Sam gulped down his third glass of water. Apparently, serving as a conduit for strong healing magic made a guy thirsty. He could hear Xander relating the whole story to a rapt audience of young girls out in the living room. Crowley was in the kitchen with him, also drinking, though Sam wasn't quite sure where the demon had gotten the single-malt.
"So you sticking around, then?" Crowley asked, toying with his glass. "For whatever's coming?"
Sam shrugged. "Dunno. I have a job back in D.C., so." He shrugged again, and chuckled. "You know, three days ago, my biggest problem was coming up with ways to avoid the Washington press on my return home?"
Crowley looked outside at the setting sun. "Three days ago, my biggest problem was placating a whining angel."
"And it isn't anymore?"
Crowley smirked, and shook his head. "I was splashed with holy water today. Don't tell those do-gooders out there, but I'm pure demon - it should've killed me."
Sam frowned. "I'm . . . sorry that it didn't?" Off the demon's scowl, he added, "Could be the hellmouth, right? Could've given you a little bit of a boost."
"Possible," Crowley said, refilling his glass. "But - you have to understand, 'hellmouth,' that's a misnomer. It implies that this place is nothing but a draw for evil, which it isn't. For every supposed hell dimension, there's a heaven dimension - ying and yang, and all that. Everything has to balance out. There are better dimensions than this, and they are all more easily accessible from a so-called hellmouth than from anywhere else."
"For instance," Crowley said, "there is the world without shrimp." Sam looked dubious. "Trust me," Crowley said.
"Sure." Sam looked down at his glass, and saw, to his joy, that it had scotch in it. "So what happened to your friend?"
"He, uh, well he spazzed out, basically," Crowley said. "He's back in London, I'm guessing. Away from all the evil influences here."
Sam frowned, confused. "You said everything balances out."
"So wouldn't the evil influences be balanced out by the good? How would the evil here make him do whatever he did?"
Crowley opened his mouth to give a condescending answer, and found he had no such thing. He frowned. "Huh."
Sam looked out the window at the darkened skies, thoughtful. "Hey, lemme ask you something," Sam said, leaning forward a little bit. "You notice anything weird about how time passes here? I mean, it was noon maybe half an hour ago, and now it looks like it's eight at night."
"Oh, yeah, that's the hellmouth," Crowley said. "Confluence of dimensions, each traveling at their own speed, bound to screw things up. You probably don't notice, but the hellmouth in D.C. makes time wonky there too."
"I - huh?"
Giles walked into the kitchen before Sam could ask anything else. "Oh, Sam, there's a vampire outside waiting for you. Buffy doesn't seem to want to kill her, so I thought-"
"Mandy," he said. "She's outside?"
Giles frowned. "That, that is what I just said, yes." As Sam made to leave, he touched his arm. "Are you sure you won't stay? Your skills in magic are rough, but we could use you."
Sam shook his head. "I'd just get in the way. Besides, I thought that green thing was supposed to seal up the hellmouth, right?"
"It would have," Giles said, shoving his hands in his pocket and getting ready for a moment of exposition. "But I think when you channeled some of it into me to heal me, it took away sufficient energy from the act of healing the earth. If I had not been stabbed, or even if you had not healed me-"
"If I hadn't healed you, we'd both be dead," Sam said. "Buffy would've killed me. Besides . . . I couldn't, you know. Just let you die."
"Yes, well." Giles took a deep breath and said, "For what it's worth, I don't think you'd get in the way."
"For what it's worth, I think you're wrong," Sam murmured with a small grin. His grin turned into confusion. "Besides, some of those girls are starting to look at me funny."
Giles looked at him for a long moment before nodding. "All right. Then, I wish you the best of luck back in Washington."
"Thanks. And if you guys need anything for this-"
"We haven't had the best experience with the U.S. government, so probably not," Giles interrupted. "But thank you."
Sam nodded and left. Giles turned to Crowley and smiled.
Crowley glanced around nervously, suddenly feeling ill at ease. "I take it you wanted to talk to me?"
"You don't want to eat me, do you?"
Mandy scowled at Sam. "Could've eaten you a thousand times over in the past three days, Samson. Why would I eat you now when you probably taste like minty aftershave?"
"Minty aftershave?" he asked.
"Minty aftershave," she repeated. "All that healing energy. Can smell it on you, man." She tapped the hood of the stolen car that had brought him to Sunnydale; obviously, she'd taken it from the hotel parking lot when he wasn't paying attention. He peered into the backseat to see his new clothes packed into paper bags as she asked, "So where we headed?"
He stood up faster than he should have, and the blood rushed from his head. "We? I'm going back to D.C. You're gonna go do your vampire thing."
For the shortest moment, Mandy almost looked hurt. Then she smirked and said, "I want representation, man."
Sam stared at her. "You're kidding."
"Nope," she said, sliding into the driver's seat. "I'm a vampire. I'm a demon. I'm a born citizen of the United States of America, and I demand voting rights. You know how many of us would kill for basic freedoms?"
"I'm sure quite a few of you would kill for them, or for anything, really, but - Mandy, what is going on?"
"Just what it looks like," she said, popping the passenger door open. "I'm starting a new special interest group. You know how many demons have been tortured and maimed by the U.S. Government in the name of science? Most of us aren't into that whole 'end of the world' crap. We just wanna live our lives."
"And also murder, right?" Sam asked, glowering at her dubiously.
"That's low, Sam," she said, starting the car. "Come on. If you don't want me coming along, at least let me take you to LAX - you can't be seen driving a stolen vehicle, after all."
"What are you gonna do after?" he asked, getting into the car.
She drove down Revello, turning onto the main road. "Dunno. Stay in L.A. probably. Stick around here, maybe, see if they need any help."
Sam leaned back as she ignored the speed laws and drove down the street. Sunnydale sped by outside the window, and he pulled out his cell phone
and dialed Leo's number. It picked up after two rings. "Leo?"
"Sam, why are you still in Sunnydale?"
"Is that our friendly neighborhood chief of staff?" Mandy asked. "Lemme talk to him. Haven't talked to Leo in ages." She grabbed the cell phone from Sam.
His eyes went wide as she started paying more attention to the phone than the road. "Maybe I should talk to Leo, and you should drive-"
"Leo, what's up?" Mandy said, perkier than Sam had ever heard her. Sam could vaguely hear Leo screaming into the phone, and was pretty sure the guy's blood pressure was skyrocketing. "No, he's safe and sound. Promise. Not even an itty-bitty taste."
Sam scowled at her and snatched the phone back. "Sorry, she took it from me."
"What are you doing in a car with her?" Leo asked, obviously angry. "Do you know how dangerous it is-"
"I'm pretty sure I know how dangerous it is," Sam interrupted. "I just went through - well, I'm fine now. So."
Leo sighed. "Yeah. Look, just get back here."
Sam smirked as he saw an opening. "Do I sense worry in your voice?"
"I do, don't I?" He grinned. The grin faded as he saw the "Now Leaving Sunnydale" sign. "Leo, these guys really need help out here."
"They know how to handle that stuff way better than we do," Leo said.
"So come back here and handle what you handle best."
"You don't have to convince me, I'm coming back," Sam said. There was a hesitation in his voice, though.
"And why do I not believe that?" Leo asked, deadpan. "And why do I think you don't believe it either?"
Mandy pulled over to the side of the road, and Sam looked at her in alarm. He frowned. "Listen, Leo, can I talk to you later? I think Mandy's about to eat me."
"Nah, I'm just turning the engine off," she said. "Wanna be able to hear Leo better."
"Mandy, be quiet," Leo groused over the phone. "Sam, just - be careful, okay? If you're not coming back, stick with Mandy."
"I'm coming back-" He stopped talking when he realized Leo had hung up on him. "Okay."
Mandy started the car up again. "Los Angeles International, here we come."
Sam looked at her; his frown deepened, and he buckled his seat belt.
Giles handed Crowley the book. "Tell your friend thanks."
Crowley looked down at the book of prophecies. "You don't need it anymore?"
"Read it on the plane over," Giles said. "I . . . think it might be safer back home."
"Maybe," Crowley said, flipping through it. "I know - I get that you all need help. But I want you to know, I can't help you with this."
Giles looked confused at the demon's bluntness, but had to admit there was also some disappointment there. "Might I ask why not?" he asked, as calmly as he could.
Crowley looked him straight in the eye and said, "I'm evil. I like this place - Earth, I mean - but I've already done more good than I'm supposed to."
"You didn't really help at all," Giles said.
"Yeah, but I didn't hurt, either." Crowley closed the book carefully and stuck his hand out. "Best of luck, though. Hope you all get this done. If you don't . . . well, I'll put in a good word for you."
Giles took his hand and shook it. "Will that actually do anything good?"
"Probably not." He tucked the book under his arm and headed out.
His car was still parked by the fire hydrant down the street a little ways, and as he made his way up the sidewalk, he muttered, "What I do for you, angel."
"Quit whining," the Doctor brayed behind him. "I'll give you a ride in the TARDIS, and you can leave the car in front of a fire hydrant."
"I can't leave a car in front of the-" He stopped short. Crowley looked at the rental. He could leave a car in front of the fire hydrant; in fact, he really should, seeing as how he was evil. When he turned back to the Doctor, the time lord was smirking and leaning on his umbrella.
"Issues, Anthony?" the Doctor asked, opening the gate to let Crowley into the Summers' back yard.
"Is Aziraphale in there?"
"He is not," the Doctor said, unlocking the TARDIS door. "I took him back to London already. I was barely able to get him out. He wanted to come back to make sure you were all right."
"Well, he needed to get out of this hellmouth," Crowley said. "It was influencing him, taking him back to his baser elements."
They stepped inside to see Ace by the control console and a slightly embarrassed Aziraphale sitting cross-legged against the wall behind her. "He snuck back in," Ace said with a shrug.
"Er. Hello, Crowley."
"Giles, you wanted to talk to me?"
Giles nodded and lead Buffy out of the crowded living room and up to her bedroom. He closed the door and sat her down on her bed. "The Doctor told me what you tried to do."
She tried to look innocent. "What I tried to do . . . at the seal?
'Cause, gotta say, I think that turned out pretty good."
"Buffy, he told me that you tried to go back in time to make yourself stay dead," he said. "Why?"
She ducked her head to steel herself, and then looked him right in the eyes. "The oracle. The Eye of Beljoxa said-"
"Something which could be taken in a myriad of ways," he said gently. "I'm sorry, Buffy, I shouldn't have told you-"
"No, it's good you did," she said, shaking her head. "I mean, even if I drew way wrong conclusions. I - we won't be able to fight the First if we don't learn how to share."
He smiled and sat down beside her. "True." His smile faded, and he said, "If we're sharing, I have to tell you that I'm worried about Spike."
He took off his glasses and cleaned them. "Um, he's still defenseless against the First's trigger, yes?"
Buffy nodded. "Yeah, but he hasn't been, well, triggered in a long while."
"Still." He put his glasses back on. There was something strange in Buffy's fiercely defensive tone of voice, but he couldn't pinpoint it, nor did he want to try. "There is something I'd like to try. I'd have to leave for a few days to get the supplies, but I believe we can - we can help him."
She smiled up at him and leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, "I know how much you hate saying that."
"Quite." He stood and said, "I'd best be getting back. Will you be all right tonight?"
"I should be asking you that," she said. "You sure you're all healed up in there?"
"I am," he said with a flash of a grin. There was still something about her mood making him uneasy, but he was too tired. "Um, I'll see you tomorrow, Buffy."
"Too bad the Doctor didn't want to join us," Aziraphale said, sipping his drink.
"Probably because he still hates me," Crowley said. He motioned the waiter over and placed an order for a steak.
"Of course he still hates you, the last time he saw you, you broke his TARDIS, and he's only just fixed the old thing," Aziraphale said. "And I'd love a salad, if you're wondering."
"I wasn't," Crowley said. "You feeling any better, by the way?"
Aziraphale sighed and stared down into his empty cup. "I suppose.
Sorry for acting all out of sorts back there." He looked up at Crowley.
"Much better, thanks," he said. They fell into a not-quite-comfortable silence.
The salad and steak appeared, and Aziraphale said, "Do you know, it's interesting how the evil around the hellmouth-"
"It wasn't the hellmouth that screwed with us and you know it," Crowley muttered, sawing at his steak. "I'm getting a dose of do-gooder, and you . . . well, you care about a demon at least as much as you care about the sanctity of heaven, judging by how quickly you reverted after I started having second thoughts about your silly little plan. Which I'm sure is against somebody's rules somewhere."
Aziraphale frowned at him, his eyes worried. "I was thinking the same thing. Er. We're not telling anyone, right?"
"Bloody well right, we're not." He bit into his steak with determined
Giles left the Summers house, and shoved his hands in his pockets; it was colder now, and though it was still fairly comfortable by his standards, it was colder than he could ever remember it being in Sunnydale. He was barely three houses down when he heard his name being called. He looked back. "Buffy?"
"Your legs are too long," she groused, half-running up to him.
"Sorry," he apologized, confused. "Is something the matter?"
She looked contrite. "I kinda forgot to tell you something."
He turned to face her fully. "What is it? And - did you change your shirt?"
"The other one was kinda covered in Bringer bits," she said. "Anyway. I figured, since I said we should share, I should share this with you."
Giles waited a moment for her to start speaking again, but she seemed to be lost in herself. "Share what? Buffy, I'm not sure I-"
"Last spring, the night before Tara died, Spike tried to rape me," she said, looking at a point somewhere on his chest.
Giles stared at her, trying to parse what she'd just said. That familiar feeling of protectiveness grew in him, turning his vision black around the edges, turning his blood cold. He once again wanted to kick himself for not being there for her, for leaving before he should have. "I'll kill him."
He walked past her, heading towards the house. "I'll stake him. I'll string him up on a bloody cross, spray him with holy water, set him on fire-"
"Giles, don't," she said from behind him.
"Buffy, he-" He turned to face her, and saw the look on her face. "Fine," he said coolly. "I suppose he's 'different' now."
"He is," she said vehemently, taking a step towards him. "And I might need him later. Please don't go after him."
At her tone, he pushed his anger down. Nodding, he said, "All right. I won't. But if he ever tries anything-" She nodded. He smiled a tiny bit, and reached out to squeeze her shoulder.
His hand passed right through her.
The First grinned up at him, still in Buffy's form. "Please don't go after him," she repeated, her voice mockingly pleading. "I might need him."
"Go away," he muttered, walking through her on his way to the hotel.
"I will," the First said. "Just remember, I never lie."
He stopped walking and glanced over his shoulder. "Yes. And?"
"And that means I was telling the truth about Spike," the First said before disappearing.
Giles stared for a long moment at the spot where the First had been.
Mandy pulled into the airport garage. At five in the morning, it was full but relatively quiet. "Here we are. Ready to go home?"
Sam unbuckled his seatbelt and unlocked the back door. "Sure." On the drive, he had been acutely aware of time skipping back and forth; instead of three hours, it had been more like seven or eight, and he had had a lot of time to think things over.
Ever since the energy at the seal had gone through him, he felt like he could see things much clearer than before. Not just time, but also all the magic in the air, all the different species that passed by around them. It wasn't an overwhelming feeling, it wasn't a feeling that would debilitate, but it was buzzing under his skin. It was fading, but the memory was burned into him by now, always on the periphery of his mind.
Once, when he was maybe ten, eleven years old, his father had taken him on a ship. They'd gone out so far that he couldn't see the coast anymore, and he'd thought at that time that the world was pretty big.
The world, in fact, was huge. Bigger than he could have imagined at eleven years, and bigger than he'd known one week ago. "Oh lord, have mercy," he muttered, "thy sea is so large, and my ship is so small."
"Sam?" Mandy asked. "You going? Sun's gonna be up in a little while, and I need to find a place to sleep."
He looked at her and smiled tightly. "How about the backseat?"
"I saw some duct tape back there, we can cover the windows, you can sleep back there," he said. "I'll drive."
"You sure about this?" she asked, though he could see a glimmer of a smile curling the corners of her mouth.
"Not at all," he said. "Let's do it."
They made short order of duct-taping the windows and rear windshield, and Sam strung a jacket over the backs of the front seats so light couldn't hit her from the front. She curled up on the seat, and was asleep in moments. He pulled out of the garage.
When he made it out of L.A., the sun was just coming up to his right. The roads were mostly clear, and he rolled down his window to let in some fresh, cool air. With no schedules, no prophecies to tell him, he had absolutely no idea what came next.
He drove north, and grinned.