TITLE: The Forest for the Trees
AUTHOR: Greg Downing
DISCLAIMER: Some characters belong to Mutant Enemy. Some characters belong to Jet Wolf.
SETTING: Begins about two weeks after the end of "Win, Lose or Draw"
SUMMARY: Xander gets to the root of a problem.
The Forest for the Trees
by Greg Downing
It was entirely unfair. Of course, Xander only had himself to blame.
Right now, the rest of the Scoobies, along with a major portion of the Junior Slayers, were still in the land of Kidney Pie, having a grand old time...not that they hadn't deserved it, after having to fight Super Slayers and rogue Watchers, and all that jazz. But Xander was, unfortunately, called back into the saddle. Not the Scooby saddle, but rather the saddle of the less exciting wood-carving position he had at The Bazzar.
Not that he was exactly a standard employee. While he did do some venal tasks as a part of his position with the store owner, he wasn't a clerk-person: his primary job was making pretty things for Banan to sell, as well as taking and making custom orders for specific pieces. This was the crux of the issue: a major special order came in, an order that would mean a lot of money. And as money was particularly important for Xander's goal of his own start-up company, it was hardly something he could just turn down. He was close to his target for necessary capital, and this commission would put him over the top. So he had to forgo the rest of his vacation to return home.
Ensconced in his workroom in the Bazzar, Xander was in the middle of a particularly tricky bit of carving when Banan suddenly walked in. "Xander...there's a girl asking for you in the store. Do you have a minute?"
"Sorry, I'm all out of minutes, but I'll give you a good deal on a couple dozen seconds..." Xander quipped. When Banan looked at him quizzically, Xander smiles ruefully. "Sorry. Just a little stressed trying to get the detail right. This a customer or what?"
Banan smiled back, his expression a little pained. "I'm not entirely sure. At first I thought it might be one of your seemingly large supply of female acquaintances, except she doesn't seem to know you by name." He tilted his head quizzically. "She actually referred to you as the 'one-eyed desecrator of the flesh of the sisters', and then only reason I even realized it was you is because of the...you know." The shopkeeper made a vague gesture in the direction of Xander's eyepatch. "Is this some kook I should give the bum's rush?"
Xander blinked. It can't be... "Uh, no, I think I'll take care of this...I think I know who this might be. I'll...be out in a second."
As Banan left, Xander found himself looking around for something that might be a weapon. "Easy..." he finally sighed, standing up. "She can't pull that trick she did the last time...not unless she can root my feet through carpet." The fact that he had no evidence to prove that she couldn't did not allay his fears. Finally, squaring his shoulders and taking a moment to thoroughly wipe off any sawdust from his clothes, he strode out onto the main floor, hoping he was mistaken.
She looked exactly as Xander remembered her; that is to say, what she looked like as a normal 'human': pale skin, lustrous brown hair, and clothes with earthy tones. She was critically studying a piece of Xander's creation, a Chinese dragon carving, and looked up at his approach. "You create things which are quite...interesting. But could you not do it with something besides the flesh of the tree?"
"And a hearty good afternoon to you, Miss Pining Away." Xander retorted, eyeing the - What was it Giles called it? 'knifed'? No, 'nyfed' - warily. "Is there something I can do for you that doesn't involve you calling me a murderer or trying to turn me into a Son of a Birch?"
"I am not sorry for trying to defend my sisters from one who callously butchers trees and turns them into..." the woman started to retort hotly.
Xander snapped his fingers as if he's just had a thought. "You know, I could reminisce like this for seconds, but if you don't mind, I'd like you to get to the point before I decide to go do something more fun than this...like pulling out my toenails with a pair of rusty pliers." he interjected, quickly losing his good humor. "Did you have a point, or were you bored and decided to find an easy target to snipe at?"
The nyfed put the carving down, taking a slow, calming breath. "Actually, I was hoping you could tell me where your enlightened female friend was...Willow?" The tone in her voice suggested she was trying to be polite, and was only barely succeeding.
"Will? She's currently on vacation overseas. Why?"
"Oh." The young woman - 'Xylia', Xander suddenly remembered from something Willow had said - bit her lip and seemed to wilt; an interesting image, considering her heritage. "I see. Never mind, then.
She started to walk away, and Xander groaned internally. I know I'm going to regret this, but...she looks so unhappy...I have to ask. "What's wrong?" he called after her. "Is it something I can help with?"
The dryad turned back to look incredulously at Xander. Her expression was almost comical. "You would help us?" she queried in seeming disbelief.
Xander spread his hands as he leaned on one of the display cases. "You'd be surprised what a guy can do when he's not being harped at or being rooted to the ground. Besides, you gave us the baby tree - which is growing pretty healthily, let me say - and you know, that was kind of a great gift. So...lay it on me."
The brunette blinked a few times, digesting his words. "You appreciated the tree?" she finally replied, as if such an admission was incongruous to her understanding of him.
"Well...I'm not as anti-Sierra club as you make me out to be. Yeah, I liked the sapling. Willow got it to remember old friends who aren't with us any more." Xander explained, suddenly more uncomfortable faced with a non-rancorous dryad. Or maybe it was just the direction the conversation was taking.
"You honor your dead with the life of one of the Sisters..." mused the brunette. "That is...well." She tilted her head. "Perhaps you might not be so unsympathetic after all."
"Be still my heart!" When his quip fell flat, Xander sighed. "Look, I have work to do, so unless you're planning on getting to the point?"
"Our trees are in danger." The nyfed replied solemnly.
"And this is a problem for you how? For one, you've got the huge grassroots movement going for you - no pun intended - and for another, you can pretty much root anyone to the ground that's being a real 'pine' in the ass." Xander replied. "Well, not that I'm suggesting you go back to doing that, but..."
"Willow did ask that we refrain from such methods, but this is a different matter. These are not just our Sisters, they are ourselves." Xylia patiently explained. "When I say our trees I mean just that...the trees we are bound to, which give us life. We would resort to any methods to protect them. But these men...they are protected. We cannot keep them out forever, and we cannot transform them. It is why I was sent to find Willow: we sensed her power during our last encounter, and were hoping she could aid us in routing them." He expression grew the tiniest bit hopeful. "Perhaps you could bring her back? Or might you have other allies who could help rout these desecrators?"
Xander frowned. This was sounding worse by the minute. But he couldn't ignore a request for help, even if the nyfeds hadn't exactly treated him very nicely in the past. They didn't deserve to die. "Sounds like you've got a problem all right." His mind was whirling a mile a minute, considering the situation. "But you've got them held at bay, or something?"
"For the moment." Xylia confirmed. "The situation is complex."
"Well, I haven't had lunch yet. Give me about five minutes, you can come with and un-complex it for my simple male mind." Xander offered.
The dryad seemed to consider the offer. "Seeing as I have no better ideas...very well."
Xander quickly retreated to his workroom, twirling his finger around in mock celebration. "Whee. I'm someone's last resort. How ego boosting is that. Maybe as an encore, I can give myself a dozen paper cuts and pour lemon juice on them..."
"After our last meeting, we have been trying different ways. We continued to try and rally others to our support, and stay involved in the affairs of men, keeping aware of the things humans did, both good and bad. Some of it has been heartening, but there have also been setbacks. We are no longer trying to make others like us, or turning transgressors into trees, but we have a growing local lobby of sympathetic people. As it turned out...Merciful Gaia, you actually eat that?" Xylia's face wrinkled in disgust as Xander went hungrily at an oily slice of pepperoni pizza.
"Mock not Papa Johns' circular bread and cheese goodness." Xander informed her. "I'm your last resort, remember? Don't want to alienate the last resort."
Xylia sighed in frustration. "Very well, though I fail to see how your kind can subsist on such food."
"Hey, not all of us have the original no-carb diet like you do." Xander quipped. "Though I'd take bread, cheese, and fatty pepperoni over light, water, and dirt any day. But you were saying?"
"When our sisters brought up to this lair of man, charging us with our duty to protect the green, the acorns that would be our trees were planted on city land. We were but young sprites then, and our sisters thought that planting our trees in a park would ensure our safety till we were strong enough to protect ourselves." Xylia explained, still looking at Xander's meal with distaste. "But it came to our attention recently that a human company sought to purchase the park. They claimed they wanted to sponsor it, renovate it, make it more friendly to humans and their offspring with more elaborate playgrounds, and an amphitheatre for performances. Naturally, we were concerned."
"Naturally." Xander said sardonically around a mouthful of pizza.
"It was a serious matter for us, human." Xylia said indignantly. "We determined that their plans would result in the destruction of trees in favor of their constructions of steel and concrete, and more dead flesh from previous murders..."
"Here's a wacky idea: just call it wood. Saves time." Xander interrupted. "So, your trees were in danger..."
"We immediately rallied people to our cause and started protesting the sale. Fliers, protests, and petitions to the city government. But Terradyne Inc was putting a lot of pressure on us, and on the city. We then tried to take more direct methods to remove certain key individuals...which is when we found out they knew about us. Our powers did not work on them, and they laughed at us." Xylia quivered in her chair, somewhere between fear and fury.
"Cue the handsome, debonair one-eyed hero." Xander added, finishing his slice and sipping from his soda. "Hmm."
"What do you plan to do? There was a dark haired woman...I do not remember her name, but I sensed her power. And Willow mentioned there being more than one...can you tell them to stop these men from this ill-named 'Terradyne' company?" Xylia demanded.
"Unfortunately, it's not that simple." Xander sighed. "Willow's not the only one currently in Merry Old England. All I've got here are a few wounded girls, and a bunch of bookworms...not really a good army to storm the castle."
"What good are you then?" Xylia groaned.
"Hey, hey! Last Resort talking here. I said I'd help, and I will." Xander wiped his greasy fingers on a napkin, the gears in his head grinding slowly. "Okay. Okay! I've got a plan!"
"You do?" Xylia murmured in surprise, and eagerly leaned forward. "What is it?"
"I'm going to go down there...and sneak around and find out more information!" Xander proclaimed.
Xylia's shoulders fell, giving Xander the evil eye. "That's it? That's your big plan?" she demanded
Xander sighed. "Look. There's no way we're going to out muscle these guys. So we're just going to have to be smarter. And to win that kind of war, you need good intel. So...I go sneak, and you go back to your group and make one hell of a distraction for me." When the dryad didn't seem inclined to jump up and do as he suggested, Xander added, "It's not as if you're taking any risk. All I'm asking you to do is something you were doing any way. And if something happens to me, you're no worse off than you were before."
Xylia slowly nodded. "You make an excellent point. Very well, I will go rally the spirits of my sisters." She summarily got up and left Xander to the dregs of his lunch. Xander watched her go wryly. "Aw, I didn't know you cared..." he muttered sardonically at her back.
By the time Xander got there, the dryads' distraction was in full swing. It had apparently garnered a large degree of support, as those in the crowd carrying signs and shouting slogans included men and women of varying ages. Sadly, for all that, it wasn't a huge turn out, which only hammered home the likelihood that 'peaceable assembly' was not going to solve this problem.
Beyond the gathered crowd there were already a few workmen about their duties. There was no heavy equipment in place yet: they were, for the most part just going around and making surveyors marks, and taking in the layout of the park. To one side, three or so of them were consulting over a set of blueprints on the bed of a truck...and just next to that, an older man with pale skin, dark thinning hair, and a sallow complexion stood in his suit, oozing impatience.
Pondering his strategy, Xander casually strolled over to one of the construction trucks, acting like he belonged there. Not a daunting task, having spent a lot of his time in such places: he even looked the part, wearing an open flannel over a sleeveless undershirt, his carpenter's jeans and toolbelt. He picked up one of the surveyor's tripods in the truck and brought it over by the pale-faced man, setting it up just a few feet behind. Bending down, he peered through the scope...and then straightened up and made some notations with a pencil on a notepad. Pale Face paid him no mind at all, and Xander kept up with the pretense, hoping he could hear something useful before someone questioned what he was doing...
As it turned out, he didn't have long to wait. He heard the slap of Pale Face's leather heels against the paved bike path, and casually rose from where he was peering through the viewfinder, glancing in that direction with his good eye. A small mousy looking man in glasses was coming up to Pale Face. "Well?" the older man demanded.
"Mr. Goldman says he needs more time." replied Glasses-man, looking fearfully as Pale Face's scowl only got deeper. For a second, it seemed as if Pale Face was going to hit the other man – Glasses-Man clearly seemed to think so, the way he cringed.
"Time is a luxury we don't have." Pale Face fumed, stalking back and forth. "Who'd have thought one small group would have that much pull? Even if it is controlled by those blasted tree-hugging women..." Finally, he pointed a thin finger at Glasses-Man. "You tell Goldman that he's got two days to wrap this matter up, otherwise Terradyne is taking our money elsewhere."
"We'd actually give up the dryad trees?" the mousey man queried incredulously.
"Of course not...but it'll put pressure on the man to resolve the situation. I'm not giving up after all the time and work we've devoted. Those trees will be ours, one way or another.." Pale Face asserted.
"Hey, are you done?" came a sudden voice, which startled Xander from his eavesdropping. When he turned to look, one of the workmen was indicating the tripod...and hissed at the sight of Xander's eye-patch. "Man, what happened to you?"
"Bee sting. Eyelid's all swollen up." Xander said glibly. "Don't worry, doc says it'll be all better in a few days. And yeah, I'm done." Without a backwards glance, Xander made his escape.
Back at the house, Xander grimly considered his options. It was a short list. In fact, it's almost no list at all. His intelligence gathering quickly determined that stalling till Buffy and the others got back from England was not an option...and even if Xander rang the alarm and asked them to get back there ASAP, there still wouldn't be that much time to put together much of anything.
He paced around his room, considering the situation grimly. What he'd overheard only cemented home that what the company wanted was the Dryad trees, and not the park. This made things both harder and easier simultaneously: protecting a handful of trees would be easier than protecting the whole park, but the crux of the matter was still how to do it.
Clomping around his room, he heard a knock at the door downstairs. Xander sighed, and figuring it was Xylia, grabbed the door to his room...but in his haste, he suddenly slipped on something, and landed on the floor with a crash.
"Sure, just add insult to injury, here." He growled, picking himself up, and looking for what he slipped on...as it turned out, it was one of his comics, in a poly-bag, that had fallen off a nearby stack that he had yet to finish organizing. And he started to put it back...but then he looked more carefully at the title. Acting on a flash of memory, he opened the bag and flipped to the back, his eye scanning the pages.
Moments later, he opened the door as Xylia's hand was raised in mid-knock. "I've got an idea. A good one." Xander smiled.
"Xander, are you sure this is a good idea?" Willow queried dubiously.
"Come on, Mrs. Wizard. It's not like I'm asking you to hack into the Pentagon. All I need from you is a few hours of computer time, and you can go back to making lots of smoochies with Tara." Xander grinned. Listening to the silence on the other end, he could practically hear Willow blushing through the phone. "Besides, I don't need this to stand up to a huge amount of scrutiny. I just need them to buy it long enough to get my guys in and out again. It's a surgical strike, y'know?"
"You're not really Mr. Army guy any more, sweetie..." Willow started to caution.
"Will, it's a figure of speech. I'm not going in with troops. And if I do this right, I'll have this guy's blessing...what's his name again..."
"Thank you for taking the time to see me, Mr. Goldman."
The other man, a balding middle aged fellow in his forties, shook the proffered hand. "Not at all. When I got the message that you might be able to settle our little tsuris, I was more than happy to make some room for you in my schedule, Mr..." Goldman looked down at the business card his secretary had handed him from the Environmental Protection Agency. "...Summers."
Xander beamed at the man behind the desk, adjusting his dark glasses. "Please, call me Scott." Wanting to look the part, he had dug out an old suit that hadn't been worn in years, had it dry cleaned, and was currently, if not dressed to the nines, then at least looking more classy than his usual ensemble. Besides, someone from the EPA wouldn't be dressed in a thousand dollar suit...he hoped. To help with the disguise, he traded in his eyepatch for the glasses, and had dyed his hair blonde. He would have grown a goatee too, but he didn't have time for that. God, I hope none of the girls see me like this. I feel ridiculous.
Mr. Goldman smiled winningly, folding his hands on the desk. "All right, then, Scott...I assume you know the whole situation, with the protestors and all..."v
"Actually, the members of Pining Away came to us for help." Xander explained. "But don't be worried...we have no intention of taking any kind of legal action." He added, as Mr. Goldman's smile began to fade. "We rather intend a compromise. An arrangement that will satisfy the desires of the students, and still allow the deal with Terradyne Inc. to go through."
"You have my attention, Scott." The administrator prompted encouragingly.
Xander cleared his throat. It was an effort to reorder his thoughts into a more formal way of speaking, but his normal verbal acumen just wouldn't do for this conversation. "The issue at hand is not so much the sale of the park, Mister Goldman, but rather what is in the park. I'm sure you didn't know, but there are several trees present there that are of an endangered species. They've been declared protected by the federal government. Should the sale go through, along with the renovations proposed, the members of Pining Away fear that those trees would be destroyed."
He slid a piece of paper across the desk which had been provided by Willow, ostensibly the federal mandate regarding the status of the trees. Goldman looked at it, as Xander squirmed nervously in his seat, hoping the forged document passed muster. "I see." Goldman replied, his brow wrinkling, putting the paper down.
"However," Xander quickly jumped in. "We've also ascertained that the trees can be moved without damage to them. If we were to relocate the trees – at our own expense, of course – this would satisfy Pining Away, and you could close the deal with Terra without further delay."
Mr. Goldman's smile slowly reappeared. "You're prepared to do this?"
"This very evening. All I need is your blessing, Mr. Goldman." Xander grinned, pushing over another piece of paper, this one a written agreement with a place to sign below. "And, your signature. It doesn't need to be in blood, though sap might be appropriate."
While Goldman laughed appreciatively and picked up a gold pen, Xander breathed a sigh of relief. Hard part over...
As the sun fell in the sky, Xander traded his suit and glasses for goggles, hard hat, and work clothes. "Hey, careful with that!" he yelled at a pair of workers. "We're moving these trees, not deforesting Isengard!" One of the men looked at him strangely, but the other, getting the joke, laughed.
Xylia was suddenly beside him, her face a mask of worry. "The trees are concerned, but unhurt, so far."
"And the ladies?" Xander queried.
Xylia looked behind them, and Xander followed her gaze to the gathering of women he last saw at the Pining Away rally. They looked afraid and skittish, cluttering around each other and whispering in concern. "They are worried, and rightfully so. But I have assured them that all is going well." She looked back at Xander. "Is all going well?"
"That's why I'm overseeing this, Xy." Xander assured her. "I didn't go into this without a plan. These are handpicked guys: maybe not sympathetic Slayers, but they know what they're doing."
"It must be costing you a lot..." Xylia murmured, looking over at a dump truck, where six of the small trees are already sitting, their roots packed in soil bags and being kept moist. Xander sighed. "You have no idea." Even after pinching every penny, the move was going to cost more than he would be bringing in for his latest commission, meaning that the beginning of 'Xander Inc' would take longer than he'd originally hoped.
Xylia looked hesitantly at Xander. "I don't want to seem ungrateful, but...when you said you had a plan, I was hoping you had come up with something to save the whole park. Even after you move our trees, there are still those that will be in danger..." She looked despairingly at a particularly large oak, with majestic branches and the greenest leaves.
"Well, I have some hopes about that." Xander explained. "If they knew enough to obtain wards against your powers, that says to me that they weren't just trying to buy the park for the company picnic. They had a hankering specifically for dryad wood...or maybe not even the trees, maybe to control you outright. Blackmail you, or whatever. Once we remove you, put you some place safe, they might lose interest, and the park remains safe."
"But what if they don't?" Xylia demanded, wringing her hands.
Xander looked solemnly at Xylia. "I'm just an ordinary guy, Xy. I don't have super powers, or witchy magic...and I certainly didn't have enough money to buy the park myself. But I'm doing the best I can, under the circumstances. Sometimes, that's all you can do."
Xylia looked back at Xander, her eyes searching. "But you're a man. You can't understand what it would mean, to leave these trees to a potentially cruel fate... just because they cannot cry out and come to you for help, just like we did, does not make them less deserving..."
Something in Xander snapped. "Look, I'm tired of being told of what I do and don't understand. You came to me, all high and mighty, looking down on me because what I happen to do is make things out of wood. But what you're overlooking is that I'm not this overweening destroyer with a Y chromosome. I care about the trees, okay? I don't knock them down myself, but I do take the wood and try to make beautiful things with it. Things that other people will appreciate. I create, not destroy."
Xylia was silent. Xander's momentary anger faded, and he added more quietly, "If they buy the park anyway, and bulldoze the trees out of spite, I'll plant a new one for every one they kill. Or two per. Or my own Xanderstone National Park. Will that satisfy you?" But, without waiting to see if that was, in fact, a satisfactory answer, he strode off, issuing orders to his 'men.' Xylia looked back on her huddled, concerned sisters, and then turned back to watch Xander.
Hours later, the dozen small trees were safely in the ground once more. To save money, he dismissed the workers after they had delivered the trees, and instead, drafted Andrew and a couple of the Watchers at Slayer Central to dig holes for the trees to be planted into. Xander leaned on one of the shovels, looking rather proudly at the work he'd done, Andrew and the others making way for the bevy of nyfeds coming forward to see how the work had gone, and to mother over their trees.
"The hard part is done. We will use our powers now to help the trees spread their roots once more, and meld with this fertile soil." Xylia murmured, suddenly beside him. She had hung back, and was not immediately rushing to the side of her tree. "Why is it you did not call on the aid of your friends to remove the trees? It would have saved you money." She suddenly queried.
"Digging a hole doesn't take much skill. Uprooting a tree without hurting it overmuch, that takes a professional. And I sure as hell don't have the expertise for that." Xander replied, looking sidelong at the dryad. "I'm sorry what I said earlier." He offered. "You're right that I don't look at trees the same as you. I guess they're more like close friends to you. Like people. But to me, they're just trees." He paused. "I guess I'm not sure what else I can say, except that I hope Terradyne takes their toy trucks and go home, instead of plowing up the park."
Xylia nodded slowly. "You care more about your own, just as we do." She sighed. But, after a moment, she slowly turned to look at Xander with luminous eyes. "But that does not change the fact that you cared enough to save us. There is no adequate recompense I can possibly offer, Xander Harris." She finally said, her voice halting, but the emotion no less real.
Xander suddenly grinned boyishly. "I think calling me something other than 'Tree Murderer' is a step in the right direction. Just Xander, though." He replied generously. His words did not seem to assuage Xylia as she reached out to touch his cheek, just under his eyepatch. "If I could, I would heal this...but such is not my power. I mend the green, not flesh." She murmured apologetically.
Xander suddenly felt embarrassed and gently removed Xylia's hand. "The thought is appreciated. Kinda think the eye thing is something I gotta heal on my own, though."
Xylia smiled, and Xander was suddenly painfully aware that all of the other nyfeds were watching, some just smiling, a few looking like they were whispering, like gossips. One would hardly be able to tell them apart from normal young women, save for the fact that their seemingly human skin was giving way to the bark-like countenance of their natural state, their hair turning green as the grass. He tugged at his collar, suddenly wondering if he was blushing.
"I think...we have come to the conclusion that you honor the trees with your work, Xander." Xylia said softly. "There are those who cut down our Sisters maliciously, wastefully. But just because your craft uses the flesh of the Sisters does not make you one of them. You were right in what you said earlier. You create, and create well. Turning what is dead into something of beauty."
"Yeah, well...kinda the artist's Commandment, huh? Thou shalt not create crap. Though you'd be surprised what some people would buy..." Xander babbled, rubbing the back of his neck, finding safety in humor.
Xylia took his hand in her own, and he was surprised how soft it felt, even though it looked as hard as wood. "You know, Xander, that you may call on us now, should you need aid." She breathed softly, only heightening the Scooby's uncomfortability. "But for now, we must return to our trees, to help them heal."
"Right, okay...I'll give you some privacy." Xander said hoarsely.
Xylia released Xander's hand. "There is no need. Watch, and see what few mortals have." She then slowly stepped backwards, facing Xander all the way, instinctively coming to the side of 'her' tree. It might have been a trick of the light, but the branches almost seemed to embrace her, welcomingly. All the other nyfeds had likewise taken place in front of their respective trees. And as Xander watched, the twelve dryads seemed to shrink...no, not shrink, meld with the trees, becoming a part of them. Arms and legs and faces slowly becoming part of the trunk, and then disappearing into the wood. Till nothing was left but the twelve small trees.
Xander stood and looked at the trees for a time, in the dim light of the nearby building and the glow of the moon above. As he turned away, a wind came up, and Xander could swear that he heard Xylia's voice in that wind, as if the branches could distort the air, make it form words.
Be well, Xander. it seemed to say.
Xander picked up the shovel, then, and turned to walk towards the others, who stood off to one side in a group, talking amongst themselves. As Xander approached, Andrew came into step beside him, while the Watchers moved on ahead, having some sort of animated discussion about 'faeries'. "That was so cool." Andrew gushed quietly.
"Yeah." Xander chuckled at Andrew's enthusiasm.
"And it was really nice of Mister Giles to do what he did." Andrew added. "Letting you plant the trees on Watcher's Council land."
"Yeah, well...I had to talk kind of fast to get the Watcher Prime to agree, but he eventually agreed that I'd thought it out, and this was the best solution."
Andrew tilted his head, then. "Where'd you get the idea to just move the trees, though? When you first told me about it, I thought you were going to, like, call the Slayers back and have them storm this company en masse, or something."
"This was better. Less high profile." Xander explained. "And as to where I got the idea...just some Phil Foglio comic."
Andrew 'oh'hed. And then his eyes widened. "Wait...you mean XXXenophile? The adult comic?"
Xander suddenly winced, hand coming to the ridge of his nose, unconsciously imitating a gesture Giles had made time and time again. I should have figured. He owns enough comics to fill the old Sunnydale school library. "Yes, that one."
Andrew suddenly looked back at the trees. "Does that mean you thought about..."
Xander looked sourly at Andrew. "Oh, right, that's real smart. Considering my track record? Particularly with non-human women? I'd probably wake up as a shrub. Thanks, but I prefer pizza and soda to photosynthesis."
Andrew looked embarrassed and dropped the subject. Never realizing, of course, that Xander never actually answered the question...
An episode from The Dead Zone playing on the TV, Xander kicked back, just relaxing with a bunch of junk food. Popping a Cheeto into his mouth, he absently looked out the window and saw a black car pull up. Curious, he paused the DVD player, and watched as two men in suits got out, along with two tough looking men that all but had the word 'goon' stamped on their foreheads.
Xander smiled a little to himself, getting up and stretching. "I was wondering when they were going to show up. Though it's a good thing they didn't exactly zone right in on me, I figured they'd had found a little sooner than this." Picking up the phone beside him, he dialed a number. When the person on the other end picked up, he said simply. "Those guys? The ones I told you about? They're here. Think you can rustle up some friends?" There was a quick response, and Xander's smile turned wolfish. "Cool. BYO-ass kicking equipment."
The doorbell rung, then, and Xander hung up. He was alone in the house, so he had no fear of anyone else answering the door, and ruining the dramatic moment he had planned. He considered changing clothes, but quickly discarded that idea. "Nothing says disrespect like a Cheeto-stained t-shirt and jeans." He joked to himself.
Letting the doorbell ring once more before responding, he finally opened the door. The men in suits stood in front, the goons in back. One was the pale skinned man Xander saw on the site, his face like a storm cloud. The other was a younger, lankier man in what looked like a very expensive suit. His skin was a light bronze, possibly Mexican, with a small trimmed moustache. "Can I help you?" Xander queried with annoying cheerfulness.
"You're a hard man to track down, 'Mister Summers'." Pale Face growled sardonically. "Even though you're in the EPA employee database, I couldn't find you in any office, local or otherwise."
Xander painted a look of confusion on his face. "I'm sorry, have we met?"
"I'm Russell Morton, the Executive Director of Special Projects for Terradyne Inc, Summers." Pale Face responded. "And you're in a lot of trouble. Don't pretend you don't know it, either. It took me a lot of time, but I was finally able to track you down. The invoice the contractors you hired had this address on file, even though they had no name attached."
"Oh, right! You're those goofy guys who wanted to buy that park! How did that go for you?" Xander exclaimed.
"You know very well that the deal fell through, Summers." Morton scowled. "Now I suggest you tell us where those trees are, or my company will see to it you are prosecuted to the fullest extent to the law." The thinner man then handed over a card with a small smirk, proclaiming his name was Luiz Marquez, a senior associate with Wolfram and Hart.
"Wolfram and Hart, hmm?" Xander said to himself. "Was wondering if you guys would ever show up at our door." He'd heard stories about the 'law firm of evil' from Willow, having gotten the low down from Angel and Cordelia. As yet, they'd never had to deal with any of their representatives, and from what Willow had been told during her last visit - about how the LA office had been massacred – it seemed possible they never would. The card revealed, however, that Marquez worked out of the Boston branch. Marquez, meanwhile, blinked at him, losing a bit of his smugness as he eyeballed Xander with a bit of added wariness.
"I'm afraid that's impossible, Morty." Xander continued after putting the card in his pocket. "You see, regardless of who I said I was, I signed an agreement with the city. The trees are mine now, and in fact are currently situated on a friend's property. One who has no intention of selling, to you or anyone." He glanced back at the two goons, expressionlessly looking back at him through mirrorshades. "For the English challenged, what I'm trying to say is....nyah, nyah, na-nyah, nyah."
"Your little charade won't stand up in court, Mr. Summers." Morton smiled in an oily fashion. "Wolfram and Hart makes the megacorporations quail in terror, and can tear you and your life into little shreds if you don't give me what I want."
Xander leaned on the door frame, flicking his eyes towards the street. "I'm sure I can change your mind, fellas."
"I doubt there's a single thing you can say that would make any difference." Morton sneered.
Xander grinned wolfishly back at the four men. "Really. How about, 'Slayer'?"
Marquez's face suddenly went slightly ashen, his eyes alighting in recognition. "You're Alexander Harris." He suddenly interrupted in an accusing voice.
"Ah, fame. Does this mean I'm going to live forever?" Xander sighed happily, secretly pleased that the evil law firm had actually heard of him.
"What are you taking about?" Morton demanded, turning to the young lawyer.
"I'm sorry...considering that you're in the market for some Dryad trees, I thought you'd know all about the Slayer. Or should I say....Slayers." He looked over the shoulders of the men deliberately now. "Hey, Buff."
The two goons whirled, putting their hands in their pockets....and then stopped, suddenly faced with a half dozen or so women standing on the lawn behind them, armed to the teeth with an array of sharpened steel goodness. At the forefront stood Buffy, her arms folded confidently. "Hey Xan," she greeted casually. "These the party crashers?"
"What the hell..." Morton started to say, when Marquez suddenly put a hand on his shoulder, whispering very quickly to the businessman. Morton's eyes went from angry, to incredulous, to afraid. It was then that Xander came up behind the two suited gentlemen, putting a hand on either shoulder. His voice was falsely friendly "Now, Morty...you're going to leave. You're not going to file suit or press charges, or any of that junk...and on the off chance you actually figure out where the trees are, if you try and take them, not only will these ladies and dozens more like them beat the crap out of you and have fun doing it....you'd better hope that your property insurance premiums are paid up. Assuming you have insurance that covers 'Act of Slayer'." He squeezed their shoulders firmly, wishing he had Slayer strength to back it up. "Got it?"
"You've made your position very clear." Marquez murmured. He then lead Morton around the Slayer squad, the goons trailing in their wake. The four got back in the car, and drove off while the girls and Xander watched.
Buffy turned back to Xander, smiling. "Lookit you. All planningness and intimidatey." She informed him, impressed.
Xander spread his hands. "Couldn't have done it without my lovely ladies." He replied cheerfully.
"Didn't really need us, though." Buffy replied, coming up the steps. "We were just the cleanup crew." She lightly punched his arm. "You did a good job. Even though I hear those dryads didn't treat you too nicely the first time."
"Hey...it's all a matter of seeing the bigger picture." Xander replied glibly, glowing at Buffy's compliment. "One might say, the forest for the trees."
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Don't make me hurt you."