In the hall of mirrors...
Washu waved from the other side of her computer. 'Sasami-chan! Come in!'
Sasami entered cautiously, carrying a tray. 'Umm... I brought you some lunch.'
'Thanks! Put it down there... now, let me see...' Washu continued typing into the computer.
'This is so...' Sasami began.
'Weird? Spooky? Flat-out, up the walls, insane?'
'...It's so calm.'
Washu looked up. 'Calm?'
'...It feels...' Sasami faltered. 'It feels like...'
She hesitated again.
'Sasami-chan?' Washu said, gentleness in her voice.
'It's as if...I have the words, it's just...I can't compare it, but it's so...'
'The LightHawk Wings.' Washu said.
Sasami nodded. Once.
'They... they don't even /feel/ the same, but... I don't know, I don't know what I can say. They /don't/ feel the same, but...'
'It's the atmosphere. The feeling of calmness around them, with them. But... /not/ a part of them.'
Sasami nodded again.
Sasami looked around her again. 'These aren't...?'
'No. Interestingly, they _aren't_ like the LightHawk Wings... or at least, like anything /known/ about the Biggest Secret In The Universe...' Washu's eyes were twinkling. 'Still, it's taking a bit of a while for this thing to actually *tell* me what it's getting...' She patted her computer.
'Because the room's infinite.'
Sasami blinked. 'Infinite?'
'In one dimension, at least...' Washu said, taking a bite of her lunch. 'And since one side is infinite in length, the room's volume is infinite, too... meaning it can contain an infinite number of objects and still not be full.'
'...and it /is/ full. Of mirrors.'
'Got it in one. Luckily...' Washu patted her computer again. '...my computer's prepared for /just/ such events as these, through careful use of higher-dimensional analysis. Which, naturally, takes a little while.'
Washu paused. 'About a week, so far...'
'Heh. Got that right, Ryo-chan.' Washu said. 'Still, it's freed me up to do some things I should have finished a _long_ time ago... _Finally_ managed to clear up some of my thesis backlog...' She shook her head in amusement. 'Well... that's the sort of thing which happens after you spend a couple of thousand years encased in crystal...'
'Ah, it's done.'
'Um... The computer just _said_ Beep.'
'Yep. Much better than an actual beep, don't you think? This way, I actually _hear_ it...'
'What have we got... Interdimensional portals, yadda yadda, activating on contact, voice, action, thought...' Washu winced. 'That has /got/ to be nasty... One-way, two-way, multi-way... can be opened from other side...ooh, nasty... return after time, after passing a specific point, after... after virtually every condition in the book... and an equal number of /no/ returns... block transfer mathematics... not quite, but I /knew/ that reading was going to come in handy, the /room/ is... mirrors aren't... similar, but using...' She raised an eyebrow. '...syllables.' She frowned. 'Interesting... I have the /answers/ to the equations used to build this place, but not the equations themselves. Or the syllables used to build the mirrors. Ooh! More to study!'
She grinned. 'She's never /ever/ going to hear this from me, but that little time machine's opened up whole new /vistas/ of science...'
'Really. 20, 000 years... I'm the cutest genius scientist in the Universe, and there're still just so many fun /secrets/ out there! And fun test subjects, too!'
'Yes. There are.'
Washu eyed the living TARDIS. 'This is about that rollercoaster ride again, isn't it?'
'Washu-chan!' Sasami blushed.
'Still unhappy because no-one asked you?'
'Why should I be unhappy? It's not as if I wanted to ride a zero-gravity, mile-high... mile _long_ rollercoaster... _with_ multiple dimensions...'
'Making the rules is fun...'
'So is working them out.'
'Still trying that again?'
'Sorry, Sasami-chan... Ooh, nice.'
Compassion raised an eyebrow. 'You're eating? In *that* body?'
'Gotta watch my girlish figure... Ooh, reminds me...' Washu patted her stomach. 'Exercise. Need to keep this in good shape, can't keep the "Cutest Mad Scientist in the Universe"award if I don't, so...' She grinned.
'Mystery!! Adventure! Intrigue! Let's get out there and /do/ something!'
'Sorry. Only Cokes round here, otherwise your sister's gonna kill me.'
'...Don' be stupid. She only kills vamps.'
'And demons. And robots.'
'Not humans, though...'
'Hmm. Better be careful 'round here, then. I don't think the world's ready for Buffy the Dalek Slayer...'
'...Where /do/ you stake a Dalek?'
'Don't know. Never, ever, wanna, either... Although I knew someone who had a Dalek steak once...'
'Eeeeuuuwww... How'd it taste?'
'Don't know. For some reason she spent the next three days heaving her guts out...' Fitz frowned. 'Listen, what /are/ you doing here?'
'Me? I figure since Mom's dead an' the Apocalypse is coming 'cause of me...'
'Been there.' Fitz agreed.
Dawn looked up at him, bleary-eyed. 'Couldn't gemme a Lilt?'
'Sure.' Fitz passed the bottle. 'Look like... jeez, you look like /me/, at Too Bloody Early in the Morning. *No-one* should have to look like that...'
'Yeah. And y'know what really scares me?'
'You're not even drunk. *That* scares me...'
Dawn thought about this. 'Oh... _crap_. Welcome to Loserville, Summers...' 'Join the club...' Fitz said. 'It's a nice place, once you get used to it.'
'...Y'know, you don't /sound/ English.'
'Nope. You haven't said 'poof' or 'wanker' or 'pet' _once_. _And_ you don't wear leather. Or tweed.'
Fitz eyed her carefully. 'I really, *really*, hope you got that from the TV...'
'...You mean there're Brits who /weren't/ in Masterpiece Theatre?'
'...Like I said, I really, *really* hope...'
'So whadda *you* do?'
'...Play the guitar. Usually.'
Dawn's eyes lit up. '_Seriously?_'
'Well, I'm no Elvis, but... yeah.'
The light in Dawn's eyes shone that little bit brighter. 'Wow...' She paused, counting on her fingers. 'My... My sister's best friend's boyfriend... he was a guitarist, too...'
'Didn't work out. Adult-type stuff.' Dawn waved a hand dismissively. 'Too many wild nights...'
'Oh. Real wild man type guy?'
'..._Some_ of the time.' Dawn said. 'Nice quiet guy, just that...'
'...sometimes, he used to be a bit of an animal? Know that...' Fitz said.
'Went go finding himself.'
'I found myself once.'
'Started by being screamed at at the _worst_ student gig of my life. Ended up being tied to a stake. Never let us speak of it again.'
'Tied to a stake?'
'Never speak of it.'
Dawn looked innocent, while mentally scribbling it in her diary.
Then the bar's door opened-
-the world falls apart-
-Key to Ship-
-Ship to Key-
-it's all falling apart-
-'Dawn? Dawn, you there, kiddo?'
'Yeah. Yeah. Just... gotta go to the little Slayers' room...'
Fitz kept an eye on the younger Summers sister as she left the bar, nearly bumping into Minagi, who'd entered just behind Compassion, Sasami and Washu.
Wasn't just the toilet, then... he noted, seeing Dawn unconsciously flinch away from the trio, keeping her distance.
Not that leaving when Compassion entered the room was that unusual; hell, he'd lost track of how often *he'd* wanted to get away from the resident and still champion Queen C.
Of course, leaving before she'd even had a chance to snipe...?
'Fitz. We have to talk.'
'Yeah, nice to see you too, Compassion...' Fitz took another gulp from his bottle.
'Your sense of priorities still hasn't changed...' the living TARDIS said.
'And neither has your sense of humour... Listen. This is important.'
'The Summers girl's been talking to you, for some bizarre reason.'
'And here I thought it was my good looks and sparkling personality.'
'That /is/ a bizarre reason, from where I stand... Keep an eye on her. And watch her if she ever gets near Sasami...' Compassion frowned. 'In fact... around paranormal entities in general.'
'Like you, you mean?'
'_Yes_.' Compassion said. 'Watch her. Stop her getting too close.'
'I'm not her dad,' Fitz said. 'Besides, she can handle herself. She lives on a _Hellmouth_. Of _course_ she can handle herself...'
Compassion looked at him. 'Yes. She can. She does. And living on a Hellmouth leaves... traces.'
'This'd be like "living with the Doctor" traces...?' Fitz said cautiously.
Fitz shuddered. 'Just went to a very bad mental place there... wait, Sasami's a paranormal entity?'
'Close enough,' Compassion said.
Fitz looked at Sasami. 'Hair. Has to be the hair...'
'Your skills of perception never cease to amaze me,' Compassion said. 'If you'll excuse me?'
'Sure.' Fitz opened his mouth.
'_Not_ that kind of excuse...' Shaking her head, she left.
Minagi slid onto the stool next to Fitz. 'What was that about?'
'Oh...' Minagi looked in Compassion's general direction. 'She has children?'
'/Don't/ ask...' Fitz said.
'The girl that just ran out...'
'Dawn,' Fitz supplied.
'Oh, you know her?'
'Not much... Dawn Summers, Buffy's little sister. Fourteen years old. And... Big Sis just happens to be a vampire slayer.'
'Oh, right. That might be it...'
'Might be what?' Fitz asked.
Minagi turned to him, her face serious. 'When... when she bumped into me, I... I looked down and...' She hesitated. 'I looked down... and I saw...'
'It wasn't... It was like...'
'It was like... like I was looking through a hole in the Universe. Seeing ...It's hard. I saw... the void. Seeing space... and so much more...'
'A hole in the- Oh crap. Traces. She _said_ traces...! C'mon!'
'Babysitting job. Babysitting job just got freakily dangerous.'
'I'm in. Let's go.'
Washu watched them leave.
'Shhh...' Washu brought up her computer. '...So...' She nodded.
Then she looked up. 'Mystery. Intrigue. Adventure. Wanna come?'
'...Sasami-chan.' Washu said gently.
'Did you know?'
Sasami hesitated, then nodded.
'I was afraid of that...' Washu said, almost to herself. 'Hmm... just out of interest...' She tapped at her computer again.
'....The readings were familiar...' Washu murmured.
She looked up from behind the computer. 'Ready?'
'Then let's go.'
Minagi and Fitz peered from their hiding place in the undergrowth.
'Do you think she sees us?'
The subject was sitting on the hotel's front steps.
From where they were, the duo couldn't see her that clearly... but it was as close as they could get without being heard.
'What is it?'
'Crisps? Oh great. When the first vampire shows up, fangs out, first thing he's gonna hear? Munch munch. And then Mr Pointy Teeth has Ready Salted Fitz, with cheese and onion Minagi for afterwards...'
'You forgot the chocolate...'
'Make it my fault, why don't you...?'
'Well, technically, it _is_ your fault. Forgetting the chocolate? Shame on you!'
'Hi, Minagi! Thought I'd check how my baby girl's doing...'
'Mom...! We are on _stakeout!_'
'Doesn't mean I can't check up now and again, does it?'
'...Where did you get that?'
'This?' Washu held up the chocolate bar she was unwrapping. 'Oh, Sasami brought some along.'
'...Fine. Brilliant. _Brilliant_. Why don't we just invite everyone _else_ to the party?! We can make it a _picnic_, let all the vamps, werewolves and demons join in too-'
'Mmm... Thanks, Sasami...'
'I forgot to get a drink...'
'No problem, Sasami. I'll do it.'
'...No, /I'll/ do it.'
'There's no need for that, Fitz-san...'
'I'll do it. Knowing you, you'd probably use a bazooka on the drinks machine...'
'Twice. And the second time, it was still moving.'
'...I don't wanna know...'
Grumpily, Fitz made his way over to the drinks machine.
'...Oh, /here/ it is!'
'...You had that all along, didn't you?'
Sasami did her best to look innocent.
'Which means...' Minagi facefaulted. 'Oh no. Oh no. You sent him out there.'
'Watch,' Washu said. 'This is important.'
She let the can drop from her fingers, roll across the floor...
...clatter against the doors.
Dawn turned around-
-and saw Fitz.
'Long time in the toilet...'
'Aren't you going to ask why?!'
'I'm trying to cut down on "being understanding" lately...' Fitz said.
'Oh yeah?! You understood enough!!'
'...'cause I /don't/ understand.'
'You wanted to be alone for a while. Fine by me...'
'...Don't look at me like that,' Dawn muttered.
'Like you're waiting for me to offload on you... I don't /need/ that!'
'I don't need that either...' Fitz shuddered. 'Too understanding...'
Dawn sniffed. 'I... I've _got_ that... I've got that already... all of that...'
'Good.' Fitz said. 'So if you've /got/ the understanding, you don't need me, right?'
'Got people who understand, who you can talk to... you're lucky, kiddo. Not everyone gets that...' A look of sadness passed across Fitz's face. 'And some things are more important. Like saving _them_...'
'Wish they /were/...'
'Wouldn't give up talking about something with someone if it meant saving them?'
'That's what happens,' Fitz said. ' 'Cause it happens to be true. Got this secret in my head, and the minute I tell him what it's about... boom. That's what happened /last/ time he found out...'
Dawn's mouth fell open.
'If I tell him again, is he gonna go boom again? I dunno. But the last time...' Fitz trailed off. 'The last time... No.'
'Wish no-one had told me...' Dawn mumbled.
'...But I'd know. Sooner or later, someone'd spit it out, someone was going to tell... An' it was /me/... Went poking 'round, 'cause I got curious, and then...' Dawn looked down at her hands. '...then I found out. What they were hiding. An' it was /nothing/ like what I was hiding...'
'Your life's a lie...' Fitz murmured. 'Your whole life... and you /know/ it.' He was talking to himself, not really listening to her, talking out the words. 'There's what you remember... and what you know, and they're both true, and... they contradict. It's not your life. You remember it, but it's not yours... because of what you know. You know the truth; that what you remember wasn't right... and what you remember was your whole /life/...'
'Yeah... An' they /say/ you're still you, but you're not... 'cause you're not who you remember... an' you don' know who to be anymore...'
'...so you go on being who others /think/ you are, how they remember you, while you're trying to make it make sense. Make your self make sense...'
' 'Course, if they don't know you...'
'...then you don't have to be how people expect you to be... You can be whoever you wanna be...'
'...'till you find a way to make it make sense...'
'Wait... _what_ did you say?' Dawn said.
'Another big secret...' Fitz looked at the expression on Dawn's face. 'Listen, I didn't say that was my /only/ secret...'
'So... the secret that makes your friend go... go, /isn't/ the one about /your/ life?'
'Not... quite. But the secret that makes /me/ go... go /is/ the one about my life. Like yours... yeah?'
'Umm... I think so. If I said I understood that, would you promise not to repeat it?'
'...and your sister knows?'
Dawn nodded. 'But /you/ can't tell...?'
'Got that straight.' Fitz said.
'So... you can't tell.'
'And /you/ can't tell.'
'What are they talking about?' Minagi said.
'Some people have a bit more of a problem with being an artificial creation than others...'
'I knew I was artificially created,' Minagi said. 'I always did.'
'They didn't,' Sasami said. 'No... no, Dawn didn't. Fitz /did/... but he had...'
'He told me. He had the original Fitz's memories...' Minagi fell silent.
'Fitz is a copy, a clone. Dawn is an original. But neither of them is what they seem to be...' Washu said.
'But they both have...oh.'
'Their identities draw on their memories. But the majority of those memories were given to them. They didn't live them... and that's something they both know. Both have to deal with...'
'Wait... Dawn's an original?'
'Oh, she's as human as the next person,' Washu said. 'Not /mechanical/, /artificial/. There is a difference. What she was before she became Dawn, was given memories, a life, a sister, a mother... That wasn't human. It's not even physical.'
'A hole in the universe...' Sasami whispered.
'The Key for that hole.' Washu said. 'Dawn is a Key.'
'And neither of them /knows/ that about the other?'
'They may get round to it. In time. In fact, I'd be willing to stake my reputation on it. But... not just yet. They barely know each other at the moment...'
Minagi's eyes widened.
Then she grinned. 'I think I just found the people I'm supposed to protect...'
Dawn blinked. 'Fitz... she has...'
'I know, I know. Meet Minagi, our good-space-pirate in residence.'
Minagi bowed. 'Hello.'
'Minagi, this is Dawn.'
'Um... Pleased to meet you...'
Dawn looked at her, at her yellow eyes, and blinked.
Then ahe shrugged, and shook Minagi's hand anyway.
'Remember that assignment I got?'
'The one where you didn't know who you were hired to look after?'
'Finally found out who it was!'
'Really?' Dawn said.
'We get to meet them anytime soon?'
Minagi considered. 'Probably.'
'Oh yeah, there was /one/ thing. If you see someone who looks like her, only without the marks on her face... that's-'
'-That's my sister, Ryoko.' Minagi interrupted.
'You're twins? Damn. Wish I was a twin...'
'Not all it was cracked up to be, believe me...' Fitz said. 'So, how do you wanna celebrate?'
Minagi thought about this. 'Video marathon.'
'Video marathon?!' the other two echoed.
'The A-Team,' Minagi said.
Fitz took an imaginary cigar out of his mouth. 'I love it when a plan comes together...'
'Afterwards, can we go on the karaoke machine?' Dawn suggested. 'I can do a mean "Mandy"!'
The other two shuddered.
'...Won't let nobody hurt you, I'll stand by you...'
Fitz grinned, and raised his glass.
'Hmmm...' Washu said.
'Interesting. Needs a little work on the bass line...' Compassion commented.
'Yakage's fault.' Washu said. 'The man had no ear for music. It's a miracle she's as good as she is... You saw all this.'
Compassion raised an eyebrow. 'Mm?'
'That's why you came in. You saw all this, what's going to happen because of this... and did the minimum possible to establish it. I decide to go down, Sasami sees Dawn, and...'
'It fits the facts, certainly...' Compassion said. 'But the observer affects what is observed, and the observed affects the observer. That is especially true... when it comes to time.'
'And how have you been affected?' Washu asked, almost teasingly.
Compassion's expression was inscrutable. 'I'll let you know...'
At the next booth along...
Fitz looked up. 'Hi.'
'The Dawnster been any trouble?' Buffy asked.
Fitz looked at the girl dozing against his shoulder. '...Naah.'
'So... how did you know Spike?'
Fitz considered this, keeping in mind the bleached blond vampire's threat if Fitz *ever* revealed Spike went to his support group.
'...I'm his music teacher.'
'His what?!' The expression on Buffy's face was priceless.
'His music teacher. C'mon, he may _look_ like Billy Idol... but he plays like Billy Ray Cyrus...'
Buffy smirked. 'So you mean...'
'Yep. Ever /seen/ a vampire try to play the guitar?'
'No, but if it's anything like his poetry...' The Slayer grinned. Then her face became serious again. 'Listen. Thanks.'
'Things... Things've been really tough the last few months... for all of us... Just been trying to get things together.'
'Look... Thanks for keeping an eye on her.'
'No problem... You've got the phone number.'
'Yeah. I'll let you know. And Dawn's gonna let /me/ know if I don't...'
'Yeah... C'mon, kiddo. Big Sis' here...'
'Mm?' Dawn said. 'Oh... You.'
'Yeah, me. You were expecting maybe a Hellgod?' Buffy said. 'C'mon.'
Fitz waved as the two sisters left, bickering.
He settled back in his chair as Minagi made her way over.
'Oh.' Minagi said. 'She's gone?'
'Yep.' Fitz said. 'But I think I got the contract.'
'You did?! YES!!' Minagi clenched her fist.
Then she noticed the incredulous expression on Fitz's face.
'Umm... I meant... Good. That's good. I liked her...'
Fitz grinned, and waggled the imaginary cigar again.
'Like I said... I love it when a plan comes together...'
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat.