Rating: PG-14 (Naughty words)
Characters: Whole Cast
Spoilers: Sixth season up to "Wrecked." Serena’s "Free Time" and "The Meeting"
Disclaimer: Don’t own them. Wish I did. Then I could keep the ones I like and get rid of the ones I don’t.
Summary: The characters finally discover the true evil behind their recent suffering.
Note: This story is an unofficial, unauthorized sequel to Serena’s "Free Time" and "The Meeting". I tried to do it in her style, too, but I guess I’m just naturally kind of darker and less wacky. Riley, Kate, and Dawn fans beware. I’m not usually this harsh on Riley or even Kate, but to properly follow in Serena’s footsteps, I had to be. I make no apologies for being harsh on Dawn.
The Scooby Gang sat around the library, watching the final moments of "Wrecked." Most of them simply sat silently with their respective Others, but Willow was staring gape-mouthed. As the credits started to roll, her mouth snapped shut. "That’s it," she announced as she got to her feet. "That’s all I can stand, ‘cause I can’t stand no more." She stalked across the room and turned off the TV.
"Uh-oh," Xander said to Buffy out of the corner of his mouth. "Willow’s quoting Popeye."
"Why is that an ‘uh-oh’ situation?"
"The last time she said it, she was seven and some kid wouldn’t stop pulling on her pigtails. She gave that kid the most righteous beatdown I have ever seen, before or since."
"Let me guess: her mother decided she was ‘troubled’ and started the ‘treatment’ that turned Willow into the passive, defenseless girl that I met."
"He’s turned me into a junkie!" Willow shouted. "One summer, and he’s turned me into a fawn-killing, girlfriend-abusing junkie! Last year, I didn’t want Giles to hit the charging, knight-bearing horsies. Two years ago, I didn’t want to fight the vengeance spirit ‘cause he was an oppressed Native American. Now, I’m killing cute baby animals and endangering fifteen-year-olds to get my fix? I don’t think so!"
"But what can we do about it, honey?" Tara asked from where she sat on the couch, where there was a Willow-sized space between her and Oz.
"Do?" Willow said. "I don’t think he’s given us much choice about what to do." She looked around the room and held up a clenched fist. "I say we take him."
It was Buffy who finally broke it. "Willow, we can’t. If we kill him, someone even worse might take over. And if we do anything that doesn’t kill him—remember last time?"
Everyone except Tara shuddered. She looked around the room, puzzled. "I don’t remember the last time," she said. "I don’t think I was here. What happened?"
"Joss tried to force new love interests on Buffy and Angel," Drusilla explained. The vampiress’s sanity had caught Tara by surprise at first, but she had since come to count on Drusilla for the most rational assessment of any situation. "We killed them both—"
Tara suddenly looked nervous. "We don’t like new love interests?"
Drusilla smiled gently. "Don’t worry, my dove. We like you."
"You made a much better first impression," Oz explained.
* * *
The entire Scooby Gang sat around Giles’s living room, reading the script for Hush.
"Well," Giles commented. "This should be an interesting challenge."
"Been a while since we’ve done a genuine spine-chillingly, flesh-crawlingly creepy one," Xander observed. "I’ve kinda missed ‘em."
"Indeed," Giles agreed.
"Eww," Buffy said. "First kiss." She sighed and began flipping randomly through the script. "The pain begins."
Angel sighed and closed the script for Hero. "Could be worse. We have a public execution going on over here."
The Sunnydale contingent looked up at him curiously, and he nodded toward the corner where Doyle was curled up in a ball, whimpering "I’m gonna die…I’m gonna die…" Over and over again.
Cordelia was patting him on the back, trying to be comforting, but ‘comforting’ wasn’t really her specialty. She looked up helplessly. "Jenny!" She called.
"I’m on it," the late computer teacher said, hurrying over to offer what advice she could.
Buffy returned to her random flipping, then stopped short. "Uh, Willow?"
"Yeah?" Willow said morosely, looking up from her own script.
"This…here. On…this page, here. With this…Tara…person. Is this…?"
"Subtext?" Willow sighed. "Yes. I talked with Joss about it, and he says it’s going to become Text pretty quickly."
"I suspect that’s been part of the plan for a while," Angel said. "I’ve been waiting for something like this since VampWillow in Dopplegangland."
"She was ‘kinda gay’ so I am, too? Is that it?" Willow demanded.
Angel nodded. "They wouldn’t let me say how much personality vampires borrow from the human they used to be. That would have given it away."
Knock, Knock, Knock.
"Who could that be?" Giles asked, rising from his armchair. "We’re all here, and Joss and the extras both know better than to attack us at home."
He opened the door to a blond-haired, round-faced, voluptuous girl who held a box in her hands. "Hello?" She said. "Are you Mr. Giles?"
"Yes, I am. And who might you be?"
"My name’s Tara MacRae."
The room iced over.
Without a word, Giles stepped aside to allow her entry.
"Hi," She said as she came in. "I can see you’re all reading next week’s script, so you probably already know that I’m going to start recurring around here pretty soon."
"We got that impression, yes," Oz said neutrally.
"Well, I now I have some pretty big shoes to fill," Tara said, then she paused and took a deep breath. "So I’m not even going to try. I’m just going to try to make my own place. I’m glad to be working with you guys, and I hope you’ll give me that chance."
She took another deep breath. "There. I said it. Um—" she held up the box. "I made some cookies."
Oz stood, crossed the room, took a cookie, and took a bite. He chewed, swallowed, and nodded. "Chocolate chip," he said. "Very good."
The rest of the Scooby Gang got up and started to gather around her.
Giles patted her on the shoulder as he took a cookie himself. "I think you’ll do just fine," He said.
* * *
"I’m glad I brought those cookies," Tara said. "But what about—"
"Anya and Doyle?" Cordelia said. "Me and Xander were always on and off. They just happened to come along while we were ‘off’ and it all worked out."
"Anyway," Drusilla continued, "Joss suffered an acid-induced heart attack." Her eyes grew distant. "For one brief, shining moment, we were free. Our destinies were our own."
"The first half of the season had already been written for both Buffy and Angel’s shows," Giles explained. "So we had to hire the actors Marc Blucas and Elizabeth Rohm to play Riley and Kate. But we had a plan to phase them out and make things right." Then he bowed his head. "But Joss recovered and returned in the middle of ‘I Will Remember You’."
Everyone else in the room bowed their heads and shuddered. Buffy hugged herself and began rocking. Angel pulled her close and began to stroke her hair. "He spent the rest of those seasons punishing us," he explained in a choked voice. "He killed Doyle as a warning that even major characters were disposable, then inflicted his visions on Cordelia."
"Which killed my social life," She added. "My primary character trait from the Sunnydale days."
"Finally, at the end of the season, they brought Darla back," Angel said. "And the real torture began."
"Both Xander and I became layabouts," Giles added, "And Oz was driven right off the show. But Buffy suffered the worst of any of us."
"Where the Wild Things Are," Buffy whimpered. "Where the Wild Things Are."
"Shh, it’s okay," Angel whispered. "It’s over. You’ll never have to do it again."
"She did nothing but have sex with Riley for the rest of the year," Giles finished.
"Where the Wild Things Are nearly broke her," Joyce said, taking Buffy’s hand. "She came home from work that day and showered for a full hour."
"In fifth season, we started to get some of our spirit back," Giles said.
"So the trippin’ wanker just hit us harder." Spike finished. "You were there: Mum died. They yanked the continuity so I became Drusilla’s childe instead of the big poofter’s. The Slayer got pushed into more impossible decisions over the niblet—"
"Darla didn’t get immediately staked," Cordelia piped up.
"Amen," Angel muttered.
"Joss finally gave up on Cap’n Cardboard," Spike continued, " ‘cause no one was buying it, but he had to make it all drawn out and torturous, just to make Buffy even more miserable."
"And he made me reprise my ever-popular role as the intrusive, insensitive asshole for Into the Woods, just to make it worse," Xander groused.
"So what are we going to do about it?" Willow said.
"Haven’t you been listening?" Buffy said, sitting up out of Angel’s arms. "There’s nothing we can do!"
"Nothing?" Willow said, staring. She looked around the room, and none of the other Scoobies could meet her eyes. "Nothing?"
Still no answer.
"What the fuck happened to the Scoobies I used to know?" She demanded.
"Did Willow just say ‘fuck’?" Joyce asked, aghast.
"She’s quoting ‘Animal House’," Oz replied. "She saw it once on cable, and she got addicted. She keeps finding valid reasons that it shouldn’t be funny, but she can’t look away."
"We’re getting a little worried," Tara added. "She keeps saying that Niedermeyer is familiar somehow."
"Where’s the pride? Huh?" Willow demanded, ignoring their side-conversation. "Where’s the guts? Oh, we’re afraid to go with you, Willow," She mocked them. "We might get in trouble. Well, you can kiss my ass from now on! Not me! I’m not taking this! Whedon? He’s a dead man! Marti Noxon?"
"Dead!" Xander shouted. "I know I’m a line early, Will," He said as he got to his feet. "But think about this, guys. Spike!" He pointed and the blond vampire’s head shot up. "He’s turned you into a weak copy of Angel. You and Buffy’s ‘relationship’ is just a twisted parody of season three: ‘I love you—I need a break’ has become ‘Do me!—Get away from me!’ Giles abandoned Buffy when she needed him, Joyce is dead, Willow’s a junkie, and I haven’t had any character development since that episode at the beginning of last year when I got split into two people! Tara, they’re keeping you nice, but they’re separating you from the herd. If we don’t put a stop to this now, you’re just meat for the Beast. We don’t even acknowledge that the people on the other show exist any more. Worst of all, Buffy’s will to live and enjoy life, which has been the basis of the whole damn show since day one, is broken. How much worse can it get?"
The rest of the Scooby Gang looked at each other, then at Buffy.
She sat for a moment, thinking, then stood up. "I’m in."
Angel joined her. "Let’s do it."
"Let’s do it!" Willow shouted, leading the charge out the front door. The rest of the Scooby Gang, grown prodigiously large since its early days, followed behind her in a howling wedge.
That wedge blasted through the studio doors and charged down the carpeted hallways of the office building. Wisely, the security guards chose not to get in their way. But as they approached the door to Joss Whedon’s office—it’s door simply marked ‘God’—Oz started to hear voices. Could it be?
"Whoa! Whoa!" He waved everyone to a stop. "Shh!" Everyone obeyed. "Listen."
Everyone did. The others with superhuman senses all took on looks of shock.
"It can’t be!"
"What are we listening to?" Willow whispered.
"Could you cast a listening spell?" Buffy said, white-faced. "I can’t believe that I’m hearing what I’m hearing."
"Oh, sure," Willow agreed bitterly. "I haven’t had my magic fix for ten whole minutes."
"Bonus," Oz said.
Muttering angrily under her breath, Willow cast the spell. Suddenly, they could hear a familiar voice as if they were in the same room with it.
"Did you really think you’d get off that easy?" The voice said. "That you could end it that quickly?"
"Please," Joss Whedon’s voice, also familiar, begged. "Don’t you understand? I have to give the audience a rest. I haven’t given them an ending that didn’t foreshadow further misery since Family for Buffy or Epiphany for Angel! I need to—"
"No! I want Willow to relapse in no more than two episodes." The voice paused, and when they heard it again, they could all but hear it grinning. "Maybe I’ll get to hit her again."
Buffy had heard enough. She strode forward and kicked the door open.
Neither of the people in the room reacted. Joss, sitting at his desk with his head in his hands, was too exhausted and defeated.
Dawn looked like she just didn’t give a damn. "Hey, sis," she greeted sardonically. "How’re you doing?"
"Dawn?" Buffy spluttered. "Why are you here? What are you doing?"
"I’m telling Joss what direction I want the plot to take," Dawn said frankly.
"You? But…how—you can’t do that!" Willow protested.
Dawn rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on. The whole series was ret-conned just because I exist. Four years of plot and character development—things that people cared about and took as givens—just gone to make room for me. Of course I can."
"But why?" Buffy asked.
Dawn sat down on the edge of Joss’s desk. "Why, so I could be the most popular character, of course," She answered. "You and Xander weren’t any real threat. Between his outbreaks of Asshole Syndrome and your whiny periods, I had nothing to worry about. Oz and Giles were easy to get rid of, but that left Spike and Willow, who were more popular than you on your best day."
She got up and began pacing. "I had to get rid of Spike’s bad boy appeal. With it, his popularity lasts through a season where he appears once. Without it, he’s a blond version of Angel." She paused to pat Joss on the shoulder. "So I just sent one little dream to Spike and poof! Instant wuss."
She resumed pacing. "Willow was even harder. I had to totally destroy her character to make her unpopular. Fortunately, the tools were already sitting around, waiting to be used. She always did go just a touch too fast with her magic."
"What about Tara?" Anya protested. "She’s kind and compassionate and she’s not a little klepto—"
Dawn glared in Joss’s direction. He buried his head further in his hands.
"—Maybe she’ll be more popular than you even with Willow gone."
"Not once Willow eats her life-force for a magical energy fix," Dawn replied. Then her eyes went wide with mock innocence and she covered her mouth with her hand. "Oops. Did I say that out loud?"
"All this just so you can be the center of attention?" Buffy demanded.
Dawn smirked. "Bulletin, sis, I am the center of attention. It happened on Star Trek: The Next Generation with Wesley Crusher, it happened on Seaquest with Lucas, and it happened on Buffy with me. Put a character on a show where they’re much younger than everyone else, and the show becomes about them. I’ve already sucked up Giles and Xander’s screen time. Whenever something dangerous happens in my general vicinity, everyone comes running—even if it’s my own damn fault. But I don’t want to be just center of attention—I want to be the most popular."
"And if we stop you?" Wesley said.
Dawn laughed. "What, now that I’ve told you my whole plan like a Bond villain? Because you can’t! I’m invulnerable! You’re heroes. You can’t harm me or allow me to come to harm—ever. If you do, you’ve failed. Completely and permanently. You’re worthless as heroes if a kid gets hurt—and it doesn’t matter how old I get, ‘cause I’m the Kid Sister. No matter how much you hate me, you have to protect me." She started to laugh again.
She stopped short and looked down in shock at the dart protruding from her shoulder. Then her eyes rolled up into her head and she fell.
All of them lunged to catch her. Buffy reached her first, and gently lowered her to the rug.
"I think that rather handily demonstrates her claims," Giles said from where he was standing in the middle of the room as he lowered the tranquilizer gun. "None of us who are heroes can hurt her or even allow those of us who are villains to hurt her. It’s reflex. We wouldn’t be able to stop."
"What about you?" Cordelia asked. "Weren’t you even a little worried about shooting her with that thing? That the dosage might be too high or something?"
"If this were real life, I would be. As it is," he leaned the gun against the wall. "All of us were shot with this thing at least once, back in the day."
"So we’ve bought some time," Oz said. "Now what?"
"Good question." Buffy strode across the room, grabbed Joss by the lapels, and dragged him to his feet. "Got an answer?"
"I-I don’t know," he babbled. "The fans, they—they fought Riley so hard. They just wouldn’t accept him, no matter what I did! I had to show them that I was the one in control. That I could do anything—anything at all!—even completely rewrite the first four years."
"So you created Phantom Ret-Con Girl," Cordelia surmised.
"Right, but she was a one-story character—"
"Just like Riley?" Buffy interrupted.
"Just like Riley," Joss agreed bitterly. "After all, she has no past. What’s to discover and explore about her once you know she’s the Key? And what does that matter once Glory’s gone? But then—too late—I realized something."
"You couldn’t get rid of her," Spike said.
"Right. It’s like she said—she’s invincible. You can’t kill the Kid Sister. It’s just not done. There are some things that you can’t even get away with on this show."
"We know," Willow agreed bitterly. "Torture Angel? That’s fine. Buffy and Riley screwing each other to death? Hey, it’s cool. Me and Tara kissing? Need more than a season to work up to that."
"Exactly," said Joss, failing to notice the irony. "That’s when she took over. Angel did his nosedive into hell, Joyce died, Buffy started being forced into the role of a mother, rather than just a big sister. She had to drop out of school, start worrying about money, raising her sister—I tried to tell Dawn that it was all killing the spirit and youthful joie de vivre that made this series—and that it was liable to kill the series itself. Even our fans can’t take a steady diet of nothing but misery. But she wouldn’t listen. That’s when I tried to fight back with the klepto thing, so she’d look like a brat and lose some of her precious popularity."
"And that’s when Giles walked, I got attracted to Spike, and Willow started abusing Tara. Right?" Buffy demanded.
Joss sighed and nodded.
Buffy closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them again, they were steel. "The situation is too far gone," she said. "You’re going to have to exercise the Wonderland Option."
Joss’s eyes bulged. "No, not the Wonderland Option! There’s no controlling that—there’s no telling what else it might undo!"
Buffy grabbed him by the lapels again and slammed him up against the wall. "You’ve already lost control!" She shouted. "And the shows are about to get undone! If you don’t go with the Wonderland Option, we lose everything!"
"But how?" He pleaded. "We need a rationalization for the Wonderland Option! If we do it wrong, it’ll look weak and hokey, and that’ll be even worse."
Buffy closed her eyes and took another deep breath. "Remember Killed by Death? That doctor who was curing the fever by injecting people with more of it, so it burned itself out?"
"I think that’s what we’re gonna have to do."
* * *
The ruins of Sunnydale High blew away from their foundations in a blast of hellfire. Hurricane winds whipped through the streets, knocking down buildings that were already weakened by the convulsing ground beneath them. Lightning lanced down from the storm-black sky, and rain flooded down.
Willow stood at the center of the maelstrom, holding a crystal talisman in the air. The power of the Hellmouth flowed into the talisman, and thence into her. "Oh, great gods, the power! I never imagined the power!" She raised her face to the sky and screamed "I am one of you now!"
"Willow, no!" Buffy cried. "You can’t—"
It was then that Willow started to scream.
"Oh, God, we’re too late."
Dawn came silently up beside her. "I’m sorry, Buffy. I’m so sorry—if I’d just left that talisman where it was…"
Buffy restrained herself from saying No duh. Willow was really taking a hit for the team on this one, and Buffy figured that she could at least stick to her lines.
"It’s okay. I’m sorry, too. Sorry I couldn’t protect you—sorry about everything." She took her sister in her arms and held her tight.
That was when Willow exploded, and the power of the Hellmouth swept over the world, inundating it in black flame.
* * *
We lost. We’re not supposed to lose.
We didn’t lose. Just you. Bitch.
* * *
The Oracles stood facing each other in their temple.
"We live again," she observed calmly.
"How can this be?" He asked with an equal lack of concern.
"The Key is destroyed," she answered. "And so is the timeline that contained it."
"But the Key does not exist in just one place or time. It is in all places. At all times."
"Except when it was human."
"But you are correct. Now that the key has been destroyed in one time and place, it has been destroyed in all. It is as if it never existed."
"Good riddance. It was always more trouble than it was worth."
"Indeed. One wonders what the purpose for such a thing could possibly have been."
"One sometimes wonders if the Powers think before they do some things."
"One suspects it would be unhealthy to ask."
"Indeed. And the Deep Lord of Misrule? Glorificus?"
"Also gone. Beings such as Glorificus exist in all times and places—except when confined to one form and place, as she was. When she was destroyed in one dimension, she was destroyed in them all."
"Very good. Does this mean, then, that the sufferings and sacrifices that prepared the Slayer and her allies for her ultimate sacrifice are also undone?"
"And they need not be repeated."
"Then it seems the mortals did well despite the wisdom and guidance of the Powers That Be."
* * *
Buffy’s eyes fluttered open.
She was lying in a bed.
Not, in itself, unusual.
It was a double bed.
Somewhat less common.
The sun shining in the window had awakened her.
There was a man in bed with her.
That man was Angel.
Something was wrong with that picture.
The sunlight was falling on him. And he was still sleeping.
Too confused to even freak out, she nudged him awake. "Angel?"
"I think I just had a terrible, terrible dream."
"Oh, baby. Want to talk about it?"
"Yeah, I—this is going to seem strange, but I want to ask how everyone’s doing. One at a time. Don’t ask any questions, just answer mine."
"You. As in how you’re not waking up in the sunlight."
"Remember that fight with the Mohra demon? Its blood gave me my humanity and enhanced my strength and healing. Good deal, huh?"
"In a polyamorous relationship with Tara and Oz. Which, given the fact that everyone else we know either is a demon or is in a relationship with one, we accept as a valid lifestyle choice. At least her lovers are the same species. Most of the time."
"Foreman at the construction company and engaged to Anya."
"Keeping both Doyle and Phantom Dennis busy taking care of her."
"Proud owner of the Magic Box and dating your mother."
"No idea. Darla?"
For the first time, Angel’s face clouded. "Dead for years, Buffy. What the heck kind of dream was this?"
"One I don’t want to talk about." With that she rolled on her side and pulled his arms back around her. She drifted back off to sleep, thinking what a terrible dream it had been.
* * *
Sitting in his director’s chair, off to the side of the set, Joss Whedon put his face in his hands and started to cry.