Lair of the Stealth Bunnies
Home Chapter Eleven
Oz patted Willow's face. "What'd she do?"
"I don't know," Buffy said in concern. "I didn't actually see it."
They heard Giles saying, "I thought you were here to be useful."
"Excuse me if things went a little unpredictable for a few minutes," Sarah snarled.
Buffy raised her voice. "Guys? If you're through ignoring us, we have people hurt here."
Giles and Sarah shot each other glowering looks, but hurried over. Giles knelt by Willow. "Is she all right?"
"That's what we were about to ask you," Buffy said tightly.
Giles carefully felt around Willow's head. "I don't feel anything, and she's not bleeding. I don't think anything physically knocked her out."
"Backlash from the spell?" Sarah suggested. She was still blinking furiously, shaking her head occasionally.
"I can't tell for sure, not here, in any case." Giles glanced up. "Is anyone else hurt?"
"Hey, I'm the Slayer. No problem," Buffy chirped, but she had a bruise on her temple that was starting already to spread.
"Yeah, well we're not that lucky," Xander said.
"Good Lord," Giles said softly. Cordelia's face was a mess of matted hair and blood.
"Her eyes are all right," Xander said quickly. "But her face..." He hesitated. Buffy tried to push Cordelia's hair back for a better look, but Cordelia flinched away.
"You don't look too good, either," Oz observed, looking at Xander.
"Oh, yeah," Xander said. "I think we can safely say I'm in major ouch, here."
"Another trip to the emergency room," Buffy sighed. She practically knew the interns on a first-name basis.
Sarah nodded at Willow. "You know if it's backlash, the doctors aren't going to be able to do much more than declare her in a coma."
"And it will be harder for us to help her magically if she's in Intensive Care," Giles agreed.
"But what if it's a concussion, or she really is in a coma?" Oz brushed Willow's hair away from her eyes.
"Unless we want to he talking to police," Buffy said, "we'd better get somewhere else. Look, no one's bleeding to death. Let's get somewhere and evaluate."
Xander started to protest, but Buffy waved her arm at the field. "Do you really want to spend your convalescence in jail for major vandalism?"
"Let's just get out of here," Cordelia said softly, and they all looked at her in surprise. "Please." Her voice shook, and Xander put his unbroken arm around her shoulders.
"If Cordy's willing to break instead of waiting for an ambulance, I am, too," he said. But the minute we get someplace safer than here, we get her to a hospital."
"Indeed," Giles said. "Cordelia, can you walk?"
"I'll run if it gets me away from here," she bit out.
Right on cue, they heard police sirens. "My place is closest," Sarah said, looking towards the direction of the sirens nervously.
"Right." Giles scooped Willow in his arms. "Lead the way, then," he said briskly.
Oz strode next to Giles, his eyes not leaving Willow's still face. "C'mon, babe," he said softly. "You'll be just fine. Giles always figures something out."
Oz has more faith in Giles than Giles does, Giles reflected. He glanced down at Willow's pale face. Let's hope his faith isn't misplaced.
Sarah brought them around to the door of her apartment, then stopped shortly. "Damn."
"What now?" Giles snapped.
"My keys are in my jacket pocket. Back at the library."
"Well, you've been just too bloody useful this evening, haven’t you?" Giles said angrily.
Sarah shot him a look that probably should have terrified him, if he wasn't so angry. Without another word, she put her fist through the window.
"There seems to be a lot of that going around," Cordelia said weakly.
"And there goes your security deposit," Xander observed.
Sarah ignored him and crawled through the window. A few seconds later, she opened the door. Giles pushed by her and gently laid Willow on the couch. Oz knelt on the floor and took her hand.
"Will she be all right?" Xander asked, looking over at her in concern.
Sarah leaned over and gently felt Willow's head, then turned her face one way, then the other. "I think you're right, Giles. There's no sign she's taken a knock on the head. I think it is backlash."
"But will she he all right?" Xander repeated, louder this time.
"She should be, once she wakes up. The hard part will be waking her up." Giles looked at Sarah. "I've never done this," he confessed. "I know the basic theory, but if you have any experience in this, I'd rather you do it."
Sarah chewed her lower lip. She glanced at Xander and Cordelia. "How are you two doing?"
"I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not feeling too great," Xander said sharply. Then he sighed and closed his eyes. "But I'll live," he said lightly. "And Cordelia has stopped bleeding. Can you help Willow?"
Sarah took a deep breath, held it, then glanced at Giles. "No," she said finally.
"Damn," Giles bit out.
"But I know someone who can." She reached across the couch and picked up the phone. She punched in a number, then waited, then another and hung up.
"That's it?" Oz asked.
"Beeper." Sarah came over and knelt in front of Cordelia, who had sunk to the floor. "You'd better let me look at it," she said gently.
Cordelia took a breath and nodded, before she realised how much nodding would hurt. Sarah pushed her hair away from her face. "It's not as bad as it must feel," she said after a moment. "If you want, we can get you to a hospital now. But the person coming is a healer, and I think she'll be able to help you. You, too," she nodded at Xander.
He crouched down next to Cordelia. "You call it, Cordy."
"Will it scar?" she asked, trying to be brave.
"I don't know," he said honestly.
She bit her lip and let her hair fall back around her face. "I've spent all my life being pretty and popular," she said in a whisper. "I don't know how to be anything else."
"Cordy," he said softly, "We've seen so many things that we thought were impossible. And most of it has been horrible, but some of it has been beautiful too. If Sarah thinks this person could help -- and I think she's talking magic, here -- I think maybe we should give it a try."
"And if it doesn't work?" she asked so softly that Xander could barely hear her.
"Then that is why God created plastic surgeons." he said with a slight smile.
"All right," she said, still in that almost inaudible voice. "Let's stay."
Xander settled down beside her and put his arm around her. "Brave doesn't even begin to describe it." he told her and nodded at Sarah. "How long do we have to wait?"
Sarah had gone bast chewing on her lip and was nibbling on a claw. "Not too long, I should think. I've never called for help before, so I imagine she's racing around in a full-blown panic about now. Cordelia, I think if I try to wash it or do anything like that, it will start bleeding again. I think I should just leave it alone and let Meli work on it."
"All right," she said again.
Buffy had found a blanket and was stuffing it in the broken window to keep the cold air out. "What can I do to help?"
Sarah thought a moment. "There's a large pot in the cupboard by the stove. If you could fill that with water, heat it to boiling, then turn it off? Meli will need hot water for Cordelia. And if you could heat the tea kettle too? I have some tea that works as a pain reliever. I think we all could use some." She stopped for a moment and closed her eyes, breathing carefully, then abruptly shook her head and rubbed her eyes. "I'm still seeing spots," she said wryly.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Cordelia said weakly.
"It was, Cordelia," Sarah said in surprise. "It was a great idea. However, forgive me, but if I had known about it, I probably would have stayed home. You hardly needed any extra help."
"Which is good, since you were hardly able to give it," Giles grumbled.
"Get over it, Giles, " Buffy said sharply. "I'm sick of hearing it."
The room was silent for a moment. "Just what was it that Willow did?" Oz finally asked.
"I'm just guessing, but... a really big spell?" Buffy said.
"I think we could have figured that out for ourselves," Xander said. "Giles, I didn't think she was up to anything like that."
"She wasn't," Giles said dryly. "And still isn't. Which is why she collapsed. She apparently figured out how to call up that much power, but she didn't know how to dispel it afterwards. She took the energy back into herself, and it... blew a fuse, so to speak." He coughed. "I think I'd better keep a closer eye on what sources she's studying from. That spell was from nothing I gave her."
"It better not have been," Xander said darkly.
Sarah cocked her head suddenly. "Oh, good," she said with a large amount of exhausted relief.
"What?" Buffy asked, then she heard it, too. A low hum that was almost felt more than heard, and she pushed behind her cars, trying to relieve some of the pressure. "What is that?" she asked.
"The cavalry, "Sarah said faintly. A soft green glow appeared at the far end of the living room. It grew larger and larger, until it was about the size of a person. Then it parted in the center, and for a second, Buffy could see a place inside the glow that certainly wasn’t part of Sarah’s apartment. Then it disappeared with a soft pop that again, was more felt than heard, and a woman, slightly older than Sarah stood in its place. Her long dark hair fluttered around her exotic face, then settled as if a breeze had suddenly flared up, then died just as suddenly.
Buffy hadn’t felt a breeze.
"Wow!" Xander said in a small voice.
"Teleportation?" Giles asked, staring at Sarah in surprise.
The woman glanced around the room until she saw Sarah, then abruptly relaxed. "Thank God," she said softly and held out her arms. "Oh, Cat."
Sarah stumbled forward and fell into the woman's arms. "Thank you," she said softly, her head on the other woman's shoulders. "I didn't know what else to do."
"Of course, I'd come," the other woman scolded. "Do you think we don't worry about you?" She looked over Sarah's shoulder at the others. "Which one's hurt?"
"Most of them." Sarah said. She stepped away and raked her mane of hair away from her eyes. "This is Meliaka. She's... like me. And was one of the first of us. I'd go through introductions, but..."
"They can wait," Meliaka said, her eyes on Willow. She came over to kneel next to Oz. She moved with a shimmering sound, and Oz realised that her skirt was sewn with dozens of tiny bells. He studied her face and saw the same inhuman qualities in her exotic features as in Sarah's, but her eyes held nothing but compassion... and weariness behind that. She put her hand on Willow's forehead. "Oh, dear," she said softly. "What has this child been up to? She should not have been casting a spell like that."
"You can tell?" Oz asked.
"Well, not specifies, but I can tell what would have caused this."
"Can you help her?" Buffy asked tightly.
"Oh, of course," Meli said lightly. "She’ll be fine, but she'll need a lot of sleep over the next couple of days." She looked up and glanced around at the rest of them. "I think, actually, she can wait. I think some of you are in more need than she is." Her eyes narrowed at Sarah. "Cat, I really think--"
"Later, Meli," Sarah said firmly. "Xander's arm's broken."
"What have you been doing to these children?" Meli scolded again.
"It wasn't me," Sarah protested, rather like the scolded child Meli was making her into. "Go yell at the vampires, if you want someone to blame."
Meli smiled gently at her, then went to kneel in front of Xander. "Let me see your arm."
"Look, I can wait," he insisted. "Can you help Cordelia first?"
She smiled again, and Xander found himself relaxing just at her smile. The throbbing in his arm backed away slightly. She touched Cordelia's chin, raising the girl's face to the light. "Cat, I need some hot water--"
"Here." Buffy set a large kettle of steaming water next to her. "It was boiling about ten minutes ago. It still felt too hot to me, so I put in a tray of ice cubes just a minute ago."
Meli tested the water. "Perfect." She took a cloth out of the bag she was carrying, dampened it, then gently began to wash Cordelia's face. "Look at me, child," she said so soothingly that Cordelia could hardly take offence at the endearment and looked pleadingly into the woman's eyes. Meli gently placed her hand over Cordelia's cheek, not quite touching the skin, and Cordelia felt her face grow warm, as if it was being bathed by steam. Meli's eyes began to glow in a comforting shade of green. After a long moment, the glow began to die away again, and her eyes went back to their normal inhumanity. Cordelia's eyes went wide. "It doesn't hurt," she said in amazement. She looked at Xander, who was staring at her with large eyes. "What?" she said sharply, then gingerly touched her face. Her cheek was smooth and unbroken.
"Such a pretty child," Meli said, almost to herself.
Cordelia found her purse and dug through it for her mirror, her hands shaking. She looked in it. Her cheek was healed. There was no scarring. The only indication that anything had happened was that her face on that side was a soft pink, as if she had been out in the sun just a touch too long. "How did you do that?" she asked in amazement.
Meli lifted one shoulder in a delicate shrug. "It's who I am."
Cordelia touched her cheek again, then turned quickly to Xander. "Your arm!"
That healing took longer, and by the time Xander was able to flex his fingers again without pain, Cordelia was half asleep and fighting it
"The healing will make you sleepy," Meli explained. "I'll give you one of my horrible tasting teas, which will put you to sleep, but you need the rest. Your body just went through an accelerated healing and it will have some catching up to do."
"Is that how you do it?" Giles had come over to watch. "Speed up the healing process?"
"That's as good an explanation as any." Meli went back to Willow. "I think I'd better look at her, now."
Buffy brought in several mugs and the steaming tea kettle, and Meli brought out a pouch of some herbs. "Could you make this into a tea for me?" she asked, then turned to Willow. She placed her hand on Willow's forehead again, as if she was checking for a fever, and closed her eyes. Willow stirred with a soft moan, then took a deep breath and sleepily opened her eyes. "Wha'happened?" she asked.
"You, my dear, cast one whopper of a spell," Meli said with amusement.
"Oh," she said faintly. Her eyes opened wider. "Is Giles pissed?"
"Giles is not too happy with you," Giles said, leaning over the back of the couch.
"I'm not useless," Willow said miserably.
Giles softened. "No, you aren't, Willow. But you could have killed yourself, casting a spell you didn't know how to control. I'm not stopping you from studying magic, but you have to do it at a slower pace."
"Yeah," Willow said faintly. "I think I figured that out for myself, right before that blast sucked back into me."
"Where did you even find such a spell?" he asked.
"Off the Internet," she said sleepily.
"That's it," Giles muttered. "I'm throwing the bloody computer out the window."
She yawned widely. "Can I go back to sleep now?"
"First you're going to drink this." Meli handed her a steaming mug. "It will help you rest."
Willow took a timid sip and made an exquisite face.
"If you don't drink it," Meli said sternly, "you will wake up with a headache the size of Minnesota."
Willow obediently drank the tea. She smiled tiredly up at Oz, who kissed the top of her head. "Thank you," he said softly to Meli. She smiled back at him and stood up. This time, she looked at Sarah with a good deal more determination. "Cat, you need to sit down before you fall down."
Sarah was leaning against the table. "I'm all right, Meli" she said sharply.
"Uh, huh," Meli said, unconvinced. She went over to Sarah, and in a movement too quick to follow, she laid her hand on Sarah's side. She brought it back red and dripping and held it out in front of Sarah. Giles suddenly had a flashback of the vampire slashing at her just after the lights came on. With her black clothes, they had never even noticed the blood.
"It isn't that bad," Sarah said. "Go help the others."
"You are the worst one of all that's left," Meli snapped, in the first strong emotion they had seen from her. "You may not be active trying to kill yourself, but you're going to succeed without trying if you keep this up. And killing yourself isn't going to bring him back, Cat!"
Sarah went even paler, and here eyes flashed with anger and deep pain. Then, just as abruptly, all the emotion drained from her face. "I miss him, Meli," she said in a plaintive voice.
Meli placed her hand on Sarah's face, her eyes as full of sorrow as Sarah's were empty. "I know, Cat," she said softly and rested her forehead against Sarah's for a brief second, then gently pushed her toward the bedroom door "Go on. I'll be there in a minute."
Sarah turned and went into the bedroom, her hand pressed against her side. Buffy raised her eyebrow at Meli, who nodded, and Buffy followed Sarah. "I know you're supposed to be big sistering me," they heard her say cheerfully, "but let's play role reversal for tonight, huh?"
Meli smiled gently at Giles, and he suddenly understood just how soothing that smile was, as he began to relax for the first time that day. "They're good children," she said softly.
"They are, aren't they?" he said with a touch of pride. He smiled over the four of them. Cordelia was using Xander's leg as a pillow, curled up on the floor. Xander had fallen sleep sitting up against the wall, one hand resting on Cordelia's shoulder. Oz was asleep sitting against the couch, his head close to Willow's and holding her hand. Willow had regained more colour in her face and was breathing evenly, her other hand curled around the back of Oz's neck.
Meli gathered her various vials and pouches back into her bag. "I'll go take care of the Cat, then come back to look at your ankle."
She smiled again. "You've been limping."
"I have?" Once he thought of it, he realised it was hurting. "I don't even remember hurting it," he said doubtfully. "Come to think of it, my wrist hurts too."
"I know," she said gently and went into the bedroom.
Buffy came out a few minutes later. The bruise on her temple had faded, and although she looked as exhausted as the rest of them, she walked a little easier. Giles guessed the healer had worked some of her magic on the Slayer as well. She looked around with satisfaction at the sleeping bodies. "We look pretty good for a room of passed out bodies." she said in a low voice, not wanting to wake anyone. “Do you think we should set a watch?"
Giles had sunk down in the nearest chair. He had taken off his glasses, but at Buffy's question, he sat up straighter and put his glasses on again, doing a heroic job of hiding his reluctance. "I'll sit first watch. You get some sleep."
Conflicting responses battled across her face. Then she sighed with relief "You sure you're okay to stay awake?"
"Certainly," he lied.
"In that case..." She went into the kitchen and came back with a mug of the same tea she had made for the others at Meli's instructions. She sat down on the floor near Giles' chair and took a sip. She made a face. "Stewed grass clippings," she muttered.
"You just don't appreciate tea," Giles said in amusement.
"You haven't had any of this yet," Buffy told him. "Anything on the Orb, yet?"
Giles blinked at her. "Er... no, not yet." The quiet day in the library felt like it had been weeks ago.
"Hmm. " She took another sip of the tea, this time without making the face. "It would be awfully nice to find out just why the other side was so enthusiastic tonight."
"You're fairly certain they were after the Orb, then." It wasn't even really a question.
"No, they normally attack in such numbers just for jollies." She rolled her eyes. "You'll just have to look harder."
"I hope that meant I'd have help."
"Hey, you were the one who found that Orb in the first place," she protested.
"Actually, it was Willow who found it," he answered absently.
They both looked over at the sleeping Willow.
"Yeah," Buffy said lightly. "Ill help you look."
"Of course you will," he said kindly, still watching Willow breathe, just to reassure himself that she was breathing.
"In that case," Buffy said again, for no particular reason at all and drained the last of her tea. She yawned, set the mug aside and curled up in a ball on the floor where she was sitting. As near as Giles could tell, she fell asleep almost immediately. His eyes ached, and he began to wonder how he was going to manage to stay awake. And now that he had admitted it, his ankle had begun to throb.
The bedroom door swung open and Meli slipped out. She paused to rest her hand for a brief moment on Willow's forehead again and nodded in satisfaction.
"Your turn," she said to him. "Lets go in the kitchen so we don't wake them."
Giles debated for a moment, which would be worse -- getting up or hurting. Then his wrist decided to kick in too, and he struggled out of the chair.
Meli was shaking the tea kettle doubtfully. "I didn't think there'd be any left," she said ruefully. She filled it and set it to heat on the stove.
"How long have you known Sarah?" he asked, after she had finished with his ankle. Being without pain was something no one truly appreciated.
"Years," she said fondly. "Sarah and I were in that first group, before we were an army. When we were just kids doing what we thought was right and really having no idea what we were doing. There were seven of us then; Sarah, Grey, Luke, the Twins, Sheila, and myself. Wren was around, but she was still human then."
"You were all half-demons?"
"No," she said slowly, almost reluctantly. "Grey was human."
She nodded. "Sarah's husband. He was our leader, until he was killed, and Sarah took over."
"She's your leader?" Giles asked carefully. "She never mentioned that, either."
Meli looked up from testing his fingers on his injured wrist and looked into his eyes for a moment. "It's hard for her to confide in people." she said at last. "She's had to keep so many things secret for so long. Perhaps she did make a mistake in not telling you and the children more about herself, but she's just in the habit of keeping secrets." Her fingers paused over the mark of Eyghon on his arm. "Haven't you ever made mistakes?" she asked softly.
Giles caught his breath and drew his hand back. "How did you know about that?"
"I don't," she said gently. "But I sense emotions, and the depth of your regrets. The Cat has so much grief, so many regrets, that it paralyses her. And she is not quite human, and no longer thinks as one." The tea kettle began to whistle and she whisked it off the stove before it could get to full volume. She poured the hot water into the two mugs on the counter. "There. Now if you could please help me by taking that mug of tea in to the Cat? The one on the right. I have to make it so much stronger for her. If you would do that, I'll go cheek on the others. And I will stand watch tonight, so you just drink that other cup yourself and try to get some sleep, like the children are doing."
Put that way, he could hardly refuse. He buttoned his sleeve cuff around his wrist, flexing his fingers experimentally. There was none of the pain of a few minutes ago. "Amazing," he murmured. He made sure he picked up the right mug and went into the living room. He stopped long enough to watch Meli pull the blanket up higher on Willow. She rested her hand on Oz's head for a moment, then went to check on Cordelia and Xander, and Giles slipped through the room, hoping not to distract her any further. He tapped on the frame of the bedroom door uncomfortably before he went in.
Sarah was a lump under the blankets, her mane of hair tumbled over the pillow. She tried to say something, but all that came out was "Mrumph."
"It's me," Giles felt he should say, in case Sarah thought he was Meli and would say something he wasn't meant to overhear.
She tried again, and this time managed words. "I know. Scented you. Meli make you bring the tea in?"
"Yes, well..." He put the mug on the night stand and backed away quickly. "She was seeing to the others."
Sarah opened her eyes. "They're okay?"
"Good." She closed her eyes again, then forced herself to sit up with an effort.
"How are you feeling?" he asked politely.
"Oh, it's all right," she said without much concern. "Just tired. Before I drink that tea, do you need me to take a watch?"
"Meli said she'd watch tonight."
"God bless Meli," Sarah said thankfully and picked up the mug.
Giles leaned against the door frame and watched her blow on the hot liquid to cool it. "All right," she said finally. "Go ahead and yell. Get it out of your system."
He blinked, because that hadn't been what he was thinking at all. "Do you really expect that of me?"
"It's all you've done today." She grimaced at the taste of the tea.
"Well... I wasn't planning to now," he said uncomfortably. She arched a suspicious eyebrow at him. "I was actually wondering how hard it was for you. Taking orders from Buffy and myself, when you are used to giving them."
She sighed. "Oh, Meli..." She shook her head ruefully. "And what you're trying not to ask is why am I playing scout when I should be leading the troops."
"Not exactly," Giles protested automatically, even though she was right.
Sarah shrugged. "Meli exaggerated. I'm not really a leader anymore. I mean, yes, in name, and they occasionally do defer to me, but there are other people who are doing the actually leading, and I'm not really needed anymore. I never wanted to be a leader in the first place. I--" and her eyes went dark. "I inherited it," she finished and bent over her mug again. "You'd better get some sleep too," she said, not looking up. "Go let Meli pour some of this noxious stuff into you." She put her empty mug aside and scrunched down, pulling the covers up almost over her head, until she resembled the same lump she had been earlier. Giles eased out of the room. The living room was silent except for the soft sound of breathing. He picked up his jacket that he had discarded on a chair earlier and gently covered Buffy with it. She smiled in her sleep, and he studied her, how young she was, how tension and strain creased her face even in sleep. Then he stood up and went into the kitchen, where he heard Meli humming, and wondered if the tea was really as bad as they had all made it cut to be. And found out that they hadn't been exaggerating at all.