(Fic) Past Imperfect, Future Conditional, Present Tense - Chapter 2
Chapter Two of my story about Buffy's peculiar encounter with a mysteriously familiar stranger. Chapter One is here.
So she kept looking around her as she walked the dark, deserted streets and into the graveyard. (She'd never admit this, but it still kind of gave her a thrill to be doing this without being afraid. To be, in fact, the thing that the bad guys ought to be afraid of.) She was so busy looking around that she collided straight into the woman who was suddenly stood there in the middle of the pathway.
She recoiled back; they both did, falling to the ground in mirror poses of each other. Then Buffy saw something glittering in the other's hand. Something heavy and sharp; a weapon! She fumbled in her jacket for a stake, struggled to get up...
Only to find that the other woman had somehow done some kind of incredible jumpy twisty thing and was already back on her feet, weapon poised and ready to strike! So Buffy did the best she could - she swung her legs around to trip her assailant, hoping to bring her back down to her level.
It might have worked - except that the other somehow sensed her move and jumped clean over her scything legs. She landed, and with a well-aimed kick knocked the stake out of Buffy's hand. But that left a moment of opportunity, and Buffy seized it with both hands - literally; she grabbed her foot and pulled. The other woman collapsed to the ground; but Buffy's advantage was fleeting. Her opponent used the movement of her fall to kick free, and then was rolling around and grappling her. She was incredibly strong; easily as strong as Buffy herself, and more skilful. She fought her way on top, and before Buffy could find a way out, she was pinned.
Then to her astonishment, her assailant spoke to her in an aggrieved, long-suffering voice. "Why is it that other Slayers are always trying to kill me?"
"Other Slayers? How many have you met?"
"Most of them, of course. I - Oh my God! Oh my God, it can't be. I'm... you're..." And before she knew it, the other woman had leaped up off her as if scalded and had retreated to the far side of the path, her hand covering her mouth, her eyes huge with shock. What on earth?
"Who- who are you? What are you? How do you know about Slayers?"
That provoked a slightly unhinged laugh. "The same way you know about them. The exact same way. You could say our experiences are identical."
"You're a Slayer too? But there's only ever one. And I'm not dead. Are you dead?"
Huh? She examined the peculiar woman more closely. She was the same height as Buffy, though rather thinner, and her voice sounded like she was older. She was dressed older too, in rather boring grown-up clothes. Her hair was blonde, tied back in a ponytail. She definitely wasn't a vampire; her breath came ragged, just like Buffy's own, as she recovered from the fight. Buffy felt a vague satisfaction that even if she hadn't won, she'd made her opponent suffer for it. Next time they fought, she'd be ready; she knew she would win their next battle.
But for now, there was a mystery to solve. Somehow she'd have to lure this strange girl who thought she was a Slayer to meet Giles. He'd sort things out... First, win her confidence.
"Listen, I didn't mean to attack you; you just scared me with the lurkiness and the big axe thingy. If you're a Slayer, we're on the same side. My name's Buffy, what's yours?"
Another rather desperate laugh. "Buffy."
"What's wrong with my name? And I asked you for yours, if you don't mind."
"My name is Buffy."
"What? But that's amazing, I never--"
But the other woman was speaking now with almost vicious intensity, her eyes locked on her own as if demanding belief. "Buffy Anne Summers. Born on January 19th, 1981. Daughter of Joyce and Hank Summers, sister of D-, uh, forget that last part. Educated at Hemery and Sunnydale High Schools... this is Sunnydale, isn't it? St Jude's Cemetery?"
"Woah. Creepsville. How do you know so much about me? Are you my personal stalker?"
"Was I always this slow? I am you. Take a better look."
She stepped under one of the infrequent streetlamps that illuminated the path, and for the first time Buffy caught a good look at her face. It still seemed strange, and then something clicked in her brain, and she realised where she'd seen it before.
In the mirror.
Except not quite; the stranger's face was different somehow. More lived in. She looked like she didn't smile as much, and there was a deep burden of responsibility and knowledge in her eyes. She looked like someone who'd known pain and suffering and loss, and come out the other side - not unscathed, but not beaten down either. Her heart ached for her, and yet she felt strangely uplifted...
...And this was her?
"If you're really me, then you can tell me what I called my favourite stuffed animal?"
"That's easy. Mr Gordo. I've still got him, you know."
"What? Oh my God, it's true. Oh my God. You really are me! How are you me? Are you future-me, or alternative-dimension me, or, or what?"
"I don't know. Future-me, I think. Or rather, actually, it's you that's past-me. It's a whole time-travel thing, very complicated. I shouldn't have come this far back."
"You're me from the future? That explains why you're so old."
"I'm not old! I'm twenty-four. And you look to be, what? Seventeen? I can't believe I used to wear skirts like that. What on earth was I thinking?"
"This skirt is lush. And please, I'm sixteen. As in 'sweet'."
"Sixteen? You mean you haven't even slept with Angel yet? You'd better- oh no..." The other woman clapped her hand over her mouth again, but it was too late. Buffy squealed in mixed excitement and embarrassment, practically bouncing on her toes and clapping her hands together in excitement. Her face glowed bright crimson, and she felt herself stammering as her words tumbled out.
"I do it- we do it- me and Angel- we d- he do- he likes me? Really? We actually- we really have sex? Together? What's it like? Is it nice? I bet it's nice, I bet he's really good, he's just..." She trailed off at the look of.. pity?... in the other Buffy's eyes.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said. Just forget I mentioned it, okay?"
"But why? Isn't it.. oh no. Does something go wrong? What? Tell me!"
"I can't. I - look." The other woman sighed heavily. "Not everything in life is perfect, and my - your - our relationship with Angel had, er, will have its ups and downs. It may seem really horrible at times, but just believe in yourself, and be strong, and it'll all work out for the best in the end. I promise."
"But why can't you tell me? If you're me from the future, then you already know how... oh. I get it."
"Yeah. If I tell you how the future will happen..."
"...my actions will change it. Butterfly wings. But Grandfather's already dead, so at least you can't kill him."
"Darn. And I brought the Scythe specially."
"The what? Is that what you call the big axe thingie? You do know it's not shaped like a scythe at all, don't you?"
"Yeah. I don't actually know why we all call it that, it's just that..." The other woman's eyes suddenly lit up with inspiration. "Listen, er- Buffy. We call this the Scythe. It's a very powerful weapon, and it's really, really important. When you find it again, it'll mean you're about to win... er...the next fight you're going to be in. Remember that."
Buffy grinned. "Isn't that cheating?"
"Well, I reckon if I'm vague enough, it's just like one of those dusty old prophecies Giles was always coming up with."
That made her giggle. "He does, doesn't he? Anything else you can tell me, O Great Prophetess?"
"Um... it's not just a weapon. You can use it to, er, how can I explain without giving away the answer? Ooh! An axe can be used to cut through ropes or cleave chains, to free someone. It's all symbolic. Talk to Willow, she'll understand."
"So she's still the big brain even in the future?"
"Oh, you have no idea. What else? Oh, yeah. Don't kill Spike."
"Never mind, just don't kill him. Even though you'll want to, many many times. I mean, you can hit him as much as you like, but he's gonna save the world eventually, so you need him alive for that."
"O-kay. Any more? Lottery numbers would be nice."
"You're telling me. A bit of spare cash lying around would have been a godsend, some days. But I can't, can I? Actually, I wish I could tell you to take a few courses in management and administration too, when you go to university - that would really help."
"Sounds like boredom city."
"I know. That's why I - you - won't do it. But at least try to remember to sign up early for your classes, please, and - oh yeah. Your first roommate in college? What was her name... oh yes, Kathy! She's evil. Totally evil. That's a freebie, 'cause nobody else believed me at first. But she is. Promise."
"Got it. So, this is going to be a strange question, but... you're still alive? At, what did you say, 24 years old?"
"Alive and kicking. And occasionally punching, elbowing and putting in a headlock."
"I know exactly how you feel... uh, our life really sucks, doesn't it?"
"Not quite so much, now I know that. So what's it like in the future? Do you still have the guys, are you still friends? Still Slaying? Do you have flying cars and jetpacks?"
"Funny you should mention... but no, none of the science fictionny stuff. But Will's still my best friend and Xan's, like, my rock. As for the Slaying, well... you'll see." She grinned at that.
"So... not that I'm trying to get rid of you or anything, but can you get back to your own time? It's going to be majorly weird having two of us around. You're too old to be my long-lost twin sister anyway... and what's with the hair?"
"What's wrong with my hair? I like it like this."
"It's the skanky bleach job. How on earth did Mom let you get away with it?"
"She... uh, I've had it like this for years now. I went blonde the same time Willow went red, it was like a joint decision."
"Will colours her hair? We're talking about kind, gentle, really timid and unadventurous Willow who goes to Sunnydale High?"
"Oh boy. See above, re: you have no idea. At least I prefer her redhead look to the black hair. Anyway, enough about the fashion talk. Yeah, I think I can get to my proper time, but I kind of have to be back in New York to get there."
"You've been to NYC? So cool! What's it like? Did you get mugged?"
"Yeah, right. It was an adventure holiday. But there's a time portal thingie there on top of a skyscraper. I came too far back, but I think I can get home again. I just don't know why I ended up here, of all places."
"Giles would know. We can ask him tomorrow."
"Do we have to? Oh, I suppose it would be sort of fun to see him. I can't mess up the timelines more than I already have just by being here."
"So, back to my place? Uh, your place too, I suppose. You can sleep in the spare room."
And so they made their way back to Revello Drive. When Buffy would have walked straight up to the front door, her companion (it was still too weird to think of her as 'Buffy') hesitated.
"Is... is Mom there?"
"No, luckily. She's on a buying trip or something for her gallery. I had to swear all sorts of promises about being responsible and stuff before she left me alone, like she and Dad didn't do that all the time in LA."
"Oh." Her look was indecipherable. "You go in. I just want to... look around for a while."
"Sure." Buffy shrugged, and pulled out her key. As she made her way to the kitchen to raid the refrigerator, she saw her future counterpart through the window walking into the back yard. Then she stood near the flowerbed for a long time, gazing at the ground then back out to the street and up towards Mom's bedroom. She was acting peculiarly, Buffy thought, but maybe it was the effects of old age. Whatever. She pulled out a frozen pizza, and put it in the stove to heat up. At this point, she saw the other girl coming towards the back door. She'd better let her in...
But before she got there, there was the sound of a key in the lock, and the door opened.
"What - how did you open that?"
"Huh? Oh, I always kept the key. Never had the heart to throw it away, even after..."
"But..." And all of a sudden, it hit Buffy. This other woman had the key to her house. Her key. She really was her. It wasn't just a trick, or a game. It was real. The stranger was her.
The world spun, and the next thing she knew, the other Buffy was kneeling next to her looking anxious. "Are you all right?"
A forced laugh. "Sure. I'll survive, how could I not? You're proof!"
"You'd better come and sit on the couch. Can I get you something? Some tea?"
"Oh! Pizza in the oven! It'll burn!"
"In the oven? What's wrong with the microwave... oh yeah. I've got it. It's fine, come on."
And so they sat together on the couch and shared a pizza, and talked. Hesitantly at first, but Buffy's natural resilience and youth soon won through, and she was chattering away freely. By mutual unspoken agreement she restrained her curiosity about the future; too many awkward unanswerable questions lay there. But for the first time in her life she could pour out all her secrets and worries and dreams to someone who really and truly understood her, because she was her. Just an older and wiser and more experienced her. As for future!Buffy, she seemed a little dazed by her exuberance, but seemed to draw strength from it, smiling fondly as she basked in the glow of her younger, more innocent self.
By the time they went upstairs to bed they were holding hands, and it seemed natural to Buffy to suggest sharing her room. But the other Buffy turned a little pink and disengaged her hand and shook her head, and Buffy suddenly realised what her suggestion must have sounded like. She flushed fiery crimson and stammered out apologies, causing her older counterpart to burst out laughing. "Don't worry, I'm not offended. How could I be? But you'd better get to bed. I'll sleep in Dawn's room."
"That's kinda poetic; but you know, if the sun's shining in too brightly first thing in the morning you can always pull the blinds..."
"No, I meant... never mind. See you tomorrow. When, incidentally, as the oldest I will get to use the bathroom first, of course."
"Oh yeah? We'll see about that, grandma."
"Respect your elders, young whippersnapper."
"And you... what's a whippersnapper?"
"Um, I don't know. But you're one."