Anya kneels on the floor, ignoring the coldness of the stone seeping into her newly restored human knees. Behind her, Xander, Buffy, and Spike have barricaded the crypt door and are struggling to keep it closed against seemingly endless amounts of demons that are trying to get to Xander and tear the entrails right out of his surprisingly muscular abdomen, and, focus, Anya, she reminds herself. Willow’s managed to screw up yet another spell, and get herself kidnapped by D'Hoffryn to boot, and there’s no time to waste.
Tuning out the sounds of fighting behind her, she continues chanting, hoping that she’ll be quick enough to at least save herself and Xander. Buffy she could live without, but then Xander will be all mopey, and they probably won’t have sex for at least a day or two. “We come in supplication,” Anya says, a little louder, “we bend as the reed in the flow of…” She shrinks as broken glass shatters inward toward her. “No, wait, we come in the flow of the... gnyah!”
“Buffy!” Spike yells behind her, fists slamming down on the scaly arm that’s gripped Buffy through the broken crypt window.
“Anya?” Xander asks, his voice high pitched as the mausoleum’s doors begin to creak ominously.
“Blessed be the name of D'Hoffryn,” Anya intones again, her eyes beginning to go black. “Let this space be now a gateway to the world of Arashmaharr where demons are spawned.”
A small portal begins to open directly in front of her, kicking up a great wind inside the stone walls. Anya watches nervously, ignoring the struggling behind her.
Spike says almost tenderly, “They're strong, and I can't fight. If they get in, I don't know if I can protect you.”
The portal widens as Buffy asks incredulously, “You think you have to protect me?”
“Oh, not with the girl power bit,” Spike starts, only to be roughly thrown back against the doors, as the portal, too large to be contained in such a small mausoleum, hits them all with hurricane force winds.
Anya crashes backward, and Xander fumbles to keep her upright.
The sounds of banging against the door drop immediately to silence as the portal stabilizes. They can see through to the other side, as clear as day. D’Hoffryn stands with Willow, both of them somehow illuminated against the absolute darkness. D’Hoffryn sighs as if vastly irritated, and turns his face toward the portal. “Who dares intrude on the lair of—Anyanka?” He squints through the portal, focusing on a nervous Anya.
“D’Hoffryn,” Anya says, pleased to hear she’s kept the trembling from her voice. “Hello.”
D’Hoffryn frowns. “I’ve already told you; I won’t restore you.”
Xander’s hands tighten on her arms, and Anya shakes her head quickly. “I understand! We actually were looking for her.” She gestures behind him, at Willow.
“Her,” D’Hoffryn says, as if remembering his quarry. “She will make a fine vengeance demon.” He smiles paternalistically at Willow.
“The hell she will,” Buffy snarls, stepping forward to go around Anya and Xander. Spike grabs her arm and drags her backward.
“Uh, about that,” Willow says, ignoring Buffy’s outburst. “No offense intended, I mean, you've been super nice and everything, but I don't want to be a demon.” She looks at her friends, a guilty expression on her face. “I just want to go back and help my friends.”
She fights the urge to shrivel as she glances at D'Hoffryn. The large demon practically glowers down at her. “That is your answer?”
All eyes go to Willow. She pales slightly but nods her head. “It is.”
D'Hoffryn ponders this for a moment, then reaches into the pocket of his robe, unearthing a small totem. “I'm sorry to hear that. Here's my talisman.” He holds it out to Willow, who gingerly accepts the small piece, as if afraid it might burn her. “When you change your mind, you give us a chant.”
“I don’t think I’ll be changing my mind,” Willow answers quietly. “But thank you!”
D'Hoffryn grins suddenly and snaps his fingers. Within the crypt, Buffy notices Spike’s arm wrapped protectively around her waist and wrinkles her nose. “What the hell?”
Spike drops his arm as if burned. “Ugh!”
Anya ignores them, still focused completely on D'Hoffryn. There’s gotta be a catch. There always is with him.
“I’m sure you can be persuaded,” D'Hoffryn says agreeably. He snaps again, and Buffy disappears in a flash of light.
“Buffy!” Willow cries. “No! What did you do to her?”
“I sent her on a little trip,” D'Hoffryn answers. He looks at Anya, raising one fleshy eyebrow. “You created such a lovely world, my dear. We wouldn’t want to let it go to waste.”
“What does that mean?” Xander demands, speaking for the first time. Anya’s hand tightens around his wrist in fear, but D'Hoffryn ignores him, instead glancing back at Willow. “I’ll expect your call.” He puts one big hand on her back and shoves her bodily through the portal. It closes abruptly before Willow even hits the ground, leaving the four of them in the dark and eerily silent mausoleum.
Buffy’s hands are still in fists, ready to step around Xander and fight her way into the portal if necessary, when she finds herself tripping. Slayer reflexes manage to save her from falling directly onto her face, her wrists taking the brunt of the fall. “What the…” She mutters, jumping back to her feet, fists at the ready. Finding herself alone, she turns around in confusion. No Willow, no portal, no Xander, Anya, or Spike. Buffy’s nose wrinkles in revulsion at the last thought. Had she really gotten engaged to Spike? She looks down at her left hand to find a large silver ring adorning her fourth finger. “Eww!”
Buffy yanks the ring off, ready to pitch it into the darkness, when a sudden bang sounds at the door. Freezing, Buffy turns to face the door. “Guys?” She calls, cautiously. The banging begins again, with more fervor, and Buffy tucks the ring into her pants pocket. She steps backward instinctively, facing the entrance.
The doors should open easily, having been broken into mere minutes before, but they seem to be locked. Not for long, she thinks, her back hitting the rear wall of the small building. She grasps at her back pocket, relieved to find her stake still tucked where she’d placed it earlier. The doors groan under the weight of what sound like repeated kicks, and Buffy holds the stake aloft. As the doors cave inward, she remembers to look away from the light flooding in, allowing her eyes a critical two seconds to adjust to the changing light as two large forms tumble through the doors and toward her.
“Oooh,” one particularly ugly vampire chirps, looking at her ravenously, “look what we got here, Joey—fresh meat tonight.”
“Boys,” Buffy says disapprovingly, “is that any way to talk about a lady?”
The one called Joey smirks. “Don’t mind him, ma’am. Andy gets real cranky when we gotta eat leftovers.”
Buffy nods understandingly, spinning the stake between her fingers. “Shame Andy’s gonna be awful cranky tonight,” she says with faux regret. She throws the stake with deadly accuracy at Joey’s heart, already moving as he lets out a groan.
Plucking her stake free of his disintegrating form, Buffy dives toward the remaining vamp, but Andy’s quick and able to sidestep her move. He brings his fist down between her shoulder blades, sending Buffy wheeling toward the open doors.
She snags one of the doors on her fall through, using it to right herself, and immediately swinging back inward. Her feet meet the vampire’s sternum.
Andy grunts, falling backward through the floating ash of his companion. On the ground, he rolls quickly to avoid her striking stake.
Both get to their feet simultaneously, circling one another warily. Andy breaks first, charging at Buffy. He’s bigger, but she knows she’s faster, and Buffy ducks, driving her shoulder into his abdomen.
Using his momentum against him, Buffy easily flips the vampire over her shoulder, letting him hit the ground behind her with an uncoordinated thump.
He should be winded, Buffy thinks, and goes in for the kill. Instead, Andy recovers and kicks out forcefully, catching her hip, and sending Buffy back through the door into the dark cemetery.
She flips to her feet, ready to stalk back in after him, but a voice cuts through the night. “Drop your weapon!”
Buffy freezes, looking around herself in surprise as a dozen commandos pour from the trees all around her. There’s a snarl from the crypt and the muffled thwang of a shot rings through the air. A bright tipped dart hits the vampire in the shoulder.
He makes it two more steps before crumbling to the ground. The commando nearest to him shoulders his weapon and jogs over, quickly checking the prone vampire. “Hostile secure!” He reports, pulling zip ties from a pouch at his side.
“Drop the weapon,” Buffy hears again, this time accompanied by the click of a safety being released. It takes her less than three seconds to count their total number and weigh whether the odds are in her favor. They aren’t. Buffy opens her fingers, letting the stake fall to the ground.
“Hands where we can see them,” the closest commando says, face completely obscured by a black mask.
Buffy puts both hands to shoulder height, palms facing outward. “You’re making a mistake,” she says.
The closest commando approaches her, holding a small tablet up toward her face.
“What is that?” Buffy asks.
No one answers. The tablet completes whatever it’s doing with a quick beep, and the man steps back, reviewing whatever reading he’s just gotten.
“Negative,” he says, moving to stand by one of the others. The leader, Buffy figures. “She’s unknown.”
“Not a lot of people coming here on vacation,” the second man says, gun still loosely trained on her. “Bring her in.”
“What?” Buffy demands, careful to keep her hands up when the commandos closest to her startle at her voice. “I’m not going anywhere! I need to find my friends!”
“This is for your safety as well as ours, ma’am,” the leader says, already turning on his heel. He expects to be followed. Before she can think about making a move, two more masked men flank her, gripping her biceps uncomfortably tight.
“This way, ma’am,” one says politely. Buffy glances around, sees at least four rifles still trained on her, and bites her tongue.
They take her to the UC Sunnydale campus, or at least that’s what it once was. The grounds are overgrown, the school’s large sign missing from its usual spot on the south lawn. Almost all the buildings are dark, with the exception of Lowell House. That’s ringed with motion activated lights that spring to life as the group leads her up the walkway to the entrance. She squints in the bright light, allowing them to pull her along toward the fortified building. The windows on the first three stories are barred, the doors reinforced with steel. It definitely had not looked like this when Buffy walked past it just yesterday on her way to class.
The rest of the town had been equally weird, at least the parts of it they’d driven her past on their way here. Main Street was utterly vacant, unusual for this early in the evening. Several shops were boarded up and apparently closed down. Some had metal gates locked over their windows and doors. As they lead her through the entrance to the dorm, Buffy’s beginning to get a bad feeling that she isn’t in Kansas anymore.
They leave her in a brightly lit room furnished with two chairs and a table, all bolted to the ground. They ask her name and address, and Buffy can’t think of a reason not to give it. She listens to their footsteps fade down the hall before quickly moving to the door and trying the knob. It spins uselessly in her hand. She places both palms against the door and pushes, hoping for a telltale creak. Nothing. Buffy gives the room a second look. A small camera blinks unobtrusively from the right rear corner of the ceiling. She’s not convinced the door will really hold if she gives it her all, but even if they didn’t see her escape on camera, they’d definitely hear the noise from breaking down the door.
She sits down in one of the bolted chairs, folding her arms over her chest as she tries to puzzle this through. If there’s one thing she learned from Giles, it’s that the simplest answer is usually true—he calls it Antonio’s razor or something like that. When she takes D’Hoffryn, a portal, the complete absence of her friends, and a newly dilapidated Sunnydale into account, it doesn’t feel like a huge leap to say she’s probably been sucked into some alternate reality. What’s harder to figure out is the deal with the commando dudes. She’s seen them at home too, but never in these great of numbers. And she definitely doesn’t think they’ve been out kidnapping civilians. Someone would probably have noticed that kind of thing. So who are they, and what do they want? Why does this entire building make her spidey senses tingle?
The door to the room opens easily, and Buffy drops her arms to her lap, sitting up straight and on guard. Two men enter, still in fatigues but without their masks. Buffy tries to keep her surprise contained, but a garbled, “Riley??” still manages to escape her lips.
Riley frowns. Before he can respond, a woman in a lab coat enters the room, closing the door behind her.
Buffy recognizes Professor Walsh immediately, but this time she manages to keep that to herself.
“Hello, Buffy,” Walsh says, sounding exactly like she’s about to ask a question from the reading that Buffy definitely did not do. “Can you tell me your full name and address?”
Buffy tries to keep the impatience from her voice. “Like I told these guys, Buffy Summers. 1630 Revello Drive. Good old Sunnydale, California.”
Walsh nods along, but holds out her hand to the man standing beside Riley. He hands over the same tablet that was used to scan Buffy in the cemetery. “What if I told you that we have census records for every person living in Sunnydale, and you aren’t listed anywhere on them?”
Buffy blinks, surprised.
“Nor did our facial recognition system pick you up,” Walsh adds. “So, it’s almost impossible for you to be from Sunnydale.” She sets the tablet down on the table between them, allowing Buffy to see the photo snapped of her own face, with the word ‘Unknown’ blinking beside it. “So why don’t we try this again? Who are you? What were you doing in the cemetery alone?”
“Is it a crime to be in a cemetery alone now?” Buffy asks cooly.
“Violating town curfew technically is a crime, yes,” Walsh says back just as calmly. “All residents need to follow curfew for their own protection.”
Curfew? Buffy thinks. “I can protect myself.”
“Hmm,” Walsh says noncommittally. She reaches into the pocket of her lab coat and produces the stake Buffy was carrying, fiddling with it between her fingers. “With this?”
Buffy shrugs, frantically trying to think of the best way to play this situation. Should she tell them who she is? They did tranq the vampire after all, and she can tell they’re all humans. Then again, they didn’t kill the vampire, and they did basically abduct her from the street.
“Either you’re incredibly stupid,” Walsh offers, “or you’re not telling us who you really are.”
“You wanna know who I am?” Buffy asks, coming to a decision. Quicker than any of them can react, she surges out of her chair, plucks the stake from Walsh’s grasp, and swings it toward her face, stopping millimeters from impaling her eye. Buffy smiles widely, then sits back in her seat, taking the stake with her. “Buffy Summers,” she repeats. “Slayer, comma, the.”
Walsh maintains her composure, gesturing for Riley and the other man to put down the rifles that by now have come up to train on Buffy. “The slayer,” she says, not sounding very impressed. “We used to think the slayer was a myth.”
“Well, you were myth-taken,” Buffy deadpans.
Walsh looks at her for another moment, then glances at Riley. “Get Graham on the phone,” she requests, then turns her steely gaze back to Buffy while she waits for him to hand her the phone. When Riley has Graham, she accepts the offered handset and places it to her ear. “We’ve got a situation,” she says, eyes firmly fixed on Buffy’s face. “Alpha Team picked up a girl who claims she’s the slayer.” She listens for a moment, then smiles. “Yes, thank you.” She hands the phone back to Riley, then addresses Buffy again. “You’ll notice I said we ‘used to think’ the slayer was a myth. We realized we were wrong about that when we met her.”
Buffy tries not to let the confusion show on her face.
“Yes,” Walsh says, picking up on it anyway. “We know the slayer. We know her quite well. And most importantly, we know you are not her.”
Buffy has no idea if the slayer line would continue in the same order in this world, but if it has, there are two possibilities she can think of for who the slayer is now. Assuming that Walsh is telling the truth, and they do know the slayer here. Also assuming that whomever they think is the slayer actually is the slayer. Historically, slayers have worked in secret, and Buffy can’t imagine any of them voluntarily involving themselves with whatever Walsh has going on here. The idea that Walsh may be dealing with an imposter is quickly abandoned when Buffy feels the telltale tingling begin in the back of her neck just before there’s a knock at the door.
“Come in,” Walsh says grandly, her face showing more enthusiasm than it has since she entered the room.
A tall man in fatigues fills the doorway, and Buffy vaguely recognizes him from around campus. This must be Graham, she thinks. As Graham steps into the room, Buffy gets her first look at the girl standing behind him.
Curious brown eyes hone in on her, and Buffy has to struggle not to flinch. Faith looks much the same as she always has, slim belly displayed beneath a too short top, tight jeans tucked into combat boots, eye liner like war paint. She stares at Buffy hard, but without a trace of recognition on her face.
“Faith, meet Buffy Summers,” Walsh says. “She says she’s the slayer.”