Everything is the Same, But Not
It has been way too long since I've updated this, my apologies. This chapter was a pain to write and I just had to eventually bite the bullet and finish it. Now that it is out of the way, look for the next couple of chapters to really pick up steam. Thanks for hanging in there through the ridiculously long hiatus and as always your feedback feeds my muses.
17: Everything is the Same, But Not
Willow laid out flat across her bed, her arms bent and head resting in the open palms of her hands as she stared blankly at the ceiling. When Daniel said that he was going to be gone she feared that this was what would become of her. With only a handful of people on the base who actually knew her well enough to hold a conversation distracted by something they seemed unwilling to speak of in front of her and the only person she every really felt a bond with on a distant planet, it was inevitable she supposed that her life would be reduced to this, staring up at a gray ceiling thinking thoughts that would get her nowhere.
It was times like these when she wondered what was going on at home right then. Were her friends hanging on for life as they fought off Glory and her minions? Had the apocalypse finally happened? Was there even a home left to dream of? She never used to be that pessimistic, but her years with the Slayer had hardened her and she couldn’t help but think the worst of the situation.
Maybe everyone was fine, relatively speaking. Maybe they were going about their lives, having defeated Glory and stopping the world from coming to an end yet again. Maybe Xander was sitting somewhere, right then, wondering about what happened to her, what became of her after vanishing into thin air.
A gentle knock sounded, the metallic thud waking her from her stupor. Her head fell to the side and she called out a listless ‘come in’ before the sound of a security card swiping the lock beside her door and the knob turning with a creak.
A woman she didn’t recognize stood in the doorway, dressed in a nurse’s uniform, her long sandy brown hair pulled back into a braid and a welcoming smile on her face. “Miss Rosenberg? I’m Lieutenant Rush, but please call me Becky.”
Becky seemed perky, Willow thought idly as she sat up on her bed, giving the woman a tentative smile. “Uh, call me Willow,” she invited, unsure of what this woman’s purpose was.
“Dr. Fraiser said you were expecting her,” Lt. Rush stated and Willow nodded slowly. Truthfully, she half expected the good doctor to bail on her, despite her plans to finally take her off this base if only for one night of regular human contact and the General’s allowance, and now it looked like she had been right. Damn.
“Let me guess,” Willow murmured with chagrin, “she can’t make it.”
“I’m sorry—,” the young woman began to apologize on her co-worker’s behalf, but Willow was simply too tired and too sick of being cooped up with no one to talk to, to care.
“But there was an emergency and she can’t leave,” Willow finished for her in a rare burst of bitterness and annoyance. “No kidding, people are skulking through the halls and the whole base seems to be in panic mode, of course Dr. Fraiser is busy. Something big must be going on. But what would I know about that? I mean, I just *live* here, like a prisoner I might add; locked up in this little room with no one to talk to and no one who wants to talk to me, except Daniel, who isn’t even here, of course. And does anyone actually tell me what the heck is going on? No; of course not. I mean, I’m *such* a threat to national security and all, considering that I live on base and don’t actually *know* anyone outside of this place. I can see why everyone has to be so secretive. I’m just from an *alternate reality*, I wouldn’t understand a thing about discretion and keeping things quiet.”
Poor Lt. Rush, Willow thought as her sudden rush of anger and frustration bubbled over and then began to dissipate as her rant continued on. The unfortunate woman who had been unlucky enough to be picked to tell her that Dr. Fraiser would indeed not be escorting her that day to the world she had landed in, in what she felt had been so long ago, had to face a rare Willow- tirade with little or no preparation beforehand. She had probably been expecting a meek nod of understanding and murmured thanks after delivering her news, not this. Not a red faced girl with wide, bright eyes, spouting off all that ailed her out of the blue.
If the deer-in-headlights expression that the Lieutenant wore was anything to go by, Willow had in fact shocked the woman. Her mouth was slightly ajar and she stammered and stumbled for some sort of appropriate response. Willow was hit with a burst of regret and the anger vanished from her face as she tried to think of the right words to console the stunned nurse. Running a shaky hand through her hair, made so from stress and a bit of adrenaline, her face fell and she looked up at the woman with sincere apology in her eyes.
“Lt. Rush---Becky, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—none of this is your fault, I know,” she stumbled awkwardly over her words, never having been one who was particularly proficient with apologies. “I just get a little—frustrated, and sometimes it just comes out, you know? I’m not mad at you or anything, I’m just tired of being stuck in here, and being left out of everything—”
“Willow, Miss Rosenberg,” Becky cut her off gently, trying her best to calm the girl as she herself attempted to relax after her sudden shock. “I understand. There’s no need for an apology.”
“Well still, sorry,” she mumbled, feeling a little sheepish and embarrassed in the wake of her outburst. She sat up on her bed, tucking her military issued clothed legs to her chest and resting her chin on her knees.
“Uh, what I came here to tell you,” the Lieutenant said, getting back on track with a bright if less sure smile, “is that, yes Dr. Fraiser is unavailable due to an emergency, so she will not be able to join you today.” Willow’s expression remained closed off and stoic but the young woman plowed on. “But I have been selected by the Doctor herself to show you around Colorado Springs for the day. In the evening, barring any unforeseen complications, we will meet up with Dr. Fraiser and her daughter Cassandra for dinner. The General even gave his permission for you to stay off base tonight; that is if you don’t mind living with a teenager. Dr. Fraiser has extended an invitation for you to stay with her tonight.”
“No, that’s great,” Willow assured her quickly, hopping off her bed with renewed enthusiasm. “I don’t mind teenagers at all, I lived with my best friend and her little sister before…so you know, I’m used to it. No problem,” she rambled as Becky looked on in slight amusement.
“That’s good to hear,” she grinned. “I’ll step out for a minute and give you some time to get ready and pack a bag. When I get back we can leave.”
“Thanks, I won’t be long. I don’t have enough stuff to be long,” she reminded the older woman with a roll of her eyes. Becky just smiled and excused herself, shutting the door tightly behind her as the SF stationed at Willow’s door took his position again.
Glancing back at the now closed door furtively before starting down the hall, nodding at one of the guards the Lieutenant turned the corner and slipped into one of the unoccupied labs on that floor. Reaching out for the phone planted securely against the far wall of the room, she picked up the receiver and dialed the number for the infirmary, waiting only seconds before the line was picked up and she announced, “This is Lt. Rush, I need Dr. Fraiser.”
There wasn’t much of a verbal response on the other end, but her call was put on hold and her eyes darted to her wristwatch anxiously. She couldn’t be gone for too long, Willow would notice if she took an inordinate amount of time in getting back. As she had said, she really had little to pack.
“Fraiser,” the Doctor’s voice sounded on the other end, seemingly flustered but composed.
“I spoke with Miss Rosenberg,” Becky informed the CMO, businesslike. “She has agreed to allow me to escort her off the base today.”
“And tonight?” Janet prompted questioningly.
“She seemed rather relieved at the chance to spend a night outside the base,” the Lieutenant replied with a slight upturning of her lips that went unnoticed by the doctor. “I did tell her that you would be joining her and Cassandra for dinner though, I hope that is not a problem.”
“No, as long as there are no new developments then I should be able to go home tonight. Stay with her until I arrive, will you?” she requested, her growing fatigue becoming obvious in her voice. Then again, everyone on base was exhausted and worried; it would be unusual if the doctor hadn’t sounded ragged.
“Of course, ma’am,” she assured her automatically.
“And Lieutenant,” Janet added before the younger woman hung up, “she is not to know about SG-1’s status, understood?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Becky said obediently, a sober expression on her face.
“Very well, I’ll contact you if something comes up but I expect to be home at 20:00 hours. And remember,” Janet sighed, “discretion is of absolute importance.”
“Understood,” she nodded though the doctor couldn’t see it. The line went dead and Becky replaced the receiver on its cradle and started back for the guest quarters, hoping Willow would not ask about what had taken her so long.
General Hammond looked up when Doctor Fraiser appeared at his door, his rather sullen expression not changing at the sight of his equally bedraggled CMO. Waving her inside, he leaned back in his chair and eyed her critically.
“I did as you requested,” Janet stated as she took a seat across from the older man, dark circles prominent around both of their eyes as the second day with a MIA SG-1 dragged on perilously slow. “Willow left with Lt. Rush an hour ago. I came to tell you as soon I had a break, the infirmary has been a madhouse lately.”
“No need to explain, Doctor,” he assured her with a calming but lacking smile. “With Miss Rosenberg off base it will be easier to further coordinate our rescue mission. I’ve sent three SG teams through the gate now that all signs of enemy fire has ceased.”
“And what have they reported back?” she asked anxiously.
“Little we did not already suspect, I am afraid,” he admitted. “There were obvious signs of a heavy firefight. Evidence that a ship, possibly a Goa’uld mothership, landed in a clearing not far from the gate. The only bodies found so far are Jaffa. Apophis sect,” he added grimly.
“No sign of SG-1?” Janet asked, unsure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.
“None yet,” he nodded. “Colonel Reynolds reported that SG-1’s weapons are missing as well. Not a trace of them has been found as of yet. The Colonel is due to report back in twenty, but I fear he has not had much more success. Our best lead at the moment would be Apophis. We can almost guarantee he was behind this attack and he would most know where SG-1 is, but we do not have updated Intel on Apophis, or where his home planet might be now.”
“Back to square one,” she murmured, running a hand over her dry, stinging eyes.
“Exactly, Doctor,” Hammond grumbled.
“Have you reconsidered bringing the Tok’ra?” she asked with slight apprehensiveness. She was in no hurry to needlessly worry Jacob, but it was beginning to look like his worry wouldn’t be as needless as they had hoped.
“Yes,” the General sighed, “but I have one more idea, before we drag Jacob into this.”
“What, sir?” Janet wondered curiously.
“Who knows as much about Apophis as Teal’c, if not more?” he said, appearing almost pleased with himself.
“Bra’tac?” she replied in astonishment. In the midst of their collective panic over SG-1’s fate, she had nearly forgotten about Teal’c’s mentor.
General Hammond nodded as he sat forward in his chair, hands folded on his desk as he regarded her solemnly. “He’s expected within the hour.”
“You know,” Willow whispered as she leaned a little closer to Becky as they walked the only mildly busy streets of Colorado Springs, “I really expected something to be different,” she admitted in a hushed voice, eyes scanning the clean, tree-lined streets meticulously.
“How so?” the Lieutenant wondered, brow furrowed as she glanced back at the redhead curiously. They both managed to blend in easily with the mid-afternoon crowd that wandered the moderately populated streets that were home to a couple of major chain stores, but mostly small town, privately owned shops. Becky had changed into her civilian clothes, a pair of worn but comfortable jeans and a button up sweater to stave off the chill of a Colorado fall. Willow, who was forced to leave the base in her standard olive green cargo pants and oversized black tee finally got to experience the joys of real clothing, as their first stop on their trip had been a local Target. Satisfied with her rather inexpensive purchases, Willow had changed immediately after the cashier rang them up, her new wardrobe courtesy of a small allowance given to her by the Air Force.
“I mean, this is a whole different world,” she explained, keeping her voice low. “But it is so…ordinary. I may have never been to Colorado before, but this is just like I thought it would be. Mountains, cold, trees, it’s a bit of a let down.”
Becky couldn’t hold back a soft rush of laughter at the girl’s almost put out tone. “And what exactly did you expect to be different? The sky to be purple?”
“Well something!” Willow said in near exasperation, a small matching smile on her face for the first time in days. “Really, what’s the point of being in an alternate reality if it doesn’t have the decency to be wacky? Isn’t that a prerequisite or something?”
“The changes aren’t always that big,” Becky shook her head in amusement. “And the environment is essentially the same in most different planes. I believe you would probably find most of the changes to be of a more personal nature. Different personalities, different careers, and the like. Although that in itself can be highly…interesting.”
“Do tell,” she prodded, seeing that there had to be a story there.
“I really can’t tell you much,” the Lieutenant apologized with a trite smile as they walked along. “Classified. But ask Colonel O’Neill or Major Carter about their brush with alternate realities sometime. If the Colonel doesn’t immediately start ranting and threaten to throw you in the brig he might just tell you about it.”
“I’m going to have to try that sometime,” she considered with a considering gleam in her eyes. “They’ll be back in a couple days, right?”
“They are scheduled to return in three days, yes,” Becky replied with practiced nonchalance, her attempt at evasiveness spotted and silently noted by the redhead.
“Well then I will just have to pester him when they…” her slightly teasing voice trailed off and Becky glanced over her shoulder at the girl, whose eyes seemed far away and whose expression was a mixture of hope and disbelief, staring off into the distance.
“Willow?” the taller woman asked in concern, taking a step back and laying a hand on the girl’s shoulder, a frown blossoming across her amiable but somewhat stern face. “What’s…?”
“Hey Becky,” Willow turned the older woman with what she could tell was an overenthusiastic smile, one meant to put someone at ease but failed miserably. “I know we’re not too far from the restaurant you were telling me about, but do you think you could go on without me and get us a table? I, uh, need to use the bathroom…bad, so I’m just going to run in there,” she pointed absently to a shop slightly ahead. “See if they’ll let me make a pit stop, and meet you there?”
“Okay,” Becky drawled, unsure what had caused Willow’s sudden changed in demeanor. “If it’s really that bad. Um, I’ll just be a little ways down the street; you won’t be able to miss it.” Willow nodded hurriedly and rushed inside the small store, Becky shaking her head the whole time at her strange behavior. Glancing at the little hole in the wall place Willow had gestured to, she couldn’t resist a roll of the eyes. “Ye Olde Magick Shoppe”.
The things people were interested in these days.
With a small shrug, still wondering what had caused such an abrupt change in topic unless Willow had a surprisingly weak bladder, Becky gave a small smile and continued on toward the small café where they were set to have a late lunch.
Willow waved her off casually as she tried to remain calm and nonchalant as she made her way to the store on her right, her pace increasing the second Becky finally turned away from her. She hated that she had basically lied to a woman who had been nothing but nice to her, but she had no other choice. No one outside of SG-1 knew anything about her rather unusual abilities and the Colonel had specifically instructed her not to tell anyone else. Without his express permission she was not about divulge her secret. If Colonel O’Neill felt it was necessary, then she knew it was serious.
Trying to not look too excited as she stepped inside the small store, darkened since it used only natural light from the windows to illuminate the room, her eyes flitted over the contents upon numerous shelves and counters, unsure what exactly she was looking for but sure she would know it when she saw it.
It was hard to pinpoint the exact reason why she had been so thrilled when she first caught sight of the tiny storefront from the corner of her eye. It was a connection to home, she supposed. Magic had been such a big part of her life for so long that the weeks she had spent on base had felt without it unnatural and stifled. And just the scent of it as she stepped inside, the pleasant musk of herbs and incense reminded her of The Magic Box and Giles.
And then there was the possibility, as remote as it was that the answer to finally finding a way to return home might be there. She knew it wouldn’t be easy. Finding a spell to send her home would be equivalent to finding a needle in a haystack. But still, just the mere fact that she, on her first outing into the “real” world she stumbled across a magic shop.
It just had to be fate, a sign from the Powers, something.
“Blessed be!” chimed a pleasant, perky voice to her left and Willow turned with a bright grin to the girl walking towards her. The shop owner couldn’t have been more than twenty-eight years old, young and lively as she strolled along the slightly scuffed wooden floors, sunny smile and eager disposition. Her long dark brown hair was pulled back into a loose bun and her long, flowing peasant dress sweeping across the floor as she nearly floated toward the redhead. “My name is Morgana Earthhaven,” she said in a gushing voice, “is there anything I can help you with?”
Blinking in surprise at the rather…interesting name, Willow soon gave another small grin and shook her head. “I’m not really sure what I’m looking for,” she admitted, “The spell I—”
“Spells!” the older woman trilled, the interruption going unnoticed or uncared for by the shopkeeper. “We have lots of different spells. You want a love spell, don’t you?” she grinned knowingly, putting just the right amount of leering into her expression to make Willow raise an eyebrow. “Everyone does. They’re all the rage these days. You need a man, honey? Or did you have one and want him back? Your boyfriend run out on you, cheat on you?”
“Not recently, but thanks for reminding me,” she mumbled, feeling a pang in her chest. “I don’t need a love spell, I—”
“A money spell then,” Morgana nodded shrewdly. “Your job not paying enough? Looking for some extra cash on the side? Hoping to strike it rich?”
“*No*,” she said firmly, growing annoyed at the young woman’s constant interruptions and assumptions. “I need something…I don’t know. Do you have any books regarding temporal folds, um, like—?”
“Temporal folds,” Morgana repeated with a deadpan expression, oddly reminiscent of Jack, Willow considered wryly. “Like what, time travel?” she asked baldly.
“Not exactly, but something similar,” Willow explained, feeling a little more at ease. At least the woman was listening to her now. “I—”
“Sweetie,” she stopped her with a raised hand and eyebrow. “Hate to burst your bubble, but you’re not gonna find any spells for time travel or temporal folds here,” all joviality and giddiness gone from her voice, her tone dry and slightly condescending as she regarded the redhead strangely. “You may have missed the memo, honey, but magic…not real.”
“If you don’t think magic is real then why are you running a magic shop?” Willow asked incredulously, staring at the brunette like she was crazy.
“Tourists love this crap,” she dismissed with a wave of her hand, her earlier pleasant demeanor and helpfulness vanishing when she realized with disappointment that she wouldn’t be making a sale that day. “It’s all love spells and money charms. Everyone is trying to find their dream man or a quick fix for a cash problem. Plus I have some New Age weirdoes who love the scented candles and incense. Hell, my name isn’t even Morgana Earthhaven, its Gina.”
“Gina?” Willow repeated dumbly. The darker woman gave her an almost sympathetic, pitying glance.
“You’re, like, the first person who ever came in here who actually believed in this hocus pocus junk,” she admitted. “It’s kind of…cute. In a sad sort of way,” she frowned.
“Yeah, well…thanks,” Willow muttered, feeling a mixture of disappointment and embarrassment, feeling her face begin to flame red as she turned her gaze away and turned toward the door, not even looking back as she heard the shopkeeper turn on her heel and return to her spot behind the counter.
Head down, as well as her spirits, she rushed out of the shop, feeling silly and stupid. Back home, it wasn’t that out the ordinary to run across magic shops full of people who didn’t really believe, but just wanted some hokey spell to fix their lives. But at least there, she knew that there would always be the few people, like Tara and Giles, who really believed. Even the owners of the Magic Box before Giles came to own the place were practicing Wiccans. They played to the tourists of course, it was a business and they needed to make money, but whenever she walked in the door and was greeted with a happy and honest “Blessed be” she knew they were truly willing and able to help her. They knew her, knew the craft, they believed.
Walking down the street, she knew had to look odd. Her head was bowed, her hair covering her face from any onlookers and hiding her blushing cheeks, hands tucked into her jeans pockets, pace fast but distracted. She headed in the general direction Becky had pointed out to her before they split up, stomach heavy and appetite gone. The adrenaline rush she had experienced when she first caught sight of that little shop, in which she had mistakenly stored all her hopes and excitement, had diminished, leaving her feeling tired and despondent.
She couldn’t, wouldn’t give up hope. This was just a tiny, minor set back, she reminded herself silently as she trudged along. But she just felt so stupid, so silly. She had thought that the shop had been a sign, a sign that there was still hope of going home, something to make the dream tangible. But the shopkeeper’s reaction was like a slap in the face, squashing her earlier hopes and excitement ruthlessly. Some sign that turned out to be. Plus Gina had called her cute, which was just…annoying.
“Willow!” Head jerking up at the sound of her name, Willow noticed Becky sitting at a tiny little table at an outdoor café. Looking around, Willow realized she had lost track of where she had been walking, her thoughts too distracted to really focus, and she had nearly walked right past Becky, who was giving her a strange, questioning look.
“Sorry,” she mumbled in apology, crossing the sidewalk and slipping into the open chair across from the Lieutenant with a tight smile.
“No problem,” Becky assured her with a curious glance. “You okay? You didn’t fall in, did you?” she asked teasingly and it took Willow a moment to remember her halfhearted bathroom excuse a few minutes before.
“No,” she smiled with a weak chuckle. “I’m fine,” she assured her softly.
Mind wandering, Willow lifted her gaze to the tall trees that surrounded them, a light, cool breeze making the leaves rustle. She watched the people walk by, some hand in hand, others laughing at some quietly murmured joke. She was fine, just as she promised Becky. She wouldn’t let this one bad day crush her hopes. She wouldn’t stop hoping and searching for a way back home. Because no matter how similar this universe was, how beautiful and utterly ordinary it appeared, it wasn’t home. Becky had been right earlier…and she had been wrong.
Everything was the same here. And yet it was so different.