TITLE: Hiding
CATEGORY: Mysterious fluff as opposed to my usual dramatic fluff. Just playing around until real inspiration strikes.
RATED: PG-13
SUMMARY: Story picks up in the hours after the season 6 finale Grave.
DISCLAIMERS: All characters and storylines, both good and bad, are owned by Joss Whedon. Sometimes he admits to that, sometimes he doesn't.
ARCHIVING: You'd really want this?
FEEDBACK: Right. And the Chicago Cubs are going to win the World Series.

PART ONE

He reached down to pick up the beer can and dropped it into the plastic bag he held in his other hand. Even before he stood fully he felt her hand on his shoulder. Looking up, she simply nodded once and he followed her gaze.

The girl sat with her back to a damp brick wall, arms wrapped around her knees as if she were cold even though the late afternoon sun made her squint. She was motionless, staring at a brown-colored tuft of grass that earlier that spring had forced its way through a crack in the sidewalk. A soft breeze stirred the dead straw and the girl, seemingly fascinated, reached out, unsmiling, gently brushing her fingers across the dried stalk as if touching a lover's hair.

"She's dressed too nice to be homeless. Runaway?" suggested John.

"If she is, she hasn't been on the street long. Her clothes aren't dirty enough. Hard to be sure from here, but I don't see any needle marks on her arms," frowned Teri, not taking her eyes from the girl.

"That doesn't mean she's clean," sighed John. Teri nodded in agreement, wondering now why this red-headed girl hadn't even looked up at them. Peasant top, faded denim jeans and clogs; this one seemed very much out of place out here.

"Stay here," said Teri, lowering her voice.

"It'll be dark soon," reminded John.

"I know," she replied.

"Teri, it's none of our business..."

Her glare silenced him and with a shrug he turned to search for more cans or bottles. Teri took a deep breath and walked over to stand in front of the girl...but it was as if she hadn't even noticed. Teri watched as she continued to caress the dead grass. Kneeling down, Teri again glanced at her arms but saw no needle marks.

"Hi. What's your name?" asked Teri, smiling.

As if she had heard something far off in the distance, the girl slowly raised her head and then, startled, finally seemed aware of someone else's presence. Her green eyes settled on Teri's face in an unfocused stare.

"My name's Teri," offered Teri softly.

The red headed girl winced and turned her head, confused, so obviously trying to remember something. Curious, Teri glanced at her neck but saw no marks. Marks like she had seen on the homeless in this part of town over the last month or so, their bodies cast aside like litter.

"Are you hurt?" tried Teri.

And still she didn't respond. If anything, the girl looked even more disorientated, almost in a panic. Teri slowly reached out a hand to touch her arm.

"Can you hear..."

"I can't...I can't remember," whispered the girl, still not looking at Teri. Teri withdrew her hand. Once again the girl seemed to realize that someone was near. She slowly raised her eyes until they met Teri's brown eyes, locking onto them for a moment, anchoring herself there.

"I can't remember my name," she said, this time louder, though her voice trembled with fear. Teri smiled for her.

"It's okay. Maybe, maybe I can help you remember," added Teri reassuringly as she glanced at the setting sun. "Why don't you come with me? It's not safe to be out here on the streets...it'll be dark soon."

The girl only stared at her, not understanding. Teri turned and looked over her shoulder as John stood behind her.

"She doesn't remember her name. I think she's in shock."

"Think she was attacked?" asked John, for the first time showing concern.

"No marks," shrugged Teri, "but something happened to her and I'm thinking it wasn't good."

Teri turned and held out her hand.

"This is John. I want you to come with us. We want to help, okay?" nodded Teri encouragingly.

The girl nervously swallowed once and then nodded in agreement, barely moving her head. She took Teri's hand and was pulled to her feet. When Teri tried to let go the girl only grasped her hand even tighter, her body tensing.

Teri smiled for her.

"We need to get inside. I won't let go," promised Teri.

Grateful, the girl almost smiled. Yet when Teri took a step forward she clutched her hand firmly, almost painfully.

"What's the last thing you remember? Do you remember how you got here?" asked Teri to distract her.

"I...I lost something. I was, I was looking...for something," she replied, looking even more confused than before. "Or...someone."

Teri frowned at John and led her away.

*****

Buffy shifted her weight, getting more of her shoulder under Giles' arm as Dawn opened the door.

"Easy now, let's get you on the couch," said Buffy.

"Giles, don't you think you should go to the hospital?" winced Dawn.

"Later. Perhaps later," nodded Giles through clenched teeth as Buffy eased him down onto the couch. Buffy turned around as Xander emerged from the kitchen.

"Giles! Are you okay?"

"I'm alive," replied Giles with half a nod.

"Xander! Where's Willow?" demanded Buffy.

"Upstairs in the shower," answered Xander, glancing towards the ceiling. They could hear the water running in the pipes.

"How is she?" asked Dawn, her face contorted with concern. Xander began to answer but then only shrugged.

"She stopped crying, but..."

"But?" encouraged Buffy.

"She's not talking. I think she can understand me, but it's like I'm not really there. She, um, she just stares at you...stares past you, ya know?" added Xander, swallowing nervously.

"She's in shock," said Giles to no one in particular.

"But she's going to be all right, right?" suggested Xander hopefully. Giles wouldn't look at him.

"I'm going to check on her," announced Dawn, heading for the stairs, not waiting for permission.

"Yeah, that's a good idea. She's been up there for a while now," nodded Xander absently.

"Xander, you're hurt," said Buffy, taking a step towards him.

"No, it's...I'm fine," said Xander, looking down at his torn and bloody shirt.

"Willow?" grimaced Buffy.

"Yeah," nodded Xander sadly. "Everyone okay? How's Anya?"

"She's...she's fine. She wanted to stay at the Magic Box. Xander...what happened? How did you stop her?"

Xander smiled, remembering, though his face revealed no pride. The sound of the running water in the pipes ended.

"I told her I loved her...and then I held her," said Xander, his voice cracking. Buffy beamed but her smile faded as Xander looked up at her.

"You knew where we were. Why...why didn't you come looking for us?" said Xander, fighting to control his anger.

"What? Xander, Giles was hurt. I thought he might be dying! Anya told me that, that he might not have much time!" snapped Buffy indignantly. "The world didn't end. It was over."

"Exactly. The world didn't end. Did it ever cross your mind that maybe it didn't end because Willow was dead?" asked Xander, his voice even and cold.

Buffy opened her mouth to shout something back at him in anger...and then her mouth simply stayed open as Xander's words hit home. Cringing, she could no longer look at him in the eye. Dawn came bounding down the stairs.

"Buffy! She's gone!"

"What?" answered both Xander and Buffy in unison.

"She's gone! I searched everywhere upstairs!"

And now Buffy turned on Xander.

"You left her alone? How stupid was that!?" shouted Buffy.

"I, I...I suggested she take a shower, get cleaned up. I turned the water on for her. She nodded. Or at least I think she nodded," added Xander, his voice trailing off.

Buffy glared at him.

"Hey, we're bosom buddies but I don't need to see her bosom, okay?" said Xander, defending himself.

"We need to find her. She couldn't have gone far," said Giles.

"Giles, do you still have that connection with her? Can you sense her?" begged Buffy.

Sadly, anticipating her disappointment, Giles shook his head. Glaring once again at Xander, Buffy turned and ran from the house, not waiting for Dawn or Xander to follow.

*****

"See anyone?" whispered Teri, looking left and right down the street. There was no need for her to lower her voice as they were alone. But habits born out of necessity were hard to break.

"No," answered John, already reaching for the doorknob on the boarded-up door and pushing it open, leaning against it with his shoulder and grunting with the effort. The wood creaked and groaned in protest. The windows of this building were also shuttered with panels of plywood held in place by rusty nails. Teri turned to follow him, watching her new companion. Not unexpectedly the girl didn't follow her lead. Instead she was intently staring at a pay phone on a telephone pole about twenty feet away. Teri reached over and touched her arm but still the girl didn't look at her.

"Is there someone we can call? Do you remember your telephone number?" asked Teri hopefully.

The girl looked down at the sidewalk, painfully concentrating, her eyes squinting with confusion.

"No. No, I...no," she sighed with a shrug.

"It's okay. It'll come back to you. Let's get inside," suggested Teri, tugging at the girl's sleeve. The girl hesitated, then slipped her left hand into Teri's right hand. They both looked down at their hands and when Teri looked up she thought her friend might actually smile. And then that confused look took over once again.

"Come on," smiled Teri, giving her hand a squeeze. And to her surprise the girl did smile.

It was dark inside the dank building and even darker when Teri closed the door tightly behind them. She could feel the girl's hand tense in her own. Then the sound of a match broke the silence and the room slowly glowed brighter as John lit several candles around the room. They walked towards him, their flickering shadows tall and wraithlike on the wall behind them.

"Are you hungry?" asked John, glancing up at the girl. Again she hesitated and then, almost reluctantly, nodded. John slipped off his backpack, unzipped it and pulled out a loaf of bread as he sat down.

"Hey. You didn't steal that, did you?" asked Teri suspiciously.

"No," answered John, but he didn't look at Teri. When Teri didn't respond, he did look up and frowned.

"No," he repeated firmly. Satisfied, Teri sat down on the floor. Her friend looked at her and then sat down next to her.

"Ever come here back in it's glory days?" grinned Teri, looking around the room. "Doesn't really look much different."

"I'd say it was an improvement," laughed John, retrieving a jar of peanut butter from his backpack. The girl just looked at them with a blank stare.

"Oh, this was called the Fish Tank at one time. Used to be a bar," explained Teri.

"Doubt the likes of her ever saw the inside of a dive like this," grinned John, holding a piece of bread in one hand and spreading peanut butter across it with a knife with his other hand. He slapped another piece of bread over the first one and handed it to Teri without looking up.

"The Bronze," said the girl, making John look up. Teri hesitated, then held out the sandwich to her.

"The Bronze," repeated the girl, louder this time. "I used to go to the Bronze."

"Who didn't?" smiled Teri, holding out the sandwich to her. The girl smiled as if she had accomplished something and then took the sandwich. She took a bite...and quickly finished it before John had made another.

"You were hungry! John, make her another."

Teri reached into John's backpack and pulled out a can of orange soda.

"Here," said Teri, handing it to the girl. "Sorry it's warm. We didn't pay the electric bill last month so the fridge doesn't work."

The girl took the soda but it was a moment or two before she smiled, as if she had thought Teri had been serious.

"Thanks," she nodded.

"Hmm, orange soda, red hair...we have to call you something. How 'bout Red?" suggested Teri.

The girl raised the can of soda to her lips but hesitated, then slowly lowered her hand.

"Hey, does that sound familiar? You, you think that's your name?" asked Teri.

"Or nickname," added John, handing Teri another sandwich.

"I...I think it might be. It does...yeah, someone called me that once, but..."

"But?" encouraged Teri.

The girl shrugged and shook her head.

"Well then, Red it is," said Teri, smiling to ease the girl's obvious discomfort.

"Maybe we should take Red here to the shelter," suggested John.

"No," answered Teri quickly. "They're probably full by now. And it'll be dark soon," she added, keeping her eyes on Red.

"Does something happen?" asked Red. "When it gets dark, I mean."

"Um...it's just not a good part of town, you know? But you'll be safe with us," said Teri, her voice lacking confidence. She glanced back at John to hide her face.

And then the front door burst open.

*****

"Okay, try to keep up with me here Dawnie. I know my legs are longer and, um, I'm probably...well, not probably, I am in better shape than you, so stick with me. We have to hurry. Just wish I knew where we were hurrying to, ya know? I mean, where would a fried, exhausted and hopefully repentant witch go? Willow, she...she needed me...she did. We had a connection. Least I thought we did...no, we did! I helped her. She needed me. A connection...yeah."

Xander stopped walking to catch his breath, hands on his hips.

"A connection," whispered Xander. "Just like with Anya...and Faith...and now I guess Buffy."

Xander shook his head and sighed.

"Why do all the women in my life keep leaving me?" asked Xander, looking back over his shoulder...and only just now realizing he was alone.

"Dawn?"

*****

The door had been kicked open and a lone figure stood there motionless, silhouetted from a streetlight behind her. She was holding something in her arms. Teri glanced at Red and was surprised to see that she wasn't looking towards the door but at the cross she held in her hand. With no time to explain, Teri slowly stood and faced the door.

"Are you guys stoned or what? Give me a hand here!" yelled the stranger.

Teri smiled and quickly put the cross into her back pocket, again glancing at Red. She still wasn't looking towards the door. Instead, she just stared unfocused at Teri as if trying to remember something. John walked towards the stranger, shaking his head.

"Shelly, don't make such a grand entrance like that! Ya probably scared poor Teri half to death," said John, smiling to hide how shaken he had been and not fooling anyone.

"Sorry. My hands were full. Had to kick the door open. Here, take this bag, I've got another one behind me," said Shelly, thrusting a full grocery bag at John.

"And here I thought we'd be eating only peanut butter again," grinned John. Shelly dragged another bag in and shoved the door closed with her back. She hesitated for a moment, looking past John at Teri.

"Oh, yeah. We have another mouth to feed," nodded John. "Shelly, this is Red. Red, meet Shelly. She has a garden not far from here. Grows the best vegetables you ever laid eyes on, better than store-bought."

"Red?" repeated Shelly, staring at the new girl.

"Um, yeah. We don't know her name. Either does she. Got amnesia or something. Had to call her something, so we went with the obvious. Think we'll take her to the clinic tomorrow," added John in a whisper.

Shelly took a step into the room, not once taking her eyes from Red. And Red stared back in return, eyes narrowed, her head tilting slightly.

"Do you know her?" asked Teri hopefully. But Red didn't answer. Teri reached out and touched Red's arm, finally getting her attention.

"What?" asked Red.

"I said do you know her?" repeated Teri.

Red looked back at Shelly...and slowly shook her head. Teri looked at Shelly.

"Sorry, but nope, I don't know her," announced Shelly before Teri could ask. Still, Shelly kept looking at Red.

"Let's put these away," said John, nodding at the bags. "One of these days you're going to tell me your secret."

"Secret?" repeated Shelly quickly, her head snapping around.

"Yeah, you know. How you get these vegetables so big."

"Oh. Right. That secret," smiled Shelly. Only her smile faded as she noticed Red staring at her.

Teri pretended not to notice but wondered if Shelly did know Red. But why would Shelly lie about that?

*****

Anya took in a slow deep breath and shook her head. She was holding a small ceramic vase in one hand. It was one of the few items not broken in the store. Pouting but still grateful, she turned to put the vase on the counter behind her...and looked into two eyes staring menacingly back at her. Anya dropped the vase and it shattered on the floor at her feet.

"Um...hi?" grimaced Dawn, slowly waving her hand. Anya scowled at her and Dawn awkwardly lowered her hand.

"What?" sighed Anya, slumping her shoulders.

"Well, see, we, we um..."

Anya tilted her head and stared at Dawn.

"We kinda need your help. Again," explained Dawn.

"I see. How?"

"Direct and to the point," said Dawn out loud but looking away from Anya. "It's Willow."

"Oh, you mean the girl who destroyed my livelihood and nearly got us all killed, emphasis on the word all?" nodded Anya.

"Um, yep, that's the girl," agreed Dawn, wincing.

Anya sighed again but as she looked into Dawn's sad eyes her frown slowly melted away.

END OF PART ONE