The Burkle-Summers Guide To Frozen Precipitation, Areas In Which It May Be Found, And Circumstances Surrounding Its Fall
by glossolalia

1. Boston

Chance of flurries, light accumulation

They're actually out in a bed and breakfast in Natick, not Boston-proper, take-out cartons of Chinese scattered around, when the flurries start.

Fred squeaks and rushes to the window; like Buffy, she grew up without snow. It makes them both giddy. She rests her cheek against Buffy's shoulder when Buffy joins her.

"Pretty," Fred says.

Buffy doesn't say anything, just watches the little flakes blowing past.

It took Buffy a while to notice Fred. She took her own sweet time about it, Fred likes to say. Buffy prefers to think that it kind of happened in fits and starts, which is all Buffy's fault and nothing to do with Fred. She'll reassure Fred of that fact until the cows come home.

Where do the cows go, anyway? School? Maybe work. Black-and-white cows in little dress-for-success suits, floppy ties and shoulder pads. That'd be cute.


So it took her a while to notice Fred, but it's not like Buffy didn't have a lot on her mind. And while Fred usually seemed to be in the background of whatever was currently preoccupying Buffy, the operative word there is background.


2. London

Visibility low, hail the size of Orbs of Thessula

  The call came in the middle of the night, summoning her back to Giles'. Her flight from Rome was delayed due to a hailstorm over London, arcs of lightning flashing over the white. By the time Buffy made it to the apartment that was serving as Giles' home, the new headquarters for the Council, and hostel for various neo-slayers, she was exhausted, starving, and way beyond crabby. Lobstery, even, or whatever's bigger than a crab.

The cab took forever and the heat in it didn't work. London looked nothing like it had the last time she'd been here, just six weeks ago. Then, it had been spiky with buildings old and new, narrow twisting streets black in the rain; now, everything was softened, obscured, by the snow and hail. It wasn't picturesque so much as otherworldly. Like something out of Star Wars, an ancient city underwater and in the clouds all at once.

The taxi's headlights barely dented through the blowing snow. Though she only had to run up the front steps, her light wool coat, which was just fine for Rome, was plastered to her skin when she arrived.

"What's the big?" she asked, stripping off the scarf, dumping the coat behind her, and grabbing the coffee mug out of Giles' hands. "Crazy Slayer couldn't wait til the weekend?"

Giles shook his head and, stepping aside, said, "There's someone you should meet."

As he moved to lean against the wall, Buffy saw a young woman sitting - huddling, actually - in the arm chair across the room. She couldn't be the crazy slayer Andrew had found in Los Angeles; though she looked young, she wasn't slayer-young. And no slayer, not even Amanda, was this little and scared-looking. Plus, she didn't look psychotic in the least.

Then she smiled at Buffy, and all traces of the fear that Buffy thought she'd seen were gone.

"Hi?" Buffy said, glancing back at Giles. "I'm Buffy."

The woman's eyes were huge as she nodded. "I know who you are. Oh, boy, do I know who you are, believe you me. You're like a rock star, you know that? Or maybe not a rock star, someone who's more accessible. Grand Old Opry kind of accessible. Loretta Lynn!" She frowned. "You're smaller than I expected, though. Why're you so small?"

Giles touched her shoulder. "Buffy, this is Winifred Burkle."

Like that helped at all. "And?"

"From Los Angeles," he said.

Dead-of-night summons to London, crazy slayers and, if Andrew's report was at all reliable, which she doubted, marauding almost-soulless Angel and Spike without hands. Buffy didn't need this kind of drama. She drained the coffee and held out the mug to Giles.

Drama had a way of finding her, though. Like a virus or one of those ghosts in Shakespeare. Something contagious that never knew when to leave well enough alone.

"Okay," Buffy said, getting comfortable in Giles' big desk chair, looking across the desk toward Fred. They'd retired to Giles' study, which looked just about identical to his old office in the Sunnydale High library, down to the weird tin toys that marched across the shelf. "Um. Hi again."

Fred twisted her hands in her lap. "Hi."

"What, um. What brings you here?" Buffy asked. It'd been a while since she'd played boss, and while she thought she'd lost the hang of it, no one else seemed to have noticed. All of them, Dawn and Willow, even Giles, kept deferring to her like she really was in charge.

"I'd kind of like a job," Fred said.

"Oh. Oh, right. Okay." Buffy scooted the chair into the desk and leaned across it. "You mean with us? With the council-thingy?"

"I thought -" Fred swallowed and met her eyes. "I guess so. I don't really know how you're set up here, or the organizational hierarchy and avenues of reporting?" Buffy had no idea what she was talking about, but Fred didn't seem to notice. "But I do know you do good, a lot of good, that's basically all you do, and I want - that is, I think I could - I've got a lot to offer." Her eyes widened again. "Not like I'm strong or anything, nothing like that, but I'm pretty smart and I know some spells and I worked with your friend Willow? Last year, in LA, with the re-souling, and that went pretty well. Then again, I didn't really get along with Faith, but I heard you don't either, so maybe that's not a big deal, and I had to - I mean, so I was thinking, Fred, you need to do something, you've got to get out of here, but where in the world are you going to go, and then it came to me -"

Buffy held up her hand. "Whoa, girl. Take a breath."

To her surprise, Fred's face started to crumple, like she was about to cry, but then she squared her shoulders and inhaled deeply. "Sorry."

"No, it's okay," Buffy said. "Running off at the mouth? So not a new thing to me."


"Welcome." She turned one of Giles' pencils in her fingers. "So this is like a job interview, I guess. I can do this."

"Sure you can," Fred said and nodded. "From what I've heard -"

"Never mind that." Buffy waved her hand again. This situation was just too bizarre - Fred knew who she was, but for the life of her, Buffy couldn't remember ever hearing anything about the girl - and, besides, the hero-worship thing was making her a little itchy. "So tell me about your last position."

It occurred to her, watching Fred draw herself up ramrod straight, that the girl had several more vertebrae than other people. Small as she was, she was still all length, all lines, like a colt, or Dawn before puberty really hit full-force.

"I ran the mystical and natural science division of Wolfram and Hart's Los Angeles branch," Fred was saying, like she was reading off a resume. For all Buffy knew, maybe she had her resume memorized. "I oversaw a laboratory of sixteen FTEs - that's full-time employees, I'm not trying to be obscure or anything - and consulted on most of the firm's major cases."

Buffy whistled. "That's pretty -"

"Before that, I didn't have a title," Fred continued. "I helped with stuff, research and medicine, that kind of thing. I was kind of like Wesley's assistant. You know Wesley?"

Buffy couldn't help the smirk that his name always brought to her lips. "Hear he's pretty different from the Wesley I knew."

Fred bobbed her head. "Yeah, I think so. Before that, I was a cow. And before that, I was doing doctoral work in string theory." Off Buffy's blank look - Cow? - she added, "That's physics. Interdimensional stuff. I was working on bringing together chaos theory with indeterminate realities and multiple worlds."

Brainy stuff. "Okay," Buffy said. "Um, cow?"

Fred sagged a little. "Portal. Hell dimension."

"Oh," Buffy said. "Oh, I do know you." After she came back, the night Angel visited, he'd told her about a crazy slave girl. She'd teased him about making every girl he met a damsel and he hadn't said anything, and then they were kissing and Buffy forgot about all the girl.

Tilting her head, Fred smiled tightly. "That's me. Crazy cow slave."

She sounded so sad. Buffy had heard that tone of voice plenty of times before - when Dawn was insisting she wasn't real, when Willow came back from England and refused to do magic, when Xander lost his eye. It was the flat tone you used when you thought you were resigned but in fact you were just scared and tired.

Buffy tucked the pencil behind her ear and tapped the blotter. "Nah. Hey, you were doing doctoral stuff? I've only got three semesters of undergrad."

Fred started to smile. Just a little, glimmers at the corners of her mouth, but she was relaxing. "I - had to get out of there."

"The hell dimension?"


"Same difference," Buffy said and, thank God, Fred laughed a little at that. "Okay, so - I get wanting to leave LA. Why're you here?"

"Hands," Fred said, looking down at her own palms. "She - Dana, the slayer? She chopped off Spike's hands."

"Heard that," Buffy said. She still wasn't following; listening to Fred, trying to talk to her, was like following one of those mazes made out of shrubbery, only in the dark without a flashlight. She kept brushing up against brambles and other pokey things without meaning to. "And?"

Fred was looking away, past Buffy, over her shoulder. The snow was still falling - the window was reflected in a mirror across the room, and it swirled constantly, randomly.

Fred was squinting at the snowfall like she understood it, or was trying to, like she was reading it.

"I sewed them back on," she said softly. "His hands. Went over budget again, brought in this Peruvian shaman and everything. And afterward, he grabbed my hand. I did a good job, he almost broke my wrist. Told me to run away."

It must have been jetlag that was making Buffy so slow on the uptake. "Who? Who said -"

"Spike." Fred's mouth set in a thin line. "He said I should've left him. There in that basement. Said it was no better than he deserved."

Buffy rubbed her forehead, willing away images of Spike and basements and guilt, always more guilt in the dank dark. "Okay."

Maybe Fred was in love with him? God, she hoped not. It was the whole drama thing that Buffy hoped she'd left way down in the hole that was Sunnydale. But Fred was twisting up in her chair, wrapping her arms around her knees, still talking.

"He was right. I - I'm not made for, for that place. For whatever they're doing there." She bit her lower lip and Buffy could hear her breath whistling through her nose. Fred's eyes were huge, dark and steady, on her own. "I can't do it any more. So I came here."

"To do good," Buffy said flatly, echoing Fred's earlier phrase.


"Wouldn't it do more good to, like, stay there but report back to us?" Buffy asked, and wanted to grin. Undercover spies and double agents and they could have a whole code for communication, meet in alleys wearing trench-coats and -.

"No," Fred said firmly. "No, I couldn't do that. Lie like that? No, thank you."

Buffy did grin then. She forgot all about the spy plan, which really was more worthy of Andrew and Xander when they'd been drinking, and stood up, offering Fred her hand. Fred was, she was sure now, good people.

"Cool beans," Buffy said, shaking Fred's cold, soft hand. "Welcome aboard. We could always use another brainiac around here."

Fred was burbling with gratitude, and Giles got excited once he heard about Fred's thoughts on chaos and dimensional travel-thingy-things, and Dawn liked her because she was a girl geek, too, and so everything was, actually, for once, pretty cool.


3. Los Angeles

Death like snow, flakes like grief

Angel was pissed, of course, and when she saw him with Spike in Rome, Buffy could barely remember the guy she'd loved. He was angry, and sputtering, and when she wouldn't tell him where Fred was or what she was doing, he tried to pull corporate rank, threatened her with the full wrath of the firm's lawyers if she didn't hand Fred back over.

Like Fred was a sweater or a book, something to be returned to her rightful owner.

"Oooh, lawyers," Buffy said. She stayed on her side of the threshold, shaking her head. She'd just flown home from taking out a nest of black mages in Finland and she still wasn't warm. She really didn't have the energy to deal with LA drama. "Now I'm really scared."

"I won't lose Fred. I've lost too many people," he said, "Doyle and Cordelia and -"

"But that's life," Buffy told him, her hand flat on the door. "You think I don't know what that's like?"

Anya, and the Willow she'd once known, and Spike. All those kids at graduation like Larry; later, Amy and Jonathan and more. She pulled herself up to her full height and Angel actually leaned back like she was going to hit him.

If he'd kept up like this, all threats and bluster, she might have. But Angel just stepped back, muttered something about how this wasn't over, and he was finally gone.

Then he burned down half of Los Angeles. She went with Giles and Fred to survey the damage, met Willow there. They ran all the scans and spells that the smart people could think of, and only found one survivor. It looked like Spike, but it was blue as a Smurf and haughty as the queen of England. It died of massive internal injuries a few hours after they found it.

Ash still floated through the air, five days after the battle. Her mom used to have a little baggie of ash from Mount St. Helens' explosion, just before Buffy was born, and this was like that. Only citywide, white and silver thickening the air, shining over every surface.

It caught in Giles' hair, made him look like his own grandfather. Willow crafted a spell to keep it out of their lungs, but even so, at the end of every day, the ash ran in milky streams off her body in the shower. Fred was unusually quiet, their entire time in the city, but she worked doggedly, her hair in a tight French braid that made her eyes look even bigger, her cheeks dusted with cinders. She and Willow got along like a house on fire, all babble and big words and breathless interruptions, so Buffy worked with Giles like she hadn't since she died the second time.

"I like it," she said, their second-to-last night in what was left of LA. She'd just beheaded a vampire, thanks to the sword Giles tossed her just in time, and he was leaning against a lamp post, mopping his face. Sweat made the ash cling like cold cream.

"What is that?" he asked. He looked like a sad clown in a cheesy painting, wiping off his happy face.

"This," she said, elbowing him in the ribs. "Patrolling with you like this. Good old times."

"Mmm," Giles said, stowing his handkerchief away, glancing up at the blank sky full of ash. "I daresay nothing's like old times any longer, good or not."

"Fine, then," she said, shouldering the sword. "Better."

"Yes," he agreed, smiling as she linked her arm through his. "Better."

They left soon afterward, turning over clean-up to Riley's squad. Buffy slumped in her seat, cheek pressed against the window, watching the city shrink down to insignificance. From the air, half of LA was a cloud of ash, pretty like fake snow around the trunk of a Christmas tree, soft as flannel.

Across the aisle, Fred was bent over, hair hanging down. She cried softly, endlessly. Willow rubbed her back and Buffy wished, not for the first time, that she was as nice as Willow.

She just wanted to get back to normal.


4. Quebec City

Temperatures well below normal, heavily blowing graupel

The next time she saw Fred, it was already February. With a crew of five of the most experienced Slayers, Buffy was in the heart of Quebec City, across the Avenue Royale from the Basilica of Sainte Anne-de-Beaupre. They squatted halfway up the Scala Santa, turning their weapons in their hands, while Giles, Fred and Willow stood below, chanting the exorcism spell.

The wind shrieked like silk ripping seam to seam, chilling Buffy to the bone, rattling those bones like icicles. She couldn't make out the words of the spell, could barely see Willow and Fred for the snow tearing past in the dark. Faith crouched beside her, wearing a balaclava like a bank robber's; Buffy had made fun of it before they got outside. Now she longed for one of her own.

This was her life now: Travel the world, clean up evil, train baby Slayers. Buffy wasn't complaining; she just wished that evil chose some place tropical next time.

The cathedral was possessed by something, something nasty and highly malevolent, but no Latin, nothing the priests did, seemed to be able to root it out.

Nothing the slayers were doing was helping, either. They withdrew into the relative warmth of the memorial chapel, built as a replica of the original church, and evaluated their options.

Well, Giles and the brains did that. Faith took a nap, the baby slayers did some yoga, and Buffy twiddled her thumbs.

"Maybe it's not Catholic," Fred said, flipping through her notebook. Her cheeks were scarlet from the wind, bright as fever, her eyes even brighter. "It's not responding to Catholic rites because it doesn't know what we're doing. Maybe, maybe - maybe it's aboriginal!"

"Oh, yeah," Willow said excitedly, grabbing Fred's arm. "It could be pre-Christian, even chthonic, that's for sure, maybe a local goddess -"

"No, no, no," Fred went on, "it doesn't exhibit any of the usual attributes associated with a feminine wraith. Maybe it's Cree?"

"Like _Poltergeist_?" Buffy asked, trying not to sound too sarcastic. "Angry Native Americans again?"

Fred was grinning, nodding, as she scrambled to her feet. "Yes, the arrangement of body parts has the rough pattern of some Cree rituals, and the syntax - huh. I can do this. The words aren't exactly the same - I've only got notes on the Manitoba dialect - it's close enough."

She clapped her hands, shoving her notebook into her back pocket and grabbing her parka off the floor, urging everyone back outside.

And she was right. The thing infecting the basilica didn't need to be killed, or even exorcised; she and Willow crooned in Cree to it, told it a story about, as far as Buffy could tell, a frog who went to the moon, and the spirit evaporated.

It was well past dawn when they trudged back inside. Faith was annoyed that she'd been called up north for something that didn't even need slaying, but her muttering was lost in the congratulations swirling around Fred.

"Just a hunch," she said, ducking her head and glancing over at Buffy. Her cheeks were still red, burnt by the wind. "If Buffy hadn't said something, we might still be out there."

"You make a good team," Giles said and Faith kicked something, Willow beamed, and Buffy felt her skin go hot as Hades, then frigid again.

"Brains and brawn," she said and Fred started protesting immediately.

She was supposed to fly back to Rome that afternoon; Giles and Fred were staying on for a couple days to do touristy things. In February, in Quebec: the geek mind baffled Buffy sometimes, it really did.

"You should come," Fred said while Buffy packed. "The Plains of Abraham are going to be spectacular. Giles and I have a bet on who should have won, and you wouldn't believe how stuffy he gets when he's talking about military history. All puffed up over General Wolfe, like Montcalm never stood a chance, when I keep telling him -"

"Thanks," Buffy said, zipping her case shut. "But, considering until just now I thought the Plains of Abraham were in Israel? I wouldn't be very good company."

"Okay. Sorry," Fred said softly, and went silent.

That was so unlike her that Buffy dropped what she was doing and turned around. Fred leaned against the wall, her arms loosely crossed, a posture that she must have picked up from Giles. Her glasses had slid all the way down to the tip of her nose and she blinked rapidly at Buffy.

"You okay?" Buffy asked.

"Sure," Fred said. "I was wondering, though. Don't you - I mean, with all the traveling, and the worldwide patrolling, and the fighting and everything, don't you ever get lonely?"

Buffy sat on the edge of the motel bed, grasping the mattress with both hands. She figured she must be lonely, but she just didn't feel it. She and Faith were splitting an apartment in Verona these days - despite what they'd found in Quebec City, demons and other evils really were more attracted to Catholic places than anywhere else. Dawn came to visit when she could, when school wasn't eating all her time, and she talked to Willow and Giles and Xander on the phone all the time. She didn't feel lonely.


"When you put it like that," Buffy said, "I don't know, maybe I am."

Fred's expression shifted. Softening from the bird-like, twittering nervousness Buffy thought was habitual, it moved into something gentler. A slight smile, a tilt of the head that spilled dark hair across her shoulder, and then Fred was kneeling in front of her, hands on Buffy's knees.

"I do," she said, and all Buffy could think was that if anyone saw them, they'd think Fred was proposing to her and marrying her at the same time. "Get lonely, I mean. But you shouldn't be."

And Fred's cheeks were red as holly and her eyes were a clear, bottomless dark-golden light, and she kissed Buffy. Gently, just a little brush of the lips, and Buffy inhaled sharply. Fred's hair smelled like rosehips, her lips were softer than anything, and Buffy was rooted in place.

"I - I don't, I'm not -" she babbled, but Fred just squeezed her hands and stood up.

"It's all right," Fred said, and for once, Buffy was the one tittering and nervous, and Fred was calm. Speaking in short, complete sentences, even. "I thought I got a vibe. Maybe not."

Buffy's tongue was thick and dry; she kept licking her lips, but all that did was bring up the texture of Fred's mouth all over again.

"Have a safe trip, you hear?" Fred said, the door closing with a click behind her.


5. Edinburgh

Black ice, treacherous for travel

That December, the Council staff attended a winter game night hosted by some witches' association of Scotland and Northern Ireland. It was important, Giles maintained, to build relationships with other mystically-minded organizations.

Buffy couldn't argue there. Actually, she thought it was a great idea, even if everyone playing against a slayer got an automatic handicap and headstart. It was a nice break, anyway, right around Christmas; after New Year's, she and Giles were due to fly to Japan to deal with a kappa infestation.

It was weird, seeing Fred again, but not too weird. Buffy flew in late and only saw her in passing, in the hotel corridor, before they got to the rink.

Then Buffy got competitive, and wouldn't have noticed Fred in her zeal to win every game she played. Even wearing someone else's skates, she won the speedskating contest and was in the bleachers of the little suburban rink, drinking hot chocolate and catching up with Rona, while the Zamboni made its slow, careful loops around the ice.

Giles, Dawn, Fred and Amanda - who had, in the last couple years, become a much better researcher than slayer - were going up against four warlocks in curling. They called themselves Geeks with Rocks. Buffy didn't hold out much hope for their chances; the warlocks had matching jackets and long druid-y beards and brooms with their names etched on in gold.

Not that she was all that clear about the point of curling. Something about rocks and ice. The game was slow as hell, but she clapped when other people did, and made Giles blush when she hooted his name.

He blushed, tipped an invisible hat to her, and hefted his rock. Fred stood ready at the side, broom in hand. She'd cut her hair since Buffy last saw her, and her face was wrinkled up in concentration.

Something went wrong, just before Giles released his rock; his leg twisted, or his foot caught on a rough patch of ice, or maybe - Buffy wouldn't put it past them - the warlocks whispered a hex. At any rate, he stumbled, flung the rock, and crumpled to the ice.

His right leg was twisted up under him and his face was paler than the ice when Buffy reached him. She and Fred knelt beside him while Dawn called for an ambulance. The rink's lights played like fireworks over Giles' eyes as he squeezed her hand.

"I'm afraid I won't be able to go to Sapporo," he said tightly.

"This what you get for playing weird Scottish games," she said. "I mean, really."

Giles' lips twisted like he was trying to smile. "At least it wasn't the caber toss," he said, just before he passed out.

She'd never thought of Giles as frail before. Old, sure, though he seemed much younger these days than he had in Sunnydale, and clumsy, what with the countless concussions, but never frail. When the doctors had set his leg - the tibia snapped in two places and the kneecap fractured when he'd landed on it - they said he wouldn't be able to move until spring at the earliest.

Buffy had to get to Japan.

"I'm okay with Japanese," Fred said, pushing her hair behind her ear like she was still getting used to its shorter length. "And I've been training pretty hard."

It wasn't like Buffy could say no; it would seem like she was trying to avoid the lesbian with - she could see it now, only in retrospect - a big crush on her, and that wasn't it at all. Besides, she'd sworn to herself, first after she took Angel's soul and then again after she flubbed Willow's coming-out so very badly, that she wouldn't let sex become the big deal people thought it was.

Drama-lite Buffy, that was her.

There really wasn't any reason not to take Fred.


6. Hokkaido

Whiteout conditions, expected accumulations of two or more feet

There were three slayers in the area, one overwhelmed Watcher, and only Fred could get along in both languages. As best as they had been able to tell from Junichiro's phone calls, a mountain pass had been taken over by a kappa.

Buffy didn't know kappas from cannelloni, but she recoiled all the same when Fred showed her a Xerox of an original watercolor. Body like a starved monkey's, tortoise-shell on its back and turtle-beaked face, stringy hair wrapped around its misshapen skull.

"They're a class of water demons. Deities, sort of, but malevolent ones," Fred said, checking her own notes. They were only three hours out of Vancouver, with fourteen hours to go, but school was in session. "Definitely Shinto, maybe even Ainu - that's the original ethnic group of Japan, and they're native to the north island of Hokkaido - but no one's sure. Kappas are pretty nasty, though, make no mistake."

"Look nasty," Buffy said. "He looks - ick."

"I know, right?" Fred replied. Buffy tried to imagine Giles saying something like that. Tried, and failed, and grinned at Fred, who bobbed her head. "They're kind of a variation on European vampires, in that they've been reported to suck blood. They also like to suck out the liver."

"The liver-liver?" Buffy asked and rubbed her belly around where she thought the liver was. "That big floppy thing?"

"Yup." Fred's nose wrinkled and her mouth twisted. "Out the - oh, eww, I don't know if you need to know this -"

Fred protecting her? Buffy would have laughed at the idea, but it was pretty sweet. "No, tell me. Forewarned is forearmed, and four-armed is Kali, so -"

"Kali has eight arms."


"Oh. Oh, that's good."

"Thanks," Buffy said. "Suck the liver out the what?"

Fred ducked her head and whispered, "The rectum."

"No way."



"Like you said, nasty." Fred flipped through her notes. "Whatever they do, first they drag the victim under the water. Some ethnologists believe that kappas are mythological explanations for leech babies, which are -"

Buffy liked the fruits of research. The kind that told her how to kill the bad thing, that was what she was looking for. Ethnological interpretations and anal sucking weren't, exactly, what she wanted to hear. Especially the anal sucking.

Fred was scanning her notes, her long dark curls falling across her cheeks. When Buffy reached over and closed the notebook, Fred didn't move for several moments. She kept her gaze downturned and went very still.

"Why'd you kiss me?" Buffy asked.

Fred still didn't move. "Still mad?"

"I wasn't ever mad," Buffy said. "Just - surprised? Surprised."

Fred's hair parted over the nape of her neck. The skin was very white there, taut over the bumps of her spine. Delicate, Buffy thought, then remembered Fred yelling in the Quebec snow, cheeks blazing, and corrected herself. Delicate, maybe, but not fragile, not where it counted.

"Maybe," Fred said softly, "maybe we could talk about this later?"

"How much later?"

"After the kappas," Fred said and looked up. Finally. She was smiling shyly. "After that."


Getting rid of the kappas proved to be a lot harder than anyone had expected; first there was the language difficulty, though Junichiro and two of the slayers tried really hard and spoke to Fred with the careful, deliberate patience of kindergarten teachers. Then there was the third slayer - Mariko-but-call-me-Britney - who had less than no interest in slaying, all her energy being devoted to becoming a pop star. Buffy kind of liked her, actually, because she was little and stout, her hair a blazing yellow-orange, and she shrugged off orders like they were snowflakes.

Then Fred and Junichiro started fighting about strategy. Fred wanted the kappas killed, while he held fast to the tradition that said if you could extract a promise from the demon, he'd never do harm again.

"That's like asking a skunk not to spray!" Fred shouted. "Making a dog promise not to bark! It's ridiculous! And illogical, really against all logic, so I -"

They were alone in the lodge room they were sharing. Fred was pacing, while Buffy was flipping through the television channels, looking for that show that caused seizures. Fred was on edge; she got that. Last night, she'd nearly decked the waiter at the restaurant when they learned that not finishing everything on your plate meant the all-you-can-eat-buffet-special was null and void.

That rule was stupid, Buffy agreed, but seeing as they'd both cleaned their plates three times over, it didn't exactly apply to them.

But getting the kappa to promise, that sounded like a good idea. She wished vampires were that honorable; her life would be a lot quieter.

"I think we should give it a try," Buffy said and switched off the TV.

Fred whirled around. There wasn't much room to pace in, but she was making the best of it. "But it's ridiculous!"

Buffy shrugged. "Worth a try, though."

"Oh, please, Mr. Evil Turtle-Monkey, don't chew people's livers, promise? Pretty please? With sugar on top?"

Buffy grinned. "Okay, it sounds stupid, I grant you, but -" She stopped when Fred leaned against the window, slumping down. "You okay?"

"You're the boss," Fred said.

"You're the Watcher," Buffy pointed out.

Snorting, Fred lifted her hands. "Hardly. This is, is - this is just temporary until Giles gets on his feet. I'm just pretending. Playing at this. Dress-up, only I'm not a princess."

"Where's your tweed, then?" Sometimes, teasing Fred was enough to get her to relax. Buffy scooted across the bed and poked Fred's leg. "Huh? And your big Sherlock Holmes hat?"

Fred's lips twisted and curled; Buffy could tell she was trying not to smile. "Do I need one of those? What about the pipe?"

"Andrew's got a pipe," Buffy said. "So, no. No pipe. But tweed, definitely. I mean, look at you -" And then she did. Looked at Fred, at her long, skinny legs in dark jeans, her black wool turtleneck clinging to her like another skin, the soft peaks of her breasts, then at her face. Fred was blushing. Faintly, like the hour before sunrise, when the sky starts to lighten. She was kind of, basically, definitely beautiful. Softly, Buffy said again, "Look at you."

She'd never really looked at another woman like this. There had been moments, glimpses and glances, of course. Faith, dancing with her arms over her head; and Tara, too, sleepy-eyed in the morning, breasts swinging gently under her nightshirt as she padded to the kitchen; and Cordelia. Once, just a second, when they were changing after homecoming and she was impressed with how well Cordy'd fought but wouldn't ever tell her that.

Fred didn't look like any of them. She was skinny, and nervous, and her eyes were as big as saucers as Buffy rubbed her palm down Fred's thigh. She was as flat-chested as Buffy herself, and her bones were like a bird's, but she had a brain the size of Texas and Oklahoma, and she was looking down at Buffy, bending at the waist, and her little hands were in Buffy's hair.

"Thought we were going to talk about this later," Fred was whispering as their faces tilted and lips brushed.

Buffy shivered, wrapping one arm around Fred's waist and pulling her onto the bed. "I'm kinda ADD, see -"

Laughing softly, Fred kissed her, and the kiss was nothing like the first one. Nothing like anything Buffy might have expected - and she had thought about it, okay? Several times. - because it was hard, kind of aggressive, but sweet all the same. Sharp little teeth and soft tongue, and Fred was strong, sliding her hands up Buffy's arms, down her sides, like she knew what she wanted. She giggled and squirmed, then sighed out long and soft when Buffy rolled her over, got on top, and kissed her back, one hand in Fred's silky hair, the other on the sharp angle of her hip.

It was all new, and all the better for that.


Later that night, they pulled on snow pants and parkas, helping each other bundle up, and set out for the pass. They didn't tell Junichiro they were going; they just went.

The landscape around them was beautiful. When Buffy had pictured Japan, she saw Tokyo, neon and a crush of people, and sometimes Godzilla. The north island, however, was pristine and almost wild. Like pictures of the Alps, or those stupid snowboarding videos that Oz and Xander used to watch, the ones where idiots jumped out of helicopters and surfed all the way down untouched peaks. Like that, except it was dark and silent - no blazing blue sky, no grinding Metallica covers.

The farther they hiked, the darker it got. Quieter, too, just the crunch-sigh of their boots and sharp huffs of their breath. Buffy had two knives in her pocket, while Fred had wrestled a crossbow on over her parka. Their breath made clean clouds before them, but everything else - snowladen branches, black trunks, winding path - was dark and glittering.

Too quiet. Buffy started humming under her breath, "Teddy-Bears' Picnic", and Fred tugged at her elbow. Pointed down the path.

There was water running beside the path, a stream fed by a spring higher up the mountain, little whispers and burbles of water beneath ice. At the bank, the kappa was standing, like it was waiting for them.

It was much smaller than Buffy expected, only about four feet tall, its scaly skin gray in the dark. When it blinked, she realized it had no eyelashes; its eyes were reptilian. Its nose and mouth really were a beak, like a turtle's, so when it smiled, the effect was eerie. A parody of a smile, revealing jagged black teeth.

Every instinct she had was screaming at her to kill it. Slayers slayed, that's what she was, and she gestured at Fred to go around the edge of the bank, cut off its escape. Kill it, chop off its head, make it shriek as she saved the world (or, fine, the mountain) again.

But the kappa crooked one long, bony finger, gesturing her closer. Buffy stepped forward and the closer she got, the more sure she became that she couldn't kill it. It was as small as a child, with a withered, anciently sad face. Stopping just outside its reach, Buffy bowed deeply.

The kappa stopped smiling. It drew itself up, brushed the coarse hair out of one eye, and bowed back.

The top of its skull was dented; Buffy had forgotten that, but she saw it now with her own eyes. The crown was pushed down, like a bowl, and as it bowed, a viscous silver liquid, like slush but brighter, slopped out, splashing over the toe of her boot.

The kappa jerked back, huge eyes widening even farther, as it started to twitch. Collapsing on the snow, it spasmed, rolling back and forth, spidery limbs flailing, then rolled down the bank, hitting the ice and cracking it.

Buffy wasn't sure her voice would work; her throat felt like it was closing it up, but she tried. "Uh - okay. Fred?"

She couldn't look away from the hole in the ice, or the cracks weaving out from it, so she heard, rather than saw, Fred hurrying over. Creak-crunch of boots, heavy breathing, and then Fred was helping her sit down, and none too soon, as Buffy was getting dizzier and dizzier, her balance swaying and the sky above tilting down.

"You did it!" Fred was saying, hugging her close, "you did it!"

"What'd I do?" She tried swallowing, but her mouth was dry, her lips stretched and numb in the cold. "What?"

"Its life-force is in its skull," Fred said, tilting up Buffy's chin and checking her over. "Didn't I mention that? If you can get to it, it's rendered weak and helpless."

"Did I kill it?" The snow was starting to make itself felt through the seat of her pants, but Buffy didn't want to think about standing up. She leaned against Fred and closed her eyes.

"I think so," Fred said. "Probably."

"Next time -" Buffy started, then drew a breath. "Next time, make me listen better, okay?"

Fred's face was flushed - at least, the skin that was visible between the scarf over her chin and the seam of her woolly hat, pulled low over her forehead - as she nodded. "Next time? There's gonna be a next time?"

"Next time," Buffy said firmly.

That was how Fred became Buffy's new Watcher. Not that she needed a Watcher so much as someone who spoke the language and could watch her back - although maybe, she thought, that's all a Watcher really was, down at the base - but, regardless, Fred was now Buffy's Watcher.

Hey, at least it wasn't Andrew.


7. Boston

To imagine an individual soul for each and any starlet of snow is utterly absurd, and therefore the shapes of snowflakes are by no means to be deduced from the operation of soul in the same way as with plants. (Kepler, 1611)

They're not going anywhere, not for several days. Fred's here to give a two-week seminar on chaotic strings at MIT. Buffy's here because Fred is.

An Alberta clipper blew in two hours after they landed, met up with a late-season nor'easter, and now the snow's falling like a blanket. Like that tapestry in the Iliad - no, the Odyssey, the one that the wife kept unraveling at night and weaving all over again the next day.

Endlessly, sheets of snow, huge fluffy flakes that catch in the streetlights and never, ever stop.

"The first time I saw snow," Buffy says, "I was in love, then, too."

Fred rolls her eyes. "You're leaving out all the times in the middle."

"Maybe," Buffy admits, linking their arms, tugging Fred closer, tipping her forehead against the window. "Maybe not."

They watch the snow fall, silver on silver, cheek against cheek, the glass fogging with their breath. So close that Buffy can't tell which is hers, which is Fred's.

"They look like spatial dendrites," Fred tells her. "Those are branching irregular crystals, not as symmetrically-formed as stellar dendrites or hollow plates."

"Okay," Buffy says and thinks about kissing her. It'd feel good - kissing's just about her favorite thing, tied with snow - but then again, Fred-babble is up there, too.

Fred starts to duck her head, but Buffy catches two fingers under her chin and tips her face back up.

"How many kinds of snowflakes are there?" Buffy asks. If anyone knows, it'd be Fred.

"Forty-one," Fred says. "Well, 'snowflake' is a general term. There're forty-one forms of snow crystals, which -"

Outside, drifts are already forming. Soft weight, obscuring and hushing the world, as Buffy wraps her arms around Fred.


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