Buffy entered the dining room to the usual breakfast scene. Willow was sitting at the head of the table farthest from the entrance, a mostly ignored plate of toast and a glass of orange juice shoved to the side to make way for the giant organizer that lay open in front of the redhead. Next to her sat Xander, alternating between inhaling strips of bacon and shoveling forkfuls of waffle into his mouth.
A stack of papers clutched in her hand, Willow leaned in close to Xander, very excitedly sharing their contents with him. Neither paid much notice to Buffy as the Slayer, bags under her bloodshot eyes, poured a glass of orange juice and quickly downed it before pouring another and taking a seat across from Willow.
"Oh, but this one," enthused Willow as she turned to the next section in her organizer. "I'm so excited about this one, I can't even tell you." She pulled free another thick wad of papers from the divider's pocket and placed them before Xander, leaning over so she could look at them too.
Xander gave the pages a quick scan with a dubious expression before he read the heading. "'Theory of ... automata'?" He glanced at Willow, checking to see if he pronounced the word correctly, and she nodded at him, beaming all the while. Turning back, Xander continued, "... languages, and compatibility."
"Computability," the hacker corrected.
"And now we see why I never went to college." Xander waggled his bacon at Willow. "I would've flunked not only the written, but the verbal." He took a savage bite from the greasy strip.
Glancing back at the papers, Willow nodded. "It's a mouthful, I know, but the professor, he's so funny! He made this joke about context-free languages that just—"
"Will? This early, about as much mental challenge I can stand is figurin' out what kinda syrup I want." He gestured to the pages she was gathering together. "Your class titles are a puzzle to me. Please don't make my tiny brain explode."
"Sorry. Sorry," she apologized, still beaming. "A new term just gets the ol' ticker pumpin', you know?" Clearly Xander did not know anything of the sort, but the redhead's enthusiasm would not be dampened. She breathed deeply, as though savoring the aroma of a fine cognac. "The allure of a brand spankin' new notebook, spending way too much money on an assortment of textbooks with frequently irrelevant covers—"
Xander blinked at her. "Mmm, maple," he remarked pointedly, jabbing his forkful of waffle in Willow's direction.
A stuck-out tongue was her only retort, and Willow turned her attentions to the half-asleep Slayer. "So how's Buffy today?"
"Tired. Grumpy," the blonde replied with a huff.
Wrapping a protective arm around his breakfast, Xander eyed Buffy warily. "She's degenerated to one-word responses. Hide everything breakable."
"Whassa matter?" a concerned Willow asked instead.
With a groan, Buffy rubbed her bleary eyes. "Dreams. Really ... intense. I'm still having trouble waking up."
"Dreams?" gulped Xander through a mouthful of waffle. "Bad dreams? Slashy, deathy, evil dreams?"
"No, more ..." Buffy searched for the right words. "Satiny, candle-y, romantic dreams."
The carpenter relaxed instantly. "Ahh." He nodded sagely. "I know of these dreams only too well."
"Maybe you just need a—" Willow broke off, and she turned to Xander with an expression of complete befuddlement, as though she could not have possibly heard him correctly. He neither retracted his statement nor saw fit to further expound, however, instead only giving Willow a nod of encouragement for her to proceed.
Glancing from one to the other, Buffy clearly had no idea what they were talking about. "A what? I need a what? And don't say psychiatrist, because so no."
But the momentary certainty had been fleeting, and now the redhead was clearly nervous. "Well, see, we've been ... There've been talkings, a-and Xander an' me ... or is it ‘Xander and I'?" She frowned. "I never remember that grammar rule, and really, either one sounds right. I think you'd drop the ‘Xander and' part though, and whichever makes the rest of the sentence grammatically correct is the right one, so in this instance I think—"
"You need a date," interrupted Xander, leaning forward and ignoring the irritated glare from Willow.
Buffy stared, her red eyes having difficulty focusing. "I need a what?"
"A date," he repeated.
"And not the fruity, sugarcoated kind," added Willow.
"You know, that social interaction thing that two people do when they're trying to find out if they can stand being alone together for more than five seconds at a time?" Xander jabbed his finger decisively at the Slayer. "You should have one of those. A normal one of those. With someone whose body is above room temperature."
The blonde was instantly defensive. "I've had a normal date!"
Flustered, Buffy searched her memory. It took several seconds, but finally she settled on one that was perfectly crafted to make her point. "With Riley. Riley and I, we went to see a movie." A firm, single nod of her head indicated to all that as far as Buffy was concerned, the battle was won.
"Riley," echoed Xander with a note of disbelief. "Your last normal date was a guy who was drugged, chipped and semi-brainwashed as part of a secret government-sponsored monster hunting squad, who then later let himself be drained by vampires for fun before running off into the jungles of where-in-the-hell."
For a brief moment, the words simply hung there.
"Okay, I grant you, Riley sort of raises the bar for normalcy," she relented, "but ... but there's ... I mean ..."
"I think it was Scott Hope," muttered Willow mostly to herself with a contemplative expression, as though she were working out a highly complex logic puzzle.
Buffy's expression fell as she realized her friend was most likely painfully close to the truth. Soon, however, she shifted to irritation. "You two have been discussing my social life?"
"What social life?" countered Xander, remaining brave in the face of the Slayer's impending wrath. His tone softened as the carpenter attempted to plead his case. "Look, Buff, we just think you, you know, could do with meeting a nice guy an' I think maybe your dream-filled subconscious agrees with us." Immediately Buffy's mouth snapped open to retort, but Xander hurriedly pressed on before she could, raising his volume in anticipation of the protest. "So to aid in this, we—" he gestured to himself and an uncomfortable-looking Willow, "—have some fine candidates in mind."
The blonde didn't react to the news, save for narrowing her gaze at Willow, glaring openly.
"He's a good guy!" the witch exclaimed, searching for some way out of this mess with all four limbs attached. "And cute, in that slightly geeky-yet-endearing Hal Sparks kinda way."
Xander's smile was encouraging. "C'mon, Buff. New year, birthday just around the corner ... It's a time of new beginnings."
The Slayer continued to glare flatly at the conspirators. "I'm guaranteed to not get even two minutes of peace about this unless I agree, am I?"
"Or your money back," Xander cheerfully confirmed.
The answering sigh was long and very pained, and when Buffy spoke, her tone was coated with unenthusiastic resignation. "Fine." She rubbed her forehead painfully. "Date me up, Scotty."
Dawn, her bright pink backpack slung over one shoulder, entered the room. Without hesitation, she crossed to Willow's side and scooped up the uneaten piece of toast. Taking a huge bite, she glanced at her sister with a smirk. "Date? You're dating now?" The teenager tipped her head to one side. "Awww."
"'Awww'?" Buffy echoed with a frown.
A lesser person might have experienced fear at the hint of warning in Buffy's voice, but Dawn was no such person. "It's just, you know." she shrugged and popped the last morsel of toast in her mouth. "Cute. Like when you see little ol' gran'mas getting ready for their beaux."
For some reason, Buffy didn't seem to find the comparison a favorable one. "I'm glad you think so, since that's as old as you're going to have to be before you can date."
Rolling her eyes dramatically, Dawn readjusted her backpack and strode toward the kitchen. "Jackie's outside, gotta get to school. Later guys."
Willow and Xander called out goodbyes while Buffy simply glared at the retreating back of her sister, particularly when Dawn started singing.
"Buffy and some random guy, sittin' in a tree ..."
"... k-i-s-s-i-n-g." Virginia's voice was hushed and she leaned forward toward her friends, as though imparting military secrets that threatened world security.
Dawn and her circle of friends had commandeered one of the picnic tables on the front lawn of the school. Snow still covered the ground, but the sun was out and despite the brisk chill, the temperature was relatively mild. The girls were soaking up as much sunlight as they could.
Virginia sat on the far end next to Meghan and across from Jackie. Brenda was between Jackie and Dawn, and all were staring with a peculiar expression at the petite blonde.
"Why are you spelling things now?" inquired Meghan, pausing momentarily in the consumption of her PB&J repast.
Unable to do more than blush, Virginia ducked her head, prompting an eye roll from Jackie. "Oh spare me. There is simply no way that Gina Parisot would be caught dead making out with Lars Noxon. It's just not happening."
Somehow Virginia found her voice and vigorously defended her gossip. "But Melissa said that Abby said that—"
Thrusting her hand into the air as though to create a barrier between herself and the words, Jackie refused to be swayed. "Don't care. Didn't happen. End of discussion."
"Yes, please," Meghan agreed. "Some of us are trying to eat."
Mostly oblivious to the intense debate, Brenda's attention was focused on Dawn. The brunette's elbows were resting on the tabletop and her forehead was pressed against open palms. Dawn's face was scrunched in pain as she rubbed at her temples.
Brenda leaned over to get a better view of Dawn's face. "You okay?" she asked, concerned.
The question attracted everyone's attention, but Dawn's eyes were closed and she didn't notice. "Yeah," she breathed, turning slightly toward Brenda, her lids slitting open. "M'okay."
A worried frown was evident on Virginia's features. "Another headache?"
"It's becoming chronic, Summers," Meghan pointed out, wearing a similar expression. "You should tell someone."
At this, Dawn's head came up, still moving slowly and cautiously, but with a burst of relative speed. Her eyes opened fully; pain was still evident, and it was obvious she was making a concerted effort to appear better.
"No. I'm fine. Two Advil and they just disappear. No problem."
Looking from one girl to the next, it soon became clear that nobody was convinced. "Seriously guys. I'm fine." Dawn decided to jump topics. "Now, who's making out with who?"
Reluctantly, her friends let the matter drop, Virginia picking up the threads of her conversation. "W-Well, according to Abby, Gina Parisot—"
Brenda wasn't paying any more attention the second time around. "Hey, Dawn? Don't look, but I think someone's checking you out."
So, of course, four heads all turned immediately to look in the direction Brenda had indicated.
"Smooth, guys," she muttered.
Across the yard stood a small contingent of four males. The group had an intentionally casual air, as though they were collectively working very hard to show how laid back they were. Standing out somewhat from the group was Grip, who had staked his claim on a bare tree and was leaning his shoulder against it. Despite the snow-covered ground, all were in possession of a skateboard, playing with them idly as they talked. Their attention was focused on Dawn and her friends.
Dawn spun around to Brenda, her eyes wide. "What? No. Nuh-uh. They could be looking at any of us."
"They probably heard Ginny's degeneration into a three-year old earlier and are stunned beyond words," commented Meghan wryly. This earned her a dark glare from Virginia, but Meghan didn't seem to be overly intimidated.
Jackie picked up her soda and took a swig. "Well I guess we can ask ‘em ourselves." She pointed slightly with the can.
The others turned back to look, and saw Grip striding toward them, his destination clear. Brenda and Virginia began to giggle, but at the glares from the other two, were able to get it quickly under control. Grip came to a stop before Dawn, who for her part, gaped up at him, frozen.
Grip took in the situation with a quick glance and smiled. "Coke, huh?" he asked Dawn.
Dawn's reply was deep, thoughtful and provocative. "Huh?" Grip pointed to the soda can in her hand, and Dawn dumbly stared at it for a second. "Oh. Oh, yeah. Coke. Coke is good. I like Coke." Involuntarily, Dawn winced at her own colossal lameness.
The skater didn't seem to mind, however, and he smiled. "I'm a Dew man myself. Gotta keep up the stereotype."
"I would've guessed Surge," bantered Dawn.
"I like the classics."
Unnoticed by either, Dawn's friends were looking from Grip to Dawn and back again, glancing at each other and shrugging.
The pleasantries apparently determined to be out of the way, Grip settled in to business. "So, there I was, over there with that group of losers I call friends," he jerked his head in the direction of the trio of guys across the yard who were watching the scene with interest, "and it suddenly hit me: I could spend Friday night at Doug's house playing Grand Theft Auto or something, or I could maybe spend it with you. And while the prospect of driving a tank down the street and being chased by the FBI is undeniably appealing, somehow I think I'd like this better."
The brief moment of cool composure Dawn had managed to drudge up from somewhere abandoned her completely. "A- Are you— Me and— The—"
"I'm socially inept," apologized Grip with a self-effacing grin. "Is that a yes, you'll go out with me tomorrow? Please say okay. Seriously, there are only so many times you can make the bazooka enjoyable. And I lie when I say that," he added immediately, ‘but please say okay anyway."
Dawn continued to do a very admirable impression of a deer confronted by large, glowing headlights. "O-Okay," she managed to stutter.
Grip's grin became a full-fledged smile. "Great. I'll come by and pick you up about 7?"
"Okay," replied Dawn in the same vaguely lost tone.
"Excellent. See you then."
"Okay," she repeated.
Still smiling, Grip began the return trip to his friends who, upon seeing the look on his face, started whooping and high-fiving each other. Dawn watched all of this without really seeing it, a blank expression on her face.
As soon as Grip was out of earshot, Dawn's friends erupted into chatter.
"Wow," sighed Virginia, looking like she might clasp her hands together and swoon at any moment. "That was just ... wow."
"I'm so jealous!" Brenda exclaimed without malice, pleased for her friend.
With a tilted head and appraising expression, Meghan nodded approvingly as she watched Grip walk away. "Damn," she summed up, then turned to Dawn. "You go, girl."
"Now you realize that complete details are mandatory," Jackie insisted sternly, without room for disagreement.
"Okay," Dawn repeated, her record clearly stuck. After a moment, however, life began to return, and she spun around to her friends and grinned. "I got a date! A real date!" As soon as the words left Dawn's mouth, a thought occurred and her enthusiasm dimmed. "Ohhh ... I really hope Buffy wasn't serious this morning about the gran'ma thing ..."
Two figures – one wearing a winter coat and the other almost literally buried under layers upon layers of clothing – entered the Student Union. The bundled individual tossed back the hood of her parka, revealing a teeth-chattering, rosy-cheeked Willow. She aggressively rubbed her hands together and blew on them, attempting to hasten their warming up.
Her friend Erin watched with extreme amusement, tugging off her ball cap and shaking it free of any lingering snow. Willow caught the smirk, and glowered for a moment before deciding to expend her energies on chasing away the lingering chill.
"This cold is gonna kill me," she complained bitterly. "I was born and raised in southern California. The world just shouldn't get this cold."
Shaking her head, Erin simply said, "Wuss."
The comment was ignored. "Warmth. Need warmth. Need the warmthy goodness possible only through coffee."
With that, Willow grabbed Erin by the arm and dragged her toward the Union's nearby coffee shop. As they took their place in line, Erin yawned hugely, throwing a stretch into the mix for good measure.
"Sounds like you could use some too," Willow observed. "Late night?"
Erin frowned. "No, actually. I went to sleep really early. And I slept straight through to my alarm this morning." She rubbed her eyes, trying to blink them further apart. "But it's weird, I don't feel like I slept a wink. Maybe it was the dream."
The line shuffled forward and Willow stepped up to the counter to place her order. "Large mocha, extra chocolate. Ooo, and a cream cheese danish, because – why not?" The redhead paid the indicated amount and moved to the pick-up section.
"Espresso," Erin ordered, unable to stifle another yawn. "Better make it a double." She, too, paid and rejoined Willow as they waited.
"What was your dream about?" asked the redhead, grabbing a small handful of napkins from the nearby dispenser.
An odd look crossed Erin's features as she reflected on the events of the previous night. "It was pretty ..." She searched for the best adjective. "Well, strange. It was—"
The arrival of their orders curtailed any further immediate explanation. The girls took their cups and found an empty table near the back, settling down before Erin again tried to describe her dream.
"It was all candles and red silk. Sort of like, if you could climb inside the cover of a Harlequin romance?" She appeared pleased with that analogy. "Like that. With less Fabio."
Willow smirked as she sipped her mocha. "Well count your blessings then."
Her friend nodded enthusiastically, obviously in complete agreement. "Oh, I did. But still, it was ... intense. And the guy in it ... whoa. We're talkin' Playgirl centerfold."
"Trouble with Bryan?" grinned the redhead in a joking tone.
Erin, though, remained somewhat serious. "No, not at all, which makes it even weirder." A frown appeared on her features as she gave the dream more thought. "And it was like I really didn't wanna wake up. Like it was a fight to turn off the alarm." Erin's untouched espresso sat on the table, cooling and forgotten.
Setting down her own cup, Willow thoughtfully tilted her head to one side. "Huh. You know, it sounds a bit like the dream Buffy had last night. Maybe someone put some Smoochie Juice in the city's water supply."
"Maybe," agreed Erin, though in a doubtful tone. "Hope it was a one-time deal, though. We've got that huge report for Steiner to work on this weekend. And my aversion to having projects this fast into the term aside, I need my beauty sleep." She smirked. "Else all I'm gonna have are the hunky guys in my dreams."
Willow lifted her pastry and took a huge bite, murmuring appreciatively. "But you'll still have danish," she noted, lifting it into the air, "and with that, you need nothing else."
Erin mulled over the platitude. "You know, I don't quite buy that."
Taking another bite, Willow concurred. "No, me neither, but it's still yummy."
Hannah rapped briskly upon the door to Giles' loft before thrusting her hand back into the deep pocket of her brown leather bombardier jacket. She rocked back and forth on her heels while waiting and then checked her wristwatch – 7:15PM.
The door opened, and she glanced up. "Ah, Hannah," said the Watcher, standing aside and gesturing for her to enter. "I appreciate your coming over so quickly."
She shrugged. "No problem. I wasn't far away, actually. I discovered a charming little antiques store a few blocks down. I'm considering purchasing a 15th century Chinese leather lacquered box to decorate my new apartment. It's quite charming, and only $895." She stared at him with innocent blue eyes.
"What? Eight hundred and— Why on earth would you want to pay almost a thousand dollars for- for a box?" Giles' tone was incredulous.
"Mostly to see that expression on your face, Ziggy," replied Hannah with a chuckle, removing her jacket and tossing it carelessly over the back of a chair.
"Yes, well," flustered Giles, "if you're quite through finding amusement in my reactions—"
"Guaranteed to never happen," the blonde assured.
Ignoring the barb, the Watcher sternly regarded his ex-wife, "—then we can get to the really important matters."
Hannah flopped down into an over-stuffed recliner and threw one leg over the arm. "You taking me out to dinner tonight?"
Giles persisted with his snubbing. "The Sunnydale issue," he stated firmly.
Hannah set her swinging leg on the floor and leaned forward, elbows resting on her knees. The teasing posture was instantly discarded, as was the element of flirtation. Immediately she was strictly a woman of business. "It's been almost two months," she said quietly. "I thought perhaps it was a false alarm." She watched Giles' face for his reaction.
"No such luck," he sighed. "It's simply taken them this long to- to untangle the mess left behind."
Hannah's eyes narrowed speculatively. "What did they discover?"
The Watcher removed his glasses and polished them with a white handkerchief. "Well nothing definitive. But they've confirmed it's safe to investigate now."
The blonde pursed her lips. "Not really ‘untangling' then, is it?" she stated.
"No, I suppose not," agreed Giles. "But regardless, we can now see what's been going on. And that's why I wanted to talk to you." He took a seat on the couch across from Hannah. "The Coven's seers have been able to take a look at Sunnydale and the surrounding area. What they've seen is ... surprising."
The Watcher continued to wipe away imaginary smears from his glasses. "No. And perhaps that's the surprising part. What they observed was a- a sort of ... excavation. Only not quite so organized." He paused at Hannah's confused expression before attempting to clarify. "From how they described it to me, it's as though someone scaled into the Sunnydale crater and then simply ... shifted aside the rubble to create a path."
"A path to where?" Hannah cupped her chin in one hand and tapped a finger thoughtfully on the tip of her nose.
"That's part of the problem, they can't tell," the Watcher relayed, replacing his glasses and frowning as though they were still smudged. "It goes underground and the residual mystical energies are preventing them from probing further. And while they have agreed to investigate if necessary, given my rather ... familiar knowledge of Sunnydale, they're urging the Watcher's Council to take action."
Hannah threw her leg back over the arm of the chair. "How kind of them," she remarked with a wry grin.
"Indeed," replied Giles, acknowledging the irony in her tone. "Though honestly, I think this may be the safest course of action. A dozen or more powerful witches teleporting into the area may exacerbate the situation. Whatever it may be."
Hannah nodded. "Okay, I've got the exposition. What's next?"
"Well ... how do you feel about spelunking?" The question was posed reluctantly.
An amused and knowing look crept into the blonde's eyes. "You want me to check it out."
The Watcher shuffled in his seat, as though unable to find a comfortable position. "I'm loathe to send anyone, really, but we must find out what has been disturbed. There is any number of lost artifacts or- or ancient tomes that seemed to conveniently find their way into Sunnydale over the years. And the dimensional walls were weak there to start with, something might have come through, or be going back ... There are simply too many unknowns to ignore something of this magnitude."
His ex-wife dismissed the implied concerns with a casual wave. "Rupert. It's all right, I agree with you. Besides, I never did get the opportunity to visit while you were living there, this should be a pleasant experience."
Obviously still nervous about the mission, but a little calmer than before thanks to Hannah's self-confidence, Giles smiled at her pensively. "I doubt most people who ever spent a great length of time in Sunnydale could sum it up with the word ‘pleasant'."
With a toss of her head, the blonde smirked, "Well, I'm not most people." Then, taking stock of the Watcher's serious expression, she asked, "Do you want me to go alone?"
"Good lord, no," declared Giles with authority, "although I do think that the smaller the force, the greater the chances for success. There's no way of knowing what, if anything, may have been left behind as a- a ward, or-or alarm system of some kind. Though if there's anything, it's likely not been triggered to react to simple human exploration. Which is why I'm sending just you and Robin."
She nodded her satisfaction at his choice of partner. "Sounds good. When do we leave?"
"Early Monday morning," he told her. "That gives both of you a few days to get whatever equipment you may need and to make your plans. I booked you both plane tickets to Los Angeles and arranged for a rental car. From there ... well, however you see fit, I suppose."
Hannah pondered the situation for a moment. "If the damage done to the town was as extensive as you say, it could take us a few days to make it through and gather as much information as we can." She smiled encouragingly at Giles' rather bleak expression. "Well, I suppose a trip to the sporting goods store is in order. And what's even better, I have plenty of time still."
Giles appeared startled. "Time?" he queried. "Time for what?"
Getting to her feet, she retrieved her jacket from the back of the chair and dangled it in front of him. Instinctively, the Watcher jumped up and took it, holding it out as she slipped her arms into the sleeves. In typical gentlemanly fashion, he made sure it was settled upon her shoulders and then pulled the fur collar snug around her neck. She stayed his hand before he could fasten the zipper.
"I think I can mange that part." She winked, "You were always better at sliding them down than sliding them up anyway."
An embarrassed flush crossed Giles' face. "Um ... yes. Sorry ..." he mumbled. She patted his cheek.
"Anyway," she continued, obviously relishing his discomfort, "back to your question about time. Time for you to take me to dinner, Rupert. I did mention it already, do please try to pay attention. And don't even bother with the ‘it wouldn't be proper' line of reasoning, because I'm frankly sick of it."
Considering the proposition for a moment, Giles extended his arm. "Hannah, would you do me the honor of accompanying me to dinner?"
She slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow with a smile. "I would be delighted," she replied, leading him toward the door. "There," she told him, "see how much easier life is when you give in to my every whim?"
"Ahh yes." Giles gave a mock sigh of resignation. "How silly of me to have ever forgotten."
Hannah tutted and treated him to a squeeze. "I suppose I'll just have to keep on reminding you."
Buffy tossed and turned beneath the bedcovers, unable to find a comfortable position. Grumbling under her breath, she rolled first to the left and then to the right before groaning loudly and opening her eyes, a look of intense irritation invading her face. Without moving her head, she apprehensively took stock of her surroundings – the expression of annoyance quickly dissolving into one of surprise. The scarlet shantung quilt was cool to the touch and Buffy bunched the fabric between her fingers, noting the voile hangings which surrounded her on all sides, virtually making her captive within a gauze prison. Raising herself on one elbow, the Slayer peered through the thin material. The ruby candles flickered as before, casting shadowy shapes – indistinct and vaguely disturbing – upon the flagstones.
The Slayer took a deep breath and squeezed her eyes tightly shut in concentration. "Okay, hormones," she instructed firmly, "this is Buffy speaking. Consider this your cease and desist notification."
Hopefully, she squinted open one eye but everything remained exactly the same. "Somehow, I think it'll take more than a date to clear all this up," she murmured nervously.
An almost imperceptible shifting within the dim light to her left caught the Slayer's attention. For a moment, it appeared as though she might part the translucent curtains in order to see better but instead, she remained very still and watched with fascinated eyes as a distinctly masculine form began to materialize. She bit her bottom lip as the faint but unmistakable scent of musk assaulted her senses.
"Look," she whispered, "this is starting to get kinda stalker now."
The figure declined to comment as he strolled deliberately forward, heels tapping lightly upon the stone floor. Circling the bed, his fingers trailed over the gossamer drapes. They rippled at his touch but remained unbreached.
Buffy followed his every move. "Would you at least say something?"
"Words are really unnecessary, don't you think?" he replied.
"Oh, I dunno," the Slayer responded. "Lot of good stuff comes from words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Prepositional phrases. Dangling participles."
The figure chuckled. It was a rich and throaty sound.
"Okay," said Buffy slowly, "so you're going to take everything as innuendo, which, to be fair, does sort of plead your case against words."
Reaching the foot of the bed, the figure slowly turned and began to circle in the opposite direction, his touch still threatening to break through the delicate barrier of voile. Buffy found it hard to inhale, almost as though the air itself were being stifled. Her eyes never wavered from the moving figure although he wasn't always easy to see, weaving in and out of the fluctuating shadows.
"Buffy," he breathed, his voice so close that the Slayer's head whirled to the right, believing him to be mere inches away, but he was lingering beyond the fringes of the marbled dais. "Why must you make this so difficult?"
"You know who I am?" she asked warily.
He chuckled again. This time, the soft laugh seemed to be laced with an intimate knowledge. "I know everything about you."
"Advantage you, then." The Slayer's tone was verging on irritation. "Look, can you at least tell me your name?"
He hooked his thumbs into the belt loops of his jeans, palms resting upon his hips. "You can call me whatever you wish." His silken shirt fluttered in a light breeze that seemed to exist only beyond the confines of Buffy's veiled entrapment.
"You keep this up, I'm gonna call you 'dead hunky guy'— Not that you're hunky!" she hastened to add.
She sensed rather than saw the amused smile which crinkled his features.
"How long as it been?" he asked suggestively.
Buffy felt her cheeks begin to burn and she pulled her knees up to her chin, in an almost protective gesture of defense. "God," she mumbled with embarrassment, "personal much?"
He took a step closer, candlelight images reflected in his brooding eyes. "How long as it been since you've allowed someone to take care of you?" he inquired, tone dripping with tenderness and concern. "To love you?"
"I- I don't need ..." faltered the Slayer.
He smiled knowingly. "That may be what you tell others. What they may think. But I know you, Buffy. I know everything about you. I know things about you that you yourself have yet to realize. And I can teach you."
"Teach me?" she queried, wary but seemingly unable to stop herself from falling further into the web of entrancement he was weaving with an expert skill. She leaned forward expectantly, straining to discern his form through the hazy fabric enveloping the dais, but he was no longer there. She started suddenly as his figure emerged through the hangings on her left. He parted the drapery with one hand and quietly approached, moving to sit on the perimeter of the coverlet. Pulling the sheets to her chin, Buffy instinctively shuffled away, but appeared to entertain no thought of true flight.
He edged closer. She was now able to fully appreciate the well-toned body – broad shoulders and firm muscles gleaming with a thin layer of oil. There was not a single ounce of excess fat to be seen and every inch of visible flesh had been tanned to a delightful shade of Crème Brûlè. Unconsciously, Buffy moistened her lips, as though wondering if his skin might taste equally as delicious as it looked.
"Oh yes," he murmured, venturing even closer. "I can teach you so many wonderful things. So many pleasurable things. You need only ask me. Ask me to show you, Buffy."
Buffy's eyes darted from left to right and then back again. "I—" she stammered.
With the ease of a snake slithering through soft sand, he slipped across the quilt and extended his hand. The Slayer hesitated, but only for a brief moment. Then, closing her eyes, she inched toward him, her breath coming in rapid gasps.
"Ask me," he commanded, his voice low – a seductively purring baritone. "Beg me."
With an unexpected jerk, Buffy was wrenched in a violent motion which left her sitting bolt upright in the bed. She looked around with bloodshot eyes – eyes ringed with purple circles, giving every indication of an insomniac who hadn't slept well in days. Nearby, Xander quickly retracted the hand which had been aggressively shaking her shoulder.
"Geez, Buff," spluttered the carpenter. "You were sleepin' like the dead. I've been tryin' to wake you up for over five minutes!"
The Slayer blinked several times, still dazed and extremely disoriented.
Xander grinned. "That must've been some dream!"
Narrowing her eyes, Buffy could only frown in confusion.