A/N: Decided I was going to wait until this is complete to fix the timeline issues that I have in different chapters. So... yeah. Not even ten chapters left of this.
The way that it clicked in her head was so dramatic and breath-stealing that Willow sat there for a good few minutes just staring at the notes she’d made over the course of her researching, wondering if she hadn’t just stumbled into yet another dead end. She flipped to a page in another notebook – Phoebe’s account of that last time that they had seen Cole, when they assumed that he died – and she compared what she saw there with the notes she had just made.
She sucked in a breath and rubbed her eyes, sure that she couldn’t be seeing this right because it couldn’t be that
easy, right? Not that this would be easy at all, the getting Cole back portion of the proceedings; but knowing how
to do it was most of the battle right there. Now that she had the how – if she had the how to begin with – she could work on the rest of it. Work on getting Cole back where he belonged so that she could then fix what was wrong with Xander.
Because something was definitely wrong with him.
A week had passed Anya had came to her with concerns about Xander. A week… and they had gotten more and more sure with every passing day that Anya had been right. He’d gotten harder, a little cruel at times, things that Willow couldn’t understand. Not from her Xander-shaped friend. Sure, he was sometimes a little ruthless, but never downright cruel.
Whatever had bound that demonic part of him was slowly unraveling, letting that dark side of Xander out. Since he wasn’t used to having to control those urges and impulses, it was must worse than it should have been if he’d had practice merging that side of himself with the good side.
Anya had tried to mention something to Xander about it, four days ago, when it had become undeniably obvious; when the snide remarks had graduated to the full out cruelty that Willow wished she could deny. Xander had shrugged her comment off, told her she was just being paranoid.
He didn’t see what they all did. And Giles – Willow put a hand against her forehead, wishing that she couldn’t remember the conversation that had happened just last night – Giles has said that they were going to have to take steps
if things progressed much further. She hadn’t liked the way that sounded.
Hadn’t liked it at all.
So she hadn’t slept since that moment, desperate to figure this thing out before steps
had to be taken. Irreversible, permanent, horrible, frightening steps.
She couldn’t lose Xander.
And now –
Willow whimpered, hot tears rolling down her cheeks.
Now maybe she wouldn’t have to.
She reached for her cell phone and dialed Phoebe’s number.
“Okay, to review,” Willow started, looking at each of the sisters in turn, her gaze lingering longest with Phoebe. “Cole got these powers. Avatar powers or whatever, right? He wasn’t human or demon – he was invulnerable and all-powerful. Do I have it right so far?”
They nodded and Willow took a breath before continuing.
”So – out of his mind with obsession, he created an alternate universe wherein he and Phoebe were together and he was just plain old Cole – demonic, but not an Avatar.”
“There was a little more to it than that,” Paige said, shrugging. “But, yeah, basically.”
“And the three of you vanquished him there, in that alternate universe that he created?”
“Right,” Piper said.
Willow nearly crowed with excitement. “Okay, so just stay with me – tell me if this makes sense – if he created that world, then he’s the only one that can end it. But, since he died, that little slice of reality didn’t have any way to get new material. He was it, you know? So – he dies and the world resets in on itself. In a loop. A never-ending loop. With copies of you guys, since obviously you’re here and not there, but that’s it. He’s there, alive, looped into this day that he created. Like that movie Groundhog Day. Except without the comedy, because you guys said that the little reality he created was really angsty and dramatic and stuff.”
She sucked in a deep breath, the babbling coming to a sudden stop. And then it was just the waiting for a reaction. Their
“It,” Phoebe began, licking her lips. She shook her head. “It seems too simple.”
“I know,” Willow said. “Which is why I didn’t think of it. But he created it, only he can end it. It all makes perfect sense. I think. I hope. Right?”
The sisters looked at each other. Phoebe to Piper, Piper to Paige, then Paige back to Phoebe, looking around Piper so that it was a circle completed. None of them spoke. It was like they were using some kind of telepathy, but Willow knew better. The sisters were just close like that. They knew each other, knew what a look or a sigh meant. They didn’t need to speak mind-to-mind when simple body language worked. The corner of Piper’s mouth twitched, then Paige smiled and Phoebe outright laughed. Willow held her breath until they nodded, just about as one.
“Yeah, that sounds really plausible,” Piper grinned.
And for the first time since all of this had begun, Willow started to feel truly hopeful.
They should have known that everything would go to hell in a handbasket pretty quick after that point. Should have known that knowing what they needed to do was just going to be a jumping off point for even more problems.
None of them expected what happened next, though.
Phoebe looked up from the book Willow had sent her back with, her finger holding her place in the text. The words were starting to blur together, but this was important because it was a text all about alternate universes and dimensions and somewhere in here there had to be a way to either connect them to that world long enough for her to go in and pull out Cole, or to just yank him from there to here without anyone going in for him at all.
Xander was standing in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest, leaning against the doorframe. Phoebe felt her heart skip a beat at the sight, the look in Xander’s eyes dark and a little frightening.
“Hey,” she greeted, proud that her voice didn’t tremble. She flashed him a grin. “Didn’t think I’d get to see you ‘til this weekend.”
In other words – what the hell are you doing here?
He shrugged, but didn’t move. Nor did the stare soften in the least. “Chris wanted to hang a little. So, here I am.”
”Oh. And where is
“Changing clothes,” Xander shrugged. Now he pushed off the doorframe and walked – no, stalked – into the room. He leaned put his palms on the kitchen table and leaned in a little to look at the book she was reading. “Anything good?”
”We think we might know how to get your dad back,” she told him, seeing no reason to keep the knowledge from her son. Her slightly evil looking and sounding and acting son that was starting to scare her. Where the hell was Piper if they needed a freeze?
”Well,” Xander drawled. “That’s good. Was starting to think you guys were going to just let me die.”
The Xander that she had first met would never have said something like that, and Phoebe tried to tell herself that this was just a side-effect of having too much of the demon running through him right now. It still hurt. They’d been doing the best that they could, but he was too far gone to see that.
“Of course we weren’t going to let you die,” she assured him.
He snorted and turned away. “Part demon, mom. And bringing dad back means one more demon in the world? How do I know you guys aren’t just doing this with the intent to vanquish both of us?”
Phoebe sucked in a breath, her heart constricting with pain. “Xander –“
Whirling back to face her, Xander’s lips turned up in a sneer. His eyes flashed red. Demonic, frightening red. Behind his skin, she thought she could see color. Not the pale peach of human skin, but red and black and, oh God.
It was all she could do to stay sitting, to not let him think that she was scared.
”Xander,” she tried again. “You’re my son. I would never do anything to hurt you.”
But would he do something to hurt her
, was the thought that was going through her head.
“Right,” he sighed, taking a step back from the table. “You’d never do anything to hurt me.” He shook his head, one hand coming up to his temple. Phoebe could almost see him fighting with himself, trying to set right what was going wrong in his mind. This was her fault – hers and Cole’s – for creating him, for not protecting him better, for not finding a spell that would have stopped all this before it happened.
But what was done was done and they couldn’t make any changes to the timeline without risking everything
“I don’t even know what I’m doing here,” he muttered, taking another step back from the table. “I don’t want to be here. I need to think.”
And, as Phoebe watched, Xander shimmered away.
She ran for the phone, calling Willow. “Okay – we need to get this done now,” she said in a rush when the other witch answered. “Otherwise we’re going to lose him.”