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"You want me to what?" Xander looked at Giles in disbelief.
"We need to recover this artifact--"
"Yes, I got that part. What I have a problem with is the part where I have to go into the past to get it." Xander turned his head toward Willow and continued. "You can't expect me to just--just go with this. I mean... Time travel, Willow!"
Willow bit her lower lip and looked to Giles for advice, only to have him shrug. "Look," she said, "we'd ask someone else, except there isn't anyone else!"
"You are the only one who can touch it without risking your life--" Giles added.
"Because I don't have magical powers, or something?"
"Exactly!" Willow smiled in that way of hers that meant she thought she'd get her way. Which of course, she would, because she was Willow, and Xander could never say no to her when she was looking at him like that. And then there was Giles; he looked nervous, almost like he was hiding something from Xander and Willow both. Xander was still too shocked at the idea that he was going to go back in time to ask about it. Or, you know, care.
Except if it led to badness. It didn't look like badness-leading nervousness, though, just plain old nervousness.
And since when did Xander pay so much attention to what Giles was feeling, anyway?
"We know dozens of people who don't have any magical powers," he felt compelled to add, even though he knew he was going to do this. "I'm sure you can--"
"No." Giles sounded definite, like there was no way Xander could talk his way out of this. "We need someone we can trust, Xander, and no one else fits this description as well as you do. This artifact cannot fall into the wrong hands, and the wrong hands, in this case, are the Council's old guard."
Well, that explained why they were meeting here, at Giles' house, instead of at the Council headquarters. Usually, even though Giles had a couple of spare bedrooms open to any of the former Scoobies who were in England, they took care of all the Watcherly stuff at the office. "Why? I mean, badass demon, we kill it. Why wouldn't they want that too?" Xander asked, genuinely puzzled.
"Because they have no wish to see this prophecy thwarted--at least not by us. They want to see us fail, and they believe we will because the Talisman of Memanggil has been lost since the seventies." Giles paused. "That may partly be my own fault," he admitted. "I've tried to downplay the crisis while Willow and I looked for a solution, and they may not realize precisely what it is that we're facing."
"Which is where this time-traveling spell and I come in."
Okay, now there was exasperation in Giles' voice. Time to stop playing around. "I'll do it; of course I'll do it. You knew that."
Willow squealed and hugged him, and for a moment, Xander was transported back to high school, when that happened a lot more often than it did these days. Sometimes, growing up sucked. He hugged her back, and then she released him, with a smile on her face. "All right, I'll go get my notes and things, and--and I'll be back."
When she was gone, Xander shook his head and turned back to Giles. "Does it really have to happen today?"
"Unfortunately, yes," Giles said, standing. "It can't wait any longer. Once we have the talisman, it will still take quite some time to perform the ritual."
"All right, then." Xander looked down at his clothes and then back up at Giles. "Do I look like a seventies guy to you? You were there; you can tell better than I can."
Giles looked him over a lot more critically than Xander thought the situation really deserved. It wasn't like he was wearing anything that weird. Finally, he nodded. "You'll look a little out of place; there's something about the cut of your jeans that doesn't seem right, and I'm not certain about your shirt. But you can blame some of that on being from America, and most people won't be any the wiser." Then he added, "What about the rest of the clothes you brought with you? Are they like these?"
"The rest of--Giles, I'm not going to be there that long. I don't need to bring a suitcase."
There was that weird hesitation from Giles again, like there was a lot more to this than he was telling Xander. That was just Xander being paranoid, though, he was sure; there was no way that Giles would send him back in time thirty years without telling him what to expect. "We can't be certain you'll be able to get the talisman quickly," Giles said.
"I thought you said you knew where it was."
"We do," Giles said. "Or at least, I know where it was supposed to be. If our information is incorrect, or if you have more difficulty acquiring it than we anticipated, you'll be glad to have a few things with you."
Okay, Giles had a point. Xander didn't like his point, but he did have one. "I didn't bring much," Xander said. "I wasn't expecting to be in England all that long." And his wardrobe wasn't all that large, anyway. "Jeans, t-shirts--"
"Yeah. Mostly white."
Giles nodded. "You'll do," he said. "Just don't let anyone look too closely at the tags."
Xander snorted. "I don't think I'm going to be getting that friendly with anyone," he said, and then grinned when Giles cleared his throat and looked away. He and Giles might be on a more equal level now, but it was still fun to embarrass him from time to time. He didn't get much chance for joking around like that, these days. Another entry in the "growing up sucks" column.
"Er... perhaps not," Giles agreed, before reaching under his desk and taking out a large shopping bag. "There are a few things in here you'll need," he said. "Some money that's been carefully checked to make certain the dates won't arouse suspicion, identification with an appropriate date of birth on it--"
"Okay, I'm impressed," Xander said, taking the bag from him. "I mean, I know the Council has more resources than we did back in Sunnydale, even these days, but I didn't know that they could work this fast." Willow had told him that she and Giles had only come up with the time-travel idea yesterday. He opened the bag, looking inside and frowning. "What do I need with a leather jacket?"
Giles cleared his throat again. "Er. I'm... I was familiar with the address we're sending you to," he said, then added, "That's in the wallet along with the money and the I.D. If you want to... to blend in, I think you'll find that helpful."
"Okay," Xander said doubtfully. He took the wallet out from underneath the jacket, putting it in his back pocket and handing his own billfold over to Giles. "Keep that for me, okay? There's stuff in there I don't want to lose." Pictures, mostly, of people he was never going to see again.
"I'll put it in the safe," he assured Xander.
Xander nodded, shrugging the jacket on. "It fits okay," he said. "So, do I look right now?"
Giles looked him over again. "I think--yes," he said. "Yes, you look right."
Xander nodded. "Okay, then. Maybe I should go get my suitcase?"
"Yes, that would be best. Meet us in the study once you're ready."
"Yeah, sure." Xander picked up the now-empty bag again and left the room, heading straight for the bedroom he used whenever he was in town. It didn't take him long, since he'd only arrived yesterday and hadn't had time to unpack. A few t-shirts, a couple pairs of jeans, some underwear and socks, and he was set to go. He wondered about toothpaste and brush, but decided not to bring them. He'd just have to buy them when he got there.
It kind of felt weird, a bit like he was just going on yet another trip in search of a Slayer, not traveling back in time thirty years to find a missing talisman that was the last hope in stopping the latest apocalypse.
He had to admit, though, it was kind of exciting. He'd get to see what life looked like before he was even born.
And in some ways, at least, it ought to be easier than looking for a new Slayer; Giles said the talisman was in London, and so Xander'd be able to count on people speaking English. That wasn't always a guarantee in the places the Council had been sending him lately, not when he got away from the cities and into small villages. Xander had been lucky so far, but it always worried him.
Of course, he thought, as he put the last of his clothes back into his backpack, when he was looking for a Slayer, he didn't have to worry about changing the course of human history. He'd seen enough sci-fi movies to know that he was going to have to be careful.
Xander shook his head. What was he worrying about? Giles was being cautious, suggesting that he take clothes along with him, but it wasn't going to be a problem. Willow would do her thing, Xander would do his thing, and then he'd come back. He wouldn't have time to change history. If things went the way they were supposed to, he'd barely have time to look around.
If things went the way they were supposed to. That was the tricky part, wasn't it? Because things rarely--if, you know, ever--went how they should. Shaking that thought away again, Xander zipped up his bag and flung it over his shoulder. He took one last look at the room to make sure he wasn't forgetting anything and went downstairs.
"There you are!" Willow was practically bouncing, and the grin on her face was enough to scare Xander a little.
He couldn't remember the last time she'd been this excited about anything, really, and Xander wondered for a moment if that wasn't a sign that this would go very wrong. Oh God, he really hoped not. "You guys were already waiting for me?"
"Well, I've told Willow we don't have to do the spell right away," Giles said, turning around from where he was sitting on the floor painting some kind of pentagram. "We have at least a couple of hours of leeway, but she doesn't want to wait."
Willow blushed and looked down. "Hey, this is huge, you know, sending someone into the past? It's--it's--" Giles frowned at her, and she sat down on the couch with a sheepish expression. "Anyway, Giles just needs to finish the pentagram, and then we can do it whenever you're ready."
Xander nodded and dropped his bag to the floor, staring at the symbols Giles was meticulously painting on the floor. He wondered if it was going to come off afterwards, or if Giles would have a permanent reminder of this spell. Maybe he would put a carpet over it. Or repaint the floor. Xander could do that, when--if--he came back.
His stomach growled and he looked up at Giles. "Um, can I eat something first?"
"I don't see why n--" Giles began, just as Willow interrupted him.
"Better not," she said.
"Willow, you heard Giles, we have a couple of hours. It won't take me that long to eat a sandwich."
Willow gave him an apologetic grin. "It's not the time, it's--you know how you used to get carsick?"
It wasn't exactly used to, at least not if he couldn't be in the front seat, but Xander just nodded.
"Willow--" Xander began, wanting to stop her before this became Humiliate Xander Day, but she went on.
"Oh, and remember when our class went on that boat ride on the eighth grade field trip and you were seasick?"
"I can take Dramamine," Xander argued. It was how he'd gotten here without being miserable, after all; there was still some in his bag. "And it's time travel, it's not a ferry!" He glanced over at Giles, who was doing a very good job of pretending he wasn't listening. At least he could be grateful for small favors.
"I know, but better safe than sorry?" she said. "You can eat when get there. Or when you come back," she added, "if it doesn't take you very long to get the talisman."
"Yeah," Xander said, trying to sound enthusiastic. "Speaking of coming back, there's definitely a way for me to get back, right?"
"Of course!" Willow held up a small silver chain with an oval pendant hanging from it. "This amulet will be the focal point for the time travel spell," she said. "See the glass in the middle? All you have to do is break it, and you'll be back here--a few minutes after you left, just to make sure we don't accidentally get two of you."
"It's that simple?" Xander said, doubtfully.
"Absolutely," Willow assured him.
"And you're sure it'll work?"
"Of course!" From behind her, Giles cleared his throat, and Willow flushed. "I mean, we haven't been able to test it, but in theory--"
"Am I going to be able to get back or not?" Xander asked.
"Yes," she said, very firmly. "At least... I'm almost a hundred percent certain."
"Giles?" Xander said, still trying not to sound panicked. Going back in time was one thing--one really, really freaky thing--but not being able to get back was not only bad, but sounded like it defeated the purpose of him going there in the first place.
Giles sighed. "The theory is sound, Xander, and I have every faith in Willow's ability to perform the spell."
"What does that mean, exactly?"
"It means yes, Xander. Trust me; you won't be trapped in 1976."
"And there's no other choice, anyway, is there?" When Giles shook his head, Xander sighed. "All right."
Giles turned back to the pentagram, but Xander could swear he was smiling when he said: "I'm sure you'll be able to find something to eat in 1976."
"Okay, then," Xander said. He clasped his hands together, and sat down on the sofa, nervously chewing his lower lip. "So, anything else I need to know, like, uh, what this Talisman of Mem--Memo--"
"--Memanggil," Willow repeated for him.
"--yeah. Do we know what it looks like?"
Giles frowned, and finished the line he was painting before answering. "We haven't been able to find a full description of it. Only that it is very old, made of silver, and heavier than it looks."
"Okay, so I'm looking for something old and shiny, and I have to make sure not to break my back when I lift it up. Great."
"Xander," Giles said, putting the paint and brush away. "We wouldn't have asked you if we didn't feel you were the best choice for this mission, but if you're that determined not to go--"
Xander sighed. "No, I'll go, it's just that, you know, fifteen minutes ago, I was planning on spending a quiet week visiting with friends, and now--well, now I'm traveling thirty some years in the past to find some old artifact so that we can save the world. Again." He gave Giles a nervous grin. "It's kind of nerve-wracking."
"I can only imagine."
"I'm doing way too much imagining about it right now," he said, with a shaky laugh. "Maybe Willow's right and we should just get it over with."
"Are you quite certain?" Giles asked, and Xander nodded. Not that he was actually certain, but he wasn't going to feel any better about this an hour from now.
"Yeah. I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be," he said.
"Then we may as well get started," Giles said, and Willow stepped forward, holding out the chain.
"You need to wear this," she said, and Xander bent down so she could put it around his neck.
"I don't know, Will. I don't think it's me," he teased, trying to distract himself from his nervousness.
Willow grinned back at him. "You can take it off when you're there if you want, as long as you don't lose it," she said, "but it needs to be touching you for the spell to work right." Xander straightened back up.
"Okay, wait. I think I see a flaw in your plan. If it needs to be touching me, how am I supposed to break it when I want to get home? I'm not hitting myself in the chest with a hammer."
She shook her head. "You don't have to. The spell sends whoever's wearing the pendant back in time. Once you're back there, anyone could break it for you--breaking it just undoes the spell's effects and brings you back here." She patted him on the arm. "Now go stand in the middle of the circle."
Xander grabbed his bag again and stepped closer to the pentagram on the floor. "So, is it dry? I don't really want to have paint on my shoes. You know, I might transfer it over to 1976, and I wouldn't want to change the past."
Giles shook his head and rolled his eyes. "You are aware that the past has already happened? And so your presence there has also happened, and as such, if you happen to change anything, it has already been changed? In fact, it is not 'change' as such, since it's already happened."
Xander just blinked. "Huh. I think that's too much thinking for me just now."
"All right." Giles actually smiled this time. "It should be dry enough; just stand in the middle. It should only take a minute."
"That fast? So I guess this is goodbye," Xander said, stepping into the circle and clutching at the handle on his bag. "Although, not really, because for you guys, this is going to last just like, three minutes. So I should just say: see you in a minute, or something."
Willow smiled. "Good luck," she said.
"Yeah, I'm thinking I'm going to need it," Xander said. No matter what Giles said, he'd seen Back to the Future. Maybe he couldn't change the past, but he really didn't want to take the chance.
"You're going to be fine," she said encouragingly, before moving back to consult with Giles for a moment. Xander watched as the two of them lit some herbs--Xander had been around Willow enough to recognize the smell of burning sage, but other than that, he had no idea what they were--and Giles picked up a book and began to read something in Latin.
The glass-and-metal disk on the chain around his neck felt warmer, even through his shirt; not burning hot, but something was definitely happening. Xander decided he didn't want to watch the rest of the spell. He didn't know what traveling back in time almost thirty years was going to look like, but Willow's reminder of his tendency to get motion sickness made him think it was probably a good idea not to find out.
"So, huh, how long is this going to take, guys?" Xander asked, licking his lips. "I don't really want to get sick, you know, and do you know what it'll feel like? I can't feel anything right now, except that the thing's kind of warm, but--" Xander stopped babbling, finally realizing that he couldn't hear Giles chanting anymore. "Guys? Willow? Giles?"
Xander blinked. "Huh." It was dark, but not completely. There was some light on somewhere, and Xander could see enough to know that he was in some kind of warehouse. Somewhere.
That was kind of anti-climactic. No motion sickness, no twirling, no noise, just... one moment he was there, and the next he was here. Well, damn.
At least he was here, wherever "here" was. He was going to assume that it was 1976 and London, or he might as well send himself home now. So he needed to figure out where it was he was supposed to go.
Xander took the wallet out of his back pocket, opening it up and pausing for a moment to look at the California driver's license--he wasn't sure if that's what they really looked like in the seventies, but it didn't look like the last one he'd gotten, that was for sure--with the 1952 birth date on it.
His parents weren't born in 1952.
Come to think of it, his parents were still in high school right now. On the other side of the world, if Giles and Willow got the spell right, but in high school.
Okay, that was officially weird.
Xander found the note tucked into the wallet, with an address written on it in Giles' handwriting. Supposedly, that was where he'd be able to find the last person known to have had the talisman. Hopefully, he'd find the thing itself there, and this would only take a few minutes for him, as well as for everyone back home.
It was hard to read the address in the dim light, but Xander squinted at it until he had it memorized. Then, sticking the wallet back in his pocket, he headed toward what he thought was the way out of here. The sooner he found the place, the sooner he'd be back where he belonged.
It took him about fifteen minutes to find the way out. Which was really stupid, because the exit door was right behind where he'd been standing at first. "Way to go, Xander," he muttered to himself, as he walked out into the empty parking lot. "Not even here for an hour yet, and already being an idiot."
He looked around, and headed for the busy street he could see on the left. There should be cabs, right? Or at least somewhere he could buy a map. He wasn't sure how long the money Giles had given him would last, but he ought to be able to afford that. Especially since he really didn't want to be stuck there long enough for money to be a problem.
Luckily, there was a cab coming down the street, and it stopped when Xander waved at it.
"Where to, lad?"
Xander rattled off the address, startled for some reason at having to speak.
The cab driver laughed. "That's just over there," the man said, turning around and waving up the street. "Ain't worth a cab ride. Crazy Americans," he added, shaking his head, as Xander closed the door.
Xander looked up the street with a frown, and barely registered the cab driving away. He flung his bag over his shoulder again, and with a deep breath, he started walking. He could do this. Really.
His first--hopefully not only--stroke of luck was that it looked like he wasn't going to have to knock on someone's front door. If he'd read the address right, it looked like he was heading for a bar. Not the kind he sometimes went to at lunchtime with Andrew when he was in London, where Andrew went on at length about "traditional British pubs" and Xander wished he had a Quarter Pounder.
Definitely not. This was the kind with guys in leather jackets and girls with too much makeup and loud music pouring out into the street every time someone opened the door.
For a minute, Xander hesitated; there was no way he could go in somewhere like that without attracting a lot of attention. Then he shook his head. If no one looked too closely, his clothes would fit in. About the only good thing the eyepatch was that it made people less likely to look too closely.
He'd go in there, figure out how the hell anyone in there would know where the talisman he needed was, and be done in half an hour--an hour, at the most. Then he could go home.
Xander was reaching in his pocket to get some money for the cover charge when he realized that everyone was just walking in. Well, when in Rome...
He walked in, but came to a stop when he saw the crowd. "Whoa, this might be harder than I thought." He clung to his backpack and walked further in, or at least tried to.
It took him about five seconds to realize that he wouldn't get anywhere, at least, not now. Xander settled against the wall, not too far from the door, surveying the throng of people coming in and out of the place. After a while, the band stopped playing, although the crowd didn't thin out any; Xander was just glad the place had gotten a little quieter.
"Can't wait to hear them play."
Xander blinked and turned to his left, finding a man leaning just a few feet away. "Huh?"
"The band! They're the best thing this pub's ever seen! What are you, daft?"
Xander continued blinking. "I'm sorry, I'm--not from around here." Well, that was an understatement.
"Uh, yeah." Also, not born yet. Xander shrugged. "I'm just, uh. Meeting someone here," he said. He looked at the man again, hoping that maybe coincidence would work in his favor, but decided he didn't look like someone who'd have anything more valuable than a joint in his possession. He wasn't really a man, either, more like a kid, maybe eighteen or nineteen. Xander reminded himself that when Willow was nineteen, she'd been a pretty powerful witch, but still, this probably wasn't his guy.
If it was even a guy; he could be looking for a woman. He wished Giles had had more information about who had owned the talisman before it disappeared.
The band had just finished packing up their instruments, and a second group was taking their place onstage. This must be the band the guy was talking about; everyone seemed to be waiting, at least half their attention on the stage while they talked and drank.
Xander slowly edged his way toward the bar while the second band set up, figuring that maybe he'd see someone or something that gave him an idea of what to do next. He was at a loss; this really just looked like a bar filled with obnoxious college or college-aged kids, not a hangout for people with collections of rare magical artifacts.
Finally, just as Xander managed to weave his way through the crowd to get closer to both the bar and the stage, the band started to play. It sounded vaguely familiar--maybe something that had been in the background of a movie or in a commercial, in his time. Maybe he was watching the beginnings of some famous rock band, he thought, then, as the drummer missed a beat and struggled to recover, he decided it was a lot more likely that they were just doing a cover of something by a much better band. It wouldn't be hard to find a much better band.
The rest of the band wasn't too horrible, though, on about the same level with what Xander had heard every weekend at the Bronze back in high school. Then the lead singer stalked up to the microphone, pulling it toward him and beginning to sing--well, snarl into the mic, but the crowd seemed to like it.
Maybe they did turn out to be famous, Xander thought in surprise; that voice was familiar. It sounded like--like-- It sounded like Giles, he realized, but that was ridiculous. The guy must sound like somebody else, who kind of sounded like Giles, and Xander was just--
An image flashed into Xander's mind: a black-and-white photo of a young guy with shaggy hair and a leather jacket, holding a guitar. And he knew Giles could sing; he'd heard him at that coffeehouse in Sunnydale....
Then the singer turned in his direction, his gaze scanning the audience, obviously looking for someone or something. For the first time, Xander got a clear look at the man's face.
"Oh. My. God." Xander stood there, mouth hanging open.
It didn't only sound like Giles, it was Giles. Shaggy haired, unwrinkled, young Giles. Probably even younger than Xander, but Giles.
"Oh, my God," Xander repeated.
No way in hell could this just be a coincidence. Giles had known. Oh he had to have known, with all that stuff he'd said about the past having already happened. He'd known, and he hadn't told Xander a thing. "Well, fuck."
How was he supposed to approach the younger, wilder version of his ex-high school librarian? He couldn't just walk up to him and say 'Hi, younger-Giles, I know you from the future. Want to help me find an old, silvery talisman?' Besides, if Xander remembered correctly, and he was pretty sure he did, chocolate-drugged Giles had called himself "Ripper."
There was no way that could be good.
At least Xander had until the end of their set to find a way to talk with this kid--because really, that was what Ripper was. "I bet he's younger than me," Xander said to himself, blushing when a couple of people on his left looked at him, even though they couldn't have heard him over the racket.
The band wasn't even that good, and while Xander had heard Giles sing, and it hadn't been bad (brain-meltingly weird, yes, but not bad), Ripper was too concerned with trying to sound like a bad-ass to actually sing.
And he was going to have to stand here and listen to all of it, because there was no way it was just a coincidence that he and young-and-obnoxious-Giles were both here. Xander scowled. He knew Willow had been in a hurry, but you'd think Giles could have at least mentioned this.
On the bright side, at least Xander could be pretty sure he would be able to get the talisman, if Giles knew he'd come back to get it. Probably. He was still going to stick to the science-fiction movie theory of time travel and not get overconfident about that.
Especially since the other thing he remembered about younger-than-him Giles was that he hadn't exactly been one of the good guys.
Half an hour, and two warm beers--for courage--later, Ripper and his group finished their set, and the crowd erupted in cheers, the noise driving Xander to cover his ears. The bartender laughed as he picked up Xander's empty bottle. "You might want to wait a bit before leaving, lad, the crowd'll be horrible on the way out."
"Yeah, that sounds like a plan," Xander muttered, watching as the group members exited the stage. "Hey, you know if there's any way I can meet the singer?" he asked.
"Ripper? Yeah, I reckon he'll be in the alley with the girls in a bit. No need to hurry, he'll be there a while. You might even want to wait a half-hour; he likes the attention."
With a nod, Xander asked for another beer and looked away from the crowd. It was starting to feel a little too claustrophobic in here.
He drank the third beer more slowly, less out of any sense of caution than because he really didn't get how people could claim they liked warm beer. At least some people were starting to leave. The band must have been done for the night, since he hadn't heard the bartender announce last call, and it still seemed to be fairly early.
That reminded him to check his watch; it wasn't digital, so it had gotten past Giles' inspection. He might as well have left it at home, though; it still announced that it was three-twenty in the afternoon. "Got the time?" he asked the bartender. "My watch must've stopped."
The bartender looked very pointedly at the clock on the wall.
"Oh. Thanks," Xander said. Nine-thirty. Still pretty early; that meant there'd probably be another set later. Xander set his watch, setting his glass down on the bar. He might as well get this over with.
He walked out. For a moment, he wondered which way he needed to go to get the alley; then he realized that pretty much everyone was heading in the same direction, so he followed them--and quickly realized that he should have gone the other way.
Xander sighed loudly and rubbed his neck, turning around on his heels. "Good start, Harris, very good start."
He finally got to where Giles--um, Ripper, was smoking a cigarette with his entourage of squealing fans. And that was weird. Way weird. Xander's brain really had trouble putting 'Giles' and "squealing fans" in the same sentence.
But that was what they were. Totally fawning over Ripper and hanging on to his every word.
The band wasn't even that good, Xander thought again, as Ripper slung his arm around a girl who looked up at him adoringly.
To be fair, it wasn't just Ripper and the groupies--okay, that was a weird and potentially disturbing thought, but from the looks of things, it was probably right--out in the alley; there were some other guys back there as well, one of whom Xander recognized as the drummer. He hadn't gotten a good look at the rest of the band; he'd been too stunned when he'd seen Ripper.
And he'd been standing there long enough now that he'd been noticed. Ripper looked up at him, upper lip curling into a sneer. "What do you want?"
"I--uh," Xander stuttered, as everyone in the alley turned to look at him.
"Wha-?" Ripper asked, asking, smirking. "Cat got your tongue?"
Stop thinking of him as Giles, Xander told himself. Ripper was just an obnoxious punk who thought he was tough. Xander knew how to deal with that; he'd had enough practice when he'd had Spike living with him.
"I need to talk to you," Xander said.
Ripper looked him over, smirking. "Not my type, mate," he said, as his friends snickered.
"Oh, for--" He had to figure out a way to convince Ripper to listen to him. Giles' father had been a Watcher, right? So Ripper would be at least a little more likely than the average person to believe the whole magical-time-traveling-to-prevent-an-apocalypse speech. The problem was, the rest of the people who could hear him wouldn't be, and Xander was afraid that would make Ripper less willing to hear him out.
Maybe if Ripper thought Xander was from the Council? Well, he was from the Council, but from the Council now. Not that he looked like the old kind of Watcher. But they'd sent guys after Faith who weren't all tweed-wearing and book-reading, so maybe Ripper would think Xander was one of those?
Ripper was looking at him expectantly, waiting for Xander's comeback. It was worth a try. "It's about a girl," Xander began, and Ripper's smirk intensified.
"It's not my problem if your girlfriend forgot you existed after she met me," he said. "Take it up with her."
"Not that kind of girl," Xander said, wondering if Giles would forgive him for smacking his younger self in the back of the head. Think, he told himself. When Buffy used to make fun of Giles' speeches about her destiny, how did she put it? "This is more about... 'one girl in all the world.'" He paused, waiting to see if that sunk in.
From the way Ripper's head came up, his eyes narrowing as he studied Xander again, it had. "Our next set's in five minutes," he said. "If what you have to say is so bloody important, wait around afterward."
"Whatever you say," Xander muttered, watching Ripper turn around and heading back inside through the back door, his friends following like sheep. "You are so going to pay for this, Giles."
There was no way Xander was heading back in there; the crowd had been giving him a headache, and the music hadn't helped at all. So he settled against the wall and waited.
For the first time in pretty much ever, Xander wished for a cigarette, or at least something to do while he stood there. It probably wasn't very safe for him to stay in a deserted alley on his own, he realized, but then shrugged. At this point, he would even welcome a vampire or two. The fight would be a good distraction.
Because thinking about the talk that lay ahead really, seriously, didn't help. What would he say anyway? "Hi, I'm from the future," probably wouldn't go down very well, and Xander didn't want to say anything that could get him beaten up. And he was pretty sure Ripper could punch him pretty good, if he wanted to. He'd seenGiles fight, after all.
"Well, shit," Xander murmured, sighing. "The truth's gonna have to do." No way he could come up with a story that mini-Giles would believe. He might be young and a complete punk, but Giles was intelligent, and Xander was pretty sure that hadn't just started to develop after his wild days. He'd see right through Xander's story, and that would be even worse than him not believing the future thing.
About an hour after their little conversation, Ripper and his band came back outside, quickly--very, very quickly--followed by another group of girls. Xander didn't try to interfere. He sighed, told himself to be patient, and leaned back against the wall, occasionally stealing glances at the group a few feet away.
He made eye contact with Ripper once and could see how surprised he was to see that Xander was still there. He'd obviously hoped Xander had given up and gone away. The thought made Xander smirk, and he shoved his hands into his pockets.
Yeah, he could wait.
After a while, the girls started drifting away--some of them leaving with the other members of the band, others walking off in small groups. Xander had watched enough teenaged girls in his life to know they were struggling to stay cool and not start giggling until they were well out of Ripper's sight.
Finally, there were just a few people left in the alley--the drummer from the band, the girl who'd been hanging onto his arm the whole time, and another guy, who'd been leaning against the wall and smoking the entire time. He hadn't seemed to be paying much attention to the girls, but Xander had seen the guy giving him a few suspicious glances from time to time.
"We're off, then," the drummer said, dropping his cigarette and stubbing it out with the toe of his boot, "unless...." He glanced over at Xander, then back at Ripper.
Ripper snorted. "He won't be any trouble," he said.
"Ta, then," the other man said, taking the girl's hand and heading down the alley toward the street.
Ripper waited for a moment, then looked over at the third man, who was showing no signs that he was paying attention to anything but his own cigarette. "See you back at the flat, all right?" When the man didn't respond, Ripper went on, a definite edge in his voice. "'s family stuff, Ethan. Probably rubbish."
"Then why even bother?" the other man drawled, and Xander blinked. Whoa. Ethan. As in, evil-chocolate, enchanted-costumes, turn-Giles-into-a-demon Ethan? As he stepped forward, Xander got a better look at his face, confirming his suspicions. Definitely that Ethan. Which meant he'd almost definitely arrived in the middle of Giles' kind-of-evil phase. Great. That was just what this had needed.
"So he'll go away and stay gone," Ripper said. "Just go on, all right?"
Ethan flicked an ash off the end of his cigarette, shrugging. "Waste of time, if you ask me."
"I didn't," Ripper said, but he grinned as Ethan slouched off down the alley in the opposite direction than the drummer had taken. His grin disappeared immediately, though, as he turned back to Xander. "You're from the Council."
"Kind of," Xander agreed.
Ripper leaned back against the wall, dropping his cigarette and folding his arms across his chest. "My father sent you."
"Actually, no," he said.
That earned him another scornful snort from Ripper. "The rest of them wouldn't have come looking for me."
"Your dad didn't send me. I've never even met him," Xander said, suddenly realizing that he'd never asked Giles about his parents. Were they even alive, back in the real--back in Xander's time?
"Then who did?" Ripper's arms were still folded. "I don't know enough to be dangerous, so you can't be part of an official retrieval team." He was doing his best to hide that he was worried, Xander thought, but it was coming through in his voice.
"Hey, no," Xander said. "Nothing like that. I just need to talk to you."
"Yeah?" Ripper said, taking a step toward Xander, glaring at him. "Who sent you?" he demanded.
Xander didn't step back; there was no way he was going to let Ripper think he'd managed to intimidate Xander. "The head of the Council," he said.
"Grantham? What does he want with me?" In his surprise, Ripper had let a little of the tough-guy act slip, and now he sounded genuinely nervous.
"No idea. He's not who I was talking about." Xander grinned. "My name's Xander Harris. I'm a Watcher. I was sent here by my boss, and his name is Rupert Giles."
There was a long pause before Ripper started laughing.