Disclaimer: Joss owns Buffy, SFC owns Farscape, and I own nothing. No copyright infringement is intended, so please don’t sue. I don’t have any money anyway. Also, some dialogue has been taken directly from the episodes “Homecoming” and “Grave”. No plagiarism intended, they’re just flashbacks.
Summary: Intent on discovering the origins and ramifications of Chiana's visions, Xander and Chiana take the DeLorean through time and space to visit of all things, an Oracle. But when they're intercepted by Grayza's Command Carrier, Xander will find his first encounter with the Peace Keepers to be an unpleasant one. Will he be able to survive the Aurora Chair? What will Grayza discover in his mind? How will he and Chiana escape?
Author’s note: This story is a sequel to Back to the Uncharted Territories, which in turn is a sequel to A Sympathetic Ear. Special thanks to A. Grandt, Rob Clark, dragon_hulk, Jason Hill, Ghostrider, DaBear, greywizard, MagnusXXZ, and C.J. Whittaker for the feedback. It’s much appreciated.
Dedication: To Jordan and Jessica, my angels. May they rest in peace.
(BtVS/Farscape, Xander/Chiana, R)
The bell over the door of the Magic Box rang as Xander pushed the door open. As he looked around the inside of the store, it struck him that it was different from the last time he had seen it. The glass in the display case at the counter was in tact, as was the cash register. Around the store, there were shelves neatly lined with books and other assorted magical items. There were no weapons or clothes strewn about haphazardly. No cat box in the corner. But what stopped Xander dead in his tracks, was the table. The large circular table that they always used for researching, behind which sat Willow and Tara, looking through some books.
He was dreaming, he realized that now. Which was strange, because he so rarely realized that he was dreaming in the middle of a dream. And it had been a long time since he had dreamed of his friends. But so far it seemed pleasant enough, so Xander decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth. He walked over to the table and took a seat.
“Ladies,” he said pleasantly.
They both looked up and smiled. “Hey Xander,” Willow said. “I was wondering when you were finally going to stop by.”
“It’s good to see you,” Tara said.
“It’s good to see you guys, too,” he returned. “So, what are you working on?”
“Your immune system.”
“Among other things, like your self-confidence problem,” Tara added.
“Which reminds me, I wanted to talk to you about Chiana,” Willow said.
“I know that you’re worried about her, and that’s understandable, she’s been through a terrible ordeal. But you don’t need to be worried about showing her affection. She knows that you’re not Lakas, she’s not going to think that you’re trying to take advantage of her. And nobody else is going to think that either. They all know how much you care about her.”
“And how much she cares about you,” Tara added. “Which is why when you shy away from touching her, it hurts her. It makes her feel like you don’t want to touch her because of what Lakas did.”
“No, that’s not true!” Xander insisted, shaking his head vigorously.
“We know that,” Willow said. “And logically, she probably knows that too. But that’s how it feels. We just wanted to tell you that it’s okay to want to be affectionate with Chiana.”
“And it’s okay to go slow,” Tara said.
“Right. Just…not this slow.”
“I…okay,” Xander said. He looked back and forth between Willow and Tara for a moment. “I’m…confused.”
By the time Xander looked up to see who had called his name, he was tackled by ninety pounds of eager slayer. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tightly. He could hear Willow and Tara laughing.
“Okay, Buff…oxygen becoming an issue.”
Buffy giggled. “Not here it isn’t,” she said, climbing off of him. “It’s just so good to see you again.”
“It’s good to see you, too,” Xander said, smiling. Looking up, he saw Giles standing behind her. “And you, G-man.”
Xander expected Giles to frown, or glare, or tell him not to call him G-man, or clean his glasses, or something Giles-like. What he didn’t expect was for the older man to smile and reach out to shake Xander’s hand. “Xander,” he said.
“Okay…back to being confused.” And then something occurred to him. “Oh God, I’m not dead, am I?”
Willow stood from her seat and walked over to him. “No Xander, you’re not dead. You’re just dreaming.”
Xander stood up. “I don’t understand.”
“You will,” she said. “Eventually.”
Xander reached out and pulled Willow into a hug. “I miss you so much, Wills,” he said. “I miss you all.”
“I know, sweetie. But we’ll be together again. We’ll all be together again someday. You just have to remember that.”
“I will,” Xander said, fighting back tears.
Willow pulled away from the hug and looked him in the eye. “You have to wake up now.”
Xander shook his head. “I don’t want to.”
“I know. But you have to.”
Xander opened his eyes, just as the word “No” crossed his lips. He sat up and looked around slowly, realizing where he was. In his quarters aboard Moya. The dream had been so vivid, so real. Even now, he could remember everything. Every detail about the dream, from the words Willow had spoke to him, to what everyone was wearing. And he never remembered his dreams. His hand unconsciously reached up and wrapped around the amulet that hung from his neck. It was slightly warm to the touch. In fact, Xander’s whole body felt warm. Like…Willow’s arms were still around him. Like he could feel how much she loved him.
“What a weird dream,” he mumbled to himself. He looked down at the bed next to him and saw Chiana sleeping, her arms curled around the blanket. She looked so peaceful, so vulnerable. So…beautiful. He thought about what Willow and Tara had said in his dream, as he reached over and brushed some hair away from her face. He leaned down and kissed her gently on the forehead. She stirred slightly, but didn’t wake up. Xander climbed out of bed as quietly as he could and started to get dressed.
John stalked through the corridors of Moya, irritated to say the least. He had been back aboard for nearly three weeks now, along with Xander. And they still hadn’t been able to track down Aeryn, or the group of mercenaries that she was supposed to have joined up with. He had just gotten back from a short trip in his module to a commerce planet where they had heard rumors of the mercs presence, but no luck. No one seemed to know anything about rogue Peace Keepers in general, or Aeryn Sun in particular. John was starting to wonder if they would ever find her.
He was walking toward the gymnasium, where Jool told him Xander was. She said that he had something he wanted to talk to him about. John found himself thinking again about how well Xander seemed to be adjusting to life aboard Moya. He took all of the weirdness in stride, and did his best to learn as much as he could about everything he could. Everything from the technology around them, to the interstellar politics of the region. John knew how he felt. It had been the same when he first arrived here. Things that were so simple and commonplace to these people, were completely foreign to him. It took him ten minutes to figure out how to open a door. It was immensely frustrating, and Aeryn and D’Argo certainly didn’t help matters by constantly loosing patience with him. It had taken a while, but the bizarre bunch of fugitives grew into a family, John included. And now Xander was a part of their family too, and all he wanted to do was to be able to contribute something. To be of some use to the people who were kind enough to take him in.
John knew that it also had a lot to do with Xander’s so-called destiny. Somehow, his presence here is supposed to prevent a war between the Peace Keepers and the Scarrens. Not knowing how exactly he is supposed to do that has been another source of frustration for him. John and Xander explained everything they knew to the others once they had some down time, and were met with varying degrees of shock and disbelief. Xander took it in stride though, and John couldn’t help but admire the younger man’s strength.
Xander was even beginning to make friends among Moya’s crew. Chiana and himself of course, but also D’Argo. The two found that they had much in common, and John has seen them more than once just sitting around and swapping war stories. He even saw D’Argo laughing the other day. It took him almost a year to get the Luxan to laugh, and Xander had done it in two weeks. And considering Xander’s burgeoning relationship with Chiana, D’Argo’s ex, that was quite a feat. They both took comfort in having a fellow warrior to talk to. Someone who understood them a little better than the others. John had seen a similar dynamic between D’Argo and Aeryn, but with Aeryn’s general mistrust of aliens, it was a much slower process.
Xander had also befriended Pilot. He was one of the few people who didn’t get annoyed with Xander’s constant questions. In fact, Pilot enjoyed the extra company. Xander would spend hours there, sometimes talking, sometimes just meditating while Pilot went about his work. In fact, Pilot’s den became Xander’s favorite place to meditate. He said that the shape and the sounds of the room reminded him that he was inside of another living being, and he found that very peaceful. Almost like being inside the womb again. John had never really been one for meditation, so he just took Xander’s word for it.
John walked into the gymnasium and found Xander and D’Argo there. They were standing side by side, each holding swords. They were moving slowly, in near perfect unison. Which considering that both of their eyes were closed was quite impressive. They went through strikes, blocks, and parries, all at slow speed. It reminded John of tai chi in many ways. He knew that Xander and D’Argo were training together, but somehow he never pictured that Xander would be teaching D’Argo something.
There was something unusual about what John was watching. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, something was just…off. But after a few minutes of watching the pair, he finally figured out what it was. Xander was holding D’Argo’s qualta blade, and D’Argo was holding Xander’s sword. The two had been moving so fluidly and synchronized, that John hadn’t even noticed at first.
When they finally finished the routine, they opened their eyes and John started clapping. They turned, noticing his presence for the first time. “Very nice,” John said.
“John,” Xander said in greeting. “Any luck finding Aeryn?”
John shook his head, looking dejected. “Afraid not.”
“We will find her, John,” D’Argo said.
“I know, it’s just…frustrating. So, what are you two up to?”
“Oh, D’Argo has been kind enough to teach me some things about Luxan fighting techniques, so I thought I’d return the favor. Show him a thing or two about martial arts.”
“I think I am beginning to see the appeal of focusing on yourself instead of your enemy. Concentrating solely on form like that, I found the experience very…intense,” D’Argo said.
Xander nodded and turned back to John. “Luxan techniques focus solely on the technical. Disabling or killing your enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible. I wanted to show him that martial arts center more on the mind and the spirit. That exercise is about focusing on form, and nothing else. Once you learn the motions, it almost becomes more like meditation than practice. And soon, the moves become second nature. You don’t even have to think, just react.”
“D, how come you never showed me any Luxan fighting techniques?” John asked.
“Why haven’t you shown me any of these…martial arts?” D’Argo returned.
John shook his head. “The only fighting style I know is brawling.”
“What is brawling?”
Xander answered. “It’s basically the absence of style and technique. No holds barred, fighting dirty. Sucker punches, biting, scratching, eye gouging. Anything you have to do to win.”
“That does sound like how you fight,” D’Argo said with a smile, turning to John.
“Funny,” John said with a sarcastic smile before turning back to Xander. “I’m afraid I never bothered to learn much about martial arts. What style do you use?”
“It’s a combination of a lot of things. Tai kwan do, jeet kune do, a few different sword techniques. I just take what works for me. Any edge I can get, you know?”
“Yeah, I get that. So, why did you switch swords?”
Xander looked down at the qualta still in his hand, like he had forgotten he was even holding it. “Oh, I just wanted to give it a try.” He turned to D’Argo. “It’s much lighter than I thought it would be.” He handed the weapon back to D’Argo. “It’s an elegant weapon, thank you for letting me use it.”
“Your welcome. Thank you for letting me use yours. It’s well balanced, you take excellent care of it. Truly, a warrior’s weapon.”
Xander nodded his thanks as he took his sword back and slipped it into the scabbard on his back.
“So, Jool said that you had something you wanted to talk to me about,” John said.
“Actually, it’s something I want to talk to everyone about. I wanted to wait until you got back. Let’s get everyone together in Command.”
“What is this about? I’m a busy man you know,” Rygel griped. They were all gathered in Command. John, D’Argo, Rygel, Noranti, Jool, Chiana and Xander.
“No you’re not,” Chiana said. “We were just playing cards.”
Rygel grumbled, but he didn’t say anything. Xander smiled but he held his tongue. Things were still a little strained between him and the Hynerian. The money he had brought back from the casino definitely helped to smooth things over though, and Rygel was at least civil to him most of the time. Or as civil as Rygel ever got, according to John.
“I wanted to talk to you all about Chiana’s visions,” Xander started.
“What about them?” John asked.
Xander cast a glance toward Chiana before continuing. “She’s been telling me more about them, about what she sees. And I think I might know what they are, and where they’re coming from.”
“How?” Jool asked.
“I had a friend on Earth with similar abilities. Hers didn’t leave her blind though, they just gave her excruciating headaches. And she didn’t have the ability to slow down the present, she only saw glimpses of the future.”
“So what makes you think that it’s the same thing?” John asked.
“Cordelia’s visions came from The Powers That Be. They were sent as a way to guide her and her friends to people that needed their help. They were champions, warriors in the battle between good and evil. Almost all of Chiana’s precognitive visions so far have warned her about impending danger, either for her or someone around her. And then there’s me.”
“What about you?” John asked.
“The reason I’m here, this whole destiny thing of mine to prevent this war. It’s possible that the Powers are giving Chiana these visions to help guide me, to help guide all of us.”
“Wait, I’m confused,” Jool piped in. “Who exactly are these Powers you’re talking about?”
“I’ll explain it this way. Somewhere between free will and the divine plan, lies The Powers That Be. They are the men behind the curtain. Their job is to nudge us along, keep us going on the right path. Some of the more important players in the game get extra special attention, to make sure they don’t mess up.”
D’Argo, Jool, and Rygel were looking at Xander like he had just grown a second head. Like he just told them that Chiana’s visions came from the Easter Bunny.
“Are you farbot!” Rygel exclaimed. “You don’t actually expect us to believe that dren, do you?”
“Look, I don’t know anything about any of your species culture or spiritual beliefs, and frankly I don’t care. I’m not trying to convert you, and I’m not telling you anything that I haven’t seen with my own two eyes. On my planet, there are creatures that are believed to be only myths and legends. That’s what I believed too, until I saw them with my own eyes. Vampires, demons, werewolves, ghosts, witches. I don’t know if any of those words will translate into anything you will understand, but it doesn’t matter. I know from John’s stories that you’ve all seen some pretty unbelievable things yourself. All I’m asking is that you keep an open mind.”
No one said anything for a moment, letting Xander’s words sink in. Finally, Chiana spoke. “What do you think about this, Wrinkles?” she asked, noticing that the old woman didn’t look nearly as surprised as the others.
“It’s nothing that I haven’t already speculated myself,” Noranti answered. “Everything happens for a reason, Chiana’s visions must serve some purpose. Xander’s path is a difficult one, it only makes sense that since he his here, we all must play some part in it.”
Rygel snorted. “Of course she is going to agree with him, she’s as farbot as he is.”
“What do you find so hard to believe, Rygel?” Noranti asked. “There is one thing that almost all religions across the galaxy believe, and that is that there is some kind of higher power, whatever the role that it may have in our lives. Is it so implausible that it’s all the same? That the gods you worship are the same beings as those that D’Argo believes in, or Chiana, or myself.”
“I don’t worship anything!” Rygel spat. “The Hynerian gods do not demand worship, only…compensation.”
John turned back to Xander. “Why are you telling us all of this?”
“Two reasons actually. The first is that ever since I first met you, Aeryn, and Chiana, I’ve wondered if all the things that I’ve come to discover are real, exist anywhere else in the universe. If there are other planets that have vampires and demons and witches, or if they’re just centered on Earth. So far, Chiana’s visions are the first clue I’ve had that those things do exist out here. That the Powers’ reach extends beyond Earth.”
“And the second reason?”
Xander frowned. He looked over at Chiana again with a worried expression. “The gift of the visions comes with a price, and I don’t just mean temporary blindness or splitting headaches. Cordelia suffered permanent neurological damage, and her body even began to manifest elements of the visions.”
“Meaning what?” John asked.
“Like if she saw a guy getting clawed to death, claw marks would appear on her body.”
John cast a glance at Chiana. She looked upset, but not really shocked. He could tell that this wasn’t the first time she was hearing all of this. Xander must have brought it up with her first. “What happened to her?”
“She received a visit from a higher being that she believed to be her friend. He told her that humans were never meant to get the visions, that they weren’t strong enough to withstand their effects. She was given a choice. Either they would change the timeline so that she never got the visions, and she would be given her dream life as a famous actress. Or they would change her, make her part demon, so that she would be strong enough. She chose to keep the visions, to help her friends.
“Later they found out that the whole thing had been a setup from the beginning. Everything from her receiving the visions in the first place, to her ascending into a higher plane of existence. It was all so a demon could take control of her body and take over the world. But that’s a story for another time.
“What I was hoping was that someone here would know something about…something. Enough to lead us to someplace where we could find out more about the visions. And whether or not Chiana is strong enough to withstand them without…permanent damage.” Xander walked over to where Chiana was standing and put an arm around her. She was clearly looking scared and trying to hide it. “But there’s no reason to believe that she isn’t strong enough. From what I’ve learned, Nebari are a little tougher than humans generally.” He was trying to reassure Chiana, but Xander was still clearly worried.
“If we were back on Earth, what could we do?” John asked, looking for ideas.
“We’d have a lot more research material available to find out more about the visions,” Xander said. “We could consult practitioners of white magic, or try and find a spell to summon an answer from the Powers.” Xander paused. “Or we could just ask an Oracle, they have a hotline to the Powers.”
“Oracle?” Rygel repeated. All eyes immediately shot to the former Dominar.
“Do you recognize the word?” Xander asked, a glimmer of hope in his voice.
“What is an Oracle?” Jool asked.
Xander walked over to Rygel as he answered Jool’s question. “They’re servants of the PTB, the most direct connection from their plane to ours. Cosmic middlemen. Rygel, do you recognize the word?”
“Yes,” Rygel said. His attitude had considerable changed since the last time he spoke. There was a reverence in his voice that none of the others had ever heard before. “There was a time in the history of the Hynerian Empire when the power of the clergy rivaled that of the Dominar. There was an elite class of priests, all of them claiming that they had insight into the realm of the Gods. The people worshiped at their temples, bringing offerings for the Gods.
“It was during the reign of my ancestor, Dominar Rygel IV, when things changed. He was not happy sharing his power with the church. He believed that the only thing his subjects should be devoted to was him. He attacked them politically, denounced them publicly. After a few hundred years, the church’s power was nonexistent, and almost all of the priests were either dead, imprisoned, or in exile. Our true religion became something that was done in private. But one member of the clergy survived unharmed. He and a few followers fled Hynerian space, and settled on a distant planet, called Meloni. There they built a temple, the only temple dedicated to the true Hynerian Gods that still exists. Thousands of Hynerians still make pilgrimages to Meloni each cycle, to bestow gifts upon the Gods, and ask what the future holds for them. This priest, the last of his kind, is known simply as…The Oracle.”
John looked to Xander. “What do you think?”
“The word translated, and the description sounds about right. Oracles do typically demand an offering for their counsel,” Xander said. “It’s a place to start. What do you guys think?”
“I’m skeptical,” D’Argo said. “But if there’s even a chance that this Oracle can give us some insight into Chiana’s…condition, than I believe it’s worth looking into.”
John nodded. “Agreed.” Jool and Noranti nodded as well.
“What about you, Pilot?” Xander asked. “What do you and Moya think?”
Pilot’s image appeared on the clamshell monitor in Command. “Moya and I agree. We’ll help however we can.”
“It’s settled then,” John said. “Do you know how to get to this Meloni, Sparky?”
“Of course I do,” Rygel snapped, maneuvering his throne sled over to one of Moya’s consoles where he could pull up a star chart.
After Rygel helped Moya locate Meloni on her star charts, they set a course and were on their way. Roughly ten arns later, the crew of the Leviathan stood in Command looking at a small blue-green world on the viewer.
“Pilot, are you sure you aren’t picking up any other ships in the area?” Rygel asked again. “There are almost always groups of Hynerians here, there should be a few ships in orbit.”
“Moya is still not picking up any other ships,” Pilot answered.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” D’Argo said.
Xander and John shared a look. “He had to say it,” Xander muttered.
“Pilot, magnify the coordinates for the temple I gave you,” Rygel said.
The image on the screen changed to a closer view of the planet’s surface, and what they saw caused everyone standing in Command to gasp.
“By the Gods!” Rygel exclaimed. “It…it can’t be. Pilot, are you sure those are the right coordinates?”
“I’m afraid so Dominar. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t believe it,” Chiana muttered.
On the surface of the planet, where the last temple dedicated to the true Hynerian Gods once stood, there was nothing but a smoking crater.
“The weapons signature I’m detecting appears to be Peace Keeper,” Pilot said. “I’m afraid I’m not detecting any life signs on the planet.”
Xander just shook his head. “Why can’t anything ever go smooth?”
“Xander, are you sure about this?” John asked. They were standing in Moya’s hangar bay, and Xander was doing a preflight check on the DeLorean.
Xander nodded. “This is the best lead we’re going to get. And I’m not going to let a little thing like this guy being dead stop me from getting some answers.”
“I know you’re worried about Chiana, we all are. But every time you use this thing, it’s a risk. I just hope you know that.”
“I do, and the risk is small. Pilot says that according to the decay rate of the weapons signature, the attack happened three days ago. So Chiana and I will go back five days, have a chat with the Oracle, and be back before you know we’re gone, literally.”
“And what if that’s not far enough, what if the Peace Keepers are still there?”
“Then we’ll time shift back even further before they have a chance to spot us.”
“We can find another way, Xander. We don’t have…”
“John,” Xander interrupted. He stepped closer to him, his voice dropping in volume. “Jules told me before we left that the reason he was giving me the time machine was because in the original tangent, Chiana died. And with the DeLorean here, she doesn’t. What if this is why? This could save her life.”
“Jules also told you not to second guess yourself. You can’t make judgment calls based on your knowledge of the future.”
“I’m not,” Xander insisted. “I’m basing it on the fact that the chances of us finding anyone else out here who knows anything about these visions is slim to none. This is exactly what I’d do, whether I knew about the future or not. Jules also told me to trust my instincts. I can do this John, please…just trust me.”
John nodded slowly. “I do trust you,” he said. Xander could see in his eyes, it wasn’t a matter of trust. John was just worried about his friends, and Xander understood how that felt better than anyone.
“Are we ready?”
John and Xander turned to see Chiana walking into the hangar bay. “Just about,” Xander said. “Hop in.” Chiana popped the passenger side gull-wing door and got inside.
John clasped Xander on the shoulder. “You just…be careful, okay.”
Xander nodded and gave John a reassuring smile. “Like I said, we’ll be back before you know it.”
John just nodded. Xander turned and got into the DeLorean. John could hear its engines powering up as he made his way out of the hangar bay before Pilot opened the outer doors. “Literally,” he mumbled to himself.
Five days ago
Several Hynerian ships sat in orbit around the small blue-green world. None of them even noticed the small, oddly shaped silver craft appear out of nowhere. That is, until the ship started moving past them all toward the surface. Xander ignored the comms, as a plethora of annoyed Hynerian voices yelled at him that he had to wait his turn. From what he could tell from his scans, none of the ships had any armament. From what Rygel had told him, they were luxury liners, belonging to the richest of Hynerian nobility. And since nobody outside of Hyneria was supposed to even know of Meloni’s existence, no one ever felt the need to bring an armed escort.
“They sure don’t sound happy,” Chiana commented.
“I’m beginning to wonder if Hynerians are ever happy,” Xander added. “Outside of swimming around in their money, like Scrooge McDuck.”
“Never mind. There’s the temple, I’m going to set her down.”
There were hundreds of Hynerians gathered around the outside of the temple, waiting for their turn to see the Oracle. They watched as a strange looking craft descended from the clouds and landed only a few dozen metres from the temple steps. Much closer than any ship was allowed to land.
Xander and Chiana got out once they landed. They started walking toward the temple, when Xander pulled something from his belt and pointed it at the DeLorean. The time machine let out two high pitch beeps, and Xander returned the device to his belt.
“Is that going to be okay here?” Chiana asked.
Xander picked up a rock from the ground and turned, winging it at the DeLorean as hard as he could. It bounced harmlessly off of an energy shield that now surrounded the vehicle. “It’ll be fine,” he said.
The Hynerians started grumbling as soon as the ship touched down, and seeing two aliens step out certainly didn’t please them either.
“This is an outrage!”
“Why I’ve never!”
For the most part Xander and Chiana just ignored them. They had more pressing matters to attend to, and they couldn’t have cared less about ruffling a few Hynerian feathers. But one bold individual refused to be ignored. He parked himself right in their path, and started poking Xander in the shins with his finger.
“Now see here, how dare you! Outsiders are not welcome here! You must leave immediately! You must…”
The Hynerian promptly stopped talking once Xander drew his pulse pistol, Naomi, from his belt and leveled it at him. “Back off, ankle biter. We’re here to see the Wizard, and none of you munchkins are going to stop us.”
The Hynerian backed off without another word, and the rest of the walk to the temple proceeded without incident. The rest of the tiny tyrants parted like the red sea. They walked up the steps to the top of the structure, and found themselves standing in front of a solid stone wall.
“Okay, what now?” Chiana asked, tapping on the wall with her hand.
Xander reached out and took Chiana’s hand in his. “Trust me,” he said. He stepped forward, leading Chiana with him straight into the wall. And with a flash, they both disappeared.
Chiana blinked, and suddenly found that she was no longer outside of the wall, but inside a great chamber. Tapestries hung from the walls, and beautiful pieces of ornate pottery sat on pedestals all around them. “How did…what…how did you do that?” Chiana asked.
“It’s a test of faith,” Xander said. “If you meet the wall unbelieving, with your hands first, then you can’t pass through. But if you believe, and walk in face first…”
“Then you will be allowed entry,” another voice finished.
Xander and Chiana both turned to see who had spoken. What they saw surprised them both. He was Hynerian, looking almost exactly like Rygel, except for the gray beard. He was wearing a gold toga, and sandals on his feet, which matched the whole ancient Rome décor of the temple. But the surprising thing was that he was hovering, unaided, five feet off the ground. There was no throne sled, nothing below him but air.
“Oracle,” Xander breathed, like the word itself held some kind of power.
“I’m impressed,” he spoke again. “It usually takes newcomers days to figure that out, if ever.”
“We…we’ve come seeking answers,” Xander said.
“Everyone seeks answers,” the Oracle spoke. “But not everyone asks the right questions. Do you bring an offering?”
Xander mentally kicked himself. In all the excitement, he had forgotten completely to bring something as an offering. His mind raced for a few seconds before he finally settled on what he had to do. He drew his sword from the scabbard on his back and held it out in front of him.
“I present to you my most cherished possession,” Xander said. “My sword.”
“Xander, no,” Chiana said. She knew how much that sword meant to him, she didn’t want him to lose it because of her.
The Oracle was hovering ten feet away from where Xander and Chiana stood. He reached out his hand and in a flash, the sword disappeared from Xander’s hand and reappeared in his own. Had circumstances been normal, Xander would have been sure that the tiny Hynerian wouldn’t have been able to lift the sword. But circumstances were not normal, and the Oracle hefted the weapon with ease. He examined the sword closely.
“A beautiful weapon,” the Oracle said. “A warrior’s weapon. You are a warrior, are you not? A…knight.” Xander was stunned into silence. “I don’t get many of your kind here, unfortunately. You’re a dying breed. You may ask of me what you wish.”
“My companion,” Xander said, motioning toward Chiana. “I believe that she has been given the gift of the visions.”
“It is true, she has,” the Oracle said.
“We need to know, is she strong enough to bare them? The side effects are quite…severe.”
The Oracle cocked his head curiously. “Are you sure that is the question you wish to ask? You may not get a chance to ask another.”
“I’m sure,” Xander answered without hesitation. “It’s the most important thing I need to know.”
The Oracle floated closer to Xander, until he was directly in front of him. He looked into his eyes for a moment, and then smiled. “So it is,” he said. “The answer is yes, she is strong enough to bare the visions. However, it isn’t the side effects of the visions that are severe, are they?” he said, turning to Chiana. “It isn’t looking into the future that causes you to loose your sight, it’s looking more closely at the present.”
“That’s right,” Chiana said.
“This second gift you’ve been given is much like this sword,” the Oracle said. “It’s a double edged blade. Unlike the visions, you are the one who is in control. And the price you pay will increase each time you use this gift, until the day comes when you will never regain your sight.”
“You’re saying that if I keep using my power, slowing down the present, that someday I’ll go blind…permanently?” Chiana asked.
The Oracle simply nodded, as he floated back to his original spot. “And now good sir knight, that I’ve answered the question that you asked, I will answer the question that you did not ask.”
“I don’t understand,” Xander said.
“You came here today seeking knowledge. And for that knowledge, you have shown that you are willing to sacrifice something that means a great deal to you. And I’m not just talking about your sword. Given the choice between yourself and your companion, you chose your companion without hesitation. You chose her well being over your own thirst for answers.
“You wish to know if her visions have been sent to her to help guide you on your path? You wish to know if you are walking the path that you are meant to, if you’re doing the right thing. You want, more than anything, for your destiny to be clear.”
“Yes, I do,” Xander answered.
“But I cannot tell you these things.”
“I…I don’t understand.”
“Much like the wall, it is a test of faith. Not your faith in me, or the Gods, but your faith in yourself. Your greatest enemy has always been self-doubt.
“You have a great battle ahead of you, Knight. And you will have choices to make. Keep your friends close to you, old and new. Stay true to yourself. I cannot give you the answers you seek. You must earn that knowledge yourself.”
“I don’t understand,” Xander repeated.
“You will. And for now, that is enough. That is all I can tell you.”
Xander nodded. “Thank you.” He and Chiana turned, heading back the way they came.
“Knight,” the Oracle called out, stopping him. Xander turned. The Oracle held Xander’s sword out, and it disappeared from his hand, only to reappear back in Xander’s. “It is a warrior’s weapon. And it belongs with a warrior.”
Xander nodded and slid the weapon back into the scabbard on his back. “There’s something I need to tell you. In two days, this temple is going to be destroyed by the Peace Keepers. As near as we can tell, there won’t be any survivors.”
The Oracle seemed to smile. “I already know this,” he stated.
“You do?” Xander asked. “How?”
“The knowledge of the Gods is not limited by time, ergo neither is mine.”
“You can come with us.”
The Oracle shook his head. “You have your path to walk, and I have mine. My place is here.”
Xander nodded. “I understand.” He took Chiana’s hand and together they walked back the way they came, through the wall.
They once again found themselves outside, on the steps of the temple. “I still don’t understand,” Chiana said. “He didn’t tell you anything.”
“Yes he did. He told me that I wasn’t ready to know yet. But more importantly, we found out that you’re strong enough for the visions. You just have to lay off that little cheating trick of yours.”
“No argument here, I’m not really eager to do it again any time soon any…way,” Chiana trailed off as she looked down the temple steps. Xander followed her gaze and saw what it was that disturbed her.
“Uh oh,” he muttered to himself. Below them, on the grounds around the temple, there was nothing. Not one single Hynerian of the hundreds who had been there when they entered was still there. It looked like a ghost town.
“I’ve got a bad…”
“Don’t say it,” Xander interrupted. “Let’s just get out of here.”
Chiana nodded and the two of them hurried down the stairs and over to the DeLorean. Xander deactivated the shield and the two of them got in. The engines powered up and the car lifted off, flying up into the clouds.
“As soon as we’re clear of the atmosphere we’ll time shift,” Xander said.
“I wonder what spooked those Hynerians,” Chiana said.
“I don’t know. Maybe they just went to get reinforcements.”
“All of them?”
“I don’t know,” Xander admitted again. “Keep your eyes on that sensor readout, let me know if you see anything.”
The DeLorean broke through the upper most layer of the atmosphere and Xander turned to the time circuits. “Xander.”
“I just need to enter our destination into the time circuits.”
“Xander!” Yelled, panic in her voice.
“What?” Xander asked, looking over at her. But she wasn’t looking at the sensor readout, she was looking out the windshield.
“I see something,” she said, her voice trembling as her hand came up to point out the front window.
Xander turned and saw something so big, it filled the sky in front of him. His jaw fell open as his brain tried to absorb the sheer size of it. “Holy shit,” he muttered in amazement. “What the hell is that?”
“It’s a command carrier,” Chiana answered. “Peace Keepers. We have to get out of here, now!”
“We’re not going fast enough to time shift, and the controls aren’t responding!” Xander yelled, pounding on the console in front of him.
Chiana turned and looked out the side window. “That’s because we’re already in their docking web!”
Xander looked back and forth between his piloting controls and the command carrier that was looming in front of them, seemingly getting bigger as it pulled the DeLorean closer. “Frell!”
Commandant Mele-On Grayza stood facing the window in her office aboard the command carrier that she now commanded. After the destruction of Scorpius’ carrier, and his disappearance, the High Command had placed her in charge of finding solutions to the Scarren problem. But unlike her predecessor, she had no interest in trying to develop wormhole technology. For one, all of the research done had been destroyed along with Scorpius’ carrier, and secondly, she believed that the way to defeat the Scarrens was to use their natural advantage over them, their intellect. Scarrens were warriors, focused more on individual accomplishments in battle. But Peace Keepers were soldiers, cogs in a machine, working together toward a common goal. It was that difference that made them superior, and that is why they would come out on top.
But they still needed allies. Intellect can only serve you so much when you’re vastly outnumbered. And allies were a hard thing to come by when you’re constantly being embarrassed by a group of fugitives who consistently avoid capture. What kind of super power are you if you can’t even apprehend a handful of escaped prisoners and a rouge Leviathan? So that became one of Grayza’s top priorities, to put this embarrassment to an end. To capture John Crichton and his cronies, and have them publicly executed. To show their enemies and potential allies alike what happens when you cross the Peace Keepers.
And now, only a few months into the assignment, and she had already accomplished something her predecessors couldn’t in three cycles. She had two of the fugitives in her custody. And once they were interrogated, she would have the location of the their friends. And soon, she would have them all.
Grayza watched in the reflection in the window as her office door slid open and Captain Braca walked in. He stood at attention just inside the door, waiting for her to acknowledge him.
She turned to face him, noticing for the first time that he didn’t look very happy. “Report.”
“Ma’am, the ship has been taken aboard, and its occupants taken into custody.”
“I trust everything went smoothly.”
Braca gulped nervously. “Not exactly, Ma’am. Three security officers were killed before the prisoners could be subdued. And one was severely injured. He had his hand…cut off.”
Grayza had trouble maintaining her usual cool exterior hearing this news. “How did this happen?” she growled.
“We sent a full security battalion to take them in the hangar bay. We assumed that they would be armed, but we didn’t really expect them to put up much of a fight, considering how outnumbered they were. As soon as the ship was released from the docking web, they exited and…he started firing. He picked off two men before he and the Nebari took cover behind their ship. The men returned fire, but the ship has some kind of a defensive shield. Finally, I sent a few men to go around and surprise them from behind while the rest of the battalion kept them busy. In the struggle, he killed one man with a sword, slashed his throat. And chopped another man’s hand off as he raised his weapon. He was finally knocked unconscious from behind, and he and the Nebari were taken into custody. They are currently in separate cells on the detention level.”
Grayza was seething, but she hid it well. “It seems that I’ve once again underestimated this John Crichton. He’s more resilient then I’ve given him credit for.”
Braca gulped again. “There is…one other thing, Ma’am.”
What else could possibly go wrong? “What?” Grayza hissed.
“We’ve positively identified the Nebari female as Chiana. However, the male is…not John Crichton.”
“What?! How can that be?!”
“A cursory medical scan was taken, and the readings are consistent with scans we have on file of Crichton. We believe them to be of the same species. He is the same approximate height, weight, and build of Crichton. Dressed in black, with dark hair, which is why the initial description given was assumed to be him. But it’s…not him.”
“The same species? How is that possible, I thought Crichton arrived here through a wormhole?”
“He did, Ma’am. I don’t know what to tell you, other than the fact that he was traveling with the Nebari means that he may still be able to tell us the location of Moya.”
“Oh, he’s going to tell us far more than that. I want a full medical workup on this…human. I want to know their strengths, their weaknesses, their similarities to Sebeceans and their differences. And then prep the Aurora chair.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Braca answered with a curt nod. He walked briskly out of her office.
Grayza clenched her hands behind her back and turned back to her window. “Soon, human,” she muttered to herself. “Soon you will tell me everything I want to know.”
When Xander came to he was immediately aware of two things. First, he was in a cell, and second, he was alone. A quick check of his person and he realized that his weapons were gone too. His head was throbbing. He reached up and touched the back of it gently, feeling a rather large bump and a little bit of dried blood. “Sons of bitches,” he muttered to himself.
His equilibrium returned fairly quickly, so he didn’t think he had a concussion. He found the cell door and peered out of the small opening at the top. “Chiana!” he yelled out into the empty corridor. But all he heard was an echo. Either she was unconscious herself, or she was too far away to hear him, or she was…no, he wasn’t even going to think about that.
“Damn it!” he cursed himself, banging his fist against the door. “You really stepped in it this time, Xander,” he said to himself.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, there’s nothing more you could have done.”
Xander whirled around. “I can always do…more.” He drifted off as he looked at the man standing in the cell with him. A man that couldn’t possibly be there. Just a second ago he had been alone. He was standing in front of the only door, no one could have come in. “Giles?”
The man stepped forward slowly. “It’s me, Xander.”
Xander reached up and rubbed the back of his head again. “They must have hit me harder than I thought.”
“We don’t have much time,” Giles continued. “You need to get out of here.”
Xander just stared at the phantom-Giles like he told him that water was wet. “No shit.”
“There’s more at stake here than you realize. In five days, your past is going to catch up with you, when Moya arrives at this planet. If this carrier remains here, Moya will be captured.”
“I know! Is this what you came back from the dead for, to state the frelling obvious!”
Giles pressed on. “If Moya is captured, then you and Chiana never would have traveled back to visit the Oracle, and none of this would have happened. It’s a paradox, and it could mean the very end of existence as we know it!”
Xander slid down the door and sat on the floor as Giles words sank in. “Man, when I screw up, I screw up BIG.”
“We don’t have time for self-pity, you have to get out of here!”
“And how would you suggest I do that!” Xander bit back. “Pick the lock with a bobby pin?” He patted down his pants. “Sorry, fresh out.”
“You have to be patient and wait for your opportunity. This isn’t a situation where you can rush ahead without thinking, the way you always do, and hope that your instincts keep you alive. You have to use your head.”
“What do you mean ‘like I always do’? I don’t always…” Xander drifted off. He turned away from Giles. “I’m arguing with a hallucination.”
“Just remember what I once told you Xander. You intellect is your greatest weapon. Use it.”
Xander was about to respond when he heard footsteps coming down the hallway. He got to his feet and looked out into the corridor outside his cell. He could see a group of soldiers making there way down the hall. He turned back to where Giles was standing, but the apparition was gone. He was alone again.
Xander hugged the wall next to the cell door, getting ready to jump anyone who came in. If he was going to go, he was going to go down swinging. ‘No, Xander, think,’ he thought to himself. ‘If you go down, your friends are as good as captured, and then paradox, and then universe go boom. Giles was right, you have to wait for your opportunity. And this isn’t it.’
Xander stood away from the wall and walked to the center of the cell. He stood, facing the door. His face was expressionless. He watched, and listened, as the soldiers stopped in front of his cell and the door slid open. They piled into his cell, all pointing pulse rifles at him. Xander remained still and calm. Another man stepped into the cell, not carrying a weapon. He was obviously in command here, at least of these guys.
“Come with us. If you resist, you will be killed.”
Xander just nodded, and followed. They led him out of the cell, and down the hall. He forced himself to remain calm, focused. On the outside, he appeared quite passive. But in reality, he was taking in everything around him. Memorizing as much of the layout of the ship as he could, checking the other cells they passed for Chiana, looking at the kind of weapons and armor the security carried. He would take his time, and wait for his opportunity. And if none came in the next five days, he would make one.
Several hours of poking and prodding later, Xander was dumped naked into the Aurora chair chamber. The so-called doctors who examined him refused to give him any anesthetic for some of the more painful procedures they decided to conduct on him. They took blood samples, tissue samples, hair samples, and countless scans. They even forced him to run on some kind of treadmill. And when he objected too much, he received a punch to the face for his troubles. Needless to say, after several hours of this, he was spent. And when the guards let him go, he fell to the floor.
“What is that around his neck?” he heard a woman’s voice ask. “I told you to strip him completely.”
Xander was on his hands and knees now, trying to catch his breath. All the while, he observed and remembered everything he could.
“We couldn’t get it off of him, Ma’am. There doesn’t appear to be any clasp, and the chain is too small to get over his head. We tried cutting it, but not even a laser torch put so much as a dent in it.”
She reached down and grabbed the amulet that hung around Xander’s neck and pulled it closer to her. This caused Xander to look up, and see her for the first time. She was petite, and slender, yet imposing. She held a presence that exuded authority. She had black hair, and pale white skin, and the neckline of her shirt plunged all the way to her belt. Cleavage wasn’t the word for what she was sporting, it was more like she was half naked.
“What is it made of?” she asked.
“That’s the strange part, Ma’am. All of our scans say that it’s only an alloy of a few simple metals. It should melt without too much trouble, but it simply won’t.”
“Have your sensors recalibrated then, Captain. It’s obvious that they are faulty.”
She motioned for two of the guards to pick Xander back up again. “Put him in the chair.” The guards complied, strapping Xander into the chair. “You and your men are dismissed, Braca. I’ll expect a full report on those medical tests on my desk within the arn.”
Braca snapped to attention. “Yes, Ma’am,” he barked, before turning and leading his men out of the room. Leaving only Grayza, Xander, and the chair.
She sauntered over to him, running her finger across his chest. “My name is Commandant Grayza. What’s your name, human?”
Some deeply rooted soldier instinct kicked in when he heard that question, and he spoke before he could stop himself. “Harris, Alexander L. Corporal, 532-17-8191.” Xander turned to face her for the first time. “And that’s all you’re getting, lady.”
Grayza just smiled. “We’ll see about that.” She walked back to the control console for the chair and tapped a few commands in. “The device that you are currently strapped into is called an Aurora chair, and it will allow me to see into your mind. I shall extract any information I wish, including the location of the rogue Leviathan Moya and her crew.”
Xander knew a thing or two about the Aurora chair, thanks to John. So he knew that she was overstating how simple it would be to get the information she wanted. She couldn’t just type in ‘Where’s Moya?’ and have the answer pop out on a little slip of paper, like the bat computer. The machine had to sift through every memory in his head, which could be a very long and painful process. The way John described it, every neuron in your head fired at the same time. He said it felt like having every heavy metal band playing in your head at once, with the amps cranked up way past eleven.
But he survived it, and Xander would too. The question was, would he be able to keep Moya’s location a secret. The truth was, Xander knew so little about space travel, that he really didn’t know where Moya was right now. He couldn’t find her if he wanted to. But he knew where she would be in five days, and that’s what he had to keep hidden. John said that he kept Scorpius from focusing in on the wormhole information in his head by constantly concentrating on other things. He also chose an image in his mind, something that had nothing to do with anything, and he tried to keep it hidden from the chair. Like a decoy memory, to keep Scorpius occupied until he was able to escape.
“Are we ready then?” Grayza asked. Xander didn’t respond. “Good. Now, concentrate on your friends, and we’ll get this over as quickly as we can. I’m afraid you might feel a little…discomfort.”
Xander braced himself, but he wasn’t prepared for anything like what he felt. The chair hummed as it activated, and every thought in Xander’s head exploded. He gripped the arms of the chair until his fingers almost broke. Every muscle in his face was clenched, as pain erupted through his head. It felt like a jackhammer, beating against the inside of his skull, trying to break through. There was a loud sound assaulting his ears from the outside to go along with the assault of his head from the inside. It took Xander a few seconds to realize that it was the sound of himself screaming. He realized that this was going to be much harder than he thought. How was he supposed to concentrate on anything with his brain on fire? He could barely even remember his own name.
The pain lessened slightly, and then more, and then more until it was almost gone. An oval shaped screen above the chair lit up, and Xander found himself looking at two small children, coloring.
“I’m afraid we didn’t get much with that pass,” Grayza said. “Looks like something from your childhood.”
That’s when Xander recognized the children. It was him and Willow, in kindergarten.
“Your hair is pretty,” the young Xander on the screen spoke.
The little red haired girl blushed. “Thank you,” she said softly. “What’s your name?”
“Alexander,” the boy said, his scrunched up in distaste. “I don’t like it, though.”
The boy shrugged. “Just don’t.”
“Well, what about Alex?” The boy shook his head so hard he nearly fell out of his chair. The girl laughed, and that made the boy smile. “How about…Xander, that’s the other half.”
The boy smiled. “That’s sounds neat. What’s your name?”
“That’s a pretty name.” She blushed again. “Your nice Willow, I like you.”
“I like you, too.”
“Wanna be my girlfriend?”
The image fizzled out and the screen went blank. “Isn’t that cute,” Grayza said mockingly.
But Xander wasn’t listening to her. He was trying to figure out how that memory had appeared, he wasn’t even thinking about Willow. Wait, that was it. He was thinking that he couldn’t even remember his own name. Xander. That’s when she gave him that name. When he became reborn as Willow’s Xander, instead of just ‘Alexander’ or ‘that little brat’. When the most important thing in life became making her laugh. Xander smiled. He knew how he would get through this now. He would just think about her. He had enough memories of Willow to get him through anything.
Enter Search Word(s): Secret
They were in Willow’s bedroom, getting ready for homecoming. A radio was playing softly in the background. Willow was still trying to decide what to wear. She stepped out from behind her changing screen. “What do you think of this?”
Xander turned and glanced at her as he tucked his dress shirt into his tuxedo pants, his tie hanging untied from his collar. “Nice,” he said with a shrug and a smile.
“It’s my first big dance, you know?” Willow said, starting to unbutton her blouse. “Where there’s a boy and a band…and not just me alone in my room, pretending there’s a boy and a band.” She picked up another outfit and moved behind the screen. “I just want it to be…”
“Special,” Xander supplied from in front of her mirror where he was trying to tie his tie. “That’s why I spared no expense on the tux.”
“The tux? I thought you, ah, borrowed it from your cousin Rigby.”
“Expense to my pride, Will. They’re our only relations with money, and they shun us…as they should.”
Willow stepped out from behind the screen again, this time wearing a black top and skirt with a floral print. “What do you think of this?”
Xander glanced at her again and nodded. “Nice.”
She saw him still struggling with his tie, so she walked over and started tying it for him. Looking up at him, she smiled.
“What?” Xander asked.
She smiled again. “I was just…remember the eighth-grade cotillion?” She giggled. “You had that clip-on?”
“Hey, I was pretty stylin’ with a clip-on,” Xander defended.
“And now here we are, and it’s…Homecoming.”
“Yeah, we should face it, Will. You and I are going to be in neighboring rest homes while I come over so you can adjust my, um…”
Willow raised an eyebrow at him while he trailed off.
“My, ah…well, I can’t think of anything that’s not really gross.”
Willow finished the tie and smiled at him. She grabbed another outfit and went behind the screen again while Xander put on his vest.
“So, uh…you and Oz,” he said. “How do I put this? Are we on first, second, or uh…ye gods?”
“That’s none of your business Alexander Harris,” she replied with a smirk in her voice.
Xander smiled. “Ooo, rounding second,” he said, pulling on his jacket.
“You don’t know that,” Willow said in a huff. “What about you and Cordelia?”
“Oh, a gentleman never talks about his conquests.”
“Oh yeah?” she said, stepping out from behind the screen. “Well, since when did you become a…”
They both stopped for a moment, staring at each other. Willow had changed into a black sleeveless dress that went down to the floor. Finally, Willow broke the silence and finished her sentence.
“…gentleman?” She looked down at her self and then back up at him with a shrug. “I know. ‘Nice’.”
“I was going to go with ‘gorgeous’,” he said, taking a step toward her.
“Really? You too, in a guy way.”
Xander smiled. “Oz is very lucky.”
Willow smiled back. “So is Cordelia…in a girl way.” She suddenly looked worried. “I don’t know if I can dance in this. I don’t know if I can dance!”
“Come on, piece of cake,” Xander said. He stepped up to her and offered his hands to dance. “Here.” They positioned themselves together and started to dance. “Well, that seems to, um…”
“Yeah, this shouldn’t be a…problem,” Willow said.
“No,” Xander said, looking down at her. Willow looked up at him and they slowly started inching closer. “No problem.”
They inched even closer together until their lips finally met in a slow, soft kiss. They stay like that for several seconds until the realization of what they’re doing strikes them, and they jump apart like they’re on fire.
“That didn’t just happen!” Xander said.
“No!” Willow agreed, fidgeting nervously. “I mean, it did, but it didn’t!”
“Because I respect you, and Oz, and I would never…”
“I would never either! It must be the clothes, it’s a fluke!”
“It’s a clothes fluke, that’s what it is. And there’ll be no more fluking.”
They stepped closer and almost kissed again before they jumped apart.
“We gotta get out of these clothes,” Xander said.
“Right now,” Willow agreed.
They both quickly realized what they just said. “Oh, I didn’t mean…” Xander started.
“I didn’t…me either!”
They quickly rush apart again, and Willow goes behind the screen to change.
Enter Search Word(s): John Crichton
Xander was standing in the kitchen of the Summers’ house, getting a glass of water and trying to compose his thoughts. He just laid out his plan for the raid on McHenry Air Force Base to recover Aeryn’s prowler, and stop a paradox and save the universe, or something like that. He didn’t pretend to understand it completely, he just took Willow’s word for it that it would be bad. He didn’t hear Willow coming up behind him until she spoke.
“Are you sure about this plan, Xander?” she asked.
Xander turned around and faced his oldest friend. He glanced past her into the living room where the others were getting their gear together and getting ready to move out. “I’m about as sure as I’m going to get,” he answered.
“That doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.”
“What do you want me to tell you, Wills? Yeah, it’s risky. Yeah, there’s a real good chance that something real bad could happen. There’s a good chance that we’ll fail, and that paradox thing will destroy us all. It’s not fool proof, but it’s the best plan we have right now. Do I think we can pull it off? Hell yeah, we’ve walked into worse situations and come out on top. And I believe that we can do it again. I believe in all you guys.”
“What about yourself? Do you believe in yourself?”
“I believe I can do this.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“I know,” Xander said. “I’m still working on that.”
“It’s okay to be scared, you know. We all get scared.”
“I know. Believe me, I know. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s getting scared. But it’s different this time. This is my plan we’re using.”
“And you feel like if we fail, even if it isn’t your fault, it is your fault because it’s your plan.”
“Something like that,” he muttered.
“It’s okay to be scared about that too, you know. It’s a pretty big responsibility. And if you’re not quite ready to believe in yourself just yet, then I’ll just have to believe in you enough for the both of us. Because as much as you’re worrying now, I know that when the chips are down you can be one of the most focused, bravest, and toughest people I know. So you just remember that we believe in you, okay?” She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around her best friend, leaning her head against his chest as she hugged him.
Xander just smiled as he wrapped his arms around her. “How do you always know just what to say?” he asked, leaning down and placing a kiss on her forehead.
“Easy, because I’m your Willow.”
Xander smiled and squeezed her a little harder. “Yeah, you are.”
Enter Search Word(s): Lost Friends
“Hey, black-eyed girl. Whatcha doing?”
“Get out of here,” Willow hissed.
“Oh, no. You’re not the only one with powers, you know. You may be a hopped-up uber-witch but this carpenter can drywall you into the next century.”
Willow ignored him, concentrating on the idol once again. Blasting it with another stream of energy. Xander crawled to the base of the spire and stood up, his body once again cutting off the energy stream.
“You can’t stop this!”
“Yeah, I get that. It’s just where else am I going to go? You’ve been my best friend my whole life. World gonna end…where else would I want to be?”
“Is this the master plan? You’re going to stop me by telling me you love me?”
“Well, I was going to walk you off a cliff and hand you an anvil but it seemed kind of cartoony.”
“Still making jokes.”
“I’m not joking. I know you’re in pain. I can’t imagine the pain you’re in. And I know you’re about to do something apocalyptically evil and stupid and hey, I still wanna hang. You’re Willow.”
“Don’t call me that!”
“The first day of kindergarten you cried because you broke the yellow crayon and you were too afraid to tell anyone. You’ve come pretty far, ending the world not a terrific notion, but the thing is, yeah, I love you. I love crayon-breaky Willow and I love scary-veiny Willow. So if I’m going out, it’s here. You wanna kill the world, you start with me. I’ve earned that.”
“You think I won’t?”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll still love you.”
Willow’s face twisted in anger. “Shut up!” she commanded, slashing at the air. Xander winced as three large cuts opened on his face. He reached up and touched the cuts, looking down at the blood on his hand and then back up at Willow.
“I love you,” he repeated. Willow slashed the air again, nearly knocking Xander off his feet. His face twisted in pain as the slashes ripped his shirt open. Again, he looked up at her. “I love…”
Willow reached up and blasted him again with a bolt of magic before he could finish. Xander fell to the ground, clutching his midsection. Willow looked on, her expression of anger slowly changing into sorrow at what she was doing to her friend. Xander staggered to his feet, picking his head up to lock eyes with her again. He stumbled closer to her on hesitant legs.
“Shut up,” Willow commanded again, her voice far less steady than it had been. She blasted him again. Xander grunted in pain, but he didn’t fall. The blasts were getting weaker.
“I love you, Willow.”
“Stop,” Willow said weakly, as her tears started to come. She hit him with another blast, but it seemed to barely affect him. He kept walking toward her.
“I love you,” he said again. As he reached her, Willow struck out with her fists, hitting him on the chest as he drew her into his arms. The tears were coming full force now. She collapsed onto the ground with Xander still holding her, and cried into his chest. Her black hair slowly changed back to its original red. “I love you,” Xander whispered softly as he held her. Somewhere behind them, the glowing effigy began to fade.
Willow started sobbing harder. “I killed them,” she cried. “Buffy and Giles…they’re dead.”
“I know,” Xander said simply. He fought back his own tears that threatened to come. He didn’t know what else to say.
“Goddess, what have I done?”
“It wasn’t you,” Xander insisted. “It was the magic. It’s not your fault.”
Willow just shook her head. “It was me. I’m the one who practiced dark magic, I’m the one who lost control.” She choked back more tears. “And I’m the one who killed two people I love, and nearly destroyed the world.”
“I’m still here, and so is Dawn. We’ll get you help, Willow. We’ll get through this, I promise you.”
Willow just shook her head again. “Can’t change what’s been done, no matter what happens to me. Buffy, and Giles, and Tara will still be dead.”
“No, we can’t change the past, you’re right. But we can build a future. There’s always hope, and forgiveness. The people we love will always be with us, as long as we never forget them.”
Willow’s tears began to subside. “There is no hope for me,” she said in a somber tone. “No forgiveness.” She looked up and saw through the whole in Xander’s shirt, his amulet. The one she and Tara had given him, infused with part of themselves. The one he never took off. Xander saw the look on her face. If she had been a cartoon, a light bulb would have appeared over her head. She reached up and wrapped her hand around the amulet. “But you’re right about one thing. We will always be with you.”
Xander never got a chance to ask her what she meant. Before he could open his mouth, he felt this sudden rush of energy. His body was tingling all over. When he looked down, at Willow’s hand wrapped around the amulet, he saw a bright white light. It was beautiful, and so unlike anything he had ever seen before. When he looked to Willow’s face, he saw her eyes closed in concentration. After about a minute of this, Willow finally let go of the amulet. It gently fell back against Xander’s bare chest, and as soon as it touched him, Xander’s head began to swim. It was the same feeling that he had gotten when he first put the amulet on, the night of his birthday party, only twice as intense. It was as though love were a substance, and he was wrapped in it from head to toe. It was every kind word ever said to him. Every smile, every hug, every kiss. All rolled into one. By the time Xander shook the cobwebs loose and got his bearings again, Willow was rising to her feet.
Xander picked himself up as well. He was no longer in any pain. And when he looked down at himself, he saw that the scratches on his chest were gone. He touched his face, and found the wounds there to be gone as well. “What did you do to me?” he asked.
Willow just smiled. A true, genuine, just for him, Willow smile. “I love you too, Xander,” she said. “Never forget that. I’m sorry, for what I’ve done, and for what I’m about to do.” A single tear rolled down her cheek, and there was this sad acceptance in her eyes that Xander didn’t quite understand. “I hope one day that you’ll understand.” She reached out and cupped his cheek with her hand, before leaning in and kissing him ever so gently on the lips.
Willow broke the kiss, and he could feel her brush past him before it opened his eyes. He realized too late what was happening. He turned to grab her, but she slipped out of his grip. He was just too slow. He screamed her name, like he had never screamed before in his life. It was a sound filled with rage, and pain, and sorrow. It grated his throat, and rang in his ears. It was the only thing he had left to do, except watch.
Willow ran to the edge of Kingman’s Bluff, and jumped to her death.
Grayza was still sitting in the Aurora chair room, arns after she stopped her torment on Xander Harris and had him sent back to his cell. If she could have continued, she would have, but there’s only so much abuse a mind can take before it gives out and shuts down. And she wasn’t going to get anything from the human if he was dead. So there she sat, pouring over the data she had collected so far, and coming up with absolutely nothing of any interest.
Captain Braca stood tentatively in the doorway. Rumors of the failed interrogation had been flying through the ship since the human was taken back to his cell. But all anyone really knew, was that Grayza was not pleased, and the human was still alive. Two things that rarely happened following a session in the Aurora chair.
“Ma’am?” Braca probed gently.
“What is it, Braca!” she snapped.
“I…I have the results of the medical tests conducted on the human.”
“I told you to leave them on my desk!”
Braca bowed his head. He had decided to personally deliver the reports in the hopes of improving the Commandant’s mood, but he seemed to be failing in that regard quite rapidly. “Forgive me, Ma’am. But there’s something unusual here that I thought you’d like to see.”
Grayza rubbed her eyes. She was clearly frustrated. “What is it?”
Braca walked over to the console that she was seated behind and handed her the reports in question. “Well, it seems that all of the scans run put his age to be approximately twenty-five cycles.”
“So, these neurological scans show his memory engram levels to be much higher than they should be. He has approximately twenty-nine cycles worth of memories, which means he has four cycles worth of memories that are not his.”
Grayza’s demeanor instantly changed from anger to intrigue. “Are they sure about this?” she asked.
“Very sure, Ma’am. They ran several tests on themselves as a control, and they all came up accurate. There’s nothing wrong with the equipment.”
Grayza looked over the readouts, verifying for herself what Braca just told her. “This is extraordinary,” she muttered. “But impossible. These humans aren’t advanced enough.”
“Memory implantation technology, Captain. That’s what we’re talking about here. It’s the only possible explanation. I oversaw a project cycles ago that was working on it, but the scientists could never perfect it. The test subjects wouldn’t accept their new memories, they all went insane.” Grayza paused, looking up at the circular screen above the Aurora chair. “Of course!” she exclaimed. “That explains everything!”
“Explains what, Ma’am?”
Grayza tapped a few commands into the console and an image appeared on the screen above the chair, that of a young red-haired woman. “This woman appears in almost every memory I extracted from Mr. Harris, memories that make no sense. Scenes of fantastic battles against creatures of incredible strength and size, with amazing abilities. A giant snake, a cybernetic monster, even a goddess. I would almost call them dream images, if I didn’t know that the Aurora chair only scanned actual memories. It didn’t make sense, but now I understand what they are.”
“I’m afraid I still don’t understand.”
“Then shut-up and let me explain it!” She punched a few more commands into the console and the image on the screen changed to a battle scene, in the middle of a lush green jungle. “There was a block of memories, deep in his subconscious. I could tell that he was trying to hide it from me, so I assumed that it had to do with the other fugitives. But when I finally uncovered it, I found this. Scenes of combat mostly, but also cycles of training and conditioning. This is what he was trying to hide from me, and I finally understand why.
“These ‘soldier’ memories are the ones that have been implanted, and the memories of that woman, Willow, and all of the fantastic things that happened in them, that’s how the memories were integrated. She probably never even really existed. They just used her image to give him an emotional attachment to something, to give him something to fight for. And then they killed her, had her commit suicide right in front of him. It’s perfect!”
Braca clearly still didn’t understand, but he didn’t say anything.
“It caused him to close off his emotions, made him cold. Yet at the same time, it made him angry at the universe, and ready to fight. He became bitter, and hardened, and vicious. He became the perfect soldier. It’s positively brilliant! That’s why he was able to endure the Aurora chair’s effects, his emotional attachment to her is so strong, he had no problem concentrating on her, even through the pain.”
Grayza tapped more commands into the console, and the image changed again to a picture of Chiana. “The few memories I found that didn’t include Willow, included her. Now he’s got himself a whole new reason to fight. A living reason.” She laughed. “He thinks of himself as some kind of noble knight, fighting for his friends and what he believes in. But really, he’s just a machine, programmed to fight. The question now is how was it done? How did they get the memories to integrate so completely? I may be able to find out with further interrogation, now that I know what I’m looking for.
“The only thing I still don’t understand is how did he come to be working with these fugitives? And how is it that he is human? From the reports I’ve read from my predecessors about John Crichton, humans are slow-witted and technologically backward.”
“Perhaps Crichton is an anomaly, and these humans are more advanced than we thought,” Braca said. He handed Grayza another report. “The scans taken of the ship we found them in. Some of the technology is arcane, yet some of it is even more advanced than our own. The sub-light engine for example. And some of the components we’ve yet to identify at all.”
Grayza skimmed the report as she listened to Braca. “We’ll get answers from him, one way or the other.”
“What about Moya’s location?” Braca asked.
“I don’t think he knows. The fact that he was actively trying to hide his soldier memories makes me think that he knows they’re implanted, and didn’t want us to find out about this. If he knew where Moya was, he would have told me, to keep me from finding the implanted memories.”
“But I thought the purpose of integrating the memories was so that he thought they were his own.”
“Just the memories of the woman, Willow, and the rest of his friends. It’s what gives him his drive, his motivation. But the actual training and battle memories, that just gives him the knowledge he needs. It doesn’t matter if he knows they are false.”
“What about the Nebari? She must know the location of the Leviathan, we could interrogate her…”
“No!” Grayza interrupted. “Right now, she’s the only power we have over Harris. He doesn’t care about his own life, but he cares very much about hers. As long as she’s alive, and we have the power to kill her, than we have him in the palm of our hand. He’ll give us whatever we want.
“But we need to make sure that he knows she’s alive. Put them in the same cell.”
“And tell the engineers to keep studying that ship of theirs. There may be something useful in it.”
Xander was huddled in the corner of his cell, his arms wrapped around his legs as he rocked back and forth. He couldn’t help but think of the stories John had told him about Stark, how years of torture with the Aurora chair rendered him slightly insane. He was beginning to understand why now. He wasn’t sure what was real and what was imagined anymore. He decided to try and keep something hidden from the Aurora chair as a decoy, something that had nothing to do with anything. So he chose his soldier memories. They were already so buried in his mind that even he didn’t have access to them, so he figured that would make it that much harder for the Aurora chair to find them. And for a while it had worked, but eventually she found them. And something happened that Xander hadn’t expected. Once the Aurora chair accessed the soldier memories, they got pushed from his subconscious, back into his conscious again. They were clearer than ever now, and they were so jumbled with his real memories, that he didn’t know what was real anymore. It was like that feeling you get when you first wake up from a weird dream, and there’s a fog around your mind, making it unclear as to what’s real and what isn’t. The only difference was that the fog wasn’t clearing. His brain was like London in the middle of March.
His head was still throbbing slightly from the barrage he had taken from the Aurora chair. He tried to sleep, but his mind was just too confused, and it wouldn’t stay silent enough for him to lose consciousness. He knew that there was a reason he was there, he just couldn’t remember it. There was something he had to do, something very important, but he just couldn’t think of what it was.
Somebody was calling his name. Or maybe it was just a memory of someone calling his name.
Maybe he was imagining it. Maybe it was just another hallucination.
“Xander, please. Open your eyes. I need you to look at me.”
Xander opened his eyes, then immediately closed them again when he saw who was standing in front of him. “Please, go away,” he begged. He was almost near tears. Something was happening to him that scared him more than any demon ever had. He was losing his mind. “Please Tara, just go away. You’re dead. I know you’re dead, I saw you. So you can’t be here, okay. You can’t be here, you have to go…be dead, or something. Because if you’re here, than it means I’m crazy, and I don’t want to be crazy.”
“Xander, please listen to me. You’re not crazy, okay. It’s just going to take your mind some time to adjust to everything that’s happening to it. Between the effects of the Aurora chair and the soldier memories becoming active it’s a lot to deal with, I know. If it weren’t for us you’d probably be catatonic right now. But you need to help us Xander, you need to help us so we can help you. Please Xander, just open your eyes.”
Xander opened his eyes slowly, half expecting her to not be there. But she was there, crouching down in front of him, looking so much like Tara. Right down to that look she gets in her eyes when she’s scared but she doesn’t want anyone to know. “I’m scared,” Xander said. “I’m…I’m so confused.”
“I know sweetie,” she said with a mother’s tone. She laid her hand against Xander’s cheek, and it felt so real. It felt warm, and familiar. “I can’t stay long, we’re trying to get everything organized again and we need you grounded in reality while we’re doing it. So I need you to concentrate, okay. Concentrate on what you know is real. And if you feel scared, just remember that we’re here with you, Xander. We’re always with you, and we love you.”
Xander’s hand unconsciously wrapped around the amulet that hung from his neck and squeezed. He closed his eyes again and tried to concentrate. “The amulet is real,” he whispered to himself. “This floor is real. These walls are real. The pain…sweet baby Jesus is that ever real.”
When he opened his eyes again, Tara was gone. He could hear movement in the corridor outside of his cell. He watched as the cell door opened and two armed guards shoved someone inside, closing the door behind them. “Chiana!”
Her clothes were torn a little, and she had a fresh bruise on her face. She stumbled forward and fell down to her hands and knees. She looked up when Xander called her name, and he could see that her eyes were completely white. “Xander, is that you?”
Xander crawled over to her, which was about as much movement as his head could handle. “It’s me Chiana, it’s me.”
As soon as she felt him touch her, she wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his chest. The move sent them both staggering back against the wall. Xander winced at the impact but he held back from crying out, he didn’t want Chiana to think she’d hurt him. He adjusted the two of them so that they were as comfortable as they could get, and he held her as tightly as he could. He didn’t ask about her eyes, at that moment he was just happy that she was alive, and that he was with her.
“Chiana is real,” he whispered to himself, pressing his face against the top of her head. “Chiana is real.” After a few minutes, they both fell asleep.
When Xander woke up, he realized that something was different. It took him a moment to realize what it was. His head didn’t hurt anymore. And after shaking off the initial grogginess after waking up, his mind was pretty clear. When he thought about it, he realized that he could still clearly remember all of his soldier memories, but they no longer confused him. He could tell the difference between them and his real memories, as clear as they were. It was a strange feeling, but it was one that he welcomed in favor of the chaos his mind had been the night before.
He looked down at Chiana who was still asleep in his arms. She looked so peaceful like that, he could almost fool himself into believing that everything was all right. “Chiana,” he said softly, trying to wake her up. “Chiana, wake up.”
She stirred a little before opening her eyes. Xander could see that her vision must have come back during the night. “Xander?” she said blearily.
“How do you feel?”
“Like dren,” she said, rubbing her face. She crawled out of Xander’s arms and stretched, sitting on the floor across from him. “But I’m alive.”
“What happened after they knocked me out in the hangar bay? Did they…what did they do to you?”
“They just roughed me up a little bit, gave me a rifle butt to the face when I didn’t move fast enough,” she said, indicating the bruise on her face. “I don’t think anything’s broken though. What about you?”
“They poked and prodded me a little in their med bay. Then I got the ‘This is Your Life’ treatment, courtesy of the Aurora chair.”
“Oh god, are you okay?”
“I was pretty out of it for a while, but I’m fine now. I wonder why they decided to put us in the same cell.”
“I don’t know,” Chiana said. She saw that Xander was looking at her strangely. “What?”
“I saw your eyes last night,” he said. “Why did you do it?”
“The lock on the cell door,” she said. “I wanted to see what the command sequence was to open it. I got it.”
“That’s not going to do us any good in here!” Xander snapped. “You can’t keep using your abilities Chiana, you know what’s going to happen. And what if someone saw you?”
“Hey, I was just trying to help, okay! It’s not going to matter if I’m blind or not if they execute us!”
Xander sat back against the wall and closed his eyes, blowing a frustrated breath out between his teeth. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to snap at you. I just don’t like you risking yourself like that.”
“Life is all about risk, Xander. Especially our lives. It was my choice.”
“I know,” he said solemnly. “You’re right. It’s just…seeing you like that last night, it got me scared.”
“I was scared too,” she admitted. “In fact, I still am.” She reached out and took Xander’s hand. “I just got you back, I’m not ready to die yet.”
“We’re not going to die,” Xander insisted.
“Then what are we going to do?”
“We’re going to get out of here. And we’re going to do it before Moya shows up.”
Xander opened his mouth to answer, but stopped as he heard movement in the hall outside their cell. He rose to his feet, as did Chiana. “We’re going to wait for our moment,” he said. Outside of the cell they could see armed soldiers, getting ready to open the door. “You’re going to have to trust me, okay. Just sit tight, I’ll get us out of this, I promise.”
Xander once again found himself sitting in the Aurora chair, at the mercy of Commandant Grayza. But the circumstances were a little different this time. For one, Xander had his clothes back on. But the main difference was the attitudes of the people in the room. The first time around, Grayza was arrogant and superior, while Xander was tense and afraid. Grayza was more unsure this time, and angry. While Xander was calm and focused. Xander had survived the chair once, and given Grayza nothing she wanted. The balance of power had shifted. Grayza was someone who needed to be in absolute control of every situation, and she had lost some of that control. Xander had observed this much, and knew to exploit a weakness in his enemy when he saw it.
“So, here we are again,” Xander said, breaking the silence as Grayza worked at the chair’s controls. “You looking for more home movies? Don’t you Peace Keepers have more important things to worry about, like the Scarrens. You’d think that you have better things to do than root around in my head.”
“Oh, I consider what’s in your head to be very important, Mr. Harris,” Grayza answered.
“Well, I hope for your sake that you have better luck this time. I mean, this has got to be getting pretty embarrassing for you. A simple human like me, you should be able to crack my head open like a melon and scoop out whatever you want.”
Grayza walked out from behind the console and over to the chair, face to face with Xander. “I’m beginning to think that we’ve underestimated your race, and that you’re not nearly as simple as we thought. For instance, the implanted memories I discovered. Tell me, how can a simple backward species perfect a technology that has eluded Peace Keeper scientists for decades?”
“I’ll tell you if you tell me something. You’re in command of this ship, and the thousands of soldiers aboard, right? There’s just one thing that’s been bothering me since I met you.” Xander paused and Grayza raised her eyebrows in question. “Why are you dressed like a hooker?” Grayza frowned and stalked back to the console. “Don’t feel like chatting anymore?” Xander asked. “Was it something I saAAAAAAARGH!”
Grayza activated the chair, cutting Xander off in mid sentence. He continued screaming for a few more moments until the chair finished it’s first scan. The pain faded, and Xander tried to control his breathing.
“You can save us both a lot of time and pain if you just tell me what I want to know,” Grayza said.
“I told you, I don’t know where Moya is.”
“And I believe you,” Grayza said. “But that’s no longer what I want to know. I want to know about the implanted memories that you tried to hide from me yesterday, the soldier memories. I want to know how they were implanted.”
Xander actually smiled. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” he said.
Xander smiled again as he locked eyes with Grayza. “Magic.”
Grayza activated the chair again and Xander’s smile twisted into a grimace of pain. The chair cycled again, leaving Xander looking spent. A sheen of sweat covered his face, and his breathing was labored.
“Perhaps the Nebari knows,” Grayza said casually. “She may be able to tell me how you came to be traveling with their little group. And I’m guessing that she’s the one who knows where Moya is, or at least where and when you’re supposed to rendezvous with them. Maybe I should put her in the chair and, how did you say, crack her head open like a melon.”
“No? You don’t like that idea? Well, I won’t have to do that if I get what I want from you. Tell me what you know about the technology used to implant these memories in your brain. Who did it? How was the problem with rejection solved?”
“I don’t know!” Xander shouted. “And even if I did I wouldn’t tell you squat!”
“Such a shame. We’ll just have to do this the hard way. The mind can only take so much abuse. You’ll break eventually,” Grayza said as she activated the chair again. Xander’s eyes screwed shut and he gripped the sides of the chair until his knuckles were white, resisting the urge to scream.
Hours later, Braca received a call that he was needed in the Aurora chair room. When he got there, before he could enter, Grayza came out.
“He’s unconscious,” the Commandant said. “Have him brought to my quarters.”
“I think it’s time to try a new approach. You have your orders, Captain.”
Xander opened his eyes and shook his head to clear the fog. The after effects of the Aurora chair weren’t quite as severe as they had been the first time, but his head was still throbbing. He must have passed out while he was still in the chair, he realized. But as he looked around the room, he also realized that he was no longer in the Aurora chair, nor was he in his cell.
He was in some sort of extravagant bedchamber. Everywhere he looked, the walls were covered with paintings and tapestries. There was a huge, lush, canopy bed topped with pillows. The whole thing reminded him of an Arabian harem from one of those old movies. The bed specifically, which he was getting an extra close look at due to the fact that he was tied to it. His arms were spread apart, tied to the headboard with strips of fabric. He tested his bonds, but the material was strong and the knots tight. His shirt was missing, but his pants were still on. He spotted a dressing table not far from the bed, on top of which sat his shirt, his sword, and his gun belt.
“Ah, I see that you’re awake.”
Xander turned his head at the sound of the voice and his eyes rested upon a most unusual sight. It was Grayza, wearing a sheer white negligee, and nothing else. The neckline was almost identical to what he had seen her wearing before, only now her arms and legs were exposed too. The bottom of the garment only went down to her mid-thigh.
Xander’s face scrunched in confusion. “First you strap me into that brain sucking way-back machine, and now…” he was at a loss for words. “I have to say, you Peace Keepers sure have a wide variety of interrogation techniques.”
“This isn’t an interrogation, Xander,” Grayza said, walking closer to the bed. “I just wanted to talk to you someplace more private. There’s no reason for us to be enemies, we both want the same thing.”
“You want to kill me and all of my friends. I want to get off this ship and never see you again as long as I live. I’m afraid I don’t see how that’s the same thing.”
“We both want to stop a war, any way we can,” Grayza said. She climbed up onto the bed and onto Xander, straddling him.
“And tying me to your bed is going to accomplish that how exactly?”
“Don’t play dumb with me Xander,” she said, tracing her finger along his chest. “We both know you’re not. I want the key to the memory implantation technology that’s in your brain.”
“And if you get it, what will you do with it?”
“Use it, of course. We could take the memories and experiences of our greatest soldiers, and implant them into all of our troops. We’ll have an army of super soldiers, and an edge against the Scarrens.”
“I thought your job was to find diplomatic solutions to the Scarren problem,” Xander said. “Isn’t that why the High Command sent you to put the kybosh on Scorpius’ wormhole project?”
“I am seeking diplomatic solutions. But we can’t come to the negotiation table from a position weakness. The Scarrens will see it for what it is, a last resort effort to avert a war. And they will strike, taking advantage of our desperation. No, the only thing those animals understand is power, strength. We have to show them that we are not afraid of war.”
“So why kill the wormhole project?”
“It was a futile effort. The results, if any, would have come far too late to be of any use to us against the Scarrens.”
Xander nodded, understanding. “But new alliances, those can be forged quickly. Say, with the Luxans for example.”
“Yes, but with an army of enhanced soldiers, we won’t have to waste time negotiating with potential allies. We can simply…annex their worlds.”
“You mean conquer them,” Xander said.
“Semantics,” Grayza said. “Sacrifices must be made for the greater good.”
“For the Peace Keepers greater good you mean.”
“Why are you telling me all of this?”
“As a gesture of friendship, and trust. That’s why I’ve brought your weapons here,” she said, gesturing toward the dressing table where Hero and Naomi sat. “As I said, we don’t have to be enemies. I’m giving you an opportunity here to help prevent a war.”
“And after trying and failing to remove the information with force, you think that you can just ask nicely and I’ll turn it over?”
Grayza smiled as she ran her thumb down her own chest. “Something like that,” she said, taking that same hand and caressing Xander’s cheek with it, being careful to make sure her thumb passed under his nose.
Xander thought about what she had said. It was true, he did want to prevent this war. And he truly believed that she wanted to prevent it as well. But at what cost, that was the question. How many innocents would die if she got what she wanted, and the Peace Keepers became even more powerful than they already were. Was it worth it? It didn’t exactly fit with the vision of the future that Jules had told him, one where the Peace Keeper regime fell and was replaced with a civilian Sebecean government. How could that happen if the military became even stronger than they already were? But he wasn’t supposed to think about that, he wasn’t supposed to let his knowledge of the future sway his judgment. He was supposed to trust his instincts, and his instincts told him not to trust this woman as far as Rygel could throw her.
It was at that moment, right as Xander was about to tell her to go frell herself, that he began to feel very strange. His head was swimming, his pulse racing, and his skin was warming up. He was suddenly very aware of the feel of Grayza’s bare thighs against his abdomen as she straddled him. He felt an incredible urge move through him, an urge to feel her body against his own. His arms moved, like they had a will of their own, pulling against their bonds. Something deep within him, something animalistic growled. It was need. Pure, unadulterated need, that’s what he was feeling. He needed her unlike he had ever needed anything before.
She sat there, smiling down at him, not an inkling of surprise on her face by his actions. After a few seconds, his arms fell back down again and his eyes clothes. His head tossed back and forth for a moment, his teeth clenched. Finally, his eyes opened again and locked onto Grayza’s.
“Untie me,” he growled.
Grayza just smiled as she climbed off of him and walked over to the dressing table. She picked up his sword and carried it over to the bed. She cut his first hand free, and then reached over his body to cut the other. As soon as both his hands were free, Xander grabbed her and flipped her over so that he was on top of her. She yelped with surprise as the sword clattered to the ground. His arms pinned hers to the bed as he looked down at her. After a few seconds, he took one of her hands and lifted it up to the fabric that still hung from the headboard, wrapping the material around her wrist.
“What are you doing?” she asked, slightly alarmed.
Xander smiled. “We’re going to see just how much you trust me, Mele-On. Call it…a test of faith.”
Grayza wasn’t worried. She knew how powerful her pheromones were, no man could resist her. Xander tied both of her wrists tightly before climbing off of her. He grabbed a pillow off the bed and took the case off of it, ripping it into strips. He used the fabric to tie her ankles to the footboard. Then, he disappeared from her view. Her range of motion was limited, and she couldn’t see where he had gone. She was starting to get nervous when she spotted him walking back around the bed, his shirt and gun belt on.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
Xander didn’t answer, he just put his foot up on the bed as he fastened the bottom of his holster around his leg. He leaned down and picked his sword up off the floor and slid it into the scabbard on his back.
Now Grayza was getting worried. “Untie me!” she demanded.
“Sorry Mele-On, no can do. Whatever mojo you put on me, it didn’t work,” Xander said. “I’ve considered your offer, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to turn you down. You’re right, I do want to prevent this war just as much as you do. But I’m not going to choose one evil over another to do it, that’s no choice at all.”
“You’re making a mistake.”
“I don’t think so. I’ve made enough in my life to know the difference.”
The Commandant growled in frustration and fought against her bindings. “This is impossible! No man can resist me!”
Xander just smirked as he picked up another strip of fabric and moved toward the head of the bed. “I hate to bruise your fragile ego, but I was faking it. Now open wide.” Xander tied the fabric around her head, forcing the makeshift gag into her mouth. “I hate to leave you like this, half naked and tied to your own bed for one of your lackeys to find you. Then again, the way you run this boat, that might not be a problem. See you in the funny papers.”
And with that, Xander headed for the door. Grayza struggled and yelled, but Xander ignored her as he stepped cautiously into the corridor.
Now, he had a real problem. He had memorized the route between his cell and the Aurora chair room, and he was pretty sure that Chiana could get them from the cell to the hangar bay. But he had been unconscious when they took him to Grayza’s quarters, and he now had no idea where he was.
Xander stalked through the corridors of the ship, looking for anything that looked familiar. He resisted the urge to run, he didn’t want to draw too much attention to himself. He walked briskly, keeping his posture forceful, like he belonged there and had nothing to worry about. For the most part it worked, he passed a few people in the halls who didn’t give him a second look. But then as he was rounding one corner, he ran into two of the armored security personnel. The same guys he had fought in the Hangar bay, and who had transported him to and from his cell. They wore helmets with visors, and light body armor. They recognized him immediately.
“Hey, what are you doing out here?” one of them demanded, grabbing his shoulder.
“Commandant Grayza asked me to get her something to eat from the galley,” Xander answered. “She’s…a little tied up at the moment.”
He had about a half a second to decide whether or not these goons were buying it. He couldn’t risk them calling reinforcements, or setting off some kind of alarm. If they found out he was loose, he wouldn’t stand a chance. The guard looked at his companion, and then back to Xander. He could see it in their eyes, they weren’t buying it. Xander knocked the guard’s hand off his shoulder with his right hand, and swung his left with everything he had. He caught the guard in the chin, dazing him. Then he grabbed his shoulders and used him to pivot, kicking the other one square in the chest and knocking him down. He drew his pistol and fired at the one on the ground before he had a chance to get up, striking him in the neck. It was the most obvious weak spot of the armor that Xander had noticed the first time he laid eyes on these sentries. Their lower face and neck was completely exposed.
Xander sung the blaster around to the other guard, but he wasn’t fast enough. The guard knocked the weapon out of his hand. He grabbed Xander by both shoulders, digging his thumbs into the pressure points of the upper arm, trying to take him down. Xander grabbed his arms and planted his foot in his stomach. He rolled backwards and flipped him over behind him. He got back to his feet as quickly as he could. He had about a second before the guard got up again and drew his own pulse pistol. Naomi was too far out of reach, so he drew his sword. The second weakness in the armor that he had noticed, the first day they brought him to the Aurora chair, was the gap between the chest plate and the back plate. It was wide enough to slide a sword into. He lunged forward and plunged the sword into the man’s side as he was still getting up. He tried to angle the sword upwards, to puncture the lungs and keep the guy from screaming as he died. He must have hit his mark, because he didn’t make a sound as he fell dead to the deck.
Xander pulled his sword out, and quickly looked around to make sure no one else was around. Seeing that the corridor was empty, he grabbed each guard by the arm, and slowly dragged them into a small supply closet that he passed earlier. The door slid shut as he got the bodies inside. A minute later, it slid open again to reveal a man in an armored chest plate and helmet, with a sword on his back. He picked his fallen pulse pistol off the floor and slid it back into his holster before flipping the visor on the helmet down to hide his eyes and continuing his way down the hall.
Chiana was sitting in the cell, worrying about Xander, when she heard the sound of footsteps coming down the hall at a fast pace. She looked up at the door in time to see a face in a sentry’s helmet looking through the small window in the door into the cell.
“He’s not in here dren-for-brains!” she spat. “You guys took him this morning, remember?”
The man flipped up his visor. “My name is Luke Skywalker, and I’m here to rescue you.”
“Xander!” Chiana exclaimed, on her feet in an instant and bounding toward the door. “How did you get free?”
“Long story and not enough time to tell it. I’ve already been missing for a half an arn, and we have to get to the hangar bay.”
“Half an arn? What took you so long?”
“Excuse me, okay! There aren’t exactly any maps around here, and I was unconscious when they took me to Grayza’s quarters.”
“Grayza’s quarters? How did you…”
“Will you just give me the code to open this door, we’re on the clock here!”
“Right, sorry.” She told him the sequence to open the door, and he typed the commands into the controls panel. The lock clicked and the door slid open. Chiana ran out and wrapped Xander in a big hug. Xander hugged her back.
“What do you say we get the hell out of here?” he said. “We’ve got an appointment to keep.”
“Yeah, let’s go home.”
Xander let Chiana lead the way to the Hangar bay. He kept his visor down and Naomi out, pretending to be just another guard transporting a prisoner. No one gave them a second look the whole way there. Once they got there though, they had a whole new problem. There were two armed guards standing at the entrance of the Hangar bay. They stopped Xander and Chiana when they tried to enter.
“This is a high security area, I’ll need to see your clearance soldier.”
“Since when is the hangar a high security area?” Xander asked.
“There’s an alien craft in there, being studied by the techs. Captain Braca ordered the extra security.”
“I’ve got one of the prisoners here from that craft,” Xander said. “She’s agreed to show the techs how the ship works in exchange for a merciful death. Commandant Grayza ordered me to escort her down here. She didn’t say anything about a security clearance.”
“Braca probably never told Grayza about it,” the other guard said.
The first guard nodded. “Okay, go ahead in. But keep a close eye on her.”
Xander nodded. “Will do.”
They stepped inside and Xander took a second to look around. There were several entrances and exits throughout the room, as well as on the observation tier above. There were a few Prowlers in the bay along with the DeLorean. Xander could see several Peace Keepers hovering around the time machine, and some equipment sitting next to it. There were also about a dozen guards spread throughout the room, milling around and trying not to look bored.
Xander and Chiana walked up to the DeLorean. “The prisoner has decided to cooperate,” he announced to the techs.
One of them looked up and smiled. “Excellent. Can you tell us how to deactivate this defensive shield?”
“Oh sure, that’s easy,” Chiana said, walking around to the passenger side while Xander stayed next to the driver’s side. All of the techs had their eyes on Chiana, so they didn’t see Xander take a small device from his gun belt and point it at the car. “Computer, deactivate shield,” Chiana said. Xander pressed the button on the remote and the shield went down. “Now, let me show you how the doors work.”
“Oh, I bet I can figure it out,” Xander said. Before anyone had time to object, they both grabbed the door handles on the doors and opened them quickly, catching a few of the closest techs in the face with the doors. “Oh, sorry about that,” Xander said, before he drew his pulse pistol and started firing.
He caught a few of the techs in the arms and legs, the rest scurried. He and Chiana got into the DeLorean and closed the doors quickly, activating the shield again. Immediately, the shield lit up as it started taking weapons fire. “That shield isn’t going to hold for long, it’s only a deflector shield, it isn’t meant to protect against energy weapons.” Xander was already starting to power up the engines as he talked. He took his helmet off and dropped it between the seats.
“How are you planning on getting the hangar doors open?” Chiana asked.
“I’m not.” Chiana didn’t get a chance to ask him what he meant before he pulled back on the wheel and the car lurched into the air. “Time to give these guys second thoughts about their career choice.”
The DeLorean turned, staying low to the deck, and started flying straight toward the closest group of soldiers firing at it. They jumped out of the way before the ship collided with any of them. The time machine turned before it hit the wall and headed toward another group. Pretty soon it was bobbing and weaving throughout the whole bay, making anyone think twice about firing on it.
Finally Xander had enough and maneuvered the ship against the far wall of the bay. “How big do you think this room is?” he asked Chiana.
Chiana looked at him confused. “What? I don’t know, a hundred metras by fifty maybe. Why?”
“Okay, assuming a metra is close to a meter, that sounds about right,” Xander said to himself. “If I do it corner to corner I should have enough room.”
“Xander, what are you…no. No, you can’t be thinking what I think you’re thinking.”
“It’s the only chance we have. They’re not going to open the doors for us, and if they keep firing on us like this, they’ll eventually bring us down.”
“If the shields on this thing are so weak, why didn’t they just blast through them when they were trying to get inside?”
“Probably because they didn’t want to damage it. It’s not like they thought we’d be able to escape.”
“This is crazy!”
“We have plenty of room to get up to eighty-eight…I think.”
“And if you’re wrong? We’ll be splattered across the wall of the hangar! Grayza won’t have to put you in the Aurora chair to study your brain, she can scrape it off the wall and get a real good look.”
“Enough! Look, if we stay here, we’re as good as dead, and so is the rest of the universe. We can make it, trust me.”
Chiana nodded. “Okay, I trust you,” she said as she pulled the double shoulder harness seat belt over her shoulders and buckled it.
“Okay, I’m going to have to charge the impulse drive a little higher than I’m supposed to in order to build up enough power for the speed burst I need. But don’t worry, I’ll have plenty of time before it overloads.” Chiana’s eyes went wide at the word ‘overload’, but she held her tongue. “Impulse drive powering up,” Xander said, typing commands into the console over his head. “Destination entered, time circuits on.”
He reached into his shirt and pulled out his amulet. He gave it a kiss before crossing himself, the way he learned in church when he was a kid. “Just in case,” he muttered with a shrug when Chiana looked at him. She tried to duplicate the move. “Close enough.”
“Warning, impulse reactor reaching critical mass,” the electronic voice of the computer warned.
“Okay, here goes everything,” Xander said. He offered his hand to Chiana, who took it readily and squeezed. Xander said a silent prayer in his head, and pushed his foot down on the accelerator.
The ship lurched forward as the impulse engines roared to life. The second that it took for the inertial dampeners to compensate was enough to thrust them both back into their seats. Xander watched the speedometer climb higher and higher, while Chiana watched the far wall get closer and closer. And just when it seemed like they were about to crash, Chiana screamed and covered her face with her arm.
But the moment passed. Chiana’s scream faded. And when she peeked out from above her arm, all she saw in front of them was open space. “We…we’re alive?” she asked, not sure she could trust her own eyes.
“We’re alive,” Xander reassured.
Chiana’s face broke into a relieved smile. “It worked!” she said, excitedly. She reached across the middle of the two seats and pulled Xander into a hug. “You did it,” she said. “I never doubted you for a microt.”
“Oh, really?” Xander asked with a smile, pulling away from the hug. “What about all that stuff about Grayza scraping my brains off the wall?”
“Okay, maybe a microt. Forgive me?”
Chiana smiled and hugged him again. She pulled back a little bit, then leaned in and kissed him. Xander was a little surprised at first, but after a second he started kissing her back.
“John to Xander, Xander do you copy?” John’s voice came through the comm. system and Xander and Chiana broke apart.
“They always interrupt just when it starts getting good,” she muttered to herself.
Xander smiled. “Yeah, we’re here John.”
“I guess you were right, you did make it back before we knew it. It’s only been five minutes. How long has it been for you guys?”
“About two days,” Xander answered.
“Two days? What happened down there?”
“I’ll fill you in once we’re aboard.”
“Okay, hangar doors are open and ready.”
“Roger that,” Xander said, maneuvering the ship back toward Moya. “We’re on our way home.”
Xander was sitting on the floor in Pilot’s den, trying to meditate. It had been a few hours since he and Chiana came back aboard. Moya had already starburst twice, just in case Grayza’s command carrier was still anywhere nearby. He told everyone everything that had happened, including the things that Chiana hadn’t been present for. Excluding the hallucinations he had had of his friends, he didn’t think they needed to know about that. But he told them everything from Grayza discovering his soldier memories, to what happened in her quarters. Jool seemed to think it was some kind of glandular implant that Grayza had which increased the pheromone production in her sweat glands. Though why it didn’t work on Xander she didn’t know.
He kept trying to clear his thoughts, but he just couldn’t. His mind was racing. All he could think about were the mistakes he had made, the risks he had taken on this quest of his for answers. And in the process, he almost got Chiana, and everyone else for that matter, killed. They may have escaped with their lives, but they lost any advantage they had over the Peace Keepers when it came to the element of surprise. They knew about him now, and they knew about the DeLorean. They didn’t know everything, but it was enough.
Xander closed his eyes and tried again to focus, but he just couldn’t do it. He finally gave up, opening his eyes in time to see Chiana walk in.
“I thought I might find you here,” she said to Xander. “Hi, Pilot.”
“Chiana,” Pilot returned.
“I was trying to meditate, but I’m not having any luck,” Xander said.
“Oh, I can leave you alone if you want.”
“No, I was just about to give up anyway. What’s up?”
“I just…are you mad at me?” Chiana asked.
Xander blinked in surprise. “What? No, of course not. Why would I be mad at you?”
“I don’t know, I just…” Chiana started nervously, pulling on her fingers. Whatever it was she was clearly bothered by it.
“Come here, sit with me,” Xander said. He opened his legs and let Chiana sit between them with her back to him. He put his arms around her waist and she leaned into his touch. “What is it? You can tell me.”
“When I kissed you, in your ship, you were surprised. And you seemed kind of distant, when you were telling us all everything that happened. I thought maybe you were upset with me. I know that I have a tendency to be…forward, and you’ve been so good to me since…well, you know. And I understand if you don’t see me that way. I just wanted to make sure that I didn’t offend you or anything.” Her voice sounded so scared, like if she said the wrong thing it would be the end of everything.
Xander didn’t say anything at first. He just squeezed her a little tighter, letting his head rest on her back. He silently cursed himself. “God Chiana, I am so sorry. I’ve been a world class fool.”
Chiana turned in his embrace to face him, moving so that she was sitting on one of his legs. “I don’t understand.”
“I’ve been so afraid since I got here, for you and for me. You went through so much with that…monster. And I just…I don’t know how to make it better. So, I guess I have been a little overly cautious and gentle with you. But I never meant for it to make you feel like I don’t care for, or that I don’t want to touch you, because I do. I care for you more than I ever thought possible again. And I’m sorry that I ever made you feel like I didn’t. I do want to be with you, I just…I don’t want to hurt you.”
Chiana looked like she was about to cry. But she just blinked away her unshed tears and leaned in to wrap her arms around Xander. Xander hugged her back. “I’m not made of glass, you know,” she finally said against his chest.
“I know,” he said. “I should have trusted that, trusted you to set the pace that you were comfortable with. I won’t make that mistake again, I promise.”
Chiana just nodded against him, not trusting her voice. After a few minutes like that she pulled away slightly. She noticed a small holographic display device sitting on the deck next to Xander. “John showed you that transmission they intercepted I take it,” she said.
Xander picked up the device and activated it. A rotating, three-dimensional image of himself appeared. “You mean this glorified wanted poster? Yeah, he showed me. I feel all special now, Grayza added me to the list of thorns in her side. At least I’m in good company,” he said, flipping through the rest of the images in the device. It changed from himself, to John, to D’Argo, to Aeryn, to Rygel, and finally to Chiana. “Wow, look at that one. She’s cute!” Chiana giggled and gave Xander a playful shove. Xander laughed too.
“You’ve only been here not even a month and you’ve already had to rescue me twice. That’s got to be a new record, even for me,” Chiana said.
“Yeah, but this last one was my fault, so rescuing you was the least I could do.”
“Your fault? How do you figure that?”
“Come on, I’m the one who dragged you on this stupid quest to begin with, just so I could get some answers.”
“You did it for me, remember? To find out if I was strong enough for the visions.”
“I had selfish reasons too. I’m so afraid of making a mistake out here, of doing the wrong thing and screwing up. I just wanted someone to pat me on the head and tell me that I was doing the right thing. Maybe I convinced myself that I was just doing it for you, but I’m not so sure anymore.”
“Well I am sure,” Chiana disagreed. “When The Oracle asked you to chose your first question, knowing that you might not get another, you asked about me, without hesitating. Maybe you did want to know about this destiny thing of yours too, but that’s far from selfish. We’re talking about stopping a war and saving billions of lives. Unless selfish means the exact opposite of what I think it means, you’re way off the mark here.”
Xander couldn’t help but smile at her. “Maybe,” he conceded.
“No maybes about it.” She reached up and patted Xander on the top of the head. “You’re doing the right thing,” she said. “There, does that make you feel better?”
Xander smiled again and pulled her into a hug. “Yes, it does,” he said. “What would I do without you?”
“Probably brood and sulk a lot.”
“Probably,” Xander agreed.
Chiana settled into his embrace again, just enjoying being close to him. “So,” she said after a minute. “You really didn’t mind that I kissed you?”
“Mind? Are you kidding? It isn’t very often that I get kissed by a beautiful woman, but as kisses go, I’d have to say that it was pretty amazing.”
“Really. Would I lie to you?”
“So, what would you think if I wanted to do it again?”
“I wouldn’t be adverse to it,” he answered.
Chiana turned so that she was facing him completely, her legs straddling his. She put her arms around his neck and his settled around her waist. “Really?” she asked again in a whisper as her face got closer to his.
“Really,” Xander answered, just before their lips touched.
Behind them, forgotten by both, Pilot smiled.
The bell over the door at the Magic Box rang as Xander stepped inside. He looked around and noticed that it looked quite a bit different from the last time he had seen it, when Willow and Tara gave him advice about Chiana. It was still clean, and brightly lit, with full shelves and in tact display cases. But now there were also filing cabinets throughout the room. Lots of filing cabinets. Every spare bit of room in the store was filled with them, stacked on top of one another. He spotted Willow, standing on top of the table in the back, looking through one of the cabinet drawers with one hand and holding a stack of file folders in the other.
“Willow,” he called out to her.
She turned and smiled at him. Her hair looked mused, and she had bags under her eyes. She looked exhausted, but happy to see him. “Xander,” she said. She climbed down from the table and started making her way though the chaos toward him. Xander met her halfway.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “What is all this?”
“Well, this is your brain. And this is your brain on the Aurora chair,” Willow joked. “Any questions?”
“Yeah, I kind of figured that. Every time that damn chair scanned your brain, it was like a tornado ripping through here. And then, when it pushed your soldier memories to the surface, it got even worse. The four of us have been up almost this whole time trying to sort through it all.”
“The four of you?”
“Me, Tara, Buffy and Giles,” Willow answered.
Xander looked around the room, at the cabinets. He looked at the labels of some of the ones closest to him. ‘Birthdays, 10-15’ one of them read. ‘Erotic Dreams, High School Years, Vol. 9’ and ‘Willow Memories, Vol. 291’ two others said. “This isn’t a dream, is it?”
“Yes and no,” Willow answered. “We are inside your brain, and your subconscious is creating this environment to interpret all of the information that it’s receiving, the same way it creates dream images. But the four of us are real, we’re not figments of your imagination. We’re not hallucinations, at least not in the classic sense of the word.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Do you remember the bluff, when you saved the world?” Willow asked him.
A look of sadness crossed Xander’s face. It was something that he would never forget. It was the days his friends died. The day his life changed forever. “I remember.”
“I told you that we would always be with you, do you remember that?”
“You did something to the amulet,” he said, looking down at it hanging from his neck.
Willow nodded. “It already held aspects of me and Tara, from the magiks that we infused it with when we gave it to you. When I…when I killed Buffy and Giles, I drained their life force. I used it to charge the amulet, along with as much of my own energy as I could fill it with. It was my hope that it would protect you, and that you would be able to feel us with you, always.”
“So…the four of you are trapped inside the amulet?”
“No, no, it’s not like that. Willow, Buffy, Giles and Tara died, and their souls moved on to the next realm. What are contained in the amulet are aspects of them, a small piece of each of their life force. That’s what we are. And we’ve been with you always, since that day on the bluff. It’s kind of like the enjoining spell we did to defeat Adam, only not nearly as powerful. The four of us have latched on to different aspects of you. Mind, body, heart, and soul. Just like before, only Tara’s the heart now. But you’re still you, we’re just…kind of in the background.”
It was a lot to take in, and Xander was trying to process all of the information. “Why…why haven’t you told me any of this until now?”
“It took a while for us to be incorporated into your mind the way we are now. We thought it best to remain in the background, nudging you along in the right direction. But with everything that’s happened, especially after you were captured, we thought it was time to take a more active role. We needed to help you keep your mind organized, especially after the soldier memories were released, or you never would have been able to escape.”
“I would have gone insane,” Xander said.
Willow nodded. “Your mind was in chaos. Incorporating the soldier memories was our first priority, but even after we did that, even now, there’s still work to be done. Those pheromones Grayza released on you did a real number on your hormones, but we managed to purge them from your system and clear your head in time for you to escape.”
Xander leaned against one of the filing cabinets and slid down it to the floor. “Why?” he finally said after a moment. “Why did you do it?”
“To protect you, like I…”
“No,” he interrupted. “Why did you jump? Why did you leave me?”
Willow kneeled down next to him and put her hand on his arm. “I’m not going to make excuses,” she said after a moment, her voice choked with emotion. “It was a mistake, the last in a long list of many. I just…I didn’t know how to live anymore, with what I had done. I wasn’t strong enough.”
“You were strong,” Xander objected. “You gave me strength, from the day I met you.”
“And you gave it to me, too.”
“I guess it just wasn’t enough.”
“Please Xander, don’t think that. Don’t ever think that. You stopped me from destroying the world because of how much you love me, because of how strong you are. What I did was my fault, and no one else’s. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Willow said as she started to cry.
Xander sniffed and wiped a tear from his cheek. He pulled Willow into a fierce hug. “It’s okay, Wills,” he said after a minute of just holding her. “I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago.”
“I know,” Willow said. She pulled away from the hug and wiped her face. “I mean, hey, I live in your head, remember. I know everything you know.”
Xander smiled at her, then his expression changed to one of fright. “Everything?” he asked.
Willow laughed. “Don’t worry, I stay away from the really embarrassing stuff.”
“Good,” Xander said with relief. Willow laughed again, and pretty soon Xander joined her. It felt so good to laugh with her again. And for one brief moment, it was almost like things were back the way they were again.
“There’s something else I need to tell you,” Willow said after a while. “It has to do with those hormones Grayza woke up with her patent-pending, mind-altering breast sweat.”
“What is it?”
Willow stood up and motioned for Xander to follow. She led him through a maze of filing cabinets until they were in the back of the shop, at the door to the training room. She opened the door and pointed inside. “It woke something else up too.”
Inside the room, there was a large cage. And inside that cage, a hyena was pacing back and forth. It spotted Xander and threw itself at the bars of the cage, growling and frothing at the mouth. It’s howl echoed through the room like laughter.
“Oh, God,” Xander said, horrified. “Not again.”