Chapter 4: Doppelgangland part 1
With a flash Willow jumped back from the circle in the almost empty classroom. "This isn't right …" she said with fear in her wide green eyes.
"Shoot." Anya cursed as she punched the floor as she searched the floor. "It's not here."
"That wasn't just a temporal fold … that was like some kind of hell place …" Willow scooted back. "I don't think you're telling me everything."
"I swear I'm just looking for my mother's locket." Anya said carefully.
"Well, maybe you lost them down in the sofa…" Willow said backing toward the door. "IN HELL!"
"Willow! I can't do this without you…" Anya begged.
"That's a relief." Willow said, pulling a pair of chicken feet from Anya's grasp. "These are my chicken feet, I believe. Magic isn't something to toy with, Anya, it's really dangerous. I'm out of here!" she said, turning and leaving the room.
"At least nothing got out of that place…" Willow said walking down the hall.
Meanwhile across town…
"Where'd everyone go …" Willow said, standing up and stretching in her skintight leather, the black and red outfit and her auburn hair standing out on her pale white skin. "Xan?"
Black leather boots stomped toward her. "What is it, baby?" she asked, looking up at the demon behind her. It was tall and broad-shouldered, dressed in black leather, with a burning, long fanged skull on its shoulders.
"The Innocent … I sense the souls of the innocent …" the demon growled. "I hunger …"
"Then let's do something about that…" Willow grinned as the demon whistled, calling a bulky, burning-wheeled hog.
"Let's ride." The demon growled, mounting the hog with Willow climbing on behind him.
---- O ---- O
"Nice night …" Willow said, hugging herself as she stood behind the Watchers and Slayers at the graveyard.
"Where's Angel?" Buffy asked, looking at her watch. A moment later, the sound of a rumbling motorcycle filled the quiet night. Buffy's eyes widened in shock at what she saw pulling up.
Buffy, Willow, and Giles all stared with slacked jaws as Xander pulled up on his motorcycle, with Angel riding behind him. "Hey, guys," Xander greeted as he brought the bike to a stop.
"Angel … what are you … doing with … Xander?" Buffy asked slowly and carefully.
"You know, had a little bit of guy time," Angel said, dismounting the bike.
"I thought you couldn't stand Xander …" Willow said still shocked.
"He's not perfect, geeky and, on occasion, a hot head," Angel patted Xander's shoulder. "But he's not a bad guy. After all, he's your best friend, right, Willow?"
"And Angel isn't bad for a dead former-psycho either," Xander said, earning a glare from Angel.
"Yeah, you can count on him never to stab anyone in the back," Angel said, glancing to Faith, who was watching him quite stiffly.
"Maybe we'll have a quiet night," Faith said, attempting to change the subject.
An explosion rocked the ground, almost toppling Xander off his bike. "You were saying?" Buffy asked, looking toward the direction that the explosion came from.
"It's the Ghost Rider!" Wesley called out and pointed as the burning Hellcycle roared past them, leaving a trail of fire.
Angel glanced from Xander to the trail in confusion. "Something's wrong. Sure, he's a rogue demon … thing, but he's never caused intentional destruction before." Buffy said with narrowed eyes.
"Yes, something is definitely the matter," Giles said, moving toward his van.
"Xander, maybe …" Buffy said awkwardly.
"I know, I'll sit it out …" Xander said, staring after the Ghost Rider. "Have fun following … um … flame head…"
Buffy and the others quickly filed into Giles' van, but Angel hesitated. "Maybe you really should sit it out," Angel said in a whisper. "After all, you're still wounded."
"Sorry, Fangs, but there can be only one Rider in this town." Xander said, gripping the bike's handles.
"Ok, but be careful; I don't want to have to explain to Buff and Willow why if you die," Angel said sternly.
"I doubt I'll be that lucky," Xander replied as Angel climbed into the van. He watched them pull away and waited patiently for them to get out of sight.
"Alright, Gracie," Xander said with a smirk. "Let's get that imposter." He growled as he kick started the bike, instantly transforming himself and the bike into the Rider and the Hellcycle.
---- O --- O
"He looks different …" Buffy said from the front passenger seat of the van. "Bigger …"
"And I don't remember him having fangs either …" Willow noted as they finally caught up to the Rider. "Oh, crap, the chain!" she yelped when the demonic rider unwrapped his chain and whipped it out at the van, the burning spike pushing through the metal of the vehicle like it was made from paper.
"Get off my ass," The Rider yelled as he reached out and shoved the side of the van with his gloved hand, pushing it on two wheels. He laughed loudly before speeding away.
"HANG ON!" Giles called, trying to regain control of the van.
There was a loud clang from the opposite side of the van, and it landed back on all four wheels again. "What?" Giles asked as Buffy stuck her head out the window only to go face to face with the Ghost Rider they'd come to know.
"GAH!" She yelped and fell back into the van.
"Get out of the way," the Rider growled, his burning eye sockets glowing hotter than ever. "He's mine."
"Take him down, Harris …" Angel whispered under his breath as the Rider roared after his doppelganger.
"Hey!" The Rider growled to his vampiric duplicate as he got side to side with him. "License and Registration, you fucking copycat."
"Who the hell are you?" the doppelganger growled.
"I could ask you the same question," the Rider growled before throwing a punch that caught his fanged doppelganger in the jaw.
The fanged Rider swerved, but pulled out of it, leaving the Rider surprised. "Nice riding," the Rider growled to himself before hitting the throttle to catch up.
"He's headed for the Bronze …" the Rider growled, pushing the cycle to go faster.
"You're really starting to piss me off," the doppelganger growled as the Rider caught up to him.
"Aw, shit …" the Rider breathed as the doppelganger threw out his chain toward the front wheel of the Hellcycle.
The Hellcycle flipped end over end, throwing the Ghost Rider through the air, hitting the side of the Bronze's unforgiving brick wall with a loud smack.
"So, Mephisto is playing the same games in this world that he is in mine, huh?" the doppelganger said, stomping toward the Ghost Rider. "You may call me Vengeance. Most do just before they die."
Vengeance lifted him off the ground before throwing him through the glass door of the Bronze. "Oh, did you find yourself a new pet, Xan?" Ghost Rider's head snapped up at the sound of Willow's voice.
"Willow?" The Rider breathed, turning to see the leather-clad vampire with Willow's face.
"Ah, so, your counterpart sold his soul for me in this world, too," the Vampire Willow grinned as she approached the two Riders. "Or rather this world's Willow."
"What the hell is going on?" the Ghost Rider growled, kicking away from his double and rolling to his feet.
"Isn't it obvious?" Vampire Willow asked, tilting her head to the side as she approached the Rider, stepping over the body of a girl she had just killed. "I figured it out when little wolf over there spoke to me as if he was my friend," She said, pointing to Oz, who was standing between the band and the vampiress. "You showing up just verified my theory.
"Let me tell you a story," Vampire Willow grinned as the Rider remained silent. "A good while ago, maybe a few years, Willow was in grave danger, death certain; you were going to lose her …" she said, walking around the Rider to stand beside her own. "Mephistopheles came to you, offering you a chance to save her. No price was too high for her, so you sold your most precious possession for her: your immortal soul." She ran her fingertip over his leather jacket.
"The next day, Willow was all better, rejuvenated even. It was wonderful, and then, that night, it ended. Willow was attacked by a vampire and turned. The very next night, Mephistopheles came to you to collect on the deal. Willow was saved from the immediate danger, after all; what happened out of that was not included in the contract. You became the Ghost Rider, his personal bounty hunter. But your bond with Willow was too great, and with some magic and her vampirism, she was able to turn you … into him." she said, pointing to the even more demonic Rider.
"Then, we, together, were able to overthrow Mephistopheles. Did you know he's even weaker against sunlight than Vampires?" she said with a suggestive wink.
"That's real interesting, but …" The Rider said as the chain slowly slid itself down his arm, wrapping around his wrist and hand. "I can see you; you have been stained with the blood of the innocent. I can't give you my stare, but I can still make you feel their pain."
"Really? How?" Willow asked curiously. The answer came from a chain-wrapped knuckle to the face.
"DON'T TOUCH HER!" Vengeance growled in anger, lashing out wildly with his chain, missing the Rider by feet. "DON'T YOU DARE EVER TOUCH HER AGAIN, YOU BASTARD!" Vengeance screamed with righteous anger.
'So you do have a weakness. I should have seen it to begin with,' The Rider mused to himself as he drew his sawed off shotgun and fired it at the demonic Rider. 'After all, demonic vampire thing or not, he's still me. Talk about facing your own demons…'
Meanwhile, outside the Bronze, the Scoobies had finally arrived. "I'll sneak in this way to distract them; you all go around the rear entrance." Giles stated, and the group nodded.
"Be careful, Giles," Buffy warned before leading the others around the rear of the Bronze.
Giles quickly moved into the damaged front door of the night club and was shocked to see the two Ghost Riders battling it out with a leather-clad Willow watching with unmasked concern on her pale features.
Giles quickly made his way to where Oz was watching in concern. "Willow …" Oz breathed with a trembling voice.
"That's not our Willow, Oz, nor is the fanged Ghost Rider our Rider," Giles explained.
"Then what's going on?" Oz asked, looking to the former Watcher.
"Something… quite confusing." Giles replied slowly.
"You don't say."
"You have harmed too many innocents," Ghost Rider growled to Vengeance, "I have to stop you."
"You don't have the power to stop me. As long as Mephisto lives, he won't let a Rider under his power be too powerful; you should know that by now," Vengeance replied.
"You're a vampire now, and you know how to kill a vampire, right?" Ghost Rider said, taking his chain in his hand, changing the point into a sharpened spike. He then turned quickly to where the vampire Willow was watching.
Vampire Willow's green eyes widened like a deer in headlights as the chained spike flew toward her. "NO!!" Vengeance screamed and ran with inhuman speed to leap between the spike and the redhead. Cold blood splattered over Vampire Willow's face and chest as the spike pushed itself through Vengeance's chest and back. Giles and Oz's jaw dropped as Vengeance's flames faded instantly, revealing a pale-skinned Xander Harris. "Bye, Will … love ya…" he breathed before he fell into a pile of ash.
"No … no … no … no …" Vampire Willow's knees buckled as she fell to down over the pile of ash, digging her fingers through it, muttering words in other languages, attempting every resurrection spell she knew. "Don't leave me alone, Xander; don't leave me all alone … don't leave me …" she finally broke off into sobs as the Ghost Rider stood before her, drawing his chain in.
"It's over," Ghost Rider growled gripping the pike, but when Willow looked up at him with her shattered emerald eyes and tear-stained face, he hesitated.
"How could you?" She whimpered in the same voice he heard so many years ago when he stole and tortured her Barbie doll. "My sweet Xander … he was so innocent …"
"Until you made him a monster," Ghost Rider growled out forcefully.
"Mephistopheles made him the monster; I saved him from it," she countered, standing to her feet. "Who's going to save you from him, Xander? More importantly who's going to save you from me?"
"Hold it right … there?" Buffy called out as she and the others burst into the room through the rear entry. Ghost Rider turned his attention to them but the Vampiric Willow was gone when he turned back.
"Damn it." He growled before walking toward the door.
"Wait!" Giles called out, running after the leather-clad hunter. Giles followed the Rider as he mounted his Hellcycle. "Are you…" he started slowly, questioningly.
The Rider simply looked at him before kickstarting the bike and driving off. "Xander …" Giles breathed, watching the Rider disappearing down the street. "What have you done?"
"Oz, what happened?" Giles heard, reentering the Bronze. He looked to see Willow embracing her boyfriend.
"There was a vampire … you … and you'll never believe who that other Ghost Rider really is… was," Oz stated still in awe.
"They were from a parallel universe," Angel spoke up quickly, cutting off any questions or comments from anyone. "Like Giles said, the Rider can be anyone anytime, and … that Willow did come from a seemingly more desperate world."
Giles and Angel shared a knowing look while Oz just looked back and forth between them in confusion. Their gaze clearly said 'we'll talk later because Buffy can't know about this.' "Let's go back to the Library. I'm sure Xander will want to know all about what happened here." Giles spoke up.
"But," Oz started, but squeaked when Angel slapped a hand on Oz's shoulder.
"It was very tense situation. I'm sure you just thought you saw what you saw." Angel said with a suggestive quirk of his eyebrows.
Meanwhile, in the rafters of the Bronze, a pair of tear-filled emerald eyes glared downward. "You struck at my heart, Xander…" the Vampiric Willow hissed through a sob. "I will strike yours."
---- O ------O
"And that's what happened," Willow concluded her story while Xander sat on the steps of the library.
"Wow, a duplicate you in black leather?" Xander smirked, "I'm sure Oz would love that. Dominatrix Will."
"Yeah, me and Oz playing Mistress of Pain every night." Willow rolled her eyes.
The group fell silent as Oz shifted uncomfortably. "Anyone else go to a very scary mental place?" Xander said uncomfortably.
"Oh, yeah; well, she's still out there," Buffy said, changing the subject to everyone's gratitude. "We have to find her and stop her…"
"Buffy … we … we can't kill her …" Willow said fearfully. "I mean … she's … me … it's too weird."
"We'll do what we can, ok?" Buffy said, sympathetic to her friend. "Now, let's get a move on."
The group started to exit when Giles grabbed Angel's and Xander's sleeves. "We'll be along shortly, Buffy," Giles explained with a smile. "I just have some personal matters to discuss with Xander and Angel."
Buffy nodded, and she, Faith, Willow, and Wesley exited the library. "What did you sell it for?" Giles asked Xander in an angry tone.
"Sell what?" Xander tried to sound innocent, but yelped when Giles grabbed him by the collar and pushed him against the wall.
"Do you have even an inkling of a thought of what you've done? You're doomed to the demon's servitude until you die, and then, your soul will automatically be sent straight to hell to spend eternity being tortured. Is whatever your heart desired worth that?" Giles hissed with anger and disappointment.
"Giles …" Angel tried to calm him, but Giles just glared him down.
"I want an answer. Was it worth it?" Giles asked again.
"Do you remember the prophecy with the Master?" Xander asked his eyes going hard.
"Yes, what does that have to do with this?" Giles asked quizzically.
"Buffy was supposed to die, wasn't she?" Xander asked as Giles finally let him go.
"Oh, no …" Angel turned paler than usual.
"Xander, you didn't …" Giles turned pale as well as he stepped back from the teenager.
"I couldn't let her die, Giles," Xander said with a sad smile as tears appeared in his eyes. "So, to answer your question: yes, it was worth it... She was and is worth it."
Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred,
Their shirts all soaked with sweat,
Each riding hard to catch that herd,
But he ain't caught 'em yet
"I know the price I paid. I know it every night I go to work for him," Xander said, adjusting his shirt. "And had I known the way things would have turned out… if I had known she'd try to push me out of her life, that all of you would try to push me away, to 'keep me safe', you know I'd have done the same damned thing."
'cause they've got to ride forever on
That range up in the sky,
On horses snortin' fire
As they ride on hear them cry …
In a flash of flame, Xander was replaced by the Rider. "This is who I am now. It's all I have left. Now, if you'll excuse me there's a vampire out there with my old friend's face, and I have to stop her."
He turned and walked out of the library, leaving Giles and Angel speechless for several moments.
The riders loped on past him and
He heard one call his name,
"If you want to save your soul from hell
A-riding on our range,
"You remember that, Angel?" Giles asked with a gulp. Angel simply nodded in response. "We gave up because of the prophecy … and he sold his soul to keep her from dying…"
"You feeling an inch tall, too?" Angel asked lamely.
Then, cowboy, change your ways today,
Or with us you will ride,
A-trying to catch the devil's herd
Across the endless skies."
Giles closed his eyes and imagined Xander as he is at that moment, riding through the night on his Hellcycle, doomed as the Ghost Rider. "No … I think you may be taller."
Ghost Riders in the Sky
To be continued …
E/N: The title Doppelgangland belongs to Joss Whedon and 20th Century Fox.