When the others came back in, he was practising as hard as he could. He focused on the Death powers and pushed through tables and chairs and vases. Anything he could think of. He was trying to remove the thorn off a rose and pull it through the vase when the phone rang. He wrenched his hand back in surprise. The thorn was still whole between his fingers, as was the rose. The vase, on the other hand had crumbled into tiny little pieces.
"You'll get the hang of it," Dawn said.
"Maybe not in time though," Anya added.
Dawn glared at her and she looked first surprised, then confused.
"It's okay, Dawnie, she's right," Xander said with a fond look at Anya who still looked as if she was trying to understand why Dawn was glaring.
"Hey, do we know some British guy named Robson?" Andrew asked.
Xander sighed and took the phone. If the Watchers were trying to control them again, Buffy would blow a gasket. By the end of the phone call he was wishing that it had been the usual Watcher tactics.
"He was attacked, this Robson guy in England."
* * *
The drive back from the camp ground was more relaxed than the drive there. Andrew, however, kept trying to play games. Xander was tired, anxious and the relief he felt for Giles' continued survival was buried under the worry and stress he'd been through all day.
Andrew was getting on his last nerve.
"Look, we can all sing a song!" he was saying. "Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, ninety nine bottles of beeer!"
SHUT UP ANDREW
The noise stopped and Xander relaxed, if only minutely.
"Xander? Are you okay?"
Xander smiled at Dawn, trying to look reassuring.
JUST FINE, DAWNIE
He glanced towards her. She was frowning at him and looking decidedly worried.
"You're still talking like Death."
"I mean, I am?"
Dawn's relief was palpable.
"Not anymore," she said then laughed. If there was more tension in her laughter than there should be, Xander didn't comment.
* * *
YOU'RE STILL HERE
"So are you," Susan countered. She looked at her grandfather steadily as she sipped her tea. He'd disappeared outside soon after their tea break, leaving her alone in the house. No Albert and the usual effects of time made this house dustier than his home. "I'm surprised actually; I would have thought you'd be over your little snit by now."
Death tilted his head to the side and regarded her as seriously as his features allowed.
I AM SIMPLY ON VACATION, he volunteered after a moment's silence.
"Please, grandfather, you can lie to anyone you want. Not to me."
Susan tried on her teacher look. The one that intimidated people of all kinds and ages. Death appeared to be impervious to it.
"You know what will happen if he does this for too long," she tried.
IT'S TOO SOON FOR YOU TOO WORRY ABOUT THIS
For the first time since she remembered who she was, Susan got angry enough at her grandfather to yell.
"He's in a different universe, on a hellmouth no less!"
Death stared impassively back.
"Forget it," Susan snapped and stalked off.
* * *
The whole talking-like-Death thing had shaken him up more than he'd admitted. Using the voice to make an ubervamp freeze or Andrew shut up was one thing, being unable to shake it off for a while, that was a whole other ballgame. The freaky, terrifying kind. So, Xander did the most normal thing he could think of. He flirted and got a date, with a woman no less. A pretty, nothing-like-Spike woman. He would tell his girls as much too, just in case they got any ideas from his stupid Spike saving tendencies.
He fixed a smile to his face and walked in through the front doo.
"Guys, guess what happened!" he said, the moment he spotted Willow and Buffy.
"Buffy got a date!" Willow grinned at him.
"No, I did," Xander exclaimed, still lost in his attempt at excitement. Then Willow's words worked through his brain. "Oh." He frowned at Buffy. "Fine. Way to steal my thunder."
Buffy smiled at him and he couldn't help but smile back. She always did have an infectious smile.
"Sorry. If it makes you feel better, it's Principal Wood, and I think he's aligned with the First."
That was more like it. A nice, normal conversation with his best friends. Nothing deathlike about that
Then Giles came in with their newest recruit and Deathboy was back. He didn't even realise that she'd spoken another language until Buffy asked what the girl said. His grin faded slowly away. Since when could he understand Chinese? He barely heard the rest of the conversation, only snapping back in when Willow addressed him directly.
"Want me to check your girl out while I'm at it, Xan?"
He rallied and brought back the smile. No Deathboy stuff tonight. Just a normal date with a normal girl.
"Nope. I'm going in blind. I'm gonna be an optimist about this. Why go looking for trouble? If it's gonna find you, it's gonna find you."
* * *
By the time she'd tied the last knot around his arm he was cursing his words. He should have known better than to jinx himself on the freaking hellmouth.
"See? I knew it," he grumbled to the world at large. Who else would manage to get knocked out just long enough to end up tied up over the actual mouth of hell.
"Thanks for your help selecting the ropes," Lissa was all pleasant and polite. She would be the perfect first date, if not for the whole demon woman, tied-up-on-the-hellmouth thing. "The one I picked wasn't strong enough."
"Yeah, that would've been bad," he agreed absently, "Listen, is this because I'm friends with Buffy?"
"You know the Slayer?"
Not because of Buffy then. Which only left one reason, which had Xander so preoccupied he hardly noticed the wheel rising.
"This can't just happen," he muttered, "It can't just keep happening that demon women find me attractive. There's gotta be a reason."
"You just seem like a nice guy, that's all. And I wanted to get to know you."
Xander stared at her in disbelief. She wanted to get to know him?
"And kill me?" he queried.
"Sure," Lissa shrugged. "Do the ropes hurt?"
"Good," Lissa smiled.
"Right. Enough is enough. Let me go."
"But if I do that how will I get the vicious feral vampire creature to come out of the seal?"
"Oh for fuck's sake." Xander grumbled and concentrated on the Death thing.
GET THE WHEEL DOWN AND UNTIE ME.
By the time she snapped out of it, he was on his feet and completely free of ropes.
"How did you do that?" she snarled, eye yellow and much like a lizard.
"I have my ways. Now be a good girl and leave."
Her only response is a growl and before Xander even had time to wonder whether lizards growl, there's a knife slicing his arm.
"Holy cow, that hurt," he gasped.
Her hand was strong on his wrist, holding his arm still over the seal. Xander could only watch as the blood made its way down his arm and onto the seal. When he looked at her again, she was grinning.
"Couldn't have done it without you, Xander. Thanks for the great date."
He could hear the seal opening but no matter how hard he tugged to get away, she was holding him steady.
LET ME GO. DROP THE KNIFE.
He could feel the odd calm that went with the voice surround him. This was the only way he could get out of here alive, he thought. Token human against a demon was a predictable win for the demon. Deathboy though, he could make her kick her own ass.
Buffy surprised him out of the calm. He stepped back, away from the seal.
"Buffy, she's a demon," he said, and that was enough for Buffy to go on the attack.
Soon enough Spike was there too and so was what Xander could only assume was Buffy's date. Xander stood back and watched the fight, trying to catch his breath and staunch the bleeding in his arm. Once it was all over, Buffy predictably run to Spike. Really, Xander would have been hurt except he'd gotten used to it.
"I think your friend's gonna be okay," Buffy's date said, rather pointedly in Xander's opinion.
"Hey, Xan, we're here."
"Yay for the cavalry," Xander joked. "So...how's your date going?"
He looked at the ex-pretty ex-human on the ground and grimaced. Why on earth had he been freaked out about wanting Spike? Even with demon-face on, Spike was a hell of a lot sexier than that thing, not to mention less likely to want to slice him in half. He stayed quiet on the way home, contemplating the pitfalls of suddenly having gay thoughts. It wasn't that much of a disaster, he mused, after all Willow was doing it.
He went through the front door and was suddenly hugged tight by said friend.
"What happened?" she asked when she stepped back.
"What do you think happened? Another demon woman was attracted to me," he explained. Then it came to him. This was a good chance to try out the gay waters. "I'm going gay," he declared, "I've decided I'm turning gay. Willow, gay me up. Come on, let's gay."
She blushed a little, Xander noted, the way she always did when she got embarrassed.
"You heard me," he said, unwilling to let this go, "Just tell me what to do. I'm mentally undressing Scott Bakula right now. That's a start, isn't it? Come on, let's get this gay show on the gay road. Help me out here."
He looked around expectantly.
"What if you just start attracting male demons?" Buffy smiled.
All the better, Xander thought, then promptly blushed himself. He tried to keep his eyes away from Spike.
"Clem always liked you," Dawn agreed with a giggle.
"Children, enough," Giles said, but Xander was on a roll. Plus, he needed to move away from the whole demon thing.
"I'd need some stylish new clothes," he said lightly.
"Enough!" Giles snapped and they all lapsed into silence. "Have you learned nothing from tonight's assorted chaos? There isn't time for fun and games and quips about orientation," he went on, holding up the flashcards, "These—these aren't a joke. This—this happens. Girls are going to die. We may die. It's time to get serious."
Giles made to walk out of the room but Xander couldn't let him. If he let this go now, he would never get the courage to say it again.
"I wasn't joking," he said, his voice loud in the suddenly quiet room.
Giles stopped walking and turned slowly around.
"You weren't joking," he said mildly, in the tone that usually precedes some kind of melt down.
"No," Xander replied, more subdued now that Giles was looking straight at him.
"You're having a sexual identity crisis," Giles took off his glasses and commenced the polishing, "in the middle of an apocalypse."
"Erm..." he looked to Willow for guidance but she looked about as shell-shocked as the rest of them. "Yes?"
"Okay then," the glasses went back on and Giles started walking towards the door again, "we can deal with that. Not a problem."
It wasn't until the door closed behind him that they all heard the manic giggling.
"You broke Giles," Buffy accused, eyes twinkling with merriment.
"You and Willow did it first!" Xander responded, glad to have something to joke about. "It was my turn."
Suddenly Willow was hugging him again.
"Does that mean we don't get to have hot pre-apocalypse sex?" Anya demanded, startling them all into real laughter. "What? Xander! Answer my question!"