Life In Wartime
by Minim Calibre

These days, Sunnydale is practically a ghost town. The official news reports claim gas leaks and other understandable disasters are behind the destruction, but if the local populace is running scared, you know things have gotten bad. Worse than bad, if that's possible. It's a struggle to just keep breathing, and even more of a struggle to keep fighting.

She's figured out a few things that work since the shit hit the fan. Some were things she'd kind of known for a while, some were new insights, but they all pretty much boiled down to one hard and fast rule: do what needs to be done, repent at your leisure when and if you survive. There's no time for thinking beyond the immediate future, let alone time for regrets.

Act first, ask questions later, if at all.

Giles gets it. The rest of them haven't quite grasped what's happened, what's changed, but Giles gets it. She doesn't think he's happy about it, though. Oh, he's happy that she's finally really seeing the big picture (and it's not that she wasn't aware of it, but before, she was always too far inside the frame to see anything but the details). That's not his problem with the situation; it's her methods that--he claims--give him pause.

As much as she hates to disappoint him, right now her methods are the only thing keeping them alive.

Wesley brings her information and armaments whenever he can spare the time and the weapons--L.A. is in almost as bad a shape as Sunnydale, not that anyone's noticed a difference, and he's stuck in the middle of the fight. In return, she provides him with comfort and promises to get Willow's help recreating the ensouling spell.

After his first rush of grief and guilt had passed, he tells her, he realized it would be short-sighted to go for the kill instead of the capture. There's too much at stake, he says, and they need Angel back. She suspects there's more to it than that, but it's not relevant, so she doesn't ask for clarification.

Not worrying about unnecessary details is just one of the many variations she's discovered for the main rule. There's too much happening for her to be able to sort it all out, even if she wanted to, which she doesn't.

She's pretty sure he'd still be helping her, even without sex, but it keeps him sane and focused while everything's falling apart. Besides, it's the only way she has to relax anymore, and she's learning that when neither side has any emotional investment, there's nothing to feel guilty about. It's refreshing, though she wishes it hadn't taken the end of the world for her to figure that part out.

She shifts beneath him, her hips thrusting hard against his, her hands gripping him and pushing him closer. The bedroom reeks of sweat and sex, with the faint scent of blood mixed in--exertion tends to open wounds, and they've both got plenty of those. The smell will cling to her like smoke for the rest of the day, and a cruel streak she didn't realize she had until recently revels in it, in knowing that when she's back with the group, one of them can tell exactly what it is she's been doing, even if the only thing he ever does with the knowledge is suffer.

When they collapse against the increasingly stained and tattered sheets (she's down to the one set--the rest having been turned into bandages and fuel--and there's nowhere left to wash them), she's sore, exhausted, and sated. Her thighs are sticky with perspiration and semen, and it's going to take her the better part of an hour to untangle her hair.

They've avoided talking much beyond business for the most part. It keeps things safe, balanced, detached. So she's a little surprised when--after they're through fucking--he tells her he needs a favor.

"I need you to shelter someone."

"More refugees weren't part of the bargain, Wes."

"I know, however, there are extenuating circumstances." He looks troubled where he's normally unreadable.

"I can't take on someone who can't fight."

"Buffy, it's Cordelia."

"That doesn't make a difference." It might have, at one time. Not anymore.

"She's vulnerable in a way we hadn't anticipated."

She's finding it hard to imagine Cordelia as vulnerable in an expected way, let alone an unexpected one. "What aren't you telling me?"

"It's not my place to divulge the specifics. If you agree to take her in, she'll explain."

"I can't. It's too risky." She hasn't even told Wesley where everyone is holed up, and she's not about to introduce someone else to the mix.

Frustration and irritation flash briefly in cold blue eyes, and she realizes he's not going to take no for an answer on this one. "She can't fight, but I can send someone with her who can, though I can ill-afford to lose the manpower."

Another body for the fight is a tempting offer. "How good a fighter are we talking about?"

"Better than any you have on hand, although he is prone to not following orders." He watches her consider the words, then adds, "He'd also take responsibility for Cordelia's care. All I'm asking for is a safe location outside of Los Angeles in which to put them."

She looks around the bedroom and makes her decision. "They can stay here, in the house. If they cause trouble, or try to follow me when I go back to base, they're gone. I don't care how vulnerable she is, or how strong he is."

"Fair enough."

"You owe me," she grouses.

That earns her an unexpected grin. "I know, and I can assure you I'll find some method of repayment."

She shrugs, her shoulder brushing against his chest. "That's pretty much the only reason I'm agreeing to it." Her eyes close as she thinks about what they need now, and what they'll need in the days to come. "When you bring them here, bring food and clean water, if you can find any."

"Weapons as well?"

"Whatever you can spare, same as usual."

"Will that be everything, or am I paying this off in installments?"

There's not a moment's hesitation before she answers. "Installments."

With the negotiations completed to her satisfaction, she allows herself the luxury of a nap. They'll be on the move again in the morning, after all. Time to save some strength for the battles ahead.


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