Deviations
Summary: What if Buffy had stayed in Cleveland, Cordelia's wish was never broken, and the Initiative had to clean up a very different kind of Sunnyhell?
Date: January 25, 2001
Notes: This is my response to... uh... my own challenge over on the Impure Things list. See what happens when you try to get rid of some bunnies, they come right back and bite you on the ass. **Forget me, everyone who reads this should thank Charles for sparing them my unique take on grammar.

WARNING: This fic will include violence, torture, bondage, character death, bloodplay, etc...


**********


Part 1
*****

"The world can be a funny place sometimes, don't you think?" Xander glanced down at the head pillowed on his chest, his hand coming up to idly stroke long blonde hair. "Not funny ha ha. Funny... strange. I mean, a couple years ago, I would have never believed I could end up in a place like this, with a person like you." He pulled some golden strands away from the side of her face, exposing a soft cheek. "Oh, I dreamt about having moments like this..." His fingers brushed smooth skin, moving down to her throat. "Though, some of the particulars changed over the years."

Xander lifted his fingers to his mouth and sucked off their rich, tacky coating. He sighed. Without the steady pumping of her heart, the nameless girl's blood had begun to chill, the dormant fluid growing thick, and as dead as the vampire who had spilt it.

Xander gave a shove and the corpse rolled off the bed, landing on the floor with a dull thump. He'd have to remember to tell the minions to dispose of the body. Some of the newer, hungrier ones might even have a little fun with such a fresh corpse. Good for them. Xander knew it must be nice to have no desires beyond the need to feed. The only hunger a minion had to sate was the pesky one in his veins.

Xander just couldn't enjoy mindless kills and he completely blamed this fact on his bloodline. The Order of Aurelius. Figures a human slacker would be sucked into the overachievers of the vampire world.

Xander didn't just want a victim. He wanted art.

The girl on the floor wasn't art, she was a waste. All that lovely potential gone in the space of a few heartbeats. Human lives were so fragile, what they had to offer so finite.

Not that he would have wanted this meal around for very long anyway. She had been a sniveling little thing. Begging and pleading to be spared. What annoyed Xander, what got under his skin and made his fangs practically itch with indignation, was the fact that she never bothered asking for mercy directly. Why some humans believed that any all knowing, all powerful being who let one of his 'children' get into a situation like that in the first place would suddenly miraculously save their sorry asses was simply beyond Xander's demonic comprehension.

This girl's last ditch attempt to find faith abruptly ended when Xander forced her religious rhetoric spouting mouth open and tightly grasped her little pink tongue with his thumb and forefinger. The look on her face had been priceless, and Xander still chuckled at its memory. He gave the moist organ a little tug and asked if the girl knew what he would do provided she continue with her "Oh, God, no. Please, God. Save me"s. The girl nodded. Xander looked into her eyes, noting the fear, the submission. From then on, if he told her to keep quiet she would, unquestioningly. Of that he had no doubt.

He had smiled at her as his arm jerked back suddenly, fingers still grasping their prize.

Unfortunately, things had just gone downhill from there. Oh, her initial reaction had been delicious, full of wide-eyed horror and gurgled attempts to scream. But then shock set in. Her entire face went slack, and Xander watched with disgust as drool began to leak from the corners of her mouth.

It had been disappointing to say the least. Where was the fun in torturing someone who was catatonic? He had chided himself for thinking this one would have lasted any longer then all the others.

Not for the first time, Xander wished he had been able to take a little longer with that cheerleading bitch, Cordelia. She would have fought him 'til she was allowed to take her last breath. She would have lasted. But, her immediate death had been ordered by the Master, and since Xander had no intention of 'kissing daylight', as old Batface had so eloquently put it, the girl was killed swiftly. It was still enjoyable, though... sinking his fangs into her throat, holding onto her curves, copping a feel as he killed her. Willow might have been a bit jealous... if she hadn't been doing the exact same thing.

Snapping the neck of that White Hat librarian had just been icing. And with the washed up Watcher wannabe out of the way, the other goody goodies got the hell out of Dodge.

The vampires ruled unopposed now, and unlife would have been good... if it wasn't so unequivocally boring.

Monotony was all well and good if that's what you wanted out of the world, but Xander needed something more from this so-called demontopia. Privately, he thought the Master's 'glorious' new machine was a travesty to their race. Blood in a bottle. Where was the thrill? The satisfaction?

If Batface ever did find out about Xander's opinions the elder vampire would probably chalk it up to the indiscretions of youth and assure him he'd grow out of it in a couple hundred years. But if that were true, why was the nearly four hundred year old Darla happily hunting her way through Europe again?

Xander sighed at the wanderlust that came over him. Perhaps his Sire had the right idea. Greener pastures and all that. Maybe it was time to move on. Of course, before he did anything like that there were a few... obligations that needed to be taken care of first, like the redhead who just entered his bedroom.

Deep down Xander knew it had been a mistake to turn Willow. With the death of her two best friends, her once brilliant mind had gone around the bend. Darla had warned him, but he hadn't listened. Jesse had been turned as his brother, but Xander wanted someone to be his and his alone. If he had *any* idea how cloying the demented vampiress would become...

Xander watched through hooded lids as Willow sauntered over to the bed, an annoying pout on her lips.

"Thought that would take longer." he remarked.

"Puppy passed out," she sighed. "It's just no fun doing stuff when he can't scream."

Xander snorted. "Scourge of Europe, my ass." What the hell had Darla been thinking... or smoking, for that matter? He guessed the souled wuss was pretty enough, in a linebacker sort of way, but he was soft, broken.

The redhead frowned at the body on the floor. "Thought you said you'd wait for me. That we could have fun with this one together."

Xander shrugged. "Changed my mind. 'Sides, she started babbling. You know I can't stand it when they babble."

"There's some fresh stock downstairs that have already had their lips sewn up," she said brightly. "We could play with them."

"Nah. You go ahead and have fun." Xander closed his eyes and rolled over, away from his increasingly irritating Childe. "I can wait."


**********


"All right, gentlemen. You've heard what these things are capable of. Now, I think it's time you see it." Maggie Walsh pulled back the tarp covering the inert form on the examining table.

Most of the men paled, and a few began almost convulsively swallowing, but Riley was proud of his team. Not a one heaved up their lunch at the gruesome sight before them. It was a girl, and Riley analytically took in her appearance. Late teens. Nude. She probably had been pretty in life, but in death her face was permanently fixed in a horrific mask, paying testament to the Hell that she went through in her last minutes. There was one precise wound over her jugular, but her lower extremities appeared to have been... gnawed. Walsh off handily mentioned other injuries, internal injuries. His stomach twisted at the description of how her tongue had seemingly been torn out of her throat.

Everyone involved in the Initiative project knew what kind of creatures they would be dealing with. They had been fully briefed on the growing menace, but no words or pictures could have done justice to the horror in front of them. Words were just ink on paper. Pictures, no matter how detailed, were just two dimensional. This girl was real.

Occasionally throughout the macabre lecture Riley hazard to glance at some of his fellow Marines. Forrest was clear enough to read. His face was blank, his posture ramrod straight, and to the unacquainted he looked every bit the well-trained, attentive soldier, but Riley knew better. Riley knew his friend, and all Forrest wanted to do was fight. Upon closer inspection it would have been easy for anyone to spot the twitching muscles, the almost palpable *need* to find something, anything, to make pay for what happened to the girl on the table.

Forrest believed in actions and Riley knew that all this waiting around must have been pure torture for him. It was necessary, though. They were the new players in town and Intel was still sketchy regarding much of the local demon population. Running off half-cocked would only get them tables and tarps of their very own, and Riley had no intention of losing any of his men, especially not one of his best friends and one of the better soldiers they had.

In fact, there were only two people in that room whom Riley would feel comfortable with watching his back in any situation. One was Forrest. The other was Graham.

Graham, who'd managed to maintain his trademark stone faced expression even throughout the autopsy report. He looked like he didn't care. Like it was just another day on the job for him. But once again, Riley knew better.

Like Forrest, it was all about the little things. To read Graham, all you had to do was look into his eyes. If eyes were the windows to the soul then Graham's were washed daily with Windex. The streak free kind. In Riley's opinion, his friend's thoughts were actually pretty transparent, but only when you looked for them.

Because he was quiet and unassuming it was all too easy for some people to write Graham off. It annoyed Riley and Forrest to no end when someone made comparisons between silence and dimwittedness, and one day they had screwed up enough courage to ask their friend why he never bothered defending himself. Graham had graced them with a truly beautiful smile and asked why he should bother with the opinions of people he didn't give a flying fuck about. And that had been the end of that.

Riley had no doubt that if he could look into Graham's eyes he would see the same emotions emanating from Forrest. Outrage. Fury. An overwhelming desire to -

*****

"-Send those undead bastards back to hell." Forrest launched his tiny, orange Nerf ball towards the basket hanging on the back of the door... and missed. "Fuck!"

After the briefing was over the three friends had returned to Riley's room and tried to unwind, but the grisliness of their ultimate mission refused to leave them. Their newfound knowledge creeped around their brains, tainting even this most mundane of games.

Riley smiled wearily at his friend. "While I'm all for improvisation, that"s not the way it works. You know that. When we go out, we play by the rules."

"Tag 'em, bag 'em, and bring 'em back here." Graham took his shot, and winced as the ball sailed a good five inches above its intended target.

Forrest blinked. "You are gonna have better aim with a rifle, right? And, that's total bullshit." He shook his head. "Those things should be destroyed on sight, not delivered with a bow on their heads so Walsh can play doctor."

"I'm not disagreeing with you." Riley said softly. "If I had my way we'd exterminate the lot of them. But, it's not our call. We're here to do a job, not to-"

"Think for ourselves, right?"

"Forrest, if you wanted to think for yourself, why the hell did you join the Corps?" Riley asked jokingly.

Forrest stared at him for a moment, mentally debating whether or not he should accept the attempt at humor. Deciding that the tension in the room was getting too thick, even for him, he responded with, "Those fabulous government benefits, of course. What about you, Graham?"

"My recruiter said I would go to exotic places, work with cutting edge technology, and meet interesting people. Three years later I'm stationed in a town in northern California playing Nerf basketball with the two of you. If that's not false advertising I don't know what is." Graham smiled as orange balls of foam bounced off his head, and for a moment reality was forgotten as his two friends rose from their respective seats and launched their mock attack in earnest.

From a control room deep inside the compound Maggie Walsh watched the horseplay on one of the numerous video monitors in front of her. Her reaction to the activity was mixed. On one hand this was valuable time that could be used training, but... it was so nice to see Riley smile. Walsh let her fingers ghost over his grinning image. She decided to let her boys have their fun... while they still could.

**********

Part 2


*****

A nasty frown had descended upon Xander's face as he surveyed his room. Somewhere, within the various piles of things collected over the years, something was trilling at him. The sharp, high pitched noise had been repeating incessantly for the past four minutes and Xander was just about to go insane...-er.

"Dammit!"

The sound almost seemed to be echoing off the walls, but the vampire finally located it's source hidden behind a stack of comic books. It was a cell phone. Why the hell would... Oh!

Xander's frown morphed into an easy grin as he realized the only person who could be calling him was the same one who given it to him. When he had yet again refused to accompany Darla on her latest vacation, the vampiress had presented him with a cell phone as a staying put present. And, with a threat of letting Puppy go at him for a few hours if he didn't keep it charged, Darla patted him on the cheek and left for parts unknown, but probably a whole hell of a lot better then Sunnydale.

Xander removed the phone from its charger, studied it for a moment, then pressed the talk button. "Hello?"

"Darling! How is my sweetest Childe?"

"Darla!" The younger vampire didn't even try to keep the elation from his voice. "How's... where exactly are you now? Dru and Bleachboy still hanging around? How?s the hunting? Terrorize any villages lately? Did you-"

"Xan, honey, I know it's going to be incredibly trying for you, but shut your mouth for a minute. This wasn't exactly meant to be a social call. I need you do to Mommy a favor." Xander was slightly taken aback by the seriousness in her voice. "Watch your back."

The frown returned. "Any specific reason or just in general?"

Darla paused a moment before answering. "Evidently, Miss Edith was quite chatty last night. Dru keeps ranting about how if her precious kitten isn't careful he's going to be taken by the green men."

"The green men? What's a green man?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know?" Darla snapped. "I'm not loony. Just... take care of yourself."

Xander smirked. "Yes Mother."

"Don't get pissy with me, boy. I said take care of yourself and I mean it."

Xander sighed. "Yes, *Sire*."

"That's better. Now, regal me with the latest news from good ole Sunnyhell."

*****

"This is not gonna be a simulation, or a training exercise." Riley's face was hard as he addressed his team. "This is the real deal. Mess up and you're not cleaning the head, you're a corpse. Got it?" He waited for the nods of assent before he continued. "The main objective of this mission is to capture more specimens for study, however, considering the large number of HSTs that we'll be facing, the Professor and I have decided that you will have the option to use lethal force, if necessary."

Forrest fought hard to keep his eyes focused on Riley and not rolling upwards. It was painfully obvious who had been the driving force behind that little change. Walsh didn't give a damn about the men. All she wanted was more lab rats. Forrest almost shuddered at the thought of what Riley might have had to... do for the professor to get her to agree to something like that.

"However, this does not mean you can stake everything that growls at you." Cornfed eyes fell on an innocently blinking Forrest. "Use your discretion, but play it smart."

Riley indicated for the men to open their dossier files. "Now, our target is this building. It used to be known as 'The Bronze'. It was a popular hangout for teenagers until the vamps took it over."

"Demon nightclub?" Forrest snorted. "Man, this town"s got everything, doesn't it?"

A few sparse chuckles were heard throughout the briefing room, but they died under Riley's glare. Once the others were, quieted his attention turned back to Forrest, displeasure clearly written on his usually affable face. "Anything else you'd like to add, Agent Gates?"

"No, Sir."

Riley gave a silent prayer of thanks at the response. The last thing he need to worry about was a confrontation with one of his own people. "All right then. We're gonna be in two teams. One will go in through the front, the other the back. We should have a pretty good element of surprise thing going on. These creatures think they own this town. That they're above humans. We can use that to our advantage. Hit them hard, and fast."

"Read over the files. Get some rest. We move out at twenty three hundred hours." He held up a hand before anyone could protest the time. "I know, I know, wouldn't it be better to raid the place while the sun's up? According to our intelligence, very few vamps actually nest there during the day. Night is when the place comes alive... so to speak." He let his gaze travel over his men, noting the various expressions on their faces, or in Graham's case, the comforting lack of any expression. "Any questions? Okay, dismissed."

**********

Xander stalked through the streets of Sunnydale, a sneer firmly fixed on his face. He had wanted some time alone and had escaped from the Bronze through the sewer tunnels for that express purpose - Willow hated the tunnels. But, after only a few hours of freedom he was returning to the place he had come to loathe.

The night had been a complete waste. He had never had such a disastrous hunt. There had been no one on the streets! No one! No giggly hormonal teenagers, no drunk off their ass homeless... It was deader then he was. Could it be? Did the cattle finally look up and realize they were grazing outside a slaughterhouse?

Xander just knew something like this was going to happen. Humans might not be the smartest species on the planet, but if you hit someone upside the head with something long enough...

This, combined with his earlier talk with Darla just cemented the idea that had been floating around his head for a while. It was time to move on. He'd pack a light bag, politely wish the Master all his best, tell Willow to go suck on a Chaos demon, and be on his way. Sunrise was still roughly five hours away. He could be in L.A. in three... of course, to make that work he?d have to steal a car. Good thing he was evil.

Xander stopped suddenly, all his plans disappearing as a lovely scent assaulted his senses. His nostrils flared, trying to garner more of that wonderful smell.

Human. A fresh, healthy, regularly bathing, variety of human. Xander actually felt his mouth begin to water as his ears strained to pick up the accompanying heartbeat. Maybe the night wasn't going to be a total wash after all.

Evidently one of the sheep hadn't gotten the memo to be scared shitless. He rounded the corner of a building and... there he was. Mmm, such a nice sheep, too. All young, and muscular, and... heavily armed?

Xander blinked as he began to see beyond the initial bloodlust. Yes, the human was young and well built, but it wasn't the physique of a regular gym bunny. No, that was the body of someone who was trained to fight for a living. And, his clothes... At first glance, Xander had simply wrote them off as a by-product of the severe lack of fashion sense that assaulted many human males in their twenties. But, upon closer inspection, the vampire realized those drab clothes were actually fatigues.

So, either a militia had decided that Montana had just gotten too touristy, or....

The military had come to Sunnydale.

Of course, he might have been on leave from that base outside town. But, that certainly didn't explain why he was caring a big gun, and... something else. The soldier was periodically looking down at something in his left hand, then looking back up to the buildings. And, he was slowly, but surely turning towards where Xander was standing.

With a soft curse Xander ducked behind an abandoned car. He didn't know why, he just knew he had to get out of sight immediately.

This was a new game, a different game, and until he figured out the rules, the vampire determined that discretion was the better part of surviving the night.

So, Xander hid behind the car, that tantalizing heartbeat echoing through his ears.

*****

Graham frowned as his eyes slowly swept the street. There were no heat signatures on his viewscreen. Nothing. Not even a rat, but... The Marine could almost swear he felt someone was there. He moved to check the instrument in his hand again, but before he could, Riley's voice came over his earpiece.

"Miller, report."

Graham pocketed his infra-red device and brought his tiny communicator up to his mouth. "Miller here, Sir." His eyes glanced over the street again. "Everything's clear. No stragglers."

"Good. Get into position." Riley ordered. "Let's do this."

**********

Part 3

*****

Xander stealthily followed the soldier, Miller, through the streets of Sunnydale. He kept roughly half a block between them, but Xander had no worries about losing track of the human, not with that strong, steady heartbeat to guide him... unless, of course, it got lost amongst other strong, steady heartbeats.

The vampire's jaw dropped as he took in the sight a few hundred yards in front of him. Soldiers. Everywhere. It was like those cheap, green plastic Army men that came in a bucket had somehow come to life.

Green.

Green men.

"Shit!" Xander ducked into an alley. Darla's warning from Dru rang in his ears. It was obvious the soldiers were the cryptic 'green men' from the vision. There was no way their appearance could be considered a coincidence. On the Hellmouth, there was no such thing as coincidences. But, why were they here? And, if Dru had been right about their presence, then could she have also been right about the rest of the warning? Would the 'green men' try and take him someplace? Xander was confused and for the first time since his death, frightened. He didn't like either of those feelings, not one bit.

He knew that trying to take control of the situation was unrealistic, but assessing it was not. He just needed to be a bit more removed from things. Xander took in his grimy surroundings. It was an average alley, and like many other alleys, it had its very own rickety fire escape hanging perilously to the side of one of the buildings. Xander jumped up and carefully used the ancient looking apparatus to make his way to the top.

As the vampire lifted himself onto the roof, he swore again and dropped into a crouch. There had been movement on a few neighboring rooftops. More soldiers. Snipers, probably. Xander gently sniffed the air and sensing no humans on his building, he carefully edged closer to where the action was going to be. He kept low, not wanting to draw any attention to himself, and peered over the edge of the roof.

The soldiers looked kind of like big green ants now, except they weren't scurrying around. Most of them were standing completely still, waiting. Others were checking various weapons.

Xander gasped, something he hadn't done since the night Darla ripped open his throat. Even from distance it was easy to recognize the thing that had suddenly popped out of one of the man's weapons. It was a stake.

Suddenly, an idea came into Xander's head. He looked around him at the various buildings, trying to discern his position. Yes, he knew where he was, and everything became crystal clear. The 'green men' were after vampires. They were going to storm the Bronze. These walking blood bags actually meant business.

Xander slowly sat back on his haunches. What an interesting dilemma. He knew he should attack first. They thought their back was secure and surprise might give him the opportunity to tear out a few jugulars before a stake was stuck in his chest. Or, perhaps he should try to sound the alarm. Alert his undead brethren. Again, before he was staked. No, neither of those options sounded particularly appealing, especially since both scenarios would most likely end with him doing a permanent impression of a dust bunny.

Of course, there was always a third alternative - hunker down and wait it out. From his vantage point Xander had a relatively secure location to watch the show and formulate a course of action based on the results. Regardless of the outcome, things in Sunnydale were about to change dramatically. If the vampires were victorious, it would be short lived when faced with the seemingly limitless supply of manpower that the military boasted. Kill twenty soldiers today, get two thousand on your doorstep tomorrow. But, if the soldiers were victorious, then.... that might not be so bad. Having a government agent kill Willow would be a whole hell of a lot easier then trying to break up with her.

And, the Master? His Master? As far as Xander was concerned that backward old fool deserved everything he got. After all, he practically brought this on himself.

The more Xander thought about it, the more he realized it was only a matter of time before a raid like this happened. Back in the Middle Ages or whenever it might have been all right for the population of a town to be unexplainably decimated. It was simply called an act of God, or the devil, or something. But, there was no way the modern American government would be so uncaring about the loss of such a large group of taxpayers.

Xander peered over the side again and watched as the one he had followed, Miller, put a hand up to his ear, nodded, then motioned to his compatriots.

As they began to move stealthily towards the Bronze Xander felt the last of his trepidation vanish. This was what he wanted, after all. Something to shake up the status quo, a challenge. Xander allowed himself a small grin. He couldn't wait to find out what happened next.

*****

Forrest had never been a particularly religious person. Even when he was a child and his Nanna had to resort to begging, bribes, and finally threats to get him to sing in the boys gospel choir at their church. The idea of an all knowing, all powerful, loving creator was nice, he supposed, but there was nothing tangible about it. No proof. Even to his eight year old mind, without evidence, the whole theory seemed highly ridiculous.

And after learning of the reality of demons, that they actually existed, did nothing to change his mind where religion was concerned. The assorted horns, and fangs, and glowing red eyes made no difference to him. As far as Forrest was concerned, demons were just another new species scientists had discovered, like that little deer in Vietnam. They were animals, nothing more and nothing less. And, like other animals, when they posed a threat to humans they had to be dealt with.

So, it was with great irony that Forrest, the tried and true atheist of the unit, couldn't stop thinking that his team had just entered a circle of Hell when they burst through the door of The Bronze.

The vampires had been expected... their victims had not.

Humans, or what was left of them, littering the floor, chained to the walls, hanging by various means from the ceiling...

The vampires' shock at such a blatant intrusion was mirrored by the soldiers' shock over such abominable tortures. Both groups seemed to recover at the same time. And then, the fight began. Bolts of pure energy flew through the room, some hitting targets, others leaving scorch marks on the walls. The blasts that did make their marks were successful, though. Vampires were going down. Unfortunately, so were soldiers.

Riley's head whipped around as someone to his left let out a guttural scream. A magnificent arc of blood caught him in the face as the vein of a man he had played basketball with was slashed by a single claw. Riley watched, unbelievingly, as his teammate died right before his eyes, the man's uniform turning black from the red liquid that was soaking into it.

The creature that had been holding him, that had killed him, was grotesque, its face deformed beyond even the normal fangs and brow ridges. Riley knew he should shoot it, or better still, stake the bastard, but as those ancient eyes bored into him, the Marine found he couldn't do much of anything. He was rooted to the spot, paralyzed. Luckily, though, as the thing in front of him sprang forward, Riley was able to close his eyes.

*****

Graham's team was faring a bit better. They had burst in through the back, quickly stunning the vampires there. Then, half had waited, ready to stop anything that tried to escape, while the others began to fan out through the back areas of the club.

Graham had found a small staircase behind an unmarked door. Soft lights reached up to greet him as he cautiously descended into the basement of the building. The Marine was almost to the bottom when the smell hit him. His nose twitched, his brow furrowed, and part of his mind began to try and place the odor, even though something told him he really didn't want to identify it.

He carefully eased out into the room, his attention immediately drawn to something on his right. A cage had been built into the wall and lying on the floor of it...

Now Graham knew where the smell was coming from.

"Shit!" The Marine hurried over to the inert, chained form, easily slipping in through the unlocked cage door. Tears formed in his eyes as he bit back the urge to relinquish his last meal. He didn't bother checking for a pulse, it was obvious the man before him was already dead. An autopsy would have to be performed to determine the exact cause of death, but Graham was fairly certain it would have something to do with the black, bubbled blisters covering the man's chest and stomach.

That smell...

Summer nights spent in the backyard, playing with his younger siblings while his father barbecued...

Graham shook his head trying to clear his thoughts. There was nothing he could do here. The Marine turned around and before his brain could comprehend the figure in front of him, his weapon was knocked from his grasp and a strong hand had closed around this throat.

"You know," the petite redheaded vampire grinned. "I've been thinking about getting a new puppy..."

**********

Part 4

**********

Riley honestly never thought it would end like this. On the rare times when he did contemplate his death it had always involved one of two scenarios. Either he would slip away peacefully in his sleep after reading bedtime stories to a gaggle of grandchildren, or he would go out in a blaze of glory, fighting 'til the very end for the ideals he had believed in his entire life.

But, instead of either of those fantasies, he was just standing there, waiting. The whole thing felt unreal. This wasn't him. This couldn't be him. As Riley waited for his skin to be sliced open he just knew this had to be happening to someone else.

He could almost feel the air move as the creature sprang towards him, but there were no fangs or claws, just a high pitched squeal and the sharp tang of ozone. As quickly as it had come over him, the paralysis was gone. Riley opened his eyes and sagged with relief. The deformed vampire was crumpled on the floor, and Forrest was standing off to the side, weapon still up, eyes wide with fright.

Forrest moved closer to his friend. "What the...Riley, you were just standing... What the hell?"

"I c-couldn't move. I just couldn't..."

"Ri!" Forrest snapped. "Now is not the time or place for a breakdown, you hear me? You gotta keep it together. We need you."

They needed him. His men needed him. That simple statement cut through the residual fog in his brain. He gave his friend a short nod, and glanced around the room assessing the situation.

He stared to activate his comm-link, but thought better of it. He was sure all channels were being monitored, and he really didn't want certain people to hear this next order. "Spread the word. Walsh has got her subjects. Kill the rest."

Forrest looked at him in surprise, then smiled grimly and nodded. Regardless of what just happened, Riley was back, and in his opinion, the boy was actually starting to make some good decisions. Forrest began to move through the main room of the club, stepping around various bodies, dusting vampires, and telling every soldier he could about the change in plans. He loved the way their eyes lit up. You don't 'capture' in the middle of a massacre, you kill, and they were more then ready to do a little avenging.

Out of the corner of his eye, Forrest saw a couple vamps running towards the back. They were gonna get a not so pleasant surprise in the form of a waiting B team. Forrest rolled his eyes. Why did Graham always get the cushy gigs?

*****

"New puppy's all feisty." Willow smiled as her new toy tried to squirm out of her grasp. Oh, yes, this one was going to be fun to train. She just knew it.

Graham was desperately prying at the hand around his throat. Black dots were already swimming in front of his vision, and with each successive second without oxygen, they were getting bigger. His lungs were on fire. The girl, thing, in front of him was tiny, but her grip was like iron.

"Ooh, pretty." She said brightly. "You're turning such nice colors. All purpley." Then she sighed as Graham's eyes rolled back in his head. Humans and their silly breathing issues. Willow pulled him close, then struck out, propelling him across the length of the small cage.

Graham hit the wall hard, his teeth rattling from the impact, but as he slid to the floor, his lungs gratefully accepted oxygen again. Quickly gathering his wits, he knew this was just a slight reprieve and he needed to move. Fast. He blinked, trying to clear the haze from his eyes, and find an escape route. His chest felt like an elephant had kicked him, and his neck felt dented, but he wasn't just going to roll over and play dead for this bitch. He was going to get out of this... if he could just remember how to use his legs.

Willow licked her lips at the sight sprawled before her. She pounced. The air whooshed out of Graham's lungs as her weight landed on top of him. As he tried to get his wind back, again, she grabbed his arms, pinning them to his side. Graham struggled, trying to buck her off, amazed that something so small was so heavy.

Willow giggled at his movements, confusing his intentions. "Puppy wants to play?" She ground herself into his pelvis. It had been so long since she found someone who was willing to actively participate.

Graham gritted his teeth, face scrunching in disgust. He wasn't getting paid nearly enough to go through something like this. The thing was gonna use him to get off? What the hell ever happened to just ripping out his throat and being done with it? Graham shook his head, his muscles straining to break from her grasp, refusing to just lie back and take this treatment.

"Oh, yes." Willow looked adoringly down at him squirming beneath her, oblivious to his repulsion. "You're gonna be a good puppy." She frowned slightly. "Not that I don't like our old puppy. I mean, he's okay. Still screams and sizzles and everything, but he's gotten kind of boring, you know?"

She smiled again. "But you. We're gonna have fun with you. Not too much fun yet, though, 'cause you're all human... Hey, I could take care of that right now, couldn't I?"

"I *suppose* I should wait for Xander." She rolled her eyes. "But he plays with things all the time without asking me, so..." She released his arms, but immediately put one of her hands hand in the center of his chest, holding him down, while the other grabbed his short hair. She yanked his head to the side, exposing a soft expanse of neck. "Yum."

Willow lowered her head slowly, savoring the fear in the air, the resignation in Graham's eyes. The seconds before the kill were always so perfect. Lost in the rapture, the vampiress didn't hear the flurry of movement behind her until it was too late. Willow hissed in surprise as a chain was slipped over her head and tightened around her throat. She was yanked backwards off the human, the iron digging painfully into the immortal, yet still delicate tissue.

Graham watched all this in shock. His own death had been preempted by the resurrection of the burned man on the floor. But that was impossible. Nothing could have survived what he obviously went through. Nothing human anyway.

The question of the other man's species was answered when the redhead elbowed him sharply in one of his wounds. He yelped and his face shifted in response to the pain. It was a vampire, and evidently it was pretty well pissed at the redhead... not that Graham could really fault it for that.

They struggled a bit more, and just as Graham was realizing he should actually stop watching and try and do something the male looked at him and said, "Run."

Run, right. Good idea. But Graham had a better one. He frantically glanced around the cage looking for... There! He dove for the corner coming up on his knees, his taser in his hands and aimed before he could even consciously think about it. He pressed the trigger, hitting the female vampire square in the chest. The electricity moved through her body and into the male's. They both immediately dropped to the floor, out cold.

Using the wall for support, Graham shakily got to his feet, and headed out of the cage toward the stairs. Someone else could figure all this out later, he had a mission to complete.

*****

From his perch, Xander had watched as many comings and going as he could with an unusually avid interest. This was better then those real life video things on Fox.

At first it had been boring, and Xander began to worry that the vampires had won and the idiots were feasting on those hard, young bodies without him. The very idea was almost enough to make him want to be loyal to his peers... almost.

Then, thankfully, vehicles began to rumble through the streets. Large, green vehicles. Transports. And Xander's attention was piqued again. He didn't have the best vantage point in the world, but he was able to discern basically what had transpired. The humans had won, and evidently, a vampire consolation prize was to be tied up and loaded onto one of the vehicles.

That was different.

Xander watched as the vehicles were filled, then secured, then turned around to rumble back the way they came. The soldiers left too, though Xander could tell there were less of them then there had been.

He wondered if it would be safe to enter the Bronze now, or if there would be sentries posted. It's not like he really *needed* anything from his room, he just wanted to salvage some of his stuff. Not the phone though. Darla might get worried if he stopped answering altogether, but as much as he loved his Sire, he didn't care to hear her input on the situation. She would probably order him to leave town. To hop the next freighter even if it was carrying horse shit to Siberia.

He didn't want to receive such a command because, in all honesty, he didn't want to leave Sunnydale anymore. Why would he? As far as Xander was concerned, this town had just gotten interesting.

**********

Part 5

**********

"Thirty three test subjects! Quite an impressive haul, Agent Finn." Maggie smiled proudly, fully expecting to see a similar look of accomplishment reflected on Riley's face.

It was not there. "Yes, Ma'am," he said grimly. "But they came with a price."

Maggie opened her mouth to impart one of her mother's favorite sayings. But, she stopped as she realized the folly of comparing a mission to an omelette, and referring to dead Marines as eggs, at least in present company. "Yes, the price. It's truly heart-rending when we lose good men."

Riley nodded solemnly. In his mind there was no such thing as an acceptable casualty. Not on his team. Five Marines had died, and Riley felt responsible for each of them. He had gone over the raid countless times in his mind, and one scene stuck out at him. In all honesty he knew it probably had nothing to do with the deaths of any of his men, but that wasn't to say it wouldn't be a contributing factor next time. They couldn't afford to have any weak links. So, Riley cleared his throat, and dropped his bomb. "I think it might be best if I were taken off active duty."

Maggie's mouth fell open, then promptly shut again. This had certainly not been expected. Not for the first time, she wondered about the inner workings of that pretty head of his. "Oh, you do?" She made sure her voice was liberally laced with sarcasm. All the better to undermine whatever shortcoming he had managed to convince himself of. "And why exactly is that, Agent Finn?"

The tone of her voice was not missed, but Riley had prepared himself for derision. He knew that Maggie favored him, and she often shared her opinions about how far Riley would rise in his chosen career. But, even she would have to concede to the facts. "I assume you've read my report?" His expression remained neutral.

"Yes." Maggie replied carefully.

"I froze Ma'am. I was faced with a charging hostile and I froze. If Agent Gates hadn't have been there-"

Maggie waved her hand dismissvely, cutting him off. "As I said, I did read your report, and I can say with utmost certainty that your reaction had nothing to do with a lack of ability on your part."

Riley blinked at her, confusion plainly written on his face.

"Evidently," Maggie continued, "We underestimated some members of this species. It appears the vampire that attacked you has some sort of... mental powers. It stunned several guards and one of my scientists."

Riley looked alarmed. "Was anyone hurt?"

It had been a nightmare. The fact that just one creature had undermined nearly everything Maggie Walsh had staked her reputation- "Hmm? Oh, no. Luckily the behavior modification chip was already in place. They managed to subdue it fairly quickly."

"Why wasn't I told-?"

"It was a non-event, Agent Finn. And, in case you were wondering, the answer to your request is no."

Considering the new information, Riley was quite relieved with that decision. And it showed.

Maggie almost smiled as the tension flowed out of the young man. He would really need to learn to curb those self-sacrificing impulses. "If that's all..."

"Actually, Ma'am, it isn't. I have something I'd like to ask you."

Maggie's eyebrows raised expectantly, one hand unconsciously reaching down to smooth her skirt. "Yes, Riley?"

"Well, Ma'am, the men have been through a lot lately, what with the fighting, and losing some of their own, and the... people we found in the club..." Riley's voice faltered for a moment. "I think they need a break and I was hoping you'd grant permission for a little R&R."

Her mind whirred for a few seconds, clicking away all the pros and cons of such a request. "All right. You can have the weekend." She felt quite proud that she was being so understanding towards her men's emotional wellbeing. After all, they were only human. "But, I want everyone back and in fighting form come Monday."

"Yes, Ma'am." Riley grinned, and Maggie's heart skipped a beat.

*****

Xander quietly stared at the beer bottle in front of him. It was an ordinary bottle, containing a piss poor excuse for alcohol, yet even that was infinitely better tasting then the fat-free, low salt tripe this place had the gall to pass off as pretzels. The vampire had never fathomed the possibility that one day he would actually miss Willy's.

It had been almost twenty four hours since the raid on the Bronze, and there was no telling what the 'green men' might be going after next. The regular demon bars were too dangerous, so, Xander had come to Moe's, one of the few human bars still operating in Sunnydale. He raised his head and rolled his shoulders, surreptitiously checking out the hole-in-the-wall's other clientele.

Xander couldn't remember the last time he had seen so many non-bleeding humans in a room. There were nine of them, not counting the bar's employees. It had been a bit of a shock, seeing so many 'free range' meals gathered in one spot. But, the shock had turned to understanding when Xander began paying attention to the snippets of conversation floating around him.

All talk, slurred or otherwise, centered on the 'gang war' that had happened the previous night. The 'PCP addicts' that had been terrorizing the town for years had been taken down by a rival group. Probably from L.A. Probably heroin junkies. Or maybe they were using that new sex drug. That ecstasy stuff.

Xander's eyes rolled back into his head as he had a flashback to tenth grade English. "What fools these mortals be..." he murmured. And, with a slight, unidentifiable pang for a Willow that was lost forever, he reached for his bottle again, tipping it upwards, letting the still cold liquid flow into his mouth... and then by some miracle managing to keep it from shooting out of his nose.

When the door to the small bar had opened, Xander's eyes, along with everyone else's, had darted towards it, instinctively. But, while everyone else had immediately classified the newcomers as slumming frat boys, Xander had known better. Xander had recognized one of them.

It was Miller, the soldier he had followed the night before. And judging by their physical appearance, the other two people with him were part of the same outfit. But why were they at Moe's?

Xander recovered himself and set the bottle back down on the table. Were they looking for vampires? Were they looking for him? He risked a few glances at the group of young humans. They were wearing normal clothes, and they weren't carrying any obvious weapons.

Xander watched as the humans paid for and picked up the beers that had been placed on the counter. After a few seconds debate, they headed for one of the unoccupied tables towards the back of the room. They really didn't seem to be that concerned with their fellow patrons. Maybe they'd already reached their vampire quota for the month. It certainly didn't seem like they were actively searching for demons, but their proximity was more then a bit disconcerting for Xander.

He could handle this. He knew he could handle this. He just needed to... breathe. Xander closed his eyes and purposefully inhaled. He waited a second, pushed the air back out, then repeated the process. After moment it was happening unconsciously. His body was still young enough to remember when respiration was a necessity, and it adapted well to this, albeit now strange request. That was good. His face was in its human guise, his chest was lifting and falling in a regular fashion, and he knew that, as long as no one got too close, he could pass for a normal mortal.

He hoped.

*****

Forrest grimaced as his hand came into contact with the sticky surface of their table. "Nice place. Really. Loving the atmosphere."

"Baby." Graham said scornfully. "I like it." He glanced around the room. "It's... colorful."

"If by colorful you mean 'shitty', then, yes, it?'s colorful."

"Can it." Riley commanded, a frown on his face. Something had been bothering him since they had entered the building, and he had finally realized what it was. He nodded towards the front of the room. "Check out the guy at the end of the bar."

Forrest's eyes slid in that direction and he raised an eyebrow. "Nice, but I prefer blondes."

"Funny. That was... Seriously, though, don't you guys think he... looks a little strange?"

Graham fondly smiled at his Midwestern CO. "Ri, this is California, you think everyone looks a little strange."

"No I don?t. I-" Riley scowled. "Don't tell me, we're back to the Iowa jokes?"

"Would we do that to you?" Somehow Graham managed to keep a straight face, though the corners of his eyes crinkled. "Okay, you said seriously, so, let's be serious. What're you thinking, Ri? He a hostile?"

The ribbing had been good natured, but Riley was still sheepish about his proclamation. "Maybe. You know, vampires *can* look human."

"Vampires!" Forrest looked at his friend in disbelief. "Vampires. Yeah, a vampire that eats pretzels and drinks beer."

Graham shrugged. "Maybe it's blood lite."

Riley dropped his head to his hands as Forrest glared at their teammate. "You know, later, we're gonna have to beat you for that, right?"

"Yeah."

"Good."

Riley lifted his head and spread out his hands. "You know what, forget it."

"No, we're not gonna forget it." Forrest said with finality. "Something's telling you that that guy's a little off, and I'm gonna check it out."

Riley was almost afraid to ask, but did it anyway. "How?"

"Well, I figure I'll walk over there, pretend to trip, grab onto his arm for support and check for a pulse."

"Really?"

"No." Forrest reached over and flicked Riley on his forehead, then got up and moved to the bar.

*****

Xander had been furtively watching the trio at the table. Miller, and the other two, who Xander had decided to call 'The Player', and 'The Yokel', had been laughing and joking with each other, behaving like a group of normal young men. The vampire found it hard to relate the three men sitting at the table to any of the soldiers he had seen by the Bronze.

Hard... but not impossible. Under those joking exteriors were the bodies of fighters. They were hard, but their movements, even the most common of them, were utterly graceful. They were masses of well toned, well trained, muscles. Tight packages of flesh built for endurance, resilience...

One corner of Xander's mouth quirked up. Oh, now *that* was an interesting idea. One that could work. One that could definitely work.

He had been mulling over doing something on a grand scale. A kind of thing that would have his name being whispered reverently in demon communities all over the world. But, those were usually the plans that ended up coming apart at the seams. And Xander was still young, real notoriety could wait a few decades. However, the chance to have a little fun had just announced itself in big, bright letters, and who was he to pass up on such an opportunity? After all, if the soldiers weren't actively hunting tonight then they probably didn't have any back-up. Just the three little humans, all out by their lonesome.

This was going to be a fun game.

The brief, predatory grin stretched Xander's lips. That's what he was. A predator. And, the vampire decided it was high time he started acting like one again.

So, when the Player sidled up next to him and politely asked the bartender for a bowl of pretzels, Xander didn't flinch, or go on the offensive, he just sat there quietly observing how the soldier quietly observed him.

The Player gave him a slight nod, and a "Hey." Xander return the noncommittal gestures. The Player got his pretzels and went back to the table.

*****

Riley was practically jumping out of his seat by the time Forrest got back. "Well?"

"A little pale for my tastes, but alive and kicking... well, breathing, at least."

"Damn."

"What, you *want* to face another hostile so soon?" Forrest asked, eyebrows raised.

"No. it's just..."

"Look, we've got a weekend furlough, and by the way, I don't even want to think about what you had to do to pull that off-" Graham snickered while Riley looked befuddled. "-and we're approximately a three hour drive away from one of the most debauched cities on the planet. I say, tomorrow, we head down to L.A. All in favor?"

"I could get with that." Graham said.

"L.A.?" Riley frowned. "I don't know if... You guys are just gonna drag me down there anyway, aren't you?"

"Yep."

"Pretty much."

Riley smiled. "All right. We'll go to L.A." He looked at Forrest. "Debauched, huh?"

"Son, by the time you leave there you won't think anybody in *this* town looks strange again... not even the demons."

*****

Xander watched as the Yokel, the Player, and Miller rose from their table and calmly walked to the door, relaxed smiles on their faces.

The vampire waited roughly a minute and a half, his anticipation steadily building. He then slid off his barstool, and followed his prey into the Sunnydale night.

**********

Part 6

**********

Their car was only parked half a block away, but Riley, Forrest, and Graham didn't cover one hundred feet of the distance before they knew something was wrong. They couldn't see, or hear anything that might be considered a threat, but nevertheless they knew one was out there. It was an instinct each human was born with but only a select few ever cultivated It was like a giant neon sign had lit up in each of their brains, screaming 'DANGER'.

Very subtly, almost everything about the young men changed. Their postures, the way they stood, the way they carried themselves, all shifted in response to the, as yet, unidentified threat.

Riley silently cursed as his suddenly shrewd eyes scanned the surrounding area. His hand unconsciously drifted under his jacket, needing to feel the reassuring bit of plastic stuck into the back of his jeans. The question of whether they should take any weapons with them on this little jaunt had been a no-brainer, but their usual equipment was a bit too obvious to go with their civilian attire. The tiny, hand held tasers each man had grabbed and subsequently concealed on their person seemed like perfect alternatives. Each one only had enough power to take a single vamp, but after their performance at the club the previous night, what would be the chances of them meeting up with one, let alone, three vampires?

The thought of retaliation hadn't even entered their minds, until they were standing on a darkened Sunnydale street, with dinky little weapons and without a whole platoon behind them.

Of course, they could easily summon the rest of the team. Each of their cell phones had a 'panic button', preprogrammed to send a direct alarm to the nerve center of the Initiative base. But, what if it was just a vampire, or even two? They could surely handle two vampires. Besides, the embarrassment factor present in three senior agents calling out the calvary over what would most likely amount to just a couple of hostiles was more then enough to keeps their phones securely holstered.

A shuffling sound drew the Marine's attention to a nearby alley. Switches were flipped and a low electrical hum filled the air. They were ready, as ready as they could be, and any vampire that they encountered that night was going to be facing one hell of a fight... Unfortunately, for the Marines at least, the creature that ambled out of the alley wasn't a vampire.

In fact, it wasn't anything the humans had ever seen before. Though, Forrest did manage to come up with an appropriate greeting for the unidentified beast.

"What the fucking hell?!?"

*****

The wyvern cocked it's head and blinked. What was this? Humans? But, that wasn't right. It had been drawn to the Sunnydale Hellmouth by the stories, the wondrous stories, of a town virtually free from the human pestilence. But, then to simply see three of them on the street. Unattended, unshackled, unmarked... how utterly disappointing.

And one of them was saying something, rather rudely, by the sound of it. Oh, that wouldn't do.

The small dragon stepped forward as the lower beings stepped back. At least the humans had enough where-with-all to be properly afraid of such an advanced being... or, so it thought. But then, one of the glorified primates raised its hand. It was holding something. A weapon of some kind? What complete and total impudence! This situation needed to be dealt with.

With a loud bellow, the wyvern sprang, startling the humans. A strong, serpentine tail swung around sending one man flying, and clipping another on his shoulder. Cries of pain and alarm sprang up. They were like music. The Wyrven concentrated on the third human. Its beak snapped at the air, anxious to tear into flesh.

Then, a bright light. Pain. PAIN. It screamed. Wings flexed. It's chest puffed in outrage. What was that?! The human had done that! His blood would flow.

The Wyrven started to lunge but was caught by another blast. More pain. Seizing its central nervous system. Not stopping it, but going a long way towards slowing it down. It was confused, staggering slightly. Humans with the ability to call lightning itself? That was unheard of, but both of the apes that were still standing seemed to have that ability. The Wyrven lashed out in the general direction of the mortals, then hastily retreated before either human could call their magics again.

No, the Hellmouth was definitely not all it was cracked up to be.

*****

"What the hell was that? What the hell *was* that?!" Forrest's wide eyes darted around the once again deserted street, adrenaline still pumping harshly through his veins.

More than a bit shaken himself, Riley merely shook his head at the question. "Are you o..." The word 'okay' died on his lips as Riley really *looked* at his friend. No, Forrest was not all right, though the endorphine rush was probably keeping him from feeling any pain... yet.

The logic defying angle of Forrest's right arm was enough to snap Riley out of any lingering shock. He finally hit the panic button on the phone, knowing that within ten minutes a full team, including medical personnel, would be at their location.

"Okay, help's gonna be here soon, Forrest." Riley struggled to keep his voice even. "Do you need to sit down, or... something?"

"Sit down? Why?"

"Uh. No reason."

Forrest's brow furrowed as some of his more adamant nerve impulses finally began to be heard. "Ri... I think there's something wrong with my arm."

Riley swallowed. "Um. Yeah. But, you're gonna be fine. The medics are coming, and everything's-"

"Riley?" Forrest cut him off, suddenly realizing something more important than hearing false assurances.

"Yeah?"

"Where's Graham?"

*****

Everything hurt. No, that was an understatement. What Graham was feeling was beyond normal words like 'hurt', and 'ache', and 'ow'. For this pain he needed big words. Dictionary words. But, he had to shake it off. Had to get up and finish the game. It was the playoffs and Graham couldn't afford to be hurt. He had to get up. Couldn't be the hero, guy with the ball was the hero, but he could help that guy get to the endzone, and that was enough. He just had to get up.

But... he couldn't. Something was wrong. His arms were behind his back and there was something... something... wrapped around his wrists. He couldn't move his legs either. His ankles were tied together. Tied?

There was something covering his mouth too. And, his eyes...

Graham physically shook his head trying to clear the fog. He just needed to get his bearings. He wasn't in high school. The football game where he had gotten knocked out had happened over five years ago. He was a Marine. He was part of the Initiative. They were in Sunnydale fighting demons, like that thing that had come out of the alley. That big, lizard thing with the long tail. The tail had come right at him. He had gotten hit. He had gone down. And, obviously, he had been found by something with arms, though, the coarse material binding his hands and feet together pretty much guaranteed it wasn't a friendly.

Graham began to test his bonds, trying to find some slack. There wasn't any. He tried again, ignoring the pain as the restraints bit into his wrists.

*****

Xander's eyes flickered from the form on the bed to the drivers license in his hand. The other contents of the human's wallet had been filed away either in Xander's pockets or the trash can, but he had kept the license out. An impassive face stared up at him from the laminated surface. Beside the typical lamentable DMV photo there was the average information. Date of birth, social security number, address... Xander ran his thumb across the smooth surface and wondered if there was anyone there, maybe waiting for a nightly phone call. A mother? A brother? He idly imagined what they might do when they realized that phone call hadn't come. How long would it take, how many calls would be missed, before panic set in? And, then, how long would it take for their hope to die? How long before the cold, stark, realization that they'd never see their son again. He imagined copious amounts of tears. Quiet tears, though. People of their stock didn't grieve out loud. Trophies and mementos would be packed... No. No, they would be kept out, put on display. Maybe in a long unused childhood bedroom. A shrine to their lost, little boy. Xander smirked. Part of him wished he could see it. He briefly reveled in the fact that his actions in Sunnydale could cause such drama thousands of miles away. His gaze turned back to the human. For the second time in as many days, fate been on his side. Xander had been content to simply follow the three solders, knowing that the right moment to strike would come along, but not thinking it would happen so quickly. But, with the lizard-type-thing distracting the others, and this one knocked out cold, the vampire would have been a fool to miss the opportunity.

For a while Xander was a bit worried that the soldier had been seriously damaged, and dragging the body back to his new lair had been pointless. That just wouldn't have been fair at all. But the human was awake now, and already struggling. Xander grinned. He might have to break out the chains for this one.

But, first, it was time for introductions.

Xander leaned forward and gently removed the blindfold. Dilated blue eyes blinked up at him rapidly. Confusion was quickly replaced by recognition, and then an almost grim realization.

"Hello, Graham." The vampire smiled, showing teeth. "My name's Xander. I'm going to be your captor this evening... and the rest of your probably very short life."

**********


Part 7

**********

"Okay, let me explain to you how this is all going to work." Xander's eyes were bright as they traveled over Graham's face. "First of all, we're just gonna skip over all that 'You can?t do this', 'My friends will save me', 'Oh, God. No. Stop', because I'm tired of it. And, frankly, I just think you're a better class of victim then that."

"There's no backup, no funky little electric company sponsored toys." No, that was safely out on the kitchen table, next to the Marine's cell phone. "It's just you and me." Xander let his hand ghost over Graham's shoulder and down his arm, smiling as the human automatically recoiled from his touch. "You *could* fight me every step of the way... but I don't think you will.?

Graham had a very different opinion about that. For obvious reasons, he had never given much thought about what might happen if he ever got captured, and he never had reason to speculate on how he would behave.

Xander enjoyed the stubborn set to Graham's face. Even tied up and gagged the human still thought he had some option in the matter. "So, you a Ravens fan?"

Graham blinked at the question.

"That is Baltimore's football team, right? The Ravens?"

Graham felt a cold knot begin to form in the pit of his stomach.

"I don't know, maybe it's just the hellspawn in me, but I think I'd have to be a fan." Xander smiled wistfully. "My ex-girlfriend probably wouldn't have felt the same way, but then, she never was too fond of Poe. When she was human she thought he was too dark, and after she was turned, well, big words hurt her head. But, we're not talking about the people in *my* life right now, are we?"

Graham stayed completely still as Xander gently pulled down his gag, trying to ignore the brush of cold fingers against his face. He knew where the vampire was going with this deceptively innocent line of conversation. It was instinctive, like the icy tingles of pure fear that had started to diffuse through his body.

Xadner let his fingertips lightly rest against the warm skin of the human's jaw, feeling the blood steadily rush below the fragile dermis. The mortal's heartrate had picked up, but his face had paled, not flushed, and as Xander peered down into sky blue eyes he could plainly see the horror there. Good. Graham understood what had just been brought into play, but that didn't mean Xander couldn't have a little more fun with his implications. After all, drawing it out could be so amusing.

"I just figured, you look like a football type of guy. And, since you are from Baltimore." The vampire held Graham's drivers license up, and grinned. "We're gonna play a little game. And, if you do everything exactly the way I tell you, I won't have to slaughter your family."

Graham's head swam, and his stomach heaved. This wasn't supposed to happen. This *wasn?t* supposed to happen! He had never even entertained the possibility of a situation like this. It was too extreme, too farfetched, too... unreal. It was unreal. It would never happen. Never happen.

Anger flared in Graham's eyes, and he spoke, his voice hoarse and raw. "You're bluffing."

Xander cocked his head. "Maybe." He nodded once, thoughtfully. "Maybe I wouldn't travel all the way across the country just because you wouldn't play nice." He leaned in towards Graham's face until only inches separated them. "Or, maybe I have a demon straight from hell inside of me and will be pissed off enough at your disobedience to hunt down and eliminate your entire bloodline." He grinned. "It's not like I have anything else to do."

Graham heard the truth in that statement, but more importantly, he saw the resolve in those gold flecked brown eyes. And fear on a whole new level rushed through him.

"I mean, really, I'm not asking for much, am I?" Xander asked. "Your submission for your family's wellbeing. Come on, we both already know the answer. You're a stand up kind of guy, there's no way you'd ever let anyone suffer in your place, especially a member of your own family, your flesh and blood. Think about it, Graham. Think about... what I could do to your mother."

Graham shut his eyes and turned his face into the pillow. Fear, and pride, and rage, and humiliation battled inside of him. His instincts told him to fight, that his survival was tantamount. But, his head, his head knew that the monster was right. If Graham didn't get out of this situation alive, and he was well aware his chances for that existed somewhere between slim and none, what was to stop the demon from doing whatever the hell it wanted? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Still refusing to look at the vampire, he whispered, "What do you want me to do?"

Xander grinned. He had played the family card, and it had worked like a charm. Whether he would do anything wasn't relevant. It was the fact that he could. The human understood that, and as long as he kept that in mind everything would run relatively smoothly... at least until Xander wanted it to be rough. He let out a rumbling, throaty, "Hmmmm..."

*****

Riley quickly strode down the sterile looking corridors. He wanted to run, but he knew that kind of display from their CO would just worry his men more. Still, he moved with haste, nimbly navigating his way around slower moving soldiers, biting his tongue to keep from yelling at them in the process.

The debriefing was tedious and seemed to take forever, though, in actuality, it was the shortest he had ever attended. Walsh had taken the information on the unknown HST, and, eyes gleaming, headed off to her command center to plan a course of action. A protesting Riley had to be escorted to the infirmary by two MPs. He had been poked and prodded, and when the doctor finally made certain he wasn't suffering from anything as unseemly as shock, he was released with the advice to lay down and get some rest. Like hell.

Thinking he knew what was best for his patient, the doctor refused to give him any kind of progress report, on either Forrest's or Graham's conditions. It almost earned him a broken jaw. But, somehow, Riley managed to keep his fists at his side, though the look on his face had spoken volumes and was probably the reason no one had actually tried to  enforce the doctor's orders.

Now, Riley was headed for the one place where he knew, one way or another, he could get some answers. Ahead of him the corridor opened into the cavernous main area of the underground complex. Sidestepping troops and equipment, he made his way to the Professor.

Walsh spotted him. "Riley." She frowned at his coloring, noting the unhealthy pallor to his skin. "You should be in-"

"Tell me what's happened."

She sighed. "I've sent teams out. So far there's no sign of the creature you described, but if you wounded it it couldn't have gotten too far."

He shook his head, annoyed, but not surprised that the creature had come first. "What about Graham, and Forrest?"

"Agent Gates' injury was... extensive. But, they did manage to save his arm, though, he won't be using it for a while."

"And, Graham? Agent Miller?"

Maggie sighed again. Why couldn't the boy have just gone to bed like he was told. Then, when he woke up, she would have thought of reasonable, incontrovertible, fabricated answers to any possible questions, because the truth wasn't going to go over very well. "I've called off the search."

Riley blinked. "You've... What do you mean, you've called off the search?!"

"Riley."

"No."

"Agent Finn." Her voice was suddenly sharp. She didn't have time to coddle him. "Our team scoured the place you were attacked. The street. The alley. Even the surrounding buildings. There was no trace of him."

"Then we widen the area."

"If he was somehow thrown clear then there is only so far he would have been able to go. We would have found him by now."

"What if something got him?"

"Got him? We aren't in some second rate slasher movie, Agent."

"What if the lizard thing travels in pairs? What if while one attacked me and Forrest, the other grabbed Graham?"

"What if you leave the military and pursue a career in writing fiction?"

"It's a plausible explanation."

"There's one that's even more plausible."

Riley stared at her for a moment, and understanding slammed into him. He bristled. "Graham is *not* a deserter. There is no way in hell he would run away. No. Way. In. Hell."

Maggie almost stepped back at the vehemence in the young man's voice. She swallowed and took a shaky breath. "You will watch yourself, Agent Finn. It would be a shame if your record was blemished with insubordination."

Riley wanted to snarl at her, tell her just what he thought of his damn record. But, instead, he straightened his spine, and threw back his shoulders. "I want to lead a team."

"No."

"Then be prepared to put me in the brig, Ma'am."

She was well aware that this was not an idle threat. "And just what would you do with a team if you got one?"

"I'd find the HSTs for you."

"You're convinced that Agent Miller was taken by one of them."

"Yes."

Maggie knew that for the purpose of finding his friend, this would be an exercise in futility, but she also knew that, of all the men in the Initiative, Riley would be the most likely to successfully bring in the unknown creature. And, if he did find Agent Miller in the process, well, then everybody could be happy. "All right."

A small fragment of the tension residing in Riley's long frame eased at the affirmative answer. He didn't want to think about why she had given in so easily, or what it might cost him in the future. He just wanted to find his friend. He gave Walsh a terse nod and headed off in the direction of the armory.

Maggie watched him for a few seconds, then she motioned a nearby Dr. Angleman over. "I want you to look over these specifications for the latest addition to the project."

He took the thin folder she was offering him. "How long do you think it's going to be before Finn stops deluding himself?"

"I take it you heard?" Maggie asked dryly.

"Couldn't help it." He shrugged. "Do you really think you should encourage him? There's only one way Miller could have gotten out of that alley before our men got there, and that's under his own steam. I'm sure he's well on his way to Mexico now. Or, Canada. Probably Canada, he always struck me as kind of a strange guy."

"Perhaps."

"Perhaps? Oh, come on, Maggie! Don't tell me Finn managed to sell you on part of this. I know he's your golden boy, but-"

"*He* didn't sell me on anything. I found his argument to be childish, his explanation ludicrous, and I do wish he would stop forming all these emotional attachments to his subordinates. But, part of me has to wonder if, maybe, we are overlooking something."

"Seems fairly simple to me."

Maggie shook her head. In her mind, it was anything but simple. "If there had been anything in Miller's psychological workup that even hinted at him abandoning his post then he would never have been allowed in the program. In fact, all of his personality tests showed he was loyal almost to a fault."

"Tests can be wrong."

"*I* designed those tests."

Angelman's eyes dropped. He changed his tactic. "I suppose Finn's theory is... feasible, although, if he's correct, I certainly wouldn't lay odds on finding Miller alive. If a demon did take him, his bones have probably been picked clean by now."

"On that, we agree." Walsh put a hand to her temple and briefly shut her eyes. "It would be a great loss to this unit. We have to make sure the remaining men are extra careful now. We're not pumping millions of dollars of chemicals into their systems just to watch them go down the drain."

**********




Part 8

**********

Graham walked around the room, his eyes slowly, methodically, going over every inch of his 'cell'. The first seven times he had done this exercise he had found nothing useful, but he had to keep trying, had to keep looking. There must have been something he missed.

Two doors, one open, leading to a small bathroom. The other closed, locked, leading to what Graham presumed was a way out. No windows. One bed, brass, neatly made except for the wrinkles in the cover showing where Graham's body had lain earlier. One table, made of ornately worked pieces of iron, welded together. No loose pieces. No dressers, or bureaus, or desks. Nothing wooden.

Barring the regular fixtures, the bathroom was just as barren A toilet. A glass encased showerstall. A porcelain sink. A mirrored, empty medicine cabinet. The only auxiliary things were the extra rolls of toilet paper and bars of soap that sat under the sink.

Graham had to admit that the vampire did a good job of clearing the place out. But there was one thing that spoke of it's previous owner, that told the Marine this wasn't the creature's normal lair. The purple and white daisies on the bedspread.

Someone used to *live* there, and not too long ago. If Graham put his face into the pillow and breathed deeply he could just make out something. The faintest whiff of strawberries. It wasn't strong enough to be perfume. Maybe shampoo. Whoever had lived there had used strawberry shampoo and liked the look of purple and white daisies. And had invited the wrong person in one night. Or maybe it had just taken her on the street, killing her before she had a chance to scream, and then pocketing her keys. Graham didn't know. He didn't want to know. Didn't want to think about why he wasn't just killed on the street as well.

Of course, not wanting to think about something invariably leads to thinking about that exact thing. The Marine leaned against one of the walls as he once again began to speculate on what was going to happen to him. Every single vampire victim, both alive and dead, he had ever seen flickered in front of his eyes. Everything he had read. Everything he had learned. Everything he knew these creatures were capable of.

He slowly slid down until he was sitting on the floor, eyes staring blindly ahead, mind filled with unspeakable horrors. Graham had thought he made his peace with death a long time ago. He knew signing up that he would be put into situations where people would try to kill him, where he would have to kill them first. It was his job. For better or for worse, he had always thought that when it was his time, he wasn't going to make a big fuss over going.

He had come to that decision during 'special' training. Back when he was learning sniper skills and how to repel out of a helicopter without breaking both legs. Of course, then, in any conceivable action he would have been a part of, death was easy. Double tap to the head. Knife across the throat. Five seconds at the most. Then, goodbye cruel world, hello whatever comes next. And, he was cool with that.

But the vampire wasn't going to abide by those rules. It didn't want him dead, at least, not yet. It wanted to play first. It had even used that word. Play. Graham had no illusions about what was going to happen. He wasn't an idiot, he wasn't naive... and he couldn't do anything to stop it.

That was going to be the hardest part, just laying back and taking whatever the thing threw at him. But he couldn't fight back, no matter what. Unless... unless he could actually figure out a way to kill the demon. The deceptively innocent looking demon from hell that had threatened his family.

And that was the crux of everything. The monster had brought his family into this. Graham knew he could always rush the vampire. If the moment was right, and he had surprise on his side, he might even be able to get out of the bedroom. And, if he was lucky, *really* lucky, there might be something to use as a weapon outside. The thing couldn't have gotten rid of *all* of the wooden products in the entire apartment, right?

Graham thought about all this. Mulled it over, tried to come up with all possible scenarios, weighing the options in his mind. If it was just his life on the line he'd do it, no hesitation. But, that wasn't the case this time, and Graham didn't want to do anything to piss off the vamp.

He snorted at the thought, disgust clearly heard in the derogatory sound. He banged the back of his head against the wall. Then, for good measure, he banged it a few more times. Maybe if he hit it hard enough he would stop thinking about how long it was going to take him to die. He would stop worrying about whether or not his family would be safe even with his cooperation. He would stop wondering what the vampire meant when it said it was going out for supplies. He banged his head a few more times.

Absorbed in the dull thump that was produced as his skull hit the painted drywall, Graham almost didn't notice the soft scrape of a deadbolt being slid back. But he was fully aware, and on his feet, when the door to the bedroom opened. He blinked at his captor, not quite getting what he was seeing. Of all the things he expected the vampire to walk through the door with, a bag from a fast food restaurant wasn't one of them.

"Thought you might be hungry," it said with a slight smile.

Graham didn't think he was, but at the sight of that brown bag with the red and yellow on it, his stomach growled out a Pavlovian response.

It held out the bag. "Here."

Graham licked his lips. "No... thanks."

The vampire blinked, then, in an instant he was in front of Graham, pressing the Marine into the wall, a cold, unnaturally strong hand once again at his throat. "Here I am, trying to do something all nice, and *this* is how you act?!"

Unwillingly, Graham made a small sound of protest as inhuman fingers pressed harshly into his already bruised skin.

As quick as it had appeared, Xander's rage was gone. He frowned and released his hold on the Marine's neck, though he didn't move away. Instead, his questing fingers pulled aside the collar of Graham's shirt, revealing dark purple bruises. "Well, something got too close, didn't it?" Xander's eyes darkened. He hated the fact that something had marred his newest acquisition before he got the chance to do it himself. That was all right, though. If the human lived long enough bruises would heal. They wouldn't leave a trace. Xander just had to make sure that whatever he did, would. All the greats signed their work, didn't they?

Xander had been thinking also. It seemed his intentions towards this mortal were changing every other minute. Food. Fodder. Fuck toy. A vamp could go nuts over the whole thing. And he hadn't been sure why he was waffling about any of this, after all, he knew what he was supposed to do. But, in the middle of Home Depot, it hit him. Why should he do what was expected when no one else was around anyway?

For the first time in his unlife he was alone. Really, truly alone. No minions to put on airs for. No Darla looking over his shoulder critiquing his techniques. No Willow pouting and then hogging the flogger. He had said it before, but it hadn't really sunk in. It was just him and Graham. There were no expectations, no right or wrongs. Xander could do whatever the hell he wanted.

That thought opened up a few new possibilities. There were things Xander had always thought about trying but never actually got around to. It just would have been too complicated. Willow would have wanted to play too, and she had been too far gone to understand the meaning of the word subtle. Anything Xander built, she would have destroyed, not out of malice or spite, but because that was the only thing she was capable of anymore.

And the Master certainly wouldn't have approved. Old Batface had stopped thinking of humans as anything but food a long time ago. Xander made a mental note to ask Graham what happened to the other two vampires and their kin, not that he was going to do anything about it besides probably have a good, long, hard laugh. But, later. First he wanted to get started on his new plan. He had no idea how long it was going to take, though, considering his guinea pig's obvious physical and mental strength, it might be a while before those walls of propriety crumbled down. Good. Xander had been looking for a challenge.

It was ridiculously easy to break someone physically. With fists and fangs he could reduce this proud, unyielding body to a crushed husk in the matter of a few minutes. And while, yes, that might be fun, if he looked at the bigger picture it wouldn't really do either of them any good.

So, Xander had another plan of attack. It was nothing to make Graham cringe away from contact, but it was quite another to make him arch into it. To make him want it. That was his new objective. Turn the big, tough Marine into a begging, pleading bundle of exposed, aroused, nerve endings.

Xander backed away a bit, giving the human a little extra space, then grinned. He pressed the fast food bag to Graham's chest. "Eat. After you're done, go in and take a shower. Don't bother putting your clothes back on." He paused for a moment, savoring the look on Graham's face. "I've still got a few things to take care of in the other room, but I won't be long, and when I get back..." Xander left the statement open ended, knowing what the human's mind was going to come up with was going to be infinitely worse than anything he was actually going to do.

Food and a fuck toy. Xander smiled. It would be nice not having to get out of bed for a noon snack.

**********


Part 9

**********

Graham couldn't remember eating the hamburger and fries, though the rumblings in his stomach had ceased. He didn't recall taking off his clothes, yet somehow he knew that they were laying in a neatly folded pile beside the bed. He didn't even realized he had gotten into the shower until a spray of cold water pelted him back to awareness.

He shook himself like a dog and adjusted the water temperature, honestly not certain if he appreciated being jolted out of the pleasantly numb haze he had found himself in. Arms out to brace himself against the wall of the shower, he bowed his head and let the now warm water cascade down his back. The steam and heat trapped in the tiny room surrounded him like a cocoon. It was nice.

Graham had no idea how long he stayed there, letting the warmth seep into him, trying to thaw the ice in his bones. Trying to make some sense out of what was going on in his head.

He knew it wasn't the time to fight. Now was the time to do as he was told. It couldn't be that hard, after all, that's what he had done for his entire adult life. Follow orders. Don't question, just obey.

Suppressing a shudder that wasn't entirely caused by the rapidly cooling water, Graham turned off the faucets and pulled back the shower curtain. He stepped out of the shower and, still dripping, walked back into the bedroom.

Xander was already waiting for him, leaning nonchalantly against the door to freedom, holding a fluffy purple towel. Graham stood by the bed and waited as gold flecked eyes eagerly raked over him. Any other time and the human would have been blushing from head to toe over being exposed like that, but now, embarrassment wasn't high on his list of priorities.

The vampire came towards him, a half smile quirking its lips. It slowly circled the mortal male, anticipation building as its eyes roamed freely over Graham's skin. Finally, it unfurled the towel and moved in closer. Graham stood stock still as the vampire gently dried him. The unexpected tenderness unnerved him, just, as he suspected, it was supposed to. Keep
him on edge. Keep him guessing.

But Graham refused to react. He wasn't going to be lulled into thinking this was anything more than some sick, twisted game. And somehow, knowing that they were only designed to mentally, and emotionally wear him down, the soft touches were easier to take.

Xander let the towel fall to the floor and stopped to once again admire his new pet. If there was an ounce of fat anywhere on the Marine it had to be between his ears. And, every sculpted inch of that amazing, Greek god body belonged to him. Xander moved in closer, putting a hand on the back of Graham's head to keep him still. There was still a recoil, however, though not much of one. Just the slightest flinch. The Marine's will may have been made of iron, but his body was still human, and he couldn't help but react when a predator nuzzled into his neck.

What a lovely, interactive work of art.

Xander rested his face against the man's heated skin. He breathed in deeply and was rewarded with the heady scent of a healthy, human male. It was intoxicating. He burrowed deeper into that crook between neck and shoulder, staying there for a moment, and then slowly licking up the carotid artery. The vampire continued lapping along the pulse point, the rhythm of Graham's blood echoing through his own body. Maybe... maybe, he could just... take a taste?

It was so close. Just a sip. One... little...

No. No, he was going to be patient. He was going to wait. Regardless of how good the blood would taste now, it would be even better from a willingly bared throat. But, there was no more time for dalliances. Xander pulled back, his eyes more yellow than brown. "Lie on the bed, face down, arms up by your head."

Graham hesitated for a moment, blue eyes trapped by shimmering golden ones. As a child, watching various nature programs that were more violent than most prime time series, he always wondered why the rabbit, when face to face with a snake, didn't just run for it. Hop, hop, hop away to safety. The Marine never thought he would truly understand the why behind that. Of course, he also never thought he would one day be empathizing with the rabbit. It was something about staring into the eyes of a creature that could kill you with one strike. It had to do with knowing that, stripping away the complexities, you were just a meal. Food. And, this thing in front of you could swallow you whole without blinking.

But Xander did blink. His control returned, and with it, the rather nice honey brown irises. The spell was broken, and on shaky legs, Graham crossed to the bed and took up his potion.

Xander couldn't help but grin. All for him. There were so many possibilities. But, first, he had to lay the groundwork. All he needed for this round had already been placed on the iron table by the bed. It wasn't much, the ropes and chains were still out in the main part of the apartment, but Xander had decided that before he made that body scream, he was going to make it sing.

The vampire quickly stripped out of his clothes and grabbed the innocuous looking little bottle from the table. He climbed onto the bed, and straddled Graham's thighs.

It took everything the Marine had to remain still as that chilled body touched his own. Not that thrashing about would have done him much good with the vampire's weight pinning him down. Maybe that was the very reason he felt a sudden, overwhelming urge to get away. Something long buried had reared up in the most primitive part of his brain and demanded why he wasn't at least *trying* to do something. Fight or flight. Graham gritted his teeth and defended his actions to himself. This was the only way... The human's rationalizations were cut short by a gasp as something cold was drizzled onto his back.

The vampire recapped the bottle then set it to the side, knowing he was going to want to use more later. For a moment he simply watched as the oil ran its natural course over the surface of Graham's back. He then gathered some of the substance into his hands and began rub against the Marine's knotted muscles.

Just another part of the game. Graham's fingers dug into the comforter. Did the vamp really think he'd be taken in by this? That he'd forget just what kind of creature he was really dealing with? At first, Graham had no intentions of giving in. He tried to stay tense and unyielding. But with those preternaturally strong hands rubbing and kneading his
tired back, it was a loosing battle. The Marine began to relax, despite himself. He knew it was wrong. That this was just one of the vampire's tricks and he was falling right into it. He knew it, but didn't care. Was too damn tired to care.

Xander found himself actually liking his task, and more so, what it had accomplished. The man beneath him was calm, relaxed. His bare, oiled back glistened in the light, and for the first time Xander wished he had paid attention in biology class so he could name each of those beautifully defined muscles. His fingers drifted aimlessly over the
flesh. So warm. And, if that's what the outside of the man felt like, then the inside... Xander scooted back a little. He licked his lips and while one hand still made nonsense patterns on the small of Graham's back, the other reached for the bottle.

Graham barely registered when the vampire's hands left his body, but he certainly did notice when more of that cold liquid was poured onto him. He squirmed as he felt it run down the cleft in his ass, then immediately stilled as he felt fingers follow the same path.

The change in the man beneath him was almost palpable, not that Xander especially cared. Not when his finger was resting against Graham's entrance. There was still no movement on the part of the human. After a moment Xander added pressure and the very tip of his slick digit pressed into Graham's body. That got a reaction. The vampire smirked as muscles clenched tight around the invader. Just to show the Marine what he thought of that response, Xander pushed in even further, relishing the tiny gasp of pain he produced.

Relax. Relax. Relax. Graham took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself, knowing that that little sliver of pain was only the tip of the iceberg, and the vampire wasn't going to stop now. With one last shuddering exhale he made himself accept it.

Satisfied that his reprimand had been understood, Xander played a bit, twisting his finger, rubbing the tight ring of muscle. The inside of the human felt like molten velvet, soft and heated to a balmy 98.6. Or, possibly, higher. In contradiction to the seemingly relaxed state of Graham's body, his heart was racing along. His body temperature had to  be rising. Pretty soon, Xander was certain he wouldn't even be able to touch Graham without being burned.

The vampire almost moaned at the thought. And, suddenly, he decided that he just couldn't take it anymore. The waiting. He couldn't stand it. Hearing that heartbeat, feeling that warmth, it was all just... too damn tempting. He moved back further, resting his weight against Graham's calves, and leaned over so that his face was hovering just above the
mortal's delectable ass. His fangs dropped. Just a little taste... He kissed the smooth firm flesh first, then he let his teeth sink into the skin.

Xander felt Graham's body jerk as the human's blood rushed into his mouth. It should have been heaven, that first taste of Graham's very life, bittersweet and copper on his tongue. It should have been...

The vampire's body was reacting before his mind could finish processing what had happened. He leapt off the bed, spitting and retching, trying to get the tainted substance out of his mouth.

Confused, and instantly wary, Graham watched the display. Questions flew around his head, but those were pushed aside by the opportunity that presented itself.

The vampire was distracted.

There was no inside lock on the door.

Graham rolled off the bed and into a crouch. His plan didn't consist of anything more than 'try to get to the door' and 'try to get out the door', but it would have to do. There would be something to fight with on the other side, he just knew it. Unfortunately though, before he could go any further, an animalistic growl stopped him in his tracks.

Xander was pissed. His mouth felt like it was coated with the foul tasting sludge. The only other time he could remember sampling anything as remotely vulgar was when, shortly after he was turned, he made the mistake of trying to feast on one of Sunnydale High's football players. The results weren't exactly the same, but they were close enough for
Xander to have realized what was wrong. The perfect body came with a price.

The human mask was completely gone now, lost to almost blinding anger. His voice came out as a low, accusatory hiss. "Steroids?!"

Graham blinked. "What?"

Another hiss. "You're a user?!"

"I'm not-" Graham never got to finish. He barely had time to register the fact that Xander was moving before one of the vampire's fists cracked against his jaw. Pain exploded across the side of his face, but the first blow was nothing compared to the second... and the third... and the fourth...

It was too fast. Too savage. Graham never stood a chance. He still tried to fight back, still tried to protect himself, but it was useless. The vampire was enraged, in a frenzy. And, in the end, all Graham could really do was gratefully slip into a stupor. His mind only grasping onto snippets, like a broken film reel.

Yellow eyes, like a big cat's. Feral. Beautiful.

The sound of something cracking.

Pain.

Blood in his mouth. Coughing it up.

Arms around him, lifting, being thrown. Hitting the bed.

A full mouth, distended from covering the fangs behind it, twisted, cruel...

Cold fingers pressing into his hips, lifting them upwards.

More pain. Deep. Ripping him open

Everything hurt. So much...

Then... nothing.

**********

Part 10

**********

For a second after he regained consciousness, a whole, lovely second, Graham felt absolutely nothing. Then, the reprieve ended, and the pain began. Bright, white hot flames of agony shot through him with each inhaled breath. Bone, and tissue, and flesh either screamed out their violations or throbbed with a dull, steady ache.

Graham knew he should take stock of the situation. Examine and catalog his injuries, then figure out the best course of action. But, he didn't want to examine the pain. Examining the pain would mean recognizing, remembering, what had happened. What had happened to him. He didn't want to clear his mind. He didn't want to start thinking logically. He  wanted to drift on the sea of hurt until his body caught up with his mind, and just... decided... to stop.

It couldn't take *that* long to die. The vampire had been too enraged to watch where he had hit, or to pull any punches. Things had broken. Things had cracked. Things had ruptured. And the part of Graham that had long since skittered off into the relative comfort of one of the darker parts of his newly fractured mind thought it ironic that a vampire victim would bleed to death on the inside.

But, then, his blood didn't appeal to the vampire, did it? It didn't taste good. There was something wrong with it. Graham grasped onto that thought. Held it close. Studied it, and ran through it over and over. He was clean, he knew that much. The only drugs he ever put into his system were alcohol and caffeine. He didn't even like being around
cigarette smoke.

The vampire could have been lying, but it was doubtful. Why would it? The rage, the disgust, had all been as real as the beating that followed. Besides, if the vampire had changed his mind, and had decided to just beat him to death instead, why would it make up some kind of excuse to do so? It was a vampire, it didn't need a reason to be evil.

So, if the creature wasn't lying, and Graham hadn't put the drugs in his system himself, that left only one viable alternative. The vampire had said he tasted like he had been using steroids. Steroids. Who would have wanted him stronger, faster, better then he already had been? Who would have gone to any means necessary to achieve that? And, who had been controlling almost every substance he had put into his body since the moment he joined the Initiative?

Walsh. She had been poisoning him all along.

And, yet another reason to retreat a bit more from the world at large. Of course, a nice thought was that at least this way the bitch wouldn't have his body after he died. A perfect opportunity for an autopsy gone forever. What a blow to science. If Graham didn't suspect his jaw was broken, he probably would have smirked.

Then, without warning, something was pressed against his lower lip. Graham instantly tensed at the contact, which only seemed to further aggravate already outraged muscles. Multi-colored starbursts exploded behind his closed eyes as his mind flitted around unconsciousness again, but the feeling of something cool, and wet against his parched lips brought him back.

Instinctively he tried to open his mouth. Pain blossomed up the side of his face, but everything seemed to be working all right. His jaw hadn't been broken after all, though some of his lower teeth were considerably looser then before.

Pushing aside cosmetic concerns, Graham eagerly swallowed the offered water, not realizing how thirsty he had been until the first drops rolled over his tongue. The Marine didn't even think twice about taking what was obviously offered by the very thing that had put him in his present state. Pride was one of those things that only mattered to people whose insides were all still in their proper locations. Besides, Graham had heard stories about what happened when people died of thirst. Why should he go out that way when the whole internal bleeding thing was already happening for him.

When the water was taken away, Graham slowly opened his eyes, and fixed them on the deceptively innocent looking face staring at him.

"Okay." Xander said. "I admit, I may have overreacted." Hell. Damn. Hell. Shit. Fuck. That wasn't supposed to have happened. Xander wasn't just some mindless, stupid minion only taking pleasure from the frenzy. He was better than that. It's just... finding out that all that rich, luscious blood was *tainted*... Well, it pissed him off. But, he truly hadn't meant to do quite that much damage.

Xander frowned down at the human, noting the interesting colors that had already formed over the formerly pristine skin. In the end, his Adonis had crumbled, the fabulous musculature easily giving way under the fists of an enraged vampire. Large, discolored bruises ran down the swollen left side of his face. Blue eyes, now dull as dishwater stared at him, not in fear, or anger, but, just... stared.

There went his perfect little plan. Even if he could force down the mortal's blood, if Graham was turned now he'd probably end up nuttier than Drusilla. Or, worse... Oh, no! No way in hell was he going to have another Willow on his hands, no matter how delicious the unbruised version looked.

He would have to think of something else. Make a decision. And soon.

Xander gently eased his hand between Graham's thighs, noting the complete lack of any response on the part of the human. Well, he *had* wanted to break him... With a scowl the vampire removed his hand and stared at the bright red smears on his fingertips. Most of the blood had already turned into a congealed tar, but some was still stubbornly oozing to the outside. That probably wasn't a good sign.

He lifted his fingers to his nose and inhaled deeply. Yes, there it was. Under the intoxicating scent of lifeblood itself, he could now detect a faintly chemical odor. He softly growled, and shook his head, trying to dispel a new rush of anger. If he lost control again that would be it. Little bits of Marine would end up stuck to the ceiling.

Xander looked back at Graham, golden tinged eyes meeting desolate blue. "You really didn't know, did you?"

For a moment something surged behind the Marine's gaze. Hatred. Yet, oddly enough, Xander didn't feel as if that particular look was directed solely at him.

It wasn't difficult to discern what had happened. After all, the mortal Xander Harris had been quite the little X-Files fan. Secret government organizations, conspiracies, human experiments... The vampire wouldn't have been surprised if the person behind all of it was Cancer-man himself. Xander cocked his head. "Huh. Looks like they screwed with you long before I got the chance."

Xander moved away from the bed, not wanting to see the reaction, or lack there of, that statement produced. It was time for him to make a decision.

On one hand, he could always just let the mortal die. There were plenty of other humans in the sea, but not many came wrapped in such nice packaging. At least, nice under normal circumstances. Dammit! He still wanted the swollen, discolored thing. Graham belonged to Xander, and Xander wasn't the type of person who liked to give up his toys.

So, if he wasn't going to let the human die, and he couldn't stomach the thought of changing him with that stuff in his system, then... he had to get Graham help. Xander rolled his eyes and muttered something about being glad Darla couldn't see him now.

Fine. He'd let the human go, get patched up and healed, then take him again afterwards. Xander knew that wouldn't be easy, but no one ever said obsessions were a walk in the park. Graham couldn't be safe twenty four hours a day, and at the first slip, Xander would be there to collect what was his.

Suddenly an idea popped into Xander's head. A truly wonderful idea. Something that would make sure Graham remembered just who he really belonged to. The question of how came up, and was answered just as quickly. Of course.

He appraisingly studied the figure on the bed, wondering how much time they had before it was too late. What with humans being so fragile he decided he really shouldn't take any longer than necessary, and he hurried off to the kitchen to light the burner.

*****

He was still alive. Damn. When the vampire had come back into the room and rolled him onto his stomach, Graham used all the willpower he had left to not think about what was going to happen again. But, blessedly, every atom in his body had angrily protested the movement and the Marine had blacked out, sure, that this time he would not be waking up.

He wasn't that lucky.

Graham heard the vampire shuffling around behind him. There was more. There was going to be more. He pressed his face into the pillow, and didn't even bother to control the shudder that went through him. But, there was only so much he could take and then it would be over, he would be over. Graham held onto that thought as chilled fingers gently brushed against his lower back.

Xander leaned in close. "I've come to a fairly important decision, Graham. I'm going to let you go for a little while." He began to kiss up the Marine's spine. "I'll call 911. The paramedics will find you, if your people don't get here first. I assume they do have the emergency channels tapped, right?" Xander grinned. "Do they know who really shot JFK too? Nevermind. The important thing is, you're going to stay alive, and you're going to get better. But, before I let you go, there's one more thing I need to do." Xander moved towards the door. "Have to get something from the kitchen. Be back in a sec."

Graham wasn't sure what he should be feeling. Huge, staggering doubts kept him from being happy or relieved. Just because the vampire said it was going to let him go didn't mean it actually would. It was just a trick. Nothing more.

He heard the vampire come back into the room. It was, oh God, it was whistling.

"Now, this is just to make sure that you, and everyone else, for that matter, knows that you belong to me. You will always belong to me."

Graham's body tensed, something, somehow telling him that he needed to move, *move*, now! But, he couldn't, couldn't even muster the energy to turn his head to see what was coming. In a way, he supposed, it was good he didn't know.

"Now, I'll try to do this as quickly as possible, but..." Xander paused, contemplating the long, glowing piece of metal he held with his pot holder. The purple daisy girl had probably used it for shish kebab, but after a little while of sitting in an open flame on the range it was about to have a very different use. "Let me just say, I won't think any less of you if you scream."

Graham barely had time to process that thought before he was screaming as white hot metal was pressed into the bare flesh of his left buttock.

*****

"Oh my God. Oh My God!" The young Marine at the communications desk doubled checked the computer monitor in front of him, then immediately called for his superior.

*****

"What?!" Riley shook his head, hoping he hadn't misheard.

Walsh sighed. "I said, Agent Miller's cell phone was activated three minutes ago. It was used to place a 911 call. I've already sent men to intercept the ambulance, and a medic team to the specified site."

"I want to go too," Riley said at once.

"Don't be ridiculous, you'd only get in the way." She softened a bit. "You'll know when I do, Riley."

The young Marine nodded. He had been waiting that long, he could stand another few minutes. But Riley knew, in his heart, that it was going to be good news. It had to be. Graham was still alive, he could just feel it. Forrest was going to be okay. They were going to get Graham back. Everything was going to be all right.

Riley let out the breath that he seemed to have been holding in for the past twenty four hours. He let himself relax a little, after all, it was obvious that the worst was already over.