Author's Notes: A strange one, even for me, though not on the same level as the now-infamous Cow-Incident.
Dedication: The usual suspects; Andra and my cohorts at the Watcher's Council.
I caught a glimpse of her towards the end of my patrol shift. It didn't exactly register to me then. When I'm on patrol, my brain pretty much goes onto auto-pilot. Demon - kill. Human - don't kill. You know, like that. Very Robo-copish.
But back at the field headquarters, when I was putting away my gun and night-vision goggles, it occured to me that this was probably the fifth time I'd seen her on patrol in the last two weeks alone. Some of the students are more night people than others, that's just to be expected, but for some reason I didn't think that was why she was out there. I never saw her with any of her friends, and besides the one time I ran into her - literally - at one of the bars, I rarely saw her in large groups of people.
I had planned to spend an hour or so correcting papers, but for some reason I found myself headed towards East Campus after changing from fatigues into regular clothes.
East Campus is the most wooded area of the entire college ground, and I wondered why I was courting death like this just to see if some freshman was still wandering around. Patrols were heavier in this area out of sheer necessity; we could usually flush at least two vampires out on any given night. The sharp snap of a twig nearly sent me up the nearest tree until I realized that I had been the one to step on it. My concerns over my sanity were getting more and more prevalent, and I nearly turned around right then. Which, of course, is when I found her.
She was sitting right in the middle of a small clearing, just staring up at the sky. The moonlight echoed softly over her long hair, washing down over her face and back. I purposely made plenty of noise as I walked towards her, but any startled reaction that I might've been hoping for never came. Languidly she looked over her shoulder at me, and no surprise was registered in those huge eyes.
Whatever cheerful greeting I had planned got caught in my throat as I looked at her. Since the day that she dropped a pile of books on my head, I had figured that I knew Buffy Summers, or at least her type. Someone who knew their way around their high school, but was completely befuddled when it came to the much bigger game of college. From the lost and uncertain expression on her face that seemed to only get worse as time went by, I had given her three months - tops - before she dropped out. Compared to her friend Willow she always seemed so young and unprepared. The ease that she had been taken in by Parker's smooth lines had just confirmed my belief that she was completely out of her element, and more likely to sink than to swim.
But not now.
The green eyes that regarded me were cool and confident. While looking completely relaxed, I got the sudden impression that she could kick my ass if she wanted to, without even much effort. How a tiny, slender girl could give me that vibe, I have no idea, but she practically radiated it. I'd seen the expression that was currantly playing on her face once before, but it wasn't on a human. The last time I went to the zoo, there was a special exibit of a snow leopard. The leopard was in an open pen, and from where the leopard sprawled to where I was standing was not ten feet. The expression of mild interest coupled with innate superiority was one that that leopard shared with Buffy Summers.
While all of this flew through my mind, I stood there with my jaw hanging open like an idiot. After a few moments of that fathomless regard, Buffy returned her gaze to the stars. Just like that, I was dismissed from her thoughts.
"What are you doing out here?" I blurted, in a much harsher tone than I had intended. Inwardly, I winced as soon as I heard my own voice. Buffy always seemed so emotionally fragile, as though the merest sharp word would make her collapse.
Not tonight, though. Not even bothering to glance at me again, she responded casually, without the awkwardness and uncertainty that had tinged every other conversation that we had ever held, "I could probably ask you the same thing."
Shoving my hands into my pockets, I said, "I was just out on a walk."
"So was I, but I chose to sit." came the sardonic reply.
"It's not safe out here alone." I said, pulling out the most male chauvanist cliche of them all. This time it was justified. I was remembering how many bloodless corpses that I had run across in my patrols with the other ROTC volunteers; how many empty eyes stared at the pitiless moon; how many incoming frosh didn't just flunk out.
"So what's your excuse for not setting a good example of the buddy system?" she mocked. I could feel my irritation start to boil into full out anger, but I fought it down. After all, she had no idea what was out there. When she looked at the moon, all she saw was a shiny orb that she wanted to walk under. She didn't see the pale beakon of death that I did. For all her eerie confidence tonight, she was still just an innocent kid. I started to bluster an answer that would seem half-way reasonable, but before I could, she had stood up in one smooth motion and was walking off towards her dorm.
I was angry at her rudeness, but that didn't stop me from shadowing her on her lonely walk, just to make sure that she would live to see tomorrow's dawn, though it would occur to me later that without my gun I would probably just up the body count if there really was a demon lurking. Slinking along with all the stealth that my time with the campus patrols had taught me, I nevertheless always kept the gleam from her blonde hair always in my sight. Finally exiting the woods, I congratulated myself on a good deed done.
Turning to head towards the apartment in college town that I shared with two friends, I suddenly found myself tripping over an out-stretched leg. As I tried to maintain my balance, I felt a small hand on my shoulder give me a gentle push that was enough to send me tumbling to the ground. Even before I started struggling to get up, I found myself effectively pinned by the addition of a person sitting on my chest.
Correction: a petite blond freshman sitting on my chest.
Looking up at Buffy Summers, I was amazed to see a perky grin on her face.
"You really should be more careful, Riley," she said, her green eyes sparkling with amusement, "It's dangerous to be out alone at night."
Stunned beyond words, I could only stare up at her. The strain of keeping laughter contained finally overpowered her, and as she rolled neatly off of me she simply lay on the ground and giggled hysterically at my attempts to salvage my dignity. My dark glare only caused her to laugh harder. Unable to think of the slightest thing to say in the face of her bubbling laughter, I finally just turned and walked off, her bright giggles echoing in my ears.