Some Things Never Change
Xander had waited for six hours to see this woman during her brief visit to the planet. It seemed stupid to run an entire experiment from space when your test subjects were people with lives and rights and hopes, but maybe that made it easier to see people as test subjects. At least she wasn't pulling a Maggie Walsh and poisoning and tinkering with men and women she knew. That had been freaky. Xander counted his lives in centuries, and that chou san ba still gave him the willies.
However, now that Xander had finally gotten in to see Dr. Sarah Coron, the conversation was not exactly going the way he'd planned. She stood with her data recorder in hand and a very cranky look on her face. Taking a deep breath, Xander tried to center himself for round two of their fight. "Look, I know I'm not all bright boy, but I'm saying this is a bad idea. Monumentally bad."
Dr. Sarah Caron gave Xander a look, a look that he'd learned to recognize centuries ago, and it still annoyed him.
"Okay, so you're the big, bad, all-knowing scientist," he conceded, "but come on. People are not going to just turn nice. And if they do, there will be badness that follows. Ai-ya," he swore, "if people do go all nice, the not-nice is sure to follow. It's like a cosmic balance... thing." Xander knew five languages, and had just used two of them, and Caron was still looking at him like he was speaking gibberish.
Caron put her data recorder to one side and really focused on him. Xander wasn't sure if that was good or bad because he was half afraid he was about to get arrested. Maybe even three-quarter afraid on that front.
"And you think you're qualified to make this statement because you're... what exactly are you?" Caron looked him up and down like he was a cockroach that had climbed into her bunk with her.
Xander was still gritting his teeth and trying really hard to not say something that would get him arrested because he was not feeling the Alliance love... or even the Alliance trust or even the belief that the Alliance would hesitate for more than three seconds before torturing him. It gave Caron a chance to pick up her date recorder.
"You're the companion of our security consultant. A companion?" Caron didn't even try to sound polite about her disbelief.
"Not really a companion. That's a bit of a misuse of the word, and if you understood just how much fun my partner had misusing the word, you would probably be annoyed with his inability to be official on official records, but my point is that anyone who's been human for more than two seconds knows it is a bad idea to play god with people. People generally turn on their gods and...."
"I'll record your objection," Caron said in a cold dismissal. Part of Xander, the smart part, told him to shut up and get the hell out of Dodge. He'd never been good at listening to his smart parts.
"You should tell everyone and let them register their objections. Experimenting on people never ends well. It's a gorram mess when they find out. There are the accusations and the recrimination and the messy legal fights over who gets to send who to which prison. It's just never pretty." Speaking of not pretty, Caron was giving Xander a not pretty look.
"Are you threatening to violate the security of this facility? If so, I really should add that to my report, right next to the description of Mr. Sanguine's violation of his contract by sharing these details with you."
"Hey, I am just offering the wisdom of my many years of getting my ass kicked and warning a potential kickee of imminent kickage," Xander defended himself, his hands held up as he backed away. The Alliance guard watched him warily, but he was a guard, which meant he knew he was going to get a serious beat down if he touched Xander. He'd probably been threatened in person and with visual aids. That, however, would not keep Caron from doing something like ordering the poor guy to arrest Xander. Right, it was definitely past time to get the hell out of Dodge. "Have fun, no need to do any reporting because I do not plan on having any big moments in front of a camera, and when the gou shi hits the fan, remember, if you duck too low, you can drown in it," Xander offered, and then he turned and headed for the exit, counting on confusion to at least slow down any pursuit.
Yep, he was an idiot. They should have just gotten on the shuttle and headed for parts unknown. Just because you had a group of mad scientists doing mad scientisty stuff did not mean he had to get involved. And considering most of the people of Miranda were slowly turning into a cross between a pot head and one of Mr. Rogers' neighbors, it's not like these people were even going to care. Hell, they were so happy that a little part of Xander was disappointed that the screwy magic that had kept him alive all these years also kept him from getting stoned with the rest of them.
Xander didn't have any trouble crossing town. He passed three women with vacuous smiles, a man who was sitting on the curb with Devon-levels of chemical stupidity going on and an emaciated dog that couldn't do more than thump a tail at him. The dog made him stop. He might have picked it up and at least rescued it, but this shit made for some seriously bad trips, and Xander did not want to have a dog go on some bad acid trip in a small shuttle. Yeah, Xander couldn't die. That didn't mean he couldn't hurt like hell.
Kneeling down next to the animal, Xander scratched his ears. "Sorry about this buddy," he offered. The dog was happy enough as he thumped his tail. "I should get you a bone to chew on," Xander said, but he doubted the dog had the energy to care about bone-chewing right now. When he came up from his happy place, he'd go and find some food on his own, and no one would stop him. Anyone he wagged a tail at would smile and give him anything he seemed to want. Xander had never been so creeped out by happy, generous people.
The shuttle engines were running when Xander reached it. Caron's ship had already blasted off from the surface with her first reports on the wonderful successes here at Miranda. Spike had even been fired because a planet of all happy people didn't need a head of security. They didn't need security at all.
"You ready?" Spike asked from the shuttle door.
"I really hate this immortality crap. You'd think someone would learn something at some point." Xander passed him.
"No worries, pet. They'll learn their lesson again."
Xander stopped and glared at Spike. After failing to convince even one of their friends to evacuate and running into a brick wall with every gou shi brained idiot running the madhouse, Xander was so not in a mood for Spike's version of optimism. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. And how many are going to be dead this time?"
Spike took a moment to lock down the shuttle doors. The air systems clicked on, circulating the poisoned air that couldn't infect either of them. Eventually Spike turned around, and the nonchalance had fallen away so that his soul was shining through his eyes in all its pain. "Didn't say they'd learn it without making a mess of things. Humans are like that." Spike said it quietly and with great regret.
"I just want..." Xander stopped.
"Oi, don't start that soddin' wishing again. If you go through another century of Angel-impersonations, I'm dumping you into the black and coming back for you after a decade or two of suffocating to death, got it?" Spike shook his head like a dog shaking away the horrors. Then again, Spike did have more experience with horror. "People make choices, pet. Besides, you can't blame the race for just being thick as pig shite in general." Spike smiled, and Xander could feel Spike's mood pulling on him. They'd seem worse than this in their centuries of wandering. Hell, these people had miles to go before hitting even Maggie Walsh levels of creepy.
"Right." Xander rolled his eyes. From the way Spike narrowed his eyes, Xander thought he might have spread the sarcasm a little thick. "Of course, I forgot that you're so very much better Mr. Love's Bitch. You just look for a finger to get wrapped around, and in several hundred years, you have not changed one little bit." Xander held up his finger as a visual aid. Maybe the middle finger wasn't the best one to use because Spike gave him a two-fingered bird in return.
"Bloody hell, and you're still out there playing white knight. You'd stick around just ta try and talk a few more idiots into abandoning Sodom and Gomorrah if ya could, wouldn't you?"
Xander frowned. Sodom and Gomorrah sounded familiar, but Spike was obviously getting his planets confused. "We're on Miranda," he pointed out.
Spike blinked at him. "Bloody hell, you lot never do change. Why do I put up you loons?"
Xander shrugged. "Because you're wrapped around my finger?"
Spike rolled his eyes before reaching out and slipping his arm around Xander's waist and pulling him close. "Loon."
Xander smiled and leaned into Spike. The running for their lives before the Alliance got all twitchy could wait a few second because eternity wasn't ever so long that he was willing to give up a Spike-moment. Spike's arms tightened a bit more, and Xander pressed into that strength. "Just promise that if the idiots are never going to change that you'll never change, either. Promise me," Xander begged. He asked the same thing a dozen times a century.
"Not a chance, luv. You and me, we're as bad as them. We don't know how to change."
Xander closed his eyes and felt the fear and the failure fade. They'd lost this world; sometimes they just couldn't stop the disaster coming even when it was so very clear that disaster was coming. Neither of them had Buffy's skill at doing the impossible. But as long as he had Spike, Xander could live with the inability of the human race to change. He could even, most days, like the fact that most things never changed—just not today.
"Let's get out of here," Xander whispered, admitting their defeat. Spike nodded, but he didn't make any attempt to let Xander go. He just held on, silent and strong. Xander tried to push away, and Spike tightened his arms.
"It's not like I didn't try," Xander defended himself.
Spike made a little comforting noise. And that was just more than Xander could take. His knees went out from under him, and he started to cry for all the souls he wouldn't save here—that he couldn't because they wouldn't let him.
"That's right, pet. Just let it out." Spike sank down to the floor planks with him, holding him, and Xander let himself fall apart and grieve for a hundred lost battles the same way he'd grieved for every single one of them in the past—in Spike's arms.