The rest of the 'spelunking' had gone easily enough, even if the sheer magnitude of the task was rather impressive. Angel and Giles and Cordy, Anya, his handicaps, half-a-dozen other points, and, of course, Spike. The girls assured him that one point of uncertainty didn't hurt them at all, that is was the double-dozen conflicting, unaddressed issues that had caused a problem.
Emotionally weary, Xander was nonetheless excited about the fight to come. He had claimed his gear from the armory during the afternoon, during his nap. Now it's midnight, time to gear up for a night on the town, Scooby-style.
First are the boxer-briefs, the Bat-signal stamped across the crotch, because no matter what vampires or Slayers might say, leather and dangly-bits were a non-mixy thing. Then thick socks, and the leather - heavy, worn, black leather jeans that fit him better than his own skin. A long-sleeved, dark blue T-shirt, tight enough that he couldn't be grabbed by it easily. Heavy black steel-toed boots, because the downside of a sword in the foot outweighs the upside of fancy footwork. The spelled leather eyepatch.
Weapons next, a double-bladed axe on his back, two stakes on one hip, handgun with lead-silver alloy bullets on the other.
Finally the hand. Xander grins; none of the AI crew had asked about it, so it's was possible that they hadn't noticed. He pushes down the twinge that gives him and instead turns to the chest of fittings. He looks over his options and is struck by a wicked idea.
He quickly unstraps the axe and removes the harness, swapping it for a slender sheath on a back harness, arranged for a quick neck-draw. Into the sheath he slides three feet of steel, maybe an inch wide and a quarter inch thick at the most, spelled by Willow into near-unbreakable strength and honed by himself into a fierce edge. The smooth hilt is wrapped in leather and has no guard, letting him move as cleanly with his right weapon as he can't with his left.
Back at his chest he removes what Willow calls "the Wolverine gauntlet" and carefully works his fingers into their rubber-padded metal cup before shifting and locking the studs into their sockets. The Council's medical staff had worked with Willow and the coven to create artificial tendons for the back of his hand. He couldn't control them, but they did allow his fingers to be curled by an outside force. The gauntlet shapes his fingers into a fist, locking onto the sockets that bound the first knuckle of each finger together, and then curves back over his knuckles until it locks into the sockets on the metal band that wraps the small bones in the back of his hand. Three blades curve out like foot-long claws, slightly thinner than the blade of his sword. As an afterthought, he locks a metal-and-leather cuff into the last set of sockets, on his wrist, and fastens it over his pulse-point. He has minimal mobility in his thumb, but enough to tuck it against the curve of his metal-plated fingers. Done up like this he looks more like someone with questionable taste in weaponry than a man with only one working hand. Though his training and the girls' support has done a lot to make him still feel capable, sometimes he likes the illusion. Tonight, going out with three highly qualified hunters in addition to his own team, he likes the illusion a lot.///
Buffy and Willow are going through their pre-combat checks in the library while Dawn talks to Vi on the phone. Willow is dressed in her usual grey silk tunic and tights, short-cropped hair already a little static-y, a black sling bag over her shoulder with some just-in-case bits and bobs: a stake, case, cell-phone, ID, talismans and a zippo. Buffy is dressed in black, tall boots, leather pants, and a black tank top with 'Bite Me' written in red across the chest. She has a sword on her hip and presumably half-a-dozen stakes secreted somewhere about her person.
They are doling out weapons to Angel, Spike and Gunn when something happens. All three girls straighten, cracking necks and limbering shoulders. Willow's eyes grow dark with magic even as the Slayer stalks behind Buffy's smile. Dawn's lips pull back into a sly, confident smile as she inform her audience: "This is what being connected to Xander feels like."
Even as she spoke, the man in question moved into the room. His eye was already hazed hyena-green and his hips rolled as he moved with battle-ready poise.
"So Wills," he drawls as he takes them all in, eye checking them over carefully. "What time's our flight?"
"Red light!" Buffy calls before pecking Dawn on the forehead and pushing her into the armchair pulled up to the end of the long table that was already scattered with maps of Cleveland. Dawn nods and waves at the confused LA crew. "Green light!"
Willow looks around, snaps her fingers, and they're in Cleveland.///
They'd been on the ground for two hours and things had been going swimmingly. Spike had mocked Xander's choice of weapon - Xander had glared the girls down when they started to defend him - but had admitted to being impressed with his sword play. The girls and Spike were as amazing as ever, and Gunn seemed to be doing pretty damned well with a stake and what was apparently a home-made axe. Angel was slower and weaker than he had been, but not as slow as Xander had expected, and still had over two centuries of experience. Altogether, the demons of Cleveland were screwed.
"Fuck!" Xander bellows as he sustains the first real injury of the night. He had used his claws to gut a pink, blotchy, giant walking hedgehog just before Dawn let him know the blood was mildly caustic. Mostly he can just wipe it off, but some mixes with his sweat and slips into the gauntlet. "Wills!" He demands.
"Coming!" She shouts back and runs around the corner, Angel and Spike behind. Buffy is already busy helping Gunn clean sprayed blood from his arms. "Give over," she commands, gesturing towards his hand.
"Just a… ah." Xander unfastens the sticky gauntlet with a relieved sigh and pulls it off. Small blisters are already popping up where the blood touched, but he holds his metal-bound hand out towards Willow, gauntlet clasped in the other.
Willow has already spoken a quick cleaning charm over his hand and is looking at the gauntlet when his surprised audience finds their voices.
"What the bloody hell is that?" Spike demands, shock and repulsion in his tone.
Buffy punches him in the nose.
"Not worth it, Buff. But thanks for the sentiment." Xander holds his blistered, metal-bound hand up so Spike has a clear view. "Saved the girl, Wills fixed me up so I can fight. Don't worry, Willy. You won't have to see it again."
He takes the now-clean gauntlet back from a silent Willow and once more carefully fits his hand into the curve of metal. In his head, the girls send him their best attempts and mental hugs, and all the while Dawn is being enormously and ever-more creative in her threats. Xander chuckles. "Chill, Dawnie. Spike pretty much invented tactless."
"Oi!" Spike protests, but Angel pops him on the back of the head.
"You've said enough for the moment," he warns.
"'S harsh, man." Gunn nods at Xander. "How come I didn't notice it before?"
Xander grins. "I've got a bunch of fittings for it. I've been using skin-colored ones; one of the witchlings glamoured them for me so they blend right in."
"Shitty situation, excellent toy. Kill things?"
There's always some big bad who tries to step up when the Cleveland house is under-staffed, and this year it's a vamp looking to juice him up on all that minimally-guarded Slayer blood. The vamp's not completely stupid: he's got an army.
Six Fyarl for breaking and entering, a handful of Mohra for any real fighting, and a few dozen lesser vampires. There are twenty Slayers at the Academy, along with a few witches and Watchers, so these guys are toast even if they make it out of this warehouse intact. But the Academy might take casualties, and Xander doesn't like that. He's perched on an external catwalk with the others, watching the gaudily ritualized pre-gaming going on inside. He looks at his girls and nods.
"Buffy at the front, Willow at the back, and I'll take the sub-level door," he points at a door on the far wall, next to the closed and barred loading gate, that stands at the top of a short flight of stairs. "Visitors stay in the peanut gallery."
"Wait, what?" Gunn is the first to get it; Spike and Angel wouldn't even imagine this fight happening without them.
"Y'all're playing audience," Willow reiterates.
"See the Scooby elite doing their thing." Buffy bounces on her toes, then launches herself into a backflip off the scaffolding; the dull blue crackle of Willow's magic meets her at the bottom. The girls move around the building while Xander grins.
"You guys are backup. If we need you, Will'll let you know. Until then, enjoy the show!" And he jumps to the railing and then forward, catching the end of the fire escape ladder ten feet away. He's remarkably silent as he disappears over the ledge of the roof.
Spike moves to follow the girls down but Angel stops him with a hand on his shoulder. "We'll just watch for now, see what they can do - "
"And make one hell of an entrance, soon's they figure out they're in over their heads, Gunn finishes. The three men share a smile and turn back to the window.
The first person into the warehouse is Xander. He holds the door open slightly as he scans the room, marking his opponents, then lets it slam shut in the same smooth glide that unholsters his handgun and swings it into position. The blast of the gun sounds right after, and the silver and lead bullet drills into a Fyarl's forehead. A second and a third fall even as the demons are gearing up to charge, but then the entire room flickers blue as Buffy launches herself at the first of the Mohra. The hilt of her sword cracks the pulsing gem in its forehead and she turns, vaults over a trio of oncoming vamps, and clamps herself to another Mohra's back.
Two more Fyarl are quickly taken down and, for a moment, Willow's chanting voice overwhelms the dull roar of battle; it reaches a climas and suddenly fades, leaving the warehouse encompassed in a flickering blue shell - except for the one window to the outside where Angel's team is lurking.
Willow looks up and winks at them.
"Bloody hell," Spike murmurs, and Angel can only nod, intent on his lover as she slams a stake into the Mohra's eye and launches herself as he falls, grappling with the vampires that have surrounded her.
Spike's attention is, for reasons he can't quite fathom, focused on Xander. The final Fyarl is moving towards Willow, who doesn't seem to be doing much of anything but watching, and the boy obviously can't get a clear shot and doesn't want to waste the ammo. Instead he hurls himself from his perch,
past the cluster of vampires who have finally noticed his presence, and braces himself on a Mohra's shoulder as he kicks up and out to catch another in the forehead with his aforementioned heavy-ass boots. The jewel crumbles. He reclaims his balance with a spin, clawed gauntlet sweeping out to rake across the face of the demon he had used for support, and fires another shot directly into its third eye'
Four of the best fighters in the demonic world down without inflicting a scratch in less than two minutes. Two to go, but Buffy has them both and Xander moves after the last Fyarl instead, casually slicing off vampire limbs as he passes.
He lifts his gun to take the shot, but is swept under a pile of at least eight vampires. Spike snarls and Gunn prepares to break the window, but Willow's face, eyes black, turns to them and her command to stay put echoes around them. Spike hisses but does as he is told, eyes locked on Xander as first one, then another vampire is knocked back to hit the floor as a pattern of dust.
Spike checks quickly on Willow - the Fyarl had almost been upon her when Xander went down - but she's floating ten feet in the air, legs crossed and elbows on her knees, watching the room and ignoring the frustrated demon groping at the air just below her seat.
Back to Xander, and the shrieking roil of undead that had seemed to overwhelm him is thrown back and he's on his knees, gun thrown aside for the moment, spinning a low circle with claws and blade. There's blood on the side of his face and the strap to his patch is cut because he shakes his head, blood and dust flying, and it comes free and his lost eye is a blaze of furious green and the smile on his face is terrifying.
"What the hell," Spike breathes and Gunn flashes him a sardonic smile.
"I take it this is something else
you didn't know about your boy?"
Spike growls but there's another gunshot and through the window Willow is exchanging a thumbs up with Xander who just took out the last Fyarl. Buffy's finished with the Mohra demons so, as Xander holsters his gun and picks his sword up from the floor, it's the two of them against two dozen vampires.
It hardly seems fair.///
"So, Whelp, what kinda mojo'd Red fix you up with?"
Xander hadn't spoken the rest of the night, hadn't done much besides exchange quick, wolfish grins with his girls - and Gunn, and Angel, even! - and fight like a damned dervish with that green eye blazing. Not even a look in Spike's direction and he's had more than enough of it.
"Didn't," is all he gets by way of reply.
"Beg to differ, seeing as you're lit up like a bloody beacon." His frustration comes out as anger and Xander shies away slightly.
"Sorry," he mutters.
"Not what I meant," Spike sighs. "'S just, if Red didn't do it, then what's going on?"
Xander watches him for a moment, face forward enough that Spike can't see anything of the phantom eye other than Xander's sharply illuminated profile. "Hyena."
Angel stops Xander with a hand on his shoulder and when he asks "It came back?" his face is appalled.
"What's this, then?" Spike asks, keenly interested all of a sudden.
Xander rolls his eyes. "Willow!"
She fades back from Gunn and Buffy and slips beside him.
"Hyena. Explain." He points at Angel and Spike, and Willow nods.
"Go grunt at Buffy," she orders, and he lopes ahead, catching Buffy around the waist and snugging her to his side. Willow looks up into two expectant faces, one worried, and sighs.
"Repossessed by primal spirit as part of some ritual of self-worth when he was collecting Slayers in Burundi. Whatever Caleb did with his little facial reconstruction activated some kind of - we think Hellmouth-induced - empathic power that had been mostly latent. He used that to bind the hyena to him, this time, so he stays in control. Too much fun, though, and he gets kinda non-verbal. Okay?"
"But - " Angel starts, but she cuts him off sharply.
"Nuh-uh. He's safe, he's good, and you're totally killing my battle buzz." With that she turns away and jogs after her friends, tucking herself under Xander's other arm.
"Huh." Spike says, watching the trio. "This happened before?"
Angel nods. "Few months after I met him, he was caught in some spirit-transference ritual at the zoo. Ended up the leader of a pack of wild children."
"Peter Pan style?"
Angel shakes his head. "They ate the principal."
Spike whistles. "Good on ya, mate."
"Hey!" Xander's voice carries back to them. "I only ate the damn pig!"