England, Then

"Ah, here you are," Xander warmly called out to the brooding Buffy.

"Hey," she replied, not even tearing her eyes away from the sea that stretched before her.

Xander took a moment to drink in the scene. "Is this where you tell me that you love the water?" Xander quipped.

Buffy shook her head solemnly. "I was just thinking the ocean looks weird, you know?" She turned to face him for the first time. "Like I'm, looking at it from the wrong side."

"You know, Tara just said the same thing," he replied seriously.

Buffy's eyes went wide.

"Or... she said something vaguely similar one time," he amended weakly.

Buffy's shoulders slumped. You never could tell.

"The point is," he recovered, "that you're not on the wrong side of the ocean, Buf. You're facing the same direction you always were, it's just a different ocean. You might feel like you're life has changed so much, but it's just the address. You're still facing the same way you always were."

"That's not the ocean," Giles shouted over. "It's the English Channel."

Somehow Giles always had it in him to make Xander feel like an idiot. "It was a whole metaphor thing, Giles!"

"And what exactly what was the metaphor there, Xander?" Giles asked. "It all seemed rather a jumble to me."

"I hadn't thought that far ahead," Xander admitted. "I usually just start talking and hope something works."

"I cannot tell you how surprised am I to hear you admit that," Giles chimed in.

Buffy smiled. Maybe an ocean really didn't change that much.

Scotland, Now

Buffy rushed to Xander's door to find Willow already there. "Hey," she 'hey-ed' awkwardly.

"Hey," Willow responded in kind.

"How is he?" she asked, as though his condition could have somehow changed in the thirty seconds since they'd severed the connection.

Then she realized that was actually a possibility, which made everything so much worse.

"Whatever was on that knife, magic just feeds it... if I keep trying to force this thing out..." Willow trailed off.

Buffy nodded. It seemed like the thing to do.

"We locked the girl who did this in the dungeon," Willow admitted, suddenly finding her shoes very interesting.

"Sure is nice to finally have a room designed for that," Buffy said softly.

"Some of... some of the girls want to kill her," Willow muttered sadly. After a moment, she added desperately "We aren't going to, are we?"

"I don't know," Buffy admitted. "Slaying's one thing, but I never saw myself performing public executions..." But she couldn't deny that she understood their feelings.

"Buffy, we need to find out what was on that knife as soon as we can," Willow said, knowing she was stating the obvious.

"We will," Buffy swore. "Can I see him?"

"Of course," Willow stumbled. "Why wouldn't you be able to?"

Buffy shrugged, not sure herself. "It's just something you say."

"Oh, right," Willow agreed. "I'll be out here..."

"Right," Buffy said without really thinking.

"...Guarding the wall," Willow continued, caressing the wall like a lover.

Buffy brushed past her and made her way into Xander's darkened room.

Xander himself was strapped down to a bed that Willow and the girls had propped at a forty degree angle. It wasn't an ideal solution, but it seemed to the only thing that cut down on the level of blood pouring out of his non-healing mystical wounds... if only slightly.

"Hey, Buf." He was clearly trying for nonchalant, but was hindered somewhat by the fact he could only speak in strained grunts. "I'd get up, but I'm really having problems standing now... also sitting and lying down."

"It's okay," she said softly. "How are you doing?"

"Well, I do have this stabbing pain," he quipped. "And I seemed to be cursed for all eternity."

"I assume you already tried the kiss of true love?" she asked, trying to match his tone.

"Yeah, first thing we tried," he attempted, doing his best attempt at a smile... which is to say, a weak grimace. "The girls were really good about that."

Buffy nodded, of course they were.

"You know," he began, "there was a time when I would have really liked the idea of being kissed by a room full of eager girls. We'll call that the 'not dying' phase of my life."

"Xander..." she whispered. "We'll get you through this. We'll find those girls and we'll..."

"Buf..." he said, shifting his tone, "This doesn't change anything."

Buffy took a step backwards. "What?"

"I mean, it kind of changes the part when I can live and walk and jump and breathe," he conceded. "But not what I said about those girls... We've all done things we aren't proud of and they still deserve a chance."

Buffy could hardly believe what she was hearing; Xander really had started thinking like a Watcher.

"Except maybe the one that stabbed me," he added. "Her I'm less than crazy about for some reason."

----

Sleeper smiled, it had all gone exactly as planned. He had been able to deal a crippling blow to the Slayer's morale and distract her enough to make good his escape. True, it had cost him a perfectly good safehouse, but he had more than a few of those scattered throughout Europe. Staying one step ahead should be no problem.

Yes, the Slayer was going to looking for him for a good, long time.

It was just about then that Buffy dropped down behind him and slammed his head against the wall, knocking him unconscious.

"Hi, everybody," she said, turning to the girls strewn all over the cold, warehouse floor. Not one among them seemed well acquainted with lucidity at the moment, while the girls she had surrounding the exits were among her best and brightest. "Welcome to the Buffy Summers Rehabilitation Clinic."

----

Andrew never felt right keeping secrets from Buffy, especially one this major. But he pushed his concerns away, convincing himself that this was all for the best. He had always felt miscast in the mentor role... like every non-James Earl Jones to play Darth Vadar. Maybe this was the digital recast the girls needed.

Anyway, he reflected, it wasn't like Spike was going to get the girls in any trouble.