Willow and I walked down the path, and out of the African animal habitats at the Sunnydale Zoo. We were laughing about the zebras, and talking about when we were supposed to meet the rest of the class for lunch. "You *can't* be hungry yet, Xander, it isn't even eleven o'clock yet!"
"But I'm a growing boy, Will--I'm always hungry. It's nature's way of telling me I need food." I looked around the central courtyard, and tried to decide what we should go look at next. //Oh, hey, there she is!// "Hey, Buffy!" We ran up to the missing third of our Three Musketeers, where she was wandering slowly by the lizard and snake cages.
"You missed it!" Willow informed her.
"What's up?" Buffy asked, obviously not caring much. She looked bored.
"We just saw the zebras mating! Thank you, very exciting," I told her, enjoying the memory. //Hey, if I'm not gonna get any, I might as well see how the animal kingdom gets it on. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and kissing Mary Jane Matthews behind the bleachers last year is just not enough to provide fantasy fodder for a healthy boy's libido. I have a feeling that my dreams for the next couple of nights are gonna involve fur and animal-patterned sheets...//
"It was like the Heimlich... with stripes!" Willow said.
//Like the who...? Oh, yeah, that thing with people choking! Oh, hey, she's right! Cooool. Oh, they're talking... Get your mind out of the gutter, Harris, there's a conversation going on here!//
"... it was fishes," Buffy finished, obviously not too thrilled with the whole Sunnydale Zoo experience.
"I'm feeling that you're not in the field trip spirit, here," I said.
"Well, it was just... It's nothing. We did the same field trip at my old school every year. Same old, same old," she explained, trying not to rain on our parade, and failing miserably.
I tried to explain what she was so obviously missing. "Buffy, this isn't just about looking at a bunch of animals, this is about not being in class."
She thought about this for a moment, and realized, as she should, that I might actually have a point. "You know, you're right. Suddenly the animals look shiny and new!" she said, smiling for the first time that day.
//Score! She agreed with me! Yes! Now if I could just convince her to go out on a date with me...// "Gotta have perspective..."
"What are Kyle and his buds doing with Lance?" Buffy asked, losing her smile and directing our attention to where Kyle and his anti-social gang were herding Lance toward one of the buildings.
//Lance, you clueless geek!// "Ohh, playing with him, as a cat plays with a mouse," I said, sure that Kyle had something nasty in mind for poor Lance. I've never forgiven Kyle for the "swirlie" he subjected me to in the sixth grade. Not to mention the endless torments he'd visited on half the grade-school over the years. Kyle was just a waste of space, in my estimation.
"What is it with those guys?" Buffy asked petulantly. Obviously, she'd received some unwelcome attention from Kyle's brute squad. Probably wiped the floor with them, though, knowing Buffy. //I wish I could have been there to see it! Could have sold tickets to that, probably.//
"They're obnoxious, professionally," Willow said, pretty much hitting the nail on the head in one fell swoop.
"Well, every school has them. See, you start a new school, you get your desks, some blackboards, and some mean kids," I contributed, having experienced a few mean kids in my day.
"Yeah, well, I better extract Lance before..." Buffy said, not seeming too thrilled at the prospect of dealing with them today.
//Oh, here's an opportunity!// "Ah, I'll handle it. This job doesn't require actual slaying." I swaggered down the passage to the hyena house, aware that Buffy and Willow were right behind me, watching me go. I put a little extra machismo in my walk, so they'd be sure to know I was all man... and so maybe Buffy would be impressed that I could handle something without her help for once.
//Well, isn't *this* place just... creepy.// Most of the lights were off and I couldn't see any light switches. I stumbled down some steps, trying to see where I was going, and cursing Kyle with every breath. //Trust Kyle to find the one building in the zoo that's not open to the public. Where *are* those guys...? What kind of animals are in here, anyway?// I stopped at one of those handy-dandy "information stations" that they always have at the zoo--African Hyenas, huh? //And don't they just smell *lovely*, too!//
I could hear Kyle and his buds talking up ahead of me, and I followed the sound to a big room with a pattern drawn on the floor in red. From the huge increase in the smell, this must be where the animals were. Kyle and Lance and the rest were all up by the bars of the animal enclosure, and actually seemed to be getting along. Will wonders never cease? But then Lance tried to leave, and the others started pulling on him, keeping him next to the bars.
//Uh-oh, I knew it couldn't last...! Oh, man, why did Lance come here with those jerks? Doesn't he know he's just like catnip to a big ol' Siberian tiger with these bozos!?// They started pushing Lance up the bars, acting like they were going to toss him over. Knowing Kyle, they just might do it. //Oh, no, not the cage...! I better stop 'em before Lance really gets hurt!// I ran up and pulled Lance away from Kyle and Barry before they could make good their threat to dump him into the animal enclosure. Pushing Lance back down the steps, I turned around and faced Kyle. "Why don't you pick on someone your own species!"
Kyle got an interesting look on his face--equal parts amazement and anger. I guess he couldn't believe that anyone would be brave enough--or stupid enough--to challenge him. "What, are *you* gonna get in my face?" he asked, incredulous, and moved closer, bunching his hands into fists, trying to intimidate me. Really pissed me off--I'm no sissy-girl! And I'm not eleven years old any more.
I was really surprised to realize that I was bigger and taller than he was. It was actually in the realm of possibilities that I could *take* this guy--what a concept! That made me feel good, it being the first time I'd realized that there might actually be an up-side to adolescence. I'd forgotten all about Buffy and the others; this was just me and Kyle, and it was time for some pay-back for all his years of bullying.
I got ready to throw down with him... when the sounds from the enclosure caught our attention. We turned toward the sound, at the animals growling in the cage. //What a scraggy-looking animal! So that's a hyena, huh? Not very impressive.// The furry critter moved a little further out of the cubbyhole it was half-hidden in, still growling... It was like it was talking to me, in my head... its eyes drew me in, glowing green. It was like... like the animal had a *voice*, and it was saying something to me. Something important... I stood frozen; something was happening to me that I didn't understand. Then the hyena had stopped growling and disappeared again--it was over. But...
//Oh, now *this* is different. Whoa. Hey. Suddenly, the whole world is shiny and new... and filled with interesting smells. What's Kyle laughing at? Oh, it's the geek. Look at him, scurrying away like a little rat. Rats are to eat... if you can't get anything... better.// I watched Lance running out of the room, and all I could do was laugh with the rest of the guys. But I was still aware that something freaky had just happened, although right now I didn't seem to care very much. But the really freaky thing was, why was I thinking of rats as *food*?
Willow chattered at me all the way back to school. I ignored her, and checked out the scents coming in the open window of the bus instead. Much more interesting. Although why I could suddenly smell things I never had before was a question I couldn't answer. But questions could wait--this was cool! Everything was so... clear. Green fields, and growing things... and animals. We passed the Stephensons' terrier--he'd gotten out of their yard again, and was running along the street toward the park. He smelled good. Meaty and tender. The wind shifted, and must have carried my scent to him. He stopped abruptly, staring at the bus stopped at the red light, and I could see his hackles rise. He started growling softly, backing away. I gave a little "yip!" through the window, and he turned tail and ran back home, back to where he was safe. //Hee, hee, hee! Don't mess with the man!//
"What'd you say, Xander?" Willow asked.
"Huh, nothing." I went back to ignoring Willow, although I did wonder for a minute why the dog was afraid of me.
I didn't think about it for long, though, having other things to occupy my mind. I was picking up another scent. This one was... interesting. I couldn't tell what it was, but I knew that I was drawn to it--it smelled... right, somehow. Like home or something. I turned around, checking the scent in the air, sniffing, tracking where it was coming from. There it was--it was coming from the back of the bus. Kyle, and his gang of four. I turned back around, trying to pretend that I was interested in what Willow was saying to Buffy, who was sitting behind us. I didn't care about those losers... did I?
That night, I went through my entire closet, looking for something to wear to the Bronze that wasn't totally geekoid, and finally settled for something that wasn't plaid, flannel, or printed with cute little jockeys. //Gotta stop letting Mom buy most of my clothes.// I'd almost beaten up someone today--a first for me--and it was time I stopped dressing like a kid. It was time for a new and improved Xander, one who'd had the cojones to challenge Kyle... and lived to tell about it. Somehow, the new model Xander had a lot more self-confidence. Or possibly foolhardiness.
I walked to the Bronze, enjoying the various scents that the breeze carried my way. The closer I got to the club, the more clearly I could smell all the bodies packed in there, seasoning the night air with interesting scents. //Ah, you can practically taste the teen lust in the air!//
The Bronze was certainly jumping that night. //Look at all the honeys! Check this one out... she is *ripe*. Maybe I should drag her back to my place, and...// No, there was the one I was looking for. Buffy was here. I could smell her.
I greeted them with a confident, "Girls!"
"Boy!" Buffy replied, looking a little surprised. //Didn't know that I could surprise you, did you, Slayer? I could give you all kinds of surprises, if you'd give me half a chance...//
They were looking at me funny. Guess I was late. Better give 'em an excuse. "Sorry I was late. I... just forgot that we were gonna be here." Oooh, food. I'd forgotten about eating dinner. "Hungry!" I picked up the roll, and gobbled down a bite. //Yuch!//
"Xander, you still want me to help you with geometry tomorrow? We can work after class," Willow offered, pathetically eager to do anything to spend some time in my presence.
Sure, whatever. "Yeah. What is this crap?" I said, getting back to the important stuff, like food.
"Well, it *was* my buttery croissant," Buffy said, looking a little annoyed, and handed me a napkin.
"Man, I need some *food*. Birds live on this." Meat, that's what I needed. Something... rare. //Uh-oh--she's giving me A Look.// "What?"
"What's up with you?" Buffy asked, obviously confused by the new me. And the new me was feeling *good* tonight. Strong. Confident. Macho. Well, okay, not such a wimp, anyway.
"Is something wrong? Did I do something?" Willow asked; as always, willing to take the blame for anything and everything--one of her more pathetic character traits.
"What could you possibly do?" And why would I care? "That's crazy talk. I'm just... restless." I realized as I said it that I really meant it. I felt like busting something, or chasing something. Maybe even killing something. //Whoa! Where did *that* come from?// Not that it really sounded like that terrible an idea...
"Well, we could go to the ice-cream place," Willow offered, trying to make amends, even though she wasn't sure what she might have done wrong.
//And what am I gonna kill there--a triple-scoop cone?// "I like it here." I moved a little closer to Buffy. I could smell her--equal parts citrus cologne... and Slayer. I took a sniff, just to enjoy her scent.
"Okay, now what?"
"You took a bath," I said, absently, distracted.
There was a familiar scent coming in, and it was getting stronger. I could tell someone was coming; someone I knew.
"Yeah, I often do. I'm actually known for it," Buffy said, interrupting me as I tried to sort out the smells I was receiving.
"And the weird behavior award goes to..." And here they were... Kyle and Barry and the girls. "Oh, great, it's the winged monkeys."
I caught Kyle's eyes, meaning to challenge him, but instead it was like we had an instant connection of some kind. I felt a pull toward them, to join up with them, maybe prowl the club together... //But I don't even *like* them, why would I want to hang with them?// I kept staring at them as they passed, trying to figure out the weirdness.
They passed us, and took over a nearby table, rousting the losers there. I laughed when Andrea insulted the fatso, and had to deal with The Look again from Buffy. That was getting real old, real quick--hasn't she ever seen a guy before? Maybe she needed to get close to a guy--a *real* guy, not that Angel creep. He couldn't give her what I could. For one thing, he was never around. He'd show up once in a while, be cryptic-guy and tell her about some ghoul, and then he'd split. //He's just a coward. Doesn't want to kill, always trying to run away from a fight. Loser! If you don't fight, you don't *win*. Buffy only likes him 'cause he's so mysterious. The only mystery is why I haven't eliminated him yet.//
I shook my head, trying to clear it. I didn't know where all these ideas were coming from. Not that they were necessarily *wrong*, but they were... different. Some part of me was trying to disagree, but it wasn't a very strong part. It was like a little voice, way down inside, that kept whining. I don't like whiners.
I tried to pay attention to Buffy and Willow, but they were talking about classes, so I tuned that out pretty quickly. I went to the counter to get a latte, and found myself walking up to Jennifer Conway instead. Jen *never* paid any attention to me, except when she wanted to borrow a pencil in History, but tonight, she came out on the dance floor with me, didn't even hesitate. That was pretty cool. It was my night--my time to rock.
//Man, classes *bite*. This stuff is boooring. Why am I bothering with this?// The only good part of the day had been prowling the halls between classes, checking out the babes, following the scents. I was about to check out the girls at cheerleading practice, see what I could catch, when I got snared myself. And by Willow, of all people. //What am I doing with her? Skinny little runt, wants me to work on geometry homework when there's so much more interesting things to do.// I sighed, and tried one more time to understand the problems. //All these shapes and angles just confuse me--I like things to move in straight lines!// She just kept babbling at me with all those words, which meant absolutely *nothing*. I mean, if I can't feel 'em, taste 'em, or eat 'em, what use are they to me?
"Why do I need to learn this?" I asked, not really interested in the answer.
"'Cause otherwise you'll flunk math," she said patiently.
And I should care, why? "Explain the part where that's bad."
"You remember, you fail math, you flunk out of school, you end up being the guy at the pizza place who sweeps the floor and says, 'hey, kids, where's the cool parties this weekend?'" she explained, not that it helped. I just couldn't focus on it. //I don't care about all this crap!// She touched my head, and asked gently, "Do you have a headache?"
"Yeah, and I think I know what's causing it." I grabbed that damned textbook, and tossed it into the trash-can. Who *needed* this stuff, anyway? "Ah, that's better! It goes right to the source of the pain!"
"Xander..." she started nagging at me again. I was really beginning to hate it. Hate *her*. So she's smarter than me, so she understands math and science and computers and stuff--why should that matter to *me*? I'm a guy. I'm stronger than her, and that's what counts!
"Look, forget it, okay? I don't get it. I won't ever. I don't care." And I just left her sitting there. That was the ticket--that felt good. I'd get her to leave me alone, and I wouldn't need to deal with the schoolwork. I could just go do my own thing. Homework was stupid, and weak--playing with books and papers, writing little notes with pencils. I had to *move*, not sit around playing with this, or I was going to get weak. Not a good thing.
After making the decision to cut the schoolwork loose, I started prowling around, too restless to sit still. As I walking down toward the student lounge, I passed Buffy on the way, and gave her the eye, but didn't stop. She was holding something in her arms, and the little pink thing started squealing and squirming as soon as it got a whiff of my scent. //Hey, piglet! We gonna cook you up for lunch?//
I ran into Kyle and the rest of his gang in the lounge, where they were working on a couple of freshmen. That seemed like fun, so I joined in for a while. The little underclassmen were so puny, they almost weren't worth the effort, but I got a laugh out of their pathetic efforts to get away. We sat there for a while, joking and jiving, and having a good time. This was *definitely* better than hanging with Willow, trying to understand geometry! This felt right, rubbing elbows with Andrea and Barry, flirting with Rhonda, doing a little roughhousing with Kyle. I decided he wasn't such a jackass after all--actually, he was pretty cool. Again, there was that part of me that tried to convince me that he was bad news, but I just couldn't see it. Now that I'd gotten to know him, Kyle was all right.
When the bell rang for class, we were going to skip, but Coach Herrold came by and rounded us up for P.E., not giving us a chance to get away. Reluctantly, we bowed to a higher authority--for now. Coach would have kicked our butts--he doesn't show any mercy for slackers.
It had started raining, and we were stuck inside for the gym period, so Coach set up a dodge-ball game. I took the ball, and looked at the other team. //What a sorry bunch of losers!// I had Kyle and Barry and the girls on my side, so I knew we could take them. It was time to cull the herd...
//There, that one's weak, hit him, *hit* him! That girl's soft, can't even move--got her!// And more, and more... We worked as a team, protecting each another as we worked the floor, grinding the opposite team into the dust. I got Willow with a good hard shot, and she glared at me as she stalked off the floor. //Hey, it's just a game, Will! No biggie.//
No one could touch us as we ducked and dodged, and we cleared out all the weak sisters opposite us. Finally, no one was left, except the Slayer. I stared at her, almost ready to take her down... the other guys were hanging back, waiting to see what we would do. Nah, I'd leave her alone--this time. Then I realized there was one more to deal with. Behind me. I turned and there was Lance. Weak, sniveling, cowardly Lance. //Let him have it!// *bam* *bam* *Bam* *BAM!*
Oh, and here's the Slayer to help him up. //That's right, Slayer, help the weak--that's your job, isn't it? Not mine.// I'd never felt so energized by dodge-ball before. I felt good, felt *strong*. This was the way to go--if you want to be strong, you have to kill the weak. Weak is bad. And working with the others, as a team--that felt good, too. Right, somehow, like we were meant to work together.
As she left with Lance, Buffy looked at me like I was something that had crawled out from under a rock. //Too bad you lost, Slayer. You were just on the wrong team. You should have been on *my* team. You know we belong together. You know I'm the one for you. Give up on leather-jacket guy--he's not good enough for you.//
We had fun in the locker room after the game. Kyle and Barry and I filled a garbage pail with water, and used it to douse some of the girls as they came out of their half of the locker room. Man, were they pissed! I gave Barry a high-five, then dumped the rest of the water over his head. He just growled, then chased me through the shower room, the water dripping off his blond hair, while Kyle laughed. We came out of the locker room pumped, feeling triumphant, romping and roughhousing. And there was Willow, waiting for me. What a downer. I was getting really tired of her nag, nag, nagging! It was time to do something about this situation...
"Xander, what's wrong with you?" Look at her. She just couldn't figure it out. Well, I'd just have to help her on this one...
"I guess you've noticed that I've been different around you, lately," I started out, gently; it would only make the crash all that much harder when it came, and I wanted to savor this.
"Yes," she answered, waiting for me to explain.
"I think... I think because my feelings for you have been changing. And, well, we've been friends for such a long time, that I feel like I need to tell you something. I've decided to drop geometry. So, I won't be needing your math help any more." Here it comes... "Which means I won't need to look at your pasty face... again." I giggled. She looked at me in total shock, not having expected an attack, not from her old bud, Xander. Now ex-bud. //God, she's such a geek.//
There was that little part of me, way down underneath, that was still complaining. It was yammering at me to stop hurting Willow or it would... do something bad. I ignored it. It was an annoyance, but it was getting easier to ignore all the time. It was just little, and powerless, and *weak*. I realized now that I didn't need to listen to it any more. My new buds were laughing, and it was just too irresistible; I joined them, giggling at that wonderfully hurt look on Willow's face.
And here's the Buffster. //Oh, she looks *so* fine when she's angry. Ohh, yeah, honey, come on over here, where I can smell you. Bring that scent that gets me so hot.// I was just running with my feelings, not caring about anything, and it felt so *good*, so *free*.
"You gonna say something to me?" she demanded. I laughed again; it was just too funny. //Yeah, Slayer, I'm gonna say something to you. Maybe not right now, but soon... real soon...// We left them standing there, and laughed all the way down the hallway.
I led my pack outside. Yeah, *my* pack--that felt good, too, to be in charge for a change. It felt natural, like I'd been waiting for it to happen my whole life. And they accepted that I was in charge, too. I realized now that I'd been in charge all along... ever since I'd challenged Lyle at the hyena house. That was all it had taken, to stand up to someone and be acknowledged as the boss. That little voice inside was almost silent now.
It was time for lunch--time to hunt something. "Dogs."
"Where?" Kyle said. He needed to work on his hunting skills. He'd be totally lost without me--this was why I was the leader. I led them over to the picnic table where I could smell the tantalizing scent of meat.
"That's no way to play lead guitar, that's hunt and peck!" Paulie said. He was the head of the local headbanger crowd, and he used to be a friend of mine. Now he was just... unimportant.
"Hey, Xander, you've heard Wretched Refuse play. What do you think of the guy who plays lead?" Who cares? Food. Meat! We helped ourselves to the hot-dogs on their plates.
"Hey, what are you guys...?"
"Shut up!" Andrea told him, practically snarling. He cringed away from her intensity--cool.
"You're sharing," Kyle said.
"Friends like to share," I added. If he couldn't even fight us for the food, he didn't deserve to keep it. Wimp! "Good?" I asked, as Barry took a bite.
"It's too well done."
Time to move on. Hunt something better. Now I could smell it again--the fresh meat. The porker. I couldn't believe how appetizing it smelled. Nothing in my life had ever smelled that good before. We followed the scent, and found the pink little thing in a cage. It squealed, frightened of us. Good. That's good, it gets the juices flowing, really whets the appetite when they're scared, moving, twisting, trying to run away...
That cage really wasn't very strong.
Look at all the fresh meat in this school, just walking around, on the hoof, in a manner of speaking. Hah. We could take down any one of these sheep--baaaa! Herbert, the little piglet, had just been an appetizer, not nearly enough for the five of us. After all, we're growing boys and girls... we need our nourishment. //Decisions, decisions, who to take...? Lance? Here ya go, boy, you ready for us? Yeah, he's scared... but he's not the right one. Too scrawny. We can find something... better.//
I caught her scent... yeah, there she was again. Buffy. Man, hunting that snack-meat had really got me going. I felt really *alive* now, like I'd been sleeping most of my life and had finally woken up. That voice inside me that kept telling me I was *wrong*, that I'd never amount to anything, that I had to behave and play nice, that kept me from going after what I wanted, it was almost dead. I'd killed it, staked it like the blood-sucker it was.
I decided I'd had it with waiting... waiting for Buffy to realize that I was the guy for her. She just needed a little... help. A little push, and she'd realize her mistake. Eventually. This was definitely the time to hunt this particular prey. I dumped the rest of the pack, sent them off to do their own thing--this was a solo quest. //Hunting the wild Buffy--yeah! Oh, she's so clueless. She doesn't even know who I am anymore. This is going to be *fun*!//
I followed her scent down the hall... //That's right, Slayer, sure, go on into the empty classroom. Make it easy for me. Where's the thrill of the hunt, bringing down the beast of my choice, if you're just going to walk into a corner and wait for me? Just like Herbert, trapped in his cage, unable to get away.//
And there she was, so lithe and tender. I just watched her, waiting.
"Xander!" she said, jumping up from where she was crouching by the pig's cage, startled by my appearing so quietly behind her. She was a little frightened, a little unsure, like she didn't know how to react to me. She tried to pass me, but I blocked her. She tried again, and I blocked her again. This was *too* easy!. //Come *on*, Buffy, run--I like it when you run. Gets everything moving: your heart beats faster, your breath comes quicker, your skin starts to tingle with the excitement, every square inch of your body feeling alive... makes the scent nice and strong, easy to track.// She started to get annoyed. //Poor Buffy, won't the big, bad Xander let you by?//
"This is ridiculous. We need to talk."
Suddenly, she turned on me, taking me to the floor in a flying tackle. *thud!* //Oh, yeah, like that hurt! Come on, Slayer, you can do better than that, can't you? Pretend I'm a vampire. It'll be better if you fight. Guess I need to get you angry...// "I've been waiting for you to jump my bones." //Ha ha! Let's see what that does...//
Now it was *my* turn. Quickly, I flipped us over. Now the Slayer was under me--just the position I wanted her in.
"Get off of me!" She sounded more annoyed than frightened. Guess she didn't think her good friend Xander would *really* to do anything to hurt her. //Guess again, Slayer. Xander has *changed*. I'm not the wimp I used to be. You're not giving the orders any more...//
"Is that what you *really* want?" She struggled weakly, pinned under me. //Come *on* Buffy, fight! You're not weak.// "We both know what you really want. You want danger, don't you? You like your men dangerous."
"You're in trouble, Xander. You are infected with some hyena thing. It's like a demonic possession." //Right, try reasoning with me--it's not gonna work this time.//
"Dangerous and mean, right? Like Angel, your mystery guy. Well, guess who just got mean." It was time she learned that we were meant to be together. "Do you know how long I've waited? Until you'd stop pretending that we aren't attracted...?"
I'd waited so long to touch her, to feel her under me like this. I let go of one of her hands to stroke her hair, wanting to feel the blond strands tangled in my fingers. That was a mistake--she used her loose hand to flip me off her, and scrambled to her feet again. All right, minor set-back... but this wasn't over yet. "Until Willow stops kidding herself that I could settle with anyone... but *you*?"
"Look, Xander, I don't want to hurt you."
//No! Fight, you bitch! Stop being so *weak*. You have to be strong if you're going to be *my* mate.// I slammed her against the vending machine. Oh, her scent was getting much stronger--good! "Now do you want to hurt me?" //Come on, stop this wiggling around, show me you *mean* it!// "Come on, Slayer. I like it when you're scared. The more I scare you," I took a good long sniff, reveling in the scent pouring off her--fear and hate, emotion and desire, fight and flight all mixed in together, pure Slayer--better than any perfume, "the better you smell." I pressed forward, moving my body up against hers, feeling the excitement of the hunt coursing through my body, through hers. The taste of her skin was better than any meat, better than anything.
//Oh, where'd the lights go...? Mmmm, right--Slayer, desk... ow. Guess I shouldn't have wished so hard for her to fight back. Where am I? Man, she locked me up in a cage?! Cages are for animals, not for the Xander-guy. Ahhh, Willow's here, she'll let me out... I can manipulate this one. This'll be *easy*... Then I can go after Buffy again. We're not done yet, bitch.//
"How are you feeling?" she asked, anxious about me. That was good--I could play on that.
"Huh. Like somebody hit me with a desk. What am I doing here?" Act like you don't know what's going on, pretend you've come back to your senses, then she'll relax.
"You guys got me locked up now." //Oh, good, just the right touch of moral indignation.//
"'Cause you're sick. Buffy said..."
"Oh, yeah, Buffy and her all-purpose solution: Punch 'em out, knock 'em down. I'd love to see what she'd do to somebody who was really sick."
"That's not fair. Buffy's saved both of our lives." //She's being soooo reasonable. I hate that.//
"Before she came here, our lives didn't need that much saving, did they? Weren't things a lot simpler when it was just you and me?" I gave her a sappy look, and tried to look pathetic. It worked--she started to move closer. I slouched a little, so I wouldn't look threatening, and opened my eyes wide, giving her a "please help me" face.
"Maybe..." She wasn't convinced, but she was wavering. Almost there...
"When we were alone together... Willow, I know there's something wrong with me. I think it's getting worse. But I can't just stand around waiting for Buffy to decide it's time to punch me out again. Look, I want you to help me. I want *you*." Oh, it was so easy. //Look at her eyes, see how gone she is on me? I could convince her to walk on fire, if it meant she could get closer to me. Weak, pitiful, mewling...//
"I *am* helping you."
"You're doing what you're told."
"Buffy's trying to help you too. You *know* that. Or Xander does..." //But I *am* Xander, baby. Just not the Xander you think you know... The new-and-improved model, who doesn't need you any more.//
"Yeah. Buffy's so selfless, always thinking of us. Well, if I'm so dangerous, how come she left you alone with me?" Easy, so easy...
"I told her to." Ohh, there was a surprise! //Wanted to be alone with me, huh, Willow? Come on, open the door, Willow, then you can be all alone with me...//
"'Cause I know you better than she does. And I wanted to be here to see if you were still you." She still wasn't sure, but I was getting to her.
She came right up to the cage. Like a soft little lamb to the slaughter. //Just another step... come on...// "You know I am. Look at me. *Look*!" //There she is! And there's the key...//
"Xander..." //She's buying it! Look at that adoring smile.// She stepped forward, but she wasn't as stupid as I'd thought--when my hand came slashing out of the slot in the wall of the cage, she backed up immediately. She looked at me sadly. "Now I know."
//No! You can't beat me... *you* can't win!// "Let me out! Let me out!"
I continued screaming and shaking the sides of the cage, but Willow just walked away from me, and went back to sit down at the computer. I could see her hands shaking as she tried to type. It wasn't fair! I was stronger, I should have been able to beat her! "Let me oooouuuuttttt!"
"I'm not listening."
"Xander! Shut up!"
"Willlllooowwwww..." Suddenly she realized the sound wasn't coming from my cage. Took her long enough!
There they were! The rest of my pack. She ran, weakling and coward that she was. That was fine, they would get me out; we didn't need the key. I threw myself against the walls of the cage again. It didn't stand for long against all of us pulling together, and soon we were together again. We mingled, checking out each other's scents. Once we were bonded again, I turned back to the important things. Like tracking down that skinny little library rat! //She's going to pay for this!// That little voice in the back of my head tried one last time to stop me, but I growled at it to *shut up!* This was no time to show weakness.
I could smell her; this wouldn't be too difficult... The rest of the pack came after me, following my lead. She was in this room... Oh, she was hiding! This could be fun. Fun had been seriously lacking today. We'd play the critter's game, let her think she was safe so she would come out, and I'd have my little toy to play with. I snickered, quietly, so she couldn't hear, and got Rhonda to leave, and then I closed the door. Sure enough, she popped out from under the desk, thinking she was safe, and screamed when she saw me. //Hello, dinner. Smell her terror! Now, do I want you rare... or rare?//
She backed away from me, her fear of me, her precious Xander, written plainly on her face. Oh, this was sweet! I lunged at her across the desk, but she was quick, and got away from me. //Oh, no you don't! Don't scurry away from me!// I chased her across the room, and almost *had* her when she threw the desk in my path. //Ow! Again with the desks??// Then she was at the door, and I almost thought she was going to get away, then she opened it up and I saw that Rhonda had taken up a position outside the room, and had her blocked.
I snarled, startled, when Buffy appeared out of nowhere and slammed Rhonda. I hadn't smelled her coming at all--stupid! I had been so focused on hunting Willow, that I hadn't noticed the other one arriving. Well, I was only too willing to take the Slayer instead! I lunged for her, only to be slammed down the hall by her kick. By the time I got back up, and my pack had joined me, Buffy had closed the classroom door in our faces. We tried to get in, but gave up after a few minutes. Why bother? There had to be easier prey around. All that running around had really built up a hunger in me--after all, I hadn't had anything to eat since Herbert. It was time for a real meal, and the hunt was calling...
We prowled out of the school, and down the street, looking for a meal, ready for some easy pickings. Soon, we found the perfect target; a family coming out of a house, heading for the van in the driveway. And one of them was a child--perfect! Not much of a challenge, but I could sense my pack wasn't interested in a challenge, they just wanted the meat. I opened the driver's side door and took the keys out of the ignition, then joined the rest of the pack in the bushes, waiting for the prey to get into the right position...
We surrounded the van, circling the prey, and then attacked. We toyed with them for a minute or two--getting 'em scared improves the flavor of the meat--then I broke through a window, going for the boy. The little bit of mobile meat tried to get away, and I scrambled through the window to grab for it. It was kind of like pulling a bit of crab meat out of the shell. I'd almost gotten it, when I heard her again. Buffy. Couldn't she just let us *eat*?
"Didn't your mom teach you? Don't play with your food."
I dropped out of the car, and looked up. There she was, just standing up there on top of the van with her hands on her hips, *taunting* me, showing me all she had, all that I wanted so badly. "Come on. You know what you want."
Yes. Yes, indeed, I did. I wanted her. For breakfast, lunch, dinner, or in-between-meal snacks. Always you, Buffy. No one else. You're *mine*. She took off, and I followed, not much caring right then if my pack kept up or not. This treat was not getting away...
I could follow her to the ends of the earth--I *knew* this scent. She went through the park, dodging through the trees, but that wasn't nearly enough to put me off her track. I had her smell in my nose, in *me*, and I wasn't stopping this time until I had the Slayer... one way or another.
She was a nimble little jackrabbit, but I was faster now than I used to be, and my hunger for her drove my steps. Oh, I know this building, this is where it all started. That "home" scent was strong here, and got stronger as we got further into the building.
I lost her for a moment in the twist and turns of the hallway, but I followed her scent like a homing beacon. There! There she was... I tackled her, bringing her down to the ground, right into the red circle where I got my power. My pack was right behind me, dropping on top of us, yelping and clawing, ready to eat her. I swiped at them, keeping them away--she was mine!
Then... someone was speaking, shouting something I couldn't understand. I looked up to see this freak with his face painted like a blue and white skull. He was holding Willow with a knife to her throat. Good--about time she became meat.
Then I could feel... feel the strength draining right out of me, leaving me behind. Just me, weak and alone. The me that had been sitting in here, trapped, yammering at the beast to *STOP*. The me that had been powerless, too weak to do anything to counteract the feral thing that had taken control of my body.
I thought I would never move again, that I was too weak to do _anything_. Then I saw that guy with the knife grab Willow's head in his hands, about to chomp on her! "Willow...!"
Suddenly, my legs were under me, driving me into the guy, and pushing him away from Willow. I might not have the extra strength any more, but this was *Willow*--I couldn't just sit there and let him hurt her. He knocked me across the room with one blow--man, this guy was strong! But Buffy's stronger. Once she got into the act, I left Mr. Blue-Face to her, while I got up to untie Will's hands. I know Buffy didn't *mean* to throw him into the hyenas' cage, but that's where he wound up. He tried to climb out, but the hyenas dragged him back down, and ripped him apart. At least, that's what it sounded like. I didn't look too closely. I just focused on getting the cords off Willow's wrists, concentrated on getting my hands to work, and tried not to think about anything else...
I could hardly bring myself to touch her, after what I'd tried to do to her. My bud, my Willow, was almost *food*. My hands, my whole body, were shaking. What the hell had happened--*why* did I do all that?! It's amazing I didn't toss my cookies right there. Especially after blue-faced guy become hyena nachos. I mean, eeewwww! It was almost enough to put a guy off food for life.
"I heard the vice-principal is taking over until they can find a replacement," Willow said, passing on what she'd heard from the school grapevine.
"Well, it shouldn't be too hard to find a new principal... unless they ask what happened to the last one," Buffy added, unnecessarily reminding me of what had happened to "the last one."
"Okay, but I had nothing to do with that, right?" I make sure to ask, keeping up the amnesia charade. Last night, after the hyena had left me, I'd been too stunned to speak--couldn't get a single coherent word out--and everyone had just assumed that I couldn't remember what had happened. I just shook, and clung to Willow, until everything got cleared up and they all brought me home. All things considered, I was coping pretty well--Kyle and the others had all run off after the hyena possession was lifted, and they were eventually found by the police cowering in the park. All they had been able to do was gibber and twitch, until the doctor sedated them. It looked like they would be out of school for quite a while...
Right," Buffy reassured me, startling me back to the present. Good. The past was *not* somewhere I wanted to be right now.
You only ate the pig," Willow added. Thanks, Will--I needed to be reminded of *that*.
"I ate a pig? Was he cooked and called bacon, or...? Oh, my god! I ate a pig? I mean, the whole trichinosis issue aside, yuch!" My disgust was not faked. That was definitely one of the things I did not want to dwell on. Especially the part where I remembered how good it had tasted... //Nonononono!//
"Well, it wasn't really you," Buffy said. Yeah. If you only knew. I still remember that guy--he *was* me... only more so. All my thoughts and feelings, all my anger, all my lust--squared. Maybe even cubed. But still me. //Nope, *not* gonna think about that...//
"Well, I remember us going on the field trip, and then going down to the hyena house, and the next thing, some guy's holding Willow, and he's got a knife." That much seems safe to remember, anyway. Not pleasant to remember, but safe. Much safer than remembering that I became the leader of the pack because I was ready to pound on Kyle--object lesson, anyone? Write on the black-board five-hundred times, "Violence, bad; kindness, good!"
"You saved my life," Willow says, smiling at me like I was her knight in shining armor. My heart twisted in my chest. Quickly, to keep anyone from guessing what I was really feeling, I said in my heartiest "bestest-bud" voice, "Hey, nobody messes with my Willow!" and I gave her a big hug. I suspect I'm gonna be goopy guy for a while--I just can't get the memory out of my head of how I treated Willow. Not to mention Buffy...
Buffy was smiling at us. "Definitely the superior Xander. Accept no substitutes!"
I decided I'd better cover this now, so it didn't come up later. "I didn't do anything else, did I? Around you guys? Anything... embarrassing?" I asked, moving my hands nervously, hoping against hope that Buffy wouldn't want to bring up... well, *anything* I did under the influence of the animal.
They were smiling--it looked like I was going to get away with it. Why wasn't that more of a relief?
"Nah!" Buffy said, letting me off the hook.
"Not at all," Willow defended me staunchly.
"Come on, we're gonna be late," Buffy added, dragging Willow away to class.
"See you at lunch," Willow tossed back as they were leaving.
"Cool. Uh, hey, going vegetarian, huh?" I called after them, trying to joke about it, being the cool Xander-guy they expect. To tell the truth, it was gonna be a good long while before I was going to want chow down on a steak or... god forbid, a pork chop. I turned around and almost bumped into Giles.
"I've been reading up on my, uh, animal possession, and I cannot find anything anywhere about... memory loss afterward." he said, watching me closely.
Panic. My heart started hammering in my chest. "Did you tell *them* that!?"
"Your secret dies with me," he told me, just a trace of humor in his voice.
Thank you, Giles! "Shoot me, stuff me, mount me," I said, heartfelt embarrassment in my voice. I walked away, almost wishing I *was* a head on somebody's trophy wall, as Giles gave me a comforting pat on the back. Now I know why they say men are animals...
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