This story takes place before the events in The Prom.
I woke up when the much abused clock radio next to my bed starting spewing out Everlast's Ends. I liked the song. It had a certain dark, oppressive quality that suited my mood. And the reason for my bad mood, the half of my brain I'm talking to asks in an exasperated voice, nothing. I just woke up and there it was.
Like some giant zit that pops up over night and you wonder just how much pus your body can produce in one eight hour period. There it was. I was in a bad mood and I wanted to tell somebody about it.
Only there wasn't anyone to tell, was there. I lay in bed for half an hour wondering if it was possible for your bladder to actually burst before I actually got up and drained the old snake. That felt good. Amazingly good actually. So I slouched downstairs. Nobody was there. Mom had gone out to work. Usually we leave at the same time but I guess she hadn't missed me. My Dad's been getting some pick up work from a buddy of his in construction. Under the table stuff so it doesn't affect his unemployment. He usually leaves early and returns late, after a few drinks with his buds.
Anyway, new line of thought. I'm not going to school today. Why should I? I'm a senior and at this point in the semester everybody is just killing time. Teachers know it. For a split second I contemplate calling in sick but just figure I'll take a note in signed by my mom tomorrow. Her signature is easy enough to forge. Or I could just ask her for one. She'd sign it, probably. Yeah, she'd probably sign it without asking any questions at all. Nope, no questions for Xander. No, where have you been? How's school? No, where'd you get that bruise on your face. Not for this boy, no sirree.
I pour the last of the milk onto my cereal and watch some really crapola rerun of One Day at a Time. Itıs a really bad show but I like it. I like really bad shows even if I make fun of them with everybody else. I don't know why, I try to explain to that half of my brain that I'm still explaining things to. Maybe because in a television show everything matters, everyone matters. Things that don't matter to solving the dilemma of the day don't occur. People that are in the main cast, everything they do is important to the rest of the cast. Unless of course they get written out and sent to Rochester or Alaska or someplace and are never made reference to again.
Now that's a scary thought. One Day at a Time fades into the Golden Girls. That I watch cause I don't feel like moving my finger to change the channel. Golden Girls changes into Family Ties. That Justine Bateman sure was a babe. Reminds me of Cordelia, same dark hair, same fashion sense, same No I don't think I want to go there. My bladder starts to assert itself again, suppose it was that 64 ounces of coke I'd been sipping on. I wonder how much of my life is controlled by my need to excrete.
I take a quick pee and a shower. Or was that a pee and a quick shower? By now it's nearly noon, lunchtime at old Sunnydale High. The phone doesn't ring. I contemplate what I'm going to do with the rest of my day off. The phone doesn't ring. Thought may somebody would call and ask if I was sick or just goofing off. But nobody does. Maybe I should show up for my last two classes of the day? Nah, why bother.
I grab my jacket, checking to make sure the emergency stake and holy water are jammed in the pocket. Then I walk. While I walk I try to explain to my brain why I feel in such a bad mood. I tell it about not being let in on the Angel fake switch to the dark side and the bruise I'd ended up with. I tell it about getting told off by Willow for baiting Cordy when she'd started it. Of course it was my fault, sure enough sir, all my fault. I talk to my brain about how I don't think the gang cares if I'm around anymore. Ingredient guy, that's me. I'm buy off Willie the snitch with all the money I had, lunch money included. Save the world, go without tasty lunchtime treats, that's my fate in life.
Cordy, yeah, Cordy is my fault. And Willow's. Of course, Willow is back with Oz and somehow that makes what happened somehow more my fault. Not sure how that worked. Doesnıt matter though, I tell myself. I, Xander Harris stopped a bunch of no-longer dead guys from running amok through the town. Yup, I kept my cool and stared down the bomb. That was me. Didn't tell anybody about that. My little secret. See, I tell myself, I'm cool. I'm a hero and that's because I know about it. Nobody else needs to know.
Yeah, me big hero. Me good friend. Me skipping school and nobody noticing. The black mood moves in a little deeper but I push it aside. It gets in one last dig at me. Me talking about hitting the road leaving Sunnydale for a Kerouac style adventure. Thought maybe somebody would say, hey Xand, that's really a cool thing to do but we'll miss you bud. How will we fight the forces of evil without you?
Going to Rochester, Xander? I ask myself. Getting sent to sit-com hell and never mentioned again. I kick my brain a few times to shake that thought. Look around and find myself in front of a pizza joint with some video games and a few coin operated pool tables. Figure if I'm going to be on the road I'd better brush up on my pool. It fits the motif somehow.
I get myself some really greasy, salty fries and a large coke. I wonder how much caffeine I can consume in one day and not go off my mind. Of course, I'd been doing a running monologue to nobody all day so maybe that's a moot point. I shoot a few games, practicing my bank shots, trying a few harder moves that I never have quite enough time to try at the Bronze.
More people are coming into the place now. I glance at the clock, it's after 4:30. Training time for the Slayer. Investigation time for the rest of the Scooby gang. Wonder if they notice I'm not there? Probably not. Should go and help though, what with this Ascension thing set for graduation.
Now the destruction of Sunnydale should put a big damper on that big event in my life. Just one more bright and special thing to celebrate a milestone in the life of Xander Harris.
No, I'll take a day off from breathing dust in old books on magic and demons and destruction. And a night off from everything. I've got enough money to play and eat all night. Then I'll go home and maybe there will be a message on the answering machine.
I'm not holding my breath though. I put the last ball in the corner pocket and straighten up. Probably should get a slice of pizza and some more of that delicious elixir of life, caffeine and sugar mixed in carbonated water. Mmm, sweet goodness.
"Hey, you wanna play a game?"
I look up. Its some guy I don't recognize. He's a few years older than me, shorter though. Dressed in the usual kind of quasi-grunge thing that you see around. "Sure, that'd be fine."
"Great, I'll rack 'em. Name's Nick."
"Xander," I reply. And then we play a game of pool. Nick plays about as well as I do so itıs a close game. He wins in the end, by one ball, with a pretty damn sweet banking shot. Eight ball drops and its over. I notice he keeps glancing towards the door.
"You waiting on friends?"
"Well, they said they'd show but they're not the most reliable types. Want to play again?"
"Sure, I just want to grab a slice or two though."
"If we split a whole pie it works out cheaper," Nick says, "And we don't have to eat the mozzarella slices that have been congealing since lunch time.
"Good for me. Pepperoni?"
"And shrooms and sausage?"
"Fungus and pork products, two great tastes that taste great together," I nod and go order us a large. Nick racks it up. We play another game before the pie is ready. He gives me money for half of it and I pay, making sure to get beverages. We start yet another game. By now the places is filled up and people are talking and eating and shooting pool and playing games and guys and gals are getting all hot and bothered in the corners.
I try not to stare at the last part, stirs up too many memories. I miss Cordelia and not just because of the major smoochies. When I was with her I really felt special. Out of all the guys with money and looks she'd chosen me. Then I'd blown it. Of course I'd blown it. I love too many women. Not lust after as they'd probably tell you if you'd ask any of them. Love. I care about them more than I care about myself. So I fight demons and vampires and try to be brave and save the world so I can help protect them.
Oh, sure, Buffy could kick my butt. Willow is smarter and is getting really good at magic. Cordelia always manages to pull a rabbit out of her hat when something big and ugly rears its, well, ugly head. But I want to protect them. Isn't that what you do for the people you love?
I haul the pizza over to the pool table and shovel a slice into my mouth. Then this woman wearing a shirt tied at the waist and a tight skirt walks into the pizza place. She's got bodacious tatas. I can't help but appreciate what a wonderful world it is when women like that enter the room. I catch Nick's eye and we both smirk and look. She wants you to look, you can tell. She's catching some large guy in a jean jacket's eye as she walks over to the counter to order. Boy friend? I wonder. Past tense boyfriend?
She reminds me of Faith somehow. That same raw sexuality. Faith that is before she went over to the dark side and became the enemy of all us on the good side of the Force. Yeah, Faith, another thing that my brain curses at me for. On the one hand, I had sex on the other hand I didn't mean anything to her. Oh, sure, I would never claim that I was in love with her but it did mean something to me and I thought we'd connected. However physical and temporary it was. But I guess it didn't mean anything. Doesn't that just figure.
Nick and I eat the pizza, half keeping an eye on the babe as she sits down with some other girls and they start giggling and rolling their eyes. The stuff women do when they gather in a flock. Is it a flock of girls? Or a gaggle? They don't even glance at the two of us.
Nick reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out a flask and pours something into his coke. He lifts the flask and gestures to me so I shove my drink forward. Don't know what it was, tasted kind of vile but it made reality take a step back which was really nice.
So we start shooting the shit to each other. Making typical guy kind of comments about the female population in the bar before moving on to actresses and models. Somehow that conversation turns into one about cars. I tell him about my uncle's wicked car and he's suitably impressed. We have another drink of fortified coke and he tells me about the motorcycle he's saving up for. Nearly got enough too. And I'm suitably impressed.
Then it's late and the place starts to calm down. People either go to a bar to continue the evening or home to finish it. Nick and I finish our last game. I come out ahead by one win over him. Like I said, we were pretty evenly matched.
"You usually come here?" Nick asks.
"Nah, usually go to the Bronze," I reply, suddenly remembering that Oz's band was playing there tonight. Glad I didn't go there, suddenly.
"Ah, where the beautiful meet," he says it lightly but I get the feeling behind it. He didn't belong there any more than I do now. He's not bitter about it, it just isn't what he's in to. "I want a rematch if you're ever here again."
"You're on," I nod to him and step into the night. I start walking, the fresh air is a relief after inhaling all the smoke in the pizza place. Not to mention that high-octane crap I'd been drinking. Then I hear a noise and remember in Sunnydale there's no such thing as a day off.
It's not a vampire though. It's big and ugly and slimy. Really grossly slimy. It's hiding its slimy self behind a dumpster waiting. Waiting for what, I didn't stop and ask. I have the stake half way out of my pocket before I realize that it probably won't work. By that time slime boy has spotted me and is making a beeline for me like I'm the last piece of pie at the lunch buffet. Somehow my hands grab the holy water bottle and squirt the contents onto the thing.
Then comes howls of pain and bubbly noises. Blip, blip, bloop, spaka, glub, glub. And it's dead in a pile of goo. I wrinkle my nose up at the acidic smell and wait to see if it starts oozing its way down a sewer drain. But it doesn't do anything except start smelling even worse.
Then I notice it. It's about the size of a scrabble piece and about the same color. Only instead of a comforting A or Z there's a mark on it that looks like something usually found in one of Giles' books. I pull a napkin out of my pocket and pick it up to shove into my pocket. I start walking again only this time I make sure my hands are securely on the stake and holy water.
Sunnydale High looks pretty quiet tonight. I see Giles' battered old car in the parking lot. I enter through the back entrance we've messed with so the alarm doesn't go off and start towards the library. The lights are on. I head on in.
"Hey G-man!" I call out cheerfully. Maybe my find will be a good one and help with the "Stop The Ascension Now" campaign.
"Oh, hello, Xander," Giles comes out of his office, he's holding a book in his hands. The library is empty otherwise. Everybody is probably at the Bronze. Not even Wesley, the weasley watcher is about.
"Look what I found!" I pull out the napkin and the demonic scrabble piece and hand it to him.
"Hmm," Giles takes it from me and peers at it through his glasses, turning it a few times. The symbol on it seems to change when he twists it. I hadn't noticed that. Of course, I'm not going to admit that. "Where'd you get it?"
"The slimoid hell spawn that was its previous owner won't be needing it in his present gooified state," I explain with what I imagine is a kind of nonchalant smile.
"You killed a demon?" He looks up from the piece and frowns at me.
It was the frown that did it. It just irritated me and the bad mood from this morning that had been driven away by countless games of pool and an overload of pizza came rushing back. Yes, I wanted to yell at him. I, Xander Harris, high school senior, school joke and currently low man on the Scooby Gang totem pole, killed a demon. All by myself! I did it! See, I wanted to scream, I can do stuff too!
But I didn't yell at him. It would have been pointless. Besides, what good would it do. So I just shrug and say, yeah, and turn around and head towards the door. "Later, G-man," I say and make it nearly to the library doors before Giles says anything. He says.
"Xander, get back here and sit down."
He kind of snaps the words at me in that cultured, stern manner of his. Part of me wants to keep on going. But if I did that I'm sure that it would just be made out to be some kind of childish behavior or me just being a big dick or something. So I sit down and resist the urge to sprawl all over the chair in a really sullen teen-age manner.
Giles pulls up a chair and sit down in front of me. Great, I tell that part of my brain that's still listening to me. Great, just what I wanted tonight. Demon gooage followed by Librarian Lecture #256 or whatever it was going to be.
"Are you all right?" Giles asks. Not what I expected him to say. Not quite the opener I'd planned for.
"Uh, yeah, sure," I shrug, not sure what to say.
"The demon didn't hurt you, did he?"
"No, never laid a claw on me. These holy water filled squirt bottles kill from a distance," I smile and hold mine up.
"Yes, they are rather effective. It was a good idea you came up with there."
"Whoa, what that a compliment?" It came out snarkier than I'd intended. I mentally kick myself in the balls. I knew I should have kept my mouth shut as soon as I opened it. Should have just clamped down even if that would have made my tongue do a two for one. Gross and bloody sure, but better than talking out loud like that. "Sorry," I mumble and then stare at the library floor.
"You weren't in school today," Giles said, "Were you sick?"
"No, just didn't feel like going."
"Any particular reason? Or did you just feel like going off and facing down a demon by yourself?"
Oh, that's why he's mad. I explained to myself. He thought idiot boy was going off and trying to get himself killed. An inconvenience for all involved. "The demon was an unexpected by product."
"So you weren't off doing anything foolish, like say walking the streets of Sunnydale at night?"
I didn't bother answering. Figured that Giles would use that last sentence as a jumping off point to "be careful lecture number 7-b-6" or something. But he didn't continue and the silence just started getting longer and it became a real effort not to squirm or mumble explanations. But I managed not to say anything.
"Xander, I know you've been unhappy these past couple of months but I didn't realize you'd become suicidal."
My head snapped up to stare at him. "I'm not suicidal," I find myself explaining, very quickly in fact. " I was out having some fun and just took a walk home. This being Sunnydale there was this demon hanging out by the dumpsters. I did the Holy Water squirt thing, he turned into goo and I brought you the thingy he'd dropped. That's it."
"Let's look at this a different way, shall we," Giles said, and his voice was clam not lecturey or anything. "You cut school, don't tell any of your friends what you were doing. You go someplace where you've been drinking and smoking by the smell of it. Then you decide to walk around the unsafe streets of Sunnydale by yourself at night. You fight with a demon and then continue your walk over to the school. Does that sum up your day?"
"I wasn't smoking. Just everybody around me was," I smile and try to force myself to relax. All of a sudden I'm really nervous, more nervous than when I was facing that demon.
"That's not the point, Xander, and you know it." Giles' tone takes a turn toward angry.
But I don't feel like dealing with someone being angry with me especially since I'd had a really great day and killed a demon and found a really nifty morphing scrabble piece. "Then what exactly is the point then?"
"Xander, I may seem older than time to you but I remember what it was like to be a young man your age. I remember trying to hard to fit in and trying equally hard to break free of everything and everyone around me," Giles countered, his voice losing that hint of pissed off. "I remember wanting to do things that would make people think I was clever and brave. I especially wanted the girls to think that."
"Welcome to the XY chromosome club," I congratulated him. Don't know why I just kept being a smart-ass. Only knew that somehow this line of conversation was uncomfortable somehow. Giles ignored the bait though.
"That's part of it, yes. But I don't think that's the only reasons why you've been isolating yourself lately. Would you like to tell me what's going on?"
I look at Giles, he's got his concerned face on. It's not too often I see an adult face doing that number when they're talking with me. Part of me yells to just kept up and walk out, why the hell should I explain anything. Part of me blurts out, "I don't want to go to Rochester."
"Well, yeah, metaphorically New York anyway," My explanation doesn't seem to do anything for the puzzled look Giles is shooting me. "In sit-coms when somebody leaves the show they go off to someplace like Rochester and nobody talks about them anymore or, " and I nearly say cares about them before I realize that would be a major emotional faux pas. Faux pas, was one of the vocabulary words I'd quizzed Buffy on to help her study. "or.. anything."
"So you're worried that if you leave on your road trip that nobody will care about you anymore?"
Giles is a bright guy. "I kind of think that I'm already heading off the list of recurring characters anyway." For some reason that really chokes me up and I find myself looking at the clock for something to do.
"Oh, I thought that might be the problem. Interesting metaphor though, exceptional. Xander, let me explain something to you."
Giles paused and I brought my eyes back to focus on him before he started talking again.
"Everything changes. Friends change, where you live changes, what you do all day changes. What doesn't change is what you've done. And you have done a lot of good in this town, never let yourself forget that."
"But it doesn't seem to matter anymore," Man, that came out far more pathetic than I'd intended.
"Yes it does," Giles shook his head, "of course it does. I know that sometimes you get picked on in the group and your contributions made light of. But you have to start getting used to the fact that being adult means that a lot of the time nobody will appreciate what you do. In the end you have to do things because you think they're the right thing to do and accept that its quite possible that no one will notice at all," Giles paused for a moment.
I wondered if he was thinking of me or of how we all tend to take him for granted. Never figuring he'd want us to say something like good job to him like he'll do to us. Guess maybe he'd like to hear it said sometimes too, just like me. I'm kind of surprised it's him that's noticed how I've kind of been getting the short end of the stick lately. Guess I took him for granted again. Then he starts talking, his voice is I don't know, gentler somehow now.
"Xander, at this point in your life things are changing very rapidly for you and for everybody else. They and you have the added burden of all the craziness the Hellmouth throws around."
"Everybody else seems to be okay with it."
"Really? I don't think they are. I think you're all coping with it in your own way. It's just a bit more difficult for you."
"Why cause I'm dumb and pathetic?" Even I was amazed how my whiney tone of voice changed to self-pitying and angry.
"No because the Slayerettes have been your family for the last several years and Willow for a long time before that. Changes in a family group are always the hardest to deal with."
"Yeah," I look at the Watcher guy for a moment. Then I sorta sigh and slouch in my chair, bad mood had turned into sad mood. "But things have changed and are going to change more so I should just get on with it. Right?"
"Yes, you have to. And I think you'll do fine even if it does seem a bit difficult at the moment," Giles suddenly smiled, "If preying mantises, Inca princesses, various demons and Cordelia haven't destroyed you, its unlikely that the transition into adulthood will."
"You sure about that?" I grin at him. Yeah, I got the message I explain to myself. If I just keep working at it life will be okay. Different than now but okay.
"Fairly certain, unless of course the Mayor destroys the entire town before you get a chance to make nineteen."
"Ah, life in Sunnydale, a dark cloud behind every silver lining."
"Quite. Why don't I drive you home, I'm finished here for the night." Giles stands up and starts to pick up his coat. "Oh, and Xander."
"Yeah," I'd stood up and started stretching.
"Walking the streets of Sunnydale by yourself at night is just plain stupid. What the bloody hell were you thinking?"
The way Giles said it. That's when it hit me, something I'd known but hadn't really given any thought to. It wasn't his adult scolding a child voice. It was an adult irritated with a friend voice because the friend had done something stupid and nearly gotten themselves hurt. I'd never heard it much at my house but I'd watched enough sit-coms to recognize it. Maybe I wasn't going to Rochester, I told myself. Maybe the show was just revamping itself. And I laughed inside at my own bad pun. "I wasn't thinking,"
"Obviously and for God's sake, wash that jacket will you. It reeks."
Giles drove me home and I took a shower and threw all of my clothes in the wash. The bad mood was gone. Oh, I was still unsure of the family dynamic as Giles would put it. I really didn't know what my place was or where I'd end up. But that was okay. I'd done my share to stop yucky things from taking over the world in the past and I'd do more in the future. Whether it was in Sunnydale or Rochester. And maybe all the people I loved didn't love me as much back but that was okay too. And Giles was right, my jacket did reek.
And so, I told the part of my brain that was still listening, as I started to fall asleep, so ends a day off in the life of Xander Harris.
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