The road had stretched out before him, but he hadn't been able to keep on going, no matter how much he wanted to. With his hands tight on the wheel of the car, he had wanted to keep his foot on the gas and let the road take him, to just keep driving and driving until he fell off the edge of the world. Instead he had found himself stopping in L.A. and checking into a cheap motel. And once he was stopped, he hadn't been able to go any further.
A month later and he was working in a restaurant as a dishwasher, about the only job his high school diploma could get him. He didn't have any better prospect other than to wash dishes forever. And for some reason, he didn't seem to even mind.
The days just seemed to merge one into the next, flowing before him in a tide of uncaring depression. He knew he was falling apart inside, and it didn't even matter. It was just good not to have to feel for awhile, to drift along completely unanchored from any kind of worries.
He didn't think of the friends and family he'd left behind in Sunnydale. It had been a relief to get away from his abusive, alcoholic parents, and as for his friends... well, they just didn’t seem to matter right now.
His days were wrapped up in the restaurant and slinking home to his rattrap one-room apartment to sleep away the rest of his life. Nothing seemed to matter and he didn't feel anything at all. He was dead inside.
"Harris, Cotton didn't show up and we're short on waiters tonight. Can you go out there and take his place?" Paul, his boss, asked. "You and Steven are about the same size. You can wear his spare uniform, no problem."
Xander blinked at the guy for a moment, not quite comprehending what was being asked of him for a moment. Then he bobbed his head in a nod. "Sure, no prob. Just give me a minute and I'll be out there."
"Thanks so much," Paul gushed in relief. "We've got all these bigwigs from some law firm in here tonight and the boss would have my head if we didn't give them topnotch service. You're a real life saver, Harris."
Xander shrugged and mouthed, "Whatever." He went to go change.
He knew some of the other guys around here thought he was a little slow in the head, but it didn't seem to matter, not like it would have to puppy-like eager-to-please past-Xander. He was drifting in a place of perfect unfeeling and he didn't want to be woken up, didn't want to have to care about anything, not ever again. It was just too painful to lose something--someone--that he loved.
It was so easy to just let everything go. He wasn't Xander Harris, Slayerette to Buffy anymore. He was Xander Harris, dishwasher at the Silver Phoenix Bar and Grill. He never would have thought being a different person would be so easy.
Once changed into Steven's waiter's uniform, which was only a little tight across the shoulders, he drew in a deep breath and pushed open the kitchen door, walking out into the restaurant proper.
He ignored Halley's appreciative whistle and headed over toward where Paul waited. The woman had been hitting on him since his first day on the job. She refused to take no for an answer, and even though she was very attractive, he just wasn't able to reciprocate any kinds of feeling toward her. He was just too dead inside to start any kind of relationship with anyone, even if it was just mindless sex.
"Are you sure you know what to do?" Paul asked, handing over a stack of menus.
Xander rubbed the vinyl cover of the top menu with his hand and gave Paul a small smile. "I've waitered before," he said, "just not anywhere as nice as this."
Paul looked relieved, though a little irritated too. "Why didn't it say that on your resume? There have been other times when we've been looking for an experienced waiter and could have used you. The pay would have been much better for you too."
Xander shrugged. "I was comfortable just washing dishes," he said, turning away.
He could feel Paul looking at him, wondering about him. He tried to care about Paul's paying attention to him, but couldn't manage it. He just felt nothing.
"Hello, I'm Alex, and I'll be your waiter for this evening," he said, facing the group of expensively dressed lawyers.
They barely glanced at him, and what looks met his were purely in dismissal. As they began spouting out their orders, he felt about as animate as a McDonald's drive-thru order box.
Carefully writing down what they wanted to eat, he recited the wine list Paul had thoughtfully scrawled across the bottom of his order pad. He kept his voice soft and even, just barely short of bored.
As he finished and was turning away, he accidentally caught the eye of one of the lawyers. A handsome brown haired man with a sweet face marred only by the cynical look in his eye. The guy saw him looking and flashed a sudden and bright smile, full of charm and interest, not to mention teeth.
Xander hurriedly looked away and continued on toward the kitchen to post their order. The guy was almost stupidly pretty, but there was something about the group of lawyers he was with that made Xander's skin crawl, and usually the people a person hung out with was a sign of how they were. Xander didn't even want a relationship, but if he'd been trolling for a new significant other, it wouldn't be someone that played on the wrong side. He just didn't want to get burned by anymore evil people, demon or otherwise.
The night passed in a blur of orders taken and food served. He felt as if he had fallen back into a long-forgotten groove. He gave people their food and accepted his share of the tips and created a personable appearance.
It was while he was bringing the table of lawyers their check that the doors of the restaurant burst open with the crackle of breaking wood. The vampires and demons that came in were completely out of control.
"What the hell are you doing?" one of the lawyer guys demanded in a pompous voice, striding forward to face the leader of the vampires. His own people tried to pull him back, but he pulled himself out of their grasp.
The lead vampire, full game face in effect, looked the man over. "Well what do we have here? Dinner trying to act all tough?" He laughed and grabbed the man, snapping his neck with one hard jerk before dropping the dead body contemptuously. He hadn't even bothered trying to drink the guy dry, which showed exactly what he thought about "dinner" acting all uppity.
"All right folks, just relax quietly and we'll be all finished here shortly," the vampire said, raising his voice so they all could here.
"Are you going to rob us?" one of the diners asked. The man was obviously terrified, but was pretending at bravery.
The vampires and demons laughed. "No, stupid," the lead vampire said. "We're going to eat you, but if you struggle... well, more fun for us, extra pain for you. We don't really care how you want to do it, but we are going to be eating you all tonight. So sit back and enjoy your last living moments, and if you're really lucky, you'll wake up one of my minions. I always need more toys to play with, since they're always breaking." The vampire's eyes slid across the room, pausing here and there on the more attractive specimens. Xander didn't like how those eyes looked at him, like they wanted to eat him whole.
All his experience as a Slayerette should have had Xander ready to fight to the bitter end, but he was just too tired. Leaning against the edge of the lawyers' table, he crossed his arms over his chest and waited for what was going to happen. It was almost a relief to know that it was all about to be over. It felt good to just let go.
He'd been empty inside since graduation. He'd felt dead, so it didn’t seem so bad to actually die for real. There didn't seem to be much of a difference between what he'd been living and dying.
Xander watched as the demons began ripping humans apart and as vampires greedily drank the blood of their victims. He knew he should have been outraged, or at least minorly terrified, but he felt nothing at all. Everything was as emotionally flat as if he was watching it happen on TV.
Then one of the vampires had Paul--someone he could almost consider a friend--and everything seemed to snap into focus for Xander. For the first time, it felt like he was really there, and he wasn't just seeing what was happening, he was really seeing it. He remembered why he hated vampires and why his life had become the way it was.
Seeing the rampaging vampires, Xander couldn’t help the image that flashed behind his eyes of the dead, broken body of Cordelia, just tossed to the ground like she didn't mean anything. Her eyes had been open and glassy like a doll's, almost peaceful except for all the blood and torn flesh and the missing arm. A scream built up in the back of Xander's throat and he felt terror jolt through him.
He couldn't deal with this, he just couldn't... Then Halley was being grabbed by a big green demon with a horn in its forehead and Xander couldn't just stand by and watch.
"NO!" he screamed, throwing himself forward.
He didn't quite know what he was going to do about the demon, but he couldn’t stop himself from trying to save Halley. She didn't deserve to die today, just like Cordy hadn't after surviving everything to reach graduation. No one deserved to die today, not if he was here to save them.
Wrapping his arms around the vampire holding Halley, he attempted to haul it away. "Get off her you sonuvabitch!" he screamed, using his left knee and his right foot to try and propel it away from Halley.
The vampire whirled with an angry growl. "You wanna die first, blood bag? Fine!"
It could have been almost funny. The angry vampire swinging his arms back and forth, trying to reach the human on his back. In his old life, Xander would have laughed to see something so stupid, but now he couldn't, not when it was him and there were so many people going to end up dead.
He managed to dodge the clawed hands of the vamp he was riding, but another one grabbed his hair and jerked him off. He yelled as a bloody handful of hair was ripped out of his scalp. "OW! Jesus Christ!" He whirled around on the new threat, still keeping his eye on the old.
"Well aren't you the spunky one," the vampire holding the chunk of his hair purred. Her face wasn't twisted up into its demon mask yet, so it was easy to see her sharp edged beauty. When she was alive, she had probably been someone to watch out for, which pretty much held true now that she was dead, just for a different reason.
"Why do you fucking vampires and demons always have to show up in my life?" Xander demanded, not even noticing the angry tears in his voice. "Whenever I turn around, there you are, screwing things up, making everything good into something ugly. Why can't you just leave me alone? I want it to be quiet now."
"Oh, it's gonna be quiet," the female vamp said. "It’s gonna be quiet, and your blood's gonna be warm in my belly, while your body's gonna be warm in his." She jerked her thumb at a large purple demon with a dozen protruding eyes and an armful of gray bone spikes. The demon showed its teeth in a hungry, three-mouthed grin.
Xander barely glanced at the demon. "I've seen scarier," he said, pulling himself up tall. He knew he was going to die, but there was no way he was going out cowering. He wasn't really afraid, and he wasn't going to give anyone the idea that he was.
"You're just really stupid, aren't you?" she asked. She snorted. "Oh well, you don't have to be smart for us to enjoy killing you. Stupid's fun too."
"You know what they say, you are what you eat. So you must have been eating a lot of stupid people," Xander's smart-ass voice said.
She snarled and lashed out with a hard fist that Xander just barely managed to avoid. He had never moved so fast in his life, but it was lucky that he did. The strength of that blow probably would have broken his neck.
His stomach trembled with the knowledge of his mortality. He could have just died.
A fierce resolve jolted through him. There was no way he was going to die here and now. He had seen too much trouble and death. This was not going to be the place where he was going to die.
Meeting Halley's eyes across the room, he felt tears trickle down his cheeks, but none of that mattered.
This isn't going to happen, he thought.
Without pausing for second thoughts or regrets, he whirled on his heel and broke into a fast run, vaulting over the four and a half foot counter and into the kitchen area. He grabbed a pan and scooped up some of the oil out of the deep fryer and flung it back through the little window, straight into the face of the purple demon coming after him.
Reaching into his back pocket, he pulled out a matchbook. He fumbled it open, relieved to find three leftover matches inside. He lit one and tossed it through the window onto the demon, watching as it burst into flame and stumbled around like a ball of living fire, setting whatever it touched alight.
Still moving in that strangely slowed down state of panic and fear, Xander made a run for the backdoor. And he didn't stop running until he was four blocks away and collapsed to his knees gasping for breath and sobbing for the bravery he had left behind with high school-Xander.
He looked down at the matchbook he still clutched in his hand. It was a remnant from his days of Spike-fucking. "Sunnydale Resorts" was stamped on the faded gloss of the cover as though that seedy motel had been a better place than reality and his memory told him it was.
Looks like Spike has saved me again, he thought, then gave a hysterical giggle that quickly turned into all out sobs of grief and shame. He had betrayed everything that had made him a Scooby.
A whiff of smoke passed by his nose and he tried to ignore the flames lighting up the distance as the diner burnt down and the people he hadn't had the bravery to save died along with his unlamented hopes for some kind of redemption.
He had lost Xander Harris and he didn't think he was ever going to get him back.