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"When you said 'I need you to come with me to Limbo', this was not what I expected," the young woman muttered sidewise to her companion. "I should've known better."
"Probably," agreed the dark and brooding billowy-coated guy beside her. "It's not like I could spirit you off to Jamaica for a midnight limbo party, Buffy."
"A girl can dream," Buffy the Vampire Slayer quipped back, high-kicking a demon and following up with a dagger throw. ~Must remember to thank Giles for the throwing knives, even if it is expensive to keep them silver-coated.~ The demon obligingly screamed, thrashed, and dissolved around the blade.
"Well, it's not like we've never done this before," Angel agreed, the Beast on his face as he tore through the ranks of demons swarming him and his ex-girlfriend.
* * * * *
"Burn?" the young woman arched a brow to match the arch tone in her voice. "Watching too many John Woo movies again, are you?" She casually whirled away from the conflagration her companion had ignited in front of her, and plunged sharp steel-talon fingers into the throat of the demon attacking her.
[~Ha bloody ha, Paige. At least whenever whatever this was took you, I had the presence of mind to follow so you wouldn't be fighting these blighters alone.~] The dark and brooding billowy-coated guy beside her lowered the scarf around his face once more and let his psionic fire roil forth, instantly frying two demons as they leapt for him. [~It's not like this was what I planned for the night.~]
"A girl can dream," Paige Guthrie muttered under her breath, using the greater strength afforded her by her steel body to break the back of a demon and throw it into its compatriots. ~Must remember to thank Sean for suggesting I try steel compounds.~
[~Well, it's not like we've never been up against strange odds before, luv,~] Jono mused, eyes alight as he burned through the ranks of demons swarming him and his ex-girlfriend.
* * * * *
"What, precisely, do you mean, 'they're gone'?" Emma Frost demanded, staring icily at the handful of mutant students studiously attempting to avoid her gaze.
"Well, they got swallowed up by this light-disk thingiebobber," Jubilee finally spoke up, shuffling her feet nervously. "These nasty skank things jumped out and grabbed them and pulled them in, and they were like, y'know, gone. Totally."
"Si," Angelo nodded. "Before we had a chance to follow, the thing closed up -- snap -- like an old TV picture. Shrunk down to a dot and was gone, y'know?"
"Oh, just marvellous," Sean Cassidy sighed. "They've been spirited off only God knows where, and we haven't the faintest idea how to find them, let alone go after them."
"Who'd'a thunk we'd ever miss the pooka, huh, teach?" Jubilee chirped, then ducked the pillows thrown at her by the other kids. "I'm just *sayin'*!"
* * * * *
"What, precisely, do you mean, 'they're not here'?" Rupert Giles asked, carefully maintaing his composure as he waited for an answer from the handful of kids who called themselves Buffy's Slayerettes ... or, more affectionately, The Scoobies.
"Not. Here." Willow Rosenberg shrugged, and frowned, wrinkling her nose. She brushed her auburn hair from her face and tried to explain more clearly. "Buffy said Angel asked her to help him out with some problem about Limbo. She got all excited, and like, 'woo hoo!' and went straight to LA. I haven't heard from her since. I tried to work a spell to find her to see how she was doing and -- well, I can't find her."
Giles removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. There would be a migraine before the day was over; he could feel it coming. "And you felt no need to stop her because...?"
"Duh," Xander Harris shook his head and blew dark hair from his eyes. "She's the *Slayer.* Like she couldn't handle anything like this on her own."
"Besides," Xander's girlfriend Anya piped up, "How were we to know it was anything all evil and scary? He said Limbo. He's a vampire with a *soul* for crying out loud -- he could've decided to take her to a reggae party!"
The entire group turned to stare at the former vengeance demon-turned human girl.
"It could happen," Anya pouted, and snuggled in closer to her boyfriend.
"Lovely," muttered Spike the vampire from the corner of the room where he'd been listening to the whole discussion. "If she doesn't come back and with Faith in jail, that means we get to break in a new Slayer!" Spike's obvious emphasis was on "break," despite the chip in his head that prevented him from doing harm to anything that wasn't evil. He cheerfully flashed his fangs at the Scoobies, and smirked when they gave him horrified looks.
Giles sighed. "Willow. Do you think you could work a spell that could find her, then?"
"I could give it the old witchy try," the ever-cheerful Willow offered with a hopeful smile. She immediately went to sit down with Giles. "Let's crack the grimoires and see what we come up with."
* * * * *
"So, what're we, like, waiting for?" Jubilee demanded, cracking her bubblegum. "We're gonna go find Paige and Jono and rescue them, right?"
"And how would you suggest we do that, Jubecita?" Angelo demanded.
"I can do it," Monet St. Croix suggested. "After I spent some time in the Swiss boarding school my father sent me to, I took up a study of the occult and supernatural."
The entire group turned to gape at M.
"Well," Monet explained, almost sheepishly, "There were vampires on the campus and I had to slay them. I figured it wouldn't hurt for one of us to learn sorcery. You can't always count on mutant powers, you know."
Sean palm-slapped his forehead.
"That shows remarkable initiative, Monet," Emma congratulated her student. "And what do you need for this spell?"
"A few things from around the house, a bit of Paige's hair, a bit of Jono's hair...oh, and some eye of newt."
"Eeew," Jubilee shuddered.
* * * * *
"So..." Buffy yelled over the howls of the demons, "You got us here with that magickal amulet, but did you consider how we'd get home?"
"Um, actually," Angel admitted, "I was hoping you'd have brought Willow. The amulet is one-way trip only."
"Oh, great," Buffy sighed. "Demons to the left of me, demons to the right. Here I am, stuck here in Limbo with you."
"I'm *sorry*, okay?" Angel snapped, as he broke a demon's neck casually. "I thought you'd *want* to help clear out a demon-infested dimension parallel with ours before it spilled over and started burping up out of the Hellmouth!"
"No, you're right," Buffy replied, chastened. "I just wish you'd thought of the way home first."
"Mea culpa," Angel sighed. "But your friends -- they'll come looking for you, won't they, when you don't return?"
It was Buffy's turn to look chastened. "Um, maybe."
Angel raised a brow as he snap-kicked a slavering monster that had been gnawing on his ankle. "Maybe?"
"Well, Riley took off after we beat Adam and ... they know I'm with you and..."
"...and they think you're going to blow off the gypsy curse and cost me my soul?" Angel snorted.
"Or a little snuggle time and smooching at the least," Buffy admitted.
"Not that I would be adverse, except for that "lose my soul, go evil again" thing," Angel sighed.
* * * * *
"How is it that it just turned out to be you and me here in Limbo fighting demons?" Paige demanded, tossing a demon to Jono so he could flambe it.
[~Dunno, sunshine,~] Jono shrugged, agreeably burning the demons to a crisp as his teammate threw them his way. [~But I imagine they probably won't come lookin' right away.~]
"What do you mean?" Paige frowned and turned to look curiously at Jono, who stood reflected in her metal skin.
[~What I mean -- watch yer back -- is that they probably think we've been long overdue to get locked in a water closet somewhere to talk things out.~] Jono sighed, and blasted a demon onto a stalagmite.
"They wouldn't abandon us just because they think we need to talk...would they?" Paige was aghast.
[~Espinosa? Lee? St. Croix?~] Jono's mind-voice was casual as he regarded Paige calmly.
"Great," Paige wailed. "We're trapped in Limbo with no way home until our idiot teammates think we've had long enough to kiss and make up!"
[~Look on the bright side.~]
"*What* bright side, Jono?!"
[~The teachers won't make us train for a couple days once we get home.~]
"If," Paige corrected automatically.
[~I was tryin' to be all optimistic and hopeful-like,~] Jono pouted.
* * * * *
"Opening dimensional portals is a tricky business," Giles reminded Willow as she laid out the elements with which she'd construct her spell. "You know the dangers involved?"
"Yes, yes," Willow sighed distractedly. "Warning, warning, Danger Will Robinson. But what else can we do? It's either get Buffy and Angel back, break Faith out of jail, (no thank you please!) or wait around for a new Slayer."
Xander put his hand on Willow's shoulder. "Meantime, the Scoobies have to handle all the creepiness and scariness by ourselves? We've *done* that. We weren't terribly *good* at it."
"Crunch all you want, we'll make more," Anya and Spike chorused, then exchanged a raucous laugh.
"Well, um, it won't be easy, you know," piped up Willow's new girlfriend Tara. "I mean, tracking a Slayer on her home plane is one thing. Tracking her on another plane..." she trailed off, and twirled absently at a blonde braid, looking abashed.
"Go on, Tara," Giles encouraged.
"Well, it'd help if we had something of theirs to help bind the spell to them."
"Spike!" Giles barked.
"Oh, no. I am not playing undead errand boy for you and your little clique," growled the unwillingly reformed vampire. "You can get your own bloody toenail clippings."
"Ew," commented Willow, then went back to her preparations. "We can do the next best thing," she decided after checking the grimoire. "Everybody join hands around the circle and get a picture of Buffy and Angel in your mind's eye. Concentrate *really* hard."
"..and say 'There's no place like home,' over and over," Spike smirked.
Anya and the others shot venomous glares at Spike. With a long-suffering sigh, the English vampire stepped into place and took Tara's hand in his left, Anya's in his right.
"Okay, everybody think of Buffy and Angel!"
Xander nodded and closed his eyes. ~Buffy. Buffy. Think of Buffy. Slim and pretty. Beautiful eyes. All that blonde hair. Muscle under the figure.~
Tara smiled brightly at Willow then closed her eyes. ~I can picture Buffy just fine but I don't know this Angel guy very much. What was it Xander and Riley said about him? Oh, yeah. Dark, brooding. Billowy coat. ~
Spike sighed and did as he was bidden. ~Blonde overachieving git with too much power on her hands and a power trip. Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. That's her. And Angel. Angsting nancy boy with a prettyboy hairdo and a long black coat. Fashionable. Right.~
Anya smiled at Xander. "Can we go home and have sex when this is over?" The others cleared their throats ostentatiously, and she sighed. "Right. Think Buffy and Angel thoughts." ~Buffy has blonde hair and takes herself way too seriously. Angel has dark hair and takes himself way too seriously.~
Giles took a deep breath. ~Vulnerable teenage girl, blonde, sweet, possessing far too much wisdom and knowledge for her years. Inner strength. Sense of duty. That's Buffy. Now Angel...Angel? Reluctant but driven. Dark and solemn. Though their bond is not the same, he'll permit no harm to come to Buffy.~
In the center of the silver pentacle, the candles flared as Willow's spell gained strength. A beam of blue-violet eldritch energy shot from Willow into the ceiling and vanished, seeking its targets.
"All we do now is wait," Willow shrugged. "Who wants pizza?"
* * * * *
"Monet, are you *sure* this is going to work?" Sean asked dubiously, as she sat down in the center of a pentacle with candles lit.
"No, sir, actually, I'm not. But it's the only spell in the book that will do what we hope it will do. I suppose if this spell fails, we try to find a more experienced magician or sorcerer." Monet tossed her fall of black hair back over her shoulders.
"Like any of them would help us?" Angelo sneered. "The mutie kids."
Jubilee shrugged. "Let's give Big M the Mouth a chance, anyway. What do you need from us?"
Monet sighed. "Well, since Paige is so fastidious, I couldn't find any of her hair or clippings. And Jono, being whatever he is, doesn't give off any. So I'll need to forge a link to them another way. Join hands around the circle and think of them. I'll tie the spell to our mental pictures of them to bring them home. Wish me luck." With that, Monet began sprinkling fragrant incense around the circle and murmuring an incantation under her breath.
Sean, being an unbeliever, left the room lest his doubt cast a pall on the spell. Emma Frost, however, being the powerful telepath she was, joined their minds as their hands joined their bodies. [~All right, everyone. Relax as I've taught you when en rapport. Now begin. Think of Jono and Paige. Think clearly. Hold their images in your thoughts.~]
Angelo nodded and closed his eyes. ~Starsmore. My best friend in the world. Gloomy and dark, but still cool people. Always with the long coat, the black, and the angst. Dark hair, dark eyes, and a tortured soul. Paige...she tries too hard, would be better if she was a little less intense. Gorgeous, though. Blonde hair, pretty eyes.~
Jubilee wrinkled her nose in thought. ~Paige. The pretty perfect primadonna. Overachieving git. She needs to loosen up and get a life. She wouldn't have got in this mess if it wasn't for always wanting to be a hero. Why, when I was still with the X-Men...~
Jubilee squeaked, and reined in her wandering thoughts. ~Oh, right. Jono.~ She gathered the image of the British mutant in her mind, and tried to hold it there beside her image of Paige.
~I will not fail my students again,~ Emma thought fiercely and concentrated on the images of her students. ~A blonde girl of great intensity who will grow up to be nearly as elegant as I. A dark haired boy of great intensity who needs to learn to let himself just *be* once in a while.~
The spell blossomed like a flower, its petals the psionic imagery from those on the circle, and Monet the center. A glow of red-gold magickal energy suffused the Algerian, then swirled off into nothingness.
"Did it work?" Angelo demanded.
"I don't know," Monet admitted.
* * * * *
In Limbo, Buffy screamed.
"BUFFY!" Angel bellowed, racing to her side. "What is it?"
"Weird feeling," Buffy mumbled. "It's passed now." She shook her head. "Dizzy. I got these mental vibes like someone was calling me."
Angel frowned, and then winced. "I see what you mean," he said at length. "Maybe it's your friends trying to help us get home?"
"Could be," Buffy admitted, brightening. "Come *on*, Scoobies!" She had run out of throwing daggers, and the few she had been able to retrieve had been covered in a foul, dripping ichor that was slowly eating them away, silver or not.
Angel was looking a bit haggard as well. The vampiric Beast was showing in his face, despite his best efforts to quell it and look human for Buffy. But the Slayer and the do-gooder vampire both knew that the longer Angel's vampiric nature remained in ascendance, the more likely he'd succumb to bloodlust. And with nothing but demon blood or Slayer blood on hand...it was not a prospect they particularly wanted to see come to fruition.
Angel and Buffy stood back to back, moving almost in unison as the never-dwindling tide of demons continued toward them. Around them, eldritch light began to twinkle and dance, red and violet.
* * * * *
"Jono!" Paige screamed.
"Something's wrong!" Paige's voice remained shrill and alarmed.
[~Could you possibly be just a little more vague?~] Starsmore snapped back, without turning to look at Paige. [~Do you need my help?~]
"Just turn around at look at me!"
Jono blinked as he turned to take in Paige. Her costume was in shreds around her, and he felt certain that was not what she'd meant when she'd demanded he look at her. It took a few seconds for him to get past the image of her naked (even if she was some bizarre carbon compound) before he realized what she had to be talking about. A nimbus, an aura of blue-gold energy was forming around her.
"It...it doesn't hurt...but it feels weird," Paige explained. The demons had given her a respite that the Slayer, fighting demons elsewhere in the same dimension, had not been fortunate enough to have. "What about you? Do you feel anything?"
Jono wrinkled his brow in thought, and looked down. The glow, goldish-blue around him, was lighting up around the hem of his black trenchcoat and creeping eagerly up his body. [~This better be Frost and company tryin' to get us home.~]
"They better hurry," Paige sighed. "I don't know how many more skins I can pull off before my power bails on me."
Jono frowned. His own psionic-nuclear furnace had so far proved inexhaustible, but Paige had exhausted her power once before, and it had nearly killed her. Had he still a throat, a cold lump would've formed in it. [~Hang in there, gel.~]
* * * * *
"Aaaaaaaaannnnnngeeeeellllllllll....!" Buffy's cry of alarm extended unnaturally and warped off into nothingness as she stretched out like a bad video image and winked out of existence in a sparkle of red and violet.
"Jooooonnnnnnoooooo...." Paige reached out for Jonothon, too late, as the spell took hold and snatched her away from him. The gold and blue whirled in her shape for a moment, then faded away.
[~Bloody hell,~] muttered Jono.
"Damn," gasped Angel.
Then the spell took hold again, and they too found themselves pulled from Limbo...
* * * * *
[~Anybody ever tell you you have bloody sharp elbows?~] Jono complained, rubbing at where his ribs belonged.
"Sorry," Paige apologized, reaching up to skin away her metal body. "I didn't have time to turn back to my natural state." She rectified that at once, shucking away strips of metal and revealing blonde hair and bare skin. To her horror, though, the unstable molecules of her costume did not seem to be working properly. "EEP! Turn around, Starsmore, and not a word!"
Starsmore, sensible lad that he was, turned around without a word. Though he couldn't quite stifle a snicker.
The situation being what it was, neither of them realized until some moments later that they had materialized in a bedroom that was entirely unfamiliar to both of them.
[~Uh, Toto? I don't think we're in Kansas anymore,~] Jono frowned, poking at a white wicker cabinet on the wall.
* * * * *
"Hey, watch it, will you? Tae Kwon Leep not needed here!" Buffy shoved Angel's boot away from her head.
Angel murmured an apology and clambered off Buffy. The Beast was gone from his features but his pained expression indicated he would still need to feed fairly soon. "I thought we were going to be separated," he finally said, fixing her with a look full of tragic yearning.
"Me too," Buffy admitted after a second, then flung herself into his arms. "I know we've been fighting lately, but almost losing you...I'm sorry, Angel. You know I still care."
"I know," Angel replied in a whisper, stroking through Buffy's blonde curls. "So do I."
Buffy closed her eyes and permitted herself to bask in her former lover's embrace. ~It's only for a minute. I've missed him.~ Then, she realized Angel's arms were tightening protectively around her. "Angel?"
"Angel..." the Slayer was getting annoyed. She used her paranormal strength to break Angel's grip, and glared up at him. "What is *up* with you?"
"This isn't LA," Angel pointed out in a stunned voice. He gently turned Buffy so she could see the rest of the room.
They were in a dark basement. The windows were blacked out with magic marker and construction paper, and a guitar lay against one window. A bed with a pile of black, all black, nothing but black laundry at its foot was shoved into a corner. "Great. From Limbo into a vampire's lair."
"So how do we get home?" Angel asked, already on his feet and wary of the undead sensing the presence of the Slayer.
"Worry about it when we're sure this place isn't full of dead boys," Buffy replied, stalking over to the rickety table beside the bed. She snapped off its legs making improvised stakes, then whirled, ready for whatever might come from the upstairs.
* * * * *
"What was that?" Jubilee shook Angelo awake. "Did you hear that?"
"I don't hear anything but your awful N'SYNC music from your headphones, loca," Angelo snapped, rubbing his eyes. The spell had taken a lot out of him and the others, and they'd all drifted off to sleep right where they'd sat.
"I hear something!" Jubilee repeated, brown eyes wide. She wasn't exactly scared. "Maybe it's Jono and Paige."
"Or you're hearing things."
"I heard it too," Monet added, standing. "It seems to be coming from Jonothon's basement. We had better check it out. Maybe the spell worked...?"
"Let us hope." Emma rose majestically and led the group toward the stairs. "Angelo. Ready the infirmary. If they were snatched as Jubilee recalls, they may require medical attention." She reached out with a tendril of her telepathy and got disjointed, grumbly thoughts in return. ~Typical teenagers,~ Emma smirked to herself, ~But something's not right.~
"On it!" Angelo bounded away, lengthening his legs to widen his stride.
"Jubilee. Light the way," Emma commanded.
"You want light, you got light." Jubilee snapped her fingers, producing her trademark fireworks.
From below at the base of Jono's stairs, there was an indignant yelp of "Hey!" and a gasp, followed by the sound of bodies hitting the ground.
"It's them!" Jubilee grinned and pelted down the stairs. "Cornflake girl! Goth boy! We thought we'd never see you again!"
Buffy blinked, as the strange little garishly-dressed Chinese girl hugged her tight enough to take her breath away.
Angel blinked as well as Monet grasped his arm companionably. "It is good that you are back." Then she blinked again. "Jono...your face! You have a face!" She looked to her teacher, astonished.
Emma Frost, on the other hand, growled, "Explain yourselves."
* * * * *
Paige Guthrie sat at the computer and booted it up for some indication of where she and Jono had ended up, since this obviously was not Snow Valley, Massachusetts.
[~Any luck?~] Jono asked, lurking uneasily in a corner.
"Yeah, a little. It seems we're in Sunnydale, California," Paige breathed incredulously. "I dunno how we got here, but we seem to be in the room of one of the students --"
"BUFFY!" The door burst open.
Paige whirled, tearing at the borrowed sweater, and was bowled over by an exuberant rush-hug from Willow. "You're alive! You're okay! You're ... with Angel!" She blinked and released Paige, then frowned dubiously at Jono. "You okay? You have this long scarfy thing on. Did you get acidic demon blood on you or something?"
Tara frowned from "Buffy" to "Angel," then quietly chose to speak up in her soft voice. "It looks like he got cured of that little dietary restriction problem and the porphyria too."
"Huh?" Xander said, shoving past Tara to smooch Paige affectionately. "In English for those of us who don't go to college?" He sighed, and Anya curled into his arms, purring like a coy kitten.
"I said it looks like he's cured," Tara whispered shyly, then sidled over behind Willow. "Didn't you guys tell me Angel was a vampire, or am I mistaken?" She gestured, indicating that Jono was standing in a ray of sunlight that slanted in through Buffy's bedroom window.
[~Bloody hell~] Jono thought as all eyes turned to him. [~They think I'm a vampire named Angel. What kind of name is "Angel" for a vampire anyway, hmmm?~]
* * * * *
Emma Frost frowned. They *looked* like Paige and Jono. They *dressed* like Paige and Jono. But they most assuredly could not *be* Paige and Jono. Jonothon Starsmore had no *face*, for one thing, and for another, neither Chamber nor Husk had had the ability to black out her telepathy before they'd gone to Limbo. She was not about to entertain the possibility that Limbo had somehow rendered them immune to her telepathy. That would have been too simple. She continued to glower icily at "Paige", but Paige only returned her stony stare.
"Explain yourselves," Buffy shot back. "We were just minding our business when we ended up here. And I want some answers or I start kicking some ass."
Monet blinked. Jubilee giggled. "Kicking some ass" was not a phrase normally found in Paige Guthrie's vocabulary.
"You are at the Xavier School for Gifted youngsters, in Snow Valley Massachusetts. I am Emma Frost. These are my students, Monet St. Croix and Jubilation Lee. Who. Are. You?"
Buffy remained in her ready-to-fight stance, though Angel just stood beside her, looming protectively. ~You're the Slayer,~ he thought at her. ~And it's daytime out. I can't very well cop an attitude with these people.~ He glanced uneasily up at the window, through which a faint bit of sunlight was filtering through.
"I should warn you that I am a telepath, and that my students are mutants, posessing unique -- gifts," Emma intoned. "If you have done anything to the people whose places you are attempting to usurp, it will not go well for you."
Buffy blinked, and raised a brow. "Come again?"
Emma folded her arms. Not being able to telepathically read these two was making this far more difficult than it needed to be; far more difficult than she liked. "I hate to repeat myself, and I did give you some information, dear girl. How about you reciprocate?"
Buffy nodded. "Sorry. Slayer nerves. Name's Buffy. Buffy Summers."
Emma's blue eyes widened, then narrowed. ~As if there weren't enough of the infernal whiners slithering around.~ "Buffy Summers, then. And your companion?" She studiously ignored the noises of derision and astonishment from her students.
"Angel," Angel said simply, "And while I *am* a vampire, I am a nice one. I have a soul. Honest. Buffy can vouch for me. She sent me to hell."
Jubilee screamed, and dodged behind Angelo as he came down the stairs. "Dracula's back! He got Jono! Jono's a vampire!" She sobbed and pointed at Angel.
"Que?" Angelo blinked. "Somebody wanna clue me in...?"
* * * * *
[~Sorry to burst your bubbles, gels, but I'm not undead. Not precisely, anyway,~] Jono said, as Anya and Willow poked experimentally at him. [~Would you mind not doing that?~]
"What's under the scarf?" Anya wondered, curling a finger on the rim of Jono's wrappings.
[~NO!~] Jono threw himself back onto the bed, Anya falling atop him since she hadn't moved her hand quickly enough.
"HEY!" Xander leapt to help Anya up. "Get your own girl, dead boy."
"Um, excuse me," Paige spoke up. "I believe we are having ourselves a little tiny small misunderstanding. I'm not Buffy and he's not Angel."
"You *look* like Buffy and Angel," Anya frowned. "Well, they *do*!" she insisted, as Xander looked blankly from Paige to Jono and back again.
"I think there's been some kind of mistake," Paige began.
"Yeah, and you made it," Xander snapped. "Nobody messes with Buffy and the Scoobies!"
[~Buffy...and the Scoobies...?!~] Jono repeated, then collapsed beside Buffy's bed in peals of laughter. [~And I thought Generation X was a wanker name for a group!~]
Spike raised a brow. "You're English, then?"
Jono peeped up over the side of the bed. [~Yeah, what of it?~]
Spike was helping Jono up in less than an eyeblink. "FINALLY! A countryman who isn't as dull as Giles!" He threw an arm around Jono's shoulder. Jono merely blinked in bewilderment. "You nancies work out the soap opera amongst yerselves. Me, I'm buyin' me mate here a round. And maybe he'll spot me a pint of blood."
Jono chuckled and shook his head. [~Haven't any to spare, mate, sorry.~]
"Damn, damn, damn," Spike lamented. "Oh well. Bugger that. Still, you're English and I'm feeling generous. While the ladies work out thier issues, I'll show you the town."
"It should be safe enough," Willow nodded. "What with it being daylight and the Initiative all gone away now."
"The what?" Paige asked worriedly, clearly afraid to let Jono out of her sight.
"The Initiative. Kind of the MIB on the bad crack," Xander explained. He looked relieved when no one laughed. ~Hey, I thought "the Scoobies" was kind of cute.~ "They're a paramilitary unit. They hunted down supernatural critters like Spike, there, and either locked them up or put chips in their heads --"
"--Makin' me a bloody nancy boy wanker instead of a proper evil bastard undead lurker of the night!" Spike growled. "I can't even drink blood unless the victim's willing! How wrong is that?!"
"He's a bit touchy about being a nice puppy now," Willow whispered sidewise to Paige.
"I am NOT A NICE PUPPY!" Spike snarled, then whirled on his heel and stalked for the door, pulling Jono after him.
"They had demons in cages, and ... and a werewolf, until we rescued him."
"Her ex boyfriend," Anya piped up.
"And experiments. One of them went wrong and -- well, there was a huge fight. We won. Yay, us." Willow smiled cheerfully.
Paige mulled this over for a few minutes. "Sounds like your people are as paranoid about vampires as my world is about mutants."
"Mutants?" Willow sat beside Paige.
"I thought that was just a word you used to insult people," Anya frowned.
"Nope. Not in my world. We're born with powers and abilities normal folks don't have. And most normal folks, as a result hate and fear them. So we do what we can to look after 'em anyway, even though they're ungrateful. I was one of the lucky ones. Jono ... well, he may not have a face but at least he's not green and covered in oozing slime." She glanced at the floor.
"Oh, you poor thing. It must be terrible." Willow patted Paige's shoulder comfortingly.
Spike smiled faintly since all eyes were on Paige. Spike remembered Willow being kind to him when he'd first escaped the Initiative. He would have sooner put out his cigarettes in the crotch of his jeans before admitting it, but the gentle witch's kindness had meant a great deal to him. He just couldn't show it; he had a reputation to maintain -- well, to get back, anyway.
* * * * *
"Okay, so you think your peeps cast a spell to get you home from limbo, and our peeps cast a spell to get Jono and Paige home and they cris-crossed?" Jubilee's eyes crossed as she tried to follow Monet and Buffy's logic path.
"Essentially, yes Magic is wonky at the best of times, and Willow's doesn't always work right." Buffy thanked providence that Willow's spells usually worked best when the chips were down. "And apparently we look enough like your Paige and Jono that the spells got confused."
Emma nodded. "Indeed. The resemblance is nearly uncanny. The problem at hand now, is how do we get you back to where you belong, and get our students back where they belong?"
* * * * *
"I don't have the faintest clue," Giles said, once Willow and the rest of the Slayerettes had returned with Paige in tow. "Remarkable," he whispered. "She's the spitting image."
Paige shrugged. "I already tried calling the school. The number is to some Equestrian Ranch. If we're stuck here, we may as well learn our way around. So tell me about this Buffy."
"She's the Slayer," Giles said simply, in a voice that gave the capital letter to the word 'Slayer.' "She kills Vampires mainly, but any supernatural evil that should happen into Sunnydale. You see, this town is a nexus of supernatural evil."
"The Hellmouth," Xander added helpfully.
* * * * *
"Well, so much for reaching out and touching someone," Buffy sighed. "I called Will's number, and I got Eta Beta Pi house...in some town called Angel Grove." She shook her head. "Okay, so worst case scenario, me and Angel are stuck here. Are we going to be able to stay and hang here until we find our way home? Are we going to run into torch-wielding peasants v. 4.0 because Angel's a vampire?"
Angelo smiled appreciatively at Paige. ~She's got far more cojones than the real Paige. Yum.~ "No more than we get for bein' mutants. You're pretty safe here."
"He's a *vampire*," Monet kept her voice low, but her tone indicated she would be screaming if she didn't think it undignified to do so. "You can't be serious about having him here, under our roof."
"He can bite me on the neck anytime," Jubilee sighed dreamily. No one glowered her into silence. Emma was upstairs working her connections to see if she could find someone with sorcerous ability enough to assist them.
Angel's expression indicated he'd have blushed had he still had blood to spare.
Buffy glowered at Jubilee, then blinked. ~Whoa. If this is not our world, maybe the Gypsy curse doesn't hold here!~ She glanced slyly at Angel, then shook her head. ~Indulge the hormones later, Slayer.~ "You touch him, Mo, over my dead body."
"That," Monet whispered, "Can be arranged."
Angelo grinned. "Man, we should help Monet cast spells more often. Girl-on-girl cat fight action!"
"SHUT UP!" Monet and Buffy chorused.
Angel wisely remained silent.
Monet and Buffy began circling each other.
* * * * *
"And I thought I had it bad with a chip in my bloody head that won't let me be evil..!" Spike shook his head. "You don't have a FACE?"
[~Nor a heart, nor lungs, nor any of that. I'm finally learning to get over the angst. Sort of. There's only so happy you can get when you are missing a third of your body, y'know?~] Jono looked down at the beer Spike had bought him, and shook his head. [~Miss these.~]
"Well, I guess I can't bloody well angst anymore, then, can I? By comparison, I'm doing pretty damn good." He smacked Jono's back companionably, then lit a cigarette. "Thanks!"
[~Oh, sure, anytime.~]
Meanwhile, Paige was learning that Buffy, the Slayer, had one complicated life -- and that her compatriots had earned their Scooby nickname by helping her out. "And you guys are all human? Wow. On my world people would think you were nuts!" She smiled. "That's meant as a compliment, really. Most of the humans on our world hate and fear what they don't understand."
"I'm a Jewish witch with a werewolf ex-boyfriend," Willow grinned, leaning against Tara. "I spent a whole summer killing icky undead things. My best friend's ex-boyfriend is a nice guy who happens to be a vampire. And you've met my girlfriend. Prejudice is so -- small, by comparison, you know?"
Paige smiled and nodded. "If we have to be trapped in a world that's not ours, there are worse ones to be in." She gasped. "Omigosh! We can't stay!"
Willow frowned. "What's the matter, Paige?"
"My teammates! They don't get along well with vampires, and you said the guy who looks like Jono...he's a vampire, right?"
"What's the problem?" Anya asked, frowning.
"Well, see, we had this problem with Dracula a while back..."
* * * * *
"...and he was going to take Paige and Jono away from us...!"
"Dracula?" Buffy repeated. "Hold up. *The* Dracula? The Big D?" She shook her head. "The mind boggles."
"Well, that would explain the issues you guys have with ... er... my kind," Angel said, sheepishly. "I hate to bring this up, but, um, it's been a while since I've fed. I don't need any nubile young maiden neck--" He shrugged fecklessly at Buffy's stare of half-curiosity, half-disgust. "A pint or two from the local butcher shop will do."
"On it, ese," Angelo grinned and pelted up the stairs. A moment later, his long fingers came down, closed around Jubilee's elbow, and pulled her up behind him.
Monet watched them go. "How did you manage to keep your soul, Angel?"
"Long story," Angel chuckled, massaging the bridge of his nose in hopes of keeping the Beast off his features. "But it'll keep me distracted until your friend brings me -- um -- a drink."
Monet chuckled and sat down to listen, keeping a respectful distance from the still-wary Buffy.
* * * * *
Elsewhere, something foul and evil stirred, stretched, and scratched lazily at its fetid surroundings.
"Mmmm....I hunger..." He took a deep, shuddering breath, filtered through the trunklike hose that filtered his air, and clapped his hands. "DOA!" the creature that had once been Marius St. Croix rasped. "We're going out."
* * * * *
And Elsewhere, something evil and dark stirred, stretched, and extended long, dark talons. "I ... hunger..."
Lurconis sniffed the air and smiled, sliding forked tongue over sharp, sharp teeth. "The air tastes better tonight. Cleaner. Like there's no Slayer. Wonderful." He scraped his nails along the walls, raking lime dust into his claws to work a summoning spell. Sunnydale would be his if there were no Slayer to thwart him. The pitiful humans who dogged the Slayer's steps would be no match for him on their own.
* * * * *
Angel gulped gratefully at the mug of blood.
"The stories say vamps like it warm, so we nuked it," Jubilee offered.
"Thank you," Angel murmured.
"We have got to get back," Buffy paced uneasily. "With me gone, and Faith locked up, there's no Slayer. Sunnydale's helpless until I return, or until the Great Whatever realizes there's a hole, and lays the Slayer mojo on some other girl." She frowned thoughtfully. "'Course that usually happens only if a Slayer dies, so I'm not sure *what* will happen."
"If Paige looks enough like you to fool magic and to freak your friends like you freaked us," Angelo considered, "Maybe she can understudy your Slayer gig 'til we find out how to get you home."
"I ... don't think so," Buffy shook her head. "It's not something that comes without training and some pretty specialized skills."
"Specialized skills like ripping off her natural born skin and producing a body underneath of whatever she damn well feels like?" Angelo offered in return.
"Whatever she ...?" Buffy paused, startled.
Jubilee nodded. "Her power. We've all got special ones, but that's what Paige can do."
"Can she turn into wood?"
"Easily," Monet confirmed.
Buffy sighed, a bit relieved. "She might survive long enough for me to get home after all."
"Let us show you something," Monet said. "The sun's finally gone down. We can show you the Danger Room."
"The Danger Room," Buffy repeated. "Sounds fun." The irony in her voice was belied by her smile; sitting in the dank basement had made her antsy...and with these kids watching her and Angel's every move, she hadn't had time to test her theory on whether the Gypsy curse was lifted in this world or not.
She glanced over her shoulder and gave Angel a look that said she intended to test that theory the first moment alone she got with him. Angel smiled sadly; while Buffy's theory sounded great, he knew better than to get his hopes up.
* * * * *
Jono and Spike arrived at Giles, just as Giles and Willow were finishing up the explanation of The Slayer.
"Sounds doable," Paige said gravely. She frowned thoughtfully, and peeled away the skin of her right arm with her left hand. Fingers that had been flesh only moments before were now made of dark, hard ironwood. "I don't imagine we'll have any shortage of stakes if this will do?"
"Whoa," Giles smiled admiringly. "Absolutely remarkable."
Tara and Willow simultaneously lifted their heads, then looked into each other's eyes. They frowned.
"Disturbance in the Force?" Xander asked.
Both witches nodded. "Something like that."
"It was to be expected," Giles sighed. "The Slayer's not dead but she's not here. The mystical gap is causing reverberations. Weirdness will rush in to fill the space until a new Slayer emerges or Buffy returns. We must make ready."
"I'm ready," Paige shrugged. "Jono, you with me?"
[~Like you even needed to ask.~] Despite the lack of true facial features, there was a smile in his eyes. [~You think I'd let you fight vampires, demons, and that ilk by yourself?~] He paused, and added, almost as an afterthought, [~You think Emma'd let me off the hook if I didn't stand beside you? We're...teammates.~]
Spike rolled his eyes. "Talk about 'nice puppy,' he muttered under his breath, then "Ow!" as Xander elbowed him none-to-gently in the ribs.
Paige smiled. "Fair enough." But her own expression had softened as well, despite the looming danger that threatened in the unfamiliar world; approaching stealthily with fetid breath by days...hours...or even minutes.
* * * * *
Toothy little mouths, gnashing with hunger, snapped angrily from the palms of Emplate. He stared down at them, both hating them and being grateful for them. The tiny, tiny part of him that still clung feebly to the last increment of his humanity wept, and he shoved it into the darkest, dankest corner of his mind. Emplate was a monster who reveled in the horror of his existence.
It was time to visit the horror of his existence upon his sanctimonious sister. Soon...soon, when sleep came to claim them, and they were at their trusting, unsuspecting, weakest.
* * * * *
Finally. Finally they were alone. Night had fallen and Ms. Frost and Mr. Cassidy had sumomned the kids to chores, class, training, and bed.
Buffy didn't waste a moment. Angel looked torn between his fear of the consequences and his hope that her theory had been correct. Vampiric speed took him to the top of the stairs, and vampiric strength jammed the door, closing it tightly enough that of their strange hosts, only Monet stood a remote chance of opening it unbidden. She was, fortunately, the most mannerly of the Generation X kids, though -- so there was no fear of that.
The billowy coat fluttered like a living thing to the ground, thrown carelessly by Buffy, as she drew Angel to her with her inhuman strength.
"Wh-what about Riley...?" Angel murmured half-heartedly. Her touch warmed him more than fresh blood could, and it was all he had left in the way of resistance. He had missed her so very much.
Buffy's answer was muffled and unintelligible as she spoke it against his mouth, kissing him passionately.
~The flesh is not weak, but the will of the spirit is stronger,~ Angel thought with a slightly hysterical edge, and succumbed to the affections of his beloved.
"I love you," he murmured fervently, sliding his hands along her warm back. "I never thought I'd touch you like this again."
"I love you," Buffy whispered in return, and then passion swept them both to a place where words were not necessary.
* * * * *
The candy trick had gone over fairly well, save for the Slayer. But if Lurconis tried it again, he knew her damned mortal thralls would be onto it. He smiled. There were other ways to get the complacent, tired adults out of his way; and to distract the eminently distractable youth -- so that the tender, sweet veal of the newly born would be his banquet table at which to sup.
A bit of hemlock in the water. A bit of his blood smeared on the TV and radio antennae. A bit of magic in their lifeline coffee. They would sleep, or they would rut like animals. Either way, they would be beyond caring when the minions of Lurconis snatched their helpless squalling babes from their cradles.
* * * * *
Paige and Jono returned, after a dinner of take-out food, to Buffy's dorm room. "Well, we've done all we can do. Until Willow and Tara can come up with something stronger to unmix the mingled spells, we're stuck here."
Jono nodded gravely. [~Can you handle this Slayer thing they want you to do until they do? If they don't succeed and we're trapped?~]
Paige shrugged. "I'll have to, won't I, Jonothon?" But despite the set of her jaw and the straightness of her shoulders, her blue eyes were scared. ~I always wanted to be a hero, to compete with Sam. Now I have my chance, but I never dreamed it'd be like this.~ She sank heavily into the chair at the computer desk and put her face in her hands.
Jono paused awkwardly for a moment, then knelt and wrapped her in his long arms. [~Come what may, Paige, I won't leave you. Come what may, I'll be beside you as long as you'll have me.~] He rested his forehead against his shoulder. [~You know how I feel about you. Even if we never find that place again, I won't abandon you.~]
Paige turned into his embrace and sobbed into the shoulder of his billowy black coat.
* * * * *
"Are you sure you want to do THIS, sir?" the sycophantic little creature called DOA smiled up at his master, simpering. "They may not have proof against your teleport, but they may have other METHODS, sir."
"Silence, DOA," croaked Emplate. "I have enough strength left to paralyze the inexorable movement of time. It is all the advantage I need."
DOA grinned up at Emplate. "As you'd have it, THEN, sir. Will you be wanting DESSERT, sir?"
Emplate grinned humorlessly behind his breathing mask, and stepped from his dimension to the one Generation X considered home. DOA dogged his steps, meticulously adjusting his chauffeur's livery.
Monet was first. She was the strongest, and the one to whom he wished the most pain and suffering. She would be his first victim, and watch -- weak and helpless while he sucked the power and life from her friends.
Jubilation was next. Emplate learned from his mistakes and bound her mouth in her knee socks. She flailed feebly at him when she woke, crackling fireworks, and then fell still, deprived of oxygen as he held her nose closed.
A simple expediency like gas took care of the teachers. Emplate would leave them there, asleep and blissfully oblivious of his presence until he saw fit to dine upon them.
Espinosa fell next, his extended skin trailing like spaghetti around him. "That was EASY, sir," DOA remarked obviously.
Only two remained -- Guthrie and Starsmore. The Penance girl was gone. He knew not where, nor did he care at present. He would find her again soon enough. Theirs was a bond not easily broken. Everett, the do-gooder pureheart his sister had so lusted after, had died a while back. Emplate only noted this as a distant disappointment that his meal would not be larger.
"This way, isn't IT, sir?" DOA asked, leading his master toward the basement. The others hung suspended in the foyer, awaiting his pleasure.
"So it is," Emplate agreed. He tried the door.
The klatch-jiggle of the door alerted Angel first, as Buffy slept in his arms. Her theory had been correct, and he had been basking in the bliss of her embrace until the interruption had jarred him. He sighed, slowly and softly, and willed whichever curious kid it was go back upstairs to bed. ~Maybe mutants don't need as much sleep.~
The door jiggled again, and Buffy stirred, murmuring. "Well, at least the timing wasn't worse," she smiled, and kissed Angel. "We better go see what they need." She shrugged back into her jeans and T-shirt and opened the door easily. Her immediate reaction upon seeing Emplate was, "Ew."
Emplate blinked. "Paige Guthrie. You have the smell of lust on you. You will be all that sweeter a meal when I suck the marrow from your mutant bones."
Buffy grinned. "Surprise, Porcupine Lad. I'm *not* Paige, and I'm *not* a mutant. I'm the *Slayer.* Supernatural powers. Have a nice day." She dropped immediately to a handstand on the stairs, and used her momentum to mule-kick Emplate back into the kitchen. "ANGEL!"
Buffy's vampire lover was in motion before she'd finished the first syllable of his name. "What the hell is it?"
"Does it matter?"
"I suppose not." He bared his fangs and bit through Emplate's breathing hose, then kicked him hard enough to break ribs under his bare foot. "You better see to the others."
"You able?" Buffy paused, worried.
"I'm fine. Check the others."
"On it." She pelted into the foyer and found her hosts hanging inverted from the ceiling. "Oh, good. You can tell me what that is in the kitchen, and what the best way is to beat it."
* * * * *
The phone rang in Buffy's dorm room, and both Generation X-ers sat up in bed, startled awake by the noise. It was early as California reckoned time, but Willow suggested they take the rest where they could get it, especially since things had a way of turning up that needed the Slayer's attention.
They'd dutifully gone to bed -- but they hadn't got *quite* as much sleep as intended. And now that was being interrupted.
"...mmmm'lo?" Paige mumbled sleepily into the phone.
"You're on." the voice on the other end was Xander. "We've got mondo weirdness. Folks's parents are keeling over, and people's kid brothers and sisters are missing. We've had similar problems before. A demon that eats babies."
"A demon that eats babies," Paige repeated, snapping fully awake.
[~Well, it's a change of pace from power-mad mutants and the Fiends of Humanity.~] Jono stroked Paige's shoulder.
Paige grinned ruefully and nodded, then turned her attention back to the phone. "Okay, Xander. We'll be at Giles' place in ten. You can brief us then."
She sighed and went to get dressed. They might not get home, but at least life would be interesting for Paige Guthrie, Slayer Stand-In.