Disclaimer: I own nothing.
*There are some sexies, but nothing super naughty yet. This is tiptoeing toward non-con land, but isn't quite there.*
“Tara, are you saying what I think you’re saying? ‘Cause if you’re saying what I think you’re saying, and you are, right?” She nods slowly and gives me a sad little look as my wide eyes fix on her face. “If you’re saying that he’s real, then I need to…I need to…”, I’m sinking down to sit on the floor while Willow’s hands flutter around me. She is feeling my forehead and talking to me, but all I hear is my pulse in my ears. I’ve always know, of course. I’ve never been as firmly under the Sunnydale spell of disbelief as most people who grew up here. Buffy’s arrival put the kibosh on any head in sand maneuvers. I’ve avoided thinking about it all of these years, but no matter what my Mom said, desperate to shush my crying so that Daddy dearest wouldn’t come looking to see what the problem was, I knew that he was real. Not good things have been a big part of my life for a long, long time. A dark corner of my mind pulses with memories. It isn’t a physical throb, but I jerk physically, a full body tremor.
“Xander?” Willow sounds scared, but I’m too busy trying to not remember….something. My Dad is yelling. I scrunch down and wish I were invisible. He’s screaming at my Mom, and then throwing a glass. It shatters on the starburst pattern of the linoleum. I’m in my bare feet, but I bolt anyway from the explosion because I am scared and I run. I run as fast as my stumbling, small feet can clawing on all fours up the stairs to move faster to my bedroom. I wiggle underneath my bed and I lay there crying, knees drawn up to my chest, blood slowly streaming through my fingers where they are wrapped around my left foot. I smell tangy copper, like putting pennies in my mouth and the warm liquid feels nice. Dad is still yelling mean things at Mom and there is a commotion downstairs….and then…
the memory starts to get hazy. I’m having trouble holding on to it. I’m not alone…
“No. Nope. Nu uh.” I shake my head no. My chest is heavy with dread and the air burns its way into my lungs after the minute or so I’ve been holding my breath. My neck cracks and I let out a soft moan. I can tell I’m getting older. Even two years ago I would haven’t have been as damaged from a toss to the pavement.
“Xander? Hey, Xan, you all right?” Now Buffy is beside me and her small soft hands have joined Willow’s. She’s shaking my shoulder while Willow familiarly runs her hands through my hair. The pulse comes again, a soundless gong going off, and I jerk. Shit. What’s wrong?
“Nope. I’m good without you.” I shake my head furiously at that dark shadow lurking in my brain and the small hands leave me. I feel the present sink around me. It seems to come into focus sucking to my skin like plastic wrap. The difference from lost in my head to present is jarring and I don’t really remember getting to the floor. That black sand is everywhere and I move my hands through it. Willow and Buffy are upset, giving me the kind of eyes reserved for crazy people. I’m playing the part well enough. The gritty sand on the floor is grounding me and my pounding heart moves somewhere back to the level of normal human speed.
“Xander, talk to me. Tell me how to help,” Willow’s voice is starting to sneak into that register that tropical birds sometimes reach when they are attacked by predators. Help? Help me? I don’t even know what is wrong. Willow has a warm, comforting vanilla sugariness floating around her and Buffy’s sharp floral perfume is overwhelming me. I want to be away from them both.
“Wills, the whole store is trashed and Giles is having a conniption. Maybe you should help him. I’m all right. I’m fine. I’m perfect. I’m Saturdy morning cartoons good. I swear.” I flash her the Xander super special patented ‘Everything is Fantastic and Look I Brought You A Brownie Don’t You Love Me?’ smile. I get a sunny smile back from Buffy, who is more than ready to move on from my freak fest now that there may be badness afoot. Willow doesn’t look convinced, but she doesn’t push it either. Maybe she really thinks I have a brownie hidden on my person? Nah. That’s not her ‘Yay chocolate!’ face. That’s more her ‘I DO love you Xander and this isn’t over’ face. Damn it. I hear an undignified snort from somewhere behind my left shoulder.
“I am not having a, what did you say? Conniption? Xander. I am having a rational reaction to my livelihood being ruined,” Giles says bitterly. I suddenly feel bad. I wonder if Giles had a normal life in England before he got sent here to deal with us. Not us even, just Buffy. We’re the unwanted bonus in his chess game of constant misery with the Hellmouth. My life has always sucked, more or less, to some degree. It must be so much worse for someone who used to have…a life outside of all of this. I sigh. If Buffy had died like she was supposed to he would have been retired somewhere by now. Maybe with a nice, upper crust, British lady on his arm and a kid on the way. I can’t feel bad for rescuing Buffy all that time ago, but, like everything else that goes wrong around me, I can’ t help but feel this is my fault too somehow.
“What can we do to help, G-Man? Find a broom?” I stand slowly and Tara is still giving me a look that says she wants to back me into a corner and have an uncomfortable conversation with me. Uncomfortable for both of us, considering how shy she is. No thank you. I can look busy for hours with almost no props.
“I’m at a loss. Perhaps we should just close the door…err…board up the door and call the insurance company in the morning. It is not as if there is anything worth stealing. I don’t even think the till survived the damage.” No, the front counter is charred and the register is …missing.
“Where’s Anya? Shouldn’t she be here having histrionics about her money?” Buffy asked picking through the bookshelves looking for larger pieces of wood, but she keeps picking up wood and tossing it aside as too small. We may have to search the training room. There isn’t much back there other than some heavy weapons and shelves, but maybe they survived since the door is still intact.
“I believe she had a date tonight. I tried very hard to avoid the details.” Giles tossed back snidely and everyone chuckled. We had all been subjected to her less than reverent discussions of her orgasm pals. Ugh. I don’t know how anyone could put up with it. I don’t care how pretty she is.
“Good for her,” Willow says quietly. To avoid any more looks or pats from my beloved Scoobies I push back into the training room. I flip the light switch, but the bulbs must have blown back here or something. The room is dark, except for a streak of light coming from the front room. I open the door as wide as possible and start making my way toward the wood I know is in the far corner. There probably isn’t anything big enough for the door, but there might be something I can use to nail up a section from one of the shelving units if push comes to shove. The tool box is back here somewhere too. I’m halfway over when the door abruptly swings shut. Damn.
“Never go into a dark room alone. Right.” I nervously chuckle. “Hope it doesn’t kill me this time. Dead isn’t any fun,” I babble to myself as I do a backward shuffle toward the door. “Or maybe it is. Spike seems to enjoy himself.”
A low, rolling, chuckle swirls around the room. It doesn’t sound like our soundproofed training room anymore though. It echoes like I am in an underground cavern.
“Nice trick. I’d be more impressed if I weren’t a Slayerette. You’ll have to do better than that to scare me.” Bravado. Hold onto it with both hands. Brandish accordingly.
“Oh? Arrangements can be made.”
I turn and bolt toward the door, but I run smack into what feels like a smooth rock wall. My hands scrabble around and still there is nothing resembling a door or even wall. I stop. Hold my breath. Listen. There is a water drip off in the distance. Hands pressed to cool stone. I shut my eyes since they aren’t helping me anyway. Nothing seems to be sneaking up on me, or at least if something or someone is I can’t hear them. I’m feeling empty. Like I should be panicking or upset, but I’ve just done it too much in the last hour. I’m drawing on that calm that lets me to do heroically stupid shit and leads to almost death. Am I really somewhere else or is this a trick?
The stone feels real. Well…what the hell?
“I don’t suppose you could just let me out of here?” I ask in the most flippant manner I can muster. “I’m sure I’m not a nummy treat. I’ve had a horrible diet for most of my life. All processed foods and chocolate. Willow makes me drink orange juice sometimes, but usually it is soda, soda, soda.” The power of babble! I grimace.
“Then surely you taste sweet, Alexander? I am fond of sweets,” the voice sends warm chills to my tummy where they swirl around for a few seconds. The melodic sounds are bouncing from stone to stone still vibrating in faint echoes. This is one hell of an illusion or I’m really in an underground cave system. Fuck. And me here without my “lost in an evil underground demon playground” merit badge. Damn.
Okay, maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was. The panic was hiding out. I want to laugh or cry or both, but I do nothing instead. I wait a minute and don’t engage “The Voice” again, and he doesn’t say anything to me. Since I’m not dead yet, I raise my hands out in front of me and I move along the wall for a short bit and then hit…another stone wall. It has a seam. A corner. A decidedly not naturally occurring corner shape.
One second I am in a stone cavern and the next I am feeling smooth wall.
“Realizing something is bullshit is the first step to recovery,” I mutter to myself. Moving quickly back along the wall I find the door again. I grasp the smooth, cool, metal doorknob and pull. Nothing. More evil chuckling. Rage. I hate being fucked with. Hit me, sure. Kill me? Go for it. DON’T fuck with me. I get enough of that. I kick the door in frustration.
“Fuck you, buddy.” I glare around at the darkness, but now there is no answer. I hear nothing, other than my ragged breath. A spicy musk fills my senses and heat radiates along my back, as if someone is standing close enough to hug me-or kill me.
“Is that an invitation?” Warm, pleasant air stirs the hair near my right ear and the heat makes my toes curl and sends electricity bouncing around my body before it gathers in my groin. My heart stops as that warm feeling from earlier returns to my stomach with a vengeance. Certain parts of my body are stirring to attention. Oh, hell no. Really?
“What? No! That’s strictly a go to hell,” I frown as another round of laughing at the Xandman commences. Mother fucker. The door jolts under my hand and I back up quickly. Slayer strength in 3…2…1…The door splinters and Buffy stands there, small fists at the ready in front of her, eyes searching for evil. She grabs me and pulls me behind her. For a second I blink stupidly at the light. The laughter chases after me and wraps around me fueling the fire in my gut higher.
Buffy flips on the light switch and the training room is just-the training room. No bad guys, nothing destroyed.
“You heard that, right?” I feel desperate and shaky.
“Yep. Totally creepy,” she grumbles as she stands there still at the ready.
“It’s him,” Tara steps beside me looking me over. I’m feeling a bit wrecked at this point. After a long day of work, followed by a long walk in the freezing cold, and then injuries and explosions and now I’m feeling-stretched thin, wrung out, and on edge. In several ways.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Tara.” I try to act casual, but don’t know where to put my hands. I slide them into my back pockets.
“The sand, Xander. The others don’t see it. We do. I think it’s because-”
“What sand? I’m going home.”
“Xander?” Gentle, sweet Tara sounds frustrated. Not something I’ve heard before.
“I’m going home. I’m going to take a hot shower. I’m going to eat something if there is anything in my fridge that isn’t a mold monster and then I’m going to go to sleep.” I don’t even have a bed anymore. Nowhere for him to hide anyway. I can keep the bed folded into the couch; lessen the chance that it counts.
“Xander, I don’t feel it would be prudent for us to split up. We don’t know what we’re dealing with and-“
“Tara knows. If you guys need me give me a call and I can be wherever you need me. He can’t hurt us. He isn’t even real.” I direct the last few comments at Tara who shakes her head worriedly.
“That doesn’t seem to be true anymore,” she whispers.
“Well, it’s what-“ I pull out my phone-“2:30? How long was I in there?”
“A while. We didn’t realize you were gone at first.” Her hands nervously pick at the fabric of her long, maroon skirt.
“Damn it. It didn’t feel that long. How did I lose hours?” I run a frustrated hand through my hair as she gives me a small rise of her round shoulders.
“I need sleep. I’m leaving.” I don’t want to be alone, but I don’t want to sift through childhood traumas right now either.
“Xander, this is ridiculous. You were attacked less than 5 minutes ago. We’ve lost time. You’re going nowhere until we have a plan of action.” Giles looks down his nose at me while he polishes his wire rimmed glasses. I’ve been on the receiving end of that look thousands of times, but tonight I’m done. I can’t take anymore. My shoes squeak as I shuffle my feet from side to side. He gives me a satisfied, superior, Britishy grunt and then I snap.
“Unless you haven’t noticed, G-man, I’m a fucking adult. Adult. Big boy with big boy pants. I can go where I want, when I want, and you can’t stop me! In fact, I’ve been pretty much unsupervised for the last 15 years or so, so take the authority figure crap and shove it up your ass!” My emotions are boiling. My eyes hurt. My head is pounding. I feel like hell. All I want to do is find a dark corner somewhere and curl up alone. No not alone, but I’ve got no choice on that…Shower, sleep, maybe food. Sleep would be bliss.
“Xander!” Willow sounds all screechy again and I duck my head. Guilt rises immediately as only it can when confronted with my wonderful, sweet Willow shaped friend. She doesn’t mean to, but she makes me feel bad with her impossible standards. She’s just such a good person.
“I didn’t suspect the boy had the balls for all that.” Spike titters from the busted doorway. Great. As if my night wasn’t horrible enough it is now time for a round of ‘Kick Xander While He’s Down’ from the bleached former menace of the night.
“Fuck you , Spike.” I shoot him the finger without looking his direction. I’m not sure what Buffy is doing, but I hear a yell and wood cracking. The shelves being dismantled?
“Hey, now!” He sounds genuinely upset, but I don’t care about his feelings just now.
“Pitch was here!” An excitable voice I am unfamiliar belts out. My head shoots up and every person in the room narrows in on a blond boy a few years younger than we are. He is holding a large staff in one hand and he’s crouched down, running his fingers through the sand on the floor.
“Who is he?” Giles asks Spike sharply, but he’s ignored by both the teen and Spike.
“How did you kill the Nightmares?” He looks up with innocent, big blue eyes and I sigh. Perfect pale skin, lean body. He’s definitely one of the attractive people¸ just like Buffy and Spike. Willow and Tara have their own girly hotness and even Giles in his older guy way is hot. Am I forever cursed to be surrounded by people way more attractive than I am? Couldn’t we just once find a stray that is mediocre? Or has acne?
“Who?” Tara asks softly.
“Pitch, Pitch Black. The Boogey Man.” He says eyes darting around as if he expects him to jump out from behind the destroyed counter and say Boo. I guess he sort of did do that to me earlier, so maybe it just proves that he has experience with our baddy. Go figure.
“He has a name?” I ask without thinking. The pretty boy tilts his head at me as if I’m slow.
“Doesn’t everyone?” He’s not making fun of me, but I feel like an idiot anyway. I shiver. It is suddenly colder in the room. I really wish I had a jacket.
“Of course they do, sweetling. Xander there is just shy a few cards in his deck.” Spike smirks at the kid who shakes his head back.
“Fuck. You. Spike.”
“Don’t worry. Spike thinks everyone is crazy.” He smiles at me and my skin crawls a bit. Not because there’s something wrong with the kid, though if he’s with Spike there might be. No-I just need to get out of here. I need to not be in this blinding light anymore.
I know I should wait to see what is going on. I know it isn’t safe. I really want to know who the idiot kid is without any goddamn shoes in a snow storm, but I turn and walk through the now normal, mundane, SAFE looking training room and out the back door. I ease it closed with a soft snick. Everyone is so caught up with the newcomer that they don’t notice. I don’t know if I should just be happy for small miracles or disappointed that my friends don’t notice I’m gone.