"Are you really sure this'll work, Willow?" anxiously asked Buffy, as she and Dawn watched the red-haired woman getting up from tracing out the magical circle on the concrete garage floor.
The witch gave her blonde friend a rather irritated look that came from that question being posed before all too many times already, and with more than a hint of strained patience in her tone, Willow replied, "We won't know until we try, don't we? Faith, we're ready!"
A quick reply came from behind the stack of cardboard storage boxes that Willow had addressed her call, "Yeah, hold onto your panties- Ooops!"
Right after, the garage resounded with the noise of something falling, accompanied by the unnerving tinkle of shattering glass. As all three women stared in surprise at where this racket had come from, a sexy brunette with a very innocent expression on her face stepped from behind the boxes, and then she sauntered over to the trio now giving her identical looks of suspicion. It fell to Dawn to ask what the others were wondering, "Faith what was that?"
Stopping in front of the other Sunnydale survivors standing by the magical circle, Faith halfheartedly shrugged her shoulders, and then she sheepishly admitted, "Christmas ornaments, from what it said on the box."
A triple rebuke of "Faith!" was the consequence of that confession.
An immediate and somewhat defensive statement came from the Boston-born Slayer, as she indignantly said, "Hey, from alla the dust on that box, the last time it was opened was when Santa was handin' out Cabbage Patch dolls!" Faith glowered at the others now rolling their eyes, and she muttered, "Well, are we gonna get boytoy back, or ain't we?"
"Way to get out of what's your fault," said Buffy sotto voce, as they all moved to their proper positions around the magical circle. The sudden glare from Faith, who'd heard her quite well, only made Buffy smirk back at her sister Slayer.
Before the quarrel that had already lasted several weeks could continue, Dawn tiredly tried to head things off, with an offhand question to Willow, "Say, Wils, did you ever find out exactly why that idiotic sorcerer created his totally stupid combination of a time-travel portal set up with a possession spell? He couldn't have really thought he'd get away with teleporting his spirit back to the Dark Ages to take over the body of Merlin and gain all that wizard's powers?"
Buffy snorted, to then butt into the conversation with, "Anybody calling himself Ignitius the Invincible is capable of anything, guys."
"He wasn't capable of ignorin' his lungs gettin' carved out," smirked Faith, who then looked a bit embarrassed at the dirty looks this caused the other three women to be sent her way.
An annoyed Willow snapped, "Next time, just decapitate him, Faith! That would have kept that jerk's spell he cast in his last few seconds from hitting Xander!"
"Okay, okay!" retorted Faith, only to then hang her head in a rare moment of guilt, as her next words came out in a rush. "Listen, I'm sorry, I really am. Let's just do the ceremony, get Xan back, and haul ass outta here! You know the suburbs really creep me out!"
Both the apology and the atypical feelings expressed by Faith made the others reign in their own irritated anxiety. They also knew the dark Slayer was truly much more comfortable in a city's mean streets rather than in a place with tidily-mowed lawns, white picket fences, and stern decrees from the homeowners' association on how long garage doors could stay open.
In the empty Southern California two-story ranch home, just before midnight, the quartet of worried women now traded troubled looks, as Dawn once more expressed what was on their minds, "Willow, why exactly was Xander sent here?"
Willow just shrugged, and then she looked sympathetically at the unhappy Key, as the witch replied, "Why does a double-wide mobile home get tossed into the next county when a tornado hits a trailer park, and the pink flamingo replicas planted in the front of that home aren't disturbed the slightest? It's just the way things happen, Dawn, but at least I could trace the spell that grabbed Xander, to then skip through both space and time, from that guy's lair in Los Angeles to here twenty miles away and forty years into the past, which was when the spell hit its full power and took them both so far back."
Buffy had a troubled look on her face, as she pointed out, "Yeah, but we found her, right? When we traced whoever was living here forty years ago, and found the woman who closed this house when her husband died and moved to a retirement community in San Diego. She got back, so your spell must have worked. I still don't see why we couldn't talk to her-"
"Buffy, quit it!" barked Willow, the witch's stern tone interrupting her friend. As she glowered into the Slayer's pouting expression, Willow sighed, and explained again for at least the tenth time. "With time travel, we don't dare to risk any paradoxes! If we'd met up with her, we might have learned something that would have made it impossible to bring Xander back. Think of it as being in a mirror maze in an amusement park. If you wander around trying to see out to get out, you'll only become confused with your reflections. But if you just close your eyes, and carefully feel where to go, you'll eventually find the exit. Now, let's get down to it. Are you ready to take your positions?"
Willow looked around the group after saying the last, to see them all nod and move to their specific places around the magical circle, standing directly on this inscribed loop. Dawn was at the east, Buffy to the west, Faith at the south, and Willow remained in her north position. Closing her eyes, the witch began to chant. A few moments later, the lines tracing the circle on the garage floor began to softly glow blue, and both Buffy and Faith felt their skin prickle, as they watched Dawn take several items from her front pants pockets.
Dawn cleaned the tip of her left index finger with an antiseptic wipe, and then she got ready the sterilized needle also in her right hand. Carefully watching Willow as she continued chanting, at the proper moment when the witch gestured, Dawn then jabbed the point of the needle into her finger, deep enough to break the skin and produce a single drop of blood. The younger Summers sister immediately flicked her finger towards the center of the circle, to send this drop of the Key's life sailing away and then down, to plop onto the garage floor.
There, on this ordinary concrete slab slightly stained with car oil, a six-foot wide disk of pure green energy materialized, glowing brightly enough to give the skin of everyone there an emerald tint, as a still-chanting Willow now lifted upwards her hands, with the witch's upraised palms moving to shoulder height, as the disk obediently raised itself in perfect synchrony at its' mistress command, moving to a height of ten feet, about just below the roof beams of the garage, where it stopped. An instant later, the disk popped out of existence.
Everyone there now stood frozen, the four women at their cardinal positions of the compass around the magical circle, and the man in the center of this geometric figure, who was holding horizontally a glittering, razor-sharp broadsword at his full arm's length, with this gripped weapon unwaveringly aiming its needle point right at Willow's throat a few inches away.
Abruptly bringing down his sword to carefully hold it at his side, Xander Harris now had the widest grin of his life on his face, as he whooped, "Great timing, guys! You even managed to get me out of my tavern room and not in the middle of a battlefield!" After that enthusiastic compliment, Xander then stepped forward, to wrap his left arm around a dazed Willow, and he proceeded to give her an exultant hug, followed by a fervent kiss upon the middle of his yellow-crayon friend's forehead.
Letting go of his unresponding fellow Sunnydale survivor, Xander now did the same thing to the stunned others, walking around to give a flabbergasted Buffy, Dawn, and Faith, in that order, more hugs and kisses that were received without protest, or indeed, any other reaction. All to the accompaniment of jingling metal.
It was only when Xander drew his head back from planting a smacking buss just below Faith's hairline, that some signs of life came back into the boggled features of the Slayer he was hugging, as Faith's eyes blinked and then narrowed, with a spark of evil delight suddenly appearing in these orbs, as that woman managed to husk out the words, "Hey, great chain-mail bikini, stud."
Looking down at where the upper portion of his scanty raiment that was composed solely of interlinked rings of metal strapped to his chest was now pressing just under Faith's chin, Xander cheerfully replied about his current meager ensemble, "Yeah, it got pretty cold in the morning, though."
"Aw, too bad I wasn't there, boytoy. I coulda helped it warm up. Like, say….this." As Faith cooed her words, her arms reached out to embrace Xander, though her limbs were wrapped much lower on his body than the man's own left arm around Faith's shoulder, with her hands cradling and squeezing two handfuls of metal.
Xander stiffened, and then he held his sword further away from his body, to keep from accidentally cutting Faith now enthusiastically kneading the rear of his chain-link bikini bottom. Finally, the man cleared his throat, and he politely said, "Faith, remember Slayer strength? I've got calluses there, but you're going a bit too far."
"Hey, it's what I do, stud."
"FAITH!" was furiously roared by both Summers sisters in an identical knock-it-off-now tone, as they glared at the Slayer leaning past Xander's left side to smirk at them. Xander then stepped away and turned, with Faith reluctantly letting go, but managing a final fond farewell pat, as she grinned up at her friend at her side, with him chuckling at seeing the dumbfounded expressions on the faces of the other women across the magical circle.
Willow finally got her whirling thoughts in order, as she put on a classic Resolve Face, and aimed this directly at someone who should have quailed like a good little Twinkie lover. Instead, a worried expression suddenly appeared on Xander's features, as he blurted out, "Wils, were you able to bring her back, too? The woman who came along with me?"
"What?" Willow blinked at the concerned man. "Oh, right. Let me check, okay?" At that, the witch closed her eyes for a few seconds to use her mystical powers, and then she firmly nodded with satisfaction, to open her eyes again and smile at the relief she saw on Xander's face, as she reassured him. "Yeah, Dawn's portal worked for you both, sending you back to your proper times. She's in this garage again, all safe and sound, forty years ago and a few seconds after she got hit by that spell."
Buffy jumped in on the conversation then, saying, "Yeah, Xan, from what we saw when we watched her a couple of days ago, she seemed to be fine about whatever happened back then. She looks good for her age, and she's got a bunch of grandkids."
"Whoo!" gratefully sighed Xander, who then added, "That's absolutely great, considering she took, uh, everything, better than I really expected."
"Ah, pardon me, but…" spoke up Dawn, all while eyeing a nearly-naked man save for his scanty, clinking garb, and continuing in her bubbling tone that was going to burst into guffaws any second now, "…what the hell happened?"
Xander groaned, "Yeah, about that… First, one more thing. I don't suppose Mr. Wizard's still around?"
In response, Buffy, Dawn, and Willow all glared at Faith, who sneered back at them, and then the brunette Slayer warily glanced at the man patiently waiting for an answer to his inquiry. Hoping this was what he wanted to hear, a cagey Faith put on her usual smirk and snickered, "He became the poster boy for the saying, 'A sucking chest wound is Nature's way of telling you to slow down,' though I made damn sure he came to a dead stop. Emphasis on dead, boytoy."
"Hey, it's no big deal to me, Faith," shrugged Xander, giving that relieved woman a welcome half-smile. "If he'd been around, just before I defenestrated him out the nearest window, I'd have enjoyed telling that jerk he made a teensy-weensy mistake in his spell to go back in time and possess someone there. Like it wouldn't have been so hard to make sure his spell worked to put him in the proper gender?"
There was a complete silence in the garage for several moments, until Willow beat out everyone else there to ask with increasing delight, "You got turned into a woman?"
"Yes," said Xander in utter resignation, who for the next minute or so, waited with glum tolerance for the resulting screaming fit of laughter by the others to finally finish.
Leaning against her still-giggling sister, Dawn wiped away tears of mirth, and choked, "So, from your outfit, you were what, an exotic dancer?"
Xander glowered at the further outburst of merriment from the quartet caused by that question, and the man then brandished the broadsword he was still holding, which quickly quieted down the other Sunnydale survivors. Nodding in satisfaction, Xander brought back the weapon to his side, and he shrugged as he answered Dawn, "Nothing like that, I figure. See, it wasn't like my own possessions with Hyena and Soldier-Boy. I was the one in charge this time, and inside the body of some kind of warrior woman. For all I know, I could have been a real-life Amazon."
"Er, I don't think so, Xan," broke in a fascinated Willow. Looking around the group now listening to her, the witch went on, "Judging what my magical scans told me about the spell, you - and her, too - went really way back into the past. Anywhere from ten to fifteen thousand years ago, which was a lot earlier than the Amazons."
"Yeah, the city we appeared in didn't look like anything I've ever seen in the history books," agreed Xander.
"We?" frowned Buffy. She stared at her friend since high school, and exclaimed, "She was there, too?"
"Yup, and unfortunately, the spell blew it again. She got turned into a man."
At seeing the simultaneous winces appear on the faces of all four females there, Xander felt a flash of true annoyance pass through his mind due to witnessing their evident shared opinion that this was far worse than what had happened to HIM. This irritation was the cause of the man then growling, "Hey, ladies, it wasn't all that bad! She now looked like a real barbarian hero, built like a brick wall, all muscles and everything."
His expression changing into one of rueful reminiscence, Xander admitted, "Though, even if she had good cause for what she did right then, it wasn't all that helpful for her to burst into tears at that exact moment while we were in one of the sleaziest dives I've ever seen, surrounded by the scum of the earth, and every one of those crooks and thugs looking at us like we'd lost our minds. Which was kinda absolutely correct, actually. At least she got back her nerve when the tavern brawl started right after that."
"Yeah," chuckled Xander to all four women who'd chorused that word in absolute disbelief. "That was weird too, but in the good way then, 'cause even if we didn't have the memories of the guys we'd possessed, their bodies worked just fine on their own." The man then lifted his sword to hold the blade vertically in front of his face, proudly regarding his weapon, as he continued for his fascinated listeners.
"I was a total Errol Flynn with this, disarming and putting down my enemies, without killing or hurting them all that much, just some cuts and goose eggs on their heads I hit with the flat of my sword. And her, she took out more than her share, dropping bruisers with just a single punch, and throwing guys by the armload right out the tavern windows."
There was now an actual giggle in Xander's voice, as he confided, "I think that the whole fight put her in the right mood during all of the next couple weeks we spent there, until you got us back, Wils." Grinning at the dumbstruck women, the cheerful man went on. "She even told me this was a heck of lot more fun than chauffeuring her kids around town. Those were her exact words, too."
Dawn asked weakly, "So, who were you guys, anyway?"
"Dunno. We never found out."
"Huh?" came from an incredulous Buffy.
Xander shrugged, causing his upper bikini portion to clink again, as it swayed back and forth. "Remember, I told you we didn't get the memories of the guys we were in, and from what we figured out, they'd just ridden into the city, which they'd never visited before. So, nobody knew who they were. We just used our own names, in the end."
"What, you mean you were Xander the Xantastic, and she was-" sniggered Faith.
"Hey!" sharply interrupted the offended man, who now lifted up his left hand, to make a gesture that was oddly familiar to the women there, as he patted something invisible behind his head at neck level. While still doing this, Xander smirked at Willow, and he said in a more gleeful tone, "I had an entirely different nickname, because this time, I was the redhead!"
After looking startled for a moment, the witch then shrieked with laughter, followed right after by the other women, as Xander proudly regarded his family, which he'd missed so much. Finally, as the man watched the others calm down, he suddenly shivered, frowning as he looked around the cold garage. Switching his attention back to the group, a barely-clad Xander announced, "Guys, do we have to stay here any longer? I'd like to put on something warmer, plus I really need a coffee fix from Starbucks - and an actual bathroom! I never want to see another chamber pot again in my whole life!"
This got sympathetic smiles from everyone for him, as Willow good-humoredly nodded, and she began waving her arms in mystical gestures. A moment later, the lines of the magical circle on the floor of the garage disappeared, and the witch then announced, "Okay, the notice-me-not charm I set up here earlier tonight will end in a couple of minutes, which will give us enough time to get to our car. Xan, we'll stop off at a mall and get you some clothes and food on the way back to our motel."
"Yeah, and you can tell us everything that happened to you!" excitedly added Dawn.
"Wait a sec, guys," objected a frowning Buffy, which halted in their tracks the group about to leave the garage, as the older Summers sister went on about a sudden worry that had just occurred to the Slayer. "What about her, the woman who was with you? Do you think she might have told someone back then about what happened to her? That we might need to do something about?"
In his chain-metal bikini, Xander stood there, clearly thinking about this, and the man then shook his head, as he now informed them all, Buffy, Willow, Dawn, and Faith, of his opinion after several weeks in the company of the innocent bystander who'd been swept up by a magic spell, to be hurled into the far past, and finally appear inside the male body of a mighty and renowned hero, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet.
"Oh, I don't think so, ladies. She told me once, when we were crawling over the roof of the temple after stealing the Eye of Olbduz, that while she really loved her family and they loved her, Mike and his boys, and her girls, they weren't all that interested in exactly what Carol Brady was doing during the day."