Trick or Treat - Trick, Most Definitely! 10/10
Rating: maybe R for violence and some language, but definitely not much worse than the show.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. They belong to Crack-Head Joss. Deal with it. I have.
Category: Friendship only. No smut here, people. (Sorry about that.) Pretty much just friendship stuff. B/X, W/X, and some D/X and C/X, too.
Summery: Yet another fascinating alternate Halloween episode. How could have things been changed if everyone had chosen different costumes that night?
Time Frame: Canon for first season, then becomes AU at second season episode 6, "Halloween."
Spoilers: None really, if you've watched anything past the middle of second season.
Character Bashing: None. Really. :)
Feedback: Of course! Flames, however, will either be ignored or to used to toast marshmallows.
Author's Note 1: Significant changes in this particular universe are as follows: Dawn is present here, since the monks' spell in the Joss-verse retroactively altered the past when they cast it to create Dawn, give her a soul and make her Buffy's sibling. So she really was here all the time, and the false memories everyone has of her being here really aren't! Joyce knows about Buffy being the Slayer and that Xander, Willow and Giles support her, and everyone thinks that Dawn is unaware of everything concerning Buffy and Slaying, including the Scoobies' support of her sister. Angel is still a brooding asshole and Spike is most definitely the nasty, vicious, mean and underhanded prick he used to be, before Joss and Marti castrated him and turned him into the capering Nancy-boy poof he used to despise.
Author's Note 2: Yeah, I know that Entrapment really didn't premiere until April 1999, but in this AU, it came out in April 1995, and that's how come the Gang mentions Catherine Zeta-Jones. If anyone doesn't like that explanation, tough luck, it's my universe, and I'm re-creating the way I want it. :)
Author's Note 3: Yeah, I also know 'Alien Resurrection' really didn't premiere until November 1997, but work with me here, people! The Gang saw it earlier than the rest of the world when they were visiting Universal Studios on a class trip to LA, as part of a sneak preview marketing survey the studio was making. If you don't like that explanation, make up one of your own. In any event, the characters did see it, and that's why some of them are dressed the way they are.
Trick or Treat - Trick, Most Definitely!
Concentrating for a moment, Aki scanned the surrounding area for sign of any kyuuketsui that might still be around and sensed the presence of several more of the creatures on the upper floors of the building. Looking around, she located the closest stairway and headed towards them, pausing only to rabbit punch and toss to the side a massive, heavily-built pirate who had been molesting a cowering blonde dressed as a Renaissance noblewoman. The mottled, interwoven auras of both of individuals revealed them to be suffering from the effects of the same spell that had apparently targeted this whole region, which was the only reason she had not handled the pirate in the much less-kindly, and much more permanent, manner that he deserved for his behavior.
As she reached the top of the stairs, the warrior-witch could hear the frantic pleas of several people coming from one of the rooms, and she stealthily moved down the hallway, the katana in her hand poised to strike.
Carefully peering around the doorjamb of the room from which the voices had issued, she noted the positions of the two demons inside. A tall brunette with a dull-eyed expression had a young, partially-dressed blond guy pinned to the bed inside and was about to start feasting in him, while a short dumpy-looking sandy-haired vamp wearing his game face was enjoying menacing two mostly-undressed young women who were recoiling away from him in terror.
The faintest whisper of sound behind her caused Aki to drop to the floor as she simultaneously drove her left leg back in a powerful thrust kick into the stomach of her would-be assailant, doubling them over while also driving them backwards down the hallway. Instantly regaining her feet, she snapped the blessed blade forward in a short arc that cleaved her assailant in two, from the upper left shoulder to his lower right, the two parts individually starting to fall forward before transforming into a fine spray of dust scattered across the hall flooring.
Spinning on the ball of her foot, the redhead darted into the bedroom, catching the brunette looking up in confused surprise at the interruption of her meal while the male vampire grabbed hold of both women to prevent any escape attempts as he looked over his shoulder at the newcomer.
The shuriken that came spinning through the air to lodge itself in his right eye caused the vamp to scream and release the two girls as his hands reflexively grabbed at his injury. The brunette stared in numbed shock at the redhead's actions for a precious few seconds before she released her prey and began moving towards their assailant, and the time wasted gave Aki more than sufficient opportunity to glide across the floor and jab her sword through the monster's heart before turning back to confront the bleeding demon leaping at her.
Unfortunately, his recovery was just a bit faster than she had anticipated.
His left hand knocked her sword from her grasp and his right encircled her throat as he drove her backwards, slamming her lower back against the footboard of the bed and knocking her completely off-balance. They tumbled together to the floor as Aki struggled to hold his free hand still with both of hers and prevent him from disemboweling her while she fought for her breath, the impact against the floor having knocked her wind from her.
As she desperately fought the raging demon's attempts to either choke her or claw her open, Aki suddenly found herself fighting against the air and trying not to sneeze as a large handful of dust tickled her nose.
Looking up, she found the blond-haired youth who had been pinned to the bed by the brunette vampire gazing at her, a look of combined concern and admiration on his face and her katana in his hands. The two still mostly-naked girls stood off to the side, looks of shock and disbelief on their faces as they stared at the other two occupants who had apparently just turned two deformed and seriously disturbed people into a sprinkling of dust.
"Our most sincere thanks for your timely rescue, gracious lady," the youth smiled at her as he extended his hand to help her rise. "If not for your most wondrous efforts, these lovely angels and myself would have found ourselves dining with those nightmarish creatures, served up as the main course, no doubt."
"And I must thank you for your efforts on my behalf, sir," the Daughter of the Dragon politely replied as she allowed herself to be pulled to her feet. "You saved me from serious injury or worse, and you have my thanks, in return. Should you ever require assistance, you have but to call for me. My name is Autumn."
Hearing a renewed chorus of screams coming from the grounds outside, echoed by the sound of gunshots, Aki retrieved her blade from the young man as she headed back into the hallway, pausing for a moment to ask, "I do not wish to appear rude, but I do not know your name, kind sir."
"My most humble apologies for my lack of manners, most beautiful lady," the blond smiled most charmingly as he bowed to her. "My name is de Marco. Don Juan de Marco. And I am humbled and most delighted to be at your service."
Carefully arranging the unconscious blonde on one of the empty couches in the rec room, Phoenix knelt beside her and murmured a minor healing spell as he placed his hand on the girl's temple, feeling the arcane energy accelerate her metabolism to mend the site of the injury. She would wake once her system had completed healing the damage she had sustained, feeling a bit hungry because of the energy her body had used to heal, perhaps, but aside from that, none the worse for wear. It usually took most people anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes for injuries like this one, and some strong feeling inside him didn't want to leave her alone while he tended to any remaining emergencies, so he looked around for a suitable replacement to guard the unconscious girl.
Taking a brief moment to consider his own situation as he gazed around the room, he wondered about the relationship between the true owner of this body and the seemingly delicate blonde lying here before him. The surge of rage and hatred he had felt upon seeing the blond vampire attacking her was a definite indication that there was some sort of emotional attachment between the two; whether it was a romantic bond, or more akin to a sibling connection he couldn't be sure, but there was most certainly a tie between them that couldn't be broken easily, if at all.
As he moved to grab hold of a nearby brunette wearing some sort of slave girl costume to watch over the unconscious girl, he was slightly surprised to see the girl open her eyes after less than a minute had passed.
"Who are you, and what happened to me?" the girl - no, the woman - demanded, her brow furrowed after a quick look around the room, rapidly taking in the virtually deserted rec room and the milling chaos beyond it.
"My name is John Phoenix, and there's nothing to worry about, miss," the demon hunter reassured her. "You're perfectly safe now; the person who tried to hurt you is no longer anywhere around and won't be able to threaten you, again.
"You were attacked by a rather violent and somewhat sociopathic partygoer, and I just happened to be wandering by and managed to drive your assailant away," he continued, his tone calm and reassuring even as he periodically glanced around the room, keeping up a surveillance watch on any- and everyone in the area.
Gin took a moment to check out the dark-haired warrior who was kneeling next to her as she lay on the couch, and consider whether this guy could possibly be the one she had been told to look for by the Englishman she had spoken with over the phone.
Tall, fairly muscular build, an intense expression in the dark brown eyes, dressed all in black, fairly bristling with weapons, including a nasty-looking big-ass sword in a scabbard on his back, and quite good looking, too, actually, she decided as she looked him over carefully, although that wasn't exactly the word that this Giles fellow she had spoken to earlier had used when describing the young man she needed to locate.
< If I really were sixteen again, > she reflected, < I think I'd be wanting to get to know you a lot better, Mr. Tall, Dark and Mysterious, > she mused to herself with a small grin.
Added to everything else was the fact that she had felt a unmistakable sense of total trust in this stranger the moment she had looked at him, a feeling that she could rely on him through whatever circumstances might occur. 'A hand to pull you out of Hell,' as her father was wont to say.
Considering the total weirdness that had plagued her night so far, this guy could very well be the same one she was supposed to find. And if she was right about his identity, then all that remained for her to do was find a redheaded computer nerd named Willow, who apparently was dressed as some sort of ninja for the night, and persuade the two of them to accompany her, a complete stranger, to the local high school and meet with some other people they probably wouldn't recognize, in order to try to resolve whatever situation was responsible for tonight's - unusual - occurrences.
< Sure, Gin, it's gonna be a piece of cake, > she told herself. < Find two people you don't know and have never met, and talk them into leaving with another complete stranger to try to resolve a problem they probably don't even realize exists. It'll be a regular walk in the park. >
"By any chance would you know anyone named Alexander Harris?" she ventured cautiously, looking up her apparent rescuer, and was a bit surprised when her question brought a wry smile to his face.
"The answer to that would be both 'yes' and 'no'," he told her. "Would you mind telling me exactly why you're asking about him?"
"Well, this is probably going to sound completely insane," Gin began, as she tried to stick to a fairly close approximation of the truth, without giving the man before her cause to think she was hallucinating, "but I've been informed by a fairly reliable source that some extremely strange things have been happening tonight, which have affected people's memories and are probably causing them to believe that they're someone other than they really are."
"So, do you believe that it's possible that you might actually be someone other than who you believe yourself to be?," the brunet interrupted her. "Someone who completely different, mentally and physically, than the person you know yourself to be?"
Surprised by his statement, Gin pulled herself up on the couch as she regarded her unknown companion with a mixture of surprise, wonder, disbelief and suspicion.
"What made you ask that?" she demanded.
"The fact that I realized a short while ago, that this isn't really my own body," the brunet replied, a bit too calmly for Gin's piece of mind.
"The last memory I have before I found myself here, was of being caught in an explosion that destroyed a - terrorist's base," Phoenix informed her, shading the actual facts of the situation slightly. If this girl wasn't already aware of the less visible aspects of the world, like so many other people, he didn't intend to confront her with their existence unless he absolutely had to do so.
< It's going to be difficult enough dealing with this situation as it is, > he thought to himself, < without complicating it further with a possible case of hysterics from someone learning about the Dark for the first time. >
"In addition to this body lacking a number of distinctive scars and other - souvenirs - that I've earned over the course of a few years," he added, "I also found myself in possession of a wallet indicating that I'm apparently a teenager named Alexander L. Harris, and not the person I believe myself to be."
Seeing the blonde's lack of understanding of his last comment, Phoenix noted, "Most people in my line of work don't usually carry any form of identification when we're working," and saw the girl nod with comprehension as several facts seemed to click in her mind as she took another look at all of the various weapons he was carrying.
"The last memory I have before finding myself here is sitting at my desk going over the details of a burglary report one of our clients had made," Gin confided, looking up at the brunet.
"I'm an art appraiser and investigator for an insurance company. I'm also a couple years older than I seem to be right now," she added, as she got to her feet, "as well as definitely *not* being your stereotypical California cheerleader.
"I've also got some questions for you," she said. "One, do you have any idea who or what could be responsible for whatever it is that's happened? And, two, how come you're acting so calm about this whole - incident?"
"For your first question, I have to say, no, not at the moment," he smiled, admiring the way the woman remained calm and composed in the midst of the current upheaval.
"And as for the second, I've been in even stranger situations," he admitted.
A chorus of screams accompanied by the sound of automatic weapons fire from the grounds outside distracted their attention, and they rushed to the windows to see what was happening.
A chalk-white skinned man with ruby red lips and a shock of electric green hair was standing on the front lawn, a Kalashnikov dangling loosely in his left hand as he stood over the bullet-ridden body of someone dressed in a dark grey body stocking and black cape and mask, the cowl on his head sporting two elongated ears. As Gin looked on in horror, he fired several more times into his victim, laughing insanely as the man's body shook with the impact of the slugs tearing into it.
A slight whisper of sound to her side made her turn, to see Phoenix, or Harris, if that's who he really was, heading outside at top speed. Following his reaction, Gin was making her way through the front doors as she caught sight of him headed directly towards the gunman, darting back and forth in a broken-field pattern as the lunatic sprayed intermittent bursts at him.
The insurance investigator gasped as a wave of horror and fear coursed through her as she witnessed Phoenix/Harris' body shudder momentarily when his target's gunfire finally caught him, an instant before the agent slammed into him and drove him into the ground.
< No! Not him! > she felt a part of her scream in semi-panic at the sight of the brunet being shot.
The brunet's fist impacted against the ivory-skinned gunman's jaw like a piledriver against a post, knocking him unconscious, and by the time Gin had made her way through the panicked crowd, the agent had already torn strips from the gunman's clothes and secured him against any further offensive actions.
"You should lie down, you've been shot," Gin ordered, noting at least two bullet holes in Phoenix/Harris' shirt, as she dropped to her knees next to him as he crouched over the blood splattered costumed body of the gunman's victim, examining his wounds and muttering in a low voice.
"Quiet and let me concentrate! I'm trying to stabilize him," he snapped at her, never taking his eyes off the bloody wounds decorating the man on the ground.
As Gin watched in astonishment, the blood pouring from the wounds slowed and began clotting even as she watched, the faintest shimmer of light seeming to dance over the injuries in pace with the brunet's words. After almost a minute had passed, Phoenix/ Harris sat back on his heels and let out a low sigh.
"That's the best I can do for now," he said, as his hands fumbled at his belt and he pulled out a cell phone. "He should stable long enough to get him to a hospital."
"Let me take care of that," Gin admonished him, as she pulled the phone from his hand and tried to push him to the ground. "You've been shot, you know. Take care of yourself before you bleed to death," she told him. For some reason, her stomach had started churning wildly at the idea of him being injured.
As he pulled aside his shirt to examine the wounds, wondering about the rapidly diminishing amount and degree of pain he was feeling from his injuries, Phoenix was astonished to see the entry holes the bullets had made visibly growing smaller. As he watched in disbelief, the holes closed up, one by one, and the slugs that had torn their way through him were ejected as his skin healed over, leaving an unbroken expanse of flesh without any indication of there ever having been any damage at all.
Looking up, he found Gin staring at him, her face a mixture of amazement and disbelief to match his own as she looked up to meet his eyes.
"Son of a..."
Ripley stared as a horde of screaming people rushed from inside the building, unable to make sense of what exactly was happening from their babble, or what it was they were fleeing.
< Please, don't let it be the xenomorphs again, > she silently prayed to anything that might possibly be listening to the desperate prayers of someone who no longer really believed in the existence of any type of benevolent deities.
Malevolent bastards, though?
She was quite certain that there were probably whole pantheon of them out there, somewhere.
There would have to be, since she desperately wanted to believe that no one being could be vicious and malicious enough to develop a creature like those monsters she had been forced to deal with.
In any event, though, that was something to ponder another day. Right now, she needed to determine exactly what it was that was causing the panic here and, if it was those eternally damned parasites, she needed to make sure that the nest and all of the creatures it had produced were eliminated.
Completely and totally wiped from existence.
There was absolutely no chance in hell that she was going to let any trace of those fuckers remain for some other corporate or military asshole to stumble over and decide that they made the perfect offensive weapon to clear out their enemy's homeland or planet.
Any trace of their existence *was* going to be destroyed, even if she had to drop a tactical nuke on the site to do so.
Readying the rail gun she had found herself carrying, instead of her trusted Pulse Rifle, she quickly but cautiously made her way across the porch to the doors through which the crowd was streaming. Before she got there, though, she was distracted by a short, cut-off scream issuing from the side yard of the house.
Stepping off the porch, the brunette headed to where she thought the scream had come from, to find another of the deformed, yellow-eyed creatures like the one who had attacked her assaulting another young woman. It looked like he had his teeth fastened in the smaller blonde's throat, and the girl's struggles were weakening even as she watched.
"Yo, bloodsucker!" the tall brunette called, as she raised her rifle to her shoulder and waited for his reaction.
< Yep, just as stupid as I'd hoped, > she smiled to herself as the vampire lifted his head to look over at her, and she squeezed the trigger once the red dot was centered between his eybrows and blew its head off. The girl the creature had been feeding on dropped limply to the ground.
She frowned, puzzled, when this creature's body turned to dust, too, just like the other one who had attacked her a few moments earlier.
< What could cause that? Some sort of coherent energy field collapse, that had been holding the thing together? > she wondered to herself as she examined the girl's bleeding neck.
Neither puncture wound seemed very deep, and they looked as though they were already beginning to coagulate, so the ex-warrant officer helped the rather groggy girl to her feet, then urged her to find her way to some safer location, before turning back to the frat house.
The earlier furor seemed to have died down by this point in time, but she continued to move carefully as she approached the well-lit building.
A sudden flurry of what sounded like gunshots came from around the front of the house, but before she could head in that direction, Ripley was suddenly confronted by some sort of human/lizard hybrid. The creature was nearly two meters tall, and was apparently wearing only a pair of shorts. Its visible skin was a greenish-brown in color and had a pebbled texture, reminding her of the covering of some of the native species of lizard that she had seen in a zoo she had visited the last time the Nostromo had called at Earth. As the hybrid approached her, its mouth opened in what could charitably called a smile, revealing a very large number of sharp teeth.
Based on everything that had already happened tonight, Ripley wasn't about to bet that the creature was going to welcome her with open arms, although the expression on its face made her think that it was possibly considering inviting her out for dinner - only with herself as the main course.
"Hey, gorgeous," she heard it croak in a voice that reminded her of rusty hinges. " Want to join me for dinner?"
< What is it about me that attracts all the weird things? > she asked herself, as she raised the rifle and pointed it at the creature's head.
"One more step, and the owners of this place will be washing your brains off their wall," she cautioned the creature. "You don't get a second warning."
With what was a clearly disbelieving smile, the creature took a step forward, and Ripley's finger tightened on the trigger.
Aki came down the back stairway like breath of wind through a night's sky, present but unseen, and slipped out through the back door, intending to flank any possible trouble-makers that were present. She was actually almost hoping that there was, indeed, some criminal or supernatural menace lying in wait ahead, because she was definitely in the mood to kick someone's or something's ass!
She was becoming more than a little upset at the way the evening was progressing; not only had some truly arrogant, foolish and/or stupid magic-using poser pulled her into a crazy situation that was rapidly deteriorating, there was also a distinct possibility that she, in fact, wasn't who she knew herself to be!
She snorted at herself at that last thought. Possibility, hell! She knew for certain now - she wasn't Tanaka Akiko!
The glimpse of red hair, green eyes and the pale, lightly freckled complexion she had caught in the mirror upstairs as she had fought the kyuuketsuis was more than sufficient confirmation that she was not the woman she had believed herself to be.
Who she actually was, she had no idea, at present, but that was something to concern herself about at a later time. Right now, there were people in danger, and her duty was clear: help the weak and helpless, in any way necessary.
She may not truly be the brown-eyed, black-haired Tanaka Akiko of pure Japanese ancestry that she had believed herself to be, but she was, most certainly, still a Daughter of the Dragon, and she could no more shirk her obligations than she could fly to the moon unaided!
As she rounded the corner of the house, she came upon a massive lizard/human hybrid of some sort who seemed intent on getting close to a tall brunette who was currently holding a well worn, lethal-looking rifle with an air of casual competence.
While Aki could well understand the creature's wish to get closer (the woman was quite striking, and carried with her an aura of both danger and a smoking, sultry magnetism), she could also understand the brunette's obvious reluctance to allow something as unfamiliar and possibly hostile as this being within arm's reach.
Hearing the lizard-man's comment about dinner, with its clearly intentional double-entendre, she shook her head at the almost palpable macho stupidity being displayed by the individual before her. Listening to the woman warning him about approaching her any closer, she noted how her body language made it immediately evident to anyone with a handful of common sense that she was not bluffing.
Which only meant that the being still attempting to stalk her was an idiot.
Only the fact that she could see the mottled and haphazard fusion of two auras indicating that this was not the creature's true form made her take action to save this fool from the well-deserved reward he would be receiving in just an instant.
Darting forward, she swept the lizard man's legs out from under and then slammed a palm strike against the nerve cluster at the base of his neck as she directed her chi to disrupt the neural flow there, rendering the buffoon unconscious before he even hit the ground.
As the scaly form dropped to the ground with all the grace of a sack of potatoes, Aki looked over at the woman peering down the rifle's sights at her and calmly waited for her to speak.
"Friend of yours?" the brunette asked, easing the pressure off the trigger slightly and lowering the barrel the least bit towards the ground.
"Never met him before, to the best of my knowledge," the redhead noted. "Although considering the way things have been going so far tonight, he could be my best friend and I wouldn't know."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ripley demanded.
"Let me ask you a question first," the smaller woman replied. "Did you suddenly find yourself here a short while ago, without any idea of where you were or how you might have come to arrive here?"
Aki noted the brunette's hand unconsciously clenching around the rifle's handgrip and reflexively raising the rifle to point it directly at her as she asked her question, so she continued speaking quietly and reassuringly.
"It appears that there has been some sort of alteration of reality in the local area, and the three of us," gesturing towards the two of them and the lizard man on the ground, "as well as an unknown number of other individuals, both inside and outside the house, have all been affected by it.
"Until just a few moments ago, I had believed myself to be of pure Japanese ancestry and upbringing," she said calmly as she slowly reached up to pull back her hood and pull down her mask, to reveal her quite clearly European features to the woman. "As you can see, it is quite obvious that I am not."
Ripley looked at the slim redhead who had so effectively handled the lizard man hybrid just a moment ago (barehanded, no less!) and considered her words.
The woman had accurately described the circumstances of Ripley's sudden appearance here, wherever the hell 'here' might be, and she had taken down an apparent hostile who looked to be something more than just a crème-puff in a matter of seconds, in an almost distracted manner.
While that certainly didn't necessarily mean she was one of the good guys, she also had an air about her that strongly reminded her of Annalee Call, which was, surprisingly, a point in her favor. Quiet, intense, highly intelligent. Much to her own amazement, she and the deceptively fragile-seeming android had turned out to have a great deal in common, especially when you remembered that neither one of them was human.
Ripley was about to reply, when the world around her suddenly seemed to start spinning and everything went black.
Aki was watching the brunette closely, and noted that the woman seemed to believe her explanation, when suddenly a wave of darkness overtook her, and she felt herself falling to the ground.
Gin was staring into Phoenix/Harris's chocolate brown eyes when she suddenly felt herself spinning down into a chasm of confusion, before everything suddenly went black.
Phoenix was staring into the blonde's - Gin's - incredulous and disbelieving eyes when unconsciousness unexpectedly claimed him and he felt himself falling to the ground.
All across the town, partygoers and Halloween-ers dropped to the ground or the floors of whatever buildings they were currently in as the shockwave of the Chaos spell's disruption surged through Sunnydale's neighborhoods, transforming the victims of Ethan Rayne's malicious humor back to their normal forms and personalities.
Outside the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house, Buffy and Xander stared at each other, momentarily shocked into immobility as their true personalities finally resumed control of their bodies.
"Buffy? Is that really you?" Xander asked, hesitantly reaching out to carefully touch the Slayer's face. The memories of the evening's earlier goings-on were still clear and resonant in his mind, especially those of the bleached-blond vampire assaulting his friend.
"Xan? Are you okay?" Buffy asked, her eyes locked with his for a moment, before dropping to his chest and joining her hands as she pulled at his shirt to reveal an expanse of muscular, but unmarred flesh.
"Whoa, Buff! Hold up there a minute!" Xander immediately pulled back from the blonde's questing hands. "Right now, you're only courting misdemeanor sexual assault with your hands where they are - keep it up and you'll be looking at felony charges! Unless, of course, you've got a twenty dollar bill in your hand," he added with a small grin.
"I'm just making sure you're all right, you doofus!" Buffy snapped in a mixture of worry and annoyance, while a not-small part of her sighed with relief that he appeared unhurt. "You just got shot several times a couple minutes ago, remember?"
"Somehow, I doubt you'd be all that appreciative if our situations were reversed, and my hands were all over you, like that," the brunet muttered, as he glanced down to assure himself that there really weren't any holes in him from which blood was freely flowing.
"Oh, I'm not completely sure that you'd be right about that," Buffy replied with a small smile, a faint blush coloring her face as she wondered to herself exactly what had compelled her to say that.
The stunned expression on Xander's face when he heard her answer, though, was most definitely a Kodak moment, and well worth the semi-embarrassment factor, she decided, before she pushed herself to her feet and began looking around for Willow.
Gin's memories still lingered in her mind, and their totally impartial evaluation of her best male friend's dating potential was making her question herself as to exactly why she had never really looked at him in that light before. That, however, was something for her to mull over when she had a lot more free time to do so. Right now, they needed to locate Willow and make sure she was okay.
"Come on, Xand! The way things were going earlier, Will could be in serious trouble," Buffy pointed out, while trusting that her friend's instincts to protect the redhead would distract him from an in-depth analysis of what she had just said.
"Yeah, you're right, Buff! We need to find her fast," he agreed, fluidly rising to his feet and casting a searching look around the ground surrounding them. "You go look that way, and I'll check out over here," he ordered her, an undeniable air of command around him as he spoke.
Watching the fluid, effortless way he moved off to search for their missing friend, Buffy also distractedly noted as she moved to check out her section of the grounds that the weapons Xander was carrying looked as though they were still real.
Yet another thing she should probably ask Giles to check about, once she made sure that all of her friends were safe and healthy
Sunnydale high school library
Saturday, November 1
"And I can still remember everything there is to know about this woman's life, Giles, just like if I had actually lived it," Buffy stated as she sat next to Willow at the conference table and finished reiterating the events of the previous night.
"Not to mention that all of the things Gin was carrying with her are still here, too!" she informed her Watcher and Ms. Calendar as she opened up the black knapsack she had been carrying the night before and carefully removed and then delicately unwrapped two pieces of jewelry that glistened in the sunlight streaming through the windows, then added a half-dozen rings and necklaces that elicited small gasps of appreciation from Willow and Jenny, and a low-voiced "Good Heavens!" from Giles.
"According to Gin's memories, these two big pieces here are of genuine Ming dynasty origin, and are probably worth upwards of four hundred thousand dollars, based on their historical value alone," the Slayer stated, "and these other pieces, together, are worth just as much as those two things."
Picking up a small leather case that lay to one side of the jewelry, Buffy opened it to reveal a set of obviously high-quality picks and other tools intended to help their user bypass any locks they might come across.
"Anyone want to take three guesses what these things are used for?" she said, offering the kit to Giles for evaluation.
"Now what am I supposed to do, Giles?" she demanded, turning to her surrogate father for direction. "I still have all these memories in my head of a woman who's a cat burglar/insurance investigator, who spoke four languages fluently and who's almost twice my age, and it doesn't look like they're going away any time soon!"
"I - I'm not at all certain what we can, uhm, do about these matters," Giles answered her, his forehead furrowed with concern.
"Am I to understand that you, too, still have access to the memories of the person you became last night, Willow?" he asked, turning to face the redheaded hacker, while actually noticing for the first time the uncharacteristic way the young woman was dressed.
In lieu of her usual frumpy clothing that did absolutely nothing to enhance her figure, Willow was dressed in a pair of form fitting black jeans, a black tee shirt topped with a forest green blouse and black hiking boots, with her long red hair pulled up into a bun and held in place with several long skewers. Combined with the confidence and self-assurance with which she moved, it almost seemed as if the Willow they had known had been replaced with a doppelganger possessing all of the redhead's best traits and none of her limitations.
Without saying a word, Willow slid to her feet, displaying a litheness and agility at odds with the young woman who had been helping support Buffy in her calling for the past several months, her hand going to her hair as if to adjust it.
Then her hand snapped down sharply, and the sudden dull thunk! of something hitting the small cork target that hung on the inside wall of his office caused him to turn and look, to discover one of the six inch long pins that had been holding her hair in place quivering in the center of the target's x-ring, some fifty feet from where she stood.
"That's just one of a number of things I gained last night, Giles," she smiled as she turned to look at him. "I can also speak, read and write German, French, Dutch, Japanese, and the Mandarin, Hakka and Cantonese Chinese dialects. It seems 'Autumn' possessed an extremely wide range of skills," she added, as she returned to her seat next to Buffy. "We can discuss some of her more - esoteric - abilities later, if you don't mind. Okay?"
Giles' distracted "Most certainly," mumbled as he looked over the now enhanced computer hacker, indicated that his current thoughts were far from the academic building in which they were all sitting.
"All of these skills you two have gained are in addition to any you already possessed, right?" Jenny asked. "I mean, it doesn't appear as though you've lost anything as a result of last night's activities, correct?"
Both girls nodded their answers to her question, and a thoughtful silence filled the room as the four of them pondered all of the possible repercussions of Ethan Rayne's malicious mischief.
Their contemplations were interrupted as the doors to the library abruptly swung open and a rather loud and indignant "All right, what's going on around here?" served to announce the arrival of an obviously upset and incensed Cordelia Chase. The brunette's sudden and completely unanticipated arrival was ample cause for the library's various inhabitants to immediately give each other questioning looks as they wondered at her totally out-of-character appearance here.
"Is there something can I help you with, Cordelia?" Giles asked shortly as he rose to his feet and tried to head off the clearly distraught young woman before she got to her obvious target, Buffy.
"Yes, you can undo whatever kind of freakazoid thing you weirdoes did last night and turn me back into me!" the head cheerleader demanded irately. "Just because I helped you guys out a couple of times doesn't mean that I want to join your circus and be one of your fellow freaks!"
"And just what is it, exactly, that you are referring to, Cordelia?" Giles asked, looking the tall brunette over with a concerned eye, examining her for any overt changes that the girl might have been referring to.
"Eww, you shouldn't be checking me out, Giles! You're supposed to be the mature adult here, not some perv giving me the eye, you know!" the brunette glared at him, eliciting a slight chuckle from Jenny and grins from Buffy and Willow.
"I was not 'checking you out,' as you so eloquently phrased it, Cordelia," the librarian informed her as he returned her glare with one of equal ferocity, seasoned with a dash of righteous indignation. "I was attempting to determine what the problem you were referring to when you entered here might be.
"Since you are not exhibiting any noticeable physical alterations," he continued, "I would hazard that you are therefore referring to some form of alteration of your memories that apparently occurred last night, at the behest of a former - acquaintance of mine. You, apparently, were just one of a significant number of Sunnydale residents who affected by the spell he cast last night. I can assure you, however, that the transformation you experienced was a purely transitory phenomenon, and that you need not worry about any lingering effects.
"In fact," the Slayer's Watcher went on, "after having spoken with a number of people who had been transformed into their costumed personas, I feel safe in telling you that, aside from two or three notable exceptions, everyone changed by the spell has returned to their normal, mundane state, and I would expect that any memories you might still be able to recall will fade completely within the next day or so."
Giles smiled at the head cheerleader in what he hoped was a reassuring manner as he concluded his explanation, satisfied that he had addressed all of her concerns in a thorough, yet concise, fashion. He was more than a bit distressed then, when Cordelia looked at him and practically shrieked at him.
"Giles, pay attention! That's exactly what I've been trying to tell you!" she half-screamed, a frantic expression on her exquisite features. "I didn't change back! I'm still part Ellen Ripley! I'm not human! I'm a freak!"
"Wha- what do you mean by that, Cordelia?" Jenny asked as the three Scoobies present gawked at her, dumbstruck at her statement.
Moving in an extremely controlled manner that practically screamed out her anxiety and upset to Giles and Jenny's concerned eyes, Cordy stalked over to the steel cage in which the more dangerous mystical tomes Giles possessed were kept, and grabbed a short length of half-inch steel pipe that was left over from the cage's construction.
Turning to face her audience, she grabbed it at each end and easily bent it into a pretzel shape, which she then tossed across the table to Buffy.
"Does that give you guys a clue?" she demanded, before collapsing into a chair and beginning to weep inconsolably, as the girls and Giles all looked at her with stunned confusion.
A rather somber and subdued Xander Harris, wearing jeans and an uncharacteristically subdued navy tee shirt under a denim work shirt, walked into the library to discover what he would, on any previous day, have considered incontrovertible proof that he was either hallucinating or that he had been transported to a neighboring parallel dimension: his two best friends were trying to comfort a sobbing and distraught Cordelia Chase, while Giles and Jenny Calendar conferred in the background, all four of his compatriots in Slaying casting worried looks at the semi-hysterical brunette.
"Sorry I'm late, guys," he said as he approached, "and why do I have the feeling that Cordy's upset over something other than the fact that her favorite nail polish has been sold out and they won't have replacement stock in until Wednesday?"
Seeing the semi-glares both Willow and Buffy sent his way immediately let him know that the situation was serious enough that his admittedly sometimes sophomoric sense of humor was out of place at this moment, so he instantly shifted into comforting-and-caring mode, while his Phoenix-aspect began evaluating the likely possibilities for the group's obvious disconcertment.
"What's going on?" he asked, his eyes flicking over to Giles for answers.
"It seems that Cordelia, uhm, did not, ah, return to her previous, ah, normal state, once the spell responsible for the various transformations was broken," he haltingly informed the younger man. "She appears to still retain all of her memories of the, uhm, the character whose identity she had selected, as well as, uhm..." the Watcher's voice trailed off as he hesitated in detailing the additional facets of the movie persona that had remained after the spell's cessation.
"As well as all of the character's hybrid attributes," Xander quietly completed Giles' unspoken sentence, eliciting a small cry of anguish from Cordy upon hearing his words and additional simultaneous narrow-eyed frowns from Buffy and Willow, which he ignored as he walked over and dropped down into a crouch before the weeping high school diva.
"Hey, Cordy," he said gently, as he reached out a hand and carefully lifted her chin from her hands, "can you look at me for a minute?"
When the brunette hesitantly looked up, her eyes red and swollen from crying, he gave he a reassuring smile and said, "I need to ask you to do me a favor for a minute. Please?"
Shushing his two friends' incipient protests with a quick shake of his head before they could really begin, he continued speaking to the distressed girl staring at him questioningly while Giles and Jenny watched the two of them with great interest.
"I need you to come over here and just sit back and relax for a minute, okay?" he told her, as he carefully pulled her up and led her over to one of the other chairs.
"Just close your eyes and take a couple deep breaths and try to relax," he instructed her as she sat down. "I'm not gonna do anything mean or bad to you, Cordy," he told her. "I swear that to you on Jesse's memory. Okay?"
Hearing him invoke the name of his deceased best friend apparently reassured the uncertain head cheerleader somewhat, because she gave him a small hesitant smile and nodded her head, before sitting back and closing her eyes as requested.
Xander then quietly murmured a short phrase as his right hand sketched an outline of the quiescent brunette, and Buffy and Willow both cut short exclamations as a faint glow surrounded Cordelia in response to the male Scooby's incantations.
After a scant few seconds, the glow winked out, leaving Xander staring down at Cordy with a somber, almost solemn expression on his face.
"What did you just do, Xander?" Giles asked after a moment's pause during which the non-participants in the spell simply watched and waited.
"A simple diagnostic spell, Giles," he replied absently, as he continued to stare at the brunette, who by this time was staring up at him questioningly.
"We need to use your office for a couple minutes," he informed the school's librarian, as he reached out to help Cordy up. "And it's private," he added in a tone of voice that literally dripped of command, before anyone could say anything.
The four assorted demon-fighters watched curiously as Xander led a hesitant Cordelia into Giles' office and closed the door behind them. Buffy's acute hearing enabled her to hear Xander mutter a short phrase in a language she didn't recognize before all sounds issuing from inside the room simply stopped.
After several minutes had passed, the office door opened and Xander walked out, with the sounds of Cordelia's weeping in the background evident to all.
"What's going on, Xander?" Giles quietly demanded, holding up his hand to quiet Buffy and Willow even before they could open their mouths to speak, as the tall brunet dropped gracelessly into one of the chairs surrounding the conference table.
"What exactly did you determine is wrong with Cordelia, and what do we need to do to correct it? And how and where did you learn how to cast diagnostic spells, as you indicated you were doing earlier?" he added.
"All right, I'm going to address all of your questions in order, Giles," Xander replied, his face wearing an expression of fatigue and misery that seemed extraordinarily out of place on his normally cheerful features.
"First off, I'm only telling you guys this because Cordy said it was okay to let you know what's going on," the tall brunet informed his listeners, "and that's because you'll need to know everything we do if you're going to help us figure out how to correct what happened to her.
"The diagnostic spell I used on Cordy indicated that she's not entirely human anymore," he announced quietly, not looking at any of his friends. "She's a hybrid now, combining her normal human attributes with some attributes of those - creatures - featured in the movie series. Because of that, she's a lot stronger, faster and much more resilient than a normal human being, her epidermis and skeletal structure are a lot tougher, and, this is a *major* point of importance here, people: her blood is highly corrosive, so if she gets cut and starts bleeding, everyone in her vicinity needs to be *extremely* careful, because she could do a lot of unintentional, incidental damage to anyone and anything that her blood touches," he cautioned the group.
"The main reason Cordy's still in there crying and not out here," he added quietly, still not looking directly at anyone and keeping his attention focused on one of the various school plaques hanging on the far wall of the room, "is because I just told her that, as things stand right now, she's sterile; she's never going to be able to have any children. Her reproductive system isn't functioning properly right now, and it never will, because some very significant differences in the genetic structure between humans and those creatures have screwed up her uterus. A lot."
Xander's flat declaration drew shocked gasps of dismay from the three women, and Giles' lips thinned into a tight line as he tried to consider the full impact of what the youth had just told them.
For a young woman just entering the prime of her life, as Cordelia was now doing, to learn that she would never, *could* never, even have the option of becoming a mother would be a truly devastating blow.
Looking across the table to the two girls he considered his daughters, he could see the horror reflected in their eyes as they considered their classmate's situation. Buffy, given her own station in life as the Slayer, had obviously given some consideration to the likelihood of her never being able to have children, and she seemed to be particularly horrified by the news.
"What happened? Who or what did that to her?" the small blonde demanded. "How do we fix it, and change things back?"
"As far as who's responsible goes, Buff," Xander answered her. "That would be me.
"I'm responsible for her being like this."
After a momentary silence, due primarily to shock at his answer, the questions came fast and furiously.
"What do you mean?"
"How is that possible?"
Xander waited for the shouting to die down before he began his explanation.
"My demon hunter persona's memories didn't fade away and disappear after you broke the spell last night, Giles," he said, turning to look over at Buffy and Willow, "and neither did either of yours, despite the fact that we all thought that's what would happen, right, guys? You remember pretty much every moment of every day that Gin Baker and Tanaka Akiko lived, just like you remember your lives as Buffy Summers and Willow Rosenberg, don't you?"
The completely certain tone of his voice when he spoke made it evident that he was making a statement, rather than asking a question, so both girls simply shook their heads in agreement.
"Once I made sure you guys got home safely, I went back to my parents' house, drew a protective circle on the floor of my bedroom, and began using some of the spells bouncing around in my head to examine myself, so I could try to figure out exactly what happened last night," he explained, as his companions stared at him intently, hanging on his every word.
"Phoenix's home is a very magic-rich one, guys," Xander began describing his alternate persona's homeland, "and his, my, power level really isn't that much greater than the average person there. I - I mean, he was a very accomplished spellcaster, though, and his knowledge of various spells is kind of enormous. Both his parents and his maternal grandparents were accomplished magicians, so he started receiving training as a sorcerer almost from the time he started walking. He knows - I mean, I know, - god, it's really difficult keeping all the memories straight, about which memories belong to which person - anyway, I used some really rather involved analytic spells to try to figure out exactly what happened to the three of us, when we didn't immediately revert back to our former selves."
Xander seemed to pause for a moment, as if to collect his thoughts, or to compose himself, before proceeding.
"I discovered some anomalous residual energy traces still evident on all of us," he told Buffy and Willow, before breaking out in a small grin and addressing his childhood friend in a quick parenthetical aside, "Boy, I bet you never thought you'd hear me using phrases like that, huh, Wills?"
The redhead momentarily broke out in a small grin to match his, and Xander then continued his monologue.
"Anyway, I found these very faint energy remnants on us, and I traced them back to their origin, and found several more of the same energy trails that originated from the same spot," he recounted his labors of the night before. "When I followed them back to see where they led, I found two of the trails led to Warren and his date from last night, April, and another one led to Cordy. All of the spells I used require a great deal of preparation and casting time, and that took up most of the night, so I didn't head over to the frat house until early this morning to see Warren. I figured it would be easier to talk to him in person about the weirdness than try to explain it over the phone.
"Anyway, when I finally did get over there, I found the police crawling all over the place. Apparently, Warren and April also changed into their costumes last night. Unfortunately for them, they were dressed as Romeo and Juliet. Some of the jocks found their bodies late last night, when they were coming back to the house from taking their dates home," he noted, eliciting more gasps from the girls and Jenny.
"To make a very long story short, I only found the energy traces on Warren and April's costumes, and the gizmos Warren cobbled together for us, guys; the dart thrower you wore, Wills; the climbing harness I asked him to make for you, Buff; the sword he worked on for me; and the rifle I let Cordy borrow for her costume. I haven't got the faintest idea of what Warren intended to do, but when we were changed into our costumes last night, the six of us apparently were changed permanently. Not that it did Warren or April much good," he opined.
"That's why I said that I'm responsible for Cordy being changed," he said, in the silence that followed his recitation. "If I hadn't lent her the rifle, she would've changed back to normal when the spell ended. Now, her life's been ruined, and it's my fault."
Turning to face his friends, Giles and Jenny, Xander allowed them to see the unshed tears glistening in his eyes.
"I'm gonna need as much help as I can get if I'm gonna find a way to change Cordy back, guys," he told them. "So if there's any books or scrolls or other things you can think of that you could point me towards, I'd really appreciate it, Giles, Ms. Calendar."
"Of course, you can count on us to help out, Xander," Giles immediately replied. "But you need to realize that you are completely wrong about any aspect of Cordelia's situation being your fault. You bear absolutely no responsibility for anything that happened last night."
"Rupert is right, Xander," Jenny firmly stated. "You've done absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. But I'll certainly help you two, however I can."
"So will we," Buffy announced quite firmly.
"You bet," Willow chimed in as well.
"They're right, Xander. It's not your fault. You're not responsible for anything that happened."
Cordelia's quiet voice surprised them all, and they turned to see her standing in the door of Giles' office, looking out at the group in general, and Xander in particular.
"All you did was lend me something I asked you for. If anybody's to blame, it's me," she said, her voice hoarse from crying. The brunette's eyes were red and swollen and her body language was practically screaming out her distress, but she was doing her best to project an air of calm as she spoke.
"Things could be a lot worse, you know," she said, addressing the group in general. "I don't really know exactly how, right now, but I'm pretty sure they could be."
"We *will* find a way to rectify your situation, Cordelia," Giles stated, watching carefully as she walked over to join the others around the table.
Xander had risen immediately upon hearing her voice, and he guided her into the chair next to his, then sat down and curled a supportive arm around her shoulders. Contrary to what would have been their normal reactions to seeing their friend comforting the brunette cheerleader, Buffy and Willow both immediately moved closer to the two brunettes and began speaking to Cordy in soft and reassuring tones, trying to set their classmate's mind more at ease with their promises of help in finding a solution to her dilemma.
Watching the adolescents whom he privately viewed as his own children do their best to comfort and console someone they would normally have taken pains to avoid like the plague on any normal school day, Giles was both surprised and gratified to hear Jenny murmur quietly in his ear as she stood next to him, observing the teenagers' interactions.
"You should be very proud of them, Rupert," she told him, as the two watched Xander somehow mange to make all three of the girls suddenly burst out laughing and move to swat him. "Their first impulses are always to help and comfort the injured, in any way they can. And I can think of nothing more worthy of praise and admiration than to be the mentor of such children, the person who helps nurture such instincts and helps them develop into the best individuals they are capable of becoming."
Standing there, seeing the four teenagers laughing and joking only a few short minutes after learning what anyone would view as extremely upsetting and disconcerting news, the Slayer's Watcher decided that perhaps things weren't really quite as bleak and despairing as the Council believed them to be.
And that these children, living here at the Mouth of Hell, wouldn't allow them to remain so, even if the Council should prove to be correct in their initial assessment... For once.