Author's Note: My sequel to Dancing with Myself. If you didn't read that earlier story, you may have trouble with the backstory of the AU involved here. The time-frame is between the Buffy episode Who are You? and the Angel ep Five by Five. I'm going under the assumption that when Faith left Sunnydale she didn't show up in LA two hours later, but that it took her a few days.
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon created Buffy and its characters. I claim the Silver, the Alloy, the AUs present in this story, and the storyline. The lyrics to all songs quoted are by Bruce Springsteen.
X X X X X
Buffy entered the library. The place was a mess, an absolute mess. The place looked like it had lost an argument with a flamethrower.
Nice to see that some things, somewhere, had gone right.
It didn’t look like there was anything left. When it had been cleared out they’d done a pretty good job.
Okay, so that meant she had to go elsewhere.
Something drew her to the big hole in the floor. This close to the Hellmouth Buffy could feel it almost like it was touching her. She laughed, grateful that the Hellmouth’s power didn’t draw people – and other things – into it helplessly, to the gods only knew what was on the other side.
Otherwise she and a whole lot of the other denizens of Sunnydale would be toast.
Anyway. Enough of that, it was time to get going and check out the town. As Buffy made her way towards the front of the burned-out wreck of a school she ran across three military men.
The one in front said, scornfully, “Oh. It’s you. Look, we cover in here, okay? And we don’t need the likes of you getting in our way. So why don’t you leave now?”
One of the two behind him said, “Oh, knock it off, Forrest. We know you don’t like Buffy. I don’t much like her either, no offense, but we’re all on the same side here.”
“Thanks,” Buffy said, surprised.
“Whatever. Just stay clear of me, okay?”
Buffy stepped to one side and let Forrest pass, giving him an exaggerated bow. She could practically feel the sneer beneath his mask.
As the final one passed, she said, “Thanks for the back-up.” The soldier nodded. “So what I’m going to do to thank you,” Buffy said, “is . . . kill you first.”
Then Buffy the Vampire Queen put on her game face.
X X X X X
Cordelia the Slayer entered the library. As usual, Giles had his nose buried in a musty old tome. But always for good reason.
“Well?” she asked. “What’s the good word?”
“The good word,” Giles answered tiredly, “is yes. We’ve studied the spell and we think we can use it to send you where you need to go.” Across the table, Ms. Calendar nodded. Amy Madison just sat there with a neutral expression.
“Okay,” Cordelia said, “What’re you leaving out?”
Jenny grinned widely. “Not bad news – good news, actually. You’ve been there before.”
Amy looked at Jenny quizzically. “Really?”
Cordelia suddenly knew what they were talking about. “The world where Buffy’s the Slayer. Right?”
Amy laughed sharply. “One of these days you guys have to tell me your backstory. A universe where Queen Buffy is the vampire slayer?”
Nodding, Cordelia said, “Yup. Giles and Ms. Calendar met her longer than I did though; I got the bus transfer from hell into her world at the same time she came here.”
“Right, then,” Giles said. “We have time for the history lesson later, after you bring our Buffy back here. Or kill her, I don’t care which.”
“Where’s Willow?” Ms. Calendar asked.
“Where do you think?”
“Ah yes,” Giles said, “In the middle of a tete-a-tete with the love of her life?”
“Not any more,” Willow said from the doorway. Her auburn hair had grown a bit from her crewcut days; now it was merely short. She was heavily armed enough to tackle a platoon of vampires.
“You made it just in time, Will,” Cordelia said. “We were about to leave without you.”
Willow laughed. And her laughter contained genuine amusement, which Cordelia was very happy to hear. Not much had made Willow happy over the last two and half years since Xander and Angel had died. “Right,” she said. “Leave without your good right arm? I’ll believe that the day you start shopping at K-Mart.”
“Speaking of K-Mart shoppers,” Cordelia said, “Where is that significant other of yours?”
Willow stuck out her tongue.
And then the love in question walked into the room, as heavily armed as Willow, saying “So you call us and tell us to hotfoot it over her and we show and you’re all just standin' around? Willsy and I coulda had another five minutes easy.”
And Amy snapped, “Oh, calm down, Faith, we’re almost ready."
X X X X X
The commandoes reacted in startled shock to Buffy’s vampire-face and sudden attack. Buffy had the first one’s throat ripped out before he could blink, then grabbed the second one and threw him into the burnt-out lockers headfirst.
He went down, twitched once, and lay still, his neck lying at an odd angle.
Forrest immediately went for his gun – a rifle-looking thingie – and fired something attached to a wire. No matter, Buffy was already diving out of the way. The wire hit the wall and immediately electricity shot through it.
Scorched hell out of the wall, not like she could tell the difference or really cared that much. She reached out for Forrest and was mildly surprised to find him dodging her blow. “Oh, good,” she said, “And here I thought you army boys were going to be a disappointment.” She looked pointedly at the floor. “Well, two of you were, anyway.”
Forrest refused to be baited. Good, solid stolid military man. She hated the type. As he reached for something on his belt – stake, gun, walkie-talkie, Buffy really wasn't interested in finding out which – she lunged forward and caught him with a right to the jaw. A bit too traditional combat for her taste, but Buffy was an adaptable vampire.
Her opponent staggered back wildly but didn’t go down. At least not until Buffy jumped on him and ripped off his headgear. “Well, whaddaya know,” Buffy told him with an evil grin on her face. “Looks like you were right not to trust me.” She leaned down to bite him.
And then was abruptly picked up and thrown backwards. She landed on her feet and faced this new foe --
And burst out laughing. It was her counterpart! “Well, well, well,” she said, “Nice to see you again. Love what you’ve done with the place.”
“What are you doing here?” Buffy-the-Slayer asked.
“The macarena. What is this, ask the vampire a stupid question day?”
“No, it’s kill-my-identical-twin day. And lucky me, here you are.” The Slayer moved forward, stake in hand. Behind her, Forrest was standing up, looking mightily pissed off.
“No thanks. I have plans right now and they don’t involve getting staked, beheaded, or electrocuted. Gotta dash! Toodles!” Then she turned and ran.
X X X X X
Buffy – the Slayer this time – lay off swearing and turned around and looked at Forrest. “You okay?” she asked.
“Yeah, thanks for saving me,” he said grumpily. Forrest didn’t like Buffy, Buffy knew it, but this was so far from being the right time to hash that out it wasn’t funny. “What the hell was that?”
“Unless I’ve got it wrong,” Buffy said, “That’s me from another universe where I went vampire very early. Dangerous as all hell.”
“Any ways to tell the two of you apart?” Forrest was trying to sound all business and failing.
“Well, if it’s daylight and I’m outside, it’s probably me.”
Forrest laughed humorlessly. “Well, if you can’t come up with anything useful--"
“Well, you Initiative boys don’t do holy water, so I honestly don’t know. I don’t think either of us is gonna stand still long enough for you to try sticking us with a stake.”
“Might be worth a shot anyway.” And the sad thing is, he wasn’t kidding.
“If I told you she was out of your league you wouldn’t pay attention –“
“Got that right,” he interrupted.
“So I’ll just say watch out. I don’t like seeing this –“ she pointed to the dead soldiers –“any more than you do.”
“Doubt that.” Reaching for his belt, he pulled out a radio. “You mind? I need to call this in.”
“I know when I’m not wanted,” Buffy said, walking away.
“Doubt that too,” Forrest shot after her. Buffy ignored the gibe and kept going. This info had to be taken to Giles, and quickly.
X X X X X
“You finally ready with that thing?” Faith asked.
“We’re ready,” Giles sighed. “I wish you weren’t so impatient.”
“You know me, if it ain't action I’m bored out of my mind.”
Amy said sharply, “So that’s how it happened.”
Cordelia frowned. Amy and Faith didn't get along at all; Amy was regimented and very highly disciplined – her witchy nature demanded it, to her way of thinking. To call Faith a loose cannon was to badly underdescribe the situation. The two of them got along as well as mongooses and cobras.
Faith's first Watcher had been an incompetent buffoon who’d gotten herself killed within three months of becoming Faith’s guardian in a struggle with an ancient vampire; since then Faith had had little to do with authority, though she seemed to listen to Giles well enough.
Cutting off a retort from Willow – who was as fiercely protective of Faith as she was of all of her friends – Cordelia said, “Okay, people, pull together here! If it helps you, think of this as a surgical mall strike. We get in, we get out, and we don’t pay too much!”
Faith raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Willow stuck out her tongue at Amy, who frostily ignored it and picked up the spellbook containing their return spell. All four women gathered and held hands as Ms. Calendar chanted the spell.
Then the thunder took them.
They found themselves in a burned-out version of their own library –
With about five people in military garb pointing guns at them.
X X X X X
Buffy the Slayer knocked on Giles’ door, said, “It’s me." waited for his muffled “come in,” and went inside.
He hastily flipped off the television andlooked at her. “What is it?” he asked.
“First off,” she said, “Next time don’t invite me in.”
A bit befuddled, Giles said, “And why would that be?”
“Remember two years ago, when I went to that alternate universe and met the vampire who looked like me?”
“Yes –“ Then Giles caught on. “She’s here?”
Buffy nodded irritably. “Ran into her earlier tonight. She recognized me, which is how I know it’s her and not some other random Buffy-vampire making like Quinn Mallory.”
Ignoring the reference, Giles said. “Thanks for the warning, then. I imagine you’ll be telling Willow and Xander next?”
“Xander’s dead in that universe. Willow isn’t.” Buffy pursed her lips and blew out. “Of course, I have no idea what the hell she’s doing here either. We didn’t have the time to play twenty questions.”
“I hadn’t expected her to volunteer her nefarious plan.”
Buffy shot him a look. Then she said, “Worse news. The Initiative knows about it. I didn’t have a choice – when I ran into her she was doing a slice-and-dice on three soldiers. And unfortunately, Forrest was the one who survived.” She frowned and said, "You know what I mean."
“Ah yes. The one who believes you’re the antichrist.”
Snorting, Buffy said, “Think his opinion’s that high? Problem is, I don’t even know if I can trust him not to tell the other soldiers not to just shoot me on sight. He seems to be a big proponent of the electrocute ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out school of monster-hunting.”
“But surely Riley –“
“Riley just went back to Iowa for the weekend. You know, just once I’d like a villain to come to town and not screw up the rest of my life.”
“At any rate,” Giles said, “Best we call around and inform everyone of your counterpart’s presence.” He reached for his phone and was startled when it rang right before he picked it up. “Hello?” he said bemusedly. “Wesley?”
Right then there was a knock on the door. Giles being otherwise occupied, Buffy opened it and found Tara standing there – a very anxious-looking Tara. “Willow disappeared, right in, in front of me. I can’t even track where she’s gone.”
“Breathe,” Buffy said. “You’re not going to do Willow any good if you collapse.” Tara closed her eyes, took a couple of deep breaths, and then stared straight into Buffy’s eyes.
“Willow and I were, were doing a simple nature spell when she suddenly vanished. Had nothing to do with the spell we were doing, I’m sure of it. I, I looked around for her – magically and physically – and I couldn’t find any trace of her anywhere. So maybe I thought you all could help me find her –“
“Of course,” Buffy said distractedly. The Queen coming to town had to be connected to this. Damn. “Of course,” she said more firmly. “Anything else?”
“Yes – Amy the rat vanished too. She always chitters happily whenever we, we do a spell near her. It’s just, I was so upset when Willow vanished it, it took me a while to realize she was gone.”
Now Buffy was confused AND upset. Giles didn’t make things any better when he hung up the phone and said, “That was Wesley . . . he’s been working with Angel recently, apparently. In any event, he and Cordelia were researching a bit of information when she–“
“Disappeared,” Buffy and Tara said in unison.
“Yes,” Giles said. “How did you know?” Tara explained what had happened. When she was done Giles immediately picked up the handset and dialed. “Is Xander there? Good, can I talk with him? Xander! Good. Is Anya there? Good. Willow, Cordelia and Amy have disappeared. Come over –“ Then, blinking, Giles said, “He hung up on me.”
Of course, he showed up five minutes later.
X X X X X
Rupert Giles and Jenny Calendar finished chanting the spell that sent Cordelia, Amy, Faith and Willow to the alternate universe.
Then they sat down to catch their breaths.
“I,” Giles said, “am getting far too old for this.”
Giving an evil grin, Jenny looked at him. “Rupert, that’s NOT why you’retired.” Then she went over to sit in his lap. “But you know, you’re right. I can see how the stress of all of the sex we have and your Watcher responsibilities conflict.”
“Good,” Giles began.
“So you’re just going to have to give up being a Watcher.” Then, to quell his protests, she kissed him.
It probably would have gone on a while longer but for the screaming. Giles and Jenny pulled out of their embrace to see . . .
Willow – but not their Willow, her hair was longer and she didn’t look as muscular – was sitting on the floor in bewilderment. Right next to her was Cordelia – and Giles would have bet demons to diamonds it wasn’t the Slayer, from the way she was acting. A rat lay between them on the floor; it immediately jumped into the alternate Willow’s lap.
They both stood up. Then they looked at Giles and Jenny. Cordelia started talking first. “Okay, hold it,” she said. “What are you –“ she pointed at Jenny as she spoke, as Giles had guessed she would – “doing alive?”
“This isn’t your universe –“ Giles began.
“No kiddin',” came Faith’s voice from in the stacks. “You got yourself a hot babe and this place is still intact.” Willow and Cordelia leapt backwards. “Oh, relax,” she said. “I’ve been through too much recently to start yankin' chains.”
“You’ll forgive me,” Willow said, “If I don’t jump at the chance to trust you.”
“Excuse me,” Giles said. “I think we need to figure out how you came to this universe –“
A voice from the doorway said, “Don’t bother. I’ll tell you. Won’t do you any good, though.” A vampire stood there.
Giles knew who it was from the voice. “Cordelia, Willow, Faith – Amy?” Willow nodded. “Permit me to introduce Queen Buffy’s second-in-command –“
Willow interrupted, “Oz.”
X X X X X
The lead soldier – a young black male, cute but dead-eyed – said, “Don’t move!” The library itself was a charred ruin. What the hell had happened? The man moved forward. “Okay. Who are you people – wait. Willow?”
Obviously this man knew Willow’s counterpart. “Close,” she said. “But not quite.”
He nodded. “Okay. Yeah. I can see the differences now that I look closer. You must be from the same place that that vampire came from, the one who looked like Buffy Summers.” A definite negativity to the tone, there. This guy really didn’t like Buffy. Cordelia nudged Amy, who started muttering the words to a spell.
Cordelia said, “Yeah, that’s us.”
All five guns pointed as one. “Then we have to assume you’re vampires too.”
Cordelia held out the cross she carried. “Hello! Not burning me here!”
The soldier said, “Not good enough. Fi-“
While simultaneously Amy completed her spell: “Isis, patron, hear my call – put them in the feline’s paw!”
Immediately three of the five soldiers were turned to rats, slithering out of their gear. Cordelia had to give the other two credit, their guns only wavered for a split second.
But that was enough. Cordelia dove towards the spokesman, who fired -- scorching the wall with a bolt of electricity that missed her by inches – and then efficiently swung the rifle towards her head. Twisting, she made it bounce off her shoulder and plowed into him, sending them both sprawling. The soldier lashed out with a kick, again clipping her shoulder, but Cordelia ignored the pain. Grabbing the leg, she yanked the man towards her and decked him with a solid left to the jaw.
When she looked up Faith and Willow had disposed of the other soldier, while Amy was busily gathering rats. “Whatcha doin’ that for?” Faith asked. “I got a couple hungry cats would love a good meal.”
Amy glowered, knowing full well she was having her chain yanked, and stuffed the three rats in a bag. Willow collected the rifles and put them on the far side of the room, and then Cordelia slapped the leader a few times. He sputtered and woke up.
“Point one,” Cordelia said. “We could have killed you. We didn’t.”
“Three of my men are rats,” he said.
“You were about to shoot us,” Willow said scornfully. “I think that entitles us to a little self-defense.”
“In any event, you’re not dead – please, you’re hardly even injured! – and Amy’s about to turn your three soldiers back into themselves.”
At Cordelia’s word Amy dumped the rats from the sack and muttered, “Bast, queen of cats, hear my plea; return the form of self to these three.” And the three rats at her feet instantly transformed into a pile of irritated soldiers. Amy jumped backwards and Willow and Faith made a production of waving the confiscated rifles in their general direction. They took the hint and didn’t move.
“Now. Where did this Buffy Summers vampire go?” Cordelia released the man and stepped backwards, carefully making her tone as conversational as possible.
“I don’t know,” came his curt reply. “She jumped my party, killed two of my men, then ran off when the Slayer showed up.” Cordelia hadn’t laid a hand on him since their scuffle, but his every word choked out as though drawn from him by painful torture.
“Thanks. Was that so hard?”
The look she got in response was a contemptuous as they come. “Yes. I’m a soldier, you’re the enemy.”
“Enemy. Right.” Willow said. “We could have flipped a coin and gotten more information than we just got from you. Are we done here, Cordy? The soldier-boys obviously wanna go play with their phallic symbols.”
Cordelia looked at the spokesman, whose face could have been carved out of stone. Their glare continued a few minutes, then she gave up and said, “Yeah, we’re
done.” The four gathered together and backed out of the room, Willow and Faith holding the weapons on the soldiers until the last minute. Then they threw the
weapons towards the big hole in the floor and took off running. Cordelia didn’t think that they were going to get chased, but she couldn’t be sure of that.
“Okay, so what do we do now, Slayer One?” Faith asked. “I mean, the Queen B has had at least an hour or two to get gone. She could be halfway to Vegas by now.”
Willow gave Faith a squeeze on the shoulder. “Not likely. Buffy’s plans have always included screwing Cordy and me over. Just because we routed her and she went flying into another universe I don’t think they’ve changed.” Faith reached over and squeezed back. Meanwhile, Amy averted her eyes in distaste. Not that
she disapproved of lesbian relationships; she just thought Willow could have done a lot better for herself.
“Remember, people,” Cordelia said, “I’ve been here before. And while it’s almost exactly like our world, it’s not identical. I think we’ll probably need help. So, here's what we do, Slayer Two. Let’s check out Giles’ old place first. I mean, Jenny Calendar died on this world, so he might still be living there.”
“If he ever lived there at all,” Amy said.
“As good a place as any to start,” Cordelia said. It wasn’t a long walk; along the way they didn’t say much. Eventually they reached Giles’ front door. His name was still on it, so they assumed they had the right building. Cordelia reached up and knocked.
Giles opened it and stiffened slightly. “Well,” he said, “Question asked, question answered . . .”
X X X X X
Tara pulled out of her meditation. With Giles’ help they’d found a more suitable ritual to use to try to locate their missing friends, and they all anxiously awaited what she had to say. “I think . . . “ she said breathlessly, “they were all pulled into an alternate dimension.”
“Ten gets you one it’s whatever hell Queen Buffy calls home,” Xander said. No one took his bet.
Tara said, “Okay, now we, we have to work on a way to get them back. Right?”
“First,” Giles said, “We need to discover why they were transferred in the first place. It might help us figure out the right way of getting them home.” Then came a knock at the front door. Giles walked over to open it –
Cordelia, Willow, Faith, and Amy were standing there.
“Well,” Giles said, “Question asked, question answered . . . “
X X X X X
“You know Oz?” Giles said, surprised.
“Not this one, that’s for damn sure,” Faith said as she vaulted down from the upper level. Willow eyed both her and the vampire warily, and Cordelia’s face alternated between confused and royally pissed. Faith moved in between Oz and the rest of the humans, apparently being protective, although she seemed more amused than anything else.
“Um, if you’ll excuse me, I was trying to be threatening,” Oz said.
Jenny grinned. “No offense, Oz, but you don’t do it very well.”
The vampire shrugged. “I know. Buffy doesn’t keep me for my sense of menace.” Willow’s face was by this point a mask of shock, while Faith was two steps away
from collapsing in hysterical laughter.
“Then what’s to prevent us from killing you as soon as you’re done delivering your message?” Jenny said
“Um, them.” Oz took a step forward – behind him stood three vampires who could have doubled as professional wrestlers, such was their size. “Now I’m only here to deliver the message, but we’ll fight if we have to. Anyway. You may have noticed these, well, semi-familiar faces. Queen set it up this way – any of you followed her, it’d shift their equivalents here.”
“Stuck on a world where I’m the Slayer? Let me be the first to say ick!” Cordelia said. No, nothing like their Cordelia at all.
“You’re not stuck anywhere, Miss Chase,” Giles said. “All we need to do is
determine the proper counterspell.”
Oz gave a half-smile. “Sorry, no. Counterspell, yeah, but I’d advise you not to use it – at least, if you don’t want these charming women to vanish sooner than they have to. Any of you travels back – or they come here – boom. They’ll meet in the middle. Dunno what happens then, but from my reading it’s very painful.” Then he shrugged. “Not my preference. I don’t go in for the bloodthirsty stuff, you know that.”
“There's a way around every spell. Leastwise, there better be.” This Faith’s confidence seemed bluster; if she’d seen the inside of a spellbook in her life it had clearly been by accident.
“Maybe. Buffy’s betting you won’t figure it out in six hours – especially with these people –“ he gestured briefly at his friends’ counterparts – “in place of your well-oiled machine.”
“So why are you telling us this?” Jenny asked.
“So you can suffer.” His vampire came out and he grinned widely. “Said I wasn’t bloodthirsty, not that I wasn’t a sadist.” The he put his index finger to his head and made a saluting motion. “Later.”
“Stuck here 'til I disintegrate? I don’t fuckin’ think so!” The alternate Faith charged, to Giles’ horror.
Oz dove to one side and let Faith tangle with the three well-muscled vampires. Then he rolled to his feet and sprinted for the back exit of the room. Swearing, Giles yanked out a hand-held crossbow and fired it at him as he fled. It clattered off the shelves as Oz darted through the exit and took off.
No time to chase him, though. This Faith was good, but it looked like she might need help. Giles reloaded the crossbow and tried to get a clear shot. This did mean, though, that none of the the vampires had been able to get past her to the comparatively helpless Willow and Cordelia.
Jenny, meanwhile, had taken out several bottles of holy water. “Willow! Cordelia! Come here!”
“Right,” Cordelia said as she moved over towards the check-in desk. Willow moved over in a daze, and finally Cordelia grabbed her arm and yanked her over. “Snap out of it!” She said. “Faith’s on our side and that wasn’t our Oz. We need witchcraft! Do that thing with the pencils you do.”
Willow said, “I’ll try.” Slowly, a pencil on the nearby table began moving.
“If you can't manage that, then throw some holy water,” Cordy said, “But for God’s sake, make yourself useful.” And saying that, Cordelia threw one of the bottles. It splattered five feet short, but she quickly picked up and threw another one that splashed one vampire in the back. It screamed, and Faith slammed a stake into its heart. The pencil continued to hover in midair.
Meanwhile, Jenny’s first throw hit Giles’ legs, and his crossbow bolt went sailing five feet over the vampire’s heads. He swore again and hastily reloaded as Faith was grabbed from behind by the largest of the three vampires. Jenny’s second vial struck this one in the back of the head, causing it enoughpain that Faith was able to break free, spin and kick it backwards, where it crashed into the table. Willow’s pencil began spinning and shaking, and then flew straight towards the prone vampire’s heart. It became dust. Impressive.
Giles had the crossbow aimed as Faith faced off against the final vampire. She slowly began maneuvering him so that he was facing towards the book cage and away from the watcher. Grabbing Cordelia’s arm, she said, “No, wait.”
Then Faith gave a quick nod of her head – and Giles’ final bolt hit home, turning the third vampire into dust. “Damn!” Faith shouted. “That felt good. I haven’t been involved in a good old-fashioned brawl in a long time."
“And,” Giles said sharply, “We didn’t need to be involved in one now.”
“How was I supposed to know that Oz would take a powder like that? I was hoping to catch him and pound the info out of him – that is, if Willow could’ve stood the strain.” She was still grinning and happy with herself. Gods, this Faith was even more of a loose cannon than their own.
Before he could chastise her again, the alternate Cordelia spoke, “Listen here, leathergirl: Before you started making like Batman you said you didn’t want to, quote, fuckin’ disintegrate, unquote. Well, then stop taking potshots at us every chance you get and either sit down and start helping or stay the hell out of the way. Capisce?”
Faith laughed. “You know you don’t frighten me, right?”
“Well, you don’t frighten me either.” And the words, preposterous as they sounded, had the ring of truth.
“Fair enough.” Then she asked Giles, “Any idea where their lair is?”
“Not any more,” he said. “We just took care of most of them not long ago and in the process destroyed their hideout. I have no idea where they’re secreting themselves now. Why?”
“Because I’m no good at research or spellcasting, and Cordy’s right – I don’t want to be stuck here, and I sure as hell don’t want to spend the rest of my life on the astral plane trying to get my rocks off messing with Shirley MacLaine. So we got six hours –“
“No – she vanished an hour before our friends left, and it’s been twenty minutes since.”
“So, I got four and a half hours on the outside. I’ll be back before then – I’m gonna go pound a few heads.” Then she left before any of them could stop her, not that any of them likely were physically capable of doing so.
“Now then,” Jenny said, clapping her hands together once. “Why don’t we get your stories, briefly? It’ll help us keep you straight from your counterparts – although it doesn’t look like that’s going to be a problem with Amy . . .” On hearing her name, the rat squirmed – she’d spent the entire battle curled up in Willow’s pocket.
Cordelia looked at Willow, then at the door, and threw up her hands. “Whatever. Well, since Amy’s a rodent, Willow’s catatonic, and Faith’s decided to go take the grand tour, I guess that leaves it up to me. First, in my world I’m not the Slayer . . . .”
X X X X X
An uneasy silence descended on Giles’ house, as behind him Buffy, Xander and some girl Cordelia had never seen before crowded around to take a peek at who was standing on his front porch.
Cordelia broke the silence first. “Can we come in?” She said, not really liking the vibe she was getting from inside the room. Not hostile, exactly, but way less then welcoming.
“Cordy the Slayer,” Buffy said, “I should have guessed.” Giles stepped aside and gestured for Cordelia and her gang to follow him inside.
“Why should you've guessed?” Faith asked as they made their way to his living room.
“Actually, you we wouldn’t have,” Giles said. “Tell me something. How long have you been here?” The young woman Cordelia didn’t know checked her watch but said nothing.
“Um, about thirty-five minutes. Why?”
“That’s when, when Willow disappeared,” the blonde woman said. “Amy the rat too.” Amy’s head jerked up at the word rat, but it seemed like a description, not an insult.
“In Los Angeles, Cordelia also vanished at that time – and I think it likely Faith did as well, wherever she is,” Giles said, then turned to look at Buffy. Cordelia’s head shot up at the mention of LA. Why had her counterpart left town?
“Which leaves us with the question of why Buffy here hasn’t jaunted off on a cruise to nowhere,” Xander said.
Amy said, “Hmmm. Our counterparts vanished . . . but the Queen’s didn’t.”
Looking at Faith, Willow came out with. “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?”
Faith laughed sharply and replied, in an atrocious British accent, “I think so, Willsy, but was it set by Wile E. Coyote or the A-Team?”
Xander said, “Translation, please, for the benefit of the alternate dimension impaired?”
“This was a trap,” Cordelia answered curtly. “The Queen wanted us to follow her here. The only question is, is it going to blow up in her face or are we screwed?”
“We’ll find that out soon enough, I suspect. Now. I suspect introductions are in order. We may all recognize each other to some extent but we can’t let that be the basis for a working relationship. I know Cordelia is the Slayer; where do the rest of you fit in?”
And so introductions were made. It turned out “Amy the rat” was a reference to this world’s Amy incarnation being trapped in rodent form for over a year. The blonde was Tara, a friend and fellow witch to Willow. “Me a witch,” Willow said. “Freaky.”
Amy huffed. “I keep telling you have the potential to be an excellent witch, but you never listen.”
Faith reached over and kissed Willow full on the lips. “Quit trying to recruit her,” she said when she pulled away. “I happen to know ol’ Willsy here likes her magic a lot more physical.” They looked up and saw expressions of mild horror, shock and revulsion on Giles, Xander, Buffy and Tara. “What’s the matter? Got something against lesbians?”
A chorus of nos. Buffy then explained, “It’s just that, well, our Faith and Willow get along like fire and gasoline; they’d sooner go skydiving without a parachute than say something nice about each other. It’s just – bizarre for us. We’ll deal.”
“No more bizarre than seein’ the Queen B as the Slayer, sweetcheeks,” Faith said. “Our world, you’re trying to kill us right now.”
“And Xander’s dead,” Willow said a little sadly. Of course it still bothered her.
“Don’t remind me, please,” Xander said tightly.
“Right then. So, what next?”
“I vote find her and pound her!” Buffy said, raising her hand. Everyone else did the same, except Giles.
“All well and good, but we need to work on how you got here, how our friends vanished – and how to bring them back.”
“I’ll work with you on that,” Amy said. “Isis knows I’m no good in a fight.” Tara nodded her head, indicating she’d also be joining in the research.
“Good – and, Xander?”
“Oh, no,” he began. “I’m going out in the field this time. I’ve been stuck on the sidelines way too much recently.”
“Exactly what I was going to suggest – you’ve been awfully antsy of late.”
“Xander with me, Buffy with you two?” Cordelia said. She had reasons for wanting to talk to Xander. This did leave the other group combat-heavy, but
Faith and Willow were still at that stage in their relationship when by themselves they tended to notice only each other, and Buffy would serve as a nice buffer.
Nodding sharply, Willow said, “Done it before, can do it again.” Faith seemed a little leery but didn’t say anything.
“Well, then,” Cordelia said, “Let’s move, people! We have no idea how long this trap is going to stay open!”
And they scattered and the hunt was on.
X X X X X
Queen Buffy strolled through the streets of Sunnydale, occasionally getting stares, nothing she wasn’t used to, of course. She was smokin’ in her leather pants and cutoff sweater, and she knew it. Let ‘em stare.
The only complication so far had been those military types. Nothing like that back in her world, at least not in Sunnydale -- none who knew about vampires and how to ice ‘em, anyway.
Still, she had four hours to kill and a whole small town to get herself lost in. Alternate u or not, it was largely the same, and honestly she didn’t give much of a shit about the details. Her fun was in the plotting and the killing; for the detail work, she had Oz.
So: Touristgirl in an alternate universe. Where should she go?
Check out the local talent? Go on a spree? Try to kill Cordy and her wannabes here? And then it hit her. Since everyone here knew Buffy as the Slayer – and she almost threw up trying to get her head around that revolting concept – why not play it that way? Make herself as visible as possible?
So she headed for the Silver. Only here, it was called the Bronze. When she walked in, people gave her respectful glances; a few glanced twice, and if she hadn’t had other things to do she might have been tempted to drag ‘em off in an alley for some good times. She maneuvered her way out to the dance floor and started shaking it.
Buffy crashed into one person, a short geeky type. When he said “Hey, watch it!” she flashed her demon and laughed as the geek went tearing off out of the club.
After a couple of songs she thought she saw a familiar face. So she bumped and grinded her way off the floor and walked up to the balcony.
The familiar face glowered when it saw her. “Oh,” he said, “You again.”
“Me again, Spikey!” Her own Spike had moodily gone off a year and a half ago, ending a fairly successful partnership and some of the damn best sex she’d ever had. Last she’d heard of him he’d come near to demolishing Prague – almost started an international incident. She’d laughed for weeks at the news reports of the escalating tensions between Great Britain and Czechoslovakia.
“Here to torture me again?” This wasn’t her Spike, that was damn sure. He sounded depressed and . . . resigned? Why?
“Oh, Spikey,” she said playfully, “I could never torture you.” In the background she could hear a Springsteen song, and she began swaying to the rhythm.
“Knock it the fuck off, would you, Slayer? I didn’t much fancy this flirtation gig two weeks ago and I damn sure don’t like it any better now.” He started to walk away. The Queen grabbed his arm and started to say something. Roughly, he jerked it free and said, “I don’t bloody care how big a headache I get –“ And he backhanded her so hard she nearly went over the balcony. Now THAT was the Spike she knew and loved, or at least a reasonable variant. Then he winced . . . . and then stood up. “Nothing happened. Nothing happened.” Then he walked up to her and hit her again – she let him.
As he raised his arm a third time she grabbed it and held it. “Fun’s fun, Spike, but enough’s also enough. One more time and I’m calling it foreplay.”
“I can hit you. Why?”
“Let me show you.” Then she went vampire. Spike blinked.
“Well, I can’t say that’s what I was expecting.” He shrugged. “But I’m willing to go with it.” He picked her up and threw her into the wall. Okay, time for fun!
Then Spike pulled out the stake. Or not, she thought as he charged.
X X X X X
“ . . . and Willow and Faith can’t stand each other,” Cordelia finished. The alternate Willow had spent the five minutes or so since Cordelia started performing a calming ritual. As she was apparently the only innate magical talent in the room, Giles was glad for the effort.
“Not entirely true, Cordy,” Willow said, speaking at length for the first time. “I just think she’s an evil bitch who lives only to destroy us.”
“Thanks for the clarification,” Giles said wryly. So – Jenny having offered emendations to Cordelia’s speech to show the way things were in this universe -- they now had each others’ life stories in thumbnail. The Watcher continued, “So how likely is it that your Faith is going to come back?” Unconsciously he looked at Cordelia for the answer.
But Willow was the one who spoke. “Well -- she’s wanted for murder in our universe so she might see this as a way to stick someone else with her problems.
But she’s not exactly an expert in disguising her emotions either, and she seemed to be telling the truth when she said she didn’t want to stay in this universe –“
Cordelia cut her off. “In other words, you have no idea.”
Willow said earnestly, “Not as such.”
The situation could have been worse, Giles supposed. While they didn’t have their team together, this Willow was a witch in her own right. And Cordelia, while no Slayer, had a sharp if tactless mind. It was just possible that they could research their way out of their dilemma. “So,” he started, “Where do we begin?”
Then they began studying.
X X X X X
Xander knocked the vampire over the head with a crowbar, knocking it to the ground. Cordelia finished staking the one she had pinned against the mausoleum wall and then slew the one Xander had just stunned. Then she gave herself the once-over. Damn. Another new outfit she had to buy. This one was just so filthy by this point it wasn’t funny.
And killing vampires was nice – hell, it was what she was born to do, she couldn’t leave them behind – but it wasn’t getting them any closer to finding the Queen. And somehow Cordelia knew that Buffy wasn’t going to leave the area. It wasn’t her style. She turned to check on Xander – breathing heavily, but unhurt. Thank God. The attraction – the love – she had for Xander, any Xander, was still there. After almost three years it was easier to suppress, but it was there. Damn.
Well, that was part of why she wanted to be with him, though she definitely needed the guide. So, this was alt-Sunnydale. Cordelia hadn’t exactly had time for the grand tour last time and it was interesting to see what was different from her own Sunnydale. Besides the school, of course! Anyway, so far the changes had been trivial; a storefront here, a cemetery in a different location there, and her Willy’s bar had burned down with him inside a year ago – the Queen didn’t like snitches.
“Fun as it is to go a-vampire whuppin’ with you,” Xander said, “It’s not helping us locate that big ol’ fake Buffy we got roaming about this fair city. I think we need a plan. Where would the Queen go? What do you think she’s up to?”
“If I knew we’d go there.”
“Well, this was a trap, right? So she’d know you’d be following her to look for her. Kinda occurs to me that she wouldn’t be going and hanging out with all the vampires, she’d be going public. People here know Buffy; it wouldn’t shock them to see her.”
Xander had a point. He was always smarter than anyone, including he himself, gave him credit for. “Hide in plain sight?”
“Makes sense to me. And if we catch them –“ She pulled out a cell phone and then put it back.
“Why didn’t we think of that?” Xander said.
“You weren’t me, Xander, you didn’t spend half your life on the phone . . . I have it!”
“Where she might go. The Silver.”
“Again I say, huh what?” Cordelia repressed the urge to laugh. “The Silver – only club in town –-“
“Ah. You mean the Bronze.” Hmmm. The guy who opened the club twenty years ago had been an Olympic medalist in track and field. Apparently he hadn’t done quite as well in this universe.
“Whatever. So let’s go.”
On the way over she finally gathered the courage to ask the question she’d been wanting to ask. “Why is your Cordelia in Los Angeles?”
Needless to say, she didn’t like the answer she got.
X X X X X
Oz strolled back to the abandoned mansion on Crawford Street that had served as the Queen’s temporary lair since their old one had been gutted. It helped that the other three vampires had covered his exit. Hated to sacrifice them, good muscle being hard to come by these days, but, hey, it was the plan.
The Queen’s plan now had nothing for him to do for a whil beyond not getting staked. So, free time. He grabbed his guitar from his room at the mansion and headed off to the Silver. Back when human he’d been in a band. First thing he’d done when turned was convert his bandmates, but to his annoyance most of them had been staked not long after they woke up. Damn Cordelia and her gang. Especially Willow.
When human Oz had thought the redhead cute and depressed – his kind of woman. After he turned he’d found out that she was depressed because a vampire had killed her boyfriend. The attraction had vanished. Whiny bitch. Probably listened to Sarah McLachlan.
Anyway. His vampire voice could belt a tune, no lie. So every once in a while he got the creative mojo flowing by going on stage as the Masked Musician. The name appealed to his sense of whimsy.
Got a lot of girls that way. They giggled as he led them to the mansion and “played a special song” just for them. They liked his calm, laid-back, unthreatening manner. They liked his voice, and the mystery of the mask.
They liked all of it until the mask came off. Then their mood changed quite dramatically.
He didn’t know if he had the time to do all that tonight before the deadline. Hungry, sure, but not enough time to play and feed. Decisions, decisions.
Music. Music was on his mind. And he felt like doing some Springsteen.
So he put on his mask – solid black fabric, matched his jacket and his jeans – and went into the Silver. A few minutes later he was up on stage, his guitar plugged in and ready to go. The crowd went silent as he strummed a few notes, then launched into “Brilliant Disguise.” It was kinda ironic.
Oh, we stood at the altar
The gypsy swore our future was bright
But come the wee wee hours
Well maybe baby the gypsy lied
Another little touch of irony. Oz had been doing a lot of lying recently.
So when you look at me, you better look hard and look twice
Is that me baby or just a brilliant disguise?
As the final notes died down and the crowd applauded Oz checked his watch. Three hours and fifty minutes until the Queen came back.
Or, at least until she thought she was coming back.
X X X X X
"You cheated on me? Her?”
Xander said, “It’s not something I’m proud of, believe me. She didn’t deserve it. But we’ve made our peace with what happened, and anyway what business is it of yours?”
“Hello, you fool, she loved you! Just like I did.” Cordelia was so angry, so disappointed – although she should have known this was the answer to her question. Yet part of her – a small part, but definitely there – was -- happy at hearing this?
Because what? It meant the possibility of an interuniversal relationship? Not damn likely. But still there was that small part of her saying it could happen.
“Yeah, I know,” Xander sighed. “I guess I just didn’t love her back, not the way she – deserved. I think she’s better off without me at this point.” They rounded the corner and started down the alleyway – the club from the outside looked the same, anyway. “And by now,” he continued, "I’ve got my life – and a new girlfriend – and she has hers, helping Angel. Why does this bug you so much?” Another girlfriend?
She stopped before they got near the entrance. “Because it would have meant that somewhere at least I was happy.”
Then they went inside.
X X X X X
After a few minutes Buffy just stood back and watched. She, Willow and Faith had been jumped by a small pack of demons as the three of them scoured the cemeteries by the edge of town. Buffy killed one of them with a stake through the neck and then turned around to help the other two –
But no need. This Faith’s streetfighter style had been honed to perfection, and while she still fought wildly she’d gained that little bit of control that their own Faith had never been able to attain. And Willow –
Well, if it wasn’t for the face Buffy wouldn’t have known they were the same women. What Willow lacked in Slayer strength she made up for in sheer fighting skill. While she wasn't able to match the demons blow for blow, she moved smoothly and effortlessly from one to another, getting a knife thrust here, a neck chop there. Buffy dodged as Faith threw one towards her and said, “C’mon, join in, slacker!”
“You’re the boss,” Buffy said wryly as she reached down and staked it. By this point Faith and Willow had dispatched the other five and they could take stock of the situation.
“Wow!” Willow said, clearly reveling in post-fight euphoria. “You were right, Faith, fighting does peak the appetite.”
“Yeah,” Faith said, grinning back. “Too bad we don’t have the time to do something about it.”
Willow frowned. “Damn the Queen and her plans.”
“I think we could manage a bite to eat along the way,” Buffy told them. Faith and Willow looked at each other, then at Buffy, and laughed. “What’s so funny?”
‘That wasn’t the kind of appetite we were thinking of,” Faith said as she and Willow walked off.
“Then what kind did you mean?” Faith and Willow looked at her and laughed again. “Wait, I don’t get it, what’s so funny?”
X X X X X
As the fight continued Queen Buffy became aware of two things. One, this version of Spike was thoroughly, gloriously pissed off at the damn Slayer, and two, the fight hadn’t done much more to the crowd here at the Bronze than clear out the balcony. This meant no human shields either. Dammit! What good was fighting in a crowd if you couldn’t throw an innocent victim or two in your way?
'course, Spike probably wouldn't care much either. But still.
Spike slammed her into the wall, and she ducked his follow-up punch. The stake had been knocked aside five minutes ago, but Spike seemed perfectly happy to pound the shit out of her until one or the both of them fell down.
Nothing Buffy loved more than a good wrestling match with a hot blond stud, but this wasn’t the kind of wrestling she preferred.
She snuck a glance at the crowd below – and to her horror saw the goddamn Slayer come in, with Xander right behind her. Cordelia reached into her pocket and pulled out a cell phone. Least in her world Xander’d had the good grace to get himself killed early on, alongside that crybaby Angel. “Okay, Spike, “ she said, “You’ve had your fun. But now –“ She jumped up onto the railing – “It’s time for me to get myself gone. My plans don’t including your killing me.”
“Ain’t you a bleedin’ arrogant bitch,” he said. “A vampire no more than a day and you’ve already got plans.”
“Got that right, Spikey. Toodles!” Then she jumped off and jumped to the floor below.
Unfortunately, Cordelia vaulted the railing and chased after her. The Queen rolled to her feet and took off running .
X X X X X
“Any progress?” Giles asked.
“There are half a dozen different ways to transfer from one universe to the other,” Amy said. “And the three of us would have no trouble casting any one of them with half our magick tied behind our backs.”
“The, the problem is,” Tara said earnestly, “That we can’t seem to find a switching spell, and given the circumstances –“
“It might be unwise to try to switch everyone over one by one.”
“Exactly,” Amy nodded. “And unfortunately, while the Gods of Egypt are still powerful they tend to be sticklers for the forms. Any random invocation could leave us worse off than we were in the first place. That’s how I learned my discipline, my magick, so quickly.” And Giles had to say, this incarnation of Amy Madison was far more controlled and personally conservative than her counterpart, and possibly as a consequence was distinctly more powerful. He would have been willing to go so far to say that if she'd changed herself into a rat to escape an angry mob, that she would have had a pre-set time limit built in to avoid what had happened to their own.
Unfortunately that was of little benefit in this, the short run.
“I guess all we can do is, is keep working at it,” Tara said. Giles didn’t really know the girl, but she seemed to know her witchcraft even if she wasn’t very powerful. And she was clearly desperate to see Willow returned.
But again that earnestness would do them no good if they were unable to locate the correct spell. Giles had the distinct feeling they were racing against a deadline here. The Queen, from what he knew of her, might be capricious but she was no fool.
They worked faster.
X X X X X
“Let me get this straight,” Cordelia said. “We’re working against deadline here to try to switch us all back to our correct universes. Am I right so far?”
Jenny and Giles nodded at once.
“And you all think it might be impossible to do on this short notice, right? Which is why Oz tortured us by telling us?”
“You got it, Cordy,” Willow said.
“Well, then, instead of knocking ourselves out trying to achieve the impossible why don’t we just figure out how to talk to them? It’s a lot faster to call somewhere than go there.”
Everyone’s eyebrows raised. They had a plan.
X X X X X
And on the stage of the Silver –
We gotta get out while we're young
`Cause vamps like us, baby we were born to run
Oz paused briefly at the chorus, hands on automatic, and heard Cordelia Chase make her suggestion.
That clairaudience spell had cost some serious coin. But it had been worth it.
He smiled and he kept playing.
X X X X X
So, what song should he do next? Oz thought for a second as the crowd applauded
the end of Thunder Road. Ah, he had it . . .
I get up in the evening
And I ain't got nothing to say
I come home in the morning
I go to bed feeling the same way
I ain't nothing but tired
Man I'm just tired and bored with myself
Hey there baby I could use a little help
You can't start a fire
You can't start a fire without a spark
This gun's for hire
Even if we're just dancing in the dark . . .
Damn, damn, damn. Faith knew she shouldn’t have thrown herself into searching for the wolfboy vampire, but she couldn’t have kept up that shit much longer. Far as B and her friends were concerned she had to be the same bitch she always was.
Couldn’t let them see how much that little jaunt into B’s body had changed her around. So, she faked it until she could try to make up for what she’d done.
But she couldn’t do that in another universe, you know? Even if her counter here had a better life, it wasn’t hers. She hadn’t earned it, and anyway if there was one person Faith tried her damnedest never to screw over it was herself.
Funny how her life hadn’t worked out that way, but hey, most of her mistakes could be summed up by the phrase, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Anyway. Enough with the damn philosophizing. Time enough to be her own shrink later. Right now, she had to find and pound a vampire . . . because it was the right thing to do.
She didn’t laugh at that phrase anymore.
Message keeps getting clearer
Radio's on and I'm moving 'round the place
I check my look in the mirror
I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face
Man I ain't getting nowhere just living in a dump like this
There's something happening somewhere
Baby I just know that there is
“Got it!” Willow said, putting down a spellbook. “But, damn, you both have to have cast it to talk.” Amy the rat, peering out of her pocket, chittered in echoing annoyance.
“And unfortunately in this case they’re gonna be concentrating on switching everyone back, not on reinventing the telephone,” Jenny said.
Her I’m-working-with-morons face firmly set, Cordelia told them, “And why is this a problem?”
“Because, Miss Chase,” Giles explained, “It would be like trying to call one of your friends by telephone when they don’t have one.”
“So send them the directions on how to build the phone.”
Everyone’s eyebrows raised. Jenny managed a sheepish grin and said, “Why didn’t we think of that?”
Cordelia answered them, “Because you people all love to overcomplicate things. I mean, why bother untying the Gordian Knot when you can just hack it with a sword?” Giles and Jenny started preparing the spell.
“I’m sorry, Cordy,” Willow said. “Sometimes I forget how smart you really are.”
“That’s okay, Willow. I never do.”
You can't start a fire
You can't start a fire without a spark
This gun's for hire
Even if we're just dancing in the dark
“What was the call?” Buffy asked the sprinting Willow and Faith.
“The Queen B’s been spotted. She’s at the . . . Bronze? Is that the name?” Willow said.
“That’s the place. Any idea what she’s doing there?”
“The mambo. How the hell would we know? Willsy was on the phone for five seconds.” Faith spat out the words.
A bit surprised, Buffy said, “No need for hostility.”
“That wasn’t hostile. Trust me on that one. But there’s a time and a place for stupid questions --:”
“And this isn’t it. I got you.” Sheesh, Buffy’d been the Slayer longer than these two had been hunting vamps. So why did she feel like the innocent here?
Answer: They had a team, and she wasn’t part of it.
But Buffy did notice her twin first, running towards them at top speed. The Queen slammed to a stop when she saw the trio. Cordelia and Xander popped out of the
alley of the Bronze about then, followed not long after by a Spike who looked like he’d just gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson and had the time of his life doing it. But thank god, he wandered off in the other direction, which only left them the other ten million problems to deal with.
“Oh, shit,” she said. “If it wasn’t for bad luck I’d be having no luck at all.”
“It’s about to get worse.” Faith and Willow drew stakes and advanced . . . right into Buffy’s outstretched, blocking arms. “What the fuck?” Faith demanded.
“We can’t kill her. At least not until she tells you what’s going on.”
Behind the Queen, Cordelia wasted no time talking but instead came in with a kick to the back of the head. Of course, the Queen heard her coming and ducked. Then the fight began in earnest.
It wasn’t as short a fight as it should have been; Buffy, Cordelia, Xander, and (reluctantly) Willow and Faith were trying to subdue Queen Buffy. Queen Buffy had no such restrictions in return.
But amazingly, they escaped major injury in the process of beating her to a pulp, tying her up, and lugging her the half-mile to Giles’ house.
Of course, once they got there –
You sit around getting older
There's a joke here somewhere and it's on me
I’ll shake this world off my shoulders
Come on baby the laugh's on me
“Problem mostly solved,” Buffy said as she walked into Giles’ apartment, Xander right next to her. Cordelia and Faith carried the bound and thoroughly ticked vampire Queen. Willow brought up the rear.
“You have a way to get us home yet?” Willow asked.
“Only if we do it one at a time,” Amy said. “And that might have ramifications –
“Ramifications, shmamifications. If it’ll get us home I say we do it.” Willow nodded her agreement to Faith’s words.
“Tell me,” Xander asked pleasantly, “If the two of you come to a hole in the ground are you just going to jump in to find out how deep it is? Because sooner or later there’s going to be a reaaaal big splat.”
“No,” Willow said, “But if you don’t jump into any holes you’ll never get anywhere.”
“The secret to a long and happy life,” Xander answered, “Is to jump into as few holes as possible.”
“And the secret to our long and happy lives is to knock off the arguing,” Cordelia said. She faced Giles. “Look, I’d rather go back the way we came. But if you can’t find that solution –“
“I’d love that solution,” Giles said. “But right now we’re stuck, unless an answer just happens to materialize out of thin air.”
A loud pop, like a tiny thunderclap, echoed from the center of the room, and a sheet of paper floated down from nowhere.
Everyone turned to look at Giles, who was busy reading the paper. After ten seconds he said, “It’s not quite a solution, but it’s the next best thing.”
Xander said, “I wish I had a million dollars.” Nothing happened. “Oh sure,” he grumped, “you grant Giles' wish . . . “
Ignoring Xander, the rest of them, the Queen exempted, pressed forward. “Well?”
“This is the directions to a ritual that enables communication between the universes. My counterpart says that had we tried to transfer them back – then neither one would have gotten home.” Amy and Tara looked at it and both nodded their heads slowly.
“It should work,” Amy said.
“I think so too, but this is way over my head,” Tara added. “I’ll defer to your better judgments here.”
“Good.” Giles clapped his hands. “Cordelia, Faith, if you would keep an eye on our reluctant guest –“ The two otherworldly Slayers moved over by the trussed-up vampire Queen. “Amy, Tara, we have a spell to prepare –“
Stay on the streets of this town
And they'll be carving you up all right
They say you gotta stay hungry
Hey baby I'm just about starving tonight
I'm dying for some action
I'm sick of sitting 'round here trying to write this book
I need a love reaction
Come on now baby gimme just one look
“Any way to know they got it?” Cordelia asked.
Patiently, Jenny said, “It’s not here –“
“I can see that. But not here is not the same as there! I mean, for all we know we could have just puzzled the hell out of Captain Picard. Or even worse -- caught the attention of that Willow vampire again!”
Giles forbore from asking. He honestly didn’t want to know.
“Cordy, it’s okay,” Willow said soothingly. "We did the spell right, we concentrated on our home . . . all we can do now is wait.”
Suddenly Giles staggered and said, “Yes, Mr. Giles? –“
You can't start a fire sitting 'round crying over a broken heart
This gun's for hire
Even if we're just dancing in the dark
You can't start a fire worrying about your little world falling apart
This gun's for hire
Even if we're just dancing in the dark . . .
Faith entered the Silver – and immediately spotted the disguised Oz on the stage. She strode up to him, fully prepared to beat the answers out of him, when suddenly he stood up and thrust the guitar aside.
“Almost made it,” he told her. “But, you know, horseshoes, hand grenades, and this isn’t either . . .”
“Yes, Mr. Giles?”
Their minds met.
And Oz’s trap sprang shut.
Oz stood on the stage of the Bronze, the lone island of stability in the middle of a vast ocean of chaos. Ten feet away from him, time began reversing itself . . . in both universes. They played out like ghostly images at first, then as the process accelerated the Silver’s inhabitants grew fainter, the Bronze’s, stronger, until they reached equilibrium. Kinda nauseating to look at – Oz felt like he’d just drained a junkie. But it had to be done.
Soon the process became too fast for the human eye to follow.
Only one problem remained – a thoroughly pissed-off Faith standing six feet away.
“Whatever you just did,” the Slayer said firmly, “Fix it. Now. Or I –“ She took a stake from her pocket and made a thrusting motion.
“Not a good idea,” he told her, shaking his head. “See what’s going on out there?”
“Yeah. They’re going backwards. This is like time travel.”
“No. Splicing tape. Right now the Sunnydales are rewinding. But if you stop them now – tangled tape. You know how those things are hard to play.” This was going faster than he thought it would. Another minute or so and, well, splicing time. In many ways.
In disbelief, Faith exclaimed, “So basically I get to stand here and watch you create the world in your own image? You think you’re fuckin’ God now?”
“God? No. Stability, though. A nice quiet universe where I can be in a band, get my day’s daily requirement of blood, and search for the E-flat diminished ninth without having to worry about some scheme going wrong. I’m not a fighter, I’m not interested in ruling the world, destroying it, or anything like that. And two –“ Oz looked behind her. It had stopped. He suddenly kicked out at her and sent her stumbling into the chaos. “I never said you got to watch.”
But right before she vanished to wherever, Faith threw her stake. It was an off-balance, hasty throw, but Oz wasn’t prepared for it. As Sunnydale started lurching its way forward again it clipped him in the temple. He lost his mental control for a few seconds as the Sunnydales began lurching forward without him.
Regaining control, he began to guide it as best he could, hoping that the few seconds hadn’t cost him much of anything. He wished the spell gave him total control – to eliminate the Slayer from the environs entirely – but that would be godlike power, and there was no way to achieve that. Short of being God himself, of course, assuming there was one. Which Oz had always doubted.
Anyway. Had to concentrate.
Buffy Summers, the wannabe ex-Slayer, comes to Sunnydale . . . Angel is revealed
as a vampire . . Cordelia breaks free right after Buffy and decks Marcie Ross .
. . Buffy dies in the caverns of the Master and in the brief time before Xander
revives her the next Slayer is called . . . Cordelia holds the door shut against
the vampires alone, amazed at her hysterical strength . . . Xander’s neck is
broken by a vampire that Angel then kills . . …. The Master dies . . . Cordelia
stands revealed as the next Slayer . . Spike and Dru come to town . . . Buffy
and a reluctant Cordy battle him and his plans . . get away from Machida on
their own . . . Oz is turned and turns Dingoes . . . Devon immediately changes
the band’s name to Vampires Drained me Dry . . . Amy the witch is bitten by a
wererat . . . then suddenly, the Judge!
Spike and Dru capture Buffy and Angel . . . they get away and make love . . . Angelus
returns . . .and also turns Buffy into a vampire . . . Jenny Calendar narrowly escapes death
because Amy Madison fends off Angel with a hastily constructed spell . . . Buffy, Angelus,
Drusilla and Spike test our heroes to the limits . . . Acathla is found . . Angelus
pulls the sword while Amy and Jenny cast the spell of soul restoration . . .
Cordelia and Willow battle Spike and Drusilla . . . Angelus is stabbed and sent
to hell . . . by the newly souled vampire Buffy . . . Cordy kills Dru; Spike nearly
kills her in return, then is forced to flee, vowing revenge but has not since returned . . .
Cordelia stops breathing for a minute . . . Buffy vanishes for the summer but comes back,
determined to right the wrongs she committed while her demon was in charge . . . Willow
begins learning magic from Amy, while still learning how to fight from Cordelia.
And then Faith comes . . . but not quite of jealous of Cordy as she was of Buffy . . . refrains
from killing Deputy Mayor Finch . . . then joins with the Mayor . . . and feeds information
back to the good guys . . . they find another way to kill him that doesn’t involve wiring the
school . . . Willow and Faith have a Xander/Cordyesque relationship . . . Initiative, what
Initiative . . . and so it goes.
X X X X X
Xander, ghostly, watches the universe go on without him. He knows there’s something wrong here.
But what? He can’t talk to any of his friends, can’t communicate with them, but he can’t leave Sunnydale either, not that he wants to.
Two other spirits approach: An irritated looking black man about his age, and a wide-eyed blonde white woman, also his age.
“Xander!” the woman exclaims. “I’m so glad to see you!” The man mutters something similar. They seem to know him.
“Do I . . . know either of you?” he asks.
“Not well,” the man mutters. “And honestly I would have preferred keeping it that way.
“I don’t know if we ever formally met, but I know who you are. Here,” and she extends her right hand. “Grab on.”
Xander does so.
And he understands.
The man is Forrest, a member of the Initiative. The woman is Tara, a friend of Willow’s. Whom he thinks he has met once or twice.
But introductions don’t matter – because there’s something wrong with the universe.
And Xander has no idea how they’re going to fix it.
X X X X X
When time winked back in Oz found himself back on the stage of -- the Alloy? Yes, the club was called the Alloy here. Damn if he knew why, or cared.
And he hadn’t changed, except that his mask was off.
But the band was next to him on the stage. Vampires Drained Me Dry, they’d decided to call themselves – Devon had thought it clever, and Oz hadn’t thought the point worth arguing. Vampirehood hadn’t upped Devon’s intelligence much, it seemed, but his voice had never sounded better.
And – the shields were in place.
See, the contingency spell Oz had cast wasn’t nearly powerful enough to
completely meld two universes – just the two Sunnydales.
This meant that two universes were sharing one Sunnydale, and had been for a few years.
You’d think someone would’ve noticed this. But Oz had taken that into account, with an aversion spell. If anyone noticed that Sunnydale seemed to get twice as many food delivery trucks as the rest of the country, or that certain letters kept ending up at the wrong address, the spell would make them forget that as well.
That wouldn't work forever, of course. He'd have to figure out a longer-term solution. But this would do for now.
Besides. It was time for his solo.
* The food deliveries aren’t going to be a problem *, someone suddenly said inside his head. * Because this ethereal Sunnydale you’ve created isn’t going to exist long enough for you to be concerned about them. *
Oz was unused to being threatened inside his own head, though his fingers didn’t miss a chord. If that had been a threat, or even something he needed to be concerned about --
* You do, * the voice came back. * You’ve done something so monstrous here that it couldn’t help but escape my attention. You really didn’t think your ploy would go unnoticed, did you? *
And the solo ended and Devon began singing again; at the same time, the voice in his head went away.
But it was coming back. Somehow, Oz was sure of that.
X X X X X
The Slayer walked into the Library. As usual, Giles was reading from a musty old tome.
“So, anything to report?” He asked.
“Nope, nada, not a thing, dead as Pauly Shore’s acting career.”
“Ever since we took care of the Mayor things have been extremely quiet. I’m not sure how much more of this relative prosperity we can take.”
Cordelia snorted. “Whatever. I say we count our blessings. Wasn’t there an old Chinese curse that went, may you live in interesting times? Well, I say thank god no one’s cursed us like that recently. I like it boring.”
“And you’re not getting antsy?” Willow’s voice came from near the door. Faith was standing there with her. The other Slayer kissed Willow and said. “Gotta go. I’m
going crazy here. Catch you later?”
Willow nodded, waited for Faith to leave, and walked in the room. “Well, I am. It’s been way too quiet recently. Something’s gotta give, I know it. And I have to say I won’t be sorry to see it happen.”
“Please! Willow, not that I have any trouble fighting the forces of icky darkness when I have to, but I don’t think it’s too selfish of me to be grateful for an easy period.” Cordelia Chase’s basic personality hadn’t changed since becoming the Slayer, but she was by no means the shallow person she’d been during Buffy’s tenure.
Standing up, Giles closed his book and said, “No, it isn’t, but Willow’s right – periods of quiet like this are usually followed by periods of frenetic activity.”
A voice from the library’s second level said, “Be careful what you wish for.” Buffy was standing there. “Something’s got the local ghoulies wigging out big time.”
Concern on his face, Giles asked, “Any idea what?”
“Ghosty things.” Giles gave her a dirty look. “What?” Buffy exclaimed. “If I knew more I’d say more. Three people appear, blurt out something about things not
being right, and disappear.”
“Why would this be freaking out demons?” Cordelia asked. While she might possess a veneer of uncooperativeness, and grumble about becoming the Slayer, once trouble began she was all business.
“I don’t do why,” Buffy said. “I can do what, when, where and occasionally who, but why’s out of my league. That’s why we have the experts.” Her nose crinkled.
“Speaking of which, where is our local wererat?”
“In a cage in my dorm room,” Willow said.
“Her period come around again? God, time flies when you’re undead. I thought her time to change was at least a week away. And, um, speaking of blood . . . “ Buffy sounded so apologetic when she was hungry.
“In the refrigerator, in the container marked “tomato-cranberry juice.” Buffy nodded and went into Giles’ office. Buffy didn’t keep blood at home – it upset Joyce. So she stored a few containers here, a few at Giles’ apartment, and a few with Ms. Calendar. She gulped down some, very quickly, wiped off her mouth and came back to the main room of the library. “Anyway, perhaps Ms. Calendar or one of her technopagan friends has noticed something?”
“I’ll check into it,” Giles said. “Now, if there’s nothing else . . . ?”
“Oh, joy,” Cordelia grumbled. “If there’s anything I like more than the prospect of a big ol’ clash against evil, it’s the tingly anticipation I get from waiting to find out what evil it is.”
Knowing that Cordelia’s complaint didn’t need an answer, Giles walked over to the rare books cage and was about to take out a book when Willow’s cry, “Oh my god!” drew him back out. He spun and raced back to the center of the library . . .
Three translucent figures were standing there. Giles didn’t recognize two of them. But the third . . .
The third was Xander.
As one, as though they’d been rehearsing it, and perhaps they had, they turned to look at Giles and shouted – though it sounded to Giles like faint whispering – “It shouldn’t be like this! Alternate universes – The Bronze, the Silver. They merged. Think! Try to remember the way it should have been –“
And then they vanished, seemingly exhausted.
“Did you all get that?” Giles asked. Cordelia and Willow nodded, still a bit in shock at seeing Xander again. Buffy was frowning, though. “Buffy? What is it?” Giles’ ex-charge was examining the scene closely.
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “But something about it – doesn’t feel ghostly.”
Cordelia said, “Well, if it acts like a ghosts and freaks us out like a ghost –“
Shaking her head, Buffy said, “It’s not a ghost. Vampires – can sense these things. There was no stench of death there.”
Willow frowned. “So, you’re saying they’re alive?” Buffy nodded.
“Is that even possible?” Cordelia asked.
“With the right spell, a lot of things are possible. They were saying that universes merged. That is possible, though it requires an immensely powerful spell. The only one I know of takes years to set up –“
“Giles, less talk, more research.”
X X X X X
* I’m still coming, you know, * the voice told Oz. For what seemed like the fortieth time. Over the last week things had actually been as quiet as he would have hoped. He’d practiced his music, played on stage at the Alloy, and otherwise kept a low profile. There hadn’t been a vampire interested in power since Mr. Trick had been killed a while back, and Oz and his group were careful only to kill when they had to.
Not that Oz was afraid of confrontations; he just preferred to avoid them if possible. So when someone came along with big plans, he stayed out of their way as long as they stayed out of his. At least, those were his memories.
* It’s an interesting philosophical question, actually, * the voice said again. * Can you have memories of something that you didn’t experience? Right now you’re like an amnesiac who’s just regained his memory. Too bad for science that the experiment will end before you can report on it. *
How could this . . . voice be able to read his mind, and Oz have no idea have who it was? Or be able to read his mind in return?
* You’re caught up in the spell effect. I’m not. *
That meant that whoever this was outside Sunnydale. Oz began to relax. Outside of Sunnydale, they couldn’t come in.
* You’re wrong about that. I can come to Sunnydale. It’s your fatal flaw. *
Odd. Only fatal flaws Oz knew about involved stakes, beheadings, fire, crosses and holy water. Anything else would violate the rules.
* Rules change, * came the reply.
X X X X X
Forrest groaned. Manifestation took a great deal out of all of them. It had taken a few days for them to be able to do anything more than panic the vampires with
a brief and ghostly appearance.
Damn whatever had caused this. Damn Buffy, damn the vampire who looked like her, damn the situation, damn magic, damn vampires, damn alternate universes, and damn the military of that alternate universe for not having the good sense to set up another Initiative. With the Initiative on the case, this would have been solved by now and everyone would be home.
No need to go grumbling over what couldn’t be changed. If his lot was to save the world with a ditz who thought she could do magic and a goofball with a flair for
military jargon, then so be it.
“So,” he said, “Now what?”
“Now,” Tara said, breathing heavily, “We have, um, two options. We could wait and see if they can contact us – or we can try again and encourage them more.”
“No need,” Xander said. “They seemed to have the right idea. And if Ms. Calendar can’t figure it out, Willow, Giles or Amy certainly will.”
“That’s right!” Tara said insipidly. “Willow’s really bright!”
Trying not to let the disgust enter his voice, Forrest said, “Assuming there’s enough witch left in that Willow out there to do us much good.” They hadn’t picked up much of the history of this unholy amalgam, and what they did know didn’t make them happy.
“If not her, then Giles, or this Ms. Calendar, or Amy when she’s not a . . . wererat anymore,” Xander said. “One thing about this combined universe, it has magical talent coming out the wazoo.”
A voice from somewhere behind him said, “Magic is not what is going to end this.” They spun around and saw . . .
Well, shit. It was Adam. All three huddled together – Forrest in front, Xander off to one side, Tara in the back. Not like this impromptu fighting formation was going to do anything more than get them killed ten seconds slower if Adam decided to attack.
“What the hell?” Xander said.
“You can relax,” the patchwork demon said. “I have no plans to kill you. It would be an intriguing experiment to find out if your life would be restored after the universes reset, but not one I care to carry out at this time.” He clasped his hands together carefully. “While I thrive on chaos chaos is not anarchy. And anything I do to alter the situation . . . could cause anarchy. I have plans in our universe.”
“So you just decided to get your jollies by scaring us half to death?” Forrest demanded.
“I wanted to see your reaction to unexpected stress.”
“Well,” Tara said nervously, “You’ve seen it. Now –“
“You have more courage than I thought. Your kind usually huddles in fear – or so my programs tell me.”
“Wait a second,” Forrest said. “You said magic will not end this. Then what will?”
“Why should I answer?” Adam asked bluntly.
“Well . . .” Xander said. “You’ve tried killing, scaring, becoming a messiah – why not try being helpful? Consider it an experiment.”
For a second Forrest could have sworn he saw the multiparted demon smile. “That is an uncommonly transparent psychological ploy.”
“Did it work?” Xander asked hopefully.
“The universes will collapse because of chaos. An unexpectedly thrown stake. A loophole in the wording of a magical covenant. The instigator’s fatal flaw. All beings seem to have fatal flaws.” He began moving away. “Except for me, of course.”
They waited until they were certain he was gone before once again collapsing in relief. Even Forrest joined in.
X X X X X
They’d worked all night – even Faith. Faith and Buffy canvassed the populace as best they could before Buffy had to go home for the day. In reporting to Giles, she’d said, “It’s kind of odd having a vampire be the good cop.”
In any event, they’d discovered a handful of anomalies throughout Sunnydale, all in peoples’ memories. A street name different. The Alloy being called the Bronze, or the Silver. The more mystically inclined – at least those NOT in Jenny’s group – reported feeling very uneasy, though they couldn’t explain quite how. Buffy’d summed it up by saying. “It was kinda like they found themselves playing the lead role in the made-for-tv movie based on their lives, you know? Where everything’s similar but nothing’s really the same?”
Giles understood full well. Jenny’s contacts had reported much the same thing, albeit less colorfully. It was quite clear that something had occurred – something that had conflated two universes into one.
What was a good deal less clear, of course, was what to do about it.
Assuming they could do anything – and assuming that they wanted to. What if he was dead in one of the two universes?
Worse, what if Jenny was? Or what if Buffy had never regained her soul?
This was not a comfortable situation, and Giles could see it was getting less comfortable every minute . . .
X X X X X
Things were unravelling.
Buffy and Faith had been reported as asking a lot of questions. Questions that were too close to the truth for Oz’s comfort.
* I told you you wouldn’t be around long enough to be comfortable. Did you think I was lying? *
Actually, Oz had thought he was going insane. These voices, his doubts. Plausible. And he had been under a lot of strain lately.
* Strain of your own doing, of course. And you are one of the last people – excuse me, vampires, don’t want to offend the hemoglobically challenged – who would ever go insane. *
Unfortunate but true. So this was all real.
* As I said. Did you think I was lying? *
Oz ignored it. His problem was how to deal with the possibility of the Slayerettes puzzling out the situation.
* Ten to one they’re already working on a solution…. *
Then why don’t you not even bother coming?
* Because you’ve ticked me off. A rare emotion for me. Trust me, on this. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. *
So you get big and turn green and say bah puny humans?
* Not quite, * came the reply.
Not good. Not good at all.
X X X X X
Everyone gathered in the library, even Amy, whose wererat days were over for the next three and a half weeks or so. The argument wasn’t over whether they could reseparate the universes – that they knew they could do, given time.
Their argument was the philosophical one Giles had posed. How many of them were willing to – potentially – die in order to right this wrong? Might things not be better kept as they were?
On the side of separation were Faith, Cordelia, and Jenny. Opposed to it were Willow and Amy. Buffy was undecided. For now Giles was content to let the debate run on – it was a passionate but not angry discussion.
Faith: “Look, if I’m two other people combined, that means someone else is jerking us around, and you know, I fuckin’ hate it when someone tries to tell me how to run my life.”
Willow: “We have a history here. Who knows how much of our lives this could erase? Xander’s dead. It took a while for me to accept that. But it’s the way my life
is now. I have Faith, I have you guys, I have magic, and every once in a while I get to kick some vampire ass. I don’t want to die. Is that wrong?”
Buffy: “I have no clue what to do here. Some of those people who are alive outside could die again – they might have been given a second chance at life. But who knows? They might be better. I’ve just been having a hell of a time thinking of who had to be combined to make me the wacky bloodloving gal I am today.”
Jenny: “I have no idea what this is doing to the cosmic balance. But it can’t be good. Everyone I know with even the slightest magical sensitivity knows something’s wrong. And these are people who would argue whether to throw a drowning man a life preserver or a rope. Something is horribly wrong here, and it has to be fixed.”
Amy: “My problem here isn’t a moral one, it’s a practical one. A spell like this is enormously complex. It would have taken a very long time to set up and have cast. I just don’t know if there’s an easy way to fix it – or even if we should. The disease might be worse than the cure.”
Cordelia: “It’s simple, people! Is this universe real? No. Do we really exist like we are? No. Is this part of a big spell? Yes. Don’t these big spells usually come crashing down around our ears, and do YOU want to be standing there when they do? Well? Look, the way I see it we can pull it down ourselves and try to control the crash, or we can just stand around and wait. You know the way I’m voting.”
Solid points all of them, but the more Giles listened the more he felt that his primary objections were irrational or selfish. The only one that still made sense was about the complexity of the spell and more than likely the complexity of the counterspell.
But on that point Cordelia was right. It was far better to try to control the counterspell than to let it happen naturally.
Silence. Giles realized that everyone was looking at him.
“We have to do this,” he said, then let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. Willow looked disappointed, Amy dubious, and Buffy troubled, but everyone else seemed happy. “We need to determine as closely as possible what spell was used here. Willow, Jenny, you look on the computer. Amy, you and I can do book
Then he took special note of the look on Willow’s face. “Willow?” he said. “Are you willing to go along with this?”
“Yes,” she answered. “I might not like it personally but I’m not going to bail.”
“Good,” Giles told her. “As for you three -- Whoever did this did so for a reason. They’re not likely to be happy at our trying to set things right. One of the three of you should stay here.”
“Well then, boss man, I volunteer. Willow and I are spending little enough time together as it is,” Faith said.
“Fair enough,” Giles said. “Buffy, Cordelia, ears to the ground. If anyone’s coming, if anyone’s worried, it would be most helpful if we knew who and why.”
As Buffy and Cordelia walked towards the library’s main doors, Slayer told vampire, “And if he meant that ears to the ground stuff literally, that’s your turf.” Buffy shook her head. “What? Cordelia demanded. “You’re a vampire, don’t you do that kind of thing all the time? Besides, these are brand new earrings I’ve got on.”
Giles chuckled, and they got to work.
X X X X X
And now Buffy and Cordelia were asking questions. Damn. This had to be stopped.
One of the ways Oz had survived and even flourished was by not being a take-charge guy. Hell, Devon was still in charge of the band. Oz was just the vampire who’d made it all happen.
So it wasn’t as if he had countless undead legions at his command.
Sure, he could probably get Vampires Drained Me Dry to help him – but that wouldn’t be enough. These guys weren’t fighters, any of them. So he’d likely only be getting them killed.
Which would kinda miss the point of him having brought this universe into existence anyway.
Oz grimaced. It didn’t look like he had a choice.
* Of course you do, * the voice in his head said. * You could give up now and
reverse the spell. *
No, he couldn’t. It wasn’t that simple.
* Set up a spell you can’t stop? Not intelligent at all. But I think I can understand the reasoning behind it. I’ve had that temptation myself. *
* Understanding. Comprehension. Not sympathy. I have no love for you or your situation, or what you’ve done. *
Of course not. Too much to expect. Oz called the band over and told them that the Slayers and their friends were doing something that would cause them great difficulty – to go out and tell all vampires – tell them what? That the Slayer and her friends were about to set up a spell that would end all of their lives – that they had to be stopped. Look for them patrolling, go over to the library and stop them, whatever. Their choice.
It was the only thing he could think of.
* Don’t hurt them. *
Oz didn’t have a choice. All he’d wanted was some peace and quiet. Was it his fault if they didn’t understand that? WAS it?
* Yes. *
Why didn’t the voice just shut up?
* I’m almost there. I’m at the border of Sunnydale right now. And I’m coming to get you, you son of a bitch. That’s why I’m not shutting up. I have no sympathy for you. I don’t like you. I don’t like what’s happened to you. And honestly, I want you to suffer. *
And he thought he was one of the good guys?
* No. Just better than you, * came the reply.
X X X X X
In limbo, the trio waited.
“I assume we don’t believe him,” Xander said.
Forrest snorted, “Got that right.”
“Why not?” Tara asked.
“Because,” Forrest explained patiently, “He’s what we in the military like to call a Bad Guy.”
Xander, though he agreed with Forrest on principle, said, “You know, Forrest, you put some work into it and you can be thoroughly unlikable.”
“You disagree with me?”
“No, but –“
Forrest interrupted. “Well, that’s it, then. I don’t especially want you people to like me.” By this point Tara had long since given up trying to get their attention.
“You got yourself one hell of a head start going there, pal.”
“See, that’s what I don’t get about you,” Xander said. “I’ve seen you with Riley, with Graham, with other people, and you get along fine. And don’t tell me that’s all an act, either. So what’s different about us?”
“You’re friends with that damn Slayer. Both of you. And she’s ruining Riley. He’s questioning orders. Questioning things. He never did that before she came along. She’s bad for him, and she’s bad for the Initiative.”
Xander laughed. “You’re jealous. Buffy’s done better than all of you put together, and instead of thinking that maybe she knows something you don’t all you can do is whine about it. I tell you what. You prove to me you can do things better than she can, you prove to me that you know more about magic, you take down just one freaking badass demon out to end the world, and then you can go ahead and bitch about Buffy’s evil influence all you want, and you can be nasty to me, and hell, you can even be nasty to Tara, who’s never done you a second’s dirt to my knowledge. But until that time, shut the hell up about it and start making nice or I will knock your teeth down your fucking throat.”
Forrest blinked, but before he could answer Tara said, firmly, “Both of you, power down the testosterone.” They both looked at her. In a more normal tone of voice, she continued, “I, I think I get what Adam was driving at.”
She was looking at the edge of town. The limbo they were in let them see the outer world clearly, just not interact with it except through extreme exertion. “I’m not sure if that’s who I think it is or not . . .”
Xander looked where Tara was looking; after a second, Forrest did too.
They both saw the same thing: A vehicle by the edge of town, with a man standing next to it. He pulled a couple of items out and began walking into Sunnydale.
“I’m not sure,” Tara said. “But that is who I think it is, right?” Xander nodded. “Well, then, Adam was telling the truth. Magick isn’t going to solve our problems. He is.”
X X X X X
Cordelia and Buffy fought furiously. They’d been fighting vampires off and on for the better part of an hour, and the attacks were desperate, almost suicidal. Finally, Cordelia flipped the last one into the side of a mausoleum, and before it could get up to fight one Buffy had staked it.
Breathing heavily, Cordelia said, “What got their panties all in a twist? I don’t usually run into this many spontaneous attacks in a week! I mean, do these vampires know what this dress cost?”
“It’s been my experience that most vampires tend to shop off the rack.”
Cordelia snorted, and then, more seriously, said, “So no idea, huh?” Buffy shook her head no. “Well, I wish they’d tell us before they try to rip our heads off.”
Buffy had to agree with that, unrealistic as it was. Then she had a horrid thought. “Cordy – what if they’re attacking everyone?”
The Slayer’s eyes widened. “Oh god! The Library!”
“My thoughts exactly.”
Before they got fifty feet, though, they were jumped by four more vampires.
Then a voice shouted, “Hold on.”
The vampires broke off the attack and backed away. One of them looked up at the speaker, about thirty feet away and slowly stepping towards them. “Hey, man. I
“No. The information was wrong. You’re not about to die. There is no plot of vampire destruction.”
The vampire blinked. “You sure?”
“See ya.” And all four beat a hasty retreat. Buffy and Cordelia, tired, didn’t bother chasing after them. Instead they looked at the man.
“Oz did tell them to go to the library, too,” he said. “You might want to go help them.” Then he turned around and began to stride away.
“Wait!” Buffy called out after him. “Aren’t you –“
“I can’t stop to answer questions right now,” the answer came. And then he vanished back into the night.
“Wasn’t that --?” Cordelia began to ask.
“I think so. But why would – never mind. Look, you hotfoot it back to the library. I’m gonna follow our strange visitor over there and see if I can figure out what’s what.”
“Got it.” And the two women sprinted off in opposite directions.
X X X X X
The Alloy was closing down, but the owners and bartenders knew better than to toss Oz out. He sat on the stage on a stool, wishing he had his guitar with him.
For perhaps the first time in his unlife he wished he were more of a vampire of action. This of course screamed irony, as his whole point in setting up this universe was to avoid conflict of any sort.
Eventually Devon drifted in. “We got ‘em in an uproar,” he said. “No way the Slayers and their friends are going to survive this.”
Somehow Oz doubted that. Devon was convinced, but then Devon had the IQ of a grapefruit.
The place was empty now but for the two of them and the owner, hiding in his office. The rest of the band hadn’t come back yet, and by this point Oz was beginning to wonder if they ever would.
A noise by the front door. Oz asked Devon to take a quick peek. Never knew who might be coming.
Oz could hear Devon’s confused voice. “Hey, what –“ and then a sickening puff of dust.
“Devon?” he called out.
“No Devon, sorry,” an eerily familiar voice came back. “Just me.” It was him. The voice. “You still don’t know me. Bizarre.”
Oz called out, “Well, you’ve come this far, you may as well show me who you are.”
As the figure moved from the shadow of the Alloy’s entranceway, Oz’s brain had difficulty registering what he was seeing. But then it all made sense. Why Devon had sounded so confused. Why this person was so offended by him. Why this voice could enter Sunnydale despite the aversion spell.
It was indeed his fatal flaw. The one being he’d forgotten to account for.
The other Oz.
X X X X X
Cordelia ran back to the High School at top speed. Thank God she’d remembered to switch out her pumps for her tennies or this would have been a much more painful run.
What she saw when she got there confirmed her and Buffy’s worst fears. There were five vampires walking up the pathway to the school – and that many outside
probably meant that many more inside. Quickly, she pulled out her crossbow and began to fire.
When the first one died, the other four turned and charged. Steeling herself, she reloaded and fired the crossbow twice more, killing one and catching another in the face.
The two that jumped her had no sense of fighting style at all, not like she was going to bitch in the middle of the battle. She killed them practically without breaking stride. As an afterthought on her way into the school, she staked the one she’d shot in the head; no sense leaving a live enemy behind, and besides, what kind of life would he had with a crossbow bolt piercing his skull?
In sprinting through the school Cordy took down at least two more vampires, both from behind, and found the library under siege. There had to be a dozen vampire all pushing to make it through the front door, and from the sounds of fighting inside they hadn’t been the first to get there.
She took a deep breath and did her best Xena leap into the middle of the vampires. She knocked them backwards long enough for her to hustle into the library.
Oh dear god.
Faith was holding off four vampires on her own and Giles was doing okay, but Ms. Calendar and Amy were down and Willow –
Well, she was badly injured.
Damn. She hoped Buffy was having better luck.
Then she had no time for hoping or anything except fighting because the vampires were on her.
X X X X X
Buffy tailed the looks-like-Oz-but-human – no, not quite human, there was something different there even if she couldn’t quite peg just what – all the way to the door of the Alloy. In amazement she watched him casually take down a vampire standing by the door.
Okay, she obviously couldn’t just walk in after him, but he might need help. He hadn’t come here by accident; he’d come here on almost a straight shot from the cemetery, and fast enough that Buffy’d had some trouble keeping up.
The Bronze had entries galore on the upper level, though. Buffy jumped up to an upper window and forcibly opened it. Then she crawled through and made her way to the balcony. She got there just in time to hear Oz-the-vampire say, “Well, you’ve come this far, you may as well show me who you are.”
The human Oz knew how to make an entrance. He walked slowly into the room. Buffy could almost see the vampire’s jaw drop. Then the conversation began.
“Let me guess,” the human said. “You should have known.”
The vampire nodded. “Should have, yeah. It only made sense.”
“But you didn’t.”
Well, they sure both sounded like Oz.
“Well, I tried not to make it obvious.”
“You succeeded admirably.” The human Oz had walked towards the stage until he and the vampire were no more than ten feet apart. “So, what do we do now? The vampire asked.
“I kill you,” the human said matter-of-factly. “Then we figure out how to separate the worlds and then everyone except you goes home.”
“I’d sooner not do it that way.”
“I’m sure you would. But how else do you suggest we settle this?”
“Dueling guitar solos?”
The human Oz gave a half-smile. “Sorry, no. I left mine in the van.”
“For all those threats you made you’re awfully casual about all of this.”
“Blind rage solves nothing.” The vampire Oz seemed distracted; had he noticed the same thing Buffy had?
Apparently so. “You’re not human, either,” the vampire said.
“No. I’m a werewolf. So?”
“So why are you concerned with all of these humans?”
“Because they’re my friends and you screwed them over.”
“But you’re a monster, man. You’re better than they are.”
Werewolf Oz barked out a humorless laugh. “That’s so wrong a tack to take it’s unfunny. Beside, they helped me, they kept me safe from myself. Far as I’m concerned that makes them better than me.”
“No wonder you didn’t amount to anything.”
“You forget I read your mind. And given that that last insult came from a coward who desperately avoids fighting and threw his bandmates to the wolves – literally – to save his own hide you’ll forgive me if I don’t take it seriously.”
“So I guess now what? We fight it out?”
“That would be the logical denouement to the evening.”
“And then you all live happily ever after?” The vampire’s tone was derisive.
“No. But we all live.”
“Well, then –“ Oz said – “You’ll have to do it without me.” And then he jumped from the stage and ran for the door.
Buffy’s eyes widened, but she didn’t hesitate for a second. Leaping from the balcony, she jumped in the path of the fleeing vampire. Surprised, he braked so suddenly he had to windmill his arms to keep from falling down.
“What are you doing?” He finally asked.
Buffy said, “Call me the steel cage.” He tried to force his way past her but Buffy blocked his every move. “If I were you I’d turn and fight,” she said. “Unless you want to do the noble thing and just sacrifice yourself.” In response, the vampire wheeled and threw a punch at the slowly advancing werewolf. “Call me crazy but I’m guessing that’s a no.:
The werewolf Oz stepped back quickly from the attack. The vampire threw another punch, a bit less clumsily. Oz dodged again.
“You’re still reading my mind,” the vampire said.
“Right. Did you expect me to make this a fair fight?” Oz pulled out a stake and thrust it. The vampire grabbed the other’s arm – almost not in time – and threw him across one of the tables. He bounced to his feet faster than he had any right to. The vampire’s face must have shown the same bewilderment that Buffy felt, as the wolf said, “Some benefits to being a werewolf.”
The vampire growled, put on its game face, and leapt to the attack. The wolf jumped out of the way and socked his opponent in the back of the head with the butt of the stake. Another leap, another dodge, another clout to the back.
Five minutes passed and if the vampire got in more than three good blows they’d somehow slipped by Buffy. The vampire’s strength and speed were superior, but the werewolf’s skills were greater. Plus, that mindreading – mindreading? Vampires couldn’t be mindread! Their minds didn’t reflect!
But the vampire Oz hadn’t argued the point, and indeed was getting battered about the bar like a cat toy. The werewolf had had several excellent opportunities to finish his enemy off but had passed them by, instead opting to continue the beating. Finally Buffy had had enough, and shouted out, “For God’s sake, stake him already! This is torture.”
“Exactly,” the wolf said grimly.
“But even –“
“This vampire,” Oz said while dodging the feeble blows of his vampiric double, “Merged two universes, screwed up lives, and sent dozens of vampires out to kill my friends. I’m not inclined to let him off with a friendly warning.”
“So kill him already! This is sadistic.”
“And it’s what he deserves.” He took a breath. “But maybe it’s time to end it.” He wheeled and socked the vampire in the jaw. He went down, but the werewolf was on top of him.
Amazingly, the vampire couldn’t break free, but he did gasp out some last words. “I really would have preferred dueling guitars.”
Oz answered, plunging the stake downwards. “I still would have won.”
And the vampire was dust and –
This time, there was no one to witness it.
And no one to explain why.
It was kind of like unzipping a zipper: It all blends together up to a point, but in order to unzip it you have to take it all the way back to where it started.
Which meant that time rolled backwards all the way back to when the two universes joined.
So all was undone.
And then came the fast forward, this time with time on two separate tracks.
Nothing changed, of course.
Three years ago, no one knew what the Oz vampire would do.
Or what spell he would set in motion.
So no one could change history.
And all of that effort – all of that time Oz spent on the spell – would have three tangible results.
END FAST FORWARD
Finally, finally, Faith once again entered the Silver and immediately spotted the disguised Oz on the stage. She again strode up to him, fully prepared to beat
the answers out of him, when he suddenly stood up and thrust the guitar aside.
“Almost made it,” he told her once more. “But, you know, horseshoes, hand grenades, and this isn’t either . . . what the –“
And he exploded into dust.
The crowd shrieked, but Faith didn’t care. “What the fuck?” She said, unconsciously echoing Oz’s last words.
She looked around the room, and up the walls, but didn’t see any crossbows poking out of any dark holes, or anyone who looked like they were capable of bowling a strike, much less staking a vamp at thirty paces. As she headed out the door – oblivious to the people still panicking behind her, Faith said to herself, “I wish vampires acted like that in my universe.”
X X X X X
Meanwhile, the two Giles resumed their across-the-universes mental conversation.
If resumed is the right word for a process that in some sense had never been really interrupted.
“Yes, Mr. Giles?”
* The spell we sent you – no troubles with it, then? *
“Apart from a spot of amusing coincidence when it actually showed up, no.”
* I’m sorry? *
“Never mind. I’m sure one of your friends will explain it once they return to your universe.”
* So is everyone there? *
“To my knowledge. And on your end?”
* Um – not quite. *
* Indeed. How did you -- *
“If your Faith is a bit of a loose cannon, ours may best be described as an unexploded nuclear bomb with a hair trigger. Almost anything she does wouldn’t surprise me. Um – what did she do?”
* We were accosted in the Sunnydale Library by Oz and three of his, um, more musclebound vampire cohorts. After -- *
“Your Oz is a vampire?”
* And a rather dangerous one at that. *
“Ours is a werewolf.”
* So your Miss Chase informed me. In any event, after we had defeated the three combatants – Oz having long since fled the premises – Faith decided quite against our wishes to go find him and, I quote, ‘beat the answers out of him.’ That was over an hour ago. *
“Well, we’re together out of convenience only. We might not need her to be present.”
*Right. What progress have you made in switching us back? *
“Hold on a moment. Buffy. No, the vampire. What was the spell that sent you here?”
* Well? *
“I’m waiting for her to stop laughing.”
* Not being cooperative, eh? *
*And now she’s bargaining? *
“No, she’s still laughing.”
* Eventually she’ll bargain. If she doesn’t, bargain with her. *
“And offer what, precisely?”
* Her life. *
X X X X X
And of course eventually she told.
And after all, of that – chasing Queen Buffy to hell and gone around Sunnydale, almost having her killed by Spike, all of it --
It all ended with a simple spell.
Even Faith proved to be no problem, unexploded atom bomb that she was.
She showed up not long after the two Giles completed their bargain with the Queen, muttering about something.
“Where were you?” Jenny asked.
“What do you mean?” Faith asked back. “I said I was going to go find Oz. Found him on stage at this club you got, the Silver. I was about to start poundin' when he turned into dust before I got close enough. Do vampires ever do that around here?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Jenny said.
“It was just freaky. So, do you magic geniuses have a way of sending us home? I got places to go, people to kill . . .”
“We’re working on it,” Jenny answered.
And soon after that the spell was completed.
In one universe, Willow gathered up Amy and stuffed her in a pocket while Cordelia stood protectively between Willow and Faith.
In the other, everyone shook hands; then Amy, Willow, Cordelia and Faith gathered together, while Buffy stood as far from them as she could and still be in the spell’s area of effect.
The two Giles' coordinated their spells and as one performed the appropriateincantation.
A sound of thunder and everyone went home.
X X X X X
Faith, Willow and Cordelia appeared as one in Giles’ living room. Amy peered out of Willow’s pocket; Tara shyly waved hello to Willow, who smiled back.
Buffy immediately adopted a fighting stance on seeing Faith. “Relax, B,” Faith said. “I’m not here to do you dirt. This time, anyway. Willow, Cordy: Nice battling the forces of evil with you, but I gotta book.”
No one seemed inclined to block her exit from the building, but Giles couldn’t resist a shot at the other Slayer as she left. “It was nice, for once, to be dealing with a Faith who had a sense of honor.”
Faith’s face darkened for a moment, and for just a second Buffy felt sorry for her. Then Faith smiled. “Nice in return to have dealt with a Giles who was still gettin' it on with Jenny Calendar.”
And on that note she left, singing softly to herself. “ . . . this gun’s for hire . . . even if I’m just dancin' in the dark . . . “
X X X X X
The Queen of the Vampires mockingly saluted everyone as soon as they appeared back in the library. “Another day, another thrill-a-minute adventure with the Slayers. Gotta admit this one had me worried for a second, but nope! In the end I get to keep living and pissing you off.” She had on her game face and was grinning widely.
“Our agreement was that you get to live,” Giles said. “It said nothing about how long that state was to continue once we all returned to this universe. I’m inclined right now towards thirty seconds.”
Buffy was not easily intimidated but did realize when a threat was to be taken seriously. She bowed, said “Toodles!” and turned and ran out the front doors of the library.
Looking at their watches as one, Willow and Faith said, “Twenty-nine,twenty-eight, twenty seven . . .”
“If you’re waiting for me to interrupt you,” Giles said, “I’m not about to. She’s caused us trouble for over three years. Nail her to the fucking wall. But do give her her thirty seconds.”
“. . . eleven, ten . . . “ and sure enough right at zero Willow and Faith sprinted after the renegade vampire Queen.
“Not going to join them in the slaughter, Cordelia?” Jenny asked.
“No. I’m beat. Besides, Willow has an even greater grudge than I do. She deserves the kill.”
“Ten to one she doesn’t get it tonight,” Amy said without malice. “Buffy’s harder to kill than Horus.”
“No bet,” Cordelia sighed.
X X X X X
A day or so after the incursion from the mirror universe, Forrest and Graham were walking on the campus of UC-Sunnydale. “I tell you, man,” Forrest told his fellow
soldier. “One of these days Buffy’s gonna force Riley into a choice between his duty and his hormones. And you and I both know what his choice will be, and what that will do to us. And to the Initiative. Damn, I wish he’d never met that bitch sometimes.” Then he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around –
And was greeted with a right cross that sent him tumbling to the sidewalk a few feet away. Xander Harris stood there. “I told you the next time I heard you badmouth Buffy I’d knock your teeth in. Don’t do it again.”
As Forrest sat up, rubbing his jaw, Xander walked away. Forrest almost charged after him but figured the goofball wasn’t worth it.
And both he and Xander remembered that Xander had indeed made that threat.
Even if neither of them was quite sure where they remembered it from.
X X X X X
Somewhere a young man/wolf driving a van had a sudden flash of . . . something, and gave out one of the most Keanu-like “whoa”s it was possible to give.
Did all of that happen, Oz wondered?
Had there actually been a merging of two universes?
He knew he couldn’t answer the question. But he knew someone who could.
And, besides, he had the herbs, and he had the control. He'd been putting it off long enough.
It was time for him to get back to Sunnydale.