It's a good thing that construction involves so many pointy pieces of wood, Xander thinks. He can't claim that's the reason he went into this line of work, but it's damn useful sometimes.
The building they found for their Cleveland headquarters is an old school. He'd gone to school in buildings built in the sixties and seventies, rambling prefabricated structures decorated in avocado and goldenrod, but this place is much older than the places he's used to. In fact, it's probably older than most of Sunnydale. Well, the non-evil parts of Sunnydale.
It is a solid brick building, four stories tall, with a center hallway and four large stairwells, one at each corner of the building. Each stairwell is labeled with stone signs set in the walls, which read either BOYS or GIRLS. On the ground floor, the stairwells end in separate entrances. The sign in front of the building -- Xander makes a mental note to take that down -- reads OUR LADY OF THE IMMACULATE HEART SCHOOL FOR WAYWARD YOUTH, which the slayers all find hilariously funny.
No one is staying here yet; they're still at the motel down the road, which probably explains why the vamps are able to get in.
So far, they're concentrating on the first two floors. The classrooms on the second floor are being cleaned and painted, simple stuff that Xander has put the civilians in charge of. He's going to build twenty twin beds, and then Buffy will buy a bunch of mattresses, and voila: slayer dormitories.
On the main floor, the new slayers are his demolition crew, a job they seem to be enjoying. The only trouble is holding them back enough to keep them from tearing out the wiring that powers the upstairs.
Xander is downstairs with his back to the door when it happens, measuring the wall for Giles' new built-in shelving and writing the figures on a clipboard. Suddenly, he hears screaming, and not screaming of the ordinary ohmigosh-he-is-so-cute variety.
He turns around, automatically clutching his mechanical pencil in a death-grip, and sees vampires pouring through the side door. The slayers around him, already armed with large sledgehammers, attack with glee. Before he can even try to count them, several of the intruders have already exploded into dust.
Nearby, Faith tangles with a vamp who looks like a fanged linebacker. She lands an uppercut that sends him reeling, then knocks him to the floor with a kick to the breastbone. While he's down, she stoops and grabs a remnant of the wall she'd been demolishing, the jagged end of an old two-by-four board. When he springs back up, she's ready-the vamp runs towards her and impales himself on her makeshift stake.
Xander catches her eye, then motions to the ceiling with one hand. Faith's eyes widen, and they run through the crowd toward the stairwell. All around them, new slayers are sparring with vampires. The room is full of the sounds of combat: the noise of punches and kicks colliding with targets, the grunts of exertion, and the unique sound of a flesh-and-blood body turning to dust.
They hit the stairwell and run up without pausing for breath. The upstairs hall is empty when they get there. Without stopping to discuss, they split up. Xander runs down the right side of the hallway, checking each room. The first is dark and empty. The second as well. The third is lit, and it looks as though work has been stopped abruptly: a can of paint is overturned on the floor, and a roller lies next to it. In the next room, Willow and Dawn are embracing near a heap of dust.
"Vamp?" he asks.
"Dusted," Willow says.
Xander turns and runs to the last room on his side of the hallway, without waiting for more detail. It, too, is empty. He starts checking the other rooms, until he finds Faith with Andrew, who looks pale and shell-shocked.
"Fine and dandy," Faith says.
"I-" Andrew looks like he might throw up at any moment. "I staked him. Me. I staked him. And-he-And then he just turned into dust."
Xander smiles and relaxes his grip on the mechanical pencil. In surprise, he looks down at the thin length of plastic in his hand - had he really been expecting to do any damage with this thing?
Faith pats Andrew on the shoulder and says with a grin, "Welcome to the Hellmouth, yo."
The motel is old, and dingy, and run-down. It has that dingy, run-down motel smell. The smell is very familiar to Faith. All she has to do is close her eyes and it feels like she never left the Sunnydale motel where she stayed when she first came to town.
She was young, and alone, and overwhelmed with fear of the demon that brutalized her Watcher. She'd just sat there and watched it all happen, done nothing until the fear became so much that she turned tail and ran away. Ran away. Like a helpless little girl who couldn't take care of herself, she just...
This is a different room, but it smells the same.
In the other bed lies one of the new slayers - Christina. Her dark hair is fanned out across the pillow, and her breathing is smooth and heavy. Faith pulls on a pair of jeans and grabs her cigarettes and a stake from the bedside table. Careful not to slam the door behind her, she steps outside.
The day was hot and muggy -- Cleveland's summers are like Boston's in that respect. It's cooled off a little since the sun set, though, and now is almost pleasant.
Faith sits down on the concrete step and tries not to breathe in the almost-pleasant night air. It still kind of smells like old motel.
She pulls a cigarette out of the red and white box, then extracts the book of matches she keeps tucked inside. Her hand wobbles only a little as she lights the cigarette and shakes out the flame of the match.
She inhales deeply, desperate not so much for the nicotine as to replace the smell of the place with something different.
Bad memories. Bad memories in her head, all smelling of motel. This was where she came after staking that guy, where she tried to wash the blood off her hands, her clothes, her hair, even her face. It was bright red blood, too - human blood, the color of lipstick and fast cars. Not like demon blood or vampire blood. Human blood.
She inhales again, her hand shaking a little more now.
And after all that, someone came to her door and tried to help, and she just-
"Hey. This seat taken?"
She looks up into Xander's one eye and wants to tell him Go away. You can't sit here.
"Free country," she says instead, and takes another drag on her cigarette.
"Couldn't sleep," he says, not a question but a statement.
"Bad memories," she agrees.
She thinks about saying something to him, something like Sorry I tried to kill you, but the words sound lame and useless even in her head, so she just sits and smokes her cigarette some more.
Buffy is dreaming. She's floating above the world, and the wind is rushing through her hair, blowing it straight back from her face and dragging cold fingers across her scalp. She feels the way she did when she jumped from Glory's tower, absolutely certain and free. Physically, the sensation is the same too, but this time the ground isn't coming closer. She floats there, above the world, watching everything.
She can see the school, and the people inside it. They're hammering and painting and measuring and imagining. As she watches, Willow and Kennedy kiss in a classroom upstairs, Faith steps out the back door and lights a cigarette, and Dawn goes out through the front door and walks down the street toward the hotel. She doesn't see herself there anywhere, but activities go on without her. In the hotel, she sees Giles on the phone, obviously exasperated, running his fingers through his hair and cleaning his glasses furiously.
The floating thing is nice. It's relaxing. It makes her think of the corny old Superman movies that always used to be on TV when she was little. Suddenly she is moving fast over the ground, and it is like she is in one of those movies, flying over the land. She remembers, when she first came to Sunnydale and had just met Xander, him turning to someone and saying "It's okay, Buffy's a superhero." That's me, she thinks, smiling even in the dream.
She speeds over the country, and she looks down from time to time and sees people. Some of them are people she knows. She sees Spike and Angel, and they look like they're arguing. She knows it's a dream, because Spike is dead, but she watches intently anyway. One is bright and one is dark, and it makes a part of her hurt and another part of her glow, to see them together.
Some of the people she sees are people that don't look familiar, but even so, in the dream-way that makes you just know things, she knows that she will know them. They're girls, slayers. There's a girl in a batting cage, and as Buffy watches, she swings her bat and there is a metallic ting as it connects with the ball, which flies so fast and so hard that it shoots right through the netting meant to contain the balls. There is a girl with cornrows in her hair, standing in a school hall when a guy grabs her butt; she shoves him away and he goes flying into a row of lockers. An Asian girl wearing bright colors is waiting to cross an impossibly busy street when someone next to her falls headlong in front of traffic; she reaches out and pulls him back to safety.
Buffy sees these girls and more like them all over the world. She knows they are like her: they are her sisters, her daughters, her slayers. At the same time, she feels disconnected from them. She is back over Cleveland, and watching the people she knows again, but she still feels set apart from them. It is as if there is a veil across her eyes, a screen that separates her from the people that she loves. She floats there, resting on thin air, and watches them, but does not feel as though she is really with them in any way.
When she wakes in the morning, she remembers the dream clearly, and the feeling does not fade through the day. Around her, people work and interact and talk with her, but it still feels as though there is a barrier keeping her apart.
"Hello?" The voice on the phone is perky, curious, and definitely female.
"Um," says Dawn. "Is Hank there?"
"Just a sec," the woman says brightly, as if it is the most natural thing in the world for her to be sitting around in Dawn's dad's apartment, answering the phone. Which it is decidedly not.
Hi Dad, she thinks. Who the hell is that, and what is she doing answering your phone? But she doesn't say it. This is an important call, so important that she practiced it in front of the mirror, using a hairbrush as a fake phone. The woman threw off her script, but that's okay.
"Hello?" he says.
"Hi, Dad," she replies. "It's Dawn." The last time she talked to him, she had called him from somewhere in New Mexico, to tell him they were alive. He'd sounded pleased, but not exactly frantic with worry.
"Hey there," he says cheerfully. "How ya doin'?"
"I'm fine," she says. "We're fine." She rolls her eyes at the obvious falseness of this statement. My entire hometown just disappeared into hell, Dad, but I'm just peachy. "We're in Cleveland now."
"Wow, Cleveland, huh? Going to see the country?" She can't believe how jolly he's being. She kind of wants to slap him, but instead she just rolls her eyes again.
"I think we're gonna stay here, actually," she tells him. "Buffy found a nice place for us." And it is a nice place, she thinks. She'll miss living in a house, but the school is perfect for them now, the bigger "them" that is the entire group, not just her and Buffy and Willow like it used to be, but now with the new girls and Giles and Xander and Andrew and even Faith.
"Well, that's great, sweetie." The name sounds strange to her, and she wonders if he said it for the benefit of his new lady-friend-slash-answering-service.
She gives him the address of the school, and promises to let him know when they have a phone set up.
When she hangs up, she wonders if she ought to feel relieved or angry. It hadn't even occurred to him to ask about where she was going to go to school, or any of that. She'd wondered if he might try to make her go live with him, in L.A., and she'd practiced turning him down, telling him she was happy with Buffy. But he never said it. And she doesn't know how to feel.
She finally finds him in the old science classroom, at the end of the hallway on the second floor. It's slightly bigger than the others, with a storeroom attached to the side of it, and it has running water. This is the room they've set aside for Giles.
She stands in the doorway and watches him for a minute, as he measures twice and cuts once. He has a pencil in his hand-- a yellow Ticonderoga #2 pencil with a bright pink eraser, which he forced Buffy to take a separate trip to the store to buy. The plastic mechanical pencils were no good, he'd said, as stakes.
His clothes, like everyone's, are old and a little ratty. A thrift store in Arizona had opened early on a Sunday morning for the Sunnydale refugees, and they'd outfitted themselves as well as they could from the racks. He's lost weight, though, more weight than a person really ought to lose in a month, and the new-old clothes hang on him. Of course, he's lost a lot more than that, and if he doesn't want to eat, that's okay. She's certainly not in a position to lecture anyone on healthy grief management.
She waits until he sets down the handsaw, and then knocks on the open door to announce her presence.
"Hey, Will." He smiles, but it's not the way he used to smile, and she wonders if that's something she'll ever see again. And then, because he knows her so well that he can tell, he asks, "What's up? Something wrong?"
"No, nothing wrong," she says hurriedly, even though that's probably not true. She has to say it anyway.
He reaches a hand in his pocket and comes up with some change. "Seventeen cents for your thoughts."
She smiles and takes the money, knowing as she does so that he will probably claim later that he deserves a refund.
"How many rooms are we doing?" she asks quickly.
"Fourteen on this floor," he says, frowning slightly. "Why?"
"Is that... is that one for everyone?" she asks, and she really, really wants him to get it so she won't have to say it out loud. I really want my own room, all to myself. I don't want to share anymore. Sharing is what I do with-- did. Sharing is what I did with--
But she shouldn't have doubted him, and he does get it. "Yes," he says. "One for everyone, and one to spare."
She sighs, and she's not ready to admit it yet, even to herself, but it's a sigh of relief.
Buffy is perched at the top of a ladder, holding a spool of wire while Xander does something to the end of it. She has been volunteering for all the easiest jobs, the things that require no brainpower or leadership at all. Xander walks around with a clipboard and tells people what to do and how, and she just smiles and holds the wire. It's a nice change.
She can see the whole big room from here. On the other end, near the kitchen, Vi and Rona are laying down linoleum. It is quite possibly the ugliest floor covering ever, but it was on clearance sale.
Giles' Watchers' Council credit card keeps getting paid off, but no one wants to ask how or why. He's had no luck getting ahold of the Council's accounts in Switzerland or Britain, although there is an American emergency account they're using. And of course, the insurance on the Summers, Rosenberg, and Harris family homes. But the money isn't inexhaustible, so-- discount linoleum it is.
In the center of the room, Faith and some of the new slayers have amassed a small collection of rickety mismatched furniture, most of which they found in the basement. Several girls are milling around the collection, offering their opinions on what can be done to make it usable.
"This could make a nice bedside table," Ashley says, running one hand across the top of a small metal filing cabinet. "Kinda wobbly, though."
Buffy smiles. Of all the girls, perky, pretty Ashley reminds her most of herself when she was first called. This girl is more down-to-earth, though. Cheerleader-girl Buffy would have run screaming from this place, with its dust and dirt and hard work.
Christina steps into the room carrying another filing cabinet, like the first one but covered with stickers for bands that were popular twenty years ago.
"It's ancient, like the vamps," Ashley laughs. "Anyone a fan of Whitesnake?"
"Hey, speaking of vamps," Kennedy asks. "Is it just me, or was there something different about those guys the other night?"
"Soft," Faith says brusquely.
Buffy looks away, listening to the shop talk but not showing it.
"Different?" asks Christina, obviously puzzled.
"Vamps used to fighting a slayer are different," Faith explains. "Seen it all over. These guys were soft. Thought we were the goddamn Doublemeat Palace."
Buffy smiles down at her spool of wire.
"So they didn't know that this is, like, Slayer central?"
"Nah, just lunchtime."
"So maybe we can take advantage of that," Kennedy says.
The conversation moves into a discussion of slaying tactics, and how to use the inexperience of Cleveland's undead population against them. Buffy lets the wire unspool between her hands and watches Xander string it above the ceiling tiles, and wonders how she will decorate her new classroom home. Below, the slayers talk strategy without her help.
Dawn stands in front of the soda machine, near the motel's one elevator. She is trying to decide whether she wants a Coke or a Sprite. It's hot here, in the open hallway, and her room is cooled like a refrigerator, but she takes her time. She has plenty of it, after all.
The slayers are at the school, hauling up junk from the basement and gluing stuff down on the floor. She said she didn't feel well, and came back to the motel.
They are very much a tight-knit group there, like the Scoobies in the days when there were only Scoobies around. Tara is gone now, though, and Anya too, and even Spike, and no one makes her peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches, or says the rude things she never would, or calls her "Bit." These girls are her own age, not eleven hundred or a hundred and seventy, or even twenty-two. But she feels younger and different, all the same.
She made such an effort, became Research Girl, looking things up and reading Sumerian, but nobody needs that now that all the books are gone. Once, she was so important that armies of men died for her. Not so long ago, really. Today, she is just someone not doing construction work.
Today, she buys a root beer.
Giles sets down the phone. He feels like he's been shackled to the thing for days, like he'll never get away from it. He'll take a break. If he had some Scotch, he would drink it. Unfortunately, he does not, and he's forced to settle for the soda machine down the hall.
Dawn is there, drinking a can of something and staring at the machine as if in deep thought.
"Hello there," he says, surprised to see her.
"Um, hi," she says, and then, quickly, "I, um, wasn't feeling well, so..."
"Yes, I hear that root beer is good for the digestion," he says seriously. He's not sure, but she might possibly get that he's joking.
He stands next to her and they contemplate the machine together. He feels like an old man, because he doesn't like any of the drinks offered, and wishes they had the things he was used to, the drinks he grew up with. Like Scotch.
He looks at the can in her hand, and buys a root beer, too.
He is getting an idea, but he's not sure how to phrase it properly. The ego of a teenage girl can be a delicate thing.
"Are you," he begins, but then stops, uncertain of what to say next. He takes his glasses off his face, but he can't clean them while he's holding the can of soda, so he puts them back on. "Are you available to help me with a small project?"
"Sure," she says.
"I'm afraid it's not terribly exciting, but I do need someone who knows what they're looking for and--"
"I said I'd do it, Giles."
He laughs and pops the top on his soda. It's hot out here, and he can feel the cold of the soda as he swallows it.
He leads her back down the hall and rummages on his makeshift desk as he talks.
"I need you to do a little shopping for me," he says, and tries not to laugh too much when he sees her eyes light up. He hands her the list of used bookstores that he copied from the yellow pages while on hold with the SwissBank. "Start here," he says. There are also two magic shops, an occultist, and a combination rare-books-and-antique-jewelry shop that practically screams "dark magic," but those will wait until he gets his hands on the Council's money.
He hands Dawn fifty dollars. Her eyes widen, but she says nothing. After a little bit of talk about bus schedules, she leaves.
The bookstores on the list will be dusty-- books are always dusty, but used ones especially so. The stores might be tiny and dark, enormous stacks of books blocking out all the light, or they might be corporate warehouses of neatly organized romance novels. Hopefully one of them will have some kind of a demonic lexicon. He's never felt so naked and helpless as he does now, without his books.
Not for the first time, he wonders at the wisdom of this. Will more books really be beneficial to the cause, or does he just want them because they've always been his safety net? Is he sending Dawn out on this crazy scavenger hunt out of a stupid personal weakness, or is he relying on his years of training and experience as a Watcher?
Giles wishes he could go with her, but he knows he must chain himself to the phone again. The thought reminds him of Spike, locked up in his bathtub. He almost smiles before he catches himself.
Well, what's done is done now. No regrets, Ethan would say. No regrets. Which usually meant that Ethan acted and Giles regretted for the both of them. But at least Dawn seemed pleased with the assignment. And maybe she'll prove him right and find something useful.
Willow is using a chair as a stepstool. It's one of the ones that'd been dragged up out of the basement, and it wobbles a little. She leans forward, resting one hand on the wall for support, and sticks masking tape to the edges of the window. Tomorrow, someone will paint in here, and put down primer, whatever that is.
It's quiet here, and she's glad. She doesn't hum, or whistle, or talk to herself-- just tries to keep the room quiet, the way it is. The slayers are always so loud-- so happy and exuberant. She knows, objectively, that they have not had it easy. She knows they were chased by eyeless men with long curving knives. She lived in the little house with far too many other slayers who never made it on the bus.
But still. A lot of the new slayers went home after Sunnydale collapsed. Because they still had homes. Willow doesn't have a home now. She doesn't have a lot of things. She doesn't have a baby blankie, or a dried and withered prom corsage, or a high school yearbook. She doesn't have a picture of Tara now. All those things are buried underneath countless tons of rock.
There's a sound behind her, but she doesn't turn around. She peels another strip of tape and tears it off the roll, then lays it carefully on the glass and smooths out the bubbles with her fingertips.
"Hey, you," Kennedy says from behind her, a teasing, flirty tone in her voice.
Willow finishes smoothing down the tape, steps backward off the chair, and sets down the roll of tape on the chair. She is stalling, she doesn't want to turn around, but before she gets to it, Kennedy steps up behind her and wraps her arms around Willow's waist.
"Hey," she says again.
"Hey," Willow echoes weakly, and Kennedy starts kissing her neck, dragging her metal tongue stud across the sensitive skin where neck meets shoulder. Usually this would feel good. Usually this would feel amazing. Usually, this would make Willow's skin all goosebumpy and her knees all weak. Right now, it feels like too much, too close. She shrugs Kennedy off and steps away, finally turning around to face her.
"What's wrong?" Kennedy asks, stepping forward and reaching out to touch her again. Willow takes another step back. She's quickly putting herself in a corner.
"It's nothing," she says. "It's just-it's nothing. I want to be alone, that's all."
Kennedy smiles, a shining brilliant smile as usual, and says "Okay," and leaves.
Willow is alone again, and it is quiet again. But it doesn't seem like the same kind of quiet, now, because now she has things in her head to make noise. Like Kennedy's smile, and her easy acceptance of Willow's need to be alone, and her lack of worry. And it doesn't make any sense that Willow should want her to be worried, or upset, or unhappy, but she does. And she isn't.
Without knowing why, Willow sits down on the floor next to the rickety chair and cries. She doesn't really want to be alone, but she is, and having Kennedy here wouldn't change that-she'd only be alone with someone then, and that seems worse than being alone by herself.
Dark clouds cover the top of the sky, blotting out the sun and making the summer afternoon reveal a tiny bit of blue. The clouds move fast, so fast that Buffy's first thought is apocalypse.
There is a bright flash of lightning, followed quickly by a loud thundercrack. Buffy looks up at the sky, starts to say something about going inside, getting out of the rain, but when she looks back at the girls nearest her, she sees them fighting vampires. More are running out of the mausoleum to her left. She grips the stake in her hand and hears Faith swearing behind her: more vamps are coming from that direction.
Buffy spins and kicks and punches and stakes as though on autopilot. She's aware that there are new slayers out here, that they were doing the cemetery tour during the daytime for a reason, but she still feels as though this is something that happened to someone else a long time ago. It doesn't feel like something happening to her.
She's surrounded when she hears a scared screaming coming from behind her. She turns around and watches Kennedy put a stake through the back of a vamp. He turns to dust, and she sees that he'd been in the middle of biting into Ashley's neck. Just then, as Buffy's distracted, one of the vamps she'd been fighting a second ago grabs her by the upper arm and she's back in battle mode.
She braces her legs and leans forward, curling her spine to flip the vamp onto the grass, shifts her stake to her left hand, and dusts him before he lets go of her arm. She jumps up into a defensive position just as Faith stakes a vamp and the others break and run. Her first impulse is to chase them, but Ashley is still slumped on the ground, leaning up against a tombstone and choking back sobs.
"Everyone okay?" she asks. It's as though Ashley's pain is drawing her in, pulling her into the midst of the group, making her be involved instead of an observer. She can't shake the feeling that this is her girl, her responsibility, her slayer. In a way, this girl is Buffy, or a younger version of her anyway.
"He... I'm... He bit me," Ashley is fighting for breath; she can barely speak. She has a stake in her hand, and it shakes as she holds it out to Buffy. Buffy takes it from her, then looks down at it.
"Go ahead," says Ashley, looking up at her with mascara running down her cheeks.
Buffy just looks at her, not understanding, holding the stake in her hand.
"Naw, Ash," Faith says from behind her. "It's not like that."
"You'd have to die," Kennedy says. "To become a vamp."
"Do you feel dead?" Vi asks. Everyone laughs a little nervously, and Buffy feels some sideways looks on her.
"I been bit," Faith says. "B too. And we're okay, right?"
The stake in her hand feels solid, real. Buffy looks at Ashley, feels Ashley's blue eyes lock on hers, and it's as though something clicks inside of her and she's there again, inside her own body, not just watching it go through the motions.
She extends her other hand to Ashley and helps her up. "You'll be fine," she says. "No need for this." She hands the stake back to Ashley and the younger girl takes it.
Ashley is still holding her hand, squeezing it tightly in her own as they walk. She's holding it too tightly, really, and it hurts, but it feels good. For the first time since Sunnydale, Buffy can feel the touch of skin on her skin, hear the grass crunching underfoot, smell the thick summer air. She is here and now with these girls, with her girls. They are her sisters, her daughters. They were created out of a part of her, just as Dawn was, only this is the Slayer part, instead of the Summers part.
Heavy, fat drops of rain fall through the trees and land on their heads, their bodies. The other girls squeal and run for home, and Buffy joins them, running hand in hand with Ashley as the water runs down her face. She can feel every drop, every trickle, and it's a beautiful, wonderful thing. There's a whole world out there, she knows. And she's gonna be around to show it to them.
In the morning, they all walk over to the school together. The sun is shining, now, and the air is clear after yesterday's rainstorm. Ashley has a bandage on her neck, but she links arms with Rona and sings loudly, "Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go," and even Buffy laughs.
Xander is the first one to notice anything's wrong, and he takes off running toward the school, but he hears the others right behind him.
There is broken glass all over the place-- every window on the ground floor has been knocked out. Inside, there's more glass. The structure is intact, a few holes in the walls here and there, but nothing compromising. There's rubble everywhere, and he can't figure out where it all came from, since the walls are mostly whole. He looks around the room, but it's like there's too much for just one eye to take in.
A small hand slips into his and squeezes. It's Willow.
"Will?" he asks, at a loss, not even knowing what he wants to say next, how he wants to finish the sentence.
"It's okay," she says. "It's just the old furniture." She's right, of course, because that's her job.
The slayers come thundering down the stairs, looking pleased. Nothing damaged up there, they say.
"All right," Buffy says, clapping her hands. Everyone turns to look at her, ready to take her orders, and Xander realizes how long it's been since she's done this, and how much they've been needing it. He feels a pang of guilt for not noticing until now.
"This has to be the vamps from last night," she says, and there's general nodding and agreeing murmurs from the group. "We can't let them get back in here. Will, can you and Dawn look for a spell?"
"We're on it."
"Xander, we're gonna need to start living here right away. What do you need?"
"Showers," he says firmly. "And mattresses. I'll call the plumber."
"Great. Andrew, Ashley-- mattresses."
They look at each other, surprised, but they nod.
"I'm gonna pay a visit to the graveyard," Buffy says, her face set. "Everyone else, either come with me or clean up the trash here."
Inside of a minute, they're all gone, and Xander's left with heaps of rubble.
But somehow, it's not such a crisis anymore. He can handle this. They can all handle it. What's a couple of vamps with a destruction complex next to what they've been through?
Faith knows Christina got stuck with her as a roommate, but she doesn't hold it against her. The slayers liked the trip to the Bronze just fine, but no one really wants to sleep next to a convicted murderer. The girl is smilin' like the damn Cheshire Cat, though, and she has been all afternoon. Weird.
"Whatcha grinnin' about over there?" Faith asks. She tosses her meager amount of clothing and enormous stash of hotel toiletries into a pillowcase, makeshift luggage for their move to the school today.
"I'm cooking dinner tonight," Christina says, sounding thrilled at the prospect. Faith squints at her, wondering briefly about demonic possession. "Enchiladas," she says, but she pronounces it with a rolling lilt to her voice: inch-ee-LA-thas, the way the Mexican chicks in Stockton talked.
"I could--" Christina starts to say, then starts over. "You could help, if you want."
Faith looks at her, surprised. She can't remember the last time she cooked a meal. "Yeah," she says. "Sure."
In the kitchen, Christina digs through the food cabinets and pulls out a huge pile of food. She sets a block of cheese on the counter with what looks like an old-fashioned washboard.
"Great," she says.
Faith looks at her blankly.
Christina mimes rubbing the cheese on the washboard, with an expression on her sixteen-year-old face that clearly says "you uncultured moron." Faith's seen that look a couple thousand times before, so she doesn't ask any questions. By the time she gets the hang of it, she has a little heap of shredded cheese and four bleeding knuckles.
Christina looks over her shoulder and smiles. "Do the whole block," she says. "And don't worry, the blood makes it taste better." Faith makes a face and Christina laughs. "Mi abuela used to say that. This is her recipe." She starts chopping onions, the knife making a fast, rhythmic sound as it rises and falls. Faith has to take a break from the cheese to wipe her eyes, but Christina never stops.
By the time Faith has shredded her small mountain of cheese, Christina has a big bowl of gooey-looking stuff in front of her and two big pans going on the stove.
"Ready to fry?" she asks.
Faith makes the face again, and Christina wags a pair of tongs at her, not intimidated. "You're the helper, you fry," she says, smiling. She shows Faith the process: tortilla in the hot oil, let it sizzle until it starts to get air bubbles, then flip it over, shake the oil off, then put it in the red sauce, then onto the plate.
"When I was a little girl," she says, only she says leetle, and it makes Faith smile. "My mom was the helper, and Abuela filled the enchiladas." inch-ee-LA-thas. "Then after she died, I was the helper. Now I'm doing the filling." She sounds sad. The only slayers staying at the school now are the ones with no families. Faith's included in that category, so she just looks down at the tortillas she's frying, and doesn't try to talk about it.
She tears the first one, the metal tongs biting into the tender tortillas, ripping gigantic gaping holes right in the middle, where the filling should go. She wants to throw the tongs and leave; she knew she wouldn't be any good at this. It's probably the most complicated meal she's ever cooked. Christina looks over, though, and shrugs.
"I can work with that," she says, and taps the plate in front of her expectantly.
To her surprise, she gets better at it. She tears more tortillas, but she finds it doesn't matter. After she sets it on the plate, Christina spoons out the gooey filling, rolls it up tight, then presses the enchilada into the pan, smoothing out the top with her knuckles. When the pan is full, Christina pours more sauce over the top and then layers the top with big handfuls of cheese.
"You were a beautiful helper," Christina says with a smile. "Abuela would be proud."
Faith looks down at the pan and smiles. The ripped and torn tortillas are indistinguishable from the rest.
Giles is surprised at how easy it is to find the retired watchers. Honestly, it's harder to make the list, combing his brain for every watcher he's ever heard of who isn't dead. Most watchers outlive their slayers, and most slayers are short-lived, so there should be a lot of retired watchers out there. Recent events have changed that, though, and many of those he knew and respected are gone, now. He works on the list for several days while on the phone with the coven, the banks, and the lawyers.
He hands the list off to Dawn, and she gets on the city bus and goes to the library. When she returns, it's with a much longer list, in her loopy, girly handwriting, of addresses and phone numbers. Four of them are dead, she says. The newspaper articles indicate mysterious stabbings just a few months ago. Bringers.
He calls them, dialing the numbers on the list slowly, tapping out long strings of numbers with a pen. The reactions are varied. Some are enthusiastic. Some, reluctant. One hangs up on him. One reports seeing a young werewolf killing vampires with an axe in Budapest. A few will be coming to Cleveland when they can get their affairs in order. Others are looking for new slayers near their homes. Hopefully they speak the same languages as the slayers that need to be found, because Giles refuses to make flashcards again.
Sam Zabuto, who was Kendra's watcher, refuses to help when Giles says that the slayers will be allowed contact with boys. Three days later, he calls back and says he's sending some books. When they arrive, they take up eight large wooden crates.
The shelves take up a whole wall of the downstairs room, from one end to the other and from floor to ceiling, with pauses for windows. There's already been one episode of vandalism in this room, and it makes Giles nervous to put the books here, though the Sunnydale library was located directly on top of the hellmouth, and that had... turned out rather spectacularly badly, actually, but it worked for a while.
The shelves are empty except for a small stack of books in one corner, the result of Dawn's foraging expeditions. A copy of Dracula, a hotel Bible, two histories of the occult in Cleveland, some maps, and one rather tattered copy of Rhinehardt's Compendium. That one is quite a find, and he tells her so. She smiles, a big wide smile that covers her whole face.
She's out when the books arrive from Zabuto, scouring another used book shop, but he decides to wait until she gets back to unpack them. She'll enjoy that.
It isn't the house she remembers growing up in, with two parents and a sister who wasn't the slayer yet. It isn't the little bungalow on Revello Drive, the one Mom had wanted to start over in. And it isn't the later incarnation of that house either, the one where Willow slept with Tara in the master bedroom, where Spike was chained in the basement and Xander boarded up the windows. It isn't a house at all.
A mattress lies on the floor of each room, because there are more important things than beds right now. A convicted murderer is doing Tai Chi in the yard. There is an endless amount of cleaning and painting and laundry and construction to do here, and Dawn doesn't want to do any of it. There are, like, a thousand people living here and running around doing things at all hours, and more arriving soon.
But there's a growing library downstairs, and on Coventry Road a man in a used bookstore who raises his eyebrows when she buys Rhinehardt's Compendium and says she can have a job whenever she wants one. Willow's room is next door, and sometimes she knocks on the wall to say goodnight. The mattress is on the floor, and Faith says the room is Spartan, but she has plans for it.
Next week, she'll go shopping with Buffy for school clothes, and the week after that, she'll walk the twelve blocks to Central High.
It's not the same as it used to be, of course, but she doesn't really want a replacement house. How could anything replace the house where Mom died, where the Buffybot made enormous stacks of sandwiches, where Buffy saved the world a lot? Nothing could. But this is new and different. They started over when they moved to Sunnydale, and maybe she can start over in Cleveland, too.
Maybe it's different enough that they can all start over here.