Subject to Change
(the Hear Me Roar Remix)
Copyright July 2013
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: the Series are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
This story is a remix, done for Round 1 of buffy-remix, of “When Xander Harris Was a Girl”, by nothorse.
Xander Harris had become accustomed to adjusting to change. He’d had no choice, really; after what had been the single greatest change of his life (when Buffy Summers walked into it, dragging along an entire world of nightmare and tragedy and exhilaration and significance), he’d been hit by one change after another. Xander possessed by a demon-hyena spirit. Xander transformed into a soldier. Xander the bad-ass vampire. (Okay, he hadn’t actually gone through that one himself, but it had happened, albeit in some kind of alternate-reality temporal shunt.) Xander turning down a saucy, eager, raincoat-only-wearing Buffy. Xander rallying and leading the troops at the Graduation-slash-Ascension. Many other turns of events similarly bizarre, to the point where it became far more the rule than the exception.
Individual changes could be foreseen, resisted, even controlled to some extent … but there was no stopping Change, and that was just the way it was. You either learned how to ride it out — even if that was like body-surfing a tsunami — or you got chewed up and spat out the other end as bloody rags. Not a fan of the second choice, so he had managed, somehow, to get adequately practiced at the first one.
So, when THE biggest change of his life came along (bigger even than Buffy, and that was saying a hell of a lot), he handled it. Like always.
And, having done so, he then found himself dealing with the results brought about by his own ability to adjust.
Those results, in order of occurrence:
1. He finally got out of Sunnydale for good.
Moving from the sunlit street into the building’s lobby … he’d thought it would be like stepping from the hallways of Sunnydale High into the school library, all but literally crossing from one world to another. Light more subdued, air somehow more settled, the pace of life itself seeming to slow down. This, though? this was just going from an L.A. street to an L.A. interior. The building was showing its age, dating maybe back to the Forties or even earlier, and the lobby had the same kind of once-classy-but-now-faded patina to it. There were several different offices visible, their doors closed, but Xander crossed to the one that had a light beyond the frosted glass, and entered without a knock.
Yep, he’d made the right choice: the exterior windows were heavily curtained against the sunlight, with hanging fixtures doing their best to compensate. Anywhere else, the weight of too many bad experiences would be clamoring alarm to him that this was an all-too-likely habitat for a vampire. Here, he could disregard those warnings, not because he knew they weren’t true but because he knew they were.
He was ready for this to go either of two different ways … so, naturally, it was yet a third person who stepped out of the inner office. A stranger, pale complexion and pinched cheeks and rumpled clothes (though Xander approved of the shirt, a print pattern in near-fluorescent magenta). And very blue eyes, now fixed on Xander above a welcoming smile of a type he had come to know only too well. “Afternoon,” the newcomer greeted him. “An’ what can I be doin’ for yih, darlin’?” The smile widened, and the eyes penetrated one more layer of clothing. “Name it, an’ I’ll give it my best.”
Okay, this was just too much. Trying to keep his teeth from clenching, Xander asked evenly, “Is Cordelia around?”
“Cordy? I dunno.” The other man glanced around. “Just came in meself, an’ haven’t looked around for her yet.” He eyed Xander again. “You’d be one of her actress friends, right? ’Cause you’ve definitely got the looks for it.”
“Actress, no.” At first sight, Xander had wondered if this joker might be a vampire himself, but the sleazy pickup routine rang totally authentic. “Cordy and me go way back, clear to grade school.” He let a smile of his own come out. “ ’Course, we didn’t start locking lips till junior year.”
“She —?” The other man didn’t actually choke, but he’d have done a classic spit-take if he’d been drinking anything. “Lips? You ’n’ Cordelia?” His gaze went somewhere far away. “Woh. Didn’t know that one. It explains a lot, but still —”
“Xander!” Cordelia shrieked from behind him, making them both jump. (She couldn’t see his face from there, must have recognized the voice.) He turned, and she grabbed his shoulders with both hands, holding him at arm’s length while she inspected him head to toe, beaming delight. “I don’t believe it! What are you doing here?”
Xander felt his smile change into something genuine, and he pulled her into a hug. “Just got in,” he told her. “What, you thought I’d be able to resist seeing how Queen C was rockin’ it in the big city?” He drew back, looked her over critically. “Jeez, you got fat.”
She punched him in the shoulder, hard and with professional force and focus, but her laugh was free and genuine. “Bastard. And yeah, I know you stole that crack from Beverly Hills Cop.”
He grinned, rubbing the arm that would be showing a sizeable bruise tomorrow. “You look great, actually.”
“Well, duh,” she shot back, still laughing.
Then, in some way that didn’t make sense but worked all the same, they felt the silence next to them and turned to look at the third person in the room. His eyes were moving from one of them to the other, back and forth, and his expression was just completing the morph from stunned to understanding. “ ‘Xander’,” he said slowly. “Ah, right. The, eh, the old boyfriend with the new …?” His hands cupped expressively over his own chest.
“Xander, meet Doyle,” Cordelia said. “Yeah, you met already, but knowing him, he was too busy ogling you to actually offer a name.” The tartness of her tone was classic Cordy, but at the same time there seemed to be an indulgent note in there somewhere. “He’s the one who got his low-life friends to come up with some new ID to match your change of life.”
“ ’Cause our Cordelia pretty much ordered me to,” Doyle clarified. “But I’d’a prolly done it anyhow, for a mate who’d lost his … that is to say …” He ground to a stop. “So, former boyfriend,” he began again. “That bring up any lingerin’ echoes o’ remembered passion? on either side?” Again his eyes switched from one of them to the other. “Anybody?”
“Ignore him,” Cordelia told Xander briskly. “It’s the only thing that makes him bearable. But the ID business reminds me: what name are you going by now?”
This was actually a battle he was still fighting, if only internally, but Xander let none of that come out in his voice. “Doesn’t matter what it says on my driver’s license,” he said to her. “Whatever I may look like now, I’m still me, so I still go by Xander.”
“Huh,” Cordelia said. “Well, you were always an original. Which is what I say instead of ‘freak’, because I can do tact. Even if it isn’t really honest.”
“One of your SHS posse went by Aphrodisia,” Xander pointed out. “This is California, remember? We cherish our individuality and unconventional character.”
Cordelia shook her head. “And once again, I say ‘freak’.”
The warmth was so familiar, without the tension that had always been there in the past, that Xander was tempted to just relax and bask in it. Some things couldn’t be dodged, though, so he forged ahead. “I hate to say this. I mean, you seriously can’t know how much I hate to say this, but … I need to see Angel.”
Cordelia’s eyebrows went up. “You want to see Angel? You? Why?”
“It’s kind of the reason I came here,” Xander admitted. “I’m supposed to deliver …” He stopped.
“What?” Cordelia insisted. “Deliver what?”
For a long moment Xander hesitated, while Cordelia’s expression grew sharper and Doyle watched with bland interest (or else he was once again trying to imagine Xander’s figure under the blouse and jeans). “News,” he said, coming to a decision. “A message.”
Cordelia’s face instantly hardened. “Oh, that’s just great.”
“Hmm?” Doyle asked, looking to her. “Say what, now?”
“You may be new to this scene, but I’ve lived with it for years,” Cordelia said tightly. “A message, right. A message from Buffy. And now Angel’s going to get all brooding and self-pitying again, and our cash flow will go straight down the toilet while he’s trying to find his meaning, his purpose, some point to his tortured, demonic existence, and we’ll be doing all the heavy lifting while he’s wallowing in all that angst …” She crossed the room while she spoke, and stepped into an open elevator, pulling the metal grating closed, and the car started down while she continued to rant. “There’s never any end to it … rassafrassen … star-crossed drama … God, will I never escape —?” Then she sank below their view, and a second or so later her voice, too, faded below perception threshold.
There were a few seconds of silence, and then Doyle remarked, “Soul o’ patience, that one.”
“Yeah,” Xander agreed. “She’s mellowed a lot since we were together. It’s inspiring, really.”
Doyle tilted his head to one side. “So, when you say ‘together’, I don’t suppose any o’ that was after you traded in your tackle —?”
Xander was spared the necessity of making (or avoiding) an answer; Angel appeared at the top of a small set of stairs set next to the elevator, the latter apparently having been dismissed as too slow. “A message from Sunnydale?” he was saying as he came out, trailed by Cordelia. “From Buffy? What —?” His eyes settled on Xander, and he stopped, stared. His nostrils flared, and very quietly he said, “Xander. How?”
Xander returned the stare. “Are you smelling me?” he demanded. “Oh, God, you’re smelling me, aren’t you?”
Angel ignored the question. “What happened to you? … and, is Buffy okay?”
“She’s fine.” Xander waved it away. “As for me … well, long story. Obviously. But, the CliffNotes version? Demon ritual. I jumped in, messed it up —”
“Yeah, you’re good at spoiling things,” Cordelia interjected.
He waggled his eyebrows at her, Groucho-style. “And I’m smart enough to lead with my strengths.” Then, turning back to Angel: “Anyway, backlash burnt up the bad guys, but I got smacked by the leftovers of the original spell-energies …” He canted one hip, and raised his arms above his head in a Madonna-esque pose straight from the original MTV ‘Material Girl’ video. “… and this is what I got from that.”
Angel’s eyes were still fixed on him. “That makes no sense at …” He stopped. “Oh. A gender-change spell, they would have hoped the Slayer essence wouldn’t stay with Buffy if she was turned into a male. Only you triggered it too early, and the switch hit you instead.” He shook his head as if trying to clear the image. “It couldn’t be reversed?”
Xander shook his head. “Not without risks I wasn’t about to let Giles and Willow take. Odds too high, payoff too low and too iffy. Not exactly part of my overall life plan, but hey, coulda been worse.” He shrugged. “I mean, let’s face it, I’ve been turned into worse than this. And at least I still look good.”
“You do,” Cordelia agreed. “I can see you let your hair grow out. Good call.”
Xander nodded. “Yeah. Lucky for me, I’d already been needing a haircut for awhile when I got hit by Total Makeover, Hellmouth Edition. Just enough that … after … I didn’t come across like I was trying to channel KD Lang. And longer seemed better for my unrequested new lifestyle.” He touched his hair where it hung collar-length. “Not much more than this, though. Too much hassle.”
Cordelia shook her head. “Oh, we are going to talk about that one.”
As Doyle had done before him, Angel was looking almost dazedly from one of them to another. “So … you knew about this,” he said to Cordelia.
“Oh, sure,” Cordelia admitted blithely. “I got a call from Willow, and this was something I just had to see. Made a quick trip back to the ’Dale — you were off on that brain parasites thing in Brentwood, and I was bored — got in, saw the situation, did my magic, and zipped right back.”
“You didn’t tell me,” Angel said tonelessly, still staring at Xander. Really, this was getting creepy.
“What, you wanted to hear the latest on Xander? Should’ve left a memo on that one.” She shrugged. “I wasn’t hiding it, I just didn’t think you’d care. Are you saying you do?”
“No.” Angel shook his head. “No, I guess not. But …” He looked back to Xander. “Cordelia said you had a message. What does this have to do with Buffy?”
“Nothing,” Xander said, waving it away. “I’m just here, is all. Buffy’s fine, but she didn’t want you hearing this over the phone, and she couldn’t get down here herself, so here goes.” He paused, holding Angel’s eyes with his own. “Spike is gone.”
“I know, he left last year —” Then Angel stopped. “Wait. Gone?”
“As in dust.” Xander leaned on one of the desks. “He came back to Sunnydale looking for some magical whatsis called the Gem of Amarra —”
“Whoa, wait,” Cordelia said. “The what? Armani is demonic?”
“Amarra,” Angel corrected, explaining. “The Gem of Amarra. It’s a myth, some enchanted artifact that’s supposed to make a vampire impervious to the things that would normally kill him. It’s just wishful thinking, though. I’m surprised even Spike would waste his time on that kind of dead end.”
“Well, Spike found something, because he jumped Buffy in full daylight.” Xander’s smile had a decidedly nasty edge to it. “And ‘dead end’ is exactly how it wound up for him. He hit her at a time when she was just aching to kick the crap out of somebody, and she unloaded on him full-bore. Now what’s left of him is adding minerals to the grass outside the UC-Sunnydale student union.”
Angel nodded understanding. “And she’s okay?”
“Yeah, like I said, right then some righteous violence was just what the doctor ordered for her.” Xander studied Angel with speculation and perhaps some satisfaction. “She thought this might be a deal for you, though. Even if you and Spike had been on the outs for — what, a century? — you still had history together, and she thought you deserved to have somebody tell you in person.” The smile was still there, and still just a bit ugly. “I can tell you’re all broken up about it.”
“She wanted me to hear it face to face,” Angel repeated. “But she sent you to deliver the news?”
“I was willing to make the trip,” Xander shot back. “We weren’t exactly bubbling over with volunteers for that one.”
* * *
With the message delivered, Angel returned to his brooding, and Doyle to his … whatever … and Cordelia dragged Xander out for lunch. At the tiny table of a sidewalk café, she ordered a latte and a watercress salad, while Xander predictably opted for root beer and a hot dog. Then, the moment the waiter was gone, she put her elbows on the table and leaned forward. “So, okay,” she said. “Why are you really here?”
He had accepted that he’d probably have to face this, but the speed and bluntness of her assault still caught him unprepared. “Uh, because this is where you brought us?” he answered in a feeble attempt to stall.
“Not here,” she said. “Here. You didn’t hop a bus all the way to L.A. just to tell Angel something you absolutely could have said over the phone. Killing evil vampires? pretty much what we do here, and Spike’s no different except him being dusted means we need to throw a bigger party. So why did you come here? Really?”
Xander sighed. “Buffy really did ask me to make the trip — or she said somebody needed to and I put my hand up — and it really was to drop off the … news. The news about Spike.” He shook his head. “But I was ready to say goodbye to Sunnyburg anyhow.”
Cordelia weighed that. “Goodbye,” she repeated. “Not just taking a break. So you’re not going back?”
“Visits, maybe,” Xander said. “But it’s about time I moved my life away from the Mouth of Hell. Just … too much for me to deal with, what with my new ‘circumstances’.” He brushed the new, longer hair away from his face. “Buffy managed to get by here last summer as a waitress. I don’t have Slayer stamina, but I figure that’s a job I can manage.”
“Oh, not even,” Cordelia said firmly. “If you’re staying in L.A., you’re staying with us. Angel Investigations is way overbalanced with testosterone right now, you’ll help even things out.”
It was a new thought, and not especially welcome. Still, Xander made himself consider it. Angel was never going to be his favorite person, but if he took Cordelia’s offer he’d at least be able to keep an eye on the guy; helping fight against the supernatural was basically the only work experience he had; and, if it didn’t work out, he could always fall back on the waitressing plan. He’d need to give Giles a call and tell him he’d decided against passing the Gem of Amarra over to Angel, so that Giles could cover him back on the Sunnydale end, but that was something he’d have to do anyway. (And he was pretty sure Giles wouldn’t argue over not giving the intermittently-evil-killer-and-torturer something that would make him the next thing to invincible.) To Cordelia he said, “You think you can talk Mr. Broody-pants into letting me hang around?”
“When did I ever not get my way when I put my mind to something?” Cordelia gave him a confident smile. “Besides, it’s our company motto: ‘We help the hopeless.’ ”
“Seriously?” Xander asked. “And … I qualify?”
Her laugh was free, open, and genuine. “Oh, Xander, you’ve always been hopeless.”
“Not really,” he told her. “Because I’ve always had people I could count on.” He gave her the kind of loopy, careless grin that had once been his trademark. “Guess I still do.”