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       Unseen #2: Door to Alternity, p.1
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           Nancy Holder
Unseen #2: Door to Alternity


  Buffy held the young man’s face

  tenderly in her hands.

  She felt the roughness of his afternoon stubble, the slightly rubbery quality of his cheeks. She couldn’t imagine how things had become so intense so quickly, and found herself wishing for a moment that there was a way to turn back the clock, to restore things to the way they had been. But she knew there wasn’t.

  She put the face back down on the street where she had found it, and silently vowed to destroy whatever creature had torn it from some unsuspecting victim. Sunnydale crawled with vermin, supernatural beings that seemed to be here only to kill.

  Buffy was fed up with them.

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  DOOR TO ALTERNITY

  NANCY HOLDER AND JEFF MARIOTTE

  POCKET BOOKS

  New York London Toronto Sydney Singapore

  Historical Note: This trilogy takes place between the fourth and fifth seasons of Buffy, and between the first and second seasons of Angel.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  An Original Publication of POCKET BOOKS

  POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  Visit us on the World Wide Web:

  http://www.SimonSays.com

  TM and © 2001 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

  All rights reserved.

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  ISBN: 0-7434-3290-8

  POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  About the Author

  To Lisa Clancy, for believing this could be done, despite the odds, and making it happen. And for our families, who make it all worthwhile.

  Acknowledgments

  The authors gratefully acknowledge some talented people without whom . . . well, you know: Joss Whedon, David Greenwalt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, David Boreanaz, Debbie Olshan, Caroline Kallas, Lisa Clancy, Micol Ostrow, Liz Shiflett, and the rest of the crew who keep Buffy and Angel coming our way every week. Thanks also to agent Howard Morhaim and his assistants, Florence Felix and Lindsay Sagnette.

  DOOR TO ALTERNITY

  Prologue

  Los Angeles

  FRIDAY NIGHTS WERE ALWAYS BUSY AT COWTOWN BURGER Ranch, and this one was no exception. Tall, thin, and eager to get the hell out of fast food as soon as he could scrape some bucks together, Michael Buckley had been on shift since nine, and he would stay until six in the morning. He worked through the late dinner crowd, and then the rush at two, when the bars closed down and the hard-core drinkers came in for some greasy food to supplement their liquid diets. At nineteen, Michael was one of the few people on staff who could work the graveyard shift—eighteen and older only. Lucky him; he got an extra ten cents an hour for being such a loser that at nineteen, he wore a paper sheriff’s hat to work.

  He’d always hated that term, though. Graveyard. Definitely something sinister about it; like what, they buried the dead hamburgers then?

  Why couldn’t it be the moonlight shift?

  On this night, this great old graveyard shift, Michael worked with Julianne Mercer and Eric Vicente. Eric was okay, a nice enough guy even though he hated to actually work if he could avoid it, and the dude had definitely lied about being allergic to onions in order to get out of ever having to slice them. So when it was onion-slicing time, Michael and Julianne had to take turns. Tears streaming down his face, Michael offered up a few choice words about his co-worker—not for having thought of the allergy dodge, but for having thought of it first.

  Graveyard with Julianne was cool, though. She was a year older than he was, and she went to USC. Her long hair was brown and sleek, and he had to resist the urge to comb his fingers through the ponytail that cascaded through the opening at the back of her Cowtown ball cap. She had really cute freckles that dusted her nose and cheeks, barely showing against her sun-browned flesh.

  And she inhabited a truly awesome body; even a cotton-poly Cowtown polo shirt and an apron (which featured Rusty the Wrangler, the cartoon cowpoke who was Cowtown’s public symbol and spokes-cowboy) could not disguise her curves. Michael lusted for her constantly, even while slicing onions.

  At Michael’s suggestion, she usually worked the counter when they were on duty together—he figured customers would rather be greeted by her than him—and he burned more than the Cowtown-approved number of burgers, ignoring the grill as he watched her move about the restaurant, wiping down tables or scooping onion rings into a paper cup.

  Tonight was business as usual. Eric jockeyed the drink dispensers, making shakes, and
keeping French fries and onion rings happening. Michael flew the grill, flipping Ranchburgers and Meat Lover’s Double Ranchburgers with effortless precision, taking time out to dunk the occasional Fishwich into a deep-fat fryer. When things were cooking—pun intended—there was a kind of dancelike perfection to their work.

  Once the bar rush ended, Eric would leave, and it would be just he and Julianne until six. Michael was counting the minutes. The last time they’d covered the shift together, it had been dead and they’d had a long and surprisingly intimate talk about love, romance, and life after death. He hoped to pick up where they’d left off.

  Oh, do I hope.

  “I said, two Ranchburgers!” Julianne shouted at him.

  Michael realized he’d been staring into space.

  “Thank you,” he replied, giving the company-mandated answer to any food order from the counterperson.

  She looked hard at him, as if to make sure he had really come back down to earth. A stray strand of her long hair slipped from her hat and rested lightly across her high cheekbone. Her hazel eyes blinked a couple of times. He smiled, and she returned it, then showed him her back as she faced her customer.

  Which, hey, there are worse views.

  Michael pulled two more frozen Ranchburger patties, separated by slips of waxed paper, from the freezer compartment next to the grill and slapped them down on the hot surface. They spat and sputtered. He tossed the paper squares into the trash and pressed the patties down with his long spatula. Flipping three more Ranchburgers and one Meat Lover’s Double Ranchburger for the last time, he drew some buns from another cabinet, split them open, and lay them down on the grill’s dry edge to brown. As he did, Julianne stepped away from the counter for a moment, passing him and glancing at him from the corner of her eyes as she did so.

  Oh, yeah, I am definitely getting somewhere.

  He pictured the two of them leaving in the morning, hand in hand, getting into her car (he rode a bike to work) and heading back to her apartment. There he’d put on some Sting music—she had a kind of throwback hippie, tree-hugger spirit that he was positive meant that she had Sting on CD, and maybe even on vinyl, and showing himself to be a connoisseur would certainly get him—

  “Hey! How can a guy get some service around here?” There was a guy in a black tee shirt and jeans at the counter, and a few other people behind him. No one was smiling.

  Michael looked up. Julianne was gone, and a line had formed while Michael had been watching his burgers and dreaming of sweet sticky love.

  “Julianne!” he shouted. “Eric!”

  A moment later, Eric emerged from the men’s room, drying his hands on a long sheet of brown paper towel. Probably where Julianne was too, he figured, only in the women’s version. But it wasn’t like her to leave the counter without saying something.

  Of course, the way I’ve been tonight, maybe I just didn’t hear her.

  “You seen Julianne?” he asked Eric.

  “Not for a few minutes,” Eric said. He slipped back behind the counter.

  “Can I get a Ranchburger and some fries?” the guy at the counter asked testily. He had short, cropped hair and double earrings in one ear. His tee shirt read NO FEAR NO FUN, and Michael felt a tingle of envy for whatever lifestyle the guy had; him on the other side of the counter with earrings and a ’tude, Michael on this side flippin’ burgers like a high school student.

  The front door opened and a group came in, six people, laughing together. Obviously, the bar rush had begun.

  “Ranch and fries,” Michael repeated. “You didn’t, uh, see a girl here when you came in, did you?”

  “Brown-haired chick? She was standing right there,” the guy said. “Then she looked like she was going in the back for a second, and she never showed up again.”

  “In the back,” Michael repeated. Yeah, she’d passed by, but she hadn’t come back. Back there was just a sink area, the walk-in freezer, the manager’s office, the lockers where employees stored their personal things, and the back door. She wouldn’t have left the building, and the manager’s office was locked.

  “Got raw onions?” tee shirt asked.

  Freakin’ tons of them, Michael thought. “Sure thing.” He caught Eric’s eye. “Work the counter.”

  Eric nodded. “Got it covered, dude.”

  Michael went back, passing the grill and turning the corner. A big stainless steel sink, where employees washed their utensils and cut the damn onions, filled a small room. No Julianne there. He yanked open the door to the walk-in. Shelves of burger patties and fish, buns of various sizes, huge containers of French fries and breaded onion rings and ready-made milkshake mix. No Julianne.

  “Three Meat Lovers!” he heard Eric shouting.

  “Thank you!” he replied, closing the walk-in.

  He returned to the grill. The burgers he’d left there still sizzled, but now they had become small, black disks about the size of silver dollars. Cowtown cow chips, good for raising the cholesterol and not much else.

  There went six more burgers, including one double. Daily inventory reports would show that, and as grill man it would be his job to explain where the waste had gone.

  Sighing, he scraped the tiny burger nuggets off the grill and flipped them into the trash.

  Eric stuck his head back around the edge of the grill. “Couple people up here wanna know where their food is.”

  Michael indicated the trash with his spatula. “They sort of charred when I was looking for Julianne. I’ll get new ones going.”

  Eric looked a little put out. “Cook ’em fast, dude. The mob is unruly.”

  “Where do you think she went?” Michael persisted.

  “Maybe she booked.” He shrugged as if he didn’t care. “You know, just hung it up.”

  “She wouldn’t do that.”

  “Whatever, man.” Eric gestured with his head to the grill. “Keep that meat coming. Remember our company motto: ‘A hungry drunk is a mean drunk.’ ”

  “Where’s my food, man?” tee shirt whined. “I’m, like, starving to death.”

  “I think there’s a fire,” a sleazy chick said to tee shirt, nuzzling his neck. She looked like Wendy O. Williams from The Plasmatics, white hair, black eyes, the works. “It smells like smoke.”

  “Dorks,” tee shirt sneered.

  Eric turned to the deep-fat fryer and dunked two baskets of French fries, snapping his head toward the counter as he did so. “Hey, man, chill,” he snapped. “We’re a little busy here.”

  “Attitude, Eric,” Michael reminded him.

  “Bite me.” Eric rattled the handles of the baskets, his shoulders hunched and his jaw jutting forward. “I hate guys like that,” he muttered.

  Michael slapped some patties down on the grill, pressing them flat with the broad blade of the spatula so they’d cook faster. As he pulled more out and slipped the paper off and threw it away and flipped them onto the hot grill, he watched Eric working sullenly but frantically, filling drinks and packing fries, ringing up sales, passing out extra ketchup and salt.

  Sweat dripped off Michael’s brow and splashed the grill, sputtering and evaporating. The front door just kept opening and closing, and the line grew longer and longer.

  People may have been joking and laughing when they came in, but after waiting around for a while, the jocularity faded. There was a restaurant full of angry customers out there.

  “I’m gonna see if her car’s still back there,” Eric said, passing the grill again.

  Michael didn’t want to be left alone. He had a sudden, vivid image of getting shot or something.

  “You need to stay with the register,” he argued.

  Eric snorted. “Dude, I can’t ring ’em up any faster than you can cook ’em, can I?” He shook his head at Michael and headed for the back door. Michael watched him go.

  But before Eric reached the door, his form began to shimmer. He seemed to be walking into a glow, a patch of yellowish light hovering there in the back of the kit
chen where there shouldn’t be one.

  “Eric!” Michael shouted.

  But there was no one there to hear him.

  Eric’s shape seemed to blink once, and then he was gone.

  Vanished.

  For one instant, maybe two, Michael strained to make sense of it. Trick, joke, hallucination. He gaped, open-mouthed, his mind rushing through a handful of scenarios, none of which worked.

  He didn’t know he was moving until he reached the door. There was no hole in the floor, no trick curtain, no magician’s mirror. The glow that he had seen was gone, if it was ever there at all.

  “Hey, I think your kitchen’s on fire!” shouted the chick with tee shirt.

  “Shut up!” he yelled. “Just shut up, because something happened!”

  There was grumbling, the door opening, closing as the angry customers started leaving. Michael couldn’t really see them. He was blind with panic. His heart was pounding so hard he had to grab his chest with both hands to keep it from bursting through his chest.

  “Freakin’ psycho,” tee shirt flung at him.

  Fran will bust me, he thought, thinking of the manager. I’m gone.

  “You guys?” he shrieked, whirling in a circle. “You guys?”

  After a while, he slid to the floor in a sobbing puddle, and finally, somebody called the cops and they took him away.

  The Friday night graveyard roundup at Cowtown Burger Ranch was over, at least until some fresh meat came along.

  And if there was one thing Los Angeles had plenty of, it was fresh meat.

  Chapter 1

  Los Angeles

  POLICE OFFICERS AT EITHER END OF THE SHORT ALLEY held guns aimed at Buffy, Riley, and Angel. Headlights and floodlights from their cars washed the alley with stark white light. Riley was the first to put his hands in the air, and he turned to the nearest pair of cops with a friendly smile on his face. “It’s cool, officers,” he said. “No one’s here to give you any trouble.”

 
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