I had just been back in Sunnydale for less then a day. I had talked to my parents, who were now charging me rent to use the basement, and I was hoping to meet up with the gang when I ran into trouble at the SU campus.
A vampire. Not even pretending to be human either since there was no sign of anyone else around. Admittedly, vampires were not the most dangerous thing in this town but they certainly ranked pretty high on a day-to-day basis. Especially if, like me, you’re not the Slayer. And, as way too much experience has taught me, normal humans fighting demons hurts, even if you win.
I managed to block its first punch, hurt like hell but at least I didn’t get a concussion. Pulling a stake from my back pocket as I backed up a bit, I decided to knock it off balance. I rammed it in the chest, taking us both down to the ground and jamming the stake home as we grappled on the grass.
He dissolved into dust, leaving me to fall the remaining few centimeters to the grass. I cradled my bruising arm as I tried to get back up, I’ve really gotta get myself a crossbow the next time I go out after dark, maybe even one of Giles’ axes.
Just as I reached my feet, the sound of footsteps behind me reached my ears. Turning around, I panicked as I saw the group of balaclava wearing commandos racing towards me.
As most of them fanned out and moved to surround me, the two at the front raised their weapons. The last thing I saw was a burst of white light before a burning pain racked my body and I slipped into unconsciousness.
“What superhuman abilities has Hostile 9 displayed?” A crisp female voice cut through the haze of sleep as I realized that I was definitely not in my bed.
Jerking upwards, alert and ready for action, I froze when I got a good look at my surroundings.
Empty room. White walls, floor and roof. One glass window taking up an entire wall, exposing those who had interrupted my slumber. The whole thing made me feel like a zoo exhibit.
The speaker looked old. Of course, after three years hanging around Giles I’m not about to underestimate her for that. Blonde hair, cut short in a military approved style. She was wearing a white lab coat and a curious expression that made me nervous. Standing next to her was a soldier.
Neither of them even acknowledged me.
“Hostile 9 was observed to have successfully combated one of the Haemovores,” the soldier explained, his voice somehow enthusiastic yet clinical at the same time. “During this conflict, it did not display any unusual strength, speed, or other abilities we would not expect in a healthy teenage male.”
“Then how was it identified as a Hostile Sub-Terrestrial?” The female, who I had mentally assigned the label ‘Scientist’, asked.
“It was giving off a low-level pheromone signature that the scanner did not recognize,” the Soldier answered, “That, combined with its encounter, and obvious familiarity with the existence of the Haemovores, led to our conclusion. Samples of its blood, hair and skin are currently being tested to confirm this.”
“Inform me when the results get back,” she ordered as she turned and began to walk away.
“Yes Ma’am,” Soldier Boy saluted as he followed after her.
As they left, only Soldier Boy even giving me a second glance as they walked way, I was left with a few questions. Where the hell am I? What on earth is a ‘Haemovore’? What is a ‘Hostile Sub-Terrestrial’ and why do they think I am one?
“Captain Finn, you have the results concerning Hostile 9?”
“Yes Ma’am,” the newly named ‘Captain Finn’ answered, as the woman continued to stare at me as though she were Willow and I was a frog in a high school biology class, “According to our researchers, his genetic profile, whilst closely mimicking the human genome for the most part, contains a number of abnormalities that seem to be descendant of both HST and piscine DNA.”
As I stood there silently, I quietly cursed Coach Marin, as well as his parents, his friends, his teachers, and pretty much anyone else who ever came into contact with him in his entire life.
“And their conclusions?”
“They theorized that Hostile 9 may be part of a hominid species that separated from the human evolutionary line and has adapted to live in an aquatic environment. A physical examination however, revealed no significant morphological changes to support this.”
“Really?” She asked softly, “Yet you said that there is definite HST DNA in his genome?”
“Yes, Director Walsh,” Captain Finn answered immediately.
“Have him reexamined in an aquatic environment.”
“Completely submerged in water,” she clarified as she begun to leave, “Let the researchers test their theory.”
This could be bad.
After I had first woken up it hadn’t taken long to figure out what was going on. A particularly paranoid vampire in the next cell over and a soldier boy playing ‘Mock-the-Freaks’ had filled me in on the whole ‘Government Agency/Area 51’ type deal that was going on here.
And if they get me in water... let’s just call it a swim team flashback.
As I heard the catch release that warns me about the knockout gas I realized that I was most definitely screwed.
Two days after the Swim Team Incident, I felt the need to be in the water. I didn’t really think much about the sudden urge to go for a swim because, well, why would I? The second that I dove into Sunnydale High’s own swimming pool however, I felt something change, I shrugged it off though, in true Sunnydalian spirit.
To be honest, I didn’t even notice that anything was happening until I realized that I hadn’t surfaced in five minutes. That’s when I opened my eyes under the water and realized a few things. I was at the bottom of the pool, but I was breathing. Feeling something weird on my face, I raised my hands to feel what was wrong.
My fingers met gills.
You can imagine my reaction.
Giles gave the only answer he could think of, Coach Marin’s Gill Monster Cocktail. Somehow, whatever effects it had on me are stimulated by water. I go under and my ears turn into gills. Turns out that the bones of the inner ear form the gills in fish, hence, the transformation. To this day though, we still have no idea if anyone else from the swim team was affected.
Giles told the gang and life went on pretty much as normal, though I may have taken more trips to the beach than usual, breathing underwater was the only thing I could do and it didn’t really effect much else in my life.
“Curious,” Director Walsh, as she observed me like a fish in a tank, which, I kind of was at the moment, her voice sounded distant and faint due to the water, “It seems that Hostile 9’s physiology adapts itself to an aquatic environment in seconds. Very interesting.”
I was standing within a glass tube filled with water, chains attached to my wrists locked me to the floor.
“Dr. Walsh?” One of the other scientists asked, from behind his computer terminal, looking over towards me, chained down within the column of liquid, “Should we dissect him and add his sample to Project Darwin?”
“Have our superiors approved human testing yet?” She asked without pause.
“Uh... no, Dr. Walsh,” he answered unsurely.
“Then no, Dr. Powell, do not dissect him yet,” Walsh ordered, “I have plans for this one.”
“Doctor?” Another scientist queried.
“Hostile 9’s DNA mimics the basic structure of a baseline Homo Sapien,” she said clearly, as though giving a lecture, “I suggest he become Project Darwin’s primary test subject.”
“You wish to transplant the genetic sequences from Hostiles 2, 5 and 6 into Hostile 9?” An incredulous voice rang out.
“Yes,” she answered nonplussed, “If the procedure is successful, then we may extrapolate the data and hopefully move on to human candidates.”
Why do I get the feeling that this will not be a gay old time?
Over the next few days I was prepped for the transplant. This basically meant that half my time was spent in near panic in my cell while the rest of it was spent unconscious being poked and prodded by the military scientists.
I heard a lot thanks to the rumblings of the guards patrolling the halls and the scientists who occasionally took notes outside my cell, and I didn’t like any of it.
Basically, Project Darwin was designed to produce a soldier that could adapt to survive in any environment by mixing in a bunch of different demons.
Unfortunately, I had also heard that the treatment was set to take place soon, probably just a couple of hours left. Since I kinda doubted I’d even survive the experiment, I was basically doing my best to make my piece with any god, deity and/or higher being that I may have pissed off in my lifetime. And a few of the demonic ones as well, after all, Anya kinda liked me at the prom, maybe she could put a good word in with her old boss?
When the soldiers came with a stretcher and released the knockout gas, I just prayed that it was enough.
Margaret Walsh was many things, a number of them unpleasant, but one thing she was not is unpatriotic. She believed, wholeheartedly, in the strength of her government and the nobility of her country. That is why she accepted the position as primary overseer of the Initiative project. It gave her the opportunity to serve her country the best way she knew how, without being subjected to the scrutiny of ethics committees.
She saw the Hostile Sub-Terrestrials as a threat to her nation, but more than that, from a completely objective and scientific standpoint she understood that they were also miracles of evolution. Each species seemed to possess natural abilities that were far beyond that of any creature in the animal kingdom. So yes, they were a threat to be eliminated, but they were also a possible source of protection, if properly controlled.
The behavior modification chips were a success. Haemovores subjected to the procedure were incapable of harming living organisms (aside from other HST’s of course) without experiencing painful bio-electric feedback. This made them controllable.
Due to the creatures near-human intelligence, they could certainly be trained as operatives for the United States, but their reaction to sunlight made their uses sorely limited. As well as the unfortunate fact that the chips which made them controllable also further reduced their potential usefulness to the United States.
The behavior modification chips were also a failure however, in the fact that only the Haemovores had brain chemistries that were compliant with the chips effects. Other organisms were simply too different for the chips to remain effective.
The other HSTs did, however, have their uses. Though the vast majority lacked the intelligence necessary to be trained, the secrets hidden in their DNA could provide Dr Walsh with exactly what she needed.
Recombinant DNA technology was commonly used to create bacteria capable of producing human insulin, a necessary hormone for the treatment of diabetes. In her hands however, it would allow her to isolate the genetic sequences responsible for the HST’s incredible abilities, and inject them into the genomes of her soldiers. Creating an army capable of harnessing their power.
And Hostile 9 is the key.
While her projects were largely off the grid, she did have superiors that she was forced to answer to, and human testing of any kind was prohibited without authorization. She had free reign over the Hostiles, and Hostile 9... so very similar to the human norm. If Project Darwin was a success, she could present him to her superiors. And if her findings did not provide the evidence necessary for approval, then Hostile 9’s apparent human-like intelligence would still allow him to be trained as a living weapon.
The science was sound, she told herself, as the procedure went on. The genome transplant would be successful
Unbeknownst to Dr Walsh however, were the laws of magic. Had she been aware, she would have proceeded with much caution, because, when magic is concerned, the fundamental laws of the universe are generally disregarded entirely.
Dr Walsh may have only been grafting the DNA of three HST’s into Hostile 9’s genome, she may have only believed that she was granting him Hostile 2’s digestive system, which was capable of breaking down any organic matter, no matter its toxicity, without harm.
She may have only believed that Hostile 5’s optic senses would allow him to see with perfect clarity no matter what level of light was available to him. And she may have believed that, scientifically speaking, Hostile 6’s DNA should only grant him an outstandingly efficient thermoregulatory system.
But the DNA she was working with was not that of simple animals, but demons, who each possessed a certain level of magic that made their very existence conceivable. And in magic-- as Xander himself had discovered on multiple occasions-- intent is everything.
At the forefront of Dr Walsh’s mind was the intent to produce a being capable of adapting to survive any environment it encountered. No matter how hostile the environment, or how immediate the threat, the being she was creating would be the very incarnation of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Adapt to Survive.
I woke up in pain. Thankfully not the searing pain that I half remembered feeling in my sleep. More like a dull throbbing of my body trying to adjust to a change that it was not designed for.
I spent my first conscious day being poked and prodded as the scientists tested my reaction times and vitals before I was escorted back to my cell at gunpoint.
Maybe an hour later, as I sat against the wall thinking about my life outside this place, I noticed a new shadow on the floor that wasn’t going away. Not for the first time did I wish that they had let me keep my clothes after the first experiment.
“What’s up?” I asked, my voice raspy from disuse, hoping that whoever it was would be up for a conversation, all this isolation was not me, I’m really more of a social creature.
Turning to the window/wall, I saw that it was Captain Finn himself, one of the few soldiers who didn’t go out of their ways to torment me and the other captives.
“Hostile 9...” Finn began before I cut him off.
“Dude, stop calling me that,” I told him tiredly, is it too much to ask to not be treated like a government experiment when you’re being experimented on in a military science facility? “At this point I’d pay you to call me ‘Zeppo’, just stop talking to me like I’m a science project.”
“Fine,” he continued, ignoring my request, “I need to ask you some questions.”
“Why me?” I asked him, eyebrow raised, “What could I possibly tell you about anything?”
“Few of the other HST’s are capable of speech, and those that are have already refused me,” he answered calmly, “And none of my colleagues have the knowledge that I’m searching for.”
“First of all, Freddie-- the slimy crocodile/goat/man thing over in the next cell-- would probably be perfectly happy to answer your questions if you asked,” I told him, before looking over at said being, a befuddled expression overcoming my face, “Problem is he only speaks Klingon for some reason... I don’t really get it.”
Riley turned to look into the aforementioned demon’s cell, where, upon realizing he was under observation, Freddie gave a cheery wave.
“Nice kid,” I commented.
“Kid?” Riley arched an eyebrow, looking back between the seven foot demon and myself.
“Oh, yeah,” I shrugged, “He may not look it but he’s maybe... three years old? Human terms? I’m not entirely sure, but he’s basically a toddler. Poor kid doesn’t even realize what’s going on.”
“What do you mean?”
“His kind don’t feel pain the same way you and I do,” I explained, “All the stuff you’re scientists have been doing to him? He thinks you’re all just playing a game, and he’s having a grand old time of it too, which is lucky, ‘cause I don’t think you want to be here when he gets upset.”
“You think he could bust out of there?” He asked, disbelief clear in his voice.
“I’m not entirely sure, but that’s not what you’ve gotta worry about,” I said, “Y’see, when he finally realizes that he’s a prisoner here, and that you guys aren’t just his funny babysitters, he’s going to be giving off a telepathic signal that’ll bring his momma here in a flash, and she will /not/ be a happy camper, let me tell you.”
“... right,” Finn said, unsure of how to respond.
“Hey, you guys have a cafeteria around here somewhere right?” I ask suddenly, “One with vending machines?”
“Uh... yeah,” he confirms, confused by the sudden change of subject, “Why?”
“Bring me a Twinkie and I’ll answer any questions you want,” I told him.
“A Twinkie?” He asks, still very confused, “Why a Twinkie?”
“How long have I been here?”
“You were unconscious and recovering from the Project Darwin procedure for almost a month and you were here for several weeks beforehand,” the Captain answered automatically.
“And that’s how long I’ve been without tasting the sacred products of Hostess,” I said, answering his previous question, though I could barely believe that I’d been out for a whole month, “Bring me a Twinkie, and then you can ask your questions.”
Captain Finn silently walked away, a confused look on his face.
Finn returned, several minutes later, with TWO Twinkies. I think I could like this guy, if only he would let me out of the government facility determined to dissect me... oh well.
“One for now, one for after I get my answers,” he told me, answering my unasked question as he opened the food slot and tossed me one of the Twinkies.
Ripping the wrapper off, I devoured the yellow snack in a single bite, savoring every second of its sweet taste. As I sat there, a feeling of pure bliss gracing my soul, I remembered that there was another delicious treat waiting for me.
I motioned with my hands for him to continue. “Ask away.”
Leaning in closely to the glass, Finn began talking, “I want to know about the Slayer.”
My heart skipped a beat.
“What about her?” I ask carefully.
“What is she?”
The confusion was clear on his face as he asked me to elaborate.
“You see these monsters that you have locked up in these nice little cells?” He nodded, I continued. “You know how it took an entire squad of armed soldiers to capture them, one at a time?” I asked him. He, again, nodded his understanding.
“The Slayer could kill every single one of them in one night and walk away without a scratch on her,” I told him bluntly, “The Slayer is the thing that the darkness fears, a warrior capable of fighting them at their own level, and kicking their collective asses.”
“So... she fights the HST’s?”
“No, she fights DEMONS,” I correct him, heavily emphasizing the last word.
“You said that she can fight at their level, how is that possible?”
“Mystical enhancements,” I told him simply.
“Mystical?” Finn asked, skeptically.
“I answered your questions, now you answer mine. Why do you want to know about the Slayer?”
“I recently ran into someone claiming to be her. She told me to look it up.”
“Blonde or Brunette?” Has Faith woken up while I’ve been in here?
“Blonde,” he answered, looking at me curiously, “You know her?”
“We’ve met, in fact,” I smile reminiscently, “The Brunette and I had some good times before she tried to kill me.”
“The Slayer kills your kind, but she slept with an HST?” Finn looked disgusted.
“You’d be surprised how often the line between friend and enemy is blurred. Ask the Blonde about her high school sweetheart, he jumped rope with it.”
“Speaking of whom,” I continue, ignoring his confused expression as I gestured around, “Does she know about all of this?”
“More than I’d like her to.”
“Tell her I said hi,” a wicked grin forming as Finn tossed me the remaining Twinkie and walked away in frustration, while I imagined Buffy leading the charge to my rescue if she ever got that particular message. A guy can dream.
Not long after my encounter with the Captain, another group showed up. This one was composed of a few scientists pushing a stretcher with a pair of soldiers as escorts. I just sat back against the wall and waited for the gas to come in and put me to sleep, hoping that this wouldn’t be the dissection everyone but me seemed to be waiting for.
When the first soldier pressed the button to the side of the cell and released the gas, I just sat back and waited for the Sandman to claim me. But when I took the first breathe of contaminated air, I felt a tingling sensation run through my body.
A few more breathes and I realized that I wasn’t getting drowsy. This was a pretty big shock since usually this stuff is enough to put me down instantly.
Pushing myself away from the wall, I stood up, and looked out at the assorted military personnel. The soldiers looked irritated, but the scientists looked almost scared. That wasn’t very comforting.
“Gentlemen,” the crisp voice of Director Walsh-- or as I like to call her, ‘Snyder’s Soulmate’-- cut through the air, “What seems to be the trouble?”
“Um, Dr. Walsh,” the foremost scientist stuttered, “It appears that Hostile 9 has developed an immunity to the gas.”
“Hmm,” she mused, almost to herself, looking towards me with interest, “Perhaps a mutation of Hostile 2’s digestive capabilities?”
“Doctor, whilst Hostile 2 has displayed a staggering immunity to any ingested toxins, the inhaled variants were still fully effective,” the nervous scientist spoke up once more, “I believe this may be something very different.”
“We’ll have to keep an eye out for that during the vivisection,” Walsh said offhandedly, “Corporal Gates, Corporal Miller, please incapacitate Hostile 9 with your blasters.”
The two soldiers moved to the door without hesitation, holding their weapons at the ready as one of the scientists put in the access code.
The second the door started to move, I pushed away from the wall and charged. I had almost reached them when Gates fired his blaster.
I stopped, my arms moving on instinct, crossing before me in some semblance of a shield, and the second the electricity touched my skin, I felt nothing more than a slight shock, like static buildup from a carpet, and the shiver ran through me again.
I didn’t even feel the rest of the lightning as it dispersed away from my body, and I was too shocked to do anything but stand slack jawed as they shot me twice more with no effect.
As Miller moved to fire for a fourth time my brain kicked into gear and I started moving again. Reaching Gates in two steps, I punched him hard in the jaw before moving onto Miller. He realized that the blaster wasn’t enough though and reached for his gun. I leaped at him before he could raise it though, slamming his head against the floor as we went down. With Miller unconscious, I jumped back to my feet, ready to run when I was hit.
I heard the gunshot just before the force of the bullet hitting my back threw me at the wall.
Silence reigned for almost half a minute as everyone tried to process what had just happened.
The bullet hadn’t penetrated. And there I was, standing against the wall with a scaly, black exoskeleton covering my body.
A second shot rang out and I was hit again with the same results. This time I took the hint and ran towards the door without anymore hesitation. Alarms that had been ringing since the first shot continued and I saw the doors beginning to slide down from the roof as I neared the opening.
I dove the remaining distance, sliding under the closing door thanks to the exoskeleton, and pushed myself to my feet the second I was through.
Picking a direction, I started running again, looking desperately for an exit. The few soldiers that I came across shot with their blasters and guns but I remained unharmed. I have no idea what these psychos did to me, but I think that I could learn to like it.
It didn’t take too long before I found an elevator. In this situation I would have preferred the stairs, but I couldn’t find any of them so I got in and prayed. I noticed, as the doors slid closed and the soldiers disappeared from view, that the armor went as well. Just folded back into my skin as easily as it had emerged.
“Shit!!” I yelled, when the elevator stopped and the lights cut out, distracting me from my thoughts.
My eyes adjusted to the darkness instantly, and I started trying to find a new way out. The trapdoor in the ceiling seemed the only option so I jumped up and pulled the latch, swinging it down.
I couldn’t reach the opening from the floor, but when the elevator started to move, downwards this time, I figured I didn’t have much choice. Backing up to the wall, I took as good a run up as I could manage in the confined space and jumped, kicking off of the opposing wall and catching the edge of the trapdoor.
It took a fair amount of struggling, but I managed to pull myself through, and from there I started climbing the rope.
“And here I didn’t think gym had real world applications. Silly me,” I grunted as I pulled myself up. My eyes still granting me perfect vision as I came across another door.
It took a lot of work, but eventually I managed to pry the doors open. I found myself in a hallway that didn’t look any different from any other house I’d been in.
I decided not to wait around in the lions den and ran out the front door full pelt onto the campus of UC Sunnydale.
I must have looked ridiculous running bare ass across the lawn in the middle of the afternoon. And if I hadn’t just spent the last two months living a life of enforced nudity, I might have cared.
I kept running, despite the stares because I knew that the scientists wouldn’t give me up just because I made it to the surface. I was their ‘Project Darwin’, and from what I heard that was a pretty big deal to them.
I knew that I wouldn’t get far if I kept running like this, I was pretty distinguishable being naked and pale as a vampire after all, so when I hit the streets I made a decision.
Cutting into an alley, I found the nearest sewer access and lifted the manhole. Giving a brief thanks to Richard Wilkins the First, Second and Third for making them so user friendly, and, above all, hygienic, I climbed down the ladder, covering the entrance as I went.
I wandered through the sewers for about an hour before I found myself in familiar territory. Taking a few twists and turns that I had memorized in the days after Halloween, back when the Soldier persona was still fairly dominant and had demanded I know my escape routes, mannerisms that had since faded, and I soon found myself climbing another ladder.
Pushing the manhole out of the way, I climbed out into open air, and found myself in the charred remains of Sunnydale High School.
Who’d’ve thought this place had actually smelled better before the rotting demon carcass?
I figured I’d hide out in the library or something till nightfall, maybe get some sleep while I’m at it. Then I could sneak back home and try and find my clothes, assuming my parents haven’t gotten rid of my stuff by now. After that it shouldn’t be too hard to get to Buffy’s and meet up with the gang.
I thought that all of that would be very doable. I thought that I’d have plenty of time to relax and plan out how I would break the news to them about the military hunting me down.
Of course, I forgot to factor in the fact that I am God’s butt-monkey.
I awoke to the sound of a growling demon.
Upon opening my eyes, I was forced to correct that thought when I discovered that I had actually awoken to the sound of three growling demons. Each of them looking green, scaly and pissed as they dropped whatever they had been holding.
As I cautiously got to my feet, the three demons fanned out and started to move slowly towards me, still growling as they did so.
My first thought was to turn and run. Feeling the wall at my back, thoroughly ruining Plan A, my second thought was to bravely stand and fight the vile demons threatening to ruin the peace to my dying breath.
When the first one jumped at me, clawed hands outstretched, I reached out and hoped for the bulletproof armor to make a reappearance.
What happened instead was just as good. I managed to catch the demon by the wrists, but instead of falling against the wall under it’s momentum, I held it back with an unexpected strength. Not looking a gift horse in the mouth, I pushed back, throwing the demon across the room.
The two other demons chose this moment to try and scissor me. I leaped forward, rolling as I hit the ground and getting back to my feet and backing away.
As I moved carefully to try and escape the demons, I very nearly fell into a gaping chasm that /so/ wasn’t there when I came in.
I had no clue what was going on, three demons, a brand new hole in the floor and only one of me. Plan A made a comeback. I ran.
I was nearing the exit, watching as the demons moved carefully, keeping watchful eyes on me in case I changed my mind. They had doubled back to grab what they had dropped earlier when the new players showed up.
Buffy... Willow... Oz... Spike?!!
Did I miss something?
“Xander?!?” Willow asked carefully, “Please tell me you’re not helping the apocalypse demons?”
“Willow?” I ask just as slowly, “Please tell me that Spike hasn’t turned you all into vampires?”
Our little reunion was cut short by the sudden earthquake. Turning around I realized one of the demons was missing and the other two were preparing to jump into the hole.
“No time,” Buffy ordered, “We need to stop the demons from getting into the Hellmouth!”
That hole’s the Hellmouth? Yeah, that fits with the day I’m having.
Buffy took off at a dead sprint towards the demons. I figured she’s probably on the right side and started towards the one with the empty hands. The one with the sack jumped as we got there, with the ominous rumbling starting immediately afterwards. Buffy’s Slayer enhanced speed got her there before me and she tackled the final demon as it tried to dive in the hole and shake up the place.
The remaining demon threw her off him and crawled along the floor to the whole, slipping in just before I reached it.
“No!” Buffy screamed.
Whatever was happening, it was big, end of the world stuff judging from the look on Buffy’s face. And the last demon hitting the bottom of the chasm would be it.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” I muttered under my breath as I reached the Hellmouth and dove in.
Falling through the air, I could see the demon ahead of me, and I was gaining on it fast. A shiver running through me made me realize that whatever was happening to me had now made me more aerodynamic, and the wind whipping against my skull made me certain that I had just lost my hair in the process.
It took maybe five seconds of free fall to catch up to the demon, and the bottom still wasn’t in sight. Colliding into it and wrapping one arm around it with a solid grip, I reached my remaining hand out to the chasm wall, praying for a miracle.
I got it. Right before my hand met the rock, my fingertips hardened and lengthened into points, digging into the stone like a hot knife through butter.
The demon, still struggling in my arm, and I jerked to a very sudden stop and I felt myself grow stronger to deal with the stress. Looking up, I could just see the light at the top of the hole in the distance.
“Quiet you,” I muttered as the demon continued to growl and struggle and I tried to figure out how the hell I was going to get back to the surface.
I was left hanging there with a limp demon in my arms-- it’s growling bugged me so I slammed it against the rocks until it passed out-- for another two seconds before the falling form of Buffy Anne Summers came screaming past me, halting to a stop some ten feet lower. She was hanging from a rope. Where did she get a repelling line?
“Xander!” She gasped, getting a god look at my currently un-Xander-shaped body, what with the claws, the lack of hair and the extra muscle mass, “How...?”
“Long story,” I grunted, “I’ll tell you when the world isn’t about to end.”
“Right,” she acquiesced, before looking skywards, “Bring us up, Riley!”
The line started to slowly retract, pulling Buffy upwards. When she got to my position she reached out and I passed the unconscious demon into her arms. As she kept getting higher, I let go of the wall and grabbed her legs, my claws receding as I gripped onto her and hung on tight.
The three of us ascended through the cavern, soon emerging from the lips of the hole to a sight I had expected even less than Spike’s appearance.
The ‘Riley’ that Buffy had called out to was Riley Finn. Oh sure, thinking about it I remembered Riley mentioning that it was Buffy who had told him to search for the Slayer mythos, but with all the life-or-death crap and escaping from unlawful captivity I’ve been a bit out of it in the mental department.
“What’s he doing here?” We both yelled at the same time, pointing accusing fingers at the other.
“So, you two know each other?” Buffy guessed awkwardly.
“His group of scientific sycophants turned me into this!” I yelled, gesturing wildly towards my body, which was, even now, adjusting to the lack of immediate threats and reverting to normal. I didn’t even take the second to realize I was still butt naked until Buffy ripped Riley’s jacket off of him and tossed it at me.
“Put this on,” she ordered, grabbing Riley’s arm in her powerful grip to ensure he didn’t flee, “Now. And then please explain.”
“He’s an HST,” Riley told her, to which she snorted.
“They found out about my little Swim Team Debacle,” I told her, wrapping the jacket around my nether regions, “Decided to do some prodding.”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed, and her grip on Riley tightened enough for him to start squirming.
“Ow!” He complained, not that anyone was listening, “It’s our job to track down and neutralize any dangerous HSTs!”
“And you thought Xander was dangerous?” Buffy asked, as I put on my best ‘innocent’ look, “Did he have access to explosives?”
“Explosives? What?” Riley asked, but stopped when Buffy gripped harder, “We found him combating a haemovore!”
“So?” Buffy said dangerously, “I do that five times a night.”
“He didn’t read as human on the scanners!”
“I can totally explain that,” I assured him, not that he was paying much attention to me.
“Maybe we should take this somewhere that’s... not here?” Willow spoke up, Oz nodding diligently alongside her.
“Sure,” I said, “And while we’re doing that, can someone please explain to me what Spike’s doing here?”