Idek guys. Hope you enjoy, this is me getting my Hyena!feels out of the way so I don't over-superpower Xander in my Truth In Madness fic.
Home to Africa.
Giles offers him a dozen other places to search out the baby slayers before he sighs, shakes his head, and says, "Well how about Africa?"
Goosebumps make him shiver, a half-remembered scene of yellows and red, an orange sun, of stripes and spots and humidity…
He goes to Africa, and what he sees both is and isn't what he expects, with people, and a smell…
He takes a deep breath, filling up his lungs to capacity with the heat of the air, a smile twitching at his lips despite intense jetlag, and when he finally exhales it's with the echoes of laughter rattling through him, knocking around in his head and shaking his ribcage.
He's surrounded by people, but feels the distance from his friends keenly—but then, he'd asked for this. So.
His guide for the first village remarks on his remarkable resilience to the heat, and he makes a half-assed joke about California summers.
He remembers names, and picks up enough of the language that when he's off to the great known-unknown, looking for baby slayers, he can find himself food, water, lodgings.
Between villages, when the sun is high and baking him beyond any sort of tolerance, he ignores the part of him that scoffs that this is not the place to be and climbs up a tree to rest in the high branches.
Some days, the trees he finds to rest under don't have strong enough branches, and he rests, watchful, in the shade underneath.
With the right body language, with the right attitude, he makes a Xander-shaped space within the wilderness.
Sometimes he rests surrounded by lions who give him half-glances, sometimes alone, sometimes, many times, he'll close his eyes for a moment only to open them to splotchy spots and laughter.
Sun-warmed fur isn't conductive to cooling down, but semi-familiar laughs and barks, and the acceptance of the Matriarch, all make him stop feeling—things—quite so keenly.
Hyena's have remarkably soft fur behind their ears, and pretty much turn into hundred-pound lumps of happiness when he scratched and rubbed their jaws. A part of him, some small bit that managed to survive through so many years of Sunnydale and general hellmouthy danger fairly screams at him to get his fingers away from strong jaws and that mouth full of teeth, but it's a small voice. Easily ignored.
Each pack has different personalities, but he can't quite allow himself to name the ones he's especially fond of, so each Matriarch he meets is Lady, and the males, however many there happen to be, are Buddy. Princess, occasionally, when one of the older females is particularly rough on the males…
He feels for them, he really does.
Hyena packs are few and far between, and he happens upon them as often as he happens upon Baby Slayers. Half as often as he encounters people willing to give him food for his experience in construction, a third as often as he finds himself helping a village with some sort of demon/other problem… or maybe a fourth.
He had a lot of time to think, but that didn't mean he was any better at math. Measurements? Sure. Percentages and that other stuff? No thank you.
But he starts to associate Hyena Packs with finding a Baby Slayer, and vice versa, and in between encounters he'll find himself building and renovating at least twice, and fighting some sort of Good Fight usually 3-5 times…
Some Baby Slayers only need an explanation as to what had happened, and a way to contact… well, he's supposed to be all Watcher-Slayer-Organization-Helpy, but most times he hands over Giles' number, and Buffy's for the crazy, by-the-way-apocalypse kind of disasters. Buffy was very good at the whole stopping of the world ending… things.
Others, though, travel with him for a while, until either he makes it to a village they're happy in, or else until he finds someone from the S-O to take them in. Sometimes he has up to four teenaged girls following him about, sometimes less, very rarely more, and with each group that he sends off he sends them off with a mini-hierarchy.
The girl who starts of as the first is usually the head of their mini-group, with the most experience as Xander does his best to teach some of the tricks he's learned over the years… but most times, even when they aren't the most experienced with fighting, it's the baby slayer who deals with Xander-oddities best who makes it into the Lady-like position of the group.
The one who can deal with lounging with lions in the shade, who trusts Xander when he says to stay from the edge of the water at seemingly random times, the one who accepts the quickest when Hyena's join their group.
Of course, there are a few who mistake accepting Hyena's with being arrogant little shits, and Xander has to bandage an arm or an ankle when one of the girls tries treating the wild animals like they're domesticated…
If the Mini-Slayers wanted to try petting and roughhousing like that, they'd best keep away from the Ladies of the Packs. They endured Xander for some reason or another—and he had a bad feeling about one possible reason—but to presume such familiarity with any Lady of the Pack…
The ones who got nipped—not bit, no, if they were bit they'd have something broken—usually scowled for a bit when Xander didn't chase away their travelling companions for the offence, and scolded them if they tried, but hey, this was the Hyena's turf.
If Xander, the whitest white meat probably in the whole freaking continent, knew more about Hyena's than they did, well they didn't exactly deserve to get bit, but they'd certainly learn quicker for it.
More than half the baby slayers he encounters are interested in training, and slaying, and in getting out into the great big world, and he helps them with that, but the girls who are happy where they are… well. Xander isn't going to take that away from them, so, you know, phone number and maybe an address if their village is far out enough. A little bit of training to make sure they could defend themselves well enough—when he has girls with him already, this goes easier—but he's not going to force anyone into fighting.
When he has service, he calls up Willow or Giles to keep them updated, let them know he was alive and kicking and not being eaten—you know, the usual—and, when Buffy is around, to complain that she needs to stop with the breaking of cellphones, or at least to hold onto the same number long enough that he could actually call her directly, and when she grumbles about baby slayers and vampires and demons and monsters and a dozen other culprits of tech-breaking, he laughs.
He's reminded of Buffy when this pack's Lady starts grumbling at Xander near the end of her territory, and he's tempted, really, really tempted, but staying with the Hyenas wouldn't be helpful to anyone, really.
But he's tempted.
Because the sun is hot, but familiar, and the whole world is done up in a thousand shades of yellow and red, from the sun in the sky to drying blood on packed earth, and it's beautiful in a way that screamed home, maybe.
Because there are stripes and spots and splotches and nobody cares about the difference, or even if you only had one eye so long as you're alive, and money is less of an issue when you have construction know-how, and company can be found in just about any patch of shade.
Because he's meeting with Hyenas with the same regularity, but fewer slayers, and what slayers he is encountering have heard of him from the scattered slayers who chose to stay, who have taken it upon themselves to help their somewhat spiritual siblings (ish) and give the same options Xander gave, and he was so, so proud.
Ridiculously proud, considering he hadn't actually done all that much for him to be proud of, and certainly not second-hand proud like this, but there it is. The feeling. Happening. Without his say-so, but it was happening.
And then one day he's on the phone with Giles and says, completely out of the blue,
"I'm going to need a ride back home."
And Giles is surprised, but not as surprised as Xander. He hadn't planned on saying that, but there it was. Said. Without his meaning to, it was said.
But Giles is agreeing, all English and pleased and his accent is truly ridiculous, after so long in Africa, and once Xander gives his coordinates he's given directions to the nearest airway…
And Xander doesn't say anything against it, agrees and gives a rough time estimate, doesn't say he's changed his mind and wants to stay, doesn't say that he likes Africa more, doesn't say Goodbye in the more final sense, and when he hangs up he's got such a lump in his throat he's amazed he even managed to speak at all.
He says his goodbyes to the villagers the next day, thinks how weird it'll be to speak mostly English when he's back home, and doesn't cry because it'd be a long walk and he needed the water.
He walks, watches out for snakes, scorpions, spiders like he always does, and works to engrain this—just, all of it—in his brain.
The brush of dry grass against his pants, of packed orange dirt, the mixed scents of dry earth and humidity, the faint sourness on the wind that meant there was probably a carcass somewhere getting bleached by the sun…
It's weird what he'll miss, probably.
He sips water and thinks back on all the people he's met since—since he'd arrived. How long had he been in Africa? A year? Two? Three? He frowned, and thought of the impossible number of people he'd met. Laughed with, helped, walked with… how many Slayers had he found? More than ended up with the S-O, definitely.
He stops when the town he's supposed to be at is a smudge on the horizon, finds a tree to rest under, and tries to get his heart to slow down, to stop pounding so hard against his ribs. If he started walking now, in less than two hours he'd be in the air, headed… home.
It was weird.
When the Hyenas found him the sun was casting long shadows, and he hadn't moved. He could have been home by now, he thinks. Maybe.
The Lady sniffed at him and licked his cheek, tongue rough and painful with the tiny barbs on it, like a lions, and he convinces himself the tears started from that. That he hadn't been sitting an crying for the past few hours, and his eyes were sore from not blinking.
He drinks more water and scratches the Lady's jaw, buries his fingers in the wiry scruff of one of the Buddy's, at least until one of the girls growls at him and he makes room for her. Xander laughs, because he can totally sympathize, Bud.
He doesn't think he sleeps, thinks it's more like he rests between long blinks, with steady breathing around him. When dawn is only just turning the sky a lighter purple, the pack leaves him, returning when the sky is a rosy-orange colour, licking their chops and laughing to one another.
By then he'd eaten the last of his jerky—he'd learned early not to pull it out when the Lady was around, as she'd take most of it as her due—and let the pack settle around him for a post-hunt snooze. He doesn't sleep, but stares at where the town would soon show up again as a smudge against the horizon, knowing he should prepare to leave, soon, or at least move since his ass was bruising against the roots of the tree…
The pack followed him when he finally started moving, pouncing on each other and tumbling about in the early light, making him laugh when he wasn't crying. His ass really hurt. Definitely bruised.
That would be fun after a couple hours of flying.
When the pack started to slow when they neared the town, Xander decided to throw caution to the wind and dropped next to the Lady, throwing his arms around her neck for a hug.
Miraculously, he doesn't get his face bitten off.
She smelled like musk and dust, her neck ridiculously thick, chorded muscle under a wiry coat. He got fur in his nose and mouth, and one of the others came up behind him and tugged on his backpack, but he just needed to stay, there, just for a moment.
If someone had told him before all this (never mind trying to tell his teenaged self) that he'd have a weird sort of sibling-y spiritual bromance thing happening with a bunch of Hyena's… well, he'd have laughed and avoided the topic of hyenas, because even after so many years he couldn't quite forget that time he'd been possessed by one. And when he'd been much younger, things were understood in groups… one vampire bad=all vampires bad, one bad experience with Hyenas=all experiences with Hyenas are bad.
The Lady made a grumbling noise, and started licking his ear, ouch that was definitely bleeding, and that was his signal to let go.
He felt his ear, and yeah, that was definitely bleeding, that would be so much fun to deal with, but as far as souvenirs…
He shrugged, and tied a bandana so it would cover the slobbery scrapes and keep mosquitos and flies off of it, feeling strangely better despite the wound.
He'd have to ask Willow about the emotional healing powers of Hyena spit…
Or, you know, not.
He doesn't keep himself from glancing back to where the Hyenas were standing, turning to walk backwards to keep them in sight for a bit until they turned and headed deeper into their territory, and he made to keep walking backwards until he remembered that there were things like poisonous spiders, poisonous snakes, and generally a lot of poisonous things around.
He thought it might be worse if he were in, say, Australia, but Africa had her own toxic animals.
In the town, when he's asked what happened to his ear, he smiles and says, "I got licked by a hyena," and shrugs when all that gets him is a laugh.
He's told that he has a half-hour to kill before the little plane would take off, so he shrugs and makes a quick walk up and down the storefronts.
One place has a lot of hunting paraphernalia, and it's only half-whim that has him buying an old pelt from the man behind the counter. It's only because he recognizes that it's an old pelt, skinned from a hyena a long, long while ago that he buys it.
It's expensive, but… he runs his fingers through the fur, strokes over the spots, and can't help but think she must have been a great Lady, before she died. Strong, beautiful.
Rolled and covered in a canvas, he clutches it to his chest the whole flight back, and doesn't let it go even when he meets up with Buffy and Willow on the air field, hugging them close and feeling that little bit of loneliness he's carried with him throughout Africa dissipate between one breath and another.
Everything here was more greens and blues and greys, and it's probably not great that he looks at Buffy and Willow and their hair reminds him of Hyena fur before and after a hunt, the earth before and after a kill, can't help looking at them and thinking they were his Ladies, and his ear throbs…
He lets them fuss, scrunch their noses at him because he's dusty and sweaty and smells, lets them grin at how tanned he was and laugh when he reveals the many layers of farmers tan he's managed to accumulate over the three years, and laughs when they tell him all the wild stories his baby slayers told when they reached the Organization. Smiled, fond, when they told him the baby slayers he'd sent had made their own mini-division within the organization, collected up the girls sent by 'his people' even if they hadn't traveled with him personally.
He promised himself he'd go and visit them, soon.
He breathed the air, and let his girls' talk wash over him, updating him on the social aspects he'd missed over the years. City air felt strange in his lungs, air conditioning strange on his skin, but between his girls he felt more settled. Focused.
He was home.
In the apartment that he'd soon move his old things into, once they were pulled from storage, he lay on top of the sheets with the pelt stretched beside him.
It wasn't warm, it wasn't moving with breath, but it was soft and familiar in the dark, flat room he'd be living in.
He breathed in the scent that still clung to it, African air trapped between hairs, animal musk of a long-dead animal soothing, and he thought he might try finding a house for himself.
Just a little one. With a yard; one that got lots of sun but with a tree for shade.
Open concept, with hard wood flooring and walls painted one of a thousand shades between yellow and red. Over the three years he'd sent some art, a few statues, some knick knacks home, and he'd decorate with those.
But he had plans to meet up with Buffy, Willow, and Dawn the next morning, so he let his mind drift to sleep, sad and happy and yearning for something else and satisfied that he was… home.
One way or another, he'd make sure when he died he'd be home, and if, some day, that meant another plane trip…
It'd be home.
Hope you enjoyed.