Disclaimer: If you recognize it, it's not mine.
“Does it make sense that he’d be a farmer?” Anya asked. “What sort of higher power would decide to be a farmer?”
“Chloe’s talk about mutants wasn’t entirely off base,” Willow said quietly. “Most of the psychotics around here end up in the Belle Reve Asylum. I managed to hack into their system, and apparently they’ve been collecting people with abilities since shortly after the meteor shower."
"Abilities? Like the ability to eat fifty hot dogs at a sitting?"
"Like the ability to completely drain the fat out of a human body, or set things on fire with their minds." Willow said. "Or turn their entire bodies into bugs."
"How sure are we that these people aren't simply capturing demons in the mistaken belief that they are mutated human beings?" Giles asked, leaning forward.
“The prevailing theory seems to be that the meteors are mutating people and giving them powers,” Willow said. "Really, do we have time to be looking into it?"
“I’m drinking bottled water the whole time I’m here,” Anya said. “And probably live off fast food. I wouldn't eat anything locally grown."
"Like the secret sauce in Doublemeat burgers ISN'T a weird mutagen," Xander said, "besides, I wouldn’t mind getting a little helping of super strength or speed or whatever. Um...not the fat sucking thing."
"You'd make a fortune in Los Angeles," Anya said. "Fifteen minute liposuction, no waiting...It could be the start of a whole new career!"
Xander chuckled uneasily. Unfortunately, given Anya's past she was quite serious.
“Your luck, you’d grow a giant fly head,” Spike said. “Tosser.”
“These people seem to have mostly been driven psychotic,” Willow said to Anya. "We probably want to keep the non-crazy Xander with us."
"One crazy person in the group is enough," Anya said. At Willow's look and Xander's nudging, she said, "Not that we don't love Tara."
“Great…so we have a guy with Glory level power who is probably crazy as a loon.” Buffy said. She bit her lip. “So he’s really fifteen?”
“It’s probably the mutagenic effects of the meteorites, aging him prematurely,” Willow said. “Or maybe he’s just an early bloomer.”
“I don’t think he’s crazy,” Dawn said.
“You just think he’s cute,” Buffy said. “And he’s your age.”
Dawn flushed. “It’s not that. Not…just that. He’s friends with that Chloe girl. Would a crazy guy be able to make her smile that way?”
“If he’s the right kind of crazy,” Spike said, smirking.
“Honey…Ted Bundy killed a lot of girls who thought he was a perfectly normal guy and his family had no idea for years.” Willow said quietly.
“Yeah…but most of the mutants in the reports seemed a lot more explosive.”
Willow sighed and shook her head. “Those are the ones that got caught.”
“What if there are others out there that aren’t crazy. Maybe we could recruit them too?” Dawn said, hopefully.
“Meet Glory with a mutant army?” Buffy said. She smiled a little. “That’d be great, but how are we going to identify them?”
“I can smell them,” Spike said. “Seems like half the blokes in town smell a little off. I’m thinking it’s this meteor thing…I’ll bet the full blown cases smell a lot stronger.”
“Smelly drunks,” Buffy said. “You think they’re drinking to deal with the craziness?”
“Most drunks get a little crazy,” Spike said. “Couldn’t really tell much difference between them and the others.”
"It seems to me that you may be premature in putting your hopes on this farmboy," Giles said. "If the people in the Asylum are indeed not demons, then he may be just one of any number of the meteor infected."
"He didn't even notice when I squeezed as hard as I could," Buffy said. "He's got to be as tough as steel."
"And what if his immunity is his only ability...and he's actually no stronger than Xander?"
"Then we'll throw him in front of her and hope he slows her down," Buffy said flatly. "I know it in my gut. This is our guy."
"He's a promising lead," Giles admitted. "But it would be foolish to place all our hopes in one subject. Even if he is the one referred to by the orb, perhaps we might be able to recruit others to our cause."
"So...a road trip to Belle Reve?" Xander asked.
"We should split our efforts," Giles said. "Between investigating this Kent boy and the inmates."
"I can take Tara," Willow said. "They have outpatient psychiatric services there, and I need to get another prescription for her medications."
"Already?" Buffy asked.
"They are wearing off faster and faster," Willow admitted. "Maybe one of these guys will be able to find something better for her. They seem like they've had more experience in dealing with unusual cases and abilities."
"I should go as well," Giles said. "My age is likely to give me an advantage in posing as someone who might be allowed access to the records."
"You want to see if they are demons," Buffy said.
"I'll have the best chance of identifying them. There are some pacifistic species of demons that don't do well in confinement."
"I'll need Spike's nose," Buffy said.
"I can't go to the crazy house," Dawn said. "They can see me."
"We saw what happened the last time," Willow agreed. "I'm not sure I'd like to see what would happen if she upset an entire building's worth of crazed mutants."
"Buffy, Spike, Dawn, Anya and Xander will stay here," Giles said. "And Willow, Tara and I will investigate the Asylum."
"I don't suppose you could steal us another car," Anya asked Spike.
Giles smiled slightly. "I was successful in convincing the council that their financial assistance would be helpful."
"Cheap wankers," Spike grumbled. "Putting us in a Kia?"
The subcompact car was a tight fit, even given that the women weren't very large. The fact that they'd all had to make the trip to Metropolis to even rent the cars was an added insult.
"Doesn't even have cruise control," he grumbled.
"Your last car didn't have cruise control either," Buffy said. "Or actual keys."
"Not that anybody ever seems to listen, but isn't splitting up right before you meet an insane mutant hellgod thing a bad idea?" Anya asked.
"We're not going to meet him," Buffy said. "We're just going to ask his neighbors a few questions. I'd like to know a little more about him before I get involved with him."
"Think his neighbors won't be mentioning you asking about him, then?" Spike said. "Bad thing about people in small towns is that they talk."
"They don't in Sunnydale," Buffy said.
"There's reasons for that, as well you know," Spike said. "What possible excuse are you going to come up with to ask the neighbors about him?"
"Research project?" Dawn asked hopefully.
"Background search?" Anya leaned forward. "Perhaps he's looking for a job in retail?"
"Got a better idea," Spike said. "Don't ask the adults."
"He'd be on his best behavior if he wanted to fit in, like that Eddie Rascal character from the old show Xander and I watched while we..."
"That's Haskell, Anya," Xander interrupted suddenly. "Eddie Haskell. So where are we going to find a bunch of kids in the middle of the school week?"
"There's a party out at the Crater lake pretty much any time of the week," Spike said. "Bunch of high school kids out drinking and leaving beer cans everywhere."
"Where did you hear that?" Buffy asked. "I've been with you the entire time."
"One of the drunks was complaining about them ruining the fishing," Spike grinned.
"And I suppose you just happened to bring beer," Xander said. "Oh wait...forgot who I'm talking to. You probably have a six pack in the trunk."
"A case," Spike grinned.
"Does anybody here think contributing to teen drinking is a bad idea?" Dawn asked. "They show it on all the afternoon specials. Kids get drunk and they get pregnant and..."
"And they get loose lips," Spike said. "Nobody is your friend as much as the guy giving you beer and nobody talks about it in the morning, either."
"Fine," Buffy said. "I'm going on the record as saying this is a bad idea."
"Hadn't been to a party in a while, have you, Slayer?" Spike grinned as he attempted to accelerate, then his expression changed to a scowl at the meager sound of the engines.
"And you are saying the symptoms were sudden," the doctor was asking. "There wasn't a period where her behavior changed, she was acting odd?"
Willow shook her head. "She was perfectly fine until she was attacked."
"You shouldn't be sedating her this frequently," the doctor was saying. "These medications can be addictive. Not the antispychotics, but the tranquilizers can be addicting over the long term and fatal if you give her too many at once."
"We're on the run," Willow said. "Her boyfriend broke her fingers and I'm just trying to keep her calm until we can find a safe place for her."
"Perhaps the police," he said.
"He's a policeman," she said quietly. "With a lot of friends."
"How is your mental health?" he asked after a moment.
Surprised, she said "I'm ok."
"Good." Willow said.
The look from Giles said that they were going to have a talk, but Willow couldn't help but feel a flush of victory. She wasn't the shy and helpless nebbish she'd been when Buffy had met her.
Never again was she going to let anyone tell her what to do.
"It's difficult when someone you care for goes through something like this," he said. "Worse when they keep getting involved with the wrong people."
"I'm afraid to bring Tara to a place like this," Willow admitted. "I feel like I'm letting her down...would it be possible for us to get a tour through the facility?"
"There are areas we can take you through,” he said. "Visitation areas and the like. But privacy rulings and confidentiality issues won't allow you to see inside the center."
"So we can't get in?" she asked.
He shook his head.
Her voice changed and deepened as she touched the charm inside her pocket. Her eyes darkened for a moment. "Are you sure?"
The doctor's voice took on a dreamy quality. "I'd be reprimanded, censured."
"Tell them we are inspectors from the state."
Willow said, then said "In fact, we ARE inspectors from the state."
"Oh. I hadn't realized," the doctor said quietly.
"We'll need access to your paper records, the ones not in the system, as well as a chance to look in on some of the patients."
The man nodded slowly. "I can get you in."
"Where did you say you guys were from again?" The girl smoking the cigarette couldn't have been any older than Dawn, but she'd clearly been drinking more than one bottle already. The alcohol on her breath was detectable from five feet away.
Normally Dawn wouldn't have spoken to a drunk ho like this, but she had a mission.
"California," she said. "We're passing through."
"Your uncle seems cool," the girl said.
Spike was sitting on a log beside the fire, around which were scattered a group of almost fifteen kids. It surprised Dawn to see this many out in the middle of the school week. He was telling another story that had the group laughing.
Although Dawn sat on the periphery, toward the darkness at the edge of the clearing near the lake, she could tell that Spike was watching her, as was her sister, who was sitting just a little too close beside him.
He'd slid into the group almost seamlessly, and it had taken Dawn a moment to understand what she was seeing.
Before he'd been the protector, the fool hopelessly in love with her sister, he'd been a predator. He'd spent almost a hundred years slipping in and out of groups just like this as a way to put his prey at ease.
He was an excellent liar.
"He's been good to us," she said.” Since mom died."
Spike had told her that the best lie included large portions of the truth. It was easier to remember, and the details were more convincing.
The pain in her expression must have convinced the girl, because she relaxed.
"So, any hotties around here?" she asked.
The girl shrugged. "What you see is what you get. A bunch of rednecks and wanna be preps and out crowd."
Dawn said, "I don't know. I was at school getting enrolled and I met this guy. Big, dark, handsome."
"We've got a few of those," the girl said.
"Said his name was Kent..."
"Clark Kent?" the girl laughed. "Don't even try going there. He's so far up Lana Lang's....let's just say there's a cheerleader in his sights, and he doesn't have eyes for anybody else."
"But he is a good guy?"
"He's a regular hero. When the coach went all crazy and started torching people, he saved my life."
"How did the coach do that anyway?" Dawn asked.
The girl looked confused a moment. "He must have had something hidden up his sleeves. One second everything was normal, and then...boom."
"Most people like Clark," the girl said. "Even though he's one of the quiet ones."
"Well, not the jocks," the girl said. "They tied him up to be the scarecrow at homecoming, so he joined the team, rang rings around them for a couple of weeks, then quit. With him on the team, we'd have made state easy."
"So he's got a bad side," Dawn asked. "I knew a couple of guys like that in my old school. Acted all goody two shoes and then would get back at people."
The girl shook her head. “He’s not like that, really.”
“And he looks like he’s in his mid twenties,” Dawn said.
“He’s an early bloomer,” the girl said. “I grew up with him and he was as gawky as the rest of us until he grew like six inches in the past year. He started getting some attention from the girls by that point.”
Headlights appeared at the top of the ridge. Dawn tensed as did everyone else. Being thrown in jail for giving beer to minors while Glory was on her way wasn’t her idea of a good time.
Somehow, Spike’s plans all seemed to end up this way.
When she saw the teenagers relaxing, she relaxed as well. They recognized the driver of the car, apparently.
The driver pulled to a stop beside the small group of cars collected near the campground. The teenagers had packed themselves together so as to have the fewest vehicles possible, but this guy came alone.
He came running up.
“You need to get home right away,” he said.to one of the teens at the fire.
“I don’t have to do anything,” the boy said.
“There’s been a riot at Belle Reve,” the boy said shortly. “And a bunch of the inmates escaped.”
The girl beside Dawn gasped and the color drained from her face. The expressions of the other teenagers mirrored her expression.
“What’s going on?” she asked, as the teenagers began to quickly gather their things together.
The girl took a deep breath and said “My brother is in Belle Reve. So are four classmates from our year. We’ve got older brothers and cousins and uncles there.”
Bitterly, she took a final drag on her cigarette. “Highest psychiatric inpatient population in the United States and our psychotics are special.”
She wouldn’t say anything else after that.
A moment later the blood ran from Dawn’s face as she wondered if Willow and Giles and Tara had gotten out.
Against normal inmates she’d have had no doubts, but these were super powered inmates, or demons or whatever.
The expressions on the faces of the others mirrored her knowledge, and they scrambled for their vehicle as well.