2008-04-13 - popped out as a complete episode after finding my PotO CDS
2008-06-14 - expanded end notes preparatory to posting on TTH as a one-shot/challenge next time I get to the library
2008-06-16 - created HTML version
Disclaimer: At the end, at least for the first chapter
Signed, O. G.
Xander watched, disgusted, as his almost-tender-moment of reconciliation with Buffy over the damage to his macho image earlier in the day vanished, washed away in the flood as she gushed over an 18th century style gown. "Ooh, Angel, look at me, I'm so fluffy! Just like the girls you used to drain!" he muttered derisively. He just couldn't understand what she saw in a walking corpse... Worst of all, he knew that going as some lame-o generic soldier like he'd planned would never have a chance at catching her eye himself.
Unfortunately, he didn't have the kind of money it would take to rent something more impressive, and aside from the old fatigues he'd dug out of the attic he had nothing but his normal day to day clothes and the black suit he'd worn to his grandmother's funeral.
Frustrated, he cast one last look around the cluttered shop before heading to the bin with the toy guns, then winced at the sound of something hitting the floor. Automatically spinning to check out the noise, he saw a sheepish-looking Jonothan Levinson hastily picking up a plain white mask - the kind used for operas and masquerades, not a "Scream" mask - and set it back on the shelf before heading to a different part of the store under the annoyed glare of the shopkeeper.
Curious, and feeling the first tickle of an alternate costume idea in the back of his mind, he wandered over and picked up the mask himself - it was plaster or maybe even real porcelain, and the tag was way more than he could manage, but thanks to the fall it now had a chip out of the left cheek and a huge crack from the chin to the right corner of the mouth, and up the left side of the nose to that eye hole... but if anything, that would make it even better, if he could get the owner to sell it cheaply enough due to the damage.
Speaking of whom, he was startled out of his brainstorming by a British accented voice asking, "Can I help you? It looks like that butterfingers damaged that, but it's the last of that style, I'm afraid."
Xander jumped and spun around with a half-strangled squeak, the mask slipping again to land on the hard, linoleum tile floor, the second impact finishing the job of breaking it. "AH! Oh, jeeze, don't DO that!" he complained, before apologising, "Now it's really broken... sorry, but you startled me. Uh... any chance I can get you to give me a break on paying for that, since it was already cracked?"
"If anyone should pay for it, it would be that other fellow, but I seem to have lost track of him. Don't worry my boy, though I do hope you can find something else suitable now that it's gone," the englishman replied. He gave a slightly dodgy grin and introduced himself. "I'm Ethan, Ethan Rayne, and I could hardly get all shirty with my customers over a simple accident when I just opened the shop, now could I? Wouldn't be good publicity."
Kneeling to collect the pieces, Xander inspected the broken edge. It was pretty clean, and not too sharp. With any luck, he'd be able to even it out some more with the dremel in the garage, and both the loops for the elastic headband that held it on were still intact. "Actually, I think I can still work with this," he said, contemplatively, "I just need some amber contacts, and maybe a ring..." The costume he was thinking of wouldn't normally be his kind of thing, but the video of the production they'd been shown in English class had actually been kind of cool, espescially considering all the pyrotechnics and things had been done right there on the stage as it was recorded rather than being added later like a movie.
"Ah? What a pleasant change to see a young person being a bit creative with their costume, rather than simply picking something off a rack. Let's see then, I have a number of theatrical contact lenses and costume jewelry in the counter display; most of the rings with anything like a realistically sized rhinestone are fifty cents each, while contacts are a dollar fifty. I shan't charge you for the mask, since it wasn't your fault it was broken."
"Whoa, thanks! That's awesome, I'll, uh, make sure and tell everyone to come here, ok?" It was all Xander could do to contain the urge to Snoopy-dance in celebration, he was going to be way cooler than some generic soldier, and hadn't spent any more money than he'd planned, meaning he'd still have enough for a couple packs of Twinkies on the way home. Priorities were important, after all.
Ethan finished the sale and headed over to where Buffy and Willow were still admiring the period dress, which, to be fair, would probably look very good on the Buffster... "So, she wants to impress Angel, huh?" he mused with a grin. "I'll give her an 'angel,' all right..."(00(0)00)
The dremel had worked just like he'd hoped, a grinder tip easily smoothing away the rough broken edges of his half-a-mask and letting him shape what was left so it looked like it had been made that way from the start. A little careful combing let his hair fall naturally and invisibly over the headband holding it in place, the stem of his fake rose tucked neatly through the breast pocket buttonhole on the suit, and the black sheet he'd turned into a cloak was light enough to billow dramatically without any special effort. He adjusted the hang of it one final time and brushed away a few flecks of dust from his suit, then rang the doorbell at 1630 Revello Drive and cleared his throat for the little introduction he'd spent most of the afternoon practising, hopefully to the point that it wouldn't cause active nausea with his singing voice.
"My goodness," Buffy's mother greeted him as she opened the door. "You certainly cleaned up nice, Xander. I don't quite recognise the costume, though?" The amber eyes gave her a momentary pause - she had a sudden flashback to the gang attack during Parent/Teacher night, for some reason, but she shook it off.
Here goes nothing, he thought, then sang, "I am the Angel of Music; Come to the Angel of Music..."
A wide grin split the woman's face as she caught on and she waved him in before turning and herself singing up the stairs in a warm, clear soprano, "He's here! The Phantom of the the Opera... He is with us! It's the ghost! The Phantom of the Opera!"
Turning back to the boy and speaking normally again she complimented, "That's certainly an original costume, I don't think I've ever seen anyone dress up as the Phantom before. It seems a little darker than your usual style, but I suppose that's what Halloween is all about after all."
"Thanks Mrs. S! You're right about Halloween, and while the Phantom was kind of the bad guy, he still did the noble thing in the end, and he kicked lots of a... ah, butt, on the way."
"Xander, I've told you aleady to call me Joyce, 'Mrs. Summers' makes me feel far too old. Would you like some cookies while you wait for the girls? I just finished a fresh batch."
Xander could feel his mouth start watering at the mere suggestion, and quickly adapted another snatch of music from the show. "You know how to make my song take flight... The music of the cookies of the night!"(00(0)00)
Xander came back to himself just in time to witness the incredibly gratifying sight of Spike being hit by a fireball and bursting into a cloud of flame and dust, and that alone was worth the whole share-his-head deal, since with the spell apparently ended the attack would have winked out along with the Phantom himself otherwise. The rest of the vampires were quickly mopped up by Buffy, now free of the wig that combined with the gown had made her look so heartbreakingly like Christine as the Phantom had last seen her, mere minutes before the whole possession thing went down.
It was kind of scary how much they had in common, actually, as if he'd been a faint echo of the character from the beginning - Xander had always been interested in architecture and when something broke around the house he'd tinker around to try to fix it, since otherwise who knew when his drunken excuses for parents would even notice let alone bother to replace it. The Phantom, before being relegated to a circus and escaping to the parisian Opera Populaire, had built a labrynth of mirrors for the Shah of Persia, a construct that was in fact a tremendously powerful magical amplifier though it carried grave risks for the user. Thankfully Xander wasn't horribly deformed (and the rush of elation when the Phantom had pulled off his mask and looked into a whole face, even if it was someone else's, in the reflection from a window had been intense), but he was still pretty much a social outsider.
Genius, okay, maybe not so much, that was generally Willow's department, and up until now he'd have sworn that him and the mojo were un-mixy things like gasoline and matches, but the real kicker was that they'd both always had the music in their heads, even if the soundtrack of Xander's life tended more to Country and Blues than the grand orchestras of the Phantom. Of course, the memories of how much more it was possible for life to suck than his own had kind of dulled the appeal of the Music of Pain... he could see a lot of more upbeat, energetic stuff in his future. That had to be counted as a plus, too, really seeing and appreciating the friends he had.
It had been the strength of that musical connection that had formed the bridge between them for O. G.'s mojo to anchor himself with. Opera Ghost, the only name the Phantom had chosen for himself, and the only one he'd not thrown away as the ones who used the others had thrown him away... perhaps if Christine had chosen him for real, he'd have picked another, or she would, but that was the final link between them - Christine had loved Raoul so much she would have stayed with the Phantom to spare his life, and in the end it had been the difference in the look in her eyes when she looked at O. G. and claimed she'd learn to love him that had made him set them both free.
Xander hated to admit it, but Buffy had the same look for Angel as Christine had for Raoul. God, could he never catch a break? At least he'd figured it out before going on a jealous killing spree, but then he'd had Jessie, Willow, and let's not forget Saturday morning cartoons to learn his morals from instead of a lifetime of being reviled and hunted and melodramatic opera productions as rife with plots and backstabbing both literal and figurative as a whole season of daytime soaps condensed into each two or three hour show.
"Xander? Are you okay?" Buffy's worried question broke him out of his thoughts, and the urge to lean foreward and kiss her was all but overwhelming as she reached up and lifted away his half-mask.
The thought of her smile for Angel stayed him, though, and he swallowed and pasted on a grin. "Ah, yeah Buff, just, you know, lots of thinky thoughts left behind by the Phantom. He's one intense guy!"
"Intense... yeah." Like that look in his eyes then. Buffy had known her Xander-shaped friend had the occasional boy-girl thoughts about her, but he was strictly Property of Willow and even if not, she had Angel - but that had been something else. Even the gold contacts that could have been kind of wigsome (because hello, Hyena? vampires? What had Xander been thinking, getting those, anyway?) had been so alive and soulful that they just didn't... Wait, what? "Xander, aren't those supposed to be contacts? How come they're adjusting like a real eye?"
Worried now, Xander snapped a hand up to feel the skin of his face where the mask had hidden it, but it was as whole and scar-free as ever. He blinked a couple of times, but the contacts definitely felt gone. "Okay, that is of the wierd, but I think I know what's up... let's get the kids back to the pick up at the school, and then we can talk to Giles about it, yeah?"
Buffy hesitated - anything wierd was usually bad on the Hellmouth, and when it wasn't that just meant it was probably really, truly bad instead. But, he didn't feel demony or anything so it could probably wait a couple hours... "Okay Xander, just try not to zone out like that, it can lead to monster-snackage."(00(0)00)
"Oh, my poor Spikey, Kitten burned him up with his ghostly claws, and now the Angel of Music sings in his head... perhaps the stars will sing a duet?" The remaining vampires of Spike and Drusilla's nest backed away from the insane vampiress, all too aware of her volatile temper - just the fact that she was singsonging happily while her eyes spoke of immense sorrow and loss and wept blood, and her mouth was twisted in a rictus of rage, gave testimony enough to that. Her tarot cards fell aside as she stood and waltzed weakly about the room singing.
"Little Lotte, let her mind wander... Little Lotte thought 'Am I fonder, of dolls or of goblins, of shoes or of riddles, of frocks or of chocolates... No, what I love best,' Lotte said, 'is when I'm asleep in my bed, and the Angel of Music sings songs in my head, the Angel of Music sings songs in my head...'"
She froze in place, and her tongue slipped out to delicately lick away the bloody tear track at the corner of her mouth. "Come children... naughty children, hiding in the shadows! Bring Mummy someone to eat, and then it's time to speak of many things, of vengeance for my Spikey, of Slayers, cats, and kings!"
Beside her chair, three cards had landed face up, showing a cyclops, a centipede, and a jaguar.(00(0)00)
Xander, Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia walked into the Library later that evening, Willow rubbing her nose where she'd run into the door after forgetting she couldn't walk through things any more. Giles nearly dropped his teacup again at the sight of Xander's eyes, but the lack of forehead ridges and fangs combined with the way he was laughing and gently ribbing his friend calmed the older man's worst fears.
"Heya G-Man!" Xander greeted him, "Willow said you tracked down that Ethan guy as the source of the spell - did you get 'im?"
"Er, no, sadly, he escaped while I was distracted disrupting the, the magical paraphenelia that was maintaining the effect, the blighter. Are any of you experiencing any, er, lingering consequences?" It could just be that the young man hadn't removed some costume lenses, he thought hopefully.
"I know what's up with me," Xander replied, shattering that hope, "and Cordy didn't get her costume there... Buffy? Willow?"
Willow rubbed her nose again sheepishly, and explained, "Well, I was me, just ghost-me, and it's kind of confusing switching back to non-ghosty-ness but that's all." She looked at Buffy.
"Nothing much," the bottle blonde replied thoughtfully. "I think I won't be having any trouble with French class any more, or doing sewing and needlepoint in Home Ec, but that's about it. Kinda good to be me again."
"Right, if any vicious car-demons need slaying, you're our gal," Xander quipped, then yelped as he caught an elbow to the side from Buffy. "Actually, there's more to Willow's ghosty-ness than that, but I wanted to see if she could tell - and it has to do with what's up wth me, too."
"Huh?" the red-head in question gulped, "Wait, do you mean I'm going to keep going all ghost-y because that could beaproblemevenifit
"Breathe, Rosenburg," Cordelia cut in, "And I so don't want to hear about bathroom times in ghost-ville." Willow clammed up, and blushed redder than her hair. "Since we're obviously not going to get out of here until your share-time is over, Dork, get on with it. I have important Bronzing to do so this night isn't a total wash."
"Nice, Cordy," Xander scolded, met by a 'Yeah? So?' look. "Anyhoo, I went as the Phantom of the Opera, from the very end of the musical where he teleports away. Being big with the mojo and all, and not wanting to fade away or go back to a world where he just sent the love of his life to be with someone she loves more while he was facing down a lynch mob, he made me a deal."
"Oh dear lord," Giles interrupted, polishing his glasses in exasperation. "Xander, I'm tremendously disappointed in you. Surely you've learned by now that those who bargain with mystical entities come to an almost universally bad end!?"
"Yeah, Buffy's always talking me out of like, half my lunches with her evil mystical Slayer-power-lip and puppy eyes," he fired back.
"Hey!" the blonde defended herself, "So not the same thing! In no way am I a creepy, ugly, evil, singing stalker-guy!" Her watcher just rubbed his temples, knowing that this was going to be one of THOSE conversations.
"Can't argue with you there, Buffster," Xander conceeded, "But the Phantom wasn't really evil, he just never had any reason to care about anyone besides Christine, kind of a 'do anything for love' type. But in the end, the one thing he wouldn't do for love is get between her and the man she loved more... I'd have thought you'd appreciate that, at least," he said with a significant arch of the eyebrows.
"What, uh, yeah okay, but seriously, Xan, demony bargains: not of the good!" Buffy countered, hoping to get off the subject before it gave Giles another chance to disapprove of Angel.
"He wasn't a demon, guys! The Phantom was just a guy with a birth defect that messed up one side of his face - his mother abanded him when he was a toddler, and a witch took him in. The tree-huggy earth mother kind of witch, not flying monkeys and poisoned apples. He started learning magic and other stuff from her, and he's like, a total genius! It's not like he wants me to go sacrificing kittens or anything, even if he did get into darker magic later on!"
Giles sighed heavily and said, "I reiterate, ANY deals with the supernatural have a tendency to go very poorly... perhaps you should just tell us the bargain you made, and why on EARTH you felt you needed to!"
"Okay, okay. It's no real biggie, basically, it was just that he gets to stay and see life through a normal looking body, namely one Xander Harris, and in return I get his skills so I can be more useful in the slayage, and to teach Wills," he explained.
"What? Me?" Willow yelped. "I mean, I've read some stuff but I can barely float a pencil and... um, oops!" She looked guiltily at Giles, who winced and stopped putting on his glasses to give them a few more swipes with a tissue.
Before anyone could jump on that, Xander steamrolled on, "Seriously, there's no real bad here! I'm not going to suddenly turn into the Phantom, in fact it's more like he's going to slowly turn into me and be absorbed from what he said. I'm still Xander, just... Xander-plus."
"While I can certainly understand the desire to be more effective on patrol, that still does not explain why the bloody HELL you thought it a good idea to bargain for magical power with an acknowledged dark practitioner, let alone the notion of teaching Willow! Magic is not a toy; it is not even a science! Even the most seemingly innocent experimentation can lead to personal tradgedy at best, or the unleashing of horrifically dark forces at worst!" the exasperated Watcher shouted. "How could you BE so irresponsible?"
"And that's why!" Xander argued back. "The Phantom IS an experienced caster - what he does in the show is the worst he ever got, mild magical hypnosis and basic battle magic, mostly he did illusions and enchanted gizmos to give the opera house's shows really whiz-bang special effects - just enough to stay hidden from some vamps or appear and stake and disappear, or make them nice and toasty with a fire ball. The important part is Willow!"
"For the love of god, HOW?" Controlling himself with effort, Giles continued, "Even granted all that, given that from her reaction when you mentioned her Willow hadn't admitted her dabbling to you, either, why would you think that the prospect of teaching her with the knowledge of a fictional character to draw on was so important as to risk making such a bargain?"
"Because thanks to getting turned into a ghost Willow is now connected to the afterlife. I figured we need someone who knows how the mojo works to keep something from coming down that connection and making with the major badness - even if it's not a possession kind of thing, it'll make it way too easy for her to get deep into the black stuff."
Giles went pale, and stopped polishing his glasses. The rest of them were silent for a few seconds, until Cordelia stood up and announced, "Well, if that's all, I'm heading to the Bronze. Make sure Mousy doesn't get all Wicked Witch of the West Coast without enough warning for me to leave town, okay?" Ignoring their shocked looks, the social queen of the school made her way out of the library.
"Same old Cordelia, I guess," Xander said, after a minute. "Of course it's not important, it's not about her." he rubbed the ring on his finger distractedly, not used to its presence, then did a double take as he realised that it had retained the weight of silver and the brilliant inner fire of a real gemstone rather than changing back into cheap chromed plastic and glass, but dismissed it as irrelevant for the moment.
"Anyway, Giles, like you said last year when that whole thing with Amy's Mom went down, you're big with the books but don't have much practical experience of magic. It's important to know what you're doing with the mojo, so I - both him and me, agreed that Willow needed someone with experience at using the stuff, and at NOT using too much of the black kind despite what might happen in life, around to help her learn. That's why I said yes, and why I'm not going to let you wipe out the Opera Ghost like after the hyena thing."
And the hell of it, thought Giles, was that the point about not going too far into the Black would still have held true even if he hadn't prevaricated about his actual casting experience, what with the disasters of his misspent youth. He sighed again, feelingly, and looked around at all of his charges. Willow seemed still too tongue tied from being found out dabbling, and given Buffy's relationship with the vampire Angel he had no doubt the implied truce on that matter in Xander's earlier words had her torn with indescision at the moment. Better to cut losses before either of them actively came out in support of each others' folly. "Since it seems that you are firmly decided in the matter I will yield for now, but I hope you can understand why I must insist that any magical tutoring or even your own casting be done with supervision?"
Smiling and relaxing finally from the tense, semi-defensive posture he'd held up to now, Xander readily agreed, "Of course, G-Man, no need to go crazy kicking the training wheels off of life. Gotta learn the right way to flap your arms before you go flying to Tahiti!"
"Er... yes, quite, I'm sure." Oh yeah, it was one of THOSE conversations.
Though explained somewhat in the text, the the temporary spell was fixed through a pre-existing three point bond, the things that attracted Xander to the idea of the costume in the first place - the interest in architecture and gadgeteering are a bond of mind, the inner music a bond of soul, and unrequited love a bond of heart. The ring is the physical manifestation of the Phantom's side of the deal, and is unremovable - for magical purposes it is a part of Xander's self. The eyes are the representation of Xander's agreement to let the Phantom see life through him taken to the literal degree. There's nothing to say he couldn't get colored contacts, of course... but hopefully better than cheap one-time costume contacts, those were really unfomfortable. They do provide a small benefit of their own, combined with the last traces of hyena his night vision is now on par with nocturnal hunters like, oh, vampires and Slayers. On the other hand, being out in a typical sunny California day he's going to either need sunglasses (wrap around or with arms wide enough to block his peripheral vision) or have a monster headache by midafternoon. Other senses remain human-normal, except of course for magical sensitivity.
On that front, it's just like he said - strong with illusions and enchanted gizmos (note that I don't mean weapons, at least not as weapons - he could figure something out but the only experience with them in the theatre is making them look real but actually be harmless - Rubber Sword of Bluntness +2, Ketchup-Splasher is likely to be how his first attempt would turn out) capable of basic elemental combat magic and levitation of anything he could lift, with fine manipulation (demonstrated at the level of flying a rope around someone's neck from behind, restraining them, and tying it into a noose, the fearsome 'magical Punjab Lassoo') and the ability to entrance a single target and give them suggestions with a few lines of song. The latter ability is something X will avoid using, however, and can be resisted with a strong will or experience at magical domination - Dru for example would laugh at any attempt to use it on her, but is nutty enough she might sing and play along anyway depending on what he wanted her to do...
I am pretty much entirely undecided as to whether or what Xander relationships might develop, so if you want to put your two cents in, now's the time. Possibilities are:
Willow (but not likely... to much Christine-vibe with the magic mentoring relationship)
Vampire Willow (could stick around in place of Spike, and probably really hot to seduce her non-vampy self... slotting her into the vacated destiny is just the sort of thing the Petty Tightassed Bastards would do)
Drusilla (but I feel about like canon-Xander on the subject of vampire-laying being of the bad, so give some good ideas if you like this or V.Wills - the best roots for this probably lie in vampiric pack structure giving him some claim to her after killing her former lover, and the mesmerism thing)
Buffy (obviously not right away, but she definitely noticed the look in his eyes when she pulled off his half-mask so maybe later)
Kendra (but you'd have to argue hard, and give some ideas for what to do with non-Slayer Faith)
Faith (an adult's life experience to hold him back just a bit from the sudden rush of hormones, and a seriously romantic streak to work on her until she lets him in emotionally)
Anya (the path of least resistance, Dona Juanita Triumphant)
Of course, there's quite a bit of emotional distance to go before he's going to start up with anyone; O.G.'s memory of freeing Christine is far too close and painful. I'm actually leaning the most toward keeping him single because nothing compares to Christine and Buffy, and at the meta-level because I'm anything but adept at romance.
It's quite possible that he could become a closer friend to Oz with the shared musical interest - composing rock opera and voice coaching since Oz freely admits the Dingoes kind of suck at one point or another, maybe even joining in as a keyboardist and/or vocalist.
It might actually work to bring in Sweet, the 'singing and dancing, musical happy ending demon' from... Season Sux, I think? ... early or even as a recurring enemy, if it could be pulled off well.
Unfortunately I can't promise anything resembling a regular update schedule, or even that updates will happen at all - though I enjoy writing, I like reading far more and there's a lot of good fic out there to be read, not to mention even more mediocre to bad fic to be waded though in search of it. On the other hand, I NEVER give up on projects entirely - I've had one grinding along like a glacier since 1991, accreteing a few lines to the latest chapter every month or two. Then again, if I can manage to actually keep my chapter lengths down for this one, maybe it'll flow a little faster - I keep finding myself having to split my working files up because when a single part gets over 100kb the PDA I do most of my writing on gets too bogged down :) This one is uncharacteristically short because we've all seen the events of Halloween rehashed again and again and again, and there's really no point going over it one more time substituting fireballs for gun shots and adding in bits of poorly-adapted PotO lyrics for dialogue.
(Later, just before posting to TTH) Given that it's now four months since the evening this started hopping on my head and not even a single jot of an idea has come for later parts beyond the notes above, this is looking like either a one shot or something to let someone else take over. I love this story, have re-read it at least a dozen times, and would love to see a continuation, but nothing else is coming to me. If you's like to give it a shot, feel free to copy this to your own account when you have a second chapter to add, just drop a review or something with a link to your account so I can enjoy your work and pass it on in other sites where I've showed this to friends. And of course, who knows, maybe if you just leave a humdinger of a hook in a review, I'll get something more on this myself even if no one else takes it up... or yet another person will read the reviews and get sparked.
Suggestions for other music to look into for inspiration include the rest of Andrew LLoyd Webber's stuff, Gilbert & Sullivan, Sisters of Mercy, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Iced Earth, Darkwell, Dragonheart/Dragonforce (name changed when the movie was released) and Nightwish.(00(0)00)
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and related characters and concepts were created by Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy, The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew LLoyd Webber. No challenge to the ownership of these or any other referenced properties is intended by their use in this fanfiction.
While I don't remember exactly where, I'm pretty sure that the idea that Willow's time as a ghost strengthened her magic through a connection to the spirit realms is from a fanfic I read a few years ago, but it makes too much sense to skip over.