Author's Note 4: This is post #20 for the 2012 August Fic-A-Day Challenge.
An alley outside the Bronze
July 14, 1996
(approximately one minute prior to the end of the previous chapter)
Jesse McNally quietly slipped out the same exit door he'd seen the disturbing, heebie-jeebies-inducing guy he'd scornfully designated 'Mr. Ultra-Smooth' follow Amy Madison through just a moment earlier. A suddenly blaring sense of foreboding cautioned him to make as little noise as possible, though, as the youth pursued the two of them out of the Bronze and into the darkness outside.
Jesse wasn't sure exactly why he was doing this, since he really wasn't interested in the somewhat plump brunette in any sort of romantic way – after all, he knew that it was just simply a matter of time before he finally managed to convince Cordelia Chase for a chance to show her just how great they would be together – but there was something about the guy who'd picked up Amy that wasn't sitting well with him, something that a little voice in the back of his head was telling him there was something *wrong* with the guy.
And since he had been friends with Amy ever since kindergarten, along with Willow and Xander, McNally felt a certain degree of responsibility to make sure that she was okay.
Which was why he was now sneaking down along the alley behind the Bronze, carefully making as little noise as possible – because if everything was okay with Amy, he certainly didn't want to get her pissed off at him by messing up whatever sort of connection she might be making with the guy she'd left with.
The low-voiced protest he heard issue from the far end of the alley abruptly cut off, and so Jesse instantly launched himself forward, intent on stopping whatever sort of perversion that slimy, skeevy lowlife Amy had left with was trying to make her perform. Because he was definitely certain that he had heard a large degree of fear in that cut-off protest he recognized had been uttered by his childhood friend.
Half a dozen steps brought Jesse to the dimly lit end of the passageway, and a righteous and indignant anger filled him as he saw the scumbag pressing Amy up against the Bronze's rear wall and forcing himself against her while her arms flailed futilely as she tried to shove her assailant away.
"Hey, leave her alone, asshole!" the dark-haired adolescent yelled as Jesse reached out and grabbed hold of the guy's shoulder, in order to pull him away from Amy. But the guy spun around way too fast, and Jesse was astonished to see a pair of yellow eyes set below a furrowed, bumpy forehead glaring at him for interfering in what was obviously some sort of kinky, sexual assault of some kind.
"So, you think you're gonna be some kind of hero, huh, punk?" Jesse heard the obviously psycho pervert snarling as the guy effortlessly slapped his arm away and then backhanded him into the alleyway's other wall, causing him to slam his head against the grey cinder block barrier and making a galaxy of stars suddenly explode in the teen's head.
"Fine. Lemme show you what happens to heroes around here," the guy sneered as he started toward him, and Jesse recovered enough of his spinning senses to realize that he was going to be in a whole world of trouble if he let the guy get another solid hit in on him.
So, letting himself slide down the wall behind him as he gathered his legs under him, Jesse let the guy get close enough so that he could smell his breath (and boy, did this guy have a case of halitosis nasty enough to drop an elephant!). Then, Jesse sprang up to his full height, catching his opponent in the face with his head while he simultaneously slammed his fist into the guy's stomach as hard as he could.
Unfortunately, however, unlike in the movies, Mr. Ultra-Smooth didn't fall back and away from him. Maybe he should have gone for the groin-shot.
Instead, the glare on the guy's face merely got deeper and he grabbed hold of Jesse's right arm and twisted his arm to the outside, and the still somewhat disoriented youth let out a low, pain-filled groan as McNally felt the bones in his forearm snap at the same time the guy backhanded him and made his head bounce off the cinder block wall again.
As he felt himself sliding down the wall behind him again, Jesse decided he must have received a concussion and had to be hallucinating or something. Because as he dropped to the ground, he could have sworn he heard that airhead blonde whom he'd last seen talking to Xander and Willow saying, "Excuse me, but just because Bon Jovi can pull that look off, there's no excuse for trying to imitate him, because *you* certainly can't!"
And then Mr. Ultra-Smooth, who'd been quite successfully and effortlessly beating him into paste, seemed to suddenly jump backwards away from him and slam himself against the other wall of the alley.
It was then then Jesse knew for *sure* he was hallucinating, because the blonde ditz who'd been talking to Willow and Xander inside (someone who was still looking just as hot as when she'd first appeared, his teenage libido informed him) looked like she was working over Mr. Ultra-Smooth just as easily as the jocks worked over one of Coach Harrold's heavy punching bags.
She'd hit the guy at least a half-dozen times with both her fists and some really cool-looking karate kicks that looked like something Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris would have been envious of using, and the guy who'd been smacking him around like he was a five year old toddler didn’t seem to be able to even land a single punch on the hottie in return.
And then – and this made Jesse know for certain that he was hallucinating – the blonde stabbed Mr. Ultra-Smooth in the chest with a stake, which looked kinda like the ones he and his dad used for their tent when they went camping, except that it was a lot smoother and looked a bit more finished, and then Mr. Ultra-Smooth simply disappeared in a cloud of dust.
Jesse had just enough time to say, "Whoa! Very cool!", and smile at the hottie in question before the world's spinning around accelerated big time, and everything suddenly went dark.
Xander Harris could hardly believe his eyes, despite the fact that he was standing here in the alley behind the Bronze and watching the clearly flaky (but still unquestionably hot!) airhead blonde – who'd just been telling him and Willow some exceedingly crazy, off-the-wall story about her being some sort of mystical warrior girl who'd been chosen to fight singlehandedly against pretty much every kind of storybook monster that had ever been dreamed up to scare kids into jumping into their bed at night and staying there until morning came – kicking the ever-loving crap out of some Neanderthalic asshole who'd been beating up Jesse after apparently trying to molest Amy Madison.
And what was really crazy was that she was doing it with an ease, fluidity and grace that made Harris think of more than a few high-level video game characters (although the girl in front of him didn't resemble any of the super-macho, uber-badass, unquestionably masculine superheroes from any of those games in the least, thank God!) – while still looking like she'd just stepped out of some photo shoot for one of those magazines that Cordelia and the rest of her vacuous, empty-headed minions read and adhered to as though they were the Ten Commandments handed down to them by Moses himself.
Still, it was seeing the beautiful blonde stab Jesse's and Amy's assailant in the chest with a wooden stake, and the subsequent explosion of dust and ashes that made Xander realize that either he had suddenly gone completely bug-fuck crazy and was hallucinating this entire scene, or else – the story which the hottie had told him...was real?
Glancing to his left, Xander could see that Willow was standing next to him with the same open-mouthed, disbelieving expression he was sure was plastered on his own face.
And it was that reaction which made the self-described Sunnydale High 'King of Cretins' decide that if his red-haired best female friend was seeing the same things he had just witnessed, then he was, unfortunately, very much sane, primarily because he had always believed Willow Rosenberg was as firmly grounded in the real world as anyone could be. Far too much so, actually, in his not so humble opinion.
After all, hadn't it taken him and Jesse almost two solid months of pretty much non-stop work to convince their fellow kindergartener that it was perfectly normal to have imaginary friends that no one else could see or talk to? The girl had been even less fun to be with than their teacher Miss Bergman, and almost less fun than hanging around with Cordelia and her mini-minions was, back then!
Shaking his head to clear his momentarily confused thoughts, Xander forced himself to focus on the fact that his best male friend was seriously injured, judging by the fact that Jesse’s eyes had abruptly rolled up into his head and he was now falling to the disgustingly dirty asphalt pavement they were all standing on. He also noticed that Buffy – the petite blonde warrior goddess he'd been thinking was only firing on possibly five out her eight cylinders – had somehow managed to not only turn Jesse's attacker into a pile of dust, but had also spun around and crossed the distance between them to catch the taller brunet before he, himself, could even start moving to help his best bud.
Regardless of whatever the philosophical or metaphysical implications of the story the blonde had been telling them just a few minutes earlier might be, Xander Harris was now completely and totally convinced that his world was never going to be the same again.
"Uh, hey, guys? I could use a little help here," Buffy called over to Xander and Willow as they stood there, gawking incredulously at what they'd just witnessed, before finally, after a couple of seconds, catching the attention of her former – and hopefully once again in this new and different alternate world she was looking to fashion, Buffy thought to herself – friends as they each shook themselves as though waking from a dream and turned to look at her.
"Uh, you know, to help me take care of the people who were just attacked by that vampire – your friends?" Buffy clarified her prior statement. The Slayer then smiled slightly to herself as she saw , first, Xander's, and then, an instant later, Willow's eyes firm up resolve and their faces shift to ones of focused determination as they each rushed over to help her take care of both a shaken and traumatized Amy and a clearly more seriously injured Jesse.
"Here, let me carry him, 'cause he's way too heavy for – " Xander's voice trailed off in sheer incredulity as he watched Buffy pick up Jesse – someone who was probably a foot taller and *much* heavier than the pixie-like blonde was – as easily as if he were a Halloween scarecrow stuffed with straw before turning to him and giving a nod of her head towards a wide-eyed Amy. The plump brunette was frantically clutching at Willow's arms while her head kept snapping back and forth between Buffy and the spot where the blonde had just made a guy turn to dust.
"Hey, Aims," Xander called to the clearly distraught girl as he began walking over to her, his actions making Willow sigh in obvious relief at the realization that she wasn't going to have to deal with the distressed and near-hysterical Madison girl all by herself.
"Why don't you come along with us, okay?"he suggested as he carefully slipped his arm around the shaking brunette's shoulders.
"We're taking Jesse to the hospital, 'cause he got kinda banged up helping to save you from that mugger who attacked you – and I think maybe you should get yourself looked over in the ER, too, okay?" Xander told her as he allowed Amy to lean against him and began leading her and Willow out of the alleyway they were currently standing in, following the already in motion blonde who'd just rescued his two friends.
"Yeah, that's a really good idea Xander had, Amy," Willow agreed, chiming in from the brunette's other side as she helped guide the taller girl along. "You should probably get your head looked at, too, ‘cause it looks like that mugger scratched your neck when he was attacking you," the redhead pointed out, as she pressed a wad of tissues against the blood trickling out the twin holes in Amy's neck.
"Uh, yeah, I think I'll do that," Buffy could hear Amy agreeing, the taller girl's voice carrying the same sense of confusion, numbness and disbelief that she could recall hearing in the voices of the victims in so many of her future-self's memories.
Glancing down at the unconscious youth she was carrying so carefully, yet so casually, in her arms, the fifteen-year-old Slayer also recalled from those selfsame memories that both Jesse McNally and Amy Madison had ended up casualties of the Darkness in that thrice-damned future. One by being turned into a vampire just a few months from now, and the other by losing her way and being seduced by the faithless, beckoning promises of fabled arcane power a few years hence.
The pain Buffy felt course through her at the idea that such youthful exuberance and promise had been lost – and not through any fault of her future self, but merely through the vagaries of chance and the whims of Fate – made the deep-seated anger and resentment at the way things had worked out for both her future self and the future versions of her potential friends burn even more fiercely.
So Buffy Anne Summers silently swore to herself that she would do whatever was necessary to ensure that *this* world would not develop into the nightmare that the memories she'd been simultaneously blessed and cursed with promised that it would eventually become.
Sunnydale General Hospital
Two and a half hours later
"Look, I know that you guys don't really know me at all, especially since we just met earlier tonight; but I'm really hoping that whatever it was you thought you saw happen in that alley isn't going to make you tell me to go away, and never come back."
Buffy's clearly nervous statement was conveyed to Xander and Willow was made as they all stood outside the curtained cubicle Jesse had been moved to, and waited for the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. McNally. Amy was not part of the conversation; she was a sitting in a chair a little to the side, her fingers examining the newly-applied bandage on her neck.
Seeing the petite blonde fretfully clasping and unclasping her hands while watching the other two teens and waiting for some sort of answer to her preceding not-really-a-question type statement made Xander half-smile to himself as he considered the similarity in Buffy’s behavior to the way Willow would often act when uncertain of herself.
Speaking of whom, Xander glanced over and hid another smile at the intent way his redheaded friend was staring at Amy; Willow's forehead was furrowed in concentration as she considered all of the events which had occurred, and the information she'd learned since their first meeting with Buffy earlier this evening.
"Nah; I don't think that anything like that is gonna happen anytime soon, pretty lady," the teen replied, then chuckled at the expression of relief which crossed the beautiful blonde's face upon hearing those words.
"Actually, I don't think that the Willster here would even consider letting you out of her sight until every one of her questions is answered," Xander elaborated, indicating the preoccupied redhead now standing slightly off to one side in the corridor.
"And knowing the way Will's mind works, that could take quite a while," he finished up as he caught sight of Jesse's parents heading down the hallway in their general direction.
"Warning! Warning! This is a Code Red Parental Alert, Will," Xander said, as he reached out to tap the currently oblivious redhead on her shoulder.
Seeing the startled look on Willow's face as he disrupted her train of thought, Xander quickly warned her, "Tally-ho! Jesse's folks are almost here, Will.
"Remember, you agreed – not one word to anyone about what really happened tonight, okay?" Harris reminded her. "Jesse got slammed into a wall by some guy who was trying to mug Amy before he disappeared, and that's *all* that happened. Right?"
"Yeah, Xander. I heard you the first time," Willow nodded her understanding. "Besides who would believe it if I told anyone what really happened?"
"I would, Willow," Buffy immediately told her, giving the other girl what she hoped would look like a reassuring smile, as opposed to a 'I'm completely out of my mind, please don't run away while I try to eviscerate you' grimace.
"Relax, Buffy," the dark-haired youth said to her from the corner of his mouth, as he moved forward to intercept the two clearly worried parents bearing down on them.
"Just don't plan on going anywhere for a while, okay?" he continued.
"'Cause we all definitely need to talk about *everything* that we think happened earlier this evening!"