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The Wonderland Subject

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Summary: During an attempt to retrieve a Slayer from a dangerous situation, Xander Harris falls into the rabbit hole. What happens after he falls back out again?

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Marvel Universe > Ultimate UniverseMMcGregorFR1865151,86365469390,3652 Jul 0812 Sep 10No

Prologue

Warnings: Violence, misery, language (English, mostly, nyuk nyuk), and superpowers and Xander in the same sentence more than once. If you can go see an R rated movie without having a heart attack, you'll be fine.

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters or these concepts. I'm just using them to play. Oh, I do own this one character though, he's called Shammy Cloth, and I expect ten dollars from everyone by the end of the fiscal quarter for the privilege of knowing about his existence. He's a jazz pianist who can see through clocks thanks to an uppity genie who granted him his wish to be able to see through time. Oh Shammy, what wacky hijinks will you get up to next?

Shammy's not in this story, but cough up my ten bucks anyway, cheapskates.

Note: In an attempt to follow my own rules, I will do my very best to make sure the crossover portion of this Buffy story is explained within the actual story itself, and that readers don't actually have to be familiar with the source material in order to enjoy it. This story is a Buffyverse story first and everything else second.

PROLOGUE

Xander Harris hadn’t slept in two days. He hadn’t had a drink of water in close to eighteen hours. His skin felt like leather. None of that mattered, because he had finally arrived.

It was a cave. That didn’t surprise him. Things that kidnapped Slayers liked caves: usually slimey caves filled with bats and blood and oozing things with teeth. Each one of those things had managed to make the list of things he didn’t so much like.

Didn’t matter. He was going in anyway.

He was armed with a stolen machete, but the metal was so thin that he was afraid it would snap in half if he actually had cause to use it. The backpack slung over his shoulder had a quarter-bottle of warm water, two hand-carved wooden stakes, an English-To-Farsi phrasebook, a cheap replica of a mag-light, and a single photograph depicting three smiling young women. It wasn’t exactly the kind of arsenal he wanted when it came to mounting a rescue mission for a kidnapped Slayer.

Didn’t matter. He was going in anyway.

He did his best to be stealthy as he made his way up the rocky outcroppings that led up to the cave entrance. The Middle Eastern sun was hot against his back. He found comfort in that, despite how close he was to dehydration. It meant there would be sunlight streaming into the cave’s mouth. It meant he could make his way in a little deeper before he was plunged into total darkness.

The entrance was big. It had to be ten feet high and at least that wide. The sunlight did a good job of illuminating the first thirty yards or so. Then the floor of the cave pitched down and to his left. After that, there was only darkness.

Didn’t matter. He was going in anyway.

Thana was in there somewhere. She was only twelve years old. She was an orphan. Up until three days ago, she’d never met an American. Up until three days ago, she had no idea why she could crush fist-sized stones in her hands. Up until three days ago, she thought she’d been imagining the monsters.

He could still remember how relieved she’d looked when he’d finally managed to explain to her that he was there to help her; that she wasn’t alone. She’d been so happy just to know she had a place in the world, and that there was someone who knew what was happening to her.

The monsters caught up with her less than twelve hours later. He’d lost track of her during a mortar attack. From what he could understand from the locals, they’d been trying to convince him she’d died in the blasts. No body.

Suuuure. And the bone spur he found coated in oozing green blood was just a movie prop.

All he’d had to do was follow the green droplets. Follow them for almost two days. Follow them to a cave in the middle of the desert. Follow them to a trap. Maybe.

Didn’t matter.

He was going in anyway.

It was slow going. He was afraid to use the flashlight for fear of announcing his arrival to whatever bone-spurred demons had taken Thana. His trek down into the cave consisted of clutching the machete with one hand and inching slowly forward with his left foot in a kind of shuffling slide. He kept one hand against the wall at all times and kept his ears open for anything that sounded like large bitey fangs.

When he came to a spot where there was no more floor to slide his foot against - just empty nothingness - he was forced to click on his flashlight. The tiny beam of light showed a small ledge with a drop of about two feet, followed by more slow sloping. He clicked off the light, carefully made his way over the edge, and started down the slope once more.

The cave was pretty much all one path, and for that he was grateful. It never seemed to split off into multiple directions. If he had to, he thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to find his way back out again. With the flashlight on and running instead of shuffling, he could probably make his way back out again in less than ten minutes. With the way he was going, it had already been well over an hour. He didn’t dare turn on the backlight of his watch to find out for sure.

So he continued his shuffling. For nearly another hour he slid his foot cautiously forward, tested the ground, and then brought his feet together. He did this again and again, and it was only the thought of Thana, the dusky-skinned girl with big brown eyes and a grin that was still missing a few adult teeth, that kept him from losing his focus. There was no way he was going to let her die.

Not alone, anyway.

It was hard not to think of the others as he went. He’d lost girls before. He’d lost more than any other member of the council. He’d lost one in Somalia, two in the Sudan, and another along the border somewhere between Syria and Iraq. No other Watcher had ever lost that many Slayers.

No other Watcher had ever come within a hundred miles of the places where he lost those Slayers.

His jaw was clenched tightly enough to hurt. His bad eye was stinging at him, making it seem as if he could have a nice working eyeball again if he just blinked away whatever bit of grit was stuck in there. He hated when it did that, and it always seemed to do that when h--

He froze.

Something was humming. Something was humming low and rumbly. Xander inhaled gently through his nose and was sure he could smell that almost distinct odor of a diesel engine’s exhaust. He curled his fingers around the hilt of his machete and took a few careful steps forward. As he did, he began to make out the indistinct shape of the cave wall. There was light ahead. It was dim from where he was, but it was definitely light.

That was not a good thing. He didn’t know the official name of the demons that had taken Thana, but he did know about them. The Spur-Faces were big, covered in leathery brown skin, bled green ooze, and did not use so much as a club as a tool, let alone diesel engines and fluorescent lights.

That meant something more was going on here, and he didn’t like something mores. He muttered angrily - but silently - to himself and wished he’d thought to send out a message to the Council before he’d gone after Thana. It hadn’t felt like there had been time to waste. Now he was wondering why he hadn’t spent five minutes to make a simple phone call.

He could hear voices. Someone - and it was definitely a someone, not a something - was shouting. Someone else was shouting back. Xander inched his way forward, squinting as the high ceilings of the twisting underground passage became visible to him. It had to be at least fifteen feet to the ceiling, and judging from the echoing sounds of heavy machinery, there was a much bigger chamber up around the next bend. If he really looked hard, he was pretty sure he could make out the way the passage sloped to the right.

He had a crazy thought about just running in there with his machete held high. Maybe Thana was still alive. Maybe she was conscious, and his distraction would be all she’d need to Slayer-ize her way out of whatever they had her in. He recognized it as completely stupid, but he couldn’t quite get the idea out of his head. He couldn’t quite think of the possibility that she was already dead. HE couldn’t quite thi--

The hand lunged at him out of nowhere. It was bigger than Xander was, with the thumb alone being somewhere around four feet long. It groped towards Xander with surprising speed. In the darkness, Xander almost managed to convince himself that he was imagining the giant hand reaching towards him, but a lifetime of crazy things jumping out at him from the dark taught him to go with his fraidy-cat instincts first. He dived towards the other end of the tunnel and slashed at the dark hand-shape with his machete.

“ARRRRGGGH!”

The scream was extremely loud, very deep, and did not sound at all happy. Xander raised the machete up over his head to slash down at the hand, but he wasn’t fast enough this time. The hand slapped against him in what seemed little more than an instinctive reaction. It slammed Xander up against the cave wall with a bone-crunching thud. The air left Xander’s lungs in an explosive exhalation, and he dropped the machete as he fell to his knees. His mouth opened wide in an attempt to suck in air.

He managed a single squeaking inhalation before the hand grabbed him around the middle. The huge fingers closed around him and squeezed tight, keeping him from doing much more than gasping for air and wiggling ineffectually. He was trapped in a dark, hot, and somewhat bloody prison. Then there was a feeling of sudden movement as he was pulled back towards the hand’s owner. Xander felt a wave of vertigo at the quick acceleration. It felt like he was on some kind of bad carnival ride.

That sensation lasted for a few seconds before the dark and bloody prison released him. Xander found himself several feet above a large metal platform. He let out a shriek of surprise and then thudded painfully against it. The clang echoed throughout the - huge, he realized - chamber.

“He sliced my hand!” a deep voice roared. Xander groaned and rolled over onto his side. He had to blink the stars out of his eye before he could really get a feel for what was all around him. Even then, he was pretty sure he had to be hallucinating.

He was perched on a metal platform of about ten square feet that was sitting atop a thick metal cylinder. Below him were dozens of people in white labcoats, crisp black and silver militaristic uniforms, or combat fatigues. There were machines and computers and monitors and thousands of blinking lights all surrounding the pedestal he found himself on. He was in the exact center of a giant chamber.

And sitting in front of him was an actual giant, only it was a giant wearing a humongous leather body-suit and a very, very oversized set of tinted aviator goggles. The giant was clutching one leather-clad hand. Blood was dripping from his palm. To Xander’s astonishment, each liter-drop of blood had managed to shrink down to normal droplet size by the time it had finished falling the forty or so feet down to the ground. He couldn’t even guess at what that meant.

“Calm down. You’ll be fine. Once you’re shrunk down it’ll take maybe ten stitches, tops.”

Xander groaned and glanced over the edge, looking for the speaker. A woman in one of the silver and black military-type uniforms was walking up a sloping catwalk so she could be eye-to-eye with the giant. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a military-style bun, and she did not look like someone to cross. She turned away from the giant and looked up at Xander.

“Mr. Harris,” she said. “Nice of you to finally join us. We thought you weren’t coming.”

“Can we-,” Xander began, but had to stop to cough and then suck in a breath. “Can we skip the whole evil banter thing? Where’s Thana?”

The woman’s eyes flicked downward for a moment. “She’s fine.”

Xander inched his way closer to the edge of the platform. It was a long way down and at least a ten foot lateral jump to the catwalk where the woman was standing. He might consider attempting it once he caught his breath.

“Fine is not a where,” he said.

“Thirty seconds, Captain!” someone called out.

“Thirty seconds to what?” Xander asked. “Where’s Thana? What did you do to her? Where is she!?”

The woman gave him a piercing look. Then she reached down to her wrist and touched what looked to be her watch. Where once had been a blonde military type, there was now a twelve year old girl that was still waiting for some of her permanent teeth to grow in.

“She’s right here,” Thana said in perfect English. Xander had never known her to say more than a handful of disjointed phrases. “Don’t take it personally, Xander. If it’s any consolation, you’re one of the most decent candidates I’ve met so far.”

“What? Candidates? What the hell is this? Where’s the real Thana?”

“There is no real Thana.”

Someone shouted, “Ten seconds!”

Thana touched her wrist and the blonde woman was back. Her piercing eyes stared up at Xander.

“Welcome to the Rabbit Hole, Xander. Sorry you can’t stay longer. Maybe we’ll meet again sometime.”

Something exploded. Xander screamed. The world became a blur of color, and then the world was no more.



“This is it, kid. End of the line.”

Xander gasped and his eye snapped open. Hot, dry air rushed into his lungs. He held his breath for half a second and then released the breath in a fit of coughing. His abdomen twitched and spasmed, causing him to roll onto his side and curl up into the fetal position as he hacked and choked. Wet and sticky blood splattered against the dry, cracked earth.

“Oh God,” he said in a pitiful groan. He spit more blood from his mouth and managed to take a slow breath. His whole body felt like it was on fire. His left eye was a focal point of stabbing pain that he had not felt since the day Caleb had first gouged it out. The pain seemed to throb out from his eye and infect his entire body, causing tingling shocks of anguish to course through him. He began to cough again, and this time he nearly gagged on the blood that came up.

When he felt like he could breathe again, he slowly tried to get up to his hands and knees. He managed to make it about halfway before the pain became too much for him. He pressed against his eyesocket with the heel of his hand and let out a low keening wail. The pain spiked, and before he could control himself he was vomiting blood and bile. This was the worst yet. His entire body was spasming as he heaved out the contents of a mostly empty stomach. His eye throbbed. His body burned.

He collapsed as soon as his stomach stopped convulsing. For nearly twenty minutes, he lay on the ground, curled into a pathetic little ball and moaning with every breath.

It was the heat that finally made him take stock of his surroundings. The sun was relentlessly beaming down on him, making the sweat and blood dry up on his skin to create caked patches of dirt and sand. He rolled over again, away from the mostly-evaporated puddle of vomit and blood he’d created, and then slowly sat up. His stomach screamed at him for it. Xander wrapped one arm around his midsection and held it there as he looked around.

Desert. Dry, mountainous, deadly desert. Xander furrowed his brow in an attempt to remember how he’d gotten there. He recalled going after Thana. He’d followed her into a desert. Maybe it was the same one. Hard to tell a desert apart, except this wasn’t a sand-dune style desert. This was more of a dry-cracked-earth desert, just like Thana’s desert had been.

Still a desert, though. He was still in a desert. He was still bleeding. He was probably already severely dehydrated. Bleeding and vomiting in the middle of a desert was a big no-no. Even he knew that.

Trying not to turn his head too quickly, lest his eye feel as if it were going to explode, Xander took stock of the area around him. His pack was gone. His clothes were ripped and ragged, and were largely covered in blood and other things he’d rather not identify. He had no hat, but at least his boots seemed to be in good condition.

He tried to remember what had happened. He’d been going after Thana. There had been a cave. Then there had been a giant.

Then he was here. No cave in sight, but plenty of desert. No backpack. Plenty of pain.

That’s when he remembered the thing that had brought him awake. A voice! There had been a voice. What had he said?

This is it, kid. End of the line.

Yes!

Xander turned around quickly, twisting his middle to look all around him. “Hello? Is there anyone there?”

There was no one. Xander groaned and grit his teeth. It took him three tries to get to his feet, and even then he stood unsteadily. His eye felt like fire.

“Hello?” he tried again. “Anybody?”

His voice didn’t even echo. There was nothing to echo against. Squinting with his good eye, Xander reached up and adjusted the dust-covered patch covering his left eye. At least he still had that. The way his eye was hurting, if he’d been missing his patch he thought he might very well die on the spot.

He looked up to the sky and used his hand to block out the sun. He could feel the heat against his palm. The burning ember that was embedded in his left eye was even hotter.

Squinting, Xander looked around again. There was still nobody there. There weren’t any footprints or tire tracks.

Which was confusing, now that he thought about it. He frowned and looked down. Other than the scuffling footsteps directly around him, there were no footsteps. No tire tracks. No nothing. It was as if he’d fallen out of the sky.

“Feels that way too,” Xander muttered to himself. He carefully turned a full three-hundred and sixty degrees, keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. It was desert in every direction.

Finally, after another minute of standing there in stupid silence while the sun beat down on his head, Xander sighed and began walking.

He made it three steps before he lost his balance, staggered to his left, and took a hard fall to the desert floor. Stars exploded in front of his good eye. Pain exploded behind the bad one. He struggled to hold onto his consciousness.

It slipped away from him anyway. In the middle of the desert and under a noonday sun, Xander Harris retreated into total and absolute darkness.
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