“Where is this thing?” Buffy growled in frustration, her grip tightening on the hilt of her sword.
“Don’t worry, Buff,” Xander consoled, scanning the edges of the cemetery for surprises. “It can’t hide forever.”
“Yes. Because what demon can resist the lure of the Slayer?” Anya chirped in too brightly, poorly covering her sarcasm, a sure sign she resented being dragged out of the Magic Box to patrol with them.
Unfortunately, Buffy had to acknowledge that she was right.
“I’m sorry I can’t do a locator spell for you,” Tara apologized, watching as well. “If I had something that belonged to it, or if I knew what it was . . .”
“Don’t worry about it,” Buffy consoled her. “Anya’s right, with my demon magnet skills, it should show up anytime.”
Xander protested good-naturedly. “And here I thought I was the resident demon magnet!”
Buffy smiled as Anya inserted herself in his arms. “You do have that stasis spell ready, yeah?” she continued talking to Tara.
Tara nodded. “It’s more of an impediment than actually being stasis, but it should slow whatever it is down enough for you to stop it. If Willow hadn’t had class tonight . . .”
“Tara, you aren’t our second choice,” Buffy said comfortingly. “You’re good at what you do, and that’s all I need . . .”
They all froze at the sound of something vaguely human-sized forcing its way through the hedge. Buffy raised her sword, Xander pushing Anya behind him defensively as he hefted his axe.
And Spike burst out of the bushes.
They all sagged in relief as he took in their appearance. “Just a few pitchforks and torches shy of a mob, aren’t you?”
“Dammit, Spike,” Xander complained, “You scared the hell out of us.”
He grinned, obviously pleased. “Well, that’s a nice change, innit? What are we hunting tonight, children?”
“We,” Buffy said derisively, waving a finger from him to herself, “are not hunting anything. We,” she indicated the others, “are looking for an unspecified demon we got a report on. Scared some of the college kids, it sounds like it’s pretty big.”
“About seven feet high, covered in feathers or scales, face like a shaved Pekingese?”
“Yeah, how did you know?”
He pointed. “It’s standin’ behind you.”
They all whirled. Sure enough, the creature stood there as though hoping they hadn’t noticed it. Faint hope.
“So what do you think,” Spike asked, not taking his eyes off the thing, “blunt or edged?”
Buffy adjusted her grip on the sword. “As big as it is? I’m thinking we don’t want to take any chances.”
“Hack and slash it is.” And he swept the axe out of Xander’s hand, swinging it in an elegant figure eight to catch the haft in both hands.
“Hey!” Xander protested.
“Hang back with the other ladies, whelp. They might need your help. Ready when you are, Slayer.”
She didn’t bother to sound the charge, just moved, and he was right there with her.
The creature responded as well, letting out a high, glass shattering screech as it flexed out long feline claws. It moved fast, faster than she’d expected, meeting them halfway with vicious swipes of its extended arms. Spike went low as she went high, dodging those wicked claws as she heard Tara begin chanting. “Winged Mercury, hear our plea, all speed and movement come from thee. From our enemies take your gifts . . .”
It slashed again. Buffy back flipped over the outstretched arm, but it caught Spike, knocking him aside like a doll. He caught himself and rolled back to his feet, charging back with murder in his eyes.
Whatever the featherlike things were, they seemed to be acting like chain mail, glancing the blows of her sword off it. A flying kick to the head staggered it, giving her a chance to evaluate. The scales were concentrated on the torso, arms and legs, thinner on the belly and neck. Spike spun and dropped, knocking its legs out from under it, but it simply turned the fall into a back flip, landing back on its feet to strike out again.
Suddenly the creature slowed, moving as though through honey. Buffy glanced over her shoulder to see Tara sagging in sudden exhaustion. She grinned at the witch as she shouted, “Spike! Stomach!”
She planted herself to pivot on her back heel, twisting into a powerful back swing when suddenly the creature changed. It morphed into a young man, perhaps six feet tall, strong and evenly proportioned, soft blond hair tumbling into a face she couldn’t quite see.
And she wanted him. Oh god, her whole body ached with need for him, with the need to possess him, protect him.
But it was too late. The sword bit deep into his neck, sending his head flying just as Spike’s axe sunk deep into the man’s gut.
An actinic shockwave erupted from the crumpling body, crystalline and piercing, resonating through all of Buffy’s senses.
She was unconscious before she hit the ground.
When Buffy came to, she just felt wrong all over.
Her brain went into Slayer reset mode. Heart still beating? Check. Head still attached? Check. Okay, so she was still alive, which meant that whatever that demon had been, it was now either dead or had split when she went down. But she couldn’t remember how it had taken her out.
She slowly began to flex her muscles, checking for sprains and fractures. One deep breath told her no broken ribs. But her clothes felt painfully tight, cutting deep into her hips, binding her shoulders.
She pushed herself to her feet, eyes still bleary, feeling impossibly top heavy. She could make out a black mound not far away and staggered over to it to determine friend or foe.
It was definitely foe.
It was the headless remains of the demon they had been fighting. It looked as it had originally, bearing no resemblance to the man she had seen before decapitating it. A large black hole smoked in the middle of its belly. She’d better find the head. Giles would want to see it for identification.
“Who the bloody hell are you?” a woman’s voice demanded from behind her.
She turned to see a woman in her late twenties standing there, white blonde hair bright in the streetlight. She wasn’t tall, five foot three or four at the most, with wide pale eyes and impossibly high cheekbones. She wore a black t-shirt that hung loosely on her torso and a pair of black jeans so large she had to hold them up around her waist.
And Spike’s duster, four sizes too big for her but looking like it belonged.
“You with that guy, corn-fed?” the woman with the familiar London accent challenged. “Cuz you might wanna take off before the Slayer and I give you more of the same.”
“I am the Slayer, Einstein!” she insisted, thumping her chest.
Her very flat chest.
“Guess nobody ever told you Slayers are girls, ya pillock!”
For the first time, she looked down and actually saw herself.
Her clothes all felt tight and binding for a reason. Her long, muscular legs stuck out from the hems of her slaying jeans, the button and zipper ruptured to make room for her straight hips and waist. One more deep breath threatened to do the same to the buttons on her blouse which barely held closed over the barrel of her flat chest. The sleeves were torn along the seams to hand in rags about her shoulders, revealing the corded muscles of her arms. She looked like the Incredible Hulk.
And she was most definitely male.
“Oh god, this can’t be happening,” she moaned, studying her long, slender, heavy hands in horror.
“Didn’t think you’d actually have to face the Slayer and her mates, did you?” The other woman snickered. “Poor plannin’ on your part.”
And suddenly the cues the woman was sending made sense.
The woman stopped posturing to look at Buffy curiously. “I know you, mate?”
“Spike, you have breasts.”
“What? I do not . . .” But her hands flew instinctively to her chest, catching palmfuls of soft round flesh as her pants slid earthward, revealing pale, toned slender legs. The t-shirt was long enough to hide her intimate parts, but Buffy hid her eyes anyway.
“Bloody, buggering . . .” Spike pulled her (his, Buffy corrected herself) his pants back up, looking at her questioningly. “Slayer?”
She just nodded.
He started swearing again, but Buffy suddenly remembered with horror.
That shockwave had been strong enough to knock the Slayer and a Master vampire unconscious for who knew how long. What would it have done to the humans?
“Xander and the girls,” she breathed.
Spike stopped in mid-rant, sniffing the air. “Over there,” he pointed, moving in the same direction.
He shook his head. “But wrong.”
They found them moments later, all laying on their backs where the shockwave had flattened them. One girl, plump and curvy with wavy dark hair. A young man with a lean figure and short titian hair. And off a little further another man, thickset and tall, mouse hair falling in his eyes.
Xander, Anya and Tara. All transformed.
Buffy knelt over Tara, checking for a pulse while Spike moved instinctively to the only woman down, obviously forgetting that “she” was Xander, his constant tormentor. Buffy couldn’t help but grin at his unconscious chivalry. She sighed in relief as she found the flutter of heartbeat in Tara’s throat, thready and fast but strong. “She’s okay,” Buffy called back to Spike. “How about them?”
“They’ll live,” he confirmed, his soft contralto sounding odd to her ears.
“We should wake them up. We need to get somewhere safe to figure out what’s going on, and you and I won’t be able to carry all three of them.”
“Oh, this should be fun,” Spike said, regarding the insensible brunette at his feet. “Can’t wait to see the whelp’s reaction, waking up as such a tasty morsel.”
“You aren’t so hard on the eyes yourself,” she said snippily before she could catch herself.
He grinned. “Like what you see, do you?”
She rolled her eyes, not caring to admit that any woman looking like Spike did, Buffy normally would have instantly seen as competition. “Just wake them up. Gently.”
“Ruin my fun,” he groused before bending down next to Anya.
Buffy leaned back over Willow’s girlfriend. “Tara,” she said softly, laying one of those bulky, awkward hands on the other girl’s shoulder. “Tara, are you awake?”
She groaned softly, a rich bass baritone sound. “What . . . what happened?”
“There’s been an accident, Tara. Don’t open your eyes just yet.”
Tara struggled to try to rise, but Buffy held her down. “Am I blind?” There was fear in the words.
“No,” Buffy said comfortingly, wondering what her voice sounded like to them. “But I want to make sure you aren’t hurt first, okay?” Tara nodded hesitantly. “Okay, does it hurt anywhere?”
She tipped her head, eyes still closed mentally running through a checklist similar to Buffy’s. After a couple of moments, she said, “No, I don’t think so. I feel . . . off. Not quite myself. But nothing’s broken.”
“Okay, good. Now I need you to take a deep breath and listen to me. There’s been an accident. A magical accident. You and the others have changed.”
Buffy drew in a deep breath. “You’re a man, Tara.”
Her eyes flew open, warm brown eyes that were still Tara, that saw through deceptions and illusions to truth. “Buffy?”
“Yeah, it’s me. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. The others?”
Buffy helped her to her feet. “They seem to be okay. We’ll know better after . . .”
“You mean I can pee standing up?” an excited tenor said from behind them.
Tara smiled shyly, a faint blush on her cheeks. “I guess Anya’s okay.”
Buffy chuckled as well, turning to see Spike helping the redhead to her feet. She was a little put out to see that even with the changes effected by the transformation, Buffy was still the shortest of the women. Now men.
They gathered around Xander’s supine body. “You alright, Anya?” Buffy asked, confirming.
“Spike already determined that. Can we wake Xander up now? I don’t like seeing him like that.”
Buffy bent down. “Xander? Xander, wake up.”
“Not yet, Dad,” he mumbled. “Don’t have school today.”
“Alexander Lavelle Harris, wake up right now!” Anya snapped.
He sat bolt upright. “I’m awake! I’m awake!” He blinked wide-eyed, looking around him half seeing. “Who are you people?”
“These are your friends, I’m your girlfriend. You’ve been changed into a woman. A not unattractive woman. Now we have to go find out what happened so Buffy can fix it. So please get up.”
“But you’re all guys.” He was still groggy.
“And you’re a girl, sweetie.”
“I’m a . . .” His hands came up automatically to his chest, cupping his generous breasts through layers of flannel and t-shirt.
His cry was high and piercing. In other words, he screamed like a girl.
“Oh, do it again, Harris,” Spike scoffed. “That air raid siren of your screams damsel in distress. Let’s see who comes to answer it.”
“Spike, shut up.” Buffy looked around. “We’d better go to my house. It’s closest. We can call Giles and Willow from there.” She helped Xander to his feet. “You okay?”
He held up his loose jeans, a haunted look in his eyes. “I don’t think I’ll ever be alright again.”