Title: Hiding

PART THREE

"She's where!?" shouted Buffy. "Nevermind! Xander, let's get your car. We need to hurry."

Xander stood up and glanced at Giles, a habit born from the gang usually deferring to his authority.

"What part of hurry don't you understand?" snapped Buffy, already heading for the door.

"Can I..."

"No!" interrupted Buffy, anticipating her sister's request. The door swung on its hinges and Xander quickly followed her outside, pausing for a moment to wonder why this door hadn't been reduced to kindling when...

"Xander!"

Rolling his eyes, Xander ran after Buffy.

"Just wanted to help," pouted Dawn, crossing her arms.

"She knows that," smiled Giles, more to hide how painful it was to stand up than to pacify Dawn.

"You helped me," added Anya, pointing to the powder-covered floor. "And you help Buffy. A lot."

"For example," sighed Dawn, nodding towards the door.

Anya shrugged and forced herself to keep smiling.

*****

Red stood on the curb, staring into a puddle by her feet, fascinated that the stars were reflected there on the still water. Most of the streetlights were broken and it was very dark in this part of town.

"I shouldn't be looking for John," whispered Red to herself. "I should be looking for...looking for..."

Red stomped her foot, splashing water in all directions, suddenly angry at herself.

"What?"

Red turned and almost answered, but hesitated. She absently brushed her hair back away from her face with her right hand and simply shook her head.

"Nothing. It's...nothing," she whispered, keeping her eyes downcast, lost in her own thoughts, seeking solace in the water as it calmed itself. But the water was muddy now, disturbed. Like her memories. Red felt tears welling up at the corner of her eyes.

Teri slipped her hands into the pockets of her jacket and stared at Red. Yet Red still didn't look up. Taking a deep breath, Teri leaned forward and kissed her lightly on the lips, lingering for a moment before pulling away. Eyes wide open now, Red slowly raised a hand to touch her lips and almost smiled. It was Teri's turn to look away.

"Why did you do that?" asked Red, lowering her hand. Teri shrugged.

"You looked like you needed it," replied Teri, avoiding Red's gaze and biting her lower lip. When Red didn't answer, Teri glanced over at her. Red was smiling and she couldn't help but smile in return.

"You know...I think I did," nodded Red.

Teri pressed her hands deeper into her pockets and looked away again. Red took a step and stood in front of her. Teri slowly raised her eyes.

"Um...do you...what I mean is..."

Red paused with a sigh that puffed out her cheeks.

"Yes," whispered Teri boldly. Red raised her eyebrows.

"Oh," grinned Red, weakly trying to not act surprised. Teri smiled and pulled her hands free of her jacket...and suddenly wasn't sure what to do with them. Red slowly inhaled but didn't move. Teri looked past her, once to the left, once to the right, but they were alone. She tilted her head slightly and then, without any further hesitation, she leaned in, touching her lips against Red's soft mouth yet waiting for her to respond.

Red raised her hands, wavered, then wrapped her arms around Teri. Teri's hands finally found their way to Red's shoulders as their kiss deepened. Pulling away only to catch her breath, Red pressed her forehead to Teri's and smiled. Her smile faded as she sensed how nervous her companion was.

"What?" asked Red.

"Nothing. It's...nothing," whispered Teri.

And Red laughed. Teri stepped back but reached out to hold Red's hands.

"You have done this before, right?" inquired Red gently.

Teri blushed and barely shook her head.

"Oh," managed Red. "Oh!"

"So, um...was I...you know," shrugged Teri.

"You were great," comforted Red, giving her hands a gentle squeeze.

"Red?"

"Yeah?" answered Red, one corner of her mouth raised.

"What...how did..."

Red stepped back but smiled, putting her hands on Teri's shoulders.

"Go on," encouraged Red.

"Your first time...how did you know what to do?" cringed Teri.

"Silly, finding out is half the fun!"

And Teri relaxed with a grin.

"You do what feels right, what feels...natural," suggested Red, raising a hand to run her fingers through Teri's hair. Teri pressed her cheek against Red's palm.

"I'm sorry. That must've sounded so dumb!" winced Teri.

"No. No, not at all," whispered Red, her voice suddenly sad. She looked away, trying to remember something that seemed so close yet still alluded her.

"So your first kiss...um, with a girl, I mean...wasn't awkward at all?" teased Teri playfully, not picking up on Red's melancholy.

"Huh? Oh, no. Not really. Well, okay, it was," admitted Red, a small laugh escaping her lips even though she was grimacing. "But...but I, um...I had a good teacher."

Red lowered her hand and Teri, finally understanding, grasped her wrist.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have...what I mean is..."

Red looked at her, not quite hearing what she was saying. Teri let go of her arm and stepped back. She tried to say something but stopped. Then, taking a deep breath, she nodded.

"So teach me," suggested Teri nervously, with a shrug as if the answer wasn't important. But her act couldn't hide how anxious she was about Red's answer.

"What? Oh. Um, hey, I, I can't. It's too...Teri, I'm just not..."

Teri nodded as if acknowledging her rejection and turned her back to Red. Red winced, mad at herself for hurting Teri's feelings.

"You were lucky. Having someone like that, I mean" said Teri, not turning around. "But this teacher...did she ever show you this?"

Teri slowly turned and Red gasped, taking a step back. Teri's eyes were yellow...and Red suddenly couldn't breathe, couldn't pull away, held like a spell by those eyes. Yet she realized that she wasn't afraid. No, not at all. And then, somehow, those eyes seemed familiar. Very familiar. As if...

"Do you understand now?" asked Teri gently in a voice that wasn't her own, a voice that comforted and soothed. A single tear ran down Teri's cheek. That voice. Red knew that voice.

Red's eyes snapped open and she was immediately aware of the muted silence that surrounded her. She kicked off a sleeping bag that someone had thrown over her and sat up, only then noticing that Shelly was sitting next to her. Shelly ignored her and continued to blow smoke rings towards the ceiling, smiling as if pleased with her efforts. The scent of cooling wax permeated the air. There were only a few candles left burning now and Shelly's face was half in shadow.

"Used to come here a lot, way back when," said Shelly, grinding out her cigarette on the floor next to her. She leaned back with her palms on the floor behind her and slowly looked around.

Red realized that Shelly seemed less...pale than before. Yes, there almost seemed to be color in her cheeks, noticeable now only because of the contrast from before. But that didn't make sense. Maybe it was because she was closer now, or maybe it was the light. A chill went through Red but she didn't understand why.

"Had some good times here. Hell, I had some great times," she laughed. "Especially when I was cutting class. Catch a nice beer buzz in the morning, shoot some pool..."

Shelly tilted her head and smiled at Red.

"Bet you never cut a class even so much as once," grinned Shelly, though there was a harshness in her voice, an edge tinged with contempt and judgment. "But then, you wouldn't remember if you did or not."

Red drew her knees up and wrapped her arms around them, her eyes intent on Shelly.

*****

"Okay, when we get there I'll go around back in case she hears us coming. You go in from the front. Can you drive any faster?" sighed Buffy.

"We're almost there, take charge girl. I'll park about a block away so she doesn't hear the car," replied Xander, keeping his eyes on the road. Buffy watched him out of the corner of her eye.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you," frowned Buffy. Xander nodded and reached over to give Buffy's hand a squeeze.

"I know. I'm worried too," said Xander.

*****

"Yeah, the Fish Tank was my home. Still, didn't it miss it like I thought I would after they boarded it up. It...it just wasn't the same anymore. Not after what happened," sighed Shelly sadly. "Then again, not much was."

Shelly rose to her feet and stretched.

"Where's Teri?" asked Red weakly, looking up at her.

"Teri? Teri went looking for John. All worried and what not. Told her it wasn't safe to be alone. Not here. Not at night."

Red eased one knee under herself and slowly stood up. The way Shelly had said the word alone haunted her, made her feel more than alone. It made her feel isolated. But Shelly wasn't looking at her. Instead, she sauntered over to one of the pool tables and yanked off the torn sheet covering it. A few billiard balls clicked together, the sound echoing and only emphasizing the emptiness in the room. Shelly picked up the pool stick and glanced back at Red.

Once again Shelly smiled, her grin both mocking and menacing. Red swallowed but didn't so much as blink. Shelly turned to line up a shot.

"I liked them, Teri and John. They were...useful," grunted Shelly, frowning when the ball missed the hole. "Always bringing people here, always helping."

Shelly walked around to the other side of the table, lining up another shot.

"You know the kind. Homeless. Runaways. People who had fallen through the cracks. People that no one would miss if they vanished into the night."

Shelly leaned forward and this time sunk the shot. Her face remained emotionless.

"Like me," said Shelly, glancing up at Red.

Red bit her lower lip and simply stared at Shelly. Shelly looked down, studying the table.

"It's one of the reasons I came back to Sunnydale. To see if anybody missed me. Well, that and the fact that I heard a rumor that the Slayer had died."

Shelly took aim and sunk another ball, pleased with her efforts.

"John wondered how I got my garden to grow so good. Well...you need the right kind of fertilizer. Had to put the bodies somewhere, you know?"

Red's eyes opened wide. She looked at the front door, knowing she couldn't make it there in time.

"Don't even try," whispered Shelly, her words sharp and clear in the darkness. She gently put the pool stick down on the table, her back now to Red, challenging her to run for the door.

"When did you stop calling yourself Sheila?" asked Red, her voice small. Shelly smiled and turned to face her.

"So you do remember. Can't believe it took this long. Sunnydale High. Snyder. Parent's Night. The Fish Tank. Still, I'm curious. This can't all be an act. So tell me, what are you running from? What happened? Do you even know...Willow?"

Red winced as if she had been slapped. But she didn't dare take her eyes off of Sheila. Sheila took a step forward, a smile slowly creeping across her face. Red stood her ground. Puzzled, Sheila stopped.

"To bad it had to come to this. Had a nice arrangement going here. Still, no one knows I'm here. Yet," added Sheila, glaring.

"Teri. And John. They're...dead?"

"What do you think?" laughed Sheila.

Once again Red glanced at the door.

"Death has arrived in your little town, Willow. You can ignore me or you can try to stop me."

Sheila's sneer expanded into a grin and she defiantly put her hands on her hips, daring Willow to run, knowing this girl was helpless. And then her hands slipped downward and doubt creased her face. Doubt...and then fear. She sensed the change even before she saw it. Were Willow's eyes now completely black?

Sheila looked down, not understanding why the poolstick was suddenly protruding from her chest, wondering why she felt no pain. And then she exploded into ash.

"If you're gonna be quipping from one of my favorite movies, get the quote right! Yeah, I remember you. Oh, and I remembered how to do that, too."

Willow stared at the ash as it settled onto the floor. She raised her eyes and slowly looked around her, as if only now understanding where she was. Chewing on her lower lip, she felt a chill grip her as she forced her eyes once again to look down at the floor.

"Willow," she whispered. And though she had barely breathed that name, by finally saying that word out loud she gave power to that word. Her name echoed in the dark, hung in the air cold and hard before her as if it had form, palpable like a breath on a cold night.

And Willow remembered.

The room around seemed darker now, even more empty now that she was alone. Yet the darkness pressed upon her and Willow's breath became shallow and quick. Gasping, she ran for the front door and struggled for a moment as she wrenched it open. Stepping outside, stumbling, almost collapsing, the night air was cold but somehow comforting as Willow's claustrophobia faded. Hands on her knees, she looked up and down the deserted street, her eyes focusing on the pay phone by the corner.

Willow stood in front of the phone, not remembering walking over to it. Her hand trembled as she slowly reached for the phone and lifted it towards her ear. She didn't notice that there was no dial tone, didn't search her pockets for change to drop in the coin slot. She simply started to dial, her finger punching each number. After the fourth number she froze, her hand shaking. She held the phone against her chest, wincing in pain.

"Willow?"

Her face ashen, Willow eased the receiver away and stared it, terrified by the voice.

"Willow."

She felt a hand on her shoulder and slowly turned.

"I wanted...I, I needed to tell her..."

Tears blurred her vision and she dropped the phone.

"I wanted to hear her voice...she has to know...but, but she's not there. She...she'll never be there, will she?"

Xander held his arms open, trying to be brave for Willow. He caught her as she collapsed and held her to him, both to comfort and to hide his face. Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw Buffy emerge from the Fish Tank. Kissing Willow's hair, all Xander could do was let her cry. That and to hold her.

Buffy stood next to them and even tentatively placed a hand on Willow's shoulder, both amazed and just a little jealous at the bond these two shared. Xander had been able to reach her but Buffy had not. And Buffy knew she wanted that connection, needed it and most importantly missed it. She pushed aside the apprehension and pain that she may have lost that chance forever and wrapped her arm around her best friend's shoulder.

THE END