Disclaimer: The boys don't belong to me... and they never will. Saddly.
Summary: Xander is changing and no one knows why. Separating himself from the Scoobies and trying to find out who he really is he finds something that he never would have expected...
Note: I want to say a big, a really big thank you to whichclothes who helped me as my muse and my beta! And thanks to warpedminded for creating the banner!
The first thing Xander noticed when he woke up was that he had no idea where he was.
He found himself in a small room – each side not wider than maybe three large steps – which was lit by a single torch hanging from the wall opposite of him, next to the small opening which he was sure should be symbolizing some kind of door. The flame flickered a little bit and Xander could feel the soft breeze which moved it brushing over his skin.
It felt good – warm – since the ground he currently found himself lying on was ice-cold. Looking around it appeared that the room, not really more than a cell in his opinion, was empty – except for the torch. Sitting up Xander stretched his arms and couldn't suppress the moan of contentment that escaped his lips. His muscles loosened but still ached a bit, like he hadn't used them in days.
'Where am I?' His thoughts were reeling.
The last thing Xander remembered was the banter he had going with Spike on their way to the new apartment which he had been able to rent. Since he got promoted – something that he had fought hard for – he had been able to save quite a bit and was – finally – able to move out of the family basement. It was the happiest day he had experienced for a long while and he wanted to share that bit with the vampire. Ever since Spike had shared the basement they got along pretty well. The only bickering and throwing insults at each other happened at the Scooby meetings when they had to pretend to still hate or at least despise each other.
Xander shook his head to clear it and stood up.
The room really was bare. He had been lying on the cold ground without so much as a blanket. Oddly enough he didn't feel all that cold. He sure had been able to sense the coolness of the stone surface underneath him but that was it. Shaking his head again he turned towards the opening and looked out of the room.
A long dark corridor lay there.
It wasn't that kind of corridor which immediately invited you to explore it since most parts were hidden in shadows cast from the torches burning inside their sconces. And if Xander had learned one thing from his time with the Scoobies it was to always be careful with shadows. You never knew what was lurking there waiting to snack on poor stupid humans.
'But it is the only way, it seems,' he pondered.
After long moments, he finally decided to take the risk. Grabbing the torch from the sconce next to the opening Xander stepped out of the small room. The air inside the corridor was warmer than inside the space where he had woken up and it smelled like smoke. Which really was no wonder since there were open flames warming the air around them.
Carefully, the torch held like a sword in front of him, Xander made his way through the dark tunnel. It was long and straight. No turn, no door or a niche, nothing. Just stones on each side of him. Now and then there was a torch in a sconce and then more stones and shadows.
Feeling even more wigged out Xander continued to walk down the hall. There was no sound around him except the soft sizzling coming from the burning pitch of the torches. It was unnerving and freaked him out even more. The silence made it eerier than it already would have been and he wished for nothing more than at least something to happen. Anything to end that dreaded anticipation which was steadily building up inside his chest.
If there had been a demon – or something else – jumping out of the deep shadows he would have felt better.
It was stupid - and Xander was smart enough to know that - but he still would have felt better. At least that would have been something he could have worked with. Or run away from it.
But the whole corridor was silent and empty.
'What the hell is going on here?' Xander was raging inside. This wasn't fun anymore!
He opened his mouth to scream but no sound left his throat. Instead it felt as if he had swallowed the torch which was still burning gently in his hands. The burn reached through his throat and into his chest. From there the fire raced through his veins and for one moment clouded his sight. His heart burned like someone had shoved a hot poker inside it. Taking the stem of the torch in his right hand he clutched his chest with his left.
Opening his mouth again Xander gulped down a few panicked breaths. The burning ache didn't vanish but it toned down at least a little bit. Enough for his eyes to clear again.
Something was terribly wrong and he had no idea what that was
Leaning forward, his left hand now steadying him at the wall, Xander closed his eyes for a long moment concentrating hard on his own heartbeat.
It was strong and steady but it was slow. Slower than it should have been. Under such circumstances his heart should beat like it wanted to break out of his chest – but it didn't. He figured that these weren't exactly normal circumstances. The strong but slow pound echoed through his head and it calmed him somewhat. His breathing became less deep and got easier.
Carefully Xander straightened his back again and took a good look around the area.
There was something different now.
He couldn't place his finger on it but something definitely had changed.
Was it him? Or did the corridor change?
He felt odd. Like there was something he was supposed to know. Supposed to remember. He couldn't think of anything but he just knew that there had to be something.
A soft tingling at the very edge of his mind was trying to get his attention but every time tried to take a closer look, it vanished again. Like a ghost. If you tried to really see it – it disappeared right before your eyes.
Xander resumed his walking, even though his throat still ached and the thought in his head still tried to catch his interest.
'I'm going to take one thing at a time,' he said to himself.
'First things first! I have to get THE HELL out of here! Whereever here is.'
Time passed and Xander had no idea if it were hours, days or merely minutes. The corridor continued on and on without a change. In time he felt like he was walking in circles except for the fact that if he was, he would have ended at the cell in which he had woken up. And considering that there hadn't been another door or something circles were out of the question.
His throat had gotten slightly better. It did hurt but now the pain reminded him more of a cold than swallowing liquid fire.
Suddenly something inside his mind clicked into place and Xander came to an abrupt halt.
He closed his eyes and this time listened to the silence.
A silence that wasn't really a silence any more.
Under the steady sizzling of the torches - which he had tuned out for the better part of the time - he could faintly hear something. It was weak and very far away but Xander was sure that he could hear the soft sound of wind howling through a hole in a wall or a door.
A slow grin spread over his face.
It was a weak sign but nevertheless a sign that there had to be a door somewhere. Or something equally woody which Xander was sure could be persuaded to let him pass – with a kick or two.
Giddy with this new found goal he opened his eyes again and started rushing through the corridor. All the while he kept listening for the soft sound.
Surprisingly enough he could easily hear it under his own heavy breathing and the sounds from the torches.
The sound grew louder, slowly but steadily and Xander would have laughed if his throat would have allowed it. It was still aching and kept him on his toes. He didn't want to risk a repeat. One time had been more than enough for him.
The anticipation he had felt when he first stepped into that weird corridor had long been gone. Now there was nothing left except the wish to get as fast to the source of the sound as possible.
Running at a steady pace Xander noticed that he didn't tire as fast as he normally would. When he was out patrolling with Buffy or Spike and they had to run after or away from a demon he always had a feeling of tiredness in his body. It was like his own body didn't know how to properly function anymore and sent out the wrong signals.
More than once Xander found himself collapsed on the couch in the Magic Box while Buffy and Spike still were up and around. Buffy mostly talked about what she had slain and how. Spike would always give some rude comments or step out of the room for a smoke. ButXander always felt like an old man when he returned after a night of patrolling.
Now he felt like he was walking through the park at a very leisurely pace. Xander could feel the energy rushing through his veins in calm waves since his heartbeat hadn't sped up. It was still beating steadily and slowly. The perfect rhythm for his breathing.
Gradually the howling got louder until Xander was able to hear it above the sound of the burning torches. It definitely was wind blowing through some holes in either a wooden door or wall. He didn't really care which one it was as long as he could make his way through it.
Xander slowed his running down until he finally stopped completely. Listening carefully for the direction of the noise he was surprised that it came from above him. Lifting his eyes towards the ceiling of the stone corridor Xander froze.
Where there should have been a stone ceiling was now a simple wooden door. Age and weather seemed to have worked that door quite hard since it had holes all over the surface.
'And how exactly am I supposed to get up there?' Xander asked himself feeling very frustrated at that moment. He paced under the door all the while listening for sounds or noises that didn't belong there. Although he wasn't sure what belonged there and what did not.
Looking up again Xander stopped directly underneath the doorknob and stretched up as far as he could get. He even got on his tiptoes to be a little higher. There were only a few inches left and he would have been able to touch it but it was no use. He waited. With the way things went in that godforsaken corridor it wouldn't have stunned him if the door came closer to him.
At first nothing happened and he knew that he should find another way to get to that damn door.
Just when he was about to lower his arm again there came a rumbling noise from behind the door.
It sounded like a hungry animal. A sudden shiver ran down his spine and made the little hairs on his neck stand up. Xander knew that sound all too well. It was the growling of a vampire. A mad vampire.
He had enough experience with Spike who sometimes got mad at the simplest things. Then he would growl and snarl all night sometimes even through the daytime. Xander had gotten used to it but this growling was different. It was much calmer, a little softer but still angry enough to cause him to fall back on his heels and take a step away.
He didn't get far though. The second he took that step to the side the door flew open and a body fell face first out of it.
The last thing he saw before everything turned dark around him was his own face – with ridges, fangs and golden eyes.
Xander woke with a start.
Panting, he looked around him and found himself lying on the couch in the Magic Box. A blanket, which had covered him until then, fell quietly to the floor.
He didn't notice it.
The whole Scooby gang had gathered around him – including the bleached blond and chipped menace, also known as Spike. The vampire was hovering in a far corner but gazed at him with wary eyes. The concern in those blue eyes couldn't be hidden.
Slowly Xander looked into each face trying gauge the situation. Buffy looked mad, Willow and Tara looked concerned and Giles had a somewhat curious expression on his face.
“Are you okay, Xan?” Willow asked, her voice quivering like she was on the verge of tears.
“Yeah, I'm fine, I just feel like a train hit me mid-stride, I guess.” It wasn't even a lie, but it wasn't the whole truth either.
Xander felt different. Not exactly in a bad way but certainly not in a good way either. He clearly remembered that disturbing dream he had. It wasn't blurry and there weren't even parts missing. It was like the whole scene had been imprinted into his head and was now stuck there.
The end of that dream though made his stomach clench uncomfortably. He remembered himself, falling out of that door in the ceiling, being a vampire complete with game face.
Xander startled into awareness again. He ducked his head and looked a little sheepishly at Giles who seemed to have called him quite a few times.
“Sorry, I wasn't listening,” he mumbled and looked everywhere but the Watcher's face.
“Is everything all right? You seem a bit out of it.” Concern was evident in the deep voice as was the underlying command to answer. Xander wondered if the others could hear that darker tone, too, but judging from the expressions on their faces, they couldn't. He never thought he would hear that kind of tone again. He had been sure that Giles had left that behind. On the other hand – Ripper was Giles and Giles was Ripper – there was no denying that. Xander shook his head and dismissed the thought.
“Maybe it would be better if I head home and go to bed,” he said and stood up.
“That would be a good idea but I recommend you take either Buffy or Spike with you since you seem to be ready to pass out again.” Again there was the implied order. Now Xander was sure that this wasn't Giles speaking but Ripper. Even though the why was something he was sure he didn't want to know. Another thing caught his attention.
“I passed out?”
Willow nodded frantically and came closer to give him a hug.
“You and Spike were on your way home when you passed out.” She was upset and Xander squeezed her tightly to show her that he was okay now.
“So,” he began while he disentangled himself from Willow’s embrace.
“Why am I here and not at home? And how long was I out?” He looked over at Spike who hadn't moved and who was still looking at him with a well-hidden but worried gaze.
“The shop was nearer. Didn't felt like carrying you all the way home and you've been out for maybe half an hour, tops,” came the grumbled reply. A small smile crept over Xander's lips when Spike averted his eyes. The vampire was clearly embarrassed and mad about having shown some kind of consideration.
“Thank you, Spike,” Xander said softly and it was the truth. He felt thankful. His friend had been there ready to take care of him. Spike grunted but Xander knew him well enough to know that the vampire was happy to see him back on his two legs.
“Okay, then,” Xander said walking towards the door.
“I'm going home now. I'll take Spike with me.”
Buffy stayed oddly silent. Xander shrugged and grabbed his coat.
“Xander!” Willow rushed over to him.
“Don't you want to know why you passed out?” She was in full mothering mode. Something Xander usually liked but not tonight.
“I guess I just didn't get enough sleep the last few nights. With the new project we have and with patrolling sleep got a little shoved to the side,” he answered, a fake smile plastered on his face.
Without waiting a second longer he rushed through the door and into the cool night with Spike on his heels. Willow’s question if he didn't want to stay there, just to be sure he really was okay, was ignored.
Xander set a fast pace and he got the strange impression that Spike had to hurry to keep up with him. That thought alone made him laugh silently.
“Hey Xan, wait!” Spike wanted to sound mad, Xander was sure of that, but he only sounded tired and worried. Every time Spike was with Xander the vampire let his guard down. It had been a long road for both of them but at the end they trusted each other with nearly everything.
“I know what you want, Spike,” Xander said, without breaking his stride.
“But not outside. Let us first get home.” He ignored the protesting growling and rushed on.
The way home from the shop wasn't long. If the girls knew that his new home was nearer they would have stormed the apartment like a hurricane. Xander loved his girls but he didn't want them to invade his private space, at least not so soon.
He would invite them there, once he was sure that he could survive it.
He and Spike walked the rest of the way in silence. He enjoyed the company. It was safe and comfortable. There was no need for his famous Xander-babble to fill the silence.
When they reached the building Xander pulled out his keys and opened the door. He was glad that his apartment had a separate entrance.
“Come on in, Spike.” He moved to let the vampire pass.
He loved the openness of his new home. The shiny new kitchen, complete with a professional stove, a dishwasher and an enormous fridge, opened into a large dining area, where a big wooden table for eight people took over most of the place, which flowed into the living area. There he had chosen a black leather couch with two large armchairs and a love seat. The flat-screen was securely hidden in a black cabinet. From the hallway led four doors into three spacious bedrooms and an equally large bathroom.
Xander had to nearly take all of his money to furnish the apartment the way he liked it but he didn't regret it one bit. It felt good, it felt like home, even if a small thing was still missing.
All those wonderful things were ignored when Xander opened the fridge, took out two bottles of beer, and tossed one over to Spike, who had made it to the couch and now sprawled over it like he owned it. Fortunately he was smart enough to keep his boots away from the glass coffee table.
“Okay, Xander, now spill!”