Giles looked at him, his forehead furrowed, his lips tight with worry. “It has to be you, Xander. Buffy is dealing with an infestation of vampires over behind the hospital – but in any case, you're ideally suited for the job; with my assistance of course.”
“Why?” OK, that was weak and kinda girly high. Xander cleared his throat and dropped down an octave. “Why? I mean; this is unauthorised slayage, Giles. That’s bad. I could get into trouble.” The kind where you get grounded in the literal way, he thought.
An expression of deep offence passed over Giles’ face. “’Unauthorised’? When I’m authorising it? I hardly think so, Xander. I had hoped that you’d rise to the challenge a little more readily than this, but I quite understand if you feel it’s beyond you.”
He rose, gave Xander a curt nod and turned to pick up a bag that looked heavy.
“What’s all that?” Xander felt a creeping inevitability start at the base of his spine and head north.
“Weapons,” Giles said, “and a small amount of fruit, grass; bait, if you will. I’m not sure it’ll still respond to that, but it’s worth a try. And an extra long stake of course. Now, if you’ll excuse me...”
“I’ll come with you,” Xander said with a sigh.
Giles bent down to the open bag, pulled out a leather collar and walked towards him. “I might not have made it quite clear in what capacity I wanted you to help me, Xander,” he said, with a faint hint of an apology in his quiet voice. “It’s going to be temporary, so I won’t begin the incantation until we’re close, but I’ll need you to wear this...”
“Whu?” That wasn’t even a word. “Why do I need – oh God.”
“You’re inclined to it already, Xander. Lingering traces in your sense memories, primal instincts stirring beneath the surface...it’s not been that long after all...”
Giles’ voice was soothing; hypnotic, caressing and stroking. Lost in it, Xander followed him in silence, and, when they reached the place it had claimed its last victim, he let Giles buckle the collar, attach the leash...then he went down on all fours, whining and mewling until he caught the scent of the vampire zebra.
He never remembered much after that – the feel of the grass, wet and coarse against his hands, the air turning into a dense soup, thick with scent trails, one shining red, glossy and bright. The animal erupting out of the bushes was larger than he’d expected, fangs twisting and distorting its face, hooves slashing down at Giles, who fell beneath them, crying out in alarm...
Xander wrenched himself free of the leash, caught up the stake that Giles had dropped, and threw himself at the zebra, howling with rage. It took a long time to remember to use the stake because his teeth and hands were there, but the cool blood tasted wrong...
The dust showered over him, clinging and sticking to sweat and blood and he screamed up to the stars, cheated of his prey.
Dim words, faint and faraway, circled him like smoke and he felt the hyena snarl and sleep again.
Giles staggered towards him where he crouched on the red-slicked grass, and wordlessly reached for the collar, clumsy fingers trying to unbuckle it. Xander’s hand came up and brushed Giles’ fingers away.
“Leave it,” he whispered. “Until I’m sure it’s not coming back.”
“You wouldn’t hurt me, Xander,” Giles said softly. “You just saved my life.”
Xander took the end of the leash and wound it around Giles’ fingers, feeling their strength beneath the tremor that made them shift against his.
“Take me back to the library and lock me in the cage until I believe that, then.”
Giles hesitated and then nodded. He didn’t have to tell Xander that he’d be right there all night with him. Xander knew that.
And, after that flash of yearning, darkly intense and rich with need, he’d sensed when the collar went around his neck, he knew more than that, but it could wait.
A/N This story, which turned out darker than I'd expected, was written when I noticed, as you do, that I had no fics with titles beginning with 'V', 'X', or 'Z'. Rather than write three stories to have the entire alphabet covered, I picked this title instead.
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