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A Branch of the Worldtree

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“This is punishment for that thing with the grackle and the meeting and that goat-thing sacrifice, isn’t it,” Xander grumbled through chattering teeth and a muffler. He was California born and bred, for goddess’ sake, and three layers of thermal wear plus an enormous parka only maybe took an edge off the cold.

“Giles would never be so petty,” Willow admonished, eyes on the iced structure before them as she huddled in her puffy, subzero winter wear. The grin tugging at the corners of her mouth, however, belied her words. “For some odd reason, despite a rather glaring lack of diplomacy, you tend to be a hit in our first contact treaty meetings,” she continued.

“Scoobies don’t do diplomacy,” Xander whined. “And the incident wasn’t my fault, anyway,” he added as an afterthought.

Willow hummed in absentminded agreement.

“And they – where here I mean I – especially do not do diplomacy in the Arctic! What do we need the Arctic for anyway? Even other demons outside of the Arctic want nothing to do with it! Andrew. Andrew would have been a good negotiator.”

The redhead at his side whipped around to give him a disbelieving look.

“Well, he would have been a negotiator, anyway. If we’d labeled him, maybe. And I totally could have made…convinced him to come in my place. First contact. If I’d used the phrase first contact, I wouldn’t have even had to bribe the uber-nerd. And it’s not like the Grr’ulk clan drove a hard bargain, or is even picking off researchers from the outposts or anything. They just wanted a cleansing, and hey, another magic user would have probably been really helpful, instead of someone who makes magic go all weird and wonky. Why didn’t I make Andrew come instead? I think my limbs are falling off. I definitely can’t feel my face anymore.”

“Because this was your punishment, and Giles shoved you off too quickly for you to get around it,” Willow said brightly. “Now shush, Mister. I think I’ve almost got the right frequency.”

“What’s taking so long?” Xander asked, groaning as a freezing gust of wind caught him in the face.

“It’s like trying to find a particular station on an antique radio. I can kind of almost feel that grating, nails on a chalkboard feeling on the wavelength that they’re tuned into – and it’s really fascinating that Grr-ulks can sense magic on such a different wavelength, I’ll definitely have to ask them more questions about that when we see them again. I wonder if it has something to do with their home dimension? Do you think they practice magic differently, because they said, and everything I’ve researched suggests that it’s just a different way of sensing, not doing, but – ”

“Willow, focus. Sci-magic babble later, getting this done quickly now.”

“Right. Sorry. Okay,” she said shaking her head, and returning her gaze to…

“What is it, anyway?” Xander wondered out loud. “It’s not the right shape to be a ship.”

“Plane, I think.” She yelped and stumbled, bringing her hands to her ears in a futile gesture. “Found it. Oh goddess, that’s really…” The witch shuddered, this time not only from the freezing cold. “No wonder they stay away and want it cleansed. That is just…”

“You alright, Wills?” Xander asked sharply, a hand on her elbow from where he had lunged to catch her in case she fell.

“Yeah, I’m fine Xander. It’s not painful, and it doesn’t actually have that ooky feeling you get on a Hellmouth. But nails on a chalkboard was a really accurate translation. You’ve got to wonder what had been on board that it still resonates like this decades later.”

“What,” the one-eyed man began when he saw her rummaging around in her satchel, before he saw which crystal she was taking out. “Ah.”

“Yeah, I thought it would be a better idea to check that nothing is hiding in there before we find our way in,” Willow murmured wryly.

“Oh, for the good old days when we just dove blindly into mausoleums,” Xander lamented. “When did this crash, anyway? Did they say?”

“As near as I could understand, during World War II.”

Something clicked in his mind. “No way.”

But his companion was already chanting, and so he had his fit quietly – and intensely – to the side. “Oh my God, no way. Oh my God. Oh my God. This – If this…Andrew will be volunteering to take every crappy job I am assigned. I will never again have to freeze my balls off.”

“Please, no talk about your balls,” the witch demanded, making a face. Her confusion over the purple glow of the crystal had momentarily switched to confusion over Xander’s antics. “And what’s got you so worked up? You didn’t drink the not-juice from the meeting, did you? We told you not to drink the not-juice.”

“I didn’t drink the not-juice,” Xander dismissed. “But seriously, Wills. Think about it. Plane crash during World War II? The Arctic? Carrying some sort of strange and possibly magic power source that, apparently, still resonates powerfully enough to rattle teeth, or whatever? Plus, bombs, you said we had to be careful because you sensed a lot of bombs in there somewhere. This is only every kid’s greatest dream!”

Willow stared at him, glowing crystal dangling, momentarily forgotten, in her grasp. “Oh my goddess.”

“I know, right?”

“Oh my goddess. But, but what are the chances? I mean, if he were supernaturally related, but it was all science! We don’t…I mean, it’s probably just some other, random World War II-era fighter plane. Us of all people? Finding this?”

“Actually, us of all people maybe have a better chance of finding this,” Xander said giddily. “And I think that’s too many coincidences not to be what I think this is.”

That was the kind of Scooby sense that not many others would understand. Or want to.

Willow’s gaze suddenly snapped back to the crystal she held, and her eyes widened even further. “Oh my goddess,” she breathed.

“I know, right?” her best friend beamed.

“No, Xander, you… Okay, so you know a green glow is living humans, and a red glow is demons, and white is spirits of some kind?” She held up the purple crystal.

He squinted. “So that’s whole and unbroken, so there’s one living purple thing in the wreck. What’s purple stand for? I thought animals was orange, or yellow, or something, if I’m remembering right. Please don’t tell me we’re about to poke an angry polar bear.”

“Orange. And I don’t know for sure. Purple wasn’t an option.”

“But then, what – ” Xander froze. The penny dropped.

“So,” he said, as the pair stared wide-eyed at each other. He licked lips dry and cracked from the biting winds. “So they did what to the guy? Exactly?”

“Some sort of serum,” Willow responded faintly. “Super-human.”

“So, basically, human-plus.”

“Yeah.”

“Andrew will totally beg for any and all crappy jobs I am assigned after this, won’t he?”

“Xander,” Willow said, “I don’t think Giles is going to assign you anything outside the offices or schools again, ever.” She was probably exaggerating, but definitely not by much.

“Okay,” he said, clapping his gloved hands together, which only resulted in a muffled sort of thump. “Let’s get in there and see what, exactly, we’ll be dealing with here. Maybe we’re being ridiculous.” He drooped a little. “I am going to be so disappointed if there is, instead, some sort of portal to a hell dimension in there.”

Willow patted his head, brushing ice and snow off of his hat. “That makes two of us.”