AN: My appologies for the late chapter. My internet connection died. Also, I realise this is the boring exposition chapter and I will try and make the next one more fun. promise.
Willies bar was on the down and out side of town along the band of strip clubs and quarter laundry mats. There wasn't a lot of the down and out side. Sunny D being what it was there wasn't a lot of anything except demons and spawn. Ah Southern California, how I miss you, Xander thought darkly as he chugged back the last of his drink. Years of associating with Spike had, much to Xander's chagrin, left its mark and he found he could drain a pint in thirty seconds flat. In the last two years drinking with Lorne he'd expanded that to just about every drink known to man and demon, and was now putting back beers with admirable stamina.
The shock of being blown back in time was slowly wearing off. He didn't feel the need choke anymore. The more he drank the easier the idea became and the fuzzier his own memories of Sunnydale were. Which was great as far as Xander was concerned. He almost felt up to making a joke about Deloreans.
Lorne was at the bar on his right. His hat and coat were tossed on a stool, exposing him in all his green glory while he slumped over a tall Gin and Tonic. Being unfortunately well versed in alternate dimensions and having no memory of Sunnydale himself, he took it a bit more in stride. He skipped shock and went straight to depression.
"And here I thought I'd seen the end of this." Xander muttered under the loud noise in the bar. Willie's was unusually full for midday and someone had turned the juke-box up loud to cover the seedy conversations taking place around the back corners; which was of course where they were sitting on the bar.
"Normally I'd say it all comes round again, but this is a decidedly unnatural turn around." Lorne replied taking an unhealthy gulp of his liquor and shaking his head.
"I can't believe this is happening. I mean, time travel. Real time travel, as in we're back in time, and Sunnydale of all places. I know we deal with weird everyday but… time travel! Where's Denzel Washington when you need him?"
"Somewhere out making 'The Preacher's Wife', if you've got the date right."
"What do you want to bet this all a big mistake?" Xander joked hopefully.
"No deal peach pit." Lorne said "Never bet against the higher powers. You always come out on the wrong end."
"Without an eye"
"Or a business"
"Lost in Vegas." They said together and then laughed over the bar.
"Good times." Xander sighed and leaned back fingering his bottle. "Remember when we had those?"
"Seems a life time ago," Lorne mumbled gazing morosely into the bottom of his own glass.
"Now the voodoo who-doo spit us out again," Xander said.
"For another round of fun," Lorne finished. Xander gave him a funny eye over the neck of his bottle.
"You look as depressed as me to be here. I thought you were the one who was all gun-ho about changing the world."
"Oh I was, I was… before the clock tower." Lorne shook his head and took another long sip from his glass. He had always wanted to change the world for the better. He loved helping people and guiding them when they fell off their path and lost their way. He had thought that, maybe, he was being given a chance to help again; another chance at Caritas. He hadn't thought he'd be sent back to the past with people who were already well set on their roads to hell.
"But this kind of work, with heroes, it isn't me anymore," Lorne mumbled. "I left it… I left them three years ago, and I had reasons Xander. I don't want to get caught up with them again. It's not my kind of work anymore. People get swept up in the wake of heroes like that, I know I did. Fell in love with them all, their passion for justice, and doing the right thing. Why get involved all over again. We know how it ends, what they become, what they make us…do"
Lorne looked into his glass and saw Lindsey dying on the floor. Saw the cold flint in Angel's eyes when he asked him for that last favor, and Fred looking so pale and fragile in a hospital bed. Then the bottom of the glass seemed to give way and all he could see was the endless line of drinks he'd had ever since.
"Don't you have any hope for them?" Xander asked. "We've got an opportunity here we'd never have otherwise."
Xander looked around the bar to see of anyone was listening and shifted closer on his stool.
"Let's just pretend for minute this is really happening." Xander began, and pointed his finger at Lorne "which I'm not sure we are. I still say I this is some horrible dream that came from eating those day old fajitas. But… the man in red said this was 'a Chance to change your prospects'. That whole court thing's a little fuzzy for me, but if we go by every time travel movie I've ever seen then that means changing the future. Do you know how much we could prevent from here? It all started right here, right… now. It makes sense. Sort of…" Xander finished with a mumble, mentally praising the beer which spurred his brain from shock at being in an uncratered Sunnydale, to thinking of his life as a movie.
"Xander, Muffin," Lorne began and stopped, holding out a hand. Lorne looked at Xander and saw a spark in his eye he'd never seen before. It was more than being drunk. There was a fever about him, a frenzied look of… hope. Lorne had never seen hope in Xander, it had dried up before they ever met. Lorne's old smile strained as he tried to think of a way to explain the impossibility of Xander's proposal without crushing his friend.
"It's not that easy. There are things to take into account here. I'm not sure we can just run around changing everybody's futures willy nilly," Lorne said.
"It's called fate hon-bun. A predestination paradox. Remember I used to read people for a living. I read all their destinies, Angel's, Cordy's, Wesley's everyone's. They weren't always crystal clear, but I knew that they would all die young and Angel would go in a blaze of glory not long after."
Just as Lorne had always known Lindsey from the first time he played a guitar would never be good for more than a day, or evil for much longer. Lindsey had been too chaotic and too undecided to bring anything but random destruction. The futures that he read always came true… eventually. Lorne cracked a little everyday from the memory of what he'd seen and what he'd done with it.
"You can't alter destiny," Lorne sighed. "That's what fate is. If the tribunal sent us back to change the future by changing the past, either somebody didn't read the fine print on those prophecies or…
Lorne looked up, his red eyes weary and old.
"Or someone with more power than I care to think about just spun the wheel of fate off its axis and we're floating in no mans land." Lorne took a very long drink. "Doesn't bear thinking about."
"Why not? What does that mean?" Xander asked, annoyed and feeling like his head was a spinning balloon more Lorne talked.
"It means sweet pea that if there is such a thing as fate then any change we try to make has already been done, by us, and we were here in the past before… Well you get what I'm saying. If fate doesn't exist than those prophecies about Angel, and your slayer, and our boy Connor couldn't have predicted their favorite sandwich much less their births and deaths. The only way we could change the past and still have fate in play… well, what you're talking about is an act of god."
"Met a few of those, didn't like 'em."
"They're not much for benevolence that's for sure. Whatever has happened here we are in way, way over our heads. The tribunal would have had to temporarily suspend destiny, effectively putting all those prophecies on the shelf while we muck around here, but if we do change the future then those prophecies aren't suspended, their voided. Then the very laws of our universe could be thrown out of balance. Think of it like throwing a spoke into some grinding cogs. Like the tribunal warned, if we mess things up here the future will be forfeit."
"So we're talking end of the world kind of forfeit." Xander mimed a big explosion with his hands.
"More or less. If we create a paradox…" Lorne shook his head. "I don't know enough about the big magics to explain it. What I do know is that those who have tried to mess with fate and time…" Lorne shuddered. "Let's just say, if I was religious I'd be praying for those poor souls."
"Lorne we are the poor souls messing with fate and time, and we didn't exactly get a choice." Xander hissed.
"And I'm drinking instead of praying." Lorne replied. "We are the proverbial sacrificial lambs my friend"
"Bartender!" Xander yelled, and when Willie came over he said "We're gonna need a lot more beer."
When Willie returned with two more pitchers Xander told him to start them on a tab.
"Damn, Doc Brown wasn't kidding when he said the universe could explode." Xander rubbed his newly aching forehead.
"So let me get this straight." Xander said. "Either destiny with the big 'D' is working fine and we can't do anything but twiddle our thumbs, or fate has been postponed by the almighty power of the three turnip heads," Xander said, thinking of the wrinkled faces of the tribunal. "And we can change the future but…if we do it will could create a paradox and destroy the world?"
Xander leaned back on his stool.
"And here I was hoping all we'd need was some luck, mirrors and Matt Craven to get us out of this." he said, now very confused and not sure if it was because of Lorne's talk of destiny or because he was thoroughly drunk. Or both.
Lorne felt like the worst kind of garbage that ever called itself a guide as he waited for the hope to dwindle and fade from his friend's eyes. This was the part he had always hated, giving bad news, but he couldn't in good conscience let Xander plunge ahead with changing his future without knowing the consequences. He had always given his customers the pros and the cons of every situation, insistent that they make their own decisions in the end, but the pros where so few in this case. Why save the world for ten years only to destroy it yourself.
The empath laid a green hand on his friends shoulder.
"Nothing is absolute my friend," Lorne said. "Destroying the world isn't a given of course. It's only a strong possibility. We are like men watching Schrödinger's cat. We could change the future for the better, or we could cause the end of the world and we wouldn't know either way until it was too late. Is it worth the risk?"
There was a long pause while both demon and man stared around the seedy little bar that shouldn't exist. Xander looked around the demons, the humans, listened to a vampire calling shots at the football game playing over the bar. Could he destroy the world if what he thought he was doing was for the best? Had he become the kind of man who could make and live with that kind of decision? Had he become so jaded he couldn't put the many before the few anymore? As Lorne asked, was it worth it to save his friends knowing what he might do if he did.
"Yeah… it is." Xander finally whispered and turned back to Lorne with a long hard look. "We should try anyway. Even knowing it could end the world, I want to do something rather than just hope for the best. I can't sit back and watch the same bullshit happen all over again, Buffy losing over and over, Tara and Anya dying and…." Xander petered off, then took a deep breath and plowed on.
"Maybe that makes me a lesser man than I used to be. But you know, I never could answer that damn question about whether you'd kill a baby to save the world or not. The crazy men in red sent us here to do something. They gave us a damn mission, what with the mystical knightly dubbing and all. So that's gotta mean they put up some mystical safe-guards against an imploding universe."
"It's a big risk Xander" Lorne whispered. "Bigger than we can conceive of,"
"I know it's a risk, I get the picture, big boom… So we'd better make sure we don't upset their big important balance then." Xander said his one eye never leaving Lorne's, daring him to say no. Lorne looked away, sighed and clinked his glass with Xander's bottle in a sad toast.
"Alright I'm in," the demon accented, "but in a purely advisory fashion you understand."
Xander chuckled into his beer, the affable, roguish joker beginning to make his first re-appearance in three years.
"Look at us," Xander laughed "Who'd have ever thought the fate of the world would be on our shoulders. A couple of old boozers and a possible psychotic."
Lorne groaned at the thought of their third companion.
"Ugh. Is he still…"
"I don't know," Xander shrugged. "He looks a lot better then the last time I saw him, but the last time I saw him he was clawing at walls and screaming about hell. When Heroes go Down eh?"
"I didn't peg you for a Suzana Vega fan." Lorne said with a smile for his favorite pirate.
"I've been surrounded by super powered women for years, you learn to like their music, or else."
Down below, in the sewers, with his ear pressed against the foundations of Willies bar Angel was listening. He'd followed the two strangers that'd lurking outside Sunnydale high. Not that he himself had been lurking. No he'd simply been standing in the shadows of the barber shop waiting for the kids to come out, hoping he could catch a glimpse of the golden haired Slayer. That certainly wasn't lurking… It was precautionary watching. A lot of bad characters in this town wanted her dead, not surprising really. He found that he could head a number of them off by tailing her. Watching her laugh, and smile, and the sun glint off her hair was just… well, a nice perk. God she was beautiful. He'd do anything to protect her, as much as she would let him anyway.
So Angel frowned and leaned further into the wall of the sewer listening harder for the sounds filtering down from Willie's. The bar was loud and full bawling demons shrieking for blood and beer, it was difficult to make anything out of the conversation. He could pick up the voices of the two strangers he'd followed but more then half their words were run over by the general hubbub, and indecipherable. If Willie's wasn't so full he wouldn't need to be down here, trying to piece together their words. But the Slayer wasn't the only one this town was unhappy to see. Angel didn't dare risk stepping into Willie's yet, certainly not when it was packed wall to wall.
He grimaced and pushed himself away from the clammy bricks. It was too garbled, he couldn't get anymore. Someone above had started shrieking about stolen toe-nails. Probably a Gundoo demon, they loved to snack on keratin protein. But what he had heard, however small, was worrisome. "Destiny, destroying the world, and Buffy," were not words he ever wished to hear in the same conversation. These strangers, whoever they were, were bad knews. He had to warn the slayer.
Angel sunk his hand in his pockets and hurried away down the tunnel.
The front door of Willie's flew open just as Angel slipped away into the deeper sewers. A few demons near the back looked up from the drinks. The rest ignored the disturbance until the slim figure outlined in the doorway pushed into the bar, and the soft beer lights landed on his young, sneering face.
Connor let the door slam shut behind him and stalked into the shadowy bar like an angry cat. A wake of growls and leers grew behind him as he entered, the bigger and nastier demons licking their chops at the sweet piece of meat that had just ambled into their hands. Connor, single minded and filled with only one dark purposed (get drunk and get drunk now), didn't notice the demons rising behind him with smug, hungry looks. He marched up to the nearest stool, threw his back pack on the bar and leaned against it with a world weary slouch.
"Get me some vodka," he ordered Willie. Willie winced and looked over at the demons smirking behind the lanky new comer.
"Uh, sure, kid, I'll uh, I'll need to see some ID," Willie stuttered a little. Connor lunged forward, grabbed the Willie by the collar and hauled him up over the bar until his feet were kicking in the air behind him.
"Do you want to know what kind of a day I've had?" Connor threatened with a snarl. He shook the small, trembling man, inhaling the sudden scent of fear.
"No, no!" Willie squeaked, shaking his head vehemently.
"Then pour me the damn vodka." Connor growled and tossed the little bartender back into the line of beer taps. Willie crashed into the wall behind the bar, slid down and slowly picked himself up; rubbing his back where the tap handles had hit his spine.
"Sure, uh, no problem kid." He muttered with a petulant glower. Whispers, and approving rumbles rippled through the talk behind them, and the standing demons sat back down. Not sure that the scrawny, bite sized human was going to be an easy snack anymore. Others simply grinned maliciously at seeing Willie pushed around by his customers again.
Willie slid a glass and bottle of vodka across the bar and scurried away. Connor was taking his first sip when a hand clapped him on the back and Xander's far too cheerful voice (in his opinion) came to his ear.
"Connor! You made it, how'd ya know where to find us?" The carpenter slurred and slid into the stool next Connor, leaning a little too far into his shoulder in his drunken clumsy. Connor turned his head and regarded his one-eyed friend with a look that clearly said his wished to put an axe in his skull.
"When I'm through getting pissed, you are a dead man Harris," Connor hissed. Xander puffed out some air and waved the comment away. Just before Connor could make good on his threat Lorne sauntered over, or swayed as was more accurate. The two had had more than their fare share by the time School got out for Connor.
"Now, now, fellas let's not…" Lorne began to mumble his way through a peace making before Connor cut him off, still focused solely on Xander.
"You left me there, in that Hell hole. I had to sit through three lectures on drug abuse and take it!"
"Well you'd better get used to it, cause you're going back tomorrow." Xander slapped his shoulder again happily. Connor slowly his seat around, and a couple of the more sensitive demons got up from bar and moved across the room, sensing an imminent pre-kill vibe off the young man.
Xander smiled in drunken oblivion.
"Yep, glad I'm not the one who has to deal with ol' Snider. The man is menace."
Lorne winced and tried to interpose himself between the two humans before things got bloody, since Xander seemed intent on driving Connor to kill again.
"Eh, what Xander means is," Lorne began,
"Were gonna save the world!" Xander shouted and held his beer high, beginning an old Sunnydale high football cheer. If he missed anything about the Sunnydale days, and there was very little, it was the cheerleading squad.
"What?" Connor cried and leaned back, thrown out of his threatening stance by the sheer absurdity of Xander's cheering.
"Well, Xander here has a theory," Lorne began, slurring a little, to explain a chopped up version of their talk that afternoon and how Xander felt the need to change the future. This was complicated by standing between Connor and Xander's stool's and illustrating with one hand to Connor while trying to keep Xander turned away and singing with the other. Though the Carpenter did occasional make it around and spout a random comment. Finally Lorne was left rubbing his horns, while Connor took it all in. Connor was less then understanding.
"I know," Lorne said through his mounting headache. Connor glared over the Pylean's blue suit at Xander and demanded
"So why do I have to go back to that Sluk pit?"
"We need ya to make nice with the local kiddies." Xander replied with grin and fumbled with his bottle, which dropped and rolled away on the floor. "Ah, damn," he muttered, and quickly hollered for another.
"eh, what Xander means," Lorne tried again, shifting so he could still stand between the two when Xander bent over the bar and Connor looked like he would love to follow and make sure the carpenter could never walk again. "Is that, if this is going to work we need someone to keep an eye on the school, and make some connection with the Slayer, and no offence honey but out of the three of us you're the only one who passes for sixteen."
"I do not look like sixteen!" Connor growled and tackled Xander over the bar. Demon's all around Willies roared approval as the two slid down the bar, rolled to the floor and a full fledged brawl began. Lorne sighed and sat back on a stool nursing his head and the forgotten bottle of vodka while chairs and fists flew around him.
"I miss the future already." He groaned.