Disclaimer: I do not own BtVS or any associated property.
AN: I was asked to write another chapter for WFTW, but when I looked at it, I realized it needed a lot of work, so it's been changed quite a bit from the original.
"And these are my best friends, Jesse and Xander," Willow said, gesturing to the two teenage boys who had been so into their conversation they hadn't even noticed her approach and talk to Willow even though the three were standing in the middle of the school lawn with no one else nearby.
Jesse blinked. "New girl," he said with a nod. "Nice to put a name to the face."
"New girl?" Buffy asked.
"It's a small town-" Jesse began.
"But I wouldn't want to paint it," Xander and Willow chorused, finishing the old joke.
Jesse rolled his eyes. "As I was saying, it is a small town so anyone new gets noticed. I was not, you may note, going to say the tired old line about having to paint it."
Willow and Xander looked at one another.
"Are you buying it," Xander asked, "because I almost think he's serious."
"He's not giving off his usual tells," Willow said with a thoughtful frown before nodding. "Yeah, it's entirely possible he's developed some new material."
"I do not tell the same jokes over and over," Jesse complained.
"Unless it's funny," the two chorused and snickered.
"Ignore that, we just like giving him a hard time," Willow said. "Anyway, Jesse is the one who tells bad jokes and Xander… also tells bad jokes."
"You don't have to introduce us," Xander said, poking Willow in the side and making her giggle for the 'bad jokes' comment, "we go way back. We were separated for a time, but here we are, together once more."
"I ran into you this morning," Buffy realized. "Of course you were dressed differently then. Why are you dressed like a lumberjack, right down to carrying a hand axe, with a giant backpack filled with camping gear?"
The three exchanged glances and Willow shrugged while Jesse gestured for Xander to explain.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Xander said honestly.
"I think you'd be amazed at what I can believe," Buffy assured him.
"Not this," Jesse said.
"Even seeing isn't always believing," Willow added. "My parents still think he's a camping nut with impulse control problems," she complained.
"Then tell me and see how I respond," Buffy suggested, wondering what the big secret was and seriously doubting it held a candle to what she'd discovered over the last year.
"You'll see for yourself in..." Xander tilted his head in thought, "a minute or so."
Willow and Jesse stepped back from Xander.
"You have everything, right?" Willow asked anxiously.
"Including schoolbooks and tomorrow's assignments," Xander assured her.
"Dude, food?" Jesse quizzed, tossing him a Coke.
"I made sure everything was restocked," Xander assured them.
"What's going to happen that I'm going to see?" Buffy asked, laying a hand on his arm to get his attention.
"Don't-" Willow began when the pair vanished with a pop. Jesse and Willow had to lean back to avoid falling forward in the brief vacuum. "Fuck!"
"I'll tell the principal," Jesse said with a sigh, ignoring her uncharacteristic burst of profanity.
Buffy looked around. They'd been standing in sunny Southern California, and now they were standing on a sunny tropical beach. "I still have to ask," Buffy said.
"Yeah?" Xander replied cautiously, hoping she wasn't going to freak out, as he quickly scanned the area around them, seeing nothing but sand and sea nearby with even the palm trees and bushes being a good distance inland. There were some seagulls overhead, but they weren't a threat.
"Why dress so warmly if you were coming here?" Buffy asked, not looking phased at all. "I mean, you are dressed for like… Canada and moose." She gestured at the heavy clothes he had on.
"I have no control over where I… jump," Xander explained. "I've gotten pretty good at sensing when I'm going to move, but where is completely random and it's better to have warm clothes and not need them than vice-versa."
"So where are we, Florida?" Buffy guessed. "And how do we get home?"
"The good news is that we get home the exact same way we got here," Xander told her.
"And the bad news?" she asked cautiously.
"We aren't in our Florida, if we are in Florida," he explained. "This is an Earth with no people."
"Come again?" Buffy asked.
"I randomly drop into an Earth where there are no people," Xander explained. "It started when I was twelve, and it happens once a week at around the same time."
"And people just accept this?" Buffy asked in disbelief.
"Hard to deny what's been shoved in their face repeatedly," Xander said with a shrug. "The mayor has been nice enough to make sure word doesn't get out, so I don't end up a lab rat, and in return I am helping make sure we have a kick ass zoo."
"How do you do that?" Buffy asked.
"I catch endangered or extinct creatures over here and bring them back with me when I return," Xander said proudly. "Early this year I managed to catch a juvenile tiger, and considering the failing numbers of tigers we have in our world, a completely unrelated male was a boon to the breeding population."
"That is cool," Buffy admitted. "Wait, I remember hearing something about passenger pigeons," she said as she recalled a mention of a species no longer being extinct and her mom making a big deal over it, though Buffy herself hadn't cared at the time, too busy worrying about some girl buying the same top as her. It all seemed so silly now.
"The mayor passed them along to a pigeon breeder who claimed he found a small population of them stuck on an island due to wind currents," Xander said with a smile, proud of having saved the species.
"Seriously cool," Buffy decided. "So, how long are we here?"
"Three days," Xander told her apologetically.
"Three days?" she asked, finally looking shocked. "You mean you have to spend nearly half your life alone in the wilds?!"
"We're here for three days, but when we return only a single day will have gone by," Xander told her. "Don't ask me how it works, I have no idea. So, three days here and six days home, I only have to spend a third of my life in the wilderness."
"Free three-day weekend added to every week," Buffy said, trying to look on the bright side of a screwed up situation, something she had gotten a lot of practice in lately. "That's kinda cool."
"Kinda," Xander agreed, taking off his backpack, pulling out and strapping on a belt with a number of tools, including a holstered pistol and a machete on it, "but it's a whole 'cycle of life' thing and to most animals we are simply funny looking monkeys, but tastier. So, it's not all fun and games." He scanned the area again as he adjusted his belt and took off his flannel shirt, revealing a simple blue t-shirt underneath before stuffing the shirt and Coke into his pack.
"Your friends didn't look too worried," Buffy said, paying a bit more attention to their surroundings.
"I downplay the dangers to them," Xander explained. "I don't need them losing sleep over things they can't change."
"I know how that goes," Buffy said with a sigh. "Well, one day or three, my mom is going to kill me when I get back, and do you perhaps have an extra machete?"
Xander dug in his pack, coming up with a second machete and a clip-on holster with a pair of canisters on it. "Here."
"Bear mace and an air horn?" Buffy asked, clipping everything on to her belt loops, but keeping the machete ready while he stuffed her purse in his backpack and tied her book bag to his pack.
"It's easier to scare off predators than to kill them," he explained. "Also, we have an excuse in place for someone getting taken along on accident. Officially we were retrieving extra schoolbooks from the basement of the school, which is a fallout shelter, and something triggered the automatic locking sequence, so we are trapped in there for 24 hours and it's completely not our fault."
"The entire school knows and supports you in this?" Buffy asked, impressed.
"Most of them ignore it," Xander said with a shrug. "It's just a weird thing that gets me out of class to them, and they like to see what I bring back."
"Still better than how mine reacted," Buffy said with a sigh.
"Yours?" Xander asked.
Buffy winced. "I don't suppose we could pretend I didn't say that?"
"I've shown you mine, the least you can do is show me yours," Xander teased, putting back on his pack.
Buffy laughed despite herself. "Fine, let's see if I can find something to help with my demonstration so you won't think I'm insane." Looking around the beach, she spotted a small boulder that probably broke off from one of the cliffs from further down. It was a large chunk of rock about half the size of a Volkswagen Bug. "How heavy would you say this is?" Buffy asked.
"Very," Xander said, "it looks like all the heavy packaged for your convenience."
Buffy handed him the machete and squatted down next to the boulder, getting a good grip on it. Her feet actually sank at least a foot into the sand as she smoothly lifted the boulder and flung it over thirty feet away, where it crashed into the sand with a loud thud.
"Holy shit, that's cool!" Xander said as Buffy pulled her feet out of the holes in the sand they'd made, and then had to rescue her footwear that was still stuck in there.
"That part is. The part where I have to fight monsters? Not so much," she admitted, hitting her shoes together to knock out the sand.
"Monsters?" Xander asked curiously.
"I don't know why I'm telling you this," Buffy said, remembering how most people had reacted, just about everyone in fact.
"Buffy," Xander said, laying a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I'm the last man on Earth who would doubt you about weird shit happening."
Buffy smiled and then frowned. "You are the last man on Earth."
Xander paused and she could actually see him parse everything that had just been said before he started to snicker and burst out laughing, with Buffy joining him a few seconds later.
"But seriously," he said when they'd both recovered, "I spend a third of my life living in my own little world. I'd be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt, even if you hadn't just demonstrated you were able to bench press a small car."
"It's such a relief to be able to talk to someone who doesn't immediately think I'm crazy," Buffy said. "But enough of that for now. What do we do for three days? Do you have enough food for two people?"
"We poke around, look for a safe place to stay, and set up camp," Xander replied. "I have plenty of food, as no one wants a repeat of the Dodo egg omelet incident."
"Dodo egg omelet?" she asked, looking horrified.
"Best omelet ever!" Xander said with a smile. "After that, they finally listened to me about being here three days, not one, and packed my bag accordingly."
"Any other surprises I should know about?" Buffy asked.
"I only have one sleeping bag, though I do have two pillows. Three days is a rough time, not exact; so if I say hold my hand, do it," he said seriously.
"I take it I'm not the first person to come along on one of these trips," Buffy guessed.
"No, at least once every couple of months someone will dare someone else, or... on a rare occasion, the mayor will ask me to take some people along," Xander explained.
"Has anyone ever accidentally been left behind?" Buffy asked.
"Let me tell you about Harmony Kendall," Xander said sadly, his shoulders slumping. "She grabbed my backpack on a dare. Next thing you know, I'm stuck with a whiny, demanding, blonde cheerleader who won't listen to a word I say and steals my sleeping bag. Long story short, I got sick. When I'm sick, it's harder to tell when I'm going to jump worlds. Harmony, being Harmony, refused to hold my hand for longer than a minute at a time because I had a runny nose, and claimed it was all a ploy to get her to sleep with me."
"Ouch," Buffy said with a wince.
"I was sick for three weeks," Xander said. "I can't afford to be sick. It's dangerous to do this as is. I almost died over a dozen times... not including the times she was with me, because of her."
"Understandable," Buffy said.
"I don't think I can forgive either of us for what happened," he said. "If either one of us had been less of a pain in the ass to one another, she'd be home right now. The girl had no survival skills, few people skills, and has no doubt starved to death by now."
Buffy laid a hand on his arm and gave him a soft squeeze.
"There's only one person who has accidentally been left behind and I don't plan on there being two," Xander said.
"I'm not whiny, if it helps," Buffy offered.
Xander shook his head. "I will be tying our hands together when it gets close to the time, just so you know."
"I have no problem with that," Buffy promised as they resumed walking along the beach. "What are we looking for, anyway?"
"Cave above the water line, but not above the high tide mark," Xander said.
"Easily defendable and any driftwood in it would already be dry," Buffy said in understanding wondering which of her former lives that knowledge came from and how she'd died that time.
"Exactly," he agreed. "We got about four hours 'til sunset, which gives us some time to look around, so we'll know what we're dealing with."
"Where do you think we are?" Buffy asked.
"Somewhere near the equator," Xander replied, "more than that, I can't say." He took a flashlight off his belt and cautiously entered a cave in the side of the cliffs, examining the ceiling of the cave first before shining his light around. "Looks good so far."
Buffy drew her machete out of its sheath. "I'll go first, just in case."
"Okay," Xander agreed, not having seen any tracks in the sand and pretty sure the cave was empty. He followed her, keeping the flashlight pointed where it would do the most good and trying not to watch Buffy as she moved like he imagined a ninja would, barely even leaving footprints in the sand.
"Cool," Buffy said as they'd moved scarcely a dozen feet in when it had opened up into a round chamber with a slightly sunken floor which had trapped a lot of driftwood and had numerous small crystals in the walls that reflected the light from the flashlight and cast rainbows on everything.
"Perfect," Xander said, checking the ground for snake tracks and poisonous insects. "We can use the driftwood to set a fire up just outside the mouth of the cave to scare off predators and not have to worry about them."
"So, what do you usually do on these trips?" Buffy asked, sheathing her machete.
"Once I am sure I am safe and have my camp set up, I do my homework."
"Seriously?" Buffy asked.
"Seriously," Xander agreed. "Randomly dropping into another world is not considered an acceptable excuse for not doing your homework."
"You have some tough teachers," Buffy said.
"That's just Willow," Xander replied, taking a battery powered lamp out of his camping pack and setting everything up.
Buffy cleared away the driftwood, stacking it in the corner with the dead seaweed, and was surprised to find a smooth, hard surface, rather than sand in the bottom of the cave. "Is this concrete?"
"Nah, just sandstone worn smooth over time," Xander told her as he continued pulling things out of his pack.
"How the hell does all that fit in there?" Buffy asked as he continued pulling things out like a magician with a rabbit surplus.
"Very carefully," Xander said cheerfully as he pulled out an ice chest that could not possibly have fit with all the rest of the supplies.
"That's not possible," Buffy said firmly while slowly shaking her head.
"I said the same thing when the mayor showed me how to pack my bag," Xander agreed. "Do you know what he said?"
"No, what?" Buffy asked curiously.
"Would you rather have things be possible, or have the space to take along an extra dozen rolls of toilet paper?" Xander quoted with a grin.
"Bless that man," Buffy swore, deciding not to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially one who was making sure she didn't have to wipe herself with leaves.
"Yeah," Xander agreed. "My life is a lot of strangeness, but that doesn't mean it's all bad," he said, hinting at wanting to hear her story.
Buffy chuckled. "Pull up some rock and let me tell you a story," she said. "It all started when an old British guy started stalking me..."
Typing By: Ordieth