Disclaimer: I can only Wish
Setting: This is more S3 Older'verse stuff, but since it all takes place within the Older'verse Wish'verse, it doesn't seem to need any backstory.
Notes: It's "The Wish" week over at fantas_magoria and I wanted to have something to contribute. It cost me some sleep, but for a one-night effort, I think it turned out pretty well. All mistakes, of course, are mine.
I'm just throwing you into the middle of this scene with one bit of explanation-- Buffy is the one who unwittingly had a wish granted by Anyanka. If you can guess the wish, or a reasonable approximation of it, I'll write you a drabble for a pairing/character and prompt of your choice.
Aside from the presence of a single streamlined computer on the desk, the library was familiar in every way, from the placement of books and furniture to the welcoming after-hours hush. To Buffy, still reeling from the sight of a beloved face warping into a vampire’s ridged brow and leering fangs, it was like heaven. She dropped into the nearest chair and spread her hands across the table’s smooth surface, hoping it could anchor her memories enough to keep her sense of self intact.
Eli followed her into the room and pulled out a chair across from her in slow, even movements. “Don’t ask me to leave you alone,” he said as he perched his elbows on the table. “But I’ll answer any questions you have.”
Buffy raked a hand through her hair, attempting to concentrate on anything other than him, until something sank in. She looked up. “You believe me.”
“I don’t know what I believe.” His voice was young enough to separate it from Giles, and frank enough to separate it from Wesley, despite the accent he shared with them. “I’ve been educated in a tradition that allows for the impossible, though, so I’m not prone to dismissing anything unless I have solid proof against it. It’s clear that you are Buffy Summers, and just as clear that you aren’t...my Buffy.”
“You can say that again.” She shot him a glare, her anger finding a focal point at last. “This is really where that ‘impossible’ word comes into play for me. Alternate Sunnydale—-right, okay, but this one’s overrun by some kind of vampire turf wars—-less right, not at all okay, and you, you and supposedly alternate me, let it happen, and on top of all that, I have to swallow the idea that we were a, an item? A romantic thing, with touching? What happened to alternate me’s standards?”
If she had been in any temper to care, she would have been impressed at the way Eli kept his composure through that tirade. He folded his hands in front of him, as if to show her that he wasn’t going to take any liberties with them. “We didn’t get along at first,” he started.
“We don’t get along now!”
“Do you want to hear about it?”
“No.” She rubbed her temples. “No. I need you to get me up to speed on Sunnydale. I’m still the Slayer here, right? Who do I start by killing?”
He leaned back in his chair, frowning at her. “It’s a delicate balance, or we would have begun already. Darla and the Anointed One seem to be little more than figureheads, at this point, but kill either one, and their allies will come looking for revenge with a greater force than we can handle. Not to mention the advantage that their enemies will gain. That’s why we’ve been working on undermining their systems.”
Hearing him talk about her as part of his ‘we’ was tying her brain in knots. Of everything she had learned about this lost counterpart of hers, none of it resonated with her as someone that she knew, let alone her own self. This wary young Watcher with his surprising affinity for computers and Isaac Asimov novels, yes, he could craft a plan to work from below and topple the hierarchy of vampires before making a direct attack, but Buffy couldn’t. She wouldn’t. Would she? There had to be people dying as they waited to make their move, and she couldn’t stomach the thought of sacrificing lives for the sake of maintaining a delicate balance. She gave Eli a hard stare. “I don’t undermine. If I’ve never told you this before, shame on me, but I’m telling you now: find a different way.”
“It isn’t remotely that simple.”
“Yeah, I’m awake. But we tried your plan already and I’m feeling like there’s good alternate-timeline-evidence that mine’s better, so—“
Eli cut her off with a tone so full of restrained fury that it sounded like a hiss. “You have no idea of what we’ve tried! You have no memory of what we’ve been through, what we’ve lost! The danger we face every night! Do you really think you would have lived if Darla’s men out there had chosen to fight you? Do you think I’m willing to see that happen?”
Shaken, Buffy let her head give a tiny shake before she recovered enough to stop it. He had a point. She knew so little about what had shaped this version of the world, and how this world had shaped her. There were ugly things in her past here, just as there were in her own world, and she had to face them. Only this time, before she did so, she had to find out what they were. She took a deep breath and moistened her dry lips. “How did Giles die?” she asked softly. “Why—-why couldn’t I save him?”
“Giles?” Eli’s brow furrowed in sudden consternation. “Rupert Giles?”
“Yeah, of course. My Watcher, before you.”
He was looking at her as if she were a bomb he needed to disable. “Buffy, you never met Rupert Giles. He was Watcher to the first Slayer to be stationed on this Hellmouth. Darla got to them both long before you ever set foot in Sunnydale.”
“What?” Buffy felt herself going numb, far beyond the coldness she had felt in her heart since arriving here. “No, that doesn’t make any sense. Why wouldn’t...I mean, what other Slayer? When?”
There was a pause, which couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, but felt like hours. Then Eli said, slowly and deliberately, “You were Called eight months ago, just after you moved here from Los Angeles. I have been your Watcher throughout that entire time. I can’t explain these discrepancies in our parallels, but if there is an answer, Buffy, I swear I’ll do my best to find it.”
Buffy sensed a note of hysterical laughter trying to emerge from her throat, and she swallowed to dislodge it. “’Cause we’re honeys, right? You’d do anything to make me happy?”
“Believe it or not, I would.” He coughed once, and the tenderness left his voice in favor of a brisk business tone. “You have much more experience now than I knew. It’s possible that we can accomplish what we couldn’t before. We can discuss it later; I think you should get some rest.”
He stood up, the scrape of his chair’s legs on the floor making an unexpectedly loud sound that helped rouse Buffy from her stupor. “Wait,” she said without moving. “Um, Eli. I’m sorry, I don’t know you and I don’t know how this—-I mean, it must be hard for you. That I changed like this.”
The smile he offered in return was weary but sincere. “You refused to patrol one night because there was a party you wanted to go to. I went out on my own instead and found Willow being walked to the same party by a vampire. Later you told me that you learned about responsibility that night.”
Buffy looked up solemnly and met his eyes. “And if I ask her?”
“She’ll tell you the same story, with an extra dosage of details.”
Eli shrugged. “For saving Willow? You’ve already thanked me, I assure you.”
“For telling me.”
He sighed, seeming unwilling to carry on the conversation any further, but when she was still seated after a few breaths, he stepped back to the table and leaned down on it with both hands. “Buffy. In the past few years this Hellmouth has been the death of three Slayers and twice as many Watchers. You and I have survived this long because we’re a team, because we care for each other as people, and because we don’t give a dog’s testicles about what the Council thinks. I don’t know how much of that, if anything, I can extend to you as you are now, but if I can’t trust you, I’m flying blind and that terrifies me. Do me the favor of letting me trust you.”
Buffy nodded, making up her mind right then that this was one thing she could allow. She didn’t know if she could ask him to return the favor, but she still knew how it felt to have someone to trust, and she couldn’t take that feeling away from anyone else.