ghostface_kira (ghostface_kira) wrote in remixredux09,

A Sympathetic Ear (Last Assignment Remix) (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander Harris, Anya Jenkins)

Title: A Sympathetic Ear (Last Assignment Remix)

Author: M. Scott Eiland

Summary: With his long journey of Slayer rescuing almost done, Xander meets someone he can open up to.

Rating: PG-13, for themes and language.

Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Spoilers and/or Warnings: All seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Title, Author and URL of original story: “Someday They Will Be Scarce,” by schmevil

My thanks to schmevil for providing a lovely story for me to remix. :-)

Xander hoisted his carry on bag over his shoulder and walked toward the baggage claim area at Los Angeles International Airport. After months of traveling around Africa, Europe, and parts of Asia, his final destination before heading off to the new Slayer headquarters not far outside of London to be debriefed was almost like going home again. Well, home without a big hole in the ground and residual traces of absolute evil, anyway.

Willow had called him just after he had finished up what was scheduled to be his final Slayer retrieval mission for a while. Most of the North American Slayers had been located in the first three months after they started actively searching for them, and all but a handful had been found in six months. There had been one Slayer who had moved around the United States in an irregular pattern over that time, making tracking her down almost impossible. Willow's attempts at divination magic were unable to produce a description or anything else about the Slayer—the dueling theories were that she was either rich and on a semi-random tour of the United States , or that she was homeless and simply hitching rides on freight trains whenever the mood struck her. When Willow called Xander, the mystery Slayer was the final one left to be contacted in North America—the other one hundred and six were all accounted for. “She's in LA, Xander—she's stayed put for a week now. I don't want her wandering away this time before we can talk to her. You're the best we've got at this job—bring her back safe.”

Even if Xander had been inclined to refuse, Willow's voice produced a vision of “resolve face” as intense as she could have produced standing right in front of him. “No problem, Chief. I can stock up on Cheesy Chips while I'm finding our last lamb.” Willow had snorted and broken the connection, and Xander smiled sadly before heading off to pack.

Seventy-two hours and many time zones later, he was in Los Angeles and already thinking about how to find the elusive final Slayer. He had talismans that would act as pointers—which he could use to triangulate—and a ring that Willow had specifically enchanted to allow him to identify any Slayers in his field of vision. Between that and checking local news sources for stories that might indicate the presence of a Slayer still trying to get the hang of her new powers, Xander was confident that he could find the Slayer—though he was expecting to spend several days at the task. He picked up his pace, hoping to grab his bag quickly and head out while there was still plenty of daylight. There was a recent gravesite in a small cemetery a few miles away that he wanted to visit during his searching---

“Hello, Xander.”

The voice that stopped Xander in his tracks was completely unfamiliar to him, though the cheerful, friendly tone reminded him briefly of Tara. He turned and saw a woman who seemed to be about his age, give or take a year or two. She was about five and a half feet tall, with a build that suggested that she exercised regularly and was not afraid to eat a real meal. Her eyes were large and dark and they were watching him with a hint of amusement. Xander noticed these things automatically, but it was the information that the ring on his left hand was giving him that had his attention fully riveted: this stranger was a Slayer—one he had never seen or even heard described. Still, dealing with unexpected situations like this had been part of his job for months now, and he hesitated for only a moment before replying in a tone that intentionally projected both mild confusion and complete non-aggression: “I'm sorry miss—have we met?”

The woman smiled and said, “Not really—but I've been waiting here for you to arrive.”

Xander frowned, and considered that comment for a moment before replying, “I appreciate that Willow might have thought that I needed help here, but I'm pretty sure I can handle myself in LA without a babysitter from the Watcher's Council. There was no reason to have you break training to head over here.”

Xander saw the woman's eyes widen slightly before she replied, “I've never met Willow, and I don't know what the Watcher's Council is. I'm here because I knew you were coming here today—and because I have a feeling that you've come here to try to find me.”

Things were starting to become clear to Xander, but he had to be sure—for security reasons if nothing else: “How did you know I was coming here today?”

“I had a dream about it,” the woman replied matter-of-factly. “I've been dreaming about you and your friends, and a lot of women who can fight really well for almost nine months now. It's mostly images, but I can hear people talking in them now and again. You're Xander, the short blonde girl is Buffy, and the redhead is Willow. The hot older English guy is Giles. Willow apparently knows magic, and Buffy is something called a Slayer, like those other women I see flashes of.” Xander stared, fascinated at the detail the woman remembered from what were obviously Slayer dreams, and she saw the reaction and smiled again before adding, “And you. . .you're certifiable, if you really do the things I've been seeing in my dreams.”

Xander shifted uncomfortably, and was silent for a moment before he mumbled, “Well, since I don't have to find you now, maybe we can go somewhere quiet and talk—I'm here to explain some things to you, and give you some options. I'm guessing that life has been a bit unusual for you since you started having those dreams.”

The woman chuckled. “You could say that.” She walked over to the baggage conveyor belt and grabbed a suitcase that was going by—Xander was unsurprised by the fact that it was his suitcase and that she hefted it with enough ease to make it look as if it was empty. She winked at Xander and called out, “I know a place that will work fine for quiet conversation.”

They walked out of the terminal and directly to a rental car she had parked a few hundred feet away, and they were well on their way to their destination before Xander belatedly realized he had forgotten something. He turned to his left and asked quietly, “Um, what's your name?”

* * * *

Her name was Gail Walters, and she had been making a quiet living writing travel books when she woke up from a vivid dream and realized that she had become superhuman. After a few more nights of dreams and a few mishaps with delicate objects made it clear that the situation wouldn't be going away, she told her publisher that she'd be going on a research tour for an indefinite amount of time. Since that time she had traveled as the mood struck her, going from place to place with no real plan or pattern. Abruptly, something changed: “I had a particularly vivid dream ten days ago: I saw you exiting a plane at an airport—there were more than enough hints to let me know exactly when and where it would happen. I saw you walking by me, and turning as I greeted you. I'd been having dreams for months about you looking for those other women, those other Slayers, and talking to them before following you elsewhere—but I never got to see what happened next. I decided that it was time to find out. I flew to LA and rented this room for a month—and waited for you to get here.”

Xander shook his head. Buffy's Slayer dreams had always been scary accurate in the important details, but this was something else altogether.

They had arrived at her room after stopping in Eagle Rock for some very tasty pizza she had ordered en route, and—after they had finished off the pizza--Xander changed his usual routine by asking her to describe in detail what she had experienced without first asking her any more questions—mostly to see how she'd react to the request. She had favored him with another smile and spoken for twenty minutes without pausing before reaching the present. Now that she had told her story, it was time for him to offer her some insights into her new condition. He took a deep breath and said, “I can cut out a lot of the usual stuff I need to tell someone I've been looking for. You have a good idea of what happened to you, and you know I'm not some creep or pervert out to take advantage of you. There's a stuffy speech that Giles likes to give for this thing, but I don't like it and you know a lot of it anyway. So here's the bottom line: you're a Slayer, and I'm here to give you useful information and offer you a trip back to headquarters to get you trained and to help you adjust to your situation, whether you want to do the whole fighting evil thing or just want to try to live as normal a life as possible. So what do you want to know?”

Gail seemed to think about the question for a moment, then replied quietly, “I want to hear about all of you. You, Buffy, the others. What you were doing since she showed up at that school. The whole thing.”

The response took Xander aback: sure, he was used to newbie Slayers wanting to know about Buffy—but usually they wanted to know exactly what was going on with them first, as suddenly being ten times as strong and fast as you were before tends to freak normal people out, even before getting into the less obvious side effects of being a fully activated Slayer. He frowned and asked, “Wouldn't you rather know more about what has happened to you and what to expect?”

Gail snorted. “You guys have been at this for what—seven or eight years now?” Xander nodded, and Gail added pointedly, “What's going to tell me more about what I need to know than what you've been through for all that time? You can fill in any blanks as we go along.”

“OK, you're not wrong—but the long version of that is, well, long.” Xander replied.

Gail shrugged. “I've got this place rented for three more weeks, and there are plenty of restaurants around here that deliver. Are you in a rush to get out of here?”

Xander considered the question and realized that no, he really wasn't. He cleared his throat and began, “I was riding my skateboard one morning--”

* * * *

Xander talked for three days, only stopping to eat, sleep, and take care of other necessities, except for the occasions that Gail interrupted to ask for a clarification of something he had said. Willow had called during the second day to ask for an update, and Xander had handed the phone to Gail, who only said three words--”Frog fear, Willow?”--before handing the phone back to Xander in time for him hear the shout from the other end: “What are you telling her, Xander?”

The answer to that question was “a hell of a lot, actually.” Telling a story here and there to give a newbie Slayer some idea of what she might have to expect was one thing, but trying to tell the whole thing at once was something else altogether. He found himself thinking ahead as he lay on the bed on the guest room, thinking about details that Gail would find interesting or useful in something that had happened long ago. By the end of the third day, he had concluded his description of the events in Sunnydale, and had begun to talk about the preparations to find the new Slayers all over the world when Gail interrupted him: “You're leaving something out, Xander.”

“Well, probably,” Xander replied, looking back at Gail with a neutral expression. “It is over seven years of memories, you know—and I'm not Willow. What do you think I'm leaving out? Buffy or Willow could probably fill in the blanks if you want them to.”

Gail smiled sadly and asked, “What about Anya, Xander?”

Xander flinched slightly. “What about her? She was my girlfriend—I almost married her, and she died in Sunnydale just before everything went boom. She wasn't a Slayer.”

Gail sighed and moved to sit on the couch next to Xander as she replied, “She was in your life for what—almost four years? She clearly knew what the deal was with Sunnydale, and you cared about her enough to almost marry her before something went wrong—and even after that she cared enough to stay there and join you all in a fight that was pretty likely to kill all of you. Yet you only mentioned her here and there in your stories—you didn't even mention how you met her or how she ended up as your prom date. What was her story?”

Xander looked down at his feet and whispered absently, “Unusual. Nothing if not unusual.” He looked over at Gail and added, “Anya won't be there when we go to England—I was leaving out stuff that I didn't think you'd be interested in.”

“I asked to hear about things important to the people I'd be working with, Xander—and it's pretty obvious that she's still really important to you.” Gail's voice was compassionate, but firm. “You've been out finding Slayers almost since Sunnydale fell into the pit—have you ever taken the time to talk about her with someone since then?”

“What makes you think I need to?” Xander frowned, and an edge of irritation was audible in his voice.

“Because even the few mentions you made of her made it clear that she meant a lot to you.” Gail replied, watching Xander's expression as she added, “Plus, you completely ignored the hint I dropped the first night you were here—and I'm pretty sure from the dreams I had that you like girls.”

Four years with Anya had rendered Xander immune to blushing, but he felt like doing it for a moment. “Hint? What hint? I don't remember any hint.”

“When I told you about the spare bedroom, I also told you that you didn't have to use it if you didn't want to.” Gail sounded amused.

“I thought you meant I could just crash on the couch if I wanted to.” Xander said.

“Xander—I was topless when I said it.” Gail smirked, and Xander flinched again, visibly embarrassed. She sighed and added, “Relax—I've been turned down before and I'm sure I will be again, even with the nifty new superpowers: I'm not offended. Generally though, when I get turned down the guy at least notices that I'm making the suggestion. I'm not a shrink, but it seems like that part of you isn't open for business right now, and it's pretty obvious that Anya's the reason.”

“Anya's not exactly easy to explain to someone who wasn't around at the time.” Xander stood up and stared out the window of the room. Outside, cars occasionally sped by through the lengthening shadows of the late afternoon. “A story that begins: 'I met my girlfriend because she was a former vengeance demon who lost her powers trying to punish me for being unfaithful to my former girlfriend' can be hard to get past the 'are you kidding me?' part with the audience.”

“Yeah, I can see where that would be a conversation-stopper.” Gail walked up behind Xander and waited for him to turn around to face her before continuing: “On the other hand, I've heard a lot of unusual stuff in the past three days and seen a lot more in my dreams for nine months now. I'm pretty much your best bet for a sympathetic ear, unless you want to talk to one of your friends about it.”

Xander hesitated, then nodded before going back to sit on the couch. Gail followed him and waited for a few moments before Xander looked over at her and began: “She'd been a demon for over a thousand years when she lost her powers—she'd been a human witch with a talent for vengeance, and some demon decided to recruit her. By the time she lost her powers and wound up in Sunnydale, she'd forgotten what it meant to be human. She was scary smart and knew things, but she had no idea how to live like a normal human being.”

“That sounds like it would be rough—trying to re-learn that sort of thing, particularly with everything having changed. How did she deal with it?” Gail coaxed, watching Xander's expression.

“Not so well at first,” Xander allowed, wincing involuntarily at some of the memories, “but after a while she found things she was good at. She helped Giles run the magic store he bought after the Initiative thing was taken care of, and she was the one who made it really profitable. She learned how to do online trading and was making some serious money on that. She made quite a success of herself before she died.”

“You sound proud of her.” Gail commented.

“I don't have a right to be proud of her, but she managed to become an amazing person—I hope. . .I hope she was proud of herself. She seemed to be, but I can't really know what she was thinking.” Xander shook his head and looked down again. “She'd make connections in her head that I can't imagine making—living a thousand years and having to re-learn a lot of things will do that to you, I suppose. We had a little tradition over the years—every so often we'd sit down and watch Casablanca together--”

“I love that movie.” Gail smiled and added, “A lot of people do—that doesn't strike me as particularly odd.”

“Maybe it wasn't. . .but I'm not really sure why she picked that movie to be our tradition—or why I went along with it, for that matter.” Xander sighed and shook his head. “She was so blunt about most things. . .I always wonder what I managed to miss because I didn't bother to look for anything subtle with her.”

“I don't think she was trying to be subtle, Xander,” Gail replied. “Most people like the movie because the idea of noble deeds and doomed love strikes them as rather romantic. In your case. . .I think she just saw something familiar, and you saw it too.” Xander looked away, and Gail added, “I could be wrong, though. Why not tell me more?”

Xander turned back to Gail, and she could see the doubt in his eye as she waited for him to speak. After a minute or so, he swallowed hard and replied, “She was terrified of bunnies. I never got that.”

Gail laughed out loud, and Xander smiled as he continued, “Our first Halloween together--”

* * * *

Some Slayers were nervous flyers—particularly the ones who had never actually seen a plane before, much less flown in one. Gail wasn't one of them. She dozed quietly in the seat next to Xander as they crossed the Rockies on the way to London via New York. He looked over and smiled at her—they had talked for two more days about Anya and other things before heading out to make arrangements to get her to England. Willow had been pleased at the news, but had asked him: “Xander, are you OK? You sound. . .different.”

“I'm good, Willow—just hard to believe that the job is done for now. We'll talk about the whole thing when I get back.” The amazing thing was, he was telling the truth. Between finishing the job and the chance that Gail had given him to give voice to some of the memories that he had accumulated over the years, he felt better than he had in a long time. He knew that his troubles weren't over by a long shot—there were still hundreds of Slayers needing training and protection, after all. However, the chance that Gail had given him to actually think about Anya rather than simply grieving for her had helped him settle some things in his mind—he was feeling more like his normal self again. He was fairly certain that the next time a topless woman said something to him, he'd notice and possibly even reply. After all, Anya would have wondered what was wrong with him if he didn't. He smiled at the thought and pulled the sleep mask down over his eyes. There would be plenty of time to worry about that in England.
Tags: character: anya jenkins, character: xander harris, fandom: buffy the vampire slayer, original author: schmevil, remix author: m. scott eiland

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