‘Don’t Care’ Didn’t Care
Xander Harris didn’t recognise himself in the mirror any more. It wasn’t the superficial differences – though heaven knows there were enough of them to make distinguishing himself from his younger self all too easy. It was something deeper, something in his soul, if he had one. He wouldn’t bet the baby on it.
Except, these days, he might.
It was nights like these that always led to contemplation. Self-reflection. Self-loathing. That had changed, as well. Back in the day, screwing whoever he had been going out with had been more his style. Imminent death? No problem. Have a quick shag. Nowadays, imminent death meant sitting slumped in a chair, clutching a glass of whisky. A little legacy from Giles.
So, with a few hours before dawn and the planned assault by the New Council on Cheropteryx’s lair (how they did like to call them lairs; a sure sign that some demons had watched far too many cartoons in the 80s than they would ever let on to), Xander was doing the sitting and drinking and thinking, rather hoping that the second would soon overtake the third.
When he had been a young man, full of life and enthusiasm (if only half-full on the eye front), he had never truly doubted that they would win the day. He – they all – had been invincible, despite all evidence to the contrary. Then, of course, things had gradually changed.
Buffy had died (twice). Tara had died. So many others. Anya had died. Even then, it hadn’t really registered. But about a year after Sunnydale, Robin had died. There had been one vampire too many, and the slayer Robin had been with hadn’t been able to save her watcher. For some reason, that had been when Xander had begun to get an inkling. Just the faintest idea, that they wouldn’t – couldn’t – all make it. Vi and Rona had been next, an ambush by a couple of demons far more intelligent and determined than anyone had given them credit for. Buffy, just a month later, had been mobbed by vampires under the command of a demon who had the common sense to arrange an attack that even the oldest slayer couldn’t cope with. Giles, maddened, had gone seeking revenge, and had been killed. Something had happened to Dawn then, and really they had lost her as well.
It had been an ongoing story, death. It never seemed to stop. Somewhere along the way, Xander had ended up in charge of the Council. It hadn’t helped. He couldn’t stop the death. And now he just helped it along. In this fighting evil game, there were always casualties. And he had to decide who they were. Xander was a very good tactitian. Who knows, maybe it was a vestige of his long-ago Halloween escapade. Whatever it was, it was a curse.
He knew. He knew, every time he made a plan. He knew who would die. He would watch the more senior slayers, as they all sat around the large round table, that had been in the large library since they bought this building in Cleveland (“Oh my God, it’s totally like we’re knights, riding to the rescue of damsels in distress, who ---” “Jeez, Andrew, a round table fits in better, you don’t need to regress to Prince Valiant---”), as they earnestly made up lists of who would do what, and he found himself listing the names of the would-be-dead in his head.
Once, he had written them down; spent the night before the attack writing the letters to their parents. Willow had found him at his desk, drink in hand, staring into the distance. She had picked up the letters, and frowned at him. “Why these ones?” she had asked. He had taken a moment to register her presence, and the papers in her hand. Shrugged. Tossed back the whisky. “Most plans have a flaw,” he had explained briefly, then reached for the heavy sword he used. “You set?”
He hadn’t needed all the letters that time. Abby had all survived, saved from
death by Willow. At least Willow’s parents were dead and he didn’t have to write to them. She hadn’t believed him about the flaw, had thought she could save them. The numbers were inevitable. He hadn’t written the letters beforehand again, though. Best to make sure nobody knew how predictable all this was.
After a while, after a lot funerals, Xander realised he just didn’t care any more. Couldn’t care for all these people. Caring made you soft, made you change your plans in the vain hope that you could make sure no-one died. It never helped, only seemed to make the body count even higher. If you didn’t care, if you could be clinical about it, then you could make the best plan possible. The safest plan.
How many times had he seen Andrew, on a Star Trek kick, splaying his fingers in Vulcan greeting, intoning solemnly, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one,” then falling to the floor, in faithful homage to Leonard Nimoy? He had been half surprised Andrew had refrained from saying it when he finally fell for real. Mind you, what that vampire had done to him, hardly surprising he couldn’t speak.
But yes, that was what it came to. Balancing the numbers. Who died against who would get to live. Deciding when it was worth it. Deciding when it wasn’t.
Was it any surprise, after all this time, that he had become another man entirely?
Dawn was breaking. The glass of whisky was empty. Xander reached, once again, for his sword. Checked, once again, the stakes attached to his wrists and at his belt. Stepped, once again, into the library, to meet up with the rest of his army.
Concerned dark eyes swept over him, doing that thing women did when they knew something was amiss with their husbands but weren’t quite sure what to do about it. He acknowledged her, and she smiled, still uncertain. Could she tell there was something different this morning? he wondered. The plan was ready; they were ready.
As they set out, Faith moved to his side, her eyes still anxious. “Gonna kick their asses, right, babe?” she said in the same throaty voice she had always had. Xander didn’t say anything, but stopped walking, bent over, and kissed her, hard, breathlessly. He raised his head and moved on, leaving her behind.
He had loved her, years ago. Hadn’t stopped, even after he stopped feeling everything else. But today he had stopped caring even about her. His mother had once told him a rhyme, one day, when he had complained about his homework, and said he didn’t care whether he ever understood algebra or not.
“’Don’t Care’ didn’t care.”
They began the fight, began the carefully planned strategies of battle. Cheropteryx was dangerous. He had big plans. Taking him out was worth almost anything. Xander charged into the fray, knowing what he had to do.
“’Don’t Care’ died.”