Highway 15

The desert heat is searing, drying, evaporating sweat from between tanned legs, khaki shorts, and naugahyde as the sun beats down on top of Xander's wrinkled fisherman's hat. He peers at the desert road through thick round sunglasses, a cigarette holder clenched between his teeth as he drives. "Right," he mutters as he drives, still holding that empty cigarette holder between two molars, biting down on cheap plastic. "We have...a suitcase full of various snack forms, including...boxes of twinkies, ding-dongs, ho-hos, and choco-diles, with 12 of each in each box, a large jar filled with various flavors of pixy stix, another large jar filled with gummi bears, gummi worms, gummi roaches, and various other animals in gummi form, a 'lunch time pack' of Frito-Lay products, several bags of beef jerky, in teriyaki, peppered, and regular, and, finally, a large bottle of..."

"Ether?" Oz deadpanned from the back seat, where he reclined, slowly rolling a single joint, carefully pinching it between his fingers.

Xander glared back, grabbed a handful of chili-cheese fritos from an open bag, then stuffed them in his mouth. "'Oon 'Ist..." He swallowed. "Moon Mist, courtesy of Faygo Soda. Three liters for 99 cents, and truly the finest caffeinated citrus-style beverage for under a dollar known to humankind."

"And where do you find Faygo in Sunnydale?" Oz asked as he lit the carefully rolled spliff. He took a long, deep inhale from it, then held it towards Xander.

"You drive out towards the desert..." Xander tipped his head back, and held still as Oz placed the joint in the cigarette holder. "And once you hit Victorville, it's at the last gas station. 99 cent soda. Take a twenty, fill up the tank with gas, and drive, drive, drive." He paused to breathe, inhaling from his cigarette holder, then, after a few seconds, let out a slow, almost elegant puff of smoke from his mouth. "Easier than pie, which, I might add, we also have sitting near the suitcase -- a large variety of Hostess pies, from apple to cherry to lemon, all pre-packaged, hand-held sugar-coated goodness."

Oz nodded in all seriousness, then, as sudden as a dust-devil appearing in the wind, burst into giggles, sprawling out even more on the back seat as he laughed.

"You may find it amusing now, but when you discover the sudden need for hunger, as you often do when partaking of your Aunt Eloise's finest -- and, by the way, when we return, we must thank her for her generosity in filling a large bag with the finest marijuana ever grown in Sunnydale, California -- you will require sustenance, which I have generously provided in snack food form." Xander took another long inhale, and paused. "For which you will be grateful," he said in a choked, high-pitched voice before exhaling.

"Right..." Oz said slowly, drawing out every letter as if each held deep significant meaning to life, the universe, and a pale red-headed teenage boy. He seemed to ponder great philosophical concepts for a few minutes, then spoke up again. "Xander...."

"Yes, my friend and occasional lover?"

"Why are we going to Las Vegas again?"

"Because it's Vegas!" Xander shouted, one hand gesturing wildly as the other was white-knuckled on the steering wheel. "City of sin, decadence, lust, and general villiany -- all to the buzzing, beeping and general noise of money being lost and only very occasionally won." Xander turned back to Oz and gave an almost manic grin, his sunglasses reflecting the slowly sinking sun. "It's the Vatican, or Mecca, if that is your preference, for the new-found religion of want. And I, Alexander Lavelle Harris, who has never done anything in his life save the occasional assisted slaying, wish to partake of this new religion -- getting on the ground floor before they become the saved and we become the damned, for I am truly tired of being one of the damned."

Oz paused for a few more seconds, absorbing the information laid out before him, then said, softly, "Huh." He sat in thoughtful silence for a few moments longer, then leaned close to Xander. "Does pot always make you this talkative?"

"The chemical reaction of marijuana in the bloodstream makes me ravenous. It's the consumption of foods consisting of over 50% sugar that cause me to be talkative. And during this road trip through the solitary desert, I have consumed a considerable amount of sugary products. Hence the garrulous nature."

Oz seemed to ponder that for a few more minutes, or perhaps he was pondering the pattern of clouds in the sky above, but eventually, slowly, there was a "Huh," and the sound of a Zippo lighter being flicked as Oz lit up again.

"I see my intellect has stunned you into a polite silence, my friend, as it should be, for I, on a lot of sugar, am a king of book smarts. Why did I do horribly on the SAT? Because I wasn't allowed any -- oooh, hitchhiker!" Xander turned the wheel sharply and hit the brakes, making the car screech in roadside agony.

When the dust cleared, a big blond man stood there, coughing slightly.

"Hop in, my good man, for today is your lucky day. No longer will the vultures look at you with large hungry eyes, for we are now your ride." Xander grinned and gestured towards the backseat. "If you would just join my compatriot back there..."

The man opened the door and slid into the back, Oz making just enough room for him. Oz looked at the man through half-closed eyes and, with a slightly raised eyebrow, lifted up his still smoldering joint. "Smoke?"

"Yes, yes, Oz, my darling, offer the dear boy some of your aunt's finest. Nothing but the best for hitchhikers along this stretch of road, especially ones as home-grown attractive..." Xander swerved the car back onto the highway, turning back once he had reached something akin to a straight driving line. "So tell me...what's your name and why are you out in this neck of the nonexistant woods?"

The man looked at the offering before him, then shook his head slightly. "No, uh, no, thanks." He looked towards Xander. "I'm Riley...I'm meeting some friends in Vegas and my car died a few miles back..."

"What a terrible shame! It's certainly lucky we have come across you, to save you from the pain and hardship of walking so far for so long..."

Riley looked out at the empty stretch of highway, then back at his "rescuers". "Um...yeah," he finally said.

Xander slapped his palm to his head, jostling his hat slightly. "What a foolish person I am! Oz, my laconic lifemate, he does not know who we are!" He turned back to the road for a second, swerving the car back towards the appropriate lane, then looked back at Riley. "I, my dear sir, am Alexander Lavelle Harris, better known as Xander, and my quiet friend here is Daniel Osbourne, better known as Oz. We are formerly of Sunnydale, California, and are currently on our way to Las Vegas, where we shall partake of gambling, prostitution, and other such sinful acts."

"Except we're still under 21..." Oz said, finishing off a joint in one hand while preparing another with the other.

Riley stared at the short pale boy and his feats of dexterity with something akin to amazement and horror, then finally said, his voice slightly nervous, "Sunnydale, huh? I go to UC Sunnydale..."

"Ahhhh...a college boy! Off for a weekend of debauchery with the fellow college boys..." Xander's eyes trailed over Riley's body. "All glistening, sweaty muscled bodies, standing in front of casinos with umbrella-ed drinks in one hand and a girl in the other..." He licked his lips.

"You're drooling," Oz spoke up, still managing to do the roll-one-smoke-one trick.

"Right." Xander looked back at the road. "You know, Riley, if I may call you Riley, we are on a quest." He thrust his hand back, sticking a plastic bag in front of Riley's face. "Have some jerky. Teriyaki. High quality."

Riley gingerly took the jerky from Xander's twitching hand. "Um...thanks." He pulled out a semi-small piece, then looked back at Xander. "A quest?"

"Yes!" Xander grabbed a handful of the jerky and proceeded to chew it. Very slowly. Riley sat there, trying to eat the jerky as quietly and calmly as possible, waiting for Xander to finish. After a prolonged chewing sequence and an over-emphasized "Ah...," Xander continued. "A quest for knowledge, a quest for truth, a holy quest, even -- to discover exactly what's out there in the desert." Xander turned back to the man. "We hear that there's something out there -- something dangerous..."

Riley blinked. "Oh yeah...?" he asked, his voice growing ever-so-slightly nervous.

The car squealed again as Xander pulled off the road for a second time. Xander turned off the ignition, then turned around to look directly at Riley. "We're going to Las Vegas to join in the cult of greed, but, on the way, we are planning to visit..." He looked at Oz, then looked around the car to see if there were any other listeners, then looked at Riley. "Area 51."

Riley frowned, sweating slightly in the way that wasn't affected by heat. "But that's past Vegas..." he said.

"True," Xander said. "But it doesn't stop intrepid explorers seeking..." His voice grew low, conspiratorial. "The TRUTH." He leaned in even closer, barely inches from Riley's face. "Out in the desert, there have been reports of black helicopters, unmarked vans, large tanker trucks filled with God only knows, all going to an unmarked military base. What's there? What are they doing? We plan to find out. We have the technology..."

"Not really..." Oz piped up, reaching over both Riley and Xander to grasp a bag of regular fritos.

"Quiet, Oz! You are revealing too much of our plan!" Xander looked back at Riley, his eyes wide even behind the glasses. "We have the drive, the urge to see what's out there. And nothing, I repeat nothing will get in our way!" He fell back against the steering wheel, hitting the horn, then dissolved into giggles at the noise.

Riley swallowed, then looked towards the road. "" He gestured towards the faint signs of civilization ahead of them. "You can just leave me at that gas station up there...I can call my friends and they can come get me..."

Xander looked towards the faint mirage of a gas station, then looked at the blond man again. "Afraid of what we face?" he asked, frowning.

"Yeah..." Riley said, his voice lacking any real emotion save faint exhaustion. "I don't think I could handle what you're doing..." He bit his tongue, refraining from saying anything more, like "You're lunatics and morons and Sweet God in Heaven, save me from these freaks!"

Xander sat back down in the driver's seat, tsk-ing as he started up the car again. "You college boys are all alike...too busy buryin' your face in books to do any real exploring..."

Riley continued to bite his tongue, and just nodded.

The drive to the gas station continued in near-silence, Xander only occasionally muttering something about college and adventure, Oz breaking his silence with the occasional chuckle, and Riley staring at the small patch of consumer-controlled land, wishing it to be closer and closer every second.

And eventually, it came to them, garish as any roadside gas station would be, signs lit up in the evening sky. Xander swerved into the lot, dust flying from the car, then stopped it suddenly. "Okaley dokaley," he said in a somewhat dejected voice. "Here you go." He paused just long enough to take a hit from the joint offered by Oz, then spoke again. "We hope you enjoyed riding Xander travel services. Thank you, and come again..." He hit the accelerator at the last syllable, speeding back off onto the road, leaving another wave of dust to slowly hit Riley.

Riley paused, coughed, then went to the pay phone, trying to work out the story he was going to tell Walsh.