Hee! Previous wonderful, action-packed installments are in my memories.
The Untitled BtVS/SPN Xover (4/13)
Beta: The back-from-vacation-sans-sea-shells-weatherwithyou!
Disclaimer/Concrit: Neither, thanks.
Notes/Spoilers/Warnings: Set post-NFA by five years, post-Devil's Trap by two very AU years. Attendant spoilers.
Summary: What if Devil's Trap had ended differently? Written for the wonderful, the amazing, the tabaqui, one of my favoritest people in the world. Per these prompts.
It's the kind of sterile, glittering, monochromatic landscape one only sees in Eighties-style post-apocalyptic films, and Xander isn't in an appreciative mood.
"Remember the Eighties?" He asks no one at all, jamming his fists into his pockets, hunching his shoulders and beginning the long trek across the windswept plain.
Not that walking is a necessity. Not in this Place. Like the Agents in The Matrix, the demon is everywhere and nowhere, and breathing has nothing to do with Xander's lungs.
The wind feels real enough, though. Dry, chill and annoying, cutting through the corduroy jacket like it isn't even there.
Which it's not, Xander thinks ruefully, bowing his head so the coarse grit flies past his nose, not up it. He could quell the wind and cold with his will, but it's what the demon wants, and rule numero uno in dealing with demons is to never, ever give them what they want.
It’s like giving them an in.
Time served in the Basement of Doom with an undead roomie had done more to teach him that than anything else.
And though the difference between a vampire and the thing Xander's hunting is. . . whole universes, he has a feeling he'll need all the will he can stockpile for this particular fight. Isn't prepared to waste even the microscopic amount of will it takes to propel himself across the Other Plane in pursuit of something that isn't running from him.
Is, in Matrix-like style, everywhere.
Time flies funny in a no-Place like the Other Place. Trudging across shifting sands and eventually crumbly hardpan gives Xander plenty of time to think while his sixth sense roams 360 degrees for "millions" of "miles".
He scans the world-that-is-not, which surrounds him. Under the demon's glamour--its denizens are unseen, though Xander can feel them, the whisper-soft brush of thoughts, greetings. . . the ebb-flow of emotions, some sweet as candy, others as foul as a jar full of rotten eggs.
Normally, Xander would've come across any of a thousand different beings during his ascension. Visitors, like himself--travelers on missions, beings who are lost--in the damned and / or wandering sense.
Some very few are like Xander, himself: beings pursuing other beings out of the corporeal worlds and into this one.
By these, he is usually greeted warily, but civilly enough, when he's greeted at all. As with earth-bound hunters, news and information are exchanged--only here, it’s sorted, then discarded or kept at speeds that'd make NASA's best computers look like a badly rigged Tandy.
There are dozens of thousands of other beings to see and avoid here, normally. The only others that ever show an interest in Xander are the Twinklers, and they'll investigate anything not moving fast enough to evade them.
Xander's witnessed Twinklers--if any form can be ascribed to them, it's spiky balls of pale-gold, fuzzy light--dip into beings that devour energy of any kind like the astral equivalent of black holes . . . only to come bounding playfully out of them like kittens, broadcasting nothing more intense than limitless wonder.
Practically interchangeable, there could be millions of them, or only a few. If anything here knows or cares, it's not telling.
But none of these or any others appear to be present, thanks to the glamour of unending wilderness he's let the demon cast over him.
The Beyond Thunderdome-after-midnight landscape is tiresome, neverending, even in a Place where all places are here, all times are now, and end has as little relevancy as beginning.
But Xander walks.
As he learned in Monopoly, the quickest way to win is to let the other guy play by his own rules . . . at least at first.
So it's years of walking . . . till Xander's clothes have crumbled into dust, till his hair has grown long, grown grey, and fallen out. Till Xander himself is nothing more than a collection of star-bleached bones doggedly trekking under the naked sky.
Stranger stars, even more indifferent than the ones he knows, whirl above his head, more densely packed than any stars on an outer spiral of the Milky Way galaxy should be.
"You've gotta be tired, Xand-man," a familiar voice observes. A long, wiry arm is slung around Xander's hunched, skeletal shoulders.
It's the first salvo in a battle that--okay, Xander should've known would get dirty. But demons always fight a lot dirtier than expected, don't they?
Another valuable life-lesson picked up in the Basement of Doom.
In the real world, the corporeal world, Jesse's an ache that never quite goes away, like the nagging twinge of a phantom limb . . . something Xander knows about all too well.
In a place where time going in either direction means nothing, Jesse's the first big heartbreak of his life, happening all over again: technicolor-gold eyes and corpse-pale skin . . . dust that coats his hands guilty grey, instead of red.
Xander staggers, stumbles, only to be caught and held up by hands that shouldn't feel warm in this place and without his skin and nerve endings.
No, the warmth is just another glamour perpetuated by the demon--by them both, in this case. They both know it wouldn't be Jesse without the warmth.
"Look at you--you can barely put one foot in front of the other. And speaking of, bro, you look awful."
So divinely tactless, so divinely teenaged.
"And you look. . . ." Xander turns to look at the demon wearing Jesse's face. Wearing it perfectly, down to the degree of lopsided in the huge grin.
He sighs, though the lack of flesh and lungs just makes it sound like bones rattling in a high wind.
"You look good, Jess."
The Jesse-demon preens in that self-mocking way Jesse'd taken every compliment. "I try."
"It's been a long time."
"Twelve years," Jesse-demon nods, suddenly solemn, his eyes ticking grimly over Xander's skeleton, a slight frown creasing the worry-spot between his eyebrows. "No offense, but time has not been kind to you. You're all skin and--okay, you're actually just bones, man.”
"Don't let the outside fool you. I feel pretty good--like I'm getting my second wind."
"Says the man with no respiratory system." The Jesse-demon snorts and laughs. The sound is bright, but empty, ringing hollowly off the sky to echo as pointlessly as the wind.
The Jesse-demon hauls Xander's bones to it by his right and left humerus. Its golden-brown eyes are searching Xander's with suspicious sincerity.
"I never said--never got a chance to tell you I'm sorry about—" a grimace so perfectly chagrined, the pain of losing Jesse, though still a million miles distant, comes closer. "I'm sorry about the grrr at The Bronze, and trying to kill you. I let the Master and Darla and Luke convince me that everything was different--that I was different, and that you and Wills were nothing but shadows connected to the person I used to be. But they were wrong. I was wrong, and--I'm so sorry. It was a moment of extreme jerkdom."
"Which made that moment different from all your other moments--how, exactly?" The quip is out before Xander can stop it, not that he would've. As it is, he's playing right into the demon's hands. With a little effort, it'll play right into his.
Meanwhile, the Jesse-demon is laughing again, loud and long. The stars above dim and flicker, momentarily.
"God, I've missed you so much, Xand," the Jesse-demon says, ducking its head in that aw-shucks way. (From its grin, a perfect distribution of sharps and flats, Xander receives a revelation about why Cordelia's and Anya’s smiles--the big, movie-star ones--had never failed to stop him in his tracks.) "Could I--I mean, can I hug you?"
Xander could tell it to drop the act. That they both know what it is, that it's only here for one reason. But this is all part of the dance. Letting it think it's stolen enough of his weaknesses that it has the upper hand. It takes all of Xander's stockpiled will to hold himself in, hold the illusion of what the demon wants and expects.
He takes a step closer, tears that he doesn't have to fake running from eyes he no longer has.
A flash of those perfect teeth and he's in the Jesse-demon's arms. There's none of that pounding-on-the-back-and-no-contact-belo
Oh, this one's done its homework. Not well enough, it turns out, but it's scored a direct hit.
Xander holds on for dear life as what the demon thinks is the last of his strength runs out of him and into it.
"Sorry, holy man," it whispers, then belies the sorrow with a greedy chuckle. It holds Xander closer, tighter, but not crushingly so. It wants to possess, not destroy. "But you're outta your league."
"No, I'm sorry, Jess," Xander says, and tries not to feel like he's betraying his best friend.
"Xand, Xand . . . you've got nothing to be sorry about," it croons. It thinks it's won, and therefore thinks it can afford to be magnanimous. "Just let go, and I promise everything'll be okay. Let go."
"Whatever you say, bro." Xander exhales and lets go. . . .
The elaborate glamours--Xander's and the demon's fall into tatters which blow away on the ceaseless wind like so much dust. The demon-that-would-be-Jesse stands reveled at last: a greasy, slithery piece of darkness with teeth for days and eyes the color of hunger.
After a moment to absorb and understand, surprise and abject terror render it pitiful and small. Ridiculous, in the face of the prey it though to take so easily.
Revealed at last, Xander wraps himself around the demon, who's begun to struggle far, far too late.
An unknowable amount of time later, Xander sits semi-zazen, semi-comfortably on the hardpan, the wind whipping the jacket around him, tossing his hair like grit, tossing grit like confetti. It flies into his ears and eyes, up his nose, too, but that doesn't bother him.
Breathing has nothing to do with his lungs, in this Place.
And the howl of the wind is nothing compared to the howl of the demon flinging itself around the vast innerspace Xander's prepared for it.
When howling doesn't get it any attention, it resorts to threatening, then gibbering.
The horrible thing is that it still sounds like Jesse. Like the summer Jesse fell out of the big oak tree in front of his house and broke his arm. He'd howled and moaned until he turned red--until Mrs. Wyler from across the street came out of her house to see what-all the racket was about.
On the way to the hospital--in Mrs. Wyler's huge old LeSabre, zipping along at speeds upwards of six miles an hour--Jesse'd held Xander's hand so hard it hurt, his face a mess of tears and dirt and snot.
He hadn't even brightened when Xander opined that if they had to cut the arm off, he'd probably get a cybernetic arm, like Robo-Cop. . . .
Xander smiles a little, switching mindfully to full zazen and observing the bite and itch of the hardpan under his ass. Letting it pass through him like the wind. After a million years spent trekking across it, this glamour the Jesse-demon constructed, though one-dimensional, has grown on him. He doesn't quite have the heart to dismantle this final illusion.
Zazen is the most comfortable position in which to pass short eternities, but soon enough, sooner than Xander will begin to tire of the sameness and sitting, the Jesse-demon will pass into silence and fade away like the others have. Most of the others, anyway. Xander can feel some them in there, the hybrids, small and inert, like black pebbles at the bottom of a still, dark pond.
They've given up on finding a way out, on being heard. There isn't even a fading echo of the voices they'd once had.
But this new voice happens to sound a lot like one of the best friends Xander'd ever had, and that makes it a hard voice not to listen to.
A hard voice to condemn to an eternity of silent and absolute nothing--or wherever the demons go after they fade.
Suddenly, pale-gold-bordering-on-platinum light flares around Xander, bright, clean . . . joyous. A Twinkler passes over him, through him, lighting up the darkness within, making the pebbles warble eerie, heart-breaking songs of hope . . . till the light passes on and they pass, once again, into silence.
It drifts, last of all, over the Jesse-demon, and under the bright light of the Twinkler's examination it starts raising another ruckus. But that, too, tapers off into a bereft wail as the Twinkler flits out of Xander, taking away light and hope.
Leaden darkness settles within and the demon, a malignant ball of concentrated force, begins to sob, ugly and too human for Xander's comfort. The Twinkler zips around excitedly, like a precocious, happy child that's had way too much sugar.
Xander could wrap himself around it, too. Suck it in, and all of its kind. Store each Twinkler in its own dark, eternal nothing. . . .
But he doesn't.
A lot's changed since his Scooby days, but not that. Innocence is inviolate. To be protected, and treated kindly, patiently.
Not that Xander would know much about innocence, anymore.
"You so don't belong anywhere near me, kiddo," Xander tells it gently, but firmly. "Shoo."
It hovers for a few more reluctant moments before, wonder of wonders, moving on.
Shortly after--only a few thousand years later--the Jesse-demon's moans taper into whimpers, interspersed with maniacal giggles.
Thence into silence, another bit of evil dissolved and absorbed by Xander’s void. Chalk another one up for the white hats.
It's time to go back.
Rejoining the waking world is as simple as sinking into his navel. The post-apocalyptic landscape around Xander flattens, begins to deconstruct.
Darkens, except for a sudden pulse of pale gold that appears on the horizon, moving toward Xander with unusual speed and determination--settles around him then is gone between one confused blink and the next.
But there's no time to worry or wonder, because the weight of a corporeal dimension settles on top of him.