Standard disclaimer: The characters aren't mine. This should come as no surprise. I am simply a teller of stories that occasionally claw their way desperately out of my head.

Setting: You'll see. No spoilers, though.

Notes: Installment #3 in the "Slices of Life" series, showing random moments taken from the lives of our favourite characters. I know that this is pretty much how I'd feel in their situation. Poor guys.

(15 January 2004)

Slices of Life
Slice Three: Anywhere but Here

"Okay, my turn," Buffy said excitedly as she gazed up at the sky and furrowed her eyebrows in concentration. She was so deeply embroiled in thought that she was able to almost completely ignore the sounds of a heated argument coming from the kitchen. Apparently someone had skipped their turn to do dishes again. Buffy didn't know who, didn't know why, and absolutely totally didn't care. If caring suddenly became as necessary as oxygen, Buffy would suffocate. Buffy was parked in a care-free zone and there would be no loading or unloading of care of any kind. If caring were a river in Egypt, it would be de-Nile. No, wait, that one didn't work. Well, whatever. Buffy didn't care, that was the point.

"Okay," she repeated, an idea coming to her courtesy of her failed analogy. "It's night. The moon is full. There are no clouds and the stars are shining really bright. I'm in Egypt, at the pyramids, and they're doing that light show thingie that we saw on the Travel Channel that one time?" Buffy looked over at Willow sitting next to her on the bench, and received a nod confirming that the redhead was following along. "It's all dry and everything, since it's the desert you know, and I'm feeling really thirsty. I grab my canteen -- because I'm all dressed like a hot archaeologist, explorer girl type, and would therefore have a canteen -- and lift it to my lips, but it's completely empty."

"Aww, poor parched Buffy," sympathized Willow, wincing visibly at the sound of a muffled crash coming from inside the house but drawing no additional attention to the sound. Buffy didn't even flinch as she continued.

"Totally. As I go to put my canteen back in my canteen-holder or wherever it would go, someone offers me a bottle of Diet Coke. Not one of those plastic ones, but one of the old-time glass ones, all ice cold and with beads of water running down the side? I look up, and it's Jude Law. Complete with five o'clock shadow," Buffy added with pride.

Willow gave Buffy an approving grin. "Very nice."

"Thank you, kind lady," Buffy replied, having to raise her voice to be heard over a sudden blast of music so loud it made the windows rattle. The noise was silenced the moment after it started, and a half-dozen high-pitched shrieking voices rushed to fill the void.

With a barely audible sigh, Willow glanced over her shoulder at the front door but said nothing. The banshee-like wailing quickly faded as the argument moved further into the house. Taking advantage of the brief moment of silence, Willow turned back to Buffy, whose face was fixed in a serene and vaguely empty smile as she worked hard to actively ignore whatever might be going on inside. "My turn again," Willow began. "I'm--"

"Peter, Paul and Mary!" exclaimed Xander as he slipped outside the door and hastily closed it behind him, as though afraid some hideous monster might escape. "Have you been in there lately? It's a madhouse! A madhouse!" Buffy and Willow gave him blank stares, clearly unimpressed with his Charlton Heston impression.

"Philistines," he muttered, taking a huge bite from the Hot Pocket he'd managed to smuggle out with him. He moved towards the porch railing across from the bench and leaned his back against it, facing his friends. "So, what are my two favourite girls up to?"

"We're playing 'Anywhere but Here'," Buffy supplied, her voice bright and strained from the effort of ignoring anything else but the game. Willow looked at Xander and nudged her head towards the house and then shrugged in a "What else can we do?" gesture.

Xander grinned around a mouthful of pastry and delicious filling. "Ooo," he said, not caring that he was spraying crumbs everywhere. "Am--"

"Amy Yip at the waterslide park," Willow and Buffy said in unison with the same flat monotone.

Xander blinked and swallowed.

"It's always 'Amy Yip at the waterslide park'."

"Honestly Xand, is there nothing else?"

Willow turned to Buffy, frowning in concern. "Do you think we should be worried? I mean, the lack of imagination alone … "

The Slayer turned to a slack-jawed Xander and eyed him critically. "Maybe Amy Yip is really a demon and that's why he's so obsessively attracted to her."

"Hey! Stop with the conclusion jumping. For your information, I was not gonna say 'Amy Yip at the waterslide park'," Xander said indignantly as he ignored the disbelieving looks. "I was, uh, gonna say … Natalie Portman!" The two girls simply stared, saying nothing. "… at … the … waterslide park."

"And here, I was afraid he was lackin' imagination," smirked Willow.

"You can't use Natalie Portman anyway," Buffy stated. "Willow already picked her." The witch beamed at Xander, who waved dismissively in her general direction.

"I wasn't here so it doesn't count. Natalie Portman. Waterslide park. Next?"

Willow opened her mouth and was interrupted for the second time by a thin, nasal whine coming from inside. "Nobody ever lets me finish!" she growled darkly under her breath.

"Alright, who took my last Hot Pocket? Again?!" Andrew's voice demanded. Buffy and Willow immediately glanced over at Xander, who quickly stuffed the rest of the snack into his mouth. He tried to look innocent while chewing and failed miserably, but luckily Andrew contained his berating to those in the house. The three friends rolled their eyes simultaneously as Andrew began a diatribe about courtesy and the purpose of food labeling and how the very least some food thief could do was throw the empty box away instead of putting it back in the freezer.

Xander clapped his hands together after wiping his shirt free of any incriminating evidence. "So, Will, your turn, right? Lighting speed round, first 'Anywhere but Here' that pops into your head, go!"

She didn't hesitate. "Me and Tara, in Devon. There's this hill, about a ten-minute walk from my room at the Coven. It's beautiful, all green and Englandy. You can see for miles and miles. I used to go up there almost every day." Willow smiled fondly at the memory. "Tara always wanted to visit England. She would've loved it there."

Willow's voice held a twinge of sadness, but the pain had clearly lessened to the point where she could remember Tara without drowning in grief, something Buffy was relieved beyond words to finally see. She reached out and squeezed Willow's knee. "Sounds wonderful."

"It is. Plus, they have horsies. Tara loved horsies ... God knows why."

Xander smiled warmly at Willow's answer, equally pleased with and proud of her progress, when a voice he didn't recognize rang out from inside the house. Another and then a third quickly followed it. The moment was completely shattered, and he turned to Buffy, eager to resume the distraction. "You're up, Buffster."

She didn't answer. Buffy simply sat sideways on the bench as her eye twitched involuntarily, staring straight ahead at nothing in particular. Willow watched her best friend with nervous anticipation, trying to decide if she should move away. Fast. Just as she was getting ready to run and hide behind Xander, Buffy seemed to come back to herself; the same forced smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. She took a deep, steadying breath and looked at Willow and Xander.

"I'm in a calm place. Nice and open, a cool breeze is blowing. My best friends are with me," she looked meaningfully at each of her audience members, "and we're able to actually hold a multi-minute conversation without annoying, trivial interruptions. We know that when it's nighttime there will be big comfy beds for each of us that we can get to without tip-toeing through a mine field of sleeping bags and sleeping girls. There's enough hot water for everybody to have a shower longer than two minutes, no waiting in line for the bathroom, and there's enough food stocked up so we don't have to send Xander to the grocery store every day."

"Lovin' it," said Xander. "All for the not shopping daily. Oh, and while we're on the subject? It should be a new house rule that girls go buy their own girl-type products. I now know so much about feminine hygiene that I think I'm producing extra estrogen and starting to grow breasts."

"Nah, that's just what'cha get for scarfin' down so many Hot Pockets," Willow retorted, reaching over to poke Xander in the stomach.

Xander batted Willow's hand away and flashed her a look of mock indignity. "Hey, hands off my manly pot-belly."

As she watched the poking degenerate into a tickle war, Buffy finally started to feel more relaxed. Which was definitely a good thing given how wound up she'd been lately. She'd become convinced that her next motivational speech would cause her to go completely insane, thus doing the bad guys' job for them. When the war ended quickly with Xander surrendering unconditionally and grumbling that he was no better than France, Buffy prodded the game along. "Your turn, Xand."

Like Willow, he answered without pause. "Me, Buffy and Willow, at the waterslide park."

The two girls laughed and rolled their eyes. "Honestly, Xander, you have a one-track mind. Do we even have a waterslide park in Sunnydale?" Buffy asked between giggles.

Xander nodded with conviction. "Absolutely. It consists of my back yard, a garden hose, an inflatable pool, and a plastic orange slide." He grinned like a maniac as their laughter increased. "The pool has big happy suns on it," he added with great pride.

Willow and Buffy were laughing so hard they leaned on each other for support. They were so caught up in their own amusement that they almost missed another screaming match that had erupted inside the house. Almost.

Once the laughs had died down to the occasional chuckle, Xander stepped forward and stuck both of his elbows out. "So what do you say? Can I entice you two lovely ladies to accompany me to anywhere but here?"

Without hesitation, Buffy and Willow rose and looped their arm through Xander's. The three turned as one, walking down the steps and away from the chaos of 1630 Revello Drive without looking back.