2,252--- --- ---
She backed up cautiously, facing the demons as they crossed the barrier as if it wasn't there. She couldn't turn and run yet, she needed to give Willow and Dawn more time to escape.
It was a simple plan. On a good day with a little effort she could probably handle one of these creatures. Four of them was stretching even her luck at surviving. But her goal was to stay alive if at all possible. She just needed to distract them and slow them down.
They barely paused as they followed her into the tunnel. It wasn't quite wide enough for two of them but she wouldn't have a real advantage until half way back to the surface when it became much narrower.
She stayed out of reach as they advanced, her long knife not seeming to bother them as she swung it in their faces. Ducking under a swinging arm, she prodded the nearest demon experimentally. It was like jabbing a rock wall. She winced at the shock of contact as it travelled up her arm. Obviously they were tougher than she'd thought.
Ducking at movement seen out of the corner of one eye, Buffy just barely avoided being pounded into the wall by a fist as large as her head as one of the other demons joined in.
"Can we talk about this?" Buffy asked, even as she grabbed several large stones from the ground and back-pedalled to gain more room before throwing them. The sound of the rocks striking the closest demon was drowned out by the roar from one of the others.
Swinging her knife again, Buffy managed to draw blood, her knife slicing along a huge arm. The hissing sound as the blood hit the ground was disturbing. She hoped their blood didn't dissolve the knife. Darting forward, she jabbed again. This time, her blood coated knife slid right in.
"That's different," Buffy said, wincing at the loud roar of pain as the demon slumped down. Her jab must have finally hit a vulnerable spot. Or maybe they were allergic to their own blood? Unfortunately, the loss of one of them wasn't slowing the others down. Every time they rushed her she lost a few yards of tunnel.
Catching light reflecting from the entrance in her peripheral vision, Buffy dashed forward and struck a lucky blow with her knife, downing a second demon, turned around and put on a burst of speed, using her remaining energy to outdistance the two remaining demons. They hadn't given up but they were moving a little slower as they pushed their way through the narrow passage. As she ran, she looked for something to throw at them but the upper part of the tunnel system was free of any debris.
Reaching the entrance, she dove out into the sunlight. "Close it! Close it!" she shouted, feeling the demons at her heals. Rolling to her feet, the dust kicked up by her entrance coating the blood and demon gore decorating her clothes, Buffy faced the tunnel entrance, her knife ready.
With a loud rumble, the tunnel mouth started to collapse in on itself, throwing out a large cloud of dirt and bits of sharp stones. Reflexively dropping to the ground to escape the blast of debris, Buffy thought she saw one of the demons being buried before she was engulfed by the cloud.
"Buffy?" A voice said loudly. "Are you alright?"
Stumbling to her feet, Buffy cautiously blinked, trying to clear her vision as she blearily looked around. Dawn and Willow were cautiously approaching from the edge of the clearing.
"I'm fine," she said, trying to shake off the layer of dirt coating her hair and clothes. "But these clothes have seen better days," she grumbled. "Either of you have a brush?" she asked. "Or a mirror?"
"It's going to take more than that," Dawn said in a stage whisper to Willow.
Buffy ignored her, instead focusing on Willow who seemed determined to check every square inch for damage. "I said I was fine," she muttered, blushing.
"Just checking," Willow said, dropping her hands and backing away. Looking around, she started picking up their remaining equipment and packing it away.
"Do we have any water?" Buffy asked. "I shouldn't get into your car like this. It'll never get out."
"There's a pond nearby," Willow said, throwing one of the bags over a shoulder. "Not many people know about it. You can clean up there. We'll meet you there with lunch. Just follow the path." She pointed at a faint trail leading away from the clearing.
"Are you going to be okay going back to the car?" Buffy asked.
"The tunnel is closed," Willow said. "The next closest entrance to the cave system is over by the old skating rink. We'll be fine."
Buffy nodded, giving Dawn a pointed look. Following Dawn's subtle assent, she gladly headed to the promised pond.
"Is it deep enough for a swim?" Dawn asked eagerly as she helped Willow load their equipment into the trunk.
"We didn't bring any swimsuits," Willow said, grabbing the cooler she'd packed that morning out of the trunk.
"What about that?" Dawn asked, pointing at a large tote at the back of the trunk. "You keep spares of everything in there."
"I don't think I have anything that would fit Buffy," Willow said, trying to discourage the idea.
"She is kind of tiny," Dawn said, smirking. "But you aren't much bigger. One of your bikinis would fit her if she tied it tight enough."
Willow pulled out the bag and started looking through it, pulling out several large towels and other cloth objects Dawn couldn't immediately identify. "I must have taken them out after the last time we went to the beach. We don't really have time for a swim anyway," she said, closing up the car.
Dawn frowned at her pronouncement. Picking up the cooler, she followed Willow back down the path towards the pond. She planned to enjoy the water even if her Guide was going to act like a responsible adult. The small matter of no swimsuit wasn't going to get in her way.
The first thing Willow saw as they reached the pond was a pile of neatly folded clothes sitting on a large, flat rock hanging out over the water. At the near end of the pond, the water just barely covering her breasts, was Buffy.
"Umm..." Willow mumbled, fighting a blush at the unexpected sight. "What are you doing?" she asked, her voice squeaking.
"Washing the dirt off," Buffy said, ducking under for a moment. "I didn't really want to spend the next hour in wet clothes," she added, brushing her wet hair away from her face. "Did you bring any soap?"
"Here," Dawn said loudly, throwing something at Buffy.
Buffy jumped up several feet, grabbing it out of the air as it flew by. "Thanks," she said, before starting to use the large bar of soap.
"Oh!" Blushing again, Willow turned around and walked away from the pond, facing away from the bathing woman. "What are you laughing at!" she asked a silently giggling Dawn.
"You've been dying for a moment like this for weeks," Dawn said in a low voice. "Now look at you." Shaking her head, Dawn climbed up on the rock.
"What are you doing?" Willow hissed.
"I thought I would join her," Dawn said, quickly undressing, dropping her clothes in a heap next to Buffy's.
"But she's naked!" Willow said, her eyes still averted. "And you'll be naked," she said, waving behind her towards the pond and its current occupant.
"So?" Dawn asked with a smirk.
"Naked!" Willow sputtered, covering her eyes in embarrassment.
Dawn shook her head. Removing her bra she dropped it onto her pile of clothes. "Last one in is an old fogey!" she said, before running and diving into the pond.
"Dawn..." Willow whined, turning around to see her surface in the center of the pond.
"Come on in!" Dawn shouted.
"I'll just stay over here," Willow said, putting the cooler and towels up on the rock.
Sighing, she grabbed Dawn's clothes and folded them neatly, returning them to the rock next to Buffy's before climbing up there herself. Skinny-dipping was not something she particularly enjoyed. Unlike a nice safe beach, there was too much opportunity for embarrassment. But there was nothing wrong with watching her slayer playing in the water, splashing around like the kid she still was while Buffy washed off the dirt and grime from their encounter with the demons guarding the hellmouth, she thought, trying to pretend Buffy wasn't also naked.
"You look comfortable," Buffy said, swimming over to the rock and grabbing the edge hanging over the water. "We probably should get out, shouldn't we. We need to get back to town. It must be almost lunch time."
"I brought lunch with us," Willow told her, focusing on her face. "We can eat here if you want. Unless you have to get to work?"
"Not for a couple more hours," Buffy said. "Why don't you hand me a towel," she said, holding out a hand.
Reaching over, Willow passed one of them to her before yelling "Dawn! Time to get out!"
"Why?" came back from the floating slayer.
"Lunch," Willow said loudly, reaching for the cooler.
"Did you want us to check out that house?" Willow asked as they drove back into Sunnydale.
"I don't have the time this afternoon," Buffy said, "but we can stop for just a minute."
"What house?" Dawn asked, leaning forward in her seat.
"You remember that street I was asking you about the other day?" Willow asked.
"With the funny name?" Dawn said, scrunching up her nose.
"Yeah, Heisenberg Street. There's a house on it that we're curious about," Willow said, stopping at a red light.
"Isn't it a little soon to be moving in together?" Dawn asked. "You guys have only gone on one date."
"Date?" Willow whipped her head around in surprise.
"When you went down to LA last week?" Dawn said. "Sounded like a date to me."
"Only a slayer would think fighting demons counts as a date," Willow grumbled. "You know it wasn't a date," she protested, ignoring Buffy's snort of amusement as she turned onto the street.
"There's something weird about this street," Dawn said, rolling down her window.
"You notice it too?" Buffy said, a look of intense concentration on her face.
"Where's the house?" Willow said, slowing her car to a crawl in the empty street. She wasn't sensing anything even though the other two women seemed to be picking something up.
"Over in that large field," Buffy said, pointing to the left.
"I see a field. No house," Willow said, stopping across the road from it.
"You don't see it?" Dawn asked in surprise. "It's right there. Whopping large house. Looks like an old office building."
Getting out of the car, the three women crossed the road and stood on the sidewalk.
"It's right in front of us," Buffy told her, waving at the field.
"Nothing," Willow said. "All I see is field." She carefully scanned the empty field, looking for anything out of the ordinary. "And more field."
"It's there," Dawn said. "Maybe it's shielded against witches?"
"Why?" Willow asked.
"I don't know," Dawn said, shrugging. "I'm just the muscle."
"We don't have time for this today," Buffy told them. "We can figure this out tomorrow. It isn't going to go away."
"Okay," Willow said, reluctantly turning around. "I wonder why we haven't been on this street before?" she asked.
"The same thing that kept you from seeing the house?" Buffy suggested.
"But why was Dawn able to see the house now?"
"Maybe it's a distance thing," Dawn said. "You have to be in the right spot. Let's take Buffy to work and we can come back and check it out."
"No," Buffy said, getting back into the car.
"Why not? I can take care of myself and keep Willow safe," Dawn said, glaring at Buffy as she opened the rear car door. "And who put you in charge?"
"Safety in numbers," Buffy said, her expression firm.
"Bull!" Dawn said, climbing into the back seat. "You just want to hog it all to yourself."
"Dawn!" Willow said. And their day had been going well so far, she thought.
"What?" Dawn said, giving her an innocent look.
"I don't want you exploring that house on your own," Willow told her, getting behind the wheel and starting the car up. "That's an order," she said firmly.
"You can come with me," Dawn said hopefully.
"I need to do some research first, and there's that coven meeting at four," Willow said. "We both need to be there."
"Willow..." Dawn whined. "I don't want to go. They're just going to stare at me."
"It isn't optional," Willow said as they stopped in front of Buffy's loft.
"Thanks for the ride and tour of the Hellmouth," Buffy said. Getting out of the car she shook her head at the pouting teenager. "Call me later and we'll set up a time for exploring that house tomorrow," she said, stepping back from the car.
Willow nodded to her before driving away. She knew she wasn't feeling the same urgency. She would just have to prove to her that things weren't as bad as Buffy thought. There was probably a perfectly reasonable reason those demons had chased them away from the Hellmouth.--- --- ---Author's Note:
I've been sitting on this chapter for a while. Couldn't decide what to do with it. Probably should have been part of the previous chapter. It's fluffier than I'd originally planned. It's shorter and more transitional than originally planned. Don't expect another chapter until mid-2011.