Xander, Buffy, Sam: 34 yrs.
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Chapter One: XANDER
Terry's shouting something in my ear, but I can't make out the words ‘cause I'm running so fast. Running like the gazelles I see almost everyday from my bedroom window. I've got Terry perched on my shoulders as I will my legs to give'em their all. Eat my dust Tom Cruise.
"48 seconds." Spike says as he stops the watch and gives me one of his annoying little shit faced grins. "I win."
I sink to my knees, trying my best to catch my breath and let Teresa jump down onto the soft green grass. She walks over to where Spike is standing before giving him the funniest look I've ever seen from any four year old.
"Uncle Spike…" She warns as he dramatically brings his hand to his chest in a mocking fashion.
"Bloody hell," He mutters, making a show of rolling his blue eyes, "we won."
We all hear Buffy's distant "Spike! Language!" from the open kitchen window and both of us crack up in laughter. Terry giggles into her small hands.
Buffy doesn't laugh though, when we walk inside for dinner, decorated with dirt and grass stains all over the place. Spike's even got some random dandelion leaf in his hair.
"What were you three doing?" She asks, clearly exasperated, as she picks out the green from his hair.
Terry gives her the "I'm innocent" look that we taught her and it makes Buffy smile. A smile that almost reaches her eyes—something that, I bet, Terry does not see often.
"Please tell me you're seeing what I'm seeing."
Spike's voice is scratchy at the crack of dawn, and it makes Xander shiver. In irritation? In annoyance? In delight? He's not too sure. All he knows is that it makes him shudder every morning.
The strap to his eye patch is loose again, and his thick fingers are struggling to make it tighter. Finally, he gives up and throws it to Spike for him to fix. However, Spike is still staring out the window, and the eye patch hits him in the back of the head. He pays no heed to it and Xander stifles a laugh.
"See what?" He says, making his way to the window, and throwing a glance outside.
Spike doesn't answer, just lets Xander study the scenery a little more. A wandering goat, three tumbling… tumbleweeds and a lone baobab tree in the distance. Xander sighs and shields his good eye from the rising sun.
"A two dimensional goat, three tumbleweeds and a tree. That's all." He says, as he bends down to pick up his eye patch, but his depth perception isn't what it used to be, and it takes him a few tries before he succeeds.
"You're sure?" Spike asks, as he takes the offered eye patch, letting his slender, experienced fingers work the strap.
Xander shrugs and fits the band around his head before taking another look.
"As certain as the sun rising in the East?"
Xander snickers as he playfully punches the blonde's shoulder.
"Okay Peabo." He says, chuckling.
Spike gives him a serious glare before slowly shaking his head in despair.
"M'going to ring the Finnish Flash." He says, walking out of the room. "Take your time, Al."
Xander's chuckles die down as he bends down to lace up his boots. He can feel the warm sun hit him onhis back and he takesa moment to relish the slight breeze coming in from the open window.
"Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the…" He mutters in a jaunty tune as he stretches out and looks out the window again. Certain as the sun rising in the East.
His chocolate brown eye grows wide as realization hits him square in the face.
"As certain as the sun rising in the West?" He says, but no one is around to hear him.
Xander sits and wonders when exactly it was when he became a victim to routine. It used to be so easy. Get up whenever. Eat when hungry. Lame joke here. Well-timed funny there. Sleep. Repeat as needed. Now his routine is a tad more complicated.
"I'm afraid this matter falls into the metrological side of things." Giles clipped tone booms from the speakerphone. "Xander?"
Xander? Metrological? Really? Stay calm. Xander blinks and starts to panic. This isn't routine, he thinks rapidly. He looks around the office, frantic, trying to read the others' faces. Sam's got a cigarette perched carelessly on her lips as she checks her nails, clearly interested in the matter at hand, but as usual, refraining from showing it. Ry's running his hand through his long hair over and over again and Xander finally realizes why there's Rogaine hidden away in the drug cabinet in the washroom. Spike, on the other hand, is staring at the phone, clearly waiting for him to answer.
"Xander?" Giles repeats from the comfort of his home in Bath. "Are you there?"
"Well? What do you think?"
"I have a question concerning the tides." The tides? Where the hell did that come from?
There's a pause as everyone plays this over in their minds.
"Xander. The moon didn't rise in the West. The sun did." Sam says, still picking at her nails.
Xander narrows his eye and tries his best to give her an annoyed glance, and ends up failing miserably. Instead, he settles for an air of indifference.
"But… If the sun rises on the wrong side, what will happen to the moon?" Riley asks no one in particular as he untangles a few stray hairs from his fingers.
When no one comes up with an answer, Xander determines that maybe, just maybe, they should be letting real meteorologists take care of this one. Not everything is centred on impending doom and the Bruce Campbell, he thinks miserably.
"I've got the President on the emergency line and the Royal Phone has been ringing off the hook. I don't think this has anything to do with us, but…" Giles trails off tiredly. "… No matter, I'm sending Emmanuelle and Faith over your way. They uncovered something that might or might not be related to this, and I want them to have a further look."
"We'd be glad to have them again." Riley saysbefore he and Giles exchange the flight informationand terminates the call.
Sam's on her sixth cigarette—Xander's been counting—and it's only eight thirty in the morning. When he first joined Riley and Sam, she only used to do it casually: an after-dinner smoke maybe twice a week or a whisky tipped Colt on Saturday afternoons… Funny how things work. Xander thinks about how people in prison start smoking because they have nothing else to do and wonders if Sam feels like a prisoner here in Africa.
He and Sam had some sort of falling out a few years back; about what, he doesn't really remember. All he knows is that they barely speak unless they're trading jabs.
So. Sam's on her sixth cigarette, blowing smoke from her nostrils in the warm breeze, and Xander and Spike are sitting next to her, silently drinking their coffee.
All of them staring at the sun. All of them staring westbound. All of them amazed.
"Does this mean the Earth's rotating the wrong way?" Sam asks, and Xander sees Spike shrug.
"Who the hell knows."
"Think it has something to do with Teresa?" Xander asks them, knowing Spike will be the one supplying the answer.
"Who the hell knows." He repeats, and then under his breath, adds, "Let's hope not."
"You going to pick up the dynamic duo? ‘Cause I'd like to join—" Sam starts, but Spike breaks in.
"Uncle Al is going." He says. "Ask him."
She sighs and stubs the butt in an ashtray, and it makes Xander squirm in his wicker chair.
"When are you leaving?"
"In a few hours." He answers. "If you're coming, I'm driving."
She nods reluctantly before getting up and making her way indoors. Xander smirks in Spike's direction.
"Fucker." He says and Spike grins.
"What can I say? Didn't feel like going anymore."
Xander smiles and props one foot on the small patio table, and takes the time to relax before Faith and Manny arrive. He casts his good eye towards Spike and studies him as he's done countless times before.
Spike gave up the peroxide shortly after he arrived in Madagascar, due to the fact that bleach was so hard to come by and so very expensive. So his naturally brown hair slowly became bleached blonde with the sun's help and Xander can't help but notice that it makes his eyes twinkle a little more than before.
Where Riley, Sam and Xander had tanned, Spike, despite wearing thick layers of sun block, had burnt, flaked and freckled exceedingly. Xander still remembers the first time he had to apply Solarcaine to the blonde's back. Still remembers; heck who is he kidding? He'll never forget it.
To help keep cool, all four of them decided on wearing white button down shirt uniforms. It soils easily, but Xander likes them. He likes them, but he knows that Spike doesn't. White is the colour of purity and everything innocent-like and he knows Spike would be more comfortable in anything but white.
But he doesn't say anything and it makes him feel selfish; selfish because he enjoys seeing Spike dressed in white. He tries, unconvincingly, to tell himself that he enjoys it because he thinks it's refreshing, inspirational even; but he knows that's not the reason. He knows there's another explanation as to why he likes to look at Spike wearing a white unbuttoned shirt flowing freely in the wind… But he's chosen to ignore it. For now.
Xander sees Faith maybe three times a year. At Christmas, for Terry's birthday and sometimes for work. He knows little of what happened between her and Buffy, and he prefers to keep it that way. All he knows is that they're back together again, and life is good for the two Slayers.
Faith is driving—speeding—down the beat up dirt road, effectively coating Xander's black Tacoma with a thick layer of dust. She has this unwritten rule where she refuses to be in any vehicle being operated by a one-eyed man, and even though Xander pretends to be hurt by it, he actually enjoys it when she's behind the wheel. The ride becomes a tad more exhilarating.
He hasn't seen her in about 5 months or so, and it shows. It's always hard to forget what someone like Faith looks like, but every time he sees her again, he always manages to find something new; something he had never noticed before. And this time is no different.
She's wearing her usual Randolph aviator sunglasses, a white tee, dangerously low fitted black cargo pants and worn out Chanel motorcycle boots. She can still make a man drool, and Xander is still a man. He wipes the corner of his mouth with his thumb and fiddles with his seat belt while she races down the road, leaving a cloud of dust in her wake.
"How's Gravis?" He asks casually, casting a glance behind him where Sam and Manny are talking up a storm from their seat in the cab.
Faith shrugs and gives him a sidelong leer.
"You asking ‘bout him before you asking ‘bout Terry or Buffy? The shame." She laughs as she brings the sun visor down. "Damn this sun setting in the East."
He laughs with her and sways his head lightly.
"Sorry. How're my darling girls?"
This time Faith gives him a wink and mouths the word ‘whipped' before answering.
"Good. Little T's almost done grade 3, an' B's pushin' the principal for her to skip grade 4 altogether." She says, and Xander just waits, turning his head to give her an ‘and?' look.
"And Gravis is doing good." She adds, rolling her eyes, letting a chuckle escape her lips.
"How's he adjusting to the whole male role model thingamajig?" He asks, finally getting to the question he's been dying to ask. Father figure. Not that I'm jealous, or anything.
Faith frowns ever so slightly before shifting the truck into fifth gear.
"Lovin' it." Is all she says, and Xander wonders if there's anything there. A conflict, or something.
He gives her a weak smile before looking out again. Buffy had asked Xander and Spike to be Terry's pseudo fathers when Faith had left, but they both had to decline seeing as how they both lived so far away. It hadn't been an easy decision for both of them, and it left Buffy reluctantly turning to Andrew; a move that still has its ongoing consequences: Terry's been known to conduct in-depth comparisons between Captain Mal and Han Solo on more than a few occasions.
When Gravis and Faith parted ways amicably, Buffy quickly offered him the role, and he had readily accepted.
"Did you get something to replace that ole jalopy yet?" He asks, easily changing the subject, and this gets Faith's whole and undivided attention.
"Black '15 Turbo Forester with tinted windows." She gushes with pride and it makes him laugh genuinely.
"A Subaru?" He teases. "Buffy wasn't too fond of the idea of you getting a side car for the bike, huh?"
"Fuck off." She says, throwing him a taunting smile.
Xander smiles back and sinks deeper in his bucket seat before closing his good eye in comfort. The sun may have risen in the West, having caused a great deal of panic throughout the world, but Xander feels like he's the calmest he's ever been, and he can't quite put his finger on why.
Chapter Two: RILEY
The ride is silent and that's just the way I like it. Xander is sitting beside him, giving him the Cliffsnotes on what we do here, and pointing out a few things out of the window. All he does is nod and stare outside—from what I can see from the rear-view mirror.
Xander says he was back with Buffy right after he turned, but that things didn't work out what with Buffy changing teams and whatnot, but I don't know if I believe him completely.
"What's that?" He asks, but I can't see what he's pointing to. Seems Xander doesn't catch on either, 'cause Sam answers.
"Derby. Going on this weekend. The locals scavenge old car leftovers and try to build something strong enough to survive a few rounds." She says as she turns in her seat to look at him. I can tell she already likes him and it makes me angry; even if I have no real reason to be.
"Why're you here, Spike?" Surprisingly, his name doesn't taste bitter like it used to. Maybe he has changed for the better.
I give the rear-view mirror a look and notice Xander staring at him with an intensity I've yet to see. Spike on the other hand just shrugs casually.
"Wanna learn." He says softly, and I have to strain my ears to hear him out. "Figured this'd be the place to start. Last wrung on the ladder and all."
Xander gives him a warm pat on the shoulder before looking out his window again. And that surprises me. The only person I ever knew to hate him more than myself was Xander, and now he's all... I dunno.
Clock says we still have a few hours before sundown and about 20 minutes until we arrive at HQ, so I add more weight to my foot and watch as the odometer needle slowly rises. Sam turns the music up and starts singing out of tune to the songs on the same CD we've been listening to for the past few months.
"The best thing ‘bout being a woman is the prerogative to have a little fun!" She sings out.
"Fun! Fun!" Xander pipes out from the back.
"Oh, oh, oh! Go totally crazy; forget I'm a lady…" I belt out, and give the mirror another look to see a warm smile painted on his face. Maybe this isn't a mistake after all.
Generally, Riley isn't a happy person. He's losing his thick hair, his temples are greying, he's working side by side with his long-time arch PITA, his wife's become a compulsive chain smoker and once again, he has no idea what his work is accomplishing. It seems that he's doomed to live his whole life reporting back to someone on an almost daily basis. But Ry swears this is the last time this happens. Next job he has—he'll be the one receiving the reports. And he can't wait.
Anyway, Riley is happy. So what's gotten him in such a good mood? Why, the arrival of Faith and Manny, of course. Sam and Manny met about 6 years ago when Faith needed an extra hand during some special operation, and since then, well, whenever they get together, they become inseparable.
The way Ry sees it; a happy Manny makes a happy Sam, which in turn, makes a happy Riley. It really all comes down to it being some kind of chain of happiness that they can all enjoy. And where's the harm in that, right? he thinks.
When Xander and Sam came back from the airport with Faith and Manny in tow, Xander, Faith and Spike had gone into the office, leaving Ry alone with the chattering women. After a few failed desperate attempts to slide a word here and there, he gave up with a shrug and joined the others.
So this is where he is now. Sitting in a chair, with his longish hair slicked back, his white shirt buttoned to the top, his pleated black cargo pants and his ironed bootlaces. Xander's sitting next to him, idly twirling his thumbs, showing a goofy smile now and then. Spike's next to Faith, who's talking to someone on the phone.
Riley has a theory about Faith. One that he hasn't voiced out, not even to himself in the mirror. And Ry's done everything in front of the mirror.
Maybe Faith stopped running and finally realized that family values were more important than all the evil she could squash, but that didn't explain why she kept working for the council during the week, now did it? He believes that the brunette can't be a parent the way Buffy can: she can't go to PTA meetings, she can't help make lunches, she can't help with homework… Sure, she might be physically capable of doing those things, but emotionally? Riley doesn't think she can cut the cake. Unlike Buffy, she just can't seem to turn off the ‘Slayer' switch at will.
If it's true or not, he doesn't really care. As long as Buffy and Teresa don't get hurt in the long haul. And being a psych grad, Ry thinks that would be the last drop.
"So who's we?" Faith's casual voice cuts through his looming thoughts as she stands next to the phone, drumming her fingers along the edge of the desk.
"Well, we picked up Jo on our way up, so so far we've got Doreen, Gravis, me an' Ter, and Daisy and Thom." Ry smiles: It's always a treat to hear Buffy's voice, no matter how far away she might be. He looks around the room and notices the same smile painted on Xander and Spike's face.
Her voice, however, is rough, tired and full of panic—the complete opposite of Faith's. If Ry didn't know any better, he'd think that she was breaking. Been out of the game too long, he supposes.
"Awright. Needless to say that you guys should stay at the cottage until this thing blows over." Faith says and everyone hears Buffy sigh.
There's a bout of silence that fills the room for a moment before Buffy's voice breaks it.
"You gotta sec?" She asks tentatively.
Riley sees Xander glance his way before shrugging noiselessly.
"Sure." Faith answers, shifting her weight around on her feet.
There's a beat as they all hear Buffy take a deep exulted breath before she goes for broke.
"What're you wearing?" She asks and Riley tenses up completely. Are you kidding me? The world is about to end and… He looks around and sees that Spike and Xander are having the same reaction.
"B…" Faith warns playfully before giving the guys a smirk as she puts her index finger to her lips.
"Come on…" Riley can't help but smile as he hears his ex-girlfriend plead. "Where are you?"
He sees Spike shake his head, trying desperately to contain his laughter while Xander just stares intently from the phone and then back to Faith in a continuous manner.
"I'm in a room with your best friend and two of your exes." Faith says neutrally and Riley wonders what'll happen next. Chaos? Horror? Sheer panic? Embarrassment? Fun for the whole familia?
Another beat settles in before Buffy dares to say anything and when she does, Riley wonders what he ever did to lose a girl like her.
"Kinky." Is her response and he sees Xander's eye gloss over.
"Oh. And you're on speakerphone." She deadpans.
Riley's met Andrew once. And it was enough. Not to say that they didn't get along or anything, but Andy's curious nature about soldiers and Special Agent Riley Finn was enough to put Ry off. Especially with that little comparison he had made of him and gulp, JC Van Damme.
Having Manny around is like having Andrew Jr around: A whole lot of words for nothing. Manny once told him that she was in Andrew's last class and that he had been the best teacher she could have ever hoped for. Riley found that hard to believe.
But other than her fondness for the blonde nerd, Ry likes Manny. With her jet-black hair that shines blue when the sun hits it just right, her slim fit figure, angular face, icy blue eyes and easy smile... She's also quite funny and can carry a conversation when she wants to. Yep, Riley can't think of a better person to be his wife's best friend.
Manny's got this big white board out and she's drawing all kinds of things in different colours, while Faith, Xander, Sam, Spike and Ry look on with blank expressions; clearly waiting for her to finish.
And when she does finish, some ten minutes later, Riley catches himself thinking that Pablo Picasso couldn't have done a better job if he were armless and blind. The spectacle on the white board is indeed… indecipherable.
"Uh, love, don't lose your day-Watcher-job, yeah?" Spike says, giving her a small smile.
Riley sees Faith poke him in the ribs with her elbow before the blonde stifles a small ‘ow!'
"Hey. Play nice. That's my Watcher you talking about." She says jokingly.
Manny blinks before she rolls her eyes.
"Don't you get it?" She asks them as she frantically points to her doodles, and Riley thinks that no, he doesn't get it at all. "This whole thing? The sun thing? It's a façade. An illusion. It's not real."
Crickets are buzzing in the backyard. And Riley swears he can hear the hamsters in everyone's head jump onto their exercise wheels.
"How do you know?" He finally brings himself to ask.
Manny does the eye roll thing again as if she's explaining basic math to high school jocks.
"Look. If the sun really rose in the West, wouldn't wildlife and Mother Nature go all Bertha Mason on us? I mean, nothing is happening out of the ordinary. Even the tides are keeping the same rhythm."
At this Xander stifles a cry. Riley blinks and ventures a glance towards the others.
"Okay, yeah, but we can all see it. Look it's setting in the East."
"What part of i-llu-si-on do you not understand, Cowboy?" Spike sneers off. "Tell us love, who do you think is doing this?"
"And why?" Sam adds.
"Is this T-free?" Faith wonders carefully.
Manny blinks her blue eyes and shrugs. Ry pulls up a chair for her to sit on and she gratefully accepts.
"It's T-free. She's safe. There's no mention of any of this or any connection of this in the prophecy. This is something… new altogether."
At the mention that Teresa should be safe, everyone exhales a breath they didn't know they were holding.
"Okay, but… why?" Spike says.
"And who?" Xander adds and Riley turns his face to Manny, clearly waiting for an answer.
She just shrugs her shoulders before playing with her bottom lip.
"How the fuck should I know?"
"Riley, my man."
"I was wondering if you could do me a favour." Rob's voice is cool and suave. Like milk and honey over the satellite phone, and it unsettles Riley for the rest of the conversation.
"Wonder away." He responds dryly.
"Do you know where Buffy's hiding?" The co-president of the council asks casually. As if he's asking for the time or something, and it throws Ry off completely.
He blinks and looks around the vacant room. Panic settles in before something unfamiliar takes hold of his gut. Are you nervous? Stay cool. Why would Robin care?
"No." He lies simply, bringing a hand through his hair, and grimacing as a few loose strands stick to his fingers. "Why?"
Rob sighs at the other end of the line. A dejected sigh; as if he knows he's lying.
"We want her on the field for this one." His voice strains to remain calm and it confuses Ry to no end. "We need everyone on board for this. We even have Dawn and Andrew out there too."
"Wait—if Dawn an' Andrew… who's researching this thing? I mean, do you have new info that we could use?"
"No no, just Emmanuelle's report. Did you get a chance to go through it? It's a fascinating read." He says smoothly and Ry suppresses a string of shivers.
"What about Giles?" He wonders. Giles would never ask for Buffy to leave Teresa for… no, no, he never would.
"He's leading Recon Team One." Rob answers in full swing. "But don't worry; you're not alone researching this… this bag of illusions. Someone pretty powerful got this going so we have a few of the first years on it too."
A few of the first years? Who don't know their ancient Sumerian from their ancient Egyptian?
"So you have no idea? I mean, we checked Lenwood, but the house was deserted, so we checked the neighbour's house, you know? Where Thom and Daisy live? And—," Rob's voice is cut off as Riley shuts the phone off in blind panic. He wipes the cold sweat from his brow before he runs from the room to get the others.