Part II: Conversations
“What kind of compromise, Giles?”
“Talk to me… but leave the names out of it, if you feel the secrets aren’t yours to tell. But, Xander, the way you’re speaking… it’s almost as though you have the memories of a specific individual.”
Xander’s eyes locked with his own, and he silently nodded. Looking towards the door – is he verifying that I locked it?
– he sighed, and began to speak. Giles could see the darkened circles beneath his eyes – evidence of several nights without proper sleep – and prayed that he would soon hear what had been bothering the young man.
“That Halloween, Giles… you know the one I’m talking about. I bought the toy from Rayne’s shop, but I already had the fatigues… found them at a military surplus shop a couple months before that. They were cheap, and I thought good old G.I. Joe would make for a halfway decent costume for handing out candy to the kiddies – not that I was actually going to be doing that from my place, but I was thinking that a Scooby party would be cool. Now, pardon me while I try to stop channeling Willow.”
“Anyway,” he continued, apparently oblivious to the worried looks the Watcher was casting in his direction. “The fatigues were used, donated or sold – I’m not sure which – by the Air Force officer in question when he went through his stuff and realized that he was a little taller than he was when he wore them at the Academy. When the spell kicked in, I wasn’t just any regular soldier-guy. I was him
Giles indulged in a moment of shocked silence, wondering if Xander’s headache was contagious, as he could feel one of his own beginning to throb just behind his eyes. “Oh, dear. I have to say that I’ve never heard of that particular twist to the spell that Ethan used.”
“Yeah, well, it was a bit of a shock to me, too, Giles.”
“Of course, of course. When you say that you were
him… do you mean…?”
“Everything except physically, G-man. I don’t remember every single little thing about his life, and I get his missions in bits and pieces… usually in dreams.”
“And you’ve demonstrated some of the skills quite admirably since then. So far… I’m not seeing a problem.”
“Alright.” Xander paused, seeming to be seeking just the right words. “I’m not sure if the rest of you will look at this the same way, but think of it like this. One night, I find this guy. He’s strong, dedicated, loyal to his country and his comrades in arms. He says that he’s willing to teach me, but I don’t really have a choice in which lessons I’ll learn and which ones I’ll ignore. It’s sort of an all or nothing deal. I know that some of the skills he can teach me would be useful to you guys, so I can’t make myself ignore him. But… there is a price. Every moment of horror he has lived, I have either seen or will see in my dreams.”
Giles was sure that Xander could see the confusion on his face, the silent prompting for more information. He could hear vague murmurings from the main part of the store, customers meandering about and asking questions of his assistant/Slayer, but he ignored them. This… was absolutely intriguing.
A slight, sarcastic smile lifted the corner of Xander’s mouth. “You don’t quite understand that, do you, G-man? He – Military Guy – spent the last year or two of his life fighting something I pray to God we never see here. I fear them more than the Order of Taraka, more than the opening of the Hellmouth… more than I ever feared my father. And it really sucks
that I can’t tell you anything about it.”
Giles said nothing, waiting. He couldn’t push Xander on this issue and he knew it. Aside from that, what precisely does one say in response to someone saying there is something more fearsome than Armageddon?
“I would probably be flipping… completely out of my mind… if not for the fact that somehow, the most important of his lessons got through to me, so that I could
learn the rest. He was a consummate martial artist before
he joined the military. The katas he used… the ones I learned…” He paused here, remembering. “The katas I learned are the same ones that I used to help me cope with all the shit that happens here. Buffy beats the shit out of things. Willow finds the bright side. You either research or go all Ripper on someone’s ass. I either calm down with the katas and find a sense of balance… or I switch into using the moves he learned in Spec Ops and purge any possible hint of repressed anger. What can I say? It’s therapeutic.” Xander’s smile here was sardonic and slightly dark. It was, Giles realized suddenly, a look which he had seen quite often before… on his own face.
“Xander… why haven’t we ever seen you use these combat skills on patrol? I’d think they would be quite useful, there.”
“They weren’t exactly automatic, Giles. I had the knowledge, but at first my body was in no shape to make use of about 95% of it. I could do the basics, yes, but the stuff that would have been effective against vampires – in terms of hand-to-hand – would have hurt me
, as well. Here… is an enemy that is stronger, faster, and – in many occasions – appearing in greater numbers. Hack and slash and bar brawl tactics aren’t really the most intelligent in this situation.”
Xander shook his head. Giles didn’t know what he was thinking, but whatever it was…
“I can’t say anymore than this right now, Giles. I don’t know how to make you understand what’s going on in my head. It’s not just a matter of someone else’s life. I know
this man – as if he was a friend, a teacher, a mentor. I dream his life.
In the dreams… he dies, Giles. Every
dream I’ve had since we fought Glory has ended in his death. The beginning changes – different moments from his missions – but the end is always the same.”
Giles waited for Xander to take a breath, watching him carefully. The Watcher himself breathed a sigh of relief as he watched Xander pause and consciously seek to slow his breathing… to calm himself.
“The first dreams,” Xander continued, “the ones that went away… they were dreams of mission to countries we weren’t supposed to be in… and some stuff from Desert Storm. There were a few things from the early
days of his last project. They threw me a little, but they were nothing compared to these. I can’t even begin to explain them, even if I was willing to go into detail. I just don’t have the words for it, Giles. I can’t… I can’t say anymore right now.”
Giles could see a balance in the younger man’s eyes – exhaustion and determination, fear tempered by knowledge. He couldn’t hold back the pride that welled up in him as he saw the strength that Xander had developed, couldn’t help but marvel at the changes that five years had wrought. He wanted to say something to bring Xander comfort, but words failed him, so he settled for laying his hand on the young man’s shoulder. The two shared a look, and the next words to come out of Xander’s were so soft that Giles could barely hear them.
“Giles,” he whispered, “I need to think about a few things. Would you give me some time, here, and make sure that Buffy stays away for a little while? If she asks… just tell her that I’m having a chat with a punching bag.”
“Is that what you’ll be doing… truthfully?”
That sarcastic grin made another appearance – just for a moment. “More or less.”