"And this is our containment facility for the creatures we've caught. As you can see, we house a large assortment of hostiles, all of which are housed in these cubicles. Food is provided through a hatch in the ceiling to ensure the lowest possible chance of escape."
Walsh was in her lecture-mode, which was usually Riley's cue to start poking himself to make sure he wouldn't fall asleep. Not this time, though. After all, the person nodding thoughtfully and looking around with interest was not some stodgy military official, but his girlfriend.
Riley shot a quick look at Forrest and Graham, who looked just as shell-shocked as him. Finding out that his blonde, petite girlfriend (who would probably weight 105 pounds only if he weighed her down with his thickest ski parka and boots) spent her nights kicking hostile ass had been something of a shock.
Shock wasn't the word. Complete and utter disbelief, followed by a period of hysterical babbling was a trifle closer to the actual reaction itself.
After he had finally stopped babbling long enough for Buffy to calm him down with careful application of a glass of water to his face, he had filled Buffy in on his own nightly activities. To his minor disgruntlement, she reacted far better than he had. Privately he had been hoping for some kind of loud outburst, maybe even a swoon of shock like the chicks on Batman, but he had to admit that her immediate acceptance and careful questioning was a little more practical than a swoon.
So here she was. Her black leggings, sleeveless shirt, and leather jacket ('patrol wear', she had told him when he mentioned the contrast to her typical attire) were definitely clothing for a fight, but a sharp contrast to the military gear and austere lab coats worn by Initiative operatives. After the news of Buffy's situation and ability hit, Riley found himself giving very warning glares to many of his fellow agents, who were regarding Buffy with extremely speculative looks that were bordering on leers. She seemed completely oblivious to all the looks (probably used to them, if she went around dressed like that on a regular basis), but Riley made a mental note to look for a good opportunity to ask her - *carefully* - if she would mind wearing a shirt with a higher neckline next time.
Looking over at her, Riley was pleased to see her cool expression of 'been there, done that, what a cute little operation you have here' finally melt into astonishment. Behind him and out of Walsh's vision, Forrest and Graham gave each other a quick high-five. At least he wasn't the only one annoyed at how unimpressed she'd been by the rest of the beasties they'd rounded up.
As she walked closer to the barrier of one of the enclosures, Riley looked at the hostile that had finally shocked her. He recognized it immediately, since he had been in the hunting team that had brought down a small nest of the things in one of the sewer junctures. Nasty biting things, and ugly as hell. Scaled skin with all the consistency of tough leather framed humanoid bodies that averaged 6 feet tall. Legs ended in webbed feet, and the equally webbed hands sported wickedly sharp claws. The face was that of a pissed-off halibut with more teeth, and thick gills fluttered at the neck. The eyes were the freakiest part, though. They resembled human eyes, but with a dead fishish air to them. While most of this breed seemed to have brown eyes, one in the nest had actually had a pair of surprisingly blue eyes. It had been pretty eerie when they were rounding it up, and it had taken Riley's moment of surprise to bite his arm. Cost him a week in quarantine until it healed.
"We call those Species 009," Walsh said, breezily introducing Buffy to the hostiles as though her former lecture had never been disrupted, "or, as the boys like to call them, the Creatures From The Black Lagoon. They were originally captured in a sewer juncture near the ocean, which is where we assume they came from."
Buffy glanced up from her steady observance of the hostile, and gave a wry grin before shaking her head, cutting off Walsh's lecture for the second time. To his surprise, the Evil Bitch Monster Of Death seemed to accept that. "The ocean, these guys?" Buffy said casually, "Nah, this guy came straight from the chlorinated waters of Sunnydale High."
Jaws dropped all around, but Riley found himself oddly proud to be able to be the first one to say, "WHAT?"
Buffy leaned against the wall, and offered them the full story, speaking in a lecturing tone that strongly resembled Walsh's. That fact disturbed Riley greatly, but he pushed the thought away for later panicking as he listened to her explanation. Walsh looked delighted, and Forrest and Graham were still gaping - though whether over Buffy's latest bombshell or how her top dipped slightly in her present position, revealing a few more inches of tanned skin, was a matter entirely open to discussion. Another thought to panic over later, though.
"Two years ago," Buffy began, "the Sunnydale boys' swim team had a sudden winning spree, for the first time in pretty much *forever*. All the boys, though, were exhibiting severe behavior changes. Inattention in class, picking fights, and overall being complete jerks. Then, the skin of one of swimmers, Dodd, was found on the beach. It looked like someone had just popped him open and eaten the creamy filling, like an Oreo cookie." At the sudden disgusted expressions around her, Buffy realized that her comparison was one that would undoubtedly cause a few people to never eat Oreos again. "Sorry." she said with a quick grin, before continuing. "The next night, the same thing happened to another swimmer, a guy named Cameron." Riley noticed the slight way Buffy wrinkled her nose when she mentioned that guy's name, and he made a mental note to ask her about it later. "A friend of mine heard Cameron screaming, and he ran in to see a steaming pile of skin, and one of those standing over it."
"So our Lagoonish goons ate those two boys?" Graham asked.
"No," Buffy said with a shake of her head. "But that's what my friends and I assumed. We pulled the team roster, and found out that Dodd and Cameron were the first and second best swimmers, respectively. So while the rest of the group kept researching for fish demons, I started following the third best swimmer - Gage - around. Eventually we put the clues together, and realized that these guys were winning from a little more than team spirit. My friend Xander joined the swim team undercover, and found out that there was a steroid mix in the shower steam. Then the big shocker came when I found out that the guys were *turning into* these monsters."
This time, it was Graham who got the jump. "Eh?" he asked with his usual felicity of expression.
"It was pretty nasty," Buffy admitted, "The funky fishie body formed right under the first layer of skin, and when the actual change came the guys would just rip right out."
"Oh, lovely." Riley muttered, echoed by Forrest's disgusted, "Delightful." A glare from Walsh silenced them, and Buffy continued.
"Anyway, I confronted the coach, knowing that he was the one giving the boys the steroids, and it turned out that not only had he been been giving them steroids, but he had also been using an old Soviet Cold War project involving shark DNA to turn the boys into flukies. By the time we stopped it, Gage and another guy named Sean had also turned into fish. Animal control was down in the sewers for days, but they eventually concluded that the team swam out to open water." Buffy paused, and again turned to where the fish-man stood passively in his cell. "We assumed that we'd never see them again."
"What happened to the other boys who were exposed to the steroid mix?" Walsh asked. Recognizing that tone, all three agents turned to regard their leader. The wheels clicking in her head were almost audible, and when Buffy looked over at the Professor, there was a similar speculative gleam in her eyes.
"I found some of the Coach's notes in his house. The guy hid them behind his tapes of past Olympic swim competitions. Not the most strategic place. But there was enough information for the lab to put together a plasma transfusion that not only stopped the change, but also managed to reverse it. There were a few problems with the boys who had had a greater exposure, but a slight increase in the dosage countered that quickly."
"Do you know which clinic was giving the boys these plasma infusions?"
"I can do even better than that," Buffy said with a grin, grabbing a pen and paper from a nearby desktop. As she spoke, she wrote two items down quickly, "This is the address of the clinic, and this is the name of the mixture the boys were given." Tearing the sheet off, she handed it to Walsh. "This is a Sunnydale clinic, so they should just hand over all the information without any questions."
Forrest was looking freaked. Clearly his chauvinism was receiving a few more jolts than he was comfortable with. Discovering that Buffy wasn't only more than a pretty face, but a pretty face that could kick his ass into next Tuesday was something he really should've been able to sit down for. Glancing over at the paper, he asked, "How did you remember the name of the mixture? It was over two years ago."
"We had a few tense days when we weren't sure if the transfusions would work," Buffy responded with a grimace, "Trust me, if they were injecting that stuff into one of your best friends, you'd remember it too."
"Thank you for your help, Miss Summers," Walsh said, switching back to Tour Guide mode, "We'll let you know if we have any progress with Species 009. And now, if you step this way, I can show you our quarantine chambers."
Ignoring Walsh, who was still cheerfully nattering on about quarantine chambers, Riley quickened his step until he was walking next to Buffy, and leaned down to whisper in her ear, "Care to fill me in on what Walsh is planning?"
"She's going to try to turn the fish-men back into swimmer-boys." Buffy whispered back.
"Thank you, Miss Summers." Riley said wryly, making yet another mental note to smack himself for not realizing that before.
"Anytime, Agent Finn."
Two weeks later, in one of the conference rooms, Riley gave Buffy a formal debriefing of the status of the Lagoon Creepies. Formal, of course, since he had been telling her about the changes in their appearance and demeanor unofficially for the past two weeks since Walsh had started administering the plasma transfusions to them.
For one week, it had seemed as though there was no change, except for a sudden rise in body temperature. Then, suddenly their scales started to fall off, revealing pale human skin. When human awareness returned to those dead fish eyes, Walsh had had them all sedated to spare them the trauma of being half-fish-half-human. The shock to their systems had still been too much for two of the boys to handle, and they had died, leaving the other two behind. Now, the Initiative infirmary had two new occupants. Unfortunately, now that the experiment was successful, no one had the faintest idea of what to do with a pair of high school juniors who had been fish for two years.
Which is where Buffy came in. Walsh had decided that since both apparently knew her, it would be less traumatic a wakening for them if she was there when they woke up.
Riley looked at the tiny Slayer, who was sitting casually on the long table. Whenever she came into the Initiative labs, he was always reminded anew that she really didn't belong here. Buffy took advice, not orders, and she was too used to her freedom to be at home in a place like this.
Walsh had offered Buffy a place in the Initiative - an opportunity to become a field agent - but Buffy had turned it down. They had eventually worked out a deal where Buffy was the Initiative's safety net, and vice versa. If either of them got into a sticky situation, they could call on the other for backup. Riley was in charge of the Initiative's nightly patrol duties, so he and Buffy would put it together in his dorm. They would split the campus between them, but constantly switching areas so that no one would be dulled by monotony. All in all, Riley was amazed at how well things were going. The Initiative was benefitting from Buffy's experience and the information she gave them about different monsters, and even his relationship with her was doing great. They had a much easier time finding time for dates, and they didn't have to worry about thinking up excuses anymore.
When the exercise in debriefing was done, Riley escorted Buffy to the infirmary, where the doctors were waiting to wake someone up. To both their delight, Doctor Jerry Pensa was supervising the proceedings. Pensa was the head of the infirmary, and he was one of those guys who broke the prescribed mold of a government doctor. Cheerful and joking, he was more like a favorite uncle to many of the agents (who he preferred to call 'his boys') than the guy who sewed them up when they got hurt. Unlike many of the other staff members, he had been thrilled with Buffy's arrival.
"Which sleeping beauty should we wake up first?" Pensa called cheerily to them as they walked in.
Buffy considered a moment, then pointed to the boy on the left. "Gage knew something was happening to the swim team members, so he might handle this a little better. Plus, I don't think that Cameron will be very happy to have me be the first thing he sees when he wakes up." Riley again wondered why Buffy disliked Cameron so much, but decided that another time might be more appropriate to ask than now.
"Right, then." Pensa said with a grin that reminded Riley of a kid on Christmas morning, "Buffy, you sit next to the bed and be ready to either comfort or restrain him, and Riley, you stand behind her and look important."
Riley gave a small sigh, but took his place. Pensa was completely accepting of Buffy's Slayer status and what it entailed, but there were times when he seemed entirely too tickled by the idea that she could beat any one of the agents without breaking a sweat.
"Agent Sirius, the needle, if you please!" Pensa said with all the flair of a stage magician asking for the magic rabbit hat. Agent Sirius (a pre-med) was used to these theatrics, and didn't even roll his eyes as he handed the needle to Pensa.
Making a quick injection in Gage's arm, Pensa stepped back. Everyone held their breath until the boy began blinking his eyes and twitching his arm. Satisfied, Pensa crossed over to wake up Cameron, while Buffy stepped closer to the side of the bed and gently grasped one thin hand.
"Gage?" she called softly, "Can you hear me?"
"Gnuggh?" the boy said in surprised recognition as his eyes popped open to stare at Buffy.
"Yep," she said with a soft smile.
"Buffy, what was . . ." Gage trailed off, his eyes widening, "I remember that *thing*, and then I was pulling at my skin, and then . . ." he paused, then said, "I turned into one of things, didn't I? That's what happened to Cameron and Dodd, right?"
"Yeah," she said, rubbing his hand gently. Suddenly, Gage seemed to lunge forward and grip her. Riley immediately stepped forward, ready to send the kid back into unconsciousness, but Buffy waved him off. Pausing, Riley realized that Gage was just hugging her. He stepped back as Buffy rocked the crying ex-swimmer, murmuring unintelligible nonsense in a comforting voice.
He knew that she was just being supportive to a guy who had spent the last two years as an overgrown trout, but Riley was still jealous as hell. He made a mental note to play up any future injuries he got on the job to see if he could get some comforting.
Gage slowly calmed down enough for Buffy to explain everything to him. Riley was surprised at how well he took the news, but when he asked, Gage just shrugged and said, "Hey, I went to Sunnydale High School," as though that explained it all. From the expression on Buffy's face, he guessed that it did. On the other bed, Cameron was awake, and from the sounds of it, not taking the news half as well as Gage.
"Miss Summers," Pensa called, "I'm afraid that young mister Cameron doesn't quite believe me. I think that if you explained-"
Buffy turned around - still holding Gage's hand, though, Riley noted - and the moment Cameron saw her, he started yelling.
"Anything that bitch told you is *completely* untrue! She is just-"
"Shut *up*, Cameron!" Gage bellowed, which thankfully silenced the other boy. Riley noticed the glare of death that Buffy was directing Cameron's way, and for the umpteenth time wondered just what problem they had with each other. However, Riley found himself wondering if there was any way he could 'accidentally' knock over Cameron's bed. After all, no one called his girlfriend a bitch.
"Man, it's true. We were fish." Gage said, and Cameron subsided with only a few grumbles. Turning his attention back to Buffy, he gulped and asked, "Did we . . . *do* anything while we were fish?"
Buffy looked at him for a long moment, considering her words. Finally, she said carefully, "Well, you ate the Coach and Nurse Greenly, and you bit me on the arm, but you were fish. You had nothing to do with that. After all," she shot a glance at Cameron that was pure venom, "it wasn't like you had any control over your actions."
Cameron caught the glance, and yelled, "You were leading me on!"
Eyebrows raised all over the room, and Riley had the distinct feeling that he was now going to find out just why Buffy disliked this boy so much.
She didn't disappoint. Hopping from her perch on the side of Gage's bed, she stalked over to Cameron, nearly hissing in rage. "*WHEN* did I lead you on? You offered to drive me to school, saying the whole time 'no pressure', 'I'm not trying anything', 'no pressure', so I accepted. Then when we get to school, you nearly jump me, and when I tried to get out of the car, you locked the doors, at which point I introduced your nose to the steering wheel. So at which point did I lead you on?"
At this point, Riley was entertaining a cheerful fantasy that involved dumping Cameron into the room where hostiles waiting to be implanted were put. He'd have to fill out a stack of paperwork as tall as he was, but it seemed worth it.
"You were practically begging for it, the way you were dressed." Cameron sneered.
Oh, yeah. It was worth the paperwork. Riley started towards the twerp, but Buffy beat him to it. One quick punch, and Cameron was shrieking and holding his hands over his nose.
"Whoops, dearie me," Buffy said, her voice sugar-sweet, "I think I broke it this time."
Cameron looked around the room for help, but the doctors and agents were regarding him with disgust, Riley was giving him a look of death, and Gage was looking oddly satisfied.
"You had it coming, Cam." the ex-swimmer told his teammate.
"That seems like enough excitement for today, young man." Pensa said, quickly jabbing a needle into Cameron's arm, not bothering to be gentle about it. A second later, the boy collapsed backwards - asleep again. Pensa clicked his tongue in disapproval. "Such a shame that the boy should slip and break his nose the first time he tried to walk," the doctor said sadly as he set the used needle on a tray, "and so long as a fish seems to have addled his wits a trifle. Quite a few delusions." Dropping a wink at Buffy and Riley, Pensa shooed them quickly out of the infirmary, giving them barely enough time to wave good-bye to Gage. Once out in the hall, the doctor reached into the pocket of his lab coat and pulled out two lollipops, and handed them both one. "For my good little patients," he said with a grin, before closing the door.
"Well," Riley said, as he and Buffy started to walk back to the entrance to Lowell House. "I hear that it's good to see old friends."
"Yeah," Buffy agreed with a grin. "Gives you a nice sense of closure."