"We've gone down at least twenty flights of stairs," Kennedy complained. "How many more do we have to go down?"
Xander stopped and sat down on the stairs at the top of the landing. "A lot," she replied. "This route isn't physically dangerous, most of the time, but it can still be physically draining."
Everyone sat down and then had to adjust themselves.
"Sitting on your balls is no fun," Dawn complained.
"At least now I know why guys sit with their legs so far apart," Willow said.
"If I was a guy full time, I'd wear skirts," Buffy said, tugging at the crotch of his pants. "I need a lot more room and air down there."
"Amen," the former girls chorused.
"You get used to it," Xander replied, amused.
"Shh, do you guys hear that?" Buffy asked.
"Hear what?" Kennedy asked.
"We really shouldn't be doing this," a strangely familiar male voice said reluctantly.
"All you have to do is say no," a feminine voice teased.
"No," the male voice replied firmly. "I can't help but notice you aren't stopping," he said before letting out a quiet moan.
"That's because no doesn't mean no," she said. "You have to use the safe word."
"You haven't told me the safe word," he pointed out.
"Well no," she admitted, "if I told you the safe word, you could tell me no, so clearly it's not in either of our best interests to tell you."
The sounds of the two making out got a little louder.
"She's got a point," Dawn said with a grin.
"Is it Rumplestillskin?" he asked.
"How'd you guess that?!" she demanded in shock.
"I do know you," he replied with a grin everyone could hear.
"Ok, in that case I'm making a new safe word," she said.
The sound of the couple making out started up again.
"Is it still Rumplestillskin?" he asked when they paused for breath.
"What?! Who guesses the same thing twice in a row?" she complained.
"Someone who knows you," he replied with a laugh.
"Clearly I need to come up with something you won't be able to guess," she said seriously.
"It's Rumplestillskin because you don't think anyone would guess it three times in a row," he said.
"Right, that's it," she said, "no safe word for you!"
The group had slowly crept down the stairs only to stare in open mouthed shock as they watched a female Dawn molest a male Buffy.
"Ok, this is disturbing," Willow admitted, while Xander tried to look like she wasn't surprised at what they were seeing.
"A little busy here," the female Dawn said, unconcerned with their watching.
"There is always a safe word," the new male Buffy replied, ignoring the group as well.
"Well Mr. Summers, I'll just have to get it from you then," the female Dawn said, pinning him to the wall.
"Good luck with that Miss Harris, I am trained to resist all forms of interrogation. You'll never get my safeword from me!" he said firmly.
"And moving on," Xander said, quickly ushering the group down the stairs.
It was several more flights before Dawn said, "Her nose was a little larger than mine, her hair darker, and she had half a cup size on me. I don't think that was me."
"I pray that wasn't me," Buffy added.
"I can't believe male Buffy is sleeping with his younger sister, who is Xander's wife," Kennedy said, shaking his head. "All the denial in the world isn't going to change what we just witnessed."
"Actually... I think they're right," Willow disagreed. "He said Miss Harris, so maybe Dawn is Xander's younger sister where they come from."
"That would be my bet," Xander said as she considered the details she'd overlooked in her shock.
"Or younger brother," Willow added. "The emphasis they put on mister and miss seemed to mean something more."
"I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse," Buffy admitted. "I've changed my mind, I think running from a haunted washer/dryer combo is better than this."
"Ditto," Dawn said instantly.
"Too late, we're already on this path and have to follow it to the end," Xander said before groaning and tearing at his clothes as they compressed his suddenly much larger frame.
"Back to normal!" Buffy cheered, while Kennedy quickly joined Dawn in helping Xander strip.
"Well... this is awkward," Buffy said as Xander sat naked with his legs widespread and she held up her now too large pants with one hand.
"It looks angry," Willow noted curiously.
"It's just like that because it got seriously compressed," Kennedy said, "normally it looks completely different."
Everyone but Xander turned to look at her.
"I've seen it in my dreams! Slayer dreams!" Kennedy quickly blurted out.
"Oh yeah," Buffy said. "Xander said everyone after Faith got those."
After a couple of minutes had passed, Buffy asked, "How long are we going to sit here and stare at Xander's junk?"
"At least another five minutes," Xander said. "I'm waiting for the pain to go away."
"That's reasonable," Kennedy said absently.
"We could look elsewhere," Willow said, "but then we'd know we were avoiding looking at it and that would just make things more awkward."
"I cannot put on pants or even boxers right now," Xander said with a sigh. "Someone pass me my backpack."
"Wasn't this the one Faith had?" Willow asked curiously.
"Couldn't leave anything from the future there," Xander explained.
Dawn rubbed at the red marks on Xander's skin as he searched through the backpack.
"I need a belt if you've got one," Buffy said. "And... sorry for staring."
"I'd be more offended if you hadn't looked," Xander replied. "Besides, it's not like we haven't all seen each other naked before."
"Really, when?" Dawn asked.
Xander paused. "Oh, yeah. Nevermind."
"What nevermind?" Buffy asked as Xander passed her a belt for her overlarge pants.
"Just like at dinner, you can run into alternates of people you know who lived different lives, sometimes drastically different ones," Xander explained, while pulling a spandex skirt out of the backpack and putting it on.
"You're joking," Willow said as Xander adjusted what was a micro mini skirt on him.
"It's this or nothing," Xander said, "and as is, I'm going to be hobbling."
"That's practically worse than nothing," Willow said. "I mean, it hides practically nothing and draws the eye."
"Are you slut shaming me?!" Xander demanded, and turned his back on her with a huff.
"Why did I miss him again?" Willow asked the heavens before they both turned back to each other, burst out laughing, and hugged one another.
"It's good to see you again," Xander told her with a big grin.
"Hah, that's my line this time," Willow told him.
"Shouldn't you guys have done this yesterday?" Kennedy asked.
"He was being standoffish," Willow said. "I mean, I understand why, but it still made space between us."
"And she was being super bitchy," Xander said seriously, "pretending to be a mouse."
"You realize it didn't look like that to the rest of us," Dawn said.
"That's because it wasn't," Buffy said. "They are being melodramatic because they can. I can't tell you how many times they drove Giles into his office doing this back in high school."
Kennedy sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose, reminding them remarkably of Giles.
"And back to you seeing us all naked," Buffy said.
"Solstice has used a lot of different forms to tempt me, I've ran into alts of everyone and the relationships have run the full gamut from love to hate, and finally we've had to bandage each other up quite a bit, so I'm not seeing why you're asking," Xander replied.
"She wants to know if you have penetrated her vagina," Kennedy said, not wanting to waste time dancing around the issue.
"With the toe of my right boot once," Xander told her.
"Ah, that's- wait what?!" Buffy exclaimed.
"Let's continue," Xander said, carefully climbing down the stairs with a hand on the railing.
"You're just going to leave it like that?" Kennedy asked.
"Yes, because the details of my sex life are none of her business," Xander replied. "Besides, I always got the feeling she was trying to cockblock me back in Sunnydale."
Buffy groaned while Dawn laughed and Willow grinned.
"Not even if it involves her?" Kennedy asked.
"Me and her have never bumped uglies," Xander assured her. "What I may or may not have done with succubi, dopplegangers, and shapeshifters that have taken her form is also none of her concern."
"What about alts?" Dawn asked curiously.
"The yous from other timelines are not you and really they are infinite, so you can rest assured that there are an infinite number of mes penetrating an infinite number of them this very second," Xander replied.
"Does infinity really work that way?" Kennedy asked Willow.
"Theoretically," Willow replied with a shrug.
"I just want to know if you-you have had sex with someone who was... me, because I need to know how embarrassed I should be here," Buffy explained.
"Buffy, I have seen you at your best and worst," he said, shaking his head, "sex and nudity are really far down on the list of reasons for you-you to be embarrassed around me."
"If you really want to be embarrassed, ask him how many times he's masturbated while thinking of you," Kennedy suggested with an evil grin.
"Kennedy!" Buffy exclaimed turning bright red.
"He's a guy, I'm pretty sure he's rubbed out a few thinking of all of us," Dawn said, shooting Kennedy a smirk.
"I will neither confirm nor deny that," Xander said, making Willow and Dawn laugh, while Kennedy bit her lip, clearly conflicted on the issue.
"Alright! I swear I won't ask!" Buffy exclaimed. "Let's just change the subject."
"Good," Xander said, letting the matter drop.
"I'd kinda like to hear the story behind the one with the boot," Willow admitted. "I won't ask about anything else," she quickly added, "but that one sounds interesting."
"That one I don't mind sharing," Xander allowed.
"Is it sexual?" Buffy asked cautiously.
"I have never run into a you with that big a shoe fetish," Xander assured her. "At least not one who has admitted it."
"Hey!" Buffy complained.
"I'm just saying," Xander defended himself.
The sound of a small group of people coming up the stairs caused them all to fall silent. There was a lot of staring as both groups reached the landing at the same time.
Warren stepped protectively in front of Tara. "Guardian, I greet you," he said formally as Faith and Jessie moved up in case there was a fight.
"Caretaker," Xander corrected him. "The Hellgate is only active during winter, so the place is empty while I stand guard."
"That sounds so much easier," Warren said with a jealous sigh, looking the group over and relaxing a little. "Not a vampire?"
"Ouch," Xander said with a wince. "No, I never got turned, Jessie did."
"I did not!" Jessie exclaimed, wide eyed.
Warren turned to him. "I told you, the stairs to The Library contain the ghosts of what might have been. These aren't the people you know."
"I skinned you alive and then incinerated you," Willow said with a shudder.
"Sounds like our Willow," Faith said, slipping a hand behind herself.
"Warren shot and killed our Tara, so Willow went mad with grief," Xander explained.
"Good," Warren said firmly. "Not the mad with grief part, but the killing Warren part. I'm of the opinion that anyone who hurts Tara deserves payback."
"Is anyone going to ask why Alexander is just wearing a miniskirt that is so short he's dangling below it?" Faith asked.
"Or why the rest of them are in ill fitting men's suits from... way back," Jessie added.
"Went back in time, got our genders switched, just switched back," Xander summed up.
"You aren't Warren," Willow said suddenly. "I mean, you are a Warren but not Thee Warren, specifically the Warren who killed Tara and made robots. I know Xander said this route was harder emotionally than physically and that alternates were sometimes really alternate from what we knew, but the reality of it is still sinking in."
"Are you sure she isn't a vamp?" Faith asked. "I mean, she didn't even take a breath."
"Willow babble," Xander and Jessie chorused.
"Anyway, I need to say something to Tara even though she isn't my Tara and we never met," Willow said.
"I'm listening," Tara said, not moving from behind Warren, but peeking over his shoulder.
"I still love you, but I've moved on," Willow said. "I know you aren't the sort of person who would just get upset at that, instead you would encourage me to be happy, but I had to let you know, even if this isn't the you that I fell in love with while we were in college. Thank you for listening."
"I'm glad you found someone," Tara replied, "and you're right, if I died, I'd want the person I loved to find happiness with someone else."
Willow grabbed Kennedy's hand and walked to the side of the group, heading for the stairs, the rest of the Scoobs following. Xander and Jessie exchanging a fist bump as they passed each other.
After they had climbed down several more flights of stairs, Buffy said, "I thought you'd put all your old ghosts to rest over what happened with Tara."
"I did," Willow said. "Not to say they weren't stirred up a little by seeing a Tara, but mostly that was for my honey."
"For me?" Kennedy asked, surprised.
"Yep," Willow replied, squeezing her hand. "I know you get moody when Tara's name is brought up sometimes and occasionally you try and do something you think she would do for me. Heck, I think you're more haunted by her ghost than I am!"
"It's hard to measure up to a dead woman," Kennedy said, with a dark look on her face.
"So stop trying," Willow said. "I'm not dating you because I wanted to replace Tara, I'm dating you because I love you. If I wanted to date someone like Tara I would have, but I didn't and I don't."
"OK," Kennedy said, smiling and looking away from everyone, embarrassed to have her softer side exposed like this.
"So about that boot," Dawn reminded Xander, changing the subject.
"Some paths are mostly safe, like this one where the people you meet probably won't attack you, but only probably," he said seriously. "There is a path I take to raid the fridge-"
"You mess with time for a midnight snack?!" Buffy exclaimed.
"Yes," Xander replied with a grin. "There is a path to the kitchen that is shorter than the hallway to the elevator and the freezer there is filled with premium ice cream."
"Complaint withdrawn," Buffy said. "Spill! What's the path?"
"I'll show you later," Xander replied. "Anyway, only in one time out of a hundred do I actually run into anyone and usually we don't do more than nod at each other." He stopped at the next landing and opened the door into the lobby. "We're here."
"Oh thank god, I could not take any more stairs," Buffy said, the other girls chiming in as well.
"How about a change of clothes and some cocoa, before continuing the story?" Dawn suggested.
"Maybe a quick shower," Kennedy added. "What was the cold room number again?" she asked, trying to sound casual, which was completely ruined by the grin on Willow's face.
"Not a bad idea," Xander agreed. "Let's get you guys your own rooms and your stuff put away."
"Where's our luggage?" Dawn asked.
"Solstice probably put it away," Xander said, noting the keys on the counter. "Looks like Willow and Kennedy have the room across the hall from me." Xander handed them the key. "Dawn is in the room right next to mine." He passed her the key. He sighed as he spotted the last key.
"What?" Buffy asked.
"Looks like Solstice has decided to kill you," Xander said, putting the key back in its slot.
"What?!" Willow and Buffy exclaimed.
"Not a big deal," Xander assured them. "Buffy, you'll have to do without your luggage until the Hellgate closes again."
"A little more detail, please," Buffy said anxiously.
"A couple of the rooms here can best be described as death traps," Xander replied. "One of them is the room that Solstice assigned to you. People in that room are found strangled to death, sometimes drowned, but always dead of lack of oxygen. Can't say why, but I did my research on this place so I know some of the traps in advance and have avoided them."
"Won't she just come at me some other way?" Buffy asked nervously. Not having her Slayer powers made her feel naked and defenseless.
"No more than the rest of us," Xander replied. "It's a fairly common murder attempt, probably just force of habit at this point."
"Why is she so affectionate one moment and murderous the next?" Dawn asked.
Xander shrugged. "She's not human and doesn't think like us. Treat her avatars kindly or murderous as required and don't waste time trying to find patterns that don't exist. Seriously, don't! At least two of the former caretakers went nuts trying to understand her."
"How safe are we here?" Buffy asked.
"Stick with me, don't wander off, and you'll probably be fine," Xander assured her. "I've been doing this for a while and I've mostly just picked up emotional scars."
Dawn and Buffy remembered the scene on the stairs and shuddered.
"Buffy, you'll share a room with Dawn," Xander decided. "It's safer to pair up anyway."
"I was planning on sneaking into your bed anyway, so mine will be empty," Dawn agreed.
"Not sure what to do about clothing," Xander said with a frown.
"She's about the same size as the faceless horror in the elevator," Dawn offered with a grin.
"I can't just wear business outfits all the time," Buffy complained.
"When Solstice uses a Buffy avatar, I'll steal her clothes," Xander decided. "That should round out your wardrobe a bit."
"How do you plan on stealing them while she's wearing them?" Willow asked.
"Depends on the avatar," Xander replied.
Everyone waited, but it became obvious he wasn't going to say anything more.
Buffy sighed. "Just make sure it's her and not me."
"Pretty sure I'll be able to tell you from her," Xander assured Buffy.
"But not positive?" Buffy asked nervously.
"This is me we're talking about," he replied with a grin.
"That's not a no," Dawn teased.
Buffy groaned. "It's funnier when I do it," she complained.
Typing By: Abyssal Angel (I was actually slightly tempted to type the 'Typing By:' and then leave it blank. XD)