"Weapon X"
By Nace M. aka Lint

The vile stench of the sewers filled my nose and woke me from a not so peaceful slumber. I arrived in LA last night and after three solid days of walking and no sleep, I just sort of collapsed on the ground. It had been twenty-seven hours since I'd last eaten anything and now my stomach made me aware of that fact by rumbling softly. I rolled onto my back feeling the jagged edge of a few pebbles dig into me, so I sat up. Yawning and glancing at my surroundings, I knew could easily navigate my way out of here. Your senses tend to get heightened when you're on the run for a month and half, going through god knows how many miles of forest and mountainside. I scratched my hair covered chin and rose to my feet, hearing my completely worn down boots crunch against the pebbles that were poking my back a second ago. Wishing I could have a cup of coffee or something, I stared at my watch. Standard army issue with a compass, altitude meter, and three time zones. It was the only thing I liked that they gave to me. The other things I knew I could have lived without. It said it was two-thirty in the afternoon, a little late for that cup of coffee.

I wander through a few tunnels, half-wondering if I'll see Angel walking around. He always did like his sewer systems. But LA was a big place, and I didn't think the odds were too good of it happening. My clothes are filthy, matching my surroundings quite nicely. I hear my dog tag jingle and I raise my fingers to grasp it. Even though it was a constant reminder of what they planned to do to me, I never took it off. I'm surprised I haven't seen any other derelicts waltzing through the subways of waste, but in the back of my mind I get the feeling I do know why. You see back home our sewers were usually free of all homeless folks looking for a little shelter no matter how disgusting the dwelling space. But then again they were usually full of something else, something that couldn't walk in the daylight quite so easily as the rest of us. Vampires, demons, take your pick. In good old Sunnydale if you dared go into the underground chances are that's exactly who you'd run into.

In seeing that I was genuinely alone down here, and had been undisturbed for seventeen hours of nightmare filled sleep. I gathered that I was fortunate enough to have found an uninhabited section of LA's waste disposal. Though wandering further away from my sleeping spot, I knew eventually I'd run into something that went bump in the night. Story of my life. At least a few things had changed. I knew that if I did happen to run into something ugly, I could handle it no sweat.

As if they were reading my mind two vamps jumped out from around a corner. Figures. The second I think I have it easy, a speed bump comes along.

"Another one of humanity's useless," one of them sneers. "Should we do the world a favor and dispose of it?"

"I can always eat," his comrade agreed.

They both revealed their true face to me and were briefly confused that I didn't scream out in horror. I smirked at them, seen one vamp you've seen them all. I backhanded one of them, feeling the cartilage of its nose shatter under my fist. It roared back in pain as its hands went toward its face. I smiled and kicked the other one across the chin. This was fun. I hadn't been in a fight for a few weeks. I knew my skills hadn't faded, but still. It felt really good. The one with the broken nose snarled behind me and I spun a roundhouse kick to his mid-section. The vamped doubled over and I moved in for the kill. My ears filled with a sound I had come to love and hate with equal passion. Snikt. It's demonic yellow eyes widened at my hand. More accurately the three-foot long blades that extended out of them. I raised my arm up intending to behead the damned thing when my eyes caught a flicker of movement in the distance. My nose picked up the scent of more undead skin, but I knew this smell. It belonged to Angel.

"Back off!" I shouted in his direction bringing my hand down. The blades cutting so easily through the vamps neck. It's head rolled clean off. Dusted. Angel's movement toward me caused me to forget about dusty's little buddy. Son of a bitch got in a lucky shot with a lead pipe. The clang of the metal of the pipe, and the metal inside my head echoed against the tunnel walls. My skull was intact; I could never break another bone in my life. But the force of the blow still caused my brain to rattle around. I sank to my knees and I heard the shot of a crossbow, the sound of the second vamp being dusted immediately followed. Angel ran up to me quickly as I fell onto my back. I felt the claws retract, and hoped he hadn't seen them.

"Thought I told you to back off deadboy," I muttered before the blackness began to claim my vision. I chuckled softly at the shock in his voice as he said my name.

"Xander?"

***

I awoke in a more comfortable sleeping situation than the previous night. I was in a bed, and by the smell surrounding the place I knew it was Angel's bed. My head felt loads better. My eyes opened and I saw Cordy sleeping on a chair next to the bed. I wanted to get out of there right that second. I wasn't in the mood to answer questions. I'm sure Buffy and the gang made them all aware of my disappearance. I had calculated it out to be six months total. The bed squeaked under my movement and Cordy's eyes flew open.

"Dammit," I cursed quietly.

"Xander?" she asked.

I turned my back to her, throwing my legs off the bed and reaching for my boots.

"Xander?" she asked again moving toward me.

I grunted in response but still didn't say anything. I needed to leave right away. She was going to ask me things I wasn't prepared to answer. I can't imagine what I might have looked like to her. A month old beard on my face. Dirt from the various roads I'd traveled still layered across my clothes and body. In short, it probably looked like I had just escaped from prison or something. In a sense I had, but I wasn't going to tell her that.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" she demanded, her eyes flaring at me.

"Yeah," I said. "Good-bye."

"Excuse me?!" she shouted. "Where the hell have you been Xander? Buffy called us months ago telling us you disappeared and we find you in the sewer looking like a bum, and you're just going to leave?! What is going on! Your head should looked like a bruised watermelon right now and you're fine! What does that dog tag mean anyway?!"

My hand shot instinctively toward my neck. Feeling the thin metal between my figures I breathed a sigh of relief she didn't take it off. I turned to face her then, and the look in my eyes caused her to gasp. It was something I knew she'd never seen inside of me. Hell, I'd never seen it up till a few months ago. The look was animalistic and I knew it. I grabbed my jacket from the chair they laid it on and headed for the stairs. Angel waited at the top of them. Not expecting the amount of force I used to push him out of the way, he stumbled back a few feet before regaining his footing. I was almost to the door when I felt his hand clamp down on my shoulder.

"Xander," he said in a tone that was meant to be firm. "We have to talk."

"I have nothing to say," I replied swatting his hand away and turning back toward the door. I didn't need this. I was purposely trying to get through LA without running into him.

"I can't just let you leave," he said.

"You can't stop me."

His hand squeezed my shoulder tighter and I spun quickly, knocking his arm away and grabbing his shirt with my left hand. I pinned him against the wall of his office popping the claws of my right hand and shoving them into his face. The closet thing I'd ever seen to shock on Angel's face flashed across his features. I slightly poked his nose with the middle claw.

"I go," I growled. "Where I wanna go."

***

So now here I am. Back to where the last month and a half of my life has been. On the road. I walk along the side of the highway with my thumb stuck out in classic hitchhiker fashion. I doubt I'll get a ride looking like I do, but you still never know. It's about a two-hour drive from LA to Sunnydale, so in walking terms it equals a day or two. Plenty of time. I know I have you all wondering just how I became the clawed freak I am today, and don't worry, I'll tell you. After all, it's about time I start to process it myself.

You see about nine months ago I discovered something about myself. While wasting away in the fabulous ladies nightclub there had been an incident involving a pissed off pair of bikers and a knife fight. Me being the idiot I was actually tried to diffuse the situation. My thanks was a muscled backhand to the face and a blade to stomach. I don't really remember too much after that. I think I managed to crawl into some bushes while the boys in blue showed up and dragged the bikers away. I don't know what possessed me to crawl away from help, but it happened. As I lay there with my hand covering my wound, I knew I was going to die. Funny, after three years of dealing with the worst the hellmouth had to offer my fate was decided by two drunken assholes that got into a fight over spilt beer. I didn't cry out, I don't think I could have. But as the world I knew grew black I felt a strange tingling in my stomach. I didn't know what it was at the time, but I was told about it later.

Imagine my surprise when I woke up the next morning caked in my own dried blood but alive. My hand went straight to where I was stabbed and was only met with the smooth skin of my stomach. I lifted my shirt to see more dried blood encrusted on my flesh, but there was no wound, there wasn't even a scar. For once I had thought that the fates had smiled down on me. I was so wrong it's not even funny, but I'm getting ahead of myself. I rose from the bushes plucking leaves from my hair and walking slowly back to my hotel room. I showered and washed all the blood off of me, cautiously examining my stomach in the mirror. I was fine. I knew I hadn't dreamed it. I could feel my insides still burn where the knife had been, but I was still okay. Rather than drive myself crazy trying to think of an explanation, I pretended it never happened. Denial was such an easy thing when you lived on a hellmouth all your life.

After that day I usually kept to myself still working away to get my car back in action, and eventually I got back home and faded into the background as the rest of the gang started on with the rest of their lives while I lived mine in my parents crappy basement. To make the story a bit shorter I'll skip all the stuff that didn't directly involve me and my new found ability. But basically Buffy met a new boy toy that turned out to be some covert operations guy for some secret government sanctioned demon farm called the Initiative. They fell for each other, started to work together, and soldier boy's superiors tried to kill her. Buffy needed revenge, information on something, I don't really remember. A lot of my mind is a haze lately. Anyway, we broke back into the compound again, and little to my knowledge the place was riddled with sensors telling humans apart from whatever they happened to catch on their daily fishing trips. I guess with my stab wound disappearing trick I didn't qualify as human anymore. They took full advantage of it.

I remember the day I woke up in my shitty basement with ten gun barrels smiling down on me perfectly. They were all wearing masks which I thought was pretty stupid, I knew who they were. I'd broken into their fortress of solitude hadn't I? They screamed at me to get on the floor with my hands behind my back and I did. That didn't stop one of them from kicking me in the side. He called me 'mutie'; a term I'd come to learn was exactly what I was. A mutant. Someone who had this extra thing inside of their DNA that enabled them with little gifts or powers. Whatever you wanted to call it basically. My little gift was called a healing factor, something that could heal any wound, cure any disease I might have. It is something that has saved my life a thousand times, and cursed me just the same.

A bag was placed over my head and I was dragged into a vehicle. A van I imagined. Military boys kept shouting at me, a few called me freak. I didn't care, high school was full of jibes worse that this. I heard mumbling about some secret plan that would be used on me, but not much more because when I raised my head to try and hear better it was met with the butt of a gun and I was out cold.

I ended up in Iowa of all places. Right where soldier boy originated from. You see the Initiative was just one part of a big government conspiracy involving things not of the normal. There were three divisions actually. One was the Initiative; they dealt with demons, vamps, and other miscellaneous things dealing with the supernatural, located right in home sweet hell. The other was called the Special Unit, dealing with aliens and other things located somewhere out in New Mexico. And finally there was the division I was sent to. It was called the X-factor. Its little specialty was dealing with mutants like myself. Experimenting with them, training those whose powers were of military use, a little exploitation or addition to some. I fell under all of those categories. They loved my gift so much they gave me the grand slam of all of them.

I have three souvenirs from my stay with them. One is a skeleton laced with some unbreakable metal I can't even pronounce. Adamite, adantium, adamantium, something along those lines. Two is six, -foot long blades made of the same metal that come out of my hands in-between the knuckles. And three, a dogtag with the numbers 458-25-243 and a name 'Wolverine.'

My stay with the X-factor I have to admit was less than five star. For the first thirty days I was subjected to a lovely assortment of torture. I was shot, stabbed, hung, needle feed viruses all the for the sake of seeing if I could die. If I had they would have replaced me with someone similar, like it was no big thing. The funnest one of all was being thrown out a five-story window. It took me two days to recover from that. Two days of going through so much pain I thought it would kill me. Once again I didn't know how wrong I was. When they had felt enough experimented had been done on my healing abilities, it was time to step up the process. This is where the real experimentation came into play.

My entire bone structure was diagramed all over my body in black ink, everything from my ribs to my pinky toes. From what I can remember, it was a tank of some sort. It reminded me of those giant aquariums that swanky restaurants sometimes had. An oxygen mask was placed on my face as I was lowered into the tank, and I could see the scientists through the water, or I assumed it was water. They all had those paper doctor masks on and what was behind them were the most evil eyes I had ever seen. And let me tell you, I've seen some pretty nasty boogiemen in my time. They were a few army guys in the background, looking snazzy in their dress uniforms and drinking champagne. Champagne! I was about to go through hell and they were serving cocktails! Bubbles filled the tank and I lost site of everyone else who might have been in the room. Then I felt it. A pain so deep, so blinding it made the world as I knew it disappear into nothing. Do you know what it's like to feel like that? To have every single centimeter of your body wracking with hurt. Your insides feeling as if they were being ripped out cell by cell. Times that by a thousand and you'll know what I went through.

It took a month for me to recover, a solid month of my healing factor on overdrive. A month of nightmares and flashbacks while I healed, I knew hell had to be better that this. As soon as I was well enough to walk the training began. Combat skills, survival training, endurance, and speed. Everything you could think of that would make the perfect soldier is what they trained me to be. I felt most comfortable in the wilderness, something feral inside of me called out when I was surrounded by nature. Does anyone remember the hyena incident? I know I still do. Turns out some of the spirit was still embedded somewhere in my subconscious, and nothing like a massive trauma to unleash things you thought were long gone. My senses were all heightened because of it, smell, sight, hearing. I managed to give them the slip a few times during training ops, but they always caught me waiting with their tazer guns that could always immobilize me. I trained long and hard knowing that I would use it all to escape. There was no way I was going to be some sort of killing machine. I knew that's what I was to be the day I discovered my claws. The day where 'Wolverine' had made sense.

I was fighting a soldier named Wilkins; I never liked the guy. He had the same name as the mayor as you can see. Anyway, we were fighting, I was winning, but something weird was happening. My hands had been itching me all day and I couldn't get them to stop. The muscles in my forearms felt really strange too, like there was something inside blocking them. He was in a tuck-kneed position and I thrust my left hand to strike a knee and pin him to the ground. That was when I felt a muscle tense and three razor sharp claws protruded through my hand and went straight through his leg. We both screamed and he doubled over as I pulled my hand away in shock. I looked at them, gleaming in the sunlight, coated with red. A few soldiers backed away from me, while a few more jumped toward me and fired their tazers till I collapsed. I hit the ground still staring at my hands, knowing what they had planned for me. I had to get out; I had to go home.

Later that day while I was locked inside my cell planning yet another escape routine, I could hear some guys talking about them. The claws I mean. Thank you trauma induced hyena senses. They were put there purposely but it was thought that they hadn't been properly installed, they thought I didn't receive them. I heard them say it was an unexpected bonus. Bastards. It was like I was some toy they had just found a new use for.

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention was mass amounts of computer training. If you were going to be mister secret agent man it was a requirement. I had picked up a few pointers from Willow in the past, her being hacker girl extraordinaire. So while during my computer sessions I learned a few things about these operations. It's how I discovered the other divisions, how I found out these experiments were done before. I learned how I got here; I learned who sent me here. I knew someday I would escape and head home, but now I had a purpose for it as well. On the next op I would be gone, I'd been here a total of four and a half months and it was quite easily the worst time of my life. I wasn't me anymore; I was the fun loving, king of the one-liner Xander Harris no longer. I was this…animal. Another thing, I am just Xander now. No Harris attached. It was all they ever called me here.

"Move Harris!" "On the ground Harris!" "You make me sick Harris! Mutie freak!"

If I ever hear that name again it'll be far too soon. It's really no big loss anyhow, not like the family name was actually worth something. Just plain Xander would suit me fine.

It was a wet stormy day when I escaped. The sky was gray and ugly, and the rain poured like a showerhead across the land. It made it so much easier, no dogs could track me, footprints would be long washed away by the time they caught up. I let my hyena senses completely take over at first, and I ran wild. Never had I felt so free. I still feel bad about having to really hurt those soldiers that tried to snag me, but they should have known not to get in my way. Who needed ten fingers anyway? I stayed in the woods for a long time, a week I think. It took me awhile to get back in control of the animal and I knew they would have the highways swarmed with guys on the lookout. It felt good in the woods, it almost felt like home. I ate when I had to, but let me tell you something. If it weren't for these new animal like senses I had I surely would have starved to death. Imagine having a normal human pallet and eating some yummy raw deer in some national park in Colorado. When I was out of Iowa I thought it would be safe to hitchhike and I got rides where I could. I even stowed away in a Greyhound bus luggage space once. I had to break into a few houses here and there to try and keep a normal appearance by showering and shaving every now and then. When I got closer to California I stopped. I knew the X-factor would be checking every guesthouse, out house, and doghouse in the state. Yeah I ripped off the fugitive, so what.

I had managed to keep a low profile during my trek across the golden state, that is until I ran into deadboy. The highway has become very familiar in the last few hours. I was close. Watch says five forty-five am, wow, I can't believe I've been talking this whole time. The sun was starting to rise in the distance and I think I can see the 'Welcome to Sunnydale' sign up ahead. I made it. I was home. I could almost smell her already. Her scent was probably implanted on my brain long before I could recognize it like I could now. She was probably asleep; I'll wait till nightfall to see her, to see all of them. I hope she's not still going out with soldier boy, I'd hate to have to kill her boyfriend. I reached the welcome sigh and chuckled despite myself. I was here. I was actually here. I tipped my head back and howled. It was time I took my life back.

First thing I did was walk by my house. Big mistake. It was easy to spot the soldier hiding in the bushes outside, covert he was not. Guess I don't get that shave I wanted. I wanted to run right up to him and attack, the animal inside screamed for it. But I didn't want to draw attention to myself just yet. They knew I was coming, but they didn't know I was here. I stayed off the main streets, and snuck around backyards and alleys through most of town. This place hadn't changed a bit. It shouldn't have really; I was only gone for half a year. Something inside had expected it though, I assumed it was just one of those things. An hour later I was wandering on the college campus, it was stupid I know, but I couldn't wait to see my friends again. I would wait till nighttime to approach them, but that didn't mean I couldn't see them from a distance.

I entered her dorm hall through an open window conveniently located next to a tall tree. I couldn't go walking through the front door looking like I did. I was quiet, as stealthy as I was trained to be. I could smell her. Her scent was mixed in with the various others living on this floor, but I could still make it out. She wasn't alone. I would have assumed Willow was with her but the other scent I picked up on wasn't feminine. It was his scent. The man I single out in the blame for what I am. The man who made my existence a literal living hell. The man whom Buffy still chose to share a bed with. Riley Finn.

His scent filled my nose and I turned my head resisting the urge to throw up. It was like acid to the sinuses. I could feel a rage inside me boiling to a point in which I'd never felt before. My claws popped instinctively with this rage and I did what I knew I had to do. I turned and ran. Hopping out the window I came in and clawing my way back down the tree, I sprinted into the woods that surrounded the campus. I was breathing heavily when I stopped and took a seat on a large rock. I wanted to break down that door and kill him. I've never wanted to kill another human being in my life and at the moment it was nothing I cared to explore. I looked at my watch, 7:59 am. It'll be a long while till sundown. Guess I'll take this time to explain why I hate Mr. Finn so much.

Back in my computer training days I came across my own file in the X-factor's system. It had your typical personal file stuff. Birth record, school records, job records. A full three page description of my healing factor and the experimentation with it. Towards the bottom of my file I found a report done on me from some incident recorded in Sunnydale. It also told me that it wasn't exactly the sensors in the Initiative compound that gave me away. They were a help in bringing the head officers attention to me, but the first person to notice that I wasn't exactly Joe schmoe was? You guessed it. Riley. I read his report and it seems he saw my ability in action while the gang was fighting some big nasty. He saw me get cut, by this point I'd grown used to my healing factor and stuff like getting cut and getting hit didn't really register pain wise. Anyway, he saw the dirty little demon slash me, I didn't notice, and saw it heal up seconds after. He put it in his report to his superiors that night. They didn't pay it much mind, but after Buffy and I broke into the compound and the sensors confirmed Riley's suspicions about me, they came and took me away. So here I am the guinea pig of some mad scientist style experiment, on the run for months, knowing that if I stick my head out the ground they'll send me back instantly. All of this crap because some by the book military asshole forgot that it was an actual person's life he was destroying. Further more I bet he faked some kind of concern when everyone found out I was gone. He might have even made a half-assed attempt to help them find me, convincing them that he had nothing to do with it.

I killed time waiting for nightfall in the woods. The trees calm me. I continued sitting on the big rock for a good three hours lost in thought when a deer walked right up to me. It sniffed for a second and I expected it to run off. I remember giving little Herbert the pig the heebie jeebies with my hyena-ness, but this deer wasn't afraid. It seemed to know me in some strange way. It nudged my shoulder with its nose then looked off into a section of woods. I heard a twig snap and the smell of gun oil soon followed. I smiled lightly, it was warning me of company.

"Thanks buddy," I whispered before quietly sneaking away.

I spent the rest of the daylight hours sleeping in someone's pool house. I needed to rest after another day and a half of no sleep. The pang of the heater inside the pool house woke me up. I did a quick check of horizon out the window and saw the effects of twilight across the rooftops. The sun was going down, and it was time to say hey to a few old friends.

I walked down First street planning on doing a cemetery check, I knew I was bound to find Buffy patrolling one of them. I hid in the shadows of buildings and trees feeling my temper grow at the fact that this was my hometown and I was running around it like a mouse hiding from the exterminator. I ran into a few things ugly and disposed of them easily, the only perk I found from army training. After about two hours and six cemeteries later I got lucky. I was on McKellar road heading to the 'Sunny Oaks' cemetery when I heard the sounds of fighting and dusting. I did a quick sniff of air to see if soldier boy was with her. He wasn't, so I ran up to the wall and vaulted over. I stopped a second to get a good look at her; it had been too long in-between my Buffy viewing. Her hair was slightly shorter, and she seemed to be fighting with more aggression that I'd ever noticed before. There were five vamps trying to get her, but her being wonder woman she was having little difficulty keeping them at bay. Still I decided to jump into the fray. I unleashed my claws and snuck up behind two vamps waiting to get their turn. I slashed one's head off clean while kicking the other one in the back of the leg. Once he hit the ground I slashed at him a few times before finally dusting him. I caught the others attention but Buffy kept them occupied with a spin kick to two of their midsections. She staked one while the others jumped on her back and forced her to the ground. I ran at them quickly launching myself in the air and sticking the claws of my left hand into ugly's neck. Once it turned to dust I fell onto the one that still had Buffy pinned to the ground but I saw the end of a stake erupt from it's back. I rolled off it before it turned to dust and stood quickly not looking at her.

"Thanks for the assist," she said brushing herself off. "Nice utensils," she said regarding my claws.

"They come in handy sometimes," I replied in a voice lower than my own. I was starting to second-guess revealing myself to her. I retracted the claws and was about to run off when she made a joke.

"I bet they're real handy during thanksgiving huh?"

I felt my doubt wash away and turned to face her.

"I thought it was my job to make the lame jokes Buff," I said.

Her eyes widened with recognition as she said my name in a way I've heard a lot lately.

"Xander?!"

The next thing I knew blond hair was flying toward me as I felt her arms thrown around my neck. She squeezed so hard I could barely breath, she was happy to see me and it felt good.

"You're alive!" she shouted.

"Not if you keep squeezing the air out of my lungs," I managed to choke out.

"Sorry," she said letting me go. Her look faded from surprise and her eyes grew serious. It made me want to run again, I couldn't tell Cordy what happened to me and I had no idea just how Buffy would react. I could feel my heels start to turn again but when I saw the tears building inside her eyes I knew I couldn't.

"Where have you been?" she asked softly. "That day when we showed up at your house…your basement was ransacked and we knew something had happened to you…"

"Initiative," I said.

"What?"

"They took me away," I mumbled softly flashing back to the day. I grew angrier with each second I thought of it. "They came into my home, shoved a gun into my face, and took me away Buff! All because I was different! All because they could use me!"

"Xand, calm down okay? What are you talking about?" she asked. I could tell she didn't quite believe me, but she was willing to listen at least.

"You have a knife on you?" I asked. She looked at me funny, but pulled a fancy looking blade out from her waistband. I took it from her and rolled up my sleeve. Her eyes widened when she caught on to what I planned to do.

"Xander!" she shouted. "What the hell are you doing!"

I stuck the knife into my forearm and grunted with the pain as my blood trickled down to grass. Buffy ran at me and batted the knife away taking off her sweatshirt and trying to dress the wound.

"It's not necessary," I said pushing her shirt away. "Watch."

Her sharp intake of breath told me she saw the cut heal itself. I wasn't looking at her or it, I didn't want to.

"Xander…I…what is going…"

"I term I heard most was mutant," I explain.

"Is that like a demon or something?" she asked.

"No, I'm still human. Just got a little something extra in the package."

She moved toward me then and took my hand in hers.

"And theses?" she questioned tracing a finger over my knuckles.

"Souvenirs," I say.

She nodded, not knowing what else to say and pulled me into a hug again.

"You're alive," she said again. "Everyone will be so happy. Willow! We have to talk to Willow! And Giles! Even Riley will be glad you're okay."

My hand involuntarily squeezed tighter at the mention of his name. She could tell something was off with it and looked at me with questioning eyes.

"We can't tell him okay?" I asked her. "They didn't exactly let me walk away you know. I am technically a fugitive with them."

"Well we could talk to him," she said. "Maybe he can help clear this all up, he did help us look for you while you were gone."

I laughed softly at that, I knew he had done some like help them out. Convincing them he was on their side.

"Don't tell him I'm back," I pleaded with her. "Don't let anybody involved with him know okay? It's not a simple misunderstanding Buff. I escaped from their little Frankenstein work shop and I don't think they're going to be very happy about it."

"But…"

"Please," I said. "For me?"

"Sure Xand," she said giving me that weird look again.

We went walking toward Giles place after that. She filled me in on the events that went on during my disappearance. Oz's leaving and Willow's newfound BI-sexuality with a fellow witch named Tara. A lot of what she said was about her relationship with soldier boy and I had to fight every urge to scream and claw the shit out of something, but I was good. We arrived at Giles' apartment and entered in on a conversation. Willow was in the middle of a sentence when she saw me, and the next thing I knew I was on the floor red hair covering my face and her small arms latching on to me tightly.

"Is it really you?" she said.

"It's me Will."

"You're okay," she started to say through tears. "I knew you were, but I still had my doubts. I was so afraid."

"I'm here Will. I'm okay, everything's going to be okay, " I said not believe a word from my mouth. I didn't think anything would ever be okay again.

"Xander?" a British voice asked from the top of the stairs. "Is it really you?"

"Yeah G-man, looks like you're cursed with my presence yet again."

He walked slowly from the stairs re-adjusting his glasses as he came closer to me. I stuck out my hand for him to shake but he pulled me into a brief hug that would be considered manly.

"What on earth happened to you?" he asked.

"Sit down," I told them all. "I'll tell you everything."


They all sat speechless in a circle around me after I had finished my story. I left out the fact that Riley was involved. Don't ask me why but I know that I want them to find out from him somehow. Though I don't know how that would happen. I had shown Giles and Willow my new attributes. Their shock was hilarious. Willow squeaked like a mouse when the claws came out, and G-man just shook his head sadly and placed his hand on my shoulder offering his sympathy of all that had happened. I was all right with it now I guess. I had no choice but to be.

Buffy and Willow never left my side, clinging to me like socks in a dryer. It was great. For the first time in months I felt content and an actual smile appeared on my face. This was home. I was home. It was late, and I watched one by one as they all drifted off to sleep in the living room. I wasn't tired. My sleeping habits had been sporadic for some time, but after awhile I tipped my head back and closed my eyes listening to the sounds or their breathing. Buffy, Willow and I slept on the couch while Giles was out cold in his easy chair. Buffy started to stir a few hours later, but her arms were still wrapped protectively around my waist. Willow had rolled away about an hour ago and was curled up into a ball at one end of the couch. I felt Buffy slip her arms away and her head rose from my shoulder. I pretended I was asleep, but quietly I was protesting that she put her head down again and go back to sleep. I could feel her eyes on me, and her fingers began to comb themselves through my tangled hair. Another hand cupped my hairy cheek.

"I'm so glad you're okay," she whispered before I felt her lips on my forehead. "You don't know how much we've missed you. How much I've missed you…"

It was so beautiful to hear I could have cried. I can't cry anymore though, it's just something that doesn't happen. But if I could it would have been a river. Her hands traced along my jaw line and she stilled a finger on my lips, just before she got up and walked away. I heard the front door click open, and when it shut I lifted my head and looked around. Where was she going at…? I checked my watch, 5:00am. I'm pretty sure all the vamps in town are crawling back to their coffins by now; so she couldn't be patrolling. I gave her a minute to come back. When she didn't I was out the door right behind her.

I couldn't see her at first, but picked up on her scent easily. It was something I could never get enough of. I took off in the direction of the scent and eventually saw her in the distance. She was running at full slayer speed, so even with my increased stamina I had difficulty keeping her in close range. We ran all over town, me playing the cat to her mouse. I half-worried some Initiative cronies would see me but mostly I didn't care. After awhile I noticed that she was running in circles. She was looking for something. She was looking for somebody. I knew who. Anger reared its ugly head again but I forced it down. Finally she stopped to take a breather by the fountain outside of city hall. I kept a close eye on her hidden behind a tree. My legs ached slightly from running so far, but it would die eventually. She dipped her hand in the water and ran it across her face in an attempt to cool herself off. The moon shone off the water dripping down her face, it looked like she was crying tears of diamonds.

There was movement in the bushes next to her and I was ready to pounce on whatever beastly it could happen to be. My right foot lifted off the ground when it hit me. The slight breeze in the early morning air carried many smells with it. None were so rank as his. He emerged from his hiding place startling Buffy and she laughed it off.

"Buffy, what are you doing out here?" I hear him ask. "It's a little late for your usual patrol. Anything wrong?"

"No," she replied. "Couldn't sleep. What about you? You're hunting pretty late."

"Orders," he said. "I'm glad you came along though."

"Me too," she said and began to kiss him.

I had to fight off the wave of revulsion that struck my stomach. She was kissing him! The love of my life was kissing the man that ruined it. Yeah you heard me. I still love her. You're surprised? You mean you actually didn't notice?

I laughed lightly when his radio blared breaking them apart. I listened carefully.

"Repeat that," he said into his headset.

I'm guessing he didn't the guy didn't do to well with the stealth part of his training. I could hear his radio from here.

"Sir," the voice at the other end said. "Subject Harris has been spotted running along Main Street somewhere near your location."

If I could hear it that meant Buffy could too. She looked at him suspiciously. After all it wasn't just a coincidence that the day I show up after escaping from a compound similar to the one he served under that they are looking for someone with my name.

"Sir?" the voice from the radio questioned. "Sir?"

"Copy that," Riley said quickly.

"Riley?" she asked. "Why did that guy say Harris?"

The look on his face was priceless. It was a cross between getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar and that dream where you're in the front of a classroom in your underwear. I watched him stiffen and fumble for words.

"Riley?" she asked again.

This was my chance. My chance for Riley to blow it for himself.

"Why don't you tell her soldier boy?" I shouted coming out from behind the tree.

They both looked around for a second trying to determine where my voice came from. He drew his gun on me the second I came into view.

"Buffy," he said grabbing her arm. "Back away from him he's dangerous."

"Tell her," I repeated.

His trigger finger tightened as I stepped in front of him.

"What's going on?" she asked.

She looked at him seeing the cold hard determination in his eyes directed toward me. She looked back at me and I knew she figured it out when the realization became clear in her facial expression.

"Xander?"

"Ask him," I said.

She spun and yanked her arm out of his grasp. Turning to face him she fixed him with a glare that I had only seen on her when fighting an enemy she meant to destroy.

"You knew…"

"Buffy I…"

"You lying son of a…you knew! You knew all this time what happened to him, where he was, what they did!"

I let myself smile smugly at him. He dug his own grave. It was perfect. His eyes shifted back and forth between me and Buffy, his gun still trained at my chest.

"Buffy calm down," he pleaded. "You don't understand."

"Calm down?" she shouted. "You want me to calm down!"

"Buffy!" I yelled. She looked at me offering a small smile under her face of outrage. She turned back to Riley.

"Why?" she asked him.

"The Major, he knew about Xander when you guys infiltrated the compound. Said we could use him. I was just…"

"Don't give me that military bull Riley," she interrupted. "Orders or not you still didn't tell me, you still let it happen."

"You're leaving out one little detail Iowa," I said. His eyes narrowed at me, he knew exactly what I was about to say. "Yeah I remember that morning as well as ever. And I remember a kick to the side, and a nasty little name I was called. What was it Riley? Come on I know you remember."

He scowled at me knowing I would call him on any attempt to save face with her.

"Mutie," he muttered.

"Could you say that loud enough for the lady to hear?" I asked.

"You heard me Harris," he said in a menacing tone. Or what was supposed to be menacing. I wasn't scared of him. "You're a freak. A genetic mistake just like all the others."

"Excuse me?" Buffy asked him.

I don't think she'd ever heard him talk like this. I have. After all it was him that day in my basement that kicked me, he's the one that called me mutie. How did I know? Even before the hyper-senses came into play I could always smell a rat. It was just the icing on the cake you know? All of this came down to simple bigotry. He was afraid of people like me, so that meant he had to eliminate the source of that fear, no matter if we were living beings.

"Buffy," he said almost sounding intimidating. "Just back away from him and there will be no trouble."

"Now you're threatening me?" She calmed herself letting his betrayal slowly register with her. "Who the hell are you?"

"Buffy please."

She walked over to me and stood by my side folding her arms and glaring at him. Riley had betrayed her. And with Buff's track record of untrustworthy people his fate wasn't looking to swell. Riley's eyes were saddened for a second, before glazing over with cold steely stare. Benefits of the military. You could shut off your emotions like a light switch.

"You've made your choice," he said. "I hope you enjoy it. Commander," he said into his radio. "I have Harris in my…"

"No!" Buffy shouted running at him.

In a split second it all went to hell. Well, more than it already was. Buffy ran at him with all her slayer strength and speed and he did something that he was trained to do in an attack. He shot her. The bastard shot her. He was stunned he had done such a thing he looked at me with wide eyes before I jumped at him. The feral rage inside I had been trying so hard to keep at bay irrupted from within me. I let it come. He had hurt her. All I ever wanted was for her to be safe. And now… My blood was so hot inside my veins, pumping with a heat that almost burned. I didn't let it bother me. He tried a shot at me but knocked the gun from his hands and landed a clean kick to his chin knocking him off balance, before crouching and sweeping his legs out from under him. He hit the ground with a thud and I got in a good solid punch to the face. His head snapped back onto the ground but he managed to kick me off him. I spun and regained my footing while he jumped back onto his feet and assumed an attack stance. We stood there for a minute, waiting for the other to pounce. I wasn't going to use my claws; I wanted to win fairly. He went first landing a swift kick to my ribs while I jammed my elbow to his temple. He staggered back and my rage grew stronger, fueling me, screaming for his blood. A red haze filled my eyes and I was lost in punches and kicks, elbows and knees. He was good. Through the haze he managed to get in quite a lot on me. Scoring on all the pressure points that could have crippled a normal man. Lucky for me I didn't fall into that category. I growled like a savage beast and for a moment I saw fear in his eyes. That's when I knew I had him. He was trained longer, more skilled, had more technique, more experience. But I was still better; I was still going berzerker.

I knew I could beat him. I was the best back in training with the X-factor. But he still got lucky. The Initiative had all kinds of different toys they assorted their soldiers with. One including something similar to a cattle prod. Capable of churning out 50,000 watts no doubt. I know this because when he pulled it on me I dropped like a sack of potatoes. 50,000 is what it took to subdue me back in Iowa, and happy day it's exactly what he was equipped with. I lie on the ground flat on my back letting my healing factor make quick work of the shock. He wasn't going in for the kill yet. Sorry excuse for a man actually thought he earned the right to gloat. He leaned over toward me then, sweaty and breathing hard. Blood leaking from various cuts to his face and his right eye swollen.

"I'll always be better freak," he said. "You'll always have to hide, never facing the light of day because people will fear you, shun you. She," he says pointing at Buffy. "Will come around. She loves me."

"Oh shut the hell up," I muttered before popping my claws and slicing his cattle prod into toy blocks. He jumped back at the sight of them.

"What's the matter Riley?" I chided. "You don't want to play any more?"

His face went grim and we traded blows once more. I worked hard, and fast. A blind flurry of attacks. Each hit was for the pain I went through, for the end of my semi-normal existence. After awhile he started to get sloppy. Weakened by my constant attacks. His form faded and fatigue took him out of the fight. A final knee to the gut and he was down. I jumped on top of him, the animal inside wanting his blood, screaming for it. I growled and forced my hand down… Two claws on either side of his neck had him pinned. One more claw. That's all it would take. Just one more…

Buffy stirred next to me. She was alive. The bullet must have gone through and… I looked at the gun. It was a stinking tranquilizer gun. In my rage I never noticed that fact. She was only stunned. I breathed a sigh of relief and turned my attention back to soldier boy, concentrating on that third claw tickling his Adam's apple. I couldn't do it. I couldn't kill him. It just wasn't me. It was why I had escaped in the fist place. I wasn't a killer. Not the human variety. He saw me struggling and smiled. I retracted my claws but still stayed perched on top of him.

"Here's what you're going to do," I said. "You're going to go back to your superiors the beaten shamble wreck you are and tell them to back off. I'm not their guinea pig any longer."

He laughed at me.

"You don't get it do you?" he said. "You're in like I am. There are no outs' mutie. We'll hunt you till the day you die and I'll be there. Every step of the way."

Buffy stirred again and mumbled my name. I looked over to her. Riley took advantage of my distraction, sticking his combat knife into my right side. I howled with the pain before gritting my teeth and concentrating on him again.

"Never stop Harris," he said. "I'll never stop."

He was right. They would always be after me. He would always be after me. His hand was still on his knife and he started to twist. I growled in pain again. I saw the cold hate filled look in his eyes as I placed my knuckles against his temple.

"You don't have the guts," he said.

I closed my eyes as my ears were filled with a sound I had come to love and hate with equal passion. Snikt.

***

Buffy came to as I was carrying her back to Giles. She was still a little out of it when I set her down. That tranquilizer juice was probably enough to take out a horde of demons, so she leaned on me like a crutch. We were quiet for longest time, walking slowly along the streets I had missed so much. She was silently gauging Riley's lies while I took in the fact that I had killed someone. Let me tell you something. Endless threat to my life or not, the fact that I ended Riley Finn's life feels shitty. Really, really shitty.

"Is he…?" she asked.

Not being able to say the words I could only nod. She nodded in return and let a tear of mourning slip from her eyelid.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"What?"

"I'm sorry that I couldn't see him for what he really was. I'm sorry that all this happened to you. I…"

"Buffy" I interrupted. "You are the last person in the world that ever needs to apologize to me."

"Are they going to come after you again?"

"Probably."

"Then we'll fight them," she says. "You have all of us Xander. We'll never let them take you again."

"Thanks Buff."

We walk a little while longer before she suddenly stops and grabs my hands, her fingers tracing my knuckles once again.

"Does it hurt when they come out?"

I chuckled softly to myself and she smiled at me. We start to walk again before I answer.

"Every time."


The End…