Useful Things to Know
As Willow was busy having a meltdown in the centre of Spike’s living room, Buffy had tucked herself away in a corner as apart from the drama as she could be without seeming like an ungrateful bitch. She was sure she still came across that way, and probably always would, but the truth of the matter was she could not help the witch, only hinder. She had never had any kind of ability for magick and the last time the portal had been opened she had had nothing to do with it, so logic dictated she should stay the hell out of it now.
They had reconvened at Spike’s place because it was the biggest and therefore there was enough space for everyone to worry simultaneously. Willow, Xander and Spike had become the focal point of the room as they bickered and rifled through the Slayer’s Kit and generally got on each other’s nerves.
Mya sat on the sidelines – a girl after her own heart – and looked more than a little bemused at the flurry of conversation from the focal three.
Even Faith had turned up, Buffy still wasn’t sure why, and was currently moving around the kitchen with a practiced familiarity that Buffy didn’t think she liked. Why did the other Slayer seem to know where Spike kept all his utensils? Something was amiss, there. She had bigger things to worry about but it preyed on her mind as though she were a jealous wife.
Buffy’s eyes flicked to the picture of Spike, Mya, and his wife. She looked away quickly. Though she had never met this Claire, she occupied her thoughts often. To have Spike tell her that his wife had worried about her own hold on him had made Buffy feel strange. They were these two women, completely apart from each other, both presumably rational people…and yet they had each envied someone they had never seen, never spoken a word to. It was crazy when she thought about it like that.
Her gaze rose from the book she had been reading and lingered on Spike.
Okay, it wasn’t that crazy.
The man was a catch.
Buffy could admit that to herself now. Even if she couldn’t quite bring herself to express it out loud. Besides, it was so not the right time for that.
She was reminded of this as Faith sloped past her carrying a tray of tea, coffee, blood and cookies. Buffy’s nose wrinkled.
“Get ’em while they’re hot, bitches,” Faith grinned, setting the tray down on the coffee table.
Xander scowled at her. “Faith, we’ve got more important things to think about than…oh, is that camomile?”
Buffy smiled as Xander descended on the tea like a certain Librarian she used to know. Her smile stayed for a moment before vacating her face, probably not to reappear for the rest of the evening. She looked back down at the book. It wasn’t just any book; Buffy had never been a reader but she was trying to make an effort for this.
The Slayer’s Handbook.
She’d skipped past the peppy ‘So, you think you’re ready to slay the hordes of the undead…?’ introduction and moved straight on to fighting technique. Having received the book a little late, Buffy was already well schooled on how to punch and kick things. She did enjoy the diagrams on how to stake a vampire, however, especially appreciating the bright red target mark over the comically screeching vamp’s heart.
She thought about the situation she had gotten herself into and suddenly it wasn’t so amusing. She flicked through the next few pages. She came to one titled “Useful Things to Know”. Buffy liked useful things. She read on.
“The most important thing to remember is you must never doubt yourself. You are the defender of mortals. You alone stand before the darkness, –”
She shut the book. There was nothing to be learned from it tonight. She certainly didn’t feel like a defender of anything. In this era she was a murderer and the more she thought about it, the more she began to think that she always had been. A killer was still a killer, regardless of what dies at their hand.
Buffy blinked and found Mya sitting on the arm of her chair. The teenager was dressed in her bathrobe and pyjamas, hair pulled back to reveal the beautiful angular lines of her face. She looked concerned.
“It’s…nothing,” Buffy cleared her throat, setting the book down on the table. “It’s useless to me now.”
Mya glanced at the tome and then back. “Not answering my question.”
“It’s the Slayer’s Handbook.” Buffy sighed.
“Oh,” she nodded. “And you’re passed all that?”
Buffy frowned. “Well, no. I…not when you say it like that.”
“Like what?” Mya asked innocently.
“Like I’m some snobby Buffy!”
The girl folded her arms. “And you’re not?”
“No!” Buffy’s eyebrows rose. “It’s just very…basic!”
“Going back to basics can be good, sometimes,” the girl said cryptically before jumping up and making her way over to the cookies.
Buffy was still frowning when she noticed Spike looking at her. He looked like he might come over to speak to her so she grabbed up the book and began to look through it again, hoping to remain inconspicuous. It didn’t work.
Faith came to sit in the same spot Mya had just been. Her legs were crossed loosely at the ankles, feet resting on the coffee table, one arm thrown over the back of the chair. Buffy really wanted to ask what was wrong with the couch when she noticed the Slayer wasn’t looking at her. She wasn’t looking at anything, really. Just relaxing. In her company.
Her once mortal enemy was relaxing in her company! Is this what things had come to?
“Must be nice,” Faith mused quietly.
Buffy took the bait. “What?”
“To see how much people give a damn about you,” she waved one hand lazily at the bickering crowd in front. “See them rally round. All for you.”
Buffy hadn’t thought of it like that. And then another thought occurred to her. “Is that why you’re here? Are you rallying round for…me?”
Faith’s face took on a kind of practiced stillness, then. Buffy looked up at the woman with interest. Sure, they were in the middle of a trial, and sure there was a fight breaking out between Willow and Xander, but she couldn’t help wanting to know.
Faith had always been a puzzle. One moment they were friends, the next they were stabbing each other and attempting to sleep with each other’s boyfriends… and sometimes succeeding…
But now there was this. Whatever this was.
Finally, Faith turned to look at her with those huge brown eyes, trying to gauge how serious the other Slayer’s question had been.
“I guess so,” she grinned with self-deprecation, looking away. “Just don’t expect me to cheer; pom poms are not my thing.” She made to leave.
Buffy caught her forearm, holding her in place, not missing the predatory look Faith flashed at her before she resumed control of herself. Buffy kept her hold, the woman’s skin cold beneath her touch.
“Faith,” she said softly so not to be overheard. “Thank you for being here.”
The brunette cocked her head, regarding her with curiosity and nervousness. They were on new territory here. There was a chance for something close to friendship.
She shrugged one-shouldered. “S’alright, B. I’m a giver.”
Buffy could see she was uncomfortable and that they had gotten as far as they would tonight so she released her grip and slouched back into the chair. Faith stood casually, too casually, and moved away.
And so Buffy was left alone again with nothing but a book and her own morose thoughts for company.
As if to defy this incredibly glum contemplation a cup of tea appeared in her line of vision. She followed the line of the arm offering the mug all the way up to a strong shoulder, pale neck, and finally to the kind face of Spike. In spite of his endearing expression Buffy shook her head no. He raised his eyebrows and withdrew his other hand from where it had been hidden behind his back. In his palm were two cookies proffered to her with as much heart-warming sincerity as an engagement ring.
Buffy decided it was best not to conjure up such mental images and simply shook her head no again, with a polite almost-smile.
“You haven’t eaten for hours,” he said softly. “Don’t think I don’t notice these things.” He picked up her hand and placed the cookies there.
Buffy looked down at them and then back up. “You don’t have to worry about me.”
“What can I say?” Spike shrugged easily, walking backwards and away. “I like my women with a bit of meat on them.”
She gave him a look but couldn’t hold it long enough before the elusive smile made a second break for it.
Buffy opened her mouth to offer a witty retort when the whole world seemed to explode.
The room was bathed in blinding white light and her eardrums pulsed with a horrible sickening series of vibrations. The combination of impaired vision and hearing made the world seem to tilt and swirl, shapes of people and things doubling up and spinning obscurely.
A rolling wave of power erupted simultaneously and sent a shockwave of thunderous vibrations throughout the room. The source was a screaming Willow; and Xander and Spike – the closest to her – were hit hardest. Both were thrown backwards in opposing directions. Xander crashed into Faith and Mya with incredible force and Spike went pin-wheeling across the room. With nothing to stop his path he was thrown through the kitchen and into the porch doors. Glass exploded deafeningly as he collided with them and disappeared outside.
The power had lessened by the time it reached Buffy but it still felt as though her ribs had been crushed inwards when it hit. It knocked her over her chair and into the wall beyond, her head ricocheting off the wall.
She hit the floor dazed but not knocked out, which was always a positive, and after blinking several times she managed to rise slowly up.
Willow knelt before a glowing portal, hair blowing majestically in some ethereal breeze; she turned her head slowly to look over her shoulder at Buffy.
“Sorry guys,” she said voice trembling and eyes as black as coal.
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