'Buffy and the 7 Scoobies

(well, 3 actually, unless you count Giles, Andrew, Angel and Spike, but they were really Scoobies at heart, weren't they?)'

Or 'True Love's Kiss'

A/N: My first published fanfic EVER! This is set after 'Chosen' because I have not read any of Season 8 as I am not sure I want to go there. At some point I will but I am a little afraid of what Joss has done to the Buffy universe, much as I love him! So some things are definitely AU. I know a little about the canon version of Buffy being in Italy. I am choosing to ignore it. In my story, it IS Buffy there!

Disclaimer: Don't own anything though I would like to be Joss Whedon in my next life because he is a genius.

Chapter 1

Giles was enjoying the sight of a wintry sunset, where the soft oranges and rosy pinks of the sky were, for once, unconcealed by the habitual grey clouds of a country where rain was an ever-present topic of conversation. He did rather miss the constant sunshine of California. However, he was perfectly happy to put up with excessive precipitation due to the fact that he could view the weather through his own window in the English countryside and he was not, for once, facing an imminent apocalypse. Yes, that was a splendid thought.

How marvellous it was to be able to take advantage of the free time he had (due to the unusual inactivity on the part of the forces of evil) to spend some time helping to set up a new Watcher's Council. The coven was involved, as were the few remaining Watchers. After Willow's magnificent spell there were now so many 'Slayers' that there was a crying need for new Watchers. All those girls with Slayer powers were a wonderful gift to the world, but they needed training ... badly. Most of them had no idea what they were capable of, and all that uncontrolled power could be dangerous. The last thing they needed was a rogue Slayer. Images of Faith when she had 'chosen to play for the wrong team' flashed through his mind. He shivered slightly. Yes, he definitely needed to focus on increasing the ranks of the Watchers. Thank the Lord that he had no other pressing issues to deal with.

'Da da da dum.' The dramatic notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony suddenly rang out. Xander had, unbeknownst to him, changed the ring tone of his mobile phone (dreadful invention but unfortunately necessary these days) and he had been unable to alter it to something less embarrassingly attention-seeking. Well, he would just deal with this call, and then it would be pleasant to have a spot of tea.

He answered his phone.

It was Willow.

A few minutes later he put the phone down, very carefully, as if it might explode with the force of the news it had carried. The tea, the training, everything; it would all have to wait.

Buffy was extremely irritated. 'Die,... damn... you! I... need... my... beauty... sleep!' Each word was punctuated by the blows she was landing on the particularly hideous demon she was currently fighting. 'I have a breakfast date with the Immortal tomorrow - I should be home dreaming of that!' But this demon seemed to be tireless; not really powerful but with amazing stamina. Buffy was not exactly worried; after all, what was one demon compared to the hordes of √úbervamps she had faced and, anyway, hadn't she done this all a million times before?

Yet the demon, a putridly stinky green scaly thing with way too many teeth and more limbs than you would think any sensible creature would want or use, kept coming at her. Whatever hits she got in, it did not seem to want to give up. 'Right, enough's enough. It takes a lot longer to make my hair look perfect than anyone realises! I need to end this now and go to sleep so I can get up early!'

She looked around hurriedly for something sharp to cut the green and nasty's head off. Funnily enough, as she was in a small park on the outskirts of a large Italian city, surrounded by just trees and flowers, there did not seem to be anything handy.

What had possessed her to come out in the middle of the night and not bring any weapons? But patrolling had not really been on her mind. After being woken up by a weird dream, and unable to get back to sleep, a 3am walk had seemed a good idea. Well, that was also a tad bizarre - she was not exactly hiking girl and a middle of the night assault on the refrigerator would have made more sense. When she went walking, it was usually to thin the ranks of the bad guys, not to admire roses in the moonlight, especially in the winter, when the roses were nothing but thorny twigs.

While wandering around the park, not sure why she had come, she suddenly heard a scream. Sprinting through a small stand of trees, she came across a very strange sight in a park in the middle of a cold winter's night. A little old lady, dressed in black, with a lacy shawl around her shoulders and what looked like a white cap on her head, was backed against a large, leafless tree. In front of her was a demon, who was reaching out to her with its several arms, about to grab her. Buffy launched herself at the demon, yelling to the woman to get out of the way. Even though she spoke in English, the lady seemed to know what she meant and ran off to the side. After that, Buffy forgot about her as she fought with the monster, who was proving to be a pretty tough opponent.

She was getting really exasperated as punch after punch seemed to have no effect on the demon. It whimpered, seemingly in pain, but it kept coming back. It rarely managed to touch Buffy and when it did, the force of the blows was pretty pathetic for a large, seven foot creature from the underworld. Yet, the bloody thing will not die. She faltered a little; why did she keep using that word, that 'bloody' English word? Another little reminder of the blond vamp whom her psyche would not let her forget. Damn it, this was so not the time to be thinking of that or him. Either deal with this creature or run away (sorry, make a strategic withdrawal, as Giles would put it), grabbing the old lady on the way. Okay, she really was not concentrating; what the hell was wrong with her?

Well, that was a question she had been asking herself for a while. Here she was in a fabulous country, with a great boyfriend and a life where the burden of being the Slayer was now shared by many others. She actually had a life, for once, where dates and shopping and manicures were allowed. She was helping the Italian Watchers Council and doing some patrolling. In a while she was going to help Giles train some new Slayers. Things were relatively calm and peaceful. She should be over the moon and having the best time, yet...

'You're bored, pet' said a little voice in her head. Funny how that faintly mocking voice happened to have a sexy English accent. Why was she still thinking about him, why was he still part of her inner life?

'Ow!' One of the demon's long, needle-like, dirty brown claws scratched her arm. It was a small mark and hardly bled, but it burned like acid, just for a split second. 'Right, this is ridiculous. Time to get serious. You're going to DIE!'

Buffy turned, ran to the nearest tree and pulled off a low hanging branch. Before the demon could react, she stabbed it through the chest with the sharp end of the wood. For a moment, the monster looked surprised, and then it collapsed, slowly dissolving into a revolting, steaming pile of green goo, some of which touched Buffy's shoe. 'Yuck. That's truly gross, and I've seen a lot of gross things in my time.'

'How can I ever thank you, my dear? You saved my life.' Buffy spun around in shock. She had forgotten that there was someone else there.

The moon was bright and Buffy could see her clearly. The old lady was tiny and looked like an illustration from a children's book of the perfect grandmother. She had snowy white hair under the delicate lacy cap, a smiley face, with rosy apple cheeks and that perfect peaches and cream complexion with tiny little lines, which some old people are lucky enough to have. Her bright green eyes glittered behind a pair of small, silver rimmed glasses. She wore a long black dress, fitted at the waist, with a beautiful black shawl around her shoulders. Yes, a walking grandma doll who spoke perfect English with the merest hint of some kind of European accent.

'It was nothing. I'm glad I was here to help. But why on earth were you out here so late? It seems a dangerous thing to do in a city this size.'

'Well, dear. It was my cat, Lion. He's very naughty and likes to stay out all night but I worry about him in this weather. And you hear strange things about this park. Other people have lost their pets recently and so I was looking for him.'

'That was brave of you, but maybe you should go home now. I'll have a look around and make sure the place is safe. Perhaps I'll find him. Or do you want me to walk you home?'

'Thank you, that would be very kind of you. But you're very strong for such a small girl. How did you manage to defeat that creature? And what was it?'

'I don't know. Best not to worry about that. Let's get you home.'

And so they made their way out of the park, with the old lady calling out 'Lion, my Evelion, where are you?' every so often, but to no avail. At the other end of the park, they went through a gate and down a thickly wooded path. She and Dawn had walked through this park many times but she had never noticed the ancient wrought iron gate before. That was odd. What was also weird was that there was a nameplate on the gate, 'Briar Rose Villa'. Why was it in English? Well, no point thinking about it now; she really wanted to see the old dear home and then get back to her bed.

After a few minutes they arrived at a tiny but exquisite villa, thickly overgrown with vines and climbing plants. It would be a riot of colour and fragrance in the summer and even now it was stunningly beautiful. They went down a short path made of worn flagstones to the ornately carved front door. The old lady pulled out a fantastically shaped iron key and let them into the house. Inside, the place was full of moonlight glinting off marble and wood, off gleaming metal and luxurious fabrics. Everything seemed antique and yet in perfect condition. There was a faint smell of lavender and beeswax, with a strange musky note underneath.

'You have a beautiful home.'

'Thank you, dear child. Can I get you something to drink, or would you like to freshen up? You must be exhausted after your fight with that horrible thing. Some tea would be nice.'

Well, the night was getting more and more surreal. Shouldn't Grandma here be a little more traumatised or curious? She had just had an encounter with a hideous demon and a small American blonde with super strength. Yet here she was offering refreshments and they were exchanging polite small talk! Buffy had a vision of herself sipping tea out of a fabulously delicate bone china teacup, sitting on a red velvet cushion in a chair that really belonged in a museum, while she was covered in sweat and demon slime.

'That's very kind of you, but I really need to get home. I hope you find your cat.' Buffy turned to leave, but the lady stopped her.

'Just a moment, I want to give you something to say thank you. It's not much but they do come from my own garden.'

She disappeared through a door at the back of the shadowy hall, returning in a minute with a brown paper bag. The most mouth-watering smell was coming from it. Buffy took it, murmuring 'Thank you' and went out of the front door.

As she got to the gate she turned. The old lady was at the front door waving to her with a white frothy something, a handkerchief probably, in her hand. The moonlight was reflected in her spectacles, making her eyes glitter like some large insect. Buffy frowned. She was an adorable old dear, so why would the insect image come to mind? 'I really need some sleep'. Buffy started to walk back to the park but something made her pick up her feet and sprint the rest of the way home.

When she got inside the apartment, she decided to have a quick shower to wash the smell of battle off her body. Finally, wrapped in a fluffy robe, in clean pjs, she went to the kitchen. The bag was on the table where she had left it. She sat down and carefully opened it.

Inside was a selection of the most gorgeous looking fruit she had ever seen. From her own garden, the lady had said. How had she managed that in the middle of winter? Plump, juicy grapes, a couple of luscious peaches that looked like an illustration from a magazine, some sunset orange, smooth-skinned apricots and, at the bottom of the bag, the most perfect apple - round, bright red, with blemish-free shiny skin and smelling like heaven. It was the appleist apple she had ever seen. Without thinking, her mouth watering, she sank her teeth into it.

'Buuuffffffy! Why didn't you wake me up? I am sooooo late. You know Antonia's picking me up at 9 so we can go to that shoe sale! Buffy! Where are you? Dawn came rampaging out of her bedroom. Buffy had promised to wake her early. There was every chance that Antonia's superhot brother Marco would be giving them a ride, and she needed time to make herself look as cute as possible. Anyway, in Italy, jeans, t-shirt and sneakers would not do. All the teenagers looked like something out of a Gap advert and she was not about to look like some hick from the sticks so she needed TIME to get ready. 'Buffy! Where are y...'

Her words died away as she rushed into the kitchen and saw Buffy, slumped at the table, head down. 'What on earth are you doing?' She shook Buffy by the shoulder, with increasing violence as she got no response.

Then she saw Buffy's face. It was as white as snow, as milk, as marble, as anything else that you could think of which is that deadly pale colour, with no hint of pink, no hint of life. Her lips, on the other hand, were bright crimson red, a colour Buffy rarely wore. Dawn felt a tingling in her head, her fingers, her spine. She suddenly whipped round, convinced that there would be something behind her, but the kitchen was empty. Turning back to Buffy, she noticed something else.

Buffy's head was surrounded by decomposing fruit; there were shrivelled up grapes, peaches that had mushy looking patches of decay on them, slimy orangey things that could have been anything and an apple, with a bite taken out of it that showed the rotten brown flesh inside.

What was going on? 'Buffy! Buffy!'

Five minutes later she was panicking. Buffy was still breathing. Dawn had done something she had seen in movies but had not really believed would work - held a small mirror near Buffy's mouth. Amazingly, there had been condensation on the mirror so Dawn had decided that at least Buffy was still alive. But nothing had woken her up - shouting, water on the face, slapping her, tickling her - nothing.

When the doorbell rang, Dawn jumped out of her skin, but then she realised. Antonia! Please let her dad or mom be with her; someone to take charge, to be responsible. As she pulled open the door, her heart sank when she only saw her friend. 'Quick, we have to do something!' She pulled her friend inside and dragged her to the kitchen. 'What is this? Is she sleeping? Maybe she is drinking yesterday?' 'No!... I don't know, but I can't wake her up!'

Looking at Antonia's wide-eyed, scared face, Dawn realised that she had to stop behaving like a hysterical teenager and start taking action. After all, she had fought demons, vampires, apocalypses, God knows what else, so she should be able to deal with a catatonic sister. Dawn took a deep breath, pulled her shoulders back and said, 'Right, we need to call a doctor.'

Author's note: Any reviews would be greatly appreciated.