Don't Feed The Plants
written by Pythia


Rating: FRT
Spoilers: None - set early in Season 2.
Summary: In Sunnydale, even gardening can be hazardous to your health.
Thanks: Thanks to Ann, for all the helpful comments and appropriate encouragement. :-)
WARNING: There's blood. And violence. And gardening tips.
Additional Disclaimer: Audrey-II was originally cultivated by Roger Corman before being set to music by Howard Ashman.
Feedback Author: Pythia
Author's Website: Warriors And Watchers



On the twenty-third day of the month of September, in an early year of a decade not too long before our own, the human race suddenly encountered a deadly threat to its very existence. And this terrifying enemy surfaced, as such enemies often do, in the seemingly least innocent and most likely of places.

Da do!

It was getting late. The corridors of Sunnydale High were practically deserted. Only a few students lingered on the premises: there was a small group making their way out of the detention hall, intent on getting home as soon as they could, and one or two more helping the gym coach pack up after a late practice. There was almost no-one to see the slightly-built blonde girl as she slipped warily in through one of the outer doors; she glanced round a little furtively, then reached back though the doorway and dragged in a handsome-looking young man in a dark coat. He also took a furtive look around, then pulled the girl into a shadowed corner and bent his head to meet hers. They kissed, a hungry coming together of lips and desire, each seeming to inhale the other as they sought to get close - and then even closer still.

A little further down the hallway, three uniformed cheerleaders were busy stuffing pom-poms into a locker, joking and chatting about their classmates and blithely unaware of the ardent encounter taking place only a few short steps away. They were discussing the way a well-known school bully had failed to appear in class that week. His girlfriend, a timid and shy type, had been seen sporting a broken arm, and their gossip savoured the possibilities that suggested, the ideas flying between them, thick and fast.

"I heard that Orin was the one that broke it," the plumpest of the three declared with relish. The girl in the middle looked suitably shocked.

"No," she said. "Really?"

"Really," the plump one affirmed. "Maybe Snyder's expelled him."

"Just for that?" the tall one at the end drawled. "I doubt it. I mean, he didn't expel Buffy after she and her gang trashed the library at the end of last term. So why would he expel Orin for slapping Aubrie? It's not like he could prove it."

"Snyder doesn't need proof to push folk around," the middle cheerleader pointed out. "He does it because it makes him feel big. And the way I heard it, the only reason he didn't kick Buffy and her sidekicks out of school is because the librarian threatened to quit if he did."

"Mr Giles threatened to quit?" the plump girl squeaked with distress. "He can't do that! He's the best librarian... well, ever."

"He reads poetry."

"He quotes Shakespeare - and Dillon, and Thomas Hardy and he's actually read Jayne Eyre."

"He's got that accent."

"He's got that smile."

"And the most amazing green eyes."

"Oh yeah," the three of them sighed, in a moment of utter synchronicity.

"You know," the tall girl said, shaking herself out of her brief reverie. "I think there's some pretty weird things going on around here. Aubrie getting beat up."

"People disappearing."

"Like Orin."

"And Simon."

"I heard that Frank, the assistant janitor, hasn't seen for a couple of days."

"Really? Makes you wonder who's going to be next."

Shing-a-ling what a creepy thing to be happening!
Shang-a-lang, feel the sturm and drang in the air.


"I don't like the look of this," Giles murmured, studying the door to the biology laboratory- and the trail that led up to it, a dark ominous staining where something had been dragged across the floor. He reached out and cautiously tried the handle.

Locked.

Of course it was.

"Willow?" he requested softly, conscious of the way the young woman was practically pressed up against him - and had been ever since they'd found the start of the blood trail.

"Yes?" she squeaked nervously, then swallowed. Hard. "Sorry."

"It's all right. I want you to go back the way we came in, get to the library and find Buffy. You understand? Find Buffy. Send her here. As quickly as you can."

"Find Buffy." The redhead nodded. "I can do that. W-what if - Angel's with her?"

He pushed her away from the questionable safety of his side, firmly but gently turning her back towards the entrance to the science wing. "Then send him, too. Willow - we have a missing janitor, two missing students, and a trail of blood leading to a classroom no one's been in for months. Now, Snyder might be right about the earthquake damage, and have had a perfectly legitimate reason for locking up this part of the school, but... something is living here, and I don't think it's friendly. Find Buffy - and hurry."

"Okay," she nodded, taking a few steps in the right direction, then turned back. "What are you going to do?"

He sighed, shooing her away. "Take a closer look. Now go."

She went, her cautious pace along the blood-stained floor quickly turning into an anxious run. Giles watched until he was sure she'd turned the corner and was well on her way to safety before he returned his attention to the door. The bunch of keys that he tugged from his pocket were one of his prized possessions: a set of master keys for the entire building complex which he'd obtained by judicious gifts of Jack Daniels and a willingness to provide a sympathetic ear to a man's personal troubles. He and the deputy janitor had moved from passing acquaintances to comrades in adversity fairly soon after his arrival at the school; they were often the only inhabitants of the place, one working late shifts and maintenance, the other spending hours researching, long into the night.

The gift of the keys had been obvious, once Bob had realised that they meant he didn't have to hang around until the librarian went home - and Giles had repaid the favour many times over since, sharing the occasional cup of tea and a little banter, comforted by tales of the kind of family life he suspected he'd never have.

It was entirely possible that Frank - the assistant deputy janitor - was never going to have it either. The man had been at work earlier in the week, and yet had failed to report for two evenings in a row. He'd sent Bob to check on the man's lodgings and recruited the Scoobies to search the school for clues. Judging by the signs he and Willow had encountered once they'd realised the sealed-off annex's outer door was open... well, Frank had certainly passed this way, and it looked suspiciously as if at least one of the students who'd also been reported missing that week had also been wandering around in the condemned building.

"Main door, second floor classrooms.ah." Giles sorted out the appropriate key, one with a tiny white label declaring it to be 'labs-ab.' The annex housed three biology labs, all of which shared a common greenhouse - one of the reasons for closing the whole place down until Snyder and the School Board could get it properly inspected. The greenhouse glass had cracked during the Master's attempt to open the Hellmouth, and Bob had told him that even a minor tremor - let alone a major disturbance of some kind - was likely to bring the whole thing crashing down.

The Watcher made a mental note to avoid making any kind of disturbance if he could. He hadn't told Willow, but the blood trail they'd been following was uncomfortably fresh - no more than twenty-four hours old. It was likely that whatever had taken the janitor and the students was using the abandoned labs as a lair, something Giles was determined to do something about if he could. Building the school over a Hellmouth was bad enough - but to have something with decidedly carnivorous tendencies lurking on the premises was totally unacceptable. There were just too many vulnerable - and tender - students that it put at risk.

The key turned easily enough, and he managed to slip the door and open it without making any noise. There was light - artificial light he assumed - shining on the far side of the cluttered room, and it threw stark shadows across his face as he cautiously peered in, looking for signs of life.

Or unlife, for that matter.

"Good Lord," he exclaimed, taking in the unexpected sight that awaited him. Last time he'd been in the room there'd been rows of benches, a number of crowded shelves, the obligatory fake skeleton and one or two tanks of fish parading along the side-bench under the windows. The tanks were still there, albeit empty, as were the benches - but the whole place was draped with vines, long twisted things with dark, ugly-looking leaves, some of them the size of dinner plates - and bigger.

His presence in the doorway seemed to trigger something deeper into the room; the door to the greenhouse was wide open and curtained with more of the huge leaves. It was through those that the light was shining - and they had begun to quiver, to rustle with a trembling movement as if something, or someone, were hiding behind them.

He walked cautiously in that direction, stepping over the sprawling vines and registering the way they'd anchored themselves to both floor and benches with a growing sense of anxious suspicion. They were clearly not normal vegetation; the colours and textures were wrong in a way he couldn't quite explain.

Besides - nothing grows that fast in a few short months; the place looked as if it had been occupied by this weird jungle for years.

There was a noticeable rise in temperature as he got closer to the hothouse door. The soft warmth of a California night was replaced with a much deeper, tropical heat; the air felt moister too, and a rich, cloying scent, like damp earth and decaying vegetation wafted out to greet him. There was something else lingering in the air too - a warm metallic tint.

The taint of old blood.

{Sha-la-la, stop right where you are. Don't you move a thing.
You better (tellin' you, you better)
Tell your mama somethin's gonna get her
She better (ev'rybody better)
Beware!}


"*Well,*" the middle cheer leader huffed as Willow Rosenburg raced past the three of them, heading for the library. "Some people are just asking for a detention. Don't run in the hallways!" she yelled after the hurrying and harassed redhead.

"Maybe she's got a pass," the plump one suggested, using her locker mirror to touch up her lipstick.

"Maybe she's got something up her ass," the middle girl joked, snatching the lipstick from her friend's hand and applying to her own lips. The tallest of the three frowned, staring in the direction that Willow had been heading, then turning to glance back down the hallway with concern.

"Maybe there's something's chasing her."

{I was just about to, ya know, walk on by,
(Good for you,)
when suddenly,
(Da doo)
and without warning, there was this total eclipse of the sun... }


There was more shuffling and another bout of rustling in the vines as Giles reached the archway. There was definitely someone - or some thing moving about inside the greenhouse.

"Frank?" he called softly, warily pushing forward through the curtain of vines. This was Sunnydale, home to innumerable vampires and other creatures of the night, and it was entirely possible that the man he was looking for was long dead - but it never hurt to maintain a little optimism in the face of threatening darkness. There was a chance the janitor had stumbled into this peculiar jungle and become trapped here in some way. Was, even now, desperately waiting for rescue.

The interior of the greenhouse was even warmer. The heat washed over him like a wave, damp and heavy with an unplaceable perfume. The light was soft, but still bright after the dimness of the outer room. Greenery hung everywhere, twists of vines and pendulous leaves painting every surface, clinging to every fitting and pillar. Exotic buds, like tiny purple orchids, blossomed overhead - and somewhere in the middle of everything, there was some kind of vegetative mass, a green and purple mound pillowed in among leaves that stood as tall as he did.

"Good Lord," Giles breathed a second time, staring in utter amazement. He hadn't seen anything as riotously exotic as this since his last visit to Kew Gardens. His astonishment only pinned him in place for a second or two, but even that was a second or two too many. The rustling had increased, reacting to his entrance and the sound of his voice - and in amidst its distractions, someone suddenly lunged out of the jungle, armed with what looked suspiciously like a shovel.

He had time to react, time to turn in alarm and duck back a little, reducing the force of the blow that might otherwise have cracked his skull wide open - but he wasn't quick enough to avoid it altogether. Pain flared across his temples, the world spun - and then every thing went totally dark for a while.

{Don't ask questions tonight. Just touch and go.
No one ever got hurt, from what they don't know... }


"You're sure about this, Will?" Buffy asked, staring at Willow's anxious expression. She'd spent a fruitless hour searching the school grounds for signs of struggle or evidence of vampires, neither of which she'd managed to find. Running into Angel had been her highlight of the night so far. Xander had spent some of that time searching the school cafeteria and the rest hunting through the boy's changing rooms. There'd been no obvious sign of the missing students or the missing janitor; while Xander had found an abandoned broom lying in one of the showers, that didn't mean the missing man had left it there.

"Perfectly sure. There was blood and - everything. Giles said I had to come find you, so I did."

"Blood?" Buffy had taken a half step towards the library doors, but she swung back with a wary look on her face. Xander had gone pale.

"You didn't say anything about blood," he accused, and Willow rolled her eyes.

"I was getting there. We did the science labs and the gym, and then I said I thought I saw a light in the annex and... there was open doorness and marks on the floor and Giles thought something had been dragged inside, so we went in and.. there was blood. On the tiles. All the way up to the biology lab."

"The victim was bleeding," Angel noted with a frown. "Vampires don't like to waste food as a rule. Not unless they're sated."

"Didn't want to know that, dead boy," Xander said, glaring at him

"I did." Buffy glanced at the stake she was carrying, then headed for the library cage. "A complete cornucopia he said." She vanished into the cage for a moment, then re-emerged to hand Angel a heavy sword with one hand and heft a nasty-looking axe with the other. "I'm guessing not vampires. I haven't had a tingle on my Spidey senses all day - other than the one Angel gave me just now."

"Didn't want to know that, either," Xander whispered to Willow, who started to smile - only for it to freeze on her face.

"Oh God, Buffy," she realised. "Giles is still in there! He said he was going to take a closer look. And all he has with him is a cross and a couple of stakes. If it's not vampires."

"Then he's probably in trouble," Angel concluded grimly.

The Slayer shivered. "I hope not," she said. "Come on. Let's get there before something decides to put Watcher on its supper menu."

{A voice inside me said "Kid, you'll love it,
I think you're into Heavy pain".}


He can't have been unconscious all that long. No more than a few minutes, really. But it was long enough for his assailant to drag him deeper into the greenhouse, to tug off his jacket, slash at the seams of his trousers, rip open his shirt, lash his hands together with garden twine and then to hook those bonds over a piece of the overhead racking, lifting him up so that when he awoke it was to find himself dangling helplessly, a good foot or more above the floor.

Everything hurt. His glasses were missing and so, for some reason, were his shoes. There was a tight band of pain around both his wrists, his shoulders felt half wrenched from their sockets and his head was pounding mercilessly. There seemed to be blood trickling down the side of his face. He could feel it trickling elsewhere too, little runnels of it tracking down scored skin; it painted his breastbone, ran dribbling from thigh to knee, and was creeping down from his knees until it dripped from his toes. His captor was encouraging the next such cascade when he woke, clawing a pattern of deep lines from his shoulder to the base of his spine.

He probably should have feigned continued unconsciousness, but the fiery scrape of what felt like rusty metal points across his back was enough to spur an involuntary spasm, his body protesting the assault almost before he'd registered it.

"Bloody hell," Giles hissed, biting back a gasp of agony as the shift of his weight twisted the bindings around his wrists. The narrow twine was already cutting deep; another line of blood joined the rest of his open wounds, oozing out to slowly slide its way down his arm and drip from his elbow.

"Oh God," he heard a matching exclamation echo from behind him. "You're awake. You're not supposed to be awake. He's awake," the young man's voice called, addressing someone else, someone Giles couldn't immediately see.

He could hear them though. Could hear the response to that uncertain cry, drift back from the echoing heart of the hot house, in tones of deepest, determined confidence.

"I don't care *what* he's doing, so long as he bleeds. Feed me!"

{They say the meek shall inherit,
You know the book doesn't lie... }


The traipse down the now-empty corridors and across the school yard seemed much longer on the way back. It looked as if the cheerleaders had finally gone home, leaving the school echoing with weighted silences. Willow seemed to remember flying most of what now seemed an interminable distance, encouraged by unwanted images of dried blood tracked across the floor. The scuttle of large spiders and the rustle of what might have been rats in the shadows as she'd left the annex had added their own sense of impetus to her flight.

She wasn't proud of her rush, no matter how quickly it might have spilled her into the library and into Buffy's confident presence. The darkened, abandoned building had creeped her out, and she knew it - but that didn't excuse the haste with which she'd left Giles' side, the fluttering gratitude of her heart when he'd sent her in search of assistance.

Because now she was trudging back, her mind was wrestling with all the dire things that might have happened to him since she left him alone - and if they *had* happened to him she'd never forgive herself.

Buffy didn't seem too worried though, striding ahead with the axe resting on her shoulder. Angel stalked at her side, his expression a mixture of anxious and grim - a good look for a brooding vampire, and a bad look for anything nasty that decided to jump out at them from the shadows. Xander was scowling at him, which was something that Xander did when he thought nobody was watching him. Willow wasn't exactly watching him, but she caught the look, all the same.

It bothered her a little.

Okay, not so much because of the 'he's a vampire and we can't trust him' stuff, but more because Xander's attention was focused on Buffy and he didn't seem to be noticing anything else. She'd have *liked* him to notice her - except that she was glad he didn't, because she wasn't sure she could cope if he did. But a girl could dream - just as she could sigh happily, watching a much older man stack books and expound on subjects both exotic and esoteric, engaging her in intellectual and adult conversation.

She *liked* Giles. And she hadn't liked leaving him, no matter how confident and commanding he'd been. The shuttered, musty air in the annex had felt wrong the moment she'd walked into it, and the moment she'd seen the trail of blood she'd known there would be something very nasty waiting at the end of it.

"I hope he's all right," she muttered, drawing Xander's attention away from the Slayer and her determined stride.

"The Library Man?" He grinned, goofily. "He's fine, Will. Probably lurking in a dark corner somewhere, watching the bad guys and taking notes. Bet he'll even ask questions, later."

"You think?"

"Yeah." Xander gave her an curious look. "You're really worried about him, aren't you. You only left him - what? Ten minutes ago? How much trouble could he get himself into in ten minutes?"

{He's got your number now
He knows just what you've done
You got no place to hide you got nowhere to run
He knows your life of crime
I think it's suppertime}


"*Feed* me," the voice insisted, a deep, velvet sound punctuated by a note of petulance.

"Okay, okay," the young man agreed, his own voice strained and sounding harassed. He stepped into the light, finally giving Giles a chance to get a look at him. A somewhat fuzzy look, given the loss of his glasses and the blurring of vision from what was undoubtedly a concussion.

He was beginning to recognise the symptoms by now.

"Simon?" he questioned, blinking to get a better look. "Simon Kellman?" Kellman was one of the students who'd been reported missing - a good student by all accounting. One of the few who made regular visits to the library.

"Uh - " the young man froze, wincing at the sound of his name. "Yeah. Umm." He turned and looked up at his captive, a decidedly apologetic expression on his face. "Look, Mr Giles, I'm... I'm *really* sorry about this, okay? 'Cause if I *wanted* to do this to anyone, it wouldn't be you. You're okay. As... teachers go. But - you walked in here, and you saw, and... it's hungry, It's always hungry. If I don't... feed it, it'll eat *me*. And I don't want to be..." Kellman broke off mid thought, grimacing with a mixture of frustration and guilt.

"It was going to be the best thing ever. *Ever,*" he repeated with a note of pain. "I found it and I planted it, and it just grew and grew. And then they closed the building and I had to start sneaking in to take care of it. I gave it plenty of plant food and I watered it well. I used potash. I added extra sunshine - see how I fixed up the lights?" He waved his hand at the scaffolding above the plant, indicating the six big arc lights that hung around the humid space. "I gave it fresh dirt every day. I even dug some up from the cemetery because they grow the best roses, you know? I did all that, and it's driving me crazy. It ate all the rats, and then it ate my dog and it's still hungry." His expression was strained, haunted in a way that almost made Giles feel sorry for him. Almost. The sensation of deep screaming scratches burning into his skin and the slowly numbing pain in his hands and arms somewhat dampened his surge of sympathy.

"Just - l-let me down, Simon," he suggested as calmly as he could. "And we can talk about this."

"*Feed me, Simon! Feed me now!*"

The cry was a demanding, almost angry scream; the vines that draped the greenhouse interior shook and rustled, writhing with almost animal motion. Kellman quivered, tightening his grip on the rusty fork in his hand.

"I can't," he whispered. "I can't. I gave it Orin, because... because he hit Aubrie, only.. Only Frank saw, so I had to give it Frank, and... now you came here looking and I - I have to. Only... only - I thought I hit you hard enough, so you wouldn't know and..."

"**Feed me!**"

It wasn't a demand, it was a command. The young man closed his eyes for a moment and Giles' heart sank, realising that any chance he might have had of reaching him was lost. The boy had just admitted to two murders - and while he might regret a third, he obviously felt driven to commit it. Clearly, reason and rational argument would have little influence on a mind caught and enthralled by... by whatever it was that lay at the centre of the hothouse.

"Sorry," Simon said, lifting the fork - and raking it savagely across the captive Watcher's stomach. "I'm really, really sorry..."

Giles didn't really hear the apology. He was too busy fighting the pain. He'd hastily sucked in his gut as the weapon slashed in his direction, but even so the wounds the tines left behind were deep enough to start spilling blood almost immediately. The movement had wrenched at his arms and driven the twine even deeper into his wrists; for one hopeful moment, he thought he'd been about to black out again.

No such luck: while nausea had flared and the fire in his skull had pulsed with white hot intensity, both sensations had quickly subsided again, leaving him limp and shaking from head to toe. This was not good. Nor was the way his blood was running down his skin, soaking into tattered fabrics and dripping in thick fat pendulous drips onto the leaf and vine covered floor.

He was in serious trouble, and he knew it.

"Simon," he tried, a last desperate appeal for mercy that the young man studiously ignored. "Y-you don't want to do this. You don't have to do this." Kellman was busy unhitching the ropes that worked the overhead racking, setting the mechanism into motion. "I'm sure we can talk - " Giles' words became a gasp of pain as the racking shifted, the jerky movement wrenching at his arms and twisting the twine even deeper into his skin. He glanced up in alarm as the section from which he was hanging started to move up and across, lifting him further from the ground and deeper into the glass enclosed space. He rose several feet into the air, swinging like a lump of meat, while his blood splattered down, painting the vegetation below him with splashes of scarlet.

The green and purple coloured mass that lay at the heart of the hothouse stirred. Unfolded.

*Blossomed.*

And became a yawning mouth - one with a deep purple maw and a row of jagged, splintery teeth.

"Oh, baby," the nightmare flower declared, licking at its fleshy lips with a slimy stamen tongue. "Come to *momma*. It's *suppertime.*"

{And the little red dots seemed innocent enough... }


"Definitely blood," Angel reported, rising from his crouch in a billow of black leather and attitude. "A day old, maybe a little more. But not much."

"So much for Frank," Xander tried to quip. "Or...Orin. You think... who ever it was... was dead, when... whatever it was... dragged him..."

Willow winced. "Don't," she said, grabbing his arm and silencing the rest of his comment. Angel gave her a sympathetic look.

"Wasn't vampires," Buffy announced, her eyes darting round the shadowed passageway. Snyder's miserly attention to minor details meant that there were no bulbs in the overhead lights, and the only hints of light were those spilling in through the outer door, and distantly, a vague suggestion of illumination, deep within the complex. The Slayer's nose wrinkled. "But there's something..."

"I can smell decay," Angel said, moving to stand beside her. "Something sweet, like perfume, and...*damn.*" He set off at a run, heading deeper into the gloom. Buffy, after a startled beat, headed after him.

"What?" Xander questioned, staring after the two of them in bemusement. "What's got into him? What would a vampire smell that would send him running..." he broke off, sharing a horrified realisation with Willow's wide-eyed alarm.

"Blood," she gulped, starting to run, a little reluctantly, in the Slayer's wake.

[Fresh blood...]
{Take a chance, just feed me and
You know the kinda eats,
The kinda red hot treats
The kinda sticky licky sweets
I crave...}


Suspended as he was in mid air, his feet dangling and his heart pounding into rhythmical overdrive, Rupert Giles experienced a brief and utterly surreal moment. One in which he seriously considered that he might be experiencing a drug-related flashback - or possibly even a flash *forward*, his entire life between his first taste of LSD and *this* moment nothing more than a bizarre fantasy in which he'd returned to the fold and managed to get himself assigned a Slayer.

Because the lurid psychedelic thing that was part venus flytrap, part animated orchid and entirely arrogant appetite, was *exactly* the sort of impossibility that bad acid had a tendency to construct; a nightmare made manifest, painted over with ludicrous colour and given the deep velvet voice of a master of soul.

The overhead racking jolted forward another few inches, sending a stab of pain racing down his arms and jerking him back to instant reality. The monstrous plant lifted itself up on a thick, curvaceous stalk, took a moment to consider his approach - and then licked its lips a second time, darting forward to nip, almost playfully, at his toes.

His retreat was instinctive, a desperate upwards tug on his arms and an equally desperate lift of his feet; the first hurt like hell, and the second simply wasn't fast enough. Plump petals closed around one flailing ankle, the flower's lips pursing in an obscene parody of a kiss.

He struggled to free himself, feeling the soft whisper of something damp and slimy brush across the sole of his foot, tasting the blood that painted it. The creature made what Willow would probably term a 'yummy' sound - and then its grip tightened and it *tugged*, just like a puppy given a rag to play with.v
{No! No! There's only so far you can bend
No! No! This nightmare must come to an end}


Willow had arrived in the doorway of the biology lab in time to see Angel push his way into the curtain of leaves across the greenhouse door - and just as quickly back away again with furious curse, his hands smoking, almost as if he'd thrust them directly into sunlight.

Buffy, barely a step behind him, grabbed him and spun him round, putting herself between him and the flicker of light. Her eyes were wide as she stared at the vampire's shaking hands. So were Willow's. It was after ten at night; the world outside was dark and vampire-friendly. But Angel's skin was burning.

"What the..?" Xander questioned from behind her, turning the vampire's head in their direction.

"UV," he hissed, his features twisting into their demonic visage as he wrestled with the impact of pain. "It's not as instant as sunlight, but... I can't help you in there. Not while the light shines. Buffy..." He turned to her with apologetic pain. "It's up to you to save him..."

She'd half opened her mouth to answer that when an agonised scream rent the air. A strangled, bitten-back scream of protest and pain. "*Giles*," they chorused with horror, recognising familiar tones in among that gargled, anguished cry. Buffy gave Angel a short, understanding nod and spun, raising her axe and charging forward, a look of total determination on her face. Willow and Xander charged after her, leaving the vampire huddled in the shadows, his face distorted and his eyes burning with helpless anger.

The shift in the light was the first thing that struck Willow as she entered the hothouse. She barely noticed the caress of heat, or the weight of humidity in the air; she was too busy blinking at the scene in front of her, letting the blur of colours and movement resolve into lurid impossibilities. There were vines and gigantic leaves, green and gold and purple-pink; there was a huge pod-like thing lying in the middle of everything, its limb like leaves quivering and curling with ecstasy - and there was a limp and bloodied figure hanging over its gaping maw, his blood dripping down onto the dark purple petals.

"*Shit*," she heard Xander swear behind her, expressing horror and disbelief in matching quantities. His voice tilted the flower thing towards the three of them, its lips rippling with what looked like amusement.

"Oh, *my*," it drawled, its head shifting back with a disconcertingly human movement. "First course *and* dessert. Must be my lucky night."

"Don't count on it," Buffy spat, shaking away her initial shock and replacing it with determined fury. The axe swung in her hand with ominous menace and her eyes darted around the vine-draped space, taking in everything in a single furious glance. "I don't know what you are, but that's *my* Watcher you're snacking on - and I don't share. Not even for a pretty please."

"Now aren't *you* a feisty one," the creature chuckled, hefting itself forward and - very deliberately - running its frilled tongue up the length of its victim's bleeding body. Willow's heart jumped at the sight - not just because the total *ickiness* of the gesture, but because Giles stirred at the thing's touch, a feeble protest of movement that demonstrated he was still alive.

"Get your... your *pistils* off him," she demanded angrily, taking a step forward - and then hastily leapt back as a vine as thick as her arm lifted itself from the ground and rippled in her direction. The plant laughed.

"Ooh, *momma*, so eager. Wait your *turn*, sweet thing. I never mix my courses. Savoury first," it drawled with relish, taking another slurping lick. "Honey later. I'll get round to you, I promise." And it chuckled again, a deep-throated sound that set the entire hothouse quivering.

"It's no use," a voice she recognised announced despairingly. "You can't stop it. You won't even get near it. Not now."

Willow turned, finding Simon Kellman huddled against the wall, his arms wrapped around his legs as he rocked back and forth. A whole series of things made sudden sense: the jerry-rigged greenhouse, the exotic-looking plant.

"I'm sorry," he was muttering brokenly. "I'm really, really sorry. I didn't mean this to happen, I didn't, I *didn't*..."

Buffy had begun to make her way into the body of the greenhouse, circling round the outer benches and looking for a way to get closer without goading the thing into unwelcome action. The plant continued to lick and suckle at its victim, chuckling softly to itself, letting her know that it knew exactly what she was doing. Kellman shuddered at the sound.

"You?" Willow queried, feeling a second surge of fury take control. She'd always had a soft spot for Kellman, who was a year ahead of her; he was a model student, and a fellow nerd, his obsession with his studies offset by his nervous manners and his unfailing 'eyes down' politeness whenever a girl spoke to him. Even her.

And he'd helped out in the library with the book cataloguing and everything.

Xander pushed passed her and dragged the shaking youth to his feet.

"You've got a lot to answer for," he declared, slamming Kellman up against the wall with a hint of an ex-hyena growl. "And unless you start telling me stuff - like where I find the light switches and how we get him down from there, you're going to start answering for it. Right, Will?"

"Right," she echoed, putting on her resolve face. She tried to ignore the way that rustling vines were grabbing at Buffy's determined stalk, turning it into 'leap and dodge, slash out and duck back' kind of progress. Kellman whimpered.

"I can't," he said. "I *can't*. It'll kill me... "

{If you wanna be profound
And you really gotta justify
Take a breath and look around
A lot of folks deserve to die... }


The plant might have *looked* like a psychedelic orchid on speed, but it had the scent of a stinking corpse lily and the manners of a drunken slut. Having discovered - by dint of playful experiment and a teasing tug or two - that its victim was firmly secured to the racking, and that it couldn't just yank him free and swallow him whole, it had decided to spin out the experience instead, swaying into place beneath him to catch the slow drip, drip of his blood. What Giles needed to do was catch his breath; the momentary tug of war had left him dizzy and disorientated - not to mention gasping with almost overwhelming pain. He could no longer feel his fingers, and the numbness was working its way down his arms, battling with the stabbing protests of his wrenched joints and the teeth-gritting sear of ripped and torn skin.

He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the world spin around him. He really *had* to stop getting into these kind of situations; tricked into lying on a guillotine, hung up to be sacrificed for the Master's return...

At least *this* time, he was hands up and feet down, although that really wasn't much of an improvement; nor was being a tug-toy for a man-eating plant - especially one that seemed to be taking so much pleasure in his undignified distress.

"*Shit*," he heard someone exclaim, echoing a number of his current sentiments. It took him a moment to realise that it had been Xander - and by the time the implications of *that* had found a foothold in the fuzziness of his thoughts, Buffy was speaking, her crisp, defiant voice both a terror and a delight to hear.

"Now, aren't *you* a feisty one," the plant chuckled below him. The thick choking scent of it surged up - and so did the creature itself, assaulting him with an obscene caress of its 'tongue', painting him with stinging digestive juices and slurping at him as if he were a stick of seaside rock.

Giles shuddered and then regretted it, since even that was enough to stir fresh protests from his body, adding to the agony of his situation. He heard Willow's angry protests through a haze of pain - but that was enough to focus his thoughts with a vengeance; it was bad enough *Buffy* was there, readying herself to fight this thing, but she was the Slayer. This was what she was *destined* to do. She had supernatural strength and speed on her side. Xander and Willow were only human.

Adrenaline kicked in, helping him to shake free of his pain-induced daze. He blinked blood from his eyes, and took advantage of a moment's respite from the plant's hungry attentions to take a wary look around, trying to assess his situation.

Buffy was busy dancing, her opponents a whole slew of animate and agitated vines that slithered and slapped around her. She was doing a pretty good job of avoiding their smash, grab, tease and tug style of assault, but she wasn't making a lot of headway. For every length of vine that hit the dirt, courtesy of a well-wielded axe, another two took its place; she was being directed, driven away from the rest of her friends - and she was no closer to the creature's central mass than she had been when standing in the doorway.

Willow and Xander were still there, their attentions apparently focused on Kellman for the moment. The plant seemed to be ignoring them both, something for which he was decidedly grateful. It wouldn't last, though, and he knew it. The monster was playing with Buffy, not fighting her; its writhe of vines were lightning fast and delivering stone-shuddering punches. If it *wanted* to hit her, it would - and even she would be hard-put to endure that kind of battery for long. Dirt and dust were drifting down from the leaf-enshrouded roof, shaken free by each playful stab in the Slayer's direction.

His eyes were drawn up to its source, and he frowned, squinting past the glare of hanging lights to assess the state of the greenhouse roof. The main trusses had an odd twist to them, as if they'd been shifted ever so slightly out of alignment - and there was a crack in the central pane, the one sitting right above the main body of the plant. Not a little crack either; it ran almost right across the glass, starting in one corner and fanning out barely a hand-span from the other side. [Even a minor tremor might bring it down,] Bob had said...

Giles looked down. The plant was rearing back and *laughing*, amused at Buffy's efforts to reach it. Xander had Kellman up against the wall, and Willow was busy glaring at him. And - yes, *there* was Angel, lurking in the shadows of the outer laboratory, watching Buffy's progress with tight lipped frustration on his face.

The Watcher frowned for a moment, wondering why the vampire hadn't joined the assault; he didn't *think* it was anything personal, but...

His bemused observation became a shuddering squirm; the monster had dipped back for another slurp, lathering at him like an enthusiastic Labrador given an over-sized bone. He kicked at it in protest, then kicked again, reasoning that - if he could keep its attention on *him*, then Buffy might have a chance of getting close enough to do some serious damage.

The plant chuckled - as well it might, since struggling disturbed his wounds and encouraged them to bleed more freely. Giles cursed under his breath, recognising the reason for the creature's amusement. By fighting back, he was simply giving the thing more of what it wanted.

By the time Buffy *did* reach him, there might not be enough of him to save.

More detritus filtered down from the roof, the worst of it deflected by the racking from which he was suspended. The nearest of the large, over-bright lamps quivered as its support shuddered under one of Buffy's wild blows and Giles glanced upwards again, the germ of a totally suicidal plan taking root in his mind. If he could just get her to attack the *building*, rather than the plant...

The Watcher kicked out again, ignoring the pain it cost him. If his idea was going to work, he had keep the plant distracted, keep it from recognising the danger it was in. That meant he couldn't just tell Buffy what he wanted her to do: he'd have to find some other way to get the message across...

{It's not a question of merit,
It's not demand and supply.}


"Look, *you*." Xander was as scared as Willow was, venting his frustration on the older youth's quivering shoulders. "If... if Giles gets eaten, you're going to be the next things down that... that thing's throat, understand? We turn off the lights, we haul him out of its reach, and... well, Buffy and Angel can spend the rest of the night picking flowers if they want to. But you, me, Will, *now*. Capicce?"

Kellman gulped, glancing from Xander's grim expression to the plant's amused antics and back again. "Okay," he agreed shakily. "Okay. The light switches are over there. But you'll never reach the ropes. It's real fast when it wants to be. And it won't let him go. Not now it's got a taste."

"*Shit*," Xander muttered for the second time that evening. He let Kellman slump to the ground and made his way across to the switch box, studying its makeshift construction with a wary eye.

"It looks kinda - sparky," Willow ventured after a moment, hunching her shoulders in sympathy as Buffy went flying over a bench and something writhed after her, lightning fast.

"Yeah," he agreed, tentatively reaching out his hand and then pulling it back. "You wanna find something to... throw at this?"

"Good plan," she said, casting around for something suitable. Her eyes landed on a large flower pot, and then she paused, distracted by the battle going on in the middle of the room. Buffy was nowhere near close enough to do serious damage - and the plant was laughing at her attempts to advance. Willow winced as she saw the dangling Watcher twist away from his tormentor's attentions, kicking weakly at the thing's groping tongue to distract it from his Slayer's advance.

"*Willow*," she heard him call, half gasp, half bitten-back cry. "Consider the heavens.." He jerked his head in the relevant direction as he spoke, a movement that had to have been as painful as it looked. She glanced up all the same, puzzled by his request. Her frown deepened. Her eyes followed the curve of the roof down to where it rested on the main structure, darted across the open space, and finally flicked back to the glass ceiling. *Then* she smiled.

"Xander?" she queried, picking up the flowerpot and handing it to him.

"Yeah?"

"Think you can throw a few of these in that in *that* direction?"

He looked at where she pointed, his face creasing in confusion. "Why would I..?" She lifted her finger up and his eyes followed it, coming to rest on the same point of interest that hers had. "Oh. I see. Yeah. I think I can do that."

"Good." She smiled with happy conspiracy, picking up a flower pot of her own. "On three?"

He grinned. "*Three*."

Terracotta flew with pinpoint precision. One pot landed against the switch box, sending a shower of sparks through the air. The lights flickered, dimmed, and then began to blow up one by one. The second pot flew further, smashing open against the curving strut of one of the main roof braces. It was quickly followed by a third, then a fourth. The pillar shivered, shuddered - then shifted, twisting away from its base, finally giving way to the damage that had been done to it months before.

"*Buffygetunderabench,*" Willow yelled, diving for the nearest such shelter herself. Xander was less than a pace behind her and she caught hold of his hand as the world creaked and swayed above them. "He's gotta make it," she muttered, squeezing her best friend's hand as yet another of the lamps went off like a miniature supernova. "He's gonnamakeit, he's gonnabeokay, oh god, he's *gotta* be okay... "

Xander squeezed back, the anxious expression on his face echoing her fervent prayer.v "*Hey*," the plant protested, swaying back from an exploding lamp and looking up towards the creaking roof. "What the F-!"

Its voice was brutally silenced; the twisting roof had finally released the sheets of glass which had bridged the gaps between its arching trusses. Most of them plummeted down to smash with shattering force across the covered benches and the mass of vines that cloaked the floor. All but the central piece, the one poised right above the monstrous plant, and already weakened by the earlier earthquake. *It* split, tilting inwards as it fell, turning itself into two savage blades, both of which sliced deep into the fleshy part of the plant's main pod, cutting it cleanly and clincally in two.

Every vine in the place quivered and shook, a death rattle that ripped tiles from the floor and fitments from the walls.

And then everything fell still again.

"Oh God," Willow muttered, hunching down with terrified realisation of the mayhem she'd spawned. "Xander, I can't look. I can't".

"It's okay," he assured her, reaching to brush slivers of broken glass from her shoulders. "I'll... .. do it."

He turned and crawled into the night, carefully picking his way over shattered glass and shredded vines. She closed her eyes and huddled down, fearing the worst. He'd been hanging there, right out in the open...

"G-man?" she heard Xander query softly, just as Angel slipped into the now darkened room and hesitantly called Buffy's name. Willow held her breath.

"Don't call me that," she heard familiar tones protest, his words as weary as the world and heavy with pain. "And for the love of God, get me *down* from here... "

{Now they're startin' t'appreciate him
All because of that strange little plant
Over there... }


Willow was out from under the bench in a flash, only to find herself standing by with helpless anxiety as Buffy moved to join Xander in staring up at the dangling Watcher. The shift in the support beams had twisted the racking from which Giles was suspended and moved him a little closer to the floor, but not by much - and while the curve of the overhead mechanism had sheltered him from the worst of the glass storm, he was bleeding in what seemed to be a thousand places. In the silence which had replaced the rustle of the plant thing's death throes, it was far too easy to hear the soft splat of dripping blood as it hit the floor.

"Just - give us a minute, will ya Giles?" Buffy's request was strained, her voice quivering with emotion. Willow knew exactly how she was feeling; her own eyes were prickling with sympathetic tears, and there was a tight lump in her throat. He looked so - *helpess*, dangling there.

And there didn't seem to be anyway to get him down...

"Oh," Giles murmered faintly, the effort in his voice marring the bite that lay behind his words, "do take two. Or three. As many as you bloody like. I don't think I'm going anywhere..."

"Stepladder?" Xander suggested, looking round a little desperately - as if he half expected one to magically appear. Willow hadn't seen one, but she found herself looking anyway, just in case.

"Slayer," Buffy corrected with tight determination. She beckoned Angel over with an imperious hand and he slunk across the glass-strewn floor to join them, clearing fighting his reaction to the siren scent of blood. "I cut, you catch," she ordered, tugging the vampire into place. Angel looked up at bloodstained feet and swallowed convulsively.

"Make it quick," he requested, his voice hoarse and his eyes flickering with hints of gold and red. Willow mentally echoed the sentiment, although not for Angel's sake. She was sure he could keep control of himself for long enough - but every moment they delayed meant another moment of torment for the suspended Watcher. She was surprised he hadn't passed out from the pain.

Or the blood loss.

Or both...

Buffy merely grunted an acknowledgement of the request, her eyes and her mind on the problem at hand. Willow followed her gaze as it backtracked the tangled ropes that held the racking in place. It looked as if the complex mechanism was well and truly jammed; cogs and wheels had been twisted away from their ratchets and some of the wooden fitments were smouldering, inevitable casualties of the exploding arc lamps.

"There," Willow suggested, spotting a point of potential weakness in among the mess of rope and vines and buckled metal. Buffy nodded and then turned and leaped onto the nearest bench.

It took several determined hacks with the axe before the knots began to unravel, but once they did, everything unravelled - tensioned ropes snapped, the torn ends whipped through damaged pulleys, metal creaked, wood cracked, and one end of the rack from which the Watcher was suspended dropped with a heart-pounding jerk.

Giles didn't scream - although Willow felt he had every right to. He caught back a somewhat gargled gasp as the support gave way and his own weight dragged him down the now-angled poles; barely a moment later he dropped off the end and straight into Angel's waiting arms.

It wasn't an elegant catch, but it didn't need to be; it was good enough to prevent a threatened tumble to the glass-strewn floor, and gentle enough to avoid any further damage - although the Watcher did briefly pass out, which was probably just as well given the way he was being manhandled.

Angel went on trying to be gentle as he hefted the wounded man over his shoulder and carried him into the outer laboratory. Buffy leapt off the benches and raced ahead of them, grabbing hold of vines to drag them off the workbenches so she could clear a suitable space for the vampire to lay his burden down. Giles came round with a heartfelt groan, and Xander hastily shrugged out of his sweater and used it to blanket bleeding shoulders before they were carefully lowered onto the bench; Willow busied herself with a hasty search for supplies.

Once free of Giles' weight, Angel shrugged out of his now bloodstained coat and draped it over the man's shivering body. His fight with his inner demon was getting desperate and the longing that burned in his eyes was frightening in its intensity.

"You'd better... " he said, waving at the worst of the wounds and hastily stepping away to regain some of his self-control. Buffy nodded, stepping in between the two of them, deliberately shielding one from the other.

"God, Giles," she said, tugging a knife from her belt and using it to gingerly cut at and peel away the bloodsoaked twine that still encircled her Watcher's wrists. "Don't ever scare me like that again, you hear? I thought... well, I *thought* you were going to be plant food for sure. And then... *Will*," she protested, glaring at the young woman in question as she reached to begin gently wrapping each of the man's damaged wrists with a padding of cotton wool and strips of cotton sheeting. There'd been plenty of both left in the laboratory supply cupboard, just as she'd expected. Nobody ever bothered to scavenge things like that.

"What?" she queried, smiling up at her best friend with the most innocent smile she could muster.

"What were you *thinking*? Were you trying to kill us both with that whole 'sky is falling' thing? I mean - yay for doing the slice and dice on the vegetable, but I would have got it. Eventually. We were trying to *rescue* him, not serve him up as sushi!"

"And thank you for *that* particular image," Giles murmured faintly, bringing the brief tug of a smile to everyone's expression. He didn't see that, since his eyes were shut, but the soft squeeze that Willow gave his hand conveyed the thought just as well. He squeezed back - painfully and with very little pressure, but enough to let her know he was on her side.

"It was *his* idea," she defended, a little wounded that Buffy might think she hadn't considered the risks involved. She had - but really she'd had no choice. Buffy hadn't been getting any closer to the plant thing and it had been amusing itself playing with her while Giles was busy bleeding to death in front of them. And besides, if Buffy *had* got close enough to be threatening, there would have been nothing stopping the thing from simply swallowing up its victim in a couple of bites.

Which was totally *not* an image she wanted in her head, and would be much easier to get out again if he wasn't lying there, peppered with glass shards and oozing blood from all those nasty scratches across his stomach and chest.

And back and legs ...

"We should get him to a hospital," she realised with anxious concern. "I think some of these need stitches."

"Some as in *most*," Xander assessed, half under his breath. "I'll go call 911."

{You know the meek are gonna get what's comin' to 'em
By and by... }


Things got a little chaotic after that. Xander raced off to make the call and came back with Bob the deputy janitor in tow. He'd heard the crash of the greenhouse roof collapsing - and he took one look at the wounded librarian and jumped to any number of sensible and totally erroneous conclusions. By the time the paramedics and the police arrived - one to ferry the by now semi-conscious Watcher to the hospital and the other to drag off the babbling and clearly insane Simon Kellman -- Buffy and Angel had slipped back into the ruins of the greenhouse and made absolutely certain there was nothing left of the plant creature but a whole load of glass slivers and mulch. Bob had learned of Frank's fate at Kellman's hands, the police had taken note of how the young man had tried to cover his tracks by attacking the school librarian when he'd discovered the murder, they'd *all* been congratulated over their lucky escape when the greenhouse roof had collapsed, and Willow was feeling totally wrung out, for all sorts of reasons.

Nevertheless, it was *she* who'd insisted in climbing into the ambulance with Giles and going with him to the hospital. Xander volunteered to get the weapons back to the library and make sure everything was locked safely away and Buffy and Angel left on patrol. Reluctantly, since Buffy was still extremely worried about her Watcher, but Giles insisted she should attend to her duty and go - and Willow promised she'd keep an eye on him and make sure he got the best of care.

{Now they're startin' t'appreciate him
All because of that strange little plant
Over there... }


Willow was out from under the bench in a flash, only to find herself standing by with helpless anxiety as Buffy moved to join Xander in staring up at the dangling Watcher. The shift in the support beams had twisted the racking from which Giles was suspended and moved him a little closer to the floor, but not by much - and while the curve of the overhead mechanism had sheltered him from the worst of the glass storm, he was bleeding in what seemed to be a thousand places. In the silence which had replaced the rustle of the plant thing's death throes, it was far too easy to hear the soft splat of dripping blood as it hit the floor.

"Just - give us a minute, will ya Giles?" Buffy's request was strained, her voice quivering with emotion. Willow knew exactly how she was feeling; her own eyes were prickling with sympathetic tears, and there was a tight lump in her throat. He looked so - *helpess*, dangling there.

And there didn't seem to be anyway to get him down...

"Oh," Giles murmered faintly, the effort in his voice marring the bite that lay behind his words, "do take two. Or three. As many as you bloody like. I don't think I'm going anywhere..."

"Stepladder?" Xander suggested, looking round a little desperately - as if he half expected one to magically appear. Willow hadn't seen one, but she found herself looking anyway, just in case.

"Slayer," Buffy corrected with tight determination. She beckoned Angel over with an imperious hand and he slunk across the glass-strewn floor to join them, clearing fighting his reaction to the siren scent of blood. "I cut, you catch," she ordered, tugging the vampire into place. Angel looked up at bloodstained feet and swallowed convulsively.

"Make it quick," he requested, his voice hoarse and his eyes flickering with hints of gold and red. Willow mentally echoed the sentiment, although not for Angel's sake. She was sure he could keep control of himself for long enough - but every moment they delayed meant another moment of torment for the suspended Watcher. She was surprised he hadn't passed out from the pain.

Or the blood loss.

Or both...

Buffy merely grunted an acknowledgement of the request, her eyes and her mind on the problem at hand. Willow followed her gaze as it backtracked the tangled ropes that held the racking in place. It looked as if the complex mechanism was well and truly jammed; cogs and wheels had been twisted away from their ratchets and some of the wooden fitments were smouldering, inevitable casualties of the exploding arc lamps.

"There," Willow suggested, spotting a point of potential weakness in among the mess of rope and vines and buckled metal. Buffy nodded and then turned and leaped onto the nearest bench.

It took several determined hacks with the axe before the knots began to unravel, but once they did, everything unravelled - tensioned ropes snapped, the torn ends whipped through damaged pulleys, metal creaked, wood cracked, and one end of the rack from which the Watcher was suspended dropped with a heart-pounding jerk.

Giles didn't scream - although Willow felt he had every right to. He caught back a somewhat gargled gasp as the support gave way and his own weight dragged him down the now-angled poles; barely a moment later he dropped off the end and straight into Angel's waiting arms.

It wasn't an elegant catch, but it didn't need to be; it was good enough to prevent a threatened tumble to the glass-strewn floor, and gentle enough to avoid any further damage - although the Watcher did briefly pass out, which was probably just as well given the way he was being manhandled.

Angel went on trying to be gentle as he hefted the wounded man over his shoulder and carried him into the outer laboratory. Buffy leapt off the benches and raced ahead of them, grabbing hold of vines to drag them off the workbenches so she could clear a suitable space for the vampire to lay his burden down. Giles came round with a heartfelt groan, and Xander hastily shrugged out of his sweater and used it to blanket bleeding shoulders before they were carefully lowered onto the bench; Willow busied herself with a hasty search for supplies.

Once free of Giles' weight, Angel shrugged out of his now bloodstained coat and draped it over the man's shivering body. His fight with his inner demon was getting desperate and the longing that burned in his eyes was frightening in its intensity.

"You'd better... " he said, waving at the worst of the wounds and hastily stepping away to regain some of his self-control. Buffy nodded, stepping in between the two of them, deliberately shielding one from the other.

"God, Giles," she said, tugging a knife from her belt and using it to gingerly cut at and peel away the bloodsoaked twine that still encircled her Watcher's wrists. "Don't ever scare me like that again, you hear? I thought... well, I *thought* you were going to be plant food for sure. And then... *Will*," she protested, glaring at the young woman in question as she reached to begin gently wrapping each of the man's damaged wrists with a padding of cotton wool and strips of cotton sheeting. There'd been plenty of both left in the laboratory supply cupboard, just as she'd expected. Nobody ever bothered to scavenge things like that.

"What?" she queried, smiling up at her best friend with the most innocent smile she could muster.

"What were you *thinking*? Were you trying to kill us both with that whole 'sky is falling' thing? I mean - yay for doing the slice and dice on the vegetable, but I would have got it. Eventually. We were trying to *rescue* him, not serve him up as sushi!"

"And thank you for *that* particular image," Giles murmured faintly, bringing the brief tug of a smile to everyone's expression. He didn't see that, since his eyes were shut, but the soft squeeze that Willow gave his hand conveyed the thought just as well. He squeezed back - painfully and with very little pressure, but enough to let her know he was on her side.

"It was *his* idea," she defended, a little wounded that Buffy might think she hadn't considered the risks involved. She had - but really she'd had no choice. Buffy hadn't been getting any closer to the plant thing and it had been amusing itself playing with her while Giles was busy bleeding to death in front of them. And besides, if Buffy *had* got close enough to be threatening, there would have been nothing stopping the thing from simply swallowing up its victim in a couple of bites.

Which was totally *not* an image she wanted in her head, and would be much easier to get out again if he wasn't lying there, peppered with glass shards and oozing blood from all those nasty scratches across his stomach and chest.

And back and legs ...

"We should get him to a hospital," she realised with anxious concern. "I think some of these need stitches."

"Some as in *most*," Xander assessed, half under his breath. "I'll go call 911."

{You know the meek are gonna get what's comin' to 'em
By and by... }


Things got a little chaotic after that. Xander raced off to make the call and came back with Bob the deputy janitor in tow. He'd heard the crash of the greenhouse roof collapsing - and he took one look at the wounded librarian and jumped to any number of sensible and totally erroneous conclusions. By the time the paramedics and the police arrived - one to ferry the by now semi-conscious Watcher to the hospital and the other to drag off the babbling and clearly insane Simon Kellman -- Buffy and Angel had slipped back into the ruins of the greenhouse and made absolutely certain there was nothing left of the plant creature but a whole load of glass slivers and mulch. Bob had learned of Frank's fate at Kellman's hands, the police had taken note of how the young man had tried to cover his tracks by attacking the school librarian when he'd discovered the murder, they'd *all* been congratulated over their lucky escape when the greenhouse roof had collapsed, and Willow was feeling totally wrung out, for all sorts of reasons.

Nevertheless, it was *she* who'd insisted in climbing into the ambulance with Giles and going with him to the hospital. Xander volunteered to get the weapons back to the library and make sure everything was locked safely away and Buffy and Angel left on patrol. Reluctantly, since Buffy was still extremely worried about her Watcher, but Giles insisted she should attend to her duty and go - and Willow promised she'd keep an eye on him and make sure he got the best of care.

{What we have here is an ethical dilemma... }


"So he wasn't *trying* to hang himself." The tallest nurse was grinning as she worked on changing sheets and preparing the examination bed for its next occupant. "Turns out it was all this bizarre game with silk scarves... "

"...and he just forgot about the overhead fan?" Her plump colleague giggled at the thought, efficiently stripped the pillow of its regulation protective covering and tossing it into the plastic receptacle the third of the trio was holding.

"Totally forgot. And then his girlfriend panics and tries to get up to switch the thing off... "

"... only *she's* got one ankle tied to the bed and she trips and goes flying. Knocks herself out on the dresser. If the night porter hadn't heard him hammering his heels on the bedhead, he'd have still been hanging up there when the maid came in to change the sheets in the morning."

The three of them exchanged a look. "Poor girl," the middle of the three decided, stuffing a rumpled sheet in with the pillow covers.

"The maid?"

"No - the girlfriend. Bad enough your date's a dork. But when he's a *klutz* too... well, that's just adding insult to injury."

"Amen, sister," the plump one declared with feeling. "Maybe she'll realise what a lucky escape she had."

"When she comes round."

"From the coma... "

"Excuse me?" The three of them turned. A young woman with long red hair was standing at the entrance to the alcove, a very anxious look on her face. "I-I'm looking for a doctor?"

"Aren't we all, sweetheart." The comeback was dry; the young woman coloured a little.

"No - I... my friend. He's - " Her hand waved in the vague direction of one of the occupied alcoves. "We been waiting for - well, forever, and he's hurting and there's blood and I really, really think he needs help. Now," she added, the word a little determined gulp of sound. The three nurses exchanged a glance.

"Is he on the list?" the tallest one asked, frostily.

"Well - yes, but... "

"Is he next in line?" The middle of the three spoke with less ice, but a lot more disinterest.

"No, but - "

"He'll wait," the three of them chorused, going back to their duties without a second thought. The young woman's expression flitted from puzzled, to hurt, and finally slid into indignation. She reached out and caught the plump nurse's arm.

"No. He. *Wont'*," she declared firmly. "I don't care about the list, I don't care about your *system*. I know you were busy earlier, I know there were people who needed the now thing much more than he did then, but *those* beds are empty and the people in white coats are just - hanging around, making beds and - and drinking coffee. My friend is hurting and he needs help, and that's why we came here in the first place. So do I get a doctor, or do I have to make a scene?"

The nurse looked down at the hand on her arm, and then up at angry, anxious eyes. "Honey," she asked softly, "you really think the world's going to come to an end if we just wait until his name comes up on the list?"

The young woman thought about that for a moment, a whole slew of emotions dancing in her eyes. Then she shivered, as if someone had walked over her grave. "Yes," she said, the word as confident as her expression, which had settled into tight resolve. The nurse smiled.

"In that case," she said, turning the young woman round and pointing at someone standing near the coffee machine. "You probably want to talk to that man over there."

{Your temperament's wrong for the priesthood
And teaching would suit you still less... }


"Don't move, she says," Giles muttered to himself, gingerly sinking a little further into the pillows and wincing as even that miniscule movement stirred the damage across his back. "Because, of course, I am about to leap to my feet and dance an energetic Rhumba or two... *Christ*... "

The last was a hiss of angry pain, a determined expression of the invective he'd been fighting down for the last two hours, bewilderedly grateful for Willow's hovering presence, and determined not to shatter her illusions of him as... well, some kind of story-book English gentleman. Finally left alone, even if only for a minute or two, he could swear like trooper, and he did just that - a muttered litany of furious curse words that did nothing to ease his discomfort, but allowed him to vent some deep-seated frustrations concerning his current wretched and unwelcome state.

It wasn't so much that it *hurt* - which it certainly did, given that some of his wounds were still bleeding and half of the skin on his body had been stripped back to a decidedly tender layer by the acids in the plant's juices - so much as the fact that he was lying in a hospital bed, waiting to be poked and prodded by curious doctors, when he *could* be suffering much more comfortably at home, exorcising his sense of humiliation at being strung up - to be plant food no less - with a generous measure of two of Scotch.

He ran out of breath before he ran out of invective, and retreated to the repetition of a slightly less earthy mantra in ancient Sumerian. He could probably summon one or two *real* curses if he put his mind to it, especially since he was - to all intents and purposes - lying in a welter of his own blood, but no good ever came of such impulses, and it would hardly be any kind of example to set Willow, who seemed very determined to take care of him, whether he wanted her to or not.

He sighed in between one span of the meditative mantra and the next, reluctantly letting the tempting thought of a good glass of single malt turn into one of distant promise. Much as he hated to admit it - and hated the looming onslaught of fuss, and the whole degrading routine of being an impatient patient - he needed to be here. The worst of his wounds needed stitching, the rest of them needed disinfecting and he probably needed a infusion of blood to replace what he'd lost. He almost undoubtedly had a concussion, and... "*Blast*," he realised, losing the rhythm of his words and with it some of the distance he'd managed to put between himself and the pain. The comforting liquor he'd been mentally reaching for went back on the proverbial shelf. Concussion and alcohol were never a good mix, no matter how excellent the vintage might be.

"Well now," a voice said, managing to sound both amused and harassed at the same time. "What have we here? Been in the wars, have we, Mr - uh... Giles?"

Giles blinked, making an effort to focus on the blur of white that had suddenly materialised at the foot of the examination bed. It looked like a doctor - or possibly someone impersonating one; the obligatory white coat seemed to have been flung over a casual crimson shirt and a pair of faded jeans. The man wearing them was at that suspect age between competent authority and looming elder statesmanship; his hair was fair, but turning grey, his face was lined but not craggy, and his eyes were twinkling with the kind of jollity that suggested he'd been an eternal embarrassment as a father but was about to make the best grandfather a child could ever have.

"No," Giles found himself drawling pointedly. "I'm just lying here in a pool of my own blood because it's the latest fashion trend... Gods' *sake*, man," he snapped. "What do *you* think?"

"*I* think we're feeling a little testy," the doctor said, grinning at Willow, who had appeared in his wake. She frowned, jerking her finger at the clipboard of notes the triage medic had left behind.

"Doctoring now, bedside manner later," she ordered firmly. "And yes," she added, turning her resolve face back towards the wounded Watcher and letting it dissolve into an anxious smile. "Definitely testy. But only in a 'lying here for hours and not getting the help he needs' kind of way."

"Quite," Giles acknowledged faintly, a little shaken by the way she was looking at him. He knew fear when he saw it and he was seeing it now, lurking under the anxiety, fuelling her impatient determination. Willow was *scared* - scared of what, he'd have been hard-put to say. Scared by the events of the evening? About having to be adult and responsible? Scared, perhaps, of letting him down and failing to get him the care she thought he needed? Scared she'd lose Buffy's respect, or Xander's friendship if she let anything happen to him?

Or... his heart turned over and his hand went out, instinctively reaching for hers.... was she simply scared of losing *him*?

She caught the hand - gently, he was relieved to note - and her smile grew a little more genuine, some of that panicked 'rabbit in the headlights' look fading from her expression.

"Oh," the doctor was chuckling as he flipped through the notes, "I'm sure it's not as bad as all that... " The note of banter faded. His smile tightened into a wary frown. "*How* long ago were you admitted?"

"Uh... " Giles wasn't entirely sure. It *had* been some time...

"Two and a half hours ago," Willow declared, her grip tightening a little around his fingers. "And he's in pain, and he's got concussion and he's *bleeding*. Just like I told you." The look she gave the doctor was challenging. He, in turn, looked horrified.

"Two and a half... " His eyes darted down to the notes, then back up to his patient, the twinkle in them flashing with a moment of sheer indignation and fury. "*Damn*," he growled - and kicked into action, a sudden whirlwind of barked orders and determined medical competency.

"IV, *stat*," he snapped at the nearest nurse, then grabbed for the next one as the first scurried away. "Scrub up, and bring me a sterile dressings trolley - antiseptics, swabs, sutures, the whole works." He was on to the third before the second had even finished her answering nod. "I need an immediate admission - observation bed, private room if possible. And if Giestman protests," he called after as she too hurried away, "tell him we've a PMP in progress and that he needs to get his ass down here asap."

"PMP?" Willow echoed faintly, her eyes going wide and her clasp on his hand becoming tight and desperate. "Is that... bad?"

The doctor threw her a rueful smile. "Only for us, young lady. Potential Malpractice I'm afraid. although," he added, perching himself on the edge of the bed and dragging a small torch out of his pocket, "I am rather hoping I can persuade you both that I can more than make up for our initial neglect... Let me take a look at this... " His hand was a gentle touch against Giles' chin, turning his head - first to study the bruising on his temple, and then to check the dilation of both pupils with a practised flick of his torch. The Watcher blinked under the impact of the light, wincing as the movement stirred his headache. "Good, good... "

The doctor's name was Thackery; at least, that was the name written on the battered tag which hung from his pocket. Close to he came wreathed in the scent of antiseptics, a hint of Old Spice and a much stronger hint of peppermint; the waft of it took Giles back years - back, in fact to days spent in the school infirmary, recovering from the honourable injuries of the English playing field. The school doctor - a member of the order, and Watcher trained, if never field assigned - had been firm and friendly and briskly reassuring in his bedside manner. He too, had smelt of peppermint; humbugs in his case, and never averse to handing a few around as a reward for 'bravery in the field of fire' as he'd joking called the ordeals of splinting broken bones, bandaging twisted joints, or dealing with cracked heads and bloody noses.

Back *then*, Giles had always thought his gruff tales of life on the frontline - his horror stories of field agents brought home with shattered ribs, their limbs half ripped off, or stricken with claw marks so deep that they'd scarred through to the bone - had been bold exaggerations, fables intended to put the fear of god into his impressionable charges. But now - lying under the gentle ministrations of another of the same breed, bleeding in more places than he cared to think about and determinedly ignoring the nightmare memories of nearly being eaten alive - the Watcher had to admit that maybe - just *maybe* - the old man might have been telling it like it is.

"Okay," Thackery decided, putting the torch away and turning to Willow with one of those warm smiles. "Now, I know you want stay with him, young lady, but - I have work to do. Bandages to change. Wounds to clean and stitch. And I think perhaps you should wait in the lobby while I get on with it. Ahah," he countered as she opened her mouth to protest. "*Don't* go trying that look on me again, if you please. It's a very effective look and I think you'll find that it works much better if you apply it in moderation. Mr Giles is in good hands, I can assure you - and if you're not willing to leave so as to avoid having to watch the really icky stuff, perhaps you'd consider doing so so that *he* doesn't have to lie there being all brave and stoic while I stick needles into him?"

Her eyes went wide again; Giles - who didn't really *need* the hint, but took it anyway - found her a brave smile and squeezed her hand to encourage her flight. "You should go home, Willow," he advised softly. "I'm sure I'll be fine."

"Mhmh," she denied, shaking her head. "PMP, remember? Not going until I know... okay," she agreed, subsiding under the twin glare of both doctor and patient. "I'll... wait. Maybe - maybe I should phone Buffy. Let her know... you know?"

"Yes," Giles breathed, because he *did* know - and it was a constant surprise to discover his young charges did occasionally worry about him. When they didn't have more important things to worry about, that is. "I think that would be an excellent idea."

"Go," Thackery commanded, fluttering his hands to drive her from the now-curtained cubicle. One of the nurses arrived as she left, bringing the IV he'd asked for. "Nice kid," the doctor observed, checking the equipment and nodding at the nurse to start removing the remains of his patient's clothing. "Yours?"

"Good Lord, no," Giles reacted, drawing in a sharp breath as the nurse's hands disturbed his tender skin. "She's... umm... a student of mine."

"Student, huh?" Thackery sounded amused. "Good one?"

"Very." The soft coldness of a swab brushed his arm, and then the IV needle sank into a vein, starting to feed him the fluid his body badly craved. "I ... umm... tutor a- a special group. Gifted students. T-that sort of thing... " There was more than simple saline in the drip; a slow, insistent warmth began to spread through him, soothing away the constant scream of his skin and muting the deeper protests of torn flesh and abused muscles.

"Good for you," Thackery smiled, lifting one of his wrists and gently starting the process of peeling away the makeshift bandaging. "And good for her, obviously. Wish I had your touch when it came to my interns. Ungrateful bunch. I doubt any of them would show me that kind of loyalty. You'll have to tell me your secret some time."

"N-no secret." He hissed as the bulk of the cotton padding fell away, his arm spasming with the sudden resurgence of pain. "Just... well, I - I don't know *what*, actually. They... tolerate my presence, seem to... *Christ*...consider me an expert in a few things. Even... listen to what I say. Occasionally."

Thackery's amused snort was a distracted reflex; he was actually staring at torn skin, carefully assessing the extent of the damage. "What the hell happened to you, Mr Giles?"

"It's... Rupert," Giles offered distantly, finding sudden appeal in a competent and professional adult addressing him by his given name. "And an insane gardener hit me with a shovel, tied me up with garden twine and attacked me with a rusty fork."

"Really?" the doctor questioned, with a raised eyebrow that suggested he knew a lot more about the nightlife of Sunnydale than the average sane person would admit to. The Watcher sighed.

"*Really*," he said, and closed his eyes, letting the caress of the painkillers carry him away.

{Show me your face
Clean as the morning
I know things were bad
But now they're okay}


"Well, he *said* he was fine - but there was blood and unfocusy vision - and then the doctor kinda went into overdrive after I dragged him over to do something. So I don't know."

Buffy muttered something at the other end of the phone. Willow pressed a little closer under the hood, trying to ignore the slightly raucous drunks who were busy singing bawdy love songs to the receptionist.

"Oh, yeah, I know *that* - 'cause he ordered an admission bed. The doctor, I mean. I think he's gonna keep him under observation for a while. That's ... yes, the concussion. And the - blood loss, I guess. Xander was right about the stitches. No - no, I-I don't think you need to come over. I'm sure he'll be fine. Yes. Yes, I will. Okay. I'll see you tomorrow? Good. Night."

She put the phone back on the hook and slowly walked back to the waiting area, wondering if a *half* lie was any better than a whole one. She wasn't sure that Giles would be fine. She wasn't sure how anyone could be 'fine' after something like that had happened to them. She was quite sure *she* wouldn't be. It would be nightmare city for weeks, and lots of avoidy behaviour around plants and stuff - not to mention being traumatised by needing to be stitched back together and the prospect of being scarred. For life.

She sighed and dropped onto one of the long padded benches, pushing a pile of well-thumbed magazines out of the way so she could make herself comfortable. She suspected that guys didn't worry so much about getting scars, and she also suspected that Giles would say he was fine, whether he was or not. But that wouldn't make it right.

She flicked idly though a couple of magazines, got herself a cup of coffee, drank that as slowly as she could, then put the empty cup down with another sigh, glancing first at the still curtained alcove just beyond the nurses' station, and then at the clock. It was past 'late' and heading for 'all good souls should be abed' - which was exactly where Buffy was going, and Xander probably *was*, and she ought to be but...

One of the white-coated nurses bustled out from behind the curtain, and Willow sat up for a moment - only to slump down again as the woman collected something from a trolley and vanished back behind the curtain again. The three nurses had been doing that for a while, waltzing in and out as if they were taking part in some obscure dance routine. Willow wasn't sure if they were helping or hindering Dr Thackery; she'd seen all sorts of strange things being taken in to him, the most sensible of which had been a trolley bearing softly steaming bowls of water, and a tray of what had looked suspiciously like hospital tea.

Not something Giles would be thankful for, she'd suspected when she saw it; hospital tea wasn't *real* tea - not like the kind of stuff he drank, anyway.

Another glance, a further sigh. She wasn't going to leave until she was sure he'd been properly taken care of. Because *someone* ought to. Giles didn't really have anyone... well, there was Miss Calendar, but that was all tentative and first date kind of stuff, not the way that Buffy had her Mom, and she had... well, she and Xander had each other, right? And they *all* had Giles looking out for them, even if he pretended to be grumpy about it most of the time.

[Well, okay, ]she admitted to herself, [sometimes he *is* grumpy, and not just pretending... ]

But she knew that was because he cared, and that his gruff lectures were a way of venting his frustrations at not being able to keep them out of trouble. A way, too, of dealing with the fear that haunted him, every time he sent Buffy out on patrol. He was her *Watcher*, and he was supposed to feel responsible for her - but no-one had asked him to feel responsible for the rest of them, and yet he did. *Seriously* did, which was kind of cool in a way; cool and oddly comforting - because knowing someone *really* cared, rather than said they did because they thought it was expected of them, was a whole dose-worth of warm fuzzies, all on its own.

There were, of course, lots of other ways that being around Giles inspired the warm fuzzy moments; the sweet glow she got whenever her praised her, the way he trusted her with his books, even the way he'd sometimes greet her arrival in the library with a smile.

But she'd never tell *him* that.

"Miss Rosenberg?"

The friendly-looking older doctor with the twinkling eyes and the cute laugh-lines was smiling down at her. He looked tired; his hair was tousled, his coat was rumpled - and there were spots of blood on it, darkening red blotches staining his sleeves. For the briefest of moments Willow feared the worst. She felt her stomach clench and her heart drop into her shoes. "Yes?" she squeaked, wide eyed and apprehensive. "Is - is Giles okay?"

"He's fine," Doctor Thackery assured her, offering her a hand to help her up. "At least, he will be, given a few hours' sleep and a little time to heal. We're going to keep him for the night - if that's okay with you?"

She nodded warily, her sense of relief un-knotting her stomach while she made herself breathe as slow and as evenly as she could manage.

"Nothing to worry about, of course." The doctor gently steered her towards the still curtained cubicle. "We just want keep an eye on him for a while - make sure that bump on the old noggin isn't going to give him any problems. They're going to be taking him up to the ward in a minute. I thought you might like to go with him. Tuck him in," he added with a grin.

"*Thank* you," she declared, her gratitude totally heartfelt and not all because he'd had the kindness to remember her in among the busy bustle of the evening. She was grateful that he'd listened to her concerns - and that he cared enough about his patients to step in when he was so obviously needed. Although if she caught sight of the *other* doctor - the one who'd put Giles way down on the list and had left him lying in misery for hours - then it was likely she'd give him a piece of her mind.

"You're welcome," Thackery smiled. "So's he. And don't look so worried. Most of the damage is superficial; he'll be up and about in no time. Little tender in places, for a while anyway," he confided warmly. "But nothing to panic over. Nothing to sue over, either," he suggested, not *entirely* in jest. Willow found him a wan grin of her own.

"Don't worry," she said, still looking anxious despite his reassurances. Tender was not fun. "I don't think... Giles doesn't like to make a fuss. Not unless it really needs to happen. And not so much about himself, either. Now," she added, a little ruefully, "if that had been *me* lying there... "

Thackery chuckled. "That, I can imagine," he said, his expression wry. "He's very fond of you, you know? Fond of all of his students by the sound of it. Good teachers like that are hard to find. I'd hang on to this one if I were you."

"Oh, we *will*," Willow assured him, pushing through the curtain and coming to an abrupt halt at the sight that awaited her. "We will... "

Gone was the bloodstained, dishevelled figure she'd left lying pale and shivering amongst the pillows. In its place was a much more reassuring vision; Giles was lying on his side rather than his back, an IV tube taped to one arm, and a blanket covering his legs. They'd replaced his torn and blood-soaked clothing with a clean hospital gown, and the hasty makeshift dressings and bandages with layers of pristine and professional linen. His face was still pale and his hair was still faintly tousled, but he looked so much better lying there that Willow felt all the knotty anxiety that had sat inside her for the past few hours simply melt away. She thought he might be asleep, but the sound of her voice flickered his eyes open; he blinked, focused, and then smiled at her with bemused delight.

"Good Lord," he murmured, a soft 'pumped full of painkillers' drawl. "Willow? Are you still here? I thought I told you to go home."

"You did," she smiled, moving to stand by him and wondering if he'd object to her reclaiming his hand. "But I didn't. I guess I can now. Since you're all - stitched up and everything." She gave in to the impulse and dropped her hand over his where it lay on the top of the blanket. He gave her a slightly startled look - then turned his palm and let her lace her fingers through his own.

"I certainly am," he sighed wearily. "And that sounds like a jolly good idea to me. You have school tomorrow, remember?"

She nodded; *she* didn't need the reminder, but Buffy certainly would have done. She found herself wondering if he wished that it had been Buffy who'd brought him to the hospital, if he'd have been less startled if it had been his Slayer who'd stayed... and then his hand tightened around hers with almost imperceptible pressure, and his smile widened just that little bit, and she knew it didn't matter one way or the other.

Because he was really, really glad to see her there.

"Thank you," he said, managing to pack more gratitude into those two words than a whole slew of gift-baskets and Hallmark cards would have conveyed. "F-for staying, I mean. And for... berating doctors on my behalf. I know you would have... much rather been elsewhere."

"Well yeah, but... so would you," she countered, a little self consciously. Being praised by Giles was always nice. Being *thanked* by him was even nicer. But she never felt entirely deserving of the first, and she didn't feel deserving of this at all. "I shouldn't have left you," she said, then coloured, realising how that might sound. "Not to be 'going on alone guy,' I-I mean. You're not - Buffy, you know."

"A fact I have been painfully reminded of tonight." He sounded vaguely embarrassed about it. "I was the one who told you to go - there's nothing to feel guilty about in that. And you kept your wits about you later. Picking up on my hint about the roof. You acquitted yourself well tonight, Willow. Much better than *I* did."

"Don't be silly," she said, half embarrassed by his adding praise to praise and half annoyed that he should seek to belittle himself after everything he'd been through. "It wasn't *your* fault that Simon hit you with a shovel. And you were all with the stoic bravery and stuff afterwards. You only screamed the once... "

She tailed off. He was looking at her with a slightly pained expression - one that had nothing to do with the cuts and the bumps and the bruises - and she suddenly felt extremely small. "Sorry," she gulped. "Not helping here, huh?"

His hand tightened on hers a second time, a little more firmly and with a lot more reassurance. "Actually," he said gently, "you're helping a great deal. But you should go *home*."

"I will," she promised, and *grinned* - because suddenly she knew everything was going to be okay, and they'd all be laughing about this by the end of the week - even Giles. "Just as soon as they get you into a real bed. Doctor Thackery," she confided happily, "promised I could tuck you in."

The upward roll of his eyes was *perfect*. As was his pained look and the inevitably martyred sigh. "Oh good *Lord*," he groaned.

But she knew he didn't mean it. Because he held on to her hand - and went on holding it, all the way up to the ward and afterwards. Right up until he finally fell asleep.

{Tell me this feeling lasts till forever
Tell me the bad times are clean washed away.}


Outside in the dark, three nurses leaving their shift - who were also three cheerleaders, still in school, and three *other* creatures altogether - paused to glance up at the still-lit windows of the ward, and smiled.

"I think they handled that pretty well, don't you?" the plump one said, a note of affection in her voice. The tallest one snorted.

"Sure," she drawled cynically. "And he's really going to survive the next few years with his slayer taking such good care of him, isn't he."

"He will," the middle one said, linking one arm with her older sister's, and the other with her younger's as they headed down the road and into the night. "Few bumps in the road, the odd knot in the thread and little heartache on the way, but... they'll make it. All of them. They have Fate and Chance and Destiny on their side."

"Yeah," the plump one chuckled. "Nice to know there's someone you can rely on to save the world. Again."

Their giggles floated back as they vanished into the darkness, their shapes blurring and fading into nothing but a lingering hint of starlight. The very last thing that might have been heard - if anyone had been around to listen - was the voice of the tallest, dropping into thoughtful tones.

"Now then," she said. "Where in the hell did the *next* one of those cursed things take root... "

{Hold your hat and hang on to your soul
Something's coming to eat the world whole
If we fight it we've still got a chance
But whatever they offer you
Though they're slopping the trough for you
Please, whatever they offer you
Don't feed the plants.}


END