Not mine. Never will be. Just playing in the sandbox.
Author's Note :
Be aware that any changes to canon are through deliberate effort, and not mistakes, like Dawn being present and Andrew absent. It will all be explained as time progresses.
Hope you enjoy.
Walking down the earthen tunnel with his comrade slung across his shoulders, still surrounded by the strange girls, John couldn't help but shoot the occasional glance at the blonde keeping pace beside him. Ever since his near fatal attack against the redhead, she'd been highly wary of him. Though the air of tension had greatly abated, and the girls all acted like nothing was wrong, she never lost her hunter's prowl, always ready to attack him should he do something… threatening. While the others might joke and tease, she did not. Her eyes… her eyes stayed dark, with mistrust.
John couldn't blame her though, since he felt the same way.
Ever since being injected with the virus, Sam had insisted that he learn as much as possible about his limits, not that he'd disagreed. It had taken a crushed car door to tell him that until he got a handle on his new abilities, he was a danger to all around him… especially Sam. He'd already known that his strength had been boosted, but it took some time to find by how much, and even longer to learn how to moderate the level of power behind his movements. Also important was his enhanced healing ability, which meant that even when he overreached himself any skin or muscle damage he caused himself was repaired almost before he noticed it happen.
Along with those improvements, he'd discovered a marked increase in his agility that gave rise to other problems. While his ability to dodge incoming attacks had become almost preternatural, he found that changing an attack mid-swing was almost impossible unless there was little to no force behind it. If he put any level of strength into the strike he wouldn't be able to change its direction until it had gone its course.
It had worried him, but Sam had calmed those worries. The fact that there was nobody else on the face of the planet with reflexes coming close to his made it a moot point.
The truth of his complacency struck him squarely when a mere slip of a girl, barely reaching his shoulder in height, had blurred into motion and stopped his punch cold, not even rocking from the force…
John swallowed. If there was even a chance that the virus had made it here…
Yet, on the other hand, while both possible outcomes of the virus were horribly familiar to him, he was well aware that it wouldn't explain that strange glowing dome that they'd covered the cave's mouth with. In fact, the technology didn't exist that could replicate such an occurrence, not even the beings that built the Ark network had done so; there were enough remnants left on airless worlds to confirm that. But these youngsters, clearly unconnected to their government by their attitudes and actions, shrugged it off like it was an everyday happenstance.
All he'd managed to glean was that they'd used a power source referred to as 'the Key', and that it was connected to the girl with long hair that they'd been so paranoid at letting him near.
Who just so happened to be related to the girl who's strength matched his own.
Speaking of which…
"So," a single word spoken, yet the tension skyrocketed, "where are you taking us?"
"Upstairs." The answer was terse and to the point, but gave him nothing.
He nodded calmly, then gestured at the limp body across his shoulder. "And what about him? Are you going to just let him die?"
The glare his insinuation elicited from the blonde almost had him flinching from its intensity, as well as the mutterings of the girls on either side of him, but he had to know. It was important to understand the kind of people who had him, if only to make planning his eventual escape easier.
"We have people trained in first aid, they'll be taking care of him." The coldness of her tone told volumes of how she felt towards him, but he was reassured… slightly.
The coldness of her gaze remained, but something else entered it.
"You… get to use the showers to get yourself clean." He blinked, that being the last thing he expected to hear, and a smirk quirked her lips, "You're not exactly… fit for civilised society, not with what you're wearing." Her eyes dropped to flick over him, and he found his own following them down…
Only to swallow as he realised the sheer level of blood and gore that clung to his clothing. He thought he could even make out some brain matter caught in his vest, and for an instant he remembered the sight and feel of running through what used to be a fellow soldier. Shuddering at the image, suddenly feeling dirty, he nodded at her in understanding.
Just then he could understand some of the horrified looks he'd been getting. He himself felt his skin shrink at the thought of what… who… he was wearing.
The thought of cleaning up suddenly became much more attractive.
Coming out of the earthen tunnel had been quite a shock.
With the number of pipes and side annexes he'd seen in their trek through the darkness, he'd thought they were deep under a bunker of some kind; instead he found himself in a pleasant and, by appearance at least, normal high school. Which raised far more questions than it answered, for why would just a dangerous opening be placed under a school, and why would it be defended by a group of young girls of all things?
Questions indeed, yet he knew now wasn't the time to ask, now was the time to shut up and pay attention.
As they walked, a number of them peeled off, the 'Key' girl among them, taking the injured soldier with them. Only the promise of the blonde, Buffy, and the look in her eyes when she gave it let him separate them. For some reason he trusted her.
He just hoped it wasn't a mistake.
A few minutes more of classrooms and corridors, and finally he was led into a locker room. He had to stand and wait while they checked it was secure, then Buffy had nodded to him and, to his everlasting surprise, his guard stepped back, giving him a moments privacy.
Slowly he stripped, his thoughts churning. While a prisoner, they were giving him unheard-of freedoms, not to mention more trust than he would have done under the same circumstances. They weren't treating him like… he paused, a slight smirk rising to the surface as he completed the thought. They weren't treating him like the UAC would've under the same circumstances, nor did they seem overly concerned about his uniqueness. It was… different.
His attention was brought back to the here and now when his fingers came in contact with the disgusting matter that clung to his flak jacket, and with a slight grimace he tossed it aside. While it might be salvageable, just then the memories were too fresh. The same could be said of the trousers, unfortunately he didn't have the same luxury with them and tossed them into the showers, hoping to give them at least a rinse. Only his t-shirt was untouched, and only because it had been covered by so many other layers.
He could swear he heard Sam chuckle as the dread of the upcoming shopping trip rolled through him.
Shaking it off, he walked naked into the shower block and stepped beneath the nearest stream of water, only barely stopping the groan of pleasure at the warmth.
So enraptured by the blessed sensations, he didn't even tense at the squeak of his follower's shoe on the wet tiles. Nor did he make any move to counter the inquisitive eyes judging him. For now.
The sounds of agony, muffled in the corridor, rose in volume dramatically as she pushed the library doors open, and for a moment she dispassionately flicked her eyes over the thrashing body on the table and the number of her fellows being forced to hold him down while Dawn tried to bind his wounds. Even as she watched, his spine arched badly enough even she heard the cartilage creak in protest, then his body slumped bonelessly to the surface. The movements around him intensified, but she knew as well as they that it was no good.
They were all well acquainted with death by now, and what was occurring was simply a salve to their consciences. He was already gone.
Turning from the scene, she headed into the nearby office and finally came to a halt as their leader looked up, eyes hard.
"So?" Buffy asked, tone harsh, "Is he human?"
"I think so," she answered, tone emotionless, "at least, as far as I could see. No overt signs of demonic race, no horns, scales or otherwise."
"Rhona." The Potential brought her head up defiantly at the rebuke. "What is it?"
"He's quite handsome. Naked he looks better than most underwear models."
A raised eyebrow.
"And that's a problem… why?"
Despite herself, Rhona could feel her cheeks heating. "Because we're surrounded by hormonal teenage girls, and I'm not convinced he's not a threat. What better way to trick us into lowering our guard than to… package it in pleasant looks."
The hard gaze being sent at her softened slightly, as a tinge of pity mixed in. Of all people Buffy could understand Rhona's reticence.
"So, what of his friend?" Rhona's question quickly led them away from painful subjects, and Buffy let her.
"Willow ran a number of scans, as well as taking some blood for analysis. From everything she could find he is… was, almost completely human."
"Almost?" she pounced on the word like a hungry wolf.
"Yes. Willow said there are a few things wrong with his blood and DNA markers that differ from our own, but not enough to be counted as wrong."
Buffy trailed off, running the facts through her head in silence, mulling over the choices. Finally she lifted her gaze to Rhona once more, no give in her eyes.
"We give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for the time being."
A shallow nod from the dark-skinned girl, message received.
"Besides, there are more important questions. How exactly a group of military soldiers got past us and into the Hellmouth. And why."
"So it's confirmed then?"
A sombre nod. "Xander went over the weapons we confiscated, as well as 'his' uniform. There's no doubt."
Rhona shivered. While the fiasco that had been the Initiative predated her by more than a few years, she'd heard enough of what had happened from Xander and Giles and the few other survivors of the horror to not wish a second recurrence. Especially not now.
"However, there are a few inconsistencies. While both of them were able to identify the handguns, the rifle is another story. Xander has never heard of anything like it, and we're still waiting to hear back from Riley, but from the little he said he's unfamiliar with the design as well."
"So what does that mean?"
For a moment she received no reply, as Buffy gazed blankly into the distance, then her leader's eyes focussed on her once more.
"It means that my orders stand."
Nodding her acquiescence, Rhona left, heading back to where she'd left her charge.
She didn't even glance at the sheet-covered body as she left.
The feel of the wet t-shirt on his skin was comforting after the heat of the chase and, although the trousers chafed slightly, he felt better for having rinsed them. He hadn't realised how much of a burden it had been to carry the remnants of so many on his body, figuratively and literally.
His knowledge of being watched was confirmed as, barely a few paces from the locker where he'd left the ruined jacket, he was confronted.
"She'd like to see you now you're ready."
Not mistaking it for a request, he simply fell into step behind her, ignoring the others who walked quietly at his back. Indeed, he was looking forward to this meeting. Not least because of the guilt over the man he'd left in their care. He just hoped they weren't going to try to do something stupid – he really didn't want to kill them, not if he didn't have to.
A low hum of voices from up ahead told John that soon his questions would be answered. He strained to make out the words, hoping to glean some intel before they knew he could hear them, but the thickness of the walls muffled sounds just enough to make that impossible. Yet he couldn't help but notice the talking ended long before it should've, denoting that at least one person in that room had hearing as acute as his… another mark against the possibility that it was here.
A moment later found him led through a double set of swinging doors, where his eyes were instantly drawn to the one called Buffy, standing near the centre of the large room surrounded by people. A group which also included a pair of men, the first he'd seen since arriving. Yet although his attention was focussed on her, he remained aware of the girl who'd led him there, standing at his back, tense and ready to strike. He couldn't help but approve of their caution, though he doubted it would do much good if he did need to leave in a hurry.
His concentration was diverted however, when he realised that there was somebody missing. Eyes narrowing and body tensing, he glared at the blonde.
"Where is he?"
He felt as much as saw the others in the room stiffen at his tone, yet his target never did. Instead her hard gaze… softened.
"I'm sorry, your friend died. His wounds were just too severe and nothing we did helped. You have my condolences."
For an instant he felt rage flush his cheeks, had the desire to attack, to rend, maim, kill… then it passed and he relaxed. It wasn't their fault. The battle had been terrible and it had been a miracle that any of them had survived at all. But it did mean he was more than cut off now.
He was alone.
"We… have an arrangement with a nearby cemetery, he's being buried as we speak."
He blinked at that. Why would…? But then his mind caught up with the signals he'd been picking up, and he understood. These girls had the look of veterans about them. Of people who'd seen death on a daily basis. Who'd lost friends and loved ones. And considering the creatures they'd been forced to fight through just below the entrance, maybe their paranoia was justified. Yet it didn't change the fact that he'd apparently walked into a war zone, one just as bad as when the infected had claimed the base.
"Thank you." He nodded sombrely at her, "If possible I would like to pay my respects at some point."
A quick bob of her head in acknowledgement, and he breathed easier. Not just because of the obvious, but also the implication that he'd be walking out of here.
"I'm sorry, but I have some questions of my own now."
He could feel his lips trying to quirk, but held it back, just sliding into parade rest to signify his acceptance. Not missing the looks that the two men in the back exchanged at his stance.
"I have two questions for you…" at his raised eyebrow she amended that statement, "well, two urgent ones. Why were you and your men inside the Hellmouth and how did you get there?"
"Why is simple. We were exploring, looking for a team of scientists that had gone missing. We weren't expecting…" he paused, deciding to change the wording, "We didn't expect so many. We came under-prepared."
A few muttered curses from the group had him hesitate, as did the dark looks of disdain. But he carried on, hoping for an explanation afterwards.
"How… is not so easy. We…"
He was interrupted again, but this time fortuitously.
"Oh crap, sorry Buffy." The redhead from the tunnel pushed through the crowd and stepped into the limelight, reddening as all eyes turned to her. "I was so overtaken by… by what I saw in his mind I didn't even think. He's.. they're…"
John couldn't stop the grin this time as she floundered, understanding and sympathising with her; explaining how they'd used ancient alien technology to open a doorway from another universe to get here, wasn't exactly…
"They used a machine built millennia ago by aliens to open a doorway from their universe to ours, and came through."
… or maybe it was.
Everyone was staring at the redhead, Willow, in shock, John included. He couldn't believe she'd simply said it.
"A world without shrimp?" a voice piped up.
His head snapped around and he found himself staring in disbelief at Buffy's little sister, only for his head to swivel back at the reply.
"No, and yes, to what you're asking."
His mouth ajar he could but watch as the light of understanding filled Buffy's eyes. Understanding that quickly morphed into amusement as her gaze slid back to him. Chuckles quickly filled the air as more eyes turned to him, and his reaction was found humorous. Buffy stepped forward slightly and dropped her voice, though it was still loud enough to be heard by all.
"Believe it or not, but you're not the first inter-dimensional traveller we've met. You're just not like the others."
Bringing himself back under control he tried to restore his equilibrium, aided by an anonymous small voice that added 'so far.'
Yet the humour of the moment faded quickly as the reality of the situation sank back in.
"In that case," Buffy said, calmly, "I can't blame you for your actions, although I wish you had found another way."
He inclined his head in apology. "I'm sorry for destroying that hatch like I did, but I was out of time and choices. It was…"
"As I said, I can't blame you. However, you've made things a lot worse for all of us. Before, we had been holding our own but with the inclusion of the enemy's forces from within the Hellmouth, we're going to be heavily outnumbered. Too heavily outnumbered."
Briefly the running battle flashed through his mind, and he nodded. By trying to survive, he might've just turned the tide of their battle… in the enemy's favour.
"Wait." Something mentioned before caught his mind, and he asked, "What's a Hellmouth?"
Buffy stared at him, her expression inscrutable, before turning and staring just as hard at Willow. A moment later and the redhead was shaking her head negatively, which brought a sigh of irritation from the blonde. Only then did she turn back to him.
"What do you know about Magic?"
Her non sequitur caught him off-guard, and it took a second to come up with the simple reply. "It's a myth, something people dreamt up when they still believed in gods and demons."
She smiled, yet there was no humour in it.
"Not here it isn't."
He stared at her, wondering if she was joking, hoping she was joking, but the seriousness in the air and the looks from those around him told him otherwise.
"Here Magic is real, as are those gods and demons you mentioned. Specifically, we're talking vampires."
"Vampires?" The word was said more harshly than he intended, but he couldn't help it. This was preposterous.
Again that smile.
"While demons do exist, and many are as evil as it's possible to be, they aren't numerous enough to be considered a real threat. Vampires however, are something else. Our enemy has legions of them under her.. its," he caught the boiling pit of rage behind her words as she stumbled over the pronoun, "control, and thousands more within the Hellmouth. Which is the problem."
He had a very bad feeling about this now. The tale was picked up, but not by Buffy, and his gaze slid to Willow as she spoke.
"You see, the Hellmouth was carefully sealed using the most powerful of magicks, aeons ago. Magicks that required a very unique key to open them. Unfortunately some of her minions on this side managed to get it open, and we were in the process of sealing it again when you…"
"Fucked everything up."
"Yeah." Said Buffy with a tired sigh. "That green dome you saw? It's the most powerful shield we can create, but it's only going to last a few weeks at best. Before we had months maybe, before we had to worry about what lies below. Now…"
She shrugged, and he finally grasped what he'd done.
"You seem to be taking all of this quite calmly," he said, quietly.
A bark of laughter. "With everything I've seen and been through, there's one thing I've learned. Panicking never solved anything. Besides," Buffy's grin morphed into something feral, "we're not dead yet. We've pulled this kind of thing out of the fire before, and there's a chance we'll do it again."
Just like that, the forlorn atmosphere that had blanketed the room was gone, banished by her ferocious attitude, and he could see the girls, her army, take heart from her words. A distant part of him couldn't help but shake in laughter, as he stepped forward, and he swore he could feel Sam's exasperation as he spoke.
"So what can I do to help?"
Groaning and shaking in pain, he stumbled onwards, ever onwards. He didn't know where he was or why he was there, all he knew was that something was calling him, drawing him, and he had to follow the command. He never noticed the blood that dripped from his fingers from the morticians he'd ripped apart, nor the blood that leaked from the bite on his neck.
All that mattered was getting to his master.
Moments later his body was swallowed by the darkness, and the night fell still once more.
End of Chapter 4
Author's Note :
I don't know what to say. I'm terribly sorry how this story seemed to fall short, how it stopped and was seemingly abandoned. It was never my intention. It simply happened. I was completely unaware of how long it had been since my last update, and I can but reiterate how sorry I am that you all had to wait for this.
I feel I should point out that this story is going to be highly AU, with things being far darker than they were in the series… if only because John would wipe the floor with canon-based enemies.
Again, my apologies. I know they don't really matter, that the story is what counts, but they are all I can offer.
Until next time.