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15 November 2011 @ 10:04 pm
Fic: Rewards (5/8)  
Summary, Notes, and Warnings are located in the Table of Contents.

Song used in this chapter is Down My Spine, by Rachael Sage.
 
Chapter Four: Two Lives
 
After they had left the room, Liz jumped out of bed and started looking through the clothes.  Clothes would definitely help with her comfort level.  There was something about feeling a draft down your back that was not conducive to logically analyzing one’s options.  Cordy was right, the clothes were definitely a little long for her, but she found some things that she could make do.  She stopped, Cordy? Hadn’t she said her name was Cordelia? 
 
Being dressed felt a little bit better.  She wondered what was going on downstairs.  She also wondered why she was listening to these people.  But something told her that they were on her side.  She wandered over to the window, looking out into the alley below.  Her mind drifted as she leaned her head against the glass.  Unbidden, her memory turned to her parents bringing home her baby sister.   We’re calling her Dawn.  She shook her head.  That wasn’t right, she was an only child.  Another memory leaped into her mind, this time playing Power Girl with her cousin, followed quickly by the same cousin’s funeral.  But again, these never happened.  They couldn’t have.  She distinctly remembered living in Europe for her father’s job between ages 7 and 9.
 
Panicky feelings were beginning to take over.  She stared out the window, not seeing.  Suddenly she wanted to get out of there.  But she didn’t want to go with the police.  Without even being aware of it, she had opened the window and slipped out onto the landing of the fire escape.  Quickly making her way to the bottom of the rickety stairs, she lightly leaped the few feet left to the ground and took off down the alleyway. 
 
With no money and no ID, she just walked.  Maybe if she walked far enough or fast enough, she could escape these bizarre memories.  They were coming faster now, schools she had never attended, watching this Dawn grow up, a growing tension in her parents’ marriage, the eventual divorce.  It was almost a relief to start experiencing the Sunnydale memories.  At least with those, there were no competing memories from her real life.  For those times, she was catatonic in a hospital.
 
It must have been hours later that she looked around, feeling a strange, not altogether comfortable, familiarity with the area.  Looking up, she saw a sign identifying the building as the East Hills Teen Center.  Then she heard a woman’s voice calling, “Buffy?”
 
Liz turned and saw a young woman with long blonde hair hurrying toward her with a smile on her face.  “Buffy, I haven’t seen you in forever!  I’ve always wanted to thank you.  You changed my life.”  Anne Steele faltered when she saw the distinct discomfort in the other blonde’s face. 
 
“You know me?” Liz asked.
 
“Yeah,” Anne volunteered.   “We knew each other a bit years ago.  You look beat, why don’t you come in and sit down for a bit?”
 
She had been walking for hours and couldn’t remember when she had last eaten.  She was exhausted, it was getting dark, and she didn’t have any idea where to go next.  She smiled at the perky young woman and followed her inside.  They passed a number of teens going about their business, everyone seeming happy to see her hostess.  Anne took her back to her office and closed the door.
 
“You want to talk about it?” Anne asked. 
 
Liz shook her head.  Anne motioned to the couch and asked, “You want to sleep on it?”
 
“Yeah,” Liz answered.  This woman obviously knew Buffy.  She didn’t know if she could handle the conversation that would be involved in trying to explain the situation, or to pretend that everything was normal.  She laid down gratefully. 
 
Anne brought over a small blanket and said, “I’m going to be doing some paperwork, but I’ll try not to disturb you.  Let me know if you need anything.”
 
Anne sat at her desk, looking at inventories for a few minutes.  Looking back, she saw that Buffy was already asleep.  Anne gazed thoughtfully at her.  If there was one thing she knew, it was when someone was running from something, and this girl was running.  She hoped she would be able to help Buffy.  She had been the first person to prove to Anne that she could take care of herself, she just expected it.  That had been the turning point in Anne’s life.  It had been a long, hard road to get to this point, but it all came down to Buffy.
 
She quietly slipped out of the office and circulated through the house, making sure everyone was cooperating and that there were no problems.  She came back to the common room where the evening news was playing.  Sitting on the couch, watching the kids sit and talk, or play games, her attention was pulled to the television when a report of an abduction came up with Buffy’s picture.  Only they were reporting her name as Liz Snow.  She looked at the video that was now playing across the screen, her vision pulled to the faces of the two men pushing the wheelchair down the hallway.  A number flashed across the screen for information related to this crime.
 
In a daze, Anne stood up and made her way back to the office.  She looked down at the sleeping woman.  She had recognized the name Buffy, even if she hadn’t seemed entirely comfortable with it.  Anne grabbed the phone from its handset on her desk and slipped back out.  Dialing quickly, she waited for an answer.
 
~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~

At the Hyperion, Cordy, Fred, and Wesley were still researching.  Gunn had been out looking for Buffy since the police had left.  Angel had followed as soon as the sun went down.  Takeout containers on the counter testified to their diligence as they had eaten while they worked.
 
The silence was suddenly broken.  “Oh crap!” Cordy exclaimed.
 
“Cordelia if you spilled nail polish remover on the computer again, I swear,” Wesley began, but she cut him off.
 
“Oh ha ha, Wesley.  That happened one time!  No, this is about the case, Mr. Pessimist, and it’s not good.”  Wesley and Fred immediately got up and crowded around Cordy’s computer.
 
“Wolfram & Hart,” Fred gasped. 
 
“Yep,” Cordelia agreed.  “They are apparently the source of the funding for this dig.  If we had any lingering doubts about Liz having some tie to Buffy, I’d say this pretty much clears them all up for me.”  
 
~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~

Gunn answered his phone, expecting it to be someone from the office.  He had been wandering the city for hours with no trace of Liz.  He was ready to pack it in for the night.
 
“Charles?” It took him a second to place the voice. 
 
“Annie!” he exclaimed.  “Good to hear from you. What’s new?”
 
“I have something here that I think you might want to see.”
 
“Aw, man, I wish I could.  But I’ve actually got a kind-of missing person to look for tonight.”
 
Anne nodded to herself.  “Yeah, about that.  If you’re talking about the girl who’s all over the news, the one that your friends took from the hospital today, she’s here.”
 
“You sure, Anne?” Gunn couldn’t believe his luck.  “Did she tell you her name?”
 
“No,” Anne replied.  “I thought it was Buffy at first, but she seemed really uncomfortable when I called her that.”
 
Gunn was already changing direction to head to the Teen Center.  “Wait, you know Buffy?”
 
Anne laughed nervously.  “A long time ago, in another life.”
 
Gunn nodded.  “I’ll be there in 20 minutes.  Try to keep her there.”
 
~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~~~BA~~

On his way to the Teen Center, Gunn called Angel to let him know he could head back to the hotel.  Angel resisted.  “How do we know this is really her?”
 
“Anne seemed pretty positive.  She says she knew Buffy from back in the day.” 
 
“All right.  You’re closer.  Go ahead and pick her up, meet us back at the hotel.  I’m going to try to get Lorne to come by, see if he can do a reading for us.”
 
“Cool man.  Meet you there.”
 
Gunn hung up and continued on.  Parking down the street from the center, he hopped out of the truck and headed up and through the front door.  One of the kids in the common room directed him back to the office.  He tapped softly on the door.
 
Anne opened it with a smile.  “Hey,” she said softly, stepping back to let him in.  “She’s just waking up.” 
 
Gunn’s eyes flicked to the couch and saw Liz/Buffy stretching and sitting up.  “Hey,” he said to both of them.  Liz looked up at him, then away, confused.  Anne nodded and then slipped out the door, giving them some privacy.
 
Gunn pulled up a chair.  “How you feeling?” he asked gently.
 
She took a deep breath.  “Confused.”
 
He nodded. “That why you left?”
 
“I guess so.  Everything got so... muddled.  I just wanted to clear my head.”  She looked at Gunn.  “Can you guys really help me?”
 
Gunn nodded.  “It’s what we do.  We’ve solved stranger cases than this.  In fact, if you come back with me now, we’re getting someone to come in who might be able to help out.”
 
“Let’s go.”  She folded up the blanket and laid it on the back of the couch.  They thanked Anne on the way out and headed down the block.
 
Halfway to the truck, several figures appeared out of the darkness surrounding them.  Looking around, Gunn didn’t see any way out except to fight.  Trying to keep one eye on Liz, he countered the two that immediately rushed them from the street side.  He saw the other two heading for her, but couldn’t break free from his attackers.  He could hear the sounds of fighting from her general vicinity and figured she was at least resisting.  In a few minutes, he had managed to overcome his two attackers and turned to see what the status was with the others.  He might as well have been watching an action film.  The two involved in the fight with her were definitely more adept fighters than those he had just finished off.  And she was not merely resisting, she was defending, counter-attacking, and pulling off moves he wasn’t sure even Angel could counter.  Gunn stood there, staring, as she finally sent the last one into a deep sleep and then shook himself back to the present. 
 
“We’d better go, now,” he yelled, pointing down the block where more figures loomed. 

Together they ran for the truck, leaping in, and tearing away just as the second wave reached them. 
 
Gunn was grinning from the excitement of the fight, adrenaline still coursing through his veins.  “Woo!  Nothing better, right?” he exclaimed, glancing over at her. 
 
Liz sat there in the truck, feeling like she was in shock.  She ran her hands through her hair.  “What just happened?” she asked.
 
“You just kicked some major butt.”
 
“Who were those guys?  What did they want?”
 
“Don’t know who they were, but what they wanted was you.  And I’m really glad you were up for holding your own, ‘cause otherwise there wouldn’t have been too much I could’ve done.”  Gunn looked over again.  She looked really shaken.  “I’m going to get you back to the hotel.  We’ll be safe there.”
 
During the ride, she sat silent, her brain filled with memories of fights and training and she remembered learning all those moves she had used tonight.  Only it had never been real.  That’s what they told her, it wasn’t real.  Feeling almost nauseated with the conflicting memories, she tried to clear her mind when Gunn’s voice broke through.
 
“Okay,” he said in a worried tone.  “Switching to plan B.  Scootch down in your seat, so no one can see you.”
 
“What?”
 
“We got some people waiting for us outside the hotel.  I’m gonna have to bring you in the back way.”
 
Liz crouched down and Gunn drove slowly past the hotel.  After a couple blocks, he pulled over and parked.  He led Liz quickly to an all-night diner, hustling her into the kitchen with a smile at one of the waitresses.  “Sewer access,” he explained to Liz. 
 
A few minutes later, they were in the basement of the Hyperion.
 
As they came through the door from the basement, Fred jumped.  “Sorry about that, guys, but we got company out front,” Gunn explained.
 
Liz had been following him, but stopped short when she saw the latest addition standing in the lobby.  The green skin, the horns, the red eyes were bad enough, but the powder blue lounge suit on top of it all was truly distressing.
 
Gunn noticed she wasn’t behind and turned to find her staring at Lorne.  He smiled, “Yeah, Liz.  This is that outside help I was talking about.”  He indicated the empath demon.  “This is Lorne.  And Lorne, this is,” Gunn faltered.
 
Angel cut in.  “We’re hoping you can tell us who this is.”
 
“Well, I will certainly do my best, gang.  This girl is just too pretty to to have these kind of problems.”
 
She stood unsure of what exactly was going on and more than a little disconcerted at the being casually sitting in the middle of the lobby.  Angel walked over to her, while Wesley queried Gunn.
 
“You said we have company out front?  Could you tell who it was?”
 
Gunn shook his head.  “Looked human and well-armed.  That’s pretty much all I got.”
 
Wesley sighed.  “That would fit.  We have found out that Wolfram & Hart is the client funding this dig.  We have to assume that their interest is in more than just the artifact.”
 
“What do you mean?” Liz asked.  “Who are Wolfram & Hart and what are they interested in?”  Her voice was bordering on hysteria. 
 
Angel put his hands gently on her shoulders, feeling again the electric thrill that always came from touching Buffy.  “We’ll explain everything, but first you need to sing for Lorne.”
 
Her expression was one of disbelief.  “Sing?” she repeated. 
 
Fred piped up, her heart going out at the lost expression on their guest’s face.  It was only a few years ago that she had felt just as lost and conflicted as she tried to adapt back to life in this dimension.  “Lorne can read your destiny, but only if you sing.  We’ve all done it at one time or another.”
 
Lorne offered, “Just pick something that speaks to you and let the music say it for you.” 
 
Liz looked around.  “Just right here?” she said doubtfully. 
 
“Well, if they’re watching the hotel, we can’t exactly take you to Lorne’s karaoke bar.  So, yeah, right here,” Angel supplied.
 
Lorne offered, “I brought my portable kit, if you’d like to see what I’ve got.”
 
Liz nodded and looked through Lorne’s abbreviated song list. She picked one, Lorne set it up, and music filled the lobby.  Filled with trepidation, she began to sing.
 
All she ever wanted in this whole world
was to dance her bones away
all she ever wanted in this whole wide world
was to scream what she could not say
 
why is it cold and mean all the time
why do i always feel
like a straight line is crawling
in and out and up and down my spine
even when i am sleeping
 
All she ever wanted in this whole world
was to dance her bones away
Only how she haunted in this whole wide world
she wished she could waste away
 
why is it cold and mean
all the time
why do i
always feel like a
straight line is crawling
in and out and up and down my spine
even when i am sleeping
 
somebody open up her hands
somebody open her hands up
so she can listen through her fingers
and finally touch it
somebody open up her voice
open her voice wide like a river
so time can deliver
all its
sweetness
 
woman lies awake dreaming like alice
in some sequined wonderland
still hallucinating
that her dark prince
is gonna come and take her hand
 
lift it from the ground
it’s been buried so long
turn it all around until there's nothing wrong
even when i am sleeping
all the time
why do i
always feel like a
straight line is crawling
in and out and up and down my spine
even when i am sleeping
 
Angel stood staring at her as she looked anywhere but at him.  She felt suddenly as if she had bared her soul for everyone in the room to see.  She knew Angel was the dark prince of her dreams, and she knew that he would know it now too.  Everyone else was looking toward Lorne, waiting for his response. 
 
Lorne looked distinctly perplexed.  “Well, this is different,” he said slowly.  Liz looked at him, happy to focus on someone she didn’t feel any connection to.  He looked into her face as if he could divine even more with just a look.
 
Finally, Wesley cleared his throat and asked, “Can you tell us what is happening here?”
 
“Well, I can tell you some of the what, but not the why.”
 
Angel said tersely, “At this point, we’ll take what we can get.”  Liz wasn’t so sure, but went ahead and sat down with everyone anyway.
 
Lorne looked at the expectant faces.  “She’s the Slayer,” he said succinctly.  Before Angel could fully recognize the emotions tearing through him, Lorne followed up with, “And she’s Liz Snow.”
 
Gunn said, “Lorne, that doesn’t make sense.  One person can’t be, well two people.”
 
“Ordinarily, I’d agree with you.  But I read what I read.  I see Buffy Summers’ life all laid out behind, and running right along side it almost the entire way is Liz Snow’s.”
 
Liz’s quiet voice asked with trepidation, “So, which one is real?”
 
“They both are, sweetie pie.  That’s what I don’t get.  They are both the genuine article.”
 
“But Buffy died.  Surely you’re not seeing her now, are you?” Angel asked.
 
Lorne hemmed and hawed.  “Well, her path predominantly exists in the past.  But it does seem to be popping up here and there even now.”
 
Angel felt a wave of anger.  The Powers That Be just couldn’t leave well enough alone.  Not that Buffy being dead was ‘well-enough’ but he didn’t think he could take them interfering with his life any more. 
 
Wesley interjected, “You didn’t see anything connected with Wolfram & Hart, did you Lorne?”
 
“No, I’m afraid not.  Whatever they’re up to is not something I’m privy to.”
 
Cordelia watched Angel, worried about his reaction, as Angel watched Liz/Buffy.  His jaw was set and tense; she was pale and shaking. 
 
“I don’t understand what this all means,” she said.  She looked at each of them, hoping to see answers somewhere.  All she saw were perplexed, compassionate expressions.  Her breath came in shallow, quick waves.  “I’d like, I think I’d like to be alone for a while.”
 
Angel was on his feet immediately.  He helped her up saying, “Of course.  You can stay in the same room.  I’ll take you.”
 
She acquiesced.  “Is there a phone in there?” she asked.  “I’d like to call my mom.  Just let her know that I’m okay.” She laughed at the irony.  She was anything but okay at this point.
 
“Yeah, you can call her.”  Angel led her upstairs and down the hall to her room.  He opened the door and stood back to let her enter.  “Well,” he said awkwardly, “I’ll let you get some rest.”
 
She tilted her head back a bit as she looked up at him, getting a little lost in his beautiful brown eyes.  Her lips parted slightly and she leaned up toward his face.  He felt dizzy as she neared him, desperately wanting to crush her to him, yet fearing he would scare her off if he made a move.  At the last minute, she changed her direction and brushed her lips across his cheek.  He tried not to let his disappointment show.  She quickly turned and hurried inside the room.