Prologue: Just White
I remain as poor and penniless as I have ever been, and own nothing of any consequences, particularly not these characters. Even the ones I made up are probably owned by some russian playwright who recently emigrated to New Zealand. Sorry, Boris.
Prologue: Just White
They were big on white. Bright, sterile, drive-you-crazy white. The walls were white, the floor was white, and the bright shining light on the ceiling was white. White all the time. Twenty-four hours a day of mind-burning whiteness. The only time there was something other than white to stare at was when his blood had pooled against the floor when he woke up from the hour or two of sleep they allowed him to have. It wasn’t exactly an improvement.
It was safe to say that after a few weeks - months? - in an Initiative holding cell, Xander Harris had experienced enough white to last him for the rest of his life. Considering he didn’t expect that life to continue for much longer, he supposed it was kind of nice to have gotten at least one thing out of the way. How many people could say with absolute certainty that they’d seen enough of a color and would happily never see it again? Probably not too many.
Thoughts like those were the kind that made him think he was going crazy. Then they would show him the video footage. They’d demand to know why he’d done it. They’d demand to know where they were. Watching himself on the video didn’t make him think he was going crazy. It made him think he already was crazy.
Had to be, really. They all seemed so sure he’d done it. There was surveillance footage. DNA evidence. Eyewitness testimony. The world was certain that Xander Harris was a kidnapper and a murderer. Dozens of Slayers, dead. Hundreds more missing. Buffy missing. Willow missing. Giles missing.
But everyone knew right where Xander Harris was. He was lying on the floor of a holding cell with his blood seeping slowly out of him from the various cuts and abrasions his interrogators had inflicted upon him. Before that, before the never-ending whiteness interspersed with beatings and screaming demands for information, there had been Africa. What had seemed like quite a dangerous adventure mixed with growing-up, moments of abject fear and moments of simple triumphs, now seemed like a wonderful vacation.
They’d gotten him right as he got off the plane. He’d expected to see Willow, Buffy, Dawn, any of them. It had been hard to keep in touch all the time, but surely one of them would be there to welcome him home. He’d have even accepted Andrew.
Instead he got a rifle-butt to the face when he presented himself to Customs. When he could think again he was in the white room of perpetual whiteness, with only the hum of a fluorescent light to keep him company.
Oh how there had been screaming. Screaming, cursing, screaming with cursing. Lots of that, for all the good it did him. Of course, that was before they’d shown him the video. Before he’d watched himself setting off the charges and pulling the triggers. He didn’t scream anymore, except when they were interrogating him. They interrogated him a lot. He hardly blamed them for it anymore. Maybe someday they’d unlock the part of his brain that might remember doing what he saw on that video.
Because he’d have to be crazy to do what he’d done, and if he was that crazy then maybe he was so crazy he couldn’t even remember it. For a while he’d held doubts about that. Maybe he’d been framed. Maybe it was some demon in a Xandersuit. You never knew, right? Maybe he wasn’t crazy. Maybe every other person in the world had just been duped. It could happen, right?
Not anymore. Now he knew he was crazy. Had to be if he was seeing visions of her standing in his cell.
“Oh, Xander,” she whispered.
“Now don’t you cry for me,” he mumbled. “Cause I come from Alabamee, with a banjo on my knee.” That’s what crazy people did when the voices talked to them, right? They talked right back. Maybe if he out-crazied his own crazy it would nullify all the craziness and he’d be back to normal.
She smiled sadly down at him. She looked so concerned. Then again, she’d always looked concerned, like she could see right into your heart and see how painful it felt. He was always a little intimidated by that. “Can you sit up?”
She asked with such a sincere sense of worry that he actually worked up the curiosity to frown at her, despite how much it hurt. What if he wasn’t crazy? What if she were real?
“You’re dead,” he said, his voice hoarse.
“I know,” she replied. Same sad smile. “But you’re not.”
“Might as well be,” he said. He let his eye close.
“They’re not, either.”
His eye opened and he sat up.
Too quickly! His vision swam, although she stayed eerily steady in the center of it. He really hoped he wouldn’t throw up, mostly because the only thing in his stomach was the blood he’d swallowed during his last interrogation, and he wasn’t sure his stomach muscles could handle the spasms. Somehow, he managed to keep from getting sick.
“What do you know about it?” he asked. He’d pretend she was real for a while. It would be nice if she was real. It would be nice if she was right.
“Some. Not all of it.” She knelt down beside him. Her simple, pale green dress spread out around her as she did so. She looked him in the eye. “I know you didn’t do it.”
He regretted snorting.
His head spun again, and he used both of his hands to steady it. “At least I got a nice hallucination,” he said when he felt steady again. A thought occurred to him. He reached out with one hand to touch her cheek.
His hand passed right through her. His face paled and he felt his already dry mouth turn to dust. Pushing with one leg against the slick white floor, he forced himself back into the corner and away from her. It was a moment of panic, but panic was about all he had left to him. “Y-You’re the-”
“I’m not the First.”
“That’s exactly what the First would say!” Oh he was in for it now. There was going to be all kinds of demonic gloating. Then there would be insane priests with thumbs that fit perfectly into eye sockets, provided you used a little elbow grease to jam them in there. He knew how this game was played. He knew where it led.
“Xander, calm down. You have to focus. We don’t have a lot of time.”
He made a cross symbol with his index fingers. Hissed at her. Told her to “get thee behind me!” and a whole slew of other helpful suggestions. He couldn’t quite remember if any of that stuff ever worked, but it was all he had left to him. For good measure he even tried repeating a few spell-words he remembered Willow saying when she did impossible stuff. As ever, nothing happened.
She moved closer to him, still on her knees. She sat on the backs of her legs and gave him a heartfelt look of sorrow. “I know you’re confused. I-I know what they’ve been doing to you, but you have to concentrate. It’s important.”
“T-they’ve got cameras, you know. In the ceiling. In the walls. They’ll know you’re here. They’ve got all kinds of ghostbusters stuff too. EKG meters and-, and ecto-para-psycho-whatsits. They probably already know you’re here. I hope you like living in a containment unit, c-cause that’s where you’re headed, missy!”
Was it a good idea to call the originator of all evil “missy?” Oh well. It was too late now. Besides, he’d managed to make her a little nervous. He grinned in malicious triumph as she glanced around warily.
However, a moment later she shook her head and looked to him once more. “It doesn’t matter. They’re coming, Xander. You can’t survive another interrogation.”
“I- you’re just trying to- to scare me,” he said. She was doing a good job of it, too. He didn’t think he could survive another interrogation, truthfully.
“I’m not. I’ll try to explain later, Xander. I-if I can. But right now you have to listen to me, okay? What do you have to lose by listening to me?”
His sanity? Nope, that was gone. His life? As far as he was concerned his life could go take a flying leap, if this was what it was going to be. His health, his happiness, his Babylon 5 Collector’s Plates? All gone anyway. It was either go back to slowly bleeding on the floor of his cell or conversing with his new hallucination-slash-The-First. Of course, bleeding on the floor was the only rest he ever really got these days, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to give it up. It was the only Xander-time he ever got.
Her eyes made it up for him. Deep. Soulful. Full of compassion. If she was evil, then she was damned good at being evil, because he really wanted to trust her. He wanted her to be real, because at least then he wasn’t completely and totally alone. If she was real, then at least he had one friend left to him.
“Okay, Tara. I’m listening.”