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Title: Outpost
Author: Bigsciencybrain
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Series: Connected to a previous, Xander centric fic – All Who Wander, that I always intended to continue but haven't had the time.
Character(s): Buffy Summers
Prompt: #243 - Rhinoceros
Rating: PG
Word Count: 1183
Disclaimer: Not mine. Everything belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc.

Summary:

The heat and the silence had weight. Heat shimmered and pressed tight, pushing in from all directions. Buffy breathed in, shallow and slow, and winced at the hot, dry air she was pulling into her lungs. She scanned the horizon again, squinting and raising her hand over her eyes to shield them. It didn't help. She'd already found the only shade for miles and hunkered down beneath the small tree. Giles had told her what the tree was, and the dirty, gnarled scrub brushes that poked out of the dry grass, but she couldn't remember.

She tried to think of a snarky retort against the oppressive heat, but neither her lips nor her tongue did more than shift. The words didn't even begin to form, dying in her parched throat before they could turn into anything more than breath. That was the weight of silence.

The silence was sneaky. It crept in and wrapped tight bands around her chest, closed her jaw against the effort of a spoken word. She shifted on the rock she'd been using as a seat and winced again at the hot air. There was a gallon of water in the jug beside her, warm and brackish but parasite free. Some days, that's all she could hope for. She kept her eyes on the grassland as she hoisted the jug and tried to wash away the grip of silence from her throat. It soothed the dry touch from the heat but couldn't coax any words out from hiding.

This was the Africa that had swallowed up Xander so completely that not even Willow's magic could find him. This silence, this heat. Buffy wondered if Xander had found himself locked in this same silence; the effort of breathing in the hot air was almost more than she had energy for.

She'd come looking. Searching. Hunting. Armed with only a vague idea of where Xander had been before Willow lost him. That part was still a little fuzzy. Willow was convinced that Xander was still alive, but she couldn't find him.

The British Embassy in Chad had seen him. He'd stayed there for a few days with a young girl, one of the new Slayers, before disappearing. They'd found the girl's body buried in a shallow grave outside the city, but no Xander. There were rumors of a crazy, one eyed American driving a bush taxi through Niger and a village decimated by vampires who spoke his name with reverence.

Buffy had followed the trail that far and it ended in the charred ruin of the old Peugeot that Xander had been driving. In soot and ash and old blood, but no Xander.

With a heavy sigh, she set down the jug. It was the most sound she'd made in the hours she'd been sitting on her very uncomfortable rock. A shaman from a village she couldn't pronounce had told Giles that the Slayer needed to walk out into the grassland and listen to the desert. The desert held the answers and it would speak to her. It would tell her what had become of her friend.

Some shaman he turned out to be. She hadn't seen so much as a bird in the miles of desolation around her. Giles was going to get an earful when she got back to her two-star hotel and what passed for a hot shower. Africa had been Xander's territory, not hers, and she wasn't used to the climate or the bugs.

"Xander," she finally forced the syllables out of her throat. Her voice was a dry whisper, lost in the sound of rustling grass around her. "Where are you?" The words were swallowed up by the silence, like water sucked deep into the parched earth.

A high, tonal cry caught her attention. She looked up first, expecting a bird overhead, but saw nothing but deep blue. Then there was a lower sound, deeper and more like a growl. Like dry wood scraping and rolling over rocks. She rose to her feet cautiously, hands open at her sides as she looked around. It cried out again, high and clear. Her right hand reached for the satellite phone hooked to her belt.

When she turned far enough to see past the weary tree that had provided her shade, she saw it. Despite its size, it blended into the dry world surprisingly well; it was broad and gray and riddled with wrinkles in the tough, rough skin. Its great head tossed once, giant dark eyes watching her and the long, curved horn stabbing up at the sky.

She slowly raised the phone, pressing buttons without looking away from the rhinoceros standing in the tall grass a mere ten feet away from her. She was the Slayer, not a game keeper and she didn't exactly want to end up running for her life from an angry rhino.

"Buffy?" Giles' voice came through with a crackle of static.

"There's a rhino staring at me," she hissed.

"A what?"

"Rhino. Big, gray, has a horn on its head. Two actually, but one’s kinda small. They’re supposed to have two, right? Is this what the shaman sent me out here for? I didn't sign up for the Africa Safari package, Giles."

There was a long pause. "Are you quite sure it's a rhinoceros?"

She pulled the phone away from her ear long enough to give it a good glare. "I'm pretty sure I know what a rhinoceros is."

"There aren't any rhinoceros in Burkina Faso, Buffy," Giles said patiently.

"Then what--" she stopped when the rhino tossed its head once more and gave a long, loud snort.

The head swung to the side and it turned, ears twitching and rotating. It moved forward unexpectedly. Clumps of grass caught in its wide, square mouth as it lumbered past, one eye still fixed on her. It stopped once more, turning its head toward her as it chewed on a mouthful of grass.

"I think it wants me to follow it," she said, her voice barely a sound.

"Buffy, wait--"

She tucked the phone back into her belt and reached down for the gallon of water. Her steps forward were slow and measured. The shaman had sent her out into the middle of nowhere and she'd found something that shouldn't be there. Usually that meant she was supposed to follow it to a cave or something where there would be chanting and face paint and fancy carved sticks.

The rhino watched her silently, still chewing, as she approached. It didn't seem alarmed at her approach. She stopped what she thought was a safe distance away. No sense tempting fate on a continent that wasn't known for its mercy.

"Can you take me to Xander?" she asked the rhino, feeling more than a little stupid and dwarfed by the enormous size of the creature. Why couldn't she get a cute and cuddly animal guide?

The giant head lifted and fell in a slow nod before swinging away. Once again, it lumbered forward into the grass at a slow, easy pace.

She followed.
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