Large PrintHandheldAudioRating
using
 paypal
Twisting The Hellmouth Crossing Over Awards - Results
Rules for Challenges

Never Chose This Way

StoryReviewsStatisticsRelated StoriesTracking
Story

Summary: Ivan and Byerly are on their way home from Beta Colony when something goes very wrong. Gigantically wrong, you might say.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > Sci-Fi > Vorkosigan SagafireflyFR1316,099071,48631 Jul 0731 Jul 07Yes
Note: This was written for the Bujold_Fic Ficathon on LiveJournal
Prompt: For litalex:- Ivan/Byerly or Gregor or Miles/Bel (slightly AU is okay), nothing angsty, snark, witty lines, slash to gen, crossovers with other SF/F shows/books/movies would be more than welcome (Ask and ye shall receive!)
Pairing: Ivan/Byerly
Fandoms: Vorkosigan/Buffy the Vampire Slayer (through Season 8 comic #4)
Summary: This story is set sometime after An Ordinary Man, which is concurrent with Diplomatic Immunity. Ivan and Byerly are on their way home from Beta Colony when something goes very wrong. Gigantically wrong, you might say.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to my betas quietann and ubiquirk. Any remaining errors are entirely my fault.
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Buffyverse characters and setting belong to Joss, Vorkosiverse characters belong to Lois.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He wasn’t a jump pilot. Oh, he’d been through plenty of wormhole jumps. Not as many as Miles, but a decent number. And not once had he seen weird colors or other hallucinations, the signs and symptoms of being qualified for jump pilot training. You’d think that if he were going to, he would have long before now. And he didn’t want to be a jump pilot. He liked his nice cozy desk in Ops and his nice cozy Vorbarr Sultana bachelor apartment, which he was starting to wonder if he’d ever see again.

The Orb of Unearthly Delights had been fun, but it was quickly starting to not seem worth the trip.

Because that was the other thing. When a jump went wrong, the theory was you were just a smear of atoms (or possibly quarks, he wasn’t really clear on particle physics) spread over a chunk of the galaxy. You really weren’t supposed to be sitting on a lush green hillside looking up at a giant girl. A giant girl who, by the way, thought it was only mildly weird that two men had apparently materialized out of nowhere on her hillside, and who asked them if they were demons.

Who believed in demons these days? And who still had castles? Then again, who believed in giant (apparently teenage) girls?

“So you’re sure you’re not demons?” she said. “Or zombies? Because there was a whole zombie thing last week, and I’m so not being the one to bring more zombies around.”

She bent, no loomed, over Ivan and scrutinized him more closely. Next to him, Byerly fell into a heap. Then she … no, she wouldn’t. Ivan was fairly certain that a hallucination couldn’t pick you up and dangle you twenty meters in the air.

I’m going to have to add a fear of heights to my list of hobbies.

“Hey,” she said, “you’re not with Twilight, are you? ‘Cause zombies would’ve been better.”

“Wh-what’s Twilight?” he asked.

The girl wrinkled her nose. “You talk funny.”

He looked back down at Byerly, who was still slumped over in a faint. That wasn’t good.

The ground seemed to be getting closer, but then he realized the hallucination was picking up Byerly, too. Fortunately, she then cupped them both in her hands. It was a lot easier to forget how high up they were, so he could focus instead on what would happen if she just squashed them. The ride was surprisingly less bumpy than he would have thought.

At least I managed to come up with a gentle giant.

“Dawn,” a male voice called out, “what’ve you got there?”

“Coupla guys just kind of appeared,” replied the giant girl who apparently answered to “Dawn.”

Ivan could feel the change as she bent to set them down. She was surprisingly careful with Byerly as she laid him onto the ground. Ivan took up a protective stance next to him, warily looking at the new person, a much more normally sized man with a patch over one eye.

“Well, they obviously didn’t follow you home, so … no, you can’t keep them. Especially seeing as you already broke one.”

“Xander!”

“All right, all right.” The man looked back into the … castle? … and shouted, “Medic!”

“He’s just unconscious,” Ivan supplied, then added hopefully, “Do you have any synergine?”

“Hey, this isn’t a drug store,” Xander said, pointing a finger at him, “and what the hell is sinner-green?”

So apparently we’ve landed on some backwater that’s probably five jumps from anything like normal space traffic.

“What’s your deal, anyway, soldier?” Xander asked.

“I don’t know anything worth interrogating me for,” Ivan replied, abruptly realizing the call for a medic might not have been to help Byerly at all. “Even if I did, I’m allergic to fast-penta. So if you’re not all just products of my imagination, we’ll just catch the next jump ship back to Barrayar.”

While he was speaking, another teenage girl arrived, this one normal-sized, and began looking Byerly over without anything remotely like a proper scanner.

“I don’t think they’re with Twilight,” Dawn chimed in.

“What’s Twilight?” Ivan asked again.

“What’s Barrayar?” Xander countered. “You’re in the military, you’re here, and you don’t know what Twilight is? Forgive me if I find that a little hard to believe.”

Ivan’s head was spinning. Giant girls, guys with patches covering who knew what, something apparently military called Twilight, and people who not only didn’t recoil in horror at the word but apparently didn’t even know what Barrayar was. His mind couldn’t possibly generate something this convoluted. Imagining the impossible was Miles’ department. If this was reality, fainting was beginning to look like an attractive option. Ivan heard Byerly stir behind him.

“Looks like your friend’s coming around,” Xander said. “Let’s see what he has to say.”

Ivan turned to look. The young medic was waving something under By’s nose. From the expression he was making, it was clear that, whatever it was, it smelled awful. Still, he was coming around, and that was a relief. Ivan could just barely hear him mumble something.

“What was that?” Xander asked.

“It sounded like he said, ‘Ivan, you idiot,’ sir,” the medic replied. She turned a bit. “You Ivan?”

“Yeah.” He resisted the urge to screw up his face. We’re lost in the middle of who-knows-where, and that’s what he comes out with?

Byerly was struggling to a seated position. The medic tried – unsuccessfully – to convince him to stay down. He looked around blearily and then glared at Ivan.

“What?” Ivan asked.

“Why couldn’t you listen to me? I told you the stuff that herm was selling wasn’t an aphrodisiac.” He looked up at Dawn. “Hell of a hallucinogen, though. Definitely targeting the wrong market.” He looked back at Ivan. “How’d you slip it to me?”

“By, um … I don’t think … I think this is real.” And if it weren’t, he hoped someone would snap him out of it soon.

Byerly gave him a disgusted look. “Oh, of course. Silly me. That’s why we’re at a castle with a giant kid and a guy with one eye instead of on a jumpship somewhere around Escobar.”

Ivan scowled. “I don’t know where the hell we are, but do you really think I could come up with something this weird? Or that we’d both be dreaming the same thing? Besides, I didn’t buy that stuff, and I wouldn’t have given it to you without telling you!” How stupid would he have to be to put some unknown substance into an ImpSec agent’s food anyway? He was really sick of everybody assuming he was stupid just because of Miles. Everyone looked stupid next to Miles! He was just stuck standing there more often than most.

“So you two really don’t know where you are,” Xander said.

It wasn’t a question, but Ivan answered it anyway. “No, we really don’t. Could we maybe start with what planet we’re on?”

Three sets of eyes boggled at him.

“You don’t look like aliens,” Dawn said.

“Vitals are consistent with humans, sir,” the medic said.

“Of course, we’re human,” Byerly snapped, wrenching his wrist back from the medic. “Everybody knows there’s no such thing as intelligent aliens. If we’re going to talk about people who might not actually be human …” He looked Dawn up and down.

Ivan rolled his eyes. “Compared to some of Miles’ girlfriends, By, you really think she’s that scary?”

Obviously remembering Taura, or possibly Elli, By shrugged. He looked like he was still unconvinced this was all real.

If it keeps him conscious, maybe that’s a good thing. Besides, she is that scary.

“You’re on Earth,” Xander said impatiently. “And, hey, if Dawn doesn’t impress you, just wait until you meet her big sister.”

Now it was Ivan’s turn to boggle as he wondered just how much bigger this big sister could be. Then he registered the first thing the one-eyed man had said. Earth hadn’t turned out to be such a great place the last time he’d visited, and it was way, way off their course. But maybe they were in some safer region. It was a largish planet, after all. So he asked, “Where on Earth?”

“Scotland,” Dawn replied.

Byerly worked out the geography first. “Great! All we have to do is get to London, and it’s not even that far. At least they’ll know you at the embassy, Ivan.”

“I am not, repeat, not going anywhere near London!” Ivan retorted, crossing his arms firmly and not at all to keep his hands from shaking. “No embassy, no Thames Tidal Barrier, no London. Got it?”

“And you’ve got some better idea? Maybe we could just grow wings and fly home? Oh, wait, there’s the little problem of the complete lack of air.”

“Not that I’m convinced we should just get rid of you guys, though that’s a very attractive option at the moment,” Xander said, “but just saying we did, what embassy would you be looking for?”

“Barrayar,” both men replied in unison.

“And again I ask, what is Barrayar?”

“You know, it isn’t the most obscure planet in the Nexus,” Ivan complained. “But Beta Colony would do. That’s where we were traveling from.”

“What’s Beta Colony?” Dawn asked.

“Wait, what year is it?” Byerly asked.

Ivan stared at him.

“What? I’m supposed to believe we were just magically transported off our ship, to Earth of all places, in the middle of a jump, without a ship anymore, mind, where we meet a giant kid …”

“I am not a kid!”

“… but time travel, that’s what bothers you?”

“Two thousand four,” Xander put in.

Ivan’s brain stuttered.

“Two thou … two thousand and four?” he asked. “As in the twenty-first century?”

The one-eyed man, the medic, and the giant nodded slowly.

Even a life with Miles didn’t prepare me for this.

~*~

By dinnertime, they knew a little more about where they were, but nothing at all about how they had gotten there or how they could possibly return home. There had been more than one mention of magic, though Ivan thought that some sort of magnetic storm was more likely. But these people believed in demons, so of course they believed in magic.

“So the world really lasts at least another thousand years?”

Ivan was thoroughly sick of that question. He’d heard it almost a hundred times before Xander had shut everyone up by saying something about parallel universes. That theory had been disproved centuries ago, but that was still in the future here. Thinking about things like that made Ivan’s head hurt. Also, he and Byerly had apparently just disproved some accepted wormhole theories as well, so who knew?

The redhead who had just asked the question, Willow, didn’t appear to take orders from anyone. She kind of reminded Ivan of Aunt Cordelia that way.

“Because,” she continued, “stopping the world from ending? Kind of a big deal around here.” She paused. “Although Xander’s got a point. Can’t go getting too overconfident.”

Ivan squirmed. “So do you have any idea how we can get back?”

“I’m working on it,” she said with a sigh. “Where’s your boyfriend?”

“He’s um …” hiding from the two hundred teenage girls “… resting.” And why did I have to get plunked down here now, and not, say, eight or nine years ago, when I wasn’t over thirty and with a man?

“Oh, I get that,” Willow said, looking around the dining hall. “This place takes some getting used to.”

“‘Drather not,” Ivan muttered.

All of a sudden, the room felt stifling. The whole castle began to feel as if it was going to collapse in on him, and he desperately needed air.

“Think ‘m gonna go for a walk,” he added, pushing back from the table with a grunt.

“Don’t go too far,” Willow said. “If we figure out how to send you back, we might need to find you in a hurry.”

Ivan acknowledge this with a wave as he hurried outside. Once outdoors, he took several lungfuls of fresh air. His stomach roiled, prompting him to switch to shallower breaths in hopes of keeping down his supper. While it hadn’t been gourmet fare, it definitely tasted better going down than it would coming up. When the nausea passed, he continued walking up a small hill, hoping to see a bit of the surrounding area.

What he saw once he reached the top almost sent him running back to the castle. It was the giant girl, Dawn. She was sitting in a little valley, her head resting on her knees, crying. Fortunately, she had her back to him.

He turned to go back but caught his shoe on a stone and fell with a yelp. When he scrambled up, Dawn was looking at him.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded with a monstrous sniff. “Haven’t you done enough?”

“What? What’d I do?” he asked. “And whatever it is, why does everybody assume everything’s my fault?”

“Oh, only got Willow all distracty working on getting you out of here instead of getting me back to normal.” She sniffed again.

“Oh.” He wasn’t sure what to say to that. “You mean you’re not normally a giant?”

That was obviously the wrong thing to say, as she broke into loud sobs interspersed with the words “Kenny,” “thricewise,” whatever that was, and “stupid sister.”

Ivan was frozen in place. Comforting tearful young women used to be one of his secret strategies of seduction. He was damned good at it. However, that had usually involved sappy holovids, girls who weren’t fifteen meters tall, and him not being in a committed relationship. With Byerly. He tried not to whimper. He didn’t think he was up to this challenge, but he also didn’t really feel like he could just leave either.

“I’m sure Willow will fix you,” he said when she quieted down a little. “Everybody seems to think she can fix anything.”

Another sniff.

“She must have done some pretty impressive things before,” he prodded.

Dawn nodded slowly.

“So what kind of things?”

“Well,” she said, her voice wavering, “she gave Angel back his soul a couple of times, and she brought Buffy back when she died, and she made it so there’s all these Slayers now.”

Slayers. That word went with the demon stuff. Ivan struck for more familiar territory.

“Buffy? She’s your ‘stupid sister’?”

“Yeah.” Dawn glared at him. “But I’m the only one allowed to call her that.”

Ivan held up his hands to indicate surrender on that point. “I’ve got a cousin like that. Believe me – I understand.”

“I doubt that,” the girl scoffed. “Even with a couple thousand others like her now, it’s all Buffy, Buffy, Buffy.”

Ivan shrugged. “Well, there’s only one of him, but it’s always Miles, Miles, Miles, too. And dying and coming back didn’t improve him any either.”

Dawn scrunched up her face. “I thought you didn’t know about magic.”

“I don’t,” he agreed. “That was just science. Cryo-stasis.” Which they didn’t have in the twenty-first century, if he remembered correctly.

“So they cut off his head and froze it?”

Or he could be wrong about that. Maybe they had already started experimenting with it.

“Um, no,” he replied. “I mean, the head’s the most important part, but they freeze the whole body.”

“Oh.” She looked thoughtful. “How’d he die?”

“Took a needle grenade trying to save his stupid clo– … brother. How about your sister?”

“Jumped off a tower to save stupid me.” She sniffed. “And the world, I guess.”

Ivan squirmed. Maybe Mark would be handling this conversation better. He made a face at the thought of Mark doing anything better than him. Except maybe eating.

“It’s no big,” Dawn said. “It’s what she does, right? And she came back.”

Ivan looked back over his shoulder at the castle and then down into the little valley at Dawn again. He supposed she might barely fit in some part of the huge stone building.

“What about your cousin? That just what he does, too?”

“Not supposed to be anymore,” he said. “But, well, yeah.”

“Relatives,” she sighed.

“Yeah.”

For a moment they both sat and stood, reflecting, he supposed. Ivan finally began to notice that it was starting to get dark and a bit chilly.

“What time of year is this anyway?” he asked.

“Late August.” At his perplexed look, she added, “Late summer.”

“Oh.”

“We should get inside before it gets all the way dark,” she continued. “I can give you a lift back, if you want.”

Ivan thought about it and nodded. Really, being carried by her was much safer than a lightflyer. As she picked him up, he forced himself not to think about some of the more insane things he and Miles used to do in those lightflyers.

Once back at the castle, they parted company. Apparently there was a room large enough for Dawn to at least sleep indoors. Ivan and Byerly’s room was on the other side of the castle, however, so he did not find out where it was.

Byerly jumped when Ivan entered.

“It’s just me. Calm down.”

By sank back into his chair. Next to it was a dinner tray, barely touched. “Did you find out anything?”

Ivan considered that. “Not really. They’re trying to find a way to send us back by magic, and we already knew that.”

“Good going.” Byerly rolled his eyes. “With intelligence like that, we’ll be out of here in no time. Why do they have you rotting in Ops anyway? Clearly you should be ImpSec.”

“Speaking of ImpSec,” Ivan retorted, “what sense does it make for the actual spy here to stay up in the room?”

Byerly snorted. “Yeah, real cloak and dagger stuff. You find out about any high-Vor parties going on around here, point me at them. You’re the one with the galactic intrigue experience.”

Considering Ivan hadn’t meant to get involved in any of that, he really didn’t think that was fair at all. Getting kidnapped on a couple of different planets wasn’t exactly the highlight of his resume. Of course, they hadn’t meant to end up here, either, so maybe that counted as experience. Both times it had been Miles who got him out of it, though, and that seemed unlikely this time.

“You could’ve at least gone to dinner and chatted up a few people. You’re good at that.”

By mumbled something.

“What?”

“Thought you were better with this sort of crowd.”

“You’re jealous?” Ivan couldn’t believe it. “By, I talked to the redhead who seems to be head witch or something. And between you and me, I get the feeling she’s about as interested in men as you are in women.”

“As I am. Precisely.”

Ivan didn’t have a good answer for that, so he ignored it and pressed on. “And then I went for a walk and talked to the humongous teenager. About Miles. You still think there’s anything to be jealous about?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Byerly grumbled.

Ivan walked over to where he was sitting, grabbed By’s chin and kissed him hard. When, after a moment, the other man parted his lips inviting Ivan into his mouth, Ivan found his own earlier doubts, which uncomfortably mirrored Byerly’s almost exactly, melting away. He wasn’t missing out on a damned thing.

~*~

The next morning, Ivan convinced Byerly to join him in the dining hall for breakfast. After ten minutes of being surrounded by the chatter of variously chipper and grumpy young women, he wondered if it might not have been a better idea to both stay in their room instead.

Xander apparently took pity on them (or possibly was simply relieved to have other men around) and joined them, saying, “Yes, it actually is always this bad. I’d say good morning, but I’m not sure I believe in them anymore.”

“Are you usually the only man here?” Ivan asked.

“Yes,” Xander replied. “And while everybody else seems to think I should be thrilled about that, can I just say that being surrounded by girls who can beat the crap out of me was never one of my top ten fantasies? At its peak, maybe it made number fifteen.”

“Er, yeah,” Ivan agreed. “Not particularly my thing either.”

“Well, obviously,” Xander replied with a quickly stifled chuckle. “And I mean that in only the most open-minded and non-homophobic way possible.”

Ivan rolled his eyes and decided not to elaborate. Byerly was looking oddly reassured, and that was a good thing.

“So, any luck conjuring us a jumpship?” By asked after a brief silence. “Or maybe we’ll be taking a flying mortar?”

Ivan choked on his coffee.

“That’s really Willow’s department,” Xander replied, looking relieved. “But as we haven’t heard an ear-splitting ‘Eureka,’ I think it’s safe to say she …” He focused on a spot over Ivan’s shoulder. “… might be taking a short break to eat.”

Ivan turned and saw the redhead coming towards them carrying a breakfast tray. He scooted over on the uncomfortable bench, and she sat next to him.

“Hi guys,” she said. “What’s up this morning?”

“Well, apparently you,” Xander replied. “Is that the bright and cheerful voice of good news?”

She was obviously hoping for that question. “Not exactly, but I found some very interesting spatial-temporal spells last night that look extremely promising. None of them cover anything exactly like what brought you guys here,” she said, nodding to the two Barrayarans, “but still, promising.”

“There’s no sight quite like a Willow in research mode,” Xander said with obvious pride.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Byerly drawled. “Ivan’s got this cousin who’s almost that manic when he’s scheming.”

“What?” Ivan sputtered. “When did you … wait, I don’t think I want to know.”

“No, you really don’t,” Byerly replied smugly.

“Anyway,” Willow added between mouthfuls of very non-groats-like cereal, “I’ll keep at it, and with any luck, we’ll have you home soon.”

“And then we’ll wake up,” By muttered.

“You still think that?” Ivan asked.

By shrugged, and Ivan gave up for the moment, drained the last of his coffee, and waited for Byerly to do the same.

“So what should we do in the meantime?” Ivan asked.

“Well,” Willow said, “I’d say you could help with the research, but you really don’t know enough – or anything – about magic to know what to look for. Plus you said you couldn’t really explain this jumping stuff.”

“No,” Ivan agreed. “I learned enough five-space math and wormhole jump theory to pass my exams, and that’s long gone.”

“I like the needle analogy,” she replied thoughtfully. “Doesn’t explain the science, but it does give me some ideas of the magical implications.” She looked at the two men intently. “You could hang with Dawn. She doesn’t have much to do these days either.”

“Hang?” Byerly choked out.

Ivan was pretty sure she didn’t mean that literally, but his own throat felt like it had closed automatically at the word, too.

“Oh!” Willow looked stricken. “Right. Slang bad. Sorry. I mean … socialize. Talk. Pass the time together. That kind of stuff.”

By looked less relieved than one might expect. “Babysitting a giant kid. I must have missed that on our itinerary, right after the side trip to Earth.”

“I really don’t recommend calling her that,” Willow said, her eyes narrowing. “And does she look like she needs babysitting?”

“No,” Ivan put in hastily. “Not at all. But … I talked with her a bit last night. She might actually be kind of sick of me.”

Willow shrugged. “Or you could help with Slayer training. How’s your hand-to-hand combat?”

Ivan swallowed. His hand-to-hand combat skills were just fine. But with girls? Granted, from what little he’d learned about them, these girls could probably take on Team Koudelka and win, and he had even odds at best against the Koudelka girls. Especially Olivia.

“Er, no,” he replied. “Thanks. We’ll just, um, take a walk.”

Byerly looked substantially more relieved now.

Ivan really hoped Willow was right about having some promising leads. This was getting wearing.

~*~

Scotland really was beautiful. After weeks of jumpships and the largely underground dwellings of Beta Colony, it was nice to be able to have a walk outdoors without protective equipment and smell the late-summer air. Byerly even seemed to be loosening up a bit. That had only taken a couple of hours and getting the castle out of view. There was no way to mistake this place for home, but it was nice, and they might as well enjoy it.

“Let’s sit for awhile,” Ivan suggested, pointing to a large shade tree.

“We may be stuck wearing the same clothes every day,” By replied with a sniff, “but that’s no reason to ruin them with grass stains.”

Ivan rolled his eyes. “You’d think you didn’t have fifty more high-fashion ensembles back on the ship and a hundred more back home.”

Byerly shrugged. “Who knows how long we’ll be here? What do you propose we do then? Borrow that Xander fellow’s clothes? Even if they would fit, which they would not, they wouldn’t suit.”

“What happened to this being a hallucination again? Can’t you just dream up something new?”

“Obviously not. Probably because it’s really your hallucination and you have no sense of style beyond that – admittedly stunning – uniform of yours.”

Ivan rubbed his head, which was beginning to hurt. They had arrived at the tree, and Ivan plunked down onto the grass, almost hoping for violent grass stains, not that they’d show up on his uniform. By leaned up against the tree. Neither said anything for awhile.

“You think this is all my fault, don’t you?” Ivan asked.

Byerly looked at him strangely. “Yes, Ivan, dear. I think you played around with the Necklin rods on our ship and got us sent a thousand years into the past, without the rest of the ship, just so you could play with the hundreds of athletic young women that you claim you haven’t even spoken to. That’s exactly the sort of thing someone who spends all his time at a comconsole in Ops learns to do.”

The ground shook slightly. Ivan looked around and found the reason quickly. Dawn was walking towards them.

“Oh, and I forgot the giant kid. Who did you find to genengineer her? Had to be someone from Jackson’s Whole.”

“I didn’t …” Ivan threw up his hands in frustration.

“If you were Miles,” By continued, “I’d know it was your fault. But this is just a little out of your league, don’t you think?”

“I meant about the drug you thought I slipped you. Not that a bit of turnabout wouldn’t be entirely fair.” Ivan stood out of some insane spinal reflex that demanded he try to be less short. Even Miles wasn’t used to looking up to a girl’s ankles, and Ivan thought looking up to the laces of her shoes was a bit much.

“Hey, guys,” she said. “Willow sent me to come get you.”

“She figured it out already?” Ivan asked incredulously.

“She thinks maybe, yeah.” Dawn knelt and held her hands out.

Byerly just stared.

“It’s not that bad,” Ivan said, tugging on his elbow.

“Compared to flying with you, I imagine that’s true, but that goes for a lot of things I don’t want to do anyway,” By retorted, but he allowed himself to be dragged over to step into the girl’s waiting hands.

“I promise not to drop you,” Dawn said.

“Thanks,” By said with a snort. “It’s ever so reassuring that if you get us killed it won’t be by accident.”

“Hey, I’ve got no reason to hurt you,” she said. “I just want you guys sent home so Willow can get back to working on fixing me.”

“I’m surprised,” Ivan said. “From what you said last night, I’d half expect you to want to stay, er, big.”

Dawn wrinkled her nose. “I may not want to be just ‘Buffy’s little sister,’ but being ‘Buffy’s giant sister’ isn’t exactly an improvement.”

Ivan shrugged. “I never met this Buffy, so I guess she gets to be ‘Dawn’s invisible sister.’”

Dawn giggled. “So then I guess that makes Miles ‘Ivan’s crazy cousin.’”

Ivan smiled up at her. He kind of liked the sound of that.

The rest of the ride, short as it was, was mostly quiet. Ivan even peered over her thumb and got a brilliant view of an immense lake. When he commented, Dawn informed him they were called “locks” for some reason. Twenty-first century Earth was decidedly weird.

When she set them down by the castle entrance, she said, “Well, I guess this is where we say good-bye.”

“Okay,” Byerly stammered. “Good-bye.”

Ivan glared at him. “It was a pleasure meeting you,” he said to her as he stepped off her fingertips. Following some deeply programmed reflex, he turned and caught hold of her index finger. She caught on quickly and turned her hand over so that he could press a properly respectful kiss to her knuckle. “Thank you for the ride,” he added.

She giggled as she withdrew her hand and stood. “You’re welcome. Have a safe trip home.”

Ivan nodded up at her. “Good luck getting back to normal.”

“Do you really think anyone around here knows the meaning of the word?” Byerly cut in.

Before either Dawn or Ivan could say anything, they were interrupted by a handful of girls who herded them inside to wherever Willow was waiting for them. Ivan waved to Dawn one last time. He thought she might have waved back, but it was hard to tell when he could only see as high as her knees once he’d been dragged through the doorway.

After traveling through several corridors and down more flights of stairs than he cared to count, Ivan found himself and Byerly being hustled into a very strange room. The floor actually looked like a marriage circle, though the five-pointed star was painted rather than drawn with groats and there were candles at each point. The walls were covered with strange pictures. He had expected to see old-fashioned comconsoles of some kind or possibly even paper books.

“Good, you’re here,” Willow said. “I think I have it all figured out. We should be able to get you back to the exact moment you left your ship.”

“Wait,” Ivan said. “What happens if you don’t? Or if the ship was destroyed? What if there was a massive explosion, and that’s what sent us here?”

“Do you remember anything like an explosion?” Willow asked. “Because if you do, that would have been good to know earlier.”

Ivan had to admit that he didn’t. Byerly, he noticed, was shaking his head.

“And if it doesn’t work, you should just still be standing here,” the redhead continued. After a thoughtful pause, she added, “Probably that’s what would happen if the ship isn’t there anymore, too.”

“Or we could find that a suitless jaunt into vacuum has also just been added to our vacation plans,” Byerly said.

Ivan glared at him.

“That’s not …” Willow looked troubled. “That really shouldn’t happen. If your ship exploded and you were supposed to die, you would have. If your ship exploded and you were supposed to spend the rest of your life here, you’ll bounce back. It’s all covered by the spell.”

Why do I find that as reassuring as Miles and his forward momentum speeches?

Ivan found himself being placed in the center of the star with Byerly next to him. Willow stayed outside the boundaries of the star and circle.

“If only Lady Alys could see us now,” By muttered.

Ivan swallowed. Assuming this worked and they ever got home, that would be a conversation for another day.

“Okay,” Willow said, sounding much more confident once again, “you guys don’t really have to do anything. Just stay put.”

Ivan edged closer to Byerly, wanting to feel him there but resisting the urge to actually take his hand.

“Here goes.” Willow held up a sheet of paper and began to read from it in a language Ivan didn’t understand.

At first, nothing seemed to happen. Then everything outside the circle and star began to blur. Ivan looked at Byerly, who was still clearly visible but looking every bit as terrified as Ivan felt. Suddenly not caring what anyone thought either in Scotland or on their ship, Ivan threw his arms around By and held onto him tightly. He screwed his eyes shut so that he wouldn’t have to see the blurred room start to swirl and possibly turn into the utter emptiness of space.

After a minute, he realized he had been holding his breath and would need to take another one soon. He wasn’t cold. That was a point in favor of not being in vacuum. He opened his eyes and saw that they were back in their quarters on the jumpship. He took a relieved breath and noted that the hum of the engines in the floorplates felt entirely normal.

“It worked,” he murmured into Byerly’s ear. “We’re back.”

By let go of him and stood back a bit. He looked around the room wildly for a moment and then focused back on Ivan. “Of course, it worked. How is it that you’ve been to Beta before, and Cetaganda, and even Earth, and you’re more bothered by jumps than I am?”

Ivan just stared at him.

“If it weren’t completely beneath a Vorrutyer to consider such a thing, I think I might even have qualified for jump-pilot training,” By continued. “They say you see strange things during wormhole jumps if you have the knack.”

“By …”

Byerly was rummaging through his things and pulling out a bottle of wine. His hands were shaking, and he almost dropped it before Ivan took it away.

Ivan looked at him and then at the wine. With a shrug, he found a corkscrew, opened the bottle, and poured two generous glasses.

Does it really matter? We can’t tell anyone about it. Even Miles couldn’t come up with something this bizarre.

~*~

A week later, Ivan found himself comparing holos with Miles. Miles and Ekaterin had taken many, many more holos than Ivan and Byerly had. One of the Earth vids, however, completely arrested Ivan’s attention.

“Where was this?” Ivan asked, his voice shaking.

“Oh, that was when we stopped at the Sunnydale Lagoon,” Miles replied. “Really amazing phenomenon. You should go see it if you ever go back to Earth.”

With a tap on a comconsole button, the picture of the obelisk was replaced with a truly stunning view of a sunset over water.

“Wait, go back,” Ivan said.

Miles shrugged and complied. “There is definitely something strange about that place. The explanations the tour guides …”

Ivan didn’t hear what he said next, as his eyes were riveted to several names on the memorial stone. One in particular.

Dawn Summers-Harris. Her name was followed by a star and the dates of her birth and death.

Could that really be her?

Other names seemed to confirm it. Willow Rosenburg, star. Xander Harris, star. Buffy Summers, no star.

She married the guy with the eye patch? I guess Willow fixed her.

“Are you even listening?” Miles complained. “First you’re annoyed that I can’t tell you about what ruined the end of my honeymoon, and now you’re not paying attention to the mystery I can tell you about?”

Ivan let a slow smile spread across his face. Miles wasn’t the only one, after all, who could have strange, secretive, unplanned offworld adventures.

“So,” he said, propping his chin in his hand and giving his cousin his full attention, “tell me what you learned about this mysterious lagoon and the people on this mysterious obelisk.”



A/N: The last bit of this tale refers to another VK/BtVS crossover fic, With a Star by Don Sample. The title of this story comes from a line in the Duran Duran song “Wild Boys.”

The End

You have reached the end of "Never Chose This Way". This story is complete.

StoryReviewsStatisticsRelated StoriesTracking