Willow sat across from the girl, watching with curiosity as she took a sip from the cup she held in her hands, and was utterly surprised at the complete lack of hostile action on her part to what was going on around her. That alone told Willow that there was certainly something weird about her, but at the same time, there was also something about her that told the redhead that she wasn't someone that needed to be treated like an enemy.
Naturally, the others had taken the exact opposite viewpoint, so after helping Cordelia, who had collapsed upon seeing the girl, to the couch, Buffy and Anya started to pace behind her; a pair of vultures circling a prey that would eventually show a weakness they would be all too happy to exploit.
"Who are you?" Anya asked.
"Why have you been following us around?" Buffy added.
"Willow told us that Fred's going to turn back to normal soon. How could you know that?"
"How did you get in here?"
"And where were you on the night of December 22nd?"
Buffy shot Anya a dirty look. "Sorry," she sheepishly replied. "I guess I got caught up in the moment."
"It's OK," Buffy replied, before casting her gaze down towards the girl and gesturing with her free hand. "But right now, I think we have more important things to take care of, like figuring out what we're going to do with her."
"Why?" Willow asked.
Anya looked at Willow. "What?"
Willow paused, unsure not only how to respond to that query, but why she had said the comment that had prompted it. "I mean, why do we have to do anything about her? Yeah, she broke in here, but all she did was eat us out of house and home. It's horrible, I understand, but it's not exactly something that warrants us treating her no better than we treated Tara before we found out about her."
"Are you suggesting that we treat her as a friend just because you have a feeling about her?" Buffy asked. Willow nodded.
"Well, I don't agree," Anya retorted. "This isn't your girlfriend we're talking about here, Willow. Even though she was helping us all this time, she still could have told us that she was doing it. And I still don't think it's a good idea for her to be involved in all this..."
Anya sighed at Buffy's interruption. "In any case, this girl isn't like Tara. Tara helped us; we don't know what her story is."
"Well, you should," the girl said suddenly, getting up and making her way towards the couch where Cordelia lay. Surprisingly, despite their earlier actions, neither Anya nor Buffy made any immediate move to stop her. By the time it occurred to them to do so, the girl was already sitting down beside Cordelia's prone form, looking at each of them in turn. "I've always been here."
"You have?" Cordelia asked weakly, working herself up from her prone position.
"Of course," the girl replied simply as if it were not the big surprise it obviously was to the others. "I've been here from the start of this entire adventure, and I've helped you get this far. And if you want to get even further, you're just going to have to listen to me and do everything I tell you to do."
"No offense," Willow said to cover the silence that followed the girl's declaration. "But I don't think we'll feel comfortable taking orders from a fourteen year old girl."
The girl's face broke out into one of amusement. "Then it might interest you to know that this so called 'fourteen year old girl' is actually..."
The sound of a ringing phone cut the girl off and Willow, noticing the look of annoyance on her face, reached into her pocket to fish it out. "Hello?"
The others, including the girl, took an immediate interest in the conversation at the sound of Willow's voice saying Fred's name. Noticing this, but not acting on it, Willow continued, "What...what is it that you want?"
"To fight you."
"I...I...don't want to hurt you, Fred."
"You already have, Willow. Or have you forgotten how your abandoning me led to me becoming a part of the enemy camp in the first place?"
Willow stiffened. "All right, then. If that's the way that you want it, Fred..."
"Good. Be at the rec center in fifteen minutes. And come alone. The others don't need to be a part of this."
"Because if they come, they'll end up being hurt. And you wouldn't want any more of your so called friends hurt because you acted rashly, would you?"
The line went dead before Willow could respond, and she closed the phone and replaced it in her pocket. Looking up, she saw the others, especially the strange girl, looking at her curiously.
Anya scoffed. "We know that. What did she want?"
Willow swallowed. "She wants us to go...to go to the cemetery; she wants to face us all by herself."
"It's gotta be a trap," Cordelia pointed out.
"Obviously," Anya replied, her comment all but suggesting the rolling of her eyes, even if she didn't actually do so.
"That's why Willow's going to stay here while we go deal with Fred," Buffy replied.
"No 'buts', Will," Buffy insisted, raising her hand to cut off Willow's retort. "You might be the Princess, and that means you can tell us what to do, but that doesn't mean we're going to let you do so if it ends up putting yourself into danger that you can easily avoid."
"Besides," Anya added, gesturing to the girl. "If what she said is right, and I'm not believing for a moment that it is, she'll snap out of whatever spell the enemy put on her soon. If it happens before we get there, we'll just bring her back here and everything will be alright."
"After we clean up the mess," Cordelia muttered.
"All right," Willow sighed, slumping against her chair.
"And besides," Anya said, tilting her head to the girl as Buffy and Cordelia made their way to the door. "Someone needs to stay here and keep an eye on her."
Willow turned and watched as Anya joined the others at the doorway, the three of them stepping through a few moments later. She let out a pained sigh. She couldn't believe that she had just lied to them, but it was the only way to make sure that they didn't get in her way. Fred had been right; no matter what they or anyone else thought, she had been responsible for what had happened to her, for everything that had gone wrong, both here in the present and in the past life. And no matter what, she had to make things right the best she could, even when the outlook to such a scenario was bleak.
Willow turned around to get up to leave, wondering what she was going to do with the girl, only to discover that she was no longer in the room. For a moment, she grew concerned as to how she had gotten out of the room, the only way to do so having been under her observation for at least the past minute. Shaking her head, she decided that this was a mystery best left to be solved later, gathered her things, and made her way out the door.
Moments after she left, the girl stood up from her hiding place from behind the couch, a contemplative look on her face.
Fred smiled thinly as she put her cell phone back in her pocket. The first part of her plan had been completed. Having just told Willow where she would be waiting for her, she had no doubt that the redhead would lie to her friends as to what that location was, if for no other reason than to make sure that they were out of the way while she made her way to the rec center to face her, all in a futile effort to bring back that which had been taken away from her and could never be recovered. All that remained for her to do now was to ensure that, once her deception became know to the others, her friends had no opportunity to interfere.
Moving to a nearby pay phone, she dropped a quarter into the slot and punched in a number, shaking off yet another headache as she did so. The phone ran for a few moments before someone on the other line picked up.
"Sunnydale Police Station?"
Fred's smile widened as she began to speak, knowing that there were only a few out of the way places Willow would send the others. "Hello, I'd like to report an incident at the cemetery..."
It took Buffy, Cordelia and Anya ten minutes to reach the park from the Bronze, and once arriving there, the three managed to find a secluded area in which to transform into their Soldier forms. Getting up, they looked around trying to find something out of the ordinary.
Seeing nothing, Buffy turned to Anya. "So what do we do now?"
"Wait until Fred shows up, I guess," Anya replied.
"And if she doesn't?"
Anya bit her lower lip. "Then we deal with that when it happens."
"Let's hope we don't have to..." Cordelia began, only to stop as a sudden wave of pain engulfed her mind. Falling to her knees, she reached a hand tentatively to her head in an effort to shake it off.
Noticing her discomfort, Buffy quickly knelt down beside her. "You OK?"
"Yeah," Cordelia replied. "It's just that...oh, no!"
"What?" Anya asked, her unease and concern about the situation growing with each passing moment.
"We've gotta get out of here!" Cordelia shouted, getting to her feet and immediately collapsing back to the ground. "Help me up!"
Buffy and Anya moved quickly to help Cordelia to her feet, and then made their way as fast as they could towards the gate where they had entered the cemetery. They were a quarter of the way there when they heard what had obviously prompted Cordelia to say what she had said.
"The police," Buffy deadpanned. "We were set up."
"No kidding," Anya scoffed. "What I wanna know is...by who?"
Buffy shot Anya a look. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Anya glared back at Buffy, her expression deadly serious. "You know what I'm talking about. Willow told us that Fred said she wanted to meet her here. How do we know Willow wasn't going behind our backs just to get us out of the way?"
Buffy let out an exasperated sigh. "Will you please get off that kick? I had really thought that everything we went through would have softened your attitude towards her. What crawled up your backside and set up shop this time?"
Anya let out an equally annoyed sigh. "I don't have to explain myself to you. If you can't trust that I've got everyone's best interests at heart, that's your own fault."
Buffy was about to respond when Cordelia interrupted. "Look, guys, I'm all for arguing who got us into this situation, but I really think we should probably save it for some time when we don't have the cops bearing down on us!"
"She's right," Buffy replied, shifting her weight as she hefted Cordelia up. "We don't have time to do this now."
"I think we're going to have all the time we need," Anya grunted. "Like about twenty to life." Buffy brought her head around to find three police cars parked in front of the gate, their occupants quickly moving out of them and, withdrawing their holstered side arms, making their way towards them.
"Sunnydale Police! Stay where you are and put your hands on your head!"
Willow walked into the rec center with the slightest hint of trepidation in her, still unsure as to what to expect, and even more afraid of the fact that she was going up against her former friend all by herself. Even despite Fred's demand, she should have told her friends to come and wait in the wings. Frogs, she even should have told Tara. If there was anyone in the world she felt comfortable doing this sort of thing with, it would have been her.
But here she was, all by herself, knowingly walking into the proverbial spider's nest, without backup or any real idea as to how to deal with the situation. It was a scene straight out of every horror movie she ever saw. All that was missing was the creepy music.
Willow snapped her head around to find Fred standing at the top of the bleachers in a crouched position, a smile on her face. "I'm glad to see that you've come alone."
"I...I didn't want my friends to be hurt," Willow stammered, cursing her weakness for faltering in a situation that clearly required more steady nerves than she had.
"A smart idea, Willow," Fred chuckled. "And a foolish one."
Willow immediately caught the edge in Fred's voice. "What did you do?"
Fred shook her head innocently. "Don't spaz out, Willow. I didn't do anything to harm them. I've just made sure that they wouldn't be able to bother us while..."
Willow watched as Fred raised one hand to her head and winced. Hoping that this was a confirmation of what she had been told by that strange girl, that the spell on Fred was weakening, she let some of the tension she felt ease out of there, hoping that the confrontation she had been dreading could be easily avoided.
All her hopes were dashed as Fred stood up, shaking her head and setting her expression into one of cool anger. "While we deal with our unfinished business." Setting herself up in a combat stance, Fred crossed her arms, Willow seeing her transformation bracelet strapped to her arm.
"Dark Power Make Up!"
"You're under arrest for disturbing the peace. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one shall be provided to you..."
Bent over the hood of one of the cop cars, hands cuffed behind her back, all Buffy could do was listen as the cop holding her down prattled off the usual spiel she heard cops in the movies say to the bad guys they captured. Only there was one small problem: the guys in this situation were neither guys, nor bad. They were, though the cops had no idea, the only ones who could save their sorry miserable lives, and the irony that, by doing this, they were preventing that which they themselves were sworn to do was not lost on her.
Anya was trying very hard to explain that situation to another of the officers. "You've got it all wrong. We're not the bad guys here."
"It didn't look that way back in December," the cop replied as he moved over behind her, taking her wrists and securing them in the handcuffs he held.
"Leave it to the police to see what they want to see," Anya muttered. "Anything to get back to your coffee and doughnuts that much sooner."
"That's enough out of you," the cop said, smacking Anya over the back of the head and guiding her towards the back of one of the cars, Cordelia already having been placed in the back seat. Buffy, meanwhile, tried to free herself from the grip of the guard pinning her down, only to get slammed against the hood again for her trouble.
Just then, the dispatcher's radio affixed to his belt came to life. "All units, all units. Incident at Sunnydale Rec Center. All units report with all haste..."
"Fred!" Buffy thought a moment before she heard a yelp from the guard pinning her down, followed by the release of his body against her own. Getting up quickly, she saw a white furred cat on the guard's body, its claws buried deep into the man's back.
"Quickly!" he shouted. "Get the others. I'll keep these guys distracted." Buffy nodded and made her way to the car where the others had been placed, the pair having already chosen to use Artemis' distraction to their benefit, making their way out of the car and knocking the cops who had remained nearby with clumsily, yet well executed, blows to their more tender regions.
Buffy moved quickly to remove the keys from the belt of one of the downed officers, and worked as best she could to free Anya's wrists. Managing to do so, Anya took the keys from Buffy's hand and freed both her and Cordelia from their entrapment. Running out of the cemetery, they rounded the corner and, after taking a quick look to see if anyone was watching, transformed back to their normal forms.
"That was close," Cordelia breathed.
"Yeah," Anya replied, her voice tinged with anger. "Willow's got some explaining to do."
Retorts from Buffy and Cordelia were stalled by Artemis' arrival. "We better get out of here before the cops have a chance to recover and search the area. You won't be recognized in your civilian forms, but its best not to give them any ideas."
The girls nodded and made their way as quickly and nonchalantly as they could away from the cemetery. Once they were a reasonable distance away, Cordelia asked, "Now what do we do?
"We've got to go to the rec center," Buffy answered. "That's where Fred is."
"How do you know?" Artemis asked.
"Because I overheard the dispatch say there's an incident going on over there," Buffy answered. "There's only one thing I can think of that could happen there that would require police intervention."
Artemis nodded. "Then we've got to get there before the police do. Come on. We don't have much time."
Willow's body impacted hard against the wall, and she let out a groan as she collapsed to the ground. Looking up towards Fred, she raised her Moonlight Stick to block the strike that, had she been a fraction of a second slower, would have lobbed her head off. She then used all of her strength she could muster to force the blade back as she got to her feet.
"I don't want to fight you, Fred," she said through clenched teeth.
"Then why did you come?" Fred grunted in reply.
"To help you."
"If you want to help me, then DIE!" Fred delivered a kicked to Willow's leg, knocking her off balance. She moved in to strike again, only to find her attempt blocked once more thanks to Willow's last minute block. This time, however, she twisted her wrist to drive Fred's blade down to the ground, following up by delivering a kick to her midsection. Fred stumbled backward, her attempt to center herself somewhat dampened by the fact that her head was beginning to hurt.
"It's not too late, Fred," Willow said again. "You can come back to us."
"I don't want to come back!" Fred shrieked, charging forward and knocking Willow off her feet. Getting back to her feet, she looked down at Willow's prone body and reached for her sword, preparing to finish her off.
Fred looked back towards the stands, Willow doing likewise as she regained consciousness, to find the strange girl they had both seen before. Both were annoyed at seeing her there, though Willow was the only one to voice her annoyance.
"What are you doing here? I told the others I was going to the cemetery."
The girl smiled and tugged at one of her ears. "I overheard the phone conversation."
Fred spoke up then. "Who are you?" In response, the girl withdrew her right hand from behind her back, revealing in her hand a cell phone similar to the one Willow herself had been given. Opening it, she touched three buttons on it and raised her arms.
"Luna Prism Power Make Up!"
Willow and Fred watched in silence as, before their very eyes, the girl was enveloped by a bright light, fading moments later to reveal the girl clad in the Soldieresque uniform that Fred herself had first seen her in. Willow was more surprised to find the pair of cat's ears on her head and the tail sticking up from under her skirt.
She smiled and leapt to the ground, affecting a battle stance as she did so. "I am the Soldier of Small and Cute Things, Sailor Luna. And in the name of the moon, I shall punish you."
Willow didn't think she was as shocked at any moment since learning of her destiny months ago as she was now, and there had been plenty of opportunities for surprise in that time. Still, seeing an apparently human Luna transform into a Sailor Soldier was certainly right up there as among the more surprising things she had ever seen.
Luna held up her hand, her Moonlight Stick appearing in it. She brought it down and looked towards Fred. "Back away from her, Mercury."
"I don't think so."
The heads of the three combatants turned to watched as Angelus appeared from out of nowhere, making his way towards them, drawing his sword as he did so. Fred looked at him with disgust. "I don't need your help."
"I never said I was offering it," Angelus countered, his eyes fixed on Luna. "I'm much more interested in seeing what this little creature is made of. I'll leave you to deal with Sailor Moon." He allowed a snicker to form on his lips. "If you can."
Fred let a growl escape from behind her throat as Angelus raised her hand, a ball of black light emanating from his palm. "But first, let us ensure that we shall not be bothered by...outside interference."
Buffy, Cordelia and Anya watched from under cover as the large crowd of individuals, including several police officers and cars, gathered around the entrance to the rec center, trying to get some sense as to what was going on.
"Can't get in that way," Buffy stated.
"Looks like they've managed to cover our only entrance," Anya pointed out.
Buffy looked over at her. "Maybe you'd prefer it back at the cemetery."
"Enough," Artemis said, appearing from under Cordelia's legs. "We've got to find another way to get in there. Is there any other entrance?"
Before any of the Soldiers could respond, exclamations from the crowd began to build, and bringing their attention back to the rec center, watched in surprised as a black dome enveloped it, obviously making either ingress or egress impossible.
"Only if you happen to have a jackhammer," Cordelia deadpanned.
Angelus closed his hand and looked towards Mercury. "There. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, what's say we deal with our respective annoyances?"
Mercury glowered in response, and moved off towards Sailor Moon. Angelus turned to confront the girl, only to stop in mid stride as he noticed that his intended adversary was not where she had been; a quick glance around the immediate area yielding no sign of the young female anywhere in the room.
Angelus spun around to find the girl standing behind him, a smile on her face and her arms waving madly. He then watched as the girl sped across the room, waving madly at him and letting out that accursed noise every time she did so. She then stopped and blew him a kiss, a pleased smile on her face.
"Insolent pest," he snarled, moving to confront her, only to watch as she ran off again. He looked around to find out where she had gone, determined to strike her down no matter what it took.
"Here I am!"
He spun around once again at the sound of her voice, not finding the girl it belonged to behind him. It took a moment for him to realize that it wasn't because the voice had come from behind him.
It had come from above him!
He looked up to the girl, holding a rather large fan in her hands, sailing down towards him. Before he could do anything, the girl brought the fan down directly onto his head.
That, perhaps more than anything else, was what finally drove him over the edge. Letting out a snarl, he brought up his sword and sent an energy attack directly at the girl. Caught off guard, she took the blow full on and rolled away, a light shining across her body as it did so. As she came to a stop, the light faded, revealing in her place what appeared to be a small house pet.
Disgusted by the ease at which he had dispatched his opponent, Angelus looked towards Mercury, watching as she battled Sailor Moon. For a fleeting moment, he thought about moving to help her defeat the leader of the Soldiers, but then reconsidered his action. To do that would be serving Faith's interest. And that was not what he had come here to do.
"Good luck, Mercury," he thought as moved off to the side, intent on watching the battle play itself out to whatever conclusion it reached. "I have no doubt that you shall need it."
Willow risked a glance over to where Luna had fallen and turned back to her feline form, only to pay for her momentary distraction by having her Moonlight Stick knocked out of her hands. Rolling out of the way of Fred's follow up attack, she made her way as quickly as she could towards her fallen weapon, preparing to block her next blow, but instead looked up to find Fred held her head in clearly obvious pain.
"Fred?" she hesitantly asked. Fred looked up at looked at Willow, and immediately Willow could tell that there was something different about her. The dark look of anger that had been in her eyes was gone, her face had lost the rage that had masked it before, and she had taken on the gait of a meek and helpless individual restrained by forces beyond her control.
Willow smiled faintly as Fred spoke to her. "I'm trying, Fred. But...you can help. You can fight this, Fred. You can come back to us. Try. Please try."
Fred winced, and when she looked up again, her face had changed back to the angry glare that had been on it before. "I told you before, Willow. I don't want to come back!" She charged towards Willow, who let out a squeal and dove for the door, barging through it and out into the reception area. Turning around to face Fred once again, she found her forward momentum continuing on despite herself, which resulted in her colliding with a chair and falling backward over it, ending up flat on her back. Pain shot through her nervous system, limiting her immediate movement to simply rolling onto her side.
Following Willow out into the room, Fred looked at the fallen form of her former friend as she got to her feet with utter contempt. But to her surprise, that contempt was slowly being replaced with concern for her well being. Letting out a guttural snarl, she raised her sword and brought it down towards Willow's prone form, hoping that her death would bring about an end to the pain she was feeling.
At the last moment, however, Willow found the strength to get up to her knees, bringing her Moonlight Stick up to block her attack. But instead of blocking her blade, the sword passed through it easily, shattering the weapon into dozens of fragments that scattered throughout the area. Willow collapsed back to the ground, her energy finally spent.
Fred looked down at Willow's body, a smile of satisfaction on her face. How easy it would be now to take her life. Suddenly something within her snapped, driving the feelings of pain, hurt and anger from her as easily as the sun dissipates fog, and making her realize how wrong that statement was. Blinking her eyes, as if she was waking from a deep sleep, she looked towards Willow's fallen form and, shocked at seeing her like that, ran towards her and began to gently shake her body.
"Willow? Willow? Wake up. Oh, please god, wake up!" Willow didn't respond to Fred's prompting. Taking notice of the weapon in her hand, her blood ran cold as she came to a sudden, and quite horrific, realization.
"I did that to her. I hurt her."
She threw the sword away and quickly moved to sit Willow up, the action causing her tiara to slip from her forehead, hitting the ground and splitting in two. Fred looked at the broken tiara in despair and, holding Willow's body and rocking her back and forth, let out a wail.
The sound of clapping brought her head up to find Angelus stepping through the doorway. Tears streaming down her face, she held onto Willow's unconscious form, determined to protect her the best she could given the circumstances.
"Congratulations, Sailor Mercury," he said. "You've killed your best friend." He moved to unsheathe his sword, pointing it directly at Fred's chin. "And now, for your reward, allow me to send you down the path to join her."
Fred closed her eyes, knowing that she had this coming. So when the pain of approaching death didn't come, she opened her eyes to find Xander standing beside Angelus, one of his daggers blocking the sword's downward path.
"What are you doing?!" Angelus snarled.
"What my Queen commands," Xander replied. Angelus responded by inverting his arm, driving the dagger away and delivering a kick to Xander's midsection.
"Insolent wretch!" He turned back to Mercury. "We'll finish this another time." Bringing his cape up in a flourish, he disappeared, Xander doing likewise moments later, but not before casting one final glance at the fallen Soldiers.
Fred watched them go, looking down at Willow's unconscious form. At that moment, one thought made itself clear inside her head.
"I've gotta get out of here!"