Welcome to the Game
I originally began writing this in November of 2006, but never posted it anywhere online. It’s just been sitting on my hard drive patiently waiting and occasionally undergoing some editing. Finally, the time has come (if for no other reason than simply to get it out of my pending folder) and I hope you enjoy it.TITLE:
The Rewritten Chronicles 1: The VisitorAUTHOR:
BtVS. post S1; HighlanderRATING:
AU, crossover (minor character bashing, discussions about violence & bisexuality)SUMMARY:
Xander is visited by a surprising ghost who wishes to change the world and dispense advice.*
The Rewritten Chronicles
*Introductions & Explanations: Welcome to the Game
Afterwards, Xander was never really sure what it was that woke him up. It might have been the strange ozone scented flavor to the air or the way his bedroom seemed to be filled with random bursts of static electricity that made all his hair stand on end. It might have been the low vibrating hum interspersed with a soft crackling sound that was felt in his bones more than heard. Or it might have been that eerie sensation of being watched.
Whatever it was, it pulled him slowly out of a deep sleep to hover uncertainly in that mid-way point of dreaming and being awake. He lay there on the edge of consciousness and slowly explored the strangeness that hovered just beyond his understanding until that sense of ‘otherness’ became overwhelming.
Xander’s eyes snapped open. He clutched at his blanket for a brief moment and then Hellmouth instincts kicked in and he sat straight up and scrambled backwards until he was huddled against the headboard of his bed.
“Shhh, calm down. I won’t hurt you.”
The man-ghost-thing’s voice was oddly hollow and its’ otherworldly echo made it seem choral. Xander was fairly certain that he was hearing the ghost-thing with his mind and not his ears. On the edge of panic, Xander searched his brain for any information about ghosts that might have come up in Scooby research sessions but he could only find movie references to ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Poltergeist’. Unfortunately, that wasn’t much help with the non-panicking since he didn’t have a handy-dandy Proton Pack, nor was he a cute little blonde girl in cover-alls.
The man-ghost-thing smiled and spread his arms wide. “Who do I look like?”
Xander scowled. He didn’t think that this was the time for guessing games, but he couldn’t help but study the creature before him. Just like the Force-Ghosts in the Star Wars movies the man-ghost-thing’s form was a softly glowing semi-transparent blue, but unlike Ben Kenobi this creature also had a strange crackling and hissing electrical charge that slithered and rolled over it in random waves.
Once you got past the blue glow and the sparkly electricity stuff, Xander figured the man-ghost-thing looked like a modern day warrior. He seemed to be a strange mix of ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Mad Max’ with his closely cropped hair and his dark eye-patch. The man-ghost-thing wore heavy denim jeans worn thin at the knees and frayed along the cuffs. His feet were encased in heavy boots and he wore a thigh length leather jacket. He also bristled with ghostly weapons; wooden stakes, knives, guns and oddly enough, he had a ghostly battle axe strapped to his back. He was tall with broad shoulders and a heavy frame, but he wasn’t fat. The man-ghost-thing was the kind of big that came from muscle and strength, not from a beer belly.
It was the face that bothered Xander the most, however. The shape of the jaw, the dark humor sparkling in the one remaining eye, the twist of his full lips. It was all very familiar to Xander. So familiar as to be unsettling. This man-ghost-thing looked as if he could have been Xander’s older brother or an uncle. The resemblance was just…uncanny.
Swallowing past a dry throat, Xander whispered. “Who are you?”
“I’m Alexander Lavelle Harris,” the man-ghost-thing grinned ruefully, “and I met my final death about 40 some odd years from now.” He waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the kitchen. “Ya know, in the future.”
Xander froze. His own name echoed around and around his mind in the man-ghost-thing’s voice. Denial began to swim up inside of him out of the deep dark pit where fear and horror lived. He refused to acknowledge that if you were to add a few years to his own age that you would most likely end up with someone who looked exactly like the man-ghost-thing. He refused to acknowledge that the face he was looking into could easily have been his own. If his nose had been broken several times. If he had developed slight lines and groves in his skin from laughing and frowning and squinting in the sun. If he had lost his left eye…
“A dream. This is a weird and wacky dream. I’ll wake up any minute now in the library to find Giles in full-blown lecture mode about ancient rare tomes of knowledge and how they are not to be drooled on during nap-time. Willow will grin. Buffy will snicker. And we’ll all celebrate my continuing sanity with pizza. I just need to wake up first.” Xander pinched himself. “Ow!”
The man-ghost-thing opened his mouth as if to speak, but Xander cut him off before he could utter a sound.
“No. This isn’t real.”
Denial rose up strong and began to battle against his own innate sense of self, of mystical recognition. Repress, repress, deny, deny.
“No, no, no, nonononononono…”
Xander pinched himself again. Hard. “Ow! Dammit!”bang-bang-bang
The bedroom wall behind his head rattled with the force of the blows and the things on his shelves jumped and shifted.
“Quiet, boy!” His father’s voice rumbled through the wall, thick with sleep and displeasure. “Don’t make me come in there!”
Xander clamped down hard on his lips and his own growing panic. He looked up at the man-ghost-thing with eyes that felt large, wet and pleading that this not be real.
Something like regret and sympathy washed over the glowing blue face before him for a brief moment and then those frighteningly familiar features settled into an expression of sheer bullheaded determination.
“Xander,” the ghostly choral voice echoed in his head. “I’m sorry for upsetting you. That was never my intention. I’m sorry for the burden that I am going to lay at your feet. I’m sorry that there isn’t an easier way to do this.” The man-ghost-thing paused a moment and an expression of pain and regret twisted his features for a moment of sheer heartbreak. A deep sigh and then he reverted back to a look of stubborn resolve. “But it has to be me. You. Us. Because of what we are.”
Xander didn’t want to know. He wanted absolutely nothing to do with burdens and intentions and the grieving ghosts of his future self. He didn’t want to know why it had to be him. And he didn’t want to know what it was that made him so special that he was singled out for this non-honor. He was no one special. He wasn’t super-strong or super-smart or suave and cool. He wasn’t rich or popular or anything special. He was just a regular kid trying to survive on the Hellmouth. His friends were the special ones.
Against his will he heard his mouth ask, “What do you mean, ‘because of what we are’? What makes us…me, special?”
He grimaced. If he wasn’t sitting up in his bed, he would have kicked himself in the ass for asking that.
Xander felt his face pale with horror. “You mean we got vamped!?”
“No!” The man-ghost-thing of his future self made calm-down gestures with his glowing hands. “No. We are human, just…Immortal.”
“Immortal? As in…can’t die?” Xander’s voice was filled with sarcasm and he gave the ghost-thing a pointed look. He knew that he wasn’t the sharpest sword in the armory, but he knew what it meant when transparent blue glowy people popped into his bedroom and announced their own death. It meant he was losing his mind.
Ghost-Xander sighed heavily and lifted his hands to run them through his closely cropped hair. He followed that with a face-palm and another sigh.
“Okay, it’s like this.” The choral mind-voice echoed with a soft sense of resignation. “Immortals start out like you. Foundlings. No one is really sure where they come from.” An odd smirk lifted ghost-Xander’s lips. “Oh, I’m sure that the Powers-That-Be know, but they aren’t telling. So…foundlings. They grow and age like regular mortal humans. They can get sick. They can be injured. They can be killed.”
A sharp look to make sure Xander is paying attention. And though he wishes that he were anywhere else than here, he is hanging on every word. He knows that he’ll eventually have to repeat it for some interested party. He just isn’t sure if that interested party will end up being Giles or some overpriced headshrinker.
“It’s after that first death that the latent Quickening sleeping inside of the pre-immortal… er, wakes up and activates. The Quickening is what we call the source of an Immortal’s power. Think of it like a mystical power core. It heals the wounds that caused the Immortal’s death and then it revives the body. At that point, the Immortal stops aging, stops getting sick. The Quickening will heal any wound, any virus.”
Ghost-Xander stopped his lecture, a faraway look in his one haunted eye. A ghost-hand drifted up to gently rub against a ghost-throat.
“Well, it’ll heal anything with one exception.”
Xander couldn’t help it. He snorted. “Well of course there’s an exception. They don’t hand out super-powers that don’t have weaknesses. Even Superman had kryptonite.”
Ghost-Xander flashed him a rueful grin and shrugged. “Well, that’s true. Although in our case it’s a little more serious than for most Immortals because of the demon and vampire hunting thing.” His grin melted into a serious frown. “See, the one wound that a Quickening can’t heal is decapitation. If you lose your head, you lose your life and your Quickening. That, of course, leads us to The Game.”
Xander shifted in his bed so that he could lean more comfortably against his pillow and let everything he had heard so far roll around in his mind. He wasn’t sure why being Immortal would make a difference in the demon and vamp hunting. It actually sounded like it would be a big help if he could heal from any injury…well as long as he didn’t lose his head that is. It would really help with the whole bumps and bruises thing. He was getting mighty sick of the never-ending soreness and achyness. It didn’t matter if the pain came from drunken fathers being a little too free with the slaps and smacks or if it came from being thrown out of the way by a vampire impatient to be staked by Buffy. Shrugging off bruises, twisted ankles, strained muscles and concussions in moments was a good thing.
A little voice inside his head; the one that didn’t have its very own glowing blue visual FX asked him how handy that super healing would be if he was captured by some over-ambitious vampire or demon. He’d survive to be rescued unless his head was cut off. He wouldn’t have to worry about death. Even if the evil undead Xander-napper ripped out his lungs and chewed on his liver… Xander paled at the thought. Quick! Change the subject! Deny, deny. Repress, repress.
“The Game.” His hands twisted in his blankets even as he took a deep breath and prayed for better news. This was the Hellmouth after all, so he wasn’t holding out much hope. “I can hear the capital letters.”
Ghost-Xander nodded his head. “Yeah. See, losing your head also makes you lose your Quickening. It leaves the body of the dead Immortal at that point. That doesn’t mean anything to a mortal human or to a demon or vamp. But to another Immortal, it’s a very big deal. See, when a beheaded Immortal loses his Quickening, it will be absorbed by the nearest Immortal. That power is then added to their own Quickening. The first Immortal ends up dead and the second Immortal ends up more powerful. If there is no other Immortal within roughly 50 feet, than that Quickening is lost forever.”
Xander began to feel goosebumps rise up all along his arms and back. He could see where this was headed and he didn’t like it. This was definitely an ‘Alice through the rabbit-hole’ moment and he idly wondered when the fun-tastic Disney Soundtrack would start playing in the background. He wouldn’t be surprised if the Hellmouth leaped up and grinned at him like that creepy Cheshire Cat.
“No one is sure when or how The Game started, but all Immortals end up playing it unless they plan to spend eternity on Holy Ground. You see, Immortals live by one motto and two rules. The motto is; ‘There can be only one.’ And the rules are; one, never interfere with a fight to the death between two Immortals and two, no fighting on Holy Ground. Ever.”
Ghost-Xander looked sad and shrugged helplessly. “I don’t understand the mindset myself. I personally think that fighting demons and vampires is more important than fighting other Immortals…usually. Most Immortals, I think, have better things to do with eternity than fight their own kind. However, there are a large number of Immortal Headhunters running around out there that do nothing but hunt other Immortals and challenge them to fights to the death so that they can win their Quickening and gain their power.”
And there it was; Immortal Headhunters. Xander was almost positive he could hear the Hellmouth laughing at him. He had over 40 years of demons and vampires and headhunting Immortals to look forward to. While it was nice that he was going to live a lot longer than he figured he would, it was also sort of daunting to know that he would spend all of it fighting for his life against evil. He didn’t think he could deal with that. He decided that he would think of those things as belonging to his future self. Ghost-Xander could have all that. He was just going to focus on getting through this Hellmouth inspired nightmare of a day.
Another sad shrug from his ghostly future self. “It’s that whole ‘There can be only one’ thing. See, legend has it that Immortals will keep fighting each other and stealing each other’s Quickenings’ until finally there is only one Immortal left. This Immortal will have all of the Quickenings and power of every Immortal that ever lived. When that happens, the last Immortal will win the so-called ‘prize’ of The Game.”
A rueful chuckle rumbled out of ghost-Xander and he shook his head. “No one really knows what the prize will be. Some say that it will be the power to rule the world. Some think that it will elevate them up to become one of the Powers. But no one is really sure.”
Xander sat there, numb. He was sure that sometime soon he was going to fly into a huge panic and freak out all over the place. Right at that moment the only thing that allowed him to even come close to dealing with such a wig-worthy concept as headhunting Immortals fighting for the right to rule the world was by totally and completely refusing to apply it to himself in any way, shape or form. Denial was a Sunnydale survival technique that all its citizens learned from a young age, after all.
Xander forced a sickly and wobbly grin on his face and clapped his hands together once. “So,… Immortals exist, check. Quickenings good, check. Decapitation bad, check.”
He tried to find something else to look at besides ghost-Xander standing in front of him all blue and humming with electricity and failed. “Was that all you needed to tell me? Are you leaving now? Cause…I’m really sure I want to do the whole wigging out and cry like a baby thing in private.”
Ghost-Xander shoved his hands into his jacket pockets and looked away briefly before shaking his head sadly. “No, sorry. The Immortal thing is the how I’m here, not the why. See…I lost my head in a fight. Only, it was with a demon, not an Immortal. My…our Quickening was going to be lost, but the Powers-That-Be intervened. They used the power of the Quickening to send me back in time as a ghost. I won’t be here long. Less than a day, actually. Once the power of our Quickening is used up I’ll just fade away.”
The goosebumps from earlier were back with a vengeance and they brought along some friends in the form of stomach churning nausea. Oh, joy.
“Why…why would any all powerful beings let you go all ‘Back to the Future’? I mean, that’s sorta wig-worthy all on its own cause we could end up corrupting the timeline Doc Brown.”
Unfathomable pain and heartbreaking regret filled ghost-Xander’s face. Alive Xander tried real hard not to think about what would put such a look on his older doppelganger’s face and what exactly that meant for him personally. Suddenly, the future seemed a much more frightening thing than ever before.
“Honestly? I would happily corrupt the timeline if I could, but I can’t interact with anyone except you due to our unique connection. Even if I could, my time has passed…or it hasn’t happened yet. It’s confusing, but mostly I came back to advise you. Tell you things you’ll need to know, about yourself, life in general and to help you see things a little clearer.”
That tiny self depreciating smirk lifted the corner of ghost-Xander’s lip again.
“We always sorta joked about the people of Sunnydale being Hellmouth-blind and we boggled over the fact that they ignored or over-looked all the weird supernatural hi-jinks constantly going on. The truth of it is that we were also blind to a lot of things ourselves. Fighting evil didn’t make us immune to the effects of the Hellmouth and the fact that we ignored that was the greatest blindness of all.”
Xander blinked in uncertain disbelief and a strange sensation of frightened awe. He wondered if this was how Buffy felt when she was called as the Slayer. If so, he figured he owed her about 20 gallons of chocolate ice-cream for all of the times he shrugged off her sense of responsibility as no big. “So you’re what, a mystical Dear Abby? A human shaped Magic 8-Ball?”
A full blown smirk crossed ghost-Xander’s face. “Yeah, actually. I am.” The smirk faded to that sad and serious expression once again. “Actually, I do have a lot to tell you. I know from my own memories that you’re sort of floundering. You’re unsure of your place in the scheme of things and you have no one to turn to.”
Xander opened his mouth to protest, but ghost-Xander held up a hand palm out and continued speaking. “Oh, Willow would try her best, but we both know that no matter how much she loves you, she doesn’t really see you.
She sees her own ideal of who you are, or who she thinks you should
be. Buffy is too caught up in her own pain, and truthfully, she’s simply too young to look outside of herself yet. Giles is…struggling with his own issues that make it hard for him to connect to others right now.”
Xander frowned, “So that leaves you.” He shrugged and fiddled with the fraying edge of his favorite blanket and struggled not to ask. He didn’t really want to know because the knowing would most likely be scary and important and it would most likely hurt. Still… “But why? What’s so important that you would come back in time instead of going to...wherever dead Immortals go?”
“It’s that Hellmouth-blindness I was telling you about.” A ghost-hand waved through the air to gesture vaguely around the room. “It took me a long time to understand certain truths. Mistakes were made and people were hurt. Hopefully, by pointing some things out to you now, that won’t happen again.”
Pain and sorrow shimmered behind ghost-Xander’s one eye, “Hopefully your future will turn out better than my past.”