Alex Hill sits on the bed and waits for Spike. Alex doesn’t know why Spike left. Spike only said that he had to go somewhere and that Alex had to stay put until he came back.
So, Alex is waiting for Spike to come back.
Even though he’s really unhappy that Spike had to leave, he’s not going to complain about it. He doesn’t want to upset anyone.
At least Alex is clean and he’s wearing clean clothes now, thanks to Spike.
After Alex agreed to help the superheroes distract the monsters so Zander could cast the spell, Spike made everyone leave the room. After everyone left, Spike asked Alex if he wanted to take a shower. When Alex said yes, Spike told Alex that there was a shower he could use behind one of the doors in the bedroom.
When Alex went into the bathroom, he found real shampoo and real soap. Alex didn’t know what kind of soap and shampoo it was because nothing had any labels. But that wasn’t the really weird part, though. The really weird part was that the shampoo was in a glass bottle, and not in a plastic one like most shampoos. Alex wonders what brand the soap and shampoo were; mostly because they smelled so good (like fresh, green herbs and peppermint). When he was done with his shower, he felt so clean that he was pretty sure that he’d never been that clean in his entire life.
He probably shouldn’t be surprised that he felt clean. He used so much shampoo and soap that if anyone had watched him take a shower, they would’ve thought he had been attacked by a sudsy monster.
When he got out of the shower, Spike gave him some clean clothes. They were soft and warm like they just got out of the dryer and they smelled exactly like the soap and shampoo Alex used.
The new clothes still smell so clean and good (even though he’s been wearing them for awhile) that sometimes he has to bring his wrist up to his nose so he can sniff the cuff the flannel shirt. He’s never had any soap, shampoo, or laundry detergent that smelled anything like this. He’ll have to ask someone what brand it is so he can buy some for himself after he goes home. Unless it’s expensive. If it’s expensive, he’ll only buy it on special occasions, like his birthday or Christmas or something like that.
The only thing he wishes (aside from wishing Spike was back and that he didn’t have to pretend to be Zander so the superheroes could trick the monsters) is that Spike picked out different clothes for him. While he was glad to get the new clothes, and even though he liked the way they felt and smelled, Alex was a little disappointed when he saw them. They were the same kind of clothes that Spike had given him before: clothes that make him look like a construction worker. Alex doesn’t understand why Spike likes clothes that make Alex look like he’s a construction worker. Spike doesn’t wear clothes like that. Spike wears clothes that make him look like someone who drives a cool car or a motorcycle.
Alex didn’t complain about the clothes, though. He was just glad that he got new, clean clothes. Spike made him leave his duffle bag with all his clothes behind on the plane, so all he had were the clothes he was wearing when he got sick. So even though he didn’t like the clothes, he put them on without saying anything to Spike.
The other good thing is that his back doesn’t hurt as much as it did when he first woke up, but that was because Spike made him take a half-a-pain pill. He really didn’t want to, but his back was starting to hurt enough that he thought maybe he should. His head didn’t even feel funny after he took it, so maybe his problem before with the pain pills was because he was taking a whole pill instead of a half-a-pill.
Unfortunately, no one can do anything about the fact that Alex feels like his skin is covered in goosepimples. Spike explained (again) to Alex that the reason why Alex felt like he had goosepimples all over his skin because of all the magic floating around L.A. The magic is so strong that not even Willow can do anything to help Alex with feeling like he has goosepimples all over his body, Spike told him. So, Alex figures he’ll just have to put up with feeling like he has goosepimples all the time until Zander casts the spell to fix the sky.
Just after Spike finished explaining to Alex about the goosepimples, someone knocked on the door and Spike went to answer it. Alex couldn’t see who was on the other side of the door because Spike only opened the door wide enough to stick his head outside the room. He could hear Spike and someone else whispering for a little bit. Then Spike closed the door, turned around, and told Alex that he had to go somewhere, but that he’d be right back and that Alex should wait for him.
Alex doesn’t know how long Spike’s been gone, except that it feels like it’s been a long, long time. Alex wishes the alarm clock worked so he’d know if Spike really had been gone a long time, or if it just feels that way. He doesn’t know how the alarm clock got broken. He didn’t even know it was broken until after Spike left and he went to look at the time. He thinks that maybe he should ask how it got broken, except he’s kind of afraid to ask.
Alex hopes Spike comes back soon. He’s getting kind of nervous. With Spike not here, Alex feels like he really is all alone, even though he really isn’t.
“Got it,” Faith says as she looks up from her cards. She’s holding them in one hand, like she’s going to use her cards like one of those paper Chinese fans that fold up. “Three of clubs.”
Alex is so clumsy that he has to hold his cards with both hands. He checks to make sure that his right hand can hold on to his cards before he lets go with his left. Then he carefully pulls the three of clubs out of his hand and gives it to Faith.
Faith takes the matching three of clubs out of her own hand, takes Alex’s card, and puts both face-up on the bed. “You shouldda hid that. Snuck that card up your sleeve or something while I wasn’t looking,” she tells him.
Alex looks up from his cards. “But that’s cheating!”
“Cheating is wrong!”
“Talk to me when we’re fighting monsters,” Faith cheerfully says. “Your turn.”
Alex frowns at her. “You’re not cheating now, are you?”
“Only cheat when it comes to fighting and screwing,” Faith says.
Alex winces. He knows that screwing is a nice way of saying the really bad f-word.
“Okay, sometimes at cards, too, but only when I’m losing money,” Faith finally admits. “I usually have shit luck when it comes to gambling.”
Alex is confused. “So are you cheating or not?”
Faith grins at him. “Not for this game.”
Alex doesn’t know what to think about that. Faith just admitted that she sometimes cheats, so she could be cheating. But then again, she just said she only cheats at cards if she’s losing money. Since Alex hasn’t seen Faith with any money, she’s probably not cheating since she can’t lose something if she doesn’t have it.
“Oh.” Alex nods. “Okay.”
“So, what card are you gonna call?” Faith strains her neck, like she’s trying to look at the cards in Alex’s hand.
Alex clasps his cards to his chest with both hands. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“Kidding! I’m kidding!” Faith says.
Alex feels a little embarrassed. He thought Faith was going to start cheating, even though she said she wouldn’t. “I’m kidding, too.”
Faith grins at him again, like she knows that Alex isn’t really telling the truth. “It’s just you looked so serious there for a second.”
Alex hunches his shoulders and carefully holds his cards so he can look at them. “King of swords,” he says.
Alex carefully puts his cards face down on the bed (he always drops his cards whenever he plays Go Fish so it’s better if he puts them down before he does anything) and reaches for the deck. When he takes the card from the top of the pile, he’s very careful to hide it so Faith can’t see what it is.
He grins when he sees it’s his favorite card in the deck: the king of hearts. Alex doesn’t know why it’s his favorite card. It just is. He’s kind of happy he drew this card from the deck, even though he doesn’t have a matching card in his hand.
“With a smile like that, you must have a match,” Faith says.
Alex just shakes his head. Before he tucks the king of hearts in with his other cards, Alex brings the sleeve of his new flannel shirt up to his nose so he can smell it again. The smell of green herbs and peppermint makes him feel happy and relaxed, like he really is clean and that he’s a good person and that nothing (no matter what happens) is ever, ever going to change that.
“Weirdo,” Faith says. She smiles when she says it, so Alex guesses that she really doesn’t mean it.
“Your turn,” Alex says.
“Right. Lemme see what I—”
A knock at the door interrupts whatever Faith was going to say. Alex quickly looks up. He hopes it’s Spike. Even though he really likes Faith (and not just because she kissed him once and told everyone that she went out on a date with him), he’s getting very worried that Spike hasn’t come back yet.
When the door opens, Alex’s shoulders slump. It’s only Giles.
“Faith,” Giles says, “it’s time.”
“Time for what?” Alex asks.
Giles looks at him like he forgot who Alex is, which is really strange since Alex knows that Giles knows who he is.
Giles then starts blinking very quickly. Alex can see it because it seems like Giles’s glasses make his eyes look really, really big. Giles’s mouth forms this really thin line, too, like he’s really angry. He’s probably angry because Alex asked a question.
Alex hunches his shoulders and stares down at his cards. “Sorry,” he mumbles. Alex is a little bit scared of Giles, mostly because he can’t figure out Giles at all. Sometimes Giles seems to like him (although that could be because the superheroes need Alex to play bait and Giles thinks he should be nice to Alex because of that), but most of the time Giles looks like he wishes Alex was somewhere else.
“It’s time to go,” Giles says. He doesn’t sound angry. He sounds…
Alex isn’t sure.
It seems to Alex that Giles always looks angry or like he’s going to get angry (especially at Alex) and that Giles really doesn’t care (well, about Alex anyway), but when he talks he always sounds like he’s really feeling or thinking something completely different.
“Already?” Faith asks.
Alex shivers. He can figure out what Giles and Faith are talking about. He has to leave now and pretend to be Zander. But he can’t leave. Spike told Alex to stay until he came back.
“I’ll…I’ll give you a few moments. They’re waiting for you by the runabout,” Giles says.
“Where are you gonna be?” Faith asks.
Alex stares very hard at his cards, like if he stares hard enough he can make Giles change his mind about leaving before Spike comes back. He knows it’s stupid, because he knows that staring at his cards isn’t going to make Giles change his mind. He should probably say something, but he doesn’t think that’ll help either. Besides, Giles is ignoring him again. Alex isn’t sure whether to be relieved or mad about that.
“I’m off to help Angel, I’m afraid. It appears there’s been a bit of a fuss kicked up about…well, no need to get into it here and now.” This time Giles sounds angry.
Faith snorts. “Don’t act so surprised, G. I couldda told you that.” There’s a pause. “Oh, wait! I did tell you that. So did B, and Willow, and—”
“Would you prefer the alternative?” Giles snaps.
Faith doesn’t say anything.
“You have five minutes,” Giles says. “And Alex…”
Alex looks up. He’s surprised. Giles was paying attention to him after all.
Giles smiles, but it doesn’t look real. In fact, Alex thinks that Giles might be in pain. He wonders if Giles got hurt by the monsters, except that Giles doesn’t look like he’s hurt. He’s not wearing bandages or anything.
“Good luck and…and…” Giles sighs before he quietly adds, “Please come back safe and whole. You’ll be horribly missed if you don’t.”
Alex’s mouth drops open in an ‘o’ of surprise as Giles leaves and closes the door behind him.
“Shiiiiiit. From G? That’s practically a tearful goodbye, complete with hugging and wailing.” Faith drops her cards on the bed. “How much you wanna bet he’s relieved that Angel sent up the SOS so he doesn’t have to be there when it all goes down? He’s the one that made the call about you, so if you ask me he should man up.”
Alex blinks at Faith. He’s not sure, but he thinks that maybe Faith said Giles was being a coward about something.
Faith looks at him. “C’mon. Time to pack it in.”
Alex doesn’t want to leave the house, even though he knows he has to. He doesn’t want to see the black sky with red cracks in it. He doesn’t want to see the monsters. And he doesn’t want to be bait, even though he knows that he has to do it if Zander is going to stop the monsters from the evil universe from invading.
But he especially doesn’t want to leave without Spike
“Where’s Spike?” Alex asks. He doesn’t put down his cards. “Spike said he had to go do something and that he’d be back before we left.”
“We really can’t wait for him,” Faith says as she holds out her hand to take the cards from Alex.
“We have to wait for Spike,” Alex says as he holds the cards even tighter. “What if he comes back after we leave? He’ll be mad if we leave without him.”
“We have to wait for Spike,” Alex says. “He’s not back yet.”
Faith looks really uncomfortable. It’s a long time before she says, “Spike’s not coming.”
“But Spike said—”
“I know what Spike said,” Faith interrupts. “But he kinda made a promise he can’t keep.”
Alex gets a little mad when he hears Faith say that. Buffy’s the one who can’t keep promises, not Spike. “Spike always keeps his promises,” Alex tells Faith.
Faith stares at Alex like he just said something crazy.
“He does,” Alex insists as he clutches his cards to his chest. “Spike hasn’t broken any promises to me. Not once. He always says what he’s going to do and then he does it. So if Spike says he’ll be back, he’ll be back.”
“Whoa! Chill out there, Rain Man,” Faith says as she raises her hands. “I ain’t sayin’ that Spike broke his promise on purpose or nothin’, but the thing is Spike had to go help Angel. You remember me talking about my buddy Angel after Spike left, right?”
“Yeah,” Alex nods.
“Well, Spike had to go help Angel fight off the monsters that are trying to get to us,” Faith says.
Alex doesn’t want to call Faith a liar, but Spike didn’t say the monsters were trying to attack everyone before he left. Besides, if the monsters really were attacking, why are the soldiers still standing around outside instead helping the superheroes fight them?
And Spike said he’d be back…
“Spike didn’t say anything to me about the monsters attacking,” Alex says. “So how do you know that Spike went off to fight monsters? You were with me most of the time after Spike left, so how do you know for sure?”
“Spike didn’t tell you because he didn’t wanna say anything that might worry you,” Faith says. “As for how I know, I was there when G decided to send him. I had a feeling that he’d get tied up and that he wasn’t gonna make it. And I can pretty much tell you that Spike’s probably wicked pissed off about it, too. But if he ain’t here already, he’s not gonna show. ’Fraid you’re just gonna have to hang with the rest of us.”
“Can’t we wait just a little bit longer?” Alex begs. “I know Spike’s going to try to get here and—”
“I know you’re hoping that he’ll come charging in like the cavalry, but it seems like G’s plan worked a little too well,” Faith interrupts. “’Pears all the monsters in the hood think you’re Xander and word’s gotten around on where you are.”
“The monsters are already after me?” Alex yelps.
“Shhhhhhh,” Faith looks around, like she’s afraid there’s someone else in the room that might hear her. “Not so loud. I wasn’t supposed to tell you that part. About the monsters figuring out where you were, I mean. I guess it’s okay if I told you that Spike went to help Angel so he could, y’know, watch our collective asses.”
Alex starts to shake. He tries not to. He wants to be brave and do his part and pretend to be Zander. But the truth is he doesn’t think he’ll be able to do it. He’s too nervous. And when he gets nervous, he messes up. He always messes up.
He knows he’s going to blink. He’s too scared not to.
Spike was wrong about him. Alex blinks. Alex blinks all the time. He couldn’t even tell Spike and Faith about how he thinks a priest touched him in a bad way during a bar brawl he started when he was drinking and how he thinks that’s how he lost his eye. If he couldn’t even tell them that something bad happened to him when he was drinking, how is he supposed to pretend to be Zander so the monsters will go after him?
Alex feels a hand on his forearm. He wants to pull away, but he doesn’t. He knows that Faith is just trying to be nice. He doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. So he stays where he is.
Alex just wishes he could stop shaking.
“It’s gonna be okay,” Faith quietly says to him. “I know it don’t seem it, but it really will. Just, I dunno, chill out. Let us worry about the little shit, okay? We got you covered. B says nothing’s gonna come near you, and I can guarantee that nothin’ won’t. Her word’s golden on that. I promise.”
Alex wants to say that it seems to him that everyone’s making lots and lots of promises, except no one can seem to keep them, not even Spike. And he trusts Spike a whole lot more than Buffy anyway. He doesn’t say that, though. He knows that Faith is trying to cheer him up, except it’s hard for Alex to cheer up when he knows there are a lot of monsters nearby that want to kill him.
“Now, we’re just gonna leave the house all casual like,” Faith says. “Word of advice? Don’t let the bastards see you sweat it after we walk out the door.”
“Do we have to go now?” Alex asks.
Faith sighs as she looks down at the bedspread. “Afraid so. If we don’t go now, it’s game over. Not to put any pressure on you or anything, but you’re it. We can’t do anything to stop it all from going to shit if you don’t leave right now.”
Alex swallows hard and starts to shake even harder. He doesn’t understand why everyone’s depending on him. Zander is the one who has to cast the spell to stop the monsters, so shouldn’t everyone be depending on Zander? Alex is only here because for some reason all the monsters think he’s Zander. He doesn’t want to be bait, but he doesn’t want Zander to get killed by the monsters before Zander gets a chance to cast the spell, either.
“Aaaaaand I think I just said the worst thing I could’ve said,” Faith says. She tugs the cards out of Alex’s hands. “Just try and relax.”
Alex just stares down at the bed. He really doesn’t want to go.
“Hey,” Faith says. “If you don’t wanna trust B, you can trust me, right? I can watch your back with the best of them. Besides, Spike told me to watch you special, y’know, just in case he couldn’t haul ass back here. In fact, that was the first and last thing on his mind. ‘Faith,’ he says to me, ‘Faith, you’re my girl on this. You make sure you look after my homey. If I don’t make it back, I’m counting on you to do it up right.’ Said that to me right before he left and everything.”
Alex looks up. “Really?”
Faith crosses her heart. “On my honor as a Girl Scout.”
Alex can’t imagine Faith as a Girl Scout selling Girl Scout cookies. Besides, he’s pretty sure that Faith is too old to be a Girl Scout. But, Faith wouldn’t say she was a Girl Scout if she wasn’t. Maybe she used to be a Girl Scout.
“So, why didn’t you say that Spike asked you to look out for me in case he was stuck fighting monsters somewhere else?” Alex asks.
Faith begins gathering up all the cards. “Guess I was hoping he’d make it back, too. The shit must really be hitting the fan if he ain’t here and ready to go with us.”
Alex is relieved. He’s glad that he’s not the only one who was waiting for Spike. Even though he’s still upset that Spike isn’t here, it’s nice to know that Spike would be here if he could and that Spike didn’t ditch him.
“Screw it,” Faith suddenly says as she gets off the bed. The cards are sort of in a pile, even though the pile is messy. “Let’s go.”
Alex swallows hard and reminds himself that he has to do this. If Zander is going to get to wherever he needs to go to cast that spell, Alex has to leave the house and pretend to be Zander so the monsters will be distracted. At least he knows that Faith will be looking out for him and that she’s doing it because Spike asked her to.
After one last visit to the bathroom (Faith said he should go, not that Alex needed Faith to tell him because he suddenly really needed to pee after he stood up), Faith leads him out of the bedroom and through the house. As they walk through the house, Alex can’t stop himself from looking around. All of the drapes are closed, so he can’t see outside. But all the lights in the house are on, which means he can see everything around him. The furniture looks really nice and there’s even a big flat-screen TV in the living room. With all the nice furniture and nice stuff all over the house, Alex is surprised that the house seems so small.
When they reach the front door, Faith stops for a moment. “Ready?” she asks.
Alex wants to say no. He wants to say no very, very badly. Instead he just swallows and nods. He’s afraid that if he talks, Faith will hear his voice shaking and she’ll know that he’s scared.
Faith just nods back and opens the door.
As soon as Alex sees the sky, he gasps and steps back.
Oh God, oh God, oh God, he thinks.
The sky’s almost completely red now. The sky’s so red that everything else looks red, too. The grass. The trees. The street (what he can see of it). The other houses. The cars. Even the people. Everything is so red that it looks like some giant got hurt and started bleeding all over everything.
“Alex? Alex? Yo, you in there?”
Alex tears his eye away from the open door and realizes that Faith’s got him by the shoulder and is shaking him really hard.
“My name is Alex Hill!” Alex shouts as he jumps back and away from Faith. He can’t seem to stop breathing hard, like he’s been running for hours and hours. He doesn’t know why he shouted his name like that. It’s so stupid. He knows his name is Alex Hill and he knows Faith knows his name is Alex Hill.
So why did he shout that his name was Alex Hill?
Faith quickly holds up her hands. Alex guesses she’s doing it to show that she won’t shake him anymore. “Going by the look on your face, I’m guessing that it looks wicked bad out there.”
“You can’t see it?” Alex feels stupid the second he asks the question. Faith already said she couldn’t see that the sky was breaking apart.
Faith doesn’t call him stupid for forgetting, though. Instead, she just shakes her head. “How bad?”
“It’s all red. Everything.” Alex sounds like someone’s strangling him. He feels like someone’s strangling him. He can feel his throat closing up and everything.
Faith looks out the front door with a frown. “If I didn’t know that you can see shit that I can’t, I’d call you a liar.”
“I’m not lying!”
“Whoa!” Faith’s head whips around and she holds up her hands again. “I’m not calling you a liar. I know you’re telling the truth, okay? It’s just that when I look out that door, I see a perfect beach day.”
Alex stares at Faith like she’s gone crazier than crazy, even though he knows that Faith can’t see what he sees. He swallows hard and asks, “If you can’t see it, how come I can?”
Faith’s mouth opens and closes a couple of times before she says, “I don’t know. I mean, when it comes to magic and spells, I don’t know anything. It just ain’t my thing. I guess you’ll just have to ask G after we get back.”
Alex looks down at his feet. He’s pretty sure that Giles won’t answer his question. Giles won’t even look at him most of the time, so why would Giles want to talk to him? Besides, Giles will probably be hanging around Zander when this is over, since Zander’s going to be a big hero. Alex is only the bait, not a hero. So Giles probably won’t want to talk to him after Alex helps the superheroes because then Giles won’t have to be nice to him any more.
“Alex, we gotta go,” Faith says.
Alex glances out the door before he quickly looks down again.
He hears Faith sigh. Then he feels someone touching his shoulder.
“Hey, I said I’d look out for you, didn’t I? I mean, I promised Spike and everything,” Faith says. “Don’t you believe me?”
“I believe you,” Alex mumbles.
The hand disappears and Alex looks up. He’s surprised to see that Faith is staring at him with big eyes with her mouth open. She looks really, really surprised.
Faith’s reaction is so weird that it takes a minute for Alex to figure it out. Someone must be behind him. Maybe it’s Spike!
Alex grins as he turns around. He stops grinning when he sees that there’s no one behind him at all. It’s just the empty house. So what was Faith staring at? When Alex turns back around, Faith’s not looking surprised anymore. Instead she’s grinning this big grin, like she played the bestest joke ever on him.
Alex feels a little mad about that. “That wasn’t very nice,” he tells Faith.
Faith stops grinning. “Hunh?”
“You made me think that Spike came back,” Alex angrily says.
“You were staring and acting surprised,” Alex says. “So you made me think that Spike was back even though you said he wouldn’t be back because he had to help your friend Angel fight monsters.”
Faith starts coughing. “No. No. That’s not it.” She quickly looks around, and then she looks out the door. “Oh. I remember why I was grinning. See that tall dude standing near the Hummer and talking to B?”
Alex doesn’t want to look out the door and see all that red, but he does what Faith tells him. He can see three Hummers out there. He has to look a little harder to see Buffy (there’s so many soldiers and people in regular clothes out there that it takes him a little bit to find her), but when he sees her, he can see that she’s talking to a tall guy dressed in an Army uniform.
“I see them,” Alex nods when he spots Buffy and the tall Army guy.
“I heard him say something stupid and got all distracted,” Faith said. “I wasn’t trying to trick you at all. I swear.”
Alex scrunches his face up. There’s so many people talking outside that he can’t really hear any one person at all. “I didn’t hear anything. Is superhearing one of your superpowers?” he asks Faith.
“Unh, yeah. Just so happens it is,” Faith says.
Alex relaxes, but only a little because he knows he’s going to have to walk outside really soon. “Oh. That makes sense. I’m sorry I got mad at you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Faith says. “C’mon. We gotta go.”
“Okay,” Alex says as he looks at his feet.
There’s a long silence.
Faith sighs. “If we’re gonna leave, you’re gonna have to move your feet.”
Alex forces himself to put one foot in front of the other, although he still won’t look up because the sky really scares him. When he gets just on the other side of the front door where the ground starts turning red, red, red, he almost trips and falls because he didn’t realize that he needed to go down two steps.
“Might be helpful if you look straight ahead,” Faith says. She sounds like she’s getting a little mad.
Alex swallows hard and forces himself to look up. When he does, he wants to put his head right back down because it looks worse now that he’s outside. He doesn’t though. Faith’s already getting mad at him. He doesn’t want to make her even madder, especially since Spike told Faith to take care him.
When Faith sees that he’s looking straight ahead instead of at his feet, she says, “Don’t forget to give ’em a big smile when we make our grand entrance.”
As Alex forces himself to keep walking down the cement walkway to the Hummer where Buffy is standing, he can’t stop himself from looking around for Spike. He knows it’s stupid. He knows that Spike isn’t here. But he does it anyway. Spike could be here without anybody knowing he was here. There’s lots and lots of people around, and all of them are tall. He knows that Spike is not tall (Alex is taller than Spike), so Spike could be hidden behind all the tall people where Alex can’t see him.
As Alex gets closer to the Hummer where Buffy is standing and talking to the tall Army guy, he hears Buffy say, “Riley, thanks for all your help. I probably don’t even want to know how many favors you called in to get us a squad.”
“It’s a platoon, actually, and don’t mention it,” the tall guy — Riley — says. “I’m just glad I could help.”
Faith grabs Alex’s arm to stop him from walking all the way over to Buffy and Riley. “Let Iowa do his ‘awww, shucks’ routine,” Faith whispers in his ear.
Alex thinks that Faith said it to make him laugh, except he’s too scared to laugh. What he wants to do is run back into the house and hide under the bed.
“Plus, you really want to make sure the world still exists when your daughter is born,” Buffy grins at him.
“There’s that,” Riley says. “And Sam would be furious if the world ended and she had to go back to demon-hunting before her maternity leave was up. Besides, you know how it goes. You call and say, ‘Jump,’ and I ask, ‘How high?’” Riley says. He grins like he’s making a joke.
“Don’t let Sam hear you say that,” Buffy giggles.
“I think I’m gonna throw up,” Faith whispers to Alex.
Alex looks at Faith. “Are you sick?” he asks. He’s so nervous that he shouts the question, instead of whispering it like he should.
Buffy and Riley stop talking. They turn around to look at Faith and Alex.
“Faith says that she’s going to be sick,” Alex explains to them.
Faith starts coughing really, really hard.
“See?” Alex asks.
Alex doesn’t know why, but Buffy looks embarrassed. He can’t tell if she’s blushing or not. She already looks blood red like everything else.
Riley’s reaction is really, really weird, though. He keeps staring and staring at Alex. There’s a scar on the left side of Riley’s face that runs from his forehead, across his eye, and down his cheek. The scar makes Alex feel very uncomfortable, because Riley was smart enough (or maybe sober enough) to keep his eye when something attacked him. Alex can’t bear to look at Riley’s face with that scar, especially since the eye patch over his own left eye shows everyone that he wasn’t smart enough (or sober enough) to keep his own eye.
Alex looks down at his feet so he won’t have to look at Riley.
“That’s…that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” Alex hears Riley say. “There’s one hell of a psychology paper in this. Do you know that?”
“Riley!” Buffy shouts. She sounds really annoyed. “Why is it every time something happens with Xan— I mean, Alex, you threaten to do psych experiments on him?”
“Experiments?” Alex yelps as he looks up. Why would Riley want to do experiments on him? Riley doesn’t look like a mad scientist. He doesn’t even look like a regular scientist.
Riley winces. “Sorry. I had an evil psychology professor.”
“I had her, too! And I apparently had an evil psychology TA to go with!” Buffy yells.
Riley holds up his thumb and forefinger so they’re about an inch apart. “I was only a little evil. And it was by accident. I blame the evil performance enhancement drugs. And the evil withdrawal. And maybe even the evil professor.”
Alex looks wildly around. Riley is evil? Why is he here? What if he’s a spy for the monsters?
Buffy suddenly appears in front of Alex. “Alex, it’s okay. We’re kidding. Riley’s not evil.”
“Yes he is,” Faith volunteers.
“Sam thinks I’m evil,” Riley says. “Then again, she’s overdue by about a week and I’m halfway across the country when she needs me the most. Right now, she thinks everyone’s evil.”
Buffy spins around. “Shut up, Faith! You, too, Riley!” Then she turns back around so she’s facing Alex. “We, unh, tend to kid around. About being evil. But it’s evil in a ha-ha Young Frankenstein kind of way instead of evil in a grrrr Texas Chainsaw Massacre kind of way.”
Alex looks over at Faith to see if Buffy’s telling the truth. Faith looks like she’s trying not to laugh. Or maybe she’s trying not to throw up. Alex really can’t tell because Faith’s cheeks are all puffed out and she’s squinting so hard that her eyes look like slits.
Buffy sighs. “Faith, will you please tell Alex you were joking?”
Faith suddenly starts howling with laughter. She’s laughing so hard that she’s bent over and she looks like she’s crying.
Alex suddenly starts laughing too (probably because Faith is laughing), which makes no sense. Spike is still not here. The sky’s so red that it’s making everything else look red. He’s standing near an Army guy who threatened to do experiments on him. He’s going to be used as bait so all the monsters in L.A. will go after him instead of Zander. There’s a whole lot of monsters in another universe who are ready to invade and kill everyone if Zander doesn’t cast the spell in time. Giles hates him. Buffy scares him. And he doesn’t know where in L.A. he is.
While Alex is laughing and laughing and laughing, he can hear other people start to laugh, too. The sound of even more people laughing just makes him laugh harder.
“Hey! What’s so funny?” a woman yells. She sounds really mad.
Alex tries to stop laughing. But every time he tries to stop, he just keeps laughing even more. He forces himself to look at the ground and he bites the inside of his cheek and his tongue to make himself stop. As hard as he tries, though, sometimes a little giggle sneaks through.
“Sorry,” Buffy sounds like she’s coughing. “Chain reaction of the apocalypse kind.”
“Unh, yeah. You probably wouldn’t be laughing if you could see what everything looks like,” the woman says.
Alex looks up and around until he sees Willow. She was probably the one talking since she can see the same sky Alex sees. There’s an older woman and three younger girls standing behind her. Willow looks really scared (Alex isn’t surprised, since she can see the sky like him), and the older woman keeps looking up with this terrified look on her face. The three young girls are just staring at Alex with their mouths open.
“Sorry,” Alex mutters.
Willow steps forward and puts a hand on his arm. “Nervous, hunh? It’s okay. When I get nervous I get totally Giggle McGigglesnort, too.”
Alex doesn’t think that Willow looks like she wants to laugh. In fact, Willow looks like she’s too scared to do anything.
Alex doesn’t want to ask, but since Willow is the only one who can see what he sees, he feels like he should. He wants to make sure that he hasn’t gone crazier than crazy. “Does everything look really red to you, too?” he asks.
Willow looks quickly around and then gives Alex a nod. Her lower lip quivers, like she’s going to start crying.
“How bad are we talking?” Buffy asks.
“Way Alex reacted, I’m guessing bad,” Faith says.
Willow swallows and looks at Buffy. “Imagine something that’s worse than worse-than-bad and you’ve got it. It looks like something big and icky bled all over everything.”
“You see the same thing, Xa— I mean, Alex?” Buffy asks.
Alex is afraid that everyone will hear his voice shake, so he just nods.
“And on that note, I better get the troops to move out.” Riley cups his hands around his mouth and yells, “Listen up! Operation Scrambled Eggs is a go! I repeat! Operation Scrambled Eggs is a go!”
The soldiers start forming into little groups. What’s really weird is that in the middle of every little group of soldiers is a guy with dark hair who’s dressed in regular clothes. Alex isn’t sure, but he thinks they’re all about his height. Even though they’re dressed like normal people, they’re carrying guns that look just like the guns the soldiers are holding.
Some of the groups get together sooner than the others and they start marching away with their weapons out and pointed to the ground. Two of the groups get into two of the Hummers and drive away.
Just as the second Hummer pulls away from the curb, Buffy turns to Riley and says, “Good luck. Break lots of demon legs.”
“And good hunting to you. All of you.” Riley then turns around to face Alex. He stands up really straight and snaps a salute.
Alex looks around to see who Riley is saluting. Since Willow, the older woman, and the three younger girls are a little bit behind him and to the right, he guesses that Riley’s saluting them.
When he turns around, though, Riley is right in front of him. Riley puts a hand on Alex’s shoulder and bends down so he can look right into Alex’s face. “You take care in there, okay?” Riley asks. “I want to see you on the flipside in one piece.”
Alex nods as he shies away. He doesn’t understand Riley at all. One minute Riley is threatening to do experiments on him. The next he’s telling Alex to take care of himself. Maybe Riley wants Alex to take care of himself so Riley can do experiments on him after Zander casts the spell.
Riley fidgets a little bit and looks really uncomfortable. “I better go,” he says.
Before anyone can say anything else, Riley turns away and walks over to some soldiers who look like they’re waiting for him.
When Riley and the last group of soldiers start marching away, Buffy claps her hands. “Okay, everyone. Listen up—”
“I thought that wanker would never leave,” a voice interrupts from behind Alex.
“Spike!” Alex shouts as he spins around.
“Said I’d be here, didn’t I?” Spike says as he limps over to them.
Spike looks awful. His coat’s all ripped up. His left eye is so swollen that it’s almost closed. There’s a gash across his forehead. Even his knuckles are all bloody.
Alex zooms right over to Spike. “Are you okay? You’re hurt! How did you get hurt? You’re going to be okay, aren’t you? Maybe you should lie down. No. Wait. I think you have to get cleaned up first. Is that right? It’s so you don’t get an infection. I remember that. And—”
“Stop! Stop!” Spike yells and laughs as he holds up his bloody hands. “I’m right as rain.”
“You look like shit,” Faith says.
“You do look pretty awful,” Willow agrees.
“Yeah, well, you shouldda seen the other 150 poor bastards,” Spike says as he punches the air.
“And you look like you’re here instead of with Angel,” Buffy says as she marches into Alex’s line of sight.
Alex doesn’t care that Buffy’s mad. He can’t stop grinning at Spike. He knew Spike would be here. He knew Spike would come back. He knew it.
Everything’s going to be okay. Alex knows it’s true because Spike is here.
“His Foreheaddedness doesn’t need me,” Spike shrugs. “’Sides, he’s got the Blue Meannie, the Tattooed One, and the Lost Boys helping him tear through the shock troops good and proper. An’ last I heard, Watcher was en route bearing big, bloody books and dragging half the Coven behind him. I won’t even be missed.”
“Spike, do I have to tell you that it’s vitally important that the bad guys think Xander is somewhere else,” Buffy says. “If you’re here, they’ll know that—”
“Said I’d see Alex right on through to the bloody end,” Spike interrupts. “’S not the end yet, now is it?”
Buffy hangs her head. “Spike—”
“’Sides, none of you lot can drive,” Spike interrupts.
“Hey! I can drive!” Buffy protests.
Faith snorts. “Only if everyone gets off the sidewalk.”
Spike crosses his arms. “I’m a better driver.”
Willow walks over to Buffy and puts a hand on her shoulder. “It’s not that I think you’re a bad driver or anything—”
“Will, I told you I was trying to avoid hitting a cat that one time,” Buffy interrupts.
Willow pats Buffy’s shoulder. “And you’ve gotten so much better at driving since then. Much, much better. You’ll be able to pass a driver’s test somewhere in the world any day now. But, if it’s all the same to you, I’d, unh, I’d really like it if Spike was driving. It’s, ummm, safer.”
The young girls who came with Willow start to giggle.
“Safer,” Buffy says in a flat voice. “We’re in the middle of an apocalypse and you’re worried about our auto insurance rates going up?”
“I’m worried about staying in one piece,” Willow says.
“Majority rules, Slayer.” Spike grins as he holds out a hand. “Keys.”
Buffy shakes her head, but Alex can see that she’s only pretending to be annoyed. He can see that Buffy is trying really, really hard not to smile. “Fine,” she says as she reaches into her pocket and pulls out the keys. “But I’m in back with Alex.”
“But I want to sit up front with Spike,” Alex says.
“You can’t!” everyone shouts at the same time.
Alex takes a step back and looks around. He doesn’t understand why everyone doesn’t want him to sit in the front seat with Spike. “But—”
He doesn’t get to finish the sentence.
“What you need,” Buffy says as she grabs Alex’s arm, “is to sit in back. No! Crouch in back. On the floor. With a zillion blankets on top of you so no one can see you.”
Alex is very confused. If he’s crouched on the floor in the back with blankets over him, the monsters won’t be able to see him. “Ummmm, if I’m going to be bait, shouldn’t I be more bait-y?” Alex asks.
Everyone freezes and stares at Alex.
Except for Willow. She lets out a little squeak.
“That…is not a good sign,” Buffy says.
Alex is so embarrassed that he looks down and hunches his shoulders. “Sorry. I know bait-y isn’t a real word. I don’t know why I said that.”
Spike suddenly turns and walks over to the last Hummer. “I’d bet the last bag of O-poz on earth that something nasty picked up on that. We best get going. Red, I’ll need you up front with me so you can twitch that nose of yours at anything that gets too close.”
“On it,” Willow says. Before she walks over to the Hummer, Willow pauses next to Alex. She stands up on tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek.
While Alex stares at her, Willow shyly smiles at him. “For luck. And to let you know that it’s going to be okay. I’m your kite string. You won’t get lost. I won’t let you.”
“By all means, let’s take our sweet time,” Spike complains. “While you lot suffer from a case of the touch-y feelies, need I remind you that our boy has sprung a leak just when every demon between here and Disneyland is sniffing for ’im?”
Willow lets out a little “eeep” as she turns and scurries over to the Hummer.
Alex brings a hand up to his cheek where Willow kissed him as he stares after her. He doesn’t understand why she did that, let alone anything she said.
Buffy turns to the three young girls and the older woman. “Okay, you guys are going to have to get into the back cargo area. Isabella, you’re on Willow duty. Keep an eye out the rear window. If you see anything funny, hit it with the magic mojo. Got it?”
The older woman nods.
“As for you three,” Buffy nods at the young girls, “keep your weapons ready but the safeties on. I don’t want a crossbow going off inside the Hummer by accident. First sign of trouble, I want you to kick out the windows and start firing at anything that makes an attack-ish move. Got it?”
The three young girls nod.
“Me and B are your bodyguards, so you’re in the back seat with us,” Faith says as she grabs Alex’s arm and drags him to the Hummer.
Buffy hops in first. Then Faith pushes Alex in after her. Then Faith gets in.
While Spike starts the Hummer and Willow mumbles something that sounds like fake words, Buffy turns to Alex and says, “Okay, Alex. I need you to get down on the floor.”
Alex looks first at Spike and then at Faith.
“Do as she says, mate,” Spike shouts over the sound of the motor.
“You mean you weren’t kidding?” Alex asks.
“Nope,” Faith says as she shoves him down on the floor.
Before Alex can say anything else, Buffy says, “I’m throwing a blanket over you so no one can see you. Don’t panic.”
Alex looks up from his position on the floor just in time to see Buffy and Faith unfolding something that looks like a heavy wool blanket. He wants to ask (again) how he’s supposed to fool the monsters into thinking he’s Zander if the monsters don’t actually see him. He’s afraid to ask, though. When he asked the question before, everyone started acting really strange.
“Don’t worry,” Buffy says with a grin as she throws the blanket over him, “we got you covered.”