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Challenge #9 - Older And Not One Bit Far Away

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  • Challenge #9 - Older And Not One Bit Far Away

    Rating: PG-13
    Disclaimer: The characters in this story are not mine. In fact, the story in this story isn't really mine. Oh dear, even the author of this story isn't me. OK, the imagination used for this story is mine.
    Challenge: Part 1
    A/N: I actually really like this episode, I'm giving it a do-over purely for the fun of taking part in this challenge. This story couldn't have aired as an episode, for reasons obvious when you read.
    Extra info: As much as possible (barring goofs), everything here fits with canon, with the exception of one insignificant detail which is my own touch. (And by canon I mean, of course, BtVS seasons 1-7 and AtS seasons 1-5.)
    Word count: 6,746
    Music on while writing: Blitzkrieg Bop (The Ramones), Hush (Deep Purple), Here I Go Again (Whitesnake), Far Away (Levellers) (PM me for details.)

    OLDER AND NOT ONE BIT FAR AWAY


    Tales from the Tripped
    (Based on a true story. Manuscript ? A L Harris 2008.)

    CHAPTER 14

    It all started when Dawn was called into the school counsellor's office.

    No. It all started when Buffy thought she'd killed a demon, but hadn't.

    Actually, it all really started at Buffy's birthday party. So what else is new?

    In the living room someone, not naming names, had put on Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramones. Xander, Anya, Willow and Sophie ? one of Buffy's new friends or, shall we say, co-burger-flippers ? were in the kitchen, deciding on who should go out to get more beer. And every time the Ramones guy said "hey ho, let's go", each of them felt a bit more like "let's not go". By midnight, everyone was on soft drinks.

    Dawn appeared in the kitchen door. ?The guys are one short for poker.'

    The guests were past the head-banging-to-demonic-music stage. Cards and board-games it was.

    Xander started to suspect something was wrong when he failed to go home and rip off this gorgeous, but mockingly see-through, silk top of his fianc?e's.

    ?We're stuck here in the house, aren't we?'

    Buffy looked across at the poker table from her monopoly game.

    ?Just a hunch.'

    The Slayer got up and went to the front door. She stopped about two feet from it and stood still.

    She returned, reporting an ominous, ?Yep, we're stuck.' Before she could join in the group panic caused by this announcement she saw the others gaping at her. ?Wha-What?'

    ?Buffy, your hair?'

    Her eyes widened at Anya for voicing such a catastrophic foreboding and she smoothed the top of her head. ?What, is it? roughed up?'

    ?No, it's?' Dawn made a mental comparison. ?Long.'

    Buffy pinched a lock of her hair down to her shoulders. She'd had it cut just a few weeks before and it was almost back to its previous length. ?Okay? There's a hairdresser fee I'll never see again? And also, we're stuck!'

    ?Stuck? As in, a rut? 'Cause I wouldn't call --'

    ?Stuck, Spike. As in, here. With each other. Can't leave here.'

    ?It's night time, innit?'

    ?Yes, and why would that make a bit of difference to all the perfectly normal guests here? It's not like anybody has a sun allergy or anything. Shut up.' She turned to Willow and Tara, who were just joining Dawn on the sofa. ?The door is like too?'

    ?Locked?' Anya guessed.

    She shook her head. ?Elsewhere-y. You guys try it.' None of the party of old and new friends budged. ?Come on, maybe it's me. Just try it.'

    ?Buffy, we are,' replied Willow.

    * * * *

    She studied her own reflection in the bathroom mirror, a worried face, alone, adorned with a sunny river of long satin hair. Too long. No, really.

    ?I like it this length, anyway.'

    She slapped Spike's hand which he was running through her hair while smirking at the reflection of hair moving about on its own. ?So not the point.'

    ?Well, at least we know something's going on. We could have been stuck here for days before we realised. Though I probably would have kicked Wasp boy out before that long. Can't even do that.'

    ?You can't do that anyway. Chip, remember? Richard's as human as they get. And I'll bet that's not all he's got going for him. Hey, I wonder if he prefers long or short hair?'

    Spike had about enough time to send her a glare, complete with black eye from last week, before shouts were heard downstairs.

    ?Mine too! Buffy! Mine too!' At the bottom of the stairs stood Anya and Willow. ?My hair. It's longer too. And Willow's. Not as long as yours but? Oh, by the way, long-haired men: hot or not? 'Cause Richard's going Frodo Baggins.'

    Buffy rushed to the living-room to reassure her blind date that nothing scary was happening and all this was just a temporary atmospheric something or other. Sophie was already there convincing him that it must be something they all ate because her hair had gotten longer too and there must have been tap water in the ice cubes.

    ?What're you doing here all alone?' Spike asked, stepping into the kitchen.

    Dawn shrugged. ?That's what I do, haven't you noticed? Alone, middle name.' Spike picked up a large glass and went to the sink. ?Everyone's too busy thinking of a way to leave, or worrying about the length of their hair. Mine's grown too, you know. What the hell are you doing?'

    He finished draining his pint. ?Having a drink.'

    ?That was water.'

    ?I know.'

    ?You're freaking me out.'

    ?Well, I'm parched and we're out of booze. And I really need something? cold. And wet. Water seemed like a good plan at the time.' He looked her up and down. ?Your hair doesn't look like it's grown.'

    ?It has. About an inch, only 'cause it was already long? It's all right, I don't expect you to notice me.'

    ?Has my hair grown?' asked the vampire.

    ?What? Does undead hair grow?'

    ?What d'you think? Course it grows. Just slower. Has it grown? Can you tell?' What the real question was here, though Spike would rather die ? again ? than say the actual words, was "Are my roots showing?".

    Dawn shook her head. ?Don't think so.'

    ?OK. OK. So the humans' hair's grown. And we can't muster the will to open the front door. And your sister's making googoo eyes at a bloody dental floss advert. Know what, little bit? There's something dodgy about this house and soon as we can get out, I'm outta --' He parted the blinds and sprang back with a scream-like growl and in vamp face.

    ?What's the matter?' panicked Dawn. She saw the redness on his forehead. ?Did you get burnt?'

    His grimace and panting had already answered but he did anyway. ?Yeah! Pissin' hell!'

    She glanced at the kitchen clock. ?But it's 3 in the morning!'

    ?I know, that's why I wasn't being careful!' He nodded at the blinds. ?Can you have a look because I'm not sure what the bleedin' hell it is I saw out there.'

    He sheltered himself behind the wall while she gingerly pulled the blinds up.

    She stared in silence for a moment then muttered, ?Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.' Not looking away from the scenery, she shouted, ?Buffy!' then gave in to the terror and shrieked, ?Buffy! BUFFY!' in that particular shrill voice of hers.

    Her sister barged into the kitchen, followed by everyone but the witches, who were chatting upstairs.

    Buffy followed her sister's gaze and understood her anguish. Outside, the sun was up. In the middle of the night. And its untimeliness was the least of their worries. It was blinking. On and off, with a regular flashing of 15 seconds or so. The sun was on the blink.

    * * * *

    At 3.20 a.m. ? Xander knew the exact time because he was in front of the DVD player clock and he kept checking it because of the crazy ? Buffy and her guest-looking inmates sat down, some on the sofa, some on the floor by the sofa, some opposite the sofa across the coffee table. Dawn brought a tray of hot coffee for everybody; it was getting late but now wasn't the time to fall asleep. Besides, no one had the guts to chance it and wake up to find the sun missing or something.

    ?Okay, Buffy, think. Think.' The Slayer hugged her knees in a corner of the sofa, looking at some random point on the floor. ?What happened that could have caused this? It's gotta be something that happened today? What happened today?'

    ?Ooh-ooh!' Clem raised his hand. ?We won gold at speed skating!'

    Spike sighed with pain and dabbed his forehead with a few drops of water from his pint glass. ?What'd you kill last night?'

    Buffy's eyes widened and Willow turned to Richard. ?Hey, in my room upstairs there's a couple of huge meteorology and astronomy books on the shelf. Do you think you and Sophie could check them out? They might have some answers to all of this.' The new friend and the blind date got up and headed to the stairs. ?I wouldn't come back down till you've read through the first 350 pages, though,' Willow called before they got out. ?Some pretty key concepts in there.'

    Spike winced with another pang. He had a gulp of water. ?Did you know the beastie?'

    ?No. Big fighty thing. You know. Fightier than less fighty ones. Oh, and, sword! I brought it back, it's in your designer weapons cabinet, Xander.' She nodded at the wooden chest by the door. ?Tried it for size.' She smiled at her friend, still thrilled with the hand-made gift.

    Xander opened the chest. ?Let's see what you look like in your new abode? I mean? Let's see what menacing powers this demonic blade comes with.'

    He held the sword up to the light. As he inspected it closely he felt something like electricity run through his whole body from the hand holding the weapon. With horrified eyes, Xander witnessed a gruesome demon morph out of him into the room.

    The guests recoiled with a gasp and took cover somewhere out of the way.

    ?Please, don't mind the human passageway here, feel free to pop in whenever!'

    ?Xander!' Buffy sprang to her feet, indicating the sword. The young man chucked it to her.

    She lunged, sword forward, while Spike pounced on the beast's back and held on. The demon was surprised into turning around and Buffy struck Spike's leg, causing a red gash and another growly scream.

    ?You know, if you didn't like my birthday gift you shoulda said.' Spike pummelled his piggy-back ride on the head.

    ?It's not that.' She punched the demon in the jaw. ?Course I liked it.' He punched back, knocking her head back. ?Who doesn't like a real human skull?'

    ?It's an ashtray! At least I made it myself.'

    Xander grabbed the monopoly box and rammed it in the demon's gut but that seemed to have no effect whatsoever. The Marvel Comics edition and everything.

    Buffy kung-fu kicked the monster in the groin and he leapt back a little, Spike still hanging on to him. He retaliated by lashing a backhand in the Slayer's face, which made her step back, dropping the sword, and was Spike's cue to clasp his head and twist it in an attempt to snap the neck. The demon shoved both elbows into the vampire's ribs, sending him crashing onto the poker table. Before Spike could get on his feet and Buffy charge back, the demon picked up his sword and disappeared into the floor.

    ?Great.' Buffy panted. ?It's in the house. And we can't get out of it.' She looked at the poker table. ?Spike, you okay?'

    The vampire, doubled up there, seemed to take an awfully long time to recover. ?Yeah.' He dragged himself to the coffee table and flumped onto the floor. ?Yeah, it's?' He was out of breath. Which, for someone who doesn't breathe, is never a good sign. ?I'm fine. Is the bloody heating on? Can we turn it off?' He downed the rest of his pint of water.

    ?No, please don't turn the heat off?' Tara requested.

    ?Th-There's no heat,' informed the owner of the house. ?On or off. I didn't turn it on today.'

    Tara nodded, then collapsed on the sofa.

    ?Tara!' Willow bolted to sit next to her. ?Are you okay?' She turned to Buffy. ?She's shaking.'

    ?Tara, are you cold?' asked Dawn.

    ?I―I don't know.'

    Willow took her hands. ?She's burning up!'

    Buffy laid her palm on Tara's forehead. ?Dawn, go get some ibuprofen out of the medicine cabinet, please.' She glanced at Willow while the teenager rushed off. ?We can't get out, so we can't get her to a doctor, I just want her fever to drop.'

    ?Spike, are you okay, buddy?'

    The worried tone of the question, even in Clem's mouth, made Buffy look behind her shoulder. He didn't look okay. His eyes were a little crazed and he was panting away like he relied on oxygen. He also seemed to be hurting, but both the sunburn and sword wound were too minor to cause great pain to a vampire.

    ?I've never seen a vampire sweat before?' volunteered Xander, concerned that this might be another symptom of paranormality.

    ?Oh, I have.' Buffy felt the funny looks on her. ?A―After a chase! They sweat, they―they can perspire, their glands -- They have all the glands.' Somehow, that didn't drive away the funny looks.

    ?I? Bit under the weather.' Spike panted and shivered. ?So bloody hot. I can't? breathe very well.'

    ?Spike, you don't br?' Buffy trailed off, dumbstruck by the sight of him taking her birthday bouquet out of the vase, laying the flowers on the coffee table, bringing the vase to his lips and gulping down the damn flower water.

    ?Thanks,' mumbled Tara. She swallowed the pill with a swig of coffee.

    Willow smiled at her. ?This'll fix you right up. You'll be all unfever-y in no time.'

    ?Yeah.' Tara returned the smile. ?I'm sure I will. I think I feel better already.'

    The mug fell down and the coffee spilt all over the floor. Tara grasped her heart. Her eyes rolled back and she started convulsing.

    ?Tara! Oh God!' Willow instinctively hugged her to keep her still. ?What's happening to her?!'

    Buffy grabbed Tara's legs as they kicked randomly about. ?Somebody call 911! Ask them what to do!'

    The convulsions stopped. Tara's eyes resumed their normal position, before she closed them and slipped into a coma.

    * * * *

    ?Hang up.'

    ?Shut up.'

    ?Hang up the? buggerin' phone, Slayer.'

    She paced up and down by the sofa where he was half-lying, his back against the sofa's arm and his legs on the seat cushions.

    ?I know who you're? phoning. Think I don't? know? Hang the hell up.'

    ?Spike, save your breath, you moron. Literally. I'm phoning Giles, okay?' She continued stepping anxiously. ?Pick up, you dumbass?'

    ?Yeah, right. Giles has a nice pair of? fangs and a big? tragic brow. Can't stop screwing? with me, can you?'

    Buffy, the unanswered phone still to her ear, crouched next to him. ?Look. We're trapped in this house. Tara's lying unconscious upstairs and Willow's too upset to do anything and even if she wasn't, she's not using anymore. You're here being diseased undead, and Xander and Anya are at a loss but everyone concurs that everything's gotta be linked to bizarro flashing sun! And if it's flashing here, it's probably flashing in LA. I can't get hold of Giles! He's got Wesley! So I'm damned if I'm gonna be picky about who I beg for pointers here! Save jealousy for a rainy day. Not a flashing sun one.'

    ?Your Majesty's beverage.' Anya handed Spike a bottle of water which he started to drink.

    She sat down cross-legged on the floor with her back against the sofa.

    Dawn joined them. ?Here's the blanket you wanted.'

    Anya put the blanket around her shoulders. ?Xander's upstairs. I wish he would snuggle with me. He's not a public snuggler.'

    ?Do you want me to get some pillows? I have star-shaped ones in my room. This is nice. Kinda like a slumber party.'

    Buffy slowly placed the phone on the table, glaring at her sister. ?This is NICE?! Dawn, Tara is very sick right now!'

    ?I didn't mean it like that --'

    ?Spike's not doing much better!' Buffy went on, too mad to hear the youngster's excuses. ?And we can't get out of the house and there's a deadly demon in it, and the sun's going all Morse code, and I have no idea how to fix ANY of it!'

    Dawn shook her head, a crying grimace on her face. ?I meant, at least we're all together while this is happening!'

    ?And then some,' remarked Anya. ?I knew we shouldn't have told Richard your parties were such a hoot.'

    ?Shhhoot, Richard! And Sophie. Are they still upstairs?'

    ?With Clem. Oh, they won't be coming down for a while,' reassured the ex-demon. ?I took care of them.'

    Buffy shot her a worried look.

    ?They're going through your childhood photo albums,' Anya explained, turning her friend's worried look into one of utter horror. ?Did you try Giles?'

    Buffy sighed. ?Not answering. Maybe he's out, it's 4 a.m. now so, what, lunchtime in England? I'll try again in ten min--' She stopped, catching Anya shivering under her blanket. ?You all right?'

    She smiled and nodded. ?Just a little cold.'

    ?It's soddin' boiling!' Spike had another swig of the almost empty bottle.

    Dawn looked at him. ?Want me to get you some ice cu--'

    A knock on the front door interrupted them. Buffy glanced towards the hallway, surprised, and went to answer the door.

    ?Giles!' She pulled him inside and hugged him. She seemed to hold him against her forever, she was so relieved he was here. ?Am I glad to see you!'

    ?Well, I―I wish I could say the same, Buffy, but I thought we agreed. What are you doing here?'

    She closed the door, processing what he'd just said. ?Excuse me?'

    ?I thought it was best if I went to Sunnydale on my own.' He studied her puzzled face and in turn looked puzzled. ?B―Buffy, your hair?'

    ?I know! It's grown!'

    ?No, it's?' He frowned at her, baffled. ?It's blonde.'

    * * * *

    Xander had his work cut out for him. Convincing a witch in love that you do not use magic to resuscitate your comatose soul-mate. Who happened to be kind of her ex-soul-mate right now, too.

    ?I thought you'd tossed everything, anyway.'

    Willow swallowed hard, fidgeted on her chair, and looked nervously ahead, eyes welling up from both the pressure and worry. She muttered, ?Not? Not "everything" everything.'

    It was so not his job, but no one else was around to do it, he was the one sitting here next to her. ?Do you think that's smart? Does Buffy know about this?' He nodded at her bed. ?Do you think Tara would like to know about this? She was so proud of you being spell-abstinent for 39 days and now you wanna go and ruin it?'

    Her tears rolled down and she choked on them. ?I can't bear to see her like this, I can't sit here and do nothing. I have to try something, Xander. It's not falling off the wagon if you jump off! I'm not staying, I'm not staying on the wagon without Tara.' Her imploring eyes punched him in the gut. ?I could do one last spell, and get her to come to, and then I won't touch the stuff ever again, I swear, Xander, just one last one.'

    ?Will, you know you can't.' Xander's own throat wasn't so untight right about now. ?You're totally getting ahead of yourself. And no one can blame you, after what you went through last year. But Tara's not going anywhere. She's unconscious but her breathing's regular and we're gonna keep an eye on her and take her to a doctor as soon as we can get out of this place. And she's gonna get better. The right way.'

    ?You don't know that,' she sobbed. ?You don't even know that we'll ever get out of here.'

    He hugged her tight and smiled comfortingly. ?Well, no. No, I don't. But do I usually know what's going on? Rest my case.'

    * * * *

    ?Wow, living in London's turned you into a total fashion guru. You even know hair colour names now.' She led the way into the living-room. ?What's Dawn's called?'

    ?Brown? No, Buffy, it's just that you haven't been bl--' He gasped and recoiled, catching a glimpse of the sofa. He stared at it in silence and stood still while Buffy dragged one of the poker chairs to the coffee table for him.

    ?Giles! So cool you're here!' Dawn ran to him to give him a hug too, during which he stayed silent and kept his eyes on the sofa.

    ?What's up? Rupert? Look like you've seen? a ghost. May as well have,' Spike added with a grimace of pain. ?Thought you couldn't? get hold of him.'

    ?12-hour flight, Spike, of course I didn't arrange this over the phone ten minutes ago! Good timing, though, Giles, just when this whole multiple-eclipse-multiple-side-effect crisis is going on.'

    Dawn headed towards the kitchen. ?I'll make you some tea.'

    ?Ye―Yes, I, er, I'll be needing that.'

    ?So, you're here about the sun, right?' Buffy beckoned him over.

    He slowly walked to the chair, not taking his eyes away from the sofa. ?The sun, yes? The―The sun?'

    ?Blinking its? arse off?'

    ?Surely that's global.' Anya winced and put her hand to her chest.

    The Watcher just stared at her silently. His eyes then shifted to Spike just behind her, then kept going back and forth between him and Anya.

    ?Giles, old chap, what brings? Solar lighthouse, huh?'

    ?Xander, you're here too --' Giles jumped as he turned to discover the young man walking into the living room. ?Xander, you―you―your face! Your? Can you see me? In 3-D, I mean?'

    He answered by turning to Buffy. ?Jet-lag?' He sat down on the sofa's arm but somehow missed and flopped down onto the floor. ?Huh?'

    Giles gazed suspiciously at him. ?You misjudged the distance, there, didn't you? How many fingers am I holding up?' he asked, waving four fingers in front of him.

    ?Um, four. How many brandies did you have on the plane is a more fitting --'

    ?Yes, four, that's right. And now?' He placed his other hand over Xander's right eye.

    Xander gaped, blinking his left eye hard. ?Okay, that's not scary? Not!'

    ?You can't see, can you? Out of your left eye.' Giles removed his palm and then there was light, again.

    Xander blinked his right eye at Buffy, making her appear and disappear ? pretty much like the sun, come to think of it. ?So that's another one of the freaky freaknesses? I'm blind in one eye, sweet.'

    Anya groaned with pain before Xander's alarmed eyes. Eye. Whatever. ?Ow? This is like the mother of all heartburns. Only more. And lined up. Like a line of heartburns from here to here,' she described, running her finger along a diagonal line from her shoulder to her hip. ?Hate being human. How do you do it? All that pain malarkey. What's with that?'

    Dawn put a down a tray with a mug of tea, and slid a pint of water in front of Spike, handing him another one of ice cubes, which he proceeded to slip down his t-shirt.

    ?Giles, what's going on?' pleaded Buffy. ?Is it? Is it magic gone loco again?' She looked at Xander. ?You leave Willow on her own?'

    ?She's all right, she's? She's clean. She's reading Harry Potter to Tara.'

    ?Yeah 'cause? that'll help with her joneses,' snarked Spike.

    ?Ta―Tara's here?'

    ?Yes, I invited her. You know, for my birthday. But she passed out earlier and she's unconscious. Her breathing still okay?' she asked Xander.

    ?Your birthday?' Giles sipped his tea. ?Your birthday in? in the winter?'

    ?Yeah, I? I got rid of my spring birthday,' she quipped. ?Giles, you know when my birthday is, you sent me a card, I got it yesterday. Thanks, by the way. Love the reference to those demons, Kierkegaard something?' Her voice resumed its urgency. ?We need to get out of here. And fix the sun. Before someone?' She trailed off, seeing both Spike and Anya quietly writhe in agony.

    ?This is your birthday and I wasn't invited?'

    She shook her head at the inappropriateness. ?You're always welcome, you know that! You left, remember? So I could learn to cope by myself! Well, how's this for an outstanding inability to cope!'

    ?No, I mean?' He took off his glasses pensively. ?I wasn't around. But Tara was.' He got a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket and wiped the lenses. ?This is 2002. Winter 2002.'

    Xander nodded understandingly. ?Is there a thing? A prophecy, meant to happen in the winter of 2002?'

    ?None that I know of, but that's a very good theory, Xander, and one we must look into.' He got up and crouched by Anya, supporting her head. ?Lie down and try to keep still. The fewer movements the less discomfort. Dawn, could you run a cold bath for Spike, please? He needs to get his body temperature as low as possible. Put ice in the water if you can.' Dawn rushed off and Anya lay still on the floor.

    ?I don't understand. I thought his body temperature was naturally low.'

    ?It is, Buffy, but right now his body's going through? It's catching up. Anya, how are you feeling?'

    ?Weak. Sore.' She indicated the diagonal line again. ?There.'

    ?I know, I know. Try not to move. Try to stay awake. Spike, can you make it to the bathroom?' The vampire's sole reply was a look of aching anguish. ?We may have to carry him up there.'

    ?I can do that.' Buffy sighed heavily. ?I don't understand how a vampire can get sick. Is it a mutated virus thing? Is it?' She lowered her voice. ?Treatable?'

    ?I?' Her Watcher hesitated. ?I don't know if it's treatable, Buffy, but you deserve to understand what's happening. These "side effects" aren't illnesses. And I don't know what you think you've seen but?' He went to the window to peek behind the curtains.

    ?Flashing. On and off. You had that in England too, right?'

    ?No, I didn't.' He returned to his seat and gestured for her to sit down too, which she did, on a corner of the coffee table, facing him. ?But then again I haven't come from England.'

    She narrowed her eyes in incomprehension.

    His reluctance to explain battled with his desire to alleviate his Slayer's concern. ?Well, I have, but not the England you think.' He sighed. ?I'm afraid I shan't be able to tell you much, the Universal Guidelines are very clear in this situation. But? I'm just going to say it. I come from the future, Buffy.'

    ?The? The? The?'

    ?Awesome!' Xander said. ?Did you teleport here?'

    Giles fell back on his long-practised technique of ignoring him. ?I don't understand it myself. Two days ago, I got a telephone call from Wesley, of all people, telling me that Wolfram & Hart had spotted something inauspicious at the Sunnydale site and that someone familiar with Sunnydale ought to check it out. Your house? This house. It had re-emerged. So I discussed it with you and --'

    ?Wait a minute, wait a minute. Wolfram & Hart?'

    ?Long story. Which I am under no circumstances at liberty to relate, so please don't ask. But the point is, that I discussed it with you and we agreed that I would fly to Sunnydale to investigate while you stayed in London with the Pot-- While you stayed in London. With Willow. And Xander. And Fai-- And Xander.'

    ?With me? Future me?'

    ?Well, yes. You. This very Buffy,' Giles noted, himself amused at the notion. ?Except you've had your hair black for about a month. Ever since?' He stopped but was unable to suppress a glance at Spike. He was resting, eyes closed and lying still.

    ?So, wait. We live in London? That's gotta be the missus. Hear that, honey?' Xander put his hand under Anya's nose, checking for air. ?You're making me eat mint sauce and Yorkshire pudding.' She opened her eyes and managed a smile.

    ?Yes?' Giles sighed. ?It's temporary. You all have plans to travel for a while.'

    ?So, it's all in the house?' Buffy summed up. ?Because it's?' She frowned. ?What do you mean, "re-emerged"? Re-emerged from where?'

    ?That's not important. What's important is the here and now. And my concern is that I'm positive I tried to get out earlier. When Spike mentioned my seeing a ghost. Yet somehow I'm still here.'

    ?Yeah, that's another side effect. We're all trapped in here. Oh, I shouldn't have let you in! Dim Buffy!'

    ?Buffy, I?' Dawn had returned from the bathroom and stood frozen. ?I don't think he's resting.'

    Her sister sprang to Spike. He was cold. And not breathing. He was dead. Which all made it really hard to tell if he was better or worse.

    ?Oh no, oh no, oh no,' panicked the Slayer, her eyes welling up. ?He's inanimate. That's not normal.' She turned to their rescuer from the future, who lowered his eyes. ?Giles, what is it? Why are my friends dying?!'

    ?Because your time has gone wonky! That's why, Buffy!' He stood up and pointed angrily at the curtains. ?That's not the sun flashing or multiple eclipses! Those are days and nights! On: day, off: night. Every 15 seconds! The sun's movements must be too rapid for the naked eye. I haven't travelled from the future! You people have joined me there! Someone has been fiddling with time!'

    ?But why is that affecting Anya, and Spike, and Tara?' cried Xander.

    ?Because they no longer?' Giles gazed at him. ?Because they're probably sensitive to the declension of atoms caused by fluctuations in the time-continuum,' he stated casually. ?You know how it works, you've seen enough science fiction movies. Time instability is powerful and it affects people differently. You've been affected too, you've lost your sight in one eye. I don't know why it's affected your eye and it's affected Buffy's hair.'

    ?You don't?' questioned Buffy.

    ?What I don't understand is that I have no memory of this from the first time around,' Giles pondered out loud. ?I wasn't here. I was in England. But should I be remembering my timeline meeting with yours? Or did that not happen the first time around? Oh, time-warps are so mind-boggling! We haven't got time for conundrums! If Spike dies now? Spike can't die now!'

    ?What d'you mean, "now"?!' Buffy demanded.

    ?There's probably a window. During which both causal lines can co-exist for a while, as long as this one hasn't yet set. But if we miss the window, if this causal line sets, with key players incapacitated? We could get trapped in the Hellm--' He looked at Buffy. ?It will undoubtedly affect my present. And?' He glanced at the drawn curtains. ?This is still going on so, we're probably well past my present by now.'

    Spike opened his eyes and sat up with a start. He looked around with wild eyes, and calmed down seeing Buffy. He extended his hand to grab the pint of water on the table. His fingers went through the glass and water like they were air.

    * * * *

    Xander lunged to the bed and sat down on it. There. Now it didn't look so much like a wake. Anya and Tara were still breathing so he wasn't having the others act as if they weren't. They could stare their mournful eyes at them all they liked, it was a coma, two comas, nothing more. You don't sit down next to the body, now, do you? Next to the unconscious you might.

    ?I think I can do something. I kept a book. And some herbs. Their breathing's gotten so slow? I think I can do something.'

    ?Willow, you are not doing magic.'

    ?But Giles, this isn't about me anymore! If I think I can help I have to try!'

    He glowered his authority at her and replied through gritted teeth, ?Willow, you are not doing magic. You understand? It's not time.'

    Spike's voice resounded from downstairs. ?Er, Buffy! Slight problem!'

    She ran downstairs followed by the gang, including Willow, who Giles's persistent glare made it quite clear he wasn't leaving behind unsupervised.

    Spike was clutching away at a double-headed battle-axe in the weapons chest, unable to grip it, his left hand passing through the wooden handle. ?Talk about soddin' pulling through.'

    Giles looked ahead, about three yards left of Spike. ?So? Everyone neglected to mention the beastly red spiky demon stuck here with us?'

    ?Didn't I say? With the swordiness? My bad. And? my bad,' punned Buffy, pushing past Spike to grab the axe. ?Chicken!' she taunted the demon. ?Pick on someone your own corporeality.'

    The demon charged, sword forward. Buffy lashed the axe at him, but he disappeared. She heard him reappear behind her and turned around. He stood before Giles and was about to attack him. She kicked the demon in the back, shoving him crashing into the Watcher, with the sword driving into the wall, missing Giles's ear by an inch.

    ?Ooh, Giles, you okay?' she asked, pulling the monster off him by the shoulder. She raised the axe again.

    ?Watch the collaterals,' moaned Spike. ?Right nesbit today.'

    The demon popped out again, dodging her fatal blow. He reappeared facing Spike. He swung the sword, slicing a clean cut just under the Adam's apple. Buffy yelped, helplessly watching Spike's decapitation and demise. The vampire screamed, eyes shut tight, the tingling in his limbs spreading to his whole self as he turned to ash.

    Huh, did not turn to ash. How about that. No ash. No tingling, no beheading disintegration fun. Ohhh. The perks of going through objects like a knife through immaterial butter. And vice versa. With objects going through him like a sword through his airy neck without actually decapitating anything.

    Buffy clicked at the same time as he did and moved on. So did the demon, flinging her to the other side of the room.

    Spike had gone to the opposite corner, sheltering something ? someone. He stood in the demon's way. The beast walked right through him and grabbed Dawn by the arm. He pulled her to him but she flailed, and he realised he needed both hands to contain and eat her. He gauged Spike, only opponent close enough, and, dismissing him as harmless, dropped his sword on the floor.

    Buffy got up from the smashed poker table. ?Spike, the sword!'

    ?I can't, can I! Not like we're making pottery!'

    The demon held Dawn still and leaned into her face. She squirmed, petrified.

    Spike leapt to the sword. He gripped it and drove it into the monster's side, which sucked him into the blade. Without thinking, the vampire snapped the sword in half.

    The party breathed with relief at one of the problems solved.

    ?Did you do the old ghostly hyper-concentration-to-touch trick?' asked Willow.

    ?You can do that?'

    ?I think so. You can in most ghost mythology. You didn't do it? How did you touch the sword?'

    ?Maybe I did concentrate.' He brandished a mug, proudly. ?Maybe it's second nature. I am usually on task, I am. No matter how distracting the surroun-- Is that blood?'

    ?Yeah,' replied Buffy, wiping the corner of her brow. She traced Giles's strenuous gait to the sofa with worried eyes. ?Giles? No. Not you.'

    His forced smile did nothing to reassure her. ?I'm only a little faint.' He flumped onto the seat.

    ?No. No. No. No.' She ran to him. ?No. You are not faint! I can't! I need you!'

    ?It's not me, Buffy. I'm fine. I, on the other hand, am vanishing. You've altered my present, and it would now appear?' He frowned. ?? that I'm not in it.'

    ?What does that mean?' she demanded.

    ?It means that we have to reverse this anomaly before I cease to be biologically, er? existent.'

    ?How did we alter your present? We didn't even move from here.'

    ?I don't know, Xander, I can only speculate that our numbers having been affected I now die instead of -- someone else. In any case that's why I can't tell you about your future. Because I could be threatening it by the very act of revealing it.'

    ?Instead of who?' urged Buffy. ?You die instead of wh--'

    Spike dropped the mug and creased up in agony. ?My hands! Just above the wrist? It hurts! It? I can't feel them! I can't feel my hands!'

    Buffy turned to Giles.

    ?Don't look at me. Haven't the foggiest.'

    Spike joined him on the sofa, holding his hands apart palms facing up, like some sort of new-age preacher. Buffy leaned over and slowly poked him in the belly with her index finger.

    ?Oi. I look like a creature to you? I mean? You know what I mean.'

    ?Not ghost-y anymore. Can you move them? Your hands?'

    ?No, I can't even feel? Oh,' he let out. ?I'm all right now.' He wriggled his fingers. ?Hands are fine. I couldn't feel? How random.'

    ?Ya think?' Xander couldn't help saying.

    Giles's breathing was getting more and more effortful. ?We need to find out what caused this. Was there anything unusual in the past few days? Or anyone?'

    ?Well there was that demon we just?' reflected Buffy. ?Some demons can distort humans' perception of time, right? Happened to me last week. Time got all shuffled up.'

    ?What, like with Rwasundi demons? No, this isn't a temporal disturbance, it's time-acceleration. Fast forwarding, if you like.'

    His description rang a bell. ?Could be my archnemesis-sees. Warren, Jonathan and that other dork. They've done it before, remember? When I tried going back to college and time went by without me? It was them, their van.'

    Even thinking was becoming increasingly exhausting for the Watcher. ?Without you. Like without this house. Time outside has accelerated, but not inside the house. As if the house and all its inhabitants were protected from? evolving.' He looked at Buffy. ?Someone wants people to stay. In this house, and the same. Someone doesn't want to lose people.'

    Slowly, but categorically, all eyes turned to Dawn.

    ?What? I didn't? I never meant for this to happen! You keep going away!' she accused Buffy, Giles, Tara, her mother, her father, and the world.

    Buffy rolled her eyes with both guilt and frustration. ?And you don't want people to leave you anymore. You wish they wouldn't. Did you?' She shook her head, lips together. ?? voice that wish?'

    ?Hey!' Xander protested. ?Anya's retired!'

    ?No,' specified the Slayer, ?to a stranger. Dawn? Did you express a wish to someone you don't know?'

    The girl nibbled her bottom lip sheepishly. ?Like the new? guidance counsellor?'

    ?Anya's friend,' mumbled Giles. ?She had a friend, ex ― colleague. Came to Sunnydale a few times. You told me about the sacrifice? Can't remember her name.'

    ?There's this veiny? She invited her to the wedding,' remembered Xander. ?Halfred?'

    ?Halfrek!' Giles blurted. ?That was it. You must summon her.' He saw their blank looks. ?Just? Call her name.'

    It's amazing what a little name-calling can do. Halfrek dropped by, refused to break her spell, then got stuck in the house stuck in the future, and reconsidered. She vanished with a snap of her fingers, and with her so did the Watcher from the future ? who safely returned to his present ?, the comas killing the girls upstairs, the sun's fast forwardness, the time elapsed outside, the vampire's bizarre symptoms, the friend's one-eye blindness, and the Summers house confinement. Even the hair went back to its original length.

    What didn't go away, though, was the little sister's remorse for putting the people she loved in danger. That night, when everyone had gone home and all was well that ended well, she tossed and turned, recalling her visit to the guidance office.

    "That's two different things, honey."

    "Pardon me?"

    "What you just said. Those are two distinct, separate wishes."

    "Wishes?"

    "Issues. I'm just concerned that one has been troubling you more than the other."

    "Troubling? No, seriously, it's no big deal. I'm fine."

    "Of course you are. But you just said, ?I wish I could make them stop going away. And I wish time would go faster so all of this was in the past.' Now, is either of those issues more pressing than the other?"

    "No, they're not ― they're not even issues."

    "Of course not. Just thoughts. Two thoughts. From a student who's had to deal with an unusual amount of hardships lately. Well, as I say, this is an unusual situation but? I'm sure we can work something out."

    Dawn's last thought before she found sleep was for her friends, her family. She knew, right then, she would never stop wishing for them to be around. She would just have to wish quietly.
    Aissy
    Hellmouth Tourist
    Last edited by Aissy; 31-07-08, 04:31 PM.
    "I'd like to keep Spike as my pet."
    "Get out of my temporal lobe, House!"
    "Confessssssssssss!"
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