Disclaimer: I do NOT own Buffy or Merry Gentry. All belongs to Joss Whedon and Laurell K. Hamilton.
AN: This story begins about one year after the closing of the hellmouth for Buffy and during Caress of Twilight for Merry Gentry.
AN2: Everyone should thank my partner in crime Illyria13 for helping me out with this.
Eye of the Beholder
Two Years Ago:
He was in Niger, about 30 miles away from Zinder, about to enter a village to find another Slayer. Willow had called him about two weeks ago saying a new Slayer had been called. He had been in South Africa dealing with a situation there when he got the call. So two weeks later, here Xander was trying to find another girl. Willow said the reason they didn’t know about her sooner was because the new Slayer had only been activated after she hit puberty.
Normally, Xander and his guides, whoever they were at the time, went into a village and tried to explain things as best they could to the girl’s family and, if necessary, the village leaders. Because many people of the desert still believed in demons, it was easier to get them to agree to let their daughters go. But this time, no one wanted to admit that the girl existed. They claimed there had never been a girl named Safiya in the village.
Xander and his guides had retreated to the edge of the village to discuss the problem, when a young boy had approached them. The boy told them he had a sister named Safiya and that the shaman of the village had taken her away, probably to a small camp a few miles away that the shaman used for his rituals. Following the boy’s rough directions, they found the camp. Xander was shocked, horrified, and angered by what he saw. Safiya was chained to a pole, naked and bleeding. It was plain to anyone that she had been terribly abused. The shaman was mixing a potion using ingredients and some of the blood Safiya had lost. In his rage, Xander had stepped into the circle drawn by the shaman, raised his gun, and shot the man in the back of his head. ‘It was more than he deserved.’
They broke the enchanted chains and rescued the girl. He called for an emergency portal from Willow. One of the guides that spoke the girl’s language and English went with Safiya through the portal. Not long after, madness took Xander. The circle he interrupted was one to grant the caster power from the blood spilt. And Xander had killed within it.
Xander still didn’t remember much of the next week, other than his guide taking care of him while his mind was stuck in a land of nightmares. He didn’t want the power of the shaman; dark magicks had twisted and corrupted the man. At the end of the ninth day, a compromise had been reached. The magic of the circle had to go somewhere, and if Xander didn’t want the magic of the shaman, it would take another form. Specifically, that of the hyena he had been possessed by. It wasn’t like before, the spirit couldn’t take over; it was just another part of Xander.
Xander had told everyone that the shaman had cast a spell on him but it backfired when the guides took Safiya out of the circle. The backlash had reawaked the hyena and killed the shaman. But Xander remembered. He remembered the sound of the bullet passing through bone and flesh, the spray of blood and brain. He wasn’t sorry. More than that, he remembered being a hyena. The long days in the sun, nights hunting those weaker than them; he remembered the kill. Even if he lived to a hundred he would never forget the feeling of flesh in his teeth as he fed. He now understood what it meant to be a predator, a hunter, something beyond human, something other.
They were feared. They were hated and despised for being what they were. When death came, they laughed and men wept. When darkness fell upon the earth, they ran free. They called to men with names on the wind. They were many. They were strong. They were First. Before the first man set foot in the desert, they were there. The boiling heat, harsh wind, and the cold night gave them life. The rock beneath them crumbled to dust under their paws. They were past. They were future. They were eternal. And Xander Harris was one of them.
Xander never told anyone. He returned to his friends and family and spoke not a word. For a time, he dwelt with them before he felt the urge to leave. So, Xander told them he needed a break. With most of Angel’s crew dead and the few survivors scattered, L.A. needed watching over. It wasn’t an official job, but when they asked for his help, he gave it. L.A. would be his wilderness of steel and glass.
Alexander Harris was a normal man. He worked, paid his taxes, and hoped for a soul-mate. Okay, he occasionally helped the Slayers save the world but that was just a side gig. And, he occasionally communicated with the great hyena spirit in the sky, that was pretty much average right? The most important thing about Xander was this: he was hungry. It was 2 o’clock in the morning and he had a serious craving for donuts.
In the year since he’d come to L.A., Xander had accumulated his favorite eating spots but his special place, a coffee/donut shop, called ironically ‘If You Got the Dough’, was closed because the owners had welcomed their third child into the world last night. So, here he was trying to find some place to get his coffee and doughnuts. This isn’t freaking Sunnyhell! This is the city that never sleeps, where the fuck are all the donut shops!
Finally after walking around for what seemed like an eternity, or twenty minutes, Xander saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Or a donut shop anyway. As he walked in through the glass doors that led into the shop, he quickly glanced around to assess the place. He took note of the exits and the people and the not-so-much-people. Shaking his head, Xander walked up to the counter and looked over the menu.
The past two years had changed Xander. He wasn’t an insecure goofball anymore. Sure, he was still a play fool but the boy who was desperate to be loved and adored was gone. His experiences in Sunnyhell, loosing Anya, and traveling the world since activating the potential Slayers had made him into a slightly more confident and serious fighter. He was no slayer, but he could take care of himself. Touring Africa had taught him a lot about self-reliance and survival; there was no Buffy to beat up the demons, no Wills to make with the mojo, and no Giles to warn him of the dangers. So, Xander did what humans are best at: he adapted. There was no room for foolish jokes in the blistering African deserts. The only things to be found in the sweltering wasteland were sweat, pain, and death. Everything was harsh and primal; Xander loved it. There was nothing like looking over seas of sand and realizing the only thing that stood between you and death was your brains and preparations.
The most valuable lesson the desert had taught him was about humans. Xander saw the atrocities that people could commit against each other, out of preservation, fear, or fanaticism; the petty jealousies that drove them to steal, betray, and kill each other. It was also the first time he had killed a man. Xander still hadn’t told the Scoobies about that. They had all drifted since Sunnyhell. The bond they now had was one of old soldiers: if one needed help the others would give it, but they were no longer emotionally isolated and dependant on each other.
Coming out of his musings, Xander ordered one jelly-filled and one chocolate donut. After the waitress told him it would be a few minutes because they had to make more jellies, Xander sat back to wait. Her under-the-breath comment caught his attention.
“Two one-eyed men in one night, has there been a rash of eye burglaries lately?”
Turning to his left, he saw one of the not-quite-people sitting there. He was white. Seriously, glow-y, simmer-y white and he only had one eye. The not-man was looking back at him, having heard the comment. Human brown met electric blues. Then Xander noticed something else.
“So you’re the jelly donut snatcher.”
The not-man glanced at the donuts in his to-go box and smirked. “It’s not my fault that you can’t tell time well enough to get here before me.”
Xander laughed. “Well, I never! Oh, wait, yes, I have heard that horrible time joke somewhere before. What you can’t read any books to get some new material?”
Nodding his head in response to the banter, the not-man spoke. “Rhys.”
“Now you go all shy on me. Xander, well, Alexander, but just Xander, please.”
There was a lapse in the conversation after that. What else did you say to the other one-eyed stranger next to you? “So are you ultra metabolism guy or do you just enjoy stealing jelly donuts from the more deserving?”
“As much fun as it is to steal jellies from babies; I’m picking up donuts for several friends too.”
A shadowed look passed over Xander’s face, but his voice didn’t change. “Ah, the infamous donut runs; there is no crisis too large that can’t be solved by consuming enormous quantities of sugary treats. Donuts aren’t Twinkies but they do have a magic of their own.”
“I’ve always been a Zebra-Cake man myself, but it’s nice to meet someone who can appreciate the art of Hostess Fine Dining.”
“Well it’s nice to meet a fellow donut boy.”
Their conversation continued for a few more minutes before the waitress came back and brought Xander’s donuts and Rhys’s coffees. Both of them paid and stood to leave. Neither wanted to go, this meeting had been simple: an exchange of witty banter and superficial facts. There was no pressure to act a certain way or protect the other’s feelings. But beyond that, there was a moment. For a brief second each one had been able to synchronize their views of the world. Each of them knew what it was like to only see half of a picture. After acknowledging the reluctance of the other, both men walked out of those donut shop doors and back into their own lives.
A Week and a Few Days Later:
Despite his old donut shop being open, Xander found himself walking towards the place where he had met Rhys. He tried to tell himself it was because the shop had better donuts, but deep down he knew the truth. He wanted to see Rhys again. After going inside, Xander was disappointed to see Rhys wasn’t there, but he decided to sit at a booth and order anyway. Three donuts and two coffees later, Xander was about to leave when someone slide into the booth across from him. The glow he saw on the table was enough to tell him who it was.
“What’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?” Rhys was smiling as he teased Xander.
“A number of donut shops have reported thefts of jelly donuts; I’m the agent in charge of the cases. Have you seen any suspicious activity lately around here?”
“Sorry, Agent, but I have no idea to what you are talking about.”
They fell into a pattern after that. One would drift to the donut shop and more often then not the other would appear soon after. They never made plans to meet; it just happened and that was the appeal. Not all their conversations were serious but some things they never talked about, like how they lost their eyes.
On one occasion they talked about what Rhys was. “So you’re a fairy?”
Rhys glowered at Xander’s tone but answered. “Something like that.”
“So, you’re really old?”
“Hmm….how do you think the Mets are going to do this season?”
“That’s it. You don’t want to know anything else like what I can do, if I’m controlling you, or if I’m evil?”
Xander’s face took on a serious look. “I don’t much care what you are instead of who. I’ve seen too much to believe that species determines if a person is good or bad. As to the controlling me thing, I’m not completely, 100 percent human myself, so I would know if you tried.”
After a few moments of silence Xander spoke again. “Besides, you like jelly donuts, how could you possibly be evil?”
It wasn’t until several months later that Xander and Rhys had the inevitable mortal/immortal conversation. When either had come to the shop with injuries, the other hadn’t asked. But Xander hadn’t been to the shop in two weeks, it was unusual because they normally met every couple of days. So when Xander limped into the shop after fifteen days, Rhys had had plenty of time to worry. Rhys pounced on Xander, looking over his swollen knee and bandaged arms; from the way Xander was holding himself, Rhys would bet he had few broken ribs as well.
“What the fuck happened to you?” Rhys asked as he helped Xander into a booth.
“I got in a fight,” was Xander’s terse reply.
“No, you got the crap beaten out of you.”
“You aren’t my father or my lover, so just leave it!”
Rhys wouldn’t. “I’m your friend. What’s more, I’m older and wiser, and damn-it I was worried!”
Xander deflated at that comment. He looked for the waitress and ordered himself and Rhys each a coffee; this was not a donut conversation. “I was in a fight. I lived. The other guys didn’t.”
Since it was more explanation than he’d gotten before, Rhys waited for the rest. Xander looked him in the eye. “I’m mortal.”
Rhys snorted. “I know that.”
“Do you? You don’t really know what that means, because you’re not.”
Xander continued despite the hurt look on Rhys’s face. “You can’t know what it means to be mortal, just like I don’t know what it is to be immortal. I’ve been fighting since I was fifteen. I’m twenty-six now. And I won’t live to see thirty.”
“That’s not-” Rhys jumped in.
“I’ve lost friends. I’ve buried lovers. Sometimes I barely have time to learn someone’s name before they’re gone. It’s amazing I’ve lived as long as I have.”
Xander looked at Rhys. “I can’t imagine what you’ve seen in your life, how many people you’ve lost, what you’ve been through and suffered. But you have time. More time than I can conceive.”
“I don’t know what you’re trying to say, Xander.”
Xander picked up the sugar jar and poured some into his coffee. “There are worlds you never knew, and lifetimes I’ve never lived. But we’re like the coffee and sugar. All of our individual experiences and adventures meld together to make us. You will have spoonfuls more than I will, and your coffee will be a symphony of taste. Mine, will have just enough flavor to make it drinkable. There’s no wrong in either. Yours will keep you going for centuries. Mine will get me through the days.”
After several minutes of silence Rhys replied. “You really love food metaphors don’t you?”
Six Months Later:
Since that day, Xander and Rhys had many more conversations and meetings. They had found someone that could accept them and what they wanted to give with out pushing. Both of them knew that it wasn’t a forever commitment but that was far from their thoughts.
Xander was tired. There was another apocalypse brewing and this one was wearing everyone thin. The other Scoobies were involved in their own battles, so Xander and the L.A. slayers were on their own. And it showed. It was early Monday morning when Xander entered the donut shop, and the fight was on Tuesday. He wanted to talk to Rhys before the battle.
Proving that their internal radar was still working, Rhys was already there when he arrived. Xander took a moment to just stare at Rhys before going over and sitting at their booth. He ordered a coffee, one jelly donut, and one chocolate. Rhys said nothing but watched as Xander began to eat.
“You going to tell me, or do I have to take away your sugar?”
Xander laughed. Laughed like he hadn’t done so in years; it wasn’t that funny but he needed to laugh. “Hey, now, what have we said about threatening a man’s sugar?”
“Only do it when you can get away with it?”
The banter continued for several minutes before Xander changed the subject. “I’m glad I got to do this.”
“What? Talk about your unhealthy obsession with sugary treats?”
“No. Yes. I mean, have donut shop fun, and I say that in a non-sexual, pervy manner.”
“Okay, don’t tell me you want to talk about our feelings right man?”
“I just want you to know. And you’re the chick in this relationship, not me.”
They spent another hour arguing about who was more girly before it was time to leave. As Xander went to walk out of the door, he faced Rhys, his eye glowing green. “I’ve told you that I’m a fighter. I’m a warrior, a soldier, but there’s one fight I won’t win. Time. I hear the sands of time in my ears, the desert is calling me home. I hear. And eventually, I will answer. I will heed the chorus of my brothers and sisters howls. Someday, you may hear our laughter and do not fear for that day.”
Xander walked away before Rhys could question him. Rhys thought of giving chase, but he decided to confront Xander later, never realizing that there wasn’t time for later. The last thing Rhys saw of Xander was a glowing eye and dark shadow walking away from him.
Rhys was expecting Xander. It had been two days and their last conversation had haunted him. Doyle and Merry had both commented on it, just as they had when he began to go to the donut shop more frequently. So, here he was hoping to get some answers for Xander’s behavior. He waited almost an hour before a tall, dark skinned girl that he’d never seen before entered the shop. She had a cut and bruises on her face, but that didn’t stop her from looking like a predator. She swept her gaze over the patrons of the shop and her eyes settled on Rhys. After nodding, the girl walked over to his table.
“You are Xander’s friend.”
Rhys was confused ans wary of this girl. Had Xander told her about him? Why wasn’t Xander here? “Who are you?”
“I am Safiya. And you are Rhys.”
Nodding, he recalled what that his was a girl Xander had rescued in Africa. A horrible weight settled in Rhys’s stomach. There could be no good explanation for why Xander wasn’t present. “Where is he?”
The look of sadness on her face deepened as she spoke. “He didn’t make it.”
Rage coursed through Rhys. “What do you mean ‘didn’t make it’? What did he do? How could he not have made it? Who did this?”
Over twenty miles away in her office, Princess Merry could feel Rhys’s magic rising. Doyle and Galen left to find him and see what was happening. ‘Please let him be okay.’ Merry prayed. Doyle wondered what could have caused such a huge reaction from one of the Queen’s Guards.
“He saved the world.”
The softly uttered words brought Rhys back from his rage. He could do nothing but listen as Safiya told him what happened.
“There was an apocalypse. Some sorcerer tried to raise an army of Elder Demons to wipe out the world. But Xander got to him first. The rest of us were fighting with the demons already free. Their fight was beautiful. Xander fought him with axe and claw. He drew blood from his enemy. Even after the sorcerer had disarmed him, still he fought. And he won. Xander let the sword enter his own gut before his claws ripped the heart from the sorcerer’s chest. After, he pulled the sword out, raised heart and sword over his head, and threw them into the portal open by the sorcerer. He laughed; it was haunting and welcoming at the same time. Then he died.”
Staring Rhys in the eye, “It was a good death. A warrior’s death; it was worthy for him.”
Rhys couldn’t understand what was good or worthy about it. “He’s still dead.”
“But there are things worth dying for. You must realize. We are mortal. We are barely a single breath in the life of the universe. We burn brightly and quickly. We are finished. And that is why your kind hates us. Because we live more fully and freely and briefly than you ever will.”
Doyle and Galen enter the shop and take in the scene. They go to attack the woman standing by Rhys when he stops them. “She is no threat. She’s just here to deliver a message.”
Safiya goes to exit the shop and stops suddenly. Over her should she gives Rhys one last comment. “He spoke of you with pride and humor. His time with you was not wasted. Treasure those moments as he did, do not mourn for his death. Instead, praise what he did with his life.”
Rhys says nothing as he follows Doyle and Galen home. When they question him that night, his only response is: “Xander’s dead.”
This was not the first time Rhys had lost someone. It wouldn’t be the last, but he had always known when it was coming before. With Xander, it was unexpected. Rhys wouldn’t forgive that. To Rhys, the time they spent together was less and an eye-blink. He hated that. It was with this in mind that he fell asleep.
Rhys woke up in the sand. Looking around, he realized he was in a desert. Laughter was coming from all sides. From over a sand dune, a hyena appeared. It moved closer to Rhys, its eyes glowing green. Then, it shimmered and Xander stood before him, laughing.
“Betcha never thought you’d see me again.”
“Way to state the obvious. You have power over the dead, surely you know that death isn’t the end of everything.”
“You aren’t going to try and sell some new-age gimmick to me are you?”
They both laughed for a moment, before Rhys turned serious and moved forward. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want you to worry. I knew it was my time and nothing was going to change that. Your involvement wouldn’t have done any good.”
Rhys was not happy with that answer. As he went to express his displeasure Xander interrupted. “There isn’t much time for his. The only reason this is possible is because you are strongly in tune with death. I’m not a regular dead spirit so we have to be quick.”
“Our time together was short. That wasn’t fair. But they meant more than time can constrict. You will live a hundred more lifetimes, and our moments will live just as long. And when you finally hear your end in the wind, I will be the laughter calling you home.”
Rhys woke up the next morning. He spent the day with Merry. He talked with his friends and played with Kitto. When they asked him to talk about it, he declined. He made new friends and had new lovers. He fought in wars and promoted peace. Time continued, for one like him. Even for the next thousand years, all he would ever say about that donut shop friendship was: “The desert will always be there.”