TITLE: Highway Summer. AUTHOR: paradoqz SHOW: B:TVS, X-Men, Highlander, etc. SUMMARY: In a midst of a battle gone horribly wrong the unthinkable has occurred and the walls between realities crumbled. Nothing is constant as universes intrude upon each other. Among the survivors wandering the worlds gone mad, this changes are known as the Shifts. EMAIL: paradoqz@hotmail.com ARCHIVE: Please ask. DISCLAIMER: Concept of the Shadowlands belongs to Alicia Mckenzie. Main characters mentioned belong to Marvel Enterprises, Panzer/Davis Productions and Joss Whedon. No profit is being made.

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This story was written for a shared universe, created by Alicia McKenzie - the Shadowlands. It would be more enjoyable if you check out this site first - http://jenali.hispeed.com/shadowlands/index.htm although it is not required to understand the setting of this story which is such:

In a midst of a battle gone horribly wrong the unthinkable has occurred and the walls between realities crumbled. Nothing is constant as universes intrude upon each other. Among the survivors of the worlds gone mad this changes are known as the Shifts.

*********** Glossary:

Bahktalo: (Patrin) Lucky. Aluf: (Hebrew) Chief, lord. Daronne: (French) Old man.

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The noise of the dead leaves being disturbed by a clumsy footfall drifted past her again, and she froze. Froze, stilling the cold whisper of fear and willing herself invisible just like Logan taught her. It's all you, he'd say. Your will. Force it on the world.

"I'm a mouse."

Her lips were dry and numb, she could feel them and the whisper, her own whisper but she couldn't hear it. She clung stubbornly to the mantra.

"I am a sparrow. A winter's ghost. I'm not here."

The leaves cackled in a raspy, gloating snicker and she swallowed, the parched throat aching.

"I am an autumn's wind. I'm everything. I'm nothing. I'm a shade of the morning."

She giggled the first time the squat, stocky Canadian with the weird haircut told her this. His face was so serious, she remembered, so painfully serious, the wrinkles of concentration around the tired eyes adding years, aging him beyond guessing.

"I'm an echo of the midday's breeze. I'm the raindrop's reflection. I'm nowhere."

When she woke up to find his bedroll gone, she cried. Last time she cried, as the sounds of the huge strangeness, of another world, of the coming Shift rattling her teeth, surrounded her. She cried, grabbing her things with the shaking hands, angrily wiping her eyes as the tears just wouldn't stop.

It felt good to cry sometimes. But not in a while.

The woods were quiet. Strange, blackened and twisted trees half covered with the sickly yellow leaves stood in a silent scream, the quietness pressing down on her, pushing her deeper into her hiding hole.

She waited patiently, swallowing the sharp shreds of the ragged breath. Each heartbeat seemed a deafening clap of thunder in the numb stillness around her. The wood was quiet. Dead.

And then it wasn't.

She thought of it as an explosion. The sudden shockwave of sound, brushing away the rotting smell of death and decay. Explosion meant change. Loud and bright, brash and raw. Anything but dead. Anything but numb.

She pressed herself deeper into the shawl of leaves and loose earth, letting the noise wash over her. Tasting it with the back of her throat. It felt red and violent and... it felt warm. She bit her lip and swallowed drily, grasping fitfully at the beginnings of temptation. No. No-no-no. The noise grew, separating into the distinct sounds, still indistinct but ... there. Closer.

The road curved almost directly under the hill. Maybe if she was careful. Maybe... No. No-no-no. The fear tasted familiar, the dull gray of it coating her mind. She dug herself deeper into the moss, almost flattening the thin. Faintly trembling body against the cave wall. It would be over in a minute, she whispered to herself, unconsciously nodding along with the words. Just a few minutes and they'll be gone. She'd be alone again. Safe. Alone.

The noise was here she suddenly realized. The voices raised in a cheerful banter, urging the mounts on, the creak of the wooden wagon and the staccato of the wheels on the road. And singing. There was singing.



/Don't tell a Gypsy she has no home For the land is mine where ever I roam. To a single place I may not return For a Gypsy's home is where the heart will burn./

"Oh, God. Why are you punishing us, Oh Almighty? Whyyyyy?!" The girl's voice was strong and almost brittle in its clarity. It split the dead, motionless air of the forest like a falling knife.

/For the road is wide and the sky is tall And before I die I will see it all Yes, the road is wide and the sky is tall And before I die I will see it all./

"Please! No more! I give up! I'll do the fucking dishes! Ok?!"

The song cut off abruptly and the singer's voice inquired in a somewhat injured tone. "Why surely it's not THAT bad? It isn't is it, Boss?"

"I'm afraid I'm wit' Princess on this one, mon ami. You couldn't carry a tune if it had handles. Make peace with it, neh?"

"I..." The singer sighed mournfully, "...hate you all."

"We know. Check that harness would you?"

The soft silky giggle slithered behind her and to the right and she flinched, feeling a scream bubbling at the base of her throat. They were here. They found her. Oh, God.

"Listen, you..."

"Oh yeah? Wanna piece of me, Mistress of Pain?"

"Motherf--"

"Quiet." The new voice was hushed, biting in its intensity. It walked with the soft fingers across the edge of her conscious mind and tugged at her impatiently. But she knew the tricks of echoes and dead forest. It was a lie. It was.

The sounds were directly under her hiding hole now, drifting up from beneath the overhang. The seconds ticked away and all was silent. All.

The small sound behind her. Whisper of the skin on the dead grass. They were coming.

Please. Please-please-please. Go away. There is no one here. Please. She tried to start the mantra again but the words escaped her, the coherent thought crumbling in her grasp.

"What is it, Tall-n-Grim? Scared of a little wind?" The girl's words were mocking, but the tone was not.

"They're here." The lying voice again. Wary, flat, familiar, not him.

The pause didn't have time to stretch as someone fired a quick urgent question in French.

"I don't know. Above, maybe. They're watching."

"The fuck are you two babbling about?!" The girl's voice was tinged with anger now. And a little fear maybe. Maybe.

The Liar didn't answer but the French man did. Heavily, unease and resignation dripping like wax. "The Gibbers, Princess." He whistled softly and spoke quickly but quietly and she couldn't hear him. Only the sounds of someone jumping off the wagon and the light footfalls of yet another person approaching the rest.

"Aw, fuck. Fuck-fuck-fuck." The girl seemed upset.

"This is a bad place, Bahktalo. They'll mob us." New voice. She filed it away carefully. Sure, slightly mocking, deadly serious. English accent was slight but there. And different. Not like...

Different.

"Gotta agree with the El Decrepto on this, Boss. Ideal ambush place." Singer was scared. She could tell.

"If we move they'll jump us for sure. We'll do it here. Get as ready as we can 'fore we gotta... Saul, prep the IT, neh? You-" The French man's tone was firm. He sounded sure. Authoritative. Safe.

She swallowed, her eyes suddenly stinging with dry tears and memories.

"Fuck." The girl sighed audibly. "Oh well. We were due anyway. Let's have some fun."

"You're insane." The singer muttered sullenly.

The girl laughed, the anger and unease melting away in the clear joyous sound tinged with anticipation and impatience. "That's why you love me, J."

"Freaking certifiable," The singer mumbled, but she could tell he was grinning. It hit her suddenly; the jealousy of the easy banter and memories and old freak waking. The tears trickled down her cheeks silent and angry, striking her dirty, tightly folded arms.

"Bloody hell. Let's get to it, already."

No. No. Liar. Not him.

LIAR!

The first thing she remembered coming into focus was the surprised face of the blond, green-eyed guy in a brown trench, his jaw hanging open as she came flying off the overpass. And only as she slammed into him did she realize that she was screaming. "LIAR! You're not him!"

"Ack!"

"Damn. Chicks be throwing themselves at you, hot stuff. Way to go, J."

"Shut up, Faith! Dammit, lemme go, kid! All right, all right! I'm not him! I admit it! Sorry! Booooosssss!"

"Quiet, Jamie." The mocking British voice sounded cold now.

"Too late."

And then she was being pulled off the singer and she kicked out trying to free herself from the iron grip. She might as well have kicked a tree.

"That's not nice, petit. My name's Remy. Welcome aboard." A glimpse of the laughing red on black eyes as she was being heaved up, onto the roof of the wagon. "Saul."

"I have her, aluf." The bearded, tanned face loomed above her suddenly, the finger thick with calluses pressing against her lips. The strange guttural accent. "Quiet now, little one. Like a mouse, yes?"

"Guys... do you hear that?" Jaime's voice was uncertain, wary, scared.

The bearded man, Saul twitched his shoulder reflectively but was still looking at her intensely with dark, almost black eyes. She nodded and he smiled, drawing the large hand across the top of her head quickly, before turning away, his heads busy with something even as he didn't bother to spare her another glance. She realized with dull surprise that they were facing the wrong way, towards the back end of the wagon.

"Faith! I think we should move now, ma belle!"

The blur of black leather and flying hair, the mutter. "Don't move, move. Make up your fuckin' mind. Ey! C'mon! Trek! C'mon, darling! Trek!"

The wagon lurched and she squeaked in surprise as it started to move.

"It all right, little mouse. Stay by Saul, yes?"

"O-okay."

Again the small lurking grin, the glimpse of white in the blue-black beard streaked with gray.

Maybe a minute had passed since she came falling off the overhang and suddenly she remembered and gasped as the high pitched shriek blossomed all around them. Suddenly the sound of a flood of bodies rushing through the forest. The baying of a great hunt.

"Hoooly Jaysus, it's a fucking Swarm."

"Less talk, more walk! Step on it, Faith!"

"Shove it, blondie."

"HeeeRE THEY COME!!"

She raised her head instinctively just in time to see the black, seemingly unstoppable tide of bodies pouring off the overpass and onto the road.

Gigglers.

The mass of their little ebony black bodies seemed to suddenly fill the pass. The color unnaturally deep, like polished enamel, the cute-ugly faces of vicious kids on the overly large, too round heads seemed incongruous and endlessly appropriate on the torsos barely two feet long. The chattering, the feral intelligence gleaming in the black eyes, the grinning mouths with rows of teeth filed to a fine point...

They were everywhere.

They seemed unstoppable as they came on, Remy and the Liar seeming so fragile standing between them and the wagon.

"Aluf?"

"Non, not yet, Saul." Remy didn't turn around. His hands whipped out suddenly, too fast for her to follow and a series of explosion shook the ravine. Shrieks of pain and dismay ricocheted off the earthen walls and she flinched as she saw a Giggler stagger back clutching what was left of his left arm and crying piteously and bitterly like a punished child.

The tide stumbled and slowed but came on.

"Daronne!"

His French twang seemed to be getting stronger she noted absently.

"I'm here, I'm here." English Accent, she identified automatically. It turned out to belong to a tall, lean man in a baggy green sweater carrying two assault rifles. He whistled sharply and threw one of the guns towards the Liar, breaking harshly and kneeling in the same fluid motion. By the time he came to a stop by Remy's side he was already firing from the shoulder.

The sharp staccato of two guns was too weak. The din of the charging, chattering, giggling, jabbering Swarm swallowed it whole and only ragged wisps of the measured deadly sound broke through with occasional irregularity, punctuated by the rarer but more powerful punches of Remy's explosive salvos.

Unbelievably, for a briefest of instants, the three of them appeared to have stopped the wave as the Swarm gradually slowed to crawl, the collective screech of impotent rage rising high as the Gigglers threw themselves at the thin line separating them from the slowly retreating wagon. For a moment it seemed that the Swarm was stopped in its tracks.

But it was just an illusion.

Remy hissed something she didn't understand and nodded to the side.

"By the numbers! Adam, you first." She glimpsed the hawkish face of the green-sweatered Englishman and the sardonic grin aimed at Remy. But she couldn't hear what he said, if anything, as he got up and, still shooting from the shoulder, began to back away. Then Remy, and the Liar right after them.

Click.

The sound was quiet but it carried in the sudden, momentary, fleeting quiet of the raging chaos.

The blur of hands sure and furiously quick changing the spent magazine.

The cry of pain and hate as Adam slammed the rifle butt with the unrestrained force, throwing a Giggler back several feet, black blood and something else gushing.

The small, lethally fast bodies of the Swarm closer and closer to them. The shared, giggling, hysterical war cry.

Remy swore vilely, "Jaaaamiieeeee! Get your-"

"I'm on it, kemosabe. Relax."

She blinked as suddenly the blond green-eyed singer seemed to be everywhere at once. The one nearest to her muttered sullenly but audibly as he swiped the nearest attacker with an axe. "Always with the backseat driving. Just luuurves hearing his own voice."

"He's right, you know. We have been through this before." By now they were close enough against the wagon she could make out the playing cards sliding through Remy's fingers and the spiteful glare he threw to Adam before raising his voice. "Now would be good, Saul!"

"Too close, aluf! You too close! Make room!"

"Merde!"

Click. "I'm out."

Click.

"Fuck!"

The Liar fought well, she conceded reluctantly as his lean shape leapt forward suddenly, the bayonet shining one second and slick and wetly black with blood the next.

She blinked and missed it and suddenly Adam was there and she never saw where the sword came from. And Remy was laughing and the bo-staff was blurring, painting intricate webs of the defensive patterns around him. And Jamie was everywhere. And blood and laughter and the smell of death and the Swarm's alive breathing hate and the hunger.

And then Saul breathed out sharply and went very still.

She saw very clearly the Giggler that threw himself between Remy's legs, tumbling forward and coming up in a leap, the claws of his left hand neatly sliced Jamie's throat in passing. He... it. cackled gleefully as it slammed both feet into Adam, ramming his spear into his chest and using the momentum to launch itself upward and right at her.

She saw very clearly the large eyes, glistening with life and joyful malice.

She saw very clearly the clawed hands reaching for her throat.

And she saw very clearly the surprised expression on its face as Saul machine-gunned it in half.

The oily blood gushed out in an ugly spurt, and she flinched away. Saul didn't appear to notice at all, but for the slight tightening of the eyes, already squinted in concentration, as the blood splashed across his face in a ghoulish parody of war paint.

The heavy, flesh-shredding 7.6mm bullets plunged into the Swarm in a steady mechanically pitiless torrent. Like a hammer striking a leaping horse, the force of the barrage shocked the onslaught of the creatures into a sudden, head wrenching halt.

She watched numb as the merciless scythe swept through the Horde, leaving mangled remnants in its wake. Often the bullet would not be stopped by a single body mass and would continue on in its grisly journey, the Death following on its heels as the slugs ripped the small bodies apart, the impacts throwing the Gigglers back with an explosive force.

The vanguard of the surging wave literally disappeared before her eyes.

Dazed, the Swarm cringed before the lethal wall of lead and fire and she saw the individual Gigglers ducking and scrambling, trying to back away, hide, do anything to get out of the way of the unstoppable, implacable hand of Hell that was reaching for them. And then seemingly in a space of seconds it was the whole Swarm that was screeching, but in pain and fear now, and running.

In a blink of an eye the horde just melted away and the ravine was empty, save the bodies of the dead and dying.

"Hooah! Who's bad?!"

The blond, Jamie, was the first to catch up to the moving wagon. Not dead and alone now, but she couldn't think the thought through and it slipped away from her. Leaping up the blond grabbed a hold of the rail and forced his body up and over, thumping down on the roof. Winking at her he grinned and slapped Saul's back. And turned around just in time to catch Remy's disgusted glare. Blinking rapidly under the glower he raised his hands in placating gesture.

"Obviously not us. We're good. Innocent. Angel-like even. Nothing remotely bad over here, O fearless and copiously bleeding leader. I shut up now, yes?"

"Please," Remy grated through clenched teeth, the left hand busy trying to staunch the flow of blood from the cut on his shoulder. "Daronne..." he made as if to look around and winced in pain.

"I got him." The Liar's voice carried easily as he appeared from around the fallen tree, Adam's body hanging limply in his hands. "Think we could get a move on, then?"

"Princess?"

"Shut up. Shutupshutupshutupshutup! Whoa..." Faith's voice cut off suddenly, interrupted by the trilling, chattering, indignant scream that jerked everyone's attention to its source.

She twisted and crawled across the roof. And stared in wide-eyed, undisguised, glorious wonder. "Wow..."

The Giggler hopping in the middle of the pass did not appear to be either intimidated or impressed by the wagon's draft animal even though he was unequivocally dwarfed by the 10 feet and 480 pounds of green-brown-gray mottled skin and bone, and sheer magnificence of the...

"A dinosaur. Your horse is a dinosaur..."

"That's Zuny." Jamie grinned at her, as he helped Saul to manhandle the machine gun into the forward-facing position.

"He's our boy. The runt of the family." Jamie shrugged, ". but we like him anyway."

No one appeared to be overly concerned over the livid Giggler, dancing in fury in front of the slowly moving wagon.

The - she still had trouble forming the word in her head - dinosaur hooted warningly and the diminutive demon hissed back, shaking the small spear.

And without breaking its stride the massive horned lizard moved forward, out of the ravine and into the shimmering wall of the oncoming Shift, the Giggler squeaking in belated alarm and disappearing under the sturdy leg with a wet splat.



Light and darkness and quiet pandemonium and shards of something beyond her understanding, the clarity and the compressed madness of the infinity bound in a moment's space.

Passing through the Shifts was always the same and never.



"Everyone all right?"

"Allow me to answer that question with projectile vomiting."

"Shut up, Jamie. Everyone all right? Remy winced again, his shirt glistening wetly with blood. "Sound off, you bastards!"

"Cranky today, are we?" Adam was not even looking up as he approached, sadly inspecting the remnants of his sweater, "Nasty cut, you got there, mon capitan. Should get that looked at." He sighed and apparently gave up on the sweater, reaching for wagon's door. "Let me get my stuff. Anyone else hurt?"

Remy visibly took control of his temper, closing his eyes for a second before continuing. "Is what I'm trying to find out, homme. Saul?"

"I'm whole, aluf."

"Kid?"

She scowled downward, "I'm fine. And I'm not a kid."

Remy's lips twitched in an aborted grin and he muttered something under his breath she couldn't catch.

"Yes, yes. It's all right, Zun. Yeah, baby... yeah. There, there now."

"Princess?"

Faith ignored Remy with nothing short of a queenly magnificence as she continued to croon into the lizard's ear. "You're my favorite boy, you are, baby. The only male around here worth the name. Yeah... yeah..."

Adam chuckled as he stepped out of the wagon a carpetbag in hand. "Strip, Oh Mangy Cajun."

"Hey-hey! I ain't that kind of girl. I may be easy but I ain't cheap!"

"Well, I do apologize, Messer LeBeau, but I'm somewhat short of funds at the moment. My credit is still good, I assume?"

Remy sighed mournfully, wincing slightly as he pulled his shirt off. "Just a little respect, is all I ask. Just a token."

Jamie snickered, vaulting over the edge and landing in a catlike crouch. "Way to set that bar, Boss."

"I'm a realist, pest. Speaking of... Where's our resident Goth-reject?" Remy yelped suddenly as Adam smacked him on the head to forestall yet another attempt to look behind him.

"Say that to my face, you tosser."

No. Noooo. NO! Liar. Liar-liar-liar! Not him. Can't be him. LIAR!

"Whoa!"

"Wait-!

"Somebody c--" Remy blinked as the ball of brown hair, green cotton and dirty denim flew from the roof, barreling straight into the newly appeared member of his kumpanie. '--atch her."

He could feel the rest gathering around him, their curiosity almost palpable as they surrounded the pair.

Neither the pale blond nor the girl hugging his waist and crying into his chest paid them any attention as Spike's hands locked in a protective, possessive, unbreakable embrace about the slight trembling form. Her words tumbled out fast and hot, crashing each other in their haste, incomprehensible under the great shuddering sobs wrenching her slender frame.

"Shh. Shh now, Nibblet. I'm here. It's all over. Shh."

***

To be continued...