"--Anyway, I need you to really try and make this work." Joyce glanced over for a moment, her expression equal parts stern and pleading, before returning her attention to her driving. "Finding a school that would take you after... well, after everything that happened... it wasn't easy."
Buffy sighed quietly, and turned her head to look out at the scenery passing by.
"I know, mom, I know. I promise, I'll try to get along with people better, here. You just have no idea...."
Her mother had no idea what it was like; what Buffy's life was like. To be sixteen, and to have to deal with all of the extra craziness of her world on top of the already impossible stress of being a teenager.... No, the older woman had no idea.
Her mother's own sigh was louder, and more exasperated.
"Honey, I'm doing the best I can with this. I'm working hard to be 'open-minded mom', aren't I?" Buffy shrugged her shoulders and said nothing, still gazing at the small, sun-drenched town they now called home. Joyce was silent too, for a long minute, until they stopped at a traffic light. Then the girl felt a touch on her shoulder. "Buffy, I don't hate you. I'm not afraid of you, and I'm not abandoning you. I moved us here just so you could go to school with other people who... are in the same situation." There was hurt in her voice. "Doesn't that earn me any consideration at all? Won't you at least look at me?"
Buffy blinked, and thought about it for a moment, and finally turned her head to look at her mother. The woman's face was open, and vulnerable, and the girl fought to get past the knot of guilt, pain, and sullen anger that had been twisting inside her for weeks.
"The word is 'mutant', mom," she said softly, her green eyes quietly accusing. "When you say 'people in the same situation', what you mean is 'mutant'." She turned away again, unable to bear the pain in her mother's eyes. "Maybe I'd believe you were really okay with it, that you still see me the same, if you could actually stand to say the word."
A deafening silence filled the vehicle, and Buffy closed her eyes.
My god, I am being such a bitch to her, she thought. I know she's trying, I really do. It's just.... She shook her head, folding her arms tightly across her stomach as she hunched down in her seat. It's just that none of it is my fault! I didn't ask for any of this. I never wanted to be different, or to have powers. And I sure never wanted any of what happened back at my old school to happen, either!
Vision of fire and destruction passed behind her closed eyelids, along with visions of the ones she'd been fighting, that fateful night. Vicious, distorted faces, yellow eyes, gleaming fangs....
She opened her eyes and sat upright, unwilling to relive those memories yet again. It had been a near thing, with the police in Los Angeles. The arson investigator, in particular, had been more than half-convinced that Buffy was behind the destruction. She'd played the cuteness card for all it was worth, of course, and it helped that she was tiny, and blonde, and extremely pretty. Still, one court-ordered DNA test would give lie to any pretense of helplessness, so it had been a tense two weeks. When the investigation had finally ended, and the police had declined to actually arrest her, she'd thought the worst was over.
And then Joyce had dropped the bombshell. Moving to another town, away from her friends, and her father, and everything she knew. A new school. A special school. Ever since, she'd been in full-on sulky/angry/hateful teen mode. She knew it, and knew that her mother didn't deserve it... and she still couldn't help herself.
Glancing out the passenger-side window, Buffy saw that they'd already left the tiny urban center of Sunnydale behind, and were now in the greener, semi-wooded area north of town.
Buffy's mom nearly missed the turnoff; the entrance to the school was marked only by a small, discreet sign. "The Sunnydale Academy for the Gifted". The private drive passed through a dense belt of trees which completely hid the school grounds from the road. On the other side they encountered what was obviously a newly-constructed wall of stone blocks; ten feet high at least, with mounds of raw earth and a few leftover blocks piled untidily here and there. The gate before them was ornate, beautifully-made... and very solid looking.
"Welcome to the Sunnydale freak prison," Buffy muttered sullenly, drawing a reproving look from her mother.
"You know very well that it's no such thing," the woman told her, her voice heavy with determined patience. "You can come and stay with me every weekend, and for the winter and summer breaks, too." She pulled up to where a security guard was stationed in a little cubicle thingy, and rolled down her window. Since she was busy showing the man the admission paperwork, she missed Buffy's soft reply.
"I'd rather be home every night, mom. In my own room, in my own bed." She scrunched down in her seat again. "Forcing me to be around other freaks isn't going to make me less of one, you know."
The guard, apparently satisfied that everything was in order, did something that caused the gate to slide open. Joyce drove the car through, and Buffy entered her new world.
* * * * *
The 'school' looked more like a very large mansion to Buffy, though there were several other buildings scattered around that might hold the actual classrooms. Those structures, unlike the ivy-covered main building, looked to be very recent additions to the grounds, with a team of landscapers even now working to mend the scars left by construction equipment. Joyce pulled the SUV up to what seemed to be the designated drop-off point, and they both stepped out into the brilliant afternoon sun. There were other young people around, either standing and talking with each other or piling out of their own parentmobiles. The 'crowd' was definitely anything but, however, which matched what the brochure had said. The whole student body here was only a fraction of what the sophomore class at her old school had been. As her mother spoke to a dark-suited woman with a clipboard, Buffy went to the back of the vehicle and unloaded her belongings. All told there were three large suitcases and a huge duffel, and at first she found herself following deeply ingrained habit. Pulling them out one at a time, she pretended to struggle with the weight, just like any other normal girl her size would have done. Then she stopped, and thought about what she was doing, and gave a shrug instead.
I guess if I'm in freaksville anyway, I might as well act the part.
Gripping two of the suitcase handles in one tiny hand, she lifted them effortlessly. The strap for the duffel went over her head, so that the huge, heavy mass rested on her back. The last suitcase, the largest and heaviest, was no problem for her free hand. Moving carefully so as not to lose her balance while carrying three times her own negligible weight, she turned, saw the startled stare her mother was giving her, and smiled.
"All set, here. Which way to the dorms?"
Whatever Joyce would have said was lost in the sudden crash of something slamming into her from behind, and the girl was sent sprawling. Her lightning-quick reflexes would have easily put her feet back under her before she hit the ground, if not for the weight of the duffel on her back interfering with her balance. As it was, her arms flew wide, and she ended up flinging suitcases in three directions, and slamming painfully into the ground. The hard concrete sidewalk wasn't kind to either her elbow or her knee, and she gritted her teeth against the sudden pain.
"Xander! Are you alright?"
Buffy opened her eyes, and registered several things at once. Firstly, one of her suitcases, which had went flying as she threw out her hands to try and catch herself, had, in fact, gone right through the passenger-side window of her mother's car. Shattered safety glass was still crackling and tinkling as it fell to the ground, and she gave a resigned sigh. Secondly, her mother was staring at her in dismay, but was making no immediate effort to approach. Apparently the sudden display of violence, unintentional as it was, had brought home once again the strangeness of her only child. And, thirdly, the object which had slammed into her without warning was a dorky-looking guy who was sprawled just a few feet away, staring at her with an expression of awe. The blood streaming down into one eye from a cut on his forehead didn't seem to bother him in the slightest, and he sat up, then started crawling towards her, all without ever looking away.
"Can I have you?" He asked, reaching out with one hand. Buffy flinched back, ignoring her own bloody scrapes, and he pulled back a bit. "I mean, 'can I help you,'" he said, ducking his head in embarrassment. "Obviously, helping you is what I said. Or what I meant. What I meant to said--ah, meant to say. Um, obviously." His meandering words finally slowed, then stopped, and he looked at her expectantly. Buffy stared at him, then sat up.
"I'm fine," she snapped, a lie if ever there was one. Here she was, showing up at a new school, a new high school, where image was as vital as oxygen, and the first glimpse her classmates had of her was when this moron decked her and sent her sprawling.
This is just peachy, she grumbled to herself. Not that I really needed any friends here or anything, though it would have been nice to have had the option....
"Xander, I asked if you were alright!"
Somehow Buffy had missed the red-haired girl running towards them, even after she'd shouted a few moments ago, right after the collision. Now she hurried to the fallen boy, and knelt down beside him. He tried to push her away, ineffectually, and the girl pressed one narrow hand against the gash on his forehead.
"Mighty Hecate, hear my prayer," the girl murmured, eyes closing. Buffy raised one eyebrow, glanced over at where her mother was staring at damage the luggage-shaped missile had inflicted upon her car, and started to drag herself to her feet. It was awkward, given the sharp nuggets of glass scattered over the sidewalk, and the weight dragging at her back. Before she'd gotten very far someone stepped up beside her, reached down to take her by both her hand and her undamaged elbow, and helped her to her feet. She got herself upright, the automatic words of thanks rising to her lips... and then stopped, and stared instead.
The girl was tall--or at least, taller than Buffy herself, though that was no great trick. Dark eyes, pale skin, full, ruby-red lips, and... purple hair? She blinked, took a second look, and yes, it was still there, all sleek, and waist-length, and very definitely a dark shade of purple. That color was repeated in the skimpy silk halter top she wore, which showed off a trim midriff, nice shoulders, and some envy-inducing cleavage. The leather pants were black, and so tight that there couldn't have been room for a credit card in the back pockets. Buffy also noted, belatedly, that the girl hadn't yet let go of her hand and arm, even though Buffy was obviously well able to stand on her own. Clearing her throat awkwardly, she moved a pace backwards. The girl released her without comment.
"Thanks," Buffy managed, slipping the duffel off her back.
"Not a problem, babe," the stranger murmured, so softly that it almost got past the smaller girl's more-than-human hearing. It didn't, though, and she would have given purple-girl an indignant look, if something else hadn't interrupted.
"Hey, I'm sorry," the boy who'd hit her said, rising to his feet. "I wasn't trying to plow into you or anything, I swear." He gave her a grin that was obviously meant to be charming in some geeky, goofy way, but Buffy was not amused.
"How about you try and be more careful?" she said, not quite snarling the words. She was acutely aware of how disheveled she looked now; her nice white blouse torn and stained with blood, and her knee scraped raw. She'd worn the short, dark skirt specifically to show off her nicely-formed legs, and now, well, the view wasn't quite what she'd intended. And all of that didn't even take into account how intimidated she felt by the tall girl with the purple hair. The girl who was not only unbelievably sexy, but who also couldn't seem to take her eyes off of Buffy herself.
The third girl present, the skinny one with the red hair, finally stopped her quiet praying, or chanting, or whatever the heck she'd been doing all this time, and took her hand away from the boy's head.
"There you go, Xander," she chirped brightly. "Good as new!"
Buffy looked, startled, and sure enough the skin underneath the smears of blood looked to be perfectly whole again.
This really is freaksville. Better get used to it.
The girl then turned to Buffy, gave an exclamation, and started forward.
"Oh! Here, I can do you, too." It might have been an honest offer, certainly the girl looked harmless enough... but appearances could be deceiving. So far, the only other people she'd met who were... different... hadn't exactly been friendly. In fact, they'd been downright murderous, and she'd barely come away with her skin intact. Given that history, it would probably be awhile before she would be able to let any stranger (especially strange strangers) that close.
"No!" Buffy said, a little more sharply than she'd intended. The girl stopped short, a hurt look on her face, and then she took a slow step back.
"Okaaaay," she said, then brightened. "Well, I'm Willow, and I guess you already met Xander here." The boy raised one hand, and gave her a little wave.
Willow smiled at him, then at Buffy.
"Xander and I have known each other all our lives. We're actually from here--Sunnydale, I mean. I think we're the only ones. Everyone else is from other parts of the state." She paused, waiting expectantly for a reply. Buffy just looked at her.
Purple-haired girl just looked at Buffy (which was disconcerting in the oddest way, though she refused to show it, or even acknowledge the stare).
The sound of a throat clearing broke the tense silence, and Buffy looked over to see her mother had finally gotten up the courage to approach her again.
"Here you go, honey," she said, setting the suitcase down. It looked a little worse for wear now, with scratches and tiny bits of glass decorating it. Looking around at the four young people, Joyce gave a forced smile. "And see? You're already making friends." Buffy gave the woman the same sullen, unfriendly stare she'd been giving Willow a moment earlier, and her mother cleared her throat again. "Well, I'll leave you to get settled in." He leaned forward and hugged the girl, awkwardly, but with genuine affection. "Call me tonight, and let me know how things are going," she said, and Buffy nodded.
"I will," she promised. It still wasn't her mother's fault, any of this. It still wasn't fair, either.
Joyce got in the car, tried to pretend she didn't notice the broken window, failed, then waved a final time. As she drove away, Buffy turned back to the others. Fair or not, she was going to be spending a lot of time with these people, so it was probably a good idea to at least try and be civil with them.
"I'm Buffy," she said, and if her tone wasn't cheerful at least it wasn't blatantly hostile, either. "I, um... I guess I'm new to all of this." A gesture indicated the scattering of other students, and the school itself. Across the lawn, a girl with long blonde hair was glowing as golden as the sunlit afternoon itself, and slowly rose high into the air. Her laughter carried to where Buffy stood, and she shook her head in disbelief. "I'm very new to this, actually."
Willow smiled, looking relieved that the smaller girl was willing to speak after all.
"Oh, we all are, I think. New, I mean. And most mutant powers don't show up until you're fourteen or so anyway, so nobody's going to have had that much practice yet." She nodded across to the main building. "The school's new too, you know. This is going to be the first semester."
"Oh." Buffy hadn't known that, though the barely-finished look of the place should have provided ample clueage, had she, you know, actually cared or anything.
"Well," she said, picking up her suitcase and shouldering her duffel. "I guess I'd better go find where to put this stuff." Willow nodded excitedly, and hurried over to where a pair of small suitcases waited by the curb.
"Wait, and we'll go with you!"
Buffy shrugged, and plodded towards where her other two pieces of luggage had landed, twenty or thirty feet out in the lawn. The tall, quiet girl, with only a worn-looking backpack over one shoulder, trailed along after her.
"You got a pretty good throwing arm for a lil' bitty thing, don't you?" The voice was low, and somehow managed to be scratchy and velvety all at the same time. Buffy glanced back, saw Xander and Willow coming up behind the other girl, and smiled slightly.
"A regular mighty mouse, that's me." She picked up the rest of her stuff, distributed it around her person once more, and then headed for the front entrance of the mansion. For some reason, though, and in direct opposition to her usual policy, she found herself going on. "So anyway, I'm strong, and I'm pretty fast; reflexes and running both. I fight really well, too. Somebody told me once that I've got some sort of speed-learning when it comes to picking up martial arts or new weapons." She gave the other girl a sidelong look, worried that all this might be coming across as bragging, or as her being conceited. The girl gave no sign of that, though, just nodding and looking both interested and impressed. "And I've got crazy-sharp senses--well, at least the seeing and hearing parts; I can't smell your BO from across the room or anything."
Willow snorted softly at that.
"Hah! You've obviously never been around Xander on a camping trip. This one time, a baby black bear was actually following him around the campsite, because he smelled so much like it's mommy--"
"Hey, thankyounowshutup, please!" Xander blurted, elbowing his friend sharply, and hard enough to make her grunt and stumble. She rubbed at her side and glared at him, but he ignored her. "Hey, that's a pretty cool list of powers there, Buffy. Kind of makes you sound like a tiny, unstoppable combat machine." He grinned, deepened his voice, and tried an Austrian accent. "She is da Buffinator.She cannot be bargained with, or reasoned with, and she Will. Not. Stop. Evar!" He waited expectantly for her to laugh. She hit him with her best death stare instead, the one that had sent far larger and scarier creatures than he running for their lives. It worked well enough; after a few moments' exposure his cheerfulness visibly faded, and he fell back a step or two as they walked. Still determined to make friends with someone, Buffy looked back at Willow.
"So hey, what's your specialness? Something to do with healing?" Willow nodded, then ducked her head shyly, looking embarrassed for some reason.
"Well, healing, yeah, plus a few other things." She wouldn't have gone on, but Buffy, curious, gave her a little prod.
"A few other things? Like what?"
Willow shrugged, looked away, glanced back, and finally relented.
"Telekinesis, sorta... though I'm not very good at it yet!" She seemed to think it important that Buffy understood that point, so the blonde girl nodded. "Okay, then. Um, pyrokinesis and cryokinesis--which comes in handy, 'cause if one gets out of control I can use the other one to deal with the mess. Then there's this thing where I can control plants sometimes, bend and magnify light a little, levitate myself, give the weather a nudge if conditions are right...."
Buffy had turned around by this point, and was staring at the girl in disbelief.
"Are you serious? You can really do all that?"
Actually, she wasn't even sure what half of those things were. Cryokinesis? Was that some deal where you could make people start crying on command? And how did you control a plant? Anything other than 'Stay' seemed like it would be beyond a plant's ability even if it was trying to do what you told it to do. Even so, that was a lot of nifty things.
"Gee, that makes me feel a little bit like Scrappy Doo." That got her a blank look from Willow, so she explained. "You know, the cartoon dog? The small, pointless, annoying one that nobody liked?"
"Oh!" Willow nodded, then stopped, frowned fiercely, and shook her head. "Oh, no, no way! You're much, much cooler than he was, absolutely!"
Behind her, Xander gave a sudden laugh.
"Hey, you know, if we all hung out together, we could be the Scooby Gang! Wouldn't that be awesome?" Buffy gave him a disgusted glance, caught a glimpse of the mysterious purple-haired girl giving him a truly chilling look, and then went back to ignoring him. At this point they arrived at the front entrance to the mansion, which was a relief... right up until they met yet another person wielding a clipboard.
"New admissions?" the woman asked, peering at them over her fashionable glasses. Buffy wanted to snap at her, asking what else they possibly could be. Since they were all teenagers carrying suitcases or backpacks they were obviously students, and if this was the grand opening of the school then there wasn't going to be anything except new ones.
"Yes," she managed, in a semi-normal tone of voice. "New admissions, that's us."
"Well then, you're in the wrong place." The woman pointed perfunctorily with her pen. "Go around to the West entrance, please, and follow the signs. Student housing is on the second and third floors of that wing."
Buffy turned and stalked away, leaving it to Willow to thank the woman. Now that they were on a sidewalk again the going was easier, though it would have taken a lot more weight than this to really make her work at carrying it. Behind her she heard a familiar sound, and after a moment she placed it--she'd heard that sound immediately before being struck by Xander out by the drive. Glancing back, she saw that he was perched atop a skateboard, and was wobbling along with more enthusiasm than skill.
No wonder the idiot knocked me down. It looks like he barely knows how to stay on that thing, much less steer. Or stop.
"If you fall off and break your neck, don't expect any sympathy from me," she said aloud. Xander laughed again, and this time it sounded much less forced than usual.
"Already did that," he said. Buffy frowned, considered that, and looked back over her shoulder. That showed her Willow, staring up at the imposing mansion beside them, Xander, awkwardly maneuvering his board while staring at Buffy's ass... and the other girl, also staring at Buffy's ass. She felt her frown intensify, though of course if she hadn't wanted people to look then she probably shouldn't have worn something so short and tight. Still....
"Ah, excuse me?" Both sets of eyes lifted to meet her own, and Xander grinned.
"Two weeks ago. Fell off my board while I was going down this really steep hill by my house. Hit the curb, went flying, slammed right into this tree." He used his hands to mime a stick breaking in half. "Crack! Broke my neck. Had to lie there for quite awhile before I could move again." He puffed out his chest a little and did his best to strike a pose... which nearly sent him flying when he failed to notice that the sidewalk turned right to go around the corner and along the side of the mansion. Recovering (with some difficulty), he got up to speed again and regained his position just behind the others. "That's my power."
Buffy couldn't help but be a little impressed. Xander shook his head.
"Nope. Close though; I do heal really fast." He jerked a thumb at the red-haired girl. "If she hadn't worked her mojo on that cut earlier, I'd still have healed it up in a few minutes." Buffy nodded.
"I heal fast too." She raised her elbow to show how the scrape was already scabbed over and starting to turn pink with new skin at the edges. He waved a hand in dismissal.
"I heal faster, believe me. And more than that." He looked insufferably smug, squared his shoulders, and grinned widely. "I'm immortal."
Willow snorted again, and rolled her eyes, but didn't say anything. The tall, spooky girl gave him a sidelong look, and stayed silent. That sort of left it up to Buffy to speak up.
He looked a little disappointed, wobbled his board back and forth a little when they encountered a few pieces of loose gravel on the sidewalk, and repeated it.
"Immortal. Can't die. Ever. That's me." He spread his hands, as if to say 'what else can I say?'.
Buffy pondered that for a moment, then turned to face forward again.
Yikes. And I thought I was weird?! This place is totally freaking me out, and I haven't even made it inside yet!
Fortunately for her sanity, they were nearly to what had to be the designated student entrance. A pair of double doors just ahead were flanked by signboards with neatly arranged notices and helpful map diagrams pinned to them. Buffy walked up to the one on the right, dropped her stuff in a pile, and reached out to trace the dotted lines with one finger.
"Okay, it says 'you are here', so we need to go--"
It was pure stupidity on her part; stupidity and carelessness. She didn't react in time when that sound--the sound of a rapidly-approaching skateboard--failed to stop approaching at a reasonable distance. Instead, it came right up behind her, and for the second time in ten minutes she was knocked from her feet. This time she didn't have any encumbering luggage to slow her down... she only had the signboard (which turned out to be quite sturdily-constructed) directly in front of her. And so, before she could do much of anything besides register that she'd been hit, she found herself slamming face-first into the thing, then falling back to land on her butt. Hard.
When she got past the first wash of pain she whipped her head around. Once again, the culprit was Xander, lying sprawled just a few feet away.
"Oops," he said, looking sheepish.
This time, however, things went a bit differently from that other, similar accident. Filled with an incandescent fury, Buffy surged to her feet.
"You stupid, clumsy, idiotic... freak!" It didn't matter to her that the last bit actually applied equally to both of them, because at this point she was well and truly pissed off. "If you don't know how to ride that ridiculous thing--" she gestured at the skateboard with a hand that was literally trembling with rage. "--Then at least do it where there's no one else around to get hurt!"
Xander stared up at her, then climbed slowly to his feet.
"Look, I'm sorry." He didn't seem especially sorry to her, though, especially when he had the gall to grin at her. "And besides, you said you heal up fast, right? So what's the big deal?" The grin widened as something occurred to him, and he picked up the board from where it lay at his feet. "In fact, you and me, since we share the whole 'invincible' thing, maybe we should think about teaming up. We could both ride skateboards, and wear matching uniforms, and have codenames that fit together, like 'Unhurtable Kid and Unstoppable Lass', what do you think?"
Buffy stared for a few seconds, realized he was actually serious, and then reached out. Taking the skateboard from him, she tried to put some fraction of her anger into her glare.
"What do I think? How about this?" Breaking the tough composite material of the skateboard across her knee was easy, especially when she was so furious she could barely see straight. Xander made a sort of gasping, squalling sound, reaching for the pieces of his baby, but she wasn't finished yet. "And also... this!" Stepping to one side gave her a clear line of fire, and she wound up and threw, as hard as she could. First one piece, and then the other, flew in a high, long arc, taking several seconds to pass from view behind the roofline of what was probably the school's gymnasium. It looked to be an empty, wooded area back there, so she doubted that anyone would be brained by the flying debris. From behind her she heard a quiet murmur.
"Wow, fucking Mighty Mouse is right."
Willow was staring with wide eyes, looking like a frightened rabbit who didn't know which way to jump. Xander, however, was red-faced, and nearly spitting with fury as he stepped up to loom over the tiny girl.
"Okay, what the hell was that?! I said I was sorry! I didn't mean to run into you!" Both fists clenched, he was shouting as directly into her face as the height difference allowed. "You don't mess with somebody's stuff! Ever! And I don't care if you're a girl or not, so help me I'm gonna--!"
Buffy was staring up at him, matching his glare with her own, desperately hoping that he would be stupid enough to take a swing at her. Her hands clenched into fists that were much smaller mirrors of his own, she waited... then blinked in confusion as he suddenly stumbled backwards, nearly tripping over his own feet. It almost looked like some strange optical illusion, because the physics of it were wrong. He couldn't have moved his body like that, so abruptly and so fast, not the way he'd been standing, flat-footed, right in front of her. A moment later he regained his balance, and stared at her... and then past her, as someone stepped into view.
The tall girl, the quiet, spooky one with the purple hair. She stepped forward, then eased to the side, placing herself protectively in front of Buffy.
"Back off, pencil dick," the odd girl said, her voice strangely relaxed given the tense situation. Buffy, who had absolutely no need of anyone to save her, nevertheless found herself standing there and watching it happen. It was such a novel situation, having someone protect her, someone willing to fight for her for once, that she couldn't bring herself to interrupt. Besides, she was curious to see what would happen.
"Oh, you did not just use some lame power on me," Xander said, looking as if he were actually having trouble believing it. "What is it, telekinesis, like Willow has?" He shook his head, falling into what seemed to be his standard snarky mode. "Wow, does the levitation of pencils and the brutal shoving of me backwards a whole ten feet just scare me so much... except for how it doesn't." He made a show of cracking his knuckles, one by one, shaking out his hands, and then bending over to pick up something off of the ground. One of the construction crews responsible for converting the mansion grounds into a school campus had left a pile of miscellaneous debris near the entrance. Out of that pile, Xander pulled a short section of iron rebar, a little over two feet long. At nearly an inch thick, it was a heavy, dangerous weapon, and Buffy realized for the first time that despite his goofy demeanor, Xander was actually a fairly big, fit-looking young man. When he stepped forward, the bar swinging loosely back and forth in his hand, the tall girl moved off to her right, drawing him away from Buffy.
"Xander! Don't!" Willow's desperate plea was ignored, and she turned to look at Buffy. "Do something! Stop them!"
Buffy shrugged carelessly, using the opportunity to withdraw a gold compact from her small shoulder bag.
"He's your friend, not mine." She said absently, checking her face in the small mirror. Her nose had slammed into the signboard pretty solidly during that second collision, and though it was tender, it seemed to be unbroken. "Besides, he can't really be hurt, right?" She put the compact away.
"That's right," Xander chimed in, never looking away from the girl he was stalking. "Burn me, freeze me, electrocute me, throw me... whatever you do, I can always come back for more." He was close to the girl, now. Buffy, watching from the sidelines, was sure it was because she wanted him close. The two were the same height, though Xander was significantly heavier and more muscular than the girl. He grinned, made a sudden, vicious swing with his iron weapon, then swung it again when his opponent slipped nimbly away. The second attack was closer, and the third came closer still.
"So, which one are you going to try?" he asked her mockingly. "Or are you just going to try and beat me up?"
She smiled back at him, a scary, evil smile.
"How about 'none of the above'?" she asked, and when he swung at her again, with all his strength and weight behind it, she moved forward to meet him.
Something happened there, some thing flared into existence in her hand; an eye-searing piece of brilliant, violet-hued... something. Whatever it was, it met the iron rod as it came whistling down at her head; met it, and sheared through it like a chainsaw through crème cheese. Xander flinched back, his eyes following the end of his weapon as it went flying off to the side. Hastily backpedaling, he looked down at the short, useless remains he still held in his hand, then flung it at the girl. She was advancing towards him, still smiling, and she didn't even break stride. Her empty hand came up in a slow, almost lazy gesture, and a brief flare of violet light came and went in an instant, defecting the projectile as if it had struck a solid wall. Buffy, squinting against the glare, was now able to see that the thing in the girl's other hand was shaped like some sort of exotic weapon; a knife, with a wickedly barbed, double-pointed blade. Xander, still backing away, threw one quick glance behind him, looking for a place to run, or a place to hide.
That was a mistake.
The instant he looked away, the tall girl flashed forward. She didn't run towards him, or even leap towards him... she just moved, like some invisible rubber band had snapped her across the intervening distance with impossible speed. Xander's head came back around just in time to see the glare of that violet blade pass underneath his chin, taking his throat out in a spray of bright arterial blood. He gagged, staggering back another pace, and the girl spun through a graceful pirouette. Another blade, identical to the first, materialized in her other hand as she swept it through a looping, upwards arc, which gutted the young man from crotch to chin, neatly bisecting the other cut she had inflicted an instant earlier. Stepping back, she watched as he tried to keep his organs from spilling out, mostly succeeded (mostly), and then slowly keeled over backwards to crash onto the red stained grass.
"Xanderrrrr!" Willow shrieked, running to his side. Buffy, for her part, watched in shock as the girl let her violet energy knives fade into nothingness, and then walk calmly over to join her. When they were standing face to face, she looked up at the taller girl, her eyes wide and her mouth hanging open.
"I--" She closed her mouth, swallowed, and then tried again. "I can't believe you did that!" Peering around the girl confirmed that yes, it really had happened. Xander was lying there like a gutted fish--he was even thrashing around like one--with Willow trying to hold him still long enough to put her hands on his wounds. Although the wound-to-hand ratio seemed to be pretty extreme.... Buffy shook her head, looking back at the girl. "I mean, don't you think that was a little excessive?"
The purple-haired maniac had the nerve to smile at her.
"Not really. And besides, 'excessive' is sort of my thing. Among other things."
Buffy didn't have a good answer for that, so instead she fell back to practicalities.
"I have to get out of here," she mumbled, hastily grabbing up her bags. "I got thrown out of my last school, and all I did there was break a few bones. And dangle the quarterback from the roof by his ankle." The other girl beat her to her duffel bag, picking it up with only slight difficulty and slinging it over her shoulder. She shot the blonde an amused look.
"Really? They threw you out for that?"
Buffy thought about rescuing her bag from the other girl, decided against it, and hurried towards the entrance doors.
"Well, there might have been a small case of me burning down the gym, but I swear, it was full of Vamp--" She broke off, shook her head, and swallowed what she'd been about to say. "It was full of evil mutants who were trying to kill me, and a lot of other people."
That got her the most impressed look the girl had given her so far.
"Fuck me, B; I thought you were all cute and stuff, but you're pretty hardcore."
Passing through the doors, pausing just long enough to hold one open for her companion, Buffy hurried inside.
"Oh, I'm cute too. The hardcore comes as a factory extra." They found themselves at the base of a staircase leading up, with signs directing them to the upper floors for their room assignments. "And by the way, I'm getting tired of thinking of you as 'that scary girl with the purple hair. Do you have a name?"
"Yep. I'm Faith." She reached out and gripped Buffy's hand, ganger-style. "Pleased to meet you."
"Faith. Okay, nice to meet you too... I think." Looking behind them, she saw several people, including what might have been school administrator types, heading outside to investigate the commotion. If she cocked her head, she could still hear Willow's screams, despite some really excellent modern soundproofing in the building. She hurried a little faster, and when they reached the second floor landing she bypassed it, and headed them up towards the third, and highest floor.
"Um, just out of curiosity, what exactly did you use on him?" She nodded towards the girl's hands, which currently looked completely innocent and harmless. "I've never seen a power like that before."
Faith glanced down at the hands in question, then back at Buffy with a somewhat wicked smile.
"I think the name for it is 'Badass glowy things that really fuck people up'. That's the technical name for it, anyway." Amazingly, and in spite of her best efforts not to, Buffy found herself smiling at that, just a little. When they reached the third floor they stopped together, and moved as one to where a window overlooked that side of the building. A small crowd of people were gathered down on the grassy lawn, and she saw that Xander was still where he had fallen. Someone was giving him mouth to mouth, and someone else seemed to be attempting CPR, although managing that without having one's hands slip inside the open chest cavity looked to be a real challenge. Willow, crying hysterically, was trying to get to him, but was being held back by people who didn't understand that she could heal.
Buffy frowned, surprised to find herself a little worried.
"You don't think he was lying to us, do you? About being immortal?" Faith peered down, then shrugged and turned away.
"We can only hope." There was a chart there, beside a door that led into the hallway beyond. Bending close, Faith inspected it, then looked up with a pleased smile. "Hey, they're all double rooms, but there's a corner one that's still empty." A subtle, yet profoundly disconcerting something crept into her eyes as she gazed at the smaller girl.
"How about it? Wanna be roomies?"
* * * * *