So this is the first part of my CoSoRanOb (Color, Sound and Random Object) Ficathon entry. Of course, I should be posting a complete fic, but I'll spare you the lame excuses. Suffice to say that my spring break just started and it is my goal to finish this thing before school starts up again on the 14th.
The Hellmouth has a knack for supersizing the wrong in any situation. But in this situation, it’s not just the wrongness of Monday morning that is supersized, it’s Xander’s feet and hands and, well, his whole body really. His whole body is bigger and scalier and quite a bit purpler than usual. A deep shade of eggplant, really, though there are two reasons that Xander would not call the face he sees in the mirror eggplant: (1) because, since they aren’t sold in the frozen food section and cannot be ordered for delivery in thirty minutes or less, Xander has never encountered an eggplant before; and (2) because straight men don’t talk about shades of purple. In fact, straight men don’t talk about purple at all, if they know what’s good for them. Black, white, red, blue, maybe green—these are straight-man colors.
Oh, and a third reason Xander isn’t thinking about the shade of his skin as he looks in the mirror? He’s far too busy freaking the fuck out.
In short, it’s Monday morning on the Hellmouth and Xander just woke up as a demon.
It’s the kind of morning that calls for a really strong coffee—or maybe six. But coffee-making calls for dexterity and dexterity calls for slender fingers and opposable thumbs and Xander calls out to the universe for help, but no one can hear him from his parents’ basement. He would call for help on the telephone, but that too calls for the dexterity of slender fingers and opposable thumbs and this whole thing is getting damn old damn fast.
Xander needs the Scoobies, which means going out, which normally means getting dressed, but supersizedness is an obstacle in this arena as well. He tries to pull on a olive green tee shirt, which he in no way notices would compliment his new skin tone, but it rips under the strain of his new bulk and falls off his chest in tatters. And, damn it, he liked that shirt.
Xander looks down at this strange new body of his and tries to determine if he has any naughty bits in need of coverage in the name of decency. No offenders of decency make themselves apparent, but Xander yanks the sheet off the sofa just in case and ties it around his waist in what he hopes is a kilt-y, rather than a skirt-y or diaper-y, fashion.
He heads for the door and is working on turning the handle, which is definitely not cooperating, when it occurs to him that it’s broad daylight. The basement may not let in a whole lot of that light, but there are definitely a few autumn sunbeams bullying their way in through the thick dust covering the high, short windows, which means that, should he step outside, his new body will be quite visible to the larger Sunnydale population.
Better to wait for nightfall, Xander thinks. No point compounding the disaster. And that’s gotta be a sign that he’s matured over the last few months? Too bad, any claims of progress are contradicted by the fact that he’s just agreed to live in his parents’ basement… and to pay rent for the privilege.
Which reminds him—he’ll need to get a job just as soon as he once again inhabits an employable form. Because the wad of cash for which he traded his pride and modesty last week is only going to go so far. And why did he come back here again?
Rather than consider the question, Xander wanders back into the room and tries not to break anything as he eases his supersized body down in front of the half-functional TV. He manages to pick up the remote, but his new fingers—or claws or talons or whatever—are too big for the buttons and though he manages to get the thing turned on, he crushes the remote before being able to select a channel.
He lucks out with The Price is Right and copes with The Young and the Restless, but by As the World Turns, he’s getting fed up, and Guiding Light makes him want to stick his demony fist straight through the screen. And the local news? Actually worse. Nothing at all about why one might have woken up this morning as a demon, but plenty of tips on dog-walking etiquette and the moving tale of a fifth grader and her fight to save the classroom’s goldfish, Sparkles. Little Christie—a community hero. Xander wonders if demons can vomit.
Then dark, blessed dark at last. Xander re-secures his sheet-y kilt and fumbles with the doorknob for about ten seconds before just busting the door open. He really needs out of the basement.
As Xander slips through town in the direction of UC Sunnydale, sticking to alleys and shadows and the more deserted streets, he finds himself actually looking forward to seeing Buffy and Willow again. Yeah, this whole eggpl— purple demon thing kinda blows, but at least it gives him an excuse to pay them a visit. He’d been back in Sunnydale for almost forty-eight hours before this and hadn’t worked up the courage to go by their dorms.
He really hadn’t intended this—not to write, not to call. No more than he’d intended his coming of age road trip to arrest its development in Oxnard of all places. But it had. And why bother calling home just to announce that you’ve relocated your pathetic existence to even more pathetic surroundings?
And now he’d been gone too long, or possibly not long enough. It’s hard to tell. All he knows is that one day one of the guys from work told him about an apartment opening up—decent and cheap and walking distance from work—and it seemed silly to pay by the week for a shitty motel room, but there was a lease involved and suddenly it was first and last month’s rent or car repairs. A choice.
And now here he is. Back just over two days and already the butt of the perpetual existential joke that is the Hellmouth. (And yes, Xander knows what existential means… he thinks. Casey from work, who was a philosophy grad student by day, had rubbed off.)
In any case, Xander is beginning to suspect that this is the universe’s way of informing him that he’s made the wrong choice.
Aches. Bone deep. Radiating. Desire to vomit. Except that vomiting would require movement and movement seems like a really bad idea right now.
Back in Oxnard, Xander learned for the first time what it was to be hung over… then proceeded to conduct a quite a few experiments on the subject. You know—in the name of science. Thanks to those experiments, Xander is now able to hypothesize that, based on how he currently feels, the night before was spent drinking an entire bottle of tequila without one ounce of water… and then tossing himself down a flight of stairs. Yes, that must be it.
Xander musters the strength to raise a single eyelid and is instantly blinded by the white. He slams the eyelid shut, squeezes it tight… until it his head starts throbbing at him to stop. He eases off, tries to think.
The white and the bright are wrong, Xander feels certain of this. His surroundings should be off-white and dim and kind of dingy, with the brown and orange tones that are the revenge of the seventies on all subsequent decades. He vaguely remembers that he isn’t supposed to be in the motel room anymore, but what he just saw definitely isn’t the Harris basement, which, besides looking pretty much like the cheap motel room also smelled like mold and mildew. But there’s no smell here, nothing besides a disturbing sort of body odor.
He opens an eye once more and immediately remembers why it was such an awful idea, but suffers the glare for long enough to look down his body and see purple scales. And now it’s all starting to come back to him.
He’s back in Sunnydale. He’s trapped in the all-too-pungent body of a demon. And the best friends he was counting on to help him? They’d beaten him up instead.
Okay, so technically, Willow wasn’t part of the beating up process—that was all The Buffy Summers Show—but Willow had definitely been the studio audience. And what hurts so much more than the bruises from the blows Buffy rained upon him, is the memory of how, the whole time, his cries of “Stop,” “Just listen to me for a second,” and “It’s me, Xander” had fallen on deaf ears.
Of course, Xander isn’t stupid. He realizes that he must not have been speaking English. Even though it certainly sounded like English in his head and he sure as hell doesn’t speak any other languages—unless you count the three phrases he remembers his two semesters of Spanish or “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?”
But he knows he must have been speaking Demon, and it’s Buffy’s job to kill demons and he knows that, but it sucks when you’re just an innocent guy looking for a little help from your friends and all you get is a Slayer-powered roundhouse or two and the feeling of pride deep inside that comes from running away crying like a baby.
But none of that explains the bright white light out there, waiting to assail his aching head if he dares to open his eyes again. Unless it’s the light he’s supposed to walk toward that will lead him into a merciful death, but he can’t be that lucky. And, come to think of it, there’s still no explanation for why he feels as if he’s been run over by a semi, because Buffy didn’t get in that many—
Hey, what’s that doing in here? Don’t the ops guys know this is the vampire ward?
The demon wards are full. Apparently, we’re the only one with any empty cells right now.
Well, as long as Walsh doesn’t expect us to work on it…
Don’t worry, one of the demon guys will come over here to do the workups.
Xander doesn’t know what to make of the voices, but he knows he can’t make anything good. No making of chocolate chip cookies here. This is dried-out meatloaf with a side of soggy Brussels sprouts. At best.
Xander drifts out. And back in again. Out and in. Minutes pass that feel like hours. Or maybe it’s hours passing that feel like minutes that feel like hours. Or maybe it’s… not worth wasting energy thinking about. Whatever the timeframe, Xander’s demon body is beginning to recover from what he finally remembers was an electric shock. He also remembers a glimpse of camouflage and combat boots.
And as pain seeps out, fear seeps in—just as deep, just as immobilizing.
So Xander lies there on the cold white floor and the drifting continues until muttering from what sounds like the next—cell?—snaps Xander to full wakefulness, eyes open and everything.
Mingy wankers. Gonna drug the blood, least you could do is give a bloke enough of this pig’s shite to live on. An’ warm it up a bit, too. Tossers.
Xander’s eyes widen, then blink. And blink again.
The name doesn’t come out loudly or clearly, since he’s still weak and his throat is dry and he hasn’t spoken since UC Sunnydale, but those obstacles prove no match for vampire hearing.
“Wot? Who’s there? Do I know you?”
“It’s me, Xander,” Xander says.
After a few moments of silence, it occurs to Xander that Spike may not have bothered to learn Xander’s name during his various attempts to end Xander’s life.
“Sorry, mate. Pretty sure I don’t know any Tchilalok demons named… Xander, was it?”
“What? No. I’m not a Chilli-whatever demon.”
“Why’re ya speaking Tchilalok, then?”
“I am?” Then it occurs to Xander. “Hey! You can understand what I’m saying.”
Another pause and Xander can perfectly envision Spike’s eyeroll.
“Right. That’s how we’re managing this little thing they call a conversation. Which, by the way, let’s not have anymore.”
Xander doesn’t respond at first… then he panics. “Wait, no! You have to talk to me.”
“Why’s that, then?”
“Because you’re the only person who can understand me.”
“And that’s my problem why?”
“Cause you know me. You…” Xander searches for a reason, clings to the only one he finds. “You tried to kill me! More than once!”
“Tried to kill lots of people. If I called them all my mates, I… well, I’d have a lot of bloody annoying people hanging about, wouldn’t I?”
Xander doesn’t have a good argument on that point… but that doesn’t stop him for long.
“We have something in common, you know.”
For a very long minute, Xander doesn’t think Spike is going to answer, but apparently the vampire has a curious nature… or he’s just really bored.
“What’s that, then? ’Sides being neighbors in Hades?”
“We’ve both been beaten up by Buffy.”
“Buffy? The Slayer? Well then. Not that I’m gonna talk to you or anything, but any enemy of the Slayer is a mate of mine. Or at least someone I might think twice before killing.”
“Well, actually she’s supposed to be a friend of mine…” And why the hell was he telling Spike this again?
“Slayer has friends that’re demons? How’s she manage that? Chats ’em up in between blows, does she?” A pause. “Come to think of it, bint does tend to blather on during a scuffle…”
“Yeah, Buff’s definitely into the talky slayage. But she’s never tried to slay me before today. I wasn’t a demon until this morning. I was… I am human.”
“Human?” Another pause. “Xander… Oh, you’re the Slayer’s boy.”
“Hey! Whadaya me—”
“The one that’s always hanging around, panting after Her Blondness.”
“I don’t… I mean, not since Junior year…”
“Dark hair, puppy eyes, bloody awful shirts, decent body, nice scent.”
There are so many things wrong with that list, Xander doesn’t even know where to object, can’t decide if he’s insulted or disturbed or something else entirely.
But at least he’s not alone anymore. Exhausted, Xander passes back out.
Over the next few days, Xander learns a lot about his new demon body, though not in the most pleasant of ways. The men in the white coats test his vision, his hearing, his smell, his strength, his speed. They have syringes and thermometers and shiny, cold metal instruments. They have printouts and clipboards where they write eagerly on special charts.
On the whole, they seem unimpressed by Demon Xander. Par for Xander’s life. Even as a demon, he lacks skills.
As a human, babble was Xander’s gift. Never being at a loss for words, however inappropriate, in any situation—that was his skill.
But there isn’t much use for that skill when Xander is locked away in a cell and no one can understand a thing he says.
Except for Spike.
… locked in that stupid basement and we’d already been having trouble keeping our hands off each other and we thought you were gonna kill us so we kissed and my soon to be ex-girlfriend—who was really hot and a great kisser by the way, you bastard—walks in and almost dies and never forgives…
So Xander talks to Spike.
… go everywhere—just me and the car. I was gonna see things. New things, different things. I was gonna find myself, you know? Stop fighting for my life every night, have time to actually think. It’s not like I was gonna go to college, you know, and I’m obviously destined for the world of food service, but I thought maybe I could get out before…
Talks and talks and Spike doesn’t exactly participate, but he doesn’t tell Xander to shut up anymore either… at least not very often.
… out to the front on my breaks and sit at the bar and talk to the dancers, who were actually pretty cool, so it didn’t really bother me that they earned their living letting women stuff dollar bills down their…
But while Xander bores the men in white coats, they seem to find Spike quite fascinating. They take him away a lot and he doesn’t always look so good when he gets back. Xander hates watching the guards drag Spike back to the ward, hates seeing Spike slumped between them, but can never tear his eyes away. He hates it even more when Spike passes out of sight, behind the wall that separates them, where Xander can’t give him anything but words.
But Xander always gives him those words—whether Spike wants them or not—until one time when they drag Spike back looking worse, more beaten, emptier than Xander’s ever seen him and Xander suddenly realizes words aren’t enough, are foolish and flimsy and futile. He slides down the cell wall and sits, silent. Helpless.
Then he hears them. Words. Soft and broken.
“Oi, mate. Were… were gonna tell me ’bout the… the time that dancer got sick, yeah?”
Xander swallows around a supersized lump in his supersized throat.
“Yeah. It was Joel and he was supposed to be on stage in fifteen minutes when he threw up… on my feet…”
It’s nighttime again. The ward is as bright and white as ever, but Xander can tell the time by the changing of the shifts. The night shift technicians move just a bit more slowly, as if the air is a bit thicker, offers greater resistance. They drink more coffee, cup after cup. The circles under their eyes are more pronounced, never seem to fade.
And there’s something else, something behind those eyes that seems not quite certain if the world before them is reality or a dream.
Xander wonders if it’s easier for the night technicians. He wonders if it’s easier to face all the creatures you never wanted to believe existed if you can hold out hope of one day waking up again to the innocent world you used to know. He wonders if it’s easier to experiment on those creatures if you don’t quite have to believe they’re real, if you don’t even have to believe you’re real, not really.
He’s seen his own charts. They don’t bother to hide the words from someone—something—they know can’t understand them.
Some ability to reason.
Appears to communicate with Hostile 17 in its own language.
Sensitivity to pain.
How do you know that about something—someone—and not question whether you really have the right to continue your experiments, to continue to cause that pain?
Except if it’s war. Xander remembers his soldier training. War isn’t about rights, it’s about right and wrong. And you’re right and they’re wrong and that’s all you need to know.
All you need to know.
It’s nighttime again. Xander likes keeping track of the time of day. It’s not like he has classes to go to or a job, with breaks and a lunch hour. It’s not like there’s a television on which to watch the Star Trek Voyager reruns that come on at midnight or a Scooby meeting to attend at whatever location they’re now being held.
It’s not as though the men in white coats come for either him or Spike at regular intervals, or that Xander would even want to be able to anticipate their visits. And Xander isn’t counting his days in captivity. He doesn’t want to know if it seems longer than it’s been. He doesn’t want to know if it’s been longer than it seems.
He doesn’t want to know.
He only wants to know the time of day. Because it’s the kind of thing that people know. Normally.
It’s nighttime again and Xander’s thoughts are going bad places, so he starts to talk.
“I don’t even know why I came back. I mean, Sunnydale? Not exactly the land of opportunity. Unless you’re looking for the opportunity to have an obituary that reads: Died of blood loss after falling mysteriously on a barbeque fork in a dark alley late last night.
“I mean, I guess it’s different if you’re a vampire. Although, not really. ‘Cause then you’re really just giving yourself the opportunity to get slayed—slain?—by the Slayer, you know? And there’s only one—or, you know, two sometimes—so it’s not like it’d be all that hard to go somewhere Slayer-free where it’d be one big twenty-four-hour all-you-can-eat blood buffet. And, ew, I can’t believe I just said that, but still, why did you come back here anyway?”
Xander gets no answer from the other side of the wall, but that’s not unusual, so he presses on, soliloquy-style. He’s a regular Hamlet.
“To leave or not to leave. That was the question. Whether ‘tis—or, I mean, ‘twas—nobler… in the… mind… to…. You know what? Screw it. I really wasn’t paying that much attention in Senior English. Basically, the question was whether I wanted to be a working-class loser in Oxnard or here in Sunnydale. And I guess I chose Sunnydale. Or maybe I was just choosing not-Oxnard. I don’t really know. I mean, obviously I hadn’t really factored in the whole becoming-a-demon thing, but I guess I thought if I came back here I might at least be able to be a part of something… or something. Whatever.
“Anyway, I still needed a little extra cash to get back here and Joel was taking a week off and the tips had been really good the last time, so I—”
“Hey, listen to that thing. It keeps going on and on and it doesn’t even realize that its buddy, Hostile 17, can’t even hear it.”
Xander looks up at the sound of the voice and sees the two technicians on duty heading for Spike’s cell. He listens to the door open and watches as they drag Spike’s limp body from the cell and lift it onto a waiting gurney.
“Hey, what’s wrong with him?” Xander asks, forgetting that the technicians won’t understand and probably wouldn’t answer even if they did. But the noise alone draws their attention and they both glance his way.
And suddenly Spike is alive and awake and on the offensive.
“Sorry, mate,” Spike says as he grabs one technician by the throat and tosses him over the gurney. “Can control my fingers. Can control my brain. Don’t wanna be sedated.”
Xander has never noticed how graceful Spike can be when he fights. Hasn’t ever watched Spike deal sweeping kicks and swift blows when he wasn’t fearing for his own life or those of his friends. Hasn’t ever looked straight at a vampire holding a shaking, whimpering human off the ground by his collar and thought: Yes, yes. Do it. Drain him.
And he must have said that out loud because Spike turns to look at Xander and then looks back at the technician. “Boy says I should drain you. What d’you think?”
The technician whimpers. Spike snorts and shakes his head in disgust, then clocks the guy, knocking him out cold.
To Xander’s surprise, Spike then pulls the key card from the technician’s pocket and uses it to open Xander’s cell. Xander doesn’t move at first, doesn’t speak. Just stares at Spike in shock.
Spike rolls his eyes. “Provided a handy distraction now, didn’t you? C’mon, then.”
Spike goes for the door and Xander doesn’t know what to do but follow. Alarms are blaring now as they race down the hall past startled men in white, darting under the security door as it locks down. Xander looks up and freezes as his eyes fall on the men in camouflage with big weapons emerging from an elevator.
“Run, you git!” Spike pushes Xander toward the exit, then grabs a pair of startled men in white, one in each fist. He throws them into the oncoming soldiers and bolts after Xander.
They make it to a ladder—climb up, up, up until they burst through a manhole to the surface, breathing in heavy gulps of the fresh, free air. Xander glances over at Spike, who is crouched on the ground, clutching his head.
“Shit, Spike. Did they get you?”
“Nah. Just a headache is all. Be fine in a mo.”
And Xander knows they need to run, knows they won’t be running in the same direction, knows they don’t have a second to spare. He also knows Spike probably doesn’t care, but still, he pushes the words out between panting breaths.
Spike looks up into clear green demon eyes and nods, pushes himself to his feet.
“S’pose we’d better return you to the Slayer, then. Lead the way.”
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