Buffy looked at Xander curiously, waved, then looked back down at her broken boots, finally tossing them aside. She wanted to talk, but she just looked to Fred, instead. She was the new leader now, anyway.
Xander, Gunn beside him, made his way into the cave. He spotted Wesley and Buffy, who waved at him. "Is everyone here?" he asked.
Fred looked in the direction of the voices, listening carefully to make sure she heard everyone. At this hour they should all be inside. She was aware that sll her old writing still surrounded them, but there wasn't anything for that. "Everyone seems to be ok."
Faith's lips still felt warm, wet, and she coulda sworn her heart was beating faster. Avoiding the talk with Willow and her girl was fine by her, for now. "Yeah, babe, we're all here," she smirked.
Willow, very much quiet and very much watching Faith, came to stand close to the group, keeping Kennedy near.
Gunn still didn't get what was going on with Xander, but he knew it wasn't a good thing. Even as he nodded to Cordy, walking up from further into the cave his attention went to Fred, though, noticing that there was still an edge to her. "Everybody accounted for. Time to circle the wagons, huh?"
"I count everyone... except Kate." Wesley shook his head. "Not an auspicious beginning."
Xander nodded. "We need to strategize." Once he was satisfied that everyone was present, he continued. "I ran into Angelus a short while ago. If he's here then it's reasonable to assume others are too. Maybe Spike, maybe all of them."
Buffy blinked. "What? How... what?" Then she sighed. "Why?" She was truly beginning to hate this world. And she was also wondering just how much of soldier-Xander was from that Halloween.
Gunn narrowed his eyes, suddenly on guard. "Um, speakng of others--" He gestured toward Faith. "Am I the only one who sees Vampirella over in the corner?"
"Hey," Faith countered, sidling up to Gunn. "Watch it, Charlie. I'm not here cuz I wanna be. You're the ones who shoved a soul up inside me, or did you fucking forget that part?" She mentally made a note about Angelus and Spike, though. Having them here could be very, very helpful. Especially if she wanted a good fuck.
"We all see her," Willow said wryly, watching the results of her spell in action.
"That's still too small," Fred pointed out quietly. "You're still thinking to small if Angelus and the rest is all we focus on."
Scratching at his chin, Wesley sighed. "In so many words, Faith is correct-- what we couldn't do with Angel, we attempted with her: to try and put another piece on the board on our side."
Faith looked over her shoulder at Wesley. "Yeah. Thanks a bunch for that, Watcher-boy. Now, can we get on with whatever the hell this meeting is about? I'm hungry," she added with a glint in her eyes.
Buffy did her best to ignore Faith and focus on Xander and Fred. "Ok. Ok, so... Angelus and Spike are here. That's... bad. But, Fred is here, and was here before and that's good. Well, not for her but for us so..." She looked at Fred with a bleak smile. "Um. Sorry. You talk."
"Angelus and the First's forces are only part of our problem," Xander said.
"From here on out I am taking charge of this group. Fred, I will need you by my side to be my guide here. We'll all the information you have on Pylea."
Buffy just stared at Xander.
Fred nodded, still not sure what she was expected to saym but she did look to Xander, eyes wide. She still wasn't sure if she agreed with Buffy about the part where she should help lead. But that didn't seem right either. "You think it's just a matter of taking charge? That just like that, that helps? Who's leading who, it doesn't matter if we don't know anything. What's happened here since we left? Who's ruling? Are there still raids? Still fighting?"
Gunn blinked. "Whatever mojo candy surprise you found might've given you a few new tricks, but last time I checked, it didn't make you club president, either." He stopped, shook his head. "Naw, I take that back... Fred's right. We need info, not gettin' in each others' face."
"That's why we will have to do recon missions. We will gather information then make our decisions. This is no different than any other war."
"You're saying the words, but what's behind them?" Fred folded her arms, standing a bit straighter. "What's recon mean to you? Here?"
"It's fine by me," Faith agreed too quickly, then added, "I can play double agent. Get info on Angelus for us and shit." She shrugged. She still wasn't sure if she was going to stay with the White Hats anyway.
Wes bristled, but kept himself in check. "Then we're agreed on that much, it seems-- we can't do anything until we're sure of where things stand here." His eyes leveled at Xander. "I assume you're more than willing to take on the task of reconnaisance?" Turning back to Faith, he frowned. "That's quite an offer. You've made a decision, then?"
Willow watched Faith carefully. Double agent and double cross were a fine line.
"And as far as why I am taking charge... I am Krihl of the Ashai-machi, I have the knowledge of hundreds of warrior kings. I also have the knowledge of a seasoned Army Special Forces officer, so I'm clearly the one to lead."
Buffy blinked and turned to Willow for help. This wasn't the Xander they knew. Yes, she assumed he would helpful here but... "Xand. You... look, I gave up my leadership but... Xand you sound... different." And not in the good way.
"I don't care if you're Jedi Master Yoda. The only person I volunteered to call my shots is Wes." Shaking his head, Gunn moved closer to Cordelia, who nodded in agreement. "Your call, man."
Fred fought her hysteria. "You aren't listening. Not listening at all and...there's never been your Special Forces here. Leadership passing from person, who get's it, who wants it, you claim it. Ya'll are all acting like it's as simple as a cracker jack prize to pass around anf it isn't. It's not a prize and they're aren't any cracker jacks here. War and kings and demons. That's fighting, what about fighting to stay alive? "We need heat, and clothes, and ...what to eat. It's going to take days to gather up enough stuff from the wild to feed us all, if the towns aren't safe..." She stopped. She simply wouldn't let herself do this.
Xander turned to Buffy. "I am different, but that is a discussion for later." then turned to Gunn and Cordelia. "I stated why I should lead if you disagree, then we will be separated and separated we will be easily defeated. Fred, that is exactly what I am proposing."
Willow went to stand with Buffy, to hold her hand. Xander worried her too.
Faith nodded at Wesley, wishing one of them smoked so she could stand back and watch all the action. Instead, she watched Willow. "Shit yeah, I said I'd help, didn't I?" Although watching Fred go nuts was interesting, too.
Buffy held Willow's hand and couldn't believe what she was hearing. "I don't see why this isn't a discussion for now, Xander," she said quietly, hating how weak she sounded at the moment. "Listen to us all fighting right now. We're here, we're in danger, and... and I don't know what to do. I don't know how to help, so I'm thinking, fine. Wes and Fred know. They can... but Xander, you're scaring me, frankly. And when I say scaring me, I'm talking back when you turned into a hyena-type-scared. When you tried to..." She closed her eyes as she tried to put the thought of Xander attacking her out of her mind.
"No, you don't. You don't know what you're proposing, because you don't know what this place is. If you're focused on Angelus and ...you don't know. And I don't think me at your side will teach you either.
"Listen up, people! Make no mistake, this is war! We are in a foreign land without even the barest necessity. I have the memories of surviving in jungles while evading vastly larger enemy forces. You need to survive in order to fight. Angelus is a factor but not the only one and I know that!"
Willow was quiet, and at Buffy's words it occured to her that it must be why, seeing Xander like that, and the memories. Trust Buffy to know before she did.
"Stop fucking yelling, Xander, we get it," Faith screamed back at him. Too bad he hadn't been like this the first go-round between them He was actually interesting now.
"You say I scare you," Xander asked, talking to Buffy and Fred."it's nothing compared to what awaits us out there. I don't have time to put every decision to a vote."
"Don't you dare try and act like I don't know what's out there," Fred bit through.
"It isn't just Pylea, Fred. I know you went through hell here, but now we have this place and the First's forces to contend with."
Fred stood stiffly, arms wrapped around herself. "You have no idea what I went through," she corrected Xander. "None of you do."
"Be that as it may, I am asking you to help me get us through this, to help us survive here. Will you do that?"
"You're asking me to help, sure, but you're so sure of yourself, so sure you know what to do, what's going on, and you don't. All that means is that you have the hardest to fall. And it's a rocky, rocky fall that you don't always get back up from. You don't know."
Buffy just shook her head. This wasn't going -- as usual -- as she'd planned.
"All right, that will be more than enough," Wesley snapped. "Xander, we all agree on one point-- that dissention in the ranks is unnaceptable. A coup, however is not the way to accomplish it. You have valid points, but so does Fred, and she has the most literal experience with Pylea. If you really do have all this experience at your disposal, then we need your help." His voice was strained, but calm. "Your leading or not leading is something that can be disputed later, when circumstances will allow."
"Coup?" Faith asked, watching Wesley and Fred carefully. "You know who you guys sound like? Fucking Angelus, that's who." Assholes just didn't realize it. Good, bad, it was all the same.
"Shut up, Faith," Buffy murmured, still watching Xander with wariness. "It's not your concern."
Gunn laughed. "I can't believe I agree with Faith, but that's exactly the point. This ain't the time for bumpin' heads. First, we gotta survive, then we gotta get back home." He could hear the growing panic in Fred's voice, and it was way too familiar. She needed to get back more than any of them.
Xander tried to stay calm. The warrior king in him wanted to impose his will, the others be damned but he tried for diplomacy. "I'm not trying to stage a coup, Wesley. I am merely saying that of us all I am the most qualified to lead. And we do need a leader. And you're right Fred, I don't know what's out there but all leaders must rely on their people for information. Kings, presidents... none of them have all the answers, but they have the ability to lead and use the knowledge of those around them."
"Are you saying that's something I never did?" Buffy accused quietly, the anger boiling up within her. "How dare you, Xander. Out of anyone here, I would assume you would understand how hard this has been for me, to stand back and let others make choices I should be making. Yes, that's right, me. I'm the Slayer, Xander, or whatever-the-hell you say your new name is, and I chose Fred to help us out. I chose to back down. Now I'm not going to stand in the way of Wes or Fred, or hell, even Willow if she knows some spell to help us out. But don't you dare accuse me of not doing my job!"
Fred backed up a bit, eyes wide. "You don't see, and you're still not listening. Don't you understand? The more you think of yourself? They more you're so sure of yourself, that's only farther that you have to fall. When I came here...I was so sure. I was smart. I kept saying that over and over and I believed it." Reaching down she picked up a sharpened rock, on of the ones she'd used on those walls before. "I'd figure it out, and I'd go home. And home, home too. Back to Texas, back to places where people had names and clothes and lives and...but they find you. They find you and they grab you and all you want is for them to let go. Only they don't. They cut and they push and they scrape and they hurt. And not like when you're trying to learn. They wanted pain. And then they fix you as much as they can start all over again. Keep tearing you down to that fall."
Xander shook his head. "Don't start, Buffy. This is not about you! We're not in Sunnydale or even Los Angeles; this is the wild! We have sought refuge in the forest in a cave! And you are letting the fear of this place control you, Fred! It has you in a paralyzing grip and you can't think past it! But someone does have to lead, someone the rest of us will follow. It can't be one or the other."
Faith glared at Buffy. "You're the Slayer? You? Then what the fuck am I, B? Why the hell did you need a goddamn soul in a vamp, huh? Don't go there. Just... don't."
Wesley didn't want to like the fire that had returned to Buffy's voice, but he couldn't help it. The life, the color had come back, if only in anger, but it was something He rounded on Xander. "Neither is it about who leads, except for one fact: even if you are what you're claiming, none of us knows it for sure...
Buffy tried to calm down, but couldn't. "Xander, this is about me!" Hearing Faith's words but not listening to them, she pressed on. "And it wasn't my idea to give the soul to you, Faith," she added, a quick look to both Willow and Wesley.
Fred pushed her back to the cave wall, staring at Xander. It's wasn't fear of this place that she was living with, but the truth of what it could do to them. "I'm not afraid," she managed the words knowing the walls would hear them as familar. She'd said them till she slept more nights than not. "I don't want to see it done to them. To Charles," she looked at him as softly as she could. "To Wesley and Cordy, to Buffy and Willow, or Faith. To you -- to anyone. It wouldn't matter who they are. I think even if I hated..." She pushed back the sleeve of her shirt all the way up, until her forearm was visible. A faint scar ran there, one so light she swore she was the only one that would ever see it. And obviously it was too quiet for the group that surrounded her. Picking up the rock she cut into it, tracing the old so the new could see. Really...see. Blood immediately began to well, running down her arm.
"B'tras tillra bacuschi mali!" Xander swore in a long-dead language. He ignored Buffy and Wesley and focused on Fred for now. "We're here, Fred! So, unless we suddenly just reappear back at the hotel...
Gunn moved up to Fred, starting to panic himself. "Ain't gonna happen, Fred. We'll be outta here." He looked over his shoulder at the others, mostly at Xander. "If we can all keep from gettin' in a brawl..." When he turned back, he saw the blood and rushed forward to grasp her arm. "Fred, what do you think you're doing?"
"That's not even the ones that hurt...not really." Fred lifted her chin, daring Xander to call her scared. "That's just when they wanted to compare the color of it to their new tunic. To laugh...to see if I'd cry. It doesn't even matter why. And then when they're bored with you? There's a collar and more running , and more pain, and that's of you're lucky. That doesn't make me frightened, that makes me real. I hate this place, and I care too much about all of you to see you in it. Is that so hard to understand? You shouldn't be here...none of you. They should be the office and water fights at the sink, and books and researching too late. You all need to be back there. All...back in the hotel. You should never have to know this place. I just want all of you there."
Wesley moved toward Fred at the same time as Gunn. She was getting hysterical, would only hurt herself further. "Fred, I--" He never got to finish the sentence. The world crashed in on them with blinding light and deafening sound. There was nothing for a moment, and then... the lobby of the Hyperion.
"Well... shit," Faith sighed.
Willow blinked at the brightness of it all.
"Huh." Xnader said, looking around.
Buffy nearly collapsed to the floor, Fred's hysteria seemingly passing onto her.