Title: It’s the Afterlife, Xander, But Not as You know It
Summary: Crossover story, set Post Chosen. Xander dies, but doesn’t get to rest in peace.
Rating: Nothing worse than the shows the story is based on.
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or shows depicted within this story, nor will I make any money from writing it.
A/N: I figured that, as I have so many unfinished stories that one more wouldn’t hurt, thus this little ditty came about.
Now, I know that as you read this you will probably see similarities with Lucifael75’s (otherwise known as TAFKAS: The Artist Formerly Known As Siege) excellent Prometheus series, and I admit that I have been inspired by his work. I let him know about it, and he has said he has no problem with me writing this, but if that changes I will of course cease and desist immediately. It’s the Afterlife, Xander, but Not as You Know It Chapter One
Over the years, Xander had never really given much thought to what would happen to him after death, which given that the prospect of dying was something he’d dealt with on a daily basis would seem to many as a little odd. As far as he was concerned, it was probably a good thing that he hadn’t, as the reality of the situation was leaving him feeling particularly underwhelmed as it was.
Xander knew that he was dead, no matter how much he would like it to be otherwise, as not many people survived being impaled on the top of a church steeple after being launched there by an irate Choen’atlitnh’ucianrge demon. The last couple of minutes of his life weren’t exactly crystal clear in his mind, but believed he remembered the salient points; attacking the Choen’atlitnh’ucianrge demon, getting thrown through the air, the mind-numbing pain as his body came to a sudden violent stop, looking incredulously at the blood and gore covered metal spike protruding from his stomach, hearing Buffy screaming his name. After that, things got very hazy; the pain began to fade until he felt numb, then he felt nothing at all, and then he was here.
Wherever the hell 'here' was. Oh, how he hoped it had nothing to do with Hell.
Given he didn’t recognise where he was, and that if he were alive he’d be in a Council medical centre, by a process of elimination Xander figured he was now in the afterlife, and he had to say that it didn’t exactly live up to the hype.
While it was true that he hadn’t given the afterlife much thought himself, Buffy had, and what he could see now certainly didn’t look anything like what she had so desperately wanted to return to when she’d been brought back from the dead. That wasn't a simple guess either; Xander had a very clear idea of what Heaven was like for her, as Buffy had explained her experience of Heaven to him in as much detail as she was able.
The conversation regarding what Buffy had experienced during her second death had not been an easy one for him to start, and had been an even harder one for him to sit through, but it had been a long time in coming. He had been a party to removing her; the least he could do was understand exactly what he’d removed her from. The conversation happened around a year after their battle with The First, not long after Xander had returned from Africa; he had pulled Buffy to one side during a relatively quiet night and had asked if they could talk.
Listening to Buffy as she had explained the pure, unadulterated bliss she’d felt during those months – although as there had been no real sense of time there she hadn’t actually known it was that long – had been gut wrenching to Xander, but like he said to her at the start of their talk, as one of the people responsible for pulling her out of Heaven, he needed to understand just what it was he’d pulled her from.
After that, their relationship had gotten back on track, even more so than the summer before The First had made its move. After three months of reconnecting and laying the foundations of a far more rounded friendship, Xander had mustered up the courage to ask Buffy out on a date. She had said yes, much to Xander’s relief and delight, and they had arranged it for two days later.
To prove that the universe truly considered Xander its butt-monkey, Buffy and Xander had just left the restaurant, and had been leaning in for their first kiss, when the demon had attacked a congregation just coming out of evening mass.
Xander allowed himself a moment or two to mourn what could have been, and once again focussed on what, he assumed, would be his final resting place for all eternity. To say that it left much to be desired was understating it a tad, but it was better than fire and brimstone at least. He was currently seated in a rocking chair, looking out at the desert landscape before him in the vain hope that he might spot something else alive. Alright, he was pretty certain that he wasn’t exactly among the living himself, but he was certain that insanity would only be a few short steps away if he was the only thing around.
The rocking chair was situated on the porch of an old-style roadside convenience store, and Xander had already taken a good long look inside for any other inhabitants. Xander figured that there must be life of some description around, as somebody had to have built the store in the first place, not to mention that there was a road that stretched out as far as his eye could see in either direction. Why would there be a road if no one ever came here?
Other clues that he wasn’t alone included a small garden to the right of the store that looked well kept. There was even a scarecrow in the middle, which led Xander to believe that there must at least be birds around for someone to try and scare them away, and with the way the surrounding ground looked there might possibly be other animals around as well.
There was also an old style pinball machine just outside the entrance to the store, and he’d played quite a few games to pass the time when his thoughts had become particularly depressed. Thinking about it, he must have been there longer than he had first thought, as there would not have been time for him to have searched the place and play pinball as much as he had done otherwise. Time had little meaning after death he supposed, but that would be another thing that would soon bug him if he found himself losing large chunks of time, especially with no one around to bring him out of it.
How long would it be before he was eternally lost within his own memories?
Xander sighed and closed his eyes, trying to remain positive while wondering if the sun would ever move from its position high in the sky. In all the time he had been here, however short or long that may be, he hadn’t seen the sun move even an inch, and he’d spent some considerable time watching it just to be certain. The voice inside his head that sounded a whole lot like Willow kept telling him that he shouldn’t look directly into the sun, but he figured there wasn’t much that could happen to him, given he was already dead.
While night-time had become synonymous with him and his friends’ fight against evil, therefore making it both a necessity and a bane, Xander found himself missing watching the sun slowly disappear beyond the horizon and, more importantly, when it rose up again. To see a sunrise meant that he’d survived the night, and it was often the one thing that kept him going, to be able to see one more sunrise.
“The sun will never set, Alexander, nor will it ever rise,” a voice told him to his left, on his blind side, and caused Xander to jump and turn in the direction of the voice.
“Who the hell are you?” Xander demanded angrily, as his shock and pleasure at finally meeting another person was overshadowed by his annoyance that they had managed to creep up on him.
Xander’s blind-side was a weakness, especially in a fight, and he had become particularly paranoid about people, or demons, using it to their advantage. He had done all that he could to compensate for the deficiency, training to a level that few had ever thought him capable of, and he had succeeded to a degree, but it was still a very obvious weakness that could, and often had been exploited.
Those within the Council had quickly learnt not to do walk up to him on his blind-side; two Watchers and a Slayer could attest that it would not bode well for them if they did. Actually, there were only two exceptions to that rule; Buffy and Dawn. Buffy got away with it because she would always stay to his left in a battle to ensure his safety and he’d gotten used to her being there, and Dawn got away with it because, well, she was Dawn. That Willow was not the third exception only went to show how far they had drifted apart over the years; he still considered a close friend, but they simply didn’t have the same deep level of connection that they used to have when they were younger.
A fleeting thought went through Xander’s mind that it was odd he didn’t have his other eye back now that he was dead, but he ignored it for the moment as his annoyance returned.
The man in front of him was neither Buffy nor Dawn, and therefore had already put himself in Xander’s bad books by approaching him on his blind-side. That he used his first name meant that he knew who he was, although not enough to actually call him Xander like everyone else who knew him did, and that also annoyed him as he hated anyone having the upper hand.
The man looked older than Xander, although he had enough experience of dealing with people whose age could differ greatly to their outward appearance to be taken in by that, or even that their outward appearance was what they actually looked like. The man seemed to be wearing what looked like a high class pair of pyjamas, all black except the red on the arms and torso, and four gold circles were lined up closely together on the left side of the collar. There was an aura of arrogance surrounding him, which did nothing to ingratiate him with Xander, and a smirk which made it look like he knew exactly what Xander was thinking. As far as Xander knew he probably could.
“Who I am is above your level of understanding, even after your mind was opened upon your death,” the man – well, Xander guessed it was a man – replied in a tone that Xander had heard many a time when he’d gone to recruit one of the old guard Watchers back into the fold. “What I am, however, is your last chance to leave this place.”
“And how, pray tell, can you do that?” Xander asked, hiding his irritation through sheer force of will by emulating the one father figure in his life that he cared about. “Oh, and while you might think I’m not smart enough to know who you are, I would appreciate it if I knew what to call you, especially as you seem to know so much about me.”
The man smiled for a moment. “I knew that I had chosen correctly, but it’s always nice to have such things proven to me. My name, Alexander, is Q, and I am in need of someone to act as a liaison between my people and yours,” he told him. “They do not take my suggestions, or my threats, seriously, although I must admit that is partly my own doing.” Q sighed, and for a moment, his aura of superiority slipped. “The past thousand years or so, if I were to restrict myself to purely linear measurements, has not gone very well, and my first couple of meetings with them could have gone better.”
“Uh, no offence, um, Q, but why the hell are you telling me all this?” Xander asked, and almost immediately regretted it, given that, if he were telling the truth, this guy was his last shot at escaping an eternity of boredom.
Q visibly shook himself, having noted that he’d given more away than he’d wanted to, and continued. “You, as one of their own kind, will be better received than I; at least you will be after they get over their distrust of anything that is associated with me. If they are to achieve the potential I know them to be capable of, they need to understand the dangers they face on their current path, dangers that will appear sooner than rather than later.”
“Alright, let's say for the sake of argument that I agree to do this,” Xander said after he processed what he’d been told so far, “what’s in it for me?”
“Apart from being able to leave this sorry excuse for an eternal resting place?” Q said, and his tone made it quite clear what he thought of Xander’s current location. “As my emissary, you will be given the means with which to protect yourself, and while it will pale in comparison to my own abilities, it will ensure that you can carry out my wishes.”
“And what are those wishes?” Xander asked. “I won’t force them to do something they don’t want to.”
“If that were what I wanted, I could do that myself with but a snap of my fingers,” Q replied a little testily. “There is little that I cannot do if I so desired, but as I already told you, I want them to reach their full potential, and that will not happen if I were to just force them to take the direction I want. Coercion? Yes; force? Not so much. There is also that pesky thing called free will, and The Creator would not be best pleased with me if I were to forget that, especially when it came to humanity.”
“Then what is it you want me to do?” Xander asked, unknowingly letting on to Q that he had already decided.
“I want you to make them aware of the dangers that await them, and prepare them as best you can,” Q replied simply. “Beyond that you may do as you wish, although there will, of course, be a few restrictions.”
“Such as?” Xander asked suspiciously, knowing with every fibre of his being that the other shoe was about to drop.
“You will not be permitted to converse with your friends,” Q replied, and waited for the inevitable blow up. He didn’t have to wait long.
“What! Who gives you the right to tell me who I can and cannot see?!” Xander demanded angrily, incensed that he would be forbidden in seeing Buffy and the others, in seeing the only people he actually cared about.
There had been a time in his life, early on in his discovery that every monster story he’d heard of wasn’t a story, when he did what he did to keep people safe. The people in question could have been anyone, it just made Xander feel good that he was able to prevent someone from being a demon’s next meal, even if it was only a small way. Now, however, it was because if the world went his family went with it. While he didn’t wish anyone dead, for many reasons, if it was a choice between his family and the rest of the world, he’d pick his family.
Of course, by choosing his family the rest of the world got to live as well, so it wasn’t all bad.
A sudden gust of wind forced Xander off his feet and he landed hard on his ass. All of a sudden the sky became filled with storm clouds, and the air around him suddenly felt thicker, more oppressive than a moment ago. “I am Q; that is all the right I need.”
Xander might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he also wasn’t the dullest either, and knew that he needed to change how he spoke to the, by all accounts, extremely powerful being in front of him. “Alright, why will I not be able to see my friends?” he asked after a moment in a far more reasonable tone of voice.
Q knew that was the best he would get from Xander given the circumstances, and decided to let his little tantrum slide, this time at least. “There are two main reasons; the first is that they are all well aware that you are dead. You yourself know what that means, given that you were the one to write that particular piece of Council legislation.”
Xander sighed and nodded his head in resignation. “Once a member of the Council, and especially one of the Scooby Gang, has been verified as dead, there is a ‘Slay on Sight’ order sent to all branches of the Council. If I turned up to see them, they’d kill me before I had a chance to say a word.”
“You are already dead, Alexander, so they would not be able to kill you, not that they would even be able to harm you with the means you will have at your disposal as my emissary,” Q informed him. “However, you are correct in the respect that they would most certainly not allow you the time to convince them of who you are.”
“What is the other reason?” Xander asked, even though he knew that the first reason was more than enough to quash any thoughts of attempting to contact Buffy or anyone else in the Council.
“The second reason is that I will not give you the ability to travel back that far in time,” Q informed him.
“What do you mean by that?” Xander asked, although he had a sinking feeling he already knew the answer.
“As you are well aware, time flows differently in different dimensions, and this place is no exception,” Q replied. “While you believe you have only been here a few hours or a day at most, in actuality four hundred years has past and the world, the galaxy, has changed a great deal. Everyone you considered a friend is already dead, and have been for quite some time.”
It was a good thing that Xander hadn’t gotten up yet, because he knew that if he had, he would have just fallen down again. The knowledge that everyone he cared about was dead, and had been for hundreds of years, cut him more deeply than any wound ever could. It wasn’t so much that they were dead, as he’d known it would happen one day, and had even been there to witness it more than once with Buffy, it was that he hadn’t seen them.
Up until now, Xander had thought he was in, if not Heaven itself, then at least an offshoot of it, but now he was thinking differently. He knew without a shadow of a doubt that the others, and Buffy especially, were deserving of spending their afterlife in Heaven, and he’d always thought that they would all meet up again one day. For him not to have seen them meant that they either didn’t want to see him – something that just didn’t factor into his equations – or they were unable to do so. For it to be the second option, he must not be anywhere near Heaven.
“You’re not in Hell, or anywhere near it,” Q informed him, having no doubt read his mind.
“Then why haven’t I seen them?” Xander asked in a whisper.
“Because you are not ready to,” Q replied simply, but his tone gentle.
To the universe at large Q was seen as uncaring, and he wasn’t entirely certain they were wrong in their estimation, at least as far as their fragile mortal minds could fathom, but even he knew better than to alienate someone when you wanted something from them. There was also the fact that not even he was the type to kick someone when they were down; when they were falling, yes, but not once they were actually down.
“Your friends and loved ones managed to live full and relatively normal lives given the nature of work they were in, and were ready to rest,” Q continued. “You, however, were cut off in your prime, and even though you might not think so, you are not yet ready to truly embrace what Heaven has to offer you.”
Xander was about to ask him what sort of bullshit Q was shovelling, but knew that would not be the best way to go about it, especially after the last time he’d pissed him off. He knew that Q wanted something from him, and was therefore relatively safe from permanent damage, but he was smart enough not to try and find out how far Q could be pushed. Instead, he finally decided to stand up, and after he dusted himself down, he walked over and sat back down in the rocking chair. All of this gave him time to think of what to say, and more importantly, how to say it.
“Why do you think I’m not ready to go to Heaven?” Xander asked eventually.
“It isn’t so much that you are not ready to go to Heaven, as it is that you would not be able to appreciate it in the way that you should,” Q told him.
“What do you mean by that?” Xander asked in exasperation, his patience having already eroded beyond safe levels.
“For the most part, when a person dies it is when they are supposed to die; all part of The Creator’s ‘grand design’,” Q explained, and Xander could feel the air quotes around the words grand design. “However, there are occasions when a person dies before their time, or worse, after it.”
“If God has this ‘grand design’,” Xander said, and Q could tell that he had to hold himself back from making air quotes as well, “how can people die when they’re not supposed to, and how can it be worse for a person to die after they were meant to as opposed to before?”
“For all of the planning that takes place, there is still free will,” Q replied, and his tone made it sound to Xander that he was not exactly happy with that. “The vast majority of the time you will find that the two coincide with each other, as people invariably choose to do what The Creator wanted them to in the first place, but there is the odd occasion where they don’t, and not even The Creator is allowed to interfere in a person’s right to choose.
“As for why it is worse for a person to die after they were meant to than before,” Q explained, “imagine what it would be like to have achieved everything you were meant to in life, and then to continue living without ever being able to match or surpass what you have already done. To give you an analogy that you might have a chance of understanding, it would be like those one hit wonders in the music charts, who continue to try and repeat their initial success but never quite manage to do so; all they are left with are memories of better times and the realisation that their moment in the spotlight had come and gone.”
“Which am I then?” Xander asked.
“You are one that was killed before you were meant to, of course; I wouldn’t very well choose someone who died after the fact, now would I?” Q said in a tone that almost dared Xander to say something.
“So what did I do wrong?” Xander asked, having decided not to rise to the bait.
“You didn’t do anything wrong, in fact you didn’t even do anything all that different to what The Creator had planned,” Q replied. “During that fight with the Choen’atlitnh’ucianrge, you took three steps forward instead of two; it was a small change, but sometimes even the smallest change can make an enormous impact on events and in this case it brought you close enough to be within striking range to grab you and throw you to your death.”
“Wait, I took one step further than was planned, and I get impaled on a steeple for it?” Xander said incredulously.
Q ignored Xander’s comment and continued with his explanation. “Most people who die early move on to Heaven and don’t really feel any different, but you were meant for far bigger things than you had achieved, and that kind of thing leaves a void inside you, one that not even Heaven can adequately fill. Taking the challenge of becoming my emissary will fill that void, and when you are finished you will be able to return to Heaven and be reunited with all of your loved ones.”
“What happens if I say no?” Xander asked, although his tone indicated there was little chance of that happening.
“You get to meet up with your loved ones,” Q replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “Despite what others of your species think, I am not an evil being, and would not begrudge you eternal happiness just because you turned me down; not that The Creator would let me if I tried,” he added in a tone too quiet for Xander to hear, “but I wasn’t lying when I said that you will not be able to fully enjoy paradise until you feel you have accomplished more than you have.”
Xander had to nod his head in agreement at that. He remembered how restless he’d felt sitting in the rocking chair, hoping for something to come along so that he would have something to do. He realised that in Heaven there wouldn’t really be anything for him to do, at least there wouldn’t be anything productive for him to do, and while he had often harboured thoughts of what he would do if he were lucky enough to retire, he wasn’t ready to find out, not yet.
Xander could still feel the need to make a difference inside him, and realised that Q was right; he would not be able to settle and enjoy the splendours of Heaven the way he should unless he was able to contribute something more in the real world first.
“So, Alexander, will you be my emissary?” Q asked again, having done so more often in the last few minutes than he had in a very long time.
There was really only one answer Xander could give.
“I might as well; I’ve got nothing better to do.”