Special note: Those who sent feedback for Routine to me, thanks! I will send you a personal reply, I've just been too lazy (yes I admit it) to get around to it yet. Please have some patience with me. In the meantime, feel free to send me more! *g*
Last night I went on patrol with Buffy. It was the first night after many that I was allowed to go out. A head wound, though minor enough to keep me out of the hospital, robbed me of any freedom, not to mention motivation, to accompany the Slayer on her patrols.
Instead she fought alone, returning each night with the same grim, yet somehow satisfied expression. I suppose killing was a sort of therapy for her. It allowed her to vent her frustrations over losing Angel, her only love, her life. Or so she thought.
Last night was different from the very start. For starters, Buffy raised no objection to me tagging along. In fact, she seemed rather pleased at the idea. "Xander," she said, stepping out of the doorway. "You know you're always welcome to come." Walking to my car, though, her voice took on a different note. "Just be careful."
"Aren't I always?" I asked in return.
She gave me the Look.
We drove to the cemetery, rather than walked. Partly because I wanted a chance to show off my uncle's latest castoff convertible, but mostly because Buffy was exhausted.
She looked it. To be perfectly honest, I didn't think she belonged on patrol last night. Everything about her screamed unwell: pale face, limp hair, bags under eyes. And there I was, driving her to the cemetery on a suicide mission. Talk about irony.
"Thanks, Xander," Buffy said when we pulled to a stop.
I gave her a surprised look.
"For coming with me." She sighed as we started across the cemetery. "I'm kind of tired. I don't think I could handle my Slaying duties alone tonight."
I remained silent for a moment, then came to a stop. In a moment, Buffy, realizing she was alone, turned to gaze at me questioningly. "Are you all right?" I asked meekly.
Buffy gave me a tired smile. "I told you, I'm just tired. It's just school and everything. Wearing me out."
"Are you sure? Cause Buffy, you don't look so good. And it's more than that. You don't seem well. I mean, just being around you gives me the feeling something is really wrong."
Buffy sighed again, then rubbed absently at her eye. "I told you I'm fine, Xander."
"Yeah, I know what you told me," I argued. I wasn't about to let it drop, as I had the past dozen times I'd brought it up. "But I feel what I feel. And whenever I'm around you I get the feeling that you're just falling-"
"Look, Xander!" Buffy interrupted sharply. Her eyes, as sunken as they were, seemed to pierce straight through to my soul to burn it. "I'm just tired. You don't have to make a head case out of me."
I flinched. Something I have a tendency to do when people say something too sharply to me. Especially when it's Buffy doing the saying. I was quick to recover, or, at least, quick for me. "Buffy," I called, hurrying after her as she turned to speedwalk toward the mausoleum. I caught her elbow and she whirled around, anger flashing in her eyes.
"Don't touch me."
"You heard me." Yanking her arm from my grasp, she headed off again. I could do nothing but follow.
It came out of nowhere. It really did.
No sooner than we came to a stop outside the building did it spring out at us, catching Buffy, especially, off guard. I would've thought she'd be used to such surprises by then. "Buffy!" I cried and hurried in to fend off whatever was attacking her.
That would turn out to be quite the challenge. Whatever It was, it was big. And ugly. It had a shaggy coat, like a werewolf, but one look at its face told me it wasn't. It had to be something straight out of the depths of Hell. It barely paused as I hurled myself at its back, just sort of hunched its shoulders to send me flying. I jumped up, ready for another attack, but by then Buffy was on the move.
She launched herself up to the overhanging roof, grabbing some out of sight beam for support. With one swing of her legs she was able to build up enough momentum to kick the nasty thing halfway across the cemetery. Well, almost. It landed a good feet ten away, cracking its head on a tombstone. It didn't stir.
Buffy hauled herself up the rest of the way onto the beam, disappearing completely from my view. "This is weird," she called down to me. "There's room to crawl up here."
I peered up, squinting to see my friend in the darkness. After a moment, Buffy poked her head out, giving me a friendly wave. Damn Slaying therapy. Almost always put her in a decent mood. "I wonder why it's built like this," she mused.
I started forward, finally seeing the first beam and Buffy crouched upon it. Looking further, I saw the thick beams continued for quite a distance, each evenly spaced. They went over the top of the mausoleum's large entryway, and I guessed inside as well.
"Want to go exploring?" Buffy joked mildly.
"Oh, ha ha. Get down from there."
"In a minute."
I cursed quietly as she moved, sliding out of sight again.
Things were fine, for that one short moment. The thing that had attacked Buffy was still out cold, slumped next to the tombstone. Buffy was up to something in the beams, probably scoping out a good hiding spot for future references. In just a moment she would jump down and finish off Mr. Ugly, and we could be on our merry way. There were less dangerous creatues to Slay after all.
If it hadn't been for the second one crouching in the shadows.
Buffy's warning shout startled me out of my little reverie. I leapt out of the way, just barely avoiding Big and Hairy as he finally came to his kin's rescue. I wisened up and stayed out of the way this time, even as I saw Buffy was in danger.
"Buffy!" I cried up at her. I was more irritated than ever that I couldn't see her. I heard a muffled response and then a piercing scream and my eyes took in what my mind at first refused to believe.
It jumped. It just jumped up, clamping its jaws around what had to have been Buffy's leg or arm, judging from the sound of it. It used its burly arms to hang from the beam and continued to mutilate my recently-become best friend. I did the only thing I could think to do. I attacked.
Grabbing a fallen branch from some tree nearby, I lunged forward, striking at the beast with a fury I didn't even think possible. It gave a frustrated growl, music to my ears since I knew it could no longer have a hold on Buffy. Dropping down, it gave me one furious look with its burning eyes; green or yellow, the color meant little to me at the moment. Something in my look, some crazy, manic tone in my eyes must have spoken to it, because it suddenly loped off, nudging its semi-conscious companion to get it moving.
In another moment, both were gone.
I dropped my makeshift weapon and concentrated on Buffy again. It was then that I realized her screaming had ceased. And it was raining.
A slow rain, more like a steady drip. Warm, thick. Thicker than any water. And what's thicker than water? I finally willed my eyes, burning with some aching sensation, to look above me and investigate. Blood. It was raining blood.
Crying out in agony, I mopped away the drops of thick liquid from my face and neck and stumbled back, just catching myself from sprawling on my back in the blanket of foliage. Looking up again, I saw an arm dangling from the beam. Smeared with blood along the top of the sleeve, but otherwise unharmed. Another sweep of my eyes found the real source of the blood and I realized in horror that what I had earlier mistaken for an arm or a leg wasn't a limb at all; it was her throat.
It was then that I sat down. The realization that Buffy was dead hit me with full force and I just collapsed, sinking down to the leaves and dirt with a hollow feeling taking over my heart. Wrapping my arms around my legs, I brought them up to my chest and leaned against the mausoleum wall. And sat.
I'm still sitting. The caretaker came with the sunrise and he found us, both unmoving. He must've thought I was dead, too. I know I did. But he brought help. The paramedics climbed up to bring her body down and to pick around the small site for clues to the cause of death. The discarded branch brought up some question, but the lack of blood and the condition of Buffy's throat made them soon throw away the idea. Which took me out of the running as a possible suspect.
They let me stay, though one of the paramedics tried her hand at getting me to ride along in the ambulance. The front seat, she assured me with a gentle smile. She wouldn't make me ride with the corpse in the back. What a laugh. Of course I refused, and the fact that I was bigger than most of them, and not struggling enough to give them reason to sedate, kept them from doing a damn thing about it.
So now they've gone, and like I said, I'm still here. They took her away with them, and any evidence that she was here. There's a stain of blood on the beam she was sprawled upon, and a spattered area on the leaves just beneath, but that could be from anything. There's nothing even remotely resembling evidence of a struggle here.
Finally, the tears begin to spill down my face and I start to cry for my lost friend. I understand now that it was Buffy's own foolishness that made her meet her early demise. She was so convinced that there was only one-- only one that needed her caution and attention-- that she didn't even see the second one coming.
Tell Carol what a fantastic story that was!