The Chosen Few
by Ana Lyssie Cotton
Disclaimer: Cable, Professor X, Meggan, Brian, Rogue and all the X-characters named don't belong to me. They belong to Marvel. Buffy, Willow, Faith, Giles, Ethan and all other Buffy folk mentioned don't belong to me. Joss Whedon created them and Fox owns them. No money is being made from this fanfic, although if you really WANT to pay me, I wouldn't say no...
Archiving rights: Unless you've got carte blanche from me, please ask. Mainly, 'cause I like to know where things are. :)
Shiftworld/Shadowlands were created by Alicia McKenzie, who has graciously allowed me to play in her universe. Chee. :)
*: and :* indicate telepathy.
Rating: Er, PG13, for language. I'd like to warn any Buffy watchers that this does mildly spoil the fourth season. And definitely the third season's finale. I don't think it spoils anything in the comics, although I could be wrong.
Dedication - I'd like to thank the Academy... Er... Lynxie and Sparks. I'd like to thank the two of them for their insatiable rantings of "MORE!"
Flonq it all. That last one had been bad. Real bad. As if some extra oomph was put into the effort by the shift. He winced and slowly sat up, carefully ignoring the protests his body made. His surroundings swam into view. The wall next to him was a blinding white. Sunlight poured down thickly onto grass and trees all around him. The branches swayed in a breeze. Flonqing hell. It was almost a paradise.
"Excuse me." The voice came from his left, and he turned carefully.
She was about Tabitha's age. Blonde like her, too. That was where the resemblance ended. This young woman carried herself with a calm strength that reminded him of some of the Askani. As if she knew exactly what she was capable of and wasn't afraid of doing it.
"Who are you?" She smiled and gestured, "You see, men who have, um, metalic arms, don't just pop out of nowhere for no reason. There's usually something bad about to happen then."
She'd seen him come through the shift, then. He winced and stood. Who was he indeed. He chuckled bitterly, "My name is Nathan. And I truly mean you no harm."
"That's nice. I'm Buffy."
Buffy. It was all this world needed. A paradise, and a girl named Buffy. He threw back his head and laughed. The sound was harsh at first, then slowed down into something deep and disturbed. The girl stepped back, worry in her eyes.
"Are you all right?"
"What do you mean?"
Buffy Summers listened to the strange half-machine man. Cyborg. Like Adam. She fought down a shudder and tuned back into what he was saying. Something about universes breaking and timelines fracturing. All over her head. She sighed. "Okay. Never mind, Nathan. I think there's someone else you should tell all this time-fractured stuff to. I mean, I may be the local--hair dresser," She corrected, catching herself in time, "but I know nothing about this sort of thing." As the Slayer, you were sort of supposed to keep that a secret. She was getting better at it. Really.
"That sounds good." He swayed and caught himself against the wall. "Where am I, by the way?"
"Sunnydale, California. The University campus, to be exact." Buffy began rummaging in her purse. "You're lucky I was here. This is the summer semester and most people only stay long enough to miss their class and leave for other things." She triumphantly pulled out her cell phone. "Luckily, I happened to be passing by and saw a flash of light. And then you."
Her mother had given her the phone as a present for not blowing up the school before the end of the semester. Willow Rosenberg, her best friend, had gotten a loan from her parents for a car. She dialed. Willow picked up on the third ring. "Hello?"
"Hey, Will. I need you to come out to the campus. I sort of need a ride. To Giles'."
"What?" Worry coloured Willow's tone. Rides to Giles' usually entailed end-of-the-world apocalypse type stuff. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. We've got a visitor from another universe here, Will. He needs to talk to Giles."
"I'll be there in ten--South Lot?"
The phone went click. Buffy folded it up and put it back into her purse. She looked at Nathan. "If you're right, we may not have ten minutes. But..."
He nodded tiredly, "I understand."
"Giles is... really good at some of this type of stuff. He should be able to help. I mean, he's kept the Hellmouth closed for four years..."
Buffy was the current Slayer, Chosen One, she who fights in graveyards. Slayers were a mystical contrivance of the Powers That Be that helped keep the vampire population down. She was supposed to keep her secret identity, well, secret. Which was hard if you developed the horrible thing known as friends. The Council of Watchers hadn't been too pleased.
Eventually Buffy had told the Council to go hang. She was currently attending Sunnydale University with Willow. Xander Harris, her other best friend, had opted to take a year and discover himself in many cheap, meaningless jobs. Like as a pizza delivery boy, or an ice cream man. His girlfriend, Anya wasn't too thrilled about it. But she stuck by him.
Giles was Buffy's ex-Watcher. He'd joined her in open defiance of the Council's strictures and continued helping her even though he had no job. He'd sort of lost it when the school library was blown up. Difficult to be school librarian when the library went boom.
Nathan was a bit embarrassed to find that he needed to lean on the young woman on their walk to meet her friend's car. She didn't seem all that bothered by his bulk, either. He frowned, wondering if he was strong enough for a light Psi-scan. She'd lied earlier, when she'd called herself a hair dresser. She was something very different, unless his instincts were wrong.
"Ah, there's Willow." The blonde left him leaning against the railing at the top of the stairs and trotted down them, waving to the approaching green car.
Stairs. The rest of the walk had been on level ground. But now he had to deal with stairs. He fought to retain his dignity and started down, carefully holding onto the rail. The stairs seemed to suddenly get longer as he went down them. He glared down the sudden vertigo and finally stepped off the last one as Buffy opened the door and waved him into the car.
"Will, this is Nathan. Nathan, this is Willow. She's a good friend of mine. Will, we need to get to Giles'."
"Right." The redheaded young woman smiled at Nathan as he sank into the back seat, legs happy to not be supporting his weight anymore. "So, how did you get here?"
"Let's wait until he can talk to Giles, Will." Buffy turned around in the front seat and looked at Nathan in concern. "When was the last time you ate?"
He honestly had no idea. Oath, but he was hungry. His stomach rumbled agitatedly. "Quite a while ago."
"Okay." Buffy turned around and sat down again, "Will, take us to McDonald's first."
The patio was a quiet haven from the daily hustle and bustle of life. Rupert Giles had finally found that it was the easiest place to relax and enjoy things slowly. And to read a good book. He had a lot of reading to catch up on, now that disaster was averted, again. Besides, this novel was quite fetching.
As things will, his peace was interrupted rather quickly as his ex-protege, Buffy Summers, came dashing down his steps. Behind her was Willow, and a very tall man with silver hair and a cybernetic arm. He blinked. The man was sagging as he stepped down into the yard.
"Giles, Nathan here says there's something wrong with the time stream, or something like that. I thought, maybe--EW! Giles, you're reading TOM CLANCY??" His Slayer groaned, "I thought you would have more taste."
"Back up a moment, Buffy. Who is this gentleman?" Giles stood and pushed his glasses back, surreptitiously dropping his book on the chair.
"This is Nathan." She replied impatiently.
"Um, Nathan..." She turned to the man. "Nathan?"
The man straightened, "Nathan Summers."
Buffy's mouth dropped open. "You're a SUMMERS?"
He blinked at her, then nodded slowly. "Yes."
"Giles, he's a Summers!" Buffy plopped down onto Giles' vacated seat, not even noticing the book she was sitting on.
"Now, Buffy, I rather doubt it's anything more than a bad coincidence." Giles turned to Nathan. "I'm sorry, I think you just startled her."
"If it's a problem..."
Willow shook her head at the man and grinned. "I think it's just that Buffy's a Summers, too. She's sort of freaking. Give her some time."
He nodded slowly. "I see." Nathan Summers turned to Giles. "Something precipitated a fracture in reality. Time streams everywhere are caving in."
"What?" Giles stared at him. "That's..."
"Impossible." The other man snorted. "I'm from one of those other time streams. It's not. You're young lady here, oath, she saw me fall out of the inter-dimensional rift."
Nathan stiffened, and stared behind Giles. The hair along his back stiffened. He swore raggedly. "There is another shift coming this way. The three of you need to come as close to me as you can. Hurry!"
The food Willow had fed him was slowly beginning to infuse itself into his system. But his reserves were terribly low. He cursed again. Oath, he hoped he could keep them safe. He couldn't just let innocents die.
Buffy stared at him, uncomprehending.
"Another--" Giles trailed off and stared at his house. There was a wall of crystal flowing over it, freezing it as it came. And then the frozen bits were beginning to shatter. "Bloody hell."
"Quickly!" Nathan snapped, reaching out with a telekinetic tendril to pull Willow against him. He caught Buffy's hand and dragged her to her feet. Giles reacted and stepped next to him as the telekinetic bubble formed around them.
The crystal wave hit then, washing over them with a kaleidescopic intensity. And they watched in horror as the patio shattered into myriad pieces and then reformed into something else.
Buffy stared at the wave as it passed over them. It was beautiful and terrifying at the same time. And it reminded her of something, but she couldn't remember what. As quickly as it had come, the wave was gone, leaving the world around them unchanged--unless you counted the shattering part. She shook her head and looked up at Nathan. "Is it safe now?"
In answer, he dropped the TK bubble and stepped away from them.
The courtyard they stood in was much the same as the one they'd left. Except that there was a man sitting in Giles' chair. And he wasn't Giles. He was looking at them in surprise, though. "Hallo, what 'ave we here?"
Giles frowned at him. "You look extraordinarily familiar."
"Ripper!" The man dropped his book and stared at him. "My God, it really is you. I thought... The Council said..."
"Ethan Rayne, as I live and breath." Giles stared at him.
Buffy stepped up to him, "Ethan Rayne. Wow. So, the Initiative boys let you out, huh?" She snorted, "Oh, wait. I bet you escaped during the nasty fight where we saved the world again."
"I'm sorry, but, you are?" Ethan was looking at them all, still puzzled. "Ripper, I know. But the rest of you..."
"You wouldn't." Nathan interjected tiredly. "They're not from this reality."
"Of course," Giles blinked in surprise. "Ethan, who are you?"
"The current Watcher." He shrugged. "And you all are?"
"I'm Buffy Summers, this is Nathan, and Giles, and Willow Rosenberg."
Ethan turned white as he stared at Buffy. "That's impossible."
"It is?" She blinked at him, "Rayne, I've seen lots of impossible things. This is... One of them, yes." She looked at him harder, "So, why is it impossible?"
Willow placed an arm around Buffy as she swayed. "Maybe he doesn't mean dead, dead. Maybe just sort of dead."
"And you, Rosenberg, why is your hair red?"
"Um, it's my natural colour."
"When I saw you this morning, it was green."
"Will? With green hair?" Buffy snickered, restored to her normal self. "Please. Not."
"Hey, Ethan, what's with the conference?" The voice came from behind them, sounding casual, female, and familiar to them all--except Nathan.
"Faith!" Buffy whirled to stare at the girl and blinked. Faith was wearing her normal sort of getup--leather pants, tiny top that pushed everything up and into view--and had short hair. "I thought... Right. Nathan says this is not our world."
"And who the hell are you?" The brunette looked her up and down, "Wow. Massive fashion victim, here."
"Bite me." Buffy smiled sweetly and turned to Nathan. "How soon before this reality gets shiftstrands?"
He shook his head, visibly swaying from exhaustion and strain. "Not sure."
"He can't go on like this." Willow noted, worried. "Nathan, you should sit down." She turned to Rayne. "Er, do you have anything to eat? We could--at least Nathan could."
Ethan rolled his eyes. Fine. So the Rosenberg tart refused to recognise him. Food. He could do that. "I'll be back in a moment. Faith, watch them."
"Right on, Boss." The brunette Slayer leaned up against the wall. "So, tell me, if you're not from here, who are you? I mean, Will, new look there. Sort of the geek inside."
"Bite me, Faith."
"Whoa. Girl has bite. NOW you sound like the Rosenberg I know." Faith sauntered towards her. "What, did little Tara start straying again? Is this punishment? The hair, the clothes?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Willow turned away from her and gasped. "Nathan!"
He blinked blearily at her, as she suddenly started to get taller. Falling. He was falling. Oops. Willow jumped forward, attempting to halt the fall, but she was too small. They both went tumbling to the ground and Nathan hit his head. Darkness claimed him happily.
Buffy Summers was never surer than now that something was seriously wrong. First, she watched a man fall out of mid-air--not surprising, except he'd just *appeared*. Second, that man had announced that her world was about to fall apart. Third, he'd then proceeded to drag them through the shift WITH him, and not leave them to die. Fourth, Faith was now the current Slayer. And that was wrong, in Buffy's view. Very wrong.
"So, Faith, how'd you become the Slayer?"
"Oh, y'know, hairy mole, super-strength, cute Brits." Faith shrugged. "You?"
"Same thing." Buffy paced in the confines of Ethan's living room. It was similar to Giles', but... Not as geeky. More bachelor-paddish. As if the man living there had wild one-night stands often. And thought nothing of them. "Except... I tend not to kill and torment the people who are my allies."
"Huh?" The other Slayer blinked. "What are you on about, Summers?" She snorted. "Besides, you're dead. Killed by your precious GILES."
"What? Giles killed me?" Buffy blinked and sank onto the couch, stunned. Although she still noticed that it was newer and more comfy than Giles'. "He... How?"
"Word is, some demon came down and possessed him. Old Ethan here was the only one to come out alive--well, Angelus did, too. But that's okay, I staked him after he turned Kendra with the help of that insane bitch."
"Yeah. That was it. Say, what happened in your world?"
"Eyghon. The demon was named Eyghon. We--Willow figured it out. She had Angel allow the demon to posses him. It fought, Angel won. And, Kendra... Kendra died at the hand of Drusilla." Buffy's head dropped and she stared at her folded hands. "It was my fault. I let them get ambushed."
"Oh, fuck fault, B. Honestly, it's not as if they didn't know what they were getting into in the first place."
Silence reigned for a time as each girl sank into her thoughts. Buffy thought of guilt and blame and forgiveness. And Faith fought curiosity. It finally won. "So... How am I, in your world?"
"You're... in jail."
"Jail. Huh. Who'd've thought it? Me, in jail." With a snort, Faith hopped up and began striding around the room. Her movements were more forceful than Buffy's. Less aimless. More like a caged panther that wanted out. "How?"
"You... When you were called, you came, in trouble. We... tried to help. And then one night, you killed a man. And blamed it on me." Buffy looked at Faith, eyes bleak. "We tried to stop you--Angel, he could have, I think. And then the Council--Gods, that stupid Wesley--"
"WESLEY? Oh, God, they sent that fucking poof around about four months ago. Ethan sent him packing faster than you can say 'Tally ho!'"
"He stopped Angel--kidnapped you. After that, you didn't trust us, and... you went and became the Mayor's flunky."
"Whoa--snake-demon Mayor? The one we charbroiled on Graduation Day?"
"Yeah. Except you weren't there when I blew him up--with some help."
"Where was I?"
Buffy got up herself and began striding around, energy making her fidget. "In a coma." She continued before Faith could interrupt. "You shot Angel with a poisoned arrow. The only cure was a Slayer's blood. I... knifed you, but you jumped off the roof." Buffy stopped and turned to stare at Faith, her eyes seeing her, yet not. "You turned up later, of course."
"Like a bad penny."
"But it was too late. I'd already let Angel drain me."
"You let some blood-sucking fiend drain you? Girl, you are insane." Faith whirled away from the other, trying to block out the thought of herself on the side of the demons. On the side of those who'd killed Xander. "Wait. How am I in jail?"
"Well, you woke up, stole my body, fucked my boyfriend and then we switched back, you went and tried to kill Angel, he took you in, and then you gave yourself up. Happy?"
"I did that? Cool."
"Yeah. Real cool." Buffy sighed, "Although it's too bad you didn't do it sooner, since I might not have stayed with Riley so long, then."
"Riley? Oh. Boyfriend I screwed in your body."
"Yeah. Stupid boy is..."
There was a moment of complete accord between the two Slayers. A moment. And then Willow came dashing through the door, Ethan on her heels.
"We've got shiftsign! Where's Nathan?"
Hangovers were a terrible thing. Dom always used to tease him about that. He got them at the drop of a hat. Or after one drink. She'd always had this knack of waking up before him and then mercilessly making loads of noise. Of course, it was probably payback for all the times he came in very late. Or went places without her. Right.
The hangover this morning was horrible. Flonq, the fever dreams that had accompanied the binge of the night before were staggering, really. After all, reality couldn't shift.
"Nathan! Wake up!" The voice was desperate now. Desperate? Why? After all, it wasn't like--
His world came crashing back in as Willow dumped a bucket of cold water over him. "GAH! FLONQ, that's COLD!"
"I'm sorry," she was nearly crying, "But there's another, and it's almost here, and, and--"
"It's okay, child."
"I'm not a child!" She grabbed his arm and dragged him to the stairs. "Hurry."
The others were below, looking worried. Five. He would never be able to hold five stable. Three, yes. But five would kill them all. He looked at Giles, hoping the man would understand the look he was sending him. Giles looked up, then nodded, understanding in his eyes. He turned to Ethan. "We should go get supplies."
"Yes." And they left. Nathan closed his eyes. Oath, the man was wonderful. And brave. He opened them and reached out, enfolding Buffy, Willow and the brunette in the TK bubble.
The bubble shimmered into reality around them, and Buffy realised then, why Giles had left. "NO!" She screamed, throwing herself towards the kitchen, only to be bounced back into the rest.
Nathan caught her. "You must let him have this choice."
"But, Giles, oh my God, he's going to--"
Her words cut off as the wave slammed through the door, shattering it into glass. Nathan braced himself, unconsciously wrapping an arm around Willow. It hit. Harder, this time. More feral. More chaotic. He nearly cried out from the pain of his over-taxed system. But he didn't. Instead, he tightened his grip on the girls and held on to Willow.
And then it was gone.
Buffy fell to the floor as he released them, her arms around herself, sobbing. "OhGodOhGodOhGod..."
The other Slayer knelt next to her and wrapped her arms gently around her. "I'm sorry. Ethan... he's gone, too."
"Don't." Buffy's head flashed up, anger in her eyes overshadowing the pain. "Just don't."
Willow gently disengaged herself from his side and dropped down next to Buffy. "He did it for us."
"I know, Will, I know." Buffy wrapped her arms around Willow and cried. Faith joined them, her tears mingling with Willow's. They had all lost.
Nathan turned away, studying the room. Leaving them to their grief as he tried to make sure they survived the next wave. It would come soon, he knew. They were getting more frequent in this section of space-time. Fairly soon he would lose them all, be unable to even keep himself whole. And then... Then it would end. It would finally end.
The room was draped in black silk and red candles and gold accents. It looked like the reject from a really bad vampire movie. The candles had been burning recently, the wax around them still warm. He turned to go back to the girls and froze. There was someone in the shadows, studying him sardonically.
"Hello." The other replied, still keeping to the shadows. The voice was familiar, though. Buffy's Giles.
The blonde head snapped up at the sound of it, "Giles?"
"I'm sorry, do I know you?"
"Giles, it's me. Buffy."
Faith shook her head silently, and stood, pulling a stake from somewhere. "Come out, come out wherever you are."
"Well, if it isn't that little bitch the Council sent. Funny, I thought we'd killed you rather grandly. Did you enjoy being skinned?"
"Oh, no, you are not scaring me. Get out here and fight."
"Faith." Buffy stood to stand next to her sister Slayer. "You're not scared." She reached into an inner pocket and removed a stake. "Neither am I."
Nathan chose that moment to grab the thing and shove it into the room, where it hissed at them, forehead rippling. It had once been Rupert Giles. Once. Long before. Now, it was just his husk, inhabited by a demon. Buffy closed with it, several punches and kicks sending it to the floor. She dropped down to finish him off, and he rolled, catching her knees and landing on top. "It's been a while since I tasted the blood of a Slayer."
"Taste this." Faith snapped, slamming her stake through its back. It growled and then shattered to dust.
Buffy coughed and sputtered, "Oh, thanks, Faith. Really wanted to get dusty."
"Hey, with that outfit, it's an improvement."
The front door shattered and several men poured into the room. They were dressed in commando gear, there faces covered with masks. "FREEZE! Get your hands up! Don't move!"
"Oh, great." Buffy muttered.
"The Initiative." Faith replied, disgusted.
"Aren't they on our side?" Willow demanded.
"SHUT UP! Get down on the floor, now!"
"I'd say, no." Both Slayers replied in chorus.
As they were led away, Nathan cursed the fact that he was STILL soaked from that flonqing bucket.
The four were loaded into a large steel van. Nathan on one bench and the three girls across from him. He got the only pair of handcuffs, too. The soldierboys seemed to be a very frightened lot, fidgeting and looking sideways at the four of them as if expecting death.
Two troopers were stationed inside with them. They stood at one end of the van, watching them warily.
"Flonqing hell." Nathan muttered, glaring at his wrists. They ached. This world was turning out to be populated by fools. They hadn't even listened when Buffy had protested that she wasn't a demon.
"And what if I don't?" He demanded with a snarl. This timeline was going to be impacted soon, he could feel it. And, much as he didn't like dragging them along, he found he was becoming attached to Buffy and her friends. Even if she was still blaming him for Giles' death.
"I said, shut up!" The one who wasn't quite as scared talked up the aisle and slammed the butt of his rifle into Nathan's jaw. There was an audible crack and Nathan was thrown to the side to lie half on the bench and half on the floor.
Pain flooded his head as the soldier boy retreated.
Willow growled and moved across the aisle to carefully move his head into her lap. "Stupid fucking bully." Her fingers carefully felt along his jaw. "Well, I don't think it's broken."
"Yeah, but I bet it hurts." Faith said.
"Yo! Demons, did you NOT understand the words 'shut' and 'up'?" The other soldier strode towards them belligerantly and pointed a finger at Willow. "And you, bitch, get back in your seat."
"Y'know, I didn't have a problem being nice when there were enough of you to kill us all. But now?" Faith stood, "Now, I'm pissed."
The soldier boys only had time to blink before the dark-haired Slayer took them out. Two kicks, a well-placed elbow, and a slam against the side of the truck later, and Faith was dusting her hands off. "There. Now. Nathan, how much longer would you say we have until this world fractures?"
He winced. Talking was going to hurt. "Not sure."
"Okay. How about this, then, what happens if we can't see it coming and it swallows us?"
Willow placed a hand over his lips. "Don't try to talk." She turned to Faith, eyes somber. "We die."
"That's what I thought." Faith smiled down at the gun in her hands. "Everybody, brace for impact." She turned and aimed through the partition. The resulting shot tore a three-inch hole in the plastic and succeeded in killing the driver. With a screech the van turned and slammed into the nearest building. It crashed through a window and several display cases before stopping at the back wall.
Willow looked up from where she had wrapped herself around Nathan's upper body. Buffy sat across from her, bleeding from a cut over her left eye. Faith was still standing, gun in her hands.
"Wow. Now, that was a rush." The dark-haired Slayer grinned and dropped the weapon. "Shall we blow this joint?"
"Sounds like a good idea." Buffy replied slowly standing. The back doors of the van had burst open at one point, so she carefully stepped through them, and studied the shop. "Ooooh. Faith, you take me to the nicest places."
The store had been a sporting goods store. Now it was just rubble, with a few nice looking knives here and there. Buffy quickly appropriated a few along with sheathes and straps. She turned to Faith. "What was it you used to say? Oh, yeah. Want. Take. Have. Want one?"
The two plundered the store while Willow helped Nathan out of the van. "Any food?"
"Nope. But there's a soda machine back here."
"Well, well, well, isn't this all nice and domestic." The ownder of the voice sauntered into the store and surveyed the van, the unconscious or dead soldiers, and the three young women. He licked his lips and tipped a blond head. "I feel like I've been given an opportunity."
"Spike." Buffy moved to stand in front of Willow and Nathan. "I was wondering when you'd turn up during this little jaunt."
"I'm sorry, do I know you?"
"B, you know this peroxide blond geek?"
"Yeah. His name's Spike. Oh, wait, it's actually William the Bloody, isn't it?" Buffy snickered. "Neither of which have much... what's the word... verve? to them."
"So, Spike, how are you?" Faith asked, moving to one side and glancing around the other side of the van. The dude in the passengers seat was awake and beginning to move.
"Who are you?"
"I'm," Buffy paused and glanced at Nathan. "Buffy Summers."
Nathan reflected that she'd actually sounded proud to be a Summers. And the glance at him--he tried not to move his jaw as he straightened and glared at the blond pipsqueak.
"Spikey, what's taking so long?" The sound of boots crunching through debris was added as the owner of the voice came up behind Spike.
"I was saving some for you, pet."
Nathan stared at the woman as she stepped into the light. Black hair framed a pale face that was disfigured by a dark splotch over one eye. "Dom--" he gasped, wincing as his jaw twinged.
She was taller than Spike and she slid an arm around him from behind and leaned againt his back to study them. "Do I know them?"
"I don't think so, pet. But they look yummy, don't they."
"Mmmm... Except the silver-haired one. He looks too tough and stringy."
Buffy looked at Faith and rolled her eyes, then mouthed, "Shall we?"
"Yeah." Faith turned to the two vampires. "So, it's just the two of you, right?"
"Well, yeah, me and Dom, we like being alone to hunt. Makes the kill more... enticing."
"Whatever. Dibs on the ho."
"I'll take blondie."
The fight commenced, with hair colour paired to hair colour. The vampires found themselves outmatched quickly, and the Slayers proceeded to start playing with their prey.
Meanwhile, Nathan watched out the store window, feeling the coming shift. It wouldn't be long now. He needed to tell the others. With a wince, he turned to Willow and started open his mouth.
"No, don't." Her hand held his mouth closed. "Let me guess, the next one's coming soon."
He nodded, then decided to try something. Delicately, he reached out with his telepathy and touched her mind. *:Willow?:*
She gasped and touched her head. "Nathan?"
*:You can hear me, then?:*
*:Good. Tell Buffy and Faith, we need to--:*
The gunshot sounded loud in his ears and the bullet tore through his right side like a lance of pain.
There wasn't a second shot. He watched in bemusement as Willow turned on the soldier who'd shot him and slammed a large piece of display case into his head. He dropped like a rock. "Damn you, Riley. Nathan!" She turned back to the man and buzzed around him, worried.
Blood stained the side of his shirt. The bullet had gone completely through, ripping everything in its path. Agitatedly, she dropped to her knees and tried to staunch the blood. Him bleeding out would be a bad thing. So would him not being conscious when the next shift hit.
Faith staked Domino at that moment, and glanced back toward the van. She blinked at the sight of Nathan bleeding. "Fuck. B, we've got a problem! Finish your vamp NOW."
With a quick thrust, Buffy spiked the blond vamp. She turned to Faith, "What is it?"
"Nathan's been shot." Willow supplied from her kneeling position next to the unconscious man. "Riley did it."
"Riley?" Buffy blinked and then spotted the unconscious soldier. "Oh." She shrugged and turned to search the shop for any sort of First Aid kit.
Faith wandered over and tied Riley up with the seat belt from the van. "There, now he can't shoot anyone else." She turned to Willow. "How bad is it?"
"He's bleeding badly, and I think the next shift is due soon." Willow sounded worried. "I need to stop the bleeding."
"Yeah." Faith dropped to her knees on Nathan's other side and slid a leg under his side, lifting him so Willow could get a better grip on the bleeding.
"Thanks." A handful of fabric in her hand, Willow applied pressure to the entry point in Nathan's back. At that moment, Buffy arrived, carrying a large briefcase.
"Found it." She dropped down next to Willow and pulled a bunch of bandages out. "Here, Will, you wrap him, let me apply the pressure." She moved her hands to just above and below the redhead's. "On the count of three."
"One, two, three." Willow removed her hands and Buffy clamped down on the wounds, eliciting a whimper from Nathan.
The air around the three was tense as they worked on the large man. With him out of commission, they were dead. They knew it instinctively, and it caused them to work in almost a daze. And then Willow looked up, her skin prickling. She could just see the backroom of the shop. And coming into it was a shimmering wave. "Oh, shit."
Faith looked at her. "It's coming, isn't it."
"We need to wake him." Buffy said. "Now."
Willow shook her head, "We can't." She smiled at Buffy, "I love you."
"Same here, Oh, God--" Buffy moved and hugged Willow tightly.
Faith reached across and slipped a hand around Willow's belt. "Hey, it was nice knowing you two. B, I'm sorry for--me."
"She wasn't you." Buffy reached out and caught Faith's arm. "Nice to have you around."
Willow looked down at Nathan and twined a hand in his.
"See you all on the other side." Faith said as the van shattered into glass.
Nathan woke alone. Birds twittered and chirped nearby. With a gasp, he sat up. And then gasped in pain. His rightt side was horribly stiff and painful. His right hand hurt, too. He glanced down and blinked. Blood soaked his shirt, and a makeshift bandage covered what appeared to be a gunshot wound. Except it wasn't there anymore. With dread, he realised he'd shifted again. The shift must have healed him, somehow.
With a grimace, he opened his cramped right hand and blinked. A lump of metal resided in the palm. He'd been gripping it tightly, as if it was a lifeline. It occured to him that grass was not as comfortable as it looked and he stood, swaying slightly in the gentle flower-scented breeze.
There were lovely flowers scattered here and there in the green grass. Trees in the distance, and in the middle of them, a tower. It was white and serene-looking, and half-broken. He could see the fracture from here. The top having been sliced off, leaving a jagged edge. Nathan shivered to see it.
He realised the bird song, then. They were happy, chattery. As if they hadn't a care in the world. Oath, but that was annoying.
Voices drifted to him on the breeze then. Female, young, and coming closer. He looked around and finally realised they were approaching from behind the nearby hill.
Buffy, and Faith, he realised as they came into view. They stopped as they saw him, then quickened their pace.
"You're awake." Buffy sounded oddly breathless.
"She didn't make it." Faith said softly. "But, this place--man, you've got to see it to believe it."
Nathan looked around himself. "This place..."
"It's, it's like being plugged into an electrical socket." Buffy replied. "It's energy, everywhere. You know you're wound? It's healed. And, and..."
"There's shards, everywhere," Faith said, "of otherworlds and other time. It's like they tried to break through here, and couldn't, so they lie scattered about."
"And you, Nathan, you've, um, changed. Sorta."
"I have?" He blinked and stared down at his hands. And that was when the odd feeling he'd had coalesced into confirmation. The energy he normally expended in little trickles and starts to halt the progress of the techno-virus, wasn't being drained anymore. He turned his left hand over in wonder, shocked. It was human, not mechanical.
"Your eye still glows." Buffy smiled at him, "It was quite a shock, to see you, when we woke up."
"Speak for yourself, B. I am way over shocks." The dark-haired Slayer shrugged, "Besides, this place is so magical, shocks don't really impact. Y'know."
Willow hadn't made it. Flonq, none of them should have--but he was a mutant, and the two girls were Slayers. And Willow had been human. She hadn't stood a chance as the wave crashed over them. He closed his eyes, wondering why it hurt so. He'd lost a lot over the last two months. His world, his new-found family, and his friends. And Dom. Domino, lovely, quicksilver, brilliant, and dead. As dead as Willow.
"Anyway, we were waiting fo you to wake up so we could go look at the tower." Faith nodded at the white finger, rising above the trees.
Buffy watched Nathan worriedly. He seemed to be in some sort of shock as they walked through the woods. At least, she thought that's what it was. He was very, very silent. Almost Angel-brooding silent. And that was NOT a good thing. She wasn't worried about Faith, though. Faith was her normal anything goes and all's well, self.
The wood in front of them was rippling slightly. Buffy caught Nathan's arm. "Wait. Faith?"
"It's a bigger one than the other shards were, I'll scout to the right." The dark-haired Slayer disappeared into the underbrush silently.
"That's one of them, huh."
"Yeah." Buffy paused, then continued, "Nathan, not to be, like, rude or anything, but you've gone sort of mono-syllabic. What gives?"
He laughed a bit hollowly. "Dom used to tell me I was a close-mouthed son of a bitch. Guess I haven't changed, through all of this."
Time passed, and the ripple moved off slowly, as if stirred by its own cosmic breeze. The tower was closer, and they were catching occassional glimpses though the treetops. And still Buffy and Nathan waited for Faith to come back.
Finally, "Willow... I... will miss her."
Buffy smiled at him sadly, "I will, too." She turned and scanned the trees, beginning to worry, "Faith should be back by now."
"I can try psi-scanning for her." Nathan offered.
The trees had closed around her, several shards completely enclosing her. Faith swore again as they slowly shifted closer. There was no way around any of them, and climbing the trees would just ensure she fell when she landed, wherever she landed.
"Nathan?" She blinked and turned, trying to see him, then realised she hadn't heard him out loud.
*:What's the matter?:*
"I'm surrounded by shards of time." She laughed bitterly, "That sounds rather cli-fucking-che, but it's true."
*:We're on our way there.:*
"You can't GET here." she snorted. "In fact, forget it. It was nice knowing you two. Tell Buffy it's not her fault."
*:What?:* And then he shouted, *:FAITH, NO!:*
"Can't stop me, sweetie," Faith replied, her lips in a grin. "Now, let's see, eenie, meenie, miney--MINE."
And with that, Faith stepped into a shard, and was gone.
"What?" Buffy lurched to her feet and stared in shock at Nathan as he turned and began running blindly through the wood. "Nathan! What?"
He continued shoving through the trees. She swore under her breath and then tackled him to the ground.
They landed hard, the breath whuffing out of both. "Now, Nathan, you're going to calm the fuck DOWN and then you're going to tell me where Faith is."
"I--can't," he gasped, "She's trapped, I think she--no, I know she jumped through one of the shards. We have to find her."
Buffy paled. "She didn't."
"Get off of me." He snapped, moving and finding her instinctively trying to keep him down.
"Oh. Sorry." She stood and slowly looked around them. "We should try to find her, figure out which one she went into."
What was one of the idioms Dom used to try teaching him? Ah, "It would be like searching for a pin in a smokestack."
Buffy blinked, "A needle in a haystack, I think you mean."
Nathan seemed to have an instinct for the shards and shifts, now that he was properly awake. Buffy marveled at his ability as he dodged around, and dragged her along. Sometimes it felt like they were dodging through them. Finally, though, they came to a small clearing, and Nathan stopped her on the edge and pointed.
The center of the clearing rippled, pieces of it shifting rapidly around itself. "She's in that?"
"I think so."
"Then we have to go after her."
"She may not have survived."
"We survived getting here."
"Oath, you're stubborn."
"Yep. Let's go."
"Tally-ho!" The shout echoed in her ears, along with shouts of laughter and giggles. Faith moaned and found her body aching in every part. The shout had come from nearby, and now she could hear kids running around, laughing. With another groan, she opened her eyes and blinked.
A leafy canopy stretched above her, and the grass she lay in was nice and soft. Faith shifted and slowly sat up. She lay in a small stand of trees, next to what appeared to be a soccer field. Several children were out there, batting the ball around and laughing happily.
"Hey, you're awake!" The voice came from her other side, and a kid hopped over her feet and yelled to the others, "Hey, guys, she's awake!"
With yells, the eight children dashed over and threw themselves into various states of sprawl around her. They were fairly normal looking, for around eight year olds. One little girl was a gorgeous mahogany colour with pure white hair and the loveliest blue eyes. Another had green hair and eyes. The boys were similarly normal-looking, except one, who had some sort of red glasses over his eyes. And then there was the one covered in dense, blue fur. He was smiling. At least, she hoped it was a smile.
"Who are you?"
"That's what we wanna know!"
"You fell outta the sky on top of Scott!"
"Besides, the practical knowledge we need to ascertain is the name of our intruder."
Waving a hand to interrupt the children, Faith chuckled, "I'm Faith. Who are you?"
"I'm Jean," The eldest girl replied, practicality shining in her green eyes. "They are, in clockwise order, Scott, Alex, Bobby, Hank, Lorna, Ororo, Rogue and Logan."
"Ah. Can you tell me where I am?"
"Xavier's Orphanage, Faith." Jean replied. She giggled, "It's great fun. Would you like to come play with us?"
"I wanna know how she fell outta the sky," Rogue interjected, playing absently with the skunk-stripe in her brown hair.
"It was, um, sort of an accident." Faith said with a grin, "And, I'd love to play with you, but first, could you take me somewhere I could, um, powder my nose?"
"She means go to the bathroom!" Bobby jeered.
Faith chuckled, "So I do. Please?"
"All right, but we gotta swear ya ta silence," Logan announced solemnly. He leaned in and sniffed her, "And ya gotta promise not to tell anyone we're here."
Faith stood and crossed her heart solemnly, "I promise. Now, bathroom?"
"This way," Jean caught one arm, and Ororo took her other with a shy smile.
With a yelp, Buffy crashed to the ground, a few feet from Nathan, who was doing the same. Crossing through this latest shift had been... painful. Ever since they'd begun searching for Faith, she had found herself getting battered, shot at, frozen, nearly ashyxiated, and now, DROPPED. She'd lost count of the number of shifts they'd gone through. All she knew was that Nathan said that Faith had passed through them all--in some sort of pellmell run through dimensions.
Considering the fun of the ones they'd been through, Buffy didn't blame her. Nathan had been a wonderful person to have along, his telekinesis taking out people left, right and center, and providing them with a protective bubble, when they couldn't breath.
With a grunt, she heard him rise. "Where the flonq are we?"
He chuckled. Ever since the Tower world, when the T-O virus had disappeared, he'd seemed, lighter, somehow. "I'm not sure. But it looks familiar. Possibly another one of the worlds that's a split from my own time stream."
"Ah. So, we're safe?"
"I wouldn't say that, exactly." The voice came from behind them. "Hands up where I can see them, and no funny business."
Buffy raised an eyebrow as she heard a giggle from the bushes on her left. "Can we turn around?"
The snickers became louder.
Buffy glanced at Nathan and mouthed, "Do you hear that?"
He nodded, and looked at the bushes.
Without any more discussion, Buffy threw herself to the ground, rolled and came up to face--a kid. Standing there, pointing a stick at them. "Uh, Nathan? I think we're safe."
The laughter in the bushes stopped and a young blonde girl stepped out, "Brian's gonna get in trouble, Brian's gonna get in trouble!" She sing-songed as she scampered over to Buffy. "Hi."
"Meggan! Stop that! You don't know if they're nice or not!"
"Yes I do." She smiled at Buffy, "I'm Meggan."
Buffy looked at the girl's extended hand and reached out to shake it, "Buffy."
"Who's the big man?" The kid was staring in awe at Nathan's height.
"That's Nathan." Buffy replied, standing up and dusting herself off, "Hey, can you tell me if there were any other weird people who came through here today?"
Meggan cocked her head to the side, "Nope. But the Professor might know. He knows *everything*."
"Oh, pish, Brian, they're nice." She caught Buffy's hand and gave it a tug, "Right? C'mon, the Professor will want to meet you." She peered over at Nathan, who was watching the whole scene in bemusement, "You, too, Mr. Nathan."
Professor Charles Xavier leaned back in his seat and studied the young woman his children had 'discovered' on the south lawn. Her dark hair hung lankly, as if it hadn't been washed for a while. A series of burns covered her left cheek, while her right arm was covered in a makeshift bandage, which slowly seeped blood. Her eyes were sharp, though, and took in everything about his office in a glance. They took a little longer as they perused him as he was perusing her.
His kids... Not a day went by when he didn't catch himself half-smiling at that name. He'd discovered them from around the globe, given them shelter when none would have them. And in return, they blossomed into happy youngsters, brimming with potential. Some day, they might be world leaders. Or more. Especially young Meggan.
As if the thought of her conjured her, the young sprite came dancing into his study, "Professor, Professor, look what we found!"
Xavier watched in amusment as the two young women hugged. He turned to the large man who'd entered as well, "Hello."
"Professor Xavier." Nathan blinked. He'd never expected to find the professor. Not looking so young, and not--he blinked again--walking.
Xavier held out a hand to his new visitor. "Yes, I'm afraid you have an advantage on me, for I have no idea who you are."
"Nathan." He accepted the hand carefully and shook it.
"Funny, you and your two young associates appear to only have one name each." The professor smiled, "No matter, though, I'm sure you'll trust me in time." He clapped his hands, "But now, I do believe it's lunch time, is it not, Meggan?"
"Yes!" Meggan bounced up and down, "Lunchtime!" She danced over and caught Buffy's hand, "And it's Thursday, so we get fudgecicles!"
With a chuckle, Xavier turned to his study door, "Come, please."
After a cheerful lunch, spent watching the children play and laugh, Nathan and the two Slayers returned to Xavier's study. It was there that he heard their stories.
Once they were finished, he leaned back in his chair, fingers steepled. "I must say, visitors such as yourselves aren't quite a surprise. We've had several in the last few months. However, most didn't know how they got here and were frightened of their change in venue." He straightened and looked at Nathan. "Except for one. And I believe him to be an alternate version of you. He called himself Christopher Charles Summers. And he claimed to have dealt with the Shifts quite a lot."
Nathan blinked and nodded slowly, "It would appear that my variants and I have a unique ability to slip through the Shifts unscathed. Mostly. Tell me, where is he?"
"I'm afraid you won't like it, but I shall show you." Xavier stood and turned to the panel behind his desk, doing something complicated to it. It swung outwards and, with a gesture to the other three, he disappeared into the dark hall beyond.
They followed him, shortly emerging into a rather high-tech looking room. It was like a cross between Frankenstein's lab and a warehouse of computers. In the centre sat a pillar, large enough to encase a man. It was opaque and attached to the various machines by wires and clamps.
"He built this for us. Because it would keep our section of the world stable, he said." Xavier paused and looked at the pillar. "And then he added the last component. If I'd known at the time, the cost, I..."
Nathan stared at the pillar, strangely drawn. He was standing in front of it, without even realising. His hand bushed the surface, and the opacity lessened.
"Oh my GOD." Faith was standing next to him, staring at the body contained within the pillar. "He's you. But... Older."
It was him, indeed. Aged another ten years, possibly more. Fluid suspension made the man look odd, as did the mask clamped over his face. Nathan watched in horror as a purple cloud rippled through the water, causing the man to shake. Then it was gone, replaced by pale blue that seemed to relax him.
"It's like, y'know, Luke, in the tank." Buffy sounded frightened, though, for all of her wise-cracking commentary.
"He said this would be the only way." Sadness came from Xavier. Sadness at the loss of a life. Even just this single one.
Nathan removed his hand, and the panel drifted opaque again. He turned to Xavier, "This is... I need time, to look at this equipment, understand what he's done."
"I thought you might." With a twisted smile, Xavier nodded to the two Slayers, "Why don't you young ladies come with me while he works? I'm sure the children would love playing with you."
They looked at Nathan, waiting for his nod. He nodded to them, lips smiling vaguely. "All right." Buffy turned to Xavier, "Take us back to the kids."
And they left, the door closing shut behind them with a finality. Nathan turned to the machines and began studying them. After all, if he was to replace his dying Alternate Self, he needed to know everything about them that he could.
"And then the school went BOOM!!"
The kids all laughed in glee at Faith's retelling of Crispy-fried Mayor. Buffy had found it to differ only a bit from her own experience. Like, the fact that there had been no knife to taunt him with. She shook her head as Bobby came dashing up, eager to hear another story.
"No, Bobby, why don't you tell us one this time," Faith suggested.
"Okay," He decided agreeably. With a glare of superiority at the other kids, he stood and launched into his tale. It was the normal farce with kings and queens and mighty princes.
At least it was until he mentioned something odd, "And then the second Nate came, and he made us cake! But then he left."
"Second Nate?" With a glance of puzzlement at Buffy, Faith looked at Bobby, "What second Nate?"
"Oh, we've had lots of Nates, bub."
"Yeah! But they all go byby." Meggan pouted and slipped her thumb in her mouth.
"Meggan's a baby! She's sucking her thuuuummmb!" Brian carolled.
"Am not! You take that back, Brian Braddock, or I'll, I'll--"
"I'll kiss you!"
"EWWW!!!! Girl cooties!" All the boys cried, scrambling away from the girls.
"As if we'd want BOY cooties," Ororo said haughtily. She turned to Faith, "Why did you want to know about Nathan?"
"Just curious, kid." Faith smiled as the kids all suddenly decided to go chase butterflies.
The two Slayers declined to go, saying they were too tired from their recent trips. With many squeals of laughter and jostlings, the kids dashed off. When they were gone, Faith turned to Buffy. "More Nates? B, I think we need to go have another chat with ol' Xavier."
"I think," Buffy replied, pulling a stake from somewhere, "That if we have to, it will be more than a chat."
Xavier was sitting at his desk, going through papers when they walked into his office. He looked at them and blinked. "Can I help you ladies?"
"What have you done to Nathan?" Buffy asked, calmly.
"My dear, I'm afraid I don't understand what--"
Faith stepped up to his desk and slammed a hand onto it. The thunk startled him. She smiled, "Tell me, old man, does it make you happy knowing that another man is going to die?"
"Shut up, B. I've lost my world, my mentor, my friends--hell, the man I was dating. They are ALL DEAD. But you know what? I'm dealing." She looked at Xavier, "Question is, are you?"
"I..." He looked away and stood, heading over to the windows that looked out onto the back lawn, where the children were playing merrily. "I do it for them. Or, rather, I let them live by allowing good men to--sacrifice themselves."
"Murder, sacrifice... is that what you call it? You're just twisting words."
"Faith, give him a chance to explain."
Xavier turned to them, a faint smile on his lips. "This one section of the universe is stable. The machines keep it so. But for them to work, they must have a human component--hence, Nathan's sacrifice. The person in the machine deteriorates raidly--I was almost afraid we'd lose the stability before another one of Nathan's alternates arrived."
"And we fell right into the trap. Great. So, how do we stop the machine?"
"Watch me." Faith turned and strode to the panel behind his desk and began running her hands over it. "Where's the catch, Xavier?"
"I can't tell you that."
"Well, I'll just have to force my way in, then." Faith turned to the desk and picked up the letter opener. "Now, let's see, there's one seam."
"Faith, maybe we should think about this."
"No, B. I'm not letting him do this. He's going to have to find another Nathan to coerce."
"Faith, I really think you're being a little over-reactive." Buffy replied, stepping towards the other Slayer.
The brunette whirled, tears in her eyes, "Buffy, listen to me. He's our friend, we can't let him do this."
"But if it's for the good of the children..."
"Children?" Faith stared at the other Slayer, puzzled, "What the hell are you talking about, B?"
"The children, Faith. We can't do this to them."
Faith's eyebrows shot up as she stared at Buffy. "Um, B? In case you haven't noticed, the whole point of Nathan killing himself is that the children will have another two weeks of boredom."
"The--" For an instant, Buffy's features froze, as if she had a headache. Her eyes looked terrified, then, "The children. He's doing it for them. Who are we to second-guess him."
Her eyes narrowing, Faith stared between Buffy and the Professor, "Tell me, Xavier, how did you let Nathan know about the machine and what you needed him to do?"
"He guessed." Xavier replied.
"Oh, really? And didn't think of talking to us about it, or even mentioning it, even though he had been told about it in such a small amount of time?" Faith was slowly advancing on Xavier, panel forgotten for the moment.
Something wasn't right. Faith felt suddenly like she was seeing the world through more than one persons eyes. She felt herself turning slowly to look at Buffy, "I've changed my mind. You're right, it is for the best." No it wasn't. She wanted to scream as she felt something wapping around her mind. Get out!
Buffy nodded, her eyes screaming, her mouth smiling, "Right. Anyway, Professor, we'll go now. Not bother you until--"
The panel shattered under the force of a telekinetic bolt and Nathan stalked into the room. "Not bad, Xavier. You almost had me."
A telekinetic fist picked up the Professor and shook him. He whimpered and tried to break out of it. At the same time, Buffy and Faith gasped and collapsed to their knees. Shaking, Faith stared with loathing at Xavier, "You fuckhead."
"That's exactly right, Faith." Buffy replied, slowly standing, her face pale and hands shaking.
"I only--for the kids--for--" The Professor didn't get a chance to say anything else as Nathan knocked him unconscious.
He was breathing hard and sweating as if he'd had to overcome some horrible thing. He had. Xavier's grip on his mind had been so subtle, that he hadn't felt it until the man had tried to control him, Buffy and Faith all at once. Too much energy leached from the mindhold on him and he'd broken free.
"Are you okay?" Faith was crawling towards him, eyes dark. Sweat stood out on her brow. "I... I've never felt anything like that before." She shuddered and carefully touched Nathan's face, as if reassuring herself that he was real.
"I will be. First, though, I want 'me' out of that flonqing machine." Nathan stood, turned and stalked back down the hall to where the machine was.
Faith and Buffy followed him. "Can we do that?"
"Faith, I don't think we have a choice."
"B, I'm not worried about that, but what if taking him out kills him?"
"Better that than living like that."
Nathan nodded to the two as they came in, "Can you both be prepared to catch him when he falls?"
"Yes." Faith looked at Buffy, her mouth set grimly, "Now I'm the one having second thoughts."
Buffy smiled and shook her head, "Don't worry. It happens. By the way, thanks."
"For being the one to yell at Xavier."
Nathan chuckled tiredly from where he was at the computers. "Ready when you are, ladies."
They stepped up to the column and placed their hands on it. The opacity swirled away, leaving the sight of the man inside. "Ready." Faith called.
A snapping sound echoed throught the room and the pillar suddenly began glowing, the liquid inside emptying out. A moment later, the outer edge of the material began glowing, and then it shattered and dispersed. The man inside sagged without support, slowly falling foward into the Slayers' arms. "We've got him. Dunno if he's alive, though."
Meggan bounced around the hall outside the Professor's study, and tried not to feel frightened. The fighting going on inside was very scary. She could feel her body starting to change to match it. Toughening the muscles, tightening her belly, lengthening her legs and arms until she stood nearly twice the height she'd been in a deadly, dancer's pose.
Her blonde hair had shortened and darkened into a midnight cap upon her head, and her skin had hardened to a diamond-hard state. She whimpered softly as the machine was turned off. They would come now. The waves. She could feel them, they made her want to curl into a tiny ball in a corner.
"Hey, give that back, Alex Summers!"
A blond haired boy dashed past the shadow-clad Meggan without stopping. The green-haired girl behind him skidded to a halt and peered up at the metamorph. "Hello?"
"Lorna." Meggan whimpered, "Help me."
"Meggan." Lorna's eyes widened, shock and horror echoed in their green depths. "What happened?"
"I-I don't know, I think--I think something happened in the Professor's study." The young girl shook and slowly folded her long limbed body to the floor where she huddled. "And, and, they're coming now, Lorna. I can feel them."
"They broke the machine."
Nathan carefully took his other-world counterpart from the two girls and carried him out into Xavier's study. Buffy quickly emptied the desk and he laid him atop it, legs dangling off one end. A quick check proved that the other man was still breathing, his heart still beating.
"Hey..." Buffy looked at him carefully, "Now that he's out of that...machine, the shifts will come. Won't they?"
"Yes." He replied tersely, carefully elevating the legs of the man laying on the desk.
"What will happen to the kids?"
The question hung in the air. All three knew the answer and didn't want to answer it. Didn't want to have to acknowledge what would soon happen to those vibrant children.
"We'll die." The tall thin dark-coloured creature that looked at them sadly from the shadow-draped corner nodded solemnly.
"Nathan, you..." Buffy turned away and looked at the creature, "Who are you?"
"It's Meggan." Faith said softly, her eyes dark and bleak. "Her eyes, can't you see them, Buffy?"
"Meggan, what happened?"
"I... I don't know." She whispered miserably.
"Meggan's an empathic metamorph. Her body adapts to the emotions and actions around her." Nathan said softly. "Our... fight with Xavier must have triggered a change."
"And the shifts are making it worse." Faith replied. She reached out and caught Meggan's hand. "There's no need to be afraid."
"I-can't help it."
"Shhh..." the brunette Slayer carefully stepped up and wrapped her arms around the elongated child. "It's okay. It will all be okay."
"It won't." With a sob, the child began morphing back to her previous blonde self. Albeit one that looked very sad and pale. "They're coming, and they'll kill us all."
Alex paused as he dashed down another corridor. Lorna had been following him, and stopped. He peered back behind himself and saw no sign of the green-haired moppet. With a huffing noise, he started back down the corridor, heading for the stairs and the outside.
Sounds of scuttling from the shadows behind him gave him pause and he looked back to see nothing there except shadows. And more shadows. Suddenly scared at the silent menace they were exuding, he turned and ran back the way he'd come. Back to the outside, and the light. Back, where he was away from the slithering shadows and their whispers of madness.
He made it halfway down the stares before the sliding shadowy rift caught up with him and he was swallowed whole into another world.
Outside, Jean Grey staggered and gasped, "Scott!"
Looking over at the object of his nine-year old adoration, Scott Summers blinked at the ghostly golden wings wrapping themselves around Jean. "What's happened?"
"Alex. Something is very, very wrong." The child staggered under the onslaught of released emotion and telepathy. "There are... more coming. The rifts. The ones we were safe from." She paled, the wings fading. "They broke the machine."
"Are yah sure, sugah?" Rogue flipped her hair over her shoulder and looked towards the house. "After all, it could just be the new one adjustin' somethin'."
"No. They took him out." Jean's eyes were almost nothing but pinpoints of black drowning in a sea of blue. "They took him out."
"Jeannie, I think now would be a good time to head inside."
"Logan's right." Scott shot a glare to the short Canadian. "Let's go inside."
He was surfacing, away from the dark and the pain. And the cold, and the impenatrably horrible feeling of being ripped apart over and over again. And then put back together. Pain flared along his senses as limbs awoke with the change in air pressure.
Voices called to him, pulling him up, waking his mind again.
"Meggan, it's okay."
"No, it won't be." A sob accompanied the statement, and he awoke fully to stare up at a wooden ceiling.
It was a dark wood, accented in a rich cream around the edges, with enameled and gilted cornices. He turned his head slowly and blinked at the sunlight that hit his eyes. There were a few other people in the room. The closest to him appeared to be one of his alternates. Maybe even one who hadn't felt the guilt yet.
The guilt that came with knowing you were at fault for the massive destruction racketing across the Multiverse. Cable shuddered with the memories that danced across his mind. All those people were dead, and it was his fault. He had failed, and this is what had happened, would happen. It would never change.
He would always fail.
With a groan, he dragged himself into a sitting position and stared around the study he was in. As he'd guessed, it was Xavier's.
His attention was drawn to four figures in the corner, one of which who was one of the young children he'd given his life to protect. Meggan, her name had been. Full of life and light and laughter. And now she was looking horribly sad.
"What happened?" Cable blinked at the hoarseness of his voice. As if he'd been screaming a lot recently.
"He's awake!" The blonde teenager, who reminded him a bit of Tabitha, looked at him in surprise. "You were, like, out totally."
"I'm awake, yes." He turned to his alternate, eyes narrowed, "Why?"
"He was using us," The other replied heavily, eyes weary. "Tricking us mentally and making us give our lives for him."
Cable gave a strangled laugh, "So, you destroyed their only chance at life?" He gestured, "All of this will be gone in a matter of days now."
"Hours, actually," The other Cable replied. "The machines were only bottling it up, they weren't stopping it."
"Like a tidal wave," Meggan said softly, "it was held back and held back and it built up over time, and now it's going to come crashing down on us."
"The children." The brunette girl looked upset. "They're going to die, aren't they. Like Ethan."
"I..." Cable looked at his counterpart as he tried to formulate a response.
"We will all die. Some already have," Meggan whimpered.
"No..." The other Cable drew himself up, resolute. He turned to his counterpart, "Nathan. This is Faith and Buffy." he gestured to the brunette and blonde. "Meggan, you know. I think if both of us try, we can get back to the Otherworld with the kids."
"They'll be safe there, won't they?" Buffy looked uncertain. "What about all the unstable spots?"
Faith shook her head, "Yeah, but, B, those were more little shards. Until we tried to head to that tower. But there was food and stuff around where we were."
"So, it's almost a stable point in the multiverse collapse?" Cable wanted to make sure he had this right before he put in any lot with these people. Especially since his counterpart, Nathan, had no techno-organic virus. He might have been Stryfe, for all Cable knew.
"Buffy, Faith, the shifts are coming, you need to round up the kids. Get them back here." Nathan looked at Cable. "I'll start setting up the shielding."
"What about Xavier?"
Charles Xavier huddled into himself as he listened to them talk. They hadn't noticed him yet, in this tiny hole. He was curled under his desk, trying not to cry as his dreams shattered around him. He had never thought of himself as a bad man, but he had wondered on occasion. And yet, it had all been for the children.
All for them. And now it was falling down faster than a hosue of cards. The shifts were out there, devouring his dimension as they came. He could feel their almost malevolent glee.
The children were out there as well. Running for the house, which they thought would protect them. So foolish.
Buffy had pulled open the hall door to stagger back and turn, "Nathan! We don't have time, it's already here!"
Time slowed down as he turned to behold the wave of otherworlds sparkling behind the blonde Slayer. So close to her, trickling out to touch her skin and turn it in an instant from golden tan to black, to nothingness. Buffy's eyes widened in pain, and then she was gone, the wave tearing through her with extra-dimensional fury.
Faith was standing next to him, Meggan in her arms. "Shield us, you fucking bastard! NOW!"
He did, as time sped up and the room shattered around them. The shields were in place barely in time, and, as it was, he still got a bit of backlash as energy licked along his left arm, scoring deep lines in it. Blood flowed, dripping down to the tiles then onto grass, then dirt as wave after wave of other-dimensions slid over them and dissipated.
Nathan had no idea how long it lasted. The melange just abruptly stopped. And his knees gave, landing him in a pool of his own blood. Faith dropped next to him and gasped at the injury, pulling her shirt off to wrap around it, trying to stop the blood from leaving him.
"Owww. Owowowowow." Meggan huddled into Nathan's side, shivering. "That hurted."
"Yeah, kiddo, it did."
Silence descended again as Faith staunched the blood from Nathan's arm. Meggan huddled and whimpered occasionally. Nathan sat there, dazed. The bloodloss hadn't been too extensive, but coupled with the shields he'd had to throw up, it had drained him considerably.
Faith stopped and swiped at her eyes. "This is..." She looked around at the flat plane they'd landed on. It was all brown. "This is a really yucky colour."
They'd had time to sleep for about two hours on the hard-packed brown dirt and then another wave had passed over them. This time, they landed on more grass, with an oddly orange sun.
Meggan had shifted to a slightly fuzzy-furry human child. Although her eyes had stayed their sparkling blue. Her body was morphing with each shift, and Faith worried that it hurt her.
"Hey, kiddo." Faith carefully wrapped her arms around Meggan, "You doing okay?"
"Yeah," the child smiled, "It doesn't hurt, Faith."
Faith looked relieved, "Good. Nathan?"
"How much longer do we have before the next one hits?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe a few hours, maybe less." He shook his head, the silver threaded through the brown glinting, "I think they're increasing in frequency."
"Nathan, did you notice that we change with each one? Or, sort of..." Faith's voice trailed off as he looked at her oddly.
"She's right." Meggan straightened and held out a fur-covered arm, "I show it more, but you two do it, too. Just..."
"Not as dramatically. Right." With a grin, Faith pointed at Nathan's arms, "No shiny armour, remember? When we first met, you were all techno-boy. Now, you're normal. Well, as normal as you can get."
Nathan raised an eyebrow, "And how have you changed?"
"Well, I don't think I used to have silver nails." She held up splayed fingers, which were all tipped with silver.
He reached out and caught her hand, examining the nails. It looked like a very good salon job, or, her nails had turned silver.
"Wonder if I've got silver toenails, too." Faith chuckled. "Wonder what the next shift will bring." She sighed, her eyes darkening. "Buffy..."
"I'm sorry." He looked away, releasing her hand and scanning the horizon. "If I'd known they were that close, I--"
"I know." Her hand caught his right arm and tugged, "Don't worry, I know." Faith wiped a hand across her eyes as tears slipped down. "I didn't even really know her. Dammit."
Meggan snuggled closer to Faith, "It's okay. Sad is good."
"No it isn't. Dammit." Faith shook her head and looked at Nathan. "Do we have time to sleep?"
He nodded, "I'll be awake, anyway."
"Okay." She curled up, pulling Meggan with her, and pillowed her head on Nathan's thigh. "Don't, like, leave us behind or anything."
He chuckled softly, "I wouldn't dream of it."
Faith awoke to the sound of screaming. Meggan, her mind identified blurrily. Meggan was screaming, and Nathan was whimpering and crying. Or something odd like that. With a thump, she sat up and stared. Meggan was standing up, mouth open as she changed rapidly through various bodies.
Nathan, on the other hand, was curled in a fetal ball next to her as silver and grey slithered around his body. Her eyes widened. They'd obviously passed through another shift. "Meggan! Hush!" She crawled towards Nathan, grabbing his shoulders and pinning him to the ground. "Nathan! Wake up, man! WAKE UP!"
For an instant, an eye opened and stared wildly at her, and then it rolled back, and he bucked, sending her flying to the side. She landed with jarring force and winced. Slayer or no, that had hurt badly.
Faith rolled to her knees and hissed as her ribs crunched. Great. Cracked ribs were all they needed right now, with Meggan having some sort of fit, and Nathan echoing it. Wait, Nathan was having the fit. Meggan was echoing HIM.
Wind whipped around them, as cliche as the screaming child and fetal man. Faith didn't touch Nathan this time, she just hovered over him, trying to project calm. It wasn't easy, since she was worried sick about him and Meggan.
It was Meggan who quieted first, her mind apparently coming out of the odd state it was in and beginning to reassert itself. The child collapsed and crawled over to Faith, who was still trying to project calm at the now-silently writhing Nathan. "Faith... what happened?"
"Another shift. And I think it ended badly." Faith winced as a dark silver streak rippled through Nathan's arms. The arm that had been injured shown through with pale silver, she realised. "I think Nathan's getting the techno-virus stuff back."
"That's bad, isn't it."
"Yeah." Tentatively, she reached out and stroked Nathan's cheek. "C'mon, Nathan, you can do it. You did it before. Wake up!"
"Wake up, Mr. Nathan. Please?" Meggan had settled down into a slightly dirtier version of her normal self. "Faith, I don't think it's going to work. And he's in such pain."
Faith narrowed her eyes, "We have to snap him out of this. It's not safe to be sitting ducks, and we need to find shelter and food." She leaned over and pulled up one of the man's eyelids. Not even a twitch. "That's it. Rise and shine, boy." With a grumble, she leaned over and kissed him.
Weeks had passed. Time had flown by, taking people and places with it. Nathan still wondered how it had been so easy to live, with the shifts coming as fast as they were. Somehow, with Meggan around, it had become easier. And, of course, controlling the T-O virus had added a new dimension to it.
Faith... he shook his head, trying not to chuckle as he recalled waking up to himself to find her kissing him. It had been the only thing she could think of at the time, apparently. Still, it had been nice. Not that he'd tell Dom that.
She wasn't his Domino, in fact, she was known as Nina, not Domino. But she was still his in other ways.
They were slowly gathering others, as the shifts fell into recognisable patterns. He wasn't able to save them all, but he could save some of them. Besides, with the large group they had now, it was almost a piece of cake to raid stores for supplies in-between waves.
Two universes after his breakdown, they'd picked up a young girl by the name of Ace. She claimed to have travelled a lot and be an explosives expert. Faith had just nodded and then held her when she cried over the loss of her world. The next universe had found Nina. And after that, a young man by the name of Larry.
After that, they seemed to pick someone up every other universe and shift. At the moment, they were some twenty strong. And they were heading for the Otherworld. Nathan had sensed it again, felt it calling. And he had a plan. Once there, he thought they could set up a sort of stable base, and send people out to pick up others, bringing them back to the Otherworld. At least, that was his plan. He hadn't really mentioned it to the others. There was time for that later.
Right after he showed one of his younger counterparts how to shield from the waves. And tickled Meggan. The child laughed more than any of them, and liked laughing. So they tickled her and pampered her, and listened when she said a shift was coming.
After all, she was the one sensitive to them the most.
Excerpt from Faith's diary, begun as they entered Otherworld space:
'We made it to the Otherworld. I don't know all that we'll do now, but I think we'll do good. This place is not the same one as before, because it didn't negate Nathan's T-O. And, besides, it seems to lack all those little shards. It's a nexus, someone said. I think it was that other version of Nathan that said that.
'There are times when I hate this. I want things back like they were, with me and Ethan killing demons. And yet... Buffy died, so senselessly. So did all the others. All the children. I have to believe that we're doing something, making a difference, or, I think I'd go quietly mad.
'We collected a few more telepaths on the way back in last time. Some of them are getting good at reaching out and touching the last vestiges of life in distant planes. At least, we have more than fifty people here now. And Nathan and his counterparts shield us all. The Otherworld is stable. For now.
'One day, it might not be. But, until then, I think we'll be okay.'
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