Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all the characters from the show are owned and copyrighted by the usual suspects; Joss Whedon --otherwise known as god-- and his company Mutant Enemy, the WB --bygones-- and 20th Century Fox --get a clue.
Dedications: the usual suspects here as well; Buffy fanfic writers --keeping me on my toes-- and Sarah Michelle Gellar.
But in particular: this one's for THE Transcriber. Take a bow AleXander.
Special thanks to "The Watcher's Council" for allowing me to write this story from their "Unused Story Ideas" section, the idea posted by council member Mediancat. Check out their site for some of the best Buffy fic around.
Author's notes: Technically, this is my season one story. You'll understand what I mean. Spoilers: anything from the first episode up right before "Bad Girls" is fair game. And now.......
--Wolf howling. Buffy theme and opening credits--
Giles: In every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will face the vampires, the demons, and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.
The sensation that Buffy felt was everything it was the first time they had kissed just a few days ago. Even now, knowing he was a vampire did nothing to lessen the effect he had on her. The tingling feeling that originated from her lips, well, actually, it started from his lips and flowed into her own and, through the deep kiss, traveled to other parts of her body. All the right parts of her body. Despite the platform heels of her boots, she still had to tiptoe in order for the kiss to be comfortable, and her chest to be almost leveled with his, but she didn't mind. Some advantages to being the Slayer was that she could probably stay on her toes like this for an hour or more without discomfort.
She became aware of a warmth against her chest. At first she thought it was due to the closeness of their bodies and the heat generated between them. Then she remembered he was a vampire and that his body generated no heat. When it grew warmer, she finally realized what it was. He didn't even say a word nor did he pull away. In fact, it seemed as if he was willing to go on until she stopped. He had no need to come up for air.
But, reluctantly, unhurried, she pulled away. She looked up into his eyes. Those deep dark eyes she found she could drown in without resistance. He looked deeply into hers and she hoped he felt the same from her green eyes.
She let her hand slide off his cheek.
"You okay?" she asked.
"It's just. . . ." he began.
"Painful," she finished for him. "I know. See you around?"
As she turned she caught a glimpse of the cross-shaped burn their passionate embrace had left on the flesh of his chest exposed from the unbuttoned part of his shirt from the silver cross hanging from her neck. The same cross he had given to her the night they had first met. Tiny, almost invisible, tendrils of smoke spiraled from it.
When she reached the table where Willow and Xander were sitting, she looked over her shoulder. Just as she knew he would, Angel had disappeared from The Bronze.
Buffy pulled the leather jacket tighter around her body as she walked down the sidewalk, rounding the corner onto Revello Drive. The black jacket Angel had given to her just a few weeks ago. Her mother was probably going to be waiting for her as soon as she walked through the door. She, Willow, and Xander had overdone their stay at The Bronze, but Buffy had not felt like leaving after Angel had disappeared. In fact, she found she had a lot of energy she needed to burn. Or douse with a cold shower, maybe? she thought.
She had dragged Xander and Willow out onto the dance floor when the first up-beat song came on. After two songs, Willow had retreated back to their table to rest, but Xander was willing, more than willing, to try to keep up with her. Three songs later he was breathing hard, and sweat was beginning to plaster his curling bangs to his forehead. Reluctantly, he informed her he needed to sit down. The next song, however, was a slow one, and it hadn't been hard for Buffy to convince him to stay for just this last one.
She let her head rest on his chest, and she realized that Xander was nearly as tall as Angel. As soon as her thoughts turned to him she felt her heart quicken and she reflexively tightened her arms around Xander. She felt him tense in surprise then relaxed when Buffy shuddered under him, trying to stifle a sniffle. They were hardly moving to the music now, and he just held her while she cried silently into his shirt.
Before the song ended, he suggested it was time to leave. This time, Buffy agreed and they returned to Willow. The young redhead had worry in her eyes when she asked her if she was okay. Buffy smiled as she nodded, telling her she had just wore herself out. As she went to retrieve Angel's --her-- jacket, she saw Willow exchange a look with Xander, obviously asking, without words, what was wrong with her. Without saying anything, he must have told her he would tell her later. Buffy wondered what it would be like to have someone that you were so close to that you could communicate without speaking a single word. Maybe after a while she would develop that kind of connection with the two of them.
It had hardly been three months since coming to Sunnydale, meeting the two sixteen year olds on her first day of school, but already she knew they were closer to her than any other friends she has had. But there was a bond between them that not even Buffy could be a part of.
Feeling more tears in her eyes, she shook her head as she slipped the jacket on and flipped her long dark blonde hair out of the collar. God, she thought, when did she turn into a leaky faucet?
When she joined them, Willow and Xander had agreed that they would walk her home, it being so late. But Buffy used her authority as the Slayer to veto their bill and informed them, in a tone not to rebuke, that she would walk them home. And since they both lived on the same street she was able to see them enter their houses at the same time.
Now, as she approached her home, she thought maybe it would have been a good idea for them to walk her home. She brought a hand up to her forehead and rubbed her fingers against a headache that was slowly making its presence known. Maybe she really was tired.
But there was nothing to worry about. She was a few blocks from her house. What were the chances that a vampire or any other kind of monster would jump out at her?
Realizing she was jinxing the hell out of herself just be thinking that, she picked up her pace just a bit.
And almost collapsed. That pain in her head had suddenly tripled, causing her to stumble as a wave of nausea swept through her. She regained her balance and leaned her palms against her thighs, waiting for the pain to subside. But it did not go away.
She really needed to get inside, quick. She was too vulnerable like this. She stood up straight and took a step toward her house. And doubled over once more from the pain, which seemed to intensify. Her head felt like it was about to explode.
Determined to reach her house this time, Buffy stood up straight and started to march forward. Her foot didn't even complete the first step before the pain became even worse and she bit off a scream as she clutched her head with her hands. The world began to spin around her and she staggered back. Then the pain began to lessen. It didn't go away but it was a little more manageable.
Buffy straightened and looked around. There was no way this was normal. But she didn't see anybody, nor anything, up or down the street. She was the only one out right now.
She looked toward her house again. Very slowly, she took a step forward. When she felt the pain start to increase, she took the step back. Then she took another step back. The pain faded a little more. Okay, she thought, was there an invisible barrier around hers and several of the houses on her street? Did someone not want her to make it home?
Sensing this could be a trap, she scanned her street again. Still no one in sight. What the hell was going on?
She stepped out into the street. Maybe she could circle around this barrier, test the limit of its range. But as soon as her foot dropped from the curb the pain returned with a vengeance. She quickly retreated to her original spot.
So maybe it wasn't an invisible barrier after all. Maybe it was something that was only effecting herself?
She wasn't allowed the time to dwell further on that, when the pain hit her once more. She quickly backpedaled and the pain started to go away. She stopped and the pain grew once again. She took a few more backwards steps, but it was like the pain was chasing her.
Maybe it was a barrier of some kind. That was surrounding her. And now it was closing in on her. Or at least from one direction. She turned and started to lightly run down the sidewalk from where she had come from. She was nearly to the corner when the pain hit her again and she stumbled out into the street, where the pain faded. Go this way then, she thought, and picked up a little more speed.
It went on like that for what felt like hours. This invisible force herding her through her neighborhood, unable to deviate from the course it set for her. Soon, she left the suburbs behind her and entered the woods. She had no idea where she was going, but was fairly certain that what was waiting for her was not going to be good.
Buffy became aware of a glowing light not to far beyond the copse up ahead and emerged from the trees into a small clearing, where she stopped. There was a large roaring campfire, or would have been a campfire if there had been a camp, but it was just a giant fire in the middle of the woods. And there was this strange looking guy standing behind it. He was dressed, or more like wrapped, in black robes and a turban. All that was revealed of his face was the strange glowing eyes surrounded by bluish white skin. He was chanting, in a language Buffy wouldn't even try to guess what it was and waved his hands in front of the fire before him, his eyes locked on her.
Buffy tried to back up but that barrier was still around her and lashed out in her head.
"What do you want?" she demanded, trying to keep her voice from revealing how frightened she truly was.
The man --though that term she used loosely-- continued to chant and wave his arms rhythmically before the fire, and it began to respond to his movements. It danced and twisted as it grew. Then a source of light, that was not the fire, spiraled around the flames, and Buffy squinted her eyes against the brightness. The light and flames shot high into the air, nearly clearing the treetops, then it arched back down.
Straight for Buffy.
"NO!" she could not keep herself from screaming, and threw her arms up to shield her face.
But that did little to protect her when the flames engulfed her completely.
She opened her eyes and found herself looking up into a night sky filled with stars. It took a full ten seconds before it registered to her that she was outside. That she had been asleep outside.
Buffy shot up into a sitting position and instantly regretted the move, as pain shot through her head. But it wasn't the same pain that had drove her to this spot. Huh? she thought. Oh, yeah. It was all starting to come back to her now. Being led to this spot in the woods, the mystical wizard guy wrapped in black ropes. The fire.
Buffy quickly checked herself, running her hands over her body. Her jacket and clothes were still intact. A little damp from lying on the grass. Her long hair hanging down her shoulders told her it hadn't been burned away.
But the fire had totally washed over her. Why was she not burned?
And where was the wizard guy anyway?
She scanned the small clearing. There was no trace that there was ever a fire here. No ashes from firewood, not even a scorched area in the grass.
"What's going on here?" she whispered to herself.
She was completely alone.
Moaning slightly, she rose to her knees and brushed grass and twigs from her clothes.
She needed to see Giles. He would know what was going on. Or he would find out for her. Yeah, he seemed to have all the answers. But she should go home first. Her mom was probably freaking by now, there was no telling how long she had been asleep. But if she went home now, she wouldn't get the chance to see Giles tonight, and she figured this would be very important.
She could call Mom at the library, but then Giles would probably be home now, anyway. She was sure she remembered where he lived. She could call from there.
Twenty minutes later, she was walking into town. All of the stores were closed so she figured it had to be really late. And there wasn't anyone out right now either. Giles was more than likely asleep. Well, time to put the Watcher back on the clock. Wasn't he supposed to be on call twenty-four hours a day?
She walked down the street when she started to get the feeling that something was not right. She had patrolled the town and this street nearly a dozen times since moving to Sunnydale, but there was something telling her it was different somehow. Then her eye caught something across the street. It was an open air cafe. Espresso Pump. When did that open up? she wondered. And where had she been? Granted she didn't get out much just to go out, but she thought she would have noticed if there was a new coffee shop. And Xander and Willow would have definitely known about it. They did say this was a one-Starbucks town. Not much happened here without everyone knowing about it.
Unless it was about vampires and demons, she thought, then no one wanted to know.
She spotted a payphone and walked quickly towards it. She passed by a newspaper machine on the way, today's paper still displayed, and the date caught her eye.
"February?" she said. "Man, someone *really* forgot to change this machine."
She reached the phone and a quick search of her pockets discovered only one quarter. She slid the coin into the slot and thought it was about time to discuss a raise in her allowance with Mom.
"Oh, what's your number Giles?" she muttered, then punched in what she hoped was the correct one. It began to ring, which she took as a good sign. After the fourth ring it was picked up.
"Hello?" answered the grumpy voice of her Watcher. He must have been deeply asleep.
"Giles, it's me."
"Duh! Who else would be calling you in the middle of the night? Unless you've found a sweetie on the side you're keeping a secret from us."
"Buffy," he chided. "And, might I add, at--" he paused for a moment. "Two o'clock in the morning."
"Two o'clock! Oh, Mom is really gonna go volcanic."
"You're not at . . . Buffy, where are you?"
"I'm in town, right now."
"Late night patrolling?" he asked.
"Not scheduled. I was on my way home when something lured me into the woods."
"Yeah. There was this freaky wizard, warlock guy, had a total Darth Vader complex going. Glowing eyes, everything. He was doing some funky mojo on me."
"Are you all right? What did he do?"
"That's just it. I don't know what he did. He had this giant fire going and attacked me with the flames."
"Are you burned?" He was completely alert now, concern filling his voice.
"No, I'm fine, I swear! I just woke up and the guy and the fire were gone. As if they had never been there. So I figured this fell into your department to find out what it was. After all, I just work here. You're Watcher guy."
There was moment of silence on the other end. "Buffy. Are you sure you're all right?"
"As far as I can tell."
"You sound a little . . . different. Where exactly are you? I'll come pick you up."
"No, that's okay. I think I'm close by. Your apartment is on Becker, isn't it? Or close to it. I'll find it."
"My apartment . . . Buffy what--"
She spun around when she heard a loud crash coming from an alley not far down the street. It sounded like trash cans falling.
"Uh, oh. Sorry, Giles. Duty calls."
"No, wait! Buffy--"
She hung up and ran to the alley. Another search of her person discovered she didn't have a stake.
"Great, some Slayer," she grumbled to herself. She would just leave that part out when she saw Giles later.
She entered the alley and saw some kind of fight going on where it dead ended. Most of the alley was in shadows, but the end was lit by one single yellow light bulb, and as she approached, she saw four figures engaged with each other. Actually, it was three against one.
Buffy's eyes widened as she realized the three were vampires, and they were ganged up on a teenage girl. The young Slayer picked up more speed, fearing she would not reach them in time, but she saw the girl execute a spinning back kick that knocked one of the vampires against the wall and it tumbled onto a pile of trash bags. This impressed Buffy. At least she knew how to fight, she thought, just as she reached that vampire as it was getting back to its feet.
She grabbed it by its coat and swung it across the alley, where it slammed against the brick wall with its back. It stumbled forward, dazed, and Buffy clamped both her fists together and swung it across the creature's face, sending it spinning off the ground. Then she turned her attention back to the fight.
One of the vampires had got behind the girl and had her arms pinned back. The second vamp sent a hard backhand across her face, jerking her head painfully to the side. It reeled back another fist, but Buffy reached him and grabbed his arm, twisting it until she heard the elbow snap. She slammed a knee into the creature's face as it screamed.
"Thanks, B," the girl said.
The girl slammed her head back into her captor's face and pushed herself against the wall, smashing her body into the creature. This forced the stunned vampire to release her and she flipped him over her shoulder.
Finally, deciding that they were no match for the two teenagers, the vampires made a hasty retreat from the alley. Buffy watched them go then turned to face the girl.
"Are you all right?" she asked. She was tall, at least compared to Buffy, four inches taller, had long dark brown hair, and looked almost to be two years older. And her taste in fashion was a little . . . tight.
"Yeah," the girl replied, then grinned. "Though I would've won in the end. Damn, they got away."
"You really shouldn't be out here this time of night. There are a lot of vam-- uh, weird guys with funny make up and fake teeth."
The girl eyed her for a few seconds, then said, "Yeah, not to mention all the vampires."
"So," Buffy said. "You know about vampires?"
Again, the girl eyed her strangely. "Yeah. They're sort of a big part of my life."
"Then you should know you shouldn't try taking them on by yourself. Actually, you shouldn't take them on period."
The girl sounded defensive when she said, "Hey, I'm a big girl. I don't need you to look after me, y'know."
"But slaying vampires is something better left to the Slayer, don't you think?"
This seemed to anger the girl. "What? You're saying I'm not qualified to do this?"
"You do know how to fight, no doubt about that, but it's not safe for someone like you to hunt vampires." Buffy took a couple of steps closer.
The girl put her hands on her hips. "Someone like me? Okay, I don't know what your problem is, all of a sudden, B, but you know you really are acting like a spoiled little--"
The girl stopped when Buffy stepped into the dull light and just stared at her, a look of astonishment on her face.
"Spoiled little what?" Buffy demanded. "In case you didn't notice, I just saved your life. A little gratitude is not much to ask for."
The girl just continued to stare and took a small step forward. "B," she finally said, "what happened to you?"
"You look--" The brunette lifted a lock of Buffy's dark blonde hair hanging down her shoulder. "I always knew it wasn't natural."
"Hey!" Buffy slapped her hand away. "Do I know you?"
"Ever since I came here to Sunnydale. Remember? I spent Christmas with you and your mom?"
Buffy stared at her for a moment. "We just moved down here a couple of months ago. And I have never seen you before in my life!"
"Whatever," the brunette said in a bored voice. "Obviously something strange happened to you. We need to go see Giles about this."
"About what?" Buffy asked.
"Look at you!" the brunette said, as if that explained everything.
"What about me?" Buffy narrowed her eyes at her. "How do you know Giles?"
"Well, he's kinda my acting Watcher, right now. B, there's something wrong here."
But Buffy was no longer listening to her. "Giles is your Watcher?! But why --how can Giles be your Watcher?"
"Slayers usually have Watchers. That is until he got--"
"You!? A Slayer?" Buffy nearly shouted.
The girl winced. "God, you don't have to say it like that."
"How can you be a Slayer? I'm the Slayer! THE Slayer! You don't get a new Slayer until the current Slayer--" Buffy stopped and just stared at the girl with wide eyes. She started to back away from her.
"B?" the brunette said.
"Why do you keep calling me `B'?" she demanded. She was backing up faster now.
The brunette started to follow. "Buffy, wait!"
"No! Stay away from me!" Buffy turned and fled from the alley.
The brunette started to give chase but cursed when pain shot through her ankle. "Damn it!" She still limped as fast as she could after the young blonde. "Buffy!"
Buffy came out of the alley at full speed, her heels pounding the sidewalk. She skidded to a halt when she reached the newspaper machine. Not having any money left, she jerked the handle and tore the small door off, flinging it into the street. She pulled out one of the newspapers and quickly found the date again.
"February 4, 1999," she read. "1999?! 1999!" She let the paper drop from her hand as she just stood there numb, looking at the street again. No wonder it looked so different to her. This was Sunnydale two years from now.
"Welcome to the future Buffy McFly," she muttered to herself.
"Giles!" Buffy pounded hard on the door, literally rattling it on its hinges.
Fortunately, for the door, she didn't have to wait long and the English librarian quickly opened it. His hair looked a little rumpled, but, expecting her arrival, he had thrown on a more appropriate attire. If the situation was a little less dire, she may have taken the time to be surprised at seeing him without a tie, not even a vest sweater, which would have been casual wear for him.
When he saw her, Buffy did not notice the look of amazement come over his face. She immediately threw her arms around him, effectively pinning his arms at his sides.
"Oh, thank God," she cried in relief. "At least some things didn't change!"
Giles was wincing at the strength of her grip. "Buffy," he managed to say.
"Oh! Sorry!" She quickly pulled away. "I didn't hurt you, did I? I mean you are a little older than you were two years ago, not that you were that old when we first met, but you were still old enough to be my father, not to say that now you're old enough to me my grandfather, but you're still much older --I'm shutting up now."
As she expected, he just stared at her for a long moment, adjusting his glasses --hey, he got new glasses, she thought. And now that she took the time to take a closer look, he pretty much looked the same, as when she saw him just this morning --okay, this morning twenty-two months ago-- but he seemed just a little more . . . distinguished. There were a few more smile lines, or was that worry lines, on his face. But he was still the same Giles.
"Buffy?" he said.
Even though she was expecting this reaction, she couldn't hide her disappointment. "Yeah. It's me."
"--happened to me?" she finished for him. He nodded. "I'm not really sure but I think I have an idea." She just stood there for few seconds looking up at him expectantly. He could only stare at her. She raised her eyebrows. "Can I come in?"
This seemed to snap him out of it. "Oh, yes, of course. Please."
He backed up to allow her to come inside and closed the door behind them.
She turned to face him again and he took a step closer, still staring at her with that amazed expression. But she could tell his mind was working, trying to figure things out. Good ol Giles, always able to find the answers. He'll be able to fix everything.
"Uh, let's sit down," he suggested.
"I'm okay," she said.
"Then allow me to sit down."
They started to move toward the sofa when the front door burst open and the brunette, Buffy had met in the alley, rushed inside. She quickly spotted Giles.
"Giles! Is she here?" she asked.
"No!" Buffy ducked behind her Watcher, using him to shield herself from the so-called Slayer.
"Faith," Giles said.
"You know her?" Buffy demanded.
"She said she was the Slayer!"
"I am," Faith said. She began to walk around Giles, but Buffy swung him around, keeping him between herself and this Faith. "Giles, what happened to her? Why does she look like this?"
"I don't know," he said.
Faith tried to circle the other way, but again, Buffy swung him around to block her.
"But I think I'm beginning to understand," he added.
"Well, fill me in, `cause this is getting wicked bizarro."
Faith was still trying to get past him to Buffy, but the now younger Slayer was still using him like a shield. Finally, he put his foot down.
"All right, that's enough! Both of you!" he said, sternly. "Let's just all calm down." The two Slayers stopped moving, Buffy keeping a waried eye on the taller girl. "Now, let's sit down and try to figure out what has happened here."
They moved into the living room area and Faith quickly flopped down on the long couch, kicking her feet on top of the coffee table. Buffy quickly took the sofa chair away from the brunette. Giles moved to sit on the couch beside Faith, closer to Buffy, and slapped the side of Faith's boot. She rolled her eyes and folded her legs on the cushion. Giles was about to protest again, then sighed and motioned to the coffee table. Faith grinned and put her feet back on the table.
Buffy watched the exchange with worry in her eyes. Giles noticed her expression. "Buffy," he began in a soothing voice.
"She really is the Slayer, isn't she?" she said in a hollow voice.
Carefully, he said, "Yes. Faith is a Slayer. But so are you. I mean, you still are a Slayer, now."
"So I died?" Tears were threatening her eyes.
"Uh, Buffy. How old are you?"
She started to stare at the coffee table. She finally said, "I turned sixteen just this past January." She looked at him. "But I'm supposed to be eighteen, right? I mean --It is 1999, isn't it?"
"And by the way you two are looking at me, I take it this morning I *was* eighteen."
"Buffy, you don't remember anything about the last two years?" Giles asked. She shook her head, barely moving it. "What is the last thing you do remember?"
Buffy had pulled her knees up against her chest and was hugging them, looking very small in the large black leather jacket she was wearing. Giles didn't say anything about having her boots on the chair.
"Uh, I was at the Bronze earlier tonight --or that night, anyway-- and I was on my way home when something lured me into the woods."
"Where you met up with this sorcerer, you said on the phone?" Giles said.
"Yeah, right. And when he attacked me with the fire--"
"That must have been the spell that brought you here, to this time."
"That's what I figured." She looked at him hopefully. "But you can reverse it, can you? Send me back to my time?"
"We'll have to look into that, of course. There's no telling what kind of damage having you here my cause." Buffy's expression fell. "I didn't mean it like that, Buffy. It's just that, if you're here, then you cannot be there, in the past, to do all the things you've done in the past two years. There's no telling what ramifications that will have on the present. Your future."
"But she *was* here earlier today," Faith said. "Damn. I knew I should have watched Star Trek more often, it was just a matter of time before we had our own little `episode' involving time travel." She saw Buffy and Giles frowning at her. "I'm just saying, if Buffy was pulled out of her time when she was sixteen, how can we remember the Buffy we know now if she wasn't here to be remembered?" Now Faith frown at her own words. "Did that make any sense?"
"Actually, it did," Giles said.
Faith smiled proudly. "I guess I did my part for the day."
Buffy raised her hand. "Okay, still in the dark here."
"Well, it is rather hard to explain. But it's actually a good omen that time wasn't altered by you being pulled out from 1997 and being propelled to 1999. It means there still is a way to send you back."
"And if you can't?" she asked.
"I would imagine that time would eventually reassert itself to conform to a world where there was no Buffy the Slayer for the past two years." Giles' voice had become very grave.
"And that would be a bad thing, I'm assuming?" Buffy said.
He exchanged a glance with Faith, who raised her eyebrows. Giles looked at Buffy. "You have no idea."
Giles had put on a pot of tea before calling Willow and Xander. Buffy remained in the chair, not saying anything. If she was supposed to be eighteen then so were Willow and Xander. How had they changed in two years? she wondered. Had Willow finally confessed her love to Xander? Had Xander found a girlfriend? She was suddenly anxious of what she would find out. Not to mention the other Slayer, Faith was her name? Buffy didn't want to dwell on that fact. Giles had evaded her question if she had died and she had let him at the time.
She looked at the other Slayer and found Faith staring at her. Buffy looked away. She glanced at Faith again and saw that the brunette was still looking at her.
After a moment, she said, "What?"
"Nothing," Faith replied.
"Why are you looking at me?"
"Is it bothering you?"
"I just can't get over--" Faith stopped. "So this is you when you were sixteen?"
"I *am* sixteen."
"You just look--"
"You just look so small."
Buffy glared at her.
"I didn't mean that in a bad way, B."
"Why do you keep calling me `B'? My name is Buffy."
"I've always called you B, B. From the first time I met you."
"Well, I won't meet *you* for another year and a half, so why don't you call me Buffy until then?"
Faith's brows narrowed slightly. "Sure. Whatever you say, Buffy. What are friends for?"
"Yeah. We're Slayers. Partners. The only two of our kind. That sort of creates a bond between us."
"Am I your only friend?" Buffy snapped.
She saw something pass over Faith's expression, and Buffy realized she may have hurt the other Slayer's feelings. Buffy opened her mouth to say something, but really didn't know what to say.
The uncomfortable silence was broken when Giles returned from the kitchen carrying a tray with the tea set and placed it on the coffee table.
"Here we are," he said. "This should make you feel better."
"Giles," Faith spoke up. "I'm gonna take a quick patrol around the area."
"But Xander is bringing Willow right over, they should be here in a few minutes."
"You guys can fill me in on anything I miss. Besides, there are still three vampires out there. And since Buffy can't, I should be out there."
"This may not be my time, but I still know how to slay vampires," Buffy insisted. "I'm only sixteen but I bet I've been slaying longer than you have! Especially, considering I had to save your ass earlier."
Faith just stared at her, but this time Buffy was unable to read her expression. Giles interrupted their stare-down.
"Buffy, Faith is right. We can't risk you getting hurt in this time. If anything were to happen to you, I would imagine that time would instantly alter to that effect."
Buffy slumped back in the chair. "God, I feel like John Conner."
"Who?" Giles asked.
She shook her head. "In two years I haven't been able to ingrain any pop culture into you?"
"It's not because of your lack of trying, I assure you, Buffy."
"You know, John Conner. Sarah Conner's son who saves the future from the machines."
Giles eyes lit up. "Ah, yes. That Terminator movie! It's a classic."
Despite her situation, Buffy genuinely smiled. "There's hope for you yet, if you've seen T2."
Giles narrowed his eyebrows. "What is `T2'?"
"Terminator 2, as in sequel."
"There was a sequel?"
Buffy let her head drop onto her knees.
"As much as I would love to stay and enjoy this touching moment," Faith said, then mumbled, " --'cause God knows it's been long overdue since I last French kissed a barf bag-- I'm gonna do the patrol thing. So I'll see ya."
"Be careful, Faith," Giles called after her.
Without looking back, she tossed a wave over her shoulder and left the apartment.
Buffy and Giles sat there in silence for a long moment, Giles taking the opportunity to pour them some tea. Buffy grabbed one of the small sugar cookies from the tray. Taking a nibble she looked at him.
"So --this sounds really strange for me to be asking this-- but what have I been doing for the past two years?"
"Uh, well, you have been quite busy, as you can imagine." Her Watcher suddenly sounded uncertain.
"Giles, what's wrong?"
He gave her a smile. "Nothing, uh, is wrong."
"That's not a nothing face you have there, Giles."
"Even when you were sixteen, I never could hide anything from you."
"Is it that bad?"
"No. Actually, most of it is good."
"Well, you're still alive. And Willow and Xander are alive. Mom's still alive. And my dad?"
"Yes. No, they're all fine."
Buffy relaxed slightly. "At least that's something. No one I care about died."
She didn't see the expression that came over Giles' face. He cleared his throat. "Yes. Very fortunate indeed."
"Angel!" she suddenly said.
Giles managed to keep his voice steady. "He is, uh, still around."
"Is he still cryptic guy?"
"Yes. But we've come to know, uh, more about him since then."
"Back in my own time you and Angel still haven't met. What happened when you first met him?"
"Well, I was in the library doing research and when I turned around, he was just suddenly standing there. I hadn't heard him come in. Gave me quite a startle."
"He likes to do that." Buffy smiled. "What about you? Back then you were still the single Watcher guy." She took a look around his apartment. "And from the looks of this place, it seems like you still are. Has being my Watcher kept you from finding a girlfriend?"
Giles was suddenly unable to look into her eyes any longer. Buffy narrowed her eyebrows at his expression. She was about to say something when there was a knock at the door.
"Oh, God! That's them!" She jumped to her feet, staring at the door. "What if they don't recognize me? What if I don't recognize them?"
Giles was also standing . "Buffy. There's nothing to worry about. The friendship you share with Willow and Xander is incredibly strong. There is nothing you've faced that has, or ever will, break that."
"You're sure?" She sounded worried.
"Trust me." He gave her a reassuring smile and went to the door. Buffy followed him halfway then stopped.
He opened the door and Willow and Xander stepped inside. Buffy's eyes went wide when she saw them.
"So what's going on, Giles?" Willow asked. "You said over the phone it was an emergency."
The redhead spoke with a confidence in her voice that was far removed from the shy girl she had known, actually been with, just a few hours ago. And Xander looked . . .
Hunky. She frowned. Did she just think that? He was a little broader in the shoulders, his face more mature, and his hair was shorter. Gone were his floppy bangs. Willow's hair was also shorter, trimmed neatly to shoulder length.
When Xander spoke, then she heard the Xander she knew.
"And why didn't we call Buffy?" he asked. He saw her before Willow did. "Oh, she's already--" He stopped in his tracks as he got a better look at her. "Here?"
Willow stopped next to him and they both just stared at her, basically, as if they had just seen a ghost. A ghost from their past, she thought.
"Buffy?" they both said at the same time.
Giles stood to one side. "It's a little complicated, as you can see."
Buffy took a tentative step towards them. "Willow. Xander." Her voice sounded very small. She couldn't stop herself from bursting into tears and she rushed to them. Xander was closer and she threw her arms around him and he just barely managed to keep his feet planted on the ground from the impact and she held him tightly.
"Oh, God, Xander!" She reached out to Willow and pulled her in to join them, almost yanking her off her feet. She held onto them both as she sobbed. "Willow."
Still in shock, the eighteen year-olds each wrapped an arm around the shorter blonde.
Buffy pulled back a little to look at their faces, tears still running down her cheeks. "You guys are so tall! Well, you were already taller than me, but-- There's so much I've missed!" She pulled them in to hug them again, her strength making it impossible for them to free themselves, even if they tried.
Xander looked over to Giles. "I guess I would be retreading old ground by saying something weird is going on here, huh?"
"So you're saying a spell brought Buffy from the past into the future?" Xander was saying. "And she's still sixteen? I'll go out on a limb and say `this is new'."
"That's the best explanation we've come up with," Giles said.
They were seated around the coffee table, Buffy sitting between Willow and Xander on the long sofa. She had an arm wrapped around his arm and was holding Willow's hand, as if afraid to let them go, but she was no longer crying.
"What if she wasn't brought from the past?" Willow said. "What if she was simply turned back into a sixteen year old? Maybe it's just some kind of youth spell."
Buffy looked to Giles and his eyebrows narrowed in thought. "I hadn't thought of that. That would explain why we all saw Buffy, eighteen, yesterday and another reason why the present was not altered."
"But if that were the case," Xander said. "Why wouldn't Buffy be wearing the same clothes she was wearing earlier?"
"Yeah. I remember her wearing some of these clothes two years ago," Willow added. "And that's Angel's jacket, right?" she asked Buffy.
"That's the jacket Angel gave you?" Jealousy tinted Xander's tone. Then he noticed the way everyone was looking at him. "Sorry. Old reflex."
Willow continued. "It's just that she stopped wearing it last year. And it doesn't look as battered as it does now, which is why you stopped wearing it."
"I thought she stopped wearing it because Angel lost-- Oww!"
Willow had quickly reached over Buffy's head with her free hand and slapped Xander hard in the back of his head. He rubbed the sore spot as the redhead and Giles glared at him. Buffy glance back and forth between them.
"What? What did Angel do?"
"Uh, he," Willow said. "He spilled coffee on it. He lost his grip on his cup and it spilled on the jacket. Uh, the coffee."
"Yeah," Xander put in. "He's very clumsy when it comes to drinking anything besides blood."
"Angel drinks coffee?" Buffy asked.
"Yeah. Oh, that's right," Willow said. "You haven't found that out yet."
"Which brings up another point. If Buffy was simply turned back into a sixteen year old, why wouldn't she remember anything that happened in the past two years?"
"Maybe the spell suppressed those memories?" Willow offered.
"But that doesn't explain the clothes she's wearing now."
Giles spoke up. "Or it may actually be a time travel spell, but one that effected Buffy's internal time set only, without effecting the present around her."
Buffy, Willow, and Xander exchanged looks with each other, then, as one, they looked at Giles and said, "Huh?"
Giles nodded. "I know it sounds complicated, but it actually may be the simplest explanation."
"Giles," Xander said. "I've flunked tests that are easier to understand than this."
"Ah." Giles raised a hand for them to hold their questions and got up to retrieve his bookbag from the bar to his kitchen. He returned to his chair and pulled out a notebook and pen. Putting his cup of tea aside, he set the notebook on the table so they could all see. He drew a large circle on the blank paper.
They all looked up at the sound of the door opening.
"Oh, everyone's here. Did I miss much?" Faith walked over to the living room area.
"Nah," Willow said. "Giles was just about to give us a lesson on time travel 101."
"In layman's terms," Xander added. "He's about to confuse the hell out of us."
"Did you find the vampires?" Giles asked.
"No." Faith sat down on the arm of his chair. "They must be hiding. Buffy must've really scared them." She gave Buffy a grin, letting her know there were no hard feelings. Buffy managed to return the smile.
"I'm sure you'll find them," Giles said, as he returned his attention to his notebook.
Everyone else looked at the paper as well, so they did not notice Faith looking at the way Buffy was holding onto her best friends. The brunette finally focused on the paper, too.
"Now then," Giles was saying. "This circle represents the present." He quickly doodled several stick figures. "And here we are. Now--"
"Which one is me?" Everyone glared at Xander again. "Sorry."
Giles continued. "Now time is moving along its natural course." He drew arrows on the circle's line pointing clockwise. Then he drew a circle around the stick figure in the center of the group of stick people. "Here's Buffy. Someone casts a spell on her that effects *her* time."
"Okay, the only thing I'm understanding here are the circles," Xander said. "They're supposed to be round, right?"
"What do you mean by 'her time'?" Willow asked.
"This wizard or sorcerer somehow separates Buffy from the rest of the time perpetuity and--"
"Time what?" Faith asked.
"I think he said 'time puberty'," Xander said.
"Uh, the time continuum," Giles explained. All the teenagers nodded their understanding so he continued. "And then this sorcerer not only stops time for Buffy, but moves it backwards." He draws arrows on the circle around the Buffy doodle pointing counter-clockwise.
"Well, if he wanted to get rid of Buffy why didn't he just keep time stopped for her?" Willow asked. "Wouldn't she, like, be frozen are cease to exist?"
"Perhaps I should have said time was `reset' for Buffy. No one can literally stop time."
"So someone changed my clock two years in the past?" Buffy spoke up for the first time in a while.
"It would seem so."
"Someone really took the term 'daylight savings' the wrong way."
"And this is *simpler* than just grabbing her from one point in time and sending her to the future?" Willow asked.
"The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced this is what happened. All the laws of physics and theories on time travel all point to one conclusion: that time travel is impossible."
"But Giles, I remember walking home from the Bronze. Being lured into the woods. For me that was just a few hours ago."
"You're brain may have incorporated those events into your memories as a sixteen year old, because it was the last thing that happened when you were eighteen. I understand you three did go to the Bronze last night, isn't that correct?"
Willow nodded to Buffy. "It's true. We were there."
"And you did walk home alone, Buffy," Xander added.
Buffy didn't look entirely convinced. "But why is it impossible that I was just sent to the future? I mean, this is still the Hellmouth, isn't it? Center of mystical convergence. Or has that changed in this time?"
"No, the Hellmouth is still here," Giles told her.
"So it could still be possible, right? The impossible does usually happen around here, right?"
"Of course, we'll keep all theories open, until we can research and determine exactly what type of spell was cast."
"So I'd say it's slumber party at the library," Xander put in.
"I'm not really sure the books I have at the library can help us with this," Giles said. "We my have to turn to an outside source."
"Do you think the Watcher's Council would help you with this?" Willow asked.
"No. I'm afraid they're still not taking my calls."
"Why not?" Buffy asked. "I've only heard you mention this Council a couple of times but I got the impression that they were supposed to be in charge of all the Watchers. Why wouldn't they help you?"
"Well." Giles adjusted his glasses. "You see--"
"They fired Giles," Faith said.
Buffy shot her a look. "Fired?" She looked at Giles. "You were fired from being a Watcher? How did that happen? How could it happen? I thought a Watcher was an inherited birthright thingie passed down from generation to generation?"
Giles shrugged. "The Council felt differently."
"Wh-- but why?" Buffy voice became small again. "Did something happen? Was it me? Did I get you in trouble?"
"No, Buffy, of course not. I just went against the orders of the Council. And I would do it again." He reached out and took her hand from Willow. "But it's nothing you need to concern yourself over. We will find a way to put everything right. Okay?"
Blinking back the tears that had entered her eyes, she nodded.
"Now then, we should all head over to the library. We need to get started with our research before Buffy's absence, eighteen year old Buffy, is noticed."
"What about Buffy's mom?" Willow asked.
Worry filled the young Slayer's face. "No! I can't let Mom see me like this. She would totally wig. I might give her a heart attack!"
"B-- uh, Buffy, your mom knows you're a Slayer," Faith told her.
"She knows?!" She looked at Giles. "I didn't tell her! Did I?"
"Well, you had to tell her something," Giles explained. "You killed a vampire right in front of her. It wasn't your fault."
"Oh, gosh." Buffy stared blankly. "Looks like everyone knows I'm a Slayer." She looked at them all again. "I still don't want her to see me like this. If she knows I'm a Slayer then she probably already worries enough about me dying. I don't want to add to that."
"We'll have to tell her something, won't we?" Willow said.
"I'm sure if you just disappear she would worry even more," Giles added.
"Well, I can call her. I can tell her I'm staying over at Willow's house. When I called you, Giles, you thought I was me . . . the me from this time."
Giles nodded. "That's a good idea. You should call her in the morning, though. No need to wake her now."
"And I should go over there and grab some of my clothes." She looked down at what she was wearing. "I spent half the night in the woods, I'm not really smelling new-car fresh, right now."
"But she'll see you," Xander told her.
"I'll sneak in through my window." Then something occurred to her. "I still live in the same house, right?"
"Perhaps it would be best if someone else went to get your things for you," Giles suggested. "Faith can get them."
"I can handle that," the brunette said.
"Not to offend you, Faith," Willow said. "But Buffy really doesn't dress like you. You might *unintentionally* pick out clothes that might not be . . . appropriate for her."
"If they're Buffy's clothes, how can they be wrong?"
"Buffy usually wears ensembles."
"So do I."
"But she wears . . . more."
Faith gave a mocked hurt expression. "Trust me, I'll have Buffy looking like a nun's daughter." She got up and started for the door so she didn't notice the looks everyone gave her. "I'll meet you all back at the library."
When they reached the library, Buffy had commented how the place hadn't changed at all, but before they could really get far into the research her stomach had let out a loud growl. Her face became bright red because Giles, Willow, and Xander heard it.
Giles cleared his throat. "Perhaps it would be best if you got something to eat before we begin our research?"
"I guess it has been a while since I last ate," she said, sheepishly.
"About two years," Xander said.
"My folks are out of town until Saturday," Willow said. "We can go to my house and get you something to eat."
"And I'll get started here," Giles informed them.
"We'll be back in a while," Willow told him as the trio headed for the door.
Buffy took Xander's arm again. "So, have you found a girlfriend since last time I saw you?" she teased.
Xander scoffed humorously. "Well, you know, there have been so many candidates over the past two years. A man cannot take these choices lightly."
Their voices began to trail off as they walked out through the swinging double doors. Willow was saying, "Buffy, you're gonna flip when I tell you . . ."
The doors stopped swinging and Giles started towards his office.
"CORDELIA!!?" he heard Buffy's voice.
Giles could not help but smile. Then he entered his office and pulled out his address book from his bookbag. Picking up the phone, he dialed a number and waited patiently for the other line to be picked up.
"Hello, Isabella," he said. "This is Rupert Giles. Yes, I apologize for calling at such an early hour, but we have a situation that warrants immediate attention. Attention, I believe, only your husband can provide." He listened to the other end for a few seconds. "Yes, I am well aware of his desire to leave this sort of practice in the past, but I fear we may have no choice this time."
Giles remained on the phone for the next half hour. When he finally placed the receiver back on its cradle, his expression was grim. The conversation didn't exactly bring him much hope, especially after he had explained the severity of the situation, but it was the best he had at the moment.
He was brought out of his thoughts when he heard the library doors open.
"Giles," he heard Faith call.
Glancing at his watch, he thought it had taken her longer than he would have guessed to go to Buffy's house and retrieve some of her clothes. He stepped out of his office and saw the Slayer still standing by the doors.
"Is everything all right, Faith?" he asked. "You were gone for quite a while. Did you run into the vampires?"
Faith looked at him with an expression Giles was unable to label. If he hadn't known Faith as well as he did, he would say that she looked . . . lost.
"No. No vampires," she said. "Where are the others?"
"They took Buffy over to Willow's house to get her something to eat." He was growing more concerned with her behavior. "What is it?" he prompted. He started to move toward her.
"There's someone here I think you should see." She pushed one of the doors open and motioned to someone out in the hall.
"Someone?" Giles asked. "Who?"
Then that someone stepped into the library.
Giles stood there for a few seconds, not moving. Then he fainted.
Buffy was sitting in Willow's living room. Just a few hours ago, she had walked Willow and Xander home and now here she was in Willow's house two years later. She had removed her jacket and it was lying across her lap. There was something about having it close that comforted her, she really couldn't explain why. Maybe because it was one of the few things that hadn't aged without her.
"One thing's for certain," she said to herself. "This day can't get any weirder."
Then Xander came back into the living room carrying two glasses of soda. "Here you go," he said.
She accepted the glass and he sat down next to her. He was bringing his drink to his lips when he saw her still working on her first sip. Actually, she was draining the glass in record time. He just stared at her until she had the empty glass practically upside-down, the ice cubes lying against her upper lip. She brought the glass down, wiped her lips, and covered her mouth as she released a silent burp. She noticed the way he was looking at her.
"I guess I'm a little thirsty," she smiled.
"I suppose time travel will do that to you," he said, handing her his glass. She accepted and drained that one only halfway.
"What if it isn't time travel?" she asked. "What if I really did lose two years of my life, like Giles said? Kind of like unliving them."
Xander took her hand. "Look, Buffy, whatever happened, we'll find a way to make it right again."
Her grip tightened on his hand. "Thanks. I knew I could count on you guys. I mean we have been friends for over two years, right? Even if I don't remember it."
"That's right. And we'll stay friends for the rest of our lives."
Worry crossed Buffy's expression. "Even if I stay this way?"
"Hey. No matter what." Then he offered her a reassuring smile. "But we're gonna fix this. Reverse this spell and beat up the sorcerer who did this. Like we've always done."
She grinned. "So I'm still a bad-ass Slayer?"
"Oh, the baddest."
"Better than this Faith?"
"Way better." He quickly added. "Just don't tell her I said that. She's still a Slayer and can kick my ass with a sneeze."
Silence settled and Buffy set the glass down on the coffee table, then held Xander's hand in both of hers. He saw a new look enter her green eyes. One he had stopped hoping to see over a year ago. She scooted herself closer to him, until their shoulder's were touching, and she continued to look up into his eyes.
"Uh," he began. "Maybe I should see if Willow needs any help with the sandwiches?" He started to get up.
Buffy held onto his arm. "No. I'm sure she has everything under control. Stay here and keep me company."
"Okay." Xander kept himself from looking at her. He spotted the remote control on the table. "Hey, let's turn on the TV." He tried to reach for it but Buffy's hold did not allow him to lean forward. "Heh. Buff, you need to let go of my arm so I can get the remote."
The smile she gave him revealed unspoken thoughts. "You don't really want me to let go, do you?"
"Uh, yeah, I think it would be a good idea if you did let me go." He frowned at himself. "Did I just say that?"
She leaned closer to him and her voice became a little heavy. "Don't think I haven't noticed the way you've been looking at me, lately."
" `Lately'," he repeated. "Buffy, that was two years ago." Realizing what he just said, he added, "And I wasn't really *looking*! Okay, maybe a glance here, a glance there, or twenty. Not to mention the Polaroid's." He stopped smiling when he saw she wasn't laughing. "That was a joke."
She leaned in even closer. "I know."
Xander was trying to scoot away, but he was already against the armrest of the couch. More concerned now, he said, "Buffy, what are you doing?"
"I would have thought you had plenty of practice with Cordelia, considering all the mileage she's accumulated."
"Hey," he sounded a little offended.
"What?" she asked. "I thought you two broke up?"
"You don't still have feelings for her, do you?"
"Oh, that's right. You and Cordy aren't friends yet."
This made Buffy pause. "What? Cordelia and I become friends? How does that happen?"
"Well, that's sort of a long story," he said. Buffy had her head tilted slightly, moving her lips close to his. "So I better get started! You see, it was time to elect the new May Queen, so of course Cordelia was campaigning on overdrive, but then this invisible--"
The rest of his words were smothered when Buffy suddenly captured his lips with her own. His eyes popped wide open as she kissed him, then he relaxed and began to wrap his arm around her. But he quickly caught himself and managed to pull away.
"What's the matter?" she asked. "You didn't like it?"
"No! I mean, yeah! It was--" He reflected on the kiss and a smile started to form on his face. He shook his head getting rid of the smile. "It's not that, Buffy."
"Well, what then? You do have feelings for me, don't you?"
"Yeah, I did. I mean, I do." He stopped to compose himself. "Buffy, I admit that I had an enormous crush on you back then."
"And now you don't?"
"It's just that, uh, the friendship we have now has gone beyond such feelings. Actually, you never had these kind of feelings for me, not even when Amy mess up her--" He stopped as he finally realized something.
"That's what's doing this to you. Making you feel attracted to me."
"The spell did this to me?" she asked. "I thought it just sent me through time or made me sixteen again."
"There must have been side-effects, because you would never act this way, Buffy."
"Why not? Is it so hard to believe that I might find you attractive? Have you looked at yourself, recently? If I had known you would grow up to look like this, I probably wouldn't be fonning over Angel."
He just stared at her, speechless, for a few seconds. "Under any other circumstances, I would wish to die right now, so that I could die happy, but now I know there's something wrong here. Buffy, we're as close as a man and woman can be and still be friends, and I know you pretty well. You have to trust me when I say that this isn't like you."
"Why can't we just let nature decide?" she said.
He leaned his head back as she tried to kiss him again. "Because nature is going to get one of us arrested."
"Never make it to court," she whispered. "My birth certificate says I'm eighteen."
He had no more room and her lips pressed against his again and he was unable to say anything else. She was half lying on top of him at this point.
There was a loud crash on the other side of the room that made Buffy disengage from Xander and they both saw Willow standing in the doorway, from the kitchen. The plate she had been holding laid shattered at her feet, and what used to be sandwiches were scattered among the pieces. She just stood there, her own glass of soda in her hand, a shocked expression on her face.
Xander tried to get out from under Buffy, but in the process his hand pressed against her breast and he quickly pulled it away.
There was another crash as Willow dropped her glass.
The redhead opened her mouth, but couldn't speak.
"Willow," Xander said. "It's not what it looks like."
Now Buffy pushed herself off of him and retreated to the other side of the couch. She looked back and forth between her two friends, the expressions on their faces.
"Xander, I--" she was also unable to speak.
"Buffy--" Xander started to say.
Tears sprung from the Slayer's eyes. "I'm sorry, I--"
Grabbing her jacket, she jumped off the couch and ran for the door.
"Buffy!" Willow, having finally found her voice, shouted. The door slammed and she was gone. Then she turned her eyes to Xander, and he was glad she didn't have heat-vision or he was sure she would have reduced him to ashes. "Alexander Harris, you have got some--"
He raised his hands in defense. "Will, I swear it wasn't me this time! Besides, Amy's still a rat!"
Buffy didn't know where she was going, she was just running, the tears flowing down her cheeks blurring her vision. She didn't even know how long she had been running. What was happening to her? she wondered. Xander had said the spell must have done something to her. But what? Sure, he was good looking, but she had never had those feelings toward him. Maybe he was right. Maybe there were some side-effects from the spell that was making her feel like this. She was certainly able to control her emotions better than this. Why was she crying so much?
She finally slowed down, more from mental fatigue than physical, and leaned against a wooden picnic table. A quick look at her surroundings revealed she was in Weatherly Park. She slumped down on the bench and let her head drop into her folded arms and tried to stop her sobs.
"Okay, Slayer," she told herself. "Get it together. Don't be such a wuss."
She raised her head and wiped the tears from her eyes and sniffled.
"Hey, here's a nifty idea," she said to herself. "Why don't I run off hysterically into the night and make myself easy prey for the vampires?"
"And don't think we don't appreciate it," a voice said from behind her.
Buffy whirled around on the bench and saw a burly looking vampire, in full vamp-face, smiling fangly at her. She rolled her eyes at the creature.
"Do you mind?" she scolded. "I'm trying to have a life crisis here, and it would be a whole lot easier if I were alone."
The vampire started to walk towards her. "But it's so therapeutic to share pain. Don't you think?"
Buffy narrowed her eyebrows and stood up. "I think I would like to try it out. Of course you can supply the pain." Then she took a quick look around. "I thought you said `we'? Where are the others?"
Something heavy landed on the table behind her and she spun around just in time to see the second vampire, which she instantly recognized from the alley, reach down and grab her by the jacket. The next instant she was airborne being flung over the table and landing on the ground hard. She tried to roll with the impact but literally came straight down on her side, the wind getting knocked out of her.
"Oww," she said, with a gasp, trying to push herself off the ground.
Then she was grabbed by the back of her jacket and was thrown again. This time she slammed against the jungle gym, her back hitting the metal frame painfully. When she hit the ground this time, she found she was unable to move. She did see the vampires, of which there were now five, closing in on her.
Trying to lift her head, she said, "Now you guys are in big trouble." Feeling too weak, her head fell back down, and she was breathing hard. "It'll just take a sec."
The closest vampire growled at her and reached down to grab the lapels of her jacket.
"No thanks," she said. "I don't need any hel--"
She was jerked to her feet and slammed against the jungle gym again, this time the creature held her there, the toes of her boots just barely touching the ground. She clenched her teeth from the pain she felt ringing in her head.
The vampire sneered in her face, its undead breath smelling like old blood, making her grimace. "This was just too easy. I thought the Slayer would be tougher than this." He looked over his shoulder at two of the vampires from the alley. "This is what you ran away from?"
"You're not exactly catching me at my best," Buffy said. "In this case, I precede my reputation--literally."
"I'm sorry to hear that," the creature said. With a hiss, he opened his mouth wide and aimed his fangs at her neck.
"Thanks," Buffy said. Then kicked the vampire in crotch. As it growled in pain, she smashed her forehead into its face, and she was free. She leaned against the jungle gym and shook her head as a wave of nausea swam through her. "Note to self: headbutts very bad."
As stinky-breath stumbled back, the other vampires rushed her. The first one swung a large fist at her face. She ducked it and the vamp's knuckles cracked against the metal frame. Curling into a ball, Buffy let herself fall back through one of the squares in the frame and landed inside the jungle gym. She stood up and side-stepped a punch another vampire threw between the bars. She grabbed its arm and jerked it down, hearing its bone snap as it hit the metal bar. With a howl of pain, the vamp pulled its wounded arm back out.
Something grabbed her shoulder from behind. She whirled around, wrapping her arm around the vampire's arm and slammed it against a metal bar, again snapping bone. As that vamp withdrew, a growl to her right caught her attention and Buffy shot a fist through the bars shattering the noisy vampire's nose.
Then the vampires stepped away from the jungle gym. They had her completely surrounded, but they were rethinking their strategy. Obviously not wanting to suffer any more broken limbs, she thought. Not ungrateful for the reprieve, Buffy took the opportunity to catch her breath, but she maintained a fighting stance, which was more for show at this point. The past few hours were suddenly catching up with her, the spell --time travel or not-- the emotional roller coaster she was riding, and being knocked around by a group of vampires. She really wanted to sit down right there and maybe take a nap. For eight hours.
"Five against one," Buffy said, with pep she was not feeling. "So do you guys wanna give up?"
Her attention was drawn to a pair of glowing yellow dots that appeared behind two of the vampires to her left. She realized they were the eyes of a sixth vampire which was walking toward them. She started to make out his silhouette, but his face remained in shadows thanks to the tall light post behind him.
In her best Giles impersonation, Buffy said, "Oh, dear, oh dear. And I'll throw in `dammit'."
The other five vamps finally noticed the new arrival as he asked, "So what have we here, boys?"
"Who are you?" stinky-breath asked the new vamp.
The new vamp scoffed at stinky-breath. "Who do you think? Mr. Trick sent me down here to find out what the hell is going on."
Buffy narrowed her eyes, trying to make out more details from the sixth vampire, and she was sure she had heard that fang-accented voice before.
Stinky-breath was still talking. "You can go back and tell Mr. Trick that we have everything under control."
"I can see that," the vamp said, sarcastically. "You have the Slayer trapped and surrounded, and yet, she's still winning."
Buffy's eyes widened with realization. "Angel," she blurted, before she could stop herself.
The other vampires obviously knew him by name for they were all suddenly moving. But Angel was also in motion, swinging powerful fists that sent the two closest vamps spinning to the ground. Stinky-breath attacked next but three punches later he was suddenly the attackee. He fell against the jungle gym and his head landed in one of the squares in the frame. Buffy quickly grabbed him by the hair and jerked his head down on the bar his neck was resting on. The snapped that followed made Buffy wince.
"Oh, that was really gross!"
The other four vampires, two of which still sporting broken arms, were no match for Angel, and quickly decided to retreat. He didn't go after them, but made sure they were out of sight before turning to face Buffy. From where he was standing, his features were now visible in the light.
"Angel." Her voice was barely a whisper.
"Buffy," he said, staring at her. The yellow in his eyes faded as his vampiric face became human again.
Not taking her eyes off him, she climbed out of the jungle gym and started toward him. She had only taken two steps when she stumbled and fell forward. Angel was there to catch her and steadied her on her feet.
She opened her mouth but couldn't say anything as she just stared up into his face. She shook her head slightly.
"You haven't changed." She frowned at her own words. "But I guess being immortal has something to do with that."
Angel smiled slightly. Then he said, "When she told me, I almost didn't believe her."
"Told you what?"
"That you were really here."
"From the past? Yeah. And I didn't even need a DeLorean." She tried to laugh. Then she frowned again. "Who told you?"
"Oh, I ran into . . . Faith," he said. "She explained what happened. You just ran away from Willow and Xander. We were all worried about you. We were looking for you."
"I'm sorry." She lowered her head shamefully. "I just kinda freaked. Xander said the spell may have some side-effects that's making me act not like me."
She looked up at him. "They didn't tell you?"
"There wasn't any time and we all split up to search for you."
She lowered her eyes again, unable to meet his. "Uh, well." Buffy was trying to find a way to explain it.
"Hey." Angel gently lifted her chin to look at him. "It's okay. You don't have to talk about it, now."
Looking into his eyes, she smiled. Then she buried her cheek against his chest. This time she didn't try to keep from sobbing and he wrapped his strong arms around her. And for the first time since this crazy night started, she felt completely safe.
Finally she pulled away, slightly, but did not let him go. "It's funny. Just a few hours ago we were at The Bronze telling each other that we needed to walk away from one another."
"I remember," he said softly.
He nodded. "The clothes you're wearing. The way you look right now. Exactly how you looked that night."
"Vampires have perfect recollection?"
"With my curse, it's not always a good thing. But I'm glad I'm able to remember every moment with you."
Tears brimmed her eyes again. "And now I've lost two years." She looked at him for a long moment. "I love you, Angel."
"Buffy." He caressed a hand on her cheek. "We'll find a way to send you back. If anyone can, Giles can."
Buffy put her hands on his cheeks and began to pull him closer.
He resisted just a little, their lips just inches away from each other. "Buffy. We can't --We really shouldn't."
"We're still the same people," she told him. "I'm still Buffy and you're still Angel. You're the only thing I've found that hasn't changed. Willow, Xander, even Giles. I still feel like I know them, but they're two years different. Two years that I wasn't able to share with them, so I don't know how they've changed."
"I'm not exactly the same from two years ago either, Buffy. A lot has happened since then."
"But my eyes can't see the difference in you. Please, Angel. I need something from my time to hold on to." Her eyes were pleading with him. "I need you."
"I'll never leave you, Buffy. I promise."
She smiled through her tears and when she pulled him close he offered no resistance this time. When she kissed him, it was with a ferocity she never knew she was capable of. A hunger she felt in her heart as well as from her body.
Before she knew it, she had shrugged out of her jacket letting it drop to the ground behind her feet. Then she was grabbing the lapels of his coat trying to get it off his shoulders. Angel quickly backed away.
"Whoa. Buffy, we can't."
"Why? I mean, didn't we ever-- I mean in the past two years we never . . ."
"That's not the point," he said. "We just can't." He was about to say more, then stopped himself. Finally he said, "Not like this. You're in a very emotional state right now. I would be taking advantage."
Lowering her eyes, she said, "That's almost the same thing Xander said."
"Xander--" He looked at her. "You-- What--?"
He was stopped when they heard loud noises coming from a hedge of tall bushes several yards away. They turned to see the brush shaking violently. Before they could react, something flew out of the bushes and they realized it was one of the vampires as it hit the ground on its back. They caught a glimpse of a stake embedded in its chest just before it exploded into ashes and was gone.
As the dust settled, they turned their attention back to the hedge as the Slayer, whom dispatched the vampire, stepped out and walked towards them.
"I'm sorry," the Slayer said, not in a very friendly voice. "Am I interrupting something?"
Buffy just stared at the Slayer with, she was sure, the same expression she had seen everyone else wearing when they first saw her tonight. She opened her mouth but couldn't say anything.
Angel spoke up. "Buffy, we were just--"
"You were just what?" the Slayer demanded. "Cheating? Fooling around?"
"Buffy." Angel sounded a little offended.
But the Slayer had turned her attention to Buffy and the younger girl was still staring at the Slayer.
"Do you have anything to say?" the Slayer asked.
"Oh. My. God," Buffy said, slowly, as she looked into green eyes identical to her own. She looked the Slayer up and down. Finally she said, "Don't I get any taller!?"
"I don't know who she is, but she is not me!"
Buffy lowered her eyes, unable to look at the eighteen year-old version of herself as she paced back and forth in front of the table in the library. So this is what she was going to look like in two years, she thought. Her hair was just below shoulder length, her bangs no longer falling below her chin, and was a much much lighter blonde. But it actually looked as if she hardly grew an inch taller. This older Buffy was wearing a black leather coat that hung down to her knees, over dark pants and a blue blouse. Well, at least she still knew how to shop, Buffy thought wryly.
"Or," Older Buffy continued, stopping for a moment. "I'm not her! Or was her. Uh, whatever!" She threw her arms up in the air and started pacing again.
"What about all our theories now, Giles?" Willow asked. She was sitting at the table but not close to Buffy, and the significance of this did not go unnoticed by the sixteen year old. Xander had taken a seat on top of the table, his feet on a chair, at the other end. It was as if they had separated themselves from her --which, she realized, they had-- not knowing what to do with her. She suddenly felt very alone in a room with five other people.
Giles was stepping out of his office, a cup of tea in his hand. "Now. We start from the beginning." He approached the table and set the cup in front of Buffy. "Here you are, Buffy," he said, gently.
She smiled up at him. "Thanks." Then she saw that Older Buffy was almost glaring at the former Watcher. Giles noticed this and met her gaze as if nothing was wrong. Older Buffy glanced at her then turned away, folding her arms.
"She still came from somewhere," Xander said. "She wasn't just conjured up, was she?"
"No," Angel said. The vampire was leaning against the metal mesh of the book cage. He was looking at Buffy. "She is a real person."
"You should know," snapped Older Buffy in a soft voice.
He shot a look at her. "Buffy, don't be that way."
Older Buffy raised her eyebrows at him. "Don't be that way? You can't be serious? I see you making out with another girl and you don't want me to be upset? My, God, how shallow of me! What was I thinking?"
Xander said, "Buffy, if killing sarcasm was a crime they would be strapping you into the electric chair by now."
Older Buffy glared at him. "Oh, that's right! You would be on her side, considering she practically threw herself at you!"
"Buffy!" Willow exclaimed, in shock.
Xander seemed perfectly ready to retaliate when Giles stepped in.
"That's enough!" Then he looked sternly at the older Slayer. "Buffy, you're not helping."
"Then why don't I just leave?" she snapped. She motioned to Buffy at the table. "After all, you have her! I guess two Buffys is just one too many!"
"Jeez, Buff, act your age!" Xander said.
Older Buffy almost growled at him.
"Whoa! What's going on here?"
Everyone turned their attention to the double doors. Faith had just walked in and was eyeing the group as she approached. She had a shoulder bag with her.
"Please, don't let me stop you," she said. "Just let me get a good seat to enjoy this. It's been a long time since I've seen a good family squabble."
But nobody said anything. If Buffy had known Faith as the others did, she would have been surprised that she was the one who calmed the situation down.
She set the bag down in front of Buffy. "Here are some clothes for you."
"Thanks," Buffy said. She opened the bag and looked at the clothes. "Are they min--" She stopped herself and glanced at Older Buffy. "I mean are these--?"
"They're mine," Faith said. The brunette gave Older Buffy an impassive look. The blonde Slayer didn't say anything. "They should fit you, B --I mean, Buffy."
"It's okay," Buffy said. "You can call me `B', if you want."
Faith actually smiled. "Nah. I like `Buffy'."
Buffy managed to return a real smile. Then she glanced at Older Buffy and saw she was glaring at the brunette, but still said nothing.
Xander, however, did speak up. "You wouldn't even lend her some of your clothes?" he accused Older Buffy.
"Xander," Older Buffy fumed. "Shut up!"
"Buffy!" Willow raised her voice. "What's wrong with you?"
"Oh, what can be wrong?!" Older Buffy shouted. "I wake up to find a mini-clone of myself running around Sunnydale fooling all my friends into thinking she's me!"
Angel tried to say something but she whirled on him. "I don't want to hear anything from you!"
"But she is you!" Willow countered.
"I think I would remember if I had taken a trip to the future when I was sixteen! It would be kinda hard to forget something like that, wouldn't you say?"
Now everyone was shouting. Giles was actually trying to get everyone to calm down with no success. Faith, the only other person not shouting, took a step away from the table, taking the bag of clothes with her, as she saw Buffy close her eyes and clamp her hands over her ears.
"SHUT UP!" the sixteen year old screamed. As she shot to her feet she easily flipped the T-section table over on its side, slamming it against the adjacent table.
This shocked everyone into silence and they just stared at the young girl with tears streaming down her face.
"Stop talking about me like I'm not in the room!" she demanded. "Like I'm some kind of . . . thing!" She looked at the people she knew. Her friends. Her eyes came to rest on Giles. "Giles, *I am* Buffy Summers. I am *your* Slayer." She looked at Older Buffy. "I don't know what happened to me, how I came to be here! I can't explain it. I just . . ." Her voice fell to a whisper. "I just want to go home."
For the first time since meeting her future self, Buffy saw the older Slayer's eyes soften. She even seemed sympathetic. "But you're not *me*." Even though she hadn't said it harshly, the words still cut through Buffy.
"Buffy, be quiet."
Older Buffy looked at the librarian, surprised by his tone of voice. First signs of tears entered her eyes, but she didn't say anything and finally turned away.
Giles stepped around the toppled table towards Buffy. The sixteen year old moved back. "No." This stopped him. "You don't believe that I'm really Buffy." She glanced at Older Buffy. "With her here you don't know who I am."
"I know that you are Buffy Summers," Giles said, sincerely. "Truly. This just may not be your world."
"My world?" she asked.
"Care to share, Giles?" Older Buffy said, as she cleared her throat. She wiped away her unshed tears.
The librarian removed his glasses, a clear indication of him going into lecture mode. "The existence of other dimensions has been well known for over a thousand years." Giles turned to Older Buffy and Angel. "You yourselves, Angel, Buffy, have been to two such dimensions. It's been theorized that some of these dimensions could possibly be alternate worlds, other realities that are very similar to our own."
"I'd say our two realities are almost identical, if not exactly the same," Angel said.
"How can you be sure?" Older Buffy asked him.
Angel looked at Buffy. "The clothes she's wearing. Even her hair. Exactly as they were that night at the Bronze." Now he was addressing Buffy. "We kissed and your cross, the cross I gave you the first night we met, burned my chest."
Sniffling, Buffy nodded. Her hand instinctively moved to the cross hanging against her chest. "Yes. That's right."
Xander shot a look at Older Buffy. "You were kissing him that night?" he demanded. Everyone turned to stare at him. "Uh, sorry. Old reflexes again."
Older Buffy met Buffy's eyes. "I kissed Angel, then walked back to Willow and Xander--" she trailed off.
Buffy continued for her. "--and when I looked back he was gone."
Older Buffy was still looking at her. "Who was Miss French?" she asked.
Buffy frowned, caught off guard, but she answered. "She was the substitute Biology teacher. Who tried to bite Xander's head off."
"And where was the Harvest?" Older Buffy asked.
Buffy didn't say anything for a moment, then said, "The Bronze."
"Buffy," Angel said to Older Buffy.
But she ignored him. "And how many dates did you have with Owen?"
"Just one," Buffy said in a stoic voice. "And let's not forget that after I dumped Owen I had sex with Xander."
Everyone did a double take. Older Buffy's eyes went wide for a couple of seconds before they narrowed. "You're lying."
"Yes, I am," Buffy said coldly. She glanced quickly at Xander. "Sorry, Xander." To Older Buffy again. "But the look on your face --or should I say `my face'-- was priceless."
"My point, Buffy," Angel said. "Is that she is you. She's the exact same person. She's just from a different reality."
Older Buffy glared at him. "That doesn't make what you did right."
"Why don't you give it a rest, huh, B?" Faith finally spoke up. She put a hand on Buffy's shoulder and gently lowered her into her chair again. The sixteen year-old didn't resist.
Older Buffy was about to respond, then raised a hand and let it drop, along with the matter. She closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead, fighting a headache.
Buffy really couldn't blame the eighteen year old Buffy for freaking on her the way she did. She herself hadn't really reacted well to finding herself in this time and place.
Giles was the one to break the silence. Putting his glasses back on, he said, "Right now, it would be best if we all got some sleep. It'll be morning soon and we can continue further then. I did contact someone who may be able to help us. He is very knowledgeable in mystical forces. I'm sure he'll know more about this. It's just that he won't arrive for another couple of days."
"Does he live far away?" Willow asked.
"No. Actually, he's not very far at all. He's just in the middle of something he currently cannot step away from." He shrugged.
"So what do we do with her until then?" asked Older Buffy. She saw the looks everyone gave her. She rolled her eyes. "I mean where is she gonna stay?" She paused. "I don't even want to think about how I would try to explain all this to my mother."
Buffy scanned her friend's faces. She was sure under different circumstances Xander would offer her to stay with him, but didn't because it would be difficult to explain what a sixteen year old girl would be doing in an eighteen year old boy's room. Not that his parents paid much attention to him, this would be hard to not notice. And then there was that whole situation of her throwing herself at him as well.
Angel would surely allow her to stay at his place. He did mention that he had an apartment located close to the Bronze, but it was probably small. Then she noticed the warning look Older Buffy was giving the vampire and he stayed quiet.
The only logical choice would then be Willow. Her parents would be out of town until Saturday. That should be plenty of time. She met the redhead's gaze and Willow lowered her eyes, although she looked ashamed.
Buffy found herself having to fight back tears.
With a disapproving glance at the others, Giles turned to her. "Buffy, you're more than welcome to stay--"
"She's gonna stay with me," Faith declared.
Everyone looked at the dark haired Slayer with surprise. Faith ignored them and put a hand on Buffy's shoulder. "C'mon." She hefted her bag onto her shoulder and Buffy rose to her feet. She didn't see Faith glaring at the other teenagers as she led the young girl out of the library.
After the double doors stopped swinging, Xander said, "That did not look good for us, at all."
With a loud sigh, that sounded more like a groan, Buffy ran her hands through her hair, tucking it behind her ears. No one in the library said anything. She walked over to the upended table and flipped it right-side-up again. She knelt down and began to gather the pieces of the broken tea cup.
"Buffy," Giles started to say.
She quickly stood up. "Please, Giles, don't." Her voice was laced with shame. "If you're gonna say that I messed up, I already know. I totally screwed up."
"It does say something about us when Faith is the rational one among us," Willow commented. "It scares me to think what."
"Well , we do have a lot of work ahead of us," Giles said. "We better get started."
"I thought we were gonna call it a night, adjourn until morning?" Xander asked.
"We're not going anywhere," Giles stated. "Buffy --young Buffy-- definitely needs her rest. And after the way we treated her, we owe it to her to help her return home." He looked at each of them in turn. When no objections were forthcoming, he said, "The first thing we need to determine is what kind of spell was cast to send her here."
"Xander did say that the spell may be having some side-effects on her," Angel spoke up.
"Is it really that hard to believe that Buffy might, just once, find me attractive?" said an exasperated Xander. He saw the looks he received from them, including Buffy. He let his shoulders sag. "Of course. Not even in an alternate dimension would I stand a chance."
"You need to be careful not to take advantage of the situation," Angel said. "She is only sixteen and emotionally vulnerable."
Xander just stared at him for a moment. "Angel, does the old saying about `the pot and the kettle' mean anything to you?"
Angel didn't say anything.
Willow spoke up. "Xander's just reminding you that you're also black."
Buffy slapped a hand over her mouth but didn't try to stop her giggles. When Angel shot her a look, she laughed even harder. When she calmed down a little, she said, "Well, honey, you have to admit you are guilty of smooching a young, innocent, emotionally vulnerable, sixteen year old girl." She pointed to the doors. "And I'm not even talking about her."
"I didn't hear you complaining at the time," Angel tried to comeback.
Buffy opened her eyes wide and gave a slight pout of her lips. "Innocent, emotionally vulnerable, remember?"
In defeat, Angel shook his head and muttered, "The sun would only hurt for about two seconds, then it would be over."
"Excuse me," Giles said, impatiently. "But can we please remain focused?" Then he sighed. "And the moment I said that I knew it was a rhetorical question. But we need to get started. Now, Xander, just what exactly did this young Buffy do to make you believe she was suffering adverse side-effects from the spell?"
"Well," Xander glanced at Buffy and cleared his throat. "Let's just say-- Okay, she was hornier than Faith."
And again, he thanked God that Buffy didn't have heat-vision or he would have been super-nova dust under her glare.
"And how would you know how horny Faith gets?" Willow asked, sternly.
Xander brought up his index fingers to emphasize his words. "Hey, I'm just saying! Uh, we've all heard Faith tell her stories. You know how she is."
Buffy shook her head. "Well, compared to Faith, Cordelia would be more than qualified to wear white on her wedding day. But then again, so can Xander."
"Hey!" Xander exclaimed offendedly. "What makes you so sure nothing happened between me Cordy?"
"Oh, Alexander Harris," Willow said, slyly. "I've known you your entire life, I would know if you had lost your-- well, you know."
Xander stared at her for a long moment. Then a small grin formed on his face. "You sure about that?"
The smile on Willow's face slowly disappeared. The way he had said it made her uncertain.
Giles cleared his throat loudly. "If I can once again try to steer this conversation back on track. Xander, what did Buffy do?"
"It wasn't me--" Buffy started to say.
Giles raised his hand. Buffy humphed and sat down crossing her arms. "Xander?"
With another nervous glance at Buffy, Xander said, "Well --Willow can tell you!"
"Oh, no! It's bad enough that I'm gonna live with the image of you two lying on my couch for the rest of my life, I'm not about to go into detail."
"What?" Buffy and Angel said.
"Thanks, Will," Xander said with a smile.
"Hey! You tricked me!" The redhead threw a book at him. He ducked it and Angel caught it.
"What did I--" Buffy caught herself. "What did she do?"
Xander didn't look into her eyes. "Remember Valentine's Day, last year?"
Buffy's eyes went wide. "She wasn't just wearing a raincoat, was she?"
"No! You --she was fully dressed." He hesitated. "But...."
"Okay, she kissed me a little, then she started saying things about letting nature take its course." He paused, but Buffy was unable to say anything. "Let's just say, that if Willow hadn't walked in when she did, I would have lost my soul."
"Xander!" Buffy growled at him and looked as if she were about to say more, when her expression suddenly lost all anger and she lowered her eyes.
"Buff," Xander said. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that."
"No, it's not that," Buffy said.
"What is it, Buffy?" Giles asked.
She looked at the former Watcher. "What are we gonna tell her, Giles?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, if she's from a reality that is exactly the same as ours, then we know everything that's going to happen in her world."
Willow quickly caught on. "Ooo, we can warn her not to sleep with Angel!" Buffy and Angel shot her a look and she winced. "Sorry. I just --*her* Angel wouldn't have to lose his soul." She glanced at Giles. "He wouldn't kill Ms. Calendar."
"Or join Spike and Drusilla," Xander offered. Then he looked at Angel. "At least we're assuming that wouldn't have happened." Buffy and Angel glared at him and he raised his hands in surrender.
They all turned to Giles, who was removing his glasses. He finally looked up. "The thought had crossed my mind. And it would be best if we don't tell her anymore about the future than she already knows."
"Why not?" Buffy asked.
"Say we do tell her about Angel's curse and he never reverts to his evil persona? Why not tell her that the Master is going to kill her and she never goes down there and he can't use her to free himself. He may find another way, and in the process kill Buffy so that she cannot be revived." He paused for a moment. "Buffy, when the Master killed you and you came back, you somehow became stronger. If not physically, at least he was no longer able to put you under his spell."
"That was kinda creepy," she admitted.
"Let's suppose the Master remains trapped down there and Buffy never dies. He still is the ruler of all the vampires of the Hellmouth and then shortly after that Spike and Drusilla arrive to town. Kendra would never have been called, and neither will Faith."
Buffy was rubbing her temples. "Okay, I get what you're saying, Giles. We shouldn't mess with her future. But I don't see the downside about telling her about Angel's curse. How can that be bad?"
"Because I love you, Buffy."
Buffy stared at the vampire for a moment. "Come again?"
He met her eyes. "Back then we both knew it would be dangerous to have a relationship, me being a vampire, you a Slayer."
"There's an understatement," Xander put in. They ignored him.
"Yeah, I know all this," she said, impatiently. "We have more volumes than the Warren Commission on it. What's your point, Angel?"
"If I had known that I would lose my soul by us being together, I would have left." He paused. "I would never put you in that kind of danger. And if I hadn't been here, you would have died in the Master's lair."
"Xander was the one who revived me--" Buffy stopped herself. In a solemn voice, she said, "You led Xander to the Master's lair." She put a hand to her forehead and groaned. "Excuse me, while I have a migraine."
"So what do we know now?" Giles said after a while.
"We know that Buffy is hornier than Faith after missing a kill."
"Would you stop saying that, Xander!" Buffy said. "You're lucky I don't have anything to throw at you, but this table is starting to look very aerodynamic." The book Angel was holding suddenly landed on the table in front of her. Buffy smiled at Xander.
Xander raised his hands, forming peace signs with his fingers. "Can't we just all get along?"
"Well, at least we're all in agreement," Giles said. Buffy gave him a threatening look and reached for the book. He quickly add, "That young Buffy's journey to this world has somehow heightened her emotional state.
"Her hormones more like it," Willow said.
Buffy glared at each one them as she said, "I am about two seconds away from going `mailman', if we do not get off this subject."
The vampire and three humans didn't say anything as they took in Buffy's expression.
Angel cleared his throat and shoved his hands in the deep pockets of his coat.
"Okay then," Xander said.
"Let's move on," Willow added.
"Yes," Giles agreed.
Still watching them closely, Buffy said, "All right. So, we can't tell her anything about her future because that would cause all sorts of problems for her world. So what do we do?"
"Well," Giles said, "I don't see any harm in treating her as we would you, Buffy. After all, she is still you in all respects." Buffy spoke in a softer voice. "I don't always treat myself very well."
"Uh, guys," Willow said. "We are sorta overlooking something here." She waited until she had everyone's attention. "We all just agreed that we're not going to tell young Buffy anything about her future."
"Aw, man," Xander said, realizing what she was talking about.
Willow went on. "And we just let her walk out of here with Faith."
She paused for a moment and watched as Buffy, Giles, and Angel finally realized the importance of what she said.
"Faith knows better," Buffy said, in an unconvincing tone. "She wouldn't--"
"Remember?" Xander asked. "Faith. Stories. She likes telling `em."
"Faith really doesn't know very much about all that has happened since before she got here." Buffy shrugged, trying to smile unworriedly. "I mean, what can she really tell her about us?"
"--and he was called the Judge," Faith was saying. "And you had this big showdown with this creep right in the middle of the mall!"
Faith was standing, practically bouncing on her feet as she told the story. Young Buffy was sitting against the headboard of Faith's bed, her knees drawn up to her chest. She was wearing a long white T-shirt the older girl gave her to wear to bed. Buffy figured it must be the only shirt Faith owned that fell below her navel and on Buffy it was almost a dress.
"You had a Heckler & Koch machine gun in each hand and you were mowing down vampires like Bruce Willis," Faith continued.
"Bullets can't kill vampires," Buffy interjected.
Faith chuckled. "The way you were blowing them away, all that was left were pieces no bigger than a finger. And then you pulled out this wicked bad-ass rocket launcher, you guys stole from the army --a stunt I haven't been able to top, yet-- and exploded blue boy into a million pebble-shit size chunks! Thus, saving the world." Then, in a Forrest Gump voice, said, "Again!"
With the end of the story, Faith flopped down on the other side of the bed. She was still wearing her street clothes, but she had removed her jacket and boots. Buffy didn't say anything for a while.
"That's not how it really happened, is it?" she finally asked.
Faith tilted her head in admission. "Okay, so you didn't have the machine guns. But you would if that story's ever made into a movie. But the rocket launcher is real."
"Really?" Buffy said, astounded.
The phone on the nightstand rang and Faith grabbed it. "Yeah."
"Faith, where am I?" she heard Buffy's voice say. "I mean, what is she doing right now?"
"We're just about to hit the sack. Is anything wrong, B?"
"No. Everything is fine." There was a pause. "You didn't tell her anything, did you?"
"You didn't tell her anything that's happened in the past, uh, her future."
"What's this about, B?"
"Look. I'll go over there. Meet me halfway and I'll explain everything. But keep her there."
"Please, Faith. It's important."
"Sure. I'm on my way."
Faith hung up the phone and saw that young Buffy was looking at her expectantly. "I gotta go see what B wants."
"Is it about me?" Buffy asked.
"It might be," the brunette answer nonchalantly. "But I wouldn't worry about it. The others are just trying to find a way to get you back home."
Faith started to put her boots back on.
"She didn't want to talk to me?" Buffy asked tentatively.
Faith raised her eyebrows. "Did you really want to talk to her?"
Buffy considered this. Then shook her head. "No. Not really."
"I don't really want to say this, Buffy, but by the time you're her age," She motioned to the phone. "You do become a little tightly wound." She quickly added, with a grin, "But don't worry, that's one of your more endearing traits."
"Thanks," Buffy said, uncertainly. "I think."
"Besides," Faith got up when she finished lacing up her boots. "Whether you want to or not, I think you're gonna get to know her a lot better."
"I don't think I really want to."
"I know she didn't really make a good first impression, but I do know one thing. She does have this annoying habit of keeping your back. And I don't think that's a recent development."
Buffy couldn't think of a response for this so remained quiet. Faith put on her jacket and flipped her long hair out of the collar.
"Look. You get some sleep and I'll be back in a little while. I gotta go see what Little Miss Goody-Two-Shoes wants."
Buffy smiled a little and watched the older Slayer walk over to the door. Faith said, "There's a few stakes in the nightstand and under the mattress just in case you hear anything crawling around outside."
Faith closed the door and Buffy listened to the sound of her footfalls quickly fade away. It was suddenly very quiet in the small motel room and a few seconds later, the air conditioner kicked in.
Buffy leaned down toward the side of the bed and dug her hand under the mattress. Her fingers found one of the stakes and she pulled it out. Just holding it in her hands was comforting. She let her eyes wander around the room. The only light was coming from the open bathroom leaving the rest of the room in shadows.
She looked down and realized she was clutching the stake to her chest, as if it were a stuffed animal. She put it aside and grabbed a pillow instead. Here, she was in a strange place that was so familiar to her surrounded by people she knew. With the exception of Faith.
She really did like this new Slayer. She seemed nice. But she did notice how it seemed as if she wasn't very close to the others. She wondered why that was. She did mention that she had spent Christmas with her and her mom, so she must be friends, at least with her older self.
Buffy covered her mouth as she yawned suddenly. That's when her body finally convinced her that she needed to get some sleep. Right now.
Slipping under the covers, she fluffed her pillow and pulled the blanket and sheet up to her chin. Before she could wonder how long it would take her to fall asleep she already was.
INTERLUDE: or WHAT THE BAD GUYS ARE UP TO
"Okay, let me get this straight."
The four surviving vampires were standing in a line as their boss slowly paced in front of them, his hands draped behind him. Even though he was very angry with them, the well-dressed vampire did not let that effect his outward calm demeanor.
"You cornered one of the Slayers in an alley, while she was alone," Mr. Trick said. "Three against one--"
"And we would have had her if the other Slayer hadn't shown up," one of the vampires suddenly spoke up.
The other three vamps tensed in alarm as Mr. Trick stopped pacing. The outspoken vampire realized that he had done so out of turn and quickly closed his mouth, concern filling his yellow eyes.
Mr. Trick slowly turned his steely gaze on the vampire. He blinked a couple of times, then raised his eyebrows in question.
"Excuse me," he finally said. "Allow me to apologize. I didn't realize you had something to say or I would have let you have the floor." He stepped in front of the vampire. "Now, you were saying?"
The vampire tried to speak but couldn't find his voice when he opened his mouth. He stammered, trying to think of something to say.
"Hmm?" Mr. Trick prompted. "Nothing? That's good." He stepped back to address the entire group. "Because that's just what all of you are. Nothing. Now, I'll give you credit for getting reinforcements once the other Slayer showed up, but explain to me how five of you --making a note of the absence of one of you-- could not take out a lone Slayer when you had the element of surprise, no less?"
When he was silent for several seconds, it finally occurred to the vamps that he was waiting for an answer. The one Buffy knew as Stinky Breath --recently recovered from a broken neck-- cleared his throat nervously.
"Well, uh, Mr. Trick, we had her trapped. But then the Slayer's vampire friend showed up--"
"That would be Angel," Trick supplied.
"Yeah. He said that you sent him."
"And you bought that?" Trick was nodding understandingly, putting Stinky more at ease.
"Well he was a vampire so we didn't think--"
He was cut off suddenly when Mr. Trick's fist flashed out of no where and connected with his chin, snapping his head back, as well as the still healing vertebra again, and the vampire dropped lifelessly to the floor. The other three glanced down at their comrade in shock, then looked up at the boss, who was straightening his suit jacket then draped his hands behind his back again.
"There is a reason why I leave the dossiers of our enemies on the table. So that if you run into one of them you will know immediately who it is. They contain detailed files on the Slayers: Faith and Buffy as well as that human-lover Angel. You should know them--"
"But what about the third Slayer?" the outspoken vamp interrupted again. When Mr. Trick glared at him, he realized he had stepped out of line once more and slammed his mouth shut.
But Trick wasn't looking at him angrily. He narrowed his eyes. "What did you say?"
The vamp started to stammer again and could not speak.
The vampire standing next to him said, "The Slayer we had at the park was too young to be one of the regular two. And then the blonde one showed up and killed Henry. That makes three in--"
Again, Trick's fist shot out and snapped the vampire's head back, but his neck was still sturdy so didn't break under the impact and the vamp just found himself on his ass, but otherwise unharmed.
"There are only *two* Slayers," Trick said, slowly. "There's not even supposed to be two Slayers. That's a fluke, so it's impossible to have three."
"I'm afraid your bruised friend is correct," a voice said. "There are three of them."
Trick turned to face the entrance of the abandoned firehouse to see the silhouette of a man standing in the deep shadows.
"How did you get in here?" Trick's calm facade had faltered but he quickly composed himself. "You couldn't have come in unless you were invited."
The man stepped further in, out of the shadows. He was about two inches over six feet tall, had a strong build under the long gray coat he was wearing, and his hair was black, straight, and fell down his shoulders and back in flawless locks. From his facial features, he could have claimed ancestry from several continents.
The new arrival said, "That rule doesn't apply if the owner is a vampire."
"The owner of this building is a human," Trick said, smoothly. "Or, at least, he used to be."
The man nodded. "Yes, the Mayor. I know."
"You know Mayor Wilkins?"
"I haven't had the pleasure to meet him."
The man stopped several yards from Trick and the well-dressed vampire regarded the stranger for a few seconds.
"You're not a vampire," he stated.
"That is correct."
"But you're not human."
"Then who are you?"
"Just someone like yourself who has a particular disdain for Slayers."
"I don't like to play twenty questions. And I'm sure you're here on business, so why don't we just get right down to why you are here."
The stranger regarded the vampire for a moment. He nodded once, as if in approval. "Very well. We are here because the Slayers are here."
"Who's we?" Trick asked.
The stranger looked over his shoulder and said, "Come on in."
From out of the shadows three more men stepped into the firehouse. They were not as tall as the first stranger but they seemed to be just as fit and they wore there long dark manes in ponytails. But their attire was in total contrast. Where the tall man wore casual wear, the trio seemed to prefer armor. Two of them wore metal breastplates and armor sections covering their shoulders, forearms, and shins; the third, who was the broadest in the chest, had the same armor except for the breastplate. Instead, he wore shiny chain mail that almost looked as fine as silk.
"Allow us to introduce ourselves," the tall man said. "This is Tanis, Gabriel, and Runa. And I'm Jewel."
"Manly name," commented Trick.
"Thank you," Jewel said, seriously.
"So what can we do for you?" Trick asked. "Oh, wait. Let me guess. You gonna say `it's what you can do for us,' right?"
"So you want us to hire you for your services, I'll bet?"
"No." Jewel took a few casual steps forward but did not appear threatening. "Actually, we're just making you aware of our plans here in your fine town."
"How considerate of you." Trick's tone clearly stated that he did not really believe that.
Jewel smiled pleasantly. "I understand your skepticism. Why would demons bother to touch base with the local cartel once entering their territory, when most of us have no honor. Especially vampires." Jewel looked over his shoulder to his companions. "No offense."
The armored trio bowed their heads in acknowledgment.
Mr. Trick raised his eyebrows at the exchange. "How does a non-vampire acquire vampires to do his bidding?"
Jewel's gaze became hard. "I can assure, Mr. Trick; Tanis, Runa, and Gabriel are not my servants."
"But you are their leader?"
"We follow a code of honor and my word is final. And after half a dozen years, they have not felt the need to assassinate me, so I haven't disappointed them."
"And what exactly is your specialty?" Trick asked.
"Oh, sorry. The battle armor threw me on that one." Seeing as how he wasn't greeted with any laughter, Trick continued. "So why did you want us to know about your presence here?"
"It's good form to have respect for the demons in charge of their territory. But it is also to let you know to stay out of our way during our hunt."
"And I take it it's Slayer season?"
"That it is."
"And you said there are three Slayers."
Jewel nodded. "We've had the Slayers under surveillance for the past couple of days now. The third one arrived in town just a few hours ago. We don't know where she came from, but she is acquainted with the local Slayers and their Watcher."
"My, my. These Slayers are just full of surprises, aren't they." Mr. Trick looked at the group of warriors for several seconds. "So what are you asking for in return for killing the Slayers?"
"From you and your master?" Jewel said. Mr. Trick expression turned steely at those words. "Nothing. As I said, we just want to have our hunt without any interference."
"Why are you after the Slayers?"
"Because they're Slayers, and it's better for our kind to kill them?" Jewel offered with a knowing look.
"In these modern times demons don't go hunting Slayers just for the sport. It tends to be a very short term career choice. Most of the older demons who keep to the traditional ways are long since turned to dust."
Jewel chuckled softly. "We require the Slayers' blood."
"For....?" prompted Trick.
"Let's just say we haven't lived for over six hundred years settling for just any old vintage."
Faith woke up in a start and bolted to a sitting position. But tumbled off the bed and hit the floor. Lying on her back, she just stayed there for a moment looking up at the ceiling of her still dark room.
She was breathing heavy and she was drenched in sweat as she brought her hand up to her forehead.
"Shit," she whispered.
She pushed herself to a sitting position and saw the beginning of dawn behind her curtains. Looking at the bed, Buffy was still asleep, not disturbed by Faith's sudden evacuation. But the small blonde was twisting restlessly under the covers, her face with a painfilled expression.
Watching Buffy, Faith stood up, trying to shake off the shivers she felt through her body, and straightened the man's button shirt she was wearing. --How she had come to have such a shirt is not important to the story, but we could all guess.-- She wouldn't even have worn the shirt to sleep if she hadn't had company. Okay, so if she didn't have a frightened, sixteen year old Slayer in her bed.
"Man, Buffy," she said as she circled the bed. "That's some dream you're having."
Buffy didn't respond to her voice, stuck in the throes of her nightmare.
Standing beside her now, Faith looked down as the younger Slayer continued to turn.
"No," Buffy moaned.
Not sure if she should wake her up, Faith reached a hand out to touch her shoulder. As soon as she made contact with her bare skin, Faith jerked it back and stumbled against her dresser, leaning her palms against it to steady herself.
After catching her breath again, she said, "Damn. When you have a nightmare, you *really* have a nightmare."
But when she looked at Buffy once more, she saw that the blonde was now still. Her face looked more peaceful and her breathing was slowing down to a normal rhythm. It made her look even younger then she really was. She could still see the early makings of the B she knew now, only not as tough. Okay, she was still a little dynamo and already had her share of battle scars, but she wasn't the battle-hardened Slayer she would become. Not yet.
Reflecting on the dream that had awakened her, Faith eased herself up to sit on the dresser and leaned back, her expression becoming stoic with a determined look in her eyes.
She watched over Buffy well after the sun had cleared the horizon.
The voice sounded very far away and familiar.
No. The voice was only whispering. Why would the voice be whispering to her? she wondered. Then she realized it was Willow. Was Willow whispering because she didn't want to wake her up? she thought.
Buffy was asking herself why Willow would be calling her name, if she didn't want to wake her, when she felt someone shake her shoulder.
Lifting her head from where her chin was resting on her open palm, she opened her eyes and found herself in English class. Actually, it looked like English class was over by the sight of the students leaving the room. Looking around she found that she was the only one still sitting.
"You okay, Buffy?"
She looked up and saw Willow with a concerned expression on her face.
"Yeah," Buffy answered. She looked at the emptying classroom again and frowned. "What happened?"
Willow raised her eyebrows. "English. But you slept through it."
"For . . . how long?"
"What's the last thing you remember?"
Buffy looked down at her desk. She had her book open and there was a pen between her fingers. She picked up her backpack and put her book away. She stood up and slipped it onto her shoulders. She was still thinking.
"Chemistry?" she finally said.
"Well, you had a long night," Willow offered. "I mean with the other you, and all."
"I've fallen asleep in class a couple of times before . . ." Buffy began.
"A couple of times?" Willow asked.
"A few?" When Willow raised her eyebrows, Buffy said, "Several times?"
Willow still gave her that look for two seconds, then said, "All right, the judges will accept that answer."
As they walked out into the hallway, Buffy continued. "I've never went into complete hibernation in class before. I'm surprised I didn't fall out of my desk."
"Well, Xander caught you when he saw you slipping. You didn't even wake up."
Buffy's eyes went wide with concern. "It was that bad?"
"Good thing the teacher didn't notice."
"She didn't notice?" Buffy considered this. "I wonder if I should be grateful for not getting caught, or offended that my teacher didn't even notice I was there. And I sit in the second row!"
They slowed as they approached their lockers. "Where is Xander?"
"Oh, he took off at the bell so he could pick up some burgers at the drive-thru."
"He's really loving being Car Guy, huh?"
"Yeah. I don't know what it is, maybe it's the responsibility of having a car, but does Xander seem more mature to you."
It was Buffy's turn to give Willow a look.
They started working the combinations to their lockers. "But it seems like weird things are happening. A group of demons nearly opened the Hellmouth a few weeks ago, a younger version of me pops up from an alternate universe, Faith is acting responsibly for once, and Xander may be showing signs of maturity."
"Think it could be a portent of the end of the world?" Willow suggested.
Buffy shrugged, nonchalantly. "Nah. We usually average an `end of the world' crisis once every couple of months, so we're at our quota for the moment. Besides," she gave the hallway around them a quick scan. "Things are too hectic as it is for anything worse to happen."
She turned her attention back to her locker, putting her book away. "Maybe having the other me here is somehow sapping my streng--"
She stopped as something finally registered and she looked down the hall again. Her jaw dropped when she saw the younger Buffy casually walking in their direction. It didn't seem as if she had seen them, she was looking around as if rediscovering the place. But what really got Buffy's attention was what the sixteen year old was wearing.
She was wearing a pair of Faith's black leather pants and a dark blue midriff tanktop. Thankfully, she was still wearing Angel's leather jacket which covered most of what the top didn't.
"What is *she* doing here?" Buffy exclaimed.
"What's wrong?" Willow followed Buffy's gaze and saw the younger girl. "Oh." Then in a graver voice, "Ooohh."
* * * * *
As Buffy walked down the hall, she hardly noticed the double-takes and weird stares she was getting from most of the students that walked by. She didn't really get a chance to see much of the school last night, but there were a lot of things that had changed. Passing the cafeteria, she saw they had completely redesigned it. But a lot also stayed the same. The gym and the auditorium hadn't changed. And she had seen Owen Thurman just around the hall, walking towards her. He was taller from when she last saw him, if that could be possible, and he had his head down reading a book as he walked.
Probably Emily Dickinson, she thought.
She ducked down this hallway, leading to the library before he got close enough to see her.
Buffy hadn't run into any other people who she recognized, but then she hadn't really been in the school long enough to make many friends. Nor had she been considered popular. Quite a change from her old school in LA, she reflected with a pang of regret.
Of course, she had seen a few of Cordelia's crowd who breezed by her without so much as a glance. At least that hadn't changed, she thought, grimly.
"Summers!" a stern voice, suddenly called out. "That attire is unacceptable!"
She spun toward the sound of the voice and found herself facing the new principle, who was just a little taller than she was. No, she corrected herself. He was the new principle in her world. Here, he would have been the principle for the past two years.
"Principle Snyder!" she blurted.
"You're here to learn, Summers, not recruit for you gang of hooligans--"
He stopped in mid-sentence when he got a closer look at her. He got that same expression she received from everyone else last night.
"Who are you?" he finally said. "You're not a student in this school! And why do you look like Buffy Summers?"
Buffy tried to smile. "Uh, funny you should say that. You see. . . I just. . ."
"There you are!"
Buffy and Snyder turned to the new voice and saw Older Buffy walking in quick strides toward them, Willow right behind her.
"I've been looking everywhere for you!" she said, cheerfully. When she reached her she put an arm around Buffy's shoulders. "Thank you, Principle Snyder. We thought we had lost her!" She turned to Buffy again. "Now, I know you're excited about this school, but it is very big and you can get lost so easily."
"You know this girl, Summers?" Snyder asked.
Buffy could only stare as Older Buffy mocked surprised. "What? The resemblance isn't obvious enough?"
"And she is . . ?" Snyder asked.
"She's my cousin," Older Buffy said.
"She's her sister," Willow said, at the same time.
Both Buffys shot a look at Willow. "Uh, I mean, they're so close they're practically sisters."
Older Buffy turned back to Snyder and smiled, pleasantly. "She's my cousin, from out of town. Her parents are thinking about moving down here, so I thought I would give her a tour around the school. Show her the quality education she can receive here at Sunnydale."
Snyder was looking at her skeptically. "I see. And this would have nothing to do with you wanting to broaden your delinquent activities? Expand your influence?" He glanced at Buffy. "Mold her into your own image, so to speak."
Buffy frowned at him and was about to open her mouth, when Older Buffy cut in by chuckling good naturedly. "Of course not. Uh, I mean, even if I did partake in delinquent activities --which I don't-- I feel responsible for young . . . young . . . this young lady, here."
"So she has a name?" Snyder asked, condescendingly.
Older Buffy laughed nervously. "Of course." She glanced at Buffy and the sixteen year old was only looking at her expectantly. "Her name . . . her name is, uh, Anne. Anne Summers."
Snyder looked at Older Buffy, pointedly. "Isn't your middle name `Anne?'"
With a forced smile, Older Buffy said, "How nice that you would take the time to find out my middle name." Then in a lower voice even Buffy could hardly hear, she said, "How very obsessive of you, you little toad."
"Well, you see," Willow began. "Both their mothers wanted to give their first born daughter the same first name.'"
Older Buffy picked up on this quickly. "That's right. But they didn't want to start a feud that would break the family up, so they finally decided to flip a coin way before either one of us was born."
Buffy finally spoke up. "My mother won." With a glance at Older Buffy, she said, "I got `Anne.'"
Buffy's smile widened as she saw Older Buffy's smile slip for a couple of seconds, but the eighteen year old quickly had it back in place. But Buffy could swear the older girl was grinding her teeth under the smile.
"She's such a *little* kidder."
Snyder regarded the two Buffys for a moment. To Older Buffy, he said, "You just make sure you both stay out of trouble. I wouldn't hate to expel you again." He looked at Buffy. "If you want some friendly advice. . ?"
Older Buffy couldn't stop herself from scoffing loudly, but covered her mouth with her other hand and turned it into a cough at the last instant. Snyder glared at her for a moment, then turned his attention back to Buffy.
"If you're smart, you won't pay any attention to what *she* has to say." Then he gave her a curt nod. "Welcome to Sunnydale."
With that, the small principle turned and walked down the hall. Behind him, both Buffys' smiles faded. Before he got too far, he stopped.
"How did she know my name?" he asked, himself.
He turned around and saw the two Buffys still smiling. After a moment, he continued down the hall.
The Buffys' smiles faded again.
"Hooo, that was close," Willow said.
The Buffys quickly took a step away from each other. To say they were only glaring would have been kind.
"Just what on earth are you doing here?" demanded Older Buffy.
"Did you forget?" retorted Buffy. "This is not my earth!"
"So you have to make mine more complicated?"
Before the two blondes' voices could get any louder, Willow quickly stepped in. "Okay, Buffy, I don't think this is the place to have an argument with . . . yourself. We should go to the library." She had been addressing both Buffys.
"Fine." Older Buffy turned and marched off. But after a few steps she turned around again. "Just tell me one thing. You didn't think Snyder --uh, I mean . . . You weren't attracted to him, were you?"
Buffy was speechless. She didn't say anything for several seconds. When she opened her mouth to reply, she stopped and closed it again. She just stared at Older Buffy as if she had grown a second head.
Older Buffy shook her head and walked off.
Willow and Buffy exchanged a look as they watched her go.
"God, is that what I'm gonna grow up to be?" Buffy asked. "Frightening."
As they started to follow, Willow said, "She's really a nice person. You're gonna be a nice person. I just think having you here is kinda--"
"Well, it's no picnic for me either, Will." She looked at the redhead, a tint of worry in her eyes. "What if we can't find a way to send me home? I'm gonna be stuck here." She grimaced. "With myself."
"Don't worry, Buffy. Giles is on it. When has he ever let you down?"
"You tell me. You've known him longer." They fell silent for a moment as they neared the library, where Older Buffy had already disappeared.
"You're still calling me Buffy," Buffy said.
"Of course. You *are* Buffy."
"Am I?" She looked Willow in the eye.
"I'm sorry, Buffy." Willow's tone was laced with shame. "We didn't exactly deal with your situation very well."
"You were doing fine," Buffy said. "Until *she* showed up."
"Aw, Buffy. She'll come around. After all, you are her. She is you. Uh, you're both the same person."
Buffy considered this for a moment. "I guess I just rub myself the wrong way." Then she realized how that sounded. "I mean . . . That really didn't sound right."
Willow smiled warmly and put a hand on the sixteen year old's shoulder. "Come on. Let's see if Giles has made anymore progress."
The teenagers entered the library together.
"I've only found vague references on trans-dimensional spells. There are no documented occurrences. Not of spells being cast on a person. The most common method of travel to other dimensions are through doorways, portals through space and time, if you will."
"Like the one Acathla could open," Older Buffy said. Then glanced sideways at Buffy who didn't seem to take any particular interest in the demon's name. And why should she? she wondered. The name would mean nothing to her at this time.
"Exactly," Giles said. "And the Hellmouth itself. But the way Buffy described the ritual this sorcerer performed, I don't believe it was a portal of any kind. More like a . . . catapult that propelled her to our world. Or to be more precise, transplanted her here."
"Oh, great, now I'm a transplant. Did you find anything to help send me back?" Buffy asked, trying not to let any trace of desperation into her voice.
Giles faltered a little. "Uh, I'm afraid I haven't found anything useful, as yet. But our research has only just begun. There's still many sources left to try."
Buffy nodded and her eyes lowered to stare at the table top. Seeing this, Giles reached out and put his hand over hers and she look at him.
"Buffy, we will get you home. I promise."
Older Buffy watched this, but kept her face impassive.
"We're all gonna make sure of that," Giles added. He glanced at Older Buffy, expectantly, and she narrowed her eyebrows in question. Then she understood. She turned to Buffy and said, in the most sincere voice she could summon, "Yeah, you'll be outta here in no time."
Older Buffy grimaced inwardly as soon as the words left her mouth. She was about to say something else that sounded more reassuring, but thought better of it and let her eyes fall to the table. From the corner of her eye she could tell Giles was giving her a disapproving look.
They were all silent for a long moment. Then Giles cleared his voice. "Uh, Willow, can you come to my office? I believe there's something I'll need your assistance with."
The redhead looked at him a little confused. "Huh?"
The two Buffys were also looking at him as the librarian stood up.
"I can help, too," Older Buffy spoke up, failing at keeping her tone casual.
"No, no. Thank you," Giles said, pleasantly. "That won't be necessary. Willow?"
"Uh, sure." With a glance at both Slayers, Willow stood up and followed him to his office.
The Buffys watched them disappear. A second later, Giles closed the blinds to his office window. They both looked at each other.
"Could they have been any more obvious?" Buffy commented.
"Only if they had locked us in the book cage together," Older Buffy replied.
"Guess they want us to start playing nice."
"I never did like sharing my stuff."
Older Buffy considered this. "Yeah. I guess you would."
After a moment, Buffy said, "So, how's Mom doing?"
"She's not--" The older Slayer stopped herself. "Uh, I mean, she's doing great. The art gallery is a big success. She's happy with it."
Buffy was smiling as she listened.
"But it's a little stressful for her, knowing that I'm a Slayer. She tries not to let on that she worries so much, but I can tell."
"Has she --will she-- meet anyone?"
"A guy someone?" At Buffy's nod, she said, "Well, she's been on a few dates. But they were all total losers!"
They both jumped slightly when they heard something shatter on the floor in Giles' office. Most likely a tea cup.
"Uh, I mean, not all of them were losers," Older Buffy quickly amended. "But nothing serious."
"Dad never . . ." Buffy let the question trail off.
Older Buffy shook her head. "No. I used to hope there was still a chance that they would, somehow, get back together and make things work."
"Yeah," Buffy said. "I'm still hoping."
"It gets easier."
"And with another Slayer, around. I bet that's a blast."
"Well," Older Buffy began. "Faith has come through for us on occasion. She mostly keeps to herself, though. Half the time we're not sure where she is."
Buffy narrowed her eyes at her. "I didn't get that impression. I mean she does seem a little intense. She talks about slaying like it's fun."
"She worries me, sometimes. She never let's you know what she's thinking." She paused for a moment. "But she likes you."
"Well, technically, I'm you and you two are friends," Buffy said.
"Yeah, we are. But, Faith has never been, exactly . . . friendly. It's kinda hard to explain Faith. In fact, I think she likes it that way."
"What about Xander and Willow?"
"They try to be friends with Faith, I think more for my sake, but they mean well. I think Faith scares them a little."
"And why would she like me more than you?" Buffy asked. "I mean, you're the Buffy of this place."
"I guess she can relate to your situation better than any of us can. Faith really didn't have anyone back home, even before she was a Slayer. Then she came to Sunnydale. I guess she kinda feels like an outsider. Maybe a little out of place."
"Like me," Buffy said, after a moment. "So she felt sorry for me?"
"No," Older Buffy said, sternly. "If there's one thing Faith doesn't do --and believe me when I say there are few things Faith won't do-- and that's feel sorry for someone."
They fell silent for a moment. Then Buffy finally asked, "Why did you ask if I thought Principle Snyder was attractive? And by the way, EWW!"
"Oh, it's just," Older Buffy hesitated. "Giles thinks that since you were in such an emotional state at the time the spell was cast on you, it somehow heightened those emotions."
"How I was feeling at the time?"
"You know. That night, after you saw Angel at the Bronze you were kinda hysteric with emotions. Not to mention your hormones were all--"
"Okay!" Buffy interjected. "I know. I was there, remember?"
"Sorry," Older Buffy said. "It's just . . . knowing you almost . . . and with Xander. And then you tried to strip Angel right there in the middle of the park --which I personally have no objections too-- except there were vampires still lurking around."
"What is the deal with you and Angel, anyway?" Buffy asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, you and Angel were fighting like an old married couple, last night, yet, when I was talking to him . . ."
"Don't you mean undressing him?" Older Buffy put in.
Buffy's eyes narrowed just a bit. "Anyway, I got the impression that you and he weren't exactly together."
"Well," Buffy hesitated. "I really can't talk about it."
"Why not? I mean, this is all gonna happen to me eventually, isn't it?"
"Giles thinks it's best for you not to know too much about your own future, on the chance that it might--"
"That's not it!" Buffy raised her voice.
"Hey, just calm down," Older Buffy said, soothingly.
"No!" Buffy stood up. "Everytime I've brought up Angel, everyone wants to avoid the subject. Angel was practically scared last night. What's gonna happen that makes him afraid to even touch me? To touch you?"
"I can't tell you," Older Buffy said, firmly.
"Was it something you did?" Buffy accused.
Older Buffy could barely contain her anger, but her expression gave it away.
"It was," Buffy stated.
Older Buffy got up from her chair. "I'm not having this discussion with you."
She started to walk out of the library but Buffy stepped in her way.
"No. You're not leaving until I get an answer!" "Get out of my way!" Older Buffy told her. She tried to move past the sixteen year old but Buffy put an open palm against her chest and shoved her back.
In Giles' office, Willow said, "Uh, Giles, I think we should . . ."
"Yes," Giles agreed, and they started out of the office.
Older Buffy glared at her, eyes practically seeing red. "Don't touch me!"
"What did you do?" Buffy demanded in the same tone.
Before she realized what she was doing, Older Buffy's hand moved like lightning and slapped the younger Buffy hard across the face. Buffy nearly stumbled from the impact and when she turned her gaze to Older Buffy again, there was murder in her eyes.
Shocked by what she just did, Older Buffy said, "Oh, I . . . I'm sorry, I--"
She was cut off when the younger girl's fist hit her in the face. The next thing Older Buffy was aware of was that she was landing on top of the table and tumbled to the floor on the other side.
Using the table for support, she pulled herself back to her feet, her head ringing and jaw stinging from the blow. She raised her head and saw Buffy marching around the table, looking to continue the fight.
How had she let things get out of hand? Older Buffy thought. "Hold on! We don't have to--"
She brought her forearm up to block Buffy's right hook, then quickly ducked the girl's left hook.
Rushing out of his office, Giles was shouting. "Buffy! Buffy! Stop this at once!"
But it was too late. Older Buffy finally retaliated with a roundhouse punch that caught Buffy on the side of her chin, sending her back. The younger Buffy fought to stay on her feet as she was spun around from the impact. She regained her balance and glared at her older self.
"You are so dead . . ." She trailed off as her knees buckled and felt herself falling into Giles' arms before everything became black.
End of Chapter Thirteen
"I can't believe you did this! You should have known better!"
The voice sounded like Giles. And it seemed like he was really mad. She couldn't remember a time he sounded this upset.
"Hey, she started it," she heard her own voice reply.
"I'm sorry," Giles said. "But you are the eighteen year old here, are you not?"
"That was low, Giles."
"What were you thinking?" Giles demanded. "You are stronger than she is! And you had the unfair advantage of anticipating all her moves."
"Hey, I could've been hurt too, you know. You don't seem too concerned about me."
"Are you hurt?" Giles asked.
"Well, uh . . . no."
Buffy felt something cool and damp on her forehead and tried to move.
"She's waking up," she heard Willow say.
"Buffy, can you hear me?" Giles asked.
She tried to say, "Yeah," but what actually came out of her mouth was, "Aurgh."
Buffy slowly opened her eyes and saw she was in Giles' office. She was sitting on the leather chair with Giles, Willow, and Xander looking down at her.
"Are you all right? How do you feel?" the librarian asked.
Before she could answer she heard Older Buffy say, from somewhere behind them, "Oh, come on. I didn't hit her that hard. She's not a baby."
Buffy made a move to get up, the wet cloth falling off her forehead, but Giles gently grabbed her shoulders. "Buffy, please. Calm down."
Buffy glared at Older Buffy, who was sitting on the edge of Giles' desk, then looked up at Giles. With a sigh, she relaxed against the cushion again.
"Here, Buffy." Willow pressed an icepack against the side of her chin and Buffy winced a little but put her hand on it to hold it in place.
"Are you all right?" Xander asked.
"Yeah," Buffy said. "I will feel a lot better, though, once I make her bleed."
Older Buffy just rolled her eyes.
"This won't do anyone any good," Giles told her. He sighed. "It's obvious you're incapable of getting along with each other. Why don't I take you home?"
"Home," Buffy scoffed. "I don't have a home here."
"I'll take you back to Faith's."
"Or you can stay at my place, Buffy," Willow told her.
Buffy looked at the redhead and considered this. Older Buffy didn't react to this. Finally, Buffy said, "I appreciated it, Willow, but I might as well stay with Faith. What little I have of my stuff is there anyway."
Willow looked like she wanted to press the issue, but decided against it and nodded.
"Here you go, Buff," Xander said, setting a fast-food bag on her lap.
"I'm not really hungry," Buffy said, but opened the bag and peeked inside. She dug a hand in and came out with several fries, quickly stuffing them in her mouth.
Smiling, Xander passed her a medium soda, which she took to wash down the fries. He noticed her eyes giving his body a once over. She met his eyes and saw she was busted.
"You just undressed me with your eyes, didn't you?" he asked.
Straw still between her teeth, she said, "Sorry."
"No, don't apologize! It's not something that happens often. It's a nice experience."
With a sigh, Older Buffy stood up and started out of the office.
"Where are you going, Buffy?" Giles asked her.
"I, uh, I just need some air," the older slayer said, then stepped out of the office.
Buffy closed the bag to her lunch and started to pull herself up.
"Buffy--" Giles started to warn.
"Relax, Giles," she assured him. "I'm not gonna attack her. She knows exactly how I fight. And . . . I suppose I did kinda start it." She paused a moment to consider. "At least I still pack a mean punch. That's reassuring . . . in a surreal kind of way."
Buffy followed Willow and Xander out of the office with Giles trailing behind her. Older Buffy was already seated at the table. Outside, it was nearly sunset.
"If you don't mind, Giles," she said. "I think I'd rather walk."
Concern filled the librarian's expression. "But this close to sundown, it'll be dark before you reach the motel."
In a pleasant voice, she said, "And when has that ever been a problem for me?"
"But you might run into vampires."
"Giles, I'm a Vampire Slayer, I want to run into vampires." Then she frowned slightly. "I mean, I don't really want to run into vampires. It's just part of the job."
"I just don't want you taking unnecessary chances."
"Hey, just because I'm in an alternate reality doesn't mean I'm gonna start getting sloppy.
Giles opened his mouth to say more, but then closed it and offered her a small smile. "Of course. Just be careful?"
She looked over her shoulder at the sound of the double doors opening and saw Faith enter the library.
"There you are," she said as she walked over to Buffy. "I figured you would be here. Any luck on the spell?"
"Not yet, I'm afraid," Giles replied.
"Well, since you're still stuck here for a while, I was wondering if you wanted to go patrolling--"
She stopped when she was closer to Buffy and her eyebrows narrowed. Buffy realized she was looking at the bruise on her chin.
"Where did you get that?" she asked, sternly. "Who--"
Before Buffy could answer, Faith looked at everyone else's expression then her eyes locked accusingly on Older Buffy and anger flashed within them. "Bitch."
She started moving again in long determined strides toward the blonde Slayer.
Surprised by the brunette's anger, Buffy dropped the paper bag and soft drink and grabbed Faith's arm. The others were also surprised as well. Willow and Xander actually backed of few steps away just to make sure they weren't in her path, and Older Buffy stood up in alarm.
"Faith, don't," Buffy said. She had to use most of her strength just to stop her. "Please. It wasn't her fault. I started the fight."
Giles stepped in front of them. "Calm down, Faith. Please. It was a misunderstanding."
"Well, I'm gonna make her understand *this*," Faith spat.
"No," Buffy pleaded. "Let's just go patrol. Come on, Faith."
From her expression, Faith very much wanted to throw down with the older Buffy, but Buffy held onto her arm tightly. She didn't say anything, or take her eyes off the blonde, for several seconds. She glanced at Buffy then saw the burger bag on the floor in the puddle of soda.
"That was your lunch?" she finally said.
"Uh, yeah," Buffy said. She hesitated before releasing Faith's arm. "But it's all right."
"We'll get a pizza delivered," Faith suggested. "Giles is buying."
Giles only stared for a moment as the two teenagers looked at him. "Oh." He pulled out his wallet and slipped out a twenty. Faith plucked it from his hand before he could offer it.
"Thanks, G. Gotta go." With one more glance at Older Buffy, Faith turned away.
"Uh, do be careful," he called after them.
Before they reached the double doors, Oz stepped inside. He nodded as they walked by each other. "Faith. Buffy."
"Oz," Faith replied, pushing through the doors. Buffy glanced over her shoulder at the young man just about an inch taller than she was, not knowing who he was, and followed Faith out.
The others were all silent. Then Giles became aware of the slowly spreading puddle of soda on the floor. He went to get something to clean it up with as Oz approached the others, rounding the puddle.
"Willow. Xander. Buffy," he said.
The other three teenagers exchanged glances as Oz took a seat at the table and opened one of his books. He seemed oblivious as they just stared at him. This went on for several seconds. In fact, Oz turned a page in his book before he finally looked up at them.
Calmly, he asked, "So is anyone gonna fill me in as to how we got another Buffy . . . or did someone grant Xander a wish?"
They had patrolled nearly two hours after the sun set. Buffy had asked Faith why everyone didn't want her knowing too much about the future. Faith figured it had something to do with some "Back to the Future" type thing. Buffy reluctantly conceded that they had a point. If she were to second guess herself at a crucial moment, she might make a decision the Buffy of this world didn't make and change things dramatically.
"But it's my future," Buffy said. "Shouldn't it be my choice to do what I think is right?"
"Absolutely, Buffy," Faith said. "Say you don't make the same mistakes B made. Chances are there might be a few people alive in your world that aren't alive here."
"There's a 'but' coming, isn't there?" she asked.
"By the same token, you might end up with some people dead that are alive here."
Buffy was silent for a long moment. "And there's something else?"
Faith glanced at her but didn't answer.
"If I do certain things a little differently," Buffy began. "then you might never be called as a Slayer."
"Well, not really me," Faith corrected. "I'm already a Slayer, there's no changing that."
"But the *you* from my world might not be a Slayer," Buffy said. "I might never meet you."
"Hey, Buffy," Faith said, in a lighter tone. "If life has taught me one thing --and it's not from lack of not paying attention-- is that there's too little time in life; especially for us Slayer types, to waste second guessing ourselves. Just be yourself and make the choices you know to be right for you. I bet your world turns out the same way."
"But I already know so much."
"Buffy," Faith stopped. "I'm gonna put this the nicest way I know how." She raised her arms indicating their surroundings. "Screw this place."
Buffy raised her eyebrows at her.
"B and Giles don't want you to know too much about your future because they're afraid of what damage that would do to events that haven't even happened in your world yet. Frankly, I find having two realities that are exactly alike kinda boring. Like watching a movie you've already seen."
Buffy was silent for a long time, considering what Faith said. It made a lot of sense. Faith sure did have a . . . certain perspective on life.
"Hey, enough of this serious talk," Faith spoke up. "It's giving me a rash. Why don't you head back to the motel? It's usually pretty clear, but every once in a while a vamp with more balls than brains wanders into the neighborhood."
"Where are you gonna be?"
"I'll take a pass through Restfield. See if anything's stirring. You can order the pizza. That way it'll be there when I get there. Maybe I'll even run into the pizza guy and delay him so we can get it free."
Buffy grinned. "You're sick."
"I know. But you gotta love me for it. I'll see you in a little while."
Faith started down the dark street toward the nearby cemetery and Buffy headed for the motel.
The cemetery turned out to be creepy-crawly free tonight. In fact, Faith thought, the entire evening was pretty much a yawner. Not a single vamp in sight. Which was a little weird considering all the activity last night. Oh, well. Getting their asses kicked by three Slayers last night might have frightened them. She wondered if B had any run-ins during her patrol.
"I still gotta remember to kick her ass later," Faith said softly to herself.
No matter whether the younger Buffy started the fight, or not; which Faith wasn't entirely convinced, B had no business bullying the sixteen year old around. B may think she's hot shit being the senior Slayer, but it was probably about time to knock her down a peg. Or two, Faith thought.
Back when they had that little "altercation," a few months back, which was from the simple matter of Faith trying to kill Angel --not really something to get all huffy about in her mind-- B had really surprised her. She knew being more experienced B would be really good, but it wasn't until they had started exchanging blows that Faith realized just how good she was. Despite her height advantage over the smaller Slayer, Faith hated to admit it was all she could do just to hold her own during the fight. She had given the blonde her best shots and she just kept getting back up for more. And what pissed her off most was that she got the feeling that B had been pulling her punches, even though she must have been going menstrual over her trying to dust her vamp-love.
Faith had no doubt she could have easily fought her to a stand still, but she was never one to settle for anything less than a total ass kicking of her opponent. Besides, she's had these past months to improve her fighting technique. She figured she was more up to B's level at this point.
Faith had nearly finished a complete circuit of the cemetery. The place was definitely deader than usual, she decided. Besides, Buffy was probably back at the room by now ordering the pizza. It should be there by the time she made it back.
She turned around to start back, then stopped dead in her tracks.
Standing twenty feet in front of her were two vampires dressed in shining armor, wearing their vamp faces. She hadn't sensed them there just a second ago, and she sure as hell hadn't heard them either.
But with her senses now on red alert, she felt a tingle in the back of her neck and looked over her shoulder to see that two more had crept up behind her. One of the new two was also in armor, but the other was wearing normal clothes and a long overcoat. And he wasn't wearing a vamp face.
"Well lookie what we have here," she said, in a confident tone. "You boys are out a little late tonight, don't you think? Your undead mothers might be worried."
"Let me kill this one, Jewel," one of the vamps in front of her said. He was a solid looking brute.
"Are you sure, Runa?" Faith looked over her shoulder again and saw it was the guy in the coat talking. He must be the leader if a vamp was actually asking permission to kill her. "She is a Slayer. It's been two hundred years since you've faced a Slayer alone."
The vampire, Runa, sized Faith up with his eyes and a smirk appeared on his face. A list of tortures sprung into Faith's mind, which included small drops of holy water and this guy's balls.
"She doesn't seem like a challenge," Runa said. "She exudes overconfidence and carelessness."
"If that is your wish," Jewel said. "But we will not be able to assist you."
"I would not want you to dishonor me by doing so," replied Runa.
Faith shook her head. She was getting tired of not being included in the discussion of her own demise. "All right! Do I have time to take a nap, or are you Klingon-wannabes through debating who's gonna try to kill me?"
"This one does have spirit," Jewel said. "Her blood alone could sustain us for a century."
Faith frowned as she let the meaning of his words sink in. "What? You're gonna drain me and bottle my blood to store in your cellar?"
"You have been challenged, Slayer," Jewel said, finally addressing Faith for the first time. "Will you accept?"
"I guess," Faith said, frowning at him. "Since I'm gonna kill all four of you it doesn't matter in which order you die."
In a serious tone, Jewel said, "If you are able, should you defeat Runa, you are more than welcome to challenge any of the rest of us."
Faith eyed him for a moment. "So, you guys aren't gonna jump in to help your boy when I have his nuts in my back pocket?"
Runa growled at her, but Jewel actually smiled a little. "No, we will not interfere. Runa has issued a challenge. According to our code of honor, we must abide by his wish to face you alone."
It was Faith's turn to smirk. "And a vampire's word is so reliable."
"Surely a Slayer would have realized by now that I am not a vampire."
This made Faith paused for a second. Now that she focused her senses, she could feel a different vibe from this guy. There was no telling what kind of demon he was, but definitely not human.
"Sorry," she said. "But all you demons look alike to me."
"Of course," he said, in an understanding tone. "Runa."
Faith was turning around as she heard Runa growl again, and knew he was charging her. She faced him just a split second before his gauntleted fist hit her across the face. The blow sent her to the ground and she managed to land in a shoulder roll, springing back to her feet a second later. Just in time to meet the vampire's next attack. She blocked a series of punches, but then he lashed out with a front kick that slammed into her midsection, sending her back. But she didn't go far before the back of her thighs hit a headstone and flipped over it. She tucked her head as she hit the ground so that she didn't land directly on it, but the impact still left her seeing stars.
Using the headstone to pull herself up, she stood and saw Runa jumping through the air at her and her vision was obstructed when he lashed out with a kick to her face. She was sent tumbling to the ground again, just as the vampire landed next to her, and was on her knees when he struck again. She blocked his round kick aimed at her head then jabbed a fist into the side of the knee of his supporting leg, bringing him down to her level. She followed through with a right hook that sent him rolling backwards. Faith immediately dove into a forward roll to follow. Runa was getting to his knees when Faith completed the roll and, her left leg and arm supporting her, sent her right boot across his face, and the vamp flopped on the ground again.
Faith was up now and grabbed him by the back of his armored uniform. Keeping him bent forward, she swung him around in a wide arc and rammed his head into the same headstone she tumbled over. As the vampire slumped, she pulled a stake out from the back of her waistband.
"That wasn't so hard," she commented as she stepped forward.
Runa stood up, groggily, and swung a wild punch at her as she approached. Faith easily ducked it and launched two snapping round kicks, one into his midsection and the other into his face. He stumbled back and she lunged forward, driving the stake into his chest. The instant it hit his chest she was met with resistance. The creep wasn't wearing an armor breastplate, but she realized that the material she had mistaken for silk was actually a fine chain mail. The chain mail snagged the stake and formed around it but the point still penetrated his chest, but not deep enough to reach his heart.
But Runa still roared from the pain. Faith was momentarily stunned, allowing him to smash the studded knuckles of his gauntlet into her face, lifting her off her feet.
Faith shook her head, trying to clear it. She opened her eyes and saw Runa wrapping a large hand around the stake in his chest. With another growl, he pulled it out. There was a spot of blood on the chain mail, but the mail itself was still intact. The stake had not penetrated through the woven metal.
Tossing the stake away, the vampire sneered down at her.
"Shit," Faith hissed through her teeth. "This is gonna hurt."
She scrambled to her feet as Runa charged again.
The pizza had arrived nearly ten minutes ago and Faith still hadn't shown up. Buffy would have started to worry, but Faith was pretty tough. She was sure she could handle any demons she might run into. Besides, she thought, it had been a quiet night. Like the vamps were laying low or taking time to recover from last night.
And the pizza was getting cold. She hadn't started eating, wanting to wait for Faith, but her stomach was putting up a convincing argument that one piece now wouldn't hurt.
She opened the box and slipped her fingertips under the edge of one slice. Lifting it, the cheese from the stuffed crust spilled out and was still hot as it fell on her finger. She quickly pulled her finger back and put it in her mouth, savoring the cheese.
There was a knock at the door.
"Finally," Buffy said, swinging her legs off the bed.
But the knocking quickly turned into pounding that rattled it on its hinges.
"Faith?" Buffy said, worry creeping into her voice as she hurried to the door and opened it.
"Oh, god," Buffy gasped.
"Hey," Faith replied. "Pizza here?"
The taller brunette took a step into the room and immediately fell forward into Buffy's arms.
"Faith, what happened?" Buffy exclaimed, as she helped her to the bed.
She was definitely in a bad way. She was bleeding from her left temple, her bottom lip was split, and there was an angry bruise on her right cheek.
"Wait," Faith said, stopping before she fell to the bed and turned to face Buffy. She dropped something she had been holding in her hand, something with a bunch of metal, that landed on the floor with a cloud of dust, but Buffy didn't take time to look at it further. Faith started to remove her jacket but seemed to have a hard time, wincing with pain. Buffy helped her slip it off. It was also covered in dust.
"Who did this?" Buffy asked.
Faith simply grabbed Buffy's right hand and placed her palm against her left shoulder. "Don't move," she told her.
With a quick jerk Faith twisted her upper body, her left shoulder pressing against Buffy's palm and the sixteen year old jumped as she heard the shoulder popping back into place. The brunette rotated her arm in a slow wide circle, testing it.
"Damn. I hate when that happens." Finally, she let herself drop onto the bed.
"Who did this?" Buffy asked again.
"Ran into some vampires at Restfield," she said, tiredly.
"And they did this to you," Buffy said softly.
"No. Just one of them."
"One vampire did all this?" Buffy said, with surprise. "How did you get away?"
Faith forced herself to raise her head and gave Buffy a stern look. "I didn't get away. I won."
Buffy was silent for a few seconds. "You won? I'd hate to see the loser."
"Well, here he is." Faith lifted a lock of hair from her shoulder and shook it releasing more dust. "And here." She brushed more dust off her black tanktop. "I even think he got into my pants. That prick."
"But you said there were four of them?" Buffy said. "They just let you go?"
"Yeah." Faith shook her head. "I don't know what the deal with these guys are, but they have some sort of code of honor they go by. If just one of them had jumped in to help this guy, I would have--" she glanced at Buffy. "--would've kicked his ass too."
Not saying anything, Buffy just nodded. She looked at the bundle of armor on the floor. "What's that?"
"Souvenir. The creep was wearing it. It's chain mail or something. I couldn't stake him through it."
"So how did you . . ?"
"I took his head off."
"Chopping off a vampire's head will certainly--"
"I *took* his head off," Faith corrected. "I didn't have a knife."
Buffy just stared at her for a moment. "Then how did you--" Then she noticed the dry blood covering her hands and her jaw slackened. Faith just shrugged her good shoulder.
"Oh, yeah," Faith said, reaching for the pizza. "I'm starved."
Mindless of the blood on her hands, the brunette took the loose slice Buffy had almost chosen and attacked it. Around her first mouthful, she said, "Dig in."
"Uh, I think I'll call Giles first. He would . . . want to know about these vampires. They must be out of towners, right?"
"I've never seen them around here before."
Faith got a glob of cheese on her fingers and Buffy couldn't contain a gasp as the brunette made to lick it off. Faith stopped, as if noticing the blood on her hands for the first time.
"I think I'll clean up a little," she said.
Buffy nodded insistently.
Faith dropped the remaining half of her slice in the wastebasket and flicked the cheese off her fingers. Buffy had to help her to her feet but Faith made it to the bathroom on her own.
Buffy went over to the phone to call Giles. As she lifted the receiver to her ear, she said softly, "A little scary, she said?"
Buffy closed the door to Giles' Citroen and started to walk towards Faith's room when everything started to spin. She staggered her next step then started to tilt back.
"Buffy!" Giles called out in alarm.
She fell against the side of the car and was able to keep herself from sliding down to the pavement. Then Giles was at her side and she felt his hands on her shoulders just in case she decided to continue the fall.
"Buffy. Are you all right?" His voice was heavy with concern.
She opened her eyes and looked at him. The world had stopped spinning and the dizziness that assaulted her was now gone.
"Yeah," she said, a little uncertain. She pushed herself away from the car and found she was able to stand without any problem. "Yeah," she repeated more reassuringly.
"Are you sure?" He asked. He was no longer holding her but remained close.
Buffy smiled at him. "I'm fine. I don't know where that came from. Maybe I stood up too fast. But it's gone."
Giles nodded, but he didn't look entirely convinced. She reached out and tugged the sleeve of his coat. "Come on, Giles. It was nothing."
"Perhaps," he said under his breath, then followed her to Faith's room.
* * *
The sixteen year old Buffy opened the door for Giles and Older Buffy and she held the eighteen year old's gaze for several seconds.
"Come in," Buffy said, stepping back. They followed her inside and saw Faith lying on her bed.
"My god," Giles said and hurried to the side of the bed.
"Oh, Giles, you don't have to be so formal," Faith said. "You can just call me Faith."
Giles moved a long strand of hair away from her face to better examine her wounds. It seemed she and the younger Buffy had tended to the injuries as best they could.
"Do you have any other injuries?" he asked.
"No, I'm fine," Faith said, smiling.
Buffy frowned at her. "I think a couple of her ribs are broken."
The brunette glanced at her. "Tattle tell."
"Where?" Giles asked. He ran a hand lightly along her left side. Faith's smile widened.
"So you weren't just a *Watcher*," she teased.
"Faith," he chided, but his cheeks reddened slightly. He looked over his shoulder to Older Buffy. "Buffy, perhaps you should, uh . . ."
"Yeah, yeah," the eighteen year old grumbled as she traded places with Giles. Faith's eyes narrowed as the blonde sat down next to her. Older Buffy saw this and rolled her eyes. "You can kick my ass later, okay?" She started to examine Faith's side and added, in a softer voice, "Or you can try."
"You still think I can't take you?" Faith said.
"It's not a matter of any thought," Older Buffy said in a casual tone.
"I'll give you something to think ab--oww!"
"Right there?" the blonde said, innocently.
"You did that on purpose."
"I'm not that petty."
"Yeah, right. Oww! Hey!"
Older Buffy was trying to lift the shirt to see the damaged ribs, but the tanktop was very tight and caused the brunette pain when she moved it.
"Dammit, Faith. I need to see. You shouldn't wear such tight clothing anyway."
"Then rip the damn thing!"
Older Buffy didn't even ask if she was sure, she just rip the shirt open without effort. Giles quickly turned his back and Buffy couldn't help but smile.
"And you said I was bad?" she asked him.
"Well . . ."
"Maybe it's a Slayer thing?" she offered. "That could be why The Powers That Be decided on just one Slayer at a time."
"Wise choice," Giles muttered.
Buffy laughed lightly.
"What are you laughing at?" Older Buffy demanded.
Buffy thought the question was directed at her but saw that Older Buffy was talking to Faith who laughed even harder at the blonde, until she winced at the pain it caused her ribs.
"This is *my* shirt!" Older Buffy exclaimed. Faith started to laugh again.
"Oww. Don't make me laugh, B!"
"How about I make you cry?"
"Why, B, I didn't know you were so kinky."
Older Buffy huffed and stood up, throwing the blanket over Faith's head, smothering her laughs. She walked over to Giles.
"*Unfortunately*, she's gonna be fine," she grumbled. "They're only bruised. They'll heal in a few days."
"You're sure?" Giles asked.
"Trust me. My ribs looked worse than that two weeks ago when I was jumped by some of Trick's goons."
Giles' voices became firm. "You didn't tell me you were hurt."
"Well--" the older blonde faltered a little. "I . . . well, like I said, they were only just bruised." She sighed. "Come on, Giles. After all this time I have learned how to patch myself up. And, luckily, Willow makes house calls."
It seemed like Giles was gonna go into one of his harangues, then released his breath with a sigh, shaking his head slightly.
They finally managed to get down to business and Giles listened intently as Faith told them as much as she could about the weird warrior vamps and the demon they called Jewel.
"And this demon, Jewel," Giles was saying. "didn't allow the other vampires to help the one you were fighting?"
"No." Faith was sitting up but had the covers around her chest, which she was aware of still made the former Watcher a little uncomfortable. "I was really wailing on this guy. I had my fingers in his throat, digging for his spine, and he was begging for the others to help him. They didn't even budge. Then I finally wrapped my hand around his vertebrae and just pulled--"
"Okay, we get the picture," Older Buffy cut her off. She was looking just a bit green around the edges. "You're a bad-ass, we know this. So then what happened?"
"I came home and we ate pizza," Faith said, simply. She reached across the bed to the pizza box, which still contained a couple of slices, and grabbed one biting into it.
"Oh," Older Buffy replied. Then she shot up from the bed and nearly knocked Giles down as she ran into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. The sound of her retching could easily be heard through the thin walls.
Buffy winced at the sound her older self was making, actually taking a few steps away from the bathroom door. Giles cleared his throat and straightened his glasses. Faith just raised her eyebrows.
"What's up with B?" she asked. "She's usually not this squeamish."
"Uh, she hasn't been feeling well today," Giles answered. "So, uh, once you vanquished the vampire--"
"Oh, I like that word," Faith put in. "Vanquished. Very medieval"
Giles continued, "--the others just allowed you to leave?"
"Uh-hmm," she said, around another mouthful. She tossed the slice back in the box. "I really didn't think these guys would keep their word. They didn't even try to follow me."
Faith fell silent, looking at Giles. Buffy saw he had removed his glasses and had that deep thoughtful expression.
"This Jewelry guy sound familiar, Giles?" she asked.
"Hmm?" he said, raising his head. "Yes. Vaguely."
The bathroom door opened and Older Buffy slowly walked out. Her face was damp with the water she had splashed on it, but still looking a little pale.
"So, do we know anything about this Gem guy?" she asked.
Faith rolled her eyes.
"I think I may have more information on him," Giles said, pulling out a pack of mints from his coat. He offered it to Older Buffy. "I have a book at home I need to get."
Older Buffy popped two mints into her mouth and began to crunch on them. "Okay, you go get the book, I'll go out and patrol where Faith last saw them."
"Buffy, I don't think you should be out there by yourself right now."
"I'm fine," she insisted.
"Are you?" Giles raised an eyebrow at her.
"Yes. It must have been the cafeteria food."
"It is more dangerous than most vampires," Buffy agreed.
"So I'm fine now," Older Buffy said.
"And just give me a minute to get dressed and I'll go with her," Faith said.
"No!" said Giles and the two Buffys.
Faith blinked in surprise. "Okay, let's all gang up on Faith."
"Faith," Giles said. "You are definitely in no condition to face them again."
"Yeah," Older Buffy added. "Besides, you already did your part by taking one of these guys out. Now there's only three of them left."
"And there's three of us," Faith said. "I'd say the odds are even now."
Buffy spoke up. "Faith, you can barely walk."
"I can handle it."
Giles raised his hand. "All right, now. Allow me to read up on this Jewel chap before we plan our strategy. There's obviously something more to these vampires than meets the eye if only one of them can give Faith so much trouble."
"Hey," Faith protested. "He sucker-punched me. It won't happen again."
"Yes. I'm sure. But we really should get started."
Giles headed out of the room and both Buffys started to follow him.
"Hey, where are you going?" Older Buffy asked.
"I don't need you're permission to come." Buffy snapped back.
Giles turned to face them, but Faith spoke up before he could say anything.
Both Buffys looked at her. Faith pointed at Older Buffy. "Uh, B. I need to talk to you for a minute."
Older Buffy looked at her for a couple of seconds, trying to read her expression. She turned to the others. "You two go ahead. I'll meet you there."
"Buffy, I don't want you to take any unnecessary chances. You could run into these creatures and they may not be so amicable--"
"Don't worry, Giles. I'll have Xander give me a lift."
* * *
Buffy closed the door after Giles and the younger Buffy stepped out, then turned back to Faith, moving closer to the bed.
"So what's up?"
"I'm not really sure," Faith said.
The tone of Faith's voice quickly got Buffy's attention. Rarely did she ever allow so much emotion to show and it started to worry her.
"Something . . . happened this morning," Faith said, hesitantly.
" 'Something?' " Buffy repeated. "Something between you and--" Her eyes suddenly widened. "Oh, god. Ohhhh, god." Faith frowned at her. "Oh, god, pleeease tell me it's not what I think!"
"B, what are you talk--" Then she stopped when realization hit her. "Shit, B! You really do think I'm that big a slut, don't you?"
Buffy stared at her for a second. "You mean nothing-- I mean, *that* didn't happen--" She shook her head and waved a hand. "Never mind. Forget I even said anything."
"Don't get me wrong, B. You were a really cute sixteen year old."
"Faith!" Buffy exclaimed.
"Hell, you still look sixteen. But . . . you're just not my type."
"Enough! I'm sorry I said anything, okay?"
Faith smiled devilishly at her. Buffy swore to herself that if Faith said one more word about it, she was going to have to start coming up with excuses to explain Faith's sudden disappearance to Giles. But the brunette's smile faded and she became serious again.
"A nightmare woke me up, this morning," she finally said.
"What happened?" Buffy asked.
"You died," she said. "I mean, *she* died."
Buffy let the words sink in. "It could have been just a dream."
"No, it wasn't."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because that Jewel guy was in it. And . . ."
"What?" Buffy prompted.
"This wasn't my dream, B. It was Buffy's. She dreamed about herself being killed."
Buffy was silent for a few seconds. "Did she say anything about it to you?"
"No. I don't think she remembers it. I was asleep when she woke up so I didn't ask her about it. After that, I didn't think much about it until I met up with those creeps at the cemetery. And she didn't say anything when I was describing them to you and Giles."
Buffy was in deep thought with a concerned look on her face. "What is it?" Faith asked.
"It's just that . . . back then, when *I* was sixteen, my dreams were more . . . prevalent, Giles would say, and they more than often came true. In one form or another."
"I was afraid you'd say something like that. So are you gonna tell her?"
Buffy reflected on the time she was sixteen and had overheard Giles and Angel talking about her prophesied death at the hands of the Master. She didn't really react well to the news.
"No," she said. "But we can take steps to stop it from happening."
"You bet your ass," Faith said. She pointed to floor. "Can you get that?"
Buffy saw a bundle of armor next to the dresser that she hadn't noticed before. She picked it up to examine it. "Uh, Faith, what you do on your own time is none of my business."
"Ha, ha," Faith said, dryly. "Give it here."
She handed it to her and the brunette shook it, releasing most of the dust still on it. "I want you to give this to her."
"In the dream, they stabbed her through the chest with something. A stake, a knife. I'm not sure. And this thing stopped my stake. It only wounded the guy."
"I don't think she would agree to wear this," Buffy said. "I wouldn't wear it."
"Here," Faith said. She grabbed one of the armor shoulder plates and worked it free of the chain mail. She did the same with the other pieces of metal until only the chain mail was left. She tossed it to Buffy. "There. Now it's just a forty pound blouse."
"Give it a polish it would look like silk--" Buffy's voice trailed off as she studied the armor. Then she brought a hand to her forehead, closing her eyes.
"What?" Faith asked. "Are you all right, B?"
"I'm not sure." She shook her head slightly and looked at Faith again. "I need to make a quick stop at the library. Get some supplies."
"Giles would have plenty of weapons at his place."
"Not what I'm looking for." She started for the door. "I better go."
"Aren't you gonna call Xander?" Faith said.
Buffy made it to the library without incident and headed straight for the book cage. Pulling on the door lightly, she found it was locked and dug into her jean pocket for her keys. She inserted the key but stopped when she heard something up in the stacks, on the upper level. Moving slowly, she pulled her hand away from the keys, leaving them hanging from the lock, and reached inside her leather coat removing a stake.
Maybe she hadn't really heard the noise, she thought. But then, the school was deserted and she doubted very much that Willow or Xander would be up there. Another look around didn't reveal any evidence they were here. She didn't see any of their stuff. The place was how they had left it that afternoon.
She stepped lightly, so her heels wouldn't make any noise against the floor, and moved out into the open, keeping an eye for any movement from the shadows up there. Most of the lights were off so the place was a little more eerie than usual.
She stood perfectly still, even held her breath, ears alert for the slightest noise that would pinpoint a precise position.
"Hell with it," she muttered.
She dropped the folded bundle of chain mail and dashed forward leaping onto the long table, running across the surface, and vaulted over the rail of the mezzanine landing on the upper level in two seconds flat. Braced for attack, Buffy didn't see anyone hiding between the bookcases and the doors leading into the larger maze of the stacks were closed. She definitely would have heard them opening or closing.
Convinced she imagined the noise she turned around, letting the stake hang by her side, and saw the vampire in battle armor standing on top of the table with his arms crossed over his breastplate.
Buffy just froze for a second, shocked at the creature's sudden appearance. She only had time for one quick thought: that maybe Angel and this guy went to the same vampire school to perfect their stealth mode, before the vamp hopped forward off the table. But on the way, snagged a handful of her leather coat and pulled her over the railing.
As he landed on the floor he flipped the small blonde over his head and brought her smashing down on her back through the T-section table, effectively splitting it in two. Buffy tried to gasped from the pain but the impact had knocked the wind out of her, as well as her stake. But the vampire was still holding her and dragged her to her unsteady feet. Then slammed her forward against the bookshelf in the low wall of the mezzanine. She did have enough mind to bring her forearm up to shield her face put was still rattled when she hit.
The next thing she was aware of was flying backwards through the air, the library moving in a blur around her. She landed hard and almost bounced like a stone skipping across a pond and flopped onto her stomach. Clenching her teeth against the pain, she raised her head and saw the vampire had flung her almost all the way to the double doors. She groaned as she pushed herself to her knees, then quickly brought her forearms up in front of her to stop the vamp's armored knee from smashing her face. He followed through with a one-two punching combination she also forearm blocked, and before he could swing again, she reached up, grabbing the rims of the arm holes of his breastplate, and pulled herself up. Ramming her forehead into his nose, snapping his head back. Still holding him, she was going to headbutt him again, but his large hand shot up and clutched her throat, stopping her cold. As she gagged for air, Buffy planted her left boot on his thigh and brought her right leg up, slamming her boot heel into his face. This time his nose shattered with a burst of blood and he released her.
Buffy managed to land on her feet and staggered, coughing for air, but forced herself to recover before the vamp did. She charged forward and kicked him in the face, following through with a spinning heel kick, driving him further back. As he fought for balance, she slammed her small fist low in his stomach, where the armor didn't completely provide cover, below the breastplate and above the codpiece. This made him bend forward and Buffy grabbed the back of his head as she drove a knee into his face. This sent him to the floor on his back and Buffy took a second to look for anything to stake the guy with. The closest weapons she could use were the broken pieces of the table and her stake somewhere in the pile. Besides, she needed to get that armor off of him first.
But the vampire was already on his knees. Must be losing my touch, Buffy thought, that last combination should have earned her Ultra Combo points. Or these guys were tougher than normal vamps.
She charged forward leading with a round kick to his head that he blocked with an armored forearm. The armor connected with her shin and shot pain through her leg, but she ignored it and launched a series of punches the vampire also blocked. None of her strikes getting through, Buffy backed off, limping slightly on her bruised leg and rubbing her own forearms where they came into contact with the armor.
Standing up to his full height, the vamp smiled at her.
She was beginning to understand why Faith had looked as bad as she did. If she was going to hurt this guy she needed to get up close and very personal with him.
"This is gonna be fun," she hissed between her teeth.
The vampire took a determined step toward her and Buffy rushed him. She ducked his swinging left arm then caught the wrist of his swinging right arm, raising it higher, as she drove her other fist into his armpit. He grunted from the pain and she succeeded in punching him twice more before he jerked his arm free. She tried to press her advantage and swung a fist at his head. The vampire blocked it and stomped a heavy foot on the front of her right thigh, kicking it out from under her. Before she could cry out in pain, the wind was knocked out of her and she was suddenly lying face-down on the floor.
"Uh-oh," she gasped around her pain.
Strong hands grabbed the back of her jacket and jerked her back to her feet. She automatically drove an elbow back into his chest and kicked the heel of her boot up between his legs, meeting with armor both times. Her funny-bone stinging, she brought the back of her fist up into his face and finally scored on his already shattered nose.
The vamp growled with the intense pain but didn't release her and flung her into the air again. Buffy's shoulder hit the lower section of ceiling above the check-out counter and dropped like a stone, landing hard on the counter itself.
"Oww," she groaned, but it sounded more like a growl. "I've just about had enough of this crap."
Moving deliberately slow, as if she were hurt --which wasn't far from the truth-- she waited until the vamp was close enough to grab her, before she lashed out with her boot, slamming her thick heel into his nose again. His hands instantly flew to his face as he stumbled back.
"Now that's gotta hurt," Buffy said, hopping off the counter. She jabbed her left fist into his throat, and his hands moved to his neck, then side-stepped and kicked him in the back of his knee, causing it to buckle.
As he knelt in front of her, she clawed at the armor's clasps on his back and had one released before the vampire swung a backhand that hit her across the face. Her back slammed against the side of the card catalog and she couldn't stop herself from slumping to the floor. She tried to pull herself up, but that last adrenaline rush had faded and her battered body was just not cooperating with her. But at least the vampire was also hurting, she thought.
Then she saw the vampire labor to his feet and turned to face her.
Okay, maybe not hurting enough, she thought.
"Hey, you're wearing armor," she admonished him. "So, technically I'm still kicking your ass with a ten-point handicap."
"But that will not save you from death," the vampire spoke for the first time, as it approached her.
"Maybe not," Buffy agreed. Then she looked up and smiled broadly at the creature. "But I do have a little angel on my shoulder to help me."
The vamp stopped just a few feet in front of her, her sudden attitude change causing him to pause.
"Actually, there's a little Angel behind *your* shoulder," Buffy said.
Hearing a growl behind him, the vampire turned and found himself standing face to face with a very pissed off Angel, indeed, in full vamp mode. A second --and a Mortal Kombat uppercut-- later, the vampire was flying backwards and collided with the steel mesh of the book cage. Buffy even winced at the crash.
"Okay, maybe not so little," she amended.
"Are you all right?" Angel asked, looking down at her with concern, that impossibly softened his vampire features.
"Yeah." Then her voice became stern. "But I was just about to do that, you know."
Angel's lip curled slightly in a smile. "I know."
"But thanks anyway."
Angel nodded and turned his attention back to the armored vampire. The creature had just managed to get to his feet and blindly charged the soulful vampire. Angel met the charge head-on and locked the vampire in a forward headlock, but he couldn't get the leverage to snap its neck as it struggled against him.
"Buffy!" he shouted.
"Right." With painful protests from her body, Buffy jumped to her feet and started to work on the remaining clasps on its armor. Angel succeeded in keeping the vamp still long enough and the armor fell off its torso.
Just as the armor hit the floor, the vamp shoved Angel away and swung wildly at Buffy's head. She ducked and snapped a front kick into his unprotected stomach. She relished the grunt this elicited from him and proceeded to batter his midsection with hard punches. She finished with a hard fist to his chest, and the creature staggered back in a daze.
"Now we're playing my song," she said. She stepped forward and spun into a back kick that lifted the vamp off its feet and over the intact table. He landed on the remains of the shattered table and a large splinter stuck out of its chest.
Lowering her leg, Buffy said, "And thank you for flying Buffy Airlines."
The vampire's scream died before it could start as he exploded, leaving behind the rest of his armor covered in dust.
Angel stepped up next to her. His vamp face melted to his human features. "I was about to do that."
"I know," Buffy said, but her attention was focused on the dusty armor. Finally, she turned to look at him. "Did that guy look familiar to you?" she asked.
"He looked like one of the Three."
"But you told me the Master had them dusted for failing to kill me two years ago."
"Could this guy have been a friend of theirs?"
Angel thought about this. When he didn't say anything immediately, Buffy said, "Have you ever heard of a demon named Gem?"
"Gem?" Angel said.
"No, not Gem." She tapped her fingertips against her forehead. "Uh, Jewel! His name was Jewel."
"Jewel," Angel said, in a way that told her the name did mean something to him.
"You know him."
He shook his head. "He's more a legend among vampires. Most vampires turned in this century wouldn't even know the legend. But it's rumored that the Three were pupils of his."
"Pupils?" Buffy asked.
"He taught them how to fight. To follow a certain warrior code of honor."
"Well, that certainly sounds like these guys. Vampires who fight fair. There's a scary concept. But when they encase themselves in armor like that I wouldn't exactly call that Queensberry."
She noticed Angel looking at the chain mail she had dropped on the floor and bent down to pick it up.
Buffy accepted it from him. "Actually, it's for the other me. If these guys are gonna wear armor why shouldn't we?" She fell silent when she saw the worried look on his face. "What's wrong?"
"I never really believed that Jewel existed," he told her.
"So? What's the big deal about this guy? He trains vampires to be knights of the blood table, or something."
He shook his head. "It's more than that. Jewel can attain complete loyalty from vampires, and almost any vampire would willingly follow him."
Buffy let the words sink in. "I don't get it."
Angel's discomfort was plainly clear in his features. "Buffy, this demon has Slayer blood in his veins."
"He's a Slayer?" Buffy said, baffled.
"No. I mean his blood is the blood taken from a Slayer."
"Taken," she repeated. "As in this guy drained a Slayer?"
He nodded gravely. "Every few decades, sometimes just once in a century, he needs to feed off a Slayer to replenish his blood."
Buffy was silent for several seconds. "So . . . he would've had to kill a Slayer."
"Yes. He can only sustain his life with Slayer blood." After a silent moment, he added, "According to the legend, anyway."
"So how long has this guy been around?" Buffy asked.
"The legend goes as far back as the eighth century."
Buffy opened her mouth to say something, but realized she hadn't the slightest idea what to say, so she closed it again. She took a deep breath and released it slowly. Finally she said, "So even if Jewel has been around since the eighth century, he would have killed at least a dozen Slayers."
Silently, Angel nodded.
"Oh, this just gets better and better."
"I appreciate you calling, Faith, thank you," Giles said, into his phone. "You try to get some rest now."
He hung up the phone. "Bloody hell," he muttered. "Can't that girl every listen for once in her life? She always has to be so irresponsible."
"Uh, hello," Buffy spoke up. "But she's standing right over here."
"Hmm?" Giles looked up at the sixteen year old standing on the other side of the room holding an old book. "Sorry. But this Jewel demon is much more dangerous than we thought."
"So you said." Buffy walked over to him eyeing the tome in his hands. "So what's so dangerous about this guy?"
Before he could say anything, the phone rang again and he picked it up before the first ring stopped.
"Hello?" His voice turned up a notch. "Isabella! Yes." He listened to the other person for a several seconds. "Tonight?" He glanced at Buffy, but she was only able to hear his side of the conversation. "He's on his way right now? No. I mean, yes. We'll be ready. I see. Yes, thank you." He hung up the phone and Buffy was looking at him expectantly.
"That was the person I told you about. His wife, actually. But he's on his way here now."
"And he can send me home?" Buffy could not contain the hopefulness in her voice.
"He believes he can, yes. But we must be in the exact location where you found yourself when you arrived."
"That's easy. I can take you there." Buffy put her book down and was ready to head out the door. "When do we need to be there?"
"Immediately," he said, grabbing his coat. "But I must call Buffy, at the library first. We should pick her up as well."
"Why does she need to be there?"
"With Jewel and his vampires looking for Slayers, we can't take the chance we won't run into them."
"Right," Buffy nodded.
Giles slipped into his coat and picked up the phone to call the high school library. It was picked up on the second ring. "Buffy."
"Giles. What's up?"
"We need to go to the woods right away. The one I told you who could help us . . ."
"Your mystical friend?"
"Yes. He's on his way here now. He'll be here very soon, but we must be in the original spot where young Buffy entered our world. We'll be there momentarily to pick you up."
"We'll be waiting."
" 'We?' "
"Angel is here with me. He helped me out with one of Jewel's guys. He must have spotted me and followed me here. Now there's only two of them left."
"Are you all right?"
"I got a little banged up, but nothing that won't heal by morning," she assured him.
"Buffy, there's more to Jewel than just another demon," he told her. "His vampire minions are very loyal to him. There's practically nothing they won't do for him. He allows his vampires to feed off his own blood. I'm not sure, but there is something about his blood that they crave."
"I know," Older Buffy said. "He has Slayers' blood."
"Slayers' blood?" Giles repeated, glancing at Buffy. The sixteen year old only hearing his part of the conversation still followed what he said. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Angel said Jewel was thought to be a legend among vampires. A walking fountain of Slayer blood. Since Slayer blood is like the best wine around, vamps would do anything to follow this guy. Can you imagine vampires feeding on Slayer's blood on a regular basis?"
"That would explain why they seem stronger than most vampires," Giles commented.
"Plus, this guy regenerates blood so quickly he can feed a flock of vampires at one time without being drained. You remember the Three, right?"
"Well, according to Angel, they used to be his pupils until he banished them. I don't understand why the Three didn't just kill him and have one last feast in his honor."
"Oh, that's something I found very interesting," Giles picked up his book again and quickly turned back to the page he had been reading. "It seems there is some ritual involved with the sharing of his blood with vampires. I'm unclear as to the details but he must give the blood willingly to a vampire otherwise it would be akin to drinking poison, or holy water in a vampires case, resulting in horrible death."
"Huh, nice safeguard."
"Indeed. Just stay alert and Buffy and I will be there shortly."
"We'll be here with the weapons," Older Buffy told him and they hung up.
He saw the questions on Buffy's face. "Let's go. I'll explain on the way."
* * * * *
Giles brought the Citroen to a stop by the curb on the side of the school. He didn't see Older Buffy or Angel anywhere. Then two figures emerged from the shadows on the side of the building and he quickly realized they were Older Buffy and Angel. Angel was carrying a leather bag which Giles guessed was filled with weapons, and Older Buffy had a crossbow slung over her shoulder.
Buffy jumped out of the car as they approached and ran to Angel, throwing her arms around him. He automatically responded by wrapping his free arm around her but threw a cautious glance at Older Buffy. To his surprise, she just shrugged.
"I was hoping I would see you again before I left," Buffy said, as she pulled away. "I wish I had time to see Willow and Xander. Say good-bye."
"I'll tell them for you," Older Buffy said. Giles was out of the car now. "Why the rush, Giles?"
"If the transportation spell is not done within the same hour of the night as when it was first cast we will have to wait until tomorrow. My friend said it was very urgent that it be done tonight."
"Did they explain why?"
"She said there was no time. The hour has already begun."
"Clock is ticking," Older Buffy said. "So where is this guy?"
"He's gonna meet us in the clearing where Buffy--," he nodded to the younger Buffy. "entered our world."
"How does he know where she arrived?"
"I was just told he'll find it. But we must hurry."
"Wait" The eighteen year old held up the chain mail folded across her arm and offered it to Buffy. "Here. Put this on."
Buffy eyed the silk-like armor. "Why?"
"For protection. It's a gift from Faith."
She just looked at it for a few seconds. "I . . . don't think so," Buffy said.
"Just trust me and put--" Older Buffy stopped and wavered on her feet. She brought her free hand up to her head and sank to her knees.
"Buffy!" Angel knelt down next to her and kept her from falling all the way to the grass. "Buffy, what's wrong?"
Older Buffy was breathing heavily. "I . . . don't . . . know." Then she cried out and wrapped her arms around herself as if her entire body was in pain. "Angel!" Then she slumped into his arms.
A horrified look filled Angel's eyes. "Giles! Her heart stopped beating!"
"Dear god." The librarian dropped down beside them and laid his Slayer down on the grass face-up. He leaned down close to her face and saw her eyes focus on him, still alert, but filled with panic, and her mouth was moving slightly as if trying to take air into her lungs, but was unable to.
"No," Giles whispered, voice full of dread. He was about to start administering CPR when she suddenly gasped, her back arching in a spasm, then coughed harshly. Her breathing was labored but she was breathing again.
Angel cradled her on his lap and held her tightly, as if he could shield her from it happening again. He raised his head to look at Giles. "What the hell was that?"
Breathlessly, he responded, "I wish I knew. These attacks seem to be hitting her stronger each time." Then he looked up and saw the shocked expression on Buffy's face. "Buffy?"
He got to his feet and stood in front of the sixteen year old, but she didn't seem to notice him, just continued to stare at the eighteen year old in Angel's arms. He laid a hand on her shoulder. "Buffy?"
She finally turned her head and looked at him with wide eyes. "Oh, god," she managed to choke out in a small voice, tears filling her eyes. "I just saw myself almost die."
"Buffy, listen to me," he said, gently but firmly. "This isn't you. We can't be certain this will happen in your future."
"You said my reality was nearly identical to yours," she said, nearly shouting. "A monster didn't do this to her just now! What if it's a tumor or some kind of disease? How can I fight that?"
"It's not," a voice said, before Giles could respond.
They looked down at Older Buffy who was struggling to rise to her feet. Angel tried to keep her from moving, but she pulled on his coat and forced him to help her up or be dragged down.
"What do you mean?" Giles asked.
Older Buffy was standing, still leaning into Angel, and looked directly at Buffy. "It's *her*. She's doing this to me."
"What?" Angel said.
"I don't know how," Older Buffy continued. "But her being here is killing me." Buffy was struck speechless again.
"H-how can you be so sure?" Giles asked. Older Buffy just glared at him. "Right. Then she must be returned home tonight."
"Wait." Her strength returning, Older Buffy bent down and picked up the chain mail and held it to Buffy again. "Put it on."
Buffy hesitated, still reeling from what the older Slayer just told her.
"PUT IT ON, BUFFY!"
Buffy flinched, as did Giles and Angel, unaccustomed to seeing any Buffy act like this. But the younger Slayer was not so much startled by being yelled at as she was by Older Buffy calling her by her name.
She slipped Angel's jacket off her shoulders and took the chain mail from her.
Giles cleared his throat as the sixteen year old donned the armor. "Yes. Uh, we really should be on our way."
"Let's move," Older Buffy said. She picked up her crossbow where it had fallen and she and Angel climbed into the backseat. Buffy had Angel's jacket on again, over the chain mail and took shotgun.
With just the slightest protest from its engine, the old Citroen pulled away from the school.
"This is as far as we can go," Giles said. "We'll have to go the rest of the way on foot."
"That's okay," Buffy said. "The clearing is just up ahead."
They climbed out of the old car and continued deeper into the woods. Angel stayed close to Older Buffy's side. He knew there was probably nothing he would be able to do if she suffered another attack, but being next to her made him feel better, and he wanted her to know he was there for her.
Most of the ride had been made in silence and it was starting to bother Buffy. Knowing that her being here was killing the Buffy of this world wasn't doing anything to improve her mood either. Before they had fallen silent, Giles had hypothesized that her presence here could be trying to assert itself in the natural flow of this reality, somehow interfering with his Buffy. Maybe drawing away whatever energies meant for her and taking them for herself. Not that Buffy was doing so purposely. And Older Buffy had been unable to provide any more clues or explain why she was certain Buffy was the cause of her attacks, just stating that she was positive of the fact.
Buffy accepted this. After all the older Slayer was what she herself would more than likely become in two years. If she couldn't trust herself, then who could she trust? What had Giles told her the first day they had met? That there was so much she still didn't know about her own powers.
Behind them, Older Buffy had slowed her paced just enough to fall out of earshot. Angel noticed this.
"Buffy, are you all right?"
"Yeah." She looked up into his eyes and he saw the determined intensity that filled them. Then she focused her gaze on the back of the younger version of herself. "Angel, no matter what, I want you to make sure nothing happens to her."
"Buffy, you know I'll do anything I can to make sure nothing happens to you. Either of you."
"No," she said, looking at him again. "Even if something happens to *me*, I don't want you to leave *her* side."
Angel just stared at her for a moment. "What's going on?"
She brought a hand up and rubbed her forehead. This instantly got his attention, thinking another attack was upon her, and he put a hand on her shoulder. But she opened her eyes again and shook her head to his unspoken question.
"I can't really explain it," she said. "But Faith saw a dream Buffy had this morning. In her dream Jewel killed her."
After a short pause, he said, "It was just a dream."
"That's what I told Faith. And that's what you and I said over a year ago when I dreamt about Drusilla killing you, remember?"
"But that never happened," he reminded her.
"But I still lost you to her," she whispered, as her voice became more forceful. "Even if it didn't happen exactly the way it did in the dream, you still went away." Then her voice grew softer as she reflected on the time they had made love on the night of her seventeenth birthday. The night he had lost his soul. "Even though it was my fault."
She shook her head to stop him as well as shake off the memory. "Just stay with her, okay? Promise me."
"There's something more to this, isn't there?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "But I don't know what. All I can tell you is that something is going to happen when we get there and we have to stop it, no matter what."
"Buffy? Angel?" Giles called back to them. Older Buffy realized they had stopped walking and Giles and Buffy were even further away now. "Is everything all right?"
"Yeah," she called ahead. Then she looked at Angel again. "Everything is fine." He released a needless breath and nodded to her. "Thank you," she whispered and they hurried to catch up with the others.
On the way, he said, "You're calling her Buffy, now."
"What?" Angel nodded to the sixteen year old. "Oh. I guess I am. Like you said, she's me."
Angel smiled and they separated. He stepped up beside Buffy and the younger Slayer smiled up at him.
Older Buffy came up beside Giles and they continued on their way.
"So, Giles," she said. "Exactly who is this friend of yours? Some sort of magic guy?"
"Uh, a shaman, actually," he replied. "Quite powerful, in fact. I haven't spoken to him in years."
She shook her head. "You have the weirdest friends, Giles," she told him.
She watched him glance at the vampire close by and the younger Buffy, then returned her gaze. "Yes," he agreed.
Older Buffy had to laugh.
* * * * *
"This is it," Buffy said, as she led them from the trees into the small clearing. Angel stayed close to her, which she didn't mind, but it made her wonder what he and Older Buffy had been talking about a few minutes ago.
"You're certain?" Giles asked.
"Yes." Buffy pointed to a spot just in front of them. "That's where the fire was . . . so I would have been about right where we're standing."
"Very well." He scanned the area then looked down at his watch.
"How are we doing on time?" Older Buffy asked.
"It's been a half hour since I received the phone call. I fear we are quickly running out of time."
"But if he can't perform the spell tonight, he can still try again tomorrow, right?"
"I'm sure he can," Giles said. He met her eyes. "But I don't think you would survive for that long, Buffy."
Older Buffy merely nodded, in understanding, as if she already considered this. They fell silent.
Older Buffy was in the process of unslinging her crossbow when they all heard the rustling of bushes within the trees on the other side of the clearing. She raised it and aimed it at the two figures that stepped out.
Jewel praised the group with his eyes, his remaining vampire henchthug in full vamp face. Neither were carrying any weapons they could see, but there was no telling what Jewel might be hiding under the trenchcoat.
"Didn't you used to have more friends?" Older Buffy asked with mock concern.
"Alas. Poor Runa and Tanis," Jewel said. "They wished to test their skills against a Slayer's. But I knew it was just a matter of time before I would need new recruits." His eyes focused on Angel. "And I believe I've found my first candidate."
"You're tempting the wrong vampire, Jewel," Angel said.
The demon smiled. "So you know who I am. Then you know what I offer you . . . Angelus."
Angel didn't react to the recognition. "You have nothing I want."
"You lie. In your heart you may deny it, but your nature craves for it. As all vampires hunger for what I have."
"Someone is overflowing with himself," Buffy commented.
Jewel looked at the sixteen year old then his eyes flicked to Older Buffy. "And between the two of you I'll have more than enough blood to sustain myself. I can have Gabriel here sire one of you."
"Maybe you're a little slow in math," Older Buffy said. "But I'd say we do have you two slightly outnumbered."
"Buffy," Angel said. He nodded to the vampire Jewel called Gabriel. Now that she focused her gaze, despite the dim of the night, she was able to make out the blood on the vampire's lips. She looked at Jewel and noticed a recent bite wound on the side of his neck. It looked to be rapidly healing and there wasn't even any blood on his coat.
"Ew," she said. "Couldn't you have just giving him a power bar?"
Jewel smiled again and returned his gaze to Angel. "What say you, Angelus? I give you one final chance to join me." He raised his arm and he was suddenly holding a dagger in his hand with a curved razor-sharp blade. Buffy could have sworn his hand had been empty just a moment ago. They watched as the demon raised his other hand letting the sleeve of his coat fall away from his wrist. He easily slid the blade across the flesh and let the blood flow freely from the wound.
Buffy heard a low growl deep in Angel's throat and saw the muscles in his jaw tense. It was obvious the scent of Jewel's blood was strong, probably made more potent because it was Slayer's blood. But he stood his ground.
As soon as Jewel had produced the dagger Older Buffy instantly thought about what Faith had told her about Buffy's dream. About her being stabbed in the chest. Well there's a suitable stabbing weapon, she thought, as her hands tightened on the crossbow, aiming the tip of the arrow at the demon's heart.
"I can almost touch your hunger, Angelus," Jewel said.
"Touch this!" Older Buffy snapped, releasing the bolt.
The clearing was less than thirty feet wide so the crossbow bolt cleared the distance to Jewel in a fraction of a second. The demon obviously saw the danger coming but made no move to save himself and, just as the arrow was about to slide through his heart, Gabriel's fist blurred and wrapped around the wooden shaft, stopping it just an inch shy from its target. Jewel never even flinched.
Older Buffy let her arms drop and said, bitterly, "I hate when they do that!"
"Gabriel," Jewel said.
The warrior vampire reacted instantly, springing forward, heading straight for Buffy. The sixteen year old braced herself for attack, but Angel quickly stepped in front of her. Then Jewel was moving as well and Older Buffy had to give him her full attention as the dagger slashed through the air.
She parried the blade with her empty crossbow, the weapon losing a chunk of wood as it bit into it. She parried several more strikes and the crossbow was slowly being whittled away.
Giles, armed with a stake, came at Jewel from behind and she did her best to keep the demon focused on her. But he must have been aware of the librarian all along, for at the last instant, Jewel raised his free hand in a backfist in a simple movement that camouflaged the power behind it. The moment it hit Giles' face he was lifted off his feet and landed on his back several feet away.
"Giles!" she cried out. She parried the next knife strike then launched herself at the demon. She felt the dagger slip inside her jacket and slice through her shirt, but didn't come into contact with her skin. She unleashed a hard right hook into Jewel's face, followed quickly by a left, then hit him with a front kick to the chest.
The demon hardly reacted to the blows, Older Buffy succeeding in only causing him to take a few steps back. Not one to be easily discouraged, she pressed her attack, a left punch aimed at his head. Jewel, almost casually --as if having all the time in the world-- raised his right fist in a punch of his own, but he wasn't aiming for her head or body. She felt his granite hard knuckles intercept her smaller fist and she heard the crack from the impact rattle in her head as it shot up her arm. She cried out in pain but instinctively retaliated with a high round kick. Jewel didn't even try to block the blow, merely shifted his body to take the impact on his shoulder. His knife hand lashed out and she just managed to keep her throat from being slit by dropping underneath the blade. On the way up, she counter with a right fist in the center of his chest, since her left hand had gone completely numb, and it felt like hitting a brick wall. No wonder he didn't wear any armor, she thought, just before his opened palm slammed into her chest, sending her into the air. Before she hit the ground, her back impacted on a tree trunk and she hit the grass face-down.
* * *
When Gabriel first attacked them, Angel met the vampire head-on, exchanging several blows, both vampires in full game mode. But with his armor and recent fix of Slayer blood, Gabriel seemed to have the advantage. Buffy timed her attack so that her side kick struck the vamp in the face as he was ducking under Angel's right hook. He blocked her next kick as he swung a backhand into Angel's face, then brought that same fist forward in a flash hitting her across the face. She hit the ground but quickly sprung back to her feet and saw Angel slam a shoulder into Gabriel's back sending him off balance. But the vampire regained his footing and faced him in time to block his next strikes. He captured Angel's left arm, then his right arm, and smashed a headbutt into his face. Angel's head snapped back but he recovered and gave Gabriel a headbutt of his own. Buffy watched as Angel slammed two more headbutts into the vampire's face before Gabriel released him and staggered a few steps back.
Buffy moved in as Angel executed a spinning heel kick, long coat flowing in a swirl, his boot connecting with the side of Gabriel's head, spinning the vampire on his feet. Buffy was there to grab the goon by the arm and shoulder-flipped him into the nearest tree. The vampire tried to roll as he hit the ground but was dazed. He still got to his hands and knees by the time Buffy reached him and lashed out with a high back kick that hit her in the chest. If the wind hadn't already been knocked out of her, it would have when she hit the ground hard on her back. She raised her head and saw Angel kicking Gabriel in the face, sending the vamp rolling on the ground.
Buffy rolled onto her stomach to push herself off the ground when she spotted Older Buffy. The eighteen year old was on the ground struggling on her hands and knees and she didn't see Jewel approaching her. The demon aimed a kick at her head but Older Buffy suddenly rolled out of the way avoiding the heavy boot at the last instant, almost as if she knew it was coming. Jewel went after her and her back was to him as she rose to her feet. He swung a fist at the back of her head, but Older Buffy ducked under it, at the same time, sending a back kick into his groin. The Slayer spun around with a roundhouse kick to his face. These blows didn't seem to hurt the demon but he suddenly looked angry. Older Buffy was lashing out with another kick almost before Jewel started lunging with the dagger, kicking it out of his hand before he was aware he was disarmed. Now Jewel was furious, lashing out with punches and kicks. It was obvious to Buffy that the demon was much faster than the older Slayer, definitely stronger, but somehow she managed to avoid all his strikes, almost making it look easy. And she was scoring all her counterstrikes and actually started to make the demon fall back.
"Xander was right," she whispered. "She is a bad-ass."
Almost in desperation now, Jewel lunged at Older Buffy in an attempt to trap her in his arms and stop her weaving and bobbing. But the blonde anticipated and ducked under his arms moving in closer, sooner than he expected, and delivered an open-palm strike into his nose. His head snapped back, as his nose caved in, and now a dazed expression really came over his face as his head lolled forward. Older Buffy grabbed the front of his trenchcoat and pulverized what was left of his nose with a savage headbutt.
Buffy winced involuntarily. "What is with you guys and all the headbutting?" she asked no one.
Then a loud roar of pain made Buffy look over her shoulder and she got to her feet to help Angel.
* * *
Jewel was definitely on his way out, Older Buffy thought, as the demon staggered away from her. By the look on his suddenly flat face, he may be mortally wounded. But he wasn't dying fast enough for her and she stepped into a side kick that finally took him off his feet and he landed several feet away.
Older Buffy finally allowed her shoulders to sag slightly, the pain in her left hand screaming for attention. But then her head popped back up when she heard the growl that came from Jewel.
The demon sat up and she saw that's exactly what he was. A demon. Like vampires, he too had a true demonic face, and he looked very much like a vampire; taking into account the nose absentee. But only if vampires had six extra fangs set in double rows of upper and lower canines.
"The better to eat little Slayers with," Buffy whispered.
She scanned the clearing for any weapon she could use against him, stake, club, knife . . . *photon torpedo*, anything! She spotted her spent crossbow arrow on the ground just in front of the demon but that wasn't a good enough reason to get closer to the monster. Then she saw Jewel's dagger a few feet to her left. She snatched it up in her right hand as the beast that used to be Jewel got to its feet. As she charged forward with her new weapon, she saw the same dazed "I'm about to die, so I'm gonna take everybody with me" look in his eyes.
Fortunately for her, the cartilage of his nose blocking the flow of thousands of electrolyte pulses to his brain slowed his reaction to seeing the deadly blade she was wielding. Until she shoved the dagger into his chest all the way to the hilt. Then he responded in blind pain, fury, and demonic instinct.
He punched her in the face.
* * *
Gabriel was on his feet and Buffy saw he had his large hand wrapped around Angel's neck, his feet dangling several inches off the ground.
"Angel!" she shouted as she rushed forward. She used every ounce in her five foot, two and a half inch frame as she plowed into the armored vampire.
Angel dropped to the ground clutching his slightly crushed windpipe and watched the small sixteen year old slam Gabriel into a tree, which wouldn't have been a problem for the large vampire, except for the long branch sticking out from the trunk that plunged into the back of his neck and shot out the front of his throat.
Buffy took several steps back, surprised at her handy work. Angel got to his feet and walked up next to her.
"Nice job," he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. Then they watched as Gabriel squirmed silently on the branch, wrapping his hands around the stem in front of his throat to try to snap it off. "Uh-oh."
Angel strode forward and planted a side kick into the vampire's armor breastplate, sending him sliding further back along the branch where it became thicker closer to the tree trunk and Gabriel turned to dust a second after his head was separated from his shoulders.
* * *
"Uh-oh," Angel said and strode forward.
But Buffy didn't see what he did. Something slammed into her side hard and she hit the ground, with something on top of her. She shoved the weight off of herself and saw Older Buffy roll onto her back beside her.
Buffy groaned. "Will you please watch where you're flying?"
Shaking her head to clear it, Older Buffy replied, "Sorry, Giles never covered that subject with me."
With another groan, Buffy got to her feet and started brushing herself off. "So how did you do with your demon?"
"Buffy, lookout!" Angel shouted from behind them.
Buffy shot him a look, but Older Buffy had seen what Angel had seen. Jewel, despite the hemorrhaging of his brain and some of it leaking from his ears, as well as the dagger in his chest, the demon still had enough life and cognitive functions left to pick up the crossbow arrow at his feet, recognize it as something lethal, and throw it with surreal accuracy.
Straight at Buffy.
Older Buffy and Angel reacted at the same time, but being closer --despite the starting position of being on her ass-- Older Buffy sprang to her feet and reached the sixteen year old a split second before Angel and shoved her out of the way.
The three of them tumbled to the ground.
With a groan, Buffy shook her head and opened her eyes.
"You all right, Buffy?" she heard Angel ask.
"Yeah," she grunted.
At the urgency of his voice, Buffy sat up and her heart stuck in her throat. Between her and Angel, Older Buffy was lying on her back.
With the long shaft of the crossbow arrow protruding from her chest.
Older Buffy raised her head weakly and saw this. "Dammit."
Giles regained consciousness and found himself looking up into a star filled sky. He started to lift his head but the pain in his skull convinced him that would not be a wise idea right now. He brought a hand to his forehead and discovered he still had on his glasses. Small comfort, he thought.
Then he became aware of some sort of commotion happening nearby.
Then a shout. "Buffy! NO!"
It was Angel and rarely had he ever heard such a tone in the vampire's voice. Panic. Or as close to it as Angel was able to express, which was unnerving nonetheless.
Giles was suddenly fully alert now and sat up to scan the clearing. The first thing he saw was Jewel, or something that had once been Jewel, sinking to its knees and toppling to the ground dead. Then at the other end of the clearing he saw Angel and the younger Buffy huddled over a third figure lying on the ground.
Ice suddenly cloaked his heart. It was *his* Buffy, he realized.
Finally on his feet, he was a little unsteady but quickly made his way over to them. "Buffy."
He knelt down next to the sixteen year old and when she looked at him he saw tears were streaming down her cheeks. Then he looked down at his Buffy. Her eyes were opened and she seemed to be aware of her surroundings, but there was a frightened expression underneath her pain. The wooden shaft was protruding from the right side of her chest above her breast. At least it hadn't struck her heart, he thought grimly.
"Hi, Giles," she said, her voice sounding weak.
"Try not to talk, Buffy," he said, just barely keeping his voice calm. "Save your strength."
The younger Buffy, however, made no attempts to remain calm.
"You stupid bitch!" she cried. "Why did you do that? I had this thing on!" She tugged on the chain mail she was wearing. "Why did you give it to me then?"
"I couldn't take the chance," the older Slayer replied.
"Buffy." Angel gently brushed the back of his hand against her cheek. "Try not to move." Slowly he wrapped his other hand around the arrow right at her chest.
Giles put a hand on his arm. "No. You may cause more damage."
"It has to come out."
"Agreed. But let's prepare to staunch the blood flow first, shall we?"
Angel nodded and removed his hand from the shaft. Giles quickly undid his tie. "Buffy, please bring me my bag."
The sixteen year old got up and returned with it seconds later. He was pulling out his first aid field kit when she shot to her feet again.
"Giles!" she shouted in alarm.
He raised his head and followed her gaze. A pair of glowing eyes moved among the trees and a figure stepped into the clearing. He was tall, covered from head to toe, wrapped in dark robes and a turban, revealing only his eyes and the bluish skin surrounding them.
"Buffy, it's all right," he said to her. "This is the Shaman. The one I told you about. He's going to send you home."
"What?" she exclaimed. " *He's* the one who sent me here!"
This made Giles look up sharply again. But it probably made sense, he thought. If the Shaman of young Buffy's reality was the one who sent her here then it's ironic that the Shaman of this reality would send her back. He was about to explain this to her when the Shaman raised an open palm and sparkling mist-like light fell over the sixteen year old, flowing like dust. Her eyelids fluttered and closed and she seemed to fall asleep still standing.
Giles shot to his feet. "What did you do?" he demanded.
Angel started to rise as well but Buffy grabbed his sleeve and he stopped himself or risked jostling her, aggravating her wound.
The Shaman spoke in a deep ominous voice. "I am preparing her for her journey. There is very little time left, Rupert Giles. And she has memories she cannot be allowed to retain."
"Then you are certain you can send her back to her world?" he asked.
"Yes, he can." The answer came from Buffy and she was speaking through her pain. Giles just looked down at her trying to understand. "Because he *did* send me back, Giles."
Giles opened his mouth, but it was Angel who asked, "What?"
Buffy nodded to the sixteen year old Buffy. "That *is* me. Our first theory about time-travel was right all along, Giles."
"How do you know this?" Giles was still trying to absorb this new information.
"I was telling the truth when I said I didn't remember being sent to the future. Since the dizzy spells started, the seizures, it's been coming back to me. I only remember flashes so far. But I know enough to know that *she* is me."
"And we must return her to her own time." said the Shaman. "The universe is already trying to correct the imbalance made by her presence. The changes have already begun, as I'm sure you've witness them in your Slayer."
"So *you* did send her here to begin with," Angel said in an accusing tone.
"That is correct."
The Shaman addressed Giles with the answer. "The vampire you knew as the Master called upon me. He was most upset when the Three failed him. Since he observed the correct rituals I was obligated to perform the task."
"Which was?" Giles asked.
"Get rid of the Slayer," Buffy said.
The Shaman nodded. "Yes. I knew she was your charge, Rupert Giles, but I could not refuse the task."
"I thought you had created wards to protect you from those who would exploit your talents?" Giles asked.
"This was two years ago," the Shaman reminded.
"And the wards were not yet established," the former Watcher finished.
"So instead of killing her you sent her here, where she could find help," Angel said.
"And I would more than likely seek you out," Giles added.
"It was still risky," the Shaman said. "I could not control how far in the future she would be sent."
"But you can send her back to the correct time in the past?" Angel asked.
"After all, I was there. I know the exact moment she left." After a beat, he added, "And when she returned."
"What's to stop your from doing something else to her when you see her return?" Angel asked.
"Obviously he didn't do anything else," Buffy told him. "Otherwise I wouldn't be here."
"I had fulfilled my task. Should the Slayer somehow return, it would no longer be my concern." If Giles hadn't know better, he would have sworn he saw a twinkle in the Shaman's mystical eyes. But that would be unthinkable. "Even if I would eventually be the one responsible for her return."
He spread his arm towards the clearing in a casual gesture and a giant pyre errupted from the ground. The Shaman turned towards the young Buffy.
"We must begin."
A loud groan made Giles turn his head and he saw Buffy trying to sit up.
"Buffy, don't move," Angel told her.
"Take this thing out," she said, indicating the arrow.
"You heard what Giles said, Buffy. It could hurt you more."
"I don't think it went in too deep." Before he could stop her, she reached up and yanked the arrow out of her chest. But not without crying out in pain. She immediately punched Angel in the arm. "WHY DID YOU LET ME DO THAT?"
Giles rushed over and opened the first aid kit. He took out several gauze bandages and reached for the buttons on her shirt. He paused just long enough to say, "Excuse me," then undid the top three buttons.
"What the?" he said.
"Metallic bras are gonna be the thing of the future," Buffy said, grinning despite the pain.
"It didn't go through?" Angel asked her.
"No," she said. "Faith was right. This thing is pretty tough."
Giles was just staring at the silk-like chain mail that was hidden under her shirt. He looked over his shoulder at the sleeping Buffy still on her feet, eyeing the identical garment of armor she was wearing under her large leather jacket. He turned back to the eighteen year old, mouth hanging open. "How . . . where did you get this from?"
"Uh, Giles," she said. "I gave it to myself, remember? You saw me hand it to her." She nodded towards her younger self.
"Oh, yes," he said, in amazement. "This is extraordinary. It completely shatters the theory that time travel is impossible, not to mention the possibilities of time paradoxes actually ex--"
"Giles!" Buffy and Angel said at the same time.
"Still bleeding to death here," she reminded him.
"Oh, sorry." He quickly slipped the gauze under her shirt and the chain mail and pressed it firmly to the wound in her chest. "I say, if you didn't have that remarkable armor on, that arrow would have gone straight through."
"Giles," she said, with a sigh. "That's not exactly a comforting thought right now."
He smiled a bit sheepishly. "Sorry. So *this* was what you went to the library to pick up?"
"Yeah," she said, clenching her teeth at the pain. "I found it in my closet about two years ago. It must have been in there for a couple of weeks before I noticed it. I didn't know how it got there. I just figured I must have accidentally brought it home one time after weapons training with you. So I took it back to the library and it's been there every since."
"But then when Faith gave it to you earlier tonight . . ." Angel started to say.
"That was basically my first real deja'vu trip," she finished for him. "Even when I went to the library and found this there, I still wasn't absolutely convinced. It was just so . . ." She let herself trail off.
"It is ready," the Shaman announced.
"Angel, if you would," Giles said, indicating the bandage. Angel started to reach his hand into Buffy's shirt.
"Hey!" she snapped. "Not more than one man's hand in my shirt at one time!"
Giles pulled his hand away and Angel quickly slipped his over the bandage to keep the pressure on it. Giles hurried to the younger Buffy and guided her in a sleepwalk closer to the fire.
"Stand clear," the Shaman warned him.
Giles moved away but made a quick stop beside the Shaman. "I guess this will make us even then?" he said, in a volume only the mystical being could hear.
"No, Rupert Giles. I am merely righting a wrong I committed two years ago. I am still in your debt."
Giles opened his mouth, then closed it and smiled. "Thank you, my friend."
Then the former Watcher stepped further back to allow the Shaman to perform the spell.
End of Chapter Twenty-One
February 6, 1999
"So the fatigue, the dizzy spells . . ." Willow hesitated a bit. " . . . your heart stopping. That was all because of your self from the past being thrust into the future with you present self?"
"The same person colliding with myself," Buffy said, then frowned at her own words.
"So you were doing the whole 'Marty McFly' fade-out," Oz said, in a calm tone.
Buffy nodded. "The early stages of time and space rubbing me out of existence. Giles suspected I would have been the first to go, then whatever changes would have resulted from me not being around for the past two years would've shaped the world into some kind of alternate present."
"Pretty scary," Oz said, same tone of voice.
"Considering that Buff saved the world several times over, I'd hate to imagine what kind of world we would have ended up with," Xander said.
The four of them were seated at a table in the Bronze. It was Saturday night and Buffy was still among the order of the universe, so there was no way she was going to not go out tonight. And she was glad the others were with her. She doubted she would have been able to keep them from coming with her even if she wanted to be alone. Right now they probably felt she needed them to look after her rather than her looking out for them. And she really wasn't in any condition to argue the point.
The swelling in her left hand had all but disappeared, but it was still wrapped up heavily to keep her sprained wrist from moving. She was able to hold her drink without any pain, so that was a very good sign. Her entire right arm, however, was resting in a sling so that she wouldn't do anything to pull the stitches in her chest, but at the rate the wound was healing they could probably come out sometime tomorrow.
"I still can't believe that you remembered absolutely nothing about your whole time jaunt," Willow said.
"It was kinda freaky," Buffy agreed. "I got a peek at what was going to happen in Sunnydale in the future but there was nothing I could do to change any of the bad things. Giles' shaman friend really did a thorough job with the amnesia mojo. Mom grounded me that night when she found me asleep on the front porch. I'm really considering telling her everything, see if I can get a 'guilt' coupon from her for the mall."
She paused for a moment, staring into her drink. "I mean, there's still a lot I don't remember being here when I was sixteen. And then I have some memories from *two* different view points during those times I was in the same room with myself. The conversation I had in the library." Buffy rolled her eyes dramatically. "Beating myself up! There's cause for couch-time."
"Gives new meaning to the term 'self-inflicted,' " Oz provided.
They all laughed, except for Oz, whose very thin smile was the only reaction to his own joke.
"But how did you beat that Jewel demon?" Xander asked. "I mean, you said he was really kicking your as . . . uh, I mean . . ."
Buffy smiled. "No, he was. I never would have beaten him one on one, and he was armed. Giles is still combing the Watcher's diaries to see how many unexplained Slayer's deaths he can link to this guy. So far he thinks it's over twenty."
Silence fell over the table. Then, trying to lighten the mood, Xander said, "So what was your secret, sensi? How did you beat the unbeatable?"
Buffy grinned. "That's the real trippy part. And this is what Giles calls a time paradox. When I was sixteen, Angel and I were fighting Jewel's vamp warrior, Gabriel, and during the fight I looked over and saw myself fighting Jewel. He already had me on the ground, he was a few seconds away from taking me out."
Buffy leaned closer to the table.
"Now follow me closely, cause I don't think I can explain it a second time without giving myself serious brain damage. But last night, as *I* was fighting Jewel, I remembered each move Jewel made, like, about a split second before I even saw them when I was sixteen."
She fell silent, allowing her friends to dwell on her words. Oz and Willow were staring at the table top, and Buffy could practically hear their minds working. If their brains had been construction sites, she'd imagine they would drown out all the noise inside the Bronze as well as the surrounding blocks. Xander was also looking at the table top, but he raised his eyes to look at her. Lifting a finger he started to open his mouth.
"Don't. Ask," she warned him. He closed his mouth.
"Wow," Willow finally said. "I-I'm gonna have to get back to that later."
Then they all became aware that Oz was still staring at the table in thought. He went on like that for about another full minute before his eyes finally blinked.
"Huh," he said. He looked at Buffy. "I see what you mean."
Xander, Willow, *and* Buffy raised their eyebrows at him in surprise.
"Really?" Buffy asked. "Then . . . maybe you can explain it to the rest of us?"
"Sure. But, uh, I don't think now's the time. The Bronze is gonna be closing in only two hours."
Again, they could only stare at him.
"Uhhh," Xander said. "So, uh, did you--" He paused because he couldn't prevent doing another double-take at Oz, then looked at Buffy again. "Did you talk to Faith, today?"
"Yeah." Buffy chuckled. "She's in better shape than I am now. She's gonna handle all the patrolling for the next couple of days. And I really needed to thank her for being so kind to me. Especially after the way we all treated, uh . . . me."
"I'm sure *that* has to be a paradox as well," Xander said.
"Hmm," Oz commented.
Willow shook his shoulder. "Oh, no you don't. You're not going away again." She turned to Buffy. "And I am really sorry about how we treated you, Buffy."
"Hey, don't worry about it, Will. No one was as bad to her, uh--me--myself . . ." She shook her head. ". . . than I was."
"Yeah, well at least you had an excuse for being bitchy-Buffy, what with the universe trying to slowly obliterate you from existence."
"Good idea-- I-I-I mean, yeah." She gave them her most innocent expression. "Right. Absolutely. That was it." She nodded. "Definitely."
To change the subject she added, "And I also needed to return the clothes Faith let me borrow."
"Okay, now *that* I can't believe," Xander said. "For the past two years, you had Faith's clothes-- where did you find them again?"
"In my closet," she said, sheepishly.
"Right in your closet! Actual proof of your time traveling adventure, all this time . . . and you never even noticed them. I think it's time for someone to clean out her closet. There's no telling what else might be in there you don't know about."
She pouted a little at him. "Well . . . it was a pretty busy two years, in case you didn't remember. Besides, at least I got back my clothes I left in her motel two years ago."
"Thus solving the mystery of where you lost them," Willow chipped in cheerfully.
"Though, technically, they only aged a day since you lost them," Xander added.
"Call it a plus," said Oz.
They fell silent for a moment, just enjoying the silence. Or in this case, metaphor silence, since the band was rocking lightly and the Saturday night Bronze crowd was anything but.
Xander got her attention when he cleared his throat. He looked nervous all of a sudden but tried to act casual. "So . . . what else do you remember about your trip?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, even though she had been expecting --with a little bit of dread-- this all night.
"Well," he hesitated. "Do you remember anything about our little . . . 'talk' you and I had at Willow's?"
"Oh," she said. "The . . . 'talk'."
"I mean it was the first time you and I 'talked.' I mean, really 'talked.' "
"Uh . . . yeah."
She didn't say anything else and he was quiet for a long time as well. Willow and Oz were glancing at the two but kept silent.
"So," Xander finally said. "Was it a . . . nice 'talk?' " Buffy didn't say anything but she seemed to consider the question for a moment. "By any chance, nicer than some of the 'talks' you've had with Angel?"
Buffy narrowed her eyes at him, no doubt shooting him with invisible daggers. "I'm not even going to acknowledge that question, Xander."
Xander let his head drop, a grin forming on his face. He nodded and turned his attention to the band on the stage behind him. Oz and Willow exchanged a knowing look then listened to the band as well.
"It was a nice talk."
Xander jerked his head around to look at Buffy. "What did you say?"
"What?" she asked, another innocent expression on her face.
"Did you say something?"
Xander regarded her for a moment. "Oh. I thought I heard you say something." Then he turned back to face the stage.
But Buffy could almost feel the radiance of the smile on his face she could not see.
* * *End of "No Time Like the Present"
started: July 5, 99 -- finished November 3, 99
* * *
To paraphrase Angel: "It's good to be back in Sunnydale. Nice climate. Buffy. Plenty to eat. Buffy. The scooby gang. Buffy. A lot of cool monsters to play with. Buffy. Faith. Buffy. Buffy and Faith."
Okay, if you're still reading this section, I want to thank you once again for reading one of my stories. And if you've read my first fic "A Tale of Slayers" and my short story "Too Late" then I want to thank you for returning. I hope you enjoyed this story. I really enjoyed writing it, though at times that was not the case --but more on that later. Right now, propers.
As always AleXander's transcripts continue to be a vital source of information even when I eventually move on to stories set in the episodes beyond his existing work. --I can understand 20th Century Fox's view in regards to the transcripts and why they felt they needed to shut them down, but . . . . . . . . they're still punks for doing it.
And I want to thank my friend Kristen --someone I've never met in person but she is no less a friend-- for helping me choose the title for this story. For the first three months of writing this story, I had no title, just a retarded "working title" that didn't have anything to do with the story itself.
About "No Time Like the Present."
As stated before, this story was from an "unused story idea" posted by Mediancat, just one of the members of the "Watcher's Council" site, a abundant source of some of the BEST Buffy fics around. And I will be forever --that's sounds too long, I'll just say "a really looooong time"-- grateful to them for allowing me to use the idea. The premise: a sixteen year old Buffy from season one, sent to the future to season 3 just prior to the episode "Bad Girls." And it's not a Buffy from an alternate reality --but I did use that as a red herring. Hopefully, I threw people off with that, but it's hard to surprise people nowadays.
Now, I have to say . . . this story kicked my ass!!! I mean, I wanted to do this story, I put aside a fic I had originally planned to do first, in order to write this one, and I never would have finished it if I didn't like it, but . . . it beat the shit out of me. More than likely it was just real life --damn the real world-- for intruding on me and I didn't think I would be able to go back and read this story, as just a fan, without bringing up those not so nice memories. But after finishing the story . . . I would gladly go through it again.
As with all my stories the most important thing for me is to explore the characters themselves, put them in situations that, hopefully, we've never seen them in before. I've read many good --some great-- stories where the author just threw the series continuity out the window --don't even get me started on the Pocket Books novels-- hell, my own "Too Late" is such a story. But there's just something about a, not just well-written, but good story that stays in continuity with the show that give me a happy. With "A Tale of Slayers" I did my damnedest to keep it in continuity, at the same time stretching the boundaries as far as I could. With "No Time Like the Present" I tried to do the same thing, and I know I stretched the continuity boundaries even farther to the point where I may have broken them. But I'll let you all decide.
Oh, and just a little side note: I wrote my "heat-vision" jokes for this story long before "Sins of the Father" was released by Pocket Books. I know, that sounded petty.
Feel free to send any feedback, comments, opinions, or how-you-doing's anytime. I've always stated --selfishly, I might add-- that I write these stories for me and just for me, but when I receive feedback . . . it just makes me doubt that.
Buffy will return.
The Watcher's Council: http://members.aol.com/deedee2b/watcherscouncil.html