Summary: How the episode 'The Pack' would have gone differently with the help of Xander's 'gift'.
A/N: (inspired by Xander's neighbor's house catching fire when he wanted a fire truck for his 7th birthday, and the librum incendere incident in “Superstar”)
A/N2: Can you believe that I actually started writing this thing only a few days after posting 'The Witch' [10 Oct. 2007]? Ugh. Writers' block is no friend of mine. I hope you all like.
Timeline: First season. Shortly after “The Witch”.
The Firebug Series: The Pack
Xander sat on his bed, forehead wrinkled, eyes narrowed in concentration, staring at a medium-sized bowl filled with partially scorched paper, a window cracked open to prevent the smoke detectors from going off.
He needed to figure out how to call his fire up quicker. Much quicker. The slow build-up of power he was familiar with only meant that he couldn't use it in the heat of battle (pardon the pun). And when drugged, he could only feel it flutter feebly in the back of his mind. He shuddered once more at the close call with the demon she-mantis.
If he could have roasted her – even ignoring the fact that the other boy had been there and would have seen – it would have been simple to pick the lock on the cage afterward. But the drugs kept it from building up enough to unleash – he just knew that a quick burst would have burned the sedative out of his system and taken care of the bug-lady.
He just needed to figure it out.
8 8 8
Buffy had been bemoaning her date-less lifestyle. It seemed that Owen was more enthusiastic about the possibility of danger that came with dating Buffy than with Buffy herself. She broke it off, unwilling to put him in danger.
Xander fumed silently, sitting at one of the tables at the Bronze, as she went on and on. Idiots. Both of them. Buffy shoving away a willing helper? Owen ignoring the beauty that Buffy was? Morons.
Willow babbled something sympathetic. He turned away from the two girls, hiding his expression from them and glared out a nearby window. The curtains framing it instantly went up in flames. As teenagers shrieked and ran, while bartenders and waitresses rushed to douse the flames, Xander stared in wonder. There had been no build-up. Just a push and power rushed out. Now, how...?
“Xander! Xander! Come on!” Willow tugged frantically at his arm, trying to get him to move. “Now!”
Buffy grabbed the other arm and the two girls caught his attention enough to keep them from completely manhandling him out of the club. In fact, he managed to pull each of them out of the path of frantic teens as they crossed the dance floor toward an exit. Soon all three of them were outside.
The fire was soon put out, but now Xander had practice to do.
8 8 8
If a flame already existed, it was so much easier to make it grow, spread it wide, engulf and burn – as the vampire holding the lantern last night discovered. But to bring a flame into existence at a thought, well ...
It took Xander several weeks of effort, bouts of exhaustion, and moderate migraines before he figured the trick to it.
The candle danced without even a breeze. Reflected in brown eyes that watched it carefully, the flame grew large then tiny, then separated itself from it's wick, dancing in the air. It split, creating a dozen small flames that waltzed around the teen's head, recombined and vanished. With a small smile, Xander relaxed back onto his pillows and glanced at the candle. The smile widened as a flame sprang into existence and danced on the wick.
8 8 8
Xander faced Kyle, Tor, Heidi and Rhonda within the Hyena Enclosure, Jonothan having ducked out the moment the older boy had set him back on his feet. Outnumbered – and they were ticked – he was fully ready to use his flames to cause a distraction for his own escape. Mentally flipping the switch in his head, he wasn't ready for when the spell set into the floor went off and another presence suddenly shared space in his psyche, pushing him into a back corner of his mind, away from the flames. The power escaped briefly with no conscious restraint, a pile of cloth and wood for the exhibit caught fire, burning merrily and frightening the other four who immediately ran out of the enclosure. The hyenas growled and whined in fear.
Panicked himself, Xander frantically stretched, connecting to his power and smothered the flames. 'Shit. Now what?' His body chased after the rest of the pack. The effort of reigning in his gift, when not in direct control, exhausted him and he couldn't stop himself from falling asleep as his body caught up with the others and cowed them into a semblance of obedience.
Hours later, he awoke, cringing as memories of what the 'other' had done hit him. It surprised him that Willow hadn't figured out something was wrong with him. Over the past few months, since gaining control over his flames, he'd regained quite a bit of his self-confidence - but he had never been aggressive or so openly predatory. 'Course, he couldn't disagree with the 'other's' view of Buffy as a desirable mate – but he vehemently disagreed with it's view of Willow as being weak.
Still not in full control, locked in a cage within his own mind, he could still see what the 'other' was looking at. He was home. Both parents were half-sitting in the living room. He could feel the disgust the 'other' had as it surveyed the two humans. His folks might be drunks, but they weren't worthless and he had a bad feeling about what the 'other' might do.
Angry, a bit frightened at what might happen if something wasn't done, he grasped a hold of his power. Warm in his hand, he tried something new, and instead of pushing the power outward of himself, he sent a tendril whipping through the area he could feel the 'other' residing.
The 'other' turned, stalking toward him, and Xander's eyes widened as the creature came into view. She was magnificent. Her shoulder even with his hip. Her coat, marred by a few scars that showed she was a worthy hunter and protector, nonetheless glowed with a silky sheen. Yellow-green eyes studied him in turn, a laugh spilled from her mouth revealing bright sharp teeth and a lolling tongue. ~'Pup too young to know. Worthless, these are.'~
He brought up memories of how his parents were like sober. They cared and listened, even if they didn't understand. ~'My parents. My Pack.'~
~'Unaware. Not hunters. Barely protectors. Not good for Pack. Should be rid of them.'~
~'My Pack. You're the one uninvited'~
The creature paused, looking confused, ~'How not wanted? Am here.'~
Xander brought up images of the zoo enclosure. ~'Didn't know. You didn't ask. Locked me up. My body.'~
The female hyena stared deeply into his eyes. ~'Need my Pack. They run off. No behave. Need this body to bring them home.'~
~'Let me help.'~
~'How you help? You young. They not listen.'~
As answer, Xander allowed his palm to fill with flames. ~'Yes, they will.'~
She laughed again. ~'Yes, they will.'~ And the bars were gone.
8 8 8
If either of Xander's parents had been awake, they would have been terrified by what they saw. Their boy stood motionless in the living room, glaring at them. His eyes flashed and flared, first yellow-green, which disappeared in a flickering of reddish-orange – as if flames reflected there – then back to his normal warm brown. Long moments passed before Xander shook himself, covered each of them with a blanket, and stalked upstairs.
The next morning, Xander left early, sensing that the others would be found at the school.
8 8 8
Xander glided smoothly through the morning crowd searching for his pack, skillfully avoiding Buffy and Willow for the time being.
“Zzzaanderr,” came the low growl off to his right.
A feral smirk quirked his lips as he lounged against a locker – the music wing currently empty. “Kyle.” He studied the four teens noting that their hyena possessions were definitely in the forefront. He allowed his own to flash in his eyes. “Ladies. Tor,” he locked gazes with them until they dropped their eyes, ceding leadership.
The bell rang for classes. Xander straightened up. “Do not draw attention to yourselves. Meet me beneath the trees at lunch. Understood?” The four teens nodded and they slinked off to class. Xander frowned, that had been easy. Too easy? But he let it go.
8 8 8
“Did you hear? Somebody, like, totally killed Herbert.” Aphrodisiac leaned from her desk to speak with her fellow sheep during second period.
“Herbert?” Melody blinked, startled, “The mascot?”
Aphrodisiac nodded, “They say that Principal Flutie caught some kids actually eating Herbert.”
“Eww...” Melody shuddered, then blinked as someone walked between them, heading for the door. “Mr. Jones isn't gonna be happy if you're late Harris.” She snorted as she was ignored, “What is with him?”
“I dunno, but did you notice was he was wearing? He's kinda hot today, dontcha think?”
Melody grinned, “Yeah. Anyway...”
8 8 8
Xander stalked down the empty hallway heading toward the Principal's office. He grinned at the secretary letting a touch of the predator out. “Good morning, Ms. Frances,” he purred. “Is Mr. Flutie available?”
She looked over her glasses at him, perking up at bit. “He's dealing with some infraction breakers.”
He took a discrete sniff, recognizing his pack's scent. He could also smell their excitement and felt a chill down his spine as Hyena muttered, ~Hunt.~
“Well, if it's about that whole mascot thing, then I've got some information he'd probably like to hear. May I?” Not waiting for a response, he bypassed the secretary, and stepped into the Principal's office.
The four possessed teens were in a semi-circle around Principal Flutie's chair. The man looked pale and uncertain as they simply stared down at him. He glanced up, badly hidden relief showing on his face at the interruption. “Mr. Harris? Is there something that you need?”
Xander plastered a smile on his face, though through subtle body language he let his pack know he was not happy. The four teens backed slightly away from the seated man, their faces showing apprehension. “Assistant Principal Snyder was having some problems over near the girls' locker room. Something about a couple of Peeping Toms. He asked if you could possibly meet him down there to help him sort things out?”
“Well, I do have a situation to take care of here. These students killed Herbert!”
Xander had to give the man kudos. Though obviously uncomfortable around the teens, he didn't want to abdicate what he felt was his responsibility. But Xander wanted the man out of reach. “I understand. I do. But some of the girls were talking about stringing the guys up by their ... well, you know. I'm sure that with a few understanding words from you, they'll calm down to let wiser heads prevail.” He could see the older man weakening. “Give them each a three day suspension. Call their folks later to let them know what happened. Then make them pay restitution to the school. Either by purchasing a new school mascot or after school clean up duty.”
Perking up, Mr. Flutie nodded thoughtfully. “Thank you, Mr. Harris, that's an excellent idea. I'll have Ms. Frances contact their parents immediately.” He rose from his chair and headed for the door, calmly, though Xander could see the fine shaking in his limbs. “As for you four. I expect three days suspension will bring you to your senses. Honestly, what ever possessed you?” He walked out of the office, not noticing, or deliberately ignoring the soft cackling laughter that followed him.
Xander gently swung the door closed, turning a furious glare at the four pack members. They immediately shrunk back, whining softly. Stalking forward, he let the alpha loose.
And was she pissed! The matriarch snarled and growled, cuffing the four about the ears. How dare they show such blatant disobedience. How dare they endanger themselves in such a way.
The four lowered their gazes in submission, whimpering softly, shoulders hunched like a group of chastised children. And like children, simply waiting for the leash to be slipped in order to have some more fun. They weren't actively challenging Xander for leadership, but neither were they fully acknowledging it, either.
~'Need to try something different.'~ She backed off a bit and Xander relaxed his stance, a wicked smirk forming on his face. The change in posture confused the others, but their own attitudes moved from recalcitrant adolescents to that of interest. They gazed at him as he moved to the window, slid it open and checked that the coast was clear. Halfway over the casement, he smirked at them from over his shoulder, challenge clear, before dropping to the ground. Dashing across the commons to the woods that skirted an edge of the school, he laughed softly as he heard the others swiftly follow.
Thinking furiously, he led them off-campus and deeper into the woods toward a set of caves he remembered exploring with Jesse when they were younger. It was on the outskirts of town and Xander felt it would be a perfect place to hole up until he could figure things out. The way the other four were now, he didn't trust them not to attack the first person they met, so bringing them to Giles for a solution was out. Today was Friday, he would allow the Alpha hyena the weekend with her Pack. Hopefully, either the spell would end or a solution would present itself. ~Otherwise,~ he thought to her, ~I bring in my own Pack. Agreed?~
8 8 8
The cave was large enough that the five could comfortably curl up, but not so large that anyone could slip out without notice. The ground was sandy, protecting them from the hard stone, and he was surprised to find it uninhabited.
Tor announced his challenge in mid-leap with a growl, eyes flashing green. With a grace and speed that surprised him, Xander grasped the other boy's shoulder with one hand and pivoted, allowing Tor to fly past him. Maintaining his grip, he followed Tor's body, adding his own weight and momentum as the teen crashed heavily into one of the cave walls.
He waited a moment, his weight keeping the taller boy pinned face first in the rock. Tor panted for air, muscles tensing and shifting, but Xander never loosened his grip. Finally, Tor went limp and lifted his chin, exposing his throat, submitting to his alpha. Following a prompt from the hyena, Xander lightly closed his teeth on the boy's throat, dimpling the skin, but not breaking it, acknowledging Tor's allegiance. He helped the other boy to his feet, cuffing him lightly on the ear, and appraised the others, one brow cocked in silent question. Kyle, Heidi and Rhonda quickly averted their gaze.
8 8 8
Friday night and most of Saturday had been spent trying to keep the pack from returning to the school. A combination of flames and encouragement were used to keep them near the cave he'd found. A hunt Saturday night finally brought the group together. Xander remembered the evening as a series of snippets – the scent of deer, running together, coordinating to bring their prey down, the taste of blood and meat. Then, later, coming upon a trio of vampires, matching them in speed and strength, surpassing them in tactics, bringing the trio down with teeth and claw and flame. The surprise as prey turned to ash. Sleeping huddled together in comfort and protection. They'd follow him, now. Xander wondered what would happen once the spell was gone.
Sunday afternoon had the quintet drifting quietly through the entrance of the zoo. Xander wanted to return to the Hyena enclosure. It was there that this had happened, perhaps it was there that this could be reversed.
The five stared silently for some time at the lethargic hyenas. “This exhibit is closed.” Turning, they spotted one of the zoo keepers standing in the entry way.
~Shaman.~ Hyena growled. The teens shifted; Rhonda and Tor on Xander's left, Heidi and Kyle on his right.
The man's eyes widened. “Oh. Oh. So that's where you went. Darlin's wandered away from home.” His gaze sharpened, “Little thieves. Stole that which was MINE!”
Xander couldn't help it, laughter spilled out of his mouth as Hyena responded to the wanna-be. “~Yours? Cannot take what you haven't earned.~”
“You've earned nothing!” The zoo keeper shot back, spittle flying. “I've worked for months on this ritual. You five just waltzed in...” eyes blazed in fury and madness.
Xander shrugged negligently, “Then undo what has been done. If you are truly worthy – reclaim the power.” With a subtle gesture, the five teens sank gracefully to the floor at the five pentacle points that still remained on the floor.
Power hungry, it never occurred to the nascent Shaman that their actions were odd. Gleefully, he raced about the enclosure, gathering items, all the while coolly regarded by a quintet of eyes. Babbling to himself, he commented on the ingredients, and his pitiful excuses for wanting so much power, as well as some vile fantasies of what he'd do afterwards.
The others glanced at him, twitching to destroy this danger to the pack, but the Matriarch quelled them with a look.
The shaman stood in the center of the circle, a smile of satisfaction upon his face as he recited the ancient rite.
First Tor, then Kyle, slumped to the ground, quickly followed by Heidi and Rhonda. The chanting came to a fever pitch. Xander could feel the tugging on Hyena, separating her from his body. With a sickening lurch he could feel something else going on. Panicked, he metaphysically clawed at the walls of his psyche – trying to keep from being pulled away by the spell. ~Shit! Gotta stop him!~ He tried to activate his talent, but each desperate reach left him further away.
Hyena snarled ~No one hurts Pack!~ In an unexpected move, Hyena leaped. A powerful wave of force slammed the shaman across the room. Such was the drain, Xander could feel himself falling unconscious as he noticed flames engulfing the zoo keeper.
8 8 8
“Xander. Hey, man, wake up.”
Xander could hear Tor speaking as if from far away and he felt himself relax to hear the other boy's unaffected voice.
“You think he's okay?” Female. Worried. Heidi.
“I dunno. It's been a couple of hours. He doesn't look injured. But who knows what really happened.” Kyle.
Blinking, vision blurred, Xander looked about. They were no longer in the Hyena Enclosure.
“Welcome back to the land of the living.” He squinted, making out Rhonda's smirking face, though he saw the concern in her eyes.
“You sure about that?” he groaned, trying to sit up, not at all surprised at the helping hands. “Where are we?”
“The caves we spent the weekend.” Tor crouched beside him, normal sneer nowhere in evidence. “The zoo mojo dude was doing funky stuff. Not just pulling out the spirits, but messing with our souls, too. Then, suddenly, he went flying though the air to crash, rather harshly, into the wall. He went up in flames. We got you out of there as quickly as we could.”
Xander rubbed the side of his head, partly saddened at the death, but only partly. The rest of him was proud in how his pack had reacted to the situation they'd found themselves in. “You guys alright?”
“Yeah,” Heidi touched his shoulder. “How about you?”
“Headache. But it's getting better.” Vision no longer blurry, he looked them in the eye. “You remember anything?”
Nods. “Yeah. Pretty much everything,” Kyle responded.
“It's kinda like I was watching everything from the other side of a window,” Rhonda murmured. “I could see it all, but it was far away and muffled.”
“Except the end,” Heidi piped in. “That was definitely three hundred and sixty degree Theatrical Surround Sound.”
“I never would have believed magic was real. But it is. Isn't it?” Tor stared soberly at Xander. “You weren't surprised when all this happened. I mean, yeah, I could tell you were freaked. We all were. But you did something about it.”
“And those vampires. That's what they were, weren't they? Freaky faces and long fangs? You knew how to take them down.” Rhonda worried her bottom lip with her teeth.
“How did you know?” both Tor and Heidi asked. “When did you find out?”
Xander closed his eyes a moment, then responded solemnly, “Jesse.”
8 8 8
“I don't know what the consequences of all this is going to be. You've already got the memories of eating Hubert, nearly eating Principal Flutie, hunting a deer, and destroying three vamps. Do any of you feel any different?” The five were slowly walking through the woods, back towards the school. It was nearing sunset and time to head home.
“More limber and graceful.”
“Not so angry or unsettled.”
“A definite hatred for vamps.”
“If you notice anything else, let the group know immediately. I don't know if any of the speed or strength stayed, or any other benefits we might have been given. Don't try to find out by stalking the night life just yet. Next weekend, we'll all get together and if you haven't suppressed this whole incident and still want to learn, I'll teach you what I know about vampire hunting. But we should let ourselves settle a bit before trying anything. Agreed?”
8 8 8
Xander sent everyone home and slowly made his own way back, as well. He hadn't been quite truthful with his Pack. Deep in his mind, curled in a furry ball close to where his spark of talent lay, rested Hyena.
~I stay to help.~
“What about your Pack? Don't they need you?”
~Shaman broke them. Bad spell. Fragments stayed in your friends. Enough to help, but not be separate. Rest not enough. Old bodies no longer connected. I stay with you. Stay with Pack.~
“Will you try to take over?”
~Only with permission. Like you. Warm,~ and she curled back up to sleep.
4/2/2010 – edited 6/25/2011