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Posted June 18, 2007

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    Twisting the Hellmouth

Series: Ring of the Gods

Title: The Power of Two

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.

Rating: PG-13.

Summary: "She speaks de truth," Kendra admitted, lowering her fists. Her chest was still heaving from the exertion, and sweat ran down her face, but her tone was as firm as ever. "We were just having some fun." 9600 words.

Spoilers: B:tVS post-"Chosen". Stargate SG-1 through 9.13 "Ripple Effect"

Notes:For Anneliese, who asked for a lengthy fic with Buffy established at the SGC (but not on SG-1) and Buffy/Cam.

Buffy finished off the arrangement on her tray with a bowl of green jello, then turned to survey the rows of tables for an available seat. The cafeteria was a lot more crowded than usual; they were bringing all of the alternate SG-1's through in shifts, but even so, most of the tables were occupied. Normally, she'd sit with Daniel or one of the resident Slayers, but there was no telling where her Daniel was at the moment, and her Slayers had all been out on missions when the subspace disruption began rerouting wormholes in from nearby universes. The girls had all ended up at the Alpha Site with their teams, waiting for clearance to come back home.

She hadn't seen any copies of herself come through the wormhole yet either, though that was no great surprise. In any universe where Buffy was both a Slayer and had survived her prophesied fatal meeting with the Master, she would have eventually had to face the First because of the split Slayer line-- and any Buffy who survived the First would be as anchored as she was by the activation spell they'd had to use to defeat it. Ergo, she would never be on a Gate team. Of course, there were probably universes out there where Buffy hadn't been Chosen as a Slayer-- but those Buffys, given no reason to grow out of their cheerleader mold, would never have been recruited by the SGC in the first place.

In fact, Buffy was starting to think that must have mostly been the case-- that on most Earths, she'd never joined the SGC at all. As she glanced around the room, looking for a place to sit, she caught the eye of several Daniels, Carters, Mitchells, Teal'cs, and even a lone Janet Frasier, but none of them seemed to so much as recognize her, and even more tellingly, none of the alternate women who were Slayers in her universe showed any sign of unusual strength or grace. It was eerie and unnerving, as though she'd suddenly become a ghost in her own life; it was a good thing the current Hellmouth was in Cleveland and not Colorado Springs, or she'd probably have gone all Marcie Ross by now.

Which-- that reminded her, what exactly had happened to Marcie after the government agents took her away? Buffy would have to remember to mention it to the General sometime, see if they knew where she'd ended up. General Landry wasn't quite as hip to the weird as General O'Neill had been, but she was pretty sure he'd believe her even if he hadn't heard about the invisible girl through official channels yet. It wasn't like see-through people were all that strange compared to what the SGC dealt with on a daily basis.

Finally, Buffy spotted a non-SG-1 acquaintance she wouldn't mind sitting with. Chloe, Dr. Felger's assistant, wasn't a close friend, but she was at least from Buffy's own universe and they could have fun discussing the latest crazy antics of Chloe's boss. For whatever reason, Chloe was actually pretty fond of the guy, so the conversation was usually more playful than harsh; in return, Buffy often shared some of the awkwardly hilarious moments she and the other Scoobies had been involved in over the years. It was a mutually mood-lifting acquaintance, one Buffy had become especially grateful for since Laura had joined the Atlantis expedition.

She'd made it about halfway across the cafeteria when Chloe dabbed at her mouth with a napkin, checked her watch, and got up from her table. "Drat," Buffy muttered, then grimaced and looked around again. "So much for that idea."

The Mitchell at the nearest table looked up as she glanced past him. She almost ignored him-- after all, she'd already ruled out all of the faux SG-1's as table-partners-- when his nod of greeting registered; her gaze tracked back to him, and she gave him a rueful smile.

The chair across from him was empty, and he pushed it out with his foot as she approached. "My hero," she said wryly, dropping her tray on the table and taking the offered seat.

"Glad I could help," he said cheerfully, and gave her an appraising look. "Been watching you since you came in; you hardly looked at most of the other tables. Why pick mine?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. She'd noticed an irritating tendency in the military guys here to pretend to be less intelligent than they really were. At least, the ones who were team leaders; Evan hadn't been nearly as bad, though he had been insufferably smug at times when he knew something she didn't. "Why'd you smile at me?" she asked aloud, as she stabbed at the day's unidentifiable steamed vegetable with her fork.

Mitchell raised his eyebrows. "Because it's the polite thing to do?" he said, lightly. "Never had a woman complain about me smiling at her before."

She took a bite of the vegetable, then grimaced and lowered the fork again, surreptitiously scraping what was left of it off on the edge of her plate. "You smiled at me because you knew who I was," she clarified for him. "Maybe you hadn't noticed, but most of these other SG-1's seem to have no clue that I even exist."

He took a bite of his own meal, glancing around at the other tables. "You know, Sam says most of these guys are from universes pretty similar to ours," he said after a minute, "but just about the only universal constant on these teams is me. Doesn't that seem strange to you? There's got to be plenty of universes out there where Sam or General O'Neill is still the leader of SG-1, or where Weir stuck around and made Jackson team leader, or where Quinn never went back to Kelowna, but we aren't seeing any of those, either. So if they don't know who you are, I wouldn't take it to heart. I'm sure there are a lot of SG-1's out there that do."

"Maybe so," she replied with a shrug, "but that doesn't make it any easier for me to find someone to talk to now. If they don't know who-- and what-- I am, how am I supposed to even explain my job title? I've done the whole 'world is older and crazier than you know' speech a few times too many to want to do it again for a bunch of people that will just be leaving soon anyway."

His genial expression sagged around the edges at that. "Maybe, maybe not. I suppose you know one of the Asgard stopped by?"

Buffy shuddered a little, remembering her brief encounter with the little gray being. "Yep," she said. "I guess General O'Neill said something to Thor about having a Slayer here; the little guys are kind of obsessed with advanced human DNA, and this Vase-Ear wanted to see me for himself. We were kind of... mutually unimpressed with each other."

Mitchell's lips twitched a little, and he perked up again, a distinct twinkle in his eye. "You mean Kvasir?" he asked teasingly.

Buffy generally distrusted guys who were too charming to be real, but she was starting to think Mitchell was the genuine article. He'd been here half a year now and his optimism and cheerfulness rarely slipped, never mind his dedication to duty or his loyalty to his team. She'd been a little disappointed when Sam came back from Nevada and Teal'c started spending more time on Earth again, expecting Daniel to gravitate back to their company, but the archaeologist had started making an effort to include her in SG-1's off-time activities and Mitchell had helped; he always acted like he was pleased to see her. Maybe she was starting to be kind of pleased to see him, too.

He grew more serious again as he continued. "Anyway, he and the Sams cooked up a plan to seal the rupture and stop the wormholes from crossing into our universe, but once it's shut down everyone that's already here will be stranded. None of them are happy about it, of course, but Landry's right; we need our Gate back."

Buffy put down her fork again and stared at him in dismay, working through the implications of that decision in her mind. "Yeah, I bet he wants to shut it down. All these extra SG-1s, already trained and everything? And every one of them has probably run across at least one thing that we don't know about yet. The IOA must be jumping for joy."

"Ouch," Mitchell winced, though the look he shot her was skeptical. "That's cold."

"True, though," Buffy said grimly. "Maybe Landry isn't going there, but they are. Think about it."

He sighed. "What I think is that you have a mighty big chip on your shoulder for some reason about the IOA and the NID, and you're automatically assuming the worst. Not that you're one hundred percent wrong, but you might not have the most objective opinion of the situation."

She laughed at that. "The worst? Not hardly. The fact that the NID tried to kill me that one time has nothing to do it. People are always going to be greedy, and the oversight groups here don't exactly have the best track record."

He opened his mouth to answer-- probably to ask what she meant; she really shouldn't have said anything, since part of the negotiation with the Initiative for them to come convince the SGC she wasn't a nutcase was that she wouldn't talk about the details of her little "disagreement" with former NID employee Maggie Walsh-- but the klaxon went off before he could say anything, and they both turned toward the nearest intercom speaker, listening intently.

"Unscheduled offworld activation," Sergeant Harriman's voice announced, and Mitchell heaved a sigh.

"Another SG-1, I guess. I'd better go say hello." He gave her a half-hearted smile, then got up. "Enjoy the rest of your lunch."

Buffy rolled her eyes, but smiled back, letting the argument drop. "Keep me posted?"

"Sure thing."

She watched him leave, then shook her head and picked up her fork.

She dropped it again a second later, all the strength leaving her fingers as a bright light burst unexpectedly behind her eyes. She struggled against the sudden, blinding sense of mental pressure as much as she could, but her will drained away like water; whatever the cause of it was, it was all tangled up with the source of her Slayer power. A few heartbeats passed; a murmur of voices exploded around her as she slid from her chair, and then she heard no more.

Buffy woke to the steady beep of machinery in the SGC's infirmary. She could still feel the echoes of a massive migraine around the fuzzy edges of her thoughts, and the brightness of the lights overhead made her wince and blink, but at the same time she felt paradoxically lighter than air. It was like she'd been relieved of some great weight she hadn't even known she'd been carrying.

She stirred a little in the bed, peeking beneath the sheet to make sure she still had the same number of fingers and toes and that she was still wearing the matching Victoria's Secret underwear she'd picked out that morning, then squinted against the light and tried to look around. She barely remembered bickering with Mitchell-- her universe's Mitchell-- over lunch, but she wasn't sure what had happened after that; something had obviously gone wrong, but there were no obvious clues as to what.

The first thing she saw was the empty chair to her right, against the wall; there was a discarded coffee cup on the seat, but whoever had been waiting for her to wake up must have had to leave. Not a surprise, if the mission she thought she remembered Mitchell talking about had been given the go-ahead, but she still felt unaccountably lonely at the sight. She turned her head, about to look to the other side of the bed, then caught a flicker of movement in her peripheral vision; when she turned back, the paper cup was gone, and a wild, dark-skinned young woman perched on the chair instead.

Buffy blinked at her in startlement, recognizing her by her dreadlocks, painted features and cavewoman attire. What was the First Slayer doing appearing to her outside of her dreams? Or was this some kind of manifestation of the First Evil? Buffy hadn't seen either entity in any capacity since the Hellmouth swallowed Sunnydale, and the possibility that either one might have followed her to her new life was a little alarming. She barely stopped herself from flinching when Sineya abruptly raised an arm, pointing over Buffy toward a point somewhere else in the infirmary.

The First Slayer's dark eyes bored challengingly into Buffy for a moment, and her mouth curved into a decidedly bitter smile. "The Slayer does not walk in this world," she grated out, then abruptly disappeared, winking out in a flash of light.

Unsettled, Buffy stared at the chair a moment longer, wondering at the reference to the Slayer dream she and her friends had shared just after the defeat of Adam. What exactly was the First Slayer, anyway? Buffy knew she'd once been a human woman fused with a demon's essence-- she'd seen that much in the place outside of time the Slayer Emergency Kit had taken her to-- but she hadn't exactly stuck around to ask questions of the original Watcher-shamans, or find out how Sineya had managed to retain a presence and personality after all these years. Was she a ghost? Or had she managed to Ascend?

Buffy's earlier speculations about whether the Powers That Be were yet another branch of glowy Ancients returned as she gazed at the space where the apparition had been, and she vowed to talk to Daniel about the idea sometime soon. He'd have a better chance of working out whether it were possible than she did. At the moment, however, finding out what the First Slayer had been pointing at was probably more important. Buffy sighed, then turned her head carefully to the left, still feeling the echoes of pain behind her eyes as she moved.

The curtain between her bed and the next one had been half-drawn back. Buffy could see a dark, slim arm lying atop the covers. Just beyond the bed, staring back at Buffy, the near-transparent form of the First Slayer was visible again-- or maybe not again; there was something subtly different about the pattern of the woman's pale face paint, and she snarled silently at Buffy before fading away like mist. Then the figure in the bed shifted a little, and Buffy sat up slowly, trying to get a glimpse of the woman's face.

Her movement must have finally drawn the attention of the nurses, because the next thing she knew Dr. Lam was in her face, penlight ready in her hand, standing between Buffy and her neighbor.

"Buffy, I'm glad to see you're awake," Carolyn announced. "You worried a lot of people today when you screamed and passed out in the middle of lunch. Can you tell me what happened?"

Buffy shook her head and leaned forward, trying to see around her friend. "My head hurts," she said absently. "It happened right after the incoming wormhole alarms went off. Is that-- did she--"

Carolyn stepped back, into Buffy's line of sight again, and gave her a considering look. "Yes, she passed out just after she came through the gate, at about the same time you did. Both of you immediately went into seizures, and then lapsed into a deep sleep; it's been nearly ten hours since it happened. Her teammates said they've never seen anything like it before. I'm getting the impression you know something about it, though."

Buffy swallowed, sure now of the other Slayer's identity. "It's Kendra," she said. "Kendra the Vampire Slayer; I never knew her last name. She was-- she was the Slayer after me, the one who was Called the first time I died. But she was killed a year later. I guess..." She swallowed. "She must have survived in their universe, instead of me. They may not even have faced the First Evil; she's probably still the Chosen Only in her world."

"And what does that have to do with your medical condition?" Carolyn asked, eyes narrowed.

Buffy sighed. "I don't know," she said. "I don't know how the Calling thing works, or how the magic keeps track of us, or whether it would have affected other Slayers here--"

"It didn't," Carolyn interrupted, shaking her head. "Colonel Carter was fine."

"But it probably has to do with the fact that I'm the anchor for the Slayer line in this universe," Buffy continued, "and she's the entire line in hers. There aren't supposed to be two of us-- two different Slayer lines-- in one place at the same time."

Especially since she'd just seen a vision of the First Slayer at both bedsides, but she wasn't going to tell Carolyn that. Nor explain that she'd come to that conclusion partly because the primary Slayer spirit was essentially demonic and possessive of its host, judging by the growl Kendra's version had given her. She didn't want it to get around that she was "seeing things" until she had some kind of independent confirmation, and the rumor mill at the SGC traveled at warp speed. Of course, there was one additional test she could administer on her own...

Buffy held her hand out and thought hard about the Scythe. The magical weapon was bound to the Slayer line in general-- any Slayer, no matter how she'd been Called, could wield it-- but since Willow had used it to activate every Potential who was "ready to be strong", Buffy had been able to summon it specifically to her hand whenever she needed it. That made it much easier to store, and she didn't have to worry about accessorizing with its red and silver motif most of the time; it was one of the very few up-sides to the entire "Queen Slayer" business.

"Yep, definitely the problem," she said, as the Scythe flashed into existence-- several feet away, just over Kendra's bed. It fell awkwardly across the unconscious Slayer's legs, and Buffy lowered her hand again with a sigh.

Carolyn stared at Buffy's arm, then over at the Scythe, then back at Buffy, eyebrows raised. "I take it that wasn't supposed to happen?" she asked, mildly.

"Not so much, no," Buffy replied, rolling her eyes, then realized that might not have been the brightest idea she'd ever had. "Ow."

Carolyn snorted at that, amused, and began the usual wake-up-in-the-infirmary routine, checking Buffy's vitals and asking impertinent questions about how she was feeling. Buffy went along with it placidly for once, mind busy with other topics.

She couldn't help but wonder if the same thing would have happened if Kendra had tried to summon the Scythe. Would it have gone to Buffy instead of the other slayer? Did the magic associated with the Slayer line identify them as the same class of entity now? It was too early to tell-- but if that were true, it might affect a lot of other things, too. She'd seen that before with the Key; Buffy had been able to invoke the Law of Similarity to sacrifice herself on Dawn's behalf (though she hadn't known to call it that at the time) and the Slayer's death had had the same effect on Glory's portal that her sister's would have.

She tried not to think about exactly what things the presence of a second Queen Slayer might affect. Mitchell's mission might fail, or the other SG-1's might find another way home, and then she'd have worked herself up for nothing. Still, the sneaking hope that the otherworldly Kendra's arrival might lift the restrictions that kept her tied to Earth was difficult to suppress.

Carolyn finished up her routine, gave Buffy a couple of headache pills, then left to let General Landry know she was awake. Buffy watched her go with a frown, then turned her attention back to her still-sleeping sister Slayer. It was a pity Faith wasn't here to meet her; she'd been the Slayer called by Kendra's death, but she'd never met the rule-bound, Council-raised Jamaican girl, and Buffy knew her descriptions of the Slayer that had come between them hadn't done Kendra justice.

Buffy had been a little jealous of Kendra's immense knowledge of her craft when they'd first met-- and, she had to admit, how that knowledge had impressed Giles-- but for all her training, the younger Slayer had had no protection against Drusilla's hypnotic powers and sharp nails. She'd wondered sometimes how much more talented Kendra would have become if she'd survived that event. Would she have learned to balance her Calling with a social life, as Buffy had done, or would she have remained dedicated to the task all these years? Would she have been a better Slayer than Buffy, had she lived just as long?

It looked like Buffy was about to find out.

Several minutes passed while Buffy waited for the pain medication-- or her Slayer healing, whichever came first-- to kick in and clear the last of the cobwebs from her mind. Hospitals had never been her favorite place to be, and no matter what Daniel said about the power of names, calling this place an infirmary instead didn't make it any less what it was. The quicker she could sneak out and get back to her room on base, the better.

She'd just barely succeeded in getting both feet on the floor when a woman walked over to the Slayers' corner of the room, a coffee cup clasped in one hand and a worried expression on her face. Buffy didn't recognize her at first, what with the BDUs and the close-cropped hair and the golden band on her left ring finger, but when she glanced toward Buffy's bed her identity became obvious. It was Willow. Just not the Willow she knew.

"Buffy?" the young woman blurted, coming to a halt a few feet away. The open, vulnerable look on her face-- the way she searched Buffy's features for a hint of familiarity-- told Buffy everything she needed to know about her own fate in that Willow's universe.

"Hi, Willow," she said, quietly, sitting down carefully in the chair she'd seen the First Slayer in earlier.

"It really is you," the red-haired woman said, a slightly awed note in her voice.

"Been a long time, huh?" Buffy asked, awkwardly. This was even more wigsome than meeting all the politely distant copies of SG-1 earlier; the evidence of her eyes and ears was telling her she knew this woman, but the hair on the backs of her arms was standing up straight.

"Since the Order of Teraka came to Sunnydale," Willow said, glancing over toward the still-sleeping dark-skinned Slayer. "Spike sent them after you so he and Drusilla could do the ritual with Angel, but they weren't exactly picky who they killed. We were lucky Kendra was there, or we'd have lost more than just Xander, Cordelia, and you. I guess he must not have hired them in your universe?"

"No, he did," Buffy said, surprised and dismayed at Willow's story. She'd been expecting the divergence point to have something to do with the Master, or maybe the fight against Angelus when Kendra had returned the second time and died, or even Buffy's leap from the Tower, if they'd both survived their earlier meetings. She had even imagined what must have happened after-- Kendra's Watcher letting her stay in Sunnydale, the Scoobies teaching Kendra about friendship, and, if it had happened early enough, Giles maybe getting to know Miss Calendar without the Angelus thing coming between them. What she couldn't wrap her mind around was the absence of Xander, the hole he must have left in the lives of everyone around him. Who'd stolen the rocket launcher for the Slayer to use against the Judge, if not him? Who'd directed the student army at graduation? Who'd been the Heart of the team against Adam? Who'd been there for Willow when the witch went off the rails? And who'd driven Dawn to and from her first year of high school?

Had there even been a Dawn Summers in the first place? Or had the monks sent the Key to someone else? Had Dawn been created in their world with a Caribbean accent and tightly curled hair? Buffy felt a pang at the thought.

"He just-- I don't know, I guess we got lucky," she continued, dragging her thoughts back to the report she was giving. "We defeated the assassins before they could kill anyone, and then I dropped an organ on Spike. It was months before he could even walk again." She winced at that, remembering how much that must have hurt him. No wonder their relationship had been so destructive; his first steps toward collaborating with Good hadn't been steps at all but nudges in a wheelchair, and none of what followed from that would ever have happened if she hadn't half-killed him first. Talk about negative reinforcement.

Willow looked down, fiddling with the hem of her BDU shirt. "He-- he became the Master of Sunnydale after that, in our world. He made some kind of deal with the Mayor, who was actually a demon, then made another deal behind his back with a vampire named Trick and just-- took everything over."

"Wow," Buffy said, computing that thought. The bad old Spike, dark princess still at his side; the idea gave her the chills. It had been easy to forget after he was chipped that the Slayer of Slayers was one of the most dangerous vampires out there; a Spike who'd never been forced to reform in any way would be an unpredictable and terrible enemy. She'd had serious luck-- and her Mom-- on her side the first few times she'd faced him, before his fangs were pulled. "He never got that far, here. We had to take the Mayor down ourselves. How did you-- how did Kendra stop him?"

Willow sighed. "She didn't. Giles took her to Cleveland after high school graduation, and Oz and I went off to college. Spike had made some kind of a deal with Giles, too; he said he didn't want the world to end any more than we did, so he'd keep anyone else from opening the Hellmouth if the Slayer would leave him alone. Giles didn't take him seriously at first, but after Spike kidnapped Jenny for leverage..." She shrugged. "The Council sends an assassin team once or twice a year, but Spike always has them turned and sends them right back."

"Wow," Buffy said again, wide-eyed, digesting that. She bet he'd made short work of the Initiative, too, with a raft of minions at his command, and of course he'd been impervious to Glory's disguising magic. Add in no Willow going crazy from absorbing too much Dark magic, and no First tearing up the Slayer line-- that world's Sunnydale must've been a lot more peaceful than hers. She'd bet, though, that the number of "barbeque-fork accidents" and "PCP-related gang violence" had gone up through the roof; the Powers' idea of holding the balance, no doubt. She felt a little sick at the thought.

"What would happen if Kendra died, and the new Slayer's Watcher didn't want to uphold the deal?" she asked.

Willow shook her head. "I don't know, but they're probably finding out right about now. Giles thought that might be another reason Kendra's lived so long; she's really good at what she does, but a lot of Slayers are good at their jobs." She gave Buffy a pained glance. "You were. But none of the really big bads want to rock the boat. The Master of Sunnydale might not let them open the main Hellmouth, but at least they can get there and do whatever else it is demons like to do, which would be a lot harder if the Slayer was camped on top of it." She shuddered.

Buffy glanced over at Kendra again and firmly beat back her hopes. "You still might find a way home," she said, encouragingly. "She didn't die, right? They wouldn't give up on you right away."

"She left her home dimension," Willow said, sadly. "There are records of that happening before-- Slayers getting sucked into portals-- and every time, if it didn't take her somewhere else on Earth, the new Slayer is Called the exact moment the old one left."

"And none of them ever came back from that?" Buffy asked, confused. She had, when she'd gone into the Hell dimension in Los Angeles to put a stop to the demon slavery gig the summer after she'd killed Angel. But then again, she'd already died before that ever happened; she'd already passed the torch.

"No," Willow said, "or if they did, the Council covered it up. I did a lot of research on the 'Ring of the Gods' after Spike sent a bunch of vampires in search of it; I was already here-- at my SGC-- when they found it, and the whole thing about vampires and Slayers went public. We wanted to know what would happen if the Slayer went off-world... but you should know that already! Didn't you research it when you came here?"

Buffy shook her head, wryly. "Not so much, no. The Council got blown up a few years back, so we're kind of lacking in the more specialized research material, and besides-- I can't go off-world at all. We kind of had to activate all the Potential Slayers in the world after the First Evil showed up in Sunnydale, and the magic we used anchored the whole line through me. I can't leave Earth without the spell falling apart; I have to stay near the source. The other Slayers have never reported any problems, though."

It was Willow's turn to gape. "Wow," she said. "All of them? How could you-- where would anybody find the power to do that? I didn't think that was even possible."

Buffy just shrugged. "We had a little help from an Ancient weapon made for the Slayers," she said, nodding toward the Scythe Dr. Lam had moved to the chair next to Kendra's bed on her way out, "and an uber powerful white witch." She wasn't going to rub the witch's identity in; this Willow must never have pushed herself to her magical limits. Whether that was a good or a bad thing, Buffy wouldn't venture to guess. Her own Willow had gained and lost so much-- and both harmed and helped so many others-- since she first found that disc with Miss Calendar's last spell and used it to curse Angel with his soul, and it wasn't like Buffy was fit to judge, anyway.

"The First Evil, huh?" Willow murmured to herself, frowning as she backtracked the conversation a little. "I think I've heard of it before. That might be what the old records meant when they said a Slayer must not be allowed to return once she'd left our world, lest 'the shadow at the heart of the world' return to 'drown the Earth in darkness'. The Council takes that legend pretty seriously."

"It almost did return, here," Buffy nodded, confirming Willow's grim theory. "It isn't just Slayers returning from other dimensions, either-- it's Slayers coming back at all. It took it several years, but after the second time I didn't stay dead..." She shrugged. "Like I said, it took out the Council, and most of the Potentials. We ended up losing Sunnydale, too; it fell into a giant sinkhole when we took the battle to the First and closed the Hellmouth down for good."

"You closed the Hellmouth?" Willow blurted in shock.

Buffy nodded. "Yep. We lost a lot of good people, though." Anya. Her Spike, even if the contrary S.O.B. had come back later. Far too many of the Potentials.

"Still," Willow said. "Wow. You'll have to tell me how you did it before-- if-- I leave." She glanced back over toward Kendra again, and sighed, rubbing the golden ring on her left hand with her thumb.

"Sure," Buffy agreed. "It won't be much use to you, though, unless you can find the Scythe on your side-- and I don't know if it'll even work unless the First is trying to break free. But if you're right about the next Slayer already being Called, I guess you'll find out a couple of years from now."

Willow grimaced at that. "Or not," she said. "But Giles will still want to know the details. I'd stay here if I could and have Daniel take the notes back, but I have Oz and little Xand to think about, and Colonel Mitchell is going to be upset enough as it is about leaving even one person here."

Buffy's throat closed up a little at the idea of a Willow with a little red-haired rugrat named after her long-dead best friend-- but then the rest of the sentence registered. "You can't be serious," she said. "You wouldn't actually leave her here?"

"I think we'll have to," Willow said sadly. "I told you about the prophecies-- and you told me what'll happen if we trigger them."

"Still," Buffy said, aghast. "We stopped it. And you're not even going to try?"

Willow shook her head. She looked weary and distraught, but determined; even this alien version of Buffy's friend had mastered the Resolve Face. "No. I'm going to let her make the decision. But you know Kendra."

"I don't, actually," Buffy said, wincing. "Not all that well; I only met her twice before Drusilla killed her."

"Well," Willow replied, uncomfortably. "She has this thing about duty. Her parents gave her to the Watchers when she was a baby, and all they did was train her-- she wasn't even allowed to talk to boys before she came to Sunnydale. We tried to lighten her up a little, but she took your death and Xander's really badly. Giles said she kept mostly to herself when they were in Cleveland, and even after she came here and they put us on SG-1 together she didn't socialize with the other teams much. If she decides it's her duty not to go back and endanger the Slayer line..."

"Den I won't," an accented voice interrupted.

Buffy and Willow both turned to the second bed, and this time they saw that Kendra's eyes were opened; she'd been listening to their conversation.

"Kendra!" Willow blurted, then hurried away from Buffy to her teammate's side. "How long have you been awake?"

"Long enough," Kendra said, frowning down at the Scythe in the chair next to her, then over in Buffy's direction. "I tink we have much to discuss."

Buffy stared thoughtfully across the conference table at Kendra, hands wrapped around a warm cup of cocoa. A nurse had interrupted their earlier conversation before it got anywhere, checking the second Slayer over as Carolyn had done for Buffy earlier; Carolyn herself had apparently been off checking on Buffy's SG-1, whose mission to close the black hole rupture had been cut short by unexpected treachery.

On the one hand, that was a very good thing; they knew exactly what-- and who-- had caused the problem now, and all of the duplicate SG-1's would be able to go home, no matter what the opportunists in Washington or the IOA might have had in mind. Some of them would be taking vital information back with them-- the cure to the Prior plague, for instance-- and others had left useful information behind; all in all, it had turned into yet another mixed-benefit SGC adventure.

On the other hand, though, it had brought the problem with the extra Slayer to the forefront. General Landry didn't quite seem to know what to do with the situation, but agreed to let Buffy have a quiet conference with her sister-in-arms while the eggheads worked out the details of how exactly they were going to reverse the wormhole nexus thing and send everyone back where they came from.

"I dreamed of de First Slayer," Kendra said slowly. "She showed me de new Slayer back home-- her name is Amanda, and she lives in Sunnydale. De Hellmouth itself. And she is like you; she was not raised by de Council. I tink-- I tink dat is important."

Buffy shook her head, not sure where Kendra was going with that line of reasoning. "What does that have to do with you staying here?" she asked.

Kendra shook her head. Had she still been wearing the big hoop earrings Buffy had come to associate with the Jamaican Slayer, the movement would have sent them swaying; she supposed, though, that like her SGC the one Kendra belonged to had made flashy jewelry a no-no. It was disorienting, though, not to see them in this echo of her long-dead sister slayer, like the feeling she'd had at the sight of the alternate Willow's close-cropped hair and wedding ring.

"De Council knew where de Master was for a very long time before you killed him," she said. "Dey kept sending Slayers to Sunnydale, and none of dem got near him-- and he was the second Master vampire you killed. Dat's more than most Slayers ever face."

Buffy had heard all that before, and then some; she still didn't see how it applied. "I know," she said. "Giles used to get irritated about me not following the rules, but he said it also made me unpredictable, and that was like having an extra weapon in my arsenal. But look. How many years have you been a Slayer? I've died two or three times already, and you haven't died even once, according to your Willow. And I'll bet you've faced your share of Master vampires, too. That puts you ahead of me."

Kendra nodded slowly. "Kakistos, and some of de lesser Masters of de Aurelius line. But I fought dem all in running battles; none of dem were against a vampire wit an entire town-- and de Hellmouth-- under his control."

Buffy sighed and shook her head. "Look," she said. "We're Slayers. We dream of other Slayers all the time; that's nothing new. Maybe you saw Amanda because between the two of you, you'll be able to take Spike down where you couldn't alone. He has his weaknesses, especially if you can get Drusilla away from him. I don't think you should just give up like this."

Kendra studied her for a moment, then made a negating gesture. "If I could be sure of it, I would go. But what if all I do is wake dis First Evil? T'ousands would die, just because I was selfish enough to want to go home. Dere will be no second chance once I leave."

"You don't know that," Buffy said, frustrated. She'd forgotten just how serious Kendra could be. She could see the other Slayer's point, though-- they didn't have a quantum mirror anymore, and even if they did, there'd be no way to be sure Kendra could get back to this exact universe once she left. She could always just portal out to a random dimension after she went home and kicked Spike's butt, but what kind of a plan was that? She'd still end up on her own in some random alternate universe, possibly even without friendly faces or a support system on the other side. And Buffy had to admit, she really, really wanted Kendra to stay for her own sake, though she was trying her hardest not to let it influence her decision-making. If they could just give Kendra a way of getting back here--

Of course! "What if I could promise you could come back here if you needed to?" she asked, leaning forward across the table.

Kendra shook her head regretfully. "You cannot promise dat."

"I can," Buffy insisted. "I don't know how much magic your Willow knows, but mine has summoned people out of alternate dimensions before."

Kendra didn't say anything to that, but the arching of her eyebrows expressed enough incredulity on its own.

"Okay," Buffy conceded. "So it might have been an accident. And the person she brought over might have been a skanky vampire version of herself. But it worked! All we'd need is something of yours-- something that belongs to you, that she can use to find you-- and we can bring you here whenever. I'm sure she can come up with a way for you to signal us, too."

"You are certain of dis," Kendra pressed, her disbelieving expression shifting into a thoughtful frown.

"Yes," Buffy insisted. "I'll call her to make sure, before you go. But I know it'll work."

"I will consider it," Kendra conceded, finally.

"Good," Buffy said, laying her head down on the table for a moment in relief. Then she sat back up again, checking her watch. "So. We have an hour or so left before they get the thing up and running to send everyone home. You want to spar?"

A spark lit in Kendra's dark eyes, an animation Buffy hadn't seen since the other Slayer's arrival. "I would like dat, very much."

A quick word to the airmen stationed outside the conference room cleared the way for them to visit one of the practice rooms, and the two Slayers made their way there at an eager pace. The headachy symptoms had all faded to a manageable level, and even if they hadn't, Buffy hadn't had a fight worth looking forward to like this in a long time; the only Slayer in her world with her strength and experience was Faith, and fights between the two of them dredged up too many dark memories for it to be enjoyable. She was looking forward to taking Kendra's measure-- and she'd bet Kendra was just as starved for a chance to test herself against an equal.

They were even equally matched for clothes this time; there would be no quibble factor over whose pants were more restrictive or whose shoes were more impractical. Buffy hadn't been able to get the General to approve her suggested alterations to the BDUs, and neither had Kendra, judging from her attire; both of them were also wearing the standard boots and had their hair pulled back in ponytails.

The airmen showed them to one of the exercise rooms that had half its area set aside for exactly this sort of thing; that side of the floor was padded in a large square. Buffy shooed the men back outside, then took up a stance on one side of the padded area. "Any rules you want to set down beforehand?" she asked, with a challenging grin.

Kendra grinned back. "Anything goes," she said.

"Even chick-fighting?" Buffy had to ask, remembering her first encounter with her Kendra.

Kendra flexed her fingers, flashing her long, painted nails. "Even chick-fighting," she agreed. Then, without warning, she threw the first punch.

Buffy blocked it automatically, and followed with her own punch-kick combination, which Kendra likewise blocked without any apparent effort. The Jamaican Slayer went through another series of automatic moves, things all Watchers apparently put their Slayers through; Buffy sailed through them with ease, returning with standard forms of her own, then staggered backward as an unexpected kick nailed her on the chin.

"Good one," Buffy complimented her, then shifted her stance again. It was time to get creative.

The battle flowed back and forth across the room; as it progressed, Buffy had to dredge up every trick she knew, everything she'd learned from Angel, Faith, Spike, and her new friends at the SGC, just to keep from getting flattened. Teal'c especially was a gifted warrior with strength nearly on par with her own, and some of the former black ops personnel were really dirty fighters even without that extra boost. Clearly, however, Kendra had some pretty varied experience of her own.

"Oh my God, you learned to improvise!" Buffy panted a few minutes in, scrambling up from the floor where Kendra had thrown her.

"And your technique has improved," Kendra admitted, grudgingly.

"Ya think?" Buffy laughed, then launched right back in.

They'd been sparring for maybe fifteen minutes total when the door burst open forcefully, disgorging a pair of Colonel Mitchells armed with zat guns. The two airmen who'd been guarding the door were right behind them, their sidearms also at the ready.

"What the Hell is going on here?" one of the colonels-- or maybe both of them-- demanded.

Buffy froze with her hand wound in Kendra's hair; Kendra barely held her punch about an inch away from Buffy's cheekbone. They were standing astride one of the weight benches on the far side of the room from where they'd started; several of the free weights had been knocked off a nearby stand and lay scattered around the room where they'd been used as projectile weapons.

Buffy had never seen Mitchell looking that fierce before. They looked virtually identical, down to the same angry line of their mouths, but it only took a second to figure out which was hers; he was the one glaring at Kendra, while the one that belonged to the other Slayer had leveled his weapon straight at her.

"Um," she said, flushing in embarrassment as she realized what they must be thinking. She doubted either one had ever seen a full-out Slayer sparring match before; most of her intensive training with Colonel Carter, the only SGC Slayer she dared go near her limits with, had happened before Mitchell ever transferred into the program. "It's not what you're thinking," she said, carefully letting go of Kendra's hair and backing away from the other Slayer.

"Really," the other Mitchell drawled, keeping his zat aimed at her as he edged towards his team's Slayer.

"She speaks de truth," Kendra admitted, lowering her fists. Her chest was still heaving from the exertion, and sweat ran down her face, but her tone was as firm as ever. "We were just having some fun."

"Fun?" the colonel choked, looking at her incredulously.

Buffy's Mitchell snorted, but he lowered his zat without any further objection. "If this is how you define fun, it's no wonder the marines run scared every time you host their training sessions," he joked, walking to her side.

"What can I say?" she said, smiling back at him. "I'm a motivational teacher."

He chuckled, then let his grin fade into a more serious expression as he halted a couple of feet from her. "Good to see you up and around again, by the way."

"Good to be up," she replied, holding his gaze.

"I hate to interrupt," the other Mitchell drawled, breaking into the moment, "but before the airmen told us you were murdering each other, the General was wondering if you ladies had reached a conclusion?"

Buffy blinked and frowned at him. Why had she thought they were identical, again? Now that she looked at him closely, Kendra's Mitchell seemed strangely flat and completely charm free, like a grainy, black-and-white film version of hers. "Pretty much," she said. "I have to make a quick phone call, and we should probably shower, but we've come up with a plan."

"Good to hear it," he said, then turned to Kendra. "Am I gonna like it?"

"I will return wit you," Kendra said, with a regal nod. "From dere, we shall see."

"Great," he replied, with a sigh of relief. "All right, then. Conference room, twenty minutes?"

"We'll be there with bells on," Buffy said lightly, then turned back to the amused blue gaze of the man before her. "Don't say it," she laughed, then swept past him out of the room.

Some forty minutes after the end of their spar, after a brief shower, a briefer phone call to South America, and a quick summary of the relevant points for General Landry's benefit, Buffy and Kendra stood in front of each other once more. The blue glow of the open wormhole cast blue highlights in Kendra's still-damp hair; without her makeup, she looked just as young as she did in Buffy's memories of the Kendra from her own universe.

"So," Buffy said, smiling at the other Slayer. "Do you still not do hugs?"

"Still?" Kendra replied, curiously. "Did my counterpart in dis world tell you dat?"

Buffy laughed a little, making a face at her faux pas. "She did, actually. Right before I sent her back to the airport with orders to use the ticket Giles paid for instead of sneaking into the cargo hold again."

It was Kendra's turn to make an embarrassed face at that. "Yes, I was very concerned wit secrecy and self-sufficiency den," she said. "But dat was many years ago." She opened her arms then and reached out for a cautious hug; oddly pleased, Buffy reached back, wrapping her arms briefly around the taller Slayer.

"It was good to see you," Buffy said, as they stepped back from each other. "Remember, my Willow will be checking the amulet I gave you every day at noon; if you need to come back, just break it and get your things together by that hour. She'll bring you right to us."

"I remember," Kendra said. "I hope I don't need to, but I expect I'll be seeing you soon."

"Sorry to interrupt-- again," the alternate Mitchell said, giving Buffy a respectful nod. "But we're holding up the line."

Buffy sighed. "All right," she said. "Good luck, guys. Willow-- it was nice to see you, too. Give Oz and your little one hugs from me!"

"I will!" Willow said, waving cheerily as she walked up the ramp.

One by one, the team all disappeared into the wormhole's embrace; Kendra was the last, throwing one last wave in Buffy's direction as she too disappeared with a slurping sound.

Buffy fingered the cross necklace in her pocket, the identifying item Kendra had left with her for the summoning spell, then sighed and headed back up the stairs to the control room where her SG-1 stood watching all the duplicate teams depart. Daniel and Mitchell had left a space between them; Buffy slotted right into it, staring down through the glass at the next team queuing up to leave.

"You really think she'll come back?" Mitchell asked, glancing down at her as she stepped up beside him.

"I sure hope so," Buffy replied, ruefully. "I was this close to telling her not to risk it, and just stay-- you have no idea."

"You're that sure her being here would allow you to gate off-world?" Daniel put in, frowning.

Buffy nodded. "I mentioned the theory to Willow while I had her on the phone. She wasn't sure, either, until I told her about the Scythe. But if it thinks we're the same, then she's pretty sure the spell will, too. One of us will still have to always be on Earth, but the other one will be able to gate off-world like any other Slayer."

"I'm sure we could work out some kind of schedule," General Landry said, from the other side of Daniel. "She won't want to be stuck here any more than you do, but from what you've both said she's about as experienced as you are; I'll probably assign the pair of you to SG-1 and rotate you out every other mission. That should give Colonel Carter some relief from having to choose her abilities as a warrior over her skills as a scientist, especially since Teal'c can't always be with the team these days."

"That would be appreciated, sir," Sam replied. "But I think I'll wait to get my hopes up until she returns. I'm not all that convinced she will; there were a lot of assumptions involved her reasoning for wanting to stay here in the first place."

"She'll be back," Buffy said again, wrapping her arms around herself for reassurance. "I'm sure she will."

Another SG-1 departed below them; there were only a few more behind them yet to go. Buffy fell silent as the final teams made their way back to their own universes, then made her way down the stairs with a sigh, heading back toward her room. The adrenaline from her brief spar with Kendra was long gone, and the exhaustion factor of the day's events was catching up with her. Not to mention, the indefinable sense of relief she'd felt after awakening in the infirmary had disappeared; the burden of the Slayer line was all hers again to bear. She was seriously in need of a snack and a good night's sleep.

A clattering on the stairs behind her announced that she was being followed. Buffy didn't slow her pace, but she wasn't walking particularly quickly either, and her long-legged pursuer soon caught up with her.

"Hey, can I talk to you for a second?" Mitchell asked, with a careful touch to her elbow.

Buffy did stop at that, turning to take in the strangely serious look on his face. "Sure," she said. "Your office?"

He grimaced. "Better not," he said. "Besides, Jackson's lab is closer; he won't be using it tonight, and he has better coffee anyway."

Better not? Buffy was puzzled by his choice of words, but nodded her consent and trailed him down the hall, curious what he could have to say to her that he wouldn't want associated with his official position at the SGC.

He waited to say anything more until they were seated next to each other in front of Daniel's worktable. He'd poured two cups of coffee, but he was just fidgeting with his; finally, he took a deep breath and looked up at her.

"I wasn't going to say anything," he said. "Especially so soon after-- well, you know what happened on Galar."

Buffy knew. She'd heard all about Dr. Reya Varrick; he'd been accused of sleeping with the scientist and then killing her, and though the murder had turned out to be a frame-up assisted by the Galarans' creepy memory-implanting device, the rest of it had been true. Hearing about it had made her stomach churn a little, unpleasantly; she'd ignored that at the time, telling herself she had no business being jealous of anyone so soon after she'd broken up with Evan.

She'd let herself forget that, today. Flirting with him over lunch, teasing him in the exercise room-- did he think she meant something by it? Had he meant something by it? "Mitchell--" she began to say.

"Please," he said, cutting her off with a wince. "Call me Cam."

"Okay," Buffy said. "Cam. Why-- why weren't you going to say it?" She'd meant to ask what he meant to say, but she wasn't sure she actually wanted to know-- the why would tell her whether she did or not.

One corner of his mouth curved up in a smile. He uncurled one hand from around his cup, and reached up between them, stroking the back of his hand over her cheek. "You have no idea how untouchable you seem most of the time, do you?" he asked, an unaccustomed warmth in his tone.

Buffy's breath caught at the touch. Yes, he'd definitely meant something by it. And from the way her blood raced at his nearness, she was pretty sure she wasn't exactly opposed to the idea. Damn. And she'd been repressing it so well, too.

"Why now?" she whispered, slipping one of her hands into his, holding it close against her face.

"When they put you on my team, it'll be too late," he said, simply. "I know there are people here that don't observe the frat regs-- but I'm still pretty new, and I'd rather not paint a target on my back. And I'd rather know for sure than always wonder."

She swallowed hard, then nodded slowly. "Okay."

"Okay?" he replied, uncertainly, lowering his arm and shifting his grip so that their hands were clasped between them, resting on Daniel's worktable.

Buffy nodded. "Just promise me if doesn't work out, you're not going to get weird on me," she said. "I don't exactly have the best track record when it comes to guys."

"No weirdness," he promised, then heaved a sigh of relief and broke out in a brilliant grin. "So. What are you doing in-- oh, say sixteen hours?"

"Dinner tomorrow?" she asked, computing hours in her head. "I am totally without plans. Completely plan-free."

"Not anymore," he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling up with the magnitude of his smile.

"It's a plan," she nodded, feeling her mouth stretch wide in a brilliant smile of her own.

Maybe this wasn't the best time to be starting anything-- but Kendra's arrival had opened up a hunger in her that she'd been tamping down for a very long time. She was sick and tired of being all alone at the top-- and the problem had started long before she'd ever been given the mantle of Queen Slayer. She'd tried to escape it with Evan for a while, but he had his own destiny, and it was far away from hers.

Maybe this time, it would work out. Maybe she'd finally get to experience the power of two in both aspects of her life, instead of the loneliness of one.


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