Every part of his body hurt. It was no longer the pain of the wyvern's poison, but something entirely different now that was making his blood feel like acid. As he tried to find something, any way of blocking out the pain, Xander found himself spiraling downward into Hellena's memories.
He sat on the bed in an aging motel room, looking at the world through Hellena's eyes. The bedspreads were threadbare; the paint on the walls was chipped and faded; the black and white television set could barely get one and a half channels even with extra tin foil stuck to the rabbit ear antenna. But she could tell even if the furnishings had seen better days that the room had been kept sparkling clean. From a bag of fabric scraps she had propped on the chair, she pulled out a series of bright floral fabric pieces, moving them into different spots as she planned the pattern for her next quilt.
"I don't get it." Beverly said from her place flopped on the other bed.
"Don't get what?" Hellena said.
"Why you bother making your own quilts when you could get a perfectly nice blanket from Penney's or Sears instead, and it wouldn't even cost all that much. "
Hellena was tempted to snap something at Beverly, but then looked at her and was reminded at just how young the other woman was. Young enough that her hair was still the blonde she had been born with instead of the dark hair that everyone in the Pack aquired as the years wore on.
"Because as long as I can still do this," she waved at the fabric scraps "as long as I can still create, it's my way of holding onto the part of me that's still human, the part that's still Hellena, that still has a soul. Prime couldn't create. All he could do was use what was already around him. And I sure as hell couldn't see Coyote sewing anything more than fixing a button on a pair of pants." That drew a chuckle from Beverly.
"I get it now. Kind of like me and music. I just wish we didn't have to travel so light that it just didn't work for me to bring my guitar along."
The memories jumped, and Xander found himself and Hellena standing in what looked like someone's living room. She paced a track along a blue rug, balling her skirt in her hands in anger as she went. The dark-haired wild-eyed man named Coyote flopped on the oddly formal couch.
"You could have told me what I was getting into. The price I was going to have to pay for this."
"The price for living instead of dying slowly from the tuberculosis? Would you have believed me if I had tried? Not even Jules Verne could have imagined the horror of the Ontongard."
"And now that horror is a part of me, could be all of me if I let it, if I wasn't willing to fight to stay Hellena. Prime may have thought he was different- the rebel who was his own person instead of part of the hive mind, the one who could have stopped the Ontongard from taking over and destroying all of life on Earth. But he was still one of them. Still one of the parasites. Still carried the alien virus that would have turned us all into slaves to them, and still spread it to you, to me, to us."
"And I hate him for it too. Forced into human form, forced to live among those who for all their claims of being an enlightened species, would have killed all my kind. To walk on two feet and live unchanging while the world changed. To be unable to have pups of my own, and to know that when I got lonely for company that was like what I had became, that a hundred would die from the alien virus in spread from my blood to theirs for every one that would survive to become Pack Get.
But for all I hate him, I don't see how he could have done things any differently than he did. He destroyed or put to sleep almost all of what would have been the Ontongard invasion force for Earth. And he never would have made me if Hex hadn't escaped and started to make Gets of his own. Imagine a world where Hex wins, where the Ontongard win. Ninety nine percent of all life on Earth would be gone. The rest would be absorbed into the Ontongard, stripped of all of their humanity, stripped of their souls and left with just the shell of what they were and a piece of the hive mind between their ears. Someone has to pay the price to keep that from happening, to protect those who walk on two feet, and those who walk on four. As Rennie would say, to preserve laughter and music and art and everything else that makes humans unique. And that someone just happens to be us, even if our physical selves are closer to the enemy than they are to human or lupine anymore.
So hate Prime, hate me, but always hate the enemy even more. Because what they could do will always be a thousand times worse."
As Xander felt Hellena nodding at Coyote's words, the memories jumped again.
This time it was a concert hall. Dressed to the nines instead of in her usual biker gear, she sat in a balcony seat next to another Get named Murray as the orchestra warmed up below them.
"Thanks for coming with me, Hellena. Not too many Dog Warriors are into classical music."
"Just trying to broaden my horizons here. Beverly got me interested in a whole bunch of different kinds of music when she ran with us. I still haven't had a Tchaikovsky performance blow me away like it did the time we saw Jimi Hendrix play Winterland in San Francisco, and I probably never will. But I can still enjoy coming here." she said. *and reminding us why it's all worth fighting for* she mentally added.
*Hendrix? You got to see Hendrix play live?* Murray thought back.
*It was amazing. I'll have to share that memory with you later.* she thought.
And then it all shifted from concert hall to the Pack's camp site in the Santa Ynez Mountains. Hellena stood next to her motorcycle, digging a small box out of her saddlebags. She hated trying to make Gets. Not just because the result was either death or someone who wasn't human anymore. But also because it was too intimate of an act involving someone who was almost always a total stranger. A Get received all the memories of the one that created him or her. If Xander survived this, if the fight between the alien virus and his own immune system didn't kill him, then he would know everything about her: hopes, fears, her victories and screw ups, how strong her love for Rennie ran. She hated having to share Rennie with anyone else.
"He's seizing again." Collin said. She sighed as she walked back to the campsite, dreading what would come next.
Collin sat next to the banked fire ring in the small clearing. He had steadily gotten better as the wyvern's poison had been cleared from his body, but he still looked paler than usual. She had originally placed Xander on top of a sleeping bag next to him, but the seizures had carried him off the scant padding the bag offered and into the dirt. She shrugged the black leather jacket off before gracefully sitting down between Xander and Collin.
"And when this doesn't work?" she said.
"Then we go find his friend Bitsy or Buffy or whoever she is, and see if she knows anything more than he does. We say we found his body up in the woods and want to return it to her. But hopefully his immune system is fucked up enough right now for this to work. We know Xander knows what's going on. We don't know how deep in his friends are. Believe it or not, I don't like the whole thing any more than you do. But we don't have the luxury of doing what we like; we're stuck with what we have to do, or Earth could lose everything." It was one of the longer speeches she had heard Collin make.
"It's time then." she said. As she rolled up the sleeve of her t-shirt, Collin opened up the box, drawing out a length of surgical tubing. He wrapped the tourniquet around her arm, and then she waved him off. She felt she had to do the rest on her own. She pulled the syringe out of the box, and plunged the needle into her arm, filling the barrel with her own blood.
"I better hold him down for you. We don't need him to start seizing again when you're in the middle of it." Collin said, moving to pin the unconscious man. It didn't take much effort. Xander's breathing was shallow; his heart beat unsteadily. She wasn't sure he had the energy left for another round of seizures. She moved herself toward the two men, taking one of Xander's arms, and noticing the number of scars there seemed far too many for someone so young. At least he's used to fighting, a small part of her brain said. Then she found a vein in the arm, and, saying a prayer, she emptied the syringe of her blood into the Xander's body.
Memories. Not his memories. Hellena's memories, Xander thought as the pain receded enough for him to crawl his was back to consciousness. So many more details than what he had gotten from soldier boy. Even how it felt for Hellena when Rennie... he did his best to smack down that group of memories into a far corner of his mind back where the hyena memories were stored, and not only locked the door to that metaphysical room in his head but covered the door in silver chains as well. Secret alien invasions of Earth; people who had become like the invaders in order to stop them. He wasn't quite sure why aliens would find Earth so interesting, but then he wasn't always sure what the demons saw in Sunnydale either. Maybe Earth was some kind of paradise planet, but if it was then the rest of the places must really suck if they thought Oxnard was The Place To Be.
Provided the memories were real. Normally, he wouldn't worry too much if they were. First order of business was saving the world, and everything else, including figuring out what the deal was with soldier boy, or just how alternate realities and timelines worked, would sort themselves out afterward amid a victory dinner of pizza and donuts while they cleaned up the post-apocalypse mess and got everything back to normal. Mmmm donuts. A part of him was starting to feel so very hungry. And between Willow and Giles, they could either find a spell that would get the alien parasite virus back out of him, or know someone who could find a spell to get him human again. But, magic really only worked well against a magically caused condition, not against illnesses and injuries from natural causes, and maybe there was no way to get him really human again. Please don't let the memories be real, he thought. Please let it be something the Scoobies could get him out of. Please don't let it be real.
*It is real, and we regret what we had to do. But we could see no other way.* the voice in his head said. It scared him enough to push him back from semiconscious to fully conscious in one giant leap, complete with adrenaline flowing at top speed. Xander's eyes snapped opened and he found himself in a medium-sized tent. Across from him sat a big Native American wearing faded jeans and a Harley-Davidson t-shirt. Bear the biker from the wyvern hunt. Bear, who was now talking inside of his head.
Xander screamed. Untangling himself from the sleeping bag, he rolled into a crouch and lunged out the tent flap. As he made it out of the tent, he heard Bear calling for Hellena and Collin. He wobbled unsteadily to his feet, looking around at the Pack's campsite in the dim evening light.
"Xander?" Hellena rose from a spot next to the fire. The real Hellena, not the version of her now stuck in his brain. He managed a couple of unsteady steps away from her before he had to stop as the dizziness threatened to overwhelm him. She came to him, sliding an arm around his back, and guiding him back toward the fire. As she carefully set him down, he sensed Collin coming up behind them. "Your body took a lot of damage there. It's healed, but you need to get a lot of calories in so you can get your strength back to where it needs to be."
Her voice was soft as she talked. She meant to be kind to him now, but it wasn't like kindness could be a substitute for what they had done to him.
"Here, drink this." Collin said, pushing a bottle of sports drink into his hands. "I've got candy bars too. Right now, the more sugar we get into quickly the better."
As he sipped at the tangy lemon-lime beverage, the memories came swarming back, threatening to overwhelm him. Hellena dying in a fight with Hex's Gets, and coming back to life in Rennie's arms. A badly injured Coyote dragging himself out of a pine-filled forest. Prime knowing that his days were numbered, that as much as he hated the idea, he would have to try to make Gets of his own in order to keep Hex from winning the Earth. No! He was Xander, not Hellena, not Coyote, and definitely not Prime.
He dropped the bottle, and swung for Collin. Weak as he was, the other man had no trouble deflecting the punch and grabbing both of his hands with his.
*Calm down.* the mental command came from Hellena. The part of him that wasn't quite human anymore started to automatically yield to Hellena's demand, but the part of him that was still human fought back hard.
"No I do not want to calm down. Do you have any idea how much you people have screwed up my life for absolutely no reason?"
"You were dying." Collin said. "I got hit with that poison too. A human couldn't have survived the bite, and you said a hospital wouldn't have something that could be used as an antidote."
"And I also told you people to call Buffy. Look, we've been hunting these kinds of things since we were fifteen. Believe it or not, we are not totally stupid when it comes to first aid when monsters are involved. As soon as we figured out it was wyverns in town that were causing those deaths in the UC-Sunnydale arboreum, we did make up a large batch of wyvern antivenom, and have about two gallons of it sitting on the counter back at Buffy's house. Turns out it's not only protection against dangerous beasts, but also a floor cleaner, and a nice citrussy marinade for chicken, and mmmm chicken," As he paused for breath, Collin released his arms, and Hellena pressed an unwrapped chocolate bar into his hands "and provided that you get eight ounces of it into me within twenty four hours, it's got about a ninety five percent chance of curing me. Lots better odds then the ten percent or less you had for trying to make me your Get. I told you people to listen, and you stopped listening to me."
He paused just long enough to inhale half the candy bar that had been placed in his now shaking hands. At least they were right about him needing food to heal.
"You think you know about the hidden war going on while the rest of humanity goes about its daily business totally oblivious. And it makes you cocky because you think you know it all then. And it seems like you are indeed the experts on that particular war, but the truth is that there are wars plural, and apocalypses plural going on out there. The Ontongard are just one of a long list of many who have their eyes on this dirty yet oddly endearing third rock from the sun. So you come, and for the first time you find yourself stumbling across one of the other non-human critters that like to bump in the night, and grab me because you need an expert, never mind that I've got other responsibilities, other parts to play in at least three, but by last count no more than seventeen of those other wars, and take away just about the only constant I had left in my life that was constant in a good sort of way."
He grimaced as he ate the other half of the first candy bar.
"What do you mean?" Hellena said as Collin passed him another candy bar.
"There was a time when I would have welcomed becoming a Get. Increased strength, healing wounds that killed any normal human, long lifespan, and all kinds of other cool secondary shit. Seemed like all my other friends were getting superpowers, and here I was the lone and very vulnerable token human. But over time, I learned that even if I didn't have some sort of special powers, I could still do some extraordinary things, that the allegedly weak link me could still make a difference when it came to fighting the forces of darkness and hold my own, well mostly hold my own with only minor broken bones, from this year's version of the Big Bad creature trying to end the world. And now that's gone from me too. Thanks for nothing."
"We never claimed to be perfect. We just try our best to fight what seems to be an impossible war the best way we can. Unfortunately, sometimes people who shouldn't get caught up in it do somehow. Again, I'm sorry for what we did to you, but if I had to do it again, I'd make the same choice." Hellena said.
They went silent as he ate two more candy bars, and went through a new bottle of sports drink.
"So, um, friends with superpowers?" Bear finally said as he passed him what appeared to be a ham sandwich.
"Best way of describing it. I'm kind of surprised you haven't gone rifling through my memories yet in order to explain the wyvern and everything else weird and creepy about Sunnyhell." Apparently the moving of memories from brain to brain wasn't always a two way thing. They hadn't learned how he had spent the past couple of years of his life yet.
"You were too weak before for that. Probably won't be strong enough for that until morning." Hellena said.
"And if I'm too weak for that, I'm definitely too weak to share a blood mouse with you." A blood mouse, a small creature he could now make out of his own blood and memories that would take the form of a mouse or small rat when it left his body. Then other Gets could take the mouse and absorb it, and his memories, into their own bodies.
"Probably some time tomorrow night before that would be a good idea." Bear said.
"Then we need to go to Sunnydale tonight. I need to let my friends know what happened, and if you're going to believe me, it really helps to have the full audio visual technicolor and surround sound explanation of life, the Hellmouth, and everything. Because with just words alone, it sounds pretty out there. As for the whole Hex and the Ontongard trying to take over the world thing, it sounds strangely similar to a lot of what we've dealt with before." He watched the three Pack members exchange glances. There was probably a whole other mental conversation going on he wasn't privy to but that was okay because the whole telepathy thing was freaking him out.
"Okay, we go with you to Sunnydale." Hellena finally said.
"Do you have a cell phone I can use then? And, um, maybe some clothes, speaking of which, why am I running around here in my underwear?"
"The pants were a loss from the wyvern bite." Hellena said as Collin ducked into his tent to gather up what Xander requested. "During the change, you threw up on the shirt enough times that the only thing we could do was burn it. We've still got your shoes, your wallet and everything that was in your pockets though your own cell phone battery is dead right now, and Bear brought your axe back from where we killed the wyvern."
"Thanks for grabbing the axe. It's a loaner of sorts, and I just don't have the money to cover the replacement price if I have to take it out of a construction worker's paycheck."
Collin returned with a pile of clothing and one of those disposable cell phones you could buy minutes for at any quickie mart. Xander grabbed the phone first, and quickly dialed the number for the Summers house.
"Summers residence." the girl picked up the phone on the second ring.
"Rona, hey it's Xander."
"You just vanished two days ago. Where have you been? Everyone's worried sick about you."
"All will be explained in due time, but I really need to talk to Buffy, Faith, or Willow. Are any of them home right now?"
"Just a sec. I don't think Buffy's headed out on patrol yet." Rona set down the phone, and Xander could hear some sort of screaming in the background.
"This better be good. I finally had the bathroom to myself for five full minutes." Buffy grumbled.
"Trust me, it is."
"Xander! Where are you? We've spent the past two days looking all over town for you. Willow even ran a tracer spell on you, and couldn't find you. She said the spell would also let her know if you were dead, but it didn't say you were dead either. Faith and hald the Potentials are continuing the search as we speak. "
"It's a long story, and it's probably easier to explain it all once I get back to Sunnydale. Could you have Faith clear all the Potentials out of the house for a little while? Part of the story I'd like to keep on a need to know basis, and with the way the girls gossip, we'd have everyone in town knowing what went down before long. Just you, me, Willow, Dawn, Giles, and Spike for now."
"I'm bringing the people who helped take down the wyvern with me, and we need to do the whole 'in every generation' dog and pony show for them. I figure I'm bringing the dogs, and Spike can be the pony that goes all 'Grrrrrr' and game-facey and makes them understand the whole bumps in the night problems."
"We can do that." Buffy said, and he could hear the understandable suspicion in her voice. There were enough weird vibes going on that he'd be suspicous of himself too.
"Thanks. I'm guessing we'll be there in about forty-five minutes." He hung up the phone, and passed it to Bear so he could start getting dressed.