Whispers in the dark. That was the first thing he remembered from his sleep.
At first, he thought the whispering was coming from all around him. Then he realized that the whispers had been inside his mind, telling him secrets, giving him instructions, weaving his dreams. And what dreams they had been. Delicious, blood-soaked dreams filled with frightened girls, torn throats, dark alleys, and star-filled nights. A freedom such as he had never known before, whence he could do anything, anything, he wanted. And a face, a beautiful face with green eyes and sharp features, one who rested in his memories and danced on the edge of his dreams, taunting him, teasing him, daring him.
Xander opened his eye.
The first thing he felt was the hunger. It rose up in him like a savage thing, and for a moment he was paralyzed with it. He felt his features transform into something hideous, a vile caricature of a human face. Gasping uselessly, he jerked himself to a sitting position.
“Oh, you're finally awake,” a purring voice near him said.
Xander grabbed his face. “Wh-what did you do to me?!” But he already knew. The initial euphoria was gone. He knew who he was, what he was, and what he had been. He expected fury, despair, even guilt for what he'd become.....but he felt nothing. Nothing except this hunger that was worse than being empty or furious.
“I've set you free. Given you eternal life.” Zephyr crawled from the shadows next to him, and climbed into his lap. “Darling...I have such sights to show you...”
“I think I've heard that in a movie before,” Xander said dryly. His face returned to normal, and he dropped his hands, looking up at his new sire. Siress? He didn't know. Didn't care.
Zephyr's face, too, had returned to normal. Xander saw that she was passably pretty as a human, with blue eyes and rounded cheeks. Her full lips would have been pretty if she'd been wearing lipstick and not blood. Her blonde hair was still tangled, and her clothing still ripped and rather grungy looking, but she didn't seem as filthy to him now as she had before. He wondered whether that had anything to do with his new perspective. She was leaning in very close to him, and for the first time he noticed the smell of her – not appetizing at all. Still, he did not protest when she nuzzled her cheek against his chin, or when she kissed along his jawline to his neck. She settled herself more fully into his lap, and would have continued her affectionate assault, but Xander caught her arms and pulled her back to stare into her eyes.
“Of course you are,” she purred. “I should take you hunting right away.”
“Hunting?” Xander recalled that he should argue against hurting innocent folk. He used to protect them, he remembered that clearly. But just now he couldn't call up any concern for anything beyond the thirst that was eating at him.
“Mmm, yes. We'll get you something to eat, sweetling, and then why don't we go look up that Slayer friend of yours?” Zephyr smiled wickedly then, and Xander nodded slowly. Buffy. Yes, he wanted to see Buffy again very badly.
* * *
“I can tell you that these are definitely bite marks, but there are some incongruities with the teeth impressions,” Medical Examiner Melinda Warner said to detectives Benson and Stabler. They were in the morgue the following evening, examining the bodies of the two latest victims. “Some of the teeth seem to be canine, while other impressions suggest human.” She raised her gaze to meet the baffled looks of Elliot and Olivia.
“Like the other vics, these two had their throats ripped open,” Warner went on. She looked over a clipboard that she was holding. “And I'm seeing the same loss of blood as the others, too.”
“Which still doesn't track,” Benson said with a frown. “No way there was enough blood splatter at the scene to explain this kind of blood loss.”
Stabler's brow was furrowed. “Are you saying these were animal attacks?”
“I can't say that for sure. There were no other claw marks, and some of the contusions are from being struck, probably with human hands. See this bruise here?” Warner turned one of the girls' heads to the side and showed a darkened bruise along the jaw. “Definitely made by a fist. See the knuckle imprints? Add to that the fact that I didn't find any animal hair on either body.”
Both of the detectives leaned in to take a look, and Stabler shook his head. “In order to leave a mark like that, her attacker would have to be pretty strong. Like a body builder or something.”
“You're right on that. The impact should have shattered her jaw,” Warner replied.
“So how come it didn't?” Benson asked. She was still staring at the young girl's face.
“It's a weak hypothesis, but all I can say is that she was exceptionally resilient,” Warner said, clearly unhappy with the lack of a better explanation. “The skin is bruised, but the jawbone was still intact. I'll have to do some more in-depth procedures if you want to know if it was fractured at all.”
“Her name was Brandy, right?” Olivia asked, still examining the girl's jaw. “What was she doing out there...” She glanced back up at Warner. “What else can you tell us?”
“No vaginal bruising, no fluids on either vic. They weren't raped.” Warner looked back to her clipboard.
“Not raped, just brutally beaten and murdered,” Elliot muttered. “That's a relief, isn't it.” His tone was bleak.
“There's something else,” Warner added. She moved to the other girl's side. “I've been doing this job for a few years now, and I've never seen anything like this.”
Both Benson and Stabler moved to join her. “That's Nicole Delmont,” Olivia said. “She's from Vegas. What did you find that's so unusual?”
“This,” Warner tapped a long gash that stretched over Nicole's ribcage.
“So? They've both got cuts and bruises on them,” Stabler pointed out.
“True, but this cut was one of the earliest in the struggle,” Warner explained. Benson's eyes widened in surprise.
“She took a gash like that early on, but kept fighting?” Benson asked.
“Not only that, but the gash began to heal almost as soon as it was made.” Warner used a pen to point to the edges of the wound. “It's hard to notice, but when I took a closer look, I found that the edges of the gash had already started to develop scar tissue at a rate that, frankly, I've never even heard of. If she'd lived, this cut would have been healed over in a day or so, maybe even hours.”
“That's....impossible,” Stabler said slowly.
“Yes,” Warner replied, giving him a straight, even look. “It is.”
* * *
New York was just too damned big. That was the conclusion that Buffy was rapidly coming to. She was exhausted, both mentally and physically. She'd managed to track Xander's scent to an empty warehouse. There had been some blood there, but no signs of a struggle, and no one was lurking there. The trail went cold, so Buffy took the time to explore the warehouse. She didn't like what she found.
It was old, and held the sense of having long since been abandoned. The corners were cluttered with empty crates and boxes covered in layers of dust, but the central area of the floor was somewhat cleaner. There was a piece of old, dirty carpet that had Xander's scent. There were a few blood spatters that had her worried, but Buffy wasn't sure whether to be relieved or not that she hadn't found Xander's body. Whatever else this place may have once been, she was pretty sure now that it was a vamp nest.
Buffy swallowed a yawn. She hadn't slept since Xander had first disappeared. She knew she wouldn't sleep until she found him, so there was no point in giving up now.
The Slayer left the warehouse, and stood in the street, staring up at the sky. It was a dry, cold night. After a few minutes, Buffy closed her eyes, and let her Slayer instincts take over. She turned north, and broke into a sprint.
* * *
The girl...well, woman, really...crumpled to her knees as Xander released her throat. Blood dripped down her pretty, sparkly purple blouse. Xander licked more blood from his lips. Only a few feet away, Zephyr stood watching, looking as proud as any parent whose child had just taken his first step.
“She didn't taste very good,” Xander said in an indifferent tone.
“Those kind never do,” Zephyr scoffed. “Filthy whores. But they take the edge off the hunger, at least.”
Xander stared down at the girl. He wanted to feel something, some kind of disgust, horror, even panic at what he'd just done, but he felt nothing. Zephyr was right, the edge was off his hunger, but he could still feel it, down in the pit of his stomach. He wondered if he would be perpetually hungry from now on.
“Now what?” he asked his sire.
“Mmm...” Zephyr purred, sliding up close to him and running a hand lovingly over his bicep. “I can think of a few ways to pass the time...”
Xander glanced down at her and wrinkled his nose. “No,” he said flatly. She pouted, pressing herself against him a little more.
“Don't you want me?” she asked plaintively.
“No,” Xander said again. He didn't even bother to look down at her again. He was thinking of Buffy, and how much he wanted to see her. And Willow. He could far more easily imagine Willow in his arms than the grungy blonde who'd turned him. Willow, her shining red hair wet with the blood Xander would spill from her throat....
Something tightened painfully in his chest, though whether it was fear or excitement, Xander couldn't be certain. The only thing he was certain about was that he wanted to find Buffy.
“Come on....let's get out of here.” Xander pushed Zephyr aside, leaving the dead prostitute where he'd dropped her.
“Oooh, shall we go look up old friends now?” Zephyr giggled, and she skipped along after him.