Hungry Like the Wolf
(the Red Roses Remix)
Copyright April 2011
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: the Series are property of Joss Whedon,
Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN.
This story is a remix (done for RemixRedux 9)
of "An American Werewolf in London", by SunnyD_lite.
There was a naked woman in the cell. This was no casual drunk-tank, either, but a serious cage: metal frame secured to concrete by three-quarter-inch bolts spaced four inches apart, as were the bars, with a tape line as an outside perimeter, presumably to indicate safe approach distance. Door hinges every bit as massive as the bars. Two separate locks for the door, set far enough apart that — as with the firing console at a missile silo — its operation would require two individuals turning two keys simultaneously. The assemblage clearly had been designed to hold a formidable and irascible predator. Which, no doubt, said something about its current occupant.
Xander looked away from the fittings of the cage and back to said occupant. Sure enough, still there and still naked. While a distant part of him marveled at the fact that this kind of thing no longer struck him as especially unusual, most of his focus was on her body. To wit, seeing if he could spot any of the inevitable signs of demon-ness … because he was who he was, and new and interesting women? always demons, of one kind or another.
Seated on the small bed-platform bolted to the wall, she looked back at him with a self-possession he couldn't help envying, her only concession to her nudity a slight turn of her body that allowed her, by crossing of her legs and relaxed placement of one arm, to mask full-frontal exposure. "So," she said to him. "Am I just here as a safeguard to protect others, or am I an actual prisoner?"
Xander shook his head. "Sorry, no idea. I didn't even know anybody was down here. But I can ask." (And definitely would.) He lifted an eyebrow, the one over his remaining eye, and added, "Any particular reason folks might need protecting from you?"
"Two reasons," she replied, even and matter-of-fact. "Direct harm: I might kill or maim someone. And … unwelcome lifestyle change, if I only bit them." She saw realization dawn, and confirmed, "Yep. Werewolf. And dealing with it, but I don't want to infect anyone else if I can help it."
"Huh," Xander said. "But … Well, we kind of keep track of these things in my line of work, and isn't the full moon supposed to be next week?"
"It is," she agreed. "It really is. Which is why I felt okay going out for an evening at the theater. Only, something happened. I don't know what, I just remember realizing what was going on and rushing out of there as fast as I could, trying to get some distance from crowds before the change set in all the way." She grimaced. "Probably not really possible in the middle of London. Um … when you go to ask about me, can you find out if they know whether I hurt anyone?"
"I'll do that," Xander said, nodding. He pulled the zipper down on his windbreaker, shucked out of the garment, and tossed it to the concrete floor a few inches in front of the bars. "I'll also ask them to bring you some clothes, but you can use this till then."
"Thank you," she said, without stirring from where she sat. Right; she'd wait till he was gone before shifting from that protective position. All the same, she showed no obvious sign of discomfort at her relative vulnerability. "There's nobody here to do proper introductions," she observed, "so I guess it's up to us. My name is Nina. Nina Ash."
"Xander Harris," he returned. "And, which I figure you'll have noticed already, fellow American."
She smiled briefly. "Fellow Californian, from the sound of it."
"Oh, yeah," Xander agreed. A pause followed and, realizing that his continued presence was preventing her from moving to take possession of the windbreaker, he said, "So I'll, uh … I'll go ahead and get on that whole clothes thing."
As he turned to start toward the stairs, she said, "Just for the record, are you evil?"
Xander looked back. "Always good to get that set straight at the beginning," he acknowledged. "Far as I know, I'm not. I mean, these things can sneak up on you, but I try to watch out for that." He paused. "You?"
"Like you said," she returned. "I'm trying not to be, and so far I don't see any … any really big warning signs." Again the rueful grimace. "What kind of world is it where we can ask a question like that as a regular part of dealing with someone, and neither one of us can give a flat, confident 'No'?"
"Our world," Xander said, and went up the stairs.
The man at the front desk was in his mid-to-late twenties, in clothes that weren't tweed but communicated the same general effect: Watcher-trained but short of full membership, brought in because the Sunnydale survivors had needed some kind of support, and resentful (not at all subtly) of the Colonial interlopers who had somehow wound up in command. He had insisted on seeing Xander's credentials before allowing initial entry, which was both understandable and desirable in an organization that had seen its entire senior leadership blown upbarely two years before; the undercurrent of looking-down-his-nose, on the other hand, had been neither practical nor appreciated. It was there again now, even stronger, as Xander emerged from the stairwell and approached the desk. "Ye-e-es?" he drawled, in tones that resonated with all the presumed and nonexistent authority of Sunnydale 1999 Wesley.
"So, Nigel," Xander said briskly. "You know you've got a woman locked up downstairs without any clothes?"
The Watcher wannabe stiffened, and his expression shifted from 'the trade entrance is in the back' to 'what is this I stepped in?' Drawing himself up, he began, "My name —"
"Not caring here, Dudley," Xander interrupted. "The point is, you have a naked woman, locked up, out where anybody can stroll by for a look-see. Fix that, right now."
"Ah," the not-Watcher said, as part of the information filtered through. "So the creature has resumed human form."
"The creature has a name," Xander shot back. "As for the human part, yeah, that's what happens to a werewolf when the sun comes up.Which, in case you haven't noticed …" He waved toward the entrance, where daylight seeped in through a small inset window.
"Not a werewolf, no," the man corrected pedantically. "The days of the full moon are almost a week away, so we are dealing with a wolf demon, or a shapeshifter, or —"
"Or an animagus, or Rahne Sinclair, or Beast Boy's baby sister, I don't give a good goddamn." Xander heard his voice rising, and stopped to draw a steadying breath; anger was okay, but anger without control, not so much. "Look, Reginald, I'm not saying let her go; she knows, herself, that she's in there for a reason, and she knows we'll want to scope the whole situation before we swing open the gates. — Which, by the way, second order of business is to get me a full report on her: where and how she was captured, appearance and behavior while she was transformed, any other useful info, plus you'll want to check background on Nina Ash, California, USA." He put his hands on the desk, leaned forward until his face was less than a foot from that of the other man. "But the first order of business, Percy, the very first thing,is for you to get some clothes down to her, pronto, else I'll pull yours off you and toss you out into the street before I take 'em down to her. So, we have an understanding here?"
~ – ~ – ~
The near-obliteration of the Council of Watchers, the collapse of Sunnydale, and the expansion of the Slayer line, had together brought about so many changes that it had been nearly impossible to keep track of them all. In fact, Xander hadn't even tried, it had been more a matter of riding the wave to keep from being sucked under. Then the aftermath had taken him around the world, operating both solo and in tandem with people he'd never known before, with the constant shifts in venue and personnel serving to mask a difference he would have been disinclined to recognize in the first place. It wasn't just his locale that had changed, his occupation, his duties, his enthusiasm (limited now) for living to see another day … No, people were treating him differently.
Men watched him with wary assessment, women with hooded or open speculation. It wasn't respect, per se: some of the characters he dealt with went directly for a panga or an AK-47, and some of the women edged around him at a careful distance; among those given to more restrained behavior, there was still argument and disagreement and sometimes open refusal to cooperate … but the difference was there all the same, and after a long while Xander finally realized that he was being treated seriously.
After an even longer while, he decided it was the eye-patch.
He still acted as he always had, approaching every task with the same lack of confidence and the same camouflage of self-deprecating humor. The difference was, previously it had served as deflection, or at best substitution: don't despise me, just laugh at me. Now he delivered the same spiel and people looked at the eye-patch and thought, Yeah, right. The guy who could make lame jokes about being a goof, a Zeppo, a hopeless but entertaining space-filler? not the same as the combat-scarred veteran who made light of danger.
Even if they were exactly the same guy.
So, he wasn't really different but he was getting different results. Xander wasn't going to change who he was — couldn't — but he had enough sense to use the tools at hand.
Case in point.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," he announced as he walked into the compact auditorium, and continued speaking while he stepped up onto the slight raised area that served as a stage. "Thought I could rustle up some handy visual aids before time to get started, but apparently a guy needs depth perception to find the door to the storage area." He looked over the group of trainees who had been gathered to hear some pearls of wisdom from The Man In The Field (right): couple of dozen, maybe thirty, and regarding him with expressions that ranged from studiously neutral to frankly curious. "So, yeah, no show and tell. I guess that just leaves Tell."
No response, aside from some shifts and murmurs and doubtful glances at one another. Okay, he wasn't going to get any help here. Fortunately, Xander had his own strategy for dealing with fear of public speaking: imagine the audience with fangs.
"What I really wanted — and I knew that wasn't gonna be in your basement, wasn't even looking for it, but what I really wanted — was a video clip from Blade: Trinity. Namely, the part where Jessica Biel makes her appearance with the fake baby. So, all right, trolling with live bait; that works, I've been there, I've been the bait. And deception, that's good, too. But everything after that …"
He stopped, surveyed the audience again. "Okay, I know, you're all too educated and Continental to waste your time on silly American trash, right? Especially since you're the ones who know what vampires are really like. But, come on, people are people; after a day cataloguing grimoires and cross-referencing prophecies, you have to want to kick back and relax a little. Back in Sunnydale, we did it with undubbed Bollywood and bad kung-fu flicks. So does anybody here ever get together with a cask of ale and a bucket of chips, and poke fun at über-dumb vampire movies?"
Finally, finally, a response; a gawky young man raised a tentative hand, and then a guy-girl couple sitting together, and then there were shared smiles and some low chuckles and everyone seemed to relax a little. Going good. "Right," Xander went on. "So, Jessica and Baby Garlic. Now, she did some things right. She lured her targets to a secluded spot. Gave 'em lots of reasons to underestimate her. Hit 'em with things they weren't expecting: again, Baby Garlic, plus special weapons. But she did so much that was wrong. Even another chance to ogle la Biel isn't enough to keep me from cringing every time I see it."
He ticked items off on his fingers. "She took on four vamps without back-up. She let them lay hands on her before she started playing her trump cards. She traded punches with a couple of them, instead of going straight to weapons. She struck a dramatic pose, and stalked after the ones who were still alive like she was the apex predator and they were a rung below her on the Bad-o-Meter. Short form, she acted like a Slayer … but she wasn't, she was trained and equipped and motivated and all of those things are important, but none of 'em are enough. Not nearly enough."
He had engaged the audience sufficiently that one of them, the female member of the couple who had responded to his previous query, was willing to speak now. "The … erm, the vampire hoodlums in that scene weren't as powerful as we know true vampires to be. And it's common knowledge, or at least widely reputed, that you have … have personally fought vampires, yourself."
"Both things true," Xander agreed. "But the script writers making vampires weaker, just so Jessica could look more awesome, that's one of the things that sets me off. As for my own misspent youth, hey, I can identify all the Really Stupid Things you shouldn't be doing because I've done pretty much all of 'em. I'm still alive due solely to freak chance and God's weird sense of humor. Can't expect that to last, or for it to work even a second for anybody else."
"Our education was, er, interrupted, by the recent unpleasantness regarding the established Council." The speaker was a taller, ginger-haired version of Freddie Iverson, but with a different accent and a precise courtesy that Freddie couldn't have even recognized, much less duplicated. (And 'unpleasantness' was certainly understatement for the higher Council being completely wiped out.) "We have been made aware, however, that engaging vampires 'mano a mano' is not part of a Watcher's normal duties."
"I can believe it," Xander replied. "I worked with Giles and Wesley, and even got some exposure to Gwendolyn Post, Mrs. None of 'em were shy about jumping into the fray when it had to be done — well, Wesley was, a little, but I hear he got over that after he landed in L.A. — but they all focused mostly on directing and supporting and backing up the Slayer. So, yeah, I know how it's always worked before. But things have changed now."
He started pacing the small stage, looking to one and then another of them as he walked. "The Slayer line has opened out. You know that. Almost all the senior Watchers are dead now; I know you know that. Used to be, you could pick out the best possible Watcher and send him — or her, Mrs. Post was seriously scary so I know women can be good Watchers — to supervise the only Slayer. Now, we've got over a thousand known Slayers and less than a thousand not-yet-Watchers … We're strapped, people, we're desperate, we need everybody we can get. We've already weeded out the obvious misfits and incompetents, so unless somebody screws up and washes out in the next couple of weeks, every one of you, and everybody like you in centers all over Europe, will be assigned a Slayer and sent out into the field.
"Some of you won't be able to cut the mustard once you get there. The ones that survive, we'll bring back to man the desks while we try to manufacture replacements. If you show any talent at all, though, you'll probably be given extra Slayers to look after. But, bottom line, you're absolutely going out on the firing line. And right now, folks, we — you and me, the normal ones, the non-supernatural, the pit crew — we're the weak link.
"The bad guys know that. They know there's lots more super-powered girls out there hunting them now, but they also know those girls don't have as much quality back-up as the Lone Slayer used to get. Because there aren't as many of us, and because we're just not as good as lifelong Watchers like Giles. So some of the vamp crews and demons and cultists will try to hit the Slayer at her most vulnerable point, and that's us.
"The reason I'm wasting your time talking about the wrong way to fight vampires? It's because you will have to fight, probably more than any Watcher's had to do since the Dark Ages — well, except Giles, but he's a total overachiever — and I want you to know the mistakes before you learn 'em all the hard way, like I did."
Again Red Freddie was the one to speak. "If one must fight vampires, then, how is one to do so?"
"Good caveat there, Trevor. 'If one must fight' … yeah, the first thing you have to remember for fighting vampires is, don't fight vampires. That's what the Slayer is for. But if you have to fight vampires, you still don't fight them." Xander grinned at the blank looks. "Nope, doesn't make much sense, does it? But that really is how it works. You fight a vampire, you'll lose. They're too strong, too fast, too vicious … you can hurt one, but you can't really damage him unless you're lucky or he's dumb. Which, fortunately, most of them are, but that only goes so far. Some of the newer ones, they still hold onto the reflexes from their breathing days; even if they're five times as strong as you and three times as fast, they have to remember to be, and so for the first few seconds you're not taking on a demon from Hell, you're just up against the strongest, spryest, quickest, meanest enemy you've ever faced in your life. Pile on everything you've got, you can stop one, stagger him, take him down, even."
He stopped to face them, cocked his head, shrugged. "And then he jumps up again and kills you, because while you were pulling out all the stops, you were just keeping him busy and tiring yourself out. If you get that far, it's 'cause he hasn't even started yet. So the trick is, finish him before then."
He smacked his fist into his palm for emphasis. "You don't fight a vampire. You let the Slayer fight him. Or you kill him without warning. Or, if you can't take him unawares, you give him the desperate hopeless human fight he's expecting, and then kill him without warning. Cheat. Cheat every way you can. Use weapons. Hide weapons that you can get to quick, and practice getting them out without a slip. Never show a weapon till the split-second before you use it. Throw holy water on him. Douse yourself with holy water so it burns him to take hold of you. Spit holy water in his face. Carry a wooden cross with a sharpened end, push him back with it or burn him with it and then stake him with the end while you're close enough. But do it fast.
"Bullets will slow a vampire, but that's all they'll do and they're only for close quarters, and lots of places the likelihood of being busted for violating gun laws is bigger than any advantage you'll get from the weapon itself. Wooden bullets? won't work, we've tried. If you've got a crossbow, well, you've only got one shot and you can forget about having time to reload, that just doesn't happen, and any vamp can dodge a crossbow bolt if he can think fast enough to call on the right speed, so you only use a crossbow against one you've caught by surprise or from an angle where he can't see it coming.
"Swords are better, but really they only give you a better defense, if a vamp has room to move he'll always be able to avoid your swing faster than you can make it. What you can do, if you're in a melee — only you're completely screwed if it ever comes to that — you can angle the swing to hit the vamp behind your target when he skips out of the way. Desperation move, but terror is definitely the mother of invention …"
He stopped. He had their full attention, most of them fascinated with a few showing vague alarm (yep, it was the eye-patch at work again). "I could go on," he said to them. "And I will, but first I want to put this out up front. The number one rule for Slayers has always been, Don't die. They can't really follow it 'cause that would mean leaving the fight, which just isn't in their DNA, but that's still the idea: don't throw their lives away, keep surviving so they can keep doing their job. Well, we have a different rule: Don't let the Slayer die. And we can't manage that one, either, for pretty much the same reason, but we still have to give it everything we've got.
"These girls were called by fate. They didn't have a choice. We volunteered, though, every last one of us. We're in this because we're willing to do absolutely anything to keep our Slayers living for as long as we possibly can. If that means dying in their place, then we die. Accept that. Believe it. Mean it. Because if you don't, you don't belong in this job, and I'll bounce you the hell back behind a desk the first moment I know about it. You can take that to the bank."