Watchers Council – Willow and Rowena’s Apartment – Same Time
Rowena was once again propped up in bed, but this time Marsha was with her, snoozing comfortably beside her, as the watcher talked on her phone.
“Any word?” she asked Robin in the Command Center.
“No, I’m afraid not,” he answered. “But that’s not surprising. We knew communications would be difficult, given the interference from the anomaly.”
“Yeah, I know,” she replied. “I just thought that maybe…” She trailed off and sighed.
“But I’ve just heard that we had a couple of the Dallas slayers come out with some evacuees, so that’s a good sign.”
“Oh, that’s great,” Rowena said in relief. “But you’ll let me know if you hear from –”
“You’ll be the first,” he reassured her.
“Thanks, Robin,” she said sincerely.
After ending her call and hanging up the phone, Rowena frowned in concern. Then she grimaced in discomfort and put her hand over her stomach. She put on a stern look and poked at her bulging belly.
“Hey, can you two keep it down? I’m tryin’ to have a worry-fest here.”
Just then, Marsha looked up from her repose and strutted over to Rowena. She stuck her nose to the blonde’s stomach and let out a small huff. Then she climbed onto Rowena’s lap, curled up on her belly, and began a deep, rumbling purr as she returned to her napping.
Almost instantly, the twins calmed inside Rowena and seemingly settled into their own little nap.
Rowena just stared in astonishment. “Huh.”
Then she sighed and leaned back against her pillows, stroking Marsha’s neck in gratitude, although the concern in her eyes still remained.
Supercollider Complex – Service Corridor – Same Time
“Oh my god!” Vi exclaimed in concern when she saw Heli’s condition. “Heli…what happened to you?”
When Vi attempted to move forward, both Xander and Kennedy stepped in front of her and stopped her. Vi gave them both puzzled looks, but then turned back to Heli.
Heli met Vi’s eyes, then glared pointedly at Kennedy. “Ask her,” she answered coldly.
At that, Kennedy released Vi and rushed Heli, attacking her in an all-out assault. In an almost-blind rage, Kennedy kicked and punched, just hitting Heli with everything she had.
Or at least, she was trying to. With a casual smile, Heli countered or deflected every move Kennedy made.
“Kennedy!” Vi yelled in confusion. “What are you doing?”
Vi tried to push past Xander, but he grabbed both of her arms from behind and held her in place.
Heli waited for her chance, and when Kennedy overshot her last wild swing, Heli punched her hard in the face. In the few seconds of Kennedy’s dazedness, Heli pressed her advantage, landing blow after blow, sending the brunette stumbling back.
“Jesus, Ken,” Heli said disgustedly. “Haven’t you learned anything since I saw you last?”
Vi yanked herself out of Xander’s grip, but Faith jumped in front of her and stopped her. “Just stay put, Vi, okay?” Faith turned to Willow, “Keep her out of this, got it?” Willow nodded. Then Faith ran to join Kennedy.
Kennedy straightened up and wiped the blood from her mouth. “I learned you’re still a bitch,” she said. Then she rushed Heli once again.
This time, Kennedy kept her emotions in check and was soon pummeling Heli back toward a particularly distorted area of the corridor. With a vicious kick, she nearly sent Heli into one of the swirling sinkholes, but the blonde shifted just in time and went tumbling against the wall. By then, Faith was there, and the two slayers stood over Heli, ready to do battle.
“What is going on?” Vi demanded, as she tried to look past Willow and Xander to see what was happening.
Heli laughed and got to her feet. “What’s the matter, Ken? Afraid to take me on alone again? Afraid of what you might do? Gotta have your big sis watch your back?”
Kennedy and Faith traded a look and then ran at Heli at the same time.
She merely smiled, held out her hands, and said, “Boo!”
Both Kennedy and Faith were surprised by a magical burst that sent them flying into the opposite wall with tremendous force. They slid to the floor with twin groans.
“That’s it!” Vi said, shoving past both Xander and Willow.
Xander shot Willow a frightened look, and Willow instantly erected a barrier around the three of them. With tendrils beginning to hit the barrier like lightning strikes, Willow didn’t have time to meet Vi’s angry eyes.
“Andrew!” she called out, pointing him over to assist Kennedy and Faith.
As Andrew ran toward the ongoing fight, Douglas seemed unsure of what to do. He started to follow Andrew, then changed his mind, started back again and then retreated again. Finally, Willow reached through her barrier, grabbed him and yanked him inside. Then she had to devote her full attention to maintaining the barrier against the onslaught of the energy tendrils drawn to the shielding.
As Faith clutched her side and Kennedy tried to shake the stars out of her eyes, it was Heli’s turn to stand over them.
“Yeah, I’ve learned all sorts of things since I’ve been gone,” Heli told them, wringing her hands together as they still crackled with energy. “Well, between all the torture and torment and agony.”
As Andrew ran for Heli, he had already started his incantation. When he finished, he sent a bright beam of magic directly at Heli’s back.
At the last second, she whipped around and literally caught the magic in her hand, letting it build into a concentrated ball.
When Andrew realized what was happening, he stopped his attack and came to a sliding halt. He cringed when Heli brought those fire-and-ice eyes boring down on his.
“It’s not nice to shoot a person in the back,” she said in a hard voice. Then she turned to the recovering slayers. “Course, it’s not nice to shoot a person in the chest either, especially when she’s kneeling helpless before you, surrendering in a Shinto Shrine.” She flashed a malicious grin at Kennedy, then whipped around and launched the ball of magic at Andrew.
He barely got up a shield in time, but the force of the magical collision blew him back into the anomaly’s swirling eddies, just as one spiraled into a dimensional opening. With flailing arms and a bit of a squeal, Andrew went tumbling ass-first into somewhere that was else.
“Crap!” Willow cried out. She released the barrier. “Help Andrew!” she told the others. “I’ll help Faith and Kennedy.”
As Willow headed toward Heli, Vi, Xander and Douglas ran for the sinkhole into which Andrew had fallen.
Hell Dimension – Same Time
Andrew screamed as he fell to the stone floor of a rocky cavern. Landing on his side, he groaned and gripped his arm as he sat up.
“Ouch,” he said to no one in particular.
Shaking, he slowly moved to his feet, still holding his arm. He looked up to see the sinkhole hovering far above his head. Next, his eyes took in the jagged stone walls surrounding him. Even if they were scalable, which they weren’t, they were nowhere near the undulating portal that he had fallen through.
“Uh, guys?” he called up. “A little help? Somebody? Anybody? It’s kinda dark and scary down here. Guys?”
“Andrew?” Xander called down.
“Xander! Yes! Down here!” he shouted up.
“How far are you?” Xander asked. “It’s hard to see.”
“Uh, ’bout twelve feet, I’d say. Actually, maybe a little more. Think you guys can hurry it up? I’m not sure what’s down here, and I don’t want to wait to find out.”
“We’re coming,” Xander told him. “Sit tight.”
Andrew could hear Xander’s muffled voice above him and decided to follow his advice by taking a seat on the floor again. The sound of footsteps behind him made his eyes go wide. Slowly, he turned his head, and his voice seemed somewhat trapped in his throat as he saw the figure approach.
“Warren?” he croaked.
A hell-ravaged Warren grinned back.
Supercollider Complex – Service Corridor – Same Time
As Heli giggled maniacally at Andrew’s apparent demise, Faith and Kennedy got to their feet and tackled her from behind. The three slayers went into a tumbling mass of flying fists and kicking legs, grunting and groaning, and what sounded like the cracking of bones.
When Willow arrived, she had one hand cocked back, holding what looked to be a flaming harpoon made of churning red energy. But she couldn’t get a clear target while the three slayers were grappling so closely. She let out a growl of frustration and directed her free hand at the brawling trio.
“Separate!” she barked.
Instantly, the three slayers blew apart from each other like a small bomb had detonated between them. As soon as Willow figured out which way Heli had been thrown, she reared back and fired.
Heli was just rolling to her feet when the burning harpoon raked her back and exploded into the wall. She turned angry eyes back at Willow, but then laughed and dashed into the side corridor, disappearing into the swirling mists.
Hell Dimension – Same Time
Like Heli, Warren was dirty and bloody, his clothes ripped and torn. On one arm, it looked as if someone had started to slowly peel the skin from his flesh. His eyes were cold and full of hate, yet tinged with occasional flashes of panic. After a skittish look over his shoulder, Warren walked over to Andrew.
“Nice of you to drop in,” Warren said with cruel sarcasm. “I wondered when you’d finally get here.”
“I-I-I-,” Andrew stuttered.
“I-I-I what?” Warren mocked him. “Spit it out.”
“I’m different now,” Andrew said, finally finding his nerve.
“Being different now doesn’t change the things you’ve done,” Warren told him. “I remember a time when you were happy you got away with murder.”
“I was never happy about Jonathan.”
Warren thunked his palm against Andrew’s forehead. “No, dumb ass. Katrina.”
Andrew looked away. “I-I didn’t kill her.”
“Yeah, right. You were as innocent as a lamb, huh?” Warren taunted him.
Andrew looked back up at the sinkhole. “Guys? Get me out of here!”
“Oh no,” Warren growled, grabbing his former friend’s injured arm.
“Ahhh,” Andrew winced.
“We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, buddy,” Warren sneered.
Supercollider Complex – Side Corridor – Same Time
By the time Willow had helped a dazed Kennedy to her feet, Faith had recovered and stumbled off after Heli, ignoring Willow’s pleas not to.
She found the side corridor dense with the distorting energies of the anomaly, and she couldn’t see more than five feet in front of her. The whirlpool-like sinkholes were more prevalent, and she had to maneuver carefully through the eddies.
Suddenly, in the distance, Faith heard what sounded like weapons fire. She raced ahead, made a hard turn, then skidded to a stop when she saw a large dimensional hole looming right in front of her. When she looked up and saw the mists clear, her eyes grew wide.
It wasn’t the sight of the high-tech blaster barrel pointed at her that drew her attention; it was the appearance of the person holding it, a person who looked just like herself but in a futuristic, military-like uniform. Dark brown, shoulder-length wavy hair, dark brown eyes, full lips and a slightly dimpled chin, the toned body of a slayer. It was like looking in a mirror. A freaky mirror, but a mirror nonetheless.
Faith’s reflection seemed to see her too. She lowered her weapon and drew nearer to the transparent opening. Faith eased closer as well, and, for a long moment, the two simply stared at each other in amazement.
Then Faith’s counterpart seemed to rest her gaze on Faith’s bleeding right arm, on the tribal tattoo encircling the slayer’s bicep. She raised her hand as if to reach through the opening and touch Faith’s arm.
But before she could, the eddies began to swirl once again, clouding the opening. Both brunettes stepped back, but stood watching until the last threads of the anomaly had vanished.
Faith stared for several seconds longer then blinked and shook her head. She did a quick scan of the area, and, seeing no sign of Heli, Faith headed back to the rest of the mission team.
Hell Dimension – Same Time
As Warren forced Andrew to his knees, a rope suddenly fell between them. Warren grinned and then kicked Andrew to the ground, making him fall onto his back.
Warren got a firm hold and gave the rope two shakes as he wrapped it around his arm.
“Later, loser,” Warren said as he started to rise.
Andrew jumped up and sent a magical bolt in the direction of Warren’s hands. Warren screamed and released the rope, falling to the ground.
“Andrew?” they heard Xander call down. “What’s wrong?”
“Tell ’em,” Warren said to Andrew as he rose to his feet. He circled around the rope, never taking his eyes off Andrew. “You’re a murderer, a potential rapist, and you belong down here. You know it. I know it. So why fight it?”
“I told you – those days are over,” Andrew said firmly as he moved closer to his former friend.
Warren cocked an eyebrow. “Pretty forceful for a shrimp,” he said as he grabbed the rope again.
“Go to hell!” Andrew shouted, and he landed a right hook across Warren’s jaw, dropping him to the ground. “Or, actually, just stay in hell,” he muttered in afterthought.
Andrew took a firm hold on the rope. “Get me up quick!” he shouted to the mouth of the sinkhole.
Andrew started to rise fast but not fast enough. Warren managed to catch one of Andrew’s ankles and hung on as the team above began to pull them both up.
Andrew tried to wiggle free, but wasn’t having much luck. His anger began to show on his face, and he pulled back his leg to deliver a kick to Warren’s face.
“As Kirk said to Kruge,” Andrew growled, “I have had…” Kick! “…enough…” Kick! “…of you!” KICK!
The last blow did the trick, and Warren went plummeting to the rocky floor. He hit with a thud, but was quickly back on his feet. He tried to jump and catch Andrew again, but the attempt was in vain. He roared in frustration and then pointed an accusing finger toward his escaping victim.
“You can’t avoid fate, Andrew!” Warren shouted at the top of his lungs.
Supercollider Complex – Mechanical Room – Same Time
While Vi strained to pull the rope hand over hand, Xander and Douglas reached through the narrowing portal and grabbed Andrew by his arms. Just as the sinkhole began to spiral out of sight, they yanked Andrew through. Their momentum sent them stumbling into Vi, and the four of them ended up in an awkward heap on the floor.
“Thankyou,thankyou,thankyou,” Andrew said, breathing hard like the rest of them. “Thank you.”
As Willow and Kennedy made their way over and the four got to their feet, Faith came out of the side corridor.
“Lost her,” she announced unhappily.
Both Kennedy and Xander swore and shook their heads in reaction to the news. At that, Vi pulled away from the group and held up her hands in frustration.
“Okay, that’s it!” she said angrily. “I wanna know what’s going on, and I wanna know now.”
No one would meet Vi’s gaze. Eyes just darted in all directions, landing anywhere but on the furious slayer.
“I mean it!” she threatened. “Why is everyone acting so weird, and why in God’s name are we fighting Heli?”
Willow looked at Xander and Kennedy, and they looked back, but said nothing. Willow turned to Vi and shrugged. Just as Willow took a breath and opened her mouth to speak, a shrill but brief scream rang out from somewhere down the corridor. A momentary look of confusion came over Willow’s face, and she snapped her mouth shut. Then the scream started up again, but this time it kept on going. It was high-pitched and filled with terror.
“That sounds like…” Willow began.
“…a kid,” Faith finished.
They all grabbed their gear and rushed off in the direction of the scream.
Supercollider Complex – Mechanical Room – Moments Later
The team rushed into a large mechanical room, where the shrieking could be heard more clearly. And that wasn’t all they heard; the grunting guffaws of non-humans accompanied the child’s screams.
They followed the sounds to a shallow niche off the center area. There they found about a half-dozen troll-like demons surrounding a small, long-haired girl about seven or eight years old. The gnarled demons wore heavy black armor over their violet skin. They were taunting the child, passing her among themselves, poking her and pinching her, laughing as she screamed in terror.
“Mmmm,” one demon said, as if anticipating a yummy meal. He drew the girl near and rolled his tongue around in his mouth, causing saliva to drip down his chin.
Suddenly, the demon stopped. His eyes crossed, and he released his grip on the girl. Then he sank to the floor, a dagger sticking out of his forehead.
The remaining demons turned, raised their weapons, and roared in outrage, shoving the girl behind them, out of the reach of the mission team.
Faith turned to Willow and said, “We’ll deal with the demons. You get the kid, okay?”
Willow nodded, then began whispering instructions to Andrew, Xander and Douglas. Faith, Kennedy and Vi drew their weapons and moved cautiously toward the growling trolls.
“Hand over the girl,” Faith told the demons. “Or things’re gonna get mighty messy around here.”
“No!” shouted the demon leader. “Girl ours! We find, we eat!”
“Listen, you purple-people-eater wannabes, give us the girl! Now!” Vi demanded.
The demons answered with a charge. Four of them rushed the three slayers while the leader and one other demon remained behind to guard the girl. As slayers met demons, the sound of clashing weapons filled the air.
While Faith, Kennedy and Vi deliberately led the attacking demons out of the niche, Willow headed around the latticework of steel pipes that lined both sides, and Andrew, Xander and Douglas sneaked inside to confront the two demons that were holding the girl captive. Andrew took point and assumed a dramatic pose.
“This is your last chance,” Andrew warned. “Free her or die.”
He raised his hand, where he held a ball of swirling magic. The demons looked at the threatening gesture then glanced at each other. Then they burst into raucous laughter. The demon leader stepped forward and banged his fist on this chest plate.
“We no fear magic!” he spat contemptuously.
Andrew took up the challenge and hurled the magical burst directly at the bragging demon. It hit the creature dead on…but had no effect. The magic instantly dissipated the second it touched the metal of his chest plate. The demon began spouting off in his native language, proudly banging his armor once again.
Xander shrugged and said, “Guess we’ll have to do this slayer style.”
He hefted the battle-axe he was carrying into both hands and waited as Douglas and Andrew readied their swords. On a count of three, they rushed the two demons. Soon, the sounds of their clashing weapons joined those of the nearby slayer battle.
Meanwhile, Willow was just climbing to the top of the pipe-works and onto a small platform that overlooked the niche below, where the young girl was backed into the far corner, crouched in fear. Willow began whispering a spell, but kept her eyes locked worriedly on the girl. She paused in the incantation. “Come on, guys…”
Despite their failing strength, the three men made yet another assault. This time, they were able to draw the two demon guards out enough so that Willow had a clear line of sight.
“Yes!” Willow cried, before reaching out with her hand and speaking the final words of her spell.
A ghostly-white web of magic burst from her fingertips, shot across the niche and snagged the girl in the corner. The startled girl screamed when the web encased her, but when it began to yank her skyward at a rapid rate, she started a long, shrill shriek which didn’t stop until she felt her acceleration suddenly cease atop the platform.
“Oh!” the girl squeaked, as she realized the web was gone and she was in someone’s arms…a human someone’s arms. She looked up and saw kind, green eyes staring back at her.
Willow smiled warmly and said, “Hey. You okay?”
The girl didn’t answer. She just wrapped herself around Willow and began to cry. Willow pulled her close and held her tightly in her arms. She caressed the girl’s long hair and crooned reassuring words into her ear.
Meanwhile, Xander, Douglas and Andrew were trying to hold on against the demons. As Xander and Andrew engaged in a swinging match against their demon, Douglas found himself disarmed, as his opponent knocked his sword out of his hands and out of reach. By the time Douglas turned back, the demon sank his blade into the technician’s stomach.
The demon grinned as he held Douglas impaled on the sword. But soon that grin turned into a grimace when the demon found himself skewered on a blade that had been rammed between the side plates of his armor. With his dark blood gushing out, the demon turned toward his attacker. He found a weary but furious Faith holding the sword inside him. The nearly black blood ran down the sword, coating her hands.
She gave the sword a vicious, wrenching twist. “Told ya it was gonna get messy.”
As the demon crashed to the floor, Douglas did too. When Vi and Kennedy came stumbling up, Faith directed them to care for Douglas while she went to aid Andrew and Xander.
Back on the platform, the young girl had finally calmed down. Willow gently separated them and looked into the child’s bright eyes.
“We need to get down from here,” Willow told her. “Are you up for another ride? A slower one this time, I promise.” When the girl nodded, she added, “I’m Willow, by the way. What’s your name?”
“D-D-Daryn,” the girl replied, still a bit shaken up. “Daryn Ballard.”
“Okay, Daryn,” Willow said. “Just put your arms around my neck and hold on tight, got it? If you get scared just close your eyes, okay?” When Daryn nodded again, Willow stood up with the girl in her arms. “Here we go.”
Willow took a deep breath and stepped off the platform. Daryn’s eyes were wide with amazement as Willow slowly and gracefully levitated them down. As soon as they were on solid ground once again, Willow set the girl’s feet on the floor and then knelt in front of her.
“There. That wasn’t so bad, was it?” she asked.
Daryn shook her head and then asked in an awestruck voice, “How did you do all that?”
Willow smiled and said simply, “Magic.”
“You’re with the EDA, aren’t you?”
Willow looked confused. “The EDA?”
“The Earth Defense Alliance,” Daryn answered.
“Ummm…not exactly,” Willow said hesitantly. “Let’s just say we’re, um, cousin organizations…distant cousins.”
Just then, Faith walked over, breathing hard, having dispatched the last of the purple demons. “Dougie there’s hurt pretty bad,” she said, pointing at the downed man. “And the rest of us ain’t lookin’ too good, either. We need a safe place to hole up for a while, get patched up.”
Willow glanced around at the churning atmosphere. “I don’t think anywhere’s safe in here.”
“I know a place,” Daryn interjected, surprising the group. When the team just stared at her, she took Willow’s hand and pulled. “Come on. It’s not far.”
Willow looked at Faith, shrugged, and let Daryn lead her away.
“Can we trust this kid?” Faith whispered to Willow.
“Yes,” she replied.
“What makes you so sure?”
“A feeling,” was Willow’s only response.
Faith rolled her eyes, but proceeded along with the pair. Soon the rest of the team followed, with the slayers carrying Douglas between them.
Supercollider Complex – Storage Room – Minutes Later
“Red made a good call. Kid was right about this place,” Faith said, nodding toward the thick metal walls of the storage room. “Don’t think anything demonic’s gettin’ through those. And the distortion’s not so bad, either.”
Faith’s right arm and several other places were already bandaged. Now she had her arm raised so that Kennedy could check her side for signs of broken ribs. Faith hissed when Kennedy reached an especially sore spot. After a few seconds of probing, Kennedy pulled away.
“Feels okay to me,” she announced.
“Easy for you to say,” Faith muttered. “You’re not the one gettin’ poked.”
“Big baby,” Kennedy teased.
“We’ll see who the baby is, Slick,” Faith countered. “C’mere. It’s your turn.”
Kennedy kept her left arm still, but held up her right hand to ward off her friend. “Don’t bother. I’m fine.”
Faith pinned her with a mock glare. “Did you just say fine? ‘Cause I think we already discussed the consequences of using that word, and they ain’t gonna be pretty.”
Kennedy snorted and rolled her eyes.
Faith sobered and said, “Seriously, Ken, this is no time to be a hard ass. Lemme check you out.”
Kennedy grumbled to herself. Then she smirked at Faith and said, with emphasis, “Fiiiiiine.”
Faith grinned and reached for the first aid kit.
In another corner of the room, Douglas was laid out on a cleared workbench. His stomach wound had been bandaged, and Willow was now doing a healing spell. Daryn hovered nearby, watching Willow’s every move.
Andrew walked over, carrying Douglas’s handheld sensor. He waited for Willow to finish, then stepped closer. “The anomaly’s getting stronger,” he said, holding up the device.
“How much time do we have?” Willow asked.
“A few hours, at the most,” he replied. “Assuming its rate of expansion remains constant.”
“And we can’t count on that, can we?” Willow said ruefully.
Andrew shook his head, then said, “Want me to take over for a while?”
Willow nodded and gave a tired sigh. Leaving Andrew to continue the healing spell, she stepped over to Daryn.
“Hey, ya hungry?” she asked. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”
Daryn nodded enthusiastically. Willow draped an arm around the girl’s shoulders and led her toward where the team had laid out some food and bottles of water. They sat down on the floor, leaned against the wall and dug into the prepackaged fare with gusto.
“Daryn, do you know how long you’ve been here?” Willow asked.
The girl ducked her head and shrugged. “No.”
“Where were you when got…you know…zapped here?”
“At school, on the playground.” Daryn made a disgusted face. “With Jonas.”
“Nobody,” Daryn said in a tone that meant he definitely was ‘somebody’ – and somebody she didn’t like.
“Bully?” Willow guessed.
“Yeah.” She crossed her arms and pouted. “He makes fun of my name. Says it’s a boy’s name, but it’s not!”
“It’s a beautiful name,” Willow told her. “It means ‘gift,’ doesn’t it?”
Daryn beamed and nodded. “How did you know that?” she asked.
“I’m going to be a mom pretty soon, so I’ve been looking at baby name books lately,” she replied with a grin. Willow turned so that she could face the girl. “Daryn, let me tell you something that it took me way too long to learn.” The youngster gave Willow her full attention. “Sooner or later, and hopefully sooner rather than later for you, you gotta stand up to the bullies. I got picked on all through school and –”
“You got picked on?” Daryn asked in disbelief.
“Yeah, me,” Willow said with a chuckle. “Everyone has greatness and power inside of them.”
“Even me?” Daryn asked.
“Even you,” Willow told her. “But I didn’t realize mine until a very special person came into my life – a fighter, like Faith and Kennedy – a-and after that, I finally learned to stand up for myself. I wasn’t afraid of the bullies. But you know what’s really cool?”
“What?” Daryn asked, anxious for the answer.
“The bullies knew I wasn’t afraid. They knew I would put up a fight, so they left me alone.”
Daryn thought deeply for a moment. Then she glanced over at the two dark-haired slayers just a few yards away.
Faith had cleaned and bandaged the largest of Kennedy’s wounds. After sealing a couple of butterfly bandages across the cut on the younger slayer’s forehead, she held out her hand, palm-up.
“Lemme see,” Faith ordered.
“See what?” Kennedy asked.
“Your arm,” Faith replied. “You know…the one you’re not using?”
Kennedy glanced at her left arm and shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s just a sprain.”
“Gimme!” Faith demanded.
Kennedy huffed and stuck out her arm. Faith began gingerly pressing along the bone in Kennedy’s forearm, starting at her elbow and moving toward her wrist. The closer Faith got to the wrist, the tighter Kennedy clenched her jaw. When Faith probed the small bone on the thumb-side of the wrist, Kennedy couldn’t help but groan in pain.
“Uh-huh,” Faith commented. Then she pointed at Kennedy and said, “Squeeze my finger.”
Kennedy pulled back and gave her an appalled look. “I don’t think so!”
“I said squeeze my finger, not pull my finger, ya nimrod.”
Kennedy reached out with her left hand and attempted to squeeze Faith’s finger. She could do it, but only with a lot of effort and a great deal of pain.
Faith shook her head. “Think ya broke it, Slick. Gonna have to splint it.”
Kennedy slumped and sighed. “Great.”
As Faith rolled out a SAM splint and began cutting two sections, she asked, without looking at Kennedy, “What Heli said…is it true?”
Kennedy’s eyes shot over to Faith, but then quickly looked away. She hung her head, and after a long exhale, she said, “Yes.”
When Faith didn’t say anything for a long time, Kennedy glanced up and found Faith staring at her intently. “Does it hurt?” Faith asked.
Kennedy frowned and swallowed the lump forming in her throat. “All the time,” she said, in a slightly choked voice.
“Good,” Faith replied firmly. Then she added, more gently, “But…I was asking about your arm.”
In surprise, Kennedy looked down at her newly wrapped wrist. “Oh…um…no, it’s better now. Thanks.”
Faith reached over and put her hand on Kennedy’s knee until the younger slayer met her eyes once again. “It’s always gonna hurt, Ken,” she told her softly. “But not always this bad.”
“Guess you’re not talking about my arm anymore, are you?”
“Nope,” Faith said, with a small but sympathetic smile.
In their own corner of the room, except for small exchanges involving the first aid process, Vi and Xander had hardly said a word to each other since they had entered. It was apparent from their body language that Xander was still in avoidance mode and Vi was still pissed about it. She had insisted on rendering aid to him first, but now it was her turn to receive some rudimentary care.
Xander had treated the various wounds on her legs, arms and torso before finally turning his attention to her head and neck. As he wiped the blood from her face, his hands shook noticeably. He swallowed hard several times, but wouldn’t meet her eyes.
Vi grabbed his hand and made him look at her. “Xander, what is it?” she asked softly. “Why are you acting so strange?”
“I’m not,” he lied. “It just…scares me to see you like this, to be reminded of how dangerous your life as a slayer is.” He tried to keep his gaze even and his tone convincing, but Vi didn’t buy it.
“Fine! Don’t tell me!” she said sharply. She pushed him away from her and walked away.
“Vi, wait!” Xander called out, jumping to his feet.
As Vi strode past her fellow slayers, Faith asked, “Hey, where ya goin’?”
“To check the perimeter.”
Vi didn’t wait for a response. She just stomped out of the storage room door, with Xander running after her.
Supercollider Complex – Mechanical Room – Moments Later
As Vi made her way around the mechanical room in the pretense of patrolling the perimeter, Xander followed right behind. As they dodged tendrils and sinkholes, he kept calling out to her, trying to get her to stop, but she refused.
“Vi, please!” Xander begged. “Talk to me.”
Vi stopped and whipped around, pointing angrily. “I’m not the one who’s got something to say, Xander. You are. And you’re not telling me. In fact, none of you are telling me. It’s like some big bad secret that Vi can’t know.” She stepped closer and glared at Xander. “So, what is it? What could possibly be so terrible that you can’t look me in the eyes and tell me?”
Anguish was on Xander’s face as he tried to speak the words. But all he managed to do was whisper, “I can’t…”
“Why?” Vi insisted with a frustrated growl.
“Because you’re dead!” Xander shouted back.
Vi’s mouth dropped open, and her eyes widened in shock. For a long moment, she just stood there and blinked in utter incomprehension. Then she turned and walked a few steps away.
“Oh my God,” she said, turning back to Xander. “This is just like ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise,’ isn’t it?”
When he nodded, she plopped wearily onto a large, floor-level pipe nearby. Xander sat down beside her.
“When I got zapped here and then saw you, I just figured you guys had tracked me down or something, but…” She trailed off for several seconds before going on. “We’re not even from the same dimension, are we?”
Xander shrugged uncertainly. “We don’t really know,” he said. “Even if it is the same dimension, it’s not the same time.”
“Where we are now…when is it?”
“That’s over a year from now,” Vi said. “From my now.”
For a long moment, the two just sat in silence, trying to get their minds around the unreality of the situation.
Eventually, Vi dropped her gaze to her hands and sighed. Then, in a quiet voice, she asked, “How did I die?” With hopeful but vulnerable eyes, she looked up and pressed on. “W-W-Was it slayer-related? You know, big apocalypse, save the day, go out in a blaze of glory kind of thing?” When Xander shook his head sadly, Vi just said, “Oh.”
His face grew dark, and he clenched his hands into tight fists. “You’re dead because Heli killed you,” he finally said.
“Heli?” Vi was confused. “Is that why everybody was –?”
“Yep,” Xander said with a nod. “Halloween 2006, Heli kidnapped you and Faith and Rowena and…put you through a Saw-like…’fun house’.”
“I…I don’t understand…she fought by our sides…all this time…why would Heli do that?”
“Because she’s a psychotic bitch, that’s why!” Xander said vehemently. “We were just too late to see it.”
“So…I died in this ‘fun house’ of hers?” Vi seemed to be growing more and more disturbed.
“No,” Xander said, his voice becoming strained. “All of you survived, but just when we thought everyone was safe, she… and you were –”
When Xander became too distraught to go on, Vi reached over and touched his cheek, then leaned in for a slow, but searing, kiss. He returned it deeply, desperately, pulling the redhead into his lap. They kissed again and again, hands roaming and caressing. Then Xander suddenly pulled them apart.
Breathing heavily, he said, “No, I have to tell you…in case you get zapped back and –”
Vi put her fingers over Xander’s lips. “It can wait,” she said huskily. “Tell me later.” Then she pulled him into another kiss.
Supercollider Complex – Storage Room – Minutes Later
When Vi and Xander returned to the group, they found the rest of the team repacking and getting ready to go. Even Douglas was on his feet, though he was moving slowly and carefully.
The others looked at Vi and Xander with a mixture of emotions: curiosity and anxiety, mostly. Faith and Kennedy, however, were closest, and their expressions were slightly amused.
“Perimeter okay?” Faith asked with a hint of a smirk.
“Yeah, it’s good, it’s fine,” Vi replied, definitely over-nodding.
“Still freaky like the rest of this place,” Xander agreed, gesturing way too broadly. “But no sign of any demons.”
“And you checked everything really well?” Kennedy pressed.
“Oh…yeah, absolutely,” Vi said.
“Good, glad to hear it,” Faith said, swinging her pack on her back. As she and Kennedy walked past Vi and Xander, Faith leaned over and whispered to the both of them, “I think ya missed a spot.”
When Vi and Xander gave her a confused look, Kennedy added, “XYZ…both of you.”
As Faith and Kennedy chuckled and walked away, Xander and Vi both swore and instantly zipped up their pants. They quickly glanced at the rest of the group, but none of them had seemed to notice. They sighed in relief, then grinned at each other in shared embarrassment.
“Okay, folks!” Faith said, calling the group together. “Red’s gonna go over the plan, so listen up. We’ve got a reality rip to fix, and according to Dougie’s little tricorder, we better fix it quick.”
“Faith’s right. We don’t have long,” Willow said. “A-A-And I hate to get all apocalypsey-doomsday, but if we don’t fix this thing, it’s over. It’ll be the end of the world as we know it.”
As Willow began to describe the details of the repair they were going to make, Xander’s eyes grew pained, which Vi definitely noticed.
Supercollider Complex – Mechanical Room – Moments Later
After everyone was clear on the plan, Faith led the team back through the mechanical room. As they went along, Vi and Xander lagged behind the group. The two didn’t say much, although it was clear that they wanted to. Vi finally broke the awkward silence.
“This reality rip repair thing,” she asked, “if it works, then I get zapped back to when and where I came from…correct?”
“Yes,” Xander answered, clenching his jaw tightly and gripping his axe handle tightly. “Everything does. Apparently, everything has to. According to Willow, at least.”
Vi frowned sympathetically and then said lamely, “Well, she ought to know, right?”
When Xander didn’t respond, Vi reached out and took his free hand. At first, he refused to return the gesture, as if he were already starting to distance himself from the inevitability of her departure. But soon, his fingers intertwined with hers, and they shared a small, sad smile as they kept walking.
Supercollider Complex – Hallway – Moments Later
As the team moved cautiously down the hallway, they began to see signs of a terrible massacre. Willow shielded Daryn’s view as they passed through the devastation.
Deep gouges were cut into the blood-splattered floor, walls, and ceiling. The bodies of scientists and technicians were dismembered and mutilated beyond recognition. Lab coats, once pristinely white, were soaked in red, and not a single victim was found alive.
“Jesus,” Faith said. “What did this?” No one answered.
“Is this the right place?” Kennedy asked Andrew and Douglas.
Both men nodded. Then Douglas said, “Yeah, the observation room should be right down there.”
When he pointed down the hallway, the team headed that way.
Supercollider Complex – Observation Room – Moments Later
When they crept into the observation room itself, they found more carnage: numerous bodies, but no survivors. The thick glass window overlooking the acceleration basin was completely shattered. Consoles and computers were smashed into bits and pieces. Occasional sparks popped from the equipment, but otherwise, all was still.
For a while, no one on the team spoke. They simply took in the massacre, eyes filled with both pain and revulsion.
Finally, Willow said, with a bit of a sniffle, “Come on, we need to get to the collision chamber.”
In silence, everyone followed her out.
Supercollider Complex – Acceleration Basin –Moments Later
As the team entered the maze of equipment filling the acceleration basin, they found the area even more turbulent than that which they had previously passed through. The energy tendrils were stronger and more prevalent, while the sinkhole portals were larger and stayed open much longer.
When they had gotten about halfway across the basin, Faith held up a hand, stopping the team’s movement.
“What is it?” Willow asked, pulling Daryn closer.
“Shhh! I heard something.”
Faith listened intently, and both Kennedy and Vi did the same, letting their slayer senses guide them.
“Over here!” Vi called out, and the team moved quickly to her location.
Once there, they could all hear the sound of someone whimpering. When they tracked its source, they found a man cowering in a cubbyhole behind two large pipes. It was Chip Clarke. When they pulled him out, he was bruised and battered. The name on his lab coat was barely visible beneath the blood spatter.
“Nooooo!” he cried, frantically trying to return to his cubbyhole.
“Hey, listen, buddy, we’re here to help,” Xander reassured him, as he and Vi kept the hysterical man from running away.
“We have to hide,” he told them. “We have to hide, or he’ll get us!”
“Who’ll get us?” Faith asked.
It wasn’t clear if Chip actually registered the question. He glanced away, as if remembering, and his face twisted in horror. “He already got Dr. Solaris…and the others. What he did to them…” He made a gulping sound in his throat, as if swallowing down the urge to throw up.
“Who’s…he?” Faith insisted, grabbing Chip by both arms and staring at him hard.
Chip met her gaze, but there was more than just fear in his eyes now. “I didn’t mean to do it,” he whined. “It’s just…I’ve been stuck at the same level for weeks, a-a-and I still couldn’t beat him, and I was almost there and –”
When he heard the sounds of slow but heavy footsteps, and of metal dragging along stone, Chip froze mid-sentence, his eyes wide with utter terror. Everyone turned in the direction of the ominous sounds. The slayers pulled out their weapons and took defensive positions. Willow and Andrew stood in front of Daryn, Douglas and Chip, readying their magicks. And they waited. As the footsteps grew nearer, the monster finally came into view.
His body was that of a large, muscular man, naked from the waist up. The pale skin of his chest and arms was covered with bruises, blood and deep cuts. He wore a skirt-like smock of leather around his waist. Upon his head was a massive metal helmet, somewhat pyramidal in shape and literally bolted into his body at the shoulders. In his right hand was an enormous weapon that appeared to be a cross between a cleaver and a butcher knife. He dragged the great knife behind him, leaving deep marks on the concrete floor. He let out a long, scary groan as he leveled his hidden eyes on the group.
“Holy moly,” Xander swore, his shoulders slumping in defeat.
Vi looked on in disbelieving recognition. “Is that –?”
Andrew nodded sadly and said, “We’re doomed.”
End of Act Three