Work Header


Chapter Text

“I’ll ’ave ’nuther,” Xander drawled. ’Nuther no show. “Betta make tha’ a double.” He raised a second finger to illustrate his point.

“Okay, but that’s it, buddy,” the bartender replied. “Last call.” He hadn’t been the friendliest of people to begin with. Hours later, Moe Szyslak had nuthin’ on this crusty, old sourpuss.

Xander didn’t care. Tha’s tha story of meh life. He let out a snort and went for his wallet. No show. No dinner. No drinks. Stood up. For something that was trapped in a pocket barely bigger than it was, his wallet was being awfully sneaky. Well, lotsa drinks, but jus’ me with the drinkin’. A song ran through his head. He began to sing, “I drink alone…aww by myself. I drink alone…wiff—”

It sounded pretty good to him, but the over-the-shoulder glance the bartender gave him said otherwise, so Xander shut up and sat up like his dad had taught him. Unfortunately sitting up felt too much like leaning back, and leaning back made him feel woozy. When he grabbed the bar to keep from going over, his wallet got in the way, reminding him what he was doing. He wiggled and tugged until the accursed thing came free.

His stack of money was thicker. It didn’t make sense, but he reasoned, More’s better, as he took a bill out. “More drinxsss!” His hand smacked the bar when he put the money down. The sound startled him. He jumped, realized how dumb that was and laughed.  

The green numbers on the paper blurred and doubled. ’Leven isn’t— He closed one eye experimentally. Everything went to hell. One-eleven. One-one-one-one… Blinking the mess away, he looked up.

The bartender held his drink. It looked doubled.


“It’s gonna take more than that,” he said.


“More!” Xander exclaimed as he pulled out another bill and slapped it down.

Girls! Who needs ’em?

The bartender still didn’t budge, so Xander kept ’em coming until the gnarly old fart grumbled, “That’ll do.”

When the bartender released his hostage, Xander put his money away. Do? Who do? I do. That’s who. He picked up the glass. Girls. A little of the precious nectar dribbled onto his hand. Always the same ol’ story with ’em. Switching hands, he licked it away. A vicious cycle that just gets viciouser every time I go round. “Roun’!”He tossed the shot back. ’Nuther round down!

Motioning to the barkeep for another, Xander slurred, “’Nuther roun’. Roun’-an-roun’—” he chuckled “—and roun’, and roun’, and roun’ she goeth.” A broad, silly grin stretched his lips. “And round. A sucka’s born every minute, doncha know.”

The bartender rolled his eyes. “I said, ‘last call,’ buddy. I’m cuttin’ ya off.”

“Jus’ one more,” Xander pleaded. I jus’ wish things’d— I wish they’d jus’ go back to how they were. Leas’ before, with the rejection, I had frien’s. If they’d jus’ go back—

Stallin’s bad. I could’ve and…I sh’uld’ve put Spike down. I had a chance. I had chances.

“Look, pal, wish I could help, but we closed ten minutes ago.” The old grump sounded sorry.

“Wissshhh!” Xander snorted. “Know wha’ I wish? I wish Bu—” His brow furrowed. He managed to spit out, “Buff! Sheesh outuv ’er min’.” He screwed up his face. Not that it helped. His mouth wasn’t about to cooperate. “I jus’ wish she wasn’. ’S not her fault. She’sh a demon.” He sounded stupid. But there was nothing stupid about this. That annoyed him. “I know it soun’s crasy, but she really is…dead and demony. If she wasn’, she’d—” He licked his lips. His tongue felt clumsy. He pinched it between his lips. The lower half of his face tingled. Something stung his tongue. Oww. He winced, swallowed, tried again, “She wus so good. Sush a good person. A good frien’. I jus’ wish…I wish things’d go back. I wan’ her back.”

Belching, Xander placed his hands on the bar, palm down in an effort to steady himself. “S’cuse me.” He persisted, determined to share his feelings, “Dunno. I wish I could jus’ tell Buff how I feel.” The wistful sigh that broke up his spiel was broken up by another burp. His breath was toxic. He waved his hand, caught the counter, looked up. “If I could jus’ tell her—the real one, not that thing of the walkin’ cor’se variedy—I think things’d—”

Xander watched through thickly lidded eyes as the bartender’s face swam. S’gotta be the booze. There’s two of ’em. Two’s bad. Double badness. Blinking lots, he hoped the guy’d go back the way he was. I’m plastered! Too plastered, spackled, painted. Two blurry, veiny…like a—

The bartender’s face stayed gross. He announced, “Done.”

Xander’s brow tightened and scrunched. It felt funny. “Whaddaya mean ‘done’?” he asked. “Whaddaya done?” Well done? Burnt but without the crispy bits. Shame. The crispy bits are the bes’—

The lights came on. I’m not seein’— The red muscley mess made sense. He’d seen it before.

“Hey! Yer a venj-ah…” he said, but his mouth went to mush. He tried again, “A venjin…” and again, “A venjen…” finally giving up, “A wissshin’ demon. Thought you guys wuz s’all girlsss.” Remembering Anya made him smile. She was a… “An’ preddy. Preddy, preddy girls.” I miss her. Great big gaping sorta missin’…like Buff.

The demon winked. “Yeah, lotsa folks think that,” he replied. “Sorry, buddy, we’re not all dames. Gotta cover all de bases, doncha know.”

Xander struggled to focus, studying the demon’s face as he cackled. Mus’ be a good joke. Oh, uh…

Shock over what he’d done bowled him over. Said ‘wish.’ “I wissshed!” Oh Gah! I’m not even sure wha’ I wished. Gotta go!

Xander shot to his feet only to stagger and damn near fall right then. They’re gonna kill me! Trying to steady himself with his stool wasn’t going well. It rocked in his hand. What’d I—? He was losing the fight to stay upright fast. The barstool finally tipped back a little too far, taking him with it. His legs buckled. He busted his ass. Oh, tha’ wuz s’upid! S’upid, s’upid me! Godda go!

The bartender craned over the bar to see. He looked normal now. Or as normal as he ever had. “Lemme call ya a cab, kid,” he said.

Buffy strolled past a monument, appraising the scene. A young blonde woman dressed in a ruffled, light-blue nightgown lay sleeping or unconscious on a freshly filled grave. “Oh, this is precious,” she whispered in a tone filled with maliciousness and mirth. Someone left me a present. How thoughtful. “She seriously needs a teddy bear.”

The girl was out cold. She didn’t budge as Buffy cut a wide, circular path, closing in on her target. The closer Buffy got, the less present-like the girl felt. Something was seriously wrong with this picture. Like that wasn’t dead obvious. Wary, Buffy used the monuments for cover. Her super duper Spidey sense was all abuzz. This girl felt seriously supernaturaly in contemporary Sleeping Beauty drag.

For the final leg of her approach, Buffy crouched down, using the new headstone to block her from view. She lifted up. Her elbows came to rest on its rough stone surface. She said, “Boo,” just like she planned, but the girl’s face totally threw her. Her voice caught, croaked, squeaked…

Someone spluttered, “Boo,” in a weird, reedy voice. Buffy opened her eyes. ‘Boo’ who?

Her head swam. She felt way too groggy to make sense of what she saw. Uh, a mirror? Why’s there a mirror? No. Wrong way. Some sort of bizarre, inverted, funhouse mirror, or…

Blinking improved nothing. Her doppelganger’s hair still hung down, half-covering her upside-down face. But the face itself was unmistakable. All except… ’Kay, so…what’s up with my eyes? Last I checked they were kinda blue—kinda gray and kinda blue—a weird too-blue blue, but blue, not vampy and… And why’s my hair—?

What happened next was more a ‘feel’ thing, like someone had walloped her with a sledgehammer. Only that could hurt so much. Her ribs cracked. She rolled onto her side, folding in half. Questions became a non-issue.

Buffy jerked her counterpart up by the frill of her cutesy blue nightie. Nothing about this was right. The girl smelled human, but she felt like a demon. Her face was the same face that Buffy had seen in the mirror for years. Granted, it’s been a while, but she’s a dead ringer, right down to the tiny bump on her chin.

Are there chameleon demons? Like some sort of ‘shape-shifter’ thingy?

Pro’bly. But she smells human. The double’s heart ran rabbit in her chest. Her chest wheezed and burbled. She sounds human. But lots of things have hearts and breathe.

Y’know what? Screw it! No one comes here after dark. No one sane, that is. I haven’t had a visitor in months. This is pretty much a creep, skulk and slither free zone. And taking a nap? I magine the nerve. She’d have to be—

As Buffy drew back to strike, her poor little, dimwitted playmate decided it was time to wake up. Doe-eyed and bleary didn’t do a thing for her. Still, Buffy held back a sec, staring, hoping to find sense. There isn’t any. She’s gotta be a demon with eyes like that. A demon who went all Eleanor Rigby on me. Flattering…

Buffy’s fist connected. The flouncy nightgown tore from her grasp. A neighboring tombstone got in the way. The imposter smacked it and went flying all willy-nilly. It should’ve been all aces and eights from there, but amazingly, she skipped and sprung. She was on her feet running before the next bounce.

No way! Buffy bolted after her quarry. Shit! That would’ve killed anything mortal. Even a slayer would be too hurt to move. But this thing she was chasing—whatever it was—flew like a bat outta hell. She even had the agility to fake left and go right.


Willow snapped awake. As she came back to herself, panic hastened her heart rate, cluttered her mind. Other, annoying, trivial complaints mounted as she jerked, looking left, then right.

Warmth remained in the bedclothes where Buffy had lain, but she was nowhere to be seen, heard, or felt on any level. That was the first thing Willow noticed during the consideration that left her with a verdict of ‘I feel poopy.’

Even a spoonful of alum couldn’t have made her mouth feel ickier. She licked her lips with a sticky tongue. Something was wrong. Not just your usual, garden variety ‘wrong.’ She’d seen plenty of that. This is was the sort of wrong that caused things to get truly wacky.

She made a choice. It was either self-placation or more panic. Rawer, uglier panic. I’m just being silly. She’s in the bathroom or something. No big. She’ll—

It didn’t work. Willow knew that wasn’t true without even looking. Actual looking didn’t make anything any better. There was no light, no noise. The house was empty. She felt it. She reached out with her senses, searching, hoping…

No Buffy.

It was silly to be so certain without really looking. She sprang out of bed, flipping on lights as she went through the house. Maybe she’s gone for a ride. But the motorcycles were still where they ought to be. Willow stood, staring at the MV Augusta. She threatened to run away.

But she was just mad. She wouldn’t do that. Not over some tiff with Giles.

There was one more. She ran to the garage to check. The new motorcycle sat exactly where Buffy had left it. The car was there too. Wherever she went, she had to be on foot.

She wouldn’t just up and leave.

Maybe she went for a walk? That’s reasonable. I need to quit. There’s a perfectly rational explanation…and I’m not going to find it by losing my head.

Willow returned to the living room to take a seat on the couch. Several moments passed before the self-imposed calm took root. Quickly, gently, she touched the people in the castle one at a time, brushing over them with her thoughts. Nothing.

No Buffy. Dammit. Umm…


Some help maybe?

A twinge of nostalgia made Willow pout. She remembered the haunted house, the spell, Buffy’s reaction. It was the same spell Tara used to find her years later on the night Buffy returned. Dwelling on any of that was sure to upset her again, so she put it out of her mind. The spell was the important part. It was an oldie but a goody. More importantly it was a simple, no muss, no fuss solution. “Aradia, Goddess of the lost,” she whispered. “The path is murky, the woods are dense, darkness pervades, I beseech thee, bring the light.” 

A tiny little glowy orb sparked to life, appearing from out of nowhere. “Take me to Buffy,” Willow said, eager to solve the mystery. She was prepared to chase the silly thing down. That’s how this normally went. Instead, it blinked away.

Willow’s brow knit. She blinked too, expecting to see the goofy thing circling her head when she opened her eyes. “Hey!” she snapped. “Come back here!” The stupid little light didn’t return, so Willow did the only thing she could think to do. She repeated the incantation, “Aradia, Goddess of the lost.” Her tone was severe, almost waspish. “The path is murky, the woods are dense, darkness pervades, I beseech thee, bring the light.” 

Another daft little wisp flashed to life. “I need to find Buffy Summers. Take me to her,” Willow said with marked annoyance. Specificity had no more effect than vagueness. The light blinked and vanished. “What the—?” she grumbled, “grrr,” and reached for the phone. “Maybe the people in ops will have a clue.” I should’ve called there first. It’s just…

They normally call us when they need Buffy. I normally hear them call. There’s this whole thing that normally happens. There was no call, or I didn’t hear it. I can’t imagine sleeping through that and her getting dressed. Besides, she’s supposed to be resting. Giles suspended her. She should be here. Willow hit the button for the extension and someone picked up.

“Allied Potential: Operations. This is Debbie. How may I help you?”

Willow announced herself, “This is Willow…” quickly adding, “Rosenberg,” because if Debbie didn’t know how to tell if a call was placed from an inside line, she probably needed all the help she could get. “I’m hoping you might be able to help me locate Buffy Summers.”

It got worse. Debbie, who would’ve been a fine switchboard operator, but was a crap operations officer, replied, “One moment and I’ll connect you with her extension.”

Willow didn’t hang up, though she sure wanted to. I deserve a foot rub for this. She stated the cold, dry facts, “I’m calling from her extension. We live together. She’s missing.”

“Oh.” That was all poor Debbie had to say. She was probably franticly reading some manual, trying to figure out what to do.

What time is it anyway? Willow hit the power button on the television remote. The TV lit up, declaring it to be just after one o’clock in the morning. No wonder. She switched the TV off. “Look, Debbie, it’s okay. Thanks for your help,” she said and hung up the phone. Well, that couldn’t have been more pointless.

Willow shut her eyes and focused, reaching out farther and farther with her mind. There was nothing. A few cows, a farmer, his wife, their children…

She couldn’t just disappear. It’s impossible. No one can form a portal here, and even if they did, I would’ve felt it, so she can’t be gone. She has to be here…somewhere close. I’m just missing—

Maybe she did run away?

No, I’m being silly. I’m upset. I need to keep this simple. Start simple and work out.

As Willow got up to get a piece of quartz and map, a harsh male voice mocked her, ‘Silly girl, you’re wasting your time. You don’t need trifles and trinkets to know the truth.’

Stopping cold, she cringed. Now I’m hearing things? The voice was so familiar, but she couldn’t place it. She racked her brain trying to remember. But the ‘who’ doesn’t matter. That’s not the important part. My meddling mystery guest has a point.

Willow sat down right where she stood at the foot of the stairs. It was no small task to calm herself this time. The idea that Buffy might be in trouble plagued her thoughts. Worry stood between her and the truth, so she controlled it. Reaching past all of the familiar things, stretching, searching, Willow looked for something familiar in unfamiliar places.

The more Willow probed, the more distraught she became. Outside, ominous black clouds rolled in. Tears filled her eyes. Violent gusts of wind whipped through the forest. Willow came to one heart-wrenching conclusion: Buffy’s somewhere outside of my reach.

D'Hoffryn stood in a large, dimly lit cavern. “Oh, now this promises to be entertaining,” he said, sounding positively giddy. His steepled fingers twiddled, pad tapping pad.

The surface of the scrying pool, into which he stared, shimmered. Light and shadow flowed over his face as the reflection in the pool showed Willow exiting her home in a huff. Torrents of rain poured from the sky, instantly soaking her. The thin nightgown she wore clung to her skin. She took to the air. As she sped faster and faster, up and away, her body blurred, fragmented and came apart. A frenzied swarm replaced her.

D’Hoffryn positively beamed. “The lower beings are still talking about the last time she got her nose out of joint, over another mortal woman, no less. Our Miss Rosenberg is nothing if not predictable.” His thoughts were disrupted by a cackle. “Quite the firebrand.”

Elizabeth Harkness awoke from a sound sleep, surveying the room around her. A single person occupied her thoughts: Willow. She rose from her bed, dragging an old housecoat over her pajamas and a pair of worn slippers onto her feet. Opening the cabin door, she rushed off into the night.

That’s me? That’s what I’d be like as a—? Eww.

Buffy clutched her side. Adrenaline dampened the pain. But she’s no ordinary vampire. She’s like ‘Omigod!’ fast. Maybe faster than me. And she hits like—I don’t even know what.

Springing backwards as the vampire closed in, Buffy landed on the top of the crypt behind her. She hits like something I don’t want to be hit by again. She leapt to the ground, running for all she was worth. And she’s hungry. I forgot hungry. How’d I forget hungry? The path she chose was the shortest distance between her and the nearest light that didn’t involve hurdling headstones.

She was practically within reach of the cemetery wall when something struck her leg from behind. Agony cut through them. She put her hands out to break her fall. A gravestone skipped past her. It crashed into another and came to a rest.

Pain the dulled as she hit the ground, burned anew when she dove for the fence. She caught the iron spikes in her hands. Desperately pushing off, she cleared them. Her legs buckled. She tucked and rolled.

Connor was better than a block away when it happened. Seeing Buffy leap the cemetery wall was a wakeup call. He’d wandered too far off the beaten path. His attention lingered on her, his head and body turning away at different rates as he instinctively made to run. Something weird happened. Her legs gave out and she tumbled into traffic.

He thought he was seeing things, but she was there in the middle of the lane. A delivery truck was barreling down on her. Tires squealed. The driver of the truck sounded his horn. She might’ve leapt out of the way. It was hard to tell if she had time. From this vantage point, all he saw was a flurry of hair and clothes being whipped by the wind. He wasn’t sure if she even moved before the truck ran her over, and in true Southern California fashion, kept going.

The driver of the next oncoming car sounded its horn. Connor cussed himself for blatant stupidity as sprinted toward her. Buffy was obviously badly injured. The next move she made was even clumsier. It was less ‘leap’ more ‘flop.’ But she made it to the curb. She crawled onto the sidewalk as he closed in.

Connor stopped short, careful to keep his distance. Disheveled, dirty and bruised wasn’t the look he expected. Her nightgown was even torn. None of that made any sense at all because she was unmistakably Buffy. The rise and fall of her chest with each labored breath really threw him. Still, he tensed, ready for a fight until movement in the graveyard caught his eye.

He peered into the darkness. Another woman paced the edge of the cemetery. The way she moved wasn’t right. She turned too quick. Her actions were too deliberate, too precise. It gave Connor the creeps watching her. No, that’s Buffy.

Leaving this other woman behind would’ve meant her death. Connor couldn’t do that. He lifted her into his arms. Besides, Buffy wants her dead. That’s reason enough for me to want her alive. He cradled her and ran. No clue who she is. The smell of sweat and the warmth of her skin confirmed everything he needed to know.

The circle parted as Ms. Harkness approached. She accepted the offered hands, completing the circuit again. “Willow Rosenberg,” she said.

In unison the other witches replied, “We know,” sounding like a chorus.

A look of severe displeasure crossed the old witch’s face. She commanded, “Willow Danielle Rosenberg, you will come to me this instant.”

Her voice echoed, magically amplified across the ether.

D'Hoffryn snickered, peering intently into the pool at his feet. He called out, “Can I get some popcorn in here?”

“You found her like this?” Giles enquired, stooping down to look at the woman lying unconscious on the couch.

Connorcocked an eyebrow, giving Giles an annoyed glare. “Exactly like that,” he replied.

Giles masked his uncertainty behind a contemplative scowl. “And there were no signs of enchantment?” he asked. “Nothing unusual caught your eye?” He knew his questions would probably aggravate the lad further, but that couldn’t be helped. Something had obviously been missed.He studied the woman’s familiar face. Her chest rose and fell. But how?

Connor replied, “Well, I’d say that Buffy jumping over a cemetery wall into the street and almost getting creamed by a truck qualifies as unusual.” Before Giles could retort Connor cut him off, “Look, we’ve been over this already. My story isn’t going to change just because you ask me again.” He stalked out of the room.

Any attempt to stop him would’ve been pointless. He had chosen to have very little to do with them. Giles had accepted that up until now. He knew that pressing the matter would simply result in a quarrel, so he stood, pondering what he knew. Either this woman is the genuine article and her humanity has somehow been restored, or she’s a doppelganger sent from somewhere else. But the magic involved in accomplishing that would be staggering.

Willow appeared in the doorway and lingered.

Giles expected her to speak, though she rarely spoke to anyone except for Kennedy. He found it troubling when she didn’t, but he knew better than to press. Willow had grown increasingly withdrawn over the past eighteen months. Any attempts he’d made to reach out had been met by further retreat, so he returned to his musing.

Perhaps this woman isn’t Buffy Summers at all, but someone who looks very much like her. It should become apparent which of these possibilities is true once she awakes.

Willow approached the couch. Kneeling down, she smoothed her housecoat beneath her and sat on her heels.

Giles puzzled over the slow, deliberate way she moved. Her actions appeared to cause her pain.

As she felt Buffy’s wrist for a pulse, any sign of discomfort melted away. Her expression became awash with wonder and relief. “I’m not sure—” She released Buffy’s wrist and touched her face, concluding her thought in the form of a question, “How?”

Willow didn’t pay him any mind when he replied, “That really is the question, now isn’t it?” He could scarcely blame her for remaining intent on Buffy. This is something of a miracle.

A weak smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Would you mind getting a blanket and the first aid kit?” she asked. “She feels cold and—well, I’d like to stay with her if that’s alright.”

“Yes, that’ll be fine,” Giles responded, taking his leave to grant her request.

A familiar presence caused Buffy to stir. Her vision blurred when she cracked her eyes. She scrunched them closed, trying to encourage them to do something useful. But seeing wasn’t strictly necessary. She knew Willow was there. “Oh, thank—” Her voice cracked, so she toned it down to just a whisper, “I just had the worst dream ever.” Even as she said it, the statement rang false. It hurt too much to breathe for something not to be really wrong. She didn’t sense any impending danger, so…

Opening her eyes didn’t go quite so badly the second time, though the way Willow was staring at her was pretty unnerving. A sharp pain took her breath away when Buffy tensed her stomach muscles to sit up. She winced. Her ribs ached. ’Kay, so…either Will’s been beating me up in my sleep, or that wasn’t a dream, or…

Uh, I’m clueless. Random, act of God type smiting? Like a lightning strike? I didn’t think I’d been that bad. Do I get a say? If so, I vote for ‘the worst dream ever’ with complimentary contusions.

A few things were certain, the couch she was on wasn’t their couch, the ceiling wasn’t their ceiling and the walls weren’t their walls. She was somewhere else.

It bugged her that Willow hadn’t said a word. Something’s wrong. Several ‘somethings.’ Buffy snickered. It hurt. Many, multiple ‘somethings.’ Too damned many to count. Forcing the point, she gritted her teeth and sat up. She wanted to comfort Willow, but no matter how much she wanted it, it didn’t feel right. Maybe a hug? That should be fine, right?

Willow didn’t resist when Buffy took her into her arms. At least one thing’s still right. But even as the thought crossed her mind, Buffy knew it was wrong. Willow felt rigid in her arms. She asked, “What’s wrong?” but Willow didn’t answer.

They were in an office somewhere. An old office. The window casement, door frame and light fixture all told her that. The style reminded her of the set of I Love Lucy or one of those other really old shows. All she could see outside the door was an ochre wall with white molding, the opposing wall of a hallway.

As she relaxed her hold on Willow, Giles appeared. He lingered by the doorway. His expression was kindly enough, but weighted with stress. The items he carried set her at ease.

Buffy let Willow go as the next thing on her list of ‘wrong things’ entered the room: Kennedy. The other slayer pushed past Giles. She looked pissed. Why’s she even here?

Willow’s cheeks were streaked with tears. Her complexion was all wrong too. She looked like a child who’d been caught sneaking a cookie.

Kennedy closed in. The only real hostility Buffy sensed was from her. Ignoring the pain, she leapt from the couch. Prepared to deal with that, she asked, “I dunno what you people are about, but this definitely isn’t funny. Would someone mind explaining where I am?”

Rain came down in sheets. Willow made no effort to find cover. She sat hunched over, hugging her shins on a rocky outcropping, utterly miserable, drenched to the bone and shivering, nursing the worst headache ever. Each breath came at the cost of a flinch, the strangled fret of someone who’d cried themselves out.

The insistent cries of her old teacher rang in her ears. Ms. Harkness called Willow’s name, demanding her presence. Willow just wasn’t sure she cared enough to answer. Oh, would you just shut up?

Figures she’d wig. It’s hard as heck to move, or even think with a bunch of nagging worrywarts babbling in my brain. They’re even using my middle name. What’s up with that? I didn’t think any of them knew my middle name.

Willow admired the view from the Scottish coast in spite of her discomfort. Oh, well…at least I picked a pretty spot to pass out.

It was hard not to give in to her anger. She certainly had plenty of reason. I’m ninety-nine-point-nine percent sure Buffy’s been snatched from this world ’cause the ninety-nine-point-nine percent of this world is watery and sandy and snowy and rocky and leafy and good. Those good, watery, sandy, snowy, rocky, leafy parts are all connected. And all those connecty parts tell me she’s not here. It’s the point-one percent that worries me. And if they’d just let me check all of the nooks and crannies…

But no.

A deep scowl etched her face, making her appear years older than she was. Desperation must seem like rage. I need to get a grip. I have to find her. I suppose I could start by randomly ripping the barriers down between worlds. Might be fun. Well, maybe not ‘fun’ exactly, but entertaining. And that’s obviously what they expect from me, given the serenade.

Willow rolled her eyes, even if it did make her woozy. Here I was just gonna poke around first. Check the random and the bad. Ask the Eye. That sort of sensey, less messy stuff. She sighed. Well, I s’pose it’s time to face the music. She projected a single word, ‘Yes.’ Stupid, stupid people.

The phrase, ‘Come to me now,’ rang in her mind as a portal opened beside her.

Willow stepped through, preparing for the worst.

D'Hoffryn shook his head. “Pity,” he grumbled. “The little witch was just starting to work up a full head of steam when that meddling biddy butted in.” Still peering intently into the pool, he took a few kernels of popcorn from the bowl next to him. Several more fell onto the floor. “Oh well,” he said through a sigh. “It’s not over yet.”

Willow sprang to her feet and stood gawking at Buffy. How in the—? She even moves like her. Er, the other ‘her.’ A least I assume there are two ‘hers.’ She found the presence of mind to shut her yawning trap. There must be. Her skin’s warm—like really warm—and she has a pulse. It was stupid to check, what with the ‘warm,’ but I had to.

There were way too many people in the itty-bitty room. Willow shrunk into the nearest corner. She couldn’t believe that Kennedy was advancing after what they’d just seen. That was just—well, wow. Too ‘wow’ for comfort.

Willow glanced at Giles. He was obviously thinking the same thing, but neither of them did anything to avert the impending calamity.

Kennedy was nearly on top of Buffy when she challenged, “You want to know what we’re about? How ’bout you first?”

“Anyone ever tell you it’s impolite to answer a question with a question, Kennedy?” Buffy asked as she reclaimed her personal space by stepping back. That seemed like the sort of thing she might do if she was intimidated, but she sure didn’t look or sound worried. But what reason could she possibly have to be worried? If anything, she seems bored.

Buffy was closer to the couch. She could sit down if she wanted. This isn’t about boredom or worry. And that’s fine. No one else needs to be worried. I’m worried enough for all of us.

Glancing over her shoulder, Buffy did exactly what Willow predicted, she sat down. “That is your name, right?” she asked.

Willow wished she could see her face, but her posture was telling enough. She looks exhausted.

When no one answered, Buffy went on, “I didn’t just drop into bizarre-o-world, did I?” She let out laugh that was more of a hiss. “Well, maybe I did. But the ‘name’ thing, that’s still the same?” She glanced at Willow. “I’m right, right?”

Being the focus of attention was unnerving to Willow. She made herself to nod. Just her eyes are plenty disturbing enough. Answering had the desired effect. Some of Willow’s tension eased when Buffy turned away.

Addressing Kennedy, Buffy asked, “Do you know where you are?”

Kennedy answered reflexively, “Los Angeles.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Buffy replied.

Giles interrupted, “Yes, well.” When he saw that he had their attention, he continued, “Perhaps we should—”

“It’s fine, Giles. I’ve got this,” Buffy replied before he could finish. She gave him a reassuring smile and turned to Kennedy. “You might wanna back off,” she said. Her tone was more playful than threatening. “I know you’ve heard of these places called ‘hospitals.’ They’re where people go when they’re sick or injured. I get that you’ve probably never been. Your life hasn’t exactly been tragic. But if you don’t get out of my face, we’ll be moving on to the practical part of the lesson.”

Willow was surprised that Buffy finished uninterrupted. But then she was no stranger to the rage she saw in Kennedy’s eyes. Watching it build made her feel squeamish.

“You didn’t answer me,” Kennedy demanded. Her posture shifted.

It was a slight change, but Willow had seen it so many times, she winced and shut her eyes.

“And I don’t plan—” Buffy’s reply was cut short by a squeak and a thud. The squeak sounded suspiciously like it came from Kennedy.

When Willow opened her eyes, Kennedy was sprawled on the floor. Buffy was exactly the same, nothing had changed. If Willow hadn’t known better and had to guess, she would’ve thought that Kennedy had tripped and fallen flat on her back. But that wasn’t what had happened at all. The next part made that perfectly plain.

Kennedy sprung to her feet. The only thing that appeared to be hurt was her pride. She shot a glance Willow’s that was more of a withering glare. “You guys are on your own,” she snapped. Her attention turned to Buffy. “I hope she sucks you dry.” The door slammed as Kennedy stormed from the room.