In the Space of a Heartbeat
by Sonya and Erin



A Chevrolet Impala pulled up across the street from Hemery High School in Los Angeles, but no one noticed, least of all the four girls standing on the front steps gossiping about the next school dance.

"Is Tyler taking you?" one girl asked.

"Where were you when I got over Tyler?" demanded a gorgeous blonde with a smile even brighter than her pink outfit. "He's of the past."

She is so beautiful Angel thought from the protection of the Chevy with the shoe-polish-blackened windows. For a split second when looking at Buffy Summers, he felt a sense of wholeness creep over his soul. His hand started to reach for the door latch as his longing to help and protect this girl--the future Chosen One--washed over him. In Angel's mind, Buffy was more than she was right now--he could see her as she could be: a strong, vibrant woman saving the world from vampires and other creatures of darkness.

"Tyler would have to crawl on his hands and knees to get me to go to the dance with him," Buffy continued, gesturing with her lollypop. "Which, actually, he's supposed to do after practice, so I'm gonna wait."

"OK. See ya later," one of the other girls said, but Angel didn't even notice. The man, or perhaps demon was a better word, next to him shifted in the driver's seat, but Angel was oblivious.

Whistler, a self-proclaimed "good demon," elbowed Angel in the ribs, pointing to a portly man walking across the lawn. "That'll be her Watcher," Whistler hissed, excitement coloring his voice. "Just wait, any second now she's gonna get called."

"The Watchers do the calling?" Angel asked, confused.

"No!" Whistler replied. "It's a strange, mystical force. A Slayer Essence if you will. It goes from one girl to the next after a Slayer's death. But this time the Watchers know when it's gonna happen. The last slayer is a mental vegetable. They're turning off the machines today. Probably already have. Any second now it's gonna happen. Shut up and watch, OK?"

Angel started at the Watcher. He knew that this bittersweet moment would change Buffy's life forever. Yes, she would become the Slayer, and she would grow strong and mature, but the innocence that exuded from the simple schoolgirl would be lost. And, as Angel knew better than anyone, once innocence was lost, it could never be regained.

The loud squealing of brakes caught Angel's attention and his eyes darted back to where Buffy had been standing. She was gone.

"Oh, shit," Whistler muttered under his breath.

"Where is she?" Angel demanded. "I can't see through all this shoe polish."

Whistler shook his head and put the Impala in reverse, angling the car so the vampire could see. Angel looked out the window, ducking to avoid a sunbeam. When he raised up again, he saw it. A black pickup truck stopped in the middle of the crosswalk that led from the school lawn to the football field across the street. A tall young man with a shock of dark hair and a terrified expression stood next to the truck. "I didn't even see her," he moaned to anyone who would listen. "She just darted right out in front of me."

"You're supposed to yield to pedestrians, you jerk!" yelled one of the girls that had been hanging around Buffy on the steps. She tried to slap the boy, but another student pulled her away.

A crowd had begun to form around the truck, but Angel could see something that would have made his heart stop with dread--if he still had a heart. Buffy's hair lay in red-stained tangles against the black asphalt. Her tanned face was white, and her eyes were closed. Buffy was obviously unconscious. But the most horrifying thing was the unnatural way her legs were bent behind her. Angel squinted and thought he saw the white glint of bone in the punishing sunlight.

"Is she going to be OK?" the driver of the truck cried. The boy looked like he'd stepped into his worst nightmare. A woman, probably a teacher, touched his arm. "Don't worry, Bobby. Someone's already called the ambulance."

A man in a cap with a whistle around his neck leaned over Buffy's fallen body. He touched her throat. "She's alive," he called, and a wave of relief went over the crowd. But the relief didn't extend to those in the car.

"Look," Whistler said, pointing to the lawn. Angel looked and saw the Watcher standing dumbstruck. Then the portly man simply turned and walked away.

"What's going to happen now?" Angel demanded, looking at Whistler with despair-filled eyes. "How can an injured Slayer save the world?"

Whistler shook his head. "She wasn't called. She's not the Chosen One. The powers will go to someone else."

"Someone else?" Angel repeated. The words didn't make sense to him. "But what about Buffy?"

"She's just Buffy Summers now. She's just a human."

Angel heard ambulance sirens in the distance. He rolled up the window slowly, as if in a daze. Whistler started the car, and drove away from the accident.

"Where are we going?" Angel asked a few minutes later, mostly just to drown out thoughts of Buffy.



Whistler nodded. "There's still going to be a Slayer, and that's where she'll end up. You're needed there to help her stop the Master when it's time for the Harvest."

"But Buffy..."

"Get over Buffy!" Whistler slammed his hand down on the top of the steering wheel. "Buffy isn't important anymore! You have to help the Slayer!"

Angel looked blankly at Whistler.

"The next girl in line was called instead of Buffy, and the new Slayer will go to Sunnydale," Whistler explained slowly. "That's why the Watcher left--to call the Council and see who the prophecies say is the next Chosen One. Do you get it now?"

Angel said nothing, and let Whistler drive wherever he wanted.

Part One

Sunnydale, California


Dawn was a long time in coming. Buffy Summers couldn't sleep. The boxes towering around her in her new room in the house she and her mother, Joyce, had just moved into made unusual, scary shadows on the light pink walls. Buffy's legs ached, and she couldn't sleep. She knew it was a phantom pain, but that didn't make it any better.

At a little past three o'clock, her mother stuck her head in the door. Buffy smiled. "Hi, Mom."

"I didn't mean to wake you up," Joyce said with a concerned-mother look. She came in and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Are you hurting?"

Buffy nodded.

"You're scared about tomorrow, aren't you?"

Buffy nodded again. After the accident, she'd broken both her legs in several places. She was in traction for months and months. Then the doctors let her move on to a wheel chair, then a walker, then crutches, then braces and finally she was able to walk again. Intellectually, Buffy knew her legs were healed, but sometimes they still hurt. The doctor said her legs would tell her when the rains came. Buffy knew from experience that her legs ached when she was stressed or upset. They'd ached like they had right after the accident on the night her dad finally moved out of the house. They'd also ached the night her mother told her about her new job and their upcoming move to Sunnydale.

"I miss Daddy," Buffy whispered.

Joyce looked pained. She laid a hand on Buffy's knee. "I miss your daddy, too," she admitted. "But you know that we tried to work things out. We just couldn't."

"It was because of me, wasn't it?" Buffy's voice was almost a whisper. "Because of all the stress after the accident and all the doctor's bills and things..."

Joyce looked horrified. "No, Buffy! Never, ever think that! Your dad and I both love you very much. We just aren't in love with each other anymore."

She paused, wiping her daughter's tears away. "And that's why Sunnydale will be such a great new start for us. I've got a great job at the gallery. They really need me here. And Sunnydale high had a wonderful reputation. I think you'll benefit from being in school with fewer people. I know you tried to pull your GPA up after you missed so much school, and you did so well catching up with your lessons--and now, you've got a year and a half here in Sunnydale to finish the job."

Buffy hugged her mother. Somewhere deep inside she still believed that she was the cause of the divorce, at least partially, but her mother always made her feel better. Buffy was able to push the fear back under the surface where it belonged.

Smoothing Buffy's hair back, Joyce said, "Will you be able to sleep now?"

"I hope so." Buffy smiled a little.

"That's my girl," Joyce said. "I'm sure, once tomorrow, the first day, is over, things will get back to normal." Joyce patted Buffy one last time, and kissed her on the forehead. Then she tucked the girl in firmly, and left the room.

Buffy snuggled under her quilt, relieved that for now the pain had lessened. But tomorrow still loomed. Things hadn't been normal since Bobby Brunswick hit her with his pickup truck. Sunnydale High might be the perfect place for her to excel academically with smaller classes and college prep options, but normal--popularity, the phone ringing off the hook, girls hanging on her every word, boys lining up to ask her out--the accident had stolen all that from her, and Buffy didn't think she would ever get it back.

From her bed, Buffy looked out her curtainless window. She could barely see a tiny silver of moon over the top of the house next door. She wondered what everyone else was doing underneath that very same moon.

The moon was just a small sliver of light in the otherwise black sky, illuminating the rows upon rows of tombstones with its ghostly pale glow. Xander decided that the moon seemed lonely without the stars out to keep it company during the long night. Twirling a sharp, wooden stake between his fingers and humming a song that he'd just heard on the radio, Xander walked between the many graves, still feeling like an intruder even after all these months of patrolling. It was like he was trying to fill someone else's shoes, but they just happened to be about 5 sizes to large. So now he was stuck tripping over his own feet in this clownishly oversized foot apparel that would never fit him properly, no matter how much he grew or changed ... metaphorically speaking, that is.

Looking down at his own black boots, Xander grinned. His slaying abilities might be in question as of late, but his shoe size was happily still the same as it had always been. "The more things change the more they stay the same," Xander mumbled, quoting a book he'd read somewhere, though for the life of him, he couldn't remember the book's name. Scholastic aptitude had never been his forte.

Suddenly, Xander's musing was cut short by the sound of wood splintering and breaking nearby. Gripping his stake tightly in his right hand, he jogged toward the sound, weaving around the tombstones with an ease that only one familiar with the graveyard's layout could possibly possess. Rounding a rather large mausoleum at breakneck speed, Xander skidded to a halt in front of a tombstone engraved with the name "Owen Thurman" in bold letters. Coming from beneath the freshly piled dirt was a pair of pale, bony hands. "Too bad," Xander murmured sadly as he watched the vampire continue to claw his way free of the earth. "Owen might have been a little too into his Emily Dickinson, but he definitely didn't deserve this."

Xander waited until the vampire formally known as Owen managed to pull himself completely from the ground before he moved in, stake in hand. The newly born demon tried to fight back, but he didn't stand a chance. After all, Xander had been trained by the best. Avoiding the thing's sloppy punches and kicks easily, Xander stabbed the vampire through the heart with his stake and quickly stepped back as it exploded into a pile of dust, coating Xander's new leather jacket with the nasty brown stuff.

Though he was busy trying somewhat unsuccessfully to brush the vamp dust off of his clothes, Xander still wasn't surprised to hear a voice shout out from behind him, "Too slow, numbskull! If there had been any more of them you would be dead right about now!"

Xander smirked, turning around to face his own worst critic. "Yeah, whatever," he replied, rolling his eyes. "I'd like to see you do any better, Wheels."

A young girl who looked to be in her late teens was sitting behind Xander, partially concealed by the shadows of the mausoleum, though even the darkness couldn't completely hide the fact that she was sitting in a wheelchair. "Just give me half a chance, Harris." Sonya Parker gave her protege a hard look before allowing the hint of a smile to escape, briefly lighting up her face and making her blue eyes sparkle mischievously.

"I saw that smile," Xander announced with a grin. "Now don't you start going soft on me, Parker. That would turn my world all askew."

Sonya laughed, allowing Xander to guide her wheelchair out of the graveyard. "Oh, horror of horrors, Mr. Chosen One!" Her voice was practically dripping with sarcasm. As they made their way through the cemetery gates and toward Xander's car, Sonya looked up at the dark haired boy and stopped him with a raised eyebrow and a puzzled frown. "Did my ears deceive me or did the word 'askew' just escape your lips?"

Xander picked Sonya up, carefully cradling her in his arms as he carried her over to the passenger side of his old, beat-up jeep and placed her inside. As he was folding up her wheelchair and placing it behind her seat, he replied, "What can I say? I've definitely been spending too much time with Giles. His vocabulary is starting to rub off on me." Xander finished getting her wheelchair stored and then he hopped into the driver's seat and gunned the engine, pulling out of the graveyard's parking lot with a squeal of tires. "Don't tell him I said so, though. He'd never let me hear the end of it."

Sonya smiled as the wind whipped her chestnut colored hair around her face. "Your secret's safe with me, Harris."

The next morning, Buffy got ready for her first day of school quickly. She showered and pulled her hair back into a pony tale. That alone gave her a sense of accomplishment. After the accident, her mom had made her cut her hair--it was too hard for Buffy to take care of in a body cast. Now it was finally long enough to be pulled back. Then she pulled on a white shirt with buttons, a pair of khaki overalls and her favorite black boots. The boots came up underneath her pants legs to mid-calf, giving her legs plenty of support.

Buffy grabbed her backpack, complete with notebooks, folders and pencils, munched a piece of toast for breakfast, and then hopped into the car with Joyce. They pulled up at the front of the school a few minutes later.

Joyce looked at Buffy. "You're all registered and everything. You should just have to stop by the office and pick up your schedule. Do you want me to come in with you?"

"No!" Buffy said quickly. Then she looked at her mom and softened. "I mean, I'd love for you to, but to have my mommy with me on the first day--it would be the kiss of death." Buffy grinned, and Joyce followed suit.

"All right, dear." Joyce gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "Have a wonderful day. Meet lots of new friends, and I'll see you at five."

Buffy kissed her mom back, and then hopped out of the car. "Lots of new friends, right," she muttered as she started the long, lonely walk up the sidewalk to the front doors of the building.

"Ooof!" Buffy grunted as someone bumped into her, hard. She was knocked off balance, and fell to the ground. Papers the other person had been holding scattered with the breeze.

"Now see what you've done!"

Buffy looked up and saw a tall, beautiful girl with thick brown hair and an angry expression.

"Who do you think you are?" the girl demanded as Buffy got to her feet again.

"Buffy Summers," Buffy replied, leaning over to gather up some of the papers.

The girl snatched the papers back. "Well, you've ruined everything now."

Buffy caught a glimpse of one of the papers. It said: Cordelia Chase for Prom Queen. Underneath was a picture of the girl standing in front of her.

"Isn't it a little early for prom queen?" Buffy asked, confused.

The girl laughed. "Shows what you know. You have to cultivate the vote early if you want to win. I'm a junior. I've got stiff competition from some of those seniors. But I'm going to be the first junior prom queen in SHS history!"

"Well, good luck," Buffy replied, remembering a time when a campaign like this would have been all-encompassing to her. But popularity contests hadn't been an option for her for a long time.

"Whatever." Cordelia finally tired of talking to the new girl and turned away.

"Wait," Buffy called.

Cordelia turned back and raised an eyebrow.

"Which way is the office?" Buffy asked in a small voice, feeling completely intimidated by the beauty in the skin-tight sweater and black mini-skirt.

Cordelia pointed and then rejoined some girlfriends a few feet away. The girls all started laughing as Buffy walked by, and Buffy could swear she heard the blonde say, "What kind of name is Buffy anyway? Is she a cocker spaniel?"

Her face flaming, Buffy made her way silently into the hallowed halls of Sunnydale High, hoping that no one else would notice her.

As the bell rang for first period, Xander made his way through the crowded halls of SHS with little difficulty. Most of the students knew to stay out of his way after word of the "Halloween Incident" had gotten got out, so navigating the halls wasn't a problem for him. Spying a familiar brunette walking towards him, Xander sighed. Too bad Cordelia Chase wasn't intimidated by him; then his life would be a lot easier.

"Well, well, well," Xander said with a smirk, "If it isn't the Ice Queen, come to honor us little people with her esteemed presence!"

Cordelia simply raised an eyebrow, noticing the fresh cut on Xander's cheek, the latest in a stream of injuries brought on by his slayer duties. "What's the matter, Harris? Did your father forget to teach you how to shave properly before he passed out from alcohol poisoning this morning?"

Xander felt his cheeks flame from embarrassment. True, his poor family life wasn't a secret, but having it brought up for public mockery like this still stung. In retaliation, he snapped, "Wow, it looks like you're actually moving on up to two-syllable words, Chase. Your mommy must be so proud!"

Cordelia just snorted, breezing by him with her precious prom queen flyers clutched protectively to her chest. Her group of followers trailed behind her, whispering to each other. "Gossiping about me, no doubt," Xander muttered under his breath, trying to convince himself that he didn't really care what they thought.

Shrugging it off, Xander made his way to class quickly, trying to beat the tardy bell. His little chat with Cordelia had put him behind schedule and Mrs. Jacobs would have his head if he was late to class again this week.

Xander ran the last few steps and darted through the door, sliding into his seat near the front of the room with mere seconds to spare. Luckily, the teacher was late herself, so she didn't notice his last minute arrival.

A few minutes later, the door to the classroom opened and Mrs. Jacobs walked in, followed by Principal Snyder. Xander briefly wondered what was going on, but his curiosity was short-lived. "Class, we have a new student here today," Snyder announced in his nasal voice. "Please welcome Miss Buffy Summers." As the door to the classroom opened once again, Xander felt his heart stop as he watched the new girl walk uncertainly into the room. She was beyond beautiful. She was perfection. Her golden blonde hair was pulled back in a simple pony tail that helped accentuate her lovely features. Her clothing wasn't trendy like most of the Cordelia wannabe's, but her plain overalls and boots were just right in Xander's opinion. However, the thing that stood out the most about her was her eyes. They had a sadness in their green depths that reminded Xander of himself in a way. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but something about Buffy Summers called out to him; he felt like he'd known her for forever when in reality they'd never even spoken to each other before.

Xander snapped out of his daze when he heard the teacher telling Buffy to take a seat where ever she wanted. He glanced at the empty seat directly in front of him and held his breath anxiously, waiting to see where Buffy would sit...

Part Two

Buffy looked around the room a little nervously, unsure as to where she should sit. There were a couple of empty seats in the back, but that would mean walking through the room. Mrs. Jacobs touched her shoulder, and Buffy knew she should pick. This isn't a hard decision she told herself. Then her eyes lighted on a chair near the front. She smiled quickly at the teacher and slid into the seat gratefully. She sat her backpack down on the floor and dug inside it for a notebook and a pencil. While her head was turned she caught a glimpse of someone behind her. Her eyes moved back and met the deep, brown eyes of a very handsome boy.

Buffy didn't know why she thought him so handsome. He wasn't the type of guy she used to go for -- slick, polished, charming, a class president or a football player (though he did have muscles evident under his T-shirt) --but there was something about his eyes. Something serious in them that reflected the serious way Buffy had felt inside since the accident and since all her so-called friends had abandoned her. Realizing that Mrs. Jacobs was starting class without her attention, Buffy flashed a timid smile at the boy behind her and then settled in her desk to listen to the lecture.

As Mrs. Jacobs droned on and on about the proper structure of a Haiku, Xander tried his best to pay attention. However, every time he managed to get into the learning groove, he would catch a whiff of Buffy Summer's perfume, tickling his nose with the sweet scent of rose petals, and then his Haiku-oriented thoughts would scatter to the proverbial wind. Xander sighed, dropping his pencil back down on his desk and running a shaky hand through his dark hair, trying to regain his sense of composure. What is wrong with you? he berated himself harshly. You're acting like you've never seen a girl before in your life, you doofus! Now quite drooling over the blonde and pay attention to what Mrs. Jacobs is saying before you end up flunking out of yet another class!

However, before Xander could get his concentration fully back on the matter at hand, Mrs. Jacobs pulled a surprise out of her hat... namely a pop quiz on the Haiku. Every student in the class was to write at least two different Haiku's and turn them in at the end of the class period, which was in under 15 minutes. Xander pulled out his notebook and flipped to a blank page. With his pen poised to write, he paused, trying to think of something to put down. What is it they always say? he thought to himself. Write what you know.

Xander began to chew on the end of his pen nervously as he tried to come up with something to write about. But what did he possibly know about poetry? Nothing, that's what. The only things he knew about were ambush tactics and the top 5 most efficient ways to kill a vampire, hardly prime literary material. Oh, well, Xander sighed. I'm probably going to end up failing this class no matter what I write, so I can pretty much write about whatever suits me.

Xander gave up trying to be cool and just started writing about whatever was on his mind. In less than a minute, he had written three different poems and was already working on filling up another page with them. Xander grinned. Maybe he wasn't so bad at this poetry thing after all.

Suddenly, the intercom buzzed and a voice announced, "Will Alexander Harris please report to the library?"

At the teacher's nod of permission, Xander stood and gathered up his books quickly, thrusting them inside his bookbag and hurrying up to the teacher's desk to turn in one of his Haiku pages. Then he made his way quickly out the door, heading for the library to see what doomsday prophesy Giles was carrying on about now. In the back of his mind, he regretted not being able to introduce himself to the new girl, but he shrugged it off as best he could, telling himself to forget about her. After all, now that he was spending most of his time killing vampires and saving the world, dating was delegated to the bottom of his priority list. However, even though he tried to convince himself that he was better off without the extra complications that dating someone would bring into his life, Xander still couldn't get the image of Buffy's golden hair out of his thoughts. Amid all of that introspective thinking, Xander failed to notice that one of his Haiku pages had fallen out of his bag and onto the floor next to a certain blonde-haired student's desk.

Buffy watched the dark-haired boy leave with a small bit of disappointment. She'd spent the whole, boring class thinking about what to say to him after the bell ring. Unfortunately, "Hi, I'm Buffy," was the best opening line she'd come up with, and now she wouldn't even get a chance to use that. Oh, well Buffy told herself with a small smile, there's always tomorrow.

And then she got a downer thought. What if Alexander already had a girlfriend? He probably did. Most good looking guys already did, so what were the odds that this one was free and interested?

When the bell rang, Buffy gathered her papers and shoved them all into her backpack. There was one paper laying on the floor. Buffy figured it washers, too, and added it to the bunch in the backpack. On her way out of the room she handed Mrs. Jacobs her poems about dark eyes and never-ending love(cliche, she knew, but all she could come up with on the spur of the moment). Then she made her way to her next class, history. It wasn't far down the crowded hallway, so she didn't get lost. In fact, she got there early, introduced herself to the teacher, and he directed her to a prime seat near a window. Buffy smiled and sat down. She began rifling through her backpack for her notebook, when a piece of paper fell out.

"What is this?" she muttered, not recognizing the handwriting. It was three Haiku's written in a masculine hand.

I'm living alone
in a world full of danger
no one understands.

Night falls around me
shadows overtake my soul
How can I escape?

Golden Angel, come
rescue me from endless night
Help me find myself.

The passion of the exercise in poetry made Buffy sit back in her seat. Then she looked up and saw Cordelia, of all people, coming into the room followed by a bevy of giggling girlfriends. Buffy quickly folded the paper and slid it into her pocket. There was no way she was going to share this with anyone. It had to have been written by Alexander. No other boys had been close enough to drop it into her stuff.

Cordelia walked right by Buffy's desk and nudged it with her hip, sending Buffy's pencils rolling to the floor in three different directions.

"Oops," Cordelia said with a fake smile. "Sorry, Muffy."

"It's Buffy," Buffy growled, bending over the pick up the pencils.

"All right, Buffy," Cordelia corrected herself with a raised eyebrow. Then she turned to her friends and sat down in her seat, two behind Buffy and one row over. "Jeez, some people have no compassion."

Buffy rolled her eyes but didn't respond. Instead she thought about the dark-haired Alexander and the poetry in his soul.

"There you are," Giles snapped impatiently when Xander finally entered the library. "It's about time."

The librarian looked haggard and tired. There were purple circles underneath the eyes hidden by wire-rimmed glasses, and his brown hair was not impeccably combed as usual, like he'd been running his fingers through it.

Before Xander could respond, Giles looked at the pseudo-Slayer with worry in his eyes. "I need you to go and find Sonya. I'm worried about her. She didn't check in either last night or this morning."

His voice trailed off as he thought about the events that had led them to this point. He was the first Watcher whose Slayer had been paralyzed in battle. If the Council knew about Sonya's medical problems, they would recommend termination. It was the Council way -- saving the world was more important than one girl's life. But Giles didn't agree with that. He'd worked with Sonya for a year, and he knew that she deserved to live. If not for Xander volunteering to slay, Giles couldn't have kept the secret. But with the lad's help, and some from Angel - the vampire with a soul - they'd been able to figure out a workable routine that kept the Council in the dark and the bad guys terminated, for the most part.

When Giles was in Watcher training, he remembered hearing rumors of a healing spell that was so strong it could cure even paralysis and other major medical problems. Now Giles and Sonya's main quest, aside from training Xander, was to find that spell, if it existed. If it was real, it was very well hidden. The Council looked down on anyone using magic spells with power of that magnitude for obvious reasons.

But there was one problem with Giles' quest to keep Sonya alive -- well, one main problem. She wasn't convinced that she needed to stay alive. Sonya had been a bit bipolar after the accident. Sometimes she cried in Giles' arms, begging him to help her learn to live again now that she wasn't whole. Other times, Sonya got angry, trashing the house the two of them shared and demanding that he kill her so the next Slayer could be called.

It was a never-ending balancing act that always kept Giles on his toes between the Slayer and the Council. Giles drew his thoughts back to reality and the boy standing in front of him. He realized his tone had been sharp, and Giles knew that he didn't always show Xander enough gratitude or respect. Xander was all that kept Giles' balancing act from collapsing in ruins. Softening his tone, Giles said awkwardly, "I'm afraid that something dire happened after you separated from her after patrolling, or that she's done something dire herself. She's been gone all night. Sometimes she shows a predilection to do that, so I did not worry until I got here. But when she stays out she always checks in with me here in the morning."

Xander's face went from placid to worried in a split-second. Giles knew that Sonya and Xander had become friends of a sort during their training periods together, and the librarian was glad for the ally in finding the missing girl. "Don't worry, Giles. I'll find her," Xander vowed, determination evident in his voice and in the set of his jaw. Then he turned and headed for the doors at a run.

"Good luck," Giles called. "Don't worry about school. If anyone notices, I'll cover for you, and let me know what has happened as soon as you get back."

Part Three

The underground cavern that had once housed the Master's lair was no more. Huge rocks blocked the entrance to anyone that happened to come that way. Sonya Parker sat staring at the stones with a dazed expression on her face. There was no sound in the dark passage except that of her fingers restlessly tapping on the arms of her wheelchair. As she stared straight ahead, memories flashed through her mind, memories from a time when she hadn't needed this damned wheelchair...

---Beginning of Flashback---

Sonya was stalking her prey with an ease and grace that only the Chosen One could possess. She had followed the female vampire all across town, trying to figure out what the creature was up to. Finally, Sonya had tracked her here, to this old, run down tree house on the far side of town. She waited until the vampire had disappeared inside the doorway before she began climbing the ladder after her, careful not to make the slightest sound. Once she neared the top, she heard voices...

"Willow? Is that you?" a male asked tentatively. His voice was raw and scratchy, as if he'd just been crying.

"Of course it's me, silly. Who else would it be?" purred a new voice, obviously the vampire that Sonya had been tracking across town.

"But... I thought you were dead..." Now there was a definite sense of doubt and even fear in the male's voice. Sonya nodded to herself. Whoever he was, the guy was no fool. He sensed that something was amiss.

"I'm not dead, Xander," replied the vampire in a seductive whisper, "I'll never be dead."


"And I'm here to give you that same gift. We can be together, Xander. Don't you see? We can be together forever, literally. All you have to do is say yes, Xander. Just one little word and everything will be OK again..."

Sonya decided that she had heard enough. Quickly climbing up the last few steps, Sonya pulled herself up into the tree house and came face to face with the redheaded demon. "Slayer!" she hissed, quickly changing into her true face, "You'll die for this intrusion!"

Sonya grinned, pulling a stake out of her jacket sleeve. "I think not."

The vampire, Willow was what the guy had called her, looked down at the stake with real fear in her yellow eyes. Looking back at her intended prey, she proclaimed, "I'll be back for you, Xander." Then she looked at Sonya, who only raised an eyebrow and lifted the stake higher.

Growling, Willow viscously pushed Sonya down and made a beeline for the door, leaping to the ground and running away as fast as her demon legs could carry her.

Sonya considered going after the vampire, but then her eyes landed on the boy huddled in the corner of the tree house. Sighing, she decided to let the vampire get away and took a step toward the boy. "Are you okay?"

He didn't seem to hear her. His eyes were un-focused and he seemed to be in a state of shock. All he could do was wrap his arms around his knees, rock back and forth and murmur over and over again, "Oh, God. Willow. Oh, God."

Sonya groaned inwardly. Great, now I have to deal with this basket case when I should be chasing that vampire instead! However, she made sure to plaster a friendly smile on her face and act like she really cared. Maybe she'd be able to hand him off to Giles and let the librarian handle this. Then she'd be able to finally get back to work.

---End of Flashback---

Sonya smiled to herself. Her first meeting with Xander had been less than impressive. If someone had told her then that the boy she'd saved would one day take over her duties as Slayer and go on to become her closest friend, she wouldn't have believed them. But he had.

Sonya looked down at her arms, tracing a finger over the thin line of scar tissue that ran from her wrist up to her elbow on each one. And he had done more than just be her friend, hadn't he? He'd even saved her life.

Xander was running. Tombstones flashed by him as he ran through the graveyard as fast as he possibly could. Once he reached the mausoleum, Xander skidded to a halt. He pushed open the heavy oak doors and made his way inside, heading for the door at the back of the structure. The chains that used to keep the back door closed had long since been removed, so Xander had no trouble making his way into the tunnels that ran underground.

As he walked through the dark passages, many different thoughts flitted through his mind, each one presenting a new scenario involving Sonya's death. As his imagination continued to run wild, Xander quickened his pace, something inside him telling him to hurry.

He rounded a corner and almost ran right into the wheelchair sitting in front of him. The woman sitting in the chair didn't look up or acknowledge his presence in any way. As he watched the gentle rise and fall of her chest, relieved to see that she was indeed still alive, he remembered a similar time in their lives. However, the last time he'd found her here, she'd been lying unconscious on the ground, blood from two, gaping, self-inflicted wounds puddling around her and coating her hair in its sticky redness.

He had taken her to the hospital immediately and then spent the entire night sitting by her bedside as the machines keeping her alive made soft beeping and whirling noises, not knowing whether or not she was going to live. That had been one of the scariest times of his young life.

Xander placed a gentle hand on the brunette's shoulder, softly inquiring, "Sonya? Are you okay?"

At first she didn't respond. Then, she slowly seemed to come out of her daze and looked up at him with tears in her eyes. "It's been an entire year, Xand. A whole year..."

Suddenly, Xander understood. A year ago today, she had lost the use of her legs in this very place and thereby changed the course of both of their lives. Not saying a word because no words were needed between them at this juncture, Xander simply reached down and picked her up, cradling her in his arms as she cried out her anger and frustration on his shoulder.

After a few moments, he set her back down in the wheelchair and then pushed Sonya out of this place and to his car, setting her gently in the passenger side seat. She was still crying, though not as much as before, and he took that as a good sign. After folding the wheelchair and placing it in the back of his jeep, Xander got into the driver's seat and began the long drive back to the high school at a considerably slower pace than he'd been driving before.

Once they reached the high school, Xander parked the car directly behind the library and killed the engine, turning to face Sonya. She had long since stopped crying and was in the process of wiping her eyes and reapplying her makeup. "Are you ready to go in?" he asked, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.

She nodded, sniffling a little bit. "Yeah. I'm ready."

Xander didn't reply, but instead he got out of the car and reached in back to retrieve her wheelchair, setting it by her side. Then he picked her back up and got her situated in her chair, closing and locking the car up behind them. As Sonya adjusted her cross necklace around her neck, Xander pushed her toward the back doors of the school and into the hallway. "You have Home Ec this period, right?" he asked as he wheeled her down the deserted halls.

"Yeah, but it's way too late for me to go. The class is almost over by now."

Xander nodded, "Okay, then we can just go to lunch early so we can beat the crowds."

Sonya grinned, "You may need to beat the crowds, but I don't. They just let me go to the front of the line because they feel like they're obligated to, which doesn't bother me much."

"Don't gloat," Xander retorted, "It's not becoming."

Sonya laughed, "So says the man who made an art form out of it!"

"I do NOT gloat," Xander replied defensively. Seeing Sonya's raised eyebrow, he added, "...much." Suddenly, Xander stopped walking mid-step and groaned loudly, slapping a hand to his forehead. "Oh, no!"

"What?" Sonya asked, concerned.

"I forgot all about my Chemistry homework while I was tracking you down. Mr. Franklin will kill me if I don't turn it in today!" Giving Sonya an apologetic smile, he said, "I've gotta go back to my locker for my Chem. book so I can finish the assignment. I'll meet you in front of the cafeteria in a few minutes, okay?"

Sonya nodded, "That's fine. After all, I am a big girl. I can take care of myself, you know, Harris."

"Well, you could've fooled me," Xander replied, grinning to let Sonya know that he was only joking with her. As he headed off down the hallway, he called back over his shoulder, "I'll see ya in a few minutes, Wheels!"

Once Xander got to his locker, he quickly dialed the combination and grabbed his book, slamming the locker door shut behind him and taking off down the hall just as the bell signaling the end of fourth period began to ring.

Xander groaned to himself. Great, he thought, soon these halls are going to be full of kids heading to lunch and I'll never be able to find Sonya!

Xander quickened his pace, hoping to beat the crowds.