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The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

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Disclaimer: Not mine.

Thanks to Starway Man, my beta-reader

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Trailer: Chaos Accumulates

Limited perspectives are, by their nature, limited. Indeed, by definition, they are nothing but limited. But limitations are often difficult to perceive and, depending on the limitations in question, even more difficult to explain.

To describe that which cannot be properly perceived by humans using human concepts and means of communication is impossible, at best. At worst, it's self-destructive.

Sixth-dimensional superspace exists. But no human mind can comprehend it, nor the five-dimensional fragmentary avatars of twenty-three dimensional beings of relevance at this moment. Human terms ill-describe their appearance, their 'words', their actions.

Still, one must do the best one can, under the limitations one must work under.

“So. I see your pet human is about to start providing you with some more fun.”

The Jester turned to that which lesser beings knew as the Hydra. A being of seven in one, to those with limited perspective, the face and form was ever changing - each part changing in its own random cycle between one of seven.

But even as the Jester could be perceived as turning, the Hydra changed again, a massive formless mass of coils and tails, scales and hundreds of gaping maws, all eyeless and rampant.

“Harris isn't my pet human. The pet – and the real star of the show down there – is the fragment of the piece of my Iron Coin.” The Jester tossed a pair of dice into the air, watching them turn into a deck of cards a they fell.

“I suppose that would be accurate, from a certain point of view.” A thousand voices seemed to speak at once as the Hydra collapsed its form into a glowing orb of light.

“Of course it's accurate, no matter what the point of view.” The Jester started dealing the cards, as if he was playing Poker with five other people. But each time a card 'landed' on an invisible table before him, it turned into some sort of game piece – chess queen, checkers piece, even pieces from games more modern. And, of course, dice. “I tell you, the Coin is going to be causing all kinds of mischief. And that's not to mention all the accumulation.”

“Yes. Accumulation of change from the original plans of the forces of Fate. Your preferred method of chaos, relatively slow but steady. You are much like the Weaver in that sense.”

“Well, yes, Hydra. That is what makes me me, and you you, and the Weaver the Weaver. Granted I appreciate a good mass chaos like what you cause, too. And we've got some of that coming. But the Iron Coin fragment with Harris is more attuned to the Weaver than you. Nonetheless, you should remember - it was you to whom I turned to for your assistance in this little fancy of mine.”

“Because the Weaver would never agree to provide you aid. He is concerned with his own plots. As are the rest of us.”

“Yes.” The Jester agreed, gesturing grandly. “And besides, where would the fun be if we worked together all the time? We're Chaos! Let Fate govern themselves by consensus.”

“They are responding to you. They contain the ripples you have created well.” The Hydra was now a seven-headed snake, but with arms, reared up and all eyes level with the Jester's.

“Yes, and all the effort they spend on those ripples is effort not spent elsewhere. This fun therefore proves itself a success in more than one way. And just between us, I've already separated fragments from the Gold Coin and Silver Coin, for distribution elsewhere.”

“Escalation.”

“Fun.”

“Chaos is Chaos. It serves the greater cause.”

“Chaos is fun, Hydra. Ah, well, you and I both know we're never going to agree on this one.”

“Yet you remain incorrect.” The Hydra burst into flames from its previous snake form. “We will speak again.”

The Jester nodded as the Hydra vanished, traveling away as an amorphous collection of purple smoke particles (or something that looked like them, anyway). Snapping his fingers, the Jester watched as the objects on the 'table' before him became playing cards once again.

“Yes, Alexander Lavelle Harris. Chaos Accumulates. Have fun over your next year. I know I will.”

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy, Xander, etc. I own the Coin, the Jester, the Hydra etc, as well as this 'fic', insofar as anyone can own a work of fanfiction.

Thanks to Starway Man, my beta-reader, and dieticlast for creative consultancy services. Thanks also to Ironbear for the cover.

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Episode 1: Campus Life

Illustration

September 5th , 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

“So. Classes start tomorrow.” Cordelia told Xander softly, as they lay in bed next to each other. “You sure you set the alarm correctly?”

Xander nodded. “Yes, I did. Don't worry - you'll get to the college campus on time, I promise.” The plan was pretty simple, what they'd worked out – Xander would drop her off at UC Sunnydale in the mornings, and pick her up later in the afternoons at their prearranged time. She could always call him to come and pick her up early, but if he was at work, that would be easier said than done.

“You said for me to park by the library to pick you up tomorrow afternoon, right?” Xander was fairly sure that was what she wanted, but it wouldn't hurt for him to make sure.

“Yeah.” Cordelia agreed. “And pretty much goes without saying, but you know I really appreciate this, right?” She smiled and leaned in to kiss her boyfriend lightly.

“Yeah. Nervous?” He asked with a slight grin.

“About college?” Cordelia shook her head with a small laugh. “I can't say I'm looking forward to classes and everything that comes with that, but no, not nervous about about starting my freshman year at UC Sunnydale.” She shrugged, “I'm more nervous about what starting up school again really means.”

It took Xander a moment to follow her meaning, but then he nodded. “The craziness in Sunnydale always picks up at the start of the school year.” He agreed.

“And then some.” Cordelia sighed. “So, what do you think it'll be this year?”

“Hm?” Xander raised an eyebrow.

“Apocalypse season, y'know, about eight or nine months from now.” She clarified. “That whole bringing about Armageddon thing – initially it was that Master guy during sophomore year, right? Then Angel went all evil and used that, that...A cat of la thing, or whatever, to try and destroy the world. And last year, the Mayor tried to turn us all into his personal tasty snack at Graduation, before sending everyone in Sunnydale straight to Hell. So, what do you think it's going to be this year?”

Xander shrugged, “Demon Ninjas?” He suggested randomly.

Cordelia laughed and hit him lightly on the chest. “Yea, right! You've been watching too much anime on TV, dweeb. I mean, something like that happening? Ha, that'll be the day!”

“Probably.” Xander agreed. Of course, if I could get more from the Iron Coin... “Well, whatever it ends up being? Buffy and Faith will do the Slaying, Giles and Wesley will be all tut-tut about our abuse of the Queen's English and do the researching, Willow and Amy will do the magic, and Oz, you and me will be the backup who contribute and help save the world at the last minute.” He smiled. “See? I've got it all figured out.”

“So you do.” Cordelia replied, but then she sighed. For a moment, Xander thought she was going to say something more, but his girlfriend remained silent.

“Cordy, what's wrong?”

“Nothing. Well, nothing more than the fact that we're stilling living in Sunnyhell, and I really wish we didn't have to.” Sighing again, she closed her eyes. “It's late. Probably a good idea to get to college tomorrow well-rested.”

Xander smiled a moment, “Alright. Hey, Cordy?”

“Yeah?”

“Have I told you that I love you today?”

She smiled. “Yeah, but it doesn't hurt if you simply can't help repeating yourself about that.”

September 6th , 1999
Front of Campus, UC Sunnydale

Xander did a double-take at the sheer human mass clustered around the college's front lawn when he pulled up at the main entrance, Cordelia in the passenger-seat next to him. He looked to his girlfriend and said, “You sure about what time should I come by to pick you up?”

“Five-thirty, yep.” Cordelia answered. She grabbed her purse and the various paperwork and folders she'd already gotten from the college administrators.

Man, it feels kinda weird not being with Cordy and everyone else first day of school. Still, guess sitting in a lecture hall for the next four years isn't for everybody; and especially not me!

“Okay. See you then.” Before Cordelia could get out, Xander leaned in and gave her a quick kiss. She kissed him back with a brilliant megawatt smile, and then opened the car door.

“See you tonight!” She got out and closed the door behind her, and watched Xander drive off, waving as she did so.

It didn't take Cordelia too long to figure out that she needed to head over to a 'Weisman Hall', judging from the fact that she didn't have a yellow folder.

“Of course,” She muttered under her breath, “It would be too easy if I actually knew where Weisman Hall was! ” Fending off the flyers being thrust out at her by random upperclassmen in sheer annoyance, Cordelia saw Buffy walking slowly through the throng, also looking confused.

“Buffy!” Cordelia cut across the crowd and walked over to the Slayer. She didn't see a yellow folder in Buffy's bundle of papers. “Weisman Hall?”

“Hey, Cordelia!” Buffy said, smiling a little at the sight of a familiar face. “Yeah. You wouldn't happen to-”

Cordelia shook her head, not letting her finish the question. “Nope. Not a clue.” She went looking through the papers again. “Y'know, you'd think that amongst all this crap we got supplied with, they'd bother to give us a freakin' map!”

“And ruin the overwhelming disorientation?” Buffy managed a smile. “I think they think it's part of the authentic college experience.” She looked around, “Have you seen Willow or Oz? Amy?”

“Not yet. You're the first familiar face. And remind me – you are living on campus, aren't you?” Cordelia asked.

“Yep. I've gotta get to my dorm later on as well, meet my new roommate and all. But, one thing at at time here. Where's-” She saw a flash of red hair and then a familiar face. “Willow!” Buffy maneuvered her papers and managed a small wave to her friend.

A huge smile on her face, Willow half bounded over towards them. “Buffy, Cordelia! Hey!”

“What? Did someone forget to keep the caffeine away from you?” Cordelia offered with a small laugh at Willow's evident exuberance.

Apparently nothing was going to puncture Willow's bulletproof good mood just yet, however. “This is just so cool! There's so much going on!”

“Yeah.” Buffy nodded slowly. “Almost, one might say, too much.”

Almost, yeah. Even though she wasn't as overwhelmed as Buffy seemed to be, Cordelia had to agree with the Slayer. She hadn't expected their first day at UC Sunnydale to be so...lively.

Unfortunately, Willow simply wasn't in the mood to notice what her two companions were feeling right now.

“I got in to all my courses... except for 'Modern Poetry', I had to switch to 'Ethno-musicology.' But that's cool, West-African drumming, I think it's going to change everything. Have you met your roommate yet?” she asked Buffy in a rapid tone of voice.

Ah, yeah, and here comes the Willow-babble. Cordelia still wouldn't say she was 'friends' with Willow, exactly; but the girl did have a way of growing on you a little, as it turned out. Still, mostly it was a matter of putting up with her boyfriend's best friend.

“No.” Buffy shook her head.

“I can't say I'm envying you the whole 'roommate' part of things.” Cordelia commented.

“Oh, but it's part of the whole college experience!” Willow gushed, “Meeting a new roommate, learning to live with another person, getting exposed to new things! ”

“Well, I've already met my roommate, I've already learned what it's like living with him, and getting exposed to new things? Hello – been doing that ever since the IRS repossessed everything and I had to move in with my boyfriend!” Cordelia said with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh! Well, yeah. ” Willow looked briefly embarrassed. “Still, you know what I mean! And while I haven't met mine yet, I hope she's cool.”

“You got ticketed.” Buffy commented to Willow. “And you didn't.” She added, looking at Cordelia.

Cordelia shrugged. “I wanted to get at least as far as obtaining my student I.D. first. What did you two get, then?”

“Oh, look!” Willow fanned out five flyers. “I've been told about five different issues so far today, and I'm angry about each and every one of them!” She punctuated the words 'each and every' with a motion of her free hand. She looked at Buffy. “What did you get?”

Buffy looked down a moment. “Jello shots.” Cordelia watched in amusement as Willow and Buffy exchanged fliers, after a further brief exchange.

“So, you been to Weisman Hall yet?” Cordelia asked Willow.

“To get my I.D.?” Cordelia and Buffy nodded. “Yea. But the lines are really long now. You guys should have gone early.”

As they kept walking, Buffy's reply couldn't help but make Cordelia even more amused: “Well, I hope that I learn from this experience and that I grow.”

“I'm being annoying, aren't I?” Willow asked after a moment, after seeing the looks on her companions' faces.

“No.” Buffy answered. “It's nice that you're excited.”

“It's just in High School, knowledge was pretty much frowned upon.” Willow said, starting to babble again. “You really had to work to learn anything. But here, the energy, the collective intelligence,” Yeah, because people always associate intelligence with Jello shots, Cordelia interjected mentally. “It's like this force, this penetrating force, and I can just feel my mind opening up--you know?--and letting this place thrust into and spurt knowledge into...” Willow trailed off with a frown.

Okay, and now I'm wondering if Oz was out of town or something for the last couple of days. Cordelia started to wonder what was going on with the red-head and her boyfriend; not that their sex life was anything she wanted to think about!

“That sentence ended up in a totally different place than it started out in.” Willow concluded, to agreeing nods from Cordelia and Buffy.

“I'm with you, though, I'm all for spurty knowledge.” Buffy told her best friend. “It's just, a little overwhelming. Don't you feel it?”

Before Willow could get out more than a few words, Oz arrived. “Ooh, boyfriend!” Willow looked over at Buffy and Cordelia with a smile that most came across as smug, but not quite. “It's my on-campus boyfriend.” She and Oz quickly shared a kiss.

Buffy frowned again, and Cordelia realized her thoughts must have gone back to Angel. “Oh, no. I forgot to pick mine up.” She forced a small smile to her face. “Line's probably really long now, too.” The smooching Willow and Oz seemed not to notice her mood or her response, however.

“Well, on the subject of long lines.” Cordelia said, after failing to come up with anything else to say, “We should probably head over to Weisman Hall right now before they get any longer. Which way, though-?” She started.

Oz caught on and pointed. “Building's pretty much thataway.”

“Thanks.” Cordelia looked to Buffy. “Coming?”

Buffy nodded, “In a minute.” She gestured for Cordelia to go on. “You go ahead, I'll catch up.”

With a shrug, Cordelia left the three to chat, while she headed towards the building she needed to get to.

September 6th , 1999
The Bronze, Sunnydale

“Hey. How was the first day of college?” Faith asked Amy. The two friends were just unwinding her a little bit before they went out on patrol. Amy still hadn't really gotten that fire spell perfect, but she'd been practicing with it, even though Faith wasn't ready to let the Madison girl go out and dust vamps with her fire spell on her own.

So bringing her along on most of her patrols had become the norm. On the nights when Amy didn't come along, she let Wesley come in her place, with much the same thing in mind.

Faith doubted Wesley would ever become good in a fight with a vamp at anything from a distance; but she was pretty sure at this point that he could survive a fight with your average fledgeling, if he had to.

Especially if he has a crossbow. She'd been practicing with the one he'd gotten her, but even with the laser sight she still didn't have Wesley's accuracy or ease with the weapon. She was working on her proficiency, and her Watcher had had good things to say about her progress, but still.

It isn't right he's better at anything to do with the fighting than me.

Amy shrugged, “No classes yet, so kind of hard to judge. A lot of orientation, trying to figure out where everything was. And meeting my roommate.”

“Yeah? How was she?”

“Pretty normal, I guess. From out of town, though, so she doesn't know a thing about the night-life here. I gave her a warning about not going outside and walking alone after dark. No idea if she'll listen or not. But she's not into loud music or anything like that, so I don't think we'll have too many problems between us.”

“If you do, you can always crash on my couch 'til you can find someone else.” Faith offered.

Amy laughed. “No offense, but I don't know if that couch is especially comfy.”

“Never said it was.” Faith pointed out. “G-man may have talked the crumpet brigade back in the mother country into covering my living expenses, but it still isn't much.” She laughed. “On the plus side, they don't pay Wesley much either.”

“The Council sounds pretty cheap, if you ask me.”

“According to Wes, they are.” Faith shrugged. “I'm guessing you won't have as much time-”

“Not as much,” Amy interrupted, “But I'll make sure I have enough free time to help you out on the Slayage. Maybe won't be available for as many patrols as I was during the summer...” Now it was her turn to shrug. “But I'll have time for my best friend. Promise.”

Faith smiled a little – but she quickly brought it under control. She liked Amy – a lot. The dark-haired witch really was her best friend here on the Hellmouth, too. Only friend, really. Sure, she got on well with Buffy and everyone else, but...Faith had to admit she still had trouble considering herself Buffy's friend, or Willow's friend, or a friend to any of the others. It didn't seem to her that they were bosom buddies, anyway.

“Appreciate that.” Faith replied. “Got time tonight, then?”

“Of course.” Amy smiled back.

September 7th, 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

Xander and Cordelia were getting ready to watch a movie on TV, now that dinner – cooked by his mother, who unlike the two of them, actually could cook a decent meal.

“How were classes today?” Harris asked, stroking her hair.

“About what you might expect, pretty much.” Cordelia answered, snuggling up to her significant other. “Not much learning today – introduction to the teachers, the classes, the way they're going to do things. Professor Walsh pretty clearly set herself up as the most hard-ass one I had classes with. We'll see if she is.”

“Walsh? Wait, so that's you, Willow, Oz and Buffy taking her Psych 105 class? Huh. Is it really that interesting?”

“Willow actually seems interested in that stuff, probably because of what her parents do for a living. Oz is taking the class because Willow is – although he might like it too, for all I know. Buffy's definitely taking it only because Willow's in it, or at least 'cause Willow recommended it.” Cordelia shrugged.

Xander nodded. He'd heard how Buffy had left her class selection to the very last minute. He really didn’t have that much in the way of room to judge, since he wasn't going to college at all, but at least she'd gotten it handled in the end.

“Myself, I'm taking it mostly because it's a Gen. Ed class that happened to fit my schedule. Although there may be something about the class, since Amy's taking it too.” Cordelia shrugged. “Again, probably for the same reasons I am.”

“Maybe Professor Walsh is a demon in disguise, and you guys are all picking up on that with your Scooby senses.” Xander suggested, laughing.

Cordelia smirked briefly. “Yeah, well, if she's a demon, I just hope Buffy slays her before any big tests this semester. I do have a GPA to consider, after all!”

September 9th, 1999
The Bronze, Sunnydale

Neither Xander nor Cordelia could say they were especially fond of the Bronze at this point, since it was a teen and young adult club; a place for high school kids to hang out. But, regardless, it was still the only real place in town to go for a night out on the town. Cordelia had wanted some time to unwind after all her classes today – and then studying in the library until Xander could come to pick her up. And so, here they were.

“I'm not dancing to this.” Cordelia said in distaste, listening to tonight's band.

“Yeah, I kinda figured this isn't really the music you're looking for right now.” Xander nodded.

Cordelia nodded. “Not that the Bronze is into conventional music and rock star bands, but I thought for sure they'd have something that doesn't sound like a funeral dirge.” She looked around as they sought a place to sit, and saw Amy and Faith sitting at one of the tables. “Looks like they agree with you on the music too.” She gestured.

“If anyone thinks this is the kind of music Faith likes, they probably need their head examined.” Harris looked over at Cordelia. “Wanna say hi?”

Cordelia shrugged. “Why not?” They started to make their way over to the two females in question, when Xander saw Buffy standing by one of the couches. She was holding one arm close to her body, like it was hurt, or maybe broken.

“Buffy?” Xander asked, concerned.

The blonde Slayer turned and managed to generate a half-hearted smile at the sight of the two new arrivals. “Xander. Cordy.” While she wasn't 'good' friends with Cordelia, she certainly counted the cheerleader as a friend by this point – she'd gotten to know her fairly well over the summer, teaching her how to fight and all that.

“Good to see you.” She gave Xander a quick hug.

“Haven't seen you in a couple days.” Xander said, frowning. “And all I know is that you're taking the same psych class as Cordelia. So, what's it like being College Girl?”

Buffy looked at him a moment, then managed with a shrug – well, a shrug of one shoulder, to be more accurate – to sound tired and unenthusiastic without appearing to even try. “College is...good.”

Xander resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Okay. Once more with even less feeling, Buffy!”

Buffy shrugged again. She managed a better tone when she spoke again, though. “No, really. I mean, Willow's in heaven and Oz has this really cool house off-campus with the band...” She sat down on the couch. There were two chairs opposite it, and Cordelia and Xander sat down in them. Harris looked over to his girlfriend a moment, silently asking her lead.

Cordelia gestured a little with one hand – a kind of 'keep going' motion.

“And you're here alone at the Bronze looking like your puppy has cancer, why?” Xander asked. Something was up with his friend, and he wanted to know what.

“It's just...” Buffy let out a small sigh, “There was this vampire...she took me down...and I just...I don't know how to stop her.”

“There's a vampire on campus?” Cordelia cut in, looking disgusted. “Ugh. I'm always the last to know these things! And is there nowhere in Sunnydale they don't show up?”

“Not just one, either. She's got a whole gang...” Buffy half-murmured.

“Then where's the rest of our gang? Avengers assemble, Buff. That's what the Scooby Gang is for, remember?” Xander demanded, looking surprised.

“Yeah, but...I don't want to bug you with this – I mean...” She gestured limply at Cordelia, “You and Willow and Oz and Amy are just starting classes, and you've got a job, Xander. You guys don't need this.”

“Are you doing drugs, or what? What we need is no vampires on campus!” Cordelia countered, looking annoyed as only Queen C could. “What the hell is wrong with you? Willow and Amy live at UC Sunnydale, and with all his extracurricular activities, Oz is going to be wandering it at night. Don't you think they should know there's a whole gang of vampires with a nest set up right in their midst?”

Buffy blinked a moment at Cordelia's words, and realized after a moment that the former cheerleader actually had a point. “I...didn't think about that...”

“And even if you didn't want to bother us, Faith doesn't have college or a job that isn't Slaying.” Xander pointed out. “You could always ask her for help. Why didn't you?”

“I...I dunno. I mean, I fought one vampire and I couldn't take her on.” Buffy muttered. “This isn't High School anymore, and I thought after the Mayor – well, I guess I didn't want to ask for help this early after the summer was over...” She sighed a moment and looked back up from her hand in her lap, seeing the incredulous looks Xander and Cordelia were sending her. “Yeah, I know. Trust me, it made a lot more sense in my head!”

Xander got off the chair and crouched in front of the couch and took Buffy's good hand in one of his. “Look, Buffy, so you had a bad day- ”

“Bad couple of days...” Buffy muttered.

“So, what, you're having trouble dealing with the start of your new life in college?” Cordelia asked. “Well, get over it! You're the Slayer. If you can handle vampires, demons and a giant snake mayor, you can handle college! I'm not having the easiest time in the world right now either, ya know – no car, precious little money, plus there's no way I'm gonna get inducted to any of the sororities I woulda liked to have been a member of! – but at least I'm not all moping, and having a big self-pity party because of it!”

Xander looked over at his girlfriend. She meant well, he knew, but... “Cordy? Can you-”

“Don't start, Xander you know I'm right!” Cordelia cut him off at once, sending him a stern glare. “Look, Buffy. You're having a bad few days with the normal college stuff, and then a vampire gets the better of you in a fight. So what? It happens! You're still alive, and you have people who can help you deal with this vamp and her gang.” Cordelia made a face. “Sure, I can't say I like the idea of going out to fight the undead on a Thursday night, but I like the idea of them hanging out on campus less.” She slapped Xander's back. “And since my boyfriend is going to help you, like duh, I'm coming along too.”

“I...” Buffy sighed, starting to say something.

“Buffy, you're not just 'the Slayer'.” Xander said. “Not even just 'a Slayer'.” He let go of her hand. “I've faced some pretty scary things here in Sunnydale, gone through some dark times. But when it comes down to it – when I'm scared, freaked out or whatever...I ask myself: 'what would Buffy do?'” Xander took a moment before continuing. His Slayer friend needed this pep talk, and he was the one to give it, it seemed.

The image he'd seen from the Iron Coin over a week ago drifted through his mind, and he briefly wondered if tonight was the night it was finally going to come to pass. He'd been flipping daily since, but nothing new had come up for the blonde Chosen One.

“Because when it comes right down to it, Buffy...you're my hero.” Harris stood up. “So let's put this bitch in the ground. What do you say?” He hand out a hand to help Buffy up. She took it and then looked to the two of them.

“I think...I say thank you.” She told him. “Both of you.” Buffy added to Cordelia. She frowned. “Of course, it would be easier if they hadn't taken my weapons...” she trailed off as Cordelia pulled a stake from her purse and handed it to Buffy.

“What?” Cordelia asked the Slayer. “I'm not walking around Sunnydale without one if I can help it! Day or night.”

Xander smiled and embraced his girlfriend for a quick moment. Then he let go of Cordelia and looked back to Buffy. “Okay, what do we do first?”

Buffy nodded over towards Faith and Amy, who were getting ready to head onto the dance floor as the music changed. “First we rustle up the support troops, then we figure out where this undead bitch is holed up, already!”

September 9th, 1999
Outside of the Psi-Theta House, UC Sunnydale

It hadn't taken them long to figure out where the vamps were hiding.

Okay, it would be more accurate to say that it hadn't taken him long. Xander had asked about the year and shown her his work to make sure she didn't ask questions around the others – Buffy had, fortunately, never pressed him about his source of 'information' since the night Angel had admitted he'd been struck blind after trying to go somewhere he shouldn't have, and he wanted that question as far from her mind as possible – but as soon as he'd seen the picture of the building, Harris had realized it was the one he'd seen in the vision from the Iron Coin.

“Only one door.” Faith pointed out. “It'll make it easy to make sure they don't escape, but also means there's only way we can get at them.”

“I could climb up, take a peak through that skylight, see what we're dealing with.” Buffy suggested.

Xander shook his head at once. “Bad idea, Buff. That article I found about the frat house being closed for renovations? Author talked about concerns regarding the skylight.” Sure, Buffy hadn't been seriously hurt from the fall, judging from what the Jester's coin had shown him – but still. No point in letting that happen if he could stop it.

“Storm in, take them out, get your stuff and leave sounds like a plan to me.” Faith commented as she twirled her stake. “You and me go in through the front, B. You three, make sure they don't get away if any of them manages to get past us.”

“Sounds good to me.” Cordelia nodded and Xander and Amy spoke in agreement.

September 9th, 1999
Psi-Theta House, UC Sunnydale

“Look how tough I am.” The vampire that had beaten her earlier was saying, holding a skirt up to her hips and shaking herself around some. Buffy suppressed an exclamation of anger at what the undead bitch was doing with her clothes!

It didn't do any good because, of course, it was then that the undead noticed the door had opened and the two young women standing there, both with stakes in their hands.

All but one of them had their vampire faces on. Correctly, Faith gestured at the one who had beaten up Buffy earlier. “I'm going to guess you're the boss, right?” Buffy nodded and Faith looked to her. “She's all yours.”

“I know I know you.” The leader said, her minions parting so there was a clear path between them. “You know, from beating the crap out of you.” She pointed to Faith. “I don't know you...'cause I'm sure I'd remember anyone who dressed that much like a skank.”

“Spare me the speech. I just came to get my stuff back. Including that skirt.” Buffy gestured to the one in the leader's hand. She shrugged, “Hey, look at it this way. With those hips, you'd never be able to wear it anyway.”

Snarling, the blonde vampiress rushed at Buffy, who fought back with her good hand. Faith watched the two fight for a moment, then looked at the other ones.

“Who's up first?” She asked, pointing her stake towards them.

“Uhm, hey...” One of them said, his voice sounding slightly off, like he was high or stoned or something. “Didn't we hear somethin' about...two Slayers in town...?”

Faith smirked wickedly and lunged towards the other female vampire in the room, grabbing her and hurling her bodily at the vamp that had spoken.

“Yep. The way I see it, you made two mistakes. One, you messed with Buffy, and two, you forgot there were two of us Slayers here in Sunnydale.” Jumping over a couch, Faith went for another one of the vamps, driving her stake into his heart as he stared dumbly at her.

Dust exploded everywhere. “Who's next?”

Sunday – not that either Faith or Buffy knew her name, of course – wasn't paying attention to the fight between Faith and her minions.

She'd gotten the upper hand on Buffy, and was pressing it for all she was worth. Grabbing Buffy's bad arm, she pulled at it, wrenching it in the wrong direction. Buffy let out a cry of pain, but kicked at Sunday's legs, knocking her back and on her ass. Grabbing her momentarily let-go stake – well, the one she'd borrowed from Cordelia – Buffy went after her enemy again.

“You know,” Sunday said, standing back up, “You'd be a hell of a lot scarier if you didn't have a broken arm!” She punctuated her words by punching Buffy. The blonde Slayer caught the punch on her good arm, but winced a little at the force of it.

“I don't need to scare you to dust you.” Buffy countered. Then she added, “By the way. The arm's hurt. Not broken.” Ignoring the pain as she moved it, Buffy punched Sunday square in the chest with her injured arm, sending the female vampire flying into a pile of assorted detritus.

Time to end this, already!

September 9th, 1999
Outside the Psi-Theta house, UC Sunnydale

Between Faith focusing on the minions and tearing through them like a lioness tore through a bunch of baby gazelles, and Amy, Xander and Cordelia on guard duty outside the front door, none of the vamps had actually managed to get out and run for it.

Which was the way it should be, as far as Xander was concerned. He wasn't sure what setting all this up had been about, in terms of Fate's plans – although really, if all they'd set up was Buffy falling through the skylight...

No, hang on. They don't need to plan it for something to be accounted for...

Nonetheless, Xander was pretty sure that Faith killing that vamp he'd seen in his vision a while back, that had been set up for her to be somewhere else right now – unavailable to help Buffy. But his using the Iron Coin had screwed that up – which was even more of an added bonus.

It had taken a bit of time to find all of Buffy's stuff, but they'd managed it in the end. Even Faith had volunteered to help carry it all back.

“So...all that other stuff in there....it's just going to sit there. Right? I mean, nobody owns it?” Xander had a job, even if it was in the fast food business, so he didn't really need anything he could take from this vampire's nest; but hey, he wanted to build up a nest egg for him and Cordy to eventually get their own place, and the stuff was sitting right there. And with no way to know who it had been stolen from...

He wasn't going to touch most of the stuff the vamps had here, but any money or jewelry? Heck yeah. The pawnshops in Sunnydale didn't exactly ask many questions, after all.

“Seems wrong, somehow.” Amy offered.

Faith, apparently, didn't agree. “I'll split anything in there sixty-forty with you.”

Xander laughed at her suggestion a little. Before he could respond, however, the coin-bearer heard someone huffing and puffing and Xander looked up to see Giles, carrying a crossbow, an axe and an extra-large cross running towards them.

“Buffy!” He called out, coming to a halt in front of them, breathing hard.

“Hey, G-man.” Xander greeted him. “What's with the arsenal?”

“I've been awake all night,” the now unemployed librarian told the blonde Slayer, still huffing and puffing every few words. “I know I'm supposed to teach you self-reliance, but I can't leave you out there to fight alone. To hell with what's right,” He gestured with the axe, “I-I'm ready to back you up.”

Sure you are. Now that it's all over. Buffy had a half annoyed, half appreciative look on her face at Giles' words, but it looked like the annoyed part was somewhat winning. “I'm kinda surprised you're alone, actually. Where's Wesley?”

“Err, he's somewhat indisposed right now, I take it." Giles waved a hand dismissively, apparently not wanting to elaborate. "Still, let's find the evil and-and fight it together!” Giles finished.

“Great.” Buffy said, starting to walk around him. “Thanks. We'll get right on that.” Xander couldn't help but smile at Buffy's deadpan delivery.

“The evil is this way?” Giles asked in confusion, starting to follow his charge.

“Her dorm is.” Faith answered

September 9th, 1999
Buffy's Dormitory Building, UC Sunnydale

“...I bet there were circumstances.” Willow's voice came down the hall towards them from the open door of Buffy's dorm room. “We've probably been so wrapped up in our own petty lives that we totally missed the circumstances...”

Following Buffy into her room, Xander saw Willow sitting on Buffy's stripped bed, looking half-dejected. “We're bad friends.”

“Don't be so hard on yourself, Will.” Buffy said, walking in and setting the stuff in her hands on the floor.

“Buffy!” Willow jumped off off the bed and embraced the Slayer. “You're- you're not gone. And all your stuff is back...why was all your stuff gone?”

“It got taken by-” Buffy started, and then trailed off when she saw a person other than Willow and Oz was in the room. Xander presumed she was Buffy's roommate.

“It was a prank.” Xander supplied, thinking quickly. “Some of her other friends – you know, the ones that don't come out during the day, because they don't tan well? They took her stuff as a joke, thought it would be funny.” He set the chest down on the floor next to Buffy's bed.

“Yeah, real laugh riot.” Cordelia added with an irritated toss of her hair, having arrived into the dorm by now as well.

“Those friends.” Willow said after an 'oh' of realization.

“Funny guys.” Oz noted. “Did you guys-”

“B made it pretty clear she didn't think it was funny.” Faith answered, walking into the room as well. Giles and Amy also came in, making the room rather crowded as everyone set Buffy's stuff down – on the floor, or on the bed.

“Good.” Willow said determined, then hugged her blonde friend again. “I'm sorry we weren't around to help-”

“It's okay. I didn't want to bother you, anyway.” Buffy interrupted. “But if they start causing problems again, I'll make sure I ask you for help, deal?” She smiled a little.

“Deal.” Willow agreed.

September 9th, 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

“And the moral of the story is,” Cordelia said, as she finished brushing her hair in the upstairs bedroom, “I am just thrilled that I don't live on campus, like Buffy and the rest of them.”

“Well, it does seem like it might be safer for you living here.” Xander agreed, sitting on the bed. “Though that concept kinda seems a little narrow in scope to be the moral of the story.”

“It's the only one that matters.” Cordelia said with a soft smile, setting the hairbrush down and coming over to kiss Xander. He was only wearing his boxers, and her lacy nightgown left little to the imagination. She sat on his lap, smirking after a moment at his reaction.

“Now,” she said, kissing him quickly again. “Enough of that crap. We have more important things to discuss. Like, oh, I don't believe you've told me you love me today yet, have you?”

“Sure I did, don't you-”

“Xander?” She interrupted. “Shut up. Or do you not want me to do this?” She slid her nightgown down from her shoulders, and then Cordelia kissed her boyfriend full on the mouth, pressing her naked chest against his and then pushing him down onto the bed.

Xander didn't have a single rational thought again for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still don't own it. Own the Coin, etc., etc.

Thanks to my beta-reader Starway Man, and my creative consultant, deiticlast.

Note: I have skipped the events of Episode 4x02, since all that basically happens the same way it did on the show. As with all Episodes of The Iron Coin Chronicles, I assume you're familiar with the Buffy episode this takes place 'parallel' too – in this case, Episode 4x03, The Harsh Light of Day. I'd advise rewatching the episode if possible, or at least reviewing a detailed summary of the episode - on the Buffy Wiki or another website.

Note#2: Apologies for the delay, one and all. I have a job now and it threw my writing schedule completely out of whack. At the moment, things are slightly more stable, and I should be able to get things done faster again. Then again...I keep making these promises and crap keeps happening in RL, so who knows. I'll do my best.

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Episode 2: It's a Myth

October 12th, 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

With Cordelia in the shower, now was the best time for using the Iron Coin.

It was sometimes easier said than done for Xander to have a free moment to use the coin – well, free several moments – but he was managing it every day. He had to.

Xander pulled on a shirt and opened his bedside table, taking the unassuming-looking, worn-smooth coin into his hand. He looked at it a moment, then blinked. For a moment, it had looked like there were two coins in his hand.

If I'm not hallucinating, then I definitely need to get more sleep at nights. He rubbed at his eyes after a moment, then looked at the coin. Just one. Good.

“Cordelia Chase.”

Straightaway, the vision blasted through his mind.

Harmony – talking to Cordelia outside the Bronze...a flash of movement, a loud snarl...

Harmony's forehead – bumpy, in a horribly familiar way – lunge...a bite, Cordelia's neck – pain –

Cordelia, pressing a cross to Harmony's forehead, snarls, pain, Harmony running off into the night –

“Ah!” Despite himself, Xander clapped a hand to his neck, a sudden pain spiking through from one spot – exactly where Cordelia was bit – to his forehead. It passed in moments, but still...

Taking a deep, somewhat shuddering breath, Xander lowered his hand and looked at the coin.

Harmony...was now a vampire. She must have been turned at some point – probably Graduation, he hadn't seen her since. This...

This, he had not expected.

I've got to tell Cordelia – hell, I've got to tell everyone else too. If they see her...they won't know that she's become a...

Ah, crap. How do I tell Cordelia about this?

He knew that over the past year or so Harmony and Cordelia hadn't exactly been 'friends', but...still...they'd been friends, more or less, for many years before that. Kinda hard to turn off your emotions when someone you know and had been friends with for over a decade was now one of the monsters.

Xander took another breath and looked at the Iron Coin again.

“Buffy Summers.”

Another vision blasted through his brain, more intense and painful than the one before. 

Spike – Buffy, fighting...sunlight...

Spike was standing in the sunlight – out in the open – literally, his game face visible...

Faith, coming from behind, attacking...

All three, fighting ... Spike was winning...

Xander's head snapped back as the vision ended, the coin falling to the ground as his head throbbed angrily.

“Ah! Jesus mother-” Xander grunted, the pain making it hard to think. After a few seconds, though, it passed.

“Okay...” Xander said, exhaling slowly. “That's an important one... ” He looked at the Iron Coin, lying there on the ground and he bent down to pick it up. He took a deep breath and held it in his right hand. He could guess what he'd see for Faith – if Faith was there, helping Buffy, then he'd see much the same thing for the second Slayer. He was not looking forward to another avalanche of pain like that, but he had to do it. There was always a chance he'd see more for Faith, after all.

“Faith Lehane.”

Xander's hand flew to his head as he saw the same vision as before, more or less – the angle was different, the emphasis on Faith, but still. The pain was just as intense, but a second-run through made it easier to handle. Another slow inhale-exhale later, and Xander was ready.

“Willow Rosenberg.” Nothing.

“Daniel Osborne.” Nada.

“Amy Madison.” Not a damn thing.

“Rupert Giles.” Nope.

“Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.” Still nothing.

“Joyce Summers.” Whole bunch of nothing.

Xander looked at the coin. Very little had shown up for most people, overall. But he couldn't get complacent. Sometimes it was like that, sometimes it wasn't. Complacency got people killed.

Xander tucked the Iron Coin into his pocket and sat down on the bed. The to-do list was pretty clear. Find a way to tell Cordelia about Harmony, warn her...

Warn everyone, really. No one else came even close to 'liking' Harmony, but if they didn't know she was a vampire, they would react like they would to any person. And Vamp Harmony would take advantage and use that. Just like...

Just like Jesse did.

Xander shook his head, forcing that thought from his head. It still hurt too much, thinking about his long-dead best friend. He figured the best way to get the word to Cordelia would be to say he'd seen Harmony, vamp face and all.

He had an unfortunate evening shift at his fast-food job tomorrow. He'd tried to trade out of it, so he could pick Cordelia up at a more reasonable time than 'sometime after 8:45'; but he hadn't managed to, this time. Cordelia had been annoyed when he'd told her, but given that it wasn't really something he could control...well, it was what it was.

He could easily pass off seeing the Harmony vampire then...sometime around then, anyway – getting to the car, or something...Cordelia would have no reason to disbelieve him. But...

Lying to his girlfriend was not the best of ideas...but it had to be done.

And it isn't as if I'm lying about the pertinent point.

Xander took a breath as he heard the shower turn off down the Hall. Cordelia would be back in here soon, to get dressed and ready.

But then there was the other question. What the hell was letting – was going to let – Spike run around in the open, immune to the deadly effects of the sunlight?

He had no clue. But he knew who might have some idea. Who might know. At least the man who could find out.

October 12th, 1999
Rupert Giles' Apartment, Sunnydale

Xander was about to knock on the door again when it opened, Giles standing there, a slightly distracted look on his face.

“What do you – oh, Xander, it's you. What is it?” His tone flowed from 'annoyed' to a much more mild annoyance mid-sentence. A tone Xander was quite familiar with.

“Not out here, Giles.” Xander's tone was far more serious than usual – and from the expression that passed briefly across the former librarian's face, he picked up on it. Giles stood aside and let Xander in, closing the door behind the teen.

“Your...source provided information again?” Giles went back towards the box of books he'd been unpacking – his whole living room was stuffed full of boxes, all the books they'd taken from Sunnydale Library before blowing it up.

“It isn't so much a-” Xander started, then realized no sound was coming out of his mouth. Damn it, not again. Xander fought the urge to roll his eyes and flip the sky off – not that the Jester was probably 'upwards' of him. The asshole would probably start in on 'limited perspectives and dimensions' again if Xander even tried it. But can't I have a better idea of what I am and am not allowed to say, dammit?

“Yes.” Xander said after a moment. “And at some point – not sure when – Spike is going to show up in town again.”

Giles sighed. “Well, we certainly suspected it would happen, and I know Buffy's been more or less hoping he'd come back. Just between us, I've never seen her direct so much anger at any vampire as she does at Spike.”

Xander shrugged, “He's gotten her riled up. Guy's escaped staking at her hands way too many times by now. Besides, he's just got that kind of face – you know, the one you just want to punch your fist through?” Xander laughed a moment.

Giles allowed himself a small smile at Xander's attempt at humor. “I suppose. But still, I don't know why you're coming to me with this. Buffy has...some idea about you receiving information, after all. I'm sure the knowledge that Spike will be back in Sunnydale sometime soon would cheer her immensely.”

“First of all, the less I have to remind Buffy that I have this...information source, the better. The last thing I want is to have her asking questions I can't answer.” Xander took a slow breath and let it out quickly, “We both know how she's even less happy about not knowing where I'm finding stuff out from than you are.”

“Ah, well, I wouldn't say she's less...happy about it than I am.” Giles told Xander softly. “Rather, I'm simply less...expressive about my unhappiness.” He took off his glasses and started to clean them as he continued to speak. “You said first of all. So I can assume there are more reasons why you're bringing this to me rather than Buffy?”

“Just the one more: when Spike shows up, it's gonna be in broad daylight . Emphasis on the 'broad daylight' part.” He looked at Giles. “I'm not an expert on vampires, but being sun-proof – that isn't supposed to happen, right?”

“Erm.” Giles said after a moment, apparently thrown by Xander's revelation. “Well, generally, yes, that is how it works.”

“So how is it Spike's going to be ignoring that rule?”

“Are you certain of your –” Giles started, then cut himself off. “No, silly question.” He took a breath, “The truth is, I don't know anything for certain. Granted, I've read about certain spells, rituals that can protect a vampire from the effects of sunlight. Mostly just myths and legends, though...I'll...I'll have to do some reading.”

“Alright.” Xander let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. “Alright. If...if I get any more information about this...I'll get it to you.”

“I can only wonder what would have happened if we didn't have this...advance warning of yours.” Giles said softly.

“I'd rather not think about that.” Xander admitted. Still, good question. What the hell is the angle here?

Xander had spent a lot of free time wracking his brain, trying to figure out what Fate was trying to accomplish with various given events they planned. Why had they wanted Faith to kill Alan Finch? Just to mock the Mayor and get him to chase her? Why have Cordelia fall through that stairway? Why was Buffy supposed to fall through that window on the ceiling of the vampire den?

He had no clue, in most cases. He was seeing...bits, and pieces. Mere fragments of a larger whole. Fate may only be writing the things he saw, but the Jester had said – they could extrapolate. They obviously had some idea of what would happen from their actions, their writings.

And of course: how much of their 'books' have I screwed up, forced them to re-write, with the changes?

And the worst question of all: Am I really making things better?

October 13th, 1999
Outside UC Sunnydale Library

Cordelia looked at the watch on her wrist – one of the few truly expensive things she still owned. She didn't used to actually wear it that often, but it was quite stylish, overall. Xander should be here soon. She lowered her arm, but that didn't change the fact that she was ready to go for the cross or stake in her bag, if she had to. She kept them at the top of her bag for a reason.

Fortunately, no vampires had decided to try and snack on her yet. And if her boyfriend would just get here, she wouldn't have to worry about that more or less for the rest of the night.

Cordelia was about to check her watch again when she saw Xander's truck pull up in front of her. “Thank god.” She walked over to the car and opened the side door.

“Xander, you need to work better on your timing. It doesn't take you-” She cut off mid-berating when she saw the...serious, almost tight expression on Xander's face. It was an expression she'd only seen on his face a few times...

Like the night they'd gone after Faith and Buffy, but arriving too late to stop Faith from accidentally killing the deputy Mayor.

“Xander?” She stood there, one hand on the door, not in the car yet.

“You might want to get in and sit down first.” Xander said softly, gesturing for her to get into the car.

“Xander, you're worrying me.” She replied softly, though she got into the car even as she said that. She hadn't actually realized she'd been standing out in the open like that.

Xander reached across her, grabbed a hold of the inside of the door and pulled it closed.

“Cordy...” Xander started softly. He took a deep breath – it almost seemed like this was something he'd...practiced saying to her? Oh God...what...no, no, no. Can't be that. Can't be! He can't be wanting to break up with me, can he?

“Cordy...” He started again. “I...it's Harmony. I saw her...and...she's a vampire.” He took another deep breath. “Harmony's a vampire now.”

Cordelia looked at him, not comprehending his words for a moment. But it didn't take her too long to do so. She'd lived on the Hellmouth her whole life, and had known about all this for over two years now. She could....

“Harmony is...?” Cordelia took in a slow, shuddering breath as understanding washed through her. She'd run into vampires she'd recognized before...people she'd known...

True, Harmony had never been more than a minion...but she'd known the other girl for years. Harmony had been a petty, conniving, walking stereotype most of the time...but she didn't deserve that...

“She's a vampire?” Cordelia managed after a moment, swallowing. “How did you...?”

“I saw her as I was leaving work, on the way to the car. I recognized her...I said 'hi'. I figured I'd be polite, since High School is over – she said hello back, actually...then...she tried to go for my neck. I got my cross between us, and she ran off after making a few threats.” He took a breath. “I've been trying to figure out how to tell you on the way here. Probably why I'm a little late...apart from the whole freaking about a vampire going for my neck thing...”

Cordelia took Xander's hand in hers a moment. “It's not your fault Harmony's a vampire now. But you're okay and that's what's most important...” Oh geez. What if Xander hadn't noticed her...hadn't said hi? If she'd come up to me or something...if I hadn't been prepared...Hell...what about anyone else? “We need to tell everyone else.” She said, a note of urgency in her voice.

“I mean, none of them like...liked...Harmony much...” She forced a deep breath. “But they need to know, or they're not going to react to her like they would a vampire.”

October 16th, 1999
Sunnydale Public Library, Sunnydale

Getting a good cup of tea anywhere in Sunnydale was difficult at best, Wesley had long since determined. Given those circumstances, he'd been forced into drinking coffee while working at the Sunnydale Public Library. Mediocre to occasionally good coffee was a much, better option than the terrible excuse for tea they had in this country.

“I think we have a problem, Wesley.” The librarian looked up at the sound of Giles' voice. The older Englishman had a stack of books in hand, which he placed on the desk in front of Wesley.

“Mr. Giles, we have many problems. We live on a Hellmouth. You don't like me, I don't like you, your Slayer still is far from fond of me, and my Slayer still regards me with a mixture of disdain and disregard much of the time. Both of our Slayers are helped by a gaggle of civilians who shouldn't be involved in this line of work. So you're going to have to be somewhat more specific about what problem we have that has brought you here today.” Wesley steepled his fingers and looked over them at Giles.

The older Englishman blinked at the note of bitterness in Wesley's voice, then spoke:

“Are you quite finished?”

“For the moment, I suppose.” Wesley agreed. He gestured to the books. “So, what is the problem of the day?”

“Well, first and foremost, Spike is going to be back in Sunnydale shortly, if he isn't already.” Giles said softly. “Secondly-”

“Going to?” Wesley raised an eyebrow, “A rather interesting choice of words. You can't have heard about it from a Council informant, since there's been no word of Spike since he fled Sunnydale after the defeat of the Mayor. So I can only assume Mr. Harris is responsible for this bit of information.”

Giles blinked again, “What do you – what on earth are you-?” The older man was completely thrown – how could Wesley-?

“Please, Mr. Giles. Contrary to what you and others may believe, I am neither an idiot, nor wholly unaware of the world around me. I have been paying attention to what has happened on the Hellmouth, and what is happening on the Hellmouth. Mr. Harris shows a remarkable propensity for being in the right place at the right time, or very nearly so. Under some circumstances, I could simply call it luck and move on. But, just as an example, let's consider how convenient Angel's arrival in the middle of Miss Summers' Cruciamentum was. And I could continue to list a number of remarkable coincidences, many of them involving Mr. Harris to one degree or another.”

“There are perfectly reasonable explanations for-” Giles started, trying to contain the situation.

“Mr. Giles, please.” Wesley interrupted again. “I have spent a great deal of time trying to determine just why it is you have let Mr. Harris be part of your little group. After all, the rest – there are explanations for why they're allowed to help the Chosen Two. Miss Madison and Miss Rosenberg are skilled in magic – not fully and properly trained by a coven, obviously, but skilled nonetheless. Miss Rosenberg's skill with computers, by your reports, has proven quite useful as well. Mr. Osborne, while more or less normal twenty-eight days out of the month, is a werewolf, and benefits from the heightened senses of his condition even when fully human, though not as much as during the full moon. Miss Chase, obviously, is involved because she is Mr. Harris' girlfriend. That, leaves, however, Mr. Harris himself. I've often asked myself, what does he contribute to the cause? You've done well to hide it, I'll grant, but the conclusion is obvious.”

“What conclusion, Wesley? What fanciful conclusion have you come to?”

“Mr. Harris is a precognitive of some sort. Limited in capability compared to a true seer, yes, but with a commensurate increase in his ability to function in normal human society.”

Giles blinked once more, then looked at Wesley. “An...interesting conclusion. But neither here nor there at the moment. Because I suspect I know what Spike is here for.”

“Round...what is it now, eight or nine with Buffy?” Wesley offered.

“Unfortunately, nothing so simple.” Giles selected the first book from the pile, opened it to a page already marked with a bookmark and handed it to Wesley

Wesley looked at the book, reading the passage, indicated, then looked up at Giles, an eyebrow cocked in confusion.

“The Gem of Amarra? It's a myth – the vampire equivalent of the Holy Grail. Only, non-existent.”

“Yes, well, we all thought the Grail was a myth until it was found in the possession of the Al'kai Demon Clan in the Pyrenees in 1851, if you'll recall, Wesley. Who's to say the same isn't true for the Gem?” Giles tapped the stack of books. “And, more importantly, I have reason to believe that the Gem is here in Sunnydale. I don't need to elaborate as to why William the Bloody cannot be allowed to have the Gem, do I?”

Wesley sucked in a breath. “No, I suppose you don't.” He looked at the books, “Right, I'll check your research. In the meantime, perhaps you should see if Mr. Harris can provide more information.”

“I can assure you, Wesley,” Giles said with perfect honesty, “Xander has no idea what the Gem of Amarra is, nor has he mentioned it to me in any way, shape, or form. And if you were to mention your theory that he is a precognitive of some sort to the others, they'd immediately laugh in your face.”

October 17th, 1999
Blessed Memories Cemetery, Sunnydale

Yet another patrol. Amy blinked away a tiny trace of sleep – she'd been coming out on patrol with Faith a lot recently, so between that and her classwork...she hadn't been getting much sleep at all. She'd been drinking more caffeinated beverages – diet sodas, mostly – than was entirely healthy for her, but it was keeping her awake.

“You're not going to fall asleep on me, are you Amy?” Faith said, looking over at her friend.

Amy laughed and shook her head, “No, I'm good. Just not been getting much sleep lately.”

Faith looked at her pointedly, “Then you should get some more sleep. I mean, I can get by on just a couple hours – I've even gone a few days without any. But you can't.”

“I'll be fine, Faith.” Amy insisted. Without meaning to, she found her gaze lingering on Faith a moment, but she turned turned back to their surroundings. “I want to be here to help you. Besides, I like spending-” Faith raised a hand and Amy cut herself off.

“Vampires.” Faith murmured. She looked around. “Or something. Close by.” She closed her fingers around her stake and started to move slowly. A crypt was up ahead, and Faith pressed herself against it, moving her way around the building. She looked around the corner. Three vampires, each one half-carrying, half-dragging a teenage girl.

“Too easy, man.” One of them said. “You just gotta feed these girls a quick line of bullshit and-”

“Can it.” Another, a blonde-haired, muscular guy wearing all black. “I want to be back in our hideout now. The Slayers are out tonight.”

“The Slayers are out every night.” The first countered, “They haven't run into us yet. We'll be fine-”

Faith stepped out from around the crypt, walking into plain view. “You were saying?”

Without waiting for a reply, she ran at the closest vampire, who reacted by throwing his intended meal at her. Faith caught the girl full-force, nearly falling over. Though she didn't toss the girl away unceremoniously, Faith got close to that as two vampires came at her. Ducking under their punches, Faith kicked one – right between the legs. Vampire or not, he was still male. Faith ignored his scream of pain as she turned to the other one, her fist connecting with his face – and then the stake was in his heart, a pile of dust collapsing beside her. It didn't take her long to deal with the other one still clutching at his testicles.

“Drop the stake, Slayer.” Faith turned at the sound of the blonde vampire's voice – and saw him, his arm around Amy's neck. Faith's breath caught in her throat, her heart pounded at the sight of the vampire ready to kill her. “You heard me. I said drop the stake.”

“It'll be fine, Faith.” Amy said, with certainty she didn't quite feel. She'd been practicing that spell – and while it also had a tendency to scatter one's thoughts, the threat of death had a wonderful way of concentrating the mind. Amy had found that out firsthand, with...

With her mother. Twice.

“Yea. It'll be fine.” The vampire mocked. “Now put the stake down or I'll-”

“I'm putting it down.” Faith started to lean down. The vampire's eyes were on her, but his arm was still half-around Amy's neck, pinning her to his chest. Amy pressed her free hand to the vampire's stomach.

Ignis!

Fire rose on the vampire's form, his arm falling off her neck as he staggered back, the fire spreading across him. Pained shrieks assaulted their ears as the vampire dropped to the ground, desperately trying and failing to put the fires out – and then...dust and silence.

“Amy!” Faith ran to her friend, barely managing to grab her shoulder before the witch fell over.

“ Ow.” Amy rubbed at her temple with one hand – her other smoked, as it burnt. Slowly, she raised her other hand and looked at it – her palm covered in angry black-red signs of burn, pain throbbing up and down her arm and fingers.

“Ah, shit, Amy,” Faith said, seeing her injuries. “We've got to get you to a hospital. Come on,” Faith pulled Amy's good arm over her shoulders, half-carrying her with one of her own arms behind Amy's back. It was then that she noticed half of the back of Amy's shirt was missing too, her back also covered in burn marks – not quite as bad as her hand, but close. The wince of Pain from Amy as Faith's hand brushed against them only made that more clear. “Fuck, your back.” Faith murmured, moving her arm higher so she wasn't touching those burns.

“And say what when they ask what happened? That I burned my hand torching a vampire?” Amy winced, “That I burned my back being too close to him for a minute while he burned?”

“Who the fuck cares? This is Sunnydale. Tell them you touched a hot stove and stood too close to a fireplace or something. If they can believe barbeque fork to the neck instead of vampire, then the people in this town will believe just about anything.” Faith gently slapped Amy's cheek as the witch's eyes drooped. “Hey! Stay with me.”

“Sorry....I... guess I still don't have it perfect...took a lot out of me-”

“It's fine. You're alive. That's what counts. Rule One, remember?”

October 20th, 1999
Private Room, Sunnydale Public Library

“Is this going to take long?” Buffy asked as they started to sit down around the oblong table in the center of the room. Giles and Wesley were near the 'head' of the table, a number of books, open and otherwise, strewn across it, amidst legal pads and other forms of notes. The notes themselves were absolutely incomprehensible to Buffy – she picked out at least...five different languages? No, six, because she was pretty sure those squiggles and loop-thingies were Sumerian. Or something like that.

“Got somewhere else to be?” Faith asked, looking over at the other Slayer. Buffy saw Amy sitting next to Faith, the witch cradling her burned hand. Buffy had winced – and then some – when she'd first seen what had happened to the witch. Both of them were pretty vague about what exactly had happened to get Amy's hand like that. Willow thought it might have been that fire spell – something went wrong with it, maybe?

Well, whatever. If Amy didn't wanna be in share mode, that was her choice.

“I'm going to a party with Parker later.” Buffy said, smiling slightly. A normal guy being interested in her was always good.

“I'm so sorry your sacred duty interferes with your love-life, Miss Summers.” Wesley told her dryly. “I suppose we'll just tell Spike to reschedule for next week, then?”

“Spike?” Buffy's attention was immediately on the two Watchers.

“Spike.” Giles confirmed. “We have reason to believe he's back in Sunnydale.” He picked up one of the open books. “Unfortunately, the bigger problem is what he may be here for.” He handed the book to Willow, who was closest to him, who soon passed it to Oz, then to Buffy.

“The Gem of Amarra?” She read the letters, wondering if she was even pronouncing it right.

“Some call it the vampire Holy Grail.” Giles informed her. “According to legend, the Gem can grant whatever vampire has it complete invulnerability to harm – sunlight, stakes, fire, possibly even beheading. They can't even be injured or temporarily inconvenienced. Most believe it a myth. But Wesley and I have been trying to track it through the historical record. And we think it might actually be real. And more importantly, here in Sunnydale.”

“So you're telling us that Spike might be in Sunnydale, and he might be looking for something that might exist and that might make him invincible.” Cordelia looked at the two Watchers. “Just so we're clear on what you're telling us.”

“Our research is a little more certain that might's about the Gem.” Wesley said with a frown. “I'll admit, I was skeptical at first, but Mr. Giles' library is quite extensive.”

“Still doesn't tell us how you know Spike is in Sunnydale.” Buffy pointed out. “I'm more than willing to beat the crap out of Spike and stop him from getting this gem, but there's no-”

“The Watcher's Council maintains a network of informants that does its best to track vampires of Spike's...notoriety. Last reports,” Wesley tapped a legal pad, “have him coming in this direction. That was almost two weeks ago though – by now, he could actually be here, in fact he could have been here for several days.”

“Alright, fine. He's probably back. But exactly where is the Billy Idol wannabe? And where's the Gem?” Faith asked.

“ Ahm...that we're less certain on.” Giles admitted, pushing his glasses back up his nose. “We know it's in a hidden crypt somewhere under Sunnydale. We've got some theories...but the nature of hidden crypts tends to be that they are...hidden,” Giles finished lamely.

Buffy took a breath, then nodded. “Alright. Fine. You find the location, and we'll take him out. Invulnerable or not, I can still beat Spike's ass any day. And I'll keep my eyes open for any sign of him. But,” She stood, “I have homework to do, and a party to go to. If that's everything?”

“That's everything.” Giles said. “Willow, Amy? If you could possibly stay behind and help us with some of the research? There's a few spells I was wondering you might be able to try as well, that could help us narrow the search down.”

“Sure.” Willow said with a nod.

Amy bit her lip a moment at the mention of 'spells', then nodded. “Just give me a minute or two.”

October 20th, 1999
Sunnydale Public Library, Sunnydale

Faith led Amy around into one of the aisles. “You're alright to handle this, Amy?” Given that it was a library – and that the old lad y that was Wesley's boss was actually kind of terrifying if you talked too loud – Faith was talking quietly. “I know you've been avoiding the magic since-”

“Since what? Since I got grabbed by a vampire, used against you, lost control of my spell and nearly burnt myself to cinders? Not to mention” The bite and sarcasm in Amy's voice threw Faith for a loop. She hadn't heard Amy so bitter before. “Which of those were you referring to?”

Faith looked at Amy, her expression blank for a moment. “The burning yourself one.” She took a quick breath, “Look, Amy, you made a mistake. It happens – I know. You don't need to beat yourself up over it.”

Mistake?! Mistake?!” Amy's angry hiss was loud enough for one of the library patrons – also an old lady – to turn and glare at the two of them, pressing a finger to her lips in a 'shushing' motion. “I nearly burned my hand to a cinder.” She said more quietly, still just as angry. “The skin on my back – hell, I nearly burned that off too!”

“But you didn't.” Faith pointed out. “I'm sure it still hurts like hell,” Amy nodded, “but it is going to get better.”

“Doesn't feel like it.” Amy muttered sourly. “Hasn't gotten any better yet.”

“Okay,” Faith demanded, pointing at herself with both hands, “since when am I the optimistic one here? I thought that was your gig.”

“That was before I let a vampire jump me and hold me hostage like some stupid, ignorant...civilian.” Amy said, still muttering.

“Wait.” Faith took Amy's good hand in hers. “That's what's been bothering you?”

“Yes. I mean, what if I hadn't known that spell? Or if it hadn't worked?” Amy sucked in a deep breath, starting to hyperventilate. “If you'd put down your-”

Faith moved her hand to Amy's upper arm. “Amy, if you hadn't that fire spell, or if I hadn't been sure you could handle it? Then I wouldn't have put down the stake, or even pretended to. I'd have gotten to that son of a bitch, ripped him off you and turned him to dust myself.” At the look on Amy's face, Faith went on. “I could see it. He was just a run of the mill vamp. Nowhere near, say, Kakistos or Trick's level. I'm always going to be faster than guys like that.” She smiled, “Trust me. I wouldn't have let anything happen to you.”

Amy took a deep breath, trying to calm down. “You really think could've handled him?”

“Easily.” Faith nodded.

“Alright...” Amy took a breath. She put her good hand on her chest, and Faith found her eyes lingering on the hand a moment. Amy lowered her hand after another deep breath. “As to your question...I think I can handle it. I may not be up to actually casting...well, casting anything.” She put her hand on her forehead a moment. “But I can help Willow with any groundwork, and maybe lend her power or something. I just need...I just need some more time before I actually do any spells again.”

“Alright.” Faith nodded.

October 20th, 1999
Outside the Wolfhouse, UC Sunnydale Campus

Buffy ran out of the Wolfhouse, cursing her luck. One night! Was that too much to ask for? She just wanted to go to the party, have a nice, normal date with Parker – date?

Yes, date. Buffy told herself after a moment. It was a date.

Have a nice normal date with Parker. No vampires, no demons, and certainly no Spike! And Harmony? I would have thought Spike would have better taste. Really.

But apparently it was too much to ask for. Spike had to visit the Wolfhouse. Tonight. While she was with Parker. Had to.

Buffy walked carefully past the handful of people outside the building and turned the corner, taking a stake out of her jacket. Something stirred in the bushes and she tightened her grip on the stake. She lunched forward, swinging her arm to hit Spike – he caught it in his hand, then elbowed her in the face, forcing her back a few steps.

“What's a matter Spike?” Buffy taunted, looking the vampire in the eye, “Dru dump you again?”

Not letting him answer, she punched at him, moving the stake in her other hand to him at the same time. Moving quickly, the bleach blond vampire blocked both attacks with his hands, inadvertently leaving himself open – so Buffy wrenched her hand free and punched him the face. She watched Spike's head spin to the side a little.

“Maybe I dumped her!” Spike countered, with a vehemence Buffy found more than slightly unbelievable. She lunged at him again and he grabbed her arms, wheeling her around and moving to throw her into the bushes.

“She left him for a fungus demon.” Harmony said, standing aside from the fight, a bored look on her face. “That's all he talks about most days.”

“Harm!” Spike half-turned to her as he yelled at the teengaged vampire. Harmony looked at him with a 'what did I do?' expression on her face.

He turned away fully from Buffy, though the Slayer knew he had enough situational awareness to make trying to dust him while his back was turned unlikely to work. “We're going.” He turned his head back towards Buffy. “It isn't time yet.”

“Yea,” Harmony agreed, “But as soon as we have the Gem of Amarra, you're gonna be sorry-” Spike growled in anger as Harmony gave away the game, interrupting the girl.

“Oh, please. I already know you're looking for that! Some doohickey that's supposed to make you invulnerable, or whatever.” Buffy quipped. Spike looked blankly at her, completely confused.

“How did you-” Spike growled angrily again and grabbed Harmony's wrist, eliciting a sharp 'ow' from the other vampire as he ran away from her.

Buffy started to run after him, but then the vampires merged into the nearby crowd, and she completely lost sight of them.

Pay phone, Giles, Parker. Buffy thought to herself urgently. Assuming Parker is still here...

It didn't take long to find a public phone, or to pay and dial Giles' flat.

“Hello?” Giles said on the other end of the line after a few rings.

“Giles, it's me. Looks like you and Wes and those Council guys were right. Spike's in town, and he's looking for the Gem.” She laughed. “And he's the boyfriend Harmony was threatening Willow with last night! God. Spike and Harmony, if you can believe it.” She held the phone between the side of her face and her shoulder, tucking the stake away into her jacket. “Seriously, I'd have thought he'd have better taste. Much better. Or else he lost a bet or something.”

“Yes, well,” Giles said, clearing his throat, “Buffy, it, it's good to have confirmation that Spike is in town and looking for the Gem. And the uhm...fact of Harmony's presence does neatly wrap all of our current concerns up together, which is always helpful.”

“I suppose, yeah. So, did you guys make any progress on finding out where that darn thing is?”

“Some, but there's still a lot of work to be done.” Giles admitted. “Wherever it's been hidden, it seems to be shielded against every form of magical scrying and detection we could come up with. Even spells that should at least have given us a general area, once we knew it was 'in Sunnydale'.” She could almost hear the frown in his voice, “Not that I really expected the spells to work, but still. Wesley and I have managed to narrow it down some, both in terms of when it might have ended up here and where it is now. But nothing specific yet.”

“Well, better hurry. I need to know where it is – or at least, where Spike will think it is – before that undead asshole finds it. If it's even half as powerful as you said-”

“Yes, I'm aware.” Giles interrupted. “I'll do what I can.”

October 20th, 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

Cordelia looked over at Xander from the desk, setting her pen down, abandoning her homework for the time being. “Question.”

Xander looked up from the comic-book in his hands. “Answer?”

“How did Giles know that Spike was here looking for this Gem thing?” Cordelia stood from the chair and turned around, brushing a stray hair away from her face. “On account of I don't buy that whole Council surveillance angle, to be honest with you.”

“I...I don't know.” Technically, Xander was telling the truth. At the time, he hadn't known – hadn't known what was going to let Spike hang out in the sunlight. What had drawn him back to the Hellmouth. But obviously, Giles had decided that the Gem of Amarra was the trick Spike was – was going...had been going to...?

Xander shook his head. Giles had decided, clearly, that the Gem was the likely culprit.

“Don't give me that, dork!” Cordelia poked him the chest, hard.

“Ouch! Jeez!” Xander's hand clapped to where she'd poked him. Fuck, that hurts!

“You know that I know how you get...certain information. I haven't been pressing you about it...because you can't seem to tell me, and I know you don't like that. But whatever it is clearly isn't going away. So how the hell did Giles know that Spike was going for the Gem of Amarra? Did you tell him?”

“I didn't know about the Gem.” Xander said truthfully. Cordelia poked him again. “Ow! Hey, quit that! I'm serious!” He insisted. “I knew two things,” He started, then realized once again that his mouth wasn't working. “Fucking hell.” He muttered.

“How can you tell Giles things, but not me? How does that make sense?” Cordelia demanded, looking annoyed.

“How the fuck should I know!?” Xander threw up his hands, and with an unexpected burst of anger the comic book went flying off into the corner of the room, ignored. “I didn't make these goddamn rules, and I didn't ask to learn what I learned! Do you realize – I can't unsee what I see, Cordelia! Every other night, I see Finch dying! I see shit I'd really rather forget – but I can't. And I'm going to see more! Because some fucking thing out there somewhere decided they wanted to have fun with me, and let me find things out. And I can't just sit by and do nothing with the information I end up with!”

He stood from the bed. “I'm sorry that I can't tell you. I'm sorry that I can seem to tell Giles – some things, anyway. I'm sorry that something decided I was amusing, and that this would make me more amusing. I'm sorry that every time I find things out, I get a headache, sometimes ones that make me feel like my head is about to split open! I'm sorry that all this bothers you,” He stormed past Cordelia to the door, “and I'm sorry that I can't stop it!” Xander opened the door and left the room, all but slamming the door behind him.

October 22nd, 1999
Willy's Alibi Room, Sunnydale

“Yeah. Spike showed up 'bout...week and a half ago?” Willy said after a moment. “Rounded up every vampire from his old gang. Said he wanted to do some digging. Had enough money to pay well, so he got a bunch of takers, even from vamps not part of the old gang. Since he's brought them on, not a single one of 'em has shown up in here, or anywhere else in Sunnydale. It's like they've vanished.” He raised up a closed fist, then opened it, “Poof!”

Faith raised an eyebrow. She hadn't even had to hit Willy this time. He'd been all too happy to talk then minute she'd said the word 'Spike.' “Poof?”

“Poof.” Willy confirmed. “No one's seen hide nor hair of the lot of them.”

Faith walked closer to the bar, then reached across and grabbed a bottle of beer from behind it. She ripped the top off and took a sip, screwing up her face in disgust at the taste. She tossed the bottle, beer and all, against a nearby wall, shattering it. No windows, obviously, what with his undead clientele. Willy winced.
-
“Now, the way I remember it, B came in here at the start of the summer and made you swear on your mother's grave that you'd tell her the second you heard anything about Spike showing up in Sunnydale. I seem to recall a broken arm, some destroyed tables and...a wicked fire, as part of that whole process?”

“Yeah, and she trashed half my stock of booze.” Willy agreed. “But two things – one, my mother is still alive, livin' in a nursing home in Fresno. Me swearing on her grave was Buffy's idea. Two, I can't just call and give you guys the info without someone at least coming in. There's a system here.” He grabbed a broom and dustpan. “It's bad enough the two of you don't pay me for what I risk life and limb to learn. But I'm not calling you when someone might see or hear me do it. Best case scenario, people stop coming here. Worst case, some demon or vampire gets pissed enough to kill me.” He started to come around the bar, but Faith grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pulled him over it, dropping him to the floor, leaving him flat on his back.

“The system is,” Faith said, putting a foot on his stomach very, very lightly, “we want information, you give it to us. Or I'll trash the other half of your booze. I'd be doing the drinking world a favor, disgusting as the crap you sell here is. Then I'll do your front door, the bar stools, the tables, the bar, your glasses and if the point still hasn't sunk in by th en , we'll move on to you. Fingers, hands, feet, shins, knees, elbows...maybe we'll even have fun with all five torture groups.” Faith knew she was going over the top, and she'd draw the line at breaking his fingers, maybe his left arm. No bone-shattering, just clean snaps . But she wanted to get the point across.

“Okay, okay, okay!” Willy held up his hands in surrender. “You made your point.”

“Good.” Faith removed her foot, and crouched. “'Cause I don't want to have this conversation again, Willy. I'll get angry if I do. You've only seen a pissed off Buffy. Me? I'm a lot more thorough when I'm mad at somebody.” She got up and made her way to the door, then turned back towards Willy as he sat up. “And get some better beer.”

“Look, Slayer. I do know one thing – some of my regulars, who usually hunt up near UC Sunnydale? They've been complaining how the pickings are pretty dry lately. As if someone's been drawing in a lot of humans at once.”

“I'll keep it in mind.” Faith told him, leaving.

October 22nd, 1999
Private Room, Sunnydale Public Library

Amy lowered her cell phone, then looked apologetically at the others. “Sorry, but that was Faith; and it sounded urgent.”

“What did Faith say?”

“She got some info from Willy – when Spike showed up, he rounded up a bunch of vampires for some digging, then vanished – and not just him, all the vamps with him. No one's seen them, far as that snitch knows. But apparently the vamps that are hunting near UC Sunnydale? They've been having 'slim pickings'. Like a lot of humans got taken all at once.”

“If you're going to try to hide from two Slayers, you're going to want to make sure that your troops are well fed.” Wesley agreed. “UC Sunnydale...UC Sunnydale... ” He went looking for a legal pad and unfolded a map of Sunnydale – covered in notes, markings and post-its.

“There's only one possibility in that part of the city.” Giles said after a moment, pointing. “Seventeen possibilities overall, not counting all these ones,” Giles gestured widely around the map, “But there's only one that-”

“It's there.” Willow said, looking up from the library computer she'd been checking something on. “I was trying to see if I could find any signs of someone tunneling – you can't dig underground like Spike must be doing without someone noticing. And I just found reports of road damage – exactly like if someone was digging a tunnel in the area.” Willow showed the news page to the other three.

“I'll call Faith.” Amy said after a moment

“I can only hope Spike hasn't found the Gem yet.” Giles murmured.

October 22nd, 1999
UC Sunnydale Campus

“I...I thought things were pretty clear.” Parker said with a slight shrug, as Buffy felt her throat tighten.

“I—I--” She started, “I didn't mean to mis-” Oh, God, we just slept together – and now he's acting like I'm just some casual acquaintance? That's...he's... She couldn't handle this right now. Not with Spike and... “I'm – I'm sorry.”

“Look, I really have to go now.” Parker said with a tired sigh. He stepped away, merging into the throng of students, and Buffy just stared blankly after him for a moment, numb to her surroundings, but then –

“Parker, wait-” Fortunately, he stopped as she ran after him. “I did this all wrong.”

“No, it's cool. We'll hook up later.”

Hook up? That was all... That's all it meant to him? Oh, God, how had she ever fallen for his looks and his smooth lines?

In hindsight, I should have...how could I- what did I do wrong?

Parker walked off again, giving her a small smile before turning away. Buffy stood there, watching him again, then...

“Well...that was pathetic.”

Heart pounding in her throat, Buffy turned at the sound of Spike's voice. In broad daylight. Not entirely unexpected, but –

He has the Gem. Then she flew back, after his fist impacted upon her face with the force of a freight train.

October 22nd, 1999
UC Sunnydale Campus

The moment Faith had gotten Amy's call about the collapsing road near UC Sunnydale, she'd started hurrying towards there. She hadn't been too far from the college, fortunately, already heading there to talk to B about Willy.

Faith checked the knife at her belt. It was one of Giles' weapons – not too long, but long enough and with sharp enough edges that it could cut just as well as stab. She usually didn't carry it, unless she knew she was going up against demons rather than vamps.

But she'd grabbed it when she'd heard about the Gem. She didn't know exactly what it would be holding it in place – but if it was a ring, or a bracelet or something like that, Faith was going to slice off the undead hand wearing it. Let Spike stand directly in the daylight with a missing hand and no gem.

She rounded a corner and saw the two – Spike and Buffy, fighting – and Spike was winning, damn him, throwing Buffy around like she was a rag doll – and the area they'd been fighting was trashed – broken glass from a table scattered around.

“So. You let that Parker take a poke, eh?” Spike was taunting Buffy, having thrown her once more. “Didn't seem like you knew each other that well.” Buffy stood, arms ready for Spike to launch another attack. “What exactly did it take to pry apart the Slayer's dimpled knees?”

Ignoring the undead windbag's questions, Faith readied herself for a lunge, trying to see where the Gem was – wait, there! A ring, on his finger.

I don't remember ever seeing him wear a ring before. Let's go with that being the gem.

“You're a pig, Spike.” Buffy spat – whereupon Spike kicked at her, knocking her legs from under her and sending Buffy sprawling.

Faith moved around, then rushed for him.

“Did he play the sensitive lad, and get you to seduce-” Spike started. Before he could finish, though, Faith had tackled him to the ground, the knife raised.

“Looks like you found the Gem.” Faith made to grab at his hand, but with unexpected strength the undead asshole forced her free hand away. “Makes you immune to the sun. How's it handle knives?” All but snarling, Faith sliced at Spike's wrist. Her strength shoved it all the way through, the blade coming out cleanly on the other side...and the wrist was severed...but –

Faith watched in horror as the injury healed itself, the hand reconnected itself with Spike's wrist. The damn bloodsucker then burst into laughter.

“Nice try!” He managed between howls. “But now-” Spike threw Faith off him, sending her flying into a nearby flagpole, “I'm gonna get my hat trick!”

Spike lunged for Buffy, blocking her punches and kneeing her in the stomach. Faith jumped her feet and threw the knife into Spike's back, hoping to slow him down – which it did. The blade connected with Spike's shoulder-blade, the vampire reaching back to pull it out and toss it aside. Buffy took advantage, grabbing Spike and hurling him aside.

“Glad you could make it.” Buffy told Faith, breathing heavily.

“Was on my way to tell you Giles and company figured out where Spike was digging. Little late, apparently –”

Faith cut herself off and ducked under Spike's kick. The three of them were soon in an all-out brawl – someone getting thrown down every few moments, usually her or Buffy. Spike wasn't fighting any better, but he was fighting harder than any vamp she'd ever fought – taking chances any other vamp wouldn't dare...leaving his chest wide open, time and again.

Because he doesn't have to worry about that now. He's got that damn Gem. Fuck!

They fought for – well, Faith wasn't really keeping track of the time. Spike had apparently decided two Slayers meant he didn't get have time for more taunts, even if he was more than holding his own against them – then:

“I wonder what exactly you did wrong, Goldilocks?” Spike mocked Buffy with a laugh, “Either way, you clearly weren't worth a second go.” Spike ducked and dodged both of them, jumping back, his back to a large planter. “Come to think of it – someone else told me that too, couple years back. Who was it again?” He pursed his lips as if in thought, Faith standing near Buffy, starting to circle, looking for an opening. “Oh yea – Angelus.”

Yelling in sheer fury, Buffy lunged at Spike. She grabbed him, tossing him to Faith – who barely managed to dodge him – Spike landed on all fours – before he could stand, Faith kicked him in the face, sending him sprawling, then lunged at him.

“He's mine, Faith!” Buffy demanded, knocking her aside and pinning Spike down, a knee on his back. Spike struggled, but with one hand, Buffy grabbed his, the other landing on the ring.

“Take it off me this way, we both burn!” Spike growled at Buffy, knowing exactly what she was planning.

“Really?” Buffy ground the question out. “Let's find out.”

Without waiting for a response, Buffy ripped the ring off of Spike's finger, but quickly stepping away from him as smoke rose from his form, the sound of...bacon frying accompanying it.

“Aah!” Spike screamed in pain, forcing Buffy away and then past Faith, running for a nearby sewer entrance.

“Oh, no, you don't!” Faith rushed after him, trying to –

Spike tried to jump down, but Faith grabbed his hand, pulling him up – the hand was blistering, the skin starting to flake off. It was all she could do, with both hands, to hold Spike up.

Snarling, the vampire lunged up – but not at her – the cover of the sewer entrance – it started to fall. Moving back, Faith pulled at him, starting to haul him out of the –

The cover fell, landing on Spike's exposed wrist – which was already on fire, down to the bone...

The flames burned themselves out and the entire hand burst into dust, as the sewer cover closed.

“Fuck!” Faith spat a mouthful of dust out as she said that, looking completely disgusted. Breathing hard, she then stood and saw Buffy next to her. “Nice work.” She said, one hand on her side.

“You too.” Buffy said, between deep sucking breaths. She looked at the ring in her hand and then carefully put it inside her pocket.

“Gonna have to figure out what to do with that.” Faith pointed out. “I vote destroy it.” She then added. Then: “So what was Spike talking about? You and-”

“Don't ask. Spike's a pig.” Buffy said softly.

“Want me to beat him up?” Faith offered, starting to walk away from the scene of battle.

“I think we just tried that.” Buffy pointed out, following her.

“No. Parker.” Faith clarified. “Don't know details, but I heard enough from what Spike said – and I can tell he wasn't making shit up, way you're talking.” Faith turned and walked over to Buffy, “So you fell for that guy's bullshit, and turns out all he wanted from you was the one thing all guys want? He's an ass. Seriously, you want me to beat Parker up a little? It'd be a pleasure. 'Sides, wouldn't do his reputation any good for people to learn that he got beaten up by a girl.”

“You're not very good at the comforting thing.” Buffy observed, then shook her head. “But no, tempting as it sounds. Like you said, I was the one who screwed up. I'm not going to sic you on him.”

“Alright. But the offer stands in case you change your mind.”

October 22nd, 1999
Private Room, Sunnydale Public Library

“It's small.” Oz observed, looking at the ring containing the Gem at the center of the table.

“Small or not, it did the job for Spike.” Xander pointed out. He was sitting away from Cordelia – they still hadn't...talked about what he'd said, the other night. He'd driven her to and from UC Sunnydale...but the icy silences during those trips hadn't exactly been...

“Indeed, and it's also very dangerous. That's why Faith's original idea was the best possible solution; we're destroying it.” Giles said softly.

“I'm, ah, afraid it isn't that simple.” Wesley said softly. He handed a book to Giles. “The available information is clear – the Gem can only be destroyed by a vampire. Nothing human can possibly accomplish such a thing.”

Giles looked at the book. “Oh dear...”

“It doesn't matter. We're not destroying it.” Buffy said with finality.

“Seriously, B? Once the news gets out - and for damn sure it will – we'll be a constant target, thanks to that damn ring. Wherever we keep it, we'll have vampires all over our asses trying to find it.” Faith pointed out.

“And personally, I think one vampire with immunity to everything that kills 'em was more than enough.” Cordelia pointed out. “Another one might not waste his time going for a big grudge match against the Slayers, y'know. I mean – think about it: Vampire, walking around in the sunlight? Odds are just about anyone apart from Spike would head straight to the local beach, and start snacking to his or her heart's content. Harmony would, I'm sure of that!”

“So what's the alternative? Give it to Deadboy?” Xander offered sarcastically, then upon seeing the expression on the Slayer's face, he groaned, “Buffy...”

“I have a gig in L.A. with the band coming up. I could swing by-” Oz started.

“Oh, come on!” Xander interrupted. “You can't seriously be thinking of giving him –”

“Xander,” Willow interrupted softly. She sent him an annoyed look as she added, “Don't make a fuss.”

Sure, and we all know how objective she is when it comes to that vampire! Xander fell silent. This was a bad idea on so many levels. But he'd never convince Buffy of that. Damn it, she still thought he held some irrational grudge against Angel. Willow too, for that matter. Probably thanks to that stupid crush he'd had on the Buffster way back in sophomore year...

Truth was, though, he didn't like the vampire, and never would. But Xander was long past his 'grudge' with Angel.

“Well, I intend to make a fuss, if Mr. Harris won't.” Wesley said, standing up as he looked Buffy directly in the eyes. “Have you lost all sense of perspective, Miss Summers? Or have you simply gone stark raving mad?”

The entire room went silent as Wesley straightened his tie. The last time they'd heard him use this tone, the junior Watcher had started raining hell on their heads for trading the Box of Gavrock for Willow's life. And while it had worked out...

“Wes,” Faith started, but Wesley interrupted her, his eyes still on Buffy.

“Despite your personal feelings, Angel can hardly be trusted with the Gem, or the protections it will grant.” Wesley told her.

“You trusted him enough to disobey the Council when it came to saving his life from the Mayor's poison.” Buffy pointed out as she stood, glaring at Wesley. The effect was somewhat ruined by her short stature and the fact that Wesley was meeting her glare without flinching.

“Your point being? Miss Summers, I have no problem with Angel existing in this world. If it were that simple, I'd be the first one to suggest giving him the Gem. If nothing else, he is a useful asset in the fight against evil in this world.” Wesley placed his hands flat on the table and leaned in a little. “But have you considered the fact that doing this will make Angel a target? Have you considered what will happen if the vampire community attacks him en masse, once the news gets out that he possesses the fabled Gem of Amarra? Or: imagine a world where Angelus had had the Gem during his rampage through Sunnydale.”

“But he didn't have it!” Buffy protested, “And I'm not giving the Gem to Angelus-”

“You can ignore it all you want, Buff. But fact is that Angelus is Angel, without a soul.” Xander cut in. “And we all know how easy it is for him to lose it, and become the monster you had to send to Hell way back when.”

Xander stayed seated as he looked over at Buffy, pointedly ignoring Willow's attempts to get him to shut up. This needed to be said. “Bottom line is, Buffy...Angel turned into Angelus once, and it could happen again.” He saw the look on Buffy's face and continued before she could protest. “And I'm not saying what happened last time will take place next time, but do you really think that's the only way to get rid of a soul? There's got to be other ways...”

“Numerous.” Wesley agreed. “In fact, I can name four rituals offhand that could remove a soul, and at least two species of demon – rare ones, admittedly – that specialize in stealing souls. Granted, they steal human souls and those dark rites are for a human being; but the principles should be very similar, if not identical, for a vampire.”

“Say Oz does take the Gem to L.A.” Xander cut in, “What happens? Okay, Angel gets to be invulnerable. Fine, hey, good for him. But what next? Wes is right; the guy has to avoid all the vamps that target his ass, once they learn that he's wearing the Unholy Grail on his finger. And assuming he pulls that off somehow, fast-forward a while and boom, something happens to Deadboy's soul. Maybe something along the lines of what Wesley just mentioned, or maybe something else. From what you and Faith said, taking Spike down while he had that Gem was hard enough, and even then you guys got lucky. So if the two of you had trouble with him, imagine what it'd be like dealing with Angelus when he had that Gem!”

Xander shook his head, “Come on, Buff. Think it through. Do you really think all that is worth the risk?”

“I...” Buffy trailed off, seeing all the looks being sent her in direction. Apart from Willow's and maybe Faith's, none of them were exactly supportive.

“I, uh, well,” Giles said, removing his glasses, then putting them back on after a moment as he spoke, “I'm afraid that...well, it would seem Xander has a point.”

“He kind of does.” Faith agreed. She looked over at Buffy, “Hey, you want to give that thing to Angel, I figure it's your call; you know the guy better than me. But-”

“No, its not just her call.” Cordelia countered. “It's kind of a big deal, where all our lives are at stake, and Buffy isn't exactly Miss Impartial here.”

“What should we do with the Gem, then?” Buffy asked softly. No one heard her properly, apart from Faith. So she said it again, her voice at a normal volume. “What should we do with the Gem, Wes?” She looked over at the Watcher. “We can't destroy it, and you say we can't give it to Angel. So what do we do with it?”

“I suggest we send it to England, to one of the Council's mystically secure dungeons. Mr. Giles and I can have a courier here in two days; possibly less, once the Watchers become aware of the magnitude of the threat which the Gem poses. They can bury it in one of the secret vaults scattered all around the country, and the damned thing will hopefully never see the light of day again.” Wesley looked at her. “I truly hope you can be an adult about this, Miss Summers. Because if you think with your head instead of your heart, you'll know that we can't risk the Gem ending up in Angel's possession.”

Buffy looked down at the table. “Call your damn courier.” She turned, starting towards the door, then turned back to Wesley, “Just don't ever forget, if Angel dies because he didn't have the Gem...it's entirely on you.”

“How the wheel turns, Miss Summers.” Wesley replied coolly.

October 22nd, 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

The meeting at the library now forgotten, if not the harsh words Willow had immediately unleashed upon him after Buffy had left the room, Xander knocked on the door of his...well, their bedroom, and for the last two nights, just Cordelia's bedroom. “Can I come in?” He asked.

There was a quiet pause, then: “Go ahead.”

Xander opened the door, walking inside. Cordelia sat on the bed, one of her textbooks in hand. She lowered it and looked across the room at Xander. “Got tired of sleeping on the couch?”

“No- well, actually...yeah.” Xander admitted softly. “But that's not why I'm here...ah, hell. I'm sorry, Cordelia. I shouldn't have-”

“You're damn right you shouldn't have!” Cordelia said, standing up and walking over to him. “And you certainly shouldn't have just stormed out of the room like that, while I was talking to you.” She stood right in front of him, and slapped him across the face – Xander flinched, but too late. His hand went to his cheek, as Cordelia took a deep breath. “Now...that said,” She said more softly. “I could have handled myself better during all that too.”

“No – no, honey, it's all me, here.” Xander said. “My fault. I screwed up back then. I just...you don't know what it's like...and...I just...I blew up at you. And I shouldn't have. And I'm sorry I said what I said to you.”

“Well, obviously! And of course I don't know what it's like, Xander. You don't talk to me about it. You don't say anything to me about this...future seeing...thing you have.” She pressed a finger to his lips before he could counter. “Yes, I know, you can't tell me much – and...for some reason, you can tell Giles more. And no...that's not your fault.” She sighed. “But I want you to tell me what you can. Yes, it's because I want to know. But it's also because – dammit, Xander, we're a team. I love you. You love me. You helped me get through what happened after everything got repossessed by the IRS, and my entire life got turned upside down. So I want to help you with this, as best I can.” She removed her finger.

Xander took a breath, then nodded. “Alright. I promise...I promise I'll tell you what I can. Right now. And again, I'm sorry.”

Cordelia smirked, and ran hand down his chest. “Okay fine, we'll talk. But later. Because saying sorry isn't enough. I want you to show me exactly how sorry you are!”

October 25th, 1999
Watcher's Council Private Jet, London's Heathrow Airport

Being a Council courier was, depending on if he was on the job or not, a very boring or very tense (or worse) career. These days, Council couriers ran fewer overall jobs than in previous years; before reliable long-distance postal systems, then telegraphs, telephones and now this confounded internet had arrived on the scene.

Ah well. At least it means I'm only getting dispatched on the important jobs.

And the Gem of Amarra certainly was important. Quite a feather in the caps of Rupert Giles and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce, one had to admit. More than enough to keep that tosspot Travers at bay.

It was rather odd how the Deputy Head of the Council had been trying to get both of the field Watchers replaced for months now, actually. Well, for Giles, it was understandable – many within the Council were rather disappointed in the man's handling of his Slayer, not to mention that embarrassing debacle during the Summers girl's Cruciamentum. It had been a terrible blow to Travers' prestige and personal power, which was more than enough to ignite the older man's enmity.

But Travers' determination to get rid of Pryce was far less logical, at least as far as the courier could understand. Travers had been the one to originally appoint him – Pryce had been one of his personal disciples, a loyal follower through and through. But something had obviously happened since then – even if the courier didn't know what. Presumably, however, it had involved the young Mr. Wyndam-Pryce growing both a spine and a modicum of sense and telling Quentin Travers to sod off.

Either way...the courier shrugged mentally – and was prevented from following those thoughts more by the sound of a ringing tone exploding in his head. Which could only mean one thing – the wards on the jet had failed. Without hesitation, he reached beneath his seat and retrieved a stake – were it broad daylight, he'd have been less immediately concerned...but...then, it wasn't...

Well, the wards could have just spontaneously failed on their own. Occasionally, it did happen. But the Council didn't pay him to be cavalier with the cargo he transported. Still holding onto the stake, he stood and pressed an intercom button.

“Reginald, the wards are down. Be ready for hostiles.” The courier let go of the button and waited for a confirmation that Reginald and his men were grabbing their weapons. But there was no reply.

The courier clicked the button again. “Reginald?”

Again, nothing. Tightening his grip on the stake, the courier approached the door – not to open it, but to await whatever had to be on the other side. With his free hand, he crossed himself, murmuring a small prayer for Reginald and his men. They had to be dead by now – that could be the only possible explanation for their lack of response.

Before the man could reach his position, however, the door opened – revealing a woman that the courier had never personally before laid eyes on, but whose type he recognized immediately.

The pale, dark haired female wore a black, full-length Victorian era dress. It was thin, worn, and torn and ripped across the bottom. But it was the slightly glazed not-quite-there look in the woman's eyes that confirmed this was Drusilla.

Swallowing, the courier immediately turned and ran for the plane's emergency exit – alone, he was no match for a vampire of Drusilla's-

Pain ripped through his back and the courier fell to the ground in indescribable agony.

“Naughty Slayers, taking what belongs to my Spike-y...” The woman said in a sing-song voice. “Naughty Watchers, too...naughty naughty.”

The courier felt a new, sharp pain in his neck, and then the entire universe went black.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joss, etc, own it, yada yada yada.

Thanks to my beta-reader, Starway Man, and Deiticlast, my creative consultant for their aid in making this chapter a success.

Note: Welcome to the first, and possibly only, two-part Episode in the Iron Coin Chronicles. Even episodes that were originally two parters in the show (Graduation Day) were cast as two independent Episodes in ICC. However, this one, is going to be a distinctly two-part episode, in that it isn't a self-contained series of events and explicitly continues the same storyline as the previous episode into the next (just as the two-parters on BtVS did.)

And here you can see why I split it into two parts – longest Iron Coin Chapter yet and the story isn't done.

Note #2: Apart from one scene at the beginning, this entire chapter will be from a Buffy POV. We've spent a lot of time with Buffy in some chapters of the story, true enough, but this will be the first 'all Buffy, all the time' chapter I've given you. Xander will show up, quite a lot, but nothing from his POV.

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Episode 3: Gone Horribly Right (Part 1)

October 23rd, 1999
Faith's Apartment, Sunnydale

“You don't know how much I appreciate this, Faith.” Amy told her friend, sitting on the bed with her back to the Slayer, her shirt off – though her bra was still on – as the Slayer applied some aloe vera to the burns on her back. Amy could take care of her hand easily enough, but getting to her back – very difficult. “It doesn't make all this...” She gestured at her back with her non-burned hand, “go away any faster, but at least it doesn't hurt so goddamn much. Thanks.”

Faith shrugged, “it's not a problem. If I got burned all over my back, you'd do the same for me.” She squirted a little more aloe into her hand and rubbed lower down Amy's back, making sure to cover the entire burn. “The doctors said three weeks, right?”

“Or more.” Amy replied, not quite managing to hide the note of bitterness in her voice. “And given that they haven't even started to get any better, far as I can tell, I'm leaning more towards the 'or more' side of things.” Amy rubbed at her eyes with thumb and forefinger, pinching the bridge of her of nose a minute.

Faith applied the aloe to right between Amy's shoulder blades, then closed the tube, grabbing the washcloth she'd set nearby and wiping her hands clean of the stuff. “Amy, I hate to say this to you, but you need to deal and move on. You keep being the pessimistic one here, and I'll have to take drastic measures.”

Amy stood up, not putting her shirt back on just yet – she couldn't put it back on, what with the just applied aloe. She turned to look at Faith, a small smile on her face despite herself. “Drastic, hm?”

“Getting both my arms broken would be wicked painful.” Faith pointed out. “And certainly make your situation better than mine.” The dark-haired Slayer laughed and got off the bed, taking the aloe back into the bathroom of her apartment. “How's everything going with college?”

Amy shrugged, “The same. Managing. At least I didn't burn my writing hand, so I can at least take notes during lectures. Can't type anything worth a damn, though.” She tried to flex the fingers of her burned hand – fortunately, the burn there was mostly on her palm, so she could move the fingers, even if it made her hand hurt even more than the hand already did. She grabbed her shirt with her good hand and went out into Faith's combination 'living room/kitchen', sitting down on the couch as the Slayer grabbed a beer from the fridge.

“Actually,” Amy continued, “I was hoping I could ask you for another favor.”

Faith pulled the top off her beer and took a sip. “Sure. What do ya need?” she asked.

“While back, you offered your couch if I had problems with my roommate. That offer still good?” Amy scooted forward on the couch a little, making sure her back didn't touch the back of the couch.

“Of course. Having problems with her?”

Amy shrugged, “Not problems, exactly. Just...well, she gets up early. Normally, not that big a deal, only...” she sighed, “I'm up half the night anyway thanks to the burns, can't sleep from the pain. On days when I have class, much as I hate to wake up so early, it's better than missing classes. But I don't have classes tomorrow, and we both know you don't wake up earlier than noon if you can avoid it. So...”

Faith smiled, “Well, yea. I stay up half the damn night patrolling and Slaying. And unlike the rest of you, I don't have class or work.” She sipped at her beer again, then set it on the counter. “Couch is all yours.”

Amy smiled. “Thanks.” Gingerly, she checked her back, then pulled her shirt back on, slowly and carefully.

October 23rd, 1999
The Bronze, Sunnydale

Buffy was moping. More importantly, she knew she was moping. But she couldn't prevent herself from doing so, as she watched Parker dancing with another girl; no doubt sweet-talking his unsuspecting victim the same way he did her. Parker was scum – and she knew that...

But despite herself, part of Buffy couldn't help but wish she was the one dancing with him... 

The Slayer shook her head, trying and failing to ignore the stab of self-doubt and jealousy that went through her as she watched them. Shaking her head again, she looked away, over to the left. Not really looking at anything, just staring off into space, trying to think of anything but Parker.

The band on the stage was playing a more lively song than the last one, though Buffy was only half-registering it. She looked around, seeing Willow and Oz over in one corner booth – sitting right next to each other, all couple-y. She couldn't see any of her other friends hanging around, though. She moved her gaze away from her buds, and realized she was looking back at Parker and that girl...

“Parker pulled his shit on you too?” 

Buffy turned around at the sound of the female voice behind her. An auburn-haired woman was standing next to the table. “He's scum – I mean, more than most guys.” The woman sat down. “They all want just the one thing, sure – but I swear, the way he does it...”

Buffy blinked. “Do I know you?” She didn't, but the woman's sudden arrival was a complete nonsequiter to her – apart from telling the woman to just go away, there wasn't much else to say.

“No, sorry. My name's Anya. I go to UC Sunnydale. Sophmore. I'm going to guess you're a Freshman, right?” She reached her hand over. “It's just – I saw you eyeing Parker and his latest would-be conquest. I've been where you are. He did the same thing to me last year.” She frowned. “Took a while to get over it.”

Buffy took Anya's hand and shook it. “Buffy. I...” She frowned a moment herself. “I suppose it's good to know that it's possible to get over.” She laughed humorlessly. “How'd you manage it?”

“After I decided I was better than feeling sorry for myself over a guy?” Anya asked. “I spent the better part of a day coming up with every nasty thing I could think of and wishing them on him – herpes, impotence, hair loss. Kind of worked. You should try it.”

Buffy shook her head again. “No...” The idea sounded appealing, she had to admit, but it was as much her fault as Parker's...she'd fallen for his line of bullshit, and willingly given herself to him. “I don't think I could do that. It's too vindictive.” She took a sip of her soda, which had mostly sat untouched since she'd gotten it. “It I did fall for him...I fell for his lines – and...I was still dealing with Angel leaving the way he did.”

“Angel?” Anya asked politely.

Oh, where to begin? Buffy couldn't tell this girl the whole story, but...it kind of felt good to have someone to talk to – someone who didn't have a host of baggage associated with Angel. Even if...

Even if Xander and Wesley had a point. Everyone else knew Angel, or knew of him. They knew the whole sordid story, but...they never really thought about it from her perspective. Not even Willow, who had – apart from that night Acathla nearly opened his mouth – been the biggest supporter of her and Angel.

“My ex.” Buffy said after a half-minute. “To say that it was...complicated between us would be a real understatement. I mean – he'd told me that he'd be leaving after High School graduation, and...I didn't take it well when he told me and then...other things happened...and then...not even two hours after we graduated, he just...vanished. No goodbye, no...anything.” She sighed – and wondering what else she could share about Angel, what she might need to 'edit' to make it okay to tell someone not in the know.

“So, you blame him for what happened?” There was no sarcasm in Anya's voice. Actually, there was even a bit of sympathy in her tone.

“Not exactly. It's not that simple.” Buffy missed Anya rolling her eyes in annoyance. “And...you wanna know the worst part? That wasn't the first time Angel...left. I mean, the first time I lost him...I was a wreck for months...but I got over him. And then...then he came back...and the whole Buffy-Angel saga started all over again! It's times like this, if I was ever going to wish for something impossible...” Buffy sighed, “I'd wish...I'd wish Angel hadn't ever come back into my life. That he'd stayed where he'd gone off to, way back when!”

Glad to finally get that particular rant off her chest, Buffy looked over at Anya – then instinctively recoiled in horror as she saw the woman, holding the small amulet around her neck in one hand – and her face. Her face. Gone was the normal, human looking face – instead there was a...a red and inhuman face, covered in angry, swollen-looking veins running up and down.

“Done!” Anya's voice was deep, distorted and obviously demonic...and they resonated in Buffy's ears with a terrible finality.

All around the Slayer, the Bronze seemed to almost...melt into blackness.

October 23rd, 1999
The Bronze, Sunnydale, “Alternate Universe”

It seemed like it was only mere seconds after Anya – or whoever or whatever the hell she was – had said 'Done!' for the world to come back into focus for Buffy.

She was in the Bronze...but it was deadly silent now. The band was gone. The people were gone. No Willow. No Oz...no...Anya.

Buffy quickly realized that she was still sitting in the same chair she'd been sitting in before...that was still the same.

But nothing else was.

The Bronze looked like a war zone. Like someone had dropped a bomb in the middle of the room, then let a tornado rampage through what was left. Broken glass, tables, chairs and other furniture was scattered across the building – almost nothing was intact. There were even a handful of scorch marks the walls.

Buffy smelled rot and mold...maybe even dried blood.

“What the hell?” Buffy instinctively reached into her jacket and took out her stake. Something was obviously wrong. She reached down for her bag, looking for her knife – but her bag wasn't there.

Buffy got out of the chair, stake in hand, moving slowly.

“Hello?” Something had happened – obviously, something to do with Anya – but what? What the hell did that...demon do? Was she a demon? Probably – the face alone... 

I mean, what else could she have been? Wasn't a vampire, and unless she somehow put on a mask and got out some weird voice distorter in all of thirty seconds, she wasn't human.

“Hello?” She called out again, less hesitantly. She needed information. She needed to find out what the hell had happened. Think, think... 

She said 'done', after I said...

After I wished Angel hadn't come back into my life...

But how does that explain what happened to the Bronze? Damn it, I need to talk to Giles about this!

Moving her chair – one of the few intact ones – out of the way, Buffy started for the door.

“Buffy?” 

Buffy turned at the sound of a familiar, female voice coming down from the upper section of the Bronze. It was Amy, looking oddly pale, and wearing a blood-red shirt and skirt. Shorter than she'd ever seen on Amy – the witch didn't usually go in for skirts in the first place.

“Amy?” Buffy turned, unable to hide the relief in her voice at seeing a familiar – and friendly – face. “Where's-” 

But before she could finish asking 'where's Faith?', Amy spoke again. “What the hell are you doing here, Slayer?” 

Buffy took a step back at the sheer force of the scorn and hatred in the words – and of course, the use of the term 'Slayer'. Amy had never called her that...not in place of her name. Only vampires-

Amy jumped down from the upper section, landing on the floor with easy, almost catlike grace. “What? Did you think that just because I chose not to side with either of the big dogs I'm going to sign up with you? I know things must be getting desperate for you guys, but damn!” Amy started walking towards her. “Or have you decided to just give up and get me to kill you, put you out of everyone's misery? Okay, I can oblige.” Amy snarled angrily, her forehead crumpling as a vampiric face revealed itself.

“Amy? What the- when did-?” Not getting a chance to finish, Buffy jumped aside as Amy lunged at her, jumping onto one of the few intact tables.

Amy was a vampire? What the hell, when did that happen...

No time. Ignoring her reeling mind, Buffy tightened her grip on her stake and jumped off the table, knocking Amy to the floor. Swallowing hard, she nonetheless stabbed down with the stake trying to pierce Amy's heart. She didn't manage to succeed, Amy's hand moving up to catch her wrist, holding the stake just inches from her chest.

“Did you really think it was going to be that easy?” Amy laughed, her face returning to its human mask. 

As Buffy struggled to drive her stake down, Amy put her other hand on Buffy's chest and whispered a word in what Buffy vaguely recognized as Latin. She didn't have time to think on it, though, because she went flying upwards, feeling like she'd just been hit with the full force of a train. She crashed into the ceiling, then started to fall, pain reverberating through her chest and back. Heart pounding, she grabbed at the railing of the upper section as she fell, catching onto it. Gritting her teeth, Buffy vaulted herself onto the upper section of the trashed club, one hand going to her chest. 

Nothing felt broken up front, and unless she was completely misremembering what she'd learned about the human skeleton in High School Biology, nothing was broken in her back either. Didn't stop the pain.

“Oh, poor little Slayer. Can't stop Sunnydale from going to hell in a handbasket. Can't save her Watcher, can't saver her sister Slayer, can't even kill one little vampire. Pathetic.” Amy thrust out with her hand again, and Buffy felt a wave of invisible force crash into her. She managed to avoid flying back, holding onto the railing tight enough to crush it beneath her fist, but at least she managed to stay in place.

Can't stop – can't save? Did something happen to Giles? Is she talking about Faith...or Kendra, or-

Again, not the time to think about it. Amy was clearly even better with the magicks as a vampire than a human. She couldn't- she needed to get out of here. Find Giles, Faith, Willow, everyone else. Figure out what the hell happened. Get help. Maybe Willow could...block her magic or something?

“What is it with you vamps and the sound of your own voices?” Buffy fell back on familiar quips, lacking anything else to hold onto at the moment. Even as she spoke, she was trying to figure out how best to get to the door – and of course, Vamp-Amy was between her and it. “I mean, do your voices cease working if you don't use them nonstop?”

“I could ask you the same thing, Buffy. You and your famous 'quips.” Amy shot back. The undead witch thrust out her arm again – but before she could finish the spell, Buffy was on the move, dashing across the upper section. Amy watched the spell crash into the railing, this time hard enough to shake the entire thing, pull loose one of the bars holding it in place. “Fuck!”

Even as Amy swore and tried to aim the spell at her again, Buffy had jumped down from the upper section. She grabbed a piece of table and tossed it at the vamp-witch. Amy cast the spell before it could connect with her, blowing it to splinters and pieces with the force of the blast, but it was all the distraction Buffy needed. She was past Vamp-Amy and out the door, on the street.

I have to get away from here – get away from here, call Giles, figure out what the hell is going on!

October 23rd, 1999
Streets of Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

It was after sunset, so Vamp-Amy would chase after her; thus Buffy kept running for nearly fifteen minutes. Fortunately, it wasn't a fifteen minute run that saw her get lost. By this point, with all her patrols, she knew Sunnydale pretty well. On the downside, she was pretty far from everyone's place – Giles, Faith, Xander and Cordelia, even Wesley. Far from campus too. Even her own house.

Buffy looked around, not even a little winded. Just down the block, she found what she was looking for – a payphone.

Buffy dug through her pockets, hoping to find some change – which she managed to find. Enough for one call. She'd have to make it count. She put the money into the machine and dialed Giles.

It rang. Eight times in total.

Nothing.

No.

Giles couldn't be unreachable. Not now.

She hung up, but the damn payphone refused to refund her money. So Buffy dialed collect, having no other choice. Nothing. Either he'd denied the call...damn unlikely...or Giles wasn't there to pick up. Where would be be?

Buffy took a deep breath, feeling her heart race in panic. Something had happened. Well, yeah, obviously... 

She'd wished for Angel to never come back from Hell...and that demon had said 'done'. What exactly was she? Who was she? Was 'Anya' some kind of – demon genie? If so... 

Oh, God...

This was like...something out of the Twilight Zone, or something...nothing made sense. Giles was never out of his apartment this late, unless he was working – no, wait, this wasn't High School anymore, his undercover role as the librarian at Sunnydale High was now history. So he should be home... 

No, never mind. There were other things to consider. Like Amy – Amy was a vampire hiding out in the Bronze, which was completely trashed. 

Which was completely insane, because even if she'd been turned as recently as last night, there simply hadn't been enough time for her to become so proficient in the magicks... 

Taking a quick breath, Buffy dialed collect again, this time trying to contact Faith. The other Slayer needed to know about Amy – and Buffy needed Faith's help.

No answer – again. Damn it. Faith wouldn't refuse the call. She'd make Buffy cover the cost later on, either by giving her a night off or just cash, but she'd take her call.

“What the hell is going on?” Buffy murmured under her breath. Who else could she try – Willow? Xander?

No. It would have to be Wesley. She needed a Watcher, someone who knew about demons professionally to help her figure out what the hell had happened. She'd contact everyone else afterwards. Luckily she knew Wesley's phone number, even though she'd never had an occasion to use it yet.

Buffy called collect again, this time for Wesley. Once she'd identified herself to the machine, she heard the other end of the line ring four times. Come on. Come on... First time she was ever wanting to talk with Wesley, and he wasn't available –

“Hello Miss Summers.” Wesley's familiar, clipped, accented voice was suddenly on the other end of the line.

“Oh thank God.” She murmured gratefully. “Wesley, something's wrong – really wrong – I was in the Bronze and then-”

“What on earth were you doing in the Bronze, Miss Summers?” Wesley interrupted, sounding confused. “I thought you told me you were going to leave off Miss Madison for the time being, given everything else we have to deal with.”

“You knew?!” Buffy couldn't help her outburst. “But she was fine just yesterday! What the hell-”

Wait. I made a wish. 'Anya' said done. She must've granted it...

If I'm right, Demon Girl changed the past...that has to be it! Somehow, she –

“Wes, this is going to sound like a very odd question, but are there demons that grant wishes? I don't mean, you say you want something and they get it for you. I mean, full on granting wishes, like the genie in Aladdin or something like that?” Buffy took a deep breath, trying very hard not to think about what it might mean if her fear was correct.

Wesley made an 'um' sound for a moment, thrown by the nonsequiter. Then he said, “Yes, actually, there are I believe a half-dozen different species who grant wishes by various forms of magic – only for mortals, though, never themselves or other demons. Mostly as a means to corrupt mortals into doing evil things or the like...but what does this have to do with anything? Unless you're proposing we use one of those kinds of – but no, surely not. I'll grant you the situation is rather desperate, but-”

“No, no, Wes, listen!” Buffy interrupted, wondering what the hell 'the situation' was. “I think I just ran into-” Buffy heard something nearby. Then...

Crap. Vampire. Amy?

“I'll be at your place as soon as I can. Wait for me there. Gotta go!” She didn't even bother to hang the phone up, simply dropping it, letting it hang by the cord as she turned.

“Slayer.” It was a male voice – she didn't recognize it. Three vampires stepped into view from an alley. All of them were wearing –

El Eliminati! What the-? They were supposed to be dead. All of them! 

And Amy isn't supposed to be a vampire nesting inside the Bronze. 'Supposed to be' got left behind quite a while ago, I think.

“Lord Balthazar will be most pleased when we bring him your head.” One of them said. And then almost as one, they all raised their swords; the usual one-long, one-short gig they all seemed to have.

Buffy's eyes went from the vampire's to their weapons. Either I need a sword of my own, or I need to run away again. “Do you really want to cut off my head – I mean it's a really messy thing, to cut someone's head off, and then you'll get my blood all over those outfits of yours.” She managed a small laugh, “And believe me, blood is a complete nightmare to get out of good clothes.”

“Fight with honor, or die without it, Slayer.” One of them said roughly.

“Are those my only choices?” Buffy asked, backing away again, her stake in hand. If she could take one out quickly and get one of his swords – but trying to fight all three when they had reach on her like that? Not the best of plans.

“Die!” One of the vampires lunged at her with his blades, and Buffy evaded the attack easily – it was sloppy, telegraphing his intent from a mile away. He didn't fight like the El Eliminati she'd encountered over six months ago, not at all. He was an amateur.

“Nope, sorry. Can't. I've got plans for later.” She stepped back, “How about we reschedule me dying to sometime after Tuesday? Next Tuesday, I mean? I'll be free then.” Not waiting for a reply, Buffy immediately ran down an alley, running for the chain link fence at the far end. It easy for her to jump, grab onto the top and leverage herself over onto the other side, landing with ease.

Buffy could hear the vampires chasing after her, and so she kept running. She needed answers. She also needed help. Where to go-? 

Getting to Giles' place isn't going to be any harder than anywhere else I could get help.

Her Watcher may not have picked up the phone when she called, but there could be good reasons for that – maybe he was sleeping heavily. Maybe he hadn't been able to get to the phone in time. Or maybe he'd forgotten to pay the phone bill. She could actually see that happening. It was very Giles.

Maybe he can't afford to pay it. I mean, he's unemployed right now, apart from his job as my Watcher. Huh. How is Giles paying his bills, anyway? Pretty sure neither he nor Wes get much of a paycheck from the Council...

Irrelevant. Buffy was over the fence, but she could hear the Eliminati vampires behind her, climbing over it. She needed to lose them. She couldn't run from them forever – she needed to lose them, or she needed an advantage to let her take on all three, swords and all.

Buffy turned down an another alley, heading for yet another street. She emerged out onto it – and nearly ran right into another pack of vampires. Six this time, fortunately without swords.

Under normal circumstances, she'd rather not go up against six against one, but assuming these were your garden variety fledglings and regular patrol fodder, she knew she could probably handle them, as long as she played it smart.

Use their numbers against them. As with the old aphorism about cooks and the soup, too many combatants can get in each others' way.

Giles' advice floated across her mind quickly, as all her thoughts did standing at the entrance of an alley with six vampires in front of her and three more coming towards and down the alley, armed with swords.

“Slayer!” One of them, an obvious ex-jock, who was all but neckless, said, as if vampires had no other word in their vocabulary.

“Yea. That's me.” Buffy raised her stake, trying to figure out how to get out of this. Six on one, she could do. Nine on one, when three had swords? She'd really rather not.

Buffy pressed her feet firm against the ground, ready to move as soon as there was an opening. The Eliminati vamps turned down the alley. She watched out of the corner of her eye as they came towards her – and the six vampires noticed them as well – and were noticed by the Eliminati vamps.

The Renn Faire wannabes drew their swords, pulling up short from the entrance of the valley.

“The Slayer is ours!” The same Eliminatus that had spoken before said. “Stand aside, or die.”

“No way. I'm the one getting this bitch's blood!” Neckless Jock replied. “And taking your swords and your dust to the boss.”

Buffy looked from the Eliminati to the 'normal' vamps. She could use this.

No sooner had that thought come to mind when the two groups of vampires crashed into each other. Well, most of them. One of the ordinary vamps – not Neckless Jock – decided that going against El Eliminati wasn't what he wanted to do. He lunged for her, trying to grab her arm. Buffy quickly ducked under his attack as the other vampires fought each other.

Kicking at her attacker, Buffy's shoe connected with his knee, sending the vamp screaming down to the ground. Quickly, Buffy darted in and drove her stake into the vampire's heart, leaving a pile of dust behind her as she ran from the fighting vampires.

Unfortunately, she was noticed running off. 

“She's getting away!”

All three Eliminati and the three remaining normal vampires apparently decided as one that in the face of the Slayer's escape, their previous fight wasn't quite as important. Buffy spared a glance over her shoulder then turned back ahead. She needed to get the six of them off of her tail. But how?

Apart from running faster, nothing came to mind. She could keep this pace up for a while, but not forever. And she couldn't be running all over Sunnydale trying to lose them. A third group of vampires could be around any corner, or just ahead on any street. Or more.

Two groups. Fighting each other.

They'd come to blows just by being near each other, almost ignoring her.

Gritting her teeth and putting on an extra burst of speed, Buffy felt her legs and lungs burning just a touch, but she forced herself to keep going. Seeing another street up ahead, Buffy turned sharply, nearly tripping thanks to her momentum.

Not waiting for the vampires to catch up, Buffy looked to the nearby buildings quickly – picking one, Buffy ran for the sides, grabbing onto the brick outside and clambering up the fire escape, ignoring the scraping on her hands as she climbed up so quickly. Just as she was over the top and moving away from the edge, her pursuers came from around the corner.

“Where is she?” One of the regular vampires cried out. Buffy dropped flat on her stomach, to make an even smaller target of herself, but stayed away from the edge.

Just as she'd hoped, the vampires quickly started to bicker, the two groups blaming each other for losing sight of her. Buffy swallowed – her guess had been right. Without her right there...

Her guess was completely confirmed when she heard the vampires starting to fight again. She heard several get dusted – the fight ended remarkably quickly.

“Find another patrol, bring them here as quickly as you can. I shall seek out and find the Slayer.” One of the vampires said. He sounded like one of the Eliminati, the voice somewhat familiar from earlier on. 

“In Balthazar's name, it shall be done!” 

Buffy heard running footsteps as one of the vampires left. Giving him a few moments to get away, Buffy crawled towards the edge of the roof and peered over onto the street. Four piles of dust and two Eliminati swords resting next to one of the piles.

Okay. One I can do.

Buffy watched for a few moments more, then stood, jumping down from the roof and landing with a graceful roll – that was really going to bruise in the morning, she was sure. But it had done what she needed doing – she was right next to the swords.

Since her battle with Angelus in front of Acathla, and even more so since El Eliminati had passed through Sunnydale, Buffy had made a point of practicing with a sword now and again. Unfortunately, she hadn't gotten that much practice in...and since she normally didn't take a sword out on patrol, she didn't get much 'live fire' practice either...

Grabbing only the longer blade, Buffy spun and stood in one fluid motion – just in time to block the vampire's blades against hers. Stepping back, Buffy blocked another swing of the longer blade and barely managed to void the shorter one – she could almost feel it pass bare centimeters from her stomach.

Buffy swung back wildly, forcing the vampire to take a step back in turn. Like the one that had stabbed at her earlier, this vampire wasn't that great – but he wasn't telegraphing as much as that one, either. She trade blows with him back and forth a few times, trying to get an advantage, barely dodging the blade she didn't block each time – but she couldn't expect to stay lucky forever, and the undead reinforcements might show up anytime...

Placing both hands on the hilt of her blade, Buffy swung it, hard. The vampire's longsword went flying from his hand, clattering on the street several feet away. But her opponent didn't just stare dumbly as he was disarmed – he'd been taking advantage of Buffy's move to slice at her exposed side with his shortsword.

Buffy contorted, trying to avoid the blade – but it was too little, too late. Hot pain lanced up her arm as the sword ran a shallow red line up it. Buffy gritted her teeth against the pain and swung against at the vampire with a control, one-handed strike. The vampire managed to step back and dodge it in time, but it gave Buffy the chance she needed, Blood streaming from the cut on her left arm, Buffy kept up her attack, forcing the vampire to step back as he dodged and blocked – after a few rounds of that, he suddenly found his back pressed up against a streetlight. Exactly what Buffy had been aiming for.

The Slayer thrust the blade into the vampire's chest, eliciting a groan of pain from him. Not giving him a moment to recover, Buffy pulled the sword out of him and swung it through his neck, neatly decapitating him. Only a moment passed before the vampire exploded into dust, his shortsword too falling to the ground with a clatter.

Dropping her own blade, Buffy turned her attention to her arm. Though shallow, the cut was long, and her sleeve was stained red with blood. Probably completely ruined, even not counting the cut in it. Damn it. And I liked this jacket, too... 

She tore the sleeve off the jacket with ease, letting it fall to the ground, discarded and forgotten as she examined the wound. The fighting hadn't done much for the bleeding – her constant movement had gotten blood all over the arm, making it slick and slippery. And it was too big to just tear off some of her shirt and make a bandage... She clamped her hand tight over the injury, trying to stem the bleeding as much as she could.

Still holding onto her arm as tightly as possible, Buffy quickly walked forward, eyes open for more vampires. Everything spun for a moment as lightheadedness threatened to overtake her. No choice. Buffy let go of her arm, ignoring the blood on her hand and tore almost the entire bottom third off her shirt. It was either that or steal something from one of the clothing stores on this street.

Biting her lip almost hard enough to draw blood, Buffy wound the wide strip of fabric around her arm as tight as she could manage, spiraling it upwards. When the entire cut was covered – blood seeping into it already – she tucked the top into itself and tied it in place. It wouldn't hold forever, she was guessing; but with any luck, it would last long enough to get her to Giles' apartment.

October 23rd, 1999
Rupert Giles' Apartment, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Buffy forced herself to take in a deep breath as she hit the door open palmed again, trying desperately to get Giles' attention – he had to be here. Where else would he be? Why would be move?

And if he moved, where did he move to? Or- maybe's he's out of town...maybe he's visiting the mother country...that's possible, right?

Buffy hit the door harder, taking every care not to break it.

“Giles!” She called out. He had to hear her. He had to be here...

Buffy stepped away from the door and forced herself to take a heavy, slow breath. She was just about ready to kick down the door when she heard footsteps. Slow, careful, deliberate.

Buffy ducked into the shadows, pressing herself against the exterior wall of the building as much as she could, her right hand tight around the Eliminati sword she'd kept ahold of, just in case more Eliminati were-

Buffy swallowed a little as a pair of Eliminati vampires stepped into view, each one with their swords out. They separated, searching the small courtyard.

“It was her. I know her voice.” One of them said. “Find her.”

“She's already slain one of us tonight.” The other said. “And we lost another in a pointless skirmish. Lord Balthazar needs us intact for the true fight.”

“Lord Balthazar needs the Slayer taken out of consideration.” The first one replied. “She will be as a vulture, waiting to attack the victor after the battle is over.” This one had hair, and the other didn't, and as she watched them move with careful, agonizingly slow precision, Buffy mentally labeled one Baldy and the other Hairy.

“I can smell her.” Hairy spoke again after a moment. “She is here, close by.” Buffy swallowed again and tensed, watching the vampire draw near her, his gaze not turned into her direction just yet, the vampire sniffing, trying to pinpoint her scent.

“All this work to find little old me?” Buffy cut in, driving her sword into the unsuspecting vampire's arm, pulling it out and jumping back away from him, ignoring a flash of pain up her leg at the sudden impact of her landing. The fighting and the running and the cut in her arm...

Everything spun again – as had happened several more times since she'd been cut – and Buffy bit her lip, bringing her attention back to the now. Both Baldy and Hairy were facing her, Hairy favoring his injured arm, but not by much. Less than she was favoring hers...

Buffy stepped back and to the right, trying to keep them moving, guessing.

“I suppose saying 'I am not left handed' wouldn't actually mean anything to you?” Buffy quipped almost automatically, as the duelist scene between Westley and Inigo in the Princess Bride rose unbidden to the fore of her mind.

“You're holding your blade in your right hand.” Baldy pointed out, looking briefly confused. “I already knew that.”

“Good lines are wasted on some people.” Buffy muttered. Both of them were better than the one's she'd faced. Neither was just charging in, both eyeing her carefully, well aware of their surroundings as they moved in time with her, keeping her well in their sights between them. She wracked her brain, thoughts racing at light-speed as she tried to think of an option other than fighting – she couldn't really afford to get cut up anymore. And against two expert swordsmen – she didn't want to take that chance.

Fifteenth century dueling cult... Buffy tried to remember what Wesley and Giles had had to say about El Eliminati...they hadn't said much, and she had retained even less...especially after all this time, it had been too long... They spent too much time dueling each other...

Something about that...part of her brain, beneath the layers of fight or flight reflexes all screaming at her, grabbed at that. The duelist scene from the Princess Bride was still running through her head.

They were fair...

“You know, I don't really think this is fair.” Buffy said after a moment. “Two of you, both of you having two swords? I've only got the one.”

“You attack without honor against our Brethren, time and again. As you just did now.” Hairy pointed out. “And you expect us to treat you honorably?”

“Yes?” Buffy offered. These vampires knew her...well, not her...she'd not fought them 'time and again'...

Everything else is wrong – even Giles has moved. If they're still around, of course things have to be different...

“Duel me. You, with the hair. I want your word you'll duel me alone.” Buffy grasped at straws. “One sword against one sword, y'know, an honorable fight. How 'bout it?”

Hairy cocked his head a moment, then nodded. “Accepted.” He dropped his shortsword. “But if you use any tricks, my companion will join the fight at once. And I will retrieve my second blade.”

“Fine.” Buffy swallowed deeply. “Ready?” She stepped a little closer to the vampire, holding her sword ready. Hairy approached her, though not quite within sword range and held his blade in front of him. He bowed just a touch – not knowing what else to do, Buffy mimicked the motion.

“Begin.” Baldy said, before stepping back to witness the upcoming duel. 

Hairy stepped back half a pace, then lunged at her with his sword. Buffy avoided the probe easily, and stepped closer to him, inside of his swing. She blocked his second attack, both hands on her sword, holding it firm against the force of his blow. Then another blow. He was moving quickly – almost too quickly for her. Each swing jarred her arms as blocked it, sending more pain lancing up her injured arm. Buffy bit clear through her lip, tasting blood.

“You cannot win a duel like this, Slayer. If you wish to die, you could have just –”

“Aggh!! Why is it that every other vampire I meet seems to think I have a Death Wish!?” Buffy interrupted, making her first attack, thrusting his injured arm again and nicking it as she spoke. “'Cause I don't!” Buffy stepped in closer to the vampire, ducking under a swing and slicing at the vampire's legs – he jumped to the side, avoiding her strike, but he'd lost the initiative as they clashed blades, exchanging strikes, moving back and forth across the area in front of Giles' apartment.

Buffy didn't exactly keep track of how long they went back and forth like that, but two more bouts of lightheadedness nearly cost her, then –

The world spun again and Buffy fell to the ground. She spared a split-second's look at her left arm and saw that the bandage had slipped right off, blood coming out of the cut again – maybe less than before, it was hard to tell, given how much blood was already on her arm...and she didn't exactly look at it very carefully.

“A good fight, Slayer. But you should have realized you were no match for one of the Inner Circle of the Eliminati!” Hairy said, taking his sword in both hands and stabbing down at her in needlessly dramatic fashion. 

Immediately Buffy rolled out of the way, wincing a little at the sound of the sword crashing into the 'cobblestones'. She didn't rise to her feet, but instead stabbed at Hairy's legs once more, the sword coming in right behind his right kneecap. As she pulled her weapon out of Hairy, the vampire screamed and collapsed to the ground on his left knee, Buffy clambering to her feet, hurting all over, the world still not staying still for her. She watched the vampire, wanting to end it now, but she couldn't – she needed a moment. A moment was all Hairy needed, though.

Buffy swung her sword into his neck – but a moment too late, as she felt his blade slice across her right leg, just below the knee. Deeper than the one on her arm – Buffy let out a low cry of pain and nearly dropped he sword into the pile of dust that collapsed in front of her. Spitting blood out of her mouth, Buffy turned to Baldy, who was looking from her to the pile of dust.

Buffy took a haltering step forward, managing to ignore the pain in her leg just enough to not visibly limp, even as the pants on her leg started to get its own red stain. She could move the leg, stand on it – that was enough.

Baldy started to raise his swords, but Buffy pointed hers at him.

“Do you really want to risk it? Think I can't dust you just as easily I did as your buddy? I'm a Slayer – good with a sword or not, do you really think you wanna risk it?” Buffy could barely get her bravado to come out without another sound of pain. Her whole body hurt, her muscles and lungs burning from her running and the fighting and then more running and more fighting – her head was spinning, her left arm and right leg bleeding, her palms still sore from her frenzied rush up the brick wall...that was just the beginning of the list.

Baldy looked at her, at her sword and the pile of dust that had been his fellow Eliminatus one more time and then, wordlessly, he turned and ran like the very fires of hell were behind him. 

Bad move. Buffy immediately threw a stake with her last remnants of strength, and by some sorta miracle, staked him in the back in just the right spot. Dust flew everywhere... 

Buffy let out a shuddering breath and staggered to the wall of Giles' apartment, nearly collapsing against it.

“I can't- I can't...” Buffy thought aloud, “not to Wesley's...need time...” Buffy's words came out between sucking gasps for air, adrenaline leaving her body, the focus that her fight-or-flight reflexes had given her gone...

Sorry Giles. If you're out of town, I need to borrow your apartment...

Buffy used the sword as a cane, pulling herself to her feet and then half-stumbled towards the door. She landed against it, breathing heavy again. Buffy pushed herself fully onto her feet and punched the door, hard, breaking through to the other side. She felt around for the doorknob and the lock – she turned it, unlocking the door and opening up as quickly as she could.

Buffy hobbled in, looking around –

The entire place was empty. Completely bare, apart from the fixtures like the lights and the other apartment amenities. But no table. No couch or furniture. No shelves...no books....

No one lived here. From all the dust, it had obviously been quite a few months since anyone had even entered Giles' home. 

Buffy called out once more, her voice a loud hiss, “Giles!” She hadn't expected a response...she didn't get one....

He must've moved...I don't know where, but he's gotta be living somewhere else...I'll have – I'll have to ask Wesley...but first thing's first.

Buffy looked around, looking for anything she could use as a bandage, again –

Drapes.

October 24th, 1999
Outside Wesley's Apartment, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

Despite her pain, or perhaps because of it, Buffy managed to get a bit of fitful sleep in Giles' former apartment after she'd torn apart the drapes and bandaged her arm and leg – fortunately, the water still worked, so she'd been able to wash the injuries, clean all the blood off her arm and leg before wrapping the cuts...

They'd been thoroughly stained when she woke with the rising sun, but the cut on her arm had more or less closed, dried blood partially filling it. The cut on her leg was still pretty bad, but it wasn't actively bleeding anymore.

But what Buffy had was a jacket minus a sleeve (and with flecks of blood all over it too), a shirt that now bared her midriff because she'd ripped off the lower third and pants that were torn below the right knee and which also had blood on them. That was something she needed to correct.

She hadn't wanted to – but she'd really had no choice. The first halfway decent clothing clothing store she'd found, she had broken in and stolen an outfit her size. She'd felt terrible about it the entire time, but –

If I had any money with me I'd leave it to cover the cost, but since I didn't...

She didn't run to Wesley's apartment – she couldn't, at least not very well. And while she probably couldn't call it limping, she'd favored her right leg quite a bit during the walk from Giles' apartment – his old apartment – to Wesley's place, including the side trip to steal clothes. She was hungry – not thirsty, she'd drunk some water at Giles' place and the pain had her distracted – but at least now with the sun present in the sky, there were no vampires to worry about.

The whole trip took her...maybe forty-five minutes? An hour? She wasn't sure. But now she was inside the building and in front of Wesley's apartment, knocking on his front door. She'd debated with herself about going to Faith's place instead – but she didn't know if her fellow Slayer would even be there, and she needed answers now. First and foremost, she needed to know what the hell was going on; and at least with Wes, she knew he was around in the madhouse which Sunnydale had become ever since 'Anya' had said 'Done!' last night inside the Bronze.

With regard to that, by this point, Buffy had accepted that things were different – she didn't know all the details, obviously. But between the Bronze being an abandoned wreck, Amy being a vampire, Balthazar and his Renn Faire-wannabe minions still hanging around, and Giles having moved...

She'd accepted that things were...different...here and now. But that hadn't prepared her for seeing Wesley in a wheelchair when he opened his door to her knocking – pointing a crossbow at her.

“What the – Wes, what happened to you?!” Her staring at wheelchair made it obvious what she was talking about.

“Very funny, Miss Summers.” Wesley replied sourly as he lowered the crossbow and rolled the chair out of the way of the door, not bothering to invite her in, unsurprisingly. 

Buffy walked into the apartment anyway, closing the front door behind her. Wesley looked at her again before saying, “In point of fact, I should be asking you that.” He gestured to her arm, and the way she had favored her leg as she'd walked into the room.

“El Eliminati.” Buffy managed, putting her hand on the wall and leaning into a moment, catching her breath. “And a lot of running.” She looked around – the inside of Wesley's apartment was bare, undecorated, apart from several bookshelves and a desk which was itself strewn with books. She rubbed at her temple with her hand for a moment, then: “You wouldn't happen to have – have something to –” She shook her head. Food could wait. “No. Not important right now.”

“And what is?” Wesley demanded right back, trying to keep a level tone. “Your question about wish-granting demons? And why do you want to know that? You're a skilled Slayer, but up until now you've not shown much of an interest in the academic aspects of demonology, or been interested in hypothetical demon species. You've always wanted to know about the demon you're facing or the demon you expect to face soon; nothing more, nothing less.”

Buffy took a breath. More or less, Wesley was right. She usually didn't have any interest in all that stuff – Wesley and Giles and even Willow could find it all absolutely fascinating, but she had other, usually more immediate concerns.

“Because last night,” she answered, “I met someone. I made a wish, she said 'Done!' and then the entire world went different on me. So...I figure it was granted.” Wesley gave her a look that was somewhere between mild horror and 'what the hell were you thinking?'

“Hey, I didn't know she was a demon at the time!” Buffy defended herself. “She looked, acted and felt human. I was just...” Her voice trailed off, “I was just talking. I didn't thing it was going to get granted...” Without the stress of combat and the threat of the vampires to run from, the enormity of what had happened was finally hitting her like a ton of bricks.

Am I – am I responsible for Amy becoming a vampire? If it happened from the wish...but how would Angel not coming back from Hell change that...?

Before she could follow that thought any deeper, Wesley spoke.

“Assuming this isn't some sort of fanciful American teenage prank, then perhaps we should start at the beginning. What did you wish for, exactly?” Wesley rubbed at his left temple as he asked her that.

“I wished that Angel hadn't come back from Hell.” Well, close enough, anyway. She hadn't used the word 'hell' because she'd thought she was talking to a normal human...

“What? Miss Summers, Angel didn't come back from where you sent him nearly eighteen months ago. I mean, no one can come back from Acathla's hell-world. Unlike many other demon dimensions, that one is truly deserving of the label! And if he was to come back, would he not have returned as Angelus?” Wesley looked at her carefully, and Buffy got the distinct impression he was trying to find out if she was nuts.

Well, he'd say something British, like 'raving loon' or whatever. But still...

“Okay, Wes, listen up and listen carefully! First of all, of course Angel didn't come back from Hell. I wished that he didn't, remember? And then Anya said 'done!' with her face covered in weird veins,” a combination of panic, anger and frustration saw her gesturing more than usual as she spoke, “and so he didn't. But originally, before I made that Wish – he did come back, and he was Angel. I don't know how Giles didn't tell you about it – Willow's spell worked...at the last moment. But it was too late, and Angel was the one who got sucked into Hell. Not Angelus!”

Wesley blinked a moment, then, “Granting this...version of events, purely for the sake of argument, I still don't understand. Why would you wish Angel back to Hell? From everything in Mr. Giles' reports, you loved him.” Wesley frowned just a touch. “Hang on – did you say 'weird veins'?”

“It's complicated.” Buffy started to say about her undead ex, then cut herself off when she heard what else the Watcher was saying. “Yea. Her face was all red and vein-y,” she said after a moment. “That ring any bells for you?”

“Perhaps.” Wesley rolled the wheelchair over to the desk and picked one of the books off it. He laid the book on his lap and started paging through it. “Was there an amulet involved?”

Buffy thought back to that last moment before the Bronze – the real one – had...melted around her. After a moment, she nodded. “Yea. She was holding an amulet when she said 'Done!'” 

Wesley finished paging through the book and handed it to her. Buffy looked at the sketch on one of the pages, and then Wesley; who was looking impatient, waiting for her answer. 

“That's her.” the Slayer pointed at the demonic image, “That's definitely her – she looks almost exactly like Anya!”

“I see. Well, if it's who I think it is, then 'Anya' is as good a name as any for her to call herself.” Wesley answered noncommittally. “As I said, there are only six kinds of demon that grant wishes, that I knew of – and what research I've carried out since your phone call has confirmed that. Only one known species has veins all over their face as you've described. And if there's an amulet involved, that would confirm it.”

“Miss Summers, I can only assume you met with Anyanka, the so-called patron saint of scorned women. Unless another vengeance demon was using the name Anya for some reason – which is possible, but most unlikely. She's a vengeance demon, you see; really nasty piece of work, according to the books. And while I don't believe that sketch is of Anyanka herself, it does depict a vengeance demon.” He took the book back from Buffy's hands. “They exist to grant wishes to the 'wronged', actually. Wishes relating to vengeance of some sort, usually. But whatever the wish, those demons always find ways to create death and terror with the granting of it.” 

Wesley frowned. “It has never been known from them to be able to remake the past with the power of a Wish, at least not that I know of, but...then again, very few people would remember such a thing. And of those, even fewer report it to one of the Council's sources.” Wesley looked at her, “Miss Summers, if everything I've heard is true, your careless wish has at least led to the death of Amy Madison. If, as I surmise, she's not a vampire where you come from.” His tone was quiet, but stiff, unyielding but without obvious accusation. It was a strange tone to hear from Wesley.

The Wesley Buffy knew would be far more accusatory and more aggressive about her responsibilities and her sacred duty and blah-blah-blah. Oddly, she missed that Wesley a lot right now. 

After a moment Buffy responded, “Look, Wes, who's to blame for what isn't important right now. What's important is getting this Anyanka demon here so I can force her to undo that wish.” I can't think about me being to blame for what happened to Amy...or even what happened to Wesley, whatever the gory details may be...wouldn't wish that on him...

“Miss Summers, three problems with that scenario. One, I have no idea how to summon, locate or procure Anyanka. I imagine she could be summoned, but right now, I have no idea how. Secondly, I have no idea if the Wish can be undone. Thirdly, whatever it is that led us into this situation, this is the real world now – the one you've created without Angel in it. The forces under the command of Balthazar and the forces led by Gwendolyn Post continue to run rampant through Sunnydale, and all the evidence still points to a final clash coming between them soon. Any vampire or demon that can be recruited into one faction or the other has already done so. The rest are either dead, in hiding or watching from the sidelines to see who takes over when the dust settles. Amy Madison and Spike have both neatly fallen into that last category.”

Wesley rolled his wheelchair away from the desk. “It will take time to find a way to summon Anyanka, much less bind her powers so that she doesn't immediately go on one of the bloody rampages she's infamous for. So, quite frankly, we need to concentrate on the more immediate problem; namely, the upcoming battle. And while I've mentioned this to you before, if you really an alien to this reality without any memory of the real world...well, this may finally represent the opening we haven't had. If the two of them come to blows and one side dies, the other will be weakened by the clash, their forces thinned. You need to be ready for it.”

Buffy shook her head at the rush of new information. What the – Gwendolyn Post was still around too? And she and Balthazar were running things, fighting each other for control of the Hellmouth? Spike was here? Good to know some things haven't changed... For a moment, all thoughts of the pain in her arm and her leg was ignorable, as she tried to process everything Wesley had told her – from 'Anyanka' on down.

“I need to be ready. Right. Okay. Get Giles and have him help – and about that, Wes, where exactly is he? When did Giles move out of his condo? Is he even in Sunnydale right now? I tried calling him first, last night...” She trailed off at the strange look on Wesley's face.

Wesley looked at her gravely. “Well. I suppose that erases my doubt about your incredible-sounding story.” Wesley told her softly, then, “I'm sorry, Miss Summers. Mr. Giles is dead. Gwendolyn Post killed him a little over a week after she arrived in Sunnydale...just before he could send a report to the Council that mentioned her, I'd imagine.”

Giles is dead?

That thought ran repeatedly through Buffy's head, round and round and round, initially finding no purchase as she tried to deny it. Buffy staggered back, then collapsed, sliding down the wall, tears coming to her eyes unbidden. Her pain was now completely forgotten – her physical pain, anyway.

Giles is dead...and it's all my fault...

“I'm sorry.” Wesley said again, looking sympathetic. “I thought – if it was true, even if the history of the world had changed...that particular episode would have been the same...given that you knew who I was. Since I'm your replacement Watcher.”

Buffy looked at him, confused. Wait up, he's my Watcher? But then...

“No...Wes, that's not right! I mean, you're supposed to be Faith's Watcher...” Buffy managed to get out after a moment. She hadn't been able to stop the tears either.

“I-” Wesley started, sounding as confused as she felt. Then he shook his head. “No. I'm not. Ah...Faith Lehane is dead, Miss Summers. I never met her, seeing as how Gwendolyn killed her shortly after killing Mr. Giles.”

October 24th, 1999
Chase Residence, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

It had taken Buffy nearly an hour to pull herself together after the dual revelations of Giles' and Faith's deaths.

Their deaths. They were her fault. If she hadn't made that damn wish...

Buffy forced herself to take a deep, slow breath and looked at the exterior of Cordelia's house. She'd never actually been here before – heck, how was it Cordy was still living here? Did her parents not get...

Yeah, probably. Just one more thing to be different in this crazy-ass Wish world. Why am I even surprised any longer?

Still. Mrs. Post had killed Giles...and she'd killed Faith. Wesley had been permanently crippled by Balthazar's torture, since Angel had never shown up to save him that night, and Amy was a vampire.

But everyone else is alive...

She'd nearly gone catatonic with the news of Faith's death...Buffy was pretty sure the only thing that had stopped her from losing it completely was when Wesley had told her...he'd told her her other friends were still alive. That Willow and Xander and Oz and Cordelia were still alive – and that her mom...

Her mom was still alive here. Thank God for that.

What Buffy hadn't been expecting was the news that everyone had moved into the Chase family mansion. According to Wesley, the intent had been to have a base of operations....especially since no one had a job and no one was going to college in this reality. And the only reason he himself wasn't living there was that it wasn't wise to put all their eggs in one basket; if there was a surprise attack on Cordelia's home, someone had to be external to the whole situation and be able to respond, somehow. 

The only thing resembling a bright spot in this insane new world was that the Mayor was dead...killed long before Graduation by Balthazar, alongside Finch and Trick...

Buffy made her way to the front door and knocked.

Right before she'd left Wesley's apartment, 'her' Watcher had given her a word of advice...she wasn't sure if she was going to use it or not...she didn't think so, but Wes had warned her not to tell everyone that she had caused all this. Tempers were volatile here and now, Wes had told her. Better to lie and just pretend that she'd lost her memory...

For a moment, there was no answer, and then the door opened, her mother – her very sleep-deprived, bags under her eyes mother – was on the other side of the threshold. 

Joyce Summers saw Buffy standing in the sunlight and immediately embraced her daughter, holding her tight. “Buffy! Oh dear God, I was so worried about you – Xander said you...you just vanished last night on patrol...everyone's tried to- young lady, where have you been?! Wesley said that you called him, briefly, but he didn't know where you were-” Her mother seemed to realize that she was almost babbling and cut herself off. “Never mind, sweetheart. You're back home, and you're alright. That's what's important.”

“Not entirely alright, mom.” Buffy told her mother after returning the hug. Her mother pulled away from the hug, looking at her daughter and seeing the cut on her arm, the way she was favoring her leg. She gasped and started to say something, but Buffy kept going. “Had a couple fights with the Renn Faire-wannabes last night. They're dust, but...they got a few hits in on me.”

“Oh, Buffy.” Her mother embraced her again a moment before pulling back. “But - What happened?” She asked again, not babbling this time. “Where did you go? Everyone looked almost all night for you!”

“Well, I...that's...” Buffy paused a moment, trying to figure out what to say. She didn't want to just lie...but...

She didn't want to tell them the truth either. Not yet...

Does that make me a bad person...?

I'm responsible for Giles and Faith's deaths...that makes me a bad –

Buffy forcibly chopped that thought off before she could finish it. She couldn't – she couldn't think about that.

“It's not a very simple answer.” Buffy said after a moment. “And it would be easier for me to tell everyone about it. Everyone at once. Are they up?”

“Oz might be. But everyone got back right before dawn.” Buffy watched her mother sag a little, standing and she realized that her mother looked...years older. “They've probably only been asleep for less than an hour...”

“Mom.” Buffy said softly, looking at her mother. “Did you get any sleep at all last night?”

Her mother shook her head, “No, honey. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't. I know you're the Slayer and all, but I can't help it – with everything happening nowadays...you know how hard it is for me to get to sleep when you're still out and about...”

Yeah, that Buffy could remember. And she should've known how that wouldn't have changed. Her mother had always been able to get some decent sleep in the days before she'd known about the Slayer thing, but once she'd learned what it was her daughter did almost every night...it had been increasingly common for her mom to be awake when she got home.

“I'm sorry.” Buffy said softly. “Mom, go get some rest. I need – I need to eat something and – put some kind of real bandage on my leg, clean the cuts with hydrogen peroxide. Wesley didn't really have much of a first aid kit.”

“Why am I not surprised? Apart from finding out about vampires and demons in his books and the like, he's not much good for anything.” Her mother said sternly, “And he's still just as rude as he always was, when he...” Her voice trailed off.

“When he first got here?” Buffy offered, her voice soft. However Wesley had been when he'd arrived...after...

He couldn't have been much better than when he arrived...in my time? For real? What...what do I call what...what I remember?

Buffy had never been an extensive consumer of sci-fi or fantasy – especially not after becoming the Slayer. That was more Xander's thing, to be honest. But she'd picked up on things from time to time – like she could name a few Star Trek characters, and recognize some others on sight. She'd seen the Star Wars movies, she'd picked up ideas and concepts from time to time.

Wasn't there a...Evil Twin Universe – Mirror Universe, that's it! And people went there...

That was it. She'd tell them – she'd tell everyone that she was another Buffy Summers, from another universe...where things were different...history had turned out different. It wasn't that far from the complete truth, all things considered.

“When he first got here.” Her mother agreed with Buffy's previous question, her voice barely above a whisper. She shook her head a moment, obviously dismissing Wesley from consideration. “Buffy, are you sure you don't need my help with-”

“I can handle myself, mom.” Buffy said with a soft, somewhat forced smile, though she did her best to make it look natural. “Go get some rest. You look like you need it.” Her mother nodded.

“Alright.” She stepped aside and let Buffy inside with the wordless invitation. “Clean your cuts and put on some bandages first? I think Willow restocked the first aid kit in the guest bathroom just the other day.”

“Will do, mom.” Buffy said, silently grateful her mother had told her – sort of – where the first aid kit was.

Now if I can just figure out where the 'guest bathroom' is...

October 24th, 1999
Sitting Room, Chase Residence, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

It hadn't taken Buffy as long as she'd thought it would take for her to find the guest bathroom. And soon enough, she'd gotten her injuries cleaned up and bandaged far better than her previous makeshift efforts. Slayer Healing would let her recover fast, but not as quickly as she would have liked...

And after she'd seen to the cuts, and made her way to the kitchen and gotten some food into her, Buffy had thought up exactly what sort of story she'd be telling.

She couldn't tell them about the wish. She just couldn't – the accusations...her friends blaming her for this, this nightmarish Wish-world – maybe it was cowardly of her, but Buffy simply couldn't force herself to confess about what she'd done. It wouldn't help, anyway, no matter how justified they'd be blaming her for – everything.

Wes didn't say much before we parted company, at least not about the good ol' Scooby Gang. I wonder what's happened to them all in this...world? What have I cost them?

Was Xander's dad still dead? What about his mom? How had Cordelia been able to stay in the house – and let everyone live here? What about her parents? And Willow – what about her parents? Oz's? And none of them were at college?

Well, neither am I, apparently. Guess we all have other priorities around here.

Her mother had said they'd all been out last night looking for her – hopefully...hopefully, that meant that none of them were as badly hurt as Wesley – not crippled or...anything like that. But what else could have happened to them in the meantime?

After she was done eating, Buffy had gone to the central room on the ground floor – it looked kind of like a living room? But the mansion was pretty big – and rich people had more rooms than they needed for each thing – she'd already seen two dining rooms, after all.

Buffy had kept an eye on the clock, and given her friends and her mother as much time to rest as she thought they could get away with – an hour or so – before she couldn't wait any longer. It was time to speak to everyone, and spin a yarn that would totally light her pants on fire.

I have to lie...but only a little...not as much as-

Buffy took a deep breath and forced herself to stay calm. First she needed to wake her friends and her mother up, and get them to come down here, so she could tell them the necessary lie. Wow, shades of Angel there. But still. All together. All at once.

First off Buffy woke up her mother, then they woke everyone else. As she could have expected, Buffy got hugged firmly by Willow and Xander, both of whom wanted to know what happened, and even Cordelia was surprisingly happy to see her. Are we friends here? Friends friends? Oz, of course, was his usual non-talky, Zen self. He'd greeted her, but hadn't been very much with with the visible reactions.

It was...comforting for Oz to behave just like he always did. Something familiar to hold onto.

Each one of her friends asked her where she'd been, and what had happened to her. She'd told them all the same thing – she'd tell them downstairs. All together. It took maybe ten minutes for everyone to wake up, get dressed and come downstairs to what was apparently the 'sitting room'.

On the surface, each of her friends seemed more or less the same. But not...not entirely. None of them had missing arms or shattered kneecaps or other serious injuries – thank God – but on each of them, there were scars and bruises. Small cuts here and there, mostly – but even more, there were...little things which she noticed right off the bat, little things that were different.

All of them – even her mother – now wore a cross around their necks. Cordelia and Xander usually did that anyway, Buffy knew, but Willow and Oz...she'd never seen either one of them wear a crucifix at the base of their throat. Probably 'cause one was Jewish and the other was...well, whatever religion it was which Oz followed. He probably worshiped the gods of rock 'n roll, or something like that. Oh, sure, Willow might have a cross on hand once in a while, and Oz almost always had one on hand these days, but they'd never worn the necklaces...

But that was hardly all. With Oz, it was harder to put into simple words. He'd always been a fairly private guy, in a lot of ways. But here and now, he seemed far more...guarded. There was a...a strange cast to his face she'd not seen before. And there was a look in Oz's eyes – she wasn't sure how to describe it. A part of her wanted call it...'haunted'. But the rest of her didn't really think that was the right word. Plus, Buffy didn't really know what a 'haunted' look looked like. But there was a look on the werewolf's face, nonetheless.

With Willow, there was the obvious stuff she'd noticed first – the tips of her friend's hair in quite a few places were...black. Like she'd dyed her hair a while ago and it had grown out since and almost all of the dyed hair was gone by now. But that wasn't all – Willow carried herself differently now. There was an almost...predatory look in her eyes. 

Maybe? Buffy wasn't entirely sure. It was hard to describe, and it was only there for the briefest of moments anyway.

With Xander, the first thing she'd noticed was that he was wearing an Eliminati shortsword on his belt. An honest to God sword-belt, like El Eliminati used, and the sword in a scabbard. Buffy had known her friend had been making something of an effort to learn how to use a sword...sure, without the instinctive abilities which being a Slayer gave her, his progress had been slow, and he almost never took it with him if he was out on patrol – and Xander certainly didn't carry it around with him. Well, he never used to...

But the next thing about him Buffy had noticed was far more subtle – she almost didn't see it under the collar of his shirt – two small holes...well, no. Two sets of two such scarred wounds. He'd been bitten by a vampire recently enough for the scars to still be visible...twice.

For Cordelia – the big, obvious difference was her hair. It was incredibly short – like, less than shoulder-length short. Buffy was uncomfortable seeing her old classmate having hacked off her long brunette locks –she knew how important Cordelia's hair was to her. Plus, Xander's girlfriend wasn't wearing make-up and eye-shadow and lipstick and everything else one associated with the fashion diva that was Cordelia Chase –

Well, really, that was just the things Buffy had noticed on the surface. Which...was odd. There had to be more. So whatever it was for Cordelia that had really changed...

She's not as obvious about it...

All five of them – her friends and her mother – also moved with a wariness she'd never seen in them before. Still, it made sense...if she was making the right guess from what her mother had said earlier, they were going out and fighting the vampires nightly. The group reminded her of...her, almost, in the way they carried themselves. Like they were ready to fight or run or react at a moment's notice.

Her friends...her mother. They were all the same – the same people she knew in her...universe...her original reality? What the hell am I supposed to call it!? Well, whatever, these people were the same as those she knew there – almost. But not quite. There were differences, and Buffy was sure there was more than what she'd discovered so far – stuff she couldn't see just on first glance, lurking underneath the surface.

“Alright.” Buffy said softly when they were all seated. Frowning, the Slayer cleared her throat and then started again. “Alright.” She said in a louder, clearer voice. “I've got a lot to tell you guys. And you're going to need to let me finish before you say anything. Okay? Because this is probably going to be really hard for you to believe, but it's true. I mean, really hard to-” Buffy cut herself off before she could start babbling and lose track of everything.

“First off, I'm Buffy Summers, but I – I'm not the Buffy you all know.” Buffy kept talking – as much to not give herself a chance to second-guess herself as to stop the group from interrupting her, because already she could see them all starting to speak. “And you...you people aren't the Willow and Oz and Xander and Cordelia and...and Mom that I know. This isn't the Sunnydale that I know.” Buffy swallowed and stood up. “You all wanted to know what happened last night? Well, bottom line...I don't know what happened to your Buffy Summers. I can only tell you what happened to me.”

Buffy took a breath, but it was very short and shallow – she couldn't give them a single free moment to interrupt. Not until she was done. She could see Xander's hand fall to the hilt of his sword, Willow's fingers twitching strangely, Oz leaning in towards her almost dangerously, and Cordelia's hand's starting to clench. Only her mother wasn't reacting...aggressively. She was just looking at her, carefully, as if examining her in detail...

Buffy forced herself to keep going. “Last night, I was in the Bronze. The Bronze in my Sunnydale. A Bronze that had people in it – still a popular hangout spot for people our age...and then...everything went...black for a second, and then...well, I'm still in the Bronze, but it looks like a tornado has gone through it. And then Amy – who's a suddenly a vampire, even though she shouldn't be – attacks me and I run. And then...there were vampires with swords and ordinary-looking vamps and I kept running...I, eventually I got to Wesley's apartment...”

“His best guess...” Now she was really lying. And if Wesley didn't play along...no, better not to think about that. The Watcher had nothing to gain from telling everyone the truth, what with the current hellish situation.

“His best guess,” Buffy said again, “After I told him what happened...after I tried to get him to tell me why...everything was different all of a sudden. The best he could figure was that – well, for lack of a better way to put it – he said that I'm a Buffy from a different universe. One where history turned out different, you know? Because...I don't remember Amy being a vampire. I don't remember Wesley in a wheelchair. I don't remember us all moving here...” She gestured around the sitting room, encompassing the entire house with her words. “I don't remember Balthazar and his Eliminati minions still being around. I don't remember Gwendolyn Post still being around. And – and...” Buffy's voice broke and she fell back onto the chair she'd been sitting in not a few minutes before. “And I don't remember Giles and Faith being dead!” 

Despite her best efforts, tears came unbidden to her eyes. Buffy dug her fingernails into her arm, trying desperately to stop herself from breaking down into uncontrolled sobbing.

If...if I can't fix this...If this is permanent...Giles and Faith...they'll stay dead...they'll stay dead, and it will be my fault!

Buffy took in a deep breath, looking at her friends, at her mother. She could see the doubt, the suspicion, the skepticism in their eyes. They didn't believe her – but did they think she was lying, or just nuts? Did they think she was...not Buffy at all? That she was evil? A demon shapeshifter or something? She didn't know...couldn't tell...

“Well...not that I like agreeing with Monarchy Boy about anything, but that would explain why you're missing that scar on your cheek.” Xander said after a moment.

“And why you're not wearing that silver chain with the...Claddy-ring, or whatever it was that Angel gave you, around your neck.” Cordelia added.

Willow reached over to Buffy and grabbed her hand, holding her wrist tightly – tight enough that if Buffy weren't the Slayer, it might hurt – and then her eyes went...solid black for a second. 

Buffy immediately felt weird as her entire body glowed white for a second. She stared at Willow in open-mouthed shock, before the witch let go of her hand and looked at the rest of them.

“She's Buffy...or else a perfect illusion making her look like Buffy. Sound like Buffy. Even to the point of mimicking Buffy's aura  – which, is really hard to pull off!” The witch told everyone, and Buffy noticed that the black had crawled up Willow's hair just a touch in a few places...

“Smells like her, too.” Oz said after a moment.

“Okay, that's all well and good, but I'm still not completely sold.” Cordelia said. She looked at Buffy carefully. “Tell us something that only Buffy would know. Then we'll worry about whether or not your story makes any sense.”

“It's not my 'story', Cordelia. It's the truth!” Buffy frowned, trying to think of something. She looked at her mother, who had yet to say anything. “Mom, from the day before my 6th birthday to like...a week after my 7th, I asked you for a white fluffy cat I wanted to name Snowball. Every day.” Okay, granted, her dad also knew about that, and a few other people in Los Angeles, but no one in Sunnydale that she knew of. And that was the first thing that came to mind.

She looked at the others, “At the start of Junior year, Cordy – when we were alone outside the Bronze, you told me I was 'really campaigning for Bitch of the Year'.” Buffy didn't remember mentioning that to anyone. Cordy might have, but it just never came up for her.

“Xander, when you came to L.A. to find me, after I ran away that summer...you told me that I was the bravest person you'd ever met. You asked me if running away had made it hurt any less.” She looked over to Willow. “Willow, you-”

The red-haired witch cut Buffy off. “No, don't bother. I believe you, Buff. I believe that you're you, anyway. But a Buffy from a different universe? I mean, yeah, I know the basic physics behind the multiple-universe theory. But that's all it is – just a theory. No one's ever crossed over from another universe, as far as I know!”

“Yeah, well, we deal with vampires and demons and magic on a regular basis. Willow, you're a witch. Oz is a werewolf. I'm a mystically powered superhero. But jumping into an alternate universe is where you gotta draw the line? Come on, Will, we all became our Halloween costumes almost two years ago!” Buffy wiped the last few tears from the corner of her eyes and looked at her friends. “Look, I'm not lying. And I'm not crazy. Or if I am crazy, it's because I'm thinking I must be absolutely nuts ending up in a completely nightmarish Sunnydale like this one, which isn't the Sunnydale I know! And the friends I know would believe me. After everything we've been through, they'd believe me!” She stood up. “So either you believe me, or I must be insane to think you're anything like the friends I know from my...from my universe. Because if that's the case, even beyond the physical differences I can see just looking at everyone – clearly you're not.”

Oz looked at the others and nodded once. “I'm sold.”

October 24th, 1999
Kitchen, Chase Residence, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

Oz's words – and hers – seemed to have broken through any remaining disbelief her friends may have had. She could tell they were still tentative of accepting her presence here, but they weren't in denial or treating her as some sort of...threat. Willow was apparently going to do some research on the whole 'alternate universe' thing. It wouldn't help any at all, but it would keep them from...

Buffy chopped off that train of thought again.

“You wanted to talk to me in private?” Xander said after a moment, looking at her somewhat suspiciously. Darn. Well, it couldn't be helped –

“Yeah, Xander. Look, I know you get information from some sorta mysterious source that you can't tell me or anyone else much in the way of details of. At least, you do in my Sunnydale. That's how you found out about me being in L.A. and that demon you pulled the face off of. I'm assuming all that happened here – but I don't know what your source has told you since, because things aren't the same here. Still...I'm correct that he still tells you stuff, right?”

“Not sure if 'he' is the right way to put it.” Xander said softly, then frowned. “Huh, that's new. Never been able to tell anyone that before.”

“The you from my universe is exactly the same way, as far as I know.” Buffy said softly. “Xander, what do you know about what's coming? Wesley filled me in on a little...are Balthazar and Mrs. Post going to have their big showdown soon?”

“Two days.” Xander told her, then, “That's also new.” He looked at her in amazement, took a quick breath, and spoke: “Okay, I'm convinced; you're obviously not from around here, the mojo isn't working on you. Not yet, anyway. But getting back on topic, there's going to be a big fight – pretty sure it's going to be at Sunnydale High two days from now, on the night of October 26th. I have no idea who's going to win, but it's going to get bloody for both sides – and for us.” He looked away. “One of us is going to die, don't ask who. But then we've been living on borrowed time for too long, barely keeping our heads above water – we've killed a few vampires here and there, sure. Knocked out some small outposts belonging to one side or the other. But it's still not enough.” He laughed darkly. “Not even putting Oz near some of them when the full moon's about to rise, and unleashing his furry alter ego...”

“You – what!? You guys actually used Oz as a-” Buffy couldn't control her outburst initially, but then swallowed the rest of her words. Especially at the dark, angry look in Xander's eyes.

“Oz volunteered. And seriously, Buffy-Two; don't judge what we've had to do – what the you of this reality has had to do! We've been on the edge of Hell for nearly a year now, ever since that British bitch came to town and killed Giles and Faith. I've let vampires come close enough to bite me to get a better chance at killing them. Cordelia nearly got her head burnt to a crisp two weeks ago! And Willow has had to push herself with the magicks to the point where it may be shortening her lifespan, or even permanently polluting her soul, or whatever the hell it is that black magic is supposed to do. I don't know all the details, and I don't want to know; it helps me be able to sleep during the day. My dad is dead. My mother is only alive because I all but forced her at sword-point to move in with some relatives out of town. Willow's parents are still alive only because they're constantly on their tour and lecture circuit, and they never come back to this hellhole anymore. Oz's parents were nearly killed, before they finally got out of town!”

“And Cordelia's mom and dad?” Buffy swallowed, dreading the answer.

“They're dead, of course. You think we'd be all here, if they were still alive? Mr. and Mrs. Chase died not long after New Year's, and my girlfriend officially inherited everything a few days later on her 18th birthday. It's how we're still in food and crossbow bolts!” Xander took a breath. “Pretty much the only thing that kept Cordelia going for a month after they were murdered, apart from me, was the thought of revenge. Even now, it's still her driving force. So don't you even think about judging us on what we've had to do to survive!” Xander brandished his hand angrily, then took a breath.

“I'm sorry.” Buffy said softly. “I'm sorry I'm not the Buffy you know. And I'm sorry that...” She took a deep breath. “I'm sorry that I...that I didn't think about what you've had to go through. Xander, you have a point – I'm not sure it's the right one, yea, but I shouldn’t be judging you when I've only been here for less than a day. At least not the way I did. I know you want your Buffy back, and I'm sorry I'm not her.” She looked at him dead on. “But I am the Buffy that's here now. And until someone can figure out how to get your Buffy back here and me back to my Sunnydale, I'm going to help you come out on top of this.”

Buffy exhaled, loudly. “ Balthazar and Post are going to have their big fight. They're going to fight in the High School. They're after the Hellmouth, right?”

Xander nodded after a moment. “Yep. I figure they'd have to be.”

“So let's blow stuff up.” Buffy said flippantly, remembering when Sunnydale High had been blown up before. Worked for the Mayor. Should work for two armies of vampires and demons.

Xander blinked. “Blow...blow stuff up?”

“We used a rocket launcher on the Judge at the mall. Your idea, remember? And where I'm from, we ended up using the 'blow up the school' option. To kill a gigantic demon-snake. At Graduation.” She smiled for a moment at the shocked look on Xander's face. “Okay, I'm not saying let's blow the entire school. And I know we only have two days, but can't we rig something up? Fertilizer and chemicals? Smaller than in my Sunnydale, I'm thinking. Kill all their minions, maybe even them either during or after their big fight?”

Xander said nothing for a moment, then he mused slowly, “Huh. Well, I guess that's more Willow's department than anything else, but yea. That may work. Sunnydale High now has barely half the students it did last year, and even less the year before that. Makes it easier to sneak in, set up something like that and hide it than it might have been. Don't know why I...” He started to turn around, then stared at her quizzically. “Okay, Buffy-Two, let's test just how much I'm allowed to tell you. Since I've already been able to tell you a lot more than I've ever been able to tell anyone, even Giles...”

Xander's gaze hardened slightly. “ I get only a very specific class of information, Buff. About what's going to happen. No – when something may happen, I can act to change it and I have. And I only learn what I do because a certain 'someone' decided that I'm a convenient vehicle to create-” Xander abruptly started choking, his hands flying to his throat. He staggered back and started coughing violently for a moment, before he finally got control of himself. “Shit. Well, there you go. Window of opportunity's been closed, I'm thinking.” He sighed. “What the hell. Gotta take what you can get, I suppose.”

Buffy had already guessed that someone was using Xander for something like that, with providing the information...being the choice of 'vehicle'. But Xander's seeming uncertainty on that someone's gender...what was all that about? And saying 'something', as if it wasn't a person, or person-like...

Something I should discuss with him once I get back home. Well, if I can.

“Thanks for being willing to try to find out.” Buffy said softly. Then she cleared her throat. “So...what are the other high points I've missed? What else has happened during the last year that I should know about?”

“The last year?”

Buffy shrugged. “Roughly twelve months. After I spoke with Wesley, I figured that that's when our histories...diverged.” Not exactly a lie, but not exactly the pure unvarnished truth either...

“Well, Spike's in town. I'm guessing that hasn't changed from the history you know? He tried to kidnap Willow last year, but it didn't exactly work out for him. Apparently, he was really drunk at the time. After he sobered up he worked with Trick for a while, but apart from that, he's just been floating around the edge of everything. Talks a big game, but he hasn't managed to kill you yet.”

“Sounds familiar. Let's just hope he doesn't find the Gem of Amarra here, either.”

“The what?”

“The Gem of Amarra. Green gemstone in a brass ring. Makes vampires invincible as long they wear it. Spike found it in my...my universe.” She tripped over the phrase again. It was...so unusual. So strange. “I can show you on a map of Sunnydale where he found it. Probably a good idea that no one finds it here.”

“Yea. That would be the understatement of the century, Buffy-Two.”

October 24th, 1999
Dining Room, Chase Residence, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

After the little revelation of Buffy not belonging in this Sunnydale, and a brief phone call to Wesley to confirm Buffy's story, everyone went their separate ways for a few hours. The others still needed rest, though Buffy didn't think any of them actually slept.

But finally, at 10:30, everyone was more awake and ready for whatever was going to come next. 

Buffy wasn't sure what was next, but when they all assembled in the dining room, Xander had rolled out a map of Sunnydale and blueprints of Sunnydale High. The map of the town was strewn with written notes and Post-its, information about locations and possible locations of nests and hideouts belonging to the two evil armies that had turned Sunnydale into a war zone.

“There doesn't seem to be any clear boundaries between territory.” Buffy said, looking at the map carefully. “I mean, from what you have here, they don't seem have split Sunnydale up half and half.”

“No. You'd think they'd go for that, but neither of them seem interested in territory for its own sake.” Willow said, nodding. “Both sides just want...good real-estate. Mystical hotspots, graveyards, prime hunting zones.”

“The only spot neither side has taken of any value,” Xander added, “Is the Hellmouth itself. Which is why I'm certain that's what they're going to go after for the big fight. They've both had regular patrols around the school, but we've seen no evidence of them attacking each others' hideouts.”

“Any idea how many vamps each side has? Anything about who might win?”

“Balthazar is more picky with who exactly he recruits.” Xander said, shrugging slightly. “And they're dedicated slash mind-controlled.. But Post takes any vampire she can and just intimidates them all with her Glove.”

“She has the Glove?” Buffy frowned. “Well, then, I'll need something really sharp that I can throw from a distance.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Cordelia demanded.

“That Glove isn't coming off Post's arm without cutting the whole thing off, Cordelia. That's what the Watchers in my universe had to do, after your boyfriend knocked her out with a baseball bat in the library –practically the moment she put it on.” She nodded at Xander. “She was busy gloating and didn't notice you right behind her. Not something we'll be able to pull off here, I'm thinking, at least not easily. And I'm guessing she's never going to let us get close enough-”

“Not a chance.” Cordelia confirmed. “She doesn’t even let her minions get close to her, from what we've seen. She just zaps everyone if they invade her personal space. She used to need to call up a lightning storm – y'know, have outside access. But now she can throw it around wherever the hell she wants, anytime.”

“Fun.” Buffy's brow furrowed as she looked over the map of Sunnydale High. “Willow, what kind of explosives can you do?”

"Nothing fancy. Homemade stuff. No decent detonators or anything. Rig the doors to go boom is about the best I'd ever be able to do in the time we have. We'd need to get the material and set stuff up the next couple nights. Plus we need to make sure the students don't trip anything.” Willow frowned. “Ideally, we should force everyone to get out and stay out of the school for the next couple days.”

“So set it on fire tonight.” Cordelia suggested. “No one will be there, there are no night-time security guards anymore. Because no one's dumb enough to commit suicide that way! Plus no firefighters will arrive to put it out for a while, given...well, everything that's happening in Sunnydale. Classes will be canceled for a while, hopefully as long as we need them to be.”

“Set the school on fire?” Willow said, then, to Buffy's astonishment, smirked. “I like it, Cordy. Elegant.”

“Molotov cocktails? Windows?” Oz suggested.

“Toss 'em into the library, maybe some into the Chem lab as well.” Xander pointed to two spots on the blueprint. “Here and here. Where else, though? I mean, I'm just guessing here. With a little bit of Soldier Boy to help.” He frowned. “Damn it, all that's slipping away fast. I'm not going to be able to use him for much longer.”

“If this works to destroy as many vampires as we'd like it to,” Cordelia pointed out, a harsh note in her voice, “you won't need him for much longer.”

“As long as Post and Balthazar are still around, it won't matter how many of their vamps we get rid of.” Xander disagreed.

Buffy blinked, trying to keep up with the conversation. Once again, these people were acting so unlike her own friends... “Are we sure that setting the school on fire is the best way?”

“If we had a week, maybe two, might be better options.” Willow answered. “But I don't think we have that long.”

“I'm telling you. We're gonna have two days at most. Balthazar's never been the patient type, we all know that! Hell, it only took him twenty minutes to go from capturing Wesley to destroying his kneecaps.” Xander pointed out. “I'm just amazed the guy lasted the full twenty-”

“Snark about Wesley after this.” Buffy interrupted. “We've got two armies of vampires and demons to worry about.” She looked at the blueprint of Sunnydale High. “So we burn the building and then we plant explosives in the wreckage. Any other traps we can do? Holes with stakes?” She couldn't help a quiet laugh. “Should we call ACME?”

“If the sprinklers end up staying at least a little intact, we can put in some Holy Water.” Willow suggested. “And there might be other options.” She looked at the blueprints and pointed. “Let's throw one of the Cocktails in here.”

“And here.” Oz pointed.

“Still, what do we do in the meantime? Even if we have two, maybe three days. We can't just let them sit on their asses, or grab free meals off the streets.” Cordelia jabbed at the map of Sunnydale. “We need to keep on killing the fucking vamps every night.”

“Agreed.” Buffy said softly. “You guys get Sunnydale High ready for this big fight.” She looked at her friends – well, the people here that looked almost like her friends, sorta thought like them...

And sorta didn't.

“And while you do that. I'm going to war.”

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Thanks to my beta, Starway Man, and Dieticlast, my creative consultant.

Note: This is the second part of 'Gone Horribly Right' and will, as with the first part, feature pretty much entirely Buffy's POV (indeed, more so than Part 1). We'll get back to spending time in Xander's head in the next episode, I promise.

Note #2: Like so much of my writing, this Episode is brought to you by caffeine. But we also have two additional sponsors tonight – workplace boredom and insomnia. Large chunks of this Episode were written on sheets of notebook paper between customers at work or typed away when it was way too late and I couldn't get any sleep. So let's have a round of applause for our new sponsors, everyone!

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Episode 4: Gone Horribly Right (Part 2)

October 24th, 1999
Alpert Mausoleum, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

Gwendolyn Post's army of vampires had numbers on their side. That much had been made clear for Buffy in the early discussions of what the hell she'd gone and gotten herself into, with her god-awful stupid wish. What she'd also learned soon after was the other thing the murderous British bitch had going for her: magic.

Balthazar's personal magical powers were extensive, but unfortunately for him, he was a jealous master. He couldn't stand anyone else with magical power, especially not under his command, according to Wesley's extensive research on the not-so blubbery (nowadays) demon. 

Post, on the other hand, had no issue with supplementing her army – which mostly fought with stakes, or even just fists – with every demonic warlock, shaman and magic-user she could get her hands on. The final number wasn't a lot, but they served as the psychotic former Watcher's lieutenants, in much the same way the 'inner circle' of the Eliminati did for Balthazar's smaller, but more competent army.

The Alpert Mausoleum had some sort of magical resonance, according to Willow. The teen witch wasn't sure about all the details, but that resonance – whatever the hell that really meant, in Buffy's view – was why a demonic shaman of some middling power had taken up residence in it, along with like four or five vampires, all holding it for Gwendolyn Post.

“So,” Buffy had asked once she decided to go for this target first tonight, “What can I expect from this shaman?”

Xander had looked at the map and the papers strewn over the dining room table – which had long since become the 'War Room' in the house. “According to everything Willow and Wesley have been able to figure, not much in the way of flashy explosions or whatever. He specializes in summonings and rituals – his spells take time to take effect. So you might have to deal with a hellhound or two once you get past the vampires, but no fireballs or anything big. No, Post keeps those ones pretty close to her main base.”

Hellhounds I can manage. Buffy thought to herself as she stood some distance from the Mausoleum. She'd said she was going to war, and she'd come equipped for one – passing herself off as a normal kid out on the town for the night wasn't exactly a priority here, like it was in her Sunnydale.

The Eliminati sword she'd taken last night was in her hand, and a shorter blade – thought not an Eliminati one – was on her belt. Slung over her back as an expensive and fully tricked out crossbow that reminded her of the one Wesley had given Faith over the summer in her reality – it had taken a few moments to stop that line of thought from going any further when she'd first had it earlier – and she had two dozen wooden bolts for it in a quiver next to it.

And for good measure – and making her feel just the slightest bit absurd, even if it was a nifty gadget – was a concealed stake up her sleeve. With the right flick, the stake would slide into her hand, ready to be sent into the heart of whatever vampire thought she was unarmed.

Buffy looked up at the sky, looking at the location of the moon. Assuming she was even remotely close in her guess of what time it as, across town, Willow, Oz, Xander and Cordelia were already at work tossing Molotov Cocktails through the windows of Sunnydale High, getting a series of good fires going.

Let's get started. Buffy pulled herself out of the bushes and ran purposefully to the front door of the structure, kicking the wooden door in.

The inside was like any other vampire nest – messy, smelling of blood and rotted flesh, and filled with vampires. Five, just like Xander's reconnaissance had indicated.

“Hey.” Buffy said with a cheery smile, twirling her sword in needlessly dramatic fashion. “Hope you don't mind, but I'm here to crash your little party.”

With a snarl, two of the vampires lunged at her – they moved like fledglings, overconfident in their superhuman strength and speed. More than easy prey for a Slayer; especially one armed with a sword. A vertical slash saw the first one cut open from stomach to neck, then beheaded the next second. The other proved to be slightly smarter, trying to keep a distance between himself and Buffy – but it didn't help, as the Chosen One lunged at him in turn, neatly decapitating him.

The other three vampires looked at her standing there in the doorway and snarled, donning their game faces – but they didn't move towards her. Making with the survival instincts? Good for them. Not going to help , though.

Buffy ran into the mausoleum, tossing the sword into the chest of one of the vampires, letting him fall to the ground, out of the fight for a moment. With a flick of her wrist, a stake was in her hand and Buffy drove it into a vampire's chest as she all but slid by him, ignoring the resulting pile of dust and blocking a punch from the last vampire currently standing with her other hand. Kicking at the vamp's shins, she forced him back into the wall – but the vampire kicked back, hitting her on her injured leg. 

Buffy bit her lip, trying to ignore the pain – unlike her arm, her leg still wasn't quite recovered enough for this kind of work...not that she had a choice.

Buffy staggered back a pace, the action letting her opponent catch a moment's breather (so to speak) as the vampire she'd sword-chested pulled himself to his feet, pulling the blade out of his torso and brandishing it – even worse than the worst of the Eliminati last night.

“Okay, now didn't your mother tell you never to run around playing with scissors?” Buffy asked the vampire, side-stepping his sloppy run and lunge at her. The vampire was wide-open and Buffy drove her stake into his chest, catching 'her' Eliminati sword in her left hand before it could hit the ground.

Four vampires down. So where are the hell-

Buffy's fate-tempting thought was cut off by a snarl coming from deeper in the structure – and sure enough, a hellhound was bounding towards her. Readying her sword, Buffy moved just a touch too late, and so was sent flying to the ground by the demon foot-soldier. With her right hand, she held the creature's slavering maw back and cut the sword into its side with her left. The hellhound let out a pained shriek and staggered back, off of her, though the injury seemed superficial.

Buffy didn't give it a chance to catch its bearings. Moving quickly, Buffy jumped over a swing of its claws and landed behind the hellhound – swinging the sword again, Buffy plunged the blade deep along its back, then stabbed down with her stake – just wood, sure, but it was going to hurt – and removed it, ignoring the demonic blood and goop that was clinging to its tip.

The hellhound was bleeding, but too consumed by the natural rage of its being to stop now. It clawed at Buffy again; the Slayer side-stepping the attack, slicing at it again – blood streamed from its shoulder. The hellhound ran for her again, Buffy stepping back – again – as it slashed at her, its ability to take punishment amazing her. Buffy flicked a gob of hellhound goop off her stake and kicked the hellhound in the face, sending it sprawling a few feet back. 

Damn. A hand grabbed at the crossbow on her back and Buffy spun, burying her stake in the last vampire's chest. She felt the Hellhound's paw close around her leg the next moment, and so kicked back, getting the demon square in the face with her heel.

“Stay down!” Buffy wished that would have actually worked, but there was no way it was going to. The canine-ish demon rose to its feet again, a few teeth discarded and ignored on the ground. Rolling her eyes, Buffy held the sword ready as it came for her again – the Slayer stepped back and drove the sword right into the demon's mouth, plunging it down its throat. She let go of the hilt as the demon gurgled and collapsed to the ground. She could get the sword back later.

“Where the hell are you?” Buffy called out for the shaman. “Your buddies are dead. Your pet is dead.” Buffy walked further into the mausoleum. It didn't take long to find the demon shaman – it was sitting cross-legged before a pentacle laid out in lit black candles. The demon  was a vaguely humanoid creature, with four tentacles instead of arms, though it did have human legs to set cross-legged with. The demon's skin was gray, pasty and wrinkled, curling horns rising out of its head.

“Whatever it is you're doing, stop it.” Buffy pulled the crossbow from her back and pointed at the demon. “Hey, I mean it!”

The demon didn't seem to even notice her as it started to chant something. Buffy didn't bother with waiting any longer. She pulled the trigger on the crossbow, watching the wooden bolt sail through the air and embed itself into the forehead of the demon. 

The demon fell backwards to the ground – there was a rush of power from the corpse, and the arrayed candles exploded with a flaming 'woosh', the fires on all of them growing to twice – no, three times their previous size. More. 

The fire grew and spread incredibly fast, and so Buffy slung the crossbow over her back on the move, pausing on her way out only long enough to wrench her sword from the hellhound's corpse as the mausoleum went up in flames behind her.

October 24th, 1999
Wesley's Apartment, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

Her personal assignment complete, Buffy was fairly confident that by this point Sunnydale High was a blazing inferno, if her friends had done what they'd talked about doing earlier. But there was something she needed to do before she stopped by the school – she needed to talk to Wesley. See what he'd managed to figure out. On the way, between the Alpert Mausoleum and this apartment, she'd hit a house that had no living occupants and been taken over by three Eliminati.

Playing it smarter than with the battle at the mausoleum, Buffy had taken them all out with her crossbow. Even though the last one took two shots to take down, when the first crossbow bolt only hit his shoulder. 

Whatever universe she found herself in, a Slayer's work was never done. 

But, now she was at Wesley's apartment. This time, she was expecting Wesley to be holding a crossbow when he opened the door, and expecting him to be in a wheelchair.

“Burning down Sunnydale High?” Wesley raised an eyebrow, wheeling the chair out of her way. “I have to grant, it's ambitious.”

“Setting the school on fire was actually Cordelia's idea.” Buffy clarified, taking the crossbow off her back and setting it aside, taking a breath. “I just wanted to have some things explode during the big fight. Take some of the vampires on both sides out. There's mountains of them, even if I did kill eight, a hellhound and some kind of gray thing with tentacles on the way here.”

Wesley looked at her, then wheeled the chair over to the desk, setting the crossbow on top of it. “Yes, because blowing parts of the school up is vastly less ambitious.”

Buffy shrugged, “Less ambitious than blowing up all of it to kill the Mayor. Had fun with that during Graduation last year.”

“Why would you want to kill the Mayor of Sunnydale?” Wesley looked at her curiously, reaching for a yellow legal pad.

Huh. Guess we didn't cover this earlier. “I wanted to kill Mayor Richard Wilkins the First, Second and Third...because he turned into a gigantic demon-snake thing.” One more thing that was different here – she'd known that something must have happened with the Mayor at some point, given that no one had mentioned him other than to say Wilkins, Finch and Trick were all dead and gone – even though Mayor McSnake was supposed to have ascended by now. 

“Who killed Wilkins here?” She probably should have asked that last night, when Wesley had been catching her up on events in Sunnydale, but she'd still been...coping with the revelation of Giles' and Faith's deaths...and it just hadn't been immediately relevant to her.

“The First, Second and Third?” Wesley shook his head, looking over to the pile of legal lads and loose papers next to the crossbow. “Interesting. I'd always assumed Balthazar killed him for the purposes of creating chaos and confusion in Sunnydale. And the sheer joy of wanton killing, of course.”

Balthazar killed the Mayor here? Damn. If only they'd let that blubbery thing last a little longer...then again, he had lasted here, and he was still around, months later, so... 

That old saying about how the cure was often worse than the disease had never seemed more appropriate. 

Buffy shook her head. “There's going to have to be a whole bunch of catching up about what I missed after Balthazar and Post set up shop here, assuming I stick around for any longer than that.”

“And now, of course, we come to that.” Wesley selected a book from the desk.

“Yeah, so? What? Did you think I wasn't going to get to it? Damn it, this is all wrong, Wes! Giles and Faith are supposed to be alive! Amy isn't supposed to be a vampire! And you're not supposed to be stuck in a wheelchair with shattered kneecaps!” Buffy brandished her hand off to the side, gesturing at the wall. “My friends aren't supposed to be – so – so casual about throwing Molotov Cocktails in through the windows of Sunnydale High! Willow shouldn't have to be pushing herself on the magicks that way-” 
“Buffy.” Wesley interrupted, raising her voice over Buffy's steadily increasing volume. “Buffy!” The Slayer looked at him, eyes blazing a moment at his interrupting her mid-rant. “If you go off on a rant like that every time the subject comes up, this is going to take forever.” He took a breath and opened the book. “As – as far as I can tell, your convenient lie about different universes may actually be close to the truth.”

“It's not just – wait, what?” Buffy gave him a double-take.

“According to all the lore I've consulted, vengeance demons can't change the past like that – it would require time-travel to do so. And over a millennium of Council scholarship shows that there is no way to do that with magic, and no demon could do that. But demons like D'Hofffryn and his minions can change universes – I could get into the physics of it, but I'm not entirely sure I understand it all myself – and it's not really my area of expertise, anyway.”

“Are you coming to a point with all this, Watcher Guy?” Buffy didn't have time for Wesley's habit of over-explaining everything.

“Yes, I am.” Wesley snapped back. “But I'm going to have to give you the full explanation for any of it to make sense. So be silent until I'm done!”

“Wesley!” Buffy all but yelled at him, her patience fraying far faster than it usually did, even with him.

“I said, be silent!” Wesley's response really was a yell. Before Buffy could shout back at him, Wesley kept speaking, no longer shouting – but his voice still loud enough for people to hear him a few apartments over. “Now, in layman's terms – for every set of decisions any human being could possibly make, there is, in theory, a resulting universe for each decision and its outcome. Indeed, it may be more than just that – in terms of the multiple-universe theory, there is possibly a literally infinite number of alternate realities, even though it's impossible to know for certain. But, as a result of your wish, my working theory is that rather than change the past – Anyanka has brought you to a different universe, one where your wish for Angel to not have returned from Acathla's hell dimension was the pre-existing reality. But what I'm not clear on is if your Wish actually had a hand in creating this reality, although if it already existed -” 

Wesley held up a hand, lowering his voice to a conversational volume. “As I say, the physics is exceedingly complicated, and adding magical theory and practice into the mix makes it even worse to for me to try to understand it.”

So – wait...if I'm not actually responsible – but... Buffy's mind was racing again, thoughts tripping over themselves on the way to her mouth. “That's – but if – okay, fine but – how do I get-?” Buffy tried to ask a dozen questions at once, and predictably, she found herself failing to coherently ask any of them. Forcing herself to take a deep breath, Buffy asked just one: “If this really just an alternate universe, then where the heck is the Buffy who belongs here? You know; the one that you, and everyone else knows. Did I – well, did I just, sorta, take over her body? Or is she in the universe where I'm from? Trying to stake Amy because she thinks she's a vampire? Seeing Giles and Faith and totally wigging, 'cause she's thinking she's seeing ghosts?”

Wesley stuttered and stammered a moment, then - “I...well, honestly, I'm not sure. I, uh, I don't believe it's likely she would have been transported to your reality; Anyanka...she would have had no reason to approach our Buffy, Miss Summers wouldn't have qualified as a...a scorned woman. No, I believe...in essence, that she is nowhere, more or less. You occupy her...metaphysical place in this universe. If you were to go back to your home universe – not that I'm sure how you'd accomplish that – quite frankly, I don't know if she'd be restored to what she was. The odds would be fifty-fifty, at best, that our Buffy would resume her rightful place in this universe.” 

The Watcher again held up a hand. “But! There might be a way to ensure you return to the reality which you belong, and bring the...local Buffy, as it were, back here where she belongs.” He took a breath and tapped the book. “And that is, of course, to undo your Wish. There are one or two documented cases of vengeance demons reversing the Wishes which they have granted – granted, getting one to do so is nearly impossible, as the damnable things are difficult to kill or injure at best, and they're even harder to incentivize towards such reversion. But still, the possibility exists.”

“It sounds like something worth trying, anyway.” Buffy said harshly. “I'll find a way to hurt that so-called Anya person if it means she'll fix this, this...” Buffy said after a moment. “Nightmare.”

“One more thing on the subject, Miss Summers: Anyanka, like any vengeance demon, draws her power from her amulet. Threatening it may be your best option.” He clapped his hands together lightly, “Now, with all that out of the way,” a poor transition at best, “Here. Give these to Willow.” He handed her a collection of pages of notes, all covered in Wesley's neat, compact script. “A set of spells that should provide some resistance to the lightning blasts of the Glove of Myneghon. Well, possibly – I can't guarantee anything...but it's the best I've been able to find in almost a year of research.” He gestured to one of the bookshelves, “Nearly a quarter of the books here are ones I ordered as part of that research.” 

Buffy took the papers. Useful spell to have, if it worked...

“And Anyanka? You can summon her?”

“I believe so. The ritual wasn't all that hard to track down.” He held up a hand yet again – apparently, it was his 'thing' in this universe. “But understand that I'm not going to attempt to summon that demoness until after – after – Gwendolyn Post and Balthazar are dealt with. They are our priority. Besides, I don't want to risk that the Buffy Summers who belongs in this universe doesn't come back, if the Wish is reversed improperly. Matters are far too complicated, and there is too much at risk for me to agree to anything else.”

Buffy clenched her fists angrily, but despite herself, she couldn't come up with anything to counter that argument – much as she didn't belong here, her friends were still her friends – she couldn't just abandon them to fight the final battle on their own. And Balthazar and Post were evil – plus the deaths of Faith and Giles needed to be avenged. She had to do this, just like the...other Buffy would have. She had to stay long enough to see this to the end.

“Fine.” She took a long, shuddering breath, then added: “But I want you to come to Sunnydale High – be somewhere nearby, for when the final battle goes down. I want everything set up and the summoning spell ready to cast, as soon as Post and Balthazar are dead.”

“You're asking for quite a lot, Miss Summers.” Wesley pointed out, his voice hard and brittle. “You're asking me to risk my life for little possible gain. The spell can be done just as easily here within my own home, and there's no risk to me of an attack by stray vampires or demons peeling off or fleeing from the main battle – you must admit I'm something of a sitting duck, if a vampire comes after me, as you may have noticed. And quite frankly, given how things tend to go in this Sunnydale, your victory is far from certain.” He took a breath. “I happen to like staying alive, even though life as a cripple may not be...ideal. I would fight in the final battle myself if I could – even with failure as a possibility – but in my current condition, I'm not equipped to kill a single vampire, let alone a demon of any substance.”

Buffy gestured to the crossbow, “Wesley, from everything I know, you're pretty good with that. I think you can handle a few strays – and we're not going to lose, Wesley.” Her fists tightened almost painfully. “I can promise you that I'm not going to lose – everyone is making it out alive, whatever Xander thinks. Enough people are dead here.”

“A bold statement. But unfortunately, I don't and can't share your absolute certainty.” Wesley replied calmly, icily.

“I don't need you to share my certainty.” Buffy replied, voice hard and harsh. “I just need you there, near Sunnydale High. You're right in that I have to see this to the end. But God damn it, Wes, I don't belong here. And I don't intend to stay here any longer than I absolutely have to.” I need to be somewhere where Giles...where Giles is alive...where Faith is alive...where my friends are still...where everything isn't...isn't like this...

Even once Balthazar and Post were dead, this would never be her Sunnydale. The town and her friends and even her mother had all gone through too much, had changed too much here for it to be what she remembered, for this universe to be somewhere she felt like she truly belonged. To be home. If there was any chance to get home...to go back to where everything made sense...

She had to take it.

Wesley pursed his lips, then abruptly nodded. “Fine.”

October 24th, 1999
Outside Sunnydale High, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

Buffy saw and smelled the smoke rising from Sunnydale High before she could get close enough to see the flames. And she saw those before she actually got to the school. When she got there, she saw Xander standing a short way away from the burning building, but she couldn't see the others.

As she drew closer to Xander, she got a good look at him. His arms were crossed in front of him and he had a calm, satisfied look on his face as he watched Sunnydale High burn. The Eliminati shortsword was still at his belt, and Buffy was unsurprised to see a crossbow slung over his back. All of her friends had been forced to become pretty damn good with the weapon over the last year. Only Willow hadn't taken one with her tonight.

I guess being able to shoot fire out of your hand makes you not need one. The Willow of her universe had picked up – and used to reasonable effect – the fire spell that Amy had learned and worked on over the summer. But the Willow here had gone far beyond that – Buffy had seen the redhead shoot a jet of flame out of her hand some twenty-feet, setting a wooden dummy on fire in Cordelia's backyard. There were still limits on how much and how often she could use that kind of power, but if the Willow here had ever had limits on how far she was willing to push herself, she'd long since abandoned them.

“Hey.” Xander said, nodding to her a moment. His tone was casual, as if they were just passing each other in the mall or something.

“How's it going?” Buffy asked after a moment. “With the fire, I mean?” She looked at the High School – there seemed to be more and bigger fires than she'd expected.

Xander shrugged, “The High School barbeque is going alright, and we haven't had any party crashers of the undead or living varieties. So, all good for the moment.”

Buffy couldn't help but crack a momentary smile. It was good to know that the Xander here could still make jokes at slightly inappropriate times. Even if the subject matter of the joke was arson. But that fire was bigger than she'd expected. She looked over at Xander: “Are we sure this isn't going to burn down the entire school? We still want it kind of intact.”

“Willow did the math, told us where to throw the cocktails.” Xander told her. “Assuming nothing really unexpected happens, we should be good.” He managed a grim chuckle, “Yea, I know, expecting things to go according to plan is asking a lot around here, but I think we're good.”

Buffy nodded. “So...where is Willow, then? Where's Oz and Cordelia, for that matter?” She looked around, but still couldn't see them from where she was standing.

“Oz and Willow are over on the other side, by the picnic benches.” He gestured over the top of the school to show exactly where he meant. “And Cordelia's over there,' he pointed, “tossing one last cocktail into Snyder's office.”

“Alright.” She held up the collection of papers that Wesley had given her. “I gotta give these to Willow.” She'd folded the papers over twice and tucked them into her quarrel, for lack of a better place to put them.

“Wesley finally came through on a way to block Post's damn lightning bolts? Amazing. It only took him a fucking year!” Xander spat. 

“Well, uh, he said they weren't exactly a guarantee.” Buffy told him after a moment's pause, considering the venom in Xander's voice, then: “Okay, I'll grant that Wesley is really annoying and a complete ass, but you have to admit – he's not completely useless.”

Xander looked over at her, one eyebrow raised incredulously. “That's something – what do I call...the 'local' Buffy would never say. She hates him. And he fucking deserves it. Guy must be a hell of a better man where you're from.”

“Well, I don't especially like him either.” Buffy felt the sudden need to clarify. “The Wesley here or the Wesley where I'm from. He's still as much of an annoying ass as he was when he first showed up in Sunnydale in my universe. But...” A sense of honesty forced her to concede this: “Sometimes, I think he actually might know what he's talking about.” Unfortunately.

“Whatever. He's as close to useless here as makes no difference.” Xander spat, his voice riddled with scorn. “He folded for Balthazar in an instant and told him where his damn amulet was. Giles would never – never! – have done that.” He took a breath and Buffy had to admit that...'Xander-Two' had a point. Giles hadn't broken to Balthazar's threats the way Wesley had.

“If Giles was still here, we wouldn't have to deal with a rejuvenated Balthazar!” Xander continued, his eyes suddenly wild and desperate-looking. “If Giles hadn't died, things wouldn't be this frickin' bad! If Giles hadn't been so damn trusting when Post showed up -” 

Xander cut himself off as he started to hyperventilate. He was silent for a minute as he calmed his breathing, then: “Sorry, it's just that-” He was silent for another moment, taking a deep breath, then, “It took me a while to accept Giles' death. A long time, actually. But eventually I did.”

“And yet...after all this time, you show up outta nowhere, insisting that Giles is supposed to be alive. That he is alive, in the Sunnydale where you're from. That the me there,” Xander gestured towards himself and then towards the open air. “he didn't have to attend Giles' funeral...soon before attending his real father's funeral. And then Cordelia's parents' funeral!” He swallowed and looked away. “It just...just brings everything back from...from...when he died, and after. From when Post killed him.”

“I'm sorry, Xander...I -” Buffy really wasn't sure what to say to that. There were more questions she wanted to ask about Giles' death: How exactly did it happen? Who found him? Where? Was it painful? Quick? And of course, she had all the same questions about Faith's death. But she didn't want to think about their deaths – she couldn't...whatever Wesley had said just now...she felt...she felt responsible. She couldn't get past the feeling of guilt that her Wish...her stupid, careless, irresponsible Wish had killed them.

Maybe it wasn't rational. She hadn't known what was going to happen. She hadn't known the Wish was going to get granted...or that this...universe already existed...maybe...possibly. But still...

“What's there for you to be sorry about? You didn't ask to come here and bring it all back for me.” He looked over to the left, and Buffy followed his gaze – Willow and Oz were approaching them from around the school. Cordelia would have to be coming around from outside the principal's office soon. And sure enough, Buffy saw the former cheerleader doing just that.

Okay. One school burnt down. Now we get ready to blow it up.

October 25th, 1999
Sitting Room, Chase Residence, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

“This latest tragedy has proven once and for all that things in Sunnydale have gotten out of control, since the death of my predecessor. Mayor Wilkins was a great man, God rest his soul, but his administration has left our police and our emergency response personnel criminally unable to respond to crises. Sunnydale High is a treasured local institution, and to have it burned down like this is a disgrace to the town and all of us who live here!”

Buffy walked into the sitting room to see Willow watching the news as the Mayor of Sunnydale – she didn't know the guy's name – giving some sort of press statement about the High School burning down overnight.

“Treasured local institution? Did he ever go there?” Buffy asked, sitting in a chair across from Willow.

“He's asking the Governor to send in state troopers – Sunnydale's got a lot of old laws still on the books that gives it protection from the state government, but the new guy wants help to deal with the 'massive and unprecedented crime wave'.” Willow turned the TV off, setting the remote back on the coffee table. She looked over at Buffy. “You know, Buffy, it's real strange to hear you quip like that, the way you used to. You – or the Buffy that belongs here, anyway – she doesn't do that anymore. Hasn't done for ages. You look just like our Buffy...but you're so different. It's a very interesting nature and nurture thing, I suppose. I'm sure my mother would love to compare alternate universe people and their personalities and-” Willow stopped talking for a moment. “Wow. That's the first time I've babbled like that in months.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Buffy asked the witch, looking this version of her best friend over. The black in her hair had stayed the same as yesterday, just on a few tips, or a bit more than that in a handful of places.

“I – I don't know.” Willow admitted after a moment. “I just haven't – things have been so...” Willow took a breath. She shook her head. “Let's not talk about that. We've already talked to death how bad things have been in Sunnydale the last year.”

“Maybe, but it's not as if it doesn't bear repeating. I'm the stranger here – the last year for me had its problems...but never as bad as what it's been for you.” Buffy looked at her cut arm, and gestured to her leg. “I don't usually get hurt twice in one night like this, either. Bruises, yea. You get that in a fistfight with vampires just about every time...” She shook her head. “Do we – you and I...as friends...do we ever talk about or do things that...that aren't about...Slaying and...everything? Like we used to?”

“Sometimes – but...but not very often. No, let's be honest, almost never. You're pretty focused. We all are.” Willow fidgeted in her chair. “Is there something you came in here for?”

“I just wanted to talk a little.” Buffy answered. “I'm sorry, I shouldn't-” the Slayer stood up. “I'm not – I'm not your Buffy. I'm not your friend. God, this has to be as strange for you as it is for me – I just...” She shook her head and laughed half-hollowly for a moment. “Cordelia and Oz and Xander are out buying stuff for the explosives, tonight we're all going to go to Sunnydale High and set them off, and tomorrow night we're going to have a battle bigger than anything I've ever seen and it's going to be just the five of us against what...hundreds of vampires and demons? It's just...I don't know. I'm sorry.”

“No.” Willow stood as Buffy headed for the door. “I didn't mean it as any kind of accusation – I mean, it's just...Buffy, the you I'm used to nowadays almost always has a reason to come and talk to someone. She's usually...she's usually out in the backyard training, if there's nothing else to do. I just expected that you'd have something in particular, but that's my Buffy and you're the Buffy from another universe and -” 

Willow cut herself off. She'd not quite reached babble level this time, but she'd gotten close. “If you want to talk, you can. We can. Either we're all going to die horribly tomorrow night...and if that's the case I wouldn't mind talking one last time to – to my best friend, 'cause you're like my Buffy in so many ways...even if you are majorly strange in others.” Willow controlled her voice, apparently very much wanting to avoid babbling. “Or we'll win and...and things...things will be better. And talking with you will be good prep for talking with my Buffy again – if you know what I mean, it's not just that I-”

Buffy let Willow babble, enjoying watching it. At the end of the day, her friends were still the same people. Here or elsewhere. There were some things intrinsic to them, it seemed. Which was a good thing, in her book. 

October 25th, 1999
Sunnydale High, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

Moving around bags full of fertilizer, the jugs of gasoline and the cans of propane Willow and Oz had decided they needed for the 'blow things up' part of the plan wasn't really a job for just the five of them. There had been a lot more students when they'd carried out the plan to blow up the library for Graduation, and it was all going to the same place...

Buffy had, without good reason, envisioned something happening with detonators from a distance like on TV – she remembered a bit of some show she'd seen Willow watching one time. Babylon 5 or something, she thought. Two alien fleets going at each-other and some other character saying something about a 'wakeup call' and blowing some big space rocks up. Or something. It was a few years ago.

But they didn't exactly have the equipment for that. They didn't have enough time, either – according to Willow, she could do something like that, but she'd have needed more time to set everything up, more time to get what she needed. Wouldn't be as good as just pressing a few buttons and boom, but still. Instead, a new plan had been put together. More Molotov Cocktails for one – and Buffy was really wondering what this Molotov guy who had decided to make a drink out of a burning gasoline was thinking.

Abandoning that line of thought, Buffy opened one of the bags of fertilizer and dumped it out in what was left of a chemistry classroom. The school had been burned to its frame in a few places, and there was still water leftover from when the Sunnydale Fire Department had finally doused the flames. But there were still dry parts, and they also didn't really have time to let it all dry. Hence the tarp she was putting the fertilizer on. Right next to it was a can of propane. Light the propane, let the gasoline and fertilizer mix, go boom. It was pretty familiar from last time she'd blown up the school, if on a smaller scale.

The plan they'd all agreed on was simple. They'd start in the library – the library was where Post and Balthazar would both be heading – they wanted to claim the Hellmouth (even if, thank God, neither of them wanted to open the damned thing). But the vampires and demons in their 'armies' would be fighting each other all over the school and its grounds. When they started coming in, the five of them would spread out, lighting the 'home-cooked' – as Xander insisted on calling them, even though they hadn't actually 'cooked' anything, just set things up – explosives near the door with matches and the Molotov Cocktails. If they timed it right – and ran really fast – they'd be clear of the explosions, but the vampires coming in wouldn't be. If the fires kept going, then the other flammables they'd planted would add in. The area around the Library was being kept clear of the stuff, and Xander had bought a few fire extinguishers as well – and Buffy had not realized you could just buy those.

I mean, it makes sense...but really. Wow. If nothing else, her friends could always knock a vampire over the head with one and then run like hell.

Buffy stepped out of the classroom, moving carefully, not wanting to disturb anything. The general plan of using explosives had been hers, but she was going to go with what Willow and Oz and Xander had to say about the specifics of where and how to handle these things. Without detonation or fire, shouldn’t be a problem, but Buffy didn't want to risk it. She was going to be as careful as she could.

Once out in the hallway, she looked around – she saw Oz carrying two gallon jugs filled with gasoline.

“Finished in there?” He asked, pointing to the room she'd just left.

“Yea. Are you dumping the gasoline now? Uh, wouldn't the stuff dry out by tomorrow night?”

“Yea.” Oz nodded. “So, dumping tomorrow. Just putting it all in place tonight.”

“Okay.” Buffy nodded in turn. She let out a sigh and looked around the charred hallway. “This is – there isn't going to be much Sunnydale High left by the time we're done with all this, is there?”

“Probably not.” Oz answered after a long moment's consideration. Then, “Wow.”

“Wow what?”

“That there's not going to be much Sunnydale High left after we're done. I just hadn't thought about it that way.” Oz almost had a comical expression on his normally Zen face. But only for a moment, and then it was gone. 

October 25th, 1999
Buffy's 'Room', Chase Residence, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

Buffy wasn't sure how she was supposed to sleep. But she needed some. She could sleep during the morning and day tomorrow if she had, to, but she would need to be well rested for the final fight. But still, she couldn't sleep...which wasn't new. She'd barely gotten any sleep the night before Graduation. If she knew something big for the Slayage was coming...

She had too much nervous energy to sleep. Buffy started for the door to the room that belonged to the...local her, but it opened before she could get to it. It was her mother, holding a cordless phone.

“Mom.” Buffy greeted her, standing aside to let her into the room. “It's late. You should be sleeping.”

“So should you.” Her mother said softly. “Wesley called. He says it's important.” She extended the phone to her. Buffy took it. “Buffy, when you're done – I'd like a few minutes...I want to talk to you.”

“Of course.” Buffy answered. She held the phone up to her ear as her mother left and closed the door behind her again. “Wesley. What's up?”

“I want to ask you if you agree with my assertion that an occasionally astonishing quality of gullibility is a universal Buffy Summers trait. I'd rather hoped you'd be less so your counterpart.” Wesley's dry tone and English accent only made his sarcasm even more biting.

“What are you talking about? What did you lie to me abou-” He gave up pretty quickly on the whole 'being there at Sunnydale High', didn't he? “Wesley, you are going to be there!” Buffy tried not to yell, so her words came out more as a loud hiss.

“Miss Summers, I can understand you wanting to go home as soon as possible. But my apartment is not all that far from the school. Once you've won, since you're so sure of your victory, you can easily come here, I can summon Anyanka – and assuming everything goes to plan, you'll soon be on your way back to your own reality. And with any luck, the local Buffy returns and we all live happily ever after. So I don't understand why you feel the need to insist on -”

“Wesley, it doesn't matter! Just be there. Be there, with the spell ready to cast. Alright!? I'm not asking a lot -”

“You're not actually serious about that, are you? No, wait, of course you are. You're so self-centred you can't see the forest for the trees! Bloody hell, but you're asking me to risk my life unnecessarily. No, you're demanding it, let's not mince words here. So I'd like to know why.”

“I already told you, because I need to get out of here as soon as possible!” Buffy hissed. “I need to go home – it's been two days! If you're right and the me from here isn't where I'm from, my friends there will have been looking everywhere for me. They have to be worried – my mom must be going out of her mind with worry! Any number of things could be going wrong. I can't just stay gone from there for any longer than I absolutely have to!”

Buffy sucked in a breath. “You're right; what's happening tomorrow night is important, and I'll be here for it. But I don't belong here, and I don't want any delays in going home afterwards. So you're going to show up near the school, and that's final!”

“It's a reason, I suppose.” Wesley said after a moment. “But not a very good one, and so I still have to say no.”

“Wesley, how much danger do you really think you're going to be in?” Buffy tried a different tack. “All the vampires and demons in Sunnydale, pretty much, are with Balthazar or Post, right?”

“Apart from those like Spike and Miss Madison, yes. But assuming your confidence in victory is well placed, then some will be fleeing from the battle – surely you can't imagine that you're going to be able to kill every single one of them?”

I'd love to be able to. “No.” Buffy said after a silent moment. “But seriously, Wes, do you really think they're going to want to hang out around afterwards? If we turn the tide against them, aren't they going to want to put as much distance between us and them as possible? You might even be safer near the school.”

Wesley was silent for a moment, his unspoken scorn regarding that statement perfectly clear to the Chosen One. Then he spoke, all but ignoring her previous point. “I'm still not understanding your insistence for me pointlessly risking my life that way, Miss Summers.”

“Because – look, this is your universe. Much as it – much as everything around here has gone to hell, this place is what you know. It's...home, for you.” Buffy said after almost a minute of silence, trying to articulate the issue. “Almost everything around me is wrong. And I know it is. I can't describe it properly – I can't think of anything that does it. But this isn't my universe and every second I'm here...” Buffy took a breath.

“You're simply repeating the same point over and over again, Miss Summers. And did you know, one of the classic definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results every time?” Wesley pointed out. “And what if you don't win? Humor me for a moment, just for the sake of argument.” He added that last sentence almost hurriedly, as if anticipating a rejection of the possibility. 

Which I'd do. Because we are going to win.

“If we lose, Wes, and either Balthazar or Post take control of the Hellmouth, do you really think it matters if you're in your apartment or not?”

Now it was Wesley's turn to be silent for a minute. “Yes, well. I suppose you have a point there.”

“And, if I'm going to keep on humoring you, then you can always use Anyanka to, I don't know, wish the me from here back or something.” Buffy told him, not even sure where that idea had come from. “If everything goes completely -” 

“I don't think so, Miss Summers.” Wesley interrupted. “Wishing for anything from a vengeance demon is not an option, no matter how bad things get. Or else I would have recommended trying it some time ago. If Anyanka weren't the only certain way I can think of for sending you back to your universe, I'd try it before resorting to summoning her.”

“Look, Wesley, it's late and I'm tired. If you're not going to show up at the school and do what I need you to do, then...write the summoning ritual down or something, and I'll get Willow to do it.” Buffy said after a moment, resigned.

“Miss Rosenberg should not be summoning demons, in her current state.” Wesley's tone was reproachful. “She's pushed herself far enough against the boundaries of dark magic as it is, and I greatly fear she will go too far before the upcoming battle is over. Summoning a demon is not trifling matter, Miss Summers, no matter what your personal opinion on that may be.” 

The Watcher let out a long, slow sigh. “Very well. There's an abandoned residence I know of close to the school; your friends can tell you the address.” The line went dead, and Buffy looked at the phone, surprised and annoyed at the British man's words. Then she pressed 'end' and put the phone down.

Now...now it was time to talk to her mother. Her mother was the least changed person around here, the least different. Worn down by everything...but not...not hardened...not...the differences were smaller. Less noticeable. But they did exist. But...it was still her mom. And tomorrow night...

Yeah, we need to talk things out before then. It's not like me dying is unprecedented.

October 26th, 1999
Dining Room, Chase Residence, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

The talk with her mother the previous night had been the most truly familiar of the discussions she'd had with the 'local' versions of the people she knew. From everything her mother said, the way she said it – if Buffy hadn't known the Joyce Summers she was talking to was from a different universe, she'd have thought it was 'her' mom. She had shown concern about her, her well-being beyond just the fighting, asking her about what their lives were like in her reality, and...of course, worry about the fight to come.

The fight that's gonna take place today.

The table was once again playing host to a map of Sunnydale High. But now, it had been updated to reflect the fire damage they'd caused, plus all the explosive material they'd set up marked.

“Can I just say that this is maybe the craziest plan we've ever tried?” Cordelia cut in. “In fact, I don't think we could come up with a crazier plan, except maybe trying to give Balthazar indigestion by feeding ourselves to him!”

“To be fair, we haven't really done much in the way of big plans, Cordy.” Xander pointed out. “It's always been patrol, hit an outpost or watch them. But this is our opportunity. They're going to be here. Their armies can focus on each other instead of us-”

“I know!” Cordelia interrupted her boyfriend. “And I agree this is our best chance. Doesn't change the fact that it's insane.”

“Could be worse.” Oz pointed out. “You know, perspective. We could be trying to challenge them to a cook-off.” Everyone looked at him, even Willow, with a sort of 'what the hell?' and 'really?' expression on their face. “Just keeping it real.”

“Appreciated.” Cordelia snarked, then turning her attention back to the map. Deja vu. Buffy couldn't help but echo back to the similar exchange before Graduation....

“So, we need to watch out for the vampires. We need to watch for what doors they're coming for. Where they're going to meet up.” Buffy said, looking at the map. “And we want to kill as many as we can with each explosion. But eventually, we'll need to fight.”

“Well, with any luck, they can do most of the fighting for us.” Xander said softly. “I think – it makes sense, anyway – that they're both going to try to get to the library as quickly as they can.” There was something about the way that Xander said 'makes sense', as if he was trying to drop a hint...

His 'source'? Or was it really just a guess?

“I know Post will want to.” Willow said. “I've been researching the Glove as much as I can. The reason she's been able to use it inside and without a lightning storm is because she's, liked, charged it up to the max. The Hellmouth puts out all kinds of power. If she can tap it -” Willow went silent, shuddering. “I don't want to imagine it. But she's always been more concerned with tapping powerful magical hotspots. And this is the hottest one in all of Sunnydale.” Willow furrowed her brow, “That didn't quite come out how I meant it.”

“Point taken.” Buffy said. She looked at the knife on the table. It had a very small hilt, and the edges were sharper than the point. She'd practiced with it this morning...it could take the branch off a tree – not the really, really thick ones, but some of the thinner ones. She had no idea if it could do an arm, but she was hoping it would.

If not, I'll improvise.

“We blow things up by the numbers, and then we wait in the library. We wait for them to come to us. And we dust the vamps and kill the demons.” Buffy said flatly. “Simple.” 
“Simple, but hard.” Xander clarified. “Like taking the engine block out of a car.”

“Something you've never actually done, Xander.” Cordelia pointed out. She looked at the map again. “Alright. We fight the vampires. We hope they kill enough of each other that we don't get flooded with them. And then we hope we all live long enough to take out the survivors, before we kill Balthazar and Post.” She looked at them all. “Did I miss anything?”

“I think you got it.” Oz confirmed.

“I know I don't have a perfect plan. But do we really want to risk one of them taking the Hellmouth?” Buffy asked carefully.

“No.” Cordelia said after a moment. “And I don't have a better plan. There's never been a better plan.” She looked at grandfather clock in the corner of the room. “We have five hours until sundown. That gives us...what, three hours before we should go to school one last time?”

“Sounds right to me.” Xander said. “Win or lose, we're going down fighting. And we'll take out as many as we can.”

“Win or lose, there are going to be a lot less vampires in Sunnydale.” Willow said after a breath.

“Win or lose, this'll be over tonight.” Oz added.

“Win or lose!?” Buffy shook her head. “No. There's no 'or lose'. We're going to win, and we're all going to come out of this alive. Rule one of Slaying: Don't die.”

“It's not that simple, Buffy!” Cordelia snapped at her. “If it was, things would be a hell of a lot better around here! This – none of this would be happening! Things don't get to be all happiness and rainbows in this world, ya know!”

“I know it's not that simple, Cordelia.” Buffy replied, trying hard not to yell at the former cheerleader. “But planning to lose isn't the way to win -”

“Thank you so much for advice from the Fortune Cookie version of Sun Tzu, already!” Cordelia snapped back. “But I think we need more than that. God!” Cordelia scoffed. “How you can be so goddamn idealistic – I'm sorry we didn't get to live your perfect life where not dying is just something you can make a rule on! But here, people die and you saying otherwise is pretty pointless. You're unbelievable...”

“Goddamnit, Cordelia!” Buffy nearly slammed her fist into the table. “No, simply wishing that it works out isn't enough. I know that. But for the love of God, if you would just listen to me-!”

“This isn't the time, either of you!” Willow cut in, her voice crackling with power – for a moment, Buffy swore that Willow's eyes were completely black. What the hell? 

Willow looked at Cordelia. “Yeah, I don't know if we're all going to make it through this. But I'm not going to mock Buffy – any Buffy – for saying and hoping we will. We've all been at this for so long – we've forgotten what it's like to hope. We haven't won a major battle in so long that we -” Willow shook her head. “We've forgotten how.”

She looked at them all. “We've got three hours until we need to leave. Let's use them, alright? I don't think there's anything else to go over.”

“No.” Xander said quickly. “Pretty sure there isn't.”

October 26th, 1999
Library, Sunnydale High, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

Later that night, the first notice they had that the vampires were coming was when Buffy sensed them.

Her ability to sense vampires and demons was imperfect, at best. Giles – Giles had always assured her it would get better, and it had. But – but she'd never been able to sense Angel as one of the undead, and some other demons and vampires, depending on the situation...yeah. Most recently, failing to pick up on Anya. Totally embarrassing, that. 

It was always a sensation, for her, of...a sort of echo off in the distance that she couldn't quite make out, but could almost pinpoint sometimes. Faith had said that for her, it felt like 'something I forgot to do that's wicked important' at the back of her mind.

Whatever Faith felt, Buffy was feeling that echoing sensation in her mind – a lot. At once. Vampires, coming from many directions – a lot of them. It was impossible to even try to pinpoint any source of them. They were everywhere...

“They're coming.” Buffy said softly. She looked out towards the window, trying to see if she could see them coming, but she couldn't...

Wait, no. Buffy could see dark shapes moving in the distance. A whole mob of them, coming towards the school –

Then – it was if her senses zeroed themselves in on something, much closer. Just on the other side of the doors – Buffy raised her crossbow. “One's coming in!” She didn't look at her friends, but she heard Oz, Xander and Cordelia all raise crossbows. They'd brought other weapons, placed in spots around the room...

The doors were kicked open and in came Amy, wearing an outfit very similar to the one that she'd seen her wear when she'd seen her in the Bronze – that blood red skirt and shirt. The skirt was still way too short, though the shirt wasn't some sort of clingy or form-fitting thing.

Buffy fired her crossbow first, but the other three were almost immediately after her. Amy didn't even bother to try to dodge the bolts. She just smirked and waved her hand, sending the projectiles flying away to the side, letting them hit the wall and then clatter to the ground.

“Willow!” Buffy didn't turn away from the vampire to look at the red-headed witch as she said that, even as she grabbed for her stake, about to drop her crossbow.

“Oh, please. Buffy? Use your head – do you really think I'd be here if I was looking for a fight?” Amy started to saunter towards them, but Willow spoke a word in what Buffy thought was Greek and a jet of flame shot out towards the vampire. Amy jumped aside, letting the fire hit the wall and dissipate.

“Don't really care what you came here looking for.” Willow said, stepping forward, hands raised, ready to shoot the flame again. Amy raised her own hands in turn, her eyes glued to Willow.

“I'm getting that picture, yea. But think about it – you fight me now, Willow, you're not going to have the juice left to fight all the vampires coming. Not to mention the demonic warlocks that Post has coming along for the ride.” Amy crossed her hands in front of her at the wrists. “Of course, the same holds true for me. Which is why I'm here.”

“If I recall correctly, Amy,” Buffy said, leveling her crossbow at the vampire again, “You said something – back when you were assuming I was at the Bronze to try to recruit you – that you weren't interested in helping us, even though you haven't taken a side.”

“Well, duh. I'm not. That is, I'm not here to help you; I'm here to help myself. I want something that you're probably going to have before the night is done. A lovely little fashion accessory in the hands of a Brit we all know and hate?”

“You want the Glove?” Buffy tightened her finger on the trigger. “That's not going to happen.”

“Don't be too hasty to judge. Look, we can worry about who gets the Glove after Post is dead.” Amy pointed out. “Because right now, she's not.” She looked at Willow. “Come on, Willow. You know it's not worth it to fight me. Not with them,” She gestured to the window with one hand, “coming. Them and all their friends.”

“That's – that's true.” Willow granted. “But you fight us, you're just as screwed!” She kept her hands up, moving sideways a bit, as if to get a better angle on Amy – the vampire moved counter to Willow, keeping the angle the same.

Cordelia fired her crossbow again at Amy, but once again the vampire sent the bolt flying to the side. “Good God, Cordelia, you really don't know when to stop!” The dark-haired vampiress hadn't even looked at Cordelia or the crossbow bolt, when she'd dealt with the attack. All her attention was still on Willow. “Yes, I'm screwed if I fight you before Post is dealt with. That's why I said I wasn't here for a fight.”

Buffy looked at Willow, who met her gaze for a half-second. “You can take her, right?”

Willow nodded. “Pretty darn sure. But,” the witch added, “Amy's got a point, sort of. We've got too many other vampires coming for fighting her now to work. Not unless we got incredibly lucky.”

“Luck's in pretty short supply for everyone here on the Hellmouth.” Amy replied.

“You can't be thinking -” Cordelia started to say, looking from Willow to Buffy, then she cut herself off, silent for a moment. “You are. Goddammit!”

“Guys. They're coming.” Oz told them, his eyes on the window. Buffy could see the vampires passing across her vision – these ones weren't Eliminati, almost none of them with swords.

Buffy let out an almost growl of frustration. “Willow, stay here and keep an eye on her. Xander, Oz, Cordelia, let's go deal with our visitors.” Buffy quickly moved her crossbow to her back and grabbed an unlit Molotov Cocktail. They only had a few left on hand, but they also each had a lighter and small box of matches for the rest of the would-be explosives.

The Slayer stepped closer to Amy, looking the vampire witch in the eye. “You'll be staying in front of us the entire fight. I see you even twitch in our direction, I'll make sure you end up dust before the fight ends. Got it, vampire?”

Vamp Amy clasped her hands to her chest, “Crystal clear, Slayer.” The fake sweetness in her voice was enough to make her want to throw up for a moment. Buffy clenched her free hand into a fist and moved quickly out of the Library, heading one way, the other three heading in their own directions. 

Willow kept Amy in front of her, Buffy saw that as she ran to cover the south entrance.

As Buffy drew near that door, the echoing sensation grew even louder, but at least now it was...less. Not all the vampires she'd picked up were coming through this door. The battle of attrition had obviously started, the undead and the demons must be taking each other out in all directions – 

Buffy ducked into the small office right off the door, looking at the bags of fertilizer and the bottles of chemicals and gasoline. Buffy crouched down next to the window, seeing all the vampires coming at the door. There had to be at least forty.

There's about to be a lot less, assuming this works...

Buffy opened the bottle of gasoline and dumped it over the bags, screwing up her nose automatically at the smell. Of course, the smell only got worse once Buffy twisted open the can of propane. Now she just needed to make sure the vampires had a reason to ignore the smell...

Hurrying from the room before she could inhale too much of either, Buffy went back to the door to the outside and just...strolled right on out, watching the oncoming vampires come towards her.

“I don't think classes are in session right now.” She told them. “Any chance you could come-”

“Slayer!” Several of the vampires said. One of them near the front drew up short.

“Wait a minute. The boss didn't say the Slayer was gonna be here! Screw this!” The vampire turned to run, but before he could get away, another of the vampires who Buffy thought was vaguely recognizable – an older student from UC Sunnydale? She wasn't sure – tripped him and drove a stake into his back, right through his heart.

“Doesn't change anything!” The staking vampire said, her voice harsh and triumphant. “We've got her outnumbered. You know what the boss promised to whoever gets her!” This one – clearly some kind of leader – let out an angry cry and ran for her, the others catching on with the war cry and charging in after her, all several dozen of them.

Buffy didn't have time to swallow, be nervous or even worried. She ran back inside, flicking the lighter...but it wasn't working. No, damn it!!

Buffy's breathing was quick and shallow as she stood just inside the school, flicking the lighter – the doors burst open and one of the vampires at the lead grabbed Buffy. The blonde Slayer spun and kicked the vampire in the chest, then backed away as the doors fell down completely under the force of the undead, flicking the lighter one last time –

It worked. Buffy tossed the lit Molotov Cocktail through the doorway just next to her, seeing it land next to the gasoline-soaked fertilizer... but with the propane can open, it would have to do – and sure enough, it did.

If she hadn't been a Slayer, Buffy would have been caught in the explosion, at least a little. The others were all supposed to go for something more careful, but Buffy was more than willing to cut it as fine as she could.

Buffy dove down a hallway just behind the big boom and the flames that consumed the vampires coming in through the door. She didn't see, but she had to guess some of them must have survived it –

It was only when she felt a little blood sliding down her cheek that she realized that she hadn't completely evaded the explosion – a small piece of debris had passed across her left temple, leaving a shallow cut. And as Buffy picked herself off the ground, she heard other explosions elsewhere in the school.

They made it through alive. Buffy had to believe that. She couldn't accept anything else.

Buffy pressed a hand to the cut. It was small. Nothing she could let herself worry about – as she got up, she realized other small bits of debris had skirted over her, small cuts – though none with blood – on her leg. She didn't see any splinters, but if she had them, she'd deal with them later. Buffy didn't spare a glance to see how many vampires were left, but soon enough she heard more footsteps running at her – at the very least, more vampires were coming in from inside...

Buffy wasn't breathing hard when she got to the next classroom that had everything ready. There was this one, and then one more for her to do...

This has to work. There's way...there's way too many...we have to thin the herd a lot more...

If this didn't work...

They were dead. It was that simple.

Buffy grabbed the gallon jug of gasoline – they'd be onto her now. At least a little. She couldn't just expect the bloodsuckers to stand around while she threw fire in their faces. With her other hand, Buffy opened the propane can for this room, then opened the gasoline jug and started dumping a little over the fertilizer, but then let it slosh over the floor, out of the room, letting it spill beyond, spreading over the floor. Buffy did her best to avoid any getting on her feet, but she knew she wasn't completely successful as she moved quickly and agilely, avoiding the gasoline as she doused a section of burnt hallway floor with the liquid. Buffy stood on the other-side some distance from the growing puddle, a match in her hand.

Buffy felt the building shake slightly as another blast rattled in her ears. Sure, burning the building had been their best option to clear it of risk to the students and staff, but now...

How much more abuse can Sunnydale High take? Buffy's mind tossed the thought aside – she couldn't worry about that now. She just had to trust Willow had been right that it wouldn't collapse the entire building...

Her Sunnydale High was still more intact than not, despite what they'd done to it during Graduation...

A pack of vampires came running down the bend in the hallway, but almost comically quickly, they drew up short as they saw her standing there, maybe seeing or smelling the gasoline. For a moment, the vampires stood in place – and Buffy struck the match, lit it and tossed it at the gasoline in one motion. But before it had been landed, the vampires were turning to run. Buffy gritted her teeth as she ran herself – this time, she hadn't cut it so fine...she made it out of the hall, into a classroom and behind what was left of a teacher's desk when the explosion went off. She could only hope the full force of the blast got a few vampires...at the very least, it would leave some burning fires behind...

Buffy picked herself up off the ground – away from 'shrapnel' this time or not, the blast had thrown her to the floor – and she swallowed as she heard other explosions go off.

One more to go. Then the library...

This would end well. They'd win. They had to.

Buffy had the one last shot. The vampires weren't stupid – well, not that stupid, anyway. It was going to be harder for her to kill them this last time with the 'bomb'. She couldn't expect them to just walk into the explosion – but they'd also almost certainly have to come that way if they wanted to get to the library.

In the distance, Buffy heard what she thought might be the sound of opposing groups of vampires fighting each other, but she really couldn't tell.

Urgent need to get to the library or not, they're not just going to let themselves be blown up or set on fire that easily. Not after the first two and everyone else's. We didn't really plan for this part... No one else had thought of it had thought of it beforehand either – no one else had voiced it, certainly.

I could just blow it now. Buffy thought to herself as she ran into the final room for her before the library. She heard another boom somewhere else in the school, Let's hope we don't need to use those fire extinguishers in the middle of a fight... Buying those had been a good idea, she had to give Xander props for that one.

Before she could make any decision about what to do with the propane, the gasoline and the fertilizer this time, the Slayer heard a snarl from behind her and then a powerful swinging kick swept her legs out from under her, sending her sprawling face first on the ground.

Before she could get to her feet, the vampire kicked her leg – right where she'd been cut two nights before. It was mostly recovered, but the direct kick sent waves of pain up and down her leg, forcing a cry from her lips. Pulling herself onto her hands and knees, Buffy jumped to her feet – eliciting even more pain. Standing before her was an Eliminati vampire.

“You are without honor, Slayer. You were given a chance to live and die honorably, but you have shown by your actions time and again that you are a worm unto the dirt. Your deeds this night have sealed your fate – death without honor. In the name of Lord Balthazar, die!” The vampire lunged at Buffy with both blades forward as he finished his speech. Unfortunately for him, his monologue had given the Slayer enough time to draw her sword. Falling to her good knee and raising her sword, Buffy managed to get underneath one strike while blocking the other.

“I know vampires love the sound of their own voices.” Buffy said as she stood back up, facing him, feeling her leg throb with pain. She staggered forward on her good leg, swinging aggressively and forcing the Eliminati vampire on the defensive. “And yea,” She gave another swing, forcing him back a step, “compared to the Master, Spike or Drusilla,” or Angelus, a part of her mind said, unbidden, “you don't talk that much. But still,” Buffy took her sword in both hands and smashed – there was no other word for it – her weapon into the vamp's longer blade, sending it flying from his grip and buried point first into the wall, “Shut up!”

The Eliminati vampire sneered and snarled at her, unfazed by the loss of half of his arsenal. He thrust his remaining blade towards Buffy's stomach – the Slayer twisted to avoid it, but that wasn't what saved her. As she twisted against the stab, a spike of pain ran up her leg.

With a cry of agonized pain – almost anguish – Buffy fell to the ground, landing on her knees, and then barely catching herself on her hands. The sword thrust passed harmlessly over her head, but the vampire, with a smooth, experienced motion flipped the sword in his hand and stabbed downwards – but Buffy wasn't there anymore.

Rolling over onto her back, Buffy winced a little as she heard at least part of her crossbow crack, then snap. Grabbing onto a desk, Buffy lifted herself from the ground, letting him pull his sword out of the floor. Discarding the damaged crossbow as useless, Buffy grabbed her sword once more and lifted herself to her feet.

Adrenaline was running rampant in her system now, and Buffy's vision almost went red for a moment. Her damaged leg completely ignored, Buffy forced the vampire on the defensive again, a series of aggressive swings being blocked by the sword ever more sloppily as Buffy moved too quickly for him.

Had she been more confident in her skill, Buffy might have tried feinting. But as it stood, all Buffy went for a brute force – if quick – approach, swinging her sword through a gap in his guard and nicking his arm – the vampire snarled again, stepping back, but then he tried to swing at her. Buffy ignored the vampire's attack, moving aside and stabbing him almost through the shoulder. Spinning, she pulled the sword out of him and cut into his neck – the vampire's head flew off, exploding into dust a moment later in time with his body.

Breathing heavily, Buffy dropped her sword and leaned on the desk she'd used to climb to her feet – only to have the charred wood break under her hand, and she fell unceremoniously to the ground in a small shower of burnt wood.

Well, fuck.

It would have been totally comical, under different circumstances. 

Salvaging her dignity as she clambered to her feet, Buffy felt the injury on her leg, checking for blood coming though – she hadn’t felt any – and sure enough, it wasn't bleeding. Small favors. It was throbbing and hurting still, but she could live with that for the moment. She just needed a few more minutes. Some sitting down wouldn't be amiss, but she simply didn't have time for that.

Buffy sheathed her sword and looked at the fertilizer – it had been thrown around the room some by the fight, but not much – it would have to do. There was no real good option – she could be sure the vampires would soon be in position...and if she waited for them to be, there was every chance she'd cut it too fine...

Buffy started to empty the gasoline, once again pouring it all over the fertilizer and beyond – and a little bit on the stake that had been up her sleeve. And then, of course, the propane. Stepping out of the room, Buffy lit a match and held it to the gasoline-wetted stake. As she'd hoped, it lit up like a torch. Buffy gave it a moment, then tossed it into the room, not bothering to watch. If the whole thing didn't go off as planned, she wasn't going to try again. She just ran – and fortunately, the big boom went off as planned. 

More walls were blown apart by the blast, fire scattering everywhere. It took Buffy a moment to realize two things – one, that her sleeve was on fire, and two, that a long piece of wood had sliced by her shoulder, just barely failing to embed itself in her, and cutting into her flesh slightly nonetheless.

Dropping to the ground, Buffy rolled a moment, beating the fire out. She looked at her sleeve and her arm – okay, that didn't very good, and it hurt like hell, but it also wasn't as bad as it could have been. All she needed to do was to think of Amy's – her Amy's – hand. Buffy pressed her hand to her shoulder – this was more than a momentary trickle the earlier debris had opened up on her face...not as bad as her arm and leg had been that first night...

Buffy hurried to the library. I can only hope someone remembered to bring a first aid kit – and, well...hope there's enough time to give this a quick bandage...

October 26th, 1999
Library, Sunnydale High, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

As it turned out, yes, they had brought a first aid kit, and Buffy had just a little more than enough time to patch up the cut on her shoulder. It was superficial, but bloody, and Buffy had done her best to ignore the almost covetous look Amy gave her wound. Willow, on the other hand, hadn't.

“Amy!” Willow's voice sounded almost...distorted for a moment, like it had been in the dining room at Cordelia's house earlier.

The vampire witch frowned and rolled her eyes, turning away, her eyes on the door. Buffy watched Oz check himself for injuries – like her, he'd been peppered by some debris, but fortunately for him, nothing seemed to be bleeding. And he hadn't gotten any fire on him, so good deal for the werewolf.

Xander was the next to arrive, and he was covered in dirt and bits of ash, but seemed alright otherwise. The way he moved a little gingerly suggested either he was seriously hurt, or bruised all over. Knowing Xander, it was probably the second one. He'd proven that if he had to, he could hold his own in a fight, to a point – and 'Xander-Two' even more so – but he was also going to come out hurting one way or the other. Buffy caught sight of a few small scratches on him too.

Finally, Cordelia arrived, and she had somehow managed to avoid getting scratched, smudged or otherwise visibly effected by the blowing vampires up and running away thing. But she had a...grim look on her face. Like she was...satisfied, maybe there was a hint of bloodthirstiness. She didn't even spare a look for Amy, just removing her crossbow from her back and starting to load it.

“How long do you think before the vampires get here?” Buffy looked at them, twirling her stake in her hand idly, feeling nervous energy bounce through her.

“Not long enough.” Oz said after a moment.

The werewolf, as it turned out, was right. It didn't take long for the first group of vampires to reach them in the library. The sounds of fighting, shouting – even screaming – were making it through the school to them, and from the looks of their cut, torn and scuffed outfits, the three vampires – no swords – had fought through the masses to get here. Unfortunately for them, as they charged through the doors, they didn't have much time to enjoy their triumphant arrival.

Two were struck down by wooden bolts in their chests seconds after they were through the door – Buffy wasn't paying attention to who delivered the killing shots. The last bolt sailed by one of the dusting vampires and stuck in the wall, but the Slayer only noticed that out of the corner of her eye, because she was on that third vampire instantly. With her good leg, Buffy kicked the vampire on the inside of his calf – and as he staggered down a little, Buffy uppercutting him on the chin, hard. The vampire fell back, sprawled on the ground, and then she was right there, driving her stake into his chest, then dusting herself off a little as she stood up.

Amy clapped her hands slowly from her position just in front of her by the door. “Excellent work, Buff-”

“Shut up, Amy.” Willow's tone with the vampire was exasperated, almost bored. “Not the time.”

“There's always time for mocking you and your friends Willow.” Amy replied, but she turned to the door regardless: “And yeah, point; we have company.” Amy stepped away from the door, and Buffy had just enough time to take a step back herself when the doors burst open, one coming off a hinge from the force of the vampire coming through it. 

Two vamps, both Eliminati, with their swords out. Three more bolts flew at them, but only one found any purchase on its target – a grazing shot across one's left side. Another one was dodged, and the third was knocked out of the air by the flat of a blade.

Buffy heard Xander drop his crossbow and draw his blade behind her, then go for the hurt one. The Slayer was about to engage the uninjured one when she saw Amy wave her hand and speak a word of Latin. A current of force slammed into her would-be target and it went flying out the doors, taking the damaged one off its hinges completely along the way. To her surprise, Buffy watched as the vampire flew right into a cluster of normal vamps, sending them all sprawling – then she turned her attention to Xander, and the other one.

Like some of the others she'd run into so far in this Sunnydale, this particular Eliminatus was completely telegraphing his every move, and it was no surprise that Xander was holding his own against it, though he had given ground. Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy saw Cordelia and Oz reload as she moved behind the vampire fighting Xander. She swung her sword at it right as she drew it, but the vampire spun and caught the attack. Still, it didn't take long for Xander to take advantage, coming in and slicing into the vampire's other side. The vampire snarled, but it wasn't helping him any.

“Xander, get back!” She called out to her friend, then drove her sword under the vampire's army, into his side and right through his chest. The vampire, on some vestigial mental reflex, gurgled as its lung was pierced, but those few seconds of distraction were all the 'local' version of her best male friend needed to drive his sword into the vampire's neck. That didn't behead it, but when Xander pulled his weapon out and to the left the vampire collapsed to the ground as a pile of dust.

“Thanks for the assist, Buffy-Two,” Xander nodded at her.

“Not a problem, Xander-Two,” Buffy told him and the dark haired man offered her a smirk.

“Both of you, get down!” Once more, Willow's voice crackled with power, and Buffy grabbed Xander's arm as she dropped flat on the ground. She felt heat ripple overhead as the red-headed witch sent a jet of flame into the mass of struggling vampires out in the hallway.

All of them went up like torches and within half a minute at most, as Buffy and Xander stood, they were all piles of ash, except for one that was badly charred and burned – almost, almost too pitiful to stake.

Buffy jumped aside a moment later, and watched a bolt fly from Cordelia's crossbow into the chest of the pathetic burn victim as it stumbled away. The hallway was clear again, but only for another few moments, even as the fighting continued around the school – she saw more of the enemy out the window...even what she could have sworn was lightning blasts.

Fuck. Post?

The first sign they had that something worse than a vampire was coming towards them was the heavy, reverberating thumps that shook the ground down the hall and all the way into the library. But the thumps were soon followed by the sight of a massive – maybe ten feet tall – gray, armored-looking demon charging towards them. It was wide enough that its arms were brushing up against – and denting the lockers a bit, and its head was scraping and breaking the ceiling in places. If it noticed that it was too big for the space it was in, it didn't seem to care.

With a crazed roar, the demon ripped the other half of the library doors off its hinges and threw it towards them. Buffy dove and rolled to the left, trying to avoid it, hoping Xander and the others did the same. But as she looked up, she saw that she may as well not have bothered – Amy had caught the flying door in mid-air with her magic – then she sent it crashing into the demon.

It had little visible effect. The door shattered into a pile of so many oversized toothpicks on the demon's tough hide. Wave its massive, powerful arms, it grabbed at Amy; but the female vampire jumped away from its grip, nimbly evading a second attempted strike by its other arm. Two crossbow bolts clattered harmlessly off of it, and Buffy drove her sword in the ground, leaving it in place so she could worry about it later. She wouldn't need it for this thing.

Amy sent a wave of force at the demon, and it was pushed back maybe a foot. Willow's hair became a bit more black as a ball of green energy slammed into the demon's side and sizzled, a chunk of its flesh seared and charred. Buffy braced herself, then ran at the demon, running up to it, her feet going to its back and then vaulting herself onto its shoulders, holding onto its head for dear life as it bucked and flailed, trying to throw her off.

Buffy was crouched, her knees on its shoulders, the creature's natural armor digging into her legs painfully as she moved one hand towards its eyes, the only uncovered part of its body. This was not going to be pleasant, even if she could pull it off – but then, Slaying rarely was.

Unfortunately, every time she made any progress towards its eyes, it bucked even harder, forcing her to grab onto its head and hold on. To make matters worse, more vampires had arrived – three Eliminati, and while the demon seemed all too willing to fight them in between attempts to grab Amy or attack Xander – who was trying to get at the part of its body that had been hit by willow's ball of green energy.

Willow was alternating between jets of fire at the vampires – who were proving way too adept at dodging for anyone's comfort – and generating more balls of green energy, only one of which managed to hit the flailing demon as it stomped around the front of the library.

Another flail and Buffy nearly flew off the demon, one hand and one leg losing all purchase. Holding as hard as she could, Buffy nearly threw her arm out grabbing at the demon, finally getting some kind of hold on it, but she couldn't spare any attention for the rest of the fight at the moment. Once again going for the eyes, Buffy made a one-handed grab at the front of the creature's face. She was rewarded, if that was the right word, by the squishy, filmy feeling of what she thought was its eye – yes, definitely its eye. 

Sucking in a breath of air and holding it in, Buffy pushed down with all the strength she could put into her arm, and suddenly, her hand sank into the eyesocket as she popped the demon's eyeball like a balloon. Demon eye-gunk was all over the demon's face, all over her arm, even splattered onto her face and torso and though Buffy wished she could wipe it off, she couldn't dare let go as the demon while it was screaming in anguish and rage, flailing again – this time, she couldn't hold on as it started to jump up and down, and Buffy flew off the demon's back, slamming into the wall of the library.

Painfully picking herself up off the ground, Buffy shook as much of the slimy gunk off her arm as she could, the semi-solid mass making her arm itch and otherwise feel a little bit off – even as she moved for her sword in the ground, some distance away. Buffy hurt all over from the whole 'crashing into the wall thing', but she couldn't afford to rest now. 

One of the Eliminati vampires was gone, though Buffy had no idea what had happened to it. But even as she reached her sword, two more vampires, neither of them Eliminati, reached the room, extending the size and scope of the brawl. The flailing demon hit Xander a glancing blow on the side.

“Ah!” Xander fell onto the floor, holding onto his side.

“Xander!” Cordelia fired her crossbow again, hitting a vampire in the stomach – it had dodged the attack some, but not entirely – then almost threw the weapon aside, rushing to the prone form of her boyfriend.

Much as Buffy wanted to emulate Cordelia and rush to Xander's side, much as she was hoping and wishing he wasn't severely injured, she couldn't do the first and she couldn't afford to spend much time thinking on the latter.

“Amy, Willow! The demon!” Buffy looked to Oz, who was also discarding his crossbow, though he was doing it in favor of a stake and a wooden cross the size of a book. She was about to gesture for the werewolf to go at the vampires from a different angle, but then she saw one of them going for him – going for Willow, who was behind him, preparing another ball of green energy to throw at the demon.

Pulling the sword out of the ground, Buffy ducked and dodged under a pair of the green-energy balls as they flew from the hands of Amy and Willow respectively and slammed into the demon, searing the flesh on its chest and its leg. Again the incredibly tall demon roared, and Buffy was forced to drop and roll to avoid one of its arms, then she was on her feet again before the three vampires.

The Eliminatus was using the length of his swords to keep the enemy vampires, who had stakes, from closing into range to use their weapons. It was time to fix that. 

Coming in from behind, Buffy sliced at the vampire's shoulder, cutting deep into muscle and tendon. Screeching, the vampire dropped his shorter blade from the injured arm, creating an opening. But the two vampires didn't manage to close in. Buffy ducked under a wild swing from the Eliminatus, hearing the gray demon behind her roar and cry in pain and rage ever louder, then swung at the vampire's leg, cutting him below the knee. The vampire dropped to that knee, but he refused to go down without a fight. Driving his sword into the stomach of one of his vampiric opponents, the vampire started to tug it up through the undead woman's torso, but only managed to get a few inches before the other, uninjured thus far vampire, plunged his stake into the Eliminatus' heart.

The vampire didn't enjoy his triumph long – the demon, flailing wildly and half-blindly, what with one eye gone – slammed a hand into it, and the vampire went flying all the way back down the hall. Buffy picked up the vampire's discarded stake and tossed it at the other vampire, the one that had been run through with a sword. The weapon missed the vampire entirely, and very nearly hit Amy.

“Watch it, Slayer!” Amy shouted, sending a light current of force at Buffy that knocked her back nearly a foot. 

The demon grabbed at her, and this time – distracted by worry for Xander, the pain all over her body, and the beginning of a burning sensation in her lungs and muscles – Buffy didn't manage to avoid its grip. Suddenly, she was lifted almost a foot off the ground, the demon's hand holding onto her arm tightly, painfully, squeezing -

Buffy swung madly with her sword at the demon's fingers, trying to force it to drop her, but it wasn't her efforts that pulled that off – yet another blast of green energy hit the demon, which was by now pockmarked by seared flesh across its body, this time right in the face, burning its remaining eye. 

With a final pained, furious cry, the demon fell to its knees, its grip relaxing on Buffy's arm. Buffy ran as the demon fell over, face first – she thought it was still breathing, from the looks, but it didn't seem to have long left to live.

There was only the one vampire left in the room. Amy brandished her hand at one of the loose pieces of wood on the ground and then gestured at the vampire's chest – the vampire tried to dodge the flying projectile, but Amy's spell or another one kept it moving with the undead creature, dusting it a few moments into a chase.

The vampire that had been knocked into the hall was nowhere to be seen – it must have run, or whatever.

Breathing heavily, Buffy dropped the sword and put a hand on the arm that the demon had grabbed – it hurt, and if she had a small fracture, she would not be surprise, but she couldn't really afford to care about that right now. She looked over at Xander, and saw the man sitting up. The room was silent, but for the sound of distant combat and heavy breathing from everyone in the room but Amy. Xander and Cordelia embraced for a moment, lips locked, but then the young man lightly pulled Cordelia away.

“Easy on the ribs...I think that demon cracked one or something...” He struggled to his feet, and Cordelia helped him up.

“Xander, if your rib is -” Cordelia started, but Xander shook his head.

“I should go to the hospital? Even if we could afford the time right now, which we can't, I can't exactly make it through all of them.” Xander nodded, wincing, over in the direction of the window at the warring vampires and demons outside. The numbers seemed to have thinned a lot, yes – but there were still far too many to try to go up against, if they had any other choice.

And they had to hold the Hellmouth against the bad guys. That was their only option.

“You can't fight with a cracked rib, Xander!” Cordelia pointed out. She kept her arm on her boyfriend's waist, looking worried as hell for him.

“No, I can't.” Xander agreed. He looked over at Willow. “Willow – that spell you used on Oz when the vampire broke his arm...back in March...would it work on a rib?”

Willow answered after a moment. “I'd need to know which, if any, rib was cracked and it would only last for a few hours.”

“If Balthazar and Post are still alive a few hours from now, we'll all be dead anyway.” Amy pointed out harshly. “Cast the damn spell on him and get it over with. More of them are going to be coming any minute now!”

She's got a point. Hell, they should be here already. Why are we having this kind of breather? Buffy didn't have an answer to the question, but she worried what they'd go up against when the vampires and demons of the opposing armies came at them again.

Willow seemed about to say something to Amy, but then bit her lip and shook her head, all but rolling her eyes at the vampire. Keeping one eye on the other magic-user, Willow approached Xander and after a moment, placed a hand on Xander's sides, just below his chest. She murmured something that Buffy didn't catch, and then pulled away.

“That should- it should make sure your ribs don't get any worse for the next hour. Can't do anything about the pain-”

“I can handle that.” Xander said, then laughed darkly, hollowly. “I've got experience with that.”

“We all do.” Oz pointed out. There were a few errant, small fires left over from some of Willow's spells. The werewolf grabbed a fire extinguisher and dealt with each one in turn before arming himself with his crossbow once more.

They had only another minute or so before more vampires arrived. And then more. Buffy lost track of time as they fought five more waves of vampires – two of El Eliminati and three of normal vamps. They were dusted each time, but by the end of it, they'd all gained extra cuts and bruises, they were out of crossbow bolts, and Willow's hair was almost a third black. Plus her energy was visibly drained, the slow, almost lethargic way that she was moving (as if to conserve her energy) was a major worry. Even Amy wasn't as 'chipper' with her mocking.

But when the fifth wave ended, they were all given another breather – but this one lasted maybe two or three minutes. Buffy wasn't sure why. She'd wanted to sit – hell, she'd wanted to collapse. But she'd known she couldn't afford to. She'd known...

And she was right. The sound of slow, careful footsteps coming towards them. Then -

Gwendolyn Post herself, complete with the Glove. Her hair was longer here than what Buffy remembered, and she had a mad, almost maniacal look in her eyes. She didn't quite look unkempt, but there was still a...a feel of that to her. Flanking her were two demons, wearing chain-mail, each with really, really big hammers. The demons were humanoid, but they were seven feet tall, red horns coming out of their head, and their skin was a sort of...puce color.

Cordelia, the only one with a loaded crossbow in hand as they turned down the hall, fired immediately at one of the demons. The bolt barely made it halfway towards them before Post brandished her hand and sent lightning flying at it. The bolt was all but vaporized. The psychotic Englishwoman laughed.

“Pathetic. Though I suppose I should congratulate you on surviving as long as you did – even killing my Kralsian demon.” Post stepped forward, slowly. “But I'm done having the lot of you as thorns in my side.” She pointed her hand at them. “Let's see if I can't match William the Bloody and kill myself a second Slayer, shall we?”

Lightning flew from the Glove, and Buffy dove to the ground, praying the spell Willow had gotten from Wesley was really going to work...the lightning passed overhead, and Buffy felt the static send her hair towards the ceiling. 

Everyone else was falling behind cover, trying to avoid errant lightning blasts. Everyone but Amy.

The vampire smirked. “You really have no idea what you have there, bitch. That Glove? You just use it to throw lightning around. You're a one-trick pony.” Amy closed her fists up to the sides, letting green energy form in both hands. “Whereas I, on the other hand,” Amy sent the energy slamming into the demons. Both demons flew backwards, gaping holds burnt right through their chests. “Have all kinds of tricks up my sleeve.”

Post was unfazed by the easy, almost casual way Amy killed her apparent bodyguards. “Very nice. But you can't have much more to play with, after all you've been through so far. You should have joined me when you had the chance.”

Buffy inched back, her eyes on the sharp throwing blade she'd taken, just for this. She'd really rather have just run at Post and sliced her arm off with her sword – better odds of success and all – but she really, really didn't think she'd be able to get that close...

“I got plenty.” Amy replied. “And I've got people on my side who want you dead as much as I want that Glove. And I'm not playing second fiddle to anyone.”

Post laughed harshly, mockingly. “I think you'll find that everyone is second fiddle to whoever holds the Glove of Myneghon. And as for Buffy and her friends, if they make any move towards me, they'll face the power of Myneghon,” She held her gloved hand up in front of her, closing her fingers into a fist, then opening them again. “Just like you will.” She thrust her hand forward, lightning flickering off of it. “Such a pity. You really should have sided with me. Goodbye, Amy Madison.” A wide, thick bolt of lightning immediately spawned from the demonic glove and connected with the only body standing right in the open, in the library.

Amy held up her hands, palms outward, one behind the other, catching the lightning. Buffy heard a low grunt from the witch. Post's eyes were locked on Amy...Buffy kept her eyes on the lightning continuing to flow from the Glove into Amy – the female vampire furrowed her brow, holding the lightning back but sliding backwards, as if on a slight downward slope...

“You can't keep this up forever, Amy.” Post replied, the tempo in her voice rising to a harsh volume.

“I can keep it up as long as I-” Amy managed to get out, then nearly stumbled as the lightning grew even thicker. “Want. But you-” She let out a pained gasp, staggered, barley stayed on her feet, her hands slipping. “You can't!”

“Yes I can. The Glove of Myneghon cannot be denied!” Post grabbed her armored wrist with her regular hand and really cut loose. 

Amy fell to her knees, all but screaming in pain – and then her hands slipped again, fell down – she took the lightning bolt, right in the chest. Amy's body flew back, a hole forming in her chest, before she exploded into dust...with one final scream.

Buffy watched, mixed feelings dominating her mind at the sudden dusting of the vampire Amy. But she didn't allow herself to linger on it too long. Hefting the knife in her hand, Buffy stepped from around the doorway, into Post's view.

“Buffy.” The bitch smirked. “Just going to stand there? Do you really think you can get to me with that little toy of yours, before I show you just what your late friend experienced? Are you that determined to join Mr. Giles? Faith?” She laughed, almost shrilly.

Fury filled Buffy. “You don't get to say their names!” 

Pulling her arm back, Buffy threw the knife at Post, just as the woman started to turn her arm towards the Slayer, the glove's fingers crackling with energy once more. She pulled her arm back, about to fling it at Buffy...about to do to Buffy what she'd tried to do to her and Faith in her universe...

The knife sliced into her upper arm, then...it was out...

And the Glove was falling to the ground.

Post was screaming in agony, bleeding all over the floor, but Buffy barely noticed as lightning flew up from the glove, the roar of it drowning out Post's cries, all the fighting around the school...

The lightning flew from the glove, up, in a wide, blinding sheet, crashing through the ceiling and making a hole, letting pieces from the ceiling and roof rain down around Post's prone, bleeding form. Buffy grabbed the severed arm – they couldn't just leave the Glove lying around – and pulled it into the library, wanting to cringe at the blood that got onto her. As she reached the library, the Glove's sharp prongs let go of the amputated arm, sliding off the useless limb.

The roof stopped collapsing – Buffy heard Post still screaming, at least some of the debris had hit her.

“Cordy!” Xander's voice drew Buffy's attention away from the former Watcher and to Cordelia, who had – Xander's sword in his hand. “What are you -” 

“There's still a chance she'll come out of this alive, Xander.” Cordelia replied. “I'm not willing to take that chance.” The brunette brushed passed Buffy, and it took the Slayer a few moments to register what the other woman was saying, what she meant.

“Cordelia! You can't just murder her! She's human!” Buffy grabbed Cordelia's arm lightly, not wanting to hurt the girl, but the former cheerleader threw off her grip and kept moving.

“I don't think she really qualifies on that level anymore, Buffy – if she ever did! And even if she still counts as human, I'm not going to let her live after everything she's done, all the people's she's murdered! I'm not risking her being a threat ever again!” Cordelia hadn't stopped moving even as she'd been speaking and she was now almost next to Post.

Buffy couldn't believe she was about to see Cordelia – even an alternate version of her – kill a person in cold blood. They...they didn't kill people. It wasn't – well, yes, Faith and Amy did...and she'd seen both happen, but those were different than what was to happen here if she didn't stop Cordelia.

With Finch...well, Buffy shared some part of the blame for that...and it still haunted her. Not as much as it had immediately after...and she was pretty sure it had haunted Faith that bad or worse for longer...But that was more or less an accident – nothing intentional about it. And Cordelia was all about intent here.

And Catherine Madison...well, Buffy still believed what Amy had said, about not knowing what the spell would do...that she was going to kill her mother. And besides...Faith had been right, when she'd immediately defended Amy...Catherine Madison had been trying to kill them. What Amy did was self-defense, defense of them...

It was not the same here and now.

Post was evil. Maybe she'd come after them again...it wasn't impossible... We'll have to make sure we do that...living flame thing, one way or the other... 

But right now, killing Post was not self-defense. The woman was a sorry excuse for a human being, Cordelia was right about that much, but she was still human. And she was helpless, bleeding out. She was almost certainly going to die on her own soon enough...killing her like this, the way Cordelia seemed to want to...that was murder. Plain and simple...

Buffy turned her gaze from Cordelia for a moment, looking to the other alternate versions of her friends still in the library. None of them were moving to join Cordelia, or trying to beat her to the prone form of Post with their own weapons in hand – but neither were any of them moving to stop her. And not one of them seemed at all bothered at the thought Cordelia was about to kill a person.

Before she could say anything more to Cordelia, or even move to stop her – the Slayer saw Xander's girlfriend reach Post and stab the sword downward at an angle, right into her stomach. Moments later, she pulled the sword out wordlessly and stabbed Post again, this time in the chest. The dying woman gurgled for a second, blood running out of her mouth and down her chin, and then she went completely still...Buffy was pretty sure the Englishwoman was dead.

Apparently, Cordelia wanted to make sure the deed was done right. 

As she took the sword out of Post's chest, still silent as the grave, Buffy realized that Cordelia was shaking – her eyes was blazing with a white hot fury. She'd been wrong – this was no cold, emotionless act of murder that she was seeing. Cordelia was in a wordless fury, and on the edge of losing it completely. Buffy said nothing, swallowing a little as Cordelia stabbed Post's corpse through the neck.

“Cordelia, she's dead.” Willow was walking towards Cordelia as she said that. “It's over.” She put a hand on Cordelia's arm lightly, and Willow's voice grew soft as she spoke.

“It'll be over when Balthazar's dead.” Buffy disagreed. “Until then, we can't afford to get complacent. Everyone around here will have seen that huge light show. Balthazar will be here soon, I bet.”

“Will he know it means she's dead?” Oz asked. 

Good question. Buffy didn't have an answer for him as she went over to Post's dead body and saw the knife she'd thrown. She grabbed it...then watched as the sharp prongs that had held the Glove to Post's arm finally release themselves. They couldn't just leave the Glove hanging around. Buffy grabbed that too, ignoring the blood on it that was getting all over her hands...she was already covered in dirt, sweat, demon eye-goop, vampire ash, wood ash...what was a little human blood?

“We should get back into the library.” Buffy said, and with the Glove in hand, she turned, Cordelia and Willow following behind her and walking back into the library. As soon as Cordelia entered the library once more, Xander embrace her tightly, holding her close and apparently not caring about his potentially cracked ribs for the moment. Buffy watched Cordelia hold him tightly back. She watched them, watched Willow and Oz, standing close...

At least they still have each other here. Whatever else had happened, her friends were still together with people that loved them. Her friends had that much to hold onto, in the face of the hopeless hell they'd been living through...

Buffy had taken a while to warm to Cordelia – she'd warmed to Oz a lot sooner, but...well, Cordelia had been something of a bitch for the first year or so they'd known each other...Oz hadn't...

By now, she'd have had to say she was friends with Cordelia too, and whatever else, Xander was happy with her. He loved her. And that was...at the end of the day, that was what was important.

“The demon.” Oz said, gesturing to the big corpse after everyone was silent for several long moments. “Let's move it to the door.”

“Won't be much of a road block...but it'll be better than nothing.” Xander said after a moment. “Alright.” He looked over at Buffy, who nodded. Not much, yea, but...

I'll take it.

Buffy grabbed one of the demon's hands, dragging it towards the door as Xander, Oz, Willow and Cordelia pushed at it from the other end. It took some doing – the demon's armored hide carried a lot of weight, it seemed – but they got it in front of the door. Anyone that wanted to get through would have to climb over it.

The one time it would be useful for vampires to leave behind more than ashes...

Buffy did a double-take at her own thought. Am I really thinking about making a wall of dead bodies?

Yes. Yes, she was. She looked over to the corpses of Post's demon bodyguards and contemplated going to grab those, to stack on top of this demon's body when she heard a familiar voice coming towards the Hallway.

“Go! Go! The witch has been defeated! Take the Hellmouth for your Lord!”

Balthazar.

Buffy scrambled back into the room. Balthazar...he'd have his amulet, but unless that Amulet gave him some kind of armor like the dead demon had, he'd cut up and bleed like anything else. She grabbed the sword – she'd need it for the Eliminati to – and saw Cordelia take up her crossbow again. Oz and Xander were both armed with swords now, too – Xander with 'his' short sword, and Oz picking up a longer Eliminati blade from one of the many discarded ones lying around.

Around the bend they came. Six Eliminati vampires, all moving with a careful, practiced purpose. Not one of them carried their swords as if they were anything less than an extension of their own bodies. And behind them was Balthazar. Who was mobile. Which was new – she'd been prepared for it, but still...it was new.

He was still big, still bulky and still ugly as sin. But he was also mobile, now. He had six legs, each one almost hilariously short and stumpy, like a really fat cat's, but they didn't seem him to make him move especially slowly. And the humor was somewhat ruined by the fact that Balthazar's arms didn't look amusing, and looked powerful enough to rip someone's head off. And of course, the amulet around his overly large neck.

“Slayer.” Balthazar's voice still managed to be as grating as before, with that hint of shrill insistence she remembered. Balthazar and his men drew up short halfway down the hallway. “I suppose I have you to thank for finally killing that damned Witch. Very well, so be it. Surrender now, and I'll make sure your deaths are quick.” Balthazar smiled widely, his mouth full of sharp teeth. “I can't guarantee it will be painless, though.”

“I think you need to work on the whole negotiating thing.” Buffy replied. “There's a few self-help books I'd recommend, but I don't think you're going to live long enough to benefit from them.”

“Insolence!” He waved his hands at them. “Kill them.”

Six...all good ones.

This was going to be hard. There was every chance – NO! They were going to live through this. They hadn't made it through wave after wave of vampire, hadn't beaten Post...they hadn't made it this far to just die at the hands of Balthazar's minions. Or even Balthazar himself.

The vampires kept moving at them, but they didn't charge recklessly. They moved quickly, but in unison, almost as if in formation. Expert swordsmen. When they reached the library, three broke off and came right for her. Buffy winced a little, but Xander and Oz, each with their own swords, stood between the other three and Willow and Cordelia.

Right at the outset, Willow was using her magic, ignoring her tapped reserves, ignoring the constant creep of black in her hair. Two of the vampires, one from each group, were thrown back, sent flying into the walls. Another one was held in place by an outstretched hand. Willow used her other hand to send a jet of fire at Balthazar.

This last effort was redirected, landing harmlessly well behind Balthazar – as if someone had literally picked up the flames and moved them to the left some, so they passed harmlessly by Balthazar. As if Balthazar himself had lifted them.

Unfortunately, Buffy had two Eliminati vampires to deal with, and she couldn't afford to keep an eye on what Willow was doing or what the others were doing. A crossbow bolt sailed from somewhere behind her – Cordelia? - and hit a twisting, dodging vampire in the chest, but on the wrong side. Buffy was too busy ducking dodging and blocking the four swords in play against her to make any meaningful attacks of her own... Buffy kicked out with her legs, sending one sprawling back, but right as that happened, the one Willow had sent flying was on her again, and Buffy -

I can't – Buffy ducked under a sword swing and tried to cut at one of her opponents' legs, but she didn't manage, the attack blocked by a swordsman with maybe centuries of experience... fight them on their own turf. Their own way...

Buffy somersaulted back, placing distance and a broken, burnt table, between herself and the vampires. Reaching down with her free hand, Buffy all but ripped a leg off that table, ignoring it was it fell to the ground and hurled the makeshift stake at the vampire in the middle. As she'd expected, he scrambled to avoid it, but the wood still went right through his stomach. Not letting him or any other recover, Buffy kicked at the table, sending it towards them – one of the vampires fell to the ground under the sudden weight and Buffy was on him. She felt heat fly past her and another jet of flame from Willow had missed one of the other vampires on her – it had missed again, but the vampire hadn't even dodged...

Buffy dodged another swing, feeling it pass inches from the back of her shoulder on the way down, and stomped on the table, hard, breaking it. The vampire underneath it suddenly felt a half-dozen pieces of wood in his chest – including one in his heart. She heard the sound of another vampire dusting, and then a word in Latin from Willow – spoken as if the last word in a sentence – then a loud booming sound resonating with the word. 

All four remaining Eliminati went flying to the edges of the room, and two right through the walls. Buffy saw Willow collapse to the ground on both knees, one hand on her face, her breathing heavy...the vampires still in the room were still moving, but they seemed to be having some trouble getting up.

Buffy looked to Balthazar – now was the moment. She couldn't think of a quip, and right now she didn't care. It was every fiber of her being, crying out for rest, for even a moment's peace – a Slayer had endurance far beyond a human, and it was that that kept her going, but her friends...each one of them was on the verge of fading. This final clash – it had to happen, but if this went on for much longer they were all doomed. She had to kill Balthazar now. Now!

Buffy charged at Balthazar, using the demon's body to vault her up into the air some as she made to stab her blade downward into Balthazar's form – but the demon waved his hands and she went flying backwards. Buffy grabbed onto the frame of the door with one hand as she passed under it, using that to arrest her trajectory – she let go and fell to the ground with a thump as one of the vampires started to get up, on his hands and knees.

Buffy started to pick herself off the ground – Xander and Oz were there, offering their hands, and Buffy took both, taking up her sword.

“Pathetic! You're all pathetic! You, and you!” He gestured at Buffy and her friends, then at one of the vampires. “If you want it done, you must do it yourself!” Balthazar waved his hands again then thrust them both towards the three of them in the doorway. A rippling wave of force flew at them – before Buffy had even registered what was happening – she was being shoved down, away – she and Oz were out of the path of whatever magic Balthazar had used -

Buffy turned her head, Xander – no!

Xander was still there, trying to dodge – but...

“XANDER!” The cry came out almost as one from four throats as Harris flew backwards, then hit the wall hard, landing slumped on the ground, motionless.

Everything seemed to freeze for a moment, as if a cosmic Pause button had been hit...

Then the world came to a screeching start again, and all rational thought was gone from Buffy's mind. Xander wasn't moving – Cordelia was running to him, screaming his name. The guy who had brought her back to life was dead – 

Oz was on his feet, running for Balthazar – Willow was rising to her feet, the rest of the red in her hair vanishing under a tide of black...

Buffy's eyes fell on the Glove of Myneghon, sitting there on the floor, ignored, forgotten... 

She abandoned her sword, tumbled across the floor to the Glove – in her right hand she picked it up, lifting her left arm and sliding it down over...

Buffy felt the stabbing pain of the prongs digging into her arm. She didn't care. Balthazar was going to die!

She felt her arm, the Glove, her entire being thrumming with energy. She had no earthly clue how to use the Glove, how to use it anything resembling safely – and yet, she didn't give a damn about that.

Buffy stood up and faced Balthazar – behind her, she heard Willow chanting, heard fire – heard four sets of screams, vampires burning to death as Balthazar started to brandish his arms again – Buffy never gave him the chance to finish.

She pointed the Glove at him and focused the swirling incoherent rage boiling in her – rage at Anyanka, for sending her here. Rage at Post, for killing Giles and Faith. Rage at Xander, for doing what he did, for dying on her. Rage at Balthazar for killing Xander – and above all, rage at herself. 

She'd made a promise – they would all make it through this alive. She'd broken it. She'd failed to stop Balthazar...failed to keep them alive...

The white-hot rage flowed through her and into the Glove, which Gwendolyn Post had been charging and using for months – it didn't require the ritualistic chant anymore, it didn't require anything but direction, and Buffy was giving it direction in spades. 

Lightning flew from the Glove. Balthazar visibly panicked and the lightning flew his way, before crashing into lockers and sparks flying as a minor explosion rained bits of metal all over the hall. Buffy kept walking towards Balthazar and fired the Glove again – it hit the lockers on the other side of the hall, more sparks...

Buffy fired again – the lightning connected with Balthazar, the smell of cooked meat – but Balthazar was still moving, still trying to work his magic – 

Buffy aimed the glove at his amulet. His precious Amulet, the source of his power...she hit it, and heard Balthazar scream in desperate fury and denial as it exploded. Again and again, she directed everything she had at Balthazar, walking closer and closer to the demon – soon enough, Buffy was caught up in the rage of the demon with her fist...

But the charred, smoking, electrocuted mass of bubbling flesh that had one been Balthazar had nothing left to hit. A pained scream ripped loose from Buffy's lips and she punched the Glove into the mass, again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again...

She kept hitting until she fell to the ground, tears coming to her eyes unbidden.

Xander's dead.

The sounds of battle – there were none any longer. Nothing, anywhere near them...nowhere in the school...save for Balthazar's bubbling flesh.

Buffy reached her right hand to her face, trying to stem the tears – she stood, turning to her friends...

Willow – Willow's hair was completely black now, her eyes solid pupil-less pools of black...she was at the window, shooting fire from her hands at fleeing vampires, her only focus on inflicting as much death to the vampires as she could – with Balthazar dead, who else... who else could she kill? 

Oz was behind Willow, trying to bring her back to the edge of whatever precipice she'd fallen down from, trying to bring her to Xander's side...

Cordelia was on her knees at the side of Xander's prone form – no, he wasn't prone...not completely – Cordelia's arm was behind his back, he was propped up...just a little....speaking...

The pain in her arm as the Glove's prongs dug into her flesh a little deeper was ignored – she ran, ran to Xander's side.

“Xander!” He was still alive...he...he wasn't...he wasn't dead...

“Buffy.” Xander got out slowly, reaching a hand towards her, barely able to move it. “Guess I get...to do...dramatic deathbed statement?” He laughed a moment, then stopped, groaning, eyes closing a moment.

“You're not going to die, Xander. You're not going to die!” Buffy took his hand in her right one. “I promised you everyone would make it out alive – and you will. You will!”

Xander shook his head, the motion barely perceptible. “I don't...have even... minutes left...can't move...barely breathe...”

“Don't waste your breath, Xander!” Cordelia said, “Save it – we'll get you to a hospital, they'll help you...they'll save you! I can't lose you, Xander!” Cordelia was crying – almost sobbing – even as she said that, her broken and dying love before her...

“Not...not gonna...make...gotta say...this.” Xander closed his eyes for less than a moment, swallowing. “Left pocket...Buffy...take it...you gotta...take it...”

“Take what?” 

Xander just moved his hand in the direction of his left pocket ever so slightly, gurgling in pain even as he did that much. Buffy lowered his hand to the ground, reached inside...there was only one thing there. Some kind of coin. She took it out – it was the size of a quarter, maybe...gray, featureless, well worn and smooth...there was barely a discernible heads or tails. It was made of...iron? Steel? She couldn't tell.

“What is- Xander...” Buffy started, but Xander interrupted her.

“You have to...you have to change what's written, Buffy...” He coughed, blood splashing out onto his chest. “You can't – you can't let them have their way...any of them...both...” Xander coughed again, but he ignored the blood that came out once more. “Both sides...take it...use it...” He started to cough uncontrollably for another few moments.

He shook his head again, “I need – few moments...with Cordy...say goodbye...to Willow...for me...”

Buffy stood, the coin in her hand...she had no idea what it was...what he meant...

Change what's written...can't let them have their way...both sides? Who- what was this...what is it...?

She couldn't think about these things. Xander was not going to die. He was not going to stay dead. Wesley had a spell ready to summon a demon that could – fix this. Getting home wasn't important. Not anymore...

She was going to fix this.

October 26th, 1999
Abandoned Residence, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

Buffy didn't bother to knock as she reached the house close to the school where Wesley had set up shop – she'd passed a number of charred demons, piles of ash here, Willow's fiery purge continuing to do its work.

“Summon her!” Buffy's voice was angry, urgent, commanding.

“Miss Summers – what happened – is that-? Is that Glove of Myneghon on your arm?! Good God, have you taken leave of your senses?!”

“Xander's dying, or maybe even dead by now! Summon her!” Buffy repeated, ignoring Wesley's questions. There were a number of herbs laid out, candles lit. “I said, summon her!” She repeated again.

Wesley blinked “Mr. Harris is – no, Buffy, you can't – you can't be thinking -”

“Summon her, Wesley!” Buffy said, “You have to summon Anya, or Anya-carb, or whatever her damn name is. I have to fix this!”

Wesley looked at her a moment, looked at the glove that was currently pointed down, at her side, but still crackled with supernatural energy. He swallowed and took a deep breath. He faced the lit candles. “Very well. Anyanka...” His voice shook a moment, he stopped for a second, took another breath and began again, closing his eyes sprinkling a herb on one of the candles. “Anyanka. In the name of all women scorned.” He sprinkled a different herb on another candle. “Come before me.”

For a moment, nothing happened – then suddenly the air shimmered between the two of them, and Anyanka was there, facing Wesley.

“Do you have any idea what I do to a man who uses that spell to summon me?” Anyanka's tone was dangerous, harsh, that deep resonating tone she'd used in the Bronze, her full-on vein-y face visible.

“Wesley summoned you because I told him to.” Buffy said.

Anyanka turned around and smirked, “Ah, Buffy. So, how's your wish turning out? Do I have another satisfied customer?”

“Xander is dying or dead, you BITCH!” Buffy raised the Glove, pointing it at her. Anyanka seemed unfazed. “Because of you!”

“A man is dead?” She laughed gleefully, “Well, that's a wonderful little bonus.”

“You're going to bring him back! You're going to fix this!” Buffy let the Glove crackle with energy. “You're going to save him! You will!”

“I don't think so.” Anyanka replied merrily. “And there's nothing you can -” She was interrupted by the full force of a lightning bolt hitting her in the chest. Anyanka staggered back. “Ow! Hey, what the hell?”

“Fix this! Bring Xander back if he's dead! Save him if he's not, or so help me-” Anyanka ran at her, punching Buffy in the face, sending her flying into the wall.

“I'm never saving a man's life! Never. Do you hear me? They're all worthless – I don't save worthless, and I don't do second requests. You had your wish. Be happy with it.” Anyanka reached out a hand towards Buffy, her amulet starting to glow.

Buffy exploded, “Happy!? Happy!?” She blasted more lightning into Anyanka's chest, then her stomach, pushing the demoness back – she barely even noticed Wesley backing away in his wheelchair, trying to get as far from the line of fire as he could.

Buffy's eyes lighted to the glowing amulet.

“Save him, or you lose your Amulet!” Buffy pointed her gloved hand at Anyanka's neck.

Anyanka's confident expression slipped a moment, before returning, “You're bluffing. Besides, you destroy it, I can't do anything for you.”

“You don't save him, I'm going to make sure you pay for it! This is all happening because of a wish you granted! Damn you to HELL, you demon bitch!!” 

Buffy's fury abruptly reached the point of no return – lightning flew from her Glove, right at Anyanka's amulet...

It throbbed with power, and then shattered into what seemed a million pieces!

“NO!” Two female voices nearly screamed in unison, though for very different reasons.

October 23rd, 1999
The Bronze, Sunnydale, 'Prime' Universe

“NO!” Buffy and Anyanka both finished the word...

In the Bronze...

A Bronze that was not a wreck...filled with people...almost all of whom were staring at the two of them weirdly.

Buffy's arm – it didn't hurt...no thrumming with – there was no Glove. No cut from an Eliminati sword. Her leg – it didn't hurt...her muscles weren't screaming in pain, begging for relief...no bruises, no cuts...

Anyanka was sitting where she'd been sitting...she could see Willow and Oz, walking towards her from the table they'd been...

They were back...

Anyanka...she looked human, like she had before when all this had started...but she had no amulet now. No necklace....

I...the amulet...destroying it undid the Wish...? Had it reversed everything...was, was everything back to...she was back...everyone was alive.

Everyone's alive!

Buffy's eyes were on Anyanka again – her sudden elation and relief warred with immediate anger in her – she was out of her chair in an instant, ignoring that she'd just knocked her chair over onto the floor. She grabbed the front of Anyanka's blouse and lifted her out of the chair and off the ground.

“Your amulet's gone now.” Buffy said in a soft voice, so no one else could overhear. “Guessing that means you have no powers anymore, demon.” 

Buffy drove a fist into Anyanka's stomach – she immediately started to double over, moaning in pain – just like a human would... 

“What the heck? You're human now?!” Buffy still didn't raise her voice – people were still staring, starting to cluster a safe distance away. She's human!? Buffy sucked in an angry breath and punched the new human's stomach, not listening to the gasping attempts at a reply from the girl.

Buffy wanted to keep punching Anyanka, wanted to beat the demon (ex-demon?) senseless...but she didn't. The woman before he didn't feel like a demon...didn't respond like a demon...

I made her human by destroying her amulet? How was that possible? She dropped the former demon, letting her collapse in a pained heap on the floor.

Willow and Oz were at her side by now. 

“Buffy – what...what happened? Is it Kathy all over again? Oh man, it's Kathy all over again...” Willow started to babble frantically.

Oz just looked at her, raised an eyebrow. “Long story?”

Buffy, breathing heavily for a moment, nodded. “Long story. Grab her. We need to get ahold of everyone. Is the Library still open?”

October 23rd, 1999
Private Room, Sunnydale Public Library, 'Prime' Universe

The Sunnydale Public Library, as it had turned out, was just closing. But since Wesley worked there, it didn't exactly matter.

“...And then...I was back in the Bronze.” Buffy said softly, finishing her account of what had happened to her over the last 'three' days...even though not a single one of those days had actually passed here. As far as she could tell, she'd come back to the exact moment when Anyanka had originally said 'Done'...

“That's...” Giles started, then trailed off, at a loss for words. He closed his mouth, opened it, then closed it again after a quick breath.

“I agree with Giles.” Oz said after another moment.

Faith actually managed a small chuckle, “I gotta hand it to you, B. You just can't stop doing the weirdest shit possible. Blowing demons up with rocket launchers, going to other dimensions to free slave labor people, and now going to universes where I'm dead, everything sucks and oh yea, you got a wish granted. If I knew wish granting was a thing-” she laughed. “Well, I can tell you I'd have a better place to live in.” She laughed again, “And a damn Playstation.”

“Can we not laugh about this for a moment?” Xander asked. “I mean, I died.”

“You look pretty alive to me,” Faith pointed out. “And so am I. Whatever happened there or here or whatever, it's all done now.”

“Yeah, but we have this 'Anyanka' here to deal with. Fine, she's human now. But she's still, you know, evil, right?” Amy asked, looking at the bound captive not far away, who was still unconscious from Buffy's beating within the Bronze. “What the hell are we going to do about her?”

“Nothing.” Buffy said, then she added, “Okay, I'd really like to beat the complete crap out of her for everything she did, and much as I shouldn't say this, if any of you decide you want to beat her up? Go for it. But unless she does something wrong now...well, she's human. We can't just kill her in cold blood, and unless you wanna like, lock her up forever in one of the Council's dungeons, there's not many options other than just letting her go.”

“A point.” Wesley said after a moment. “This is quite fascinating, and does deserve further research – and I think it's best if we keep a close eye on this 'Anyanka'. She could know all sorts of dark rituals – and may well try to use them to return to her previous demonic state.”

“I – I could try putting a tracking spell on her?” Willow offered. “I mean, I haven't tried anything like that before, but it's just a locating spell – but permanent?”

“Not entirely,” Giles told her, “But they are related.” He cleared his throat. “Still, I don't think we need to go that far just yet. If she wants to perform a ritual, she's going to need implements. Maybe even magic practitioners. We can keep our ears to the ground on if she starts purchasing occult tomes or other things she might need – ritual herbs, vessels and so forth.”

No one said anything for a moment, and then Oz spoke again, looking at Buffy: “So...what were we all like there, anyway?”

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer. British Archeology is a real magazine published by the Council for British Archeology. I don't own it (or even own a copy, admittedly) or the CBA.

Note: Thanks to Starway Man for being beta-reader and Dieticlast for being creative consultant.

Note #2: I seem to be spoiling you this season with all the chapters over 10k words. And tbh, the next two after this one will break that barrier as well – there's just so damn much to cover in each episode now.

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Episode 5: The Blessings of Chaos

October 24th, 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

Today, thankfully, was Sunday and therefore not a workday. And Cordelia didn't have to go to UC Sunnydale. Which meant that his girlfriend was sleeping late. And that was what Xander had been doing as well – until he'd woken up in a cold sweat, the image of Finch dying flashing through his mind. That vision of the Deputy Mayor's death was still burned into his brain, as vivid as when he'd first seen it happen thanks to the Iron Coin. Of course, his nightmares had included a number of things drawn from his own imagination, not just the visions the Jester's coin had given him.

Coin visions were a frequent feature in his all too frequent nightmares. But they were far from the only features – especially this latest one.

Cordelia is not a vampire. And she's not going to become one, either!

If only conviction made it so. It wasn't like Xander expected it to happen, but he also knew that it was possible. So was her dying and staying dead. So was him dying. So was...well, so was any one of them dying. It was something they all had to live with, simply by living in Sunnyhell.

If any of his friends didn't have nightmares about what they'd seen and experienced since sophomore year, about what could happen...well, Xander would be very surprised.

Since he was up, with all plans of sleeping late ruined, Xander got out of bed carefully and retrieved the Coin and a bottle of ibuprofen from the bedside table. Then he quickly got dressed and made his way downstairs. His mom was still asleep, good. First things first, then; use the Iron Coin, and then, assuming he still had an appetite, make breakfast. Then, make something for Cordelia, treat her to breakfast in bed. It's not like I can screw up scrambled eggs and toast. No one can.

Regardless, once Xander was in the kitchen, he poured himself a glass of water, set it and the ibuprofen on the counter and took the coin out of his pocket.

He flipped. “Buffy Summers.”

Buffy in – in her dorm building? The hallway outside her room? Seemed like it – she was fighting someone...several someone's. It was dark, and they had...masks? Guns? Buffy wasn't having a walk in the park, exactly, but she was still beating them, soundly –

Buffy, in...in Giles' apartment, tying someone to a chair – Spike. She was using ropes to secure Spike to the chair, with the vampire looking like death warmed over, as if he was sick – his skin even more pale than usual.

Xander's head hurt, but it wasn't a full-on explosion of pain. He didn't know what to make of either thing he'd seen. He didn't know if he should stop them – because he didn't know what exactly it was he might be stopping. But why would Buffy not just stake Spike? Why take him prisoner and tie him up that way? Did it have something to do with whatever it was that was wrong with him?

And those guys Buffy had been fighting in the first half of the vision – well, not fighting so much as beating them up. Masked men. Some kind of weird militia guys? Xander had no clue. Their outfits seemed almost military, but that didn't really mean much, not necessarily – and why would Buffy and the military be fighting? Had they suddenly tracked down the missing rocket launcher from their base to her?

You'd think they'd have given up on that one, after two years. Okay well, one and two-thirds years, or whatever. But no – that probably wasn't it.

Xander shook his head and pushed his numerous questions to the side. Maybe some of the other things the coin would show him this morning would fill in some of the blanks.

“Cordelia Chase.”

Nothing.

“Faith Lehane.”

Faith, out in some kind of forest...maybe Miller's Wood, he couldn't tell...stake in hand. She was looking for something. Someone? From somewhere in the shadows, a dark shape appeared and attacked her – female, long dark hair, wearing a tattered dress...Xander got a glimpse of the woman's face...

It was Drusilla.

“ Naughty naughty Slayer.” The crazy female vampire sing-song'ed. “I made you. It's rude to attack your mummy!”

Xander's head went back, as if slapped lightly – there wasn't that much in the way of pain from this one. Which meant that it wasn't 'important'. Personally, Xander thought anything involving Drusilla was important, but obviously Fate or the Jester or the Coin or someone disagreed with that.

“So, what,” Harris asked the empty room, looking around and upwards, “Are Drusilla and Spike going to get back together again? Happily undead after?” He shrugged, even if deep down he hoped the answer was 'no'; the vampiric versions of Sid and Nancy were enough of a butt-pain separately, but together they were a problem bigger than just the sum of their parts. 

Xander figured he'd need to find out, warn someone if he could...neither vision he'd had was 'important', but he couldn't shake the feeling that a shoe was going to drop somewhere. Something important would come up – at least, he had that feeling. The feeling you get when you think there's something right around that corner, but you don't know what.

“Willow Rosenberg.”

Willow, arriving at Oz's cage – in a crypt of some sort? It was morning, and Oz was naked in there, as one might expect following a wolf moon. But he wasn't alone. There was a woman in the cage with him – a naked woman – with light brown hair. Willow – Xander saw the agonized, broken expression on his oldest friend's face –

He saw a werewolf – not Oz – trying to kill Willow, rushing towards her in a classroom of some sort – but then another werewolf, yes, this one was definitely Oz...attacking the first werewolf, killing it, its blood splattering all over the wolf's lupine face...

The human version of Oz and a tearful Willow speaking...a bag packed on the bed behind them... “The wolf is inside of me, all the time...I shouldn't be around you – or anyone...”

Oz driving away in his van, Willow watching, more tears in her eyes...

Willow, sitting alone on her bed in the dorm she shared with Buffy, sobbing...

Xander's head throbbed with incredible pain as the vision ended, and he stumbled and nearly fell over. Hands shaking just a touch, Xander grabbed the bottle and dumped two ibuprofen into his hand, popping them into his mouth and gulping down half the glass of water as he swallowed them.

Oz is – no, no way! Oz wouldn't cheat on Willow...he's not that...why would – and who was that woman? Was she a werewolf? The same one that tried to...that's gonna attack Willow...and Oz is gonna bail on her? He couldn't control the wolf? What was he-

It was a lot to process at once – and Xander had no idea if his suppositions were correct. He had no idea what any of it meant, not for certain. But the best assumption he could draw was that...

Oz was going to cheat on Willow with another girl...a female werewolf, who was going to try to kill Willow...and then, Oz and Willow were going to break up before he left town.

The whole concept completely sucked – but it would fit the flashes he'd seen, the visions from the Coin. But that still left so many questions – why would Oz cheat on his girlfriend? 

And who exactly was the woman he'd seen in the vision? A werewolf, sure, but what was her name? What did she do for a living? Where could she be found? Questions, questions with no answers... 

And of course, would it be bad for Xander to punch Oz in the face for something he hadn't done yet? Because after seeing Willow so broken and crying...all he wanted to do was knock Oz's head off his shoulders, maybe kick him in the stomach a few dozen times for good measure.

But if the other woman was a werewolf...and they were both in that cage...what could he be sure of? What if – okay, it looked bad. Very bad. But what if they didn't actually do anything? Oz always comes out of transformation without clothes, since they rip...

Rationalizing, maybe...but Xander found it impossible to wrap his head around the idea of Oz cheating on Willow. He didn't want to think the worst of his friend, and he didn't want to believe his cautionary words to Buffy about Oz back when he'd first gotten involved with Willow had actually been justified. 

But if Oz and that werewolf girl didn't actually do anything, then why would I see it as part of what was written in Willow's book? For that matter, what the hell is Fate up to? They failed to get Will and me to cheat with each other last year, so now they're trying something else? Do they want Oz out of Sunnydale? Willow heartbroken? What the fuck is going on, exactly?

All Xander knew was that these upcoming events were important, by whatever standards his coin-induced headaches set these things by. On that, he and the Iron Coin were in agreement.

He needed to know more – he couldn't draw any real conclusions until he'd seen what Fate had written for Oz, that was pretty much a given. Because even if Oz and this mysterious woman did have sex...if Fate was involved, just how voluntary could it possibly be? Sure, most of what Xander had seen from the Coin had been...wrong place, wrong time sorts of things. Finch dying wasn't because Fate had taken control of Faith, and probably not of Finch either, Xander was guessing...they had just...changed something –

Moved the pieces into place so that the scenario ended up exactly the way they wanted it.

But they could...they did that thing, that spell or whatever it was – they were going to do it on Willow and me...so who's to say Fate's agents couldn't do it to Oz and the mystery Werewolf Girl?

He had to flip for Oz. He needed as much information as he could get – even if it wasn't likely to be as much as he'd like – and that was the only way he was going to get any new information, at this point.

Xander took a breath, his head still throbbing, and flipped the coin again.

“Daniel Osbourne.”

Oz and the woman he'd seen before...arguing? Well, she was, anyway. Oz was as calm and stoic as always...

Two werewolves – Oz and the one that was going to try to kill Willow...definitely female...and the two werewolves were definitely having sex.

Oz and the naked woman in the cage, Willow coming upon them –

Oz driving away, looking no happier about the breakup than Willow.

Again, Xander's head throbbed with full-size pain – again, a big deal. Which was true.

Xander's urge to beat the crap out of Oz – it wasn't gone. But it was...less. From everything Xander knew about werewolves – which could, admittedly, fill a book jacket at best – when the beast took over, the person was no longer in control. No human intelligence, the wolf was all instinct. Animal instinct. He could actually relate a lot more than he wanted to; those days when he'd been possessed by the Hyena spirit, and the night he'd attempted to...mate...with Buffy. 

So Oz – it wasn't a choice. The wolf would be in control during that point in time, not him. The guy wouldn't choose to cheat on Willow. Or I could still be rationalizing.

Maybe he was – but it made a hell of a lot more sense than Oz, who barely seemed to notice other girls existed with regard to that sort of thing, cheating on Willow by choice.

Of course, I could have done without having the image of werewolf sex being burned into my mind that way.

Anyway, one thing Xander was sure of was that Oz didn't and couldn't control what he did when the Wolf took over. That was why he locked himself up – but then...in the vision, Werewolf Oz had shown some capacity to control himself – he'd defended Willow, killed the werewolf trying to kill her...the other werewolf seemed to have some sort of...deliberate intent behind her attack on Willow? So...how did that work? Did it work at all? 

Oh, man. Was that unknown woman who'd fucked Oz as a werewolf intending to kill Willow, to get rid of the competition? It made a sick sort of sense, given just how territorial some women could get. The phrase 'bitch in heat' just got a brand new meaning for him, too. 

Damn. Not only did he need to figure out who that woman was, but he also needed to find more out about werewolves. Borrow a book from Giles on the subject. Xander wasn't especially looking forward to having to dig through it, but he doubted he'd be able to get Giles to answer his questions without telling him why he wanted it, and Harris simply didn't want to get into the 'Oz is going to cheat on Willow' thing with Giles. Assuming he could even get that much information out. He might be able to tell Giles something, but...how much?

Xander had no idea what Fate's angle was, but he didn't care. Sure, when Willow and Oz had started dating, he'd been wary of the musician. He was dating his best friend...but..Oz had grown on him. He liked Oz...and he knew Oz would put himself between Willow and anything that could harm her. And most importantly...Oz made Willow happy.

Yeah. That's what's important.

Granted, with regard to Angel and Buffy he hadn't been able to accept that; partly because of what had been at the time his own unrequited feelings for the Slayer, but also partly because in his view, Angel hadn't made Buffy happy. At least, not after they'd found out about the loophole in the guy's curse. But hey, he'd never claimed to be perfect. And by the end...well, he'd developed a measure of respect for Angel, though he'd never be able to do more than tolerate the vampire, assuming he and Buffy got back together. Assuming they ever got that 'moment of perfect happiness' problem ironed out.

Still, personally, I can't help hoping that they never get back together. Because there's no future in that relationship; because Deadboy's immortal and Buffy isn't. He was fine with Angel staying wherever the hell he was – away from Buffy. Away from Sunnydale.

Xander put all that out of his mind, and put Oz and Willow's coming problems over to the side as well. Just for a few minutes. He still had some more coin flipping to do.

“Amy Madison.”

No response.

“Joyce Summers.”

Nothing.

“Jessica Harris.”

No vision.

“Rupert Giles.”

Not a thing.

“Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.” Xander didn't count the still stuffier-than-thou Englishman as anything resembling a friend, but like it or not, the guy was part of all this – Wesley was Faith's Watcher. Something that happened to him in terms of Fate writing in his book would be relevant. 

And to Xander's surprise, the vision instantly appeared in his mind. 

Wesley was in an apartment. His own? Probably. He was at a desk, writing something in neat, close print in some sort of spiral notebook. Then the phone rang and he picked it up.

“Wyndam-Pryce.” He even answered his own phone like someone with a stick up his ass. Someone on the other end of the line said something. “Are – are you sure?” Wesley's voice broke a little, shock and surprise coming across with the stammer. “I see.” “Yes.” “I understand.” “I will inform Mr. Giles.”

Xander blinked a little at that vision. His head didn't hurt at all. So...not important. But obviously it was, on some level. Fate had planned it, and Wesley was going to get bad news with that phone call. Probably from the Council – although why they wouldn't call Giles about it?

Xander shook his head. Questions and puzzles pieces and no answers. The biggest priority was whatever was going to go down with Willow and Oz – it was the most 'important'. But Drusilla coming into town...that was important too.

He'd promised Cordelia he'd tell her what he could. That he'd let her help him. He'd have to talk to her about all this – though he wasn't sure how much he could tell her.

Xander downed the last of his glass of water. He's lost his appetite. He could make Cordelia something in a bit, though. If she wanted to sleep in, he was going to let her; for a while longer at least.

October 24th, 1999
Faith's Apartment, Sunnydale

Amy woke to the sound of a shower running. The first thing that she noticed upon waking up, apart from that sound, was the fact that her back hurt. Which wasn't very surprising, given that it was still burnt – and that was the reason why she'd slept on her stomach last night. Her neck hurting was an unpleasant extra.

Amy blinked and pushed herself up into a sitting position. With her good hand, she rubbed the back of her neck and considered. Faith had promised her couch as a place to crash. Her friend hadn't, at any point, promised that it would be a comfortable place to sleep.

The witch had been up for most of the night, trying to fall asleep, eventually managing it some time after two in the morning – she wasn't sure of exactly when, offhand. Amy blinked again, this time at the sunlight streaming into the room through the window. What time is it?

Amy looked at the closed bathroom door. Faith was the only other person here, which meant she was the one in the shower. Carefully, and with one hand, Amy pushed herself up and off the couch and walked into the bedroom, checking the cheap digital clock and radio next to Faith's bed. 12:43 in the afternoon. That would explain why she didn't feel as tired as she might have. Sure, she'd fallen asleep late. But she'd also slept in late enough to get a decent...well, morning's sleep.

Amy let out a breath and wished she could take a shower. Unfortunately, with her burns it wasn't really an option. Not without plastic to cover her burns with, and she'd forgotten to bring anything like that from her dorm last night. When she heard the shower stop, Amy turned around, starting to head out of the door back into the other room; but only a moment after the shower stopped, the door opened and Faith walked out, her hair still wet and dripping a little. 

The Slayer was completely naked, her skin dry-ish, but still damp – the water almost seemed to cling to her. Despite herself, and despite the blush forming on her cheeks, Amy found herself staring at the dark-haired Slayer's body.

“Hey, Amy.” Faith said, sounding mildly amused. “My eyes are up here.” She gestured up to her face.

Her blush growing deeper, Amy immediately looked Faith in the eye. “Sorry.” She stammered out after a moment. “I didn't mean –” she pointed over her shoulder, “I was – I was just in there checking the time and – and I was leaving, and then you-”

Faith laughed and cut Amy off as she brushed past her friend to get into the bedroom and out of easy view from the doorway. “Relax, Amy.” The Slayer told her. “If I got upset with every person that checked me out, I'd have a problem with three quarters of Sunnydale.”

“I wasn't checking you out!” Amy protested immediately, not noticing the defensiveness in her voice. “I just – I just wasn't expecting you to come out of there completely naked. It, it threw me is all.”

“Sure looked like you were checking me out.” Faith replied, then she laughed again after another moment. “It's fine. I'm just messing with you. It's my bad – not like I'm used to house-guests. I should have kept the towel on or something like that.” She walked out of the room, now fully dressed. “How'd you sleep?”

Amy did a double-take at the sudden topic change, but nodded. “Pretty good, all things considered.” She kept her eyes away from Faith, the image of the nude Slayer still at the forefront of her mind – she wasn't sure why she couldn't get it out of her head. “I wouldn't call the couch comfortable, but it's a couch and at least I got a full night's sleep.” She forced herself to look at Faith, but she kept her eyes above the other woman's neck. “Thanks.” She managed a smile. “I appreciate it.” She turned away and looked back towards the bathroom, then back to Faith.

“You can use my shower, you know.” The dark haired woman said, opening her freezer and perusing the assorted frozen meals she'd bought with the meager stipend the Council paid her, supplemented by what she could steal from demons and vamps – either direct cash, or fenced stuff. And since Faith couldn't cook worth a damn, she ate a lot of food that got prepared in a microwave.

“Can't. I forgot to bring anything to wrap my back with.” Amy looked at the freezer too. The selection was crappy – Faith hadn't gone shopping recently. “I can cover lunch, we can go to Happy Burger or something. You let me borrow your couch.”

“I let you borrow my couch because you're my friend, Amy. I didn't offer accommodation to you thinking you'd need to pay me back or anything.”

“I'm offering to buy lunch because you're my friend.” Amy replied. She managed a laugh, nodding at the freezer. “And because you need to make a run to the store soon.”

“Don't exactly have time. And those cheapasses in the Council only send the money once a month.” Faith frowned. “And none of the vamps or demons I've hit lately have had much worth taking. Shitty luck.”

“Well, maybe you'll have better luck tonight.” She got up and grabbed her bag. “Just let me change really quick.” She started towards the bathroom.

“Hey.” Faith said to her friend. “You saw me naked. I should get to see you in the buff as well.” She smiled, watching Amy flush again. “Go, go.” She gestured to the bathroom door.

Amy took a deep breath and closed the bathroom door behind her. She wasn't sure why she was getting so flustered – or why she couldn't get the thought of a naked Faith out her head. And Faith's response there, before she'd walked into the bathroom...

Was that flirting? Or just Faith just being Faith?

And which did she want it to be?

October 24th, 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

Xander, having finally recovered his appetite, was making himself a sandwich. He'd brought Cordelia up her breakfast, still debating just how to approach her about the subject of Willow and Oz and the werewolf cheating thing. He didn't want to start telling her and then suddenly get stalled too early. Also...call him selfish, but he wanted to spend the day with his girlfriend. A normal Sunday with the woman he loved, without worrying about the Iron Coin and stuff. Cordelia was upstairs catching up on the last bit of homework she needed to do, and then they were free and clear for the rest of the day and the night.

Xander closed up the bread and grabbed the plate, heading for the stairs when there was a knock on the front door. He heard his mother walking towards the door, heard it opening, and then Buffy's voice.

“Hello, Mrs. Harris.”

“Buffy. My son's in the kitchen.” There wasn't anything rude about it, but his mom knew why Buffy would be here – to see him or Cordelia.

“Thanks.” And so, soon enough, Buffy was in the kitchen. “Hey Xander.”

“Hiya, Buff. What's up?” He set the sandwich on the counter. He couldn't think of any particular reason why she was visiting him at home – it wasn't impossible she'd just dropped by to be friendly, yeah, but they usually met up at the Bronze or whatever for that.

“Where's Cordelia? Aren't you guys together on your day off?”

“Yeah, but we're not joined at the hip all the time, Buff-meister.” Xander replied with a smile. He jerked his head upstairs. “Cordy's doing the last of her homework. Something for Walsh's class. I've heard how much of a hardass she can be.”

“Hardass sounds about right.” Buffy stood with her back to part of the counter, standing across the kitchen from Xander, looking at him. She took a deep breath and then, “Okay, here's the thing. When I was in that other universe – right before he...before he died, the Xander there...he told me things. He gave me something.” Buffy continued to speak, but nothing came out. As if she was talking underwater – without the bubbles.

“Buffy? What did he give you?” Not that Xander couldn't guess – it had something to do with the Iron Coin, the Jester, the 'Hydra', or else she wouldn't be having the voiceless problem. But... How would she know anything like that? It didn't make sense. 

Or...or is she trying to trick me, make me think she knows something? No. That wasn't Buffy, no matter how annoyed she'd gotten in the past about being kept in the dark about the...information source. But...

Okay, so the Xander in the alternate universe somehow was able to give her something. The Coin, most likely. But what exactly did he say? How did he say it?

“Xander. I just-” Buffy started, then, “Did I just...no sound?” 

“Yea.” Xander nodded. “You should count yourself lucky you're not getting the coughing fit, Buffy. And don't try writing anything down, either. Especially not with a pen. They like to explode when you try that. And while I'd have tried sign-language, I don't know it. And with my luck, my fingers would end up breaking spontaneously anyway.” He let out a sigh and ran a hand down over his face. This is not what I needed today. “So the me in this...other universe, or reality, or whatever you wanna call it...he told you about...my source?”

“A little. He got coughing fits...but right before he died...he managed to tell me a bit more.” Buffy said softly. “I wasn't really in a position to think about it right then...I was too focused on...on getting Anyanka to bring the alternate you back...and then that thing with that Glove and her amulet went down...and I was back here. But...”

“But you know some things.” Xander rubbed at his forehead. “I don't suppose telling you that talking about this...this situation...isn't actually going to get you anywhere, that you'd probably be better off just ignoring whatever the other me told you will work, will it?” Buffy just gave him a look. “Yea, I didn't think so.”

“Xander, I want to know who your source is. I want to know how they know what they know, why they're telling you about it and how much more they know. I want to know how they're stopping you – and now apparently me – from talking about it. If they can control what I say –”

“They don't control what you say. Just who hears it. How it comes out.” Xander interrupted. He noticed her use of the word 'they', as if it was plural. The Jester was one person...one entity. But 'he' was probably not the word you'd use...or she...it, maybe. But they worked as well as anything else...from the way the Jester talked...from what he said...

The being that he spoke to occasionally was not the entirety of the Jester...just a part of him. A manifestation. 

Then again, who knew for certain exactly what 'they' Buffy might have encountered in that Wish-world she'd traveled to? 

“I guess I can't blame you for wanting to know more.” Xander said after a long moment, his voice soft.

“Xander...” Buffy started, “I know...we both know how, initially, I held this against you. Like you had a choice. But it's not your choice, I get that now. You're still the guy who risked his life to come down into the sewers with me looking for Jesse. Still the guy who brought me back from the dead. You're still my friend. And...you trusted me with Angel...you've trusted me a lot. I can trust you on this – you, not your source. You can't tell me much – hell, I couldn't even read your mind back then. That's got to be scarily powerful magic...or something.”

“You think I trust them?” Xander laughed. “There's motives and plans and –” Xander started coughing. It took him only a moment to get it under control – by this point, he was getting good at anticipating it – and then he looked up at the ceiling. “Really? You're gonna stop me on that?” He let out a sigh and turned his gaze back to Buffy. “I don't know if it counts as magic, to be honest with ya. Not the magic we're familiar with, anyway. It's gotta be bigger than that.” He looked at his sandwich, his appetite gone once again and so he took it back to the fridge. He could always eat it later – no sense wasting it. Once the fridge door was closed again, he looked back over at her. “Alright. Tell me...tell me what I...what the other Xander told you there – however much of it you can, anyway – and I'll see what blanks I can fill. Deal?”

“Deal.” Buffy nodded. She took a breath and let it out. “You said that you didn't think 'he' was a good way to describe your source. That...you got specific information...a certain kind. Things that co-” Buffy's hand flew to her throat as her windpipe suddenly constricted.

“Buffy!” Xander went over to her friend. “Calm down – don't try to force your way past it. Trust me; you don't take the hint, and it'll just get worse! You gotta try to be...creative. Think of different ways to say the same thing. Indirect route.” He put a comforting hand on her shoulder.

Buffy kept choking for maybe a second or two longer, but then finally she sucked in air. She started to double-over, but Xander kept her up, and the Slayer nodded after a moment. She started another deep breath.

“Okay, now I feel seriously violated. God! Is that how it feels for you?” Buffy looked him in the eye, her expression mutinous and annoyed.

“Pretty much. They're pretty aggressive about keeping things quiet. So like I said, be creative.”

Xander watched Buffy as she thought for a moment, then she started talking again. “You find out about...possibilities.” Xander nodded. “That you were...a way to do...something.”

“Yup. Sounds familiar, anyway. My source doesn't care about you or me or what happens on the Hellmouth. Not really. It's an angle.” Xander shrugged. “But –”

“There's two sides, I figured out that much.” Buffy interrupted. “That's what you meant, when you said that I couldn't let them win. Both sides.”

Xander blinked. “I actually got that out? You got that out just now?” That was a little hard to believe.

“You were dying. Maybe it simply didn't matter anymore.” Buffy told him softly.

“That's good to know.” Xander sighed. “I'll keep that in mind if I get thrown against the wall that way, and start coughing up blood after every bone in my body gets broken.” He let out a breath. “The possibilities come from...somewhere. I learn them, I do things.”

“And what possibilities do you know about?”

“Right now?” Xander shrugged. “Drusilla is coming back to town, some guys with guns and what look like military or close equipment are going to be around at some point, and Oz is going to cheat on Willow with another werewolf, though I'm not sure how voluntary that part is going to be for him. You're going to be tying Spike up for some reason and Wesley gonna get some kind of bad news over the phone.” Xander wasn't surprised at the blank look on Buffy's face. He hadn't heard any sound. “No sound?”

“Nada.” Buffy nodded.

Xander laughed darkly. “Not surprised. Tried to tell you everything I knew in one go.” Xander figured he could give her...maybe one thing. For now, anyway. He didn't want to send Buffy over the edge and start beating the crap out of Oz just yet – unlike him, Buffy could cripple Oz for life if she got pissed at him enough – and he didn't know enough about whatever it was Buffy was going to be doing with Spike and those guys with guns to give her anything helpful right now. 

“Okay. A friend of...” Xander started coughing before he could say 'Spike'. Clearly that was too much. He held up a hand and controlled himself again after a moment. “A friend of an old...friend. She's gonna be showing up soon. I don't know when exactly.” He thought, trying to figure out the best way to to say it without saying it. Heck, he had better luck telling these things to Giles –

That's it. “For whatever reason, I can get away with telling Giles more things than I can anyone else. Probably because if I can't share some of what I know with someone, I can't do anything. And if I just sit around and do nothing, I'm of no use to my source. And Giles seems to have more freedom to tell you things. Maybe I can tell him. And then he can tell you.”

“If they can stop me from talking...I think they can stop Giles from telling me things that you tell him.” Buffy pointed out. She sighed and looked at him. “Life was a lot simpler a few years ago, wasn't it?”

Xander chuckled lightly. “I suppose it was.” He shrugged, “I'll see what I can tell Giles, Giles will see what he can tell you, you see what you can tell Giles. We'll have a nice little circle of nobody able to completely talk to anyone else.” Especially since I'm going to keep Cordelia in the loop as much as I can...

Xander had never thought that the Jester and his Hydra buddy – whatever the hell he/she/it was – would mess with what anyone else had to say. He was surprised that they could...though he really shouldn't have been.

“Yea. Life used to be simpler.”

October 26th, 1999
Wesley's Apartment, Sunnydale

Had Wesley loosened up enough as a person to curse, he'd have cursed loudly when he heard the phone ring. The Watcher had been working on his latest Watcher's diary entry – already in his short time in Sunnydale, he'd filled two books with his extensive observations on his charge, on Miss Summers, on her friends and on everything that had happened and was happening in Sunnydale. Almost a third of one of those books had been dedicated to Angel – having studied Angelus so extensively, having had any sort of firsthand experience with the souled version of the Scourge of Europe was, academically, a gift from on high. 

A scholarly thesis on that vampire was something that would truly make his reputation within the Council, no doubt about it. 

Of course, much that made it into his diaries did not make it into his official reports to the Council, these days. Technically, that was acceptable – the diaries were as much about the opinions of the Watcher and things that weren't important enough – yet – to make it into an official report. When a Watcher died – or more often when their Slayer died and the Watcher's duty was over – the diaries were packed off and sent to the Council, to be checked and then archived with all the others.

Without proof Wesley was unwilling to officially mention, for example, Mr. Harris' precognitive abilities. While he was quite certain they existed, he also knew that the Council – with very good reason – had a penchant for snapping up seers and taking them somewhere where they could be kept...safe. Miss Summers and Faith, not to mention everyone else, wouldn't see it that way, however.

He also hadn't mentioned in his formal reports that Faith was training him how to fight better. He'd been making progress with hand-to-hand combat, and came away with less bruises now than when he'd started the whole process up. But he only landed hits on Faith when he was very, very lucky, or when she let him, taking a hit in order to score a take down. In some ways, his formal training at the Academy was useful – the fundamentals he'd learned worked better now that he had practical experience with which to apply them. In others, the training had been insufficient – but there was no way Wesley was going to tell anyone in England that. He had no desire to become a complete laughingstock, thank you very much. 

Thinking of his sparring sessions with Faith – less often now than over the summer – made Wesley wince a little, remembering that he had one scheduled for tomorrow.

All that aside, Wesley needed to pick up the phone, so he set down his pen and picked up.

“Wyndam-Pryce.”

“The Gem of Amarra has been stolen.” Wesley bit his lip at the sound of Quentin Travers' voice on the other end of the line. “The courier is dead.”

Wesley had no idea what to say to that – how...how could anyone have known? How had the thief pulled it off? Only Travers, Mr. Giles, himself and a small handful of others knew who the courier delivering the Gem of Amarra was – and beyond that, only six men (the courier, himself and Mr. Giles, Travers and two other Watchers on the Inner Council) knew that the Gem of Amarra had been uncovered and was being delivered to England by that courier.

The very thought of the Gem loose...who could have taken it? Who would have been able to find out...been able to commit the resources to take it...to overcome the wards the courier would have had around him at all times...

“Are – are you sure?” It was all he could get out. If I hadn't insisted that the Gem go to the Council...

But if it had gone to Angel...the risks...

“Of course I'm sure, Wesley.” Travers replied tersely and harshly. “I'm looking at his body, and the bodies of his escort detail right now. Their throats have been cut open...there are vampire bites on all the corpses. The wards on the plane were obviously breached by one of the undead between it landing, and the armored truck arriving to take the Courier to the Vault.”

“I see.” So there could only have been a very short window of opportunity... The Council had this down almost to a science...delivery of sensitive items like the Gem... someone had to have known. And know all manner of details – had someone in the Council talked? The very thought of anyone betraying the organization like this...

Still, it did happen. No one liked to speak of it, but it had happened in the past. Even his own extended family tree wasn't free of such betrayal...

“We can only assume the Gem is in the hands of another vampire. Consider this a global crisis. All available resources that can be spared are to be dedicated to finding the Gem.” Wesley heard Travers walking in the background. “The Council has placed me in charge of this operation.”

“Yes.” For all that Travers' standing had been reduced by the disastrous Cruciamentum – to the point where Faith hadn't been subjected to one, though whether or not the next Slayer would still remained a contentious issue despite Mr. Giles's belief that the Cruciamentum was finally dead – Travers was still a connected man. And...very capable. There was a reason he had an immense respect for the man...

Though his judgment on the subject of saving Angel was flawed. Wesley knew that Travers would have been the one who'd told Giles that the Council was not in the business of healing vampires. He wouldn't have let such an opportunity go to waste. Wesley knew just how much the other man wanted the former Angelus dust – for Travers, there was no middle ground, and the Irish-born vampire's soulless alter ego had much to pay for.

“If you hear even the slightest rumor as to who has the Gem, or where it is, you will inform me immediately. Regardless of the time there or here. And be ready to move yourself and your Slayer to where we need you, if the Gem is located.”

Yes, because Faith is going to be so thrilled to pack up and leave Sunnydale on my order. He was not looking forward to telling the others about this...

“I understand.”

“And you will not tell Rupert Giles that the Gem has been stolen.” 

Wesley was about to protest – that was utterly absurd...the Council's rules were clear...as the Senior Watcher on the Hellmouth, Wesley had to tell him about something this important...and Mr. Giles had to know. The Slayers had to know. But before he could say a word, Travers kept going – 

“Or either Slayer or their friends. The Council does not want to instigate a panic. As far as everyone but the rest of the Inner Council, myself, you and those working on this matter under me are concerned, the Gem is in the Vault. Or a myth still.” Counter-productive...limiting the 'available' resources...and how exactly am I to get rumors about it without letting anyone know we don't have it anymore? “I will repeat my orders so that there is no room for...interpretation on your part, Wesley. You are to inform Rupert Giles that the Gem of Amarra has reached the Vault, and is secure.”

“I will inform Mr. Giles.” Wesley said with a nod, even though Travers couldn't see him.

But what will I inform him...

Wesley swallowed after the transatlantic line went dead, and then hung the phone up himself.

The rules of the Council were clear on this...but Travers did have the authority to overrule them...when the situation merited it. And yes, Travers' argument had some merit, but still...

Wesley honestly had no idea what he'd be telling Mr. Giles.

October 27th, 1999
Oz's Room, UC Sunnydale Campus

“Amy told me about a Wicca group on campus. Something about them doing an orientation session next month.” Willow told her boyfriend as she got dressed – behind his open out closet door. She could have sex with Oz...but for some reason. she was self-conscious about getting dressed around him. Just the getting dressed part – she knew it didn't make much sense, but it was what it was. Fortunately, Oz had no problem with her having that issue...

“And you're going to go?” Oz asked, pulling a shirt on. They both had classes in half an hour.

“I was thinking about it – I mean...I've got levitation, charms and glamors down perfect, and that vampire freezing spell. I've got Amy's fire spell down pretty good too.” She shrugged, “But I'm ready to move onto the next level.” Willow finished getting dressed and stepped out from behind the closet, walking over to her boyfriend.

Boyfriend. She still liked saying and thinking that. No. She loved saying and thinking that.

“You're sure you're ready for the next level? I mean...” Oz trailed off a moment, then, “I mean, Amy probably thought she had the fire spell down okay, and then she burned her hand and her back.” He held up a hand, “I'm not saying don't do it – I just want you safe. Don't want you to get hurt.”

“Concerned boyfriend?” Willow put her arms around Oz's waist and gave him a quick kiss. “I'll be careful.”

“You mean it?” Oz raised an eyebrow. “I just don't want you to lose control. I mean, from what Buffy said about the other you –”

“If my hair starts going black, I'll know I'm losing control.” Willow said with a small laugh. She wasn't going to lose control, though. She wasn't the other version of herself. She saw the look on Oz's face, and resisted the urge to frown. The only other person who was really supportive on the 'learning more about magic' front was Amy, and since she'd burned her hand, she'd been all about the screaming brakes too. She knew Oz cared and that was why he was being all mean and Brutus-y, but still... “And if I want to make sure I don't, wouldn't learning more about magic from more people help?”

Oz nodded, “You're right. It would. I just worry – I know what it's like to have a power you can't control. I mean...every time I start to wolf out, I touch something deep in me – dark. It's not fun. I don't want to see you have to deal with that.” He leaned in and gave her a kiss. “Do you know when next month?”

Willow shook her head, “Not yet. I'm gonna ask around, keep an eye out. Want to see if I can beat Amy to finding out when.” She smiled. She pulled away heading towards the door, Oz following her out.

“How is her hand nowadays, anyway?” Oz asked.

“Doing better. But still looks pretty bad.” Willow closed her eyes. “My bag.” She'd left it in the room. “I need to go back and –” She saw it there in front of her, held in Oz's free hand. She smiled and took it, leaning in to kiss Oz quickly. “And that's why God created boyfriends. See you at lunch?”

“Lunch.” Oz agreed.

October 27th, 1999
Giles' Apartment, Sunnydale

When the phone rang, Giles was sitting on his couch, reading the latest issue of British Archeology. He could almost hear Buffy or Xander mocking him over reading it for fun, but he was well used to that sort of thing. Anyway, Giles walked over to the phone and picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Giles.” Wesley's voice on the other end of the line was somewhat unexpected. “I thought I'd call to inform you that Quentin Travers just called me – he wanted me to tell you that the Gem of Amarra has reached the Vault.”

“That is –” Giles let out a small breath, “That is good news. Short of destroying it, putting it in the Vault is the best option for an item that dangerous.”

“I would agree.”

The Vault was one of the most protected pieces of real-estate on the planet, after all. While the Council was more than willing to stay behind the times on many things, when it came to protecting the Vault, no expense was spared in its security; modern, magical and human. No place was perfectly secure against theft by a determined and powerful enough organization – or a suicidal enough one – but the Vault was the closest one would find on this Earth.

Its greatest defense was the layer of memory spells placed on it – very few really knew where it was, even if they'd been there, and only a few more knew about more than a handful of the items stored within – records of what was inside the Vault were kept in the Vault itself. Thus, it was rather difficult to steal something you don't know someone has.

“Is there anything else?”

“No.” Wesley replied after a moment. “Just that.”

“Very well. Thank you.” Giles hung up.

October 28th, 1999
Amy's Dorm, UC Sunnydale

Amy had been doing a lot of thinking recently. A lot. Most of it relating to Faith. She'd been using the excuse of a heavy load of schoolwork to avoid her friend much of the time – though not completely. She'd hung out with her at the Bronze a little, patrolled with her one night for a couple of hours, but...

She'd been avoiding Faith, and avoiding looking directly at her even more.

The sight of Faith coming out of the bathroom the way she had...it was still sticking with her. Amy just couldn't put it out of her mind. And she didn't know why.

She tried to understand, but everything she came up with – it was conflicted. Conflicting? Complicated? Complicated.

She liked Faith. A lot. The other woman had saved her life – was her best friend...had stuck by her. Even when she'd revealed the full truth – that she'd deliberately used the late Mayor's spell against her mother, not just cast on desperate emotion...had been informing on them to the Mayor – Faith had been, right from the beginning, nothing but supportive. The others had stopped condemning her pretty quickly, and even stopped walking on tiptoes around her after a few days. But Faith had never condemned her, never been 'careful' with her.

She had spent a lot of time with Faith – after she'd confessed everything to her, about the Mayor and...she'd stuck pretty close to her.

If Faith had been a guy, Amy might have concluded that the reason why she couldn't get the image of her naked friend out of her head was because she thought Faith was sexually attractive. But Faith wasn't a guy, and Amy had only ever liked guys before. She had no problem with homosexuality or anything; it just wasn't her deal.

Not that I've actually gone out on a date of any sort in the last ten months. Or even given the possibility serious thought – first her mother...then killing her, then Faith killing Finch, and the Mayor manipulating her – she'd been too busy, too preoccupied. And she wasn't really looking for a...a relationship at the moment.

What that last thought had to do with anything...Amy shook her head and brought her mind back on track.

She'd been avoiding Faith somewhat, because she didn't want her best friend to realize that she couldn't get the image of her naked out of her mind. It was...embarrassing...

But Faith had already mentioned to her that she was welcome to crash on the couch again, over the weekend, if she wanted a chance to sleep in late. And she really did need another such session. Her burns actually were starting to improve, finally; they hurt less, but they still kept her up for a while every night...

She's not going to be coming out of the shower naked again. Amy rationalized. And I don't want to be avoiding her – even partially. She liked spending time with Faith. Naked or otherwise. 

Amy closed her eyes and shook her head a little, trying – and failing – to once again get that image completely out of her mind, and then turned her attention to the textbook on the desk in front of her. It was dry enough that it should be able to distract her for the moment, if she focused on it hard enough.

November 5th, 1999
The Bronze, Sunnydale

Cordelia had turned out to have no homework to do this weekend, and so, she wanted a date night, and Xander was more than willing to oblige. Unfortunately, given that there hadn't been much time for making restaurant reservations or anything, and Xander's limited finances – which Cordelia was remarkably understanding of over the last few months (he really didn't deserve her) – their options were few.

“Xander, for God's sake, you don't need to keep apologizing. It's fine. Yea, it's not the Icarus, but then this isn't Valentine's Day.” She let out a sigh. “And it's what I've got to get used to for the next four years.” She held up a hand. “I'm not blaming you, Xander! Or holding it against you. You didn't make my dad a tax cheat. And a bad one at that.”

Xander bit back his first thought – namely, He didn't get caught for twelve years. Means he wasn't completely terrible at it. Correcting Cordelia when she was talking about father being a jackass was definitely not a good idea. And good or bad at being a tax cheat, Mr. Chase was a jackass for what he did. Both in general, and to his daughter.

Xander nodded. “Alright. Alright.” He took a sip of his drink, and looked around the Bronze.

“The music is pretty decent too. We could dance.” Cordelia offered. She frowned, “Though not to this song. If the next one is more like the last one.” She reached over and squeezed his hand. “You don't trip up too much, maybe you'll get something special after we arrive home.”

Xander couldn't help but shift in his chair, “I'll keep that in mind.” 

Their sex life was such that Cordelia only made promises like that when she had something really...good in mind. Yea, he really had lucked out a whole lot better than he deserved. 

Xander listened the music for a moment – it wasn't for dancing, but it was decent. His eyes passed onto the stage and then he looked back, gaze locked on the singer, frozen in shock for a moment. He'd have recognized that face anywhere – it was impossible for him to forget it. 

The band's lead singer was the woman that was going to try to kill Willow. Admittedly, as a werewolf. Maybe it wasn't voluntary on her part, either. Who the hell is she?

“Or you could stare at that singer on stage, and get nothing tonight.” Cordelia said, elbowing him in the ribs – hard.

Xander bit his lip and then turned to her. “I wasn't staring!” His immediate response was hardly a reasonable one, since he had been. But before Cordelia could say anything, he took her hand. “You know...honey, you know I said I'd tell you as much as I can.” He swallowed, keeping his voice soft. “About...my information?”

“Yea, and you told me about how Spike's psycho ex-girlfriend was going to be back in town at some point.” Cordelia replied. “What does that have to do –”

“You know, I'm still not sure how I was allowed to tell you that part.” Especially since he'd not been able to tell her or Giles that those... 'NATO' guys (to use Oz's joking terminology) that had crossed their paths on Halloween night were the same people Buffy was going to be fighting in her dorm building at some point. Or that Buffy was going to be tying Spike up. He hadn't been able to tell Buffy either of those things, but had been able to hint at Drusilla to her, and with enough talking in circles, get Giles to get that 'Dear Old Dru' was coming back to town. 

Which made it surprising that he'd been able to outright tell Cordelia. And Giles had been able to tell Buffy that much...there hadn't been any tests about what Cordelia could tell to whom, and Xander hadn't been able to tell Giles or Cordelia about Buffy picking up on things in the other universe...and Buffy hadn't been able to tell Giles even that she'd picked up things in the alternate universe...

It's a nice little circle of non-communication we've got going, no doubt about it. And Buffy wonders why I didn't try bringing things up with people sooner, all the time...

On top of all that, he hadn't been able to tell anyone about Willow and Oz yet. Well, anyone being Buffy, Giles or Cordy. He hadn't tried anyone else – especially not Willow or Oz...but the calendar was closing in on the three days of the full moon. So he had to figure something out soon.

“Anyway...that...woman.” He pointed to the singer with his free hand, still looking at Cordelia, “I've- I've seen her before.”

“And not in person?” His girlfriend wasn't an idiot – she could catch on well enough. More than well enough, actually. Xander nodded. Cordy added, “So what's she gonna do?”

Xander put his hand to his throat pre-emptively, “She's going to s-” Xander started to choke up, but then he stopped trying to say 'she's going to sleep with Oz when they're both werewolves'. “She's...she's a werewolf.” He blinked when he realized he'd been able to get that out.

“I'm pretty sure that the memo is that werewolves aren't a problem, unless –” Cordelia started, but Xander interrupted.

“We need to keep her away from –” Again with the choking. Why not coughing? Or just plain soundless-ness?

“You really need to tell whoever the hell it is that tells you this stuff that they need to find a less dangerous way to shut you up.” Cordelia said harshly. “I'd love to tell them myself –” 

“But they're not going to 'show up' in a way that you'd be able to do that. I'd love to see you tell my source off,” He smiled, just imagining the tongue-lashing his girlfriend would give the Jester. He closed his eyes and lowered his head, thumb and forefinger on either side of eyes. Okay...so he couldn't come out and say it directly. He needed...he needed to be able to come up with something. He should be able to do that; he'd had enough practice since the summer of '98, after all. 

Plus he'd been able to tell Cordelia something at all. It was an improvement. He had to push it as far as he could. “Yes. She's a werewolf, and werewolves are not vampires – not something to be killed on sight. And I'm not saying we should kill her. I'm saying...I'm saying...she's going to screw something good up.”

“That's not a lot to go on, Xander.” Cordelia pointed out, starting to drum her fingers against the table lightly.

“No, it's not. Damn it, let me see –” Xander put his hand to his throat again, looking back up at his girlfriend, eyes open. He was certain he couldn't say 'she's going to kill Willow' given 'she's going to sleep with Oz' didn't work previously. Then an idea suddenly came to him. “Ask me what she's going to do again.”

Cordelia blinked a moment, then nodded. “Alright. What's she gonna do?”

“O-” And this time, rather than choking, it was coughing. Okay, why was I saying that this was better than the choking again?

Cordelia's brow furrowed. Xander could see her connecting the dots. God-damn, but she was both smart and beautiful! “Oz? Do – Oz? Xander, are you shitting me? Oz is gonna be unfaithful? The same Oz who would never cheat on Willow?”

“Why would you think I was going to say 'Oz'?” Xander didn't really want to seem like he was being difficult, but he somehow doubted that he'd be able to just say 'yes' since he couldn't even say it at all. But why was I allowed to say that much? He/she/it could have done the whole no-voice thing...then again, in that case Cordy could have read my lips. 'Oz' is a simple one-syllable word. She could have put all the hints together –

Was it more 'fun' for the Jester if he was able to give out hints, but not instantly spell things out for his friends and girlfriend? He'd given hints to Giles on the Drusilla issue, and eventually that had worked.

“You bring up werewolves and the you started to say what sounds like 'Oz'. It's not that hard to put two and two together, doofus!” Cordelia replied in response to his previous question. “If you hadn't mentioned werewolves...” Cordelia shrugged. “But this is Oz we're talking about. Hell, I'd buy you cheating on me before I'd buy Oz cheating on Willow!”

What the hell is that supposed to mean? The thought of actually cheating on Cordelia had never occurred to him – he'd noticed other attractive women, sure (and he knew Cordelia noticed guys she thought were good looking), but he was not even remotely interested in doing anything like that to Cordelia. 

He loved her. After all this time, he thought she knew that! 

“Well gee, Cordy, glad to hear you think so highly of me.” Xander couldn't help the sour note in his voice.

Cordelia rolled her eyes and scoffed, “Puh-lease, Xander! No, I don't think you're going to cheat on me – you're not that stupid. But you've at least noticed other women from time to time. Not like I haven't done the same thing with guys, and that's just human. But have you ever seen Oz notice another woman that way?”

“Not really.” It was true enough. Oz was so good at keeping his thoughts hidden that it was impossible to really tell, but in all honesty, no. Xander didn't think the musician had ever really noticed another woman since he'd started dating Willow.

“And yet, you're telling me he's going to cheat on Willow with that woman.” Cordelia pointed casually over at the female singer. “Forgive me if it's a little hard to believe.”

I didn't actually tell you that... Well, okay, he had. As best he could, anyway. “Question, sweetheart. Why does Oz lock himself up every full moon?”

“Because otherwise he'll kill people while he's wolfed out, he's all animal instinct – oh.” Cordelia turned away and looked at the singer a moment, then back to Xander. “Yeah, now I see what you're saying without actually saying it. Okay, I guess that explains that! You know, geez, this would be a lot easier if you could come out and simply say it!”

“Exactly.” He smiled, squeezing Cordelia's hand a little. “And I know.” Xander replied softly. “But it is what it is.” He sent another glance at the performing singer, then back to his girlfriend. “We need to find out who she is...and stop...” Xander didn't bother to try saying anything.

“Stop wolf-boy and wolf-girl from getting it on like a pair of demonic bunnies?” Cordelia suggested. She let out a sigh. “Fine. You go ask the bartender who the band is, who that woman who's singing is. I'll try elsewhere, in case he doesn't know.” She suggested. “We find out her name...then we make sure Oz stays in his cage and...hope she locks herself up somewhere else.”

“For some reason, I don't think she will.” Xander said softly. Only to realize that once again, no sound had come out of his mouth. Xander just closed his eyes and let out a low sigh. Then he opened them, to see Cordelia staring at him curiously. “Fine, it's a plan. But after that-?”

“Well, my mood for a date night is pretty much ruined.” She held up a finger. “Not blaming you for that. I asked you to tell me whatever you could, and you did. But you're going to make it up to me once all this is sorted out, clear?” Xander nodded, and then another question occurred to her. “How long do we have until the three days of the full moon thing?”

“Maybe a week or something. I think. We'll have to check on that too.” Xander got up and walked towards the bartender.

November 6th, 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

Xander woke to the sound of rolling dice and immediately looked around – and sure enough, the Jester was there, rolling dice and letting them land on an invisible table before him. Harris looked over to Cordelia and saw her sleeping soundly.

“We're a few percentage points out of phase with her and everything else right now. She's not going to hear us, and if you try to wake her up, she won't notice your efforts.” The Jester appeared to shrug. “So you won't get to see her give me 'what for' this time.” He laughed. “Could be amusing, I'll grant, but that's not what I'm here for.”

“And what,” Xander said, resisting the urge to glare at the Jester, “Are you here for? Our usual lovely conversations?”

“Well, someone's in a sour mood.” The Jester's dice suddenly turned into four coins – none of them Iron. One was Silver, and the other Gold – and if Xander had to guess, the other two were Tin and Copper. His visitor was juggling the coins, not missing a beat as they went up into the air and back down. “Wanna share?”

“For you Jester, I'm always in a sour mood. These days.” Xander frowned. “Comes with the territory regarding that coin you gave me.”

“You really want to give it back, I'll take it.” The Jester kept juggling the four coins.

Xander narrowed his eyes. “Uh-uh. You wouldn't take it back just like that. No fun for you.”

“No fun for me if you stop using it, either. You give it back and I can hand it off to someone else.” The Jester smirked.

“I didn't say I was going to stop using it.”

“No. You didn't. Which is why I gave it to you in the first place.” The Jester let the coins all fall neatly into one hand. “So, what's got you pissed at me this time?”

“Not so much pissed as frustrated and confused – I wanna know, what the hell kind of rules govern who can say what?”

“And here I thought you'd already learned that lesson? Well, maybe I'm expecting too much from you, human. But in a nutshell, there are no rules. Just fun and games. Whims. My whims. The whims of the others like me. It's no fun if you can just tell everyone everything – then you could just tell your friend about the betrayal he'd perpetrate with that werewolf girl, and then he and she never do their thing and it's all done, nice and easy. Boring. But watching you talk around in circles? Watching you get madder and madder over your own impotence? That's much more fun. You spent, what, twenty minutes trying to get across to the Watcher that that mad vampiress was coming back to this town?” The Jester laughed and clapped his hands. “That was a laugh riot all its own.”

“So glad I can be of amusement.” Xander clenched his fists. “At some point, ya know, I'm going to get tired of you jerking me around.” 

“Indeed. And at some point, I'm going to get tired of jerking you around. In fact, it's amazing you've kept my interest as long as you have.” The Jester agreed cheerily. “But until then,” The Jester flipped a coin over at Xander, who caught it. It was the Iron Coin. Xander didn't even bother to wonder how the Jester had taken it out of his bedside table. “You can keep enjoying the Blessings of Chaos.” Chortling with laughter, the Jester faded from view.

November 6th, 1999
Oz's Room, UC Sunnydale Campus

If Oz was surprised to see Xander and Cordelia on the other side of his front door, he didn't show it. He merely stepped aside, letting his friends enter without invitation. Broad daylight, yeah, but there was no such thing as too much caution when it came to invites into one's home.

Cordelia watched her boyfriend, wondering what he would do. She knew Xander wanted to punch Oz for – well, he hadn't actually done anything yet. Xander had said he wasn't sure, one way or the –

Her question – and Xander's – was abruptly answered when her boyfriend's fist crashed into Oz's face. The werewolf staggered back, one hand going up to his jaw, checking his teeth, maybe checking for blood. But she was pretty sure Xander hadn't hit him that hard.

Oz lowered his hand and looked at her, one eyebrow raised, and then at Xander. “What was that for?”

“Veruca.” Cordelia replied. They'd previously decided she'd do as much of the talking as possible. As far as Cordelia knew, there weren't as many limits on what she could say – though Xander had suggested that since she knew things, she might not be able to say everything either...

Cordelia did not like the thought of whoever the hell was giving her boyfriend information having some sort of control over what she said and who she said it to. That was like creepy to the nth degree! 

Oz blinked. “Veruca? Lead singer for Shy?” He blinked. For one, his expression was actually readable – confusion. Cordelia wouldn't say it was 'all over' his face, but the stoic facade was a little cracked, at least.

“So you know her and her band? Good.” Cordelia managed a smile. “Did you know she's a werewolf?”

“No. So how –” He started, but then turned to Xander again. He took in a quick breath, then nodded. “Ah.”

“Ah? What the hell's that supposed to mean?” the Dork asked in confusion. 

“Xander, it's not like there aren't clues to pick up on.” Cordelia pointed out to her boyfriend, “Sounds like Oz put them together pretty damn fast, but still.”

“You know things. Weird things. Knew about Angel. Finch. Buffy in L.A. Bet there's more.” Oz looked from Xander back to her. “And Veruca?”

“Is a werewolf.” Cordelia repeated. “And if you're anywhere in her vicinity again, Xander's going to hit you again. Maybe I will, too.” She looked him in the eye.

“I'm not getting any more than this, am I?” Oz looked between the two of them. 

“You're going to have me standing guard outside your cage every night of the upcoming full moon.” Xander said. “The rest can wait.” Xander's tone was harsh, terse, but then he took a deep breath. “Oz, man. Look – just trust me, alright? Stay away from Veruca, and I'll tell you everything else...after.”

“If she's a werewolf – Xander, she needs somewhere to –”

“She's not getting into the same cage as you, Oz.” Cordelia interrupted firmly. “Not. Happening!”

Oz blinked at her unexpected vehemence. “People could get hurt.”

“And if we hadn't told you, they'd get hurt anyway.” Xander replied. “If she doesn't lock herself up...what were you proposing? Knocking her over the head and dragging her in with you, just before you both get a lot hairier? Bad idea.”

“Yeah. Oz, you stay the hell away from her.” Cordelia ordered him. She raised a hand. “There's other options for Veruca's would-be victims.” She looked at Xander, silently telling him not to ask. Faith and Buffy – give them tranq guns. Point them at Veruca. Take her out of consideration.

Oz's hand went up to where Xander had punched him, feeling gently, then he looked at Xander. Once again, his face was blank, but after a long minute, he nodded.

This can't be easy for Oz to accept, just from what we've said. But...

Oz knew Xander. Not as well as she did, sure. Not as well as Willow did, but –

Willow.

Oz knew Xander well enough by now. Oz knew what would make Xander punch him that way. Cordelia instantly knew that Oz had figured it out, well – at least the basics, anyway. Just as she had in the Bronze, last night. 

“Everything else after?” The werewolf asked the two of them, simply.

“Everything.” Xander confirmed.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Still don't own Buffy. Yada, yada, yada

Note: I normally don't do this, but since the last two chapters – which I put a lot of work into – got comparatively   few reviews, this time I will. Granted, I'm not going to threaten or beg for reviews, but I am going to ask for them. I don't need deep, long, detailed reviews. Sure, I like those. But I'm just as happy with a short 'good fic' or 'loved this chapter' or whatever review you care to give me. Reviews are the best way that I have of knowing that people are reading and liking my fic.

Anyway, with all that out of the way:

Thanks are extended to Starway Man, my beta-reader and deiticlast, my creative consultant, who have both made and continue to make extensive contributions to the story from mere grammar/spelling all the way to plot and characterization. If you've enjoyed this fic, they deserve as much of the credit as I do.

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Episode 6: Divergence Assured

November 9th , 1999
Somewhere on campus, UC Sunnydale

“ I don't think the Forces of Darkness are even trying,” The god-damned Slayer (and current bane of his existence) said in her eternally annoying peppy voice. “I mean,” she continued, speaking to absolutely no one, “You could make a little effort, you know.”

Spike watched Buffy from his vantage point some distance away. He longed to go and sink his fangs into her right now, but right now wasn't the time. Going against the Slayer while he was still missing a hand...not a good idea. He'd been down to L.A. and made contact with a demon doctor who could sort the problem out for him. Sure, it wasn't going to be his hand...that was long gone and turned into dust. Spike wasn't entirely sure what Gregson was going to do in order to fix things, but the face-shedding quack would provide a hand he could hit with, or hold a weapon with, or whatever else one needed a hand for. And that was all he needed.

It had been expensive, that went without saying, but still worth it. The demon would be ready for the last bit of the process in a few days, but until then, Spike had a Slayer's death to plot. A long, slow and excruciatingly bloody death, to be precise. 

And then when he was done with Goldilocks, he'd do the same to the other one. Make her suffer for ruining his fight against the Summers chit – if that effin' dark-haired bitch hadn't shown up when she did, he'd have killed Betty stone dead. He'd still have his Gem, too. And he'd still have both hands. He had a lot to pay both Slayers back for.

Spike watched the original model Slayer as she started to walk away, still talking to thin air. “Give me something to work with!” Spike scoffed – she was just strolling away, as if nothing could ever go wrong. But it always could.

Bloody hell, but he'd been sure that Summers would send the Gem to the Magnificent Poof, and had quickly made plans to retrieve his property from 'Angel, Vamp Detective' while he was in L.A. But then he'd seen the bloke with the heavily armed escort show up at the new Watcher's apartment and pick up something. He'd followed them to their plane, planning to sneak onboard and get his Gem back...

But then the anti-vampire wards had ruthlessly thrown him back, and he could only watch helplessly as the plane took off without him. Blasted magicks.

Spike still hadn't given up on retrieving his Gem. But he couldn't do anything about it right now...and besides, he didn't need the Gem of Amarra to kill the annoying bint. He didn't.

“Watch what you say, Slayer.” the British vampire muttered at the retreating back of the blonde Chosen One. “You should know better than to go around tempting the fates like that. 'Cause when I get back from L.A., you and your little frien-” 

Spike's evil monologue  was cut off by white-hot pain shooting through every nerve in his body. He dropped to the ground, faintly hearing a slight buzzing sound as darkness closed in on his vision.

November 10th , 1999
The Bronze, Sunnydale

The Bronze appeared, as it often (but not always) was, to be packed to the rafters. Some of it was the usual crowd of people you might get on a week night – there weren't many other hangout options in Sunnydale – but some of it was people drawn to the club because of who the band was, and who the singer was. And her... suggestive lyrics.

That was the polite way of putting it, anyway. 

Xander had known that Veruca was going to be singing tonight – which made this evening the perfect opportunity to tell Buffy and Faith that Veruca was a werewolf and that she very likely didn't lock herself up during the full moon. Well, him and Cordelia, depending on just how much he could get out.

It had been a good idea – Cordelia's idea – but Xander had a feeling it wasn't going to be what someone could call 'simple'. It was easy in theory, but in practice...

If was just Buffy, he could tell her that (assuming he could) and pass it off as information his source had given him...which, more or less, was precisely the case. But with Faith...if she wanted an explanation...what could he tell her? He didn't want to have to go through the whole story right now – especially since he imagined the Jester would just blank him out from all of it. It would be the perfect way to get his kicks.

And even if he could tell Faith...he was already going to have to give Oz something when this whole Veruca situation was sorted out. And ideally, without Oz killing her while a wolf. That would never sit well with the musician.

Of course, if the Veruca-wolf tries to kill Willow like the Coin showed me, then Oz can tear her to pieces for all I care. Priorities and all.

“I thought Red and Wolfboy were gonna be here.” Faith said, looking around.

“Willow said something about other plans for her and Oz.” Buffy answered.

“Other plans?” The smirk on Faith's face made it clear what she was assuming those 'plans' were. Personally, Xander didn't want to think about the girl he'd known since Kindergarten doing that – so he put the thought out of his mind, quickly.

Buffy made a brief face, “I don't think it's that, Faith.” She shrugged, “Doesn't really matter. There's no rule that says everyone has to hang out together. They can do their own thing.”

Xander knew – and Cordelia did as well – just why Oz had found other plans for himself and Willow. To his credit, Oz had studiously avoided Veruca over the last few days. Xander had no idea if anyone else had noticed – Willow hadn't mentioned anything to him, and no one else had either. And no one else would be looking for it, apart from Cordelia. But wherever Oz knew Veruca was going to be, he wasn't.

“Not everyone's here.” Cordelia pointed out. “Even if we except Willow and Oz, Giles isn't here. Neither is Wesley.” Not that Wesley really counted as a member of 'everyone'. The G-man did, though.

“This isn't really the kind of place that Giles would wanna hang out.” Buffy pointed out.

“And Wesley may not be completely useless as a Watcher – hell, he's even kinda useful once in a while – but he's still not the kind of guy you wanna hang with.” Faith added. 

And that was true enough, for Xander's money. Wesley was maybe a little bit more liked within the group now – Xander was certainly willing to give the man points for his insistence on the 'don't give the Gem to Angel' thing – but they didn't really like him. Why should they?

“I think,” Amy pointed out from her position in a chair next to Faith's, “that if Giles showed up here, it might just be a sign of the apocalypse.” She looked to everyone. “I mean, what else would bring him here? ”

Before anyone could say anything else on that topic of conversation, Giles walked into view. “Hello, all.” The former librarian said, sounding just the slightest bit awkward – which for Giles, was quite a bit. Had had a big ceramic mug in one hand – and from the look on his face, he had no idea why he was getting shocked and horrified looks from everyone.

“ I only brought a stake.” Faith spoke first. “What else are we going to need?” She started to get up, and Xander's hand closed around his stake – like always, he had one on him. If it was apocalypse time, he'd be there. Every hand in those final fights was useful.

“What's wrong. Giles?” Buffy asked, starting to stand as well.

“No- no, don't get up.” Giles said, gesturing to the group. “There's no issue, no, uh, imminent disaster. No, I just thought I'd, you know, drop by.” Giles was looking around, looking and sounding ever so out of place amid the teenage and early-twenties people around, all enjoying themselves while Giles...not so much.

“Okay, I guess that's one theory completely shot.” Amy said as they all – mostly – relaxed. Still...it wasn't exactly what they were used to, having Giles here with them at the Bronze.

“Uhm...” Giles looked at them all, “latte, anyone? On me?” At the lack of takers, and seemingly ignoring their slightly-weirded out looks, Giles pulled up a chair and sat down, ending up between Xander and Buffy. “Well – it's been ages since I've been to a gig.”

He's lonely. It wasn't that hard for Xander to figure that out. Since Giles didn't work at the High School anymore, he didn't necessarily see the gang on a regular basis. And for all intents and purposes, they were his entire social circle. Which says a lot about him and...well, everything, really.

Xander had to admit it wasn't entirely Giles's fault for not having a wide circle friends, though. After all, who else would fit? Maybe Mrs. Summers, but apart from her, who else knew about demons and vampires and – it wasn't like any of them had friends outside of the extended 'Scooby Gang'. Not really. Cordelia had been completely shunned and abandoned by all her former Cordettes since before Graduation, for example. 

Hmm. Maybe Oz and his band; they had people they knew, liked, and interacted with, but still. Not a large social circle there, either.

Giles caught their looks this time, and gave them a look of his own. “Well, don't look that way. I'm – I'm down with the new music. And – and I have the albums to prove it.” Yes, Record Albums. Xander didn't know older music well enough to comment, but from what Oz had said, Giles' collection was impressive.

“Yes, but it's your cutting-edge 8-tracks that keep you ahead of the scene.” Buffy replied, not quite mocking her Watcher.

“Hey, don't knock him. He may be old, but Giles is still pretty cool.” Faith countered. Xander suspected she was also saying that in relation to her own Watcher, even though he didn't know for sure. “Far as 'responsible adults' go, anyway.”

“Thank you?” Giles didn't seem entirely sure what to say to that.

“Why not.” Buffy offered with a shrug, looking over at her Watcher, “If the Stones can still keep rolling, why can't Giles?”

“Well, thank you.” Giles repeated himself, but sounding not entirely thankful, “you've made me feel right at home.”

“Isn't home that empty place you're trying to escape?” Xander asked, unable to avoid the mild ribbing. 

Before Giles could respond, the sound of whooping and cheering was heard all throughout the club. Veruca came out on stage and started to sing. With the usual...manner in her music.

“She's...rather remarkable.” Giles said after a moment. Xander had to grant that the Watcher had a point, for however little he cared to admit it – Veruca could definitely sing.

“She's a bitch, is what she is.” Cordelia commented. At the looks on the faces of the rest of the group, she added, “No, really, she's a bitch. As in three nights a month?” 

Probably a bitch the rest of the month too, if she's the kind of werewolf that refuses to lock herself up during the full moon. Okay, granted, Xander didn't know that for sure – but given what the Iron Coin had shown him, he had no inclination to have charitable thoughts towards Veruca right now.

“Three nights a-” Giles started, then blinked, looking at Cordelia, and sparing a momentary glance at Xander. “Are you saying she's a werewolf?”

“She is.” Cordelia replied. Xander caught Buffy giving him a sort of 'is this you?' look, but was pretty sure neither Faith nor Amy did, which was good.

“Well, I'm no wolf-expert, but she looks human to me.” Faith pointed out.

“ Werewolves are human, for most intents and purposes.” Giles explained, “It's not as if they're demons or vampires or anything along those lines. They're humans with extra – err, they're as human as you and Buffy are, Faith.” He looked over at Cordelia. “Though I am curious as to why you think she's a werewolf.”

“I asked Willy.” Xander cut in. He'd gotten more practice at lying than he really wanted over the last year and a half since he'd gotten the Iron Coin. And what he'd learned was that it was easiest to lie when no one had any reason to think you were doing it. “Something seemed...off about her.” He gestured to the entire group, “our kind of 'off', I mean. So I asked around, finally paid Willy a hundred bucks – and according to him, Veruca is a werewolf. And she doesn't lock herself up on the full moon, far as he knows.”

“Sounds like a bitch to me.” Faith agreed. She looked at him inquisitively. “So – you just find this out, or have you been holding on to it?”

“Been suspicious for a while, just found out today.” Xander lied again. “Told Cordelia before we came in here, telling you guys now.”

“If she really isn't locking herself up, then she – well, we can't just let her roam free.” Buffy said, looking concerned. “Giles, you still have your tranquilizer gun, right?”

“I do.” Giles answered, “But – uhm – given that Oz will also be, um, transforming tomorrow night, won't that need to go to whomever is watching him?” He looked over at Faith, “Perhaps you might prevail upon Wesley to purchase a second one, so that this Veruca person can be contained?”

Faith blinked. “Why him?”

“Because he'd have a better chance of convincing the Council to reimburse him afterwards.” Giles replied, sounding vaguely bitter. “I rather fear Quentin Travers would just laugh up his sleeves while denying my request, via one of his proteges.”

“I'll ask him tomorrow morning, then.” Faith cracked her neck and stood up. “I'm going on patrol, see if I can actually find anything worth slaying.”

“Good luck with that.” Buffy commented. “Last night, the only thing I got after four hours patrol was one vampire who couldn't even appreciate my puns.”

“Seriously, B, the vamps never appreciate your puns.” Faith replied with a laugh. “But you're right. Pickings are kinda slim right now. I'd like something actually worth my time.”

“And now you've totally jinxed us, Faith.” Xander complained. And odds are I'll get to see it with the Iron Coin, too. I already know she'll be encountering Drusilla soon...

“Why do you think I said that out loud?” Faith shot back, smirking mischievously.

November 11th , 1999
Oz's Crypt, Sunnydale

While Oz had set himself up in the cage at Angel's old mansion over the summer, now that he was at UC Sunnydale, he'd decided to use a new place for the Full Moon wolf-nights. A crypt not far from the campus had a cage – God only knew why – and that was where Oz had spent the last two full moons, and where he was again tonight.

Normally, Willow would be here, rather than him and Cordelia, but...well, this wasn't going to be a normal night, now was it? Xander had volunteered to cover Oz for her, letting his red-haired friend attend the Wicca group meeting without feeling like she was leaving Oz without some kind of supervision. And while Xander hadn't planned on Cordelia coming along for tonight's little wolf-sitting adventure, but he didn't object to his girlfriend being here.

It was gonna be a long night, and Cordy had her ways of making the time pass...pleasurably.

“So you go back to human when the sun rises in the morning, right?” Cordelia asked Oz, setting her bag down.

“ When the moon sets, actually. Not quite the exact same thing, but close.” Oz answered. He put the sheet up over the front of the inside of the cage before starting to undress behind its cover. “But I usually get worn out by then.”

“I'd imagine throwing yourself against the cage would do that.” Cordelia agreed. She smiled a moment, “Seriously, Oz. You handle this shit a hell of a lot better than I would.”

“Freaking won't help.” Oz replied.

“Have you ever actually freaked?” Xander asked, walking into the crypt with a paper grocery bag in one hand and the tranquilizer gun in the other. He couldn't field strip-something like this like he'd once been able to, not anymore, but he could still use it well enough. Hopefully. He'd gotten a few practice shots in earlier, but that wasn't exactly the same.

Werewolf coming at you versus a paper target on a wall, really not the same thing.

Oz shrugged, “I've freaked a few times. Not often.”

“I'm not sure if that makes me feel better or worse.” Xander replied, setting the grocery bag down. “You sure you don't just take Zen with your morning coffee, dude?”

“I don't drink coffee, not really.” Oz explained. “Might be why I don't freak.”

“Personally, I think that's just all natural Oz.” Cordelia countered. She turned to Xander and gestured to the bag. “What did you bring in the 'keeping us both awake' department?”

Xander reached into the bag and pulled out two cans, handing one to Cordelia. “Soda for me, Iced coffee for you. Couple cans of each for the both of us to last us through the night, plus snackage.”

“Let me guess, Twinkies?” she asked with an upraised eyebrow.

“Well, duh.” Xander agreed. “But not just Twinkies. All kinds of sugary and salty goodness.” Xander looked out of the crypt – the sun was starting to set. He nodded to Oz and got the tranquilizer gun ready. The couple watched in silence as, only a handful of minutes later, the full moon appeared and Oz started to transform.

As he had the other handful of times he'd seen Oz wolf out like this, Xander thought the process had to be incredibly painful. He'd never asked, and Oz had never said one way or the other, but if it wasn't excruciating...well, what the hell was?

After Oz was done changing form, howling and hurling himself at the cage, Cordelia turned to Xander. “So...is he supposed to be breaking out of his cage tonight? Hell, is this whole thing with that Veruca girl supposed to be happening tonight?”

Xander shrugged. “Not a clue, honey.” He saw Cordelia's raised eyebrow. “No, really. I usually don't know that specifically.” Okay, once in a while, he did get specifics – or at least, semi-specifics – about time, but usually not. “All I usually know is what I find out is going to happen sometime during the next month and change. Usually less...sometimes less than an hour.” Xander frowned, recalling his failure to find out about Finch in time.

“Xander.” Cordelia looked at him pointedly, as if guessing what was going through his mind. “You can't do everything. You can't be everywhere. You can't save everyone.”

“I can certainly try.” Xander countered, forcing a smile so obviously fake he didn't even bother keeping it going after a couple of seconds. And what he said also applied to the now – even with caffeination, he was going to be absolutely dead at work tomorrow, and he had an early shift. Cordelia had classes, yes, but she'd proven better able to get by on no sleep than him, to his eternal (though slight) annoyance. He was not looking forward to over-caffeinating all day tomorrow to stay awake. But...well, a job was a job was a job. His friends, though – they were irreplaceable. He'd do whatever he had to, go wherever he had to...

“ Xander.” Cordelia repeated, her expression and tone growing even more pointed.

“Cordy.” Xander replied, playing dumb. That conversation would go nowhere if they started it. Xander knew he couldn't be everywhere. Couldn't stop everything. He knew that. He just couldn't get all of him to accept it.

“We are not tabling this discussion again!” Cordelia had to almost yell to be heard over the sound of Werewolf Oz, as his howling increased in volume.

“Cordy, love, do you really think this is the time or place for this conversation?”

“If you have your way,” Cordelia shot back, “we're never having this conversation, so that makes here and now as good a time as we'll ever get.” She reached out and grabbed Xander's arm. “Listen to me. You need to stop blaming yourself for what goes wrong that you can't prevent happening! You can't hold yourself responsible for everything that happens, that way lies nothing but a padded cell and a boat-load of Thorazine. You don't get to write the future, doofus!”

No, I don't. Fate does. I just get to see what's written. “I know that, Cordy. I really do. But knowing it and feeling it are hardly the same thing, and I feel responsible. It's kinda hard not to, when I can't get it out my head. Ever!” Xander took a breath. “I knew ahead of time that Finch was going to die and I failed to save him. I was too late, too slow and quite frankly, at the time – too damn complacent.” 

Xander took in another breath, then another, starting to hyperventilate just a little. “What if that had been you – or Willow, or Buffy or any of you, and I was too late? What if I learned that you were going to die and I was too slow, too late to save you? Wouldn't you blame me for your death?” It wasn't exactly out of the realm of possibility that Fate could plan on Cordelia dying – or anyone else: Willow, Buffy, Faith, Amy, Giles, Oz, his mother, Mrs. Summers...hell, if he knew Wesley was going to die, he'd try and save even that guy's life.

The Jester had told him that Fate had planned to kill Buffy three times – and three times he'd screwed their plans up. It had made him an 'Agent of Chaos' – and had attracted the Jester's attention. Which was...a mixed blessing. But I wouldn't have acted any differently in any of those cases...

Of course, the Jester could have been lying – but Xander knew he had to have done something to attract that guy's attention, right? Plus, like it or not, Buffy would have died if he hadn't forced Angel at cross point to take him down to the Master's cave, and given her CPR after dragging Slay-gal out of that pool of water. 

And the forces of Fate had killed his father...so Fate could easily plan the deaths of his friends...if it fit into their grand 'big picture'. Their deaths – or worse. That's why...more than anything else, he had kept the Coin. Kept flipping it. Saving their relationships...good. Important. Saving their lives? Far, far more important.

Cordelia pulled him back to the moment, to the untabled conversation. “No, I wouldn't blame you. Sure, I'd be pissed as hell at you. I'd haunt your ass for a while – maybe a good long while, depending on just why you were too late. But I wouldn't blame you – my death would be the fault of whoever killed me, or whatever led to my death. Because it wouldn't have been your fault. Not ever.” She slid her hand down his arm to take his hand in hers.

“You didn't kill Finch.” she continued, “You didn't put him in that alley, in the middle of that fight. You didn't put Buffy and Faith in that alley. You didn't make Buffy grab him and toss him to Faith, and you didn't make Faith put her stake in his heart. You had nothing to do with the whole thing, as far as I know. Right?”

Xander let out a breath then spoke, gesturing with his free hand. “Right. And I know that, Cordelia. I know it. But I don't – feel it. I'm sorry, but I just don't. I can't. Guess my mind's just not wired up that way. And that's not going to change any time soon. It hasn't changed over the last, what, nine months? And I definitely will feel it if...if...” His voice trailed off, but when he spoke up again, his voice was still loud enough to be heard over the Oz-wolf's roaring. “If I lose you. If you die.”

Cordelia squeezed his hand then leaned in and gave him a light kiss. Once she pulled back, she squeezed his hand again, smiling softly. “Then I'll keep telling you. Over and over and over again, until it finally sinks into that incredibly thick head of yours, dork. After all, no boyfriend of mine is gonna be wracked with guilt over something that's not his fault!”

Xander put his free hand around Cordelia and pulled her against him, hugging her tight. “I so don't deserve you.”

“No, you don't.” Cordelia murmured back, “But I'm not exactly trading down with you, either.” 

They stayed there, embracing each other for a long moment – but the sound of metal scraping and bending quickly drew their attention to the werewolf at hand. Xander pulled back, grabbing the tranq gun. Werewolf Oz kept throwing himself at the cage – but Xander wasn't going to give the wolf a free moment outside of the cage if he could. The door bent, the top hinge snapping – so Xander aimed through the bars of the cage and fired. The dart hit, but Werewolf Oz just howled and threw himself at the cage again.

Cordelia was already starting towards the exit of the crypt, but Xander was almost right beside her, trying to keep his distance – just in case as he loaded the gun again, hands shaking, heart racing – but then the cage door flew open, and Werewolf Oz bounded out – right into a second dart. Before the wolf could get all the way over to them, he collapsed onto the ground, the heavy-duty tranquilizer finally working.

Xander let out a breath and squeezed his girlfriend's hand. Now I remember why I stopped wanting to volunteer for Oz watch during high school. Did it really take two darts, or did we just need to give the first one time to work?

November 11th , 1999
UC Sunnydale Campus

“I dunno why you insisted on coming.” Faith told her Watcher. “Not even sure why I let you come along, ta be honest.”

“Because I said it was a condition of me giving you my tranquilizer gun.” Wesley replied. “I did buy it with my own money, and I'm doubtful that the Council will actually reimburse me the full price, however relevant to our work the item is.” Granted, he'd bought it with money he'd earned hustling people at darts rather than his paycheck from the Council or his librarian’s salary, but he wasn't going to mention that to Faith. He rather suspected she'd decide to challenge him at darts, and while he was still quite sure he had her beat when it came to hand-eye co-ordination (especially when it came to something like darts rather than something 'live fire,' as it were), he wasn't completely confident he'd be able to beat her at the game itself.

“What, the Council thinks werewolves are a kill on sight type of deal?” Faith's tone made it pretty clear what she thought of that.

“Well...there are some on the Council that take a generally 'better safe than sorry' approach to werewolves, but the official policy is to allow them the chance to make accommodations to ensure they don't injure the human population after they transform.” Wesley explained. “If given that chance, and they don't take it, then killing them is acceptable and possibly even expected. This Veruca person will be given the chance. If over the next three nights she refuses to take it, then...well, suffice it to say I have a supply of silver bullets.”

“I'm not killing a human, Wes, werewolf or not. Had a taste of that with Finch, and not something I wanna repeat. Even if Veruca chick doesn't lock herself up -” Faith started, but Wesley interrupted her rant.

“The silver bullets aren't going to be fired by you, Faith. Letting you fire a tranquilizer gun is one thing, but a pistol and a crossbow are very different weapons, and I'm not going to give you a gun for use in anything but training until you're capable of using one adequately.” Wesley didn't care if he sounded a little...condescending. In a sense, he was, right now.

“You?” Faith glared at him, “You'd just up and kill a human?”

“ If it's absolutely necessary. It was part of the training at the Academy.” Wesley took a breath and then looked at her, deciding to go with full disclosure. “I don't know if I could actually do it, though I imagine it would be easier if – at the time – they're a slavering monster hell-bent on killing me, when I shoot them. But it is the duty of a Watcher to kill a human that needs to be killed – no Slayer should be allowed to kill one, even if that human is willingly consorting with demons, vampires and other forces of darkness. But as I said, in practice...I don't know if I'd be able to actually kill a fellow human being. It's certainly not something to do lightly. It shouldn't be.”

Faith looked at him a moment, her expression difficult to read – it seemed there were multiple emotions and thoughts written across her face. “So, what, being a Watcher automatically makes you judge, jury and executioner? Bullshit. Betcha the courts ain't gonna see it that way, once the cops figure it out!”

“True. But I have been trained to recognize the kind of complicated ethics involved in these situations. It may not give me any true moral right to play those three roles – but if I get into the habit of being the arbiter of life and death for humans, it's unlikely I'll be able to kill as many people as you, or any other Slayer would if you decided to become a vigilante. Being human does not preclude someone from being an evil that cannot be dealt with by the standard authorities.” Wesley let out a breath. “But this is all neither here nor there, for now. Veruca should be given her chance. So just be ready to shoot her if we find her.”

Faith started to say something, then rolled her eyes and changed topics: “Okay, fine. But that still doesn't answer why you wanted to be out here tonight, in the first place.”

“I'm a Watcher, and you're my Slayer. Watching you perform your duty is rather what I do.” Wesley pointed out, deadpan. “Moreover,” he added with a slight smile, “I have no direct experience with werewolves. I'd like to see one up close – after they've been safely sedated.”

“ Curiosity is gonna kill the Watcher like it did the cat, Wes.” Faith replied, rolling her eyes. “Just don't get in the way.”

Wesley couldn't help but frown. Faith had no real respect for him – well, perhaps a little bit more than she did when he'd first arrived in Sunnydale...at least she didn't completely disregard or dismiss him any longer. There was...perhaps some sort of rapport? It was impossible to tell for certain. But still, her dismissive attitude grated.

“How is Miss Madison doing?” Rules about detachment for Slayers be damned, Wesley couldn't help but approve of the friendship between the two young women. From everything he'd been able to tell, the two were noticeably more stable now thanks to their friendship. Perhaps bonding over mutual accidental manslaughter truly does work wonders for the soul.

Regardless, it was a friendship that seemed to improve the effectiveness of his Slayer...Rupert Giles was correct – having friends helped. They helped on and off the field of battle. He was loath to admit that the older Watcher was right about anything...but still, he was correct about that. A Slayer's friends and allies were both a vulnerability and an asset, whatever the Council had to officially say about such things.

Faith looked at him and blinked at the change of topic, as they continued to search the college campus – heading for the forested area on the edge of it, to start looking for Veruca there. “She's doing better. Hand's almost cleared up, she says the doctors told her she's gonna scar real nasty though.”

“And her back?” At Faith's look, Wesley gestured to himself. “Watcher. I'm not sure how losing control of a spell would burn her back and her hand, but I can surmise that she has by the way she carries herself – never letting her back rest against the back of a chair, for instance?”

Faith looked at him, as if trying to figure out his angle – but then she nodded, “Her back's doing better too. Same problem, but she's just happy that the burns are almost gone. Why do you care?”

Well, really. “Is it so hard for you to accept that I have a degree of concern about the well-being of another human soul, Faith? Those were quite nasty burns on her hand, and I can only suppose her back was worse. I was merely curious as to how she was doing.” Which was true. He did have concern – he had no reason for animosity towards Amy Madison, and she was good for Faith. Yes, he was also hoping to develop some sort of rapport with his Slayer, and making conversation was how one was supposed to do that, but that didn't change the fact he had a genuine interest in Miss Madison's welfare.

So yes, he had a bit of an angle, but not completely. 

“I'm not heartless, you know.” Wesley added. Faith's expression remained just a touch skeptical, but before she could say anything, there were a series of shouts that bordered on screams some distance to the southwest. “Veruca?”

“Whatever it is, I'm checking it out. Try to keep up, will ya?” Faith then ran towards the shouting. 

Taking a deep breath, Wesley ran as well, following after his Slayer as best he could. He rapidly fell behind, though. Faith's speed was quite the sight to behold.

November 12th , 1999
Campus, UC Sunnydale

Oz really was glad Xander had hit him with the tranquilizer gun rather than letting him roam free to kill people, but that didn't change the fact that waking up after being hit by such darts was – unpleasant. Still, the headache and nausea was better than waking up with blood in his mouth or on his hands.

Willow had arrived in the morning, complete with a green tea latte for him and had seen the very tired Xander and Cordelia off. Unfortunately, Willow had an early morning class, so they'd only had a bit of time together before she'd had to rush off. Oz didn't have any classes until eleven, so he was on his way back to his place to take a shower and get a change of clothes

The first sign that someone was drawing close was a strange smell. Oz wasn't sure how to describe it...but the wolf...the wolf in him liked the smell. To the wolf, that smell...it smelled good. The wolf was inside him all the time, yes, but...only during the days around the nights of the full moon was it...aware enough to respond to something. Sure, it barely had a presence even then. But when it was a presence...it was right below the surface, that deep, dark something that he'd told Willow about two weeks ago.

Then he heard footsteps and Oz turned to see Veruca right there behind him, standing close – too close for comfort. Well inside his personal space. He stepped back, trying to open up some distance between them. Veruca didn't get the message, though, and she matched his movement, keeping close.

“Veruca.” Oz said, taking another step back from her and holding a hand up to keep her away from him.

“Oz. Where were you last night?” Veruca's demand was a moderate non-sequiter, and Oz blinked.

“What are you -” He started, but Veruca scoffed and interrupted.

“Don't play dumb with me.” She insisted, “I know you're a werewolf, and I know you know that I'm one as well. So, where were you?”

“In my cage,” Oz replied, turn around. From what she was saying, from her tone, and from what Xander and Cordelia had said – and hinted at – Oz found himself doubting that she caged herself during the full moon. Not wanting to deal, he abruptly turned and started to walk away.

“Your cage?” Veruca sounded – and probably looked – utterly disgusted at the very concept. “Does it have a little wheel and rubber ball? A bowl for you to beg for treats with?” She followed after him as Oz picked up the pace. “You're actually serious!” 

Veruca matched his pace, then beat it and got around in front of him, looking him in the eye and forcing him to stop. “Someone's domesticated the hell out of you, Oz. You're a werewolf, and you let people lock you up in a cage? Like you're a pet poodle?”

“Actually, I lock myself up.” Oz replied, stepping around her. Is she actively homicidal, or does she just not care? “Don't want to hurt anyone.” He kept walking towards the house he shared with his band-mates and others. Veruca kept at it, though, following close behind him.

“You actually – God! How can you deny yourself like that? How can you deny what you are? You're a wolf. We're wolves.” She gestured with both hands, first towards Oz and then towards herself. “Wolves hunt, Oz. Wolves kill. You're worried about who lives and who dies? Newsflash – but that doesn't matter. The little people, they have no idea what it's like to be alive . Really alive.” He tried to move around her but once again she was in front of him, blocking his path, right in his way. The singer's head was moving slightly strangely, as if she had a weird sort of physical tick.

Veruca's words still hadn't yet clarified if she fell into the 'actively homicidal' or 'not caring' side of things. “I'm only a wolf three nights a month.” Oz told her, once again side-stepping her to continue on his way.

“No, you're a wolf all the time Oz. We both are. And this human mask hides what you really are, the rest of the month!” Veruca countered. “The full moon is just the time when you're free, truly free of the limitations of being human – and instead of embracing your freedom, you put yourself in a cage like a pet dog?”

“Freedom? Freedom to kill people?” Oz stepped up his pace again. He wouldn't go so far as to call Veruca crazy...but he suspected other people would. Xander and Cordelia among them. Veruca obviously didn't care – she almost seemed to revel in the fact that she killed people as a wolf.

“Freedom to live!” Veruca explained. “I bet you don't remember what it's like after you transform, do you? If you stopped denying your nature, you'd remember how it feels to be the wolf, to embrace what you really are.”

He was almost to the house, but at Veruca's words, he suddenly drew up short and turned around. “You remember what happens when you're a werewolf?” The very concept was...

Enticing. The power of the wolf, on the days around the Full Moon...it was a draw...a large part of him wanted to experience it...give into it. Never enough...he never had...but it was a real power, a real presence...that dark, deep something.

“Of course. You just need to stop hiding from it.” Veruca replied, stepping closer, putting a hand on his side. Oz flinched, pushing her hand away – Veruca didn't put it back on him, but she was still standing uncomfortably close to him. “If you just let yourself remember...” She started breathily, “you'll never want to lock yourself up again.”

Before Oz could reply, he saw a red-haired form out of the corner of his eye. Willow? She was in class right now, wasn't she? He stepped away from Veruca as Willow drew closer.

“Willow. I thought you were in class?” He approached his girlfriend, ignoring Veruca for the moment.

“The professor was out sick, so it got canceled,” Willow replied, giving Oz a hug as he gave her a light kiss on the cheek. Before either of them could say anything more, though, Veruca started to laugh.

Oh! Now I get it. It's her, isn't it? Your girlfriend really has got you on a leash, doesn't she? You're her – domesticated little puppy.” She smirked, “better hope that cage of yours protects you from the werewolf hunter that tried to get me last night.” Veruca threw a familiar-looking red-feathered dart at Oz's feet. Before he could respond, she'd already turned her gaze to Willow, a snarl written across her face and in her voice.

“Enjoy having him while you can, is my advice. Because sooner or later, Oz is going to stop pretending to be something he isn't. And odds are you'll get what's coming to you, and he'll get what he really deserves.” With a final twitch and smirk, she turned and left, ducking off the path into the hedged bushes along one side.

Willow looked from the retreating back of Veruca to her boyfriend, “What was she talking – what was she saying to you before I-” Willow forced herself to take a deep breath. Then she took another. After two breaths, she looked at her boyfriend. “Oz – what was she talking about?”

Oz, had he been another man, might have taken a breath before answering. But since he wasn't another man, he didn't. “Veruca is a werewolf. She doesn't lock herself up during the full moon, and she thinks I shouldn't either.”

“She's -” Willow started, “And she doesn't – she could hurt people!” She stepped back from him, looking concerned. “We need to tell Buffy -”

“She already knows.” Oz interrupted. “And judging from that,” he nodded to the dart, “either her or Faith got her with the tranquilizer rifle last night.”

Willow blinked, “You told them – but not – not me? Why didn't you tell me ? How long – how long have you known? Who else knows?”

“I've known for almost a week.” Oz answered the second question first. “I found out from Xander and Cordy, but I don't know who else they told. I didn't tell Buffy or Faith, but I figure Cordelia would have told them if her boyfriend didn't. ”

“But – why didn't you tell me? Why, why didn't Xander tell me?” She looked back at where Veruca had been, then back at Oz, her face closed. “You – she's a werewolf, and a musician, like you, and-and-and she knows the muscian-y lingo and you – do you-”

Oz interrupted, able to guess exactly where her babbling was going. “No, Willow, never. I love you. Veruca being a werewolf doesn't change that.” He took her hand in his.

“But – but – I – she said,” Willow protested, though she didn't take her hand away.

“Veruca thinks I lock myself up during those nights because you make me do it.” 'Domesticated' was her word of choice. “And she thinks that I should want to roam free during the full moon. That I should want to let the wolf be in control. It just shows that she doesn't know me at all, because I don't want that – I lock myself up because I don't want to hurt people. Because I don't want to hurt you.” He squeezed her hand.

“Truth is, I don't know why I didn't tell you.” And he really had no excuse, “but it's because I've been avoiding Veruca that I've done what I've been doing lately. It's why we didn't go to the Bronze the other night.” Now he did take a small breath. “The wolf...the wolf inside me...it definitely notices her.”

“Notices? You mean, like – the wolf wants-?” Willow started, but Oz interrupted her again, this time with a light kiss.

“Willow, I'm not the wolf. It doesn't control me. It's a part of me, yea, but a part that I will never listen to.” He looked her in the eye. “I love you.” He let go of her hand and put his arm around her waist. Together, they walked into the house.

As long as Veruca was around...he couldn't leave Willow alone whenever he had a choice. If she won't cage herself, she's going to have to be forced to...or forced out of town... Oz didn't want to think of the third possibility, even though it was fairly obvious.

And there was something about the way Veruca had snarled at Willow...if the other werewolf went after her, Oz figured he was going to have to stop her. Whatever it took.

November 12th, 1999
Faith's Apartment, Sunnydale

“So, are you going after this Veruca girl again tonight?” Amy asked, gathering up her textbooks. She'd been staying over, visiting and talking with Faith while she studied and the Slayer did a few rounds with the punching bag and some other practicing. The Slayer wasn't entirely sure how her friend was doing both – but they'd had a conversation.

Faith wiped an errant bit of sweat from her forehead and shook her head. “Nope. Buffy's got Veruca duty tonight. I've got a regular graveyard shift on the vamps. You want to come along? You can just stick with the freezing vamps in place thing.” Sure Amy wasn't a Slayer, and keeping an eye on her witch friend cramped her style a bit, but Faith liked having Amy come along on patrols. Gave her someone to talk to, when the night decided to be really dead – which was happening too much these days for her tastes.

And besides that, Amy's magic – from the freezing vamps in place thing to the levitating stakes to the fire and a handful of other tricks she would occasionally pull – made slaying easier, overall. Cost-benefit, risk-reward and all that crap.

And whatever else, Faith just liked having Amy around, hanging out with her. Amy was her friend. Not her only friend – she was friends with B, and the other 'Scoobies'...but still.

If it ever came down to me or Buffy, they'd all take her side. They'd been Buffy's friends longer – it just was what it was. Faith tried not to let it bother her much, and these days she usually succeeded. Amy...Amy, though – Amy would take her side, if it ever came to something. Not that Faith planned on anything going down between her and Buffy...

But I've been burned too often before not to need to know who sides with who.

The only other person she figured who'd take her side – in theory, anyway – was Wesley. But that was because she was 'his' Slayer, and not because they actually got along. They still didn't. She didn't like Wesley, he didn't like her.

But with Amy...

She liked Amy. Amy liked her.

“Actually, I've been starting to practice with fire again.” Amy told her, slipping her books into her bag. “Just picking up with candles again...but...” She shrugged, “I can't stay away from it forever. Fire's the best option for killing vamps, and from everything I've been able to learn, the easiest magic for attacking with, element-wise.” She looked at her hand, “Even if it's got its...downside.”

“The pain gone?” Faith asked, not bothering to hide the fact that she was concerned. With other people, sure. She had an image to maintain – but she didn't need to keep up the tough front with Amy. The witch already knew how tough she was, and she knew that Amy was pretty damn tough too. They'd been through enough to be real with each other.

“Mostly.” Amy answered. “Long as I don't let them brush against things, don't close a fist with my hand. Gonna be with me forever – and I'm still gonna keep sleeping on my stomach for a while.” She shrugged, “It's why I'm going to focus on throwing the fire, this time...” She managed a weak smile, “I don't want it burning near me.”

Faith couldn't help but smile a little in turn. “Keeping a distance from fire – good plan, according to all those safety lectures they give in first grade.” She looked at Amy, “So I take it back to your dorm for the weekends?” She'd kind of liked having Amy over for the weekends – felt nice. Even if there was that first time, coming out of the shower.

Though really, she was checking me out. Whatever Amy had said, Faith was pretty sure of that – and she didn't mind one bit. Faith had no problem with good-looking people checking her out, and Amy qualified. They were just friends, but that didn't stop a notice now and then.

Amy probably just doesn't agree on that. The way she'd denied checking her out – probably thought she'd be upset with her or something.

Faith shrugged, it didn't really matter. She knew Amy wasn't homophobic or anything. Sometimes, her friend was a little hard to figure.

“Probably. Though I've gotten used to sleeping in...” She looked meaningfully at Faith's couch, and the Slayer laughed. Yea, I know. It ain't comfy. It wasn't as if Faith had actually paid money for it – she'd snagged it from a curbside. Picking it up and carrying it to her apartment had been easy for her. “Couch...”

“Not where you want to be sleeping your weekends now you don't have to.” Faith finished. “I get it.” And she did. Even if she was a little...bothered. She wasn't sure why it bothered her. She'd known it'd be just a temporary thing, and she still hung with Amy plenty, “You could always bring in a sleeping bag, if you wanted to sleep late,” Faith found herself offering.

The witch seemed to flush a moment, then shrugged, shaking her head a bit. “I dunno. I'll think about it.” She headed towards the door. “Anyway, uh...” She stopped and looked back at Faith. “I was planning on going to the wicca group meeting again tonight. I'm hoping tonight will actually be more than just 'earth mother, good vibes' crap. Rain check?”

“Sure.” Faith agreed. “See you.”

“See you.” Amy left and Faith watched the door for a moment, wondering for a moment. It wasn't that Amy was, like, avoiding her. She'd mentioned the wicca group before, and complained earlier that they'd been about everything but the actual magic when she'd been there last night. But...

Faith wasn't completely sure. Amy's answer seemed just a little – rushed.

Putting it aside, Faith shrugged and headed into her bedroom. It didn't really matter. They hung out plenty anyway.

November 12th, 1999
Oz's Crypt, Sunnydale

“And you're sure she's going to come here?” Buffy asked Oz, hefting the tranquilizer rifle a little. She didn't like guns, and she probably never would, but the options when dealing with werewolves weren't exactly many and varied.

“I don't know for certain. But...I think so.” Moonset was in fifteen minutes, and Buffy was here as Oz finished getting the door back onto his cage. “There was something about...” He shrugged, “Something about the way she was acting, when she came at me this morning. Something feral. Not quite human.” He pulled down the mask and turned on the welding gun, sealing the last hinge back onto the door. He opened the door and tested it a few times, before starting to set the sheet up.

Buffy looked away, out of the entrance of the crypt. “So. When did Xander tell you about Veruca?”

“Six days ago.” Oz replied. “Well, more Cordelia than him. He just hit me in the face.”

“He punched you?” That didn't sound like Xander – well, okay, no, it sounded like Xander, sorta . But why would he hit Oz?

“I got the distinct impression I deserved it. Or would have. Or will.” Oz added that last bit almost cryptically, looking at her, as if wondering if she'd understand what exactly he was talking about – wondering if she'd get his hint.

“Will deserve it?” That sounded...well, it sounded like it fit. But why would Xander hit Oz? Buffy could only think a few things that would make that guy punch one of his own friends, especially for something the friend hadn't done yet.

And the obvious one was...

Willow.

Well. That answered most of her questions right there. And it helped to know that Xander was, for all that he had strange future-visions or whatever the hell they were, was actually pretty predictable.

Before either of them could say anything further, Buffy heard footsteps, and Oz stiffened, standing straight as a board. He looked at her. “Veruca.”

“Oz. Good to know you haven't become so domesticated that you can't recognize one of your own kind.” Veruca said snippily. She stepped down into the crypt, then saw Buffy and her rifle and all but snarled, her face becoming a mixture of anger and fear. “Who the hell -”

“I'm Buffy.” Buffy replied, smiling and leveling the tranq rifle at the female werewolf. “And you, you need to start locking yourself up during the nights of the full moon. Or else you can get to know Mr. Shooty here real well.” Buffy frowned even as she said it. Okay, that didn't really work. Only the stake gets named. Just Mr. Pointy.

“You really think you can shoot a werewolf with that before I tear you -” Veruca started, but Buffy just shot the werewolf girl with it. Veruca fell to the ground in an unceremonious heap. Buffy looked to Oz.

“Sorry. But I was getting the feeling that she -”

Oz nodded, “No. But you'll need to find another cage for her – not...not here. Not with me. Or else just shoot her again once she changes, later tonight. She'll wake up .”

Buffy nodded. “I will. And I 'm thinking we'll have to do this again tomorrow night, and then...” Find another solution.

What exactly could they do if Veruca continued to prove unwilling to lock herself up, though? Maybe she'd jumped the gun here, but threats from people who could, in ten minutes or so, make a decent go at following through...well, Buffy tended to take such things seriously. Oz would never even threaten to tear someone's...anything out, and certainly not make threats about what he'd do when he was a wolf.

Oz was responsible, and controlled his curse. Veruca wasn't, and didn't.

November 13th, 1999
Woods outside UC Sunnydale Campus

Using Oz to track down Veruca's scent had sounded like a great idea, Faith had to grant Buffy that. But looking at the pile of dirty clothes just in front of them, it was pretty clear that the crazy wolf-bitch had already anticipated that.

“She knew you were gonna try this.” Faith stated the obvious.

“She can't just be trying to get away. She'd just keep moving.” Oz said softly. “And they could be from another night when she turned -” Wolfboy sounded like he was grasping at straws.

“Unless...” Buffy started softly, “she wanted to throw you off the scent...”

“Yea.” Faith agreed. “But where is she, then?” Because she agreed with Oz on the first thing – if Wolfgirl was trying to get away from them and roam free after sunset, why this? And somehow, I don't think she wants to just go on another rampage. Faith had heard all about what Veruca had told Oz, both post-full moon mornings. She was not gonna cage herself, and she apparently wanted to make Oz 'see the moonlight' or whatever the fuck the crazy bitch thought she was doing.

“Willow.” Oz's blank/confused expression turned into one of pure terror and he bolted off . Cursing, Faith was right behind Buffy in chasing a fter him. They both had a tranquilizer rifle, and given how close moonrise was, they might need to use them both on two werewolves. At the same time.

Fucking fun.

For someone who was more or less human, Oz was doing a pretty good job of being faster than both of the Chosen Two. And that lead of his suddenly grew bigger, when Faith found herself running smack dab into something – no, someone – taller than her, but also most definitely alive. Especially given that the sun was still visible in the sky.

“Go! Stick with Oz !” Faith told Buffy, dropping her tranquilizer rifle as the guy picked himself up off the ground. He had some kind of mask on over his face, like one of those masks bank robbers wear – a hat on the entire face. His pants were like some weird army camo, but just the pants. The guy seemed to be coming at her – and Faith was in no mood to give a guy in a mask that sort of chance, so she punched him directly in the face, sending him sprawling.

Faith glared at the toy soldier. “You're damn lucky I've got other places to be.” She picked up the tranquilizer gun, sparing a quick – and comparatively light (for her) – kick in the ribs before hurrying off in the direction Buffy had gone. Hopefully, won't need both of us there before I get there...

November 15th, 1999
Oz's Room, UC Sunnydale

To say that things hadn't gone as well as Xander had hoped was something of an understatement. Sure, Veruca and Oz hadn't slept together, and his best friend hadn't broken up with her boyfriend, both of which were good things in his book. But Oz had still been forced to killed Veruca two nights ago, and...he was still concerned about losing control of the wolf. But at least Willow wasn't hurt...wasn't a crying, sobbing mess... 

Still, now that Veruca's remains had been disposed of, he had to explain things to Oz. Cordelia had wanted to be here for this, but Xander wanted to do the explanations one on one. As best he could, he'd let Oz know what was the what.

“Explanations?”

Xander nodded to Oz, as he walked into the room uninvited. “Explanations. Much as I can give you.”

“Can?”

“I can't just tell you everything. Not won't; can't. I just can't get the words out on some things.” At the look on Oz's face, Xander started with the 'tell him everything and watch it not work' strategy. As predicted, he didn't even get a single word out before the choking started. Oz was about to go to him when Xander held up a hand.

“Point taken.” Oz told him as he stepped back. “So...what?”

“I find things out. Don't really get to choose what.” Xander told him. “Stuff that could happen. Stuff that I can change.”

“Like Veruca and me?”

“Yup, like that. Thing is, it all would have ended up a lot worse if I hadn't warned you – hadn't made sure Buffy and Faith did what they could to keep her under control...”

The two young men continued to talk for a bit, as Xander explained as much as he could – and he scrambled for an explanation on the question of why he hadn't told Willow yet. . 

But unbeknownst to both Xander and Oz, there was a third party watching them. One that couldn't be seen, felt...sensed in any way.

A pair of dice rolling in one hand, the Jester smirked as the two mortals continued to talk.

“Oh, you're gonna regret this, Xander Harris. And the wolfman is gonna regret it even more. I mean, regrets all around.”

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Note: As as I have said before, when I don't include a scene from canon (or reference it), you can assume it happened more or less the way it did on the show, bar things that couldn't happen because of the differences (like Riley didn't save Willow from walking into traffic during the last Episode, because Oz didn't cheat on her and she wasn't all not paying attention heartbroken girl, for example). 

So, to simplify explaining what's happened – all the scenes with Buffy and Riley? They've more or less happened the same way in this story as they did thus far on the show. As is normal for my divergence stories, everyone is an independent actor doing the things they would have done (by the metric of their personalities and circumstances, etc.) as they did in canon, until and unless something happens to change things because of the drift – which of course, grows bigger and bigger as time goes on.

Thanks to Starway Man and Deiticlast for their services as beta-reader and creative-consultant.

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Episode 7: Revelations

November 15th, 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

The conversation with Oz had gone about as well as he'd expected – still, Oz knew even less than Giles, Buffy and Cordelia. Between them, it was hard for Xander to figure out who actually knew the most. Buffy, probably, given what she'd picked up in that other...universe, thing. Place. Wherever the hell it was that Anyanka had sent the Buff-meister off to. But sometimes, it was easier to tell things to Cordelia. Sometimes it wasn't. It really didn't make any sense anymore.

Well, the Jester did say something about 'whims' the other day, so I really need to stop trying to make any sense out of all of it.

He told himself that all the time, and yet he kept trying anyway. Kept trying to follow the insane logic of Fate, kept trying to follow the even more nutsoid logic of the Jester and this 'Hydra' and whatever the hell else existed out there. Whatever the hell it was that was involved in this stupid Fate versus Chaos war...thing. Whatever the hell it was.

But for all that he thought the whole thing was insane, Xander knew he couldn't just quit either. Couldn't simply call for the Jester and then give him the Iron Coin back. Oz and Willow had nearly broken up because of Fate's plans. He and Cordelia – they'd almost been broken up by Fate's nuttiness. Or something. God knew he had no idea where that kiss he'd never had with Willow would have gone. Plus Faith could have been killed by that evil Watcher – like what had apparently happened in that crazy-ass Wish world.

And – you don't know what hasn't happened.

I can't know what I've prevented, because I've prevented it.

Circular logic had become his friend, ever since he'd gotten the Iron Coin and started to have his little late-night chats with the Jester.

“How did it go with Oz?” Cordelia asked, looking up from the textbook she was reading.

“All right, well – by my standards, anyway. Lots of no-sound and choking, but that's more or less about what you'd expect. He wanted to know why I haven't told Willow, though.” Xander frowned, “Not really sure I have a good answer for that. Didn't have one for him, anyway.” He sat down on the bed, rubbing at his forehead.

“Puh-lease, even I  know the answer to that! If you told her, she'd try and use magic to 'fix' whatever it is that's stopping you from talking about your 'source', or something equally stupid.” Cordelia pointed out. “Since they make pens explode on you, who knows what they'd do to Willow messing around with a spell!”

Xander looked over at his girlfriend with a frown. “Will is good with the magicks, sweetheart. She wouldn't start 'messing around' or anything.” Then his frown deepened, “But...yea. Backlash. Why do you think I haven't tried to figure out what would happen if I used sign language?”

Xander rubbed at the back of his neck for another moment, then stood back up. “On a completely unrelated note, I've found a new job.” He'd been 'let go' from his old job at the fast-food joint after turning up so thoroughly exhausted that he nearly lit the kitchen on fire. It was what happened when you spent the entire night staying awake keeping an eye on the werewolf version of Oz, but it was worth it, in his mind. The job didn't matter, not really.

Okay, it matters, but Willow and Oz being happy together matters more.

Fortunately, with Sunnydale's...very high turnover rates, there were almost always new job openings – even for a high school graduate lacking any other formal qualifications, like himself. Even though Xander hated to think about it like that, it wasn't as if he caused the problem. He was doing what he could to make it better – according to Willow, the death toll in Sunnydale from 'barbeque forks to the neck', 'gangs on PCP' and 'wild animal attacks' had dropped a little every month since Buffy arrived, and even more since Faith had gotten here.

I don't do that much to help, but I do do my bit.

But as long as that huge turnover was happening, Xander couldn't let a little moral disgust get in the way of the fact that he had rent to pay and food to buy. And really – he wasn't creating the openings. They were going to be there, anyway.

“Equally menial as the last two?” Cordelia asked, in reply to his previous statement.

“Actually, no.” Xander said. “They're starting work on some new building at the college campus, and the construction company needs some casual hires for the grunt work.” He laughed, “Daylight hours work only, so I won't even have to worry about vampires.”

Cordelia smiled, “Well, that's always a plus.” She stood up and walked over to him, putting her arms around his waist and leaning in to kiss him. She let her lips linger on his for a few moments, then pulled away. “Maybe we should...celebrate?”

November 16th, 1999
Amy's Dorm, UC Sunnydale

Amy woke with a start, gasping for air as if she'd just been drowning.

It was the middle of November – it wasn't that warm either outside or inside, but despite all that, Amy's body was dripping with sweat.

Amy shifted a little in her bed, squirming restlessly. Despite herself, the dream she'd just had – the dream she'd had more than once over the last few nights – floated through her mind. Faith naked was a big part of the dream too – though Faith wasn't the only one who-

Amy shook her head violently. She couldn't be thinking about that. Ignore it. She looked over at the digital clock next to the phone and saw that it was just past one in the morning. Letting out a soft groan, Amy started to lay her head back down on the pillow, closing her eyes –

And the dream started to flash across her vision once more.

Damnit!

Amy opened her eyes, shaking her head violently again and crawled up and out of bed. She needed a shower. A cold one. A very cold one.

The first time she'd had the dream, Amy had just put it out of her mind afterwards – it wasn't like dreams weren't a comparatively fucked up thing at times. But then, the second time –

Amy had been – was still – positive she wasn't gay. But after having...that dream two nights in a row, Amy had decided to test the proposition. She thought about various female actresses and stars that she had known – from an intellectual perspective – were good looking women. Not a one did a thing for her. And then she thought about male movie stars that she had previously thought were hot. They still did stuff for her.

Without really intending to, Amy had then let her thoughts drift to Faith. And that...

Thinking about her best friend had...well, that had done something for her – and then some.

She's my best friend, and here I am all but perving on her. Amy grabbed her towel and a few toiletries and made her way to the hall bathroom, stepping into one of the shower stalls, undressing and turning the water on, cold.

That little...accident had made it very clear to Amy that she wasn't...well, she wasn't gay or homosexual or a lesbian, or whatever. More like...Faith-Sexual. It didn't make any sense to her, but despite her best efforts, even now, she was still lingering on the implications of what it meant.

Stepping into the freezing water, Amy stopped trying to keep her thoughts under control. It wasn't really working anyway, so why bother? Here, at least, she could think on it all.

As she'd expected, her thoughts turned to Faith. But not to the dream – not exactly.

She's so strong. She makes me feel stronger just by being near her. Every time she was around Faith, she was happier – Faith had accepted her, all of her. She'd been the first to not blame her for her mother's death. Put her life on the line to protect her from her mother. Faith hadn't condemned her when she'd confessed about how she'd gotten the spell, how she had her mother's blood on her hands in a way Faith did not have Finch's on hers. Whatever Faith said, it wasn't the same. Faith hadn't turned her in to the others, hadn't hated her when the truth about her passing information onto the Mayor had been revealed.

Everything I've ever done, the good and the bad, she's accepted. She accepts me as I am, as I truly am.

She didn't deserve Faith's friendship, her support, and yet she had it. She didn't ask for anything in return but the same. And I've always given it to her freely.

There was no point in hiding it from herself. She couldn't let Faith find out – it could ruin everything. Faith hadn't been bothered by the whole...'checking her out' stuff...but that was one thing. They were friends – best friends – Amy couldn't...

She'd never, ever risk losing that. She couldn't.

Taking a deep breath, even while still under the spray of the ice-cold water, Amy admitted to herself. Actually said – well, thought – the words.

I have a crush on Faith.

November 16th, 1999
Oz's Room, UC Sunnydale

Willow looked over at her still-sleeping boyfriend that morning, and let a small smile form on her face. She was still roommates with Buffy, but she spent more than half her nights here, in Oz's place. She even had closet space and drawers and a toothbrush and it was all real relationship stuff!

Thinking about spending the night with Oz, though, made her think about last night. And how different it had been. The sex between her and Oz before had always been...well, gentle, more or less. She'd always liked it, and Oz did too and – but last night...last night, though...

Willow flushed red at the very thought of last night's...aggressive sex. She'd liked it – a lot – and she'd been as active...in the whole thing as Oz had been. Just as responsive, and just as much a willing participant...

She wasn't really sure where it had come from, but once Oz had started being like that...she'd responded in kind, getting into it.

Willow liked to think she had a modern, healthy attitude towards sex – even if she still had trouble saying the actual word, and the whole topic was still a little embarrassing to her. But – she didn't feel like a slut or skanky or anything for liking sex, and having it with her boyfriend – who she loved, thank you very much – quite often.

Still, Willow couldn't help but feel a little shame at just how much she'd enjoyed and been a part of last night's...activities. How...intense it had all been.

Careful not to jostle her sleeping boyfriend, whose arm was slung a little possessively over her waist, Willow moved in the bed a little, looking over Oz to the digital clock on the bedside table. Closing her eyes and frowning, Willow gently nudged her boyfriend.

“Oz.” She murmured, then nudged him again, saying his name louder.

Oz stirred, moving a little, cracking his eyes open. He leaned in and gives her a kiss, nibbling on her lower lip for a moment before pulling back. “Morning.” He murmured at her.

“Morning.” She said back to him. “Sleep well?”

“Very.” He answered, in his usual very few words kind of way. “You?”

“ Really...really good.” She smiled a little, flushing red at the memory of last night yet again. “You...you wore me out.”

“You did the same to me.” Oz replied, and Willow felt a little tingly in her stomach at that admission, hardly for the first time. “So...not regretting it now?” He sounded a little hesitant, and she could guess at his meaning. She'd been all on board with it and – and liking it last night, he wouldn't have kept at it otherwise, but now it was morning and after the fact and –

“Nope.” She said softly, reaching over to his neck to touch the hickey she'd given him.

The first hickey she'd ever given! Just thinking about that made her flush – again, darn it!  – and get all tingly all at the same time.

“Might need to wear a turtleneck, or someone will think I had a run in with a vampire.” Oz told her, smiling just a little, moving his hand from her waist to play with her hair a little. He turned over just enough to look at the clock, and then back at her. Willow nodded.

“Maybe, although...” Willow said, letting her hand slide off him slowly, “We could spent a little more time here, snuggling, if we take a shower together.” She moved in closer to her boyfriend, putting her arms around him and burrowing a little in his chest. She looked up at him.

“Take a shower together?” He raised an eyebrow.

“It's what couples do sometimes, when they're in a rush. Right, Boyfriend?” Willow smirked, running with that thought in the moment. She wanted to stretch her 'cuddled with her boyfriend' time out as much as she could. Spend as much time with him as she could.

When Veruca had come after her, talking crazy about how she was stopping Oz from being what he was supposed to be, how he was hers and...and how she was going to kill her once she transformed...

Willow would have been lying if she said she hadn't feared for her life back then. And...as irrational as it may have been, she'd also been afraid that there was something to Veruca's crazy ramblings as she'd started to change. That maybe she could never truly understand Oz, because he was a werewolf and she wasn't. That part of Oz resented her for somehow making him lock himself up – even if he's said he does it because he doesn't want to risk killing people, and more than once.

And even worse, she'd been worried that all this...crazy, crazy talk about Oz being Veruca's, that somehow the two werewolves were connected or something and that she was going to lose her boyfriend to this crazy psycho skanky woman who wanted to kill her...

Still. In the end, the only worry she'd had that was founded was the fear for her life. Because just as Veruca had transformed, Oz had come – he'd gotten there in time, distracted the female werewolf...

Killed her when they were both wolves...

There'd been enough of Oz in there for him to save her...to stop Veruca from killing her.

It would almost have been knight-in-shining-armor-y, if it hadn't been for the fact that...well, he was covered in animal hair, and if Buffy hadn't arrived in time to shoot him with her tranquilizer rifle – and if Faith hadn't shown up soon afterwards to hit him a second time, so he actually went down...

There may have been enough of Oz in the unleashed werewolf to save her; but the way he'd come at her afterwards, with Veruca's blood in his mouth...

No. Stop it. That wasn't Oz. To Willow's mind, that was really all that mattered. He didn't have any control of himself when he was the wolf, and that was all there was to it.

Her boyfriend, though...

He'd been upset...more than upset that he'd killed someone whilst a wolf. And Willow didn't like it either. Well, part of her did...a mean, horrible, jealous part of her that figured Veruca actually deserved it. But whatever she may or may not have deserved, it was what had been needed...the woman had been planning to kill her, after all...

Willow was drawn out of her unhappy thoughts by Oz pressing a light kiss to her lips. “I think I like the sound of that idea. Girlfriend.” He put his arms around her, holding her close, and Willow made a small happy noise, enjoying the extra time with the man she loved.

November 16th, 1999
Private Room, Sunnydale Public Library

“And you're sure this person was human?” Wesley asked, looking over the sketch Giles had made from Faith's description of the individual she'd run into – literally – while trying to follow after Oz to Veruca. To stop, as it had turned out, that crazy bitch from killing Willow.

Buffy frowned. She knew she shouldn't think ill of the dead, but seriously. Veruca had screamed 'crazy' that other evening in the crypt right from the start, before Buffy had hit her with the tranq rifle; and from everything else Willow and Oz had said she'd said and done...well, crazy was definitely the word for it. The woman had created some weird picture in her head where killing Willow was her way to Oz's heart, who was somehow hers? Or something? 

That girl's crazy was obviously too crazy to try and fail to make sense of.

So why am I doing it again?

Buffy shook her head a little and banished the thought. She'd had a really crappy day in the cafeteria today – like, really bad. She'd been distracted when filling her drink at the soda fountain, and gotten soda splashed all over her skirt. Then she broke the ice cream dispenser handle by not paying attention to how much strength she was using to turn it, making the thing empty out into her little styrofoam bowl and then keep emptying out because there was no way to shut it off –

And then she'd tripped and lost her drink and her ice cream after paying for it.

Really not fun, and it had her on edge. And now this.

It wasn't until after Faith had talked about the weird camo-guy in more detail, wondering who the fuck he was, that Buffy realized something – Faith's description matched that of those guys they'd run into on Halloween. The ones they'd all thought were just people in costume for the night.

I think we can safely assume that that isn't the case now.

“It was sunny out still, he didn't seem demon-y, and he took my punch like a human.” Faith explained, ticking off her answers on her fingers. “Oh, and since when do demons carry guns and wear camo pants?”

“Now, there's no need to be snippy about it.” Wesley replied, his tone short with forced even-ness, “I merely wanted an explanation of your reasoning. Because if these people are human, then our options are rather limited. Just finding and slaying them is hardly an ideal course of action.” He looked over at Buffy. “You saw them during Halloween, you mentioned before?”

“Yea. They came out of the bushes by the sidewalk, then strolled on by as if nothing was out of the ordinary about it – and given the date, I didn't think any different.” She thought back, “Someone, I think it was Willow, asked who they were supposed to be, and Oz suggested they were 'NATO'.” Buffy shook her head. “If Faith hadn't run into this guy,” she gestured to Giles' sketch, “I wouldn't even have thought about them again.”

“Well, that description may not be entirely off the mark.” Giles replied, “It's not beyond the realm of possibility that some government agency is in Sunnydale. Thought I shudder at the possibility.”

“I don't think so.” Wesley said, shaking his head. “I mean, yes, granted, there's no way to be sure short of more information; but personally, I think it's more likely they're some sort of militia. They're not an uncommon thing, historically. Some of the most successful non-Slayer vampire and demon hunters in history were accompanied by small private armies. Captain Daniel Holtz, for example, led his men after Angelus and Darla for many years during the 18th century; and they accumulated quite a number of vampiric kills along the way – over three hundred, in fact.” Had it been anyone else, Buffy might have wondered why and how Wesley had that factoid known and ready to go; but the guy had long proven to be something of a walking, talking encyclopedia. Still kind of useless, but it wasn't surprising now whenever he knew some fact about demons or vampires or whatever.

“Government or militia, if these guys are roaming around Sunnydale at night or close to night? I wanna know what they're up to.” Faith commented.

Buffy looked at the picture, and had a thought. Xander. He hadn't mentioned anything about these guys, but that didn’t actually mean a thing, when you got right down to it. He hadn't said anything – or at least, no one had heard him say anything. She'd come to realize the importance of that distinction.

If she asked him if he'd seen or heard anything about anything like these guys, and he said no – then he hadn't, he had no information, and it was a dead-end lead that had been worth a try. But if he said nothing, literally nothing because his voice kicked out for that conversation, or if he started choking or coughing...

They would only do that if it was a yes, and then she'd have her answer either way.

Xander had told her to be creative when it came to this, that that was how he handled this, and that's what she was doing. Even knowing Xander did know about them, even if she didn't know any details about what they wanted, who they were, what they were doing – that would tell her something.

Not sure what, but it'll be something.

“Can I borrow that sketch?” Buffy asked suddenly, pointing to the picture. The other three looked at her, and she shrugged, “I have an idea – I think. But I'd need that to be sure.” She nodded at the sketch now. She looked at Giles and from the expression on his face, it would seem that he'd had the same idea, that he got where she was going with this.

“Oh, yes, of course.” Giles carefully took it out of the sketchpad and passed it over to her.

“What's the idea?” Faith asked, sounding just curious rather than suspicious she was being kept out of the loop. Buffy could see the suspicion on Wesley's face – either he just didn't trust her on principle, which she wouldn't put past him, or he'd spotted the brief exchange between herself and Giles.

Think fast.

Fortunately, something came to Buffy pretty quickly. “You know how two years ago, Xander got possessed by that Halloween soldier and got all those Soldier Guy memories?” Faith had heard that story, she knew.

“Yea.” Faith furrowed her brow a moment, then nodded, “Oh, right. You're wondering if his 'soldier-boy' memories can give us any ideas?”

Buffy nodded silently. She wasn't comfortable lying to Faith like this, but it was Xander's choice who he told. Not her secret to tell – but in Buffy's view, Xander should tell her.

He should tell Willow too. Buffy only knew that she and Giles knew. Okay, some of Cordelia's behavior recently pretty much indicated that she knew as well. Hardly surprising, given that she'd been sleeping with the guy for ages and living with him since last year. But that left Oz, Willow, Faith, Amy and Wesley out of the loop.

When it came right down to it, no one should be left out of that loop. This information was too important, and the weird crazy nonsense about who could be told what – more people knowing, couldn't that help? Maybe?

“That's what I'm thinking. Right now, we don't know anything about these guys, so –” She shrugged, “Anything we can find out is good, right?” Like Faith, she wasn't entirely sure why she was concerned about these bozos. They just set her on edge a little, as if there was something to worry about – and in Sunnydale, unlike in many other places, you really did think of zebras when you heard hoof-beats.

Maybe even vampire zebras.

And when something seemed wrong – well, then, you simply ran with it. Because there was probably something wrong.

“You're right there.” Faith agreed. Buffy looked at the clock.

“Alright. I'm going to go talk to Xander, and then I've got some homework to get done.” She was starting to get the school-slaying balance down, but there was more schoolwork to worry about now than she'd had in High School. She looked over at Faith, “Meet up at the Bronze before patrol?”

Faith nodded. “Sure.” Buffy stood up and made for the door.

“ Faith,” She heard Wesley say after a moment, “Stay a moment, if you would.”

Thought she spared a thought to wonder what that was about, Buffy didn't spend all that much time on it. Probably unimportant, anyway.

November 16th, 1999
Private Room, Sunnydale Public Library

Wesley waited until Giles had left the room as well. The other man gathered his sketchbook and the books he'd brought with him, adding that he'd contact the Council to see if they knew anything. It was an off chance, but a chance worth considering.

Once Giles was gone, Faith looked over at him. “So what's the issue?” She asked, terse and to the point.

Wesley sat down in one of the chairs around the table and looked over at her, gesturing for her to sit as well. Perhaps predictably, she decided not to, crossing her arms in front of her and just giving him a look.

“ Before I actually go into details, there's a question I need to ask, Faith.” Wesley clarified. “Do you trust me?”

Faith blinked, did a double-take, then scoffed. “What kind of question is that, Wes?”

“One that I'd rather like an answer to.” Wesley told her, unhelpfully. Closing his eyes for a moment, he took a breath then opened and looked across the table at her again. “Do you trust me, Faith?”

Faith rolled her eyes – she looked like she didn't quite get the question, though he wasn't surprised. “Well – I trust you're not gonna stab me in the back or something, sure. When it comes to the demon info and all that crap, I trust you to know what the hell you're talking about.” She shrugged, “Can't say I trust you to not get yourself killed in a fight, unless you're somewhere in the back with a crossbow.” She smirked, “You're getting better, by the way, but you've still got a while to go.” She looked at him, “What the hell is this about, Watcher guy?”

Wesley frowned a little. He wasn't terribly surprised by her answers, but they hadn't exactly been answers to the question he'd been asking. That she had given those answers instead of saying a simple 'yes' or 'no' rather proved the point, and in a way, answered the actual question. Which was why he was even contemplating telling her what he was about to tell her.

Faith Lehane was his Slayer, and that meant that he needed her to trust him. Every day he spent in this bloody town with its difficult and willful Slayers, he had to make compromises regarding Council rules. What was one more, at this point? What was important was doing good, fighting evil, saving lives. He hated to ever grant that Giles had a point, especially about being a good Watcher to a Slayer, but he'd been forced to do that time and time again in the many months since his arrival in Sunnydale.

“Faith, please listen carefully. What I'm about to tell you – you can't tell anyone else. Not Buffy, not Mr. Giles, not even Miss Madison. No one.” Wesley said after a moment.

Faith looked at him, frowning, her brow furrowed, obviously wondering what it was he was about to tell her.

“Depends on what it is, Wes. I mean, I'm not just going to keep something really important –”

“ No. You will tell no one.” Wesley interrupted, “I want your word on this, Faith. It's bad enough that I'm telling you about it. My orders on this were very clear, you see, about telling absolutely no one what's happened. Nonetheless I'm telling you, but you can't tell anyone else.” Wesley drummed his fingers on the table lightly, when he saw her rebellious look. “Please.”

Faith blinked at that, and then took in a deep breath sharply. She sat down in the chair he'd motioned to earlier and looked across at him. “Start talking.”

“Do I have your word that you won't tell anyone else?” Wesley pressed her, his palms flat on the table now.

Faith looked at him head on, her facial expression turning into more of a glare than anything else. “If telling someone this little secret of yours will save their life, then I'm gonna tell them. Otherwise, yea, I promise. Mum's the word. Want me to swear on my mother's grave next?” The sarcasm and the slight anger fed off of each other in her voice.
“Would swearing on your mother's grave actually mean anything to you?” He asked carefully.

Faith shook her head, “Probably not.”

“Then your promise will have to suffice.” Wesley replied. He took a deep breath, then said, “The Gem of Amarra was stolen before it could reach its destination.”

Faith blinked, “Tell me this is you suddenly trying out a sense of humor.”

Wesley shook his head, “It would be a rather bad joke if I was.”

“So you're telling me,” Faith started, enunciating each word carefully, “that the magic ring which makes a vampire completely fucking invincible and immune to everything – from a stake in the heart to sunlight to fire to getting their hand cut off, while they're wearing it – which you said the Council could keep safe, has been stolen?!” Involuntarily – he hoped – Faith clenched one hand into a fist. “And you want me to keep this secret from –”

“Not want. I need you to keep it secret, Faith. If Quentin Travers found out that I'd told you, he'd have me fired. He's been making up lost ground in the Inner Council recently, and he's regained enough to do that now. So, do you really want to have to deal with another new Watcher? I can assure you, anyone Mr. Travers sends in my place will offend you even more than I do.” He took a deep breath, “As for your implication of this being my fault – whoever stole the Gem somehow knew where it was, despite maximum secrecy, plus they managed to get onto a heavily secured plane and kill both the courier and his bodyguards. Top of the line personnel, with years of experience. Do you think someone who can do all that would have had trouble getting the Gem from Angel?”

“That isn't the point, Wes!” Faith replied angrily, then she relented, “And no, I'd really rather not have to deal with another Watcher. I'm just starting to break you in.”

“So gratified to hear that.” Wesley offered deadpan, even though he knew this really wasn't the time for snark. “Faith, I don't know who has the Gem now. As far as I know, no one does. But it isn't in the Council's possession, and unfortunately, it's all too likely there's an invincible vampire out there who's gotten his or her hands on it.”

Faith stood up, crossing her arms in front of her again. “Right. So why are you telling me?”

“Because you're my Slayer. And someone else needs to know if I get killed at some point; something which, around here, has a far higher possibility than I'd like. Besides, we can't have a good working relationship if I keep things like this from you, and then they come back to bite me on the arse.” Wesley replied calmly, starting to drum the fingers of one hand on the table again. “If whoever has the Gem turns up in Sunnydale again – it would damage what little progress we've made if it you found out I knew and didn't tell you, no?”

Faith just glared at him. “ So, just the usual duty as Watcher crap?”

“My duty as a Watcher would be to obey the Council's orders and not tell you anything. My duty as your Watcher is to tell you everything that would improve your odds for survival. It's a much finer line than I'd like, but on balance, I rather prefer that you remain alive.” Faith wasn't getting the Cruciamentum, he knew, but if the orders came down to carry it out on her anyway, despite the fact the brunette Chosen One was too old for it now – well, Wesley already knew he wouldn't bother listening to those orders. Faith would likely maim him if he did something like that to her; and the whole shoddy business, despite its long history as tradition within the Council, had never struck him as especially efficient. There had to be a better way to encourage lateral thinking and cleverness in a Slayer. “And I'd much rather you have something resembling respect for me than not, on a purely personal level.”

“I'm touched.” Faith replied, managing an almost English-level of deadpan snark in those two words. She closed her eyes, took a breath and said nothing for a minute, then finally. “All right. Guess I'd rather know than not, and I suppose the fact you actually confided in me 'bout all this should count for something.” 

Well. That was almost...civil. Wesley contemplated asking her if she intended to keep her promise, but thought better of it. It would likely only aggravate her, and that was not something he needed to do right now. Faith was clearly...upset with him but not pissed, and he didn't want to give her anything else – like openly questioning her integrity – to be annoyed at him for.

“So, any more bombshells you wanna drop?” She asked, “Or can I go now?”

“Nothing else for the moment, no.” Though Wesley was quite sure that Buffy bringing the sketch to Xander had more to do with his precognitive abilities than his memories from that Halloween, it was hardly something he could bring up with Faith at this point. Not until he got some firm proof for what he was fairly confident was the case. “Go ahead. Are you in need of any more wooden bolts for your crossbow, by the way?”

Faith shook her head. “Not right now.” She walked to the door. “The Council's orders on this are pretty shitty, you know that?” She asked, looking back at him before leaving, not waiting for a response.

Wesley wasn't quite sure what kind of response he wanted to give her, anyway. So that worked out well.

November 16th, 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

Normally in the middle of the afternoon, Buffy would find Xander at his job. But today – well, Xander was currently unemployed, as far as she knew. So she was here at his house to find him, and sure enough, he was up in his bedroom, reading a comic book. He lowered it when he saw her enter, then set it aside.

“Buffster. What can I do for you?” He must have noticed something in her expression, because he didn't smile, “Ah.” Buffy handed him the sketch Giles had made from Faith's description and watched Xander unfold it. “The latest in fall fascism?” He asked, looking up from the picture to her. “I mean, it's a little too full in the hips for my tastes, but if that's what's in right now...” Xander gave an elaborate shrug. “Yeah, never mind. Go ahead and ask.”

“Do you know anything about these guys?” Xander opened his mouth, moved his lips – and nothing came out. And then he started coughing for a few moments. Rolling his eyes, Xander looked up at the ceiling and muttered something, then looked back over at her, an apologetic expression on his face.

“Well, I think that kind of answers the question.” Buffy pointed out. “I mean, they wouldn't stop you from simply saying 'no'. What would be the point of that?”

Xander shook his head, “I think....” He started, then, “I think you could be underestimating how much fun there's to be had for them in just fucking with your head. Yours and everyone else's.”

“I could be.” Buffy countered, catching onto his word choice. “Am I?”

Xander said nothing for a moment, then, “Are you?”

Buffy dropped her head into one hand for a moment, “Is this really how we're going to have to talk from now on? Questions and riddles back and forth?”

“As long as we're talking about...the stuff I find out,” Xander said, groping for the right word mid-sentence for a moment, “Then yep, I think so.” He looked at the sketch. “I wish I could tell you more, but I haven't had any luck on that front. With anyone.” Buffy saw the confusion on his face as he got that out, and then Xander shook his head. “Never gonna figure these stupid rules out.” He muttered under his breath.

“So there's more to tell?” Buffy asked, and Xander said nothing, which she took as an implied 'yes'. “Well, that's something, at least. I don't suppose you've got anything else you can tell me?”

“Not right now, no.” Xander replied. “Sorry.”

“Not your fault.” Buffy pointed out. After a moment she said, “Faith and I are going to go out patrolling tonight, probably keep our eyes open for these guys, take part of the town each. Want to come with me? You might not be able to say anything to me, or get the information to me –”

“But you can always follow me if I start running off in some random direction?” Xander finished, a slight laugh in his voice.

“Pretty much.” Buffy agreed with a smile. “Don't forget to bring a stake, just in case.” She frowned a little, “Though really, things have been dead most nights – not even the zombie kind of dead. Just dead. Faith's been having just as much trouble.”

“Are you actually upset about that?” Xander asked, “Or is it just Faith?”

“More Faith.” Buffy agreed. Her sister Slayer was a hell of a lot more enthusiastic about the night work than she was. “But it does make me worry. Things aren't supposed to be this quiet in Sunnydale, this time of year. It's as bad as summertime. In November.”

“And complaining is just going to take things up to eleven.” Xander pointed out flippantly. “Zero to ninety in one go.”

“The phrase is zero to sixty.” Buffy pointed out, smiling a little at Xander's tone.

“In Sunnydale, I don't think things stop at sixty.” Xander pointed out, and Buffy smiled once more.

“That might be true.” She agreed. “Catch you at the Bronze around ten, then?”

“Sure.” Xander agreed. There was a slight expression on his face that she couldn't quite place. She wondered what he was thinking now, but thought better of pressing the issue. Given what they had just talked about, it would most likely be something he couldn't share with her anyway.

“You should tell everyone else, you know.” Buffy said after a moment.

Now it was Xander's turn to drop a hand into his face, “Really? So I can go through what I did with you and Cordelia again? I'm just lucky Oz took it so well.”

“Oz knows?” Buffy blinked. “You told him?”

“Not – initially. But he kind of guessed something was up when Cordelia and I told him Veruca was a werewolf, and that he needed to stay the hell away from her.” He looked down and added, a slight note of shame or maybe embarrassment in his voice. “Also, when I punched the guy. For something he hadn't done yet.”

“You punched Oz? What did – what was he going to do?” Buffy wondered if Xander would be able to tell her – after all, it had happened. Well, hadn't happened, but what was supposed to have happened didn't, now then? Presumably.

“Have sex with Veruca while they were both werewolves.” Xander said, then blinked. “So now I can get that out?” He rolled his eye and gave the ceiling a one-finger salute. “Way to go with the consistency, guys!” Xander looked back at her, “And yes, the image of two werewolves going at it that way was not something I needed burned into my retinas, but there you go. I'd ask Willow or Amy for some kind of brain bleaching spell for that, but given my luck with magic?” He shook his head, “Probably not the best of ideas.” 

Then Xander looked at her pointedly. “And that’s why I can't tell Willow, Buff. Once she got past the whole 'lying and keeping secrets from her' stuff, eventually, she'd use magic to try to get around the whole 'can't tell anyone everything' problem. And if just trying to talk leads to my voice not working, or I end up coughing or choking, and trying to write it down makes pens explode? I do not want to know what the hell her trying to use magic to get around the problem would do!”

“Then just tell Willow not to use magic on this, explain the dangers. She's not stupid, she'd get it was an unacceptable risk.” Buffy countered. “Sooner or later, y'know, you're going to have no choice but to tell everyone else.”

“Maybe. But let's hold off on that as long as we can, shall we?”

“And have everyone be even more upset with you for keeping it secret for even longer than you had to?” Buffy shot back at Xander. “Last year, you told me that sooner or later, Angel being back would get around to Faith. And that I should just go ahead and tell Faith and everyone else, so that it didn't come out at the wrong time, in the wrong way and make people not trust me. Well, I'm telling you the same thing now. You keep everyone in the dark like this, sooner or later it'll come out, and then what?”

Xander bit his lip and actually had the nerve to glare at her for using his own arguments against her, but then he took in a deep breath. “This isn't the same thing.” To Buffy's ears, it sounded like Xander was trying to convince himself as much as trying to convince her of that. So she took a deep breath of her own.

“Not exactly the same, yeah, but close enough for rock 'n roll.” Buffy disagreed. “I'm thinking sooner or later, I'm going to have to tell everyone who doesn't already know. But this isn't my secret to tell yet, so right now, I'll leave it up to you.”

“Wonderful. And if you do decide to drop this bombshell on everyone, then please give me a little warning?” Xander set the sketch down on his bed, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“I will.” Buffy agreed. “See you at the Bronze then.”

“See you then.”

November 16th, 1999
Willow and Buffy's Dorm Room, UC Sunnydale Campus

As much as Willow liked spending time with her boyfriend, she also liked doing well in her classes. And that meant doing her homework and studying. Something she could do easier in the silence of her dorm, when Buffy wasn't around. Buffy was one of her best friends, but...

She fidgeted. All the time. Even when studying. It wasn't enough to make it impossible to get anything done, and Willow was willing to deal with it, but it did always distract just a little bit.

It's probably all that energy and stuff that comes with being a Slayer. Sitting around and reading a textbook isn't exactly what being a Slayer goes with. Faith was always talking about the post-Slayage 'hungry and horny' affliction, and while Willow didn't really want to think about that latter one with either Buffy or Faith, she grasped the point – Slayers had energy to burn. Buffy got by on less sleep – because she needed less.

So it made sense that Buffy fidgeted.

Still, it made her life easier, school-wise, when Buffy was out of her room, wherever.

Setting down her pen, Willow closed one textbook and picked up the worksheet she'd been filling out the answers for, settling it into a carefully and neatly labeled folder – which she then put into just the right spot in one of her desk organizers. She was just about to open another textbook, ready to study for a test that was two weeks down the line – when she heard a knock on the door.

Willow looked out the window, double-checking that it was sunny out, which it was. Sill, on sheer habit, she got up and walked over to the door, opening it herself, even though it wasn't locked.

“ Riley?” Willow had not expected to see Professor Walsh's TA on the other side of the door. She started running through Professor Walsh's numerous assignments, wondering if maybe he was here to pester her about something that hadn't been turned in on time.

But – no. I turned everything in when I was supposed to. I know I did.

But maybe Buffy hadn't? I don't think she's missed anything either. Thinking about Buffy and Professor Walsh, though, reminded her of the way that Buffy's pen had exploded all over her hand and her notes during Walsh's class earlier that day. Weird. Willow made a mental note to let her friend borrow her Psych notes for the upcoming test.

“Yeah.” Finn gestured past her into the room. “Can I come in?”

Though it was daylight out, and there was basically no threat of Riley being a vampire, Willow still didn't offer an invitation. Didn't even really think about it. She just stepped aside and gestured a little for him to come in if he could.

“So...what's up?” Willow asked as the TA walked into the room, closing the door behind him. All things considered, she thought Riley was a fairly nice guy. He was always willing to answer student questions and when compared to the teacher...well, anyone was nice compared to her.

Even drunk Spike kidnapping me as a way to draw Buffy out is nice compared to her! Okay, Professor Walsh was a really good teacher. Some of the other faculty staff at UC Sunnydale – they didn't explain things as well. But Walsh – she knew the lecture material up and down and backwards and forwards, and while she wasn't exactly a nice teacher, she was a darn tootin' good one.

Which, really, was what mattered in a teacher.

Anyway!

Willow pulled herself out of her mental detour and back to the issue at hand – what was Riley doing here?

“Right to the point.” Riley said, half-hesitant in his tone, himself fidgeting, putting his hands in his pockets and pulling them back out a little. “Okay.” He paused, then, “Well – uh. I was thinking of asking Buffy out.”

“She's not here.” Willow stated the obvious, as she thought about that. Riley was a nice guy, and good-looking, so those were two points in his favor. But then, Parker had seemed like a nice guy and had been good-looking, and then he'd turned out to be a total poophead.

Not that Buffy had moped about him for long, as it turned out. Something about that whole other universe from Anyanka's wish thing had given her some perspective, at the end of the day. Which was good, because seriously, Parker wasn't worth being all mope-y over.

Buffy hadn't interacted with Riley or even talked to him that much, or at least not that Willow knew, but she had some – and knocking books onto his head and similarly spazzy results had been pretty much the norm around him, for whatever reason.

Still, spazzy or not, their interactions hadn't been that bad either, from what she'd seen. But Buffy was her friend. Nice guy or not, she wasn't going to –

Oh crap.

Buffy's weapons bag. Open. Half-out from under the bed. Crosses, crossbow, stakes, holy water, all in plain view, if Riley just turned his head a little bit. Trying to make it look casual, Willow walked over towards the bag, starting to try to nudge it under the bed inconspicuously. Buffy would not want a normal, nice guy who was interested in her to be freaked out and run away because he saw her Slay-equipment.

“I know.” Riley said in reply, to her statement of the obvious. “I came to see you – see, I don't know that much about Buffy. But I'm interested in what she likes – and so far...well, the only thing I know she likes is you.”

“So – what do you want me to do, then?” Willow asked, having trouble both being inconspicuous about moving the bag – and getting the darn heavy thing to actually get under the bed.

“Just tell me something. About her. Anything. Just a clue to –” He looked down at the sound of her nudging the bag, but before Willow could start in with any explanations, Riley was over by the bed and quickly pushing the bag underneath it. Without sparing even a second glance for the contents.

Holy crap! Close, close, close. Willow let out a mental sigh of relief and sat down on her bed, looking across at Riley, who was now sitting on Buffy's bed. “You were saying?”

“I'm just looking for something that – well, something that'll start us talking. Because I've gotten the impression that 'how about them Broncos' isn't really the conversation starter I'm looking for.” Riley's tone was earnest and hey, Buffy could use a guy who wasn't a poophead like Parker who was interested in her. Being 'woo'd was nice, be it from colleges or from guys.

“So what exactly are you hoping comes out of talking to her?” Willow asked. Riley seemed nice, but that didn't necessarily mean a thing. So she was going to be careful.

“Well, uh – getting to know her a little. I don't really know her, but I want to and I –” He cut himself off for a moment, as if gathering his thoughts, then continued, “It's just – I've never courted anyone like Buffy before.” He let out a soft laugh, “I don't think I've met anyone like Buffy before.”

Well that's definitely true. Buffy was even more one of kind than most people. But who used the word 'courted' anymore?

It does sound like he doesn't just want to do what Parker did, though.

Willow made an instinctive decision. She was hardly committing Buffy to anything, or so she though, as she said, “She has a stuffed toy pig named Mr. Gordo, she loves ice-capades without the irony and she's going to this party at Lowell House tonight before heading over to the Bronze to hang out with Faith.” She and Oz were going to go as well. Cordelia wasn't going – no surprise there, given her living arrangements she didn't go to that many on-campus parties – and Amy pretty much never went to college parties. Besides, she was hanging out with Faith most of the time, and the kind of parties that were allowed to be thrown on campus weren't the kind of thing Faith liked, anyway.

“Lowell House?” Riley said, sounding pleased. “Hey, that's my fraternity. I live there.”

“Well, then, it'll give you a chance to interact with my best friend.” She wagged a finger at him, “But don't get fresh.”

“Fresh? I don't even know if we actually like each other yet.” Riley countered defensively. He stood up. “But I suppose I'll find out.” He smiled. “Thanks.”

“Don't thank me. I'm on Buffy's side.” Willow told him firmly.

November 16th, 1999
The Bronze, Sunnydale

Faith sat down across from her, and Amy did her best to keep her eyes on her friend's face, rather than anything else.

“Something up, Amy?” Faith asked, taking a sip of her drink. “I mean, usually, we're both out on the floor by this point, but you've been sitting here in this dark corner for ages.”

“No, nothing's up.” Amy lied. She could hardly tell Faith that she was trying to avoid seeing Faith dance – since the woman was apparently incapable of dancing in a way that didn't all but scream 'sex'. At least, to her. Needing to come up with something, Amy told her a partial truth. “I didn't sleep very well last night .”

She immediately regretted it. I can't tell her I didn't sleep very well because I had a dream where I had sex with her!

“I thought you said you weren't having as much of a problem from the burns.” Faith asked, concerned. “Not hurting as much, anyway.”

Amy shook her head hurriedly. “No, I mean yeah, it's not the burns. They're...well, they're not hurting as much, like you said. That's not the reason. I just – I just didn't sleep very well.”

Faith looked at her a moment, and Amy wasn't sure if her friend was skeptical or not, then Faith shrugged. “Alright.” She took another sip of her drink and leaned in a little, lowering her voice just a touch. “If something's bothering you –” she cut herself off, but then continued on, “I'm your friend. Not really good with the talking stuff, but if you need to talk-”

 There's nothing wrong.” Amy said, maybe a touch too hurriedly she realized, but it was too late to change that, “But yea, if something is, I know I can talk. I appreciate the offer.” On a whim, she added, “Same holds true for you, you know.”

Faith smiled a little. Even her smile is – God, girl, get a hold of yourself! “Yea, I know.”

Searching for a way to change the topic, Amy looked around the room. “What time did you say Buffy was going to be by for a check-in before patrol?”

Faith shrugged, “Don't know exactly. Knowing her, it won't be too late, but probably not now-ish. She mentioned something about going to a party with Willow and Oz. How are they doing, anyway?” Faith changed the topic herself.

“They seemed fine when I saw them earlier today in classes, or in the halls. But this is Sunnydale, nearly being killed is almost normal. Only difference was that it involved a werewolf this time.” Amy had never expected to pick up the habit of making jokes about how dangerous Sunnydale was, but it was something Faith did a lot – and to be honest...cracking jokes helped. A lot. She agreed with Xander on that.

“So. Wicca Group get any better?” Faith asked after a quiet few moments.

Amy shrugged, glad there was a topic they could talk about safely – though how safe anything could be with Faith sitting across a table from her was an open question.

“Not really. They're all bake sales and crap. Okay, there's one girl there, a shy blonde named Tara. She actually knows magic – we talked about it a bit after the last meeting. She knows a lot about magic, I think.” Amy shrugged, “I'm hoping she'll be at the next meeting. I'd like to see if she has any pointers on control – and it'd be nice to have one more person to talk magic with.” She looked around and saw Buffy coming into the Bronze, looking somewhere between rushed and annoyed.

“Wonder what's bothering Buffy?” Faith mused aloud. “I'm gonna go check in with her.”

“You want me along on patrol?” Amy asked before she could stop herself.

“Always, if you're up for it.” Faith agreed.

November 16th, 1999
The Bronze, Sunnydale

Rubbing the back his head, where one of Vamp Harmony's slaps had landed, Xander walked into the Bronze, scanning the crowd for Buffy or Faith – he found the both of them talking near one of the pool tables and hurried over to them.

Damn it, I knew Spike was going to show back up – didn't need the coin to tell me that – but did he really have to pop up again tonight? Xander hadn't really considered not telling Buffy, though. Sure, they needed to find these militia/government/army/whatever guys, but Spike was a little bit more important. Especially since killing Buffy was once again at the top of his to-do list, apparently.

When isn't it, though? Far as he could tell, killing Buffy had pretty much been the reason that undead asshole had ever come to Sunnydale, right from the start. Anyone else would have given up by now, especially after it had cost them a hand.

At least we know he didn't grow the thing back. The vampire which Harmony had become had confirmed that much, along with the fact that Spike was gunning for Buffy all over again.

“Buffy, Faith.” Xander said as he got closer. “I've got bad news.”

“Oh, but that's my favorite kind.” Buffy complained, she looked at him. “What's happened now?”

“Spike's back, and he's planning to come after you.” Xander said flatly. “On the plus side, according to Harmony, he's still missing a hand.”

Faith smirked, “Well, there's that.” She looked over to Buffy, “I know we were planning separate patrols, but – Spike's something of a big deal.”

“ And we need to find him pronto.” Buffy pointed out. “But we can't just ignore those soldier-guys, either. We split up, we'll find him easier.” She sighed. “Still, if we don't –”

“Already thought about that.” Xander said. He reached into his coat and took out two flare guns. The plan had been for each Slayer to use it one they found the – whoever the hell the guys in camo with guns were – and call for backup. Now they'd be used if either one found Spike. “Given that we're dealing with Spike and not just some regular vamp,” Xander said, “I think I may want to stay in the rearguard for this one.” He didn't really like the idea, but – Xander knew he had limits, and when it came to a vampire like Spike...

Well, he liked staying among the living. Not having broken bones was nice, plus too.

“Probably a good idea.” Buffy agreed. “Oh, and make sure you warn Willow. If Spike's coming for me –”

“I'll call your dorm right now.” Xander agreed.

November 17th, 1999
Oz's Room, UC Sunnydale

Willow woke up and sat up a little, slowly, as the sun streamed into the bedroom. Her left shoulder hurt – throbbed, really – and she wasn't sure why. Reaching one hand to rub it gently, Willow looked back to her still-sleeping boyfriend and smiled a little – and once more, the memories of last night came back to her. They'd been like the night before last, too...but even more intense. Her hand moved from her shoulder to her neck, feeling the mark there.

She'd actually begged Oz to give her a hickey...

She flushed a little at the thought – okay, no, flushed a lot.

The images played through her mind, flashes of what they'd done last night – and why did her shoulder hurt? Had she slept on it wrong? Willow started to rub at it again – wait, there was something odd under her fingertips, not just skin –

Willow turned her head as much as she could and looked down at her shoulder.

Bite marks. Human teeth. Not very deep – but skin had been broken last night...

The moment replayed in Willow's mind with perfect clarity.

“Oh dear God-!” Willow gasped, crying out in half-choked horror as stark realization set in. Despite all their precautions up until now, she was – she'd been –

Oz had bitten her last night. 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy. I don't own the show, the characters or the concepts. Insofar as anyone can own what exists in a fanfic put up online on multiple websites without any attempt to copyright or trademark the original material, I own any and all original material, including the Jester, the Iron Coin, the Hydra, the Librarian, the Stratagem, et cetera. I also, insofar as one can, own the original scenage that I've written (though that's even less 'insofar', given the use of unowned characters) such as the various specific scenes between Faith and Amy, or the various non-canon Xander and Cordelia scenes, and so on, so forth.

Thanks to Starway Man, my beta-reader, and deiticlast, my creative consultant. As usual, both have contributed significantly to the success of this chapter.

Two things:

One: There is a new, upcoming project in the Iron Coin Chronicles that you should all keep your eyes open for: The Iron Coin Chronicles: The Flip Side.

The idea is that I'll be writing select episodes of Angel Season 1 alongside Iron Coin Season 2 episodes, tracking the indirect changes that Xander's actions with the Iron Coin has brought to L.A. The big picture changes, of course, for Angel Season 1, are that Cordelia isn't in Los Angeles, and Wesley isn't there either (nor will they be arriving in Hell-A). Most of the other changes stem from those basic premises, obviously. The only other change of any real note is that Oz never brought the Gem to Angel Investigations, but since Angel destroyed it at the end of the episode it was featured in, that hardly matters. 

Please note that I won't be rewriting every episode, only a handful of specific ones with a 'high density of change' (as it were) and where necessary, I will recap prior events during the presented episodes. You can look for them to come out either before or after the release of a given Iron Coin episode of the same number (so a rewrite of Angel 1x12, for example, would come out either before ICC 2x12 comes out, or after 2x12 comes out.

Also, the Flip Side chapters will not be structured or written as 'Episodes' the way ICC episodes are. Trust me, it will work out better that way. 

Two: In answer to any questions/confusions (because I've gotten some) as to why Xander didn't see/know about Oz biting Willow, the answer is simple: Fate didn't write it in the book for either person. And Xander only sees what is in the books.

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Episode 8: The 'Thanks' in Thanksgiving

November 17th , 1999
Oz's Room, UC Sunnydale

Holycrayholycrapholycrap!

Willow's eyes were still glued to the bite mark on her shoulder, her thoughts a complete and utter jumble. Her last coherent thought had been the realization she'd been bitten last night, during...during the sex...

At this point, though, coherence was completely and utterly out the window as far as she was concerned.

He didn't – he couldn't have meant – we weren't – does this mean? The full moon – Oh god-

Her thoughts tripped over each other as Willow mentally gibbered and panicked, and without really paying attention to what she was doing, she pulled away from Oz, almost falling out of the bed. Her motion was enough to wake her boyfriend, who opened his eyes, starting to sit up. He looked over her, opened his mouth to say something...

And then his eyes widened just a touch – focusing on her shoulder. On the bite mark. The bite mark he'd left.

“Willow – God –” Oz sounded, for him, just as freaked as she was. “I'm –”

“Don't!” Willow replied, managing to pull herself together enough for a genuine reaction. “You don't get to just apologize! You – you – you bit me!” She pulled away from him and the bed a few more steps, completely ignoring her total nudity – right now, she couldn't process that detail. “Why!?”

“Willow – I didn't –” He cut himself off a moment, taking a breath. “I didn't – it wasn't intentional...”

“Wasn't intentional!? You sank your teeth into my shoulder while we were – while we were...” She gestured wildly with her hands, having trouble getting the word out, “while we were having – you bit me! How was that not intentional?!” Willow didn't even try to stop herself hyperventilating, sucking in air in a series of short shallow breaths. Her werewolf boyfriend had bitten her. How – how could that not be intentional? He wanted – he wanted her to be a werewolf...

Was it because of Veruca? Did that crazy bitch make him want to make me a werewolf so he could-

“It wasn't like that.” Oz told her, voice quiet. If she hadn't known him as well as she did, she'd think he wasn't bothered at all by this; but she could pick up on the little things, the way he was sitting up so stiffly, the slight urgency in his voice... Oz was freaking out. He was panicking.

Wait, that means he didn't – he couldn't have done this on purpose –

“It isn't – I didn't suddenly think 'I want to bite Willow and turn her into a werewolf'.” Oz continued, “I didn't – I don't think there was much thinking. It just happened...” He looked at her, then looked away, the guilt evident on his face.

“It just happened!? That doesn't even make sense!” Deep down Willow couldn't help but believe him, though. Oz would never want to make her a werewolf. He didn't like being one, he wouldn't want to spread what he felt was as much as curse as anything else. But how would something like that – how would it –

Then something else he said fully registered in her mind. I'm – I'm a – 

“I'm – I'm a werewolf? The bite-?” She'd already known – suspected – it had dominated her jumbled thoughts after seeing the bite marks, but she hadn't known if it was enough...

But apparently, from the look on Oz's face, her worst fears were about to be confirmed. 

“Jordy's bite...it wasn't any worse than that one.” Oz said, voice low. She knew – his little cousin, barely two years old, had bitten Oz back during junior year. And that was how Oz had become – how he'd become a werewolf, which made her –

It made her a werewolf now. 

She staggered back further, this time almost completely absently, her back crashing into the wall. One hand went up, half-covering her lips as terrified gasps came out of her mouth:

“Oh my God...” The words came out shakily, between gasps, as Willow slid down the wall a little.

I'm a werewolf, I'm a werewolf!! I'm –

Oz got out of the bed, walking towards her. “We won't – we won't know for sure until the full moon...but...” His voice trailed off. He reached her and put his hands on her upper arms, holding her gently. “If you are, we'll- we'll work through this. It doesn't change anything.”

“Doesn't – Doesn't change anything?!” Willow got out amidst what was almost a sob of fear. “How can it not?”

Oz pressed a light kiss to her forehead, “It doesn't change the fact that I love you. Does it change the fact that you love me? Willow...do you hate me now?” She could hear the worry in his voice as Oz asked that, as if he was afraid of the answer. Afraid that she might say 'yes' for cursing her this way. 

I couldn't, I couldn't hate him. I still –

Willow, unable to get the words out between her gasps and broken and unsuccessful attempts at breathing evenly, moved past the jumble of incoherency that was threatening to overtake her thoughts again. She leaned in and pressed a kiss to his lips. She still loved him – this couldn't change that. He didn't – he didn't do it on purpose. She believed that now. Besides, Oz was still the guy she'd fallen in love with, still the guy she'd given her heart to, had lost her virginity to. Still the guy that made her feel safe and loved and –

After a few moments, she pulled back from the kiss, one hand on her chest, trying to calm herself – or at least her breathing – down enough that she could function.

Oz didn't say anything, he just ran his hands up and down her upper arms; clearly unsure of what to say, what to respond with. Or, maybe he was being silent because there was nothing to say. Yea...what could he say just now that could make something like this better? There was nothing.

They passed a long minute in complete silence, and Willow finally started managing to get her breathing under control, get the hyperventilating and the gasping halted for the time being. She looked at her boyfriend, entirely unsure what to do, entirely unsure what to say in turn to him.

“We, we need to figure out what to do next.” Oz said after a moment. “I can help you –” He started, then paused. “I can help you deal with the wolf...it's always going to be there, inside you...you can't...you can't let it –” Something passed across his face and he stepped back, his hands coming off her arms, falling by his side.

What – what did I do? What's wrong –

“Now I get it. That's what it was...” Oz murmured. “The wolf...” One hand went to his forehead, his thumb on his cheek, the fingers just above his eyebrow. “The wolf... it... it wanted to make you a werewolf...” He looked at her, forcing himself to not look away guiltily. “It went after Veruca, even though she was a werewolf, because...”

Another pause. “Because it knew you were the one I wanted...you're the one I want to be with. But...” He looked away now. “The wolf – wolves are pack animals...it wanted another werewolf, someone else like it. I didn't get that, until just now. That's why I lost control last night...I didn't – I didn't realize what it – but that's why I gave into its primal urges. Why I bit you during the sex. Made you like me...” He looked back at her. “Willow, I'm – I'm so sorry.” His voice sounded on the verge of breaking, the horror at what he'd done to her now visible across his features.

But it wasn't – he didn't – okay, he did, but it was –

No, it wasn't intentional! The wolf wasn't him. It was a separate thing. Like he'd said...something deep, and dark inside him. Something Oz didn't want to embrace...something he always had to fight against, to prevent it controlling his actions as a human.

Why couldn't he have fought better last night!? The resentful feeling accompanying the thought felt almost alien to her, but the entire concept – the idea behind it, behind the feeling...

Why did Oz have to lose control and bite her, turn her...turn her into a werewolf...

“I'm going- I'm going to have to lock myself up, now...like you.” Willow said softly. Would it be safe to be in the same cage as him? He'd killed Veruca – obviously being a werewolf alone wasn't enough for her to remain safe...

But he'd just said, the wolf wanted...

Oh. The unstated word was obvious, waiting just for her to realize what it meant.

The wolf wanted a mate. And Veruca hadn't been an option because Oz loved her, Willow, not that crazy bitch...

So now she was the wolf's mate...or the wolf in her was its mate, or –

The analytical, academic part of her mind finally piped up into the swirl of freakout, panic and confused emotions Willow was feeling right now: you need to study up on werewolves again. Even more than you did before. She'd done some reading on them, after they'd found out Oz was a werewolf and he became her boyfriend...but only some. She'd found out enough, she'd thought.

Clearly not.

She sucked in a deep breath.

“Yea.” Oz told her softly, in reply to her previous statement. “You will...” He looked away a moment, then added, “We have to tell everyone else...that I did this to you. We can't hide it...they'll – we'll need someone to watch us during the full moon –”

“No! We can't!” Willow replied, almost automatically. They'll – they'll never forgive Oz for biting me. Buffy would want to beat the crap out of him, and Xander...

Yea, Xander would want to do worse. She knew both him and Buffy well enough to already know that they simply wouldn't understand. They would think he'd done it deliberately. They didn't understand how powerful the wolf was inside him, how much he had to fight it. She didn't understand it entirely herself, but he'd spoken about it enough – spoken to her about it enough. He hadn't really shared many of the details with anyone else.

“Willow, they need to know – with two wolves in one cage...what if – what if we break out? Someone needs to know that you're not keeping an eye on me, that there's going to be two werewolves –”

“Oz! Shut up and listen. If we tell everybody that you bit me while we were in bed together – they're not going to understand, gosh darn it!” Willow replied frantically. “Do you think they're just going to accept it was a, an accident? Do you really think Buffy and Xander won't –”

“I already figured out that they'll be pissed.” Oz interrupted quietly. “And if they want a pound of my flesh to pay for what I did, they can have it. Because I screwed up, Willow. I gave in to the wolf's desires. I gave into the wolf and bit you. It was my mistake, and I know I have to pay for it.”

Willow shook her head violently and approached him, taking his hand, holding tightly, reaffirming that he was there, that he was still her boyfriend. “No. We can't tell them – if they –” She sucked in a deep breath. “Maybe you're okay with them beating the crap out of you for this, but I'm not. And I know we can't just hide it from them. I know we can't – not forever. But we need to –”

Waitaminut! They wouldn't blame him for something he did while he was a werewolf. They get that that isn't him...

“We need to wait until after the full moon, before telling the others.” She said, the idea coming to her fully. “If we tell them it happened then – if we tell them you did it while you were transformed...then they can't blame you. They won't. Even Xander wouldn't.” Her friends would be upset with Oz, sure...but they wouldn't –

They wouldn't want to go after him with a silver knife in one hand and a gun loaded with silver bullets in the other, for 'hurting' her. Besides, it didn't – it didn't actually hurt while it was happening....

Like with everything else they'd done last night, she'd liked that too...

Another thing then came to Willow – and in the face of everything else, it was a relatively minor issue. But it was a real one:

She didn't want to tell everyone else the exact details of – of how she'd been bitten. How and why she hadn't noticed it until the next morning – and of course...all the – what they'd done last night, the night before...

Willow flushed. She shouldn't – she didn't feel ashamed for liking that kind of sex which they'd had. But she didn't want to – didn't want to talk about it with her friends...with anyone, really.

“Willow, we can't just lie to everybody about this.” Oz replied, his free hand going up to gently caress her cheek for a moment. “And we need to tell someone, for at least the first full moon night. In case we break out – we can't – someone needs to be on hand to tranquilize us, if the cage doesn't hold...” He looked her in the eyes. “We should tell Giles, I'm thinking. He won't – he'd get it. Better than the others, anyway.”

Tell Giles? Tell Giles about – Eep! No. No. No. No. She didn't want to start talking about those particulars with the man who was more of a father figure to her – and the rest of her friends – than her actual father. She wanted to have that conversation with Giles even less than – even less than with Buffy, or Xander, or even –

Faith?

Yea, now that might work! They could talk to Faith. She- she wouldn't freak, right? Faith never freaked. And- and she wasn't as overly protective as Xander and Buffy – and Faith wouldn't be judgey – well, she wouldn't, would she? Right? – about how...how the bite had happened...

Would they actually be –

Willow didn't know if the rest of her friends would feel anything, one way of the other, about how she'd been infected with lycanthropy. But she didn't want – she couldn't risk it – couldn't let it come up, if they did –

She flushed red again.

But even if the rest of her friends would be judgey – which was a real possibility – Faith definitely wouldn't, right?

No, she wouldn't. For that matter, she might not even press for –

Well, no, she'll want to know about that part. She's Faith, after all.

The idea had merit, but she – well, truth be told, she really didn't want to tell anyone. Maybe Oz would just forget about the idea of telling someone. He could do that. Right? Right?

November 20th, 1999
Faith's Apartment, Sunnydale

Faith opened her freezer as Amy gathered up her textbooks and notebooks, slipping them into her backpack. Her selection of food was a little better than it had been recently – the nights were still pretty dead, but she'd been lucky enough to hit a vamp nest with a very nice collection of small valuables – rings, necklaces, that sort of thing. Nothing really valuable, but enough that she could make a pretty good amount fencing them through Willy.

She didn't like dealing with that slime to sell what she took from vamps, but normal fences didn't really exist in Sunnydale – the ones she knew of were all demons and vampires, except for the bar owner.

At least Willy, unlike a human fence, knew full well how dangerous she was, and he knew full well how dangerous cheating her too much would be to his health. Faith figured he was probably cheating her a little, but that's just who the little slimy bastard was. It was what he did.

Having a nice little influx of cash didn't mean that she bought much more than frozen meals, though. If there was one thing Faith didn't do – though there really was more than one – it was cook. Heat something up? Sure. Make a sandwich? She could pull that off. But Faith knew she would probably burn the water if she even tried boiling some to make something as basic as mac and cheese.

Just one more thing I can thank Mom for. When she'd been younger, before her mother had completely checked out of actually playing a role in her life, the elder Lehane woman had cooked quite a bit. Faith had 'helped' as much as an overeager six-year old could, but she'd never actually learned what went into cooking, and she'd long since stopped bothering to try and figure it out. It never quite worked for her anyway. To put it mildly.

Amy finished zipping up her backpack and looked over at her as Faith finally picked a meal – a frozen chicken Alfredo dish – and closed the freezer.

“I was wondering,” Amy started hesitantly. Faith looked over at her friend, raising an eyebrow.

“What about?” Faith noticed that Amy wasn't quite looking at her – just kinda right next to her, but still kinda at her. It was something she'd noticed once or twice in the last couple days. And Amy had been a little jumpier recently too. It was like it had been after her mother, when the Mayor had been blackmailing her –

Well, no, not really. Just the jumpier part. And it's not really in the same way, either. Something was up with her friend, and Faith wanted to ask her what the hell it was, but...

She was not good at the talking shit, and she didn't want to risk screwing things up by doing it wrong.

And ignoring her problem, whatever it is, is just going to make it go away? She's your friend, damnit! Faith ignored the little voice in the back of her head saying that. She didn't have to ignore Amy's problem, whatever it was, forever; but she could keep ignoring it for now. Maybe it would go away on its own, or Amy would be willing to talk about it. She'd talked about the Mayor thing, eventually, after all. She'd talk about whatever this was eventually too. Right?

“Well, I was wondering if you wanted to come over to my dad's house for Thanksgiving. Well, Thanksgiving lunch anyway.” Amy sounded much steadier now. “I mean, since you don't have any family in town and-” She added hurriedly.

“I thought Thanksgiving was about the dinner.” Faith pointed out with a small laugh.

“Well, yea, when you have a whole lot of people, sure. But I don't have any aunts or uncles or cousins or grandparents showing up. It's just gonna be dad and me. Last two years we've kept it pretty low-key. But I figured – I mean, you're my best friend, and Dad said he wouldn't mind you coming along, since you don't have any family in town and If you don't want to come you don't have to and –”

Faith interrupted Amy before the witch could keep babbling. If I didn't know better, I'd wonder if her hair had suddenly turned red or something.

“Sure.” And why not? Faith was never one to turn down free food, and it wasn't as if she had anywhere to be at lunchtime on Thanksgiving. Besides, as far as fathers went, Amy's dad was a pretty good one, from the few times they'd interacted. Better than hers, anyway.

Then again, that isn't much of a high standard to set. Her own mother still managed to be a better mother than Amy's any day of the week...which said more about the psychotic mess that Cathy Madison had been, than it said anything good about her own mother.

Amy smiled at Faith's answer. “Great. I'll tell him you're coming.” She seemed pretty happy about the news, which only made the choice an even better one, far as Faith was concerned. She liked having her friend be happy.

“You still on for joining me on patrol tonight?” Faith asked. She preferred to know ahead of time – the way she actually went about patrolling – and thus the way she got ready for it – was different if she was going out alone or not.

“I should be. Depends on if I can get enough of this paper for Professor Walsh's class done.” Amy replied, grimacing as she mentioned the hard-ass psych prof. Faith didn't know the details, but the woman was apparently enough of a hard-ass that Willow, Buffy, Amy and Cordelia had all mentioned it, though usually in passing, and the word 'hard-ass' wasn't usually involved. Oz probably though she was pretty bad too, but being Oz, he hadn't said anything about it. 

World's quietest werewolf, that guy. 

“But, like I said, I should be able to.” She smiled a little, “I think I've got the fireball thing down.” Even as she said that, Amy looked down at her hand for a moment. The burn mark was still there a little, even if it didn't really hurt anymore, according to the witch. The burn on Amy's back was also probably still there, though Faith didn't know for sure. They were faded and not as visible as before, but...

“Just watch where you're aiming them.” Faith offered back with a hint of amusement in her tone. It was good to see her friend had moved past the whole 'burned by a spell she lost control of' thing. She'd seemed like she was, but the way she sounded eager regarding the fireballs was confirmation for Faith. “I like the smell of toasted vampire in the morning, yea, but toasted me? Not my favorite scent in the whole world.”

Amy looked away a moment, flushing, looking almost embarrassed. Shit – I didn't mean to bring it up like that!

“Shit, Amy, sorry, I didn't mean to bring up –” Faith started to apologize. 

“No- no.” Amy held up a hand. “Nothing like that. Just something I remembered.” 

Yep, I'm thinking that's a lie...

Okay, maybe she really did need to talk about whatever it was eating at Amy sometime soon. But clearly, not right now. Maybe after the Thanksgiving lunch thing?

“Anyway.” Amy added hurriedly, looking at her cell phone to check the time. “I really need to run so I can get the work on the paper done and all – wanna meet up at that mausoleum we ended patrol at the other night, at...what, 10:30?”

“Sounds good.” Faith agreed. “See ya then.” After Amy left, the Slayer opened the frozen meal's box and tossed the cardboard into the trash before popping the plastic dish into the microwave to heat up.

Faith was wrapping up her late lunch when she heard a knock on her door. Can't be Amy. She wouldn't be back this soon. Out of habit and a healthy and well-placed sense of paranoia, Faith grabbed a one of her knives – weapon knife, not eating knife – and held it hilt first, blade pointing up, in one hand, letting it sit mostly concealed by the arm of the hand holding it. Just an 'in-case' thing. If it had been night time, she'd have grabbed a stake.

Standing to one side a little, Faith opened the door, and then she mostly let down her guard when she saw Willow and Oz standing on the other side of the door. What the hell? Those two had never shown up here before. Actually, apart from Cordelia, they were the only two that hadn't. Giles hadn't shown up apart from the first time when he'd helped arrange the renting of the place, and Xander had only shown up the one time after B had told her about Angel – but her fellow Slayer had showed up often enough, and so had Wes. And of course, Amy was here almost every day.

Red and Wolfboy, though? She hadn't even realized they knew where she lived, though they'd probably known for a while. Just hadn't stopped by before. But now, they had. So...

What was up?

“Faith.” Oz said, nodding at her, one arm around his girlfriend's waist. The red-head wasn't looking all that happy to be here – frankly, she looked a little scared.

What's with that? I'm not that bad...

“Oz.” Faith stepped aside, gesturing for them to come in. Once they walked in with no difficulty – no surprise there, really – Faith set the knife she'd been holding on the counter and watched Oz close the door behind him. “So what's the sitch?” Willow looked to Oz before looking over to her, then she looked away. Faith watched the two of them for a long moment, as neither spoke. So she added, “Someone gonna say something? 'Cause doesn't look like this is a social call, or some shit like that.”

“No – no it isn't.” Willow said after a moment, the words coming out a little too fast. Then she opened her mouth and said something, the words all running together. Faith had no idea what the other woman was saying: “Ozbitmeafewnightsagoandnowneedtotellyou-”

Faith held up a hand. “Whoa, whoa! Slow down, Red. 'Cause I have no frickin' idea what you just said. Pretty much the only thing I got out of all that was your boyfriend's name. Try again, slower?”

Willow took a deep breath, then another. “Oz bit me a few nights ago.” Faith saw Wolfboy flinch a little at the words, and he looked away from her, away from Willow, looking all kinds of guilty.

“Wait, wait, wait.” Faith held up both hands this time. “I thought the full moon wasn't for another couple weeks?” Oz bit her? What the hell? If Oz wanted to date a werewolf, why didn't he take that crazy Veruca bitch up on the offer? From everything Faith had heard, the girl had gotten it into her head that Oz should be with her, which was why she'd tried to kill Willow.

“It's not.” Oz replied quietly. She almost didn't hear him, actually, given just how quiet he was being there.

“So you chose to bite her? What the hell – and you let him? Didn't know you wanted to be a –” Faith started, looking at Willow. If Willow wanted to be a werewolf to get closer to her boyfriend or something, that wasn't really her problem, as long as she locked herself up during the full moon like Oz already did. Still, she'd never pegged Oz as someone who'd want to bite his red-haired squeeze. 

Did he like...pressure her or something? Or did she pressure him?

Naw. Screw that shit. Faith couldn't really see that happening. Neither of them were that kind of person. So...what the hell?

“No! It wasn't like that!” Willow insisted immediately.

“I didn't choose to bite her...” Oz said slowly. “It just happened...”

“Say what? Look, I'm not an expert or anything; but I'm pretty sure biting someone doesn't just 'happen', guys.” Faith replied. Before she said anything else, she looked from one to the other, and saw the flush rapidly spreading over Willow's face. Then realization hit Faith, kinda like a freight train. 

Holy shit. He bit her while they were having sex? Red of all people? “Kinky.” She said with a small laugh, despite the situation. “I didn't know either of you two were into that.”

“Ididn'teither.” Willow squeaked, then covered her mouth quickly, as if she hadn't meant to say that. 

So she really did like it. Huh. Maybe it's true what they say about the quiet and unassuming ones always ending up the kinkiest, once they get a taste of being bad. Then again, Faith was anything but quiet or unassuming, and she could be fairly kinky when she wanted to. She'd never had any interest in biting or being bit though, so Red had one up on her there.

“All right. I'm guessing you're telling me this because the bit has made you into Wolfgirl?” Faith asked, crossing her arms in front of her.

“We won't know for sure until...until the full moon.” Oz said softly. “Or at least closer. But my cousin Jordy was human when he bit me, so...” Oz let that trail off.

For a moment, Faith wondered why they were telling her instead of one of the others. She was friends with them both, sure, but they were closer to Buffy, Giles and Xander. Willow was closer to Amy than to her, even. But it didn't take her too long to get it.

With a mental shrug, Faith bought that it had been an accident. When you got to sex – and if there was any kind of biting involved – sometimes, things got out of control. In this case...that had bigger consequences than some blood and a bit of a scar for a while, but it didn't look to her like Oz had done anything on purpose. Heat of the moment thing had happened. No point bitching and moaning about it, anyway.

But would B or Xander be anywhere near as...casual about it? Not that she was being casual about it, but she wasn't freaking. And she wasn't possessed of a powerful urge to hit Oz. Maybe slap him upside the head for being so careless, but from what Willow had just said...

Well, it took two to tango, right?

But B? Xander? Those two were plenty damn protective of Willow. They would freak. As in hit Oz over the head with a shovel first, and ask questions afterwards. 

Wonder how bad Willow freaked when she realized what the hell happened? Of course, the even more interesting question was Oz's reaction. The guy never freaked, but he didn't seem anywhere near his usual level of composure right now. Which meant he must've freaked at least a little, once he realized what he'd done.

Well, shit. I'd have paid good money to see that.

“Buffy doesn't know, does she?” Just double-checking.

Willow shook her head. “No! And you can't – she can't –”

“Don't worry, Red, relax. I get it. I know how B gets too, remember? Still, you guys can't keep it secret forever. I mean, someone's gonna need to watch the both of you those three nights of the full moon.” Before, it was usually Willow watching out for Oz's welfare. Now...well, that wasn't gonna work.

“That's why we're telling you.” Willow said. “And...we're not...not hiding it forever. I –” She took another deep breath. “The plan – the plan is to tell everyone that Oz bit me, that he bit me as a werewolf, see, that way they won't get – everyone knows he can't control himself then, so they won't blame him, especially not Buffy and Xander –” Willow wasn't pausing to breath between her jumbled words, and Faith held a hand up again.

“Calm down, take a breath before your face goes all blue or something.” She told the witch. “Look, Willow. I ain't gonna tell you to not to do this, although the way I see it, plan doesn't sound like the greatest one imaginable. Lies always come up later and bite you on the ass. Not sure I have a better plan for you, though.” She shrugged, “So, yea – I'll watch the two of you, at least that first night. Suppose we'll have to figure out some kind of schedule on who watches you what nights or something.”

“Thanks.” Oz said after a moment.

“Hey, don't thank me yet. If you two are locking yourselves up in the same cage, I might need to tranq you both straightaway.” Faith let a smirk form on her face at the momentarily confused look on Willow's face. “Don't need those visuals.”

“What are you –” She went all red in the face all over again, right on cue. “Oh. Oh.”

November 23rd, 1999
Site of the New Cultural Center, UC Sunnydale

While she'd never really been one for the 'Village People' look, Cordelia had to admit that her boyfriend looked pretty damn good in his construction worker outfit, waiting to begin the digging. And, for her money, the best part about the new job Xander had was that it was always going to be a daytime thing, pretty much. Sure, that hardly guaranteed safety in good old Sunnyhell – a rampaging demon or an inconvenient eclipse could always show up and ruin everyone's day, but still. It definitely increased the odds of him staying among the living. Which was always a good thing in her book.

She'd long since decided that if Xander did anything so stupid as to die on her, she was going to resurrect his ass and kill the stupid dork again. Then resurrect him a second time and cut him off for a few months, just so he got the point that him dying on her was not acceptable.

Cordelia wasn't planning to be here the entire time while Xander worked – she did have other things to do, and it was going to be a long workday for her boyfriend – but she did want to be here when he officially started work on the new job. Supportive girlfriend and all that.

Buffy, Willow and Oz were here for the similar reason of being supportive friends. Cordelia doubted they planned to hang around the entire time, either.

“And that's why it's appropriate,” Professor Gerhardt continued from the podium, still talking after a good three minutes at it, “that the ground-breaking for the UC Sunnydale cultural partnership center is taking place just before Thanksgiving. Because that's what the melting pot is about – contributions from all cultures, making our culture stronger.”

Cordelia didn't catch whatever it was that the professor said next, when Willow scoffed.

“What a load of horse hooey!” Willow added in after the scoff. Cordelia looked over at the redhead, wondering what had her all fired up now.

“We have a counterpoint?” Buffy asked, sounding just as confused as Cordelia felt.

“Yeah!” Willow answered hotly, “Thanksgiving isn't about the blending of two cultures. It's about one culture wiping out another! And- and then they make animated specials about the part with the maize and the big, big belt buckles. They don't show you the next scene where all the bison die, and then Squanto takes a musket ball in the stomach!”

Really? Really, Willow? Cordelia didn't resist the urge to roll her eyes – this time. She usually did when she was around Willow, because most of the time she was around the redhead that she mostly got along with and more or less considered a friend – especially given how Willow had...she had helped her save enough of her family's money that she could even attend college at all – Xander was around too, and she'd long since decided that it simply wasn't worth it forcing her boyfriend to take sides and choosing between them. It hurt him being forced to do that, after all. 

Part of her often wanted to do it anyway, but really, Willow wasn't that bad. Once you got to know her?

Like I said. She's mostly a friend. But Jesus Christ!

“Probably,” Cordelia told the redhead in response to her previous statement, “because that would be a little too depressing for something written for kids. I mean, we don't celebrate Easter by crucifying someone and then watching them come back from the dead, and I don't think we celebrate Christmas by watching the miracle of childbirth happen in a manger.” She shrugged, “and unless I'm guessing wrong, your family never celebrated, say, Passover by getting enslaved and then breaking free of said slavery. Am I right?”

It was either Passover or Hanukah. Those were the only two Jewish holidays Cordelia knew anything about, although she was well aware there were a whole bunch more.

“Well...yea, you are.” Willow agreed, some of the fire taken out of her righteous indignation by Cordelia's snark. “But Thanksgiving isn't about celebrating something fun, like being led out of slavery, or, or the birth of someone's Messiah, or anything like that! It's about celebrating the destruction of the indigenous peoples!” The fire was back in full force as she finished saying that.

“I always thought it was about celebrating the eating of turkey.” Oz offered, clearly trying to prevent some sort of argument.

“And pie!” Buffy chipped in eagerly. Buffy clearly saw the 'you're ganging up on me' look on Willow's face, and unlike Cordelia, wanted to do something about it. “I mean...I guess you're right. I just never thought about it that way.” She let out a small sigh. “With mom at Aunt Arlene's this year, I'm not getting a Thanksgiving anyway. So maybe it's just as well.”

Well, I don't really think any of us are. Let's do a headcount here, shall we? Her parents were still missing in action, after getting out of town one step ahead of the arrest warrant on her dad. Willow's parents were away doing whatever it was that had them out of Sunnydale half the time. Xander's mom had left to visit some relatives upstate that her boyfriend wasn't especially fond of, and now Buffy's mom was visiting someone else outside of Sunnydale for Thanksgiving. That only left Oz and Amy with any sort of parental unit – or really, any sort of family, extended or otherwise - in town.

It was kind of a depressing thought, all things considered.

“Thanksgiving has even less to do with the Indians than Christmas does with the baby Jesus, quite frankly,” Cordelia rolled her eyes again. “So the whole 'indigenous cultures' thing is no reason to not celebrate it.”

Willow looked like she was about to argue the point with her some more, when Oz put a hand on her arm lightly. Willow sent her an annoyed glare before closing her mouth, and looking back over to where the Professor was finally finishing up her speech.

“...And thus, a symbolic beginning.” Gerhardt picked up a shovel and did the entirely pointless first shovelful. The ground-breaking. Because that was such a wonderful thing. Really, why is it even a thing?

“Symbolic of what?” Cordelia muttered. “I mean really, what is that supposed to be symbolic of?” This sort of formal event always set her bullshit meter off, and this one was no exception. Gerhardt's motion was met with polite applause by the audience and the various UC Sunnydale faculty and such that were there, and then the actual work began.

Cordelia watched as Xander, among others, started to dig, checking her watch. She'd be the supportive girlfriend for about five, maybe ten minutes. Thanksgiving break or not, she did have coursework to get done, and today was as good a day as any to get some of it done.

Unfortunately, her plans to make inroads on the papers and textbook reading et cetera ad nauseum she had to deal with were completely shot when, maybe six or seven shovelfuls in, the ground seemed to crumble under Xander and then he fell down and completely out of sight, leaving only a hole in the ground to show he'd been there not two seconds before.

Anywhere else, and that would have been bad. In Sunnydale, it could only start at bad.

“Xander!” Despite herself, Cordelia started to run onto the construction site. 
Buffy suddenly grabbed her arm. “I don't really think you can do that.” The Slayer told her.

“I don't really care!” Cordelia snapped back, “What the hell just happened?!” She struggled against Buffy's grip.

The men at the construction site seemed just as confused as she was, though. If not as violently terrified. Construction work was supposed to be safe by Sunnydale standards!

“What happened?!” One of them shouted as he approached the hole. Cordelia watched him stand over it, looking down into it. “Hey, buddy, you alright? Don't move!” She didn't hear whatever response Xander gave the man, but he must've given one as the construction worker shouted down into the hole, “Alright! We'll get you some help!”

What does that even mean? Is Xander okay? Does he have a broken leg, or something even –

Cordelia took a quick breath and stepped back, Buffy finally taking her hand off the former cheerleader's arm.

Xander's fine. And you, get yourself under control! You do not freak out!

November 24th, 1999
17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

Her boyfriend's first excursion into construction work had not worked out well, as it turned out. On the plus side, Xander hadn't been injured that bad. Some bruises and scrapes, but nothing so bad that he was going to be out of commission or anything. They didn't have sex last night, but that was just because Xander was exhausted after the hospital visit and the constant poking and prodding by the doctors.

Cordelia walked out of the shower, expecting her boyfriend to be out of bed and on his way to the construction site – she'd argued the point with him last night, but Xander had argued in turn that, given how he'd just started his new job, now was not the time to be taking a day off, or playing hooky or anything like that.

But when she walked into the bedroom, wearing just a bathrobe, Xander wasn't gone.

Instead, he was sitting on the bed, looking like death warmed over and struggling to pull his socks on.

“Xander! What the hell?” She hurried over to her boyfriend. “What's wrong?”

“Nothing. I'm just – I'm just having trouble getting going today. I just need a minute –” 

Even his voice sounded sick. Cordelia looked at her boyfriend closely. He was pale and pasty and sweating, and he looked even more exhausted the he had yesterday. Cordelia placed a hand on his forehead, and pulled it away. Yea, that was definitely a fever. A really, really nasty one too, from all the heat coming off him in waves. Cordelia pushed her boyfriend back onto the bed, so he was lying flat.

“Yea, I don't think so, mister.” Cordelia told him firmly. “You're clearly sick, and I'm pretty sure they can dig without you. This is Sunnydale. The job is still going to be there when you're better, especially since they're probably not going to be building the new cultural center there anyway.”

“Huh?” Xander blinked and looked at her, trying to sit up. Cordelia immediately pushed him back onto the bed.

“Well, I mean, Willow was saying something about some Spanish Mission there that was buried after an earthquake, back in like...1812 or something.” Cordelia answered. “So it's a fancy schmancy cultural heritage site or something. Betcha there's gonna be archeological digs and all that crap.”

“Also,” she continued, “apparently Buffy's decided we're all going to Giles' house to have Thanksgiving dinner there tomorrow night.” Cordelia was all for going, though if Xander was this sick, then it might not exactly be the best of ideas for him to attend, and she wasn't going to just leave him here. “And she's even talked Willow into being there, despite her 'Thanksgiving sucks 'cause it's all about killing the Indians' attitude.”

Xander blinked again. “Does G-man know about this?”

“Honestly? He might not have when Buffy invited us. He probably does now, though.” Cordelia looked at her boyfriend again. He now looked even worse than before. “Alright, screw it, I'm taking you to the hospital.” She went over to the closet, taking off her bathrobe as she did so. It was a testament to just how ill Xander was that he didn't even stare at her ass between the removal of the bathrobe and the getting dressed.

November 25th, 1999
Giles's Apartment, Sunnydale

Okay. Doctors were officially useless.

They'd done a bunch of tests, taken some blood, explained that Xander had a whole host of random symptoms, but they simply didn't go together. The only tiny bright spot in the whole wasted visit was the slightly humorous comment made by that intern. What was his name? Ken? Len? Ben? Didn't matter. He'd commented that it was like Xander had won the symptom lottery, and had all the side effects as a bonus prize.

So for once in his life, Xander got lucky with some kinda lottery. Granted, her boyfriend only ever bought the odd one-dollar scratch-off so she hadn't really complained, but he'd never won anything from them. Sometimes she wondered if he bought them hoping to lose, so there'd be something more or less normal and routine in their otherwise mostly crazy and messed up lives.

Either way, the doctors had nothing.

Anywhere else, she might have waited and waited for the tests to come back and then figured out what was wrong with him. In Sunnydale, if someone was sick and there seemed to be no medical explanation for it –

Well, after all these years, Cordelia knew the score. There was something magical or demonic or whatever behind it all. Had to be.

So here they were, at Giles' place. She hadn't been planning on coming for Thanksgiving dinner, given Xander's condition, but the former librarian was the best person to have some kind of answer as to what the hell was going on with her boyfriend.

Letting Xander lean on her, one arm around her shoulders to help him stay upright, Cordelia knocked on the door. It opened a moment later with Buffy standing on the other side, Willow and Giles just behind them.

The reactions of the three people already in the house were almost a study in contrast, to her mind.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” Xander offered weakly, waving to them a little.

From Willow: “Xander! Are you okay?!” Standard concerned friend. What you'd expect from Willow.

From Giles: “You look like death.” Good old Giles, always ready to state the obvious.

And from Buffy: “You didn't bring rolls?” Wait, what?

“No, we didn't!” Cordelia replied angrily, walking inside and carrying Xander along with her, heading straight for the couch. “What with Xander being sick as a dog, getting rolls kind of fell off the to-do list!!”

They reached the couch and Cordelia laid him out on to it, pulling the throw-blanket over him a bit and moving over to the sink to wet a washcloth with cold water, ignoring the various detritus of the Thanksgiving dinner preparations.

“So, what did I miss?” Xander asked, looking at everyone. Then he looked to Buffy, and added, “And not about the dinner prep. Because there's something going on: It's a holiday and it's Sunnydale. Hit me.”

“We have a Chumash spirit of vengeance running around hanging people, and cutting their ears off.” Giles explained. “Almost certainly to avenge the wrongs done to his people centuries ago, during Spanish rule.”

“Well, it's not like he doesn't have a darn good reason to want to avenge them!” Willow grabbed at a pile of books sitting on a side-table next to the couch, taking one and all but shaking it in Giles's face. “Atrocities, Giles. Lots and lots of atrocities!”

“Yes, but the people he's killed here and now didn't have anything to do with that.” Giles pointed out. “The ones responsible are rather a hundred years and more dead.”

Before Willow could reply, Cordelia cut into the discussion as she by the couch and dabbing at Xander's forehead with the damp washcloth. Playing nursemaid wasn't really her thing, but she was willing to do it for Xander, if he was sick. Which he was.

“Whatever. Have the argument about the latest monster of the week after we figure out what's wrong with Xander!” Cordelia told them harshly. She looked over at Giles. “What the hell is wrong with my boyfriend?”

“I – how should I know? Has he been to a doctor?” Giles took his glasses off, straightened them on the bridge of his nose and pushed them back into place.

“Yea. And those idiots at the hospital were no help at all.” Cordelia snapped. “Didn't know what was wrong with him, and couldn't figure out any way to get him better, either –”

Before anyone could say anything else, there was a knock on the door again. Buffy hurried over to it, opening and letting Oz walk in. Cordelia watched as the werewolf handed Buffy a large Tupperware container.

“Stuffing.” He told her. Buffy set the container on the kitchen counter, looking pleased with Oz's offering. Or maybe just happy someone actually brought something for Thanksgiving. But seriously, Xander shows up looking like this – and her first question is 'no rolls'? Give me a freakin' break!!

Oz looked over at Xander, then raised an eyebrow. “Sick?”

“Oh, yes. Very sick.” Xander agreed. “And that's the fun part. Because now we can play the guessing game of 'what does Xander have!' Everyone's favorite, right?” At the confused look on everyone's' faces – except hers, of course – Xander continued. “The doctor said I had a lot of symptoms that didn't connect. So...no idea what's wrong with me.”

Buffy looked over at Xander, then the pile of books, including the one in Willow's hand. “I think they do connect.”

“To this Chumash spirit vengeance guy?” Xander asked, and Cordelia nodded. That would fit. If it dates to Spanish rule, old Spanish Mission... fun fun fun.

Buffy nodded and looked over at Willow. “ Didn't you say the Chumash got all diseased when they were all holed up in the mission?”

Great. So we're definitely back to this topic.

“Yea.” Willow grabbed one of the books and handed it to Buffy. “This one has an account of everything. It lists the various –”

Various?! As in more than one?!”

“Well, the important thing is not to panic.” Willow told Xander earnestly. And entirely unconvincingly, for Cordelia's money. Something Oz apparently agreed with.

“I think saying 'don't panic' usually makes someone panic.” Oz told his girlfriend, standing just behind her.

“It is pretty much the mystical spell to induce panic, so yea.” Xander agreed. Willow nodded a touch, almost sheepishly. “So let's talk about the 'various'.”

“Well...they did suffer from malaria...some smallpox...” Willow started, then added in an almost inaudible murmur “and y'know, syphilis. But basically –” Willow's voice picked up, trying to move past the bomb she just dropped. No luck, though. 

“Syphilis!?” Xander started to sit up, but Cordelia pushed him back down onto the couch. Have to say, I'm really glad now he wasn't in any condition to have sex the last two nights!

“Well, but this is probably mystical –” Willow started to say. 

“I think we're past probably and into definitely.” Oz pointed out.

“The point is that it will all go away, as soon as –”

“As soon as what?” Buffy interrupted Willow. “We still don't know what we're gonna do.”

“Well, maybe I can find something.” Willow started going through the pile of books quickly. Too quickly, to Cordelia's mind. 

“Let's give him some land.” Giles drawled, “I'm sure that will clear everything right up.”

“Sarcasm accomplishes nothing, Giles.” Buffy told the librarian seriously.

“True, but it's plenty fun when you're doing it?” Cordelia countered, at almost the same moment that Giles replied with a similar thought:

“It's sort of an end in itself.”

“Hey,” Xander cut in, a decent amount of entirely fake cheeriness forced into his tone. “Can we come rocketing back to the part about me and my new syphilis?”

“Definitely the relevant issue.” Oz agreed.

“If this spirit of vengeance guy is the reason it happened, then just slay him and be done with it.” Cordelia looked over at Buffy.

“That's sort of the question before the court.” Buffy was still rather furiously whipping the cream even as she spoke – and had been for the last few minutes, because apparently an evil spirit of vengeance killing people and infecting her boyfriend with syphilis and smallpox wasn't enough to make Buffy stop with the damn Thanksgiving prep!

“Question?” Xander asked intently, glaring at Buffy. The Slayer said nothing and started moving the whisk even faster.

“Well, yea. I mean, there are two sides to it.” Willow explained.

“Two sides to what? To slaying him?” Cordelia got up to wring out the washcloth and get it wet again, her free hand clenched in a fist. “The representative from syphilis votes yea.” Xander continued.

“It's not that simple.” Willow insisted heatedly.

“No, I think it really is. He's about vengeance, right? You know, something that's supposed to be all blind and not rational?!” Cordelia shot at the redhead. She looked over at Buffy. “Look, if you're not going to slay him, I'm pretty sure Faith will do it without a problem.” She came back out from the kitchen and glanced out the window. Faith and Amy were coming into the little courtyard out front of the apartment.

Speak of the devil and she shall appear. Not that Faith was the devil or anything close. Cordelia walked to the door and opened it for the dark-haired Slayer and the witch. “Faith! Just in time.” She stepped aside and let the two women in.

“Just in time for what?” Faith asked, looking from her to the busily whisking Buffy to Willow and Oz to the so very obviously sick Xander. Before she could ask the next question probably on the tip of her tongue, (something along the lines of 'what's wrong with Xander?' presumably), Cordelia answered the one Faith had already asked.

“Just in time to talk some sense into Buffy.” Cordelia explained calmly.

Faith looked at her, then looked at Buffy, and laughed. “Me,” she gestured to herself, “talk sense into Buffy?” She gestured to the blonde woman sitting on the edge of the couch. “Sure you don't have that backwards?”

“In this case, definitely not.” Cordelia looked over to Giles. “Explain the situation to her,” she ordered the ex-librarian, before returning to dabbing Xander's forehead. She tuned out the ensuing argument between Willow and Giles as they explained/debated the details about what had happened and what was going on, complete with more rehash of if they should kill the spirit or not. Faith seemed to be taking Giles's side, which only pissed Willow off more.

Oz and Amy both seemed to be, from the looks on their faces, of the opinion that everyone needed to take a step back. Under other circumstances, Cordelia might have agreed. Right now – not so much.

Buffy stood up and half-shouted over the Giles-Willow argument. “This is no good!” 

And just when Cordelia started having hope for Buffy's priorities list once everyone went silent, the Slayer went on to say: “It needs more condensed milk.”

Jesus fucking Christ! Buffy, some damn perspective would be nice!

November 25th, 1999
Giles's Apartment, Sunnydale

I should have guessed that Buffy would be a holiday Nazi. Though, Faith considered, she hadn't thought Buffy would be a holiday Nazi when there was some Indian – sorry, 'Native American' – spirit running around killing people.

Talking sense into Buffy was apparently not an option right now. Faith looked over at Amy as B hurried into the kitchen. Probably to get the condensed milk that she needed for some obviously important reason. She said to her best friend, “I can see now why you and your dad went with a low-key lunch...” 

Thanksgiving lunch had actually been pretty fun. It helped that Amy's dad wasn't one of those people in Sunnydale who had no idea what the world was really like. He didn't know all the details, sure, and he didn't seem to want to – but he knew enough to know that vampires and demons were real and that Faith killed them. He also knew about magic, but Faith was pretty sure Mr. Madison didn't know how much into the magicks his daughter was.

“It does make the prep and clean-up less hectic.” Amy agreed. They'd had all the same foods you'd expect to have at a Thanksgiving, more or less, but there hadn't been some sort of obsession with having everything homemade just right. The food was good, and that was what mattered. It didn't need to be perfect. Faith was all for that. In the real world, you took what you got.

Faith hadn't had any sort of real or even mostly real Thanksgiving celebration/dinner/thing in years. When was the last one? Her grandmother's house when she was eight, maybe? That sounded about right.

And now I get to have two. It was pretty tight. And Amy inviting her to the 'just her and her dad' thing was also...well, it was nice. Faith really didn't have a better way to put it.

“I'm going to have Thanksgiving, and it is going to be perfect!” Faith looked over at Buffy talking with Giles and rolled her eyes.

Giles, at least, still had their priorities straight, which counted for something. I'm thinking at this rate, I'll be the one dealing with the bad guy.

“Hus won't stop,” the Watcher told Buffy firmly. “Vengeance is never sated, Buffy. Hatred is a cycle. All he will do is kill.”

Before Buffy could reply, there was a knock on the door. Faith looked around, confused. “We're all here, aren't we? Unless one of you invited Wes?” Somehow, though, Faith doubted that. This sort of thing definitely isn't Wes's scene, he's still way too British. So who the heck would it be?

“Yea, not so much.” Buffy said, coming out from the kitchen, Giles behind her, both actually looking a little concerned. She was still carrying the damn bowl and whisk, though. But she did set it aside before opening the door...

Onto absolutely no one.

What the hell? Someone pulling a prank? Faith reached for her stake – yes, she'd brought one to Thanksgiving Dinner – and started to follow Buffy outside when someone jumped in front of the blonde Slayer.

Someone Faith immediately recognized – although what the hell was Spike doing here, in broad daylight? The thick blanket was immediately explained when she saw the smoke coming off him, but in nowhere near the amounts it should.

Speaking of hatred...

“Help me...” He managed to get out in a pitiful voice before Buffy punched him in the chest and sent him sprawling back several feet. Buffy turned and yanked the stake out of Faith's hands.

“I'm just gonna borrow this.” Buffy told her fellow Slayer, and Faith nodded. Spike was her kill. Faith had no problem with that.

She followed Buffy out into the courtyard as Buffy tried to grab at the smoking vampire who was desperately trying to cover himself back up with the blanket.

“What part of 'help me' do you not understand?!” Spike shouted at her, sounding a little less pitiful this time. But if it was possible, the Billy Idol look-a-like actually seemed more pale than any other time she'd seen him.

“The part where I help you.” Buffy replied, kicking at him – Spike's legs gave out as she connected with his chin and he fell back again.

“Come on!” He cried desperately, “I'm parboiling out here!” 

Why the hell isn't he trying to fight back? Faith watched as Buffy tried to stake him, but the vampire rolled aside at the last moment.

“If you'll just stay still, I can make this end quicker for you!” Buffy ground out.

“I've got information!” Spike said, holding his one remaining hand up as best he could while still gripping the blanket tightly around him. “About those soldier boys you were fighting.” He nodded to Faith. “I've got the inside scoop.” He jumped back to avoid a swing from Buffy. Huh – her fellow Slayer was clearly not convinced.

Faith, on the other hand, who didn't quite have as much of a hate-on for Spike as Buffy did, wanted that information. And if he didn't have it, what the hell – Buffy could still stake him. And she can still stake him after he's done spilling his guts. Faith wondered if they had any holy water on hand. She'd have to ask Wes for tips on how to do the torturing thing properly if they needed to go there. Assuming he'd been serious about knowing the best way to get info out of a vampire, anyway, way back in March.

Buffy aimed her borrowed stake for Spike again, but this time Faith grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back. “Stake him later. Information now.” Faith stepped in front of Buffy. “You say you've got information. So spill.”

“Not out here! I'm going to fry!” Spike pleaded.

“Well, I don't really think G-man is going to just invite you in.” Faith pointed out, putting a hand out front of Buffy to stop her from going at Spike again. “What with you being an evil soulless murderer and all.”

“No, look, I'm safe!” Spike pulled into the minimal shade provided by the apartment building. “I can't bite people anymore. I can't even hit anyone!” He lunged at her, but before Faith could counter his action, before his fist could reach her – Spike almost collapsed as he let out a scream of pain, quickly moving back. “Them wankers in lab coats, at the soldier-boys' secret base – they did something to me!”

“Wait, what?” Faith blinked. What the hell was this?

Damn good acting? Maybe. Somehow, though, Faith doubted it. Now that she had a chance to look at him – okay, so she had no idea what a starving vampire actually looked like, but Spike looked like what she'd imagine one did.

“Spike had himself a little trip to the vet, and now he doesn't chase the other puppies no more.” Spike managed to ground out, gnashing his teeth.

“Prove it.” Faith said, a smirk rising to her face. Mostly, she just wanted to see Spike scream in pain, because that had actually been kind of fun to witness.

Spike looked at her, saw the smirk, and then at the stake in Buffy's hand. “You're a sadistic bitch.”

“I thought you wanted our help?” Buffy asked, lowering the stake just a little. “Newsflash, but insults aren't really the way to our hearts.”

Growling in anger – well, trying to, though really, it just sounded more like a loud whimper – Spike lunged at Faith again and flew back a second time, his hand flying to his head – and the blanket falling off. Smoke curling off him, Spike grabbed it again, pulling around him.

“Invite me in, damnit!” He demanded. Faith looked over at Giles, who had his arms crossed in front of him. The former librarian scowled a moment, then he let out a loud sigh.

“Oh, very well. Come in.” Giles told the vampire, stepping aside, muttering something about 'rope'. Faith grabbed Spike by the stump of his severed wrist – ignoring his outburst of pain – and dragged him into the apartment. Buffy still did not look happy, but she seemed less immediately murderous, at least.

“What the hell!?” Xander struggled to sit up when he saw Spike. “Why isn't he dust?!” Cordelia actually moved a little so she was sitting between Xander and Spike. Well, I guess protecting the one you love thing goes both ways. Queen C was many things, but a coward wasn't one of them.

“That would be her idea.” Buffy nodded at Faith. She was unhappy and she obviously didn't care who knew it. Apparently, she was really looking forward to a nice, simple slaying. Especially if the Slayee could be Spike.

Get used to disappointment, B.

Speaking of... Faith grabbed her stake from Buffy's hand. “Just so you aren't tempted to kill him yet.” She looked at Spike and brandished it in front of him. “And behave, you, or I give this back to her.” She shoved Spike at Buffy when Giles came back into the living room/dining room with a length of rope. “Tie him up.” She told the blonde Slayer. She gave Buffy a look that basically said 'and feel free to make it hurt'.

Which Buffy proceeded to do with gusto.

“What the hell is your malfunction, Faith!?” Cordelia demanded. Willow didn't look at that happy either and was edging away from Spike, even though there was a decent amount of distance between them already.

“He says he's got information about those soldier-boys.” Faith said. “And that he can't hurt people. Had a little demo of that outside, actually. Seriously, get him to try and punch you. It's funny.” She looked over at Amy, who at least wasn't looking at her like she was a crazy person.

“Bloody hell, woman!” Spike cried out as Buffy finished tying him to a chair. “You're cutting off my circulation!”

“You don't have any circulation.” Buffy told him flatly. “I suppose we could find some leeches and put them on you. Aren't they supposed to be good for circulation, or something?” She looked over at Giles for confirmation.

Giles pinched the bridge of his nose. “Not exactly, but that's neither here nor there. You said you had information, Spike? I suggest you provide it.”

“I'm too hungry to remember everything.” Spike replied, sounding more like a jackass than pitiful now.

“Okay, so he's here, not staked because he has information, which he's not spilling. Can Buffy please stake him now?” Cordelia demanded.

“No.” Faith replied, wondering why the hell she had to be the sane one right now. Being the voice of reason was not a familiar part for her. “We stake him after he talks.”

“Well, I'm definitely not going to talk now.” Spike shot back, and Faith had to step back so Buffy didn't get at her stake.

“Yes you will, or I swear I'll dust you with extreme prejudice. Like I should have done years ago.” Buffy told Spike. Faith could tell the girl wanted to snarl it out, but settled for a calmer, albeit still hate-filled, tone.

“How about this? You talk, then we give you a two-minute head start. You don't talk, I ask Giles where he keeps the holy water and crosses.” Faith told him. “Where are they, anyway?”

“Ah – in the hall closet.” Giles started to point, then obviously he realized what she wanted them for. “Faith, we are not torturing the captive vampire!”

Cordelia threw her hands up into the air, “Unbelievable! Well, if we're not going to stake him, and not going to torture him and he's not going to talk, why don't we – I don't know, stick a soul into him?” She looked over at Willow. “You gave Angel his soul back, way back when. Couldn't you do that spell again, but for Spike?”

Huh, now there's an idea. Faith had to admit, it had merit. But she kind of doubted Buffy would be happy about doing something like that, and it wasn't exactly making her jump for joy either. 

Wolfgirl just seemed thoughtful, though. “I – I don't know. Maybe?” She frowned, “I mean, I didn't create the spell or anything, those gypsies did that way back when. And it, it was a spell designed to punish Angelus, to make him suffer. Still, I guess I could attempt to modify it, try to summon Spike's soul into an Orb of Thesulah and then –”

“Oh, bloody hell, no!” Spike recoiled as much as he could, given that he was tied to a chair. “Bugger that, Red! You are not doing that to me! No – no.”

Well, there's a way to get him nice and scared.

“Fine. Talk, and we don't give you your soul back. How's that sound, Captain Peroxide?” Faith replied. She gave him a smirk, but before the vampire could reply, Giles spoke up. 

“That'll take time, assuming it's even possible, and we do actually have more pressing matters to attend to. There's a Chumash spirit of vengeance still at large.” The Watcher pointed out. He started to pace a little. “Apart from Xander, you know, all of Hus' victims have been authority figures. Father Gabriel, the curator of the cultural center. Who else fits the pattern?”

“ The Dean. Dean Guerrero. He's the king of us, And he was at the ceremony.” Buffy supplied.

“A likely candidate.” Giles agreed. “We should warn him.”

“Warn him of what? That some mystical spirit is going to cut his ear off? I don't really think that's going to be helpful.” Faith pointed out. “I'll go and deal with the guy when he goes after the Dean.” She looked over at Willow. “And yes, that means I'm going to kill him.”

“ Faith! You can't just – this isn't the old West. You can't just -” Willow started, but Faith cut her off.

“Newsflash, but this thing is killing innocent people! And yea, not thrilled about what happened to his people and all, but something a bunch of Spanish dudes did nearly two-hundred years ago really isn't my problem.” Faith knew she sounded insensitive and all that crap, but really. It wasn't her problem! She looked over at Buffy. “If I leave you behind to keep an eye on Spike, can you not stake him?”

“As long as he keeps his mouth shut, sure.” Buffy agreed after a moment.

“I guess that means zip it or else, Billy Idol.” Faith told him. Putting her stake away, Faith went for the door.

November 25th, 1999
Giles's Apartment, Sunnydale

To say that Xander had been feeling crappy during the last couple of days would have been something of an understatement. He still wasn't feeling all that great right about now, but the second that syphilis-granting spirit-thing was dead and gone after attacking the G-man's condo, he'd immediately felt a lot better. Certainly not like he was on Death's door anymore, which had been the state of his condition for a while there.

And, double-bonus, Thanksgiving Dinner had worked out pretty damn well too. The food was good, and now they were concluding with pie.

“I feel lousy.” Willow said dejectedly.

“I thought the turkey came out rather splendidly.” Giles commented, and Xander had to agree.

“Oh, it was yummy.” Willow agreed. “It's just...did you see me? Two seconds of conflict with an indigenous person, and I turned into General Custer.”

“Well, he was trying to kill us.” Cordelia pointed out. Unsurprisingly, his girlfriend remained entirely unrepentant on the whole issue of defending both him and herself from the spirit out to slay them.

“And violence does tend to do that.” Giles added. “Instinct takes over.”

“Yea.” Spike commented from his position away from the dinner table, still tied to a chair. “That's the fun part.”

“Nobody asked you.” Xander told the impotent vampire. And boy, did he not like me using that word!

“Oh, lay off,” Spike shot back, unfazed. “You all had a fine meal. But me?” He shook his head. “An entire siege, and not one of you bled a little.” 

Xander glared at the vampire. Information or not, someone should have staked him by now!

There was a bit of an awkward silence, before Giles added, “I'll grant none of us were hoping for or wanting that attack, but apart from that, I think you should be quite pleased, Buffy. You prepared a lovely Thanksgiving.”

“Wasn't exactly the perfect Thanksgiving I was going for.” The blonde Slayer replied, sounding just a touch morose.

Xander shrugged, “I dunno.” Compared to most of the previous ones I've had, this one was pretty damn good. “It seemed kind of right to me. A bunch of anticipation, a big fight and now we're all sleepy.” That was how it was supposed to work, right? And at least their fight hadn't really been with each other.

“And no one died.” Faith added. “I think that's what we call a win, right?”

“I guess that’s true.” Buffy agreed with a small but genuine smile, sounding a little better. “First Thanksgiving on my own, and we all got through it.”

“Exactly.” Xander agreed. He looked at his empty plate. “Anyone mind if I have a second piece of the pie?”

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: This fic series is over 250k words in the can. If I owned the show, would I be spending this much time and energy on a fanfic series?

Author's Note: This is the one time I'll mention it in this fic: I have a Tumblr, alkenifanfiction . Tumblr . Com , where I post fandom-related ramblings, metas, explanations and explorations of fanfics I write and read, writing updates, sneak peeks and things of that nature. If you're interested, go ahead and follow it, if you're not, don't. Either way, on with the fic.

Author's Note 2: Welcome to the ICC re-write of Doppelgangland. Come on. You all knew it was coming after I rewrote The Wish, right?

Author's Note 3: Yes, I know, a hell of a lot of Faith and Amy in this chapter. I promise that the next few will have less of both (they will feature, but less than what happens in the Episode), and more screentime for Xander, for the Coin, and for the rest of the cast.

Author's Note 4: Yes. I'm aware this one is pretty long. I'm aware that this is a huge-ass chapter. I'm aware that it is, in fact, quite possibly too long. But it could have, might have been longer. I both let my muse get away from me and fell into a trap I set for myself – my 'Each Chapter is a complete Episode' format has come back to bite me, and you, in a big way. If this chapter is too long for you to read in a single go, that's fine. Take your time. But I promise, it's all important. But yes, this is long. Sorry about that.

Thanks to Starway Man and deiticlast for their beta-reading and creative consultancy assistance. If you like this fic, it's probably because of their help.

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Episode 9: The Two Faces of Amy Madison

December 4th , 1999

Empty Classroom, UC Sunnydale

For Jonathon Levinson, college was a lot like high school. Relative social isolation with only fellow nerds and geek for company, easy classes and a parade of mysterious happenings, gruesome deaths and unexplained disappearances. The usual Sunnydale stuff – vampires and demons and all the rest of it were still around. And so Jonathon, despite being Jewish, continued to have a cross on his person any time he was outside at night.

The biggest difference between college and high school, apart from living in a dorm with a roommate he barely saw and interacted with even less, was the UC Sunnydale Star Trek fan club he went to three nights a week. There were enough people there that he'd run into enough people who were also fans of D&D for a group to be formed. One that met once a week, usually on Friday nights.

Jonathon was also keeping up on his use of magic. He didn't have that much power, but he knew a lot of spells, and he used the lesser ones daily to make his life easier – he never had to pay to do his laundry, for example.

But even the minor, easy, low-power spells had components, foci and ingredients. Which he bought at the local magic shop. Which was where he'd run into Anya (no last name offered).

By this point in his life, Jonathon knew full well that if a pretty girl was paying attention to him, it was because they wanted something from him. And Anya was definitely a pretty girl.

And sure enough, she'd wanted help with casting a spell. It wasn't one he recognized, but apparently it was for finding lost objects – in this case, a necklace with significant sentimental value for Anya. Or so she said. Jonathon didn't ask many questions. Sure, she had an ulterior motive, but a pretty girl paying attention to him was a pretty girl paying attention to him, and payment for services rendered.

Which was why he was here, chating the spell she had asked him to help her carry out. 

“Eryishon, hear my prayer.” Anya finished, pouring sand onto the parchment paper she'd brought with her. 

Jonathon's eyes went wide as he saw the pillar of energy rise up from the circle of components and foci, from the piece of parchment paper sketched with a picture of the necklace in question, the sheer power of the spell completely unexpected.

Buffy fighting vampires with swords – demons, all kinds, some huge armored grey one some woman wearing a black, spikey, armored glove on one hand – lightning flying all around, from it, from the sky – vampires. Amy Madison, wearing a really, really skintight outfit and short skirt, shooting some kind of green light from her hands. An army of vampires, fighting each other. Some big blubbery grey demon, six legs – the same demon, a pile of bubbling, melted goo – Amy in the Bronze, dressed the same. The High School library, shooting fireballs –

After a moment, the energy vanished, leaving everything as it was.

Eagerly, Anya swept the sand away and off of the parchment, searching for her lost necklace. It wasn't there.

What happened? He'd cast the spell right. He knew he'd cast it right. He knew he had. He looked over at Anya, who had an expression of pure fury on her face.

“You idiot – male!” She got to her feet as she spat out the words, “I should have known better than to expect you to be able to cast one simple spell right!”

“I did cast it right!” Jonathon protested, cringing a little at the force of her anger. “But your necklace – it's not anywhere normal. Or even close. That wasn't just some finding spell. And wherever your necklace is, you can't get at it. That's what this,” He gestured to the empty pile of sand, “means!”

“No,” Anya replied in an absolutely withering tone. “It means you're an incompetent, useless little boy who can't even get the simplest of spells right. Just like all males! You're a waste of space!” Leaning down, Anya snatched up the sketch and Jonathon saw a bit of – was that dried blood? – on the edge of the paper. Like from a paper-cut or something. Blood was powerful – had that screwed everything up? 

He opened his mouth to mention it, but it was too late. Sending him one last look of sheer hatred and contempt, Anya angrily turned on her heel and left the room.

What the-?

October 26th , 1999

Library, Sunnydale High, Sunnydale, Alternate Universe

“I'm not playing second fiddle to anyone.” Amy Madison snapped at Gwendolyn Post. Once she had the Glove, she could kill Willow, kill Buffy, kill Spike and kill Balthazar. She could rule this town and turn it into her own personal kingdom. She had the power – she just needed a little more. And the Glove had power in spades. And Post just wasted it on lightning blasts. What an idiot.

Post laughed, and Amy bristled at the mocking inherent in the sound. “I think you'll find that everyone is second fiddle to whoever holds the Glove of Myneghon. And as for Buffy and her friends, if they make any move towards me, they'll face the power of Myneghon,” Post held her gloved hand up in front of her, closing her fingers into a fist, then opening them again. Amy gathered her own power, ready to respond to Post's attack, ready to kill her and take what should rightfully be hers!

Power. I want it! I deserve it! It's mine! This town and this Hellmouth will be mine!

“Just like you will.” She thrust her hand forward, lightning flickering off of it. “Such a pity. You really should have sided with me. Goodbye, Amy Madison.” 

Never going to happen, you British bitch! A wide, thick bolt of lightning immediately spawned from the demonic glove and connected with her – well, with her hands.

Amy held out her hands, one behind the other, catching the energy of the Gloves attack and dissipating it. If she'd still been capable of sweating, she would be right now – by all the dark gods of the underworld, the power of the Glove – it was so much more than she'd ever expected!

It took Amy a few moments to realize that the lightning was starting to push her back. Gritting her teeth, Amy forced all of her power into her hands, into holding back Post's attack. Just a little bit longer and she could reflect it back, reflect it back onto Post, kill her and take what was rightfully hers!

“You can't keep this up forever, Amy.” Post replied, the tempo in her voice rising to a harsh volume.

“I can keep this up as long as I want!” Amy shot back, her tone faltering. No! NO! I will not lose to her! Not here, not now! “But you-” Pain flew through her as she started to feel the last of her magic leaving her – as she drew from the very essence of her own being to keep the lightning at bay, cuts opening up on her back. “You can't!” She ground out.

Just a little longer. Just a little –

“Yes I can. The Glove of Myneghon cannot be denied!” Post grabbed her armored wrist with her regular hand and really cut loose. Now Amy's cries of pain were as the lightning started to burn the flesh of her hands, part of the energy seeping through what meager defenses she could still put up –

Letting out a scream, Amy fell to her knees, her hands slipping, falling –

The lightning never connected with her, never connected with its target. Amy was gone. But none of the others really noticed. They didn't have time to, with a Glove-wearing psycho on the loose.

December 4 th , 1999

Library, Sunnydale High Ruins, Sunnydale, Prime Universe

The first thing the vampire known as Amy Madison experienced was sunlight brushing against her arm.

Snarling, her true face showing itself, Amy instinctively recoiled into the shadows. What was the sun doing out? It was nighttime! 

Where's – the –

Where was Post? The lightning? The Glove? Amy looked at her hands – they were burned just a touch, like they'd been, under the force of that British psycho-bitch's command of the Glove. It – it had been too much for her...

I should be dead – well...more dead. Gone.

Not that Amy was going to complain about that.

Safely out of the sunlight for the moment, Amy looked around. Unless she missed her guess, she was still in Sunnydale High's library...but...

It didn't look even remotely the same. The whole place looked like it had exploded or something. Holes in the walls, ceiling... no books, the shelves all broken up and in pieces – from the looks of the place, it was amazing it hadn't fallen apart completely. And with those holes in the ceiling, there were far too many patches of sunlight for her to find an easy way out of the room. If there was even anywhere she could stand outside of it!

The library wasn't supposed to look like this. And where was the dead demon? Where was – where the hell were those stupid White Hats? And Post?

That never to be sufficiently damned British bitch was nowhere to be seen. Which, given what had nearly happened to her – Amy winced as she felt the cuts on her back brush against her shirt – was a good thing. But there was no Glove. There was no damn Glove!

That Glove is supposed to be mine!  deserve its power!

“Damnit!” Amy half-shouted as she returned to her human mask. Unlike most vampires, she preferred to keep her human face visible. She'd become much more vain since becoming one of the undead, though she hadn't really registered it as that, and couldn't use a mirror, so it really didn't occur to her to use such a term.

Moreover, Amy didn't like the taste of fear in her blood, and didn't like the smell ether. She preferred then, for her victims to be suitably...distracted when she fed on them. And she often enjoyed what it took to distract them, even if it did limit her pool of people to feed from to half the population or so. Not that she wouldn't just grab someone and feed on them if she hungry or needed a boost, but she preferred the more fun way.

Being a vampire had some disadvantages – the issue with sunlight being the biggest one – but she'd never give it up for the world. The power, the strength and speed and enhanced senses – she could feel everything. She loved being a vampire.

Not that it had stopped her from turning her sire into ash shortly after pulling herself out of her grave. Like she'd told Post: she played second fiddle to no one.

Amy felt – she felt empty. She'd drained herself of her magic trying – and fucking failing! – to hold back the Glove's power. She needed to feed. She needed to feed soon, and a lot. No time to take it slow – she'd have to grab the first victim she could find and chow down. Amy grimaced at the thought.

But she couldn't do any of that right now, because the fucking sun was out. Why the fuck was the sun out!?

December 4th , 1999

Faith's Apartment, Sunnydale

Amy was still having trouble coming to terms with her crush on Faith.

Well, no, that wasn't right. She was having trouble coming to terms with how the hell she was supposed to act around Faith. It wasn't just some little crush, like 'hey, that guy in the boy band is cute'. She'd had a few of those when she was younger. It wasn't 'hey, there's this nice and funny and cute guy in history class, I hope he asks me to the dance' or whatever. This was a whole different level of crush.

For one thing, it was with a woman. Amy wasn't attracted to her own gender – except, apparently, when it came to Faith. For another, this wasn't just 'hey, Faith's cute'. No, it was 'holy shit Faith is fucking beautiful' and it wasn't, 'hey, I want to kiss her' (though she really wanted to kiss her – or really, for Faith to kiss her.). No.

This was 'I have dreams about having sex with her nearly every fucking night'. And it wasn't just sex; she wanted – she wanted to go on like, dates, with Faith. So it wasn't just that she suddenly found Faith sexy, though she did. 

Which was kind of part of the problem. Because Faith was a very sexual – well, sensual woman. It seemed impossible for her to do something in a way that didn't seem sexy, at least on some level. Dancing, training, staking vamps – the last one with an added mix of danger that only added to the sexiness, as far as Amy was concerned.

Faith had always been a woman very confident in her looks, in her sexuality and more than willing to use both as she saw fit. It was something she'd always kind of envied in Faith – after years of being berated by her mother for her appearance and her weight, and years of being a chubby girl through elementary and middle school and the first year or so of High School. And getting mocked for it, constantly.

As it was, even though she'd made an effort to lose even more weight over the last couple years, she could probably stand to lose a few pounds from a strictly health perspective. Sue her, she liked her dad's cooking, and he made really good brownies and cookies.

So though she wasn't 'chubby' or even really close at this point, Amy was still... well, she wasn't entirely confident about her own appearance. Faith had told her more than once she looked good, such as when encouraging her to go dance with some guy who was looking at her when they were at the Bronze or whatever.

But still – she had nowhere near Faith's confidence. Which she'd been mostly fine with – the issue was that in part because of her confidence, it seemed like everything Faith did just about screamed sex. Every. Little. Thing. Which made things...difficult for her, sometimes.

But it wasn't just Faith's looks – it was even Faith's smile! Just the smile could make her feel –

God – I've got it fucking bad.

As that thought passed across her mind, Amy frowned a little. She really needed to stop with the oaths by the Judeo-Christian God. Not so much because she didn't believe there wasn't something to Him – crosses and holy water worked after all – not really even because she was fairly sure He didn't create the entire universe; but because Amy had found more meaningful teachings in the old Greek Goddess Hecate. She hadn't made any sort of formal oath to her, but she'd called on her for assistance with her magic more and more over the last year and change.

Really would rather not offend her. She'd called on Hecate, and in turn that meant she had to respect the Goddess and her power.

Amy was still thinking about Hecate – better than dwelling on her crush on Faith – when the Slayer came back out of her bedroom, dressed for a night on patrol. Well, no, she looked like she was dressed for a night at the Bronze, but really, Faith's outfits for both were just about the same. Usually because she would go from one to the other or vice-versa. Or just patrol at the Bronze, since it was still prime vampire territory.

“Bronze first tonight, or Bronze later?” Amy asked, looking up from the textbook she hadn't really been paying attention to.

“I'll hit a few graveyards first. I'm not getting my hopes up about actually running into any vamps though.” Faith answered.

“I still don't get why you hope to run into vamps.” Amy admitted. Faith had explained it before, but still – she was all for helping slay the things, all for them being slain, but she didn't really like the whole thing, though the adrenaline could be fun in the moment... when you weren't accidentally setting yourself on fire...

Amy winced at the memory. It was entirely likely, according to the doctors, that her hand and back would always carry an indication of her burns, leftovers of her mistake. At least they didn't hurt anymore... but she really wasn't a fan of scars.

Well yea, but who is?

“If I'm going to spend a chunk of my night hanging around graveyards and shit, I want to actually have something to show for it. These nights, if I'm lucky, I get two vamps at most. Some nights, not even one.” Faith shrugged, grabbing a knife and two stakes.

“You're taking a knife?” Faith usually only carried a stake on patrol – only thing she needed, really.

“Something Wes pointed out yesterday during crossbow practice. Before I beat him up again. Vamps are the most common thing to run into, yea, but if I do find a demon when I'm not expecting it, stake isn't going to be the thing I want to use.” Faith explained. “Really should have thought of it sooner myself.” She shrugged. “Whatever. Anyway, you coming with tonight?” She looked over at Amy and laughed, “that was pretty wicked the way you stuck that vamp in place last night so I could push him onto that branch.”

Amy smiled a little, appreciating the compliment. The vampire had practically been asking for it, standing in front of a tree with a long-hanging branch like that. But then she shook her head. “Nope. Got a paper I need to wrap up, and then I need to work on a finding spell.” As much as she was concerned about how she could keep her crush secret from Faith and not get distracted and all that –

She didn't want to avoid Faith or anything like that. And she didn't want Faith to think she was avoiding her. And she wanted to spend time with her best friend/crush. So she still went on patrols with her about half the nights, and spent most afternoons hanging out with her at her apartment.

“Maybe tomorrow night? Once I get this paper done, I'll be more or less homework clear for a few days.”

Faith nodded, “Sure. But what do you need to find? Lose something?”

“Something that got stolen, actually.” Amy said, frowning. At Faith's expression, Amy held up a hand. “Nothing really important – it's my roommate's fault for not locking the damn door when she went to take a shower, and believe me, she's paying me back for what did get taken. Just some of my magic supplies – candles, parchment, various herbs, that sort of thing. Probably just some kid pulling a 'mess with the Wiccan' prank or something. A couple of other girls in the Wicca group also got some stuff taken from them. Nothing powerful or dangerous.” Not that she was a Wiccan. Tara was, and good for her, but most of the rest of the group were more playacting than anything else, and Willow seemed to be leaning a bit in that direction from what Amy knew, but for herself – she didn't follow the practices, didn't believe the beliefs... none of that.

“Want me to beat the guy up when you find him?” Faith offered.

Amy shook her head. She had her own ideas on how to make him suffer. Or her. Amy didn't know which it was, but there were a few minor curses she wanted to try out on whoever the culprit turned out to be. “I think I can put the fear of Hecate into the thief.” She smirked a little, thinking about which one she could use. Nothing really big, but still.

“Alright.” Faith shrugged. “Tell me how it goes? And remind me not to piss you off.” She added with a laugh.

“Sure.” Amy nodded, “I'll give you all the fun details.” And you could never piss me off, Faith. Amy couldn't imagine such a scenario, anyway.

December 4th , 1999

The Bronze, Sunnydale

Nothing. Not a single fucking vampire. Not even a fledgling rising. No demons either. Just two and a half hours of wasted time with nothing to slay. She'd finally given up and headed to the Bronze – at least for a bit – as much out of boredom as anything else. She could kill some time, dance a little, attract some attention and then go back out and find more nothing to kill before heading back to her apartment sometime around three in the morning or whatever.

And maybe even find a vampire in here. And – well. Lucky me!

Walking into the Bronze and out onto the dance floor, Faith spun around, looking, eyes searching the crowd. She'd once told Buffy that the feeling of a vampire nearby made her feel like he'd forgotten something important. Like really important. But that was just because it was the only way she could figure out to describe the whole. It was a little more than that in reality, and she was getting it now.

There was a vampire out on the dance floor. She was having trouble figuring out exactly where on the floor, though. She didn't draw one of her stakes yet either – she wasn't going to do her slaying inside the Bronze if she could avoid it.

December 4th , 1999

The Bronze, Sunnydale

Amy's first meal had been disgusting. Reeking of fear and tasting of terror. Not to mention: stale alcohol, despair and not having had a shower in weeks. But she'd drained the homeless guy in a heartbeat anyway. Well, not an actual heartbeat, but she'd been starving. She was still hungry. The very existence of such a man – that alone told her something was off. Even more the blasted, ruined library. Before Post and Balthazar had turned Sunnydale upside down, there hadn't exactly been much of a homeless population, but you could at least find a few such blood bags if you cared to look hard enough. Afterwards – not a one.

Amy had made her way towards the Bronze next, and the fact that Sunnydale's streets weren't more or less completely abandoned made things even more confusing for her. No warring factions of vampires, no patrols, nothing. It was as if...the war had never happened. Crazy but true. 

She'd gone to the Bronze to find her supplies (she'd left most of her magical supplies – components, foci, and so on – in the building before going to Sunnydale High to help Buffy and her little friends). She'd left almost everything behind to get the Glove – my Glove, dammit! Supplies she didn't need for a pitched fight – more material she'd need for a ritual, or a curse, or whatever. But since she didn't have the Glove, and the whole world seemed very wrong...

Amy had only realized how wrong when she saw a newspaper. With a date that should not be. It wasn't December 4th. It couldn't be! It was supposed to be October 26th. Well, the 27th now, given the sunrise and set factor.

But given the whole world had changed around her, what was one more thing like the newspaper telling her that she'd lost more than a month, somehow...

Her arrival at the Bronze only enhanced her confusion – the club wasn't supposed to be packed with people. This was her place, her stronghold. She'd killed dozens of humans here, sent the minions of Post and Balthazar packing from her chosen lair, if they were intact enough to leave, countless times.

It was if she'd fallen into some alternate universe. Some place where Sunnydale's human population was still fat and happily ignorant of the real world all around them.

Which, Amy considered as she ran a tongue over her teeth, may actually contain some advantages. Like, if this was permanent – well, she'd have a lot of work to do to rebuild what she'd lost, but there was no reason she had to turn the Bronze into her base of operations again. If Post and Balthazar were gone, which was a distinct possibility from everything she'd seen so far – then there were plenty of better places to claim as her own. 

But that was for later. Right now, she was still hungry. She still needed more blood.

Which was why she was on the Bronze's upper level, letting some guy who was so obviously fucking full of himself let himself think he was charming her with his line about living life to fullest and what have you. She couldn't even remember his name, nor did she care. She wasn't going to take her time to go full on with this one, fuck him before feeding. Still too hungry for that. Right now they were in a nice, shadowy corner of the upper level. She leaned into the guy – Harker? Marker? Whatever – and put her hand on his arm as he talked, but let him get a nice good look down her shirt. Forward? Yes. Did she care? Not even a bit.

December 4th , 1999

The Bronze, Sunnydale

It took her a minute, but soon enough Faith realized that the reason she'd been having trouble finding the vampire was because they weren't on the dance floor. They were over it. And so she'd gone upstairs. But she was still running into a problem pinpointing where the vampire was. She wasn't sure why, but then, her senses weren't ever exact. They were usually more helpful than –

Faith did a double take as she saw a couple making out in the shadows, the girl starting to kiss down the guy's neck. That almost blood-red skirt was short, really short, but the girl wore it well, and the same-colored top was almost skintight. Despite herself, Faith looked the girl over a moment, then shook her head and looked away. The girl looked familiar –

Amy?! Faith looked back. She'd never seen her friend in anything like that outfit, and what the hell was she doing here? Had she finished her paper and the spell and – whoa, talk about going out into the deep end. Amy hadn't even been on a date with a guy, or shown any interest in trying anything like that in more or less the entire time Faith had known her, and here she was dressed like that –

Whatever floats her boat, I guess. It seemed a rather sudden change, but Faith was hardly one to judge. But why didn't Amy tell her she was planning on going to the Bronze? It was that sudden an urge?

Faith shook her head and went back to starting to look for the vampire when she realized that that...feeling... it was the strongest right now that it had been in the entire time she'd been in the Bronze tonight.

Holy- fuck! Amy!

Her friend was making out – necking - with a vampire. Her throat clenched at the thought of what could have happened if she hadn't –

Faith shut down that train of thought and was at the two of them immediately. She grabbed Amy's shoulder, pulling her away from the vampire –

Amy spun a little, looking at her, a furious expression on her face – a face that had yellow eyes, fangs, and forehead ridges. And the guy – his neck had two small holes in it, and he looked really fucking –

No. No. NO!

Faith recoiled, from Amy, from the very idea.

NO!

December 4 th , 1999

The Bronze, Sunnydale

This – Barker? – guy also tasted a little of fear after the first few seconds at his neck, but less so – he didn't have as much opportunity for terror, and while it was an unfortunate addition to her palate, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as the fear on that homeless guy. And again, she needed the blood. Amy knew she could worry about taking her time when she –

The feeling of the hand on her shoulder – an unusually strong hand, though the grip was light – pulling her away from her food only made her furious. Who the fuck was trying to stop her? 

The dark-haired girl had a look of shock and horror on her face when she saw Amy's face, but Amy didn't recognize the girl at all. Dark hair, nice-looking, dressed for a night on the club. This guy's girlfriend?

When the interrupting nuisance didn't immediately recoil at seeing her vampiric face, Amy returned to her human guise and punched at her face. Punching someone was a little beneath her, given her talents in magic; but she was a vampire, and she had no problem using her superhuman strength to get minor problems out of the way. If she'd been at full power, Amy would have just magicked her off the upper level and onto the ground below without a second thought. But she still needed more time to recover to use her magic, unless she had no choice.

But a punch was more than enough for this –

The punch never connected with the woman's face. Moving with speed equal to her own, the woman, almost as if acting on instinct, grabbed her wrist – hard. Painfully so. Amy wrenched her hand out of the girl's grip. The girl smelled human. But that wasn't human strength. 

Slayer strength. But this wasn't Buffy.

Still, it had to be a Slayer. Was Buffy dead? Had she been dropped into some alternate universe that didn't have a Buffy? No matter. 

“Slayer.” Amy snarled.

“God – Amy. No. No. NO!” The Slayer shook her head violently. 

I don't know her. But she seems to know me. It was certainly lending credence to the 'alternate universe' theory. It was the only explanation. That, or she was having some kind of pre-final death weirdo dream or something. But she doubted that.

“I don't suppose telling you to just go away would work on you any better than it ever did with Buffy?” Half the vampires in Sunnydale seemed to think trying to intimidate the Slayer was enough. Amy was not interested in fighting a Slayer right now, not with fists or with her still very depleted magic, but this Slayer was also standing between her and the way out.

December 4th , 1999

The Bronze, Sunnydale

Faith hadn't even realized what she was doing when she stopped Amy's punch. She wasn't even really noticing what her friend – no, what the demon wearing my friend's face – was saying.

How – she'd just talked to her. Just spoken to her...not even like...six hours ago. Less?! How the fuck –

How was Amy, her best friend, the only person in Sunnydale that was her friend more than Buffy's, now a vampire? No. No. No.

Faith shook her head again. She had to – she had –

A vampire is not the human they once were, Faith. Even if it's someone you knew, a friend, a family member, even a loved one? You can't let that stop you. All they are now is a demon wearing that person's face, with their memories.

One of the first things Diana had taught her. Right after 'the stake goes into the heart' and right before 'the best time to stake a vamp is when they're busy digging themselves out of their grave'.

She had to – she had to kill this, this thing that was wearing her friend's face. She had to, right?

But – the spell...soul curse...Willow did it for Angel, right?! She can do it for Amy... Faith wouldn't have thought of it if Cordelia hadn't mentioned using it on Spike during Thanksgiving, but she had, and only the fact that they were using it as a threat – and the fact that Willow didn't seem very eager to do it – had stopped them from doing –

Faith didn't have a chance to think coherent thoughts any further, inasmuch as any of her thoughts were coherent at this moment, because Amy – Amy, her best friend! – was attacking her again. Faith barely avoided her next punch. Instinct took over and she grabbed the vampire by the arm and spun her down onto the steps, watching her bounce on the way down them. Faith was following behind as the vampire reached the ground level and sprung to her feet, running for the side door out into the alley.

I can't let her kill anyone. I have to stop her.

December 4th , 1999

Alley next to the Bronze, Sunnydale

As soon as Amy was out of the Bronze, she headed for the streets. She had zero interest in fighting the Slayer right now. She needed more blood, more time for her magic to recover. Tomorrow night she could track the bitch down and kill her properly, but not right now.

Unfortunately, she got as far as halfway down the alley when the bitch kicked her in the back, sending her sprawling. Amy jumped to her feet, still keeping her human face. The Slayer still didn't have a stake out, which meant either she didn't have one on her – admittedly unlikely – or Amy was right about her theory of this Slayer knowing her. A...different her. 

Two me's is one too many. Amy made a mental note to find and kill the version of herself that lived in this universe. Idly, she wondered what her own blood would taste like. But this wasn't the time. Amy lunged at the Slayer, getting a punch into the Chosen One's stomach that sent her staggering back a pace, but earning a punch herself, just above her left eye.

Amy tried to get away – but she could only move backwards, couldn't afford to turn her back to a Slayer. And that made things harder, because this woman was not even remotely interested in letting her get away. 

They were out onto the main street a few seconds later, trading blows by the sidewalk, Amy smarting from several kicks and punches. For the first time, Amy regretted not making any effort to practice martial arts since being turned. She'd always relied on her magic, and look what that was doing for her – nothing, right now.

Growling angrily, Amy decided she had no choice but to use some magic against the enemy. Jumping back, she thrust out her hand and sent Faith flying back several feet. Amy watched her land on her ass – but she didn't seem very hurt. No broken bones, no major bruises. That much force – which wasn't as much as she could send – would have done more to a normal human, rather than some freak of nature like a Slayer. Amy felt light-headed for a moment at the expenditure of magical energy, then made a call. Maybe a stupid call, but she figured it was worth the chance. Snarling, she went after the Slayer, managing to pin her to the ground before she could get up and onto her feet.

“Spike's always talking about how good Slayer blood is. Let's see if it's as good as he says.” As the only other neutral vampire in Sunnydale, she'd run into the British vampire with the radioactive hair more than once. She didn't especially like him, or trust him, but he'd told her about killing two Slayers – bragged, really – and about how their blood had tasted, how much of a boost it had been. And right now she needed blood, needed a big boost of energy.

“No – Amy, no. God – this isn't you!” 

Cute, she thinks she can stop me by – 

Amy's thoughts were cut off as the Slayer brought her knee up and drove it into her stomach. 'Gasping' on pure instinct, Amy recoiled, just as she'd been about to go for the neck. Snarling again, Amy let go of her opponent and just started to rise – time to get out of here –

But the Slayer wasn't going to just let her get away. Grabbing onto Amy's arms she flipped their positions, so that Amy was on the ground and the Slayer over her. The bitch let go of one arm and punched her twice, three times, four times – between the attacks, Amy saw pure, unthinking rage in those eyes. Then the hand was on her throat, the hand pushing down enough to keep her pinned to the ground as the Slayer's other hand pulled out a stake and started to drive it down into Amy's chest –

And stopped, barely an inch above her shirt. 

Before Amy could wonder what the fuck she was waiting for, or respond in any way, the Slayer was off of her, backing away as if recoiling from the very idea of staking her. Her breaths were coming through in gasps and were those – yes, unless she was completely crazy, there were a few sobs in there, or something fucking close.

“No – God, No! Amy...fuck- no-” The girl was muttering that much, and similar things, over and over.

Amy was tempted to attack again, kill this Slayer now while she didn't have her head in the game, but it was pretty clear the girl's instincts were to fight – she was a Slayer. Amy figured she would accept that the bitch couldn't dust her at the moment, and worry about the rest later. She needed more blood. More blood and a place to hide out when the sun rose. 

She vanished, running at full speed away and down the street. 

December 5th , 1999

Faith's Apartment, Sunnydale

The rest of the night was a blur for Faith – she hadn't even noticed that Amy had run off for – God, Faith had no idea how long she'd just stood there, crying, fucking crying and all but dead to the world around her as she tried to come to terms with the fact that her friend, her best friend, was now a vampire. Had become the very thing that she was supposed to kill. That she had to kill her – for the people Amy might kill, for her own friend's memory.

It wasn't Amy. It wasn't Amy. It wasn't Amy! Just a disgusting, demonic, thing wearing her face, using her voice. It was just another vampire –

So why couldn't she kill her?! She needed to – she'd almost had the stake in her, had almost dusted her, put her friend to rest, almost killed the vampire like she was supposed to –

When she woke in her apartment the next day...the sun was shining bright through the window – she was in the floor of her little kitchen-living-room area, surrounded by empty beer bottles and an empty bottle of Jack and – the first hangover she'd had since becoming a Slayer. And quite possibly the worst hangover she'd ever had.

Faith groaned, feeling like there was pain she couldn't really describe in her head. The inside of her mouth felt like the taste of old carpet or something, and every single nerve ending felt like it was dying in agony.

She very carefully cracked one eye open, just a little. Immediately she closed it again, swearing.

Mental note to self: Being a Slayer doesn't mean I can't get a hangover. It's just harder.

Eventually she managed to open both her eyes, and look at the living room floor.

Initially, Faith had no memory of the entire night – she tried to sit up, nearly fell back down – her stomach roiled at the action, her head spinning –

It came back to her in a violent rush – everything up until she failed to stake the vampire, failed to stake Amy – after that...

Flashes. Rage. Grief. She remembered finding a gang of four vamps snacking on what might have been co-eds, though Faith had barely registered the humans at the time. She'd attacked the vampires, beating on them all, over and over and over again, leaving them bloody sacks of meat and broken bones before staking them. She could remember feeling –

Faith started to breathe fast, as she remembered – remembered that Amy was a vampire now. Remembered that her friend was dead. That her friend was now a monster, a monster that needed to be killed.

It isn't Amy!

Faith tried to get to her feet, but that failed miserably – the sun was glaring into her eyes, her head was pounding, as if a heavy metal band was playing inside her skull or something. Faith was still breathing fast, breathing shallow, trying to stand again – and still failing – this time she landed unceremoniously on her ass – and rapped the back of her head against the wall, prompting an explosion of pain in her skull again.

Standing- standing wasn't an option, but she needed – she needed to get out of the sunlight – her head still throbbing, everything spinning a touch, her mouth feeling dry and still tasting like –

Faith's stomach roiled again, and –

Faith leaned forward, barely missing herself as her stomach emptied itself all over her floor, hot bile pouring out of her mouth – a puddle of mostly liquid and a few solid chunks giving off a stench that only made her feel worse. A lot worse. But there was nothing else to get rid of – which didn't stop her dry heaving.

Faith was finally done after – she had no fucking clue. Nothing seemed real to her – Amy was dead. Amy was dead!

Not entirely processing what she was doing, Faith managed to scoot out of the path of the sunlight and into her bedroom, into a slightly less well-lit corner of the room. Away from the beer bottles, away from the vomit.

But not away from her memories of last night. The guilt, the rage, the grief – the –

What kind of Slayer am I if I can't – if I can't protect – if I can't stop them from killing Amy, from killing my friends?!

Faith wasn't really used to the idea of friends – not for several years before she'd come to Sunnydale, anyway – and now her friend, the only one that was really hers – was dead. Was a vampire. Killed by the very things it was her job to kill, and now was one of them.

She'd loosely gotten why Buffy had been so enraged about the fact that Xander's dad had been killed by a vampire, but only in a sense – for Buffy, it hadn't been so much about Xander's dad himself, but that a family member of one of her friends had died – and if she couldn't protect her friends and their families...

And now Faith had done exactly the same. She'd failed to protect Amy. Some damn vampire that she hadn't killed –

Oh God-

All rational thought left Faith's head, as that concept went through her mind again. It didn't happen. It couldn't. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. Amy wasn't – she couldn't be –

No. No. NO!

But there was no way she could deny it. That had been Amy – no, not Amy. Amy's body. A vampire, a demon, wearing her face.

Amy was dead. Staking that thing would be – it would be doing the right thing by her friend.

She had to do it. She had to do it, the next time she saw her. She had to do it for Amy, for the people she could kill... for the people Amy might have killed last night after she –

After I couldn't stake her. After I let her get away.

December 5th , 1999

Faith's Apartment, Sunnydale

The locator spell had gone off without a hitch, and once she'd cast it, following the divining rod to the empty – and apparently long unused – UC Sunnydale classroom where her stolen stuff was, had turned out to be almost laughably easy. Unfortunately, her stolen stuff had been used – the herbs and similar ingredients and even the ritually blessed sand was all more or less unusable now. The candles had been used, but at least there was still plenty of life in them. The foci were also salvageable, but there was no sign at all of the missing sheets of parchment.

Well, that puts paid to the 'someone was trying to mess with the Wicca' theory. Someone had stolen her stuff, and then used it to do a spell of some kind. She couldn't tell what kind of spell had been cast, at least not from the aftermath, or if it had been successful or not; but maybe she could try and find her parchment? The thief could still have that, and if she found them, she could ask them what the hell they'd been up to. Then curse them and demand they pay her back for all of the things they'd used up. And again, demand what the hell it was they'd been up to with her stuff in the first place.

Like she'd told Faith, the ingredients stolen weren't anything dangerous, and as far as Amy knew, they couldn't be used for anything dangerous. But Amy was willing to admit she hardly knew every spell in existence, which meant she wanted to know for sure what had been cast with her foci and ingredients. Because she couldn't be 100% sure nothing dangerous had been cast.

Of course, speaking of Faith... she'd tried to call her friend/crush twice now. She'd waited until after noon, knowing full well how late Faith liked to sleep in after patrol. And there had been no response to either call. A call to Wesley at his work and Giles at his house had yielded nothing, either – Faith hadn't contacted either of them last night – and when she'd passed Buffy on campus, the blonde Slayer had told her that she hadn't run into Faith the previous night as well. Nor did she know where Faith might be.

In and of itself, it wasn't something to worry about. Technically. It wasn't as if Faith hadn't gone incommunicado for a few days before, and it hadn't even been a full day since they'd seen each other. But for one, Faith hadn't gone on a 'walkabout' for months – not since the earliest days of the summer, really – and for two Faith had agreed just yesterday that they'd go on patrol tonight, so why would she suddenly vanish? And of course, the third reason was that Amy couldn't help but worry about Faith the second she didn't pick up that first call. Amy had a bad feeling – an entirely unfounded bad feeling, she knew – about the whole thing, and that was what had brought her here. Even if Faith had probably just stayed up later than usual and was just still asleep, had slept through the phone ringing.

Yea, keep telling yourself that Amy. The witch knocked on the door to Faith's apartment. “Faith?” She knocked again. “Faith?” After a long moment of silence, Amy heard some vaguely stumbling footsteps on the other side, coming towards the door. They were slow and heavy, but at least Faith was in her apartment. Amy let out a small and quiet sigh of relief.

The door opened and Faith was indeed on the other side of it. Amy's breath caught as the stench of beer – a lot of beer – assaulted her nose, and as she got a look at her friend.

The Slayer looked like hell and a half. Her eyes were red, with bags underneath them, and she looked kind of pale and sweaty, to put it the best way she could. Faith was wearing the same outfit she'd worn last night, and she- she just...

Amy stepped towards Faith, reaching one hand towards the woman's shoulder. “Faith, what the fuck-” 

She was cut off before she could finish the question, because Faith had knocked her feet out from under her with a swipe of her legs and sent her reeling back landing on the ground with a push to her chest. The push hurt. As she landed, Amy tasted blood in her mouth, the hallway spinning around her for a moment. She'd bitten the inside of her cheek – spitting the blood out, Amy tried to sit up, or stand up. To say that she was confused would have been the century's understatement.

“Faith! What the hell?!” Even if she'd done something to piss her friend off, Faith wouldn't have just attacked her without a word, and not that hard and – and she hadn't done anything to piss her off anyway!

Amy’s throat clenched and her chest felt tight as a horrible thought entered her mind: She knows. She knows how I feel – that I – If Faith knew about the crush, about the way she- Oh Goddess, no. No. She can't know. She doesn't know. She can't. Not about how I feel – I've been t o o...

But if Faith knew... Oh Goddess... She'd ruined their friendship, just as she'd been terrified she would...

Amy's thoughts scattered completely for a moment as Faith came at her, a stake in one hand. Terror rose in Amy's chest at the sight – and at Faith's expression, one of absolute rage. Rage and pain.

“Faith – Faith!” Amy pleaded, starting to rise to her feet, hands held up and out. “Please – Goddess, please, Faith. You don't – you don't have to- what are you-” 

Faith knocked her back and onto the ground, and Amy hit her head on the ground – even harder this time – the entire room sort of blurring out of sight for a moment, and then the next thing she registered, Faith was half-knelt over her, pinning one of her hands to the ground, the stake poised to come down towards her heart.

A tiny part of her brain, despite the terrible situation, couldn't help but note that minus the punches and the stake, this was entirely the kind of position she wouldn't have minded being in, vis-a-vis Faith. But it was only a small part of her mind, and the thought was in and out of her head quickly.

What was really going through Amy's head – at seemingly lightning speed – was the question of what she could do – if that stake –

The stake inches from her own chest, Amy pressed her hand to Faith's chest and focused all her magic on that one point. It wasn't a spell she'd used on a person, or anything near person-sized, and actually focusing her magic was very hard to pull off given the situation –

Faith was pushed back into her apartment, the stake clattering harmlessly by Amy's side. The witch winced as she saw Faith land on the ground with a heavy thud, but the Slayer didn't seem especially hurt as she pulled herself to her feet.

A more rational person – or at least someone in a more rational state of mind – might have just taken the opportunity to run from an enraged Slayer with murder on the mind. At least run to the other Slayer in town as a counterbalance.

That thought never really crossed Amy's mind, though. Something was wrong with her best friend. No matter how angry Faith might have been with her – for whatever the hell she could possibly be angry with her about – Amy couldn't believe that Faith would fucking try to kill her! She had to figure out what had happened, why Faith had very nearly buried a stake into her chest.

Amy got to her feet and went to the open doorway, stepping into the apartment and right into the path of a stream of sunlight coming into through the window.

Faith, now also on her feet, looked from her to the doorway to the sunny window to her again. The rage instantly slipped from her face, leaving only very visible pain. Not physical pain, either.

“What the-? You're – you're alive...” Faith said softly, as if she couldn't believe what she was saying, what she was seeing.

“I nearly wasn't!” Amy snapped back at her, though she immediately regretted it as Faith's expression crumpled. She couldn't bear to see Faith looking at her like that. “Why – why the hell did you try to kill me!?”

“You're not – you're not a vampire.” Faith said, her voice still soft. She looked amazed. Confused, even. “I – last night, you –” Faith started to suck in deep, slow breaths, clearly trying to stop herself from hyperventilating.

She thought – she thought I was a vampire?! Why would – why would Faith think that? It made no sense at all. But if that's what Faith had thought – okay, it would explain the...punches and the stake – Amy put one hand on her chest. She was probably going to get a fun bruise there. She'd been lucky not to experience Slayer-strength hits firsthand before. Now she had.

Before Amy could stop her or even really react, Faith was at her again, but instead of attacking her, Faith's arms were around her, the Slayer murmuring, “You're alive, you're alive, you're alive,” over and over and over again.

Amy's throat clenched, though this time not in fear. She didn't even want to think about the possibility of Faith dying, or even worse, becoming a vampire. The idea of how she'd react to that development – even worse. She could only guess at how Faith had felt, what she'd gone through, if she genuinely – for whatever reason –  had thought she'd died and become a vampire. Amy had some evidence – the rage and pain in Faith's eyes, the way she looked like hell, the empty beer bottles strewn around the living/room kitchen area of Faith's apartment...

And that puddle of vomit she was just now noticing. She hadn't really noticed it so far, and now that she had, she was immediately wishing she hadn't. She turned her attention to Faith – the object of her affections and nightly fantasies – and her arms being around her. Faith wasn't a huggy person. But Faith was hugging her!

After a moment, Faith seemed to realize what she was doing and pulled back from Amy, looking away awkwardly. “Sorry.” She muttered. It was clear the sorry as much for everything else as for the hug, though an apology wasn't exactly enough for very nearly successful attempted murder.

You don't have anything to apologize for. Well, not the hugging part, anyway. Amy wanted to say that, but she couldn't. She wanted to tell Faith how much she didn't have to apologize. Amy could never object to Faith's arms being around her, to Faith's body being so close to hers...

But Amy couldn't tell her best friend/crush that, so instead she just nodded. “It's alright. You thought – you thought I was dead, and I wasn't – and...” Amy swallowed. “Why did you think I was dead? Why'd you think I was a vampire?”

It wasn't that Amy wasn't freaking out about nearly having died of stake-in-the-heart induced trauma. Because she totally was. But if there was one thing that living in Sunnydale and being on the front lines – okay, close to the front lines – in the fight against vampires and demons and everything else forced you to do, it was being able to freak out and still mostly function. And right now, one of the two of them needed to be functioning, and it wasn't going to be Faith.

“It's...it's a – give me a minute.” Faith said softly, taking another deep breath.

December 5 th , 1999

Faith's Apartment, Sunnydale

Between several plastic cups full of water – Faith didn't own any glasses or mugs – that she forced on the clearly hungover Slayer, Amy received the story of the events of the previous night.

How Faith had gone to the Bronze after finding no vamps during her initial patrol of the cemeteries, how she'd sensed a vampire, seen that it was her – the fight, the way the vampire her had used magic, the guilt and rage Faith had felt.. the blurred fight with the vamp gang later on, and then waking up back in her apartment, hungover for the first time since becoming a Slayer and with no memory of the time between the fight – which was just scattered memories, anyway – and waking up in the apartment.

“I – shit – Amy, I...” Faith said after a long minute's silence. “I nearly fucking killed you!” She started to look a little green at the prospect and then was on her feet, running to the bathroom – and from the sound of it, she managed to reach the toilet this time before throwing up, or at least dry heaving. Amy looked at the puddle of vomit – Faith hadn't really had the presence of mind to clean it up since producing it – and frowned.

Then again, there are some benefits to being a witch. Amy gestured to the puddle and muttered a quick cleaning spell. The puddle bubbled away and vanished within moments. With it out of the way, Amy added another spell to make the whole area smell a little better – like something other than beer and vomit, anyway. It would do for the moment.

Amy wasn't sure what her own thoughts on this impossible situation were. She wasn't a vampire, and she had no idea why there was a vampire that had her face roaming around. It wasn't as if she had a twin sister or anything. So what the fuck? Amy didn't doubt her friend – if Faith said she saw a vampire that looked and sounded like her, then she had. Amy believed her without question.

For one thing, Faith's reaction seemed far too genuine, too real, to be faked, or just caused by some bizarre lookalike. On a certain level, Faith's reaction was... well, it was gratifying to Amy. Who didn't want to know that if they died, the people they cared about would mourn them? And mourn them so much that they found drinking themselves into a stupor to be an appealing option. Amy held no illusions that Faith felt anything for her like she did for Faith, but still. Faith cared about her, valued her. If she'd had any doubt – though she really hadn't – then she didn't have any reason to doubt any longer.

But, of course, that was only on one level. On most levels, she wasn't even remotely happy with Faith's reaction. One look at the sheer number of beer bottles, not to mention the empty bottle of Jack Daniels, told Amy that Faith had drunk an ungodly amount of alcohol, and if she hadn't been a Slayer...

I don't think she would have been able to drink that much anyway, let alone – let alone survive drinking all that...

Faith had drunk enough to have a gigantic fucking hangover. Faith drank a lot – it was something Amy wasn't exactly happy about, but given her friend's seemingly superhuman level of tolerance for alcohol now that she was a Slayer, it wasn't that big a deal. Faith barely got tipsy on the amount of beer she generally drank, if even that much. And, Faith had actually told her that being a Slayer meant she couldn't get hangovers, given how much she'd drunk at times and come away not hungover at all.

Well, apparently there is a limit. And if she hadn't been a Slayer...

Amy shut down the line of thought. Faith was a Slayer. She was hungover, but that was all. If she hadn't been a Slayer, she'd have gone comatose or something after drinking that much – or maybe even before getting it out. It was that simple. Amy wouldn't consider any other possibilities.

She looked at the scattered empty bottles and let out a sigh as she stood up and started to pick them up, tossing them into the trash, hearing at least one break on impact with all the other bottles. She heard Faith finally stop dry heaving in the toilet and the sound of her friend opening the medicine cabinet as she finished up with the last bottle. Amy filled the cup up with more water and walked into bathroom to hand her friend the cup. Faith took it gratefully and drank the water and took several aspirin along with it.

Amy was still more or less freaking – a little less now, given just how... almost pathetic her hungover friend looked without a stake and without the fiery rage in her eyes. “Feeling any better?” she asked, figuring the answer was probably no.

“Not even a little bit.” Faith said after a long moment.

Amy pulled out her cell phone and looked at the time, then nodded, slipping it back into her pocket. “I'm not exactly an expert on hangovers – not having had one helps, but I do know that hair of the dog isn't really something that works. Plus,” Amy added, “I think you drank all the booze in this place.” She leaned in and hugged her friend a moment, but only for a moment – because she wasn't sure she trusted herself not to turn the hug into more, because Faith wasn't exactly a huggy person when you got right down to it, and because really... Faith stank. “But I'm pretty sure coffee helps.”

“Dunno.” Faith muttered after a moment. “Never been a coffee person.”

“I know.” Amy nodded. “But from what I know from, like, books and TV shows, coffee is supposed to help.” Faith looked at her, trying to get a 'Really?' look across to her, but she didn't manage to make work at all. “Yes, I know, I know. What did you do when you got hungover before becoming a Slayer?”

“Water, aspirin and sleep.” Faith said. “I tried trying to drink my hangover away once. Didn't really work.” She rubbed at the sides of her head lightly.

“Well, you've got the first two, but...” Amy sighed, not liking this, “I don't think sleep is really an option right now.”

Faith looked at her, trying to narrow her eyes, “Why not?”

“Because we need to call everyone and tell them that there's a vampire me running around in Sunnydale.” I don't want Buffy to try and stake me, because she runs into the vampire version of me and then makes the same mistake Faith did... Of course, she wouldn't be surprised if they asked her to hold a cross or get some holy water splashed on her face at various points, to make sure she was in fact alive, but that was...well, that was the cost of living in Sunnydale, more or less.

As long as the vampire me is around, I may as well just wear some giant tacky gold cross around my neck all the time.

“And then we should probably all meet at the library and figure out why there's a vampire me roaming around in Sunnydale.” Amy's first thought – well, no, her third thought, because her first two had been confusion and befuddlement – had been that strange and completely insane alternate universe that Buffy had created when she made that wish to Anyanka. When Buffy had explained what had happened there – like Giles and Faith having died long ago, Wesley being in a wheelchair, Xander dying? Well, what had stuck out the most to her had been, understandably – she figured – the fact that she'd apparently become a vampire there.

But that made no sense at all. Because Buffy had destroyed that universe, right? Or something, when she destroyed Anyanka's amulet. With that thing gone, there was no way anything there could come here, right?

But it was the only thing that made any sense at all. Not that Amy thought it was really the case – but also, really, she just had no freaking clue. Hopefully, between all of them, the whole extended Scooby Gang could figure out what the hell was going on and how to deal with the vampire version of her.

Well, staking her, yea, but I mean, beyond that. Because the vampire her could use magic. Just as well as she could use it, from what Faith had related. Amy looked down at the burn mark on her hand a moment. She probably doesn't have the burned hand or back though... 

Amy frowned, shaking her head ever so slightly. No, her... evil vampire twin wouldn't have the burns, given that being one of the undead, she probably wouldn't be playing with fire at all. It was a bit of a risky prospect for a vamp to use fire at all, Amy would imagine.

Faith winced a little, probably at the thought of going outside and being around other people. “Do we really – do we really need to all get together?”

“At least for a while, yes.” Amy said. “Afterwards, you're coming back here and getting rest and some kind of food in you.” That was not negotiable, even if Amy had to sit here and make her eat and sleep and spoon-feed her. She wasn't going to let Faith handle her hangover on her own. Amy looked her friend over. “But first, you're going to take a shower and then change.” 

For a moment, Amy thought Faith was going to protest, but then the Slayer got up off the couch and obeyed orders. She could probably smell how badly she stank. 

December 5th , 1999

17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

Xander had recovered from his brief bout with every single disease ever given to the Chumash Indians nicely enough, and he'd even been able to keep his construction job. He'd been surprised to learn that Sundays were time off, but he wasn't about to object. Having a day off was always good, especially since his girlfriend didn't have much in the way of homework. They'd had the day together, and if he wasn't between paychecks – the period between the last paycheck of the previous job and the first paycheck of the new job wasn't a fun place to be – he'd have taken her out to eat. But they couldn't, so instead they were going to eat in, watch a movie on the idiot box.

Xander knew Cordelia didn't mind – that much – that he couldn't treat her like she might have been used to back when she'd been...well, rich. It wasn't like she hadn't known he was poor going into dating him. Cordelia had been used to a certain standard of living, yes, but she'd had months to get used to a different one ever since her father's tax-dodging habits finally caught up with him. And she – well, she loved him, and he loved her, and...

Cordelia wasn't actually shallow. She liked to put up that front because she liked nice things – who didn't, though? – and she wasn't going to pretend otherwise. As Cordelia was fond of saying, 'tact is just saying not true stuff'. And so was the 'polite' fiction that she didn't like nice things. Cordelia liked nice things. But she didn't need nice things on a constant basis.

Xander still got her nice things when he could, took her out to dinner when he could, and while his current rotation of jobs wasn't helping him with long-term prospects, he wanted a job that paid better not just because hey, money, but because he could do more for his girlfriend. He wasn't even out of High School a year, though – Xander wasn't going to use that as an excuse, but he was realistic enough to set his expectations on the job front – for now – at a low bar.

Xander looked over to his girlfriend, who was, for reasons that he did not understand, reapplying her makeup. “So what did you want to watch?”

“I think it was your turn to pick the movie.” Cordelia pointed out, stepping away from the desk and the makeup mirror on it.

Xander blinked. “I guess it is. Still, any preference?” He really didn't have a preference – they'd seen pretty much all the movies the two of them owned. Cordelia hadn't been able to keep all the movies she owned, and Xander – the whole Harris family, really – hadn't exactly owned a lot of movies to begin with. “Something funny. Maybe science fiction?” Something far away from the crap they dealt with in their real lives. Spaceships and laser guns and all that was pretty far away from vampires, demons, stakes and crossbows.

Cordelia shrugged, turning back to him. “Funny, sure. I'm not really in the mood for sci-fi, so unless you're really in the mood for it...” She shrugged. “I'd rather not.”

Xander shrugged in turn. “Doesn't matter to me, honey. Comedy it is.” He was about to rattle off a few suggestions when the phone rang. Since he was closer, Xander picked it up.

“Hello?”

“Xander. Hey.” It was Amy's voice. “Something – well, something really crazy even by Sunnyhell standards is up. I've already called Buffy, and she's telling Willow and Giles – and Willow will be bringing Oz, I'm figuring – but we kind of need to have a meeting at the library about it ASAP.”

Do we really have to? Amy wasn't exactly one to cry wolf – none of them were – but still. Really? “And here I was enjoying the day off.” Xander could guess he had a sour look on his face. “What qualifies as 'crazy' by Sunnydale standards then?”

“Short version? There's another me running around Sunnyvale that's a vampire.” Amy sounded somewhere between confused, disbelieving and resigned.

Xander blinked. “You wanna run that by me again?” A vampire Amy? Amy was pretty good with the magics – and from what he knew, went out on patrol more often than Willow, so she had more experience using magic in a fight than his red-headed friend. So... a vampire her was not a pleasant thought. But –

He couldn't have heard her right. Why would there be two Amy's, let alone one of them being a vampire? That was just –

Yep. Amy was right. That was crazy, even by Sunnyhell standards.

 

“There's a vampire in town that looks like me, talks like me and uses magic like I do. Faith ran into her last night, thought I was dead, didn't manage to stake the vampire me, and then nearly staked me when I showed up at her apartment an hour ago.” Amy said in a bit of a rush, the words running together.

Xander nearly did a spit-take – as it was, he almost dropped the phone. “Faith nearly – she almost –” Xander couldn't imagine what that must have been like for Amy – he'd had vamps close to him before, but a stake nearly in the heart? That was an experience he'd thankfully avoided getting a firsthand look at... 

“Why didn't she – did she tell anyone – last night?” Why wouldn't Faith had told them if she thought Amy was dead? If not last night, then sooner than nearly three thirty the next day?

Still, Xander was having a little trouble processing the whole idea, and he hadn't gone through either the nearly being staked bit, or the running into a vampire that looked like a close friend. Or that was a close friend. The 'Cordelia is now a vampire' thing was a recurring theme in his nightmares. But that was where that sort of thing was supposed to stay. Nightmares. Not come out into the real fucking world.

Amy let out a long, slow sigh. “Let's just say Faith handled the idea of my death and vampirism badly, and leave it at that.” She said after a quiet moment once the sigh was done. “But that's the long and the short of it. We need to figure out why there's a vampire me in Sunnydale, and how to deal with her. I mean, obviously, stake her, but finding her might not be easy – and...”

“No offense but when I see you, I'm going to throw some holy water on you.” Xander said after a moment. He'd have to dig it out of his closet. He didn't usually bother to carry holy water around, even if he was expecting a fight with vampires. Crosses and stakes were about as much as he could do. He'd kept up some of his training with a sword with Giles even still, but without the reflexes and strength of a Slayer, it really wasn't a regular option. More of a 'break glass in case of apocalypse' kind of thing. Plus... who carried a sword around? Stakes were concealable – at the very least you could put them in your pocket. Crucifixes were...strange, but people did carry them around. They were more normal than carrying a sword around, anyway.

“Something I'll have to get used to until we're back to just one me, yeah.” Amy acknowledged. “Library in an hour. You'll be there? Cordelia too?”

Xander let out a sigh. “Yea. I suppose we really do gotta show up. See you then.” He hung up the phone and looked over at Cordelia, who had a resigned, if exasperated, expression on her face.

“What happened?” She demanded. “And who are we throwing holy water on?”

“Amy.” Xander said. He immediately realize he should have followed up that with an explanation when he saw the expression on Cordelia's face and watched his girlfriend recoil a little at the mention of Amy – of Amy being a vampire. Shit. They were friends with the witch, though hardly close friends, but Amy was another one of those people that Cordelia had known since freaking elementary school, and one of the ones that actually made it alive to this point while still living in the good-old Hell of the Sun.

“Amy's not a vampire.” Xander clarified quickly. “At least...technically.”

“There's no 'technically', Xander. Someone's either a vampire or they're not, unless I've completely misheard everything Giles has ever said on the subject!” Cordelia pointed out. “And while yes, he can be pretty damn boring sometimes, I do pay attention to the important stuff. A vampire is a vampire is a vampire. Angel's got a soul and everything – hey, good for him – but he's still a vampire. There's no technically there. And while Spike's impotent –”

“Can you please not use that word?” Xander said immediately. He hadn't meant to interrupt her, but –

“What, impotent?” Cordelia blinked. “Why?”

Because I'm a guy and that word bothers me. For obvious reasons. Xander just shook his head though, waving his hand dismissively. “Never mind. Anyway, Amy isn't a vampire. The one we know, anyway. But there's another Amy running around Sunnydale, apparently. And that Amy is a vampire.”

“Two, two Amy's?! How is that even – how is that possible?” Cordelia's face was screwed up in confusion. Just as his probably had been.

“Not a clue.” Xander said as he walked over to the closet to retrieve the holy water. “But that's kind of the problem. Maybe she's from the evil vampire twin universe. Maybe someone invented a cloning ray. God only knows.” Xander came back out of the closet with two small plastic bottles of holy water. He handed one to Cordelia.

Cordelia sighed, “I really hate living in Sunnydale. You know that, right?” She let out another sigh, this one slightly angry. “A big romantic evening together planned out, and now it's been shot to hell.”

“Maybe not entirely?” Xander said after a moment. “We can hope, anyway?”

“Hope, sure. Expect? Probably not. But if there's a Vampire Amy running around town...well, yea, gotta sort that out. I don't think the real Amy is going to like being dosed with holy water all the time.” A thought seemed to occur to Cordelia, and her face screwed up in something resembling disgust and maybe a little concern and worry. “If there's a vampire her running around...and we don't figure out why and stop it, how long before there's a vampire you or me running around Sunnydale as well?”

Xander's chest clenched a little just at the idea, but he forced himself to take a breath. “The far side of never, maybe?” He said with a small, mostly fake laugh.

“In Sunnydale, expect the shittiest, craziest thing possible and then multiply it by ten, Xander. We've lived here how long?” Cordelia let out a long sigh. “Alright. So we're all meeting at the library then?” His girlfriend was familiar enough with how this sort of thing worked.

“In just under an hour.” Xander confirmed.

December 5th , 1999

Private Room, Sunnydale Public Library

They were all here, listening to the explanation of the whole 'vampire wearing Amy's face' thing. Xander looked around – and when he got a look at Faith, he had an idea of just what Amy had meant by Faith taking the idea of her death and vampirism badly. The Slayer – who he'd never seen drinking coffee or wearing sunglasses, let alone inside – was doing both. He'd been around his father when he was hungover enough to have a good idea of what a hungover person looked – and more importantly, acted – like. And unless he was completely off-base, Faith was hungover.

I wouldn't drink myself into a hangover over Cordelia's death... but then, I don't drink. He had his father's example to avoid there. But then again, he didn't have Cordelia's death as an experience to know how he'd react... and thank God and any other higher being up there that he didn't.

Xander would like to think he wouldn't drink, but...

He put that thought aside. He didn't want to think about his girlfriend, the woman he loved, dying and becoming a bloodsucking monster. Not one bit. So he didn't.

“And that's the long and the short of it.” Amy finished. She'd related the story for Faith, who'd chipped in a few comments, but seemed content to be silent through the entire thing.

Xander looked around the room again – and he could see that everyone else had at least partially confused expressions on their faces. Except for Oz, but that was hardly surprising. Oz didn't do confused looks. Or really any emotional expressions on his face.

Buffy cleared her throat, and then, “Faith – what color outfit was the vampire Amy wearing?” She was frowning, and Xander wondered why a fashion question was coming up.

“Does that even –” Cordelia started, but Faith gave the answer before she could finish the question.

“Red.” The dark-haired Slayer said quietly. Buffy sucked in a breath. “That mean something to you, B?”

“A nearly skintight shirt and a really short skirt?” Buffy asked, and Faith nodded. Buffy swallowed. “Damn. That's exactly what the vampire Amy in the fucked-up Sunnydale Anyanka created wore.”

“But how the hell would that Amy end up here? That place doesn't exist anymore, right?” Cordelia demanded. She looked over at the Watchers. “It is gone, right?”

“I think the presence of someone from that universe – assuming that this new Amy is in fact that Amy,” Giles said softly, “would be proof that it wasn't in fact destroyed.”

“The pertinent question would be how she got here.” Wesley said softly. “I'm unfamiliar with the kind of magic someone might use to transport someone from an alternate universe. Nor do I grasp why –”

“The why was probably accidental.” Buffy interrupted. “Because how much do you want to bet that Anyanka is behind this, somehow?”

Amy muttered a curse. “Of course! That would explain...” She started quietly, then spoke up, “Someone stole a bunch of spell components and foci from my dorm the other day. I tracked them down with a spell, but I was too late; whoever had taken them had already cast some kind of spell with them. That can't be a coincidence.”

“Anywhere but here, it could be.” Oz pointed out, but he was essentially agreeing.

“Anyanka would have to resort to theft to get the kinds of magical supplies she might need to try and recover her powers,” Wesley agreed. “On your suggestion, Buffy, we made sure that the local magical shops knew not to sell to her, and since she's a mere human now, she can't buy from some of the more... magically inclined demons in Sunnydale.”

Xander caught a brief look on Amy's face – he wasn't sure what exactly it was – but it was gone a few moments later. Never mind, probably wasn't important –

“Okay, so Anyanka brought her here, probably by accident. That makes sense.” Willow noted. “But that doesn't change the fact that there's a vampire Amy in Sunnydale. What are we going to do about her?”

“Stake her.” Amy said. “Or behead her, or whatever ends up happening.” 

Xander could see Willow look a little shocked at the way Amy was casually talking about killing her vamp-clone. Kinda surprising, but in a way, kinda not... 

“But she's- she's you. You just – I mean...” Willow trailed off.

“She's not me.” Amy replied harshly. “She's a fucking vampire. I'm not. There's no reason to get sentimental about it.” The witch let out a shuddering breath and sat down – though really, she almost fell down really. Xander watched her suck in a slow and shuddering breath. She's not handling this anywhere near as well as she seems. It wasn't a hard insight to achieve, but Amy was putting up a front. She wasn't handling whole thing – still probably including the whole 'almost staked' thing – well. She was faking it – in the finest Sunnydale tradition – but that was all.

“If this really is the work of Anyanka, then we should find her. If we don't, and she tries something like this again, who knows what else might come through from this... alternative universe.” Giles said after a moment.

“Post and her crazy glove? Balthazar with an amulet? A version of Spike that still has both hands and no weird 'can't hurt people' thing going?” Buffy offered. She looked over at Giles, “Has he misbehaved? Can I stake him yet?”

“Well, he's a terrible house guest, and he's also been less openly helpful than we'd like.” Giles replied. “But he still can't seem to hurt anyone. I propose we dedicate some time to getting the answers from him, after we deal with this... current situation.”

“In the meantime,” Wesley told Giles, “If you'd like to get him out of your residence, I'm willing to take custody of the creature for the moment. There's a great number of questions I'd like to ask of William the Bloody, now that I don't have to worry about my gruesome and violent death being a possible outcome of being near him.”

“I dunno, Wes. Spend any significant time around him, and you may end up wanting to stake yourself to get away from him.” Buffy offered.

“Hey! This isn't really the time to be writing Spike's biography!” Cordelia pointed out. “We aren't torturing him, we aren't staking him, and he's not talking. Why aren't we sticking a soul in him again?” 

And once again, Cordelia is the voice of reason. Well, so is Buffy, though she wants to stake him just because she hates him. Xander wasn't exactly enthused over the idea of another soul-happy vampire running around. As far as he was concerned, one Deadboy was enough; but if that's what it took to get Spike to spill whatever info he had on the soldier-boys, then he was all for it.

“It isn't that simple.” Willow said after a moment. “Orbs of Thesulah are rare – and, and expensive and when it comes to this spell, one-use-only, and the spell was designed for Angel. Adapting it to curse Spike that way isn't the easiest thing in the world.” She took a breath and shook her head, “Anyway, we've got this whole other thing to worry about right now.” She looked over at Amy. “If we – I mean, we could use a spell to track her, right?” Willow said, as much thinking out loud as anything else. “I mean, she's you, so we could use some of your hair or something to try and find her?”

“Or we could just end up finding me.” Amy pointed out. “But... certainly an option.”

“If you find her, we can deal with her.” Buffy said. “One way or the other. But in the meantime – Anyanka did this. I've got no doubts about it. So I'd like to know details, and I really want to make sure she doesn't try this sort of crap again. One person from that universe here is enough – more than enough.”

“I'm not sure where it is that she's, uh, presently residing.” Giles said, “But I imagine that Willy would know.”

“He'd have an idea, sure.” Buffy said with a smirk. “And after the last time you had a chat with him, Faith, he'll probably be pretty co-operative.”

Faith nodded slowly. “Probably.” She half-muttered.

 

“All planned out, then?” Oz asked. “Find Anyanka, find vampire Amy, go from there?”

Xander looked around and nodded. As far as he could tell, that was the plan and it worked. “Looks like it.”

December 5th , 1999

Anyanka's Apartment, Sunnydale

Getting information from Willy had been easy. Faith hadn't even had to do anything – and Buffy had to admit that her fellow Slayer was far more comfortable with the 'hurting humans' thing than she was. Which, admittedly, was something to note, but Buffy wasn't that concerned about Faith. Whatever else, she was a good person, on the good guy side, and 'wasn't little miss torture for the hell of it'.

And it's not like I haven't starting to come around to the 'torture Spike for information' plan myself. Which worried Buffy a little. She hated Spike, and she knew she probably took it a little too far – the eagerness with which she greeted the idea of staking that vampire had surprised her, just a little bit – but she wasn't that concerned. Because fuck it, it was Spike. 

He'd been a pain in her ass for over two fucking years. Guy was long overdue to finally fit into an ashtray. 

Faith, however, was not pleased to be out and about. It had taken Buffy a little while to realize just what was up with her, but then she'd figured it out. Her fellow Slayer was...well, hungover. At least, that was her guess, the way Faith was reacting. Buffy had never seen a hungover person, but she'd seen enough movies and TV shows and all that to have an idea. They got the basic concept right.

Part of her wanted to press Faith on the subject, but –

It really isn't my business. Faith wants to drink and smoke, it's her issue. Buffy understood Faith's logic – that she was hardly likely to live long enough to die of lung cancer or whatever. For that matter, neither was she. But... Buffy didn't take the fact that she was probably slated for an early death – not that she intended to just lie down and accept that crap – make her take reckless decisions. Also, she just didn't get the appeal of cigarettes. So there was that.

But Faith hadn't just gotten drunk last night. That was something Buffy knew was a thing and had always been. Faith had gotten so drunk she had a hangover, which Faith had claimed she never got anymore. So... a lot of alcohol got drunk.

It wasn't hard for Buffy to guess why. At least, she figured. Faith had thought Amy was dead. It was a terrible thing to find – not only that a friend was dead, but that they were a vampire. Buffy had been horrified that Amy was a vampire when she'd suddenly found herself in an alternate universe, but she'd been too busy wondering what the hell was going on to really think about the fact that a friend was dead and now a member of the undead club. 

And by the time she'd had a moment to think about it, she'd already found out that she really was in some sort of alternate universe, which meant that that Amy wasn't her Amy.

But it's not like I didn't react to that Xander's death...the way I would to 'my' Xander's death... Buffy could remember the mad, blind rage and grief and pain she'd felt when she'd seen that Xander slam into the wall, and even more when he'd finally breathed his last, more or less. The fury she'd gone after Balthazar, and then Anyanka, with. The pain that had left her numb to the horrible stabbing sensation of the Glove's prongs digging into her arm. Buffy shuddered a little just thinking about the way she'd put that thing on so easily.

Faith had found out – as far as she could tell – that her best friend was dead, was now a vampire...and she'd reacted in an all too human way. And then to top it all off, she'd nearly killed the real Amy. Human Amy. Whatever. Nearly killed her best friend.

Buffy hadn't had that, but she sorta had – well, with Ted, and then there was the blood on her hands that night with Finch, and –

Faith had actually killed Finch, and she'd apparently come this close to staking Amy. Neither her fellow Slayer nor the witch had gone into any detail about the whole incident, but Buffy could read between the lines of what Amy had said, the way her friend was acting. It wasn't just the vampire her that was bothering her. It was the nearly dying thing.

Before they went down the last stretch of hallway to get to the run-down, low-rent apartment that Anyanka was living in, Buffy turned to Faith.

“How are you holding up with all this?” She asked her fellow Slayer quietly.

“How do ya think?” Faith snapped at her, then flinched and held her head. “Ah. Fuck. Sorry.” She added, more quietly. “My mouth still feels like carpet and tastes – ugh. Don't even want to get into that. My head is pounding like one of my favorite bands is having a rehearsal inside my skull, and even though I'm hungry I still don't feel like eating food. Because my stomach totally hates the idea. So yea, not fine.” Faith let out a breath.

“I wasn't so much meaning the hangover as –” Buffy started, but Faith held up a hand. 

“I don't want to talk about it, B.” she said simply.

“Faith –” Buffy started. This isn't exactly not a big deal!

“I don't.” Faith repeated. “I don't do 'talking' anyway, and especially not right now.” 

And you didn't 'talk' about Finch's death, either. This isn't exactly healthy behavior, Faith! Before she could protest any further, her friend was brushing past her and heading for the door of Anyanka's apartment. She didn't bother to knock. Faith just kicked down the door, visibly recoiling at the sound of the door breaking off its hinges and falling inward, but walking inside nonetheless.

Buffy hurried after the other Slayer and got there just in time for Anyanka to start yelling at Faith.

“What! The! HELL!” Anyanka demanded. Buffy looked around the apartment. It was every bit as crappy-looking as she'd expected. But it was also the kind of place a demon suddenly turned human could afford – cheap, and no questions asked. “Slayer or not, you can't just –”

Faith was obviously not enjoying the yelling, and went straight for Anyanka's throat, one hand grabbing her tight around the neck – maybe not tight enough to suffocate her, but Buffy wasn't actually sure.

“Shut. Up.” Faith growled. “I'm already this close to breaking your fingers just for the hell of it, you demonic bitch!”

“Nut a dem'n! H'man now – y'can't –” Anyanka kinda-sorta manage to choke out.

“Tell that to Willy.” Buffy said, stepping closer. She looked over at Faith. “Let her neck go.” 

Faith let go and Anyanka's hand was rubbing where the Slayer's hand had been. Faith grabbed both of the girl's hands and held them tight by the wrist. Buffy continued – she wasn't really comfortable with the violence and threats, even just breaking fingers, but she was okay with the ex-demon being afraid of being beaten up. She wasn't going to let Faith do more than maybe smack her a couple times for being an idiot, but no need for her to know that.

“Now, I specifically told you to not try to get your powers back. That you becoming human wasn't a Get Out Of Jail Free card.” Buffy took another step towards Anyanka, not caring how much her anger showed up on her face. Truth be told, she was more than a little pissed at the demon-turned-human. “I did a little reading on you after I got back from that place you sent me to –”

“The place you sent you to.” Anyanka interrupted bitterly. “You made the damn wish. It isn't my fault you were careless –” Bullshit.

“No. It was your fault. You're a Vengeance Demon –”

“Justice Demon.” Anyanka corrected in an insistent tone, then she cringed a little as Faith tightened the grip on her left wrist for a moment.

“No, that description isn't gonna cut it. Not for you, anyway. Vengeance Demon.” Buffy replied coldly. “And you specialized in making every wish you got turn into something a hell of a lot worse than intended. And it's not as if I knew that I was making a wish that was gonna come true. So it's on you and you're the one who sent me there. And like I said, when I got back, I did some reading. You got up to some pretty sick crap, lady. You killed a lot of people over the last thousand years – cheating guys, yes, but human beings! So being human now isn't a free pass, like I said. Especially since I'm willing to bet you're the reason we have another Amy running around town that's a vampire.”

Anyanka blinked. “What?!” 

So she doesn't know. Figures. It was a n accident, she didn't know – but I bet she's still responsible.

“Well, I don't really think it's a coincidence that someone stole a bunch of magic stuff from Amy recently, and then cast a spell with it, and someone from the universe you sent me to – and lost your amulet in – suddenly arrives here!” Buffy snapped at Anyanka.

“I have no idea what the hell you're talking about!” Anyanka protested, but the lie was written all over her face – the woman really couldn't lie. Faith tightened her grip on both wrists again for a moment. Anyanka cried out in pain. “Great pestilent gods, stop that! You'll shatter my wrists, you stupid Slayer-” she was cut off by another cry of pain as Faith tightened the grip even more for a moment, before relaxing the hold.

“Ya know, you don't seem capable of understanding the situation here. Namely, you're in deep trouble, and Faith is just itching to do you grievous bodily harm! And lying to us? Not a smart strategy.” Buffy said, sounding very chipper – she'd found a peppy, chipper tone often annoyed the crap out of whatever demon or vampire she was talking to. Usually she annoyed them just for the heck of it, for her own amusement. Sometimes because it and all her quipping threw them off their game just a little bit. Here, it was a bit of both. “And neither is insulting us. So, 'fess up: what exactly did you do?”

“It wasn't my fault!” Anyanka protested after another moment. “It was Jonathon's! That stupid, useless, incompetent little boy couldn't even cast a temporal fold-inducing spell right!” She spat out the name, and the word 'boy' with such viciousness and scorn that Buffy nearly recoiled.

Patron saint of scorned women? More like man-hater of the year. Okay, Millennium. Getting revenge on guys who cheat, or are otherwise absolute scum to women? She could get that. Even get behind the basic idea – though not what Anyanka actually fucking did to some of the men she'd used her powers on – but there was a difference between men who were scum, and men who weren't. To be male wasn't a complete damnation. Sure, Xander, Giles and Oz were hardly perfect human beings, but they weren't scum. And Buffy definitely wasn't behind the apparently blanket damnation of the male half the species which Anyanka had going.

“Jonathon? Short, geeky, poor social skills Jonathon?” Buffy wanted clarification they were talking about the same guy. She hadn't known he was into magic, but it made sense – in Sunnydale, at least. In other towns, the social outcasts played video games and read comic books. In Sunnydale, they were just as likely to do magic.

“He was such a hopeless male. A few smiles and kind words, and he was willing to do whatever was necessary to get me to keep paying attention to him!” Anyanka said contemptuously. “If he hadn't screwed up the spell – and I should have known he would! – then I'd have my damn amulet back!”

Buffy nodded to Faith, who tightened her grip a little again, then relaxed after Anyanka let out a loud 'Ouch!'

“And if you'd succeeded, we'd have to kill you. All because you want to be a demon again.” Buffy pointed out. “Which is something I don't think is of the good. So... stop that.” Buffy quipped brightly. Doesn't mean I'm not going to have a word with Jonathon later about casting spells he shouldn't be messing around with! “And regardless, now we have a vampire from that fun little hellscape running around Sunnydale.”

“Well, that's not my problem!” Anyanka tried to defend herself. “And like I said –” 

Buffy cut her off, not in the mood to hear her justifications. “True or false? You told him what spell to cast. Because I'm figuring that you don't just find a 'temporal fold' inducing spell in the Beginner's Guide to Magic or whatever.” Buffy wasn't sure what exactly that spell was, but she could guess at the general concept from the words. Temporal had something to do with time, and folding time was probably reaching back and doing something – like retrieving a demonic amulet before it was destroyed, or something along those lines.

Anyanka blinked a moment, looked from one Slayer to the other, then nodded. “True.” She cried out again when Faith's grip tightened – again – and grit her teeth as she spoke. “If I promise to keep answering your questions, can you please let my hands go? There's only so much this... stupid human body can take!”

Buffy wished she'd thought to bring the manacles that were still in Angel's old mansion on Crawford Street, but she hadn't. Still, hearing Anyanka cry out in pain every time Faith did the 'grip-tightening' thing was not a pleasant experience. She didn't want to actually permanently hurt the girl. She was human, at least for now, and Buffy really didn't like the idea of torture. Spike was the only exception and Anyanka, as evil as she had been and still kind of was...wasn't Spike.

“I don't trust you.” Faith pointed out, her words coming out more as a hiss than anything else. “And so, yea, not going to happen. Only reason I haven't broken a couple of fingers already is because B doesn't much like the idea of hurting people. Still, I'm not sure you count.” Faith shifted her hands on the former demon's wrists a little, though she kept her grip just light enough to not hurt much.

Faith, sometimes you make it kinda hard to like you. But at the end of the day, Faith was her friend and her sister in Slaying. There were some things that only they could really understand – two Slayers, being Slayers. But Faith was always the girl who danced over by the edge. She was so different from Kendra – the Jamaican Slayer had been so straight-laced and such a stickler for rules and order. It had almost been funny...

It might still be funny if she hadn't died.

Faith, on the other hand – for her, rules were pretty stupid, and while Buffy usually agreed with her on that, sometimes Faith took the idea too far, and she reveled in being a Slayer in a way that Buffy never could. She was a Slayer. It was what she was. Buffy had had no choice but to come to terms with that by this point. And she wanted to use her powers to help people, to save lives.

Faith – she was all for saving lives, sure, but beating up vamp and demons was fun for her. Beating on Spike, while it appealed immensely, wasn't fun. Staking him wouldn't be fun...

And here was another aspect – Faith had limits, she knew, but sometime it was hard to tell. Faith had no problem hurting this girl, and Buffy took the comment about breaking fingers seriously. She just hoped Anyanka did.

Anyanka tried to recoil – it was hard to do when her arms were in a Slayer's grip, though. She looked over to Buffy. “Okay, I've seen the good cop/bad cop scenario play out way too often not to see where this is headed. So get this psycho away from me!”

“Finish answering Buffy's questions, Demon Girl, and I'm gone.” Faith said.

Buffy let in a slow breath and let it out. Focus on the issue at hand. “Do you have other magical supplies in this apartment? And where are they, if you do?” There was no way she was letting Anyanka keep any supplies she might need to try that spell again. It just was not happening. At all.

Anyanka swallowed, looked at Faith's face, then jerked her head to a nearby open door. “Bedroom. Under the bed, in a box.”

Easy. She wants to get away from Faith, but still. A little too fast. A little too easy. “Anything I should know about the Box? And don't lie. You'll regret it later if you do.”

Anyanka closed her eyes and sighed, “Alright, fine. It's cursed. Anyone but me opens the box, they're blind, deaf and dumb for a week.” Before Faith could tighten her wrists, Buffy shot the other Slayer a look. Faith frowned, but didn't do anything.

“Alright. And that’s everything?” Buffy demanded. 

“Yes! Are we done here?!” Anyanka snapped peevishly. 

“For the moment, yea, I guess. But like I said, don't try anything like this again – or next time, I'm not gonna stop Faith from your breaking all your fingers or whatever else it takes, to get the damn message across. Oh, and don't leave this apartment. Because we might have more questions for you later, and I want to be able to find you easily, rather than have to go to Willy again.” Part of her just wanted the ex-demon out of Sunnydale for good, to be honest, but then who would keep an eye on her? Here at least they could do their best to make sure she didn't try this sort of crap again.

They probably would have to kill her, if she ever managed to get her amulet and her demon powers back.

“Like there's anywhere else I could move to!” Anyanka muttered in annoyance. “If you're done, can I have my hands back?”

“Once you un-curse the box, sure.” Buffy said, walking around the two women and into the bedroom to retrieve the item.

December 5th, 1999

Private Room, Sunnydale Public Library

To save time, Willow had sent Oz back to the dorm she shared with Buffy to retrieve her magical supplies, while she worked with Amy to get the spell ready.

Locating a person using a piece of them – hair, blood, fingernails, whatever – wasn't easy magic by any definition, but it was pretty basic and straightforward magic. She'd thought she'd remembered once reading something about an instance when the hair of one twin was used to cast a spell to track the other, which is what had given her this idea. And sure enough, she'd found the same story when she checked the books they'd taken to keeping here – like they had at the Sunnydale High Library, though Giles retained most of his collection at his place and from what she knew, Wesley had tons at his apartment as well – but that was hardly surprising. Giles and Wesley were Watchers and they were British. And while Giles wasn't as stuffy as he'd been at the start, he was still pretty stuffy. She didn't mind him being stuffy – that was the Giles they all knew and loved – but it did mean that of course he had tons of books. 

Amy, who had been a little more skeptical of the idea – though willing to try it – became more convinced once Willow showed her the account of the twin's hair finding the other twin thing.

“Okay. I mean, the Vampire me – and we need to find a better way to describe her than that – isn't just my twin, she is me. But me as a vampire. I just hope that won't mess with it.”

Willow frowned when Amy said that, but then immediately perked up as a new thought occurred. “Your hair is still your hair. And her hair. If we were using your blood, I suppose that could make sense, since Vampire you wouldn’t have your blood in her anymore...” Willow blinked as she said that, and held back a bit of a shudder as she really thought about that – the blood inside any vampire wasn't going to be the vampire's own.

Just really something you don't think about.

“As for what to call her... uhm... Vampire Amy...” Willow tested a few ideas out in her mind, rejecting several, until, “Vamy?”

Amy looked over at her. “Vamy?” The other witch let out a sigh. “Okay, I guess that works as well as anything else...” She frowned, “Seriously, I can't even believe we're having this conversation. I'm used to weird crap – hell, I can use magic, but still!” Willow had to grant that Amy had a point.

“Okay, so for the spell, we need these ingredients, and a map of Sunnydale. I think I already have all of the ingredients, so when Oz gets back we won't need to make a run to the magic shop or anything.” Some tracking spells relied on enchanting an object to literally lead you to whatever or whoever it was that you wanted to find. But in this case, they'd have to use a spell of a different kind – create a small concoction of the right ingredients, add the hair, and splatter the concoction over the map. Assuming they did it right, it should cluster in two places. The library, and wherever 'Vamy' was.

“Still – I don't have a map of Sunnydale on me, and while I'm sure there's some in the library, I don't think they'd want us splattering one of their maps with boiled up ginseng and rosewater that's been blessed under the light of the quarter moon in a copper basin.” Amy looked over at her after reading two of the ingredients off at random, one eyebrow raised, face screwed up in surprised confusion. “Wait, you have that?”

“Yea.” Willow answered. “It's got a lot of uses, actually.” It really did. It was a bit specific, but there was something about the combination of quarter moons and copper that gave rosewater a kind of mystical resonance that was useful as a base for a lot of spells that required some kind of concoction or another.

“I know.” Amy nodded. “But the magic shop doesn't carry it. I've tried to get them to order it for me, but they demand such a huge markup for that that it hasn't been worth the effort.”

“Oh.” Willow was on a little bit surprised to find herself smiling a little at the news. It was a friendly competition that she had with Amy, on who could develop their magic faster and learn new spells more quickly. Willow had an edge in some areas, but Amy had an edge in others – even her recent experience with... burning herself, Amy was still better with summoning up fire and moving stakes around in the air. Willow was almost as good with the telekinesis, and she was getting there with fire, but she hadn't actually used fire in a fight against vampires or anything yet. Amy burning herself had been a bit of a cautionary tale. 

But she was better at some other magics, and the fact that she was really into computers and the stuff you could do with them paid off when getting some of the more obscure ingredients – or at least, ingredients that weren't carried in any local stores. Such as quarter-moon/copper basin rosewater.

“There's a website.” Willow said after a moment. “I order some of the things I can't find in town from there, if I think I'll need them, or if they're common enough.” Willow grabbed a sheet of paper and scribbled down the web-address. “They don't even charge you shipping and handling on orders of more than $100.”

Amy accepted the sheet. “Thanks. I'll keep that in mind. Maybe I'll be able to get stuff from them more cheaply to replace all the stuff Anyanka stole.” Amy sat down in a chair and rubbed at a spot on her chest for a moment, lightly, as if rubbing at a bruise or something.

Willow looked at her, eyebrows raised. Amy had told them about the 'Faith trying to stake me' thing, and during that part of the story, the dark haired Slayer had kind of shrunk into herself a little – which was a very un-Faith like thing to do. But then again, so was wearing sunglasses – she'd never seen Faith do that – and drinking coffee. And being quiet and letting someone else do the talking. That, and the way Amy had rubbed at her chest told Willow there was more to the story than what she'd heard so far.

It was pretty obvious that Faith was hungover. It was even more obvious because Willow had been able to pick up on the smell of beer coming off of Faith. She could smell soap as well, so Faith had taken a shower or something – and...

This whole werewolf smelling thing is really kinda creepy, when you think about it. And it's giving me a headache, still.

She'd noticed her sense of smell – and her sense of hearing – sharpening over the last few days, as they drew closer to the three nights of the full moon, exactly as Oz had told her would happen. According to him, his sense of smell and hearing were just better now that he was a werewolf, even far away from a full moon, but the development had been so gradual he hadn't really noticed it at first. But near the nights of the full moon? Everything 'went up to eleven', as Oz had put it. When it had first started two days ago...

Willow had nearly had a minor panic attack from the sudden influx of smells and sounds when she woke up, hearing and smelling so much more than she ever had before. She could smell the wolf in Oz. If she hadn't known what she was, what Oz was, she might not have been able to place the smell, but she did know.

She still wasn't used to it. Not even remotely. She wondered if she'd ever get used to it – but Oz had, and with his help, she would be able to as well. She wanted to. Had to, really, if she wasn't going to go insane.

And the full moon was in two nights...

This is just a wonderful time for a crisis to come up. Seriously. Obviously, the priority of both Slayers was going to be Vamy. Yea, sounds a little weird to say it that way, but it does save time. Which made sense. But that meant that she and Oz could hardly ask Faith to keep a watch on them in the cage during the first night of the full moon, unless Vamy was dealt with. It didn't mean they couldn't still go with the 'Oz got loose and bit me' explanation, but...

Willow didn't have any better ideas. She still didn't want to tell anyone else the truth about what had actually happened. It had been embarrassing enough telling Faith – and yeah, sure, she knew it shouldn't be embarrassing – but it was, darn it! Not to mention the potential reactions of Buffy and Xander.

Telling Giles was especially out, and telling Cordelia – she couldn't tell her something and expect her to not tell the guy she was sleeping with. Besides, again, embarrassing. She couldn't just say 'Oz bit me!' and then refuse to explain the details to any of them.

Willow quickly put that all aside, though – this wasn't the time for that. She'd been silent for nearly a minute, and they had things to do.

“Actually, I do have a map of Sunnydale.” Willow opened her bag, rummaging through it for another minute or so, finally fishing the thing out from the bottom triumphantly. “You never know when you might get lost, and need to figure out where you are and how to get to where you're going.” She set the map on the table and started to unfold it. The map wasn't just Sunnydale. Willow had also marked out the major sewers and electrical tunnels, entrances to both – the bigger ones, anyway, she couldn't mark every manhole – but at least it helped put everything into perspective. What with the local undead and demon population using those places as their home and underground highway, it was good to map them out.

“You've lived in Sunnydale your entire life, and you're worried you'll get lost in it?” Amy said, before looking at the map, seeing the drawn in lines, and nodded, her mouth an 'o' of recognition for a moment. “Point taken.”

“I lived in Sunnydale for sixteen years before finding out our High School sat right on top of a literal gateway to hell and the entire town was filled with vampires and demons and magic was real. I was eighteen before I found out we've had one man as our Mayor for the entire town's history, and that he was a really powerful wizard guy trying to turn himself into a giant snake-demon-thing.” Willow laughed, “Pretty sure I can't assume I know everything about Sunnydale. So, map.”

“Point taken again.” Amy acknowledged. Willow had often caught Amy tensing up ever so slightly whenever the Mayor came up, but – well, the Mayor had been pretty freaky. He still kind of scared her – she'd had a few nightmares that featured the big-snake version of him. Not many, but well, Sunnydale and nightmares went together like the internet and fan-fiction. “So do you find a lot of stuff relating to magic on the internet? I'd think it would be mostly useless.”

“Oh, it is.” Willow agreed. Miss Calendar had pointed a few of the websites where the useful information was – the stuff that wasn't just myths, stories or outright fabrications. From there, Willow had found out about others, but there still weren't a lot of places where you could be sure to find useful stuff. Techno-pagans existed in some numbers, but they seemed be a small, and somewhat maligned sub-community among magical practitioners. As far as she could tell, anyway, and it wasn't exactly easy to tell these things from what glimpses she got on the internet. “But there are a few places that are actually helpful. I've even got a few people I talk with regularly about all this stuff – magic and vampires and so on. That's actually how I first heard that story about the twins and the finding spell, actually.”

“I'll admit, I never even thought to use the internet for magic-related stuff.” Amy admitted.

“You can use the internet for almost anything nowadays.” Willow replied. Then her mind went places, and she immediately wished she had one of those men-in-black neuralizer things for when she remembered those time she came across stuff on the internet that she wanted to unsee. She tried to avoid that kind of stuff, but still. It was the internet. It happened. “There's a database of demon information, even.”

“Oh, God. Don't tell the Watchers that.” Amy offered with a smile and a small laugh.

Willow chuckled a little as well. “I wasn't planning to. Though I kind of want to show it to Giles someday, if he starts complaining about computers again.”

“We've got to cut them some slack. They're British.” Amy pointed out.

The two of them kept up their conversation, eventually moving on from the applications of the internet to magic and the whole 'vampires and demons' thing to a more general back and forth on magic. They were trading tips on minor spells by the time Oz got back. He had a large box in hand, which he set on the table and then walked up to Willow. Coming in towards her, putting an arm around her shoulders and giving her a quick kiss on the lips; which Willow deepened for a moment, by grabbing the front of his shirt. She hadn't planned on it, just – you know, boyfriend kisses!

Still, after a moment, she realized they were around other people and pulled back from the kiss, unable to help from feeling a slight burn in her cheeks. “Sorry.”

Amy shrugged, “You stopped before everything became uncomfortable.” Amy stood up and opened the box, starting to take out vials and bags. After a few moments, Willow began to help her.

“Okay, so we need to start by setting up the hot-plate so we can boil the whole thing up.” Willow said, getting a large pot out of the box. It would have been more authentic to use a cauldron, but cauldrons that were small enough to put on a hotplate weren't really common. Neither were cauldrons of a reasonable size, really. They were all too big to have in her dorm, and certainly too big to have Oz carry back along with everything else.

Between the two of them, they got the concoction ready in ten minutes, and it was bubbling along nicely, starting to thicken as Willow stirred it, moving the wooden spoon slowly and carefully so as not to disturb the balance of the concoction. “And now, we need to add some of your hair.”

Amy nodded and took a pair of scissors to a single strand of her hair she held out and away from her head. She didn't cut it down to the root, or even all that close to her scalp, but she did cut fairly high up on the strand, before handing it over to Willow.

Willow took the hair and dropped it into the mixture. “We let it sit for five minutes and then it should be ready.” All three of them watched the hair sink into the liquid, out of view, though Willow also kept an eye on the stopwatch in her hand. At five minutes – and some milliseconds – she stopped it and turned off the hotplate.

“Let's see if this worked then.” Amy said as Willow took the wooden spoon and some of the mixture onto the map. It landed scattered across the map, but then they watched as the liquid seemed to move on its own and gather together...

In one place.

The library.

“But- but-” Willow couldn't believe what she was seeing. “It's supposed to work!” She grabbed the text, “We did it right!” She looked over the instructions. They'd followed every step exactly, added all the right ingredients in exactly the right proportions... it was supposed to work! It should have worked! 

But it hadn't. Damn! 

December 5th, 1999

Residential House, Sunnydale

Amy had felt the attempted scrying as it was happening – and smirked. It wasn't powerful enough. Not enough to get past her own protection spells. Whoever was behind this pathetic little stunt didn't even have the power of Willow, and Willow could never successfully scry her either.

Of course, she didn't need to. The White Hats all knew I'd made the Bronze into my lair. That that was where they could find me. And they didn't come for me. Because I wasn't someone they could just stake. Buffy had tried that a few times, before those last few days before the final battle. The Slayer hadn't even come close to succeeding.

Of course, all that was from her own universe, and by this point, Amy had a pretty good idea that things didn't work here the way they were supposed to – that here wasn't the 'here' she was used to.

After getting away from that Slayer, Amy had made her way into the more residential areas of Sunnydale and found a young couple – the woman obviously pregnant – outside the house, about to go in. Needing a place to stay and not interested in some crypt or cave or other hole, Amy had killed and drained the both of them and then 'borrowed' their keys, quickly moving the bodies out of sight.

The sun would be down in a few more hours, and then she could get started.

She didn't know what exactly was different here – Buffy wasn't the Slayer, yes, but what else? From the other Slayer's ramblings there was a her here that wasn't a vampire, and that problem needed to be corrected – she didn't need another her running around, mortal or not. One me is plenty. I don't need someone who thinks like me as a potential rival. Amy played second fiddle to no one – not even herself, she would suspect.

The Glove could still be within reach, but she didn't know from what hole Post had pulled it out of.

From what she could tell – reading today's newspaper, checking the local news channels – this Sunnydale was still like the one she remembered before she'd died. 'Unexplained' deaths and disappearances, happenings that no one could explain adequately, and more. But no competing vampire armies driving the town down a slippery slope to a hellscape. Wilkins still wasn't the Mayor anymore, which was interesting – she'd found out after she died that Richard Wilkins III was a lot older than anyone had known, and knew more about what had been happening in Sunnydale than most.

But she didn't know more than that. And couldn't until the sun went down. But then she could. And then she could take over a Sunnydale that was ripe for the picking.

If I can't have the Glove, I'll still have Sunnydale. Just the thought – the thought of having the Hellmouth at her command. She knew she wouldn't be able to harness its power easily, but she had all the time in the world to figure out how. And once she did...

Amy Madison did not think small.

December 6th, 1999

Crypt, Sunnydale

Amy looked at the pathetic collection of just over a dozen vampires that the first vampire she'd met last night – and promptly beaten the crap out of – had managed to gather for her.

“This is all you could find? Fourteen vampires!? And every last one of them more worthless than you!?”

“It's all that I could get to go along with you.” The vampire said defensively. “And there just aren't as many vamps now as there used to be. Between both the Slayers, and whatever the hell else it is that's been taking us out –”

“What are you talking about?” Amy demanded. There was something else in this town targeting vampires? This Sunnydale wasn't just not the vampire's playground that it had been in her world. It was apparently even less than it had ever been.

“I dunno. There's something out there. Vamps and demons have been vanishing; no dust, no bodies. It's like 'poof' they're gone.” The vampire closed his fist, then opened it again. “Like magic.” He nodded at her.

Amy rolled her eyes. “Magic doesn't go 'poof', you boneheaded idiot.” She grabbed him by the front of his shirt and lifted him nearly a foot off the ground. “Go and find me more vampires!” She tossed him against the wall. “I'm not gonna be taking command of the Hellmouth with this idiotic rabble!”

Finding out that there were two Slayers alive had been unpleasant, but it hadn't stopped her. Buffy and Faith – Faith being the dark-haired one that had nearly staked her – and Willow was still around. Fortunately, Willow didn't seem to be as powerful here as she was in her world. Unfortunately, the her here spent a lot of time on patrol with this 'Faith' – and she used fire. No fireballs yet, and but fire and vampires did not mix. She needed more minions. She needed a lot more.

The vampire she'd met had been terrified she'd burn him, apparently. She didn't need to make sure he was loyal. Bouncing him off the walls a few dozen times had gotten the point across. And it would this time too. 

“Yes – alright, alright!” The vampire stood up. “I'll get you more!” He scampered away, and Amy looked at the vampires she had recruited so far – and –

“Harmony!?” 
“Amy! Hi. It's been awhile. So when did you become a vampire? ” the former cheerleader asked happily.  

Augh. Someone actually turned that vapid little bitch? Then again, if the Harmony here was anything like the Harmony from her world, then she was a complete slut; so the reason why was fairly easy to figure out.

December 6th, 1999

Willy's Alibi Room, Sunnydale

“Hey, come on! I don't have a clue about a vampire that looks like your witch friend!” Willy protested. This was the second time in as many days that a Slayer had shown up at his bar. It was really fucking bad for business for them to just pop in so freaking often!

Having them come in and beat him up from time to time, or break his stuff, and having to give them info – that was just the cost of doing business. In another town, Willy would be paying protection money. In Sunnydale, it didn't quite work like that, but it was what it was.

But just like protection money – at least when demanded by criminals with something resembling a brain – you were never made to pay more than you could actually afford, if you worked hard enough.

But the fucking Slayers were risking the complete destruction of his business! And coming in like this, during business hours and demanding information about a vampire that 'looked like Amy'. Which – what the hell?

“I don't even know what you're fucking talking about! There's a vampire that looks like her running around town?” Faith dropped him onto the ground, and Willy collapsed into a slump for a moment, before standing up and brushing himself off. “Just because you don't like the answer doesn't meant I have another one for you, Slayer.” 

The brunette glared at him, saying nothing. Then she turned around and looked at his assorted patrons – a half-dozen demons, two vampires and a human that Willy thought was an out of towner here to do some business with Rack.

Faith held up a photograph of Amy Madison's face. “There's a vampire in Sunnydale that looks like this. You see that vampire, or get any clue where she's hiding out, then you tell Willy. Then Willy tells me, and I don't burn this piece of shit hellhole to the ground.” Faith slapped the photo on the bar. “Are we are nice and crystal clear?” There was a muttered response from a one of the vamps. Faith pulled a stake from a pocket and had the vampire's head pinned against the table in a bit of a blur. Willy rolled his eyes a little and watched Faith press the stake to his back. “I said: Are we clear?”

That vampire – and the other vampire, and all the demons – all gave a sloppy chorus of 'yes's. Faith let the vampire go, but drove the stake into his heart as he started to sit back up.

“Slayer! Come on! That guy had a hundred bucks on his tab!”

“Oughta stop running tabs for vampires then, Willy. You never know who I'm going to dust next.” Faith was out of the bar, her slam of the door making a few cracks in the wall.

“Oh, come on!”

December 6th, 1999

Graveyard, Sunnydale

“You don't need to come out on patrol with me.” Faith said softly. “I can handle her if I see her again.”

“I'm not here because I don't think you can stake...Vamy.” Even though she'd agreed with Willow that it was a reasonable name to use to describe her vampiric 'twin', she still found it odd to say. With any luck, the other her wouldn't be around long enough for her to get used to saying it either. “I'm here because I want to help. And so that I can see for myself this bitch become dust.” And burn her to the ground if I get a chance before you stake her. Vamy had gotten close to killing Faith – closer than any vampire since Kakistos. Amy wanted her dead. Well, dust. And she wanted to be the one to do it.

Faith looked at her oddly a moment, and Amy's throat tightened for just a second, wondering what was going through the Slayer's head, before Faith turned her gaze back to their surroundings. “Well, unless we're lucky, I figure we're not going to find her soon. Your spell with Willow didn't work, Willy's got no fucking clue where she is, and we don't even know how Anyanka brought her here. So we couldn't just send her back to her universe to finish getting blasted by Post the same way, even if we wanted to.”

“I've been thinking about that part, actually, and I think it might have been the paper-cut.” At Faith's blank expression, Amy continued. “That piece of parchment she drew the picture of her amulet on – it had some blood along the edge. My blood – I remember getting a paper-cut on one of my sheets of parchment. Normally not a problem, even for the magic, but I'm wondering if my blood being on the paper screwed up the spell. Y'know, brought over the closest thing to me that other universe had to offer.”

“Isn't that a bit of a stretch?” 

Amy shook her head, then answered Faith's question. “I don't think so – I mean, blood magic is powerful magic. And I don't know exactly what spell she was trying to do, or if it would have even worked, but it's the best explanation I can come up with. Is it a good one? I don't know. But barring any other information...” Amy shrugged. “I'm curious, but it doesn't really matter. As long as we stop Anyanka from ever trying this crap again, it won't be a problem. As long as we get rid of Vamy... make sure she can't kill people – she's just like any other vamp.”

“No, she's not. She's got the magic. Most vamps don't.” Faith pointed out. “And...” She looked away, “and I couldn't stake her two nights ago. Whatever she does here, it's my fault.”

Amy shook her head, “No. You aren't responsible for anything she does. She is. She kills anyone – she's the one that does it.”

“You say it like it's that simple, Amy.” Faith replied. “She's still around 'cause I couldn't stake her! Because I thought she was you!” 

Before Amy could say anything more, they both heard a rustle nearby. Faith was immediately off in the direction of the sound. Amy stayed as close behind Faith as she could, but keeping up with Slayer speed was impossible for a normal human.

Maybe I can find a spell that will make me move faster. Amy put that thought aside. Right now, she was looking for a spell that could help with blunt force trauma. Amy had gotten extremely lucky that Faith hadn't hurt her more than a bruise and a bump on the head when she'd attacked her, thinking her to be 'Vamy'. If Faith had punched her, or hit a lot harder, or kicked her in the chest or stomach –

Amy didn't want to think about Faith hurting her like that – or really, having that kind of pain delivered on her at all – but it had been so close to happening. Amy didn't want to leave it to chance, if a vampire attacked her. Or some demon, or whatever.

Finding a spell that would work for her needs was easier said than done. Minor healing spells for bruises and broken bones were easy to find, though the really effective ones required significant prep time, so they couldn't be used in the middle of a fight or anything. But protective spells were usually of the 'don't get hit at all' variety – ways to make it harder for projectiles to actually connect with you, touching on all the little variables that effected bullets or whatever. Similar with attacks of a close-in nature. But that wasn't really what she was looking for. They could be useful too, but they only did so much – they didn't make you dodge every attack. Just made some of them miss. Some. Not all. And she was looking more for something she could cast into a protective charm she could wear around her neck. She'd been wanting to try making one for a while now, and this was a perfect excuse to practice and do something productive.

If it works, I can make one for Faith, and tell Willow how to make them too. Willow had won the most recent 'round' of their little rivalry, with the revelation of the website she ordered magical supplies from, and Amy was hoping to make sure she won the next. It was purely friendly, but Amy was pretty sure the competition had driven them both to be better and do better, to learn new spells faster than they otherwise might. And given what they faced here in Sunnydale, getting better was kind of a priority.

Of course, making a magical charm was difficult – especially one that was powerful enough to be useful. Well, or so all the books she'd read on the subject said, anyway.

When Amy caught up with Faith, she was engaged in a fight with two vampires. She was holding them both off without any difficulty, and after a moment, Amy realized that not only was that the case, but her friend was playing with them. Which was hardly surprising, really. Faith did it a lot. Not in the truly crisis situations, but this wasn't one of them.

Faith spun around, leveling a heavy kick into one of the vampires' chests, sending him flying back into a headstone and crashing through it to land on the ground, flat on his back. Idly, Amy wondered how much it cost to repair a tombstone, and just how well the tombstone industry did in Sunnydale.

Is there a tombstone industry? I mean, someone has to make them, right?

Regardless of the answer to that question, there was a lone vampire now some distance away from Faith, and still not on his feet. The perfect practice target for a fireball. She'd conjured a few, but never in a fight and they'd all been pretty small. Maybe not even large enough to actually torch a vampire. Amy held her right hand, open and out from her body, gathering magic in it just above her palm, starting to close her hand but stopping well before then. She focused her mind and her magic, offering a quick mental prayer to Hecate, then throwing her hand out towards the vampire.

For a split-second, fire appeared in her hand, then it immediately went out, leaving only smoke. Amy bit her lip against an outcry of frustration and pulled a stake from her pocket and sent it flying at the vampire, directing it into his heart as he started to stand up.

“I actually,” Faith said after a moment, grabbing onto the other vampire's head and bringing it smashing down on another tombstone, “wanted him 'alive' too, for the moment.” She dropped her dazed opponent. “You know, to ask questions, see if they knew anything about 'Vamy'.” It was the first time Faith had used that term, and it sounded even odder coming out of Faith's mouth than her own.

Despite herself, Amy felt her cheeks go slightly red in embarrassment. “Oops. Sorry.”

Faith shrugged, “One less vamp in the world. Works out.” She picked the dazed vampire up by the back of his neck and held up half-up, letting his legs drag on the ground. “Did you bring any holy water?” She asked.

Amy shook her head. “I brought a crucifix?” she offered. Affiliation with Hecate or not, she carried one of those around. Amy made a mental note – another one – to see if a symbol of her preferred Goddess worked on vampires anywhere near as well as a cross. I can test it out on Spike. Just a quick touch and see what happens. She took the wooden object out of her other pocket.

“That'll work.” Faith agreed. She slapped the vampire lightly, a way to get his attention. “Alright, buddy. Tonight might just be your lucky night. You answer my questions quickly and don't lie, I let you go with both your arms broken. You don't answer my questions, I shove that cross up your ass until you do answer my questions, and then I stake you. Capische?”

The vampire flinched, “Christ, Slayer, if you wanted questions answered you didn't need to fucking –” Faith slapped him again. “Yea, yea, yea, I get it!”

“Good.” Faith wrenched his head around so he could get a good look at Amy. “Now, that's a human. But there's a fucking vampire somewhere in Sunnydale that looks just like her. Maybe you've seen her? She might be wearing all red, short skirt, uses magic?”

“No, no, I ain't seen a vampire like –” Faith slammed his head onto the tombstone again and looked over to Amy.

“Hand me the cross.”

“Hey! Hey! I told you, I haven't seen a vamp that –” He then got a bit of a 'lightbulb moment' expression on his face. “Look, I ain't seen no vamp that looks like her, but earlier tonight there was this guy – he said he was working for this new vamp in town, one that had powerful magic and was going to take over Sunnydale. Tried to get me and my buddy to agree to come to this warehouse over near the docks tomorrow night.” He gave them a few more details about the warehouse. “That's all I know!”

Faith raised an eyebrow and looked over at Amy, then back at the vampire. “You might want to cancel any plans to go there.”

“I wasn't fucking planning on it! Hey, I know what happens to vampires that sign on with the wannabe 'Big Bads'. You fuckin' Slayers turn them all to dust. Or worse, one of the fucking nobodies that tag along with you –” Faith grabbed his right arm and snapped it, then repeated the action with the left.

“You answered the questions. You can go now.” Faith said. Silently, she nodded to Amy, who had retrieved her stake. Rather than using magic, the witch walked up to the vampire, who was still on the ground, moaning in pain and drove the stake into his heart through the back. “Oops. Too slow.”

“Does it bother you that you've got no problems with torturing vamps, and almost everyone else kind of has a problem with it?” Amy asked, curious. Because, to be honest, she had no issues with the idea either, and she wondered if that should bother her. I mean, torture is supposed to be bad, right?

“Not really. They're vampires. I'm not torturing them for fun – the fun is beating them up in a fight and dusting them.” Faith shrugged. “You?”

Amy shook her head. “I'm not sure. The whole idea doesn't matter much to me, but I wonder if I should worry.”

Faith shook her head, “Don't over-think it. Vamps are vamps.”

“That's true. Do you think he was talking about...the other me?” Amy was done calling her 'Vamy', at least for the moment.

“Could be. Only way to find out for sure would be to go there tomorrow night.” Faith said. “But I think we have time to check the place out now.”

“She probably won't be there.” Amy pointed out.

“Probably not, no.” Faith agreed. “But Wes is always going on about strategy and crap, and sometimes he's got a point on that.” Faith rolled her eyes. “I'm starting to not hate admitting he has a point. Sometimes. But scouting a place out and all that – not a bad idea.”

“No, it isn't.” Amy agreed with a nod.

December 7th, 1999

Private Room, Sunnydale Public Library

“Like we figured, the vampire me wasn't there. But in theory, if this is her that this vampire was talking about, she should be there tomorrow.” Amy said.

“With a bunch of other vampires.” Cordelia pointed out. “Why do the bad guys always have to outnumber the good guys, again?”

“I think it's just one of those cosmic rules, Cordy.” Xander replied. Which, as far as he could tell, was the case. Not that the bad guys always outnumbered the good guys – when Buffy had been...gone from Sunnydale the summer before last, the four of them that kept up the work of fighting vampires had gone for fresh rises – which was four on the one – three, when his girlfriend had been out of town – and if they were very unlucky, three or four on two, if the sire showed up before they could stake the fledgling and get the hell out of there. Sires seemed to only show up sometimes, though. At least in good old Sunnyhell.

These days, they were all better in a fight than they had been – Xander had picked up at least a basic understanding of how to use a sword, and while he had no illusions of being a master with it, against your average unarmed vamp? The fact of the matter was that vampires didn't usually know how to fight any more than the average person. Becoming a vamp meant becoming strong and fast and tough. Didn't come with knowledge how to use all that in a fight – some vampires worked to get better, but most, according to Wesley and Giles – and Buffy and Faith – just relied on their superior strength to win. Which against a Slayer that actually knew how to fight, was useless.

Cordelia had also made her own efforts to get better at fighting, which Xander completely supported. If he and Cordelia were ever both attacked by a vampire, he knew he'd put himself between that vampire and Cordelia, but not because he thought his girlfriend was helpless – but because that's what he would do, for her, for any of his friends. He wouldn't stand between a vamp and Buffy or Faith unless they were hurt or something, because he didn't want to get hurt himself when the Slayer took the vampire out.

While Xander didn't know if Oz had made any effort to get better in a fight, it seemed reasonable to assume that he had, and Willow, of course, was much stronger with the magics now. Add in two Slayers and Amy and her magic – and maybe Wesley and Giles, if they came along, though how useful Watcher 2.0 would actually be in a fight was hard to say. It had come up in passing – indirectly – that the guy was apparently pretty good with a crossbow.

Giles, though old, was good in a fight – and he'd taught Xander how to use a sword, and still had plenty more to teach him, when Xander could find the time.

So things were better now than they would have been two summers ago. Still, going up against a whole miniature army of vamps didn't sound like fun.

“So she has minions. Big whoop. Most wannabe Big Bads do.” Faith pointed out. “Why not a couple Molotov cocktails?” She looked over at Buffy, “Didn't you guys do that sort of thing where she came from?”

Buffy nodded. “We did. Which would be kind of the problem – the Amy vampire was there for that. She'd know to expect that. Besides, when you set fire to the building, it's a little harder to go in and dust the vampires that live in it.”

 

“We don't need to. Building will be on fire.” Xander pointed out. “Either the vampires put it out, they burn up inside the building, or they run out of the building and we can fight them that way.”

Buffy nodded. “Okay. But I don't think getting Molotov cocktails is exactly going to be that easy. It wasn't 'simple' in the other universe, but they had a lot of the materials on hand already. We don't. And we don't have time to get stuff like that ready, either. If we want to get her there, when we know she's going to be there, then we have to do it tonight.”

“I, ah – I hate to spoil the mood here, even a little,” Giles said carefully, pushing his glasses up his nose a little. “But we don't know if it is in fact the uhm, additional, vampiric Amy Madison that is scheduled to be there.”

Buffy shrugged, “If it isn't, then it's some other vampire that wants to become the next Big Bad. I'm all for stopping that from happening by taking her out before she really gets going.” 

Xander nodded in agreement, and watched the rest of them do much the same thing. Except for Willow, who was just sort of sitting there, nervously, fidgeting. Is something – what's up with Willow? He looked over to Oz, who, as usual, was impossible to read. He did have one hand gently on Willow's shoulder, however, so he was also noticing something was bothering her.

“Something occurring.” Oz said, “Tonight is the first night of the full moon this month.” Xander hadn't realized that, but then, he didn't have to keep close watch on that detail; whereas for Oz, keeping track of that was kind of critical. “So, I can't be there – I've got to be in a cage.”

“And,” Willow added, her voice unusually soft, even for her, “I can't go because I need to watch him.” Out of the corner of his eye, Xander saw Faith drop her forehead into the heel of her palm for a moment.

“Willow – we're going to need your help.” Buffy pointed out. “Your magic –”

“I know.” Willow agreed immediately, “But someone needs to watch Oz, and so that's where I need to be.”

Giles cleared his throat, “Well, err, I would be willing to –”

“No, no, Red's right.” Faith interrupted. “She's the one who usually watches Wolf Boy. She's the one who knows how to handle him best. And like Red said, someone has to keep an eye on him. Can't have him running around Sunnydale peeing on fire-hydrants and whatever,” She smirked, looking over at Oz, who seemed to be taking her side-comment in stride – like he took everything in stride – “and...potentially killing people. Yea, we could use her help; but she's right to wanna be prioritizing her guy first.”

“I'm sorry.” Willow told them. “It's not like I want to – but...”

“No, Faith's right that you're right.” Buffy conceded. She took a breath and looked around, “Okay, so...we're going to try for burning the building down? I have to admit, I'm not so happy about the idea of starting a slippery slope to becoming an arsonist.” 

Okay, there's a point, Xander admitted.

“Do you have any better ideas?” Cordelia asked. “Personally, I don't want to go up against vamps outnumbered. Fire seems like a good idea for evening the odds.” 

And there's another point.

“Let's keep in mind that however much this vampire – let's assume it's 'Vamy' for the sake of argument,” Buffy started, “wants to have an army, she's not going to be able to get that many minions. These soldier-boys that we still don't know enough about have been capturing vampires for a while now – so the pickings are kinda slim, in the vampire department, between us and these other guys. I'm not saying we won't be outnumbered, but it won't be as bad as it might have been in the past, or as bad as it was in say... her universe.” Buffy shook her head. “Now that was outnumbered.”

“It's a good point.” Amy agreed, “But I think I like the idea of at least trying to burn a few out before we go after them. And as far as burning the building down goes –” Amy shook her head, “I think that the other me is going to know at least a one spell for dealing with fire – I can pull water vapor out of the air to put out small ones, for example, and there have to be other ways to deal with fire with magic. And a vampire would have every incentive to learn them. I don't think we can just throw the Molotov cocktails or whatever in through the windows and hope we catch the vampires in the blaze. We'll need to throw them at the vampires and burn them directly. It'll help even the odds, but –” Amy shook her head, “If I could just get throwing fireballs right, we'd have something. Still not there yet.” Xander couldn't help but hear the note of self-recrimination in Amy's tone.

“Fireballs or not, you're gonna be useful in the fighting, Amy.” Faith replied.

“How many points of ingress and egress does the warehouse have?” Wesley asked after a moment. “If we're going to attack it, we need to know these details.”

December 7th, 1999

Warehouse, Sunnydale

This was not how it was supposed to go!

Amy swore to herself – the fucking Slayers weren't supposed to be here, the fucking Slayers weren't supposed to be plowing through the few minions she'd managed to cobble together! Harmony had proved to be about as useless as she'd always been in life, getting herself staked by the dark-haired Slayer – Faith – pretty early in the fight.

Right now there were just nine left. Xander and Cordelia between them were managing to hold one at bay, Buffy had three and Faith had two. The two men Amy recognized as Wesley and Giles – and wasn't that odd, seeing the dead guy and his replacement having functional legs and seeing them together – had crossbows, but neither of them had any good shots on the remaining vamps. Her other three minions were, like idiots, hanging back to see the outcome of the fighting. I said attack them all at once! They were all useless. Useless. Useless fucking idiots. I need a better class of minion. If I can't find them among the vampires here, I'll need to fucking turn them myself.

What Amy wasn't seeing right now, though, was the human her. She'd seen her early in the fight, using magic to move a stake around into a vamp, tossing a few around – it had been easy to tell that while the her here was powerful, she had limits to that power.

Limits I don't have. It was something she'd learned early in being a vampire – she could draw on the blood she fed on to fuel her magic. Vampires only needed to feed so often, and while vamps often liked to feed more than they needed to, Amy fed as often as she could, and had especially over the last few nights. Her reserves of magic had been empty, and the way to solve that problem, to bolster her magic, was to feed. Feed and feed and feed. It had involved a hell of a lot more 'attack and feed' than she wanted, and the unpleasant taste of fear was still stuck to her tongue, but Amy could live with that.

Amy turned away from the edge of the catwalk she was on. This was an unmitigated disaster. Her minions were gone, and the Slayers would be coming for her next. Sunnydale was supposed to be hers! This town is supposed to be mine! It will be mine!

Inhaling sharply, Amy realized that she could deal with at least one of them now. Turning back to watch the fighting, Amy gathered green energy in one hand, pulling her hand back and throwing it down at the blonde Slayer. She was already gathering more even as she threw it, which turned out to be a good idea, as Buffy moved at just the right moment, one of the vampires coming after her – and taking the full force of her spell – the eldritch energy washed over him, bubbling his skin. It wasn't enough to kill him – the acidic mystical energy hadn't burned through to his heart – but it did leave him incapacitated. And even more useless.

Before she could throw the second energy ball, though, she heard footsteps on the catwalk. Snarling, Amy turned.

And came face to face with herself.

Well. Well.

December 7th, 1999

Warehouse, Sunnydale

Amy's breath caught in her throat. She'd known the vampire looked like her – was her – but still, seeing her face... it was like looking in a mirror. At least until you got past the face to the outfit. There was a tiny twinge of jealousy – she's confident enough to wear that thing? – but only a tiny twinge. If being that confident took becoming a vampire... no, thank you.

Besides, that skirt really was insanely short.

“So. I was wondering if I'd get to have a personal showdown with you.” The vampire said, laughing. “I've been wondering what my own blood will taste like too. I guess I'll get to find out!” Amy watched as the other her threw a ball of green energy from her hand at her. Reacting, Amy thrust out her hands, a wave of force sending the ball flying off to the side, digging into and then through the wall, like a knife through warm butter.

Holyfuckingshit! That was power. That was real power.

“I think I like my blood inside my neck, thank you very much.” Amy replied, trying to throw up a sense of false bravado. “And inside the rest of me, really.”

The other her just laughed. “I can smell your fear. There's not much of it, sure, but it's there. And really, you have the nerve to try and use magic against me? I can outcast you any day of the week!” And Amy watched, as if in slow motion, as the other her thrust out her hand and pure force flew out, punching into her with more energy than Amy had ever been able to use –

She felt herself get lifted up and off the catwalk, flying straight backwards until she crashed into a pillar. She collapsed onto the catwalk, in too much pain to even think about trying to get up.

“In case you're wondering,” the vampire her said, walking towards her calmly, “your bones probably aren't broken. I'm quite good at making sure that doesn't happen, when I don't want it to. And I don't want to drink from a boneless meat bag.”

Amy tried desperately to pull herself to her feet – maybe no bones were broken, but she fucking felt like they were. Amy didn't even manage to get to sit up before the vampire was on her, pulling her up by the front of her shirt.

“You know, I sometimes wondered if I'd have stayed as pathetic as I always was before I got turned. I guess the answer is I got even more pathetic. Still have nightmares about Mommy dearest? She's stuck in that trophy. There's no fucking reason to be –”

Of course there was every reason to be terrified of her! We lived through that!

“I don't have nightmares about her.” Amy managed to get out, interrupting the vampire's evil monologue. Which was, sort of, a lie. She did have the occasional nightmare about her mom, but a lot less than she used to. And most of them centered on her mother's death rather than the woman herself. “I killed her.”

The vampire blinked and looked at her, then shook her head and looked at her again. “Wait, seriously? You killed her? Killed her, as in killed her dead?'

“Heart exploded out of her chest dead.” Amy mustered up what little bravado she could. Still couldn't stop the pain she was feeling from coming through, or completely eliminate the waver in her voice. She was scared, she was in pain, and – and – she wasn't actually proud that she'd killed her mother. She was – Amy didn't know what the hell she was trying to do.

December 7th, 1999

Warehouse, Sunnydale

“Well, I guess I can't risk letting you do that to me.” Amy told the mortal her. Admittedly, her respect for the sniveling human went up a few notches, but still. Sniveling human. Weak. Amy grabbed onto both of the witch's hands, holding the wrists tight. “I kind of like my heart staying in my chest.” She saw a very slight – and almost suppressed in time – look of recognition on her human clone's face and heard footsteps behind her. Amateurs. “After all, it has to stay there for me to stay among the unliving.” Amy pulled the human to her, back to her front, her neck exposed, hands still held tight and spun around to look at the dark haired Slayer.

 

“Wouldn't you agree, Faith?”

December 7th, 1999

Warehouse, Sunnydale

“I don't really like your heart in your chest.” Faith replied, stake in hand. “Let her go.”

“Now why should I do that?” The vampire replied – it was so... it was so fucking wrong to hear that bitch using Amy's voice, looking like her best friend – she wasn't Amy. Not the Amy Faith knew. Not the Amy that was her friend, had been there for her after she'd killed Finch, who trusted her with her life and who she trusted with her life.

It was just some sick copy. Some sick, soulless, evil doppelganger. It wasn't her.

“Now why would I do that?” The vampire repeated, “I let her go, you're free to stake me. Now drop the stake.”

“I drop the stake, you kill her.” Faith pointed out. With both her hands held, Amy couldn't even try any sort of spell to get herself out of this. Faith had only one chance – she had to knock the vamp away from Amy and stake her – at least get the evil bitch away from her friend.

The vampire pursed her lips, tightening her grip on Amy's wrists as the human struggled. “Stop that.” Amy let out a small whimper of pain at the force of the grab that almost made Faith wince. “You might have a point. But I can still kill her like this, even if you don't drop the stake.”

An angry cry ripping from her throat, Faith lunged at the two Amys moving as quickly as she could – putting on every bit of speed she could. It was just enough – barely – and she pushed both the human and the vampire to the ground. She'd collided with the vampire's exposed side, but that one had taken the human down with her. Not giving her a chance to recover, Faith punched the vampire in the face, which was enough for the human to break free from the vamp's grip and scramble – as best she could – away from the combating Slayer and Vampire.

But they weren't fighting for long. Faith punched the vampire in the face again, and she missed seeing the green energy coalescing in her hand almost until it was too late.

“Faith!” Amy cried out, both hands on the railing as she pulled herself to her feet and used it to for support.

The Slayer turned her head just a touch and saw the green energy in the process. Scrambling back, Faith dodged the blast, which hit the ceiling and carried on through it.

“ Goddamnit, Slayer!” The vampire snarled as she got to her feet. “You really think you can stop me?” The vampire was on her feet, green energy in both of her hands – she flung it, but not at them – but at the supports keeping the catwalk up. Two came completely free from the ceiling, and then Vampire Amy moved away quickly, summoning more and hitting another two – which seemed to be enough for some of the catwalk, which began to swing and then snap free in a few place. The whole thing might fall if the vampire kept at it – which she fucking was.

“Let's go!” Faith grabbed Amy and started half-carrying her, running along the catwalk, the side that the vampire wasn't destroying. They reached the ladder down, and Faith put Amy on it as the catwalk snapped in two and whole sections of it fell down, creating two very steep ramps. Faith just jumped down and rolled as she landed. Maybe a few bruises, but Faith had plenty of experience with falling down.

She was on the ground before Amy got to the bottom of the ladder. She looked over in the direction that the vampire had been running – no sign of her. But there was a broken window on that upper level. Faith spared a glance for the ongoing fight. There were two vampires left, and both were fighting Buffy, who had the sitch in hand. Xander and Queen C were done with the fighting – Xander had lost hold of his sword into the fight, though it seemed like he'd been okay with it from what she saw, and both them looked like they were barely standing at the moment. The Watchers were more intact, but the issue of firing a crossbow into a close-quarters fight remained. Faith looked to Amy, who had finally gotten to the bottom.

“How you managing?”

“Every inch of me hurts.” Amy started, holding onto the ladder for support. “But I'm seeing this through.” She stepped away from the ladder, starting to stumbled, but stopping herself. “You need my help if you're going to take her on.”

Not if it means you getting hurt. “If you can't do this –”

“I can,” her friend insisted, and Faith nodded. “Alright. Take the Watchers and go around. I don't want this bitch to escape, and have to do this all over again another night.”

“You and me both.” Amy agreed.

December 7th, 1999

Outside the Warehouse, Sunnydale

I haven't run. Amy had no intention of running. Sunnydale was going to be her town! And she couldn't win if she just ran. She couldn't take on the whole lot of them. Fine. But she could still kill Faith and the local version of herself.

Then I can find Willow wherever the hell that redheaded little bitch is – and show her that I really am the more powerful fucking witch.

She hadn't stayed still after jumping through the window – a bit of magic and she'd landed softly on her feet, and she was already going around. Faith would chase her, and she could take her own on ground of her own choosing.

She hadn't expected to see the other her, that useless human, and the two Watchers. Maybe I can put that one back into a wheelchair. It suits him. She hadn't seen Balthazar torture the man, but she'd heard about it – supposedly, it had been good fun. Now I get to have all the fun when I crush his kneecaps. But first... she needed them out of the way, and killing them would take too long.

If she was a weaker spellcaster, she'd need some sand for this; but still filled with blood and power as she was, Amy didn't need anything like that for a minor spell like this one. Without a sound, Amy jumped the distance to land right in front of the three of them, holding her hands out and in front of the two Watchers, she chanted some Latin and watched with satisfaction as they both slumped to the ground.

December 7th, 1999

Outside the Warehouse, Sunnydale

One second the two Watchers were there, the next they were on the ground, and standing right in front of Amy was... Amy.

It took everything Amy Madison had to not take a step back in fear at the sight of her vampire doppelganger – Fuck it, she's Vamy again – standing right in front of her.

“So, where were we?” Vamy replied with a smirk that sent a shiver down Amy's spine. “Oh yea. Killing you. I'm going to kill you, and then I'm going to kill Faith.”

Rage and fear and her feelings for Faith boiled up inside her and Amy thrust out both of her hands, trying to send Vamy flying back – the vampire was pushed back a few steps, sliding across the ground, but only that, as she put up both of her own hands and blocked the telekinetic blast.

“Compared to the Glove of Myneghon, that was nothing. You really are pathetic, aren't you?” Vamy laughed.

 

“I won't let you hurt Faith.” Amy ground out. She thrust out her hand, gathering magic, fire – and again, the fire sputtered out and she was left with smoke – and greeted with laughter.

“Oh my dark and pestilent gods, but you really are just too damn pathetic. I'm almost inclined to leave you alive! But I can't have you interrupting my fight with the Slayer.” Vamy called up two orbs of the green energy – Amy dove down, sending a wave of force at one, and watching the other pass harmlessly overhead.

“You can't keep this up for long. And I really don't need magic to kill you. It's just more fun.” Vamy lunged at her, and Amy once again found herself held up by the front of her shirt – then the hand went around her neck, holding tight – not enough to choke, but – her airways were tightening anyway in involuntary fear. “But maybe I should kill Faith first, it if upsets you that much. I would think I'd have better taste in friends, even as a human, than to be friend with her –” 

Vamy looked at her, blinked, sniffed and then made a gagging, disgusted sound. “Really? Good God, woman, I really thought I'd have better taste! Not only am I apparently gay here, but I want a fucking Slayer?

I'm not gay. I'm just Faith-sexual. “Shut the fuck up!” It was hard to get that out, and her words were fairly quiet, but she got them out. Amy could only hope Faith hadn't heard any of that – she couldn't – she couldn't risk it.

“Oh, this is just too much fun – if so completely –” Vamy shook her head. “Yep. You're definitely watching me kill Faith.” Vamy dropped her to the ground. “But since I can't have you trying to stop me, I'll make sure you're only around to see the encore.” She waved her hand, murmuring a spell in Ancient Greek. Everything went black.

December 7th, 1999

Outside the Warehouse, Sunnydale

She'll be out for a few minutes. More than enough time. It was time to use everything she had to end this. Faith the Vampire Slayer was going to die.

December 7th, 1999

Outside the Warehouse, Sunnydale

The entire world came rushing back to Amy in a blurring roar – it was as if she'd been deaf for a moment, then everything came back – but for all her senses.

It didn't take her but a second to realize where she was, what had happened. Oh goddess – Faith! Amy leapt to her feet – well, no, she grabbed onto a trashcan and used that to leverage herself to her feet, her legs shaking.

I guess that bitch really was right. I didn't break anything. Still fucking hurt like she had, but pain wasn't going to stop her. Faith's life was –

Goddess. No. No. No. Faith was going to live. She'd probably already staked Vamy.

Moving as quickly as she could – which wasn't as quick as she'd like – Amy went in the direction Faith should be. The direction Vamy had gone – she thought.

I can't be wrong –

Amy ventured around the building's corner... 

The vampire her was there, Faith was there –

Faith was pinned against the wall, one of Vamy' hands outstretched, holding her there. Part of the left shoulder was hurt, showing signs of burns or damage – She'd been hit!

“I'll admit, you put up a nice fight. If I hadn't been as careful – well, no, you still wouldn't have beaten me.” Vamy was doing a villain gloat. Every fucking vampire did. Amy spared a moment to give thanks to Hecate and all the other gods above for vampiric ego.

“God, you love the sound of your own voice.” Faith spat, even as she struggled against Vamy's magic. “Kill me and be done with it, bitch.”

“With pleasure.” With her free hand, Vamy started to gather more of the green energy. “This one you're not going to be able to dodge. You know, I've heard that getting this to your chest hurts as much as a stake in the heart. I suppose I'll never find out how it feels either way. But maybe you can ask the vampires you meet in hell for me?” The green energy was continuing to grow. The vampire her was pulling out all the stops.

No!

There was no time to get to her. No time to send a stake. If she even had one on her. She didn't.

Amy had only one thing she knew could do the job. But she couldn't. She had to. She had to. This had to work.

Goddess, this has to work -

Amy's hand was out and she gathered her magic, putting everything she had into it. Goddess Hecate, hear me. Help me do this – let me save Faith and I'll accept you as my patron. Amy had no idea if it would work – no idea if Hecate could help her, if Hecate would help her, but if she could save Faith, it was worth it. Accepting a patron goddess, to serve a higher being to the exclusion of all others, to tie yourselves to them – it was worth it, if she could save Faith.

Amy felt the fire form in her hand, more fire than she'd ever thrown in practicing the spell – not more than she needed, though. Letting out a cry, Amy threw the fire, watching it fly to the vampire – watching the vampire turn her head, ever so slightly, see the fireball coming in – coming in too fast – and it connected with Vamy, setting her on fire.

As it hit her, three things happened, but they all happened so quickly that Amy barely registered them happening. 

Vamy's spell holding Faith against the building faltered as the fire hit her, Faith dove away from the building – and the ball of green energy connected with the building where Faith had just been. It exploded in a shower of oily smoke and green light – blurring Faith from view, as Vamy started to scream in furious pain once the fire overtook her.

Amy's throat caught as she ran – and this time she did run, ignoring everything else – for Faith.

She has to be – she has to be alive!

Amy paid no attention as the vampire version of her was finally eliminated, her blazing form collapsing into ash and dust – and then saw Faith there, picking herself up off the ground. Splashed a little by the acidic magic, but alive, and mostly unhurt.

“Faith!” Amy dropped to her knees and put her arms around her friend. Around her crush. Faith had almost died – for the split second between the fireball and seeing her – Amy had thought she had died...

“You're alive! Oh Goddess, I – you're alive, you're alive, you're alive!”

December 7th, 1999

Faith's Apartment, Sunnydale

Vampire Amy's death had capped off a successful night – if a painful one. Buffy had her share of bruises and what thought might be a small fracture on her left arm, Xander and Cordelia had their cuts and bruises and had barely been able to stumble to her car and drive off, so completely exhausted were they.

Getting to her own apartment hadn't been easy, but it had been a lot easier for her, shoulder aside, than for Amy. At least her injury – the big one, anyway – had been bandaged by the first aid kit Wes had brought with him. Amy's injuries were all blunt force trauma, but nothing that needed a cast or anything. And Faith had Slayer healing. Amy didn't.

But Amy had refused to leave her side, and Faith didn't force the issue. After everything that had happened the last few days, the close calls they'd both had – repeatedly – Faith had no problem with her friend sticking close to her.

She'd thought her friend was handling it – at least, keeping it together – but as it turned out... not so much.

I didn't really keep it together that well myself a couple days ago... And Amy had always been, still was, a whole lot more wound tight than he was. Less now than when the Mayor had been fucking with her, but – still. Wound tight.

Amy had just about fallen sitting onto the couch, unable to keep standing as she started to breathe in and out quickly. Faith sat on the couch next to her.

“Amy – it's fine. Take a deep breath. She's gone, I'm alive, and so are you. It's a win-win situation.”

“I almost – you almost – you almost died!” Amy managed to get out between short, sharp breaths that only increased in frequency. She started to rock a little back and forth, wrapping her arms tightly around herself. “I thought – Goddess, for a second –” Amy broke down, tears starting to form in her eyes. “I thought you were dead! I thought I'd lost you!” Faith looked at her friend – her hyperventilating, crying friend – and gently reached out for Amy's shoulder. She sucked at comforting, but Amy needed what little she could do on that front. Amy was there for her, she'd be there for Amy.

“But I didn't die. I'm fine.” She gestured at her hurt shoulder with her free hand. “Okay, mostly.” Not sure what to do, she moved her hand on Amy's shoulder a little. “It's okay. We made it –”

Amy rose to her feet, “No! It's not okay! You almost died, and it was my fault – if I had just- If I'd been able to summon a fireball sooner, if I'd been able to – if I could have stopped her – you wouldn't have been hurt,” Amy continued to hyperventilate, the tears coming freely. “I almost lost you, Faith!” She turned to her, looking Faith in the eyes – it was hard to see Amy's eyes through all those tears. “I can't lose you – I can't.” Amy's expression – she looked so lost and broken at the very idea of her dying.

Yeah, but it's gonna happen eventually one way or the other. I'm a Slayer, so I'll be lucky to make it anywhere near twenty-five. Of course, Faith knew now wasn't the time to bring that up...

Faith stood up, keeping her hand on Amy's shoulder as her friend went completely incoherent, now breathing so shallow and fast and –

“Amy. Amy. I'm alive, I'm fine, and it isn't your fault. It's just her fault. And she's not you.” Amy was trying to say something, but she couldn't.

What the hell am I supposed to say here? Faith had no idea – no idea how to help her friend, and hurt to see her friend falling apart like this. 

Lacking any other option, any other idea – Faith just went with instinct. She wrapped her arms around Amy's torso, holding her friend close against her, feeling tears end up in her top. But after a minute of the hugging – which Faith wasn't – wasn't remotely used to, or really...

Faith didn't do hugs. Not usually. But she could – would – for Amy.

Amy's breathing was still shallow, tears were still coming out of her eyes, but she was doing better after a minute of – a minute of the hug. Her friend looked at her, her teary eyes meeting hers, their eyes just about level with each other, given Faith's boots. Amy's eyes were wide, and it seemed like she was searching Faith's gaze for something. Amy sucked in a deep breath of air, clearly trying to get herself under control -

Then, before Faith even realized it was happening, Amy's lips were on hers.

It wasn't some gentle, light kiss or anything. It was deep, powerful and – damn! Faith's brain shut down for about a second. Only a second, though. 

I didn't think – Amy swings that way? Okay, Faith had always gone with what felt good, and she'd had sex with both sides of the fence plenty of times. She'd thought Amy was a good-looking woman – had told her as much – but hadn't even thought about her friend like that. She'd assumed Amy was straight, that whole 'checking me out' thing aside (she'd been checked out by girls she knew were straight, after all).

She'd never have thought of doing this otherwise, but Faith's philosophy was, if it feels good, go for it. And kissing Amy was feeling good. Sliding her arms down Amy's torso, Faith grabbed the witch's ass – Amy jolted a moment, pulling back from the kiss, looking completely taken by surprise, but then –

Then there was a smile on Amy's face, and Amy's arms were going around her, holding onto her shoulders almost as if for dear life, and then they were kissing all over again.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I don't own it. We've gone off track here so much – do I look like Mr. Whedon? I'm not that good a writer.

Thanks to Starway Man, my beta-reader and Deiticlast, my creative consultant. But I've made changes since I got it back from them, so all mistakes and issues are mine.

Note: Further thanks to my financial backers, caffeine and cheap caffeine; my production manager, insomnia; and my writing staff: Workplace boredom, Rampant plot bunnies and even more caffeine. Without them, we wouldn't be here. But mostly, the thanks are to Starway Man and Deiticlast.

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Episode 10: Ashes

December 8th, 1999

Oz's Crypt, Sunnydale

When Willow woke up, it took her a moment to realize where she was. What she noticed first – and let out a small happy hum when she noticed it, like she usually did – was that she was pressed up against her boyfriend – and yes, they were both naked, but it wasn't like anyone was –

This isn't Oz's room. This wasn't even her bed in the dorm she shared with Buffy that she only used, like, one night out of three; if that much. This was -

This was –

This was the cage Oz had created, within that abandoned crypt.

Memories of her last conscious experiences and thoughts came back to her in a rush, as Willow finally opened her eyes and blinked against the sunlight.

Locking herself and Oz into the cage and then undressing, like Oz himself had done time and again, with this cage and others, ever since he'd become a werewolf. Watching the full moon rise through the little, barred, window of the jail cell. Feeling spasms of pain as her – well, her bones had to have had some serious alterations for her to turn into a werewolf, same as Oz had to have – and then watching her nails grow into the beginnings of claws, and the tufts of coarse red fur growing on her arms -

After that, thankfully, Willow didn't remember a thing. She'd been freaking too much by that point to really want to remember how she'd freak even more, as the rest of the changes happened. Obviously, at some point in the process, she'd given over to the wolf entirely.

And now – now she'd have the same thing inside her as Oz had had for nearly two years now. That something, deep and dark inside him. The thing he had to fight against – that he couldn't control. She'd have it now.

As part of her mind was desperately trying to process all this – and quickly – she noticed another thing, about the way her body was feeling. Namely, the sort of lazy, contented, warm feeling she had every time she woke up after having had sex with her boyfriend the night before.

Holy crap! We had- last night – as wolves?!

Okay, so that feeling alone wasn't exactly proof, sure – but –

Oz said the wolf wanted a mate – and it chose me, because I'm the one Oz wanted. So, of course it made sense that – that they'd have... that they'd... 'mate' while they were both werewolves. And the Wolf was mostly a creature of pure instinct – it was a creature that existed to act on its primal urges and desires, according to all the reading she'd done since the morning she'd woken up to find that Oz had bitten her. 

So...they'd had sex last night. Without protection.

Never before in her life had Willow been quite so happy that she was on the pill. They normally used more protection than that, even if they were both clean, but still –

Willow forced herself to sit up as she felt Oz stirring beside her. Even if no one was around – and there was no one else around. She couldn't hear anyone else, or smell anyone else. And that was still –

Her senses seemed even sharper now than they had been before – or maybe she could just...process the information she was getting from them better. Willow really had no idea. As far as she knew, there weren't really words for a lot of this stuff. Because it wasn't really a 'human' frame of reference.

Willow shook her head. She'd understand all this. She'd have to.

The redhead looked at the cage door, and then –

And then it really sank in.

She'd transformed last night. She'd been a werewolf.

She was really – she really was a werewolf now. Fur, full moon, transforming, everything. Just like Oz was.

She'd already known this was real, but – on a gut level –

Actually transforming, even what little she could remember of it... it brought everything home, hard. Willow let out a small gasp and forced herself to not breathe for a moment, then she sucked in a deep and slow breath.

I've done enough freaking – this happened. It is what it is. I knew this was happening. I'm going to deal with it, darn it! Though there was no one awake to use it on, Willow put on her 'resolve face' for a moment, taking another deep breath. She looked at the cage bars again, and then the door. Everything seemed to be in place. So they hadn't broken out last night, even without someone to watch over them. That was – that was good.

Of course, the reason why no one had been around to watch the cage came back to her mind right then. The vampire Amy – had she been dealt with? Had everyone come out of it okay? No one was dead, hopefully –

Oh god. What if someone got – someone got hurt because I wasn't there to help? Now Willow really did start to hyperventilate. It wasn't a very severe case, but it was a thing and it was happening. And it had apparently been loud enough to wake Oz, who stirred and rolled over a little, looking up at Willow. She barely noticed the slight smile that initially appeared on his face, but he obviously noticed the way she was breathing too shallow, too fast.

“Willow.” Oz sat up himself, putting a hand on her shoulder. “It's alright. It's done. I'm here. You're here.” He looked at the cage, blinking at the light and blinking away sleep. Willow felt him put his arms around her, and she forced herself to take a deep breath.

“Yeah, it's not that –” Willow shook her head, “No, it is that too. But – everyone else went after Vampire Amy last night. If I could have been there – I could have helped. If someone got hurt because I wasn't –” 

Oz interrupted her babbling with a quick kiss, then pulled back, one hand lightly on the side of her face. “They'll be fine. They're – they're good at what they do,” he said softly. “And if –” He looked away. “If someone did get hurt because you weren't there, then it's my fault. Not yours.” His hand fell away from her face, and he started to pull away.

Oh no you don't, buster! Willow grabbed onto his arm and pulled him back, putting her other hand on his shoulder. “No! You don't get to blame yourself anymore. You didn't choose to bite me, Oz. We've done this.” Willow took a breath. “It happened. I'm a werewolf now. And you're a werewolf, and we're still together, and that's not going to change. I love you.”

“I love you too.” Oz murmured back. He took a breath of his own, and then Willow gave him a quick kiss before pulling back. 

“Now that –” She took a breath, “Now that it's time... uh, we need to tell everyone. I mean, Faith already knows, but –” Willow took another deep breath. “It's just – I don't know if... I want to tell everyone – I mean...not all of 'em at once. And –” She shook her head. “It's going to be hard enough to –” She bit her lip, “Well, I don't know if you being there will help...”

Buffy and Xander were not going to take this well. Giles – he wouldn't like it either, but she didn't think his reaction would be quite so... potentially violent? She'd have to tell Amy at some point  too, and she supposed it was something Wesley needed to know. Telling Xander was basically the same as telling Cordelia, even if her oldest friend's girlfriend wasn't there for the conversation.

She'd get a little tired of telling everyone the same thing after the first two, she already knew that, but it still... she'd rather not have to face the... inquisition of everyone all at once. Even if Faith already knew... the dark-haired Slayer couldn't actually let anyone know that, because then the real truth would come out. And while her best friends would handle this news badly, they'd handle the truth even worse.

Hey, if Oz was there, in the room –

It wasn't that she truly believed that either Buffy or Xander would attempt to kill her boyfriend. Sure, Xander might make a death threat or two. But... they would be pissed as hell at him... and probably attack him on instinct. And Oz would think he deserved it, more or less. Yes, it was his 'fault' that she was a werewolf, but he didn't deserve to be beaten up or get hit over it. It just –

Hitting Oz would help no one, and she didn't want to see the man she loved getting hurt.

“At least... at least not when I tell Buffy and Xander.” She finished her previous sentence.

“I...” Oz trailed off, then added, “You're probably right.” He looked at her arm, “We'll...we'll need to put some kind of bandage on that, or something. To make it look like, like I bit you there. And –” He paused, “You're going to need to skip class.”

“What!? No, I can't –” she automatically protested. 

“Willow, if this had really happened, the cover story we're going to give everyone – well, apart from Faith – don't you think you'd skip class while trying to deal with everything?” Oz asked softly. “Not necessarily intentionally, but –”

“I wouldn't skip class! That's – that's just wrong!” It was a fainter protest this time, though. It wasn't like she hadn't had to do it before, since meeting Buffy and finding out the truth about Sunnydale. Not often, but it had happened. The idea even now gave her a kind of sick, unpleasant feeling – not a very strong one, granted, but still –

“It has happened before.” Oz pointed out. “And this- this would be... this is pretty major.” Despite herself, Willow nodded. “And we need the time to...well, get our story straight.”

That we... well, yeah, we definitely do. She knew they should have done this already. But she'd... well, she'd avoided it. Even though this whole thing had been her idea in the first place. 

Willow groaned. Time to finally face the music.

December 8 th , 1999

Faith's Apartment, Sunnydale

Amy didn't want to wake up. The dream – of her, of Faith, of the two of them together – was just too good. She wanted to stay in bed and imagine it was the reality.

But the sun was clawing at her eyelids, and she was – well, she was awake now. So after a moment, Amy opened her eyes, blinking against the light that was coming in through the window.

A window that wasn't the window in her dorm. 

And that was when she realized that the bed she was lying on wasn't her bed. And – and then she realized there was a warm, female and very naked body pressed up against her back. Faith's body. The Slayer was close enough for her exhalations to tickle across the back of Amy's neck, and one of her arms was kind of lazily draped on her left side.

Unwilling to believe it, knowing she had to be still dreaming, Amy moved a little and slapped her forehead lightly. It hurt. She pinched herself. That hurt. Shifting just a little, she moved her head back as far as it could go and -

Oh Goddess, it really is her.

It wasn't a dream. This was Faith's bedroom. This was Faith's bed, and that really was Faith there – naked, her body pressed up against her own...equally naked body.

She really had kissed Faith last night, Faith really had kissed her back last night, and one thing really had led to another last night. She hadn't – she hadn't intended...hadn't intended to have sex with Faith when she'd kissed her last night. Hadn't even really intended to kiss her. Just... nearly losing her, having her so close like that – the swirl of emotions, after everything that had happened... it had just sort of happened. When she'd realized what she was doing, she'd been so terrified of Faith's reaction – but her terror had only lasted for a split second, because then Faith had kissed her back and then...

It had all happened so quickly. Well, the lead up. The sex itself-

We really did have sex last night. I really had sex with Faith last night.

Amy had been dreaming about it over and over again, almost constantly. Of her first time with Faith – her first time actually having sex with anyone, as it turned out, now – and...

Oh dear Goddess. None of the dreams had been anywhere near as good as last night had been. It had been – it had been more than good. Because it was with Faith. Because she'd admitted her feelings to Faith and against all her fears and expectations, Faith returned them. Faith hadn't rejected her. 

Amy moved a little, slowly, carefully, ending up on her back and sitting up just a touch. She didn't want to jostle Faith, and she didn't want to fall out of the bed that was really too small for two people. Still, she kinda sorta managed it, and then looked down over at her sleeping best friend/crush. Well, she's not just a crush now, since... since – wait, what exactly are we now?

Only in her most impossible hopes and fantasies had Amy entertained the possibility that Faith could return her feelings. That Faith would ever be more than friends with her – that friendship alone was of immense importance to her, and Amy had valued it and would continue to value it. But she had never dared to think it actually possible that Faith would return her affections, that she could ever be more with the Slayer. Once she'd dared to admit her own crush to herself, she'd prepared herself for...

For it never happening. For nothing ever coming of it. She'd 'known' that she couldn't let Faith know how she felt. She'd 'known' that Faith would reject her and it would ruin their friendship. If she'd been thinking straight at all, she wouldn't have kissed Faith last night.

This was one of those times when she was – well, she was very happy she hadn't been thinking straight. Another one, as much as it been a traumatic experience and had had so many problems come with it afterwards, was when she'd taken that spell provided to her to kill her mother. That had not been thinking straight, either. And 'happy' wasn't really the right term, but...

Of course, killing her saved Faith. Amy would much rather have had an option that saved Faith that hadn't resulted in Catherine Madison's death, but...

Amy shook her head and looked over at the still-sleeping Faith. The sheet had fallen a little, leaving part of Faith's chest bare, and one of Faith's legs was atop another part of the sheets partially. Faith looked as beautiful asleep as she did awake.

Goddess – you have it so damned fucking bad. But this time, Amy didn't care. When she'd thought as much to herself before, when she'd forced her thoughts away from her feelings as much as she could, she'd thought it was a note of self-recrimination. Now? Nothing but happiness. Happiness, and wonder. Her feelings had exploded onto her – she wasn't even sure when she'd really started the crush... she'd knew when she'd acknowledged it to herself, but it had to have been started before she'd started having those dreams... logically? Maybe?

But somewhere along the line, Amy had fallen for Faith. For this strong, beautiful, vivacious and caring woman, who had been the first to not blame her after her mother's death, who had trusted her with her own inner thoughts and issues after the death of Finch. Who had not told anyone the truth about her unwilling involvement with the Mayor. Who had been her friend – her best friend, her closest friend, really, that she'd ever really had. At some point, she'd...

And now she knew her feelings were returned, and she'd found out that her fantasies could never live up to the reality. The reality was so much better.

Amy looked over at the cheap digital clock/radio on Faith's bedside table, and saw that it was 10:30. Even though that meant she'd already missed her first two classes, Amy didn't care. This morning, class didn't matter. She didn't want to leave the bed, didn't want to move away from Faith. She wanted to stay here with this woman she felt so much for –

It meant she'd be in the bed for a while, she knew, but that didn't matter. Faith still probably wouldn't wake up for at least another hour, but Amy could enjoy her closeness nonetheless. The feeling of Faith's body pressed up against hers. The fact that Faith trusted her enough to fall asleep next to her – everything. That Faith returned her feelings.

Faith didn't really 'do' talking. About emotions, or where she stood with a person. It was something Amy had long gotten used to – which made her treasure those times when Faith did talk about her emotions, did address directly that Amy was her friend, her best friend. That she trusted Amy. But Amy knew that they weren't going to have some grand 'what are we now' conversation when Faith woke up. She wanted it – she really wanted to have it, so she could be sure – completely sure – that last night really had happened, that it really hadn't been a dream. But she didn't want to – couldn't – press Faith too much.

 

Besides... Amy had to be sure exactly what she felt. She had feelings for Faith, granted. Strong ones. This wasn't just some physical attraction – yes, Faith was sexy and beautiful as hell, but Amy still wasn't attracted her own gender generally – she was just... she just wanted Faith. But she wasn't sure what to call 'them' beyond that. It was more than just sexual attraction... but Amy was hesitant to use the obvious word 'love' because... well... it hadn't been that long since she'd admitted the crush to herself, all said and done, and... to be honest, Amy had no idea what love actually felt like. Faith made her happy – almost stupidly happy, now – and her fears and belief that Faith could never return her feelings had hurt, but still. Was it love yet? Wasn't love something that took time?

Amy considered this question back and forth for some time, but eventually put it aside. She wasn't coming to any resolution yet, and until she did, she was definitely not going to press Faith on the 'what/where are we' question. Faith returned her feelings, to some degree. That was what mattered.

About an hour after Amy herself woke, she felt Faith starting to stir next to her. The witch felt the Slayer's arm slide off of her as the dark-haired girl sat up a little, blinking her eyes against the sunlight. Amy looked over at Faith, and Faith looked over at her. The Slayer blinked again, seeming confused for a moment, but it only lasted a moment.

“Usually, I kick the other person out when we're done.” Faith told her softly. Then she smiled a little, “Didn't feel like doing that with you.”

Amy felt her chest tighten a little at the affirmation of the way Faith felt about her. Unable – and unwilling – to stop herself, Amy closed the distance between herself and Faith and pressed her lips against the Slayer's. Faith responded to the kiss, returning it with as much force as Amy gave. Amy put her arms around Faith's back, holding onto her shoulders tightly, as if for dear life – again. But she wasn't doing it for the same reason as she had last night. Last night had been about how she couldn't lose her best friend – and then how Faith was really kissing her back, not rejecting her. Amy had held on then because she wanted to affirm that this was really happening, that Faith was really there.

Right now though, it was because Amy felt like she was drowning in the kiss, and she needed to hold on to Faith as a lifeline. The two locked lips for what felt like an hour, but couldn't have been for more than a minute. Eventually, Faith pulled back and smirked as Amy looked into her eyes.

“Keep that up,” Faith told her lightly, “and we're going to have a repeat performance.”

“I can't say I object to the idea.” Amy admitted, her voice soft. Despite herself, she flushed, then looked into Faith's eyes a moment longer.

“You know,” Faith said after another moment, looking her up and down, “I didn't realize you were into girls... until, you know, you kissed me last night.” Faith still had a bit of her smirk on her face, although it was also a bit of a smile.

I'm not into girls. I'm into you. But Amy didn't say it like that. Instead, she gave Faith a smile of her own. “You just have that effect on me.”

“I do, do I?” The expression on Faith's face could only be described as smug. Faith looked over at the clock, then back to Amy. “Playing hooky today?”

Amy nodded, “After last night... I'm just feeling like I'd rather spend the day with you than go to class.” Amy smiled again – though really, she was just still smiling from before. She was just – she was just so happy. Amy reached up and tucked a stray few hairs behind her ear.

Faith shrugged, “Seems like a fine idea to me. We're friends – sex doesn't change that. Hanging out with you is still fun.”

There was nothing inherently wrong with what Faith had said, but hearing the words... the mostly casual way she said them... it made Amy's throat clench. Had she gotten it all wrong? Had Faith – did the Slayer not realize what it was that she felt –

“It is.” Amy said softly, ignoring the empty hollowness she was starting to feel. She could be wrong – she had to be wrong. This wasn't just sex. This hadn't just been sex.

I never actually said anything – we just... we just sort of kissed and then... Yeah, she'd – she'd just assumed that Faith got it. That Faith understood how she –

And that Faith wouldn't have responded, if she didn't feel the same way .

“I – I'm glad to hear that.” Amy reached over and put her hand on top of Faith's for a moment, wanting to hold onto it tightly, wanting to tell Faith exactly how she felt. But – the words caught in her throat. Afterwards – it wasn't actually much time, but it felt like longer – Amy spoke again. “So we're still friends.”

“Definitely.” Faith agreed. She smirked and put her hand on Amy's side, then started to run it down to her leg. “Just... friends with benefits.” She leaned in and gave Amy a quick kiss, then ran her other hand over Amy's arm. “Still up for a repeat performance?”

Amy's throat was – she could barely breathe for a moment. Friends with benefits. That was all Faith saw this as. 

Goddess... I was so wrong...

All her happiness crashed down around her, her castles in the sky falling apart, her heart...

It felt like – goddess, it was such a cliché, but it felt like her heart had been torn out of her chest.

Faith didn't return her feelings – Faith didn't –

It was all empty and for nothing. She'd put herself out there, and Faith hadn't –

No. Not nothing – she didn't – she didn't reject you... Faith hadn't rejected her, Amy figured, because the very idea had been so insane it had simply never occurred to the Slayer. But she doesn't love me. We're just – friends with benefits. We're still friends. That – that matters. And it did. But as for everything else –

Forget it. If this is all of her I can have... Amy blinked back the start of tears. She knew if she let herself start crying, she wouldn't stop – and...and she wanted to. She wanted to scream and cry and rage at the unfairness of the universe, at the cruelty of the way the world worked. At Faith for completely missing everything... and at herself for being so damned stupid!

But –

No. If this was all of Faith she could have, Amy already knew she would take it. Even if she wanted to curl up into a little ball and hide, hide from the world, herself, from Faith – she couldn't now. Just as she couldn't cry. Not now. Later – later, she could do all those things.

But right now, she would take what she could have, and try to be happy with it.

“Always.” Amy managed to say with small smile that she hoped looked genuine. A moment later, she leaned in towards Faith, putting her hands on the Slayer's hips and kissing her again.

This is what I have. This is all I can have. All I can ever have.

December 8 th , 1999

Buffy and Willow's Dorm, UC Sunnydale

Buffy had not been especially surprised when she saw that Willow hadn't been in the dorm when she woke up. The girl had been on Oz duty all night, and had probably gone more or less straight to class once Oz was awake. And, since this was one of the days that Buffy didn't share any classes with Willow, she hadn't seen her red-headed best friend all day.

Buffy also wasn't surprised to see that Willow was in their shared dorm, sitting on her own bed once she was back from classes. What she was surprised to see was the large bandage on Willow's left arm, and the fidgety, nervous way her best friend held herself. It was reminiscent of her lack of self-confidence back in sophomore year. She still had flashes of it, but Willow had gotten a hell of a lot better since then. And this looked like a pretty serious case of nerves. So what was up with her? And what had happened to her arm?

“Willow?” Buffy approached her friend, dropping her books onto her bed. “Are you alright? What happened?” Willow hadn't been there last night, during the fight against Vampire Amy. Buffy had been, and she was still sore from bruises and overworked muscles. She'd seen Cordelia moving through the halls very slowly and stiffly, and she'd been hurt less; though she also didn't have Slayer healing and energy.

So Willow shouldn't be hurt. She hadn't been a part of the fight, and Oz duty was a pretty safe place to be. It wasn't like vampires and demons were eager to hang out with a werewolf that could rip them apart, and leave them a pile of dust or dismembered body parts. So what the heck had happened to her?

Buffy watched Willow fidget a bit more, then run her right hand up her left arm, ghosting carefully over the bandage.

“Uhm...” Willow started, then she took a deep breath and spoke again, babbling the words out. “Ozbitmelastnight.”

If Buffy hadn't had plenty of intensive crash-courses in Willow-Babble over the years, she might not have been able to parse the words and understand that. As it was, Buffy was really hoping that she hadn't understood it. She looked over at the calendar, double-checking that it hadn't suddenly become the first of April. No such luck.

The Slayer sucked in a sharp breath, shocked. “He bit you?” It was hard to keep the anger out of her voice. She'd trusted Oz to keep himself under control, to lock himself up in his cage, to make sure that someone was on hand with a tranquilizer rifle in case he got out, et cetera. And he had done all that for well over a year and a half, in fact – next month would be his two-year anniversary as a werewolf. 

So how the hell had something gone wrong now – how the hell had this happened? Had Oz gotten lax? If he'd been able to bite Willow, then he'd been close enough to do even more to her, damnit!

Willow nodded slowly, looking past Buffy for another moment, then: “He did.” She ran her hand over the bandage again. “It was – it was just a little... I got too close to his cage, and he lunged out at me and then –” Willow cut herself off, before she gestured to her arm. “It wasn't bleeding this morning when I woke up, but...” Willow's voice was small, unsure, and just a touch terrified.

“Woke up?” Buffy started softly, confused for just a moment before it dawned on her what that meant. “So... you turned into a – last night?” Willow nodded again. “Did you –” Buffy cut herself off before finishing the question. She didn't want to ask the question: Did you kill anyone? Buffy hadn't heard about any animal mauling deaths or anything last night, but that wasn't a guarantee... it did count for something though, right?

“Did I hurt anyone last night?” Willow finished the question softly. “Or kill them?” Biting her lip, she shook her head, “I... it's all kind of a jumble, but when I saw... um, when I saw the fur growing on my hands and I realized... realized what was happening, I managed to get inside the cage and lock it before I went too far into the transformation.” Willow looked down at her hands, as if searching for signs of fur. “I don't remember what happened afterwards, between then and waking up inside the cage this morning...” Willow looked back at Buffy, and the Slayer missed the small look of relief that passed across the red-head's face as Buffy believed Willow's words.

“You're taking this... very well.” Buffy said carefully. 

Willow shook her head violently. “No, no, I'm really not. I totally freaked this morning, I've been freaking all day long, and I'm freaking right now. I'm just... not showing it right now.' Willow pulled her legs up and held them to her chest, wrapping her arms tightly around herself. “So yea... I'm a werewolf now.”

Because Oz screwed up! Buffy wanted to punch the asshole, maybe break his nose for hurting Willow and making her into a werewolf. It was –

Buffy looked over at Willow. Willow was a werewolf now. Okay. So that was that. It was... it was something no one should have to deal with, and that Willow had it now – but it was what it was. Did it change anything important? Was Willow still Willow? Was Willow still her best friend?

The answer was a resounding yes.

Buffy looked over at her friend, and suddenly it all made more sense. Buffy let out a small breath, wanting to smack herself upside the head for her own stupidity. There's no reason she shouldbe afraid this will change anything important between us. She's still the same person – she's just... hairier three nights a month.

Willow hadn't chosen this, and even if she had – which she totally wouldn't have, but still – as long as she locked herself up... it wasn't as if Willow had been turned into a vampire. Buffy trusted Willow to take the right precautions, to make sure she didn't hurt anyone. Then again, I trusted Oz to do the same thing, and look how that turned out!

But no. Willow was still the same person. That was what mattered. 

Buffy sat down next to the witch and put her arms around her, giving her a firm, friendly hug for a moment, then pulled back, still sitting next to her.

“We're still friends, Willow. All this doesn't change that. You're still my best friend.” Buffy offered the witch/werewolf a smile.

Willow nodded and smiled back a little. “I didn't really think that it would – but...” She trailed off for a moment, looking away and then bit her lip as she looked back at Buffy. “But I was – I was sorta afraid it – that you'd...that you wouldn't–” Willow shook her head. “Silly, huh?”

“Very.” Buffy agreed. “Being a werewolf doesn't change that you're still you. You're just going to have a lot of extra hair three nights out of every month.” Buffy offered a small laugh, and Willow accepted the invitation, laughing back a little. It wasn't quite forced, but it wasn't quite genuine either. Still, progress.

Willow said nothing for a minute, looking at her, then she narrowed her eyes just a touch. “You're thinking about beating up Oz over what happened.” Her tone was just a little bit accusatory. Buffy blinked, wondering how Willow figured it out, but some of her confusion must have shown. “Buffy, come on, I know you! I knew straightaway from this morning that you and Xander will both want to beat Oz up for biting me. You feel like you need to hurt him because I got hurt. But this isn't his fault! I was the one who got bitten, I was the one who got too close to his cage!”

“So, what, it's your fault?” Buffy asked skeptically. Willow didn't have any blame in this, as far as she was concerned. It wasn't as if she'd asked to get bitten!

“No, it isn't my fault either. But it's not Oz's at all. He can't control his actions when he's a wolf. He's not even consciously aware of what he's doing. You know that, Buffy! The Wolf might be to blame, but Oz isn't the Wolf. It just sort of...happened.” Willow finished lamely.

Buffy looked over at Willow, unable to keep her mouth from dropping open. After a moment, she managed the wherewithal to close it. “It just happened? That sort of thing – being bitten by a werewolf and becoming one, that doesn't just happen!”

Willow sucked in a breath and unfolded herself, no longer holding her knees to her chest. “Really, no, it didn't just happen.” Willow was raising her voice and she had her 'resolve face' on. “I got a werewolf's teeth digging into my arm!” She gestured to the bandage. “It hurt! A lot. And I felt myself start to change just moments later – my bones rearranging themselves, the hair growing on my hands, my fingernails turning into claws. That hurt too! A lot.”

Willow stood up. “But it wasn't Oz's fault in any meaningful sense, and I don't want you holding it against him. Please. Or beating him up – Oz is beating himself up over this enough, and he actually thinks he deserves you knocking his teeth out, or whatever. But he doesn't. I want your word, your honest promise that you won't beat him up, or, or hold all this against him.” She pointed at herself. “Resolve face, here!”

Buffy couldn't help it; she didn't want to do what Willow was asking. Okay, demanding, to be more accurate. She was angry at Oz. She wanted to hurt him. Not much, but still, she wanted to hurt him for what he'd done. But Willow was somewhat inexplicably (but only somewhat) not on board with that idea. And... it was Willow who had been affected here. So it was kind of up to her, right?

“I can't promise I'm not going to be upset with him, Willow.” Buffy said softly. “But I'll do my best. And I won't beat him up for biting you last night.” Because Willow was right, darn it. Technically, it wasn't really Oz's fault – he had locked himself up last night. “I can promise that much.”

Willow nodded and offered a small smile. “Alright. So...” She sat back down on the bed. “Last night – with Vampire Amy. Is she gone?”

“Dust in the wind. Well, ashes, actually. Amy got her with a fireball. We had some close calls, but everyone made it through okay. Giles and Wesley got hit by some sort of sleeping spell, so we had to ruin their tweed by dunking water all over them.” That had been kind of fun, and it had worked to wake them up.

Willow sucked in a breath. “I'm... not really looking forward to telling Giles. He's going to clean his glasses and clear his throat and tut a lot.” 

“Yea. He will, won't he?” Buffy nodded. “I'd be prepared for a long lecture on responsibility, too.”

December 8 th , 1999

17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

Cordelia had no idea what it was that Willow had dropped by to talk to Xander about. She'd let the two talk in the living room while she went upstairs. Her guess was that it was something about Oz, maybe? Xander and Willow had been friends since forever, and Willow would probably ask him for the 'guy perspective' if she had questions about her boyfriend, or something.

It would be nice to have an option like that. Unfortunately, there really wasn't one for her, personally. The rest of the Scoobies were, for better or for worse, her friends, yes, but going to Oz for advice on Xander wasn't really an option, and Giles was well, Giles. Going to him for life advice? Maybe, if she'd needed any. Going to him for guy advice? It would be like asking her dad, and Cordelia had never done that either. The whole idea wouldn't have really worked.

Honestly, if I needed advice on Xander, I'd probably go to Willow. Fortunately, she didn't really need advice on Xander – her boyfriend was a fairly open book, most of the time. An idiot and a dork, sometimes, but that was part of the territory of being male at all, and he wouldn't be the guy she'd fallen in love with if he was never idiotic or dorky.

Regardless of whatever it was that Willow and Xander had been talking about, the last thing she'd been expecting to see on Xander's face when he walked into their bedroom was an expression of... almost defeat, but there was a touch of self-loathing there as well. And some generalized anger.

“Dare I ask what Willow had to say?” Cordelia asked, stepping towards her boyfriend, taking one of his hands in hers.

“Apparently –” Xander started carefully, then he started over, voice somewhat more firm. “Apparently, Oz bit her last night.”

Cordelia blinked and looked away from Xander, then back at him. No change in expression. “Okay, I'm just going to skip the whole disbelief part and go with assuming you're not joking... So how the hell?

Xander shrugged, “She got too close to his cage last night, apparently.” He gestured to his left forearm, “She's got a bandage all over her arm.”

“Oh. Yeah. I saw the bandage.” And now she knew what the bandage was about. “And she's a – she's a werewolf now.” Cordelia wasn't asking.

“Yup. She is. Will told me how she transformed last night. She barely had enough time to get into the cage with Oz, once she realized it was starting.” Xander sat down on the bed. “So at least she didn't hurt anyone.”

“And they're going to be locking themselves up every three nights a month from now on.” Cordelia replied. A thought occurred to her and she dropped her head into her hands, trying to will the mental images away from her mind. “On the other hand, there's not going to be any need to have someone watch their cage, as a rule.” Xander looked over at her, one eyebrow raised. “Do I really need to spell it out for you, Xander?”

Xander flinched after a moment as her meaning occurred to him and shook his head violently. “No. No. You really, really, really don't. In fact, please don't.” The disgusted tone in her boyfriend's voice was the first real emotion he'd shown since he'd walked in.

Okay, so... what the hell? Willow got too close to his cage? She's the one who's had the most Oz-watch duty... she should know the best how close she can get to the guy, when he's all wolfed out. I mean, the bars aren't that far apart on that thing. She'd have to have gotten close enough to... Mentally, Cordelia shrugged.

Willow was smart, but she wasn't perfect, by any stretch. She could make mistakes. But damn, what a mistake to make. And she started transforming so soon after being bitten? There's no, like, grace period or anything? Cordelia had never actually stopped to wonder what being a werewolf would be like, and she had no intention of doing so now. But it really did have to suck – you're bitten in the arm by a big bad wolf with big nasty sharp teeth, and before you can do more than freak out and scream in pain and all that crap, you're growing hair in places where no one should have hair and getting claws and fangs of your own.

If there was any fault here, it was Willow's, and a small part of Cordelia wondered if it might not have been deliberate. It didn't make a lick of sense if it was, but then, Willow getting too close to the cage didn't really make much sense, either.

Of course, it's possible she might have... maybe it's a reaction to Veruca or something? That crazy bitch had gotten it into her head that simply because Oz was a werewolf and she was a werewolf, they were supposed to be together, and Willow could just go and die. Cordelia knew full well that Oz would never cheat on Willow consciously, but as Xander had brought her around to when they'd first seen Veruca, Oz wasn't exactly in control when he was a wolf. 

Had all this been part of some absolutely nutso plan on Willow's part to make sure she didn't have other female werewolves going after her boyfriend, or something? Had Willow actually been worried that Oz would leave her for another werewolf, at some point? Because Willow wasn't that thick, was she? Oz very definitely only had eyes for her.

No, that theory was almost certainly not right. It probably was just some goddamn lousy accident like she'd originally suspected, the kind of crazy shit that only happened here on the Hellmouth. It wasn't just that their town sat on a literal gateway to Hell, or that it had lots of vampires and demons and a local government that was equal parts stupid, incompetent and willfully blind – or in the case of the late, unlamented Mayor Snake-Kabob, neck-deep in all of the supernatural crap that took place around here. It was also as if there was some kind of curse of bad luck on the town.

I mean, how many people cheat on their income taxes and don't get caught? And yet my dad does, and loses everything at the worst possible fucking time? Okay, no, it could have come at a worse time – like halfway through paying for a more expensive college, maybe, or before she'd had a boyfriend whom she loved (and trusted) enough to want to move in with – and that she could move in with, rent free. Xander had to pay rent, but Mrs. Harris was content to not charge her anything – or charge Xander for her being there – which Cordelia didn't like having to be grateful for... but yea, she was grateful for it. 

I don't want to have to deal with being a name-tag person while being in school. Cordelia didn't want to ever have to deal with that, really. Job, yes, she needed one of those. But that was for after college, if she could manage it. Somehow, Cordelia didn't think it would work out like that. But she'd worry about it some other time, because at this point she had kind of gone off on a tangent.

And also, Mayor Snake-Kabob? I really need to make a few friends that aren't 'Scoobies'. I'm starting to borrow Xander's sense of humor.

Back to the main point at hand – whatever the reason, Xander was never going to think that Willow had chosen or wanted to become a werewolf. It wasn't exactly that Willow could do no wrong in his eyes, but he was very protective of the closest thing he had to a sister. And so Xander would instinctively blame Oz for what had happened.

And himself. Because Xander had made sure, by interfering where Veruca was concerned, that Oz didn't leave town like what was apparently originally 'supposed' to happen – as he'd told her after the fact. And just why is it that someone cares enough about our love lives to get involved... while also warning us about important stuff? But only some important stuff? Cordelia really, really, really wanted to give Xander's source a piece of her mind.

But she knew Xander was going to blame himself, which meant he'd blame Oz even more, because he was a guy, and he'd be pissed at Oz for 'making him' get pissed at himself. Guy logic is really fucking stupid. Why do we put up with them again? Not that Cordelia couldn't come up with a number of good answers, but still.

Cordelia walked over to the bed and sat down next to Xander on it. “So Willow's a werewolf now. That's... different. But does it really change anything? I mean, she's still Willow. Does she still babble?”

Xander blinked. “Yea.”

“Does she still like computers?”

Xander looked over at her, furrowing his brow, “I didn't get a chance to ask her, but probably, yes. I don't see why that would have changed.”

“Is her hair still red? Is she still working on learning magic, and all that?” Cordelia knew she'd have to be really obvious to get through to Xander. He probably got it on a basic level, but the former cheerleader wanted to be sure. This was Xander, after all. He could be pretty oblivious sometimes. Only sometimes – sometimes he could be startlingly not oblivious and totally aware.

“Yea. And probably. What's your point?” Xander demanded. 

Cordelia resisted the urge to sigh and roll her eyes. “My point is that Willow is still the same person. Being a werewolf hasn't changed all the things, good and bad,” or kind of annoying, “that make Willow, Willow. So unless you've suddenly got some sort of anti-werewolf prejudice going, this doesn't change anything important between you two. Does it?”

“No – and I don't have a werewolf prejudice.” Xander replied, “I just – honey, being a werewolf is a curse. Oz has said as much himself! And Willow shouldn't have to deal with all that crap, and Oz should have had better control of himself!”

Here we go. “But Oz can't control himself during the full moon. You know that! That's why he gets into that cage. And he was in his cage last night, so there's no real fault with him. It was an accident. A really, really, big deal one, with serious consequences, but still an accident. Does Willow blame him for what happened?”

Xander dropped his face into his hands. “No.” He said through his hands. He pulled them down his face and looked back up at her, a disgusted look on his face. “In fact, she doesn't blame him so much that she made me promise not to punch him in the face, like he deserves.”

“And you'd better keep that promise, because if you don't – not only will Willow be pissed off at you, and maybe curse you or something - I'll make you sleep on the couch for a week.” Cordelia wagged her finger in his face. “Punching Oz isn't going to make you feel any better. And it isn't his fault. You got to hit him for something that wasn't his fault – something that he hadn't even done yet, and still wouldn't have been entirely his fault if he had. Once is enough.”

“I guess. Hitting him again would make me feel better, though.” Xander disagreed. “Faith has a point about the therapeutic power of physical violence.”

“Faith also thinks smoking and drinking herself into cancer and liver failure is a fine and dandy idea, because she thinks she's going to die before she turns twenty-five.” Cordelia frowned. “Which might well be true, yea, but that doesn't really make her a good person to emulate.” She lowered her voice as she took one of Xander's hands in hers. “And besides, that's not what is really bothering you, and you know it.”

“It is really bothering me!” Xander protested, defeat slipping into his voice, the anger fading. Cordelia watched her boyfriend stare ahead almost blankly, then he added, “Cordy, my 'source' told me the changes I made would have consequences I wouldn't always like. It wouldn't always turn out... better.” It was a true sign of just how bothered Xander was by this development, by what had happened to Willow and his own (indirect) hand in it, that he didn't express some measure of surprise at his ability to get that out.

Or maybe he's just tired of being surprised at what he can and can't get out. It does seem so freaking random at times.

“This – this is the first time that that's really happened – that I know of, anyway.” Xander continued. “I mean, I don't know how things would have gone if... if this whole thing didn't happen the way it did.” He gestured sort of vaguely around him. He looked over at her directly, started to say something, then closed his mouth and started again after a few moments. “For all I know, things could be, like, fucking perfect if I hadn't mucked around with what was – what might have happened.”

Cordelia squeezed Xander's hand. “And things could be a hell of a lot worse, too. There's really no way for you to know. You did what you did because that's all you could do. I don't know if things could be better. Maybe they could. But I do know that agonizing over it is stupid. It happened. You've changed things, and did what you could knowing what you knew, at the time.”

“But that's exactly the point. I know what I know, because my source limits what I can find out for the needs of their own amusement. They don't actually care how things turn out for us!” Xander shook his head. “I shouldn't be playing into their hands here.”

Cordelia rolled her eyes. She understood Xander's point, she really did, but still. You dweeb, you wouldn't be able to not change things if you knew they were coming – you couldn't have not stopped Oz from leaving. And you don't leave things well enough alone – you wouldn't not find out information from your source if they're offering. Cordelia didn't know how she'd handle this situation herself, were she the one with the information, but she could guess. And she was pretty sure she'd change things as well, rather than agonize over it for ever and a day.

“Xander, are you really going to tell me that you would have done nothing just on the chance it could have made things worse?” Cordelia shook her head. “That's not you. You do what seems like the right idea at the time. That usually works, because you usually have a pretty good idea of what the right thing to do in a given situation is. Sometimes it doesn't work out, but that's how life works.” And Cordelia very much believed she what she was saying. No, Xander wasn't perfect, but he usually made the right decision. And with changing the future, over-thinking it was probably a bad idea. 

“If you stopped to think about every little thing that could go wrong with changing what you knew was coming, you wouldn't be you.” Cordelia finished.

“Yeah. The – my source said that's why he chose me, you know. That I wouldn't agonize over if what I was changing was the right way to go.” Xander admitted. “Which is why I'm starting to feel like I should start agonizing. Stop playing his game.” Cordelia wanted so much to meet this source of her boyfriend's. Whatever and whoever he/it was, he was clearly several orders above 'mere mortal'. The very idea of which also pissed Cordelia off. 

Xander added, “Like I should stop being his source of amusement, stop letting him yank me around.” He shook his head. “I mean, Willow's a werewolf now. What next? Someone with broken legs? Someone in a coma? Someone dying?”

Cordelia had to admit that Xander had a point there. But still, things could go right. “You know what? If she could have been given the choice, I'm betting that Willow would have chosen becoming a werewolf over Oz breaking up with her and leaving Sunnydale. Well, if those were her only choices, and it wasn't because Oz pressured her into it or something. It was an accident. You can never know what might happen. But let me ask you this, Xander: If you didn't try and find things out – however it is that works with all this – and something terrible did happen... wouldn't you blame yourself for not at least trying to stop it? You wouldn't know if it was a thing you could know about, if you don't try.” God, I really have started talking in convoluted sentences ever since all this crazy shit started.

While Cordelia didn't really miss the times when she'd been surrounded by vapid social-climbers and sheep who didn't actually like or care about her (not that she didn't miss some stuff from those days, like her father's credit cards or being the Queen of the School), at least things had been a lot simpler and made more sense back then.

Xander let out a low sigh that lasted for quite a while, and then nodded. “You're probably right –”

“No, Xander,” Cordelia interrupted, “I am right. I know you – I've known you for years, and we've been together long enough for me to know that that's exactly how you'd react.” When I'm right, I'm right. And since Cordelia knew she was right almost all of the time... well, it was good to be her.

“And yes, this is a negative consequence of changing the future,” Cordelia continued. “Being a werewolf isn't something that I'd call a good thing, like obviously. And I'm pretty sure that both Willow and Oz would agree with me there. But Willow is still Willow, no one's dead, or like, permanently hurt, and since we all know Willow is going to lock herself up at nights...” Cordelia shrugged, “I don't see the point in getting massively upset over it. It happened. Willow is still your best friend, right?”

Xander nodded. “Yea.” Her boyfriend drummed his fingers against his leg for a few moments, then nodded. “True enough. And you're right. But I'm not going to be able to just snap my fingers and feel okay about all this.”

“I never thought you would.” Cordelia laced her fingers in between his, squeezing his hand briefly. “But I mean it. If you try to beat up Oz for what happened, I will exile you to the couch!”

December 11 th , 1999

Restfield Cemetery, Sunnydale

It just isn't natural for there to be no snow at this point in December, Faith complained to herself as she moved through the cemetery, her third for tonight. There wasn't any news of recent vampire killings that could mean fledglings rising – no coroner's reports about barbeque fork-induced deaths that mentioned blood in the victim's mouth. Willow apparently had some kind of computer program to track that shit, and nothing had come up. Vampire deaths were even less common over the last few days, and while that was good from a 'less people dying' perspective – it meant that tonight, as with the night before, patrol was completely fucking dead.

Sunnydale at night is becoming more and more dead by the week. Or should that be less and less dead? Faith shrugged that thought away. The right way to say things wasn't exactly that high on her 'to give a shit about' list.

“So – I'm guessing we can blame this anti-demon militia, or whatever the hell those soldier boys are, for the lack of things to slay.” Faith told Wesley, walking back towards the edge of the cemetery where her Watcher was waiting with a loaded crossbow in hand – it was pointed at the ground, but she had no doubts he was more than ready to use the weapon. He was still better than her with a crossbow, even counting that she had the fancy expensive one. And that pissed her off. “Have you tortured more information – like actually useful info – about them out of Spike?”

Wesley shook his head. “Mr. Giles remains adamantly opposed to torturing that vampire, and for the moment I'm content to go along with his wishes on the matter. Especially since Miss Summers isn't exactly in love with the idea either, however much she wants to stake him, bring him back and then stake him again. But as a matter of fact, William the Bloody has been surprisingly talkative. It just takes the right inducement.”

Faith was pretty sure that pain was a pretty damn good motivator to get anyone to talk, and she really didn't get why B and Giles both had issues with torturing vamps. Especially one as nasty as Spike. They were just fucking vampires, and it wouldn't even be that messy. Some holy water, a couple crosses and a little fire would really be all you needed to get any vampire talking.

It wasn't like torturing one of them was wrong. To be a vampire was to be evil – it was kind of the way the world worked, Angel aside.

“So what did you do to 'induce' him to talk, then?” Faith asked curiously, looking over the graveyard one more time.

“Offer him vole's blood.” Faith looked over at him, wondering if that was supposed to be some kind of deadpan British joke or something. Wesley's further explanation settled that question. “Pig's blood is cheap and relatively easy to acquire; which is why that's what we've been feeding Spike, and presumably why Angel drank it. But vampires loathe the taste, apparently. I imagine Angel got used to the taste – well, to a certain degree – over time, but still. Vole's blood, along with otter's blood, tastes quite good to vampires, by all accounts.” Wesley shrugged, “so I mixed a little in with his pig's blood and let him decide if he wanted more of it, or to go back to pure swine.”

Faith blinked. That's creepy, and more than a little disgusting. “And you knew this how, Wes? And where did you get it? Did ya kill the voles yourself, or something?”

Wesley screwed his face up in a grimace and shook his head. “Good Lord, no. There's a man – well, a half-demon – in Los Angeles who sells quite a variety of animal blood for various magical purposes, as well as to vampires who, for religious or philosophical reasons, only drink human blood infrequently. Granted that apart from Angel, I don't know of any vampires that have sworn off human blood completely. I just have the vole blood delivered.”

“As for how I know vampires prefer the taste of vole blood,” Wesley continued, “The Council has known that for centuries. The Watchers spent the better part of the 1720s studying how much captive vampires liked various kinds of animal blood, you see. The experiment was repeated with new vampires in the 1860s, and then again during the 1930s.” 

Faith honestly couldn't get how Wes could talk about that sort of thing with a straight face, the way someone normal might talk about the weather. “And... you guys did that, why? I mean, really, I thought staking vampires was kind of the Council's thing. That's why they didn't want to help Angel when the Mayor poisoned him.”

“Staking vampires is the end result, Faith, always. The undead experimental subjects were all dusted when they were no longer needed. But the thing is, you never know when you need to keep a vampire prisoner for an extended period, and all knowledge is inherently valuable. So as long as Miss Summers and Mr. Giles remain opposed to the torture of Spike, and there's no urgency... I'm content to gather information in less direct ways. Such as holding Spike's appetite hostage to good behavior. He may have more to tell us, and if there is ever a real urgency to determine everything he knows... we can torture him to our heart's content, if that's what will work.”

Faith looked at him. “You know, sometimes I actually respect you,” like when he'd told her about the Gem of Amarra being stolen even though the Council had ordered him not to. “Sometimes I don't,” like most of the first few months she'd known him. “And sometimes I just don't know what to think, or if I respect you or not.” Like now.

“Well, I suppose that's better than never respecting me at all.” Wesley said, shaking his head a little

Faith shrugged, “The way I look at it, I could have a lot worse. And sure, Giles would probably actually give a fuck about me as a person; but he'd probably also give me a lot of disapproving looks about my 'extracurricular activities'.” Such as drinking, smoking and sleeping around. Though Faith hadn't done much of that recently, if you didn't count Amy – whom she'd had sex with a couple more times since the first time.

She'd been worried, when she'd woken up and realized what she'd done, that she'd gone and ruined their friendship, fucked everything up with... well, fucking. She was... well, she was happy that she hadn't. Amy was a friend, and having a friend she could always count on – and Amy definitely qualified - was a hell of a lot more important to her than just another person she had sex with.

Not that the sex with Amy hadn't been pretty damn good. She didn't know for sure if Amy had been a virgin – she'd never asked – but the girl obviously wasn't that experienced. But she'd made up for a lot of that with some serious enthusiasm. I really hadn't pegged her for being into girls at all. Well, she'd been wrong about that, but so what? It all worked out.

So now she and Amy were friends with benefits, which was – as far as Faith was concerned – wicked cool.

Faith shook her head and returned to the matter at hand.

“I could always give you a lecture on the deleterious health effects of smoking, if you'd like.” Wesley delivered it with a straight face, but then a small smile appeared afterwards.

Faith held up a hand, chuckling just a little. “Yea, I think I'll pass.”

December 12 th , 1999

17619 White Oak Drive

Once again, it was time to welcome in the morning by flipping the Iron Coin. My daily dose of headache. Xander, as usual, wasn't looking forward to it, but it had to be done.

“Cordelia Chase.”

The back room in the Sunnydale Public Library. Everyone was there – everyone except Oz. Cordelia was saying, “Jeez Buffy. You just can't do nice, normal boyfriends, can you?

Xander blinked. That wasn't much of a vision, all things considered. Why would it be important that Cordelia say that, and there and then? And wasn't Buffy seeing that Riley guy now? Sort of? So... there was something wrong with him. Great. Fuuuun.

Xander filed that information away, then flipped for the next obvious choice. “Buffy Summers.”

Buffy, in some old, abandoned-looking building, fighting demons that looked like they were wearing straitjackets, or something like. But she wasn't alone. There was someone else – someone in one of those soldier uniforms – also fighting the demons. And... wait, Riley?

Xander's head throbbed, but not much. It was a minor headache. So that explained the last vision. Riley – supposedly a TA in the freshman year psych class – was actually one of those people in military gear running around with guns, like during Halloween. Those commandos. Xander made a mental note to learn the guy's last name and maybe flip for him; it could prove useful. Maybe fill in the gaps of what Spike wasn't telling them. 

But until he had that... next flip.

“Willow Rosenberg.”

Willow was in the dorm she shared with Buffy. She was wearing a black dress, her face streaked with tear stains, her eyes red and puffy. She looked like someone who had no more tears to give, or she'd still be crying. She looked... small. Lost. Broken.

The force of the vision sent Xander's head back a little, and his head throbbed even more. But confusion – confusion and terror – got him more. Because the most reasonable explanation – and the most terrifying – even if it wasn't the only one, was that Willow had just gotten back to her dorm from a funeral. She was wearing black, and the way she seemed so... fragile.

And Oz wasn't there in the library...

Oh shit, Oz is gonna DIE? Why? When? Where? Oz dying – well, yea, not a good thing...

Xander had no idea if his theory was right. But this was Fate he was talking about. Those assholes had tried to kill Buffy more the once, had killed his father, had arranged for shit to go wrong in the lives of his friends for plans he didn't give a shit about. Was it such a stretch that they'd try to kill Oz? So having him break up with Will wasn't enough?

Xander could only find out the hard way. If it wasn't Oz, wasn't Cordelia or Buffy – and it probably wasn't him – then... well, he'd have to keep flipping. Her parents, maybe? Could Mr. and Mrs. Rosenberg have gotten killed? It wasn't like the forces of Fate hadn't previously targeted his own father... 

Bracing himself, Xander held the coin at the ready again.

“Daniel Osbourne.”

Oz in his van, waiting for the light to go green at an intersection. He was listening to music that Xander couldn't make out, but Xander saw a time on the dashboard – 1:15 pm. Willow was in the van as well, sitting next to him, her lips moving at high speed. The lights changed... Oz started to drive the van forward –

A speeding car running the red light, crashing into the driver's side of the van... a cutaway – Willow, an arm broken, bruised and bleeding from a cut in her forehead, in a car wreck, looking at the bleeding, almost unrecognizable and nearly pulped body of Oz. Dead Oz.

Xander fell to the floor immediately, his head feeling like a bomb had just gone off behind his eyes. Somehow, Xander knew that what he'd just seen was going to happen today. He got that sort of impression, from time to time... and this one...

Xander started to get up, but failed, his head still hurting enough to set the room spinning. Groaning, he looked up at the digital clock and read the time upside down – wasn't that hard.

8:34 am

He had a little under five hours until Oz was going to die in a car accident.

Xander tried to get up again, managed to get himself to a seated position, but he needed both his hands to cover his eyes a little – his head hurt enough that the light itself was majorly painful. It was... the closest pain was when he had foreseen Finch getting killed in a coin-vision, but this was so much worse.

Oz is going to die, unless I can get my act together. If only I could figure out what fucking intersection...

Xander's first thought was to, like... cut the transmission on Oz's van. Not that he knew how to do that, but if he made it so Oz couldn't drive his van today, then his friend couldn't have the lethal car accident Fate had written into his book. But – what about later? 

As long as Xander stayed on top of the flipping... then he could keep Oz alive. They'll have to stop trying to kill him eventually, right?

Or was he going to have to see Oz being killed every day for the rest of the time he had the Coin... and what about after?

Xander looked at the Iron Coin of the Jester. He had to keep going; flip for everyone else. Just because it seemed like this was the big deal of the day, that didn't mean it was the only big deal that might be happening. He took a deep breath. He had time to flip, and then to save Oz.

“Faith Lehane.”

Drusilla again – but this time, she was in a building. There were windows present, and so he could tell it was daylight outside. Drusilla was standing near one window, but not in the direct path of the sunlight.

Naughty naughty Slayer.” Drusilla said in that insane, sing-song voice of hers. “You can't hurt me.”

Why?” Faith demanded, a stake in hand, stepping into the sunlight. “Because you're my 'mommy'? Killing Kendra doesn't mean you 'made' me.” Faith lunged at Drusilla and grabbed the crazy vamp by the throat, tossing her into the path of the sunlight. The female vampire snarled and scrambled to her feet 

Xander's head barely hurt from that one – or maybe it hurt a lot, and he couldn't tell from the pain of the 'Oz death' vision. Either way...

Xander filed it away. Somehow, he doubted that dear old Dru was going to be killed by sunburn, but it would be fun if she got herself a bad tan regardless. But Oz's impending demise was more important, so away it went.

“Amy Madison.” Nothing.

“Rupert Giles.”

Giles in a bar. Another guy – Ethan Rayne? Okay, yea, it really was that crazy former friend of his from the days of yore. They were drinking and laughing... Ethan handed Giles a new drink – the vision flashed, and Giles was asleep in his apartment... then he wasn't. Just a big ugly demon, with horns and a fang-filled mouth. But it still kinda looked like Buffy's Watcher. It  was  him...

Xander shook his head. No extra pain. Not exactly huge, then. Just tell Giles not to accept any drinks from that Ethan guy. Or something along those lines.

“Joyce Summers.” Nothing. No surprise there.

“Jessica Harris.” Nothing. Thank God.

“Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.” Nothing.

Xander slipped the coin into his pocket, his head still feeling like Ground Zero, and struggled to his feet. He was finally standing upright when Cordelia returned from the shower, hair wet, wearing a bathrobe.

“Xander!” Cordelia immediately rushed over to him, grabbing his arm and looking concerned as he staggered a little. “What the hell?”

“Oh, Cordy. You know how you said if I stopped trying to find things out, someday something would happen and I'd blame myself for not finding out and stopping it?” Xander asked quietly.

“Yea, I remember.” Cordelia replied, her tone careful. “And-?”

“Well, honey, there's something that's gonna happen in a little under five hours that I'd really regret not finding out about, if I'd gone with that 'not finding things out' strategy.” Xander grabbed at his forehead. “And my head feels like it just had a bomb go off inside of it.” He let out a small grunt of pain and pulled his hand away.

“What's going happen? Can you tell me, or –”

“I don't know. Let's find out,” Xander started. “Oz is going to die in a car accident in at just past 1:15 this afternoon.” He saw no immediate look of shock or horror on Cordelia's face. “Nothing?” Cordelia shook her head. “Well, all I can do is maybe try and tell Giles or Buffy...” He could always try and tell Oz, but he doubted he'd be able to get anything useful out to the guy who was about to die. Where would the fun be in that?

“But I'm doubting that it's going to be possible.” Xander added. “If I know my source... this is the kind of thing I'm only going to be able to do on my own. Or at least, not talk to anyone about.” It would be exactly the kind of shitty thing The Jester would like to see happen, actually.

“So, what, I can't help you?” Cordelia demanded.

“If you can, and you want to, yea. I dunno if I'll be able to tell you do anything, though.” Wait a minute! I don't need to cut the transmission. I can just slash the van's tires. God, Oz is going to be pissed off at me if I do that and get caught. Well, pissed off by Oz's standards. But if it kept Oz alive, then he'd gladly pay the man back – though it would have to be over time – for the cost to replace the tires.

Would Fate try for a second car accident, though, that's the question. The only way he'd find that out is continuous flipping.

“Can you help me slash the tires on Oz's van?” His girlfriend obviously couldn't hear him, from the look on her face. Fun, again. “Okay, never mind. Sweetheart, I'm going to need you to keep Oz, and possibly Willow if she's with him, uh...distracted.” And still no words. Xander let out an angry sigh and dropped his head into hands – and immediately regretted the motion.

“Your source does know that I want to completely kick the crap out of him, right?” Cordelia inquired, brow furrowed, eyes narrow, letting her hand slide down Xander's arm to take one of his.

Xander lifted his head up, looking at her, then nodded slightly. “Yea. He knows you're not his number one fan. Actually, I'm pretty sure he's his number one fan. Don't know if he has a number two.” That didn't really make much sense to Xander even as he said it, but sense wasn't really something he was in the mood for right now.

“Well, you said we have some time. And Xander, right at this moment, I wouldn't trust you to walk down the stairs. Sit.” She pushed him to the bed. “I'm going to get dressed, you're going take some headache meds and sit for a little while, recover and all that while I see if I can't get Buffy over here. Three people are gonna be better than two on this, no?” Xander didn't resist as he fell back onto the bed, and then he watched Cordelia open his bedside table and take out his bottle of ibuprofen. “I'll be back with a glass of water in a minute. Stay there. Got it?”

Xander opened his mouth to protest, felt his head throb again, closed his mouth, and nodded. “Alright, babe. I got it.”

“Good.” Cordelia leaned in and gave him a light kiss on the forehead, before stepping back and walking out of the room. Xander looked at his hands and slipped the Iron Coin out of his pocket, looking down at it.

I guess I get to take back my complaints about you, jackass. Which was of course amazingly fun.

“Oh, yep, you'll be taking back all kinds of complaints about me, kid.” The Jester said, appearing in front of him, flipping a coin that was the color of gold. “But are you going to be thanking me? That's the real question.”

“Yea, I don't think that'll happen this side of... ever.” Xander shot back, slipping the coin back into his pocket. “Get lost.” He added with a mutter.

“Impossible. Have you forgotten who you're talking to? But to answer that comment in the spirit it was intended, these days – I'm always hanging around. Well, sort of. From your extremely limited perspective, anyway.” The Jester replied with a smirk, before he vanished. But his gold coin stayed in sight for a second longer, and then it vanished as well.

Okay, not taking back  any  complaints. He's still a total asshat.

December 12 th , 1999

Oz's Room, UC Sunnydale Campus

After three mornings in a row of waking up in a cage – it was nice, Willow decided, to wake up in a bed again. Even better that that bed contained her boyfriend.

Being a werewolf... it was – different. Her sense of smell, of hearing, even her eyesight during the days leading up to the full moon... they'd been getting better. But during the day of the night of the full moon, and the ones before and after...

Sensory overload. She'd had some time to get used to the outside edges, but nothing had really prepared her for it.

Willow knew that she was lucky that she'd managed to lie convincingly to Buffy and Xander about the 'started turning immediately' thing. Neither of them knew werewolves all that well, after all. Giles she'd been more vague with, suggesting it was less of a bite and more of a scrape, and she hadn't even really realized it was his teeth and not his claws until Oz woke up with the taste of blood in his mouth.

She wasn't sure if he'd bought it or not, but he hadn't questioned her story.

It was all wrapped up, then, in a neat little bow. Everyone knew she was a werewolf now, they weren't holding it against Oz – much – and everything was good. Well, as good as they could be. They still lived on the mouth of Hell, and if Willow had told anyone she was really 'good' with being a werewolf yet, she'd be lying through her hat. Which she wasn't wearing. She'd need to find a hat before she said that to anyone.

Willow shook her head a little and cuddled into her boyfriend a little more. If she wasn't 'good' with it, then Oz... well, he still was hating on himself for doing this to her. For giving her his curse. He'd warned her that over time the wolf would become harder to control, that it would really be that deep, dark presence in the back of her mind that he had. That thing he had to resist, that had subconsciously influenced him to bite her hard enough to break skin.

Of course, I liked it then, and I still kind of like it now.

Willow put that thought aside. Right now, she just wanted to be near Oz, the wonderful, loving, caring guy that made her feel loved, and beautiful and safe and – the last three mornings, they hadn't been able to just stay there under the covers and cuddle – waking up in a cage isn't very conducive to that, after all.

A few minutes passed in silence, and Willow's brain didn't shut down, exactly – but instead it started thinking about, alongside of Oz, other normal things. It was more or less impossible for her brain to focus on just the one thing at a time, and so in addition to thinking about her boyfriend, Willow was also considering the homework she had to catch up on – she'd worked ahead far more than she usually did, knowing in advance that she'd miss three nights, but that still left her with an unacceptably thin margin of work that was already done at least a week before the due date. 

As far as Willow was concerned, the published Syllabus complete with the assignments weeks before they were brought up in class was the greatest thing there was in college. It made it so much easier to work ahead.

Oz opened his eyes and looked over at her, shifting some in bed to lean in and kiss her. “This is nice.” He told her quietly as he pulled back. “Sleep well?”

“Much better than the last few nights.” Willow agreed, smiling a little. “But it'll happen again next month.”

“And the month after that, and the month after that, and so on.” Oz agreed. “I won't say it gets 'easier', because I'm not sure it does, but you do get... used to it.” He reached over and took her hand, squeezing it. “I never wanted to put you through this... curse of mine, but I did... I lost control, and I did. And you have it now – we both have it now, and we'll live with it together.”

Willow frowned a little at the thought of those three nights of the full moon, of being in that cage every month for three nights, becoming their new normal – but it was what it was. And Oz was right. They could make it through this together.

But, but what if we, like... stay together, and eventually get married and have kids and – 

Willow pushed that thought out of her head at once. While she would be lying if she hadn't thought about what would happen if she stayed with Oz for the rest of her life – and she certainly had no plans to do otherwise – things such as marriage and children, putting any serious thought into either at this point...

But still. Now that they were both werewolves, Willow wondered – would their kids also be werewolves? Obviously, Willow had no intention of biting any hypothetical children of theirs, but how exactly did the werewolf curse move? Like, if some of Oz's blood had gotten into her, would that have worked? And if that was the case, well, any child he sired would be inside her for nine months – so...

Again, Willow put the thought away. Something to research – she was still looking into being a werewolf as much as she could, but the problem was, there wasn't much written by werewolves. Scholars who studied lycanthropes had published their findings in certain circles, yea... even a few who had dissected them – and hadn't that particular folio been a terribly disgusting thing to read – but only a few short testimonials from the werewolves themselves had been included as part of those writings. So she was flying in the dark, in a lot of ways.

“That's our future.” Willow agreed. “Together.” She managed a smile – which really was mostly genuine – and leaned in and kissed him.

“Together.” Oz agreed softly.

December 12 th , 1999

UC Sunnydale Campus and Space Undefined

The Jester watched with amusement written across his features – 'his' features as any human would see them, anyway – as his chosen plaything started to work at slashing the tires to the werewolf's van. It wasn't easy for the coin-bearer, even with the blonde Slayer sent to more or less distract the werewolf and his girlfriend, and the coin-bearer’s own girlfriend keeping watch.

It had been especially fun witnessing Harris be unable to explain his plan, or even why he needed to do this, and he'd had to convince his lover this wasn't some petty revenge scheme for the lycanthrope biting the witch. Still, it hadn't taken much doing. The Hydra had obviously given his pet mortal too much latitude in the past, so his friends knew that Harris couldn't tell them things that were important – and that sometimes, the odd things he did were really important and needed to be done. So, neither female had refused to help after he had pleaded long enough.

Not that watching Harris beg those two for help hadn't been fun. The Jester mused, and then he felt a presence – this avatar was a mere seven dimensional being in four dimensional space watching occurrences in the third dimension – but it was hardly 'blind'.

The Jester turned, looking at the new arrival.

 

“Ah. I haven't seen you in some... time, Gazer.” The Jester said with a smirk. Standing before him was a being that he rarely had cause to interact with. The Gazer dueled with the Hydra more, just as the Librarian was his more common foe. The Professor countered the Weaver, and the Strategem... well, the Strategem countered them all, in many ways. But the Strategem's efforts were more divided, and the Strategem itself was a blunt instrument called upon as a last resort. 

The Four Forces of Fate versus the Three Powers of Chaos. If mortals could wrap their minds around it, it might have made for an interesting book (or made for TV movie).

Of course, there were a myriad of other beings beneath those seven, and Fate governed itself – all of itself above – by consensus, as if there was any logic to that. Every being in and above the seventeenth dimension had a vote.

Chaos just did its own thing. Much more fun.

“Shouldn't you be off chasing coils?” The Jester asked the Gazer. To 'see' the Gazer was a somewhat difficult matter using these avatars, as the being had no face. Or rather, where its face would be, on its apparently humanoid form, there was nothing but a mirror.

A human observer would describe the Gazer thusly: Tall, wearing a brown fedora and a brown longcoat, brown boots. Brown gloves completed the ensemble, leaving only the head visible, with the face made of glass; or so it seemed. A reflective surface, anyway. Which made it even more strange to see a small mirror – though made from crystal, rather than glass – in the being's gloved hand.

“This is no more of me than what stands before me is of you. And this latest project of yours is of interest of me. The Hydra is predictable. You never have been.” The Gazer's 'face' looked past the Jester to the coin-bearer. “So this is he?”

“Indeed.”

 

“A strange choice. Does he know?”

“Know what? There's so many things Harris doesn't know. It's quite fun to watch him run around on his wheel.” The Jester produced a dozen solid gold seven – yes, seven – sided dice from 'somewhere' and began to roll them one by one. The numbers would be unreadable for any observing humans – what script they were was also unknown to any human.

“He was an agent of Chaos. He's more than that, at this point. First the Librarian could not Write him. Now I cannot properly Gaze him. The Professor worries he may lose his power to Contextualize him. The Strategem will always be able to kill him, of course, but still.”

“Of course. The Strategem will always be a blunt instrument. She's so fun that way.” Of course, The Jester didn't actually use the word 'she', but that was what the word would sound like to a human. “She lacks versatility, but she is amusingly effective in her own way.”

“You'd enjoy watching him die.” 

“I'd enjoy watching anything happen that forces your carefully laid plans askew.” The Jester replied, with what looked like a jovial expression on his avatar's face. “His death would require you to shift resources, shift plans, and act. It is the Four of You that is such fun to watch, as much as the Chaos itself.”

“This is why you are so... pernicious. Your actions with the Caritagal... the effects are still ongoing there.” Many galaxies and a few realities over, yes, but it was one of the Jester's more fun little episodes. “There you scored many a march.”

“I suppose I did.” The Jester looked back over at Harris. He'd succeeded in slashing the tires, and apparently hadn't been caught. “And I suppose he's scored one against you.”

“I suppose he has.” The Gazer replied. The Gazer 'looked' into the crystal mirror in its hand and then back to the Jester. “Ah. Enlightening.” Accompanied by the sound of shattering glass, the force of Fate vanished, 'leaving' behind broken shards of a glass mirror and the 'clothing' it had been wearing.

The Jester appeared to raise an eyebrow at the demonstration, then gathered the golden dice into one hand, tossing them into the air and letting them vanish.

“So you've saved the werewolf. What will follow from that, Mr. Harris? What will follow from that?” The Jester too 'vanished'.

December 12th, 1999

Oz's Room, UC Sunnydale Campus

To say that Oz had been annoyed that his tires were slashed would have been inaccurate. Oz was not really one to get annoyed. Things happened the way they did, and getting all bothered over the little things was just not worth the effort.

 

He wasn't happy that they'd been slashed – not even close – but once he'd confirmed that there really was no driving on them, he'd gone to finding one of his band-mates to borrow their car. Willow had been more upset about it, but she hadn't gotten too upset. They still had their lunch date, and they still got back in time for Willow to do plenty of her classwork.

Oz usually stayed on-top of his homework over course of the semester, but he wasn't constantly striving to be ahead like Willow was. He wouldn't want Willow to stop being the kind of girl who worked so hard to get all her homework done weeks ahead of time – it was part of what made her her, made her the woman he loved, but that just wasn't him. But he too did have some homework to catch up on. Once he was done with that, he had some other things do to until Willow came back later in the evening.

Oz would never understand what had happened to make the wires inside his base and inside the Amp fray just enough, never grasp that the hand of Fate had set itself to work, determined to see its plans completed for once.

The werewolf smelled smoke rising from his guitar as soon as it came – immediately he dropped it, and moved to unhook it from the amp, to unplug it – but Fate remained unkind. His hand brushed over the amp in exactly the wrong place, and electrical current ran up his arm, sending him staggering back, his head slamming into the corner of his bedside table.

As smoke continued to rise up from the guitar, which was still plugged in...

December 12 th , 1999

UC Sunnydale Campus, Sunnydale

Finding Oz's van with all its tires slashed was... well, annoying, but also troublesome. Who would want to slash the tires? Well, it's the van the entire band uses if they go somewhere over the weekend, after all. So what, some rival band in Sunnydale had done it to get rid of the competition? Or some big mean jerk who just liked destroying things? 

It hadn't ruined her and Oz's plans to go out for lunch, but it did mean they left campus later than they'd intended and got back to campus later than they'd intended, because they'd needed to spend time tracking down one of Oz's band-mates and borrowing that guy's car. So very fun. But it had all worked out. She'd had a nice lunch date with her boyfriend, and then a nice day in general, and she wasn't going to let some mean jerk who slashed tires for whatever reason ruin her fun.

Unfortunately, spending the entire day with Oz wasn't an option. She'd had her homework to catch up with, textbooks to read and so on. So, as was pretty common these days, she'd spent most of the late afternoon and the evening in her dorm, catching up on the work she'd wanted to get done during those nights she'd been forced to spend in the cage. 

But now that she was done with all that for today, she could go back to Oz's room and spend the rest of the night there with him, awake and asleep. She actually rarely slept in her dorm these days, though occasionally it did happen.

Walking around the UC Sunnydale campus at night was not exactly the safest thing to do, but she had both a crucifix and holy water, and she had her magic as well. And besides, night time in Sunnydale – especially on or near the college campus – was a lot safer these days. Buffy living there had already made most of the vampires that would have come looking for a quick meal try other parts of town, and the general dearth of demon and vampire activity across Sunnydale only made it safer.

Willow was still a little tense, yes, but it was only a relatively short walk from one end of campus to the other, not from one end of Sunnydale to the other.

She'd reached the halfway point, when she smelt it.

Smoke.

A lot of smoke for her werewolf-enhanced senses to pick up on... it was faint...

And in the direction of...

No!

Willow didn't even realize she was running – why should she? The smoke could be coming from anywhere, but...

She saw the column of smoke just starting to rise. She saw the orange light blazing in the night, saw the building as fire consumed it. 

The House where Oz lived with the rest of the band and few of their friends.

He got out, right? Oz would have smelled the smoke! 

Arriving at the site of the fiery inferno, there were a few people she recognized as some of Oz's building-mates, and a whole horde of gawkers who were just standing there doing nothing! Had anyone even called the Sunnydale Fire Department? Emergency services always sucked on the Hellmouth, but fires were usually enough to get even Sunnydale's shitty municipal services moving...

“OZ!” Willow yelled, trying to get his attention, knowing he had to be in the massed crowd. “ OZ!” 

There was no response, no sign of her boyfriend. She couldn't smell him either. And the building was starting to fall apart, the flames already having consumed most of – 

No. He can't still be in there! He can't!

Screaming Oz's name continuously now, Willow started to run towards the flames. Someone grabbed her, holding her back from entering the burning building – a small part of her mind recognized it was Devon – but she struggled against his grip.

And watched in horror as the fire whooshed through more of the building, starting to lick at the walls, spreading to the roof – 

Before the entire structure collapsed to the ground, with a loud roar. 

NO! OZ! OZ!

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: I don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Click, Boom, Done.
Note: I have never had occasion to write Tara before, so I'm not sure if I've got her right. Feel free to tell me if you think I haven't succeeded, and why.

Thanks to Starway Man, my beta-reader, and deiticlast my creative consultant.

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Episode 11: A Moment of Silence

December 12th, 1999

UC Sunnydale Campus, Sunnydale

Another night, another uneventful patrol.

Buffy picked up a stake and a knife – something given to her by Faith, who had too many of the weapons to be entirely normal. Initially, Buffy had baulked a little at carrying a knife around; but Faith had pointed out that a stake wasn't useful against a normal demon, as a usual rule. A knife was. So knife it was. It was a fairly plain and functional weapon, which worked for her. Faith had several more elaborate ones. Buffy didn't know if they were stolen, paid for, taken from dead demons or vamps, and she really didn't want to know.

Far as I know, Faith doesn't do as much stealing as she used to since the whole 'Want, Take, Have' incident and... and Finch dying.

Though 'far as I know' wasn't much to go on. It wasn't like she asked Faith about that sort of thing.

Buffy saw the light and the smoke in the distance as she picked up the weapons, tucking the stake into her pocket and the sheathed knife into the inside of her jacket, but it hadn't really registered. She saw it again out of the corner of her eye again, and suddenly it did.

Fire. Something on campus was burning. Something on the far end of campus was on fire... and one of the things on the far end of campus was the building Oz shared with his bandmates and some other friends. Which was where Willow had been headed...

Buffy was out of her dorm and rushing downstairs and out of the building as quickly as she could, though she did have to duck around and dart past a few people. She wasn't the only one moving towards the blaze.

It doesn't have to be Oz's building. True, but she needed to find out. She couldn't just go off and do her own thing while her friends could be at risk...

As she was running across campus as quickly as she could – which was pretty damn quick – she finally heard the sound of fire engines, the distinctive wailing that came with them... as Buffy got closer to the fire, she got a better look at it, a better look at the smoking rising. It was Oz's building. It was the only thing it could be, location-wise.

They got out fine. Willow might not have even reached – I mean, she just left the dorm, right? Buffy held onto that hope as hard as she could. She'd lost people already, but to the fight. To demons and vampires. She wasn't losing anyone to a fucking fire.

When the Slayer got there, her throat clenched and her heart fell as she saw the building practically falling in on itself, the blaze even stronger than she'd thought. The acrid smell of the smoke assaulted her nose as she forced her way through the crowd of people. She couldn't see – damnit, she couldn't see Willow, couldn't see Oz... where were they? They got out. So they had to be out here, right?

“OZ!” She heard Willow's voice yelling the name, a desperate, pleading note to it. She turned, and all of Buffy's breath escaped her for a moment. 

Willow was there, screaming Oz's name, barely held back from running into the blaze by a couple of Oz's bandmates. Buffy recognized Devon, but she couldn't remember the name of the other guy. She saw Devon's grip starting to slip... Willow was going to run straight into the fire and get herself killed!

No. Buffy was over by them in an instant, her hand grabbing onto Willow's arm with a viselike grip. “Willow, no!” The redhead turned around, and Buffy saw that tears had already started to streak down her face, and Buffy's throat was still tight. She was still yelling Oz's name...

“Let me go! I've got to- I can-!” Willow demanded, trying to pull herself free from Buffy's grip and failing. “No! Let me go!” Then Willow's voice broke and without warning, the witch almost collapsed into Buffy's arms. “No, no...”

The Slayer held her friend, letting Willow start to sob into her shoulder. Buffy swallowed, trying to clear the blockage in her throat. There was no way anyone could get into the burning residence now. Not with the building falling inwards – already and even more – and as powerful a blaze as this one was. Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy saw trucks from the Sunnydale Fire Department pulling up, firemen hooking hoses to hydrants. Too little, too late...

Oz is – there was a chance he was still alive, right? There had to be. People had survived fires before. Maybe he hadn't been in there? It was possible.

But if he had been inside... if he -

Another person gone. She'd lost people before, seen people she knew or cared about die. She'd been there for her friends when people they knew, had known for years and years, died. She'd lost Angel. Giles had lost Ms. Calendar. Xander and Willow had lost Jesse. Xander had lost his dad. Amy had lost her mom. Buffy had lost Merrick, and Faith has lost her own original Watcher. But all those deaths had been related to the supernatural. The fight against demons and vampires and dark forces...

But this – an ordinary, normal fire. Perfectly mundane. Something that could happen anywhere to anyone. It didn't seem...real.

But that wasn't the worst part, of course. Oz was just her friend, but for Willow...

Buffy couldn't even imagine what it felt like for her. She could only guess at it, using her own experiences with sending Angel to hell, or losing Pike. So she held onto Willow as gently as she could. But the red-haired witch suddenly pulled away from her and looked back at the blaze. She was breathing quickly – initially they were great, sucking gasps of air, deep breaths, but they grew shorter and shorter, quicker and quicker.

“No. No.” Willow shook her head violently. “This isn't – I can... I can- I can -a spell -” Her voice broke again. Buffy could only feel sympathy for her best friend; she knew there was no magical solution to that much fire, assuming Oz had been trapped inside the building. Buffy didn't know much about magic, other than she didn't want to start messing with it herself, but that much fire -

“Willow, you need -” Buffy broke off, she wasn't even sure what the hell she was supposed to say in this situation... comforting words, she supposed, but she didn't have any. It wasn't words that had made losing Angel the first time okay. There wasn't anything she could say here and now that would make losing Oz okay for Willow.

Something else hit Buffy as well, even as she patted Willow's back a little awkwardly, standing a little back from her friend, letting her breathe. “Willow. You need to breathe.” She said slowly, her own voice cracking as tears started to form in her eyes.

Willow hadn't just lost her boyfriend, the guy she loved – the guy that Buffy suspected Willow would have stayed with and eventually married, judging by what she'd seen between them, what Willow had said about him. Nothing concrete this early in their lives, but still...

She had lost that, but she'd also lost the guy who could help her deal with her werewolf-ness. Sure, Oz had been the one to infect her with it in the first place, but he hadn't been in control of himself then. He hadn't done it on purpose. And he was the only person in Sunnydale who had been through what Willow was going through, who knew how to help her deal with being a werewolf, the way that he had done already.

And now, she was completely on her own with the whole werewolf thing, too.

Willow was still hyperventilating, and Buffy closed her eyes for the briefest moment, trying to get control of herself. One of her friends was dead. This was not okay. She was -

Oz was - had been - mostly a silent presence, since he almost never spoke. He was a dependable straight-up guy, a constant presence around Willow. Someone she could trust with her best friend, somehow Buffy knew would give his own life to keep her safe. He was a pretty wise guy, too, especially for his age. His insights, when he shared them, were useful. He was... he'd been her friend. He was her friend...

And now he was... now he was dead.

But there's still a -

Yes, there was. But here in the crowd of people – Oz would have heard Willow calling his name, right? He would have come here if he'd been outside and noticed the fire, worried about his friends if nothing else. And...

He wasn't playing a gig elsewhere with the Dingoes, on account of the rest of the band members were all here. There was no other place Oz could have been, given he'd been planning to meet up with Willow here.

All that fire... the firefighters weren't even making a dent against it as far as she could tell, watching hoses spraying water onto the building...

“Willow – you need... take a breath. You're -” Buffy reached a hand up and wiped her own eyes. She needed – Willow needed – more than just her. She needed her oldest friend since forever. There was a payphone nearby, but... she didn't want to leave Willow alone...

So Buffy reached into her coat pocket and took out some spare change. She made a point to always carry some, if she could, when she went out on patrol, in case she needed to call Giles or even Wesley about some weird demon she'd run into. Ever since her little trip into that Wish-world, anyway.

“Devon. Devon!” Buffy yelled his name again to get his attention. “Get Xander over here!” She gave him Xander's home number and handed him the change. “Willow's- she -”

Devon nodded. “Got it.” The lead singer for the Dingoes looked plenty distraught at the (probable) death of his friend and bandmate too, but he seemed to be keeping himself together at the moment. He went off in the direction of the nearest payphone.

December 12 th , 1999

UC Sunnydale Campus, Sunnydale

Xander saw the fire in the distance before he reached the college campus itself. Heard the fire trucks, saw the smoke...

He and Cordelia had been just about to settle in to watching a movie at home, when they got the call.

The place where Oz lived was burning down to the ground, and as far as Devon knew, Oz had still been inside... and no one had realized it until it was too late. And Willow was... Devon had called him because he knew Xander was Willow's oldest friend, and right now – she needed her friends!

Somewhat shell-shocked at the news, Xander barely had the presence of mind to tell Cordelia what Devon had told her, or to really register the news in a specific sense. The first coherent thought that had lasted for more than second was, Willow's alive. That his oldest friend was still alive was -

That thought came to him as Cordelia was already calling other people – Giles, and even Faith. She'd been planning on calling Amy, but the other witch had picked up the phone on Faith's end. Xander hadn't really registered that – he knew they were close friends and hung out all the time, after all, so that wasn't surprising to his mind.

Xander's second coherent thought came to him when he was in the truck on the way to campus, Cordelia silent next to him.

Oz is dead. Third time's the charm... First, Oz almost breaking up with Willow and leaving town. Then Oz would have died in that car crash... and now this. Fate obviously wanted rid of him.

Well... no, but -

Xander didn't know for a fact that Fate was behind this, but it was the only thing that made any sense right now. The building burns down, and Oz just happens to be the only one inside, according to Devon... everyone else survives?

If Fate hadn't just tried to kill Oz in a car crash, and hadn't tried to break him and Willow up last month... then he wouldn't have assumed this was Fate's doing. The Iron Coin hadn't shown him any of this, right? Otherwise, he'd have -

Oh no. Oh, fuck! All it showed me was the...

The coin had shown him the car crash that would have happened, when he'd flipped for Oz this morning. But he'd stopped that from happening. And -

Holy crap – I, I didn't flip the coin again afterwards. I didn't think that anything lethal would happen twice in one day!

My God – fuck – no...

It was Finch all over again. He'd gotten lazy. Complacent. He hadn't flipped again. Hadn't thought to flip again. Then again, why would he? Fate had never done anything like this before. Flipping once a day had always been enough to stay on top of things. He'd done it every morning since Finch's death... but now...

I screwed up. Big time! I didn't see this coming, because I didn't think Oz would be targeted again so damn soon! I didn't -

Xander's thoughts on that front were pushed out of his mind when he saw the still-blazing building, the fire trucks arrayed near it, the hoses spraying water onto it. Parts of the fire seemed to be out, but the smoke and the flames were still everywhere, and the entire place had collapsed into nothing...

He parked as close to the building and the throng of people still gawking at the fire as he could, before hurrying, running, desperately looking for Willow. The moon wasn't full, but it was close enough; and between it, the stars, the various streetlights lighting up campus and the flickering, shadowy light cast by the flames, Xander knew he'd be able to see Willow. And- and sure enough, he saw her, on her knees, Buffy crouched next to her, her head in her hands, sobbing. Leaving Cordelia behind, he hurried over to the side of his redheaded friend.

“Willow!” He was on her other side, wrapping her into a tight hug. The redhead murmured his name and hugged him back, holding onto him as if for dear life, as if to confirm for herself that he was in fact there.

“He's gone.” Willow got out between the tears that would probably soak his shirt, if this kept up. “He's gone...”

“I'm sorry.” Xander told her. God, I'm so fucking sorry. This is my fault. But he couldn't tell her that. He couldn't tell her that if he'd just flipped the Iron Coin again today, he could have foreseen this and gotten here in time to stop it. Stop Oz from dying, stop the fire from starting, gotten him out. Something

“I'm so sorry.” There wasn't anything else Xander could think of to say. Willow had loved Oz, still did love him, and now he was gone. He could tell even from this distance, there was no way anyone could have survived that fire. It was still blazing out of control, even if the firefighters seemed to be having some success in putting parts of it out now...

Willow just made an incoherent noise of anguish and collapsed against him. Xander wished there was something, anything he could do for his friend, his best friend. His pain at her pain, his own grief at losing a guy who Xander considered a friend... and his guilt. It all gnawed at him, and there wasn't anything he could do about it. 

When Jesse had died at the hands of a vampire, back then – he'd been able to channel how he felt about that, about his friend dying and then having to stake the demon that had taken over his body, into something. Into helping Buffy fight vampires. It wasn't much – he was never going to be super-useful in the fight, at least not directly – but at least he could do whatever he could, could kill a few vampires from time to time... balance the cosmic scales, at least a little...

But here? What could he do? Xander remembered how when Fate had killed his dad, he'd told that bearded guy with the book: I'll be the biggest fucking tiny little annoyance you've ever seen. Before, it had just been about helping his friends. And that was still part of it. But another part was pure spite. They'd killed his father just to teach him a fucking lesson. The Jester's adversaries had treated him and his friends and everyone else as fucking pawns they could move about at whim. So he wanted to stop them from achieving their plans, whatever they were, for their own sake. Just because.

And he'd done that. Not always, sure, but he'd gotten in the way of their plans. He'd stopped some things from happening, he'd stopped...

But he hadn't stopped this. Oz was dead. Because Fate had gotten proactive. Because he had gotten... complacent. Because...

No, hang on. This isn't just Fate's fault. We're not just pawns for Fate. We're playthings for the Jester as well. For Chaos. I'm just an amusement to him. He's getting off on this, I'm sure of it. He's probably watching Willow's agony right now, and laughing his fucking head off about it!

An angry flash burned its way through him, despite everything else he was feeling. Instantly, Xander tamped down on it. Not here, not now. Not while the fire was still blazing. Willow needed him.

Willow pulled back a little, but she still held onto him. Buffy was there as well, one hand on Willow's shoulder. Xander swallowed tightly against the lump in his throat, and felt a hand on his own shoulder. He looked up to see Cordelia. He put one hand on hers for a moment, nodding. Oz had been one of her friends too, though not quite as much, and she was here to help him as he helped Willow. She needs help, and I need help to help her. My God, no wonder I love my girlfriend!

Willow's sobbing finally stopped, her eyes red and splotchy, Xander's shirt was pretty damp, and so was Buffy's. Even though Willow looked like she'd only stopped crying because she had no more tears to give. Xander swallowed and reached over to her, taking her hand and squeezing it gently.

“He's gone.” Willow somehow got out, her words choked. “Oz is... he's...” She started crying again, but they were dry sobs. Xander put an arm around her, and Buffy followed suit. There was nothing that could be said. He was dead. All they could do was be there for her. Silent, supportive.

It's all my fault. Oz is dead because I screwed up. Because I changed things, and I didn't anticipate how far Fate was gonna go to get its own way about separating Oz from Willow!

December 12 th , 1999

Buffy and Willow's Dorm, UC Sunnydale

It had taken time, but eventually even Willow's dry sobs had finally stopped. This time, it wasn't because there were no more tears to give, but because...

Because Willow had cried herself into unconsciousness. Buffy wouldn't say sleep. There was nothing restful about collapsing because you've lost all your energy and the will to stay awake, after you've lost the guy you loved. Buffy hadn't done this when she'd sent Angel to Hell, granted, but she'd shown the same complete lack of dealing – it had made sense to her at the time, given everything that had just happened, but running away to L.A. had proven to be a bad idea, all things said and done.

Still, for better or worse, that had been how she'd coped.

Willow... She didn't even have the comfort of a last kiss like she'd had with Angel, a last memory. Whatever their last conversation, that's what she had to hold onto, with Oz gone.

The fire had eventually been put out, and the firefighters had started going through the wreckage, looking for the body of the one person who had been inside... Buffy had brought Willow back to the dorm rather than let her witness that. Bad enough Oz had just died, Willow shouldn't have to see the burned corpse of the guy she'd loved immediately afterwards.

Why didn't he escape? Did something happen to him?
 Buffy didn't have an answer to that question. Apparently...she didn't know for sure yet, but from what she'd heard before they left the scene...there were no suspicious circumstances around the fire. No traces of accelerant, or anything like that. Oz had died at the hands of something she couldn't hurt. It wasn't like she could declare war on fire everywhere. When Angelus had killed Ms. Calendar, she'd finally been ready to kill him. She could do that for Giles, and for his girlfriend, finally. And Buffy knew if she ever saw that psycho Drusilla again, she could kill her for Kendra without hesitation.

But this... there wasn't anyone to level revenge on. Just a fire that was gone now. And a best friend who had lost her boyfriend. And on top of that, who had to deal with being a werewolf all on her lonesomeness, from now on.

And so Buffy felt helpless, something which she hated feeling. Her friend was dead, and her best friend had lost her boyfriend, and was, understandably, in total emotional anguish because of it. Buffy still had the evidence of it on her still damp shirt. She didn't begrudge Willow her tears or the shirt, sure, but...

After Willow had collapsed unconscious in front of the burning building, Amy, had offered to cast some kind of sleep spell, to stop Willow from having nightmares or dreams for tonight. The other witch had arrived with Faith only minutes after Xander and Cordy did, and Buffy was generally okay with the idea, but...

Well, Willow wasn't awake to agree to it, so she'd told Amy not to. It wasn't really her choice to decide if a spell got cast on someone else – okay, if it was a demon or a bad guy or something, but that wasn't the sitch here.

Plus, magic could and often did go wrong, and if there was ever a time for a spell like that to go wrong, as far as their typical luck was concerned, it was now. So... yea. Not something to do.

Amy had taken her point, and after a few minutes of silent mourning from all of them, Buffy had picked Willow up – hardly a difficult task, she could carry Xander or Giles if she had to – and carried her across campus back to their dorm. She could hardly let Willow stay there on the grass. Of all of them, Xander looked the most broken up, next to Willow.

As Buffy laid her friend down onto her bed, she couldn't help but feel a bit of guilt regarding the desire to beat Oz up that she'd had only a few days before. True, it had only been on that day, but still...

She'd still been kind of annoyed at Oz, even this morning. She'd accepted Willow's explanation regarding the werewolf biting her, she'd understood that it hadn't been Oz's choice, but still... she was still just a little bit annoyed...

And now, Oz is dead. And I was pretty uncharitable towards him, at least in my own head the last few days before he died. So that was a fun thing to experience, on top of everything else.

Buffy looked down at her best bud, and then turned away. Despite everything that had happened tonight, she really needed to go out on patrol. Sure, there probably wasn't anything to slay, but there was always a chance of finding a stray vampire or evil demon. Finding a stray vampire or evil demon would do a lot to take her mind off...

Off Oz's death, in the short run. Off Willow's pain.

I just wish there was more I could do to help her. But what can I do and say? All I can do is be there for Willow, as best I can. Willow would likely remain out cold clear until morning, the shock and horror of the evening's events simply too much for her; but Buffy made a note to keep her patrol shorter this time, just in case.

December 12 th , 1999

17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

Cordelia could tell there was something up with Xander, the entire drive back. Something more than 'my friend just died' and 'my best friend just lost her boyfriend and the guy she loved'. It wasn't just grief, both direct and at a remove. She knew Xander better than that.

It was guilt. Xander was blaming himself.

Does he think it's his fault, for some reason? Did he know this was coming, and the doofus didn't do anything to stop it? Cordelia shook her head a little. No. That wasn't possible. If he'd known, he'd have done something. But Xander knew something was going to happen, didn't he? I mean, there's gotta be a reason he slashed the tires on Oz's van this morning...

Not that she had any idea what that reason was. Xander hadn't told her. He'd tried a couple of times, but the jackass that was his 'information source' or whatever had decided that that wasn't going to happen.

He stopped Willow and Oz from breaking up, by preventing that crazy bitch Veruca from sleeping with the guy. Xander would do anything for Willow, everyone knows that! So he must have slashed Oz's tires today for a reason, something similar to preventing what would have happened with that werewolf 'ho...

But now, Oz is dead.

Was that Xander's fault?

No. It couldn't be. Xander had hardly lit the fire, or kept Oz inside the building while it burned down all around him. The blame had to lie at the feet of whatever or whoever had caused the fire – and she planned on finding out if it was because some idiot had left a candle burning, or something. 

Because if some asshole who lived there had been responsible for killing Oz and putting them all through the wringer of losing one of their own, then she was going to beat the shit out of that person and then let Willow curse him to her heart's content, if she decided she wanted to.

What the hell, if that wish-demon girl had her powers, I'd even let her loose on him too! If there was an ordinary person behind this – sure, using the training Buffy had given her to beat up humans hadn't been the idea, but Cordelia didn't really care, and she doubted Buffy would either at this point. It wasn't like self-defense was only useful against vampires.

Right now, it was all practice for her, rather than learning. Cordelia had learned the technique and moves quickly – she'd always learned that sort of thing quickly. It had been why she'd been such a damn good cheerleader. That, and the fact that she looked damn good in her cheerleader outfit. She kept it in the back of the closet, to be broken out when Xander had been on especially good behavior.

Cordelia closed her eyes for a moment, as Xander pulled the car into the Harris driveway and forced herself back on track.

It was as if her brain didn't want to think about this, and to be honest, she didn't blame it. People dying... Cordelia didn't like the thought, and she liked the thought of people she knew, her friends, dying even less. She hadn't been super-close with Oz over the past few years, but she had been friendly with him, had counted him as a friend. And she counted Willow as a friend, mostly. So yea, she wasn't really happy about the idea of him being dead.

Oz was gone. 

It suddenly hit her like a ton of bricks; he'd been there, a presence in all their lives for over a year, nearly two. He'd been a friend. One of them – one of the people who had fought alongside the rest of the senior class at Graduation, plus Oz had been one of the people to help with planning the defeat of the Mayor. One of the Scoobies, dead. 

But not in battle. 

Not a victim of fighting the good fight, dying at the hands of some vampire or demon in order to save lives, or prevent the bi-annual apocalypse. Oddly, that would almost have been easier to handle. Knowing that Buffy or Faith or even Willow herself would kill the demon or vampire responsible, to avenge the guy's death. And... in a way, Cordelia knew she'd almost been prepared for one of them to die that way, after all this time. They faced the threat of gruesome death all the time, just by living on the Hellmouth, by being involved in the fight at all.

It's not like I planned for it, or expected it... but I've known it was possible. But this... a fire. It's... it almost doesn't seem real, you know?

Well, she did know now. It had happened. One of them had died at the hands of something 'normal'. It was...

It was a disturbing reminder of her own mortality, that was what it was.

She noticed Xander was silent as they entered the now-dark house – his mother was probably asleep at this hour – but Xander was making no special effort to be quiet. He wasn't trying to be loud either, though. Cordelia just silently followed him back to their bedroom, even though she could almost see the self-recriminations flying through Xander's head. He was blaming himself for what had happened, just like he'd done for that debacle involving the Deputy Mayor. 

But then, he'd known that was coming - somehow. And he'd moved as quickly as he could to stop it. Sure, they'd gotten there too late to save that Finch guy, but at least Xander had tried -

This wasn't the same.

Cordelia cursed whoever the hell his source was. Again. Because if she only knew all the details, she might be able to understand her boyfriend's guilt. Sure, she had figured out that Xander had known something was coming where Oz was concerned – what her boyfriend had done this morning, that had to have happened for a reason. But she didn't know what that reason was. She didn't have the full picture.

Cordelia wasn't an idiot. Xander wasn't either. He had a reason for blaming himself. Didn't necessarily make it a good reason, but he had a reason, just like he had for blaming himself for the Deputy Mayor's death. She just needed to find out what that reason was.

The former cheerleader's mind drifted back to Willow for a moment, as she followed Xander upstairs to their bedroom. She couldn't even imagine what the redhead was going through. Sure, Cordelia knew she'd lost boyfriends before. This was Sunnydale. It was hard not to lose a significant other if you were a popular and good looking girl at Sunnydale High. Before she'd found out about Sunnydale's realities, about vampires and demons and all the evil monsters that had been behind all that death - well, embarrassing as it was to admit now, she'd almost been able to ignore all the dead and missing people. Forget about their demise within a week, maybe two, and move on, almost forgetting about the dead person entirely.

It was part of the blindness that kept most of Sunnydale ignorant. The ability to see the supernatural stare you in the face, and then - somehow - ignore it.

But the point was... none of her boyfriends that had died had been especially important to her. Mostly they'd just been arm candy for her, status symbols. And to be brutally honest, that was what she'd been for them, too. She'd liked some of them well enough, especially Kevin Benedict - her sophomore year boyfriend, who'd been murdered along with his friends in the high school's AV room - but that was about it.

Oz had been more than that, for Willow. They'd loved each other, and now he was dead. The only equivalent Cordelia could experience – at least, right now - would be Xander dying...

And that was the one thing she didn't want to imagine. Never, ever.

She didn't want to imagine how she'd handle it. She didn't want to imagine Xander being dead. She didn't want to imagine Xander no longer being around. She didn't want to imagine not waking up next to her boyfriend every morning. She didn't want to imagine not hearing his corny jokes, or even his occasionally good ones. She didn't want to imagine not having him there to help make her feel better after a bad day – which, college freshman and all, did happen. Hell, she didn't want to imagine not being there for him after he'd had his own bad day. She didn't want to imagine any of that not being the case.

So yeah - Cordelia knew she had no real idea what Willow was going through now, was going to have to deal with, now that Oz was dead. The only way she'd have any idea was for Xander to die... which was not something she wanted to even imagine happening.

But she knew that Willow had to be going through all sorts of emotional hell right now, and that there was nothing she could really do for the girl. If she's not in classes tomorrow or the next few days, I can bring her the homework or whatever...but that's pretty much it. There wasn't much else she could do for Willow, but she did want to help the girl some.

Cordelia was self-aware enough to admit that part of the reason she wanted to help Willow was just because it would make her feel better about herself, in a 'look at me, I'm helping someone' kind of way. It wasn't that she didn't care, it was just... she'\d never really taken the time to really care beyond a basic superficial level. She'd been too busy ruling whatever school environment she'd been in at the time, keeping her Cordettes in line.

She'd cared, but in an abstract sense. And she cared now, but that wasn't the only thing that motivated her. She wanted to do what she could for Willow – because she cared, and because it would make her feel good about herself. I'm a nice person. Well, no, she wasn't a 'nice' person by most definitions, and she didn't care about that. Helping people did actually feel good from time to time, and Willow was her friend.

But the problem was... well, like she'd already realized, there wasn't much she could do for Willow. There just – there just wasn't. She couldn't bring Oz back to life, and she didn't exactly have a way to make his death hurt any less. There just wasn't -

I can't help Willow much. But I can help the guy I love. Xander was dealing with more than just garden-variety grief and loss at losing a friend. She could tell. He was blaming himself, even more now than what he'd been during the drive home.

When they reached their bedroom, Cordelia grabbed Xander's shoulder and spun him around to face her, closing the door with her other hand. Without saying anything, Cordelia wrapped her arms around Xander, holding him close, and after a moment, he wrapped his arms around her in turn. They just stood there for a few moments, silently supporting one another, letting the grief wash over them like a tide.

Xander's apparent self-blameage, her own 'I want to help Willow' aside, they'd both just lost a friend tonight. Someone they both knew was dead – and he'd died in such a completely normal way. A way that could happen to any of them without much warning. People died in fires all the time. Probably every day, somewhere in the world, overall.

Just... holding Xander. Being held by him. It was comforting. A reminder that he was alive, that he was here, and that she was alive and here too. She pressed her lips to his after a long moment and then pulled away shortly after. She kept one hand on his shoulder.

“There's something bothering you, Xander.” Cordelia said, not beating around the bush. “Something more than the fact that Oz just died. And I want you to tell me about it. Because I think I have an idea of what it is that's bothering you.” She closed her eyes a moment. “So, just for the record – it isn't your fault that Oz is dead. You didn't know it was going to happen. I know you well enough to know that you'd have done something if you had known. Hell, you did something just this morning.” Not that I get what the point behind that was... yet.

“Sorry to have to disagree with you, honey. But it is my fault.” Xander let out an angry growl of frustration. “If I could just – if only I could explain it all, right from the top. How all this works.” Xander balled one hand into a fist and punched the wall. He recoiled a little, shaking his hand, muttering curses, and Cordelia took a step back unconsciously. 

She'd seen Xander angry before, but this... he wasn't angry at her, but she didn't want to be too close to him if he punished the wall and broke it and rained himself with shard of plaster or whatever. She'd help him with, like, band-aids and pulling bits of plaster out of himself and all that after that; but if Xander was going to be stupid enough to do that, he could take the little cuts and scrapes on his own.

“Well, you can't, Xander! But you can explain something.” Cordelia was going to effectively bully her boyfriend into not blaming himself. It had worked before, it was going to work again. “Like, what was the point of slashing Oz's tires this morning?”

“So he wouldn't die in a stupid car accident, just after 1:15 pm this afternoon!” he shouted, before looking momentarily surprised.

Cordelia recoiled a little, mentally. Of course. Damn it, I should have guessed that! It made perfect sense now why Xander had done what he did... to stop Oz from dying in such a pointless way... God. No wonder he's so pissed!

Now both of Xander's hands were balled into fists. “And look how that turned out. I saved Oz's life earlier today, saved Willow from witnessing his death after the van got hit by that car running a red light...and for what? He still ended up dead, only now it was probably more painful than a quick death from car accident!” 

Pretty sure car accident deaths aren't always quick, sweetheart. Cordelia took a deep breath, steadying herself. “Oz dying in that fire wasn't your fault.”

“Close enough. I should have been able to find out, I...” A sudden sense of recognition dawned in his eyes and Xander grabbed the chair to the desk and threw it on the ground angrily, hard as he could. It was a pretty flimsy and cheap construction, and one of the legs snapped at the force of the landing. 

Xander Harris, you had better not trash this room! It's my bedroom as well, you know!

“Fucking bastard warned me about this! And I didn't even think about it. Didn't remember it. I was just so fucking happy at having prevented – I'd stopped Willow and Oz from breaking up. Only, now he's dead because of it! I saved his relationship with Willow, stopped the car accident, and he's still dead!”

Cordelia drew in closer to her boyfriend and poked him in the chest, hard. “No destroying the furniture, Xander.” She could guess who the 'fucking bastard' was. His source. But the warning couldn’t be that Oz would die in a fire. Xander wouldn't have just 'let that happen'. No way in hell.

“Can you tell me what warning it is you're talking about?” Goddamn it, but she wished Xander could just make sense once in a while. Yes, he couldn't say everything because of whatever insane magic was stopping him from doing so, but couldn't he get it out more coherently? Hey, sometimes he did...

“My... source. He said that even if I changed things, that...” a brief moment of no sound from his mouth, “...would adjust things to... make the end result be the same. If I had done nothing, Willow and Oz would have broken up and then he would have left town. He'd be alive right now! But I got involved, and the end result is the same now – Oz is out of the fucking picture and Willow is single, which is apparently what was the point behind all this crap. Only now, Oz is dead – and Willow isn't dealing with a guy who cheated on her and then broke up with her, she's dealing with the man she loves being dead!” Xander ranted wildly.

Cordelia watched her boyfriend lunge at the desk, putting his hands on the underside of it – but then he stopped himself short, barely, and punched the wall again – he didn't break it, but he did leave a fist-sized dent in the cheap plaster. Watch it, dumbass!

“So what are you saying, Xander? That – that you can't change anything?” No, that didn't make any sense. Her boyfriend knowing things ahead of time had changed things before. He'd known about that Gem of Amarra that Spike was looking for. He knew that Drusilla was coming back to town eventually, and soon, which was always a good thing to know. And he had stopped Willow and Oz from breaking up. She didn't know what else he'd changed...

But look what stopping Willow and Oz breaking up led to. Yea, what did he mean about 'making the end result be the same?' Was it like that stupid time-travel movie Xander had made her watch once? Where changing the past still led to the same end result in the end, because history wasn't actually something you could change just like that? Xander wasn't changing the past, but -

Well, this is the first time he's ever brought the possibility up. The possibility of this 'things ending the same' thing. When was he warned by his source? What exactly was the warning?

Still, whatever the warning – Oz's death wasn't Xander's fault. Cordelia could say that with confidence. He hadn't started the fire. He hadn't known about the fire. He hadn't somehow made sure Oz couldn't get out the building. He'd had nothing to do with it.

But...well, as much as she hated to admit it... like Xander himself said – if he hadn't stopped Oz and Willow from breaking up because of that whole Veruca nonsense, then Oz would still be alive. But he couldn't have known that, at the time...

But that's exactly the point. He's changing things without knowing what might happen afterwards...what the consequences will be. Before this... she'd thought it wasn't a problem – he was trying his best with what he had, and was doing nothing really an option when you knew what was going to happen otherwise? She couldn't imagine Xander doing nothing...

But still... now... now someone had died because of him changing things, if Xander was right. And that...

I dunno. Maybe he should have left well enough alone? Horrible as it sounds, maybe he should have let Willow suffer the pain of losing Oz temporarily, rather than permanently?

But that -

Even though it was true, in a way... Xander couldn't have known it would turn out like this. And now...

And now someone had died. Oz had died because of Xander's attempts to make things 'better'. What next? Could acting on the information provided by this 'source' of his...could it lead to Xander dying? Her dying? She knew Xander wouldn't change things to lead to her death deliberately; but that was the whole point, wasn't it?

“Apparently not. Not as long as...” more soundlessness, “...make things go the way they're 'supposed' to go. I can't find stuff out fast enough to beat them forever, I get that now. That's the worst part, Cordy – even if I could have stopped the fire somehow, saved Oz tonight like I did earlier this afternoon, they'd just have done something else...” Xander suddenly started babbling in reply to her question about whether he could actually change anything.

Who the hell is they? If she didn't know better, Cordelia would have thought her boyfriend sounded like one of those paranoid conspiracy nuts you saw on TV, on shows like the X-Files or whatever. But that wasn't Xander. She wondered if he hadn't expected her to be able to hear that. Somehow, she doubted he'd have been able to get it out if he had... 

Xander kicked at the chair, sending it flying into the bookcase. The bookcase stayed intact, and the chair mostly so. But like, half the books fell off, most of them landing and opening face down. The bookcase even shook a little, and for a second, Cordelia wondered if it would fall over. Fortunately, it didn't, but it didn't look entirely stable now.

That's it, Xander, you are cleaning that up yourself!

“Look, I don't get that, at least not entirely. But one thing I do know is that Oz being dead isn't your fault, dumbass! You didn't set the fire. You set things in motion, fine. Maybe you're right; maybe you should have done nothing with regards to Oz cheating on his girlfriend. But you didn't, and now Oz is dead – but you didn't kill him, and it isn't your fault!! There are things in this world that are your fault, but this isn't one of them.” Cordelia took a step towards him, closing the distance he'd made when he'd kicked the chair. “It's not your fault, dummy. So stop blaming yourself for it.” Cordelia resisted the urge to slap some sense into him. Instead, she poked him again, though not as hard as before – and in the shoulder, this time.

“You say it like it's that easy, Cordy.” Xander replied after a long moment of silence, his voice quiet, but she could still hear the anger from the way he gritted his teeth just a little bit. “And,” he added, another moment long enough that she'd been about to respond, “you agree that I should have left well enough alone. That makes it my fault. At least on some level. If I hadn't done anything, Oz would still -”

“You don't know that for sure, Xander. And even if we know that now, you didn't know it then!” Cordelia interrupted him at once. “You're not to blame, okay? And I'm not going to let you blame yourself. You need -” Cordelia was cut off by the sound of tapping on glass. She and Xander both looked over at his Window and saw Buffy perched on the tree just outside of it, tapping on the window.

Wait, Buffy? Why the hell is she here? Cordelia asked herself. Then it occurred to her:

She's not an idiot, either. She knows about Xander knowing things too. And she did run interference with Oz for Xander... so she knows about the tire slashing...

Maybe she can help me out, here?

December 12 th , 1999

17619 White Oak Drive, Sunnydale

Buffy hadn't actually intended to go to Xander's place tonight. She had questions to ask him, yes. About the slashed tires thing, and him knowing things and the two sides and the fire and how the hell all this fit together. But she'd thought it could wait until tomorrow. Nonetheless, upon setting on patrol, Buffy found that her feet were taking her towards to 'La Casa Harris' anyway, and so... here she was.

One look in the windows – which were all dark, save for the one in Xander's upstairs bedroom – told her that Xander's mom was probably asleep, so she didn't ring the doorbell or knock. It wasn't like it was hard for her to climb that tree up to Xander's window.

She was not expecting to see that someone – she was guessing Xander, though that really didn't make much sense – had decided to break a desk chair some and knock half the books on the bookshelf off, scattering them on the floor in front of the shelf... and on top of the chair and next to the chair...

With her Slayer hearing, Buffy could easily make out what Xander and Cordelia were saying. Well, Cordelia anyway, since she was the one taking.

“You don't know that for sure, Xander. And even if we know that now, you didn't know it then! You're not to blame, okay? And I'm not going to let you blame yourself. You need -” 

At that point, Buffy interrupted Cordelia by tapping on the glass. She could guess – with like, 80% certainty? - that they were in the middle of talking about exactly what it was she wanted to talk to Xander about, and she had no issues with Cordelia being there as well.

Buffy almost wished she had a camera to take a picture of their confused expressions – well, the small part of her that could still manage whimsy, anyway. She'd get that back eventually, just as she had after she'd thought she'd lost Angel forever by sending him to hell, but it hadn't even been a day yet...

After a moment, Xander walked over to the window and opened it, stepping aside to let her through. “Uh, hey, Buffy...” He said, still clearly shaking a little confusion out of his voice, “Uhm, why were you outside the window?”

“Because I didn't want to wake your mom up by ringing the doorbell.” Buffy answered, slipping inside the room with easy, almost casual grace. “And since the only light on in the entire house was in here, I figured you two were still up.”

“Not sure sleeping is something I'm entirely ready for.” Cordelia admitted wearily. She moved towards the desk, and then Buffy heard the cheerleader mutter a curse and watched her look over to the broken chair. Letting out an angry sigh, Cordelia sat on the bed.

“I figured.” Buffy agreed.

“You're here to talk about what happened with the van's tires this morning, I'm guessing.” Xander asked, his hands clenching into fists for a moment.

“Pretty much.” Buffy admitted. “So. What was that about? What were you trying to stop?” Not that Buffy hadn't already guessed. She knew little about the mysterious source of information Xander had, other than dribs and drabs, hints about two sides at play and being a means to an end. But still, she could guess. “Were you trying to stop -”

“I was trying to stop Oz from dying horribly in a pointless car accident.” Xander interrupted. “And look how much good that did me. He's still dead. Because I fucking well screwed up!”

Buffy didn't need to be taking a freshman psychology class to hear the anger and guilt in Xander's words. “How? How is it because you screwed up? Did you light the fire? Did you know it was going to happen?” She already knew it wasn't Xander's fault. She couldn't believe that he could have known about the fire but done nothing. And there was no way he'd lit it.

“No, but thanks to me, Oz is dead! Because I meddled and stopped things from going the way they were supposed to, and now he's dead!” Xander replied, raising his voice, his words spitting forth harshly. “If I hadn't been so fucking sure that I knew what I was doing, I wouldn't have made the mistake of meddling. If I'd left well enough alone, Oz would have broken up with Willow and left Sunnydale – and he'd still be alive!

Oh. Wow. “I see. But there's something I think you're ignoring – and that's the fact that there's no way in hell you'd have not stopped Oz from cheating on Willow, and causing her that kind of pain,” Buffy said, after managing to get her thoughts in order. “I know you, Xander. You wouldn't have just sat there and -”

Xander shook his head. “I would have, if I'd just stopped to think! Damn it, Buff – I was warned that things would change in ways I didn't expect. I was warned that -” Xander's voice went silent again - “would make things go the way they were supposed to, that there'd be a...a response. They wanted Oz dead, and now he's dead!”

I can actually hear that? Is Cordelia able to – Buffy looked over at Cordelia, and saw the look in her eyes – annoyance, and confusion. She was looking from her to Xander and back. Is she even hearing a word of this? They can do that, as I recall, whoever 'they' are... 

Still, despite Xander's words, Buffy couldn't believe her friend would have done nothing to stop the breakup. He wouldn't have done nothing – he would have tried to find a third option.

“Yea, Oz is dead. Right now, he's a burnt corpse in Sunnydale's morgue. But one thing I've learned from being a Slayer, Xander, is that you can't expect every little thing. You didn't kill Oz. You did everything you could to save him.” This was the fight she'd had with herself every day at Sunnydale High. Another day, another dead student. Or a dead parent of a student. Or a dead sibling of a student. Or a dead teacher. She'd started to agonize over the deaths, initially, determined to believe that if she'd just been a little bit better, a little faster, patrolled little longer, she would have killed the vampire or demon responsible, saved that life. But -

Time had taught her that she couldn't save everyone. Even with Faith and everyone else helping her. Even with those mysterious and still-unidentified soldier-boys running around, apparently capturing demons and vampires, people were still dying. 

Oz had just died, and that was at the hands of a fire, of a natural cause. Or 'their' hands. Whoever it is that 'they' are. What Buffy wanted to do was track down Xander's source and do what she'd threatened to do to Whistler – tear out their ribcage and make them wear as a hat. She wanted to do the same to whoever 'they' were, but she wanted to add some reindeer antlers made out of their arm bones or something equally horrific.

Not like they're human, from all the hints I've gotten so far. I'm allowed to do that, right?

Somehow, though, Buffy suspected it wasn't exactly an option. That ripping their bones out would be a lot easier said than done, even if she ever got a face to face with them. That knowledge only pissed her off more.

But anything that happened that he couldn't stop – it wasn't Xander's fault. Not if he'd tried. And he had, clearly.

 

“Buffy -” Xander started to say.

“Was it my fault that all those people died at Graduation, Xander?” Buffy asked, interrupting him. “I mean, if I'd just left well enough alone that night, let Wesley go with the 'destroy the Box' plan and let the Mayor kill Willow, all those other people wouldn't have ended up dead. Stands to reason, right? The Mayor wouldn't have been able to become a ginormous demon snake the way he did. So... do you think those deaths are my fault, they're a result of my actions?”

Xander blinked. “God, no.” His voice was surprisingly level – she could see the 'what the fuck' on Xander's face about the sudden topic change. But it isn't a topic change.

“No, of course not.” Cordelia agreed, apparently able to hear again. “Not that I know what that has to do with what the rest of what you were saying, exactly, but to answer the question – no, it wasn't your fault.”

“Really? But Wesley warned us all, remember? He told us what the consequences would be, don't forget – that people could and probably would die, if we didn't destroy that damn demon spider box while we still had the chance. Sure, we lucked out a lot – we could have all died during that eclipse – but I went with what seemed like the only good option at that time. None of us wanted Willow to die, to be a sacrifice for Wesley's so-called 'greater good'. So we didn't. And later, we paid the price for that.”

“All I did was prevent two people from breaking up. It's hardly the same thing, Buff!” Xander insisted stubbornly.

“No.” Buffy agreed. “It isn't the same. But you were still doing the best you knew how with what you knew. Just like me – all I knew for sure was that if we didn't give the Mayor his box back, Willow would die. I didn't know the Mayor would turn into that huge-ass pure demon, and start snacking on the entire town. I got – I got cocky. We all did. We figured we could win in the end, so we picked Willow over the sure thing. And it worked, mostly. If I'd known then... well, honestly, I have no clue. Maybe I'd have tried for some other option. But I didn't know what would happen then, and you didn't know what would happen afterwards when you stopped Oz from cheating on Willow.”

What Buffy really wanted to do was slap Xander, knock a little sense into him, but that wasn't really a good idea. Instead, she just raised her voice. “Because the thing is, you didn't just stop two people from breaking up. You stopped your best friend, someone you've known forever, from having the guy she loved cheat on her – and then leave her. If you hadn't stopped all that from happening, do you think you'd be able to live with yourself, knowing in advance how much that would hurt Willow? If you'd known that stopping the breakup would lead to this, to Oz dying in a fire, you'd have made the same choice I would have with the Mayor's box.” Buffy shook her head. “You'd have stopped Willow and Oz from breaking up, and then you'd have done everything you could to stop Oz from dying in the fire, just like you stopped him from dying in a car accident by slashing his van's tires.”

What Buffy wanted to do right now was just mourn Oz's loss. But she couldn't do that – or at least, not just that. Whatever was coming next, with the soldier-boys or whatever else, Buffy needed every one of her friends. The only reason she was still alive and had triumphed over so many apocalypses, at this point, was because of the help of her friends – Faith, Willow, Giles, Xander, Amy, Cordelia, even Wesley. Before he'd left, that list had included Angel. And Oz, yes, even though he wouldn't be helping anymore...

But that meant she needed Xander's head in the game. She needed Xander finding out what he could about the future. She didn't know if she trusted his judgment one hundred percent of the time – they disagreed on things, after all, but she trusted that Xander would try to do the right thing. And that was enough; Xander had a pretty good idea of what the right thing was, most of the time. The right thing by his friends, especially.

“Face it, Xander; you didn't kill Oz. You don't have any blame in what happened to him tonight. Oz didn't die because you 'meddled'. It happened because -” Buffy felt her throat close up and resisted the urge to put her hand to her throat – it wasn't going to help. She couldn't stop the choking noises she made for a moment, staggering back as her airways cleared. The point had been made. “You had no way of knowing if Oz would have lived after the breakup.” Buffy added. She rubbed at her neck lightly. There has to be a way around that. Somehow.

“What if you were thinking like this when you found out that Oz was going to die in the car crash? Or if you'd been thinking like that, and you'd found out about the fire? It would be meddling to save his life. What if saving his life somehow led to all of us dying later on? Including Willow and Cordelia?” That wasn't entirely fair, Buffy knew. She didn't usually talk like this, but someone had to do the deep thinking here, since Xander and Cordelia seemed to be on the shallow end of this question.

Xander looked away from her, clenching and unclenching his hands. He was silent for a minute – a whole minute of total silence in the room, or close enough, it wasn't like Buffy was counting seconds – then he let out a slow, angry breath.

“Have I mentioned how much I hate it when you're right?” Xander asked through clenched teeth.

Buffy shrugged. “No, you haven't, but then I'm not usually fond of you being right when I'm wrong.” Like when he and Wesley had explained, in annoying detail, why giving the Gem of Amarra to Angel had been a bad idea. Because... well, it had pissed her off, in a lot of ways; as much as she hated to admit it.

Xander dropped his head into his hands, then dragged his fingers down his face, letting out another long, slow sigh. “I hear ya, Buffy. You too, Cordy. I know what you mean, and I get what you're trying to tell me, but I still can't – this stillfeels like it's my fault. Like I shouldn't have done anything. I know you're right... it isn't my fault. I can't just not – okay, this isn't my fault. It's his fault. Their fault.” 

She saw how Xander's hand drifted towards his pocket, and Buffy's mind suddenly went back to that featureless coin that Xander-Two had taken out of his pocket and tried to give to her when he'd been dying in that Wish world. Buffy had been too consumed by her rage at Anyanka to take it – she'd just gone after the demoness, trying to force her to bring Xander-Two back and...

Then she'd come back to her universe. And what with everything else that had happened, she'd completely forgotten about that featureless iron disk... until now.

Does he have it here? How is it connected? How does all this fit together?

December 14 th , 1999

Sunnydale Cemetery, Sunnydale

This wasn't supposed to have happened.

Giles stood ramrod straight as the sun shone brightly in the sky over Sunnydale's largest cemetery. Being nondenominational in nature, Sunnydale Cemetery got more of the dead buried here than any other of the twelve cemeteries in town. Whatever of Oz had come out of the fire intact was going to be buried here. For understandable reasons, the wake had been closed casket. Only Oz's parents and Willow herself had seen the burned remains of what had once been a handsome young musician, out of all the funeral guests. Giles suspected seeing the body hadn't been as helpful as one would have liked for any of them.

Unlike so many of his Slayer's friends, Oz had always had a stable home life, but that hadn't changed the fact that Giles had cared about the young man as much as he had about Willow or Xander or Cordelia. They were, in some ways, his charges, as he was the eldest of their group, and he considered it his responsibility to help them do the best they could surviving on the Hellmouth and taking part in the fight against vampires and demons.

Giles could only imagine the experience was much worse for Oz's parents, finding out that their son had died... and that particular way...

Giles had known, intellectually, that outliving his Slayer was an unfortunate possibility. It was even something he was almost prepared for, though he knew that was something of a lie as well. Not after what had happened with the Master, a few years back. He felt similarly about Faith dying in the line of duty. As terrible as it was to acknowledge it, Slayers died young – and they died violent deaths. He still hoped to see them both live long, fruitful lives, however.

But for one of the others to die... yes, they were civilians getting involved in a fight that they probably shouldn't, but his 'brood' usually knew their limits. And children – which was what they were, still – were not meant to die so young. Oz had been barely twenty years old.

Giles listened as Mr. and Mrs. Osbourne read aloud some sort of spiritual poem about death and the next world. It was, ah, more or less 'New Age', and a bit gauche for his tastes. But if that was what gave comfort to them, he could hardly fault their faith. Giles was Anglican in form, but more of a Deist in his actual beliefs; although he did believe that there had to be a better afterlife than just the various hell dimensions he'd read about in the Council's books and other lore.

He looked not too far from his own place to see Willow standing, wearing black – as were they all – and barely keeping herself together. His heart broke for the dear girl. She too shouldn't have to be dealing with this. Not just because she'd lost the man she loved – loved a great deal, judging from the way she'd defended him when the subject of her being bitten had come up not long ago...

Willow had loved Oz, and she'd lost him, but she was also going to be forced to deal with her new lycanthropy alone. Certainly, they could all be there for her, but it was hardly the same. Oz had had to deal with it alone, but Giles had considered the fact that Willow wouldn't have to face it alone as one of the few brighter spots to accompany the news that she'd inadvertently been bitten.

And now she will, the poor girl.

Xander and Buffy were standing by the girl, giving her all their support. He wasn't surprised in the least to see that, of course. Willow had written a eulogy, but judging from the way she was barely holding back from openly sobbing, Giles wondered if she'd be able to deliver it. He hoped she would be able to – he'd had to deliver eulogies for some of his fellow Watchers before, and there was a slight measure of closure for giving a eulogy to someone you knew, had been friends and colleagues with. He'd given the eulogy at Jenny's funeral, and that too had helped, in a small way. 

Not much, but it had helped. Eventually.

Seeing Xander, however, had Giles's mind drifting to the information that had come to light the previous afternoon from the young man's confession. Xander had admitted that he'd actively stopped Oz from breaking up with Willow by preventing the musician from engaging in an illicit affair with that other werewolf girl, Veruca – and that Xander had known Oz was going to die in a car accident the other day, and had slashed the tires to the young man's van in order to prevent it.

And yet, Oz ended up dead anyway. Not that it was Xander's fault, of course, he hadn't killed the poor lad. He'd done what he could to keep his friend alive, despite the fact that it appeared Oz had been... well, targeted was probably the best word for it. Giles suspected that if he'd had the future knowledge that Xander received, he would have considered all that could go wrong a great deal more before changing anything, and yet...

It wasn't as if guessing that Oz would die in a car crash or a fire was a logical jump from preventing a breakup with the werewolf's paramour. It wasn't Xander who had caused this problem. Unfortunately, he seemed to hold himself responsible – but at least, he didn't act it around Willow. The tragedy here was for all of them who had known Oz, yes, but it was greater for Willow than for Xander.

His parents done, Giles watched Willow take a deep, somewhat shuddering breath, and walk towards the grave where Oz's coffin would be lowered into the earth. Her eyes were red with shed tears, her face and cheeks streaked by them. But as she started giving the eulogy, she seemed to draw on some inner well of strength and find her voice enough to deliver it.

December 14 th , 1999

Buffy and Willow's Dorm, UC Sunnydale

The funeral was over, and what little ability she'd had to keep it together while delivering Oz's eulogy had left Willow practically the moment it was done. She'd nearly collapsed under the weight of everything, and it was only with Buffy and Xander there to support her that she'd managed to make it through the funeral. She could barely remember breathing the entire time, her throat was so tight. 

Just like a few nights ago, she had cried until she had no more tears to give, and then the dry sobbing had come.

Intellectually, Willow knew that being alone right now was not the best thing for her. But she hadn't wanted to linger after Oz's burnt and unrecognizable remains were put in the ground, and she'd demanded Buffy leave the room, let her be alone. She hadn't had much time alone the last two days. The small part of her that could do something other than be overwhelmed with grief had appreciated that – that her friends were there for her, constantly, was a good thing. That they cared enough was a good thing.

But...

She was tired of being smothered. She needed some time to grieve alone. To try desperately to wrap her head around the fact that her boyfriend, the man she loved, the guy whom she'd been thinking of spending the rest of her life with (especially given their shared lycanthropy), was gone.

Oz was dead, and Willow had no idea how she was going to handle that. How she could ever stop missing him, ever stop feeling like there was a gaping, massive hole in her chest. She was wondering how she could ever come to terms with the fact that her boyfriend, the man she loved, was dead.

Oz was dead, and Willow had no idea how to handle the fact that never again was she going to wake up next to him. Never again was she going to be able to kiss him, snuggle up against him, cuddle up close to him. Never again would they share meals, or just sit together in silence and do their own thing. Never again would she get to hear his voice, argue fine philosophical points with him. She'd never even be able to complain to him about the little things he did that annoyed her – the...funky smell his van had after a gig. The way he, despite being a mostly organized and neat guy, would leave his socks everywhere.

Oz was dead, and nothing was ever going to be the same.

Oz was dead, and now Willow would have to face being a werewolf alone, every full moon. Oz was dead, and Willow had no one to help her learn how to control the wolf that was inside her – she could almost feel it raging in her from time to time now, but it was an angry rage against the universe – the wolf had seen Oz as her mate, and now he was gone...

Oz was dead, and Willow had no idea how it was she was going to be able to cope. She had no idea how to keep going.

It's not like I have to.

The thought occurred to her, and though its logical extension appealed to a small part of her, the idea of no longer feeling all this pain... she couldn't imagine actually doing it. She couldn't really imagine ending her own life. Oz wouldn't want that, and she...

However much it hurt right now, that part of her that could do more than grieve was aware that sooner or later, somehow, life would continue. Cliché or not, life would go on. Sooner or later, somehow, she'd be able to find some way to keep living, keep doing, keep being.

But until she got there, Willow figured she would have to somehow find a way to function enough to get by. Even though all she wanted to do was stay here, sit on her bed and cry, and think about her boyfriend. To hold onto the memories she had of him. The happy ones. She needed to hold onto that happiness desperately, because right at this moment? 

The idea that she would ever be happy again seemed quite frankly impossible.

December 15th, 1999

Kresge Lounge, UC Sunnydale

The last week and change had been an emotional rollercoaster and a half for Amy Madison.

First her vampire twin from another universe had arrived, and Faith had gotten herself drunk thinking she was dead. Which confirmed for Amy just how much Faith valued her friendship – but...

But only just their friendship. Because that's all they were. It had become clearer and clearer since that morning seven days ago that Amy hadn't gotten her point across to Faith, at all. That Faith hadn't gotten how Amy really felt about her.

And why would she? There's no way in hell she could ever return what I feel, the very concept would just be totally unthinkable to her...

But she still had that friendship, and Amy had tried to convince herself it was enough. And most of the time, it was. And hey, they were having sex regularly... over the last seven days, Amy had ended up spending the night at Faith's apartment, in Faith's bed after they were done with their... activities five times. 

The two nights they hadn't had been the night of Oz's death, and the night after the day of Oz's funeral. Neither of them had been in the mood.

But apart from that, Faith hadn't kicked her out of the bed once, and so five times Amy had woken up in bed with Faith – usually before the Slayer – and allowed herself a few minutes of fantasy, the idea that there really was more to their sex than just... friends with benefits. That Faith knew how Amy felt, and felt the same way. That Faith loved her. That they had a relationship as well as their friendship.

But the fantasy never lasted long. And the pain in her heart every time she forced herself to come back to reality wasn't made any easier by the small size of the bed, or Faith's habit of pressing up against Amy in her sleep even more than the bed's size required, the lazy way her arm or leg was usually draped over Amy's side, the way Faith's breath tickled Amy's neck as she was waking up. All the little things that just...

A small part of Amy wondered if the friendship really was enough. A tiny voice she refused to listen to told her it would smart to cut her losses now and move on, while she still could. That there was no future in what she shared with the brunette Slayer. But for now, it was enough. She had Faith in her life, and Amy wanted Faith in her life. Needed Faith in her life.

Of course, all the issues she had in regards to Faith were only made worse because of Oz's recent death. Willow was her friend too, had been since they were little kids, and she'd done her best to be there for the other witch. Trying to imagine what Willow was going through wasn't an option, though. She'd only experienced thinking Faith dead for a split second. She'd seen Faith almost die, and that had nearly given her a complete mental breakdown.

She couldn't imagine what Willow was going through after her boyfriend had actually died, after being in a relationship with him for nearly two years...

Amy's attention was drawn back to the Wicca Group by the sound of the closing prayer starting. She'd completely missed the second half of the meeting, lost in her own thoughts. Amy joined in the prayer, mouthing the words, but not actually saying them, and not taking them to heart. She had taken Hecate as her patron, and Amy couldn't pray to any other gods, or to any other thing, without risking Hecate's ire or annoyance.

Of course, I also need to find a dog to sacrifice...

Yeah, that was another thing. The traditional sacrifice to Hecate was a dog, and the Goddess was commonly associated with canines. Amy really didn't like the idea of killing a live dog for Hecate, but... she couldn't not make some kind of animal sacrifice – this was an Ancient Greek goddess she had taken as her patron, and a dog was likely what Hecate would expect and desire. Certainly likely to make the best impression...

The problem was that Sunnydale had a dearth of stray dogs. There were things in the shadows that ate them at the earliest opportunity, no doubt. So if she wanted a dog, she'd have to go to the local animal shelter and buy one herself and...

Amy closed her eyes and cringed a little. Now wouldn't that be a fun experience?

She banished that thought from her mind and stood up as the meeting ended. She didn't come here for the group itself, so much as to talk shop with Tara afterwards. Basically, all the others were so stereotypically useless as to drive her to frustration, a bunch of wanna-blessed be's to quote Willow herself.

Tara seemed to like the group, and she was much more in line with traditional Wicca beliefs than Amy ever had been, even before her recent taking of a patron goddess. Amy's hand went to the necklace she'd kept under her shirt for today's session – she'd found it online and bought it, mostly for her own comfort as anything else. The pendant was a 'Hecate's Wheel'. It was a symbol associated with Hecate in modern thinking, though it wasn't something she was known for in Ancient Greece traditionally, though the symbol was rooted in some of the writings about her by the Chaldean Oracles -

Yes, Amy had read everything she could find about Hecate, and had done a lot of it even before taking the Goddess as her patron.

Still, it was something she could wear associated with the worship of Hecate. She didn't know if it would work like a cross against vampires, but she didn't want to take the risk of actually wearing a cross.

Maybe I can have Faith hold a vampire down and see if this does anything to it. Amy returned to the here and now and walked over towards Tara. She and the blonde witch – and until this particular meeting, Willow as well, after Amy had introduced the redhead to the Tara – would usually talk shop about magic for a half-hour to an hour.

“Hey.” Tara said softly. “I was, uhm...” She trailed off, before finding her voice again. “I was wondering if Willow was going to come t-today.” She shrugged. “I suppose I shouldn't – shouldn't be surprised that she hasn't.”

“Yea. She's been missing her classes too.” Amy nodded. “Which is the really bad sign, as far as I'm concerned. This is Willow we're talking about – she had a nearly perfect attendance record the entire time from elementary school to high school graduation. She resented the hell out of the week she had to miss in third grade because of Chicken Pox.” Amy let out a soft sigh. “But... I mean...”

Tara nodded. “I was – I was wondering if you could give her my condolences? I mean... I know it's not exactly much, but – I -” Tara wasn't usually this hesitant in her speaking with Amy most of the time anymiore. Then again, we are talking about a pretty sensitive subject. Amy knew very little about Tara's life pre-UC Sunnydale. She knew that the Maclay girl had learned magic from her mother, and that said mother was dead now. That was about it. Maybe she didn't like talking about death?

“I'll pass them along.” Amy nodded. They weren't much, but they were something, and Amy saw no issue with passing them along. 

“Also -” Tara reached into her bag and took out a ziploc bag containing some sticks of incense. “I was wondering if you could give these to her.” She handed the bag to Amy.

“Incense? Uh, Willow's got a lot of -”

“It's a special blend, actually. It, uhm – I don't know if it really counts as magical, exactly, but it's known for helping with grieving. It helped me a lot when- when my mother died.” Tara shifted a little hesitantly, clearly unsure.

Okay, why not? Willow would appreciate the personal touch – well, at least, she would under normal circumstances. “Why don't you give it to her?” Amy passed the bag back to Tara. “I mean, if you've actually used it before, you could explain the benefits better.”

Tara shook her head. “No – I mean... we don't know each other that well... and – well, I don't...”

“I don't think it's that big of an issue, Tara.” Amy disagreed. “Willow's gotten along with you great so far, hasn't she? I mean, you're bringing her something that should help her and...” Amy shrugged, “Willow is, whatever else, one of the nicest people I've ever met and known. Yes, she's grieving right now – but she's not going to have a problem with you coming to give her something that is supposed to help her.” She offered her companion a small smile. Amy knew that Tara was incredibly shy – it was only when they were talking about the ins and outs of magic and spells that she managed to almost forget that she was shy. Tara knew hell of a lot about magic, though she didn't use magic very much, and Amy hadn't told Tara about her occasional use of magic for mundane tasks like cleaning, or some of her less pleasant homework assignments... she got the idea that Tara wouldn't exactly approve.

But Tara, while short on direct experience in using a lot of magic, knew a hell of a lot more. Amy was mostly self-taught, from her mother's spell books and other reading she'd managed to do. Sure, she'd gotten some assistance from Giles and had practiced with Willow and all that – but the Watcher hadn't taught her and Willow much in the way of actual spells. Just focus and control and discipline – very useful things, sure, but not actual magic in and of itself.

That probably said a lot about Giles's attitude towards magic, come to think of it. By this point, Amy had heard the stories about 'Ripper' and a demon named Eyghon...

Tara, though – she'd been taught about magic from a very early age, from what little Amy could gather, and she'd known magic was real her whole life.

“Are you sure? I mean, if you don't – don't think it will be a bother...” Tara started.

“It won't.” Amy confirmed. “No more than anyone talking to her would be. Willow's not in a great place right now, understandably.” Amy shrugged, “But if that incense can help...”

December 15th, 1999

Wesley's Apartment, Sunnydale

 

Spike honestly wasn't sure what was worse: the pig's blood that he'd been getting since these bloody do-gooding wankers had decided to take his offer of information and helping them and turning him into their prisoner complete with cuffing his only hand to pipes and other things he couldn't easily break – especially not one handed – or the fact that he liked the addition of vole's blood into his daily drink so much.

I've gone bloody domestic, now that I can't eat people no more.

Of course, the worst thing out of all of it was that the Psycho-Slayer and her Watcher were definitely more than willing to torture him if he didn't cooperate. Spike liked pain under the right circumstances, he and his sire had engaged in rough sex more than once over the past century; but there was pain, and then there was taking a Holy Water shower, which seemed to be the direction things were going.

“Now, Spike, you've told us some details about this group that captured you, but I'd like to know more. You said there were scientists in that facility, and they delivered drugged blood to you via the ceiling. Correct?” The poncy ass asked, holding a mug of just warmed up blood in one hand, complete with a fucking straw.

“Dropped it in like I was someone's fucking pet gerbil or whatever, sure.” Spike didn't try to lunge out for the mug, as much as he wanted to. This Watcher had no problem with simply leaving the blood just out of reach and then going off to do other things for hours. That's torture right there, damnit!

Wesley held out the mug and let Spike take a sip from the straw. It was fucking humiliating, but he was hungry. Still, the sip only lasted for a moment, just long enough to get some blood onto his tongue before the Watcher was taking the blood away from him.

“Oh, bloody hell, just ask all your damn questions and let me drink!” Spike demanded. “And I could do with some beer, too -”

“Listen up, you undead asshole!” The crazy bitch of a Slayer standing next to Wussley said, grabbing the stump of his missing hand and squeezing – Spike didn't have to grit his teeth against the pain or anything, but fucking hell – it hurt. “You're not in any position to make demands. Get it? You're a fucking prisoner, and you don't get squat without handing over the info! So start talking, or the kiddie gloves come off. Giles and B aren't all that interested in torturing you, but I figure if Wes and I resort to that, they won't get that upset about it either! Personally, I'd really like to see how you stand up to a water pistol full of Holy Water.” She let go out of his arm and Spike gave her his best vicious look. The bitch was completely unfazed, bugger it!

I'm not even remotely scary anymore. The thought was depressing, that was what it was. “Fine!” Spike growled. “But beer first, and then I talk!”

“I'm hardly going to waste my good beer on you, William,” the Watcher replied, and Spike growled a little at the use of his human name, “so that leaves you with American beer, if you really want it.”

“Fagh! Still, better than nothing.” Spike grumbled. It wasn't like he hadn't been subjected to plenty of the cat piss they called beer here in the States, already. “I'm already drinking fake blood, may as well drink fake beer while I'm at it!”

“What is it with you English guys and hating American beer, anyway?” Faith demanded. “You two and Giles are all up with the hate. It's fine. It's beer. It gets you drunk, that's kind of the point!”

“That's what you reckon, izzit, Slayer? Well, newsflash, but the colored water you idiots call beer tastes like cat piss compared to the real deal!” And while Spike had never tasted cat piss, he'd certainly smelled enough of it that month Dru had decided she wanted a pet cat but hadn't done a thing to clean up after it. He'd been stuck cleaning out the damn thing's litter box himself. And all that hair on his coat too – good god damnit that had been annoying. But fortunately Dru – and wasn't that one of the things he loved about her – decided to be all unpredictable and killed the soddin' animal he'd come to see as the bane of his existence. Had used its entrails to try and make a harp or something, but she'd given up on that project quickly.

“Let's get back on topic, shall we?” Wesley cut in before his Slayer could respond. “This blood isn't getting any warmer. Just one more question for now, Spike: Based on what you could see and smell, how many humans do you think were in the complex they held you in?”

Does he really expect me to have a good answer to that question? Just how dumb is he? Spike shrugged, “I dunno, mate, more than just the ones I saw. A good number – I think I saw at least six or seven different guys with lab coats while I was stuck in that cell and – oh fuck it, let's just call it a hundred and move on, shall we? Makes about as much sense as the question. Can I have the blood now?” Spike was having trouble focusing anymore, smelling the blood and dealing with his own hunger.

Not to mention the aggravation and frustration and embarrassment this whole damn mess had created. It's all the damn blondie Slayer's fault. When I find a way to undo whatever those soldier-boys and their labcoat brigade did to me, I'm gonna rip her fucking spine out and show it to her! And once he was done with the original, he'd deal with piss-poor copy. Maybe cut her hand off, to start with. Then go with her feet, one toe at a time. I'm sure I could get Dru interested with a good torturing session. She always did love those.

“Your answers, as usual, are less helpful than I'd like.” The Watcher replied. Still, the poncy bastard moved a stool to just within reach if he leaned and set the mug on it. “I suppose we can leave off torturing him for another day.” He told his Slayer, who rolled her eyes in response but followed him out of the room.

December 15th, 1999

Buffy and Willow's Dorm, UC Sunnydale

This is a bad idea. This is a – I shouldn't be -

Tara stopped, standing in the middle of the hallway – which was thankfully, by the Goddess, empty, and then moved over to the edge. If someone did come out of a dorm, she didn't want to be in their way.

Tara wasn't entirely sure why she was doing this. Well, no, she knew why she was doing this. She wanted to help Willow, and the incense should be able to help her.

The thing was... people weren't usually nice to her. Usually they ignored her, put off by her stammering and shyness. Amy and Willow – they were among the very few who did acknowledge her existence, and didn't ridicule her. She liked them both. She liked most of the other girls in the Wicca group well enough, but they didn't interact with her much, and she didn't interact with them either. Amy and Willow, though – they did. They all shared the commonality of magic. Sure, their willingness to experiment and push more than might be really wise kind of bothered her, but she'd never really found a proper time and place to say it... 

Besides, they wouldn't care what she had to say on that subject, right? Not if she was trying to disagree with them on something. Just like everyone else.

Amy was the one she'd met first, but to Tara, there was always...something about the other girl's aura. A slight darker tinge to it than she would have liked to see. From their conversations, Amy seemed to be the one who had less limits on what she was willing to do, or why. She wasn't a bad person, or even close – no, no, of course not. But she treated magic like a tool as much as a force to be respected, the energy that helped bind all living beings together.

It didn't help, in Tara's mind, that Amy clearly had no interest or patience for the teachings of Wicca, and had instead turned to Hecate – Tara had briefly gotten a glimpse of the Hecate's Wheel amulet that the other witch kept hidden. Oh, there was nothing inherently wrong with Hecate, but she was a darker power; one that straddled the line between black magic and white magic, and her worshipers were interested in power first, as a rule, from everything Tara had read and heard – her mother had warned her against worship of Hecate, to be cautious of entreating with the pagan goddess. 

But that was her choice. Amy could make her own choices, and Tara wasn't going to judge her for that. It wasn't her place.

Still, she did like Amy. But Willow showed a little more respect for magic – even if she also seemed a little too casual about it and its use, about experimenting. And her aura was... cleaner, somehow. And she was here to help Willow because she wanted to help one of the few people who were nice to her. Willow had just lost her boyfriend. There wasn't much Tara could do about that, but -

I can do this much, right?

Tara knocked on the door to the room Willow shared with her friend Buffy. The knock was light, barely audible even to her own ears. There was no answer, so she knocked again a little more firmly, but still not that hard or fast.

Maybe no one's here? I could leave the incense here, slip it under the door... Tara's hand fell to the handle, just holding onto it for a moment when it turned under her grip and she realized it was unlocked. Oh. Okay. I can just go in and leave it with a note. I don't have to- well, you know, talk to anyone... Tara turned the doorknob, intending to just set the bag on the sidetable and borrow a pen and paper to write a note explaining what it was for.

The dorm room, however, wasn't empty. Willow was there, sitting on one of the beds, cross-legged, her hands on her lap. And a knife resting on the bed in front of her.

Tara was normally not one to leap to conclusions, but in her mind, this didn't seem to be much of a leap. She moved into the room quickly, shutting the door behind her.

 

“Willow? What- what are you... you can't-can't be thinking...-” She barely got the words out – as much as she wanted to talk Willow out of whatever it was she was contemplating, Tara was still incredibly nervous and anxious, especially since she'd expected the room to be empty.

Stupid! Why would the door be unlocked if it was empty?

Willow looked up at her, and Tara could see that her eyes were a little red, her face splotchy from recent tears. She looked confused for a moment, “Tara, what are you-?” 

Then Willow looked down at the knife and then back at up at Tara, and saw what the blonde witch expected had to be an expression of shock and fear on her face. “OH! No- no- no, no. I'm not – I wasn't even thinking... I mean, it crossed my mind – but I wasn't going to- Wait, what are you doing here?” The way Willow changed topic so quickly and spoke with such speed threw Tara off just a little. Under other circumstances, Tara might have found it cute, but this wasn't a normal circumstance.

Stupid! Why did I even- Tara felt her face flush and she looked away. “I- I'm sorry...” Tara muttered. “I, uhm- I didn't-” I didn't what? Mean to assume you were going to slice your wrists? She realized she hadn't answered Willow's question. “I – I- ah, Amy said...I, I came to bring you this.” She dropped the bag of incense on the bed, stepping back, wishing the floor could just swallow her whole.

“Incense?” Willow took a breath, “I mean, okay, I'm not saying no – but why? And I didn't even hear you knock!”

“This incense... it-” Tara choked up and looked away again, before regaining her ability to speak. “It's – it's good for helping with... when – when you're grieving... It- it helped me a lot when- when my mom died... and – and I thought – thought you might be able to – I mean... even a little bit- I mentioned it to Amy earlier, and she, uhm, she said I should bring it here in person, since I – since I could- could explain to you how it worked and everything, since I'd used-” Tara shook her head, “Stupid idea. I should have just had Amy bring it to you -”

Willow shook her head. “No. No, that's fine...” She took a breath. “If you know more about it -” She picked up the bag. “So... I mean... do I just – do I just burn it like normal incense? How does it help with -” Out of the corner of her eyes, Tara watched as Willow looked away and swallowed a little. 

“I- I'm not entirely sure how it helps... I just know what I've experienced, how it worked for me... I can tell you some things about it, though...” Tara started off, still pretty hesitant as she spoke.

December 18th, 1999

Church, Sunnydale

It was Xander's last day of working on-site before the construction company stopped working on the expansion for this particular church. It wasn't that the company wasn't willing to work closer to Christmas, but the Church didn't want them working for the week before or after the Big Guy's birthday, and what's more, it wasn't going to pay them to do it. And since this was the Church's property – hey, the customer is always right and all that.

 

If I'm lucky, I'll get assigned to another one of the things the company's working on in Sunnydale. Luck, of course, being in short supply, but it never hurt to hope. Well, usually... 

To compound the many, many issues surrounding Oz's death last week – Buffy's boyfriend, Riley Finn, had recently been out'ed to everyone as one of the soldier-boys that had set up shop on the Hellmouth. Soldier-boys whom Wesley was now convinced weren't a private interest, but a well-funded branch of the United States Government.

So I guess the 'NATO' guesstimate was pretty much right. Not that it had been a guess on Oz's part, just a joke. Damn, but Xander missed his friend's laconic sense of humor.

Anyway, waking up with a magical case of laryngitis a few days ago, just like everyone else in town – well, that hadn't been fun. He'd been unable to get anything out of flipping the Iron Coin – he'd tried thinking the names, writing them, mouthing them, but nothing had worked. The Jester had shown up to just laugh at him for fifteen seconds later that night, because of course his voice was still working. Xander hadn't been able to stop himself from trying to punch the bastard, directly in the face.

All it had gotten him, though, was a really bad sunburn on his hand that had lasted for a few hours before suddenly vanishing.

But the real kicker of the whole 'no-voice' thing, including the fun of people getting their hearts cut out by the 'Gentlemen' was Buffy seeing Riley in the bad guys' clock tower, decked out in military cammo gear. And of course, him seeing her being all Slayer-y. 

So. Buffy's boyfriend was a college TA by day, and a demon-hunting soldier of some kind by night. Good stuff. And since Faith had been there too, he'd seen her in action as well. Very, very fun.

Like Cordy said, maybe Buffy just can't do normal guys.

Well, at least they had a lead on the mysterious commando group now. But it was in Buffy's hands. She'd have to be the one to ask Riley for more information. I guess maybe they can trade info?

Xander focused his mind back on the job. He wasn't a superhero like his Slayer friends, he was just a normal guy who lived with the normal woman he loved – and who had a very strange coin in his possession.

December 19th, 1999

Outskirts of Sunnydale

For any other vampire, the blazing, burning orb of yellow light in the sky would be more than enough to send them scurrying for cover, if they didn't collapse into ash first.

But for the dark-haired vampiress wearing a thin, tattered at the bottom Victorian era black dress, the sunlight was no bother at all. Not now that she had herself a lovely new ring.

Drusilla turned her gaze from the City of Sunnydale just ahead and to her left hand. The Gem of Amarra rested on her ring finger, protecting her from the nasty burning sunlight. Letting her enjoy the sensation of something on her skin which she hadn't felt since the day Daddy had first taught her bad habits, when she'd tried to become a nun.

But she wasn't here for Daddy. Or the Angel-beast that held him in chains, gnashing his teeth in delicious fury. She was here for her Spoike. Her precious Willy. And she was here to punish the Slayers that had hurt him. The one that had briefly freed Daddy from his chains, and the other one that she herself had made.

Did I make a fun Slayer? Well, she'd find out one way or another soon.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Own Buffy, I do not. Own Yoda, I also do not.

Author's Note: I don't usually include scenes from the show with minimal changes 'on screen' in this series, but from time to time, I do. When I rewrite canon scenes, rather than just referencing them, there's usually significant change or at least something different to justify the inclusion. However, sometimes, a given scene is too important to a plot thread I have in mind to not include it, even without significant changes.

Author's Note 2: I did do research on the specifics of ancient Greek rituals involving Hecate, but I could only find so much. So if I got something wrong, mea culpa.

Thanks to Starway Man and deiticlast for beta-reading and creative consultancy services. You're always a great help.

The Iron Coin Chronicles: Season 2

By Alkeni

Episode 12: Gloom and Doom

December 18th, 1999

Buffy Summers's Dorm, UC Sunnydale

“Well... I guess we have to talk.” Riley said in a level, serious voice, before sitting down on Willow's bed. Buffy slowly sat down on her own bed, wondering just how this was going to be talked out. Where the hell was she supposed to start?

This would be easier if Faith hadn't been there too. Now she'd have to explain her as well, and Faith at least knew that Riley was one of the soldier-boys... men. Soldier-men. Man was definitely the better term to describe Riley.

“I guess we do.” She finally agreed softly. Riley started to open his mouth, to speak, to say something – but nothing came out. He closed his mouth, looking down at the floor for a moment. Buffy could feel his pain – she hadn't the slightest idea where to start. And so she said nothing. And Riley said nothing. Just a whole lotta nothing.

Time passed, and Buffy didn't check the clock, so she wasn't sure how much time had elapsed before finally she found some words: “Somebody should speak before one of us graduates.” She looked across at him, her hands clasped in her lap.

With a heavy sigh, Riley stood up, and Buffy watched out of the corner of her eye as he sort of paced aimlessly for a moment, before stopping to stand in front of her bed.

“What are you?” He finally said.

Really great question. Kinda vague and just a tad insulting. Buffy knew that under the circumstances, she should cut him a bit more slack than that, but the question was just – I'm not a 'what'. She turned her head towards him, spearing a glare towards the T.A.-slash-demon hunter.

“Capricorn, on the cusp of Aquarius. You?” Buffy could hear the tiny note of venom in her tone – it hadn't been intentional, but she wasn't regretting its inclusion either way.

Riley took in the glare and the tone, moving back just a little for a moment, acknowledging he'd said the wrong thing. Well, duh!!

“Sorry. That came out a little blunter than I intended.” He paced around towards Willow's bed again, Buffy lowering her eyes back down to the ground, following his feet. “It's just... you're amazing. Your speed, your strength –”

“Also passionate, artistic and inquisitive.” Buffy interrupted, looking up at him. “Who are you?”

“You know who I am.” Riley replied. 

No, I really don't. Well... she knew who Riley Finn, T.A. and her proto-boyfriend was. But clearly, there was another aspect to the guy she hadn't known. What was it; T.A. and corn-fed Iowa boy by day, US Army demon hunter by night? Some sort of Batman-ish secret identity thing? 

“The rest...what I do...” He hesitated a little, “I can't tell you.”

Buffy wasn't surprised. Secret agents belonging to secret government organizations didn't just tell people things. Still, if Riley wanted information, he was going to have to trade. Buffy stood, wracking her brain about what she little she knew about these guys, what she and her friends had been able to find out. It was a pity Xander didn't know much about them, but she was getting used to the fact that there were limits to her friend's mysterious knowledge. And... she had a pretty damn firm feeling that he'd be happier, in some ways, if he didn't get this information. It certainly caused him problems.

But it makes sense, the way Xander blamed himself for the way Oz died. Just thinking about the not-even-one-week-dead musician pained her, and Buffy forced herself back to the here and now.

“Well, then let me.” Buffy declared, thinking out loud as much as anything else. “You're part of some military monster squad that captures demons and vampires.” She really didn't know much about the way the military worked, apart from movies and stuff; but for some reason, she doubted they would use the word 'demon' – at least not in the official paperwork or whatever. “Probably have some official sounding euphemism for them. Like...” Buffy paced a little in front of Riley as she continued to speak. “Unfriendlies, or Non-sapiens.”

“Hostile Sub-Terrestrials.” Riley provided with a neutral tone of voice. So much for 'can't tell you', but Buffy wasn't going to complain.

Hostile Sub-Terrestrials. Nice and official, and totally meaningless to anyone who happens to ask questions. But that name was a bit of mouthful, more than Buffy wanted to say. HST worked, though. 

Still, Riley's group had captured Spike and made it so he couldn't hit anyone, couldn't hurt people. Couldn't kill or eat people at all. She really couldn't muster up any sympathy for the platinum-haired vampire about his fate. He wasn't a...a hostile threat anymore.

“So you deliver these... HSTs to a bunch of lab coats, who perform experiments on them. Which, among other things,” Buffy added, “turns some of them into harmless little bunnies.” Not that Spike really qualified as that, even now. Harmless, sure, but he was too much of an ass to qualify as a bunny. “How am I doing so far?”

“A little too well.” Riley confirmed, and Buffy couldn't help but be a little pleased with herself. Then she frowned for a moment. Assuming Riley is telling the truth about me doing well, of course. But then, it all fits with what Wesley's gotten out of Spike, and everything else we've seen for ourselves.

“Meanwhile,” Buffy continued, “by day, you pretend to be Riley Finn, corn-fed Iowa boy.” Riley looked away, having the decency to look a little ashamed – but was he ashamed about lying and deceiving, or about being caught? “Ever actually been to Iowa, Riley?” Then she scoffed as another thought came to mind, “God, if that's even your real name!”

“It is.” Riley nodded. “And yeah. Born and raised.” She couldn't know for sure, granted, but Buffy thought he was telling the truth. Why lie now? “And hey, bulletin.” he added, “I'm not the only one who's been less than honest here.” 

Okay, point. He'd confirmed what they'd suspected...

Besides, the thing that had been bothering her, kind of looming over her budding relationship with Riley this entire time, was the fact that she had to lie to him about being a Slayer, and all that came with it. It had been one of the (many) reasons Angel had been such an attractive significant other option for her. With him, there'd been no risk he'd run off once he found out about Slaying and vampires and stuff – or turn out to be an adrenaline junkie, like Owen Thurman had– and no need to keep it all secret. It hadn't hurt, anyway.

Which... now she didn't have to do. She could tell him.

But then...a thought occurred to her, and Buffy wondered why it hadn't before, because it was pretty obvious.

If Riley was part of a group that hunted demons and vampires, wouldn't he have heard about Slayers before? It was something just about all vampires and demons knew about, after all. That whole thing of being a Slayer was being the thing that the monsters feared, and that was especially true here in Sunnydale. By now, the local 'night life' knew her and Faith by sight, and from what she'd heard from Willy, just them being in Sunnydale had scared a few demons 'straight' as it were.

So wouldn't it have come up? God, did these people not study the things they captured before they killed them? Did they even know about staking vamps?

“I though a professional demon chaser like yourself would have figured it out by now.” Still, maybe seeing two of us threw him off? Two Slayers at the same time wasn't really part of the official lore and legends, after all.

“I'm the Slayer.” Buffy abruptly dropped the bombshell on her proto-boyfriend.

And got absolutely no reaction or recognition from Riley.

“Slay-er.” She said again, emphasizing the syllables. “Chosen One.” Not 'one' anymore, technically, but still. Again, nothing. “She who hangs out a lot in cemeteries a lot?” Now Buffy was just being deliberately silly as much as anything else.

Still nothing from Riley. Really?

“You're kidding.” Buffy's tone was level, but incredulous. Ugh, do I have to do the whole 'this world is older than you know' speech? Why isn't Giles here, he loves doing that. Or even Wesley. Wait, did Wesley even do that speech? She'd never heard it from him. Maybe he had his own, even more pompous version of it.

Okay, so maybe that wasn't entirely fair. Wes had gotten better since he'd first showed up around here, sort of. Still, needing to focus!

“Ask around. Look it up.” Buffy really didn't want to do the speech, and if Riley really couldn't find out about it by asking around, then just how in over their heads were these people?

He hadn't really told her anything she hadn't already guessed or known, but at least he had confirmed it. She'd have to pass something on to the rest of her friends – Faith had already mentioned Riley being there in the old clocktower to the rest of the gang, so...

While part of her wanted to keep this under wraps until she knew more – well, she couldn't do that, now, could she?

“Slayer, comma the.” Buffy continued, walking by Riley.

“And you fight demons?” Riley walked towards her. “I mean, you and your friend whaled on those guys.”

“True. But you did pretty well yourself.” Buffy pointed out sincerely. He was easily the best human fighter she'd run across in Sunnydale. Probably had all kinds of fancy army training.

“Yea, but I'm a walking bruise today.” Riley explained. “You see me with my clothes off, I look like a-” Admittedly, bruises weren't the first thing that rose to Buffy's mind when Riley mentioned having his clothes off, and she couldn't help but smirk. Riley caught the look on her face, went silent for a moment, then started again: “I mean, I have bruises... I don't see a scratch on you.”

“You're not looking hard enough.” Buffy wasn't sure why she said that – she'd gotten some nasty hits from those demons, but she was pretty much healed up now.

“I'm looking pretty hard.” Riley disagreed. Neither of them said anything, looking at each other for a long moment, and then Riley finally spoke. “So then... what do we do?”

“I don't know.” Buffy admitted, and she allowed herself to go off the Slay-business and bemoan her love-life. “I just... I really thought you were a nice, normal guy.”

 

“I am a nice, normal guy.” Riley countered in earnest.

“Sure, maybe by this town's standards, but I'm not grading on a curve.” Riley started to say something but cut himself off, crossing his arms in front of him. So she added, “I think we both need a little time... to process everything.” Buffy took a breath before continuing, “Maybe then –”

“Yeah.” Riley interrupted, nodding. “Yea, I think that's a good idea.” Buffy couldn't help but be a little bothered by just how easily he agreed, but she had suggested it. Riley turned and started to walk away. As he was almost to the door, he half-turned and added: “Oh, and I don't think I need to tell you...”

“Don't tell anyone.” Buffy finished for him, even though she already knew she'd be telling her friends. So she didn't make him any promises she'd have to break.

“Good.” Riley said, and she couldn't help but feel bad at the fact that she was more or less lying to him by omission. “And – can you ask your friend to do the same? I've seen you with her around campus a couple times. Even though I'm pretty sure she's not a student –”

“I'll let her know not to tell anybody about you and your...situation.” Buffy promised him. As if Faith would tell anyone that's not part of the Scooby Gang, anyway 

Before either of them could say anything more, the room started to shake. Buffy had lived in California her entire life. Earthquake. Riley reacted faster than her, though.

“Over here!” He grabbed her gently by the arms and hustled them both into the closet doorway. The tremors only lasted for, like, half a minute though.

“Wow! That was some ride.” Riley said with a laugh, a smile on his face. Buffy walked out of the doorway, something bothering her about what had just happened. But... earthquake. Southern California. These things went together. “Sorry I'm so... excited.” Riley explained, the smile still in his voice. “It's my first earthquake.”

And suddenly, Buffy realized why all this was bothering her. Something about the earthquake was... for whatever reason, it reminded her of the one that had occurred before she went down into the sewers and faced the Master in his lair and... died.

“It's not mine.” She murmured in sudden dread.

December 18th, 1999

Private Room, Sunnydale P