“Well, you’re the closest thing we have to an expert. So-- and remember that someone will be here to hurt you if you screw this up -- how would you suggest we fix this?” Ethan opened his mouth, and Angel added, “And if the next words out of your mouth begin with any variant on the phrase, ’I have no idea,’ remember the amount of pain five angry Slayers and one angry vampire can inflict, and try again.”
Ethan closed his mouth. The Slayer went over, picked up Catatonic, and she and the other Buffys came over and surrounded Ethan. Scarface, Nasty Girl and Resistance Fighter looked threatening; the Slayer just had a stern look on her face, as though she’d caught Ethan with his hand in a cookie jar or something.
“I suppose,” the sorcerer said eventually, “That if we release the hopper, all of these -- manifestations -- should vanish.”
“You suppose?” Nasty Girl said. “Let me put it this way, Ethan. Your supposing had fucking better get me home. All of these people might have trouble killing you --”
“I wouldn’t,” Resistance Fighter said.
“Okay, that’s two of us who think the right way,” Nasty Girl said. “But if the supposing doesn’t get us back where we belong --”
“I know,” Ethan said tiredly. “I know. Tortures beyond imagining, pain above the level man can endure, et cetera. I do appreciate your flair for violence but wish you would occasionally show some imagination.” After a minute, he said, “I wanted the hopper in the first place because, when it shows up in a dimension, all sorts of chaos ensues -- chaos that is usually ended with its departure.”
“There are records of some permanent changes. Usually trivial ones, but occasionally people or building have been known to disappear or change significantly while everything around reverts to its original state. So usually is the best I can do.”
“Then it will have to do. Free it.”
“You want me to expose myself to the claws and teeth of something I had captured? Do I look suicidal?”
“Then you’re dead either way,” Resistance Fighter said.
“I suppose a ten percent chance of survival beats a zero percent chance,” Ethan said. “So, here we go --”
“No,” Catatonic said weakly. “Don’t send me back.”
The Slayer looked at him, “It does seem wrong to let her --” she pointed to Nasty Girl -- “run free,” while someone innocent like this has to go back and be tortured.”
“It does suck,” Valley Girl says. “Is there any way you could keep her here?”
Ethan shook his head. “No. That’s quite impossible. While it’s possible one of you might stay here due to the vagaries of chance, it’s not something I can manufacture.” He laughed. “I’m a servant of chaos. We rarely aim for specific results. Either you all go back, or none of you do.”
“Don’t do this to me,” Catatonic said piteously.
And it was tragic. It really was. She finally got confirmation that she’s right, she finally ended up in a world where vampires are real and she was the Slayer, and now she had to be sent back to a rubber room where she got fed through a tube.
Life sucked sometimes. Okay, it sucked most of the time. But occasionally it sucked worse than usual. Damn Ethan Rayne for doing this to her. He went over to Catatonic and said, “I understand. This is a big sacrifice for you.”
“Yes,” she cried.
“But a vampire slayer is supposed to be a hero,” Angel said.
“And sometimes heroes have to sacrifice themselves,” Catatonic said. “Yes. I did that when I jumped off that tower to save Dawn.” She looked up at Angel. “But that wasn’t real. None of it was real.”
“Yes, it was,” Angel said. “She did that, here. What you’re thinking, what you’re dreaming -- it is real. Buffy Summers is a hero.” He gestured at the other five Slayers. “Buffy Summers is a hero in more ways than one.” Then he looked at Nasty Girl. “Well, most of them are.”
Catatonic closed her eyes and said, “Then I can be one too. Unbind the creature, Ethan.”
“Are you sure?”
“You may only exist in my mind, but you’re just as big an ass as you ever were. Unbind the damn creature.”
“Very well,” Ethan said, and gingerly moved towards the bound hopper.
After five minutes, the creature was free. “I tranquilized it,” Ethan said. “But the tranquilizer should be wearing off rather soon. I suggest that none of us remain in the vicinity --”
Abruptly, the hopper roared and got to tits feet. Everyone backed up -- the two hunters scrambled to their feet, jumped into the truck, and took off, while Ethan simply ran. But the hopper didn’t make any threatening moves. Instead, it started fading in and out.
Angel looked around at all the Buffys and said, “Good luck.”
“Even to me?” Nasty Girl said sarcastically.
Angel sighed. “Even to you.”
And the creature vanished completely.
Leaving Angel alone --
“There you are,” came a voice from behind in. He turned around. She looked tired. “Do you know how long I’ve been looking for you?”
He looked at his watch. “About 47 minutes?”
Her eyebrows raised. “Nice guess.”
“It’s good to see you,” he said.
And, as they talked, all of the nonsense about Ethan Rayne and monster hunters and alternate Buffys vanished.
He had the real thing right in front of him.
X X X X X
The truck stopped in front of Ethan. “Get in,” Kurowski said.
“I really don’t need a ride,” he said.
Cain pulled a gun. “We weren’t offerin’ one. Way I see it, you still owe us two and a half mill.”
“I beg your pardon if I’m overlooking something, but I don’t see my monster anywhere.”
“We caught it and we had it ready for transport,” Cain said. “You had to come and put the critter to sleep, so we agreed to halve the fee. Ain’t our fault everything went bad.”
“Gentlemen, we can surely come to some kind of arrangement --”
“And we’ll discuss it after you get in the truck. Now get in.”
X X X X X
So. Back in Cleveland. Only now she was being told she had to go to Sunnydale, that there was some Watcher there whining about how the situation there was bad enough that they needed a Slayer.
Another day, another job.
X X X X X
Well, the vamp she’d chased for like forever all the way from LA had long since disappeared when she got back -- smart of him, actually.
So now she had to go back to LA and keep doing the vampire slayer thing as long as she could.
Someone had to. She just wished she had someone to share it with.
X X X X X
Willow was there, scowling, when she popped back in. “What the fuck happened?” the witch said.
“Long story. Alternate universes, alternate Angeluses. Alternate mes. Annoying as hell, and did you realize I’m actually one of the good guys in most universes?”
Willow shuddered. “That doesn’t sound like fun.”
“Believe you me, it isn‘t. So. Any progress on those three geeks who think they’re heroes and have been jerking me around?”
“Not yet. But we’ll get ‘em, Buffy.”
“Damn right we will. In the meantime, tell Giles and Tara and all of them not to wait up. I’m in the mood to kill something. I’ll be back later.”
X X X X X
And there he was. “Where have you been?” he hissed. “I’ve had to dodge Nazi patrols at least twice.”
“Spell,” she said. “Random one, not an attack. So. You said you had information?”
“Yeah. It’s about the Reichsmagier. You’re not going to like it.”
“I never do,” Buffy sighed. “But tell me anyway so I can get to work on it.”
X X X X X
The Slayer came back.
“There you are,” the Lamb said. “What happened? Was it an attack by O’ Bedlam, or the Night Mayor?”
“I’ll bet it was the work of the notorious Dr. Janus!” Ripper said.
“You always say it’s the work of the notorious Dr, Janus,” the Capitalist said.
The Slayer laughed. “Well, this time it was. Kind of . . .”
X X X X X
“She stirred for a minute, Mrs. Summers, but now she’s back into her catatonia. I’m so sorry.”
“Did -- did she say anything when she woke up?”
“Three words only. ‘I’m a hero.’”
X X X X X
Endnote: In case anyone couldn’t tell: Valley Girl is the Buffy from the movie. Scarface is from “The Wish.” Catatonic is from “Normal Again.” I created Nasty Girl for my fic SlayereyalS, where she usually goes by the nickname “S.” I created The Slayer for my unpublished fic “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” And Resistance Fighter is new for this fic.