stock: typewriter

Fic: Lapsang Souchong - Part 2

Screams echoed the lightning, a perverse form of thunder as Buffy swallowed her own, tampered it down as the polychrome clouds above and below her filled with the effervescent light that, for a brief moment, was terribly beautiful. She shut her eyes, blood coated lashes pressed tight to her cheeks as another down the line shrieked and turned, struggling to free themselves and their movements, their stupidity jerked her own chains and the hook piercing her shoulder torqued, dug deeper and her collarbone popped, bringing forth a new white hot wash of pain.

“Fuck!” Her muttered curse sprayed her face with blood and she swallowed the need to curl around the wound. Kept herself straight as another screamed out their own protests and the hook sank deeper, pulled her down further and stretched the skin of her chest and throat. Something hard in her throat gave with a brittle sound and her ability to breathe vanished. Green eyes opened, head flung back in a silent scream as the smaller bits of steel burrowed beneath the tender flesh of her inner thigh fell away and the larger hook piercing her abdomen wretched free leaving a gaping whole.

She was weightless, she was free and just as suddenly she was falling.

Tumbling through the chains and smoke, slipping past the damned and lightning, her hair whipping away from her face as she lost her fear and simply allowed herself to fall, welcomed the brief reprieve and just as she accepted this, the falling, she stopped. Her body impacted a far too solid surface, cratering it and she felt her body shatter, break, but she was still conscious, still aware.

A cough shuddered her slim frame as a shadow descended over her, cool hands pushing back the loose strands of hair as they knelt at her side and cupped her shoulders, pulling her free of the shallow crevice holding her. Her head lulled back, falling to the side, her neck broken and useless, as they whispered, “Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris.”

Buffy jerked upright, eyes wide and searching the quiet room as she struggled to breathe and clutched the down comforter to her chest. She felt the erratic beat of her heart pounding sharply against her ribcage before she covered her sweat-slick face with trembling hands. Her hands slid down to bridge her nose and her heavy breathing echoed through the small opening they made as she fought off the sudden onslaught of nausea.

Her hands fell away from her face and she pressed them down into her lap, clenched them to stop their shaking. She forced her breathing to slow and stared blankly at the closed door in front of her and ignored the night outside her window. She allowed herself a heartfelt, “fuck,” muttered quietly before she shook her head and closed her eyes. Faust filled the darkness in her head and she thrust them open and the sheets from her damp body.

One leg slipped free of the sheets, toes curling with the slight cold of the tiled floor before Buffy pulled her other leg free. She settled herself on the edge of the bed, arms rising to curl around her stomach as she blinked at the digital numbers telling her it was ten past three in the morning. Her gaze slid past the clock to the image of family when it had still been whole, when she’d still been a part of it and then to the photo of her, Xander and Willow. Green eyes dipped, narrowed on her cell phone tucked between the two images of her past and the spiraling white dial, on its tiny screen, that told her she had a message.

Buffy reached forward, damp fingers smearing the smooth surface of the screen as she brought her phone to life and flooded the dark room with muted light. She blinked against the sudden onslaught, squinting as she pulled up her voicemail and kept the phone on speaker. Her thumb jabbed the number one key and she skipped the phone number calling her, brows rising when the actual message began with a muffled sob.

“Buffy,” her brows shot up, concern slicing through her with Willow’s feeble statement of her name as she repeated it, “Buffy, there’s been an accident,” she leaned forward with Willow’s slight pause, stomach opening, “It’s-it’s Cordelia, Buffy, Cordy got hurt and it’s all my fault, I-I hurt her, me and Xander and now I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to fix it, please, call me, please, Buffy,” there was another pause, her voice dipping towards meek as she added one last, “please,” before disconnecting.

Panic spiked through her as she disconnected from her messages and speed dialed Willow, her right heel beating an irregular pattern against the tile as it rang. It rang, and rang, and rang until Willow’s overly chirp filled tone prompted her to leave a message. “You have got to be kidding me!” Buffy snarled the words at her phone as she disconnected and tried Cordelia, twice, with much of the same results. She sprang to her feet and switched the phone to her left hand as she dialed Faith and began to pace the confines of the room.

It rang, “Come on, come on,” and rang, “come on!”

“B?”

The trembling in her hands slowed with the familiar raspy tone. “Faith? What the hell is going on?”

“Woah, B. Calm it. We’re all good here.”

The hand grasping the cell phone tensed. “Willow called. Said something happened to Cordelia,” she kept her words as statements of fact rather then pleading with Faith to just tell her.

Faith was, apparently, psychic—or heard the desperation in Buffy’s voice—and quickly explained, “Yeah, she took a rebar to the chest, but she’s decent. Doc said she lost some blood, but she’ll be up and annoying the shit outta me, and everyone else, in no time,” there was a pause before she added, “But you might want to head this way if you can.”

“I can be there by dawn.”

~*~


Sunlight streamed in through the high placed windows at Buffy’s back, flooding the small waiting room with light and creating a rather obnoxious glare on the television mounted on the wall across from her. Not that she was watching anything of particular interest as she waited for eight o’clock, visiting hours, to come and the doctors and nurses to allow her in to actually see Cordelia rather than listen to their overly calm responses to her inquiries. She shifted in the small plastic seat and turned, flipping through the stack of extremely old, old enough that she could have read them before her stint in hell, magazines before giving up with a sigh and leaning back in her chair.

Her body slid down, jean-covered legs uncrossing as she slouched and absently tapped her thumb ring against the metal arms of the chair. The scuffed toe of her lace-up, knee-high boots soon joined the beat as she glanced at the clock for the hundredth time in the last half hour and glared at the second hand as it continued its sluggish pace. She had contemplated hitting Willow’s before the hospital after she’d reached Faith and Dormer’s and been informed of what had transpired the night before, but had then thought better of it and headed straight for Cordelia.

Of the two friends—though Buffy wasn’t entirely sure Cordelia could be considered a friend—she’d chosen the more wounded party. She sighed, shifting again and wondering when Willow and Xander had joined cheaters anonymous, not that they were anonymous now, or if it had been a one time, passion in the face of death thing. She really, really hoped it was the latter of the two scenarios because her best friends had never struck her as the unfaithful type. Hell, she’d always thought them too faithful for sticking by her rather then running for their lives like her Hemery friends had when they’d discovered the truth about her and what really went on after dark.

Uncomfortable with her current train of thought Buffy shoved herself from the rows of seats along the wall and began to pace the narrow room. Her boots, which she’d picked up at a Salvation Army in New Orleans, were noiseless against the linoleum as she made her way towards the wall filled with informative medical posters before she swung around and made her way back toward the wall housing the only door in or out. A hand rose, catching the back of her neck and dragged its way across and down, disturbing the long chain holding the badge she’d just gotten from Doyle the night before.

She adjusted the badge and ID telling the hospital staff she was Detective Kate Lockley, the only way she was going to be allowed in to see Cordelia while she was in intensive care. She adjusted the collar of her double-breast plaid peacoat, another thrift store find, before her hand slipped down to brush at the jeans she’d worn that had seen better days, days in which a nasty voodoo spirit hadn’t been fixated on sending her ass back to hell.

In the last few stress-filled months Buffy had learned the internal workings of devil’s traps, angels were kind of dick-like and the joys of swearing. Dropping the f-bomb, of which her mother would not approve, did wonders for her when she was ready to burst and didn’t have a demon or vampire readily available to pummel. Thoughts of her mother stopped Buffy in her stride back towards the medical posters and had her blinking rapidly and telling herself she had a wayward eyelash—in both eyes—as she looked up toward the florescent lighted ceiling.

“Detective Lockley?” Buffy spun, forcing a pleasant smile to her face as she moved toward the entrance of the waiting room where a rather attractive doctor inclined his head and offered her his hand, “Doctor Collins, but you can call me Gregory.”

She accepted his handshake with a rising of her brows and made it a point to refer to him by his title, “Doctor Collins, how is Miss Chase?”

A line appeared between his brows before it smoothed and he slowly released her hand as he answered with, “She’s stable. She lost a substantial amount of blood, but none of her vitals were punctured. Visits to her will be restricted while she’s in the ICU and I’d actually prefer it if you could come back at a later time,” his head inclined as he offered, “Perhaps tomorrow afternoon?”

Buffy shook her head, felt her ponytail slip into the collar of her jacket to tickle the back of her neck as she stated, “I can’t. I’ll be on my way back to L.A. by then,” she paused, considering, “I could come back later today if she’s still not conscious, but I’d prefer to meet with her sooner rather then later.”

“Detective Lockley, Miss Chase has already been through a terrible ordeal—”

She interrupted him, “Of that I’m well aware, Doctor Collins, hence my being here.”

“Of course,” his dark brows rose towards the widows peak of his hairline as he continued, “Would you care to explain to me why Miss Chase needs to be questioned?”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed with his condescending tone and replied, “I’m not at liberty to discuss an ongoing investigation,” suddenly thankful for those long afternoons with Willow and Xander watching Law and Order as she finished with, “Now may I see Miss Chase, please?”

The please had been more of an afterthought and it showed as the doctor inhaled slowly, the nostrils of his aristocratic nose flaring before his chin dropped in agreement. “Right this way.” He stepped to the side, inviting Buffy to follow him from the waiting room and led her down a windowed hallway and past a nurses’ station and the few loitering around it raised a brow at their passing.

They reached a pair of metal doors painted white and red and Doctor Collins turned, made a generic motion towards one of the nurses who reached forward and tapped a button. The doors in front of Buffy hissed and groaned, yawning their way open and the doctor once again took the lead. She lengthened her stride to catch up with his and he turned his head, addressing her, “If you don’t mind me asking,” Buffy didn’t get why someone would open with that phrase when they knew the person in question would mind and she blinked, only half tuning in as he prompted, “You seem a bit young to be a detective.”

All traces of pleasantness left her as Buffy shot him a glare out of the corner of her eye, purposely mistaking his statement as a come-on and snapped, “This is neither the time nor the place for flirtation, Doctor Collins.”

His stride stumbled and Buffy paused, arms coming up to cross beneath her breasts as she continued to treat him to a narrow-eyed stare as he cleared his throat. “I-I didn’t mean—”

“Precisely. Let’s keep you and your lack of meaning far from me and Miss Chase until I have finished with my interview.” Her chin thrust forward, gaze locking with his as she silently dared him to contradict her.

He blinked, blue eyes shifting past her as he broke the connection first and Buffy felt the corner of her mouth tug with her slight accomplishment before he stated, voice less certain then it had been, “She’s the second door from the end on the left.”

Buffy kept her tone even as she stated, “Thank you,” before she spun on the thick sole of her boot and stalked down the hall. She waited until she was several feet from the doctor before allowing her smirk to deepen the curved line of her mouth until she drew closer to Cordelia’s room and her stride slowed, face slipping into a blank mask as she moved to fill the open doorway.

Her hand rose, formed a fist and she rapped it against the doorframe and watched the dark head of hair currently propped up on numerous pillows shift, turning towards her and she smiled as Cordelia’s hazel eyes widened and stated, “Hey, Cordy.”

“Buffy?”

Her voice was soft, weak and she shifted, a wince working its way across her features as she did so and Buffy moved swiftly into the room and to her side. “Try not to move. Here.” she turned grabbing the only chair and moved it closer to the bed.

Perfectly shaped brows dipped down toward the bridge of her nose as she stated, “I was told a detective was coming to interview me.” Her gaze dipped as Buffy lifted the chain around her neck and flashed the badge at her and Cordelia rolled her eyes, “Right.”

Buffy lifted a shoulder and let it fall before asking, “Aside from taking a rebar to the chest, how are you?”

Those brows of hers rose sharply. “Anyone ever tell you, you suck at bedside manner?”

“Have you met you?”

A snort hunched Cordelia’s shoulders and she winced, eyes shut tight as she gasped and tensed, her stomach muscles tightening and she pushed herself deeper into her pillows. “God, don’t make me laugh.”

“I wasn’t trying to,” Buffy stated as she stood and adjusted the pillows Cordelia had shifted in her sudden movement. She ignored the curious and confused look she was receiving through Cordelia’s lashes as the other girl kept her eyes slit while Buffy made her more comfortable before prompting, “Better?”

“Yeah,” Cordelia hesitated before offering, “Thanks.”

Buffy accepted her slight appreciation with another shrug before fixing her with a searching look. “So how are you?”

Her mouth thinned, hazel eyes narrowing before she groused, “Shouldn’t you be asking Jo-Jo the dog-faced girl that as she cries into your bony shoulder?” Buffy raised her brows and crossed her arms, more amused than offended by the venomous response to her inquiry. There was a moment of silence before Cordelia sagged further into her pillows and sent her considering gaze over Buffy and her ensemble. A line appeared between her brows before she conceded, “You’ve put on weight,” and offered, “I take back the bony, but not the rest of it. Why are you here? The last time I checked you and I weren’t besties.”

“No, we’re not,” Buffy agreed.

“So what’s the sitch? Shouldn’t you be off comforting Miss She-Who-Kisses-Other’s-Boyfriends?”

Buffy blinked, frowned. “That was a mouthful.”

“I’m thinking of shortening it to lip-slut.” Cordelia swallowed as she shifted and eased her body further down the bed, making herself more comfortable against her pillows. “Seriously though, why are you here?”

“We’re not friends, not really, I know.” Buffy’s chin dipped and she ignored Cordelia’s snark of ‘understatement’ under her breath and shot her a quick glare from beneath her lashes before offering, “But if I have to chose between being with a friend that screwed over someone and the someone I care about getting screwed,” she paused, lifted her head and added, “Well, that’s a no-brainer,” her lips spread into a grin as she finished with, “even for you.”

“Did you just insult me? Me? Who just got out of surgery six hours ago?”

“Yeah,” Buffy quirked a brow with Cordelia’s thinly veiled outrage, “It’s what we do. We insult one another.”

“You’re damn right we do.” The weakness in her voice gave way to something stronger as she snarled, “I am Cordelia Chase and I am not someone who’s going to be coddled.” She titled her head so that she was looking down at Buffy, which was impressive since she was lying down and Buffy was standing, and snapped, “Especially not by a freak of nature like you.”

“There she is.”

“Oh shut up.”

Buffy smirked and retook her seat, pulling it closer still in the hopes that it would invite Cordelia to go back to her softer tone and wouldn’t strain herself too much, too soon. “Want to tell me what happened?”

Her chin lifted and she turned her head away from Buffy, looking towards the ceiling. “Don’t you already know everything? Isn’t that why you’re here?”

“Thought you might want to the chance to vent.”

There was a moment of silence before she explained in short, clipped sentences, “Willow and Xander went missing. Oz and I went looking. We found them,” she paused, voice wavering before Cordelia swallowed and embellished with, “Found them on top of each other. I ran. I fell. I got hurt. The end.” She blinked rapidly and Buffy ignored the tears she saw leak out the corners of Cordelia’s eyes and slip down to merge with her hairline as she added, “So unless you’re willing to kick Mr. Faithful’s ass for me, I’m not sure why you’re here.”

“Yes, you are.” Buffy watched Cordelia’s head turn and she met her angry gaze head-on. “I came to make sure you were good because—”

“You care?”

The acidic tone to Cordelia’s interruption didn’t surprise her, it was the fact that she was right and Buffy’s voice mirrored this discovery as she stated, “I do,” and she paused, taking in Cordelia’s startled expression and added, “Huh.”

“No need to sound so shocked about it.”

The snap to her tone was slipping away and Buffy watched Cordelia’s lashes dip before she forced them back open and Buffy rose. “I think I should head out. Let you rest. I’ll be back though.”

“Is that a threat?”

Buffy’s mouth quirked with the tired question and the fact that Cordelia could be insulting even while about to pass out. “Maybe,” she hesitated, frowned and made her statement a question, “We don’t hug?”

Dark brows tugged down and Cordelia shot her another glare. “I’m not into the touchy feely.”

“That’s not what the football team says.”

One brow rose. “And you would know what the football team says how, Little Miss I’m Dead?”

“Oz told me,” Buffy flashed her a quick smile as she headed toward the door, “You know how he loves to over-share.”

“Buffy?” She turned in the doorway, inclining her head towards Cordelia who searched her face a moment before stating, “Thanks for making me first.”

“You’re welcome,” Buffy nodded before adding, “You know you can call me once and awhile. To talk,” she paused, smirked, “or mock. Whatever.”

Hazel eyes rolled even as Cordelia settled deeper into the pillows and stated, “I’m pretty sure I didn’t delete your number.”

“That was sweet of you.”

“It was.” Cordelia’s lashes dipped again, her voice losing more of its biting edge as she stated, “I should really get a humanitarian award for befriending you losers.”

Buffy waited a moment, watched Cordelia’s head lull to the side and her body sag as the tension left her and she lost her battle against sleep. She shook her head and smiled before turning to leave and muttered, “I’d vote for you.”

“Damn right you would.” Buffy tensed, head snapping back toward the bed and the small smile, the first smile she’d seen, curved Cordelia’s mouth upwards and Buffy laughed.

~*~


The knife fell with the repetitive ‘thwack’ of blade meeting cutting board as Faith worked her way through a cucumber. Creating semi-equal sized slices before dividing her small pile into equal parts as Buffy continued to raid the refrigerator for more components to their lunch-time salads. Though in Buffy’s estimation their salads were less salad and more bits of odds and ends mixed together with dressing on top as she snagged the leftover bacon, from the breakfast Dormer had made that morning, and a small container of feta cheese.

She turned, nudged the open door with an elbow and closed it to the sound of rattling condiments. Faith’s head rose from her task of depositing the cucumbers into their already nearly full bowls and quirked her brows as Buffy ducked her head in mild embarrassment. She deposited her newly acquired choices for their quasi-salads and offered the bacon to Faith for slicing as the brown eyes narrowed on the plastic container of feta cheese and pointed at with her knife. “What is that?”

“Feta cheese.”

Her eyes narrowed and then rose to Buffy’s face as she snapped, “I can read,” her gaze dipped back toward the container of white crumbling bits, “I want to know what it is.”

The edge of her thumb slipped between the lid and the container, opening it and snagging one of the bits to pop into her mouth. She smiled as the powder-like substance melted against her tongue before stating, simply, “Goat cheese.”

“Goat cheese?” Faith shook her head and began the quick process of slicing the bacon as she commented, “Keep that the hell outta my bowl.”

“Your loss is my incredible gain.” Buffy smiled and snagged another bit before stating, “So Spike is dust. You slayed Spike.”

“What?” Faith’s tone took on a mocking edge, “Like it was hard?”

“Funny.” Buffy rolled her eyes before lifting the container of feta and sprinkling some over her bowl. “Smartassness aside,” she quirked a brow, “Spike wasn’t Johnny Easy to Kill the last time he rolled through town.”

Her voice trailed off and Buffy waited, expectantly, for Faith to take up the story of the death of her could have been nemesis had he actually had a—you know— feasible plan once and awhile. The blade stopped its steady seesaw against the cutting board and Faith added the bacon to the bowls before starting with, “Billy Idol told me where Xander and Willow were,” she paused and winced, adding under her breath, “Not that I needed to be told apparently,” with a shake of her head she refocused, “Once I had that info there really wasn’t a reason not to slay his ass.”

Buffy watched Faith reach forward, snag the ranch dressing from the center of the island they were currently gathered around and add a liberal amount to her bowl of food. With a shake of her head she followed Faith’s example and grabbed the balsamic vinaigrette to add to her own before commenting, “He was creative in a fight.”

There was a sharp dip of Faith’s chin as she nodded her agreement and turned, opening a drawer and pulled out two forks before offering one to Buffy. “He was wicked creative. I’ve got the bruises to prove it,” she paused, frowned, “I am confused as to who sent the other vamps after him though.”

Buffy accepted the fork and inclined her head. “That is a bit sense lacking.”

“Exactly,” Faith grabbed her bowl and motioned Buffy to follow her from the kitchen. “I mean I get revenge and all that, but they seemed to have an agenda other then just kicking Spike’s ass.” They made their way past the stairs and down the carpeted hallway to the living room and their drinks. Faith settled herself on the lounge that Buffy had slept on more then once before finishing with, “And after the whole band candy thing last month it feels like I’m missing the bigger picture, ya know?”

“Yeah,” Buffy nodded and took up her spot on the sofa, careful to keep her bowl steady as she settled herself and added, “Did the vamps mention anything? Like a boss or something?”

Her brow quirked and Faith shook her head. “You see that would be good luck.”

A slow smile spread Buffy’s lips in understanding of Faith’s plight. “That I understand.”

“There’s gotta be something else going on. I mean the assassins at Homecoming, the band candy, these aren’t random acts. Someone’s gotta be pulling strings.”

“You’re not wrong.” Buffy frowned and shifted, a thought nagging along the edge of her consciousness as she took her first bite of bacon covered cucumber. Chewing absently she tried to focus on why she had the random thought of Principal Snyder and swallowed, her memory still a little hazy when it came to the unimportant people in her life before hell.

“Have you talked to Willow yet?”

Faith’s hesitant question between bites pulled Buffy out of her thoughts and back into the present conversation. A shrug of her right shoulder lifted her fork from the bowl as she stated, “No, not yet. She’s classes bound at the moment.”

“Right,” there was a pause and another bite before Faith asked, her hand covering her mouth, “And Cordelia? How’s she doin’?”

“Better then most.” Buffy smiled, recalling their conversation before adding, “It’s Cordy, she’ll bounce back.”

“Yeah. She’s resilient like a cockroach.”

Buffy snorted and dug through her bowl for a piece of boiled egg. “You know what they say? If you see one roach there are hundreds more.”

“Hundreds of Cordelias? Now that’s just freakin’ scary.” Faith paused, looked at the wide screen of the television for a moment, lost in thought, before shaking her head and offering, “I know Cordelia is annoying as shit, but damn, I didn’t think Xander, or Willow, would do that to her.”

“Or Oz.”

Faith nodded in agreement with Buffy’s quiet addition and stabbed her fork downward into her bowl before stating, “This is why monogamy blows.”

“This is?” Buffy questioned with a rising of her brows.

“Yes.” Faith lifted her fork and a cherry tomato from her bowl and frowned at them. “Get some, get gone.”

“Interesting motto.”

She pulled the tomato from the fork with her teeth and took a moment to chew and swallow before stating, “It keeps me sane.”

Buffy flinched before offering, “Isn’t that what Willow was doing?”

Brown eyes narrowed and Faith made another stab at her quasi-salad. “Yeah. Which I just don’t get.”

“You and me both.”

Her shoulders lifted and fell with a sigh before she pulled out a bit of boiled egg with her fork and lifted her head. Buffy watched the smile that curved the right side of Faith’s mouth and shifted, suddenly nervous with that look as the brunette leaned forward and stated, “I was thinking—”

“Which is never good.” Buffy hid her own smile behind another bite of cucumber as the look Faith shot her clearly told her to shut it.

“My eighteenth is next month and I was thinking,” she paused for the smart comment that didn’t come before finishing with, “You could try to head this way and you and me could hit L.A. for the weekend. I already passed it by Dormer and she seemed cool with it.”

“That idea has potential.” Buffy’s smile widened at the thought that she might have something other then the apocalypse to look forward to.

“So I should make plans?”

“I’m thinking yes.”

“Sweet.” Faith jabbed her fork down, clinking it against the bottom of her bowl and pulled out a chunk of ham. Her tone was wistful as she added, “I’m gonna miss my jailbait days.”

~*~


A metallic whine accompanied Buffy’s rocking as she leaned the high-backed chair away from the large desk spanning the wall of the principal’s office farthest from the door. Balancing herself on one toe she propped her boot covered foot onto said desk, knocking the bloater askew, before lifting her other foot up and crossed her legs at the ankles. Her body sank deeper into the plush chair as she intertwined her fingers and propped her hands on her stomach as she awaited the end of the faculty meeting just two doors down.

Her head cocked, the wisps of blonde hair that had escaped her pony tail shifted with the abrupt movement, as she listened, unable to make out anything distinct from the quiet chatter. Not that she would have found anything particularly interesting about the meeting. It would have just given her something to do other then watch the clock on the wall closest to the door move with a glacial pace towards the next minute. She shifted, leaning forward to pick at a loose thread from the laced-up boots her jeans were currently tucked into and absently wished for a lighter to singe the offending thread away.

The quiet chatter turned into louder voices as the door to the small conference room was opened and Buffy stopped toying with the thread and looked up, watched a few teachers pass in front of the windows of the office. She smiled and leaned back, letting the chair rock with her body’s movement as she took up her casual pose again as Snyder moved to stand in front of his office door. The thin, nasal sound of his voice slid toward condescending as he berated the guidance counselor for caring too much.

Green eyes narrowed and annoyed tension began to tighten the muscles in Buffy’s shoulders as she listened to Snyder compare the student body to mulch. Her jaw tightened, thrusting forward as her hands tensed, the knuckles paling while she waited for him to shut up and just come into his damn office already. The second hand made it around the clock several more times before he finally stopped in his display of loathing and allowed Mr. Platt to leave.

Buffy rolled her eyes before sinking further into the chair as the doorknob twisted, opening the door and Snyder stepped through, head down and gaze intent on the stack of colored flyers in his arms. He shut the door behind him, rattling the blinds covering the windows, and made his way past the filing cabinets and bookshelves lining opposite walls towards his desk and Buffy. Glossed lips spread wider as she watched him ease between the two chairs stationed in front of his desk before dropping the stack of papers on it.

Thick brows lowered from his vastly receding hairline as he finally noticed her worn boots propped on his desk and pale eyes narrowed before they lifted. “Hiya, Principal Snyder,” her soft greeting had those pale eyes widening as he stumbled back from the desk and over one of the chairs set in front of it. His polished loafers caught on one of the legs and it spilled him on his ass, forcing him to crabwalk the rest of his retreat.

Buffy arched a brow and let her legs fall from the desk with a thud as they struck the carpeted floor and she rose, moving swiftly around the desk and toward the, once upon a time, bane of her existence. She caught up to him next to the bookshelves and gripped the lapels of his cheap suit. “S-Summers?”

She smiled at the stammer in his voice and lifted him easily to his feet, propping him against the bookshelf before attempting to straighten the wrinkles she’d put in the lines of his jacket. “How’ve you been?”

He flinched back from her touch. “You-you’re dead.”

A pointed chin dipped. “I was,” her head cocked and she leaned into him, enjoying the tightening around his eyes and mouth with her close proximity and finished with, “Isn’t it funny how dead things in Sunnydale always come back to bite you on the ass?”

His gaze shifted, taking in the sunlight flittered by his wooden blinds, but still flooding the room with a muted glow. “It’s day.”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed with the certainty in his voice before she acknowledged, “It is.”

“S-so you’re not a-a-a…” he trailed off and swallowed tightly, adam’s apple bobbing with the movement.

“A what?”

His pale eyes narrowed and he took a step to the side, moving away from her and closer to his desk as Buffy stepped back, letting him. “You know what.”

“Do I?” Her arms rose, crossing beneath her breasts as she gazed at him, a mock-confused line appearing between her brows. “I don’t think I know nearly enough. Like why you’d call someone after expelling me and tell them you had good news for the mayor.”

His back stiffened, thin hands rising to straighten his wrinkled suit as he managed to muster a glare. “I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.”

“I think you do.”

“So?” those pale eyes narrowed, “even if I did know something, and I’m not saying I do, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.”

“I think you would,” Buffy took a step forward, watched him flinch against his desk and smiled, “I think you’re gonna.”

He took another step the side and turned, reaching for the phone on his desk and Buffy lunged, caught the white contraption and yanked it away, tossing it behind her to crash against the wall. He gave a nervous laugh and moved around the desk before prompting, “Is that supposed to be a threat? Are you threatening me?” He inclined his head, small mouth turning upwards at the corners as he came to a realization and stated, voice certain, “You’re one of the good guys. So all you can do is threaten. I have nothing to fear from you, but a few broken appliances. So please,” he motioned to rest of his office, “feel free.”

Buffy laughed and even to her it sounded broken as she followed him in his retreat, forcing Snyder to move further from the false safety of his desk and into the corner of his office. He slipped behind the California flag and Buffy shoved it to the side, knocking it and a fake Ficus down in the process as she told Snyder the truth as she saw it, “I think my little stint in hell proves I’m not one of the good guys,” her mouth thinned as she conceded, “at least not anymore, and now,” she paused, inclined her head, “now I consider myself more freelance.”

He swallowed again, the muscles in his neck cording as he attempted to lean further back from her and his head struck the wall behind him. “What is it that you think you’re going to do?”

“Me?” she shrugged, “Not sure, but you’re going to tell me all about the mayor and his plans.”

“And if I don’t?”

Buffy’s smile widened and she leaned closer to him, tilting her head so that her breath trickled against his cheek as she stated, voice casual, “Well, first I’ll remove your teeth one by one and make you swallow them. And then,” she paused, watched his adam’s apple bob, “then I’m gonna go looking for them with that rusty exacto knife you have in the top drawer of your desk.” She watched his pale eyes widened before prompting, voice conversational, “How many do you think I’ll find before you either A, die of blood loss or B, tell me about the mayor?”

~*~


Pale hands balled into fists, blunt nails creating crescent-shaped indents in her palm before Anna flexed her fingers, spread them wide and gazed down at her blemished flesh. She watched the blood beneath her skin rush upward, flushing the indents with color as her chin dipped toward her chest, hair spilling forward to crowd her features. Pale green eyes narrowed, leaving their study of her hands to notice the way the sunlight changed the color of her hair, brightened it and she came to the realization that the world was so very different through human eyes.

“Anna?”

Red-tinted brows drew downward before she stated, voice soft, “Yes, Sam.”

Heavy footfalls impacted the earth as Sam drew her into his shadow and her head lifted, presenting him her face as he blocked the sun. His mouth was pulled thin and long and she watched his wide hands reached up, pushed at his hair as it fell into his eyes and tucked it behind his ears before folding himself down into a crouch position in front of her. An angular chin fell with the movement and Anna kept her gaze locked with his concerning one as he struggled a moment to find the right words.

Her head fell to the side and she offered him a faint smile before prompting, “Ask me.”

His gaze moved to the vacant space the Impala had filled before Dean had left to take Pamela home, the psychic being unwilling to remain in the thick of things when the angels had already taken so much from her, and then turned back to Anna. The ring of hazel surrounding his pupils shrank as the pupils spiraled outward and he shifted uneasily, lips rolling inward a moment before he prompted, “With all that you’ve heard did the angels ever mention another person? Someone else that was saved from hell?”

“Someone other then Dean?” Anna watched his body tense as her smile slipped away and she nodded. “Yes, there was.”

“There was?” Excitement crept into Sam’s voice as his weight shifted forward and he leaned closer to Anna. “Do you know who? Their name? Where they are?”

“No,” Anna shook her head and pushed her hands into the dirt beneath her, shoving herself back onto her feet so that she stood over Sam. “No name was ever spoken.”

Sam frowned and stood. “Are you sure?”

“I am.” She turned away from Sam, gazed out at the broken and bent towers of vehicles lining the clearing behind them before offering, “I do know that it’s a woman. A woman who has succeeded in protecting every seal they’ve placed her in front of and yet some of the others refer to her as unworthy.”

“Unworthy?”

Anna heard the confusion in Sam’s tone and turned back to him, met his worried gaze with her calm one as she stated, “She wasn’t supposed to be saved.”

His shoulders rolled back, spine straightening as understanding dawned, “So Castiel—”

“Saved her without permission,” her mouth curved inward, “there might be hope for him yet.”

“Anna,” Sam hesitated, unsure what to ask next as he tried to understand, “why would Castiel save her?”

A shrug lifted her narrow shoulders. “You’d have to ask him, but I’m hoping pity,” her voice softened as she looked past Sam and toward the sky, “Or perhaps he saw something in her worth saving.”

“Does she know?”

Pale lashes lowered as Anna closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t believe so.”

“So they’re using her.” Anna’s head inclined with the frown she could hear in his voice and she opened her eyes and turned, saw the frown for herself and he met her gaze head-on as he asked, “How do I find her?”

“You don’t. Not unless Castiel wants you too.”

“We could help each other. Work together!” Agitation laced Sam’s words and he turned from Anna, “Dean needs someone to…” he trailed off and frowned before sighing, the wide set of his shoulders lifting with the movement before he finished with, “he needs someone.”

“I don’t think she’s that someone.”

A line appeared between his brows and shifted back toward Anna, “Do you know something I don’t?”

Another faint smile curved the line of her mouth. “What I know is that when Dean is ready to talk,” she paused, raised her brows at Sam and stated simply, “listen.”

“Dean—”

“Will be ready when he’s ready,” Anna paused, gazed up at Sam and with great certainty offered, “just be there when he is.”

~*~


A steady breeze toyed with the napkin beneath her buttery croissant as Buffy reached for her over-caffeinated beverage of choice. The iced mocha was lifted and she frowned at the chrome on black design of the laptop, her laptop, that Willow was currently buried behind and ignored the nagging feeling that her best friend was avoiding talking about the big pink elephant in the Espresso Pump. The steady clatter of keys told her that Willow was still attempting to get the built-in webcam to record in something other then night vision green, but it did little to alleviate the trepidation building as her usually babble ready friend remained non-communicative.

Taking another sip of her mocha she waited a moment before offering, her voice soft, “You do know I’m here in a non-judgmental capacity,” she paused, frowned, “right?”

A bit of red hair was exposed along the side of her laptop before Willow finished peeking around the edge at her, brows drawn low and mouth set in a thin line. The steady tapping at her keyboard slowed before Willow sighed and stated, “But you should, judge, I mean. I deserve the judging. I deserve more then judging.”

“Not from me,” Buffy dropped her chin so that she was meeting Willow’s gaze head on as she confirmed, “not ever.”

The fuzzy orange of her sweater became glaring, the sun catching it as Willow’s shoulders lifted in a defeated shrug. “Why did I do it?” The pause that followed the rhetorical question was ignored by Buffy and Willow filled the too long silence with her own hurried response. “I know! Because I’m a huge slut.”

“Willow, you’re not a slut. You are far from the definition of slut.”

“But-but I am! I hurt Oz and hurting him hurts so much,” her voice hiccupped and she paused, catching her breath, “How can I make this right? How do I fix this?”

Buffy watched her features begin to crumble and she rose, moving to take the seat next to Willow rather then across from her. She closed the laptop and pushed it toward the center of the round, high-top table before settling herself and absently tucking a strand of red hair behind Willow’s ear. She turned, pale green eyes wide and glossy with unshed tears and her lower lip trembled as she asked, “Why did I do it?”

“I don’t know,” Buffy glanced around the coffee shop, thankful for the nearly empty lounge, and gave herself a moment to gather her thoughts before turning back to Willow and asking, “Why did you?”

Her lower lip was pulled inward and she worried over it a moment before Willow stated, voice just this side of feeble, “It’s Xander.” Her eyes closed and she shook her head, pulling herself up straighter. “I know, that’s not an excuse or an explanation really—”

Buffy cut off the verbal flogging Willow was about to administer to herself. “It isn’t and it is.” Her best friend looked to her, brows tugging together in confusion and Buffy clarified, “Xander will always have a part of you. That’s a given. It’s up to you to figure out what part of you he has.”

“What if I don’t know?”

“Then you need to figure that out before you talk to Oz.”

“But I want to apologize,” she paused, reconsidered her word choice, “I need to.”

“Haven’t you already done that?”

“Well,” Willow frowned, “yes, but I think I should again and again and again. He needs to know how sorry I am.”

Buffy hesitated, her shoulders rolling back before she offered, voice soft and words blunt, “I think you need him to know how sorry you are.” She waited a moment, let that thought, hopefully, have an impact before asking, “What does Oz want?”

“He said he needed time and,” Willow flinched, “space.” She turned to Buffy who raised her brows at Willow’s questioning look and the redhead sniffled before admitting, “I should give him time.”

“You should.”

“Buffy,” the uncertainty in Willow’s voice had Buffy turning, inclining her head with her name in a go ahead motion that spurned Willow into asking, “Have you ever cheated?”

Her nose wrinkled and she broke eye contact to reach across her laptop for her drink. She caught sight of Willow doing the same out of the corner of her eye as she took a long sip before turning back to her best friend. The pleading look directed her way over the lid of Willow’s mocha had her shoulders dropping as she accepted the question with a nod and another sip.
“In my Hemery days I was…” Buffy trailed off, a line appearing between her brows before she conceded, “I was Cordelia.” She noticed the raising of Willow’s brows and ignored it, focusing on the facts of her short stint at normalcy. “I used boys to further my popularity and if that meant overlapping a breakup and a hookup I didn’t necessarily hesitate in doing so.”

She flinched at the memory of her own shallowness and watched Willow’s head begin a slow nod before she blurted out, “Homecoming!”

Buffy’s head cocked, brows pulling low. “I’m sorry?”

Willow took a deep breath and suddenly found something of interest in her lap as she said, “Xander and I have been,” her frowned deepened before she settled on the phrase Buffy had used, “hooking up since Homecoming.” Willow glanced up and Buffy tried to keep the surprise from her face, but knew she’d failed miserably as those pale eyes widened. “I wanted to tell you. So many times, but it just never seemed like the right time.”

Buffy opened her mouth and then closed it, her brows pulling low with Willow’s confession before she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around the redhead. Willow stiffened before she relaxed into the embrace and hugged her back. “I adore you,” was whispered into Willow’s strawberry scented hair and suddenly Buffy found the ability to breathe rather difficult as Willow’s grip tightened.

They pulled back in unison and Willow smiled, a real smile, and Buffy returned it as her best friend asked, “More mochas?”

A brow arched and Buffy prompted, “Shouldn’t we finish the ones we already have?”

“Who says?”

“A valid point.” Buffy snatched up her own to take another sip, “Then I say, yes please.”

“Good.” Willow eased herself back from the table and stood. “My treat.”

Buffy’s smiled widened with the offer and she nodded as Willow moved towards the counter along the far wall of the establishment. She absently sipped at her mocha before turning back to the table and pulling her croissant closer. Blunt nails picked at the pastry, breaking off a piece and popping it into her mouth as she glanced around the Espresso Pump.

The usually bustling coffee shop was eerily quiet, even for a Wednesday afternoon, though Buffy was thankful for the lack of customers since Shelia Rosenberg had finally made a reappearance in her daughter’s life which made Buffy visiting Willow’s home a near impossibility. While she was uncertain as to whether or not Shelia would remember her name, let alone that she was suppose to be dead, it seemed the safer route to meet Willow outside the Rosenberg home.

Pulling off another chunk of croissant, Buffy turned, taking in the side of the coffee house opened to the street and people watched the passersby as she chewed on the buttery goodness that was her snack. Several minutes passed, along with several more people as they moved about their daily lives before Willow rejoined her with fresh mochas and the question, “How long can you stay?”

She accepted her mocha and turned back around, toward the table. “Not long. A day at the most.”

“Oh.” Willow’s shoulders dropped.

“I’ll try to come back soon and I have the webcam now.” Buffy offered weakly before frowning and asking, “I do have the webcam now, right?”

“You do,” Willow confirmed with a nod of her head.

“Well, good. So now we can chat face to face-ish.”

“We can and will.”

“We will,” Buffy stated and Willow nodded, still frowning.