Feral (Prologue)

It was a dusty, dilapidated factory, but the group gathered therein was well used to working in grimy and disreputable surroundings. Willy's Bar, the sewers… Yes, this place was pretty much par for the course. It wasn't as if they had a choice, at any rate. This was where the vampire version of Willow Rosenberg had entered this world and this where they needed to be to send her back.

There was an odd sense of unreality about it all – perhaps because no one they knew had been killed – and the vampire facsimile of Willow was easy to regard as a cartoon. After all, the Willow they knew – the Willow who was even now helping to prepare the spell to send her double back to where she came from? No, she wasn't exactly terrifying. It was comfortably simple to see the vampire as nothing more than a girl in a ridiculous costume and too much make-up.

Xander sidled up to her. "So, um, in your reality, I'm like this bad-ass vampire, huh? People afraid of me?" He seemed not to notice the way Angel stared blankly and the vampire-Willow rolled her eyes. "Oh yeah. I'm bad." It was an enjoyable conceit to him, one which would fuel some hot sessions of self-gratification. Nothing to do with death and blood, of course. Just Xander in leather, desired by the ladies. No more real than the idea of Willow as some sort of Mistress of Evil.

Oz helped with the final preparation; his eyes weren't on his girlfriend, but on the facsimile of her standing arrogantly off to the side. Giles's eyes were on the same creature. Anya stared off at nothing, looking peevish

For a moment, as Buffy stood next to the actual girl, she seemed to perceive the vampire as something other than an uncomfortable caricature. "I'm not sure about releasing this thing into the wild, Will. It is a demon."

"I just can't kill her," Willow argued. Her reluctance was understandable – the vampire, after all, shared her face, name, even her identity, albeit in a different world.

"Me neither," Buffy agreed.

Willow went on as if Buffy hadn't spoken, her double sparking an existential crisis of sorts. "I mean, I know she's not me. We have a big nothing in common, but still."

"There but for the grace of getting bit," Buffy mused.

"We send her back to her world, then she stands a chance." Even her own close encounter with the vampire, one which had almost ended with her being turned by, in a sense, herself, didn't seem to register, or if it did, it didn't stand a chance against her odd identification with the creature. "It's the way it should be, anyway."

Giles's voice broke through Willow and Buffy's ramblings. "Uh, we're about ready here." Willow sighed and walked over to say a last farewell to her doppelganger just as Giles turned to Anya. "Don't you try any tricks now, dear."

Anya held her head up haughtily. "I don't need any tricks. When I get my powers back, you will all grovel before me."

Willow and her double both snorted derisively. It only reinforced the sense that almost everyone had that the vampire version wasn't so horrifying. After all, how evil could she be if she was anything like the Willow they all knew and loved?

Angel might have been the exception to the general consensus, but who could tell? He stood on the sidelines, his expression blank, eyes locked on the vampire-Willow, silent as death.

Giles, for all that he evinced no fear of the creature, was eager to get rid of the vampire, perhaps seeing her as his failure in another universe or perhaps simply desirous of restoring things to their proper order. "Yes, well, if you, uh, Willows, would like to, uh, complete the circle."

It was time. Willow reverted to her usual weaponry – optimism. Perhaps she hoped that she would rub off on her double, bringing some of the goodness she herself possessed out of her vampire counterpart. "Good luck," she offered with a cheery grin. "Try not to kill people." As her double remained unmoved, Willow pulled her into a hug. The response was certainly not the one for which she'd hoped as she was groped by – well – herself. "Hands! Hands!" she cried out as she pushed her smirking doppelganger away.

Seconds later, they knelt, facing Giles and Anya, and Giles intoned the spell from the book in his lap. A few seconds after that, the vampire was gone.

Everyone stared into space, each lost in thought, all but Anya apparently united in their relief at everything being back to the way it was. With any luck, the events of the day might well have no lasting effect. Perhaps the gift for willful amnesia enjoyed by most Sunnydale residents would kick in and no one save the people in this room would even remember that anything unusual had happened.

But then…

Xander turned to his side, where Angel stood, impassive as ever, and then turned and stared in obvious confusion past the three still on the floor. Something was very strange here, and it was currently behind bars just over Giles's shoulder. "Guys? Why is there another Angel in the cage?"

To be continued…