This story is in-canon for Season 6, sometime shortly after "Hell's Bells" with appropriate SPOILER ALERTS.
Rating should be PG-13 for graphic violence and implied sexual situations.
The crossover (of sorts) should be obvious from the title and the appearance of the first new character introduced.
This story is in response to a request posted at alt.tv.buffy-v-slayer.creative by Jason Barnett, dated 12/20/03 with the subject line "A few story requests". I won't repost Jason's message here as it would spoil a lot of the story. Jason, as I did caution you when I EMailed you privately, I couldn't get the loop to work the way you'd suggested it should, but I did find a paradox similar to your suggestion.
I am aware that there are arguments, and shooting scripts, episode guides and episode transcripts that conflict over whether the name of Buffy's and Dawn's aunt is Arlene, Darlene or Pauline (assuming that they have only one aunt). I prefer "Pauline" for reasons explained in the intro to one of my other Buffy spec scripts at
and wish to remain consistent.
"Anya, for the last time," Buffy moaned, "I'm not going to wish for something bad to happen to Xander. I'm sorry he hurt you. But he's my friend. I love both of you."
"Well, what about all that stuff about how we were the light at the end of your tunnel?" Anya shot back. "He's the one who snuffed out that light."
"True," Buffy nodded as they stepped out of the Magic Box and onto the sidewalk.
"He's the one who's making you all depressed and miserable," Anya continued to goad her. "Don't you want to get back at him for that?"
"Anya, he didn't make me depressed and miserable by calling it off. He just... didn't not make me depressed and miserable."
"That's a good enough reason," Anya smiled.
"No," Buffy shook her head. "Hurting Xander wouldn't not make me depressed either." She blinked mistily and sighed. "I just wish you guys had never brought me back from the dead in the first place." They stepped out onto the crosswalk.
"Wish granted," Anya sighed in frustration. It was a reflexive response, without any real thought.
Even though it was springtime in Sunnydale, California, a gust of icy wind ruffled through the street.
"Anya," Buffy turned to her, "what did you just...."
Out of nowhere, a Harley Davidson motorcycle materialized on the street 20 feet away, with a burly rider in leathers and a Nazi-style helmet-- and already roaring at full throttle and doing 50 MPH. Buffy turned toward it in time to recognize the rider as one of the Hellion demon gang. It was too late to jump out of the way or let out anything but the beginnings of a shriek, but the bike and rider roared right through her without any sign that the Hellion had even known she was there.
"Oh, my God!" Buffy gasped. "Those biker demons are back!"
"Maybe they never left," Anya replied. "If you've never been resurrected..."
"And why am I all go-throughable?"
"Because you're a disembodied spirit. Again, if you've never been resurrected, your body is still six feet under and decomposing in that clearing in the woods. This is just your essence...."
The last of Anya's sentence was swallowed up by the roar of a second Hellion-mounted Harley as it rounded the corner. Anya shrieked as the bike and rider went right through her. She grabbed Buffy by the upper arm and hustled her the rest of the way across the street. Then she voiced what had just occurred to her: "Then why am I go-throughable? And why can I touch you?"
It was then that they noticed the stocky old man with the bulbous nose, and the white hair that showed from under his dark brown felt homburg hat. At the open collar to his dark brown overcoat they saw a white shirt and a brown and gold polka-dotted bow tie.
"I'll take over this wish now, Anya," he said in a New England twang, with a kindly smile and a twinkle in his eyes.
The two young women squinted at him.
"I know you!" Buffy said.
"Everybody knows me, Buffy!" the old man said. "Since 1946. Or at least since the early '80s when the broadcast rights to the movie went into the Public Domain."
"You're...." Anya started.
"Clarence Oddbody, Angel Second Class," the old man nodded.
"That's ridiculous!" Anya scoffed. "You're a fictional character from that Jimmy Stewart movie!"
"This is a form," Clarence said as he turned to Buffy. "I'm your guide. Just like the First Slayer during your Quest. Only I'm tailor-made for this particular occasion."
"What occasion?" Buffy asked apprehensively.
"You got your wish, Buffy," Clarence smiled. "Willow never brought you back from the dead."
Buffy and Anya looked around. Back across the street, the Magic Box was boarded up, as were most of the other buildings in the commercial zone of downtown Sunnydale-- those that hadn't been burned to the ground or gutted by fire, that is.
"Then what am I doing here?" Buffy asked. "How come I'm not back in Heaven where I was before Willow resurrected me?"
"You'll get there in due course," Clarence nodded sagely. "One step at a time."
"And what the hell did you mean, you were taking over this wish?" Anya demanded.
"Tut-tut-tut, Anya. You're not a vengeance demon anymore," Clarence told her. "Why do you think you're all go-throughable? You didn't think Buffy's staying dead wouldn't affect you, did you?"
Anya gulped. "I'm d-d-dead too?"
"As the proverbial doornail."
"How?" Anya asked.
"All in due time, Anya," Clarence replied with his enigmatic smile.
"And D'Hoffryn sent you to take over the wish?"
"A power much, much higher than D'Hoffryn," Clarence shook his head. "More or less the same higher power that sent the original Clarence to George Bailey. Once in a while, I or someone like me steps in when complications arise. Like when a vengeance wish results in the death of the wish-granting vengeance demon. In this case, the complications are compounded even further by a paradox of sorts: Buffy's wish is retroactive to the time before you reverted back to being a vengeance demon."
"You mean I can't reverse the wish?" Anya asked in a combination of horror and incense.
"That's the complication and the paradox at work," Clarence nodded. "At this point, only I can reverse the wish. And since it was Buffy's wish to begin with, I can only do that if she asks me to. Which is why she hasn't been returned to her heavenly dimension yet. Unintentioned consequences."
"Well, of course she's gonna ask you to reverse it!" Anya almost shouted. Then she noticed Buffy's pensive frown and added nervously: "Right, Buffy?"
"Anya, being dead isn't bad at all!" Buffy said. "You'll see. You can come with me!"
"Waaaaait a minute!" Clarence almost sang as he broke in. "What makes you think you two are going to the same place? Buffy, you sacrificed yourself to save the whole world. Anya, you..."
"... were a demon who caused slaughter, pain and mayhem around the world for over a thousand years," Anya said quietly.
"There is such a thing as redemption, Anya," Clarence smiled. "You're just not there yet."
"Buffy, you have to ask him to reverse your wish!" Anya said more frantically, clutching Buffy's arm.
"Sorry, Anya," Buffy looked dolefully at her. "I don't know if I can."
"He just said you could!" Anya remained frantic.
"I mean, I'm not sure I want to," Buffy replied.
"You'd condemn me to a hell dimension because of all your self-pity?" Anya's panic turned to rage. She turned to Clarence. "What good's your being here? If she won't change her mind, what good's your being able to take it back?"
"As I said," Clarence waved his hand, "I am the guide."
The derelict streets of downtown Sunnydale dissolved away around them, and Buffy and Anya found themselves standing in a small sunlit clearing in a wooded area. A clearing that was all too familiar to Anya, and one that Buffy had a vague recollection of. Then she remembered: the only time she'd found herself there was at night, right after she had clawed her way out of the ground under the stone she was now looking down at, on which was engraved:
Buffy felt a chill down her spine and then tried to shake it off. She rationalized to herself that the unpleasant feeling was largely from the association with waking up in her coffin, buried alive there. Now it never happened. She could forget about it....
And then the chill in her spine was amplified by the deafening shriek from Anya standing beside her. Up until then, she hadn't paid attention to the headstone next to her own:
"Anya, you already knew you were dead," Buffy told her with a forced hardness in her voice. "Seeing your own headstone? Been there, done that, no big deal."
"Th-- that's easy for you to say!" Anya's voice quavered. "L-- L-- Look!"
Buffy looked over to where Anya was pointing, at the center of her own grave, where she noticed a small gray bunny gnawing on a patch of clover.
"It's feeding on plants fertilized by my dead flesh!" Anya wailed. "I'm already in a hell dimension! Buffy, get it off there!"
Buffy stepped over and bent down to pick up the bunny. Her hands went right through it without drawing a reaction of any kind. "Sorry, Anya." She noticed Clarence standing behind Anya, and glared impatiently at him. "Okay, we already knew we were both dead...."
"I died October Second," Anya interjected, "the night we would have brought you back."
"Okay," Buffy continued. "We learned that. So what? What's your point in bringing us here?"
"We're not done here yet, Buffy," Clarence said softly as he stepped aside to reveal a third headstone, a wider one marking two side-by-side graves. Buffy and Anya read:
"Oh, God!" Buffy gasped. "Willow and Tara, too? How?"
"Since you asked," Clarence smiled and waved his hand, "now we're done here!"
The sunlit clearing in the woods dissolved away, and their surroundings turned dark. Again it was a scene all too familiar to Anya and one that gave a foggily vague but haunting memory to Buffy. It was an alley back in downtown Sunnydale. At night.
Anya gasped as she saw herself walking down the alley with Tara, Willow and Xander, the latter two armed respectively with a crossbow and axe.
"You'll be safe watching this from our perspective," Clarence reassured the Spirit Anya, patting her on the shoulder. Anya had started thinking of herself as disembodied, but got an odd reassurance that she could feel and touch both Buffy and Clarence. "You won't feel the pain and suffering you're about to watch yourself go through."
"It wasn't your fault," they heard Tara say to Willow. "We... we don't know if the spell would have worked, even if the demons hadn't..."
"It would have worked," Willow replied.
"Well... maybe..." Tara stammered, "Maybe it wasn't supposed to. I mean, those demons showing up at the exact wrong time. Maybe we really were in over our heads. Invoking forces that we have no right to. Maybe the fates sent down all that destruction on us to stop us. I mean..."
"You mean, maybe it was my fault," Willow replied sullenly.
"Actually," Clarence said to Buffy, "this time around it didn't work because you wished for it not to." There was a faint trace of sarcasm in his voice as he looked into her eyes and smiled, "But at least you spared yourself from waking up in your coffin."
Spirit Anya heard her physical self in a whispered argument with Xander over whether or not to announce their engagement.
"Well, I think it would please them to know we're engaged," Physical Anya argued. "And I think Willow in particular could use a real morale-booster right now."
"Can we talk about this later?" Xander replied.
"Well, but it's just all the excuses for not telling everyone we're engaged are gone now," Physical Anya said. "I mean, aside from hell bikers, there's nothing standing in our way. This is it. No more surprises."
"This is where you would have jumped over the fence and we would have found you," Spirit Anya told Buffy.
"Except, of course, that you don't here," Clarence added.
The four Scoobies continued down the alleyway a few more steps as they heard more motorcycle rumblings nearby. Xander then came to a dead halt and looked anxiously at the others. "This is a dead end!" he said. "We'd better turn around and get out of here before we're trapped."
The others followed him at a trot. They almost made it back to the sidewalk before the rumblings reached a crescendo and the Hellion bikers, with Razor in the lead, turned into the alley to block their exit and began dismounting.
Xander continued toward them, resting the head end of his battle axe against his shoulder. "Excuse us," he said tentatively.
Razor laughed his low, menacing laugh. "I don't think so!"
"Okay," Xander's bravado came forth. "We can do this the hard way too!" He moved the axe to the guard position.
"Big axe you got there," Razor scoffed.
"The better to cut you down to size, grandma." Xander's bravado continued to hold up.
Razor continued stepping toward them.
"Incindere!" Tara whispered.
Razor flinched back from the burst of flame that erupted out of the pavement in front of him. "Ah. So you got a witch in the mix."
"More than one," Tara said to him.
"I happen to be a very powerful man-witch myself," Xander added. Razor grinned piteously at him. "Or ... male..." Xander glanced quickly over his shoulder to Willow, "Is it a warlock?... Warlock."
Physical Anya added: "I think a little quiet moseying, no hard feelings, and I'm sure your demon horde won't think any the less of you."
"I didn't really say that, did I?" Spirit Anya cringed as she asked Clarence.
"In both universes," Clarence replied.
"Now, my boys, see, that's tricky," Razor shook his head. "They came looking for a massacre, and I think you got exactly enough magic between you for a kiddie birthday party."
"Then you'd be wrong!" Willow stepped up, her bravado rising with Xander's and Physical Anya's.
"Whoa," Razor scoffed. "Well, I better back off, or you might, what? Pull a rabbit out of a hat?"
"Don't... don't do that!" Physical Anya whispered, then turned to Tara. "Why would she do that?"
Willow continued her brave front. "We don't want trouble, you don't want trouble."
"Of course we want trouble, we're demons!" Razor laughed. "We're really all about trouble."
"Not this kind."
"Oh. I get your point."
With a simple swipe, Razor knocked Willow backward across the alley. Outraged, Xander rushed at Razor with the battle axe and was just as simply knocked aside. Physical Anya and Tara rushed to the aid of their respective partners.
"Now let me tell you something, children," Razor said more firmly and evenly. "We're not gonna fight you. We're just gonna hold you down and enjoy ourselves for a few hours. You might even live through it, except that certain of my boys got some anatomical incompatibilities that, uh, tend to tear up little girls. So, who wants to go first?
Tara turned Willow over on her back and saw that she was bleeding from her nose, unconscious but still alive. Enraged, Tara turned back toward Razor as a ball of fire appeared in her hand. "Confringere!" she screamed as she hurled the fireball at him. The fireball expanded into a larger ball of energy and smashed into Razor, flattening him against the brick wall behind him.
Tara had little time to enjoy her triumph as Razor slid down the wall and landed on his butt. The energy she had expended in her spell had drained her, and her legs collapsed under her and she dropped back alongside Willow's unconscious form.
That was all the opening the other Hellions needed. Buffy and the Spirit Anya watched in helpless horror as four of them rushed Tara, pinned her arms and legs to the pavement and ripped at her clothes. All Buffy and Spirit Anya could do was join in with Tara's frantic screams, while Clarence watched silently and dolefully.
The Physical Anya screamed too. She screamed into the face of her semi-conscious boyfriend: "Xander! Get up! We have to help them!" Xander slowly propped himself up on one elbow, his eyes slowly coming into focus. Impatiently, she yanked the battle axe from his hands, then rushed with it across the alley at the biker demons. Xander stood up and staggered after her. One of the biker demons had stepped between Tara's forcibly spread legs and was unbuckling his belt as Physical Anya, on the run, took a swing at his back.
The blade of the battle axe was only inches from making contact when another Hellion stepped in and grabbed the axe handle in mid-swing. Physical Anya's momentum caused her to be slung to one side as she lost her grip on the axe. Now in possession, the Hellion drew back the battle axe and swung it at Physical Anya's throat.
Both the Physical and Spirit Anya resignedly braced themselves for the killing blow, but suddenly a wooden plank parried the axe blade-- a plank that Xander had managed to rip from a broken-up crate lying nearby. Reprieved, Physical Anya slid along the pavement and worked her way behind Xander, who continued to parry the axe blows and make a few counterblows with the plank.
There were a couple of nails protruding from the plank, so Xander did inflict a minor injury or two on the Hellion, but it was a losing battle. With a second Hellion backing up the axe-wielder with his own long metal pipe, Xander and Physical Anya found themselves being gradually pushed back across the alleyway. They were unable to help Tara, whose screams were largely cut off and whose struggling became less and less as the other Hellions proceeded to have their way with her; or to help Willow, who remained sprawled on the pavement next to them.
Willow regained consciousness to the muffled screams of her girlfriend on the ground to her right. Beyond the boot heels and buttocks of the Hellion squatting between them pinning Tara's shoulder and arm, she saw Tara's head and other shoulder pinned to the pavement by other Hellions who also muffled Tara's screams with a hand. Willow stifled her own urge to scream in horror, knowing it would be futile. She forced herself to remain calm as she quietly felt and looked for her crossbow and found it near by her left hand. It was still cocked, but the bolt was gone. She looked further and found it about a foot or so beyond. As quietly as she could, she rolled to her left and propped herself up, then grasped the crossbow and reached for the bolt. Her fingertips had just touched it when the aluminum baseball bat of one of the Hellions connected with the base of her skull.
Behind Xander, Physical Anya backed up against an object and stopped. It was not as hard, flat or as far back as she had anticipated the brick wall behind them to be, and she froze as Xander backed into her. "This can't be good...." she whispered to herself, and looked over her shoulder to find Razor's glowing red eyes and evil leer an inch or two from her face.
"XAND--" she shouted, and then her shout turned into an animal scream that made her Spirit self and Buffy jump. Xander turned around to see the fingers of Razor's right hand clawed firmly into her belly, and then Razor dragged his fingers across her midsection before pulling out the Freddie Krueger-like but sawtoothed blades on his fingertips and taking bloody pieces of her internal organs with them.
"ANYA!" Xander screamed, reflexively swinging the nails of his plank into the side of Razor's face. As Razor flinched backwards, Xander returned his attention to the other two Hellions, taking another few furious swings with the plank and driving them back a couple of feet before the plank broke in two. That was enough for Xander to scoop up Anya in his arms and carry her past the parked motorcycles; she was already staring blankly in shock and her blood spurted out and down both their bodies. The two Hellions helped Razor back on his feet and the three of them took off after the couple. In as much shock as her physical counterpart, Spirit Anya numbly followed after them, while Clarence wordlessly prodded an equally numb Buffy in the same direction.
Xander had managed to carry Physical Anya out onto the sidewalk and up the block a couple of buildings when the motorcycle engines started up behind them. Still running with her in his arms, Xander looked over his shoulder to see Razor and the other two Hellions come out of the alley on their bikes, Razor coming up the sidewalk behind him and the other two on the street. Xander sought immediate protection by ducking behind the nearest lamp post as Razor swung a heavy chain at them; it wrapped around the post, whipping over Xander's lowered head. Then the other two Hellions came around the other side of the post at them, wielding the axe and pipe respectively, and the only move Xander had left was to lay Anya's bleeding body down along the curb and spread himself protectively over her. He had just gotten into position when the end of Razor's chain connected with the side of his head and knocked him out.
"Come on!" Razor growled. "It's no fun when they're unconscious. Maybe the boys saved some for us." They turned back for the alley, with Razor deliberately running over the unconscious Xander's right forearm and hand with both tires.
Buffy stood with Clarence at the opening to the alley where she could see both the carnage in the alley and watch Spirit Anya standing over her now-corpse and Xander.
"He protected me to the end," Anya said quietly with a sniffle. "Oh, Xander...."
"Okay," Buffy said coldly to Clarence. "You made your point. Take us back."
"Not quite yet, Buffy," he replied. "The power that sent me doesn't want you having second thoughts later on. So please return to your seats, put your seat belts on and make sure your trays are in the up and locked position, this flight isn't over yet."
"You sadistic bastards!" Buffy continued angrily, her tears streaming again. "Isn't it bad enough that you ripped me out of Heaven and turned my old world into Hell? Now you've turned it into a deeper level of Hell!"
"Excuse me, Buffy," Clarence said gently and patiently. "It was Willow who 'ripped you out of Heaven'. And this new level of Hell was your wish." He nodded back toward the alley where all the Hellions were mounting up on their bikes. "Seems to me that you've just made Willow pay for the misery she's caused you."
"That's not what I wished for!" Buffy cried.
"All part of the same package," Clarence nodded, then turned to Anya. "'You wish it, I dish it!' That's the slogan for you Vengeance Demons, isn't it, Anya?"
Anya was too stunned to reply, tears still trickling down her face as she continued to stand over her own corpse and Xander's unconscious form. The Hellions started their bikes and pulled out of the alley, then turned up the street. Just as they disappeared from view with their engines fading, Buffy and Anya heard another motorcycle engine coming from the opposite direction.
"What next?" Buffy murmured numbly as she looked. She saw the approaching bike and was surprised to see Spike, leather coat and all, riding bareheaded. She was even more surprised to see a second, smaller rider on the bike in a blue and white football helmet, red sweater and black slacks. The surprise turned to shock and alarm when she saw the long brown hair streaming from under the helmet and then recognized her own sister.
"Dawn?" she whispered, then turned to Clarence. "What is Spike doing taking Dawn out in the streets on a night like this?"
"Trying to protect her," Clarence replied. "The Hellions had done some considerable damage to your neighbors' homes and he thought your house was next." He paused and added, "It's as it was in that other universe as well. I don't know if you remember, but by being out, Dawn saved your life that night. She found you on Glory's tower, and by you saving her, she kept you from jumping." He frowned and put his knuckles to his chin. "Hmmm... Now, where have I heard that before?"
Spike halted the motorcycle beside Xander and Anya's body, and Dawn removed the helmet as they dismounted.
"Oh, God!" Dawn's voice trembled, "Xander! Anya!"
She and Spike knelt and gently rolled Xander's body off Anya's. Xander let out a low, weak groan.
"Xander!" Dawn cried out hopefully. She tried to prop up his head and shake him to consciousness, but he continued moaning and rolling his head unresponsively.
"I'm afraid Anya's kicked it, Little Bit," Spike shook his head.
"No!" Dawn screamed. She moved over and cradled Anya's upper body and head in her arms and sobbed loudly into her neck and shoulder. The fixed, dilated eyes of the corpse saw nothing, but Spirit Anya watched with her tears continuing to flow; she couldn't recall Dawn having that kind of physical contact with her in life.
"Willow and Tara," Dawn said after she stopped sobbing and collected herself. She laid Anya's body back on the concrete and shook Xander's shoulder again. "Xander! Xander! Wake up! Where are Willow and Tara?"
Spike sniffed the air. "Let him be, Niblet. I'll find them. They're not far."
Dawn pulled off her sweater and rolled it up, then tucked it under Xander's head, then watched Spike walk toward the alley opening. He stopped and stared down the corridor. "Found 'em," he said laconically.
Dawn got up and rushed toward him, but he stepped up to her before she could get a look in the alley. "There was nothing we could have done, Dawn."
"No!" she screamed again, then rushed forward. Spike grabbed her shoulders immediately.
"You don't want to see 'em!" he said, his voice matching the firmness of his grip. "Trust me on this one, Little Bit." He let Dawn sob some more into his shoulder while he stroked her hair. He looked around at the storefronts on the block, then gently eased her away from him. "Come on, let's get Xander to the hospital. Be strong, Little Bit. Buffy would want you to."
"How strong do I have to be?" Dawn's voice trembled.
There was a bed and bedding shop a couple of doors down, already broken into by the Hellions. Dawn followed along as Spike pushed the motorcycle inside the open door and then threw a couple of bedspreads over it.
"What are you doing?" Dawn asked.
"Keep an eye on Xander," Spike told her as he pulled a quilt and some sheets off the shelves. "We're going to need the bike later on, so I'm hiding it until we come back for it. I can't think of a way to carry both of you on it with me. You can't drive it. No way we'd get an ambulance out here on a night like tonight. I know you're not leaving without Xander, and I'm not leaving without you. So that leaves me carrying Xander to the ER and you sticking right with me." He handed the quilt and one sheet to Dawn. "Put the quilt around Xander and cover up Anya with the sheet. I'll take care of Willow and Tara."
Spike went back to the alley with the rest of the sheets he'd taken while Dawn spread the quilt over Xander. Then she took Anya's body by the shoulders and pulled it back up onto the sidewalk, laid her out carefully with her feet together and arms over her bloody midsection, then began covering her with the sheet, tucking it under her feet and then her shoulders. She was still crying as she closed Anya's open eyelids and kissed her cooling forehead, before pulling the sheet up the rest of the way and tucking it under her head.
Spike reappeared from the alley and picked up Xander in his arms. Xander groaned momentarily and then quieted again as they started down the street.
"Thank you, Dawn," Spirit Anya said, unseen and unheard, as they walked past her.
"This is the last of Sunnydale for you, Niblet," Spike said bitterly. "No more. There's nothing left here for you."
"No arguments, Dawn! As soon as we get Xander checked in the hospital, we're going to LA and find your Dad. I'll take care of burying the girls next to Buffy when I get back."
The dark streets of Sunnydale dissolved, and Buffy, Anya and Clarence found themselves in a small conference room with soundproofing tiles on the walls, fluorescent overhead lighting and a plain wooden table and chairs. Seated on one side of the table was Dawn, her arms folded across her chest and her legs crossed, lips pursed tightly and her head turned so she was staring at the side wall, clearly avoiding eye contact with the two people sitting opposite her: Hank Summers, and a younger platinum-blonde woman, the sight of whom immediately triggered a visceral feeling of nausea and revulsion in Buffy. There was a stone silence.
"Where are we?" she demanded of Clarence.
"You'll see," he continued his enigmatic smile.
"Oh, look!" Anya pointed to a calendar on the wall behind Clarence. "April 2002. We must be back to real time. Or close to it." She looked at the two people facing Dawn. "Buffy, I remember your dad, but do you know her?"
"Lucinda," Buffy answered tersely. "The secretary."
"Oh," Anya nodded. Then she raised her eyebrows. "Ohhhh!"
Before Buffy could say another word, the door opened from the outside and she noticed the short black sleeve of the arm that held it open. It bore the shoulder patch of the Los Angeles Police Department. Then a stocky, balding man in a gray suit entered, and the sight of him repulsed Buffy as much as that of Lucinda, and she was sure Dawn felt the same. He was the lawyer who represented their father during the divorce.
"I got them to drop the charges," the lawyer announced as the policeman closed the door behind him. "Since Dawn has no prior record, and they caught her before she actually got the car door opened and she did no damage to it. But she will have an arrest record."
"Thanks, Gene," Hank said with a sigh of relief.
"Dawn," the lawyer turned to her, "you should actually consider yourself lucky that the Mall Security caught you when they did, otherwise you might be looking at hard time. Possibly in an adult prison."
"Graduating from shoplifting faux jewelry to grand theft auto!" Anya interjected. "That's not a good sign!"
Dawn remained silent and stone faced.
"Dawnie," Hank said, "shouldn't you be thanking Mr. Milnik for what he just did?"
"Thanks," Dawn muttered, continuing to avert eye contact with the others.
"You just have to sign a few papers at the front desk," Milnik told Hank, "then you can take Dawn home."
The room and its occupants dissolved, and then Buffy, Anya and Clarence found themselves in a very small, sparsely furnished bedroom. Just as Buffy recognized the poster of a Beagle puppy on the back of the door, it opened and Dawn entered, slamming it behind her and flopping on top of the single bed.
A few seconds later, the door opened again and Hank and Lucinda entered. She had never been to her father's new home since he'd returned to LA, but Buffy saw from looking through the open door that the rest of the condominium was much more richly furnished.
"It's called knocking!" Dawn glared at her father.
"We're not finished talking, Dawn," Hank said calmly.
"I am. I don't have anything to say."
"Well, I do, young lady!" Hank said more firmly. "You're grounded for the rest of the school year. The only time you leave this house is when you're going to and from school and while you're in it, and that's it!"
"Oh, yeah?" Dawn shot back. "How will you be able to tell? You didn't even notice I wasn't home last night until I called from the police station at ten o'clock."
"Don't take that tone with your father!" Lucinda interjected.
"And I should listen to you because...?" Dawn looked right through her.
"Because I'm part of this family too!"
"What do you know about family?" Dawn scoffed. "You're nothing but the cheap slut who stole my father from my mother and broke up mine!"
Lucinda stepped forward and slapped Dawn across her face. Dawn glared homicidally at her and drew back a fist, and Hank quickly grabbed her wrist to intercept the blow. Buffy had never seen such a look on Dawn's face, not even the one time she staked a vamp who was trying to bite her.
"I'll handle this, Luce," Hank said. Lucinda beat a hasty retreat out the door, and Hank shut it behind her. Dawn pulled her arm away and drew herself up to sit in a fetal position.
"Dawn, sweetheart," Hank said, "the first thing you need to understand is that things were cooling off between me and you mother long before Lucinda and I--"
"That's it! Blame Mom now that she's not around to defend herself!"
"That's not what I'm doing, Honey. Sometimes marriages just don't--"
"Are you ever going to take the blame for what you did to us?" Dawn glared at him, her eyes burning with tears. "You know, Buffy and I used to talk about it sometimes, wondering if it was our fault that you left us. I think Buffy went to her grave blaming herself."
"I did, didn't I?" Buffy whispered to Clarence. By now she was getting used to getting the enigmatic smile and nothing else back.
"I'm sure that's not true," Hank said tentatively.
"How would you know? You weren't even there! All we got for two years were some crummy Christmas and birthday cards. Not even a phone call."
"Dawnie, what happened to your mother and your sister were terrible things, and I'm sorry I wasn't there for you."
"Or for them."
"Or for them," Hank conceded. "But nothing you or I can do can bring them back. I miss Buffy too."
"They can't come back. Luce and I are your family now."
"I have no family," Dawn glared at him. "Everyone I've ever cared about has either left me or been taken from me."
"That's not true. Luce and I are here."
"I said everyone I cared about has either left or been taken from me."
"Well," Hank said defensively, "you may not care about us, and I know you may not believe this, but we care about you, and we're here."
Dawn glared coldly at her father. "News flash, Daddy Dearest: you were the first one to leave!" She rolled over on her side to face the wall while maintaining her fetal position. She waited until Hank left and shut the door behind him before allowing herself to cry.
The scene dissolved away, and the three disembodied beings next found themselves at another familiar location: the outside of the bus terminal back in Sunnydale, as a bus pulled in. It was daylight, mid to late afternoon judging from the position of the sun. A small handful of passengers got off and walked past them: a short, plump woman in jeans and a sweatshirt pulling a suitcase on rollers; a young blonde-haired woman in a black vinyl simulated leather jacket, short skirt and sunglasses who vaguely struck Buffy as a trashy, much taller version of herself; a young soldier in Class A uniform who looked fresh out of basic training.
"So," Buffy said to Clarence, "are we supposed to be meeting someone on this-- Omigod!"
Her attention returned to the tall young woman. She caught up and walked beside her, her mouth gaping in disbelief as she realized that the reason she didn't recognize her own sister, aside from the sunglasses and some heavy makeup, was that Dawn had bleached her hair to nearly the same color as her own. She glanced down at Dawn's legs and feet and realized that she seemed so much taller because she was wearing slides with stiletto heels at least three inches high, along with black fishnet stockings. Her red micro-miniskirt was also vinyl simulated leather, and under the jacket was a lacy black blouse with no bra. She was carrying a large shoulder bag.
"Dawnie!" Buffy grimaced, "What did you do to yourself? And what are you doing back in Sunnydale?"
She, Anya and Clarence followed along as Dawn started walking toward their old neighborhood; her gait indicated that she was still quite unused to the stiletto heels. A few blocks later, they turned into the gate of the cemetery where Joyce Summers was buried.
Dawn went down the path to her mother's gravesite and stared at the marker, then removed the sunglasses and wiped away some tears, smudging her heavy eyeshade. "Hi, Mom! I'm home," she whispered brokenly.
They all stood around for several seconds with Buffy also sniffling, and then Dawn took a deep breath. She went back onto the pathway, but instead of turning back to the gate as Buffy had anticipated, she headed deeper into the cemetery grounds.
"Oh, God!" Buffy raised her eyebrows as she realized where they were headed.
"Spike? You here?" Dawn called out after knocking on the crypt door and pushing it open a crack.
There was a moment of silence, and then they heard Spike's incredulous voice. "Dawn?"
She came in through the door, while her unseen entourage merely transited through the wall. They found Spike wearing only his black jeans as he sat up from under the quilt on top of the sarcophagus in the center of the crypt. His mouth hung open, as much surprise coming from Dawn's new look as from her mere presence. "Bloody Hell, Niblet! What are you doing back here in Sunnydale?"
Dawn stepped forward. "I was right all along, Spike. I never should have gone to LA. Biggest mistake of my life."
He gestured toward his armchair next to the sarcophagus, and Dawn sank wearily into it, sighing with audible relief as she kicked off her slides.
"You had to have run away from home!" Spike said scoldingly.
"What home?" Dawn snorted. "Part of a converted den that makes Harry Potter's cupboard at his aunt's house look like a suite at the Waldorf? A father who disappears without any contact for two years, and then only pays attention to me when I get in trouble with school or the cops? The bitch who stole him from my mom in the first place?"
"You know they'll come looking for you."
"Hah! They wouldn't last fifteen minutes here in Sunnydale. With any luck at all, the Hellions will do the same thing to them that they did to Willow and Tara and Anya."
"Dawn, you don't really mean that!"
Dawn paused thoughtfully. "Well, maybe not for my dad, but definitely for his girlfriend." She paused again. "Spike, how's Xander?"
"He and I don't travel in the same circles anymore, Niblet," Spike shook his head. "I see him around town once in a while, but I don't talk to him. I think he may still be at the same flat he and Anya had." He frowned. "And don't change the subject. You bloody well can't stay here in Sunnydale."
"Why not? When I turn eighteen, I'll inherit my mom's entire estate. The house didn't get that much at auction, but that and her gallery assets... Maybe I'll open an art gallery like she did."
"Yeah, when? In three years?"
"Two and a half," Dawn corrected him.
"That's still a long time, Niblet. You can't go to school here, not without papers from your dad! And where are you going to live without any cash flow?"
"Won't need school. And I can stay here with you."
"Forget it, Niblet! Hey, what about the rest of your family? Isn't your grandmum still alive? And don't you have an auntie and some cousins?"
"Grandma's living in a retirement condo, so that's out. And Aunt Pauline offered to take me and Buffy in when Mom died, but she's got three of her own kids and there's no real room at her place. It'd be worse than at my dad's."
"Well, you can't stay here with me!"
"Spike, you know if you won't let me stay here, I'm just gonna find an abandoned house somewhere here in Sunnydale and be a squatter. I'm sure there's a lot more of them since the Hellions came to town. Hey, maybe if I'm lucky, my old house will be empty!"
"All right," Spike sighed. "Let's suppose-- just suppose-- that I do let you live here. I'm not going to go hustling and scavenging for you. I have enough sodding trouble keeping my own belly full."
"I know," Dawn nodded. "I can take care of myself."
"What? Flipping burgers at the Double Meat Palace? You'd need papers from your dad for that too!"
"That's not what I had in mind," Dawn said, then grinned at him. "Why do you think I've got this new look?"
Spike stared open-mouthed at her for several seconds before finally laughing. "You? Okay, where's the Candid sodding Camera?"
"I'm not joking, Spike!" Dawn glared at him, and Buffy suddenly felt nauseous; she knew her sister well enough to know that she wasn't. "It's the world's oldest profession, right?" Dawn continued. "I know the Hellions have ruined most of the town, but the dockyards are still open! I shouldn't have any trouble finding business."
"Sorry, Niblet!" Spike continued to laugh, "I don't bloody care what you're wearing or what color you've dyed your hair, you've still got 'virgin' written all over you!"
Dawn got out of the armchair and then boosted herself up on the quilts on top of the sarcophagus next to Spike. There was a Lolita-like smile on her face as she took his hand and stroked his bare feet with her fishnet-stockinged ones. "That's the real reason I came here, Spike! You're a vampire with over a hundred years experience seducing girls. I've got a lot to learn and you've got a lot to teach me!"
"Ohhh, bollocks!" Spike murmured nervously as he slid his butt and shifted his feet a few inches away from Dawn while gently holding both her hands. "Dawn! I can't let you do this! I made a promise to your sister on the day she died. I promised her I wouldn't let anything harm you as long as it was in my power to do so!" Buffy raised her eyebrows at this.
"I know you did, Spike," Dawn smiled. "There's no harm in this. I've gotta learn from someone!"
"Someone whom you should be in love with, and who's in love with you," Spike said quickly. "Preferrably a boy close to your own age! When you're older."
"You're forgetting who my sister was and who her first time was with!"
"No, I'm not. And what she did with Angel was a sodding mistake, if you ask me!"
"You wanted Buffy too, Spike! You would've had her if she'd let you."
"We're talking about you, not your sister! And it should be for the sake of expressing love, not for selling yourself!"
"Well, I do want to express my love, and my gratitude for what you've done for me," Dawn smiled. "I love you, Spike. I don't think Buffy ever said that to you!"
"That's not the kind of love I'm talking about!"
"Love is love," Dawn said. "Come on, Spike! You love me, don't you?"
"Yes, Dawn," Spike said. "I do love you. I love you as much as I loved your sister."
"And you always wanted her."
"Well, I was made from her blood, remember?" Dawn said. Her voice became more whispery and seductive. "I'm a lot like her. I'll let you in on a little secret: my body's almost exactly like hers, only younger and taller!"
"No, no, no!" Spike stammered as he began sliding further away from her. "I do love you, Dawn, as much as I loved your sister. But I love you like a sister!"
Buffy could still feel the nausea and the bile rising up her throat as she watched her little sister grab Spike by the shoulders, push him back flat against the sarcophagus lid and start to straddle him. "I can't watch this!" she told Anya and Clarence as she turned away.
"I can," Anya replied, "but it's like a train wreck!"
Dawn unbuttoned her blouse. "Come on, Spike! You've been calling me Niblet for the last three or four years! Isn't it time you started nibbling?"
A flash of a smile came to Spike's face, and he started breathing more heavily. He moved his face closer to Dawn's as he reached one hand upward toward the inside of her now open blouse, and then--
"YAAAAARRRRRGH" Spike howled as his hand went instead to his temple. The convulsion that wracked his entire body was enough to eject a squealing Dawn off him and the sarcophagus, and onto the carpet beside it. She sat up and held the halves of her blouse front closed, as Buffy turned back toward them.
"It's the bloody chip, Niblet!" Spike groaned through clenched teeth. "Statutory rape is still rape, and the bloody chip knows that!" He was still pressing his palm to his temple as he turned to her. "Go! Try again when you're eighteen sodding years old!"
Dawn was shaking as she buttoned her blouse back up, stepped into her slides and pulled on her jacket. "See you around, Spike," was all she could manage to say as she grabbed her shoulder bag and rushed out of the crypt.
Spike waited until the door closed behind her before lying flat and dropping his hand from his temple. He started laughing. Buffy could have sworn that there was a moment of eye contact with her as he rolled his head from side to side and whispered: "Oh, Buffy! If you only knew the things I've done to honor your memory!"
Buffy felt her eyes watering. She wanted to kiss Spike; she remembered that moment a year earlier in the same location when she did kiss him, after she impersonated her own lookalike robot and he told her he had taken a nearly fatal beating, and would have willingly died, to protect Dawn's life and spare Buffy from the grief. And here he was, in a universe with Buffy now long dead, and he was still keeping it up. She stepped forward to touch his face, and for an instant thought she could feel his cheekbone, before he and the crypt dissolved away.
Buffy, Anya and Clarence now found themselves at another familiar location: the hallway outside Xander's and Anya's apartment. The door to their apartment was closed, but that of the apartment across the hall was open a crack and some loud '70s Bee Gees disco music could be heard from inside.
They saw Dawn come up from the stairwell. She knocked on the door a few times, then called out, "Xander? Xander? Are you here?"
The door across the hall opened wider and a woman stepped out: dressed similarly to Dawn, in a lacy top, impossibly short skirt, fishnet stockings and spike-heeled slides. The light blonde hair was either a cheap wig or a hopelessly bad bleach-and-perm job. With the heavy makeup, Buffy couldn't tell for sure if she was thirty- or even fortysomething, or someone close to Dawn's age who had seen some bad road.
"That's not your original neighbor, is it?" Buffy asked Anya.
"Never saw her before in my life," Anya shook her head.
The woman took the cigarette out of her mouth and blew a cloud of smoke in Dawn's general direction. "Xander ain't home, Hon!"
"But he still lives here?" Dawn asked hopefully.
"Do you know if he'll be home soon?"
"Don't know," the woman said. "But he's probably at his usual hangout. The Saint Jude Mission."
"Oh!" Dawn smiled brightly. Despite the hooker getup, she still showed her innocence and naivete. "He must be doing volunteer work! Is that near Saint Jude Middle School?"
"It used to be the Saint Jude Middle School," the woman replied, then laughed to herself as Dawn headed back to the stairwell, with Buffy, Anya and Clarence following.
The sun had just set and the neighborhood had deteriorated considerably, starting with the graffiti on the exterior of the apartment and the trash on its unmowed, muddy and tire-rutted lawn, which Anya found quite distressing. Saint Jude Church and its school were only a few blocks from the apartment, but the trip was prolonged by Dawn's continued struggle with her high heels, and her need to duck into an alley or side street as she heard motorcycles rumbling along the main drag. It was dark by the time Dawn reached the church and school grounds.
Although she'd attended the Sunnydale public schools, Dawn had known enough kids from the Revello Drive neighborhood who had attended Saint Jude Middle School to know it was one of the newest and most prestigious of the parochial schools in the area. She'd been inside it two or three times for sporting events between Saint Jude and Sunnydale Junior High. Although the exteriors of the church and school appeared to be as well kept as she remembered-- an enclave of cleanliness and normalcy in the squalor of what Sunnydale had become-- she was shocked as she entered the unlocked front door and saw that the interior had been stripped of nearly all vestiges of academia. The classrooms had been turned into homeless shelters, and small groups of the downtrodden were heading down the halls toward the cafeteria to join the gathering for dinner. Dawn and the unseen entourage followed along inside.
Dawn spent several minutes looking among the nuns and volunteer workers behind the counters and in the kitchen. No sign of Xander. She sighed and headed toward the exit. As she walked past one of the tables, she paid little attention to the bearded derelict she could see out of the corner of her eye as he got up. Until he walked up behind her and rested his right hand on her shoulder.
"Dawnie? Is that you?"
Anya and Buffy were as shocked as Dawn at hearing and recognizing the voice. Dawn looked at the twisted, deformed fingers on her shoulder, and followed them up to the crooked forearm in the threadbare flannel shirt. She looked into the unshaven face. As she looked into the eyes that were quickly filling with tears, her own eyes began watering.
"Xander?" she whispered, then sobbed as they quickly wrapped their arms around each other and clung tightly. "Oh, Xander! Thank God I've found you!"
They held each other silently for several seconds, the downtrodden denizens of the erstwhile school cafeteria paying little heed to them. Finally, Xander held Dawn by the waist and said, "Just let me look at you, Dawnie."
"Your neighbor across the hall told me you were probably here, but she also said you still had your old apartment. I thought you'd be helping out doing volunteer work here or something. Why are you here if you're not homeless?"
Xander stifled a bitter laugh. "This place isn't just for the homeless. They give free meals to anyone, no questions asked. After the property values went South, my landlady was happy to let me keep my apartment for three fourths of my Social Security check. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave me much left for food." He paused. "Hey, you want something to eat?"
Dawn managed a smile. "As a matter of fact..."
He guided her to one of the serving lines, where a diminutive, middle-aged nun served up a bowl of either a thick beef soup or watery beef stew. They returned to the table where Xander had been sitting by himself. Dawn ate hungrily while Xander finished his own bowl. She noticed that he was eating with his left hand with his right mostly on his lap or at his side.
"So you're on Social Security?" she asked. "What happened?"
"When I woke up in the hospital," he said with tears still in his voice, "the doctors and nurses told me you and Spike had brought me in. I had a bad concussion and my right hand and forearm had been crushed. Not much use to someone in construction. But they said I was lucky they were able to save the hand at all."
"Oh, Xander!" Dawn, Anya and Buffy chorused.
"After I'd recovered enough to handle the news, they told me you'd left a message that Anya and Willow and Tara didn't make it. And that Spike was taking you to your dad's and was going to take care of burying the girls next to Buffy. To tell you the truth, I didn't believe that last part until I got out and checked for myself. Ordering and paying for the headstones took a big chunk out of what I had saved up, but I owed it to the girls." He paused and smiled a familiar ironic smile. "The funny thing is, besides the dockyards, construction's the one thriving business here in ol' Hellmouth City. The Hellions leave and let the town rebuild, then they come back and ransack the place again. It's a host-parasite relationship."
Dawn finished her stew quickly, and as they returned their bowls and spoons, Xander said, "Come on. Let's go home."
They started out the door and back to the apartment building. "You know, Dawn, I know you had to have run away to be back here in Sunnydale, but I'm glad to see you."
"I had to come back, Xander. Just about everything I ever really loved, living and dead, is back here."
The conversation on the way back started as almost a deja-vu of Dawn's earlier exchange with Spike: how terrible it was living with her father and Lucinda; how she hoped to take her inheritance from her mother and start her own art gallery when she turned eighteen; how she didn't need any more school; how living with her grandmother or aunt were not viable choices. Only Xander was not at all disparaging of her plans the way Spike had been.
"Well," he smiled as he unlocked the apartment door and held it open for her, "this is home for you for as long as you want it to be."
Dawn sniffled as she gave him another tight hug and kissed him on the cheek. "Oh, thank you, Xander!"
They entered along with the unseen entourage. Anya was shocked at the interior of what had been her home with Xander: it obviously hadn't seen a woman's touch since she was last in it, and was like the shambles that his quarters in the basement of his parents' home had been, only worse. Dawn and Xander sat down on the couch, and she again sighed audibly as she kicked off the high heels.
"So now you have a roof over your head," Xander said, "and you can keep eating most meals at the Mission like me. Some future, huh?"
"We'll get by," Dawn smiled. "We have each other now. And in two and a half years, I'll have my inheritance...."
"So, tell me, Dawn. What were you going to do if you hadn't found me?"
Dawn paused with a slight blush. "I was going to talk Spike into letting me stay in his crypt with him."
He stifled a laugh. "This is a much better plan!" He paused. "And if you hadn't learned about the Mission, you were going to feed yourself by...?"
Dawn looked down at her getup. "How do you think?"
This time, Xander couldn't suppress the laugh in time.
"I'm not a baby anymore, Xander!" Dawn pouted.
"But I remember when you were!"
"I was ten when we moved here!"
"That's a baby to me. And you haven't grown up that much!"
Dawn's expression made a subtle change from a pout to a bitter scowl. "Losing your mother and your only sister and most of your friends all within ten months. You grow up real fast when that happens!"
"I'm sorry, Dawnie," he stroked her hands with his left. "I didn't mean... well, anyway, you don't need to even think about... what you were thinking about."
"I guess not," she smiled.
"We'll take care of each other now," he said reassuringly. "So why don't you go to the bathroom and wash up, get that junk off your face."
"Okay," Dawn managed to laugh. She took off her jacket and went to the bathroom. As Xander heard the water running, he picked up her jacket, shoes and shoulder bag and carried them into the bedroom.
Buffy and Anya followed him, and Anya was surprised. While the rest of the apartment had become like his old quarters in his parents' basement, the bedroom looked exactly like it would have the night they had resurrected Buffy-- or had attempted to in this case.
"He hasn't changed a thing!" Anya gasped to Buffy, her eyes watering again. "He's kept this room as a shrine to me!"
They heard Dawn open the bathroom door. "In here, Dawnie!" Xander called out.
Dawn stepped in. She was still in the lacy blouse, micro-mini and fishnets, but the makeup was all gone. "Now, that's more like the Dawnie Summers I've always known!" Xander smiled.
"You can stay in here. I'm sleeping on my recliner."
"Thanks," Dawn said again as she sat on the bed, then as he turned for the door, she patted the spot to her right. "Don't go yet, Xander."
He sat on the spot, and she took his good left hand in her right. "You don't have to sleep on the recliner," Dawn said.
"I do anyway," he said. "I'm used to it. I haven't slept in here since I lost Anya. I haven't had a reason to."
"He's stayed faithful to my memory!" Anya sighed. "I knew it! Oh, Xander! I'm so sorry for hating you!"
"Well," Dawn smiled, "now you do."
"You wouldn't be comfy on the recliner," Xander replied. "It takes a lot of getting used to."
Dawn gave him the same Lolita smile she had given Spike earlier. "Who said anything about my sleeping on the recliner?"
Anya could see the nausea rising again in Buffy as she whispered, "Oh, God! Here we go again!"
"Don't panic, Buffy!" Anya reassured her. "This is Xander we're dealing with. And your virgin little sister, whom he has memories of seeing in Hello Kitty pajamas!"
"Yeah," Buffy reassured herself. "If Spike can restrain himself from the temptation before his chip even kicks in, we have no worries from Xander. He's more of a big brother figure to Dawn than Spike ever was."
"D-D-Dawnie, I couldn't!" Xander inched away from her. "You're Buffy's little sister!"
"See what I mean?" Anya smiled, and Buffy nodded in agreement as she breathed easier.
"Yes, and you and I both know that deep down inside, you continued to carry a torch for her," Dawn said as she slid over to close the gap. "Even after Faith and Cordelia. And even after Anya." She smiled again, "And you know that I've always liked you, right?"
"Yes, and we love each other like family, but you and I both know that that was a little girl crush that you grew out of."
"Things are different now, Xander," Dawn said. "Buffy and Anya are both gone. And my feelings never really went away, I just held them in check after you and Anya moved in together."
"Let's suppose you're right," Xander said nervously, "Buffy was Buffy and you're you."
"Well, yes and no. You know the whole thing about how I was made from Buffy and we had the same blood? It's not just the blood.... My body's just like hers, only younger and taller."
"You are a lot like Buffy, Dawn," Xander said. Desperately trying to change the subject, he added, "You know, when I first saw you at the Mission, for a second I thought that Buffy had somehow come back from the grave."
"That's something I've thought a lot about trying," Dawn said. "But I'm fresh out of Ghora Demon eggs. And I don't want to mess with anything that had any connection to Doc. I've learned my lesson. But I miss her so terribly, as much as I miss Mom."
"You know, Dawnie," Xander said tentatively, "I never got a chance to explain to you what Willow and Tara and Anya and I were doing out on the night the Hellions came to town.... We were trying to bring Buffy back."
"Like I tried to do with Mom."
"Yes, but Willow thought there was a better chance that Buffy would come back okay. Since she was killed by mystical forces rather than by natural causes like your mom was." He paused. "I don't know what Willow was using, but I don't think there were any demon eggs. It didn't work because the Hellions ran over the ritual urn before Willow finished." He frowned. "Or maybe it wasn't supposed to be like that Shelley Long movie, and we were supposed to..." He wrinkled his nose and shook his head. "Nahhh!"
"Nothing." He'd succeeded in steering the conversation away from sexual matters and easing the tension, but now his eyes began watering again. "I can't tell you how many nights I've spent lying awake wondering how different our world would be if we'd succeeded."
"Spike used to tell me how many times he'd imagined that he'd saved me from getting cut and spared Buffy from having to jump. And I can't tell you how many nights I've wished I hadn't let Buffy stop me from jumping off the tower instead of her."
"No, Dawnie!" Buffy said, hoping that in some way her sister would hear her. "You have to move on! I jumped so that you and the others could move on!"
Dawn wiped away her tears and managed a smile. "But she's gone and she's not coming back. Neither's Anya. Or Willow or Tara. We can't bring them back, so we can't do anything except move on."
For the first time throughout this ordeal, Buffy smiled. "That's it, Dawnie! I must be getting through to you somehow. Right, Clarence?"
Clarence smiled his enigmatic smile but said nothing.
"I feel like your mom and Buffy and Anya are all watching us right now," Xander said.
"Well, two out of three, anyway," Anya smiled.
"I do, too," Dawn smiled. "And I think they'd all want us to move on."
"That's my girl!" Buffy beamed.
"You're right," Xander nodded.
And then Buffy gulped as the Lolita look returned to Dawn's eyes. She interlaced the fingers of her right hand with those of Xander's good left hand, then ran her left hand along Xander's knee. The tension between them returned.
"This can be a new beginning for both of us," Dawn whispered breathlessly. "Come on, Xander. Anya's been gone for six months. Am I right in guessing that you haven't had any since then?"
Xander turned to face her and grabbed her by both shoulders. She stiffened as he glared furiously into her eyes, breathing heavily.
"I knew I could count on you, Xander!" Buffy sighed.
And then a leer crept to his mouth. "A new beginning. For both of us!"
Xander and Dawn took each others' faces in their hands and locked lips in a deep French kiss. Buffy felt herself starting to hyperventilate.
"Okay, Xander," she said. "That's enough. Let her down easy, but don't go too far...."
"Oh, Xander!" Dawn breathed as their lips parted.
Xander guided Dawn by the shoulders until she was flat on the bed with him kneeling between her legs. Breathing heavily, they plucked at the buttons of each others' shirts. Dawn pulled down Xander's flannel shirt as he slid his mouth down along her throat to her increasingly exposed cleavage.
"NOOOOOOOOOO!" Buffy wailed.
"You cradle-robbing pedophile!" Anya screamed. "Over my dead bod--" She stopped in mid-sentence as she remembered that it was.
"Xander! How could you?" Buffy cried out as she and Anya both reached out to pry the two bodies apart. Both pairs of hands disappeared inside the oblivious, now entwined Xander and Dawn.
"It was your wish, Buffy," Clarence said softly.
"I take it back!" Buffy sobbed as she turned to Clarence and grabbed him by his overcoat lapels. "I take it back! Help me, Clarence, please! Please! I want to live again!"
Dawn, Xander, the bed and the apartment dissolved away and they were in sunlight again.
"I want to live again," Buffy continued. "I want to live again. Please, God, let me live agai..."
She let go of Clarence as she became aware of her new surroundings: the back end of the alley next to The Magic Box.
She turned to see herself coming out the back door of the Magic box, walking up to Spike and sitting with him on a crate in the shade of the back awning of the building next door.
"Wait!" Anya said hopefully to Clarence, "If she's here and there, then she's not dead, right? Unless Spike got himself a new Buffybot."
"It's not a robot," Clarence whispered as he watched Spirit Buffy listening intently to the conversation between Spike and her physical self.
"Then I don't get it!" Anya said.
"I was happy," the Physical Buffy said slowly to Spike. "Wherever I was... I was happy. At peace. I knew that everyone I cared about was all right. I knew it!"
Then she and Spike evaporated, while the doorway behind them morphed from an ordinary, closed business back entrance to a charred open frame with a charred interior visible inside. The back door to The Magic Box likewise morphed into a boarded up entrance. The remaining Spirit Buffy looked down pensively.
"What was that all about?" Anya asked as she turned toward Clarence, then noticed that he had slowly started up the alley toward the street. He walked more normally after Buffy and Anya had caught up to him.
"Buffy," he said gently as he placed his hand on her shoulder, "the Higher Power that sent me-- call Him what you wish: God, the Supreme Being, the Great Spirit, the Powers That Be-- won't let me give you all the details about why you felt that way. But now you know..."
"...that it wasn't true," Buffy's eyes started streaming with tears. "That everyone I cared about wasn't all right." She looked at Clarence with incredulity. "God lied to me?"
"No. He didn't lie, but you misinterpreted what had happened, and that's really why I was sent here. To clear things up. He in His infinite wisdom knew that it wasn't your time. That you weren't finished. Not just as the Slayer, but as the beloved sister and devoted friend. What He did was give you a break. And He also gave you a promise."
"What you felt and what you thought you knew, while you were in Heaven... That's His promise that when it is your time, when you do go back, you will feel that way again. And that you will know that everyone you care about is all right. And it will be true then." Clarence winked. "Think of it as a Sneak Preview."
Buffy managed a laugh through her tears.
They had reached the sidewalk and crossed the street; they were back where the two women had first seen Clarence.
"And Anya," he added, "I don't know how much time you have left, but you do have enough of it. Just get started."
"How can I if we're still dead?" Anya demanded. "The buildings are all still..."
As Clarence smiled, the dilapidated, burnt out storefronts of Sunnydale suddenly morphed into their original forms. The Magic Box returned to being unboarded with the window glass intact.
"We're back!" Buffy gasped.
"Oh, do I dare hope?" Anya was almost crying too. They both looked around the familiar block. "Everything looks the same. Am I alive again?"
"Are we alive again?" Buffy asked. They turned around just in time to see Dawn appear from around the corner. Her hair was its usual chestnut color and in a neat ponytail, and she was dressed in a familiar conservatively cut purple top, jeans and her favorite pair of comfortable flip-flops, carrying her school bag.
"It's Dawnie!" Buffy smiled tearfully.
"And she's not dressed like a two-bit hooker!" Anya added.
Dawn glared at them. "Hey! I heard that!"
"She heard us!" Buffy rejoiced as she and Anya grabbed each other by the shoulders, jumping up and down.
Dawn squinted at her sister. "Buffy, are you all right?"
"Dawn, you can see me, right?" Buffy asked excitedly.
"Yeah. Why shouldn't I? The Nerds didn't make a new invisibility ray gun and shoot you with it again, did they?"
"No." Buffy tentatively poked her sister's shoulder. "And we can touch each other...." She suddenly wrapped her arms around Dawn and squeezed her tightly. "Oh, Dawnie! I'm alive again!"
Dawn smiled and returned the hug after adjusting to the surprise. "Well, yeah. Since October, but you sure haven't acted happy about it much."
"How about me, Dawnie?" Anya asked hopefully. "Can you see me and hear me too?"
"Well, yeah," Dawn sighed as she and Buffy separated, "as much as I'd rather not to able to."
Anya reached out and embraced Dawn. "Oh, Dawnie! It's great to be alive!"
Dawn stood there wrapped in Anya's embrace, screwing her face up, then looked over to her sister. "Buffy? Who is this strange woman and why does she look and sound so much like Anya?"
Anya gave her a firm kiss on the cheek. "Oh, you kid! I'm just so happy to be alive, all is forgiven! All the shoplifting and stealing and kleptomania... you can forget everything." She paused and then added: "Hey, Clarence! How's that for a first step toward redemption?" She turned toward the now empty spot where he'd been standing. "Clarence? Clarence?"
There was a tinkling of a bell. A familiar bell, that at the door of The Magic Box, as Willow stepped out onto the sidewalk and then closed the door behind her. She stared dumbfounded across the street at Anya and the two Summers sisters, with Dawn still standing awkwardly in Anya's tight embrace. "Whoa! What's wrong with this picture?" she called out loudly as she started across the street toward them.
"Willow!!!" Buffy and Anya cried out in unison. Anya let go of Dawn, and she and Buffy both grabbed Willow in a hug as she reached them.
"I repeat the question!" Willow said as she squinted sideways at Anya.
"Willow! You're alive!" Buffy said with her eyes watering again.
"Hello!" Willow replied. "That was supposed to be my line for you like, six months ago!"
"And Tara's alive too?"
"Well, yeah," Willow said. "I'm on my way to meet her for dinner. I mean, we're not back to where we used to be, but... You guys knew that, right? I mean, you just stepped across the street for some coffee a minute ago."
"They're both acting weird," Dawn told her.
Buffy and Anya both let go of Willow. Buffy was still crying as she hugged her sister again. "Like I remember telling you once before, Dawnie: Weird love is better than no love at all."
"And Xander?" Anya asked excitedly. "He's okay? Like, not all crippled and jobless and soup-kitcheny?"
"He's at the new high school with his crew," Willow replied. "They broke ground for the new Science wing this morning. You knew that!"
"Oh, good!" Anya sighed. "Now I can go back to hating him!"
To my other Buffy stories, Blood of the Night Stalker and Normal Again Again
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