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Trix fell out of bed and landed with a thump on the floor.
In and of itself, that was hardly unusual. Trix had a habit of moving around when he slept and would often wake up on the carpet amid a tangle of sheet and limbs. What was unusual was that he had fallen out of the left-hand side of the bed and the left-hand side of Trix's bed was up against the wall.
Ergo, he had not fallen out of his own bed.
Now again, there was a time when that would not have come as a surprise, but since meeting Anya he had been utterly faithful to her and, since Anya had yet to invite him back to her place for more than a coffee, it could not be her bed either.
So where was he?
He began to clamber to his feet to get a good look at his surroundings, but he was having a hard time getting his legs to work. He forced them to move and then cried out in pain, falling back to the floor.
He glanced back to see what was wrong with his legs and received a shock. They weren't his legs. And he definitely would not be caught dead in those boxers. Hearts were not his thing.
He ran his hands across his face. There was some stubble, but not the beard he was used to and his horns were missing completely. Something was seriously wrong here, but he would have to find a way to get up before he could try to work out what it was.
Then his eyes settled on the wheelchair and he finally realised where he was.
* * *
Xander was running. He whooped with glee as he raced along, ignoring the odd glances his behaviour was attracting. He was running! He had forgotten how much he had missed this, missed the wind against his face, tousling his hair, missed the pounding of his heart against his chest and the thump-thump of his feet against the sidewalk.
He knew it could not last. It had only taken a quick peek at his reflection in a shop window to confirm his suspicions that the body he was in was not his. Pretty soon now he would have to call the gang and try to find a way to return this body to his rightful owner. But, just for a little while, he was going to enjoy it while he had it.
* * *
'Are you girls all right up there?'
Janice and Chrissie jumped at the sound of Mrs Penshaw's voice.
'We're fine, Mom,' Janice said.
'Is that you, Janice?' Mrs Penshaw asked. They could hear her starting up the stairs.
Janice began to say something else, but Chrissie stopped her.
'You sound like me,' she pointed out.
Janice shivered. Looking at herself, watching herself move and talk, well it was really starting to freak her out.
'We have to do something,' she whispered. 'We can't let her see us like this.'
'Why not?' Chrissie replied. 'It's not like she's going to realise anything's wrong.'
Janice raised her eyebrows.
'Yes it's me, Mom,' she called out. 'Sorry about the noise.'
'Well, try and keep it down, okay,' Mrs Penshaw replied.
'Okay,' both girls called back in unison, relieved to hear feet descending the stairs.
Chrissie looked at Janice. She was really going to have to do something about her hair, she decided,
'So what now?' she asked.
* * *
Helena blinked. Then she pinched herself, but the scene before her didn't change. She was sitting on the edge of a bed, but the bed was not her own. There was a stuffed pig sitting next to her. She reached out a hand and began stroking it absently as her eyes darted around the room.
There was a mirror above the dresser. Helena got to her feet, picking up the pig as she did so, and walked over to it.
The face that stared back was not Helena's own and slowly that face began to smile.
* * *
I took a step away from Helena's father.
'Where do you think you're going, Alicia?' he asked, stepping forward himself.
'Who's Alicia?' I asked.
I continued to walk backwards and struck my shoulder against the wall. Helena's father was between me and the door and I had nothing with which to defend myself. Why should I have to defend myself, I wondered. As far as he was concerned, I was his daughter so why did I feel so threatened? Was this what Helena felt?
'Don't be coy, Alicia,' Helena's father continued. 'You know what happens to bad little girls.'
He slapped the belt against his palm again and I flinched.
'Of course,' he continued, stepping even closer, 'if you're a good little girl '
He was whispering in my ear now, his breath hot against my skin. He placed a roughened hand against my shoulder. No, not my shoulder, Helena's. Then I reconsidered. For the duration, this was my shoulder, my body, me. He was touching me and my skin crawled. When I realised that he thought he was doing this to his daughter, my skin practically leaped off and slithered away to another room. I looked into his dark brown eyes and they were hungry, hungrier than any vampire I had seen.
His hand slid lower, onto my chest and I shoved him away.
'Get your hands off of me!'
The force of my attack carried him halfway across the room and only the bed stopped his backwards motion. The edge of the bed caught him just below his knees and he fell down on it. I had forgotten about Helena's strength.
Helena's father stood up. The hunger in his eyes had been replaced by anger, fiery anger that spilled out across the rest of his face.
'I warned you,' he snarled. 'I warned you about what would happen to bad girls, but you wouldn't listen, would you, Alicia? Why do you always have to defy me? Do you think I want to hurt you? But I am your father, Alicia, and you must learn discipline in my house.'
The belt snapped out like a whip. I turned to avoid it, but the leather caught me across the exposed flesh of my back and I cried out.
'It didn't have to be like this, Alicia,' Helena's father insisted, 'but lessons must be learnt. Discipline must be maintained.'
He raised the belt again and it fell with a crack.
I caught it this time, biting back the pain in my hand as I tore it out of his grip.
'Who are you?' I asked. 'What sort of man beats his own daughter?'
'How dare you?' His face was horribly twisted now, rage robbing him of his humanity. He struck me and my teeth rattled in my skull. Reflexively, I struck him back.
Once again, I had forgotten Helena's strength.
He fell backwards, eyes rolling upwards in his skull as his head struck the corner of the dresser. The dark wood was now stained with blood.
I stared down helplessly at the unmoving body and despaired at what I had done.
* * *
'What do you mean 'what now'?' Janice asked. 'You're the one into all of this witchy stuff. You work it out.'
'Well I don't know, do I?' Chrissie protested. 'If I did this wouldn't have happened.'
'I did say this was a bad idea,' Janice said. 'You remember me saying what a bad idea this was.'
'Just shut up already.'
'I thought you wanted me to sort this out.'
'Well can't you do it quietly or something?' Chrissie asked. 'And are you aware of how uncomfortable this sweater is?'
'It looks good on you I mean, on me,' Janice amended hurriedly.
'Ever the little sheep of fashion,' Chrissie mocked.
'It's called taste,' Janice replied, 'something you're sorely lacking.'
She began to root around in her wardrobe.
'What do you think you're doing?' Chrissie demanded.
'The way I see it,' Janice replied as she began hurling clothes onto the bed, 'we need to go and find help and there is no way I am going out dressed like this.'
'So what do you plan to do? Go and run to little Jonathan and tell him what a mess we made?'
'You made,' Janice corrected. 'This was your idea.'
'Which you went along with. No way I'm taking all the blame here.'
'Whatever, okay. And besides, I was going to go look for Dawn.'
'Oh of course,' Chrissie said, 'because Dawn always knows what to do. Have you ever tried thinking without her help? Or would that strain that pretty little head of yours?'
'I just don't understand you, Chrissie,' Janice replied, shucking off Chrissie's black jacket. 'Dawn's always been there for us. We were a team.'
'That's kind of the point, Jan,' Chrissie replied. 'We were a team. Now we seem to be Dawn and her little helpers. Every time we try to pull our weight, she pushes us back down. Do you really think she'd let us study magic if she thought she had a choice?'
'That's not fair, Chrissie,' Janice said. 'Dawn's just trying to protect us.'
'And who made her our keeper?'
Janice shook her head.
'I'm gonna go find her anyway. You do what you like.'
'In that case,' Chrissie began, 'I'm going to get Drew. If we are a team then it's about time we started acting like one.'
* * *
'Dawn, are you in there?'
There was a knock at the door. Helena looked up sharply, wondering whom the voice belonged to. She decided to play it safe.
The man who entered the room was Hank, but Helena didn't know that. Still, she suspected as much and decided to take a gamble.
'Hi, Dad,' she said.
Hank flinched and Helena frowned, turning away quickly to hide it. She began toying with the bits and pieces I had left on top of the dresser while she thought. Had she guessed wrong? Had she blown her cover?
'If you're just calling me that to soften me up, Dawn, it won't work,' Hank said. 'We need to talk.'
Helena breathed a sigh of relief. So this was Dawn's dad after all, they just seemed to be having some problems.
'Talk about what?' Helena asked.
Hank sat down on the edge of the bed and began massaging his temple with his left hand.
'We need to start setting some ground rules, Dawn,' he began. 'I don't know what Buffy let you get away with, but I'd put money on it being less than you'd like me to believe. In any case, this isn't about Buffy. This is about you and me and I'm not happy about you being gone till all hours of the night with no adequate explanation.'
'Okay, Dad, I'll try and do better in future,' Helena said. 'I promise.'
'Don't think you can sweet-talk me either,' Hank warned.
'I'm not,' Helena insisted. 'I really do want to do better. It's odd, but I feel like a whole new person.'
'That's good,' Hank said. 'Maybe we can make a go of this after all.'
He reached for Helena, for his daughter, but she pulled away. He drew back, a pained expression on his face.
'I'm sorry, honey,' he said. 'I guess it's still a bit soon, huh? We've all got some stuff to work through.'
'You have no idea.' Helena had not meant to say that out loud, but it was obvious that Hank had heard her.
'Well, maybe if you'd open up a bit more, I would,' he snapped. 'I'm not a mind reader. I know you're unhappy, but I can't just wave a magic wand and make it right. I need to know what the problem is in order to fix it and you just don't seem to want to help.'
Helena stared at her feet, hands balled into fists in her lap.
'I'm sorry,' she murmured.
'No, I'm sorry,' Hank replied softly. 'I'm going to go and make something for dinner. I'll give you a shout when it's ready and you can come down and join us. It's about time we sat down as a family.'
He closed the door behind him as he left.
It was several minutes more before Helena allowed herself to relax. Slowly, she opened up her hands. In her right hand she had been holding my nail scissors. She had obviously been squeezing them way too tight and they had pierced her/my skin.
Helena marvelled at the trail of blood running across her palm.
* * *
Trix was soaking wet.
That was Anya's first thought when she opened the door and found the demon waiting on the step.
'Come inside before you catch your death,' she said, putting a hand on his wrist and half dragging him inside herself. 'There are towels in the bathroom. You go dry yourself off while I put the kettle on.'
Anya went into the kitchen and began to fill the kettle.
'Is it raining heavily?' she asked.
'You could say that,' Trix's voice echoed from the bathroom. 'Guess God's finished his bath and has just pulled out the plug.'
'That's an interesting way of putting it,' Anya began, turning round, 'but '
Her rebuttal died on her lips. Trix was standing in the doorway, massaging his dark hair with a fluffy white towel. He had taken off his shirt and Anya caught herself admiring his chest. There was a vertical line of downy hair that ran from his chest, down across his stomach and disappeared beyond the waistband of his pants.
'So, um, what are you doing here?' she asked, turning away, ostensibly to get two mugs from the cabinet.
'Anya,' Trix began, 'there's something I need to tell you.'
* * *
Grant Renfield stood at the grave of Amy Irving. Normally when he visited his girlfriend he knelt down beside her, but the heavy rain was churning the ground into swamp. The rain fell angrily, vengefully, onto Grant's black umbrella from the blue and purple clouds, like bruises hanging in the sky.
Grant came hear to mourn. He and Amy had had some good times together. Hell, they'd had some fantastic times. But it had all been too brief. Amy had been hit by a car while on her way to meet him. The impact had ruptured her spleen and she had died at the hospital. Amy's parents did not approve of Grant and by the time anyone thought to tell him what had happened, Amy had already lost consciousness for the final time. The Irvings wouldn't even let him into her room at the hospital to hold her hand as she passed away. Instead he could only watch, separated from her by the small glass window in the door.
Grant came to visit Amy once a week every week. Her parents had spotted him here once and her father had tried to start something with him, before his wife had guided him away. Grant had a regular time her and, once the Irvings realised this, it was easy enough for them to avoid him.
Grant came here to mourn and to remember the good times. Instead, he only felt angry. Angry at the driver, who should have gone down for murder, but who had been let off with a slap on the wrist, angry at Amy's folks, who had kept them apart even at the last, and maybe even a little angry at Amy herself, who had gone and left him all alone.
'It's hard, isn't it.'
Grant spun round to face the speaker.
'It's tough trying to carry on once their gone.' The speaker was a young woman. She had a round face, farmed by hair that was as black as the rest of her outfit. Her skin was deathly pale and blue veins stood out on her forehead. She seemed to have a violet halo all around her, but Grant put that down to a trick of the light.
'Who are you?' he asked. 'What do you want?'
'I'm a friend,' the figure replied, 'and I want to help you. I know what it feels to have someone taken from you unfairly. You want to strike back to try and put things right even though you know, deep down, that you can never put all of the pieces back together. Humpty-Dumpty's fallen off that wall and even if you had all the king's horses and all the king's men it would still be a lost cause.'
'What are you, some kind of social worker,' Grant spat back, 'or are you just crazy?'
The figure cocked her head to one side and smiled.
'Maybe a little,' she purred. 'Aren't we all?'
Grant scowled. All he wanted was to spend some time alone with Amy, not waste his breath on the freak-show over there.
'I only want to help you,' the woman said. Her voice was silky-smooth. It made him shiver just to listen to it.
'Help me how?' Grant snapped. 'Is this the part where you tell me there's nothing I can do and I need to move on?'
'No, this is the part where I give you the power to do something about it, isn't that right, Miss Edith?'
Then the figure extended her right hand and touched Grant's forehead with a bony index finger.
And Grant had never felt more alive.
* * *
Helena had escaped by climbing out of the bedroom window. She had broken a nail on the climb down and even as she ran she watched it in delight and amazement as it conspicuously failed to grow back. She tripped and grazed her knee, but the damage only caused her to laugh.
She was vulnerable in this body.
She had thought that maybe she could make a new start with Dawn's family. They did not know that she was not their daughter. But then she had met Dawn's father, endured his anger. No, she was not going back to that ever again.
But there was an alternative, and alternative that had been denied to her in her previous all to perfect body. Dawn's body could be hurt, could be damaged, maybe even killed. She could finally find the escape she longed for.
* * *
'Drew, there's someone here to see you,' Mr Kowalski called up the stairs.
'It's a girl,' Mrs Kowalski added with noticeable pride.
'I'm coming,' Drew called back as he tumbled down the stairs.
His mother stopped him.
'Now, let me look at you.' Mrs Kowalski was a woman of ample girth, but had affection in equal abundance. Her smile practically split her face in two as she poked and prodded her son, tucking him in, tidying him up and generally making sure that he was presentable.
'Mom,' he complained.
'Now you listen here, young man,' she said. 'No son of mine is going out on a date without looking his very best.'
'I wouldn't try to argue, son,' his father said around his pipe. 'I gave up talking back to your mother years ago.'
'That's because you know what's good for you, Stefan,' his wife said. 'Andrew, it would seem, still has a lot to learn, not least about making himself look presentable. Have you even run a comb through that hair of yours?'
'Mom, it's supposed to look like that,' Drew explained. 'It's style.'
'That is not style,' his mother informed him. 'That looks like hair that has been slept in.'
'Do you want me to go out with this girl or not?' Drew asked.
Reluctantly, his mother stepped aside and Drew kissed her quickly on one of her rosy cheeks.
'I don't know what I'd do without you, Mom,' he said.
She wagged a finger at him.
'Just you remember that, young man, and don't stay out late either.'
'I won't,' Drew called back insincerely as he stepped outside.
Janice was waiting for him.
'What's up?' he asked.
'Do I need a reason to come to see you?' Janice asked defensively. 'I thought we were friends. Don't friends do that sort of thing?'
'Well, yeah, of course,' Drew said. 'Have I done something to upset you? You seem a bit on edge.'
'I do? Well, I'm not.'
The conversation died and its corpse crawled away into the undergrowth.
Drew cleared his throat.
'So, what do you want to do?' Drew asked. 'I could give Chrissie a call and we could go over to the Bronze?'
'Why does everything have to be about Chrissie?' Janice snapped.
'It's not.' Drew was really confused now. Why was Jan being so hostile. 'I thought you wanted to do a friend thing. Well, Chrissie's our friend, right? Heck, she's my girlfriend. Surely I'm allowed to invite her out.'
'I guess.' Janice curled her hair around her finger. 'Anyway, you can't phone Chrissie because she's gone to see Dawn.'
'To see Dawn?' Drew repeated. 'Is there trouble? Why didn't you say something?'
'Hey, it's no big,' Janice told him. 'I'm sure they can handle it.'
'I should be there for her,' Drew said.
'For who? Chrissie?' Janice scowled at him. 'What about me? Maybe I'm in trouble too.'
'Then you can tell me all about it on the way,' Drew said before striding away.
* * *
I was crouched down beside the body of Helena's father.
'Oh God, what have I done?' I whispered to myself. 'I can't find a pulse. Why can't I find a pulse?'
'Try his neck,' Tara said. 'Trust me, if he were dead then I'd know about it.'
Her ghostly hand guided mine and, sure enough, I could feel a weak pulse beating beneath my fingertips.
'Should I phone a hospital?' I asked Tara.
There were sounds of movement downstairs.
'Sam?' a voice called.
'Leave that to his wife,' Tara suggested. 'For now, you need to get out of here.'
I riffled through Helena's things and threw on some clothes. I pulled a pile of sweaters out of a drawer and the knife that had been hidden amongst them clattered to the floor. There was blood on it.
'It's hers,' Tara responded off my enquiring glance. 'Now get dressed. There'll be time for questions later.'
As I did so, I examined myself in the mirror. The marks where Helena's father had struck me were already fading away.
'What is she?' I breathed.
'Later,' Tara insisted, 'now hurry.'
I clambered out of the window and dropped to the ground. I landed in the rose bush and the thorns tore at my hands. I watched in awe as a gash in my thumb sealed itself back up.
'I could get used to this,' I said.
'You may have to,' Tara told me.
'Would you really want to live Helena's life?' Tara asked me.
I glanced back up at the bedroom window and imagined I could see Helena's father within.
'Not for the world,' I replied. 'No wonder Helena's been trying to kill herself. I can't imagine what she must have been feeling, trying to end her life, but knowing her own body wouldn't let her.'
I paused, considering the implications of what I had just said.
'That's right,' Tara said. 'In your body, she might succeed. I just hope we're not already too late.'
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