Taking The First Steps


'Give it a go.'


'Try it, Compassion.'

'No. I /know/ you won't stop making bad jokes at my expense.'

'Now why would I do that?'

'Because you're like that.'

'Excuse me?'

'You're like that. You use humour as a way of dealing with the world.'

'Well... yeah. What's your point? Wait a minute... you don't like anybody laughing at /you/.'

'Nor do a lot of humans. It's the perception that you're being mocked, laughed /at/, for doing something.'

'But /you/ mock people.'

'Yes, and I had good reason for that at the time. I wasn't people.'

'Look... I'm not going to laugh, Compassion.'

'No. You /may not be/ about to laugh.'

'Y'see? This is what I'm talking about.'

'No. There are certain timelines in which you /do/ laugh.'

'Uh-huh. And because you can see I /might/ laugh, you won't do it. You're not gonna see what ability /you/ ended up with, whatever the Powers That Be decided to land /you/ with...'

'Believe me, I'm not taking the chance.'

'Trust me. I am /not/ going to laugh.'

'Wait a minute...'

'Changed my perspective.'

'Very well. Here goes.


When the ki-aura faded...

Compassion looked down at herself. 'Hmm.'

She reached behind her, and examined one of the pigtails her hair had restyled itself into.

She raised an eyebrow. 'Hmm. The market value of the jewels in here alone... Fitz, stop bugging out, or I'm going to do it for you.'

'Your wish is my command, oh most gracious Queen.'

'Please. It's bad enough they think I'm a bodhisattva.'

'...Oh crap.'

'Oh crap?'

'Compassion... who do you know who battles Dark Queens? /Especially/ Dark Queens in flowing, not-quite-revealing silk gowns?'

'Oh... /wonderful/.'

Fitz nodded. 'Mm-hmm.'

Compassion face-faulted. 'The Sailor Senshi. The Sailor Senshi... who want to keep an eye on Ranma's wedding.'


'The Sailor Senshi... who always /win/ against the Dark Queen.'

'Mm-hmm... Compassion, you haven't been watching "Sailor-" You have. You have! You've been watching "Sailor Moon"!'

'So? It /is/ a part of the media...'

'Yeah. But what I can't figure for the /life/ of me is why the /hell/ you got the stereotype that always loses.'

'It was either that, or the Sailor outfits.'

'Then again...'

'So help me, Kreiner...'

'You think /you're/ the only one the idea scares shitless?'

'Thank you so much, Fitz. And by the way, how do /you/ know about this?'

'Remember /you/ don't want anyone laughing at you?'

'...Ah. I see. I wouldn't have thought it was your style, though.'

'Nah. It was all that Crystal Tokyo stuff - how I always thought the future was going to be.'

'And the girls in skimpy outfits had nothing to do with this.'

'Hey, I've got /some/ dignity...'


'/This/ from the Dark Queen...'

'Mm-hmm. Now, I wonder what'd happen to you... Perhaps you're one of the Outer Senshi.'

'Mm- Oh no. No way. /No way/! No way am I ending up in a dress, Compassion! I am /not/ a transvestite!'

'Oh no...?'

'Even /you're/ not that sadistic!'

'No, I'm not. But whomever gave us these abilities might be...'

'You do know you've just turned me off /ever/ wanting to find out what my ability is, don't you?'

'Have I? Oops, I /am/ a ditz...'

'Har har. Just let me get Mihoshi and the video camera... The Doctor's /really/ going to want to see this.'

'Oh no you don't...'

'And what's wrong with being the Dark Queen?'

'What's wrong with dressing in women's clothes?'

' 'Cause I'm /not/ a woman!'

'You could turn into one...'

'That's /Ranma's/ thing!'

'I could dress in men's clothing.'

'Yeah, but /you/ wouldn't look ridiculous in a skirt.'

'So we're agreed then. Mutual embarrassment?'

'...Yeah. But, Cam...'


'Why /do/ you think that's embarrassing?'

'Always being the one who gets beaten?'

'Oh. And the Sailor outfits?'

'Given the choice between defeat and skimpy miniskirts, I'll choose /defeat/, thank you.'

'Wow. Something that makes you choose defeat!'

'No need to announce it to the Omniverse at large, Fitz...'

'No fear.'

'Besides, I don't have the figure for a miniskirt... even if some people think, in the right light, I look like Kate Winslet...'

'What light? Pitch darkness?'

'They're entitled to interpret the signals they receive however they may choose, Fitz. I'm not about to contradict them.'


'And it would be easy enough for me to /shift/ into Kate's form. If Benny can look like Emma Thompson...'

'Okay, okay... So why /did/ you stick with that form?'

'It's... comfortable.'

'Comfortable. /Right/...'

'No cheap psychoanalysis, Fitz.'

'No way. 'Sides, that's not /my/ thing...'



'Beautiful morning, isn't it?'

'Mm-hmm. Tea?'

'Thank you.'

'My pleasure, Jack-san.'

'It's odd, you know? My apartment's a luxury resort for roaches, and I'm stuck in a dead end job-'

'It is?'

'It is if I wanted to get back into TV.'

'You were on TV?'

'Talk show. Like Jerry Springer's, only with more moral fibre.'

'Oh. What happened?'

'It got trashed.'

'Oh no! Like Sam-san's?'

'Sam wasn't on TV, Mihoshi.'

'I know /that/. But, well, it /did/ kick off /her/ book series...'

'Okay, okay. Actually, it got trashed for being too controversial.'

'Too... A talk show that was too controversial?'

'Weird, isn't it? As I was saying, my life Inside isn't that brilliant - actually, it sucks in several major and important respects - so, I came to the conclusion that it was better to roll with it, and take the good moments when they came.'

'Really? I do that.'


'It's just that most of my life is good. I get to do my job, and it lets me pop in on my friends, and stay with them, and we get adventures, and I get to see soap operas, soak in the hot springs... It's not much, I know that...'

'But it's yours.'


'And you enjoy the good moments you have.'

'Well, I couldn't /ignore/ them, could I?'

'No... No, I suppose not.'

' 'Sides, I /like/ my job.'

'I wondered.'

'Otherwise, I'd be back at Central, and I wouldn't be able to see them any more.'

'There's no-one back at Central?'

'...No. Well, not any more.'

'...And you'd get bored there, without your friends.'

'Mm. And lonely.'

'And lonely, yes.'

'Do you ever get lonely?'

'Not with the Creeper in my head.'

'Oh, I wondered. Does that mean you and Creeper-san are separate, or the same, or...'

'Once upon a time, I /was/ the Creeper. I played the part of the Creeper. Then he... started taking on a life of his own. His own identity. We're... separate, but interconnected.'

'Oh! That makes sense.'

'Heh. A lesson in disassociation.'

'A bit like Ryoko.'


'Well, she used to be this super-famous space pirate, wanted all over the galaxy...'

'Mm. Average supervillain type.'

'And now, she's disassociated from that. /Minagi/ does the space pirate thing, for good, but Ryoko doesn't. She wants to stay on Earth, with Tenchi and the gang. She /says/ she doesn't like Ayeka...'

'...but she still hangs around, since they're both worried that if they go, the other gets Tenchi.'

'Well, a /bit/. But I /think/ it's because they don't want to go anywhere else. Because they want to be with the rest of us. And they don't want the rest of us to leave. I mean, Ayeka could command me to leave - she /is/ Crown Princess of Jurai - but no matter how mad at me she gets, she hasn't.'

'No, she /hasn't/, has she... Observant of you.'

'Is it? I thought the others knew?'

'They don't.'

'Oh! That's odd...'

'You underestimate yourself, sometimes, you know.'

'I do? Well, I /am/ uncoordinated, and I've sort of got this brain that won't stay still on anything for long... I'm good at writing reports, though. That's how I managed to pass the exams - good at writing.'

'As I was saying...'

'Oops. Sorry, Jack-san.'

'Beautiful morning. Really lights everything up...'

'Yeah, it does... You know, I never thought I'd see this in a city?'

'You'd be surprised. Especially at dawn. Everything seems luminescent...'

'Yeah. Yeah, it does...'

'And even the Creeper's... resting, for once.'

'He is?'

'We get some communication through to each other. He's resting.'

'That's good.'

'Mm. By the way, Mihoshi, would you describe Happosai as a "bad boy"?'

'Oh, /yes/. Luckily, Washu-chan put up a quadruple level force field, and Ayeka's put her Guardians on /maximum/ security alert. He's only got in once, so far... Yeeuch. Pervert.'

'Luckily for /me/, the Creeper hasn't come out anywhere near /him/. I'd hate to see what happens when the masters of Anything Goes meet...'

'Yow. They wouldn't... get on, would they?'

'The Creeper is insane. Not pathologically stupid. It doesn't mean he's good or evil because he's insane - what he is, is in large part down to me.'

'And neither of you are anything like /him/...'

'No. No, we're not.'

'Take the good moments where you find them, yeah?'

'Oh yeah.'


'No, Anya.'

'I know, I know. "Don't interfere in other people's Inside". That's a /stupid/ rule, Doctor.'

'Necessary, though. From the 'official' writers' perspective, I wouldn't have interfered in your timeline. I would only have interfered in a timeline created by an unofficial author, and /that/ creates a new continuity. Everything happens somewhere.'

'Why does it have to happen /here/?'

'Still haven't answered that one. I think it's something along the lines of that, since we exist in an Omniverse as close to infinitely large as possible, which contains everything, everything within that Omniverse will happen, somewhere, somewhen.'

'...It's /still/ a stupid rule. I mean, it's not as if we don't /need/ the money...'

'You do. But you'll eventually find a way to deal with it Inside.'

'I mean, the Slayer dies, and she doesn't need money, right.'


'Then the Slayer returns to life, and she /does/ need money.'


'But you will not loan us anything.'

'Exactly. Interfering in your Inside.'

'/Even though you have given me a blank cheque/.'

'Exactly. Which is why I'm not paying for your wedding, either.'

'It won't cost /that/ much!'

'I know. Again, it's something which may or may not happen in your Inside - and I can't interfere.'

'Hmph. May /not/, the way Xander drags his feet.'

'I /think/... I /think/ he may be scared.'

'Scared of what? Of me? I gave up being a vengeance demon!'

'Scared of making such a big change in his life, committing himself to you permanently.'

'And what's there to be scared of? I /want/ to be with him, for whatever time we have left! And he said he wanted to be with me!'

'Scared of the change, perhaps?'

'People /wanted/ change! They wanted me to bring revenge against those who scorned them, to make the hurting stop, to let their anger come to the surface - and the way Xander's going...'

'He doesn't mean that, Anya. He's /scared/. It would be a big change for /anyone/ - especially Xander. Vampires can be easily dealt with... but people don't come with a quick fix button.

'Much as we might wish they did.'

'Why don't they come with a quick fix button?'

'I've often wondered that...'

'Just a hidden one. No-one would have to know where it was...'

'Yes... Anyway, I'm authorising the rest of your purchases.'

'You /are/?! Yes. You are!'

'Yes. We're getting /this/ wedding going.'

'And that's another thing which makes me angry. /This/ one is going, and /mine/ isn't. And I /want/ it to get going, because it reminds me of what I'm not having.'

'You want it to be going, and yet you don't want it to be going.'

'Yes! And that makes me /angry/.'

'If it didn't go, it'd stop reminding you of what you weren't getting - but it would also remind you you were involved in one failed wedding already.'

'Which would mean that getting that part of what I want would make me feel even worse than I already did. Which I don't want to feel.

'Crap. How is it that getting what you want can make you feel /bad/?'

'Because you realise what else came with what you want. And /those/ can make you feel bad.'

'I hate getting things with strings attached. You get all tangled up in them.'

'Pretty much. So watch what you wish for.'

'...Was that another joke at my expense?'

'No, just a reminder. Every wish has consequences, some unforeseen. And wishing that things were different is something we all do.'

'...I used to wish I still had the power of the Wish. Then Buffy's mother wouldn't be dead, and she'd still be alive, and none of us would have had to be sad because she died.'

'But if you had had the power of the Wish, you still couldn't have granted Buffy's wish. You were a vengeance demon - and there was no one to blame for Joyce's death.'

'I know. Which makes it even more sucky.'

'The wish wouldn't have made /Buffy's/ feelings about her mother dying go away, not if I understand how it works. So it would have failed there, too.'

'And since I know /that/, it would make me feel even worse.'

'But it makes you feel worse because you don't want Buffy to feel bad.'

'...No. No, I don't, do I.'

'It makes you feel worse because you haven't got what you wanted.'

'And you can feel bad about getting something you want, and about /not/ getting something you want. This is why being human is so confusing!'

'It's part of why I like them.'

'You like them because they're confused.'

'Partly. But largely because they manage to deal with that confusion...'

'I deal with it, but they don't like me. I think it's because I don't respond the way they /think/ I should respond, how a human should respond, and I don't know how to respond the way they think.'

'But you're learning how to.'

'I am, aren't I? There's work to be done, though.'

'I know. Took me a while to learn, too.'

'How long?'

'About four hundred years.'

'I don't have /that/ long!'

'No, but you're learning faster than I did.'

'Ooh. Is that good or bad?'

'Do you know, I still haven't worked that one out...'



'Oh! Hello, Fred-san.'

'Hello - Bell? It is Bell, isn't it? I'm sorry, I forget...'

'That's all right. How are you feeling?'

'Still a little outta it, y'know, waiting for it to make sense, putting things together... Weren't you stuck to the K-guy?'

'We broke the spell.'

'Good for you, well, I /think/ it is... you did want to be separate, yes?'

'Well... We /did/ want to be together, but-'

'But not /stuck/ together. Wanted to be together, but not, well, /that/ together, since there's only so much together you can get, before things start getting weird, sort of thing. Things weren't getting that weird, were they?'

'No. Not for us, at any rate. It /was/ getting a little uncomfortable...'

'Ooh yeah, know that one. How'd you break it?'

'I got a job with Keiichi's boss.'

'So you get time together, without, y'know, being stuck together. Yeah, that works, at least it /should/ work. Oh, it /did/ work. So that means it /does/ work as, well, a way of getting unstuck.'

'Well, it did.'

'Reinterpreting the spell, so that, that you were together, but not /together/.'


'Wonder... Assuming reality can be described as a computer program, modifications to that program should be able to produce the required effect, assuming you know in advance what language the program is in, and how you want to modify the program, so it'd be like trying to put a jigsaw together, or thoughts together, without looking at the picture on the box they came in, or even trying to guess how they fit, otherwise, sort of thing.'

'That's very good.'


'Which would explain how you're able to open PLOT Holes.'

'It would?'

'Because you're describing the stories using a mathematical approximation, and both magical and scientific systems use mathematical systems as a basis in describing reality.'

'So does that mean everything can be reduced to math?'

'No. It's just an approximation, even for us, of the way the stories work.'

'We're modelling the end results of what happens, 'stead of defining it.'

'That's it.'


'And since you're describing the stories in those terms, that allows you to apply transformations to space and time-'

'-Allowing me to open PLOT Holes. But it needs to be in a place with high psychic energy, right?'

'Right. Transforming space and time requires a large amount of energy.'

'Which's a good thing, otherwise, y'know, we'd be opening these holes all over the place, every time someone spoke.'

'And the intent. You'd have to /want/ to open up a PLOT Hole in the first place.'

'Now I can see where that makes sense. Well, /that/, at any rate. Still having trouble with the rest of it, like, well, mingling.'


'Mingling. Well, the others - that's Cordy and Angel - they suggested I should start getting out more, meeting with people, and since I'd already met you, and they knew I'd be okay here, we decided I should, you know, mingle.'


'So I'm working my way up to it. Baby steps, baby steps... Hmm, that's odd, if I wanted to come here, I didn't /know/ it...'

'It would work - if it was what you wanted in your heart.'

'But I know what I want in my heart - and, well, it's sort of tragic, 'cause he can't return it, without turning into a beast.'

'If it's meant to be, it /will/ happen, Fred.'

'But /is/ it meant to be? Still wondering about that sort of thing... I mean, we've got these people who want Angel with Buffy, or with, with Cordy. Or Wes, or Gunn, or, well...'

'He has a destiny, but do you share it?'

'/Exactly/, /that's/ it, what I had in my mind.'

'And who you'll share a destiny with... We don't know, not until it happens.'

'Still in the future, yeah?'

'Yes. But when it does happen...'

'...like tasting tacos again, after, after five years missing them. Or feeling the ground 'neath your feet., feelin' /connected/ again...'

'More than that. It comes in so many forms and sizes, so many different ways it can show itself.'

'And you know when it happens, 'cause /you've/ known it before, know how it feels, and you recognise it again...'


'But when it's been, five.. five? They said it was, let's say five... when it's been five years, without it, then it gets all squiggly when you try an' look at it, try to recognise it...'



'They /do/ care. About you, I mean. They care about you, want to protect and help you.'

'It's hard to tell, sometimes...'

'They do. They want you back in the outside world, they want you around, because they care.'

'About me? No, no... that's not real, they don't, I'm squirrely and, and a freak, they don't care...'

'You cared for Angel. You helped them get back to their home dimension. They care about you, Fred. You helped them - and they want to help, because they believe you need help, too.'

'Do I? I don't know, do I... I do, putting my head together, making sure things don't go all kaplooie in there, so everything starts making sense, you know, bit by bit, putting the pieces back...'

'They /care/, Fred. You're a good person.'

'Maybe... too disconnected, detached, don't want them to be hurt, don't want to hurt them, be made to hurt them - cause I can, when things don't make sense like this, someone could use that to make me hurt them, know they could...'

'But you /wouldn't/ hurt them. You're not like that, you don't hurt your friends.'

'I don't?'

'Never willingly. You'd /never/ willingly hurt them. They know that. They want you with them.'

'They care...? I thought someone cared, someone knew, before I left, that might have been a dream, that someone thought I was, well, /me/...'

'They do. They think you're real, that you're a real person.'

'I am... yeah, I /am/, am real, and this /is/ a reality... an' it's a reality I /wanted/, yeah?'

'What would you say?'

'I /did/ want this... I /wanted/ this, wanted a reality, a reality that was a bit of a dream... get myself back to reality... and I'm here, in a reality. In a real reality! We /all/ are! Well, one of them at any rate...

'I've just mingled, haven't I?'

'Small steps.'

'Oh. Um, do you think we could take small steps inside, maybe meet one or two people?'

'I think so.'

'That's good... it's a good thing. It /should/ be a good thing. It /is/ a good thing.'

'Small steps?'

'Now you're gettin' it. Here we go...

'Small steps...'




With thanks to BKWillis, for the whole 'Dark Queen Compassion' idea...


Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat