Disclaimers: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy & Fox. Numb3rs belongs to CBS. (NOT ME!)
Warnings: If you haven't realized that there are some major spoilers for the episode "Anne" yet, I'm not sure what you've been doing, but I guess I should've warned about that earlier on... Sorry.

AN: Here's the next chapter. And we're almost at the end of the first part of M&M! This one's a bit longer than the others, but that's why you had to wait longer for it.


First Meeting

Part I in Mathematics & Magic

By Jess S

Chapter 7: An Actual Hell


A Hell Dimension – Time Unknown

0

Charlie groaned as consciousness started to return, accompanied by a pounding headache coming from the growing bump on his head: not helped by the heavy heat and humidity that hung in the air around him. He blinked several times before he realized he was lying face down to the ground and slowly, carefully pushed himself up. He winced as he took in his surroundings. Some kind of cave made of dark red and brown rock around him with black bars across every opening.

It was then he noticed the faint sound of someone sobbing nearby, and he turned from the opening to see a vaguely familiar blonde huddled in the back corner of the cell, dressed in rags that he was surprised to notice he was also wearing.

Then he saw Annie, also in rags, lying face down on the floor between him and... Lily, he thought it was, and his heart skipped a beat as his eyes widened before he scrambled over to her. Gently rolling her over and into his lap, he was relieved to see that her only injury seemed to be a nasty bump on her forehead, but her breathing seemed regular... so she should wake up soon.

"Uh, um, Lily, isn't it?" Charlie asked, trying to catch the other blonde's attention, his tone deliberately as gentle as he could make it.

She didn't answer, but her eyes did come over to him as he heard Annie groan just before her face twisted into a grimace of pain as she started to regain consciousness.

"Oh. Uhh..."

"Hey, take it easy, Annie," Charlie told her quietly, gently brushing some of her hair back from her face in what he hoped was a soothing gesture. At least, he thought he remembered his Mom doing that when he didn't feel well as a child. He thought it'd been calming, and soothing.

"Ch-Charlie?"

The genius winced as the clear note of panic in his friend's voice, and started rubbing her forehead again, hoping the gentle motion would calm her. "Hey, hey, take it easy..."

While she seemed to calm for a moment, that calm was then quickly replaced by anger. "What are you doing here?"

Charlie winced again. "I wanted to help."

"But I told you—"

"I couldn't just wait for you to come back, Annie!" Charlie protested, shaking his head forcefully. "Ten to fifteen minutes."

"What?"

"It's only a rough estimate," the mathematician told her, shaking his head again. "But... Most of the victims you found were probably here for forty to fifty years, but were only gone from our dimension for about a day. If that 'day' is just twelve hours, then the difference between our dimensions is one of their years to ten or fifteen of our minutes. If... If I'd waited an hour for you to come back, you could have been trapped in this dimension for four years. I... I couldn't..."

"Charlie—"

"Always knew I would come here… sooner or later." They were cut off by Lily's sudden mumblings.

"Lily?" Annie asked, pushing herself up more to look at the other blonde.

"I knew I belonged here," the older blonde mumbled, her eyes staring but not seeing ahead of her.

"Where?" Annie asked, looking around for the first time.

Lily blinked and after a long moment of silence, finally replied, "...Hell."

0

Buffy shook her head slightly. "This isn't Hell," she protested. After all, Angel wasn't here.

"Isn't it?"

All three turned back to the entrance to the cage, and Buffy wasn't able to suppress another groan as the rapid movement sent a burst of pain through her skull before she forced her eyes open to where 'Ken' was watching them from the other side of the barred entryway, his demonic visage no longer masked as he smirked at her.

"What is Hell but the total absence of hope?" the demon asked her. "The substance, the tactile proof of despair... You're right, Lily." He told the other blonde, nodding to her. "This is where you've been heading all your life. Just like Rickie."

"Rickie?" Lily blinked, a painful note of hope in her voice.

"He forgot you." the demon told her, shrugging as he continued. "Well, it took him a long time. Yeah, he remembered your name years after he'd forgotten his own. But in the end..."

"Years?" Lily shook her head. "But..."

"Oh," 'Ken' chuckled, shaking his head. "Interesting thing – Time moves more quickly here than in your dimension. A hundred long years will pass here. On Earth... it's just a little more than a day."

"So you just work us till we're too old and spit us back out," Buffy murmured, her tone dry.

"That's the plan," 'Ken' nodded, still smirking. "See, Lily, you'll die of old age before anyone wonders where you went. Not that anyone will. That's why we chose you."

"You didn't choose me."

"No," 'Ken' shook his head, but his smirk didn't fade. "But... I know you... Anne. Heh. So afraid. So pathetically determined to runaway from whatever it is you used to be. To disappear...Well, congratulations. You got your wish... And I don't think anyone other than your boy-toy here will think to look for you... And," he shrugged again. "Even if they do. You'll be dead by the time they start to think of it."

Buffy tensed slightly as the demon's eyes then went to a pale Charlie.

"And your boyfriend was nice enough to follow you by himself, so I don't think anyone will think to come for you for a long while, anyway. Even in Earth-terms." He turned to leave, then stopped and looked back at them over his shoulder. "So I suggest you get used to your new lot in life... 'cause you're never leaving."


0

"Charlie? Charlie!"

The math-genius blinked out of the horror-induced daze he'd drifted off in as he felt Annie shaking him. "Wh-What?"

"Snap out of it, Charlie." Annie ordered, her voice firm. "I need you here with me."

"But... you heard what he said."

"So we can't expect outside help. Doesn't mean we should just give up!"

"...I'm sorry." He shook his head, still unable to suppress the horror he felt at the idea of never seeing his family again, and leaving his parents and brother wandering what happened to him... forever.

"Don't be." Annie murmured, gently pulling him down into a hug. "Everything will be all right. Just stay with me, okay? I can't have you go off into number-land."

Charlie winced, remembering the few occasions he'd done that to her this summer, when his mother had to explain the forays his mind occasionally disappeared on. Then he shook his head. 'Not this time.' He told himself. 'Not now... Annie needs me. And Lily, too.' He realized, glancing over at the sobbing girl.

Annie's eyes followed his and she gave his shoulder one last gentle squeeze before she pulled away and made her way over to Lily. "Hey, hey. None of that... We're gonna get out of this, okay?"

Tears continued to drop from the girl's eyes and run down her face as she looked up at them, her arms still wrapped around her knees. "H-How?"

Annie smiled gently, smoothly pulling the other girl over to her and into a hug. "Just leave that to me, okay? Trust me... I need you and Charlie to take care of each other for me. And let me handle everything else..."

"B-But Rickie..."

"Do you think Rickie would want you to give up?"

"But... he takes care of me."

"I'm sorry," Annie replied, shaking her head. "But he's gone."

"We're gonna get a place. His cousin can get him a job at the car wash..."

"Lily... he's dead."

"I don't understand!" the older blonde protested, jerking out of her arms and pushing herself away from the wall to cross to the other side of the cell, where she leaned desolately against the other wall. "H-He didn't do anything wrong! Why would this happen to him?!"

"That's not the point, Lily." Annie protested, shaking her head and frowning as she continued. "These things happen all the time. You can't just—"

"Annie." Charlie shook his head as the Slayer paused and turned pained eyes to him, then he pushed himself to his feet and made his way over to Lily. He hesitated for a moment then reached out and gently pulled the other girl into his arms, rubbing her back as she started to sob into his shoulder. "Shh..." he murmured, his memory flashing back to a time when he'd watched his mother comfort one of his cousin's as he struggled to follow her example. "Just let it out, Lily. Just cry."

He watched Annie rise but shook his head slightly, meeting her eyes with a sad smile before focusing his full attention on the distraught girl in his arms, trusting Annie to keep them safe as he struggled to comfort their new friend.


0

"You work," a new demon, one of the many guards that had guided all of them over to this landing with clubs and whips waving about and ferocious grins on their already fearsome faces. "And you live. That is all. You do not complain or laugh or do anything besides work. Whatever you thought, whatever you were does not matter. You are no one now. You mean nothing."

Buffy watched as the guard then made his way to the head of the line, sparing a glance for Charlie who was right next to her, on the same side as Lily, though she was much closer to the head of the line.

"Who are you?" the guard asked the first boy, who was trembling in terror as he gave his name, only to be knocked down to the floor immediately after before the guard moved onto Lily. "Who are you?"

"N-No one," Lily replied quickly, shaking just as much as the first boy even as she kept her eyes firmly on the floor.

The guard nodded, apparently satisfied as he moved further on down the line, getting the same response from each of the new 'slaves' until he got to Charlie. "Who are you?" Charlie glanced at Buffy and the guard immediately struck him down for it before demanding again, "Who are you?"

Before Charlie could answer or be stuck again, Buffy stepped forward and into the guard's personal space, smirking up at him with an eyebrow raised. "Hi! I'm Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. And you are?" She ducked as the guard took a swing at her and then grabbed his arm as she rose, easily flipping him over her shoulder and taking his club from him as he went down. Instinct then immediately took over, making her swing her new club into another guard's stomach and then up into another's face, effectively taking them both out before she rose from her crouched-fighting stance and looked around. Seeing only the stunned expressions of the other humans and no approaching threat, she nodded. "Anyone who's not having fun here, follow me."


0

Charlie couldn't help the horror that rose within him as he stared at the room before them. Hundreds, if not thousands, of human beings a wide range of ages working in some kind of massive forge. Some of the slaves – for that was all they could possibly be – were wearing gloves as they hammered at glowing hot rods or sheets of metal, occasionally turning them to beat another side. But those gloves were the only kind of protection they had. Hacking coughs from tortured lungs resounded throughout the room as unmasked faces were forced to work heavy labor and breathe deep the hot, humid air that was heavily contaminated by nauseous fumes that rose from the liquid metal they were crafting into what might be some kind of weaponry.

"Charlie!"

"Wh—" Charlie's gasp was cut off as he was jerked off his feet, a hand quickly covering his mouth as he was just as quickly dragged under the cover of the staircase Annie had apparently decided to hide all of them under.

"You have to stay with me, Charlie," Annie told him firmly, forcing him to spin around and meet her eyes steadily.

"But..." Charlie shook his head, a large part of him unable to comprehend the horrific scene he could still see through the stairway.

"You have to stay with me, Charlie! Or you'll get us caught."

The barely concealed note of anguish he could hear in his friend's voice brought him back to the present and he took a deep breath before coughing as the fumes in the air aggravated his healthy lungs. After a few short coughs, he carefully took smaller breaths before meeting her eyes as steadily as he could and nodding firmly. "All right... What'd we do?"

Annie gave him a small smile before stepping back to include the others, who were all watching her with desperately hopeful expressions. "Okay. There's no way we can get back up there without meeting new people... So," She nodded to the group at large and pointed Charlie and Lily out decisively. "Charlie, and Lily, when those guards leave," she nodded out to the guards they could see on the other side of the staircase. "And they will leave, I want you to take these people and get them up there, okay? Fast and quiet."

Charlie nodded in compliance, though a part of him was desperate to know exactly where she would be while he and Lily were running away. Lily, though, had more reservations.

"You're leaving me?" the older blonde protested, her voice trembling, "But—"

"Lily," Annie gently grabbed the taller girl's shoulder and made her make eye contact with her, "you can handle this. 'Cause I say so. All—?"

A loud noise suddenly resounded through the air around them, filling the cavernous work area and bringing all the guards that had been distractedly supervising the workers, whips in hand, to attention. The guards then started moving about more rapidly, herding all the workers to one side of the room against the wall in a line.

"Right. We've gone public." Annie nodded, giving Lily's shoulder a squeeze before doing the same to Charlie, meeting his eyes for only a moment before she nodded to everyone else. "Quick, get upstairs. Go! Quietly!" And then she was running off, right towards where the demonic guards had been herding the other workers only seconds before.

"Come on!" Charlie hissed at the other teenagers, most of whom were definitely younger than him and terrified enough to take guidance from anyone who was willing to give it, he waived them around the staircase, carefully keeping one eye on their surroundings as Lily brought up the rear.

"Come on, everybody go! Run!" Lily ordered from the back.

Charlie nodded at her as she passed and, after sparing one glance in the direction Annie had gone, forced himself to run up the stairs after Lily.


0

"One of you fights—"

Buffy spun around and froze as she looked up to see the demon 'Ken' holding a struggling Charlie in a firm headlock, a dagger at his throat, while another demon held a trembling Lily a few steps behind them. She grunted as the half-a-dozen guards she'd beaten back moments before took the momentary hesitation as a chance to rise and beat her down to the floor, where she quickly curled up on herself to protect her vital organs from the raining blows.

"—And you all die!" Ken finished, his smirk back in place as Buffy was dragged to her feat to look up at him again, clearly the worse for wear. "That... was not... permitted." He snarled, taking the knife away from Charlie throat to push him back towards the other demon-guard, who immediately released the trembling Lily in order to restrain the far more rebellious Charlie.

"Yeah," Buffy smirked up at him, more confident now that a knife was no longer pointed at Charlie's throat. "But it was fun."

"Ha!" Ken smirked again, shaking his head. "You've got guts. I think I'd like to slice you open and play with them."

Buffy raised an eyebrow, deliberately not looking away from the smirking supervisor despite hearing Charlie's struggles increase as the six guards that were holding her chuckled approvingly at 'Ken's' suggestion.

"We'll let everyone know!" Ken declared, waving his dagger ahead of him as he stepped closer to the edge and looked down his flat nose at her. "This is the price of rebellio—Aaargh!"

Both of Buffy's eyebrows went up as she watched 'Ken' fall the three stories down to the workroom floor and then looked back up at the higher landing to see Lily standing where Ken had been moments before, a stunned expression fixed on her face at her own boldness just before several of the other humans in their group started attacking the demon that was holding Charlie hostage. Taking that as her cue, Buffy immediately started fighting again, escaping the demons that had been holding her with relative ease.

Once she was free and all the guards momentarily down again she looked up to see the other guard being pushed off the landing by several teenagers, and met Charlie's eyes for only a moment before she turned to look at the hundreds of workers that had been herded to one side of the room. "If you want to leave this place, run up the stairs and follow us! …This may be your only chance." She waived at the stairs again, before raising her voice even more, hoping that the slave-mind-set that had been beaten into them, an order from her would be obeyed even if they didn't fully understand it. "Upstairs, now! Go!"

Though some of the much older slaves remained frozen where they were, staring at her in a daze, she was happy to see several shake themselves out of it enough to start dashing for the staircase. And once a few had done it, several more followed, the herd mentality effectively helping them guide each other to obey her command even as she ran over towards the landing and quickly grabbed a chain to climb up, accepting the helping hand Charlie offered when she neared the top to pull her up, before all of them dashed off, quickly taking the lead as hundreds of others followed.


0

Charlie grimaced as he watched Annie struggle to push the heavy gate up and hurried forward, waving to several of the others around them before crouching down and trying to help her. "Come on, guys, every little bit helps!"

"Well...this works...the abs... and the glutes!" Annie grunted, a little bit of relief in her voice as several of the younger slaves obediently came forward to help, long months and years of working metal lending them a wiry strength that most humans their age in these modern days usually didn't have. "I'm gonna feel this for a week!" she moaned, as they finally pushed the gate above their heads, several people standing to help her while Charlie stepped under and started waiving the others through.

"No more than five at a time," Charlie ordered, nodding as Lily started echoing him from the other side of the passage. "Don't worry, everyone will get through. Steady. Steady..." Looking down the passageway further he frowned as he saw several people turning back with panicked and confused expressions on their faces and looked at Lily and Buffy. "I'm going to go up ahead to help them, see you up there?"

"Yah," Annie grunted compliance, giving him a half smile before focusing all her attention on the gate once more as Lily echoed her.

Charlie nodded and ran up ahead, quickly seeing what the problem was as he looked up at what he knew had to be the portal back to their world. He looked around, frowning at the empty room before quickly pointing to several of the more muscular young men. "You guys are going to need to help everyone get up. Everyone!" he waived to catch everyone's attention on him. "You! And you!" he pointed to two of the guys that had been in their initial group, "Aaron and—?"

"B-Ben."

"Aaron and Ben. You two are going to go first. When you get through, I want you to go find something we can use to climb with. Ladders. Rope. Anything. Can you do that?" When he saw some hesitation in their faces he resorted back to what he remembered Annie doing to him and Lily only a short time before. "Hey! Look at me. I'm counting on you. All of us are. Aaron, can you do this?"

"Y-Yeah," the younger teen nodded, meeting his eyes resolutely.

Ben also nodded without being asked. "Yeah, we can."

"Good," Charlie nodded before turning to the men he'd selected to help boost people up, "You guys are going to have to lift people up until Ben and Aaron return, OK?" he nodded as he got slightly confident nods in return. "Okay. Come on people, let's hurry it up!"


0

Buffy sighed as the crowd slowly started to move forward again, glad that Charlie had apparently fixed whatever problem they were having up ahead.

"D-Do you want us to...?"

Buffy smiled as one of the guys that had been trying to help her hold the gate up for the past ten minutes looked at her questioningly. "No. I got it. You guys go up ahead. See if Charlie has anything you can help him with, okay?"

"Okay..."

A few minutes passed before she turned her head slightly to look at Lily, "That everybody?" she asked, when no one else ducked under the gate.

"Yeah, no one's coming at least."

"Okay," Buffy nodded, struggling to push the gate a little higher so that she could duck under it herself, forcing her body to half squeeze through the bottom bars. "Forget... a week… I think I'm gonna... feel this... for—"

"Annie!"

"Raaaa!"

At Lily's gasped warning Buffy pushed herself the rest of the way through hurriedly and looked back to see the gate slam down, piercing the back of both of Ken's knees.

"Aaaahhh!" the demon screamed, and Buffy smirked at him as she rose, watching several other demons with clubs come up behind him to glare at her through the gate before they came forward and tried to move it, but found they couldn't.

"You..."

Buffy looked down to find 'Ken' glaring up at her, yellow eyes full of agony and hatred.

"You've ruined... You've—"

"Hey, Ken," Buffy smirked down at him as she grabbed a nearby club that had been leaning against the wall and walked back over to him again. "Wanna see my impression of Gandhi?" So saying, she raised the club up over her head and then swung it down onto his as hard as she could, effectively squashing it. She then raised her eyebrows and glanced back as she heard someone hesitantly approaching from behind her.

"G-Gandhi?" Lily asked, her voice doubtful.

Buffy shrugged before dropping the club, letting it fall back against the gate that the other demons were still struggling to lift. "Well, you know... if he was really, really pissed off."


0

Charlie smiled holding his hand out to help Lily the rest of the way out of the portal before doing the same for Buffy as the two came up. "Is that everyone?" he asked, and when Buffy nodded he nodded to the two men that had been holding the end of the rope ladder Ben and Aaron had found – undoubtedly the means by which the demons themselves had been entering and exiting their dimensions – and smirked as they let the ropes slide down into the portal.

"What do we do about...?" Lily nodded to the portal, but they all froze, their eyes widening as the dark, inky surface seemed to become solid before disappearing entirely, leaving behind an empty stone basin that couldn't be more than two feet deep.

Charlie glanced at Annie, who shrugged her shoulders before smiling and turning to make her way out of the room pulling Charlie along with her, and a smiling Lily a few steps behind them. All three froze on the other side of the doorway as they were met by a sea of hundreds of staring eyes.

Charlie looked at Annie again, who shook her head and blinked.

"Umm... you're free now, guys, so—"

The Slayer was cut off as the sound of thunderous applause and cheering suddenly filled the air around them before hands started to gently push them down the hallway, patting their backs in thanks as other hands reached out to shake their own while they were pushed and pulled through a sea of grateful smiles until they reached the entrance to the shelter, where people were hanging in every window and doorway around them, crowding the area to get a good look as they continued to clap and cheer.

Charlie couldn't help but smile as he glanced down at Annie's face, which expressed clear, wide-eyed shock at the sight around them. He gently pulled his hand out of hers and wrapped his arm around her shoulders before holding his other arm out to Lily, who slipped under it with a thankful smile.

Annie glanced up at him then, her eyes still wide even as silence descended around them and clear panic entered her gaze as everyone continued to stare at the three of them.

Charlie, still smiling, shook his head and leaned down to whisper in her ear, "I think they're waiting for you to say something..."

"Uh, I, um, I—"Annie shook her head, staring around at the countless eyes that were watching her before looking up at Charlie again.

Charlie shook his head and sighed before looking around again, taking a deep breath of the clean – much cleaner than in the Hell dimension, at least – air and, after telling himself to just treat them like one of the larger classes of students he'd served as a Teaching Assistant for at Princeton, spoke up. "Thank you all, but we're just as happy to be out of there as you are..." he sighed as he took in many of the older faces that were staring at him. "For those of you that were... in that place for a long time, readjusting is going to be hard. But you can do it. Think of this as your second chance..."

"Yeah." Annie finally spoke up, seeming to find her nerve in his words. "And don't hesitate to ask for help, okay? ... For those of you that were gone a long time, you've aged a lot and will have trouble proving you are who you say you are. If you need help, ask us… There are organizations that can help you adjust. And you can all help each other. Remember, you're not alone anymore. Everyone around you went through the same thing and will be going through many of the same things in the future. So... don't hesitate to ask for help, okay?" She glanced around her, blinking back tears at the grateful expressions on so many faces. "My name's Buffy Summers. This is Charles Eppes, and this is Lily... And we'll help in any way we can..."

Charlie nodded. "For now, everyone try to get a good night sleep, and get used to being back in our world tomorrow, all right? We'll meet... The three of us will meet with anyone who wants to talk to us tomorrow night, we'll be back here at six PM, okay?" So saying, he pulled Annie and Lily around then more easily out of the building as both seemed relived to be away from so many watching eyes.


Eppes' Craftsman House, Pasadena, California – July 19, 1996 – Very Late Evening

0

Buffy shook her head as she waited for Charlie to open the door to his house. "I really don't think they're up."

"Oh they're up... or at least Mom's up. She's always up when I come home late."

Buffy rolled her eyes and gently pushed the older teen aside, smoothly opening the door and gliding inside, smirking as Charlie caught the door behind her to keep it from slamming and timidly followed her inside also. She froze when she glanced towards the living room and saw Mrs. Eppes sitting in her favorite chair, reading a newspaper.

"Late night, you two?"

"Uh, yeah," Buffy confirmed, quickly stepping back into the shadows just outside of the room to avoid the older woman seeing any of her injuries. "And actually I'm really tired—"

"Me too," Charlie quickly added, following her example as she turned towards the stairs.

"So I'm just gonna head to bed." Buffy finished, starting up the stairs.

"Where were you?" the older woman asked, her tone calm but clearly demanding an answer.

"Umm... Clubbing," Buffy replied, shrugging slightly at the look Charlie shot her for her play on words.

"Downtown?"

"Yeah..."

"Did you take a cab?"

"To get there, yeah," Charlie confirmed, glad his mother could only see his bottom half, which was much less bruised then his top, and mostly covered by the rag-like sweat pants he hoped she wouldn't notice.

"And on the way home?"

"It was really nice out," Buffy replied quickly, "So we just walked."

"...From all the way downtown?"

"Well, no. It really wasn't that far... where were we, Charlie?"

Mrs. Eppes laughed when her son remained silent. "I'm afraid Charlie isn't that good with names most of the time, dear. I'm surprised you hadn't noticed already."

Buffy shrugged even though she knew Mrs. Eppes couldn't see and then stifled a giggle at the expression Charlie was wearing. "Well, yeah, but you'd think he'd know the areas of the city that are near here..." then she forced a long yawn, before finishing with. "I'm really tired now, Mrs—Maggie. I'll see you in the morning!"

"Good night, Annie."

"Night!" Then seizing her chance, Buffy hurried up the stairs, forcing herself not to actually run as she knew that would undoubtedly wake Mr. Eppes up and draw more attention to herself. She waited at the top for Charlie to follow her and wasn't surprised to hear him questioned again.

"Are you alright, Charlie? What happened to your pants? I don't remember that pair, they look awful old... and torn..." Mrs. Eppes asked, her voice clearly concerned.

"I, um, fell. My pants paid the price." Charlie told her, before using Annie. "I'll see you in the morning, okay, Mom?"

"Your father and I are going to be leaving a bit early for our tee time, so we probably won't be here when you two get up," Mrs. Eppes called after them.

"Okay," Charlie replied quickly, clearly struggling to keep relief out of his voice. "Maybe in the afternoon then... Though Annie and are meeting some friends tomorrow night, too. I don't think we'll be out too late, though."

"All right. Sleep well, dear."

"Good night, Mom." Charlie called back, before moving up the stairs and meeting Buffy's smirk with a grimace. He then grabbed her and Buffy let him drag her into his room and watched as he closed the door. "How am I supposed to explain all this?" he asked, waving at himself.

Buffy looked him over and shrugged. "Let me take a quick shower, all right? Then you take one and we'll patch each other up after, okay?"

"Do you think Lily will be all right?"

Buffy smiled and nodded. "She'll be fine. Trust me, the hotel room you paid for her to sleep in tonight is much nicer than she's used to. And we'll see her tomorrow at lunch anyway. I'll be back in fifteen, okay?"

"How is a shower supposed to fix this?" Charlie demanded shaking his head, his voice still noticeably forced-quiet even as he grimaced as the sudden motion of shaking his head sent a wave of pain through it and Buffy winced sympathetically.

"It won't fix everything," Buffy admitted. "But none of your injuries are bad, remember? We let Bob, who was an EMT just a few years ago in his mind and days in this world, check. And you'd be surprised how much a shower, pain killers and a good night's sleep will cure."

"But—"

"And I know a little bit of healing magic, which should help. But I want my shower first, so cool it, okay? Find a change of clothes for yourself, and I'll tell you when the shower's free." Buffy hurried out of the room before he could stop her again, eagerly anticipating the hot shower she was bound for and just narrowly avoided running into her friend's mother at the top of the stairs. "Good night, Maggie," she offered again, while coming to a stop in the bathroom and closing the door before turning the light on, glad to have avoided having her injuries, which were much more obvious than Charlie's, seen again.

0

Eppes' Craftsman House, Pasadena, California – July 20, 1996 – Late Morning

0

Charlie moaned as he was forced back into the waking world by someone taking up residence in his skull with the sledge hammer, evidently intent on breaking out and unconcerned of any damage they might do to his poor brain in the process.

A moment later he sighed as a vaguely familiar warmth rushed over his mind and body, somehow banishing the sledgehammer-man from his brain.

"That's it, Charlie... deep, steady breaths... You back with me, yet?" a familiar, warm female voice asked. "Don't nod. Open your eyes instead."

Charlie grimaced and just barely stopped himself from nodding in response and struggled to open his eyes. It took him another long moment to recognize the smiling blonde that was sitting on the edge of his bed, massaging his temples with faintly glowing hands. "...Annie?"

"Very good, Charlie." The blonde smiled, nodding approvingly as she drew her hands back. "For that, you get a treat. Here, sit up and drink."

Charlie docilely complied, too sore and tired to argue. His head aching still, though not as fiercely as before, but the rest of his body felt like he'd been run over by a stampede of some sort. After one gulp he regretted his compliance and tried to pull back, only to have himself forcefully held in position.

"Uh-uh. No, Charlie. Drink it all," the Slayer ordered, her voice firm. "It's good for you... and you're half way there any way."

About five nauseating gulps later the empty cup was taken away and the disgusted genius was allowed to breathe again. "What the hell is that stuff?" he demanded, gasping for breath as he looked around for anything to wash the taste out of his mouth.

"It's a potion. Kind of a healing cure all I learned a little while back." Annie offered him a water bottle, an amused smirk on her face as he took it and started gulping the contents down frantically. "My first Watcher gave it to me the first time I got beaten badly on patrol... and I kept the recipe after he died." She sighed, shaking her head as she watched the water bottle start to collapse inward in response to his gulping. "Hey, easy. I know it tastes horrible, but it really does help."

"'Tastes horrible'?" Charlie retorted, finally relenting and taking the now almost empty water bottle away from his mouth. "That does not taste 'horrible,' it... it... It tastes like vodka mixed with gasoline and espresso probably would!"

"You know what vodka tastes like? I thought you didn't drink?"

"I don't!" Charlie snapped, shaking his head. "I tried it once at a frat party... and left soon afterward."

"And gasoline?"

Charlie rolled his eyes, "Well it certainly smells like that tastes, doesn't it?"

Annie shrugged, still smirking as she rose to her feet and walked towards the door. "I guess... How're you feeling, by the way?"

"How—" Charlie stopped and blinked, shaking his head from side again before stopping, then doing it again. Then he started stretching his body and was surprised to find that everything that was paining him mere moments before seemed to be fading away. He looked up at Annie in shock and she raised the small, empty glass she'd just all but force-fed him in a somewhat mocking salute.

"Told ya it works... Just take it easy today. Your body's still hurting a bit, and only a few days rest will change that. This just speeds up the process a little."

Charlie frowned, shaking his head again as he asked her, "Why didn't you give me that after I was first attacked?"

Annie raised an eyebrow. "You mean before you believes vampires and demons and magic were real?"

"Oh, yeah," Charlie shrugged, grimacing a little as the motion exposed a slight ache in his shoulders. "Good point."

"Well, that and it's not for blood loss. It's for bones and muscles. There's a different potion for blood loss, but it's really just everything the doctor told you, plus meditations and some herbs that I slipped into a lot of your food anyway."

"Oh... thank you."

"Don't mention it... You might want to take a shower again, if you're still achy. Your Mom and Dad left earlier, they won't be home for awhile and Lily already called. I told her to meet us at the gate-house in a few hours."

Charlie nodded, his eyes scanning her form with a frown. "How are you feeling?" Even knowing about her Calling, how quickly Annie healed still amazed him. He couldn't see a bruise on her!

"I'm fine, Charlie. Slayer, remember?" the blonde smirked at him before turning on her heel and heading out the door, calling over her shoulder as she went. "I'll be downstairs making lunch, call if you need anything, okay?"

Charlie sighed, shaking his now only slightly achy head a bit before obediently forcing himself out of bed to get ready for his shower and then the day ahead of them.

He'd been amazed at some of the small 'magic tricks' Annie had shown him the night before, too, paying the most attention to the bump on the back of his head and the massive bruise on his upper back from when one of the guards had hit him down to the floor with a club. Her miracle-potion was no less surprising.

But then, he supposed he'd have to get used to being surprised by magic. He knew it was real now. Not just tricks with mirrors and trap doors. Annie's hands had actually been really glowing a faint golden color after she'd muttered some words in Latin and the warmth that had radiating from them had chased pain away instantly. After drinking her revolting miracle-potion he felt like he'd been sleeping for days and most of the aches and pains from his injuries were barely noticeable.

"Charlie!" he heard Annie call from downstairs and moved over to his doorway to open the door a bit and call back to her.

"What?"

"I'm making some chicken soup, do you want some?"

Charlie frowned, unable to keep skepticism out of his voice as his mind presented images of Annie last few attempts at making lunch. "You're—"

"It's your Mom's. It was in the fridge. I'm gonna heat it up. Do you want any?"

"Oh. Yeah, sure. Thanks!" Charlie called back, smiling slightly before hurriedly setting the clothes he'd picked for the day: a shirt his brother had given him for his last birthday, mailed from Detroit when he'd first started working there and some comfortable black slacks, on the bed before hurrying to take the shower Annie had suggested earlier.


LA, California – July 20, 1996 – Early Evening

0

Buffy winced as the cab slowed down near the shelter, her eyes trailing nervously over all of the excited people she saw waiting for them to arrive there.

"Whoa, what's going on here?" the cabbie asked.

She could here the smile in Charlie's voice as he replied. "It's a community building event. Here's good." He told him, handing the cabbie a fifty as he came to a stop, before opening the door and stepping out, holding it open for Buffy to emerge while Lily got out on the other side. "Thank you," Charlie called to the cabbie as he waived him off, watching as the man looked around in amazement before finally shaking his head and driving off.

Buffy stared around at all of the faces watching them, some excited, others hopeful, and others still looking totally lost. She jumped, forcing herself to relax as Charlie slipped his arm around her shoulders.

"They're not going to bite, Annie. They just want to thank you... And some of them probably still need help."

"But how can I help them? I mean, other than the Watcher's Council I don't know of any organization that could deal with this..."

"We have several hundred people here looking for help," Charlie pointed out. "With a little leadership on our parts, they can all help themselves and each other. And who knows, having this many people aware of the supernatural may make LA a better, safer place in the long run..."

"I guess..." Buffy agreed hesitantly.

They'd had this conversation several times already, and what Charlie said made sense every time. Lily agreed with him too. But she wasn't used to dealing with victims after she'd saved them. She was used to them running off and blocking everything that had happened to them out...

"Lily and I are perfectly willing to take care of everything okay. You just... nod when they thank you okay? May small talk if you can?"

Buffy rolled her eyes at the teasing note in his voice and finally forced herself to relax only moments before they stepped into the former home to a gate to one hell-world.


Neighbor to Eppes' House, Pasadena, California – August 30, 1996 – Late Morning

0

Charlie smiled as Lily looked around, eyes wide. "Well, what'd you think?"

"Aren't you going to give us a tour?" Annie asked, smirking when Charlie turned to her with a frown.

"I don't know it any better than you do!"

"Yeah, but you're the one who bought it... and the shelter... How did you afford all this, anyway?" the Slayer frowned, just recognizing the high expenses involved.

Charlie shook his head. "I've done some consulting over the last few years for various companies... banks and computer companies mostly. They paid well."

"Huh." Annie shook her head, looking around in almost the same amount of wonder as Lily still was. "Must have."

"I-I can't take this!" Lily protested suddenly, her wide eyes flying to Charlie and Annie.

Charlie hurried over to her, gently taking her hands in his before Annie could respond. "Sure you can. We talked about this, remember? You're going to run the homeless shelter, but you need a place to live outside of that... And Annie will need a place to stay when she visits. Which she will. You take care of the shelter and the house... and in return you get to stay here as long as you want, remember?"

"Wh-What about all the bills?" the runaway asked, eyeing the small cable TV in the living room and the many electrical appliances she could see.

"I'll take care of those. At least till you can handle them yourself, okay? I'll even let you pay me back if you eventually accumulate enough..." Charlie started to pull Lily further into the living room, gently pushing her into one of the seats as Annie followed them, smiling. "You don't have to worry about money for the shelter, remember? My Mom and Dad already agreed to work that out with the Mayor's office. You're just going to be in charge of the shelter itself. Which you've basically handled on your own for the last month anyway."

"Y-Yeah, b-but I'm... I'm not good at taking care of myself!" Lily protested, looking around, her eyes still wide. "How—"

"It gets easier," Annie told her, her voice calm and firm. "Takes practice."

"I'll be right next door." Charlie reassured her, "Even after Annie goes back to Sunnydale—"

"I'll call," Annie cut in, smiling slightly when Lily looked at her again. "To check up on you and everyone at the shelter, right?"

"And that way she can keep track of anything you think she should know about from the shelter... I'll keep track of everything mathematically. Everyone that's agreed to stay in touch with the shelter is going to be keeping an eye out for vampires, demons, and basically anything not-normal, and they're going to tell you about."

"And you tell us," Annie finished.

"This," Charlie waived at the modest but comfortable living room around them. "Is just so you have a safe place to come home to. And so that Annie always has a place to stay in LA all the time... right?"

After a moment Lily nodded, "R-Right."

"And you're going to have help at the shelter anyway," Charlie reassured her again. "Remember, Bob, Karen and Aaron are all going to stay on there for a while."

"Bob's looking for his brother and Karen's looking for her sister," Lily nodded slightly.

"And they'll be helping at the shelter in the mean time. Karen and Aaron will help with people. Bob with help with the actual management of the building itself... With government funding and all the charities we've already heard from, this place should almost run itself, Lily."

"And who knows," Annie shrugged when both looked at her, though her eyes remained on the other blonde. "This could be just what you've been looking for the last few years. But either way, just make sure you stay in touch, okay?"

After a moment Lily nodded and a small smile graced her face, "...Okay." She looked down and then looked up at them shyly. "Thank you."


0

Buffy smiled as she closed the door to Lily's house behind her and followed Charlie down the steps. "Do you think it'll be enough?"

Charlie shrugged as he accepted her hand in his while they made the short walk back to his house. "She's been looking for something. And you heard how sad she was when she mentioned that she and Rickie were planning on getting a house... Plus the shelter gives her a lot of friends, people who need her."

"Yeah... Thanks, by the way."

"For what?" the mathematician asked, an eyebrow raised.

Buffy smiled, shaking her head. "For managing everything. And for the name you gave the shelter..." she shook her head again. "I guess 'Angel's Home' will sound good in the City of Angels anyway, but—"

"Kind of makes it a memorial for your Angel?" Charlie nodded when she looked at him. "I know. That was kind of the point... And you're welcome."

They walked in silence for several moments before Charlie looked at her again.

"So... do you think you're ready?"

"For what?"

"To go home."

Buffy stopped, looking down at the ground even as she watched Charlie stop with her. After a moment she looked up at him and shook her head. "I... I don't know."

Charlie smiled down at her before shaking his head. "Well, you don't have to go back right away but... You do know your school starts next week, right?"

"Yeah..." Buffy sighed, shaking her head. "I'm not overly eager to go back to that, you know."

"What, learning?"

"Oh, no. Learning is fine when it happens... It's the neo-nazi principle, his minion teachers that only notice me when I'm exhausted, and the Hellmouth under the library that really bother me."

"Ever think of raising your hand more in class when you know the answer?"

"I'd have to know the question first."

"Well, yes. To get on a teacher's good side you do have to try and be awake for most of their classes... Try coffee in the morning. You've liked it well enough here. And try to make sure you're in bed every night at least by two. And call in sick the days you really need to sleep after near apocalypses and whatnot."

"Umm... Okay?"

Charlie looked down, blushing slightly before he sighed and raised his head again. "I'm sorry, Annie. It's just... I really like you and you're a really smart girl. There has to be more to your future than just Slaying. Which means you have to pay attention in school and... you can call me if you need help with homework, too, okay?" then he grimaced. "Just, don't ask me for help with English homework. You're better off asking any one else."

Buffy laughed, smiling as she stepped forward to hug the genius again. "Okay... thank you, Charlie."

A moment later she felt Charlie shift a bit and looked up to see his eyebrows raised. "Does this mean you're going back soon?"

"No," Buffy tried to pull away but suddenly found his arms around her in a comforting hug. Then she shrugged and leaned into the hug once more. "But I'll think about it..."


End of Chapter 7: An Actual Hell

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AN: Well, how was that?

I played a lot with the time line and, yes, I made a pretty big jump at the end... I probably should have had the fic start later in the summer, since the episode, "Anne" starts the day before school opens, but... *shrugs*

Anyway, thanks to everyone who's reviewed. And once again, reviews, comments and constructive criticism are always appreciated.

Happy Thanksgiving! :-D

Bye!

Jess S


NEXT: Epilogue: Farewells & The First Call