Summary: He knows better than this, but god, that Coors is calling him.
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Spoilers and/or Warnings: Season 8 Comics Compliant
Title, Author and URL of original story: vampedvixen's drabbles entitled "Amends" and "Secret" can be found here and here.
He knows better than this, but god, that Coors is calling him. It’s hard to be the heart, all raw and exposed and in charge of remembering what matters and why they all got into this in the first place. So the Xand-man is sentimental. So he’s the one who marks two-and-a-half years since Anya and Amanda and a bunch of little girls who giggled every time he left the kitchen met a sticky end in a big pit. So he’s lying on his bed in his loudest shirt, that one she said she hated but he knew she loved it because it matched her wonderful, dorky Leave-It-To-Beaver vibe.
So. It’s how it’s supposed to be except for how it isn’t at all. He’s Mr. Brightside, right? It’s who he is. Who he’s always been and maybe that right there’s the problem. He can’t lie to himself on a half-i-versary; they’re too important. He’s exactly who he’s always been. Or… That’s not it. It’s been making with the tickling at the back of his mind for a while now. The newer Slayers seem immune but the old gang… They’re… going backwards, somehow, regressing into early versions of themselves before things got so hard. And he gets the impulse, really, but there’s something… off about it. Something doesn’t feel right and, well, he’s not Buffy. He hasn’t got the high kick for one thing. But, seriously, doesn’t know if he could imagine a scenario where it was worth it, all of those girls, those deaths. And even if he could it wouldn’t be like this, everyone sliding back to the way they’d been six or seven years ago. Like those girls had never lived, or died. Like Will never got smacked down by her own power, or the Buffster had never seen… what she’s seen, good and bad. Like Faith had never figured out she had a place and some respect that no one was going to snatch out from under her. It isn’t right.
Maybe he’s wrong. Maybe he’s just paranoid, and this is the new normal, and Buffy’s perkiness and Faith’s anger and Dawn’s whining are all just coping mechanisms. Maybe. It’s just a piss-poor ways to honor his girls that fell.
Great googly-moogly, he wants that beer. Can’t have it, though, not on a half-i-versary, not alone. That’s how they started, after all, breaking glass and a ruined cake and a cancelled 8th birthday party. That’s a good idea. He’ll call Willow. She’ll get it. Crap. Her phone’s off. Well, it’s not strictly business, but… Xander presses the little green stone tied to the underside of his wrist. “Hey, Will?”
“Xander.” Her voice is strange. Choked, maybe? “What is it?”
“Hey, you ok? You sound…” She sounds like sex, is what. Coulda sworn Kennedy was on-mission…
“Fine. Just…” Another choking sound. “Little busy. What’s up?”
“I, well…” Hey, it’s Willow. She’ll get it. “It’s the Hellmouth half-i-versary.”
“Hey,” she says, and her voice is gentle, even if she’s still rasping. “Half-i-versaries are for good stuff.”
She knows better than that. Sure, they started that way, with Willow’s wriggly giggle when he’d burst into the Snoopy dance for the first time because he just couldn’t contain the happy that she’d got the Super-Soaker he wanted and saved it for six whole months because half-birthdays counted and his parents were too dumb to pay attention. But now… They’re the biggest tradition he’s got, bleeding over into everything that matters and Willow knows it. “And important stuff.”
“Good stuff,” she says. Oh, Willow. Her curly Willow lips don’t do stiff, and he knows she knows he wasn’t fooled by her bright smile and perky proclamations that they were really celebrating Tara’s life last week.
“He knows.” Sweet suffering Skywalker, that can’t be good. (And since when did his mind sound like Andrew?) That’s not Willow’s voice. That’s not a good voice. The hairs on his neck are making a run for it and he’s not so sure he shouldn’t follow the trend. “Cleverrrrr. He can sense the power, and marks it in his own way.”
There’s this noise - a horrible, slithering, sucking sound, and Willow’s breath gives a little hitch. “Um. I… It’s really important that I go, but, I’ll see you later, ok, and we’ll talk and I think I have some brownie mix and, uh, bye.”
Huh. She didn’t sound like she’s in danger, but those choking noises… Well. That’s am image he needs to get right out of his brain, even if Kennedy would have quite a grip…
Annnnnnd let’s get right off of that train in case whatever-it-was (please let it be Kennedy, it’s not Kennedy, but let it be…) can see his thoughts somehow and… yeah, that’s not of the good.
If Willow’s out… He needs somebody here, he’s not ashamed to admit it, and not just because he’s afraid he’ll start drinking alone. Buffy? Nah. She’s full-on avoidy today, flinching whenever he makes eye-contact and flashing her very best nothing-to-see-here-folks smile the rest of the time. The Dawnster? She’s too young to drink and besides, Willow’s afraid it will throw her cure for a loop. Faith and Giles are… Well, the less said about that the better. He’s not sure what’s creepier – if they’re doing the nasty, or if she’s somehow stepped into Buffy’s junior year shoes. And as much as he loves his girls… This, this is a Scooby thing.
Just his luck that company’s a little thin on the ground. He’s tempted to say no harm, no foul just this once but he knows better. If he pops that top… It’s not just a sickness. It’s wasted holidays and lost life. He knows better. He’ll just mosey over here to the window, watch the snow swirl around. A stupid, barking laugh wrings its way out of him. She should be here, happily wrapped up in the white fur coat she’d always wanted but never bought because she said it was only appropriate in the snow and maybe he’s feeling a little reckless, but you never know if she can hear him. “I wish…” he whispers, but he knows better than to even think about finishing that sentence.
“Well, don’t stop there.” Well, that can’t mean anything good.
It’s D’Hoffryn, spreading his – fingers? Claws? Clingers? – as though Xander’s fool enough to think he’s unarmed. “This was just getting interesting.”
Maybe he can reach that pirate letter opener Dawn gave him, probably just heavy enough to smash that stone...
“Hell’s bells.” D’Hoffryn bites off the curse, staring at something just left of Xander’s bed. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”
“You know I don’t,” says… Buffy?! But it isn’t her. At least, not now. Round cheeks and man, nineties fashion, er, sufferes in the eyes of history. “I’d say I’m surprised to see you cheating but hey, it kinda goes with the whole evil thing.”
“I thought…” he gets out, not-Buffy just blinking at him, before poof! And there’s a bonus Buffy, this time with the gaunt, haunted look she had just a couple years back.
“Can’t blame a girl for trying,” she – it, it, this has *got* to be the First – says, and it’s got Buffy’s dead-eyed fake smile down cold.
Another pop. “Let me guess. The ghost of Buffy yet to come?”
“Kid, you got a dirty mind.” Xander’ll eat his hat if that accent’s real. Well, not that hat. What’d he do, rob Justin Timberlake? Not that Xander knows much about JT’s wardrobe and crap why are the Buffys staring at him with unsettling stereo smirks? “The name’s Whistler.”
“I still think it’s unfair. You’ve got him all broken in and I’m stuck working with a newbie,” Skinny Buffy – and god help him if Buffy ever gets wind of that little nickname – whines, glaring at D’Hoffryn. “Good help is so hard to find.” D’Hoffryn just snorts, which shouldn’t be as dignified as it is. “Of course, maybe you’re having trouble finding fresh blood. They just don’t make good guys what they used to.”
“Shut up!” Geez. Nobody’s as shrill as a teenaged girl. “You know you’re not allowed…”
“Oh, whatever.” It’s eerie, how well this… thing imitates her gestures. He’d know that eyeroll anywhere. “He knows.”
“Pshaw.” Baby Buffy brushes a hand through his head and he’ll live the rest of his life with no Patrick Swayze experiences, thank you very much. “Oh!”
“Told ya.” Skinny Buffy sounds bored, but she’s staring at him with chilling interest. “I guess that makes him the one.”
“This is my bedroom!” Great, Xander. Stunning insight, there, and way to call everyone – no, everything’s – attention right to you.
“We’re girls and everything. Must be a shock.” Skinny Buffy grins, quick and mean. “Don’t worry. Your record’s intact. We aren’t alive.”
He’s just not going to pause, think about what that thing is getting at. Keep it simple, stupid. “Who are you and why are you here?”
“I think you know.” Skinny Buffy’s smile is razor-edged. “Didja miss me?”
“Great. Double your pleasure, double your root of all evil.”
Baby Buffy scowls at that. “No wonder you’re not the brains of the outfit. Do I look evil to you?” It’s his turn to scowl and Baby Buffy actually drops her eyes. “Hey, where there’s a First Evil, there’s a First Good, right?”
All right, so his snort’s a little high-pitched. "Tell me another one."
“You better believe it.” That scrawny guy is smirking at Xander. “What, you were expecting wings?”
“Oh, look, he’s thinking.” Skinny Buffy ghosts her not-fingertips along the edge of his jaw. “Don’t hurt yourself. You don’t need to understand. You just need to decide.”
Xander presses a hand to his eyes. Maybe he did hit the bottle. Maybe he hit his head. When he opens his eyes, they’ll all be gone. One, two, three… And, no. They’re still there, and staring at him. “Well?” Skinny Buffy just quirks an eyebrow. “Bah-wha, now?”
There’s got to be a way out of this. He’ll just stretch, all casual-like… D’Hoffryn’s next to him, warp speed, scaly fingers pinning his wrist. “Ah, ah, ah. As much as I’d prefer to speak with the inestimable Miss Rosenberg, this task falls to you.”
“You’ve got to decide.” Baby Buffy’s eyes are huge, ridiculously earnest. It's... unsettling, to be reminded where they've started, what this has cost.
He has to admit he's a little impressed. The First has got a lot more subtle, playing on regrets much more skillfully. “I’ve decided you should get the hell out of my bedroom.”
Whistler gives an irritated sigh. “Do you think you’re still playing on the side of the angels?”
Is that even English? “Do you think you’re Humphrey Bogart?”
“It’s real simple. You have to decide. Do you want to reset the clock, start all over say, oh, ten years back? Or would you rather keep on keeping on?”
Baby Buffy is glaring at Whistler’s back, but it’s clear he hasn’t noticed. “Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed that things are wacky. I know you. You feel things.” She smiles, a shockingly open expression. “You’re right, you know. They are regressing. And they would have kept on doing it if you hadn’t gone all thinky.” Baby Buffy is pouting – actually pouting. “You were supposed to be able to see what they were like before…”
“I had to decide. Right.”
Whistler’s produced a match somewhere, rubbing it up and down his shoe like someone vomited a film noir festival on him. “Everything’s out of balance, kid, and there has to be some way to settle the grudge match.”
“Give the kid a cigar.”
“Don’t worry. Your little swarm of slayers will stay either way.” Skinny Buffy’s voice… God, it makes him tired just to listen. “We’re only going to change you four. Well, six, maybe.”
“She’s alive in the past, you know.” Pity’s not a good look for Baby Buffy. “And Tara, too.”
That seals the deal. This is some new trick. It has to be. Maybe the First split when Buffy split the slayer power? Hey, keeping his mouth shut might not be his number one skill but this time… “I’m not a decisive kind of guy.”
“Let me give you some incentive.” D’Hoffryn’s eyes go hard, flint-cold and WHAM. He can see the flames licking the lawn,the training areas, god, there’s a practice going on…
He looks at Whistler and he shrugs, the jerk. “You’ve got to decide. Do you like you slate clean or dirty?”
He can smell the fire. Screams… is he imagining them? D’Hoffryn smiles. “It would be such a shame if someone got hurt while you dawdled.”
Well, shit. The fire seems real enough - maybe enough to do some serious damage to the castle. Assuming, just for the sake of argument, that these people aren't going to calm down until he's decided... Yeah, the past must be a trick. It’s too, too tempting. It wasn’t so long ago, that time where Buffy had crushes and curves and there wasn’t any danger behind Willow’s goofy grins. When Anya… Oh, man. He knows. This is an easy one, after all. They’ve learned too much to throw away. Even if Anya and Tara come back – and don’t think he missed that lack of specifics – well, they aren’t the only ones who’ve fallen. They owe it to all of the girls, to Amanda and Renee and Rona, and, and, and… “Let’s get back to the future,” he says, staring Skinny Buffy straight in the eye.
“You sure about that, kid?” Whatever Whistler’s chewing is clearly visible. “You could erase all your mistakes.”
“Then we’ll just make ‘em again.” It’s hard to explain, if he even wants to humor these people. This battered future might not be perfect, but, hey, it's them.
“You would know all about that.” D’Hoffryn’s blue lips are pressed almost to nothing. Could it be... Yeah. He misses Anya, too.
Still, he knows she won't come back whole and happy. He's learned better, and that's kinda the point. “That’s my final answer.” Maybe not the most opportune moment for the Regis voice, but… D’Hoffryn sighs, snaps his fingers and POW. The fire’s gone, just like that, and so D’Hoffyrn. Skinny Buffy vanishes right after. Baby Buffy gives him a long, sad look then shakes her head, hiding her face with her hair.
Of course the hat guy’s the last to go. At least he’s lost the match. “I sure hope you know what you’re doing, kid.”
And then he’s alone, again, but the Coors is no longer calling. His gut doesn’t let him down.