Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its characters, and universe are the intellectual property of Mutant Enemy. No claim made by the author to any of the above, beyond playing in ME's sandbox for while.
"Sea-Fever" was written by John Masefield.
Xander had an extremely important decision to make. Possibly vital to the world. Apocalypse averting, even.
In one hand, Dos Equis. In the other, itchy testicles. Beer. Scratching himself. Yeasty, alcoholic goodness versus the bliss of fingertips relieving himself of the curse of errant grains of sand. Long used to quick decisions under pressure, Xander allowed himself the luxury of contemplating the many consequences of each choice. Beer. Scratch. Scratch, or beer. Narrowing his single eye, he committed himself to a bold course of action.
One hand slid into a pocket of his beach shorts while he lifted the bottle of Dos Equis to his lips. Scratch. Slurp. Ah. Doing both. That was Xander Harris, wild man and world adventurer, living in the danger zone with the Ice Man.
Xander kept the scratchage discreet. Progreso was a Mexican beach town that often hosted scruffy gringo backpackers visiting Merida. Still, there was "ugly American" and "clearing out the town". Definitely keep this low-pro. Propping up his feet on the table, he paused with getting his buzz on to line his stomach with the last of his tacos al pastor. A dash of diced habanero from the bowl beside the plate naturally required more beer to cool down the fire. Perfect.
He took in the scene framed by splayed feet clad in sandals made from old tire treads and leather scraps. It was still weird to look out over the ocean at twillight and not see the sun setting. California habits died hard. The beach scene was more familiar. Meridan kids escaping the inland heat wandered about on the beach on the other side of the malecon. A few foreigners brave enough to weather the tail-end of a Yucatan August mingled with the locals. Xander could hear the tell-tale accent of an Australian braying from the restaurant next door. After traveling Africa for a little over two years, Xander wondered if there was a single place on Earth that didn't have a resident Australian ex-pat out on gap year wanderbout. Nearly a decade of caution checked for people just a bit too pale beneath their tan, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Out in the Gulf were a few pleasure craft, some fishing boats returning from a day on the water, and one smallish container ship coming in to dock.
Xander made a scribbling gesture in mid air to summon the waitress. The owner's daughter brought the bill with a smile and a Look. Xander had often seen that Look from a variety of women. It had taken him some time to figure out that it meant the eyepatch and scars meant "yum" instead of "smile while reaching for the pepper spray". One day, should he ever happen to visit Hell, he would thank Caleb for the secret of babe attraction. Maybe with sulphuric acid and ferrets. Xander merely gave her a non-committal smile while he counted out the pesos. Finding and training first potentials and then slayers in Africa meant any female under twenty-five was firmly out of romantic consideration. Maybe a look, never a touch. He doubled the tip to compensate.
Xander self-checked. Buzzed but not tottery. Alright. He unlocked the Flying Pigeon from the lamp post. The black Chinese single-speed had a frame seemingly built of girders and tack-welding, rod brakes that had to return from their smoke break around back before stopping, and tires that transmitted every crack into the pavement into his fillings. It had also survived ten months of the worst of African roads, carried a Ugandan Slayer perched on the rear rack fifty miles to a clinic, and needed no fuel beyond the inexhaustible fount of Xander's adrenaline. Settling himself on the leather-covered sprung saddle, Xander pedaled at an easy pace through Progreso's light traffic.
Past the beach strip of shops and restaurants, the faded manor houses that once housed Merida's vacationing upper class became the more modest homes of fishermen and port workers. Poor compared to what he had once known in the US. Compared to some places in Africa, mansions in their own right. The tick-tick of the crankset and the hiss of rubber on asphalt lulled him into a sense of peace that brought thoughts of an ice-filled cooler of beer. And, just maybe, more scratching. At the edge of town, he pulled up to the small cottage he had rented. The price was cheap this far away from the shore; around it on three sides was the flat scrubland that covered the peninsula. Inside it was nothing special: a big room with a small kitchen on one side, a "bathroom" that was a single showerhead in the wall beside a toilet and sink, and a tiny bedroom. Pretty spare, especially considering the furniture consisted of one army cot and a faded rattan chair. More than enough.
Out back was the reason he had chosen this place over the nicer digs in town. A large concrete-walled work shed covered by a corrugated steel roof was attached to the back. An air space between room and walls provided just enough ventilation from making it a complete hell in the sun. He had found some broken-down lathes and other machining tools scattered about while cleaning it out. A workshop, maybe having to do with the fishing fleet. Mexicans around here often mixed up business and home, running small shops and businesses from the same houses they slept in. He had replaced the old junk with sawhorses and a large work-table knocked up from scrap lumber. Africa had taught him not to buy when you could cobble together something from junk. Cheaper, would last as long. Waste not. Tools were stored in a bright red toolbox he had carried all over Africa. Slayers had actually risked their lives to retrieve it in the wake of one disaster after another. Xander had added some electric tools bought second-hand in Merida.
Spread out on the table were several large cardboard templates sent by the designers in Portland. He had picked them up from the UPS office in Merida. A stack of plywood was ready in the corner. Out of habit, he checked the sheets for voids and cracks. Marine plywood was a better bet, but way more expensive. There was something to be said for working with the best. Still, his instinct for picking out good wood held good. The cheaper building-grade plywood was adequate for the project. Yawning, Xander locked up his workshop. Start tomorrow. Slumping in the rattan chair, he picked up the much-thumbed paperback book. He had come across the book in a hostel in Nairobi while recovering from a fever. John Slocum's late 19th-century prose was far different than Kerouac's jazz-cat stream of consciousness in On the Road. Sailing Around the World
awakened the same longing as the book that had propelled him to a wild life of adventure and self-discovery. Well, to Oxnard.
Gah. Beer now.
Reading by the light of of a Coleman, Xander sipped one last Corona as he lost himself in Slocum's tale of navigating through the Magellan Straits.
Xander bopped his head in time to the kwaito beat from the CD player. Working up the Johannesburg Patrol with Mandisa and Elize had addicted him to the bouncy township hip-hop. Bacon and eggs sizzled in the skillet on the stove. It had taken him a long, long time to get back a taste for pork. After the Herbert incident, Willow used to joke he was more kosher than Ira. Roughing it in the bush, though, meant you ate what would not kill you outright. Being squeamish, especially when sitting down to negotiate with tribal elders, could easily offend people you needed to rely on. He hadn't actually had to eat a sheep's eyeball, but there had been moments. He had practically kissed the first Twinkies display he had seen at LaGuardia.
Slipping his breakfast onto a plate, he poured himself a cup of coffee from the cowboy-style percolator on the other stove burner. Some toast popped up fresh, a little OJ to ease the slight hangover from yesterday's mild beer bender, and you had the Hungry Man Harris-style. He logged onto his ChosenNet account with his battered Nabbit Electronics portable. David Nabbitt had appointed himself hardware designer as well as eccentric billionaire funder. Xander's was the twentieth version--hardened electronics, military-grade crash resistance, armored casing, and an encrypted satellite-phone attachment. Marks One through Nineteen had been beta-tested--to destruction--during his African grand tour. That was how one learned, for example, that consumer electronics were not usually designed with resisting an attack by a Cape Buffalo in mind.
He resisted logging onto the main areas of ChosenNet. There had been the one time he had checked out the image galleries. Finding Dawn's portfolio of Spander yaioi drawings by her mis-setting privacy permissions had nearly prompted him to gouge out his other eye. And, thank you, no going onto the discussion forums. The "Spike vs. Angel" thread had grown to need its own server farm. He stuck to his email account. Nothing major major. A little paperwork from the Botswana Academy, reports about the Lagos Patrol brokering a peace between two delta demon clans, the usual. No apocalypse warnings. Ten minutes and he was done. Xander spent the rest of the time finishing a chapter of Slocum and rereading a section of the SAS Survival Manual
The water should be ready by now. Xander tested a dribble from the shower head. Lukewarm. It took time for the little propane-fueled water heater to warm up. He washed quickly under the spray to avoid draining the tinaco mounted on the roof. Not that it took long anymore. Half his shower time used to be spent washing his shaggy hair. Anya used to love running her fingers through it after-- He shook his head. No. The first week in Lagos had taught him that a "number two" with electric clippers stopped all manner of woes related to heat, sweat, and bugs. He washed his teeth from the tap, ignoring the turista advice to only use bottled water. Montezuma's Revenge quailed against an iron colon tested by African water supplies. Stropping his straight razor, Xander trimmed off the scruff on his cheeks. He left the little moustache and beard he was experimenting with. Was it a Riker or Xanatos? Only time would tell. He shuddered while popping out the plastic conformer and rinsing out his left eye socket. Nasty feeling, even after two years of doing it twice a day.
What was today? Xander considered. He had the plans and the tools. No more lounging. Today was a working day. He grabbed some clean clothes from his much-repaired ALICE pack. Cargo pants and a khaki T-shirt, very Private Xander. Man with a purpose, man on a mission. He selected the leather-thong-and-patch Sagal had made. One pocket of his pack was filled to bursting with eyepatches sent to him from the African Slayers and the old Sunnydale potentials. Vi's glitter-patch was a favorite for formal occasions. A quick ride around town to burn off the last of the beer and getting on with work before the sun got too hot. Slipping on his sandals, he rode his bike down the walkway to the street. Soon the welcome ache of a hard ride spread through his legs. Just what he needed. Zig-zagging through back streets, he turned onto the malecon. This early the tourists were still lounging in bed. He only had to dodge a delivery boy on his Honda Cub.
A flash of gold caught his attention. No matter how hard he tried, he could never ignore that hue. Africa had been a relief in a way. Aside from foreigners or Afrikaaners, all the hair colours were some shade of black or brown. Nothing to remind him. The young woman eating near his usual table in "his" restaurant was dressed much more smartly than most in Progreso. Dating Cordelia had given him some inkling about clothes, and her tailored dress and blouse were several steps above pret-a-porter. Vague memories of Cordelia's lectures about Milanese fashion told him the red jacket draped over her seat back was Italian in cut. He couldn't resist checking out the way her crossed legs showed a hint of thigh. Buffy would have drooled over the heels she--
"Xander?" the woman said, raising up her stylish sunglasses.
Hey, she had hazel eyes. Just like--
Wow, she even sounded exactly like--
"Xander! Look out!"
Xander looked up just in time to see his front tire sideswipe the stone bench running along the inland side of the sea wall.
Ow. Thank you, soft and yet still so hard beach sand.
"Omigod!" Buffy stood over him, his bicycle in one hand. "Are you okay?"
"Hey, Buffy," Xander managed. "Just like old times."