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By Laura Anne Gilman
Rebound by SagebrushCopyright ©2000 Laura Anne Gilman
All right reserved.
The water was all around her, blue-green, murky and cold. At first, it was like watching a movie, some TV show of drowning people, their air bubbles flowing up past the camera lens in a decorative pattern. But then she tried to take a breath, and the water flooded her lungs, seared her brain, and cold, webby hands grabbed hold of her, dragging her down, pulling her away from the air, away from life...
Buffy Summers woke up with a desperate gasp, and found herself already out of bed, standing barefoot on the chilly floor. Her nightshirt was soaked in cold sweat, and her hair was stringy, like she'd gone to bed after a shower without combing it out first. For a moment she merely sucked oxygen into her lungs, her chest heaving, thankful for the crisp dryness of the winter air.
"Okay," she said to herself. "That was deeply unpleasant."
For all the perks of being the Slayer, the one who stood between humanity and the nether world of demons and things that went snarl in the night, there were times when it really, really sucked. Which was not an expression she used lightly, here in the vampire central that was Sunnydale. Three times in the past month she'd had the same dream. Always cold water, always drowning...
Yesterday, she'dfinally gone to Giles for advice....
"Don't tell me I'm overreacting!" Buffy stood looking over Rupert Giles's shoulder as he consulted his books. Good old Giles, her tweedy but ever -- dependable Watcher -- who wasn't being very helpful.
"Perhaps overreacting was the incorrect word," he admitted, looking up at her and pushing his glasses back up on his nose. "But I would emphasize that there seems to be nothing immediate to worry about." Closing the last of the books, he concluded firmly, "There are certain parameters which are used to identify omens or, ah, precognitive dreams. Perhaps you might consider learning them yourself, to ease your concerns."
"Right. In my copious spare time." She chewed on a nail, then realized what she was doing and firmly moved her hand away. "It couldn't be a prophecy, or anything? Something I'm wigging to before you?"
"That was the first thing I checked," Giles said. "While we may have a rather busy spring, there are no prophecies forthcoming which might be suggestive of water, or water-based threats."
"That's it? Just glance at a book and say 'nothing to worry you'?"
"Buffy, even the Slayer can have something as mundane as a nightmare." He stood up, indicating that the conversation was over.
Buffy glared at him, resenting that really irritating combination of sympathy and superiority he got in his voice sometimes.
"Perhaps," he continued, relenting a little under the weight of that glare, "these dreams stem from your string of unpleasant experiences with water?"
"Gee, took all your how many degrees to figure that out?" She felt all the air go out of her then, hearing the bite in her own voice. "No, forget that. Sorry. Unfair."
Giles was her Watcher -- her coach, her mentor, her partner -- and he knew her probably better than anyone else. But he couldn't read her mind. She had told him -- loudly, she recalled now -- that she was over the whole being drowned thing. As for the idea of the former swim team maybe still lurking off the coast somewhere -- not his fault if her subconscious wasn't as convinced as the rest of her that that was old, done news.
So calm down, Summers. Maybe he's right. Maybe you're just stressing. You've had bad dreams before, and nobody died.
"So you're saying I'm, what, projecting unfinished stuff into my dreams in a perfectly normal ordinary way?"
"So it would seem."
"Great." She pouted. "Gotta tell you, not the way I wanted to be ordinary." Yeah. Giles is probably right. No, he is right. That's his job, to know stuff like this. So let it go, Buffy.
Doing her best to shrug the whole thing off, she picked up her books and got ready to head for class. "Serves me right for saying I was getting bored with the same old, same old vamps."
"'Be careful what you wish for,'" Giles agreed, moving around her to replace the books on the shelf. "The sleeping mind can play some nasty tricks."
"The sleeping mind," Buffy had corrected flatly, "is a pain."
But that had been then, and this was now. And right now, in the dim faint light that wasn't quite morning yet, something deep in her back brain kept suggesting that Giles was wrong. That there was something more happening with this dream than repressed anxiety.
"Stop. No thinking. Thinking leads to obsessing, and obsessing leads to worse dreams, and worse dreams leads you to the nice white padded room."
Proud of her Psychology 101 evaluation, Buffy replaced her nightshirt with a dry one, and crawled back into bed. Unwilling to go back to sleep, she turned on the radio and, needing to hear a voice other than her own, cruised the stations until she came to a newscast.
"...reports coming in are that the Roxanne's leak, while significant, will not cause the damage at first feared. The company spokesperson issued a statement stating that crews were able to contain most of the oil within hours of the incident. However, environmental groups are already picketing the ship's owners, Sea-Rac Shipping, for alleged abuses in their safety record. And rescue teams are mobilizing to do what they can for the oil-soaked birds and animals which are being washed ashore. A spokesperson for the Sierra Club says..."
Great, Buffy thought. I spend my nights saving the world, and meanwhile the rest of the human race gets their kicks dumping in it.
The sun was rising slowly behind them, catching glints off the water. The small, curved strip of beach wasn't likely to appeal to even the hardiest of sunbathers, being lined with weather-beaten rocks the size of large dogs, and strewn with splintered driftwood and the occasional piles of dried-out seaweed. But the dozen or so figures walking down the damp sand weren't there for the sun or the surf.
They had been there for several hours already, dressed in bright yellow windbreakers and jeans. Some carried packs, while others played high-powered flashlights over the sand, covering, as they walked, the area still night-shadowed, from the rocks along the road down to the waterline.
It was slow, nerve-wracking work, with only the occasional reward.
The call came from farther down the beach, and Willow Rosenberg hurried to join the speaker; she was one of those carrying a bundle, and her hands, clumsy in their protective gloves, busily unwrapped the thick, dry cloth, which she handed to her companion when she reached him.
Hopefully, this would be one of those rewarding finds.
"Oh, the poor thing!" Willow crooned, looking over the speaker's shoulder as he knelt in the sand. In front of him, flopping weakly, was a large, sharp-beaked bird, a herring gull, Willow thought, its normally white and gray feathers now coated with a heavy dark crud, the result of an oil spill off the coast the night before.
But it was alive.
"Think he'll make it, Sean?" she asked.
"Yeah, I think he's gonna be fine," the rescue worker reassured her. "I'll take him back to the truck," he continued, expertly immobilizing the bird with the blanket and blotting off some of the oil as he did so. "You go on, see if you spot any more. But remember, don't touch them! Call, and wait for me to come."
"Got it," the redhead said, watching as Sean, a solid, competent figure in his windbreaker and matching baseball cap, cradled the bird as carefully as he could, and headed back to the road, where a large van with MARINE WILDLIFE RESCUE stenciled on its side waited to receive his bundle.
"Poor thing," Willow said again, and turned to scan down the length of California coast. She winced at the sight of the pearlized sand now dulled by the same goo which had coated the dozen or so birds they had already rescued that morning. A media truck had cruised by earlier, but the slow search -- and -- retrieve activity didn't make for newsworthy soundbites, and so they'd moved down the road, looking for something splashier to film. Oil spills really just weren't a story anymore.
Sighing, Willow trudged forward. If I ever get my hands on whoever did this, I'll -- I'll turn them into frogs and drop them into a sewer. See how they like getting slimed, and not being able to breathe!
A lot of the birds they had found that morning had died before the rescue crews could do anything. The sight of those still bodies, so fragile, had made her madder than she could remember being in a long time. And what made it worse was there wasn't really anything they could do about the people who caused the spill. Lawyers would fight it out, and it would take years, and meanwhile all they could do was clean up the mess.
But that one is alive, she reminded herself. A lot of them are going to live, 'cause we were here.
A nagging voice at the back of her mind that sounded a lot like her mother was telling her this was a school day, and she wasn't going to be much good at any of it without at least a little sleep. But Willow closed her mental ears to that voice in a way she wouldn't have been able to just a few years ago. B.B. Before Buffy.
Saving lives, any sort, was kind of more important. Even if they were only animals. Besides, there weren't any tests today. She could catch a nap in the library at lunch, and she'd be fine. No worse than staying up all night to study. Or save the world.
A sudden little whimper made her turn her attention from the shoreline to the tumble of larger rocks behind her.
"Huh." Willow scrunched her face up in a frown. A bird didn't make that kind of sound. But it wasn't just birds they were supposed to be looking for. A seal, trying to get away from the source of the oil? They had been told to especially keep an eye out for some harbor seals that had been sighted in the area earlier, but...wouldn't someone have seen it already?
There was another whimpering noise, quickly cut off, and Willow looked around, trying to figure out exactly where the sound had come from.
Over there, Willow decided all at once, then stopped. What had suddenly drawn her attention to that specific area? The sound hadn't been loud enough to be certain...but something was prickling at the back of her head, like the feeling she got sometimes when a spell was going to really, really work. She'd learned over the past year or so to listen to that magic-y tingle.
Only remember, Willow cautioned herself. Just because you're outside Sunnydale city limits doesn't mean it can't be something bad...
Thankful for the heavy gloves she was wearing, not to mention the vial of holy water carried in the fannypack cinched around her waist, Willow climbed up over the largest rock, searching carefully for the source of the whimper.
"Where are you?" she asked softly, trying to project warmth and caring into her voice. "Poor thing, I won't hurt you. Come on, let me see you. I'm here to help -- "
Her voice caught in her throat, and her eyes widened in shock.
"Oh. Oh wow!"
The young girl, her hair a sleek, dark, wet cap, was naked but for a thin brown blanket of some kind wrapped around her. She was a sturdy little thing, but gave the impression, somehow, of being weak and lost.
Scared, Willow thought. The poor thing's scared. I'm scaring her?
The girl stared up at Willow with enormous, frightened dark eyes, then tried to shift away, only to let out a mew of pain.
"Oh!" Her paralysis broken, Willow scooted down the rock, coming closer to the injured girl. "Are you okay? I can help. How did you get caught in here? Did you fall? And what happened to your clothes?"
The girl merely whimpered, trying to push up against the rough rock behind her, as though it would give her some protection against the approaching stranger.
"Hey. You don't have to be scared of me. I'm just trying to help!" Willow stopped, confused and not a little offended. "My name's Willow. What's yours?"
The brown-eyed girl stared up at her, unblinking, and closed her fingers more tightly around the blanket. Did she understand me? Willow wondered. Is she where the tingle came from?
She crouched by the younger girl, reaching out one hand slowly, the way one would to a strange dog. But when her fingers touched the blanket, Willow stopped, shocked by the sleek feel of it under her fingers. A tingle, yes, stronger than before. But, more, too.
It's not cloth. What is it? Skin. Warm, slick skin. Like suede. But it feels kinda weird, too. Like it's covered in...oil.
"Oh," Willow said in sudden realization. "Oh boy!"
Copyright © 2000 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corperation.
Excerpted from Deep Water by Laura Anne Gilman Copyright ©2000 by Laura Anne Gilman. Excerpted by permission.
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