What’s My Line, part II
A/N: Disclaimer, author’s notes, etc., are at the beginning of chapter 1; spoilers are through “What’s My Line”.
Monday was its usual horrible grim dayness, but with extra grim. Xander sat down next to Buffy and tried to cheer her up, even though he wasn’t feeling cheery either. But what was the point of having a Vampire Slayer fill out a career aptitude test, when she was going to be dead before she was eighteen? Not that he was going to be with the admitting on that one.
He figured he’d be as silly as he could about the aptitude test and see if he could get Buffy to laugh. Or at least smile. And maybe Willow would come over and sit with them, like on the other side of Buffy, where she didn’t have to sit next to Xander and didn’t have to think about crying on his shoulder a couple days ago.
He watched, while he pretended to look over his test. He waited until Willow came over and sat down. On Buffy’s other side, well away from him. But he was used to being hurt. It happened all the time to losers like Xander Harris. His dad didn’t hit him much anymore, ever since the hyena incident, but that didn’t mean the verbal abuse stopped. So he just pretended he was fine.
He pretended like he was torqued off at the question he was reading. ‘Do you have your own pet?’ He waited until Willow looked over too, and then he asked, “What if you have your own pet, but it was an Easter chick you didn’t want? Or what if you want your own pet but your folks won’t buy one for you?”
Buffy shrugged, “So? Mark ‘none of the above’.”
He acted like he was ranting. “Well, maybe there are no boxes for ‘none of the above’. Because that would introduce too much confusion into their little number-crunching button-down-shirt world.”
Willow said to Buffy, “I’m sensing bitterness over here.” Buffy just looked unhappily at her paper.
He glanced at Buffy and then said to Willow, “It’s just a waste of time! These people can’t tell from one multiple-choice test what we’re gonna be doing for the rest of our lives!”
Willow gave him a shy smile and said, “I don’t know. I’m kinda curious to find out what sort of career I could have.”
Well, naturally. Because his Willow could do anything. He knew she could be the world’s smartest computer guru, or the world’s smartest doctor, or the world’s smartest scientist, or the world’s smartest businesswoman, or whatever she put her mind to. But he couldn’t even say that to her anymore. He couldn’t even call her ‘his Willow’ anymore. Life sucked so royally sometimes. If he ever got his hands on Ethan Rayne again… Instead, he gave her a goofy grin and said, “What, and suck all the spontaneity out of being young and stupid?”
Up until a few weeks ago, his Willow would have been there for him, and would have said ‘Xander, you’re not stupid’ or something like that. Now, she just said, “You’re not gonna be young forever.”
So he smirked, “Yeah, but I’ll always be stupid.” Willow didn’t say anything. Why didn’t she just stab him in the chest and get it over with? “Okay, let’s not all rush to disagree.”
Buffy looked up from her paper and gave him an uncomfortably serious look. “You’re not stupid.”
He heard Cordelia coming, doing her usual schtick, so he made sure to get in the minimum recommended daily allowance of Cordy-sniping. But his heart just wasn’t in it. He didn’t even care when she zinged him a good one. After all, Willow didn’t seem to care anymore, so what was the point?
Buffy looked over at him and asked, “Do I like shrubs?”
He blithely replied, “That’s between you and… your god, I’d say.” Jeez, that was close, he almost said ‘between you and Demeter’, and Buffy and Willow would have been all over that slip-up.
Buffy turned to Willow and asked, “What’d you put down?”
Willow firmly said, “I came down on the side of shrubs.”
So Buffy cheered. “Go with shrubs! Okay!” Then all the cheer just poured out of her. She groaned, “Ugh. I shouldn’t even be bothering with this. It’s all mootville for me. No matter what my aptitude test says, we already know my deal.”
He said, “Yep. High risk, sub-minimum wage…”
Buffy added, “Pointy wooden things…”
Willow didn’t play along. She just wondered, “So why are you taking the test at all?”
Buffy pouted, “It’s Principal Snyder’s hoop of the week. He’s not happy unless I’m jumping. Believe me, I would not be here otherwise.”
Willow was just too hyped about her own filling-out-formness. She tried, “You’re not even a teensy weensy bit curious about what kinda career you could’ve had? I mean, if you weren’t already the Slayer and all…”
Buffy frowned, “Will, do the words ‘sealed in fate’ ring any bells for you? Why even go there?”
Xander saw that Willow looked hurt, so he shook his pencil at Buffy and said, “Young lady, with that kind of attitude, you could’ve had a future working at the DMV!”
Neither of them even gave him one of those ‘stop being a goofball’ looks. Buffy muttered, “Look, I’m sorry, it’s just… Unless Hell freezes over and every vamp in Sunnydale puts in for early retirement, I’d say my future is pretty much a non-issue.”
After that, even his best wisecracks didn’t cheer up Buffy. Or Willow. Or him, either. Maybe he needed to get a real chakram. With a super-sharp edge. And he could practice throwing it at Cordy and her Cordettes. That would count as justifiable homicide, right?
The next morning, Xander was in the library earlier than usual, because he’d started jogging to school instead of walking. No point in standing around hoping Willow would talk to him, or even let him walk with her unless she had some other people between her and Xander. And the only person who’d do that for her was Buffy, who lately was catching rides into school every morning from her mom because her mom was on another ‘be responsible’ kick. Like Buffy wasn’t insanely responsible, what with putting her life on the line pretty much every night even though she didn’t want to.
It wasn’t like Xander was going to make the track team sit up and cheer, either. He wasn’t in shape. Well, he could run a couple blocks like something with fangs was after him. That was a good skill for Sunnydale. But he couldn’t run like Xena. He had a few memories of her being able to run at top speed for miles without getting really winded. Maybe if he jogged a few miles every morning, he could start working toward something not too humiliating.
But he wasn’t slow as molasses, so he was already in the library before Buffy got there. He tried, “So really Giles, don’t you think you need a little Mister Coffee or something in your office? Maybe some of that powdered creamer too?”
From the expression on Giles’ face, Xander was figuring Giles would rather lick batteries. Then Giles looked past him and perked right up. “Ahh! Willow!”
Willow charged right in, only faltering a little bit when she saw Xander was there too. She rushed right over to Giles, pulled out a notebook and her laptop computer, and started giving him the third degree.
Xander watched with poorly-hidden amusement as Willow quizzed Giles on yet another detail of the Watchers’ Diaries and those assorted wacky mystic tomes. It used to be the most deadly boredom since Mister Wallace’s Civics class. Or Mrs. Christiansen’s history class. Or… well, a lot of classes here were so incredibly dull it was a wonder students weren’t begging to be vamped just so they wouldn’t have to go to class anymore.
But now Willow Quiz Time was always fun, because Xander understood a lot more about the languages and remembered a lot more about the ancient history. And, sooner or later, Willow would find something Giles couldn’t answer, or wasn’t supposed to reveal, and then… hilarity ensued. Maybe even frantic glasses polishing.
This time, Willow asked, “So, how are stars supposed to shift positions? They’re effectively stationary in the sky, unless you’re talking about tens of thousands of years passing by.”
Giles was already taking off his glasses. Next it would be the frowning. And then the heavy polishing. Xander figured Giles was gonna wear right through those lenses before the end of the school year.
Giles asked, “Umm, Willow, in precisely what context are you translating texts about shifting stars?”
Willow pulled one of Giles’ private books out of her backpack. Xander watched as Giles winced. Giles stammered, “Willow, you’re not really supposed to be reading through that one. It has certain prophecies which have been demarcated… And others which have not yet come to pass, which can cause all manner of mistakes, as people attempt to force events into one or more of the prophetic structures… And even a few passages which have not really been clarified.”
Willow said, “It’s this section here. It’s in Greek, but I can make it out now that I got this on-line dictionary for ancient Greek, which the University of California at Berkeley Classics Department really ought to put much better protection on because just anyone can get into this computer and past their password and… Never mind that. Here’s the passage. ‘For the three stars shall move into alignment and remain there, and it shall be the end of days, and the apocalypse shall be brought forth as the stars… umm… point at our lives’. Which makes like no sense, because stars don’t move, and if there were three stars out there that were all lined up, we wouldn’t know it, because they’d all be behind the first one, unless you account for gravitational lensing, but then there wouldn’t be any way for a movement into alignment.”
Xander grinned, “Come on, Will. Even I know this one. The ancients called everything a star, unless it was the sun or the moon. Mars, Venus, Jupiter, you name it.”
Willow gave him a little glare. “I knew that already, Xena
.” Xander tried not to wince.
Giles put his glasses back on. Xander inwardly complained to himself, because he’d just ruined a perfectly good glasses-polishing moment. Giles cleared his throat slightly. “Umm, yes… That… that particular passage has been subject to considerable reinterpretation within the Watcher’s council, because the visible stars when that prediction was made were all either completely fixed true stars, or were moving objects, like Mercury and Venus.”
Willow pulled up her laptop and typed rapidly. Xander watched as Giles winced slightly. He had always been pretty anti-computer, although that thing with Moloch had really made him super-squirrelly about computers for months, and he hadn’t really gotten over that. Xander suppressed another smile.
Willow bubbled, “I just got this awesome program off the internet…”
She smiled, “It’s okay, Giles, really, no demons or viruses or anything. And it’s totally legal to own a copy for personal use only. It lets you look at the solar system. You can change the date and watch the planets and moons move, and everything. It’s about as CPU-intensive as my laptop can take, but other than that, it’s awesome. Now watch this…”
Xander leaned over to watch the screen as Willow zoomed out until the whole solar system was on the screen. Then she advanced the pointer at the bottom of the screen, and the earth rushed around the sun.
Which was when Xander noticed the outer planets. “Uhh, Will, what did you do to get those planets over there lined up like that?”
Willow frowned at the screen. “I didn’t do anything. They… Oh God.”
Giles reacted to her tone, and hovered behind her. “What’s the matter?”
Willow gulped. “Giles, The three stars that shall move into alignment and stay there, and point at earth? They’re already here. Look.” She pointed at Uranus and Neptune and Pluto. “That… that’s gotta be coincidence, right?”
Giles paused. “Precisely when would your three planets be in line with Earth?”
Willow played with her solar system program for a few seconds. “Umm, this December, like now. And last May.”
“Last May. The Master’s apocalypse,” muttered Giles darkly.
“And the December before that,” Willow admitted.
“The Harvest,” Xander winced.
“And maybe the May before that,” Willow finished.
Giles muttered, “Lothos.”
Xander looked at him. “Whoa, you mean the Buffster’s stopped three straight apocalypsi? Apocalypsees?”
“Apocalypses, Xander,” supplied Giles absent-mindedly. “It looks that way. So Willow, is that it? Those three?”
Willow fiddled with the scale at the bottom of the screen, and the earth whirled around the sun, with the outer planets ever so slowly moving in the same direction until they separated slightly. She looked kind of green.
“Willow? I’m not getting’ the warm fuzzies here,” Xander said.
She looked pale as she stared at Giles. “There aren’t any warm fuzzies around here. If a year and a half ago was good enough for a syzygy, then it looks like the planets are lined up and pointing at us for a total of ten straight years. Maybe ten and a half.”
“Good lord!” Giles rocked back.
Xander gulped. “Umm, Will, is there any chance that big ol’ brain of yours made a tiny ol’ mistake, because that would be like twenty-one straight apocalypses, in a row, one every six months. Buffy might’ve stopped three, but nobody can do twenty-one.”
Willow looked faint as she whispered, “And it shall be the end of days…”
Xander tried, “It can’t be the end of days! I haven’t even gotten to get drunk out of my mind on my twenty-first birthday!” Nobody smiled. Nobody even glared at him.
Giles was muttering “oh dear oh dear” and leafing through another old book. Willow got up and whimpered, “Hold me.” She flung herself into his arms.
Xander wrapped Willow up and held her tightly. Given how mad she’d been at him over the whole Xena thing, he hadn’t had the chance to really hug her like this in a while, except for the Jesse memorial thing. So he was taking advantage of every bit of Willow-huggage he could get. He looked over at Giles and asked, “Hey Giles, this must happen all the time, right? Superpowered Slayer zooms in, kicks apocalypse butt, does victory dance? Right?”
Giles swallowed hard. “Umm, actually Xander, the Slayer seldom does more than slay vampires. That is why she’s called the Vampire Slayer. In point of fact, a true apocalypse is extremely rare. Only a handful of near-apocalyptic incidents have been recorded in the last three thousand years. I believe there is no record of any Slayer ever stopping more than two apocalypses in a career.”
“Woohoo! We’re number one!” Xander fake-cheered.
Giles sighed as he stared at a page, “Here it is. Tjeela the Slayer. Stopped a vampire apocalypse in 1104, and then prevented a demon from performing an apocalyptic rite in 1106.”
Xander said, “So, Slayers can do this.”
“She died stopping the demonic rite.”
Xander winced, but he tried to keep it on the inside. He felt Willow whimper against his shirt.
Giles said, “Willow, I know you’re quite upset, but I need you to check your results. This is crucial. I need to do some research. And then I think we’re going to have to make a phone call.”
“Where? The X-files?” kidded Xander.
“London. The Watchers’ Council,” Giles said.
The library doors flew open and Buffy bounced in. “Hey, what’s the what? How come there’s PDA in the library, right in front of the stuffy guy?”
Xander said, “Apocalypse. End of days.”
Buffy stopped short and said, “Oh come on, not AGAIN!” She stopped at glared at Giles. “I just got a manicure over the weekend!”