“Buffy, be reasonable.”
Pacing the confines of Giles’ study, Buffy couldn’t help but sigh. She had known coming back here was risky, but despite everything, she had missed her friends and wanted to see them. Since they couldn’t seem to find the time to come to Italy, it just made the most sense for her to escort Dawn back to London to start college and stick around to see everyone.
She’d thought Giles would wait more than twenty-four hours.
“Dawn’s an adult now,” he continued, studying her critically from where he leaned against the front of his desk, his arms crossed over his chest. “She’s started at Cambridge now, with a full scholarship.”
“Which you helped her get.”
“I can’t, Giles. I’m . . .” How could she explain it to him? That she’d spent the last year trying to heal, trying to remember what it was like to be a real girl. Lying on the beach every day, dancing in the clubs at night, a string of casual and not so casual romances. But none of it had helped heal the damage the last few years in Sunnydale had caused. “I’m just not ready.”
“The girls here need you,” he went on gently. “You’re one of the longest lived Slayers on record. They want to learn from you.”
She snorted. “Most often dead, you mean. Can’t teach them much about that except to have friends who’ll bring them back.” She softened. “They’re better off with Faith. At least she’s never died.”
“No, she just went to prison.”
“Well.” She shrugged.
Something winked at her from one of the shelves in the morning sunlight. Buffy reached for it and found a long strand of glass beads, a rainbow of colors and soft with age. She pulled them through her hand, enjoying the cool satin feel of them against her palm.
“Buffy,” Giles said from behind her, his voice both cajoling and sympathetic. “I understand that you needed to get away for a while. If I thought it was doing you any good, I’d let you stay, but can you really say it’s helped any?”
“That’s not the point.” Wrapping the beads around her hand, she closed her fist over the strands to watch them sparkle across her knuckles. “I just need to be away from it for a while.” She looked back at him. “I don’t expect you to understand.”
She’d thought he would get offended. Instead he dropped his head and smiled. “Oh, I understand. I ran away when I was your age, too, remember.”
Turning to face him, she rested her hands on the library table and leaned back. “It’s not the same thing.”
Giles shrugged. “I had a responsibility I hadn’t asked for and didn’t want. I was forced to do it anyway. Finally, I left. I didn’t have half your excuse, though.” He looked down at his shoes. “Nor did I handle myself half so well.”
“See?” Buffy smiled ruefully. “Nothing alike.” She stepped away from the table. “Besides, I’m starting to think you weren’t as bad as you’ve said. You wouldn’t be such a nice guy now if you were.”
His eyes narrowed. “I think you’d be surprised.”
“You know what I think?” Teasing him distracted him from nagging her to come back. “I think you just told us all that stuff to scare us. I think Ethan was the real troublemaker and you,” she pointed at him accusingly, “took all the responsibility for it.”
Giles wasn’t paying any attention to her words, his attention fixed on the strand of beads coiled around her hand. “Buffy,” he said carefully, “where did you . . .”
But she was on a roll. “I bet you just tried to be all tough, but really you were just a big old cream puff. Oh, I wish I’d known you back then!”
He reached for her, but it was already too late.
The world didn’t change in the blink of an eye. It couldn’t.
Buffy scrambled backward until her back hit a wall. What in the hell was going on?
Six pairs of eyes watched her in puzzlement. But six strangers were the least of her concerns at the moment. The smoky, dimly lit room was not even remotely familiar. Mismatched armchairs, worn couch, tattered rugs . . . all the hallmarks of a cheaply furnished apartment, a first apartment. No one she knew lived like this anymore. No one she knew had ever lived like this, except maybe Xander in his parent’s basement.
Her left hand blindly hit upon dead air and she followed it, frantic for any means of escape. All she found was a dark hallway that led nowhere. At the moment, instinct was screaming at her to hide, to get away from the others, to be alone so she could make some sense of this, so she took the opportunity that presented itself. She went through the first open door she came across, slamming it shut and fumbling around the handle to find a lock of some sort. She was relieved when she heard the lock click home. It wasn’t much, and really wouldn’t stop anyone determined to get at her, but it gave her space to think and, at the moment, that was everything.
Buffy leaned against the door trying to get her bearings. Not easy to do when her head was foggy and floaty feeling.
“Focus, Buffy, you can figure this out,” she said aloud, but she was finding it extremely difficult to think straight at the moment. The room was completely dark, and yet she kept seeing these odd little flashes of light. Closing her eyes didn’t make them go away. She felt along both sides of the door, blinding herself when she flicked the switch.
She tried to order her thoughts, but her head was spinning. Giles. She had been talking to Giles. She had said something. Teasing him about his own rebellion. And then . . .
“And then I made a wish. God, Buffy!” She smacked her head back against the door. “Haven’t you learned anything?”
That explained why she was suddenly in a dark apartment, nearly suffocated by incense and feeling drugged. Probably because she was. Drugged and back in nineteen-seventy-something hanging out with Giles and his friends. Oh yeah, great wish.
Buffy hit her head against the door. Yup, pain. This was real. She did it again for good measure.
“Idiot!” she cursed herself.
There was a knock at the door. “Oi, Annie, you alright in there?” It was the voice of a young man, slightly bored and more than a little annoyed. The voice was familiar, but it didn’t sound like Giles, even a younger Giles. “Shoulda told me you hadn’t done LSD before.”
That went a long way to explaining the drugged feeling. And why, now that she could see again, that the pulsing of the bathroom light was suddenly one of the most fascinating things she had seen.
“Can’t help you if you won’t let me in,” the man said, rattling the doorknob.
She wasn’t going to be able to hide. She would just have to brazen it out. If only her acting skills didn’t suck so much.
“Just a second,” Buffy replied finally. Taking a deep breath, she stepped away from the door, not altogether steady on her feet, and made her way to the sink. She went to turn on the cold water but stopped as she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She didn’t look horrible, but she certainly wasn’t a walking fashion statement either. Her hair was stick-straight, hanging like a curtain around her face as dark-lined eyes stared out. Was it possible to wear more eyeliner? A white peasant blouse and faded jeans completed the look. And no bra. Couldn’t forget that.
Squaring her shoulders, Buffy turned away from the mirror and walked over to the door. She unlocked it and stepped back.
Whoever was on the other side opened the door.
He was about a head or so taller than her with dark, wavy hair that fell to about an inch above his shoulders. Chocolate eyes, unreadable, watched her closely from a face that could only be described as pretty. Fine features, sharp and smooth at the same time. What little bit of artistic appreciation she had picked up from her mother told Buffy that this was the look that ancient sculptors tried to recreate. It also made his age difficult to determine; he looked younger than her, but he didn’t seem it. The loose poet’s shirt he wore complemented his tightly-fitted leather pants and showcased a lean frame that couldn’t quite be called scrawny.
The young man waited easily under her gaze. “How you holdin’ up?” he asked after a moment, a bit of concern in his voice this time.
“Uh, a little wigged, but I think I’ll manage.” Honesty couldn’t hurt, right?
“Well, you’ll manage a lot better back with the rest of us. You don’t want to be alone when it really takes effect.” He flashed her a wry smirk. Offering his hand, he said, “You ready?”
No, but she didn’t have any other choice. Buffy took his hand and let him lead her back to the main room.
“Thought you said your girl could handle this.” A mousy woman sneered at them from where she lay draped over the couch.
“Sod off, Deidre,” Buffy’s companion retorted. “At least she didn’t spend the entire night in the coat closet like someone else did.” He gave her a pointed look.
Deidre glared at him, but otherwise didn’t respond as she turned her attention back to the thickly built man at her feet.
The man at Buffy’s side threw an arm around her shoulders and drew her close. It should not have felt as good as it did. “If Phillip and Thomas weren’t so besotted with the bint, we’d have tossed her over ages ago,” he whispered, the faint brush of his lips sending a pleasant shiver through her body.
It had to be the drug. She was not getting turned on by one of Giles’ friends. Especially when all but one of them were currently dead where she came from. And it would probably be a good idea to figure out which one of Giles’ circle was nibbling at her neck in the most distracting way. Deidre was on the couch. Phillip and Thomas weren’t this guy since he’d just put them down. Definitely not Giles. Who had Giles said they killed? Roy? Robert? Randall. Randall maybe? Hopefully. Because if it wasn’t Randall, then it was—
“Ethan, can’t you keep your hands off Annie for ten minutes?”