Reversible Error

Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN. Other recognizable characters are likewise not ours, but presented with respect and affection.

Part III

Buffy took it in, considering it in silence, then looked to one of her two oldest friends. “Wil?” she asked.

“It’s true,” Willow said, nodding. “I mean, I don’t know yet where Giles is going with it, but he consulted with me on checking out this part. The new girls, the ones who were called after the first wave — and there are some who look like they had it hit only a few weeks after, or even a few days — most of them tell the same story. In a waking trance, ten or twenty seconds, they’re confronted by the Slayer essence, and she asks them what you asked the Potentials in Sunnydale: Are you ready to be strong?” She shook her head. “A lot of the time, it’s the First Slayer. Usually it’s from some other historical period — you show up more than anybody else, even if you’re outnumbered by all the everybody-elses — and sometimes the speaker’s identity will shift during the dream. But, as far as we can tell, it always speaks with the voice of the First Slayer, Sineya.”

“And she gives them the choice.” Buffy’s mouth set in a rather doubtful line. “That’s … good.”

“Better than good,” Xander broke in. “I mean … well, let’s face it, when I’m not giving inspiring lectures to field trainees, I generally do my find-and-explain deal in various venues of the Back of Beyond. Some of those places make Sunnydale look like Mayberry … not demon-wise, but as far as misery index and total suckage. Some of the girls, pulling them out and sending them to fight vampires — ‘Oh, and just in case I forgot to mention it, you’ll probably die violently before you ever reach twenty’ — is a step UP.” He shook his head. “And, even with all that, finding out they had a choice and said Yes, that’s definitely gonna let me sleep easier at night.”

“We still don’t know that for sure,” Salome observed. “What Willow said is true, most of the after-wave Slayers have that dream, and with a lot of the others we’ve been able to touch memories that sound like they might be the same thing. And the ones who remember are pretty firm about having said yes. Still, we don’t know.”

“Sample size,” Chu agreed. “Plus, correlation isn’t the same as confirmation. All the same, it does sound rather solid.”

“Yes,” Giles said. “It does. Which points to a number of ramifications. Among other things, we have always known that a potential Slayer has that status upon birth, but that she doesn’t reach, er, ‘eligibility’, until she is within a certain age range. Many of the newly-discovered Slayers — those we are certain came after the first wave — have had their activations at various points within that known range. It would appear, then, that age alone is not a determinant: that a Potential must reach a certain level of development, something in her spirit or internal mental state, or even that the call goes to some Potentials in response to particular circumstances …”

He stopped, seeing that Buffy’s eyes were taking on a rather glazed appearance. “Hrmmph. Well, we can explore that more deeply at a later time. For now … is anyone here not familiar with the case of Dana Caruthers?”

Recognition showed on the faces of Buffy, Willow, and Salome. Xander tilted his head, frowning for a moment, before admitting, “Doesn’t ring any bells.”

“I know roughly what you’re referring to,” Chu acknowledged, “but I don’t know all the particulars.”

“Well, it can be quickly summarised,” Giles said. “Though not the first such instance, the young woman was the most pronounced warning of something we have since encountered in various forms: at the time of her elevation to Slayer status, Dana Caruthers had been in a psychiatric institution for almost fifteen years … and, though near-catatonic beforehand, she became uncontrollably and violently dangerous upon her activation.”

“We tried,” Willow added, soft-voiced. “Different combinations of medications, intensive counseling, astral communion, even psychic dampers, we tried everything we could think of. She was too far gone, though. She was never going to be well … and the dreams, the Slayer dreams, were making it worse.”

“Ah,” Chu said. “Yes, I remember now.”

“What?” Xander looked around, his single eye wary. “Remember what? What did you do?”

“We took it away from her,” Salome told him. “Rescinded the Slayer essence. There was really nothing else we could do for her.”

Xander’s mouth fell open, and he stared at the others in horror. “You de-Slayered her?” he blurted. “You just … stripped it away from her? I didn’t even know that was possible!”

“It didn’t used to be,” Buffy said to him. “This wasn’t a solo effort, Xand. I worked with them, trying to find a way to get through to Dana, and I okayed them running comparison tests, Dana’s aura against what they could see from me and other Slayers. Once we realized the dreams wouldn’t ever let her tune back into reality, there wasn’t any choice.”

“So you neutered her.” Xander’s voice was flat, almost disbelieving. “Buf … God, if it was anybody but you —!”

“But it wasn’t,” she interrupted him. “I know, Xander: know how it feels to be a Slayer and then have all that power just vanish —” (she didn’t glance toward Giles as she said this, nor did his face stiffen, they had both long outgrown the wounds from her abortive Cruciamentum) “— and I also know how it feels to be crazy, kind of, thanks to my time in the Normal Buffy Imaginary Asylum.” She sighed. “Somebody had to make the decision, and I still can’t swear it was the right one, but I couldn’t just watch her being torn apart.”

“And it worked.” Salome’s tone was warm, casual, as if she were blithely unaware of the tension hanging between two of the Sunnydale legends. “We managed to do what needed to be done, and Dana is still insane but she isn’t in pain anymore. Ideal solution or not, it was a solution.” She grinned. “I just can’t believe Willow was able to get that New Line nonsense to weave in with traditional Coven magicks and make something that actually worked.”

“I’m fine with tradition,” Willow replied, all exaggerated hauteur. “Just not the missionary-position, whalebone-corset kind of tradition.” Then her face split in a grin of her own. “Besides, we need each other. Your way is history and experience, mine is innovation and experiment, and neither one would work as well without the other.”

“Which is very insightful and inspiring,” Wendell Chu remarked. “At the moment, though, I’m more concerned with the implications of what I just heard.”

Buffy looked from one of them to the other. “Huh? ‘Implications’?”

“Several sets of implications,” Giles confirmed. “Pertaining to several different areas.”

*                *               *

– August 2010 –

It was quite distressing.

No: it was a nightmare. Or, at least, the very stuff of nightmare, for she was now called to battle creatures the mere rumor of which had been condemned generations ago as peasant superstition. At the time, the choice had seemed clear and inescapable: she had been presented with a duty, and Ying Mei had spent her entire life accepting those duties placed before her, and doing her utmost to fulfill them.

This … this was something more.

And it conflicted with so many other duties. Proper respect for her parents included truthfulness as well as obedience, and each time she slipped out of her room at night, to go hunting in the streets and markets (and slums, though officially such things did not exist) of Beijing, she was engaging in deceit, if only by concealment. Study and practice with the violin demanded attention, focus, dedication, but it was difficult to maintain the necessary total focus on days — most days — when she had crept back into her bed only a few hours before dawn. (She needed very little sleep now, but she still needed some, and now there never seemed to be quite enough.) At school, her class standing had fallen from fifth to twenty-third, and the future promised only further shame to her family.

In the dreams, Mei had seen others like herself, of various nationalities and races. Some were as young as she was, or even younger, but most appeared to be of marriageable age, nearing maturity if not yet completely matured. She should have felt honored, she knew, to be included in such advanced and heroic company; instead, there was a vague but growing sense of resentment.

And, of course, unhappiness.

She had never pictured herself as a warrior, never considered herself in those terms or harbored any such ambition, even briefly. Her perceptions of strength and responsibility had come from watching her parents: her father oversaw three factories, faithfully ensuring the welfare and harmony of the workers along with the quotas and quality of the finished goods, whereas her mother managed the household — schedule, budget, meals, physician’s visits, schooling, anything and everything that fell within her purview — with the same meticulous, exacting attention to detail. That was the structure of a proper life. Service to community, service to family, with personal satisfaction coming last and derived primarily from conscientious, suitable performance of the more important duties.

Of a certainty, the world required other roles. Every nation needed soldiers, every city needed policemen, even small farming villages had to have someone to watch for and protect against prowling wolves. Only … why did it have to be Ying Mei?

For some, her new station and obligations would have been not only welcome, but the living of a dream. Parker Dre (no, no, remember, Westerners — “white people”, heh-heh — insisted on putting their family names last) would very probably have embraced this Slayer identity. Not without trepidation, and not without doubts — for he did have a gentle soul — but Mei had watched him struggle to find his warrior’s-heart, and she could not envision him turning away from such a challenge as this.

Predictably, such thoughts only summoned forth others. Dre had worked hard for his skills, sought and fought and stretched himself to become more. He had grown in his character as well as his abilities, taken a long step toward becoming a man —

— but, compared to her, he was still the merest child.

She had always been older, of course. Close enough to him in age that the difference was not obvious, and his daring and enthusiasm had entertained and intrigued her, bridging most of the remaining gap. For a time. Now, however … For all his genuine courage, Dre fought within the bounds of a sport, by recognized rules, for points and trophies, while Mei now battled demons to the death on a nightly basis. The distance between them, once small and needing only small effort to reach across it, had become a yawning chasm, and she could not tell him why or even admit the change.

The new state of her life was shot through with injustice, and not just to her alone. She had watched Dre labor to grow and learn, tempering himself like a piece of steel and then honing that metal to a keen edge. An unremitting effort of weeks, of months … and overnight (though he did not know it) she had leaped past and beyond him. She could easily defeat him if she wished, or him and Master Han together, or Li and his entire school while wearing a blindfold and with both hands bound. She could master any weapon the first time she picked it up, and wield it with more deadly precision than one who had spent a lifetime in its study. (None of that virtuosity, however, manifested itself with musical instruments. Again, unfair.) She was a living machine ideally shaped for combat … and she had earned none of it, it simply was.

Her old life had ended. Only the pretense remained, a facade to serve as protection while a new and ugly reality unfolded before her. Her government, her teachers and classmates, even her family … if they ever learned the truth, they could become as great a threat to her as the things she fought for their sake. She would maintain the necessary camouflage, then, would do as she must to preserve the appearance of normality that would allow her to continue in her divinely appointed mission.

But, by the ghosts of all her ancestors, she wished the heavenly messenger had seen fit to deliver its summons to someone else.

[Mei Ying (Karate Kid, 2010) is the property of Columbia Pictures, China Film Group, and Jerry Weintraub Productions.]

*                *               *

– July 2008 –

“Lazy,” Katie MacBride said. “Annoying. Stubborn.” She thought for another moment, then added firmly, “Weird.”

“Come on,” Robin Ericson protested. “I’d go with ‘laconic’. Jason … he doesn’t waste words, or energy, or emotion. He’s naturally laid-back, and he likes to stay steady. Those other things, they’re true about him, but they’re not what he is.”

“Sorry,” Katie insisted. “I’m sticking with ‘weird’.”

Robin could have continued to defend his friend, but Katie had her own share of stubbornness, and he didn’t see argument changing her mind. Instead, he turned to the other participant in the discussion. “Anne?”

Anne Onymous, supernatural champion and ‘secret’ protector of the Tandy Gardens community, pursed her lips and gave it careful consideration. “Jason is, uh, economical. With words, and facial expressions, and any exhibition of emotion. Especially excitement. But he takes responsibility seriously.”

Katie actually laughed at that. In fact, her scorn almost made it sound like one of her werecat snarls, even though she was fully human at the moment. “Responsibility? Jason? I want to try some of whatever magic mushrooms you’re munching.”

“No, I mean it,” Anne replied calmly. “Jason doesn’t go looking for responsibility, because he takes it seriously and doesn’t want to give it any less than the right amount of commitment. But he won’t try to dodge it, either, not if there’s nobody else available and qualified and willing.”

It was true, Robin realized. Jason might not be inclined to expend any more effort than absolutely necessary, but he would always do what was needed. And, if Robin were forced to be honest, it bothered him that Anne, after only a few months, had better insight to his best friend than Robin did after a lifetime.

“I don’t know,” Katie was saying. “There might be something to that, but I’m sticking with weird.” At their expressions, she shook her head impatiently. “Get real: am I the only one who’s noticed that he keeps turning into the same girl?”

“That’s not fair,” Robin said. “There are dozens of people in this town who’ve been hit with mystical transformations, even if we managed to get almost all of them turned back. And a bunch of us, especially us, have been through it lots of times.”

“And genderswap is a theme that keeps popping up,” Anne put in helpfully. “Quite a bit of that is me and my, uh, idiosyncratic sense of humor. And it could be argued that I’m subconsciously influencing even the things I don’t directly do myself.”

“Not arguing with you there,” Katie acknowledged. “But it’s still not enough. Jason gets turned into a centaur, it’s a redheaded female centaur. A satyr, it’ll be a female satyr, and a redhead. Ask him to channel a comic book hero, and you get a superheroine … with red hair.” She fixed the other two with a gimlet gaze. “And if you come right down to it, they’re all variations of the same basic female. Always, always, a redhead.”

“He likes red hair,” Robin grumbled. “He’s never denied that. Everybody has their preferences.”

“Not everybody keeps turning into their dream girl,” Katie shot back. “And he likes it, you can’t tell me he doesn’t. One of us gets transformed, our first thought is to get changed back as fast as we can. Jason? he gives his female alter-ego a name, and goes on a date.” She showed teeth in a carnivorous grin. “With a guy.

“He’s, he’s adaptable,” Robin protested weakly. “He doesn’t get bent out of shape by what life throws at him, he just goes with the flow. You can’t just label him because of that.”

“And you can’t claim it’s even remotely normal,” Katie insisted.

Robin glared at her, unable to muster a conclusive retort. Katie glared back. Then, gradually, they found their eyes shifting to Anne. “Well?” Robin asked at last. “What do you think?”

She tilted her head, returning their gaze. “I think,” she said with serene equanimity, “that we should ask him.”

They let the thought settle in, and then without further words the three of them turned and moved together into the living room of Anne’s house. Jason Grey was installed on the couch, calmly focused — as was his typical state — on the comic he held, one of the seemingly endless stream that occupied his hands in the greatest majority of his waking moments. “Jason?” Robin prompted.

“Yeah?” Jason replied without looking up. Also typical.

“Do you … do you like being a girl? being Sonja?” (Sonja, anagram of Jason. Nothing at all offbeat about that, nah.) “I mean … you take it all in stride, I kinda admire that, but — do you like it?”

“Not my first choice,” Jason answered evenly, still scanning the page in front of him. “But when it happens, yeah, it’s nice. It feels good.”

Katie laughed at that. “What part of it? Getting ogled? Having somebody take it for granted that ‘female’ equals ‘dumb’? Or maybe it’s the opportunity to grope yourself?”

Robin felt his temper spike, and he was about to cut loose when Jason, unfazed as ever, said, “Nope. It feels good to be strong.”

“Strong?” Robin repeated blankly; Anne’s mouth was open slightly, meaning she was every bit as startled even if less obvious about it.

Katie laughed again; she was really in a snide mood right now. “I am woman, hear me roar,” she observed sardonically … which was all the more cutting from someone who could roar, three nights a month.

“Unh-unh,” Jason returned. “Not figurative. Not symbolic. Meant it the way I said it: strong.” At last he looked up. “What? You didn’t know?”

The others shared a confused look, and Anne was the first to respond. “Um … God knows I’m all for gender equality, but what are you talking about? Sure, some girls are stronger than some guys — just look at Samantha, I’m pretty sure she could dead-lift more than most guys at our school — but the stereotype of guys being stronger is there for a reason: because it’s usually true. You should have more actual strength in Guy Mode … a draw, at best.”

Jason thought a moment, and then shrugged. “Nope. I’m a lot stronger as Sonja than in my usual body.”

Anne studied Jason searchingly; then, practical as ever, she made the emphatic gesture that triggered the familiar change. Abruptly, Jason was female: slender, with wavy red hair, the planes of ‘his’ face shifted into an elfin delicacy. Sonja looked at them through the same calm eyes, and Anne said, “Prove it. Show us what you mean.”

‘Normal’ male or transformed female, Jason/Sonja was neither dramatic nor over-expressive. After a series of demonstrations, however (holding Katie in one hand and Robin in the other and carrying them around the room as casually as if hefting pom-poms; picking up the heavy oak kitchen table and twirling it by the corner on her index finger like a basketball; doing a backward somersault from a flat-footed start, one toe brushing the ceiling before she landed lightly and almost soundlessly at precisely the same point from which she had launched herself), she looked to the others with obvious satisfaction. “Strong,” she said again.

Her audience shared stunned looks. Finally, Katie broke the silence. “So … all this time, I was right when I called him a freak?”

“Whatever,” Sonja answered, shrugging. “Except, let’s not forget this freakishness seems to come with being female.”

There was nothing threatening about the way it was said; in whatever form, Jason didn’t threaten, it simply wasn’t part of his/her inner core. But, the others realized almost simultaneously, neither was it the indifference they would otherwise have assumed. No, this was something else. Something they hadn’t recognized before now. Something unexpected.

Quiet, calm, easy, total … confidence.


Amanda Miller had always been an authentically natural blonde. She still was, even if most of its current paleness came from being liberally threaded with an increasing silver-gray. However many pins she used, however, when she was frustrated her hair always seemed to break free and reflect her feelings for the world to see.

And Amanda was thoroughly frustrated now, because the glowing dot on the map — the dot representing the Slayer they’d been sent to find — had reappeared for a grand total of five minutes before disappearing again.

Amanda was part of the new majority; unlike the remnants of the ‘old guard’, she hadn’t been born and raised in any of the Watcher families. Her first introduction to magic had come at thirteen, when her best friend had gotten involved with it. The two of them had dragged their other friend, Andy, into it with them. Amanda (‘Mandy’) had been the one who researched things, and developed a love for obscure knowledge that could be linked with other scraps to detail the larger picture. Andy had been the bulwark, the reliable one, his daring and imagination and unflagging courage making the vital difference time after time. Randi had gloried in the power and possibilities of her own magic, a part of herself she never could have denied but that was made all the more delightful by her being able to share it with eager, dedicated allies.

When things went wrong, Randi had blamed herself for allowing her friends to participate in her world, no matter how fiercely Amanda insisted that she chosen that world, too, even if she didn’t have Randi’s natural gifts. Practitioner of magic or not, Amanda had still embraced the reality of magic and demons, and the responsibility of those who knew of these things to make what contribution they could. Even after the friendship with Randi had imploded, and access to magical events had been closed to her, Amanda still researched and learned, joy and need driving her with matched fervor. In college she found herself delving into ancient history and cultural anthropology and comparative religions and, ultimately, every dead language she could find on the curriculum.

And years later, Amanda was approached about applying new knowledge (and old experience) to train and equip teen-aged girls to go out and fight the darkness.

Now here she was, trying to find one of those girls, and nothing seemed to be enough.

Amanda’s tone was decidedly frosty when she spoke to Clara Peters, the witch who — since the coven had found it so difficult to keep track of this particular Slayer — had been assigned to accompany Amanda on this field assignment. She wasn’t upset at Clara; Amanda was frustrated at the lack of ability to pinpoint this particular girl’s location. “As best I can tell, either someone has placed extremely strong anti-tracking wards on her that periodically lapse, or she is shifting in and out of this plane. Or both.”


Miranda West’s mouth tightened into a thin line. Strangers in town, looking for a girl with extra-normal abilities? It was all but inevitable that they would stumble across some, or many, of the various events Anne had been involved in, and that would bring about complications that Miranda might not be able to fully extinguish. Keeping a low profile wouldn’t be enough this time; it would be simpler to help them find what they were looking for (so they could then leave!), while staying under the radar in the process.

Soon, Miranda had gathered the group of teens that had somehow, inexplicably, become her responsibility. In her particular way, Miranda gave them the necessary information: there were two women in town, looking for a super-strong teen-aged girl (who had other talents, but that would probably be the most noticeable talent), and they needed to avoid drawing attention to Anne while still helping them find the unknown girl so the women would leave sooner.

Miranda noticed Anne looking guilty and suppressed a sigh. Of course Anne would be in the middle of it. She didn’t push the redhead, but simply raised her eyebrow and waited. Sure enough, Miranda didn’t have to wait too long, as Anne started babbling out the explanation and, the code of silence broken, the other teenagers rapidly joined in. In the cacophony, it was hard to distinguish the information from useless noise, so Miranda held up a hand for silence and looked at the silent boy whose name had come up frequently and said simply, “Explain.”

Jason looked up from his comic book. “Girl-me is really strong.”


After Anne did the necessary location spell, Miranda, Jason and Anne made their way to the hotel where the Watchers Council representatives were staying. The door was opened by a slim blonde in a crisp suit. Blue eyes met brown in astonishment, and Miranda’s “Mandy?” was followed an instant later by Amanda’s surprised “Randi?”

Jason and Anne’s voices mingled at the same time with a disbelieving, “Randi?”

Miranda ignored the children. “Mandy, what are you doing with the Watchers Council? I thought we agreed that the magical world was no place for you.”

Amanda’s eyes flashed dangerously. “You listen, and you listen good, Miranda Elizabeth West. We didn’t agree on that. You dictated, and then shoved me out of your life. Destiny didn’t choose me like it did you, but I chose my destiny. So now I’ve chosen to help other teen-aged girls that destiny chooses, and you gave up the right for your opinion to matter to me a long time ago. If you don’t like my choices, or me encroaching on your town, I’m sorry. But I still have a job to do, I intend on doing that job, and your disappointment and displeasure is not going to prevent me from completing my job.”

Miranda was a creature of control, but that control had slipped through her fingers. “I was trying to protect you, Mandy. Andy had just … and I couldn’t lose you, too. You had to stay safe.”

Amanda’s expression softened, just a tinge. “I know, Randi. I know you had good intentions. But you still decided you knew what was best. Still, that’s beside the point. Why are you here, since I imagine catching up wasn’t why you knocked on my door?”

Anne, in her insufferable helpfulness, answered the question. “Jason’s the Slayer you’re looking for.”

Amanda flicked a look at Jason, and then back at Anne. “I don’t think you understand. Only girls can be —”

Anne did the hand motion while saying the incantation.

Jason-as-Sonja looked up from the comic. “Yo.”


Jason liked being Sonja, but he was still a guy. He didn’t want to be a girl all the time. He didn’t really want to be a Slayer, even though the strength and speed was kinda cool. But listening to the blonde lady talking to Miranda, he realized he wasn’t going to say no. Not because he wanted it, because he really really didn’t. But because Destiny had still chosen him, in spite of being the wrong gender. He had been given a responsibility that he wouldn’t have chosen to pick up, and he couldn’t give it back.

Maybe other people could ignore it and pretend it wasn’t there, but Jason couldn’t. You don’t get to pick and choose what responsibility you will accept and what you won’t.

Which meant he was at his house, trying to pack things up for going to training. It had been decided that since he already had a group dealing with supernatural things, he wouldn’t move away full time; he’d go to a few weeks of training, and then return periodically for more.

Anne and Robin were perched on his bed, looking at him and occasionally opening their mouths to say something, and then changing their minds at the last moment. Finally, Anne threw something at him. “Take this with you.”

Jason looked at it, and back at Anne. “Why?”

“Because. It’s a pendant that will allow you to go all girly whenever you want. That way, you won’t have to be Sonja all the time, unless you want to be.” Anne swung her legs back and forth, Robin nodding enthusiastically next to her.

This? Right there? That is why Jason was best friends with Anne and Robin. Even when they didn’t fully understand him, they still had his back.

He’d be back in a few weeks. It would be nice to have a fighter in the group, instead of relying on Anne to cast spells to enable them to fight.

[Jason/Sonja Grey, Katie MacBride, Robin Ericson, Anne Onymous, and Amanda Miller (the Wotch) are the property of Anne Onymous and Robin Ericson (yes, the authors use character names as their own pseudonyms).]

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