Disclaimer: To prevent spoilers, the disclaimer is at the end of this story.
His eyes on the prize in the reject bin, Xander Harris had an ear-to-ear grin on his face as he stepped forward to collect what he’d been praying for, a toy pistol perfectly identical to a World War II Colt .45 automatic, which would go great with his Halloween costume. He inwardly gloated, *I can’t believe my luck, the last thing in there, and it’s perfect!*
Stopping at the edge of the nearly empty crate that had been filled with knocked-down trinkets and replicas, Xander reached into the bin and promptly learned that he shouldn’t have given the Sunnydale Hellmouth yet another opportunity to show that the teenager with a goofy smile was truly the dimension nexus’ favorite butt-monkey.
Faster than Xander could blink, a diminutive arm came blurring down from the other side of the crate, snatching up the toy gun. Open-mouthed, Xander looked past the crate to see a kid half his age sneering at the high-school student, a clear message on the little monster’s face of, “You snooze, you lose.”
Clutching to his chest the copy of the weapon Xander desperately needed, the kid whirled around and scampered off through the rows of expensive costumes at Ethan’s the new costume shop in Sunnydale that had opened just a few days ago and still had managed to have the word go around quickly that it was the best place ever for Halloween outfits, attire, ornaments, and make-up that could turn anyone into their favorite fantasy for that holiday. Costume Town couldn’t possibly compare.
Xander gaped after the child for a moment, and then he went in pursuit, his voice frantic as he left the reject bin area to dash after the little boy, calling, “Look, kid, I really need that gun, so maybe we can come to some kind of arrange-- YEOW!”
A few moments later, Xander hopped on one foot back to the reject bin, his other leg lifted up and gripped in his hands, a grimace of pain on the teenager’s face. Holding on to the bin’s edge with one hand, he gingerly put his injured leg back down on the floor and bent over to rub his shin currently aching from a vicious kick. “Little shit,” he muttered. “I hope during his next soccer game his shorts fall down in front of everyone.”
Xander straightened up and glumly regarded the empty bin. *Oh, great, what am I gonna do now?* he despondently thought. *Grandpa Harris’ Army fatigues just don’t work without some kind of gun. Hmmm, maybe I can bluff it out, claim I’m some kind of philosophical pacifist, steal Giles’ spouting off that ‘a rational army would run away.’ Nah, that only works if you deliver it in a classy, stuffy, British accent.*
Behind him, a voice inquired, “Do you require assistance?” while uttering the question in a classy, stuffy, British accent.
You don’t do that kind of thing to people born on a Hellmouth.
The shop proprietor watched in befuddlement as the teenager he had just addressed broke the world’s record for the standing high jump, spinning around in mid-air and grabbing for something in his rear pants pocket as he landed on his feet, with the young man’s alarmed face finally recognizing who had just spoken to him.
Xander managed to freeze just before he yanked out his emergency stake, his right hand clutching the piece of wood held securely down the back of his pants, and he tried to look as innocent as possible. Considering where his hand was, he doubted he was succeeding.
*Damn, he’s getting suspicious, gotta throw him off the track. Think, think!*
A fiendish inspiration suddenly appeared in Xander’s mind.
“Duuuuude,” he drawled, while thoroughly scratching his ass.
The older man’s face froze in disdain, with his degree of disapproval approaching truly fantastic levels until Xander finally finished and pulled out his hand, only to offer it in a friendly handshake.
The guy actually recoiled and put both of his hands behind himself to stand in a rigid position of displeasure, causing Xander to mentally smirk and congratulate himself. *This guy’s easier to wind up than Giles.*
A voice now approaching sub-zero temperatures spoke again. Glowering, the older man gruffly said, “As I said before….do you have any business here?” A contemptuous flick of his eyes over the teenager’s unkempt attire gained him back some points in their encounter, as the shopkeeper effortlessly indicated this was extremely unlikely.
Xander was in the middle of thinking to himself, *Oh, so you wanna play, bozo?* until he sensibly squashed his urge to further needle the guy. *You can’t afford to really tick him off. See what you can find out.*
“Um,” said Xander, clearing his throat and indicating the empty reject bin. “Somebody else got what I was looking for. Is there any other stuff here I can use with my costume at home? I need a toy gun or rifle from World War Two or later. One that’s cheap.”
“How cheap?” came the man’s question, with a faint sneer accompanying this directed at his potential customer’s destitution.
Xander’s lips compressed, his lowered face covering the sudden flash of temper that had crossed his features, as he looked down to dig out several crumpled dollar bills out of his right front pocket of his jeans to show the older man.
A glitter in the shopkeeper’s eyes showed he was clearly enjoying the opportunity to give his cold rejoinder.
“That is not sufficient.”
At these words, the man began to turn away, only to find Xander had slipped into the older man’s path, the teenager’s face now a bit more desperate and his eyes frantically looking around to find something to convince the shopkeeper to change his mind. Seeing an object alongside the wall across from them, Xander said the first thing that came to mind, “Hey, do you have any more stuff in there?” His extended forefinger jabbed at what he was talking about, his other fingers curled around the money he’d shown the man.
The older man glanced at where Xander was pointing, and he blinked, his condescending expression changing to mild surprise that caused him to give an honest answer. “I’m afraid that isn’t part of my stock.”
“Huh?” Xander frowned at the plain, large rectangular brown cardboard box set against the wall. The box was about the size to hold a small refrigerator or a clothes washer/dryer.
The older man sighed, and unbent a little to explain, “Whatever’s in there was left behind by the previous tenant when they vacated these premises.” His face changed into a scowl aimed directly at the box as he continued. “Unfortunately, I was too busy setting up my costume collection to particularly notice or care about that, since there seemed to be enough room. It wasn’t until I was finished that I informed the landlord about the box, only to discover that it was now my problem, since he claimed he didn’t know anything about the box and that it was my responsibility.”
Xander’s attentive face made the man carry on with unburdening his frustrations. “Under my lease, I have to clear out the whole store when I leave, or forfeit my tenant’s deposit. Now after I close up here, I have to dispose of that box, either by paying someone to move it, or take it along with me, a course of action that I sincerely hope to avoid, as there’s no room for it in the lorry I rented -- which means I might have to pay for a bigger vehicle.”
The shopkeeper began muttering imprecations under his breath, with Xander finally losing interest. *Guess I’ll have to hit Costume Town for a toy gun or something like that,* he thought. As he glumly began to turn away, Xander absently waved sympathetically at the guy, idly adding, “Yeah, I hope you have good luck with that-- HEY!”
Moving with the speed of a striking rattlesnake, the shopkeeper had snapped out his hand to snatch away the cash Xander had been still holding in his own hand. “Give that back!” yelped the teenager, lunging at the man, who nimbly dodged and stepped backwards, holding up a delaying hand, as the shopkeeper gave Xander an oily smile.
“Now, now, just a moment, young man. I think this is an opportunity for us to solve both our problems!” exclaimed the older man.
Xander glared at the shopkeeper and demanded, “What’re you talking about? Hand over my money, now!”
Instead of doing this, the older man casually tucked Xander’s money into his front shirt pocket, and soothingly spoke to the incensed teen. “I need to get rid of that box. You need to get something to go with your costume, which I’m sure is totally spectacular-- No?” This last came at the heels of Xander’s face suddenly turning red and the teenager finding something on the floor totally fascinating.
A momentarily smirk flickered over the shopkeeper’s face until the embarrassed teen raised his head again to listen. “What you need to do now is to be….imaginative! Creative! Inventive! Do what you really want to do, not what the world expects of you!” The man beamed at the slightly stunned look now on the boy’s face, and majestically waved a hand at the box against the wall.
“What’s there is waiting for you, to be unleashed by your true genius onto an unsuspecting planet!” Unnoticed by Xander, the man had been edging closer, until he was next to the boy and laid an encouraging arm over the teen’s shoulders, bending down to whisper into an ear and gently shoving him towards the box at the same time. “Go, son, and make me proud.”
Xander actually covered almost all of the distance towards the box in a daze, before his mind finally cleared and he stopped short, a look of furious humiliation appearing on his face. He whirled around to see the back of the shopkeeper, who was now at the front of the store by his cash register, and greeting….Buffy and Willow.
The Sunnydale native frantically examined his options. He could go over there and yell, scream, and threaten to call the cops. In short, make a scene. In front of his bestest bud and the Slayer. Who would undoubtedly take his side, but in the process they would learn just how broke he was and feel sorry for him. Xander shuddered at that. He’d rather be French-kissed by Angel. As his stomach turned over, the teen quickly quantified that to being French-kissed by Larry.
Hastily putting out of his mind the image of both actions (and also the image of Angel French-kissing Larry, and how those two seemed to be enjoying that), Xander reluctantly accepted that even if he did get his money back, no matter how embarrassing it got, the owner of this shop certainly wouldn’t sell him anything else. He’d have to go to Costume Town. Which meant, this close to Halloween, that it would be totally crowded and running low on costume stuff. There was a good chance he wouldn’t find anything there to go with his Army costume.
Xander gritted his teeth and mentally kissed his cash goodbye. He glumly glanced over at where a large cardboard box was innocently sitting. A box that he now….owned. The teenager felt a flicker of hope. It was remotely possible that there might be something in that box he could use. *Yeah, check it out.*
The boy stepped up to the box and pulled up the interlocked cardboard flaps at the top of the container to open it, and stared down into the box.
Intently searching through the ladies’ costumes, Buffy Summers, the Slayer, the current representative of thousands of years of demon hunters, warrior women, defenders of all humanity, and also having the title of She-Whose-Roots-Are-Beginning-To-Show, glanced up at hearing an odd thumping noise. She gazed across the store, and with a look of puzzlement on her face, she nudged Willow Rosenberg standing next to the Slayer, with the redhead uncertainly holding a 1920’s flapper outfit in front of her body.
“Hey, Wils, why is Xander acting like that?”
Willow followed Buffy’s jerk of her blond head to see what she meant. Both girls gazed with bafflement at their friend standing facing the far wall and pounding his head against that partition.
“Uh….no idea, Buffy.”
They watched curiously for a few more moments after Willow’s comment, until they looked at each other, simultaneously shrugged their shoulders, and chorused, “Boys.”
The girls went back to searching for the perfect Halloween costume.
Xander Harris stopped torturing himself when he discovered he was beginning to like it. He turned around to lean back against the store wall and rubbed his aching forehead, absently bumping a box flap with his elbow to send it flipping over to once again cover the top of the box. He glowered at the container itself, fighting down the impulse to give it a mighty kick. *You know who you really want to kick, anyway.*
The teenager grimaced at the sound of the voice in his head, and then he sighed, acknowledging its truth. *This isn’t anyone’s fault but yours. You didn’t have to be so cheap, and then get tricked into owning a box….and what’s in it.*
Abruptly Xander stiffened straight up from the wall, ignoring the sharp stab of pain in his head from his body’s sudden shift, instead staring incredulously at the box. A weird grin slowly spread over his face, as he examined the bizarre idea that had just appeared in his mind.
*Yeah, it could WORK! Still cutting it close, though….got to start right now to make it in time for Halloween.* Xander glanced over at where his friends had been, and saw no sign of them, or the shopkeeper. *Must be deeper in the racks. Great! I can get the box out of here before they notice and think I’ve lost my mind.*
Acting at once, Xander turned to face the box and then he squatted down to put his arms around the box as far as they would reach. Gripping as hard as he could without crushing the box, the teenager took a deep breath and heaved. It took some effort, but he managed to lift the box to straighten up and start moving his feet in shuffling steps to turn around and start heading for the front door. Sticking out his head past the side of the box to see where he was going, Xander steadily shambled forward.
Trying not to think about ruptures and hernias, Xander instead started planning as he lugged the box out of the store. *Take this over to Uncle Rory’s garage, and get the key he left when he went on his road trip. He’s okay with me using his tools, and considering all the junk he’s got in there, he won’t mind if I take a couple of minor things. I think I saw a stack of leftover paint cans in there from his odd-job construction business. Dunno if there’s any with the right colors, but, hey, this is gonna be way better than any army costume!*