I kind of feel like I went a little too in depth with the description of the house in this chapter but writing it took a surprising amount of time so I left it in for now. If anyone really wants me to trim off some of the fat I will but until I hear back from you I'll just keep everything the way it is.
Birds were happily chirping and singing close by.
That was the first thing Buffy noticed as she slowly arose into consciousness. She'd always thought it strange that the cute little chirps and whistles were territorial in nature- Get away from that worm. I saw it first! Oh, yeah? Then I'm going to claim this bush. That's my bush! Not anymore it's not. Oh, yeah? Yeah! Oh, yeah? Yeah!
Really not all that different from guys in high school. Not that that meant that it made any more sense but at least it showed that the whole thing must be based upon some kind of universal constant. Maybe that testosterone really did kill brain cells?
Buffy's attention was next caught by the assortment of smells carried over her face by a soft breeze. Lilac bushes in bloom. Roses and other flowery aromas. Fresh-cut grass. Fertilizer. Damp earth. And the wonderful smell of food. Apple pie. Chicken soup. Home-made rolls. Good smells. Yummy smells.
Her stomach growled hungrily and told her brain to get off its lazy duff and get it to the source of those saliva-inducing aromas.
Buffy groaned and slowly stretched. Her limbs and spine popped and snapped with the movement. She sat up, rolling her neck around as she did so.
Finally opening her eyes, Buffy found herself in a small but comfortable room. She was in a queen-sized bed under a Levi patch quilt. The bed stand next to her supported a clock which said 5:47 p.m., two large bouquets of flowers and one plastic cup stuffed with lilac blossoms. The walls were decorated with carefully hand-painted crafts, a small calendar from "Simpson Feed and Fertilizer" with this month's photo showing a line of cute red-and-white calves poking their heads out of their individual pens to gaze curiously in the direction of the camera, and a large framed picture of what Buffy assumed was Jesus healing a blind man.
As Buffy moved to stretch her arms out once more, she looked down to discover that someone had changed her clothes, dressing her in a T-shirt and pajama pants she'd had in her bag. Buffy blushed a little at the realization but quickly looked around the room for the rest of her belongings. Her bag lay next to a wooden chest against the opposite wall. A black leather jacket lay atop the chest.
Buffy rubbed away the sleep from her eyes then climbed out of bed. Her limbs still didn't have their usual strength and she felt a little light-headed, but she thought that a good meal would take care of that.
She hesitated on her way to the door to look in the full-length mirror. 'I look a mess,' she quickly concluded. She was sporting a serious case of bed head. The bandage covering her left hand and wrist only added to the impression that she had plugged herself into an electrical outlet. She'd lost weight, further reducing what curves she had managed to retain after over two years of being the Slayer. No make-up. And she didn't dare check to see how badly she needed a shower.
Quietly, she crossed the floor and opened the door enough to peer out. The bedroom she was in was at the end of a short hallway. A bathroom was located at the end of the hall, immediately to her right. A look through the slightly open door across the hall revealed another bedroom which, judging by the assortment of clothing strewn around the room, the posters liberally plastered to walls and ceiling , and the two unmade twin-size beds, was inhabited by a couple of young teenage girls.
Feeling awkward, having not yet even met her unexpected host, she nevertheless proceeded to use the bathroom. Having saved her bladder from spontaneously exploding, Buffy snagged an elastic from her bag to pull her hair back into some semblance of order before proceeding with her exploration of the house.
Farther down the hall lay a door, which she guessed concealed a third bedroom, and an archway which led into an office/library. A whole wall was dedicated to a fairly impressive collection of books, many of which were held together by duct tape or missing their covers completely. A computer desk and filing cabinet rested between the two windows. A couple of plants hung from the ceiling. Most of the remaining space was filled by an old sofa, a card table, and a set of shelves jammed with board and card games. Someone had left an unfinished game of Monopoly spread out on the floor.
Following the quite murmur of voices, Buffy continued down a short set of stairs into the kitchen. Like the rest of the house she had seen, it had a warm country house feel. Crayola masterpieces decorated the front of the fridge. An Oldies station was playing on the radio. More crafts and hand-painted items were spread throughout the room and hung from the walls. Several potted plants and flowers were scattered around the room and along the window sills. Three crisp apple pies had been set upon a cookie rack to cool, saturating the whole room with their heady aroma. An enormous pot of chicken dumpling soup was bubbling merrily away on the stove top.
Stirring the pot was a woman who could have stepped right out of Buffy's childhood books of fairy tales. The woman was a little on the plump side, with graying hair, red cheeks and laugh lines framing her smile and twinkling brown eyes. She was wearing a T-shirt which boldly proclaimed her to be "The World's Greatest Grandma" and unconsciously tapping her foot in time with the Beetles as she simultaneously prepared dinner and carried on a conversation with the second woman.
The second woman stood at the sink, her back toward the doorway in which Buffy stood, peeling cucumbers into the trash disposal. She was tall and athletic in build. Her auburn hair was fashionably cut short and styled. There was something about the second woman, perhaps a tenseness in her shoulders or the way her head wasn't turning to look at the first woman, that told Buffy that she was already aware of the Slayer's presence.
"Uh, Hi." Buffy finally said.
The shorter woman gave a start, turning to identify the source of the sound. Upon sighting Buffy, she beamed warmly. "You're awake! Wonderful! We were so worried. How are you feeling?"
"Fine, I guess." Buffy shrugged. "A little tired but good. The smell woke me up," she said indicating the culinary delights which decorated the kitchen. "It smells amazing."
As Buffy had suspected, the taller woman didn't seemed at all surprised by Buffy's sudden appearance into their conversation. She carefully set the half-peeled cucumber and the peeler down before turning to face the teen and smiled in greeting. There was something about strange woman's eyes that captured Buffy's attention. An odd distortion of light across the woman's irises like the gleam off of shattered glass. Her pupils were deep, beckoning pools within the surrounding corona of refracted light, wells of darkness which seemed to almost compel your complete and total attention.
Nest had the same eyes, Buffy remembered. As the gangly younger girl had knelt beside Buffy and desperately forced the magic through their shared gaze, despite the agony Buffy had recognized the beauty of the younger girl's eyes. But trembling Nest's gaze did not have the barely-concealed menace which smoldered in this woman's eyes.
Momentarily distracted by the tall woman, it took Buffy a moment to process the shorter woman's continuous babble. "Wait," Buffy cut her off. "Did you say I was asleep for two days? All that stuff with the bus didn't happen last night?"
"No, dear." The stout woman was moving her arms around in short little waving motions, obviously anxious to touch the teenager to reassure herself that Buffy was really all right but trying to restrain from doing so. "You've slept for over-" she cast a glance at a clock on the wall, "forty-two hours. We were so worried. Elizabeth kept telling us that you would be all right, she's had some medical training, you see. She said that you would wake up tonight. If you hadn't, we were going to rush you to a doctor first thing tomorrow morning. What you did, child! That was a very brave thing to do. Matt and Nest told us all about it."
While the grandmotherly woman happily rambled on, Buffy glanced back at the taller woman who she was assuming to be Elizabeth. The woman had moved forward, the same polite smile fixed upon her face. "Angie dear, would you mind if I went to help our young heroine freshen up for dinner while you finish up? Everyone should be home soon and I'm sure that she will want to make a good first impression."
Angie looked surprised but amiably agreed. "Sure thing. There are fresh towels in the cabinet to the left of the sink. She's welcome to whatever she can find." Turning toward Buffy, she went on warmly, "After everything you did to help Matt and poor little Nest, I know that the boys are all going to treat you like royalty. Please, make yourself at home. If there is anything you need, don't hesitate to ask."
"Thank you." Buffy answered with a warm smile of her own.
Elizabeth motioned for Buffy to lead the way back towards the stairs.
"How are you feeling?" Elizabeth quietly repeated the same question as they moved up the stairs.
Buffy threw her a quick look over her shoulder. "Fine, like I said. Hungry. Still a little thrown by the whole Rip Van Winkle thing. But good."
"Good." The woman sounded slightly distracted, as if only half-listening to Buffy's response. "We were concerned that there might be… complications."
"Complications?" Buffy repeated suspiciously.
Elizabeth used her eyes to indicate back toward the direction of the kitchen in a warning gesture that they could still be overheard. "With any type of severe injury there is a risk of something going wrong- an infection developing, a certain organ or system not bouncing back as it should. We just want to be careful to take all of the necessary precautions."
By this time they had reached the end of the hallway. Buffy regarded her tall companion carefully for a moment before grudgingly nodding in acceptance of the current situation.
By unspoken consent, Buffy moved into her room to collect a spare change of clothing and a few toiletries from her belongings while Elizabeth entered the bathroom to lay out a fresh towel, washcloth and bar of soap.
When Buffy entered the bathroom, she found Elizabeth gazing vacantly into the mirror, the shower already running. "Please, shut the door," the woman quietly said.
"Okay." Buffy raised an eyebrow but did so. "What's with the cloak-and-dagger?"
Piercing grey eyes turned to regard her carefully. "I'm afraid we don't have much time right now. There will be time later to answer more of your questions. For right now, we'll try to stick to the basics." She ticked the points off on her fingers, obviously having planned this conversation beforehand. "Todd and Angie Fields- the family you're staying with- don't know anything about magic or the supernatural world. As you saw, their son, Matthew, does. The Fields believed that Nest was coming here, at least in part, to avoid her father- a dangerous, abusive and extremely powerful man. They therefore attribute the attack on the bus to actions taken by her father."
"And was he responsible?" Buffy interrupted.
Elizabeth's eyes narrowed slightly. "Why do you say that?"
"I don't know." Buffy shrugged, taking a gamble. "It was pretty obvious that all A-positive snacks aside, Nest was the one they were after. If you've got that many vamps going after one person plus her little guard dog plus the kind of magic she was throwing around, well, I'm guessing Big Daddy isn't your everyday Mafia Don."
The dark-haired woman regarded her silently for a long moment through the steam-filled air. "Are you willing to drop this until later when we'll have more time to discuss this in private?"
Buffy met her gaze squarely. "Are you willing to tell me the truth or just stalling in order to come up with a more convincing story?"
A faint smile touched the older woman's lips, the first real smile that Buffy had seen her wear. "I'll tell you everything you need to know."
Buffy decided that was probably as good as she was going to get. "Deal," she chirped in her best Valley-girl voice. "Now going back to the cover story, what wonderful feat exactly am I supposed to have done?"
"You foiled an attempt to kidnap Nest and rallied the rest of the passengers to fight off a bunch of knife-wielding cultists." There was a gleam of amusement in Elizabeth's eyes.
"I… rallied?" Buffy repeated, dumbfounded. "Knife-wielding cultists? Not gangs on P.C.P.?"
Elizabeth blinked. "P.C.P.? Surely no one could really believe that…" she trailed off as she saw the look on Buffy's face. "P.C.P.? Really?"
"Afraid so," the Slayer confirmed. "And packs of wild dogs, natural gas leaks, food poisoning, mass hysteria… It's a long list."
The older woman spent a moment trying to digest that. "The human mind is a fascinating and extremely scary place."
"Amen to that."
A look of mutual understanding was exchanged before Elizabeth slid out the door.