"You're sure there's not another way to do this, Wills? Do both of us really have to go? Why can't the Bleached Wonder do it on his own?" Xander complained.
"Because, it takes both the dead and the living to acquire the artifact we need. The texts specifically stated that only the undying dead could unlock the tomb or wherever the artifact is secured. It also states that only the living can actually remove the artifact safely," Giles explained.
"See, you'll actually be useful for once whelp. Oi, Red, will there be any fighting need doing? If there is I'll be sure not to depend on the whelp for backup," Spike said as he leaned against the equipment in the training room while Willow finished her preparations for the transport spell.
"As far as we can tell no. You'll be near where you need to go though. All we know is there seems to be a stone gate or something there but we can't tell where it goes. That's all the scrying spell showed us," Willow explained.
"What's most important is that you both enter through the gate and retrieve the item inside. In order to do that you and Spike will need to be in physical contact for you both to enter. Otherwise it would be pointless for you to have gone," Giles further explained.
"Eeewww! You mean I have to be touching the neutered vampire," Xander exclaimed mostly out of habit rather than malice.
"Oi, I've still got all me bits and baubles. Besides it's no picnic for me either, thinking about you having to paw on me," was Spikes indignant retort though the idea wasn't all that repulsive.
Before the two could further spiral into even more juvenile bickering Giles interrupted, "Are you two quite done? Because time is of the essence."
"Sure G-Man, ready when you are. Wills, you sure this is gonna work?" Xander asked nervously.
"Absolutely, Giles and I have both gone over it and it should work perfectly," Willow replied with a cheerful grin.
"Well then, let's get this show on the road. The sooner we leave, the sooner I can get back and watch Passions," Spike said as he moved closer to the markings on the floor of the training room.
"Where do you want us?" Xander asked shooting the vampire an annoyed look.
"You both need to stand inside the inner circle and please do be careful not to smudge the markings," was Giles' answer.
Both of them slowly walked over and took their places as directed. As Willow and Giles began the spell a slight wind stirred in the room and no one noticed that the outer circle wasn't as complete as it should have been. A blinding bright flash engulfed the room. When sight returned instead of the circle being empty, there was a sole occupant.
"I thought you gits had this all set to rights?" Spike growled in game face and looked around, noting they were a person short. "Oi, where's Harris?"
"W-We di-did have it right," Willow explained on the verge of tears. "According to...according to the sp-spell there should have been a pop of sorts...an-and you two would have dis-disappeared. Without the light show," she finished as tears started to fall. Turning to Giles she pleaded. "What are we gonna do? We zapped Xander? Giles where did he go? How do we get him back? Do you think we killed him?" She wailed as her tears fell even faster.
Sighing Giles removed his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose. He feared for his adopted charge that had just gone missing, as well as those left behind. They were all still healing from Buffy's death and there was no telling how this would affect them all. "I-I really can't say Willow. This should not be happening. We followed the spell to the letter and this should not be possible. It was a powerful but specific type of magicks being used. I-I just don't know how it even backfired. If it did there wouldn't have been the type of display that we were witness to," he answered as he paced the enclosed area. On one of his passes something caught his eye. Groaning he pointed to a spot on the floor. "It seems the outer circle wasn't totally complete. But even so that doesn't explain the bright light. If the circle was incomplete then nothing should have happened." Giles paused thoughtfully, "Willow was it my imagination or did you feel a surge of power and redirection of the spell?" Giles said as he chewed on an arm of his glasses.
Willow frowned and nodded uncertainly, "It didn't feel like it was any different than what we were intending it just felt like...like..."
"Like something extra was needed to complete it," Giles clarified.
"Yeah, that's it. Like we forgot a part but that doesn't sound right because we didn't forget anything," Willow ended softly.
"So what happened and how do we fix it?" Spike insisted getting fed up of all the talking and not getting anywhere. For all his arguing and bickering with the whelp he was beginning to like him. But that didn't make sense of why he suddenly felt the way he did. It was as if he'd lost someone extremely precious to him. It felt almost like losing Dru all over again.
Xander was engulfed in a bright light and saw himself in a battle wearing a strange outfit, a uniform of sorts. Fighting next to him was someone that looked liked Spike but wasn’t. There were two others battling nearby all of them except one was dressed in the same sort of uniform. One was human with dark wavy hair and he was fighting with a staff of some sort. The other must have been some sort of demon because it had spikes coming up off its head from a skull crest of some kind that wrapped around its head. From the looks of it, it was fighting with and to protect the wavy haired human.
"Marcus, we must leave now," the demon demanded.
"Not yet. We still need to give the others time to make it to the escape ships," answered the human, he assumed was Marcus.
"Bloody hell, Marcus. We're almost overrun here. Least we could do is start an ordered retreat back to the ships before we get cut off," complained the Spike/Not Spike.
"Neroon, is there anyway that the ships in orbit can give us any more support?" Xander heard himself saying as a similar staff that he was holding came around to smash into some other demon creature's head.
"No, the Drakh fleet is keeping them too busy. The Ingata and the rest of the fleet are trying to stop as many of their shuttles and raiders as possible while fighting off the cruisers and carriers to give us a fighting chance," replied the skull-crested demon, now identified as Neroon.
Some sort of bomb landed close by knocking them all off their feet. Xander looked over and saw that Neroon had covered Marcus with his own body. Then he realized that a body had covered him as well one that felt very familiar to him. He turned his head to look into familiar blue eyes but these were pain filled eyes that held such a vast depth of love aimed toward him. More than Anya's or anyone's ever did and it took his breath away.
"Zha'aia, one heart, always, love," Spike/Not Spike said then collapsed.
Xander's heart felt like someone had ripped it out but before he could see more he was once again engulfed in a bright white light. When he was able to see again he knew he was no longer in the Magic Box. He could honestly say he'd never seen any place quite like where he was now. He figured it to be a medical facility of some sort because some of the equipment looked familiar but was made totally weird yet the smells somehow remained the same. Movement next to him caught his eye and he saw the man from his vision sitting next to his bed.
"Who are you?" Xander asked.
"Ah, you're awake. I'm a friend. At least I hope to be a friend that is if you want to be friends. Most people tend not to really take to me, so if you don't want to be friends no hard feeling but if you do then yes, I am a friend," Marcus answered smiling his usual insufferable smirk.
"Your babble is almost as bad as mine and Willow's. I don't know you but for some reason, I know your name is Marcus. How do I know that?"
Startled Marcus looked at the young man closely. It was true that they'd never met before that he knew of so how did this young man know his name. He knew that the time rift was unstable and due to that instability this young man had appeared. He sensed that fate had a hand in their paths crossing. "What's the last thing you remember?" He asked seriously.
The Soldier memories he inherited told him to assess and not give too much information outside of simple general facts until he knew more. "I remember being in back of the shop with my friends and we were working on something, that me and someone else got volunteered to help with. It didn't quite work the way we had hoped. Because I am here and obviously not where we were supposed to be. Was there anyone else with me?" Xander tried to look around for any signs of Spike as he asked. He hoped the Blonde Menace was okay and hopefully hiding, waiting to come and rescue him. He didn't want to be here alone.
"I'm sorry but we only found you. There was no one else with you. Can you at least tell me where you’re from? It will help us determine if there's a way to get you back or not," Marcus inquired as he noted the cautious way the young man replied without outright lying.
"Sunnydale, California," Xander answered. "Gah!" He was startled when a creature very similar to the Neroon one from his dream came into the room. He jumped up but ended up on the floor as he scrambled away from the thing as it approached him. Eventually he got his back to a wall and pushed himself up automatically falling into a defensive combat stance. "What the hell is going on? Where am I?" He demanded. He heard Marcus speak some strange language at the thing and warily watched as it bowed to them then exited the room with an almost worried look on its face.
"I'm sorry," Marcus said as he studied the defensive pose the young man had taken up. It made him wonder if he'd been in the military. "My friend hadn't been told you had awoken and it was her duty to check on you to make sure you were alright. Please, come and lay back down. We have no idea still how your arrival here has effected you," he tried to encourage the young man.
Xander truly didn't want to but he had to admit he was feeling a bit like he was on jelly legs. "If I get back in that bed thing will you tell me what's going on?"
"Yes, I will just as soon as the others are available. Then you and I can just have to repeat every thing once. Oh, by the way, my full name is Marcus Cole but you knew that and you are?"
Xander slowly made his way back to the bed, "Xander, Xander Harris. Nice to meet ya, I think."
Smiling Marcus replied, "Well, I won't hold it against you if you are unsure." Both men chuckled relieving some of the earlier tension. "All right then. I know you have a lot of questions but right now we happen to be in the middle of something very delicate and I must be on my way to do my share. The young lady you just saw will be in to check on you every once in a while. I promise as soon as I can get a moment I'll check in. Then when this is all done we'll talk and explain things. Good. Now that, that's covered you my friend need some more rest. So I will leave you to it," Marcus continued.
Xander yawned and said, "Sure. Not a problem. I'm kinda wiped at the moment."
"Oh, one other small detail. No matter what, do not take this off until told otherwise," Marcus pointed out the time stabilizer that Zathras had provided everyone.
"Okay," he answered eying the device and worrying about what it's supposed to do.
"Good, well then I'm off now for real. See you in a little bit Xander," Marcus waved on his way out finding his thoughts wondering about the young man that they'd found.
Xander relaxed back on the bed trying to figure out what was going on but that was easier said than done. His mind was split on what to do and how to find out more. What was left of the Soldier in him was threat assessing and planning but there wasn't enough intel for him to choose a good plan of action. Which forced the action-taking Soldier into waiting for more info which he didn't like doing. Meanwhile, the Hyena remnant in him was almost to the point of animalistic panic. It was pacing restlessly wanting to escape and find the pack. The problem with that was it couldn't sense the pack nearby. All it's senses were screaming the pack was no more and to find the cause then wipe it out. Both mentalities were giving Xander a serious case of skin crawlies from the lack of action.
Again Xander experienced a bright white flash of light and this time he was in a strange arena. All around him were those demons that looked similar to Neroon and the other one that he'd seen earlier. He looked around and noticed one demon dressed like Neroon and a woman that wasn't fully human standing in a circle of bright white-blue light. Even from his spot a good thirty feet away he could feel the intensity of the light. The not Neroon demon fled from the light and he watched in awed horror as the woman stayed within. She raised her arms to the light in offering or prayer. She stayed like that until the force of whatever was in the light made her collapse.
"NO!" Xander heard someone yell. Then watched stunned as the demon, Neroon, ran into the circle and helped her out. He handed her off to another that looked after her. Neroon stayed within the circle taking up the pose the woman had before she collapsed. Dread filled him as he watched and it spurred him in to action.
He struggled to make it to the circle to get Neroon out but the bodies between he and his goal were hard to move. He listened as Neroon made an impassioned plea to the other demons to follow her lead. He struggled harder to get to him but before he broke through the crowd his vision once again ended with another burst of bright light and he was back again in the medical facility.
The visions or whatever they were, were starting to get to him. He'd never had visions before. Why now? What's worse was they seemed to be nothing like the ones he heard Cordelia had. These were like he was actually there or more like memories than visions. They also seemed to have the common link of the Neroon demon being in them.
The female demon that had came in earlier showed up. She looked over at some of the monitoring equipment he guessed and then shyly smiled at him.
"Hi," Xander waved. "Ah, um...I'm sorry about before it's just you... ah...surprised me." At her confused look Xander figured she didn't understand him. "Never mind, forget it. You think I can have something to drink I'm totally dry here." He mimicked drinking something until she brightened and nodded at him. She went over to an area on the opposite side of the room and brought back a pitcher and a glass for him. She placed them by his bedside for him to reach them easily.
"Thanks," Xander said as she bowed to him and left the room. He couldn't believe how weak he felt but then again it could all be due to the botched spell that brought him here. He struggled to stay awake but fatigue won and he fell into a quiet sleep.
When he woke up he knew he hadn't slept long but it was obviously long and deep enough to have allowed Marcus to sneak in and sit with him without his waking.
"Hey, what's up?" Xander asked as he pulled himself into a sitting position.
"Well that's all relative you see. Especially in space, there's no up, down, right or left. It's all relative to the object one's looking at or from," Marcus said with a smirk.
Xander groaned, "Oh no, a wiseass Giles with a worse sense of humor than mine."
"You've mentioned a couple of other names before who are they? Who was it you said I babbled like you and a Willow. Why does a willow babble is it sentient and capable of speech?" Marcus questioned.
Xander shook his head and smiled, "No, Willow's been my best friend since forever. Her and I are able to do the whole babble conversation thing and do it pretty fast. Not all of it in full sentences too."
"Ah, I see. And this Giles from the name I'm assuming, British?"
"Yes, he is, very British. He was our school's librarian and became an adopted father and mentor to us. He likes to talk all librariany to us when he explains things. Most of the times it goes over our head, well my head mostly. But he's a good guy."
"Ah, well I've been told I'm rather loquacious in my speaking. I don't think I've ever had anyone call it librariany before," Marcus smiled.
"Well I'm full of all sorts of odd made-up words like that one and then some." Against his better judgment Xander was beginning to like Marcus. He sensed the same desire to distract others by his words, so that they wouldn't see the pain and disappointment that was hidden deep inside. That was something they had in common it seemed.
"Well, that's something I look forward to learning. I just thought I'd stop by and see how you were doing. Right now we're finishing up something and when that's done. The others will want to speak to you, too."
"Others? You mean those in charge?" Marcus nodded, "That's okay I guess. If that's the case then I better get some more rest then, huh?"
"That's probably a good idea."
"See you later, Marcus"
"You too, Xander."
Xander watched as Marcus left and noticed he moved like a fighter. Not the boxing kind but more like Spike's well-muscled and compact form. He sighed and that was his other dilemma. Was the first vision something of wishful thinking since his feelings for Spike had started to shift to something completely different? Or was it all part of the whole other life vision dreaming thing he had going. He wondered if Spike got transported too. If so were they purposely keeping them apart because they noticed Spike was different, a vampire. Or was the vampire laying low and checking the lay of the land. He'd just have to wait and see then go looking for the Bleached Menace. He hoped he was okay and safe.
He refused to sleep again and instead tried to figure out what the visions meant. Visions were gifted to people from The Powers That Be and were meant as a warning or guide. So far he'd had visions of danger and imminent death. In his first vision there was a battle and talk of ships in orbit. A fleet was in orbit, which meant that he was in a place where space travel was possible. There was mention of cruisers and Drakh. The Drakh seemed to be the ones they were fighting against. There was a sense of desperation during the battle but the ones he saw himself with had felt right together somehow.
The love he'd seen in the Spike-alike was intense and had hit him deep down inside. Which made him wonder was the vision a way of telling him it was something he could have but only if he stayed here. It was also interesting seeing that Neroon, a demon, had protected Marcus with his body. That showed a great deal of caring for the human on the demon's part. Maybe wherever he was humans and demons didn't always fight against each other.
Then there was the second vision showing Neroon's sacrifice. That one looked like it was to settle some argument or conflict between the woman and other demon. The woman involved was ready to give her life for her cause but Neroon who was on the opposite side gave his instead. Which showed that somehow he knew she was right, maybe?
He had all this information from the visions but he had no idea how they all fit together. The only common thread was Neroon and he was important somehow. If he got these visions from the Powers That Be then Neroon's sacrifice though good is the key focus that needed to be corrected. But in what order did the visions happen before after or during the sacrifice. He couldn't work without a time frame.
He'd already met one person from the visions, which meant he was supposed to do something. He just wished he knew what he was supposed to do about them. If his body wasn't so weak he'd be pacing right now as he worked it out. It was with some relief Xander welcomed Marcus' return visit but his new friend looked a little bit down but otherwise okay.
"What's the matter? Something wrong?" Xander asked. He watched Marcus put on a familiar looking mask.
"Nothing, just a little bump in the road. I just came to let you know that we've finished our mission and the others will be here shortly to speak to you." Marcus stated quite seriously.
"A mission huh?" Xander stared at Marcus. "Who was it?"
"Who was what?"
"Who was it that you lost?"
"How do you know someone was lost?" Marcus asked stunned out of his anger and grief by this young man's perceptiveness.
"Because I've had the same look you have right now, ever since Buffy died," Xander explained.
Marcus sighed, "If you must know it was my leader and mentor."
"That's rough. It sucks to be the one left behind especially when destiny or fate is involved. Too many questions of what could I have done better to help or stop it. I've learned that it's probably better to let it go. Because if I didn't I'd end up drinking myself into a coma or liver transplant like my father tries to do. Besides I know Buffy would kick my ass from the other side if I didn't. All she ever wanted was for me to have a happy, normal average life. Though sometimes life doesn't always help make that happen." Xander said as he stared off into memories only he could see.
Marcus reeled internally. He'd never suspected someone so young would be able to understand such harsh loss. "Sounds like your life hasn't been easy."
Xander stared Marcus in the eyes, "It hasn't but I'm alive to fight the good fight with the hope of making it easier for others to have happy, normal and average. That makes it easier to deal with the loss. Good thing I got my Anya, Willow, Tara, Giles and Dawnie to help. Even Spike has his moments in getting me out of the occasional mood. They all look to me to lean on and by letting them I feel a little lighter, like I'm able to do something worthwhile. Don't let the darkness consume you because then you'll just be a shell of yourself and something worse will occupy the empty spaces. So now that my Maury moment is done, when can I get out of here and where's the chow."
Marcus laughed unknowingly letting go of some of his anger and grief, "The others should be here momentarily and after that I'll get you something to eat." Marcus was about to continue when Xander tensed up as four others joined them.
Xander saw that there were two who were obviously human, a man and a woman. One was like the demon he saw earlier and the other female looked human enough if it weren't for the bone cap thing around her head. He'd seen her in one of his visions along with the male demon next to her. None of them appeared threatening, well maybe not all of them. The human woman seemed ready to hurt him if she didn't like what he had to say. Almost reminded him of Faith but she didn't look half as psycho and that was even scarier.
"Marcus, would you like to introduce us to our guest?" The man asked with an air of command about him. It made Xander's inner soldier want to stand up and salute. Looking closely he figured the man and woman were military but in the weirdest uniforms he'd ever seen.
"Everyone this is Xander, Xander Harris," Marcus said with an impish smile. "Xander, this is everyone. Well not quite everyone as there are plenty of others, not here but eventually you may meet them and then you'll know everyone."
Almost simultaneously the human woman and the not quite human woman said, "Marcus!" "Marcus for shame."
Chuckling Marcus looked to Xander with a smile. "They hate it when I do that. Xander, I'd like to introduce to you, Captain John Sheridan," he pointed at the human man. "Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova," he pointed to the human female and spoke her name a touch softly. "Delenn and Lennier," he pointed to the almost human female and the demon male.
Smiling Xander waved, "Can someone tell me where am I?"
"What's the last thing you remember?" Captain Sheridan asked.
"You wanna take that question as I am so, not in the mood of repeating myself," Xander said turning to Marcus.
"The last thing he said he remembered was being in a store with some friends. Where he and another were volunteered to help with something that didn't go right as he's not where he was supposed to have been," Marcus answered.
"What was it you were supposed to help with?" Delenn asked.
The kind eyes of this almost woman reminded Xander so much of Buffy and Willow. He could see the power and strength to do what must be done, like Buffy and the intelligence, wisdom and vulnerability like Willow. He knew that even if she were part demon he'd want to make sure no harm came to her. She just seemed to call for that kind of attachment and wasn't that just totally giving him the wiggins.
"Two of my friends had found out where we could get something that we needed. Unfortunately the only ones that were able to get it were me and this other friend," Xander frowned at the thought of the Bleached Menace being a friend but he answered as honestly as he could without mention of demons, vampires and magicks.
Xander was getting tired of answering questions without getting answers. "Look, you all seem like really nice folks. But I really need to find my way home. I have quite a few people depending on me. So if you can tell me where I am and how I got here it would be appreciated. Then after all that's been said you can send me back."
Delenn looked to Sheridan and he returned her look with a nod. She approached the young man's bedside and sat down. It had warmed her heart to see Marcus take to someone, as he never truly let anyone in. This young man seemed to have made it through Marcus' barriers further than even Marcus knew. She'd noticed Marcus' earlier anger and grief seemed to have been lessened by the young man somehow.
"One more question and then we'll answer your questions. What is the year you remember?" Delenn gently inquired.
Xander blinked at them getting that awful Scooby feeling he got when he knew something was about to go wrong or he wasn't going to like the answers. "It's the year 2001. Why?"
"Because in this time and this place the year is 2260," Delenn answered kindly.
"Wh-Wha-What? I'm gonna kill me a Willow," Xander muttered thumping his head against the pillow.
"For what reason would you want to kill a tree?" Delenn frowned finding this young man's speech rather odd.
Marcus intervened on Xander's behalf. "Not a tree in this instance, Delenn. I believe he was referring to his friend named Willow. He mentioned her to me before."
Before Delenn could ask more Xander interrupted. "Never mind that. How did I get here?"
"We were traveling through a time rift. But before we could stabilize it in order to move through it properly there were flashes of time shifts. You appeared after one such shift. Another of our party found you and brought you to the infirmary. He was the expert about the shifts and he didn't seem extremely surprised to have found you. But then again that was his way. You were unconscious and your body was struggling it seemed with the sudden temporal shift."
"Think of it as a sort of temporal jet lag," Marcus suggested.
Delenn looked at Marcus then nodded her head, "Yes, that will do. Thank you Marcus." She turned back to look at the young man sensing that his was not an accidental arrival. There was more to this young man than meets the eye. He was not like the other humans she'd encountered.
"So what happens to me now?" Xander asked.
"Now, we take you back home with us and help you get settled in," Sheridan added.
Xander nodded and sighed, "Guess, there's nothing else for me to do. I'm actually at your mercy."
"Exactly," said Ivanova. "We'll be taking you back to B5 and we'll see about helping you figure things out. That might take a while though as we're in the middle of something huge right now.
Xander shrugged, "Hey, where am I going to go? I'll let you guys help me sort it out and then we'll go from there."
"Fair enough," said Sheridan clapping his hands. "Now that that's settled let's head back to the barn. I'm sure Mr. Garibaldi is worried as well as pissed that he missed all the fun."
Xander smiled slightly at that. These people didn't seem that much different from the Scoobies even if some were demons and half demons.