Right Place, Wrong Time

by kaelcee

*After reading everyone's helpful comments, I decided to go ahead and post part 1 of my story to all the lists. Now, this is a crossover involving several different pairings, so be warned...your favourite couple may not be involved in every single scene (although rest assured they will be involved in the story as a whole). Folks should choose now whether they want to read it or not. However, if folks do read it and then decide they'd rather not read part 2 onwards because of its crossover nature, I'll not send anymore out.

That's all, now go and read part 1... ;-)*

     TITLE: Right Place, Wrong Time
     AUTHOR: kaelcee
     EMAIL: kaelcee@yahoo.co.uk
     RATING: PG-13
     DATE: 08 October 2002

PAIRINGS: Sam/Janet, Xena/Gabrielle, Willow/Tara, Scully/Reyes and Janeway/Seven

CATEGORY: Mega-crossover (Stargate SG-1, Xena Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files and Star Trek Voyager). Action/Adventure. Hurt/Comfort. Episode related. Romance.

DISCLAIMER: The characters are not mine, I'm just borrowing them and promise to put them back when I've finished with them. Deep breath The Stargate SG-1 characters belong to MGM, Gekko and Double Secret. The Xena Warrior Princess characters belong to Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters belong to Fox and Mutant Enemy. The X-Files characters belong to Fox and Ten Thirteen Productions. The Star Trek Voyager characters belong to Paramount Pictures. The Babylon 5 quote is used without permission. No infringement of copyright is intended. No profit is made from this story. Don't sue me, I don't have any money.

SPOILERS:

NOTES: This is a rather ambitious idea that suddenly knocked me upside the head one weekend while I was trying to finish that pesky Carpe Diem fic, so I had to start writing it before it got away from me. Basically, I wanted to put my ten favourite TV characters into a story together...this is the result. It's the biggest project I've attempted so far in my extremely short and undistinguished career as a fanfic writer so bear with me; hopefully, it should all fit together and make sense, and it won't be too boring.

I should mention that I've only seen Reyes' early X-Files episodes (namely those before Dmonicus), so any obvious straying from series canon or mistakes with continuity are completely unintentional.

Thanks to Thor and Heimdall for being cute little Asgard, to Argo the loyalist horse in Ancient Greece, to Miss Kitty Fantastico for finally managing to conquer her catnip problem, to all the strange phenomena out there that needs investigating, and to the Borg for trying to take over the Delta Quadrant.

DEDICATION: For Willow and Tara...they'll always be together in fanfic.

SUMMARY: A bizarre series of unrelated events strand a diverse group of women together in the past. Can they all work together to find their way back home...before it's too late?

WARNINGS: Mild language and violence. Not everyone remains unscathed during this story...although all live to tell the tale.


PART 1

     "The universe puts us in places where we can learn.  They
     are never easy places but they are right.  Wherever we are
     is the right place at the right time."
     - Delenn (Babylon 5: A Distant Star)

"What is it?"

"I don't know."

"What does it do?"

The taller, dark-haired woman looked at her younger companion and raised her eyebrows. "You're asking me?"

"Well, it must do something," the blonde continued. "I wonder who put it here."

The two women examined the giant stone circle as it towered above them. It was slightly taller than the surrounding trees, and it was wide, at least seven people could easily fit side by side through its centre. The inner ring of the circle was decorated with several strange symbols and seven slightly raised, triangular protrusions were spaced evenly around the outer edge. The structure itself was set on a large stone base with six narrow steps leading up to it, making it even more imposing, if that were possible.

A few tree branches had grown through the centre of the ring, and a layer of moss covered the surface of the stone giving it a slight green tinge, indicating that it had probably been abandoned long ago. The lack of any paths or worn tracks leading up to the base confirmed this assumption.

Despite the fact that both women had travelled extensively to many different lands neither had seen anything like it before; its function wasn't immediately apparent to either of them. Stranger still was that it seemed to be completely out of place in the middle of the dense forest that surrounded them. It wasn't exactly in the most accessible location, if they hadn't been taking a short cut through this particular part of the forest, they never would have stumbled upon it at all.

The dark-haired woman adjusted her grip on the reins of the tall palomino horse that stood obediently by her side. "It was probably a shrine to one of the gods at one time," she suggested.

Her blonde companion pointed toward the structure. "Have you ever seen a shrine like this before, Xena?"

"Well, no," Xena replied, shrugging her shoulders. "But what else could it be, Gabrielle?"

Curiosity finally overcame her trepidation, as Gabrielle slowly walked up the steps and began to study the front of the structure, examining the strange and unfamiliar symbols intently. She let her hand drift across the raised designs, feeling the smooth coldness of the stone, as her eyes scanned the inner ring. "Thirty-nine," she murmured.

"What?"

The smaller woman looked back over her shoulder. "There are thirty-nine symbols around the ring," she said as she waved her arm in a circular motion. She turned her attention back to the structure. "I wonder what they mean."

"Yeah, well I really don't care what they mean." Xena looked around suspiciously, scanning the trees for any sign of danger. "I don't like this at all." An uneasy feeling had begun to creep over her ever since Gabrielle had approached the structure.

"Xena, you don't like anything," Gabrielle replied in mock exasperation.

"I do...it's just that..." Xena paused in mid-sentence. She flinched and cocked her head to one side, as if she were trying to listen for a barely audible sound.

Gabrielle immediately picked up on her friend's agitation and lifted her staff, holding it defensively in both hands. "What...what is it?" she asked hesitantly.

Xena held up her hand to silence her younger friend. "Something...." Her eyes darted around them. The horse whinnied nervously and stamped her hooves, her pale ears twitching furiously. Xena held on tighter to the reins, ready to move at a moment's notice.

Suddenly, the seven raised protrusions on the ring began to glow bright orange and they could hear a strange humming sound as the inner ring of the circle creaked into action and started spinning on its own within the outer ring. Gabrielle quickly jumped down from the platform as everything, the structure, the surrounding trees, even the ground, began to shake. "What's happening?" she asked as she backed up unsteadily to stand next to the other woman. Xena didn't answer, only grasped onto her friend's shoulders, pulling her closer, as she continued to stare uneasily at the device.

Without warning, there was a loud whooshing noise and a huge wave of water seemed to shoot forward from the circle. The horse instinctively reared out of the way and Xena threw Gabrielle onto the ground as the water roared above their heads. Just as suddenly, the water receded, forming a seemingly impossible--yet obviously apparent--vertical puddle in the centre of the structure.

Xena didn't waste any time as instinct took over. Jumping to her feet, she quickly gathered up the reins of the nervous horse and beckoned toward her companion. "Gabrielle take Argo into the trees now!"

Gabrielle knew from years of travelling with Xena when to do as she was told without question, and immediately scrambled onto the horse. Argo took off at a gallop a second later. Xena made sure they'd disappeared within the dense foliage of the forest before she retreated into the trees herself. Leaping up one of the taller trees onto a sturdy branch, she quickly settled among its leaves, using them to conceal her hiding place. She kept her hand poised above her chakram.

As she looked back at the circle, she could just make out the water shimmering slightly and to her surprise it suddenly spat out two figures from about halfway up the puddle. They both landed violently at the top of the steps, before tumbling uncontrollably down them to land in a heap on the ground at the base of the platform. There was another whooshing noise and the water in the circle vanished as quickly as it had appeared--the device looking as deceptively inert and harmless as when they discovered it a few minutes earlier.

Xena turned her attention to the two figures. She noticed that they were both women, and both were dressed in strange clothing that she had never seen before. Even though they were lying on the ground, she could tell that the blonde woman was taller than her auburn-haired companion.

They lay motionless for a few moments before the taller woman slowly got to her feet, brushing the dirt from her arms and legs. She adjusted the strange device strapped to the front of her clothing, hoisting it into a more comfortable position. Xena had never seen anything like it before, but she had enough of an instinct to know that it was a weapon--and a powerful one at that...

"Wow, bumpy ride. Must check that out when we get back to the...." The blonde paused when she noticed her smaller friend still hadn't risen from the ground. "Janet, you all right?"

"No," Janet replied quietly as she slowly stood up, cradling her left arm. "I think I've twisted my shoulder."

The other woman quickly stepped forward to help her regain her balance. "It could be dislocated," she offered as she examined the injury.

"I don't think so, Sam." Janet smiled lopsidedly at her friend. "If it was, it would be much more painful than this." She giggled then flinched as she felt another twinge.

The taller woman grimaced in sympathy. "Badly bruised then?"

"Yeah, probably..." Janet's voice trailed off as her gaze drifted from the woman in front of her. "Sam, where did all these trees come from?" she asked uneasily, the pain in her arm suddenly forgotten.

Sam looked quizzically at her friend before she glanced at her surroundings. "Oh boy," she said as she spun around, "this isn't P4X-564."

Janet anxiously gripped the blonde's arm. "Where the hell are we then?"

"I don't know." Sam lifted her weapon as she scanned the dull forest. The tallest vegetation they should've been looking at was the knee-high brush that dotted the grassy landscape on P4X-564, a view they'd witnessed twice before. On this third visit they were to rendezvous with the rest of SG1, then go on to meet with the elders of the nearby village, to finalise the trade of the revolutionary medicines that they'd produced. However there were no bushes, no grassland and no village in sight, in fact she could hardly see even a few metres through the dense trees. Worst of all, SG1 were nowhere to be seen either. To borrow a line from her CO, they definitely weren't in Kansas anymore.

"They couldn't have dialled the wrong address, could they?"

Sam shook her head. "No, that's not possible. Once the address is put into the dialling program the computer takes over, there's no chance of human error, and I know it was the right address because I put it in myself. There's no way we could've been sent to the wrong planet."

"Maybe the wormhole jumped to another world en route," Janet offered nervously.

"I don't think that's possible either. That could only happen if there had been an overload of energy directed at the stargate while we were in transit, and there are safety protocols in place now to ensure that very thing doesn't happen when we leave through the Earth 'gate." Sam shook her head as she continued to scan the unfamiliar surroundings. "Damn it, it must have been another solar flare. That's the only other explanation."

"What?"

Sam turned to face Janet. "It's always a possibility when we travel to a planet on the opposite side of the sun relative to Earth. If a solar flare happens to occur at the exact moment the wormhole passes, the extra gravity generated can cause the wormhole to slingshot around the sun and back to Earth." As she spoke she held her fist up and made a single circular motion around it with her other hand to demonstrate her point. "And P4X-564's co-ordinates were on the opposite side of the sun at this time of year. Which means that we're probably still on Earth, and if that's true then we must have travelled through time."

Janet roughly brushed her hand through her hair. "Like what happened to you and the rest of SG1 when you were sent back to 1969."

"Yes, exactly," Sam replied, as she glanced up at the stargate. "Now I can't be sure whether we've gone back or forward this time, since both are possible, but I would guess we've probably travelled into the past, considering the absence of a housing structure for the stargate and the lack of any obvious signs of civilisation." She paused briefly, her mind working overtime as she considered the possibilities. "I just wonder how far back we've gone."

Janet stared at the other woman. "You wonder how far...?"

"Yeah," Sam continued obliviously, "we've probably gone back a good few centuries too, since we know that the 'gate was buried for a long time before we rediscovered it in Egypt in 1928." She turned back to her companion, smiling broadly.

"This is all fascinating to you isn't it?"

The blonde took a mental step back, her smile quickly disappearing. The sudden anger in her lover's voice disturbed her greatly. "Janet?"

"What about Cassandra?" she said by way of explanation, as she continued to stare at the other woman. Sam's eyes widened in recognition at the mention of their daughter's name. "This was supposed to be a simple three-day mission. Now it's going to take us, I don't know, anything up to a few thousand years to get home! That's if we ever do!"

Sam stood silently for a few moments. There weren't many occasions when she regretted having an overactive scientist's mind but this was definitely one of them. She couldn't believe she'd been so insensitive. "I'm so sorry, I didn't think." She gently reached out to Janet.

The smaller woman initially tried to pull away. Her lover's sometimes-oblivious nature could be extremely infuriating to her. However, after looking into Sam's pleading eyes, she couldn't help but let herself be pulled closer, then held tightly in the blonde's reassuring arms. "Oh, Sam, what are we going to do?" she asked after a few moments, her voice muffled against the shoulder of the taller woman.

"We'll get out of this," the blonde soothed, although, unseen by her lover, she closed her eyes in regret a moment later. She knew it was a lie. In her initial scan of their surroundings, Sam hadn't seen the Dial-Home-Device anywhere, and if they couldn't find that, she had no idea how they would be able to produce enough energy to power the 'gate again. There weren't exactly any electrical outlets around or any other power sources either. For that matter she was pretty sure the mere concept of electricity wasn't even a spark in anyone's imagination yet.

And if that weren't enough to worry about, Sam knew that there was no way they'd be able to predict the solar flare required to slingshot the wormhole back to present-day Earth. Until they could figure out a way to do that--and Sam already knew that it was an impossible task even with the most up-to-date computing equipment they had back in their 21st Century military base--they were going nowhere. Basically, to borrow another phrase from her CO, they were royally screwed. It was only a matter of time before Janet realized the true extent of their predicament, if she didn't know already--and Sam thought that she probably did.

Sam pulled out of the hug, but held onto the smaller woman by her upper arms, looking directly into her eyes. "We'll think of something. I promise." This time the statement wasn't a lie, she had to believe it. For Janet's sake and for Cassandra's.

"We can't afford to live out our lives here, Sam, our daughter's counting on us. I won't abandon her, she's been through enough already." Before Janet adopted Cassandra just over four years ago, the young girl had witnessed the death of her entire family--not to mention the rest of her village--in a vicious alien attack on her home planet, from which she barely escaped with her own life. After such a devastating trauma, it took her a long time to settle into a normal life on Earth with her two new mothers, in fact, it had only been much more recently that she'd begun to act like a proper teenager again. Janet felt an ache in her heart as she thought about her daughter. She couldn't help but imagine what it would do to her if neither of her adopted parents returned from this mission, if she lost her parents again it would probably kill her.

"No one's abandoning anyone," Sam tried to reassure the other woman. "We'll get home to her. It'll be okay."

"It is not okay." Janet pushed out of Sam's grasp. "If your time-travel theory really is correct, we're going to need another solar flare to get us home. How do you suppose we predict one of those?"

"Let me worry about that," the blonde replied softly.

"Let you worry...?" Janet shook her head in exasperation. "Damn it, you can be so egotistical sometimes. We are in this together. And telling me not to worry is like telling me not to breathe. This is our daughter, don't you dare stand there trying to fob me off with platitudes."

Sam felt utterly ashamed as she lowered her eyes. "You're right. Of course." She raised her eyes again. "I'm sorry."

The anger immediately left Janet as she looked across at her remorseful lover, and just as suddenly she regretted her outburst. Sam was only doing what she thought was best. It wasn't fair to blame her for that; she was, after all, only motivated by concern and love. "Oh god, I'm sorry, Sam. I guess I'm just trying to find someone to blame, but I know none of this is your fault." She reached out and took one of the blonde's hands in hers, the corners of her lips turned up in a loving smile. "We need to stick together if we're to get out of this," she said earnestly. "No more taking it all on by yourself."

"I understand." Sam gently squeezed Janet's hand, as she returned the smile, relief in her eyes. "Together it is."

Janet nodded slightly, as a calm determination came over her face. Time to start acting like the soldier she was trained to be. "Right, Sam, what do we need to do first?"

"Okay, first we just need to find the...." Sam suddenly felt the cold sharpness of a blade under her chin and instinctively drew in a breath. She turned around slowly, and found herself staring straight into the icy blue eyes of a tall, dark-haired woman. Despite the fact that she had strikingly beautiful features, her fierce stare immediately sent a chill down Sam's spine, making her swallow involuntarily.

"Drop your weapon," the woman ordered.

Sam quickly considered her options. She had none. There was no way she could raise her P90 and fire it in the time it took the stranger to slit her throat. For that same reason she couldn't reach for her zat or knife either. Just to emphasise her predicament the slightly taller woman nudged the sword closer under her chin.

"I won't ask you again," she said calmly. Sam flinched as she felt a slight nick then felt a warm trickle of blood start to ooze down her neck.

"Hey!" Janet called from behind her. "There's no need for that." She stepped forward so that she was standing next to her friend.

"Janet, it's all right. Stay back." Sam held her at arm's length. After another moment, she reluctantly reached up and unclipped her P90, before she placed it gently on the ground in front of her. All the while the woman kept the blade at her throat.

"That other thing, and the knife too."

Sam paused, before she slowly pulled out the zat from its holster and unclipped her knife from her belt. She placed them both next to the P90 on the ground. As she rose up she noticed for the first time that the woman was dressed in the clothes and armour of a warrior. Just where the hell were they? Or, more precisely, when the hell were they?

The woman glanced at Janet. "You too."

Janet didn't have to think twice, she wasn't going to disobey this person while she held a sword at her lover's throat. She slowly removed her sidearm and placed it on the ground next to Sam's weapons.

"You carrying anything else?" the woman asked Sam.

"No," she replied immediately. Although she neglected to tell her about the three grenades in her vest pockets or the small stash of C4 explosive she carried in her pack. She only hoped that the warrior wouldn't discover them--or figure out what they were if she did.

The woman lowered her sword slightly, but still held it cautiously in front of her. "Who are you?"

"My name is Samantha Carter."

"I heard her call you Sam."

"Yes," Sam stated flatly as she raised her eyebrows slightly.

The warrior's eyes narrowed. "Who's she?" She indicated the other woman with her head, without breaking eye contact with Sam.

"I'm Janet Fraiser," the smaller woman replied as she stepped forward. "Janet," she said more softly.

The warrior looked to Janet and seemed to calm a little. "You're not gods?"

Janet and Sam glanced at each other, as it all suddenly became clear to them. They'd experienced this situation many times before. Since the goa'uld used the personas of the ancient mythical gods to terrorise many hundreds of civilisations, it was usual--almost expected--for the SG teams themselves to be mistaken for gods when they stepped through the stargate onto other planets. After all, it was only the gods who were supposed to travel in this way. Janet realized that it was even more understandable now, as they were on Earth, the origins of most of the religious beliefs throughout the galaxy. "No, we're not gods," Janet replied with a reassuring smile.

The warrior's brow furrowed. "But I saw you fall through the giant ring."

"We're not gods," the smaller woman said again.

"Then you didn't come from Olympus?"

"Olympus?" Janet paused in confusion. "Mount Olympus? You think we came from there?"

"Yes."

She shook her head. "We're not from Olympus."

The other woman looked even more confused. "Where did you come from then?"

"Don't answer that, Janet," Sam said calmly to her companion.

The warrior lifted her sword again, and both captives swore they heard a small, feral growl. "You really don't want to get me mad."

Despite her fear and feeling of helplessness of the situation, Sam remained defiant. She pulled herself up to her full height--which was tall in most cultures, but still at least an inch or two shorter than the warrior--and took a step forward. "Don't you threaten me," she said through her clenched jaw.

As a physicist, especially one with previous experience of time-travel, she knew they had to be very careful about any information they revealed to the stranger. Apart from the whole 'Grandfather Paradox' thing and the necessity of keeping knowledge about future events to themselves, they had no idea how the woman would react to being told that they didn't belong in this time, that they were in fact part of a top-secret government project that sends covert military teams to other planets to defend Earth against evil aliens. Tell her that and the warrior would probably kill them on the spot.

And besides, being held at sword-point was really starting to piss her off. Which, Sam figured, was as good a reason as any to stand up to the other woman.

"Okay, that's it." Janet quickly moved forward between the two women, holding her hand up across Sam's chest. "Sam, please," she whispered, "let me handle this." She focused her intense gaze on her lover. "Cassie."

She didn't need to say anymore, the mention of their daughter's name was enough to persuade the blonde to back off. Janet could rival a mother bear protecting her cubs when it came to the welfare of her daughter and Sam knew that the smaller woman would do whatever was necessary to get them home. If that meant pandering to the paranoia of a mysterious warrior woman that's what she would do. After a final stare at the warrior, Sam slowly took a step back.

Relieved, Janet turned to the stranger. "Look, we don't mean you any harm. We're just...a bit lost."

Again the warrior relented in the face of the reassuring woman. "Lost? So you don't know where you are?"

"No, we don't. To tell you the truth, we were supposed to be...somewhere else." Janet risked a glance at Sam, confident that she'd revealed only what she needed to, but Sam had her narrowed eyes fixed on the stranger and didn't see her lover's subtle expression. Janet turned back again to the warrior. "In fact, we could use your help."

The statement was enough to get Sam's attention as she quickly looked to the smaller woman. It was obvious to Janet that Sam didn't approve of her asking anything of the warrior, but she was sure this was the best thing to do. They certainly weren't going to get out of this situation on their own.

The other woman seemed to think it over for a few moments. "Well, if I'm to help you," she finally said, "then answer me this one question at least. Why are you here?"

"We're explorers," Janet explained, "and we travel to other...lands, to learn about new cultures that are different from our own. We are a peaceful people, I can assure you. The weapons are only for self-defence." Janet looked across at Sam again for reassurance, and noticed that blood was still oozing slightly from the wound on her neck and that a large red stain had formed on her collar.

"I'm also a doctor," the smaller woman continued before the warrior could say anymore, "a healer," she clarified, "and right now I need to check my friend." She indicated the cut on Sam's neck. "May I?"

The warrior looked to Sam, as if observing the cut on her neck for the first time, then sharply nodded to the other woman.

Janet stepped to Sam's side and expertly examined her neck with her doctor's eyes, quickly determining that the injury she'd received was bloody but superficial. Although it probably required a couple of stitches, that could wait till later, and she quickly produced a sterile wound dressing from the top pocket of her vest, unwrapped it, and held it tightly against Sam's neck. "Here, hold it here," she urged the other woman. Sam immediately pressed her hand to the gauze.

Without thinking, the doctor raised her other arm to attend to the bleeding, and suddenly flinched as she felt the painful ache of her own injury. In her adrenaline-fuelled excitement she'd almost forgotten that she'd twisted her shoulder when they fell through the stargate.

The warrior apparently noticed her discomfort. She took a half-step forward, a barely hidden hint of concern on her face. "I can take a look at that."

Sam bristled at the suggestion as Janet reflexively pulled away. "No thank you, it's fine," she said quickly. Despite the beginnings of trust that they'd started to build up, she still didn't want any stranger poking around her body, especially some medieval warrior who'd never even heard of proper first aid procedures. No way, no how.

"So, you know who we are," Janet said idly, hoping to change the subject as she massaged her shoulder. "Would you mind telling us who you are?"

The warrior studied Janet for a time, apparently deciding how much she should tell her. It seemed Sam and Janet weren't the only ones who'd rather keep certain information to themselves. "My name is Xena," she said finally. "And this," she nodded her head, indicating behind the two women, "is Gabrielle."

Sam and Janet quickly turned around in unison and were surprised to see a tall palomino horse standing behind them with a small blonde woman perched in the saddle. They hadn't even heard her approach. She was younger in appearance, looking nothing like the much more aggressive Xena, and she wasn't wearing any armour, but both women were aware of the staff she held low by her side in her right hand, hinting that she wasn't as helpless as she looked.

Gabrielle encouraged the horse forward a few steps then began to dismount. "So, if you're not gods, and you're not from Olympus, where are you from? And who sent you?" The questions spilled quickly from her mouth as she jumped to the ground. She'd obviously been listening to their conversation through the trees.

"No one sent us," Janet replied. She didn't feel it necessary to mention that it was actually General Hammond that sent them through the stargate as it was completely irrelevant to their situation. After all, their commanding officer did send them somewhere else; it wasn't his fault they ended up here. "As for where, we're from a land that's far...far away...that would take us a long time to travel back to." A long time being the operative phrase, since it appeared that they were several lifetimes away from the 21st Century at that particular moment. "But I can't be more specific than that."

"Can't...or won't?"

Janet turned back to Xena. "Can't. I assure you, we would if we could." Not an entirely truthful answer, the doctor considered, but the only one she was going to give. "I can tell you that all we want to do right now is get home again," she said honestly.

"How?" Gabrielle asked curiously. "Oh, will you create the water in the middle of the giant ring, and go back through it?" She couldn't keep the excitement from her voice. "Just how did you do that anyway?"

"Actually," Sam interrupted the young blonde, "we don't know if that'll work again." She sighed gently as she glanced across at the desperate look in her lover's eyes, knowing immediately that they both feared the same thing. Until they could find the DHD--or at the very least an effective power source--then work out a solution to their seemingly impossible solar flare problem, they were stuck here for the rest of their lives. "Guess we have a lot of figuring out to do," she concluded, before rubbing her hand roughly over her forehead.


"D'you thing it'll work?"

"It has to work, Buffy's counting on us."

"I know, but we're talking about raising the dead. About accessing magicks that haven't been used in centuries--magicks that were never meant to be used in the first place."

The petite redhead gently lifted her girlfriend's hand in her own. "It'll work, Tara, I've researched this fully. I know what I'm doing. You have to trust me."

"I trust you, Willow, I do. It's just..."

Willow carefully tucked a loose strand of blond hair behind Tara's ear. "It's just that this is more powerful and dangerous than anything we've ever attempted before."

"Yes," the blonde witch breathed. "You've read the same books I have, you know what I know. You know the dangers that are involved." She paused briefly. "You know that people can come back...wrong."

"That won't happen," Willow said almost too vehemently, although her face immediately softened by the look in Tara's gentle eyes. "Don't worry, baby," she continued more tenderly, "I've got it all under control. I won't let anything go wrong. I promise."

Tara knew in her heart, the moment she looked into Willow's beautifully sincere eyes, that her lover believed what she said, and that she meant to keep her promise no matter what. But it still didn't erase the deep-down gut feeling that this was beyond even Willow's abilities, despite her being an extremely accomplished and naturally gifted witch.

"Look, Xander and Anya are baby-sitting Dawn," Willow continued when Tara still hadn't spoken, "they think we need some 'alone time' so we have the entire house to ourselves for the night. And Giles and Spike are on tonight's patrol, so there shouldn't be any interruptions." She focused her intense gaze on her girlfriend. "We can do this."

Tara held her gaze. No matter her own feelings on the subject, she knew that what they were about to do was incredibly important, for a great many reasons. She couldn't deny the fact that the void Buffy had left after her death a month ago was still proving impossible to fill. The vampire and demon populations in Sunnydale seemed to be increasing week by week with no signs of abating, despite the Scooby Gang's best efforts to keep them under control. Even after Willow managed to fix up the Buffy-bot, and they'd tried using it as a replacement, it still couldn't compare to the real thing. There was no getting around it; they needed the Slayer. They needed Buffy. And if that meant bringing her back from the dead, so be it.

But even if that weren't true, for Tara there was a much more important reason to bring her lover's best friend back. Ever since that dreadful day, she had long suspected--as had Willow--that because of the nature of Buffy's death, her soul, her essence, was now trapped in a demon dimension, subjected to untold suffering and torment. A fate you wouldn't wish on your worst enemies. And that was a thought Tara just couldn't bear, not if it was within her power to do something about it. "Okay," she replied quietly, pushing her ever-present feeling of trepidation aside. "I'll do it for you. And for Buffy."

Willow smiled with relief. "Thank you."

An hour later, the two witches stood together in the centre of their shared room in the Summers' household. They'd decided not to wait any longer; there was nothing else stopping them, they had to attempt the spell now.

Willow carefully surveyed the candle-lit room. "Right, everything's set. We've got the candles, the smelly sand," her hands moved over each object as she talked, "the incense sticks, the herbs that probably should be illegal in all fifty states, the sacred chants--oh, and the cute little gargoyle miniatures."

Tara looked quizzically at her lover. "Cute little gargoyle miniatures?"

"You know, for atmosphere." Willow shrugged, the unmistakable hint of a twinkle in her eye.

The blonde witch couldn't help but return a faint half-smile as the bats in her stomach eased into butterflies at the reassuring quirkiness of her girlfriend. "I think the atmosphere is just fine." She leaned over and gently kissed Willow's lips then wrapped her arms around her in a comforting hug.

They held each other tightly before pulling apart slightly. "Okay, you ready?" Willow asked quietly.

Tara looked around one last time. "Yeah," she replied. They'd taken all the precautions they could; there was nothing else they could do. Finally, she glanced at the clock on the wall. "Midnight," she whispered. "It's time."

All Willow could do was nod in agreement.

The two witches faced one another for a moment, looking directly into each other's eyes, then sat down cross-legged on the floor, their knees barely touching.

Tara lit an incense stick and began waving the faint grey smoke around them in a circle, the gentle fragrance surrounding them, as Willow unravelled the scroll and began reading from it. "Gaia, Mother Earth, the goddess born of Chaos and from whom all life sprang, we beseech you...." She glanced up at her girlfriend and the blonde nodded for her to continue. "Return to us the Slayer, the Protector of the Innocent, the Fighter of All Evil."

She picked up a handful of sand as Tara took a pinch of herbs and, at the same time, both sprinkled the two substances between them onto the floor, the sand and herbs mixing together as they fell. Willow repeated the chant again, "Gaia, Mother Earth, the goddess born of Chaos and from whom all life sprang, we beseech you, return to us the Slayer, the Protector of the Innocent, the Fighter of All Evil."

An unnerving silence settled in the room when suddenly the window burst open and a cold wind blew in, snuffing out the candles and plunging them into an eerie darkness. The floor began to shake and they both heard a low rumble coming from the walls.

"Willow?" The blonde's voice betrayed her fear.

"It's okay, Tara." Willow quickly grasped her girlfriend's hands. "We knew this would happen. We have to go on," she shouted over the noise of the wind.

The unnatural wind grew fiercer, and the shaking grew more intense, as a feeling of foreboding distantly touched Tara warning her that perhaps they were doing the wrong thing after all but she pushed it aside, knowing she had to carry on anyway for Willow's sake.

They held on tightly to each other as they both began chanting defiantly over and over, their voices almost lost in the wind. "Gaia, return to us the Slayer, the Protector of the Innocent, the Fighter of All Evil. Gaia, return to us the Slayer, the Protector of the Innocent, the Fighter of All Evil. Gaia, return to us the Slayer..."

Together they kept their concentration to fight the commotion and noise, and eventually the witches' chanting reached a crescendo as their essences became one. Their subconscious thoughts overtaking their rational thoughts till they were oblivious to all but the anchor to the physical plane each provided the other. And at the exact same moment, both Willow and Tara felt something indescribably...powerful...pass through them, around them, over them. An intense feeling of energy neither had felt before. All at once, there were thousands of words and images and thoughts and feelings bombarding their psyches, but before their minds could fully comprehend the sensations, there was a sudden and blinding flash of light and then...

Silence.

A few minutes--perhaps even a few hours--later, Tara slowly opened her eyes; shocked by the bright shaft of sunlight that suddenly shone directly into her face. As far as she was concerned it had been midnight only a few moments before. Sitting up awkwardly, she tried to focus on her surroundings, to get some sense of where she was and what had happened. Her eyes widened as she noticed with horror the trees surrounding her on all sides. They definitely hadn't been there before.

As her eyes finally adjusted to the light, she felt a complete and utter sense of dread, realizing at once that something else was wrong. Suddenly, she had the overwhelming need to look down at her side, the immediate and uncontrollable feeling of nausea almost too much for her to bear.

"W-w-willow?" Tara stuttered at the sight of her lover lying lifelessly next to her on the forest floor.


Cameron's Wood
Two miles south of Ludlow, New England
10.19pm

"Agent Scully? Agent Scully, take a look at this." Monica Reyes crouched down, using the light from her flashlight to examine her discovery more closely. It was the only illumination available to her on one of the darkest nights she'd experienced in a long time.

Dana Scully pointed her own flashlight in the direction of the other agent a few feet away from her. "What have you got, Agent Reyes?" She began walking toward her, loudly snapping on her latex gloves--she would never admit it in a court of law but she loved that sound.

"I'm not sure, it appears to be a gel-like substance."

"Goo? You want me to look at goo?"

The younger woman glanced back at her partner, smiling broadly. "Goo that shouldn't be here." She turned back to the substance on the ground in front of her. "I initially thought it was tree sap, but now I'm not so sure."

"And why is that?" Scully was finally close enough to look over the dark-haired woman's shoulder.

"It's purple," Reyes replied. She picked up some of the substance and began rubbing it between her gloved fingers. It had the consistency of thick gel, and smelt strangely like a mixture of incense, herbs and something else she couldn't identify. It also had some sort of grit in it, almost like sand.

The redhead crinkled her nose in disgust. "So, we've got an unidentified purple goo-like substance in the middle of a forest where we've had reports of a mysterious light hovering among the trees. Neither of which appear to have any connection to the other." She quickly glanced around and sighed. "This is going to be a long night."

"I'm sorry, Dana." Reyes stood up and turned to face her companion. "I shouldn't have called you in on this. It's just that Agent Doggett and I needed your expertise to investigate these reports. It was selfish of me especially since you've got William at home."

"You know, you're right. I had to get my mother out of her bed to come sit with William, while you take me on this little jaunt in the forest." Despite her tone, the cheeky grin never left Scully's face. She really didn't mind at all, it was just like old times when she worked with Mulder. Besides, deep down she loved working on the X-Files again in whatever capacity she could. Ever since the birth of her son--even though she was eternally grateful that he'd come into her life--she'd longed to get back to work again, with adults she could have adult conversations with.

She also wouldn't admit it to anyone, particularly the dark-haired woman in front of her, but she really enjoyed spending time with Agent Reyes herself. There was something about the other woman that intrigued her, especially since they'd formed a close bond after Reyes had helped deliver her baby. That kind of extreme situation really did bring people closer together, and she felt she wanted to get to know her a bit better, under different circumstances, when they weren't fleeing in fear of their lives.

"How about next time," the shorter woman continued, the smile still on her lips, "you and Agent Doggett search the area, while I go interview the good townsfolk of Ludlow."

Reyes smiled in return. "It's a deal," she replied softly. Her smile quickly faded as she paused for a moment, then abruptly turned and stared into the darkness.

"What is it?" Scully couldn't keep the fear from her voice, as she quickly shone her flashlight in the direction of Reyes' disturbance. She knew the other woman somehow had the ability to sense danger, and even in the short time she'd known her she'd learned to trust that instinct implicitly.

"I thought I felt...heard something." Her eyes remained fixed on the trees, though it was impossible to see much at all, considering there was no moonlight to speak of and the light from their flashlights couldn't seem to penetrate the black.

Suddenly, a bright light shone back in their direction causing both women to momentarily shield their eyes. It appeared at first to be a flashlight in the distance, until it shifted its position, and both women realized that it was moving far too quickly and smoothly to be carried by any person.

"There," Reyes needlessly pointed in the direction of the phenomenon. "It's gotta be the light the townspeople have been telling us about."

Scully stared incredulously at the fast moving object. "That's no ordinary light," she said ominously, "that's something else." She glanced to the other woman. "What the hell is it?"

"I don't know." The taller woman was initially fascinated by the phenomenon, but her fascination quickly turned to apprehension as she realized it had turned in their direction, and was headed straight for them. "Dana...it seems to be coming this way." If she didn't know better she would've sworn that this insentient light somehow knew that they were there, and suddenly it appeared much more menacing. She placed her hand on Scully's shoulder. "I think we should move now. I don't think we should stay here anymore."

"Agreed."

The two women backed up a couple of steps before they turned and began jogging back along the well-worn path through the trees. As they ran, the light was either getting brighter or closer--or both--behind them as it caused the shadows in front of them to stretch out further and further. Instinctively, they ran faster.

After a few minutes, the two agents broke through the trees into a grassy clearing at a dead run. But the light matched their speed, following every turn they made. Reyes slowed a little, letting her partner catch up to her. "Agent Scully," she yelled behind her.

"I don't think we can outrun it," Scully gasped as she tried to catch her breath, realizing distantly that she wasn't completely back in shape after the birth of her son.

Reyes risked a glance back at the light. It was still there, still moving quickly behind them, only now it seemed much bigger. "I think you're right," she confirmed reluctantly.

Both women stopped running and turned to face the phenomenon. Their flashlights had long since been discarded; they no longer needed them, as the clearing was now awash with an eerie unnatural glow emanating from the light. Reyes kept her hand on her sidearm as Scully braced herself against the other woman, her hand on her shoulder.

The light slowed down as it got closer.

"Get behind me." Reyes quickly pulled Scully to her, using her own body to shield the other woman from danger. She drew her weapon and pointed it hopelessly toward the light.

As they watched, it finally stopped moving. It remained motionless for a few moments, hovering impossibly only a few feet in front of them, both women unable to determine what it would do next. Then it began pulsating brighter and brighter and brighter, until...

"No frickin' way!"

It was the last thing either of them said before the light swallowed them whole.

TBC
 

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