Disclaimer: I don't own any of characters. I'm just borrowing them for a while.
A/N: _Off Switch_ takes place in the future after all of my other current stories. I started writing this in hopes of breaking the writer's block have on the others. To know how I created the relationship between Illyria and Dawn, you need to at least read the shorts I have posted together under the title _Of Slayers, Smurfs and Sneakers_.
“I’m not sure this was such a good idea.” The young woman said as she pulled her boot out of another mud hole. After shaking the black muck from her foot, she looked at the small GPS receiver sewn into the sleeve of her coveralls. “We are now officially in the middle of nowhere.”
“This is not ‘no where’.” The woman’s companion said as he continued to push through the brush. “We are in the middle of one of the few remaining old growth rain forests on earth.”
“And what exactly do you expect to find in one of the few remaining old growth rain forests on earth?” The woman ran muddy fingers through her closely cropped brown hair. The gesture left a trail of black mud across her forehead.
“The woman in the tree, of course.”
“I know that, Jerry. But what do you really expect this woman to be?” She checked her GPS again, not really expecting it to have changed much with the last few steps.
“We’ve had this discussion before, Mel.” Jerry responded as he pushed through the brush trying not to damage the protected vegetation.
“And you never really answered the question.” Melanie sped up her pace to keep up with her partner.
“I don’t know.”
“You have an idea.” Melanie pushed. “It could be a tree trunk shaped or carved like a face. It could be a corpse stuffed in a tree maybe a lost parachutist.”
“Yes it could.” Jerry agreed.
“If that’s what you really expected to find, you wouldn’t be out here spending your grant money to find a skeleton or anomaly of nature.”
“Well, that is what we do, hunt down myths and discover their origins.” Jerry replied as he wiped a small towel over his shaved head.
“But this is so obscure.” Melanie said. “Come on, we’re finally on site, you can tell me why this is one little local legend has you so obsessed. Ompff.” Melanie stepped back after running into Jerry who’d stopped in mid step.
“I think we’re here.” Jerry said quietly as if he didn’t want to disturb the lady in the tree.
Melanie peeked around Jerry’s shoulders into a large clearing. The forest floor was clear of vegetation and most debris for about 30 meters around a towering old growth tree. At the base of the tree was a collection of clay pots and baskets, many aged and worn by the years. “What’s with all the cook ware?”
“Offerings to the lady in the tree.” Jerry stepped into the clearing followed closely by Melanie.
“What lady?” Melanie stepped forward examining the large trunk.
“I guess she’s up there.” Jerry stated as he looked up into the canopy. He took off his back pack and started pulling out equipment.
“She who?” Mel asked as she took off her pack and started preparing her share of the equipment.
“You don’t have an imagination do you?”
“I’m helping you write your thesis on myths and legends; aren’t I?”
“You’re helping me find the scientific or historical source of local myths and legends. Disproving a culture’s legends can be dangerous. People don’t like to loose their gods, heroes and monsters.”
“So why are you doing this?” Melanie handed Jerry a long coil of climber’s rope.
“Because unlike you, I have an imagination.” Jerry replied as he stepped into his climbing harness. “I hope to find something truly remarkable one day.”
“But your thesis is on disproving myths and legends.” Melanie pulled a tube with a pistol grip on the side from her pack and put a small cartridge into one end. She pointed the tube at the ground. “Fire in the hole.” She and Jeff turned their faces away as she pulled the trigger. With a loud crack, the contraption fired a long stake into the ground. On impact, the stake deployed three long splines securely anchoring the it in the ground.
“Do you really think I would have gotten funding if I admitted I want to prove the mystical?” Jerry removed a carbon fiber cross bow from his pack, attached one end of the climbing rope to a bolt and loaded the bow. A canister like the one Mel had used for the anchor was loaded into the stock.
Sighting through the launcher’s digitally enhanced sights; Jerry aimed into the tree’s canopy, adjusted the power assist and reached for the trigger. “Fire in the hole.” With a loud crack, the bolt raced into the air pulling the climbing rope behind it. With a graceful arch, it looped over a low branch in the tree’s canopy and fell back to earth.
It took fifteen minutes to finish the climbing rig and to finally get Jerry climbing the tree.
“Are you sure she’s up there?” Melanie asked as Jerry started up the trunk, do his best to not damager or in anyway mark the ancient tree.
“I’m sure it’s the right tree.” Jerry pulled himself up a few meters then spoke into a mike at his throat. “How’s the reception?”
“Audio’s good.” Mel replied and looked at the small monitor strapped to her wrist. She could see herself looking at her wrist monitor. “Video looks good.” She pushed the zoom button until she could see the black streaks of mud across her forehead. “Oh my God, why didn’t you tell me about the mud?”
Jerry laughed, looked back up the tree and started climbing again. “What fun would that have been?”
Experienced in this manner of climbing, Jerry quickly reached the top and loosened the rope so he could look about the tightly growing canopy. Wedged at the middle of the tree at the top of the main trunk appeared to be a figure covered in vines and years of forest debris. “Are you getting this?” Jerry whispered as he stepped closer to the vine covered silhouette.
“It really does look like a body.” Melanie whispered back as she examined what looked like a body sitting in the crook of the tree. Why they were whispering she hadn’t a clue it’s not like they were going to wake it up if it was a body.
Jerry took a step closer and reached toward the shape. He pulled at the tightly growing vines that surround what appeared to be its head. After a couple of minutes, he revealed a dried out face black with age and dirt. “It looks mummified.” He whispered as if he might wake it.
“How could it be mummified in this climate?” Melanie asked. “Between the insects and vegetation, it should have been nothing but bones years ago.”
After cutting away more vines, he revealed some of its body and the dark leather body suit it was wearing. “It does look like a woman.” Jeff observed when he got more of the body uncovered.
“How could she be so well preserved?” Melanie asked as she watched Jeff examine the dried up face. “Did she just move?”
“I must have moved her.” Jeff replied as stepped back a bit.
“Perhaps we should get a forensics team here.” Melanie suggested.
“Probably.” Jeff agreed as he moved in closer, examining her face. “Does her face look fuller to you?”
“Don’t be..” Melanie replied then the woman’s eyes snapped open. “Holy shit!” She jumped back as if she could get away from the image on the monitor strapped to her wrist.
“Jesus Christ!” Jeff yelled as he jumped back from the ice blue eyes that were suddenly staring at him. His feet missed the branch he was standing on at the same time Melanie jumped from her position and let go of the rope. “Belay on! Belay on!” Jeff yelled as he crashed through branches and headed for the ground.
Melanie grabbed at the rope as it whipped up past her but she couldn’t get a grip. She watched in horror as her friend tumbled toward her. High above, ice blue eyes watched the rope sliding past as the vermin tumbled to the ground. The creature pulled a leather covered hand loose of the vines surrounding it and caught the rope stopping the uncontrolled fall of the human that had awakened her.
Jeff jerked to a stop less then three meters from the ground. “Oh, Mel, you pulled that one a little close. I thought I was dead.”
Melanie held up her hands. “I didn’t catch it. You just got damn lucky.” The rope let go and Jeff fell the rest of the way.
“Ohmpph.” Jeff landed with a thud. “Oh, what the hell just happened?” He asked as he reached for Melanie’s hand.
“I think she’s alive.” Melanie said as she helped her friend off the ground. “Look at this.” She started to show him the footage from the last few seconds when they heard crashing in the branches above. They both looked up in time to see someone step out of the foliage above and fall towards them.
They both had just enough time to jump back before the woman landed between them with a slight bounce in her knees. Her face was still sunken and hollow but not nearly as dried out and brittle as just few minutes before. Her hair was a dark tangled mess of leaves and dirt with a hint of dirty blue framing her face. She cocked her head and regarded the two students. “What year?”
“What?” Melanie could barely whisper the word as she stared at the creature.
“What is the year by your standard Gregorian calendar, Worm?”
“Ah, twenty thirty three.” Melanie mumbled. She studied the creature. Her cheeks seemed to have filled out even since she landed.
“Twenty thirty three?” The creature considered the information. “It has not been as long as I’d planned.” She stated. “But it as been long enough in your puny life spans.” She turned and walked into the brush.
Jeff and Melanie stared at each other.
“Now what do we do?” Melanie finally asked.
Jeff started unbuckling from his climbing harness. “We go home.”
“What about..” Melanie pointed toward were the creature had disappeared into the jungle. “Her?”
“Who?” Jeff asked as he stepped out of his harness.
“Her?” Melanie continued to point at the woods.
Jeff shrugged and took the disk from Melanie’s recorder. “Just another local myth.” He said snapping the disk in half.
The sharp rapping on the front door reverberated through the house again. “Jen! Get the door!”
A rail thin teenage girl with straight brown shoulder length hair yanked the door open. “Hi…” she started to great the person at the door until got a good look at the visitor. Ice blue eyes stared at her through a tangle of long blank hair with blue framing her face. Blue stripes with black veins ran down both sides of her face disappearing beneath a leather body suit.
“Who’s at the door?” The mother’s voice yelled from the back of the house.
“A demon.” The girl called as she backed away from the door and turned to the location of her mother.
“What kind of demon?”
“I don’t know.” The girl said exasperated. She looked back at the creature still standing in the doorway looking into the house. “She’s blue.”
A tall woman with short permed hair peppered with grey and the beginning of middle age spread came out of the back of the house. She wore loose blue jeans and white sweater covered by an apron. In her right hand she held a slightly twisted and gnarled stick down to her side. She looked at the creature at the door. “Illyria?”
“Oriens, you have changed your shell.”
“It’s been a long time, Illyria, people change.” Dawn replied. “Oh, and don’t call me that.”
“Yea,” Jen added. “She’s old.” She turned to her mother. “Are you going to invite her in or what? I’d be so mortified if anybody at school saw a demon standing on our porch. What would I tell them?”
“Jennifer Anne Harris, I’m not that old.” Dawn informed her youngest daughter. She turned to Illyria. “Please come in.”
Illyria looked at the vague shimmer that separated her from the inside of the house. It was a barrier that would keep lesser beings out but not her if she truly desired to enter this stack of sticks and rock. She had chosen not to breach the barrier because she was sure it would initiate a response from several motivated Slayers possibly armed with that weapon. With the invitation, she stepped through the barrier and allowed the spawn, Jen, to close the door.
“Actually, Oriens, you are older than this foul rock you call a planet.” Illyria corrected her guide.
“See mom, even she agrees you’re older than dirt.” Jen said.
Dawn pointed her Wizarding wand at Illyria. “Don’t call me that.” Then at Jen, “And you go,…go,…clean your room.”
“Mom, what do you plan to do with the wand?”
“Sorry.” Dawn smiled after glancing at the old wand and tossed it off to her side. The wand flew about a meter and disappeared.
Illyria was now standing very close to Dawn studying her. “Why do you color your hair with gray?” She asked. “The shell’s memories tell me it is not a desired color.”
“Hey, she pays a lot of money to have that gray put in.” Jen teased.
Dawn glared at her daughter. They were always teasing her to get her hair colored to cover up the gray. Of course doing that would defeat the whole purpose of the gray.
“Jen, I thought you were going to go clean your room or something?” Dawn glared at the teenager.
“Fine.” The girl smiled and turned to Illyria. “You can tell me more about my mother later.” And she dashed off toward the back of the house.
Turning back toward Illyria Dawn asked. “Why are you here, now? You promised to wait until my family was grown.”
“I was awakened.” Illyria stated as she started to walk around the room examining its contents.
“By who?” Dawn frowned. “It wasn’t more your damned acolytes. Was it?”
“I don’t believe they desired to worship me.”
“Then who were they?”
“I didn’t inquire their names.” Illyria stated. “This planet is filthy with the repulsive plague of man they were bound to find me eventually.”
“I told you you should have gone to the deeper well.” Dawn said ignoring the plague comment.
“One does not take refuge in a prison.” Illyria was studying Dawn again. “You’re family doesn’t know you place that color in your hair to make your shell seem older then its natural appearance?”
“Some do.” Dawn said quietly.
“And your spawn?”
“They’re my children, they are not spawn.” Dawn stated. “And they don’t know.” She looked toward the back of the house then back at the demon standing in her living room. “Their life is weird enough as it is without that.”
“Without what?” Jen asked from where she’d emerged from the dining room.
Illyria shrugged. “How you maintain the appearance of your shell is of no consequence to me.”
Jen was staring at her with arms folded across her chest. “Weird enough without what?” She asked again.
Dawn sighed; she was going to have to tell them eventually. “Well you know about the monks and the key….”
“I hate her.”
“No you don’t.”
“Yo, why didn’t you tell me this about the brat?”
“Yo?” Buffy looked at her old friend. “Since when did that word return to your vocabulary?”
Faith sat in a brown leather recliner by the fire place. Her chair was conveniently placed by the bar, the TV controls and the weapons closet. Of the four sitting in the living room, she was the only one whose hair was some semblance of its original color and length. The second oldest slayer looked much as she had thirty years earlier; the only part of her appearance that belied her age where the wrinkles around her eyes and on her neck. “I figure if Brat can go retro so can I.” She smirked as she took a drink from her mug of beer.
“I told you it isn’t that easy.” Buffy said after taking a sip from her martini. Her hair was cut short with a bit of curl for body. The color was a mixture of color, highlights, original near brown and hard to color gray. Sometimes when she looked in the mirror, she thought she looked like her mother. When she was twenty, she would have been mortified by the thought. Now it just made her smile. Buffy still wore her business suit and skirt she’d worn at the office and sat comfortably at one end of a leather couch. “This really isn’t her fault.”
“That’s true.” Willow said. She sat at the opposite end of the couch from Buffy. Her appearance was most altered from their Sunnydale days. Her hair was now pure white and fell well past her waist. Many thought it was just gray and asked why she didn’t color it. Willow just smiled in response. The color was there, just hidden by the magic; a side effect of a lifetime fighting the forces of darkness in her own special way. She wore it proudly.
“Oh please.” Faith said. “Sure, part of it might not be her fault, but this,” she gestured across the room. “Is definitely her fault.” She looked at Xander who sat in a leather recliner that matched Faith’s though it was much more worn in. “You could have at least told me, BT.”
“Hm, what?” Xander turned his attention from across the room to his old friend.
“I said you could have at least told me about Dawn.” Faith said again.
Xander smiled. “No way, not my job. I’m the last one who should be gossiping to you about Dawn. Besides, I always figured somebody would have told you or you would have figured it out on your own since you’re always over here.”
“I am not always over here.” Faith defended.
“If you’re not always over here, then why did I have to buy you your own chair?”
“Because you’re too damn selfish to let me use yours when I visit.” Faith shot back.
“I thought the only reason you visited is because you liked the chair.” Buffy volunteered.
“That and the beer on tap.” Willow added.
“That’s what I always figured.” Xander agreed.
“No changing the subject.” Faith said as she took another swallow of beer. “Now please explain that.” She motioned to the two women dancing at the media end of the room.
“That, Faith.” Xander said slowly. “Are my wife and my youngest daughter enjoying some time together dancing to some that God awful modern pop music.”
“I know that.” Faith said through clenched teeth. She would have jumped up and mock chocked Xander if she wasn’t so comfortably ensconced in *her* chair. “My question is why does your wife look more like your daughter’s slightly older sister and not her mother like she did two months ago?”
“Oh, that would be her fault.” Xander said indicating Illyria who sat quietly at the dining room table. She had been there for the past three days translating a book Dawn had given her.
Faith finally sat forward. “What’d the monster do to the brat? Where’s the scythe? Can she do it to me? Where’s the scythe?”
“She didn’t do anything to me.” Everyone looked up at Dawn as she approached. She looked exactly as she had when she was in her early twenties. She sat down on Xander’s lap and took a drink of his beer. Their youngest daughter followed Dawn into the room and dropped on to the leather sofa to sit between her Aunt Buffy and Aunt Willow.
Jen grabbed one of Willow’s juice boxes and downed it in one long sip. “Doesn’t mom look great?” Jen asked enthusiastically. She looked at Faith’s frown. “Ah, isn’t it amazing how loosing a little weight and some, ah hair coloring can make you look years younger?”
“I’m not buying it, BJ.” Faith said. “Now somebody tell what is going on.”
Everybody turned to look at Dawn who was taking another long draw on Xander’s beer. “What?” She asked innocently. “Okay.” She gave the mug back to Xander. “Well a couple of months ago Illyria came back around. She kind of convinced me it was time to stop trying to look the age I’m supposed to be and just look the way that I am.”
“You look like this naturally?” Faith looked at Buffy. “She’s supposed to have your genes, you sure as hell aren’t aging THAT slowly.”
“Actually,” Dawn said. “I haven’t aged at all since my early twenties.”
“You’ve got to be shitt’n me.” Faith said. “And nobody noticed?”
“Actually we noticed when she was around thirty; her skin was just too damn good.” Buffy said. “I was very jealous.”
“And you never bothered to mention this to me why?” Faith asked a little peeved.
The other three looked at each other sheepishly. “Well,” Xander finally started. “I thought you knew. Since we really didn’t talk about it, we, Dawn and I, just always figured somebody else would have mentioned it to you.”
Faith turned to Buffy who held up her hands. “Hey, don’t look at me; you’re the one who practically lives here when you’re in town. I figured they would have told you.”
“I know, Red.” Faith said looking at Willow. “I know, Witch client privilege.”
“Well it really wasn’t my place.” Willow confirmed as Faith changed her glare back to Dawn and Xander.
“They’re the ones responsible. Probably thought it was pretty funny wondering if I’d ever notice.” Faith crossed her arms and stared at her two friends.
“Okay, okay.” Xander said. “You win, I’m sorry, it’s all my fault. How can I make it up to you?”
“Ha!” Buffy laughed. “You just made a big mistake.”
Faith’s eyes dropped down to the leather chair Xander, with Dawn, was sitting in. The chair was identical to the one she was sitting in, only older and broken in.
“Oh, no, you’ve got your own.” Xander suddenly had a concerned look.
Faith sat up in her recliner, folding the foot rest back into place. “Yea, but that’s the original. All the leather’s broken in just right, it’s like the embrace of a favorite old jacket.” She stood up and waited.
“Fine.” Xander supported Dawn as she stood up from his lap then stood as well. He took a step toward Faith’s chair.
“Oh no.” Faith said. “I’m keeping my spot.” She turned to Buffy. “Mind giving me a hand.” In no time, the two slayers had the large leather recliners switched.
Soon Xander was sitting comfortably, though not quite as comfortably as before, in his new brown leather recliner. He looked at his young looking wife who was still standing in the middle of the group holding his beer. “Well?”
“I’m thinking.” Dawn smiled looking back and fourth between Xander and Faith. “If it was the chair or the occupant.”
“Hey, Brat,” Faith smirked. “As long as I’m drinking your beer, there’s always room for you on my lap.”
“Don’t trust her.” Buffy interjected. “Faith’s just looking for somebody she can recruit to fetch more beer.”
Dawn sat back down on Xander’s lap and gave him is beer. He held his glass up to the group “To long life.”
“To long life.” Everyone returned the toast. Including Willow and Jen who held up mostly empty fruit drink boxes.
“So speaking of long lives.” Faith said. “What exactly is your story? I assume you’re not one those nutty head hunting immortals we have to slap down every once in a while. Cause I know those guys can’t have kids, ever, and hey, I helped deliver BJ over there.”
“I am sitting right here.” Jen said. “And don’t call me BJ.”
“Oh, but it fits so well.” Faith smirked at the teenager. She tuned back to Dawn. “So if you’re not one of those freaks, then what is it? Does it have to do with being the Key?”
“She is not the key.” A voice said from behind them.
The room tuned to look at Illyria who hadn’t moved or spoken in three days. “Oriens is not the key.” The creature said. “She is Claviger, the key bearer given form.”
“Okay,” Faith corrected. “Does it have to do with being whatever it is that you are?”
“We’re not sure.” Dawn said. “But Willow has a theory.”
The room turned to Willow who was sipping from a drink box and showing Jen something on a hand held computer. She looked up at the group. “What?”
“Tell Faith why you think I stopped aging.” Dawn said.
“Well, you see, it’s not directly related to being the key….” She looked at Illyria. “The key bearer, I.” she paused. “I mean we think it has to do more with the way Monks made Dawnie.”
“You mean you think the Monks deliberately made her so she wouldn’t age?” Faith asked.
“Not exactly.” Willow said. “You see, they said they included Buffy when they worked the spell so they really would be related.”
“Yea,” Faith said. “I know that part.”
“Well,” Willow continued. “By my best guess, Dawn actually stopped aging when she reached the age Buffy was when she was created; about twenty.”
“Why would that happen?” Faith asked. “They got everything else mostly right.” She glanced at Dawn. “Considering.”
“Watch it.” Dawn warned with a laugh. “This is my house.”
Faith rolled her eyes.
“And even though I’m CEO of the North American offices, I can still assign duty stations.” Dawn added.
Faith blanched. “Hey, I was just kidding, we’re five by five here.” The last time Faith ticked off Dawn, she’d spent six months patrolling Des Moines Iowa. That was not going to happen again. She turned back to Willow. “So what do you think it is?”
“Well, we think they really did leave something out. You know they were in a time crunch and all with that bitch after them. They had to get all the other details right so nobody would notice her just appear and all. It’s not surprising they missed one little detail that nobody would have noticed at the time.” Willow paused for dramatic effect.
“And that would be?” Faith asked
“An off switch.” Jen finally said.
“Hey,” Willow turned to the grinning teenager. “It’s my theory, I get to say it.”
“Yea and you always take too long too.” Jen complained.
“What the hell does that mean?” Faith asked. “No off switch.”
“It means.” Buffy said. “That Willow thinks that the monks weren’t thinking about the future, just protecting the key. So when they made Dawn they made her as much like me as reasonable which included my age at the time. They never considered what would happen to Dawn if she survived so..”
“So they didn’t bother to program her to grow old and eventually die.” Faith took over.
“Yep, once I reached the same age Buffy was when I was sent, I stopped ageing.” Dawn shrugged. “Forever twenty and getting carded.”
A new song came on the media server. “Oh, I love this song.” Jen jumped up. “Come on mom.” She grabbed Dawn’s hand and pulled her off her father’s lap. She turned to Faith. “You too Faith.” Jen grabbed Faith’s hand.
The slayer got out of her chair and followed Dawn and Jen across the room to the media center. She looked back at Xander who was starting to stand and lean toward her chair. “Don’t even think about it.”
Xander grinned goofily and sat back down.
The scoobies watched the three dancing.
“Can you believe she’s just going to stay like that, twenty forever?” Buffy asked. She turned to Xander. “Don’t you feel a little weird, knowing as you grow older, your wife’s always going to be young and beautiful?”
Xander brushed his hand through his short, thinning, gray hair and scratched at the tattered eye patch he tended to wear around the house. “I’m in my fifties, sleeping with a twenty year old.” He said with a casual grin. “Life is good.”
“I wonder what’ll happen to her.” Willow pondered. “What she’ll do, where she’ll go.”
“To the stars.” Illyria said from behind them. The old one had finally gotten up from the table and stood behind Willow and Buffy.
“What?” Buffy asked.
“Some day she’ll walk among the stars.” Illyria stated. “Then, I’ll be the guide.”
The three looked back at the dancers. They knew they had at most another fifty years left, probably a lot less. Nothing really changed in that amount of time. But how long did Dawn have? Would humanity really colonize space? Would Dawn see it? Would she some day move off of earth and actually live on another planet? Nobody knew but what a wonderful adventure it could be.
A/N2: I do not plan to write a follow up any time soon. If anybody else would like to write a future fic following the adventures of Dawn and Illyria go for it. Which crossover future will it be? B5, Trek, Dark Angel, something else. It would be interesting to see the different takes. I have my own thoughts, but that's for another time.