Better Then Life
Title: Better Then Life
Beta By: Starway Man
Description: After being put on forcible leave from the Council following a tragedy, Xander finds out how the world really works.
Continuity: While not essential to this story, you can get more background on Xander's time in Africa from the first chapter of my story: 'The Hard Way Out Of Hell'. Other then the setting, this story in no way effects the other.
A/N: This story will be entirely from Xander's POV.====::Three Weeks Ago::
Africa. Not the funnest place to spend your time working for the new International Watchers Council, that’s for sure. Me, I didn’t complain though. It sure as hell beat Sunnydale, and besides the pay was a lot better.
Thing is we'd been waiting for this plane to show up for four hours, and the pilot was way overdue. We were standing next to the very small building that worked as a control tower for a dirt road airfield.
As I said - standing around waiting for a converted cargo plane to show up was not my idea of fun. It was going to be a long ride from Burkina Faso to Nairobi; one that I wasn't looking forward to. Kenya wasn’t exactly a safe place these days, and I don’t think they liked white men much in that country, either.
Well, whatever. My last mission in Africa is dropping off two slayers at the school there in Nairobi and picking up some paperwork. Then it was off to London with Sabi, Anne, and her sister Emma, to see what my colleagues wanted me to do next.
My fourteen-year-old slayer Natama Habib was from Burkina Faso. We'd taken a few days to check out a report that her missing mother had been found in a refugee camp. Unfortunately, it didn't pan out; the woman just had a very strong resemblance to Mrs. Habib, that’s all.
The other slayer, nineteen-year-old Ouattara Legesse, was from Dessie; this place in Ethiopia. She was an orphan as well, something I'd unfortunately found a lot of the slayers on this continent had in common. While they'd been trained at the Johannesburg school, they were being transferred to Nairobi to fill two open spots.
"Do we have everything ready to go?" I asked as I glanced at my watch, for what must have been the hundredth time. Where was the damn pilot?
"Gee, boss, you act like we've never been on a plane before," Sabi replied from the ground, where she was letting Emma braid her hair.
"I know you have, which is why I'm asking. Because we are not
turning around because someone forgot their favorite sword this time."
Other than the M1911 I carried as my personal sidearm, we'd already packed away all of the weapons since we were using a commercial cargo plane for this ride. Little things like news that you’re carrying swords and guns spread like wildfire in Africa, and all I needed was some over-eager UN peacekeepers trying to arrest us for being arms traffickers.
I’d never had to shoot one of them
before, and I didn’t plan to start now.====
Twenty minutes later, the plane finally landed. It must have been some sorta minor miracle, I swear. Anyway, myself and the two pilots started loading the crates into the plane, while the girls carried the small stuff. Had to keep up appearances up and all, we were in public and the pilots didn’t know who we really were.
We were just about finished when I caught sight of a disturbance ahead, and to the right of the nose of the plane. Suddenly the jungle exploded outward, and about two dozen people came screaming out of the jungle straight toward us.
I drew down on the group, even as I barked orders at the girls. "Get everything on the fucking plane, now!" Even with the gun clearly pointed at them, the group kept coming, so I opened fire.
I watched in shock as a man at the head of the pack took three rounds to the chest, and yet kept coming. When he game-faced in broad daylight, though, that was when my jaw nearly hit the ground. By that point I could see several others had done the exact same, impossible thing.
The situation was already FUBAR, but I had the horrible suspicion there was worse to come.
"Incoming vamps!" I continued firing into the group, hoping to buy my girls some time.
The one I'd shot in the chest tackled me, and the fight was on. We were badly outnumbered, but we weren't going down easy, that was for sure...====::The Present::
I sat at the bar staring at the shot of Schwabischer. I'd already had three of them, and with this one, I could start on the second level of my shot glass pyramid. My hesitation was due to the rumbling in my stomach; I had barely eaten anything in two days.
Screw it. I downed the shot, and tapped the bar for another.
I was in a small city called Straubing, it was located in Bavaria. One of those places you go to when you wanted to be lost, not found. I'd wanted to get away from watchers and slayers and everything else. This place was as good as any, since the closest Council team was stationed in Munich.
Thing is, I'd lost four slayers and one of their sisters. Plus, Anne was in a coma at the London headquarters, prognosis: grim. Even if she did ever wake up, she'd have to deal with all the souvenir scars on her face; and the fact her little sister, Emma, was dead.
I knew my job with the Council was all but officially over. Nobody was willing to believe that a group of vampires had attacked us at that airfield, in broad daylight. Well, hell, who in their right mind would believe that? Or that a woman in black had appeared out of the jungle, and tore through twenty-plus vampires with nothing but her hands and a pistol?
Sure, the Sunnydale alumni remembered when Spike had taken a walk in the daylight due that gem he’d found way back when; but since there was only ever the one and Deadboy had destroyed it years ago, nobody who mattered thought I was telling the truth. Or maybe they did, and it just suited their political agenda to say otherwise.
Giles was having problems with all the traditional blowhards who’d survived the Council massacre last year, I knew that; and if trying to discredit me would strip him of an ally and isolate the G-man even further, so much the better in their minds, I suppose.
Shit. I really hated Council politics.
The new shot came, and I had to block my pyramid from being taken away by the bartender. After making sure he'd walked away to the other end of the bar, I stared at my new shot. For a German whiskey, it was pretty damn good.
They were trying to call it PTSD, all the stress from Anya dying, and having to fight my way back and forth through Africa in search of slayers. That was bullshit, I wasn't nuts. Problem was, there were only two witnesses. One was in a coma, and the other had disappeared before the last vamp's dust had even hit the ground.
"Excuse me. Are you Herr Harris?"
I looked up from my drink, to see the bartender standing there in front of me. How the hell had he gotten my name? "Yeah."
"You have a telephone call," he replied simply, pointing toward the phone at the end of the bar by the window.
Damn it. I'd deliberately left my phone in London so the Council couldn't track me with GPS. And even if they'd bugged Will to do a locator spell, they'd still have a two block radius to cover on foot. Why hadn't they just come in?
After moving over to the phone, I was annoyed. They were the ones that had said I needed time off, so why was the Council bugging me now? Unless the plan was to annoy me enough into doing something monumentally stupid...which, and let’s face it, was looking mighty tempting right now.
Picking up the phone, I decided to just cut the bullshit. "Look, I'll be-":Guten tag, Alexander,:
a woman's voice interrupted me, with no detectable accent.
I didn't recognize the voice at all. "Who is this?":First, a question. Do you want to know why those vampires that attacked you were able to be out in the sunlight?:
"Listen, lady-!" Then I realized I'd said that a little too loud, since everyone in the bar was looking at me. Cupping my hand over the receiver, I continued, "I don't know who you are, but if you’re calling to screw with my mind-":What? You'll send slayers after me? The same kind of girls I had to save three weeks ago?:
Damn. It was her?! Suddenly I found myself a lot more interested in the conversation. Witness number two was just what I needed to get the Council blowhards to actually pay attention to me, and get them off the G-man’s back to dump me. But first, there was something I had to know.
"If you had anything to do with that attack, lady, I can promise you a world of hurt right now."
She snorted over the line. :If you want to find out the truth, I'm willing to give it to you. All you have to do is follow the turkey dinner, and find the answer.:
"What's that supposed-" But before I could finish my question, the line went dead.
I hung up the phone, pissed off. Ask me to trudge through a jungle, or kill a group of African rebels, no problem. But try to figure out that brainteaser? Yeah, right. As if I’m in the mood to play that sort of game right now, anyway.
I turned around to head back to my bar stool, when I saw a bus through the window. The advertisement on its side showed a full spread of food, including what looked to be a Thanksgiving turkey.
Even if it was just a coincidence, it wasn't like there was a reason for me to stick around this dive any longer. So quickly tossing more than enough euros onto the bar, I took off after the bus with the turkey dinner picture on it.
So sue me, I couldn’t resist trying to find out the reasons why four of my girls had been killed recently.====
I'd been sitting on this bus for twenty minutes, looking for anything that could be 'the answer'. Besides the overly vague phone call, I was pissed that I'd had to run four blocks before the damn bus came to a stop.
Finally, though, I'd had enough. It was already dark, so when I saw a sign for a hostel, I decided to grab a bed for the night. This had obviously been a waste of time; next time, if there was one, the mystery lady would have to meet up with me.
After getting off the bus, I headed up the steps to the doors, only to have to step aside as they came flying open. A group of American girls came out dressed for clubbing. They were talking excitedly, not that I cared. But then...
...one of them said something that definitely caught my attention.
"Excuse me, ladies..."
They all turned to me as one; it reminded a lot of how the Cordettes acted in high school, when Cordy had led them around by their noses. Damn, but it was a painful reminder of the days of yore. Weird how all that now seems like the good old days, when at the time - it had felt like anything but.
A blond, who seemed to be the 'queen' of the group, leered at me. "Hey, Mister Pirate, see something you like?"
"There's a lot to like, miss." I wasn't lying; if they weren't all barely eighteen, I'd be a lot more interested. "But one of you mentioned something about 'the answer
' just now, uh - can you tell me what you meant by that?"
"It's a club - right over there," Miss Tall, Blond and Busty replied, pointing to a building down the street on the corner. The neon sign read, 'Die Antwort
'. "Jeez, don't you know like any German?"
I shrugged. "Haven’t been in the country all that long, and besides - I’ve been kinda busy learning Arabic in Africa lately."
"O-kay," the blond replied, giving me a weird look as her sheep giggled behind her. "Well, whatever. That's why we hired a translator." She gestured to an older, red-headed girl at the back of the group, who appeared to be in her mid-twenties. "Sarah here handles all that stuff for us."
I gave the translator a smile, no reason to be rude after all. "I wouldn't mind having a cute girl like you following me around town."
In response, she just stared at me; kinda like I had just farted in public. Real
The blond just shrugged at that. "Anyway, if you’re thinking of going there - I'd clean up a bit first, they don't let just anybody
in." With that said, she turned around and her sheep parted as she walked through them, heading directly towards the club.
When all of them had gone, I did a quick sniff test. Yeah, I suppose I could use a shower.====
After cleaning myself up in the hostel, I bought a clean dress shirt from a guy I'd met in the hallway; something acceptable enough for the clubbing scene. That dude quickly turned into a real pain in the ass, though, since he kept going on and on about how I should visit some other hostel in Slovakia.
Finally though, I managed to ditch him, and made my way toward Die Antwort. I couldn't help but think how much easier this would have been, if the woman had told me what it was in German. What if I had rode the bus right past the damn place?
Well, that’s assuming of course that all this wasn’t just one hell of a coincidence, and I wasn’t just totally wasting my time coming here to this German nightclub. Still, I was never much of a believer in coincidence in Sunnydale. And the vibes I was getting now reminded me of the old home town way too much.
As I got to the club doors, I saw a couple of bouncers keeping people waiting in line to enter behind a rope. Christ, I hoped I wouldn't be waiting long to get in. I headed toward the back of the line, when someone called out to me.
I looked back to see one of the bouncers waving me over to him. Intrigued, I walked over. "Yes?"
"Your friend is waiting inside for you, on the second floor. She asked us to pass you through immediately."
"How did you pick me out of the crowd?" I asked curiously.
He grinned and tapped his left eyebrow.
Of course. It’s been over a year; I was so used to the eye-patch, I hardly noticed it anymore. He held open the door, and I was about to go in, when I suddenly had a thought.
"Mind if I bring in a few guests?"
"Nein, Herr Harris. How many in your party?"
His eyes went wide. I was guessing he’d been told to let me in free of charge, but I doubted he’d had any idea that I was going to have a request like that.
"If it helps - I should mention they're all pretty hot-looking women, and they look like have plenty of American dollars to spend." To be honest I didn't really know why I was doing the blond and her sheep this favor; but then again, if it hadn't been for those girls, who knew how long it would have taken to meet up with the mysterious woman in black?
The two bouncers looked at each other. I could tell what they were thinking; the cover charge wasn't that big, plus the more hot girls in the club, the more paying clientele they could bring in at some future time. I had them, and they knew it.
"When will your party be arriving?" the second bouncer asked.
"They're already here, actually," I told him, gesturing toward the line. "Hang on, I'll go get them." Without waiting for a reply, I went in search of the pseudo-Cordettes.
They weren't hard to find, the loud voices and giggles were a dead giveaway. Teenagers. I got their attention, as the 'queen' caught sight of me. "Ladies."
"Hey, look, it’s the pirate!" Miss Tall, Blond and Busty greeted me with a smile. "You cleaned up a little, I see. Want to jump in line with us?"
"I've got a better idea; why don't you all come into the club with me, right now?"
Their reactions were exactly what I’d anticipated. I wanted to cover my ears from all the girl-y squeals erupting from the sheep, but I knew I was manly enough to take it. I’d heard worse in my time, after all.
As I held the rope up for them to pass under, I heard one of the sheep compliment the blond: "Wow, Heather, I take it all back! You sure do know how to pick them!"
The redhead gave me a strange look as she came up from under the rope, but I ignored it and her. I had learned over the last year or so that some people were just put off by the eye-patch. I'd learned to deal with it, and just let it go.
As we headed back to the door, Heather looped her arm around mine. "So, what's your name anyway?"
"Xander. And let me guess, you're Queen H?"
Her mouth opened in surprise. "How did you-?"
"I dated Queen C
in high school," I told her with a smile. "I know royalty when I see it."
"She obviously trained you well."
I shook my head, as we reached the front of the line. "Don't I know it."====
The bouncers caught sight of us, and once again held the door open. "You were right, Herr Harris, these young frauleins are indeed as beautiful as you said."
"I’m sure they appreciate the compliment, sir," I tipped him forty euros as Heather and I headed through the door, with the sheep giggling behind us.
Die Antwort was what a typical urban nightclub looked like, at least as far as I could tell. Buffy and Faith had dragged me to more than a few in Cleveland, before I'd headed off to Africa. If it weren't for all the people speaking German, I probably wouldn't have been able to tell the difference this one and the ones in the States.
I could see the second floor right away; it was above the dance area and stage. The only way up was via a spiral staircase, with another burly guard standing in front of it.
After escorting the girls to one of the few empty booths in the place, it was time for us to part company, and I felt strangely sad about it. Heather was the last to sit down, and she tried to pull me in with her.
"Sorry, ladies, but I can’t stay; I have a previous engagement to get to." I tried to sound as rueful as possible.
Instead of letting me go, Heather pulled me down to her, giving me a deep kiss. Maybe it was just her way of thanking me for services rendered, or maybe she was honestly wasn’t repulsed by the eye-patch.
"I'll be in Room 237 at the hostel till Wednesday, Mister Pirate; don't be afraid to knock on my door."
Guess it was option number two after all. Giving her a smile, I pulled back. "I'll keep that in mind, Queen H, you and your friends have a nice night."
But as I headed toward the spiral staircase, I knew I'd never take her up on the offer. She was just too young, and on top of that, she reminded me of Cordelia way too much...
When I approached, I wasn’t surprised how the bouncer immediately undid the hook on the small velvet rope blocking the stairs. He gestured, "Your friend is waiting for you at one of the tables to your left, Herr Harris."
With a silent nod to him I walked up the stairs, hoping I'd finally get some freaking answers.====
The mystery woman wasn't hard to find; she was sitting at a table on the left and staring right at me as I crested the stairs. She was dressed in an all-black outfit, with platinum-blond hair. Sort of like Spike, only she didn't make me sick to my stomach when I looked at her.
As I sat down at the table across from her, she smiled. It was one of those 'I know something you don't
' smiles. I always hated those.
"Hello, Alexander, I'm glad you could finally join me."
I snorted. "It would have helped if you’d told me 'the answer
' was in German. What if I'd ridden the damn bus right past this place? Because I almost did, you know."
"But you didn't, and look on the bright side; you met some new friends." She nodded to the floor below. "The blond seemed quite enamored with you, didn’t she?"
"Let’s cut the bullshit, lady. Who are you, and what were you doing in Africa three weeks ago?"
"My name is Break." She took her time with a long sip of her drink. "And as for question number two, some friends are interested in what you've been able to do with your slayers. I thought the best way to introduce myself, would be to help you out."
"So you set up that attack to make yourself look good? Big mistake." I stood up, ready to let this woman know exactly what I thought of her plan. I'd never felt the inclination to hit a woman outside of a sparring match, but I was ready to now.
That's when I heard the sound of a slide being racked beneath the table. Shit. My 1911 was being kept 'safe' back in England.
"Sit down before you make a scene," she said calmly.
"Or what, you'll shoot me?" I asked, leaning across the table toward her.
"I showed up in Africa to save your macho ass, you fool," she insisted, meeting me in the middle of the table. "You're no use to those friends I mentioned if you’re dead."
"I don't need any new friends," I spat, already sick of whatever game she was trying to play.
Break gave me a dark look. "I never said they-"
"You give me that cliched line, and I'll walk out of this club right now."
With a sigh, Miss ‘Break’ sat back; somehow though, I knew that pistol was still pointed at me under the table. "Those 'people' at the airport were specifically after you. There are those who don't like the fact that you're arming slayers with modern weapons."
That made some sense, but not enough. "So why all the cloak and dagger crap? Tell me where to find them."
"That's why I contacted you, but we can't do it-" Whatever she was about to say was caught off by a look of shock on her face. "Davis."
"Miss Winston. Mister Harris," a man's voice said from behind me. "How nice to meet you both."
I looked over my shoulder to find a man in a dark green suit, and sunglasses standing there. Whoever he was, Break didn't like him.
"Get down!" she screamed at me, as she drew the gun out from under the table.
Instead of dropping under the table where I'd be helpless, I threw myself to the side toward the balcony railing. As soon as I was clear, she started shooting. I turned toward the man, and saw him actually dodging the bullets.
Crap. And here I was kinda hoping for a demon-free evening tonight.
The crowd started screaming all around us, as Break stopped to reload. At almost the same time, the man pulled out a Desert Eagle. I lifted a chair over my head and tried to hit him, but he just raised his left arm to block it. I watched in shock as the metal legs bent around Davis' arm like a couple of wet noodles or something.
Magic? Terrific. Of course, my evening wouldn’t be complete without that.
After grabbing and tossing the chair aside, this ‘Davis’ guy pointed the gun at me, but then something threw me sideways onto the next table over. I slid across the top, and crashed to the floor on the other side.
"Get the hell outta here, Harris!"
More gunshots rang out, and then I saw Break charge Davis and start fighting with him. The table we'd been at was flipped over, and I was guessing that was what had sent me flying when she flipped it over. Was she a slayer?
As I climbed back to my feet for round two, I saw someone running toward me from the stairs. It was that translator friend of Heather's, Sarah something, and she was carrying a goddamn mini-Uzi.
What the hell was going on here?====
I didn't know whose side she was on, but I already knew Davis was bad news. Break was putting up a decent fight, and they were both using moves I'd never even seen a slayer do. The problem was, she was on the receiving end of most of them.
At that moment, Sarah the translator took aim with the mini-Uzi. Then I was sure just who she was aiming for.
"Break!" I called out, trying to warn her.
Distracted by my yell, Davis caught her with a left hook, and she went flying across the club into a wall. I stared, open-mouthed; that was almost twenty feet. Who was this guy?
As he turned toward me, the redhead opened up, emptying the entire clip into Davis' back and side. How had she kept it steady like that one-handed? Was she a slayer too?
He fell to the ground, and his body went all silvery for a few seconds before changing into something...someone else. Suddenly, he had long blond hair, a red top and black skirt...which was exactly what Queen H had been wearing.
Oh, crap. I knew there was a reason I hated magic!
I ran over to her body and turned it over; she stared up at the ceiling with dead eyes, blood dripping from the corner of her mouth.
"Damn it," I heard the redhead mutter.
That was it; I saw Davis' pistol lying on the floor. I grabbed it and pointed it at Queen H’s killer, I'd had enough of this bullshit. "Start talking. What the fuck just happened?!"
At the same time, she raised the mini-Uzi up to point it at me. "It’s too late for that, Harris; besides, once he took her over, she was already dead."
More than likely true, damn it, but still. "That’s not good enough!"
"We need to get out of here before he comes back."
Yeah, right. But then again, in my line of work - not a possibility to be discounted yet, either. Again, what the hell had I gotten myself into? "I want an-"
Something hit me in the back of the head, and the last thing I saw was the floor rushing to meet my face.====
I woke up, laid out in the back seat of a car, with my head facing the passenger seat. I could hear the driver, Break, talking to someone on the phone. I pretended to be asleep, as I tried to figure out what to do.
"...up and running, we can't just drive around all night."
"We don't know when Davis is going to show up with some friends. You should have had this ready before we made contact."
With the driver distracted, I figured now was the time to make a move. I could grab hold of the passenger, and finally get some answers my way. I inched my way forward, when suddenly I had the barrel of a gun shoved in my face.
"Don't even think it, asshole."
Looking up that arm, I saw it was the redhead. Queen H’s killer. I glared up at her, sick of having a gun pointed at me. Sure, it had happened plenty of times in Africa, but never all at once like tonight.
"Yeah, he just woke up and tried to make a move. Slide's ready to put a bullet in him just for being such a pain in the ass." That was Break talking into the phone.
"When my backup shows up, you two are completely screwed," I bluffed, it wasn't like I had anything else to go with.
'Slide' snorted. "Yeah, that's why the nearest slayer team is in Munich, right? We've been tracking you ever since you crossed the Channel and hit the mainland Europe. So spare us the bullshit."
I got a sick feeling in my gut, hearing that. It wasn't so much that I'd been captured, but more that they knew about the Council, and where its slayer teams were located. We obviously had a serious security breach somewhere.
Break stopped for a light, and I made my move. I grabbed the door handle and yanked, but before I could throw myself out of the car, something whacked me hard on the back of the head.
On the bright side, the vinyl seat was a lot softer to land on than a sticky concrete floor.====
I woke up again when I fell on something, hard.
"Was that really necessary?" a male voice asked.
Opening my eyes, I saw several pairs of feet standing in front of me. So instead of two psycho maybe-slayers, I was dealing with multiple opponents now. Terrific.
"The asshole pointed a gun at me, and then tried to jump out of the car," Slide replied. "What did you expect me to do, lay him down on a bed of roses?"
"Give him some room," the man ordered, before kneeling down in front of me. "Alexander, it's a pleasure to finally meet you."
The guy was black, stocky, probably in his early forties. He was also dressed in an all-black outfit; I was starting to see a theme here. "It's Xander, and who the fuck are you?"
He gave me a gap-toothed smile and held out his hand to help me up off the floor. "My name is Morpheus."
Hell, what did I have to lose? I took his hand and he pulled me up with ease, it was a lot better than lying on the floor. I looked around and saw the two women from earlier, along with a huge white guy - the man had to be almost seven feet tall. We were also surrounded with some kind of computer equipment, in what looked like a beat-up old apartment.
That wasn't what caught my eye, though. It was the fact that these people were all armed to the teeth; the big man was holding a PKM machine gun one-handed like it was nothing. After three years in Africa, I knew Russian-made weapons real well; besides, they were everywhere nowadays.
With a drum clip and bi-pod, this guy wasn't on guard duty. These people were either expecting something bad to happen, or were about to do something bad. I had to wonder if I'd been kidnapped by some kind of terrorist group.
They seemed to be everywhere these days; that one in Japan, the Wild Seven, they were making headlines almost every day. Were they trying to use me to get slayers? I decided to cut the crap and find out.
"If you're after slayers, or should I say more
slayers, you may as well kill me right now. I won't tell you anything willingly, and I have an amazingly high pain threshold if you’re planning to use torture."
"What makes you think we wanted anyone but you, Xander?" Morpheus asked.
"You've already got two slayers," I nodded toward Slide and Break. "Why stop there?"
Slide muttered something under her breath, before catching an elbow in the ribs from Break.
"And what if I told you that there’s no such thing as a slayer, or vampires?" the black man asked, smiling slightly.
"After everything I’ve seen and done over the last eight years, I'd say you're full of shit." I glanced around the room, trying to find the nearest exit or maybe even a weapon I could use. "So why don't we move on?"
"Why don't you cut the fucking attitude?" Slide demanded, bringing her weapon up.
"You're real tough when you've got a gun pointed at a man’s head, or your buddies are backing you up," I told her with a glare. "Makes me wonder how well you’d cope alone, or with the old Council’s Cruciamentum drug."
"Enough," Morpheus ordered, as he held out an arm to stop Slide from coming at me. "Dirge..."
"Yes?" the big man spoke for the first time, with a heavy Russian accent.
"Go tell Cross to come up here, then start your watch of the perimeter. Take Slide with you before she shoots our...guest."
With a nod, he headed toward a door to my far right. "Come, little butterfly!" he called out to the much-shorter woman.
The redhead glared up at the man, slapping him on shoulder. "You know I hate that nickname!" she complained, as she followed him out the door.====
I looked on as the two of them left; it had cut my chances of escape by half. While I had a decent chance getting around the Russian, there was no way I could do it while dodging a slayer too.
"Please, don't take Slide’s attitude personally. Well, not too much anyway," Morpheus explained. "At one time, her sister was a 'slayer'; so she doesn't like anyone that's attached to your Council."
"I could honestly care less, mister. Now I want to know what the fuck’s going on, and don't try to feed me that shit about slayers and vamps not existing either!"
"It's unfortunate that things turned out the way they did, earlier this evening," the black man said with a sigh. "Slide was at the bar getting a round of drinks when the Agent took over Miss Owens' body. There was truly nothing she could have done to save that poor girl."
"You were responsible for what happened to her, by having a spy in her group!" I moved forward, but saw Break push her coat aside, revealing her pistol. I glared at her, and she simply shook her head.
Morpheus just stood there passively, seemingly ignoring what was going on between the two of us. When I finally returned my attention back to him, he continued. "We had in mind an offer for you, but due to the involvement of Agent Davis, things became...complicated."
"Obviously," I snarled. "That guy was out to kill Miss Break here, of course he'd use someone I might care about to twist the knife a little deeper. That’s just the way the old Harris luck runs."
"Why don't we discuss this further somewhere else?" 'Morpheus' told me, motioning to the door on my left. "I'm asking you to hear me out before you make any final decisions or judgments concerning me and mine, Xander. There is much I have to tell you. What do you say?"
He and Break both stood there, waiting for an answer. The door to the left was my only viable exit at this point, but I wasn't sure why they wanted me to go in there. Finally, though, I had a plan. "Fine, but she stays out here."
Morpheus smiled at me again, before moving to the door, and holding it open for me.
Morpheus walked through without a word. As I followed in after him, I kept an eye on Break to make sure she wasn't following, before closing the door behind us.====
After entering the room, I expected more people to pop up, or a threat of some kind. Instead, there was nothing but a couple of chairs with an end table in between the two. On it was a glass of water. Otherwise, the room was completely empty.
There were no other doors, and the only way out besides the one I’d used to come in, was through a window. I somehow doubted we were anywhere close to a ground floor, though. Damn.
Morpheus walked over, and sat down in the chair on the left, and motioned to the other. "Please, have a seat."
I shook my head. "Other one," I told him firmly.
He simply nodded, and moved to the other seat. Probably trying to be nice after everything his two female operatives had put me through. I just sat down in the other chair; there was no way I was putting my back to that door. "So hit me with this pitch of yours, already."
"First of all, Xander, I have a question for you. Have you ever heard of the Matrix?"
"No," I replied honestly. "What is it, a nightclub of some sort?"
"No. The thing is, I cannot tell you exactly what the Matrix is. It is something you have to learn, to experience for yourself." Morpheus clicked the container twice, before setting it down on the table next to the glass.
Morpheus held out his left hand, revealing a blue pill. "You have two options, my young friend. You swallow the blue pill, and you will wake up in your bed at the hostel with no memory of this conversation. Everything concerning Break and Slide and Miss Owens and Agent Davis will be wiped away from your mind."
"You take the red pill," he went on, revealing it in his right hand. "And I will show you everything you need to know about this enemy that targeted you in Africa. My group and I will help you in any way possible to fight them."
He held out his hands, as I glanced back and forth between the two pills. Damn it, I hadn’t been expecting this.
Could I trust this man? Would I be better off fighting this new threat on my own? If I took neither option and just left - assuming that I could actually do that, of course - would anyone within the Council even believe me after what had happened in Africa?
Ah, hell. I knew it was stupid and probably suicidal, and if my girls were here they’d probably kick my ass for doing this; Willow, Buffy, Faith, probably even Dawn. She’s nearly eighteen now, after all. But the way I saw it, their opinions didn’t matter because I was here and they weren’t; and since when did doing stupid and suicidal things ever stop me before?
Finally making my decision, I reached for the red pill. As I did, Morpheus spoke once more.
"Know that once you swallow that pill, Xander - you can never go back. Your life will never be the same."
I nodded, and took the red pill from his hand. As I stuck it in my mouth, I knew I was making the right decision. The new Council had no idea what they were facing; and if I had to never see them again in order to keep my friends safe, it was still worth it.====
Holy freaking hell, but I felt sore all over.
Turns out the red pill was a tracker of some kind, and Morpheus and his people used it to find me. And when I say ‘find me’, I mean that in the literal sense. Because everything I thought was real...it wasn’t.
Imagine waking up and finding yourself in an artificial womb. Gasping, your lungs burning as you try to cough and splutter out whatever vile liquid was in your body as the pod was smashed by your lurching up. Imagine, too, ripping out some sort of damn tubes and cables that were implanted into your back and sides, connecting you to a vast mechanical tower covered with identical pods - before Morpheus and his people show up to grab you out of that artificial womb, some sort of weird machinery flying around the whole time.
Even to someone with memories of growing up in a town like Sunnydale, that sort of thing was just too weird to believe.
I was sitting at a table aboard some sort of ship, wrapped in a blanket. I was still shivering, unable to believe what had happened to me. My body was like totally atrophied, muscles practically non-existent; but one thing I wasn’t expecting to exist, now did. My left eye.
Hello, binocular vision, how I’ve missed you!
I looked up at Morpheus and said, “Wanna explain?”
“What do you remember?” the black man said, sitting down opposite me.
“The last thing I remember thinking was that I was fool not to take the blue pill, when I woke up in - whatever that thing was,” I managed to say, pulling the blanket in tighter.
“We all do,” Break said, as she entered the room. I stared at her with new eyes; she didn’t seem quite the same person I’d met at Die Antwort and later on at that beat-up apartment. The hair was different, less platinum-blond somehow. “Hello, Harris. Good to finally meet you face to face.”
They launched into their explanation, one that initially - I flat-out refused to believe. Morpheus and Break told me of the Machine civilization, how despite whatever I believed - the year was closer to 2199 than 2007. They told me that humanity is fighting a war against intelligent machines which were created in the early 21st century.
I immediately thought of that cyber-demon thing calling itself ADAM a few years back, of course, but that wasn’t it. Apparently, it was more of a Skynet sort of deal, only without the global thermonuclear war scenario.
Way I heard it, when we realized what we’d done two hundred odd years ago, the sky had been covered by some thick black clouds created by us humans in an attempt to cut off the Machines' supply of solar power. The Machines had responded by using human beings as their energy source in conjunction with nuclear fusion, later growing countless people in pods and harvesting our bioelectrical energy and body heat to power themselves.
Like I said; un-freaking-believable.
Morpheus and Break told me that the world in which I grew up was actually the Matrix, a simulated reality of the world just before the Machines took over; something developed by them in order to keep the human captives docile and compliant in their roles as Duracell batteries. Morpheus and his crew apparently belonged to a group of free humans who "unplugged" others from the Matrix, and recruited them to their resistance against the Machines.
They told me how they were able to use their understanding of the Matrix's nature to bend the simulation's laws of physics, giving them superhuman abilities within the virtual world; which explained the sort of moves I saw in that German nightclub by Break, and why that Agent Davis guy had appeared to be using magic.
They told me how everything I’d known and believed in - it was all a lie.
It took a while for it all to sink in and for them to convince me I wasn’t completely crazy, I will admit. But after they had restored my atrophied body and I had met the other members of the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar, all of whom had been unplugged from the network like myself and had the exact same empty holes where the tubes and cables had been, well - God help me, but I actually started to believe their story.
“Why?” I finally croaked out, still not sure if this was all happening in my mind and I was actually gibbering inside a padded cell somewhere.
“Why what?” Morpheus asked, as Break left the room.
“Why me? And what’s the real deal with that Davis guy I ran into, at that nightclub?” I asked, reminded of how that girl Heather - Queen H - had died. Or had that even really happened? Right now, I wasn’t sure of anything.
“Let me explain about the Agents,” Morpheus nodded. He went on to do so, telling me details of the artificial intelligence constructs that existed within the virtual world. Powerful, sentient computer programs with the ability to possess the virtual body of anyone directly connected to the Matrix, and whose sole purpose was to seek out and eliminate any threats to the simulation. “There’s a reason you attracted their attention, I’m afraid.”
“Me, what did I do?”
Morpheus sighed. “Bear with me, as this might take a while...”
I listened, as the black man tried to dumb it down enough for me to understand. Putting it as non-technically as possible, while demons and magic are just part of the mass delusion the vamps are like a computer virus; the Matrix can generate triple the energy from their bodies, but they’d overload the system if there were too many of them. So the slayer was like an anti-virus software tool, keeping the overload from happening.
Ah, but here’s where it gets tricky: what Willow did last year, the mass calling of the chosen crowd? Without meaning to, she actually adjusted the virtual reality network via a back door the Machines hadn’t been expecting any human to ever be able to use. The Matrix had been forever changed, and it was impossible for the Machines to put it back the way it was without killing their life-support system, i.e. the humans they had enslaved, and who subconsciously thought they were living in the 21st century.
And here’s the rub: with the explosion of so many slayers, the anti-virus software was now working a little too well. The Matrix was losing serious amounts of power due to all the vamps getting dusted. And when I’d started militarizing the slayers, with weapons and tactics, apparently I became almost as big a threat to the Machines as the freed humans - in terms of disrupting their power supply, anyway.
“I don’t freaking believe this,” I said, shaking my head after I finally put on some clothes. “If all that’s true, why didn’t the Machines just unplug me and flush me down the toilet? Instead of the whole cloak and dagger thing in Germany, and the vampire attack in Africa?”
“No doubt that, eventually, they would have killed you that way if they had no other choice. But you’re - strange,” Morpheus said carefully, as my head snapped up to look him right in the eye. “According to our sources something went wrong with you when you were bred in that pod, apparently. For a while, we even suspected that you were the One - until the Oracle told us otherwise.”
“The One? The Oracle?” I had no idea what he was talking about.
“We’ll get to that later. But to answer your original question, personally, I suspect the Machines didn’t want to take the risk of the Matrix completely crashing by unplugging you unnecessarily.”
“And luckily for me, you and your people found me and unplugged me first,” I mused, staring at my so-called savior. “So, that thing about the anti-virus...are you seriously telling me that slayers aren’t real?”
“In a sense, they are. But they are not people, in the way you and I are,” Morpheus shrugged. “I know that given the life you’ve experienced so far, that will be somewhat upsetting for you to contemplate...”
Somewhat upsetting? Was he freaking shitting me? This guy just told me that Buffy and Faith and all the rest of the slayers weren’t real! Then I asked about Dawn - and she’s not frickin’ real, either?!
I couldn’t accept that. I just couldn’t. My girls were simply too much a part of my life for me to ever admit that they didn’t exist. Okay, Willow was real, Morpheus wasn’t denying that; Tara had been real too. Ditto Joyce and Ms. Calendar...
But Sabi, Anne, Natama, Ouattara and all the other potentials who had become slayers apparently weren’t real. Kennedy, Rona, Vi and the other Sunnydale girls who I’d sacrificed my eye for...they didn’t actually exist outside the Matrix. Kendra hadn’t been real either. Even Drusilla wasn’t real...even though in her case, that was more like cause for celebration than anything else!
I suddenly wondered, what about Cordelia? Had she been real? I’d heard she’d become part-demon before that whole Jasmine cluster-fuck; did that mean my high school girlfriend was just a figment of some machine’s imagination?
Suddenly, I realised that Morpheus still hadn’t answered the first question I’d asked. “Why me? Why disconnect me and not someone else, like - like Giles? Or even Willow?”
, obviously misinformed
, told them you’d be of a lot more use in helping to free people from the Matrix, and one day destroying all the Machines."====
I turned around, and I couldn't believe my eyes. "Cordelia?!"
Cordy stood there in the doorway, just as beautiful as I remembered her. "Guess I can’t deny it, dork; it really is me," she said with a smile.
I walked over to her and gripped her in a huge bear hug, lifting her up off of the ground. If this was a dream, I didn’t want to wake up; and if I was insane and this was all just an elaborate fantasy playing out in my mind, well, hell - the old saying’s true, you really can find true happiness within a delusion.
"I'm real happy to see you, too, now let me go - you fashion-dead oaf!" she yelled with a laugh.
Releasing her, I just stared - unbelieving that I'd found her here, of all places. "I thought you were dead. How did they bring you back?"
"I never died, Xander; the body that was buried within the Matrix was just a digital recreation made by the Machines. I was too high profile, with Angel running Evil Inc. and all, to just have it disappear again."
"Why didn't she tell me you were here, when we first met in the Matrix?" I asked, pointing toward Break - who had entered the room along with Cordy.
Cordy's smile lessened, and she suddenly looked very tired. "It's a hard decision to make. I wanted you to make it on your own, without me influencing the outcome."
"I could have-" I stopped when she shushed me, putting her finger to my mouth.
"I know you, Harris. If my name had been mentioned you would have swallowed that red pill in a heartbeat, if for no other reason than to try and find me."
Yeah, true enough. Then I had a thought. "What about Anya? Is she-?”
"She’s not here, Xander. I’m sorry. We think that after she died in the Matrix, her remains were disposed of by the Machines - just like with any other used-up human body," Morpheus said compassionately. Then he gestured to Break, and they left the room; leaving me and Cordy alone there.
I felt sick. Ahn had been dead for quite a while now, sure - but it was like I’d just lost her all over again. And the truth was, I felt horrible for what had been done to her - making her believe that she’d been around for 1120 years as a demon, whereas in reality - she musta been even younger than I was...
I don’t know how long I sat there, but eventually I felt Cordelia’s warm hands slip into mine. I looked up as she said, "I’m sorry, Xander. I know she meant a lot to you. Just like Angel...meant a lot to me. I swear, you have no idea what it’s like to wake up and suddenly learn that you have feelings for a...a computer virus!"
I sucked in a deep breath, recalling that part of Morpheus’ explanation. “How long...?”
“Have I been alive in the land of the awake? Ever since my ‘death’. Over six months,” she said, showing me where the holes where the tubes and cables had been plugged into her body; which were just like mine. Even the socket in her skull, formerly used by the Machines to connect her to the Matrix, which allowed knowledge to be uploaded directly into her mind; which actually explained all the fancy martial arts moves Cordelia said she had picked up almost immediately, while working for Angel Investigations.
Cordy then looked furious, “It took me a long time to get over the lies and deception, Xander. But once I came to terms with it, after Morpheus and Trinity rescued me-”
“Trinity?” I interrupted.
“My new best friend. I think you’ll like her, when you two meet soon,” my ex flashed me her patented megawatt Queen C smile, but only for a moment. “Anyway, I started hounding the people aboard this ship to rescue the rest of my LA family. There was nothing I could do for Angel - he doesn’t really exist. But I could help Wesley, Fred and Gunn; and eventually, I did,” Cordy finished up.
Oh. Yeah, that explained why just about everyone in Angel’s Fang Gang had passed on one way or another, by this point. Apart from Angel and Spike themselves, of course.
“And me?” I asked, getting my thoughts back in order.
“And you,” Cordy acknowledged, even though I found it hard to believe she’d encouraged Morpheus to rescue me.
“Why? I mean, what with the way things ended between us-”
Again she put her finger on my lips to shut me up. “Do you have any idea just how many guys I thought I had feelings for, were just figments of some machine’s imagination?” Cordy demanded. “Doyle. Groo. Angel. Even Wilson Christopher, the first guy I slept with in LA, was a freaking undercover Agent in disguise!!
You’re the only one of the lot of them who was actually real, dorkhead. I...I guess I wanted at least one piece of proof that my life in the Matrix wasn’t some psycho machine’s idea of a sick joke,” she ranted. “Especially with that whole ‘Jasmine’ nightmare!”
“I’ve been watching you in between rescuing Wes, Fred and Gunn, y’know,” Cordy then gave me a funny look.
“Yeah, really. And you’ve changed since high school; you’re not that idiotic clown who cheated on me anymore. Plus, there’s the fact that I haven’t gotten any in the past six months, and it’s been driving me nuts.”
“Right, I - what?!” I honestly wasn’t sure whether I had just misheard Cordy, after she’d said that.
But she just smiled at me, grabbed me by the hand and dragged me along to her personal quarters aboard the ship, before slamming the door shut behind us.====
I’ll say this much for Cordelia Chase; she certainly knows how to make a man she’s holding in her arms...happy.
I woke up the next day with her lying next to me, sore in places that had nothing to do with muscle atrophy. The memories came rushing back; the hours spent re-memorizing old tactile lessons and learning a few new ones, plus the languid in-between moments where we talked and figured out just where it is we now stand. The hugs, the kisses, the...everything we never got around to doing back in high school. What we thought was high school, anyway.
It had been quite the learning process; or rather, re-learning process, for both of us.
"G'morning," I said, as I saw her eyes flutter open.
"This isn’t a dream, right dweeb?" Cordelia asked, looking at me before starting to smile.
"Nope," I replied, pulling her into a sleepy embrace. "One hundred percent Xander Harris lying right here, accept no substitutes."
"Well, thank God! There was a time I didn't think this would ever be reality..."
"Get used to it, sweetheart," I said to the naked brunette beauty next to me, trying not to smirk. For the first time, I was actually happy not to be trapped and ignorant in the Matrix anymore.
"I already am."
"So am I," I whispered, as Cordy snuggled against my chest. "So. Am. I. Say, where do we go to get breakfast around here?"
"The mess hall, but that can wait for later. Come on, dork; this time I'm gonna whip your ass, and make you beg for more," Cordy snarked, as she suddenly pushed me down and started to devour my lips with her own.
Holy shit. I suddenly got the feeling things around here were going to become very interesting, very soon now.====Disclaimer 2: The Matrix is owned by Andy and Larry Wachowski, Village Roadshow Pictures, and Silver Pictures.====A/N 2: Big thanks to my beta, Theo. If it weren't for his help with the Morpheus parts, this might have sat around for another year...====THE END