Final Attempt

Aside: Willow

-FAA:W-

The young woman twitches her black coat open a little further, quickens her pace a tiny bit. It's a little dark, about an hour after sundown, but the woman hardly seems to notice.

She turns a corner, the streetlights glinting off the brass-tone insignia on her coat, the crescent moon on her left collar-tab. A few paces later she breaks into a run, her open coat and long dark red braid flapping behind.

`Tere,' she gasps, reaching for the taller woman, `what's wrong?'

`Willow?' surprise fills the woman's voice, `Why are you wearing that horrible thing?'

`What?'

`That, that,' words fail, and Tara reaches out to clutch one edge of the smartly-tailored coat in her fist. The camera angle changes, and we can see the stylized, lightning-bolt SS on the right collar-tab.

`It's Thursday. I had to,' the camera focuses on the woman's face, and we can see that it is Willow, slightly thinner, her hair drawn back severely. She reaches out, and produces a DECtablet, `No service, what . . . Wow, I hadn't expected that this'd happen to me,' she mumbles, then puts the DECTablet away. `Sorry, I'm not your Willow. Let me get a sanshou leaf and I'll get out of your hair.'

`What?'

`I'm an alternate universe Willow. I walked into your world sometime after I gated back to Sunnydale this afternoon, it seems,' she frowns, just a little, `They took my money at the malt-shop, so either I'm not too far off, or it was after that,' she mutters.

`What do you mean, walked in?' Tara shifts her bag, and Willow finally notices.

`My world's boundaries aren't as thick as they could be. People walk out of it with rather distressing regularity,' Willow answers, reaching out to touch Tara's shoulder, `What's wrong?'

Tara just starts crying, her arms wrapped about Willow, and her face to her neck.

`Hey! Who're you, and,' Buffy appears, `what are you . . .' her voice trails off to nothing.

`Hey, Buff, what's going on? Why is she crying like this?'

`You would know, if you're the real Willow, and not some demon-thing pretending.'

Willow blinks at Buffy, `What do you mean?'

`Willow would never wear such a thing,' Buffy pulls out a stake, almost growling, `So let Tara go, and I won't hurt you too bad before I kill you.'

`I knew the symbols were contaminated, but this is ridiculous,' Willow unwraps her arms from about Tara, and shucks the coat with a lot of wiggles. She half-folds it, then reaches out, like she was putting it on a shelf, and it disappears.

Buffy growls, and Tara buries her face more firmly against Willow's neck.

`What's up? Are you two done fighting?'

Willow looks at the voice, not recognizing the slender brown-haired girl.

`Back off, Dawn, this isn't Willow,' Buffy says fiercely.

`Not this world's Willow, anyway,' Willow says, `What's she done?'

`She used memory-erasing spells on me,' gasp, sob, `Twice,' shudder, clutch, `in the last two weeks.'

`What?' Willow growls, `Why?'

`Because Tara's been on her case about misusing magic,' Dawn answers after a few moments.

`That isn't a good reason,, and really rather proves she is,' Willow turns a little, looking at the still-growling Buffy, `Elizabeth Anne Summers, calm down, I'm from an alternate universe, and I'd really like to get back there without having to hurt you.'

Buffy finally gives up on control, and charges.

She stops running when she realizes that Willow has picked her up off her feet, and is hugging her against Tara.

`Shhh, Buff, it'll be OK. Shh,' Willow makes soothing noises, and rubs her face familiarly against Buffy's hair.

Buffy's face takes on a totally confused look for a moment, then melts, as she starts crying.

Dawn stands and looks confused for a moment, then runs off, leaving the three of them standing in a puddle of light.

-FAA:W-

Willow is sitting on the floor of the bathroom, a lost look still on her face.

`Tara,' Dawn gasps, dropping to her knees near Willow.

`She left,' Willow says softly.

`Is,' gasp, wheeze, `outside, with another Willow,' gasp, `And Buffy.'

`Another Buffy? And, and another Willow?' Willow looks quite cutely confused.

`No, the normal Buffy, but another Willow.'

`Like Vamp-Willow?' Willow asks, getting to her feet quickly.

`No, but she's really strong,' Dawn follows her down the stairs, `and says she's from another universe or something.'

-FAA:W-

Willow has walked her two charges to the front porch, and has settled them on the steps.

`OK, so what is going on?'

`That's what I want to know,' the Willow who just came out the door says, her eyes black.

`OK, so that's what is going on. That isn't healthy, you know. Blood-magics are much safer.'

`Die!' Willow shouts, a dozen black knives appearing beside her, and flashing towards the other Willow.

`Wow,' the long-haired Willow says, and _moves_, her arms blurring as she bats the knives from the air, catching one to examine for a moment. She frowns, and then she's on the porch, the short-haired Willow collapsed, gasping, at her feet.

`Do you have any idea what you are brushing here? There are worse things to play with, but I really, really, really hope you don't have access to any of them. I've pulled some stupid shit, but this really takes the cake.'

`What do you mean?' Buffy asks.

`I mean your girlfriend here is playing with soul-destroyers.'

`She's not my . . . ' Buffy starts.

`She's my . . . ' Tara starts

`girlfriend,' they both finish together.

`That might be part of the problem. Where's Faith?'

`Prison,' gasps the short-haired Willow.

`What's she doing there?'

Three blank looks are joined by a forth as the short-haired Willow gets enough of her breath back to look up at the long-haired one.

-FAA:W-

`Let me get this straight, you told the woman you love most,' Buffy gags out some sort of denial, `To go to prison, because you didn't want to deal with her? That's hella harsh, Buff.'

`She's a psycho!' short-haired Willow defends.

`She is not-'

`How do you know?'

`Just feel it - Buff's right here. Now, feel the warm strands of her affective bonds?'

sh-Willow shakes her head.

`Are you du-' lh-Willow stops herself, `No, just utterly untrained, not utterly stupid,' sh-Willow makes a protesting noise, `Anyone with a little training can feel the bonds she has to the people she loves, and can follow them to those people. It just takes a little effort. And it takes a little effort to feel someone over, to see how their brain is working. Faith isn't crazy. Depressed, just about wallowing in feelings of utter worthlessness, yeah, but not crazy.'

`What do you mean, the woman I love most! I hate her! She slept with my boyfriend!'

`Who you've since dropped, or never really had.'

Buffy looks shocked, `What do you mean?'

`I mean, I recognize all the men you've got bonds with. There's Angel, who's been your friend since forever, almost, there's Spike, who's sorta like a puppy, and there's Xander, who's just utterly gaga over Anya. Still. And there's Giles. Ain't no-one there that Faith woulda slept with.'

`She,' sh-Willow pauses, glances at Buffy, continues, `Slept with with both Angel and Xander.'

lh-Willow assumes a pose of dramatic shock, her hands braced on the table, knees bent, eyes wide.

`Why the fuck would she do that when she was with Buffy?'

`She wasn't,' Buffy says.

`OK, how did that happen?'

`Um, Angel was just back from hell, and Buffy was all shook up over it? And Faith didn't actually come out and say "Hey, I want you to love me," She didn't even tell us her watcher had been killed.'

`Elizabeth is dead? Angel went to hell?'

`No,' Buffy says, `Her watcher was some woman named Annabel.'

`And I really doubt, then, that she had any sort of therapy, formal or otherwise. And you wonder why she didn't come out and say, "Hey, world, this is the most important person I've ever met, come take her away from me like everyone else who's ever been important?"'

`What do you mean?'

`It might have been worse for your Faith, but mine's father died when she was young, maybe nine. They were pretty poor before that, and things were even worse afterwards. Her mother drank too much, and had poor taste in boyfriends,'

`Was she,' Buffy's voice is suddenly small.

`Not mine. Just normal old emotional and physical abuse. Just enough to come real close to convincing her she wasn't worth dirt before her mother died. A woman from the Special Police got her out of the foster-care system, and Matsudaira from the Normal Police got her therapy and helped her get her head set back on straight. Then she was called, and met you. My Buffy, anyway.'

`And now she's in jail,' Buffy's voice is small, `and I can't get her out.'

`What's she in for?'

`Staking Allen Finch.'

`That creepy guy? He deserved it. I can get her out, I'm sure,' her voice turns serious, `Why are you so . . . genki ja nai?

`What?'

`Lethargic, un-energetic, sad?'

`We dragged her out of heaven to save our butts,' sh-Willow whispers.

`What were you doing in heaven?'

`Enjoying myself, mostly,' Buffy smiles, a little crooked.

`No, I meant, how'd you get there?'

`I jumped into a gate to close it and save Dawn.'

`Gate? And who is Dawn, anyway?'

`There was this hell-god, Glorificus, and she needed this key that these monks were guarding -'

`And the monks sent it to King Serenity, and she pounded Glorificus upside the head with the Cutie Moon Rod until Glorificus surrendered, and agreed to adaptation therapy.'

`No,' sh-Willow corrects, almost gently, `the monks turned the key into the Slayer's sister, so that she would protect it.'

lh-Willow turns to stare, aghast, at Dawn, `No,' she says, firmly, emphatically.

`Unfortunately,' Dawn replies.

-FAA:W-

Willow looks up from her DECTablet, which is hooked, through a tangle of adaptors, to the local public telephone network, `I need to get that sanshou leaf, they'll be worried by now.'

`They?' sh-Willow asks.

`My wives,' she smiles at sh-Willow's shocked look, `we've only been hitched a few months, so I still get a real kick out of saying that.'

`Married? To who?' sh-Willow is suddenly enthusiastic.

`Tara, of course,' lh-Willow smiles.

sh-Willow leans in closer, `And?'

`And Buffy.'

`And?'

`And Faith.'

`How did you manage that?'

`And Rogue-Marie,' lh-Willow pokes sh-Willow.

`Rogue-Marie? What kind of name is that?' Buffy asks.

`A really cute one,' lh-Willow smiles, `and we went down to city hall, filled out a form, and signed some papers. We had an actual ceremony a couple months back, too.'

`Jewish?' sh-Willow asks.

`Shintou.'

`What do you need this sensei leaf for?' Buffy asks.

`Sanshou. Communications spell. I call home, tell them where I am, and that I'll be here a few days, and we set up the recall spells. Giles still have some magic supplies? Or is there a local Japanese grocery?'

`He gave the Magic Box to Anya at the end of this summer.'

`OhKay,' lh-Willow drawls.

`Why don't you have this sanshou leaf already?' Tara asks, quietly.

`'Cause last week I helped a buncha people who aren't as skilled prepare contact spells in case they wandered out, and I was going to buy more this afternoon. But I didn't.'

`Oh.'

-FAA:W-

`OK, what is with this Nazi coat you're wearing,' sh-Willow grates.

`Think for a moment, why does this coat effect you so harshly?'

`Because people who wore them murdered millions of Jews, some of them my ancestors.'

`Mine, too. They also terrified the German people, sent homosexuals and political prisoners to destructive work camps, murdered millions of gypsies and Russians.

`What, really, did they accomplish?'

`Nothing.'

`Not quite. They forged, with the blood and suffering of innocents, a strong link between these symbols and a rather dark and terrible power. Just by wearing the coat, here, a young person can identify them self with this dark power, and bring it to bear on their,' lh-Willow pauses, `victim, or target.

`King Serenity decided, a while before I became a citizen, to sever that link, to wrest the remaining symbols of the Nazis from them, to redeem, or ransom, or buy back, the suffering and the blood of millions.

`The Special Services have, in six years, saved the lives of millions, eliminated famine world-wide, and provided disaster-relief for almost billions. Wearing this coat, and these insignia.

`I'd like to think my great-grandmother Rosenburg, were she still alive, would be proud of me.'

`Oh,' sh-Willow says after a moment.

`Has it worked?' Buffy asks.

`Seems so. People haven't run screaming for years, anyway.'

-FAA:W-

`No sanshou. The nearest Japanese grocery is in Eddy, about an hour's drive from here,' Giles takes off his glasses, and wipes them on his shirt.

Putting them back on he stares, once more, at the two Willows. The slightly thinner, more muscular one in a white, buttoned shirt, black wool slacks, and short-heeled boots, her long dark-red hair pulled back and braided. The other, a little softer, flowing red shirt and black flares, taller heels on her shoes.

`What's their number?'

`867-5309. They only speak . . . ' Giles trails off as lh-Willow picks up the phone and dials.

`Moshi mosh,' pause `anou, sanshou ga arimasu ka?' pause, `hai, hai, sore wa kekko desu. Itsu shimeru no?' pause, `Taskata wa! Doumou arigatou gozaimashita.'

`When did you learn Japanese?'

`Basic. One doesn't get out until one can speak Japanese and English, understand,' lh-Willow makes a noise a lot like a blender choking, `and is a competent martial artist.'

`Oh,' Giles sounds utterly un-enlightened.

`Do you,' short pause, `No, you wouldn't. Street address?'

`85 west Main.'

`Ooo, bad part of town. Oh well. Back in a few minutes,' lh-Willow steps out the door, and makes the roof opposite in a single bound, disappearing quickly into the darkness.

`Did you just see that?' sh-Willow asks.

`Yeah,' Tara looks at Willow and smiles.

-FAA:W-

`Got a pound of the things. Here,' she pulls out a bag full of green stuff, and pulls out a big pinch, then hands the bag to Giles.

Giles looks at it, then sets it on the counter.

lh-Willow puts all but one of them into a container she suddenly has in one hand, then just as suddenly doesn't. The last one she holds, between the nail of her left index finger and and the pad of her middle one. A flash of steel is all anyone catches of the knife she uses to draw a quick, shallow cut across her right wrist.

Three drops of blood fall, dripping down her fingers, over the sanshou leaf, and she starts talking, `Hey. I'm safe, get the recall spell set, 'K?'

`Why'd you take so long to call?' Faith's voice. Buffy cringes.

`Didn't have any sanshou, and I ran into a whole, well, almost, set of us'es.'

`Oh, who's missin?' a soft, southern-accented voice asks.

`You are, Rogue-Marie, and Faith's in prison.'

`Ow. How's Buff takin' that?' Faith's voice again.

`The lot of 'em are on the verge of falling apart.'

Buffy looks pained, but doesn't protest.

`So you're going to stay and try to fix things,' Tara's voice.

`Yeah. Recall spell set?'

`It's set. Call again, soon, OK? I miss you already,' Tara's voice

says.

`Promise. Love you.'

`Love you too.' `Always.' `Be safe.' `Give 'em all a kiss for me, OK?'

`Sure, Rogue-Marie,' a tear drops off lh-Willow's cheek, and splashes

on her bloody fingertips.

She pulls a slightly grease-blackened red shop-towel from the back pocket of her slacks, and wipes the blood off her wrist and fingers.

Tara rushes forward and turns her hand over, tracing her fingers over the unblemished skin.

`The Art teaches one to heal fast. I'm not as good as Buffy or anything, but I'm cusping on Skilled.'

`That scared me,' Tara says in a small voice.

`Don't be. It's safer than a lot of other ways to power spells,' she turns towards sh-Willow. `Speaking of which, how did you power the resurrection spell, and how long did you take to gather the ingredients? Two minutes? Five?'

`Blood. Sacrificed a deer. Jar of Osiris. Five months,'

sh-Willow's voice is halting, jerky.

`What? You tempered it with your own blood, right?' lh-Willow's voice is sharp, scared.

`No, but it did volunteer,' sh-Willow's voice is small, shakey.

`Did you do a summoning? Or a request for aid?' lh-Willow's voice is a little calmer, but still urgent.

`I don't know. I think it was a request,' sh-Willow is crying, tears dripping down her face.

`Tell me exactly the ritual.'

`Please,' sh-Willow looks at Tara.

`OK, not here,' lh-Willow gathers the sobbing sh-Willow in her arms, holding her easily, `Back in a bit,' lh-Willow somehow gets the door open without knocking anything over or banging sh-Willow into anything, and then she's just not there anymore.

`They're on the roof,' Buffy says, `Can't really tell what they're saying.'

-FAA:W-

`Look, I went into the full Dark Kingdom "Only the dead may bring back the dead" panic there, sorry,' lh-Willow starts, `but you are cusping on some really nasty stuff. He dies, she dies, everybody dies stuff.'

`Everybody? Local everybody or global everybody?'

`Depends on how long it takes to die. Probably western-hemisphere everybody in your case.'

`Eep,' sh-Willow says softly.

`Yeah. Eep.'

-FAA:W-

`What did you mean by "only the dead may bring back the dead"?'

`The old Moon Kingdom, and now the Dark Kingdom, believe that nothing is innately evil, but that some uses of things are evil.'

`Huh?'

`Guns don't kill people, people kill people with guns. Whether it is stupidity or malice, it is still a person who did it,' lh-Willow looks deeply into sh-Willow's eyes, `Necromancy is like that, and the general rule is if one isn't willing to power the spells with one's own life blood, one shouldn't do it.'

`One's own life blood? How does one do that? The spell took me so long . . . '

`There are quicker and easier ways than the Jar of Osiris. There's even one that only requires one's still-beating heart. The self-sacrifice generally means that there is enough power to spare for a healing on oneself, as well.'

`One's still-beating heart. And people survive this.'

`When they manage to resurrect the person that they want back, they generally survive as well.'

`I couldn't . . . ' sh-Willow starts.

`Not even for Tara?' lh-Willow asks softly.

`I don't think I could pull it off.'

`I'd been dismissing this as impossible, but you really do have all the self-esteem of a garbage-eating coyote, don't you.'

`What?' sh-Willow asks, shocked.

`You're not helpless, you're one of the most skilled practitioners on this world, and I've met hobos with higher self-esteem. I'm not competent to deal with that. If it's OK with you, I'll call in someone who deals with that sort of thing.'

`What do you mean? What do you do?'

`I'm a Special Services trainee. I do rescues, interventions, disaster relief, rubble-clearing, that sort of thing. In the Militia, I'm a combat mage. Helping people get their lives back together, that I'm good at. Blowing things up, I'm really good at that. Helping people realize that their girlfriend isn't a dumbfuck for loving them, that I can't do,' lh-Willow's voice turns cold and hard during the last sentence.

-FAA:W-

Buffy wakes earlier than normal, a smile falling over her lips in the grey light of approaching dawn.

She sits up in bed, looking out the window at lh-Willow, who is doing nearly-silent forms in the yard. Her smile gets just a little bigger, and she settles in the windowsill, just watching the graceful movements.

-FAA:W-

lh-Willow walks slowly, slowly for her anyway, into the blackened ruins of Sunnydale high.

`Hey, whatcha doin?' Buffy asks, following.

`The feel was wrong, magically, of this area. After a bit I realized that while the hellmouth isn't magically open, it is physically. So I'm gonna close it,' she smiles.

`How?'

`A few of these,' she tosses something clear and round in her hand.

`Which are?'

lh-Willow tosses one to her, and juggles a couple more one-handed.

`A glass ball with a pull-ring?' Buffy asks.

`Yep. Megagram yield. Four of these will be enough to cut off physical access without much trouble,' she transitions to juggling five grenades two-handed.

`How's it work?' Buffy looks at the one in her hand.

`Hold the spoon,' lh-Willow flicks the little lever with a fingernail, still juggling, `With your thumb, pull ring towards the open side of your hand,' she demonstrates, juggling left handed as she holds the grenade in her right hand, fuze down, pull ring away from her palm.

Buffy copies her, getting it backwards the first time, then fixing it.

`Flick the safety clip off with the opposite thumb,' lh-Willow does that to all five of the grenades she's juggling, then Buffy follows suit, a little expression of surprise flickering over her face at how easily it comes off.

`Put your index finger through the pull ring, and pull the pin straight out,' Buffy places her finger, but doesn't pull, `and hold the spoon down. So long as you've got that down, it won't go off,' Buffy pulls the pin, dropping it, `Pitch it down the hole.'

Buffy gives hers a firm toss into the crevasse leading to the hellmouth, and lh-Willow starts pulling pins on the grenades she's juggling.

Buffy looks a little nervous as she watches the pins fall, lh-Willow catching the first one she un-pinned and throwing it into the hellmouth only after she pulled the last pin.

Buffy lets a sigh of relief pass her lips when she realizes that the last grenade was flung out of sight before the final pin hit the ground.

`Now we run,' lh-Willow tells her, scooping her up in her arms and sprinting out of the building.

A few hundred meters later there is a very loud *crump**CCRRUUMMPP* from behind, and lh-Willow spins around, setting Buffy on her feet to watch the rubble settle.

`How big were they again?'

`Megagram yield. Think two thousand pound bomb. I think I used a couple more than I needed to.'

Broken glass continues to tinkle musically to the ground behind them.

[This bit was inspired totally by throwing hand grenades 2002/Mar/8. The M67 hand grenades we were throwing (one, or if we were lucky two, each) were rattling the metal building I was leaning against while I ate my MRE. At a distance of about 500 meters ^_^

The form of these grenades is the same as an M67, but they lack the groove around the middle of the grenade-body, and both the safty-clip and pin are placed from the opposite side, just because. ^_^ -S}

-FAA:W-

`Sir,' lh-Willow drops the inch-thick manila envelope on the table, `I'm asking you to look over the evidence, both what was used in the original trial and what wasn't, dismiss her conviction, and purge it from her record.'

`She was convicted in a court of law.'

`As an adult, at the age of seventeen, without a hearing to determine if she was even fit to stand trial, let alone whether it was appropriate to charge her as an adult. She's nineteen. Her school history, what there is of it, shows that she's had a rough time,' a packet of paper comes out of the envelope, `Her psyche profile, which was done after she was incarcerated, shows quite clearly that she is and was suffering from clinical depression,' another packet of paper, `Her public defender admitted, in writing, to taking bribes from the Sunnydale police to put her away,' a small stack of notarized paper, `She was convicted on the weight of facts in her confession that `only the killer could know', all of which were published on the front page of the afternoon Sunnydale paper the day after Mr. Finch's body was found,' A final photocopy drops onto his desk.

`Let me review the evidence you have presented. I'll get back to you, Ms. . . . '

`Rosenburg. Duplicate copies have been sent to the governor, asking for a pardon. And the L.A. Times, just because. Have a nice day.'

-FAA:W-

`Looks good,' lh-Willow says, standing on the top of the ten-foot chain-link fence, having somehow landed between the two sets of barbed wire, stretched to either side of the fence.

`What?' sh-Willow, cuddled closely by Tara, asks.

`Why are we here, anyway?' Buffy glares at the green plastic slats providing a modicum of privacy to its interior.

`It's been a week, so it's time for the obligatory firearms practice. The PD have a nice, outdoor range, and no one to watch it at night. No cameras, either.'

`Wow.'

`Not really. The fence keeps normal people out, and there's nothing of real interest inside. You guys coming?'

`Might as well,' Buffy jumps the fence.

`Um, I'd like to, but there's this whole "no magic for a week, for real this time" thing going on,' sh-Willow says.

`Oh, yeah, that's right,' lh-Willow hops backwards off the fence, scoops up both sh-Willow and Tara, then takes a few steps back, and goes over the fence in a quick running leap.

sh-Willow almost screams. Tara giggles.

After they are back on their feet again, sh-Willow gives Tara a rather annoyed look.

`What? It was fun,' Tara looks entirely un-apologetic, and sh-Willow doesn't lose her pout until after a thorough hug.

`Paper or plastic?' lh-Willow asks.

Everyone looks at her for a moment, then she pulls out a few rolls of paper and they realize she's talking to herself.

She unrolls one of them, a standard stylized torso target, which someone has customized with a set of white fangs. She clips it into the holder, and runs it all the way back, then backs up until she runs into the fence marking the edge of the firing area.

`OK, everyone behind the fence. Hearing and eye protection on, guys.'

`Where do we get it?'

`Don't you-' lh-Willow stops herself, `No, you don't. Lessee,' she reaches out, and tosses Buffy a pack of disposable earplugs, `Three pairs, so pass those around, OK?'

Buffy nods, and lh-Willow frowns in thought for a moment. `Someone's gonna have to wear the scratched ones,' she says, tossing each of the others a pair of safety glasses. Buffy catches hers, and notices the scratch, running her finger along the two-millimeter deep gouge. sh-Willow looks dubiously at the set of chemistry goggles, but puts them on anyway.

lh-Willow smiles, `Good,' and puts on a pair of sunglasses. She notes the askance look Buffy gives her. `Hey, last pair of safty glasses,' she checks where everyone is one last time, then the air is torn by a set of loud, overlapping *CRACK*s.

She drops the magazine out of her semiautomatic pistol, slots another one in, and drops the slide. Both pistol and magazine are put somewhere.

Willow walks back to the booth, and runs the target forward again.

`Not too bad. Eight distinct holes, two through the heart, two through the head,' she mumbles, then turns to the others, `You can come in here now, you know.'

`No, I didn't,' Buffy answers, bouncing over the fence, and peering at the perforated target, `Wow. He's really dead.'

`Unless he's bulletproof, then he's probably stunned.'

`What are these?'

`Brass, Willow.'

`No, the characters, I don't recognize them.'

lh-Willow makes a noise not unlike a blender choking. If compared to the previous noise, one could tell that they are different, but it isn't immediately apparent.

Blank looks.

`DKNLS, in ASCII,' sh-Willow looks moderately enlightened.

lh-Willow actually rolls her eyes, `the shells are modern, Protoculture 11.13 mm stuff, but the gun's a Moon Kingdom reproduction, about ten million years old,' she produces it, drops the magazine, and works the slide to eject the round in the chamber. She catches it before it falls, hands the gun to sh-Willow, and stuffs the round into the magazine before it disappears.

sh-Willow is feeling the gun, just running her hands over it, eyes wide.

`What is it?' Tara asks, and sh-Willow hands it to her.

lh-Willow starts banging her head on the side of the booth.

Buffy looks at her funny.

sh-Willow asks, `Can you feel it?'

`Yeah, it's . . . odd.'

`Yep. Ten-million year old machines are that way,' lh-Willow gently pushes the barrel into a safe direction.

Several hours are spent on gun safety, ancient history, and the materials science involved in making a tool that will withstand ten million years of use.

-FAA:W-

`Red? What're you doing here?'

`Got yer ass outa jail, I did, aarr,' lh-Willow uses a pirate-voice.

`What?'

`Gathered all the evidence, I did, got the PD to confess that he was bribed to put you away, I did, and got it notarizeded too, I did. I found the story about Finch in the midday edition of the Sunday Tribune, I did.'

Faith laughs, surprise coloring her features, `What's with the "I did"s?'

`Made ya laugh, I did, didn't I?'

`Yeah,' Faith looks up at the vehicle they are approaching, `What is that?'

`That is my Ghia, Carmen. Made in '57, resurrected a couple years ago.'

`How?'

`New parts, welded in some new steel in places. Brought her from home,' Willow opens the passenger door, and holds it for Faith.

`No, well, that too, but how did you get me out?'

`The judge declared it a mistrial, back-dated it, and threw the case out of court, the day before you were sentenced. You never went to prison.'

`They can do that?'

`I didn't think they could,' sh-Willow says from her position slouched in the back seat.

`Wait, if she's Red, and you're Red . . . '

`Alternate universe. Same with my Buffy here.'

The woman in question smiles, waving, her head almost brushing the headliner, `I gave me a firm talking-to about that go-to-jail stunt. I was really tempted to bang her head on the floor repeatedly, but Willow managed to talk me out of it. Mostly,' Buffy twitches a smile at them.

Faith turns to lh-Willow, `She'd already clocked her good, and I only figured out what she was up to when she bonked her the second time,'

`Is she OK?'

`We managed to heal her up before any permanent damage was done. The front walk will never be the same, though.'

`Ow.'

-FAA:W-

`Hey! Mrs. S!' Faith yells, as she comes in the door.

`She's dead,' Buffy says, softly, `The other me took it really hard.'

`shit. I didn't know.'

`Why would you? I forbade Dawn to write you, and I never did.'

`Faith?' A brown-haired blur flies down the stairs, and throws itself into the startled girl's arms.

`Pipsqueak?'

lh-Willow shares a smile with her Buffy.

-FAA:W-

`What are you two? Some sort of cyborg super-soldiers?' Xander asks, still fascinated by the two visitors.

`Uchi wa ningen heiki nanka ja nai wa!' lh-Willow protests, circling her Buffy slowly, breathing deeply.

`What did she say?' Anya asks, from where she's watching Xander watch them.

`That she's not anything like that.'

`Then you have cyborg super-soldiers?'

`Yep,' Buffy dodges a strike, `Twenty-five million of 'em. All volunteers, a lot of them people who were permanently disabled before the Dark Kingdom showed up with real medical care,' she sweeps lh-Willow's feet, and gets kicked in the jaw for her trouble. She shakes her head, smiles, and continues, `and wanted a way, above and beyond normal militia service, to show their gratitude. Others of them just always wanted to be combat cyborgs. Still others,' lh-Willow flies backward, twitches, back arching and shoulders rocking back, right before she hits the wall, and drops to the floor, `have decided that it's cool.'

`And you?'

`I'm part of the two percent who wouldn't benefit from most forms of cybernetic enhancement, and the kinds that would be useful, aren't out of testing yet.'

`Oh,' Xander blinks, as Buffy flies backwards, and knocks a Buffy-sized set of bricks loose from the rest of the wall, and each other. She drops to her feet, smiling, `Good, you may make Skilled yet,' she slaps her thigh, then bows.

`Doumo,' lh-Willow gasps, breathing hard.

`What's with the Japanese?' Anya asks.

`Easier,' gasp, `to speak,' wheeze, `for me, anyway,' deep breath, `during a fight,' exhale. Willow straightens, `Side affect of how I was trained, probably.'

-FAA:W-

`Hey, if you ever change your mind, we can have a crew in to watch the place while you go through basic,' lh-Willow says, her hand light on sh-Willow's shoulder.

`Not until Tara wants to.'

`I just didn't want to until you wanted to.'

`Oh.'

`What are we talking about?'

`Basic.'

`Whenever the others want to.'

`I want too,' Buffy limps up, leaning on Buffy, `Just as soon as I've healed a little bit.'

`Next week?'

`Next week.'

-FAA:W-

log:

2001/Nov/13: Watched Willow pull one of the stupidest stunts I've ever seen on television.

2001/Nov/16: had this appear almost full-blown in my head. Wrote it.

2001/Nov/18: started fixing some of the problems in the first draft. Like the fact that the only member of my Sunnydale crew who'd have a Bunny is Anya, and Will would prefer to have her own Ghia.

2001/Nov/21: added the coat-explication scene, some more editing.

2001/Nov/27: a bit of fleshing-out.

2002/May/21: added a tiny bit I wrote during army basic.

2002/May/22: tiny bit

2002/Jul/28: tiny edit

2002/Nov/26: single-word edit