At length Giles abandoned the plastic chair for the floor, leaning back against the beanbag instead. At least the reflections from the mirrorball didn’t hit him square in the eyes that way, if the concrete was less than comfortable. And he could no longer put up with the incessant squeaking.

Still, he’d had little hope of sleeping since Spike had arrived at the basement door and proclaimed himself bored… not enough demons out to kill, apparently. Now the vampire had somehow managed to chat Anya up about her life as a demon for the vicarious thrill, leaving Buffy, Willow, and Xander to taking up a wholly inadequate three hand poker game two feet away on Xander’s sleeping bag. Somehow he doubted things could be much worse.

“You mean his head just went pop, right in front of you?” Spike laughed.

“That was the wish.”

Giles tried covering his eyes with a hand, but that just left the image on the back of his eyelids. Sleep – and possible dreaming – seemed less likely than it had five minutes ago. “Does she have to recount every one of her tales with such glee?” he moaned.

Xander turned his head. “It’s got a certain bizarre charm to it, I think.”

Giles sighed deeply.

Willow turned a sympathetic eye on him. “Sorry, Giles, we’re keeping you up, aren’t we?”

“Whatever gave you that idea?” his voice dripped only a little sarcasm.

Buffy set down her cards. “That’s it, my Watcher needs his rest. No more poker.”

“You just say that because you’re losing your shirt,” Xander complained. “Or your yummy sushi pajamas. Or at least a whole bunch of chips,” he tried to rescue himself from her look.

“Oh! If you want, I can try a sleeping spell for you, Giles,” the young witch offered.

“I think a pair of earplugs would be quite sufficient,” he said somewhat nervously. “No need to resort to the black arts.”

Willow looked almost crestfallen. “Well, I don’t have any lavender anyway.”

“I have some mugwort in my purse. That might work,” Anya offered from the sofa bed. She received a set of curious stares. “What?” she asked defensively. “I like the smell. Call me nostalgic.”

Willow crawled over past the hanging sheet as Buffy collected the cards and Xander began to put away the chips. After some brief rummaging, Anya handed Willow a small bag, then turned back to her attentive audience of one.

“Tell me about the guy who ate himself again,” Spike asked excitedly.

Buffy smoothed out a patch of sleeping bag beside her Watcher and sat cross-legged on it. She listened for a moment to Anya, then turned to Giles. “That whole wishing thing bothers me.”

“Maybe it’s that birthday association,” Xander offered.

Buffy ignored him. “Do you remember when we sent — Evil Willow —” she lowered her voice to an undertone momentarily for her friend’s benefit, “—back to her own reality? That’s been confusing me.”

In an unconscious gesture Buffy associated with ‘mentor mode’ Giles reached for his glasses. “How so, Buffy?”

The Slayer cocked her head. “Does it mean that her reality exists too? On some other demon plane or something?”

Giles pondered. “Well, there is a theory…”

“Oh! Oh! From quantum mechanics!” Willow exclaimed brightly, looking up from the small pile of herbs she was sorting. She turned sheepish at their looks. “Nerd girl, shutting up now.”

“How much does a quantum mechanic make per hour, do you think?” Xander bemused. “But you’d have trouble with all those really small tools.”

Giles shot him a look. “Actually Willow’s right, although it has metaphysical consequences as well. The theory is that every time a decision is made, the universe splits in two, one reality taking each path.”

Buffy frowned. “Well that sucks. So when I buy the good shoes, some clueless me in another dimension buys the skank shoes?”

“I think the important thing would be that you…” and he caught her eye, then sighed. “…bought the good shoes,” he finished lamely.

Buffy beamed at him.

He couldn’t help but echo her smile. “Anyway, it’s just a theory. It’s probably not so complicated as that, although the evidence of Willow’s vampiric twin would suggest that Anya’s former wishing ability would perform the same function. Parallel realities at least were created whenever she cast a wish.”

“Oh,” Buffy said, depressed once more.

Xander brightened. “And think about this: in each other reality a demon-Anya was casting more wishes. Makes you think.”

Giles rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Xander.”

“Now I have a headache,” Buffy groaned.

Giles smoothed her hair with a hand. “It’s late. Perhaps you should get some rest.”

She nodded, and in an impulse born of fatigue, slid around on the sleeping bag and stretched her legs out beside her Watcher, resting against him.

“Doesn’t mugwort enhance dreams?” Willow asked from where she worked.

“‘A dream is a wish your heart makes,’” Buffy quoted sleepily, leaning her head against Giles’ shoulder.

“Cinderella,” Willow explained at his questioning look. “The movie. From Disney.”

“Of course, on the Hellmouth, a dream is a wish a demon makes,” Xander chimed in.

Buffy grumbled a frown at him.

“…having, the ex-demon girlfriend…” he added blankly. Then he sat up straighter. “Hey, what about things that didn’t happen?”

Giles looked up from Buffy’s face. “I beg your pardon?”

“I mean, a wish makes something happen, right? But it also makes something not happen. Is there one of these parallel realities for that?”

Eyes tightly closed, Buffy frowned again.

“Xander, do shut up,” Giles chided.

“That’s what parallel means, Xander,” Willow said in a gentle voice. “Two things side by side.”

“Right… like the parallel bars in gymnastics. Oooh, there’s a thought to dream about… lady gymnasts…”

“I heard that!” Anya called from beyond the curtain.

Willow scooted back over closer. “Hand me that little table, Xander.”

“Isn’t that a lot of herbs there, Will?” he questioned.

“Well I’m not sure if the mugwort is the right substitute. And I didn’t have a clay pot, so I used Giles’ ‘Kiss the Librarian’ mug,” she explained. “Plus, I’m not sure I remember all the words, so I thought, you know, maybe overkill would help.”

“We are just going to sleep, right?” Xander asked. “Not, like, ‘sleep with the fishes’?”

“Xander,” she pouted.

Giles cleared his throat. “Perhaps Xander’s caution is justified, Will—” he began, and then got a look at her most pleading puppy dog eyes. “Right, then. Just a, uhm, small spell.” He slipped his blanket over Buffy and she snuggled closer. Against the backdrop of that comfortable feeling, Willow’s voice began a soft chanting, while Anya’s voice droned on.

“…it was for this crazy woman who liked to play with dolls. Her wish was that a man who’d hurt her would be sorry. Kind of vague for a wish, and I think I got the wrong person. Wasn’t one of my more exciting vengeances. I wanted to try again but D’Hoffryn, my demon superior, quoted the old ‘one person, one wish’ policy. Then there was the time…”

There was the sharp smell of sulfur as the witch lit a match, its glow catching the mirrorball above in a hundred ways as Xander flicked off the lamp and got comfortable on his sleeping bag. Giles brow furrowed as he absently translated Willow’s Latin invocation in his head and decided to chastise her mangled pronunciation in the morning.

Then Willow dropped the flame in the mug, there was a bright flash, and sleep hit the room like cold weather does a bear.


Prologue: Perchance to Dream