Dedicated to Amy, with love.
Giles is giving me that look. I know that look. I fear that look. The last time he gave me that look, I had to actually do homework. Eeeeeuuugh.
And he's doing the glasses thing. Very bad.
"Yes, Giles?" Act normal and maybe nothing bad will happen. Act normal and maybe nothing bad will happen.
"There's...ah..." He points vaguely behind me. I start to turn. Act normal and nothing bad will happen. Act normal and nothing bad will happen. Act normal and--
--something terrible will happen.
"Buffy Summers. Just the malcontent I was looking for." Where does he get those adjectives for me, anyway? Is he hiding a thesaurus under those ears?
"Hello, uh, sir, uh...hello." Giles is sneaking off. Traitor.
"Come with me, Summers. I have a new experience for you."
"So, uh..." Not his office, we're heading the wrong direction. Not the detention room, okay. Boy, this is a long hallway. "What exactly is this new and wondrous experience?"
"Well, of course anything you propose would be wondrous." Ack, it's The Snyder Look. "Or...something."
"It's in the faculty room."
"Oh." Are they doing group expulsions nowadays? "I see."
"I wish I did." I didn't think you could get much more into muttering than his usual, but he's definitely muttery. "I think it's stupidity, anyway. All of it. Poppycock, absurdity. New Age-ness. Liberality." He might as well have said Satanic. "It's something the late...somewhat lamented Principal Flutie would have done. A *Bob* thing," he says with a sneer.
This is flinchworthy. Combining the worst of Principal Flutie and the worst (or anything) of Principal Snyder...maybe if I beg really hard my old school will let me back in. Like, now. I start commanding my brain to command my legs to get me the hell out of there!, but before I get through commanding, Snyder shoves me through the door.
What are all these other kids doing here? I thought he went in for private torture lately. But from the looks on their faces, he's taking torture any way he can get it these days. I know a couple of the six or seven kids here, and they're fairly decent kids. Unlike me...well, you know what I mean. Non-druggies. Or fighties. Or Slayies. So what's this idiot up to?
"This is Buffy," Snyder says loudly--*and* unnecessarily--and propels me towards the one adult in the area, a kindergarten-teacher-looking woman with huge glasses. "Participate," he warns me, and then he's gone.
"Hi, Buffy," the lady says. She sounds waaay too sweet for me.
"Hi. Um, I'm not really--"
"Welcome to our group."
"I don't think I really--"
"We're so glad to have you here." Everyone nods listlessly.
"But I'm sure I shouldn't--"
"Won't you sit down and share?"
"Uh, share?" Like what? Fashion tips?
Ahhh, I'm in a chair. And looking at everyone. Who's looking a lot at me. Ahhh. Ahhh. Help!
It's an abuse survivors group. Ohhh. Duh. I guess. They seem to think that because of that whole, you know...thing, with, you know...Ted...that I want to, you know...share. Except I don't. Really. "I destroyed a Bluebeard-imitating, software-selling robot" isn't the kind of thing you share a lot. Or ever.
I guess it doesn't hurt to listen, though. There might be a quiz on this later, right?
There's a boy across from me--I didn't think boys did stuff like this--telling us about his dad, who, I guess, doesn't hit him very much (the way he says it is totally wiggy) but yells at him a lot. I don't really--maybe it's just that people usually tell me I'm a waste of space, but I have this whole secret identity thing going. So it doesn't bug me nearly as much. This kid, though, is hurting a lot.
"He just...everything he says is worth everything." I hope he doesn't cry. "And I'm totally not important. If I make a joke and he doesn't get it, he screams at me for being mean, but he can call me an idiot and a selfish brat and that's okay. And if I get upset, he laughs and says 'I was just giving you a hard time' or he gets mad at me and screams more."
That's terrible! How can somebody say something like that! He's just a kid! Okay, he's older than me, but I'm just a kid, and he's...look, dads aren't supposed to say that. My dad would never say that. The only time he did...but that was a nightmare.
The girl next to him...um, Jeri, she's in my soc class...she says that her stepdad starts out with yelling and then goes to hitting all the time. Or, well, she says he used to, but she keeps slipping up and saying "does" instead of "did." "It was so scary, one time," she says quietly. "Because I really thought he would kill me. I really did. And he told me over and over that no one will care if I die, no one wants me anyway, everyone will be glad..." I'm almost glad when she dissolves into major tears. I don't want her to cry, but I really don't want to hear anymore. Because I don't want to cry. She must have been so scared! And it was like, he had all the control. He was the dad, you know? I wish I knew her better so I could go hug her.
The lady that runs it is called Ms. Ellen, and she's really nice, but not sappy like I thought she would be. When nobody else wants to "share," she doesn't make us. And she never says that the people who talk are wrong, which is nice in a grownup. I almost want to say something...you know, about Mr. Robot...but I don't quite want to say it.
The girl sitting next to me tried out for cheerleading with me. I think she's Megan, but I'm not sure. "You're Buffy, right?" she says in the general direction of my ear as the group ends.
"The one and only." That was a joke. She's not smiling. "Uh...yes."
"I've heard about you." Really? What, from whom, and how bad? "People...uh, talk."
"Well, you know what they say about rumors.
"Uh, I don't know. That they're bad."
"Okay." Long pause. "I'm Megan."
I was right! "Hi."
"Um..." She opens her mouth for an actual conversational bit, but Ms. Ellen is heading our way. "You're coming next week, right?" she says fast.
Ms. Ellen is right in front of us. "You're certainly welcome, Buffy."
"You mean I'm certainly forced," I say with just a smidge of a pout. "Mr. Feel-Good Snyder will drag me here in chains if he has to."
"I don't think so," Ms. Ellen says with a smile. "I can handle the good principal."
"Oh." I think about it for a minute. Maybe that's not a relief. "Oh."
"You think about it, Buffy, and come if you want to," she says gently.
"Yeah," Megan chimes in. "That would be cool."
Oh. "I'll think about it," I promise, feeling kind of weird about the whole thing. Like maybe I really want to come and maybe I want to go hide and pretend I didn't know these people existed. "I'll for sure think."
Megan kind of smiles at me. Then the boy from before--Jared?--approaches, and she turns white and bolts for the door. Sheesh. It's Willow with short hair. I'd better go that direction, anyway, though. I don't think I want to talk to him after what he said.
I don't think I want to talk to anyone after what he said.
I think I'm going to go home and brood now.
"Your dad called."
Shit. "Thanks Mom." Like I need this today, on top of everything else. Like I ever need this.
Dad sounds happy to hear from me, but it never takes him long to start asking me things without asking me anything.
"I haven't heard from you in a while, honey. You know you're always welcome to call."
"Things have been...even nuttier than usual lately." No, don't try to laugh, you idiot. He'll know something's wrong if you keep sounding like revived roadkill. "I mean...I know Mom told you. So you know. Things are weird right now." Like always, but we won't go there.
"I was going to come up and see you."
"Oh." Why didn't you?
"But everything was resolved so quickly. And I thought..."
"What?" Why didn't you *come*?
"I didn't think you needed me mucking up the works."
"Oh." I did. "Thanks."
"I could try and make it up next weekend."
"No. It's not important."
"What? Buffy, you're mumbling."
"Are you--sweetheart, is there anything--"
"Oh, you know what, Dad, I can see Mom from here, and she has that 'homework' look going. I should really go."
I should have told him I was okay. I should have told him I was in that group thing, and that everything was gonna be just hunky. Instead, I'm in the dining room communing with my trig book.
Sines and cosines. You know, it was a *sine* for Dad and Mom that they didn't belong together when they had me. I'm way too much like Mom, and Dad never really belonged in our whole scene. He's a total Michael Landon type, not the Harry Hamlin thing he acts like. He was supposed to go back home to Minnesota after college and have a little law practice within spitting distance of Grandma and Grandpa's farm. Or something. But he met Mom, and Grandma and Grandpa Summers died, and he set up shop in the big city. I've never even been to Minnesota.
But he doesn't really belong in LA. He stayed for Mom, and now I guess he stays for me and because he doesn't know what else to do. I try not to worry him too much, because I already know he's not really happy. When the whole slayage thing started happening, I just wanted to tell him everything. So I guess it's a good thing he wasn't there.
I'm not thinking clearly at all. I just miss my dad.
Somebody's staring at me from the doorway. "Yes, Mom?" I try to look busy solving equations.
"You're not going out tonight?"
"Nah, I don't feel like it." The last couple nights, Angel has shown major signs of talk-to-me-about-it-ness. And if I sound like this in my head, imagine what I sound like in someone else's.
So naturally he shows up at my window. The guy has avoidance-radar. As soon as I'm totally positive I want him somewhere else, he's right next to me. Come to think of it, it works in reverse too.
He's clearing his throat. Okay, he gets cuteness points for that. But I will be stern.
"Angel, I don't really want to talk right now."
I know that intake of breath. And not that I'm really looking at him, because that would be a sign that I'm weakening, but I know that look that goes along with that intake of breath. I'm in trouble. "Buffy--"
"No, I mean it. Please." Please don't do this to me. Please don't make all these feelings start up again. I can't take it right now. Please, Angel, please. "Just leave it alone for a while."
"I can't help you if you won't let me in."
"Please." That's all I can say. He's not going to understand, but I can't help it.
"Dammit!" And he's gone.
Oh, God. Help.
Oh, look, it's been a week already. Time flies, and all that.
I'm getting that look from Ms. Ellen every time I try not to talk, so I'm going to say something this time around. Really.
"Are you ready to maybe share with us a little this time?"
"Yeah. Sure. I think so." I hate this. "What do you want me to share? Everybody already knows why I'm here."
"What makes you say that?"
Because I'm not dumb? "The whole school's been talking about it."
"Well, I'd like to hear it from you."
"Okay." Tell them, Buffy. Or at least part of it. Or anything--dammit, open your mouth!"
"Whenever you're ready."
Oh, quit being supportive. It's giving me hives. "My mom had this boyfriend I didn't like, and he hit me, and I hit him back." And I enjoyed it, okay? Is that what you want to know? "We thought he was dead, but he...he wasn't."
"You shouldn't have hit him," some twerp named Bryan says.
"He hit me."
"So what's your point?"
Ooh, got him out of his chair. "So, you shouldn't'a *hit* him!"
"He hit her," Ms. Ellen says mildly.
"I don't care. You're not supposed to attack adults."
"Attack?" I don't care if I'm six inches shorter, piss me off and I can still get in your face. "He threatened me, he invaded my privacy, and then he hit me. I was defending myself, you little--"
"You little what?"
"Get your hands off me!" Fortunately for him Ms. Ellen is pulling him away. But he's not stopping now.
"You've already crossed the line into juvenile delinquent, so maybe doing what's right isn't important to you anymore."
"Right my ass! And I'd rather be a delinquent than a wuss!"
"Okay." Ms. Ellen sure waited til the last minute to stop things, but she can shut a fight down with one look. Both of us hit our chairs again and practically curl up in them. "Sounds like the two of you really had something to say."
I'm not going to cry. Dammit. I am not going to cry. Bryan is shaking too. Megan's eyes are huge, and everyone else is looking at me like I just stripped naked in front of them.
Once everyone is breathing regularly again, I think Ms. Ellen's gonna send us all home, but she starts in again. "If I may interpret without the name calling: Bryan says that using physical violence to defend yourself against an adult is unacceptable--"
"If you're not in real danger," Bryan starts, but Ms. Ellen cuts off him and what I was about to yell with a raised hand.
"And Buffy says that you should meet force with force."
Well, now that she says it that way...I didn't really think I felt like that. I mean, vampires and assorted evil things are different. With people do I think that?
"Buffy was just trying to protect herself," Megan says suddenly.
"By knocking the guy down a flight of stairs?" Bryan says. I do believe that's a scoff in his voice. "Calling the cops--"
"Was hardly an option when he was in my room. He would have stopped me."
"So wait until he leaves and then call."
"Forget it. Maybe you want to take chances like that with your safety, but I'm a little more paranoid than that."
"Yeah," Megan says. Look, she talks. "If they hit once, they hit again."
Jeri turns pale but says nothing.
"You don't know that."
Bryan, you're such a twerp. "And I don't know anything else for sure, either." I take a chance and look him in the eye. "I was afraid. No one has ever acted like that before, and I wanted him away from me any way I could."
I'll never forget him getting back up when no one but a vampire would have. God, I was so scared.
Thankfully, we're done for the week. I scramble to get out of there, but Megan latches onto me first. "That was pretty cool, Buffy."
"Oh. Thanks. I guess."
"Um...I was wondering..."
Loooong pause. "Yes?"
"Nothing. Nothing." She scoots away. "Maybe later."
Boy, she's weird. Not that I can talk.
Megan's driving me up the wall. I was actually starting to feel better about everything, but she keeps popping up, stuttering herself into a tizzy, and disappearing. If she wants to talk to me about whatever happened to her, I wish she'd just spit it out. She's making me jumpy.
"Something's really wrong lately," Willow says, watching Megan's disappearing back for the fourth time in a week. "She was always shy, but not nervous. Now she--"
"Acts like you on caffeine," Xander says, earning himself a smack.
"The truth shall get you bruises," he complains, rubbing his arm.
"Shush. So what's up with her?"
"I'm not sure. I think she had a thing like yours lately."
"Who'd she kill? And quit rolling your eyes at me like that." Look, I'm giggling. I love it.
"No, I mean...um...her mom and stepdad were having problems."
"But they're in Couples-land again," Xander tosses in. "So everything should be cool."
"Unless her stepdad is the problem. Well, maybe she'll talk about it in group this week." I get up, then sit down again. "Oh, and guys, you already know this stuff isn't discussable, right? We're not supposed to talk about group."
"We know," Willow says with a reassuring pat. "No worries."
"Okay." Up again. Down again. "You know, I'm really sick of secrets."
The gang's all here. Jeri, Bryan the twerp, Jared, now me--but no Ms. Ellen and no Megan. What's up?
"Look, it's Lizzie Borden Junior," Bryan says as soon as he sees me.
"Ooh, greetings from the professional victim."
Yes, I know, insults won't get me anywhere. But it's fun--and hey, when did a part of my brain turn into Giles? Bad brain. Bad.
Five boring-as-hell minutes later, Megan walks in. "Ms. Ellen wont be here today," she says in a voice that is practically vibrating with excitement.
We all give her a strange look. "What? Did you want to hit the mall or something?"
"No," Megan says earnestly, but before she can go on, she's interrupted by the general clutter of people leaving.
"See you guys next week," Jeri says as she picks up her backpack.
"Later, Lizzie," Bryan tosses out as he passes me. Would it be evil for me to wish he gets vamped in the near future?
"Jeeze, Megan, what *is* it?" She's tugging on my sleeve like it's--well--something you tug on a lot. And it's not. "Stop that!"
"WAITAMINUTE!" she hollers. That certainly stops all of us in our tracks. "Sit DOWN!"
We sit. Megan grabs Ms. Ellen's chair.
"I've been waiting to...talk...to you guys about something."
"And you pick a day when we're not having a real meeting to do it?" Jarod asks mildly. I think she's scaring him.
Megan suddenly grins, which is not an expression I think any of us have seen before. "This isn't a discussion that I think Ms. Ellen would approve of. Did I ever tell you guys why I'm here?"
Everyone shrugs. If she did, I sure wasn't listening.
"Sexual abuse," she says flatly, and we all flinch. That was the one bright spot with...what happened to me: that at least he never made a move on me like that. And didn't Xander say her parents...oh, Megan.
"So," she says a little more quietly. "My stepdad. Jeri's stepdad. Jarod's dad. Bryan--"
He shifts a bit. "Dad," he finally mumbles.
"Right. And Buffy--that guy."
Whatever. "Your point?"
"They're all evil."
"Now, wait a minute," Bryan starts--
He shuts up.
I have to admit, she's kind of got me intrigued. Mostly worried, but a little intrigued. "Megan," I begin in my most cautious, patient, sweet voice, "What exactly do you think we should do?"
She looks me full in the face for the first time, and for a minute she reminds me so strongly of Drusilla I can't breathe.
"Well, Buffy--" And she sounds so logical, so reasonable, so sane. "--I propose that you teach us how to kill them."
They're arguing in the faculty lounge. I can hear them from all the way out here. No way am I ever going near any of those freaks again. Forget it! What do they think I am?
They think I'm someone who kills bad guys. And I do. They think I tried to kill Ted, and got him to leave. And I did actually kill him.
No. I kill vampires. And mummies. And...and weird bad guys, not like, real ones. I deal with the supernatural.
But there's nothing natural about the look on Megan's face. And "weird" doesn't even begin to describe what was done to her.
"Principal Snyder!" Damn, when you run into someone you run *into* them, Summers.
He picks himself up, dusts himself off, glares at me. Opens his mouth.
I start to cry.
The fuzzy figure of Snyder looks mightily panicked. "What? I di--quit that. Summers!"
I'd rather be in detention for the rest of my life than humiliate myself like this. Stop crying! Stop crying!
Snyder delivered me to Giles' office, which might be humiliating or worrying or something except that--yup, you guessed it--I'm still doing my best two-year-old imitation.
So guess who Giles called. Angel.
Don't push me, or I'll push you. "Go *'way*!"
Oops. I really didn't mean to break that chair. Especially since it's all the way across the room. But he was kind of off balance, and I was kind of...
Out of control. Which of course starts me wailing again. "I'm sorry, Angel!" I burble before going back to straight sobbing again. I didn't think there was this much water in my body.
I don't know why beating a man up would kick him into major protective mode, but all of a sudden his arms are around me and he's demanding--demanding even--"What the hell happened to her?" from Giles.
"I don't know," and I know how much Giles hates to say that. "Snyder delivered her to me like this. He was more upset than she was, I think, so I doubt he..."
"Was himself?" Angel offers.
"Buffy? Please?" he says more softly. "Do you want to tell me about it?"
This time I have enough sense to shake my head. "No. If I talk about it, I have to think about it."
"And if you cry..."
"I'm too busy crying to think."
"Ah, I see a pattern here." He settles into a nearby, unbroken chair, with me in his lap. "Then you just cry for a little longer, and when you're ready we'll talk."
Giles looks uncertain, but wanders back out the door after a pointed look from Angel.
I think I'll have to cry forever. How can I tell them I've been asked to be an assassin? Or an assassin in training? Or something?
And how can I tell them I want to say yes?
"We're in a tree," Angel says quietly.
"I know." Obvious much?
"Speak for yourself. Some of us are under the tree."
"Shut up, Xander."
"Are you going to tell us why we're in and under the tree?"
"No. Shut up, Xander."
He knows I don't know why we're in the tree. What's his problem?
We have to do something. And for once in my sorry life, I'm going to imitate Giles and do the research first. Thereby postponing having to take an action by at least a few hours.
The guys are just here because they'd set themselves on fire rather than watch me bawl again. Willow's down there somewhere, being supportively quiet.
Megan's dad just pulled up. Something has to happen. Something decisive--as in something that will make my decision for me.
"Ah!" Only Angel's hand on my arm keeps me from falling out of the tree. Pay attention, Summers. "Oh, hi, Megan."
"You're in my tree. And you brought some friends."
"Yeah, well, I--uh, that is..."
"Are you going to do it?" Her eyes have this funny shiny look, and the streetlights make them glitter. There's no color at all in her face.
"No. I can't. But I--"
She's already turning away. "Then get the hell out of here. If you can't help me, you'll just make it worse. "
"No!" Fortunately, she's too mad to notice that I just took a dive out of a tree. "I'm gonna help you, Megan. We just have to figure out--"
"There's nothing to figure. You think I haven't thought this through already? You think 'Yeah, my stepdad's scarring me for life, let's off him" was my first solution? I've tried everything. I begged, I pleaded, I threatened. Iran away, I tried to kill myself. I even tried to get fat. I told my mom, and she doesn't care. The cops don't believe me. You don't *understand*!"
"Megan?" A tall, dark figure appears in the door. Everyone in the yard flinches back.
"I have to go."
She walks very slowly into the house.
"Who was that?" he asks.
He puts an arm around her waist. Xander and Angel grab me.
"Let me go so I can kill him."
"No," Xander says. The two of them pull me back under the tree, where no one can see us. Willow joins us and throws her arm around me.
"I don't know what to do." I'm nearly crying again. I can't help it. "This isn't supernatural. It's not paranormal. It's just evil. I'm not equipped--what am I supposed to *do*?"
"We have to do something," Willow says.
"*We're* not equipped," Xander says. "I never thought we'd be truly out of our league."
"We have to do something," Willow repeats, almost squishing me. "We *will* do something."
It's a couple of hours later. The lights are out, the house is quiet, and the gang and I are still outside, most of us pacing, all of us trying to think. (I won't imply it's one of our weaker points, but I did mention that it's a *couple* of hours later, right?)
Everything stops when a light goes on upstairs. We watched them go to bed an hour ago; I know that's Megan's room. The light dims, but I can see movement.
No. A plan pops into my head, fueled by raw desperation and my favorite weapon--basic instinct.
"All right, here's what we're going to do. Xander, Angel, you guys head for the back. Wake everyone up."
"How?" they ask together.
"Start a fight. Oh, quit grinning. Just do it."
They start off. Willow gives me a funny look. "How's that going to help?"
"I need to get her out of there."
"I know, but--"
"Will. Trust me?"
We wait until loud, apparently drunken voices (even *I* can tell Xander's faking it, though) come from around the corner and start edging toward the house. Lights start flipping on as the voices escalate into thuds and grunts.
I can hear everyone in the house crowding out onto the porch. Megan's stepdad's voice is there, and sounding very angry. Good. Now if Megan...
Yes! I can see her face in the window. "Megan! Megan!"
"What are you doing?" she hisses back.
"Come on. Get down here."
There's a whistling noise, followed by a really really loud crash. What did Angel do, throw Xander across the yard?
"Come on, Megan." I'm projecting every bit of authority I can invent. "I can help you, but you have to come down."
She joins us a minute later on the front porch, wearing sweats and a shiver. "Now what?"
"Now we get you out of here."
She pulls away. "Get serious. They're my *parents.* Where're you gonna take me that they can't come get me?"
Dammit, I'm scared enough and worried enough already. I really don't need this. "Someplace where I can try to protect you. You can take your chances with me--or with him."
Her stepdad is screaming at the guys now. For a minute, I think I can feel the house shaking. She hesitates one more second, then lets Willow take her arm.
We barrel into my house. "Mom? Mom!" I yell at the top of my lungs.
She tumbles down the stairs, obviously just-awake and scared out of her mind. "Buffy, what--"
She stops, sees me--obviously unharmed and fully dressed, followed by two other girls--and I can see the fire spark in her eyes. Time to jump in *before* she works herself into a frenzy. "Mom, you can ground me later. This is Megan, and she's in real trouble. Please, Mom." I look her straight in the eye and for once tell her the absolute truth. "I need you. Please."
She takes a long breath. "All right. But I'm going to hold you to the grounding."
"Sure, whatever." I hand Megan off to her and dive for the phone in the living room. "C'mon, Will."
"What are we doing?" Willow whispers as I grab the phone book.
I can hear Mom behind me, confusedly offering Megan a snack. It's a habit of hers.
"We're taking my life in my hands, that's what we're doing," I whisper back. "Call Giles." It's only about eleven, hopefully only Mom was asleep. Yeah, right.
"Then who are you going to call?"
I take a really, really, really deep breath. "The only person I even sort of trust who can help Megan."
Me. Facing down Principal Snyder, my mom, *and* Giles. This passes anxiety and goes straight to...whatever's next. Hell, probably.
Still, I manage to get the whole story out. Will and Megan contribute what they can, but Megan's face says more than sworn testimony ever could. They believe her when they wouldn't believe me.
Snyder's still mad that I pulled him out of bed, though. I wonder if I should tell him that he's wearing pink fuzzy slippers with his suit.
"So, Summers, what you're telling us is that we should circumvent the entire social services program, break about five major laws, and hide this girl?"
"Did I say hide? I didn't mean hide." No, that's what *I'm* going to have to do. "But she can't go back."
"He'll kill me," Megan says quietly. "If he finds out you know, he'll kill me for telling you."
"But your mother--" Giles says.
Mom sort of pats his arm. "If she hasn't helped by now..." She lets it trail off as she looks at me. We both know that sometimes it just doesn't work that way.
Snyder blusters for a minute more. Then, "Well, I do know some people down at City Hall." Ah, that explains it. "I can call them in the morning..."
"We have a pretty good lawyer back in L.A.," Mom says. That would be the one that saved my butt over the burning gym, yes.
"And of course, if I can be of any assistance..." Giles adds.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Snyder says. "Can we *go* now?"
I shrug. You know, I still don't like him.
"Buffy, why don't you show everyone out," Mom says. Megan flinches. "And Megan can help me make up the cot in your room."
I love my Mom! She gets a big hug on the way out.
"Uh...bye, Principal Snyder. Uh, thanks."
"It could have waited," he mutters on the way out.
"It might not work."
I just glare at him.
Willow's the next out. "It'll work," she says as she gives me a huge hug. "I have faith in you."
"Wait a moment," Giles says from behind her. "I'll give you a ride home." Then he turns to me. I brace myself--from the look on his face, I can't tell if he's going to compliment me or yell at me--but to my surprise, he drops a very clumsy kiss on the top of my head. "I'm proud of you."
Oh. Oh, that's wonderful. Oh...don't make me cry again. "Thank you."
"I don't know, Will," I say--quietly--on the phone that night after Mom and Megan have both crashed. I know Megan's asleep 'cause I've checked on her twice already. "It just feels too Afterschool Special to me. Something's going to go wrong."
"Maybe." Willow's quiet for a long time. "But you did the best you could, Buffy. And you did the right thing. Doesn't that ever get to count for something?"
"I hope so. Oh, hey, how're the boys?"
"Fine," says a voice from right behind me.
"Aaah! Angel! Don't *do* that."
"Sorry," he says with absolutely no remorse.
"Is that a black eye?"
I can hear Willow giggling. "A black eye?? I thought Xander was kidding."
"What did he say?"
"You remember that loud thud?" Angel, who can of course hear both ends of this conversation, is not looking as amused as Willow sounds. "It wasn't Xander."
"You mean he--" Angel tries not to look embarrassed. "How?"
"It was a fluke," Angel snaps, just as Willow says "He's been practicing."
Well, that's good for at least five minutes of hysterical laughter. Especially since Angel's lips are starting to twitch.
Ms. Ellen's back this week, and of course none of us would tell her what really happened before. We let her think we just skipped out. Everyone else is giving Megan and me funny looks, and I imagine they'll all be checking the obituaries tonight, but we don't care.
"Ms. Ellen?" Megan says. "We want to talk about something new this week. We--that is, Buffy and--we..."
"We need your help," I say when Megan looks at me pleadingly. "We're stuck in these horrible situations, and we need to get back out--and then to not get back in." I take a deep breath. "It's not fair that I'm the only one who gets to be safe."
Ms. Ellen has her patented now-we're-having-a-breakthrough! look. I don't care. I'm not going to stand back and watch anything like this happen again, not if I have to devote my life to it.
As a side-devotion from vampire slaying, of course. Kind of like a day job.
I grab Megan's hand. "Tell them."
And slowly but surely, she begins.
Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you.
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