Lost and Found

Disclaimer: All included or referenced BtVS characters are the property of Joss Whedon. Nest Freemark and Co. belong to Terry Brooks. The HP series is J.K. Rowling's. Some ideas (and maybe characters?) have been ripped-off from Highlander. LOTR came from Tolkien. Finally, the Hope Springs crew are mine, children of a hopefully benevolent muse. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

A word of warning- I was actually only exposed to two or three episodes of Buffy before I discovered BtVS fanfiction. I quickly came to love the fanfic but my feeling about the rest of the eventually-watched series were kind of wishy-washy (great dialogue but parts of the series were very blah). So if Buffy comes off as being a little out of character it might just be my preferred representation of the-little-Slayer-that-could.

Eternal Plea: Feed back! - Point out errors, suggest changes, critique ideas, etc. In particular, I feel that dialogue is a weakness of mine. Please help me out in that area. I'd also love to hear guesses of where I'm going with this.

Dull green eyes gazed unseeingly out the Greyhound's window. The shadows of telephone poles crossed the girl's pale face in a slow, steady rhythm. The view was an endless repetition of sagebrush and tall, coarse grass with few buildings to break the monotony. Rocky, snow-capped peaks reached heavenward in the far distance. By the failing light of the setting sun, the desert's humble grays and browns and greens blending together in a featureless, drab background to her seemingly endless journey.

Even Buffy's fellow passengers were subdued and quiet. The heavy man in the seat across from her was snoring gently. The baby had quit crying after his mother had finally changed him. The whispery sound of moving paper marked the turning of magazine and book pages. The muffled sounds of guitars and drums faintly escaped from a teenager's headphones.

Her blank gaze turned to meet that of the gangly, wane-looking girl who had been staring at her in an unsuccessful attempt at subtlety ever since she had gotten on. The skinny adolescent flinched, as if expecting a blow, before hurriedly looking away and huddling closer to the older boy accompanying her.

Too tired to really care, the blond teenager returned her attention to the scene passing by outside her window.

Her eyes momentarily focused upon a subtle movement among the sparse growth. A small herd of deer-like animals were lightly racing alongside the old bus. The slight, tan and cream creatures appeared to be almost floating, barely touching the ground before moving skyward once more. But even their speed could not equal that of the speeding vehicle and all too quickly the animals disappeared from sight, a fleeting dream in the darkening twilight.

A crooked smile flickered upon her full lips.

The antelope had come and gone so quickly, leaving no trace of their passage. It was doubtful that anyone else had even noticed them.

. The blond girl released a silent sigh and raised her hand to see the ring more clearly in the light of the waning sun. The delicate jewelry was simple and unelaborate. A crowned heart held out by two hands- a symbol and a promise of the eternal love she had been offered by her Angel. An emblem of shattered dreams and lost innocence.

The last lingering rays of sunlight left her gently fingering the small object.

Up near the front of the bus the tired mother was trying to persuade her older son to eat. The tousle-headed kid was protesting being forced to eat peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for yet another meal.

"Hold on!" the driver shouted as he stomped on the brake.

The stop was sudden and unexpected. The heavy man's head smacked into the seat ahead of him. A dropped drink splashed across the floor. The baby and his older brother both started to cry again.

The vehicle awkwardly lurched to a stop.

The Greyhound's interior was a tumult of confusion.

"What happened?" the heavy man asked in a daze. "Did we crash?"

"No." The man in the Raiders jacket pointed out the front window. "They did."

A large car laid upside-down across the road an uncomfortably short distance from the front of the bus.

"Whoa." the teenager said as he slipped the headphones from his head and rose to his feet. "That had to hurt."

"Please remain calm." the driver stated over the P.A. system. "This is just a temporary delay. Is everyone all right? Did anyone get hurt?"

"I think I sprained my wrist." said a woman from the back of the bus.

"Is my nose bleeding?" the heavy man moaned. He moved the handkerchief and inclined his head to give Buffy a better view of his hairy nostrils.

The mother was trying to calm down her kids. "Hush, now." she murmured as she rocked the baby in her arms. "Billy, I need you to be Mommy's big helper. See if you can find Jason's bottle in the diaper bag."

But all of the noise and commotion was just background static to the blond girl. It slid past her senses like the rumble of a hundred different conversations at a party and her attention snagged upon the only thing in the situation that truly mattered to a Slayer- the presence of demons.

Vampires surrounded the stopped bus on all sides, just staying back far enough to prevent discovery by the weak senses of their intended prey. Their hideous, slitted eyes almost glowed in the moonlight. The demons' ragged, yellow teeth snarled in anticipation as the encircling monsters shifted impatiently.

A child appeared in the glare of the bus' headlights, limping and waving frantically. Her clothing was dirty and torn. Dry blood clotted her hair and obscured half her face. "Help!" she called. Tears ran down her face. "Please, help me!" She stumbled and fell.

"Open the door!" the Raiders' fan ordered as he rushed forward. Several others were rising to follow.

"Where is the first-aid kit?" a woman asked.

"Radio for an ambulance." someone else recommended.

"I'm a registered EMT." another offered.

The driver opened the door without pausing to consider.

"No." snapped Buffy.

A momentary pause followed as everyone turned to the source of the unexpected protest.

"Shut the door." she ordered.

Later, the surviving passengers would remember that something had seemed to have changed in the slight teen. Is was if she had grown taller somehow. Or maybe there was something about the surrounding gloom which made her green eyes appear to almost smolder with dangerous energy. Possibly it was merely the confidence in her stance or the authority in her voice which compelled their wills to give way to her own, like twigs caught up by a thundering flash flood.

There was a long moment of hesitation when the passengers almost obeyed her command but a single voice of protest was all that was required to break the spell. "Are you kidding?" The heavy man said. "We just can't leave that girl out there!"

Angry agreements rumbled from several throats.

Buffy shouted to be heard over the crowd. "It's a trap. A set-up." But she already knew she had lost them. For a brief fraction of time they had Believed- the masks and curtains stripped away to allow them to feel the Truth resonate with chilling peals throughout their cowering forms- but the revelation was too great, too over-whelming. The illusion of safety through burying one's head in the sand chosen over seeing the lion's gleaming eyes.

"You-" the woman pointed at Buffy for emphasis, "Watch way too much TV."

The bloody girl outside stumbled against the front of the bus. Her trembling hand left a bloody streak upon the windshield. "Please," she cried, "My Mommy and Daddy are still in the car."

Buffy heard a gasp from the sickly girl who had caught her attention earlier. The younger girl's eyes were full of fear as she shrank back from the window, her gaze casting about wildly in the darkness beyond. The kid might not be able to see the vampires like a Slayer could but she was obviously able to somehow sense the demonic presence.

The girl flinched as the boy with her put an arm around her shoulders and bent his head down next to hers to whisper a quick question. His head snapped up at her reply. "Wait!" he shouted. "She's right. It's an ambush."

The jock in the Raiders jacket snorted. "If you're not going to help out, shut up and stay out of the way." He jumped down the stairs, leading the way for several other passengers.

Buffy swore under her breath and looked out the window. She swore again and slammed a fist against the luggage rack in frustration.

The boy pulled out a cell phone and hit speed-dial. His eyes moved up to meet hers while the phone rang.

Someone picked up on the other end after the first ring.

"This is Matt. The Playhouse was a diversion. We're just short of old Carson's bridge and in serious trouble. How fast can you guys get here?" the teenager demanded.

Buffy's eyes narrowed as her peculiar companion listened to the answer from the unknown party.

The now-identified 'Matt' paled when he heard the reply. "Okay. Floor it." He snapped the phone shut and focused his gaze on her once again. "What do you think of our chances of surviving until the cavalry arrives?" he asked.

"Does it matter?" she answered dryly, accepting the situation and the lack of time for questions. She unlocked the emergency window and pushed it open far enough for her slim form to slide through. Removing a wooden stake from the depths of her over-sized leather jacket, the Slayer somersaulted out into the night.

"Does it matter?" Matt echoed with a grimace. He grabbed his backpack and yanked it open to reveal a strange collection of water guns, crosses and sharpened wooden sticks.

"Nest," he tried to make his voice as reassuring and confident as possible as he returned his attention to the trembling girl he was traveling with. "Everything is going to be all right. Your Aunt Liz and everyone else are going to be here any minute now. We just need to stall for time and make sure all of the passengers are okay. You stay here and I'll go-"

"No!" The girl desperately wrapped her arms around him and sobbed. "Don't leave me alone! They'll take me away again and… and…"

"Shhh." He soothed her, enveloping her in a comforting hug. "You're going to be okay. Nothing is going to happen to you. Okay? You're going to be just fine. I just need to make sure everyone else is okay until the rescue crew gets here. Do you think Rome would ever let anything happen to you?" He grinned when she hesitantly shook her head. "You are going to be just fine." He handed her a large cross and a water gun from his bag. "You know how to use these, right? Now you stay here and hang tight while I go try to get everyone back on the bus. There is nothing to be afraid of. Okay?"

Nest managed a jerky nod.

Clay squeezed her shoulder one last time before rising to his feet and striding towards the front of the bus. His concealed the trembling in his hands from the young girl as he slapped a cross to the strange Velcro strip on each forearm of his jacket and pulled out a large water-gun from his backpack.

The mother of the two children gaped at him as he strode forward pumping the gun to build up pressure. She pulled her older son protectively back against her chest as he went past, clearly doubting his mental stability.

He smiled crookedly. "I know what you're thinking- soundtrack. You just can't have a good action scene without a soundtrack. Don't worry. I'll have my agent get on it as soon as possible."

At the front of the bus, Clay turned back to look at Nest. She was huddled down in her chair, her big eyes full of fear and pleading for him to come back. He flashed her a cocky grin before turning towards the open door.

Taking a deep breath, he stepping off the bus and into the night.