Act Three, Part B
"I can't believe you nearly did that!" Willow snapped as they winked back into existence.
She wrenched her arm from Buffy's grip so there would be no doubt who she was mad at.
"I can't believe I nearly did that," Buffy agreed, she was shaking more than a little with unspent adrenaline.
She sounded shell-shocked, which gave Willow a moments pause, but only a moment.
"You could have altered the course of history!"
"That's what I was planning to do."
"Not just Angel's! Everyone's!"
"I know that, and again, that was the plan. Our lives would have been completely different if I'd never met Angel."
"Not just ours! Everyone's!" Willow stressed again. "Every life he touched..."
"Every life he took away, you mean," Xander said, straightening up again.
He'd been resting with hands on his knees for a couple of seconds, breathing funny. So had Giles, she realized now. The teleporting was taking its toll on them. It was rough on her and she was used to it, or she used to be used to it when she was evil. Buffy was faring better because of her slayer stamina but Xander and Giles had no such barrier against the yucky feelings that came from zipping through time and space as quickly as walking through a door.
"Either way," she snapped. "Every life he changed, changed someone else's, who changed someone else's and so on. To stop Angel from becoming Angelus could have meant radical, unthinkable changes by the time it got us our lifetimes."
"Willow," Giles said quietly. "Buffy was only acting as she should have done, as the Slayer."
Buffy groaned, "That makes it sound worse!"
"No it doesn't," Xander promised her and Giles nodded solemnly.
Willow huffed, realizing she was outnumbered three to one and stormed off ahead into... into some place she had no clue about. Where she was, when she was or even, with the magick coursing through her, entirely sure what she was anymore.
With this in mind she slowed down a little as she looked around.
There was a quaint little hamlet just down the road from them. Just a handful of thatched wooden cottages, that were all more thatch than actual cottage. Thick wood smoke rose from every roof, making the air fragrant. It looked kind of like Pleasant Creek except for the scenery was all wrong. High mountains surrounded the green valley and even though the sun was just rising brightly over the top of them, the air felt fresher somehow than it did in Cleveland.
"Where do you think we are?" she heard Buffy ask the other two.
"I'm not sure yet," Giles said.
"Mountains. Forests. Elks... Oregon?" Xander guessed.
"I don't think so," Giles said as Willow turned her head to get a look at the elk.
It was standing a way off. Tall, proud and antler-y. It was magnificent and brought a smile to her face despite the irritation she was feeling. It disappeared into the trees at a panicked run as they entered the hamlet.
She only walked a few more steps before Willow realized why. Everyone in the hamlet was in a state of panic. There was screaming, crying, yelling. People were running all over the place in that way that suggested they were more concerned with running away than where they were running to. Other people were running in a more organized fashion, carrying pitchforks.
Willow stopped, trying to get a clue as to what was happening, and a viciously thrown sourdough bun ricocheted off the side of her head.
"Ow!" she squealed, cringing and rubbing her stinging ear, giving the others time to catch up and surround her protectively.
"What happened?" Xander asked.
"Someone threw something at me!"
"What the hell is happening?" Buffy asked, staring around in surprise, her own inner-turmoil forgotten for the time being. "It all looked so peaceful from back there."
"I think something's attacking the village," Giles said.
"But what?" Xander demanded.
Willow's eyes went wide as she spotted the big, red-bearded creature rampaging through the villagers, paying no mind to even the sharpest of projectiles lobbed at it.
"That!" she yelled, pointing.
They all turned.
"Troll!" Buffy yelled.
"Olaf!" Xander yelled.
The troll stopped his apparently mindless running about and stared directly at them.
"Oh crap! I wasn't trying to get his attention!"
"Shoulda thought about that before yelling his name!" Buffy shouted, smacking his shoulder.
"Who's Olaf?" Giles asked.
"Him!" Willow pointed again.
"But how do you know...?"
Olaf the Troll was now running lumberingly towards them, grinning, as if they were his best friends and he wanted to give them a big ol' cinematic troll-hug.
"Run now, explain later?" Willow squeaked.
"Yeah, that way, over there." Buffy grabbed her arm and Xander's and just ran. "Come on!"
Faith was playing flick the pecan nut into the empty foil dish with a spoon. She had started out with it at the other end of the table but had scored every time. Since then she had moved to the other end of the table and the dish was now on the breakfast counter. She had missed the first shot by a hairs breadth and was just lining up her second.
It hit the inside of the foil with a ping followed by a crackle as it rolled around the dish.
She said a quiet "Ha!" under her breath. "Sure you don't want a go?" she asked as another nut hit dead center. "We could bet on it."
"No." Kennedy was playing solitaire with the cards again.
"Wanna play Blackjack then?" Faith asked, indicating the cards. "For money?"
"No," Kennedy said again. "Why are you suddenly acting like we're friends?"
"I'm not," Faith got up to move the foil dish further away. "I'm just booored!"
"Me too," Kennedy admitted, throwing the cards on the table and stretching. "What's taking them so long?"
"Maybe they can't cure her."
"Don't say that!"
"Yet, I mean. Maybe it's just taking a real long time."
Faith sat back down at the table and aimed her spoon towards the draining board. A hand grabbed her ankle, making her jump and throwing her aim off. The pecan rattled in the sink.
She stuck her head under the table. "Hey! Gimme a little warning next time! Now, shoo!" The hand didn't go away. "Do I look like your mommy? Get out of here."
"She's missing Andrew," Kennedy said.
Faith changed tack. "Do I look like your daddy? Let me go."
Goorzar hiccuped at her and cuddled up to her leg. Faith accepted defeat and straightened back up.
"Fine, but you drool on me and I'm making myself a demon fur coat."
"You'll have to go through me first," Kennedy told her.
"Wouldn't be hard."
"Do you think we should try calling the numbers on the list? Find out where they are?"
"Are there numbers on the list?" Faith grinned as her nut hit the target again.
"No, but I know the wizard's number is in Willow's phone book."
"Then try it," Faith shrugged. "Even if they're not there, he might know where they are."
Kennedy got up and went to Willow's magick room. She tried the door but it wouldn't open.
"So, you're a Slayer. Give it a good push."
"I can't break in!"
"A little breaking and entering don't hurt if it's for the greater good."
"Then you do it. You're the criminal."
"Ex-criminal," Faith said without bothering to look at her. "And I have your demon attached to my leg."
Kennedy came around the other side of the table and called Goorzar out.
Faith sighed, "Fine."
She tried the handle first, then keeping it twisted she bumped her hip against the wood. The door sprang open without the lock even snapping.
"There ya go."
It was embarrassing to be a pro at this kinda thing around here sometimes, but right now it was just funny. She sat back down at the table, smirked at the disgruntled younger slayer and gave her thighs a couple of encouraging slaps. Goorzar leapt from Kennedy's arms straight onto Faith's lap with some deep, satisfied hiccups. Faith grinned. That had been a pure gamble - it wasn't like she'd had much to do with the demon kid - but it had paid off and the look on Kennedy's face was priceless.
Kennedy stood up, brushed off her knees and then held her arms out. "Goorzie."
Goorzar gibbered excitedly and held one of her own stringy, hairy arms out but didn't attempt to move from Faith's lap. Kennedy sniffed unaffectedly, took Goorzar's hand in her own and squeezed it lightly.
Dropping a kiss onto her hairy head, she said, "Okay, stay here with Auntie Faith. I'll be back in a minute."
"Atie Fathe," Goorzar repeated, making Faith grin, before the baby demon threw herself backwards in sheer glee and head butted her in the face.
It was Kennedy's turn to grin. "I won't be long. If her address book is anywhere I can find it, I'll find it quick."
Faith was rubbing her nose. "Yeah, whatever."
"Are you sure you can handle her for five minutes?"
"Of course I freakin' can!" Faith shooed her away as she wrapped her other arm around Goorzar's tummy. "You love me, right girl?"
Goorzar hiccupped. "Atie Fathe, gurl."
Satisfied with that, Kennedy headed for the Magick room.
When Goorzar almost immediately started to squirm in her arms, Faith picked up a handful of pecan nuts and showed them to her as a distraction. Goorzar stopped struggling and stared at them like a dog at a bone.
"You want one?" Faith asked.
The demon just kept staring so she figured that was a yes. She held one up between finger and thumb and Goorzar swooped her head down and took it between her teeth, nearly taking Faith's fingertips with it.
"Hey! Where's your manners?" Faith rubbed her fingers and thumb together to rid them of the almost snapped up feeling.
Goorzar crunched the nut once before swallowing it and then looked bashful, giving her the cute, old demon eyes. Cute and demon, not two things she'd ever thought of in the same sentence before. Questioning her sanity, Faith held another nut up.
Goorzar leaned down slowly this time and in an effort to take the nut more gently her lips covered Faith's fingers down to the first knuckle before her teeth got a grip on it. Faith looked at her hand afterward. It was dripping with demon saliva.
She pulled a face. "Okay, better, but ya still covered me in drool!"
Goorzar gave her that look again and Faith rolled her eyes, wiping her hand on her jeans.
"Okay, one more go, but if this one pans too you're not getting any more of my nuts."
She held up a pecan. Goorzar stared at it solemnly and Faith waited with a grimace for the gross feel of demon lips against her skin again. Then the baby demon reached up a hairy hand and plucked the nut from Faith's fingers and popped it into her mouth. The masticated nut was very visible as the demon chewed and grinned at the same time.
"You were playing me!" Faith said, not sure whether to be pissed off or impressed. Goorzar hiccuped. "You little... demon!"
"Everything okay out there?" Kennedy called.
"Yeah. She's allowed nuts right?"
"We haven't found anything that upsets her stomach yet," Kennedy called. "Except marshmallows. Don't give her marshmallows."
"I don't have any marshmallows," Faith called back. "Find anything?"
"No, still looking."
"That's not quick!"
Faith chuckled and called back mockingly, "No need to be rude. How long ya gonna be?"
"Don't know. Why? Is Goorzie making you her bitch?"
"Nah, me and Goorzie are cool," she taunted. "She just told me she wishes I was her mommy."
"Bite me," Kennedy said again, slightly muffled this time as if her head was deep in a cupboard or up her own ass.
Faith smirked and held another nut up for Goorzar who took it gently between her fingertips again and put it in her mouth.
There was a rap at the back door. Faith called out "Yeah?" more interested in the way Goorzar had stiffened from head to haunches on her lap.
The door opened and Oz came in. "Hey."
The nut blew out of Goorzar's mouth like an express train leaving a tunnel, hit the cupboards on the other side of the kitchen and then landed with a ping in the foil pie tray on the draining board.
Faith started to smile until the second part of the performance kicked in. Agitated bouncing at first, followed quickly by jumping up and down on her lap, over-excited squeals - and not happy ones - nearly deafening her.
"What the hell?" She tried to contain the demon on her lap but it was getting harder by the second.
"Is something wrong?" Oz asked, coming further into the kitchen.
As she tried to grab Goorzar around the middle to physically restrain her, the baby demon twisted in her arms, paws flailing as she screeched, nearly knocking Faith out. She kept hold of her even as her head was slammed backwards by an accidental punch but she was sure as hell feeling less like she wanted to. What the hell was wrong with the fricken demon? Surely she couldn't hate Oz that much?
As Goorzar clawed at her shoulder, trying to climb over it and away, she became aware of a whining, grunting, yelping noise over the top of the demon's freak-out. She looked at Oz in surprise, half-expecting him to be wolfed, but no, he was still Oz-shaped.
Hearing the commotion, Kennedy came running out of the Magick room. She stopped just inside the kitchen and assessed the situation immediately.
"Get it out!"
"Willow invited me," Oz said calmly.
"Not you, asshole! Get it out!" She shouted again as she ran the few steps to Faith's chair. "In the garden, anywhere, just get it out of here!"
"What the hell?" Faith asked, not understanding anything until Goorzar finally, painfully, leapt from her to Kennedy's waiting arms and she was able to look around.
She only caught a glimpse of the big, shaggy dog hiding behind Oz's legs but as the dude half dragged, half pushed him out the back door it was pretty obvious the mutt had caused all of this.
"Jeez," Faith breathed, sitting back in her chair.
"I thought you said you could handle her!" Kennedy snapped.
"I was handling her! I didn't even see the damn dog until you came in!"
"That's just great then!" Kennedy held the demon tighter and rubbed her face against the side of her head, crooning to her. "You're okay, baby. It's just a dog. Dogs are harmless. You could kill a dog with your bare hands anyway."
Faith's eyebrows rose but she didn't comment. She waited until Kennedy had whispered to the demon for a few more minutes before asking,
"What are we gonna do about Oz?"
"He's fine out there. He can come in when Willow gets back."
Faith raised just one eyebrow this time as she realized Kennedy was completely serious.
Buffy was first, followed by Giles, then Willow and Xander were bringing up the rear as they ran around and in between some more of the wooden hovels. Was hovels the right word? Or was that like really un-PC. He gave a high giggle to himself. People were chucking food at a troll! Sensible sure, but pelting the outsider wasn't going to win any politically correct awards back in two-thousand and three.
Then again Olaf was chasing them, so the more stuff the other people threw at him to slow him down the better in Xander's book. And while he was on the subject, why was he at the back anyway? What was Buffy doing all the way up the front when the danger was right behind him?
He'd already fainted twice tonight though and was only hanging on to his manliness by the skin of his teeth, so he would just suck it up, keep his position and wait for the moment that troll hammer hit his head so hard he ended up to his neck in the ground.
"So we are in the Land of the Trolls?" Giles was trying to get an explanation from Buffy as they scurried from building to building.
"I guess so."
"That's one word for it," Xander muttered under his breath.
"But if we're in the Land of the Trolls," Willow began, "what are all these humans doing here?"
"You got me," Buffy called back. "Maybe if we don't get hammered first we can ask them."
Xander was suddenly wondering about something way more concerning. If this was the Land of the Trolls, where were all the other Trolls? Close by? Maybe descending on the village right this minute. Olaf they could probably duck and dodge for as long as it took for Willow to sneeze, but if two or three of his buddies came around the corner, they were gonna end up four dead Billy goats in no time.
They ran through the center of the village again, passing by stone fire pits and racks of skinned rabbits and other less identifiable small creatures hanging like clothes on a washing line.
Xander took a look over his shoulder and saw Olaf had stopped chasing them, halted by a heavy barrage of potatoes.
"They've got him on the ropes," he called so the others could hear him. "I say we head for the hills while he's distracted."
"Okay, this way." Buffy cut right, across the clearing to the houses on the other side, heading for the mountains.
The rest of them ran full pelt after her, hoping to get out of Olaf's sight before he was free to chase them again. From one of the buildings wafted a smell that called, these days at least, to Xander's hindbrain in the way most people responded to the smell of freshly baked bread.
"Ooh, a bar." He stopped running. "Hey, guys, maybe we should hide in here?" Close behind him Olaf roaring in Trollish spoke to his hindbrain way louder than the scent of mead and roast meat ever could. "Or we could just keep running!"
They cleared the buildings for the open land beyond and Buffy pulled each of them behind one of the wooden houses while she took a second to take stock of the situation.
"We can't just keep running," she explained. "We'll end up lost for one thing. We need to do something."
"We're already lost," Xander panted, leaning back against the side of the house. "And I think the thing we need to do is keep running."
"But there are people here."
"People and trolls! I'll take somewhere that has no people over somewhere that has people and trolls any day."
"Could you just man-up for five seconds?" she snapped.
"Would you man-down!" he snapped back. "You've been acting crazy all night. Wanting to beat up cavemen and slay vampires and save Angel from becoming a vampire..."
"You thought that was a good idea too!"
"I know but I don't like him! You do. So why were you prepared to risk destroying the fabric of reality when it would mean you never seeing him again, or ever meeting him in the first place?"
"You said it yourself," she said coldly. "It's what I do. It used to be what you did as well, or have you forgotten that?"
"Things change. Some of us grew up."
"Grew up?" Buffy gave a shocked little laugh and then pushed him backwards. "I'm the Slayer! I don't get to grow up! And from what I can see, you didn't grow up, you just grew scared!"
"Can you blame me?" he yelled. He hadn't meant to say that. He had meant to deny the accusation. "And just because I don't want to hang around pointlessly and wait for a troll to kill us doesn't make me scared, it makes me the only sensible one here!"
His attempt at covering his slip felt flat even to his ears. The truth was out there now. He set his jaw, waiting angrily for the reassurances to come. They didn't. Giles offered him a tight smile but that was all. Willow didn't even appear to be paying attention.
Buffy stepped into his personal space, still as angry as he was. "You need to get over it. You're no good to anyone like this."
"Don't you dare tell me..."
"Uh, guys, I know this isn't the best time," Willow piped up excitedly. "But I think that's D'Hoffryn over there." As they all turned to look up the slope ahead of them, she continued. "Maybe he can help us get home. He might even be able to cure me!"
"I'd say this was the perfect time, Willow," Giles said, casting reprimanding glances at Buffy and Xander as he motioned for them to follow.
They walked up the slope in a line. He was on the far left of Buffy, giving her a wide berth with childish hostility. The horned demon lord was talking with a girl and they were both oblivious to their approach.
Xander found himself staring at the girl. Her hair was long and dark, braided untidily around the top of her head. Her peasant dress was unremarkable and hung to her ankles. It was her eyes and mouth that held his attention though. She was so pretty. This was the first time since leaving Sunnydale that he had found a woman even remotely attractive on more than just an observational level. It felt weird.
'Trust me to only be attracted to a girl from a demon dimension,' he thought idly and then something rushed at him from very far away and hit him directly in the heart so hard that his legs stopped working and he fell to his knees.
"What's wrong now?" The speed with which Buffy was by his side and the hand on his shoulder belied her irritated words.
The other two stopped just ahead of them, turning back in confusion.
"Xander?" Willow asked, concerned.
"Anya," he whispered, his throat felt too tight to speak any louder.
"Look. You need to talk and we want to listen," Buffy said. "But it has to wait until we get home, okay?"
"No." He shook his head slightly and pointed with a shaky hand. "Anya!"
The other three turned to stare up the slope.
Giles was the first to speak, "Bloody hell!"
"This isn't the Land of the Trolls," Willow realized. "We just went back in time again."
"You mean this is where she..." Buffy lowered her voice as if Xander wouldn't be able to hear her. "...gets VD'd?" Giles gave her an odd look. "I mean, Vengeance Demon'd!"
"Of course." Giles began to clean his glasses with his handkerchief. "Well, as D'Hoffryn is here, I think that is quite likely."
"Crap." Xander was aware of Buffy glancing down at him. "Okay, Will, I know it's not good, but you're gonna have to risk a spell to get us out of here."
"Okay. Um. Let me just think for a sec."
"No, Willow," Giles said firmly. "It isn't safe."
Hardly hearing them, Xander clambered back to his feet. "I have to go and talk to her."
"You can't!" Buffy grabbed his arm, stopping him from walking forward.
"I need to. I have to save her." He couldn't save her from dying on the Hellmouth before. Now he could.
"That's crazy troll logic!" Buffy got in his way.
"Well, we're in the right place for it."
"What did you just say to me about Angel?" she snapped.
"That was different." He walked around her.
Giles got in his way. "D'Hoffryn could very well kill you right here, Xander."
"I don't care." And he didn't. He felt more grounded, steadier, than he had in months.
Willow stepped in front of him, pressing hands to his chest. "Even if you could stop this, why would you want to? The happiest years of Anya's life were the ones she spent with you. She told me that. Depriving her of those just because you feel guilty isn't noble!"
Did that weird gurgling, sobbing sound come from him? It must have done, no one else looked on the verge of tears.
"Plus, you know, she kinda liked the first thousand years of exacting vengeance on men too," Buffy said brightly, "She might not appreciate having that taken away from her."
Xander made that noise again but it was at least a quarter chuckle that time.
"It would appear to be too late now anyway," Giles said as D'Hoffryn shimmered and then disappeared.
Xander hadn't taken his eye off of Anya yet and could now see the self-satisfied smile she was wearing. Oh, yeah, she was happy about something. That was her 'Someone-just-paid-the-ridiculous-mark-up-on-a-novelty-item-without-any-annoying-haggling' look.
She was a demon again. Or for the first time.
"Okay," he said quietly.
"Okay?" Willow smiled and took her hands off his chest.
"Yeah." He smiled back.
"Right." Buffy took charge again. "We're going this way."
She started to walk across the slope away from Anya. As the others followed her, Xander didn't.
"You guys go. I think I'm gonna stay here."
"What?" Willow exploded, running the few steps back to him. "You can't!"
"Sure I can. It's nice here." He waved his hand at the scenery as if that would sell his point. "And probably pretty peaceful when they're not in the middle of a troll attack."
They were all around him again now.
"No!" Buffy insisted. "You have to come with us."
"Why do I?"
"Because you don't belong here," Willow said. "You belong at home... with us!"
"Who says we're ever gonna get home anyway? And even if we do... I don't belong there. I'm miserable there! You guys all know it. Jeez, you're on my case about it enough. Maybe what I need to 'get over it' is a change of scenery. Or..." staring up the slope he smiled wistfully. "... Anya."
"But we're your best friends," Willow all but wailed. "You can't just desert us."
"I've not exactly been feeling the love just recently," he said calmly. "And I know you all feel the same."
"That's because you're suffering from depression, Xander," Giles said slowly, firmly. "Which means you should not be making any serious decisions like, for example, moving permanently to a foreign country twelve hundred years in the past!"
Xander smiled again. "Not feeling all that depressed right now."
"Xander, stop being a moron!" Was all Buffy could think to say.
"And on that note..." He grinned at them. "Tell Dawnie goodbye from me, okay?" When nobody responded, her nodded. "Okay, see you guys."
He was really doing this he realized as he was walking around them and up the slope. He felt light-headed but he was in no doubt he was doing the right thing. He couldn't go on living at the camp for much longer feeling the way he was feeling. Not when he was alienating his friends a little more each day. He would have given in and moved away eventually anyway, he was sure, and at least this way he wouldn't be alone. He would be with Anya. He could turn a blind eye to her demon duties if he had to; after all, he had a blind eye going spare that wasn't any use for anything else. Or maybe she would even give it up to be with him. He would propose sooner rather than later and this time they would get married because that old client of hers wouldn't be around to fill his head with bad thoughts and mess everything up. They'd have a few children. He could teach them to build a fire pit and skin rabbits - once he'd learned himself anyway.
"Hi." He held out his hand.
"Hej. Vem hä du?" She looked at his hand suspiciously.
He retracted it self-consciously. Okay, language barrier, he should have anticipated that. It wasn't a big problem.
He pointed at himself. "Xander."
She nodded. "Aud."
"What?" he chuckled nervously, scratching the eye patch elastic over his ear. "So, I, uh, like your dress. Did you make it yourself?"
"Your dress," he repeated slowly and touched the material by her shoulder.
She stepped back, her eyes narrowing.
"No, I didn't mean...!" He pulled his hand back again. "Oh boy. So, do you, uh, live around here?"
Behind him a hurried, whispered conversation was taking place.
"But I won't be doing the magick," Willow said as Buffy pulled two thick handfuls of grass out of the ground and put them in Giles waiting hands. "You will be."
"Is that enough?" Buffy asked.
"I disagree with his decision as much as the both of you," Giles said. "But to take him without his consent..."
"He's obviously not thinking straight," Buffy said, grabbing another handful of grass just to be on the safe side. "And we can't help him get better if we're five thousand miles and a millennium away."
Giles nodded. "So I say the word and then throw the pollen directly into your face?"
"Yes. Don't forget to hold on to me before you throw the seed. And, Buffy, I'm gonna hook my arm around you like this." Willow demonstrated by wrapping her arm under Buffy's and curling it up to hold her shoulder. "All you have to do is grab Xander the second Giles throws the seed. Any earlier and he'll get suspicious and he might not give us a chance at another go."
"Alright," Buffy nodded. "Try not to dislocate my shoulder when we land."
Willow nodded. "I will. If you try not to break my arm."
"I will. Wait. Since when do you have hay fever?"
"I used to suffer every summer when I was little. I grew out of it but I'm hoping having the pollen go directly up my nose will trigger a retroactive reaction."
"Okay, are we ready?" Willow and Giles both nodded. "Then let's do it before Anya turns him into a frog, or worse."
"Uh, what could be worse?" Willow asked rhetorically as they prepared to charge up the slope.
"So, I think the troll has been caught now," Xander was saying, his voice taking on an anxious tinge as he tried desperately to find some way to connect with this Anya, who was really obviously his Anya in many ways, but in a whole lot of other ways, she wasn't. "I think I saw a bar down there. Can I buy you a drink?" He mimed raising a glass to his lips while smiling encouragingly.
She touched her own lips as if he was trying to tell her there was something on them, eying him suspiciously.
This was getting hopeless, so he went for broke. "You won't believe this, but we actually already know each other. We meet like a thousand years from now and fall in love. I was just really hoping we could skip those thousand years and fall in love now instead. What do you say?"
"Varför pratar ni rotvälska? Är du sjuk?"
"I'll take that as a yes." He smiled and gently tried to take her hand.
She struck him in the side of his head with her other hand and started rapidly telling him off in a language he still couldn't understand.
As he backed away with his hands up, trying to think of a way to placate her non-verbally, he heard Giles shout right behind him:
And then Buffy jumped on his back.
Willow said "Owie!" and then "Asblooshie!" Which he realized later was a sneeze.
Kennedy had finally calmed Goorzar down enough after Faith had disappeared out the back door. She was in the corner in her bed box, put there again now that she and Willow weren't sharing a room and Andrew was out of town. Goorzar had a tea towel over her head and was whimpering a little from beneath it. She was still squatting by the box, patting the tea towel and looking around at the mess of a kitchen when Faith came back in the door, dripping icy rain water, with Oz following behind. Goorzar stiffened and Kennedy gently held her head beneath the towel, although her own tension probably didn't reassure the demon.
"I thought I said..."
"Shut up, Kennedy. Dog's in the training barn for the time being but I ain't leaving Oz out there too just 'cause you have a problem." Faith went down to the cupboard under the stairs but spoke to Oz over her shoulder. "So that's all we know. They went out somewhere together last night and we ain't seen them since."
"Ya think," Kennedy muttered under her breath.
Faith came back up with a couple of clean towels and chucked one to Oz as she started drying off her hair with the other. They both moved to the other end of the kitchen.
"Yeah. Giles had this big spell idea to help Willow so we figure they went off to get some help with it seeing as our big witch can't do any mojo herself just now."
"That makes sense. Any idea who they've gone to?"
Faith started to shake her head but Kennedy stood up and spoke first.
"Faith just said we don't know where any of them are. In fact, Thanksgiving is probably canceled so if you had a fall back invitation, you should probably accept it."
Faith rolled her eyes. "Thanksgiving ain't canceled, it's just delayed." And then she pushed away from the counter, taking charge. "In fact as much as I hate all this domestic crap, we should probably start clearing this shit up to save B time when she gets back. You guys get on that, I'm gonna try their cell phones again, see if I get any better luck time."
Kennedy glared at the instructions but Faith was gone through the swing door before she could argue. So she started clearing plates and dishes from the table to set beside the sink and ran some hot water for washing up - Buffy hadn't left any clean dishware to use at all.
Oz helped her, ignoring her unfriendly glares. How had she ended up stuck in the kitchen alone with him? The day had started so optimistically but had gone serious downhill from there.
"Did you try calling her Wiccan friends?" Oz asked as he scraped some burnt remains from an oven dish into the garbage. "Someone else might know where they are."
"We don't have any numbers."
He nodded as he took the dish to the sink. "Did you look for Willow's address book?"
Kennedy slid the empty yam dish into the hot water and spun to him. "Of course I looked for her address book. I'm not stupid!"
He simply nodded again and started wiping down the table, catching the bits and pieces of ingredients in his palm. She squirted some detergent into the bowl and began to scrub the dirty dishes. After a minute the silence started getting to her - in the way that inside she was so on edge with his quiet presence that she wanted to smash the damn dishes instead of washing them.
It got so bad, she blurted, "I know you're into her."
Oz took his time answering; when he did his tone was annoyingly casual. "Willow?"
"Of course Willow!"
"I've been into her since the first moment I saw her."
"Me too!" She said it so harshly it didn't hold an ounce of the real emotion his admission had. "I love her!"
"Me too," he said softly.
And that's how her answer should have come out. She cursed herself silently, washing the dishes with more vigor than they really needed, sending bubbles up into the air.
"You had your chance."
"And you've had yours."
A plate broke in her hands underwater. She slid the two sides down either side of the bowl, hiding them, and continued to wash up.
"I'm not going to give up fighting for her," she warned him.
How could he be so infuriatingly calm? He sounded as if she'd vowed to fight for the TV remote, not the love of their lives! She spun to him again, spraying suds across the kitchen floor.
"I mean it. I'm not giving up. Willow and I belong together!"
He was wiping the breakfast counter now and only had to glance up to be facing her.
"Okay," he repeated. "I don't want to fight you, Kennedy. I'd rather let Willow make her decision and hope it goes in my favor, but if you want to make things physical again I can't stop you."
Kennedy stepped closer, hands still dripping bubbles. "No, you can't."
Oz straightened up as if expecting an attack immediately. He was still only an inch or so taller than her but she knew if he let the wolf out of the box he'd grow a couple of feet and have claws as sharp as five razors attached to his hands and feet.
She licked her lips, feeling the slayer rise in her as her anger increased. It was stupid to fight him, she knew that on nearly every level, but on the slayer level it made perfect sense.
"I don't want to fight you either," she ground out. "But if you don't promise to back off from Willow right now I will. And this time there won't be anyone around to stop us."
He had the audacity to give her a friendly smile. "I was winning last time anyway."
She took another step forward and saw him tense. "She belongs with me. She's just confused because you're around."
"So, maybe she's confused for a good reason."
"I don't think so."
Kennedy took another step forward and she saw the change in his eyes. Nowhere else yet, but the shape of his eyes had changed slightly and their color was different. Not the sulfur yellow eyes of a vampire but a golden color. They would actually be really pretty if you didn't know they belonged to a werewolf.
On the other side of the room, Goorzar's whimpering grew louder.
"Once I've changed," Oz's quiet tone was a quiet warning. "I only have so much control over my actions."
"I thought you were all domesticated now," Kennedy mocked him.
She took another step forward as she grabbed a long-tined fork from the side. She felt weird arming herself against Oz but when he armed himself her fork would look like a kiddie's toy.
"I'm... better, but I'm still a wolf."
"So back off!" she snapped, taking another step closer.
"No!" he growled, and it was actually a growl now. "Walk away, Kennedy." And that came out mostly as a growl too. "Now!"
"Not a chance."
She stepped closer again until she could actually see the hair follicles sprouting slowly on his face. She could see how hard he was trying to rein in his inner self but it wasn't going to work for much longer.
Faith suddenly swept back through the swing door, took one look at the situation and shouted, "Hey, you two, heel!"
The four of them landed in an ungainly heap together in the middle of someone's overgrown garden. Xander was the first to extricate himself angrily and scrambled away through the long grass. He sat with his back to them, his head in his hands.
Giles watched him a moment before moving himself. Crawling away from Buffy and Willow he tried to stand, but it was too much effort and so he slumped onto his side instead to recover.
There had been subtle signs that he was getting too old for this, for what - three years? It was one of the reasons why he had left Sunnydale in the first place. He would be Buffy's Watcher until the day he died, or the day she died, but active Watching was a strenuous job and most Watchers didn't have their Slayers come back from the dead once, much less twice. Not that he would want Buffy anything but alive obviously but trying to rebuild the Council with little constructive support from England was a hard enough job on its own without the added stress of teleporting all over history in a single night.
"Where are we?" Willow asked blearily.
She was looking decidedly greener. In fact almost the same shade as the grass stalks surrounding them. All of the teleporting was wearing her down, aggravating the bad magick already coursing through her. Much more of it and her own natural reserves would be depleted completely. Giles wasn't sure what would happen then. They might still continue to bounce around times and dimensions with Willow growing progressively worse until she died. Or, looking on the bright side, they might just stop teleporting altogether and be stuck in another time and place until something else killed them - he sighed as Buffy and Willow started bickering almost as soon as their eyes were open - or they killed each other.
"You had no right!" Xander suddenly shouted in a bitterly angry, tear-stricken voice.
Giles glanced at the girls but they both appeared too surprised to move so he took it upon himself to crawl on his hands and knees the six feet to Xander. "You didn't belong there, Xander. It wasn't your time or your place."
"It would've worked out," Xander sounded confident despite covering his face with his hands. "I'd have learned the language eventually. Anya would have come around."
Giles shook his head. "You would never have been happy there."
"I'm not happy now!" Xander raised his head to glare at him. "Don't you get that? At least there I had a chance at a fresh start."
"And no way of leaving when it did not work out."
"Oh, so you just assume I'd have failed there too, huh? Thanks a lot!"
"You haven't failed here!" Giles snapped, becoming exasperated with him as quickly as everyone else seemed to these days. He took a breath to rein his irritation in before he spoke again. "And you are only so determined to see everything negatively because you're simply not thinking straight! Look, Xander, I promise you, there are ways through this. You can be as happy again, with your f..." he stopped himself from saying family, "...friends as you were before, I assure you, but first we all need to concentrate on getting home."
"Um, guys," Willow called for their attention. "That might be easier than you think."
"We are home," Buffy explained.
He looked around in surprise. They were right.
Startled by the interruption, Kennedy automatically wheeled back a few steps. Oz turned to Faith, smiling at the command.
"For both your sakes I'm gonna forget what I just saw," Faith said, irritably. "And look what I found." She held up Buffy's cell phone. "Red's is in her room too. Guess they didn't want us calling them."
"Why wouldn't they?" Oz asked.
Faith shrugged. "Three of them have been acting weird for weeks. So... here's a radical suggestion: let's get the hell out of here."
Kennedy dried her hands off on a tea towel. "What? Why?"
"'Cause they obvious did ditch us for whatever reason and I ain't hanging around here all day playing ref to you two."
"What's the alternative?" Oz asked.
"Goin' to Barnies for a few." Faith didn't wait for a discussion before going to fetch her coat.
"What if the others come home?" Kennedy asked.
"They'll call us. Or they won't."
She was kinda passed caring now. She had been looking forward to a big if probably weird day with Buffy; and Buffy had disappeared without even saying bye. So screw it. If she wasn't getting her big fancy dinner, she was gonna go have the next best thing - a bottle of Jack Daniels and a beer for dessert. And at least she wouldn't have to make any kind of stupid sentimental effort down at the bar.
She threw Kennedy her coat, and as she caught it, the younger slayer said, "I don't know."
"What's not to know?" Faith shrugged into her coat. "Anyway, I'm going. You two can stay here and kill each other, and then neither of you get Willow, or you can come with. Your call."
Faith left through the back door. Kennedy and Oz shared an awkward, hostile glance before following.
The garden they were in was their very own back garden. From here he could see the back of the boys dormitory and the large side of the training barn, and if he stretched his neck up to see over the tall grass and the unruly hedge he could see the house.
"We're in the training field." He looked around again, focusing a little closer to his face. "Xander, don't I pay you to keep these lawns short? I seem to remember a rather costly sit-on mower appearing on your credit card statement several months ago."
"And I use it, regularly!" Xander snapped, his stubborn tone turned weaker as he looked around at the long grass. "We have had a lot of rain recently..."
"It wasn't this long yesterday," Buffy backed him up. "I ran through here after patrol." she stood up and looked around. "And I don't remember that big hole being in the side of the house either."
"Big hole!" He and Xander said at the same time with equal worry as they all stood up to take a look.
It was fairly big, about six feet high and three or four across. It had been covered with strong, green garbage bags nailed to the wall of the house, the edges of which flapped in the breeze.
"Well, we did leave Faith and Kennedy alone together." Willow shrugged groggily, still making no attempt to stand. "They could easily be the cause of a big hole."
Xander shook his head. "It's not recent and the roof's sagging in places and the veranda's been torn through on that side."
"And there are at least three windows that I can see smashed." Giles added. Two were covered over with some kind of clear plastic and another downstairs - his bedroom? - was simply boarded up.
"Maybe Faith had a party while we were gone." Seeing no one else smile with her, Buffy turned serious. "Okay, so right place, wrong time. Now how do we figure out what the time actually is? If we're only a couple of months out maybe we can just stay here and deal with it."
"What if we're in the past?" Willow asked. "Then there'll be two yous, two Giles', two Xander's and two me's wandering around here all at the same time!"
"Okay, Willow," Giles said as soothingly as possible. "Let's just deal with one problem at a time."
"Well, we've already moved here, so we can't be that far in the past," Xander said, pointing. "There's a curtain in the boy's dorm, and that's our truck."
The top of the large vehicle could just be seen over the hedge. Giles helped Willow up and they wandered through the gap to take a look. It was a lot dirtier than Xander usually allowed it get and there was a large dent and some scratched paint on the left fender.
"So, we know we have already moved in," Giles summarized, "And the house hasn't looked like that since we've been here, despite some of Goorzar's best efforts. So I conclude that we are in the future."
"It's cold, wintry even. Still a few leaves on the trees though." Buffy looked up, studying the quality of the light. "Probably gonna be dark in a few hours. I'd say late in the year, maybe November."
"I'd say today exactly, a year from now, or a year from where we should be anyway."
Giles looked over. "How can you be so precise?"
Xander closed the drivers' door of the truck. "Clock on the dashboard displays the date. And you guys thought I bought this truck just to enhance my manhood."
"Ah, very resourceful, Xander."
Xander didn't look as impressed as Giles sounded. He was staring up at the dilapidated house again. "Yeah, obviously not all my skills match up."
Giles looked up too as he mused, "This much damage in a year."
"Must have been a heavy year," Buffy said.
"Must have been a lazy year," Willow said, not quite glaring accusingly at Xander.
He had no problems glaring straight back at her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well... well... how come the house is in such disrepair? Isn't it like your sole job to keep it not looking like this?"
"Maybe you're still wonky," he shot back. "Maybe you blew that hole in the wall last week with your magicks and blew up the veranda yesterday and... and crashed my truck trying to drive it with no hands!"
As Willow and Xander moved closer to each other, still yelling, Buffy stepped between them, pushing each one back a little.
"Okay, you two arguing? Getting boring."
"Like you can..." Willow began.
"Fine! All three of us arguing is getting way beyond boring and I'm sick of listening to it, and being a part of it. So if you can't get over it just shut up about it until we get home and can go our separate ways, okay?"
"Separate ways?" Willow asked in a small, worried voice.
"I just meant to our bedrooms or something, get some space for a little while." Buffy ran a hand through her hair as she quietly added. "But if we just can't all get along anymore then maybe we should... I don't know, stop trying, or take a break, or something."
They both stared at her in surprise and then Xander turned to Giles, waving his hand dismissively at Buffy.
"Yeah, these are the friends that are gonna remind me what a joy life is."
"Everyone's upset right now..."
That was all Giles managed before all three of them began arguing with each other again. He let them continue, they needed to get it out of their systems one way or another. While he rubbed his temples to stave off the headache they and the teleporting were causing, he wandered closer to the house for a look at the hole.
It was only when he heard shouting coming from inside also that he realized how foolish they were being. He had never studied time travel - never believing it to be possible - but he had read enough science fiction books when he was younger to fear that coming face to face with their older selves could have very disastrous results.
He lingered long enough to determine it was Dawn and Reece who were yelling angrily at one another before hurrying back to the others.
"Shhh!" he tried first as he approached, but they were arguing to loudly to hear him. "Shut! Up!" he hissed instead, grabbing Buffy's arm to make them listen. "We have to hide!"
She pulled her arm away, demanding, "Why?"
"We're in there!" he said, his voice slightly hysterical as he pointed at the house. "And it could be calamitous if we are seen."
All four of them went to stand behind the boys dormitory, out of sight of the house.
"Well, at least we know we made it back from... uh, here," Xander said.
"Did you actually see us?" Buffy asked. "What does my hair look like?" When everyone looked at her incredulously she shrugged. "What? I've been thinking of changing my style and if someone can tell me in advance it looks good I won't be so worried when I go to the salon."
Giles shook his head. "I didn't actually see anyone but I quite clearly heard Dawn arguing with Reece."
"So they're still together, then." Buffy sighed and then perked up slightly. "Did you see Faith?"
It was Giles time to sigh. "As I said I didn't see anyone..."
"We should get closer," Xander interrupted.
Giles looked at him. "Why?"
"I don't know, it just sounds..." He shrugged. "Oh, come on! Does anyone here not want to know what we have to say a year from now?"
"I'm in," Buffy said at once.
"It could be very dangerous," Giles began. "If we hear something that affects the way we live our lives from now it could bend the universe, er, out of shape possibly."
"He's right," Willow said and then added brightly. "Who's for bending the shape of the universe?"
Buffy and Xander both held up their hands.
Giles took the time to look at each of them in turn. "Are you really all that miserable with the way things are now?"
"Not miserable, per se," Willow said slowly.
"I am," Xander said flatly.
"We're all just a little..." Buffy began, trailed off, and started again in a different direction. "We had lives in Sunnydale now we're... we don't fit into our presents anymore."
"Your presents?" Giles frowned. "This is all about not fitting into the sweater Willow brought you last Christmas?"
"Noooo! Our presents! Where we should be right now. It doesn't feel right. It never feels right! Willow can't do magick without getting sick. Xander's drinking himself into an early grave. I can't seem to do a damn thing right for anyone, especially not myself or the woman I supposedly love - and I'm not even slaying! We're all falling apart, we're lost Giles," she finished quietly.
"And you think risking the fate of the universe will help with that?" he asked slowly.
When Buffy just looked down at her hands, Willow answered. "She just thinks that maybe if we got a clue as to what the future holds for us, it would help us... get there, maybe."
Giles stared into space for a while, contemplating their argument and trying to gauge all of the things that could go wrong and if there were any ways of comply with their wishes while avoiding negative outcomes. In the end he came to the simple conclusion of: No.
"I strongly advise against this." Buffy continued to look at him like a hopeful puppy as if he hadn't spoken. "But," he said on a sigh, "if it's something you all truly feel you have to do we must at least be very careful when approaching the house."
"We could camouflage ourselves," Xander suggested. "Put grass in our hair. Mud on our faces. That kind of thing."
"I said be very careful, not make ourselves look like twerps!"
That drew a grin from Xander but he looked down almost at once as if he wasn't comfortable with it on his face.
"Okay, let's not make this harder than it needs to be," Buffy decided for all of them. "We'll go around the back of this dorm. From the other side it's the shortest point to the corner of the house. Your bedroom window is boarded up, Giles, so if we stay in front of it no one is going to see us from the inside. We'll linger there; see what we can hear, and then crawl around the sides."
"Crawl?" Willow asked, not thrilled.
"Crawl. And listen at the windows. Hopefully that way we won't accidentally get seen by ourselves."
Giles wasn't overjoyed about crawling around in the mud either but it was the safest way. "Fair enough, but I want to make this very clear, when we are by the house none of us can speak. No matter what we hear or see we must remain as silent as is possible to prevent being noticed."
They nodded and then the four of them took the route to the house that Buffy had laid out. Almost as if they had practiced it, three of them pressed their ears close to the green garbage bags while Willow hung back just a step or two to act as a look out, continuously glancing first one way and then the other. Reece and Dawn were still rowing inside.
"There's a bloody great hole in the wall, Dawn. We have to do something about it!"
Dawn's response went unheard.
"Yes, well, you might not mind sleeping in a draught but I bloody do! That's it; I'm calling around first thing in the morning."
Again there was a pause that was presumably being filled by Dawn.
Reece sounded like he was trying to keep his voice calmer when he spoke again. "I know it's his job, but he isn't here, is he!"
Suddenly Dawn's voice carried shrilly through the plastic bags. "Oh, that's just nice! Today of all days you throw that in my face!"
"Dawn, I didn't..."
"Go to hell, you bastard!"
A door slammed.
The four of them looked at each other. Buffy grinned, apparently pleased with Dawn's anger, or maybe just who it was directed at. Xander mouthed, 'My job?' as he pointed at himself, causing Willow to shrug.
Giles just wondered why it sounded as if Reece and Dawn had moved into his bedroom. Dawn had a perfectly good room of her own upstairs but not half as large so he couldn't imagine himself readily agreeing to swap. Even if that was the case, even a year in the future Dawn wasn't old enough to be sharing a room with any boy, let alone Reece, she would hardly be out of high school. Surely Buffy would never allow it.
On Buffy's cue they all got to their hands and knees and began a fast crawl along the side of the house as far as his office window. They listened intently. At first there was nothing but then the clear sound of Dawn crying followed by the door opening and Rona's voice carrying faintly through the closed window.
"We heard all that."
"You don't have to apologize, Dawn, we just wanted to make sure you're... okay."
"I'm not. The one day I need him more than ever and he has to be a complete asshole."
"He's always an asshole."
Dawn chuckled. "Not always."
"Sure he is. Fucker thinks he owns this place now just 'cause he's the only one with ties to London."
"Yeah, well, without them we'd be screwed, so..."
"Bull. He's just a rolodex. Far as us Slayers are concerned you're running this show now." There was another sniffled chuckle from Dawn before Rona added. "Come on, Charlie Brown's Thanksgivin' is about to start. Miranda made cocoa."
When the room was silent, all four of them sat in the mud staring at each other forlornly, thanks in part to Dawn's distress, but largely because of what had been said.
"What...?" Buffy began.
Giles shook his head quickly, whispering, "No, we must wait until we are away from the house to discuss it."
"Then let's go back behind the dorm," Xander whispered.
"No! We don't know what's going on yet," Willow whispered.
"I think it's pretty clear what's going on!" said Xander, forgetting to keep his voice low.
"No arguing!" Giles hissed and they both shut their mouths guiltily.
"Let's try the kitchen." Buffy started crawling again.
They went around the corner and all the way to the far end. The kitchen had windows on two sides of the house and by staying at this corner they could dart one way if someone came through the back door and the other way if someone came up the driveway. Not that Giles was entirely sure he could dart anywhere, his knees were already aching.
Andrew could be heard talking in the kitchen. It was only his voice for so long that at first Giles assumed he was in there talking to himself.
Until they heard Faith growl, "Yeah, whatever, Andy. I don't fuckin' care!"
He saw Buffy about to jump up but she caught herself at the last minute and stayed squatting, tense on the balls of her feet.
"I only asked if you thought I should add some ham to the turkey for him," Andrew sounded both harried and sympathetic.
"I dunno, ain't ham bad for dogs?"
"I'm sure a werewolf constitution can handle it. And it's just that once we've all had some there won't be much turkey left."
"He can have mine, I ain't eating."
"You have to eat, Faith!"
"I ate yesterday, I'll probably eat tomorrow. I ain't eating today!" There was the sound of a bottle tapping against glass and then nothing for a few seconds. Faith cleared her throat and then said, "He probably won't turn up anyway. Dude's been feral for a year. Just seems right we should put something out, ya know?"
'Oz?' Willow mouthed, clearly distressed.
"Here, quit fuckin cooking for a minute and have a drink."
"I have to keep basting the bird..."
"I need to have a fuckin toast and I ain't looking like an ass doing it alone!" Faith growled at him.
A new voice suddenly said, "I'll take over the basting. Just show us how quick."
Giles eyes widened. Craig was still here. He had only been due to stay for a few months. Obviously he found a way to worm out of going back to England and taking up his meager responsibilities there. It was typical of the boy.
"No, you need to keep your ass right where it's at and do what you're doing," Faith snapped at him.
"S'okay, Faith," Craig continued, and they heard a chair scraping back. "I figured out the spell we need to use."
"Really?" Faith drawled, not believing him.
"Yeah. If we use a restoration spell we can turn things back by at least four or five months. It'll be painful for a little while, cos we literally get reversed... like, er, rewinding a video tape but not as quick."
Willow's eyes went wide and she said under her breath. "We can't use that spell! Painful is an understatement! And I've only read proof of it working like twice without the spell caster being literally turned inside out!"
Giles shushed her so he could continue to hear the conversation in the kitchen.
"Will it bring them back?" Faith asked, her voice hollow.
There was what seemed to be a lengthy uncomfortable pause before Craig said, "No. Even timesing the ingredients by ten won't take us back far enough for that and multiplying them any further will make the whole thing too unstable. It might not work at all then. Or it might just kill us all."
"You sure?" Faith sounded desperate. "How well have you fuckin researched it?"
"You know he's been researching it for six months, Faith!" Andrew sounded frustrated. "Non-stop! He hasn't slept more than three nights a week for the past month!"
"Sorry if I'm cutting into your happy, gay sex time, Andrew but this is damn important, alright?"
"We know," Craig said calmly. "But this is really the best I can do. I'm not Willow Rosenberg! It won't take us all the way back but it'll undo the last six months of damage and we'll keep our memories so we'll know what's coming and can fight it better."
"Yeah, sure whatever. Andy, grab the shot glasses."
There was a clink, clink, clink as three of them were set on the table and then a glug, glug, glug as something was poured into them.
"Think you can manage to drink and baste at the said time? Good. Okay, I ain't good at this shit but it has to be done. Kennedy, wherever you are... You know I never much liked you, but... You didn't deserve to go out like that, girl." Faith's voice broke a little. "I'm sorry I couldn't save you. And I'm sure, wherever Oz is at if he was human right now he'd be thanking you for... you know, what you did for him."
Faith continued to talk but it was lost to Giles as Willow fell forward, crying into the mud.
His heart went out to her, it went out for himself too - he liked Kennedy - but right now more practical measures had to take precedence.
"We have to get her away from here fast, before she draws attention to us," he whispered, trying to pull Willow up by her arm.
"No!" Willow wailed, not wanting to be moved in her grief.
Buffy took over, hauling Willow up and into her arms. Xander helped steady her weight and together they all ran for the cover of the boys' dorm.
"This is..." Kennedy began before shaking her head. She downed another shot before continuing. "It's Thanksgiving! How did I end up stuck in a bar with you two?"
"No one is holding you hostage," Oz said amiably. "Feel free to use the door if you want."
"Yeah, you'd like that, wouldn't you? This is my local bar! Remember that before you start trying to cock your leg all over it."
Oz chuckled. "I should thank you for making Willow's decision so easy."
"What the hell do you mean by that?"
"Arrrrgh!" Faith yelled before dropping her head into her hands. She was sitting between them at the bar and if anyone should wonder how they got themselves stuck here it was her. "You two are putting me off my drink! Congrats, guys, 'cause no one has ever managed that before."
"Sorry," Oz smiled sheepishly. "I'm just worried about Willow."
"So am I!" Kennedy said quickly.
"I never said you weren't."
"I never said you were!"
"Grrrrrr!" It was no surprise to Faith that the first growl came from her and not Oz.
"Faith, everything okay?"
She looked up to see Alex smiling at her.
She managed the makings of a smile back. "I'm fine! Apart from the fact that Buffy has gone awol and I can't figure out how to put these two on a time out."
"Doesn't Xander know where she is?" Alex asked as he refilled their shot glasses at Kennedy's unspoken bequest.
"He's gone too," Kennedy told him.
Faith saw a mix of friendly concern and inquisitive cop rise in his eyes and hurried to allay his worries. If Buffy and the gang really were gone in search of a magick expert to cure Willow, the worst thing they could do was accidentally start a witch hunt.
"We think they probably just took off for the day. Buffy was s'posed to be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for all of us and I guess she got scared and convinced them all to head for the hills."
"Which is great for them," Kennedy added, catching on. "But sucks for us."
"Why?" Alex asked with a smile.
"Because we all hate each other," Kennedy said.
"Well, I don't hate Oz," Faith shrugged.
"And I don't hate Faith," he said with a quiet smile of his own.
"But we both hate Kennedy."
"And I hate both of them," Kennedy said forcefully.
"Which about sums it up," Faith shrugged again.
All three of them downed their fresh shots as one. Oz asked for another round, which Alex hurriedly fetched for them before running to the other end of the bar. He had a habit of doing that when Faith was around.
"Do you think he screwed B?" she asked anyone who was listening.
"Doubt it," Kennedy said. "They went on one date and you interrupted that when you tried to beat her up."
She nodded once. "Good."
Kennedy suddenly leaned over the bar to look past her. "Have you slept with Willow?"
Oz had been about to take a sip of his beer. He paused his glass half way to his mouth and looked at Kennedy. "Yes."
Faith caught Kennedy firmly by the arm before she could leap off of her stool. "You slept with her since she's been in Boudenver?"
"Is that anyone's business?" he asked mildly.
"Let's say..." Faith had to put some effort into keeping Kennedy put, which she wasn't happy about, but she still did so decisively. "... for arguments sake, yeah."
Oz shrugged. "Then, no." He finally drank some of his beer.
Kennedy settled down slowly and when she tried to slap her hand away, Faith let her.
"This could be worse, ya know?" Faith tried to say cheerfully
"How?" Oz asked.
"We could all be drinking alone on Thanksgiving."
There was a pause and then Kennedy dropped her head to the side to stare at her. "Sorry, I was waiting for the not-worse part."
Faith sighed and, as one, all three of them downed their shots.
Xander had Willow's head curled into his neck. Her unstoppable tears were burning his cold skin but he didn't care. In fact in a totally selfish way he welcomed it - it was the only inch of his body that wasn't freezing. They were all dressed for Northern Ohio - except Willow who was still in her pajamas - but they'd been inside when Willow had sneezed. Plus, the nasty, wet weather they'd been having back home had been cold enough for him, but as it turned out not as cold as a clear, fresh evening in late November. The grass was beginning to get frosty under his knees and it wasn't even dark yet.
He kept one hand cradling Willow's head and wrapped his other arm around her tighter to offer more warmth.
"So what the hell did we just hear?"
Giles had his head in one hand and was staring at the back of the dorm. Buffy was kneeling just a few inches away from him, staring at nothing with tears in her eyes.
"Are we not there anymore?" he demanded.
"Doesn't sound like it," Buffy whispered hoarsely.
"There could be a hundred causes, Xander," Giles said quietly. "Perhaps we all moved on for some reason."
Willow's crying grew harder.
"Maybe we never make it back," Buffy muttered.
Xander glared at her.
"Well, that's how it sounded to me! We were nowhere in sight. Dawn was distraught. Faith was... I don't know what Faith was. I've never heard her like that before. Kennedy is..." she trailed off. "Surely if just one of us were still living here things wouldn't be that, I don't know, bleak?"
Willow sniffed and then wiped her eyes on his neck. "Sorry," she muttered, sitting up straight.
"It's okay," he said automatically, hating seeing her so upset.
"We have to get back right now."
"How, Willow?" he asked helplessly.
"The grass spell we used before."
Giles looked around him. "It's too damp to try that spell again and even if we could there is no guaranteeing we'll end up back home right away. And you are too weak to continue jumping dimensions without a proper rest."
Xander looked at her, taking in her complexion and expression. She was definitely way greener now than she had been back in her bedroom, and it wasn't just the green of feeling sick, it was the green of actually being green! She looked like the wicked witch of the west after they had overdone her make up. And the look on her face... he recognized the old Willow-resolve look trying to force its way through but it was trying to force itself through overwhelming tiredness and heartbroken anguish. It had a fight on its hands and Xander figured even if it won out the first few rounds it wouldn't last the whole night.
"You need to take a break," he said firmly. "For all our sakes."
"You think I can sleep right now?"
"Maybe not sleep but you need to lie down, rest your head, close your eyes..." Xander put a hand on her shoulder and tried to ease her down.
She resisted. "I can't close my eyes! Faith drank a toast to Kennedy today! That means Kennedy is dying today. I need to get back!"
Buffy leaned over her, an arm around her back below Xander's hand. "And we will. But we have way more chance at making that happen if you're at full strength and you're never going to be at full strength if you don't conserve your energy now. You're sick remember, it's not your fault but you have to take a moment to reboot."
She helped gently push Willow down until her tired, heavy head landed comfortably on Xander's thigh.
To his surprise she was asleep within seconds despite her protests.
"It's the spell inside her," Giles said quietly. "It's growing stronger, feeding on her weakness. Twisting her magick more easily now that she doesn't have the strength to combat it."
"How do we stop it?"
"The only way is to do the spell we set up back home and we need to do it fast. I believe she's safe enough while she is sleeping but when she awakes...As the spell gains more control, the more erratic her actions will become. It won't be her doing, of course, but the magick could react through her in any number of possible ways. Factoring in her grief over Kennedy...things could get rather dangerous."
"She might go dark again?" Buffy asked.
Xander stroked the red hair falling over his thigh, visualizing the black seeping into it. He was out of yellow crayon stories. He had been too hostile with her for so long he couldn't even imagine making a speech with the same power his last one had invoked.
Giles hesitated but said, "Yes, it's a possibility that the spell will work with her pain and misery to strip away her humanity. Or it may turn her into a pillar of flame or a walking time bomb. It's unlikely but not impossible that it will turn her into a turkey or make her give birth to a hundred fluffy kittens. That's the point of chaos; we have absolutely no way to predict what might happen next. I think it is safest if we presume the worst, so that we will be better prepared."
"So we need to do that spell, and fast," Buffy summed up. "We can't get home to use the ingredients you already prepared, but we're still essentially home. Won't Willow's magic room have more we can use?"
Giles shook his head. "Some of the ingredients were flown in especially from other parts of the world."
Xander thought about it. "What about the ingredients we left upstairs?"
"You think they'll still be there?" Buffy asked. "It's been a year."
"If you three had disappeared without me and never came back I don't think I'd have it in me to clear your rooms out for at least a year."
"You're saying they might have left them alone, like shrines or something?" Buffy's nose wrinkled a little as she thought about it.
"They obviously didn't keep mine as a shrine for bloody long," Giles grumbled. "But even if they left Willow's as it was, we can't risk entering the house."
"Not all of us but I bet Buffy could sneak in and out again without getting seen." He saw Buffy peer around the corner of the dorm to look up at the house. "There's a couple of bedroom windows just covered with plastic. If you can get on the top veranda..."
Giles vetoed the idea before he could finish. "And if Willow sneezes while Buffy is gone, she'll be left here."
"She hasn't sneezed in ages," Buffy said. "I bet I can make it there and back before she does."
"No," Giles said firmly. "I'm not prepared to risk it. We'll wait until Willow wakes up and then assess the situation further but right now the best we can do is stay here and..."
Xander cut him off this time. "Hope for the best?" He sneered. "Hoping for the best doesn't cut it, Giles. Hoping for the best doesn't work any more! We can't just optimist our way through this. Willow needs help now. We need help now!"
After his outburst they all fell silent, no one had anything positive to add. Xander carried on stroking Willow's hair as he looked aimlessly around. The sun was just disappearing behind the trees making the scenery bleaker and the air definitely several shades colder. It would be dark very soon.
As if to reinforce this they suddenly heard girls voices carrying clearly through the still evening. Buffy poked her head around the side of the dormitory again.
"Slayers, I think. Seven of them. The only one I recognize is Alison."
"Going on patrol?" Giles wondered.
"They're all armed. Hang on a sec." Buffy listened intently for a minute. "Alison's giving them instructions. Not patrol. She's telling them to spread out around the camp." She looked back at the other two. "They're guarding it from something."
"If they come this way we'll be seen," Giles said.
"We can't disturb Willow yet," Xander reminded him.
"I know. If one comes this way Buffy will have to immobilize her."
"You want me to immobilize a slayer?" Buffy didn't sound happy. "None of them look older than sixteen!"
Giles rolled his eyes. "I'm not suggesting you kill her, Buffy!"
"But still..." she looked around the corner again as she whined, "...something like that is gonna go on my permanent record."
"No it won't," Xander said with false cheeriness. "Because if we ever do it make it home, you knocking a baby slayer out cold will never have happened."
"I meant this permanent record," Buffy said, tapping the side of her head.
"Just keep an eye out," Giles said.
"Looks like we're gonna get lucky. Everyone stay real quiet."
Xander was already leaning against the back of the dormitory. He pulled Willow more along side him as best as he could without waking her as Giles pressed himself to the wooden wall next to him. Buffy pulled her body tight to the wood too but continued to look around the corner.
A teenage girl in bright blue pants and a red sweater walked past not more than ten feet away. Xander held his breath but she didn't even glance their way as she walked into the open land behind the barns, skirted the shower block and made her way towards the tree line. He exhaled noisily in relief and relaxed a little.
Buffy didn't. "What are they teaching these girls?" she muttered. "For starters she's going out there looking like a neon beer sign and she didn't even check behind here."
"That's a good thing!" Xander pointed out.
"Yes, but Buffy is right. Just because none of us are demons or vampires, the girl still should have detected that there was something here to be investigated."
"Again, good thing!"
"Things have obviously gone down hill since we didn't come back," Buffy muttered.
"The house already pointed that out to us," Xander said.
Willow slowly began to wake up. At first he tensed, half expecting his lower half to turn into something icky if she woke up irritable. She pushed herself up, slumped against his chest as she lost her balance for a second and then slid sideways onto her butt so that she could lean against the back of the dorm.
"Hey." She blearily rubbed her eyes. "Please tell me Kennedy dying was just this bad dream I had."
"I'm afraid not, Willow," Giles said softly.
She clenched her eyes closed, gave a loud sob but then took a deep breath. By the time she opened her eyes she was almost back to her old self.
"What did I miss?" She looked around. "Obviously I didn't sneeze in my sleep. Did we figure out a way back yet?"
"How are you feeling, Willow?" Buffy asked cautiously.
"Like I'm about to throw up and..." She waved a hand in the air. "Can anyone else see them?"
Xander chuckled nervously. "See what?"
"I have rainbows coming out of my fingertips." Willow sounded slightly in awe but seeing that she was making everyone else wary she changed the subject. "So no way back?"
"We're more worried about you right now." Xander's arm was still around her and he squeezed her shoulder. "We need to find a way to cure you, fast."
"Getting home is more important. A-and if you cure me I might not be able to get us home."
"Willow," Giles began gently. "If you don't get better very soon, any more teleporting... well, we probably won't get home anyway."
Willow was quiet for a moment and then she said softly, "Okay, so how do we get me better?"
"We need the ingredients for the spell, but the only place they possibly might be is your bedroom and we can't all go together in case we get seen and I can't go alone in case you sneeze," Buffy said, frustrated.
"So we just need to do a spell? Okay, come on." Willow stood up.
"Where are you go...?" As Willow went dizzy and fell back down onto Xander, Buffy changed her question. "Where are you trying to go?"
Willow held a hand to her head. "The woodshed."
Standing himself, Xander helped her up. "You think the Pixies will help?"
"I don't know, but I think they're our only shot."
"They were not very friendly the last time we encountered them," Giles reminded her.
"In fact they were tiny little assholes," Buffy backed him up.
"They were upset, but it's been over a year. Maybe they won't help us but I still think Beryan is the only one who can."
"There are Slayer guards posted all over the property," Giles said as he and Buffy joined them on their feet.
"We don't know," Xander told her. "But I'm guessing they're expecting an attack of some kind tonight."
"From what Craig said earlier, I assume we - they - have been suffering rather a lot of attacks recently," Giles said.
"We can't worry about that now," Buffy said, although Xander could tell the idea of avoiding slayage didn't sit well with her. "Get Willow better. Get home. Those are our only goals." She paused while she looked around the corner again. "Okay, no one's in sight. We have to run to the back of the training barn. Think you can make it, Will?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little... no, I'm fine."
Xander looked at her with concern but Buffy started running before he could ask any questions. He ran too, holding Willow just above the elbow to help her along.
Once behind the training barn, he began, "Are you...?"
She puked yellow fire in front of their feet before he could finish, kind of answering his question. It singed the grass and caused a mushroom of horrible smelling yellow smoke to rise up.
Buffy and Giles both grabbed hold of Willow, but while she coughed a little she didn't sneeze.
"Ow that hurt," Willow put a hand to her throat.
Buffy rubbed her back for a moment and then went to the other side of the training barn to look around.
"There's a Slayer twenty feet that way," she whispered, pointing into the training field. "So everyone be quiet."
As soon as she said it she darted along the hedge, past the truck, to the edge of the garage. Again he helped Willow along; again she puked yellow fire when they stopped. They all grabbed hold, she still didn't sneeze.
"Okay, I think I need a glass if water," Willow said hoarsely, rubbing both hands up and down her throat now.
Xander bent down and plucked a handful of the long, frosty grass. "Best I can do right now."
"You expect me to eat it?"
"I was thinking just suck it."
"What if Goorzie's peed on it?"
Xander chuckled as Buffy said, "Come on, if we go around the back of here we're only a hundred yard dash from the woodshed."
They followed her as Willow pulled the ice crystals from the green stems and licked them off her fingers.
They were twenty yards into their hundred yard dash when a bell started to toll. It sounded like a large, hand-held bell being shaken roughly in a panic. It made all of them stop and look around in alarm.
"Back behind the garage," Giles insisted.
They all did a one-eighty and ran back there. Willow wasn't sick this time but she did lean against the wall and groan.
"What the hell does the bell mean?" Xander asked.
Giles held his hand up, palm to the sky to indicate he didn't know.
"Something not good." Buffy was doing her thing of looking around the corner. "Shit, Faith's just ran out of the house - armed to the teeth. She's not fit to slay. She's wobbling!"
Xander was already reaching out but Giles caught his Slayer's arm first. "You can't go running in there, Buffy!"
"I can't just let her die either!" Buffy shook his hand off.
"At least wait until we know what the threat is," Xander said. "Maybe then you can help without getting seen."
Willow seemed to forget they were supposed to be staying as quiet as possible and started shouting "Ah! Ah! Ah!" while waving her arm around in the air. Three seagulls suddenly flew out of her sleeve, flapping around them until they gained enough height to just fly away.
Xander broke the stunned silence which followed with: "Well, that was unexpected."
Buffy and Giles both just nodded.
"I didn't like that," Willow said, her voice shaky. "They scratched."
They were all still staring at her, scared of what might fly out of her sleeve next, when pandemonium broke out around the corner.
"Okay, you think you're so...so clued in on the whole freakin'..."
Faith paused as an increasingly worried Alex reluctantly set another three shots on the bar. She downed it, sniffed, set the glass back down and leaned back to stretch. She caught herself with the edge of the bar to save herself just before she fell off the back of her stool. Eyes darting warily from side to side she wondered if she could get away with pretending she'd meant to do that. Nobody could focus enough to pay any attention anyway.
Kennedy threw back her shot and randomly asked, "What?"
Faith frowned, "What what?"
As Kennedy groaned and laid her forehead on her arm, Oz reminded her, "You were about to ask a question."
She turned her head, confused, but just ended up grinning at him. Oz drunk was funny. He was sitting with his legs crossed Indian-style on his bar stool, his back perfectly ramrod straight, but he was swaying evenly from side to side like a mechanical metronome. Most of the time he was quiet but now and again a comment would catch his interest and he would answer in such a deep, philosophical way that not only did Faith and Kennedy have trouble following it, he even lost his own point a few times. It didn't seem to faze him, nor did Kennedy's bitchy comments. He just blinked, said a soft, "Huh" and downed another shot. He was a way better drinking partner than Kennedy anyway who was all grouchy and speechy and telling her what she should be doing like she could possibly know Buffy better than...
Just like that she remembered her train of thought. "Hey, don't interrupt me! I was talking here. Ya think you know her so well, like you're all...best buddies or whatever...like you can get in her head better 'n me 'cause...'cause you're like..." Alex set some more glasses on the bar in front of them and Faith raised a hand to him, snapping, "Wait!" She wasn't losing her flow again. "'Cause I know her...her...Buffy better than you ever could. We're joined; we have this... thing...this thing...this..." She waved a hand around, willing the word to come to her. "...this...name! We have a...a special name because... 'cause we're all joined and...and linked...and we have this...this...mystical...whatsit-thing."
Kennedy nodded, "Slayerisity. I have it too."
"No, 'nother thing. Name-thing from before... before you was... born."
Kennedy managed to get one eye focused on her without lifting her head. "I'm only tru...two years younger than you?"
Faith waved her hand around. "Ya know what I mean."
Kennedy raised her head just enough to put her shot glass to her lips and slurped up the amber contents. "We should do jello shots. It's a party, gotta have jello shots at a party. We should buy some jello from the place with the jello so Buff can make us some."
"Green jello," Oz said solemnly, like he was imparting the mysteries of the universe. Faith turned to look at him; Kennedy leaned around her to do the same. He gave the slightest of shrugs. "Orange is good too."
Kennedy wiped the back of a hand over her mouth and sat back until she could just see Faith. "What is it?"
Faith quirked an eyebrow at her, or tried to, it might not have been happening for real. "Orange? It's a...a fruity like kinda round thing they make...jello out of."
Something about that sentence didn't fit for Faith but Kennedy started laughing before she could try again.
"Noooo! What's the...thingy...thingy-name you and...B..."
Faith slapped her shoulder. "Don't call her that. That's...that's my name. Not my name, her name... but it's my name for her...name."
"So... what's this other name?"
"Um..." Faith thought about it. She thought about it for a long time. She thought about it for so long she forgot what she was thinking about. "...What?"
"Raspberry's good too. Willow likes raspberry jello."
Kennedy's arm swung around, finger wobbling few inches from Faith's nose as she pointed at Oz. "Give it up, White fang! She's not your raspberry jelling...raspberry jelloing...raspberry jello-loving girlfriend anymore. She's my cherry-flavored-girlfriend loving girlfriend loving...no, just one loving...one me-loving girlfriend. No raspberries."
Faith blinked at her several times before asking slowly. "Did you just describe yourself as a cherry-flavored girlfriend?"
For the first time ever since she had known him, Oz laughed out loud. In fact he didn't just laugh he broke into drunken giggles and his back and shoulders shook as he swayed back and forth on his stool.
"What makes you cherry-flavored?" Faith asked earnestly.
Kennedy gaped for a second, her mind probably not working all that quickly right now and then tried to answer the question seriously. "I...I...I..."
"I mean do you eat like lots of...of cherries? Or do you...do you bath in...in...in cherry-coke or something? What is it?"
Kennedy was gone, leaning over the bar again, narrowly missing crushing her shot glass with her forehead, laughing helplessly at Faith's intense questioning.
Faith shook her head, grinning faintly and, against even her own better judgment, finally downed her shot. She knew she was kinda drunk now. Drunk to the point where she was enjoying not just Oz's company but even Kennedy's. That was pretty drunk. Shit. She groped in her pockets for her cigarettes but couldn't find them. In fact she couldn't remember picking them up before they left the house. Damn!
Everything was going wrong. Not that she was surprised; everything always went wrong around her. Buffy not wanting to spend Thanksgiving with her though really sucked the hardest. What had she actually done to piss her off that bad? They had been bickering the last few days, but then they'd been bickering ever since their failed date, actually they'd been bickering ever since the day they'd met! So that couldn't be it. It was probably just Buffy's way of keeping all the freakin' control between them. She'd probably heard them talking in the training barn and realized Faith was about to make some huge sacrifice to make life easier between them and instead of being grateful she found a way to screw it up. And disappearing had certainly done that. That way she didn't have to give any ground herself, let her own guard down, have sex with her, for fucks sake!
Surely B couldn't be that mad that Faith wanted to have sex with her. So mad that she completely ruined everyone else's Thanksgiving too? It wasn't exactly an unreasonable request for someone claiming to be her girlfriend. Although... come to think of it, Buffy was the one who kept saying they weren't 'properly' together yet, whatever the hell that meant. And if they were properly together Buffy never would have taken off for the holiday, right? Faith was damn sure her ass would be kicked black and blue if she'd shot through for Buffy's special meal but apparently it was okay for Buffy and the Superfriends! They were probably in Atlantic City, having a great time playing the slots and eating turkey sandwiches while she was drunk and depressed, rocking a bar stool on this special family fuckin' holiday.
So if Buffy wasn't her girlfriend yet, and wouldn't have sex with her, that must mean she was still allowed to have sex with other people, right? Buffy couldn't bitch her out for it. Girl had needs after all and it had been a long time. A long, long time... Great, she'd moved on from drunk and depressed to drunk, horny and depressed.
She turned on the barstool, checking out her options. A few middle-aged couples were scattered around the bar having a quiet drink. The old men who spent so much time there they might as well have just moved in were at their usual tables around the back. Finding nothing appetizing, she turned back on her stool, grumbling under her breath until she spotted Alex. He was down the other end of the bar, opening a fresh bottle of something and... he was actually kinda good-looking - all big and muscley and his beard still wasn't much more than tufty stubble yet. Sensing her attention he looked down the bar to her with a smile. She gave him her best 'want-take-have' grin.
His eyes went wide and he nearly smashed the bottle against the bar as he tried to fumble it onto a level surface. As soon as he could let go without it falling over he did so and then he dashed through the door that led to the private area behind the bar. Faith leaned towards Kennedy, trying to peer through it but it wasn't long before she came to the conclusion that he wasn't coming back.
Faith slumped back onto her stool despondently. She needed some kind of action before she just shriveled up and died inside. Slaying was lame around here, her and Buffy had been not-together for nearly two months and the blonde was still refusing to put out despite how patient Faith felt she was being. Something had to give and it had to be now, because she was drunk and she was going to lose it and do something stupid if it didn't.
She regarded Kennedy, who was just pulling herself together and sitting upright again and then tried to focus on the swaying Oz as she casually asked, "So...do you two want a threesome?"
With a peel of laughter, Kennedy flopped over the bar top again, sending empty shot glasses and a half full glass of beer flying in her hysteria. On her other side, the unflappable Oz swayed the wrong way and fell backwards off his stool to slap the ground hard with his back.
"Why does nobody wanna screw me anymore?" Faith pitifully asked the world at large.
Hearing the crash of flying shot glasses and people hitting the floor, Alex came running out behind the bar again. Faith looked up hopefully, thinking he'd heard her plea but on second thoughts he didn't look in the mood for anything but...
"Okay you three, consider yourselves cut off. You can't be brawling all over my bar on Thanksgiving. It's a family holiday."
"We're not brawlin'" Kennedy pointed out, sounding offended that he should even consider they would do such a thing.
He stopped as he realized she was right.
"And there's no kids," Faith added, looking around to make sure. "Nope, no kids."
"I guess you're right, well in that case..." he began reasonably and then pointed firmly at the door and bellowed. "Out!"
Faith rocked back on her bar stool. "No need to shout, dude, I'm like right here."
"Yes, and I want you 'out there'. Go home, sober up, wait for Buffy and Willow." Alex came out from behind the bar, helping them from their stools and shooing them towards the door. "Here's an idea: why don't you cook the meal for them? Give them a reason to hurry home. But don't use the stove," he added quickly. "Eddie and Buck don't want to have to get the fire truck out on Thanksgiving. Enjoy the rest of your day folks and take it easy on the way home. It's getting dark."
Faith looked around as the heavy door closed solidly behind them, surprised to have found herself herded out into the cold with such ease. That would never have happened a few years ago. Prison had made her soft. Either that or she was wicked drunk.
Oz was standing there in the road, still swaying to a tune only he could hear, but Kennedy was less passive about being dumped on the doorstep. She turned to hammer her fist on the door, regardless of the fact that it wasn't locked, and called for entry.
Laughing at her, Faith pulled her away. "Come on, thanks to you we out-stayed our...thingy."
"Tab," said Oz.
"No, we didn't pay our tab."
Faith turned back to the door and then stopped, a roguish smirk slipping on to her face, and she turned back around. "We should probably get going, like the good cop said."
They started to walk up the street. With dusk falling and the holiday it was even emptier than usual. Ghost town quiet with swirls of leaves rushing helter-skelter across the road in place of tumbleweeds.
The general store was still open though and Faith stopped in front of it. "I need some smokes."
"And beer," Oz said and Faith nodded appreciatively.
"And jello," said Kennedy, and added decisively, "Cherry."
They disappeared inside for a few minutes, bought what they needed, and then left, already bickering mildly about who was going to carry the heavy case of beer. They were all far too drunk to notice the yellow eyes watching them from the alley opposite nor did they realize that the shadowy figure they belonged to followed them discreetly along the road out of town.
It took a while for the four of them to figure out what was going on in the chaos that suddenly rained upon the camp, hidden as they were behind the garage. But the future inhabitants, or the inhabitants of the future maybe, seemed to know exactly what was happening and were obviously prepared for it and slayer-shouts echoed around the outbuildings as they were attacked from all sides.
"It's the lizards," Buffy said, feeling panicky at seeing Faith swinging a sword while so drunk. "But there's a hell of a lot more than thirteen of them!"
"The same lizard demons that attacked us a few weeks ago?" Giles asked.
"Well, they're not wearing name tags but I think it's a safe bet," she said impatiently.
"They're not the enemy," Willow panted.
"Gotta disagree with you there, Will," Xander said from where he was watching another couple of slayers battle a lizard at the other end of the garage.
"They're not the enemy," Willow repeated.
"Do you know something, Willow?" Giles asked carefully.
"Yes," she yelled, "I know they're not the enemy!"
Buffy stopped watching Faith to give her a wary look. The others did the same.
"Neither am I!" she assured them quickly. "Look, Andrew's research all said they weren't magick, yet they managed to do something pretty magickal to me, and not in a nice, fairy dust, happy ever after way. There is someone controlling them, someone who is magickal and now that we're gone, or maybe just now I'm gone, they're stronger, so there's more demons. That's makes sense, right, Giles?"
He nodded. "It's certainly a feasible theory."
"That's great, Will, but we don't have time for theory!" Buffy's body jerked in revulsion and the need to fight as a slayer battling just a few feet from Faith had her throat slit by a lizard's long claws. "We need to act now!"
"That's just it. We do have time. We're out of time; I mean, out of our time. All we need to do to stop this is get back to our time and figure out who's controlling them and stop them before they can get this powerful."
"And we just leave Faith, and Dawn and...and Andrew to die like Kennedy obviously did?" Willow slumped against the back of the garage but Buffy didn't have time for sympathy, not when her own girlfriend and sister might still be saved from the same fate. "I'm going out there. I need to help."
Giles grabbed her arm. She could have shrugged him off like he wasn't there but Xander had already run back to them and he grabbed her too, helping Giles to pull her back behind the garage.
"Buff, you can't do anything. There's like sixty lizards out there, and that's just the ones I saw, that might mean there's really one hundred and twenty. And you don't have a weapon."
It wasn't that much more effort to shrug the two them off. "I'm sure Faith will lend me one."
"She can't be allowed to see you," Giles reminded her.
"I'm really not giving a crap about the stability of the universe right now, Giles!"
"And I'm sure the universe doesn't give a crap about your love life right now," Giles snapped back, harshly enough that she calmed down just enough to listen. "But you are The Slayer and you will think with your head and not your heart for two bloody minutes."
"I'm not The Slayer anymore."
"You are The Slayer," he repeated forcefully. "Now, would you rather rush out there and die gallantly by her side or do your damnedest to get back home and save her life? And possibly a lot of other lives in the process."
"Including Kennedy's," Willow said weakly.
Buffy hesitated, the blood was pumping fast through her veins at being so close to the battle and it was almost impossible to ignore the voice in her head telling her to slash, hack, slay! They had a point though.
"So what do we do? Willow's too weak to teleport. And even if she wasn't there's nothing to say we won't just spend the night tripping all over the place again."
"We stick with our original plan." Willow pushed herself away from the garage with a groan. "Woodshed."
There was only one problem to that plan now. In the time they'd been talking Faith, Rona and a slayer Buffy didn't recognize had begun forcing two of the demonic lizards towards the perimeter of the camp, taking a short cut directly between the garage and the woodshed.
"Oh boy, this vacation just keeps getting better and better," Xander griped. "Now what do we do?"
"Run like hell?" Buffy suggested.
"Maybe we can sneak past them," Willow said. "They look pretty absorbed."
"No, there's too high a possibility of being seen. We should wait until they've either dispatched the demons, or forced them beyond us and then make our way across."
There was a roar, making all four of them jump, and a startled look behind showed a lizard demon at the other end of the back of the garage. It had spotted them and looked real eager to claim the prize none of its brethren had spotted yet. It came towards them on stumpy legs that shouldn't have been able to move that fast.
"Run like hell!" Xander had the deciding vote and the other three were too alarmed to do anything but go along with it.
They shot out from behind the garage into the melee, with Buffy and Xander supporting Willow between them and the demon hot on their heels.
Where the road began to bend to the left for half a mile there was a shortcut that Kennedy knew of. It led through the trees up a steep slope, but it cut a good twenty minutes off the walk home. She was secretly pleased that she knew it and Faith didn't.
Actually, there was nothing secret about her pleasure. "How long have you been here now and you still don't know your way around?"
"I know my way around. I just ain't had time to be trekking up mountains. Some of us have a job, ya know?" Faith grumbled.
It was her turn to carry the beers, and she was making the job lighter by drinking them steadily as they walked. Still she was making the wet, muddy slope look easy. Oz wasn't, and to prove it he slipped down a several feet again on his knees. Kennedy laughed at him as she used tree trunks and occasionally the damp weeds to stop herself from doing the same.
She was still laughing and about to throw another snarky comment Faith's way when a sudden crashing of undergrowth all around them froze the chuckle in her throat. It was too dark to see what was making the noise but almost at once Faith gave a yell and tumbled down the slope past her.
Before Kennedy could turn to see if she was okay, a bunch of the lizardy Meluthian Hedrays emerged from the darkness to surround them.
The case of beer was the first casualty, smashing to the ground as Faith lost her hold on it in her fall, but Kennedy had the sinking feeling that it wouldn't be the last.
Back to Fiction page ||
Site Updates ||
Site Updates ||