Disclaimer: the characters, setting, and all other elements of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Angel are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy Productions, and 20th Century Fox. No copyright infringement is intended. Coyote, with or without said damned roadrunner, is not a god to be bound by copyright, laws, or other silliness humans like to declare is real. I can only assure Him that no disrespect was intended, and I will be happy to sacrifice a marshmallow Peep in His honor.
Not-The-Author's Note: I did not write this. My brother, AKA phoukabro, wrote this. He swears to me that three stories in a week is not the result of some drug-fueled writing binge but simple happenstance of several stories finishing themselves in close order. As his drugs of choice are limited to Ho-Hos and European candy, I'm going to have to accept his word on this. Also, I substituted a specific desert for a generic Californian desert due to a deep fondness for my own time spent there. Believe me, there were plenty of coyotes, and many, many stories about them.Coyote
There's something about camping in the Anza-Borrego desert that's incredibly peaceful.
After the debacle with the Order of Taraka, I had to take a few days off. I was emotionally drained from finding out Cordelia Chase was still alive, watching Groosalug die, and being manipulated by Robin Wood. So after David Nabbit had set up Cordy in her own private hospital room, I was ready for a break. And since I never got to do my 'See America Road Trip', I figured I could grab some camping gear and a map, then head on out.
I had driven up the morning before, parked at the ranger station lot, and hiked most of that day before finally pitching my tent that evening. I had one of the best night's sleep in years, then woke up as the light from the rising sun hit my face.
I sat up and stretched out all the kinks in my back, then took a slow look around. I scanned my campsite, from the propane stove, grimy from cooking last night, to my hiking pack, to the old guy watching me wake up, to the -
“GAHHH!” I shrieked, jumping back.
“Who the hell are you?” I demanded from the old man.
“Hmm, me? Just an old man, wandering through the area,” he said, still watching me carefully. “Nothing to be concerned about.”
He flashed a quick, not quite reassuring, smile at me.
I looked around and saw that my pack had been opened.
“Did you -” I stopped and realized that there was a Cheeto stuck to my face. I wiped it off, then found a few others in my hair and more on the ground around where I slept.
“Did you toss Cheetos at me while I was asleep?”
The old man shrugged. “I was bored, and you didn't pack any games.”
“So you went through my stuff and tossed food at my face?” I asked in an incredulous tone.
“Not my fault you're such a heavy sleeper,” he said. Then mumbled, “Wouldn't have killed you to pack a Sudoku book.”
I stared at him, then just shook my head. I pulled on my shoes, then took a look at my pack. I still had water and beef jerky, but my snacks were gone. I spotted the empty wrappers on the ground by the old man. He didn't even have the decency to look guilty.
“You're not supposed to litter,” I told him.
“I didn't bring it in. Besides, aren't any trashcans around. I figure you can pitch it when you leave,” he said, picking up the wrappers, then offering them to me.
I looked at his hand, then looked him in the face. He still had that gentle smile, and I think I saw a glint of yellow in his eyes. I sighed and took the trash from him. I balled up the trash and stuffed it in my backpack. Pulling out my thermos, I opened it, then sighed.
“And you drank all my coffee,” I said, turning the open thermos upside down.
A few beads of liquid dripped to the ground.
“I'm sorry. Let me make it up to you,” the old man said, tossing me a wrinkled brown bag.
I peeked in, then drew back as I got a whiff of the pungent, dirty roots inside.
“Not exactly Starbucks blend.”
“It's a little bit more intense,” the old man said with a grin. “Seriously, that stuff could wake the dead.”
I looked around for some place to pitch the bag, but there were still no trash cans around. I grumbled as I stuffed it into my backpack with the rest of the trash. I looked back at the old man and saw that he was just watching me.
“Most people don't get out this far into the desert,” he said to me.
“You're here,” I pointed out.
“I ain't most people.”
The old man watched me as I rolled up my sleeping bag and put my pack together.
“What brings you this far out?”
“I wanted to get away for a little bit. Clear my head from any distractions,” I answered. “Just be by myself.”
“Did it work?”
“Up to a point,” I said, glaring at him.
The subtlety of my answer was lost on him.
“Why are you out here?”
“Me? Oh, I'm just part of the scenery,” he said.
I hefted up my pack onto my back and began walking back down the path back to my car. As I walked, I heard footsteps close behind me. I turned and saw the old man following me. I quickened my pace, only to hear the footsteps speed up behind me. I briefly thought about breaking into a sprint, but decided against it. I glanced back again and saw the old man walking about ten feet behind me. I stopped and turned to him. He stopped as well.
“So you coming or not?” I asked him.
The old man gave me a toothy grin and approached me. Once he was even with me, I turned back around, and we walked side by side down the trail. He stayed on my right, so I could keep him in my peripheral vision. We walked in silence for a few minutes. The sound of our footfalls became a cadence that only reinforced our pace. It was actually pleasant.
“You figure out what you need to?” the old man asked me, breaking the silence.
“Hmm?” I asked, surprised a little by his interruption.
“You said you came here to get away from any distractions. I figure you must have something on your mind you wanted to think through,” he explained. “Did you figure it out?”
“Um.. well there's some stuff that came up and... so I kind of...” I trailed off trying to decide what to tell him.
“That's a no, then,” he said. It was a statement, not a question.
“No, I guess not,” I agreed.
“You want to talk about it?” he asked.
I looked over at him, but his face was still calm. “It's kind of private,” I told him.
“So, I don't really plan on discussing it with you,” I told him in a patient tone.
“Well, you couldn't figure it out back in your city, so you came out here. You couldn't figure it out here by yourself,” he pointed out. “Maybe what you need is an impartial outsider. You know, a different point of view.”
“Nope. It's kind of hard to explain, and I don't want to try with you,” I said.
“Your choice. Just trying to help, but if you don't want, it's fine with me,” he said in his gentle, yet increasingly annoying tone.
We walked on in silence for another few minutes, when he said, “Do you ever have any homoerotic dreams?”
“Oh, god,” I muttered.
I stopped and turned to him.
“I came out here because I just had a really, really crappy few days, okay?”
I stepped closer to him, poking my finger into his chest.
“I saw a good person die, found an old friend that I can't help, and got jerked around. And,” I threw my hands up in the air, “And the only person that actually wants to work with me is a total scumbag!
“The friends I did want to work with are scattered around the globe, leaving a jackass I couldn't get along with. And the only place I knew as home, I can't go back to!” I shouted.
The old man looked at me with warm sympathy. He gently patted my shoulder.
In a soft voice, he said, “Bummer,” then turned and kept walking, whistling a jaunty tune.
“Gee, that helped,” I grumbled, then continued walking.
As soon as I caught up with him, the old man said, “You're a glass is half empty kind of guy.”
“Still not helping,” I muttered.
“Think about it. You're fixated on what you don't have, and idealizing some time in the past when things were better. But if you're honest with yourself, you'll realize that the past wasn't so perfect, and the present ain't so bad. They're just good and bad in different ways now.”
I shook my head at this.
“Believe me, I don't think the past was ideal. It was just...” I paused, searching for the word, “comfortable. I knew what my place in life was. I knew who my friends were. I knew who my enemies were and how to fight them, or at least avoid them. And I knew what I could do to help. Now, I have no idea.”
The old man let out a low chuckle. “Friends change, enemies too. The whole world is constantly moving, and you just want to stand still.”
He held out his arms widely and proclaimed, “Life is change! What doesn't change, doesn't live. You might as well be dead.”
He leaned towards me and said with a smile, “Evolve or die.”
“I've heard that before,” I said in a soft voice.
“Have you? Maybe it's important,” the old man said with a shrug.
He didn't say anything after that, and I didn't follow up, so we kept walking down the trail in the quiet.
As we walked, I thought about what he said. Things that didn't change weren't really alive. Vampires could last for centuries, but were they really alive? They didn't age, never created any art, built anything. They never made discoveries or had families. Every day was the same, the same activities, the same thoughts, the same desires. When they lost their soul, they lost everything that made them human.
I thought of Angel and Spike. Both had their souls restored to them, and both had to change. Whether they wanted it or not, they had fundamental alteration to their lives. All I wanted was the familiar, what I knew and understood. I was resisting the change in my life. Did that make me less alive than Angel and Spike? I really didn't like where this line of thought was leading.
I let out a sigh. “It would be so much easier if I had some place I could return to. Just to have that option.”
The old man's calm expression never wavered. He put a hand on my shoulder. “It's like that saying 'You can't go home again.' In your case it's literal, Xander. With Sunnydale falling into a crater and all.”
I jerked back from his hand.
“Who the hell are you?” I demanded. “Are you with Wolfram and Hart?”
He shook his head. “I'm not with anyone. I just saw you this morning and thought I'd pop on down for a chin wag. That's all.”
“Bullshit. You know my name and where I'm from. How the hell could you figure that out?” I asked.
I reached to my pack and pulled the emergency stake from one of the pockets.
The old man reached into his pocket and pulled out a wallet. It was brown and leather, like my wallet. It had a crease along the center and had various cards and papers poking out from the edges, much like my wallet. And it had a scratch in the center, just like my -
“You stole my wallet!” I shouted.
I grabbed the wallet from his hand and opened it up, seeing if anything was missing. All my cash and credit cards were still there. I flipped through my ID, included my old driver's license from Sunnydale, and the few business cards I had printed up. Even the pictures were still there.
I put it in my pocket, glaring at the old man. He stood before me without a trace of guilt on his face. He smiled and met my gaze. I continued glaring at him, and he continued smiling innocently. Finally his eyes flicked down to my hand. I looked down and realized I was still holding the stake. Since impalement is an excessive punishment for a pickpocket, particularly one who hadn't actually stolen anything, I put the stake back into my pack.
“Sorry,” I muttered.
“Kinda jumpy, aren't you?” he asked in a reassuring manner that indicated he held no hard feelings. “Course you got an evil law firm wanting to get their hooks into you, so that justifies the paranoia some. They set their sights on your friend Angel. It took them four years, but eventually they drew him in. He lasted less than twelve months. What chance do you have?”
The stake was back in my hand, and it wasn't going away until I had answers.
“You didn't get that information from my wallet. Tell me who you are,” I threatened. “You know way too much about me to be some random guy in the desert.”
“Well, this is a desert. And I am a guy. So two out of three ain't bad,” the old man pointed out.
“Were you waiting for me?” I asked, glancing around to see if he had anyone else hiding around.
“Didn't know you were coming out here. First I ever saw you was this morning,” he answered.
“Then how do you know so much about me?”
“I just... know things,” he said enigmatically. “If some other soul had camped out last night, I'd know all about them too.”
As he spoke, he changed in some subtle, unpronounceable way. His posture was no longer laid back, but poised. The lines that weathered his face seemed lighter. His hair was shaggier, the yellow glint in his eyes was more noticeable, and his canines just a hint sharper. I felt a chill pass through me.
“But then someone else didn't come out here. You did.” He pointed out. “And here we are.”
“What's your name?” I asked, now more frightened than angry.
“What's in a name?” he asked rhetorically. “The desert is what it is. Having one name instead of another won't change that.”
He squatted down and grabbed a handful of sand. “I'm a part of it, just like this is. You could name me after this sand.”
He pointed a few feet away, “Or after that cactus.”
He pointed a little further away, “or that bird.”
He stood up and peered further away. I instinctively looked over with him. “Or after that coyote.”
He turned and smiled knowingly at me. “Yes, that'll work. You can call me Coyote.”
And with that, I realized who the old man was. I just hoped I would survive the meeting.
“You can call me Coyote,” I said with a grin.
The boy's face went pale with these words. So he had heard of me. That was nice. He opened his mouth a couple of times to speak, only to close it again in silence. He turned and briskly continued walking down the path.
I kept up with him easily. “What, now that we've been properly introduced, you don't want to talk anymore?”
“I don't think I should talk to you anymore,” he muttered, not looking at me.
“Your choice,” I said, and kept walking beside him.
We hiked up a short hill, and Xander pulled a waterbottle out of his pack. He took a long drink, and wiped the sweat from his brow.
“Looks refreshing,” I said.
He glanced at me, but didn't speak.
“Nice cold drink of water right now sure must hit the spot.”
He kept a suspicious eye on me.
“Especially during a long hike like this.”
He looked at the waterbottle, then at me, then at the water bottle again. He lifted the bottle up a fractions towards me, then stopped. He eyed me warily.
“Is this a trick?” he asked.
“Are you asking if you offering me a drink of water as we walk along is some kind of devious trap?” I smiled as I asked this.
Xander looked abashed and handed me the bottle. I took a long, slow swig from it, then gave happy sigh and handed the bottle back to him. He capped the bottle and put it away in his pack.
We walked for a few more minutes before Xander finally spoke.
“Just to be clear, you are Coyote, the trickster god, worshiped by Native Americans for centuries, right?” he asked.
“What? Oh, goodness no,” I shook my head. “It's nothing like that.”
“Oh,” Xander mumbled. “It's just the whole mysterious stranger in the desert, saying enigmatic things kind of threw me.”
He stopped and turned to me. “So if you're not a god, how do you know all that stuff about me?”
“I am a god, but I was never worshiped. I mean, the people told stories about me, myths grew, cartoons involving a damned roadrunner were made, but I was never worshiped,” I clarified, then added, “not that I wouldn't have enjoyed a sacrifice in my name, every now and then. Wouldn't have killed them to make the effort.”
I tried not to sound bitter about it.
“Sorry about that, I'll try to remember next time I have some spare oxen lying around,” Xander said, then grimaced.
“I meant no disrespect, of course,” he apologized, then added, “I'm just going to be quiet now.”
He kept his head down as we continued to walk.
“If it helps, I'm not going to curse you or try to screw you over.”
He looked up at me, relief on his face. “Actually, that does help.”
We came to a small ridge along the trail. Xander hefted his pack over it, then pulled himself up. He turned around and offered me a hand. I took it, and he pulled while I scrambled up the ridge. We dusted ourselves off and took a breather.
“So why me?” Xander asked, throwing his hands up in the air.
“You in regards to?” I asked for clarification.
“You being here,” he said, then added, “and Wolfram and Hart. Why am I getting the attention now, after all these years. What, do I have kind of destiny?”
“Like some kind of Champion? Please.” I laughed him off. He didn't bother trying to hide the hurt on his face.
“I was just asking,” he mumbled.
“You don't want to be a Champion, believe me,” I assured him. “A Champion is just some poor schmuck chosen by the Powers That Be to serve their agenda.”
“Never thought of it that way,” he said.
“Then think of this. The Powers That Be spends all their time and energy moving to get their Champion pawn into position. Most of the time it's just to maintain the status quo,” I explained to him. “I have no interest in Champions.”
“Still haven't explained why you're interested in me,” he grumbled. “Or why Wolfram and Hart want me.”
With a shrug, I said, “Well, it's not you they really want, is it?”
Noticing his questioning look, I elaborated. “Wolfram and Hart represent the worst of existence. They ensure that their clients can operate with impunity. All they want is to maintain and expand their power. The reason they offered you a job is that they believe you can help them achieve this.”
“Don't know why they bothered. It's not like I could do much,” Xander muttered.
I chuckled at that. “At the right place and right time, the wrong person can bring down an empire.”
“That's something to aspire to. I could become Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds,” he said, pulling out some beef jerky. He took a bite, then handed it to me.
“Don't knock it. He's a nice guy. Bit quiet though, keeps to himself,” I said.
I tore off a bite of the jerky and began to chew.
“My point,” I started, then swallowed the jerky, which caused a brief coughing fit.
“My point is,” I continued. “I had a point. What were we talking about?”
“Wolfram and Hart and their nefarious plans for me,” Xander answered.
“Right. Wolfram and Hart and their plans.”
I sat down on the ground and noticed the ants crawling around. I pointed to a line of black ants.
“Wolfram and Hart have their plans. Carefully crafted according to their agenda and goals.”
I picked up one of the black ants and dropped her in my now empty water bottle.
“The Powers That Be have plans,” I said, pointing to a line of red ants a few feet away. “They pick their Champions, pull some strings behind the scenes, trying to steer a canoe through a hurricane.”
I picked one of the red ants and dropped her in the water bottle.
“Then you have the Watcher's Council,” I said, now picking up a cricket. “They have plans. So do every two bit coven, ancient order, recent order, and motley crew of thugs that dare to dream.”
As I spoke, I picked up various bugs on the ground around me and dropped them in the bottle. I screwed on the cap and held it up before Xander.
“All of them have plans.” I studied the bottle for a moment, then shook it up. All the insects were now agitated and fighting each other.
“Men plan. Gods laugh. Ha. Ha. Ha,” I said.
Xander stared at me, frowning. “All I'm getting from this is 'Don't bother, you're screwed no matter what.'”
I looked at the bottle again. “Not what I was going for, but a valid interpretation.”
I dropped the bottle to the ground.
Xander shook his head, picked up the bottle, took the cap off, and gently shook the bugs out of it.
“Interesting reaction,” I murmured.
As he put the empty bottle into his pack I said, “What I was trying to get at is that there are all these groups with their plans, often at cross purposes. Any of which can be upset by outside factors.”
“Like bugs put in a bottle,” he said.
“Exactly!” I said with a smile. “And right now, you're so worried about what others are planning for you that you're not making any plans for yourself.”
He listened, but didn't say anything. I got up from the ground and dusted myself off. We resumed our hike along the trail.
We spent the next few hours making our way back to Xander's car. We didn't talk much, but this time the quiet lacked the strain from earlier. I occasionally pointed out a particularly nice sight, and we would stop for a few minutes to enjoy the ambiance.
After a couple of hours we reached Xander's car. He let out a deep breath when he caught sight of it.
“Well, I guess this is where we part ways,” he said, trying to not sound too eager to leave me.
I watched him as he opened up the trunk and dumped his pack in it. As he fished out the car keys from his pack, I approached him.
“May I ask you a question?”
He looked up at me with a wary expression. “Uh, it depends on what you ask.”
I patted him on the shoulder. “I'm not trying to trick you. I'm just genuinely curious about your answer.”
“All right. Ask away,” he said.
“What do you want?” I asked.
A frown crossed his face, unsure on how to answer.
“I mean you talked about all the things wrong in your life, what you're missing. But what would you like to happen? What direction do you want your life to take?”
Xander shrugged. “Couldn't have stuck with a yes or no question, could you? I guess I wish that...” he trailed off and eyed my suspiciously.
“I don't do the whole wish thing,” I assured him. “Scout's honor.”
“I guess I would like to settle down some place, stop traveling so much. Some place I could help people.”
He closed the trunk of his car and sat down on the back bumper. “What I really miss is being with friends. Being with a close group that you can trust with your life makes it all worthwhile.”
He got up and started walking around his car, now more animated.
“I want to find out what Lewis Miller and WRH Solutions are up to and screw him up. I'd love to show everyone that I can do ten times what Robin Wood can on his best day.”
He stopped as a thought hit him. “I want to see Cordy wake up.”
“One last question,” I said. He stopped pacing and looked at me.
“Hit me,” he said.
“All that stuff you said. Why don't you just go and do that?” I asked.
And with that simple question, I accomplished what few ever could. I completely shut Xander Harris up.
“Something to think about,” I said with a wave.
I watched Coyote walk back down the trail. He had a lightness in his step I hadn't noticed before. I turned to open up my car door, then stopped and turned back.
“Hey, Coyote!” I called out.
He stopped and turned around. “Yes?”
“Is this like a one time thing, or am I going to see you again?” I asked him.
He shrugged and said, “It depends.”
“On what?” I called back.
“If you're ever curious about what the Shanshu is,” he said.
I paused, trying to figure out if I heard him correctly.
“What's a...” I started to shout, but he had disappeared.
Peering down the trail, I tried to spot some sign of the old man, but there was nothing. Looking closer, I saw that there was only one set of footprints leading up to my car. They matched my sneakers. There was no sign anyone else had been here.
“Great, just what I need in my life,” I muttered as I got in my car.
I was about to start the engine, when an impulse hit me. I pulled out my phone and dialed a number.
It rang once before a voice said, “This is David Nabbit.”
“David, this is Xander. Could we meet tomorrow morning?” I asked him.
“Sure. What's on your mind?”
“I've got a proposition I want to run by you. Well, it's more of a vague outline of an idea, right now. But I'd like to sit down and develop it with you.”
“That'll work. How about 9 AM at Cordelia's suite? We can check in on her, then talk about your idea,” he said.
“See you then,” I said, then ended the call.
I started the car, and began driving down the road. I guess the trip did help me figure out a few things.
It was time to start making plans.