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Everything is Different Now: Betrayals

by Declan
Rating: PG-13

+1=2+

Betrayals (PART 1: Good Intentions)

Silence stretched out between them. Buffy hesitated as she thought about how to begin, how to open delicate negotiations with the enemy who looked and sounded and even acted like the girl she loved.

Faith just stood there expectantly, dressed all in black, a band of pale skin showing between the bottom of her shirt and the top of her pants. Sultry red lips curled into a knowing smile, always confident and cocky, even if she’d done what Buffy had asked her to by coming here. She still had that air of utter certainty, while Buffy felt nothing but hesitation and self-doubt.

“So...” Buffy thought that it was important that she spoke first – although it would’ve helped if she had a good follow-up line.

Faith raised her eyebrows. “So,” she stated simply, whilst simultaneously making it sound slightly rebellious, like a petulant teenager sulking at her parents.

Buffy rubbed her hands together for lack of anything else to do with them. “Okay, I’ll start then... with the conversation thing.”

Faith gave a small, husky laugh. “Don’t you mean, ‘Now I’m gonna give you a lecture on the rights and wrongs of slayerness’? ‘Cause I gotta tell ya, B, had enough of those from you.” She shrugged casually and sighed. Reaching behind her back, she pulled out a knife, “Better if we just get down to it.”

Buffy tensed up as eyed the large blade in Faith’s hand, one edge razor sharp, the other serrated. Faith held it lightly as she looked around the mansion, almost expectant. Resisting the instinct to let the slayer part of her uncoil and go on the offensive, Buffy slowly held out a hand to calm the other slayer.

She kept her voice even. “I told you Faith, I’m here alone. Nobody’s going to jump out of the shadows if you start waving weapons about.” Buffy gestured with her hand, “So, you wanna put that thing away, please? I’m not here to fight.”

Faith didn’t put it away, but she did drop her arm down to her side. She shrugged. “You didn’t answer my question.”

Buffy was slightly confused by the change in tone, mild threats to conversational. “Huh? What question?”

Faith gestured at their surroundings. “About the last time we were both here. You remember? You and Angel giving me the big helpless act, playing the captive. So where is he?”

“H-He left, um, after graduation. I think he’s in LA now.” Buffy thought that that was a good place to begin her explanations, but first, “Do you want some food?” Without waiting for an answer Buffy hurried over to her backpack near the French windows and brought it closer to the fire.

Faith’s features were hard and suspicious. She watched closely as Buffy crouched by the fire, unzipped her bag and pulled out a few bottles of water.

“Here, take it. You must be thirsty.” Buffy held one out to her.

Faith gave her a knowing smile. “Let me guess; I take a nice, long drink and the mickey you put in it knocks me out. Then you deliver me to some stuffy Brits and get a shiny gold star.” Faith shook her head, “Or maybe a merit badge. Thanks, but I’ll pass.”

Buffy blinked in surprise and looked at the water. “I didn’t... Faith, it’s not drugged.” She took the water, unscrewed the cap and took a long drink before bringing the bottle away from her lips, “See, I’m not trying to ‘roofie’ you or anything.”

With that she sat the open bottle down between them and brought some foil-wrapped sandwiches out, setting them down carefully next to the water. “Besides, I don’t even work for the Watcher’s Council anymore.”

Faith, who’d been busily staring at the water like it was a snake, blinked when she heard that. “Huh?”

Buffy paused as she removed more food from the bag, and looked up at her. “I fired them, or refused to cooperate with them anymore, or something. Now it’s just me, and sometimes Giles.” She risked a small smile, “Like I said, things have changed.”

Faith raised a sceptical eyebrow, “So you just what, quit being the slayer?”

Buffy shook her head as she carefully placed more food on the ground between them, like it was an offering. “No. I mean, I still patrol, slay vampires and demons, the usual stuff. Even save the world on occasion. The Hellmouth still needs guarding.” Buffy stared at the other girl, “It still needs slayers.”

Faith ignored that last part, sneering at Buffy: “So, what happened with you and Soul-Boy? Got tired of the ‘no screwing’ rule and decided to dump him, is that it?”

Buffy took a shaky breath. “Actually, he, uh, dumped me. I-it happened a week or so after our midnight hostage exchange, remember? Angel... We broke up just before prom, way before graduation.”

Faith’s cold smile melted into a scowl as she stared hard at Buffy. “So you tried to kill me for a guy you weren’t even dating? He kicks you to the curb and you what, still try to get back with him?” Faith took a step forward, “Man, it must’ve burned your ass that even after you saved his life he still walked away, huh?” Faith tilted her head, “How’d you do that anyway? After your ‘turn Faith into a happy-snack’ plan went up the spout?”

Buffy stood, feeling a familiar anger rising in her. The anger that resulted from Faith mouthing off about complex, sensitive situations, poking at old wounds with a sharp stick to try and get a reaction; trying to upset her.

Buffy forced the hurt down and looked levelly at the other girl. “I came after you because I still loved Angel. Even if he didn’t want us to be together, it didn’t mean he deserved to die, slowly and in agony like you obviously wanted.” Buffy pretended to think about it, “And then there was the whole ‘trying to help the Mayor chow down on half of Sunnydale’ thing – I wasn’t really thrilled about that plan. Oh, and going after my friends and trying to kill them also pissed me off. There were many reasons why I did what I did.”

Faith’s eyes narrowed even as her lips curled into a smile and she took another step closer. Her voice took on a dangerous edge again, almost eager. “So, I guess we’re done talkin’...”

But Buffy wasn’t finished; she shook her head. “But it was still the wrong thing to do.” Buffy looked down at her hands. “As soon as I... stabbed you, felt the blade,” she shook her head, “I froze up, and my mind screamed at me to stop and undo it, but it was too late. I couldn’t take it back, even though I wanted to.”

Faith’s voice was rough with anger. “You think I came here lookin’ for a fucking apology, B? You took my life.” Faith stared hard at her, “And it doesn’t matter what you say, I’m here to dole out some payback.”

Buffy sighed sorrowfully. “Give me ten minutes Faith, that’s all I ask. Just listen to what I have to say,” she gestured at the food now piled at the Faith’s feet, “eat something, and afterwards…” She looked into the other girl’s eyes, “If you still want to fight... I won’t stop you. Do what you want.”

Faith seemed to weight up her words before giving a mild shrug. “Whatever.”

The dark haired girl watched Buffy move away a little before stooping to grab the bag of chips and leaning back against the side of the fireplace. Orange firelight glinted off her leather pants. “Go ahead, B. Time’s a-wastin’.”

*****

Agent Lawson shifted his weight back on his haunches to keep himself from cramping up. He’d taken the best position available, behind a piece of musty, broken furniture in one of the far alcoves to the right. It provided plenty of cover but had an easily accessible escape route, a broken window high and to the left of him. He had settled there after he’d seen the dark-haired girl do a final sweep of the grounds and disappear inside. Then he’d followed after her, carefully avoiding the back entrance where a flashlight had been visibly flitting around, instead going in through a small side door while the girl was busy lighting a fire.

He’d told Stenwick to hold fast at the tree line and to only break position if Lawson gave the signal, but he hadn’t really expected any trouble. They’d followed Summers since Revello Drive and she’d been oblivious to their tailing her, and they hadn’t even been that discreet.

But after the midnight meeting had gotten started, Lawson had tensed up a little, intrigued despite himself: the girl Miss Summers was meeting with wasn’t an ally, or even an associate. This was a hostile negotiation... with another slayer no less.

Lawson had heard the rumours about the ‘slayer’, that this Summers woman was some kind of amateur monster-hunter, with no real training to speak of, but some serious natural – or supernatural – talent. She’s apparently put two whole patrol teams on their collective asses during a recent training exercise, all without breaking a sweat. She was something unique, an anomaly, somebody who could take down HSTs all by her lonesome.

But apparently, there was another one just like her.

He listened intently and noted down all the relevant information. It was clear that this Faith person was even more unstable than Summers herself. Whoever chose these girls really needed to give them a psyche evaluation first.

Lawson continued to sit and watch. Professor Walsh would want a full report.

*****

Buffy hugged herself as she collected her thoughts. “After you fell, I made my way back to... here, actually, where Angel was. And since the only cure was slayer blood I... made him bite me, drink from me.” Buffy looked at Faith, “And I almost died. But Angel took me to the hospital and that’s when we had our, uh, shared dream.”

Faith was busily munching on chips like she was watching a movie. She stopped and shook her head, bemused. “Huh?”

Buffy made a back and forth gesture in the air between them. “Our shared dream, Faith. We said, well there was a whole bunch of cryptic stuff and, uh, a cat – we were in your old apartment. You told me how to... You honestly don’t remember?”

Faith thought about it as she sucked some powdered cheese off her fingers. “Nope. Had a whole bunch of dreams with you in, B, but we didn’t do a whole bunch of talkin’ in them, y’know.”

Buffy felt her mouth go dry. “Uh, what did we do? In your dreams, I mean.”

Faith glared at her. “Whaddya think? We went at it; we scrapped. A big ol’ replay with me gettin’ the business end of a knife.”

Buffy felt a cold chill seep through her skin. Faith not remembering their shared dream was a genuine surprise to her; it was what had initially given Buffy hope about the other slayer.

‘But it was real; it had to be. Okay, so it’s buried under seven months of nightmares. But I can reach her, make her remember and realise what she is.’

Buffy spoke up softly. “I’m sorry about your dreams.”

Faith shook her head dismissively. “Yeah, yeah.”

Buffy frowned as she continued. “I did talk to you, during... while you were asleep. I visited as often as I could. I sat beside you, told you all my best jokes, I even read a few comic books to you.”

Faith smirked round the Oreo she was munching but didn’t comment further.

Buffy took a couple of steps towards Faith, “I thought that maybe you’d have heard something.” Faith’s blank look provided her answer, “And I left you those clothes for when you woke up.”

Faith finally spoke up, her voice unreadable. “So why? Why didja do all that shit?””

Buffy thought about it. “Because I didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten about you or that I wanted any of it to turn out the way it did.” She looked at Faith, “Because every day I regretted how things ended between us.”

“Is that a fact?” Faith pushed away from the wall and strode a little closer, “Little Miss Moral on shaky high ground? What brought that on, huh?”

Buffy ignored her jeering tone and pushed on. “I did a lot of thinking over the summer and I realised something. When I turned seventeen, the man I loved more than anything turned on me and tried to kill my friends.” She looked at Faith, “Most of the year before you arrived I was watching Angel terrorise everybody I cared about and I didn’t stop him.” Buffy bit her bottom lip as she forced herself to continue, “People died because of mistakes I made, because I wasn’t strong enough to stop him.” Buffy gestured emphatically, “And then the next year rolls around and you come along. We get friendly and you make this genuine, tragic mistake, and I totally freak. And instead of trying to reach you, after the whole thing at the docks, I pull away. I make myself hard in case you decide to turn. And then you do and I... For part of me, it was almost a relief.” Buffy shook her head in disgust, “Because it made things simple: I could rationalise and say that you were just another Angelus, another monster to be stopped. I didn’t even have to try and help you or reason with you. You were just... the enemy.” Buffy blinked away tears and stared at Faith, “But you’re not my enemy, you’re a slayer and my friend and I don’t want to fight you anymore.”

Faith took this in, her jaw clenched as she thought about it. “Jeez, what the fuck happened to you, B.” She began to pace back and forth in front of the fireplace, agitated, “You think I buy this ‘Ghandi’ act for a second? You getting’ all teary and sorry, acting like we were some kinda best bud types? You wanted it this way, that’s how I remember it. Tow the Buffy-line or screw you – that’s how it was.”

Buffy shook her head. “Faith, that was never...”

“So I’m thinkin’ you’re either tryin’ ta play me, again, or,” Faith gave Buffy a measured look and jabbed a finger at her, “you’re scared ‘cause you know you can’t take me.” Faith nodded in satisfaction, evidently liking her theory, “Gotten all soft, playin’ at being college girl too long, so you’re trying to talk me down to save your own ass.”

Buffy gaped in disbelief. “You think I’m here, meeting with you in the middle of the night, alone, pouring my heart out to you because I’m afraid of you? Faith.” Buffy shook her head sadly, “I’m afraid for you. All the things that you’ve done, how terrible you must feel.”

Faith narrowed her eyes at Buffy. “And you wanna ‘save me’, is that it? Man, you’d love that wouldn’t you, Saint Buffy bringing home that poor, naughty slayer after showing her the error of her ways. Giles standing there all proud of you...”

“SHUT UP!” Buffy cried out in frustration, “God! Faith, this isn’t actually about me, at all. I told you that I have regrets, that I hated the ways things went down between us, that I hated hurting you and that I did everything I could think of to try and make it right afterwards.” Buffy looked searchingly at Faith, “And I know deep down that you feel the same way. You don’t want this, any of this. And if you could take it back you would.”

Faith sneered. “So you know me now, is that it?”

Buffy pointed at the other girl. “You’re the one who said we were the same, remember? On the docks, that night, you told me that the same things that are in you are in me too?” Buffy stepped closer, “Well that works both ways Faith. Not just the bad, not just those slayer impulses, but the good too. I know, deep down, that you don’t want to be like this, that you want things to be different. That you regret things, the people you’ve hurt...”

“Shut the hell up!” Faith yelled through clenched teeth.

“No, because you know I’m right.” Buffy felt her heart pounding; she saw the doubt in Faith’s face, her uncertainty, and the pain. “I’m standing here to tell you that it’s not too late. I’m telling you that more than anything I want you on my side again. Us, the chosen two, Faith.”

Faith backed up a step and turned as if to leave; she ran her free hand through her hair. “I tried it that and I ain’t you. I’m not... wanted.”

“I don’t want you to be me, Faith. I just want you.” Buffy flushed at the double meaning but pressed on, “To be you. To be more. To be the slayer you were meant to be, that I know you can.”

The dark haired girl gestured at Buffy with the knife. “Just stay back.” Faith turned her back on Buffy, staring into the fire, the knife clenched tightly in one fist, her body rigid with tension. Then, she seemed to deflate, shoulders slumping. “It’s too late, B. Ten minutes are up.” She turned to Buffy, and for the first time her eyes were in turmoil, full of sadness and regret: “I-it’s too late.”

Buffy dared to step closer; if Faith raised her hand now she could easily jam the knife into Buffy’s stomach. “I told you Faith, I’m not going to fight you. I’m done, okay?” Tentatively, she reached out up and stroked a strand of hair away from the other girl’s face. “And the only people who decide if things are too late Faith, is us; not the police, or the Watcher’s Council, or even my friends. If we stop fighting now then we have a real chance to make things right, of starting over. Together, okay? I’m not going to abandon you. I never did.”

Faith stared into her eyes. The brunette’s expression went beyond sorrow; she seemed lost more than anything. Her unsure eyes searched Buffy’s for a sign that she could trust her.

Buffy swallowed and nodded. “Just hand me the knife, Faith. Then we can take it from there.”

Faith raised her hand hesitantly. Between them the knife glimmered white in the firelight. “B, I don’t know how t’... do this. I don’t think I...” she stammered.

Then the taser blast hit her.

The arc of energy struck Faith high in the shoulder and hurled her sideways, slamming her hard against the mantelpiece, which crumbled under the impact. Frozen, Buffy saw Faith tumble limply to the floor into a pile of wood chips, plaster and broken tiles. Faith groaned, holding the side of her head, she tried to push herself to her hands and knees. “Buffy.” She murmured groggily.

“No.” Buffy gasped.

But another two blasts struck Faith in the side; electric blue lines writhed through her as she shook with violent convulsion before she slumped, still, as wisps of smoke curled off her body.

Buffy turned, eyes wide in disbelief to see four commandos moving out of the shadows in formation, weapons pointed.

Riley was at their head.

*****

“I think I did something bad”, Willow said unhappily. She lay on her back on Tara’s bed, hands clamped together on her stomach, her fingers twisting themselves in worry. A sure sign of guilt.

“Y-You did? What do you think you did wrong?” asked Tara. She was absently flipping through a stack of Tarot cards on the bed next to her, seemingly content with the silence while Willow’s head was all buzzy with accusatory voices.

“The whole Faith thing. It’s making my stomach all acidy.” Willow grouched, “And I told Riley about it even though I knew that he run off and form a posse and go after... Miss Black Hat.”

Tara thought about it. “You were just worried about Buffy, right? Like maybe she could use some help?”

Willow sat up. “Well, yeah. But Faith could hurt a commando person, or they might hurt her... and I don’t like how that last thought kind of makes me happy.” She looked pleadingly at Tara, “Am I, like, a bad person or something? For thinking like that?”

Tara shook her head. “I don’t think you’re a bad person, and Riley and these people, his friends, they don’t go around hurting people do they? Just monsters.” Tara looked down as she turned over another card, “You’re just looking out for your friend, that’s all. It’s better to be safe.”

Willow nodded a little at Tara’s comforting words. “I hope Buffy sees it that way. I’m not sure she’s gonna like that Riley got involved.” She gestured at the cards, “Any omen-y things in my future? Is it my fate to get royally spanked by an annoyed blonde girl?”

Tara hesitated in turning over the next card. She glanced up at Willow simultaneously smiling and blushing.

Willow’s eyes widened with realisation. “Oh! I didn’t mean... I meant bad spanking by Buffy. ‘Cause the other day there was a spanking reference, which you would have realised if I had told you that, but it wasn’t really an important conversation I had with Buffy, so I didn’t.” Willow paused and then began babbling again as she tried to clarify, “Not that, y’know, I’m entirely against the other kind...”

She stopped as she saw Tara frowning down at the cards she’d drawn.

Willow craned her neck to see one card with a starry sky and crescent moon over some hills, and another showing a stony, medieval tower.

“Um, Tara, is everything okay?”

Tara shook her head. “I’m not sure, these things have never really worked for me before, but now... I-it’s like they’re speaking to me, telling me a story.”

“Is it a nice story?” Willow asked hesitantly.

Tara looked up at Willow from under her curtain of hair. “It’s an omen.”

Willow didn’t like the sound of that.

*****

“Gates. Taggart. Secure the prisoner for transport.” Riley made some sort of hand gesture and the other guys started forward towards Faith. Buffy moved into their way, eyes blazing at Riley.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Riley took a step towards her, his brow furrowed. “Buffy, it’s okay, we got this. We’ll take her into custody.”

“You’re not taking her anywhere.” Buffy’s voice cracked with anger, “Why... What are you even doing here?”

Riley’s frown deepened. “Willow said that you might be in trouble. That this –” he gestured to Faith’s unconscious body, “woman is dangerous.”

‘Willow. Willow told Riley, even though she knew that I didn’t want him involved. Oh, she and I are gonna have a very long talk...’

Buffy glanced warily at Taggart and Forrest, both of whom had removed their masks and were looking at Buffy with guarded hostility. She turned her focus back to Riley. “Faith is my business, not yours. You shouldn’t be here.”

Riley stepped a little closer, his voice was low and reasonable. “Buffy, c’mon, I’ve seen her police file okay, she’s a stone-cold murderer. I was worried about you.” Riley shook his head. “I don’t understand why you’d keep something like this from me. If she’s a threat to you...”

Buffy bristled at the hurt in his tone. “Oh, like you tell me everything? All of your military secrets? 314 and things like that? You have no problem keeping things from me.”

Riley shook his head. “That’s different. It’s classified information. Need to know only. Anyway, how do you even...?”

“Forget it. The point is, my life is all about threats. Every day.” Buffy kept her voice hard. “I’m the Slayer, Riley. I don’t need ‘rescuing’.”

“She’s a slayer too, isn’t she? And she had a knife...”

“I was talking her down.” Buffy interrupted harshly, “She wasn’t going to hurt me because she was putting her trust in me. Now she’s gonna think that I set her up!” Buffy stepped closer, trying to control the anger in her voice, “You had no right to come in here and blindside us like this.”

“Us?” Riley’s jaw tensed. “It’s my job to protect people from monsters. From what I’ve read, I’d say she definitely qualifies.”

Buffy narrowed her eyes. “She’s not some demon, Riley. She’s a slayer, and trust me, you know nothing about that.”

Forrest interrupted: “Enough of this. We’re taking her in. Now.”

Buffy’s voice was ice. “You can try. Wouldn’t recommend it though.”

Forrest half raised his rifle and glowered. “Was that a threat?”

Buffy felt her muscles flex under her skin as she tensed. “More like a promise.”

Riley shot out an arm and grabbed Buffy’s shoulder. “Buffy...”

She knocked it away angrily. “Let go of me!”

Buffy turned her gaze as she heard Forrest charge his taser gun. He raised it and pointed it at her.

Riley stepped between them. “THAT’S ENOUGH. Stand down soldier!” He looked at Buffy like she was crazy, “Buffy, listen – this is stupid. From what I saw that gal, who likes to stab people, was going to stab you.”

Buffy didn’t trust herself to say anything so she just glared. She’d been ready to attack Forrest with everything she had.

Riley softened his voice. “But if you say I made a mistake, then I guess I must’ve read the situation wrong here. I accept that and I’m sorry for it. But protocol says I’ve got to bring her in.”

Buffy looked sharply at him. “That’s not...”

Riley put up a pacifying hand. “Listen to me, she wakes up she’s gonna be pissed, right? It’s better for everybody if she’s somewhere secure when that happens. We’ll explain everything to Professor Walsh, together, first thing tomorrow. If she wants to change, like you say, then that’s great. The Initiative could use all the help it can get, really.”

Buffy saw some sense in what he was saying, but Faith waking up somewhere familiar would be better. Not in some jail cell. She shook her head. “I don’t know Riley...”

“Think about it: we bring her in, get her checked out and make sure she’s not too badly hurt. We’ll give her the full medical; fix her up while she sleeps. Then you can come and see her when she wakes up, explain everything to her.”

Buffy looked at him warily. “And then she can just leave, with me?”

Riley looked over at the unconscious girl. “If you can vouch for her with the professor, explain things properly, I’ll back you up. After that, I’m sure we can work something out, help her somehow. Point is; we’re not gonna just lock her up. We’ll listen to you.” Riley put a hand gently on Buffy’s shoulder, “We might even be able to help out with the police, at least pull the warrants that are out against her. Get them to back off for a while.”

Buffy, in spite of herself, raised a hopeful eyebrow. “You could do that?”

Riley nodded. “Easily. If you vouch for her.” Riley relaxed a little and ventured a smile, “She’ll probably have to take a couple of dozen psyche tests as well, but that can wait awhile.”

Buffy was torn: the full medical and getting the police off Faith’s back sounded great in theory. Faith fitting smoothly into the rest of Buffy’s life sounded even better. And yet...

“First thing tomorrow.” Buffy nodded firmly, “And Riley? Could you, like, supervise all the stuff with Faith? I mean personally. Keep an eye on her?” Off the back of his questioning look she added, “Faith worked with me, she was a good friend before all the badness. I owe her, you understand?”

Riley nodded in sympathy. “Okay. I get that. Trust me, Buffy. Everything’s going to be okay.”

He gestured to the other soldiers and they moved swiftly to grab Faith, lifting her off the ground and taking her outside.

Buffy felt suddenly drained. All that tension and emotional worry dissipated, leaving her completely wrung out. She watched passively as the soldiers carted Faith off.

‘It’s only for tonight. I’ll see her tomorrow, to apologise and explain. Everything will be alright.’

This way she could at least check in with Giles and the gang, tell them all what had happened. That she had actually managed to get Faith to listen to reason. And if she could get to talk to her again soon and explain this whole misunderstanding, she’d just have to explain to Faith about the Initiative, and how this wasn’t some stupid psych-out like before...

And then maybe, with the cops out of the way, Faith could stay somewhere close, with Giles, and then at Mom’s if everything went okay. Buffy remembered all of the opening up Faith had done around her Mom, all that bonding. Faith could have that again. She could go back to being the slayer.

Buffy felt Riley’s hand on her arm and she turned to him. He looked at her with concern. “I guess you two must really have a history.”

She felt herself colour with embarrassment and tried to cover it. “I’m sorry for freaking at you, okay. I know that you thought that I was in trouble and that, uh, you thought you were helping. I shouldn’t have gone off on you like that.” She looked up into his eyes, “It’s just the whole slayer-thing is usually a ‘one girl’ only deal. It makes Faith and me...”

“Complicated? Unique?” Riley’s hands moved up to Buffy’s shoulders and gave them a comforting squeeze, “You can give me the full run down tomorrow, okay? Tonight I’m on guard duty, not to mention explaining this all to Professor Walsh.”

“She doesn’t know?”

A slight shake of his head. “I went off book on this one, sort of like a Black-Op.”

Buffy sighed. “That’s just great. Your boss already thinks I’m a bad influence.”

“I think she’ll see that it was for a good cause.” Riley allowed a small smile, “Besides, doesn’t breaking the rules make me just a little bit dangerous?”

Buffy gave him a rueful shake of her head. “Please, don’t even go there. I have enough danger in my life.” She offered a shy smile and said softly, “I’d prefer somebody I can depend on.”

Riley looked thoughtful before gently pulling her close and kissing her deeply. Buffy responded, tilting her head back and feeling the strong pull of his body. She sighed contentedly into his mouth.

Somebody coughed. “Hostile secured for transport.” Forrest spoke up, his voice edged with annoyance. “Sir.”

Riley pulled back. “Sorry, I guess I’m still on the clock. But tomorrow...” He hesitated, “Are we good?”

Buffy nodded and tried for a smile that would reassure him. “We’re good. I’ll come by the Initiative after I talk with the gang.” She dropped her arms away from around his neck and clasped her hands together, “Good luck with the whole debrief thing.”

Riley nodded before reluctantly turning to leave. Buffy watched him go, watched Forrest give her a cold stare before following Riley out.

‘He’s just feels threatened by strong women or maybe just women who take away from his ‘man-time’ with Riley.’

Buffy sighed; it would be nice if she didn’t alienate every single member of the Initiative other than her boyfriend. Still, as confrontations go that could’ve been a lot worse. Gratuitous violence or strong language or worse... Instead she’d just watch them haul off her ex-girlfriend to throw her in a teeny cell somewhere. Buffy shuddered at that realisation, Faith as a prisoner.

But she had to trust in Riley to look out for Faith. A big nap and some major first aid, not interrogation and behaviour modification.

‘Oh, god, could they even do that? Stick a chip in Faith like they did with Spike? Because that would be horrible, she’s a human being. They couldn’t just...’

Except she’d be seeing Faith tomorrow, and Buffy was fairly certain that invasive brain surgery took a lot longer to organise than ‘immediately’. There was equipment and operating tables to set up and gowns and masks to put on – anyway it always looked very complicated to Buffy, and not the sort of thing that you rushed into in the middle of the night.

Speaking of, Buffy looked at her watch; it was well after one o’clock. She wasn’t too keen on the idea of walking all the way back to campus. Then she’d have to confront Willow, and she didn’t feel like yet another emotional fraught argument this late at night. Save something for tomorrow.

Buffy started packing up the remains of the food she’d brought for Faith. She’d head back to her house; talk with her Mom in the morning. Have a nice, normal breakfast chat before heading over to Giles and facing things head on.

Buffy wondered vaguely if her life would ever get any simpler.

*****

The cowled figure watched dispassionately as the slayer picked over her leavings and readied to depart. Events could not have gone better; the two slayers had argued and fought, emotions had curled off of them like smoke – so much anger and passion and guilt. All of those feelings were ultimately necessary for what was required. And now they were separated. For the moment, Faith would be confined in the embrace of a high security government cell somewhere, which was good, at least until preparations for the next stage were made ready.

The figure turned away from the Summers girl and walked directly to where the man who had spied on the whole exchange had hidden, watched as he crept backwards, slipped over to a nearby shadow and hauled himself silently through a broken window arch. The figure followed after him, passing through the solid stone wall and stepping out into the night. The spy met with his cohort a few meters away from the building, their low, breathless exchanges seemed louder against the quiet of the night.

“What happened?” the lookout asked the spy, “I saw one of our squads enter. Then what sounded like fighting?”

The spy shook his head. “Not much of a fight. An ambush; commando raided them, brought a dark-haired girl down, took her in.”

The lookout shook his head. “What is Walsh playing at? Sending us in blind like that. The situation could’ve gone sideways.”

“Wasn’t an authorised op, from what I could hear.” The spy’s voice was flat with contempt, “It was Walsh’s golden boy, Finn. He was leading them, keeping a close eye on his girl.”

The other guy seemed to grimace in disgust as he thought it over. “So now what?”

“I’ll head back and report to Walsh. You continue shadowing the Summers girl just in case she tries anything, now that her girlfriend’s been grabbed.”

The other man chuckled dryly. “Girlfriend, huh? No wonder Riley shot her.”

“Just stay sharp, keep watch and check in at 0800 hours.” Without another word the spy departed, leaving his fellow behind.

The man sighed and pulled some sort of hand held device out of his pocket, staring at its illuminated display. “So where are you heading cutie, huh? Any other secrets you’d care to...” He stopped when he noticed the cloaked form in front of him, out of nowhere. “What the…?”

The figure made a simple gesture with one hand. “Somnus.

The man fell to the ground as if pole-axed, threads of reddish energy danced around his forehead as he slipped into unconsciousness.

The figure stood and listened, but heard nothing. The altercation had gone unnoticed.

Looking down at the unknown man, the figure reasoned (not for the first time) that not everybody in this world was a pawn to be manipulated and then discarded.

Some were simply bargaining chips.

*****

Riley stood in Walsh’s office as the older woman digested his explanation. She’d apparently been working late at the facility when the call had come in. Riley had hoped that he’d have a few hours to get the hostile... the slayer, situated and secured before offering up any excuses to his boss.

“So, let’s see if I grasp this correctly. At the request of one of the slayer’s associates, you, on nothing but your own authority, commandeer a patrol team and went off grid, inserting yourself into a situation you knew nothing about, with zero intel or backup?” Walsh rounded on Riley as he stood rigidly to attention, “Would that be a correct summation of events?”

Riley stared straight ahead as he tried to explain. “Yes, Ma’am. But there was a limited time frame in which to act, so I made a judgement call...”

“A judgement call?” Walsh’s voice snapped, “I had hoped that this was an impulsive act, but if you’re saying that you judged the situation practically, then perhaps this state of affairs is more serious than I realised.”

Riley frowned at that. “The mission was a success. The other slayer was, um, contained until we could ascertain her threat status. And we were undetected.”

“This is a secret organisation, Agent Finn.” Walsh replied dryly, “Going undetected is one of our mission statements, not a happy accident.” She paused, mulling over the situation. “So, another slayer?”

Riley felt he was on more firm footing and nodded. “Affirmative. She’s being processed now.” Riley felt a pang of irritation that he wasn’t there to supervise it himself. Buffy had put her trust in him and it was clear that this girl... mattered to her. Another slayer, somebody like Buffy – but not.

He knew Buffy was special, and part of what made her special was the fact that she’d been fighting demons since about the time that Riley had been tackled his first assault course. And now there was this Faith person, who had been giving those same powers but had, somewhere along the line, decided to kill people and, “Side with the bad guys”, as Willow had put it. Vague, but there it was.

Riley wondered why Buffy hadn’t told him about any of this previously. A dangerous vampire ex? Some brooding bad boy who’d hurt Buffy in the past, sure no problem, she’d told him that. That couldn’t have been easy, but Riley had accepted the strangeness and intensity of what had gone before. Buffy had obviously dealt with it and moved on.

Maybe there was some slayer connection he was missing, he thought about how angry and intense Buffy had gotten, the way she’d flared up in defence of the other girl. He didn’t mind admitting that it had made him a little uneasy.

Walsh flicked though the report that Riley had obtained from the police department. “Well, I agree that this seems to be a... special case. I’ll have Dr. Angleman see to her medical needs, and then you can keep an eye on her. You and your whole squad are off the patrol roster for the foreseeable future. Do I make myself clear?”

‘Great. So I’m grounded.’

“Yes, Ma’am.” Riley felt himself relax a little. It could’ve been worse – he still had his skin intact after all.

Without looking up, Walsh said with finality, “Dismissed agent.”

Walsh watched him go.

Just as she was getting to grips with one unpredictable factor, another two turn up. Riley... Agent Finn’s erratic behaviour seemed to be getting worse and now there was this other girl. The girl seemed to share a history with Buffy Summers, as well as having a colourful criminal past of her own.

Another slayer. Another loose canon.

But at least this one was contained, where she could be analysed and controlled. But Walsh needed more information about her before she settled on the next course of action. A further background check was needed.

Her phone rang. Walsh picked it up and listened. “Send him in.”

Agent Lawson entered. He was one of the handful of marines that had been brought in at the request of Col. McNamara, who’d wanted the army to have more oversight. Walsh had found their competence and professionalism useful on occasion, but their loyalty to those higher up had made her wary of trusting them too much. They knew as much as they needed to about the project, about the weapons they were developing, but nothing about her further plans.

She looked at him levelly. “Give your report.”

He did, in precise detail, and Walsh was content that it mostly backed up Riley’s version of events. There were a few more details about the nature of what was said – the history between the two girls that Riley had missed – but otherwise, it was identical.

Except for one small part.

Walsh stopped him. “You’re sure she said that? Those words?”

“Yes, Ma’am. She said them pretty loudly. Their argument was pretty heated by that point.”

Walsh took this in, weighing up his words. “That will be all.”

Agent Lawson frowned since he hadn’t finished his report, but nodded and left silently.

‘So, she knows about the project. The question is how much does she know, and how does she know it? The silly little slip of a girl had just become a liability. She clearly thought that just because she was involved with one of their agents had the right to question the Initiative’s methods.’

Walsh needed to talk to Dr Angleman; the situation was escalating rapidly. It wouldn’t be long before Riley Finn started questioning his loyalty. It seemed like it was already divided.

So they would have to move to the contingency scenario, as quickly as possible.

Betrayals (PART 2: Nothing Personal)

“Hey, Willow!” Willow turned to see Xander and Anya across from her on the other side of the quiet street. Xander craned his neck both ways before moving towards her. She noticed; he seemed a lot edgier than usual, running his hand through his hair as he looked about. Anya looked far more relaxed, sipping a smoothie through a straw.

Willow gave a little wave as he approached. “Morning Xander.” She forced a smile and nodded, “Anya.”

Xander quickly locked into step with her. “So, any news on the Faith-front?”

Willow shook her head. “Giles didn’t go into any details. He just said that there would be updates galore for everyone when we arrived.”

“He does like being dramatic, doesn’t he?” Anya observed, “I now, because of it, I have to walk.”

“Well, you didn’t really have to come. It’s kind of a core group thing.” She backpedalled when Anya frowned at her, “But, uh, it’s nice that you’re being so, supportive.”

Anya rolled her eyes and gestured at Xander. “Oh, he wouldn’t even leave his house on his own. He’s paranoid.”

Xander held up his hands defensively. “The point that I was making was that with Faith and me, there’s a little thing called history. Lot of pent up feelings there, that’s all I’m saying.”

Willow raised her eyebrows in amusement. “Uh-huh, sure. It’s just that, with all Faith’s angry, psycho-bitch ranting yesterday, your name didn’t actually come up.”

“Well see, you’re just proving my point.” Xander replied, before nodding sagely, “The deepest wounds are always the hardest to see.”

Anya eyed him suspiciously. “You seem very proud of the fact that she wants you dead.”

Xander smiled nervously. “N-no, it’s just, uh, safety in numbers is the key. The three of us can totally take her.”

Anya shook her head. “Xander, the only reason I’m walking with you right now is that I’m hoping that Buffy found and killed this Faith girl last night.”

Willow was alarmed. “Hey! There’s... There wasn’t any killing, okay. Maybe some crap... beating-out-of or actually, ass-kicking is a more normal phrase.” Willow frowned, “But no killing. And besides, there was no ‘finding’ of anybody. Buffy pretty much invited Faith over for a little chat last night.”

Xander stopped on the sidewalk and looked at Willow. “Wait a sec, did I miss something? The Buff went to meet with Faith alone? Yeah, because that went so well when she went on her own to have a sit down with the Master, or pre-chipped Spike.” Then Xander added agitatedly, “Oh wait, except that she never did those things!”

Willow nodded in vigorous agreement. “Exactly. Although there is the whole ‘Faith is a special case’ deal.”

“Yeah, a special nutcase.” Xander quipped.

“You know what I mean, it’s just that she used to be a goodie.” Willow sighed guiltily as she started walking again. She thought back to last night and Tara’s reading of the Tarot cards, and about the signs the other witch had seen there. ‘A confluence of events’ was how she had described it. Like somehow things were being manipulated and set in motion for some secret reason. Judging by the anxiety on Tara’s face it hadn’t been one of those ‘good’, well-intentioned reasons. Willow was even tempted to be all melodramatic and used words like ‘sinister’ or ‘dark purpose’. But Willow didn’t really know enough detail to tell anybody anything conclusive, and there was the fact that in doing so she’d be mentioning Tara. But she still needed to fess-up to what she had done. “But, the thing is, and don’t judge me for this, but I might’ve.... told Riley about the meeting.”

Xander seemed surprised. “You did?”

“Only a little!” Squeaked Willow, “I-I just thought, better safe than ‘sorry, is that my knife in your back?’”

Xander made a calming motion with his hand. “Hey, I’m on your side here. I suggested the very same thing to the Buffster before, but she was all set on giving Faith the benefit of her doubt.” Xander gave Willow a soft, comforting smile, “Don’t worry Will, you did the right thing.”

Then Anya piped up to loudly complain. “But I thought we were all not trusting the Initiative together and being all threatened.” She folded her arms crossly, “Now I feel excluded again. You’ve excluded me.”

Xander moved closer and tried to reason with her. “Well, y’see Aan, it’s like this. There a three different types of groups in our lives. Those people are trying to kill us now.” He held his hand at his waist. “Those people who’ve tried to kill us in the past.” He raised his hand a little further up, to his chest, “and those people who have yet to try and kill us. They’re at the very top of people we can trust.” He put his hand up near his neck, “And that’s where Riley and his buds are, above Faith.”

Anya thought about it and seemed mollified. “Hmn. That does seem logical.”

“And a little cynical,” Willow commented. “Wouldn’t it be nice to be a little more trusting about people?”

Anya nodded. “Perhaps, but that just means that if Faith did attack us right now, you’d be the first to die, while Xander and I make our escape.”

“Hey!” Willow protested.

“And... Hey girls, look, we’re here.” Xander said loudly, gently taking Anya by the arm and steering her towards Giles’ front door.

Willow scowled after the both of them, again wondering why Anya had to horn in on everything they did these days. She’d lived for a thousand years, didn’t she have anything else in her very long life to attend to. Like a cactus. Or an ant farm.

‘Well, I’ll show them. Maybe I’ll get a pet instead. Yeah, like a cute little kitten to play with. That’s a thing that witches do, isn’t it?’

Another thing witches do is use fearsome magical spells to deter nasty slayers from pummelling them, and then watching that same slayer pummelling obnoxious ex-demons.

Willow sighed. She was such a cranky head in the morning.

*****

Buffy had only been at Giles’ a few minutes, and had yet to share with him her news, before Xander, Anya and Willow wandered in through Giles permanently unlocked door.

She couldn’t resist smirking over at her former Watcher. “Giles, do they not have burglaries in England, is there some ye olde gentleman’s code over there or something?”

Giles smiled patiently around his mug of tea. “Yes Buffy, I do tend to lock the door when I’m out, or when I’m not expecting visitors. Now,” he gestured to Buffy, “You can lock the door if you want.”

Buffy did just that, skirting around an expectant looking Xander and Willow, murmuring a polite hello at them as she did so. She turned back to see all three took their seats and looked at Buffy with varying degrees of curiosity.

Xander, leaning against the back of the sofa, spoke up first. “So, how did the meeting with Faith go? ‘Cause as crazy plans go it’s pretty much the latest.”

Buffy looked at him and said evenly. “I can handle Faith just fine, Xander. She came looking for me and we... talked things out. No violence.”

He at least had the decency to be surprised. “Oh, hey, well that’s... but I bet there was some name calling, right? That could’ve been... harsh, for you to handle, uh, alone.” He shrugged awkwardly, “I guess I’m glad, anyway. So what happened?”

Anya raised her eyebrows expectantly. “Did you try and kill her again?” Xander winced.

“What? No!” Buffy exclaimed, giving Anya an indignant look, “I didn’t... I wouldn’t do that. I just explained things to her, about Angel everything and what happened after her... after the coma. It was pretty intense.”

Willow frowned in puzzlement. “And she actually listened? And was all stable or repentant or whatever?” Willow’s voice was heavy with the scepticism.

Buffy couldn’t resist putting an edge to her voice as she starred at Willow. “She was starting to. It wasn’t easy but I was reaching her, getting her to understand that there were people in this world who might actually care about her. I was telling her that she could trust me, and that we didn’t have to be enemies anymore.”

She saw Willow shift uncomfortably. Xander gave them both a questioning look.

“Well?” Giles prompted.

“Then Riley blasted her with a taser-thing.” Buffy replied coolly, glancing from Giles to Willow, “He arrived, got the wrong end of the sitch and took her into custody after zapping her into unconsciousness.” Buffy folded her arms tightly and sighed, “She’s currently being held somewhere on the Initiative base. When she wakes up she’ll think I set her up again, that it was all just a trap to lure her even after I promised her that I wouldn’t.

Willow looked stricken at Buffy. “Oh, Buffy, I’m... Riley asked me questions, and he’s all psychological and tricky and I panicked, I’m really sorry.”

Buffy shook her head. “I don’t understand you. I told you that it would a bad idea to tell Riley.” Buffy reasoned and then said pointedly, “And so then the first thing you do when I’m gone, is go and tell Riley.”

“B-But I didn’t, do that first I mean. I was looking for Faith, not Riley, on campus like you said, but then Riley was at our dorm a-and he interrogated me.”

Xander didn’t like the sound of that. “He interrogated you?”

Giles also voiced his concerns. “You went looking for Faith alone?”

“W-Well not really interrogated, more asked one little question. And all I did was... I peeked around, and I-I wasn’t alone, uh; I mean there were other people around with the campus being all, uh, filled with people. And I-I wasn’t expecting Riley and I got all flustered.” She looked mournfully at Buffy, “I swear I didn’t mean to say anything to him. He was just worried about you.”

“And you couldn’t come up with something simple to tell him?” Buffy sighed in irritation. “If you’d just thought about it for two seconds Will-“

“Hey, let’s back up and get a little perspective here, okay?” Xander interrupted as he weighed in again. “Shouldn’t we look at this as a good thing? I mean, the cops can’t deal with Faith, but the Initiative has those demon holding pens, right? So, okay, she told you she was ‘sorry’ and she acted all reasonable, but she could’ve easily been playing you again? It might be best to...”

“To what, Xander? Just lock her up and throw away the key? That’s not a solution.” Buffy saw the looks on her friend’s faces and softened her tone, “Look, Faith lied to me, she lied to all of us, but that was for the Mayor, being his inside source. Believe me; with him gone she was all about the payback, because it’s all she thought she had left in her life. But she wants to change, and she can, she just needs some help.” She looked at their doubting faces. “Guys, the bottom line; Faith isn’t a soulless demon, she’s a slayer, which makes her my responsibility. Not some government guys that, not two days ago, you all were telling me not even to trust that much. Now, are you going to be with me on this?”

Xander looked pensive before meeting Buffy’s gaze. “Sure.”

Willow glanced about before muttering. “I guess.”

“Well, I don’t like the sound of either the Initiative or Faith so,” Anya chewed on her bottom lip before saying brightly, “I abstain!”

Buffy nodded before adding dryly. “That’s a relief, you were the swing vote there Anya.”

Giles considered for a moment. “Did, ah, Riley give any indication what would happen to Faith?”

“Just that that she’d be kept sedated until I was ready to see her. And that she would get some medical attention; the commandos took her down pretty hard.” Buffy resisted the urge to glare at Willow again. “I don’t even know what Professor Walsh is going to do. Hopefully, if I explain everything to her, she might be willing to let me take Faith off her hands, but that’s assuming that Faith doesn’t take a tiny step and conclude that I had this all planned out from the beginning and start hating me again.” Buffy looked at Giles, “So unless there’s anything else I really need to head over and see Riley.”

“Actually there is,” Giles said. “I had a visit last night, from some representatives of the Watchers Council.”

“Ah, a bunch of jet-lagged Wesley’s?” Xander smiled goofily, “Sounds like a fun-filled evening for all.”

Anya asked Xander. “And where would these people fall in that system of yours?”

For some reason Xander held up his face flat against the middle of his chest. “About there.” Anya just nodded.

Turning back to Giles Buffy asked “What did they want?” Although she could guess the answer.

“Faith, unsurprisingly. They, ah, want to take her back to England to face a... well some sort of rehabilitation, or so they tell me. They, uh, asked for my assistance in the matter. They indicated that it would be in my best interests.”

Buffy kept a tight control of her voice. “And what did you say?”

Giles allowed a small smile. “Oh, I lied through my teeth. I told them that you were meeting Faith miles from your actual location. I certainly wasn’t going to tell a special operations team the truth.”

Buffy frowned. “A special what-now?”

Giles answered delicately. “They, well they handle the Council’s trickier jobs. Smuggling, interrogation... ah, wetworks.”

Recovering, Willow stuck out her bottom lip thoughtfully. “What’s wetworks?”

Xander gave a dismissive shrug. “Scuba-type stuff.” Buffy wasn’t sure he was right on that one.

Anya stated flatly. “I thought it was murder.”

Xander looked flustered. “Well, yeah, but there could be... underwater... murder... with the snorkels.”

He mimed the snorkel.

Buffy gave Giles a measured look. “So okay, these guys are some type of hit squad then, but how dangerous are they? I mean, are they like, kill-people-type people?”

“Suffice to say they are ruthlessly efficient in carrying out their assignments. They have dispensation to do whatever is necessary to complete their duty, depending on its importance, of course.”

“And I’m betting getting hold of a rogue slayer is pretty darn important.” Suddenly Xander looked at Giles in alarm, “Uh, maybe you shouldn’t have lied to the very touchy assassins, Giles.”

Giles just smiled mildly as he cleaned his glasses. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry. As a former Watcher I am granted some measure of recognition and leniency by those who operate in the council’s employ. Although anybody else who, ah, interferes too greatly in there mission might be in a great deal more danger.”

Buffy straightened up. “Well that’s a shame, because I’m all about the interfering. The Watchers council screwed up with me and they screwed up with Faith, they don’t get a second chance.”

“But Faith does?” Xander asked pointedly.

Buffy sighed. “Yes, Xand, because she’s sorry for the things she did, the mistakes she made.” She shook her head firmly, “These Watcher guys aren’t. All they’re interested in is getting their property back.”

Buffy was already tired of defending herself, she knew it would be like this because none of them could understand where she was coming from and she couldn’t really explain. The sooner she could just show them that Faith was willing to change the better. “Look guys, I’m gonna get going. We’ll hook back up later, when I have some news, okay?” She left before they could answer.

“Be careful.” Giles called after her.

*****

Riley was staring through the one-way mirror when Forrest sidled up next to him. “Well, if we have to be on sentry duty, I can think of worse things to be staring at.” He gave Riley a side-on smirk.

His eyes flicked to his friend before flicking back. “She’s a killer, Forrest.”

“I haven’t forgotten, I read the file, same as you. But,” he rapped his knuckles on the see-through wall, “Ballistic glass. Plus, four armed guards behind the locked door, and she got pumped full of Angleman’s special zombie-ifying juice he uses to keep the freaks under. Reckon she’s deep in her happy place.”

Riley scowled hard at the unconscious girl in the bare room beyond. “Maybe.”

The dark-haired girl had had her clothes removed and was now dressed in pale green medical scrubs used by the research staff, which were the closest thing they had to detainee clothes in the facility. So far as Riley could tell, the techs had taken numerous blood, bone and tissue samples, plus a couple of more invasive procedures, like a spinal tap- which had made Riley a little uneasy. Riley had promised Buffy to look out for Faith. And that promise was weighing heavily on Riley at the moment.

“Still,” Forrest continued, keeping his voice light, “’Nother slayer? She sure looks different. I mean, Buffy’s cute an’ all but...”

Turning his head slightly Riley also kept his voice light. “I’d watch yourself there, Agent.”

Forrest chuckled genially. “Relax, man. Just making conversation. But she is smokin’. Should come with a warning label, but damn, slayer-recruiters do have an eye for the ladies.”

Riley watched as Forrest stepped a little closer to the glass, tilting his head to watch Faith, who was currently lying on her side on top of a slim mattress, turned away from them both.

Forrest spoke up again. ”So, how d’you does that works anyway? The whole getting to be a slayer-gig?"

“Not sure. In this instance I don’t think it did work.” Riley stated flatly, “The whole ‘killing humans’ part is where I think it gets a little patchy.”

“A soldier who thinks killing people is wrong?” Forrest asked as he glanced backwards, “Isn’t that an oxymoron or something?”

“You know what I mean; Soldiers... We are trained to deal with the situations we come across, with all the craziness. We watch each others backs. And we have superiors to answer to. It’s just... different.”

Forrest shrugged. “Yeah, but our superiors are secret government types who don’t answer to anyone but each other. I’m not sure normal folks would take that as much of a comfort, or see the difference.”

Riley frowned at that. “What are you talking about?”

Forrest’s tone was still relaxed, but Riley thought that it was started to carry a nasty undertone. “Buffy and this chick have to work in secret too, right?"

“So?”

“So, Faith makes a mistake and then what? She’s suddenly wanted by the cops? Ends up half-dead in some hospital somewhere, what’s up with that? Where’s her training, or her superiors, the people she answers to, who should be watching her back? And why aren’t they here dealing with her?”

Riley was getting irritated. “You sound like you’re defending her?”

And just like that Forrest’s friendly tone was gone. “Hey man, your girl was doing all the defending last night from what I could see, willing to go to the mat for her buddy here. I almost had to put her down my own self.”

Riley shook his head at that. “I don’t think it would’ve gone the way that you think.”

But Forrest kept pressing. “Point is; you saw how Buffy reacted, all self-righteous, like she was in the right. Who does Buffy answer to, at the end of the day? How is she different from this Faith chick?”

Riley shook his head. “This isn’t about Buffy.”

Forrest turned towards him and raised his eyebrows. “Isn’t it? What makes Buffy better than this Faith gal? One got caught by the cops, maybe? You saw how Buffy is, trying to get her way. Always trying to take charge, asking questions, sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong? She ain’t accountable to anybody.”

Riley bit down his irritation. “I’ve seen Buffy in action, Forrest. I trust her judgement.”

Then Forrest gestured to the figure through the glass. “And you’re saying you weren’t just a little bit surprised by the way she reacted about Faith? That maybe we might be missing something about all this slayer stuff?”

Riley didn’t say anything to that; he didn’t have a definitive answer. Maybe he wasn’t sure as to the connection between the two girls. But he’d give Buffy whatever time and space she needed to explain herself.

Still, Riley found himself staring harder at Faith’s back. The fact that Buffy hadn’t mentioned her or that there was even the possibility of another Slayer, a homicidal one, puzzled Riley.

Riley rubbed his eyes, feeling like he was going to get a tension headache from mulling over all these questions coupled with lack of sleep. He hoped that Buffy got here soon, but she’d said she wanted to talk Faith over with her friends first. Riley vaguely wondered if he’d gotten Willow into any trouble with his rash action.

Then he saw Faith move.

Riley blinked. She must just be shifting in her sleep. There was no way she should be coming awake that fast. Three taser blasts followed by multiple injections that could keep even the largest HST nicely peaceable and drooling.

But he still saw her limbs uncoiling and her head lifting.

“Jesus.” Forrest muttered. He wasn’t so curious now, merely amazed and a little worried. “Maybe we shoulda put her in restraints as well.”

“Inform Dr. Angleman that his patient just woke up. Now.” Riley told Forrest as he moved swiftly over to the door and opened it, “We’ll make sure she doesn’t start any trouble.”

Outside in the corridor, he saw the men snap to attention. Riley tried to gauge if they’d be enough to detain the slayer if she tried to make a break for it. If she was anything like Buffy... they might have to put her down hard.

He really did hope Buffy got here soon. On a lot of levels.

*****

Collins scowled down at the table. “So, what is it?”

Smithy shrugged. “Not sure. But it was the only thing there that stuck out. Found it by the fireplace.”

“No trace of anythin’ else.” Muttered Weatherby, “The slayers had been and gone before we got there. Looked like there’d been a bit of a barney though, some of it was all smashed up.”

“A weird smell too.” Smithy added, “Like a soldering iron had been used or whatnot.”

Collins nodded as he lit a cigarette. “Whatever it was it’s what got the attention of the 911 callers when they contacted the police.” He tapped his finger tips lightly on the table thoughtfully, “Anything else?”

“Before the fightin’, looked like they were having a picnic. Some food thrown about.” Weatherby added as of explanation. His jaw clenched stiffly. “So when are we gonna revisit Rupert, that lying sack of-”

Collins interrupted. “We don’t, we leave him alone for now.”

Weatherby spat. “’E sent us to the wrong bleedin’ place!”

Collins kept his voice firm against Weatherby’s fire, “We can’t afford to get caught up in anything else, so we stay focused on the slayer.”

Collins took a heavy drag on his cigarette as he picked up the intricate-looking metallic device with three metal prongs sticking out, each one ending in a circular loop. There were some markings on it; subtle grooves in the casing which looked more occult that anything else. Clearly it was meant to be worn in the palm of the hand, the three prongs going around two fingers and a thumb. Collins fingered it thoughtfully, not much of a lead to finding the slayer. Clearly something had happened before Smithy and Weatherby had gotten to the mansion, but what?

“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you.” A voice suddenly rang out in the hushed confines of the warehouse. Collins quickly dropped the device and pulled his gun from its holster. He whirled around to see a robed figure standing there, its arms apart in a nonthreatening gesture, “Just a friendly warning.” It finished, the voice was low and harsh, reverberating powerfully and in a decidedly unnatural way.

Just a moment after Collins had levelled his pistol, Weatherby and Smithy were beside him, a pair of shotguns pointed at the same target.

Collins, slightly thrown by the ease of their being discovered, nevertheless kept his own voice low and controlled. “And who might you be, to be giving me such friendly warnings? Hellmouth welcoming committee is it?”

There was a harsh sound that after a moment Collins realised was supposed to be a chuckle. “No, no, I’m a stranger to these shores, just like yourselves.” The figure’s cowled head tilted a little as it observed the surrounding warehouse. “Not bad for a Watcher’s safe house, a little less homely that what was used in my day.”

“I’ll give you to the count of five before we’ll all be seeing the end of your day.” Collins clacked the safety off his pistol, “And it won’t be pretty.”

“You are here searching for the slayer. I happen to know where she is, but at this precise moment she is beyond your reach.” The figure lowered its arms, “I am in the position to offer you guidance and aid in the matter. To be your ally.”

Collins nodded and gave a wry smile. “What do you think lads? Sound trustworthy?”

Weatherby shook his head and sneered. “Low, creepy voice. Sounds more like a demon.”

“Can’t see ‘is face neither.” Added Smithy.

“Well, as you can see me and my colleagues have conferred and have reached an accord-“

The harsh, whispering voice overrode his. “Before you all open fire I would like for you to consult with one of your immediate superiors. Dial this number.” The figure then recited a long string of digits that sounded like one of the Councils international contact lines, though not one that Collins was familiar with. The figure continued. “After you make contact on the other end the code word is ‘resurgam’, explain the current situation to those that answer.” The figure’s voice was light with amusement, “That is all I ask.”

Collins narrowed his eyes and weighed the options. He didn’t like the idea of being duped again, or making a mistake that would make this tricky job even trickier. Maybe this was some mage that the Council had done some dealings with in the past, calling in a marker perhaps? He turned away. “If he twitches, shoot the bastard.”

Collins then pulled out him mobile phone, walking a short distance before dialling the number that had been spoken. He heard the dial tone, and then a number of soft rhythmic clicks like it was trying to connect to a line that was out of service. That was his cue. “Resurgam.” He repeated.

The voice on the other end announced themselves by name before asking who was speaking. Collins stiffened, apologised brusquely and told the voice on the end of the line why he was disturbing them at such a late hour. He listened to the reply for several minutes, biting down any objections that rose in his throat. His was not to reason why, his was to deliver an important package, by whatever means necessary.

He murmured a polite goodbye and ended the call before turning back to the figure. “Right then, we’ve been told to cooperate.”

Smithy frowned but lowered his shotgun.

Weatherby jeered in disbelief even as he did the same. “Bloody hell! By whom?”

“A higher authority. That’s all you need to know.” Collins regarded the robed figure, “So, about the slayer, what do you know?”

The figure said nothing, simply intoned a few words of something foreign and stepping to one side, and revealed an unconscious man clad in army fatigues. “I believe this person may be able to answer any specifics you require. He’s part of an organisation called the Initiative.”

“Never ‘eard of ‘em.” Weatherby snarled.

“That as may be, they are new, and have a rather... American approach to things. Nevertheless they are in possession of your charge. I lend this man to you as a sign of good will, to question however you see fit.” The figure's voice, although reasonable, had a mocking quality to it that Collins didn’t like. “He will confirm some of what I have said and no doubt will have much more to add. I will learn what his fellows have planned for the slayer. I will return when I have more details.”

With that the figure vanished from sight, not in a puff of smoke or flash of coloured flame, he simply turned sideways and was gone, like a stage illusionist’s trick, stepped behind a false panel or a mirrored wall in the centre of the room.

‘Bloody unnerving.’

“Bollocks.” Smithy complained mildly, “Are you sure about this?”

Collins decided sounding confidence was best. “Higher authority, Smithy. That’s all that matters. Now, we have a job to do here, quicker the better.” He walked on over to the man, who was youngish, maybe late twenties and prodded him with his boot, “Now, lets see what this lad knows about our wayward lass, eh?”

*****

‘Sonuvagoddambitch... ’

Faith’s eyes flickered open as a bright overhead light stabbed at them. She squinted as she slowly moved her body, allowing herself to uncurl, trying to ignore the stabbing pains that flared in her side, back and legs, and the fiery ache that spread through her limbs as she tried to move them. She felt like she’d been worked over by a group of Southie leg breakers. Professional ones.

She sat up slowly and peered at her surroundings, already tired of that feeling of waking up and not knowing where the hell she was. Faith took in the sight of blank white walls, harsh overhead luminescence, and a single grey painted steel door with one of those sliding hatch things you see in jail.

‘Or a nuthouse... either way this isn’t looking too good.’

So Buffy had screwed her after all, and turned her over to the cops. Or maybe just had her committed. Then again, could be that this was some Watcher’s version of the pokey, but Faith always imagined them more in the way of dank, musty, stone rooms. In a castle somewhere, with chains and torches and other medieval shit. Maybe she was just twisted that way.

With a grunt of effort Faith pulled herself upright. Noticed right away that she was barefoot and now wearing green pyjama’s, which seemed to lean towards the ‘Faith gets institutionalized and now has to live on cabbage soup for her own good’ side of things. Then she saw one wall was a big-ass mirror, like in an interrogation room and there was a security camera scoping her out in one corner.

Definitely not Watcher’s, they wouldn’t be stupid enough to leave her in a room like this.

Maybe Buffy was on the other side of the glass, having a gander at the wicked crazy chick, or maybe it was a bunch of chain-smoking cops or guys in lab coats and... she clenched her jaw, suddenly Faith didn’t care.

The foggy feeling in her brain was wearing off and the sinking realisation was hitting home. She was trapped, imprisoned.

Faith felt her anger building. It was the same as what had happened before, she entered the mansion thinking one thing and Buffy turned it all around and played her, again. Lied right to her face and got her to drop her guard and then... Faith frowned. She hadn’t been punched; she’d been hit by something else. Whatever it was, her side still hurt where it had hit her, maybe a spell? Giles or Willow doing a Harry Potter with wands or something.

Bastards. Soon to be dead bastards.

To top it off she’s lost her cool body-swapping thing. The last gift the Mayor had given her, which completely sucked because she’d be looking forward to taking Buffy’s cute little body for a ride...

Faith cleared her head of stupid what-ifs and stepped off the mattress, pausing to stretch as she tried to think her way out of this. Never her strong point but still, she had to find out who was keeping her, and then she could figure out all the angles. And how would she find that out?

Deciding that she had to get their attention, Faith walked cautiously over to the door, acting all nervous and tense. Reaching out she tried to handle, lightly testing by turning it. Locked, what a shocker.

“Please step away from the door.” An electronic voice intoned from above.

Faith flinched but after a moment dutifully stepped back. ‘See how obedient I’m being? All timid and stuff.’

She glanced around, only flicking a vague glance at the mirror, like she wasn’t paying it any mind, and then backed up into the centre of the room, next to her mattress.

Faith slowly rolled her neck, grimacing at the cracking as she did so, did the same with her arms and shoulders. Then, all casual, she stretched slowly downwards; bending at the waist like it was yoga or her morning routine or something.

The she grabbed the edge of the mattress with both fists.

‘If this doesn’t work I’m gonna look wicked stupid.’

Faith whirled quickly to towards the far wall, which was no more than a few feet away, kicking out with her leg so it hit the wall; she braced hard and spun off it. Holding the mattress up for protection she ran as fast as she could at the one-way mirror.

‘Rise and shine motherfuckers!'

She punched forward hard with both her elbows, felt the inches thick glass quiver for a moment before collapsing inward into brittle shards that revealed the room beyond. She immediately heard an alarm start blaring, reverberating off the walls as she put one knee up on the lip of the window and hauled herself through.

Throwing the glass-encrusted mattress to one side Faith stared into the other room, which was empty apart from a couple of chairs, and a phone attached to one wall which a bald black guy in army clothes ‘what the fuck?’ was busily yelling into. He looked shocked and surprised by what she’d just done but he was still speaking into the receiver. “-Emergency. Again, I saying we have a containment breach in the observation wing! Hostile is awake-”

“I want another room.” Faith snarled and leapt at him. One arm lashed out, her fist pulverising the wall phone into broken plastic fragments as the other slammed against the man’s chest, pushing him hard against the wall.

The guy was trained enough to try and fight back; he knocked her arm away with his own, braced against her and swung his knee up to strike her solidly in the side. Faith ignored the flare of pain along with all the others running through her body. She snapped her head forward against his face, just powerful enough to stun him, before she grabbed him by his padded ‘bulletproof?’ vest and threw him through the wreckage of the observation window into the cell beyond. He slammed against the far wall and flopped limply to the ground.

She stepped over to the door, grabbed the handle and bolted through the doorway. Without any weapons her best chance was speed and surprise. And the four or so guys dressed in camo outfits certainly did look surprised. They all had batons at the ready, but were facing the door to her left. Throwing any caution to the wind Faith threw herself into them, punching left and right so two of the guys, big heavy looking dudes, fell backwards in surprise and pain. Faith felt a couple of ribs crack and one of the guys dropped to one knee when her elbow snapped his collarbone. The two guys behind them rushed forward, clubs held high ready to take her down. She grabbed one of the batons when it was swung her way before wrenching it free and lashing out. Clubs weren’t really her weapon of choice but she made with the backhands and quickly smashed the last two guys across the face so they scrambled away, dazed and bleeding.

Faith stepped past the two downed and groaning men in fatigues ‘survivalists?’ and looked up and down the corridor.

At the far end she saw a tall, crew-cut type level some sort of rifle at her, sight it and pause.

“Faith! Stand down now. There’s no way out of here for you.”

Faith flexed her arm, she felt tired and stabs and spasms of pain were like a map of pinpricks across her body, but the adrenaline was kicking in, the pain fading, muscles pumped and strong. Let them try and quietly put her back in a cage.

Then she sensed more movement and saw three other men appear at the other end of the corridor, rounding the corner, and kneeing into position, levelling rifles at her.

Faith turned to face the lone guy holding a rifle squarely at her. “Last warning,” he said steadily, “I don’t want to have to hurt you.”

“That makes one of us.” She growled and charged, arms pumping, legs kicking as she ran all out at him. She saw him squeeze the trigger, so she ducked down and to the right, drew back her arm and hurled the baton at him. She saw him swivel to one side and pull his rifle back as the baton flipped end over end before ricocheting off the wall where his head used to be.

Faith felt multiple stings in her back, thigh and butt as she closed on the man, felt a warm, tingling numbness and she stumbled, her muscles trembling and her reflexes misfiring as she got nearer. If she could just get through this guy...

Faith felt like the air had thickened around her, become syrupy and blurred. Faith put one hand out on the wall, somehow missed it and slid down in to her knees. She saw the man approach, rifle levelled at her, tense and cautious, even as he began to blur in her eyes and a spider web of blackness crept across her vision. She saw him raise his rifle and make some sort of hand gesture to somebody behind her.

“Faith... ” He said. His voice was so echo-y and distorted she missed what he said next.

She looked up at him, his vague shape, and smirked. “You... look...like a...dumbass.”

Everything faded to black.

*****

With a little caginess Buffy walked across the floor of the Initiative lot. “Professor Walsh?”

The older woman away from the table to Buffy and nodded a surprisingly warm greeting, especially compared to what Buffy had been expecting. “Miss Summers. I was expecting to see you a little sooner.”

Buffy gave an apologetic smile. “I know I’m a little late, I was looking for Riley but he’s not around. He said that we going to-”

The professor glanced down at her chart. “He’s still on sentry duty, I’m afraid. Your... friend hasn’t woken up as of yet.”

Buffy paused awkwardly. “Right. My friend. I-Is she alright?”

The Professor raised an eyebrow. “Remarkable so, given how Agent Finn described her capture. She had some minor burns and abrasions, which we’ve treated. Other that that she’s resting. I’m only just beginning to understand how remarkable slayers are.”

“Professor, about last night, there was a reason I didn’t want to involve Riley, but he... involved himself anyway.” Buffy shook her head, “I’m not blaming him, but Faith is, well, she’s my responsibility.”

“And Agent Finn had no call to commandeer Initiative resources to give you aid you clearly didn’t want.” Walsh finished briskly, “I’ve made him aware of my thoughts on the matter.”

“Oh.” Buffy “That’s good. So, if I could see Faith and maybe, take her off your hands that would be great.”

Walsh nodded thoughtfully. “Well, why don’t we wait until she wakes up? Dr. Angleman had to estimate a lot of the dosages to give her thanks to Miss Lehane’s unique metabolism. She will still be sleeping it off for the next few hours. After that, there’s no reason why we can’t discuss releasing her into your care, with some provisions of course.”

“Really? That’s... great! I’m all about provisions. But Faith...she can get better now, with my help. She really wants to change.” Buffy smiled brightly, “This whole thing’s a big misunderstanding, really.” Buffy then looked around, “Do you guys have a waiting room or something... ”

Walsh gave a small smile and gestured back to the table. “Actually, if you can spare a couple of hours I might have a mission for you. It’s a small reconnaissance job, probably a waste of a slayer’s ability, but my boys have their hands full, and-"

“No, it’s cool. Of course, I can help out.” Buffy was so grateful that saying it with a mission would feel pretty darn good right about now.

Walsh leaned over slightly and gestured to the map, tracing a line with her finger. Buffy braced her arms on the table and looked at where the Professor was pointing. “We’ve had readings of a class three sub-terrestrial moving through the sewer tunnels just on the north edge of town.”

Buffy raised her eyebrows. “Class three?” She hoped that term hadn’t been explained in the dossier that she hadn’t read yet.

Walsh straightened up. “Low-level threat. Minimal aggression, meagre defences.” The professor turned as a soldier handed her one of the blaster rifles, “They barely show up on the scanner, and occasionally turn out to be raccoons.” With that summation she handed Buffy the weapon.

Buffy made a face as she adjusted to the weight of her new weapon. It felt very... Ghostbuster-y. “Wow. You’re not crazy about raccoons, huh?”

Walsh regarded her levelly. “We always take precautions.” She reached over and picked up a head-set, “I trust you remember this? All I need you to do is pick up a visual on the thing. This will feed us the image and I can advise you from there. I don’t want to put you in any unnecessary danger."

Buffy shrugged as she took the headset from Walsh and manhandled the rifle. “Oh, that’s okay, danger’s my birthright.” Walsh pushed the point of the rifle away from her, Buffy grimaced slightly, “Sorry.”

Buffy hesitated as she was about to leave and then decided to speak up. “Um, Professor Walsh, I can explain everything about Faith and... our situation, if you want. Full disclosure. I mean, there’s, um, there’s still some stuff about all this,” Buffy glanced around and gestured, “That I’m not too clear on either.” She looked at the Professor and waited for a reaction.

The older woman nodded thoughtfully. “Well, when you get back we can have a talk.”

“Okay. Good. When I get back.” Buffy turned to go and then hesitated, “This rifle-thing is just point and shoot, right?”

Walsh nodded slowly. “Yes.”

“Cool.”

Buffy crept along what must’ve been one of Sunnydale’s older sections of sewer system. More of a runoff for the newer storm drainage network, it consisted of musty, crumbling brickwork, corroded electrical conduits, and tendrils of mossy roots and plants poking through from above ground. Buffy passed by a few passageways choked with washed up detritus. Rusty trolleys, leaves, tree branches, even a busted lawn chair.

‘Fingers crossed for coming up on one cute little raccoon nest.’

Buffy stepped out of the narrow passage into a widened grotto like area for excess runoff. Rubbish had collected in the corners, large puddles of water reflected waning light and the shadows hugged the sides of the room, dense and sinister.

‘Nice. A nice, homey little sewer. Still don’t see any movement... ’

Then she heard a low, rattling grown. Probably not a racoon, maybe a Hellmouth racoon, but still, as the sound got louder Buffy figured it as something more creature-from-elsewhere than cuddly critter. She narrowed her eyes at the other end of the runoff area, seeing another opening that mirrored the one she was standing in, and saw something moving. Something big.

Buffy pressed her hand against her head as she adjusted her headset. “Professor Walsh, are you getting this? That possible HST-make it a definite.” She saw the big shape break into two slightly less big shapes as they emerged from the shadows, all green and glisten-y, and carrying axes “And he’s brought along a friend. They seem... ”

Buffy froze as she placed them in her memory. A few days ago she’d seen similar creatures to these two being operated on by Initiative scientists in... the ‘Pit’, was what they called it. They were some sort of warrior demons. And these two moved stiffly, like they were being controlled.

‘What the Hell..?’

The two demons growled wetly as they both moved closer to Buffy, readying their axes. Buffy dropped her hands and levelled the rifle at them; see how they liked a few thousand volts of pain. Buffy braced herself, aimed and squeezed the trigger; there was a slight electronic whine before the rifle exploded spectacularly in her hands, sparks showering out of the top of it and all over the place. Buffy cried out as her arms were stung by some of the backlash, she threw the still sparking rifle away from her so it clattered to the ground. Limbs numbed slightly, Buffy took a shaky step back and turned to retreat. But before Buffy could move any further a heavy metal grating slid down over the opening, trapping her.

Buffy turned gasping, almost stunned by the level of betrayal. Walsh has set her up to die here, for what reason she had no idea, but it was a serious attempt. Her eyes darted, no other exit from here except past the two ferocious-looking demons that happened to be locked in here with her.

The one, weird errant thought that whirled through her head was that this was a pretty close approximation of a deathtrap, like the dumb ones from all those comic books she read to Faith last summer. Not so funny now though.

Thinking quickly, Buffy took the offensive and darted out of the alcove straight at the two demons, before they could crowd her and hack her to death. She jumped off the concrete lip into a double kick, a quick strike against both demons. She ducked an axe swing by the quicker one to her right, smashed a fist across its face and kicked it in the leg so that it fell to one knee.

Bracing against its shoulder, she kicked the second demon high and hard in the chest as it came at her again, a satisfyingly solid impact left it reeling backwards. Buffy straightened up just in time to be smacked in the face by the first demon’s axe haft, as the demon twirled it around in an uppercut. Buffy staggered and turned just in time to block a similar attack by the other monster’s axe, its blade stopping mere inches from her body as she caught the handle in her grip.

Buffy struggled valiantly. These things were aggressive and almost as strong as her. They also seemed to understand the rudiments of teamwork, something she was brutally reminded of when the second demon struck her hard and fast in her lower back, a short sharp strike with the haft of the axe. Buffy jerked and cried out in pain, losing her leverage and allowing the first monster to drag her around and throw her tumbling to the ground.

Buffy scrambled to her knees as the two monsters surged forward, swinging their axes with a scary efficiency. She managed to dodge and duck the first two swings as she backed up towards the wall, batting one clumsy axe stroke away with her forearm as she looked for an opening. These two were aggressive and they were getting more so as the battle continued. She saw that they were almost getting in each others way as they moved to attack her. She could use that to her advantage.

Buffy barely managed to grab one swing that was aimed squarely at her throat, catching the weapon just below the axe head and pushing it down and back as she fought against its murderous strength. The other demon swung its weapon in a long, powerful overhead strike, attempting to neatly split her head in two. But Buffy pushed the other axe up a bit to deflect the heavy blade, instead the blow was deflected, the top of it glancing off her head and dislodging the headset from off of her head so it fell to the floor.

Buffy spun around into the arc of the demon’s weapon, slamming an elbow into its slimy tentacled face and then spinning to kick it low in the groin. The demon staggered away, in pain from both strikes. Buffy used all her strength to push it backwards as hard as she could, so it crashed against the low concrete lip. Ducking the other monsters strike almost on instinct, Buffy punched it twice in the gut, hard, before she swung it around and knocked it back into its friend.

Then Buffy knocked its axe away, punched it hard again in the gut so it folded at the waist, Buffy snapped a powerful right cross at the demon behind it, slammed a knee up into the squirmy face of the first, snapping its head back and up, before spinning and jump kicking it again in the stomach. Buffy felt something give under her boot, a crack of tough skin or scaly hide, and the demon fell down even as it was knocked to the side, its fellow barrelled forward from behind to attack her.

Buffy was pushed back as she grappled with it; its foul, fetid breath caught her in the face as it jammed her up against the wall. She jabbed her head forward to butt the thing, but it was a feint to get it to jerk its own head back, and then pushed forward and spun the demon- straight into the oncoming axe of his friend.

There was a sickening squelch as the blade hit home and the first demon fell heavily to the ground. The other demon barely registered the kill, simply stepped over and swung tirelessly at Buffy again. Buffy ducked under it, glad of her nimbleness and small size, and came up the other side. She then blocked its lumbering follow up slash, caught the axe, reversed it, then slammed a brutal elbow up into its face. She wrenched the axe out of its grip and sent it flying to one side.

The demon lashed out in a rage and caught her with a solid hit to the face that knocked her flying. She landed badly and ended up on the ground. Growling the demon then clambered over to pick up its axe, feet splashing through ankle deep water as it grasped for the weapon.

Buffy saw the water and the taser-rifle that was still sparking nearby and quickly and tossed it into the murky pool. The effect was colourful and instantaneous; the demon stiffened and squealed as bright, brilliant arcs of electricity leapt and danced across its sizzling form, its body convulsed for almost a minute in shuddering death throes before finally falling to one side, splashing limply to the ground.

Panting, Buffy looked around, making sure that both demons weren’t going to be getting up again. Then she saw the headset, lying on the ground where it had fallen, its camera pointing away from the whole pitched battle. Walsh probably thought that Buffy was dead, hell Buffy had thought that for a moment there, before all her anger and slayer thinking had taken over. Result: two dead demons. But it had been close call, closer than she’d liked.

Buffy was pissed, but it was a cold, seething anger. Walsh wanted her dead, and at this moment thought that she’d succeeded, knowing that Buffy would never return from the ‘oh so routine’ mission she’d sent her on. Buffy stalked over to the headset, time to give Walsh a rude awakening because she clearly had no idea who she was dealing with...

Buffy paused, thinking. If she announced to Walsh that she was alive then that would definitely put Faith in serious danger. She was Walsh’s prisoner, her hostage at the moment, but god knows what they would do to her if Walsh felt cornered, if she thought that Buffy was still a threat to her. Or whatever thought processes that crazy bitch was using, Buffy really didn’t know.

But if Buffy stayed dead, even for a little while, then that bought her some time, time enough to warn her friends and go to ground, time to figure out what the hell had just happened, time enough to figure out a way to rescue Faith, who was now a prisoner of people Buffy now considered the enemy.

Buffy looked around, two dead demons and no dead Buffy didn’t look for a very realistically successful deathtrap. Buffy would have to make it look a lot more believable, and then she could work out her next move.

Buffy went over to one of the downed demons and picked up its axe.

‘Right. Time to make this look more convincing.’

Buffy went to work.

...continued in The I In Psychopath...

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