Facing the Stranger
Summary: Buffy reacts badly to many things.
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“sit in the chair and be good now”
and become all that they told you
the white coats enter the room… –Tori Amos
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OK. I’m alone. I don’t have to pretend anymore.
It’s too quiet. Dawn isn’t ever this quiet. Something’s wrong. Oh, my God, I’ve got to go make sure she’s okay. What if Mom– she wouldn’t mean to, but what if, with all the problems– oh, God. It’s way too quiet.
I practically run down the hall to Dawn’s room and open the door maybe a little bit too hard.
“Were you born rude?” Dawn asks. She and Mom are camped out on the bed, and Dawn has a dog-eared copy of Goodnight Moon in her lap. “I’m reading to Mom. And I thought you wanted time to yourself.”
I am so losing it.
“Sorry,” I say, practically gawking as I step out of the room and away from the cozy pair. “I’m just– I’m sorry.”
Wandering back to my room, I look down at my fingernails. They’re all bitten to hell. Things have really gotten to me lately. Dawn, Mom, Glory the Valley Girl Demon from Hell, Riley acting like a tool, this whole Spike thing, (which I just don’t get at ALL)– add in some primal Slayer wigginess and I’m just a ball of psychological goodies ready to explode like pi-ata.
One thing’s for sure. It can’t get any worse.
Knock wood. Because next thing you know, Xander and Willow will be vampires, or Harmony will get her own show on the WB. I can actually see that in my head. Harmony’s Homestead, co-starring Spike as the brooding bad boy, constantly clothed in delicious tight black leather– or not.
I really, really need a vacation. Preferably one with fluffy bunnies, ice cream, two-hour massages, and frolicking in the sun and sands of Mexico. But who am I kidding? I’m the Slayer. If I went to Mexico, the vamps would all have accents. Nothing changes. Or if they do change, it’s only for the worse.
I lie down on my bed alone and stare up on the ceiling. No one knows what I’m going through. It’s hard to imagine they’d even understand. I’m so keyed up that I can’t even cry.
The door creaks open. “Buffy?” Mom asks. “You doing okay?”
No. “I’ll live.”
“Well, I’m going to go to bed now. Did I take everything I was supposed to? Is there anything else we need to do?” she asks nervously. You know, this is harder than almost anything. She’s my mother, not vice versa. I can’t deal with having to take care of her like a kid. It’s scaring the hell out of me.
“I think we got everything,” I say, mentally going over the pill schedule for today. “Yeah, we’re good. Do you want me to help you to bed?”
“No, honey, I’m fine,” Mom says. “You should get some sleep, too.”
“I will. Good night.”
“Good night, Buffy,” she says, closing the door and disappearing. I want to cry, but I can’t. I stare at the ceiling. I can’t cry and I can’t sleep, so I’m almost glad when the phone rings.
“Buffy?” Giles asks me. “Did I interrupt anything?”
“No,” I say. “Mom went to bed and Dawn’s in her room. What’s up?”
“I hate to ask you, but we need you to come to the shop,” he says, wincing into the phone. “We have a slight emergency.”
“I’m there,” I reply, sitting up. “Can I kill it?”
“That’s a definite possibility,” he says. “I wouldn’t bother you, but it is urgent.”
I sigh. “It’s okay, Giles. This is Sunnydale. Evil doesn’t take a vacation just because I want it to.”
When I get there, everyone looks guilty. I feel totally uncomfortable, especially because Riley’s brooding in a corner and he doesn’t look guilty. He’s pissed and everyone’s trying not to look at him. That doesn’t bode for good.
“What’s the emergency?” I ask, ignoring Riley.
“Riley’s a moron,” Anya pipes in. I ignore her and the obvious comment about pots and kettles.
“Shut up, Anya,” Giles replies. “Buffy, there’s a new coven of extremely powerful vampires in town–”
“So how does that make Riley a moron?” I ask, looking directly at him. Everyone else shuts up fast and shrinks back.
“I was looking for them,” he says. He doesn’t meet my eyes when he says it.
“To kill them?”
“Not exactly,” he says, looking down. That really can’t be good. I cross the room in two steps and get in his face.
“What does not exactly mean?” I ask.
“It means–” and he pauses. “Look, I’m sorry, all right? It was stupid. It was extremely stupid and childish of me and I’m sorry.”
“Riley, what the hell is going on?”
He won’t look at me. I won’t force him to look but I don’t know why he doesn’t want to. Finally, I turn away and walk over to Giles.
“Giles, you have to tell me what’s going on. Who are these vamps? What did Riley do?”
“I was looking for someone to bite me, okay?” he snaps from the corner. “I was trying to work up the courage to–”
I didn’t just hear that. I didn’t just put that together in my mind. Because if I did, I will have to kill my boyfriend. Therefore, I must ignore him and hear more about these new vamps, who are out for blood that is apparently belonging to my boyfriend who wants to be one of them!
“You are a moron!” I snap. “Giles, let’s cut the crap. What’s going on? Who are these people?”
“We don’t know, Buffy,” he tells me with that weary Britishness that is really starting to piss me off. “They’re extraordinarily powerful.”
“And we know that because Riley couldn’t find them?” I ask. “Give me the real 411, Giles.”
Giles opens his mouth to answer, but then the door opens, despite the very prominent CLOSED sign out front. Everyone turns to look at the party crasher.
“Oh, dear,” Giles says. “Am I late?”
This is so not what I expected Giles to say, but the average customer who can’t read also doesn’t look quite like an average customer and in fact looks like a very hot date. I look over at Willow, who stares back at me and shakes her head. Xander’s blinking a little too fast.
“I’m early,” she says, eyes sparkling at Giles. “But I’m interrupting something. I can go.”
The hot date is wearing a long black velvet dress with silver designs across it. The slit in the side reveals most of her left thigh. The long silver satin gloves match. And hello, she’s an uber-babe–well, for her age, anyway. Red hair in pre-Raphaelite, Madonna-type ringlets, smoky eyeshadow, and lips asking to be kissed. Yeah, right, she can go.
And I can trust Riley not to do stupid things.
“I’ll handle it,” I say too quickly. “You should have told us you were busy tonight, Giles. We could have let you get ready.”
Giles looks at me suspiciously. I shake my head. Then he looks at his date, who is both sexy and classy in a redheaded, Rita Hayworth noirish way. He has a pathetic expression on his face. He’s actually thinking about sending her home.
“Are you sure, Buffy?” he asks.
“Your date is waiting, Giles, and I’m sure–”
“Dana,” she adds helpfully.
“I’m sure Dana didn’t dress up like this because she thinks you’re boring,” I say. “Go. Have fun.”
He gives me one last, pitiful look and then runs for the stock room. “Dana, I’ll be just a moment– do make yourself comfortable.”
She smiles and winks at all of us. I notice that Xander is sort of staring at her. Anya doesn’t look too pleased about that.
“So, Rupert is some sort of mentor to all of you, I take it?” Dana asks before sitting down next to Tara, who doesn’t say anything at all.
“Yeah. He’s been there for us since we were sophomores in high school,” Xander pipes in. “We’re sort of a happy little family.”
“I thought you thought family was a manipulation forced on us by the greeting card industry and 50’s TV,” Anya snipes.
“And I thought we had discussed not talking about my bad days in front of a mixed crowd.”
“Oh, please,” Anya says. “So, Buffy, what are our plans for the rest of tonight? Are you going to go wreak havoc?”
Dana raises one very cultured eyebrow. I shudder. One day, I am going to ask Xander to muzzle her in the presence of strangers.
“On the dance floor, sure. Because you know I’m all about wreaking beat-crazed havoc and all,” I say. Giles saves us from imminent disaster by emerging and looking somewhat suave.
“Well, you have fun doing that,” Dana says, smiling at me. Her eyes are so blue that I almost think they’re fake. Also, she doesn’t seem to blink. I force a smile back.
“Buffy, call me if there’s anything you can’t handle,” Giles says, offering his arm to Dana, who accepts it lithely and starts to glide away with him.
“What part of ‘have fun’ don’t you understand?” I ask. “Night, Giles!”
With that, Dana the redheaded siren glides him out of the store and I turn around to see everyone staring at me. I try to smile. Then I just shake my head.
“Powerful new vampires? Riley has a new bloodlust? Is this basically the vital information that you needed to tell me?” I ask.
“Yeah,” Willow says. “Buffy, what are you–”
“I’m out of here. I can’t do anything tonight. Try to get any information you can about these vampires.”
Riley stands up. “Buffy–”
I turn my head and look directly at Willow. “If Riley tries to go get a little fang, lock him up. I don’t want him jeopardizing the rest of you. Maybe you can have Spike watch him.”
Before anyone else can interrupt me, I take off, slamming the door to the magic shop behind me. There’s no one on the street and I start heading home.
OK. I’m alone now.
I don’t have anyone to pretend for except myself.
But that’s plenty.