Act Three, Part A
Everyone froze, too bewildered to speak and too scared to make any sudden moves.
Until, that is, the metal part of his cheap lighter was hot enough to burn Giles' thumb; making him accidentally drop it with a curse.
The sudden, absolute darkness brought shrieks from nearly everyone in the cave and at least four of them came from people he did not know. Keeping a firm grip on Xander's hand, Giles turned his head this way and that trying to get a sense of which way to run.
"Where are we?" he heard Buffy ask.
"I don't know," Willow said in a small voice.
"Well, wherever we are," Xander said. "It's definitely not Kansas."
It was balmy in the cave, far too hot to be their new home town, which had been hovering around eight Celsius all week during the daylight hours.
Giles was less worried about where they were, however, than who they were with. The alarmed shrieking was turning into more organized yelling. Definitely human but despite his extensive knowledge of languages - both modern and ancient - still very alien.
"We need light," he said.
"I think we need fire," Xander was on the save wavelength but more direct.
"Why don't we go for both," Willow suggested, before adding, "Tulekahju!"
There was a brilliant flash that blinded Giles for a moment and then a tiny ball of flames, about the size of a golf ball, floated in the air between the four of them.
It lit their faces up, but nothing else.
"Okay, that was supposed to be bigger," Willow lamented.
"It's your magick, Willow," Giles explained as calmly as he could. "You can't rely on it to work as you would expect while the curse is still active."
"Well, how is that helpful?" she griped.
"I think it's helping our hosts," Buffy pointed out. Giles looked up to see the cave's inhabitants advancing on them. "To them it's a big neon sign saying 'Diner!'"
"Hey, come on, we don't know they're cannibals," Xander said, and Giles thought he was maturely attempting the voice of reason, until he added. "They might just wanna sacrifice us to George the Sun God."
They were all inching away now as Buffy pulled Xander and Willow back by their still joined hands, and Giles was tugged with them by his hand in Xander's. The... people? followed them slowly. Their expressions were curious and wary but not exactly hostile. Yet. It crossed his mind that if they let go of each other they could turn and run, but he was gaining a surprising amount of comfort from Xander's large, calloused - and above all - familiar grip. Besides, he rationalized, keeping the strangers in front of them was probably a better idea.
The small ball of fire floated backwards with them, giving them no hope of losing themselves once more in the darkness. He didn't like to ask Willow to extinguish it though. For one, being lost in the darkness only held a very small amount of comfort at the best of times, and two, with her instability, she might accidentally increase its size exponentially and burn them all alive.
"Do you think they're herding us out or in?" Willow suddenly asked.
Giles wished she hadn't used the word herding.
"Out," Buffy said. "I'm pretty sure I can feel a draught on my back."
Xander turned his head towards Giles, trying to look behind them. "And I think I can see light."
"Like moonlight?" he asked, not wanting to look away himself.
"No, like George light."
"The sun?" Willow asked, getting it.
Buffy turned her head now. "I don't think so, but it's bright."
"Oh dear," he muttered, not sure he liked the sound of that.
As they walked backwards around a bend, Buffy's next words confirmed his unformed fears.
"Oh, and it has spears."
They all turned around now, the threat of weapons becoming more important than the curious stares, and Giles realized that the shrieks of alarm had indeed been just that... an alarm. There were four or five - hard to tell for sure beyond the burning branches they carried - of the, for want of a better word, cavemen coming towards them from the other direction.
"See, now that's what you call fire." Xander gestured at them.
"That's what I call trouble," Buffy said.
Giles nodded. The people in front were now conversing with the people behind them in a loud, guttural language he was sure no one born in the last few hundred thousand years had ever heard before. Trying to follow it was impossible.
"What should we do?" Willow asked.
"Can you do your freeze time spell?" Buffy asked. "That way we could just run past them."
"I think that would be very unwise," Giles said, making sure his tone didn't allow for debate.
"Okay, so what? Do I slay them? I mean, is that an option? Are they human or...?" she shrugged.
"Homo erectus or... or Neanderthals, maybe?" Willow shrugged too.
"So... not human? Give me something here, guys?"
"Whatever they are, they are not demons, Buffy. So you should avoid slaying them... unless they leave you no choice, of course," Giles added darkly.
"You shouldn't slay them, period!" Willow said. "What if these particular guys are the roots of the human race? Not a lot of point in saving our skins if killing them winks us out of existence anyway!"
"So what then, Will?" Buffy asked angrily. "We let them kill us just on the off-chance it might save the rest of the human race? Okay, I answered my own question there," she added irritably, "but I still don't like it."
"Perhaps we should just try communicating with them then," said Xander.
"How exactly?" Buffy demanded.
"I don't know. How did Livingstone speak to the savages?"
"We don't know, they're savages!" Willow snapped.
"And we don't know they are not," Giles countered quietly.
The men with the flaming branches were advancing; bring the debate to an end. It was time to either act and take the offensive, or to wait passively to see what they would do. Neither choice was particularly attractive when the results were so incalculable.
They were within setting-them-on-fire distance - the smoke making Giles' eyes water - when Xander stepped forward with his hands held up in a gesture of surrender.
"Hey, look, sorry, we didn't mean to intrude but..."
A man, presumably, with thick hair and beard down to his hide-covered waist stepped forward to meet him, barking incomprehensible words. With one hand he slowly pumped his fire-torch up and down, with his other he groped Xander's clean-shaven face - making him cringe at the proximity to his eye - and then pulled at his clothes, popping a few buttons off of his shirt in the process.
"See, no big," Xander said, his voice tight with controlled fear. "He's just like Buffy was after drinking that beer."
"I did not smell this bad!"
"You kinda did by the second day," said Willow.
Buffy shot her a hurt look but Willow just shrugged.
As the caveman cozied up to Xander and began to sniff him, Giles grabbed Xander's arm and pulled him back into line.
That, he observed unhappily, did not go down well. Their behavior became altogether more threatening at this apparent slight.
"We think he's the chief?" Buffy asked as the hullabaloo grew louder around them.
"What we need is a show of dominance. If I can make their boss my bitch maybe they'll back down. You never know, they might even make me George the Sun God. That could be cool."
She stepped forward to confront Xander's new friend.
Willow caught her wrist. "No, Buffy! You can't just start fighting them!"
"They haven't done anything wrong!"
"And I'm not waiting until they do!"
Buffy adamantly kept going closer, determined to throw her weight around despite the torches and spears now stabbing towards her; trying to keep her at bay. Willow was still trying to pull her back and Giles watched as she was towed into the clouds of fragrant smoke from the burning branches.
"Buffy, no!" he began, but it was too late; Willow's nose was already twitching, her free hand coming up to cover her mouth. "Xander!"
"What?" He was covering his good eye with his hand, the smoke driving it mad, and so was essentially blind right now. "Hang on a minute."
Giles said the only thing he knew would drive right to the heart of the problem without preamble: "Quickly, you must save Willow!"
Vision even more impaired than usual, Xander nevertheless reached out and hooked his hand under Willow's arm to pull her back from whatever danger he assumed Giles had spotted.
Seconds later, Willow sneezed.
Faith rolled back to her feet seconds after the water cooler tumbled over on top of them, the almost full plastic container splitting as it hit the hard floor and drenching them both with chilled water.
"Gah!" she said, shaking herself like a dog once she was upright.
Kennedy pushed herself to her hands and knees, moving slower because she'd taken more of a beating. Her almost healed black eye was bruising and swelling again and her nose was bleeding profusely, the water beneath her getting splattered with red.
She looked up at Faith, who had bruising coming out all over her face but didn't look anywhere near as bad as Kennedy felt. That pissed her off! She spat yet more blood onto the wet concrete and got carefully to her feet, holding her stomach.
"I think you broke my liver," she groaned.
"Good. You broke my freakin' favorite work shirt!"
The grey long sleeved t-shirt Faith was wearing was torn from the neck down to her sternum, leaving her bra and a lot of goose-pimpling skin exposed.
"Good." Kennedy stood there for a moment and then staggered the length of the training barn to the trampoline, where she collapsed over the edge, groaning some more.
"You bleed on that B'll kick your ass."
"When she sees what you've done to me, she'll kick your ass first."
"Need Buffy to fight your battles for you?"
"No, I can fight my own battles. But she's still gonna be pissed off with you."
Kennedy pushed herself off of the trampoline, spat another mouthful of blood onto the floor beside it, and then started slowly for the door. She needed a glass of water, a bag of ice and half a bottle of Advil. Oh, and some dry clothes would be nice. Now the heat of the fight was fading her drenched clothes were making her freezing.
"Hey, where d'ya think you're going?" Faith demanded. "You better stay and clean this shit up!"
Kennedy turned in the doorway, trying not to shiver because it hurt.
"You're the janitor's lackey, you clean it up," she said before hobbling towards the house.
"Oh, that one made me not feel so good." Willow let go of Buffy's hand to hold her spinning head instead. "Is my nose bleeding?"
Buffy peered under the hanging red hair to check.
"Nope, just... lots of snot," she said with a grimace.
"Oh, gross!" Willow went to wipe her nose with her hands but then thought better of it.
"You can use my sleeve," Buffy offered, voice bright even though her grimace was greater. "I can always... burn my sweater when we get home."
"Gee, thanks, Buff. I'm that disgusting that you want to burn anything I touch now."
"Not everything," Buffy promised in a wheedling tone. "Just... your nose."
Willow gave her a look. Buffy rolled her eyes, hands flying up in the air.
"I offered you my sleeve, didn't I? Xander didn't even do that much!"
"Hey, why bring me into it?" he snapped in a low voice as they all looked around. "And maybe it's because I'm not as big a sycophant as you."
"Do you even know what a... sycophant... is?" Buffy asked, her words coming slower as something dawned on her distracted brain.
"Yeah, it's someone who's sick, and not the good kind, the gross kind, the kind that will willingly have their favorite sweater covered in snot just to get cut some slack..."
"Would you please stop bickering for five minutes," Giles snapped as he handed Willow his handkerchief. "Honestly, anyone would think you lot were back in high school the way you've been behaving recently..."
"I can't stop, Giles," Willow said, her voice sounding distant to her own ears as her eyes had trouble believing what they were seeing. "Because as soon as I stop bickering, I have to start..."
As she trailed off, Buffy took up the end of the sentence. "...dealing."
"Dealing with what?" he asked over the noise of Willow blowing her nose.
"This!" Xander spread his arms. "Giles, look around!"
Giles finally did so. "Good Lord!"
Sunnydale's Main Street was exactly as it had been - prior to the rebuilding and remodeling that had taken place after Glory's attempt to get home had practically split it in half, anyway.
All more than a little overwhelmed, they began to walk slowly down the middle of the deserted road.
"Wow," Buffy said, trying to disguise the lump in her throat.
She'd never expected to see any of this again. She'd never really realized she wanted to either until it was all laid out in front of her. She had never truly been happy here - okay, maybe for a month here and a month there, but most of the time life in Sunnydale had been hard and dangerous and lonely and depressing - the more so the older she got. Now though, standing on the street where she'd almost been killed, what? two dozen times, she just felt like she'd come home.
God, what did that say about her life now then?
"My word," Giles said this time, seemingly stuck on two words at a time.
"Sneeze again, Will!" Xander was demanding. "Come on, dammit, sneeze!"
Someone else obviously wasn't so happy to see home again. His reaction was a little strong though, but then that wasn't unusual with Xander these days.
"I can't just do it to order!" Willow said apologetically. "If I could I'd just keep sneezing until the chaos randomly bounced us back home."
"We are home," Buffy pointed out, feeling someone should say it.
"No, we're in the past," Willow said. "I hate it as much as you, but Sunnydale is gone forever."
"Hands up who doesn't hate that fact." Xander was the only one to put up his hand, so he held up his other one too. Then added, "What exactly is it you miss about the place? The Hellmouth? - because I'm sorry to say, that makes you crazy."
"Boudenver has a Hellmouth too," Giles reminded him.
"Okay, is it because Boudenver doesn't have a wide variety of demons trying to kill us on a weekly basis that makes you homesick for this place?"
"It was a nightly basis for me," Buffy sighed. Had she just sounded wistful? Oh God! She shook her head. "But you're right. Sunnydale wasn't so... oh, the Espresso Pump!"
Xander did a double-take, mostly so he could keep her in sight as she took off running up the road.
"The Mouth!" he called after her. "They have burgers and espresso!"
"Yeah, but the mochas aren't so good there," Willow said with a little grin and ran after Buffy.
Xander looked at Giles, who shrugged as he said, "We should keep up with them."
"I vote for no." Xander watched his sneakers as they scuffed along the road.
"If Willow sneezes without us, we may have to live the rest of our lives here."
"In that case, I vote for yes."
"I thought you might."
"Why's it shut?" Buffy griped, rattling the window shutters a little. "What time is it?"
Giles started to look at his watch and then realized how pointless that would be. He craned his neck instead to see the clock on the front of the town hall.
"A quarter past eight."
"But... but it used to be open to midnight!"
She was feeling way more upset than not being able to get a hot chocolatety beverage should have warranted, especially considering they really had more important things to worry about, but now the idea had been put in her head... She rattled the shutters again wondering if Giles would tell her off she just... removed them. After all, they were in an emergency situation here. Giles would probably welcome a cup of hot, sweet tea to sip while he explained to them what the hell was going on.
"It's pretty early for it to be that deserted around here," Willow said. "Where is everyone?"
Buffy gave up on the mocha-dream and turned to look up and down the street.
"That's a good point, Will."
"It was an obvious point, but okay," Xander muttered.
"Yeah, well you didn't say it," Willow said to him.
"I didn't think anyone needed to!"
"And it doesn't stop it from being a good one," Buffy added.
"Enough!" Giles said firmly. "It is very quiet. In fact, without wishing to jinx us as you say, it's far too quiet. There's not a single place open. Even the cinema is dark."
He turned to Willow and Xander. "You two have lived in this town the longest. Just how far back do you suppose we are?"
Almost at once there was the sound of several pairs of running feet coming from one of the many service alleys on Main Street and then Willow was running by. She went by without seeing them and four jaws gradually closed again.
"You know what you were saying about us being in high school, Giles?" Buffy said, gesturing after the running girl.
"Wow, was my hair really ever that long?" Willow leaned forward so she could watch herself run away. That's when it occurred to her. "Wait, what am I running from? I don't remember..."
The owners of the other feet answered her question before she could finish it.
A tall, gangly boy came tearing out of the alley like a pro sprinter. He looked familiar but Buffy couldn't remember why until she heard Xander's breathless whimper of:
So that was how far back they were dealing with. Jesse was in human face but Buffy could feel the vamp vibes coming off of him. They were strong too, meaning he was either a supervamp - which was unlikely considering he'd only been undead for a few days before Xander the complete newbie had staked him - or he had company right behind him.
She braced herself, ready to intercept once she had them both in sight, but was too stunned to do anything but stand and stare as the second vampire ran out of the alley. She did manage to catch Xander though as he fainted towards her; the sight of himself with fangs proving to be more excitement than he could handle.
"Giles," Willow said, sounding close to hyperventilating. "Um, unless Xander's been keeping a really big secret from us for, uh, seven years...I somehow don't think we've just gone back in time."
Giles was staring down the street after the vampire boys. "Oh dear."
After swallowing some painkillers, Kennedy had practically crawled up the kitchen stairs, limped along the corridor to the main bathroom and fallen into a hot shower. It only took a few moments under the awesome spray before she was feeling better.
Sure, she still hurt all over, but it didn't seem to hurt as much now she wasn't shivering in wet clothes.
She'd been pretty stupid down there. She may have the potential to be Faith's equal in a fight but she wasn't there yet, she knew that. It was why Buffy could have still taken her down with one hand behind her back every time they sparred if she wanted.
If she wasn't so worried it would bruise her confidence.
Faith didn't give a crap about her confidence and she didn't always fight fair. Not that she went in for eye-gouging and fish-hooking but she definitely had more of a street-fighter style than Buffy did.
Looking down at her naked body was perfect evidence of that. There was hardly a patch of skin without a bruise on it and they'd only been fighting for ten minutes!
If Buffy saw her like this she probably would go nuts at Faith, but, Kennedy knew, if Willow saw her like this - and knew it was from fighting with Faith - she'd probably go nuttier... at her. She'd see it as another fight Kennedy had gotten into through jealousy and pride. Another fight that she didn't have a hope of winning. Another fight that could have gotten her killed.
After all, Faith still didn't have the best reputation around here.
"Maybe I do have a death wish," she murmured with half a smile as she turned around to let the hot spray sooth the bruises on her front.
That was if Willow even cared about it, but Kennedy had to hope that she would, even if it did lead to another argument. Because if Willow didn't... well, she might as well have a death wish.
Once she was sure the warm water couldn't do any more for her, she shut it off and stepped out of the cubicle. As she was wrapping a towel around her body she remembered with a sinking feeling that she didn't have any clothes in the house any longer. They were all out at the girl's dorm. There was no way she was putting her wet clothes back on to go down there and it was way too cold and wet outside to run out there in just a towel.
She dried off slowly and carefully while deciding what to do. Buffy's clothes would be the closest fit but if somehow Faith saw her heading in there mostly naked... No, she couldn't even be dealing with another argument with her tonight, and another smack down probably would kill her.
Dawn's clothes then? D wouldn't mind and it wasn't like she was here to wear them, but they'd all be way too big on her. She could roll up the sleeves and the pant legs and that might work...
"What about Willow?" The thought left her mouth unbidden, but she knew why at once. "It'd be a way to start a conversation and even if she yells..."
Well, that would suck, but she probably wouldn't not let her borrow clothes even if she was pissed as hell. And they'd fit better than Dawn's for sure. Plus, wearing Willow's clothes would be the closest she'd come to being near her ex for a while.
Faith had been right about that at least.
Without giving herself any time to chicken out, Kennedy tucked the towel around herself properly and left the bathroom; already planning a quick explanation for turning up in Willow's room in just a towel so it didn't automatically get her kicked right back out.
She was already moving easier - although not without discomfort - by the time she was knocking on Willow's door. There was no answer, but after knocking gently again, Kennedy just let herself in, figuring if Willow was asleep she could just snag a t-shirt and some sweatpants and duck back out again without disturbing her.
The room was dark and after a few more seconds she realized, empty too. She snapped on the main light and looked around, wondering where Willow had gone. Wasn't she supposed to be on bed rest? And she definitely wasn't in the bathroom, because Kennedy had been - unless she'd been invisible. That thought brought a slightly dirty smile to her face.
It was unlikely though. Maybe Willow was downstairs. She looked around again as she went to the wardrobe on the other side of the room. Something felt... off. Why would Willow be downstairs if she was so sick even visitors had to be kept to a minimum?
There was a tray of half-eaten Thanksgiving food on the dressing table. A pile of Giles' book still by the bed. Catching sight of what was on the bed made her stop halfway across the room. Four dishes of burnt herbs and powders. Spell stuff. That was when she remembered Giles and the others had been coming up to do a spell to help Willow just before she went to the training barn. She hadn't been needed, apparently, so feeling left out again, she'd gone to punch stuff.
That must be it. The spell had worked, Willow was cured and that was why she was downstairs. Kennedy smiled, relieved more than she could say, and the weight that dropped off of her alleviated her aches and pains way more than the shower had.
Still smiling, Kennedy grabbed the tattiest clothes in Willow's wardrobe - less chance of causing an argument that way - and got dressed as quick as she could. She was planning on going down and congratulating Willow on being better. Instead, she found herself sitting on the edge of the bed, just looking around, remembering when this room had been hers as well, and wondering just what it was going to take to make sure it was again.
"That was me. Right? That was me? Me as a vampire? That was..."
His legs still felt wobbly as they hurried down the street but at least the fainting spell had only lasted a moment or so. That might have been embarrassing if the not-coming-around-in-his-own-bed like he'd hoped hadn't taken all of his attention.
"Yes, Xander, that was you... once," Giles assured him.
"Wow, but that was me! I mean me! With the fangs! The big, big fangs!"
"It wasn't you, Xander," Willow said sympathetically. "I mean, it wasn't you you. You're you you."
"No, not me me. Vamp-me. Me the vamp. With the fangs!"
"You need to stop freaking out, Xand," Buffy said.
"Stop freaking out? Did you see the me?"
"Yes! And I'm the one who has to stake the you! So you need to stop freaking out before you make me freak out even more than I am about it."
"Stake me?" His voice went more high-pitched. "You can't stake me!"
"Not you you! Vamp-you."
"Oh, right. No, wait, I don't like that either! Just because its vamp-me doesn't make it's not me me too!"
"Xander, you know that's not how it works," Giles said. "That thing ceased to be you the moment you were turned."
"But, still," he said weakly.
"Giles, I have to go after them faster than this or I'm going to lose them," Buffy said.
"You can't leave us," Willow said, sounding panicky.
"Catching them up is the only way I can save you!" Buffy said to her.
"Yes, but if Willow were to sneeze..." Giles began.
"Actually - or I mean, that too - but actually I was talking about all the vampires that are peering out of the windows at us."
"What?" Buffy looked around wildly and saw what she meant. There were yellow eyes at nearly every darkened window on the block. "Dammit, I thought I was just getting that vampy feeling from Xander and Jesse. The vamps previously known as Xander and Jesse," she added quickly, before Xander could lose it again.
"Yeah, Buff," he said eagerly. "No point staking me to save Will if she's just going to get eaten by other me's fangy friends anyway."
"Oh boy, this is getting confusing," Buffy sighed.
"Confusion is the least of our worries," Giles said. "Sunnydale appears to be over run with vampires."
"So what's new?" Xander asked. "So the shops shut a little earlier and there's no people on the streets..."
"Ask yourself why there are no people on the streets?" Giles said.
"It was never like this," Buffy said before he could. "Even at the height of vamp season there was never this many in town. And why are they in the shops? They don't need people food. Most of them don't bother about soap."
"Maybe they're just in them because they can be," Willow said with a little shrug.
"It's always been that way. Shops are open to the public, Will. Anyone can go in."
"No, I mean, because there is no one to stop them. They can go where they like because there isn't anyone in Sunnydale to keep them under control. That they're scared of pissing off."
"You mean no slayer?" Xander asked, looking around even more warily than before.
"Sunnydale without a slayer? How does that work?"
"Like this I should imagine," Giles said, waving his hand.
"Hey, it has a slayer," Buffy said indignantly. "I'm here, aren't I?"
"Yes, now, but perhaps the you of this world isn't."
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"Your mother very nearly moved to the Cleveland area, you know?"
"Let me guess..." Xander began.
"Boudenver?" Willow beat him to it.
"Yes. Strangely enough," Giles gave a weird little grim smile. "Only two schools in the country were prepared to accept you after what happened at Hemery."
"But that wasn't my fault!" Buffy whined.
"Your mother chose Sunnydale High over McKinley High because she wanted to keep you closer to your father."
Buffy huffed irritably. "Maybe if she'd chosen Cleveland he might've invited me to Thanksgiving."
They had speed-walked the length of Main Street now. Half a block ahead was the alley to the Bronze - assuming the Bronze still existed in this world. Xander looked behind them. A few of the vampires had wandered out of the shops and were following them casually down the road. His double and Jesse had run into the alley, chasing Willow, but he didn't like the idea of following. Not just because it might mean him - on some level - getting staked, but also because walking down there with a bunch of vampires following didn't feel like a good idea. He'd had enough of those close encounters back in real-time Sunnydale.
"Hey, maybe Will-of-this-world doesn't really need saving. She might be okay without us following her into a dark alley."
"So you're just happy to bite me without even trying to save me?" Willow asked, majorly hurt.
"It's not you you, Will!"
"It's more me me than it is you you..." Willow began.
"Oh, God, don't start that again," Buffy begged, and Giles echoed her sentiments.
"Well, I'm right! I'm still human at least. And what? Sixteen? I still have my whole life ahead of me!"
"Yeah, but it's not your life, it's her life!" Xander stressed.
"Her life is my life!"
"I think I'm getting a headache," Giles said.
"You and me both," Buffy backed him.
"Okay, fine, we'll go save you," Xander said exasperated. "But shouldn't we at least deal with these guys first?"
He turned to point behind him and then took a giant step back; the vampires had stopped being so casual and we closing in. Only five of them but with Willow's magick on the fritz and the rest of them without weapons any more of them would have been overkill. Or at least, a really lot of kill.
At his reaction the other three turned as well. Giles copied his step back and pulled Willow with him. Buffy stepped forward, bracing herself for a fight.
"Okay, this should be just like old times," she said, not a hint of worry in her voice, rolling her shoulders as she reached around to the back of her pants.
Not finding what she was looking for, she patted the small of her back a few times.
"Buff, you have no stake!" Xander reminded her.
"Well, don't tell them that!" Now she sounded kinda worried.
"You can't fight them unarmed, Buffy," Giles said, alarmed.
"Sure I can. It'll just be better exercise." But now she was taking a step back. "Not like you forget how," she added under her breath.
"Watch out!" Willow suddenly yelled.
Xander heard the old engine before he looked up to see the van hurtling down the road towards them. Buffy tackled him to the sidewalk as Giles and Willow pulled each other back as fast as they could. Buffy helped him up by the scruff of his shirt and pressed him back against the brick wall as the van barreled into the vampires.
One was thrown across the street and another was crushed beneath its wheels. The van screeched to a stop and three men jumped out.
All four of their jaws dropped... again.
"Giles?" Buffy said in shocked whisper as her years younger, but somehow more haggard looking, Watcher belted one of the still standing vamps with a baseball bat and then staked him as he dropped.
"Larry!" Xander's voice was equally hushed and surprised; staring as his ex-bully rushed another of the vamps like a line-backer, bowled him clean over and broke his neck. He turned quick for his size and staked the vamp while he writhed on the ground in pain.
The last vampire ran towards them, arms out, pleading with Xander to save him. As the third man spun around and shot him through the heart with a crossbow they saw who he was.
"Oz!" Willow said, with as much astonishment but without the also needed amount of hush.
"There's another one," Oz said all too calmly for the situation as he turned to the shout of his name, and fired straight at Xander.
"Ye G..." Buffy reached out and caught the crossbow bolt just before it pierced his chest. "...ods."
And he was going to faint again.
Buffy grabbed his arm tight and Willow latched onto his other just as the poofed vampire dust went up her nose and...
...was the last thing he heard for a while.
Faith had cleaned up the training barn. Not, she made clear to herself, because of what Kennedy had said, but because it seemed like the right thing to do. And if the brat wasn't going to do it, then she had to. She'd make Kennedy pay for it somehow down the line.
Kennedy couldn't have been further from her mind right then though, as she quickly dried herself off with a towel in her room and got in to some fresh and sexy clothes. Jeans and a tight t-shirt, because let's face, she thought as she brushed her hair, B digs the classics.
'I hope,' she added almost subconsciously, not wanting to admit that she didn't really know what Buffy dug about her. She had a feeling leather pants and spandex tube top might be a little much for making a pumpkin pie, though, and a mini skirt just wasn't practical for the slaying she was going to do after.
Hair straight and actually looking good despite her dunking in the water cooler, and bruises already fading on her face, she checked herself out in the mirror one last time and left her room.
She'd avoided the kitchen on her way up, not wanting Buffy to see her looking a complete mess and giving her grief for fighting with Kennedy, but now she was ready. Maybe not for serious talking yet, that still gave her a weird shivery feeling up her spine for some reason - okay she knew the reason - but for baking a pie and shooting the breeze, she was ready.
As long as Buffy didn't push they could have a nice hour or so together before it was time for her to go on patrol. It was something Faith had been shying away from since the disastrous date and something Buffy had been too, despite constantly asking to talk. Hadn't yesterday been evidence of that? As soon as Faith was prepared to sit down and force their way through the awkwardness, Buffy had made up an excuse to run in the other direction. She didn't blame her, she was guilty of it too obviously, but it had to stop if they were going to get beyond where they were; and if she was ever gonna get laid again.
She went down the front stairs two at a time, trying not to grin nervously because it made the bruise on her cheek ache. She wondered why the fire wasn't lit as she went through the living room, Xander had normally done that by now and it made the room cold. She'd ride him for it later though; right now she had bigger stuff on her agenda.
She pushed through the swing door and the over-cheerful, "Hey, B!" had already left her lips before she realized she was alone in the kitchen. "Huh. Okay then."
There was something burning, or actually, already burnt, she realized as she went quickly to the oven, turned it off and pulled the door open. Smoke billowed out around her, making her cough, and she backed away quickly to open the back door.
As the smoke left that way, she looked around the kitchen. There were half-full dishes of food all over the place. Notes on scraps of paper Buffy had left on the counter. The oven being left on. Obviously B had only stepped out for a minute but it had taken longer. Maybe she was upstairs with Will.
Faith grabbed a plate of something that looked like overfried bhajis - but probably wasn't meant to - from the side and a beer out of the fridge, and then sat down at the kitchen table to wait.
"Is he awake yet?"
Willow looked up at Buffy as she spoke and then back down at Xander's head resting on her lap.
"I think he's getting there." She stroked his brow. "Do you have any idea where we are?"
"Other than somewhere dark, cold and kinda olde-worlde-y, no," Buffy said regretfully as she looked around them some more. "Giles should be back soon though. How are you doing?"
"Snottier than ever... and the seat of my pajama-pants is getting kinda damp."
Buffy chuckled softly. "Well, I can't do a lot about your butt but the offer of my sleeve is still open."
Willow gave her a strained smile. "It's okay, I have my own, you know."
"I didn't say you didn't!" Buffy started harshly. "Jeez, can't you just not..."
"I didn't mean it like that," Willow said quickly. "I was just... well I do have my own, see." She pointed at it. "No point using yours until mines all... too gross to use."
"Oh." Buffy's anger died down as quick as it had risen. "Sorry. I guess I'm just tired."
"Yeah, it must be late. We're all getting a little cranky."
"Hard to tell the difference with us these days."
Willow glanced at her quickly. With Buffy's low tone, she couldn't be sure if it was a genuine comment or if the Slayer was being sarcastic.
"Yeah," was all she eventually said.
When Buffy looked over at her, a familiar glint in her eyes, Willow thought she was about to warm to the topic again. She really didn't have the energy to get into it but didn't have the energy to fight it either.
She was saved from both when Xander suddenly launched into a sitting position. He swayed slightly before looking around at them.
"This isn't home."
"Nope," said Willow.
"Do I have fangs?" he asked next.
Buffy answered this time. "Nope."
He checked his teeth anyway. Satisfied they were nice and blunt; he sagged slightly before maneuvering himself around to sit against the old wall between them.
"Did I faint again?"
"Yep!" They both answered.
"You've done that a lot tonight," Buffy added.
"Twice! Twice isn't a lot. Besides, you'd faint too if you saw yourself as vampire."
"Hey, I got snuggled by my vampire-self once and I didn't faint," Willow said with a slight giggle.
"Whatever," Xander said woozily sullen.
"Hey, be nice," Buffy told him. "We're having a mellow moment."
"We are?" He looked around without moving his head from the wall. "Where are we having this mellow moment?"
"No idea yet," Willow admitted.
Xander suddenly sat forward again fast. "Where's Giles?" He turned to Willow accusingly. "Did you sneeze without him?"
She leaned away, feeling hurt. "I would never do that."
"Chill, Xan, he's just gone to get the lay of the land."
"So you might sneeze without him!" he said to Willow.
"Xander, do you not get the concept of mellow moment?" Buffy demanded softly.
"Well, you were out cold with the fainting!" Willow snapped at him, getting beyond sick of his bad attitude with her. "What would you have preferred us to do? Leave you here or carry you?"
"Are we in Sunnydale still?"
"Then you should have left me here."
"What?" Willow asked, annoyed.
Buffy summed it up better. "So now you have a death wish too?"
"If I had a death wish I would have stayed in Sunnydale," he barked, equally annoyed by their assumption. "But if you two had any sense you'd have stuck with the guy with the better chance of getting you home again - Giles!"
"For your information, Giles insisted on going alone," Willow told him. "But even if he hadn't I wouldn't have left you!"
"Ten more minutes of this attitude and I might've done," Buffy muttered.
Xander turned his head to glare at her. Buffy glared back. Giles walked out of the thin fog before either of them could speak.
"Ah, Xander, I'm glad you're back with us," he said with a smile before turning to Buffy. "We are in Ireland, I believe."
"Ireland, really? That's kind of cool. How can you be sure, though?" Buffy asked as she stood up.
"There were people talking in the square. They have pretty thick accents," he explained. "Hard to miss."
"What year in Ireland?" Willow asked, feeling a little left out of the conversation. After all, she was the one who had zapped them there. Okay, not a strong selling point usually, but in this instance she had the right to join in.
"I'm not sure, but from their attire I'm assuming a few centuries prior to the present at least."
"Wow, we're really quantum leaping it tonight, aren't we," Xander said after a low whistle between his teeth.
"I could keep saying sorry," Willow said, trying to smile, "but it's probably getting boring for you guys by now, right?"
"It's not your fault," Giles promised her. "And at least we're all still together. There is a tavern on the other side of the square. I suggest we head over and try and find out more about where we are."
"A tavern, huh?" Xander jumped to his own feet. "Yeah, that's probably the best place to find out stuff."
Willow's legs were dead thanks to Xander's head resting on them in the cold for so long. She held her hand out to him for some help up, but he didn't notice. Buffy did notice and took her hand, gently hauling her up.
"Thanks." She stamped life back into her feet on the cobbles.
"Do you think the tavern takes dollars?" Xander asked Giles, already walking into the fog with him.
Willow shared an eye-roll with Buffy before they followed close behind.
Faith woke bright and early the next morning and stretched languidly in bed. Buffy had never come back down to the kitchen the night before and after an hour she had just given up and gone out on patrol. She'd found one vampire - one more than the night before - and considered herself lucky. Then she had gone home ready to try the bonding with Buffy thing again.
Buffy still hadn't been around, probably already in bed, so Faith had polished off another preparation dish - still lying around - before going to bed herself. She'd spent a while with Buffy then, if only in her fantasies.
Faith bounced out of bed, more than ready to give it a third go. It was Thanksgiving today and after a quick shower she was planning on going downstairs and making this a day she and Buffy could remember - and hopefully for good reasons not bad.
Kennedy woke up a little startled to find herself in her old bed - Willow's current bed. She'd never meant to stay in the room long, really wanting to go down and see Will, but obviously the stress, the fight, and probably more than that the amount of painkillers she'd taken had knocked her out. She couldn't even remember falling asleep let alone cuddling up in Willow's covers.
She stretched carefully but was happy to find that most of her aches had already gone - power of Slayer healing, she wasn't sure she would ever get used to how cool it was!
Willow wasn't in the bed with her. Had she seen Kennedy here and decided to sleep somewhere else entirely or had they shared a bed but Willow had left really early? It was annoying not to know, but deep down she figured it was probably the first one. She couldn't blame her, it wasn't like she'd planned to have Kennedy in her bed and sharing covers with an ex was always awkward unless you were drunk. Of course it was still awkward even then, but only after you both woke up the next morning.
She got out of the bed a little more gingerly than usual, the deeper bruises still making themselves known - oh how she longed for the day she could give Faith as good as she took - but once she was up she felt pretty okay.
She pulled the curtains open with cheerful enthusiasm and was greeted with a dark, drizzling morning. It dampened her spirits for a moment but then she shook it off.
This was a new day, a fresh start. Willow was better, and hadn't kicked her out of the bed even if she didn't sleep in it with her. Things were looking up.
The tavern was noisy and crowded and looked vaguely like Barnies probably would have looked if it had existed two or three centuries ago. Folk music was playing; no actually it was being played, by three men in the corner. The guy with the accordion was wearing a faded felt top hat and doing an energetic jig as his fingers flew over the keys. Some other people were jigging too, mainly women, and the rest of the patrons were drinking... enthusiastically. It was hardly Buffy's first choice for a night out.
Faith, she figured, would probably think it was coolest thing ever. She smiled as she imagined Faith bringing her here, all proud of herself for coming up with such an awesome original date. Like Faith was ever going to ask her out again! With every awkward day that passed she was starting to think that ship had sailed. It hurt but what was she supposed to do?
She didn't doubt that Faith was attracted to her but if the physical was as far as it was going to go she wished Faith would just admit it already and let them both move on. She had obviously been kidding herself that they would ever be a real couple.
Faith just wasn't made for serious relationships. And even if she was trying... if this was her idea of trying, they definitely had no hope. Buffy needed more than a sex-buddy - no matter how good the sex would undoubtedly be - and she was really starting to think that was all Faith was capable of being. For the foreseeable future anyway. She didn't want to talk, didn't even seem to want to just hang out anymore...
Faith had changed a lot since Buffy had been in high school, but maybe she could only change so much. Maybe she could be a better person without ever losing her old attitude towards relationships...
When had this turned into a good time to dwell on Faith? Shaking off the unhelpful thoughts she followed behind the others as Xander made his way to the bar, hating the way the sticky floor sucked at her shoes and feeling way bad for Willow who was only wearing a pair of slipper socks.
Giles had been right; everyone around them had raucous Irish brogues. They also, for the most part, had long, dirty hair and dull, shapeless clothes. Her first thought was: Who on Earth would ever want to live in the past? Her second was: We stick out, like really. We stick out so much we make sore thumbs look discreet.
And on the heels of that thought the chatter around them died out and the silence spread like a shockwave to the edges of the room until even the music petered out with one last flat note from the piano.
"I think we've been spotted," she whispered to Willow.
Willow gave her a slightly sarcastic 'really?' look before concentrating on what was being said at the bar.
"We're from London," Giles was saying.
The hush around them got hushier as the barman said, "English, are yer?"
Buffy's slayer instincts detected a familiar shift in the crowd as some of the men reached for hidden weapons and her muscles tightened in response. Obviously Giles had said the wrong thing. She wondered if telling them they were American instead would be better or worse. Had America been discovered yet? And if so, did these guys know that?
In the end it was Willow who saved the day. "We come with a declaration from, uh, from the Queen."
"Oh, aye, and since when does the Queen make declarations to the likes of us?" asked a burly man, standing close enough to breath ale all of them.
"I meant, uh, the King?"
Buffy wished Willow didn't sound so unsure, but at least she was trying."Go on then," said the barman. "What's he want from us this time?"
A few in the crowd laughed.
"Uh," Willow said again.
Giles pulled a notebook out of his pocket with a flourish and made a big deal about turning a page and preparing to read. Buffy's eyebrow rose but she kept the rest of her disbelief inside.
"The king hereby offers a truce on all taxes," he pretended to read pompously. "In an effort to bring peace to our two nations."
There was silence after that, broken a moment later by someone asking:
"What else he got?"
There was more laughter.
"Ah." Giles turned a few pages while he waited for inspiration to strike. "Ah, yes, and that we buy everyone here a... a tankard of your finest ale as a token of his trust."
"T-two tankards?" Giles tried.
"Why don't we make it three?" Xander said, pulling his wallet from his pocket. "Just to really seal the truce. The King knows you're all hardworking guys, just trying to make an honest buck like him. He just wants you to know he royally supports you and stuff. So, what do you say, gonna let His Majesty by you a beer?"
There was some murmuring and then the barman said: "For sure, we'll drink the bastard's money, right lads?"
There was a cheer from all sides and the music started back up with even more buoyancy than before. The four time-travelers breathed a sigh of relief as the ale began pouring.
"How much do you think this is going to cost me, Giles?" Xander asked, peering into his wallet.
"Just give him all your coinage," Giles said, "and tell him it's from the King's mint in America."
There was another little confrontation over the money but it was settled quickly thanks to Giles' suggestion and then they were pretty much left alone again. Four tankards of ale were pushed across the bar to them. Buffy and Willow both declined but Xander and Giles took theirs. Xander grabbed the spare two as well.
"Feel like sneezing yet, Will?" Buffy asked as they sat down on squat three-legged stools at one end of a long wooden table.
"No, but believe me, I'm trying."
"Don't force it," Giles advised. "The magick may sense it and quell itself."
"You're talking about magick like it's a living, breathing thing," Xander said as he supped from a tankard. He pulled a little face and then grinned. "This isn't that bad. I was expecting it to taste like boiled rats or something."
"Magick is a living, breathing thing," Willow said. "It just doesn't live and breathe in the same way we do."
"You make it sound creepy," Buffy said without thinking.
As soon as she said it she expected a negative reaction from Willow, but the Witch just shrugged.
"It is at the moment. I don't like the fact that it's working against me right now, that's for sure. Magick is what I am. If it goes wonky, then does that mean I'll be wonky forever too?"
"There's more to you than magick, Willow," Xander sounded a little impatient.
"Like what? I obviously suck at relationships. Kennedy was really into me until we got together and then I blew it."
"First of all, you were with her for months before you blew it, and you didn't blow it, you dumped her!"
"She dumped me!"
"Only because she thought you were dumping her," Buffy said, and knew at once it was a mistake to give an opinion.
Willow rounded on her in a way she hadn't with Xander - that was getting annoying too. "Oh, so it's all my fault again. She just assumed so that gives her the right to finish things between us?"
"Why do I feel like I've had this conversation a million times before?" Buffy looked away exasperated. "If you wanna get back with her, just ask her out again."
"It's not that easy..."
"Trust me, it is that easy. You ask, she'll say yes, you both live happily ever after."
"It's not that easy!"
"Because of Oz?" Giles asked, surprisingly.
Buffy had thought he'd keep out of this conversation. Annoying relationship chat not really being his thing.
"No, because..." Willow looked like she didn't have an answer, but then said. "...Because we want different things."
"You want her and she wants you," Buffy said. "Different, sure, but not exactly incompatible."
"She's young and rich and a slayer, and I'm... not so young, with no money and a... a wonky witch!"
"Sounds like a match made in one of the more lenient heavens," Xander joked.
"She goes into things fists first with no thought of the consequences," Willow tried.
"Yeah, well you used to go into things with wiggly fingers first with no thought of the consequences," Buffy countered.
"Should have known you'd take her side," Willow muttered.
As Xander shook his head and Giles raised his eyes to the low ceiling, Buffy nabbed one of the spare tankards from in front of Xander and muttered a "Whatever" back.
She sank back a little on the stool, wanting out of the conversation that never went anywhere, for this round at least. The ale really wasn't that bad. A little rougher on the palate and a little sweeter than she was used to her beer being, but it was stomachable. It occurred to her that stomaching too much wouldn't be a good idea. Next time Willow sneezed they might end up in a pit of fire demons and she'd need all her wits about her to make up for the fact her slayer skills were probably a little rusty. Not gone, or even dampened, but she just didn't use them as much as she used to.
She still sparred with Kennedy regularly but she hadn't actually patrolled for, what, three weeks? And she hadn't actually slayed anything then either, she'd let Kennedy have the single demon they'd found. Giles kept saying that any day now they were going to get swamped by demons and the undead, as those that had fled Sunnydale made their way to the Cleveland area. It wasn't happening though. Either evil was taking its sweet time in getting there or their Hellmouth was defective. And even her training of the newbies and the watcher babies was mostly just a lecturer's role. She shouted out instructions from the side and occasionally demonstrated something, but that was it.
And she was happy with that, right? Out of the game was what she had always wanted after all. Except she wasn't out of it, just on the sidelines. She was close, but not close enough and not far enough away at the same time. It was maddening.
Maybe if Faith was never going to change and be the perfect girlfriend, she should be the one to change... change something anyway. Get out of the way of the game once and for all. Do something different. Get a nine-to-five job somewhere, settle down with a nice Riley-type and have a couple of kids that she could pass her Mom's turkey recipe on to. Or travel the world with a backpack. Ride the Orient Express, work on a yak farm in Asia, live in Italy for a year... The possibilities were endless...if Faith couldn't change.
Buffy sat back on the stool a little more, sipping from her tankard, letting her eyes drift across the room as she contemplated a life without Faith after spending the last six months building a life with Faith in her mind.
"Look, I'm sorry," Willow said without sounding it. "I'm just freaking out a little here." She lowered her voice. "I have a chaotic-nerve spell inside me and I keep teleporting through time and space every time I sneeze! How would you feel?"
"A little grateful that my friends came along for the ride?" Xander sniped.
"I am grateful, but let's not forget you didn't come along willingly."
"Hey, we all saw your sneeze brewing. I could have let go in your bedroom but I didn't."
"Let's all just calm down," Giles said. "Obviously all of our nerves are running high but bickering won't help. We need to..."
Buffy nearly fell of the back of her stool when the profile of a man on the other side of the room caught her eye. "...Oh my God!"
"What is it?" Willow asked as they all tried to see what she was seeing.
The angle was wrong for them though so she was left staring in shock alone. It couldn't be, it was too weird. She willed the well-built man to turn towards her but he was too busy... carousing was probably the technical term... with his drunken buddies.
"You look like you've seen a ghost, Buff," Xander said, craning his neck to see.
She would have laughed at that if it had filtered through her shock enough. Definitely not a ghost. Definitely flesh and blood and breath and... a heartbeat?
This was too weird!
"Buffy?" Giles asked with concern.
"Angel," she replied, her voice sounding faraway.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Oh my God, she's right!" Willow said as the man turned towards them to catch a buxom waitress around the waist.
"No it's not," Xander said. "Angel, for all his many many faults, is cleaner than that! And his hair is all sticky up at the front not long and messy."
"You look at him and tell me that's not Angel," Buffy said with a good attempt at calm.
"I just did." When Buffy glared at him he shrugged. "I'm not saying the resemblance isn't freak-worthy, but how can it be?"
Buffy shrugged, staring at her possible-ex again. He was pulling the wench onto his lap. She tried to struggle away, squealing with laughter when he wouldn't let her. Buffy frowned.
"Maybe a descendant," Willow suggested.
Buffy shook her head. "I never knew Angel's exact date of birth, and I don't know what year this is either for that matter, but I do know that's either the twin brother he never told he had, or..." she took a deep, disbelieving breath. "...It's him."
"How can you be sure?" Giles asked curiously.
"He's the love of my life!" Seeing all eyes turn to her, she corrected herself. "Was, whatever! The point is I'd know him anywhere - three hundred years notwithstanding. Uh, and if you could all not tell Faith that, that would be good," she added in a quiet rush.
"He's not acting very Angel-y right now," Willow said, waving a hand to where Angel was now dry humping the struggling wench he was hanging onto.
"Yeah, who knew becoming a vampire would actually make him more of a gentleman," Xander added.
Across the room Angel raised a tankard to his mouth, gulping down its contents. The bouncing around he was doing made most of it pour over his face and the waitress finally managed to wriggle away. She wasn't finding it so funny now and once on her feet turned and slapped him across the face, sending his tankard flying.
"What do I do, Giles?" Buffy asked.
"Not a thing," he replied sternly. "To interact with a figure from our past may alter future events drastically. Engaging with Angel at this time may change his path in any number of ways. We can't risk that."
"Maybe we can change it in a good way," Willow said.
"Like telling him to avoid any mysterious blonde girls named Darla?" Buffy said. "We could save him from being turned into a Vampire?"
"We probably could," Giles said. "But if we did that he would be dead long before you met him."
Buffy frowned but Xander spoke before she could, sounding far too enthusiastic.
"Yeah, but if we could save him from being killed. That's gotta be of the good. I mean, isn't that what we do? Save people from Vampires."
"Xander," Willow began. "Think of all the times Angel saved us. Without him we would have died in Marcie's gas leak, or you might never have found Buffy in time to give her CPR, or Faith's fake Watcher might have fried me with her scary glove-thing!"
"Yeah, but think about all the people who wouldn't have died when Buffy made him lose his soul!"
Buffy would have snapped back at that if she hadn't been too busy thinking: No Angelus meant no Drusilla, no Spike... her whole life after arriving in Sunnydale would have been completely different. Maybe worse, but... maybe better? No heartache from losing the love of her life to an evil, soulless monster, with the added bonus of no lifelong hang-ups about sleeping with the people she loved. That would certainly come in useful right now. Perhaps, even, with no Angel on the scene she would have realized how she felt about Faith right from the start. Faith might never have gone bad - saving her from a life full of hang-ups too. And it wasn't as if she'd be killing him, the opposite in fact, and she'd be saving him from the pain and regret he lived with every day now.
Could she imagine a life without Angel in it, though? Was she really prepared to choose a possible past with Faith over her actual past with Angel? Faith had been anti-relationship right from the start; would she have changed if Buffy had been into her back then? Could she change?
"Jenny might still be alive," Xander was saying.
Buffy caught Giles' hurt expression and despite being mad at Xander his words, they added a little cement to her currently shaky thoughts.
Willow was on a whole different thing though. "How can you say that? Just because you never liked Angel doesn't mean you can just use Jenny's name in vain like that!"
"It wasn't in vain!" Xander said. "It's a valid point!"
"Yeah, but what's the point of Jenny being alive if the rest of us are dead!" Willow turned quickly to Giles. "I didn't mean that the way it came out."
"I understand. I think it would be best if we all got up and left now before this conversation goes any further," Giles said, his voice tight.
Buffy wasn't so sure. About anything right now. Angel had stood up and chased the serving wench, making a grr-ing sound his drunk self probably thought was hilarious. He only went a few steps though before giving up and falling back on his stool, laughing uproariously as he stole someone else's tankard. As he lifted it to his mouth, he turned slightly and his eyes met Buffy's.
"Oh shit," she said, too quietly for the others to hear her.
If she had been in any doubt before she wasn't now. His eyes were definitely his eyes. He dropped the tankard back onto the table and leered at her.
Look away, look away, look away!
She didn't. "Will, now would be a really good time to sneeze."
"Why? Oh. Oh!"
Angel was standing up again, wiping his face off on his poufy sleeve. If she ever saw him again in the future she was so going to make fun of his dress sense. If? She definitely would... unless? Was she really contemplating this?
"Oh crap!" Xander saw him making his way over. "Are we one hundred percent sure he's not a vampire yet? Because we probably look pretty fresh and tasty compared to everyone else."
"We're sure. Look at the color in his cheeks," Giles said and pushed his tankard away from him. "I think now would be a good time to go. We are not achieving anything in here anyway."
"Maybe we are," Xander countered, catching sight of Buffy's expression.
So did Willow. "Buffy, no! You love him, remember?"
"If I love him, wouldn't I want to save him from a life of torment? Wouldn't I want to remember not sending him to hell?"
"You'll still remember it," Giles said hurriedly. "But when we eventually return home everything will be completely different. Completely, Buffy! We may not even have a home. We may have been dead for six years!"
"I've come back from the dead before," she said, eyes on Angel who was almost at their table now. "I can show you guys how it goes."
"Buffy!" Giles snapped.
"Please?" Willow begged.
"Too late," Xander said, and he actually sounded scared now of what he might have set in motion.
Buffy didn't have time to answer any of them as Angel fell onto the stool next to hers and leaned close, nearly crushing her with his scent. Her nose wrinkled and she did her best not to gag. Ye gods! Dirty sweat, charred meat and stale ale assaulted her senses and the next time she saw him, if she saw him, it wasn't going to be his clothes she made fun of after all.
"Hello," she managed, leaning back a little.
"Ello, and ain't you just a pretty young thing, now."
"Am I? Thanks." She leaned back further.
He leaned closer. "To be sure. Saw yer looking at me from other dare. So I thought I'd come an' interduce meself."
"Oh, that's nice."
"Glad yer t'ink so. Me name's Liam. What's yers?"
"Joan? Well, dat be a nice name now. Can I buys yer a drink, Joan?"
"Bu... Joan, we have to leave!" Giles snapped.
"Now hang on justa minute, gran'pa," Angel, or Liam, said genially. "Yer got yerself a fine young lass dare." He waved a hand at Willow. "Let's not be greedy now."
"Now look here," Giles began to stand.
Xander pulled him back down as Buffy said, "It's okay, Giles."
"See, Goiles, Joan says it's okay. So how about dat drink?"
"Maybe we could talk first?" Buffy said, ignoring Giles warning glare and still not entirely sure she was going to go through with this anyway.
True, she would be doing the world at large a huge favor by not letting it suffer through Angelus, but did she really want her last memory of Angel to be of his all-consuming stench? Seriously, it was making her eyes water!
He smiled in what he probably thought was a benevolent way and said, "Sure, I like lasses with a bit of a mind to them."
She returned a grimacy smile and... nearly took a deep breath but remembered not to just in time... and began. "I'm not sure how to explain this but at some point in the next few days or weeks or... or months... or maybe years... uh..."
"Yer not makin' a whole lotta sense dare, Joan," he said laughing.
"I know, but, this is important..." she paused, doubting she could go through with it after all.
She tried to steel herself, thinking about how much better this would be for him and so many other people even if she wasn't one of them. She thought of Jenny. She thought about Spike and the sweet person he had probably been before he had been vamped. The sweet person Angel had told her Drusilla had been before he made her crazy. Of all the lives he'd destroyed. She thought about how much simpler, how much better things could be between her and Faith right now if he had never been in the picture.
She thought of all that, but she couldn't help thinking about their first kiss too, or okay, their second kiss had been better, and all their kisses after that. Of all the times Angel had held her when she'd been scared of her calling, of all the times he'd held her just for the sake of holding her. She thought of all the good times they'd had and wondered if it was really fair to rob him of those as well as herself. Lastly she thought of Giles' warning of messing with the past and the possible dire consequences it could have.
She thought about all of that and still didn't know what was the best thing to do.
"Well, Joan, what was it you were wantin' to be sayin'?" Angel put his arm around her possessively, releasing strong waves of his overpowering smell into the atmosphere.
"Um, just that..." she had to stop talking to gag suddenly as his odor hit the back of her throat. "Oh God!"
"Yeuck," Willow said, getting hit with it too, her nose wrinkled and then she gasped and then, urgently, she yelled, "Hold on!"
"Huh?" Buffy asked, turning to her. Seeing the other two grab suddenly at Willow's arm and shoulder, she said, "Oh shit! Sorry, Angel!" and grabbed onto her best friend's wrist.
"No ones ever called me an angel before," Angel said, amused by her antics.
"They will," Buffy promised, and then smushed her ear to his smelly smock-shirt. She heard three beats of his heart before Willow sneezed.
Faith was in the kitchen, frowning around at the mess when she heard someone in the doorway. She looked up, hoping it was Buffy, but it was just Kennedy so she went back to frowning.
Kennedy stopped on the threshold, holding the swing door open; hesitating about coming in when she saw only Faith was in the kitchen. Then she kicked herself for showing weakness and let the door swing shut behind her.
"Buffy's not one for clearing up after herself then."
"That makes two of you," Faith jibed but there was no real feeling in it.
"I wasn't going to grab a mop after you'd just beaten me to a pulp," Kennedy started to argue.
Faith held a hand up. "Can it, we might have bigger problems."
Concerned by her tone, Kennedy surveyed the mess properly, seeing just how bad it was. "Did a demon do this?"
"Don't think so. It was nearly this bad before I went patrolling last night, but..." Faith turned around on the spot. "...even if B did get away with leaving it like this, Giles probably woulda cleaned it up."
"Nearly this bad?" Kennedy went to set some coffee going seeing as no one else had bothered to yet. "So Buffy came in and made it worse overnight?"
"Doubt it, unless she deliberately dropped the pie dish on the floor and spread the crumbs all over the place."
Kennedy frowned for a second and then rolled her eyes. "The pixies."
"The pixies must have been on a food raid over night."
Faith frowned at her now. "Any part of that sentence supposed to make actual sense?"
Kennedy gave her an impatient look before realizing Faith really didn't know what she was talking about. How could she not know about their housemates? True the little purple menaces had been making themselves scarce since the night they'd attacked - even Kennedy had only caught the occasional glimpse of them as they darted from here to there like mauve mice - and it was unlikely Faith went anywhere near the woodshed, but still she'd been there a couple of months now.
Faith was still looking at her quizzically, but she wasn't in the mood to enlighten her.
"Ask Buffy," she said instead.
"I would if I could find her."
"What do you mean?"
"I haven't seen her since yesterday afternoon. I waited for her last night for hours but she never showed."
"Never showed once in the kitchen she's frantically trying to prepare a Thanksgiving meal in?"
"Not while I was here. And she's not here now, obviously, when you'd think she'd be going into meltdown mode clearing this shit up so she can start all over again."
"That's weird," Kennedy admitted. "Or maybe she's just a flaky chef."
Faith shrugged. "Well, if so she picked a hell of a day to flake."
"Maybe she's just still in bed. All the cooking yesterday wore her out."
"Maybe." Faith started for the stairs. "I'll go check her room." As Kennedy followed her, she turned on the first step. "I don't need a chaperone."
"I think Willow might have slept in there too."
"And seeing as those two are hardly speaking, why would you think that?"
"Because I don't think she slept in our room... her room." As Faith raised an eyebrow, she added, "Because I accidentally slept in there."
"Accidentally, right." Faith gave her a grin that was more big bad wolf than camaraderie but said nothing else as Kennedy followed her up the stairs.
She knocked once but when she got no answer she pushed the door open without bothering to try again. She was barging in because she had a legitimate concern. If that meant she caught B in her undies? Well, she could always apologize later. She didn't because there was no one in there. Kennedy followed her in to make sure Willow wasn't hiding in the corner. The bed didn't even look like it had been slept in but Buffy could have made it before she left.
"Sure Will ain't in her room?"
"I think I'd have seen her if she was."
Faith loitered in Buffy's room for no good reason but to look around, and subtly sniff lingering traces of Buffy's perfume out of the air. "Thought she was sick?"
"They did a spell to cure her last night. The herbs and stuff are still all over the bed."
"Think it worked?"
"Well, I assumed that's why she wasn't there."
"Let's go ask Xander."
She knocked on his door but barged in this time without even giving him a chance to answer. He wasn't there anyway. His bed was messy but then without Andrew here to make it, it often looked like that.
"Maybe he started work already," Kennedy said.
Faith glanced at the alarm clock on his chest of drawers. It was a little early for that. Plus, he'd told Faith he was going to Barnies last night and that usually meant he slept in until his alarm clock couldn't take being snoozed anymore.
"Maybe," she said, leaving the room. "But he said we weren't working today 'cause of Thanksgiving."
"So maybe he just wanted to finish something before he took the rest of the day off."
"Maybe," Faith said again. "Let's try Giles."
Downstairs in the living room, Faith rapped on the door to Giles' bedroom. This time she did wait for an answer, not wanting an eyeful of the Watcher in his undies, not because she didn't think he probably still looked good in them, she just didn't need that kinda awkwardness.
After knocking three times and getting nothing, she opened the door and poked her head around it. Seeing no one in the bed she went in.
"Giles isn't here either," Kennedy stated the obvious.
"Try his office."
Kennedy went next door and he wasn't there either. She looked at the mess of books and papers over the desk, seeking a clue to where everyone might be. It was all about Willow's illness as far as she could tell. A lot of stuff about the ritual he'd been planning last night and a list with accompanying notes about possible magick practitioners in the area that could help. She recognized the name of a witch Willow had talked about that lived down by the lake and the wizard guy from Wooster. The others she'd never heard of.
Faith stuck her head in the door. "Well?"
"Does it look like he's here?"
Faith bit back her retort, making a big effort not to start bickering and a heavy sigh was the result. "Anything useful I meant?"
"Possibly." Kennedy picked up the notebook with the list in it and left the office.
Back in the kitchen, Faith fixed herself a cup of coffee while Kennedy read over the list again.
"What if Giles couldn't cure it himself so they went to one of these guys?"
"Makes sense why they weren't here last night. Doesn't explain why they're not back yet though."
"Maybe it's taking a long time. Giles never bothered telling me the details."
Faith looked over, sensing the bitterness in Kennedy's voice. She could relate to that feeling when it came to the Scoobs. She made her a cup of coffee too and brought it over to the table.
"You believe that?" she asked.
"I can't think of another reason why they all wouldn't be here."
"Unless they did cure Red and they all went out partying to celebrate without bothering to tell us," Faith said only half joking, as she sat down.
"I wouldn't put it past them." Seeing Faith's curious look Kennedy forced a smile as she sat down too. "Which is cool. After all, they are all bonded tighter than most blood-relatives."
"I know. It's annoying." It was Kennedy's turn to look curiously at Faith, and she hurriedly added with a wave of her hand, "But, ya know, cool for them I guess."
They both sighed, slumping down in their chairs as they sipped from their coffees.
After a while, Kennedy said, "So we should just wait for them."
Faith nodded. "Yeah, they're either gonna come through that door all happy that Will is cured, and then we get to celebrate with them. Or they're gonna come through it as hung over as hell and then we get to rightfully bitch at them for forgetting us. It's win win."
They slumped further in the chairs as another silence stretched on.
"Want some breakfast?" Faith asked eventually.
Faith pushed one of the dishes of practice food towards her and grabbed another for herself. Seeing Faith start eating with her fingers, Kennedy gave a shrug and did the same.
After a few mouthfuls she stopped. "Wait. Maybe we should save some of this for dinner. Just in case Buffy isn't back in time to cook."
Faith swallowed irritably and pushed her dish away. "Okay, this is worse than prison! At least I knew in there the yam burgers and lumpy mash potatoes were a done deal!"
Kennedy started laughing.
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