Okay, first of all, Xander never went to Africa. In the ATS episode "The Girl in Question," Andrew only told Angel and Spike that he had for one (or perhaps all) of the following reasons:

1. Andrew is a compulsive liar.

2. Andrew could have told them the truth, but then he'd have to kill them.

3. Without the Big Board to guide him, Andrew forgot where Xander was, and so spontaneously made up a colorful story involving exotic locales.

4. Xander had insisted that no one ever tell Angel where he was ("because he's an occasionally-evil dickhead"), and so Andrew was slavishly following Xander's commands.

5. Andrew simply likes to fantasize about Xander with his shirt off, all tanned and bare-chested, his pectoral muscles glistening with sweat beneath the harsh desert sun. *ahem*

Also? Xander didn't lose an eye, because I just wrote a fic all about that whole issue and I don't feel like immediately dealing with it again in this story. So Xander's eyes are both fine and dandy (though they are NOT under any circumstances to be thought of as "chocolatey orbs") and neither one got damaged in Season 7. Caleb just ... missed ... or something.

In case anyone becomes confused, this fic is not AU. It's set about 2 years post-Chosen, and hence about 1 year post-NFA, and other than the two differences noted above (no Africa, no patch), everything happened pretty much as seen in canon up until the point when each show ended. If there are other minor bits of straying here and there, put it down to poetic license. Or ... uh ... the fact that my memory sucks.

Without further ado, I bring you ...

Through the Looking Glass: Chapter 1

Xander pushed his hair out of his face - way past due for a haircut and it was driving him crazy - and tried to avoid screaming like a maniac. He would never get used to cell phones. They were too freakishly tiny. He felt like André the Giant with a cell phone in his hand, and it wasn't a particularly pleasant sensation. He was always afraid he would fumble it or crush it or something else non-suave. The buttons were smaller than the tips of his fingers and they were way too close together, which made dialing an adventure. He didn't make many calls. The phone was mostly for work, anyway.

"Gary?" he shouted into the mouthpiece. The freakishly small mouthpiece, which was really just a few holes in the shiny silver surface of the foldable phone. And that was another thing: phones were just not meant to be foldable, except in James Bond movies. Pierce Brosnan holding a cell phone wouldn't look like André the Giant. He'd look like ... well ... Pierce Brosnan holding a cell phone.

Even in his dark suit, Xander did not, unfortunately, look like Pierce Brosnan holding a cell phone. He was fairly certain of this fact as he strode along the crowded sidewalk, heading toward Market Street to catch the bus home. He could have walked home - it wasn't that far - but the dress shoes pinched and he was tired from a long meeting and feeling decidedly grumpy. A pleasant stroll up and down the steep hills of San Francisco was not on his immediate agenda.

"Gary?" Why was it necessary to always shout into cell phones? The things obviously weren't very efficient at conducting sound, because Gary only ever seemed to hear half of what he said. Around him in the crowd, Xander heard various other loud conversations, some being conducted through the earpieces that were even more freakish than foldable cell phones.

He remembered the old rotary dial telephone his parents had when he was growing up, and he felt an odd sort of nostalgia for the big plastic yellow handset and the long spiral cord. That was a phone that knew its place in the world.

Back then, you could walk down the street without your boss being able to call you and nag you about the zoning meeting. Because the phone was at home. And you weren't. So your boss was out of luck.

Except, of course, that Xander had been a kid back then, and so he didn't have a boss.

But kids now had cell phones, too, of course.

The world had gone crazy.

Miniature communication devices were all fine and good, as long as they were attached to the chest of a lycra uniform. This ... this was just wrong.

"Gary?" he shouted into the phone, but the connection was really bad and he gave up in disgust. The exciting details of the zoning meeting would have to wait.


He didn't think about Sunnydale very often anymore.

Most people would probably consider San Francisco an eccentric city, full of freaks, but in comparison it made Sunnydale seem like some kind of bizarre dream from which he'd finally awakened into adulthood.

This was finally something like a real life.

Sure, San Francisco had taken some getting used to. Everyone was so much more open, less afraid to let their own personal weirdnesses show. In Sunnydale, everyone had always been too busy differentiating themselves from the Hellmouthy weirdness around them. Even Willow - and you'd think a lesbian witch would be a bit unusual - had always had a pleasantly friendly suburban normalness about her.

But San Francisco was a city of weirdos.

Xander had always been "the normal one," but in two years of living in the city by the bay, he'd realized that "normal" was a very relative term. Okay, so maybe he was "normal" compared to Slayers, Watchers, witches, an ex-vengeance-demon, an inter-dimensional key made of green energy in the form of a teenage girl, and random vampires with chips and souls and gypsy curses and various combinations thereof ... but, hey, who wouldn't be? It was hard not to feel "normal" in that company. "Boring," even.

But once he got out of Sunnydale, he realized that he didn't have to always hover in the background while the more interesting people took center stage.

He realized he could be interesting, too. It was sort of surprising, actually.

So he really wasn't in contact with everybody very much anymore. He had a new life now, and the others were off leading new lives, too. The Scooby Gang just wasn't really a gang anymore. And Xander sometimes felt a little guilty about the fact that he didn't miss it.

He just didn't think about it much anymore.


That's why it was so strange when he saw a familiar face in the crowd outside the main branch of the public library. Xander had shoved the phone into his jacket pocket and was nearing Market Street, loosening his tie, on his way out to catch the bus back home to North Beach, still running over zoning ordinances in his head, still thinking about the issues that had been raised in the meeting he'd just left. Cars were blaring their horns, and men and women in business attire dodged scabby punk bike messengers. The sun had set already, though the sky wasn't quite dark yet. Winter in San Francisco was a bit different from Sunnydale. Less ... sunny. Shorter days. It had taken some getting used to.

So Xander was weaving his way through the steadily streaming foot traffic, grumbling to himself about unrealistic architects and vaguely pondering what to have for dinner, when he saw a shock of platinum blonde hair in the rush-hour sidewalk crowd. It wasn't the hair color that caught his eye - San Francisco as a city had a hair sense quite similar to Oz's, after all, and nothing was too extreme - it was something else. The tilt of the head, maybe? The curve of the neck?

His phone suddenly rang again and Xander jumped, pulling it out of his pocket. "Harris." When he looked up again the blonde head was gone.

Gary still wanted to hear about the zoning meeting, and so Xander filled him in as he walked. While he waited for the bus, they went over some plans for tomorrow's meeting with the contractors. By the time Xander hung up the phone, the bus was there, so he squeezed his way in, holding on to the metal bar over his head and trying not to step on anyone's feet or bash anybody with his briefcase. Maybe the walk would have been more relaxing, after all.

A very pretty Latina teenager sitting nearby was smiling at him. She couldn't have been more than 16 - she was wearing the sparkly pink lip gloss to prove it - but apparently she had a thing for very tired dark-haired men in rumpled suits. Now, if only girls like that had looked at him when he was that age ... well, that would have been an entirely different thing.

Flattered, he smiled at her briefly, and then pointedly turned to look out the window. These are not the droids you're looking for. Move along.

It wasn't just fear of a future career in prison on a statutory rape charge that made him look away. He hadn't actually dated much since he'd moved to San Francisco. Not that he hadn't had opportunities. He had. With attractive members of both genders ... and he wasn't quite sure how he felt about that one yet.

So, yeah, he'd been on some dates, but nothing serious.

His friends were very understanding. They didn't tease, and they didn't try to set him up on blind dates. He knew they whispered amongst themselves about how tragic it was, how his fiancée had been killed in that massive freak earthquake down south a couple years ago.

He wasn't sure if Anya really was the reason he'd been single so long, but she was definitely part of it. Mostly just because of how badly he'd messed that whole thing up. "Good relationship having" was not on his resumé in the "Skills" section.

So he looked away from his teeny-bopper admirer in her platform shoes and her sparkly lip gloss, but it wasn't really a conscious decision. He forgot about her almost as soon as he'd turned, because that's what he always did. He didn't give out his number. He didn't ask for numbers. He smiled politely and went back to contemplating...

... Market Street beneath a darkening sky, streetlamps glowing golden. Rush-hour traffic, cars in the street and pedestrians on the sidewalk, bicycles darting here and there, everyone pushing and shoving and trying to get home five seconds earlier. Squashed in the bus, Xander felt remarkably stationary. All that frantic activity outside, and he could barely move an inch.

He didn't see any shock of pale blonde hair out there in the crowd. Of course not. Why would he? Well, really, lots of people had hair that color, right?

It obviously hadn't been Spike. Obviously. Spike was dead.

Xander gazed out the window as the bus slowly made its way through downtown. Lip gloss girl got off somewhere along the way with a last flirtatious glance in his direction, but Xander didn't even notice.

To be continued ...