Title: Think and Grow Thin
A/N: Sequel to Flesh and Bone, a slightly more mundane take on the threat of Mortiflex. Season 6.
The zombies weren’t that noticeable at first. They weren’t the gross, dead kind. They weren’t trying to eat brains or infect anybody. Buffy only caught on when a significant portion of the lunch crowd at the Doublemeat Palace placed their orders while jogging in place or doing jumping jacks. The hundred yard stare was another hint, as was the emotionless monotone they used — even in response to the announcement that there was no more Diet Coke.
Wondering if it was just a Doublemeat problem — it wouldn’t be the first time — she looked out the window and noticed that the morning joggers she’d seen on her way to work were still jogging by. She did a quick recon of the neighborhood during her break. Mid-morning tai chi in the park was still going strong at 3 p.m.
Clearly, the weirdness was within the Slayer’s jurisdiction. Unfortunately she couldn’t do anything about it until her shift ended. Not that she had a single clue what she could do. Mindlessly exercising for hours on end might be disturbing but it wasn’t exactly a slayable offense.
She set off for the Magic Box after work, dodging the evening bicycle commuters that were still whizzing through town at 7 p.m. The riders’ blank expressions were made even more creeptastic by the sweat pouring down their faces.
When she got there, Dawn was doing her homework. Xander was stacking boxes by the basement door. Everything was perfectly normal.
“So, evil gym shorts,” announced Buffy. “What do we know?”
Xander paused in his labors. “Leave out the starch next time?”
“You didn’t notice? The speed walkers that just won’t quit? All the joggers?”
“Ah. Now that you mention it, there did seem to be an awful lot of bounc…I mean, jogging going on,” said Xander. “It didn’t seem evil, though. Distracting, maybe — but it’s just good, healthy exercise, right?”
Spike swung through the door behind the counter.
“Talking about the mojo’ed athletic kit? Bloody strange way to take over a Hellmouth, you ask me.”
“Really wasn’t,” said Buffy. “But now that you mention it, what’s the point?”
“Point of what?” asked Dawn.
“Spike found a stash of enchanted workout wear last night, and today people are doing a zombie jamboree version of their exercise routines. It’s definitely sinister. And no coincidence, I’m betting.”
“Poor buggers are starting to drop from exhaustion,” said Spike.
“They can’t stop?” asked Dawn. “Is it like the dance-’til-you-drop curse?”
“Oh god,” said Xander.
He hurried to the training room and flung open the door. Anya was grunting within, doing an endless set of lunges, her face blank and shiny. Dawn, Buffy, and Spike crowded into the room behind him.
“I thought her stretches were taking an awfully long time,” said Dawn.
Buffy sighed. “How long has she been at it?”
“Over an hour, I think.”
Xander gestured wildly. “Just look at her! It’s like the evil egg-baby possession, all over again. I hate the Hellmouth.”
Spike inhaled deeply.
“Yep,” he said, pointing at Anya’s backside. “There’s your evil.”
“What? She’s not…oh, right. Well, now what?” asked Xander.
“Could try peeling ’em off her,” said Spike with an evil gleam in his eye.
“You are not pantsing my girlfriend!”
“By all means, be my guest,” said Spike. The gleam was still there.
“Turn around,” Buffy ordered.
Spike turned his back, muttering. Buffy and Xander gingerly approached Anya. Buffy lifted the back of the girl’s shirt, exposing her waistband and the skin above. There was a spider-webbing of blackish green lines heading up her spine and spreading outward. It hadn’t got far. Xander shuddered and yanked the offending garment down to Anya’s ankles in one motion. She topped over onto the mat, breathing heavily.
Buffy grabbed the pants and Spike, who managed to get in a few good looks even as he was dragged from the room. She shoved the material into his arms.
“What more can you tell?” she demanded.
He looked closely at the garment, stretching it and feeling around the back of the band, finally taking sniff.
“A gentleman never tells,” he said with a smirk. She glared. “But yeah, there’s a talisman sewn into the lining, just here. Sit rights over the spine when anyone puts ’em on.”
“Eww,” said Buffy.
They trooped back into the training room. Anya huddled on the couch, wrapped in a blanket and Xander’s arms. Dawn plied her with water.
“Sorry, Anya, but we need to take a look at your back,” said Buffy.
“What? Him too?” objected Xander.
“Sorry,” repeated Buffy. “He’s got the best eyes.”
“Like I don’t know that,” he grumbled.
Anya turned awkwardly and lowered the blanket enough for them to see her lower back. The lines were already retreating, and there was a red spot a few inches above her coccyx.
“Doesn’t seem to actually break the skin,” observed Spike.
“Slightly less eww, but not by much. We’ve got to get rid of this stuff, right now.” She shuddered. “Unless somebody has a better idea, we’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way.”
“Got a feeling I’m gonna like this plan,” said Spike.
“Don’t get all excited.”
“Can I put my blanket back on?” asked Anya. “You should go slay the bad pants. I need to relax after my ordeal.”
Ninety minutes later, they stumbled into his crypt, arms laden with huge piles of Mortiflex ActifWear. Buffy was flushed and smiling widely. Spike looked like the proverbial cat. He dumped his pile in a far corner.
“Now that was fun.”
Buffy dumped her pile on top of his.
“I dunno. I felt kinda bad. They all had to walk home in their underwear…”
“Yeah, but they had their brains back. And their bodily integrity, if not their dignity. And it was bloody hilarious. Tag team pantsing. You’re a crime-fighting genius, Slayer.”
“I guess I do okay, sometimes. Tonight was pretty good. There’s just one more thing, though.”