A hand snapping out at the alarm cut off its nerve-grating buzzing before it had a chance to really get going. Kennedy glanced briefly at the clock as she yawned and stretched, the yawn soon becoming a shiver. She looked down at herself to find that the only part of her covered was her big toe, which had managed to maintain a tenuous grip on the sheets. She looked to her left at the culprit – Willow had managed to curl herself into a tight ball and was nearly buried under a mountain of sheets and blankets.
Practically the only part of Willow visible to the waking world was a shock of red hair, but her voice still came through unmuffled, if sleepy. "Tell the walrus I broke his sweater," she mumbled.
Kennedy propped herself on her elbow, bending over Willow and carefully peeling back the sheets to reveal the witch's face, mouth slightly open, her expression very innocent and trouble-free. Now with a clear view, Kennedy leaned back and simply watched the sleeping Willow for a moment, a look of adoration on the Slayer's face. Shivering again in the cool morning air, she curled up behind Willow and tried to rouse her.
"Will ... "
Her face split into a grin as Willow grumbled darkly and tried to burrow under the blankets, refusing to acknowledge the inevitable.
"C'mon Red, I'm freezin' to death here."
"Nyyh," Willow whined, still half-asleep, "m'comfy."
Kennedy leaned closer, her breath tickling Willow's ear. "Share, or I introduce your back to my sub-zero feet."
With a huge, overly dramatic sigh, Willow shifted, pulling at the covers around her with one hand while she tried to untangle herself. When she felt she had gone above and beyond the call of duty, she flung a handful of the sheets toward Kennedy. The Slayer hastily slipped underneath and resumed her cuddling.
"A wise choice," chuckled Kennedy. "I could keep meat frozen for a week with these things."
Willow scrunched her closed eyes tighter. "That mental image is too strange to deal with right now. I'm going back to—"
Suddenly realizing what time it was, Willow's eyes snapped wide open, all previous traces of sleep vanished. "Oh! Class!"
She tossed off the covers and tried to get up, but Kennedy's arm was still wrapped tightly around her waist and she wasn't able to move more than an inch or two. "Class! Have to— Getting up— Need— With the getting ready— And the learning—" Valiantly, she kept trying to get out of bed and utterly failed every time until finally, she gave up and settled down on her back, looking over to Kennedy, whose eyes were sparkling with amusement. "Kenn ... " she began.
Kennedy squeezed her eyes shut and nestled into Willow's arm, never releasing her grip. "Nyyh, m'comfy," she said, in a passing imitation of her girlfriend.
"Kenn, sweetie ... Class," Willow explained, as though this was all that needed to be said.
"Again? You just had those yesterday," protested Kennedy.
"See, that's the funny thing about school. It's sort of an ... ongoing, perpetual learny thing. Wacky as it sounds, odds are that I'll be going there three, four, sometimes even five times a week."
This seemed only to cement for Kennedy the logic of her plan. "Well since you have so many, you can miss one and never even notice."
"But- But psychology!" said Willow, becoming frantic. "It took me years to stop gettin' sweaty palms from just a glimpse of a psych textbook. And Professor Malone? So good! And the best part is, he's not even remotely interested in creating a cybernetic demon half-breed army! I know, cuz I asked him ..."
"... Though he gets this funny little look on his face whenever he sees me now ..."
Her name finally broke through Willow's ramblings and she fell silent, looking up at Kennedy.
"Stay with me," Kennedy requested, staring intently.
The redhead's face fell. "I can't," she said, regretfully but firmly.
Neither woman moved for a moment, then Kennedy pulled her arm away, releasing Willow and lying flat on her back on her side of the bed.
"Kennedy ... " started Willow gently.
"No, hey, it's cool," Kennedy told her with a shrug, her tone overly light and dismissive. "You got a thing. I understand."
Wearing a pained expression, Willow tried to make eye contact with Kennedy, but the Slayer's gaze remained fixed on the ceiling. "It's not like I don't wanna stay ... "
"I get it," she answered tersely.
With a final regretful sigh, Willow swung her legs off the bed and headed toward the closet to find something to wear.
"Will." Quickly, Willow turned to Kennedy, her face searching and hopeful. The Slayer was resting her head in her hand and smiled slightly at Willow's obvious need for things to be okay. "I get it. Really. You've just got a lot of stuff going on in your life and ... " Kennedy smirked at herself. "I guess you're not the only one who needs to learn how to share."
A few steps brought Willow back to the bed. She leaned over to kiss Kennedy, brief and chaste. "We'll do somethin' fun together real soon," she promised, heading back to the closet, "just the two of us."
Kennedy's grin was anything but chaste as she glanced at the bed underneath her. Willow caught the look and glared, mockingly reproachful. "Something else fun together with just the two of us."
"Maybe I'm aimin' for a double-header," leered Kennedy, wiggling her eyebrows.
"Nice try, but I'm still goin' to class."
A groan filled the room as Kennedy flopped back and pulled the covers over her head.
The front door to the Scoobies' house opened and Giles stepped inside. He looked around and, unable to see anybody, closed the door behind him and followed the sound of running water to the kitchen. Xander stood at the sink, washing dishes.
"Good morning," Giles greeted.
Surprised, Xander glanced over his shoulder. "Giles! I didn't hear you come in. Must have been the delirious, break-neck techno beat that is my life, pounding in my ears. Or maybe it was the running water. It was probably one or the other."
Giles blinked in confusion. "Your life is a techno beat?"
"Oh yeah," agreed Xander enthusiastically. "Although sometimes it's a sensuous little salsa number."
"Never tell me," insisted Giles.
Xander nodded amiably. "You got it."
Peering slightly into the hall behind him, Giles asked, “Where are the others?”
"Will's been released back into her natural habitat," Xander replied, rinsing off a "Witches do it in Circles!" coffee mug and setting it into the draining board. "Dawn's at school too, having decided she'd rather be there than take me up on my very generous offer of truancy to watch Plan 9 from Outer Space and get a real education. And Kennedy's off doin' whatever it is Slayers do when the sun's up," he added with a wave toward the general outdoors.
"And yourself? What are your plans for today?"
With the faucet turned off, the room seemed much quieter. Xander flicked the excess water from his hands and grabbed a nearby towel, drying them off as he turned to Giles. "Well now the dishes are done, I thought I might vacuum the carpets, sweep and mop the floors, watch 'Days of Our Lives' while darning socks, and then curl up into a ball and mourn the complete and utter loss of my manhood." He grinned broadly. "You?"
"Nothing quite so, uhm ... socially constructive," replied Giles after a moment.
"You know what this place needs?" asked Xander, indicating the house in general. "A good woman. One that isn't a minor or approximately one hundred thousand times more powerful than me."
"Yes," smirked Giles, "and perhaps afterwards she can get to work on producing all those male heirs for you."
Xander laughed wistfully and gazed into the distance. "Yeah," he sighed, and then quickly snapped back to reality. "Dear god, please don't tell anyone we talked about this."
"Believe me," Giles replied, polishing his glasses, "it's hardly the shining moment in a lifetime of conversation."
Tossing the dishtowel to one side, Xander moved into the living room, Giles following behind. "So if it's not my rapier-like wit and charmingly backwards notion of gender roles that drew you to The House That Testosterone Forgot, what brings you here?"
Giles sat on the couch as Xander slumped into his usual chair. "You, actually." Giles smiled gently. "I'm concerned, Xander. You seem to have become somewhat ... reclusive?"
"Oh, but I'm pickin' up valuable skills. I mean you should see me darn the heck out of a sock," he smirked, raising one of his sock-clad feet and wiggling his toes.
The older man wasn't buying it. "I know what a difficult time you've had over the past few months—"
"Yeah, everyone's real big with the understanding these days," snapped Xander, instantly looking regretful as the moment passed. "Sorry," he apologized, no trace of anger. "I'm sorry."
Giles nodded, letting Xander know it had already been forgotten.
"I'm just having trouble, y'know, finding ... " trailing off, Xander adjusted himself in the chair so he was facing Giles. "Did you know I had an interview the other day with a construction company?" At Giles' surprised look, he continued, "Yup. Figured if I didn't get somethin' in my day that didn't involve a Proctor & Gamble product, I might as well just grow breasts and be done with it."
"How did it go?" inquired Giles.
"Amazingly, they seemed reluctant to allow someone with half the standard number of eyes around heavy machinery. Personally, I think they just didn't like my shoes."
Softening at Xander’s words, Giles sympathetically said, “I’m very sorry.”
Xander shrugged as though it wasn't a big deal. "It's not that I don't enjoy being Mr. Mom. Which I don't, by the way. But I gotta do something, right? I mean, what good is this one-eyed carpenter to anybody anymore? Really? I might as well sweep, a task hindered only slightly by a complete lack of depth perception. If I can't even be trusted around others with a hammer and a stack of nails, then I certainly can't save An—anyone. And that's what the Scoobies do, right?" His lips puckered, as though he'd just tasted something extremely bitter. "We save people."
Giles said nothing for a moment, considering Xander. When he did speak again, it was decisive. "Actually, I have to confess, I'm glad you didn't get the job."
"I'm so happy you came over to make me feel better," Xander interjected, a trace of amusement back in his voice.
"No no no," Giles backpedaled, "I mean, had you accepted a position, I would have been left somewhat in the lurch. My reasons for coming over today were not entirely selfless," he admitted. "I'm sure it's not escaped your notice, but I have a somewhat extensive collection of books—"
Xander nearly laughed out loud. "Somewhat? Giles, you make the Library of Congress look like a Waldenbooks."
"Yes." A huge, proud grin brightened Giles' face for just a second before returning to his previous train of thought. "Anyway, given the ... volatile nature of some of the volumes, as well as their unusual size in several instances, I've been having trouble locating appropriate storage space. I was rather counting on you to build something for me." Giles favored Xander with an affectionate smile. "You see, I trust you quite implicitly with both a hammer and stack of nails."
"But not heavy machinery?" Xander asked, matching Giles' smile.
"I didn't trust you with that before; I'm certainly not going to do it after," he replied smoothly.
Willow and her friend Erin split apart to duck around a group of jocks taking up most of the sidewalk. They met up again on the other side to resume their conversation.
"So you're saying you don't think that humans are innately selfish?" Erin queried, grabbing her baseball cap as a strong wind nearly carried it away.
"Oh no, we are," replied Willow, shaking her head to get her hair out of her eyes. "I mean, when you get right down to it, we're big hairless apes, right? If you strip it all away, people are just animals with modesty."
Both girls couldn't help but notice a fellow student, only barely wearing a tight baby doll t-shirt and a pair of low-riding hip-huggers, walking in the opposite direction.
"Some of us, anyway," Willow deadpanned once the girl was safely out of earshot. The two succumbed to a momentary giggle fit until Erin waved her hand in the air, forcibly regaining control so they could return to the debate.
"And animals are selfish," she finally managed to prompt.
"Oh, entirely," agreed Willow. "I had this cat once? It was all about her, lemme tell you. 'Feed me! Pet me! No snuggles for you, mommies, Miss Kitty has a hankerin' for some quality string-battin' time!'"
Erin grinned at the imagery. "Which brings us to the part where I'm dazed and confused," she admitted. "All of this was pretty much the crux of Malone's lecture, so what do you disagree with?"
"The simplicity of it all!" exclaimed Willow animatedly. "I've known some truly horrible, bad, selfish people in my time. But I've also known some that are truly good. Then there's the more-than-a-few that walk the thin confusing line in the middle. There's just too much out there to be neatly boxed up and labeled 'people equals selfish'."
Her friend mulled this over, eyes brightening. "The very thing that makes us human defies such a blanket classification," she said slowly, getting it.
"Exactly!" Willow nearly hopped in her excitement. "People have a self-awareness that allows them to rise above the base, animal impulses, so when we succumb to 'em, it's a choice and not an uncontrollable response."
Erin tucked her bangs back under her ballcap where they'd slipped out and cast a sidelong glance at Willow. "Huh. That's pretty sharp. I'm impressed." This time Willow couldn't suppress the delighted little bounce in her step. "So since we're now in agreement that humans are above such simple pulls on their psyche," smirked Erin, "you're gonna let me duck out of that mocha I owe you, right?"
"Oh, no way," replied Willow, the same smile firmly in place.
"What happened to rising above our base impulses?"
"I said we have the self-awareness to choose. And I choose mocha-y delights," the redhead concluded with a definitive nod of her head.
"Can't blame a girl for tryin'."
The path they had been following finally opened into the quad, which was, typically, filled almost to capacity with students walking, talking, sleeping, reading, eating, or doing pretty much whatever they felt like doing at the time. One particularly large group was gathered some distance away, seemingly listening to someone who was standing on a bench and speaking with great fervor. Willow and Erin barely noticed though as they began to part ways. Erin headed to the left, while Willow remained straight.
"I'll get paid tonight," Erin called over her shoulder, "so Monday afternoon?"
Willow nodded. "I want double whipped cream!" she demanded to her friend's retreating back.
With a slight eye roll, Erin waved at Willow and picked up her pace. The redhead continued on her way as well, utterly thrilled to be back in her element and soaking up every minute.
As she moved further into the center of the quad, Willow noticed the throng of people, and walked closer to see what was attracting so much attention. A young woman, pretty in an unassuming way, was marching back and forth on the bench she had claimed. Her voice was loud and clear, easily carrying over the heads of the students gathered around her. She, and others who were obviously part of the same group, were all wearing t-shirts proclaiming themselves to be part of an organization called "Pining Away".
"... The tree doesn't destroy, it creates," the leader was saying. "It does not kill its own kind or violate the world around it. The tree exists in absolute harmony with those who treat it with respect. It is a perfect creation – nurturing, sustaining, life-giving. It is a gift from Mother Earth, a thing of beauty to be cherished."
Willow took a moment to observe the students around her. One or two were nodding their heads, obviously in complete agreement. Several more than that were whispering to their friends, making snide comments and laughing to themselves. Most, however, wore an expression largely born of apathy.
The leader continued as though everyone withing hearing distance shared her vision. "The stability of the entire world rests in the boughs of the tree ... and yet man, in his infinite ignorance and bottomless capacity for greed and corruption, persists in pillaging the land. We are all children of the ..."
Willow had been so engrossed in the speech, she didn't notice that one of the activists had come to stand right next to her. The woman regarded her for a long moment then leaned over to make herself easily heard.
"She's good, isn't she?"
The witch nearly jumped out of her skin and turned wide eyes to the activist. "What? Oh- Oh, yeah!" she stammered, trying to regain her composure. "Very good. She's certainly passionate."
"We all are," she replied, her voice smooth and warm. "It's so easy to feel that way. The trees are our sisters, our mothers, our daughters. They cry out in pain, yet people never hear them. What choice do we have but to speak on their behalf?" The activist asked the question imploringly, her eyes fixed on Willow with such intensity that the redhead shuffled slightly under the scrutiny.
"When you put it that way ... " she began, "well it's kinda creepy, actually, but yeah. I can see what you mean."
"I thought you might. I sensed you were a kindred spirit."
A smile lifted Willow's lips and she started bouncing happily on the balls of her feet again, her previous discomfort forgotten.
The activist returned the smile and extended her hand gracefully. "Xylia," she introduced.
Willow accepted the offered hand and gave it a brief but firm shake. "Hi. Willow."
Xylia cocked her head to one side and smirked. "'Willow'," she repeated. "How appropriate."
"Alright, what is this crap?"
Giles looked up in surprise as Faith burst into his office. She stomped to his desk and slammed her hands on the surface, scattering various papers into the air. Giles moved to snatch them back, but catching the fire in Faith's eyes, decided to wait until later to reorganize.
In traditional Faith fashion, it didn't take her long to come to the point. "Am I part of this thing or not? Cuz if not, fine, you gimme the word and I'm gone – no tears, no fuss." She jabbed her thumb behind her. "But don't make me an idiot out there, Oxford. That crap ain't gonna fly."
The Watcher shook his head, confused. "Faith, what—?"
She pushed off of his desk and began pacing around the room. "Allison Lloyd, Slayer up in Nebraska?" she explained. "I finally get there, psyche myself up for the big 'You're a Slayer, I'm a Slayer' bit, an' just as I'm startin' to get into it, she says she already heard it."
"Already heard it?" repeated Giles, not understanding.
"Yeah. Says someone showed up the day before and already gave her the speech, all about Slayers bandin' together and whatever other Pollyanna crap you got floatin' around," she waved her hand abstractly at Giles." So there I am, gapin' at her an' she's lookin' at me an' I just kinda go 'Oh,' and leave. Not a shining moment," she added angrily.
Giles could only sit and stare at Faith, stunned.
"An' lemme tell you, Nebraska City, not the party town you might expect."
Recovering quickly, Giles looked at the Slayer with a solemn expression. "Faith, I swear to you, I've sent no one else on your dispatches. I wouldn't do that."
Faith's pacing slowed as she began to calm down.
"Nor would I need to," he continued. "You've proven yourself time and again to be an able and valuable member of this team. You are absolutely part of this ... 'thing'," he gestured to include everything around him.
"Yeah, well ... " Faith's eyes darted around the room nervously, feeling embarrassed by her outburst. "Okay then. So if you didn't do it, what the hell?"
Giles frowned at Faith's question as he straightened up the work on his desk. "I have no idea," he admitted. "I suppose I might have accidentally assigned Ms. Lloyd to more than one person, but Willow's usually so meticulous about the lists that I'm finding such difficult to believe."
Faith snorted at the thought. "Yeah, heaven forbid there's a glitch in Red's color-coding. She'll go into complete meltdown."
"Still, I'm at a loss for any other explanation. She didn't say anything else?" he asked.
"Just that she'd heard it all before. Honestly? I was so thrown, I just wanted out ASAP. I didn't ask for a blow-by-blow." Faith wandered over to one of the many interesting items lining the walls of Giles' office. She peered at a statue that appeared to be some sort of tribal relic, a stylized representation of a warrior holding a spear.
"No, no, I'd imagine not," Giles said from behind his desk, sounding far away and no longer paying much attention to the papers in his hand.
Faith poked curiously at the tiny spear in the statue's hand. "Hey, maybe you could call her, though. She seemed like a nice enough kid, probably wouldn't mind tellin' you about my shadow." She frowned. "Though I'm followin' them, so I guess it's more like I'm their shadow." Pondering it for a moment more, Faith shrugged. "Well whatever, try callin'."
Giles only barely seemed to hear what Faith was saying. "Yes, good idea. Thank you."
Another jab at the spear broke the entire statue's hand off, spear and all. Faith's eyes widened and she darted her hand out, catching it before it could clatter to the ground. She anxiously looked over her shoulder at Giles, but he was deep in his own thoughts. Faith opened a box near the statue and smoothly disposed of the evidence. "So, Wood around?" she asked brightly, moving to the other end of the room. "I got some energy from the road, figured we could hook up or somethin'."
"Hm? Oh, no, he's on assignment," replied Giles, refocusing. "Up in Canada, actually."
Faith was impressed. "Canada? Damn, lookit him, all world traveler."
"I would've waited until you got back, but—" Giles began apologetically.
"Wanted fugitive crossing borders, not a good idea."
"Not as such, no," he reluctantly agreed. "I do have Willow working on some way we can expunge your record, however, so you won't be quite so restricted in the future. Nor at quite so much risk while you're away."
Faith shrugged, examining another artifact nearby. She reached out as though to touch this one too, but thought better of it and pulled her hand back. "No rush," she shrugged, returning to the center of the room, "it's all good. I'm gettin' to like runnin' from the cops. Gives me and my bike a work out, helps keep things exciting."
"It's doing well, then?" Giles asked, glancing up from the papers he was sorting.
"The bike? Oh yeah, handles like a dream."
Giles muttered only half to himself, "Bloody well better for the amount it cost."
"Gotta travel in style, yo," grinned Faith, spreading her arms out.
The paper shuffling came to a halt as Giles regarded Faith. "Isn't it amazing how 'style' always seems to come with an astronomical price tag?"
"Yeah, but you should see me on this thing," she grinned wider, "I look hot."
"I'll take your word for it," he smirked back.
Buffy pushed aside a low-hanging branch and moved along at a slow but steady pace. The area was nearly pitch black, what little illumination there was provided entirely by the sliver of moon overhead. And clouds and the thick mist that clung to the air obscured most of that.
"Can't travel during the day, oh no," Buffy chastised herself. "Me heap big Slayer, me scoff at sunlight. Never mind that sunlight is one part sun and one part light, both of which would be welcome in a 'seeing' and 'not freezing my butt off' way right now."
She absorbed the scenery around her before continuing her external internal monologue. "Still, I suppose there's something to be said for the atmosphere. That something probably being 'creepy', but it's a something."
She took a few more steps in complete silence before continuing, "Yup. Just me and my backpack and a setting right out of An American Werewolf in London. What's gotta be wrong with this?"
Buffy jumped as a scream cut through the night. She sighed deeply.
"And of course, I have no one but myself to blame for this," she said to nobody in particular before running in the direction of the scream.