A/N: This story was posted under "angst" for a reason. Questions, comments, and flames are welcome. Oh, and the song is "Stupid Thing" by Nickel.
"Hello? Uh…I was wondering if you have any open positions."
Buffy grimaced. The nasal voice on the other end was telling her to "hold on just one minute, dearie," like all the others. Bored, she turned on the clock radio by her bedside. One of her favorite songs was just starting to play. A great song to dance to, if she recalled correctly.
—A stupid thing last night
I called you
A moment of weakness
No, not a moment
More like three months of weakness
Who was she kidding? Of course she remembered.
I'm one step away
From crashing to my knees
One step away
From spilling my guts t—Pzzzzzzt!
Before she realized it, the Slayer had slammed her hand onto, into, and through her alarm clock.
That's another ten bucks I need to scrounge up. Maybe I should start to cut back on luxuries like food and clothing.
But at least that particular reminder was gone. Now if only she couldn't still feel the lights of the dance floor and the weight of a to-be-flunked French test the next day she should've been studying for…
Scanning the meager remains of the rest of the Yellow Pages, the Slayer felt a strangely flustered desperation. She was down to THEATERS—Sun Cinema and still had no offerings, but that wasn't what was causing the queasy sensation and flock of bats fluttering about in her tummy.
Maybe it was the lingering smell of cigarettes and leather in the room.
To her relief, a voice jerked her out of the funk she was quickly sinking into.
"We're sorry, dear. Maybe you could try again when business is better."
"No problem," she found herself saying. "Thanks."
Her eyes fell upon the last circled phone number. The YMCA. Ah well, she'd trained since she was fifteen. Might as well get paid for it.
"Uh, hi. I was wondering if you need any help? Like, if you have a job opening. I…um…I can…fight. Teach fighting, I meant. Yeah."
A brief pause on the other end.
"As a matter of fact, we do. We're in need of tai chi instructors. Do you have any experience in the matter?"
Does it count if my first boyfriend taught me after he came back from Hell?
"Are you a qualified martial arts instructor?"
"Qualified? Does that mean I need one of those little certificate thingies?"
The voice on the other end hesitated. "I'm afraid we can't hire you without the necessary paperwork, Ms…?"
"Summers," the Slayer answered, just a little disappointed that she'd exhausted her list of non-fast food jobs.
"Summers! Buffy Summers?"
She tensed, on alert now. "Yeah. That's me. Why?"
The voice on the other end gave a nervous little laugh. "Oh, uh, you probably don't remember me. I'm Brad Thomson. We had third period together senior year."
"Uh…hi?" The name didn't register at all.
"Yeah. Look, maybe I can get you a position teaching street fighting."
Buffy's brain seemed to be moving in slow motion, the words not really making sense. "Sure! I mean…wait, don't you need paperwork for that too?"
Brad hesitated again.
"Buffy, let me be honest with you. Everyone knows Sunnydale isn't exactly like other towns."
You can say that again.
"Let's just say the guys here want to keep the mortality rate low. Relatively low. And, well…there's a reason you were our Class Protector. I'm sure we could work something out."
A warm feeling began to blossom in the Slayer's chest.
So maybe I'm not so unnoticed after all. Gotta give Sunnydale residents a little more credit.
"Th-that'd be great. Thanks."
"No problem. Oh, and Buffy? Thanks. I never got a chance to say it after graduation, with the Mayor incident and the school blowing up—anyway, thanks."
"Hey, Buddy. I've got hot wings!"
The vampire stopped pacing and looked up at the floppy-eared demon, surprised.
"Clem? What're you doing here?"
"It's movie night, remember? I brought Monty Python." The loose-skinned demon's bright smile faded a bit as his friend drifted off again, not acknowledging his presence. "Or we could reschedule. I could come back later." Clem waited a moment longer. "Spike?"
The vampire snapped out of it. "Yeah. Uh, that'd be…great."
Clem sighed. "Slayer problems again?"
Spike nodded wearily. "You don't know the half of it."
The two friends settled down on the couch. No Monty Python, but plenty of hot wings and booze.
She'd managed to get a job. And she called the bank to negotiate a loan, setting an appointment for tomorrow morning. They still had to do the whole interview thing, but this time the Slayer was much more confident of her chances. After all, there was the whole job factor now.
Dawn had come in with Willow an hour ago, then announced coldly that she was staying with a friend for the night. Too tired to argue, Buffy had agreed. And she hadn't seen Tara at all. Maybe the blonde witch had a night class. She wasn't quite sure.
What she was sure of was that she needed to get some sleep. A lot of sleep.
She'd need sleep to accomplish tomorrow's load of business. Buffy had already told Willow about the need to track down the Nerd Trio, starting with the attempted bank robbery tomorrow morning. She'd skimped on some details—just the who, what, when, where, why, and how—but the redhead hadn't seemed to notice.
She could make up excuses and lies tomorrow, along with a pile of explanations for Dawn and Xander. And Spike.
Oh God. I swore I wouldn't…
The Slayer buried her head into her pillow, but insomnia was a powerful nemesis. Her thoughts tumbled in a stream of half-consciousness, threatening to force her completely under.
Think of something peaceful. Something relaxing.
Heaven. Just a few days ago in this timeline, she'd been in Heaven. Completely relaxed, completely happy. She'd known that everyone she loved was safe. Everything she cared about was well. All was right with the world.
No pain, no suffering. Just warmth and tranquility and utter bliss.
Hmm…I guess Angel shouldn't go to the Pearly Gates. If he gets all happy up there…
Buffy giggled aloud, an image of Angelus breaking harps and biting angels appearing in her mind. Then she sobered. There was no violence in Heaven. No hurting. No killing.
Well, until her friends tore her out. Good intentions, not-so-good results. A little magick and ba-da-boom! Not in Heaven anymore. No more r & r. Forget about RIP.
Can—can we rest now? Buffy...can we rest?
The Slayer pulled the heavy down comforter over her head.
"You sure something's messed up?"
The short brown-haired boy with the herbs and "magic" bone nodded solemnly…well, as solemnly as he could with his friend snickering silently from the corner.
"Yeah. There's a disturbance in the dimensional gates; I can't summon the demon."
The blond boy stopped laughing and glanced uncertainly at the other two as the words sunk in.
"Does that mean we can't go forward with our plan?"
The last boy, dark-haired and tall, smiled.
"Forget the plan. I just got a much better idea. Boys, it's time to stop dreaming and start using those new toys we bought."
"Okay Buff, you sure about this? You sure we don't have time to tell anyone else? Get backup, maybe?" Willow asked once again, still doubtful. It wasn't like the Slayer could blame her friend's misgivings; she had no proof and was offered no explanations.
But the girl just nodded again, ever so patiently. "Yeah, Will, I'm positive. Look, just work your magicks and make the villains visible and I'll deal with the demon, okay? Trust me, we don't need backup. These guys are a piece of cake. And I'll explain everything later. Promise."
Buffy didn't even bother crossing her fingers.
Willow gave a dramatic sigh. "Oh okay, just because you're my best friend. I won't ask how you know about the new nerd super-villains in town or their incredibly lame plan." She grew serious and shot Buffy a concerned look. "You said this is important and that time is of the essence. But that's the only reason I'm going with. And I expect a fully detailed explanation, possibly with little charts and graphs, when we get back."
The Slayer forced a grin. "You bet."
Buffy glanced around. So far so normal. It was a typical day at the local bank, people walking around doing their business. Nothing suspicious.
She glanced at her watch again. Only 8:44 AM. Still early. Last time around, her 9:30 appointment had been interrupted about ten, maybe fifteen minutes in.
"When does this start again?"
"In about 50 minutes, maybe an hour. But we should get ready," the Slayer replied tersely. "There's gonna be a demon summoning and an invisibility spell we need to prevent."
Willow nodded, then glanced at the people moving about and relocated to a less open area and opened her bag. Buffy began scouting the perimeter—just in case. Of course the most effective way to accomplish that was to stand in the center of the reception area.
The sight of a young blond woman tightly clutching a bulky black bag and shooting terse, suspicious looks around the semi-busy bank drew the attention of a man walking past.
Frowning slightly, he approached her. "May I help you?"
Buffy immediately adopted an innocent smile. "Hi, Mr... Uh, hi! I'm here for an—for a…" Her eyes fell on the large clock on the wall. "…For my appointment! Uh, I need a loan. I was kinda wondering where the office for that was…" To prove her point, the Slayer looked around briefly, confusion on her face.
The man's frown became a slightly strained smile. He held out his hand and Buffy shook it awkwardly. "Ms. Summers? I'm Carl Savitsky. Loan Officer. I thought our appointment was at nine?"
Buffy made a show at checking her watch. "Oh! I guess I got here a little early." She gave a nervous little laugh, darting a quick glance at the corner where Willow was spreading out herbs, candles, and dried animal parts. The witch smiled and gave her a quick wink.
The loan officer looked in the direction Buffy was turned toward, frowning as he didn't notice anything out of the ordinary or particularly interesting. Just a water cooler, a few potted plants…
He shook his head, trying to clear his mind.
"Uh, Ms. Summers, I'm free now. If you'd come right this way…"
Carl Savitsky frowned once again as the small blond girl glanced at the empty corner before following him to his office.
"Why do we have to get up so early, Warren? You said we could sleep in till 8:30."
"I—we—changed the plan, remember? We're starting earlier. Now shut up."
Andrew nervously clutched the "toy" Warren had handed him to his chest. It was awfully heavy. Why'd he always get stuck carrying heavy artillery? He bet Lex Luther never had to lug around bulky weapons.
"Hey Lamebrain, get into position. We're going in as soon as Shorty finishes his spell."
Willow was starting to feel better. Maybe coming out with Buffy on a mission was just what she needed. Tara had been avoiding her lately, saying that the redhead's magick was going out of control. But she'd just pulled off a simple camouflage glamour with no effort at all. Tara was just overreacting.
Yeah, that was it. She wasn't doing anything wrong, after all. And she hadn't been when she'd made that demon thingy flesh. After all, how could helping Buffy defeat a baddie be bad?
And resurrecting my best friend, that was definitely of the good.
Right. Of course it was the right thing to do. Buffy had been trapped. She didn't deserve to be in Hell for saving the world. She deserved to live, to be with her family and friends…
There was nothing wrong with bringing her back. Nothing wrong, no consequences she couldn't handle.
Nothing at all.
And if she told herself that enough times, she just might start to believe it.
The Wicca sighed and continued setting up the ingredients. She was so focused on introspection and guilt that she didn't sense the glamour being cast outside the building.
Xander rang the doorbell and waited. When no one answered, he eased open the door and peeked in.
"Just a minute!" Dawn's voice rang out from upstairs.
He sighed and glanced at his watch, tapping his shoe a little impatiently on the hardwood floor of the foyer. Buffy was one of his best friends. She'd saved his ass more times than he could easily count.
You'd think he could trust her to be ready on time.
"Is she ready to go?"
Dawn clumped downstairs in flowered blue PJs.
Xander nodded slowly. "Uh, yeah. Where is she?"
Dawn yawned, thinking hard. "I think she left already. Uh, there's a note or something on the fridge. I think."
Frowning slightly, Xander strode to the kitchen, tailed by a slightly sleepy teen. He stopped before the familiar refrigerator door
"So, what's it say?"
His frown deepened as he re-read the note once again before facing the girl. "I guess Buffy headed out early and…with Willow. By themselves, to investigate a—a situation." He glanced at her. "Nothing dangerous, of course. Nope, no danger at all."
Now Dawn frowned. Xander was trying too hard to be nonchalant.
He swallowed. "I'm sure it's nothing." He glanced at the small slip of paper again. "I mean, they didn't even ask for backup. But…you know what, I'm going to head over to the bank. Pop in to check up and make sure everything's just dandy."
"Ms. Summers…did you bring any tax reports, past credit reports, property va—"
"Uh…no. I uh, wasn't sure what to bring, so I…didn't bring anything. But hey, better than old report cards, right?" She gave a fake laugh.
Mr. Savitsky was not amused.
"But, hey! I got a job at the YMCA. And I've got a house." Seeing the loan officer about to argue, she beat him to his own words. "And, yeah, Sunnydale's property values have never been competitive, but I've still got a house. And that's gotta be worth something, right?"
The man gave a grudging nod.
Ooh, score one for the Slayer.
"But I'll need a letter of confirmation from your employer and an estimate of your salary first."
Well, at least I won't have to end up at the Doublemeat this time. Speaking of that, maybe I should hunt down the cherry pie-loving old lady demon before any more innocents are killed. Though I'm not sure Manny counts as an "innocent."
She smiled to herself, briefly contemplating letting the obnoxious manager become demon chow.
Nah. Wouldn't be right. I'm the Slayer, after al—
Raised voices echoed from outside the small office. Yells and…a scream.
There was nothing, and then there were people. People camouflaged much the same way she herself was hidden—out of sight of whomever she chose—but she could feel them just the same.
There were three of them, heading toward the teller desks. Toward the money drawers.
Okay, that meant the demon was probably on its way too. She scanned the surroundings with her mind, but couldn't find any hint of demonic activity. Strange. Maybe they were planning on calling up the demon after the robbery was already underway. So she focused on scanning the thieves themselves.
Surprisingly, she didn't feel any real malice coming from the three figures. And she was getting pretty good at reading auras, having picked up a few tricks from Ta—well, okay, there was a little bad intent radiating from one of them, but only nervous excitement from the other two. Much like Xander waiting two hours in line to get some new comic.
Willow shrugged. She ended her own enchantment and called together the power inside herself, feeling the elation as it gathered, spreading from the roots of her hair to the very tips of her fingers.
With barely an effort she ended the shoddy camouflage charm. The three boys were exposed halfway to the money drawers. They froze as the tellers looked up, confused, angry, and just a little terrified. Maybe the guns the boys carried had something to do with that.
Hey wait a minute, she knew those guys! Well, two of them at least. One was Warren, the guy that had built April and later the Buffybot. And the short one was Jonathon. As for the other blond one…well, she didn't know who he was.
But the other two…she had gone to school with these guys. And now they were robbing a bank. With guns.
An inexplicable wave of rage began to pervade her. She was like a glass pitcher being filled slowly with inky black ichor. It surged through her system like the Niagara Falls, filling her with power and adrenalin.
Echoes of Tara's hurtful accusations rang through her mind. But instead of allowing the guilt and shame to overpower her, Willow cast aside her conflicting emotions, settling on a single, pure constant.
The only constant: power. It was the only common denominator to all her problems.
The short one, Jonathon, jerked as he felt the darkness of her magicks as she drew them from the very air.
Good. He could feel it.
She wanted him to feel it, to feel all the pain she'd felt these past few weeks. And when he turned wide, frightened brown eyes on her, yelping in surprise and backing a few quick steps away, she only smiled.
Smiled and raised fingers crackling with blue electricity.
She was going to just scare him a little, ruffle him up a tiny bit. Nothing serious, of course. After all, he wasn't really a bad guy. An idiot maybe, but not truly bad.
Then she saw the gun he raised with shaking hands, its muzzle pointing directly at her chest.
How dare he?! I can incinerate him with half a glance, and he dares to point a mere gun at me? A crude, barbarous gun?
Before she knew what had happened, there was a smoking pile of charred bone and molten metal where Jonathon had trembled mere moments before.
The Slayer emerged from the office to encounter one of the most terrifying sights she'd ever seen in her life: Willow, eyes black and red hair darkening rapidly, faint veins of power running down too-pale skin. Crackling blue manifestations of that power on her fingertips.
The scream had come from the terrified guy uselessly clutching an M-64. He backed a few steps away from Almost-Dark Willow, the angle of his profile changing to give Buffy a good view of his face.
Jonathon. The little guy that always felt left out, the one that was against the Troika's plans to cause true harm, the one that had wanted to help out when the episode with Dark Willow had gone down. And according to what Andrew had said, he was the one that had wanted to help out with the First, too. Too bad he didn't leave that basement breathing.
But first, what was wrong with Willow? How did she get so…how could she have been so jacked up on darkness to lose control this easily? This early? It wasn't even November yet, and Willow was already…
Buffy shook herself from her thoughts. The important thing was to calm her best friend down before anything happened that neither of them could take back. Although that might be a little hard, seeing the cold, predatory smile distorting Willow's features.
Warren, Andrew, and everybody else in the bank had noticed the rather unusual situation. Warren was backing towards the door, ready to make a quick escape if need be, while Andrew still stood rooted to the spot.
She had to try and stop her friend, before—
Jonathon was pee-in-pants terrified, shakily bringing his weapon up in self-defense, hands not even near the trigger in his panic.
But that was all it took. Willow's smile dropped dead and her eyes seemed to grow even darker. Then the blue lightening from her fingertips glowed and shot forward, striking a single target, electrocuting Jonathon so hard that his body jerked and hung suspended in midair for a long, awful moment, skin and muscle crisping instantaneously, bones and teeth glaring a shocking white before they too turned burnt black. Finally, mercifully, the still-smoking remains dropped to the ground, sending off a stench of scorched flesh, hair, polyester, and metal.
Gagging, the Slayer stumbled back.
The witch's eyes faded from black back to green and she too stepped back, horrified. Uncertainty flashed across her features. Confusion.
Oh Goddess. Did I do this?!
But it was too late, too late for anything.
Tara was right. She was right about everything…
Willow could not tear her eyes away from the remains seared onto the marble-tiled floor. She was so focused on the grisly evidence that she almost didn't see the other man from the corner of her eye, his weapon leveled at her with much more sangfroid than his unfortunate friend.
Willow looked at Warren full in the face, pain etched onto her every feature, hot tears spilling down her cheeks.
His aim never wavered.
She aimed the remote control and killed the picture on the TV. Saturday morning cartoons were on reruns and she was too worried to be enjoying them anyway.
Sure, she was a little mad at her sister. Buffy had been so distant ever since she came back from hell…which, honestly, Dawn couldn't blame her for. But still.
Buffy had been ignoring her, even accusing her—okay, not exactly to her face, and maybe she was right—of stealing.
Her sister had been acting weird ever since she came back. Dawn had even caught her macking with Spike in a bedroom with the door open…and it had seemed like things would've gotten extremely X-rated if she'd shown up even seconds later.
Alone in the living room, Dawn shuddered at the unwelcome image. Even if she might've once harbored a crush on the peroxide vamp, that had only been a fleeting affair, a silly school-girl crush. Seeing her sister and surrogate big brother going at it like bunnies by the carcass of a dead demon on the newly vacuumed carpet would have put her in therapy for years.
But that wasn't the point. Despite all her faults, Buffy was Dawn's sister.
And Dawn was worried. So she thought of the only person she'd ever gone to during the summer whenever she contemplated Buffy.
Suddenly it didn't seem to matter as much that she'd seen him semi-naked getting his face sucked off by her sister. No matter what, Spike could be counted on. Especially when it was Buffy who might possibly be in trouble.
First there was Willow losing control, turning into Dark Willow.
Then there was dead and fried Jonathon, stuck on the floor.
Then there was Warren, long rifle leveled.
Then there was a single gunshot.
Then there was Willow staring into nothingness as she toppled backwards, a perfectly round hole centered in the middle of her forehead.
The Slayer stared, transfixed, at the glistening pool that spread around her best friend's face like a grotesque halo, turning the witch's sleek orange-red locks into a dull, wet and lumpy scarlet mass.
And still, Willow's green eyes stayed open, staring upwards even as pink specks of brain dotted her pale complexion, sprinkled lightly across her cheeks.
The Slayer lost it. It took her only two steps and a flying leap to reach the murderer.
And then the still-warm muzzle of his killing weapon was peeking out from the back of his neck. Buffy stepped back calmly and watched as Warren feebly clawed at the weapon jammed in his throat, through the little hollow just under his Adam's apple. She watched as he gurgled, blood and pink bubbles oozing from the new holes in his anatomy, blood and bile spilling from his slightly open mouth.
So much blood…
She stared as he dropped to the ground with a sickening thud, one leg twisted unnaturally beneath him.
Buffy only broke her stare when screams from spectators finally started. With the barrage of outside noise came her mind and conscience, rushing back in a tidal wave that threatened to sink her under.
Oh God, I just killed a man…
She didn't realize her knees were buckling till a pair of warm, suntanned arms grabbed her waist and a familiar voice called her name.
"Buffy! What's going—whoa! Oh, oh, ugh." So he'd noticed Warren.
But where had Xander come from? Was she hallucinating? Was—
Oh, right. He was supposed to pick her up this morning and take her to the bank. She'd forgotten to inform him of her change in plans. He'd probably seen the note on the fridge and came to see if she needed any backup.
"Oh God. What-what the hell happened? Who…what…" He trailed off, gaze shifting to the next display, the burnt remains of Jonathon.
Xander gagged and turned, emptying his stomach of a hasty breakfast.
"Oh…that's just…that's just…" He looked away, unable to bear the sight of twisted metal bent around the charred bones. Unfortunately, there was only one remaining sight to focus on: the still body of the girl he'd known since playgroup.
This time it was Buffy who held her friend upright.
Nibblet's words momentarily cleared the lingering effects of alcohol and fueled his trip through the sewers, getting him to the basement of the local bank in record time. Once there, the noises of chaos and panic gave him the extra burst of speed to race to the surface, towards the commotion.
Of course, the scent of freshly spilled blood didn't exactly deter his course either.
But nothing could have prepared him for the sight of the bodies lying almost in a straight line from the dark interior to the floor-length windows.
Closest to him, her blood fanning out like gauze scarves, was Willow. The red-haired witch he'd always had a soft spot for lay with a marble-sized hole in her forehead, eyes glazed over in an eternal stare.
The vampire shuddered.
The next corpse wasn't recognizable. No blood at all, just blackened bone crumbling to ash.
The smell was revolting. Suddenly the wings and booze didn't seem like such a good idea after all.
Spike stopped breathing and glanced at the last body. Warren Meers. Builder of the Buffybot. Huh. A weapon was jammed through his windpipe. Something that he would've appreciated back in the old days, before Bu—
The vampire's gaze shifted up, past the body, to the two people huddled against the glass.
Buffy. Amidst the panicked crowd, pushing and shoving each other to get out the front door, stood the Slayer. The whelp was with her, shaking with silent sobs. Buffy had tear tracks running down her smooth cheeks as well.
He wanted to kiss those salty trails away. The Slayer's tears, not the carpenter's.
But before he could rush over into the pool of sunlight, she had looked up and was already on her way over, offering the grisly remains a wide berth.
He wasn't quite sure what to expect, but it certainly didn't involve being enveloped in Buffy's arms and smelling her vanilla shampoo. Not that he complained, mind you.
For the moment he just held her, sharing in her grief at the loss of a best friend. He made small noises of comfort and awkwardly patted her shoulders as she sobbed. But after a while he felt the weight of eyes watching, despite the fact that the bank was now deserted.
He met the whelp's despondent gaze over the blond head buried in his shoulder. For a moment hostilities were forgotten as both men grieved and wondered just what the heck was going on.