Chapter 1: Day Zero
Chaos surrounded him, the thunder of fleeing feet drowned out only by the growling of the building as it began to break.
Sunnydale High School was crumbling.
Not that he shouldn't have expected it, naturally, but he'd been personally invested in this project, and he'd hoped for at least a full year before it fell to the ravages of the Hellmouth.
He was a little pissed off, to be honest.
A chunk of cement crashed to the floor in his path. Swearing, he leapt, barely clearing the obstacle. Arms pinwheeling, he fought to keep his balance as he kept running, doggedly continuing his flight as Slayers sped past.
He closed his eyes momentarily as Kennedy ran by, a glowing Willow clutched in her arms.
That was a mistake.
The floor shook as the Hellmouth roared angrily. He was barely aware of a voice—Giles, that was Giles—shouting his name as the ceiling collapsed on his body.
Willow pressed her nose against the window as the bus sped away. She glanced up when fingers slid between her own, shocked to see, not Kennedy, but Dawn, blue eyes large and moist in her worried face.
Buffy wasn't on the bus.
Neither were Xander or Giles.
Without thought, she drew Dawn against her, bodies cuddled together as they peered through the dust towards the rapidly expanding sinkhole, an action that was quite effectively mirrored by the knot in Willow's stomach.
Dawn's gasp drew her attention just as the younger girl ripped herself away and ran for the exit. Squinting, she searched the scenery…there—a small figure was racing along the rooftops, barely staying ahead of the buildings collapsing like dominos.
Brow furrowed, her eyes were drawn to the distance, behind Buffy where…there was no one else.
As the bus came to a halt, she rushed to the front, crawling over seats and Slayers until she reached the exit.
Dawn was already outside, wrapped around Buffy like she'd never let her go. For a moment, the worry abated, and Willow joined the embrace, squeezing both girls, sighing in relief that Buffy was real.
And then reality struck again. "Uh, Buffy?"
"What is it, Willow? I'm basking, here."
"Xander and Giles…they're not on the bus."
"Not on the bus."
"Uh uh. Buffy…what if they didn't get out?"
"Oh, God." Buffy's eyes widened and her jaw dropped; Willow's frazzled nerves kicked up a notch and she began to fidget, her fingers twisting together and then untwisting in hypnotic motion.
"Spike's not here, either."
Willow glanced at Dawn, abashed; she'd not even noticed Spike's absence.
"Spike's…gone." For a moment, Buffy's gaze was unfocused, but she blinked and came back to the present when Dawn spoke again.
"Yeah." She paused, giving Dawn's shoulder a squeeze before turning back to Willow. "Are you sure they're not here?"
"Yeah. I mean, I checked the bus—where else would they be?"
"Crater's pretty big," Faith's voice joined the conversation. "Could have gotten out on the other side. Could be looking for us, even."
"We need...we need to find them." Willow frowned as her brain began spinning, flipping through her mental rolodex of spells, calculating the length of rope they'd need to rappel into the canyon, supplies they'd need, and most importantly, "…a plan. We need a plan. Buffy, what's our plan? Giles and Xander are missing and Buffy, we don't even know if they're—"
She blinked. Buffy had her by the shoulders and was peering intently into her eyes.
"Chill. I can't work with panicky-Willow." She gave Willow's arm a squeeze and let go. "Crazy-planning-Willow I can deal with." She raised an eyebrow.
"Right. One crazy-planning-Willow coming right up."
"Peachy. Now get everyone off the bus—it's recon time. "
Chapter 2: Day One
Willow hatches a plan, and Xander joins the land of the mostly conscious.
Buffy's attention was pulled away from the crater as a shiny, new, very expensive car drove up. Peering into the distance, she studied the driver.
Her jaw dropped.
Striding forward, she reached the car just as the door opened and Dawn got out."What are you doing here?"
"Someone had to bring back the supplies."
"I told you to stay in L.A. with the others—I thought Kennedy was going to bring the supplies."
"Uh, Buffy?" Willow, who had also been drawn by the engine noise, butted in. "Kennedy thought it would be best to stay with the other slayers, since you and Faith were here and all—get them started on some team maneuvers and drills and stuff, now that they're all…Slayery."
"Oh. Good idea." She turned back to Dawn. "And where on earth did you get that car?"
"I borrowed it from Angel."
"Angel. Has that car."
"And he let you borrow it."
"Yup. With strict instructions not to let you near the keys."
"Hey! I'm not that bad!"
"And I'm made of cheese. By the way, Mrs. Whittins is doing fine."
"'Sounds like kittens'? The old lady we found yesterday, you know? The one buried under the rubble?"
"Oh. Good. What about the dog?"
Dawn rolled her eyes. "So you remember the dog."
"He was so cute."
"He's fine. I think Vi's gonna keep him." Turning to Willow, Dawn's face spread into a big grin. "You'll never believe what Wesley let me borrow!" Squealing, she led Willow toward the car.
Xander woke in pain.
And in the dark.
His ears strained for an answer, but he was surrounded by silence.
"Great." He sighed, shifting a bit so he could sit up properly. Icy hot fingers of pain grabbed his leg, squeezing rhythmically as he struggled to move. His breath coming in uneven pants, he reached down to feel the aching limb.
It was wet, and he could feel the bone sticking out through the skin.
"Just my luck," he muttered, slumping back against a wall.
"Okay," Willow said, hefting the heavy volume onto the card table Dawn had thoughtfully brought with the other supplies. It landed with a thunk. "I think I have an idea." Leaning forward, she spoke against the book's cover—"Codex of Seventeenth Century Spells, Volume Three"—squealing as the words appeared, embossed on the cover.
Faith and Buffy, who had been working on the rigging for the rappelling ropes, followed Willow's squeal to join the discussion.
"This the magic book you gals were wetting your panties for?" Faith asked, studying the tome skeptically.
"Yup." Dawn grinned.
Her eyes light with delight, Willow glanced at Dawn. "This is, like, the coolest book, ever. Do we have to give it back?"
Dawn shrugged. "Accidents do happen. We're on the Hellmouth, you know."
Wiping the resulting grin from her face, she continued her earlier thoughts. "I've been thinking this over, and while what I'd really like to do is just start movin' some rocks, if I'm bein' all logical, we should do this systematically. In the long run, it'll take less time, I think."
She pulled a large blank sheet of butcher's paper from her bag and spread it across the table.
"We're gonna make a map."
Faith poked Dawn in the shoulder. "All that time in L.A., and you couldn't find a map of SunnyD?"
"I'm sure she could have," Willow answered, "but it wouldn't do much good, since everything shifted when the school went kablooey."
"So we start scratching," Buffy surmised.
"Yup." Rolling the paper back up, Willow put it away before continuing. "I had the Slayers collect soil samples while they were searching the perimeter, and that, combined with the photos we take today—Dawn, you did get those disposable cameras I asked for, right?"
Dawn nodded, replying, "Right here," then held up a plastic sack from Walgreens.
"Anyways, the soil samples will anchor the map to the area, and the photos will form the map. Buffy, you and Faith will cover the area nearest the school"—she indicated by pointing—"just in case any nasties are still roaming, and Dawn and I will get some general shots from the perimeter and canvass the rest of the area. Any questions?"
Blinking into the darkness, Xander reached out to learn his surroundings by touch. The texture of rough, broken concrete was predominate, with occasional bits of cool, smooth metal. He sorted through the pieces of debris, finding nothing of interest until his fingers stumbled upon something rubbery…and leathery.
It felt a lot like a shoe.
Sliding his fingers upwards, he discovered the shoe was attached to a leg.
He was filled with mixed emotions at the thought that someone else was sharing his dark hell: for one, he was kinda glad to be not alone, although the person could very well be dead, or it could actually be an Ubervamp, knocked unconscious by the collapse, waiting for the right moment to wake and drain him dry.
Hefting himself closer—teeth gritted against the searing pain in his leg—he sighed in relief when his fingers encountered soft fabric; as far as he knew, Ubervamps didn't wear soft, fuzzy sweaters.
As his hands slid upwards, he made another discovery: his companion was probably male, as the broad shoulders and lack of breasts seemed to indicate, so it was likely that this was…
Stubble, a nose more pointy than wide, and glasses.
Pulling himself closer again, he slid his fingers to Giles's neck, slumping a bit in relief when he felt a pulse. He felt over Giles's body for signs of injury, finding none except a smallish lump on the back of his head.
It seemed that Giles had a concussion…
A sudden wave of fatigue swept over his body and he slumped against Giles's chest.
His eyes fluttered closed as he began to slip towards slumber.
All he could do was wait.
Chapter 3: Day Two
Willow's plan starts to shape up while Xander searches for his marbles.
Willow rose from her sleeping bag, stretching awkwardly under the confines of the tent to loosen her aching back. Sleeping on the ground was not conducive to proper joint alignment, after all.
Glancing across the space, she stifled a laugh. Buffy lay in the corner, shivering, while Dawn slumbered away, rolled up like a fuzzy blue burrito. Faith's upper body was sprawled over her pillow, a small damp patch on the fabric beneath her cheek.
Still grinning, Willow grabbed her bag and exited the tent; her expression fell as the crater came into view.
Somewhere in all that mess, Xander and Giles were trapped.
Closing her eyes, she set her jaw and pulled the resolve-face to the fore. She snagged a bottle of water from the cooler next to the tent, and rooted around in her bag until she found an only-slightly-smushed granola bar. She opened the wrapper as she moved toward the card table.
Munching on the granola, she took an old map of Sunnydale and spread it over the table, then covered it with the butcher paper. Squinting in the early morning light, she gently traced around the borders of the town with a pencil, a thin, grey line delineating the sum of her life.
When she finished, she retrieved the photos they'd taken the day before and began the painstaking process of sorting them out.
"Sure is dark in here." Xander nodded, sagely, although no one was there to appreciate his finely-crafted expression.
With a sigh, he poked Giles, a finger slipping beneath his cuff to check that he still had a pulse.
"You can wake up at any time, now."
Leaning back, his head hit the wall with a thunk.
Faith watched as Buffy gave the knot one more tug. Neither of them had set up rappelling ropes before, but they'd read the instructions, sorta, and it didn't seem like rocket science.
Buffy glanced over her shoulder, frowning. "You think that's enough?"
Smirking, Faith wriggled out of her jacket and grasped the rope—"Only one way to find out,"—before vaulting over the crater's edge.
"Faith!" Eyes wide, Buffy scrambled to look down into the canyon.
Faith grinned from about ten feet below. "This is a blast! Grab a rope, B, I'll beat ya to the bottom."
Buffy scowled, caught between the urge to bitch about the stupidity of the jump and the competitive urge to kick Faith's ass.
Eyes glinting in relish, she grabbed a rope.
"Hey, hold up, you cheated!"
"…world, after all; it's a small world, after all. It's a small world, after all; it's a small, smaaaaaalll wooooorrrrld!"
The vigorous applause of one echoed in the cavern.
"Thank you, thank you very much!" Xander called, grimacing at the pain in his hands from so much clapping.
"This is hell, isn't it?"
"That is so wicked," Dawn remarked, leaning over Willow's shoulder to watch as the photographs began to smolder, then slowly melt and shift, seeping into the butcher paper which was slowly absorbing the map below. As soon as all the photos appeared liquefied, Willow carefully spread the soil samples over the matching photos. The dirt melted quickly, popping and cracking as it became a muddy mess. Finally, the reaction stopped and in a flash of light, a single piece of paper lay on the table, a map of the crater formerly known as Sunnydale inked across its surface.
Willow smiled. "It is, isn't it?" She then carefully folded the map so it would be more manageable.
"Should I go see if Buffy and Faith are through with the ropes?"
"Nah." Willow put away the map and glanced up at Dawn. "It's time for a magic lesson."
"Really?" Dawn beamed.
"Yup. We're gonna start moving debris tomorrow, and since we've got two Slayers, we need two witches."
"But I'm not a witch."
"You're closer than you think."
Dawn cocked her head, puzzled.
Leaning against the table, Willow crossed her arms over her chest. "I know you hate talking about it, but being the Key, well, it means you're made of energy, and not just energy, but magical energy." Looking down, she scrubbed a toe in the sandy soil. "T—Tara and I, we thought about giving you lessons, before she…" sighing, she looked up, "…you know. And then afterwards, I was kinda avoidance girl, so I never brought it up."
"I…I never thought about it." Dawn's forehead wrinkled as she thought. "I did do one spell, after Mom died."
"Yeah, Buffy told me about that." A sad smile crossed Willow's face as she thought of all they'd lost, both of them…all of them. "It worked, though."
"Yeah. I think so."
"I think you can do this. I mean, if you want to."
Dawn's mouth curled up in a smile, though a bit of sadness was still in her eyes. "I'd love to."
"Great!" Willow said, grabbing her things and striding away. "Come on, then!" she called over her shoulder.
"Hey, Willow?" Dawn asked, trotting along to catch up. "There isn't gonna be any naked chanting involved, is there?"
Chapter 4: Day Three
Giles wakes up and the girls get started on Operation: Rescue.
"…it was under the kitchen! Get it? Under the Kitchen!" Xander explained to the open air, his barking laughter not at all funny.
"Xander, do shut up."
"Sorry, Giles." Head jerking around, Xander peered into the shadows. "Giles?"
"So it seems." Giles blinked; it was terribly dark. "Where…?"
"Under the school, best I can tell."
"Not sure. A day, maybe two. Or seven. I'd know, except the backlight on my watch stopped…oh, about a month and a day after I bought it—conveniently just out of warranty, of course—and I was too pissed off to replace it."
"Believe me, I've been kicking myself all day. Or night. Hard to tell, with all this all-consuming blackness."
"And there's no way out?"
"Well, see—and here's the kicker, or not, as the case may be—I'm not all that upwardly mobile, or sidewaysly, for that matter. I've kinda broken my leg."
"I'll see you an 'oh, dear' and raise you a 'holy mother of Zeus, we're screwed!'"
Giles grunted, struggling to sit up and rubbing the golf-ball sized knot on the back of his head. Squinting, he crawled forward, outstretched hand searching for—
"Gah!" Xander jumped when something grabbed his shoulder, relaxing only a moment later at the realization that the something was Giles. "Don't do that!"
"Terribly sorry, but if you'll hold still a bit, I'll see about that leg."
Hands traveled down Xander's side, past his hip and to his leg. "It's the other one." In the still of the cavern, Xander could hear the rustling of clothes as Giles moved to his other side. This time, he didn't scream when hands landed on his thigh.
He winced as fingers slid down to his injury, probing the wound and the bone. After a moment, his foot was seized in a strong grip.
"I'm afraid this will hurt quite a bit."
"Oh, Gee, ya think?" Closing his eyes, he screamed as Giles began to pull. The grating of bone against bone vibrated through his skeleton, the stretching of flesh sent searing pain throughout his body and finally, as his leg slid into place, he passed out.
"Are you sure about this, Will?" Buffy asked, eyeing Dawn skeptically.
"Completely. I worked with her yesterday, and she's a natural. Plus," Willow grimaced, glancing at the huge mass of debris between them and their friends, "we need her help. Two Slayers…two witches. It'll go a lot faster."
"My sister, the witch," Buffy wrinkled her nose, but shrugged. "Okay."
Willow smiled and reached for her map.
Pausing, Willow glanced back at Buffy, who was currently sporting concerned!face number three, which was also the face of Willow-you're-in-over-your-head-with-this-magic-stuff.
"Buffy, it'll be alright. I know exactly what the dangers are, now, and there's no way I'm letting Dawn go through what I did."
Buffy's face relaxed and she reached out, arms wrapping around her best friend.
"Don't mention it."
Smiling, the girls separated. Buffy joined Faith down in the crater, and Willow collected Dawn and led her to the crater's edge nearest the school's remains.
Studying her map, she spoke into Buffy's mind: Just a little to the left, Buffy.
Buffy moved accordingly, then looked up at Willow. Here?
Opening her mind to the others, Willow continued. Now, everyone remembers the plan, right? Dawn and I are gonna do the lifting, you guys do the guiding. Buffy, you're working with Dawn, Faith, you're with me. If you feel anything go off with the spell or if the ground becomes unsteady…
Get the hell outta Dodge; we got it, Red. Now get out of my head. I'm way past creepsville, here.
Fair enough. Let's get started, then.
She felt her magic rush out to lift the first chunk of concrete. She watched as Faith grabbed the floating object and began pushing it to the designated dump site, several hundred yards away.
Not taking her eyes off her task, Willow answered, "Yeah, Dawn?"
"Are you sure I'm not gonna squish Buffy?"
"Absolutely. Just remember what we talked about yesterday—keep your focus, don't get distracted, and let the magic flow naturally. And don't worry, Buffy's attuned to magic in a way so she'll know if something goes wrong." She took a second to glance over at Dawn, who was frowning in concentration.
Moments later, another piece of the school began to lift away from the rest, wobbling a bit before steadying.
Buffy beamed, and began guiding the piece to its new home.
"Xander?" Giles asked uncertainly, setting the broken leg back on the ground. Feeling up the still body, he found a wrist.
And a pulse.
Discerning that Xander had obviously passed out from the pain—a blessing, for sure—he stripped off his sweater and draped it over Xander's lap, then tore a strip from his undershirt, tying it securely around Xander's wounded leg.
Sitting back, he tried to keep his head from swimming. Physically, he was uninjured, but he certainly had a concussion, and—he swirled his tongue around in his mouth, which was dry and sticky—he needed water.
It felt like cheating, Faith thought, letting the witchy-types do all the heavy lifting.
Still, it took a bit of Slayer-y flexibility to cross the rocky landscape between the school and the dumpsite. Plus, it gave her time to participate in her newest pastime: Buffy watching.
She'd never quite been able to understand what made the other Slayer tick. At this point, it was unlikely she ever would, but there was something…gripping about watching her work, moving across the debris-filled crater with ease, occasionally glancing up at Dawn and smiling in encouragement.
She had the sudden urge to feel that smile warm her skin.
Closing her eyes against the feeling, she turned her head, forcing herself to focus on chunks of concrete and wood and steel.
Giles sighed; something had to be done.
Xander was immobile and weak from blood loss and Giles was dizzy and disoriented because of yet another concussion.
When he got out, Giles thought, he might invest in a helmet.
Still, he couldn't sit there and let both of them die. There was no way to know if the others were looking for them—or even if they escaped—and he wasn't the sort to sit around and wait for the cavalry.
He heaved himself to his feet, swaying a moment before regaining his balance. Heart pounding in his chest, he began inching forward, into the darkness.
Chapter 5: Day Four
The story continues with burritos, spit, and misunderstandings.
Xander awoke to the sensation of movement. Someone's hands were under his armpits and he was being dragged, as gently as possible, across the cavern.
"Ah. Good. You're awake."
"Where are we going? Did you find a way o—OUT!" he yelped as his leg was jarred against a stray piece of the school.
"Sorry," Giles apologized. "And I'm afraid I've yet to find an exit. I have, however, found a source of light."
"Aww, shucks, and just as I was getting used to the unending blackness."
Giles paused in his trek. "I can leave you here, if you like."
"Oh, no. No. I'd hate to leave you alone. Wouldn't be sporting"
"Ah. Well, if you're certain?"
"Completely." For a moment, the silence was broken only by Giles's heavy breathing and the scrape of Xander's boots against the floor. "Besides, Buffy would kick my ass if I let anything happen to you."
Giles paused again. "That, I believe, goes for the both of us."
Dawn grunted as her blanket was tugged away.
"Dawn." A whisper reached her ears; she blinked half-consciously.
"You're hogging again. I'm turning into a Buffysicle."
"Oh." Yawning, she allowed her blanket burrito to be unrolled, jerking away when Buffy's cold feet pressed against her shins. "Buffy!"
"But you're all warm," Buffy pouted, snuggling under the blanket, shuddering as the chill began to leave her body.
"Sadist," Dawn muttered.
"Only to little sisters." Buffy smiled.
As she rearranged herself into a comfortable position, Dawn stifled a giggle—Willow was sighing regularly on the other side of the tent, occasionally punctuated with a murmur, something about frogs and cookies, from what Dawn could tell.
"Does she always do that?"
"Yeah. You get used to it after a while. Or you get really good at aiming a pillow."
Dawn snickered softly, reaching up to fluff her own pillow.
"Do you think they're alright?"
"Dawnie," Buffy sighed, "I…I don't know."
Dawn bit her lip, closing her eyes against the idea that Xander and Giles could be squished below the remains of Sunnydale. In a moment, a chilly arm snaked out and grabbed her waist, pulling her into Buffy's body. She sighed, resting her head on Buffy's arm, two cold feet pressing against her knees.
Xander squinted. The pitch blackness had been replaced by a muddy greyness speared by one slim shaft of light from above.
Giles looked…rough. His face was covered with uneven, patchy stubble, smears of dirt painted his cheeks and forehead, his eyes were sunk back in his head—bearing a startling resemblance to The Master, now that Xander thought about it—and one of the lenses in his glasses was cracked all the way through. "Wow. You look like hell."
"Thank you very much, Xander. I assure you the compliment is returned."
"You'll have to forgive me—I'm not my best, what with being dragged through miles of cement dust and crumbled sheetrock."
Sheepishly, Xander smiled. "Thanks, Giles. I…I hate that you're stuck down here, too, but…I'm glad you're here."
Shifting a bit, Giles moved until he was sitting next to Xander against the wall. Xander leaned closer, the heat of Giles's body comforting in the silence.
Giving the steel beam she was directing a final push, Faith turned and leapt, rock to rock, back to their target site, where they'd made a bit of a dent but there was still a hell of a lot of crap to move.
They'd been moving big chunks of the building all morning, and quite a lot of smaller pieces of lumber and sheetrock and rebar had collected in the crevices. Gathering a load of the shrapnel, she hollered up towards the cliff's edge, "Hey, Red! I've got this end; it's break-time."
Willow's voice floated into her mind: You sure?
Yeah, I'm sure. "And I'd rather yell, if it's all the same to you," she shouted.
Buffy watched as Faith launched off, then gestured to Dawn to take a break as well. Grabbing several two by fours and a bundle of insulation, she followed Faith across the cavern.
"Hey, B," Faith asked as they were making the return trip, "you don't mind that I stuck around, do ya?"
"Nah." Buffy landed on a corrugated bit of roof lightly, then traversed a fallen tree over a large hole in the wreckage. "We needed the muscle."
Faith stopped dead in her tracks.
Clenching her jaw, she forced herself to continue across the rocky terrain.
At least she knew her place.
"Any chance you got any extra spit? 'Cause I'm all out, here."
Giles closed his eyes and sighed, then pushed himself to his feet. "Wait here."
"No running away on my broken leg. Got it. Where are you going? Do you know where to find more spit?"
Giles smiled weakly. "If we're lucky, I'll return with something better."
Chapter 6: Day Five
Everybody gets wet. What? It's not nearly as dirty as it sounds. Or perhaps it is.
The water was lukewarm, slightly opaque and a bit gritty, but Xander was sure it was the best thing he'd ever tasted.
Gulping as quickly as possible, he sputtered when a bit of sand tickled his esophagus. Coughing, he sat up, aided by Giles.
"Are you alright?"
"Yeah," Xander answered, in between coughs. "Next time, I'll remember to order the sandcastle on the side."
"Yes, well, I agree that it's not ideal, but…" Giles pulled off his glasses and began rubbing the lenses against his sweater. "Bugger," he cursed as the cracked lens broke, half falling into the folds of his clothing, the other tumbling down to land in the dirt.
"Hey." Xander reached out, gently extracting the broken spectacles from Giles's hands. Folding them, he set them aside and gave Giles's forearm a squeeze. "Right now, it's the best water I've ever had, crème de la beach or not."
Giles gave the calloused hand a return squeeze. "Perhaps I can find some sort of vessel to catch the drip—the majority of the sediment should sink."
"I always knew we kept you around for a reason."
Buffy eyed the school's remains—did it look any different than it did yesterday? Knowing the Hellmouth, some weird rubble-regenerating demon was visiting during the night to make their task impossible.
Then again, maybe she was just going Slay-crazy.
She was stirred from her musings as Faith brushed past, bending to retrieve another rock. She'd been unnaturally quiet today—not that Faith was big with the Chatty Kathy routine, but she'd missed several opportunities to insert those little sarcastic comments of hers that always made Buffy fight to hide her smile.
"Why did you?"
Picking up the small boulder easily, Faith squinted in Buffy's direction. "Why did I what?"
"Why did you stay?"
"Oh." Shrugging, Faith reared back and chunked the rock, which arced through the air to land perfectly in the growing pile of discards. "Just figured I owed it to you, is all." Wiping her hands on her jeans casually, she pushed sweaty strands of dark hair from her forehead. "All of you, really, but Xander, well, to say we got off on the wrong foot—although I don't remember feet having much to do with it—but I wanna clear that slate. Start here. And Giles…" she trailed off, eyes turning to the pile of rubble that very well could be Giles's grave.
"He tried to help you."
"No, I mean, yeah, back in the day, but I mean… Well, haven't you noticed the lack of sirens, megaphones and blazing saddles? Not now, but before?"
Buffy frowned. That was odd. "Yeah?"
"Giles did that for me, told me it was my second chance. He mojoed it away. Changed my record, time served and all that."
"He did that?"
"Yeah." Faith grinned. "And then he told me that if I put one foot out of line, he'd make prison look like a day spa—like I'd know what the hell that looks like—and that was it."
Crossing her arms, Buffy studied Faith thoughtfully.
"What?" Faith shifted under the gaze. "Something on my face?"
"Well," Faith twitched her shoulder irritably, making an aborted move towards the recovery area, "looking ain't getting the job done. Come on."
Buffy watched as Faith walked away.
After a moment, she followed.
Xander glanced up at the scuff of footsteps against the grit that covered…nearly every inch of his surroundings, including himself.
"It's not exactly fine china," Giles said as his form became distinguishable in the murky light, "but I believe it will do." Smiling, he held up something…orange.
"I'm not really sports-guy, but according to my memory of flipping through channels to find Scooby-Doo reruns, that kinda resembles a basketball."
"It is." Sitting between Xander and the slow trickle of water dripping from a crack in the ceiling, Giles mashed the deflated basketball into a sort of bowl. "Ah. There. That should do nicely." Giles placed the 'bowl' under the drip and they both watched as water slowly began to collect.
"And I always wondered what gym class would do for me in the real world."
"Well, there you have it: a practical application of your schooling."
"Snyder would be so proud. If he weren't, you know, worm poop by now."
"Ugh," Buffy said, attempting—and failing—to wipe some of the grime and dust from her arms. Glancing back at Faith, she asked,"You remember your theory, about the best parts of Slaying?"
Faith's brow furrowed in thought. "Hungry and horny?"
"What about it?"
"You were wrong. The best part of Slaying is the shower afterwards."
Faith grimaced at the gunk on her own body. "Might have to buy into that, B."
"Oh, this is so gross. I'm gonna have to re-fill out my census card—do you think they have a 'desert rubble camouflage' category for ethnicity?"
"Beats me. Hey, Red, how about magicking up a shower?"
Willow looked up from the ice chest where they kept food and water. "Huh. Lemme see what I can do." Hands on hips, she scanned the terrain. "Dawn, get me that pipe over there." She pointed in the direction of a long metal pipe, resting on the canyon's edge—at some point in the proceedings, Faith and Buffy had gotten a bit competitive in the throwing random former-Sunnydale-High-School-parts contest.
Turning away from the crater, she began a slow shuffling walk.
Faith raised an eyebrow. "Is being a spaz a requirement of triple-W?"
"Hey, don't knock it. It works." Buffy frowned. "Most of the time." She glanced back at Faith. "Triple-W?"
Faith shrugged. "Witchy version of Triple-A? I mean, they've got one of those, surely. Right?"
Buffy pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Wouldn't surprise. But then, what does anymore?"
Just then, Dawn came staggering in their direction, weaving back and forth under the pipe's uneven weight. Reaching out, Buffy snatched the pipe with one hand and casually propped it on one end in the dirt.
Dawn scowled. "Thanks a lot."
"No problem," Buffy beamed.
Buffy's attention was drawn to the South, where Willow was standing, arms outstretched, skirt billowing in a nonexistent breeze.
Bring the pipe.
Lifting the requested item, Buffy set off in Willow's direction, closely followed by Faith and Dawn. As she approached, the pole was torn from her hands to float, spinning gently, in front of Willow.
As they watched, it began to spin faster and faster, until with a single sharp movement, it plunged into the ground. There was a bit of choked gurgling, a sputter, and then the top of the pipe erupted in mud.
Dawn squealed, staggering backwards from the onslaught; Buffy and Faith followed hastily.
"Just what I needed," Buffy remarked, wiping a wet, gritty drop from her nose, "more mud."
"Just give me a sec." Willow's voice floated over the rush of water.
In a moment, the brown water began to clear, then the incredible pressure began to lessen.
Sighing, Willow appeared to deflate.
"That's…" Faith began, open-mouthed.
"…the best thing I've seen in days," Buffy finished, grinning.
Willow beamed. "Thanks! Just give that pipe a bend, then you can probably use some of the rebar from the site and some of the tarps and bungees that Dawn brought from L.A. and 'Poof!' Almost-instant shower."
"I'll grab the rebar," Faith called as she trotted off to collect said items.
Dawn followed. "I'll get the tarps and stuff."
Buffy stood a moment, admiring the beautiful, clean water spewing from the pipe. Approaching the impromptu fountain, she gripped the top of the pole, "Guess I'll get bent, then," and pulled the top of the pipe into a graceful U-shape.
When she turned, Willow was looking at her, an eyebrow raised.
"What?" When the realization struck, Buffy's eyes widened. "Not like that," she mumbled, stalking off towards the campsite.
Willow raised the other eyebrow.
Xander watched as the drip slowly formed a shallow pool of water in the inverted basketball, each drop sending ripples out to splash futilely against the knobby sides of the ball.
"Giles? Are we…?"
Giles glanced up from his position, stretched flat on his back across a mostly smooth surface. His temples throbbed in time with the drip.
"I mean, are we being naïve, here? Setting my leg, finding water… Are we fighting a losing battle?"
Giles was silent for a moment. Slowly, he sat up and lifted his head, spearing Xander with his gaze.
"Alexander Harris, I have never once seen you act with such cowardice. For seven years, you've been maddeningly, astoundingly, stupidly brave, against all odds." He pushed himself to his knees and, placing his palms on either side of Xander's hips, leaned uncomfortably close. "And you are not allowed to give up now."
Xander swallowed as Giles's warm breath caressed his cheek. "But we don't even know if they're looking for us."
"Xander," Giles's voice was soft, but firm, "can you ever, ever imagine a world where Willow Rosenberg would fail to move heaven and earth—perhaps literally—to find you?"
The answer was pulled from his chest almost involuntarily, a small puff of air escaping into the murky greyness: "No."
"And there you have it." Leaning back, Giles began the painstaking process of finding his semi-comfortable position amongst the debris. "There will be no more talk of giving up. You will survive this bloody town if I have to dig you out of here myself."
Raw, scalded by the reminder of the love his friends, his family, had for him as much as Giles's harsh words, Xander sank back into the broken mess of Sunnydale High School, and succumbed to sleep.
He dreamt of yellow crayons, skateboards and stakes…
…and a tea-drinking Fyarl demon.
Chapter 7: Day Six
Beer, shampoo and kite strings.
The crunch of tires on gravel interrupted a breakfast of bacon, eggs and ham—with ketchup and mayonnaise for Dawn. Four sets of eyes turned to watch as a dark-headed figure stepped out of the car and held aloft a plastic shopping bag.
"Shampoo!" Kennedy proclaimed.
Breakfast forgotten, the girls raced to greet the bearer of such wonderful news.
Snatching the bag from Kennedy's hands, Buffy turned and ran, calling over her shoulder, "First one's mine!"
Faith clapped a hand on Kennedy's shoulder. "If you weren't Red's girl, I just might have kissed you for that."
"To hell with that," Dawn said, leaning in and laying a big, wet smack right on Kennedy's cheek.
Kennedy's nose wrinkled as she wiped the spot with the back of her hand. "Thanks a lot, brat."
"Hey, who are you calling a 'brat'?"
Faith propped an arm casually over Kennedy's shoulder. "Kid's got a point."
"I'm not a kid." Dawn scowled, crossing her arms over her chest. She barely refrained from stomping her foot. Taking a deep breath, she straightened up, eyebrows climbing up her forehead haughtily. "I'm a witch," she said, turning in a swirl of brown hair and sashaying off towards the makeshift shower.
"So, Dawn's a witch, now?"
"Yup," Willow answered, finally arriving after putting away the hot cooking implements and avoiding the rush. "Hey, you," she greeted pressing her lips softly against Kennedy's.
"Hey." Kennedy's grin was blindingly bright.
"And that's my cue to leave," Faith remarked, turning away. "You're welcome to breakfast, after the love-fest is over." Her invitation floated over the lovers, much too caught up in a warm embrace and each other to answer.
Xander stared at the ceiling, sluggishly belting out the ultimate anthem of boredom: "Sixty-three bottles of beer on the wall, sixty-three bottles of beer—take one down, pass it around, sixty-two bottles of beer on the wall. Sixty-two bot—"
Eyes wide in desperation, Giles called across the cavern, "If you don't cease that infernal racket at once I…shall have to do something…unpleasant." He was used to such youthful distastefulness, but even he had his limits.
Xander paused, idly craning his head around to judge the seriousness of the claim; Giles wasn't even shaking, yet. Stifling a grin, he continued, "—bottles of beer—take one down, pass it arou—"
Enthralled by the sound of his own voice echoing through the empty space, Xander failed to notice Giles climb to his feet and cross the distance between them.
He noticed what happened next, though.
"—round, sixty-one bot—oof! Giles! What are you…? Ungh! Alright, alright. I get your point."
Giles glanced down at Xander from his perch atop Xander's stomach. "That remains to be seen."
"Wow," Xander panted. "When you said unpleasant, you meant it."
Giles raised an eyebrow. "No more unpleasant than that atrocious song."
Xander grinned sheepishly. "Well…you've got me, there."
Faith didn't know who she hated more: Red or her Brat.
Oh, she'd been more than a little ripe for a shower, herself, but after the addition of shampoo and conditioner, the whole campsite was treated to Buffy-the-Girl, who was even more confusing to Faith than Buffy-the-Slayer.
Running around in a towel, blonde hair dark and dripping water over her collarbones and shoulders, laughing and smiling and running away after stealing Dawn's hair brush…
Faith really, really needed to kill something.
Grumbling, she snagged a towel and went off to have a shower of her own.
There was more than one way to relieve pressure, after all.
Willow sighed, leaning back into the strength of Kennedy's deceptively slim body. "I just can't help being worried."
"I know." Kennedy ran her fingers through the fiery tresses spread out over her chest. "You wouldn't be the woman I fell in love with if you weren't worried." Smiling, she pressed her lips, once, against the cute furrow in Willow's brow.
"I'm sorry. You're here, all snuggly and…snuggly, and here I am, being all party-poopy." Straightening, Willow pasted on a bright grin. "From now on—or at least until you have to leave tonight—you get happy Willow, one hundred percent guaranteed."
"Willow," Kennedy ran a finger down the slope of Willow's nose, "your friends are in danger—you're supposed to be worried. And you're supposed to share things like that with me. I'm your kite string, remember?"
Willow shyly smiled. "Yeah." Slumping, she fell against Kennedy's shoulder, burying her head against the smooth skin of her neck. She sighed as a hand began stroking the length of her back, over and over and over.
"It's been so hard," she whispered into Kennedy's dark hair, "trying to stay upbeat. I don't want to worry the others, especially Dawn, but it's been six days. That's…that's almost a week! And I just hate knowing…knowing nothing and I never know nothing—I'm research girl! I can read a moldy book on sacred rituals of flesh-eating demons in…well, in not a lot of time, but now…now I don't have the answers." Her voice trailed off into nothing as Kennedy began a slow rocking motion, swaying back and forth hypnotically.
Closing her eyes, Willow let the rhythm soothe her frantic worry. "I'm glad you're here."
Slowly, the thin stream of light from above faded and the cavern became dark once more.
Well, Xander thought, at least they could tell night from day now.
In the blackness, Giles's breathing was a comfort, slow and steady, with an occasional slight wheeze brought about by the dust in the air.
"Giles? You awake?"
For a moment, they were both silent.
Giles's eyes watered; there was an abundance of dust floating about. Wiping the moisture from his face with his cuff, he finally answered, "As am I."
Giles's eyes were just beginning to flutter closed when Xander's voice rose from the dark, yet again.
Giles sighed. "Yes, Xander?"
"Could…could you come over here?"
Xander heard a grunt and a rustle and another grunt, then a warm body settled next to his.
"Go to sleep, Xander." Giles's voice was soft, his breath warm and comforting and real.
So Xander did.
Chapter 8: Day Seven
Xander and Giles get a visitor, Faith lets it all hang out and Dawn doesn't get pierced.
Xander finished the last swallow of water, getting a mouthful of grit and sputtering, spitting on the ground beside him. Giles took the basketball-turned-bowl from his outstretched hand, wincing in sympathy.
"Perhaps you'd just as well leave the last swallow."
"Yeah," Xander gasped, still searching out the crunch of sand between his teeth with his tongue. Finally more or less satisfied, he continued the thread of conversation as Giles turned the corner to replace the water receptacle.
"Still, I can't believe you don't like Han Solo—he's, like, the ultimate reluctant hero."
"Han Solo was a bloody pansy, buggering off with that overgrown chipmunk," Giles's voice floated in from the next cavern.
"But he came…" Xander trailed off as the ground began to rumble. "Uh, Giles? I think maybe there's…" The rumbling intensified as a sparkling light began to shine through the cracks between the rocks before him.
He grinned. He'd seen that kind of light before—it was magic.
Willow had found them.
Suddenly, a large chunk of concrete was dislodged, floating inwards then hovering above the newly-created entrance. A head popped into the hole.
Amy grinned, but something about the stretch of flesh across Amy's face made Xander's stomach clench in a knot.
"Xander. How great to see you." Amy's mouth smiled, but her eyes were cold and calculating.
"Yeah. I was just, you know, hanging around. So what have you been up to?"
"Surviving this hellhole. You?" Amy cocked her head—two years later and she still had a few rat-like mannerisms.
"Oh, you know, watching TV, playing some bridge, managing my 401K." He shrugged. "Say, you wouldn't know how to get out of this place, would you?"
"Not yet, but I will soon."
"Hey, Xander, it's great to see you and all, but I'm getting kinda hungry and…you're on the menu."
Buffy brushed the dust from her cheeks as she surveyed the ground they'd covered—who knew there was so much junk in Sunnydale? Along with building materials, they'd found electronics equipment, stuffed animals, sports gear, a ratty couch with a family of mice in the seat cushions, and lots and lots of broken pieces of dishware.
Fortunately, Faith had the bright idea of using the boxes from their tent and sleeping bags to cart around the small stuff. It was much quicker, and with Slayer-strength they could fill the boxes as full as they wanted, no worries.
She watched as Faith tossed a handful of shattered pottery in her box.
Not looking up, Faith answered, "Yeah, B?"
"Why did you…?"
Standing, Faith wiped the sweat from her brow. "Thought we went over this."
"Yeah, about now, but I mean…back in High School. I just never…"
"What? You mean Wilkins?"
Glancing down, Buffy looked at her boots, scuffed and scarred beyond recognition—search and rescue was hell on the clothes—before answering, "No, I get Wilkins, I think. He gave you something that you needed. I guess I just wonder why you couldn't get it from us?"
"You…you don't have to answer, I just," Buffy shrugged, stooping down to gather some more debris, "wondered."
Faith was quiet for a while, the clanking of ceramics and metal the only sound.
Barely pausing, she answered softly, "Lots of reasons, I guess. Jealousy, mainly…. God, B, I was so jealous. It's not pretty, I know, but…there you have it." She looked up, regret etched across her face.
"Jealous of what?" Buffy scowled, arms folded defensively across her chest. "I shared everything with you—my friends, my mom, my Watcher…"
"…just not you," Faith muttered, tossing a broken CD into the box.
"Just not you." Faith stood and turned, facing Buffy. Muscles tight, itching for a fight, she continued, "You shared everything but yourself, B."
"We don't have time for this, Faith." Buffy looked away, expression shuttered.
"Oh. Right. Spin me a new one, B. 'Not now, Faith', 'I can't deal with this, Faith', 'Leave it alone, Faith'. God, can you believe I almost forgot this part?"
"What part would that be?"
"The part where you've got your head so far up your own ass, you can't even tell yourself the truth."
"We. Kissed. B. We kissed. We danced, and we Slayed and then we made out like horny little bitches under the streetlamp until Princess B remembered it's not normal to kiss girls and pushed me away."
"Faith…" Buffy sighed, taking a step closer.
Faith didn't notice. At her boiling point, she knew that if she didn't end things quickly, she'd start swinging.
Never a good idea with B.
"Get a good look this time, B. 'Cause this time, it's not you pushing—I'm leaving." Stomping off, she dumped her load and sprinted to the crater's edge, quickly scaling the rope and disappearing from sight.
Buffy wrinkled her nose.
"Well, that went well."
"Excuse me?" Xander blinked, incredulous.
"Oh, yeah," Amy said brightly. "How else do you think I'm gonna survive this shithole?" For a moment, her expression blanked as she studied his face. Finally, she continued, "It's not personal." She held a hand aloft, a satisfied look crossing her face as her fingers began to glow. "Besides, I've got hungry mouths to feed."
"Amy, let's talk about this. We were friends. We almost went out in the third grade."
"Yeah, until Willow bribed you with that Twinkie. My brownies just weren't good enough for you, were they?"
"Hey." Xander held his hands up in defense. "I'm an equal-opportunity snacker—brownies, twinkies, cheese doodles—all are equal in Xan-land." He shrugged. "Just so happened that my stomach was in the mood for creamy filling."
Amy scowled. "That's what they all say. Now, if you don't mind, I've got things to do." Raising both hands, Amy looked up. "Hear me, Diana, goddess of—"
A bright light came streaking from around the corner and collided with Amy's side. "Hey!" Outraged, she turned towards her attacker, hands on her hips.
Unfortunately, she forgot about the chunk of concrete hovering over her head. With a great crash, it fell on her, knocking her to the floor and coming to rest on her hips, pinning her and sealing the entrance she'd made into the space.
She didn't move.
Xander, finally remembering to breath, turned to congratulate Giles on his fancy spellwork, just as Giles's eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed in a heap on the floor.
Near Sunnydale's remains, a lone tree towered over the crater like a monument to the town that had claimed so many lives.
Sitting under its shade, Willow just hoped that two of the lives down there were still safe. Closing her eyes, she tried to push the doubt away. It had been a week, a whole week, and they hadn't managed to get through half of the school's remains.
She studied the map, even though she had it pretty much memorized—she even dreamed about the inked caverns and crevices—marking places with potential. She glanced up when a shadow fell across her work.
"Hey." Dawn smiled a little, taking a seat and resting against the tree next to Willow. Leaning over Willow's shoulder, she looked at Willow's markings, pointing out another likely place, her eyes lighting up as Willow circled it with her highlighter.
Finally, Willow put the map away and they sat, still and quiet, gazing at the sinkhole that held two loved ones in the balance.
After a few moments, Dawn spoke. "You miss her, don't you?"
Willow glanced at Dawn, puzzled for a few moments at the leap.
"Kennedy," Dawn filled in, returning her gaze to the crater.
"Yeah. I really do."
"I kinda hated her, at first."
"You and a lot of people, I think. Even me, a bit."
"She just isn't Tara. Not anything like Tara, and I—" her voice broke and she choked back a sob, "—miss her so much."
"Oh, sweetie," Willow slipped an arm around Dawn's shoulders, blinking back the tears that came to her own eyes, "I miss her, too."
Dawn's head came to rest against Willow's chest. She sniffled, huddling closer. Her voice was soft with emotion. "I think she was the best person I've ever met."
Willow's eyes closed in memory. "Me too, Dawnie."
Sniffing one last time, Dawn sat up. "But I like Kennedy, though. Now."
"She's different, a lot different, but kinda cool…in a bratty way."
"Sometimes different is okay."
"Yeah. Hey, can I get my tongue pierced?"
Willow's eyes narrowed. "Shouldn't you ask Buffy about that?"
Dawn sighed. "Damn."
Pain shot through Xander's leg as he dragged himself across the cavern. For a moment, he bit his lip against crying out, then glanced at the two unconscious people, thought 'what the hell' and screamed as much as he wanted.
Finally, he came to rest next to Giles's crumpled body. He sighed in relief when he found a thready pulse. Grunting, he flipped Giles over, propped him against the wall, cursed as he slid to the side then re-propped him.
"We've gotta stop doing this," he sighed.
Giles's face was pale in the dim light, his eyes dark spots in his face.
The worry that had been nibbling on Xander's stomach began gnawing.
They needed to get out. And soon.
Chapter 9: Day Eight
Giles is unconscious (again), Faith blows up, and Dawn goes to Hogwarts.
Xander watched as a dark crimson pool sluggishly expanded beneath Amy's still body.
She'd tried to kill him.
He couldn't even finish the thought.
In the fifth grade, they'd been partners on a science presentation—underwater topography and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge—and they'd gotten a B. It was one of the few B's he'd ever gotten in science class.
And she'd tried to…
Some small part of him wanted to scoot across the distance, find the wound and apply pressure—try to help, try to do the right thing—but instead...
…all he could do was stare, one arm wrapped around Giles's slumped shoulders, as the life faded from her eyes.
Amy Madison had wanted to eat him.
And not in a fun way.
"So do I ever get to learn another spell or am I just a one-trick pony?"
Willow, startled from her contemplation on the relative merits of Happy O's versus Choco Crunchies as dubiously nutritious starts to her day, answered intelligently, "Huh?"
Flipping her hair over her shoulder Dawn slid into the seat next to Willow. "I just wanted to know if there was more to this witchy stuff than Wingardium Leviosa, or if the extent of my talent lies in my ability to float rocks."
"Oh. Uhm, what do you want to learn?"
Dawn blinked. "Huh. That was easy. Maybe I can learn Transfiguration? Like, turning things into other things?"
Willow smiled. "Dawn, honey, you do know that Harry Potter is all made up, right?"
"Well, duh. Everybody knows you don't need a wand for magic. Ooh! Can I become an animagus? Cause, like, I would be the coolest animal ever."
"Uh, I don't really know, Dawn. I mean, there might be a spell—I could look it up?"
"Would you? Because I think I'd totally be a dolphin."
"Dawn?" Willow eyed the dusty terrain uncertainly. "Maybe we'll save the dolphins for when we're somewhere less…desert-y, k?"
Dawn rolled her eyes and slumped against the table. "Damn."
"But as soon as we're near the ocean, or a…a pool, or even—hey—even a big bathtub, we'll get right on that."
"Promise?" Dawn squinted assessingly at Willow.
"Pinky swear." Willow picked up the box of Happy O's. "Now, let me eat my breakfast, and I'll show you a nifty light spell."
"Oh!" Dawn exclaimed as she jumped from the table and waved her arm with a flourish. "Lumos maximus!"
"Wow." Willow watched, bemused, as Dawn stalked off, still waving her arms and spouting bastardized Latin. "Who knew I'd ever be anti-reading?"
"Hey, welcome to the land of the living. Or mostly, anyways."
The world was fuzzy. Giles blinked, turning his head against the strange warm thing behind his neck. When he looked up, dark eyes scrutinized him carefully.
A face swam in and out of focus as Giles struggled to regain his bearings. Movement was…difficult, and something heavy was wrapped around his shoulders. He gave a weak shrug and the unidentified thing squeezed his arm. Glancing blearily at the offensive shoulder-squeezer, he slumped in relief when the blur resolved itself into a hand. A very familiar hand.
"Oh. Did I lose consciousness again?"
"Hmm. Well, I—Amy!" His eyes widened as he remembered the sharp tang of black magic that had filled the cavern, slipping between his cells and calling on things he'd once left behind. As he pulled himself upright, the beginnings of panic rushing through his veins, he could feel the echo of that power, tingling and crackling along his spine. "Where is—"
He cut off at Xander's gesture, following the pointing finger to the figure sprawled amongst the debris several feet away.
Giles sighed heavily as his eyes slipped shut.
Another life claimed by the Hellmouth.
No matter how often it happened, he couldn't deny the small ache that flared in his chest when yet another fell to the evil he'd sworn to fight.
Some days he wondered if it was all worth the cost.
Falling back against Xander's warm shoulder, he muttered, "I'm about ready to see the last of this bloody town."
Faith paused at the familiar voice only a moment. Pointedly not turning to acknowledge the statement, she continued tracing the rappelling rope for damage.
She could feel Buffy's presence hovering behind her, that damned tingling at the back of her neck every bit as overwhelming at it always was.
Rising from her crouch, she continued along the line to the anchor, tugging to check its stability, giving the pulleys a spin and watching the smooth, hypnotic swirl. Everything was in working order.
She turned toward camp, arms stretching high above her head as she stifled a yawn.
"Faith, I said I'm sorry."
B never was one to leave well enough alone. Spinning in place, she twisted to face Buffy, pasting a smile across her face.
"Well damn, B. Why didn't you just say so, before? Here I was, all angsting about how the great and powerful Buffy ripped my heart out and fed it to the wolves, but hey, you're all sorry, so I just feel so much better. No hard feelings, right? Because you're sorry and the world's spinning again. So just—"
Grimacing, she bit back at the words swirling in her gut, words that would strip her bare and leave her dangling, exposed, in front of the one person who could do her the greatest harm.
"Fuck off, B," she growled, wheeling and stalking in the opposite direction of camp. Anywhere to just get away.
Buffy's voice floated after her—"Uhm, I'm glad you stayed?"—more a question than an answer, and it took every bit of Faith's power, fists clenched, teeth gritted, to keep walking.
She hated Buffy Summers, almost as much as she…
Xander shifted carefully, flexing the muscles in his now-mostly-asleep ass in a futile attempt to regain feeling, eyes fixed on Giles's face which was slack with sleep, pressed against the cotton material of Xander's shirt.
He had no idea how long they'd been like that, Giles's head slumped against his shoulder as he dozed and Xander's backside became less and less responsive to his wriggle-clenching Buns of Steel for the Sedentary routine.
Still, he hated to wake Giles up.
He wasn't looking so hot.
Not that Giles ordinarily looked hot. Because….Giles, yeah? Well, for an older guy…who was a guy…
Blinking, he shook his head to dislodge the very, very weird thoughts circulating through his brain.
Welcome to Delirium. Please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle and don't feed the monkeys.
"Oh, Giles! You're awake!"
"Very astute. I've a small—" grunting, Giles shifted his weight away from Xander's side, "—request."
"Uh. Yeah. Water? Cement dust? Perhaps an in-flight beverage?"
"Do you think you could possible think a bit less…noisily?"
"Huh? Oh. Right. With the thinking. Which was normal. Thinking. Just normal thinky thoughts. Nothing gay—I mean stray, no stray thoughts. Nope. None." Xander paused, studying Giles's painful expression. "Yeah. Shutting up."
Firmly biting down on his tongue, he turned his face towards the darkness, resolutely not glancing to the side to see…anything. He fought the urge to move away, his arm awkward around Giles's shoulder. he wasn't sure whether it would make the situation more or less uncomfortable to move it, so he remained still, his body tense, mind frantically searching for a subject change.
"Oh! Hey, what was with the passing out? You don't have another concussion, do you?"
"It's not unlikely. And expending what, for me, amounts to a rather large burst of magical energy doesn't help matters, either."
"You mean that glowy ball that you threw at Amy?"
"Yes, that overgrown party trick which fairly well drained my magical reserves."
"Well, it worked."
"A stroke of luck, if you ask me. We're about due one, in any case."
"I'll drink to that. You know, if we had anything. I would. Drink."
"Indeed," Giles drawled, eyebrow arching as he glanced at Xander.
Xander didn't blush. Not at all.
Chapter 10: Day Nine
The girls get dirty and Giles and Xander get real.
"Hey Faith, could you hand me a spoon?" Buffy asked, smiling hopefully as Faith bent to dig through the crinkly Wal-Mart sack, scowling and pushing at the dark hair that tumbled to obscure her view.
Wordlessly, Faith passed over the implement, eyes trained on her own bowl of Happy O's.
"Thanks." Buffy's smile faded as she took the spoon. She glanced at her Toasty Flakes, floating unappetizingly in her milk.
Wrinkling her nose, she observed the other slayer from the corner of her eye.
Who knew Faith could compete against Dawn for 'World's Most Annoying Sulker'?
Suddenly, movement caught her eye and her gaze followed as Faith shoveled the last spoon of cereal into her mouth as she stood, tossing the styrofoam bowl and plastic spoon into the trash can formerly known as a microwave box.
Buffy sighed. Her best friend and Watcher were buried beneath the high school, Faith was sulky and weird (something that most certainly was not probably might possibly be a little bit Buffy's fault) and her cereal was soggy.
Her life was sucktastic.
Suckfest '03, ready for business.
"I wonder what they're doing out there, you know?"
"Presumably, they're…" Giles trailed off, waving his hand vaguely towards the cavern ceiling.
"…imitating a gopher?"
Giles smiled tiredly; trust Xander to keep joking, even when things were…
He let his eyes fall shut and sighed. After a moment, he forced himself to glance in Xander's direction and tried to smile. "Indeed. Although with Willow on board there's a very good chance that actual gophers are involved."
Xander blinked. That…did sound oddly like Will.
The silence stretched between them like taffy, slow and warm and strangely comfortable. Not that Xander had ever been uncomfortable around Giles, really, but for as long as he could remember there was a space, a strange separation from the group, something more than the differences in their ages or cultures, and Xander had never been able to shake the feeling that Giles was Buffy's.
Of course, Giles leaving after Buffy's death did nothing to lessen the feeling.
But after…however long they'd been stuck beneath the remains of his former hometown, the separation had faded and Xander felt…almost safe, in between bouts of mind numbing terror.
"It sucked, you know," glancing over at Giles, Xander frowned, "when you left after Buffy died."
Giles grimaced and rubbed his forehead distractedly. "Xander, I…. a Watcher without a Slayer isn't…. I failed and there was nothing…left. I had to go."
Stung, Xander looked away, the muscles in his jaw clenching sporadically. "There was us."
"No," Xander interrupted, "there was me and there was Willow and Anya and Tara and Dawn. Giles, Willow and I…we've been there since the beginning, for the whole damn thing and you...and you say we were nothing?"
"It's not the same. I—"
"You're right. It wasn't the same. Willow and I never left. Never. We didn't have a destiny, we didn't have a calling or super powers, but we stayed, even when Buffy couldn't. And I get that it's different for Buffy—Willow and I made a choice to become part of this thing when Buffy didn't have one—but that doesn't change the fact that we are a part of this and we always will be. You were our Watcher too, Giles. And you left us."
"Xander…I…. You're right. I…I left you. I left you both. I…apologize."
Xander took a deep breath to calm the storm raging in his belly—as if a simple apology would make everything right?—but then he glanced up, and the broken look on Giles's face took the wind from his sails entirely.
"Yeah." He sighed, suddenly exhausted, and slumped against Giles's shoulder. "I know."
Gritting her teeth until her jaw ached, Faith slipped out of her clothes, tossing them on a long piece of rebar sticking out of the red California earth, then ducked into the Wicca-made shower. She didn't hesitate to plunge herself beneath the steady fall of lukewarm water, groaning as the streams pelted her scalp and the sore muscles of her shoulders. She rolled her head, roughly kneading at the tension in her neck.
Leaning back, she ran her fingers through her wet hair, smoothing the dark strands away from her face.
Buffy was driving her fucking nuts—hopeful smiles and thoughtful gestures and those goddamned eyes, always following her every movement…
She was so close to snapping.
She just didn't know whether the blow would come from her fists or her lips.
Pretty fair toss-up, so far.
Still, a girl had to release a little steam, and if there weren't any baddies to slay…
Eyes sliding closed, she sighed as one hand slipped down her damp skin to slide between her thighs.
"I wonder sometimes, you know?" Xander sighed, running his fingers through his stringy hair. He'd never been the poster boy for male hygiene, but that was just gross.
Xander's attention turned to Giles, who—despite being covered in dust and grime, little trails of dried blood decorating his temples and wandering down his cheeks to curve under his heavily-stubbled jaw—still managed to look disturbingly good.
And the hunger was definitely getting to him.
He blinked under Giles's steady gaze, realizing that Giles had spoken during his sorta alarmingly gay mental break-down.
"Oh. Huh?" Smooth, Xan. Wait. Why did he want to be smooth in front of Giles?
Giles raised an eyebrow. "You were wondering?"
"Oh. Yeah. I was just wondering if Anya…" He trailed off, not entirely sure what he wondered.
"Ah. You reconciled, I take it?"
"No. Actually, we kinda…said goodbye. Just didn't know it'd be, you know, goodbye."
And, new level of comfort or not, Giles could still fill a library with one word.
"Yeah, yeah. I just…wish it could've been different. She just…deserved better."
"God. Yeah. What I did…"
"Ah. Well, perhaps not one of your best decisions,"—Xander glanced up as Giles's hand, warm and strong, squeezed the back of his neck—"but it might be that, in the end, it was best for all concerned."
Xander's eyes closed as he sighed, the truth of Giles's words seeping in past the exhaustion. He'd carried the weight of his callous actions towards Anya on their wedding day for years, tied up neatly in a bow of the fears he faced every time he looked in the mirror.
"Yeah," he answered, because Giles was right; he and Anya, they just hadn't fit, not in the long term.
And just like that, failure fell from his shoulders and shattered, lost amongst chunks of cement and California dust.
Buffy grimaced as she scratched her scalp, layers of sweat and dust caking under her fingernails. Slaying had never been a good-hair-day friendly occupation, but rescue operations in earthquake zones?
Ate the cupcake.
And it was the yummy kind, with chocolate frosting and sprinkles.
Her stomach rumbled at the thought of chocolate as she pulled the band from her hair, shaking her head and rubbing away the soreness of ponytail strain.
Preoccupied with her grungy state, she didn't notice the clothes hanging outside the shower.
Stepping behind the tarp, she froze, eyes wide.
Faith was beneath the spray, leaning ever-so-slightly against the pole that Willow had planted deep into the ground, the fingers of one hand pinching a reddened nipple, while the other…
…was buried between Faith's thighs, wrist cocked just so, muscles of her forearm flexing in time with each thrust, echoed by the soft grunts that fell from her lips.
Faith's pouty, kissable lips.
Biting back a gasp, Buffy backed out of the shower as quickly—and quietly—as possible.
Unblinking, she stumbled away, trying to erase the image of a wet and naked Faith from her mind, trying to pretend it never happened, wasn't happening, trying to paste on a normal-guy-liking-Buffy-face…
And desperately trying to ignore the sharp twinge of arousal between her own legs.
"You know what I'm gonna do when we get out of here? I'm gonna eat the biggest cheeseburger known to man. I saw it on Food Network once. It could kill a man, I think. Possibly has its own zipcode."
"And here I thought we were already trying to escape a life-threatening situation."
"Point. But still—what a way to go."
Xander desperately tried to imagine the taste of a greasy, juicy cheeseburger on his tongue and his stomach rumbled, the sound echoing in the empty space.
"I really am hungry."
An arm slipping around Xander's shoulders to pull him closer, Giles let his gaze drift to the slowly cooling body a few yards away.
Chapter 11: Day Ten
Pink elephants, scoffing bunnies....and a bee.
Faith scowled as Buffy jerked away from the accidental brush of shoulders once again, nearly tripping in the piles of rubble they were sorting through, only Slayer reflexes saving her from a face-plant in what used to be part of a roof.
"Damn it, B. What the hell?" Buffy had always been standoffish with her, but the trauma victim routine was bullshit.
And it was dangerous, place like this.
"Sorry," Buffy answered, eyes to the ground. "Just…sorry."
"Yeah. Sure." Eyebrow raised, Faith took a few large sideways steps away.
If Buffy wanted space, she'd get it.
Faith wasn't that kind of girl…not any more.
Dawn could really get used to this magic stuff; the way it flowed out from her body, rushing down her arms and sparking in her fingertips was so amazing.
Really, it wasn't hard to see how Willow had gotten addicted.
She smirked as a huge piece of concrete rose under her guidance, spinning gently as Buffy began to guide it towards the growing discard pile.
"Ouch!" She yelped as pain shot up her leg. Falling to the ground, she clutched her ankle.
Distracted by the ache, she didn't notice the cool rush of magic slip away.
She grimaced, knocking a buzzing yellow-and-black blur away and reached for the stinger still buried beneath her skin.
Attention drawn from her swelling foot, Dawn's gaze fell into the crater, where Faith was frantically pushing on a large piece of concrete.
"Willow, get this damn thing off her!"
Eyes widening, Dawn realized why Faith was so frantic.
Buffy was under the rock.
Xander stared at the ceiling, transfixed. There was a rock in the shape of a bunny overhead and…he could swear the thing was mocking him.
Hoppy, floppy, bunnies.
Maybe it was better than pink elephants.
And since when were elephants pink?
He should ask Giles.
But that might require energy. Movement. Coherency.
Coherency was overrated. Highly.
Even the bunnies thought so.
Faith scrabbled blindly at the rubble around the big-ass rock covering Buffy's body, tossing chunks of rock and steel like spitballs. Damn B and her bullshit drama queen routine. Faith knew Buffy was gonna get herself hurt.
Finally…finally, the chunk rose from the ground. Faith gave it a push and bent to peer through the shadows as it floated away.
"Faith? Ugh." Buffy grimaced and pushed her torso into a mostly-upright position. "You know, I knew Principal Wood was not of the happy about our date, but hitting me with a school bus? Kinda overkill."
"God, B. You alright?"
Buffy's nose wrinkled and Faith definitely did not find that dirt-smudged expression to be attractive.
"I think—Ow!" Teeth gritted, Buffy grabbed her left leg, just above the knee.
Come to think of it—Faith twisted her head sideways—Buffy's leg did look to be at a funny angle.
Buffy scowled and fingered a new hole in her jeans. "And another pair of ruined pants. This has to stop. Kinda wardrobally challenged, now."
"Wardrobally? Really, B?" Rolling her eyes, Faith bent and wrapped an arm around Buffy's back, one of Buffy's thin arms resting across her shoulder. "Let's get you out of here."
"Faith? What are you—Ow!" Buffy yelped again, grabbing at the back of her head and squinting into Faith's shoulder.
"Buffy?" Faith's voice was soft and close, the warmth of her body seeping into Buffy.
"I think," Buffy started, sniffing a little and fingering a suspicious swelling at the back of her skull before continuing, "that my goose has been egged."
Faith shoved Buffy's probing hand out of the way and sunk her own fingers deep into blonde tresses, outlining the protrusion gently before scowling.
"That's it. We gotta move."
With a grunt, she swung Buffy into her arms—"Whoa! Faith… Oh. Dizzy."—and started the trek across the crater.
Reaching the edge, she strapped Buffy into a harness before grabbing the rappelling rope and scrabbling up the cliff's side.
Willow and Dawn each grabbed an arm and pulled her to her feet, then both leaned over the edge and started chattering away like monkeys.
"God, Buffy! I'm so sorry! This is all my fault."
"Buffy? Are you okay? Do you need an ambulance? How many fingers am I holding up?"
Ignoring them both, Faith wrapped the free end of the rope around her wrist and started pulling, hauling Buffy onto level ground. Unbuckling the harness from Buffy's body, she heaved the squirming girl into her arms again.
"Faith! Put me down!"
"Nuh-Uh. You're goin' to the doc." Faith continued her trek to the car, Willow and Dawn anxious bookends at her elbows.
"The doctor? I don't…" She bucked against Faith's chest, tumbling from her grip and landing heavily on her backside. "Ow! …need to go to the doctor," she finished, pressing against the swelling in her leg gently.
Willow knelt next to her wearing Concerned!Willow Face Number Seventeen and laid a gentle hand on Buffy's shoulder. "Uh, Buff. I think you've broken your leg."
"And ruined my pants!" Buffy pouted.
Willow's eyes widened and she glanced at Faith, who shrugged and mimed a swelling against her own skull.
"Oh! And…uhm, you might be a little concussed."
"Nope. That's Giles's thing. Do you think he's got a concussion now?"
"I don't know, Buffy. But we really should get you to a doctor."
"Okay. But only if I get new pants. Where's Dawn?"
Wincing, Dawn stepped into Buffy's line of sight before crumpling next to her sister, long arms wrapping around Buffy's shoulders and jarring her a bit.
"Ugh! Watch it, Dawn!"
"God, I'm so sorry. I was totally paying attention and being all witchy and stuff, but then it hurt and I looked down and then…"
"Hurt? What hurt?"
Dawn wrinkled her nose and shrugged sheepishly. "There was a bee."
Buffy blinked, mouth falling open. "There was…a bee."
"It stung me." Dawn bit her lip, shifting her weight around to pull her foot to the front, then tugging the leg of her jeans up to display the red welt on her ankle.
Buffy let out a giggle. "There was a bee."
"What?" Dawn scowled, crossing her arms over her chest haughtily. "There was." Glancing over, she saw Willow roll her eyes.
"Oh." Dawn thought a moment. "Oh! There was a bee! I get it." She grinned for a moment before her face turned somber once more. "Really, Buffy. You do need to go to the hospital."
"Guys, I'll be fine. Just a little...bumpy. Bumpy Buffy." She grinned at the rhyme. "And maybe a little silly. Silly Bumpy Buffy." Thinky-face to the fore, Buffy reconsidered. "Actually, I feel kinda sleepy, too. Sleepy Silly Bumpy Buffy." Humming contentedly, she let her eyes slide shut.
"No!" Willow grabbed her shoulders and shook gently. "No sleeping Buffy, 'kay?"
Buffy's lower lip jutted out in a pout. "Fine. No sleeping."
Looking up at Faith, Willow asked, "Get her to the car?"
And Buffy was airborne once again.
"Shuttup. Stupid rabbit."
Giles heard the words from across the dark space as if through ears full of cotton, mumbled and indistinct. His body protesting the very idea of movement, Giles turned his head towards the sound, where Xander was…staring at the ceiling, lips moving soundlessly and sluggish limbs gesturing to the rocks overhead.
Days and days without food and very little water were taking their toll.
Flopping his head away from Xander's delusional conversation, Giles clenched his eyes shut. He knew exactly what had to be done.
It was time.
No more pussy-footing around.
But first, he thought as the dim shadows faded into blackness, it was time for a nap.
"Still say I should've driven B to L.A.," Faith groused, poking at her sandwich sulkily.
Willow took a swallow of water and replied, "We gotta keep digging."
"Yeah." Faith sighed.
"Plus, you know, Dawn was stung by a bee. Who knows if she's allergic? The monks weren't very forthcoming with the medical history, you know."
"Heard it all the first time, Will." Grumbling, Faith stabbed her half-eaten apple with the crappy plastic knife Willow had used to smear on the mayo.
Willow watched, barely containing a smile. "Why don't you just come out and admit it?"
"Hey, I'm not admitting nothing. I've done my time, thanks."
"I mean how you feel about Buffy."
"How I feel? Irritated? Disturbed? Pissed-the-fuck-off?" Pulling the knife from the apple, she plunged it back into the crisp flesh, again and again.
"Faith." Willow's voice was soft and full of an emotion that made the hurt well up in Faith's chest. "Give it some time."
"Yeah, whatever." Faith said, looking away. Standing, she grabbed the apple and threw it before striding away.
Willow watched the apple sail through the air, a spot of bright green against the pale blue sky, until it disappeared within the crater's depths.
Chapter 12: Day Eleven
Captain Tightpants, Daytime TV and the other other white meat.
Warning: This chapter contains some mentions of cannibalism.
"Oh, hey, Andrew."
"Hey, Dawn. Heard the great and fearless leader took one for the team so I decided to, you know, come and pitch in, help out, whatever I can do. You know, my casa is su casa and all that—"
Faith groaned, muttering under her breath in Willow's direction, "Who invited the pipsqueak?"
"Shush. He wanted to help. Plus," she added, cocking her head in Andrew and Dawn's direction, "I think it's cute."
"What? Those two? Please."
"I see sparkage."
"I'm gonna hurl. Look, think I'm gonna head into town."
"Tell Buffy I said to get her healthy Slayer pants on."
"Who said I was going to see B?" Faith yelled over her shoulder as she strode away.
Willow smiled, calling, "Bye, Faith," after her retreating form.
The smile grew as warm arms wrapped around her waist. Craning her head back, she met soft, moist lips with her own.
She pulled away, sighing with pleasure as Kennedy gave her a squeeze.
"Missed you, Baby."
"—although my crater is su crater might be better. Then again, su crater is my crater really works the best, in a totally I'm-not-really-inviting-myself-over sort of way."
"So, did you bring your DVD's?"
"Does Strong Bad wear boxing gloves?"
Xander awoke to strange sounds: a sort of grating, like a knife against a whetstone, except rougher, heavier, and then an odd muffled sort of sawing that kinda reminded him of attempting to cut into his grandma's super secret macaroni and cheese.
Blinking, he attempted to make the world come into focus. He was less than successful.
He groaned and struggled to push himself into a sitting position, alternately clutching his pounding skull and rubbing his itchy, dry eyes. Squinting towards the peculiar noises he saw Giles on his knees, leaning over…
Not happening. Nuh uh. Not a chance.
"B." Faith poked her head in the doorway of Buffy's room, slipping inside when she saw that Buffy was awake and frowning at the television set.
"Daytime TV sucks," Buffy complained, punching the remote with vigor.
"Wouldn't know," Faith replied, crossing the small space and leaning uneasily against the arm of the chair sitting next to Buffy's hospital bed.
Neither girl spoke, both watching as images flashed on the television screen: a woman in a hospital bed, football, a man wearing a cowboy hat (now in Technicolor), two girls trapped in a mine shaft, a bowl of tomatoes, a tampon commercial…
Perching a bit more firmly on the chair arm, Faith cleared her throat. "So, what'd the doc say?"
"I'm concussed," Buffy replied while flipping. She paused for a moment, glancing at Faith from the corner of her eye. "You don't think it's catching, do you?"
"Nah." Faith fought back a smile as she slipped into the chair. "You're just gettin' old, B."
"Yeah, all of twenty-two and I'm ancient."
"Tell me about it. Those mini-mes callin' me 'Ma'am' is about to do me in."
Buffy grinned. "You ever find it kinda…?"
"Kinda?" Faith asked, eyebrows raised.
"Nothing." Blushing, Buffy turned away. Faith watched as she swallowed, the soft curve of her throat flexing. "Faith, I'm…sorry." Biting her lip, Buffy finally turned her head and met Faith's eyes. "I mean about before. I was all…Madame Cleo or something…. I didn't know how to handle what I was…feeling, so denial!Buffy kinda…took over."
"'S alright." Faith shrugged, ducking her head and plucking at the hem of her shirt. "Didn't make it easy on ya."
When Faith risked a glance upwards, Buffy's lips quirked into a wry half-smile. Relieved, she answered with one of her own.
"Yeah, Queen of Denial."
"And then Captain Tightpants said—"
"Wait," Dawn interrupted. "Was this before or after the swordfight?"
"Before. Were you even paying attention to the show?" Andrew asked, rolling his eyes.
"I was trying to watch over the seven girls sharing my room at the time."
"You should have locked yourself in the bathroom, like I did."
"Unlike you, I am not a masochist."
"Point. Anyways, and then…he kissed her!"
"He did not!"
"He did so!"
Dawn crossed her arms over her chest.
"Or, well, it was implied."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Well, he should have, anyways! Mal and Inara are made for each other! They have all that sexual tension!"
"Please. Inara and Kaylee are a much better match—they're just so sweet."
"You're just saying that because of Willow and Tara."
Andrew scowled, kicking at a rock. "But anyways, Joss is a genius, don't you think?"
"Well, I can't say he's done much for me, personally, but he has some good ideas."
"Good ideas? A good idea was putting bananas on pizza—"
"Hey, that was a great idea—you like it, don't you?"
"Mmmm…I'm really hungry."
Xander's stomach lurched as he stared at the bloody hunk of meat in Giles's extended hand. "Oh, God."
"Xander." Giles's voice was hard, gravelly-low and thin. "You must eat."
It looked like meat, just like raw meat from the supermarket, but Xander could still see the paleness of Amy's skin stretched across the muscle, the faint freckles that had blossomed across her face and shoulders the summer they were nine and the Sunnydale Youth Center put in a swimming pool.
"I can't. No way," he said, eyes sliding shut as he pushed Giles's offering away.
"Look at me."
Xander's gaze was drawn upwards—he'd only heard that tone of voice once before, when the band's fundraiser was in full swing and Ripper had come out to play. The kind intelligence he'd always found in Giles's eyes was no longer present, replaced with a cool hardness, ruthless and feral.
Not breaking eye contact, Giles sank his teeth into the oozing hunk of muscle, a gush of blood spilling from his lips to travel down his chin and slip underneath his collar.
The breath halted in Xander's chest as Giles slid to the floor, his knees straddling Xander's thighs, face inches from Xander's own, his breath, sour and metallic, puffing against Xander's cheeks.
"Do you want to die?"
Xander looked away, grimacing.
He yelped when fingers knotted in his hair, jerking his head back to face Giles. "Do you?"
"N-no." Trembling, he shook his head.
Giles sat back on his haunches, hovering inches above Xander's broken leg. Extending his hand once more, he commanded, "Then eat."
They'd cycled through two soap operas, one and a half trashy talk shows—and no, Faith wasn't a closet Springer fan—and were ten minutes into a rerun of Saved by the Bell—"Really, B?"—when Buffy finally broke the silence.
"You tried to kill me."
"Damn. Go for the jugular, B."
"Sorry." Buffy shrugged.
"Yeah. I guessed we'd get around to this eventually." Fingers sliding through her ratty dark locks, Faith sprang from the torture device known as hospital furniture she'd been seated on to pace the length of the tiny room. Cheeks puffing, she blew out a sigh and turned towards the figure in the bed. "Do we really have to?"
Buffy's solemn eyes met her own. "If we wanna move towards...anything...we sorta do."
"Fuck. Thought so."
"No complaining, now. At least you get to wear pants for this."
Faith pushed a smirk onto her face. "Thought you wanted to talk."
"Shut up." Buffy's cheeks were tinged with pink for a moment before her expression sobered again. "Really, though..."
"Yeah." Faith began pacing again. "You were the last good thing left. I couldn't...and I tried, B, more than I ever have, but I just couldn't be good enough. I wasn't...you."
"Faith, you never had to be me—"
"I know, I mean, who could be, right? I just...." Lips pursed, Faith hopped up onto the ancient air conditioning unit against the window. "I've never been able to hang on to good things, you know. Just...all goes to shit. And I wanted so much to keep things good, to be good, but I just...couldn't."
"So you decided to be good at being bad," Buffy filled in.
"Never had to work at that." Closing her eyes, Faith sighed. "At least not before. But you? You were the one thing standing in my way."
"I'm glad I was."
Faith met Buffy's eyes and something deep in her gut shuddered and clicked into place. "Me, too."
"I still can't believe you 'ship Mal/Inara. They're like…so obvious."
"Exactly. Obviously made for each other. Besides, you're one to talk! Inara/Kaylee? I think you've imprinted like a…a duck!" He paused, frowning. "Are you a lesbian, now?"
"What's it to you?"
"Just thought it would be nice to…have something in common."
"You're not gay."
"I am so!"
"Yuh huh. What about Spike?"
Sadness crossed Dawn's face for a moment before she replied. "Everyone thought Spike was hot."
"But now I'm crushed because my true love perished in a ball of flame, forever cursed to be alone in a cruel world."
"Uh huh. Crushed. I can tell."
"Oh, for—" Rolling her eyes, Dawn grabbed Andrew's shoulders and pulled him closer. Without a pause, she smashed her lips against his. Leaning in, she pushed her body closer, her breasts brushing against his chest while her tongue found its way into his mouth.
After a moment, she pulled away, smirking.
"Uh huh. So…"
"Maybe not so gay. But I'm still a little crushed."
Dawn smiled, grabbing his hand and pulling him towards the lunch area. "Me, too."
"So, are you like my girlfriend, now?"
"Don't push your luck."
Tension slipped from Faith's body as she staggered across the room and sank into the chair next to Buffy's bed. "Fuck, B. I don't do this talking thing well."
"Me, either." Buffy's expression warmed a bit. "Hazard of being a Slayer, I think."
"We do come action-ready."
Buffy smiled, before punching the remote again. "It's important sometimes, though."
"Hey, you wanna make up dialogue for a Spanish soap opera?"
Stifling the bark of laughter that rumbled up her throat, Faith snorted. "Yeah, whatever. But I get to be the amnesia chick."
Xander gagged, coughing and spluttering as he was hauled back against Giles's chest.
"Don't you dare."
His stomach was doing the hokey-pokey—breakfast in, breakfast out—and that familiar feeling of sick was seeping behind his jaws, flooding his mouth with saliva and his head with one thought: out.
"Get it together, Alexander."
He jerked against Giles's hold, shuddering as bile crept up his esophagus. Something orange was shoved into his vision and he grabbed at the basketball, pressing his lips against the bumpy rubber and gulping down two healthy swallows of water.
"You will not waste the only chance for survival you have, you hear me?" Giles's voice echoed in his ear, hot breath against his neck, arms tight around his chest.
Logic asserted itself and determination flooded his brain; he did not want to have to go through...that again. Pushing back the sickness, he leaned into the hold, his head falling back against Giles's shoulder.
"'M okay," he gasped out, panting.
Giles didn't let go.
Chapter 13: Day Twelve
Sex, lies and household supplies.
"Giles, I don't feel so hot."
Xander slumped in relief when a cool, dry hand slid across his forehead.
"Actually, you're feeling quite warm."
"Guess the other other white meat doesn't sit well with my system. Go figure."
"Frankly, we've both been lucky to avoid succumbing to illness for this long."
The sound of Xander's labored breaths filled the space between them.
"I don't think I can do that again."
"You might have to."
"Again?" Kennedy smirked, rubbing slippery fingers together.
"Wha?" Willow gasped as the fingers twisted inside her. "You're," she wriggled, trying unsuccessfully to dislodge the Slayer-sized paperweight from her abdomen, "tryin' to kill me, huh?"
"Don't worry." Smiling, Kennedy pulled her fingers free with a pop—"It's only a little death"—before licking at the sticky webbing between the digits.
"Yup. Dead. Or, you know, mostly dead."
"Better than all dead."
"Yeah. I don't even have any loose change."
"Nope. Just loose morals."
"Hey!" Willow scowled, sitting up and clutching the sleeping bag to her chest.
"Don't worry. It's one of my favorite parts about you. That and your—"
"Hey, have you guys seen—Eeep!"
Willow looked up, just in time to see Andrew slap his hand over his eyes. "Andrew!"
"Uhm. I didn't see anything. Or much. Or, okay, a lot, but I don't remember any of it."
Standing, Kennedy slipped easily into her jeans.
"Uhm...I have a girlfriend!" Andrew blurted from the tent's opening, peeking through his fingers.
"Yeah?" Pulling a cami over her head, Kennedy grabbed the sleeping bag from Willow and held it up so she could get dressed behind cover.
"So I'm, like totally not perving on the sexy lesbian sex I just walked in on."
"Really." Kennedy's eyebrow raised knowingly.
"Okay. Maybe a little bit. But I just found out I'm not gay, so I've got, like, years of perving to catch up on if you think about it."
As she struggled with the tangle of her bra straps, Willow peeked around the corner of the makeshift dressing screen. "Andrew, did you want something?"
"Oh. Right. Faith. I was just...looking for her. You know, so we can compare notes."
"Yeah. Dating a Summers woman is hard work, you know."
"Totally rewarding, though."
Willow shrugged into her sweater and came out from behind the sleeping bag. "I think she was going around to the East side of the crater."
"Ah. I'll just...go then. Feel free to...continue. Or whatever. Cause I'm cool with it. And not. Awkward. At all." Grimacing, Andrew disappeared from the entryway.
Kennedy sighed. "Guess we oughta get to work."
She smiled when thin arms wrapped around her waist and she was pulled into a warm squeeze. "I'm collecting on what you owe me later, I hope you know."
Kennedy grinned. "I'm counting on it."
Slipping around her girlfriend's figure, Willow ducked through the hatch and into the light of day.
Pausing a moment, she called over her shoulder, "And if you're a good girl, I'll show you some of those loose morals you're so interested in."
"Hot damn." Kennedy leered, and followed Willow towards the crater.
"So what's this I hear about you makin' the lip-lock with Andrew?"
"Ugh." Rolling her eyes dramatically, Dawn trudged into Buffy's hospital room and plopped down on the edge of the bed. "Who told you? Wait—let me guess. Andrew called and told you."
Buffy failed to stifle a grin. "I refuse to reveal my sources."
Growling, Dawn twisted, lifting her feet from the floor and tucking them underneath her body so she sat facing Buffy. "You're insufferable."
"I just...I mean...Well...Hey, it's not like you've been the best example!"
"What? Since when is this about me? We were discussing your questionable choice of smooch-buddy."
Raising an eyebrow, Dawn crossed her arms. "Is this really a topic you want to discuss? I mean, at least Andrew's human. Or what passes for one."
Buffy's lips twisted as she tapped her chin with one slender finger. "Are we really sure about that one?"
"Well," Dawn sniffed, picking at the lint on her sweater, "at least he's not, you know, a vampire."
A soft glow appeared in the distance, highlighting the cracks and crevices between rubble with dark shadows. The air was filled with an odd scrabbling, squeaking sound, like hundreds of tiny feet running over concrete and dirt and paper.
"Uh, Giles?" Xander asked, sitting up and blinking into the approaching light.
"Yes, Xander?" Giles answered, not taking his eyes off the unique sight.
"I just remembered something."
"Before you went all Dick Van Wicca, Amy said something about...having mouths to feed."
Giles blinked. He wished his glasses weren't broken; he had the irresistible urge to clean them.
Brow furrowed, Kennedy leaned down to investigate the area uncovered by the rock Willow had just levitated away. Carefully, she brushed some dust away and...
Sucking in a large breath, she took a step back.
It was a hand.
A small one.
Her eyes slid closed as she tried to breathe, teeth sinking into her lip to keep from screaming.
"Ken," Willow's voice floated from above, "you find anything?"
Letting out a ragged sigh, she turned her head and called out, "Nah. Gettin' kinda hungry, though. Start some lunch?"
She watched, pasting a smile on her face as Willow grinned and waved before turning to start the trek back to camp. As soon as Willow disappeared from view, Kennedy knelt in the dirt and fumbled with the debris until a body was revealed. Chubby-cheeked and dishwater blonde, the little girl looked to be no older than six or seven.
Sadness welled in her gut, swelling until she could feel it in the back of her throat. Covering her mouth, she swallowed it down.
Staring down at the small frame, her shoulders slumped as a flash of blue cloth nearby drew her attention to another body. Shoving chunks of concrete out of the way and tossing a handful of shingles over her shoulder, she uncovered a woman. Late twenties, maybe early thirties.
And very obviously the girl's mother.
Closing her eyes, she dropped her chin to her chest and began a quick massage of her temples.
Head swirling with possibilities and scenarios, there was only one thing that Kennedy knew for sure: Willow couldn't see what she'd found.
Mind made up, she clenched her jaw and slid to her knees between the bodies. She bent over the mother, gently pushing dirty locks from her forehead, then leaning over to press a kiss to the baby-soft cheek of the girl. Taking the girl's hand, she reached out and tucked it into the mother's, gently folding the fingers together.
Standing, she looked down at mother and daughter, forever frozen in a moment of panic, and sniffed as she felt a warm tear travel down her cheek.
"I hope you're at peace, wherever you are now," she said, her voice no more than a whisper.
Brushing the dust from her knees, she began replacing the rocks, burying the two where they'd fallen and trying to figure out how to tell Willow she really wasn't hungry any more.
"Oh, God," Faith muttered under her breath as she caught sight of Andrew out of the corner of her eye. "What?"
Andrew beamed. "Oh, just stopped by to chat."
"You know, dish the dirt, chew the fat? I could go on if you like?"
"No! No. That's okay. I got it. Just dunno what all we've got to...chat...about."
"Well, I'm sure we'll find something—I mean, we're practically in-laws now."
"In-laws, you know, since you're hooking up with Buffy and I'm totally dating Dawn now."
"Wha—hooking up? I'm not— And damn, I thought Little Sis had some taste."
"Hey!" Andrew protested, scowling and crossing his arm over his chest. "I'll have you know that Dawn laid on some mucho steamy smoochage on these ruby-reds," he said, pursing his lips like a fish, "and everybody's seen you and Buffy do the mating dance of the Vampyre Slayer."
"What? Is there a newsletter now?"
"Not yet. But I've been working with Vi on the template and Rona wants to be in charge of photography and we're hoping to get Willow to edit—with any luck, Slayer's Quarterly will be out in time for Fall!"
"Speaking of, I was hoping I could ask you if it would be alright to do an exclusive on you and Buffy. You know, the original duo, together again? I was thinking about taking the "Slayed by Love" approach, but I'm versatile, if you have any ideas."
"Faith? You're turning kinda red. Are you sure you're feeling alright?"
"What...happened...to Spike, down there?"
Buffy sighed, wriggling back into the nest of pillows Faith had conned from the nurses the day before. "He...saved the world."
Dawn slipped a finger through the weave in the fuzzy blanket scrunched at the foot of the bed, watching it wriggle back and forth. "Were you guys...okay?"
"Yeah." Reaching out, Buffy wrapped a lock of smooth brown hair around her finger, tugging idly. "We kinda were, there at the end."
"I threatened to set him on fire."
"What?" An incredulous smile spread across Buffy's face. "When was this? I thought he was 'cool and stuff'," she finished, making quotations with her fingers.
"It was after he...hurt you."
"Dawnie.... We hurt each other. I think.... He didn't have a soul, and I think he just wasn't able to understand."
"No. Not...not that. Just...that I was with him as much because it hurt me as to make me feel better."
"—pretty screwball, I know."
"You don't still feel that way, do you?"
"I kinda miss him."
Buffy smiled, glancing out the window.
Dawn followed her gaze, and together they watched the world go on.
Out of the corner of her eye, Buffy watched as Dawn relaxed, body softening into a comfortable slump. "So, you never said—what's the deal with Andrew?"
Xander scrabbled back against the wall, gritting his teeth as excruciating pain shot up his leg, but not pausing in his efforts to climb onto a nearby ledge. Giles's arms wrapped around his chest and helped him pull and tug himself off the ground.
Hundreds of creatures flooded the cavern—brown and black and grey and whiskery and squeaky and quite possibly disease-carrying—seemingly being carried by a bright cloudy glow of golden light.
"Guess Amy found a few friends, huh?"
"Well, she spoke their language."
"In more ways than one, no doubt."
The glow grew as the rats circled around the space, crawling and jockeying for position as they sped, faster and faster—a whirlpool of fur and claws and beady black eyes. Finally the light began to pulse, rodent-shadows flickering against the cavern walls, before coalescing on Amy's mutilated body.
Crying shrilly, the rats followed, swarming over the corpse until it wasn't even visible from Xander's vantage point.
As the moments passed, the light dimmed and the frenzy slowed. One by one, the rats scampered away, disappearing amongst the rubble until the glow vanished and only a skeleton remained.
Xander gaped at the spectacle.
"Giles? We're not gonna make it, are we?"
"I don't know, Xander." Giles sighed. "I honestly don't know."
"Hey, Faith...Andrew," Willow called as she strode closer to the pair of figures sitting beneath a tree near the crater's edge.
"Willow," Faith acknowledged, nonchalantly trimming her nails with an eight-inch blade.
"I was coming to see if you guys wanted—" she trailed off, staring at the strange metallic sheen across the bottom half of Andrew's face, "—lunch," she finished, leaning closer, eyebrows drawn into a question.
Brow furrowed, Willow turned back to Faith. "Uh, why is Andrew covered in Duct Tape?"
Chapter 14: Day Thirteen
The stuffing hits the fan. This might be serious, folks.
As Buffy slipped out of the car, Willow greeted her with a smile, pulling her into a quick hug.
"How ya feelin'?"
"Alright. Still a little sore. Of course, the doctors freaked—what else is new?—when my bone practically mended overnight."
Willow tsked gently, wrapping an arm around Buffy's shoulder and guiding her towards camp. "You just get all the hard breaks, dontcha?"
Buffy grinned. "Shut up. But hey!" she exclaimed, bending slightly and drawing Willow's attention to her legs. "New pants!"
"Aren't they? Angel bought them. Or, well, actually I think—and I can't believe I'm saying this—but I think Harmony actually picked them out."
"Harmony? You mean our Harmony?"
"Yeah. She's working for Angel. He..." Buffy paused, wrinkling her nose, "...owns a law firm, now."
"Angel? A lawyer?"
Buffy shrugged. "I know, right?"
"...weird," Buffy finished as they approached the card table and folding chairs turned dining room set where Faith was shoveling spoonfuls of cereal into her mouth.
"B!" Faith exclaimed, standing abruptly and sending her lawn chair scuttling across the dusty ground. "You're back."
"Yup. Present and accounted for." Slipping her arm from Willow's waist, Buffy sidled forward to slip between the table and a chair.
"Oh. Here, let me help you with that," Faith said, pulling the chair away from the table so Buffy could sit. "Hey, you want some Happy O's?"
"God, yes. Two days of runny oatmeal is two days too many in my book."
Faith nodded, turning to round the table in her quest for sugar-loaded breakfast food and caught the table leg with her toe. "Ow. Damn," she cursed, glaring at the table.
"I'll get it," Willow said, cutting into Faith's staring contest with the table. "Why don't you rescue your chair?"
Glancing back at the discarded chair, Faith scratched her head. "Right."
Winking at a blushing Buffy, Willow headed off in search of a balanced breakfast.
"Ow." Xander awoke to an achy, throbbing pain in his leg, a dull pulsing ache behind his eyes, and a steady thump beneath his ear. "Uhn," he moaned, sluggishly lifting his head from the surprisingly soft thing he was lying on.
Blinking dazedly down at the strange new texture, he poked it with his finger.
Brow furrowed, he studied the neat grey rows.
It was a sweater.
He jerked back when the mysterious thing shifted, rippling and bending and sitting up.
It was a sweater on a Giles.
"Are we still alive?"
Xander sighed. "Judging by the throbbing in my leg...all signs point to yes."
"Oh," Giles answered, slumping back against the ledge.
Xander watched as Giles's eyes slowly closed, the lines in his face gradually becoming less pronounced.
He re-arranged himself to take the pressure off his leg, "—that's the best idea I've heard all day—" and leaned against Giles's gently rising chest.
"Uh, here. Lemme give you a hand."
Buffy sighed as some of the weight was lifted off her shoulders, Faith's fingers brushing her own against a piece of steel girding twisted into something greatly resembling a pretzel.
"Oh. Thanks." She wrinkled her nose as she felt her face heat. She'd been at it all day—blushing whenever they touched, feeling...fuzzy...when Faith offered her a hand or an arm. And she'd never been that girl, more likely to scowl and stomp than allow a guy to assert his manliness by carrying her luggage, but then...Faith wasn't a guy.
Faith was awkward...and for the life of her Buffy couldn't ever remember seeing an awkward Faith—the girl who oozed innuendo in even the most strange of situations—but in a way, it was almost unbearably...cute.
Stifling the laughter that threatened to creep up her throat at her own strange thoughts, Buffy forgot to look where she was going and tripped. The girder went flying as Faith fumbled to catch her, hitting the ground with an "Oomph!" when Buffy's elbow lodged in her gut.
"Oh, God. I'm so sorry, Faith," Buffy apologized as she struggled to exit the mass of wriggling limbs they'd become tangled in.
"'S alright. How's the leg?"
"Still in one piece." Grinning, Buffy finally made it to her feet, not exactly shrugging away the hand that braced her waist on the way up. She extended a hand back to Faith as she leaned over to investigate the cause of her downfall, fingers automatically lacing with the ones grasping her own.
Kicking the dirt away, she discovered the culprit: a Sunnydale High Yearbook.
Memories flooded her gut: walking the halls with Willow, bugging Giles in the library, watching Xander host a mini-ballet using the contents of his lunch tray in the cafeteria...
Bile rose in her throat and she pulled her hand away from Faith's.
"B? You alright?"
"Don't." She clenched her fists, nails biting into her palms. "Just don't," she reiterated, stalking off to grab another piece of debris.
Xander woke from his nap, head still pillowed on Giles's chest, one arm wrapped around his waist and the other pressed firmly against his side. A warm hand was slowly trailing through his hair, pushing his unruly bangs back from his forehead and gently massaging all the way to the back of his scalp.
He sighed in pleasure, allowing the silence to fill the chamber.
It was almost comforting.
After so many days of panic and terror and worry about what would happen, how they'd get out...it was kinda nice to just let go. He wasn't exactly sure that he was giving up—even though he knew deep down that the odds weren't great, especially when their only available, albeit questionable, source of food was pretty much non-existent—but he felt a strange sort of acceptance settle over him like a warm blanket, and he had no urge to shake it off.
He and Giles could do nothing more to save themselves.
They had to wait.
Squeezing the body below, he rubbed his cheek against Giles's torso, enjoying the scrape and pull of his stubble against the wool of Giles's sweater.
The hand stilled against the nape of his neck, fingers warm and calloused against his skin. "Xander?"
"Thanks for...for coming back for me."
"You did, didn't you?" Xander interrupted. "You came back to get me and got trapped."
Giles sighed as his finger resumed their combing through Xander's hair.
"There was not a single moment that I entertained the thought of not going back, Xander."
Xander gave Giles another squeeze.
Giles's hand slid around to cup the back of Xander's skull, pulling Xander closer into their combined body heat.
Faith clenched her jaw as Buffy jerked away from Faith's accidental brush of shoulders for the third time that day.
"What gives, B?" She got that Buffy needed her space, but she was beginning to feel like a leper.
"What? Nothing." Scowling, Buffy turned back to the rubble and grabbed another piece of debris.
Faith sighed dramatically and reached out to turn Buffy to face her. Before she could get a good grip on Buffy's shoulder, she whirled around, shoving Faith's hand from her body and glaring.
"I said stop."
"Whoa. Thought we'd sung this song already, B, but what do I know? I'm just the screw-up Slayer."
"Don't." Buffy shook her head, rubbing her temples and staring at the toes of Faith's boots. "Don't do that."
"Do what?" Faith asked, tentatively reaching out to lay a hand against Buffy's arm.
"Don't," Buffy allowed the touch but didn't respond, "just don't...I can't...we can't...do this."
"B? What's the big? I mean, I get that we won't be sheet wrangling any time soon, but I thought we could, you know, talk and shit."
"Faith! We're...we're...up here flirting, and Giles and Xander are God knows where and they could be...they could be..." Buffy trailed off, her face crumpling and tears spilling onto her dirty cheeks.
"Hey," Faith soothed, reaching out to pull Buffy towards her, "so you've needed a little distraction. 'S not a sin. Willow's got Mini-me, and Dawn's got you, and you..."
Balling up her fist, Buffy pressed against Faith's chest, trying to pull away. "It's not right. I'm...such a terrible friend."
"Not a chance. You've been working like Richard Simmons at a bachelor party since they disappeared. Hell, B. You're out here now on a leg that's not even fully healed."
"No." Buffy tried to swallow past the lump in her throat, fists pressing harder and harder against Faith's sternum, muscles straining against the arms wrapped around her waist. "We're not gonna find them," she groaned, collapsing against Faith's body, her weight pulling them both to the ground.
Faith grunted as her head hit the ground a little more roughly than she'd have liked, but kept her hold on Buffy firm. "Yeah, we are. Alive. Got a feeling."
"Yeah?" Buffy looked up.
Smirking gently, Faith reached up to wipe the moisture from Buffy's cheeks. "My tinglies have always been bigger than yours."
A hiccuping laugh spilled from Buffy's throat as she allowed her head to fall into the curve of Faith's neck. "Yeah."
Faith sighed; Buffy's breath was warm against her skin.
Chapter 15: Day Fourteen
Cue the cavalry.
Faith glanced at Buffy through the curtain of her hair as she reached for yet another armful of debris. The early summer sun was glinting over the edge of the crater, highlighting Buffy with golden light; escaped tendrils of hair formed a soft halo around her face. "Hey B?"
"Yeah?" Buffy asked, scowling—and removing any angelic resemblance, whatsoever—at the dirt caked between her fingers and vigorously rubbing her hands together to remove some of the grit.
When Faith hesitated, Buffy glanced up, concerned. "Faith?"
Sighing, Faith continued. "Do you think we'll ever get back what we had?"
"No." Buffy paused, just long enough for Faith's eyes to dull. Reaching out, she brushed the hair from Faith's forehead, the gesture tender, but fleeting. "But what we had before isn't what you really want, is it?"
"No." Faith's voice was rough, hope and fear hiding between the letters.
Feeling her cheeks heat, Faith ducked her head and bent down to push a teetering chunk of cement to the side, revealing a dark space beneath the rubble. "Hey," Faith said, staring into the darkness and pawing at Buffy's shoulder sightlessly.
"What?" Buffy leaned against Faith's back, peering over her shoulder. "Oh. That could...Ohmygod. Xander!" she yelled, lurching around Faith's figure to dive towards the cavern. "Giles!"
Faith caught Buffy mid-lunge, arms tightening around her middle. "Whoa there, B."
"Faith!" Buffy pulled at the retraining limbs ineffectually. "That could be..."
"Yeah, I know. But you need to take a breath and chill, 'kay? I'll go in and check it out. You—"
"But I should—"
"You should stay here in case there's trouble," Faith interrupted, tapping her toe against Buffy's injured leg and smirking at the surprised grunt that escaped Buffy's mouth. "Now gimme the flashlight."
"Fine." Scowling, Buffy handed over the item and placed her hands on her hips. "But you'll let me know if you find anything?"
"Loud and clear," Faith replied, squeezing into the darkness.
Xander grunted as his swollen eyelids lifted, raising one hand to rub at the crusty film holding them together. In the distance, a soft glowing ball was steadily coming closer, bobbing along, casting shadows along the cavern walls.
"Giles?" he whispered, poking his sleeping companion with his elbow.
"Yes?" Giles's voice was rusty with disuse and dehydration.
"You see that?"
Leaning closer, Giles squinted into the darkness. "Is that...?"
Shifting himself towards the end of the ledge, he muttered, "Only one way to find out," before calling out, "Will?"
"Right cavalry," a voice rang back, strong and clear as the light bounced closer and closer, soon unveiling a jogging shadow that paused a few feet away as the light—flashlight, his brain supplied—centered on his face, "wrong horseman."
He blinked, relief flowing into his gut as he recognized the voice. "Never thought I'd say this, but, Faith, I'm so glad you're here."
"Well put," Giles added.
"Yeah, well, rest of the welcoming party's a few flights up, so if you don't mind...?" Sitting the flashlight on the ledge, Faith moved closer, her body heat warm against Xander's legs. She looked at him a moment, before frowning and ripping the white tank from her body while one hand reached out to get a firm grasp on his chin.
"Whoa, déjà-vu, much?"
"Yeah, yeah. Don't get your panties in a knot," Faith replied, dunking the corner of her shirt into the pool of water in the hollow basketball, then using it to wipe at Xander's chin and cheeks.
Oh, yeah. He glanced over at Giles, just noticing the streaks of brownish-red covering his face and neck.
"Faith..." He trailed off, shame bubbling up in his stomach as he tried to pull an excuse out of the air for why they looked like they'd been eating...raw meat.
"Hey," Faith shrugged, gesturing to the pile of bones over her shoulder before continuing to scrub at the stubbled skin of his jaw, "not anyone's business, I figure." Her eyes flicked over to catch Giles's gaze before falling back on her task, eyeing Xander critically before giving him a pat. She squeezed her shirt out, dipped it again, and moved on to give Giles the same treatment. "Do whatcha gotta do. I get that."
Giles's eyes slid closed as Faith continued to clean the evidence of their crime from his face.
Finally satisfied, she slid back into the shirt and grabbed the flashlight, tucking it into the waistband of her jeans. "So who's first?"
Xander winced as the full light of day struck his sensitive eye, falling into the arms that pulled him from his would-be grave and into the clean air. He buried his face in a soft, strong shoulder, breathing in Buffy-smell, his ears filled with Willow-babble and Dawnie-squeals.
"Giles?" he questioned, leaning back in the direction he'd come from as feminine arms held him back.
"Faith's getting him," Buffy's voice, soft in his ear.
Buffy leaned in the doorway, watching as Giles slowly joined the land of the conscious. He looked older, somehow, and yet at the same time, kinda young—not that it wasn't a possibility; he'd been stuck right over the Hellmouth for two weeks.
As he stirred, she slipped closer, settling into the chair next to the bed. She smiled as one of his eyes cracked open a bit.
"Hey. Nice of you to join us, Concussion-Guy."
Giles frowned. "Am I dreaming?"
"Nope. One hundred percent genuine Buffy, here."
He seemed to settle back into the bed, somehow becoming less, right before her eyes.
She turned to look as Faith popped around the corner.
"Oh, sorry to interrupt. Was just wondering if you had a minute. Wanted to...uh...talk?"
"Yeah, hold on. I'll be there in a few."
Smiling nervously, Faith's head disappeared from view and Buffy's attention turned back to Giles, who was studying her curiously.
"You know, I always wondered..."
"I mean, it's not like I'm...or she's...we're just...complicated. I guess. Just..."
"Ah." Giles nodded sagely and Buffy's eyes narrowed in a half-hearted glare; she hated that expression on Giles's face. "You know, however, that it would be alright...if you were."
"Oh. Really? Uh, I mean, I know. But I'm not...we're...I dunno."
She glanced down as calloused fingers found her own, wrapping around her hand in a gentle squeeze. "Word of advice?"
"Appreciated." She squeezed back.
"Before you begin...make sure. It's a...different lifestyle, difficult and unconventional—many will frown upon it."
"Like Slaying is America's favorite pasttime." She smiled wryly.
"Touché. Still, think it over. I failed to do so and earned my most beloved enemy."
Buffy blinked. "Oh. I always thought there was a vibe. There was a vibe...between you two, yeah?"
Smiling gently, Giles pulled off his replacement glasses and gave them a quick rub between the scratchy hospital sheets. "Once upon a time, there were quite a few vibes, if I do recall."
"Oh! Ew! Overshare, Giles!" She grinned, pleased at the smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes.
"Don't worry, point taken. I'll be sure." She stood, smoothing the blankets across his chest before turning to walk towards the door. She paused a moment and glanced back over her shoulder. "Are you?"
Giles cocked his head to the side, puzzled.
"Sure?" Buffy raised her eyebrows, jerking her head towards the wall in the direction of Xander's room.
"Please. I may not be the brightest bulb, but even I can see the way you've been looking at him."
"Giles," Buffy interrupted, stretching to her full height and crossing her arms over her chest. "It's okay." She smiled. "Really."
"I..." sighing, Giles looked down, studying the dry, cracked skin on the back of his hands before glancing her way again. "Thank you."
"Welcome." Buffy grinned, disappearing around the corner only to pop back moments later. "Hey Giles?"
"Next time you want to play hide and go seek, leave me out of it, 'kay?"
When Xander woke in the hospital, he noticed two things: one, the sharp ache in his leg that had been his near-constant companion since the Hellmouth debacle was now more like a dull throb and two, he was getting concerned!Willow face, full-throttle.
"Xander!" He was attacked by arms and a mouthful of red hair and he sputtered, trying to breathe.
"Oh!" Willow exclaimed, pulling away, nervous hands tugging at the collar of his oh-so-manly hospital gown and smoothing out his mop of hair. "Sorry." She grinned sheepishly, settling back into her chair and folding her hands in her lap. "Just..."
"Hey, no worries. I get it." Reaching out, he grabbed one of her hands, linking their fingers together—it had been way too long since they'd been able to hold hands without ghosts of the pasts rearing their heads. He glanced down at their intertwined fingers; all he felt was warmth and comfort. "Missed you, too."
"So, how ya feelin?"
"Oddly—" he turned to examine his leg, which was bound to the bed and wrapped in about a million miles of gauze, "—peachy. What's with the bondage routine?"
"Oh. Well, it had started to get infected—and they got most of it out, they think—and they wanted to keep the wound open for a little while before sewin' you back up, just to make sure."
"Oh." Weird. But he was all for being infection-free, so he'd go with whatever the good doctors said. Plus, the morphine drip was really fantastic.
He felt an answer stretch across his face.
"Do I get Mickey ears?"
Faith glanced up from her position sprawled out on one of the Hyperion's many unused beds as Buffy entered the room.
"So, you wanted to talk?" Buffy asked, crossing the space between them and sitting gingerly on the side of the bed.
"Yeah, I...uh." She sat up, scooting back until she was pressed against the headboard. She ran shaking fingers through her tangled hair before continuing. "This is—damn—this is...fuck. I can't do this," she growled, letting her head thunk against the wall.
"Faith," Buffy scooted closer, eyes big and round and filled with concern. "What is it?"
Biting her lip, Faith looked out the window, idly watching the cars pass by on the freeway below. "I just...I just need to know, you know? The waiting is....it's bullshit, not that I can't, but..." She trailed off, flopping over onto the bed and burying her head in a pillow. "I thought we'd done enough of this talking thing."
"Well, it is well-established that we're both closer to the 'Grrr, Arrgh' end of the communication scale."
"Yeah." Reaching out, Faith plucked at the hem of Buffy's sweater. "I guess...I really wanna know if I'm off the map, here, B. Will we ever…will you ever?"
Buffy looked away. "I don't know. But—"
"Alright. That's fine." Faith rolled over to face the wall. "I get it. Some things you can't take back, can't erase. Way it works."
"But," Buffy repeated, ignoring Faith's interruption and tugging on Faith's shoulder until she turned to face her again. Studying Faith's dark brown eyes, she saw herself—watching Angel walk away, chasing a helicopter, finding a body on the sofa—and, leaning closer, pressed her lips to Faith's mouth.
Soft and chaste, bittersweet and moist.
"B…Buffy," Faith sighed.
Buffy breathed against Faith's lips, "I think it will just take some time."
Faith swallowed, her lips brushing against Buffy's as a shadow of her crooked grin stretched across her face. "Something I've got a lot of, now."
Buffy smiled. "Me, too." Letting her lips linger a bit longer, she slowly stood from the bed and walked out the door.
Sighing loudly, Faith fell back, starfishing across the bed as a silly grin spread across her face.
She leapt from her reclining position as the door banged open, slipping into a ready crouch as a tiny blond whirlwind barged across the room.
When she finally managed to breathe, she was against the wall, Buffy plastered against her chest
"Not that I'm—unh!—complaining or anything," she panted between the long, wet presses of Buffy's lips, "but what happened to slow?"
"We're Slayers. This is slow."
"Huh. I can get behind that."
Buffy leered. "Shut up and kiss me."
Chapter 16: Aftermath: Day Seventy-One
An intervention, a nap, and a flight or fight situation.
Aftermath: Day Seventy-One
"So, I'm calling bullshit."
Xander blinked as his two favorite girls walked into the room, wearing matching scowls and crossed arms.
"Yup," Willow picked up where Buffy left off, "this is an intervention, Mister."
Xander backed away, hands held up defensively. "I swear, it was just the one time."
"No more excuses." Buffy advanced, weight shifting dangerously.
"I can quit anytime, I swear," he continued.
"No more lies." Eyebrow practically crawling into her hairline, Willow stepped forward until she and Buffy stood together, a united—and very intimidating—front.
"It's time to do something about Giles."
"Wha? Giles?" He squirmed as a little flutter started up beneath his breastbone—a little flutter that was becoming all too familar, these days.
"Yeah, Xan." Willow pressed close into his personal space, giving him a little push until he fell, sprawled across the sofa. She sat on the table, their knees brushing, while Buffy claimed the cushion next to him on the couch. "You've been all Depresso-Boy, and it's got to stop."
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually get how you guys felt when I was all moony over Angel."
"Moony? I'm not—" Eyes wide, Xander tried to protest, but was cut off by a scowling Willow.
"Don't even try it, Buddy. I've got your number—and your mailing address, social security number and copies of your birth certificate. I could be you, I get you so much."
Xander gulped; he never could take the Willow-scowl.
"Ever since Giles left for England to recruit for the new Council, you've been all down-and-dumpy, and we're just—"
"He didn't even say goodbye!" he interjected before his mind could catch up to his mouth, cringing inside at the fallout he knew was only moments away.
"Oh. Oh, Xander." Willow's eyes filled with tears as she grabbed his hand, squeezing just a bit too tightly. "Sweetie, I know you're hurt about that, but...he was probably just nervous."
"Yeah," Buffy filled in. "We, uh, sorta had a talk, you know, while you were all stationary and he was...kinda embarrassed, but totally checking you out when he thought we weren't looking."
"Checking me—wha?" Xander rubbed his eyes; this was definitely a dream. He wrinkled his forehead in concentration; if he thought hard enough, maybe Buffy and Willow would make out.
Couldn't blame a guy for trying.
"Stop that." Buffy punched his shoulder—and could he say 'ow'?
"You've got naughty-face."
He looked at her, speechless. "I don't even want to know."
"Point is," Willow interrupted, "you're pining away, all mopey and puppy-eyed, he's pining away, all stuffy and British, and you both could be happy if one of you would get his head out of his backside."
"So we're your backside brigade. Do I need to kick it? Because I'm good at that; it's part of my skill set."
"Uh. No kicking necessary. So..." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I guess I call him?"
"No way, Xan—you'll chicken out."
"Or he will," Buffy added.
"Yup. Gonna have to be—" Willow started.
"—face to face," Buffy finished.
Xander felt like he was at a tennis match, his gaze traveling back and forth between the two girls; they had to have practiced that. "What are you saying?"
He shouldn't have asked.
"You're going to England!" Buffy grinned and squeezed his shoulder while Willow bounced in place—obviously too much caffeine.
"I've booked you a flight and everything."
"A what?" He blinked. Again. It could have been a dream, but it was too much like the distorted carnival ride that was his life to be fake.
"Ahem." A cough at the doorway drew their attention towards Andrew, who was hovering awkwardly in the hallway. "Sorry to, you know, interrupt, but has anyone seen Dawn?"
Buffy heaved a sigh of relief as the front door of the apartment closed behind her; it was so nice to have a home to return to at the end of the day. Or night. Slayers couldn't be choosy.
"Faith?" she called, grimacing as she pulled the scrunchy from her hair and rubbed at her scalp to loosen the strands. She tossed the scrunchy on the coffee table and shrugged out of her jacket, throwing it over the back of a dining room chair. She kicked off her shoes as she peeked in the refrigerator, rummaging through the overwhelming array of condiments—and not much else—before snagging a bottle of water and shutting the door. Cracking the seal on the bottle, she frowned as she realized her query had gone unanswered.
"Faith?" She tried again, sitting the untasted water on the cabinet before following the narrow hallway to the bedroom. She stopped, slumping against the door frame as she took in the scene. Faith was stretched out across the bed, supple limbs, smooth belly and soft breasts exposed to Buffy's view, sheet barely wrapped across her hips. It was almost like one of those Renaissance paintings, she thought, as she circled the bed. As Faith's face came into view, she stifled a laugh at the puddle of drool on the pillow.
Not quite Renaissance, then.
Smiling, she began pulling off her clothes, tossing them in the vicinity of the hamper before sliding into the bed, re-arranging the sheets and snuggling close to Faith's warmth.
Home sweet home.
"Have you seen Dawn?" Andrew's squeaky voice carried down the hallway.
Biting her lip, Dawn shifted her feet until she was pretty sure they weren't visible; wouldn't do to hide behind a curtain with her feet sticking out.
"You know, my girlfriend?"
Dawn stifled a whimper. What had she been thinking?
"I've booked you a flight." Leaning against the doorframe, Willow gave him a saucy smile.
Xander blinked. "Will? Am I? I mean, really, am I doing this?"
"Yes, you're gonna go have the big gay lovin' with Giles."
Willow's laughter was the same as it had been in kindergarten—sweet and soft and just a little bit self-conscious.
"You know, when I gave you that big 'gay me up' speech…"
The laughter died as Willow crossed the space between them, reaching out and linking her fingers with his. "Xan, don't get all with the thinky. I mean, it's good that you're thinking and not just charging in—cause, that can be badness, you know—but you've kinda been nothing but thinky for two months—" she paused, mouth twitching as she shrugged, "—you really think anything's gonna change?"
And just like that, something in his chest settled. Sighing, he answered, "No."
"How do you feel?"
"Like I can't breathe," the words escaped, almost unbidden.
But they were true.
"There you go." Willow beamed again, a trace of naughtiness sparking behind her eyes. "Besides, it could be worse."
"Worse?" And why he even asked, he wasn't sure.
"Yeah. It could be Spike."
"Urgh! God, Willow! Just…Yeach! Blurgle! I've gone incoherent—you've completely frightened me into incoherency."
"Well, I'm your best friend. I did read the manual, you know."
"What? How to Ruin Every Sexy Thought He Has and Ever Will Have?"
"No. How to Kick Your Best Friend's Ass When He's Being a Poopy Head and Wants to Get Sweaty and Naked With Our Strangely Hot Middle-Aged Sorta Friend. How'm I doin?"
Xander blushed. Strangely hot. Yeah, that fit. Glancing up, he met Willow's hopeful gaze. "Just perfect, Will." Giving her hand a squeeze, he pulled her towards the hall. "Now just tell me you've packed me a suitcase and you're approaching MVP status."
She waved towards the entryway, where Xander's bags sat, ready to go. "Someone might think you didn't know me."
Grinning, he wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, pressing a kiss against her hair. "You really are perfect, you know?"
"Yup. Now vamoose." She shoved him towards the door.
His bags were packed. He had a ticket. He was going to England.
He was going to Giles.
He stowed the bags in the trunk and slid into the driver's seat.
Just before he shut the door, Willow's voice rang out across the yard, "And I want details, mister!"
Laughing, Xander pulled away.
Chapter 17: Aftermath: Day Seventy-Two
Scoobies? Meet Barry White.
Aftermath: Day Seventy-Two
"...and this is my granddaughter, Maria. Isn't she pretty?" Mrs. Howard, current occupant of seat 27A, which was coincidentally next to Xander's own 27B, remarked, shoving her wallet under his nose.
"Yes, ma'am," he answered, glancing at the photo and sighing in relief; the girl in the picture was actually fairly attractive, and he hated lying to little old ladies. Well-intentioned or not, it always made him feel twitchy.
"You know," Mrs. Howard continued, "she could use a nice young man like yourself."
"Uhm..." He grimaced inwardly—the promise of fourteen hours with Mrs. Howard was beginning to feel a lot like fourteen days spent under the collapsed remains of Sunnydale High—and replied: "I'm actually..uhm...going to meet someone."
"Oh, how nice! Is she pretty?"
"Uh—" He trailed off. The urge to lie was there, to just go along with this sweet old lady's assumption and save himself the stuttered explanations and awkward looks, but he knew that if he was going to do this, to go and be with Giles and really be with Giles, he had to face it head-on, starting with his impromptu travel companion. Besides, he thought, ruefully, he'd stop the parade of granddaughters and nieces and cousins she'd been unsubtly trying to catch his eye with since the trip began seven hours ago. "Actually, he's not so much the pretty type, you know? More...ruggedly handsome, I think."
"Oh! You should meet my nephew, Steven—he's an engineering student." She dove into her purse, continuing to speak. "Let me find his picture—he's quite the handsome fellow."
Xander groaned, letting his head fall back against the seat with a thump.
Where was a Hellmouth when you needed one?
"Oh, god." Faith flopped back against the pillows, limbs askew and sweaty tendrils of hair plastered against her temples and neck.
Buffy crawled from beneath the covers, smirk fully in place. "You can just call me Buffy."
"Wow. Room's still spinnin'." She reached out blindly, fingers finding strands of soft blonde hair and pulling until Buffy scooted up to join her, lips stealing the oxygen she was panting to replace. Not that she cared, of course—she could do without it for a while, especially if it meant Buffy's tongue doing that.
"Unnngh," she pulled away and moaned, grinning as her energy began to return. "You've got one hell of a learning curve, B," she remarked, fingers tracing the arch of Buffy's neck, trailing down over delicate collar bones to climb the curve of her breast.
"I'm not just a pretty face." Leering, Buffy grabbed Faith's hand with her own and pushed it down, down, beneath the blankets and into the dampness between her legs. "And you owe me, I think."
"Mmmm," nuzzling the soft skin behind Buffy's ear, Faith let her fingers trace the delicate, slippery folds where her hand had been placed, arching her back and sliding over Buffy's body and under the sheets. "Yes, ma'am."
"Faith," Buffy's fingers found her hair and pulled, "you know what that does to me."
She smiled against the smooth flesh of Buffy's belly. "Yup. Now, what was it you wanted me to do, ma'am?"
Faith grinned at Buffy's incoherence; even if her mouth wasn't functioning, her hands had no difficulties in directing Faith into exactly what she wanted.
And Faith was more than willing to play along.
He knocked on the door. Oh, God. He knocked on the door.
Eye wide, he stared at the unmoving door knob, fidgeting with his suitcase and wiping sweaty palms against his jeans.
And then the door opened.
"Xander." Giles blinked into the early morning sun, robe hastily thrown over his bare chest, soft grey pajama pants falling over bare feet, his hair mussed and cowlicked with sleep.
"Giles." Crap. He'd planned the words, all the words with the explanations and the logic and the express-your-feelings that Willow had thought was important, but he knew, as surely as his name was Xander Harris, that all the preparation, all those words, had just been thrown out the window.
In a fog, he strode forward, taking Giles's, "Do come in," at face value and barreling forward, dropping his bag inside the door and pushing, pushing, until Giles was pressed up against the wall and they stood, chest-to-chest, eye-to-eye, in the yellow light of the entryway.
"Missed you," he breathed, forehead falling against Giles's, his gaze caught on the bright ring of green surrounding Giles's pupils.
"Xander." Giles's voice was soft, softer than he'd ever heard it, soft in a way he'd only imagined, caught between dreams and life, in the quiet place where his secrets were kept.
"Rupert," the name slipped from his lips, and Giles, the stuffy British Watcher-cum-librarian who had been mentor, father and teacher in one, disappeared, and before him stood a man, a man of strength and character and principle, a man who made the hard choices and would do anything for those he loved, a man who was strangely vulnerable and insecure and in some ways, needed the very protection he'd offered others so many times before.
A man he wanted to know, inside and out, close and intimate until they ran together, XanderandRupert, like puzzle pieces fitting together seamlessly and comfortably. And somewhere in the back of his mind, he thought this is it, and he leaned forward, pressing their lips together.
Willow sighed as the magic swirled through her body, returning from her watch on tonight's Slay Team like water rushing into a toilet. Except, you know, way less gross and more...tingly.
"Hey, you." She looked up as slim arms wrapped around her waist.
"Hey," she replied, a grin stretching across her face as she leaned back into the embrace, twisting around to catch Kennedy's mouth with her own.
"So how's my favorite vampire-slaying Witch?" Kennedy asked, nuzzling under Willow's jaw, pressing sexy nips and licks against the sensitive skin.
"Mmmmm..." She hummed, letting Kennedy hold her weight as she allowed her head loll to the side to give her girlfriend more access. "Pretty darn good right now."
Kennedy gave her a squeeze.
"So...Xander's off to do the sweaty mambo with Giles..."
"And?" She prompted.
"Means we've got the house to ourselves." A hand slid beneath her top to caress the ticklish skin along her side.
"Oooh, I like the way you think," she replied, turning to take Kennedy's mouth in a deep, wet kiss.
Breaking the embrace, Kennedy bit her lip in uncharacteristic shyness and Willow wanted nothing more than to chase the hurt away with her tongue. She held off, however, when Kennedy began to speak.
"Think I could get a lift?"
She looked around. "Won't someone see? I mean, we're not exactly in the middle of nowhere, here."
"Please?" Kennedy pouted, bottom lip pushed out ever so slightly, soft and wet and so very tempting. "No one will see. And even if they did, they wouldn't believe it."
"Oh, alright." She cracked, just as she knew she would from the moment Kennedy caught her eye nearly a year ago. Turning around, she waited as an arm wrapped across her shoulders, the other fitting snugly beneath her breasts. "Hang on," she called over her shoulder, then let the magic swell beneath her, pushing her away from the ground.
Kennedy whooped in her ear, legs coming up to tangle around her hips as they rose above the tree line.
"Best ride in town." Kennedy's voice floated to her attention as she navigated high above the twinkling lights below.
"Bet you say that to all the girls," she returned as she spotted their destination in the distance and steered in that direction.
"Nope, just my Willow."
Willow grinned. She was so gonna get lucky tonight.
He was in Giles's bed.
He was naked in Giles's bed.
He was naked, with a naked Giles, in Giles's bed.
It was...kinda nice, really.
Head pillowed in the familiar curve of Giles's strong shoulder—bringing back memories of comfort and familiarity in the face of fear and dread—he idly trailed his hand in the furrow over Giles's sternum.
Giles had chest hair.
He'd never slept with anyone who had chest hair before.
But good, in a way.
Smiling, he pressed his face against the soft curls, breath caressing a pale pink nipple.
"Mmmm," Giles hummed, fingers curling in Xander's hair, scrubbing lightly at his scalp. "You alright?"
"Yeah," he rose up a little, swirling his tongue around the peaked flesh.
"What are you...?" Grunting, Giles tightened his grip.
"Thinking of ideas for next time," Xander answered, rubbing his cheek over the place where Giles's heart thundered in his chest.
"Next time?" Giles sat up, dislodging Xander from his comfy spot and looked Xander in the eye. "Xander, there doesn't have to...that is, I don't expect...what I'm trying to say is that two people, under certain circumstances, might find themselves drawn to one another, but that doesn't mean—"
"Rupert?" Xander interrupted, grinning at the flummoxed look on Giles's face as he prowled across the bed on all fours, leaning into Giles's space and kissing him quiet. "Shut up," he muttered before settling them both against the mattress, naked bodies aligning perfectly, skin and skin and twining limbs and hardness and softness, rubbing, rubbing, rubbing...
Xander smiled against Giles's throat; he could get used to this hot gay monkey sex.
"Oh god, Angel, hide me!" Dawn cried as she barreled into his office, skirting around the desk and crouching next to Angel's chair.
"What are you—?" Angel looked down at the brown head next to his thigh, a puzzled expression on his face. "Are you—"
"Shhh!" she whispered, just in time, too, since a familiar blond nuisance poked his head into the office moments later.
"Hey Angel, have you seen Dawn?"
"Uh—" he stifled a yell as sharp nails dug into his calf. "No. I haven't, Andrew. You might try Wes's office—you know how much she likes those books of his."
"Oh. Right." Frowning, Andrew exited the office.
Crossing his arms over his chest, Angel looked down at Dawn.
She shrugged sheepishly, peeking over the desk warily, then hopping up to sit between a volume on inter-dimensional law volume published in 1863—which Angel personally found terribly useful as a doorstop—and a haphazard pile of papers to be filed.
"I thought you'd worked the whole Andrew thing out."
"Yeah, well..." She shrugged. "I sorta kissed him again last week."
"Dawn. I thought you decided not to do that anymore."
"I know, I know! It just...I wanted to watch The Lord of the Rings, and since Buffy's all cheap-o and wouldn't spring for the extended editions after she already bought the originals, I just..."
"Used him for his DVD collection?"
"Dawn! What were you thinking?"
"I don't know! I lived on the Hellmouth, like, my entire life, it was...Hellmouth-induced psychosis!"
"Uh huh. You sure it wasn't your subconscious, acting on something you don't want to recognize?"
"Urgh!" Crossing her arms, she rolled her eyes before hopping off the desk and rounding the large piece of furniture to pace in the open space on the other side. "God! You're impossible. I get why my sister turned gay after you."
"Technically, she turned gay after Spike."
"Yeah, but we both know it wasn't his fault. I mean...come on."
Angel sighed and shrugged. "Alright. I guess."
"Speaking of gay, what's up with all the gay around here? Is it something in the water? I mean, it seems like everyone's started batting for the home team...except for us, of course."
"Well, about that..."
Angel blinked in disbelief and Dawn turned around at the familiar voice, eyes widening at the pale figure cloaked in black. "Spike!" she yelped, running towards the newly-appeared vampire full-tilt...
...and flying right through, crashing inelegantly against the wall. Dizzy, she blinked up at him from her position on the floor.
Spike peered down at himself, brow furrowed as he poked at his chest, his fingers sliding right through.
"I think you're a ghost," she added.