The thing about America—or at least Sunnydale—or at least 1630 Revello Drive—is that these people speak a different language. Not in the daft way that Americans on the telly talk—saying "pants" instead of trousers and "elevator" instead of lift and "ass" instead of "arse." No, these people have a language all their own, or at least a dialect, where they twist verbs into adjectives and vice-versa and toss out all these obscure pop culture references she couldn't possibly be expected to know, and then, most confusing of all, mentioning what can only be a complete history in this weird form of shorthand. Half of what's said flies right over her head, and it's a good thing that she doesn't much care about the opinions of this motley crew or she'd probably feel left out.
She figures that anything that really affects her, that she really, really needs to know will be actually explained clearly, and she isn't going to worry about the rest. She's having a brilliant enough time getting to know the other girls and figuring out which American snacks are any good. Sure, there's the whole they-could-be-horribly-murdered-at-any-moment thing, but other than that, this is a bit like a holiday.
Still, there are a few things she wonders about. Like the Slayer, who is not anywhere near as intimidating and competent as Molly expected her to be. She's just a skinny, tired-looking blonde, who would be really pretty except that she looks so worried all the time.
Buffy keeps turning toward the door, as if she expects someone will burst through it at any minute, and Molly doesn't think she's waiting for the next bunch of Slayers. Whenever Buffy does that, Dawn crosses her arms and arches a brow, and Buffy blushes just a tiny bit and goes back to work.
Then there's the time Molly hears Giles giving a long lecture to his Slayer about how she needs to focus, put distractions out of her mind, and figure out how to keep the Slayer line safe. Buffy shoots back, "You never liked him anyways, and I get that. But he's different now: I told you what he did!" Molly and her Watcher always had a bit of a more informal relationship than most, or so she's told—Bertram could never quite get her to settle completely down and focus—but even she can't imagine talking back to a Watcher like that. This Buffy and her friends—and how weird is that? A Slayer with so many friends?—are anything but what she expected.
And then there's this Spike bloke. At first, she thought they were talking about a lost dog, the way Buffy is always saying, "We've got to find Spike!" in her serious Slayer voice (that's the one Molly and the rest of the girls hear the most often, but every once in a while, when she's talking to her sister or Willow or Xander, Buffy sounds light and fun like her silly, frothy name sounds). Plus, Buffy talks about Spike being the only one strong enough to protect everyone and Xander's jibes about him attacking people combined with Dawn's sarcastic comment about him needing to be put down made her really think it must have been a dog.
Molly really got the desperation in Buffy's voice; her own Watcher let her have a little Westie named Jude (to make up for all the friends she never really got to have and being taken away from her family) who was always running around with his cold, wet nose and his white hair, snip of a tail wagging so furiously that it made the whole back half of his body shake, with a high-pitched bark whenever he saw her. The only thing that makes her think that all this might end up working out is knowing that he's safe as houses now with her Watcher's sister's family (she doesn't like to think about the fact that Bertram is dead; he was a nice enough bloke, and he didn't talk much, which gave her more time to).
But she pretty quickly susses out that Spike can't be a dog, because no dog would make Buffy go all moony-eyed and make Giles press his lips together that way. Apparently, this First who's after everyone's hide is the one who has Spike, and what would he want with a dog?
Eventually, Molly figures out that eavesdropping isn't going to get her the info she needs, so she settles on a more direct tactic (despite what Bertram used to say, direct has always served her well). She decides Anya is her best bet (Molly likes Anya; she's funny and blunt and fresh and doesn't lie about how everything's going to be just fine the way the rest of them do).
Anya starts in to rambling, lots of stuff about how she didn't know that Buffy had a thing for him, and it was just solace, okay? and it didn't mean anything and vampires have great stamina, right? only it wasn't all that great because, hey, alcohol and neither one of them were really into it and—
But Molly's stuck back on the word vampires, and she must have repeated it, because Anya's nodding furiously.
"Oh, yeah," Anya says. "You didn't know? Spike's a vampire." And because Molly's too busy trying to pick her jaw up off the ground (Bertram would be dryly amused that for once Molly's shocked into silence), Anya says, "Oh, but don't worry. He's got a chip. And a soul. Though that hasn't stopped him from killing and siring half the population of Sunnydale. But Buffy knows what she's doing. Probably. At least, everyone says that she does, and, admittedly, the world hasn't ended yet, though there's a first time for everything, and…"
But Molly's already gone, hoofing it to find the other girls and spread her news. This is prime gossip, and she can't wait to share.
Vi starts to get scared again when she sees the Slayer's face for the first time. She'd been petrified ever since letter-eyed guys in the monk robes killed her Watcher (she didn't actually see the killing part, but she'll never forget the way Dorcas's body looked sprawled out on the floor like that, a pool of blood growing steadily around her). When the man with the comforting accent found her, she was so scared she thought she was going to come out of her skin. But then Mr. Giles told her he was taking her to the Slayer, and the fear died down until it was like a heartbeat—there, discernible, undeniable, but easily forgotten until it starts to speed up again. Vi packed up her weapons, her clothes, and her notebooks, and she followed.
Buffy Summers was the last thing Vi expected. If she's honest with herself, she always pictured her a little like Xena. Okay, exactly like Xena. In fact, she was pretty sure Xena was a Slayer.
Slayers were supposed to be bad-ass-looking brunettes in lots of leather. They weren't supposed to be tiny and blonde (if tiny, pretty Buffy can be called, then maybe Vi's been lying to herself: no matter how lanky and klutzy she is, maybe she could be called, too, and that thought's scarier than any other. Maybe she could be called, and her dreams of a normal life and a book deal and a bestselling series will be lost in a few, short years of Mortal Kombat before she does the real-life equivalent of ending up in the refrigerator). Most of all, they weren't supposed to look like the victim of an orc attack or something (or worse, a battered girlfriend).
The swollen lip, the black eye, the nasty cut on her cheek—none of these exactly inspire confidence in Vi or Molly or Chloe or Rona or Eve (of course, Eve turned out to be not-actually-Eve, but Vi doesn't let herself think about that, or she knows the terror will overtake her). If the First's minions can do that to the Slayer, what chance do mere Potentials have?
And, sure, Buffy eventually beats that uber-vamp, in a move that would have put Wonder Woman to shame, but if the First can beat up a vampire—the one who Buffy's so obsessed with saving because he's the strongest fighter they have—how can good hope to win?
That question echoes in her head as she catches a glimpse of that vampire when Buffy stumbles in the door with him practically draped over her shoulder, Slayer strength the only thing keeping him upright. That really cool bleached hair (very Hitsugaya, and when she sees his blue eyes, the resemblance is even stronger), his battered bare chest, his tortured face, the serious look on the Slayer's face and her voice softened from her typical commanding tones (the ones Vi's gotten the opportunity to know well over the last few weeks) to something soothing but quavering…it's such a strange, unexpected scene that Vi stands at the bottom of the stairs, staring up at the two of them as the Slayer steers him into her room. The door closes firmly behind them.
She doesn't see him again for a while—he's obviously upstairs recovering, and so she doesn't think much about him, not when she's busy enough with settling in (figuring out where the food is kept, when the best time of day to take a shower is, how to convince Willow to let her borrow her laptop), getting to know the other girls (Molly's best for gossip, Chloe's the most scared, Kennedy's bossy), and starting training (Buffy says she's going to work with crossbows next, but Vi isn't sure that she's ready to go all China-in-Age of Empires).
The other girls seem to view training as a chance to observe Buffy and Spike in an up-close-and-personal way, more than an opportunity to work on sharpening their technique. They're so focused on the chemistry between the Slayer and the vampire—and okay, sure, kinda obvious; do they really think they're fooling anyone? They have, like, Rogue and Gambit level chemistry—but Vi's worried about the fact that Spike, who's supposed to be helping to protect them, still isn't fully healed. Her Watcher always told her that you had to be careful with vamps, that they can shrug off wounds that would kill a normal person in seconds and then turn on you again, that they heal quickly and might come after you, that you could never, ever take their speed and powers for granted. But Spike? She hears that intake of breath when Buffy tackles him, and she knows pain when she hears it. The fear rises like a buzzing in her ears.
Of course, watching Buffy and Spike spar has always sort of freaked her out. The way they move? Like they're reading each other's minds, all Borg-like? Really weird. They're totally into it, but they aren't hurting each other. And the weirdest thing of all is the way their eyes light up, like they're having fun. They start taunting each other, and it's like a movie, like a choreographed fight scene with awesome one-liners. It isn't anything like life. It isn't anything like what she imagines really fighting a vamp would be like.
But she feels better after the girl's night out. For one thing, if Buffy and Spike are so busy trading little smiles and making googly-eyes at each other, it can't be that bad, right? And visiting the bar was kind of fun, in a completely weird and terrifying way, and killing that vampire? Well, she'd been petrified when Buffy and Spike closed the doors on them, but then there was movement and noise and then dust, and suddenly the adrenaline and endorphins were pumping and she felt fantastic, unbeatable, like Æon Flux.
She's starting to come down from her high when she slips out onto the back porch, journal in hand, hoping to a catch a quiet moment to herself, to forget for a little while, to write. But she pauses just outside the door when she sees the two figures at the other end of the porch. The porch light is shining on Buffy, making her hair shine halo-gold in the darkness. But Spike's standing in her shadow, so it's the moonlight that reveals his bare chest, luminescent and pearl-pale, marred by some shell-pink, still-healing wounds (that's how she would describe it if she were writing it down, and her fingers itch to capture the scene in ink).
Buffy's winding bandages around his torso, and his fingers twitch, letting his black shirt drop down to cover his chest.
"Spike," she snaps, though her voice sounds more amused than anything, "hold still. I need you healthy."
He grumbles something about a bossy bit under his breath—well, he doesn't really have a breath, but whatever—but he holds the shirt steady after that, allowing Buffy's capable hands to finish patching him up (the surety of those hands chills Vi—she can't help but wonder how often Buffy's had to bandage herself up over the years, and Vi doesn't want to imagine herself doing the same thing). When she finishes, she doesn't lower her hands, though.
Instead, one steals up to tug the shirt a little higher, revealing skin that is still lightly scarred, even if it doesn't need the binding his ribs do. Spike lets go of the hem of his shirt, arms falling to his side, looking down at her with an expressionless face. But Buffy doesn't see it: her eyes are glued on the remnants of the wounds, tracing a carved rune with a single fingertip. She leans forward, resting her forehead against his chest, watching the path of her finger whispering over the wounds. With her head bent, all Vi—and Spike—can see is gold.
"Buffy," Spike suddenly exhales, part exasperated, part pained, a whole lot yearning, and then, he gently but firmly pushes her hands away and straightens his shirt.
Then, without any hurry or surprise, he lifts his head and looks straight at Vi. She backs up so quickly she very nearly trips over the demon-goo-encrusted pair of tennis shoes sitting by the door, horrified, wondering how long he'd known she was there. His eyes are steady.
Buffy's gathering up her first-aid kit—six times larger than the average person's—when she says very, very calmly, "Go inside, Vi. It's not safe for you to be out at night."
Vi hurries back inside, torn between embarrassment at being caught, fear at the reminder of how badly the First hurt the vampire, and pleasure that Buffy knows her name.
Chao-Ahn has been torn between fear and confusion since Giles appeared at her door with a translator and told her that she might one day be a great warrior with supernatural powers—and that he was taking her to America to protect her.
Her father had been angry, her grandmother had whispered something about devils, but her mother had come into her room while she was packing and smiled. She had held her close and whispered in her ear that she was happy for her.
She had asked her mother how she could be so happy to find out that her only daughter was in danger. But Mother had said that even if her life was in danger, this was still an opportunity. An opportunity the family might not have been able to provide her on their own.
"Don't return here, not until you've found a place out there. Go to Hong Kong, go to Beijing or Shanghai. Stay in America. Go somewhere where you can choose your life. Become someone wonderful."
Her mother's words had given her hope. Hope and optimism. But both have been tossed about, wrinkled and rumpled like traveling clothes by what followed: the long flight, the California weather, the constant noise and unfamiliar smells in this house, so many new people and yet no one she can communicate with—all this does not make the experience any more pleasant. Giles tries, but he mangles his Cantonese so that it has stopped being amusing and has become offensive. Dawn (one of the few of the other girls whose name she bothers to remember) has picked up a few words; not many, but she has a nice accent and Chao-Ahn appreciates the effort more than she can express.
But abstract ideas and more complicated concepts remain elusive, and so it is not surprising that no one informs her that the pale haired man is not truly a man but a vampire. No, it was not surprising that she did not know. That does not mean that it does not upset her.
By the time she arrived, there were so many people in the house that one more in the basement did not seem out of the ordinary. And yes, it is a bit strange that he is the one that Buffy (an alien name—and one that sounds ridiculous, so Chao-Ahn thinks of her as "The Slayer," which is much more imposing) takes with her when she goes out at night, but he is by far the most physically capable-looking person in the house, so that does make sense.
But there are hints, ones she recognizes as hints after the truth is revealed: a sickly familiar smell filling the kitchen, one she remembers emanating from the butcher's shop next to her childhood home; the burgundy-encrusted mugs left in the sink; the curtains pulled shut in the house whenever he is around, blocking any sunlight; the indignation in the other girls' voices and the way they watch him out of the corners of their eyes when he is in the room.
But she has so many other things filling her mind (it is not enough that she is in a foreign country fighting for room in a house that is too small by far for the amount of people it contains—no, she cannot even request the simplest of things: tampons, more soap, her favorite brand of cereal) that she has no time or energy for the strange man in the basement. Because of this, she thinks sulkily in the aftermath, she could not have been expected to figure it out on her own, and no one took the time to tell her.
Instead, she finds out when she enters the kitchen one night, with her empty plate in one hand and her pair of chopsticks in the other (she keeps them with her and washes them after she uses them, and she does not feel the least bit smug when she has something clean to eat with while the other girls complain that no one washes the dishes). She has been thinking of how to communicate to Dawn that she wants a stamp so that she can mail a letter to her mother, and so she has fully entered the room before she sees the man standing near the back door.
Only he is not a man at all. She has never seen a vampire until this moment—she did not know of their existence until a few weeks ago—but she knows what he is. That face—demon twisted, golden eyes more dangerous than anything she has seen before, fangs buried in a plastic bag full of blood like that found in hospitals. He is not quite as frightening as the flashcard monsters, but he is close.
She acts without thinking, fumbling with one chopstick until she is holding it like a knife to attack. She drops the plate, and does not hear it shatter, nor does she feel the shards slice at her bare feet as she rushes toward the demon (just as her grandmother warned her).
She does not reach him. Instead, something—someone—slams into her from the side. She hits the refrigerator so hard that she cannot breathe for a moment, and a strong hand wrenches her arm back and squeezes until she drops the chopstick. Even as pain shoots through her body, she sees the shock on the vampire's face. His devil face is gone now, and he seems human once more. The contrast is chilling. The Slayer's face is furious, and Chao-Ahn does not need to know English to understand what she is saying, her voice low and harsh with warning. It is quite clear to Chao-Ahn that the vampire is off-limits.
She is pressing a bag of ice to her side, sitting on her sleeping bag on the floor in Dawn's room, when the Slayer enters with a subdued look on her face, Dawn beside her. It is a laborious task: Buffy finding the words for an apology, Dawn looking them up in her Chinese-English dictionary, then mangling the grammar and syntax as she tries to relay the Slayer's thoughts. But Chao-Ahn accepts the apology—she knows what it is like to act on instinct when fear is driving you—and agrees not to attack the vampire again, even if she does not understand the reasons she should not.
Because something must have been lost in translation: Dawn could not have said that the vampire has a soul.
But he does, and she cannot stop herself from thinking about it. Her knowledge of vampires is limited, but she has discovered enough from Dawn and from borrowed moments on Willow's laptop searching sites in Chinese that she knows that they are only evil. Dawn says that vampires do not change and that they cannot become good, and her voice is grudging when she admits that Spike is the only one who did. She says that he fought for his soul and made a choice that no demon had ever made before.
Chao-Ahn thinks of him often and decides that he might understand her mother's dreams for her—wanting to break free of what everyone who is like her has always been, wanting to be more. She has no way of knowing for sure, but it seems the sort of thing a vampire who fights for a soul might understand. A few nights later, something happens that makes her sure of it.
That Tuesday, her half of the Potentials had been out patrolling with Buffy, and they returned to the house before the others did. Chao-Ahn makes a decision. Glancing around to ensure that no one sees her (and of course no one does; they do not look at her at all), she slips through the basement door and pulls it shut behind her. Then she makes her way to a chair. And waits.
When the vampire comes down the stairs, he does not seem at all surprised to see her. He comes to stand on the other side of the table, and he waits himself. And when she says the strange words, I'm sorry, that she looked up in her Chinese-to-English dictionary and chanted under her breath over and over so that she would remember them perfectly (simple as they are, she might forget in the pressure of the moment), his shrug and wry face let her know that he accepts her apology.
She is pleased, but she does not want to return to the chaos upstairs. So she stays seated, and after a moment, he sits down across from her.
The silence is inviting and blessed after weeks of nonstop noise. It calls to her. Irresistible. All the things she has been thinking about bubble up inside her, and she finds herself talking. Really talking, more than just a few words. She speaks every thought that enters her head, as she has not had the chance to do since she left the only home she has ever known so far behind. She speaks of her fears: that she will be a disappointment to her mother, that she will not survive whatever it is that is brewing here in this strange place, that she has no idea where to go after this. That she knows she needs to become someone. Someone wonderful.
She knows he does not understand her words, but his eyes are kind and sad, and he looks at her with a compassionate gravity, as though he knows what she is doing and why. As though he understands her need to speak the words that have weighed her down and her desire to be heard, even by someone who does not understand what he is hearing.
They sit in silence for a time after she has said everything she wishes. That silence stretches pleasantly until someone upstairs shouts his name. Then he stands, and briefly rests his hand on hers. The coolness of his skin isn't nearly as unpleasant as she would have imagined. He says something quiet and kind, and he gives her a small, brief smile as he walks away. It is the first time she has ever seen him smile at anyone but the Slayer, and she believes she understands why the Slayer would fight so hard for this man.
It takes her nearly an hour to piece together his words. The task of figuring out which synonym is best and rearranging the phrases till they make sense is a painstaking one. But finally, she understands what it was he said to her before he walked away.
Sorry, love, he said. I don't speak Chinese. But I wish I did.
The coolest thing about Dawn's house? There's a vampire living in the basement.
She can't help but still think of it as Dawn's house, even if Buffy technically owns it. Dawn is cool. She's really pretty, and a lot of the guys like her, but she's not so popular that she starts to get all mean and snobby. She's always been pretty nice to everyone, and she was awesome that night they took on those vampires. She really likes Dawn, and besides, Dawn knows everything.
Her stories about the vampire? Wicked cool. He killed thousands and thousands of people, and traveled all over and saw, like, everything in the whole world and he had a crazy girlfriend who could make people see things that weren't there, and he helped Dawn steal stuff. Dawn swears she doesn't do the stealing thing anymore, but it's still cool that he used to.
And now he's in love with Buffy and got a soul and he doesn't kill anymore, which is lame, but he got captured and tortured by the First which is, like, completely badass. And apparently he does whatever Buffy says because he loves her so much, and even Amanda can see that she's totally crazy about him, too.
Even though the unspoken love thing is a little cliché, she gets the whole Buffy-loving-vampires thing—and Dawn says that she loved another one before. And the other one was brunet, so it's like Buffy got Louis and Lestat. And if you have to be all in love with someone? It might as well be a vampire.
Amanda wants to find out as much about vampires as possible, though werewolves are way cooler—Remus Lupin? Totally awesome—and Dawn says Willow actually dated one, and Amanda's definitely going to find the time to talk to her about that, but first she wants to talk to Spike, even if he doesn't really act like a vampire.
She likes to watch him feed, though. His bumpies come out, and that's weird, because in most movies, it's just fangs that pop out when they do that. Still, watching him suck the blood out of a bag is pretty cool. One day he catches her watching him, and he asks, "What?" really defensive, and she's about to ask him a question, but then a whole bunch of girls come in. So she just goes to get her Cap'n Crunch and decides she'll have to go down into his lair to talk to him.
The first time she goes downstairs, dragging a big bag of laundry behind her—she likes the noise it makes as she drags it down the steps—thump, thump, thump, all the way down—Buffy's there with him. She's sitting on top of the washing machine, a notepad in one hand, pen in the other. Spike is pulling laundry out of the washing machine and shifting it into the dryer while Buffy holds her legs straight out so that they don't block the door.
"…more pump soap, more granola bars, more tampons, more socks, more of those pizza bagel things, if the generic brand is on sale. Anything else you can think of?"
"Burba weed," Spike says, closing the door of the dryer and pressing the button that starts it. Buffy rolls her eyes, but she writes it down, whatever it is, while Spike throws another load in to the washing machine. He closes that door, too, and Buffy leans slightly to the side so that he can reach behind her to turn the knobs to start the machine.
"Make yourself useful, Slayer," he says, and swipes the pad and pen out of her hand before dumping a bunch of clean towels and washcloths into her lap. Buffy grabs one and holds it up to her nose to smell it, and Amanda doesn't blame her—there's no better smell than fresh laundry.
Spike finally turns around. "Another load? Dump it here." And when he turns back to face Buffy, he gets a face full of hand towel. He blinks as it slides down his face and onto the floor, and then an epic throw-the-laundry-at-each-other battle has started.
Amanda thinks that maybe now isn't the best time to get the inside information that she wants, not when Buffy is giggling and the laundry is flying fast and furious. She retreats upstairs, promising herself to try again.
She does, a few days later, and she grins really wide when she sees that Spike is alone. She tromps down the stairs and then pauses when he looks up at her. She was going to go straight for the chair beside his cot, but she thinks maybe a vampire will appreciate more stealth.
There's a crossbow sitting on top of a filing cabinet, so she goes over to pick it up. It's heavy, really heavy, heavier than she would have thought, but she likes the weight. "This is pretty cool. A repeating crossbow. Like in D&D. I usually use the magic one, but I bet this one can do some damage. I've always wondered what it would do to a person—would it go, like, all the way through and poke out the other side? That'd be wicked cool."
"Try highly dangerous," he corrects her, eying her like he thinks she might actually be able to hurt him, which suddenly makes her feeler cooler than she's ever felt before. She doesn't mind him correcting her, either. He's just keeping up a good front or else Buffy will stake him. She bets he misses the good ole days, and he'll want to tell her all about those times.
"I like swords better, anyways. More classic. You don't get much more classic than a sword."
He sighs, really loud. "Look, pet, are you here for a reason? Can't you play with your pointy toys upstairs?"
"I want to ask you some questions."
He stares at her. "Why?" he finally asks.
She takes this as an invitation and plops down on the nearby chair. "Because. Anita Blake totally contradicts Anne Rice and Dark Shadows and Blade and—hey! Have you ever met a dhampyr?"
"Dhampyr?" He's kind of staring at her like she's crazy, which you'd think he would get used to, if what Dawn told her about his ex-girlfriend is true.
"Yeah! Like Blade!"
He rolls his eyes. "That's a load of bollocks. There's no such thing. Trust me, love. I've seen a lot of things in my time, but there's never been some nancy-boy half vampire. You're either one or you're not."
"But you can have sex, right? Because Dawn says you and Buffy used to have sex all the time. Even though that totally doesn't make any sense. I mean, your heart is all shriveled up and stuff, right? And you drink blood, but it doesn't go through your veins if your heart doesn't work. So how does it come out? Oooh! Do you pee blood? Or cry blood—cause that's what Anne Rice vampires do. Do you—" she stops herself suddenly and drops her voice as low as it'll go, "—do you ejaculate blood?"
"No, I do not piss blood! I don't bloody piss blood! And what kind of a question is that from a little girl?"
"Well, nothing else makes any sense. What do you…you know, then? When you and Buffy are…uh, having fun?"
He shifts nervously and doesn't meet her eyes. "I'm not talking about this with you."
"But you can't have kids? So you and Buffy wouldn't ever have a dhampyr?"
"I told you that was bollocks!"
"Do you ever bite her?"
His eyes flash gold, and she feels a little cold flash of fear, like when she's watching horror movies and the stupid, hot girl goes into the big scary mansion all by herself and you just know something horrible's going to happen to her.
"No." He growls it, and it's so great. He finally sounds like a vampire. "I would never."
"Why not? I mean, she's a human. And I read the last Sookie Stackhouse book, and there's this scene where Bill climbs out of the trunk of this car and he hasn't eaten in a while and—"
It's Buffy, standing beside her, and whoa, did that ever make her jump. In a lot of ways, Buffy's way scarier than this vampire. She's so cool. Well, some of the time she's too blonde and bossy, and Amanda doesn't like it when she forgets her name, but sometimes she actually seems like she's listening and she cares, and other times she goes all scary, and then? She's cool.
"Go back upstairs with the other girls. We're getting ready to leave for patrol."
Amanda does, but as soon as she closes the door behind her, she races over to the cabinet and pulls out a glass. She puts it up against the door and leans her ear against it, and sure enough, just like in the movies, she can hear everything.
"…sorry about that. I'll try to keep the girls away from you; I don't want you to be uncomfortable."
"The girl didn't mean any harm, Slayer. Just curious."
"I know. But those questions she was asking—"
"What are you doing?"
It's Rona and Molly, standing in the door to the kitchen, staring at her like she's crazy. People do that a lot, and she just doesn't understand why, but she doesn't have time to think about that right now. She hisses and waves them quiet. "I'm listening to Buffy and Spike!"
Seconds later, both girls have glasses, too, and they're firmly pressed up against the door.
"…would never do that to you, Buffy."
"I know that. I never worried that you would."
"Not gonna lie to you, love. Always sort of bothered me, that the others had. Old bat-faced Master and Dracula, that ponce, and—and him. Marked you."
"Don't think like that." Buffy's voice is sharp, but then she softens it, and Amanda hasn't heard her use that tone before. "I like…I like that it makes you different. All the other vampires that I've actually talked to instead of just quipping, they did it. And it was just such a reminder—" Buffy's voice breaks off suddenly, then starts again. "But you never did."
"I wanted you to see me like a man."
There's silence for a minute, and Amanda starts to fidget, but then Buffy says very clearly, "I do. You are."
It's right then that Giles walks into the kitchen, and then there's this big scurry of trying to escape a lecture, and it's a while before she has time to realize that she's disappointed.
She still wants to know what vampires shoot out when they have sex.
Rona really doesn't get anything that goes on in Buffy Summers' head. That's no surprise: what's she got in common with a blonde chick from California? Buffy's got a closet full of girly clothes and shampoo-commercial hair and an oh-so-perfect manicure. She's got a best friend who's a witch and a sister who's a Key—whatever the hell that means. And she's so obsessed with fighting evil, and Rona just doesn't get it.
Rona's here for one reason and one reason only: to keep her hide. She doesn't care about stopping evil. She just wants to stop evil from getting her. And that's what Giles had promised the Slayer would do when he called her. He said Buffy would protect her. Well, Rona's taken a good look around, and she doesn't see a whole lot of protecting going on. Two girls kicked it before she even got there—including one who'd been ghosting it up with them the whole time!—and then Chloe kills herself.
And Rona just wants to go home.
And so she watches Buffy, and for the life of her, she can't figure out what is going on in that girl's head.
Like what's she doing going out with the Principal? The brother is hot, even if he is old and a principal, but it's not like Buffy really has time to find a boyfriend now—and how come the good ones always gotta go for the skinny white girls?
Buffy must be doing it to make Spike jealous, though why she thinks she needs to, Rona has no clue. From her experience, you only have to do the make-him-jealous thing when you either aren't sure of how the guy feels or if his eyes start wandering, and unless Buffy's dumb blonde act really isn't an act, she's gotta know that neither one of those apply to Spike. Anybody with half a brain can tell that Spike's gone over Buffy, that he wouldn't even think of looking at another girl—which is really pretty impressive, considering how some of the other girls try to get his attention. Rona rolls her eyes and lets them know exactly how pathetic they're being, 'cause that boy isn't gonna ever look at anybody but Buffy.
So why's Buffy going out with Wood? And more importantly, why in God's name is she wearing that? And most important of all, why's she going on a date when there are uber-vamps and Bringers and First Evils and little nerd boys with guns coming after a bunch of innocent girls she's supposed to be protecting? Rona's gonna be pissed off and haunt Buffy Summers' ass for eternity if she gets killed while the Slayer is out on a date trying to make some vampire jealous.
If she is trying to make Spike jealous, she's doing a damn good job of it. The second Buffy leaves the house (no, really—what the hell was she wearing? That weird lacy thing? If she wanted to get the man's attention, she should have gone with something slinky), Spike starts getting all jumpy and twitchy. Instead of holing up in his basement lair—or den—or whatever—he paces around the house, pretending like he's not scowling. Dawn had told the girls that before he got the soul, he was like that a lot, all jittery and energetic and smoking all the time to give him something to do. Rona wishes he would be like this all the time; sure, it's annoying as hell, him pacing around in those big stompy boots, but it's better than the way he holds himself most of the time: scary-still, lurking in corners when he's not in the basement, always right at Buffy's left shoulder like a bleach-blond shadow. That's what's so scary about him when Buffy gives him the command to attack, even if it is just for practice: one minute he's still as a statue, the next he's…launching himself into motion so suddenly that it's almost more terrifying than it is graceful.
But now he's just pacing, and it's almost funny watching him take the first excuse to go after Buffy, and Rona would be laughing if it weren't that she's worried about Xander. She likes Xander, probably more than any of these other freaky-ass Sunnydale people: he's pretty down-to-earth and focused and he reminds her a little of her big brother, who's always been her hero, and he's one of the few people who can make her laugh anymore, even if she hates it when he and Andrew start trying to out-nerd each other.
But he comes home safe and shuts up Anya's annoying rambling, and Rona really starts looking up to Giles when he gives Buffy and Xander a smackdown about the dating thing. Well, she kind of hates that he goes after Xander, too, but Buffy's the Slayer, and she needs to hear it.
Rona flat-out doesn't want to be the Slayer. She wants one thing only: to get out of this alive and then get as far away from this vampire crap as possible. She misses her brother and her little sisters and her grandma, and if she became a Slayer, she'd have to leave them and go face evil all the time. The other girls, the ones who had Watchers, like Vi and Kennedy, said that Buffy's the exception, getting to live with her family and have lots of friends. Other Slayers don't get to do that. Rona just wants to go back to her family and work at the auto shop with her brother and take care of her sisters and learn from her grandma pretend this whole nightmare didn't happen.
But she doesn't have any idea of what a nightmare really is until suddenly she's in the midst of battle. God, battle. Battles are supposed to be in lame-ass movies, the kind Andrew watches so many times she wants to kill him. They're supposed to be a long, long time ago and far, far away. They aren't supposed to be now. They aren't supposed to be her.
She's seen people die, of course. Saw Grandpap give up the ghost, as Grandma said, in his big bed at home, wrapped up tight in one of Grandma's quilts. Seen people get shot, once or twice. But she's never seen anyone's neck get snapped like it was a damn twig.
Seeing that hurts a hell of a lot more than when Caleb shatters her arm.
Later, the nightmare doesn't go away. It just changes till she's not in a dark vineyard full of screams. She's in a white hospital that smells like bleach and is full of annoying beeping noises. She lays in bed and doesn't think about Molly. Instead, she thinks about what will happen if her arm doesn't heal. She makes a list in her head of all the things she might never be able to do. Never braid her sisters' hair or tie on the little hair things with the little plastic bubbles and boxes that they like so much. Never make chess pie for her brother or help him install an alternator. Never work on a quilt with Grandma or drive her to church on Sundays or learn to play the organ like Grandma is famous for.
And suddenly, she wants to be the Slayer really, really bad. Because she wants to heal. And she wants to be strong. And she wants to make sure that her family is safe to do all that stupid little day-to-day crap that always used to seem like chores but now seems like the only precious thing in the world.
And then she looks up and sees Buffy.
The Slayer is standing there, just looking at Xander, and her eyes aren't wet at all. Dry as bone, like she doesn't even see him. And now Rona can't help but think of all the things Xander won't ever get to do. He loved to fix things—will he be able to? He won't be able to drive, either, right? So many, many things. And people will stare and feel uncomfortable, maybe, and he's always been a comforting person, and this sucks.
She hates that Buffy can think about that and her eyes can still be dry. Rona hates crying, but she can't stop those goddamn tears from falling.
Spike comes up behind Buffy and puts his hands on her shoulders. She stands there for a few more minutes, looking at Xander, and then she turns around. She lets her forehead fall to his chest, and it's weird and awkward, watching them stand like that, with his hands on her shoulders like he's holding her up, and her body strong as steel except for where she's resting her head against him.
But then Buffy pulls back. And Rona doesn't get it at all. She wishes more than anything that she could lean her head against her brother's shoulder like that, that her grandma was here to wrap her tight in a hug, and that her little sisters were fighting over who got to sit in her lap. If they were, if she had her family, she'd hold them so close to her and never let them go, not ever. How cold do you have to be to pull away like that when something this big has happened? Or maybe this isn't big to Buffy at all. Maybe she just doesn't care.
Buffy turns to shoot a glance at Xander again, and then makes a weird little movement with her hand. "I need to—need some…I'm going to…"
"Let me come with you," Spike says. "You don't need to be alone, love."
"No. No. I need you to take the girls who are…okay home. Look after them. Please."
He cups her cheek in his hand, and they just look at each other for a while, and then, just when Rona's sure she's about to hurl, Buffy leaves. Just like that, walks out the door and doesn't look back.
And Rona just doesn't get it.
As soon as Giles decides to give the mission to Spike, Kennedy knows the vampire won't like it. He's clearly convinced that his role is to be Buffy's lieutenant. Kennedy wouldn't argue with that—every leader needs a right hand—except that he seems to be so bad at it. Getting himself captured by the First? His chip causing all that trouble? The whole showdown with the principal that was just the kind of distraction they didn't need right now? Being so sad-sack that Buffy had to call him out in front of everyone? Failing abysmally at stopping that demon when it burst out of the portal? Okay, so he came through with that one in the end, but it took way longer than it should have. And he wasn't any use against Caleb last night, either.
Dawn says that he stood up to a hellgod and that he helped Buffy defeat the most evil vampire who ever lived, but that was the unsouled variety. Kennedy thinks she would have been more impressed by that version. This one just can't ever seem to get the job done, even if she can tell he really wants to.
Besides, watching him follow Buffy around just kills her. He's clearly crazy about Buffy, she's clearly crazy about him, and Kennedy can't stand the fact that one or the other of them don't just say something. One of them needs to go for it before they spontaneously combust. People have needs, and you can't pussyfoot around with something like that. What would have happened if she'd been as tentative as Willow? Absolutely nothing. And she's quite happy with the way things did turn out, but that's only because she took initiative, something all these Scoobies could stand to learn a bit about.
She'd teased Buffy about Spike once, a few days after she rescued him from the First—and okay, taking out that uber-vamp was really pretty badass. At the time, she'd been really impressed with Buffy, and she decided it was time to make friends with Willow's friends. So she joined Buffy in the kitchen one day, boosting herself up onto the island while Buffy tried to fix the microwave.
"So. Got your vampire back. He's pretty hot. When you dragged him in shirtless and all torn up? Beat up's a good look on him."
Buffy had stared at her, appalled, "But I thought—aren't you—Willow—"
"I'm gay, Buffy, not blind. And your boy's sexy. No wonder you wanted him back."
Buffy's face transformed into granite, still and hard. "He's not my boy." And then she turned and stormed out of the kitchen. Kennedy hasn't tried again to become pals with the Slayer. But also she hasn't forgotten the look on Spike's face as he stood in the basement door and stared after Buffy.
The look clearly said he wanted to be hers, even if Buffy wouldn't own up to wanting him back. But he's willing to stay by her side no matter what, and, just as she suspected, he isn't thrilled that Giles is sending him away. He makes a snarky comment about Giles trying to have him killed—and what was the Watcher thinking anyway? Buffy says he's one of the best fighters they have, and they need fighters, and maybe he'll end up coming through—before stomping out.
She heads out onto the porch with Dawn and Vi to watch them leave. Spike's about to climb onto his piece of trash motorcycle when he turns abruptly and calls, "Dawn."
Dawn looks surprised, and Kennedy exchanges glances with her before she crosses her arms and walks down the stairs toward him. Spike opens his mouth to say something to her, but then he notices Kennedy and Vi on the porch and shoots them a look. Kennedy shrugs and arches a brow, and he rolls his eyes before he turns back to Dawn.
"Listen, Bit. Look after your sis, won't you?"
Dawn looks away, feigning boredom, but Kennedy can tell she's really listening closely. She has the look on her face that she gets whenever she's found a particularly interesting text in one of her old books. Kennedy likes to read, but she doesn't understand Dawn's obsession with the tomes; she herself would rather be out fighting or searching or doing something. Sure, research is necessary and information vital, but there's nothing like a weapon in your hands and knowing you can take whatever evil throws at you. That's satisfying.
"Why are you saying this to me?" Dawn asks, her tone indifferent.
"Who else would I ask? You've seen her like this before. Don't let her do something stupid, you hear me? Don't let her get herself killed."
Kennedy's never seen Dawn's face that pale before. "You don't have any right to ask anything of me," Dawn says tightly. "Nothing."
"Maybe not. But I'm asking you, because you're the only one I know cares about her as much as I do. Do whatever it takes, but make sure neither of us have to go through that summer again."
Dawn's arms are still crossed, and she's looking over his shoulder and tapping her foot like she doesn't really care. But Kennedy can see the way she's clenching and unclenching her jaw, and she's pretty sure those are tears in the younger girl's eyes. "Whatever."
Spike waits a moment longer, but Kennedy could have told him he won't be getting anything else out of Dawn. Out of all the girls in the house, Dawn's the one who's the most self-contained.
"Right, then," Spike says, and he starts to walk away.
"Spike," Dawn calls out suddenly, right before he swings onto the motorcycle. He turns to face her. "I'll take care of her." And then she turns and marches back up to the porch. Spike nods once, revs the engine, and with a high-pitched squeak from Andrew, they're gone in a cloud of ozone-eroding black smoke.
Faith's in charge after that, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that she's taking them to the Bronze in an attempt to distract them. Kennedy would much rather hunt down some Bringers and do some damage, maybe actually find out something useful, but she can see that the other girls are scared out of their wits. Maybe low-brow music and tacky mood lighting will help boost morale.
The Bronze is probably the lamest club Kennedy's ever been to, but it's fun to let loose and dance for a while, and things get much more interesting when the cops show up. That trick where she disarmed him by wrenching his gun around? Her Watcher would be proud.
But then Buffy shows up, and Kennedy starts to consider her options. She recognizes that wild look in the Slayer's eyes, her guilt so bare that she doesn't know why the others don't see it. That kind of guilt is dangerous, will make you do stupid things. And they can't afford any stupidity. Her dad always said that there's a time and a place for a coup, and Kennedy knows this is that time and this is definitely that place. It's time to depose Buffy.
It isn't that Buffy isn't capable, but she's tired. Worn down. Anyone can see that. And when a leader gets that weary, she should give someone else a chance to lead. The other girls think Faith is cool, and Kennedy likes her well enough, but the real reason she wants Faith in charge is that she thinks Faith will be more reasonable. More open to listening to other people's opinions. She feels sorry for Buffy, of course—she'd hate to be called out that way in front of everyone herself—but Buffy's feelings aren't the issue. The issue, as she sees it, is twofold: making sure that no one else dies and defeating as much evil as possible. She doesn't care much how that happens, just as long as it gets done.
But Willow feels horrible about it, Kennedy can tell. After Faith dismisses them for the night—definitely not the decision Kennedy would have made; they need to figure out a plan and implement it as soon as possible—she goes into the kitchen where she finds her girlfriend rushing around, carrying plates to the sink and starting to furiously scrub them. "Oh, goddess. I have to think of what to tell Spike. Oh, goddess."
Kennedy strolls up behind her, slips her arms around her, and pries her girlfriend's hands away from the plate she's clutching. "Relax. He won't be back for a while. I'm sure you'll think of something. You're gifted like that, you know." She leans forward and rests her chin on Willow's shoulder. "Ooor," she says slyly. "You could let me do it."
Willow shakes her head vehemently, and Kennedy can smell the strawberry scent of her shampoo. On anyone else, it would be almost childish—Kennedy's last girlfriend always smelled like Burberry. But Willow makes it sexy. "I don't think that's such a good idea. Spike can be very…protective of Buffy. I should think of a diplomatic way. Use passive voice. No accusations. No…"
"No responsibility? Will, I don't have a problem with saying that I did it."
"No! I don't think Spike would take that well."
Willow sometimes seems so tentative, so cautious about everything, but now and then, she'll show her true colors. She'll dig in her heels and show what she calls her resolve face, and then there's nothing Kennedy can do about it. Willow won't be convinced either by logic or by other, much more enjoyable means. But Kennedy enjoys the process almost as much as she would actually succeeding in convincing her, so she can't complain, and besides? Resolve face is pretty damn sexy.
Still, Spike sees right through Willow's diplomatic phrasing, just as Kennedy knew he would. The punching of Faith was a little more surprising—Kennedy hadn't seen him react like that to anyone, and she's fascinated by the fact that he didn't shift into gameface, not once—though the storming out to find Buffy was exactly what she expected.
But it's that punching that she can't stop thinking about. Because up until now, she's never seen Spike angry, not about anything. He came pretty close the night Buffy called him out in front of everyone, but that was just a flicker of anger. His fury that he unleashes on Faith is something else altogether, and it makes her glad he's on their side—he could be really valuable, especially now that he's going to look for Buffy.
Because the storming out, that was a good thing. If he'd stuck around, he probably would have lectured them all some more, and they don't have time for that. This way, he'll go find Buffy and maybe convince her that she needs to come back and fight. Kennedy never wanted her to actually leave. She's still the best fighter they have, and they're going to need every warrior they can get when the time comes to face what's going down. Maybe Buffy really will look at this as a little down time—a breather, like Willow said. Everyone needs one of those now and then, and Kennedy's arranging for one of her own tonight.
Tomorrow, they'll head out to find the arsenal and maybe do some damage to the First's plans. Until then, she's going to do some connecting with her goddess of a girlfriend. And hopefully Buffy and Spike will get over their own hesitation enough to do the same.
She's not gonna lie: she's glad Buffy's back. Faith's used to feeling alone; she's felt that way most of her life. There've been a few times with Angel and with Buffy herself, back in their good ole days—the ones that came right before their bad ole days—that she felt like she belonged, and there were a few happy times when she was really little, but most of her life has been one steaming pile of shit-flavored aloneness. She thought she'd tried on every style of it that existed, but she's now thinking she never knew what loneliness was before.
Not until Buffy walked out that door and she realized she was responsible for the way-too-many lives in that house, lives of people who would be sure to hold her responsible for any mistake she made. Because any mistake she made could mean a life.
Realizing that that's how Buffy feels all the time suddenly put a whole lot of crap into perspective for her, in ways even her time behind bars couldn't. Buffy had always seemed like she enjoyed being uptight, and Faith always assumed she chose to be that way. But it turns out that that's the only way you can be when you have that kind of responsibility, and she suddenly remembers that Buffy never asked for it either.
When everything goes to hell, her only thought is how much she wished Buffy was there. And when she wakes up and finds Buffy standing over her bed? She's never been so happy to see anyone in her life.
She watches the other Slayer closely after that, and it doesn't take her long to figure out that bleach-boy musta done something. When Buffy walked out that door, she looked devastated. Flattened. Rock bottom, like Faith remembers feeling when she begged Angel to tell her she was bad. She had a few days like that in the big house, too, so she knows that look when she sees it. She knows that it takes a hell of a long while to get over it—years, for her. She's at a good place now, but she didn't get there quick. Not like Buffy did. One night? Blondie-vamp must be good.
Because everybody knows he went to find her. Whatever Buffy might have said about Faith taking everything away from her, the vamp's the one thing Faith knows she doesn't even have a shot at, and Buffy should know it, too. So Faith knew he'd stomp off to find Buffy as soon as he got back. She didn't know he'd try to rearrange her face first, but she wasn't surprised. Buffy's got the boy whipped, and of course he woulda guessed it was all Faith's fault his girl got kicked out. Faith can't say the slug-out felt good, but she'd never gone up against him before, and now she sees what Buffy sees in him: the way he's so into it. If a guy turned all that passion and concentration on her? She'd be feeling pretty damn good herself. Not that Robin wasn't fun, but Spike? Day-um.
Whatever he did when he found her, Buffy looks alive again by the time she comes back. Or at least by the time Faith wakes up. She still looks real tired, real worn-down, and way skinnier than Faith remembers her being—girl's gotten all scrawny now, but maybe Spike likes her that way—but she still looks alive.
She's quieter, maybe, and she's a whole lot nicer to Faith herself, which is a nice surprise. Buffy drops in to visit her while she's recovering and then convinces Giles that she's ready to get out of bed when she says she is. She lets Faith make most of the calls about how to position everyone for the battle in the school. In general, treats Faith like a person.
And Faith hasn't missed the fact that Buffy hasn't asked for her room back. Matter of fact, she hasn't even hinted in that passive-aggressive Buffy sorta way that she might want it. When she's finally strong enough to get out of bed, Faith runs into Dawn in the hall. Of course she asks where big sis has been sleeping, and the look on Dawn's face gives it away long before she actually says the word basement. Faith crows with laughter and is still cracking up when Buffy drops in for a visit later as she's about to climb in bed.
"So, B. Hear you're getting comfy down in the basement. How's that working out for ya?"
Buffy doesn't blush at all, just crosses her arms. "That's really none of your business, Faith."
"Just saying, Blondie's pretty small, but he walks like he's big where it counts. And I'll bet he knows what to do with it, too."
For a moment, Buffy looks like she's going to go all self-righteous none-of-your-beeswax or holier-than-thou I'm-above-such-things. Instead, she gets this evil little grin Faith hasn't seen since those few weeks before she went evil, way back in high school, and says, "Oh, you have no idea."
"B! Getting down and dirty! How 'bout that?"
Buffy looks sheepish and sits down on the edge of the bed. "Well, that was a long time ago. We're not…I mean, we don't—not anymore."
"Yeah, I don't get that. I mean, your boy's more than willing. And he's hot as hell. Why aren't you hitting that?"
Buffy looks down at the ugly-ass bedspread and shrugs. "It's complicated."
Faith rolls her eyes. "Everything's complicated with you, B. That's your main problem, you know?"
"I know. But things got ugly. Really ugly. And we're at such a good place right now, I don't want to…" She trails off, then shrugs.
Faith sighs. "Look, Buffy. Everybody knows he's crazy about you. And not just 'wants-to-get-bouncy' crazy, but, like, 'get a soul for you' crazy. And you can't tell me you aren't crazy back. Who knows if we'll make it tomorrow? I mean, if anyone bites it, it'll probably be me—my turn, right?—but could be one of you two. You might regret it."
"Yeah, I'm sure all your major regrets in life are guys you didn't sleep with," Buffy says sarcastically, and Faith has to remind herself not to get offended—she doesn't mean it the way it sounds.
"It's not just the sex, B. You know that. I mean, yeah, with me it usually is. But you're not like that. I know you think anything that feels good is big-time evil. But that ain't true. And you need to prove that to yourself."
Buffy stares at her for a moment. "When did you get all insightful?"
"Read a lot of Dr. Phil's books while I was in the big house." And Buffy actually laughs at that. But Faith isn't quite done yet. "I'm telling you, B. You don't let him know how you feel, you're going to regret it. Because at this point, I think he's the only one who doesn't know."
Buffy stands. "Get some rest. I need you to be 100% tomorrow."
Faith shakes her head. "Yes, ma'am. I know I've said it before, but I've gotta ask one more time: are you sure this is gonna work? Because it sounds awfully close to completely insane to me."
Buffy gets that look on her face like she's some sort of superhero. Which, come to think of it, Faith guesses she is. "It's going to work." Then she turns and starts toward the door.
"Hey, B." The other Slayer pivots slowly to face her, and Faith grins. "You gonna take my advice?"
Buffy gets that evil little grin on her face again, but all she says is, "Good night, Faith."
But Faith is cracking up again as Buffy leaves, and she shouts after her, "Atta girl, B. Eat, drink, and be really freakin' merry, because tomorrow we may all die!"
The next morning, Buffy gives her a little wink as they head toward the school, and Faith can't stop herself from grinning back, even knowing what they're about to face.
After—after the battle—after leaving Buffy behind with Spike when it was so clear he wasn't going to be crawling out of the Hellmouth with them, but knowing that Buffy needed that final moment with him—after the crater and the finding of hospitals for the wounded and motel beds for the rest—Faith finds herself sharing a room with the other Slayer. Only there aren't just two of them now: there are so many, and that's going to take a hell of a lot of getting used to. Faith can't think about that without hoping that it means that loneliness, the kind she felt while Buffy was gone, the kind Buffy feels all the time, is over.
But there's a new kind of loneliness in Buffy's eyes, one Faith hasn't quite discovered for herself yet. She quietly thanks Faith for the advice with a simple, "You were right."
For once, Faith really wishes she wasn't.