Chapter 13: The First to Fall

I listened to them for hours.

Kennedy had supposedly found me, called for help and Xander, being the closest by, came and carried me back to the hospital ward, or so I am told. A few quick spells later and a pile of bloody glass sat next to my bed in a tin, a special ointment to help the wound heal faster applied to my back and gauze wrapped tightly around my waist. Willow said it would only be a few days before I regained full motor-skills in my legs. She had also offered to throw away the glass, but I asked her if I could keep it for a while. Surprisingly she didn't give me a look that labeled me as a psycho: she simply nodded, as if she understood and left the room, muttering something about needing more motherwort. That was when the yelling started.

It was not very ingenious of who ever built this place to make the walls so thin, or noise so detectable from a floor below. Or perhaps the reason their fight was so audible was due to that they were screaming at the top of their lungs. They, of course, were Spike and Buffy. She was furious at what he had done to a new Slayer, repeating the fact that he could have killed me. He didn't and she'll heal, he'd say in response. That went around for a while, the same points being made a thousand different ways. Buffy then moved on to ask why he unleashed on a new Slayer like he did. Lost control, he said. We were sparring and things got out of hand. Buffy found that hilarious. Spike didn't. He didn't find the fact that the moment she heard Angel needed help, she sprung out the door, on a plane to LA in a matter of minutes, hilarious either. A pause, and Buffy asked why that was relevant to what he had done to the new Slayer. He was insistent and asked the question again. Buffy's voice dropped to an inaudible level and Spike roared back in a voice that shook the whole house. "This has nothing to do with the bloody Shanshu!" He had said. Buffy yelled back, "Of course it does!" There was a long pause followed by a deep rumbling, which could only be assumed as Spike was saying something in a very low voice. Another long pause, this one long and heavy and pointed, like a man trying to lie down on a bed of needles but getting pricked every single way. Buffy said something, then something louder, something revolved around why he tried to off a new Slayer. And it was right back to the beginning.

During all of this, I had taken the small metal box that held all the glass pieces and now as I looked, apparently there were other things lodged into my back besides glass. There were bits of wire and metal and what looked to be a twisted screw. After a while I began to zone out the noise and became innately fascinated with what had been pulled out of my flesh. It was nothing too fantastic, just your fairly basic items that you would find in an electric light. Eventually, I pulled out a piece of glass the size of my hand, from top middle finger tip to the bottom of my palm. It was covered in dried blood and at the very tip something else smudged the point. It was a pale color and obviously, I was no doctor so I wondered if that was some sort of nerve fluid, the kind that if you punctured, you'd loose motor-function in your legs.

At that moment, the door at the end of the room swung open and Buffy strode through, "pissed" practically written over her face.

"Why did Spike attack you?" She asked, not a tremor in her voice but her hands scrunched up into tight fists a dead give away she was on the verge of tears.

"I told him that your relationship with him wasn't real. That you chose Angel over him because he has something Spike doesn't."

That wasn't the story Spike told her and I knew it. I just felt no need to keep him protected, to keep his lies going. Buffy's fury simmered for a moment. "What does Angel have that Spike doesn't?"

"Humanity." I said simply and put down the glass momentarily to look at my fellow Slayer. "And that just tears him to shreds. Spike is second best to Angel, apparently always has been and always will. You took away Spike's last hope to finally beat Angel at something."

There's the anger again. Her fists opened and closed, agitation riding off her in waves. I stared calmly at her, fingering the piece of glass in my own hands.

"Why?" Buffy asked. "Why would you say something like that to him?"

For a moment I faltered, for I hadn't asked myself that question so far. Before then, all I remember was getting a letter from Dina, and anger. I was so angry. Jess had told me about Spike and Angel and Buffy the night before and then that epiphany came. And I was angry. Spike was an outlet. I remembered laughing, as he threw me into wall after wall, almost begging for him to kill me.

"I don't know," I heard myself respond and looked back up from the bloody glass. "Sport, I suppose."

Any anger at Spike was momentarily forgotten. Buffy's face twisted into an ugly scowl as though she couldn't believe what she was hearing.

"You told someone they were worthless, for a laugh?"

"No," I said and rolled my eyes slightly. "I told him he was second-rate to Angel. Well, in his mind, that is like being completely worthless. So then yes, I did tell William the Bloody he was worthless for a laugh."

Buffy's lips reared up and her nose wrinkled, her face a clear sign of utter disgust. But I just sneered.

"Careful, Summers, or your face'll get stuck like that."

She gave me another loathed glance before turning out the door. "Look, I don't know who you think you are, but stay the hell out of my business. What's going on between Spike, Angel and I is between us three, not you or any other of your little pals."

"If you're worried I'm going to spill your traumatic love life to the gang around a campfire, keep your spandex on. I don't really got anyone to tell, anyone who gives a damn about Mama Slayer's Unmentionables anyway."

Buffy paused at the door. "Well, its just rude."

I looked up from the blood on the glass, moving the broken piece just so it doused Buffy and the area around her in a dark scarlet.

"That's kind of the idea." I said, gleefully.

Willow had brought me food and she was the only visitor I got besides Buffy that previous morning. I slept often and ate when it suited me. The days passed and blurred, hours of empty magazine reading and sleeping continuing without end. In a few days time, I managed a single walk around the room before the pain crippled me back to my bed. Besides reading and wall-gazing, I listened to Buffy and Spike fighting, which they did often. They'd fight about stupid things, like Buffy's technique or Spike's method of falling, or sometimes how bright the room was. I doubted they shared a room though, because often I would hear Buffy alone, moving noisily around as she got dressed or called people. It was not until a week later did one of their fights get interesting.

One night, Buffy suggested that Spike go check up on the patient. I was often referred to as "the patient", my name too horrible and embarrassing to speak aloud . . . or maybe they just forgot. The vampire scoffed at the idea, which caused Buffy to fly into a fit of rage, condemning Spike's lack of guilt. He lives with guilt everyday, he'd scream back. And they continued like this for at least an hour and finally, near midnight, for the night was late to begin with, my eyes fluttered shut.

There have been stories written about and monsters created from this region of gray fog in your mind; where you stand on the crack of sleep and reality and the edges are so jagged and breakable, there is no distinction between them. I settled into that nook now and as my chest fell into slow rhythms and my eyelids became heavy and dragging, I saw a figure at the foot of my bed.

"Mom . . ."

The figure shifted as if wondering whether it should move or be still and decided on remaining in place. Then it took a step forward, my eyelids dropped like anvils and I fell asleep.

Sometime a week later, when I had healed and Willow was keeping me a day extra just to be sure all was right with my spine, the door to the hospital room opened again and Buffy came through, wearing a sort of leather suit. It was black and covered every inch of skin from her shoulders to her feet. The leather was plated, moveable around the joints, shoulders and hips. Her hair was pulled back and her face was set.

"Are you coming?" She asked.

"Where?" I asked innocently and yanked on the other boot.

"Demon rounds. We're heading off to somewhere around Pennsylvania, just a regular sweep of an old graveyard. Supposedly it's a vampire hot spot so we're checking it out. Are you up for it? Willow just cleared you for the field." Buffy added as if I didn't believe her.

With a grin, I pushed myself onto a bed.

"Do I get one of those dashing outfits?"

Buffy frowned and shifted uncomfortably. "They aren't really that great. Kind of tight in the wrong areas and itchy in the wronger places. But hey, they make your butt look fantastic."

She grinned then realized her statement and her lips twitched together.

"Willow should be down with your suit later. Which weapon do you want?" She asked firmly.

"Leather suit and a weapon!" I grinned. "Do I get a shiny red corvette next?"

"Not until you've killed at least one hundred demons," Buffy said.

"Well, I'll add to my collection of broken teeth and torn off horns tonight," I said, knowing I'd get a worried glance from Buffy and I did. "I'll take a sword." I finished after much consideration.

"No stake?"

"Eh," I shrugged. "It gets you too close to the vamp. I can dust them just as dead with a good decapitation."

"Did Spike tell you not to get too close to your enemy?" Buffy asked quietly. A memory of one of the vampire's white fist plunging its way into my jaw made a ghost of pain lurch across my back.

"No," I said, my lips twisting into a scowl. "He didn't. It's damn common sense."

Buffy shrugged. "I guess it is. Willow'll send down your clothes about thirty minutes before we head out. Meet us outside in the front lawn when you're ready."

The candles were lit, burning and glowing softly. I sat in my bed, my feet kicked up and crossed over each other, an seriously out of date issue of Seventeen about Brad and Jen's latest break up filling my mind with blissful stupidity. I also knew how to make a French braid, a German braid and a Scandinavian braid and knew what season of make up I was. I was a winter according to the quiz on page twenty-eight. Electric blues and grays would best show up on my sharp cheekbones and light eyes. I disagreed. Hot red lipstick and dark eyeliner showed off my eyes just fine.

Willow poked her head through the hospital door as I crinkled the corner of page thirty-five. The title of said page? What to do when the Man in your life is looking for Mrs. Right? Just how Seventeen told their readers to get over rejection, I was very eager to know.

"Hey," said the witch as she headed over to my bed. For all my anger towards her, she acted quite normally. Of course any sudden movements would make her twitch uneasily and the talk was minimal but it was anything but awkward.

"Hey," I responded with a half wave. "Got my size?"

"It might be a bit snug, but that's how it's suppose to be." Willow tossed me the suit and I fluffed it out holding up to me. It was the same as Buffy's: leather and moveable but obviously tight.

"There's a bathroom in that far back corner," Willow said and handed me a sword. "Try it on."

I frowned at her. "Are you going to watch?"

Here comes the awkward. Willow flushed and stood. "Um, no. I can leave. There's a floor length mirror in one of those offices."

She half-waved again and left and I went to change.

Buffy was right. It was snug but I liked it. Apparently it wasn't all on piece. The gloves had to be strapped on and the boots, steel-toed, had to be buckled on. The only gripe I had about the suit was that there was not enough room for underwear, meaning I was naked as a jaybird under a layer of black leather and breathable material. Bonus there was no wedgies or itchy bra straps and hard leather covered the touchy areas but it was the principle. It was the vampire, your weapon, then leather, then just you. Nothing else. Too open. Well, nothing to do about it now.

I looked at myself in the mirror, front view first. It made my hips smaller. I struck a weight lifter pose. Then I turned to the side and arched my back, sucking in my stomach as I looked. Black made me look taller; probably I should make a mental note of that. I wore dark clothes, but never black, until now.

The sword lay on the bed and I turned to pick it up, drawing across my body in an Arthur-pulling-Excalibur-out-of-the-stone sort of way. And there it was. The image I had been trying to picture ever since Willow told me I was the heroine of the people. As I stared at the reflection in the mirror, a Slayer looked back at me. It wasn't because of the suit, or the sword; it was my duty to Slay demons and tonight, I'd do it, instead of running away. A fierce thought suddenly rippled across my mind, leaving a trail of fire in its wake. Would I ever meet the demon that killed my mother? Would I kill it?

Before I could get more philosophical on the subject, Willow arrived at the door, saying Buffy was rounding up the girls. I nodded and followed the witch out to the front lawn, sliding the sword into a small loop as we went.

It was a surprisingly warm for a night in the early weeks of January, but I didn't mind. Frankly, the thought of being cold in this suit was a little unnerving, unwanted shivers showing embarrassing things.

The warm wind blew thick puffs into my face, tossing my hair like a hot air balloon. I stood apart from the rest of the Slayers dressed in the black suits, and spun the sword in my hands. Spike's sharp voice suddenly echoed in my head.

Tighten your grip. One good jab to the forearm and you've got no weapon, sweetheart.

Out of reaction, my hand clenched firmly onto the hand and with a swish, the blade cut a sharp line into a tree trunk. I smiled begrudgingly. I hated it when the jerkface was right.

About five minutes later, Buffy opened the doors and stepped out onto the stone stoop. Willow stood behind her but the stage was completely the Slayer's.

"Regular recon," she said firmly. "Just a sweep and search. You find anything undeadish, you kill it, but only if you're attacked first. For some of you, this might be your first mission, but there's no time for moddy-coddling when today might be your last."

She paused, as if wondering the statement was too harsh then marched forward. Willow followed and the two cut a path through the pool of black clad Slayers. Willow raised her hands, muttered something too low for to be heard and then her hands glowed. She spread them and a blue shimmer appeared from nowhere. It grew to the size of a full-grown man.

"Find your buddy and get ready for battle." Buffy said before raising a blood-red scythe and disappearing through the blue shimmering air.

"Wait, buddy?" I began but like trained soldiers, the Slayers immediately turned to the person next to them and two by twos, they stepped through the blue.

Only Willow was left. "Oh," she said, looking at me, frowning. "Sorry."

I shrugged, trying to swallow the sudden nauseous feeling from the thought of suddenly disappearing to God knows where. Willow saw me staring at the blue with uncertainty.

"It's a short-range portal," she said happily. "Perfectly safe."

"Course it is . . ." I muttered and strode through.

There was the strangest sensation of water being thrown on me and I opened my eyes to the countryside. We stood on a dirt road, leading off to a dark forest, the trees like gates of iron. In the opposite direction, the dirt road went through another grove of trees but beyond that, I saw small lights of a town. Buffy was already walking firmly towards actual metal gates ahead. As my eyes adjusted to the rapidly darkening area, I saw that our large group faced a metal fence, tall bars and concrete ledges, giving the feeling of a jail cell and beyond that, I saw long rows of grass. Above us all a crooked and aged sign read Oak Stone Cemetery.

Buffy kicked the metal lock wrapped around the gate and with a distinct clink, the lock broke and the chain fell to the ground. She pulled back one side of the gate and strode through, a wave of increasing excitement following her wake. Nervously we shifted through the gate and into the cemetery. The last gleams of sunlight finally fell to black in the trees but in the moment night had come, several artificial lights suddenly littered the grounds. The Slayers apparently had been carrying flashlights and as I silently cursed Willow for some how passing over me in the flashlight-handing-out, something heavy knocked my knee. I grabbed it and felt a swift flush of embarrassment skim my cheeks before I pulled out the black flashlight and flicked it on.

Everyone had their flashlights pointed somewhere in Buffy's general direction, illuminating her like gold on royalty. I stuck mine off in the far distance, running the light over tombstones and crypts.

"Find a buddy to check out crypts with. If you want to solo, stay close to the tombstones. Only one vamp can rise from there and shouldn't be too much trouble. But if anything gets too fangy, just blow on the whistle attached to your right shoulder. One good blow and the Calvary's here. Any questions?"

With a nervous, collective shake of the head, Buffy waved us off. There was a moment's pause and the group dispersed, quiet chattering arising as Slayers walked off with their buddies. I readjusted the sword at my hip and took off along the stone path alone.

The first couple of feet into the cemetery was nothing but grass, shrubbery and flowers, all carefully kept and trimmed. However the small tombstones and grave sights further in had ragged patched of grass covering them and weeds spotted here and there. My flashlight dipped across the birth-date and death-date of one such grave. 1801-1867, it read. So maybe these were the older sites. Then as I continued to walk, the grass seemed to grow increasingly until it reached one of the outer crypts, and even then it ran up onto the stone, ivy continuing the climb of the grass.

The grass was cut irregularly, even in some places and not in others and between those patches, crypts sat like immortal houses. The stone path led off in various directions, all of them leading into heavy darkness, and I had a strange sense this cemetery was much larger than I originally thought. I walked along the path, noticing how faint the noises of the other Slayers were becoming. Soon, the grate of my sword against the stone and the crunch of my feet on the gravel were the only sounds to be heard, other than the unseasonal chirp of crickets.

My flashlight flickered from name to name, prayer to prayer, stone to stone, passing over them like a rock skips across water. I walked carefully and trying to be as silent as I could. Spike's sardonic voice kept repeating in my head, possibly twice as annoying because it wouldn't go away.

Walk slower, he'd say. Sense the vampire. He's not going to step out of the bloody shadows and shake your pasty hand, saying "Oh hi. I'm a vampire. Please stake me now."

Shut up, I told myself. It's my first "patrol" as they call it, and I'm going to do it how I damn well feel like.

And for all the action I was seeing tonight, I might have well been patrolling for the Queen of the Ladybugs . . .

With a dejected sigh, I sat down on dilapidated bench, fingering the flashlight in my hands. All dressed up with nothing to kill. Far away I saw the twitching lights of Slayers still patrolling and behind me, there was a buzz of late night insects. I took out my sword and started to push the pebbles around in the path.

Were any of the other Slayers actually finding anything? Did they all find this one crypt where a mother-load of vampires waited, performing a ritual to cause the end of the world and every Slayer in the state-area was having a grand time slaying? I paused in making shadow puppets on a crypt wall. Wow, look at me. Using words like ritual and crypt and slaying, you'd think I'd been at this for years and was a pro, when in fact, I was a bored-as-hell amateur making bunnies on the final resting place of a fellow human.

Was Buffy with the rest of the girls, having a good ol' time? Was Willow watching from somewhere, waiting to swoop down and throw a magical spell here and there if things got hairy? Did Xander (wow, I hadn't thought about him in a while) even go on "recon missions"? And then there was Spike, the image and smug sound of his voice stabbing itself into my brain and exploding, like a beach umbrella suddenly popping open. What was he doing? Probably off sulking about his great loss, or torturing some other unsuspecting Slayer about her "fighting stance". As long as I'd live, I'd never forget that fight I heard between Buffy and him, how much hate seemed to course through the words, anger and hurt and rejection fueling the fire like oil. Jess said they were passionate lovers, and maybe it was a love-hate sort of thing but even so . . . that much hate couldn't be healthy. Maybe that was why Buffy was with Angel, instead of Spike.

Poor bastard, I thought with a shake of my head, my mind replaying snippets and excerpts of the frequent quarrels the pair had. Did Spike really think that shoving me into a light bulb was all right? I'd heal? Or was that something he said to Buffy to shut her up? Why would he lie to his one true love? Why would he hide guilt, if there were such a thing for Spike? Something she said suddenly flickered in my mind.-

Did he ever come visit me? Obviously not when I was awake, else I'd remember but when I was asleep. Did he ever show even the slightest amount of remorse?

I frowned but before I could think on the subject much more, there was a rustle down the path and a grunt. A shadowy body flew into my direction of sight, the thing hurling through the flashlight and slamming into a crypt. A moment later a thin figure leapt onto the light and shoving a stake into its chest, the shadow erupted into dust and Yuri turned to look at me fiercely.

"What the hell are you doing?"


"We found a huge nest in Covent crypt and we need all the help we can get!" She snapped. "Come on!"

She didn't wait for a response before turning and bounding off into the dark. I switched off my flashlight and tore after her, the noise of her boots on stone telling me she wasn't too far ahead. As we leapt over a low wall, I heard the sounds of a large scuffle, all the grunts and growls included, and quickly drew my sword. Yuri was gone, back into the fray, by the time I was right in the thick of the fight. Slayers punched and kicked while their vampires retaliated. Some, both Slayer and undead, were thrown into crypt walls and against stone benches, but they would rise again. Our group originally had been about twenty girls and there must have been at least fifteen here, all with armed-with-fangs opponents. The vampires growled and hissed and the girls returned with a kick to the face or a jab to the gut, occasionally followed by a stake to the heart.

There was a deep growl from behind me and with a sudden grace that was not my own, I ducked and heeled the vampire in the groin. He doubled over in pain and I laid him out flat with a kick to the throat. A buddy of his materialized out of the dark and came at me, this one a bit stronger and a better fighter. With a swift twist-kick, pain shot across my head as its foot connected with my jaw. I stumbled and it raced in further, giving me a sharp punch to the stomach, then another one across the face. The world staggered to the right then left and it was only when I purposefully dodged did my vision right it self and with a block, I kicked low then high and the vampire spun away. Its friend got up and came at me again, snarling furiously.

I drew back the sword and waited for the vampire to screw up first, screw up just enough until I could get my blade right through his neck.

There was barely enough time to breathe after sending the second vampire to the fiery pits of hell before another one appeared from nowhere. This one landed a good punch right in my nose and my head swam for a moment.

"This is a Slayer?" He mocked. "She who what? Moans a lot about a little pain? Please. I've eaten scarier—,"

With a jolt of speed and burst of energy, I leapt and sliced the vampire's head clean off. But yet as the dust dissolved, another shape stood behind it. And this one was distinctly female, with brown hair and innocent eyes. Jess.

I opened my mouth, to fight or to say something that resembled an apology, I wasn't sure but she cut me off with a cross between a nod and a shake of her head. Her eyes were not the eyes of a twenty-something young girl. Jess stared at me with eyes of bright acceptance, a whole and complete understanding. Whether it be life or some great unfathomable mystery, she knew what was to come, and she accepted such a fate.

Then, in the slightest breeze, the look was gone and she was dashing off to help someone else out. I frowned after the girl, the Slayer, before I was knocked to the ground by another vampire. He hissed in my ear and with a shove, he flew off and I charged him, the sword locked behind me. Then a sudden strong hand grabbed my shoulder and threw me against a stone crypt. My head bounced on the stone and a corner cut my side but I clambered to my feet after a moment. Two more were descending upon me, growling like rabid dogs. As I raised my sword and trying to decide which seemed the weaker, a third vampire leapt from the crypt and threw me to the ground. One grabbed my sword and as another went for my arms, my feet kicked and made a resounding crack on the back of the vampire's head. It fell forward and I threw it onto the third vampire, leaping after the one with my sword. After several punches to the face, a kick to the shins and a bone-breaking jab to the ribs, I had my sword back and with a swipe of its blade, the vampire shattered. The other two came back, furious as ever. My eyes locked on the undead, I made my first mistake of the night.

I gulped and had the slightest doubt. Five vampires, back to back. How many more could there be? One leapt and with a quick-step-side, I attacked the other. After several exchanged blows (more than one leaving bruises for tomorrow), that vampire splintered into dust. The other one took a swing for my head and landed it on but with a fierce kick, it stumbled back, clutching its probably broken arm. With a grin I eased forward, ready to make my kill when another vampire appeared. Then as I twitched my focus to the new one, yet another morphed out of the darkness. Then another one. They all took a threatening step forward and I felt my back hit a crypt wall. Staring evil in the face, I wondered if I would die.

Not today. Without looking away, my hands shoved the whistle on my shoulder into my mouth and I blew hard. The vampires screamed, the noise loud but excruciating for the vampires' extra senses. I blew until I had no breath left and waited. The vampires were staggering to their feet again, fury exploding out on their expressions.

Where the hell was the Calvery?

I was going to die. Right here and now. The vampires came closer, growling and smug, moving like the shadows of night. They had formed a tight half-circle around me, cornering me. I wondered if I should even try fighting. Maybe it was already too late to make that decision.

Suddenly, one was suddenly thrown back and in a couple of grunts and groans, two more were thrown back and two were already gone. Buffy stood there, her hair coming down out of its holder and a trail of blood leaking out of her mouth.

"Run!" She ordered and without a second thought, I bolted down the path and saw just how dead we all were.

Vampires ravaged the graveyard, crawling and snarling everywhere. The Slayers were doing their best to keep them from making an all-out buffet but there were just so many, the sheer number much larger than I ever feared. The night was pocketed with sudden screams, either being cut off by self-control or . . . I didn't think of the "or".

In my trance a vampire tackled me to the ground and with a swift kick I managed to keep it away from my neck. It was too close to get a good swing at its neck, so after a punch to throw its weight around, I stabbed the vampire through the stomach. It groaned, pain erupting up its back as I twisted the blade deeper and deeper. I rolled forward and the vampire lay bleeding under me. I stood, ripped out the blade and swung it across the bloated neck of the undead.

"Are you alright?"

Buffy was there again. I nodded and she grabbed my shoulder and shoved me forward.

"I'm aborting this mission," she roared over the hum of the battle. "There's too many. We've got to get out. Tell as many girls as you can and make it to the gates. Hurry!"

I nodded numbly before running off down the dirt path. Things had taken a turn for the worst; I could see that now. Each girl had probably two vamps tailing them as they raced for the exit and in the flickering moonlight and flashlight, I saw lumps on the ground. I stumbled to a halt, my heart suddenly lurching to my throat. Maybe the lumps were vampires knocked unconscious or in too much pain to carry on. Behind me there was a vicious roar above the sounds of scramble and retreat, and a primal fear clawed apart my chest, making water fill my eyes. So I ran.

I ran without turning to help anyone, just simply to save myself. I ran like hell itself was chasing me—

—and fell over something.

As girls raced by me and vampires came after them, I sat in the dirt road staring at the thing I had tripped on. It was a body, female by the curves. Get up and RUN! A voice in my head screamed. But I couldn't do a thing but sit and stare. With a shaking hand, I reached over and pulled the shoulder towards me.

Her eyes more silver and empty than the moon, Jess stared up me, her neck a torn and bloody mess. Brown hair cradled her pale face like a silk shroud and her stake lay limp in her hands. She was dead.

Without another moment's thought, I grabbed one of her arms and threw it around my shoulder, the dead weight unnoticeable. Falling into the mass of girls running, we poured through the gates and tumbled through the portal.

On the other side, it was total and utter chaos. People were running back and forth between the front lawn and the institute, carrying casualties and medical equipment. Other Slayers were whimpering in pain and others walked with a limp. Orders were shouted across the grass and concerned voices bounced back and forth. I had pulled Jess off to where we were out of the majority of the chaos and people ran by without giving us a second glance. Suddenly Buffy flew threw the portal and shouted for Willow to close the damn thing. Immediately the blue shimmer collapsed in on its self.

Her hazel eyes scanned the crowd, as if assessing the damage. Most casualties had been brought in and now the few unharmed remained to pass on their version of the catastrophe. The bedlam had simmered down, now that Buffy was back, but it felt as though we were all teetering on the verge of something very bad. Buffy was frowning and I couldn't tell why. Suddenly she turned and looked directly at me. Her eyes flitted to Jess slumped in my arms.

"Get her to the infirmary." Buffy muttered before moving towards Willow who was talking to a girl who looked on the edge of tears.

"No." I said. Buffy shook her head and threw a furious glare at me.

"This is so not the time to argue—,"

"The infirmary won't do anything." I said sharply. My throat was suddenly and completely dry. "She needs a coffin. She's dead."

Buffy froze and even in the dark moonlight, I could tell she paled.

"Did you try to save her?"

"I tripped over her b—," I caught myself. "I tripped over her as I ran out. It's not like I would leave her there."

Suddenly the dryness in my throat turned into harsh crackling, a sort of bile rising in there. I stared at the spot of blood on Buffy's ear.

"No, of course, you couldn't leave her." Buffy's voice was soft and calm, trying to be comforting but for some reason, the noise was like nails on a chalkboard. "Here. Give her to me and I'll—,"

"NO!" I nearly screamed. The hand hanging around Jess's waist shook slightly. "No," I began again. "Just tell me what to do with her."

Buffy nodded, her hazel eyes oddly glassy. "Take her to Prep Room. In the basement." She started towards Willow and then stopped to look back at me, her mouth open in a way that said she meant to apologize.

"Don't." I hissed, a sharp swell of something burning away the flesh in my chest and throat. "Don't even try to say it."