To Make a Long Story Short
Xander lay stretched out across his "bed" in Second Banana Heaven. He was staring at the ceiling and tapping out "Wipe Out" on the mattress. It wasn't going well; he just didn't have enough rhythm to get it right.
He was very, very bored.
He'd go down to the bar to chat with the other combatants, but most of the interesting ones were currently doing battle, or preparing to do battle, or celebrating having done battle, or possibly being sent back into the mysterious "creative ether" after having done battle. The last time he'd ventured downstairs, he'd somehow ended up cornered between Threepio and Crusher. Boredom was preferable to listening to the two space whackos ramble on.
He'd managed a brief brainstorming session with Weiss and Willow about a half an hour before, where they'd started constructing game plans for all the various enemies they might be matched against. It seemed that the choice of who fought who was made by a randomizing computer program, or something like that. Willow had managed to weasel a laptop out of somewhere, but had had no luck in breaking into the Masters of the Multiverse server. She was able to call up imdb.com, which was probably going to be a life-saver, and had fashioned amulets for him and Weiss to wear, should they need to contact her. Apparently she was already booked into a castle for magicky types somewhere along the Town's "main strip". She and Hermione Granger had struck up something of a geeker friendship, and were working with a version of Merlin to find a loophole in the barrier that kept them from "apparating" out of the competition. With that kind of magical know-how, Xander was pretty sure they'd all be out of here in no time.
So he waited. And drummed. And nearly bolted out of his skin when the Man suddenly appeared, standing above him.
"Good morning, Alexander Lavelle Harris."
"For the last time, Manny, call me Xander." He glanced at the window, not having any hopes of actually getting the Man to change his way of addressing him. Willow got to be just "Willow", as her team hadn't used her last name, much less her middle name. On the other hand, Weiss's team didn't seem to even know he HAD a first name. At least the Man wasn't going to be eternally greeting him as "Mr. Harris". "It's morning?"
"Morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and night are all the same here. ‘Good morning' seemed the most cheerful manner of greeting you."
"Ah." Xander eased himself back on his elbows. "But knocking wasn't appropriate?"
The Man cocked his head, as though knocking were some alien term to him. "You go into battle in twenty minutes, Alexander Lavelle Harris. Your team has agreed to meet you at the Arena for preparations."
Xander suppressed a groan. If it weren't for the whole "fight to the death" thing, he might have enjoyed a chance to hang out with his favorite fictional characters. "Who's up?"
"You are scheduled to do battle with Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise."
Xander sat up straighter and began to grin. "Really?" He didn't even bother to wince at the distinct traces of fan-boy in his voice. "I get to meet Picard? Manny, I could kiss you!"
It was hard to tell, indistinct as his features were, but the Man didn't seem pleased at the prospect. "That won't be necessary, Alexander Lavelle Harris. Follow me." He turned stiffly before Xander could even indicate his willingness to do so, and headed for the door to Xander's room. Xander followed, looking forward to seeing the route from the Town to the Arena.
Which apparently just consisted of walking through his doorway. One moment he was in Second Banana Heaven, the next, he was standing in the small, white preparation room with the Man, Mike, Frank, Steve, Mehri, Susan, and Honeysuckle. The Man indicated a large clock on the wall, which bore a striking resemblance to school clocks everywhere, but for the fact that the numbers counted down backwards from twenty. They had eighteen minutes left. "When you are ready, simply exit through that door." A plain, brown wood interior door appeared in the wall. "Good luck, Alexander Lavelle Harris."
Steve snickered. He was munching on a handful of cheetos. Frank glowered at Honeysuckle and her team. Mike leered at Mehri. Mehri and Susan ignored all three in favor of cleaning a large stack of guns and blades.
"Mike got his hands on the specs for a phaser," Susan was saying. "It'll be ready in just a minute. You're gonna wanna hit Picard hard and fast--he's an old guy, but he's in remarkably good shape. Don't let him make the first move."
Xander blinked at her. "You're kidding, right?" He spread his arms. "No weapons. Remember," he shot a glance at Honeysuckle, who seemed to be wilting beneath a heavy suit of armor. "We're here to make friends."
Frank snorted. Mehri frowned, shooting a glance at Susan, who shrugged. "Whatever, it's your funeral."
"You can't go out there unprepared." Frank stared at Xander, somehow managing to get the light to reflect off his glasses, even when the strange, ambient light was without source or direction.
"I won't." Xander turned to Mike, who was clutching his tablet to his chest. Probably to keep it out of drool range. "I need some stuff. I don't have any specs, but they should be pretty easy to slap together."
Mike blinked, then glanced at Xander as if just noticing his arrival. "What's up?"
"Chairs." Xander stuck his hands in his pocket, his grin splitting his face. "And a travel mug of fresh, hot, earl grey tea."
* * *
"Are you sure he's going to want to be my friend?" Honeysuckle walked very close to Xander's side as they stepped onto the hard-packed dirt of the Arena. She looked much more cheerful now that she wasn't wearing her armor, but was struggling to balance the two beach chairs across her wings.
"Yeah. Picard is a great fighter, Susan was right about that. But he's also all about the peace. As long as we don't make any threatening moves against him, he'll be willing to ask questions first. Then it's just a matter of deciding who'll forfeit to who."
Honeysuckle nodded, a look of determination on her face. "He'll forfeit to us, of course. I won't leave behind my new friends."
"They followed you to me, didn't they?"
Honeysuckle's hairless, pony-eyebrows slid forward towards the front of her blunted pony-nose, but she didn't say anything else.
Across the field, Captain Jean-Luc Picard exchanged some final words with his team of four, consisting, it seemed, of two pimple faced adolescents and a pair of over-fifty trekkies. All five wore starfleet uniforms and communicator pins. Picard looked rather annoyed. Perhaps Honeysuckle was right, maybe he WOULD forfeit to them, if for no other reason then to get away from the fan-boys. Trekkies were notorious when it came to geekdom.
Xander had considered, in his meeting with Willow and Weiss, whether or not it would be better to forfeit himself and leave his trio of dorks behind. They'd finally decided that the devil he knew, and seemed to be at least partially in charge of, was preferable to an unknown team. He might end up with a (he shuddered) Spander fan.
Picard finally turned toward the field, and the announcer's cheerful voice boomed out over the Arena.
"Laaaaaaaadies, Gennnnnnnntlemen, and non-humanoid sentient beings of all shapes and sizes, welcome once again to the Masters of the Multiverse competition! Iiiiiiiin THIS corner, direct from perhaps the most popular science fiction series in existence, we have the one, the only, the incredible CAPTAIN JEAN-LUC PICARD OF THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE!!!!!"
Cheers ran almost universally through the crowd. Xander could make out Picard's disconcerted expression from 50 yards away.
As the applause died down, the announcer allowed for a tense pause, then continued. "And in THIS corner, fresh from his first battle in the competition--"
A series of boos rose from across one side of the stands. Xander decided to ignore them.
"--the human mascot of the Buffy universe--"
Xander's back straightened. "Hey."
"Alexander Lavelle Harris and his new partner, Honeysuckle the Flutterpony!"
Was it his imagination, or had the announcer's tone taken a sinister turn on his name? Xander shrugged it off. He lead Honeysuckle towards the center of the field. Picard strode carefully forward, his posture screaming out his readiness. Xander stopped just short of the halfway mark, leaned down, and set the steaming mug of tea on the ground next to his foot. He offered Picard a friendly smile, then turned his back on him to get the chairs off of Honeysuckle.
"This looks like an odd tactic from Alexander Lavelle Harris, ladies and gentlemen. What could he be planning?"
Xander spotted Susan shooting him a dark look from the stands, her hands clutching the phaser. Mehri was talking on a cellphone. He gave them a quick thumbs up and unfolded the chairs. He turned back to Picard, not letting his harmless grin slip by even an inch, as Picard watched him warily. He held out the mug and gestured to the chairs.
"I thought we could talk this out over a cup of tea?"
Boos erupted from the stadium again. Picard stepped closer.
"I was made aware that we were to fight."
"Yeah," Xander shrugged. "Don't really want to, though. But, well, if you do," Xander settled his feet into a classic, goofy boxer stance, and waved loose fists in front of his face.
Picard stepped closer. "Is the tea poisoned?"
Xander took a long sip, trying not to grimace. He hated tea. He lowered the mug, still smiling. "It's earl grey."
Picard's face brightened. He gestured for Xander to sit, then took his place carefully across from him, accepting the mug gracefully. "Mr. Harris, was it?"
"Call me Xander."
Picard nodded. "What did you wish to talk about?"
"How's your team?" Xander leaned forward slightly. Honeysuckle stretched out on the ground.
Feedback sounded from the announcer's booth, along with some angry muttering.
* * *
"And you're absolutely certain that Q has nothing to do with this?" Picard glanced at Xander as they parted ways to return to their respective lodgings. Xander shrugged.
"No? But if he does, he's playing it really close to the chest." Xander grinned at the captain before stepping into the doorway he was now well aware that Picard couldn't see. He let out a breath of relief as he was greeted by TV's Frank, and sank down onto a bench across from Weiss.
Overall, Xander would call his "battle" with Picard to be a rousing success. He'd really enjoyed his chat with the captain, though he'd had to be careful not to let his own inner Trekkie show. They didn't have much in common when it came to musical tastes, or literature tastes, or any other tastes for that matter, but they both shared a rather positive outlook on humanity, and their discussion of philosophy (most of which Xander had gathered from television and movies) and the rules of the challenge had been fun. In the end, Picard decided to forfeit. Xander was right in thinking that the Trekkies had been somewhat overwhelming.
Picard didn't even seem bothered by the fact that he was now teamed up with a bright pink, cartoon horse. He seemed to look on Honeysuckle as being a sort of alien life form, which Honeysuckle didn't mind, because she wasn't entirely certain what an "alien life form" was. Susan and Mehri had been quick to reassure Xander that they were only looking out for his own good when they warned him to shoot first, and were extraordinarily cheerful about the prospect of having Picard on the team. Mehri had even engaged in a long conversation with the captain about the physics of the warp drive, while Susan had cheerfully chatted with him about Shakespeare and Vonnegut. Steve had watched the whole thing with a look of stoned awe, Mike had managed to stop drooling for long enough to get Picard's opinion on the drawings of various space-aged weapons, and even Frank had stopped glowering in the face of meeting one of his childhood heros in the flesh, though he had muttered something like "it should have been Kirk" when he thought no one was listening.
"Good fight?" Weiss lowered his pint glass to the table, and Xander caught glimpse of an impressive black eye.
"Yeah. Apparently yours didn't go too well?"
"Eventual forfeit, but she got in a lot of good hits before that." Weiss grimaced, touching his cheek gently. "So much for my bizarre childhood crush."
"Who'd you fight?" Xander vaguely remembered that it Weiss had been pitted against a muppet. Surely it couldn't have been Animal?
"Miss Piggy." Weiss grinned. "She's got a mean karate chop."
Xander nodded, sipping carefully from his own glass. "Any word on Aaron?"
"Harley over there says she and ‘Mistah J' spoke with Sark a couple hours ago. Aaron is apparently okay, but after he forfeited, Sark hit him once, anyway."
Xander winced. "How about the others? Has the word spread?"
Weiss nodded. "Oh yeah. Like a bioweapon. Merry the Hobbit teamed up with Robin of the Batman fame, Harry Kim from ‘Voyager' is now on Peter Venkman's team, and some cabbie named ‘Chaz' managed to somehow coax a forfeit out of this amazingly hot woman named Max."
"Excellent." Xander took a much larger, celebratory gulp of his beer. "I'm beginning to enjoy this."
"Hey," A nervous looking black kid in glasses and a red hat paused by their table. "Did you hear? They're having a battle of the bands event at the Amp and Pick!" Xander recognized him after a moment as Tucker, from some Nickelodeon cartoon show. He'd introduced himself the night before. "They've got Spinal Tap, Josie and the Pussycats, Dingoes Ate My Baby, Drive Shaft, and the Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of Death!" He scurried off again, and Weiss and Xander exchanged looks and followed without a word.
* * *
"No, Honeysuckle, don't touch--"
Xander leapt backwards without finishing his warning, pulling Picard back just in time to miss getting squashed by the six-hundred pound, unconscious pink pony hurtling out of the sky.
Above them, the woman with the white streak in her hair stopped screaming, turned a brilliant shade of pink that clashed with the red in her uniform, and turned to the crowd.
"Ah forfeit!" Rogue screamed, in a distinctly higher pitched voice than she'd been yelling threats in only moments ago.
"Well." Xander crouched down beside Honeysuckle. "That's one way to do it,"
* * *
"Ah still say that wasn't fair." Rogue struck a saucy, yet offended pose in the victor's room. "That wasn't me who forfeited. Ah had that horse in mah head."
"There, there," Steve patted the X-man gently on her covered shoulder, still wearing his goofy, stoned, fan-boy grin. "There, there."
* * *
"These people are looking for someone to lead them, Xander. Whether you like it or not, you're that someone."
"I get it, Locke!" Xander rolled his eye at the bald man next to him. "Enough with the philosobabble already!"
John Locke shrugged with an enigmatic smile.
* * *
Weiss' shoulder's tensed as he leaned away from the growing crowd in Second Banana Heaven. Xander caught his eye, and glanced over the agent's shoulder.
"Is he still staring at me?"
Xander nodded, trying not to make eye contact with the scruffy blonde not-hobbit. "Oo," He leaned toward his friend, trying to contain his smile. "He's coming over here. I think you might have an admirer, Weiss."
Weiss grimaced, then plastered a false look of cheer on his face as the guitarist from Drive Shaft approached. "He's been staring at me since the concert." He hissed.
"Sorry, mate," The blonde frowned at the agent. "But I could swear I recognize you from somewhere."
"Oh?" Weiss' eyes contained the only remnants of his earlier grimace. "I don't think we've met, I'm Eric."
* * *
Things, Xander decided a few "days" later, were going well. His team now consisted of himself, Honeysuckle, Picard, Rogue, Locke, a zombie killer named Shawn, and Artie, the strongest man . . . in the world. Weiss had managed to gather Miss Piggy, Ivanova, Bubbles, Der Flatermaus, and Austin Powers, while Willow had teamed up with Velma, Sydney Bristow, Remus Lupin, Prue Halliwell, and a small blue thing called "Blue", and defeated a vogon before it could even start reading its poetry. Torgo had been forced to relax his rule against main characters slightly in the wake of the growing teams of characters who were using Second Banana Heaven as their prime meeting point, and Mike, Frank, and Steve were so afraid of Locke that they hadn't even bothered to try and retake control of SMG Teacozy. It was looking more and more like he would be coming out of this Masters of the Multiverse thing alive, and with all his limbs attached. He was just about to strike up a conversation with Chiana when a familiar voice spoke up from behind him.
"Alexander Lavelle Harris?"
He turned, expecting to find the vague features of the Man staring down at him to tell him of his latest battle, and froze, the name "Manny" dying on his lips.
Behind him stood two very large thugs. They shared the Man's ambiguity, but while the Man expressed a sense of order, like an accountant, the only thing these two expressed was size.
And rather a lot of danger.
"You're not Manny,"
"Please come with us."
Xander shot a glance at the rest of the room, only to find that Second Banana Heaven had vanished completely. He turned back to the thugs, who seemed to be smiling. Thug One cracked his knuckles. Thug Two cracked his neck. Thug One was sort of dark, while Thug Two was kind of white. Both spoke with the same voice as the Man. "Can I help you gentlemen?"
"Heh." said Thug Two.
"You're going to stop getting people to forfeit," said Thug One. "You're going to start fighting."
"Am not," said Xander, even as he glanced about him for an escape.
"Are too," said Thug Two.
Thug One decided to voice his opinion, by way of his fists.
"Are too," said Thug Two.
"Ow," said Xander.
"You're going to play the challenge the way it was intended," said Thug One.
"What makes you say that?" Xander edged backwards, gingerly touching his lower lip. He winced.
"Because if you don't," said Thug Two, obviously enjoying what he was about to say, "the girls get it."
"Which girls get what now?"
Thug One stepped to one side, revealing a large, interrogation room window looking in on two preteenaged girls, tied down to chairs. They were crying. Xander swallowed.
"You're going to lose your next fight." Thug One stepped back in front of Xander. "By fighting."
Xander took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "Ah," he said.