right shoulder caught sight of Xander looking at them both, and this animal chattered into the young lady's ear. As she turned her head to glance at an adult the girl was surprised to find out she was actually beginning to like, Pippi Longstocking then had her freckled face split itself in a wide grin, as she took away her right hand from her load, easily holding it up in the air with her other hand, as she happily waved at the man with the strange name of Xander. Who dazedly returned the wave, as proper manners dictated.
Straightening up on the horse's back, and after a few more moments, a mostly-recovered Xander now contemplated his day so far, and a slow grin began to appear on his own face. That kid certainly wasn't a Slayer, and he didn't have the faintest idea how to else explain her, but…so what? For the first time on his entire vacation, Xander Harris was having fun.