Buffy stood with a frying pan in her hand, and considered what to do next.
Ted was twitching like a netted fish on her kitchen floor, skin ripped away from his jaw to expose stuff that looked like the insides of one of Willow's beloved computers. Sort of like what she'd seen when she'd stabbed him upstairs. The circuits and sparking definitely weren't standard parts that came with your average -- or even sub-average -- parent's evil-boyfriend-type. //I _didn't_ kill him. I didn't kill a normal person.// The relief from that thought warred with, //but what the *hell* is he? A robot? Sheesh... I should've known he wasn't human... // Nothing human would have gotten back up after even one punch from the Slayer; why hadn't she thought of that before?
First things first, though. "Mom? Mom?" Buffy dropped the frying pan and rushed over to where her mom was slumped against the wall. Joyce made a little moaning noise that clutched at Buffy's heart, but she didn't open her eyes. "Mom!" There were bruises on her mom's face, and her whole body was limp. "911, 911... no." Buffy fumbled for the phone, but stopped herself from making the first call that came to mind. She couldn't have the paramedics here with that _thing_ on the floor. No way was she going to try to explain that. She couldn't even explain it to herself yet.
"Be there, Giles. Come on, *please* be there." No answer at his home. No answer at the Sunnydale High library, either. //I should make *him* wear the beeper, not me!// Endless ringing at Xander's house. Willow's mom -- saying Willow was out with Xander -- at the Rosenburgs'. Seconds were ticking past, and she had to get help for her mom, soon, she could have a concussion, anything... Desperation made her look up Cordelia's number. She got an answering machine there, too, but the message gave Cordy's beeper number. Buffy dialed the beeper, hung up the phone, and prayed.
Three minutes later, the phone rang.
"What do we do now?" Willow wondered from the backseat of Cordelia's Beamer, staring down at the folder in her hands as Cordelia drove the three of them away from Ted's secret hideout. Xander hadn't let them look in the closet, but she could just imagine what Ted's four former wives looked like after all this time... "Should we go to the police, and give them all the marriage certificates and the drugged cookies, and then tell them what you found?"
"Considering we were trespassing, and breaking and entering, and generally committing several antisocial acts when we found it? Uh, no, Will, we don't. We phone in an anonymous tip and send the evidence to them *after* we tell Buffy she killed a psychopath, not a normal everyday jerk," Xander responded grimly. "Mrs. Summers would have been part of that creep's 'collection' if Buffy hadn't stopped him. I'd say that's completely justifiable grounds for breaking the guy's neck."
"I guess so. I just hope Buffy sees it that way---"
"What I don't get is why Ted was so stuck in the fifties. I mean, hello! That was the ugliest decade known to mankind! And I'm including the seventies here, okay?" Cordelia's pager beeped, and she stopped at a red light and checked the number. "Hey. Isn't that Buffy's number?" she asked, showing the beeper to Xander.
"Yeah. Why's she calling you?"
"How would I know? Fashion emergency, maybe. God knows she could use saving, the last few days she's been dressing like a refugee from Downerville. I guess killing someone does that to you." Willow rolled her eyes and Xander looked disgusted as Cordelia punched in the Summers' number on her cell phone, then pulled away from the intersection. "Buffy? What do you want? Oh, we found out *all* this stuff about Ted, we have to tell you--" Cordelia's eyes widened, and her grip loosened on the steering wheel as she gave an involuntary squeak. "Ted's *there*?!"
Willow gasped and leaned forward over the seat as Xander made a grab for the phone. Cordy was still squeaking. "But he was dead! Really dead! You said so!" Xander finally managed to get her to let go of the cell, giving Willow a reason to sigh with relief as Cordelia returned her full attention to driving and then hit the accelerator, speeding through a yellow light.
"Are you okay?" Xander demanded into the receiver.
"What's going on? How can he be alive? Cordelia, watch it, you nearly merged into that Mustang!" Willow's fingers tightened on the seat as she closed her eyes, not wanting to see what Cordy was doing.
"Tell her we're on our way," the brunette ordered Xander.
He waved at both of them impatiently, nodded in response to something Buffy was telling him, then said, "We're on our way. Just hang on, Buff." He hung up the phone, his jaw tight, and added, "Punch it. Buffy's mom's hurt and we need to help Buffy get rid of Ted before the paramedics get there."
"She killed him *again*?" Cordelia blurted out.
"Maybe she didn't kill him the first time," Willow said, thinking hard. "Maybe he's not as human as he looks---"
"Oh, I'd say that was a big gimme, Will. Anybody who'd try to hit Buffy---"
"I mean, maybe he's not human at *all*," the redhead clarified. "The marriage certificates go back to 1957. If he really was alive and getting married all that time, he'd be lots older than he looks. "
"So she didn't kill a real person?" Cordelia blinked, then grimaced. "Bet that's a relief." She turned the car onto Buffy's street, then came to a stop across the street from the house. "Hey. What do you mean, we have to get rid of him? I'm not touching any dead things!" she protested as the three of them piled out of the car and raced across the street to the Summers home.
Buffy opened the door before they even had a chance to knock. She looked dazed, her eyes huge and fearful. Her gaze darted around them, looking for the ambulance, maybe, or maybe just checking to make sure no one saw them come in.
"Are you okay?" Xander asked, putting his hands on the Slayer's shoulders, forcing her to look at him. "Did he hurt you?"
"Not much... he knocked me out upstairs before I could do anything, in my bedroom...." Buffy shook her head and broke away from Xander, hurrying into the hall, motioning them to follow her. "When I came to, I snuck downstairs, and he'd *hit* my mom---" Her voice threatened to break, then went hard and serious. "Which is when I let him have it. And I'm not sorry this time. He *was* a monster."
Willow was about to ask what kind of monster, when they entered the hallway and she saw exactly what Buffy meant. Ted lay in a disjointed heap on the floor, his eyes wide and staring at nothing--- with circuitry and wires clearly evident beneath the torn skin of his face.
"Eewww." Cordelia's nose wrinkled. "Weird."
Xander rolled his eyes. "Thank you, Miss Let's-State-the-Blindingly-Obvious."
"Buffy?" Willow stepped over to where Buffy was standing with her arms wrapped around her, staring down at Ted's body. "What do you want us to do?"
Buffy blinked and seemed to wake up. "Um... hide him. Drag him down into the basement or something, let me call the paramedics, and then... dispose of him."
"Sounds like we're in the mob or something. Say, should we fit him with cement overshoes?" Xander had apparently found something to be cheerful about.
"We can't just drop him into the water," Willow fretted as she and Cordy each grabbed an arm and started to tug. "We don't know what he's made of. There could be toxic waste, or something."
Xander grabbed Ted's legs. "You never let me have any fun." He paused at the doorway to the basement and looked up at Cordelia briefly, then shrugged and started backwards down the stairs.
Willow could hear Buffy immediately pick up the phone, and in a high-pitched, breathless voice, report that someone had broken into her house and attacked both her and her mother. "1632 Robello Drive," she recited.
Cordy's hands slipped and Ted's arm *thump*'d on the staircase; Willow winced and whispered "Sorry!" back up the stairs.
Buffy seemed to be ignoring her, though, concentrating on getting the 911 operator to cooperate. "Yes, *again*. Please hurry."
Jenny sighed with relief as she pulled her car into a slot next to the emergency room. She ducked out of the driver's seat and dashed around to the passenger's side, helping Giles, who had already started to rise, out of the car. "Careful, careful, careful," she chanted anxiously, fluttering around him like a demented butterfly.
"I *am* being careful," Giles hissed between his teeth. Once the adrenaline of the hunt had worn off, she could see that his faith in the armoring capabilities of tweed had decreased substantially. "Stop... ah!"
Jenny managed to help him into the receiving desk. Unwilling to admit defeat and sit down, Giles leaned against the counter. "He needs help," Jenny told the receiving desk.
The woman behind the desk raised her eyebrows at the Brit's pasty-white, perspiration-sheened face. "I would say so. Nature of emergency?" she asked briskly, pulling a form towards her.
"Injury to the back," Jenny supplied.
The woman nodded, scribbled something, and shoved the sheet at Giles. "Sign here. Tried to lift something, did y...." Her voice trailed off as Giles removed his hand from where it had been pressed behind him to lift a pen. It came away covered in blood, and he paled a bit more, then took the pen and signed his name while the nurse stared.
"Ah, no," he said. "It was, in fact, a bolt."
"Man, this guy weighs a *ton*," Xander complained, dropping Ted's legs as soon as they were down at the bottom of the staircase. He avoided looking at Cordelia, because it had just hit him that the last time they were in a basement together--- this basement, in fact--- had been the first time they'd kissed. He shot Willow an uneasy look, but she didn't seem to notice his discomfort. "Do all robots double as barbell weights?"
"It's not a robot, it's an android," Willow corrected him, kneeling down next to the thing to study it.
"And the big difference is...?" Cordelia asked, stepping over it with distaste and joining Xander a few feet away. "And we should care... why?"
"Robots don't look like people. Androids are *supposed* to be able to. But I've never heard of anyone who's made one this close to life." Willow was pretty much in geeker heaven, from what Xander could see; Ted might have sympathized with her enthusiasm, even, if he hadn't been the subject of her examination. She leaned forward, her fingers roving over the exposed wiring along the face, shaking her head. "Whoever made him--- it--- meant for Ted to pass for human for as long as possible."
"Hey, if the guy has managed to get four wives, I'd say he's doing more than 'pass,'" Xander noted, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'd say he was up there in the Advanced Placement class of imitating real life. Not like Moloch, who pretty much flunked on all levels."
Willow made a face. "Moloch wasn't trying for that, he just wanted a real body."
"Moloch? Hello, who's 'Moloch'?" Cordy sounded annoyed. Sometimes Xander forgot that she hadn't been in on most of the stuff that happened last year.
"A demon who got into the Internet and kind of... ended up hitting on Willow," Xander responded, rolling his eyes. His best friend raised her eyebrows at him, but didn't look too bothered by his mentioning it. After all this time, it wasn't something that probably gave her more than one nightmare a month.
"Eewww!" Cordelia was really getting a lot of use out of that expression tonight, Xander thought with a small grin. "Is this one of *those*? Oh, yuck!" She stopped grossing out suddenly, her eyes narrowing. "Why don't you guys ever *tell* me anything?" she demanded of Xander, her hands on her hips. "Why is this the first time you've ever even mentioned it?"
Xander blinked at her, pretty much stumped. "Uh...."
"You know, I like to know what's going on on the Hellmouth too! It's not like I don't care what's happening around here." She scowled at him ferociously. "Well?"
"Well, what?" Harris shrugged, beginning to be irritated. "We just told you. Moloch liked Willow, he tried to take over the Internet, and in the meantime he made a robot body. Buffy took him out, as you'd expect. What more do you want?"
"An apology. And explanations on all the stuff you're leaving out! You guys are *keeping* things from me, like I'm some kind of brainless twit---"
"Now Cordy, we're _not_ actually treating you like you're some kind of brainless twit." Xander smiled at her smugly, happy she gave him the opening. "Just *a* brainless twit. No particular kind at all."
"Oooooooo!" The brunette took a furious step toward him, her hands bunching into fists. "Prepare to eat concrete floor, Harris---"
"Yeah, right, as if you've got the talent to *make* me...." Xander took a matching step toward her, sneered down at Cordy for a second, then felt the by-now-familiar-and-stupid urge to kiss her smack him without any warning. Her eyes widened, and he started leaning toward her as Cordy's eyes began to close---
---and the thing on the floor kicked, making shrieking electrical noises as it spasmed.
"Aiiiiii!" Xander jumped back against the wall, bumping his head the process. Cordy squeaked again, stumbled back and fell down on her butt as Willow yelled in surprise, then did something fast and jerky to the neck of the thing that made it stop twitching. "Ohhh-kay. Okay. What the *hell* was that?"
"Sorry," Willow said contritely, turning around to smile apologetically at both of them. Cordy still had one hand against her chest as if expecting a heart attack. "I didn't do it, I think it was just recovered enough to move... anyway, I shut him off. There's a cut-off switch right next to the ear." She turned back while Xander took big gulps of air, realizing what a close call he'd just had in several senses of the word.
"It's like the Terminator," Cordy commented, gasping for breath. "Is there a hydraulic press around here? Or do we dump it in a vat of melted metal?"
"I vote for the melted metal. Turn it into Ted Soup. Who's with me?"
"It'll be okay, if we just take it apart, really!" Willow glanced back at him anxiously, her eyes pleading. "We need to figure out who made it, and if there's more out there somewhere."
"Ugh," Cordelia shuddered.
"Extremely ugh. Will, can you get it apart without it breakdancing again?" Xander crouched down next to her, staring at it's --- Ted's --- face. He still couldn't believe that it had fooled them all. He'd seemed like such a normal, everyday guy.... //But then, you didn't guess he'd been threatening Buffy, either.// Which was worse, that he hadn't guessed it was a fake human, or that he hadn't been able to believe Buffy's suspicions when she first had them? Something to think about much, much later.
"I think so," Willow said slowly, her expression thoughtful. "We can dump the arms and legs in dumpsters, after I get the skin off of it---"
"---and then I'll see if I can figure out who might have made it from the head and torso." The redhead turned the head of the android suddenly, and it came off in her hands, still staring before it with glassy eyes. Xander gulped, feeling queasy. Cordy looked green. "Do you see any pliers or screwdrivers around here?"
"Uhhh, no. I'll go upstairs and look for some---"
Willow grabbed both of them by their jeans legs. "Wait 'til the paramedics have come and gone, guys. Okay?"
"A... bolt?" Once the receiving clerk had gotten a doctor over to examine Giles, the questions started.
"Yes," Giles stiffened when the doctor probed his ribs, searching for any signs that they had been cracked. "Not a... ah, metal bolt, you understand. Wooden. For shooting from an... arrrgh... bow. Crossbow."
"Crossbow, hmm?" Beckoning a nurse over, the doctor pulled out a pair of scissors.
"What are those for?" Jenny asked, wide-eyed.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to use them on him. What were you doing with a crossbow?"
"Ah..." Jenny found herself at a loss. She usually was pretty good at lying on her feet, but she was feeling understandably distracted.
"Ah..." Giles hissed between his teeth. "Target practice," he ground out. Jenny managed to stop worrying long enough to be impressed with his ability to come up with a good cover story while being in severe pain.
"What are you doing with those scissors?" Jenny demanded as the doctor turned to Giles with them.
"We need to cut his clothes off," the doctor reassured her.
"Cut my clothes off?" Giles repeated. "That's completely unnecessary. I can just remove my jacket and... aaaaaaaaaah!"
Smiling just a tad smugly, the doctor set the scissors into a seam and started to snip as Giles curled into a silent ball of pain. After a few moments, however, the doctor frowned, tugging the scissors that had stuck in the thick fabric. "This may take awhile," he muttered. With a final yank, he pulled the scissors free, and Giles grunted in pain.
"You're hurting him," Jenny burst out. "Can't you give him something?"
Sighing, the doctor put down the scissors. "Normally, we'd wait and give him a local anesthetic at the site of the injury. But since that might take us awhile...." He continued by instructing the nurse in a language that Jenny didn't recognize. It wasn't Latin, since Giles looked equally puzzled. Or maybe that was just the way tormented agony looked on him.
Whatever it was, it resulted in the nurse fetching a small needle and a bottle of clear liquid, measuring out a portion of it carefully. "Just breathe in deeply and relax," she instructed her patient. She tried to push his sleeve up to swab an area on his arm for the injection, but the sleeve stuck stubbornly close to his wrist. The nurse frowned, clucked her tongue, considered her patient and then nodded to herself.
"I need to inject this into a muscle and I can't reach one in your arm. So our next option is..." She raised one eyebrow and grinned.
Dazed with pain, Giles merely blinked at her. "Yes?"
"Oh, dear," Jenny said under her breath.
Enjoying herself, the nurse grinned. "That's right. Drop 'um."
It was, Jenny thought as she whirled around to protect the tattered remains of Giles' dignity, worth it all for the look on his face.
The ambulance had left over ten minutes before, and Xander and Cordelia had found a basic repair kit in one of Mrs. Summer's downstairs cabinets about ten minutes before that. It had really been pretty easy to disassemble the android; the design was simple but functional, easily separated once you had the tools. Ted was now lying in a dozen pieces around Willow - hands, arms, legs, the torso and the head - synthetic skin removed to reveal the circuitry and framework beneath. Cordelia had flinched when it had oozed fluid from the joints, until Willow had managed to shut off that function, too.
"Ummm... we should get rid of the bits and pieces in different places, so nobody figures out what it was," Willow said thoughtfully, raising her eyes to Xander. "I need to look at the head and the torso at home, but we should just put the rest in some garbage bags and dump them in a few trash cans."
"Works for me." Xander bent down to gather up a few of the parts, his expression disturbed. "This is beyond weird, even for Sunnydale... I mean, this is Twilight Zone territory. Robots that aren't even demon-powered who like to commit bigamy? Does that make sense in any way, or is it just me?"
"It's the Hellmouth," Willow observed. "Weirdness gets taken to the nth power, even if it's not magic weirdness."
"We should tell Buffy we got rid of it," Cordelia pointed out, placing one of the lower arms in a plastic garbage bag she'd gotten from somewhere. "That way, she doesn't have to worry about lying to the police, if they ask her stuff at the hospital. The police," she added, her eyes widening. "Aren't they going to notice his body's missing from the morgue?"
"Why? They've probably got a check-out system down at the Coroner's Office by now. 'As long as you promise you'll be back by dawn, we'll letcha go,'" Xander said mockingly. "Still... she's probably right, Will. We should drop by the hospital and see how Buffy and her mom are doing."
"We'll dump off the parts on the way." Willow wrapped the head and the rest of the body up in a separate plastic bag, then neatly replaced the tools in the toolbox. She decided to leave telling them about the film case in the torso until after she'd had a chance to look at it; the main thing right now was to make sure Buffy and her mom were going to be okay.
The painkillers were finally taking effect, and Jenny sighed as Giles' arm relaxed beneath her hand. They'd managed to cut the heavy tweed off of him and the shirt underneath to completely numb the site of the injury. It looked a lot smaller than she'd thought it would. The doctor was carefully sewing up Giles' back, but Jenny winced every time the needle went in.
Giles apparently could feel her flinching. "Don't worry," he assured her. "I don't feel any pain. It's just a rather strange tugging sensation. Quite... disconcerting, actually, but not painful." Jenny nodded and made soothing noises -- and kept on wincing.
Her head came up when she heard a familiar voice above a new commotion in the ER. Rupert's brows drew down in recognition too, and he almost tried to get up, but Jenny put out a hand to stop him. "I'll go check," she whispered. "You just lie here, okay?"
"Yes, well... very well. But come directly back and tell me what is going on, all right?" The Watcher's face was pale and drawn, and with his glasses off he looked a lot younger than usual. Jenny felt another stab of guilt for hurting him, then nodded and squeezed his hand before leaving the cubicle. //I can't believe I shot him. I can't believe he ripped it out of his back like that! And I can't believe he hasn't started yelling at me for it yet!// She sighed, stepping around a nurse wheeling a tray to another cubicle. Shaking her head, she kept looking for the source of the voice she'd heard before as she rounded a corner of the ER. //That is the *last* time I make a flip remark before I shoot a vampire. Those suckers are *fast*.... //
She smiled ruefully. //Guess that means you're planning on there being a next time, hunh, Janna? Can't just walk away from it all _now_.// But then, she'd known that since she'd seen the kicked-puppy look on Rupert's face two days ago, when she told him to leave her alone. There was no way she could resist the memory of that look for longer than a day and a half; no way she could resist Rupert when he was hurting. Which made their present situation that much worse....
It *was* Buffy making all the noise; two large orderlies were trying to get her to sit still on a bed, but she kept jumping off and ducking under their arms to press herself against the edge of a neighboring gurney. Jenny recognized Joyce Summers lying on it, unconscious and twice as pale as Giles.
"... I am *fine*, just concentrate on my mom, will you? I'm not even really _hurt_...." Buffy's hoarse rant cut off when she saw Jenny, her expression confused for a second, then back to defensive as a nurse began tugging on her arm, unable to budge the Slayer one inch. Both orderlies were looking exasperated, and Jenny could see a ring of bruises around Buffy's neck that were already turning purple.
"Buffy? What happened? Is your mom okay? And what happened to your throat?" A doctor was bending over Joyce, trying to examine her, shining a light in her eyes; Buffy was only getting in the way. Jenny shook her head, then softly said to the nurse, "Let me try." The woman got out of the way, unconvinced until Jenny put an arm around the teen and the girl didn't immediately pull away from her. "C'mon, Buffy. Let them do their jobs. You're only making it harder for them to help your mom." She took the teen's hand in her own, and gently guided her to the neighboring bed, as Buffy's eyes stayed glued to her mother's still form. "She's going to be okay, they know what they're doing, I swear. Just sit down here. Let them put something on your neck---"
"They should be helping my mom, I'm *fine*," Buffy contradicted her, coughing a little at the end of this speech. She looked like she would have liked to shove Jenny out of the way, but didn't quite dare push a teacher around. "I came downstairs, and she was unconscious...." The Slayer's eyes were huge and haunted, unable to look away from the still form of her mother. "I should have stopped it. I should have---" She broke off suddenly as the nurse put a bit of medicated gauze padding around her throat, remembering where she was, her expression growing wary. "What are you doing here, Ms. Calendar?"
"Oh, um..." Jenny blinked at the teen for a second, trying to come up with a non-alarming reason to be at the hospital, but everything she could think of sounded ridiculous. "A friend had a little... accident. I just drove him here. It's nothing major. Really."
"Him?" Buffy's eyes narrowed, then widened in horror. "Giles? Is Giles hurt?"
"No!" Jenny's throat closed up, as her need not to worry Buffy warred with her guilt, and she finally rolled her eyes at Buffy's glare. "Okay, yes. It's my fault, but he's going to be fine---"
The teen looked completely torn for a moment, her eyes going back to her mother; but there were two doctors attending to her at the moment, and her expression became more grim after a second. The nurse attending Buffy had turned away to measure out some medication, and the teen took advantage of the distraction to move out of Jenny's reach. "Where is he?"
"Where. Is. He?"
Jenny sighed and gave up. No sense in getting a furious Slayer any *more* angry. "Three cubicles down." Buffy hopped off the bed, evading the returning nurse and shooting her mother one last worried look before ducking around Jenny. "No, not that way! Over here--- but only for a second, they're in the middle of sewing him up..."
"Giles!" Wide-eyed, Buffy leaned over her Watcher where he was lying face-down on a hospital bed, keeping the weight off his stitches. "He should be fine," a nurse was assuring her as Jenny caught up with them in the room. "We'll keep him here until the general anaesthetic we had to give him wears off, and then we can send him home. I gave him some codeine for the aches and pains; he's going to feel as thought he was in a full-body fight when the anaesthetic wears off. Are you his... niece?"
"Um... I'm a student of his," Buffy answered her, majorly distracted. "Giles? Giles, are you okay?"
Giles turned his head to one side so he could stare at Buffy out of the corner of one eye. "Peachy," he said, the word a bit slurred by the fact that half his face was pressed to the pillow.. "Buffy," he said, his eyes just barely focusing on her as she took his hand and brushed his hair out of his eyes. "How nice. You didn't have to visit, it's really quite, quite unnecessary...."
"How did this happen?" Buffy demanded, turning to glower at Jenny again. "Better yet, what *is* this?"
Giles piped up before she could answer. "Damnedest thing. He swung me around, you know, in an arc. A circle. Yes. So, it wasn't Jenny's fault at all. No, not at all. Although, I'm sure she's probably feeling better, now that she's had the chance to shoot me.... Makes us even, and all that...."
"You did this?" the nurse asked, as Jenny covered her face. Buffy's glare was a little more than she could stand directly at that point.
"Yes," she mumbled through her fingers. "It was an accident. He moved unexpectedly, and the crossbow went off."
"Mmmm. Nasty. You shouldn't have pulled the bolt out, either," the nurse mentioned, finishing taping the dressing in place. "That earned him at least six more stitches than there would have been otherwise. Still, after the first dozen, who's counting?"
"Crossbow? Giles, what were you doing with a crossbow? You aren't supposed to be---" Buffy coughed suddenly, glancing at the doctor. "Practicing on your own."
"Well, I felt I had to, really, since I couldn't do anything else. Feel terrible about that Buffy," Rupert said earnestly. Jenny had known there was a reason he'd been in the park, but until now she hadn't realized it had been because he wanted to help with Buffy's domestic situation, and couldn't. "No help a'tall. Inexcusable. Utterly. So very sorry for that...."
"Don't. It wasn't your fault." Buffy patted his hand, and smiled a little bit, her expression lightening, now that she saw her Watcher was intact--- if not exactly in the same shape as he was earlier in the day. "And I have good news for you about that later, when you feel better. Um... he's gonna be all right, right?" she asked the nurse anxiously.
"He's going to be fine. He was lucky, the arrow didn't hit any internal organs."
"Bolt," Buffy and Jenny corrected her at the same time.
"I feel fine," Giles insisted, trying to push himself up. "Lovely, actually." His arms seemed a little too weak to function, but he finally swung himself upward, blinking fuzzily at the three of them, swaying on the gurney. "Perfectly lovely. It's all lovely. Like Jenny, here. Lovely girl. Rotten shot. But a lovely girl." He beamed at her expansively, and Jenny simultaneously blushed in embarrassment and swallowed back chuckles as Buffy rolled her eyes. "You know, I think we should go back to the park. Most definitely. Get in some more---"
"Target practice is over for tonight, Rupert," Jenny said firmly. "Nurse, is he okay?"
"I think he's having a small overreaction to the codeine. He'll be pretty detached from reality for a little while, but it shouldn't be too serious. Don't let him drive, of course---"
"I jolly well will drive, and no white-coated pedant is going to stop me," Giles declared loudly.
"But I don't want to stay here. There's sick people here." Rupert was pouting, though he did moderate his tone. "I want to go out hunting again---"
"Hunting?" The nurse's eyes darted from Giles to Jenny to Buffy, who blinked innocently at him, and then grinned at Jenny.
"I'll leave him to you--- I want to see how my mom is doing. You take it easy, okay Giles?" Buffy patted his hand one more time, then ducked out of the cubicle, leaving Jenny to handle the blotto Watcher on her own. //Thanks a lot, kid... Oh, well. I shot him, I guess I should be the one taking responsibility--//
"Lovely girl," Giles said absently, squinting around the cubicle, almost falling off the gurney before Jenny caught him. "Splendid. Oh, Jenny, there you are. Do you see the crossbow anywhere? I think I should show you how to reload it..."
"We left it in the car, remember?" She fetched his glasses for him and perched them on his nose, which earned her another unfocused but brilliant smile. "I'm really, really sorry about this, Rupert. I swear I didn't mean to do it."
"Of course not. No. Well, maybe. I did deserve it, after all---"
"You did not." Jenny put her hand over his mouth, and his eyes widened. "I was too hard on you, and I'm sorry about that, and I'm sorry I didn't apologize sooner, and..." She turned to see if the nurse was paying attention, but she was absorbed in the patient in the next cubicle already. "And I'm sorry I got in the way and then shot you tonight. I'll understand if, after the painkillers wear off, you don't want to see _me_ again for a while."
"No!" Goddess, his voice could carry, even when she was trying to shush him. "No, absolutely not! I'd much rather have you shooting at me! It's perfectly fine! Well, not perfectly fine... hurts, to be truthful, quite a lot, but it doesn't hurt now, and I'd rather be possessed by another demon than have you j-just walk away from me again---"
He was getting far too loud for a public place and a hospital, people were going to start noticing if she didn't shut him up somehow; that's why she kissed him right then. It had absolutely nothing to do with how sweet and intense he looked, she insisted to herself. It wasn't one of their best kisses ever, but after three weeks, she'd almost forgotten how nice it was to kiss him... and how effectively it could distract Giles from whatever he'd been doing.
"Yes, well... umm... Quite. I hope I-I made my point, Miss Calendar," he murmured, barely above a whisper, staring at her in happy confusion.
"Yeah," Jenny gulped, nodding, then helped him down from the gurney and grabbed his coat, unable to meet his eyes. "You did. Okay. No problem." She settled the tweed armor around his shoulders, then gently guided him back over to the check-out desk.
"That thing isn't leaking on my seats, is it?"
"No, Cordelia," Willow said tolerantly. They'd managed to ditch four different bags of electronic components on the way to the hospital, and now the only bits left were the head and torso. "I double-bagged what's I kept. And there wasn't all that much lubricant left in it, anyway. I think it burned off a lot of fluid when Buffy smashed the head in."
"Good." Cordy slid into a parking spot fairly near the entrance and shut off the car lights, then blinked, staring at the entrance. "Is that Miss Calendar? With Giles?"
"Great, more casualties," Xander cracked, getting out of the car and slamming his door shut. "Do you think we could get a group medical insurance discount rate?"
"What would we put down as the group? Ghostbusters?" Willow shook her head and hurried forward to intercept Miss Calendar and the Watcher, who were making their shaky way across the parking lot, Giles leaning on the computer teacher. "What happened to him?"
"Uhh, just a little problem with, well... a crossbow." Miss Calendar obviously didn't like explaining this for some reason, because Willow could see her blushing even in the dim parking lot lights. "Nothing a few stitches and some rest won't cure...."
"The vampires are shooting back?" Cordelia asked. Xander offered Giles his shoulder to lean on, taking some of his weight off the other teacher, who started fumbling for her car keys.
"No, that was Jenny. She was trying to help," Giles explained, smiling blurrily at the three of them as they trooped across the parking lot. Willow thought he looked like his feet weren't exactly connecting with the pavement, or with much else on planet Earth, for that matter. "Quite brave of her, actually."
Willow stifled giggles at the mortified look on Miss Calendar's face as Xander muttered, "Payback's a bitch, hunh, Giles?"
"See here, I won't have you referring to Miss Calendar in those terms," Giles said, looking highly offended as he pushed away from Xander, then nearly falling over as he staggered back against Jenny's car.
"I was referring to your personal karma, not Miss Calendar," Xander said patiently, steadying the swaying Watcher and keeping him from tumbling to the pavement.
"Ah. Well. In that case, yes. Yes it is. Painful, too."
"Would you guys mind retrieving Giles's car from the park? I was going to stay with him a little while tonight, just to make sure he gets to sleep---"
"No problem," Willow said cheerfully.
"Giles, give Xander your car keys, and get in the car." Jenny opened her VW's passenger door and beckoned to Giles, who blinked at her owlishly, then frowned, crumpling his brow with the effort of thought.
"But my car's back in the park. How can I do both?"
Miss Calendar buried her face in her hands, shaking her head, and Willow swallowed more giggles, knowing her face was going to hurt tomorrow from trying not to smile. "Rupert. Give Xander your car keys. He or Willow can get your car, and drive it back to your place. Then get in *my* car, and I will drive you home."
"Oh, that sounds smashing," Giles said happily, and Willow heard Cordelia choking next to her, probably hearing the same implications she did. She didn't dare glance at Xander's face, knowing what it probably looked like. "Here, Xander. Don't go above twenty-five miles per hour, do you understand? The gears have been acting up lately. Should hate to have to take it to a mechanic."
"Like that's going to be a problem with your junker." Xander grimaced but nodded very reassuringly at the worried-looking Giles. "Don't worry, I won't even take it out of third. Just let Miss Calendar take you home, okay?"
"Thanks, guys." Miss Calendar started up her VW and backed it out of the space, while Xander rolled his eyes.
"Never get that man drunk."
"Believe it," Willow said fervently.
Xander, Willow and Cordelia were going back into the hospital to make sure Buffy was okay when an older man in a suit passed them coming out. Xander stopped in the middle of the sliding doors, holding them open by standing in their way as Cordelia and Willow kept going. Cordelia stopped when they were almost at the check-in desk and called back to him. "Xander, will you come on? What is your deal?"
He hurried to catch up to them, his face grim. "I recognized that guy. That's the detective who was asking all the questions at school. Why's he here?"
Willow looked stricken. "Do you think he was asking Buffy more questions?"
"Hold on. Both of you just chill," Cordelia ordered them. Xander glared at her, but Willow swallowed and appeared to listen. "Nothing is wrong. You're both acting like we have something to hide. We don't. Everything's fine."
"Except we just disposed of fifteen hundred megabytes of psychopath in the dumpster behind Colonel Cluck-cluck, and we still haven't turned in the kooky cookies or the marriage licenses of Ted the Homicidal Harem-Keeper," Xander hissed.
"No, she's right," Willow sighed, nodding. "For a second there, I forgot he wasn't... you know. Real."
"Okay... good point," Xander said grudgingly. "This whole thing has got me wired. Must be the police angle... they sure put a crimp in our usual happy-go-lucky Slayer antics, don't they?"
"Let's just hope we don't have to deal with them again. I sure don't want to explore more disposal possibilities for dead--- undead--- oh, you know. For things that aren't alive." Cordelia ignored the face Xander was making, because that was when she noticed Buffy getting a drink at a fountain down the hall. "Look, there she is. Let's go check on her and her mom, make sure she's not under arrest, and then leave. Hospitals give me the creeps."
"Buff?" Buffy looked up from the fountain, and Cordelia could see a white bandage around her neck, but she didn't look anywhere as frantic as she had when they'd been back at her house. Xander put his arm around her shoulders, and after stiffening up a second she relaxed and leaned against him. Something which did _not_ make Cordelia jealous; it was just pathetic, how he was always so helpful with Buffy, that was all. "How's your mom?"
"She's got a concussion, and some bad bruises. The doctors say she's lucky nothing got wrenched or broken." Her mouth quirked sideways, and she sighed. "But she's going to be okay, they think. They're keeping her overnight for observation. I'm going to stay here with her." Buffy smiled a tiny bit, then swallowed. "The police were here---"
"We saw. Are you still in trouble?" Willow asked with concern.
"Not really." Buffy grimaced, then shuddered. "They know he's alive, so I'm not in trouble for hitting him anymore. Detective Stein came by when he heard about the 911 call on the police radio, he wanted to make sure my mom and I were okay. He said Ted killed an intern when he escaped from the morgue, and, well... they thought he might come after us."
"Eewww," Cordelia gulped. "It's just like a movie-of-the-week." Everyone stared at her a second, until she said defensively, "Well, it is! Especially with all the wives in the closet---"
"Wives in the closet?" Buffy asked, her eyes going real big.
"Nice going, Cordy." Xander shot her a dirty look, and Cordelia glared at him, despising him for all she was worth. It was true. So why was he coming down on her?
"Ted sort of... had a collection going," Willow said carefully. "So, it's really a very good thing that... he's not around any more."
"Well, he's around," Xander said, smirking a little.
"Around and about," Cordelia added, then felt herself almost start to giggle. "Here and there."
"Hither and yon," Xander concluded portentously. Buffy glanced from him to Cordelia and then raised her eyebrows at Willow, whose mouth was twitching.
"What did you guys do with Ted, anyway?"
"Nothing," Cordelia and Xander and Willow all said at once. "Nothing you want to hear about, anyway." Willow shrugged. "We just... helped him visit some new and different places."
"Oh, yeah," Xander agreed, and Cordelia chuckled under her breath.
"Buffy?" Mrs. Summers' voice called weakly from the next door down the hall, and Buffy immediately turned toward it.
"Look, I've got to go---"
"We know, go, be with your mom."
"Do you want us to stop by your house and get you some toothpaste or something? Since you're staying the night, I mean, I'd hate to wake up and not be able to brush my teeth..." Cordelia asked. Willow and Xander stared at her again, but Buffy smiled.
"Yeah, that would be great. Thanks." Buffy went into her mom's room, and they could hear Joyce Summers saying something that sounded apologetic and tearful, and Buffy trying to quiet her, and then what sounded like Buffy crying; but it was mixed with relieved-sounding whispers, and her mom saying hush. So it was probably going to be okay.
Cordelia thought it was a little scary, how relieved that made *her* feel. But it did.
"I'll drop you off at the park, you can drive Giles's car back to his place, and Willow and I will pick you up there after we're back from Buffy's," she told Xander, taking his arm and steering him down the hall, and pulling Willow's arm a little to get her moving too. "Okay?"
"I just want to say that being in school an hour *early* goes against any philosophy I might have." Cordelia crossed her arms and pouted, tapping one foot on the floor.
Buffy was looking sleepy-eyed but game. "What's the deal, Will? What's up?"
Willow stood in front of the empty computer classroom, which she'd appropriated since she had the keys, video tape in hand. She'd half-expected Miss Calendar to be there, and had wanted to show her the tape. But Miss Calendar was no where in sight. "I think you'd want to see this, Buffy. All of you, but Buffy especially. You see, when we were taking Te--uh, the android apart I found--"
She was cut off by a loud snore. Xander was sitting perfectly straight at his desk, eyes closed and mouth open. Cordelia reached out and smacked the back of his head, and he awoke with a start. "I wasn't asleep."
"No, you just normally sound like a semi in need of a tune-up," Cordy snapped.
"At least I don't sound like a pull-string Barbie doll," Xander snapped back.
"Guys!" Buffy cut off the incipient fight. "Will?"
"As I was saying..." Willow turned on the TV she'd pulled from the closet and dragged to the front of the room, "we found a reel of film inside the android--"
"Eewww," Cordelia commented to no one in particular.
"--and I converted it into video." Without any more comments from the Slayerette gallery, she hit play on the VCR and killed the lights.
There was snow for the first few seconds of the tape, and then they saw a black-and-white image of an extreme close-up of a hideously ugly shirt. "If you say eewww again, Cordy--" Xander started.
"Sssssssh!" the three girls hissed.
The shirt pulled back and Ted settled himself in front of the camera. "Wow. He looks bad," Buffy said in some surprise; Willow had to agree. Unlike the jowly psychopathic robot they all knew and hated, the guy on the screen looked like he'd spent a week at the lovely resort hosted by the Nazi government.
"To whoever should find this... pretty good, huh?" Ted grinned weakly out at the world and attempted a chuckle, which turned into a hacking cough. "I've been working on my doppelganger for years; as soon as I found out that... well, never mind that for now. I want to tell you about my masterpiece. The programming in particular gave me problems..."
Xander was threatening to drop off again after five solid minutes of processors, neural transponders and other geeker language. Reluctantly, Willow hit the fast forward button despite her own fascination with the subject. "I'll just get to the good stuff."
"...you see, Peggy didn't want to leave. Not really. She loved me. She always loved me. And I understand that she didn't want to nurse a weakling until he died. No woman would want that. So now she won't have to. I'll be able to take care of her. For always. Marriage is for always. She'll never leave me again. She won't ever have to worry about me dying on her now. I've programmed the android to be me. He walks and talks like me. He thinks like me. For all intents and purposes, he *is* me.
"And we'll be together forever."
There was silence in the room as the film faded back into static and snow, then Willow stopped the tape. "Of course, we can't be sure how close the Ted we met is to the original, but he really *did* do a good job with making it look human and have human reactions and everything. I can't figure out if all those kidnappings were what the original Ted would have done, or if the android's programming got scrambled after so many years...." She shrugged, and popped the cassette out of the VCR.
"Does it matter?" Cordelia asked, shuddering. "The whole thing is icky. And sad. Talk about not knowing when to give up."
"Yeah," Buffy said absently, staring at the blank screen, her eyes far away.
"Buffy? Hey, Buff, come back to us," Xander said, waving a hand in front of her face.
"Hunh? Oh, sorry." She grinned suddenly, and Willow was glad to see that it was a real grin, not a fake or angry one. "I was just thinking... I didn't kill a person. Which is a huge load off my mind. I don't want to ever have to kill a human being. It feels terrible, thinking you did something like that." She sighed, her grin gentling into a smile. "But if I had..." The relief in her face was only outshone by the affection. "I know I could count on you guys to stand by me. No matter what."
Xander shrugged. "No big deal. I mean, friends help you move. But real friends help you move bodies. Right?" he asked, grinning back.
"Hey, what about me? I helped," Cordelia complained.
Buffy tilted her head to one side and thought for a moment. "Come to think of it, you did. Which means that you get to be on-call for monster cleanup duty, right? Any time of day and night?"
"Eewww," was Cordelia's final comment.
"Murderer Still At Large." In any other publication, Giles reflected, such a comment would be an occasion of extreme distress and panic. It was simply a given for Sunnydale.
Sighing, he folded the paper, wincing slightly as the motion pulled the stitches on his back. With a great deal of trepidation, he had swallowed half the recommended dose of the painkillers the doctor had prescribed for him, fearing a recurrence of his ridiculous actions the night before. Luckily, it seemed as though a mixture of adrenaline, shock, general anesthetic and codeine had worked together to produce that result. Today he merely felt weary and achy -- and quite, quite embarrassed.
The slight swish of the library door was the only warning that he had. Jenny poked her head around the door. Spying him, she stepped fully into the room and let the door fall shut behind her. A quick, shy smile lit her face. "Good morning, Rupert," she greeted him cheerfully.
"Good morning, Miss Calendar." Rising with some difficulty, he stepped to the check-out counter. If he could manage to avoid her eyes, he could somehow manage to survive the humiliation....
"Is Buffy around? I wasn't getting much out of her last night, and I thought maybe she would be calmer today." Casually, Jenny leaned against the counter. "How's your back?"
"Fine," he said automatically, feeling the heat creeping up his neck. He started to lift a book to the counter-top, and winced in pain as he did so. The book tumbled from his hands to clatter to the floor.
Teasing dropped, Jenny knelt to pick up the book, reaching for it at the same moment as Giles. Their hands met on the binding, and Giles quickly jerked his back.
Biting her lip, Jenny rose to her feet and carefully placed the book on the counter. Aligning the bottom edge of the book with the grain of the fake wood, she tried to get her breathing under control. //I told him he would be angry with me after last night. Lady Bless, I *shot* him! He's got every right to be angry...//
"Jenny," Giles said, his voice nearly strangled. Surprised by her first name when he had retreated to the formality of 'Miss Calendar' barely five minutes before, Jenny looked up at him.
"I wanted to... apologize is not nearly strong enough a word... ah, you were very good to help me last night, and I repaid you in the basest way possible... I, ah, can't begin to express how..."
"Embarrassed you are?" Jenny filled in for him, beginning to relax again. He was so sweet when he got all noble and British and everything. "Rupert, *I* shot *you*. I think apologies are my job today." She looked back at the book on the counter. "And I am. Sorry. I was careless, and I should have known better."
"Well, while I can't say I approve of your methods, you *did* manage to provide me with a weapon capable of killing that vampire. At least you're sorry for trying to kill me; I hardly think the vampire would share your sentiments." He chuckled briefly, then quieted. Pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket, he took off his glasses to clean them. "And it isn't as if you didn't have some reason to wish to shoot me." Jenny wanted to reach out and touch him, but he was engaged in optical hygiene, a state which she recognized as extreme discomfort. "I--ah, might have said or done things last night that could be construed as... well, lacking in tact or respect..." He coughed, giving up the pretense of cleaning his glasses to twist them nervously in his fingers. "I apologize for my untoward actions toward you, they were most inexcusable and most--"
"--ly my actions, remember?" Jenny frowned. "How much of last night do you remember?"
"Ah, quite a bit, actually." Without actually focusing on her, he offered her a smile. "When I was quite a bit younger and eons more foolish, it was something of a curse to me that intoxication did not dull my memory."
Jenny acknowledged that he was trying to throw Eyghon in their path again, and firmly pushed the demon away. Smiling at him, she deliberately crowded his personal space. She twined her arms around his neck. "So you'll remember who kissed whom last night, right?"
That close, his eyes focused on her clearly, the look in them going through her like a brilliant laser. If she had ever hoped to believe that she wasn't desperately in love with him, her reaction to the look in his eyes would have killed it. Lucky for her, his eyes told her that he loved her just as much. Linking her hands behind his head, she pulled him down to her.
It was like being faintly drunk, she decided. He was careful, so beautifully careful, his hands on her as though she was likely to break. She was floating three feet off the floor, her only chain to reality the man in her arms, and Goddess knew she wasn't about to let go of him, no matter what...
She thought she heard something. The faint sound of the library door opening, perhaps. Although why did the door giggle? The sliver of her brain not completely involved in the kiss pondered the thought briefly, then discarded it.
After all, there were far more important things to concentrate on.
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