Disclaimer: I do not own Xander, Joss has that pleasure; nor do I own 'Hotel California,' I'm pretty sure it belongs to The Eagles. Finally, the fairytal ballad of Tam Lin, is Scottish in origin, but I on't think any particular person claims it as their own, and as I am not a time-traveler neither do I!▬♦▬
On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
Xander was lost.
Miracle of miracles, his piece-of-shit car had actually made it past Oxnard. After a quick refuel and a short stop for some basic essentials (Mountain Dew, Twinkies, and Beef Jerky) he had set out again, hoping to make it at least another few miles before dark.
He wasn't running, per se, but any distance between Sunnydale and him was good
distance as far as he was concerned. The hot desert air felt almost like it was cleansing him, scouring away the memories of the nightmare that was Graduation Day.
But now it was getting dark and he had to admit - as he peeled his sweat-soaked t-shirt away from his skin for the umpteenth time - that he was hoping to run across a cheap motel. Air conditioning, or heck, a simple fan
, would be a blessing right about now.
Almost as soon as the thought occurred to him, Xander saw a soft glow ahead on the road. Leaning forward with a soft 'squelch' and squinting against the glare of the setting sun he could just make out the silhouette of a large building.
He pulled up and stopped the car, not getting out, just staring. The building was large, cool red stones made up most of the frame and walls, wood accents softening the edges. It looked like it had grown up from the ground and been made stronger by the rough desert winds, the type of place that had existed since the beginning and would go on until the end. The parking lot was empty, but a neon sign flashed the word, 'Open,' over and over in bright fluorescent welcome.
Sighing, Xander let his head loll back against the hot pleather headrest and mentally tallied how long he would have to go without sustenance to make an extravagance such as a hotel financially feasible. He was suddenly exhausted, and the thought of attempting to stretch his weary frame out in the tiny backseat was decidedly unappealing.▬♦▬
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
'this could be heaven or this could be hell'
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say...
A soft flicker of movement at the edge of his vision forced Xander to crack open his lids. Seconds later his eyes were wide with surprised appreciation as he took in the figure standing by the door of the Hotel.
Long dark hair tumbled down her back in soft, natural-looking curls. Her skin was dusky and soft looking in the bluish light cast by the glowing neon, 'Hotel California,' sign. She was leaning back against the doorway, arms folded behind her. Her posture drew her short green sundress tightly against the curves of her body and led the eye down endless-seeming legs to dainty bare feet.
He was too far away and the light was all wrong for him to make out much of her face. Still he was certain - with that odd, prickly-feeling one got - that she was staring at him. He swallowed hard, and abruptly nervous with his decision to stay the night, Xander glanced once more at his backseat. Cast in the glow of the neon light it looked even more uncomfortable and cramped than it had a moment ago.
Grabbing his backpack and slinging it over one shoulder, Xander exited his car cautiously. The gravel seemed to crunch unnaturally loudly as he crossed the parking lot to reach the door.
The girl - no, woman
- stood silently, watchfully, waiting for him. Reaching her he could not help but look to see if the face was as nice as the body.
Xander's breath whooshed out of him abruptly as he looked into her eyes. Her face was perfect and lovely… and alarming. Her expression was one of serenity as she studied him in turn, her pale gaze flicking over his Hawaiian shirt and aged backpack before returning to study his face once more.
She smiled suddenly, and Xander had to resist the urge to step back, away from the bright perfection of that look.
Drawing her hands from behind her back she held up a candle and a match. Drawing the match against the rough brick she lit it with a soft hiss and a smell, strangely enough, of lilacs.
The flickering flame highlighted her high cheekbones and full un-painted mouth. The light seemed to catch in her eyes, lending them a strange glitter as she smiled at him once more.
Xander had the uncomfortable feeling that she knew his thoughts, could read his reactions to her face and body.
"Follow me," she murmured softly, and the teen could not help but obey.
The Hotel was cool inside, and he registered the difference in air temperature with a sigh of relief. It was surprisingly dark inside: Xander was grateful for the light of the candle showing the way.
The woman led him down one hallway and then another, twists and turns until he did not know up from down.
"Um, where do I check in?" He finally asked.
She stopped, turned, and fixed him with another of those disturbingly perfect smiles, "You've already checked in."
"I have?" He asked with no little confusion, "But I haven't even paid or anything…"
Humor danced in the woman's eyes and it seemed as if the flame of the candle shared her amusement: it flickered alarmingly, almost threatening to go out. There seemed to be some secret joke in her next words, though Xander didn't get it, "You may pay when you leave."
She turned again, and Xander had no choice but to follow her. One more turn and at last there was more light. Huge windows looked out on the desert stars, sparkling brightly against the black night. Small sconces held torches between each window, the flames added no obvious heat to the halls, the air was still pleasantly cool.
"Soooo, this place, it's a lot bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside," the teen remarked, trying to spark up some sort of conversation to lighten up the dark atmosphere.
"Appearances can be deceiving," was his only answer.
Under her response another sound began to make itself known, soft singing drew Xander's attention, though he could not make out the words.
She stopped once again, turning to face him. For the first time her expression was less than perfect as she wrinkled her nose in distaste, "Some of our… more inebriated patrons like to sing from time to time."
Xander was startled, "There are other guests? I didn't see any cars outside -"
"Some of our guests do not like cars," her dislike became more apparent as she all but spat the last word.
"Oh," was the teen's witty rejoinder.▬♦▬
Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year, you can find it here
At last they reached a hallway full of doors. She stopped at one marked with a picture of a hare instead of a number.
"This is your room, but please, don't feel you have to stay here. Some of our regulars like to have… a small party, if you will, down in the cantina. If you grow bored, or just restless, feel free to come and join us," her eyes were faintly commanding, as if she wanted - no, expected
- him to come and join them at the earliest opportunity.
Xander was not so eager, "Well, thanks but I'm kind of tired, I was thinking I'd just turn in -"
"It's just down the hall, take a left and go three doors down, you can't miss it," she interrupted with a smile so sweet it left Xander momentarily dazed. By the time he had gathered himself to reply, she was gone.
He frowned as he opened his door, slightly discomfited to find that it had no lock. At least, none that he could find.
The room itself was larger than he had expected, the walls were plain bare stone, no crappy knock-off art prints to break up the cool reddish rock. The floor was solid wood, attractive to Xander's untrained eye. Walking further in he found that there was a large bed, easily big enough for at least three restless sleepers. But oddly enough he felt as if there was something missing from the room…
On further inspection he found, or rather didn't find, the missing thing. There was no bathroom, none, zip, nada. He felt a squirming in his gut, letting him know that the lack of commode would definitely be an issue.
He supposed he would have to make an appearance at the little party, just to find out where the restroom was, of course.▬♦▬
Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys, that she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
The hallways seemed dark and sinister without the golden light of the woman's - he realized that he did not know her name - candle to light the way.
Down the hall, take a left, and three doors down he caught the faintest edge of the music he had heard earlier. Opening the door he blinked in surprise as a wall of sound slapped him upside the head and the sudden light dazzled his eyes.
The door led to a courtyard, the same red stone paving the ground and columns of it encircling a large dance floor. Small twinkling lights of varying colors were strung up around and between the pillars, illuminating the dancing figures with a bright yet somehow ethereal glow.
The music was soft and haunting, but the people who danced seemed not to care. They moved their bodies in a writhing harmony far more suited to a racy city club than a small out-of-the-way Hotel. Xander was startled at the mass of people on the dance floor. So many, and all averse to cars? He tried to focus on the number of people but it seemed that the edges of the dancing folk blurred and ran together so that it was one big colorful blob.
Shaking his head, he focused instead on the edge of the floor and the small tables set up around it. There were a few patrons scattered here and there watching the dancing. A small group of older-looking gentlemen were sitting at one of the tables farthest from the floor. Judging from the pile of empty bottles beside them and the not-so-empty ones in front of them, they were probably the source of the 'inebriated singing' the woman had so distastefully referenced.
In fact, as the teen watched, one of them tipped over in his seat, rolling over and over until he bumped into another table. From where he stood, Xander could see the unmistakable body language of someone in a paroxysm of laughter. Slowly the man stumbled to his feet - still giggling - and began to head towards what seemed to be the bar.
Xander started to look for someone else, someone more likely to have a coherent answer to his bathroom question.
Scanning the tables once again he almost jumped in surprise as his gaze locked with a startlingly sober pair of cool green eyes. The color was vivid enough to punch through the distance between them and Xander found himself unconsciously heading towards the owner of that arresting gaze.
He settled himself at the man's table and the two studied each other. Xander saw a man in his mid-to-late twenties, classically handsome with golden blonde hair that Buffy would have killed to possess naturally. He didn't know what the man saw, aside from tired brown eyes and a bright red Hawaiian t-shirt.
The strange man nodded to Xander once, slowly, vivid eyes never leaving the teen's face as he brought up his drink in an obvious salute.
Downing the drink in one - evidently well-practiced - motion, the stranger sighed and offered Xander the bottle. At the teen's refusal, he shrugged and refilled his own shot glass before setting the bottle back down again with an air of finality.
"So," the blonde man drawled, "You're Titania's newest catch." It was not a question, it was a statement accompanied by a small, bitter little grin.
"What?" Xander asked, confusion apparent in his wide brown eyes, "Catch?" An alarmed look suffused his features, "No, no, no, nothing like that! I'm just a traveler, this place looked like a good spot to stop and rest for a night." Frowning, he looked around at the dancers and the table of drunks, "Although, I gotta say this Hotel is pretty weird."
The blonde man looked at him incredulously for a moment before throwing his head back and laughing. It was a wild sound and it alarmed Xander more than four years worth of pop quizzes ever had.
When at last he had calmed down, the blonde offered his hand to Xander across the table. "My name is Tam," he offered, "And you are?"
The teen took the hand reluctantly, "Xander, Xander Har -"
"Do not give away your name so freely, young Xander," Tam interrupted, his tone harsh and his green eyes suddenly dark with warning.
"Oooook," the teen said slowly, trying to figure out how best to extract himself from this strange encounter. There was something tickling the back of his mind though, something about the man or the combination of names 'Tam' and 'Titania' that was oddly familiar.
Tam was frowning at the younger man, "So you saw a strange inn and decided to stop? You never wondered why there were no other cars in the lot, or where the innkeeper was?"
"How did you know that there weren't any other - Never mind, you guys probably don't get many other visitors out here, do you?"
There was some secret humor in those green eyes as Tam responded slowly, "No… we don't get all that many… 'visitors.'"
"Not surprising, this place is pretty out of the way, I was lucky I found it."
"Lucky?" The blonde scoffed, "You had to be many things to find this place, 'lucky' was most assuredly not
one of them."
Xander shifted in his chair uncomfortably, "Uh, ok. That's your opinion -"
Tam made a sharp, impatient gesture with the hand not holding the shot glass, "Opinion? No, it is the wisdom of experience speaking to the fallacy of youth." He downed the shot, refilling his glass as he fixed Xander with yet another intense, unreadable look, "You were a fool to come here."
"Yeesh, if you're that desperate for some alone-time with your bottle, then I'll just go. I only wanted to ask you where the bathroom was," he made as if to stand up, but a sudden - and surprisingly firm - grip on his arm prevented him from fully rising.
"Have you truly no knowledge of the danger you are in?" Tam asked, studying Xander's face intently. "Truly the world has lost much since last I walked through it freely. Are there no stories? Do you not read your histories?"
"History was never my best subject," the teen cracked nervously, "I always liked anatomy much better!"
The blonde's lips twisted into a wry grin, "No doubt, and that is why you are in this trouble."
Tam nodded his head toward the dancers, "Look, can't you see?"
Xander glanced towards the figures as they swirled and writhed in their strange patterns. His eyes were inexplicably drawn to the center of the mass and suddenly… he saw.
He saw the unnatural paleness of the dancers as they glowed under the starlight, saw how they all surrounded one figure, one woman. A lady dressed in green, with sparkling jewels scattered through her long dark hair. Countless men, each more handsome than the last no matter which way you counted them danced around her. Many partners moving with the woman in a disturbing grace that was inhumanly precise.
The men were all different, some wore modern dress like Xander and Tam, others seemed to have plucked their style willy-nilly from various periods of history. He saw a man dressed in Confederate gray beside what looked like some sort of seventeenth-century Russian peasant. A velvet-tunic swayed next to a fur one as representatives from all sorts of cultures and time periods moved to the slow steady music.
Pale-faced, Xander turned back to Tam to see a look of satisfaction on the blonde's handsome features, "You do
see. You are lucky, there are few who do, even after it is already too late."
"Wha - What is
that?" Xander asked, almost not wanting to hear the answer.
"That is the Fair Queen, the leader of the Sidhe, Titania," Tam focused his sharp green gaze on Xander, "And you are her latest prey."
The teen was frowning, "Wait, Titania, Tam, Fairies…" He looked up in confused realization, "But Tam Lin escaped the Fairies!"
Tam smiled tightly, "So, it is still told." He nodded slowly, "I did escape, for a whole mortal lifetime I made my way with my Jenny beside me…" His gaze turned back to the Queen and her court as if she was the lodestone and he the iron filings.
"But the Queen does not easily lose that which she has won," he murmured softly, so softly that Xander almost did not catch it. Coming back to himself he fixed the teen with an urgent expression, "Run. You must get out, now
. Before she learns your true-name."▬♦▬
Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said 'we are all just prisoners here, of our own device'
And in the master’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
The stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can’t kill the beast
Abruptly the music stopped; the dancers swept off the floor like a well-choreographed parade. Six to a table they sat and waiters appeared as if from nowhere to take their orders.
Tam gripped Xander's hand and leaned over to whisper in his ear, "Eat nothing, drink
nothing, leave now."
"Why Tam, I see you have met my newest find," both men looked up in surprise to see the smiling woman in green standing before their table.
She looked almost the same as she had when she greeted Xander at the door to the Hotel. Her hair, still long and loose, had gems scattered throughout, seeming to hang just so. Her dress was still green and clinging, but now it seemed to sway with her as if it still danced, though she was still.
"And how are you finding my hospitality, Alexander?" The breath of her words caressed the teen's ear making him shiver with the desire to lean away.
"How do you know my name?" He asked stiffly, hands clenched on the edge of the table as his muscles readied themselves for a fight or for flight, he was unsure which.
She laughed, a high gay sound that tinkled like bells but split the air like thunder, "I know many things, White Knight."
Defying probability, he stiffened even more at her casual use of Angelus's nickname for him. A waiter popped up beside her, food in hand and laid it out in front of the two men sitting at the table.
Titania watched Xander with an avid gleam in her eye, "Eat, my dear boy, why you must be famished."
And at her suggestive words, suddenly he was starving, his stomach letting out an angry gurgle to punctuate this fact.
She laughed again and gestured to the food that he had not yet even looked at, "Eat, it's your favorite…"
Looking down, Xander saw that it was indeed his favorite: roast beef, pink and tender and juicily cooked to perfection, mashed potatoes and corn steaming away merrily beside it. He swallowed what felt like a gallon of saliva down when he saw - sitting beside the dinner on a smaller plate - a Twinkie, unwrapped and with a dollop of whipped cream beside it as a garnish.
Looking up he saw Tam's green eyes on him in some silent pleading message. His green gaze flicked from Xander's to the open air behind the bar.
,' his eyes said.
Xander's legs were quick to agree. He leapt to his feet, uncaring of the fact that he tipped over the table in the process, and was sprinting away before the Queen could so much as gasp in surprise - if her kind were ever surprised.
He had almost made it passed the bar when the old man from before, the one he had seen fall and laugh, grabbed his arm.
"Relax," said the drunk man, "She never runs anymore. You'll be fine my son, if you can make it past that door." He pointed towards a door on the bar that was slowly starting to inch it's way open.
"The hounds," he explained at Xander's questioning look, and right in front of the teen's eyes the sober warning melted from his face to be replaced by the same giggling façade of earlier.
Xander was off and running. He wouldn’t have stopped for six Apocalypses and a naked Buffy sundae with cherries on top. He was out. Of. There.
He sprinted until he couldn't run anymore, and just as that occurred he reached a road. Pausing, he looked back. Miles of unbroken desert met his gaze. No hint of the Hotel California or any other establishment met his eyes, no whisper of music or hounds reached his ears.
Beginning the trek back to some semblance of civilization, the teen recalled the 'Help Wanted' sign he had seen less than a day before, in the window of the 'Fabulous Ladies Nightclub!'
Hours later a faint whisper reached Xander's ears just as he came into sight of the town. A feminine voice he almost couldn't make out, with the hint of a bell-like snicker at the end:
"You can checkout anytime you like, but you can never leave!"▬♦▬
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
'relax,' said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!
A/N: This story was written a few weeks ago while I did battle with a term paper. The paper won, but I put up a good fight! I would LOVE some feedback on this, as it is my first experiment with fairytales. I have taken liberties with several fairy myths: there is no tithe in my story, assume Titania is a 'collector' of unique men, and there was some judicious sprinkling of 'name' lore...
Soooo... like it, love it, loathe it with the fiery intensity of a thousand hot suns? Lemme know!