In A Yellow Wood
By Barb C.
Disclaimers: The usual. All belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy, and naught to me.
Rating: PG-13 for the moment
Distribution: Ask and you shall receive, I’d just like to know where it ends up.
Synopsis: When Warren Meers traps Buffy in an alternate dimension on his first assignment for Wolfram & Hart, she’s faced with the consequences of dozens of choices she’s made. Even if she escapes, can she be certain that her life’s followed the right path?
Author’s notes: This story takes place in the same universe as “Raising In the Sun,” “Necessary Evils,” and “A Parliament of Monsters.” It takes place simultaneously with the story “The Lesser of Two Evils,” and contains spoilers for the series to date. Many thanks to betas deborahc, kehf & slaymesoftly. Additional thanks to harmonyfb and evil_little_dog for the loan of their Buffys, who appear respectively in Backward Glances and All Dishevelled Wandering Stars.
I originally posted the first installments of this story for seasonal_spuffy several rounds ago. For those who need to refresh their memories (at this point, I’m guessing that’s everyone!) the previous parts can be found here. This is the only chapter of this story I have for today (I have a stand-alone I’ll post a little later!) but hopefully the next chapter won’t take quite as long as this one has. :)
And the latest installment is here:
Half the light panels in the ceiling were out, but the walls of the passageway glowed a faint eerie green. There was a Twilight Zone seamlessness about the compound, like it had been extruded rather than built. If this was a pocket dimension, maybe it had been. Walking down the corridor, Buffy felt light. Free. As if instead of something weighing her down from within, some burden had been lifted. She didn’t think the mood would last, but while it did, she was willing to take advantage. My baby. She put a hand to her stomach. Say the magic words. Presto-change-o, abstract to concrete. In a weird way, that made it easier to deal with. She was better at concrete.
She studied her not-quite-captors not-quite-covertly. Bubbles didn’t trust Buttercup, and Blossom didn’t think much of either of them, and if she obsessed over their backstory enough, would it keep her from thinking about Sparrow’s cheekbone crunching beneath her fist? Buttercup seemed the least aloof of the three. Buffy stepped up her pace to catch up. “Hey. The vampire,” she asked. “Is she from a world where the Master… killed us?” How weird, to think she’d been so scared of dying, once.
Buttercup shot her a curious look. “God, no. It was Spike.”
“Oh.” Ow. “When? Parent-Teacher Night?” If Mom hadn’t shown up with that axe… “Halloween? Or that time with the Gem of Amarra?” Those were the only times she could remember Spike really, truly having her on the ropes.
Bubbles dropped back a step, whether out of suspicion or a healthy desire to get in on the dish Buffy wasn’t sure. “As a matter of fact? Just last year. She acts like it was all her idea, but really? She just got careless.”
“Oh, please,” Buttercup said with an all-too-familiar eyeroll. “Put the high horse out to pasture. You boinked him too. In fact, everyone who hasn’t boinked Spike raise a hand!” She waved an arm wildly above her head. “Golly. And I thought I was the bad Slayer.”
Bubbles’s lips compressed to a diamond-hard line of disapproval. “At least I learned from my mistakes. Soul or no soul, Spike’s bad news.” She waved Buffy ahead of her. “Come on.”
What mistakes, Buffy wondered, had those been? It had been almost four years since her Spike had realized he was falling in love with his mortal enemy – just short of an eternity in Slayer years. It wasn’t that she couldn’t imagine worlds where Spike hadn’t fallen, or where she hadn’t fallen back. But why on earth would any version of her sleep with a Spike she wasn’t well on the way to being madly in love with? Sexing up a guy who’d tried to kill you on multiple occasions wasn’t exactly something you did for yuks on a slow Saturday night.
The corridor terminated in a high-tech door with a thumbprint lock – smashed now, and the door wrenched open. Beyond was a circular room lined with consoles. Some kind of guard station, she guessed. Viewscreens overhead showed empty cells, trashed labs, and something that looked like a bunkroom, where half a dozen bruised and dejected guards slumped around on cots. A cushioned conversation pit right out of an Austin Powers flick took up the center of the room, along with a few low shelves holding books, CDs, and an X-Box. Three more doors ringed the room – Buffy caught a glimpse of another cell block through one, a kitchen through another.
Sprawled across the cushions, rifling through the shelves, prodding at the consoles… was her. And her. And her. And her and her and her. Blonde Buffys and Buffys au naturel, wire-thin Buffys and curvy Buffys, Buffys in camo and Buffys in chiffon. A dozen iterations of her own face, staring at her with curiosity and contempt and an entire thesaurus in between. The concentrated eyeballage could have peeled paint, if there’d been any paint to peel, but Buffy squared her shoulders and marched into the guard station with all the aplomb one could reasonably expect of someone wearing a novelty t-shirt.
“I’d introduce everyone,” Bubbles said, propping her taser rifle against the wall, “but it would get awfully repetitious.”
Blossom was already striding towards the biggest and most impressively blinky console, hands on hips, glare on stun. A Buffy in techno-ninjawear looked up from the console spilling its technicolor guts across the floor. The nametag on her fatigues read B. FINN.
“So? What’s the communications sitch?” Blossom demanded.
B. Finn’s eyes narrowed in annoyance. “Remind me again who jumped off a tower and made you the boss of us?” She pulled something with lots of wires loose from one panel and plugged it into another. “Try it now.”
Buffy was suitably impressed; she couldn’t even get the DVD player to stop flashing 12:00. Blossom bent to twiddle with the controls, and the staticky screen overhead blinked, spat, and fuzzed out. Buffy’s attention was drawn to another screen: one showing a slightly cock-eyed view of the operating theatre she’d smashed up. She could just catch the foot of a cot holding a bandage-swathed figure – whether it was Sparrow or the unfortunate tech she couldn’t tell. Probably Sparrow. She was pretty sure the tech only had a broken rib. She hoped.
“If you’re thinking tearful apology, unthink it,” Buttercup informed her. “They’re not going to let you anywhere near him.” She hitched one hip up on the back of a console, produced a wafer-thin gold lighter and lit up a cigarette, to the vocal annoyance of several surrounding Buffys. Buttercup ignored them and blew a smoke ring. “Not that I’d lose any beauty sleep if Doc Sparrow accidentally tripped and impaled himself on a bullet, but we may need him to buy our way out of here.”
“And here would be…?”
Buttercup waved her cigarette at Door Number Four. Unlike the rest, it hadn’t been ripped open – it was reinforced steel, with a porthole window of heavy, double-paned plexiglass, proof against even Slayer strength. Curious, Buffy walked across the room and placed a hand flat against the steel panel. The metal was warm against her palm. If she stood on tip-toe, she could see through the porthole: a rolling expanse of ruby sand stretched away to an encircling range of hills. The horizon was unnervingly close. No sun, just a flat golden sky and brilliant, shadowless light, everywhere. Here and there jagged spires of obsidian rose out of the bloody sand.
She studied the not nearly distant enough hills. The last deserty pocket dimension she’d visited had been over-supplied with bitey things, but nothing moved out there beneath the brazen sky. Why didn’t anyone make pocket dimensions that looked like Waikiki? Or even Kansas?
“Home sweet home,” Buttercup said. “No water, no plants, no animals. No place to go from here. We found an orientation video,” she added. “Very Dharma Project.”
“If there’s a way in, there’s a way out,” Buffy said, dropping down off her toes.
“Sure. If you have a shaman and a specially blessed rutabaga.” Buttercup stubbed her cigarette out on the console top. “The access ritual can only be done from the outside. Once they figure out what’s going on, the Home Office can just leave us here till we starve – unless we can find a bargaining chip.”
Buffy’s stomach interrupted with a loud, embarrassing gurgle, and Buttercup looked her up and down with an amused little snort. “Eating for two, huh? Or if it’s demonspawn, maybe twenty. Come on.”
The kitchen was cramped and utilitarian, all brushed steel and black plastic. There was a pantry, thoroughly ransacked, its metal shelves bare of anything save a few empty cardboard boxes and an industrial-size can of refried beans. Scrunched between the microwave and the freezer unit was a spartan Formica counter you could have chopped a carrot on, provided that it was a really small carrot. The refrigerator contained six cans of dolphin-safe albacore tuna, a dozen eggs, one package of whole-wheat crackers, and three tomatoes. “These are my groceries,” Buffy pointed out.
“Correction,” Buttercup said. She selected a Wheat Thin and hopped up to sit on the counter. “That, plus Tub O’ Beans, is our dinner for the next whatever. We were one day short of the next supply run when you went cuckoo for Coco-Puffs. The good news? If we can’t manage to break out, we can still make tuna loaf.”
“Good thing I wasn’t holding the bag with the pig’s blood,” Buffy muttered. She picked up a decimated can of tuna and dabbed a cracker into it, scraping the crusty dried flakes off the sides. Memory of the incredibly pointless argument she’d had with Spike last week, about her insistence on depriving him of the meager joys of indirect long-distance dolphin slaughter, almost made her tear up. Stupid baby hormones.
“So… why’d you do it?”
Buffy stiffened. “Which it? You’re going to have to get more definite with your articles.”
“Hook up with Spike.” Buttercup chin-pointed in the direction of the guard station. “Half of them out there boinked him, too.” She licked tuna juice from her fingers and gave Buffy a sidelong, speculative look. “But they all stopped. You didn’t. That’s different. And different is interesting.”
She’d always known that ‘long shot’ was rosy optimism when applied to her and Spike, but was she really that much of a freak? “It seemed like a really good idea at the time.” Buffy regarded the wodge of tuna adorning her cracker with limited enthusiasm. Shouldn’t she have some tomato? For vitamins? And wasn’t fish full of mercury or something? How was she supposed to know the nutritional requirements of the possibly unholy spawn of a partially-demonified Slayer and a slightly non-standard vampire anyway? “What I don’t get is why they started. Doing it. With Spike. Because obviously? They didn’t think it was a good idea.”
Buttercup took a delicate nibble of cracker. “‘I was in a bad place, I just wanted to feel something, I was helpless in the face of his sinister attraction!’ You know what I think? They did it because they could. And now a couple of them are all boo hoo about it, but if they had it to do all over? They’d do the exact same thing. It’s always about power.” Her eyes were bleak. “That’s who we are.”
It’s not who I am. Or not all of who I am. Or, or… The tuna smell was making her queasy again. If it was a vampire baby maybe she should be eating raw liver. Mmm, liver…oh, God, if she was going to crave liver instead of ice cream for nine months she might as well end it all now. “You didn’t sleep with him. But I can’t help notice you don’t get much love either.”
“Oh, me? I told you I was the bad Slayer. I work for Wolfram & Hart.” Buttercup brushed crumbs from her hands. “Make that past tense. I think we’re due for contract re-negotiations when I get back.” Her eyes narrowed at Buffy’s expression. “Watch your step. That moral high ground is awfully slippery.”
“Noted. So you’re an…um… lawyer?”
“I make problems go away.” Buttercup stretched, tiny pointed breasts tenting the sheer lace of her blouse. “It’s a living. Silk teddies don’t buy themselves. Besides, someone has to keep Faith out of trouble. If you’re done poking at that – “
Buffy dropped her third cracker guiltily. Probably for the best. You weren’t supposed to gain a lot of weight when you got pregnant, were you? Between the muscle she’d put on since taking up figure skating again, and Spike’s evil “Oh, come on, Slayer, one more bite isn’t going to kill you,” blandishments, she was already shopping for jeans sized in positive integers; better not go crazy. She stuck the can back into the refrigerator. “You know…nobody did a ritual to send me here. It was just zap and go.”
Buttercup shrugged, but her gaze was sharp and attentive. “That’s peachy, if you have whatever it was that zapped you in your back pocket.”
“At the moment, pocketless. But it was your bosses who had me zapped, so if anyone knows how it’s done…”
“There might be a record of it in the computer.” Buttercup hopped off the counter. “Come on.”
B. Finn and Blossom were still crouched over the main console when they returned to the central control room – it looked like they’d managed to bring in an infomercial for miracle carpet spot remover, but no W&H Central. Buttercup headed straight for an empty terminal and fired it up. “We used Doc Sparrow’s login to get into the system,” she said cheerfully, “and he has top clearance for this place, so you should be able to read just about anything. We’ve got you to thank for that, too – hardly had to rough him up at all, just told him that if he didn’t spill we’d let you have him again.”
“Yay?” Buffy muttered, sliding into a chair at the next terminal.
She moused through a couple of folders at random, lower lip caught between her teeth. This would be a lot easier if she know where she was looking, and what she was looking for. Blueprints? Plans? Would a pocket dimension have a fire escape? Did evil corporations have to comply with OSHA? It wasn’t that she was bad at computers, exactly, it was just that Willow was so much better that it was always easier to yell for her when bits and bytes were involved. Wills could have had this whole place singing and dancing the rhumba by now.
Patient Files – Confidential
That looked snoopworthy, if not exactly on topic. A dozen files, most labeled B. Summers and distinguished only by a string of numbers. Plus one B. Summers-Pratt. At least the bad guys could get her name right. She dithered for a moment between clicking on her own file and reading one of the others. It wasn’t really an invasion of privacy when it was your own life, was it? But her own file might have a clue or three about what exactly Wolfram & Hart thought they could accomplish by kidnapping her, besides bringing The Wrath of Spike down upon their collective heads. Obviously it hadn’t been about the baby. (Her baby. Their baby.) Sparrow had been as surprised to find out about that as she had been.
History: Born January 19, 1981, eldest daughter of Henry and Joyce Summers. Called at the age of fifteen, first Watcher…
Blah blah blah Angelus, blah blah blah Adam, blah blah blah Glory… she already knew her life story.
Notes: February 2003 – Subject received a transfusion of demonic power of unknown origin. Further study is indicated to determine the precise nature of this power and its effects…
So that was it. Figured. Everyone from Giles to Vampire Buffy made such a big deal of her bargain with the Shadow Men’s pet smoke monster, why shouldn’t Wolfram & Hart horn in on the do-think-of-the-consequences-Buffy! action? She had thought of the consequences – if she’d done nothing, six girls would have died. Becoming a Slayer sucked in a lot of ways, but it was definitely better than being slipped a fatal mickey by Quentin Travers in the name of the greater good. Fine, she’d taken the power, but only to pass it on to those who needed it. She wasn’t any stronger or faster. It hadn’t changed her. Much. Except…
…subject’s recent interactions with the demonic inhabitants of Sunnydale has been highly non-standard. Subject has enlisted allies from the demon community and initiated liaisons with local human authorities, and has been observed to employ negotiation and arbitration in conjunction with more standard slaying techniques…
He hand went to her belly. Fred had done all those tests, and the results had been conclusive: Spike was alive, but he was still a demon. He had about as much chance of getting a human woman pregnant as he had of knocking up Miss Kitty Fantastico. Which meant…
Her stomach knotted as she imagined the residue of the power she’d carried into the world lingering in her cells like some unholy bathtub mold. Living and growing. She still felt normal. As normal as you could feel with super-strength and accelerated healing and the occasional quasi-prophetic dreams and an uncanny affinity for weapons she’d never seen in her life before. How much demon did a ‘normal’ Slayer have in her? Two percent? Three? How big did the percentage have to get before she couldn’t really call herself human any longer, and did numbers even mean anything, and breathe, Buffy!
Conclusion: The subject’s unconventional behavior poses a potentially serious threat to the Senior Partners’ long-term objectives. Widespread public scrutiny by mundane authorities could compromise numerous projects that the Senior Partners deem essential. While the likelihood of the subject inducing demon communities to accept human codes of conduct in the long term is small, any non-zero possibility of success is alarming in the extreme.
Threat Level: Very High
Recommendations: Subject’s sudden death or disappearance has the potential to create a martyr situation, which the firm should avoid at all costs. A program of capture, re-education, and release is far more likely to –
The stomach-knot dissolved in renewed anger. Re-education, huh? Don’t think so. She hadn’t liked school the first time.
She’d just flicked the mouse pointer to another file when Buttercup piped up, “Hey. Look at this.”
Buffy glanced across the console. “Whatcha got? Handy dandy Marauder’s Map?”
“Not quite. But it’s got the CEO’s signature on it, in something I’m pretty sure isn’t red ink. It’s a copy of a contract between Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and…” she squinted at the crabbed print. “…someone called Dinza?”
“Dinza?” All of a sudden Bubbles was standing over them, fingers tight on the back of Buttercup’s chair. “Are you sure it says Dinza? Demi-goddess of the lost, only talks to dead people?”
“You’d know better than I do. Apparently.” Buttercup’s expression was way too innocent. “Friend of yours?”
“Not. ” Bubbles scowled at the screen. “Angel mentioned her once.”
There was an undropped shoe there, or possibly a whole undropped Payless, but no time to pursue that now. “So – contract,” Buffy prompted. “What’s it contracting?”
“‘Contract for turnkey design/build construction and related services between
Wolfram & Hart and Dinza, Lady of Shadows, Mistress of Lamentation, etc. dated the 28th day of June, 2002…’ Blah, blah, blah lawyer talk, ‘In consideration of the compensation detailed in Section 3.65, the Party of the Second Part agrees to the design, development, construction, and testing of one (1) limited-access Riemann-Polyenkov fold (“POCKET DIMENSION”) to be multidimensionally anchored as specified in Section 4.23, including engineering, procurement, assembly, installation, start-up, and calibration of air, gravity, ambient temperature, ambient lighting, and all other materials and systems necessary for the operation of said POCKET DIMENSION in the manner specified in the applicable Contract Documents (defined in Section 2.5)…'” Buttercup whistled. “Looks like your BFF Dinza built this place.”
“She’s not my – ” Bubbles began heatedly, but Buffy’d stopped listening. A blazing inspiration seized her.
“Guys!” she broke in. “This thing’s our ticket out of here! If this Dinza’s the contractor, they’re bound to have some way of contacting her on file. Xander always says that when anything goes wrong the first thing you do is call up the contractor to bitch.”
Blossom gave her a skeptical look. “If this Dinza only talks to dead people – “
Buffy gave a shaky laugh. “Yeah. Well. About that.”
“I knew I could count on you,” Vamp Buffy purred, low enough that Blossom, punching the release code into the lock, couldn’t hear.
“Don’t get used to it,” Buffy hissed. “We’re even now.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll be good. I want to get out of here as much as you do.” The vampire smiled, a hungry baring of teeth. “I think we’re all going to be the best of friends.”
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/345164.html