Much later, Xander assured himself he really couldn’t be blamed for then indignantly demanding to the otherwise deserted library, “Hey, why are you still here? Everybody else went totally back to normal when Giles broke the magic statue at Ethan’s costume shop!”
*Kid, how the hell should I
know?* answered an equally frustrated inner voice. Marshal Cogburn went on in his growing irascibility, *It ain’t like I planned on visiting this crazy town in the first goddamn place, much less being stuck in yer head right this minute!*
“Okay, okay,” grumbled Xander under his breath. He glowered at the bookshelves at the far side of the room past the center table where he was seated, until his mouth ran away from him again. “Feel free to leave anytime…”
It wasn’t until after trailing off in mid-sentence when Xander understood too late exactly how dumb this sounded. Helping along that horrified realization was a genuinely perceptible mood of absolute disbelief coming from someone else now in his brain. This was soon followed by an extremely sarcastic growl, *Why, certainly. I’ll be gone quicker than an alderman pocketing a bribe. Just let me slip out the back door without a single fare-thee-well… That is, IF I CAN FIND THE DAMN THING, YA LITTLE TURD!*
Xander cringed in his chair. He uselessly clapped both hands over his ears while the last furious bellow echoed through the chambers of his mindscape. Remaining frozen with his fingers still held there against the sides of his head, this unfortunately failed to halt Rooster Cogburn’s ensuing, obscenity-laden, internal tirade:
*Lissen, ya stupid peckerhead, even if there was a real chance of me and ya parting our ways, where the fuck am I gonna go? I’m damn well no ghost like yer red-haired friend, but I’m also sure as shit not gonna survive without staying in a flesh-and-blood body! Guess who got picked for that? Oh, and while yer at it, try to get a handle on how much I care whether ya like it or not!*
That last part made Xander suddenly lose his own temper. Bringing down both hands to angrily slam his now-clenched fists hard onto the library tabletop, he glared into the distance. Xander then shouted at the top of his lungs with matching wrath, “No, you
listen, you half-blind, fatso, boozer! If I gotta, I’ll grab the nearest hammer and clobber myself with it to get rid of you! That’s better than you deserve, and no matter how much it hurts, it’ll still beat carrying around in my head someone with all the charm of a rabid skunk!”
Gasping for breath while shuddering in sincere fury, Xander stiffened in his chair a few moments later. This was due to listening incredulously to a much calmer voice with actual approval in it, *’Bout time ya showed a little backbone, kid.*
” Xander couldn’t keep from blurting that out, with his mouth left hanging open after this disbelieving interjection.
An intangible chuckle drifted throughout the teenage boy’s consciousness. The imaginary (yet all too real) representation of a fictional literary and cinema character went on to helpfully explain.
*Look, son, I’m a bully, and that’s the Lord’s honest truth. Always was, from what I can remember. If I don’t ignore ’em, I tend to push people around to find those who’ll stand up to me. Not women, children, or the old folks, though. I’ll leave those alone or lend a hand if they need it. But I got no sympathy or respect for anybody who folds right away when things go wrong. Nope, I’ll take stubborness over cowardice any time. Just so they don’t ever back down, even it it’s totally idiotic and pointless when they do that.*
For the next couple of minutes, the library was quiet. Xander contemplated this short lecture from his inner guest. He had to admit, it matched what he remembered how Rooster behaved in the movie True Grit,
especially concerning this lawman’s unwanted pair of companions during the last half of this 1969 film. At first, the U.S. Marshal hadn’t been the slightest bit pleased about traveling with a very determined girl and a brash Texas Ranger. However, in their pursuit of a band of Western desperadoes, Rooster’s irked feelings about this eventually changed into actual appreciation for these resolute younger people.
During all this careful study, Xander hadn’t been disturbed by the other person now sharing his head. He cautiously mentioned out loud to someone who had to be waiting for this, “You liked it when I talked back at you?”
Somehow, there was a sense of an agreeable shrug elsewhere in the young man’s consciousness. This was followed by, *When it’s part of holding yer ground, yep. Keep in mind, son, I got no patience for sass or whining ’bout what can’t be helped. Which you done earlier, goddamn it. Hellfire, boy, for all we know, when ya next take a nap and then wake up, I could be gone for once and all!*
Leaning back in his chair, Xander considered that, only to argue, “Yeah, maybe. On the other hand, I could be in bed, finish my forty winks, open my eyes, and have you
still looking out, like now!”
*Just think of it as me sitting in a train’s passenger car and watching the view pass by from the windows, kid. If that’s all I can do, I might as well enjoy the trip. Someone else’s doing all the hard work, so I figure to leave them to it. It ain’t like I can lift one single fucking finger, anyway.*
Hearing that, Xander shot a frankly appalled glance down at his hands still resting on the library table. Thankfully flexing his fingers to assure himself they were still under his control, the high school student immediately accused, “Are you saying you just tried to take over my body here and now?!”
Rooster dryly answered with his own question, *What, ya truly expected me not to? And it wasn’t just a moment ago, either. I been trying the whole time ever since we switched places back in the alley.*
Xander let an abrupt, aghast gurgle escape from his lips over learning this little bit of uncomfortable news. His dismayed mood was only partly relieved by a very gruff assertion, *Aw, relax, kid. Couldn’t do a damn thing-- Hey, did ya try, too? That is, when I was using yer body last night without knowing ya was along for the ride?*
“Uh, yeah,” feebly admitted Xander still mostly in shock.
This resulted in *There ya go,* all delivered in a rather resigned tone. *If it didn’t work for ya, I’m fucking positive it ain’t gonna work for me, likewise. Figure we might as well settle this right away before any further fuss. That fair enough, kid?*
Now totally speechless, Xander bobbed his head several times in astonished agreement.
Rooster seemed apparently satisfied by that, given his next words. *Fine, then. I got a lot more questions for ya. First, when ya collected those kids earlier -- by the way, ya done a good job there, son -- and turned ’em over to their folks, what the hell was going on? How come nobody said a word ’bout last night’s tomfoolery?*
Xander sighed, “Oh, boy.”
He spent a few more seconds gathering his thoughts, before starting to explain it all: Sunnydale Syndrome, the Hellmouth, the Slayer, vampires, demons, magic, and every other part of his hometown’s weirdness.
When it was finally done, Rooster’s first irate reaction was what might’ve been expected. *Jesus Christ in the mountains! Why the fuck aren’t ya calling in the army to take care of it? From the sound of it, this whole place needs to be burnt to the ground and then sowed with a layer of salt six feet thick! Couldn’t hurt to also have every preacher in the country on hand, waving their Bibles while loudly invoking the Good Lord against the ungodly!*
The moment he managed to get a word in edgewise, Xander overrode the lawman’s incredulous rant. “Uh-huh, no way, buster! When Buffy tried explaining to her mom and dad why the Hemery High gym went up in flames on her first outing as the Slayer, they put her in the loony bin. It didn’t sound like she had a real fun time there. What makes you think things would be all that different, if anyone else tried to convince people outside Sunnydale about what goes on here?”
*Mebbe so,* grudgingly came from Xander’s mental guest. Rooster showed he was still mostly unconvinced by him adding, *That don’t mean this burg’s townsfolk can’t do something ’bout it. From what I remember being on the streets last night with all the houses, stores, and suchlike, there’s a lotta people here. Why ain’t they banding together against the monsters who want to eat ’em?*
Xander sighed again, this time much more loudly. “Like I said, Sunnydale Syndrome’s really powerful in my hometown. Take me, for example. I grew up here, and I never noticed anything was wrong the entire time. Not until Buffy moved in, and then Wils and I had a crash course from her and G-man about the Boca del Infierno and the rest of the strangeness. So far, we’ve managed to remember it all while living through various fights with vamps and other night-time uglies. Though, I’ve actually seen school friends and neighbors come face-to-face with demons and more bad stuff. If they survived it, they either talked themselves into more comfortable memories, or they soon completely forgot the whole thing. Giles thinks it has something to do with the Hellmouth’s magic.”
Rooster darkly muttered, *It just ain’t natural, all of it. How else could ya and me share the same skull now? Fine, fine, can’t say magic don’t exist, not after what we been through. Mind ya, it ain’t the hardest thing to wrap my own head around, son. I mean, were ya really serious ‘bout what’d you call her, the Slayer? That
little slip of a spoiled brat, she’s in fact some sorta rough, tough monster fighter?*
Rolling his eyes in genuine exasperation, Xander snorted, “You just caught Buffy at a really bad time for her, okay? Trust me, you’ll soon see first hand how vicious she can be when I get my ass kicked all over this room by her. What really pisses me off is that it’ll all be your
fault because of what you said and did last night, but I’m gonna be the only one to get pounded to a pulp for it!”
*Hell, kid, I been to plenty of whorehouses where ya woulda needed to pay real cash money for that, and yer getting it for absolutely free!* mentally snickered Rooster.
Encouraged by Xander’s prompt, inarticulate sputtering over being told this, the gleeful lawman having more fun than he’d previously expected went on, *But if ya really want my advice, ya should save that for last. First, how ‘bout a good spanking from the redhead and the dark-haired gal with those magnificent tits? Both of ‘em teaming up on ya at the same time, naturally, and dressed in nothing but their corsets laced up tight--*
“WILL YOU KNOCK IT OFF!” roared Xander in his combined embarrassment and fury. He next unconsciously thrust his right hand forward and curled his fingers around an imaginary Western revolver. This was accompanied by a heated, “I swear, if I had your gun from last night and you were right here in front of me, I’d shoot you full of holes for saying that!”
*Yeah, sure,* Rooster tossed off in his most amused tone. *Guess I’m pure-dee lucky either of that ain’t gonna happen, right?*
A high school student seated in the deserted library now looked down at where he was still threateningly pointing ahead with a pretend weapon. Obviously, his mental companion followed the teenage boy’s gaze. In the very next instant, both a young man and a hard-bitten law enforcement officer saw the abrupt materialization there of a most substantial post-Civil War Colt single action army revolver in Xander Harris’ grip.