Title: Five Scars Xander Got Paid For
Fandom: Pairing: Buffy: Spike/Xander
Concrit: darkhavens @ slashverse.com. If you spot a typo, please feel free to tell me in comments. I want you to! (Unbeta'd because OMG!So!Late!)
Disclaimer: Not mine, never will be. No harm, no foul, no money made.
Summary: Xander had always been prone to possession. There was something about him that attracted demons and trouble like ants to sugar, and something in his physical or psychological makeup that left him much more open to picking up hitchhikers of the non-corporeal persuasion.
Notes: Written for fall_for_sx, for mini_wrimo and for the 4th anniversary of bloodclaim.
This can be read as a standalone but is also set in the Protected!verse, where Spike and Xander are in an established relationship and have decided that they want to be together for as long as possible, but without turning Xander. Xander bears scars and tattoos and other markings of spells and protections gifted to him by various demons. Each fic tells the story of one or more of these markings.
Xander has five parallel, not quite identical, scars on his left shoulder. Pink, slightly raised stripes that curl down to brush the top of his collar bone.
Unlike the majority of the marks - tattoos and scars and strange shifting whorls of color - that decorate his skin, these are in no way magical or protective. Instead, they're marks of trust, of worth, made by members of three different tribes of Ktha demon, signifying that Xander is a highly respected Ktha'Zaj, one who has successfully delivered a revered Ktha from death to rebirth.
The Ktha believe in reincarnation, and rightly so, at least for them. Some of their elders have been walking the various planes of existence since the continents of earth were one huge landmass. Just not in the same bodies they're wearing now.
Transfer is by touch - the incoming spirit taking control and subsuming the younger one, merging to form a new, different Ktha personality, incorporating the knowledge and loyalties of both. It is often used as a way to merge clans and form alliances and for this reason sick and elderly Ktha are cared for and watched over diligently so that no enterprising enemy can swoop in and merge their clans unwillingly.
Only rarely is an intermediary used, and even then it must be an older, stronger Ktha, one who can contain the entering spirit and keep control of its own body and mind. Such Ktha are revered and prized, and also extremely well paid for their trouble.
Still, sometimes things don't go to plan and a Ktha dies unexpectedly. When that happens, all bets are off.
Xander had always been prone to possession. There was something about him that attracted demons and trouble like ants to sugar, and something in his physical or psychological makeup that left him much more open to picking up hitchhikers of the non-corporeal persuasion.
The hyena had taken over his will completely and a fragment still lingered, a sentient echo, faint and feral, after she'd been 'removed'. The soldier had been… him, somehow. Not a true possession by an existing spirit but instead a different Xander, military and uptight and extremely knowledgeable about things that go bang. Once the spell had been broken, Xander had been himself again, but with a lot of confusing memories - weeks of boot camp, years of combat and special training, the power to make a lot of things go bang in various interesting ways.
These shadow identities continued to exist alongside Xander himself, floating to the surface at not-quite-random moments, sometimes just in time to provide a scrap of knowledge, a burst of instinct, a jolt of something extra - a helping hand over life's latest hurdle.
He learned to compartmentalise his various ids and egos and superegos without even realising it - a very useful trick indeed.
The first time he ended up with a Ktha hitchhiker it was completely by accident. He'd gone to help Buffy clear out a vampire nest in an empty house on the edge of town.
Once the main rooms had been emptied of vampires, he and Buffy split up to check for stragglers. He found the Ktha staked out - literally - in the center of a stained, mildew-ridden mattress in the attic. It looked like it had been there for weeks - naked, covered in sores and bite marks, wooden shafts piercing each ankle and wrist, its strange inhuman skeleton pushing its way though yellowing, tissue paper skin with each aborted struggle.
Spike told him later that the Ktha are vicious buggers when cornered, and easily twice as strong as a human male before they're one year old, but right then Xander neither knew nor cared. All he could see was that the creature was in pain, obviously near death, and yet was still trying to get free. He had to help.
The stakes had been driven through skin and muscle, jammed between tendons, through the mattress and into the hardwood floorboards beneath. Xander couldn't move them without resorting to kicking them loose and just the thought of the pain that would cause left him nauseous. Instead, he called Buffy and then knelt down and started talking in soft, reassuring tones.
"Easy now. Don't keep pulling like that, you'll hurt yourself. Please, don't. Buffy's coming, she'll pull these things out in a flash and then we'll see about finding someone to fix you up as good as new."
When the words didn't stop the demon's movements, Xander laid a hand on its nearest shoulder and stroked his thumb back and forth over the bones there. The touch worked like magic, ending the weak thrashing and even weaker keening that Xander hadn't really noticed until it was gone and the room was suddenly silent. Unnervingly silent.
"Buff? You heading up here any time soon? We could really do with your help in here."
There was the sound of a scuffle on the stairs and then Buffy appeared, brushing dust off her hands as she shouldered the door open.
"Found one in the master bedroom, hiding behind the curtains. He… Ew! Xander! Get away from that! Why did you bring me up here to look at a skinny dead demon? And why are you touching it? How have you not learned not to touch the oogy things?"
The demon twitched at the sound of her voice, sending Buffy scuttling back towards the door in an embarrassing, 'tell anyone about this and you die', fashion.
"It's alive!" She took a step closer. "How is it alive? Is it… Are those stakes? That's just…" Her momentary freaked-outedness forgotten, she crouched down and palmed one of the stakes, giving it an experimental tug.
"Wow. They really didn't want it getting loose." Balanced on one knee, the other foot braced on the floor, she grabbed the stave of wood in both hands and pulled hard. It resisted for a moment and then slid free, leaving a gaping wound that began to leak greenish yellow 'blood' in a worryingly sluggish manner.
The demon let out a high screel, and whipped the now free arm up to grasp Xander's shoulder and stroke the muscle there with its thumb in the same way Xander had attempted to soothe it only minutes ago.
Xander caught his instinctive flinch before it was fully formed, and held himself very, very still as the demon ran its long index claw once, twice, three times over his skin. He didn't blink when it locked gazes with him and began to whisper, a strange liquid burble that seemed to echo inside Xander's head.
He didn't move at all until the demon used that same index claw to slice open a three inch long gash in his shoulder as it let out a last wet bubble of sound that hit Xander square in the face and seemed to pass into him - through his ears, between his parted lips, pouring up his nose in a suffocating rush before everything went red and then monochrome before popping back into full-blown technicolor.
When he blinked himself back to the world, he was sitting on the floor, his back to the wall, eight feet from the mattress cradling the now apparently really dead demon. Buffy was squatted before him, peering warily through his fringe.
He blinked some more, and thought about it for a while.
"Um… I think so?" He held his hands up and studied them. "Yup, pretty sure. Mostly." He scratched his ear. "Except for the bit that's apparently not any more."
Buffy's hand came up, still holding the gore-coated stake, and Xander cringed backwards.
"Whoa, Buffy! Chill! I'm still me, I just… I've got someone else in here with me, telling me I need to contact this demon guy who'll know what to do to get everything straightened out."
Buffy walked him out to his truck at stakepoint and then made him drive straight to Giles, refusing to let him follow the directions provided by his extra passenger. She did, however, allow him to call Spike away from his high stakes - 'It's a bunch of wet behind the ears fledges, luv, you don't need my help. I can get the DeSoto fixed once I win this pot!' - poker game.
Spike was not a happy vampire when he finally rolled into Giles's.
"What the bloody hell have you gone and done now, you daft git? Do you have any idea of the size of the pot I've just walked away from? We could have been living the life of Riley if you hadn't gone and got yourself…" He stomped to a halt a foot from Xander and sniffed the air.
"Aw, hell. Not a Ktha! Dammit!" Spike dropped to his knees, took hold of Xander's upper arms, and began shaking him until his teeth rattled. "Xander? Xander, luv, are you in there? Can you hear me at all? Xander?!"
"What? Of course I can. Spike, stop… Stop it! You're ruining years of sub-par dental work! What is the matter with you?!"
After a full hour of explanations, examinations, reassurances and promises, Spike was still only half-convinced that Xander was truly Xander, despite the background presence of a Ktha.
"Trust you to be different." Spike shook his head and repeated, not for the first or even the fifth time, "This shouldn't be possible. When Ktha take possession of non-Ktha, they take possession - bits of the original personality might be left intact but usually the whole thing is quashed, completely wiped away. This just doesn't happen."
"Yeah, Spike, I get that. In fact," - Xander pointed to his head - "he says exactly the same thing, kinda. He's even more confused than you are. Look, can we go find this demon who knows how to get him out of there? He's starting to get upset about not being control. Oh, and about not being the only one in there. He's starting to get pretty loud."
Buffy and Giles both insisted on piling into the truck with Spike and Xander, bickering and asking unanswerable questions all the way.
The directions led them to a sewer entrance not far from the vampires' nest. Armed with flashlights and stakes and a crowbar from Xander's toolbox, they followed the surprisingly dry and clean-smelling tunnels down and round and up and in and round and down again, finally coming to a huge, man- (or demon-)made cavernous room lit by balls of glowing lichen.
Their approach had obviously been noted because every demon in the room was armed and ready when they appeared. Only a strident burble of sound coming from the demon at the front of the pack seemed to hold the rest of them back from attacking.
The Ktha in Xander's head translated the liquid sounds into a demand for explanations and introductions and Xander tentatively eased back on his control, allowing his hitchhiker to borrow his mouth and voice box without losing control of the rest of his body.
He listened carefully as his mouth and lips formed burbles and bubbles of alien noise, hearing the translation without it passing through his ears.
"Father, this human is Ktha'Zaj. I do not understand how this is possible. Lore states that humans are weaker, vessels to be used only in emergencies, to be discarded without thought. This one is not alone. I am not alone. There are others here, a beast and a human-not-human. I am not alone, and yet I am alone. I have made no union here, I have not gained control. I do not understand, Father. Is it that I am weak? Unworthy?"
Xander was vaguely aware of being amazed by the amount of information that was encoded in the single bubble of sound he'd just spat out, and then got distracted by the translation of the burble that was uttered in response.
"The human wears magic. He breathes it; I smell it seeping from his pores. He has strength and has shown honor, bringing you here with only two other humans and a vampire for protection. He is indeed Ktha'Zaj and shall be honored as such. Come closer, my son and meet your new vessel - Kli-Shah will carry you forward into your next age."
Responding to the extended clawed hand of 'Father', Xander stepped closer, shrugging off Buffy's restraining hands with a smile.
"It's okay, Buff, honestly. There's someone ready to take over, I just have to get close enough to touch."
Spike hovered at his shoulder through the whole transfer ceremony, which consisted of mutual thumb strokes on matching shoulders followed by mutual shoulder woundage - Xander had to borrow Spike's cleanest knife - and a burble of solid sound rising up through Xander's chest and out of his mouth into the demon introduced to him as Kli-Shah.
It was all rather anti-climactic, over in under a minute - no muss, no fuss, no problems.
Xander was all ready to wave goodbye when 'Father' burbled at him once more and Xander realised he could understand what was being said.
"Wait. What? You want to - pay me? I… Um…"
Spike slung a heavy arm around his shoulder and whispered loudly into his ear. "Don't insult him, pet, let him pay you. Ktha see payment for services rendered as a matter of honor."
Which was how Xander ended up holding a chamois pouch of mixed gems worth fifty grand. And how he agreed to do the Ktha'Zaj thing again if the tribe should ever need his help.
The fifth time had been the charm, netting them a cool half a million for the safe delivery of the oldest Ktha in America to his new teenaged vessel.
Nice job if you can get it.
mini_nanowrimo running total: 14987 words, in 30 days