Title: Bargaining Aside

Author: Jade Hunter

Disclaimer: None of the characters and properties of Lord of the Rings or Buffy: the Vampire Slayer belong to me.

A.N: Although I truly enjoy those Buffy-falls-through-portal-to-ME fics out there, there are too many of that now, not nearly half as good as some. I always like to think of other, more plausible ways to do crossovers, besides portals, and this is what I came up with…I hope it's different. Haven't seen anything like it so far, and I will do my best to keep it as different as possible.A.N.2: As you can tell from the title, this takes place in Bargaining, and many of the scenes in this prologue should be recognizable from that episode. As for LotR, it is movieverse – simply because the writing style and speech pattern is easier to incorporate with Buffy's thoughts and speech – and it takes place about…well, you'll see.

She turned it over in her hands, gazing intently at it, and almost didn't notice Tara coming to sit next to her.

"The Urn of Osiris," the blonde Wicca said softly.

Willow looked up from her scrutiny of the Urn, to place her somber gaze on Anya, who sat opposite her. "You really found it."

"Yeah. It wasn't easy," the ex-vengeance demon said. "I went through every supplier the Magic Box has."

Alarmed, Willow furrowed her eyebrows. "You used a Magic Box supplier? What if Giles found out?"

"He's too busy not leaving to pay any attention to me," Anya replied irritably, glancing quickly at Xander, who was standing next to her, remembering their conversation earlier. "Besides, I ended up getting it on eBay."

Tara did a tiny double take; "You found the last known Urn of Osiris on eBay?"

"Yeah," Anya nodded. "From this desert gnome in Cairo. He drove a really hard bargain, but I finally got him to throw in a limited addition Backstreet Boys lunchbox for – "

Xander hurriedly chose this moment to cough loudly, making Anya pause. Nervously, he let his gaze flick to her, then away, hoping she didn't give it away.

"…for a friend," she finished slowly.

He caught Tara looked at him with a small smile, and he pretended not to notice, turning to Willow and changing the subject. "So, you got your somber on, Will, is the Urn not up to spec?"

Willow, who had returned to studying the Urn, ignored him for a moment, after which she turned to Tara and sighed, "It's the one." She set the Urn down on the table, finishing firmly, "Which means it's time."

Immediately, Xander became anxious. "It's time?" He took a seat, afraid his legs wouldn't hold him thought the conversation, and babbled, "Like, time, time? With the…timeliness?"

"Are you sure?" Anya asked, quietly. She, of all the people in Xander's apartment, knew how serious what they were planning on doing was, knew how dire the consequences could be. She needed to know that Willow, their main contender, was absolutely ready.

A steady look in her determined eyes, Willow simply replied, "I am."

"Mercury's in retrograde, and we have…" Tara trailed off, and turned to Willow. "Do we have everything?"

The red-haired Wicca nodded, "Just about."

Getting up, she crossed the room to where their gathered supplies lay, and began to put them in a bag.

Xander, still unsure, asked, "But why the sudden rushy-rush? I mean, did the 'bot blow our cover at school?"

"No, she did great, she impressed all the teachers," Tara smiled briefly.

He blinked. "And they still thought it was Buffy?"

Willow turned back to face them, her expression serious and resolved. "Tomorrow night, we'll meet back here."

Jumping up out of his seat, Xander cried out, "Whoa! Let's apply the breaks and check the rear-and-side-view mirrors, here!" Everyone turned to look at him, and, calming slightly, he reasoned, "This is deep stuff, Willow. We're talking about raising the dead."

"It's time we stop talking," Willow replied firmly. "Tomorrow night…we're bringing Buffy back."

"Tomorrow?" Xander repeated, moving nervously. "I don't know."

Anya stood up and moved next to Xander, supporting him. "Um, D-Discovery Channel has monkeys. And our tape machine's all wonky."

Exasperated with all the hesitance and the set backs, Willow refrained from shouting at them, asking them why they couldn't see the importance of this. Instead, she took a deep breath. "Guys, I need you on board, here."

"It's just," Xander fidgeted nervously. He didn't want to go against his best friend, but… "It feels wrong."

Tara gazed at him solemnly. "It is wrong," she said simply, ignoring the surprised look Willow sent at her, concentrating on Xander. "It's against all the laws of nature, and practically impossible to do, but it's what we agreed to." For some reason, having his feelings confirmed didn't seemed to make Xander feel better, and Tara offered, "If-if you guys are changing your minds – "

"Nobody's changing their minds," Willow insisted strongly. "Period."

Her tone brooked no arguments, but Xander frowned and did so anyway. "Excuse me? Who made you the boss of the group?"

"You did," Anya chirped up.

Tara nodded in agreement, "You said Willow should be boss."

Willow moved away to continue packing the rest of the supplies as Anya continued, "And then you said 'let's vote' and it was unanimous…"

"…and then you made her this little plaque that said 'Boss of Us' – you put little sparkles on it…" Tara reminded.

"Valid points, all," Xander said. "But we…I mean…" He didn't know how to express his deep-rooted hesitation into words, and became frustrated as he wondered why the others didn't feel as he did. "We were just talking then."

Willow paused and looked at him to say, "Xander, I can do this, I promise. But not without you."

Again, he hesitated.

"Should we maybe tell Giles?" Anya asked. "You know, now that we're really ready? It's not like he's going anywhere. Ever," she added, bitterly.

"No," Willow said. "No one else can know. Not Giles, not Spike, not Dawn." Her voice lowered as she finished, "They might not understand."

Tara sighed. She was feeling hesitant as well, but would support Willow's decision. She knew the spell that was going to be used, and it was far different from what Dawn had tried to use after… "What if something does go wrong?"

"I'm telling you, it won't," Willow shook her head, frustrated with the doubts that seemed to overwhelm everyone when they were so close to achieving their goal.

"Scenario," Xander offered. "We raise Buffy from the grave, she tries to eat our brains. Do we: a) congratulate ourselves on a job well done – "

"Xander, this isn't zombies," Willow snapped, annoyed.

Anya chimed in with her random demon fact of the day, "Zombies don't eat brains anyway, unless instructed to by their zombie masters. A lot of people get that wrong."

"This isn't like Dawn trying to bring Mrs. Summers back, or anything we've dealt with before," Willow continued, as if Anya's interruption had never happened. "Buffy didn't die a natural death. She was killed by a mystical energy."

"Which means we do have a shot," Tara admitted.

Willow shook her head. "It means more than that," she said, and turned to Xander. "It means we don't know…where she really is."

"We saw her body, Will," he reminded her. "We buried it."

"Her body, yeah, but her soul…her essence, I mean, that could be somewhere else. She could be trapped, in-in some sort of Hell dimension, like Angel was," Willow said intensely, and paused, tears welling up in her eyes as suppressed emotion came to the surface. "Suffering eternal torment, just because she saved us, and I'm not gonna let…I'm not gonna leave her there." After a pause to regain her composure, she gazed at Xander. "It's Buffy."

Xander gazed at his best friend for a long moment. She was right. Glory had opened up a portal to her home dimension, which they knew was a Hell dimension, and from all the nasties that had popped up in the few minutes the portal had existed, it was a doozy of a place. If Buffy's soul was stuck there, then it was their job to rescue her. And it wasn't as if he didn't want her back…

"What time do we meet?"

Willow took a deep breath, then slowly exhaled to relieve the tenseness of her muscles. She had been stretched taut all day, looking forward to this moment, and had even ditched some of her classes. Grades be damned, she needed all her strength and focus for this.

"Does everybody have their candles?" she asked.

Anya, flicking the lighter continuously, frustration evident in her expression, said, "I'm trying, but my lighter won't stay lit!"

Frowning, Willow urged, "Well, hurry, it has to – "

"What time is it?" Tara interrupted.

Xander checked his watch. "A minute till midnight."

At that, Willow became even more anxious. "C'mon, Anya, do you have it?"

"It got it, I got it, I got it," Anya replied hurriedly, dropping the lighter carelessly onto the ground. She used her free hand to shield the candle flame from the winds.

Hearing this, Willow focused her gaze on the tombstone in front of her, her mind on the task ahead of her.

1981 – 2001

The words they had chosen seemed so inadequate to describe all that Buffy had done, all that she had been, if not to the world, then to them. She had changed all their lives in endless ways, had saved the very same lives countless of times. There were no words to describe the impact Buffy left on their worlds, on the worlds of all those that met her, and so they had settled on the simplest, hoping the feelings behind the words would be conveyed.

Don't worry, Willow thought fiercely. Don't worry, Buffy. We're going to save you.

Willow thought fiercely.

"Okay," she told the others. "Start the circle. Now."

They all knelt in unison, around the grave, the flickering light of their candles casting deep shadows on their faces, reflecting hard and determined expressions. Willow, holding the Urn of Osiris instead of a candle, took out the jar of blood that she had recently obtained directly from the fawn and poured the blood into the Urn.

Ignoring the nervous looks that blossomed on Xander's and Tara's faces, she intoned solemnly, "Osiris, keeper of the gate, master of all fate, hear us."

Dipping a finger into the Urn, Willow steeled herself, and drew with the blood on her forehead and cheeks the ritualistic marks necessary for the spell.

"Accept our offering," she continued. "Know our prayer."

Suddenly, she was jerked violently backwards, her arms being splayed at her sides. She felt pain as deep, ugly gashes appeared on her arms, oozing her lifeblood.

"Willow!" Xander reached out for her, but was halted by Tara's stuttered protests.

"No!" the other witch insisted. "She – she told me…she'd be tested. This is supposed to happen."

The words didn't make watching any easier or bearable, but Xander held himself in check as Willow, ignoring the pain, began to speak once more.

"Osiris!" she called out, louder than before. "Here lies the warrior of the people! Let her cross over!"

Displaying the first sign of pain since the beginning of the spell, Willow winced. Xander, Tara, and even Anya were horrified to see little bulges appear under the redheads skin, moving around and reminiscent of the scarabs in The Mummy. Willow gave out an involuntary moan of pain, and Xander tensed, watching the shapes move up his best friends arms and over her chest, towards her neck.

"She needs help!" he said, unable to tear his eyes away to look at Tara.

"Xander, she's strong," Tara replied, her own brows drawn together in doubt and worry. But she knew the ritual, knew that Willow could not stop now. "She said not to stop, no matter what! If we break the cycle now, it's over!"

Willow, blind to the entire world, took in heaving gulps of breath, trying not to scream, unaware that her friends were watching anxiously. She was deaf to the loud rumblings that suddenly cut through the air, but the others weren't.

"Oh god, what is that noise?" Anya asked nervously, but her attention was drawn back to Willow.

Willow was yelling now, and unaware; "Osiris! Let her cross over!"

The moving lumps under her skin, which traveled up her neck, cutting her off and causing her to choke.

"Oh my god, oh my god," Tara muttered under her breath, eyes wide and full of panic.

They could do nothing but watch as Willow fell forward onto her hands, gagging all the while. The head of a rather large snake appeared in her open mouth, and Willow clutched the grass with desperate fingers, trying not to choke or scream, feeling as if her throat was being ripped asunder. The snake slithered out of her mouth and onto the ground, and the other three looked on, horrified beyond belief.

"It's a test, it's a test," Tara repeated to herself, but her worry was strong, and her face crumpled. "Willow…"

Suddenly, Willow straightened forcefully to her knees, panting again, as orange lights began to swirl around her. "Osiris, release her!"

And the Buffybot ran up behind Tara, calling out, "Willow! I need service!"

Xander could recognize the sounds of motorcycles revving, and seeing how the Buffybot ran off after a last look, knew it could not mean a good thing. Sure enough, the motorcycles carried demons on them, and had it been another day, he would have boggled at the mere concept of it.

Right now, however, he was only aware of how exposed he and the others were. Spell be damned, their safety was far more important, and Xander abandoned his position to head towards Anya and Tara, who were clutching each other and looking around at the motorcycle demons. The 'bot was also trapped, being circled by a few of the demon gang.

Tara gasped, "Willow!"

The redhead was still encased in red-orange light, still panting, held in the thrall of the spell, unmindful of the demons that rode circles around them – until one ran over the Urn of Osiris.


The scream was wretched from her throat as she felt the spell tear apart and fizzle out; the lights dissipated from around her, and the backlash was enough to send her mind reeling. Drained and groggy, Willow collapsed on the ground, shards of the broken Urn digging into the skin of her already bloody arms.


None of them saw the snake slither into the grave, burrowing a hole through sheer force, glowing with a subtle, orange light.

Elsewhere, in a world several dimensions over, a small flash of light was all the warning the woodland animals had before a rotting corpse was deposited on top of innocent foliage. The corpse reeked of magic, and if that wasn't enough, there was a large snake coiled around the body, the sunlight reflecting off its scales and giving it an eerie glow.

Needless to say, all animals sensibly cleared the area.

Thus, there was no soul, animal or otherwise, that saw the change that was slowly came upon the corpse, long void of life.

None saw the bones harden, the muscles and tendons re-grow, the skin coming back with a healthy and tanned glow, the hair become vitalized and full.

Nor did any see the snake disappear in sparkles of orange light, having fulfilled its purpose.

But someone heard the sound of the first breath of the former corpse, heard the harsh sound that was produced by long inactive lungs and throat.

They heard and went to investigate, their pace quickening as labored breathing faded, only to be replaced by small whimpers of unimaginable pain.

And what they came upon shocked them beyond words.