A Barbarian at the Gate
Buffy had moved to a couch in the lobby in an attempt to remove herself from Angel’s obsessive coddling.
She didn’t want to be touched or consoled, and while his support was appreciated, she knew it was based more in concern for her than understanding of her loss. She didn’t blame him – he and Xander had never been friends – and while she knew that he too was mourning Xander in his own way, his grief was offensive. She had shooed him away as she attempted to pull herself together; she needed to return to Sunnydale to plan the funeral. She knew more about what was involved than she cared to.
For a moment, just a brief moment, she was tempted to visit her father while she was here, but then thought better of it. He hadn’t bothered to put in an appearance at her mother’s funeral and hadn’t spoken either to she or Dawn in years. He had ceased being her father a very long time ago.
Right then, she wanted nothing more than to leave the hotel and disappear into the city, as she had done after Angel’s death. This time, however, she knew she would never come back, which was why she didn’t move, waiting for temptation to pass. There was too much to do, too many people counting on her.
And then she remembered that it had been Xander more than anyone on whom she had counted – oh god, she was already using the past tense – and her eyes began to fill once more. Even as the tears rolled down her cheeks, she cursed her selfishness.
Her pain was justified, she knew, but what was it compared to that of Willow, or Cordelia for that matter, who had known him literally for her entire life? Giles had loved Xander as a son, and Dawn had all but worshiped him. How was her sister going to survive another devastating loss so soon after their mother?
But in the now, it was his absence in her own life that haunted her. No one had supported her like Xander, her greatest champion, even those times in which she was undeserving and those in which his challenges irritated her. She had loved him in a way she had never and would never love another, and knew he had felt the same for her. And she didn’t really care if it was selfish.
She turned her head and observed Wesley quietly talking to Angel, while a man she didn’t know was trying to explain the situation to a girl she didn’t know.
Who were these people? Angel’s team, she guessed.
She had only ever met Doyle and thought she had understood what his death meant to both Angel and Cordelia, at the time remembering the losses of Jesse, Jenny, and Kendra, but now she knew better. Those deaths had been painful and undeserved, and she was by no means trying to lessen their importance, but it wasn’t the same as losing someone like Xander, someone so integral that the whole wouldn’t be able to function without that part.
Still, Angel and Cordelia had moved on, either by force or choice, and had new friends to help their fight. She shook her head. She couldn’t even contemplate; Xander was irreplaceable. Not that Tara or Anya weren’t important, weren’t loved, but…
Oh god, she had forgotten!
How could she have forgotten
for even a moment? What the hell was wrong with her? Anya was dead! She had died for her, to keep Dawn safe, just as Xander had. Every single slur and vicious thought she ever had about Anya came flooding back at her, frying her nerves and cramping her muscles, her face contorted in a mask of grief and shame.
She slumped over and curled into a fetal position, as sobs finally overtook her.* * * * *
“Is there anything we can do for her?,” Wesley asked softly, his eyes bright.
Angel sighed and shook his head. “No. She needs to feel this. If she tries to bury it, it will eventually come out anyway, and be much worse.”
“But so soon after Joyce.” He bit his lip, embarrassed and perplexed by his own reaction to the news.
He had only met Anya once in passing while he was stationed in Sunnydale, and hadn’t been close with Xander, whose presence he had often found irritating and unnecessary. He knew better now, of course, but seeing Buffy in such pain, reminding him so horribly of Faith, he wanted to do something, to help her in some small way, the way he hadn’t when he had been her Watcher. Still, he knew there was nothing he could do but offer his condolences and hope she would accept them as sincere, but this wasn’t the time.
Angel seemed to drift at the mention of her name.
“I don’t know,” he finally said. “I just don’t know.” He shook his head. “Doyle was bad enough, but Xander?” He ran a hand through his hair. “I could at least share with her Doyle’s loss, but Xander and I never got along, and she would resent my intrusion into her grief now.”
“Why didn’t she have a vision?,” asked a curious and demure Fred, materializing at his side, slightly cowering. She then blushed, assuming she had spoken out of turn.
Angel laid a gentle hand on her shoulder and offered a brief smile. “We still don’t really understand how the visions work. Doyle once had a vision about Buffy, and now I can only assume that I was meant to help her then.” He rolled his neck. “It’s possible that Cordelia didn’t have a vision because we weren’t on our own world when it happened.”
He looked to Lorne for confirmation. The demon shrugged and nodded; it was as good an explanation as anything else.
“Xander didn’t have the greatest track record with the Powers,” Angel continued. “He defied prophecy by resurrecting Buffy once.” He bit his lip, knowing that she would hear him no matter how quietly he spoke. “Xander jumped into the portal because he guessed Buffy was going to do it herself to save Dawn. It’s possible that Buffy was supposed to die tonight, and Xander prevented it again.”
He winced when her sobs increased.
“You’re a tactless moron,” Cordelia announced.
They turned and saw her standing in the entryway to the office, leaning against the wall, shaking her head and glaring, pleased by Angel’s obvious mortification.
She turned to Buffy. “Let’s talk.”
Still sobbing, Buffy hauled herself to her feet and ran more than she walked toward Cordelia who, surprisingly, wrapped an arm around the Slayer’s shaking shoulders. She threw another vicious look at Angel before guiding Buffy into the office and slamming the door behind them.
The four stood staring at the closed door.
Gunn finally broke the pall by turning to Angel and gleefully declaring, “Barbie so owns your sorry ass.”* * * * *
Cordelia stood impassively as Buffy collapsed into the nearest chair, annoyed that the bruises she had left on the other girl were already fading while those she had earned imparting them were turning a sickly yellow, lending her skin a jaundiced appearance which was intolerable.
Her own tears had since dried, but threatened to reemerge at any moment. She wasn’t going to give in, however; crying wasn’t an activity in which she indulged for very long because it was pointless and there were always other things which demanded attention.
She hadn’t cried when she had lost all her money, nor when her father was hauled off to jail, nor when her mother all but vanished into the ether. Doyle...well, that pain had been locked away, but was resurfacing at an alarming rate. And, sure, she randomly participated in the occasional pity party, but that was okay because she came by it honestly.
In truth, there was nothing she would rather do than burst into sobs and curl up with Buffy in her little chair to berate her further and pray that this was all a horrible nightmare from which they would momentarily awake, but Cordelia was a realist by nature, and there just wasn’t time to fall to pieces. The loss of Xander was one which she would feel acutely for perhaps the rest of her life, which, in light of today’s events, was most likely destined to be cut short.
Besides, her anger at Buffy was already melting.
She might not have liked the relationship between Xander and Buffy, but she understood it, especially now given how close she had become to Angel, and her empathy with the Slayer was now more accessible than she would have liked. She longed to give into her grief, a despair so profound she had never experienced anything like it, not even with Doyle, but doing so would not be conducive to helping herself or to Buffy. She took a moment and asked herself what Xander would have wanted her to do, and then let go of her futile rage. She sighed.
“I’m not going to apologize for kicking your ass, because we both know I wouldn’t mean it.” She grinned slightly at Buffy’s hysterical laugh. “So, if you’re up to it, I’d like to ask some questions, because I really need to understand this.”
“I already told you everything,” Buffy hiccupped, “but okay.”
“Tell me everything that happened. Again.”
Buffy inhaled sharply and released a shaky breath. She launched into her recount of this night of horrors, explaining that they had learned what Glory had wanted with Dawn, that the girl’s blood would open a portal which would allow Glory to return to her own dimension but would also raise the veil covering all other dimensions as well. The walls would collapse and worlds would bleed into each other, thus causing the destruction of their own reality as creatures unknown to any human would be released en masse
The Slayer then went on about the assault against Glory and her minions, outlining what they hoped to accomplish: namely saving Dawn and restoring Tara’s sanity.
Cordelia blinked. “What the hell is a Buffybot?”
Buffy shook her head in disgust and explained how Spike had threatened a computer geek into creating a robot version of Buffy herself so that he could use it to…
“Stop!,” Cordelia cried, holding up a hand. “Way too much information there.”
Her skin crawled, and she made a mental note to relate that particular tale to Angel, who would hopefully pay Spike a visit and get him line. The very idea of a sex bot. Gross. And incredibly pathetic.
Buffy nodded and then detailed the battle: how the Buffybot had used the Dagonsphere to distract Glory only to have her head knocked off for the effort; how Willow had weakened Glory by siphoning power from her to save Tara; how Spike had fought Glory’s minions, giving Buffy time to go after Dawn; how Giles had smothered Ben, Glory’s human host, and thus ending the threat.
“And Dawn’s okay?”
A shrug. “She will be, physically. Cuts and bruises.”
“Xander and Anya?”
Buffy took several breaths and told how Xander and Anya had fought Glory’s hobbits alongside Spike, using baseballs bats and fists. She wasn’t sure how Anya died – she hadn’t seen it – but it looked like Giles had dug her body out from under a pile of mortar and scaffolding.
“She died before Xander.” Cordelia swallowed. “Did Xander see it?”
Buffy nodded miserably. She told Cordelia how Xander somehow appeared on the ledge, already rickety even before the fight. She didn’t know how he had gotten up there, but he had told she and Dawn about the deaths of Ben and Anya.
“What did he say? Every word.”
Buffy sighed and repeated everything Xander had told her: that Ben had died; that Anya had died; that he was so tired and had nothing left to give; that he wouldn’t allow Buffy to sacrifice herself once more; that he and Anya had gotten engaged and he wanted her buried with her ring next to Jesse; that he told her he loved her, had always loved her, how she was his hero, and what would Buffy do. And then he had thrown himself over the edge.
Cordelia had almost lost it at the mention of Jesse, but persevered.
“How could he?,” Buffy hoarsely demanded. “How could he do that me, to Willow and you? How could he just choose to die?”
“To save the world.”
“That my job! That’s my responsibility.”
“And that’s your telltale arrogance once again rearing its ugly head. Saying that cheapens the deaths of Kendra and Doyle.”
Cordelia shook her head. "Answer me this: if you had died, what would have happened to Dawn? Let's leave aside the fact that Joyce died only months ago and that Dawn is still in shock, but realistically, what would have happened? Your father hasn't stepped up to help either of you; neither Willow nor Xander would have any claim over her, since they're not family; and Giles would be powerless because he's not even a citizen."
She cocked her head. "So what's left? Foster care? A ward of the state for two years until she turns eighteen? Not to mention that your death so close after that of your mother would have emotionally destroyed her."
She sighed. "Xander jumped so you wouldn't have to, so that Dawn wouldn't be left alone in a world with no family. He did that because he loved you and her. Don't let your anger lessen what he did tonight."
Stricken, Buffy fell silent.
“I just want to know one thing.”
After a moment, Buffy raised her eyes and waited.
“Was he happy?,” Cordelia begged. “Did he love her? Did she love him the way he deserved?”
The answer was immediate and absolute. “Yes.”
Cordelia nodded and left the room.* * * * *
“Seven? An update, please,” Kathryn tersely demanded.
“Captain,” she replied after a moment, “I am detecting the presence of chronotons within the anomaly.”
“Chronotons?,” the captain repeated. “Source?”
“Unknown at this time.”
“Continue your scans.” She turned toward the pilot. “Mister Paris, set a course for the anomaly, one-quarter impulse.”
“Yes ma’am,” Tom replied, careful to keep the doubt from his voice.
“What do you think is going on?,” Chakotay asked Janeway.
“I don’t know, but if there are chronotons in the rift, it suggests the phenomenon is temporal in nature, not directional.”
“A logical supposition,” Tuvok blandly offered.
She threw a wry grin over her shoulder and nodded. “Ensign Kim, broaden the parameters of the deflector array and coordinate sensor readings with those in Astrometrics.” He nodded and began inputting the sequences. “Bridge to Engineering.”
“I’m here, Captain,” answered a harried B’Elanna.
“We’ve set course for a temporal anomaly detected by Seven of Nine. As of yet, there’s no sign of any hostile threat, but bring the warp drive online and prepare to give us everything it's got on my command. We’re staying at Red Alert for the foreseeable future.”
“I guess there’s nothing now to do but wait,” Chakotay said, forcing a smile he hoped would pass as sincere.* * * * *
Seven was again recalibrating the scanners with the new sensor data augmented by that which had been relayed by Ensign Kim.
She confessed, if only to herself, that she was most intrigued by this spatial anomaly; she was unable to recall any similar circumstance during her time with the Borg, nor was any pertinent information regarding such an anomaly stored in her memory files.
She was not so consumed by her work, however, that she failed to note when the doors to the lab swished open. She turned in annoyance, mildly irritated to discover there was no one there. She didn’t have time for banalities like malfunctioning doors. She returned her attention to the viewscreen.
“Computer, isolate spatial grid four-two-nine.” She paused as the command was carried out. “Magnify.”
She frowned and stepped closer. Despite telemetry, there was little information available regarding the anomaly and she momentarily faltered as to how to proceed. What was the nature of this anomaly, and of what was it comprised? Her eyes flitted about the lab as if search of assistance. She sighed.
“Computer,” she finally said. “What is the nature of this anomaly?”
Perhaps some useful data could be extrapolated despite the imprecise nature of her query.
“Unable to comply.”
Her frown deepened. “Computer, analyze sensor data and project the trajectory of the anomaly.”
After a moment, the signature beeping signaled the completion of the inquiry.
“The spatial anomaly has no trajectory. It is a fixed point.”
That made no sense. Everything in space moved to some degree, be it linear or orbital or warp, depending on the strength of relevant gravimetric forces.
“Clarify.” The command sounded inane even to her.
“The anomaly is a fixed point in space.”
Frustrated and impotent, Seven stomped back over to her console and inputted a series of new algorithms.
“Computer, recalibrate sensors according to Borg algorithms two-five-seven-one and pi-three-two-four and extrapolate.”
“No new data is available.”
Seven momentarily debated asking Lieutenant Torres to institute new voice commands to render the computer less obnoxious, but sensed the lieutenant would take perverse pleasure in anything which Seven herself found irritating. She ground her teeth in annoyance.
“Computer, what elements are present within the anomaly?”
“The anomaly is comprised of chrontons, hydrogen, argon, and nitrogen in an oxygen atmosphere.”
“Atmosphere?,” she demanded, startled. “Computer, are there life signs within the anomaly?”
“One life sign detected.”
She frowned. “Computer, you stated before there are no vessels present in the anomaly.”
“Then how can a life sign exist within the anomaly if there are no vessels present?” She was met with silence. “Recalibrate your sensors and scan again.” She waited another several seconds.
“Recalibration complete. There is one life sign within the anomaly.
Her respiration decreased as her eyes widened. “Seven of Nine to the Bridge.”* * * * *
“Go ahead, Seven,” Kathryn said.
“Captain, the computer has detected a life sign within the anomaly.”
Janeway straightened in her chair and looked first to Chakotay, who appeared just as stunned as she. She turned around and nodded to Tuvok, indicating he should double-check Seven’s data. He quickly performed the task and regarded the captain with a solemn expression.
“One life sign has been detected."
“As I said,” Seven frostily stated over the comm link.
Kathryn rolled her eyes. “Seven, have you able to glean any further information about this life sign?”
“Yes. It is human.”
Startled, Kathryn rose to her feet. “Humanoid?”
“No, Captain. The life sign is human. Male.”
What the hell was going on? “And his vessel signature?”
“There is no vessel.”
Chakotay, too, stood.
“There is one life sign,” Seven repeated. “Human. Male. He is adrift within the anomaly, in open space.”
“That’s impossible,” Kathryn insisted.
“The anomaly is containing him and has produced a reasonable facsimile of an oxygen atmosphere, but it is destabilizing,” she continued, as if she hadn’t been interrupted. “The chrontons present within the anomaly are causing the human to age at an exponential rate.”
“Acknowledged. Seven, send the exact coordinates to the helm. Tom, as soon as you receive them, adjust the course and take us straight to the anomaly, full impulse.”
“Stand down Red Alert.”
“How is this possible?,” Chakotay whispered to Kathryn.
She shook her head. “I have no idea, but there are things I’ve seen while aboard this ship that four years ago I would have said couldn’t exist. All I know is that there’s someone out there who could be dying, and we have to save him. Everything else can wait.”
He nodded. “Bridge to Sick Bay.”
“Sick Bay here, Commander,” the Doctor cheerfully replied.
“Doctor, we’re approaching a spatial anomaly whose nature we haven’t been able to qualify, but within it is a single life sign, a human male. When we’re close enough, we’ll be beaming him directly to Sick Bay.”
“Acknowledged. Is there anything I should do to prepare for his arrival?”
“Doctor,” Kathryn interrupted, “be advised that this man has been contained within a chronometric field of indeterminate nature. The data Seven analyzed suggests that he is aging at an accelerated rate.”
“One more thing, Doctor.”
“He’s been adrift in space without a vessel for an unknown period of time.”
“What!,” the Doctor roared.
“Bridge out. Tom, when you bring us about, all stop. Then join the Doctor in Sick Bay. I have a feeling he’ll need his nurse.”
“Yes, ma’am. We’re approaching the coordinates now.”
“Time to intercept?”
She nodded. “We’re close enough. All stop.” The ship ground to a halt. “Go, Tom.” He rose from behind his console and shot out of the Bridge, relieved by an alternate. “Janeway to Seven of Nine.”
“Join Lieutenant Paris and the Doctor in Sick Bay. Your expertise might be needed. I’ll join you there as soon as I’m able.”
She turned toward Operations. “Harry, have you detected the life sign?”
He nodded, pulling a face. “He’s coming in faint, but I’ve located him.”
“Beam him directly to Sick Bay.”
He attempted to carry out the command several times, but was unable to do so. He ground his teeth. “I can’t get a lock on him, Captain. His pattern is too quickly destabilizing.”
“We need to get him on board now before it’s too late,” Janeway muttered. “He’ll die if we don’t.” Her eyes darted about as if a solution was simply waiting to be discovered. Finally, inspiration struck. “Janeway to Torres.”
“B’Elanna, head for the nearest console. I need you to do a skeletal lock. Harry will send you the coordinates. There’s not a second to lose.”
Kathryn nodded to a confused Harry, who nevertheless sent the data down to Engineering.
“A skeletal lock?,” Chakotay asked.
“A technique B’Elanna theorized and then put into action when you, Harry, and Tuvok were prisoners on that Borg cube. She’ll lock on to the minerals of the man’s bones and beam him aboard.”
Kathryn shot him a quick smile. “I’ve often found her to be, yes.”
“She did it, Captain!,” Harry exclaimed. “The man’s in Sick Bay now.”
She nodded. “Then that’s where I’m going. Commander, you have the Bridge. Tuvok, you’re with me; have your team meet us at Sick Bay, just in case. Harry, I want you to brief B’Elanna and Neelix. We’ll meet in the conference room in one hour.”
She nodded to the others and boarded the turbolift along with Tuvok.