Disclaimer: I own nothing. All Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters are the property of their original owners.
While he was being led to the place of battle, Xander Harris glumly wondered to himself, *How the hell did this happen? Oh, yeah, you opened your big yap.*
Just a couple of days ago, most of the residents in the Cleveland Slayers House had been relaxedly clustered in the converted hotel’s warm and cozy recreation room after dinner. It’d been a chilly, rainy weekday in early March, with this dreary weather continuing well past a sunset thoroughly hidden behind dripping clouds. Nobody assigned for tonight’s patrol was looking forward at all to going outside into winter’s last gasp for their normal routine of safeguarding the world from the vampires and demons attracted by this Ohio city’s Hellmouth. What made it even more irritating was that the last few weeks had been a rare period of peace and quiet for the House. Which in turn meant it was almost certain that instead of finding some monsters to enjoyably slay, those warrior girls detailed for this evening’s work would instead come back home both cranky and cold over spending a couple of very boring hours uselessly roaming around in the dark, deserted streets.
The typical cheerful chaos of the room, with its dozen or more baby Slayers watching three television sets at once displaying their favorite programs, gossiping loudly together, and showing off their latest learned knife trick, was slowly becoming a little strained. The young women there were subtly dividing into two groups, with most of them casting smug glances towards where a grumpy quartet dressed up for arctic conditions were sharing the same sofa and seemingly engrossed in the latest episode from one of the cable tv’s travel channels. The four Slayers sitting there together continued to fixedly watch the program recounting strange and unusual locations along Route 66, the historic mother road which for most of the 20th century had been the main choice for Americans to drive across the United States from Chicago to Los Angeles. Judging from these girls’ hopeful stares, they were all praying their program would last long enough for spring to finally come before they still had to go out on patrol in the next hour or so.
At the small table in one corner of the recreation room, Faith’s lips twitched into a faint smirk. Apparently keeping her gaze down at the papers strewn across the tabletop, the oldest Slayer of the House was in fact surreptitiously glancing over from out of the corner of her eye, seeing where the remote was being tightly gripped in the hand of tonight’s pissed-off patrol leader. One smart-ass remark, just one,
from any of her sisters gloating about not having their ears freezing solid tonight, and that remote was for sure gonna be launched at someone’s head.
Faith looked up to thoughtfully regard Xander across the table, busily scribbling away on a form. The man wearing an eyepatch embroidered on the face of this leather covering with a diminutive grinning skull and crossbones and the short statement “THE BEATINGS WILL CONTINUE UNTIL MORALE IMPROVES” was presumably immersed in his own tall stack of red tape. Both of these Heads of House could’ve done their never-ending paperwork in Xander’s office, but the Sunnydale survivors far preferred to get through this drudgery while surrounded by the happy pandemonium of their superhuman charges. Who themselves had quickly learned to leave the older legends alone at their jobs there after one or two of the baby Slayers got enthusiastically roped into helping Xander and Faith plow through reams of tedious administrative details from the New Council headquarters.
The younger people also never appreciated the unnoticed presence of the two working adults there also allowed them to keep a discreet eye upon everybody and everything.
Sensing from the thickening tension in the room that the other Slayers’ ill feelings were about to erupt any moment now, Faith put a stern expression on her face, and she turned her head to glower at everyone there, just before telling them to knock it off. However, at this exact moment, the room fell silent, except for the three television sets still broadcasting their programs. From one of these shows, a narrator’s voice intoned a very unbelievable challenge open to whomever dared to risk it.
Without even a pause, Xander muttered under his breath a short response while dubiously studying the newest regulations for storing ultra-powerful mystical weapons (as if anyone in the House with the Slayer package which included heightened hearing actually needed to be reminded not to keep them under their beds), “Hell, I could do that.”
This time, the silence was an absolute hush, given that the trio of television sets were simultaneously switched off by those various young women possessing their remotes. Glancing up in mild surprise at the sudden stillness now throughout the entire room, Xander then saw everyone else intently staring at him. Worse of all were the developing wicked grins of each and every supremely gleeful baby Slayer there. Frantically peeking at the presumably more mature female sharing his table, Xander felt his heart sink at observing the truly evil smile presently upon Faith Lehane’s beautiful face.
Her mood enormously improved, tonight’s patrol leader bounced up from the recreation room sofa onto her feet, all while thrusting the remote triumphantly up towards the ceiling, and whooping, “Dibs on the road trip!”
In the middle of the morning on the next Saturday after the events presented above, Xander Harris cravenly scurried into his office, slamming shut the door after himself. Going across the room and then behind his desk, the one-eyed man let his body drop into his office chair. Next, he leaned forward to rest his elbows on top of the desk, and then buried his face into the cupped palms of his hands. After remaining in this posture of complete despair for a few moments, Xander’s slumping shoulders stiffened, and his bowed head was abruptly lifted. An actual look of hope blazed in his remaining eye at the brainwave which had just come into existence inside his mind.
Grabbing for his desk phone, Xander hit a familiar number, and then he anxiously waited for his caller to answer. When at last the phone at the other end of the line was picked up, Xander didn’t even bother allowing Rupert Giles to finish this older man’s first crisply-accented “Hello?” before the head of the New Council at their Scottish castle headquarters was bombarded with an anxious babble coming from the receiver:
“Yo, G-man! How’re you, fine I bet, everything okay there? Any apocalypses about to start? I can be over right away, ready and willing to help out! Or maybe there’s some other little problem you need fixed, so don’t be afraid to bring--”
“Xander,” Giles calmly interrupted, “Faith called me an hour ago, saying all your travel arrangements for this afternoon were made, your clothes were packed, the private flight carrying you, her, and the accompanying Slayers reported clear weather, Willow agreed not to interfere, and everything else you might’ve thought of to escape wasn’t gonna fuckin’ happen, in her own inimitable words. In short, lad, you’re going.
A betrayed look swiftly passed across his scarred features, with Xander next whining into the phone, “C’mon, Giles! I didn’t really mean it, what I said, so why’s everybody holding me to it?”
From across the Atlantic, a patrician breath was drawn in evident outrage. Giles then started solemnly reproaching at length his glum listener: “A man’s word is his bond, Xander! How may any level of trust be maintained among us of the New Council, when we can’t be sure of someone’s assurances or guarantees? Let me tell you, being able to rely upon--”
Around then, Xander had stopped actually listening. Instead, he’d lowered his face to the desktop, resting his countenance against the cool wood, all while draping the phone over his head. The steady drone of Giles’ lecturing voice continued to buzz on and on into the younger man’s right ear. An instant later, Xander jerked upright in his chair after a horrible suspicion had just occurred to him. Snatching out of mid-air the descending phone, which had been flung upwards off his head, the irate Head of House yelled into it, “You bastard, you and everyone else there in the castle are betting on me, aren’t you?!”
Grinding his teeth, Xander had to impatiently wait again for an unruffled Englishman to at last answer, “I suppose it wouldn’t do any harm to admit that I laid a slight wager concerning the results of your coming trial, Xander.”
slight are we talking here, G-man?” Xander exasperatedly snarled into the phone. In reality, the California native didn’t particularly want to know, but it was certain he’d find out sooner or later, so he might as well as get it over with right this minute.
His worse fears were realized by a jovial response of, “Admission to the Pavilion at Lord’s for this year’s Test match.” Giles’ voice then abruptly changed from its cheerfulness of a mere moment ago into actual menace, as he now threatened, “Which means you’d bloody well better win, you little wanker!”
Opening his mouth to say something really nasty and possibly unforgivable about the game of cricket, Xander was interrupted by a thunderous pounding against the outside of his office door. This noise came accompanied by a woman’s jubilant delivery at the top of her lungs: “DROP YER COCKS AND GRAB YER SOCKS, STUD! WE’RE READY TO GO, SO PUT YER ASS IN GEAR, AN’ LET’S MOVE IT!”
Glaring at where Faith’s dulcet tones were effortlessly piercing the reinforced door, Xander took a hasty moment to growl into the receiver, “Win or lose, I hope it rains so hard there that all the players have to stand in neck-deep water!” Slamming the phone down in the middle of Giles’ spluttering, Xander reluctantly bestirred himself, and he went off to meet his dreadful fate.
That evening, after a plane ride far to the south of Cleveland and then quickly checking into their hotel, Xander was escorted into a nearby garish Western-themed building by Faith and four very pleased baby Slayers. This latter thrilled quartet were enjoying their road trip, as a reward for carrying out the freezing patrol of several days ago. Nevertheless, they still obeyed Faith’s sardonic orders to keep a close eye upon their Head of House, lest he make a break for it. Xander himself just mooched along, his face blank, until they all came to the prearranged location, which looked exactly like it did when a certain television travel program had done a segment on one of Route 66’s most unique restaurants, proudly located in the city of Amarillo in the great state of Texas.
Inside the Big Texan Steak Ranch, a table with a distinctive red-and-white checkered plastic tablecloth had been set aside on its own in a dining room. There was a single empty chair before the bare table, and a grinning Faith pointed her finger at where Xander was supposed to go, as if it wasn’t evident enough already. Giving this exuberant Slayer his dirtiest look, Xander nonetheless walked forward, to where several restaurant employees were waiting for him by the table.
After a last-minute recitation of the rules, Xander glumly nodded his acceptance of everything, and he sat down at the table, all while knowing he couldn’t get up again or otherwise leave until he either won, lost, or admitted defeat. Twisting his head around to glare at where five giggling young women were standing among the increasing crowd in the dining room, each hoping to see an exciting contest tonight, Xander then witnessed Faith and the others’ smirking faces change into actual awe.
Bringing his head back, Xander saw several waitresses, each ceremonially carrying a filled plate of food approaching his table. One after another, the servers put down their loads onto the table before Xander. The very last waitress had to use both hands to hold the oversized plate, with its contents spilling over the edges, to then lay it directly in front of the man with an eyepatch. The crowd now held their breaths, as they watched the latest contender for tonight’s challenge finally come face-to-face with the realization of what he had to heroically do, or bust a gut trying.
In the next sixty minutes or less, Xander Harris needed to eat every single bite of the food ready on the table, which consisted of a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, buttered roll, and most difficult of all, a sizzling 72 oz. steak. Which translated to four and a half pounds of well-cooked beef, or if you want to be metric about it, two point zero four kilograms of seared bovine flesh.
Picking up his knife and fork, a stone-faced Xander cut out a portion of the steak, placed it in his mouth, and he started chewing, while the challenge clock started ticking and the crowd whooped in joyous encouragement.
Much later, a man slumping in his seat blearily stared at the sole remaining scrap of meat on the otherwise cleared plate. With a shaking hand, his fork made a lethargic stab at this final obstacle. Even though he was just barely able to lift this, Xander got the fork and its skewered contents somewhere in the vicinity of his mouth. Numb lips barely felt the food getting shoved past them, and Xander had to concentrate on making his weary jaws move up and down. After a mighty struggle, an exhausted gullet sent down the very last morsel of the oversized steak. Xander let gravity help his mouth fall open, to show the hovering restaurant floor manager responsible for tonight’s contents, that he’d indeed swallowed the tidbit.
The floor manager of the dining room triumphantly shouted, “Time! Fifty-eight minutes and seventeen seconds for Xander Harris, who becomes the latest Big Texan champion! Give this guy a real loud Texas congratulations, folks!”
As urged, the admiring crowd fiercely applauded, hollered, and otherwise made their appreciation plainly known. However, nobody was brave enough to come over and give the man still in the chair an approving slap on the back. Not when a green-faced Xander was shooting very queasy glances downwards at the large bucket which had been ostentatiously placed on the floor next to his chair ten minutes into the contest.
After a few moments more, when it thankfully appeared he’d regained control over his stomach, the crowd started breaking up, with most going back to their own dinners or leaving the steakhouse. Some of the watchers lingered to observe how a barely-conscious Xander was presented with several gifts in recognition of his feat: a t-shirt identifying him as a Big Texan champion, a souvenir cowboy-style boot beer mug, and a certificate capable of being framed and proudly displayed at home.
With a grand flourish by the Big Texan floor manager, the culmination of tonight’s challenge resulted in Xander being good-naturedly presented with a handful of cash money. This matched the bill for everything he’d just eaten. The money, as required by the rules, had been paid in advance of the contest, but now that he’d won, Xander received a full refund. Weakly smiling his thanks, Xander paid no further attention to the bustle of the waitresses removing the bare plates and cleaning up the dinner table. Instead, after taking a necessary deep breath to build up his strength, Xander lurched to his feet from the chair, and he spent the next few moments trying not to fall flat on his face.
Swaying in his boots, with a pins and needles sensation prickling every muscle in his numb legs due to having to remain in the chair for nearly an hour, Xander gingerly rubbed his bulging stomach. Glancing down, he was in the middle of wincing at seeing how swollen his waist currently was, hanging over the top of his pants, only to be interrupted by a very familiar woman’s voice cheerfully coming from behind, “Hey, stud, that wasn’t bad.”
Shambling around in a half-circle, Xander glowered at where Faith was placidly standing there and using a toothpick to dig at her right lower row of brilliant white teeth. When she next smirked at him, Xander opened his mouth to grouse back at her, only to have a puzzled look abruptly flash over his features at seeing only her remaining there of the former crowd, who’d all left by now.
“Where’s the others, Faith?”
After Xander had concernedly asked this, the Slayer just shrugged and pulled the toothpick out of her mouth, but she still held this little pointed stick ready for use in her hand. The young woman then happily told Xander, “Oh, ’bout a few minutes in, me and the kids got hungry, just like I figgered we might. So, we headed off to the private room here I rented in advance, and we chowed down ourselves. Got to watch ya stuffin’ yerself on the tv there while we had our own li’l steaks. Everybody -- me included -- enjoyed havin’ the same thing as you, only doubled.”
Seeing the sudden look of alarm materialize upon Xander’s face, and corrected guessing the reason for this, Faith only grinned at him as she went on, “Naw, nothin’ to be worried ’bout. One of the guys workin’ here is a half-Brachen demon, so he made sure nobody’s gonna be askin’ questions on how a buncha girls could eat ten times more’n anybody thought possible. Hell, back there, the baby Slayers are splittin’ a third round, but me, I’d rather leave room for…pie.
Throughout her explanation, Faith had been inwardly snickering to herself, and it became even more fun when she drawled out the very last word. Hearing that, Xander turned as white as a sheet, and he convulsively swallowed several times. Yet, he soon managed to sufficiently recover, as shown by snarling to a woman clearly having the time of her life, “Faith, if you want to keep your boots clean, you don’t ever mention food to me for the next couple of days while you’re in vomiting range!”
Faith treated this attempt at bodily fluids intimidation with all the seriousness it deserved, by guffawing right into Xander’s grouchy face. Still chuckling while she stuck the toothpick into the corner of her mouth and left it there, Faith used her now-free hand to casually wave him away, “Go back to yer room, stud, and just lie down for a while, willya? I’ll bring ya a gallon bottle of Pepto-Bismol when me and the girls check in ’fore we go on patrol. There ain’t much demon-type stuff goin’ on here, but the Brachen guy tol’ me some really dumb-ass amateur vamps are tryin’ to set up a nest a few miles down the road. From the sounds of things, any of the kids could prob’ly deal with it with one arm tied behind their back and wearin’ a blindfold, but at least it’ll give us somethin’ to do. We’ll be back in a hour, tops.”
Xander had listened intently once his second-in-command shifted into actual New Council business. At seeing Faith’s supremely confident expression, the one-eyed man trustingly nodded in acceptance, adding, “Okay, Faith, see you then.”
Both of the young people then started to head into the opposite direction from each other, except Faith couldn’t possibly pass up a chance for a final needling comment. As she stalked towards where the baby Slayers were eating, the brunette female sniggered over her shoulder, “Hey, stud, ya might wanta say good-night to yer loyal fans worldwide. They’d feel really let down if ya didn’t, I betcha.”
Shooting his best exasperated glare at the graceful woman marching away while having her shoulders shaking in silent mirth, Xander shuffled back over to the table he’d previously occupied during the 72 oz. steak challenge. Now cleaned and completely cleared except for his prizes still there, Xander spent a quick moment gathering up his t-shirt, mug, and certificate (the money had been stuffed minutes before into his jeans pocket). Only when everything had been collected and was resting in the crook of his left arm did Xander finally look up into the ceiling camera, which had hilariously broadcast over the Internet every second of his attempt to consume a king-sized meal.
Rising his right arm to derisively shake his fist at the camera, where he just knew
Buffy, Dawn, Willow, Giles, and virtually everyone else in the New Council were watching and laughing themselves sick, Xander then strode off and out of camera range with as much dignity as he could manage. Which wasn’t all that great, given his normal firm walk could now best be described as a bloated waddle.
Keeping his head down while he staggered towards his hotel room, Xander let a minute or so go by, until he allowed a wide, if slightly pained, smile to split his face. It’d all worked out easy as--
Feeling bile surge up his throat, Xander hastily discarded that specific mental figure of speech, instead trying to think of something, anything else before he actually threw up. Like, say, how a few days ago he’d pulled off once again a cunning plan to divert a potential fight between the baby Slayers back in the Cleveland House’s recreation room.
Well, okay, he’d never really intended to have things to go as far as they had, but anyone else would have to agree that his charges, one and all, had been completely distracted right from the start. The four Slayers feeling absolutely put upon over their upcoming uncomfortable patrol, not to mention the rest of the House, had instead joyously thrown themselves into the collective preparations of getting Xander Harris to the Big Texan Steak Ranch, and while there, having this same man eating in one go a gargantuan dinner.
This Sunnydale survivor, despite his seemingly innocuous words spoken as if to himself, hadn’t really been sure then if he could actually do this. So what? Being held to his careless comment, plus acting with increasingly desperate attempts to get out of it, had surely provided the young women of the House with a tremendous amount of entertainment over the last week. Making them bond together in shared amusement had in the end been worth it all, no matter how much his stomach hurt now.
He’d do anything
for his girls.
Author’s Note: Everything mentioned in real life about the Big Texan Steak Ranch along Route 66 in Amarillo, Texas, is the absolute truth. You can see for yourself on http://www.bigtexan.com (including just what a 72 oz. steak looks like, and also perhaps someone genuinely trying to accomplish the challenge via the restaurant cam provided as part of the website).
Also, thanks to those recent reviewers who want me to update “What Happens In Vegas…” I really intend to do this, and also my other unfinished stories, once I have the time. It’s even part of my New Years’ resolutions, if that makes you feel any better. Of course, my other New Years’ resolutions include taking up my throne as the monarch of a newly-arisen Atlantis and providing shelter for the deserving from the December 21 world apocalypse when the Mayan calendar ends. We’ll just have to see how things work out.
P.S.: Regarding the above, the ‘deserving’ will be limited solely to the participants of the Miss Hawaiian Tropic bikini contests. Fnord.