Title: Future Tense (0/?)

Author: Cyclone

Feedback: Please be gentle.

Distribution: Gimme credit and a link. Plus, archived at

Rating: I'm gonna go say PG-13.

Spoilers: For Buffy, up to Grave. For Firefly... well, we only got one season (damn you, Fox), so there's not much to spoil. *grumble* Still, I may refer to anything in any of the episodes ME actually got to make.

Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to the almighty Joss. I'm just borrowing them for a while.

Summary: The men with blue hands try another tactic to recapture River.

Author's Note: To Buffy fans, this is very heavily Xander-centric. At the moment, it is unlikely that any other Buffy character will make frequent appearances. Also, to avoid the horror that made season six look good (and to avoid the peculiar oddity of Captain Caleb and his trusted second, Jasmine...), season seven of BtVS will be completely ignored.

* * *

He considered the report, when his gaze drifted to one of the listed potential side effects. "'Physical alterations to target'?"

"Estimated at twenty-one percent probability."

"Unacceptable risk," he shook his head. "The subject must be recovered intact."

"Understood, sir," the junior agent replied. "We have tentatively developed another possible solution, based on archival records, circa year two thousand."

"Explain."

The subordinate did, and the man listened.

After a moment's thought, he said evenly, "Authorized. Begin the operation immediately."

* * *

"All right, Xander," Buffy said, exasperated. "I give up, already. I won't try to keep you out of the Slaying any more, okay?"

"Finally!"

"About time," Willow muttered to herself. It was... interesting, to say the least, how things had been between them since she'd tried to destroy the world.

That day on Kingman's Bluff, she'd seen a side of Xander she had forgotten existed. The brave, loyal, and utterly loving Heart of the Scooby Gang.

And she was pretty certain she was beginning to fall in love with him again.

"Buffy," she cleared her throat. She hated to interrupt, but she was concerned. The "deep tropical cellular tan" that Spike's chip and Tara -- her throat caught as she thought about her lover -- had detected seemed indicative of... something else.

"Yes, Willow?" the Slayer turned, her voice... not quite cold, but lacking the closeness they once shared.

"I, um..." Willow hesitated, "I cast a spell last night."

Buffy's expression darkened, "What did you do?"

"J-just a... a detection spell," Willow said quickly. "You remember those moments of weakness you've been getting lately? I wanted to see if I could figure out what was causing it."

The Slayer opened her mouth, anger on her face, but Xander stepped in, "Whoa, Buff. Let her talk."

Willow shot him a grateful smile and plowed on, "I think something went wrong with the resurrection spell. It... it altered you so that Spike's chip didn't read you as human... a-and I think it's getting worse."

"What do you mean?"

The redhead licked her suddenly dry lips, "Buffy... you're dying. Your body's falling apart, wearing itself out at the cellular level. I-I don't know how much longer you have."

Buffy blinked and tried to digest that piece of information.

A minute passed.

A sparkling blue light flashed toward Buffy.

"Look out!" Xander cried, shoving the Slayer out of the way.

The light struck Xander... and he vanished.

* * *

"Misfire. Acquired Harris, Alexander Lavelle. Target Summers, Buffy Anne, not acquired."

"Can we send him back?"

"Yes, but that bears a sixty-eight percent probability of damaging the temporal converter."

"Has he made any contribution to the timestream since the time we removed him?"

"Uhh... negative. Negative. Almost immediately after Miss Summers' death, he was involved in a fatal single-vehicle car accident. No legal action, no others involved."

"Then dump him. He's no use to us. He won't last long in the streets anyway."

"Understood."

* * *

Author's Postscript:

Dunno exactly where I'm going with this, really, but the idea's been sticking in my head for awhile now.