Five By Five

She can almost feel when Willow's magical barrier goes up; it's not like electricity, not like anything exactly tangible, but it's there, anyway. Like the way she senses a vamp, when her skin gets all tingly and her fingers just itch to reach for something pointy, only now, the stakes are raised about a thousandfold. Because it's not one vamp out there, or even a whole nest of them; this is Hell's army, direct from LA to what might as well be the last place in the world left standing.

She feels when the barrier goes down, too, but that's not so much a freaky sixth sense as it is the wings of the nearest demon swooping in a little too close overhead, and she hits the floor just in time. When she gets back up, she's already got the axe raised, and she doesn't need to look around to know the rest of the Slayers are ready, too. Which is a good thing, seeing as how if she stopped to look around, she'd probably be dead. Instead, she steps forward.

And swings.

-

The Chosen One

She can't live like this. She just can't.

"Who ate the last of the peanut butter?"

A few heads turn at the question; more keep deliberately facing away. She doesn't want to repeat herself, doesn't have to repeat herself; they all heard her, including whoever stole her food.

She does it anyway.

"I said, who ate the last of my peanut butter?"

"Don't you mean our peanut butter?" one of the Slayers asks, and Buffy doesn't bother to turn around to see who. In the doorway, she can see Xander smirking at her, and she doesn't want to give him the satisfaction.

"Whatever," she says. Deep breaths. That's the key, here. "It's just, if you're going to finish the last of something, you should ... I don't know, leave a note, or something."

It sounds lame, even to her ears, and she rolls her eyes. She'd laugh at the fact that they've been reduced to squabbling over food, except that she really wanted that sandwich, and all that's left is an overripe tomato and some cheese that may or may not still be good. Ugh. Slayer metabolism or not, she'll pass.

Willow should be back soon, anyway.

"Getting a little worked up, aren't you?" Xander asks as she approaches, and she gives a little shrug, like she doesn't really care. It's only peanut butter.

"Just hungry, is all."

He gives her a look, like he's waiting for the rest of it; after a moment, she obliges.

"It's just ... sometimes I'd really like not to have to play big sis to every Slayer out there, you know? I mean, I thought Dawn was bad enough at stealing my stuff."

"I don't think the peanut butter was really yours, Buff," he says; he's smiling, and she elbows him, as softly as she can manage, in the stomach.

"Yeah, well, it was my favourite. I'm the one who wanted crunchy."

There's silence for a minute, and then Xander shrugs. "You know, speaking of little sisters ..."

The words are enough to raise her hackles, and she freezes. "Oh, god. What did Dawn do this time?"

"Relax, she's fine. But if you're wondering where all the food went ..."

Scratch that, Buffy thinks. Living with a hundred little sisters is exactly the same as living with one.

-

Too Little Too Late

"Feel like hitting something?"

Buffy whirls around at the sound of Xander's voice, and he holds up his arms, outstretched, like he's afraid she'll think he means him. She gives him a small smile, backing away from the punching bag; it's still swinging, and he eyes it warily.

"Feeling a little tense, Buff?"

She is, but that's not why she's here; that's not anything new, not since Sunnydale was destroyed, since the potentials started showing up, since she found out she was a Slayer. She's just ... antsy, she guesses, itching for a fight she's not sure she really wants.

Nothing new there, either.

"What's the word from Giles?"

"It's getting worse." He says it matter-of-factly, like it's the same kind of apocalypse they've been dealing with for the past eight years. She's not sure it is. It feels like something bigger, and the messages they've been getting from Giles seem like she's right. Demons in one corner, Twilight in the other, and she can't help feeling a little boxed in.

"Want some help with that?"

She shrugs, like it doesn't matter to her either way, but the truth is, she'd love some human contact right about now. She needs to fight, and a punching bag just doesn't cut it.

He's better than she expected; been practising, she guesses. She's better; it's not really much of a fight. She takes it easy on him.

When he lands a blow square to her stomach, she thinks she's been taking it a little too easy.

It feels good to sweat it out, even better to have somebody across from her, and after a while, she can feel whatever's got her so worked up starting to drain. She rolls her shoulders, dips her head back; she can hear Xander breathing heavily, and can't help but smile.

"Next time I offer to spar with you?" he says, and she reaches for the water bottle. "Remind me why I don't."

"What?" she asks, pouring some of the water over her head. "You don't like getting all sweaty with me?"

His staring is probably answer enough; if she's being honest, he's not a bad sight, either. "I'm not touching that one," he says, and she hands him the bottle.

"Too bad," she says, and she thinks that maybe it is. She doesn't stay to wait for his answer.

-

Forewarning

"I don't think it's a good idea."

Buffy has to restrain herself to keep from rolling her eyes. Giles shoots her a look, like he saw it anyway.

"These people are not Slayers, Buffy. They're refugees. We brought them here to keep them away from the battle -"

"Which isn't working," she points out. "Giles, the fight is coming, whether you like it or not. Whether I like it or not. I get the whole safe haven thing, really. But if we lose this, there won't be any more safe haven. There won't be any more world. We need everybody we can get to fight this thing."

"And you're sure that will help?" He's leaning against the counter, his posture deceptively casual, but she can see the tension in his shoulders. "These people haven't been trained to fight. When the time comes, they may prove to be as much a hindrance as anything."

"When the time comes? The time is now." It comes out a little less forceful than she'd hoped; more weary, more resigned. "We've been teaching them some stuff. They may not be Slayers, but they're all we've got, and we need them."

She doesn't need to look around to see Xander come up beside her; he takes her hand, squeezing it gently, and she lets out a breath.

"She's right," Willow says behind her, and Buffy almost smiles. "We need them, Giles. I've been working on strengthening the protection around here, and I think I might have it. But she's right."

Giles doesn't say anything, but he nods, almost imperceptibly, and she closes her eyes. She'd like to think it's a victory.

Part of her can't help wondering if she's just made it a bigger defeat.

-

Three Cheers

"How many is that now?"

Xander shrugs, looking out onto the latest batch of refugees; the groups are getting smaller, but they're still coming, trickling in every few days. Sometimes with Giles, or one of the scouting parties; sometimes all on their own, and Buffy isn't sure if that's a good thing or not.

Still, more people means more numbers, and they're going to need all the numbers they can get if they hope to win this thing.

"All right," she says, louder, to the group in front of her. It falls silent, and suddenly, she's not entirely sure what she's going to say.

So she sticks with what she knows.

"You all know a big bad is coming. Guess you wouldn't be here if you didn't. Somebody's got to fight this thing, and lucky us, that happens to be our job.

"I don't care if you've never picked up a weapon before in your life. You're all here, which means you're all going to learn. Without weapons, for the time being.

"We'll be starting with basic hand to hand combat. Not much use at fighting demons, but it might help if you get yourself into a tough spot. Or if you're fighting over the last chocolate chip cookie. Xander?"

Xander looks wary as he steps up, and she can't help but laugh. She's already promised not to beat him up too badly; anyway, she'll need him again for the next demonstration. She's not sure how much good this is all going to do, really; these people aren't fighters, and most of them look scared out of their wits just to be here. It's only natural, she supposes.

They'll get over it quickly. That's natural, too.

The first time through, they run it slowly, let the group see what they're supposed to be learning. By the fifth, it's hard and fast, and Xander manages to put up a fight before she pins him.

"Think we're done?" she asks, more to him than anyone. He nods, letting out a grunt as she climbs off him, and she reaches out a hand to help him up. There's fear in most of the refugees' eyes, a sort of quiet terror, but there's hope in some of them, too, and that makes her feel a little better about all of this.

"Careful, Buff," Xander says, still standing close beside her. "I could start to enjoy that."

"I can think of things you'd enjoy more." The words are out before she's really thought of them, which isn't to say she didn't mean them. It's the end of the world, right? Again. 'No time like the present' has never been more apt.

He's got a look in his eyes she can't quite read, and she smiles as she turns around.

"Come on," she says, over her shoulder. "Want to be my sparring partner?"