The Buffy characters belong to Joss; the alternate universe interpretations are my own. This story is set after the end of season 4.



Part 1

The grove was obscure, in more ways than one. It had taken the better part of three hours to locate the place, and another two to get the supernatural beastie bound to the place to manifest. The ground was oddly barren of twigs and leaves; only bare dirt and grass marked the forest floor. The creature's name was Chermak, and resembled nothing more than a large toad.

Buffy, Willow and Riley stood in front of the – demon was the wrong word, but it wasn't really one of the faerie folk either. Leave the distinctions to the damned Watchers, Buffy thought. "So your final answer is no?"

"It pains me to say it, and will no doubt pain me even more later," Chermak said wearily, "But the answer has to be no. While the spell is largely defensive it'd be very easy to adapt it for an offensive use – and I am a healer, not a fighter."

Riley stepped forward and made like he was going to deck Chermak, but Buffy held out a hand. "No, sweetie, that's okay. We'll let the scumsucker be for the minute." As Chermak audibly breathed a sigh of relief, Buffy slapped him hard across the nose. As black ichor began dripping to the ground, Buffy said, "You get twenty-four hours to rethink your position. Or we set Willow loose on you."

Next to Buffy, the witch smiled coldly and said, "Vulcan, God of Fire . . . I don't think I have to continue, do you? "

Chermak slowly shook his head as the trio took their leave. As they walked out, Riley asked Buffy, "So, you think he'll give in?" There was a distant sound of thunder.

Buffy said, "No. He's not the type. So as of eleven o'clock tomorrow night . . . "

Willow grinned. "You get to beat him up and I get to set him on fire?" It began to drizzle and three picked up the pace.

"I like the way your mind works, Will."

"No fair," Riley grumped. "What do I get to do?"

"Oh, sorry, honey!" Buffy said apologetically. "You get to shoot him if he tries to leave the fire."

Riley brightened. "Hey, maybe he'll try to leave twice."

Chuckling, Buffy put an arm around her boyfriend's shoulder. "We can only hope."

AND THEN A SOUND OF THUNDER.

* * * * *

The grove was obscure, in more ways than one. It had taken the better part of three hours to locate the place, and another two to get the supernatural beastie bound to the place to manifest. The ground was oddly barren of twigs and leaves; only bare dirt and grass marked the forest floor. The spirit's name was Chermak, and he looked like a large toad.

Buffy, Willow and Riley stood in front of the – well, she didn't know, and it really didn't bother her enough to ask Giles. "So your final answer is no?" Buffy asked.

"It pains me to say it," Chermak said wearily, "But the answer has to be no. While the spell is largely defensive it'd be very easy to adapt it for an offensive use – and I am a healer, not a fighter. I realize your cause is just, but –"

Riley stepped forward and looked like he was going to say something, but Buffy held out a hand. "No, sweetie, that's okay. He has his reasons; we'll just have to find the spell elsewhere." As Chermak audibly breathed a sigh of relief, Buffy asked, "Any ideas, Will?"

Next to Buffy, the witch frowned. "Sorry, no. But would you mind if I came back and talked magick sometimes?"

Chermak nodded his head and said, "Healing magick only, you understand," as the trio turned to leave. As they walked out, Riley asked Buffy, "So, any chance you think he'll give us the spell we need?" There was a distant sound of thunder.

Buffy said, "Not likely. I guess you could try again when you come back, though, Will . . . "

Willow grinned wistfully. "I guess I can give it the old college try –"

Gratefully, Buffy said, "Thanks."

"That's no fair," Riley said mock-grumpily. "What do I get to do?" It began to drizzle and the three picked up their pace.

"You get to stand around and look pretty," Buffy said playfully.

Riley brightened. "I can do that."

Chuckling, Buffy put an arm around her boyfriend's shoulder. "And you do it VERY well."

AND THEN A SOUND OF THUNDER.

* * * * *

Buffy, Riley and Willow all felt – something – and then they landed on their asses by the edge of the forest. "Willow," Buffy said, "What the hell was that?"

"Some kind of spell effect . . ." Willow said, muttering an incantation. "Can't say more than that at the moment."

Riley said with feeble humor, "Everyone got the right number of limbs?"

"If you could count that high we'd know," Willow muttered. "It seems to have some kind of dimensional component, but I won't know until we check with Giles." Riley's face grew sullen but he said nothing. He knew better than to piss Willow off.

"Well, then, let's get going," Buffy said. "And if it turns out that Chermak was responsible, then fuck the deadline."

"No arguments here," Willow said. "NO ONE casts spells on me without my say- so."

"Not even Tara?" Riley said without thinking, then doubled over in pain as an invisible force hit him in the balls. "Buffy?" he pleaded as Willow strode off.

"Kinda had it coming there," Buffy said. "You know how Willow gets when people make fun of her and Tara."

"Yeah," Riley said, finally straightening up, "I remember what happened to Oz . . ."

"Well, you just keep that picture in your head and everything'll be fine," Buffy said, yanking Riley forward. "Now let's get going."

"It should be easy," Riley said. "I mean, she's got his head mounted and stuffed in your room, for God's sake."

They caught up to Willow and nothing more was said until they unexpectedly ran across Spike. "Who let you out?" Buffy demanded.

"Just because I've got this chip in my head, Slayer, doesn't mean I'm on a bloody leash. It's none of your damn business where I've been."

"You don't talk to us like that, Spike," Buffy said.

"Why not? You've never come after me for mouthing off before, you're not likely to st—bloody hell!" Spike's exclamation came after Buffy shot a crossbow bolt into his chest just above his heart. As she reloaded, Spike broke off cussing and sprinted off down the road.

She brought the bow down. "Damn it," she said, "What the hell else can go wrong?"

Riley smirked. "Xander's in trouble, Xander's in trouble . . ."

"He would be if his damned demon weren't protecting him," Buffy said grumpily, then shot a passing rabbit. It did nothing to relieve her irritation, though. "Just another thing gone wrong today."

Nothing else happened on the way back to Giles' house, but Buffy just kept getting the impression that something was wrong. She couldn't quite put her finger on it . . . people weren't trying to avoid her, but that happened occasionally . . . Buffy usually taught those people a lesson but it wasn't worth the effort tonight. They got a couple of funny looks, too.

Finally they got to Giles' place and barged in. "Giles, we –"

"Buffy?" Giles blinked. "What – what happened to you?"

He was gesturing towards them as he said it. Buffy looked around. Riley, tight jeans, muscle t, rifle slung across back, sunglasses; Willow, leather pants, spandexy top, short red hair, multiple earrings; herself, half-t, black jeans, long blonde hair, crossbow held at ready. Everything was fine.

So what the fuck was GILES' problem?

* * * * *

Buffy, Riley and Willow all felt – something – and then they landed on their rear ends by the edge of the forest. "Willow," Buffy said, "What was that?"

"Some kind of spell effect . . ." Willow said, incanting a spell. "Not sure what. Can't tell more at the moment."

Riley said with feeble humor, "Everyone got the right number of limbs?"

Buffy chuckled, but Willow just ignored the joke and said, "It seems to have some kind of dimensional component, but I won't know until we check with Giles."

"Well, then, let's get going," Buffy said. "And maybe we should check with Chermak, see if he has any idea."

"No arguments here," Willow said. "Anything happens in this forest, likely he'd know."

But they didn't have time to perform the summoning. They walked off and no one said anything until they unexpectedly ran across Spike. "What the hell are you doing here?" Buffy asked. He wasn't wearing his usual leathery ensemble; instead, he had on a white t-shirt and blue jeans.

"Sorry, Slayer," Spike said in an almost reverential tone. "My keeper had to go off and shag his girlfriend, so I got stuck here waiting for you. I just stepped aside for a smoke. Please don't kill me."

This was Spike? "You don't talk to us like that, Spike," Buffy said bemusedly.

For half a second Buffy saw a hint of defiance in Spike's eyes; then it left and he said, "I'll try to do better next time."

"See that you do," Buffy said. "Um, you walk ahead. Will, Riley – hang back with me, okay?"

They both nodded. As soon as Spike was comfortably out of earshot, Buffy said, "I think we've gotten shanghaied to another alternate universe."

Willow said, "Oh! The thunder." At Riley's confused look, Willow said, "Twice, we've gotten involved with a specific alternate universe – always, thunder sent us, or Buffy, there. Think it happened again?"

Buffy shook her head. "No. The Spike of Cordy-Slayer's universe was as nasty as ours, hardly the coward we've got here. I think we've just gotten to see what's behind universe number three."

From ahead, Spike called, "Could you hurry it up a bit, Slayer – urk!" He urked because someone had just struck him in the jaw.

It was Xander, flanked by an Anya who looked exactly like she had when Buffy first saw her, including a certain necklace. "Don't talk to the Slayer that way," Xander said. "That's my job. Hey Buff, what's the holdup?"

Willow tugged on her arm and whispered, "I'll bet that's her wishing necklace."

But Buffy wasn't paying attention because something else had caught her attention, that slammed it home that not only were they not in Kansas any more they weren't even in the same hemisphere:

Xander had a beard.

Part 2

The phrase sounded good enough that Buffy used it. "Giles, what the fuck is your problem?"

Sounding a bit hesitant, Giles said, "Nothing – nothing, really. How did your visit to Chermak go?"

"About as we expected," Buffy said. "Bastard wouldn't give up the spell. I gave him a day."

"Or what?" Giles asked.

"Or what, he asks," Buffy said. "Funny, Giles. Or we kill him."

Riley stuck up his hand and said, "I get to shoot him if he tries to leave." Buffy repressed a snort. Riley was good-looking, vicious, and handy in a fight, but he had the brains of a ham sandwich. Maybe it was time to start phasing him out.

Hell, she could always call Angelus if she had to – vamp was always good in the sack no matter what other problems he had.

Never mind. Giles was speaking, so she tried to focus. "Not what I meant," Giles said, and finally the steel Buffy had come to respect came back into his voice. "I meant I wanted the details."

"You've never cared before," Willow snarled.

"I'm expanding my horizons," Giles replied calmly. "Now tell me what your plans are."

Buffy elbowed Riley before he could speak again. "I'm going to beat the living hell out of him until he gives up the information, and then Willow is going to torch him and his little grove, too."

"Plus," Willow said, "I'll bring marshmallows!" And she meant it too. Even Buffy found the concept of roasting them over a smoldering corpse a bit gross, but she had to admit the marshmallows were delicious.

"Right then," Giles said steadily. "That seems to be the way to go."

"Something else happened, though," Buffy said. "Some kind of spell effect as we were leaving the forest. It was raining and there was a sound of thunder and – what's wrong now?"

Giles had frozen for a second; he said, "Nothing. Cramp. Go on."

.

"It felt – salty. If you can feel salty," Riley said.

Willow said, shooting Riley a venomous look, "There was something of an air of dimensional transfer to it. And then we were all knocked down, and things have been all weird ever since."

"Weird how so?" Giles went to a book and opened it.

"Spike acted like he had a backbone," Willow said next. "We would've killed the vamp bastard if Buffy'd had better aim."

"Really. How unusual." Buffy saw the book in his hands – dealt with alternate realities. "What's this?"

"I, I think someone cast a spell to bring things and people in from alternate universes," Giles said. "That Spike was probably one of them."

"That tears it," Buffy said. "I'm going to go back to that grove and rip Chermak's tongue out through his ass." She made for the door and after a second Willow and Riley trailed after her.

"Calm down," Giles said. "This isn't Chermak's kind of magic. Give him his twenty-four hours. Rushing blindly off isn't going to solve anything."

"It'll make me feel better," Buffy said.

"Yes, but with this kind of spell effect around – who knows what you'll run into? I have to go make a phone call. Torture a puppy or something to amuse yourself while I'm gone."

Willow's face brightened. "Great! There's this new spell I wanted to try out –" she ran out the front door as Giles took the phone into the kitchen and dialed.

After the third ring Xander picked up. "Giles, what is it?" he said, out of breath. Giles neither knew nor cared how Xander had achieved that state. "I'm kind of busy at the moment –" In the background, Giles heard Anya saying, "Tell him to call back tomorrow. I'm sure I'll get an orgasm this time."

FAR more information than Giles needed, and it was a mark of his desperation that he didn't comment on it. "Listen carefully, I only have time to say this once. Stop what you're doing, come here, go into the trunk of my car, get out the spare tranquilizer rifle I have there, and then come into my house and shoot Buffy, Willow and Riley." He thought a second. "Willow first."

"Huhwha?" was Xander's reply.

"I don't have time to explain," he hissed. "Just do it. PLEASE. Grave dang –" Riley poked his head around the corner. "That's right, things keep popping up – yes, Riley?"

"Buffy wants to talk to you," Riley said.

"Tell her I'll be there in a second," Giles said.

In response, Riley grabbed him and threw him against the wall. "When Buffy says she wants to see you, she means now." He said it, oddly, with little malice. "Cost me several bruises to figure that one out . . ." Giles shakily got up.

"I need to finish the call."

"I'll do it for you," Riley said, picking up the receiver. "Giles'll be busy for a while. Feel free to go fuck yourself." Then he slammed down the receiver and forced Giles ahead of him into the living room. Giles stopped, elbowed the boy hard in the stomach, and chopped him on the neck on his way down. As he got up, murder in his eyes, Giles cut loose with a punch in the face that cracked Riley's head on the kitchen wall. Then he turned to look at the scene in the living room.

Giles had no idea WHAT Willow was doing to the squirrel – it involved pustules of some sort –but felt certain PETA wouldn't approve. Buffy, toying with her stake, said to Giles, "Nice job."

"Thanks," Giles said warily.

"Welks. He couldn't take you, he had it coming. Now who are you?" She stopped toying with the stake – it resembled a nastier version of Mr. Pointy – and walked towards Giles until they were almost nose-to-nose.

"Whatever do you mean?" Giles asked with a sinking feeling.

"You're not MY Giles, that's for damn sure," Buffy said. "It took me a second to realize it, but there aren't any demon heads on the wall – no serrated knife collection, either. So who was the phone call to?" She asked innocently.

"Um, to a friend of mine – I wanted to find out what spell –" Before he could move, Buffy's left fist hit him square in the jaw.

"Wrong answer," Buffy said. "Now tell me the right one or –"

Giles lashed out at Buffy's midsection, hoping to gain enough time to run for the door, but the Slayer blocked it and decked him again, this time not stopping his fall.

"I'm – not afraid of torture," Giles said through bleeding lips.

"Then you've never met Willow," Buffy responded. Giles looked over at the horrifyingly unfamiliar redhead and saw her holding the squirrel's squirming body; the witch mouthed the word "you."

And then Giles was afraid.



Part 3



"Follow my lead," Buffy whispered to Willow and Riley. "I'm not entirely sure what's going on but so far I'd say we're all way nastier than we are in our world." Riley and Willow both nodded and Buffy started walking towards the wacky couple. "Nice shot, there, Xander," Buffy said as they got a little closer. The beard and mustache covered the area around his mouth and down to his chin without being overbushy. Looked pretty good on him, actually.

Xander said with a grin. "Thanks, I've been working out." Then the smile left his face. "What happened with Chermak?" Nearby, Spike got up and stood there, head bowed slightly.

"No dice, " Buffy sighed. "Wouldn't give us the spell."

"And he still lives?" Anya said bluntly. At least some things never changed.

"Yeah," Xander added. "I mean, I would've expected to see smoke, or a demon corpse behind you, or SOMETHING."

As harshly as she could, Willow said, "What could we get out of him dead?" Buffy could see how much it bothered Willow to talk like that, though.

Buffy said, "We've given him some time to think it over. If he doesn't cough it up by then –" she trailed off.

"I would have killed him." This again from Anya.

Riley said, "Well, maybe that's why we didn't take you on the mission, Anya."

"ANYANKA," the demon hissed, showing its real face. "I'm not human. Call me that nickname again and – well, let me show you." She grasped the necklace and suddenly Riley started screaming in pain and clutching his head. Before Buffy could deck her to make it stop, she released the necklace and Riley dropped to the ground. "That was ONE earwig. Got me?" It took all of Buffy's self-control to avoid laying into Anyanka then and there, and Willow was visibly trying to force herself not to react.

Gritting his teeth, he stood up and said, "I get the message – Anyanka."

Xander shook his head mock-sadly. "Pretty but dumb. I told you about him, Buff."

"Yes, you did." Buffy didn't trust herself to say anything else. What the hell kind of world was this? Riley walked over next to her and Buffy didn't dare do so much as put an arm around him.

"So what was the deadline you gave Chermak?" He asked.

Buffy thought wildly for a second, before Willow rescued her. "We didn't. We figured, hey, he'd be more scared if he didn't know WHEN we were coming."

Riley added, still rubbing his head, "We're figuring a day."

Patronizingly, Xander said, "And you get to shoot him, right, big guy?"

Buffy said, "Hey! Don't talk to him like that."

"Huh?" Came Xander's semi-coherent response.

"I mean, it's MY job to abuse him, not yours."

Anyanka muttered, "I will abuse who I want, when I want," but didn't force the issue. Xander began walking away, then stopped and snapped his fingers. Spike wearily walked into the lead, and Buffy got a sinking feeling that he was there to draw fire. Xander and Anyanka followed him, with Buffy, Willow and Riley bringing up the rear.

"Why are we following them?" Riley asked.

Willow said, "Yeah. I'm kind of thinking running away and screaming incoherently."

That sounded good to Buffy too, but she said, "No go, guys. We've got to get back to our own universe and unless you remember the spell off the top of your head, Will –"

Willow said. "Nope, not a line."

"Then we need to get to Giles' book collection."

Riley brought up a point. "We're assuming this version of Giles HAS a book collection."

"Yeah, we are," Buffy conceded, "But what I've seen already of this world freaks me out. I don't want to find out more about it unless we have to."

The other two agreed reluctantly, and they hustled to catch up to Xander and Anyanka. Xander said pleasantly, "Good to see you rejoining us. Everything okay?"

"Were you plotting against us?" Anyanka asked.

Buffy bit off her first impulse – a smartass answer might just get her killed. So she decided to tell part of the truth. "No. When the three of us left the forest there was a sound of thunder and we were all knocked down. We're not sure what it was otherwise."

"It felt salty," Riley added.

Snorting, Xander said, "I'm surprised you didn't go back and tear Chermak a new one."

"I shall do so," Anyanka said, reaching for her necklace.

"No!" Willow said. "I mean, it's not his kind of magic. He's a healer, is what he is." Reluctantly, the vengeance demon – assuming that's what she was in this universe, which seeing the way she'd tormented Riley was likely a safe bet.

Buffy had to control her anger at that one. This seemed to be a universe where everyone went with their first, nasty impulses, at least most of the time, and she REALLY didn't want to join in.

Why couldn't this have happened to Faith? She'd've gotten along great here.

"Well then, why didn't you reverse it? Magic getting a little rusty there, Will?" Xander's tone was still light, but the remark was meant to hurt.

"Would you like to find out for yourself?" Willow said threateningly.

Laughing, Xander said, "No, that's okay, I KNOW how good you are at magic that causes pain. If you're not so good at the other ones – well, hey, who am I to judge?"

"By which of course you're being VERY judgmental," Riley said.

Xander glared at him as they made their way towards Giles' front door. "Wow, judgmental. Look at the man with the big words. Whadja do, Buff, buy him a word-a-day calendar or something?"

"I'd watch what you say," Buffy told him. "He's smarter than you think."

Xander snorted. "He would have to be."

They didn't knock; they just barged right in. Spike went directly over to the couch and began placing irons on his legs. The place looked like their Giles', only . . . colder. Less friendly. Like the feng shui spirit had given up in disgust and gone home.

Plus, along one wall was a collection of knives in a rack – serrated to cause maximum pain, no doubt. And everywhere –

Demon heads. Multiple demon heads. And – oh god, this was SICK. Thank god she didn't recognize any of them. Some things shouldn't even happen to . . . a . . .

The one above the kitchen door . . .

Dear God. It was Jonathan.

Willow, pale as Buffy had ever seen her, looked like she was going to throw up.

Giles poked his head out from the kitchen. In looks, he was exactly the same. But his voice --

Not a trace of warmth in it as he said, "Well? I see neither a spell parchment nor a dead beast. Am I to assume that you did indeed not get the spell?" The tone in his voice dared Buffy to contradict him.

"Chill, okay?" Buffy said. "We gave him some time to 'think it over.' If he doesn't come through –"

Giles reacted by pulling a book from the coffee table – shoving Spike onto the floor to get to it – and practically throwing it in Buffy's face. "Can't you understand ONE WORD of simple English, you bloody cow? Or were you simply not paying attention?" Buffy looked down at the book; it described Chermak as a devoted pacifist who would not negotiate with those who used violence. Exactly the same description her Giles had used.

"We just thought if he knew what was coming – maybe he'd turn coward," Buffy said.

"And you," Giles said, ignoring Buffy. "I thought you wanted this spell so much. And you went along with this?"

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," was Willow's mild response.

"Same stupid excuse Jana Calderash used when she 'helped' Angelus see the plight of his poor, misunderstood brethren," Giles snapped. "I had to break the neck of the best lay I'd had in years."

"Speaking of that," Anyanka said. "I need to go out and punish some faithful men. Xander. Be ready for sex when I get back." Then she walked out the front door without so much as a glance at anyone else.

"Damn. Then I need to get going too," Xander said. "Gotta go fuck a woman before Anyanka gets back. You know how she gets when I'm faithful. Riley. Mind if I use one of the captives?"

Swallowing hard, Riley said, "Why don't you challenge yourself tonight?"

Xander shrugged. "Okay. Not like it's really a challenge with my luststone, but some days you just don't want to put in the effort of throwing the women back on the street. Whine, whine, whine." He laughed. "Okay, gotta go."

And then he was gone and Giles began to REALLY give them hell.

Part 4

Anya was furious.

At the moment Xander didn't much care. He and Anya were hurrying towards Giles' place as fast as they could run. Giles hadn't been able to explain much, but Riley's voice telling him to fuck himself slammed it home that something was SERIOUSLY twisted at Casa Watcher.

Fortunately, Anya had bought just enough of a clue to realize that complaining about her frustrated sexual appetites would do nothing more than piss her boyfriend off and jeopardize her chances of more sex when they were done.

So she said nothing and restricted herself to glares, which Xander ignored.

Xander was guessing possession or some other kind of spell gone wrong – or maybe Ethan Rayne had somehow gotten away from the government. Hmmm. Ethan vs. Cancerman. Hard to choose sides in that one.

Anyway. Here they were, on the approach. Xander held out an arm and motioned for Anya to shh and slow down. Anya nodded. When they got to the car Xander quietly unlocked the trunk – muffling it as best he could with his shirt – and pulled out the spare tranquilizer rifle. They really hadn't had much call for rifles since Oz had split again a couple of months back.

Still, there were times it was nice to have them around. Xander checked to see how much spare ammo he had, and then gave up on it. With Riley and Buffy around he likely wouldn't get time for more than two shots anyway.

Once again motioning Anya to stay back, Xander crept up to Giles' entranceway and peeked through the front window. He only got a five-second glimpse, but that was way more than enough. While Willow was just standing there paging through a spellbook, Buffy and Riley both slugged Giles in the face, hard. And from the looks of the face it wasn't the first time, though the good news was that Giles was still conscious.

Conclusive proof, like he'd needed more, that something was very wrong. He felt his grip tighten on the rifle and forced himself to loosen it. If he went charging in --

Well, unfortunately, he couldn't see any other way to do it, although he could avoid charging in blindly my taking a couple of deep breaths and calming down. He crawled back to where Anya was peering down the porch steps and whispered, "Some bad rash. Buffy and Riley are pounding Giles and Willow doesn't care." Even Anya's eyes widened at that one. "Stay back," Xander told her. "If the three of them have gone crazy enough to hurt Giles who knows what they'll do to – us."

"Then you don't go in either," Anya said. "Wait for reinforcements."

"Who?" Xander asked. "Tara? She's a nice girl but I'd hardly trust her in combat. And thanks to Oz taking off there IS no one else."

"You go in, I go in," Anya whispered fiercely.

Xander had the choice of either arguing with her until she gave in – which given Anya would take until the beginning of the NEXT millennium – or just giving in himself. "Alright," he said. "Just – hang back for a bit, okay?"

To this Anya readily agreed. Xander took a deep breath and prepared to try smashing down the door. One, two, three . . .

Ouch . . .

Xander smashed into the door as hard as he could, and succeeded only in smashing his shoulder and falling back against the ground. The rifle went skittering away.

As Anya rushed up to see if he was okay, Xander prayed that no one inside had noticed his stupid rush.

Vain prayers. The door opened and the Willow he'd seen inside peered out. She was smiling, but it was the kind of smile that made Xander want to run for his life.

Which wasn't an option, unfortunately. "Um, hello there. We're selling Girl Scout Cookies –"

The grin widened, seeming more and more piranhalike. "You must be what passes for Xander around here," she said. "And that person over there must be what passes for Anyanka."

Anya gave a small wave and took a baby step backwards. Almost too late Xander caught on – she was making for the tranq rifle.

So he had to hold Willow's attention. "Huh? What? No, no. Nothing to do with them. My name's, um, Eric. Eric Bloodstone. Who's this Xander person you're talking about?" Inside, he was thinking, the multiple earrings, the way she's talking, the way they're acting . . .

This isn't possession. Oh, crap, they'd gotten themselves mixed up in another alternate universe. He'd have counted his blessings that it clearly wasn't the one with Buffy the Vampire Queen if it wasn't for what he'd seen inside . . .

A laugh then. "Yeah, right, 'Eric.' Okay then. I believe you. You had a completely innocent reason to come try and break this door down."

"Right!"

The smile vanished. "I don't think so. Almagestus, demon of the swamps . . ."

Right then Riley – or the alternate one – stuck his head out the door. "Willow, Buffy wants to – look out!"

Willow broke up chanting the spell – much to Xander's relief – and said, "Riley, you FUCKING idiot –"

And right then Anya finally got to the rifle. She fired it –

And hit Riley. All the alternate soldier-boy could say before he collapsed was, "I TOLD you to look out." While this was going on, Xander finally scrambled to his feet.

As the pierced Willow began to gesture at Anya, Xander flung himself at the witch, flattening her against the wall. Then he threw himself back on the ground and rolled away –

Just in time, as the second needle in the tranq gun caught Willow in the shoulder.

"Goddess . . . " she muttered before she went down.

"Nice shooting, Anya," Xander said.

"Thank you. It occurred to me that if I were to be following you around on monster hunts I should refresh my memory on how to use weapons."

"Glad you did," Xander said. "'course, that still leaves us with Buffy inside . . . "

"No," a harsh yet familiar voice said from the door. "It leaves you with me OUTSIDE." The two looked up and saw Buffy standing there holding a crossbow.

Which she fired.

Part 5

For the next half hour the other Giles switched between giving them grief for botching how they handled Chermak and giving them details on what they were going to do next. Although they hadn't gotten a word in edgewise, along the way Buffy managed to pick up several things about this universe:

Vampires did NOT lose their souls here. Some were evil, most weren't, and the process of bringing someone over had to be voluntary. Demons tended to vary widely, same as her universe, but more tended to good than evil here.

There was a small group out there fighting against the Slayer and her cohorts. She had help, but they weren't sure from where.

Pat Buchanan was president of the United States; he'd followed up Lyndon Larouche and talk was David Duke was next in line.

Giles seemed to be on a quest to gather as much knowledge as he could, no matter the cost; and while he had the brains of the Giles she knew he was FAR more foul-tempered and had no morals at all.

And while this world's version of Adam had indeed caused the downfall of the Initiative, there were still nearly a hundred prisoners down in their former headquarters – Riley and a handful of the remaining soldiers kept tabs on them, and Giles and Willow used them for experiments.

And Xander apparently used the women to keep Anyanka happy. "Luststone" or not what he was doing was essentially rape.

Giles seemed to be winding up. " . . . and since I KNOW the three of you aren't going to go back and give Chermak the thrashing he richly deserves, get the hell out of my sight."

"There was this spell cast –" Willow began to say –

"Fine, whatever," Giles grumbled. "Take whatever book you need and leave. I have another shipment of treatises on the Greek Gods you're keeping me from." Willow went to rummage through the book collection.

Spike said meekly from his chained position on the couch, "I led you to Chermak's place; could I have my blood now?"

"That," Giles said frostily, "is NOT my concern." He glanced towards Riley. "Ask your keeper."

What did they do? Buffy didn't want them to be separated, and Riley certainly didn't know the score with this bastardized Initiative. Riley saved them with, "You'll get the blood when we get the spell, not before. Now shut up before I shut you up." Spike cringed so openly that Buffy felt sorry for him.

As the three turned to go Giles called out, "You weren't planning on leaving him here, were you? I assure you I have better things to do with my time than nursemaid Spike."

Buffy was about to come up with some reason they couldn't, when Willow whispered, "Go along with him. Trust me on this one."

"Okay, Spike," Buffy said. "Pack your things, you're coming with us."

Wordlessly, the too-meek vampire pointed to the leg shackles. Buffy looked up . . . and Giles said, "Don't tell me you've lost the shackle keys again."

Buffy said snottily, "Okay, I won't."

Grumpily – the way he seemed to do everything – Giles reached into his pocket and unlatched the vampire's legs and tossed the shackles to Riley. That he didn't unlock the hands likely meant that on this world they were used to watching people in the streets in chains. "Lucky I had my set, or I might have just decided to transport Spike into a netherworld or two just for the hell of it."

Buffy hoped that that was just blustering, but somehow doubted it. On the way out, Willow muttered, "Wonder they put up with you –"

And Giles said, "The reason you put up with me, little girl, is because I have brains. You won't keep a damn thing in your head unless it's magical, Buffy won't use the brains she's got, Riley has all the given intelligence of a horsefly, Tara's too scared to speak and Anyanka is only interested in punishing the faithful and screwing Xander. Only one you with brains AND sense is Xander, and he lacks ambition. So if it wasn't for me you'd all me long dead, or worse, 'converted.' So kindly knock off the insults or maybe the next time you ask me for advice on how to kill a demon I may just go, whoops, sorry, don't know that one."

There was nothing to say to that; they all left. And given the nature of the Giles they'd left behind they waited until they were well away to say anything, with Spike walking a good twenty feet ahead of them. The first one to speak up was Riley, who as usual turned his attention to practical matters. "Are we even sure where we live right now?"

"I have no clue," Buffy said.

Willow smiled. "That's the reason I told you to bring Spike. This time, follow MY lead." She shouted, "Spike!" The vampire stopped and looked back. "Do you know where we live?"

The look on his face was uncertain. "Yes . . ."

"Then take us there. The fastest way."

Visibly nervous, the vampire hung a left at the next street and began walking – away from Revello Drive, away from the campus of U-Sunnydale, away from where Willow's parents lived.

It took them fifteen minutes to get there, but Buffy and Willow figured out long before where they were going: A certain abandoned mansion where Angel used to live . . .

Only, of course, here it wasn't abandoned. In point of fact, it was surrounded by an iron fence twenty feet high, with spikes, and to top that it was also electrified. By the time they'd gotten to the front gate Buffy was wondering how they were going to get in. They sure weren't carrying any gate keys around. . .

But then she needn't have worried. As they approach the gate spoke to them, using – Snyder's voice? Another on the long list of things Buffy didn't want to know about this world. "Who are you?" it asked.

Buffy said, "Um, Buffy Summers."

"Willow Rosenberg."

"Riley Finn."

"Voices recognized. Come in." Then, a second later, "There's a vampire here; you want me to kill him?"

Spike looked around like he was looking for a place to hide. "No," Buffy said. "He's with us."

"Your funeral," the gate said. Then it opened and all four walked in.

"If that's the kind of spell I'm capable of here," Willow said. "I definitely don't want to meet me."

Getting inside was a snap; the door wasn't even locked. Ten got you five the fence had other defenses beyond electrification and a snotty gate. Anything that got inside was probably so tough that this world's Buffy didn't want to mess with it anyway.

Spike started to go into the back room; there were chains hanging from the wall . . . thank god, no bodies in the chains. Buffy felt that if she saw one more horror she'd grab a stake and go postal.

"Don't bother, Spike," Buffy said to the vampire, starting to lock himself in. "We can't find the keys anyway. Come on, we're going upstairs." Once there, they looked around. The first room they came to had to be Buffy and Riley's, though Buffy would have only recognized it from the chest at the foot of the full-size bed – and, perversely, Mr. Gordo. The next one was shut and had a big warning on the door: "Come in and we kill you." It was signed Anyanka.

The third room seemed to be a room for experiments, magical and otherwise. Riley slammed the door shut less than a second after they opened it.

The fourth room was Willow's, then, if the pattern held. Buffy reached for the knob and got a mild shock. Willow then turned it –

And found Tara inside, sitting on the bed, in a teddy. "Oh!" She said. "I didn't realize you'd be home this soon – please don't hurt me –" and she came over and shut the door in Buffy and Riley's face. When Buffy reached for the knob this time, the shock sent her flying into the wall. Riley's knocks also got no response.

Spike said, "You're not going to see her for an hour. If you insist on waiting I'd break out a book."

"I don't think so," Buffy said. "Come with me." They went back to the experiment room; Buffy went in, got something, and got out, only by virtue of focussing closely on first the item and then the exit.

Riley frowned when he saw the bolt cutters. "What are you going to do with them?"

"Watch me." Then she told Spike to hold still and snapped the chains with the cutters. "Best I can do at the moment, sorry."

"And now what?" Spike demanded. "I run and you hunt me down? Uh-uh. You want to kill me, you do it right here, right now."

"I'm not going to kill you, Spike. Come on downstairs; we'll get you clear of the gates."

Spike, maybe unconsciously, led the way as always. Riley whispered to Buffy, "I'm not sure this is a good idea. What if he decides to get on someone's good side by ratting us out?"

"Good sides on this world last maybe five minutes," Buffy said. "I'm not going to leave him here to be tortured or killed."

They got to the main gate, which Buffy opened using a variant of the same ritual. Then she told Spike, "Go."

"I don't get it – yes. I do. You're not Buffy Summers. You're one of the white hats. I should have figured it out – the three of you were acting awfully funny."

"No, I AM Buffy Summers. And this is Riley Finn, and that's Willow Rosenberg – she's not in any danger up there, is she?"

"From Tara? Maybe a rug burn, nothing more serious."

"Good. Anyway, we ARE those people – we're just not from this universe."

"No shitting?" Spike asked. "Alternate universes." It wasn't a question, but Buffy and Riley both nodded anyway. "Tell me one thing before I make for the hills – what am I like over there?"

Buffy said, "You are a MAJOR bad-ass."

Spike smiled slightly. "A major bad-ass. I like that."

"You'd better run," Riley said. "If Xander or Anyanka show up –"

"Right. Catch you lot later then –" and then he sprinted off down the street.

Buffy and Riley watched until he was out of sight; then Buffy turned to Riley and said, "That was me good deed for the –"

A voice, a familiar one, said, "You, S? I'd say millennium." Buffy looked up. Somehow around twelve people – a couple of vampires among them – had crept up around them while they watched Spike scurry off. And leading them –

Faith.



Part 6

The shot pierced Xander's shirt and grazed his upper arm; he winced, and Anya charged across the porch. "You hurt –" Buffy took the crossbow and whacked Anya across the face with it, then tried to clock her in the stomach as she fell.

Tried because by this point Xander, knowing he was effectively committing suicide, had gone for her legs. His military knowledge was in tatters, but he knew very well you didn't attack a more powerful opponent by trying to slug it out, whether that was mano a, well, womano or army vs. bigger army.

Buffy went down and Xander grabbed the crossbow and threw it into the bushes. He reached for the tranquilizer rifle but before he got it Buffy stood up and kicked it away from him – then tried to knee him in the face. Xander twisted just enough to catch the knee in the other shoulder, but the impact still knocked him backwards. He barely kept his feet.

Frantically he looked around for something to throw. He had a clear shot up the steps but there was no question of his taking it, at least not to get away. If he only knew that the other Buffy would follow him he'd be up in a flash.

He remembered something and felt his pocket – yes, they were still in there. But could he use them?

But Buffy was holding back, not charging. "What's the matter?" he said, deliberately taunting her. "Afraid to take on the old Xand-man?" He wasn't nearly as calm as he appeared. Giles had been beaten up and Anya was lying on the porch and not moving. He WANTED to charge this grotesque Buffy clone, wipe the smile off her face – but all that would get him was killed.

She laughed. "Right. Afraid to take YOU? That's like being afraid to attack a gerbil – only the gerbil might hurt me."

"Bring it on, then," Xander said.

"You WANT to commit suicide, beardless boy?" Buffy snorted. God, the look of hate in her eyes – he'd never seen it in his, even when she was charging off to kill Faith.

"Not really," Xander said. "I'm just trying to distract – oops." Xander'd read somewhere that the glance behind an approaching attacker, corny as it sounded, still worked. He hoped so as he flicked a glance behind alterna- Buff to Giles' doorway.

Not only did it work, it worked far better than Xander would have hoped. Buffy twirled to face whatever threat lay behind her. As soon as she started moving, Xander ran.

Not for the hills, for the car. He had to remember he was facing someone with Buffy's reflexes, so he had to move VERY quickly. Behind him, he heard Buffy swear and turn to run after him. He pulled open the door and shut it quietly, throwing himself across the seat to give him a few extra seconds.

Reaching into his pocket, he yanked out the keys and then straightened up. At the top of the steps, Buffy stood there -- and sneered when she saw him in the car. "Running away?" she shouted as Xander started the car and backed away. "That's right, leave your friends here with me. I won't kill them . . . well, not all of them . . ."

She was SO wrong.

Xander backed the car up about fifteen feet, turned the wheel slightly, and suddenly gunned it forward . . .

INTO Buffy.

The impact knocked her back down the stairs and onto the ground in a heap on top of Alterna-Willow. Xander slammed on the brakes to avoid rolling the car down the steps, and got out of the car. The other Buffy was breathing. He stepped over her on his way to check on Anya, who was only now regaining consciousness.

"Are you okay –" they both said at the same time. Anya continued, "Head hurts. Shoulder – OUCH!" she yelled as Xander tried to get her to her feet. "Shoulder hurts more," she said breathlessly. Xander pulled down the neck of her shirt gingerly; there was a nasty bruise on the collarbone from where the crossbow had hit it.

Pulling down his own shirt, he noticed a similar bruise on his own chest from where Buffy'd hit him. "I shall have to rub ointment all over that later," Anya said. "And then you shall do the same for me."

Xander said, "I like the way your mind works." Then they went to check on Giles; the Watcher was gagged and bound hand and foot. Working on the knots – and wincing all the while – they soon had him free. His face looked like someone had been beating him with a tire iron. One of his eyes was nearly swollen shut. He suddenly felt a lot less bad about hitting Buffy with the car.

"I think -- I heard what happened," Giles said through puffed lips. "Let's get them in here and bound as quickly as possible. Anya – I have some extra- strong chains upstairs that should be enough for Buffy. Under the bed." Anya nodded and went to retrieve the chains.

Xander went to drag the three in – he certainly wasn't going to make Giles do it – and practically wrenched his shoulder getting them inside. The first thing they did was tie up –

No, not Buffy, Willow, who Giles said was ten times more dangerous. They also gagged her tightly, and Xander didn't mind a bit.

They bound Buffy next, in manacles so strong they could have held the Incredible Hulk. Despite the seriousness of the circumstances, Xander couldn't resist asking, "So, G-Man, what'd you need the chains for? In case your dates get frisky?" Anya stood back with the OTHER tranquilizer rifle, just in case Buffy was playing possum.

Giles, understandably in no mood for humor, simply said, "Faith."

Xander dropped the subject and they finished binding the evil Slayer. They didn't gag her, because they needed to ask someone questions and apparently alterna-Finn would have trouble spelling cat if you spotted him the c and a. They tied him up as a matter of course.

While they waited for one of the evil trio to wake up, Xander called Tara. They needed all the help with the spell they could get. Then they took turns bandaging each other's injuries and discussing exactly what had happened.

Then Tara showed up and they had to explain it all over again. She cast a quick telepathy spell that confirmed that the three people they had bound up were indeed from an alternate universe – it took her about five seconds and she threw up when she was done.

"Never again," she gasped when she could finally speak. "Oh god. I can see – Buffy, Buffy, she killed a woman, a young Caribbean woman, slit her throat and left her on the floor – Riley clubbed someone over the head – and Willow, Willow, what she did to Oz, oh –" she threw up again. "That's enough for me," she said with surprising steel in her voice. "What, what are you going to do with these, these, these – animals is too nice a word, I like animals –"

Anya said, "I say we kill them." She meant it, too.

Flinching at the venom in both women's voices, Giles said, "We're sending them back where they belong." Tara seemed about to protest, and it didn't seem quite fair to Xander either, but Giles added, "There is nothing I would like more right now than pounding the living daylights out of these, these demons in human form. But – if I understand the nature of these spells –" he handed Tara a book, which she began to read intently – "we need to return them intact in order to retrieve our friends." Tara looked up from the book. Reluctantly, she nodded her head. "Then all we need to do is wait for them to wake up – to determine the circumstances of their arrival here."

It took another half hour or so for one to wake up. It was Buffy. The first thing she said was, "Anyone get the number of the truck that hit me?"

"VJA 1759," Giles said calmly. "But it wasn't a truck, it was a midsize sedan."

"Well, you caught us," the Slayer said, almost – nervously? "Bring on the torture. I can handle it."

"We have no intention of torturing you," Giles said.

"Speak for yourself," Anya muttered. "I have plans to string them up by their thumbs and let leeches – oh, you were talking."

"I was," Giles said. "We need to find out how you got here so we can send you back."

"Let me get this straight," Buffy said, sneering. "We beat the fuck out of you and all you're going to do is send us home without supper? God, you people are TOTAL candy-asses."

"We're either going to send you home," Giles said evenly, "Or we're going to stake you out in the middle of a cemetery, cover you in blood, and tell all the vampires in Sunnydale to pop over for the free meal. Unless you actively WISH to be killed I suggest you knock off the insults and answer our questions."

"You're bluffing," Buffy said. "You wouldn't want a vampire version of me running around."

"A vampire would, would probably be nicer," Tara said.

Giles said nothing.

"You know what," Buffy said. "Hell. You're letting us live, I'm not gonna turn you down. But don't expect any favors."

"None expected, none given," Giles said. "Now how did you get here? Explain in detail."

And so Buffy explained what had happened to them – when they'd ended up in this universe. Odd that it was barely over two hours ago that it happened. Giles began paging through the spellbook as she described the thunder –

"Here we go," he said. "This spell should return you to your home universe."

"That fast?" Xander said.

"That fast," Giles answered. He began chanting.

"Hold it," Buffy said. "You're going to send us back like this?" Willow and Riley ahs

"Ask no favors, get no favors," Giles said.

"Count on it," Buffy answered.

Giles finished chanting and the three disappeared.

"That should do it," Giles said. But after a minute or so no one had appeared.

"So where are they?" Tara said. "I mean, the spell, shouldn't they be back . . .?"

"Yes," Giles said distractedly as he paged through the book . . . and pulled open two pages that were stuck together.

In the middle of the spell.

"Bloody hell," Giles said.

Somehow that seemed inadequate.



Part 7



After she shut the door, Tara backed towards the bed, head hung low, dragging Willow towards it.

Not completely sure of Tara's intentions – noting the whips, chains and manacles scattered around the room – Willow pulled away and said, "hold it!" Tara immediately threw herself on the floor, prostrate. "What have I done wrong?" She pleaded. "Tell me and I'll stop!"

THIS was the alternate Tara?

"Tell me!" she demanded again.

A bit more irritably than she'd intended, Willow said, "Stand up and stop acting like my doormat."

Tara blinked and then got up. "If that's what you want," she said nervously. "Um, you usually like it when I do that – have I offended you?" This time, at least, she wasn't pleading.

"No, you haven't offended me," Willow said. "It's just – I'm not up for –" what DID they do? "Much of anything tonight."

"You feeling okay?" Tara asked.

Still guarded – this was a world where everything and everyone, seemingly, was the opposite – good was evil, nice was nasty, and so on – Willow said, "Just thinking. When we went to talk with Chermak some kind of spell hit us." She pulled out the book and showed it to her.

"Horgon's Book of Dimensional Transports? What kind of spell WAS it?"

"I'm not sure," Willow said truthfully. "It felt . . . salty, somehow. There was a sound of thunder and we were knocked down – what is it?" She said, feeling that she'd said too much.

"Where are your earrings?" Tara asked.

"I took them off," Willow said as coolly as she could.

Wrong answer, apparently. Tara shook her head and said, "No, you didn't . . . the holes aren't there. And you'd never take them off anyway."

"Um –" Willow began.

"And, and," Tara said, "You'd NEVER let, let me get away with talking to you like this for this long. Never. You're not that nice." Her voice was even and contained not a trace of malice to it – or affection, either. She would have made a wonderful Vulcan if she hadn't sounded so interested in the answer.

Willow gave up the pretense. "So I suppose your next question is, who am I?"

"I had been wondering," she said, sitting down on the bed with her hands clasped. To herself, on the very real chance that this Tara's questions were the prelude to an evening of torture, Willow prepared a quick defensive spell.

"I'm Willow – just not yours," she said. "That's why I have the dimensional transfer book – to see how we can get back to our own universe – and bring our counterparts back here."

Nodding, Tara said. "Thought as much. What can I do to help?"

"Huh?" Willow said.

Tara laughed. "You expected me to be evil and all torturey, right?"

"It does seem to be the way this universe works," Willow said.

"Yeah," Tara said, now frowning, "It does. But not me."

"Then why are you – with me? The other me? Who is so –" she saw a head, part-wolf, that looked very familiar, and refused to look any closer. She hoped it was Veruca because she did NOT want to consider the other alternative. "So not nice?"

"I – love her, of course. I want her back. And that means I need to help you. So, so I'll help." She took the book from Willow's hands and began to page through it. Tara pulled a couple of pages apart that were stuck together – coincidentally on the page with the spell they needed.

"Why wouldn't she take off her earrings?" Willow asked abruptly a few minutes later. They'd found the right spell to bring them back, alright. And Willow was confident she could do it.

"They help her focus her power," Tara said. "Each earring means greater control of her magic."

"Silver and white gold!" Willow said. "I should have tried that myself. And why have you been the only one who's noticed I didn't have them?"

"No one else knows why you, she, wears them," Tara said. "And she's known for her, um, mood swings. And they're all, well, clueless."

Almost by reflex looking up at the mounted head on the wall, Willow said, "I can tell."

"I assume you don't want the story of how that ended up there?" Tara asked.

"I could not POSSIBLY want to know anything less."

"Well, then – let's doublecheck the spell, alright?"

"Okay."

* * * * *

Even Faith was different. Buffy shouldn't have been surprised, but she was. She stood there in white leather pants and a cream-colored tank top, with a too-familiar look on her face. "Shouldn'ta come out on your own, S," she said. "Gate can't protect you here and we got ways of dealin' with witchbitch Willow if she shows. Payback's a bitch, and so am I. You can save yourself trouble by giving up –"

A man behind Riley – Buffy was shocked to note it was Willy, with an eyepatch – said, bitterly, "Don't go through any trouble or nothin'." Buffy wondered if her alternate had been why he'd lost his eye. With what she knew, she wouldn't have bet against it.

Riley said, "I don't know what you think we did –"

Faith's laugh clearly said to quit the kidding. "He doesn't know," she said to Buffy. "God. He really does fit your pattern, doesn't he? A pretty face and an empty head. So tell me, S: How long's he got to live? I mean, love 'em and kill 'em, that's your philosophy, right?"

"I'm – we're – not who you think we are," Buffy said.

"Sure," Faith said. "Let me guess. These last three years, all the time you been killing and torturing, you've secretly been working for the good guys, right?"

"You're not going to believe anything we say right now, are you?" Buffy said.

"Listen to the queen of understatement. Boys – have a blast." And the assorted vampires and humans attacked.

Buffy and Riley quickly moved back to back as they came in. These people had been trained well; instead of coming in one-on-one, they attacked as a group. Buffy decked the first one, kicked the second and shoved the third back into Willy.

Riley took the first one and kneed her in the stomach, then knocked the second one, a vampire, down. He reached for a stake, but then frowned and jammed it back in his belt. Smart move. Hard to convince them you're one of the good guys if you're killing them at the time.

It took Buffy a few minutes – by which time a couple of their opponents were down, but Riley had a nasty black eye – before she realized that Faith wasn't fighting, just directing the attack. Riley took a shot to the gut and then one of the vampires spun him away from Buffy, into the gate. He bounced off it woozily, and Willy pulled out a club of some sort and knocked him down.

"Riley!" she called out, then decided to switch tactics. She vaulted the next attacker and landed over by a startled Faith. As Willy raised the club Buffy grabbed Faith around the neck. She struggled –

But she couldn't get free. Buffy whistled and yelled, "Willy!" Willy froze and all eyes turned towards Buffy. "Back off."

"I back off," Willy said, "She's dead anyway. And so are the rest of us. At least this way we cost you your boy." He lifted the club again.

"Okay, then how about I do this?" She let Faith go. "Now let him up."

Faith's eyes widened and Willy said, "You're crazy."

Faith went over and snatched the club from Willy's hand. "No. This is what he was looking for." Then she raised her voice. "Hey boss!" Riley got up, rubbing his head.

Slowly, from a small grove of trees across the street, a familiar shape emerged. "I completely agree with you," he said as he came near. When he was about five feet away he said, "You are, then, not the Buffy Summers native to this universe, and neither is that Riley Finn a resident?" Buffy nodded. "That is what I thought. I felt a quiver in the order of the universe a few hours ago – something had unbalanced it. Or, to be more precise, someone."

"Three someones," Buffy said. "Me, Riley, and Willow."

"We need to talk," he said.

Buffy looked the man up and down as Riley moved over to stand next to her. "You got that right, Ethan."

* * * * *

Rupert Giles was cataloguing his books on the proper methods of torturing lycanthropes when he heard a thunderclap in his living room. He looked up and he saw Buffy, manacled and in leg irons, sitting on his couch, while Willow and Riley appeared lying on the floor, bound head to toe. He fixed an irritated gaze on Buffy and said, "THIS should be interesting . . ."



Part 8

"The pages STUCK TOGETHER?" Xander said for maybe the fourteenth time.

"Why, yes, Xander," Giles said irritably. "By all means keep reminding me of that. Perhaps then I'll beat you over the head with a frying pan so Tara and I can GET SOME WORK DONE." They'd been studying the two combined spells for the past twenty minutes trying to determine how badly the stuck- together pages had bollixed up the casting. Since the book itself was in its entirety about interdimensional transportation they hadn't needed to worry about the magical equivalent of mixing a recipe for apple cobbler with one for kidney pie.

In actuality, though, despite grousing at Xander, Giles was almost certain of exactly what they'd done. Tara, who was extremely adept at these matters if you could actually get her to talk, was in full agreement. The difficulty was going to lie in how they fixed it. While Xander paced, Anya spent most of the time quietly rubbing her neck. She hadn't yet once complained about this was effecting her sex life – she was maturing or she realized the gravity of the situation.

"Actually, I think we've figured it out," he said.

"Well? Give it up, then."

"The good news is that all that went wrong on our end is that we failed to bring back Willow, and Buffy, and Riley," Tara said. "It could have been much worse."

"How could it have been worse?" Xander demanded.

"We could have sent them to a world where the Earth had been blown up years ago," Tara responded. "We didn't."

"Objection withdrawn," Xander said wisely.

Giles then continued, "The problem we have is that in sending the other universe's Buffy, Willow and Riley back without retrieving our own, we have, in essence, shut down the interdimensional flow. For the moment, they can't come back, no matter how well they case the spell on their end."

"So send 'em some interdimensional Drano and let's get on with it," Xander said.

"Right concept, wrong execution," Giles said. "The clog, as it were, needs to be unstuck from their end. So instead of Drano, we need to send them some plumbers."

Xander said, "And that would be us."

"Exactly," Giles said. "Tara – I'm going to want you to stay here. Someone with magical ability needs to remain behind in case, god forbid, something goes wrong."

Tara nodded. "I'll see, maybe, what I can do about figuring out some method of keeping track of you." She put down Horgon's tome and went over to Giles' bookshelf.

Turning to Xander, Giles said, "I would think we'd be best off being fully stocked up on weaponry. Go get my weapons stock –" by this point Xander knew full well where it was – "and while you're at it bring a couple of reloads for the tranquilizer rifles."

Tara moved unerringly towards Aruhu's Communications and began leafing through it like she knew exactly what she was looking for.

Maybe she did. It struck Giles there was a lot he didn't know about Willow's girlfriend that perhaps he should.

"I'm going," Anya said directly.

Giles turned; for a second he'd forgotten the ex-demon was there. "Anya, much as I appreciate the offer, you are hardly a trained combatant –"

At the same time Xander, carting over the weapons cache, said, "You're hurt. I don't want to see –" Wordlessly, Anya stood up and poked Xander a couple of times in his wounded shoulder. He yelped and said, "What did you do THAT for?"

"You're hurt too, and you're going. I NEED to come along. I'm not sure how I know this, but I do. There's something telling me you won't come back if I don't go."

"A prophecy?" Giles asked.

"Not as such."

"Then –"

"But not a hunch or 'feminine intuition' either," Anya said, ignoring Giles' interruption. "Maybe it's because I was once a demon, I don't know, but you need me over there."

Anya was deadly serious and not in the least immature about her request, and even if she was wrong about her hunch Giles could see fewer reasons for her not to come than to come. "Very well," he said. "Do you know how to use any weapons?"

"Not really. But I like shooting the gun." Tara closed the book.

Xander, who'd selected a mace, said, "She really was a pretty good shot out there, G-Man. If she's set on coming –" he looked at his girlfriend, who nodded her head grimly. "Then I say give it to her." He walked outside to pick up the other one, still lying in the entryway, apparently.

Tara cleared her throat. "I have the way of keeping in touch with you if you still want it," she said. "I also have the spell I'll need to send all three of you."

"I hope it's different from the one we were trying to use earlier," Xander commented. "I don't think we want OUR three duplicates popping up here." Giles, as Anya and Xander were going to have the two available rifles, took a sword and a crossbow.

Tara laughed nervously. "Not that spell, I promise, a different one." As Giles, Xander and Anya got together, Tara said, "Um, not here, I think, unless you want to pop in, in your counterparts' living room. Might be best to pick somewhere random. And, and, far away from people."

So that's how they came to transport to the other universe in the middle of a graveyard. Giles was nervous about leaving Tara alone there, but the witch assured them she had ways of getting back to safety. She'd cast the tracing spells on them along the way; very simply, really

So she cast the spell and there was a sound of thunder –

And they fell to the ground in what seemed a very similar graveyard.

Only, in place of Tara, they had Spike.



Part 9

If this world's Ethan was fazed, he didn't show it. "I should have figured I'd have a counterpart in your world. May I inquire, does your Ethan Rayne also serve Nabu?" He pointed to the golden ankh he wore around his neck.

"Na-who?" Buffy asked. "No, our Ethan follows Janus. Loves screwing with our lives as often as he can."

"From the way this world operates," Riley said, "I'd guess that Nabu is some kind of god of order?"

Faith smirked. "Wow, this one really DOES have brains. Hey, no offense about the cracks I made earlier – I was just treatin' you like I was told to."

Meanwhile, Ethan nodded and said, "Indeed. Nabu is one of the Lords of Order, and those who serve him as I do strive to bring law to chaos – a difficult task at times." Around them, the mixed horde who'd attacked Buffy and Riley were slipping away, in various directions.

"No kidding," Faith said. "Seems we lose more often than we win."

"And – " Ethan said, fixing his gaze on Buffy, "On your world it's the reverse. Am I correct?"

"Yup," Buffy said.

"At some point in the future remind me to ask you about what else is reversed," he said. "However, this is not the time. You said earlier that Miss Rosenberg had come in with you?"

Buffy and Riley nodded as one.

"Then it might be wise for us to retrieve her. If we are to return you to your home universe it would far better satisfy the dictates of order if you were returned not only at the same time but also in the same place. Is she in the mansion?"

"Yup, there she be."

"Well, then – oh my."

He stumbled and immediately Faith was at his side. "What is it, boss?" she said with concern, propping him up with effort.

After a second he righted himself and took a couple of deep breaths. "Order is being badly distended."

"I'd say so," Faith said. "Only seen it bother you that bad once before. What's up?"

"Well," Riley said when Ethan didn't answer right away, "If our arrival here messed things up, I'll give you dollars to donuts that our duplicates are back in town."

Ethan said, "In a word, yes. And it was never meant to handle situations like this. One person, one universe. The presence of duplicates throws it into unbalance."

"Hold it," Buffy said. "I've dealt with duplicates twice before and nothing happened."

"It takes a while. A matter of hours or days, the universe cures itself. Still, it would be best for the world if you stayed here for as little time as possible."

"And our duplicates are the type who might decide to play around with the universe just for kicks," Buffy said. "Even our Ethan wouldn't do that. He's smart enough to have it figured that if you want to mess around with the universe it helps if you don't destroy it." She turned to Riley. "Let's get Willow and clear out of the neighborhood." They approached the gate and smashed into it.

"Let us in!" they told the gate.

In Snyder's snottiest voice, the gate said, "Hardly. You're a bunch of troublemakers and have no business inside this house."

"Great," Buffy mumbled. "Not only does it talk like Snyder it acts like Snyder." They walked away from the fence and talked; according to Ethan it had the same hearing as a human being did, more or less.

"Some people are the same in any universe," Riley said. He'd never met the late unlamented principal, but he knew the stories.

"This is going to present a problem," Ethan said. "I can't get you inside –"

"No problem, still," Riley said. "Why doesn't Faith just give Buffy a boost?" Everyone froze, including Buffy.

"Um – because I don't have superstrength," Faith said.

"Yeah," Buffy said. "I'd kinda tumbled to that already. What happened? If I can ask –"

"I got no troubles talking about it, Buffy," Faith said. "S thought I was tryin' to steal her spot in the sun. So she and witchybitch Willow cooked up a spell to drain me of my strength; then she beat the living hell out of me, stabbed me with my own knife and tossed me off a building. If the bossman here hadn't pulled a miracle – well, I wouldn't be here." She pulled out a knife and tossed it suddenly; it wound up buried in a nearby tree. "I still got the skills that pay the bills, just not the strength to back 'em up." Despite the tone, there was definite pain in her eyes.

"I – don't know what to say," Buffy said. At the same time Riley mumbled an apology.

"Nothing you can say, Buffy. And Riley, no way you need to sorry me. No way you could've known."

"Enlightening as that is," Ethan said, "It gets us no closer to retrieving your Willow." The voice was not harsh, but it was blunt.

"Why are we making this such a big deal?" Buffy said, then took deep breath and shouted at the top of her lungs, "Hey, Willow! Move it or lose it!"

The top of her lungs for Buffy was loud indeed. Under a minute later, Willow hustled out the front door of the mansion, carrying a spellbook under her arm. The Tara of this world followed her out, to Buffy and Riley's surprise and Ethan and Faith's extreme displeasure. The gate either wasn't feeling obstreperous or didn't have a whole lot of leeway in its orders, because it let Tara and Willow leave the mansion grounds without saying a thing.

"What's she doing here?" Buffy asked.

"She helped me figure out the spell to get us home," Willow said. Then, noticing Ethan and Faith, she said. "Good guys?"

"Good as they come around here," Riley said, still rubbing his jaw.

Reaching for the book, Ethan said, "I'd better have a look at this. While Tara may be the least treacherous and sadistic of our enemies that is hardly saying all that much."

Tara stumbled a bit over her words, but finally said, "I, I just wanted my own Willow back. Best way to get that was to help you leave. So I helped."

"Good spell, boss?" Ethan nodded in answer to Faith's question. "Then we won't kill you this time. Get."

"I'll have to tell her everything, you know," Tara said. "It's like that. All those things you told me, I have to tell her. And she might be able to use them or something, you know, to hurt you."

"Is that a threat?" Buffy asked calmly.

"No! No," Tara answered. "Just, well, the truth. I like you, Willow, but I like mine more. And what she wants from me, well, she gets."

Willow said, "I think I have this one covered." She picked up a handful of dirt. "Mnemosyne, come to me, blur for me a memory, heed the call of this my song, make that which is right now wrong!" Then she blew the dust in Tara's face, and it must be noted that Tara made no effort to get out of the way. "Okay, now let's get going. And I wouldn't advise sparing the horses."

Ethan nodded, a somewhat troubled look on his face, and strode off quickly down the street. Faith followed him, and then the three Slayerettes. "What was that?" Riley asked.

"A memory blur," Willow said. "It'll make her think the encounter happened differently than it did. It won't fog all the details, but enough that it should cover our tracks for a while."

And so it would have.

If only they'd remembered the gate.



Part 10

Giles, Anya and Xander stood there gawping for about two seconds. Then all three of them drew their weapons, and Spike cowered. "Don't hurt me, please –" he began, then noticed something. "You don't have a beard." He was speaking to Xander.

"I normally don't," Xander said.

"Good," the vampire said, straightening. "Always hated the face hair. Made you look like a pimp."

"Are you sensing an attitude change here?" Xander asked Giles. "Because I'm definitely sensing an attitude change."

Spike interrupted Giles' answer with, "The attitude is changing, lad, because I know you're not from this universe. I'm hoping I just left your friends behind me at the mansion – Willow, Riley, Buffy?" All three nodded. "Then I know you're not here to kill me."

"That remains to be seen," Giles said mildly, "In what condition did you leave our friends?"

Spike held up his arms, which had chains dangling from them. "I was a slave for nearly a year," he said. "Your Buffy set me free and gave me a goal. Do I look like the sort of ungrateful sot who'd've done dirt to the woman who gave me back my life?"

Anya bluntly said, "Yes." Spike looked hurt, and when everyone stared at Anya she said, "In our universe, that's what you'd do."

Spike laughed bitterly. "Your Buffy told me in your world I was a badass. I liked it. But if that's what she meant I'm not so sure I want to be one."

"There are ways of being a badass without being a bad guy," Xander said. "Our Spike hates us and he'd do almost anything he could to do us dirt. Not exactly Mr. Worthy of Admiration." He lowered his mace.

"Now I see why your first reaction to me was pulling out the heavy artillery. Figures with you folks being all nice and all my double'd be a sorry son of a bitch." He changed his tone and said, "Right then. So what are you blokes doing here anyway? Doesn't seem like this universe'd be a haven for tourists."

"Um, well, you see, that is . . ." Giles began.

Anya said, "He botched a spell and we're here to fix his mistake."

"Characteristically blunt but essentially accurate," Giles said. "We returned the Willow, Riley and Buffy of this universe but failed to switch them for our own – what is it?" Spike's face had gone from calm to almost frantic.

"What is it? I bloody well though I had some lead time, that's what! Now I have to get out of here!"

"Relax for a second, Spike," Xander said. "Not gonna help you evade capture if you panic. Stop and think a moment about the best way to get out of here. And by the way, could you tell us where exactly you left our friends?"

"Huh? Mansion up on Crawford Street. Right outside, about a half hour back. Keep your face covered if you want to try to get in – the gate has a nasty temper. And now I do have to – ah. AH." He began to shriek in pain and collapsed to the ground, hands pressed to the back of his neck.

"What is it?" They all asked.

Through clenched teeth, Spike gasped out, "They stuck this damn chip in me. Thought it was – AAAH!" He started screaming again.

"What can we do?" Giles asked.

"This thing's set to kill me slow," Spike said. "Why I was leaving." He yelped once more.

"So, c'mon, let's get a knife, dig it out." This from Xander.

"Don't know where. Kill me."

"What?" Giles and Xander asked.

"I'm going to die," he said. "Make it fast. Please." Anya stepped forward and rammed a sharp stick through his heart.

As Spike turned to dust he gasped out, "Thanks."

Angrily turning on Anya, Giles said, "What on earth did you think you were doing?"

"Killing him. Helping him. Same thing," Anya said. "And neither of you two big strong men was lifting a finger." She dropped the stick she was still holding. "Now let's go. Spike left them at a mansion on Crawford street and I have NO idea where that is."

Xander gave Anya an odd look, but hugged her anyway. Giles just started walking.



* * * * *

"So, hold it," Xander said to the assembled throng in Giles' house. "You," he said, pointing to the perennially irritated Watcher, "Let these impostors into your house, gave them a spellbook, and didn't even tumble to the fact that anything was wrong –"

Giles interrupted, "Neither did you or Anyanka." Anyanka raised her eyebrows at the implied criticism and began fingering her necklace, but Giles didn't take back the statement.

"Not our job, G-Force," Xander said. "I'm all around errand boy and slavemaster; I don't have decades of training and the knowledge of hundreds of thousands of books at my fingertips. And, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted," and then he glared at Willow, Riley and Buffy, "YOU guys let a nonpowered version of Anyanka, a me without this studly beard and a pansy-ass Giles clone take you down."

"They had tranquilizer guns," Riley said sulkily.

"Oooh, wow, tranq guns," Xander said. "Wow, good thing they didn't have pingpong paddles; you might've been killed!" Riley glared at Xander, who just kept smirking.

"Lay off the sarcasm for a bit, okay Xander?" Buffy asked. "We got a problem here and your fucking smartass comments aren't helping."

"Do they ever?" he asked innocently. "Anyway, so what do we do?"

Giles said, "Probably nothing. Most of these crossuniverse spells tend to even out, so when you were shanghaied back here your doubles probably were transferred back to their own universe."

Willow frowned. "No they weren't."

"How do you know?" Giles asked irritably. "Last time I checked clairvoyance was not one of your many skills."

"The gate told me," Willow said frostily. "Our doubles were seen leaving the mansion with a spellbook a few minutes back, with, oooh, the servant of order and everyone's favorite crackwhore."

"Ethan must have sensed the change in the order of the universe," Giles said. "Remind me to murder him the next time we meet, will you?"

"Only if I don't get to him first," Buffy said.

"I'm thinking a knife to the gut," Xander said. "You know, disturb the order of his intestines?"

"Been there, done that," Buffy said. "I was up for torturing him to death. Iron maiden, thumbscrews, and maybe finish up with a nice old-fashioned burning at the stake?"

Anyanka said, "Iron maidens are not authentic. How about the plague?"

Willow piped up cheerily, "Ooooh, no, I want a barbecue. I'll bring the steaks." Occasionally she was callous and strange. And those were the good days.

"And I'll bring the sauce!" Riley said, finally perking up. "Gee, a good- old fashioned burning. I haven't been to one of those in ages."

"Back to the point," Willow said. "They also let Spike go."

"And of course he just took off running," Buffy said. "I think our favorite blond vamp has about outlived his usefulness, don't you?"

Nods all around. "Riley, then, if you'd do the honors?" Riley reached into his pocket, pulled out a small keychain, and punched in a number sequence.

"Surprised he can remember the code?" Buffy whispered to Willow.

"I'm surprised he can count to ten," was Willow's response.

At the end of the number sequence Riley pressed a button. After a second, Xander said, "Will? Got the screams of agony thing goin'?"

"Oh yeah," Willow said, smiling sweetly. "I can feel every second of it – it's delicious." Then she blinked and said angrily, "It's gone. Someone took the pain away."

Riley protested, "I don't get it. Those chips should have caused Spike HOURS of pain. What happened?"

"I don't know," Willow said, "But demons to diamonds it was one of THEM."

"I'd like to go out on a limb here and say I hate them," Xander said.

Giles commented, "Careful while out on limbs; people tend to cut them off. Now, if we are quite through with the wordplay, we have some decisions to make."

"What decisions?" Anyanka demanded bluntly. "Find them. Torture them. Kill them. Go to their universe and do it over again."

"And you guys wonder why I love this crazy demon," Xander said.

"And you would suggest we find them how?" Giles said sarcastically. "Ethan may not be in our combined magical weight class but he has so far resisted our every effort to find him."

"Then let's just start where they did – back at the mansion," Buffy said. "Maybe Tara knows something." Willow nodded. Tara knew something, all right. Sometimes Buffy wondered why Willow put up with the flaky bitch. "And I suggest we ALL go. We all have an axe to grind with these bastards except Xander."

"And I'm just comin' along 'cause it's fun," he said.

So eventually, grumblingly, they all headed off to the mansion.

No points if you guess who they found there.



Part 11



"Shit," Buffy said. "Are we party central for alternate universes?" She pointed to the gate up ahead.

"What in Hades are you talking ab—oh." Giles saw what Buffy meant. Three people stood there talking with the fence. One was indeed a Xander without the beard, one was a double of Anyanka, and blast it to the seven hells, one was himself. He reached out a hand to stop those behind him, only to find that everyone else had already stopped walking. "So," he whispered to those behind him. "What do we do?"

"I'M going to go find Tara," Willow said.

"Not holdin' a grudge, Will?" Xander asked. "Gone soft?"

Willow snorted. "Fuck you know. None of them are magic-users, so they're not worth the time. Tara might have answers these bozos don't." Then she smiled. "Besides, I know you guys are on the case. You'll do enough damage."

"Oh yeah," Buffy said. "Go, torture, have a ball. We'll take 'em."

Willow crept off towards the rear of the grounds, to the supplementary gate. Giles then said, "Okay, now how do we handle this?"

Riley said, "Like this." And he screamed and charged forward.

The three duplicates looked up and immediately unsheathed weapons. Buffy and Xander both moved forward as well, now that the opportunity for surprise had been well lost. Buffy unsheathed a stake while Xander took out a police riot baton. Anyanka stood back, but Giles expected no less of the cowardly bitch.

"I'll kill the bloody bastard," Giles said as he reluctantly ran towards the fray.

* * * * *

They'd gotten nowhere with the gate, which had Snyder's voice and attitude and was backed up by about a kajillion volts of electricity. Xander was just about to suggest they order up a bulldozer when they heard someone yelling wildly.

This universe's Riley was charging towards them, murder in his eyes. Not far behind him were Buffy, himself with a beard, and Giles. Anya drew the rifle and pumped out both shots as Giles took out the crossbow and Xander fired his own tranq gun.

In the background, Giles-2 went down, while Giles' shot caught Riley-2 in the knee. He crumpled to the pavement, yelping in pain. Giles struggled to reload the crossbow, but Buffy caught up with him first and knocked it out of his hands with a kick, then punched him in the face when he tried to draw the sword.

Xander took the rifle and swung it at his counterpart, trying to buy time for Anya to reload her tranq gun. Xander-2 caught it with some kind of nightstick and sent it flying, then smashed the stick into Xander's thigh. Falling to the ground, Xander rolled into Xander-2 and grabbed his legs; they both went down in a heap, punching.

Anya by now had the gun reloaded but was too afraid to shoot. Then she – ran off?

What the -- ?

"You know," Xander-2 said, "If you give up now I promise we'll treat you nice."

"On this Earth," Xander said through gritted teeth, "All that means is that you'll torture me to death faster." They rolled clear of each other and got to their feet. Xander's shoulder hurt like someone had been pounding it with a jackhammer.

"Pretty much," Xander-2 shrugged. "But look at it this way. Buffy's got your Giles down –" glimpsing to one side, Xander could see Buffy-2 again pounding Giles, though she did sport a black eye and was bleeding from a cut on her face. Nice moral victory, but moral victories weren't what they needed right now.

He could take Xander-2; he could NOT take a Slayer. Suddenly he yanked out his club, wheeled around, and bodyslammed the startled Buffy-2 away from the unconscious Giles, swinging the club into her as he did so. A shot to the head, a shot to the body . . .

And then she got mad and threw him to the ground. Then she grabbed his club and began hitting. "Not so tough without a car, are you?"

Xander faked unconsciousness, in the hopes that they'd stop pounding him.

Then it stopped being fake.

* * * * *

Xander was startled when he saw his double turn and jump on Buffy. Dude had guts, if not brains. He even got in a couple of good blows before Buffy kicked his ass.

First thing he did was go up and tell Buffy to stop. "Um, Buff," he said, tapping her on the shoulder.

She spun and socked him in the jaw. "DON'T interrupt me when I'm having fun." Then she turned back and made like she was going to keep hitting the other him.

It had been a love tap – by Buffy's standards, anyway, so all it did was knock Xander down. As he got back up he said, "Look, we need to get info from them later. Not gonna do us any good if we have to nurse 'em back to health before we can torture them. I mean, I understand the need here, but let's try to stop short of actual brain damage, okay?"

Buffy blew out a breath between pursed lips and straightened up. "Yeah, you're right," she said. "And besides, dead people work so badly as bait." Then she walked over to Riley, still writhing around on the ground in pain and holding his left knee.

"You okay, sweetie?" she asked. Xander'd heard that tone of sweetie used before and knew what was coming.

"Of course not!" Riley yelled. "The bastard shot me in my knee! Take a look at it, I think it's broken . . . "

Buffy bent down and examined the knee as Xander went over and looked at Giles. Unconscious only. They needed him, and from Buffy's account earlier it'd take an hour or so to wear off. He grabbed the Watcher by the legs and dragged him right in front of the gate. The gate had its instructions and would scream bloody murder if anyone tried fooling around with Giles' body. Not that Xander thought anyone would, but you never knew with these things.

Then he went back over and stood next to Buffy as she looked at Riley's knee. "Shattered," she told him.

"It can be healed, right?" Riley asked.

"Of course it can," Buffy said, squeezing his shoulder. "Relax, soon it'll be all better." Then, as he closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief, Buffy broke his neck. She looked up at Xander and said, "Have him fed to the prisoners."

Xander nodded and hauled Riley's corpse over by the gate, then looked around. Where the hell was Anyanka? She'd stayed back from the fight, like she usually did, but she usually didn't run. Then she popped up from behind a tree; her double lay at her feet. Hustling over, Xander asked, "What happened?"

Anyanka sneered, "She tried something about how we were the same. Phony garbage about sisterhood. I didn't pay attention."

Xander looked down at the body and noticed a big welt on the face. "You HIT her?"

"She annoyed me." Anyanka shrugged. "Then I picked up the rifle she dropped and shot her with it. Now take her over with the others." Buffy was dragging the other Giles away; Xander sighed and grabbed the other Anyanka by the arms and piled her by the gate with the other bodies.

Willow came out of the house then, Tara following her. To Xander's surprise, the dishwater blonde didn't seem to have a mark on her. She must have had a good story.

The gate opened at Willow's signal and Buffy and Xander began dragging the people inside. Xander hauled Riley's body in and dumped it in a pit; from there the remaining soldier-boys would take it to the demons and let 'em feed. Willow just smiled, watching it. She'd never liked Riley.

"Well, Will?" Buffy asked. "What's the haps here? I mean, you went into the house all ready to kick some magical ass and unless I miss my guess Tara ain't hurting."

"She thought she'd bring me back if she got rid of our doubles," Willow said. "Truth spell, the works, long and short is I believe her. I'll get the details later. What happened here?"

Buffy and Xander gave her the story, condensed version; at the end Willow gave an evil grin, the kind she was best at. "Good. There's this spell I wanted to – what's that? Tara?"

"I feel it too," Tara said. "What is it?" There was a sound of thunder.

"One of them's calling for help, I think – look!" The other Xander's body was beginning to shimmer. "Someone at the other end is trying to pull them back to their home universe. Tara? Grab my hand. Buffy, Xander, back." The thunder got closer.

"What, what are we doing?" Tara asked nervously as she clasped Willow's left hand.

"Tug-of-war," was Willow's curt response. Tara nodded and then their faces twisted deep in concentration. "I think . . . I think . . . there!" Then there was a deafening thunderclap and everyone was knocked down.

When Xander stood up, there were now two Taras where there had been one, and his double hadn't gone anywhere. The one at the center of it all stood up and said, "Oh, oh, oh . . . "

Willow laughed and said, "That's not the half of it, sweetie pie. Welcome to hell."



Part 12

By the time they got to Ethan's "hideout" – in an abandoned motel court not thirty minutes away on foot from Crawford Street – they'd gone through several twists and turns. By that time anyone following them would have had to be a combination of the Flash and Batman just to keep up.

Somewhere along the way, Ethan stumbled again, but when asked what it was said, "Not sure yet. Some new factor. I shall analyze it once we're safe."

"How do you keep them from finding you?" Willow asked as they walked over the cracked asphalt of the parking lot. "Illusion spell?"

"Hardly," Ethan said with a trace of condescension. "Illusion spells foment chaos. What I have is a spell that only allows those who have permission to enter to discover our location. Everyone else sees only a burned-out shell no matter how hard they look."

Sounded like an illusion spell to Buffy, but maybe magic, like politics, was all a matter of definition. "We all bunk wherever," Faith said. "The boss takes one room, I take another, and any of our allies who need to hide out get to flop here too. The Boss and me are the only ones here permanent, though."

"Really?" Riley asked.

Faith caught his tone and said, "Yeah, I know you don't really give a good goddamn. But what else we got to do to pass the time, eh?" Ethan opened the door to one of the rooms.

Buffy had been expecting, essentially, a trashed motel room, maybe with some bookshelves. But the place was pretty much stripped of furniture, apart from a bedroll, a trunk, and a desktop lamp and small refrigerator plugged into a portable generator. It was also surprisingly neat, except for some burn marks on the carpet.

"So, any preliminaries here," Buffy asked. "Or do you just cast the spell and everything's alright again?"

"One moment, if you would," Ethan said. "There's the matter of the disturbance to the order of the universe I felt earlier – and now that I have my equipment I can do more to find out what it was. You can observe, if you wish –"

As might be expected, Willow wished to observe, and Buffy and Riley did not. So they went outside to wait while Ethan communed with Nabu. Faith said almost immediately, "Why don't I show you around? To kill time." That wasn't all Faith had in mind, but Buffy couldn't figure out the deeper meaning. So, they got the fifty-cent tour, and began with the motel court's main building. They used the main office as a storeroom and some of the back rooms as a makeshift prison, on those rare occasions they managed to capture the bad guys. Along the way they chatted, comparing notes on the differences between the universes. Ranged from who'd won the Super Bowl to what happened at the end of WW II.

After about twenty minutes or so they got to Faith's room. In comparison to Ethan's, it was amazing. She had a small TV, a cell phone, a boombox, and a laptop computer, as well as an actual bed. At Buffy's raised eyebrows, Faith said, "Boss HAS to live that kind of life, bare minimum. He doesn't stop me from livin' a little, though. Want any grub?"

It had been hours since they ate last; they each wolfed down a soda and a candy bar. Riley asked, "What about the noise? Is that also blocked by the spell?"

"Yeah, but I keep it down anyway. Not much call to party given what we're going through. But it's a nice distraction and I pull down all kinds of useful shit on the 'net. Helps some of the guys we get comin' through here, too – the ones that've escaped S's gang and their tender loving care." They left knocked softly on the next door and a quiet British voice said, "Come in."

Riley turned his head away, and Buffy only stopped herself from doing so by sheer willpower. There were three beings in there in various stages of mutilation, one human, one vampire and one demon. The demon had had two horns sawed through, was missing an arm, and had bandages covering his chest.

And he was in the BEST shape of the three.

The woman who answered the door recoiled when she saw Buffy and Riley standing there. "Whoa, easy there," Faith said. "This ain't you think. We got alternate universe troubles. These here are the good guys."

"I find that very hard to believe," she said. "But if you and Mr. Rayne vouch for them then I shall not disagree. So, why have you come?"

"Just showing Buffy and her guy here what S and company can do," Faith said. "Argall – the demon, there – Giles experimented on him for two weeks. Trying to find out a Mochira demon's tolerance for pain. Lyle, the vampire –" Buffy was startled she hadn't recognized Lyle Gorch, but then the vampire's face had been skinned –"S used her for knife-sharpening. And then –"

"Okay, okay," Riley said. "We get it. We got it already. This universe's Buffy is evil incarnate, and her friends aren't much better."

"They are far from evil incarnate," the woman said. "They have good left in them, still. I know this. I've seen it."

"I believe you," Buffy said gently. "But if that wasn't the point --?"

Faith said bitterly, "What, you expect me to draw some lesson out of all of this? These are people's lives, people's bodies, that S fucked around with. The only point is that they need to be killed, stopped, soon. NOW."

"Are you so sure of that, Faith?" the woman asked.

"Damn sure," Faith said. "How can you take care of their victims and not want to see her impaled on a stake?"

"It's exactly why," the woman answered. "Don't you see? There's been too much killing already. If we do it back we're no better than they are."

This sounded like an old argument, one that had started a long time ago and would no doubt keep going a long time into the future, provided neither of the participants was killed. Riley said, "Thanks for the lesson, Faith – maybe Ethan's done by now?"

Startled, Faith checked her watch. "Huh? Yeah, you're right. Catch up with you later," she told the woman.

"Likewise," she said.

As Buffy left she said, "I'm sure you do a wonderful job taking care of these people."

She flashed a smile. "Why, thank you. How can you tell?"

"Just the way this universe works, Dru," Buffy said as the door closed.

"So how is she in your world?" Faith asked.

"A completely insane, murderous psychopath," Buffy said.

"Figured. Elsewise you wouldn't have said that how you did." It was a very short walk back to Ethan's room, but before Buffy could knock on the door Faith said, "Look. I was hoping seeing those people the way they were would make you want to stick around and take it to S and her buddies. I don't think we can beat 'em the way things are going now, I really don't."

Buffy really had no idea what to say. Faith was close to bursting into tears, she was so distraught. But Buffy, Riley and Willow couldn't stay here; they had their own universe to keep tabs on. And it wasn't like the load was so light back home that she could afford to pop over here for an extended stay.

And the spectacle of an emotionally needy Faith was bizarre to Buffy on the face of it.

So one level it wasn't a hard decision. But on many others it was. It went against Buffy's instincts to walk away from a fight. And there was no question Faith and Ethan were on the losing end of this one, either, "Well, you see, here's the situation –" Buffy began.

"Yeah," Faith interrupted, clearly disappointed. "I figured as much. You got your world, with its own problems, and can't be bothered to deal with ours." The tone held as much resignation as bitterness. Buffy was agonized by the decision, but it was the only one she could have made.

"That's not playing fair," Riley said. "You can't expect us to feel guilty for this."

"I'm not trying to play fair," Faith said, knocking on the door. "I'm trying to win a battle here when the enemy keeps shooting off nuclear missiles and all we've got is a broomstick and a rusty trashcan lid. Fair ain't gonna beat the bulldog."

Willow stood there and said nervously, "Um, he's done, but I don't think you'll like this . . . ."

"What is it?" Buffy said as the three stepped into the room.

"You can't go back," Ethan said. "Not at the moment, anyway. Your duplicates are indeed in this universe, which is now functioning as a multiversal roach motel, due to some mistake in the spell that brought them here."

"Huh?" Buffy asked.

Willow said, "What he means, Buffy, is that people check into this universe, but they can't check out."

"So we're stuck here?"

"Not if we cast the proper spell."

"Then what's the problem?" Riley asked.

"The problem is that everyone who has come to this universe needs to be in one place."

"Here we are – oh no. Don't tell me."

"I'm afraid so. There are now seven interlopers – and the prospects of chaos are increasing by the moment?"

"Wait a minute," Willow said. "A half hour ago you said there were six."

"A half hour ago," Ethan said wearily, "There WERE six."

Riley ticked it off on his fingers. "Me, you, you, Giles, Xander, Anya – and Tara."

"Unless," Willow asked hopefully, "Angel happened to pop into town while we weren't looking?"

The look on Buffy's face said how likely she thought that prospect was.

"This is bad, ain't it, boss?" Faith asked.

"That's not the half of it," Ethan said. "It gets worse still."

"How could this POSSIBLY get any worse?" Riley demanded.

Buffy intuited the reason. "They're at the mansion on Crawford Street." She moved to the door. "Well, Faith, it looks like we're going to help you after all. Come on, guys –"

"Without a plan?"

"We take time to plan, they could be dead," Buffy said. "I saw your little ICU and I'm really not interested in having my friends play center stage in their Olympics of pain."

"And if you charge in half-cocked you'll get killed as well," Ethan said.

They argued for a few minutes until they were interrupted by a knock on the door. Faith went over and opened it – Willy was standing there, with his good eye blacked and one arm dangling loosely in its socket. "S got a message for her double. I'm the poor sap got tagged with delivering it. Sucks to be me. Dru around?" Faith nodded. "Good. I'm gonna need her healing hands when I'm done. Basically, S says for the three of you and no one else to haul ass back to the mansion. If you're not there in –" he looked at his watch – fifteen minutes, she kills all of them."

Buffy swiveled her head to look at Faith and Ethan. "They'd do that?" They both nodded, Ethan reluctantly. "Then plan over. Ethan, you look up that spell. Faith, what's your running speed?"

"I can get there in fifteen," she said.

"Make it fourteen and go get yourself some weapons. On a straight shot it's a mile and a half. Will, you up to this?" Faith sprinted out the door.

"A mile in fourteen minutes? I can do it." Buffy didn't bother asking Riley.

"Good. You two take off now. I'll be in front of the gate on time." Riley and Willow took off at a fast jog.

Faith came back and said, "What's your idea?"

"They have that gate. I'm thinking we get someone inside."

"I told you," Faith said as they took off, Ethan looking at a spell scroll, "I don't have the strength any more. And I don't think I could have taken that kind of voltage even when I did."

"Do you know how to land?"



Part 13



After they got everyone nice and tight – and too fucking bad that the other Anyanka was still zonked, but Anyanka had shot off like three darts into her --Buffy and Willow went out to send a message to the other Slayer.

It had been Giles' idea, of course, and the British bastard was insufferably smug about it, like he was about everything. Simply go out, find a vampire, hurt them and send them running back to Mommy and Daddy with instructions. And, even better, they got lucky – they found Willy wandering around not five minutes from the mansion, waiting in a graveyard to protect the newly fledged vamps from, well, her.

Of course, that was a joke. Willy couldn't protect baby birds from a three- legged blind cat. Willow cast a spell to keep him in place while Buffy spent a few minutes pounding him and telling him what to pass on. Then Willow released the spell and he took off running.

Probably just grateful to be alive. That wouldn't happen the next time; Buffy still owed the SOB for all the info he passed on the vamps and demons, helping 'em stay clear of her. No one fucked with Buffy Summers and lived to tell about it.

Ask Adam. Ask that goody two-shoes Wilkins. Hell, ask Heinrich Nest.

But you'd need a damn powerful necromancer.

Buffy laughed out loud as she and Willow hustled back to the mansion. "Whatcha thinkin', Buff?" Willow asked. "I know that laugh. You're thinking of something evil, aren't you?"

"Just relivin' the fun, Will. Blowing up Wilkins' office. Cutting up Adam with a rusty chainsaw. You know."

"The good old days," Willow said dreamily.

"Quit the nostalgia, girl," Buffy chuckled as they turned onto Crawford Street. "The good old days ain't over yet. We got four on the floor and three coming in for the slaughter. Enough prodding and poking to last us a good long time. And hey, maybe even a way to hurt that bastard Rayne."

Willow laugh matched Buffy's earlier. "Perfect ending to a perfect day."

"Oh yeah. Now c'mon, we gotta get back and help with the crucifixion."

* * * * *

Giles looked over his counterpart's injuries. Said counterpart was tied to a chair in the front room of the mansion, and unlike his two compatriots, he was conscious. He himself was only conscious from a spell of Willow's that counteracted the effects of the tranquilizer.

"Are you quite through examining me?" The other Giles said irritably. "One would think that even the most dedicated sadist would gotten quite all the pleasure they could muster out of my bumps and bruises."

"You'd be surprised," Giles said mildly, "How much pleasure a dedicated sadist can have. It is not, however, sadism that impels me to examine your injuries, but curiosity. I need to see how efficient Buffy was, how well she did at causing you pain while leaving no lasting injuries. And," he added, "it seems she has done a truly excellent job."

"Wonderful," his doppleganger said through gritted teeth. "Why not go tell her now? Take some time, please."

Giles chuckled hollowly. "A rather feeble attempt at bravado," he said. "Not that I don't appreciate the efforts. I have always enjoyed watching the demons squirm before the needles pierced their flesh."

"My god, man, what kind of monster are you?"

"The best kind. I am a Watcher."

His duplicate, thankfully, shut up after that, and Giles began investigating the other two. The Xander was as badly beaten as the Giles had been – with an especially nasty bruise on the shoulder. The Anyanka had not a bruise on her, except for the mark on her face their own vengeance demon had inflicted. An amateurish blow, truly, but then Anyanka abhorred personally inflicting violence, so a certain degree of nonprofessionalism was to be expected.

Besides, he had seen what the woman could do with earwigs. It was a pity her vaster powers could only be accessed through the Wish.

As he was standing up from the final examination he heard someone enter the room behind him. It was Anyanka.

"Yes?" Giles asked.

"I was just talking with Xander and, um, something struck me. I LIKED hitting. I'd like to try it again."

"Touch me and I'll break your bloody neck," Giles said.

Anyanka sneered. "Hardly. I was thinking of them."

"Well, your technique is crude," Giles said, "But given your talent for pain I suspect you'll be a quick learner." He clasped his hands. "And with you guarding them I can go outside and help prepare the welcome for our other soon-to be guests." He nodded and left the room.

Behind him as he walked out the front door he could hear the sounds of slapping.

Slapping? The demon had much to learn indeed.

* * * * *

Faith and Buffy sprinted doubletime to the rear end of S's hideyhole. Along the way, in between breaths, Buffy explained her idea. "Are you out of your fuckin' mind?" Faith asked.

"No," she said, and damn if she wasn't even breathing heavy. "This is the only way to get an edge. In case you hadn't noticed, Faith, we're seriously outgunned. You wanted help in taking them down, this is the way to go."

"I'm just not sure –"

And this was the heart of the matter. As Slayer she was her powers, the strength, the speed, the whole pile of shit. When S drained her powers it had been a terrible blow. She hadn't been in a fight since; she hadn't even really tested herself since.

And truth is she wasn't sure she wanted to.

See, the idea was this:

Buffy was gonna throw Faith over the fence. Run, step, heave, land.

The first three parts Faith was fairly sure on. It was the fourth that worried her. Despite her little show with the knife she didn't KNOW if she could do it right.

Damn.

She didn't need to be so nervous, not with this, much riding on it.

Where was the person she used to be? The one who'd tear into the crowd in a mad whirl?

The answer was obviously – vanished when S tossed her off the roof of a building and onto the bed of a truck. She'd never been the same since, no matter how much of a poser she was.

"Faith?" Buffy said, startling her. "You're zoning on me. Bad time."

"I know," Faith said. "Sorry about that, Buffy. I'm just thinking I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I can land. And after that I don't know if I can fight. I haven't been in a fight in over a year."

"There's only one way to find that out," was Buffy's response.

"I know. It's just a hell of a time to be experimenting, is all."

They approached the back of the mansion and stopped. "Wrong. It's the best time, because it's the only time. Now do you want to take S down or not?"

And of course she did. So she steeled herself for the jump. Far as she knew, this WOULD work – the fence was only conscious where the main gate was, the people inside relying on the extreme electrification to stop anyone else from getting inside. So maybe Buffy's plan would work. She and Ethan had tossed rocks in there before and nothing had happened so likely S didn't see any danger from creeps flying in. And truth be told not many flying demons popped by Sunnydale anyway, and wouldn't you know it they were fresh out of rocket belts.

This was gonna be a rush.

Also, scary as hell.

Three, two, one . . . one step, two, three, don't stop now, go, go . . . .

Up.

Over. (Missed it by THAT much.)

Down, down, and . . .

* * * * *

Buffy caught up with Riley and Willow as they came to the edge of the property. They were both out of breath but they were there.

"What'd you do with Faith?" Riley said.

"Over the edge. Worked like a charm. Now c'mon, we only have a minute." She took off at a fast walk.

"I have this spell I think we can use – if things get hairy," Willow said.

"If?" Buffy asked. "You have quite a gift for understatement – oh my god."

"What is it –" Willow's voice trailed off and no one could say anything.

For in front of them, just beyond the gate, stood a cross.

With Tara nailed to it.



Part 14



The other Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles stood there, smug grins on their faces. The other Tara lurked somewhere behind them. It was all Buffy could do to stop from trying to leap the fence and start strangling them with their own intestines. Then S called out, "Gate, open! And no funny stuff," she told Buffy, Willow and Riley. "Or we do to your other buds what we did to Tara Two up there." She smirked. "See what happens when you cross us?"

No reaction. Buffy and Riley were openmouthed and Willow was close to catatonia.

"Geeze, don't you guys get it? Cross? Cross? You people have no sense of humor, I swear." She turned to the others. "Take 'em in."

"HOLD IT," Riley said, a lot more calmly than Buffy felt. "So you caught Tara. So what?" Buffy grabbed Willow's hands tightly. "That doesn't mean you have Xander, Giles or Anya in there. And right now I wouldn't believe you if you said rain was wet. So prove it. Or we come in there and kick you into next Tuesday."

"You are hardly in a position to dictate terms," the other Giles said.

"Neither are you," Riley answered, Buffy still not trusting herself to talk. "Because right now your only hostage is dead." What? Buffy looked up and Tara wasn't breathing.

"Very well," Giles sighed. "Tara, if you would?"

The other Tara , apparently grateful at the opportunity to get away from the carnage, bolted towards the house.

"You can't imagine how much we're going to enjoy this," the other Willow said. "Imagine being able to take magic from yourself. Hell, it's just going to be so COOL to do that stuff. I can hardly wait."

"Knock it off, would you?" Buffy said. "Bad enough what you've done –"

Smirking, S said, "C'mon now, this is half the fun!"

Suddenly Tara's voice shouted, "Look out!"

And a knife flashed through the air.

* * * * *

Faith had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing when she hit the ground – out of relief, mostly, but hot damn, the thrill was back. She gave Buffy a thumbs up – she took off running – and started to creep around the house.

This wasn't going to be a walk in the park, or nothing, though; she had to keep quiet and lie low and avoid getting too close to the fence. She'd landed near a back corner, so she did her best to be invisible and made her way up the near side of the house, away from the back patio area. But close to the front it became impossible to shove her way through the undergrowth. She had a vague glimpse of what was going on –

Holy shit, they'd crucified someone. She couldn't tell who, but S was gonna pay for this one. Faith drew her knife, perfectly balanced for throwing, and tried to get a clear shot, but missed.

So doubletime around the house. Careful at the patio – nothing stuck out as a trap but witchbitch Rosenberg was good enough to MAKE nothing stick out.

Ah hell. Now or never. She backed up a few steps, took a running leap, top of the wall, one, two steps on the stones, back UP and over the far wall –

Nothing. Nothing.

Sweet.

Okay, definitely time to creep now; not much cover the rest of the way. S and her gang were all looking the other direction and she couldn't see Buffy. No clear shot yet –

Tara flashed by not ten feet away. An easy shot there, but no point; it would've been like stepping on a baby bird. The blonde dashed up the mansion's walkway and inside; Faith ignored her and kept getting closer. Maybe another forty feet before she had a clear shot at S or Willow.

Thirty – behind some bushes. Twenty – behind a tree. Fifteen –

Then from the doorway Tara shouted, "Look out!" Everyone turned around.

No time now. No time to think either. She grabbed the knife and threw it at her only clear target.

And a blast of dust hit her from behind and knocked her down.

As the knife struck Xander in the jugular vein.

* * * * *

Buffy's eyes widened as first the blade hit Xander, and then he went down, blood gushing from his neck. It wasn't what she'd been expecting at ALL.

No time to see if Faith was alright; Buffy immediately leapt towards her enemies, as did Riley.

A gesture from the other Willow froze them in place. Then a similar gesture held Faith to the ground. Only the fact that Willow had been in shock ever since seeing Tara's lifeless body nailed to the cross saved her from the same fate.

"You bitch," S said, looking down at her now red-spattered shirt. "Do you know how much it costs to dryclean this? TARA!" She shouted. "Go with Giles and bring out the other prisoners."

Buffy struggled to break free of the paralysis, but with no success.

"Actually," the blonde said, "That's why I was running back out. They're, um – gone."

"Gone?" S asked menacingly.

"I, I didn't do it. Anyanka's there, there, on the floor and knocked out."

"Bloody cow," Giles said. "I knew she couldn't be trusted."

"Oh well," S said tightly. "Still leaves YOU." She took the knife out of Xander's neck and walked over to Faith. "You first." She drew the knife across Faith's throat once; with a snap of Willow's fingers, she slumped into the grass, obviously dead. Giles moved towards Buffy, but her counterpart held out a hand. "Mine," she snarled. "You'll have to settle for their dead bodies." Tara moved backwards, towards the house, away from the fighting.

Giles looked ready to complain, but one look at his Slayer's face and he closed his mouth before saying a word.

"And now, the boyfriend," she snarled. Noticing Buffy's struggles to break free of the paralysis, she said, "Oh, yeah, that's right. I LOVE it when my victims struggle. Like gutting a fish." And she moved towards Riley with Faith's blade in hand.

Suddenly Giles sprung from the bushes, awkwardly, and slammed into the other Willow, while Xander ran towards the other Giles. Buffy and Riley were immediately freed of the paralysis. Sensing an easy kill about to vanish, S slashed out wildly with her knife at Riley's torso. Anya stood back, away from the fight, and seemed deep in concentration.

Riley had been ready for the attack, though, and had dropped to the ground as soon as he'd gotten unfrozen. The knife missed his head by millimeters. The other Slayer didn't get a second shot, as Buffy plowed into her and started swinging away as hard as she could.

The other Giles backhanded Xander into the ground and kicked him in the head once before Riley took him down with a flying tackle. Xander got up shakily, took a step towards the fray, then fell backwards into a heap. He wasn't moving. Anya stood where she was, though tears began to run down her face.

Meanwhile, the other Willow shouted out a single word, and Giles flew twenty feet up in the air at the top of a jet of fire and landed at the base of the cross. He too, didn't move. With fury on her face she began to chant –

Only to be interrupted by a louder incantation in an identical voice. "Vulcan, god of metals, god of fire, god of old – find for me some nearby silver, and some sly white gold. It is buried in the ear of an annoying hag; take this metal for me, please, and MELT IT INTO SLAG."

The first chant faltered, then stopped entirely. The other Willow's ears began to smoke, then burn, as the metal in the earrings started to melt. She yowled in pain and began frantically ripping at her head, trying to get those earrings out.

Tara walked up to the screaming witch and murmured a quick spell, and a blast of cool moist air engulfed both of them. By the time it cleared, the heat was gone but the earrings were twisted, misshapen pieces of metal. Tara moved to one side as the Willows faced each other.

Meanwhile, the Riley-Giles fight was more even than you might think. Riley might have had the strength of ten because his heart was pure (and his anger righteous), but Giles was older, a lot more experienced, and fought dirty. Now Riley wasn't exactly going by the Marquis of Queensbury Rules, but his training was in martial arts and firearms, not rough and tumble. So by the time they rolled away from each other and got to their feet, Riley was the worse for wear, with both eyes blacked and bruises up and down his ribs, but Giles hadn't come through unscathed, with a broken nose and a busted jaw.

Wearily they both again began the attack.

The two Buffys, of course, were evenly matched once Buffy got the knife from her counterpart's hands, which she did seconds into the fight. From then on they matched kick for kick, punch for punch, except Buffy's had more technique and S's had more passion, more rage. But it wasn't as though S had NO idea what she was doing; she wasn't Buffy's total opposite in this, it seemed.

Buffy thought as she blocked a jab that she needed to use more technique, to counter her counterpart's fire. Play Kendra to her Faith, as it were.

So be it. She did her best to maintain an inner calm, a focus – there was nothing but the fight at hand – and got to work.

Block. Fist to jaw, blocked. Duck. Shoved into tree. Jump to avoid charge, chop back of neck.

She could do this.

She HAD to.



Part 15



The two Willows walked in a tight circle, eyes fixed on each other. Their expressions, also, were identical one of rage and anguish, though with far different causes.

"How the HELL did you figure out the earrings?" the first said angrily.

"Ask your girlfriend," the other one snarled.

The first Willow looked back at Tara, who backpedalled and said, "Um –"

"It is true!" she said in amazement. "I don't believe this. You fucking, stupid IDIOT. You knew how important that secret was –"

"I didn't think this, this would happen!" Tara said nervously. "I swear it! You, you have to believe me!"

"I believe you," the first Willow said. "I also believe you've got about five seconds to live. Five, four . . ."

"Don't!" Tara said.

"Three, two . . ." Finally taking the threat seriously, Tara took off in a zigzag towards the house and the first Willow began to chant a spell. A bolt of ice – a rather feeble-looking one – shot from her hands.

The second Willow came up behind her and shoved her forward, which sent the stream of ice veering off wildly. It froze a small section of ground and missed Tara by fifteen feet and the blonde made it to safety inside the house. The two Willows faced each other again.

"Couldn't save yours, had to save mine?" The first one sneered. "Doesn't matter. I'll get her eventually – she'll come back to me."

"How sad for her," the second one said.

"Anyway," the first said suddenly, then picked up a small rock with telekinesis and threw it at her double. The first one met it in the air with slightly less force, and eventually threw it into the ground. The second one concentrated on a stick in front of her, which wobbled slightly. The first Willow began to laugh.

The second one abruptly scooped up a handful of dirt and threw it in her opponent's face, then jumped on top of her. By the time the first Willow was done spluttering she'd been slammed into the ground several times. A burst of energy knocked the second Willow off the first, who then said, "That's cheating."

"No such thing," the second one said. "Not my fault you think witchcraft's the only way to go." And then she picked up the rock from earlier and threw it at her opponent's head. The first one barely ducked out of the way of that one, but was struck on the shoulder by the sticks that followed.

NOW she was getting irritated. She began to chant to Ishtar to destroy her opponent – a chant that would work even with her lessened strength. "Mighty Ishtar, show me not your aspect of love . . . .

Meanwhile the second Willow prepared a chant of her own. "I'm rubber and you're glue. Whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you." But she said it quietly.

". . . but now let loose your appetite for destruction!" the first Willow finished.

A blast of pure destructive force shot from the first Willow's hand, struck the second Willow, and bounced back and hit the first one.

She vanished, too quickly to scream, in a violent explosion. Unfortunately, the first Willow's wording had been sloppy, and the explosion not only knocked all the combatants down and toppled the cross –

It disintegrated everyone within fifteen feet.

Unfortunately, the second Willow was only twelve feet away.

* * * * *

Riley and Giles were slugging at each other like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in the fifteenth round. Riley's training and Giles' experience had left both men bleeding, battered, bruised beyond the point where reasonable men would be upright.

But neither of these were reasonable men. Giles was thoroughly pissed off at these interlopers who had come into HIS universe and wrecked HIS way of life, and without provocation, either. Plus he knew how dangerous these people could be. Riley'd seen people he cared for, people he liked, crucified, beaten down, and turned to dust, and this jerk was going to PAY for that. Plus he couldn't leave Buffy fighting by herself.

Giles kicked Riley's knees. Riley twisted, took the blow on his thigh, and chopped at the evil Watcher's collarbone. Contact, but Giles grabbed his arm and brought the wrist down on his knees.

OUCH. Riley kicked away and flexed the wrist for a second. More pain. Well, nuts, it was broken.

Smirking when he saw Riley's injury, Giles pressed the attack, coming in with a flurry of punches to Riley's now-weakened left side. Riley bobbed and weaved and stayed out of the way of most of the attack, but enough connected to make him realize that the fight was now a lot less even than it had been.

Obviously running was out. But what to do? First things first, and that's take the attack back to him. Riley lowered his left shoulder and charged at his startled opponent, who fell backwards. Before Giles could roll to his feet Riley rushed over and kicked him as hard as he could in the ribs. He got off three good solid blows before Giles rolled over and stumbled to his feet.

The strain was telling on both of them. Not so the Buffys, who Riley glimpsed briefly out of the corner of his eye. They looked like they could go on fighting forever, and unless he won soon they very well might. The biggest problem was how to do this. Riley was quite ready to kill; this was a fight to the death, no doubt about it. The problem was how.

Then while looking at the Buffys fight over by the gate he got the idea. His only worry was whether he'd have the energy to pull it off, because honestly he was about to drop. The only consolation there was that Giles looked the same way.

Okay, Riley, concentrate. Bob, weave. Let the fight flow naturally. Take the punch; block one, kick back. Maneuver; lash out. Connect with jaw, good, good.

And finally he stopped and dropped his arms to his sides. "Giving up?"

"No," Riley said. "Look behind you."

"Do I look that stupid?" Giles asked irritably. The open gate loomed directly behind him.

Riley shrugged. "I warned you. GATE, CLOSE!"

In Snyder's voice it snarled at him, "I told you you couldn't –"

At the gate's first word Giles turned his head for the briefest of instants –

And Riley slammed him into the fence. The electricity shot through Giles and he dropped to the ground like he'd been cut off at the knees. His hair was wildly askew; his clothes smoked. He was quite unconscious, possibly dead, and Riley didn't really care which.

Riley smiled grimly. "I told you to look behind you."

Then he turned his attention to the remaining fight, and his heart sank as he realized his helplessness. Oh, he knew which Buffy was which --

But they were fighting so far beyond him, certainly given what he was capable of with a broken wrist, that joining it would have been pointless.

So he did the hardest thing he'd ever done in his life.

Nothing.

* * * * *

And so Buffy was fighting Buffy –

Check that. Kendra was fighting Faith.

And the fight was dead solid even.

While "S" connected less often, when she did hit she did more damage, and while Buffy wasn't hitting as hard, she was connecting a lot more often.

"We're even, you know," Buffy panted out, jumping back efficiently.

"Like hell," S snapped, blocking a kick.

"Look around, sweetcheeks," Buffy said. "We've won." She chopped at S's arm.

S looked around wildly and saw only three people besides herself still standing – the other Riley, her opponent, and –

Buffy struck her in the jaw with an open-palm punch, then ducked to avoid a return blow. "See what I mean?" She asked S. "You're outnumbered. Why don't you just give up now so we can END this mess? I mean, look around you. Look at how many people are dead."

S caught Buffy with a kick to the chest. "All the more reason to KILL you," she snarled. "You think I ever really gave a shit about any of them? We used each other, that's all." Then she waded in with a barrage of punches to the chest, which ended when Buffy grabbed her and flipped her over her head. "Your problem is," S said, standing up, "That you DO give a shit. Caring about those losers is only gonna get you killed." Which is the other reason Buffy'd been playing Kendra. If she thought about the dead, the injured out there –

They both hung back for a moment, catching their breath. And that's when it hit Buffy – what she'd been doing wrong in the fight.

Which also marked the difference between the two of them, and why the fight had been so even.

She'd been playing Kendra, when she shouldn't have been. An even fight helped no one. Let the rage, the love for the dead and injured, come out.

Mostly the love.

Because as near as she could tell the only emotion S was capable of was irritation.

Think of Tara, dead, crucified by these children of darkness. Think of Giles, there at the base of the cross. Think of Xander, unconscious, badly beaten, lying on the ground. Think of Willow – Oh God, Willow! – gone.

Gone.

Buffy leapt forward and attacked; S, startled, was forced into defense, blocking more often than not.

And blocking was something she wasn't very good at.

Oh, S was good enough to handle most humans and vampires; but not someone as strong and quick as she was, with more combat skills.

And certainly not with more of what S prided herself on bringing to a fight:

Passion.

And once Buffy figured this out, S never stood a chance.

"You know what your problem is?" Buffy asked just before the deciding blow.

"You," S said unsteadily.

"Nope. Your problem is –" one final right to the jaw and S went down. "You DON'T care."

Buffy looked around and saw Riley. Wordlessly, they moved towards each other and hugged, then took a step back. "Oh god," she said. "Look at it. Look at them. They're all dead." She began sobbing. After a minute, she stopped and looked around again. "What do we do? What CAN we do?"

Shaking his head, Riley said. "I don't know. I just –"

They held each other again, for neither of them knew how long, until they became aware of a third figure standing there. Looking across the body- strewn compound, they saw –

Their salvation.

In the hand of the most unlikely savior of all.

"Well?" the person said. "You know what to say. Hurry it up. It's taken me the last HOUR to get this thing under control."

"Will it work?" Buffy asked.

"Yes." The savior looked away.

"Well then." Buffy took a deep breath. For Willow, for Tara, for Giles and Xander, she hoped this worked. "I wish we'd NEVER come to this universe."

Anya smiled grimly.

"Done."



Part 16

Anya woke up suddenly, in Xander's arms, breathing heavily. She looked at the clock – 2:47 AM. She poked Xander. "Wake up. Wake up."

"Anya, not again. I don't have the strength –"

He was alive. Good. She kissed him and said. "Just making sure you were alive. Go back to sleep."

"I can do that," he mumbled and drifted back off. But of course Anya couldn't go back to bed.

Not with her necklace still held tightly in her left hand.

Carefully – a tired Xander meant a grumpy Xander meant less sex – Anya got dressed, walked up the basement stairs and went outside.

She still had the necklace. Which meant that she and only she remembered what had happened.

Remembered Xander dying.

All of it.

Not that Anya would tell any of them, of course; they hadn't seen all she'd seen, they'd never be able to handle it. That was NOT a tear running down her cheek; that was NOT dread at what could have happened if she hadn't taken Anyanka's place; that was NOT fear that Xander – and the rest of them –would have been dead if the wish hadn't worked.

It couldn't be and so it wasn't.

Anya knew she was lying to herself but didn't care. There were bigger fish to be fried. That she wound up with the necklace in her hands meant she knew who'd caused all of it. Who'd switched the Buffys, Willows and Soldierboys. And why. And quite honestly it pissed her off.

She used the necklace's magic to shift back into her demon form. It had taken her a while to learn how to do this the first time, but this time it was like slipping an old shoe back on. The change, though, made her uncomfortable, like the shoe was greasy inside and two sizes too small. She hadn't been Anyanka in over a year; she was used to being human.

Did she want to get back into vengeance?

It was with these thoughts in mind that Anya went to a graveyard and descended into a shallow cave on the outer edge.

"I know you're watching," she said to the empty air. "Don't make me summon you with the rituals. You won't like my mood."

And then suddenly D'Hoffryn was there, grinning malevolently. "So you figured it out."

"Yes," Anya said irritably. "I never was stupid, you know."

"Yes," D'Hoffryn said, walking towards her. "But you've always had this problem with subtletly."

"I'm working on it," Anya said. "In any event, why did you do this?"

D'Hoffryn chuckled. "Anyanka, my dear, if you figured out WHO it's a short step to figuring out why."

"You were testing me." It wasn't a question.

"Yes. And you passed. Welcome back to the fold, my dear."

"I thought you'd given up on me." Anya faced D'Hoffryn intently.

"My child, do you think it's EASY to find a good vengeance demon? We've offered the post to half a dozen humans in the last twelve months – including your lover's friend Elm, Oak . . ."

"Willow," Anya said distractedly, then caught D'Hoffryn's words. "Willow?!"

"She turned us down," the demon lord said grumpily. "As did they all. They all chose love and loyalty over the chance at power. There's too much of a premium on the higher emotions these days."

"So you chose to give me a test by sending off three people into an alternate universe? How did you know I'd go? I'm not a volunteering kind of person. Really."

"It was set up," D'Hoffryn explained, "So that you would feel an urge to travel to that other universe. If you came back with her necklace – success. If she kept it – well then, she passed HER test."

"And what if I don't want to come back?" Anya kept her voice level.

"Why wouldn't you? For months on end you did nothing but plot how to get back your powers. Now I'm handing them to you on a silver platter."

"Higher emotions."

In disbelief, D'Hoffryn said, "Don't tell me that you actually CARE for these people."

"It's different when you're among the suffering, D'Hoffryn. Xander was beaten nearly to death. I had to watch Tara – an innocent woman here by my standards – be nailed to a cross." Anya's voice wavered, but never broke. "I HAD to, to get control of this damn stone –"

She broke off talking and reached for a rock on the cave floor.

"Anyanka? What on earth are you doing?" D'Hoffryn asked.

"Removing temptation." She shifted back into human form and put the necklace down, feeling the powers blink away like a spent match as she did so. Then she took the rock and began to swing it towards the necklace.

"I wouldn't do that!" the demon lord yelled.

Unimpressed, Anya nonetheless stopped and asked, "Why?"

D'Hoffryn laughed. "Because, my dear, we are now IN a universe created by a Wish. And you of all people should know what happens when the necklace is destroyed . . ."

He was right. She dropped the rock.

"Well then," D'Hoffryn sighed. "Is that your decision?"

Anya nodded.

"Then I'll take back the trinket."

"Not a chance," Anya said, picking the necklace off the ground "As long as I've got it you can't make another – the power of the Wish can be contained in one item at a time. And I think the world has seen quite enough vengeance for a while."

D'Hoffryn said, "But –"

"However," Anya continued. "If you come after this stone I might consider changing my mind."

"My dear," D'Hoffryn said, "You misapprehend me. I have never been one to force someone to take a position they did not wish. And by all means keep the stone; the Wish is far from my only means of exacting vengeance." He vanished and left her alone again in the cave.

That had been a threat; she was sure of it.

So she had to protect the necklace.

Reluctantly – because making her way through the Sunnydale night would have been foolish any other way -- she put the necklace back on and resumed demon form.

But she turned back to human when she reached her destination, and hid the necklace.

Giles responded to her knocks, bleary-eyed, after five minutes. "What took you so long?" Anya demanded. "I need a phone number."

"This couldn't have waited until morning?"

"No. I also need to use your phone."

Giles grumbled, especially when Anya wouldn't explain why, but he eventually provided the number and the phone. He stood there as Anya dialed, until she finally said. "You can go now."

As he made his way upstairs, Giles commented, "Right. How foolish of me to think that I might know what's going on under my own roof at four in the morning . . . "

Then she finished dialing and said, "Hello. Angel, right? This is Anya. We met back on Thanksgiving when you came to Sunnydale and told us all to lie to Buffy. But right now you have to do me a favor . . ."

* * * * *

Anyanka woke up suddenly, in Xander's arms, breathing heavily. She looked at the clock – 2:47 AM. Then she felt around her neck.

Damn it to the seven hells, it HAD happened. The necklace was gone.

This meant she was powerless, in the middle of a group of people who would shortly become quite hostile, and now had no way of protecting herself. She untangled herself from Xander's grip, and when he began to wake up she hit him over the head with a nearby club. It would tell them she was out there, but that couldn't be helped; by the time the rest of the inhabitants of this putrid mansion came investigating – or Xander woke up – she would be long gone. She dressed quickly and was out the front gate within minutes.

They'd still chase after her, of course. She expected no less. For a while her life would be a struggle to stay alive; it would take all her smarts, all her contacts, to do that.

But she'd do it. Because for the first time in over a millennium, she had a concrete goal. Something to work towards.

Find "Anya." Kill her. Take back the necklace.

It would be as easy as breaking a mirror.