A/N: Although the events portrayed in this story did occur, I am by no means a historian. The information I used was garnered from various online sources. Eventually, when the issues are presented, remember that they are being told from a protester's perspective. I am not attempting to use this story as a means of advocating my own personal political views. On a more practical level, there are eight parts to this ficlet in total. I know I had a longer piece promised first, but this wouldn't get out of my head. Still, though, the longer piece – The Price We Pay for Love – is over half finished and eventually will be posted. Promise. Finally, you all know what I'm going to say next: enjoy!

~Charlynn~

Storm Clouds Gathering

Part One

Buffy Anne Summers was a creature of habit. She knew it, her family knew it, and so did her friends. Whether such a trait was good or not, she had yet to determine, but she was resigned to it. Used to it. Comfortable with it.

So, that was why it didn't bother her that she ate the same breakfast every morning – a partially ripe banana for the potassium (if the banana had a single brown spot, it was shoved to the back of the fridge and eventually turned into banana bread no matter how crampy her legs felt), dry Honey Nut Cheeriors, and enough orange juice to float a small cruise ship. While she ate, she read the paper, a habit she formed from years of dining with her dad. It didn't matter how tired she was or how busy her day looked to be, she always made time for food and features before leaving her apartment.

So, that was also why, when she took a shower every night, her pattern of repetitious behavior never deviated. First, she wet her hair. Then she would shampoo and rinse thoroughly. With long, thick locks, a girl could never be too sure when it came to her fight against pesky dandruff. Following a tedious cleansing, she'd soak just the ends of her hair, that which did not touch her scalp, with thick, creamy conditioner, leaving it to sit while she shaved. Once her various, shave-able body parts were baby soft and kissable smooth, she'd rinse our her conditioner, lather up her loofa, and scrub her body clean. Flood conditions or drought, Buffy's showers always took, at least, a half an hour.

And that was also why she always went home for the holidays. Fall break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, Easter, and, of course, Summer break, it didn't matter. Fashionable or not, she wasn't the type of girl to run off with her friends and leave her family dangling in the wind. Her dedication to her family didn't stem from a deep-seeded obligation or a fear of her parents passing soon. Rather, Giles and Joyce Summers were both understanding and young. If the idea alone wouldn't send her into apoplectic shock, she'd even say that they were cool, but such a compliment could pass from no daughter's lips. If she had wanted to skip the Summers' family traditions in favor of studying or living it up in the Caribbean or Mexico, they would have been fine with such a decision – saddened that they wouldn't see her but fine. However, that wasn't her style. Breaks from school meant time at home, no matter how unpopular that idea was with her other fellow students.

Except, for the first time in her life, Buffy wasn't spending a holiday with mom, pop, and kid sister, too. At the beseeching, begging, pleading, near threatening of bodily harm by her best friend Willow, she had agreed to forfeit a trip home for Thanksgiving in favor of remaining on campus and then taking the bus up to Seattle for a short, non-touristy trip. Instead of turkey, tryptophan, and touchdowns, she was going protesting, no doubt, knowing Seattle's less than pleasant in her Southern California beach bum girl mind, in the rain.

Stepping off the Greyhound bus which had carried her from Corvallis, Oregon to the Emerald City, Buffy looked to the gray, overcast sky, frowning silently. Whereas she should have been soaking up the late November rays back in the Dale of Sunny, she was, instead, battening down the hatches for what looked like one hell of a storm. The clouds above were rumbling and grumbling, rolling into each other with ferocious intent, and the wind whistled petulantly between the various buildings surrounding her, seemingly angry to be trapped there as well. After her long trip on a none-to-comfortable bus, all she wanted to do was eat something warm, curl up, and go to sleep. In her opinion, November 30th couldn't come and go fast enough.

But Buffy knew the protest was important to her best friend, so, before Willow could see her unhappy and less than enthused countenance, Buffy rolled her shoulders back, smiled brightly, and took off in search of her backpack. It was easy to find. After all, most travelers used suitcases, but she was roughing it that night. No hotel. No running water. So, there was no need for the usual accouterments one traditionally took with them when on a trip.

However, that didn't mean that her pack wasn't heavy. Hoisting it onto her back and nearly stumbling from the weight, Buffy quickly righted herself once more before setting out of the terminal. By the time she made it to the waiting area, she was already tired, and she didn't even want to think about how sore her back would be after lugging around with her such a big bag throughout a city the size of Seattle. But she shouldn't have been worried. Unlike her, Willow was more of a free spirit. She didn't have a plan for everything. Rather, she took life as it came to her, usually moving around at warp speed in order to do everything she wanted to.

Whereas Buffy was still unsure what her life would someday be, choosing to simply take liberal studies at OSU where she and her best friend attended college together, Willow Rosenberg was determined to make a difference in the world. She was going to be a lawyer, and a damn good one, too, and she was going to fight for the downtrodden, the abused, those who were taken advantage of and they didn't even know it. She was an activist who fought the good fight on the behalf of every single cause Buffy could think of. Human, animal, plant, if it was considered living, Willow wanted to serve and protect it. It was honorable, but, when Buffy was completely honest with herself, it was exhausting as well.

Even though she admired her best friend, she also didn't understand Willow's fervent opinions. They were only twenty-one, and, in Buffy's mind, they didn't know enough about the world to be capable of fixing it. Democrat or Republican? Liberal of Conservative? City or Country? Introvert or Extrovert? House or Apartment? White wine or Red? While she was still trying to figure out the small and, sometimes, the not so small stuff, Willow didn't stop long enough to even think about what she wanted from her own life; she was too focused upon others.

However, after years of watching Willow strive to make the world a better place for everyone and everything, she had finally accepted an invitation to join her friend. Even though she didn't think one protest would turn her into a bleeding heart, she did want to see what all the fuss was about, and she really did agree with some of Willow's ideals and views. In a few months, they'd both be graduating from college. Willow would be going off to law school, and Buffy would be going home to Southern California to get a job and enter graduate school part time. In a few months, they'd be best friends who lived hundreds of miles away from each other. If she ever wanted to truly know Willow, she had to take the chance while she could. With the distance that would soon be separating them, she didn't want confusion and misunderstanding to reside between them as well. While she harbored no expectations of suddenly finding herself and modeling her life after Willow's, she wanted to see what all her best friend's passion was about just once before she went back to her regularly scheduled Buffy programming.

Her family had been great about her decision. Dawn, her younger sister, was psyched that she'd have the house, their parents' attention, and their mother's credit card all to herself that Thanksgiving. Although Buffy had harbored no illusions when it came to her relationship with her sister, even she had been surprised by Dawn's sheer elation at Buffy's pass to the always outstanding Thanksgiving invite. On the other hand, both her mom and her dad had been saddened by the news but supportive, her mom giving her packing tips and her dad talking her through the various issues surrounding the planned World Trade Organization Protests.

So, there she was in a bus station on November 29th, 1999 – twenty-one, a stranger in an unknown, unfamiliar city, and completely alone. Sitting down in an uncomfortable, plastic chair, Buffy found herself wondering what her family was doing at that moment. Were they still recovering from their Thanksgiving gorging, or were they working their way through the left overs? Were they missing her, thinking about her like she was missing and thinking about them or distracted by what was no doubt their better weather and their Christmas season preparations? One thing she didn't have to question was their sense of belonging. Whereas she felt like a fish out of water, they would be entirely at home.

It wasn't so much that Buffy didn't like going to new and different places, because she did. For her, traveling was fun but only if she was in control of the situation – if she had a concrete plan, transportation and lodging prearranged, enough money or a credit card with a moderate limit in her pocket to get her through any unforeseen emergency. But Willow had been adamant that she should only bring enough money to survive, money for cheap food and bottles of water, and there'd be no taxis or hotels for her that night. Instead, she'd be walking through Seattle and sleeping in a foldaway tent that was stuffed into her oversized and overflowing back pack.

To make matters worse, she didn't even feel comfortable in her own skin. Buffy was used to cute tops and skirts, designer jeans and crisp, white t-shirts that showed off her California glow. She wore sandals and let her long hair hang loose. Her nails were always painted, and she didn't leave the house without, at least, a light sprinkling of makeup on her face. But Washington weather called for more clothes, heavier clothes, bulkier clothes, so the beach bum saw herself parading around in old, worn jeans, rain boots, a thick sweater, and a slicker... with a hood. Her hair was piled high up on her head, her nails were unpolished, and makeup was a foreign concept. She felt... unfamiliar, like a stranger, and, for a girl who liked the routine, who enjoyed the comforts of the known, such a sensation was off-putting.

Time ticked by, the afternoon seemed to ooze by her as she waited for her best friend to arrive. Willow had promised to meet her at the bus station, but, so far, Buffy had spotted no recognizable redhead walking in her direction. Every time she thought she spotted her friend, it turned out to be yet another stranger, and, with each misidentification, her spirits plummeted even lower. Her forced, prepared smile wilted, the frown she had first stepped onto Seattle soil with became deeper, more pronounced, and her shoulder slumped. Eventually giving up, she hefted her bag onto her back once more and set out on her own.

At least, she knew where she was supposed to go. Everyone who followed the news was aware that the World Trade Organization's meetings and, subsequently, the protests pertaining to them were taking place at Seattle's Convention and Trade Center. It was located downtown, just as the Greyhound station was, but Buffy didn't know how far away the two locations were from each other or in what direction she would have to travel in to meet up with her best friend and fellow marchers.

By the time she stepped out onto the sidewalk, she was berating herself for not bringing a map with her or, at least, doing a little bit of research, but Willow had promised, and she had trusted her friend. After all, why shouldn't she have? It had been Willow's idea for her to go to Seattle, Willow's participation that had really made her sit up and take notice of the planned protest, Willow's invitation that had led her to skip Thanksgiving with her family and do something so completely out of her comfort zone. And, now, breaking her promise, Willow wasn't there.

Looking left and right, Buffy contemplated which way to go on Eighth Avenue. Or should she, instead, cross the road and then move up Stewart? "Eeny meeny miny mo, if Willow's not dead, I'm going to break her big toe." She settled for left, turned, and entered the thick, bustling foot traffic of rush hour.

Hundreds of people surrounded her, all of them going to or from someplace with a destination in mind and knowledge of how to get there. They were traveling solo, or in pairs, and sometimes she would even come across a large, boisterous group. Some people were shopping, some were on their way to dinner, and others were, no doubt, just trying to get home. While their enthusiasm gave her weary shoulders energy, they also made her feel even more lost in the alien city. Unlike her, everyone else seemed to have a plan. It was with that thought that she sighed, contemplated turning around and just going back to the bus station to await her return trip back to Oregon the next evening.

And that's when the storm clouds opened up, and it started to rain.

Without thought, she ran towards the first shop, stepping inside the small cafe, the sound of water bullets following her only to slap futilely against the glass of the coffee house's windows. Inside, the air was warm, and inviting, and it made her realize just how cold and hungry she really was. Outside, the wind and gloom of an approaching gale had been distracting, muting all other thoughts and realities. Now, though, her discomfort was given an opportunity to take center stage, and, boy, did it ever take advantage of such an offer.

Approaching the cafe's counter, Buffy dug through her purse until she found the picture she sought. It was a snapshot of she and Willow taken just a few weeks prior after her best friend chopped off her long hair into a chic and stylish bob. Presenting the barista with the photo, she asked, "you haven't, by chance, seen this girl, have you? She's here for the protest, and I know she's been staying nearby. I just thought that maybe...."

The older woman laughed. "Honey, do you have any idea what you're getting yourself into? Thousands of people are here for the protests. You're looking for a needle in a haystack, and, unfortunately for you, I'm not a pitchfork." When Buffy opened her mouth to thank the woman anyway, she was stopped, interrupted. "Now, why don't you go into the back, change out of those wet clothes, and, while you're gone, I'll fix you a nice cup of hot cocoa... on the house. We usually don't allow customers back there, but, seeing as how you're not buying...." Winking, the barista added, "plus, while you're back there, I'll see what I can do about finding someone to help you locate your friend."

Before she could protest or even ask what was meant by such a comment, the friendly stranger shooed her off, literally making the noise and gesturing for Buffy to leave. Perhaps the suggestion was simply too tempting to pass up, or maybe she was too used to obeying commands set forth by her elders, but, whatever the reason, Buffy did as she was told, and, by the time she returned to the front of the store - dry, refreshed, and spirits slightly uplifted, she was glad that she had. Crossing to the cafe's counter, she picked up her steaming mug of hot chocolate, the first genuine smile of the day tickling the corners of her mouth.

"Aren't you just the cutest thing in galoshes," the woman complimented. Glancing at the barista's uniform, Buffy saw that her name was Karen. "Now, see that handsome gentleman behind you?" Turning dutifully, she glanced at the man mentioned, but she already knew whom the older woman was talking about. A drowned rat and miserable, she had still noticed him earlier when she had first stepped into the shop. "Go over there and talk to him. If anyone should be able to help you find your friend in that ever expanding throng of protesters, it'll be Officer Kelly." Lowering her voice, she confided, "plus, just between us girls, he's nice to look at, too. While it's raining outside, Liam Kelly will bring a spot of sunshine to any woman's day."

"Oh, well, I'm just in town for a day, so..."

"I never said you had to marry the man, honey," Karen teased her. "I just said you should have dinner with him."

"Dinner," Buffy questioned. Cocoa? Okay. A little conversation? She could handle that. Asking him – a cop – to help her find Willow? Sure... if he didn't mind and didn't already have plans. But dinner? No one said anything about dinner. Dinner meant food, and food meant a date... at least that was always what her mother had told her growing up.

"He insisted," Karen informed her. "And I already sent the order to the kitchen, so there's no use in arguing. If you don't eat it, it'll just go to waste, and Officer Kelly will be out of his money. You wouldn't want to do that now, wouldn't you?"

Without waiting for an answer, the bossy yet sweet woman disappeared, and Buffy had no choice but to go over to the table where the delectable cop sat eating his own meal and reading the paper. As she sat down, he put his newspaper away, folding it and sliding it to the side. Their gazes met, he lifted his mug to take a sip of his coffee, and her previous, hint of a grin turned into a dazzling, full fledged smile.

"Do you make a habit of befriending every woman lost in Seattle?"

"No," he answered softly. His voice was just loud enough so that only the two of them could hear what he said. Despite the fact that she didn't know him, Buffy liked the intimacy she felt in that moment. "And who said I wanted to be your friend?"

Before she could respond, a smirking Karen delivered her plate of food.

!!!

He was exhausted, uncomfortable in his borrowed pair of clean scrubs, and unshaven, but none of that mattered. Clutching the hand of the woman lying prone on the bed before him, Angel thought back over the past twenty-four hours, wondering, if anything, what he could have done differently to make sure that none of their current mess would have happened. He wasn't foolish enough to think he could have stopped the protest or kept everyone safe, but could his actions or maybe even his lack of actions somehow have protected just one person from the horrors of that day?

If the woman before him didn't make it, he'd forever regret helping Buffy Anne Summers find her friend.