Cross-Time Damage Control

by Philip S.

Disclaimer: All things BtVS belong to Joss Whedon, Warner Brothers, Mutant Enemy, and whomever else. Other elements in this story belong to David Panzer, Marvel Comics Group, and probably a lot of others once I figure out whom else to bring into this. Nothing is mine except the plot.

Rating: PG-13

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Author's Note: I know I have a bunch of unfinished stories lying around, but I have learned to simply follow where my muse takes me and stop complaining. This story came to me pretty much spur of the moment. It is a sequel (of sorts) to my story Soulworld VI (available exclusively on my website) and also contains characters from my story The Slayer 314 Project (available at my site and here at fanfiction.net), but there is no need for you to have read either story to enjoy this one. All necessary background details will be provided in the course of the story itself. That said, enjoy the read! And don't forget to review!

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Chapter 1: Recruitment Drive

#

Restfield Cemetery

Sunnydale, California, USA

March 17, 2093 AD

Parallel 017

#

Your name is Alexander Lavelle Harris and you would be celebrating your 112th birthday today. If you had anyone to celebrate it with, that is. As things stand, though, you are all alone and the only thing anyone is likely to give you for your birthday is a quick death. Which might not be the worst gift you ever received.

Looking at the cemetery you are in, gazing at the row of headstones before you, you can't help but wonder whose cruel idea of a joke it is that you of all people are still alive long past the time when you should have crumbled into so much dust. Times were you were the most likely to die. In a group of people with all sorts of mystical powers and skills you were the odd man out, the one who couldn't do anything but provide lame jokes and make the snack food runs.

Now you are the only one left. All the others are gone, either taken by time or the forces you have been fighting against for so long now. You would be, too, if not for that very, very strange night when your entire life turned upside down and inside out. The night when it appeared that the fool's luck you had been depending on for so long ran out and a random vampire got to you before any of your friends could come to your aid.

The night you died.

Only you didn't stay dead, did you? Ever since one of your two best friends since childhood, Jesse, had been turned into a vampire and you found yourself forced to stake him you dreaded the day the same might happen to you. That a demon would slip into your dead flesh and walk around the night with your face, killing with your hands. So when you found yourself waking up in the morgue you naturally assumed that you had been bitten, drained, and given a liquid diet that turned you into one of the walking dead.

You were wrong, as became evident when you walked out into the sunlight with the firm intention of killing yourself before the hunger for blood could overwhelm you. The sunlight did not burn you, the hunger you kept expecting did not come. You still had a pulse, you still breathed, and everything seemed business as usual. Except, of course, for the fact that you had been quite dead.

It took the encounter with a beautiful woman called Amanda to enlighten you. She taught you about what it means to be an immortal, that you will live forever unless someone cuts off your head. She taught you about the Quickening, about the Game, and that, in the end, there can be only one. That all immortals must fight for the Prize, even though none of them know exactly what it is. She taught you how to use a sword and the night you took your first head, in self-defence, she praised your skill even as you puked out your guts in disgust.

You have taken many heads since that night and it has gotten easier, if never quite routine. You have met many other immortals and not all of these encounters ended with a duel and a head coming off. All the while you still fought side by side with your friends, who took your return more or less in stride. After all, stranger things had happened to that ragtag group of demon-fighters and outcasts.

One by one, though, they all died. Buffy fell in the fight against Glory, saving the world as usual. Willow died when she tried to bring her back, the spell misfiring and incinerating her. Giles died of old age, slipping away in his sleep one night. Tara was burned at the stake some months after the existence of the supernatural became public and ignited a frenzy among the normal people, one that lead to wide-scale purges among the supernatural community, both evil and good. Dawn simply vanished one day when the spell that had given her human form was disrupted by a mystical event in Asia, one that caused magic worldwide to go haywire. And Anya returned to being a demon, figuring that she needed to be immortal, too, if you were. Unfortunately her profession drove a wedge between you, one that has never healed.

The only one of the old gang you still occasionally have contact with is Angel, who is still going strong and showing no signs of letting up. For a while the two of you actually fought side by side, but it never quite felt right. So one day you went your own way and haven't stopped walking yet. The only constant on your journey being your annual visit to Sunnydale and the graves of your friends.

You are tired, extremely so. More and more often you play with the thought of simply giving up. All your friends are gone and it seems there is nothing worth fighting for anymore. The same mystical event that ended Dawn's existence, fabricated as it might have been, annihilated all of the demonic creatures that had survived the purges and the only evils left in the world are the purely human ones. What is there left to do for you? Fight for the Prize? Hope to make it to the Gathering? What for? You don't know.

There is a tingling in the back of your skull and you know than another immortal is nearby. Slowly you get up and walk out of the cemetery, for fighting on holy ground is forbidden. You spot him almost immediately. A hulking figure, dressed in black leather, carrying a sword almost twice as long as the one hidden beneath your coat.

"I'm Alexander Harris," you say, slipping the blade out of its scabbard. It seems to get heavier and heavier with every passing year.

"I am Kurgan," your opponent growls. "You don't look as if you will put up much of a fight."

"Let's find out, shall we?"

To your credit you fight valiantly and one could almost get the impression that you want to survive, that you care whether you live or die. On your best day you might even have been able to beat Kurgan, who is one of the most powerful immortals in existence. This is not your best day, though, and before long your sword lies shattered on the ground, you are bleeding from a dozen wounds that would be lethal to anyone else, and Kurgan raises his blade for the finishing blow.

"There can be only one!"

Then everything stops.

You look up, surprised, seeing that the world has frozen around you. Kurgan has transformed into a statue, even the droplets of blood falling from his sword hang suspended in mid-air. Nothing is moving, not even the wind, and not a single sound reaches your ear.

That is, until someone starts speaking to you.

"The moment time resumes its normal flow," the voice says, "the big guy here will kill you."

You look around and gasp as you see the only moving thing in this frozen world. A figure that looks almost like your best friend, many years dead now, if it wasn't for the fact that her entire form seems to be made out of crimson metal.

"Do you want to die," the figure that looks like Willow asks, "or can I interest you in an alternative?"

#

Shapeshifter Retreat

Arizona, USA

August 8, 2001 AD

Parallel 013

#

Your name is Daniel Ozborn, but most people used to call you Oz. That was before, of course, back in those happy times you sometimes manage to remember. The times before you became what you are today. Before En Sabah Nur.

There was a time you were a happy guy, though one could seldom tell from your face. You had friends, you had a girl you loved, you were part of something important. There were a few times you even helped save the world, which is more than most other people can say. There were problem even back then, of course, such as that connected to the rise of the full moon, but these kinds of problems could be handled. Or so you thought.

Sitting here with your eyes closed, meditating in search of your inner calm, your memories inevitably drift back two years to the time everything started going wrong. For nearly two years you had been able to handle the fact that you were a werewolf and transformed into a raging beast three nights of the month. Then Veruca came, another werewolf, and things went downhill from there.

Fearing for the safety of the girl you loved, the one your monstrous alter ego had almost killed, you left your home and traveled the world, looking for answers. No, not answers. Control. You weren't interested in understanding your curse, only in suppressing it. That was your first mistake. The second was going back when you weren't ready.

Coming home half a year after you left, you expected things to go back to the way they had been. Your girl was still there and she'd still love you, right? You had the wolf under control, right? Wrong on both counts. Your girl had found someone else, another girl to be exact. Finding out about that robbed you of your precious control and lead to your capture at the hands of a madman.

The Initiative Project had been meant as simple field research, a part of the US government's mutant agenda. Mutants, human beings born with an X-factor in their genetic structure that could manifest in various forms. Telepaths, telekinetics, people with wings, super-powered teenagers with mayhem on their minds. The people feared them and the government wanted to either control or kill them. When word got out about the demons in Sunnydale the government believed them to be mutants and sent in their scientists and soldiers.

What they didn't know was that, among those scientists, was a man named Nathaniel Essex. Pretending to be a loyal servant of the government, his true loyalties lay with someone else. Someone very interested in both mutants and the demonic. Someone who firmly believed that the world needed to be cleansed of the weak, that only the strong were fit to survive.

En Sabah Nur. An immortal mutant from the time of ancient Egypt, powerful and ruthless. His plans were to create conflict, believing that the weak would perish and the strong would inherit the Earth. Mutants against humans. Humans against demons. Mutants against demons. He didn't care as long as there were battles to be fought. The Initiative, humans investigating mutants that turned out to be demons, was an opportunity the likes of which he had been looking for.

You were one of the first to fall into his clutches. A human being changed by the supernatural, En Sabah Nur and his servant Essex changed you even further by means of genetic enhancement. Turned you into something inhuman, monstrous. Programmed your mind with false loyalty and sent you out to unleash carnage upon those who had been your friends.

And what carnage you unleashed. When the Initiative came crumbling down amidst the warring demons and humans with a few mutants thrown in for good measure, you found yourself facing your former friends. Buffy, the Slayer, would have killed you despite your enhanced strength and brutality, but your girl, Willow, recognized you and cried out for her friend to stop. It led to a fatal hesitation. It led to casualties. When the dust settled Buffy was dead, torn open by your claws.

The shock of seeing her dead freed you and you turned against the one who remade you in his image. En Sabah Nur but laughed, though, proud of the way you turned out. He left, his work done. The government believed that mutants were responsible for the fall of the Initiative and began working on the Sentinel Project, planning to exterminate all mutants. Hundreds of demons that should have been neutralized were freed. Mutants were enraged, thinking the demons to be mutant victims of the government's experiments. And the Slayer lay dead.

You left then, unable to face your friends after what you had done. You still can't face them. Your humanity, though somewhat restored, still hangs by the barest of threads. The beast En Sabah Nur created slumbers inside you, but may wake at all times. When you found this place, a retreat where shapeshifters can come to learn about their curse, you hoped you would find peace.

Since coming here a year ago your control has improved. The violent rages En Sabah Nur instilled in your mind have grown less frequent. Your transformation into the beast is voluntarily now, coming and going as you want. The others here, at first suspicious of you because you are so different from a normal werewolf, now look to you as a friend and (in the case of the young ones) even something of a teacher.

Yet peace eludes you. The lust for battle still fills your heart. In your dreams you see yourself fighting, losing yourself in the beast, slashing your friends and enjoying it. And you know that En Sabah Nur is still out there. Should you meet him again, you do not know whether you will have the strength to fight him or will fall back under his yoke.

You begin to fear that, in this life, you will never be able to find peace.

Suddenly there are sounds from outside. Screams of fear and terror. The beast inside you immediately comes awake. Fur rolls across your arms, hands lengthen into claws. When you rise to your feet they are feet no longer, but paws. The hut's door is almost too small for your hulking frame and you walk on all fours because it feels more natural.

A shadow has fallen across the retreat. A shadow cast by a gigantic figure of metal. Standing at least a hundred feet tall, the robotic monstrosity dwarfs even you as its cold eyes look down upon the retreat with clinical detachment.

"Potential mutants located," a metallic voice states. "Proceeding with elimination."

Had you been paying attention to the news you would know that this monstrosity is a Sentinel, a government-built combat unit created for the express purpose of finding and eliminating mutants. If you knew that you might have realized that your own mutated genes are what led the Sentinel here to the retreat and placed all your friends in danger.

You know none of this, of course. You only know that something threatens the closest thing you have to a home these days and you spring into action.

Muscles enhanced by both science and the supernatural easily propel you upwards toward the Sentinel's neck and clawed fingers penetrate armored metal, ripping a gaping wound into the robot's hide. The machine tries to defend itself, tries to follow its programming, but you are too quick for it. A moment later it falls, almost squashing the retreat beneath it, its head torn clean off by something that is neither demon, nor human, nor mutant, but a combination of all three.

Triumph fills your heart, the beast elated that it brought down the much larger prey. The feeling is short-lived, though.

"Sentinel unit disabled," the machine says. "Emergency fail-safe activated."

Before you can wonder what it means by that a glaring light blinds you. Your eyes, hyper-sensitive in this form, hurt as if needles were stuck into them and you look away. When you can finally see again something very strange has happened.

All the people around you are frozen, their faces masks of fear. The light is still glaring from behind you and you carefully look around, astounded when you see the source.

The Sentinel is exploding. A fireball has ripped open its chest, but is frozen just like everything else around here. You realize that you are but a moment away from death, yet something has given you a respite. Can you run? Can you get the others to safety before this mysterious grace wears off and everyone dies?

"I'm sorry, but you can't help them," a voice from nowhere says, answering his question.

You swirl around. It has been ages since anyone has been able to sneak up on you, your enhanced senses making it all but impossible. Yet someone is there. The mere sight of the visitor wrenches your heart.

"Willow?" you ask.

The figure that looks like your girl gives him a smile. She is not human, that much is for certain, as humans are not covered in crimson metal. Yet she is Willow. You know the way she moves, the way she smiles. That's Willow.

"This is the moment you die, Daniel," she tells you. "As of now you only have two choices. You can go through with that fate," she points at the explosion that hangs suspended behind him, "or you can accept my offer."

#

Greenwich Village

New York City, New York, USA

November 10, 2003 AD

Parallel 022

#

Your name is Rupert Giles, though oftentimes you still prefer the name 'Ripper'. A nickname from your youth, received at a time when the most important things in the world were music, cigarettes, and the next pretty girl that needed to be picked up. And magic, of course. Magic has always been important in your life, even in the days of your misspent youth.

These days it is more important than ever. You have always been connected to magic in one way or another, right from the day you were born. The Giles family has dabbled in the supernatural for many generations, most of its members having been initiates into the secretive organization known only as 'the Watchers'. This was to have been your fate, too, but you had other plans.

As the magic flows around you the memories float to the surface as well. The days of companionship, when a group of foolish young mages conjured a demon called Eyghon and learnt a bitter lesson about the dangers inherent in magic. The days of travel, when you sought new purpose in your life and finally found it in the mountains of Tibet, just when you were almost ready to give up and become a Watcher like your father wanted. The days of learning, when you were initiated into the arts of magic by the sorcerer known only as the Ancient One. And finally, the present, when you wear the title that your teacher once wore.

Sorcerer Supreme.

It is a title with a great many responsibilities. As the most powerful mage alive today it is your responsibility to keep the balance of magic intact. Sometimes this means fighting demons that hope to bring about Hell on Earth (a duty that has led you back into contact with your roots more than once when you found yourself fighting side by side with the Slayer), at other times it means something as simple as making sure that a young boy receives a letter.

It is not always a pleasant duty. Magic, like all things, must be balanced and applied only in moderation. Too much of either extreme, be it light or dark, and the world falls into chaos. If dark magic were to have its way the world would become Hell. If the light were allowed to reign supreme, then most people alive today would be struck down where they stood for the unforgivable crime of being human instead of perfect. Magic must be balanced and sometimes that means dipping into the dark as well as into the light.

Your teacher described it as walking in the gray. It's as good a description as any you have ever come up with.

This is what you are doing right now. While your body is in suspension, floating in a protective cocoon of magic, your astral self is afloat on the winds, walking like a ghost among men who are, for the most part, completely blind to the world you see every day. The signs have told you that today is an important day, for but a few blocks away from your home a child is about to be born. There is a chance, though but a small one, that this child will become the next Messiah.

And as is always the case, where a Messiah is born there will be a Herod.

There are always groups at work behind the scenes, looking to further whatever cause they believe in. Most of them do not look kindly upon the possibility of a Messiah being born and bringing the world one step closer towards paradise. They want to maintain the status quo. So once they learned of the child's birth they sent an assassin after it, just to be on the safe side.

Stopping the assassin takes you all of five seconds and you take another minute or two to watch the child being born. There is magic in it, if but a small spark. Personally you don't think this will be the next Messiah, yet even if it just turns out to be another normal human being you wouldn't have let it be killed. That is not the kind of man you are.

Finally you return home, looking to reenter your body and rest for the night. But quite unexpectedly you find your way barred by a spell. A spell that is known to you. You yourself created it for the purpose of keeping out hostile spirits.

"You look surprised," a voice says, one he is very much familiar with.

A woman has entered the room where your body rests. She is your disciple, as well as the woman you love. Her name is Jenny and, until this moment, you would never even have considered the notion that she might one day betray you.

The cruel smile on her face tells you that you have erred. Not for the first time, but possibly for the last.

"Jenny? What are you doing?"

"What do you think, old man? You have taught me all I needed from you. It is time for a new Sorceress Supreme. I think the world will soon become a much more interesting place."

With that she raises the enchanted dagger over her head and you know that there is no way for you to stop her. She is inside your defenses, she has caught you at a moment where you are most vulnerable, and you never even considered defending yourself against her. This is the moment you die.

Only suddenly time comes to a stop.

"This is your doing, I assume?" you ask the figure that has suddenly appeared next to Jenny, the only figure moving in a world that has frozen in place.

"Guilty as charged," she answers. She looks strange to you. Her features are that of a young woman, but her body seems to be made of crimson metal. You feel magic around her, quite a bit of it actually, but also the cold presence of technology. Despite the fact that you are hovering one frozen moment away from your death you find your curiosity piqued.

"Your life in this world is over, Rupert," she tells you. "You can either try your luck in the afterlife or consider my offer to you."

TO BE CONTINUED