Take Me In and Dry the Rain

Take Me In and Dry the Rain

By viciouswishes

Rating: R
Summary: Buffy went to Los Angeles when she heard about the destruction and found more than demons.
Setting: Post-"NFA"
Pairing: Buffy/Gunn, Angel/Buffy, and Buffy/Spike
Beta: soundingsea and marenfic

***

"This is the definition of my life/Lying in bed in the sunlight/Choking on the vitamin tablet/The doctor gave in the hope of saving me/In the hope of saving me" - Beta Band's "Dry the Rain"

When Buffy first got the call from Faith that she needed to be in Los Angeles, yesterday, she didn't mind. Rome made her feel soggy and she’d looked forward to being back under the California sun. Now that she’d spent a week in L.A. wading over piles of demon parts, she knew that the blackened sun wasn’t what she remembered.

Buffy took her team of Slayers, swung scythe in the air, and beheaded anything not human. Beheading worked on just about everything. Her team started out as six, but then Miranda met her fate at the end of some nasty six-inch claws. Next was Bridget killed by a vampire, of all things.

They settled into an abandoned record shop, the windows barred and covered with posters. It wasn’t exactly an unbreakable fortress but it was a safe enough place to hide from the demons lacking a keen sense of smell while they tried to catch a few hours of sleep. Buffy put Sadira on the first watch. Buffy trained and recruited Sadira herself in the first months after Sunnydale, stopping in Lebanon to pick up the 18-year-old before heading to Africa to visit Xander. Buffy and Sadira trusted each other implicitly.

As Buffy curled up on the beat-up couch, her life seemed very far away. She hadn't heard Willow in her head for at least a day and her fancy cell phone couldn't pick up any signal. Eventually, as she stared at the hot pink Weezer poster, her eyes closed of their own accord.

***

"Holy fuck."

The glass on the not-so-barred front door shattered and Buffy jerked awake to see Lucy brandishing a sword against something that looked like a very ugly pig. She reached for her own weapon as the other three fought against the flood of demons.

Buffy shoved the pointed end of her scythe into the nearest demon and beheaded another with the axe end. She brought her weapon up and it clashed with an axe carried by a slime demon. Lifting her leg, she kicked it in the gut, sending it crashing over the electronica section and giving Maude enough warning to plunge her knife into its stomach.

Soon, they'd pushed the demons out of the shop. Even if they couldn't use it as a base anymore, the victory was something. "Lucy, flank me on the left," Buffy said as the ground started shaking beneath her feet. When she looked over to her right to give Sadira orders, a whiz of blue bolted through the demons, crushing them faster than they could react.

"You are human," the blue blur said, stopping in front of her. It appeared in the shape of a human woman, but clearly wasn't. "I did not think there were any left in the heart of Los Angeles."

"Who are you?" Buffy Buffy nodded at her Slayers, silently communicating that for the moment, they weren’t to attack. There was something about it that made Buffy think that the enemy of her enemy just might be friendly.

"Vampire Slayer." It seemed to snort. "I'm Illyria. At one time my power was so-"

"Can it, Illyria."

Buffy turned her head to see Spike running around the corner. For once, she was thankful for Andrew's big mouth. Cleaning up after a mini-apocalypse was not the time to have a freak-out about a supposedly dead lover. She crossed her arms. "You know her?"

"Hi to you too." Spike stopped in front of Sadira, eyeing all four Slayers. There was a large gash across his face. "And Illyria's not really a her. Long story."

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Heard that one before." Apparently, it was a story so long that neither Angel nor Spike could pick up a phone once in a while.

"Should take you back to base camp. Yesterday, Angel found Rona's group of Slayers and they're waiting for you." Spike indicated the direction. "It's a hotel with real beds."

"I think we should go," Lucy said. "We haven't had a real bed since leaving England." The others nodded.

"I grow bored with this," Illyria interrupted them. "If the humans are too stupid to seek shelter at the Hyperion, let them die. I have better things to kill." And as quickly as it appeared, Illyria left them.

Soon after, Buffy agreed to the idea of a shower and a real pillow beneath her head. She really hoped the Hyperion had warm, working water. As Spike led them through the streets, Buffy covered the rear. She wasn't ready to walk side-by-side with Spike yet.

The lobby of the Hyperion was pretty well intact considering the state of the rest of the city. Buffy was thankful that Angel wasn't anywhere around and the welcome wagon was made entirely of the other Slayers. Lots of Slayers. "Looks like they found more than one team," she muttered.

"Buffy," Spike said. He stood in front of her, looking up at her as he had during those last few moments in Sunnydale, blue eyes wide and jaded like a kicked puppy. "I know that I should-"

"I'm tired, Spike." Buffy couldn't find anything else to say. "Lucy and Maude should share a room and Sadira and I will share another. Now which one should I take?"

"220." Spike frowned and she turned away before giving in to him – in to comfort during a battle. He didn't deserve that. And really, neither did she.

***

For two weeks, all Buffy seemed to do was sleep, until Angel and Illyria butchered whatever blocked the sun. Buffy knew she was one of their best seasoned fighters and that she should be downstairs and taking charge, but when Faith volunteered to lead the Slayers with Willow, she gave in to the call of crisp white sheets. It wasn't an official plan, but it wasn't a bad one. Maybe Rome had made her moldy, weak, and spoiled on the inside.

"Good afternoon, Buffy," Sadira said. She pulled her dark hair back into a pony tail and then started to braid it.

Buffy glanced up at the clock. "It's only 1 p.m. I used to sleep later in high school. On the weekends." Her face hit the pillow again.

"But today, the sun's out." Sadira opened the curtains, before seating herself on the edge of Buffy's bed. "The others are worried, and frankly, some are giving lip that they have to fight and you don't. You could, at least, help with triage." She placed her hand on Buffy's knee. "Don't worry, I've noticed that neither Spike nor Angel spend a lot of time there."

"Did I mention you're my favorite Slayer?" Buffy sat up in bed with a yawn.

"Maybe once or twice." Sadira smiled at her -- something the woman rarely did and it always made Buffy feel special.

"If only we could score some chocolate." Buffy kicked back the covers. "Any more gossip to report?"

"Faith gave Kennedy a black eye."

"And why am I not surprised? Please tell me that they were fighting over battles, not Willow." Buffy dug through the pile of clean clothing on the floor. They were wrinkled, but as long as they didn't smell and weren't covered in demon blood, she was good to go. Only in situations like this did she secretly agree with Giles that perhaps they should make some sort of Slayer uniform. Buffy's stomach grumbled at her. "Had lunch yet?"

***

Buffy sat down at the round tables, a chandelier reflecting sunlight. Another room free of vampires. The light bounced, no danced, off the floor and walls, and Buffy imagined that people once danced on the floor together, waltzing and jiving. Whatever jiving was -- she'd always meant to learn.

They served cold sandwiches. Most likely Lucy had taken care of the cooking. She'd been complaining about the lack of decent food during the flight to California and how the Slayers' dorms weren't equipped with their own stoves.

"Hey, B." Faith slid into the seat next to hers. The dining area was relatively quiet, considering most had already eaten lunch. "Long time no see."

Buffy wasn't surprised. "I was tired."

"We're all tired. What with the demon army and everything." Faith chomped down on her sandwich.

Buffy picked at hers. She wasn't as hungry as she thought. And Faith, well, she wasn't making it look any more appetizing.

Leaning toward Buffy, Faith picked the stray pickle from Buffy's plate and ate it. Some things never changed. "Heard you got makeshift hospital duty."

"Can't be too bad." Buffy shrugged. "I figure it'll mostly be Slayers with super healing powers that need more help with laundry than injuries. What's setting a few bones when you've fixed your own dislocated shoulder?" She'd created a hole in the white bread and thought about offering the sandwich to Faith.

"True that," Faith said. Her hand slapped Buffy's back. "Well, got to get back to the troops and shoot down another one of Angel's harebrained ideas. Good to see you back in the game though."

As she ate the cheese separately, Buffy thought about going back upstairs and into her warm bed. God, she hated overly processed American cheese. Europe had spoiled her with its Pecorino Romano and Brillat Savarin.

***

When Buffy finally made it to the makeshift infirmary, Amy greeted her. Amy had been a nurse at a local hospital when the fighting broke out and Angel had placed the infirmary's one and only constant patient, Charles Gunn, under her care. Soon, not even the hospital was safe and they'd moved to the Hyperion.

"Vampires had nested in my neighborhood, so I knew that these demons were nothing to mess with," Amy said. "And when Angel offered me special protection if I looked after Charles, I couldn't turn him down. At least the surgeons got to him before we had to move here."

"Where do I start?" Buffy tried not to look down to the end bed where Gunn slept. Amy didn't have to tell her that Gunn still might die, and frankly, she'd rather deal with stitching up whiney Slayers.

"It's slow now. So I'm thinking laundry." Amy pointed her finger with chipped blue polish toward a stack of sheets and still useable clothing.

Buffy never minded doing laundry that much. She'd forced herself to enjoy it after she started slaying vampires and coming home with blood on her clothing. Her mom asked too many questions. Plus they always smelled nice and were warm out of the dryer. Later, she'd learned not to trust anyone else with her things after Dawn shrunk her favorite sweater and Andrew destroyed a few bras (luckily, not hers).

She hummed while blotting out the stains. Of course, Angel would have a good supply of stain remover. Probably Cordelia. Thankfully, Angel had managed to make that call. Even though she hadn't been around Cordelia in years, Buffy missed her and her sharp wit. No doubt Cordelia would've dragged her out of bed and pushed her into being in charge, beyond hiding out and doing laundry. The blue liquid poured seamlessly from the lid and into the rushing water.

"Charles, mierda pequena," Amy shouted, "if you need something, ask. I don't want to explain to Angel how you tore your intestines reaching for your radio. Mostly because I don't want to see my own."

Buffy smirked; she was beginning to like Amy more and more. Apparently, Angel hadn't changed his methods much. Not that his threats meant anything since Amy was human. At least Buffy hoped Evil Incorporated hadn't completely corrupted him.

She heard Gunn muttering in the background, but she couldn't make out what he said in response. Of course that didn't stop Buffy from eavesdropping. "I don't have time to baby-sit you today," Amy continued. "I have to find more supplies, including antibiotics for you. But the famous Buffy can sit with you after she's finished her laundry."

So Buffy spent her day by Gunn's side as two other Slayers took Amy out to raid a nearby hospital. They listened to NPR try to explain the recent outburst of gang violence in L.A. and Buffy prayed to several deities that they hadn't resurrected Principal Snyder to make news reports.

Gunn and Buffy talked about things that didn't matter, like the weather and clothing and training Slayers. He took short naps and kept the blanket pulled up to his armpits. Only a bandage around his arm and the IV in his hand showed. The scrapes on his face had mostly healed.

She dozed off herself in the director's chair next to his bedside. The beeping of the dryer woke her up and she stumbled to the washer. Her mom used to say that if Buffy felt this sleepy, she'd probably gotten too much sleep.

***

knew why Amy kept her watch over him. Gunn wasn't dead until his heart stopped beating, and she liked that.

"How's our patient?" Amy asked as she came downstairs with a box and two Slayers following her. Buffy knew she should've known the Slayers' names, but they'd started blending together.

"I was sleeping," Gunn said, "but someone woke me up."

"Someone you should be a little more grateful towards." Amy sat the box down and walked toward Gunn's bed. "Let's see if we can get that arm moving today. The army should be home in an hour and I'll need to pay attention to someone else."

When the Slayers came back, the infirmary filled with people. It went from the rich laughter of Amy teasing Gunn to the chatter, complaining, and tears of the Slayers. Buffy helped with cleaning wounds. Lucinda had a bad gash across her forehead and Marla a slice that needed stitches on her upper arm. Buffy put on a pair of latex gloves. She'd learned a long time ago how to clean wounds and handle the sight of blood.

"Anything more serious than this?" Amy asked Lucinda while fixing her wounds. Lucinda shook her head and looked at the floor. "You telling me the truth, pequeña muchacha?"

Buffy held the bandage out for Amy. Lucinda looked nervous, and Buffy watched as the Slayer bit her lip.

"I'd tell Amy if I were you," Gunn said from the bed next to them. "You should hear what she calls me when I lie."

"Thank you, Sleeping Beauty. Now spill it," Amy said. In a mutter, Lucinda told them that Angel had tried to slay the second dragon that had appeared and was pretty badly hurt. "Idiot," Amy muttered and immediately sent several healthy Slayers to retrieve him.

Buffy had only seen glimpses of Angel's hair since coming to the Hyperion. Hair that without gel stood up on end like the greens of carrots. Three Slayers carried him into the infirmary; his body was too large for one of them to handle alone. When Buffy started to bandage his shattered knee, she heard him say her name.

"Lay down," Amy said, her hands on his torso. "You can chat with Buffy later."

Buffy looked down and finished her work, thankful that Amy ran her infirmary with an iron fist, but sad that she hadn't been able to talk with Angel on her own terms.

***

She spent most of her days sitting between Angel and Gunn. Amy had given Angel a high dose of pain killers, higher than she could a human, and Angel mostly babbled. He talked about someone named Connor and how they needed to check up on him. Gunn rolled his eyes and turned up his radio when Angel became loud. During Angel's silent times, Gunn quizzed Buffy about everything from her fighting technique to Dawn to her favorite movies, teasing her about her affection for happy ending, romantic comedies featuring John Cusack.

"Let's get out of here," Gunn said, during Amy's off hours. "Put me in that wheelchair and let's roll. Haven't seen the sun since it came back up."

"Funny." Buffy crossed her arms. She wasn't going to answer to Amy about why Gunn's stitches had ripped. Tilting her head, she saw that Gunn's bed was indeed on wheels. It must have been a roll-away from hotel storage. "But I do have an idea."

The bed and IV barely fit into the elevator. But they made it out into the courtyard and into the sunshine. Buffy swore that this was the only spot in Los Angeles still filled with green plants and flowers.

Gunn started to cough. When Buffy gave him a worried look, he just shook his head. "All that fresh air and sunshine."

Buffy laughed. She'd never heard anyone refer to Los Angeles' air as fresh. Her hand wrapped around his.

"If I was better I'd be taking an attractive woman like you out on a picnic today," Gunn said.

"I could've brought food. Sandwich for me and yogurt for you." Buffy sat on the corner of his bed. "Things are changing." She knew that Gunn didn't answer her because they both felt it. Ever since Angel had been brought into the infirmary, things had started to change.

The sun shone down on them, and they grew silent. Just enjoying the day.

Buffy laid down next to a barely dozing Gunn. He'd offered her the spot earlier, but she'd brushed him off until the sun had made her sleepy. Her body was dwarfed by his. He must have been at least a foot taller than her. Her long blonde hair, loosened from its ponytail, had spilled against his dark, exposed shoulder. Sunshine reflected off both their faces, and the sky seemed clear of anything sans a few perfectly white clouds.

***

Things started to change in ways Buffy couldn't believe. The demons actually thinned out and Giles recalled half the Slayers. Buffy began patrolling again with Faith and Sadira. Her scythe felt good and solid in her hand. She even managed a few conversations with a lucid Angel who was almost done healing and had insisted on being moved back to command central, also known as the lobby.

Today was Gunn's first day on solid food, and Buffy planned on celebrating every victory.

"I got you your picnic," Buffy said, holding a basket full of food. She'd been spending every meal with Gunn since she'd stopped working in the infirmary.

"Mmmm. Solid food." Gunn brought his hands together and rubbed them. "I can't wait."

Buffy smiled. "You better not eat too fast or Amy's going to yell at me." She'd barely unwrapped the turkey sandwiches before Gunn stuffed one in his mouth. "And to think that the Slayers have been bitching about eating the same thing for a month."

"They should try liquids only," Gunn said with his mouth full. Buffy handed him a napkin and laughed.

Buffy kissed Gunn on the day he was able to move from bed to wheelchair. When he ordered her to get them the hell out of the Hyperion, she saw the enthusiasm and eagerness behind his eyes; the same glimpse that had drawn her to him that first day. The kiss itself wasn't great – he needed a breath mint – but it was good, a good start.

***

Gunn always seemed to be at Buffy's heels, especially when Faith and the rest of the Slayers left; he said that he wasn't going to be useless. Buffy munched on the chocolate bar that Sadira had given her before heading to the airport. The Hyperion seemed desolate without the hum of Slayers fighting for the better stakes and over who used the last of the hot water.

"So how'd it feel when they stuck the laws in your brain?" Buffy asked between bites. She sat on the corner of Angel's desk.

"Hurt like hell. But with the law and a few turns of phrase for extra finesse, I was a damn fine lawyer." Gunn rested his hand against Buffy's knee.

Buffy nodded. She bet he looked fine in those expensive lawyer suits and shiny shoes. "Perry Mason or Matlock?" She let the empty wrapper fall onto the pile of papers on Angel's desk.

"Matlock?" Gunn rolled his eyes. "I'm smoother than Perry Mason himself." He tickled the back of her knee.

Trying not to giggle, Buffy's face flushed. She hated that even with superpowers she was still so ticklish. Instead, she slid off the desk and gingerly sat down on Gunn's lap. "I bet you are."

"You know it." Gunn kissed her, tongue pushing between her lips. Buffy's hand went to his neck, mindful of the bandage still on his upper arm. She could kiss him for hours: her hot former lawyer, demon hunting boyfriend. She wondered just when he became her boyfriend.

They broke apart when they heard a loud, deliberate throat clearing. Angel stood in the doorway. "I need the paperwork on the talisman."

"Didn't you and Illyria already smash the talisman?" Buffy asked. "I thought that was why the sun was back." She stayed on Gunn's lap. Angel knew that she and Gunn had hooked up – no one could keep secrets with Amy's mouth – but she still expected earthquakes where Angel walked.

Angel grabbed a well-scribbled notepad from the desk. "I want to double-check something. Spike saw Howler Demons last night." He slammed the pad down. "They seem to be just another fun aspect of the Senior Partners' game plan."

Buffy thought about offering her advice on killing Howler Demons. She, Sadira, and Xander had taken out a nest before what should've been Buffy's official Slayer retirement party. Giles had gone into great length about their socialization habits until Faith brought everyone another round of drinks.

"Or it could be their bicentennial mating season, which traditionally takes places here," Gunn said.

Angel grunted. "Could be that."

"You cool?"

"Cool."

Buffy looked from Angel to Gunn and back. Somehow she felt that they weren't talking about Howler Demons anymore. But, hey, if they were cool, she was cool, everybody was cool. Even Spike seemed to have moved on and was making some very expensive international calls to Lucy.

***

Everything was cool except the weather. Even at night the temperature never went below 90 degrees and that was unusual, even for an August in L.A. Spike conjectured that it was mystical. Amy agreed, saying that her family had lived in the area for five generations and they'd never experienced this type of heat wave. Angel told them they were nuts, and Illyria seemed fascinated with the wilting plant in the corner.

Buffy expected to wilt like Illyria's plant, but instead she felt renewed. Her soggy soul had been wrung dry. She felt free. But that didn't mean she didn't search the entire Hyperion for every unused fan to put in her bedroom. And some of those rooms had massive cobwebs and spiders straight from Arachnophobia. She couldn't have scrubbed hard enough.

"Look what I can do," Gunn said, standing in her doorway on crutches. He hobbled inside.

Buffy smiled at the surprise. He hadn't said anything. "Look what you can do."

"I wanted to surprise you." Gunn looked down at her, smiling. She was going to have to get used to this change in perspective. "Angel helped me after Amy claimed that I'd gained too much weight for her to catch me anymore."

"I'm very happily surprised." Buffy leaned up on her tiptoes and gave him a light peck on the lips. She was glad that the crutches provided extra slump because he had to be at least a foot taller than her.

"Good. Because my armpits hurt." Gunn sat himself down on her bed, making Buffy almost wish she'd made it earlier.

Buffy joined him on the bed, might as well make use of the already messy bed. "Want me to make the hurty go away?" She made a big smacking sound as she leaned into Gunn's armpit and then nipped his upper arm. "Did you lock the door when you came in?"

***

"Afternoon, sleepy head. Now get off your ass."

Buffy squinted in the sun. She'd fallen asleep outside and... Crap. Gunn was still hooked up to his IV and they were still fighting big hoards of demons. She wanted to linger out here with him for just a while longer.

Amy stood over Buffy with her arms crossed. "What if our patient needed something? Huh? The morphine's in the infirmary, not in the courtyard."

Buffy's head hurt, and she was pretty sure her nose was sunburnt. She felt Gunn gently squeeze her hand. "We should go back inside," he said.

When they set back up in the infirmary, there were more dead bodies than live ones occupying the extra beds. Immediately, Buffy was thrust back into reality. She could barely keep up with the pace Amy worked at. The demon population swelled daily, and as Buffy stitched up three claw marks on her back, Faith swore that for every demon killed, two sprung up in its place. Even Illyria seemed tired.

***

Every hour Buffy checked on both Gunn and Angel, who were still the only permanent patients. Everyone else's injuries where either fixable enough to let them fight or fatal. Buffy kept her calm as she swabbed Gunn's forehead and took his temperature again.

"How high is it today?" Gunn asked.

Buffy shook her head. Amy said that fevers were the body's way of fighting infection, but her eyes said that Gunn was getting worse. "Same as yesterday. You're going to get better, got it?"

Gunn gave her a weak smile. "You sound more like Amy every day."

But Buffy refused to give in to doubt, to give in to the nay-saying she heard echoing in the dining halls. Spike made even worse speeches than Angel, but she couldn't muster the strength to care and finished her lasagna.

"You should be up there, not him," Sadira whispered next to her. "Illyria's called him her pet too many times in front of the troops."

"I can't," Buffy whispered back. "This isn't my operation. We're taking Angel off the tranquilizers today. Amy says that, mystical sicknesses aside, at least he'll be in command by the end of the week."

What Buffy didn't say was they weren't sure whatever was going on with Angel was mystical. And no one, Slayer or human, could seem to track down Willow. Willow was out fighting with Illyria and Kennedy one moment and the next, she'd disappeared. Faith and Angel, before his sickness, agreed that her disappearance had the Senior Partners' fingerprints all over it.

***

There was really nothing Buffy could do besides watch the funeral pyres. Kennedy and some of the other Slayers had hacked down the jasmine bushes for tinder. Buffy felt the dryness in her skin, holding her together. No tears meant no moldiness meant no crumbling.

Gunn's radio blared country music in the afternoon. "Just when you think it couldn't get more depressing," Buffy said as she sliced through sets of sheets for more bandages. She thought about the time Xander had loaned her his Waylon Jennings album after her break up with Riley.

"Fred always liked it." Gunn rested his hand back at his side. Today had been one of his more lucid days. "She really liked the Dixie Chicks."

Fred had been the woman whose body Illyria had stolen. Angel hadn't talk about it, and Spike said even less. Sometimes Gunn would mumble about her and today seemed like one of those days.

"She was so soft," Gunn continued, "but strong. Smart. Smarter than anyone I've ever met. She had this little rabbit that always sat on her dresser. Don't know where it went after Illyria. Maybe Wes..."

Buffy couldn't hear what Gunn was saying anymore. His voice had drifted off and maybe he was sleeping again.

That was when they brought Sadira's body in. Her torso had nearly been sliced in half. Buffy stood over her body with Faith next to her, her hand running through Sadira's black hair -- the same hair Sadira had lovingly run her brush through, that morning in their suite.

"Take your time, B," Faith said. Her hand touched Buffy's back.

Buffy pushed her hand away. She felt stilted in shock. "I'll take care of her." She went over to the sink and grabbed a clean sponge. Sadira was dirty. She needed to clean her. Patsy Cline crooned over the radio as Buffy started washing Sadira's body.

She kept going until the music from the stereo died. Amy had turned it off. Tears welled in Buffy's eyes and she began to cry. This wasn't happening. It couldn’t happen. What had Angel done?

Faith had finally dragged her upstairs – not into her and Sadira's room – but into Faith's single. Buffy barely slept that night, clinging to Faith and surely leaving red fingerprints on her arms. But Faith didn't say anything.

"She died a Slayer's death," was all Buffy said at Sadira's funeral the next morning. Despite the heat, she kept a blue shawl wrapped tightly around her. Buffy lit the pyre as the sun broke the horizon. They'd find a way out of this.

***

"I don't know where she is," Kennedy shouted in Angel's office.

"You were the last one to see her," Buffy said. She didn't believe that Willow had just disappeared. Willow's struggle with black magic made her, in Buffy's mind, invulnerable to the Senior Partners. Kennedy just had a shitty memory. "Did she say anything? Anything at all?"

"Nothing." Kennedy kept eyeing the paperweight like she was going to throw it at Buffy. "You don't think I loved her."

Buffy shook her head. She wasn't questioning Kennedy's love; she was questioning her observation skills. "Maybe you should've paid more attention."

That was when Kennedy took a swing at her. Buffy blocked it and jabbed Kennedy in her ribs. They had their hands in each other's hair and were tumbling over desks before Faith and Spike pulled them apart.

"Chill," Faith said. She tugged Kennedy toward the doorway and out of Buffy's sight.

Buffy grabbed some tissues and dotted her split lip. "Stupid bitch."

"Looks like you both were fighting, Buffy," Spike said. The office was in tatters. "Still trying to find Red?"

"Duh." Buffy cracked her neck and wondered if she'd ever find her research notes on location spells. Papers had exploded everywhere. "Angel's mystically sick and Gunn's dying. Someone needs to fix them."

"Tall, dumb, and forehead will survive." Spike lit a cigarette. "Don't worry about him. But Charlie... You like him, don't you?"

"I..." Buffy stopped herself. She didn't owe Spike an explanation that she couldn't give herself. "I'm going to save him."

Spike grabbed a pen and wrote an address down. "It's in Vegas. He won't like it, but he's your best bet at finding the Witch and curing Charlie. Kind of fond of the guy myself."

The paper had barely touched her hand before Buffy was out the door to find someone named Lorne. Thankfully, Angel kept his old convertible – the one he'd had when she told him she wasn't dead – at the Hyperion.

"Put my patient down," Amy said as Buffy hauled Gunn toward the convertible. She sighed when she realized that Buffy wasn't going to stop. "Jesús Cristo, ayúdenos todos. You better change his bandage, keep his IV going, and not damage him further."

***

Buffy sped down the empty freeways with Gunn's head in her lap. Gunn was too tall for even the back seat and she felt better being able to check on him. Buffy wondered if he felt the warm air whipping around them. Her hair fell into her face around every corner.

Angel's convertible guzzled gas like Dawn attacking a box of Twizzlers, so she filled it at the first deserted station she came upon. She also changed the bandage around Gunn's left hand, which had hit the seat and bled through its bandages when she'd taken an exit too fast. Once again, the wind pushed her hair in her face.

Leaving Gunn alone was risky, but Buffy needed to wash her hands. The mirror in the dirty bathroom was cracked, and she didn't look toward the toilet. She cleaned her hands and her scissors she'd used during the bandaging. The scissors.

Buffy took the scissors to her hair. She'd done it before in a rash decision to rid herself of herself. But this wasn't about change. This was about necessity because her hair almost reached her waist, she didn't even have a damn rubber band, and Gunn's blood was streaked through it. Not to mention, her hairdresser lived in Rome.

The sink filled with blonde hair. Buffy didn't look up into the shattered mirror.

"You cut your hair," Gunn said when she returned. She almost expected to find the seat empty as if he was a faithful cat gone to die away from his loved ones.

Buffy put on the sunglasses Faith had given her. "It wasn't practical."

"It has a roof." Gunn coughed. He kept coughing and Buffy placed a rag near his mouth, not wanting to acknowledge that he was coughing blood. When he finished, Buffy tossed the dirty rags out and started the car again. The desert

was still, still like Gunn. She turned on the radio. Every station had gone silent, except Gunn's -- or Fred's -- country station.

***

Two hours into their trip, Buffy found herself humming along with an Alan Jackson song. They'd already played it at least twice. It wasn't her fault that the lyrics stuck in her head.

"Pull over," Gunn said.

"What do you need?" Buffy pushed the sunglasses up on her forehead and squinted in the sun.

"Pull over."

"Bandage? Pee? Want the top up?" Buffy asked. Gunn's forehead felt dry and warm. He was probably getting sunburnt. She hadn't thought of it.

"No, Buffy, you're not going to find him."

Buffy shook her head and turned off the radio. "Yes, we will. And you'll get better. You have to get better." She needed Gunn to get better. This battle needed to end.

"I'm dying." Gunn seemed resolved, almost at peace.

"No, you're not." Buffy placed her hand on his cheek. "We only have a couple more hours, then we'll find Lorne. He'll find Willow and you'll be teasing me about my haircut." Spike was right. She did like him too much, but he couldn't die.

"Last wish..."

She felt the tears coming again. Buffy thought they'd dried up in the sun. The sun that had made her strong and hard again. She'd forgotten what hard felt like.

"A kiss from a beautiful woman," Gunn finished.

Buffy leaned down and did as he asked. She thought perhaps that she could breathe life into him. Their mouths bumped together awkwardly and she blamed the angle and Angel's goddamn car.

"Thank you."

Her hand reached to her mouth as she watched his eyes roll back as he died. "Oh god." Buffy's cry echoed over dirt and rocks. She pulled Gunn's body up to her chest and held him. "You only needed to hang on. I need you." I barely knew you. Tears continued to swell and she wished the radio was still on.

Buffy cleared her throat and her tears before kicking the door open. Grabbing Gunn's body around his torso, she dragged him into the desert. His legs left long imprints, marking their path. If she couldn't bury him, she'd rather that the animals – not scavenging demons – found his body.

She touched his forehead one last time before letting his body fall under the shade of sage brush. Buffy pulled a twig from the plant and tucked it into her pocket. "Goodbye, Charles."

Putting her sunglasses back on, Buffy turned around and followed the sand trail back to the car. Her arms had turned pink in the sunshine as had her face. The radio played Johnny Cash as she continued her drive across the horizon.

The End

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