Kennedy strode into the Vortex with a confident grin and a bounce in her step. Obviously in decent spirits, she soon spied someone on the dance floor and waved in greeting, just as Buffy approached. The blonde Slayer peered over Kennedy's shoulder, following her line of sight until she, too, located the target. Her face lit up in immediate response and she looked extremely pleased, as well as more than a little smug.
"I got first round," announced Kennedy, raising her voice to be heard over the blaring music. Buffy nodded her agreement and Kennedy headed toward the bar on her right, nodding her head to the others as they filed in.
Much like the Slayers, Dawn was clearly enthused about the evening ahead, and she bopped her head in time to the beat that pounded around her. Hannah stood nearby, looking mostly bemused by her inclusion, but open to any possibilities. By contrast, Willow appeared disgruntled and like the 'drag her kicking and screaming away from her books' part might not have been entirely in jest. Tara remained hovering by the entrance, and seemed to be seriously contemplating the likelihood of simply slipping out of the building before anyone noticed she was gone.
With a resigned sigh, Willow approached Buffy, who was busily pointing toward the second floor. She followed the Slayer's gaze. "Faith's here too, huh?"
"Hazel too," Buffy replied with a beaming grin that she directed to her friend. "That's great. We're now at a full double the fun-power than Xander could amass."
Unable to fully suppress the smirk at Buffy's competitive streak, Willow asked, "If it's all about numbers, why didn't you just, y'know, invite all of Slayer Central?"
The blonde shook her head in rejection of the idea, although her expression indicated the thought had in fact crossed her mind. "Because then Xander would say I cheated," she explained, then cheered considerably. "But hey, if Faith and Hazel just happen to already be here – coincidence! No cheating!"
"I still think I should'a stayed home," stated Willow. She stole a quick glance over her shoulder in the general area of the door. "I-I'm not feeling real socially."
"All the more reason to drag you out," Buffy insisted, throwing her arm over the redhead's shoulders. "You can't stay locked in your room forever."
Nodding enthusiastically, Willow responded in an upbeat tone, "Actually, I worked it out, a-and with my own bathroom, I kinda can. If I cut a slat in the door, you guys could just shove food in there a couple times a day ..."
Allowing her eyes to dart upwards for just a fraction of a second, Buffy pulled Willow until she was facing the stairway and gave the witch a gentle shove. "Silence, you," she commanded. "Go start the fun having."
Sighing yet again, Willow did as she was told and headed toward the metal stairs leading to the club's second story, just as Hannah approached Buffy and looked down at the younger woman with a questioning eyebrow. "I admit, I'm surprised that you asked me to join you," she confessed.
Satisfied that Willow wasn't going to make a break for it, the Slayer turned to Hannah with a frown. "Why?" Before Hannah could respond, she supplied, "Oh, because you're old and stuff?"
"Actually, I was thinking because I so obviously made you appear pallid and homely by comparison," came the dry reply.
Buffy remained perky. "I'm pretty sure you're using big words to insult me, but getting upset wouldn't be in keeping with the spirit of fun," she declared.
"And we can't have that," Hannah smirked.
But the Slayer was already moving on. "No, seriously, we should hang. You're, like, practically my step-mom ... in a sort of fuzzy, out-of-focus way."
The oddness of the statement aside, Hannah gave a genuine smile. "And ignoring all fairy tale connotations attached to that title, I'm looking forward to the evening." She glanced toward the big neon arrow pointing the way to the second level. "Willow went upstairs, did she?"
"Yup. Better view, marginally more quiet."
Hannah nodded and headed off in that direction, leaving Buffy with only two individuals to properly secure on the fun train. Tara hadn't moved far from the entrance and didn't appear overly happy about the Summers who had wrapped herself around the witch's arm and clearly had no intention whatsoever of letting Tara make her retreat.
As Buffy approached, Dawn immediately appealed to her sister. "Buffy! Tell Tara she can't leave!"
"You really can't," she told Tara pragmatically. "The pride of our entire gender is on the line here."
"Somehow I doubt that showing up Xander is going to make any headlines for N.O.W.," countered Tara, the half of her body not encumbered by Dawnness twisting toward the freedom of outside.
Nodding her head, Buffy conceded the point. "No, but it'll make me feel all tingly when we win." Stepping to Tara's other side, she duplicated Dawn's actions, causing Tara to cast a final fleeting glance of longing at the door.
The Slayer ignored it completely. "Come on, wicca girl," she encouraged. "You've been broody long enough."
"I am not 'broody'," defended Tara in a voice that was almost indignant.
Dawn gave a tiny shrug. "Kinda are."
"I am not!" the witch insisted. "I ... I don't have the complexion to be broody."
The Summers girls shared an incredulous look, then both turned it on Tara. The witch glanced from Buffy to Dawn and back again.
"I've been broody, huh?" she asked resignedly.
"I hear Angel's all worried you're gonna take away his title at the next Brood Off," Dawn smirked.
"But concern yourself with it not," assured Buffy with a pat on the arm. "The first step is admitting you have a problem. And the second is toooo...?" She raised her eyebrows, prompting for the answer.
"Have fun?" guessed Tara, not sounding particularly convinced.
Still, Buffy accepted the answer as though it had been sounded from the mountaintops with bottomless enthusiasm. "Oo, she's not just sexy, she's smart, too. Now come on." The Slayer began to lead Tara further into the club, Dawn happily affixed to the witch's other arm. "Fun's a'waitin'." She was practically overflowing with grand authority. "We'll show those stinky male-things."
Xander wrinkled his nose and sniffed distastefully into the air. "What is that smell?"
Taking a sip of his Coke, he looked around the table at Giles, Wood and Andrew. They had decided to gather in a sports bar for their fun-filled evening and every television in the place was tuned to the Philadelphia 76ers game. The atmosphere was quiet and peaceful, most patrons watching the basketball with avid interest. The bartender, eyes also glued to one of the sets, polished the same glass for the sixth time in a row as he leaned on the counter. Luckily, the establishment wasn't particularly crowded and there were no customers clamoring for his attention. Xander critically regarded the bowl of pretzels in front of him and then looked at the nearby bowl of peanuts. With a shrug he took a handful of both and popped them into his mouth.
Andrew twirled the umbrella floating atop his colorful fruity drink. The maraschino cherry and chunks of pineapple bobbed gaily. He grinned at Xander. "Oh, that's probably me. I couldn't decide if I preferred Old Spice or Brut, so I went with both. You like?"
"No. No, I do not like," replied Xander. "You smell like the perfume counter at Sears."
The game having gone to a commercial, Wood reached for his glass of beer. "Andrew, you are aware that we're not actually out to attract the fairer sex tonight, right?"
Andrew cradled his drink with both hands. "Sure! Of course!" he admitted. "We're just a bunch of men, hanging out and being ... men. But men-ly doesn't mean you can't smell pretty." He leaned forward and attempted to capture the straw between his lips.
"Actually, I'm pretty sure it does," Xander told him with another disgusted wrinkle of his nose. "Though I guess you sort of wrecked that anyway, so I'm dropping it."
Wood's focus returned to the closest television as the conversation petered into silence. A glum Giles watched the condensation form on the outside of his glass of beer as Andrew, having finally secured his straw, slurped noisily and happily, apparently perfectly content to simply be counted among the elite. Frowning, the carpenter regarded each one of them in turn.
"Come on!," he urged. "This should be a fun night out, not a funeral – and I think we can all agree that in this job, it's important to draw a very distinguishing line between enjoyment and activities involving death."
Reluctantly, Wood dragged his eyes away from the screen. "I thought we were just gonna get together. Hang out, watch the game. Why the pressure?"
"The pressure, my friend," Xander told him empathically, "was special delivered from a young blonde of my acquaintance who insinuated – nay, came right out and said that she would round up some womenfolk and have more fun than us. We cannot allow this."
"But that doesn't make sense," Wood replied with a frown. "Having fun is an opinion, there's absolutely no way to quantify it."
"Ah-ah-ah! Don't bring your fancy 'logic' into this, college man," countered Xander with a jab of his finger. "We will fun. We will fun more than the girls. We will positively glow with it, like a weapon of mass fun-struction exploded just outside, bathing us all in the radiation of merriment and joy."
Andrew nodded appreciatively. "That was nice."
"Thank you," acknowledged Xander and Andrew beamed. "Now take my man Andy, here," the carpenter continued. "He's clearly got the spirit." The blond puffed out his chest. "The cheerful, if somewhat stupid, Dragonball Z t-shirt ..."
With a mild pout, Andrew peered down at himself. "You don't like Goku?"
Xander chose to ignore the question. "The bright and colorful tropical drink," he indicated the fruity beverage. "Andy is a man that screams fun. He screams..." Xander paused for a moment. "Well 'fun' is the least offensive adjective I'm coming up with, but at least he's in the spirit!"
"Fine, fine," agreed Wood grudgingly. "I'm in the spirit. Just ... don't preach anymore. It's disquieting, and honestly, really irritating."
Xander smiled with immense satisfaction. "Two of my chief attributes." He glanced at the Watcher, who continued to be engrossed in the wonders of science as drops of water trickled down the outside of his glass. He appeared totally withdrawn from the current situation.
"Giles ...?" queried Xander expectantly.
Startled at hearing his name, the Watcher looked up. "What? O-Oh, yes. Yes, of course. I agree. Wholeheartedly. Unless I shouldn't, in which case, I reserve the right to change my answer whenever it suits me."
"There ya go," Xander encouraged and then peered more closely at Giles. "Seriously though, you okay? You look sort of sullen. And I think you should know, that's an adjective I reserve just for you."
"No, I-I'm fine. Fine," Giles protested. "Just a little ..." His voiced trailed away. "Quite fine," he finished abruptly. "Another round then? Excellent."
Getting to his feet, Giles made his way to the bar, presumably oblivious to the fact that everyone's drinks were still more than half full and that his own hadn't even been touched.
"Can you get mine with extra cherries, Mr. Giles?" called Andrew over his shoulder. He almost hugged himself with delight. "I love the cherries."
Xander leaned toward Wood, who was lounging in his chair, arms crossed with feet stretched out comfortably in front of him. "You think he's okay?" he queried, a look of concern crossing his face.
Wood shot Giles a quick glance. "I think the stress is just getting to him," he confided. "He probably needs a night like this, honestly. A chance to get out of his office for a while. Between the usual Watcher and Slayer issues, the new Council branch getting ready to open within about a month, as well as everything else happening lately ..."
Xander nodded. "Yeah. He just needs a break." A relieved tone crept into his voice. "A chance to unwind. We'll turn him around." He sniffed contemptuously. "We better, cuz ain't no way I'm lettin' Buffy win."
Apparently confident that a fresh drink was imminent, Andrew allowed himself the pleasure of devouring the cherry and slurped loudly through his straw.
Despite the light sheen of perspiration and slight pant, Hazel bounded up the stairs of the Vortex. She'd clearly been partaking of the 'dance' aspect of the dance club, and thoroughly enjoying herself in the process. She soon spotted Dawn, seated alone at one of the tables, and claimed the seat next to her.
"Hazel, hey," Dawn greeted with a smile.
"Hey Dawn," the Slayer returned. "By yourself? What's up with that?"
"Oh, I'm making a statement." At Hazel's puzzled look, she further explained. "I'm being unfairly discriminated against because of my age. What's in an age, anyway? It's just a way to mark the passage of time, right? I mean, there is no significant different between the me of now and the me of, say ... four months and fifteen days from now."
Having caught onto the subtext of the speech, Hazel flashed a knowing smirk, and Dawn's righteous indignation melted. "Okay, I'm just pouting," she admitted.
"No go on the drinking front, huh?" queried Hazel, stealing a sip of Dawn's drink.
The younger Summers shook her head, her lip jutting out in a pout that clearly ran in the family. "And it's not even that I really want it, it's—"
"—it's that you can't have it," the Slayer finished with a nod of understanding. "So there. Though you do know the drinking age is 21 in Pennsylvania," she stated.
"It is?" asked Dawn, clearly knowing nothing of the sort. At Hazel's confirmation she sat back, considering this new information carefully. "Oh. Huh. I guess I'm done pouting then." She shrugged, seemingly unconcerned. "Nobody's really caring much anyway, and I'm bored."
She rose to her feet and Hazel followed suit, the two leisurely making their way toward the far end of the second floor.
"So how's the head thing?" inquired the Slayer.
Dawn glanced over in surprise. "You heard about that?"
Hazel nodded emphatically. "Oh, yeah. You Scooby guys are always big news. You should've heard the rumor mill buzzing about that huge zit you got last month." Dawn's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets, and Hazel was unable to maintain a straight face. "I'm kidding."
"Oh my god, don't do that."
Chuckling, Hazel easily dodged the light smack aimed for her arm. "Seriously though," she inquired with some concern, "you okay?"
"Yeah, fine," replied Dawn. "Ever since my trip somewhere over the rainbow, no headaches at all. I feel pretty good, actually. Sort of like this big pressure build-up in my brain is gone, and I didn't even know it was there." She laughed. "I should hit my head and hallucinate more often."
"I hear that helps with a lot of stuff," Hazel agreed.
Having arrived at the opposite end of the floor, they came upon a gathering of several tables that had been shoved together. The other girls were seated around them; Hazel and Dawn grabbed nearby chairs and easily slotted themselves into the group.
"Okay, I think we've waited long enough," Buffy suddenly announced, attracting everyone's attention. She glanced over to Willow, who nodded her complete agreement.
"Absolutely," concurred the redhead. "It's time we came clean."
"Well, not us so much," continued Buffy.
Willow glanced at Hannah. "We're thinking more you."
The group's collective focus shifted immediately to Hannah, who swallowed the mouthful of liquid she'd just taken and met their gazes with confusion. "Me?"
"You," answered Buffy and Willow in union.
"It's the Giles thing," Buffy explained.
Smoothly, Willow continued, "See, we've been sorta talkin' it over ..."
"There are stories," noted Buffy, unconcerned for the way Hannah's head swiveled back and forth between the two women as she attempted to keep up. "Stories we do not know. Stories that are likely embarrassing to Giles. Us not knowing them – that's gotta stop."
Hannah smirked at the two friends. "Subtle, girls."
"Ahh, subtlety, shmutlety," Willow pooh-poohed with a wave of her hand. "We just want the dirt."
Kennedy settled down more comfortably in her chair. "When Hannah met Giles. I'm in."
"C'mon, Mrs. G," cajoled Faith, perched on the back of her chair, her feet on the actual 'seat' part. "Enquiring minds wanna know."
Taking in the eager expressions worn by her captive audience, Hannah couldn't help but grin.
London – April 1973
There was something of a nip in the air and the streets were still wet after an earlier shower. The puddles reflecting the light from the street lamps provided the only sparkle on an otherwise gray and dismal street. Crowds of football enthusiasts who had made their way down from Lancashire to attend the game between Chelsea and Manchester United that afternoon jostled each other as they staggered along the narrow pavement, almost all of them drunk and looking for trouble. Some of them twirled their clappers disconsolately as they slurred, "Come on you Reds." Defeat was obviously a bitter pill to swallow. A passing car honked loudly as one of the fans stumbled into its path and the driver was promptly rewarded with a two-fingered "V" sign.
Double-decker buses chugged by at regular intervals, crossing the more brightly-lit and busy intersection, where belisha beacons with their flashing orange globes indicated the zebra crossing and presumably afforded safe passage to the other side – something the milling fans either refused to acknowledge or were too inebriated to notice. A group of youths stopped at the bottom of a flight of stone steps as the front door of a house opened and two young women emerged. Despite being located in a rather fashionable area of Chelsea, the building was depressingly similar to the ones on either side and, indeed, virtually the same as every other dwelling that lined the street. Once home to the aristocracy, the houses had been converted into bedsits and tiny flats.
The intoxicated young men eyed the two women appraisingly and shambled forward, effectively barring them from stepping onto the pavement. "Hey, blondie," greeted one, while another winked at the redhead and attempted to deliver a slobbering kiss.
"Oh, please," protested the auburn-haired girl, waving a hand in front of her face to dissipate the alcoholic fumes. "Have you ever considered buying a tube of Polo Mints?" She grimaced at her companion. "Sorry about this, Hannah."
Hannah shrugged and shook her head, her expertly layered bob swung smoothly from side to side. "No need to apologize, Mandy. Not like it's the first time we've ever had to deal with total Neanderthals."
"Neanderthals?" echoed one of the youths indignantly as he swayed back and forth. "We're as English as you are, you stuck-up scrubber. We ain't Dutch."
"Neanderthal not Netherlands," Mandy informed him, rolling her eyes.
Hannah tapped another young man on the shoulder. "Coming through," she told him pleasantly.
He shuffled closer and held out his arms. "Wanna squeeze past, darlin'? I'm sure it'll give ya a thrill." He turned to his compadres. "I know it'll give me one." There was an outburst of lecherous laughter.
With a charming smile, Hannah ground the heel of her boot into his foot as she stepped down. He hopped in agony and let out a high-pitched yelp. "There weren't no cause for that! Bleedin' hell."
The two girls chuckled as they walked away. "Easy to see why you chose to rent in this area," Hannah told Amanda. "Such a delightful class of visitor."
"Well," returned Amanda, "they do say some famous people live around here and you never know your luck," she grinned.
Hannah nodded wisely. "That's right, Mick Jagger has a flat somewhere nearby, doesn't he?"
The redhead pointed further down the road. "In Edith Grove, or so I've been told." She pouted. "I've never seen him though."
"Not for want of looking, I'm sure," replied Hannah briskly.
Amanda decided to ignore the dig and instead, glanced at her watch. "Want to go the Wimpy Bar now or later on?"
"Later," said Hannah with a grin. "I could use a drink or five first."
"I'll take you to the World's End," replied Amanda, hugging the blonde's arm. "I'm so glad you decided to pay a visit. It's been ages. Having a good time?"
"I was hoping to see more goals at the football match this afternoon," Hannah griped. "I thought The Blues were supposed to be top notch."
Amanda grimaced. "They're having a bit of a dry spell right now, but at least you got to see Ossie score." Her expression brightened and her green eyes glowed. "Isn't he gorgeous? The crown jewel of Stamford Bridge." A frown darkened her features. "Shame he's married."
Hannah shrugged. "I suppose he's all right. Not really my type though."
"And your type would be?" queried Amanda, arching an eyebrow.
Hannah laughed. "Guess I haven't found him yet."
Amanda tucked a wayward strand of auburn hair behind her ear. "Not sorry you came down for the weekend, I trust?"
"Good lord, no," replied Hannah. "Any excuse to get away from St. Hilda's for a while. I think I'll get on all right with my new roommate this term though. Her name's Olivia and she's a bit of a comedian in her own way. Pretty intelligent too."
"Don't know if I could deal with being at a college of all females," remarked Amanda. "It was bad enough in secondary school when there were only two boys in that awful First Year English Literature class, remember?"
Hannah chuckled. "I don't know if you could handle college at all to be honest, Mandy. You never were too swift in academics."
The redhead agreed. "Rather be out in the work force, even if it is only a typing pool."
The pair walked in comfortable silence for a few minutes toward the Kings Road. Then, Amanda began to scrutinize Hannah's outfit with a critical eye. "You do realize that bell bottoms will be on the way out soon?"
Hannah smirked. "To be replaced by the maxi floral-print granny dress, no doubt," she returned, eying Amanda as her hem brushed along the pavement.
Laughing, Amanda pushed open the door to the World's End and they wriggled their way through the crowd to the bar. The redhead drummed her fingers impatiently on the counter while Hannah's gaze drifted to the small stage located next to the window. Leaving her friend to order the drinks, Hannah elbowed her way to the front of the platform and looked up at the performer, noting the neon-orange hair, rouged cheeks and gold glitter sprinkled liberally on the eyelids.
"Likes to pretend he's David Bowie," confided a voice in her ear. She turned to be greeted by a look of open admiration. "The name's Ethan," the lanky, dark-haired young man introduced himself. "And you are?"
"Hannah," replied the blonde with a total lack of interest. Her gaze went back to the singer and she tilted her head. "Ziggy Stardust," she murmured, listening to the lyrics of the song. "'Rock 'N' Roll Suicide' ... one of my favorites. He's not bad, not bad at all. Especially given the atrocious back-up group," she added with a note of disdain.
Ethan chuckled. "Trust me, love, wouldn't help even if he had the entire Electric Light Orchestra behind him. Can I buy you a bevvie?"
"Should have one coming," Hannah told him, looking pointedly toward the bar and then waving at Amanda who had finally managed to procure the drinks.
"Then may I invite you and your friend to join us?" asked Ethan, gesturing toward a table where sat two half-empty glasses of brown ale.
"Us?" queried Hannah.
"Me and Mister Androgynous up there," he grinned, taking her arm.
Hannah allowed herself to be escorted to the table. Amanda followed, grimacing as vodka and lemonade sloshed onto the floor. She deposited the glasses with a thud and sank gratefully into one of the chairs. She smiled at Ethan who treated her to a grin and a twinkling eye.
The applause was lukewarm at best as the singer stepped down from the stage. He propped his guitar against the wall and downed the remains of his beer in one gulp, thrusting his empty glass under Ethan's nose. "Your round, mate." He inclined his chin toward the girls. "Who's the birds?"
Hannah bristled a little, but extended her hand. "It's Hannah and, surprising at this may be, I am not classified as any type of avian," she told him curtly and then added, "How do you do, Ziggy?"
His eyes narrowed. "The name's Rupert."
"Wait wait wait," interrupted Faith.
Hannah's mouth was caught in a half-open dangle as she was preparing to continue with her story, but she paused and regarded the assembled girls quizzically. Faith wore a frown that made it quite clear she felt she couldn't have possibly heard correctly. Buffy and Willow were both giggling like maniacal schoolgirls, while Tara was simply staring in disbelief, her eyebrow so high it had practically disappeared into her hairline. Dawn and Hazel were quite sedate by comparison, both simply staring at Hannah in what appeared to be utter confusion, and Kennedy actually looked impressed.
"Mr. Giles," Tara stated, trying to reconcile facts that seemed irreconcilable. "Mr. Giles. In ... drag?"
Buffy and Willow's giggling exploded into full-fledged laughter.
"Well, not really in drag," corrected Hannah. "He was dressed more ... ambiguous than anything."
The clarification didn't seem to lessen Kennedy's admiration. "Giles the gender-bender?" She grinned widely. "My respect for him has risen to all-new levels."
Seated next to her, Buffy flapped her hand in the air, fighting for breath between the laughs. "Oh god. Oh god," she gasped repeatedly.
"I keep picturing him wearing make-up, but still in tweed!" Willow exclaimed, her eyes streaming with tears of hilarity.
Buffy laughed so hard, she actually fell off of her chair, setting off Willow all over again. The Slayer had disappeared from view, but her howls were still quite audible.
Dawn followed Buffy's journey to the ground with her eyes, but her gaze seemed dazed and vacant. "My world's fragile eco-structure is collapsing," she stated in a thin voice.
"You get used to it," Hannah told her, seemingly unphased by their reactions. "Now as I was saying ..."
His eyes narrowed. "The name's Rupert."
Amanda giggled. "Like Rupert Bear?" She pondered for a moment and then pointed at Ethan. "So, you must be Algy."
Ethan didn't appear to take offense as he jostled his way to the bar. Indeed, he seemed to find the whole exchange rather amusing.
Rupert took a seat and leaned across the table toward Hannah. "Did Ethan tell you who I was supposed to be?"
Hannah shook her head. "Didn't have to. It was obvious."
Rupert smiled proudly. "That good, eh?"
Hannah laughed and Rupert's smile grew broader. "Actually, yes you were, Ziggy."
"Haven't seen you in here before," Rupert remarked, leaning back in his chair.
"Possibly because I haven't been here before?" suggested Hannah.
Amanda looked from one to the other for a moment. Then, taking note of Hannah's barely disguised hint of dismissal, retrieved her drink and drifted toward Ethan who was waiting at the bar.
Rupert crossed his arms. "Live around here?"
"No," Hannah told him. "Just down from Oxford for the weekend."
Rupert frowned. "University?"
"I'm at St. Hilda's," replied Hannah.
"My father wants me to go to Magdalene," Rupert said disgustedly. "His alma mater."
"Good college," remarked Hannah. "Oscar Wilde, Edward VIII, Thomas Wolsey. All former students." She grinned. "And the most famous son of all, the one and only Dudley Moore."
Rupert returned the grin. "Not Ziggy Stardust, though."
"No," agreed Hannah. "He would have gone to school on Mars, presumably."
"Get to London often?" asked Rupert.
"I intend on coming more often than I used to," she revealed meaningfully.
Rupert's cheeks reddened at the blatant implication. Hannah noticed it even beneath the rouge and grinned mischievously as a layer or two of the overt cockiness slipped away. He appeared to be somewhat flustered. She quickly took advantage of his discomfort. "Bet you're even cuter under all that make-up. Is that your real hair color?"
"Hardly," he admitted. "Um ... vegetable dye. It washes out."
"Still, bit of a rebel, huh?" asked Hannah with a glint in her eye.
"W-Well," stammered Rupert. "On some things, yes."
"You like Pink Floyd?" The question came out of the blue and Rupert blinked.
"Magnificent group. Love their new album, especially 'Time'."
Hannah nodded. "I'll be back in London next month. Got tickets to see them at Earls Court on May 19th. Want to come?"
"You got tickets?" queried an astounded Rupert. "I thought the concert was sold out."
Hannah winked. "I have my contacts," she told him. "Well?"
Rupert nodded and dug in his pocket for money, but Hannah waved away the offer. "My treat," she declared. "You can feed me after the show." She checked her watch. "Speaking of which, I have a date with a Wimpy burger about now." She stood up and swallowed the dregs of her White Russian. "See you outside the station, about sixish?"
"But ..." he protested as Hannah turned away.
She hurried toward Amanda and grabbed her arm, tugging her away from what was ostensibly an engrossing in-depth conversation she was having with Ethan.
"Time to go," Hannah said decisively.
"So soon?" objected Ethan. "Just when we're all getting along so famously?"
Hannah hustled Amanda out of the pub. "What's the bloody hurry?" Amanda snapped. "Seemed like you'd finally found your type in Rupert Bear, and Algy was kind of interesting too."
Hannah chuckled. "You have to leave them wanting more, Mandy. Then they remember you. That's always been your trouble – far too eager at the get-go. If you get to know everything all at once, where's the surprise?" She gave the thought serious consideration. "And I think Ziggy has a lot of surprises."
Amanda sighed heavily, but the blonde paid the unvoiced protest little mind. "Now," Hannah began brightly, "about your Pink Floyd ticket ..."
"What happened next?" asked Dawn eagerly.
Elbow on the table, Buffy rested her chin in her hand. "Please don't let the story involve high-heels and fishnets," she grinned. "I don't think I could take it."
"Nothing so scandalous," chuckled Hannah. "He was there, quite on time and looking as presentable as one could expect of an 18-year old trying desperately to be a rebel."
Faith leaned back in her chair. "Me, I'm still stuck on the school bit. I mean, as fast as you came onto Oxford, bein' trapped with nothin' but girls 24/7 must've driven you nuts."
"Funny," remarked Kennedy. "That's exactly what I liked about private school."
"Well, it had its moments," Hannah admitted with a smirk. "But it was very important to my father that I go there, and I wasn't particularly moved one way or the other. Also, it put me closer to London, which was considerably more interesting than Grantham."
Standing up, Willow let out a puff of air. "Well I think after a big revelation like that, we could all use a drink. Everyone want the same?"
The redhead's inquiring eyes were met with a series of nods, save Dawn who opened her mouth as though she were about to say something. However, being treated to a glare from Buffy, the teenager apparently thought better of it and added her own agreement with a small pout.
Willow pushed her way through the crowd and descended the staircase. The mass of bodies was no less dense on the lower floor and passage was far from easy. "Sorry," she muttered with each bump she delivered along the way and there were many of them. She almost knocked one young man off his feet entirely, due largely to the fact that he was obviously drunk and already lurching in a dangerous fashion. He staggered and grabbed the back of a nearby chair to regain his balance, watching Willow as she walked away. A smile of appreciation crossed his lips and he nodded approvingly. Straightening up as best he could given the circumstances, he lumbered in the redhead's wake. With surprising agility, he managed to skirt the dance floor and got to the bar ahead of her, effectively cutting her off just before she arrived. Startled, Willow jumped slightly.
"Oh! Sorry," she grimaced and stepped to her right, but he shadowed the move.
"Excuse me," Willow told him with a small smile of apology.
"You bumped int'a me back there," slurred the young man.
"You and everyone else," chuckled the redhead. "Sorry about that – busy night, I guess. Everyone just ... gettin' their groove on!" She took a step to the left. He followed suit.
"You made me spill m' drink."
"Oh, god, sorry," replied a remorseful Willow. "Here, I-I'll buy you a new one. What'd you have?"
He grinned and stumbled forward. "Not really int'rest'd in a drink."
Willow backed up a few paces. "How about some wings, then?" she suggested. "O-Or cheese sticks? I love cheese sticks. So yummy a-and stringy, but it doesn't really have the same consistency as other cheese when it melts, and haven't you always wondered why that is? I mean—"
She paused as the man leaned over until his face was only an inch or two from her own. "You c'n pay me back with a dance," he announced firmly.
"A ... A dance?" stammered a horrified Willow. "Oh. Oh, no. No, I'm no good with- with the dancing. My spine looks like it's all bendy and there are just limbs flailin' everywhere. Very embarrassing. I'll look bad. I'll make you look bad." She shook decisively. "It'll just be bad."
He crossed his arms and swayed unsteadily as he reiterated his demand. "I wanna dance."
"Well there's the floor, John Travolta," responded the redhead sharply, tolerance fading fast. "Don't let me stop you."
The barb was wasted. Reaching out, the young man seized Willow's upper arm and tugged her toward him. "Maybe somewhere private," he whispered in her ear. "Jus' you an' me."