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Everything is Different Now: The I In Psychopath

by Declan
Rating: PG-13

+1=2=3+

The I In Psychopath (PART 1: As You Were)

Stenwick blinked groggily as he was slapped awake.

“Rise and shine, sonny.” He heard somebody say. A deep voice that sounded British and disturbingly cheery.

He shook his head, his mind hazily trying to recall what he’d been doing. He couldn’t remember much, just talking with Lawson, the events at the mansion, somebody appearing in front of him wearing a... cloak?

A harder slap knocked those thoughts from him. He blinked in the dimness of the room, some sort of utility shed. Concrete walls and floor, the outlines of work benches covered in tools. A metal fire door. He saw a man standing in front of him, tough-looking, maybe some criminal type or ex-military.

Stenwick realised that he was tied to a chair, and his hands were bound behind him. He felt sweat break out on the nape of his neck and instinctively began testing his bonds.

“Wha…?” He managed to croak.

“Right. Now that you’re awake,” The man in front of him leaned forward to catch his eye. “You’re a hostage my son, make no mistake. But, if you tell us what we need to know, then there’s no reason why we can’t all part as friends, you understand?”

Stenwick swallowed and tried to keep his voice steady. “You’re making a big mistake. Whoever you are, people know that I’m missing, and they’ll come looking for me-”

“Right, which is why we need to get all this done sharpish, glad we’re on the same page.” The man replied briskly, lighting a cigarette. “Now, how it works is this, you and I have a nice little chat about your bosses, what they’re doing and where the property is that they stole from us. We’ll both be nice and civil to each other,” he puffed out a cloud of smoke, “But if you try to tell porkies...lie t’me that is, then I turn you over to my friend here while I go and have a nice lie down.”

The man gestured to another man who sat on a chair a few feet away, his back against the wall. The second man stared at Stenwick with a cold, unflinching gaze.

“My friend isn’t much for conversation, but he does have some particularly useful talents, ways of keeping himself entertained. But he won’t ask any you questions, he won’t care what you say or how loud you say it. He’ll just keep himself busy until he gets bored, and then he’ll come and fetch me.” The man gave Stenwick a piercing stare, “We clear?”

‘So, they want to know about the Initiative. And the slayer. That meant they were a rival organisation of some kind, not criminals. But definitely ex-military.’

Stenwick felt a little trepidation at his prospects. He squashed the feeling down. Resistance to interrogation was part of his training.

He nodded at the man in understanding. In return he got a genial nod and a smile.

“Right then, an easy one first off. Who is it you work for, and where are you located?”

Stenwick licked his lips and recited his cover in his most convincing voice. “I’m with a marine recon unit out of Camp Pendleton; currently we’re based in training camp just north of Los Angeles.”

The man took this is for a moment, before nodding in satisfaction. “And what interest do you have with the slayer?”

Stenwick hid his relief with a frown. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. But we are working in partnership with the state authorities. There was an extremely dangerous criminal on the loose who exhibited,” he shook his head as though confused, “Training of some sort. There was intelligence leading to suggest something about a terrorist cell, so we were called in. I’m unaware if the mission to capture them was successful.”

The man nodded and considered this in silence for a moment. He dropped his cigarette and ground it out with his boot. “I’m going to take a nap. Wake me in an hour.”

He nodded to his seated colleague and exited through the fire door without looking back. The door closed with a loud clang.

The other man said nothing, just smiled grimly as he stood up and stepped deeper into the shadows, Stenwick heard the clatter of moving tools. He knew it was best to stay quiet, not show his nerves. He wondered what they would use on him. A beating to soften him up, probably. He could take that. Maybe electricity, that was a favourite by some of the more old-fashioned professional interrogators, but he didn’t see a set-up like that down here, so maybe something sharp then...

Then he heard a soft hissing sound and a whoosh, like a Bunsen burner. He saw the man walk out of the shadows towards him, wearing a metal faceplate strapped to his head.

In his hands he held a lit blowtorch.

*****

Doctor Walsh thought for a few moments before reaching up and switching off the monitors. The whole process had been surprisingly easy to watch. It seemed Buffy’s death had been quick, perhaps even relatively painless, at least for somebody in her line of work.

But now came the hard part, dealing with Riley.

As if on cue, maybe somehow drawn out by her tinge of guilt, Riley busily walked across the forecourt towards her, looking a little shaken.

Riley shook his head and sighed. “Ma’am, I’m reporting an attempted breakout by the rogue slayer. We managed to bring her down with multiple tranqs but not before she put two of my squad in the infirmary with busted ribs. Dr. Angleman’s transferring her to more secure holding but I thought you’d-”

She braced herself before making her voice sound as distraught as possible. “Riley. Something’s happened. I... I don’t know what to say. It’s... it’s about Buffy.” She hesitated moving closer to him, regarding him with sympathy.

There was a trace of concern in Riley‘s voice. “Buffy?”

She ploughed on, getting the story out as quickly as possible. “Two of our hostiles broke free and escaped into the tunnels. She went after them on her own.” She fixed on him intently, “She’s gone Riley.”

Riley blinked. The blood drained from his face. He shook his head slightly, his eyes unfocused. “W-what?”

He reeled from the news but Walsh kept on talking. “I did everything I could to stop her. Told her to wait for a back-up team. She kept insisting she didn’t need any team, she could handle it by herself.”

Riley was swallowing compulsively, his face slack with anguish.

She resisted the urge to comfort him. It wasn’t her place, and would be out of character. “I’m very sorry.”

He shook his head, clearly in shock. “I don’t understand.”

Her voice was soft with sympathy. “I know what she meant to you.”

His voice overrode hers in distress and confusion. “How could this happen?”

“She was a very, special girl. I didn’t understand at first... but she had something. I don’t know, maybe I could’ve stopped her. It’s hard not to blame myself, but...” She looked at Riley, “I promise you Riley, that these hostiles will be neutralised with extreme prejudice.”

He hadn’t seemed to be listening until Walsh had spoken about finding the hostiles. He looked at her, jaws clenched. “I want on that team.”

She shook her head. “Absolutely not. Riley, I’m sorry, I can’t allow that...”

“The hell you can’t!” He growled, “You should’ve told me. I-I’m standing there babysitting some psychopath while Buffy is out there...I should’ve been told....I can’t believe...I.” And then his anger subsided into grief again, he shook his head, his lips quivering as he exhaled slow, shaky breaths.

She tried to get him to focus. “Agent Finn, you’re in no shape whatsoever to be leading a squad against these two hostiles. But trust in the fact that, as of this moment, I will use all the available manpower to terminate them.”

“Manpower...” Riley muttered under his breath, softly and sadly, his eyes glistened with unshed tears.

Walsh softened her voice again, now that that Riley seemed to have calmed. “The best thing you can do now Riley, is take some time and grieve for her. I’ll call when I have more news, but you should consider yourself relieved of duty, effective immediately.” Walsh stepped neared and caught his gaze again, “Trust me, Riley. Trust that I am right, and by tomorrow we’ll have put a stop to this.”

Leaving him still distressed, she walked briskly towards the containment area, if Angleman hadn’t been distracted by the escaping girl, he might now be aware of the exact location of the two tamed hostiles, and she needed to see that they were returned immediately.

She found him instructing three medical technicians as the strapped the unconscious dark-haired girl securely to a gurney. A few shards of broken glass and a couple of blood smears on the walls were the only things to indicate the girl’s brutal escape attempt. “Dr. Angleman, a word if you please.”

Angleman nodded before speaking quickly to the gathered men. “Transfer her to testing lab 301, I’ll be there momentarily.” With that he turned to Walsh and glanced down at her chart, “The girl is truly remarkable, her metabolism burns through the drugs at an astonishing rate, so I’ve had to up the dosage by 70 percent.”

She took all this in and stored it at the back of her mind for later. “And what about our pets? Where are they now, Doctor?”

“This way,” they both walked through a nearby door and down an adjoining corridor to one of the smaller lab areas where a bank of computers was set up.

Angleman gazed at a few blips on one of the screens before pointing at one. “There, one of the chips is still moving...but it’s heading in the wrong direction,” he walked over and tapped a short command on the keyboard, “And also not responding to the basic homing commands. Strange.”

She frowned. “Only one of the hostiles is moving.”

Angleman pointed to the other blip. “The other is stationary at the ambush site; I suspect the slayer may have had something to do with disabling it.”

She thought back to what she’d seen streaming from the com-cam. “But one of them is still active?”

Angleman nodded. “And easily traceable. What do you recommend?”

“We send somebody to discreetly clean up the ambush site. Have them retrieve the com-cam equipment and dispose of the corpses. We send a second, five man squad, to deal with the remaining hostile if the chip has stopped working.” She regarded Angleman coolly. “And I’m wondering why that is doctor?”

Angleman tried not to look too defensive. “Control chips are still in latest test phases, not all the kinks have been ironed out yet. Add to that battling with the slayer... perhaps the chip overloaded somehow. I’ll be able to collate a better theory after the subject has been returned for further study. Still, a field test was inevitable at some stage. Angleman frowned in concern, “How is Agent Finn, by the way.”

“Grieving, as is to be expected.” Walsh said coolly as she moved over to the peer at the screen more closely. The blip moved northeast through the sewers, turning every so often. “Young love never lasts, Doctor. And a girl like that, well, she isn’t like us.”

Angleman cleared his throat and asked. “That brings us to the Lehane girl. What are we going to do with her?”

“I’m working on that, but I have to look over her files first.”

“She’s another risk.” Angleman warned.

“She’s in our custody, to do with as we see fit. As risks go its minimal.” Walsh pondered thoughtfully for a moment, “Have Lawson attend to the clean up, and have him look for anything amiss.”

“Amiss?”

She nodded absently, “Just to be certain. I don’t like surprises.”

*****

Buffy stopped at the sewer junction and looked back over her shoulder, checking to see that the few droplets of blood she had left were clearly visible against the brickwork of the tunnel. She placed the axe down, leaning it gently against the wall, and then she squeezed her cut hand a few times, shaking it and flexed her fingers to make more blood flow from the deep cut, wincing as she did so.

She pressed her sleeve tight against the wound, made sure the material of her blouse was soaked in it before rubbing her bloody sleeve along one of the more visible pipes that lined the tunnel walls at shoulder height.

‘Voila’. Trail says that the demon went right, trailing my horribly mutilated corpse along with it.’

She hefted the severed demon head in her left hand so she could stare at it. “How could you, you beastly thing, you.”

‘Okay, that was a little nuts, even for me. But, then again this whole situation is pretty nuts.’

Her plan, such as it was, had involved taking the axe from the electrocuted demon, then hacking up its corpse and dumped all the limbs and the torso down a nearby waste pipe, with a little shoving and slayer strength they had dropped down into some lower sewer level.

That meant that when Walsh sent somebody to check up on Buffy’s ‘brave last stand’, they would find one dead demon, another missing demon and a human blood trail, something they could track.

Yucky waste disposal led to logical conclusion; Buffy was dead, the equivalent of monster fast food.

Needless to say, after doing all that and wading through a couple of nasty sections of collapsing sewer, her pants and blouse were totally ruined. Bloodied, slimed and smelly. If it were possible she might actually hate Walsh even more now than she did before.

Buffy had taken the demon’s head because she figured that if the Initiative let demons with control chips out into the field then they’d probably have a tracker of some kind, hence her currently doing the Hellmouth version of Hamlet. The Initiative could track down the chip and busily chase their tails while they were at it.

She hoped that the ruse would be enough to draw Walsh’s attention North, to where Buffy knew that the older sewer tunnels became more tangled and harder to navigate, meeting up with some natural cave formations and a couple of sink holes. She intended to go another half mile along a winding path, before dumping the head and doubling back to Giles’ place. Time to give the gang a major update.

She needed some other brains on this. Why the hell would Professor Walsh try and kill her? It didn’t make any sense. She wasn’t a threat, so what had changed all of a sudden?

Buffy felt that if she got her friends together they might come up with some theories, plus maybe warning them all, might just save her from the chorus of ‘I told you so’s’ she knew she had coming.

She blamed Riley blindness for that.

Riley.

Next stop, after the gang, was to find and tell Riley that she wasn’t actually all that dead, then somehow convince him of what Maggie had done, and then get him to help her break Faith out of the lair of his secret government masters.

Maybe the beheading plan wasn’t the craziest thing she was going to try today. But she needed Riley to know that she was okay, and desperately needed his help to get Faith to safety.

Still wincing at her cut hand, she took the right hand tunnel. Picking up and scraping the axe head against the stonework to create a mark, in case they missed the blood trail.

That done she made her way deeper into the sewers.

*****

Faith snapped awake, sitting upright so fast it made her head swim. She clutched the sides of her head as she felt a wave of tingling dizziness pulse through her, but it soon passed. She figured she must be getting pretty good at kicking all that junk out of her system.

Faith opened her eyes slowly to find herself in yet another strange medical place, although this one was nicer that the last, and bigger too. Didn’t look like much of a cell either.

‘Man, I think I’m getting used to the whole waking up in a weird place thing.’

She was lying on a simple cot stuck in one corner of what seemed like a laboratory. There were a couple of desks across from her, and a computer sitting on one of them. In the centre of the room there were several long lab benches with medical gizmos on them and one of those hospital privacy screens was stuffed in another corner.

On one of the tables were her clothes, all neatly folded in a pile next to her boots. Faith cautiously swung herself off of the cot and stood up. There was less pain this time. Her back still throbbed as did the whole of her left thigh, but that was it, everything else was running smoothly.

Whoever these people were, they hadn’t put her in cuffs, which would’ve been the smart play after the display she put on. Maybe they weren’t worried about her escaping from wherever the hell they were keeping her.

She glanced around the room again, no interrogation windows this time, just one solid looking door and a couple of security cameras.

‘Okay, so medical stuff, plus army, plus secret complex meant... secret men-in-black types? So, what, Buffy’s a government employee now? Figures. Always was a good little girl, following the rules and feeling the burn of all her righteous responsible-ness.’

Faith glowered at the unblinking stare of the cameras before wandering over to the table with her clothes on it. They were all there, so she figured, what the hell, getting out of somebody else’s duds was fine with her.

She paused to give one of the cameras a knowing smile and a wink before pulling off her top and tossing it to the side, stepping out of the drawstring pants and kicking them across the floor. Taking her sweet time she put on her clothes all over again, going back over to the bed to finish putting on her boots.

She’d just finished tying her laces when the door opened and a woman in a lab coat walked in.

Alone.

She glanced in her direction and then down at the clipboard in her hand as she closed the door behind her. Under her other arm she carried a bundle of files.

The woman was older, maybe fifties, with butch hair and a stern, hatchet face, wearing a pretty severe expression, like a warden in a women’s prison.

But when she spoke her voice was direct, her tone almost friendly. “Good Afternoon, Faith. My name is Professor Walsh, and we have a lot to talk about.”

*****

A figure materialised in the warehouse just as the light outside was beginning to fade. Its journey to the Initiative had been fruitful. Going unobserved amongst those who thought they could not be overheard was always so. And having access to any room, every password typed into a computer, every muttered codeword, had made the task simplicity itself. The figure had used one of the central computers to send an immediate order, with all the right military phrasing and codewords, to one of the Initiative’s other facilities. It was a holding facility in Nevada, and the order had been for a prisoner transfer.

When the order had been confirmed by the person on the other end, the figure had made its way back to the Watcher’s men to see how they were faring.

All was as expected.

The one who called himself Collins walked out of the back room, noticed who was there, and walked on over. “He’s quite chatty once we got going. Managed to get a lot of information on these Initiative fellas.” Collins shook his head in disbelief, “Their base is under a bleedin’ fraternity for Christ’s sake.”

The figure was dryly amused as the old soldier’s indignation. “It’s not somewhere one would easily guess. Anything else?”

“Number of staff, scientists and soldiers. General lay-out and security codes, not that that will do much good against fancy bollocks like retinal scans and voice ID. It’ll be a bugger to infiltrate.”

And now came the snare. “That won’t be necessary, in three days time the Initiative will be transporting the slayer offsite. There is a detention facility in the Nevada desert where she will be kept for further study. “The figure stepped past Collins towards the back of the warehouse. “I know where and when the prisoner transfer will take place and I will inform you of it... for a price.”

Collins scowled. “Oh? What price would this be?”

With one hand the figure gestured lazily to the back door. “The man through there, I am correct in thinking that after all those... conversations that he is not long for this world?”

Collins nodded thoughtfully. “Told the lad we would part as friends.” He shrugged, “Then again, I got plenty of dead friends.”

The figure nodded in understanding. “You will return him to me; I have need of his remains. And do not ask what that might be, simply know that it is important that the Initiative remain... preoccupied for the time being.”

Collins was clearly suspicious, but also had his orders. “Fine. Do what you want. But in three days you lead us to this right time and place. We fetch the slayer and then we’re done, you understand.”

The figure nodded in agreement. “Agreed. After that our partnership will come to an end.”

*****

Faith stood and sized up the other woman. “We do, huh? What do we gotta talk about?” Faith tilted her head and walked closer, “Professor, huh? Let me guess, your some kinda ‘councillor’ shrink type come to give me the once over. Dangerous chick like me you thought they woulda put me in cuffs, or maybe in one of those cages like Hannibal Lector got.” She made a show of flexing her fingers.

The other woman didn’t even blink. “Whatever your initial impressions might be, Faith, you’re not a prisoner here. In fact, I’m here to discuss the terms of your release.” She pulled one of the chairs out from under a desk, and gestured to the other one. “Now, if you’re done posturing, please have a seat.”

Faith looked at the woman warily. “Release? What’s up with that? First you guys stick me in a padded cell surrounded by jarheads and now, what, I’m getting paroled?”

The woman, now sitting relaxed next to the desk again glanced down at her clipboard. “We were misinformed about you from the start, which is what led to your capture and detention. It seems that Miss Summers had a personal vendetta against you, and she saw fit to involve us in it.”

Faith frowned hard at that. “And who the hell is ‘us’? “

“We’re a special branch of the government, that’s involved in similar work to that of the slayer. Here, at our facility, we combat and neutralise hostile threats to humanity.” The woman looked Faith over for the first time, “Recently we’ve come into contact with the slayer.”

Faith took all this is as she looked around the room suspiciously. “So... where are we? Is this like, area fifty one or somethin’?”

The woman smiled dryly. “Actually, we’re not far from Sunnydale. This facility is where we contain and analyse the immediate sub-terrestrial threat.”

Faith crossed her arms. “Sub-what now?”

“What you call... demons, we look on them as animals, it’s more rational. And scientific.”

“Yeah, well, good luck with that.” Faith sauntered over to one of the chairs, pulled it out and sat down, sticking her feet up on the desk. She caught the slight frown from the older woman but ignored it. “So, it was your boys shot me down, huh? On Buffy’s say so?”

“Unfortunately yes.” Professor Walsh put her clipboard to one side and put her hands on the table. “You must understand that Miss Summers was a great asset to begin with. Of course during our research we had heard talk of the Slayer, but naturally were sceptical.” She raised her eyebrows as if in wonderment, “She made a very strong first impression, and so naturally we were inclined to take her word at face value.”

Faith straightened up slightly. “Whaddya mean ‘to begin with?’”

“That doesn’t concern you. These, however, do.” The professor slid a large file across, it was a police file, and a mug shot of Faith was clearly visible.

“Yeah, and?” Faith shrugged, “’S not like they got any proof.”

“Well, a lot of it is circumstantial, but taken all together it does seem like misfortune happens to those who cross your path.” The woman paused, “Add to that the eye witness statements, and your past juvenile offences for violent behaviour-“

Faith swung her legs off the table and sneered at the other woman. “You wanna get to some kinda point, or are ya jus’ gonna gas on forever.”

The Professor raised an eyebrow as she took back the folder and put it under another one, which she then opened. “But it seems that the police must have made a mistake. I have it on good authority that tomorrow morning one Robert Keel is going to make a full confession to the murders of Alan Finch and Professor Lester Worth while he’s in police custody.” The professor mused as she flicked through the folder, “He’ll mention details that only the killer could possibly know about, such as where the crimes took place, how many times they were stabbed and how one of the weapons used was a...wooden spike of some sort. Things he couldn’t possibly known about unless he has committed the acts himself,” the woman gave a Faith a measured look, “Or had been told about them by somebody who had knowledge and access to the particulars of the cases.”

Faith frowned hard, her eyes flicked as she looked for the angle. “And why would some guy just do this?”

Professor looked over the police notes and shook her head. “Bobbi Keel is a career criminal and a sociopath, responsible for several armed robberies, the murder of police officers during a convenience store robbery, and stabbing two people to death in a botched home invasion.” She tapped her finger against something on one of the pages, “And coincidentally, he was very near Sunnydale at the time of these crimes. He has been... given an incentive, in return for his co-operation.”

‘A fall guy, huh? That’s some big carrot, gettin’ a clean slate an’ all.’

“What’s the catch?”

The older woman shook her head. “There is no catch, Faith. There’s no quid pro quo... no deal to be had here. This will happen even if don’t accept the offer I’m about to make.” She closed the folder and slid both of them to one side, “I happen to believe in second chances for youthful mistakes, even serious ones. Especially so for those who are extraordinarily gifted, such as yourself. You are a slayer, and as a consequence are of great interest to us and the work we do here. Your abilities would make it possible to... work with us, to help us.”

Faith smirked at that. “Sorry, doc, not ‘xactly a team player here.”

“Why, because you couldn’t work with Buffy? I can tell you that you are not unique in that.” The Professor gave Faith a thoughtful look, “If I were to guess as to the events of last year I would say that the two of you worked well enough to begin with, just like The Initiative did. You have lots in common, share common goals and the like.” Walsh leaned forward, “But Buffy had certain... ways of doing things didn’t she? She was inflexible, judgmental and in the end, incapable of seeing things your way. She guarded her life, her friends very carefully, jealously even. She also kept secrets, lied to you, yet expected you to believe and trust her without question.”

Faith scowled down at the table and clenched her jaw at the memories. “Can’t really add anything to that.”

The Professor shook her head, her voice stern. “I can’t promise the same level of friendship that Buffy offered when it suited her. I would expect you to show deference... respect for those you work for. But what I can offer in return is our mission here, a place in the world for you to belong, people putting their trust in you as you do what you what you were always meant to do, before Buffy stopped you.” The Professor stood up and put her hands in her lab coat pockets, “Plus a generous salary, medical, dental, and the chance to use cutting edge technology.”

Faith mulled it over. She didn’t really like the idea of working for some government suit types, but talk of money had perked her interest. “How much we talkin’ here?”

The Professor allowed a small, knowing smile. “Generous. Salary. But you’ll have to work for it.”

“Hey, born slayer here.” Faith decided to push, she how badly the other woman wanted this. “Signing bonus?”

She raised an eyebrow. “I beg your pardon?”

Faith stood up and gestured to herself. “MVP’s get a signing bonus right off the bat. And since I’m the only slayer here I’m thinkin’ B turned ya down. So, signing bonus to get the one and only slayer.”

The older woman seemed to think it over. “Very well. We’ll talk it over as I show you around our facility.” She gestured to the door with one hand, “Then you can get a sense of how we operate and we can talk about doing a little field work.”

Still wary of this whole situation, Faith gave the Professor a smile. “Cool. Let’s go.”

*****

As soon as the sun was down Spike went out hunting... well, not actually hunting. That’s all he did these days. Not hunt.

Shopping for blood and cigs was a sorry substitute for it.

Especially with those army boys roaming around, looking for him, not to mention any other nasties that happened to be out and about. Going around tasering and chipping and tagging until there wasn’t much left of Spike that hadn’t been interfered with.

‘Sodding bastards. Now doing anything simple like buying smokes turns into an epic pain in the balls.’

Still, all Spike had to do was bide his time and think of a plan. Something really... cunning. He’d idly thought about recruiting some demons, or maybe a gang of vamps, then storming some part of the Initiative, grab one of the labcoated types and get them to undo what they did to him.

Then kill the slayer. Stick a knife in her back, see how she liked it, and then drain her dry.

He smiled at the thought, and then reality set in. Things like this couldn’t be rushed. One step at a time and that first one would be tricky.

‘Bloody chip. Bleedin’ bad luck is what it is.’

Of course, for his plan to work he had to dampen down his natural urge to kill any demon or vamp he came across, and unfortunately a great big brawl was one of the few genuine pleasures left to him in his current unlife, that and his stories on the telly.

Reminded that he had to be back in time for ‘Passions’, Spike quickened his pace through the deserted park, one of the ones that the homeless tended to favour back when he had the run of this town. Spike vaguely hoped that he’d find a freshly dead vagrant, done in by a heart attack maybe. Or perhaps one had frozen to death.

He wished Sunnydale was cold enough for that to actually happen; cold and fresh was still better that warm pig’s blood.

He stopped in a dense patch of woodland, pricked up his ears as he suddenly heard noises in the too mild night air.

Voices. Low and guttural. Rhythmic chanting.

Magic.

Spike, half curious, half sensing an opportunity, crept towards the sound of the voice as it carried, low, harsh and clear, through the trees.

That’s something Spike hadn’t yet considered. Some demons, spooky robed types, loved their magic spells and rituals. Maybe he could get one, threaten to tear his tongue out if he didn’t do some transforming spell or somesuch on him. Then Presto, or whatever, no chip in his noggin.

Batting some branches aside Spike peered out through the tree line and across a deserted play area, swing sets and climbing frames loomed ominously in the waning half-light. Not the most typical place for a dark ritual spell, far too cosy really, although Spike had never really been fond of those little spring-horse rides that were found in such places.

He looked past a creaking swing that moved gently in the breeze; saw a tall robed figure standing on the grass beyond. The figure was alone yet his voice echoed and seemed to bounce off the air around so that it seemed like more than one person was talking, like many people whispering over each other.

The breeze picked up, rustling nearby branches.

Spike was stepping out of the bushes, pondering his next move, when he saw the body in front of the robed demon. One of the soldier boys, judging by his outfit, lay in a ritual circle burned onto the ground, something too vague for Spike to make out from where he was.

Judging from the looks of what remained of the arm curled close to his body; Spike guessed that the man, the sacrifice, was already dead. Or at least very unconscious.

The chanting got louder, so did the wind, it fluttered against Spike’s coat as he took another step forward. Not looking to interfere now but just to watch and see what was what. Maybe it would turn out to be of interest to the slayer, for a price of course.

Spike saw the figures hands crackle with energy and fancy lightning as the chanting quietened. Whispers and echoes swirling through the air around them both, and the air seemed to thicken and shudder slightly. Spike saw objects near to the ritual circle blur and bend for a moment, shimmering as if viewed through heat, before snapping back into clarity.

And then the body twitched.

It twitched, its limbs jerking like they’d been yanked on marionette strings. The twitching continued and got more violent. Spike saw fingers curl and claw at the air, even as the corpse was wracked with spasms.

‘All that for a bleedin’ zombie raising. All bloody flash with these magicians...’

Still, best to be cautious when it came to necromancers. They were a creepy bunch, and he had heard a few stories over the years. Stories that gave him pause when it came to those types and vampires. Best not to push his luck and just simply duck back...

The corpse screeched.

Its voice keened in an eerie high-pitched wail that set Spike’s teeth on edge. He saw it spasm again, and thrash violently against the ground, rolling and twisting, dirt and blood flung from its writhing form. He heard the crack of bones as limbs twisted and shifted. Clothing was shredded as the body continued to change and morph, growing and shifting. The snapping and resetting of limbs carried over the evening air in what Spike had the unnerving impression were birthing pains.

The figure had taken a step back and was still muttering something softly in a language, maybe a binding spell or a spell of command. This obviously wasn’t a zombie.

Spike saw the corpse sit up, now partially covered in clumps of bristly fur, part rotting skin. The top of its skull now grossly misshapen, two knotted lumps of horn sprang from its forehead, twisting and sharp. The hideously warped thing turned so Spike could see its face from the side, and he saw cavernously stretched eye sockets filled with swollen pulsating eyeballs. He saw a lengthened, lantern-like jaw that seemed to stretch out as he continued to watch.

Spike saw the thing raise a clawed arm, no longer human but transformed into something else, its spindly fingers tipped with razor sharp claws. He saw them pierce and tear off the remains of its human scalp like it was removing a wig.

The thing stretched up its neck and screamed again, mouth stretched wide, teeth bared at the sky. The sound was more like a roar, and Spike saw its breath coil out into the air around it like a fetid cloud.

Suddenly Spike recognised what he was looking at. He knew exactly what this thing was. He’d seen it before.

Without hesitating Spike turned and ran back through the trees as fast as he could. Damn his pride, he rarely ran from a fight but this, this was different.

He needed to tell the Slayer.

*****

Giles had gathered everyone at his house, as Buffy had requested, and now they all listened as she lay out what had happened.

She walked around as she spoke in an anxious rush. Giles was frowning as he listened intently and sipped some tea.

“...so Maggie sends me down into the sewers with one of those blasto-guns. And the next thing I know, it’s raining monsters.”

“Hallelujah.” Xander quipped, even as he pressed his hands together nervously. It was his way of coping.

Buffy ignored him and turned to Giles. “And then I try and use the gun, but it goes pfft.” She mimed the fizzle with her hands, “And then to top it off this gate slams down behind me so I’m trapped. All that was missing was a diabolical laughter soundtrack.”

Xander nodded in agreement. “No, Miss Summers, I expect you to die.”

Giles was bemused. “You’re saying that Maggie Walsh set you up?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Buffy was emphatic, “She sent me on a one-way recon.”

There was silence as everybody absorbed this. But at least nobody looked smug, just really concerned.

“What do you think Faith said to her?” Anya wondered.

“What?” Buffy frowned at her, although she noticed that Willow, Xander and Giles exchanged looks with each other.

“Well, this seems like simple cause and effect to me. The Initiative takes the bad slayer into custody, and then tries to kill the good slayer.” Anya shrugged as she said lightly. “It’s common sense really.”

Xander shifted uncomfortably on his stool as he looked guilty. “You shouldn’t say stuff like that, Aan.”

Anya sighed and rolled her eyes. “Fine, you’re not the ‘good’ slayer, is that not the ‘cool’ thing anymore?”

“You guys think that Faith has something to do with this?” Buffy asked as she glanced about, a little unsure.

Giles sighed as he replied. “Probably not, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least consider some sort of connection here, whether intentional or not.”

Buffy ran a hand through her hair, shaken a little by the thought. “Like what kind of connection?”

“Maybe Faith said something... told her something,” Willow said awkwardly. “And Walsh believed her. I mean, that’s possible, right?”

Giles shook his head. “Unlikely. Faith isn’t the, ah, best when it comes to deception on the back foot as it were. I doubt that somebody as,” his next words were grudging, “Intelligent as Maggie Walsh, would fall for any sort of ruse.”

“Then maybe Riley’s to blame!” Anya said brightly. Xander gave an exaggerated wince.

“You’re not helping,” grumbled Buffy. Anya’s face fell as she lapsed into silence.

“No, look.” Buffy tried to work it through in her head. “Riley and his squad were on guard duty the entire time, or so Maggie said. She wanted them all out of the way so she could send me on this very special ‘make-Buffy-dead-mission.’” She sighed and continued her voice soft with concern, “All I know is that Maggie has it in for me. That means the Initiative has it in for me.”

“Scary on so many levels,” said Willow glumly.

Xander jabbed the air with his finger as he made a point. “Right. And I’m guessing the mad scientist lady isn’t too keen on the fact, that the entire Scooby gang knows that the Initiative is up to no good.”

Buffy looked at her friends. “The only advantage I have is that Walsh thinks that I’m an ex Initiative-groupie. So she thinks that she’s free and in the clear. Maybe she’ll leave you guys alone, at least until she finds out I’m not dead. Then it's back to ‘run, run for your lives,’ all over again.”

Giles was still trying to wrap his head around the events of the day. “I still don’t understand why she’d turn murderous all of a sudden. We’re clearly missing something.”

Buffy slumped against the back of the sofa. “I don’t know. She wasn’t keen of the fact that I was asking so many questions, that’s for sure.”

Willow remarked. “What about 314? Maybe you were getting too close to something? Something big and classified-y?”

“That rumour that Ethan picked up,” Buffy paused as she was hit by a realisation. “Last night. Last night I, uh, told Riley that I knew about 314. He didn’t look alarmed or anything. We were kind of arguing about Faith at the time and it slipped out. But maybe afterwards...”

“He informed on you to Professor Walsh,” finished Giles evenly.

“Or maybe one of his other squad did,” Buffy reasoned, although she figured as squad leader it was most likely that Riley would be the one to ‘report in’ or whatever. But he wouldn’t deliberately conspire against her, no way, not Riley.

Well, probably not.

Buffy shook those suspicious thoughts from her mind. They weren’t good things to have bouncing around in there. “The only things I know for sure are that the Initiative means big danger for all of us, and that they have Faith in their custody. I have to get her out.”

Xander looked concerned. “How are we gonna do that?”

Buffy felt a little jolt of happiness that Xander had said ‘we’ to a Faith rescue.

Buffy shook her head. “We’re not. If Maggie thinks I’m dead, it gives me a window of opportunity. I should still have my security clearance, so I can get inside.” She looked over the rest of them, “But you guys should move now. Before the Initiative puts you guys under surveillance, you need to hide someplace.”

Xander looked more relieved. “That plan plays to my strengths. I like it.”

Giles straightened up, his face etched with concern. “We should perhaps talk about this a bit more.”

Buffy went over to the weapons chest. “We should each grab a weapon, just in case, and then we can think about where to locate. Then we can plan our next move.”

“Ooh, we could go to my place!” Willow enthused. “My folks are out of town this week.”

Buffy thought about it, but eventually shook her head. “The Initiative guys know how close we are. They’ll automatically check the places you hang out.”

“There goes my idea for hole up at the Sunnydale Mall food court,” Xander said wistfully. “Free nacho refills.”

Giles remarked dryly. “The sticky floor would be more of an issue for most of us, I fear.”

Buffy looked at Xander with a sudden idea. “Xander, what about your basement? The guys haven’t seen us together that much. And there’s enough room.”

Willow smiled at that suggestion. “Plus, mirror-ball.”

Xander was pleased and gave a relaxed nod. “Cool. Come on down and boogie at Xander’s hide-away.”

Anya was less keen. “Yes. Come boogie.”

Giles was appalled. “Absolutely not. I will not squat in that dank hole. And didn’t I just get through saying that I found sticky floors utterly abhorrent.”

Buffy couldn’t help but roll her eyes. “Well you're just gonna have to suck it up there Giles.”

Willow made a yuck face. “Ooh, bad. Wrong imagery.”

Giles shook his head. “I don’t see why we can’t all stay right here. We’re safe, secure, a bastion, really against whatever evils-”

The front door suddenly opened and Spike ran through it in a hurry. Giles craned his neck round and tried not to look put out at what he saw.

Buffy smirked and added dryly. “Your bastion’s just been breached.”

Spike looked almost pleased to see Buffy, which was weird and creepy on a level she hadn’t actually experienced before.

“You’re here, brilliant. We got serious problems.”

Xander made a dismissive gesture at him. “We know Spike. The Initiative. Evil. They’ve joined the growing list of people who want us dead. It’s old news.”

“I thought it was three groups,” muttered Anya.

Spike looked at him like he was insane. “The Initiative? I don’t give a bloody toss about those wankers!” He regarded Buffy with alarm and pointed at her. “This is a bloody crisis happening right under your upturned little nose.”

Buffy looked exasperated. “You want to tell us what you’re actually talking about?”

Spike gave a long-suffering sigh, like he was talking to idiots. “It’s the end of the sodding world, innit.”

*****

Somewhere in Nevada, two men met in a corridor. One of them, the younger man, brandished a piece of printed paper at the other.

“This came through. Just been confirmed.”

The other man scowled at it as he scratched his chin. “Prison transfer? This guy only got here about a week ago.”

The younger man shrugged. “Crazy, right? The transport’s prepping as we speak. They want him there ASAP, some kind of specific mumbo-jumbo threat they want his help with.”

“Yeah, yeah.” His voice heavy with resignation the older man turned and walked down the corridor towards the door at the far end, his colleague quickly followed. “Luckily the guy didn’t cause any trouble on his way here. Minimal threat. Some Crowley-type.”

The other man, puzzled, glanced at the order again. “Who? It says here-”

“Figure of speech, buddy. Helps if you know something about some of the nut jobs we have to deal with. Think of it as like learning Arabic or some crap.” He stopped a moment to pull a security key-card out of his pants.

The other guy was still frowning at the paper. “Right? Who’s Crowley anyway?”

“Magician.” The first one grunted as he adjusted his sagging pants. He reached up and beeped the card through the slot. There was a loud buzz and the heavily secured door clacked open.

“Like Houdini?”

“Oh, hardly.” A rich, educated, British voice spoke up from the depths of the cell. “Far more interesting than all that. ‘Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.’ Words to live by, don’t you think?”

The older guard just grumbled. “Shut up Rayne. Step forward.”

The man obeyed, stepping towards the two men. He was clearly amused. “Am I going on a trip, officer? How exciting.”

The guard shrugged and gave the man’s restrains a forceful tug to check that they were secure. “Looks like. Going back to Sunnyhill or wherever. Gonna put you to work, won’t that be fun for ya.”

A dark chuckle. “Oh, I always endeavour to have fun wherever I end up. You could say it’s my calling in life.”

“Fascinatin’.” The older guard grunted. He walked the prisoner out of the cell and down the corridor towards the van.

In a few days he’d be somebody else’s problem.

The I In Psychopath (PART 2: All That Remains)

Riley eased himself out of the shadows next to the overflow pipe and waited in tense silence. About sixty yards up ahead, Lawson stopped where the sewers had split off in several tangled directions. The man was taking his time, moving his flashlight back and forth with his left hand, scanning the various passages, while he carefully examined the electronic device in his right, the electric blue of its display screen illuminating his face.

Riley paused, held his breath, then released it slowly when Lawson moved to his right and disappeared from view.

As he started forward, Riley kept on hearing the Professor’s firm words of reassurance cut through the ashes of his thoughts as she consoled him for his loss: ‘Send a squad...Use all available manpower’.

But that had been a lie.

In the hours after his conversation with the Professor, Riley had turned the news over and over in his mind. Hope and doubt plagued him in equal measure; gnawing away at him was the idea that maybe there had been a mistake. Maybe Buffy was just badly hurt, or unconscious. Maybe she was trapped and weak and alone and waiting for him to come and find her.

So, for only the second time in his career, he’d disobeyed a direct order from an immediate superior. He’d waited patiently before asking the on-duty security chief who had checked out any tracking equipment from the armoury so he could tag along with whichever squad was assigned. But what he discovered was that only Lt. Lawson, a Marine, had checked out a tracking device and had gone into the sewer tunnels solo.

One man, not a squad, had gone out. And not even a trained Initiative Agent, but one of the marines who were attached to the base.

They never went out hunting for HSTs.

‘So what the hell was going on?’

So Riley had followed into the tunnels, found Lawson and now stalked him.

Maintaining a discreet distance, Riley paced after Lawson; if Lawson’s job was to find Buffy then Riley would tail him until he made contact.

Then he would get some answers.

*****

Buffy raised her eyebrows. “Huh?” ‘Where the hell was this coming from?’

Spike looked at them expectantly. “You know. The big spinney green thing we all sit on? Buggered up all to hell, that’s what I’m saying.” Spike glanced around them as they slowly digested this, “And he watched in awe as they sprung into action!’” He shook his head, “Tossers.”

Xander half-smiled and shrugged. “Sorry. It’s just...we’re all still considering the source here Spike.”

“Yeah, you’re not exactly Mr. Reliable ‘Deep Throat’ informer... person...” Willow frowned as she trailed off.

Buffy decided to speak up again. “What, exactly, are you talking about? We’ve already had one apocalypse this year. There were earthquakes and demons and Hellmouth-y... things.” She looked to Giles for confirmation.

Giles seemed grateful for anything that might derail his being banished to Xander’s basement. “Well, quite. T-this seems like something that should be investigated right now. And right here.”

Spike looked pointedly at Giles. “It looked like there was a Kurenos demon popping up not three miles from here.”

“Kurenos?” Giles repeated softly, a trace of worried recognition in his voice.

“So, what, first it’s all ‘the end of the world’ and now it's ‘maybe I saw a demon.” Buffy sighed in exasperation, then she saw a grave looking Giles walk over to his book shelf. “I mean, c’mon, it’s Sunnydale. Who hasn’t idled away a Tuesday night by raising up something?” She noticed Giles anxiously flicking through one of his books. “Giles?”

Anya commented absently. “Kurenos was pretty big news in demon circles back in the day. Mostly sighted in Scandinavia, or at least it was until a few centuries ago, no one’s seen one since.” She then started tugging on Xander’s arm impatiently, “I guess you’ll all have to stay here and look into this and not come back to the basement with Xander and me. Oh well.”

Willow made a face and turned her attention back to Spike. “Why are you, I mean, why aren’t you taking a whack at this thing yourself, Spike? Isn’t that how you get your kicks these days?”

“Because I’d like to hang on to all my bits a little longer than say, immediately.” Spike snorted, “And I saw one of these sods up close during the war. Wasn’t exactly a tea party.”

Willow was curious. “Which war was that?”

“The Second World War, no doubt.” Giles answered absently as he stood up from a crouch, examining the open book in his hands. “That, I believe, was the last reported sighting of a Kurenos summoning, or as the Nazi’s named it; ‘Schnitter der Toten’.”

“’Reaper of Death’”, Willow nodded thoughtfully. “Though it sounds kinda dirtier in German, but then most things do.”

“You were working for Nazi’s?” Xander feigned shock and wagged a finger at the vampire, “I’m disappointed in you, Spike. Not surprised, just disappointed.”

“Piss off.” Spike made a dismissive gesture with his hand, “Bloody captured me they did, and then stuck me in a bleedin’ submarine, but I managed to escape. Come to think of it, your ex-squeeze Angel was there.”

Buffy perked up a little. “Angel?”

Spike smirked at her. “Thought that might get yer attention.”

“So Angel was a good ol’ Nazi smasher back in the day? Did he wear a spangle-y outfit?” Xander frowned, “Ah, I’m sorry, but that’s too much of a disturbing image.”

Willow raised her eyebrows and smiled. “Submarines, Nazis and vampires? That all sounds pretty cool.”

Giles sighed impatiently as he interrupted. “Fascinating though this all is, shall we return our attention to the sighting that took place earlier this evening –“

Alleged sighting”, Buffy interrupted. She was still anxious to get moving. Slaying could wait until later. “Is this really that important Giles? I mean, we need to move, like, right now.”

Spike acted put out. “Oi, I came to you with this out of –“

“Heartfelt self-interest?” Buffy finished brightly.

He shrugged. “Well, yeah, but still...”

Giles ignored them as he read from the book. “Kurenos. Singular. Powerful warrior demon of the underworld. It can only be summoned onto this plane of existence through the darkest of dark magics. Lacking physical form, the demon manifests through the body of a desecrated corpse, usually human, after being anointed with oils and stuffed with–”

“Please stop.” Willow whined at his vivid description.

Buffy ran a worried hand through her hair. “Okay, fine. I think I get the picture. Really bad, rare demon has been raised and is now on the loose. When it rains it pours...monsters.” She picked up an axe and turned to Giles, “Anything else I should know about before I go and kill this thing? Motivations, Achilles’ heel, star sign, anything?”

Giles nodded absently as he read. “This particular passage is still going over how terrible he is, although there’s a reference to the ritual burning of corpses–”

“Thing’s your basic necromancer,” Spike interrupted impatiently, “uses some demon-from-beyond mojo to raise armies of corpses in formation and leads them into a scrap, all under his control. Then you end up with still more corpses for the bugger to raise up... Getting the big picture now Slayer?”

“Heh, Formation.” Xander couldn’t resist a smile. “Sorry, I just keep getting ‘Thriller’ playing in my head.”

Buffy was more serious. “So somebody’s ordering up a zombie apocalypse. But the way Giles tells it, this thing isn’t naturally occurring, so who’s doing the summoning?” Buffy looked expectantly at Spike.

Spike made a face. “Big, mysterious, robey thing, didn’t exactly stick around to take down his particulars now did I?”

Buffy sighed in disappointment. “Great. Somebody new joins Team Evil.”

Giles interrupted them. “Ah. Ah, here’s something. The demon uses... necrotic energy, energy that it brings forth with it from the nether world. It uses this energy to animate corpses and hold them under its sway. Something akin to a hive-mind. Plus... oh, it seems able to enslave vampires to its will.”

Xander made an expansive hand gesture. “I guess that explains your motivation, huh Spike? Don’t want to be drafted into the Army of Darkness.”

“You wanna laugh it up Harris, go ahead. I’ve seen this thing march into a death camp and come out with a battalion of stiffs. Not for the faint hearted. Only escaped the last time ‘cause Dru had a bloody premonition, next thing I know half the crew I recruited had gone all pod people on us. So I beat a hasty for the hills,” Spike smiled at the memory, “a nice chalet in Switzerland as I recall. Lovely warm-blooded people there.”

“Could you wipe the drool from your chin and reminisce later, you’re coming with me.” Buffy turned to the others, “Plan hasn’t changed, you all head to Xander’s and be low profile, Spike and I’ll investigate the site and I’ll see if I can get a lead on this thing. I’ll see you guys later tonight.”

Giles nodded. “The sooner the better. By the depictions in these paragraphs the longer this demon remains on our plane of existence, the stronger it becomes. And it has a Hellmouth to draw off of.”

“Plus a dozen graveyards full of corpses.” Buffy nodded in grim understanding. “Right, so...kick it off our plane. I can do that.”

Giles continued his warning. “Also, whoever has summoned this demon is almost certainly very powerful in their own right; the magics used to accomplish this are hard to come by. I would advise that you be careful in approaching this individual, at least until we know more.”

Buffy thought about it as she grabbed Spike by the jacket and moved towards the front door. “I’ll try, but I’m not really good with restraint against people who dig up corpses to get their jollies. I see an opening I’m taking it.”

Spike pulled himself out of her grip. “Sod that bloody lark. I’m not joining you on your merry jaunt to find anything. I came to warn you, end of.” Spike thought about it, “And now I’ve done that, I should get paid. Pay me.”

Buffy nodded. “Tell you what Spike; you can have whatever I’ve got in my pockets.” Patting her hips she made a faux sympathy face, “Oh darn, maybe next time we should both plan ahead better.”

Spike just sneered in response.

Buffy pointed at him. “You’re coming with me so I don’t spend half the night wondering what I’m looking for.” Then Buffy paused and stared down at her outfit, cringing in realisation. “Uh, Will, how bad do I look?”

Willow smiled nervously. “Well, uh, g-good. I mean, considering, y’know, sewer fighting and demons and body-parts hacking...You look good, doesn’t she look good?” Willow looked at Xander.

Xander blew out a breath as he added. “Yeah, there’s really not much to... Sorry, Buffy. You’ve been slimed. You have demon gunk all over you.”

Buffy shuddered and hurriedly moved closer to the exit. “Fine. I’m going to shower and then change, then kill this thing, which I know doesn’t make any sense, but I’d like to save the world from unspeakable demons without goo down my... everyplace.” Buffy glared at the recalcitrant Spike as she opened the door, “Move it, or the next chip I violently dig out of you will be the one in your head.”

Spike stalked out into the night and Buffy glanced back at her friends. “Hurry guys, and remember to be careful.”

*****

Faith slowly drew a knife from its sheath and raised her eyebrows in interest. “Sweet.”

The tour had been several kinds of boring except for the occasional sweaty marine type in a tight t-shirt. But this, the armoury bit, this was pretty insane.

“It’s ceramic,” Walsh commented from behind her as Faith ran a finger along the knife’s edge, “Sharper and more durable than the usual steel ones. But prone to shatter. Some of the HST’s we come across seem to have a particular resistance to metal in all its forms, bullets or blades. Those handily resolved the problem.”

Faith nodded absently, she put down the blade and looking around in wonder at the caged off area. There were so many weapons stored here. She saw a lot of capture equipment; nets, tranq darts, smoke bombs and those taser rifles that had put her down here in the first place.

Faith reached out and picked up what looked like a chunky TV remote with a pistol grip and pushed a button in the side. An arc of electricity shot out between two metal prongs at the end.

“Electro-Muscular Disruption Device.” The older woman continued, “More commonly known as a handheld taser. More powerful than standard police department issue. They’re designed to deliver a charge of over–“

“You’ve got grenades?” Faith spotted an open case of hand grenades and stepped closer to peer inside. She grinned to herself. She could do some real damage with these.

“I wouldn’t touch any of those, they’re live.” Walsh stepped a little closer and closed the case of grenades, “The rifles however are –“

“Not ‘xactly a ‘guns ‘n’ ammo’ kinda girl Doc,” Faith drawled as she looked about some more, still keeping hold of the taser as she gestured, “Coulda done with somethin’ like this back in Boston though. Bet it keeps people from gettin too handsy.”

The older woman was stiff as anything; she was like the Mayor but without his warmth. “All equipment has to be signed for before it can leave the armoury.”

Faith shrugged easily and turned the doctor. “Then we’re gonna have a problem, ‘cause I can be a little ‘light fingered’ when the mood takes, y’know?”

Walsh smiled tightly. Faith got the feeling that it wasn’t something she did that often. “Well, I’m sure we can relax some of the rules until you get used to everything, we’ll get you fully equipped later on, Faith. But for now I think that concludes our tour.”

Faith put the taser to one side and frowned absently, though she was glad this was all over. “What about all those research rooms with the computers in and stuff?”

Walsh gestured for her to exit the cage, so she followed the older woman out. “Part of the research we do here. We find out where these species’ come from as well as how they work and how to combat them.”

Faith smirked as she shook her head slightly. “No mystery there Doc, they’re just like dinosaurs. Real old things that need killin’ before they kill us.”

“I was speaking more in terms of geographical location. But I’m glad to see you have the right attitude. Miss Summers was far softer in her thinking.”

Faith scowled at the mention of Buffy. She hadn’t thought about the other girl going on a full hour, which was a pretty good stretch for her. “So what happens to B, huh? Now you ain’t working with her. You gonna lock her up?”

Professor Walsh paused and seemed to weighing up her next words. “We are considering our options with regards to her and her associates. Ignoring her for the time being. But if she was to become a nuisance, we would consider that option.”

‘Definitely hiding something. Maybe B isn’t as on the outs as they claim. Gotta stay sharp.’

Faith nodded. “Yeah well, if ya want me t’bring her in and slap the cuffs of her myself, just say the word.”

Faith glanced to the side as a small group of soldier types ran past her. She made a show of stretching her arms out behind her back like she was working out the kinks, and smiled coyly as a couple of heads turned her way. “So, what now. Do I get to go out and do some ‘field work’?”

Walsh glanced at her watch in surprise. “I would think you’d want to rest. You’re not tired?”

“I’ve been asleep for seven months, Doc. Had plenty of shuteye even before you people started knockin’ me out all the damn time.” Faith stopped as she thought about it, “Could use some food though, I’m wicked starved. Don’t you military types have a place to get ‘chow’ or somethin’?”

Walsh allowed a small smile. “Very well. First we’ll get you some food. And then, a training exercise, to see what you’re really capable of.”

Faith grinned. ‘Finally some action. This will be a kick.’ “‘Training’ huh? Well, get ready to be amazed Doc, ‘cause I sure am a sight to see.”

*****

Riley found Lawson crouching next to a demon corpse. The other man looked up in surprise and shined his flashlight at Riley’s chest. “Agent Finn? You’re a little off the beaten path there soldier.”

Riley stepped closer to the corpse as he looked over the dimly lit, dank chamber, noticing signs of a struggle. “Could say the same about you”, he answered evenly.

Lawson glanced back down at the corpse before replying, “Orders. I’ve got a squad searching the sewers for the other one of these creatures. Thought I’d stay here in case it doubled back.”

His lie was pretty good. Casual. Dismissive. Telling Riley to relax.

He didn’t.

Instead he looked more closely around the chamber: blood splatter across the ground, the smell of burnt flesh lingering in the air, but no sign of Buffy or the other demon.

He spoke up. “So, this is where it happened?”

Lawson nodded and stood up. It was then when Riley noticed Lawson was holding a rifle in his other hand that he had picked up off the ground. “Listen, Finn. I have my orders and you’re not a part of them. I’m sorry about your girl and all, but you’ve got to trust us to take care of it. You shouldn’t be here. Clear out before my guys come back and we’ll forget about protocol. No harm, no foul.”

Riley was nodding absently when he saw the com-cam lying on the ground in the corner. He went over and picked it up, turning over the expensive piece of equipment in his hands. He frowned. 'What the hell was that doing here?’ Buffy wouldn’t just take this, he reasoned, she was given it, which meant somebody had been watching her every move. And that meant somebody was trying to hide something.

Riley walked back over to Lawson, stopping when he reached the corpse, and showed him the com-cam. “You don’t have any other guys here Lawson, so why don’t you tell me what’s really going on?”

Lawson went still before he shook his head sadly. “Man, why didn’t you just walk away?” With that he casually swung and pointed the rifle at Riley, “This would’ve gone a lot smoother if you’d just gone back to your dorm and listened to some country music.”

Riley’s jaw tensed as he looked warily at the rifle. “Did you do something to Buffy?”

Lawson smirked. “You have no idea what’s going on here do you, kid? I wonder, is it the steroids that make you stupid, or just all those knocks to the head?”

“I’m not gonna ask again,” Riley said evenly, before dropping the com-cam so it clattered to the ground.

Lawson’s smirk turned into a smile as he gestured with the rifle. “You’re right that you’re not gonna ask again. You open you’re mouth again and I’ll shoot you. Now, very slowly squat down and pick that up. Then, just as slowly, pass it to me.” He jabbed with the rifle for emphasis.

Without taking his eyes from Lawson, Riley crouched down and put his hand on the ground and patted it until he put his hand on what he wanted, fingers curling around it. Riley suddenly snapped his head towards the dark aperture at the end of the chamber. “Did you hear something?”

Lawson’s eyes only snapped away from him for a second, on instinct, being that they were both in a possibly monster-infested sewer but Riley took the opening. He tightened his grip on the axe that was half hidden under the demon’s body, pulled it out, bringing it up into an arc to smash Lawson’s gun away from him.

It wasn’t a powerful swing, left handed and awkwardly angled, but it was enough to knock the gun from Lawson’s grasp. As the gun clattered Riley surged forward with his right hand and slammed a fist into the other man’s face, knocking him backwards against the wall.

Riley pinned him there with the shaft of the axe across his throat. “Now, let’s try this again. Who gave you your orders and what are they?”

Lawson grimaced. “Dumb.”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself.”

“No. You’re dumb.” Then his arm flashed up with a knife in his hand, arcing across Riley’s face. Just as he managed to barely twist away from it, Riley dropped the axe. Lawson came after him and followed up with a solid kick to Riley’s side before lunging in with the knife again. Riley blocked with his forearm before ramming a palm into Lawson’s face and gripping Lawson’s wrist down and back, keeping the glinting blade away from him. Lawson’s grimaced before spitting, “I eat punk kids like you for breakfast!” He rammed a fist into Riley’s ribs and jabbed his head forward to butt him. Riley ducked back, releasing his grip on the knife and twisted away from Lawson’s counter lunge with the knife.

He scrambled for the gun.

But Lawson, the smaller of the two, was quicker and managed to get between Riley and the rifle. Riley dipped low for the gun but had to duck back as Lawson slashed across him with his blade.

Which is exactly what Riley had wanted.

Riley seized Lawson’s wrist as he stepped into the arc as the blade passed, stomped hard down on the arch of the other man’s right foot even as he twisted, pivoted and threw him over his hip.

Lawson grunted as he slammed hard against the floor, crying out as Riley booted him hard in the ribs. He scurried backwards across the floor, losing his knife in the process.

Riley took two steps forward as Lawson got to his feet and booted the other man in the stomach before upper-cutting him in his face as he doubled over.

Lawson was thrown back and cracked his head hard against the far wall, slumping loosely into a puddle of sewer water.

“Then I guess you just choked,” Riley said coldly, although Lawson was too unconscious to appreciate his attempt at wit.

Riley holstered the knife and went over to pick up the rifle. Who was Lawson working for? Somebody else in the upper ranks maybe? Or maybe he was covering a mistake one of his buddies made? Pretty risky if that’s –

Riley saw the blood trail.

Large droplets and splashes of blood, as if from a deep wound, led from the grotto into the dark passage that went deeper into the sewer system.

If this is where the fight started, then perhaps Buffy ran and took the fight elsewhere, the other demon giving chase.

It was a trail that could be followed, so Riley readied the rifle in his hands and stepped towards the exit. He glanced hesitantly back at Lawson’s prone form, leaving him here was putting him at risk, this sector was still far from secure.

But the guy had a radio; he could call for assistance when he eventually came around. That was good enough for Riley – the man had pulled a gun on him after all.

Leaving Lawson and the question of who he was working for behind, Riley ventured into the dark after Buffy.

*****

Buffy finished rising the last of blood, gunk and sewer off of her and stepped out of the shower.

She felt better, more like a normal girl. The shower had allowed her to soothe away the last of the aches and pains from the fight with Walsh’s pets, not to mention washing out the nasty cut on her hand that was starting to heal up.

While she’d been bathing Buffy had pondered her situation. Things got more and more complex. She’s spun into a downward spiral of confusion and badness, not knowing why people did the things they did, or even who to trust anymore. It just all kept coming nonstop; Faith, Riley, the Initiative, Walsh.

Buffy sighed. Walsh. Dealing with Walsh and the Initiative would have to wait until tomorrow, Buffy couldn’t imagine that tracking this demon would be easy with Spike leading the way, or that actually killing it would be a picnic either. Still, Giles had seemed to think it was urgent enough, and a battle against some uncomplicated evil thing might actually cheer her up: no doubts, no over-thinking, and no having to watch her back for betrayals.

‘Except for spending the evening with Spike, don’t forget. Can’t go trusting him either.’

Until Walsh was dealt with, Buffy felt it best to stay clear of campus, so she’d headed for home, much to her Mom’s delight. She’d told Spike to wait outside and had hurried up to shower and change.

But to Buffy, the house was still too familiar to her, too full of memories that seemed to ghost, her leaving nothing but a dull ache in her heart. Midnight kitchen snacks, stolen kisses out in the corridor late at night, warm snuggling in the bedroom…

Buffy went to her room and quickly dressed in appropriate nightly slaying attire, taking comfort in the familiar ritual of preparing for patrol; dark sweatpants, tank top, leather jacket and a studier pair of fashionable boots. An outfit she hadn’t taken to college and therefore hadn’t worn since high school.

Simpler days, or at least it seemed so now.

Without lingering Buffy grabbed her axe that she’d taken from Giles’ place, plus a crossbow from her closet, and packed them into her satchel. This evening the town was still pretty busy and nothing said ‘conspicuous’ like toting medieval weaponry around everywhere.

That done she tied her damp hair back in a scarf before taking a breath and making her way down the stairs. She frowned when she heard her Mom and Spike talking in the kitchen.

“But I could see that she’d altered the invoice after the fact, so she wouldn’t get into trouble. She was clearly trying to play me for a fool,” she heard her Mom complaining.

“Some people,” Spike scoffed in reply.

Buffy came in to see her Mom and Spike chatting away and having tea. 'What was with her?’

Her Mom turned to her and smiled kindly. “Hi honey, did you get yourself cleaned up okay? Put your dirty clothes in the washer?”

Spike looked her up and down. “Look at you, all quaffed and spiffy.” Spike smirked dryly.

“What are you doing?” Buffy asked her Mom, “You’re giving him tea now?”

Her Mom smiled apologetically. “Sorry, Buffy. But I can’t help it. I’m just a nature hostess.”

Spike smiled and raised his mug. “Thanks for the cuppa, Joyce.”

Buffy glared at him. “Spike, get out.” She turned back to her Mom before adding, “And leave the cup.”

Spike set down the remains of his drink and left via the back door.

Buffy sighed and pushed back a strand of hair. “We’ll have a talk later about who you give hospitality to, Mom.”

Her Mom brightened at that. “So, you’ll be coming back then?”

Buffy paused and shrugged awkwardly. “Uh, sure. I mean... things at college are kind of crazed right about now but... soon. Promise.”

Her Mom nodded patiently in understanding. “Well, sweetie, you go and have fun with Spike.”

Buffy frowned and shot her Mom an annoyed look as she stepped out onto the back porch. She found Spike having a smoke.

She glowered at him as he blew a cloud of smoke. “You really have a nerve, you know that?”

Spike shrugged and gave her a sideways sardonic look. “Least your Mum knows how to treat a guest. Might as well get somethin’ outta this evening.”

Buffy folded her arms. “Just because she doesn’t know you like I do, Spike.”

Spike’s lips curled into a smile. “Then maybe you should spend more time with her, have a long chat about me. She’d like that. Or maybe you’ve got better things to do these days.”

Buffy frowned. “Meaning what?”

Spike stubbed his cigarette out on the porch. “Could be a bit nicer to her is all. Since she’s missing you so terribly.”

Buffy huffed and stalked down the steps. “I’m not going to be lectured by you about how to treat my Mom. You probably ate yours, all vampires do.”

Spike remained silent, just clenched his jaw.

“Ooh, did I hit a nerve?”

“Shut yer gob!” Spike grumbled harshly.

Buffy just smiled sweetly. “Gladly. Now the sooner you lead me to this demon, the sooner we can part ways. Let’s not make this night any longer than it needs to be.”

Spike swaggered angrily and pushed past her as he muttered. “You know what, I hope this demon does kill you, and then it can bring you back so I can smash your soddin’ face in.”

With that he stormed off into the night. Buffy, hefting her weapons bag, quickly followed. Wryly noting that it was nice to know where she still stood with some people.

*****

Faith stepped into the room where six men were waiting for her. It was a large workout room, with all the weights and fitness equipment having been pushed off the one side, leaving a large expanse of exercise mat for Faith’s ‘training’ to begin. Again the far wall was made up of a large, one way mirror set at waist-high for observation, presumably so some of the scientists could perv as people got all sweaty in here.

All six guys were big, wearing the casual green sweats that Faith has seen most of the marines wearing. She recognised one of them from the interrogation room, black, bald, scowling right at her. Nice to know she made a memorable first impression.

“Hey boys,” Faith smiled widely, flirting a little, “You all waiting for me so we can get down to some fun, huh?” Faith remembered Walsh’s words of caution. ‘Try to avoid giving them any permanent injury; the infirmary is already getting crowded.’

The soldier boys all looked at her warily; she guessed that they knew something about what she was and what she could do. So, time to give their minds something else to think about.

Faith wandered towards the group slowly, noting that all of them were armed with those baton things that cops had, although none of them had them to hand. Faith made a show of slowly rolling her shoulders and shucking off her jacket so it fell behind her. She saw a few pairs of eyes momentarily lose their warily look as they eyed her. ‘Guys are so easy.’

“Now, you boys gotta promise to be gentle. Never taken six on at one time before.” She made a show of rolling her lips as she smiled teasingly.

She saw the exact moment when three of the guys un-tense and relaxed a little, they stopped seeing her as much of a threat, more of a chance for a hook-up afterwards. They’d hesitate when things got going, give Faith the opening she needed. She focused on the three others, all grim and unsmiling, ready to draw their batons and throw down.

‘Heh. That was one of those flirty double-meaning things.’

One, the bald guy from earlier, looked like he wanted to go all out and attack her right now, but he also knew how strong she was, so he wouldn’t go first. He’d wait for an opening and try and take her down hard.

Another guy, a huge blonde with a square jaw and a crew cut who was standing to her immediate left, wasn’t so much tense as aggressively confident. Faith reckoned that he would try and take her first; he was itching to knock the little girl on her ass. She’d have to take him down hard, shake the confidence of the others.

The third was lean, with wiry muscles and short red hair. He was taking his cue from the black guy, watching how he reacted and then mirroring it, he was probably his subordinate, and wouldn’t attack before he did.

Right. Faith reasoned that she had enough of a handle on things to begin.

This wouldn’t take long.

She made a show of turning so the blonde giant was behind her and to her left, like he was in a blind spot, as she turned and smiled to the cute Hispanic guy to her right. He was struggling not to smile at her.

She made a show of nibbling her bottom lip like she was nervous. “Before we get started, uh, what’s your name?”

A little more relaxed, he replied “It’s Hernandez–” Faith didn’t let him finish before she kicked him between the legs.

Not hard, not vicious, not like she was trying for a field goal or anything. Just direct enough to drop him gasping and choking to the ground. One down.

Even as she turned, Faith felt movement behind her, she pivoted on her right hip and threw her left elbow back and up at the blonde guy. She figured that he would try and rush and grab her in a bear hug instead of hitting her, a guy that size probably figured he was stronger than damn near anyone. Her elbow was aimed roughly at his chin so he’d run into it, but her aim was a little off so as his arms closed around her the elbow struck him in the throat.

He stopped mid-grapple as he wheezed out a cough, and Faith was already turning under his arms. Her right fist punched him solidly in the nerve cluster below his sternum even as she swept her right leg so it knocked him forward and off balance. Faith ducked under his right arm as he dropped to his hands and knees like he’d been pole-axed. She finished him off by stomping her boot down on the middle of his back, slamming his face against the floor. Two down.

Even as the other four marines were oh-so-slowly coming alive, getting ready to charge her, Faith pushed off the blonde guys prone body and leapt over him at a third guy with an unfortunate buzz cut. He was still reeling from the sight of his three hundred pound buddy getting dropped that he didn’t get his arm up in time to stop Faith’s elbow connecting solidly with the side of his head. He fell groggily to one knee and Faith finished him with a hard kick to the chest that sent him flipping over onto his back. Three.

The bald guy finally came at her. His baton smashing her across the face as she turned towards him, Faith took the blow easily and ducked a fierce backswing meant to deliver more of the same before sweeping his leg out from under him. She grabbed the guy as his was in mid-fall and swung him at his two soldier pals before letting go.

The wiry guy dodged to one side as the other two went down in a scrambling heap. He came at her cautiously, snapping at her with his club. Faith waded into him, first a backhand to send him staggering, then a knee to the stomach. He came back at her with a solid punch of his own, Faith answered by head-butting him hard enough to send him careening back against the wall, where he slumped to the ground. Two to go.

Those remaining two picked themselves up as Hernandez was still trying to get his knees. Faith was impressed.

She grinned at the last two guys and flexed her fingers eagerly, blood rushing through her limbs. She imagined that these guys were the tools that had shot her down the last time, or even had zapped her back at Angel’s place. She’d gone easy on the last four, not with these two.

She launched herself against both men, snapping an elbow against one’s face, and slamming her knuckles into the nose of the bald guy so he backed off. She kicked the knee of one so he stumbled against her before she picked him up by the throat and slammed him down heavily onto the dizzy form of Hernandez. Both of them lay still.

The bald guy was swaying, his nose bleeding from her last punch. He glared at her. “Freak.”

“Aw, you’re just a sore loser.” With that Faith spun and decked him with a fierce roundhouse. He flew back and tumbled to the ground with a choked gasp. She stood over him and smiled. “Instead of just being a loser.” With that Faith turned to the observation window with a triumphant grin. “So, whaddya think? Did I make the cut?”

On the other side of the mirror, Walsh turned to Angleman. “Time?”

The man blinked once at the display he’d just seen. He dimly wondered if the Summers girl had been that... efficiently ruthless. He glanced at the timer. “12.8 seconds. Fast, if a little sloppy” he said grudgingly.

Walsh nodded. “Fast and unrestrained. She could be a real asset to us.”

“Perhaps.” Angleman was wary, “But I think I can see another way she can be useful.”

Walsh merely raised an eyebrow.

Angleman put down the timer and picked up a dossier, handing it to Walsh. “Her test results, blood cultures, cell count, everything. I think she could be even more useful in another aspect of our work, not just capturing HSTs.”

Walsh busily looked over the test results. “In what way?”

Angleman took a deep breath. What he was going to suggest wasn’t pretty. “In regards to the project. To 314.”

Walsh looked at him coldly for a long moment, so long that he thought that maybe he’d crossed the line. But then she blinked. “I’m listening.”

*****

‘Note to self, kids playgrounds are really spooky at night and should totally be avoided.’

Buffy followed Spike across the grassy clearing to a large circle of brown, dead grass edged by a charred pattern of sigils written across the ground. Buffy shone her flashlight across the blackened earth, making a mental note of the patterns so the brains of the outfit (Giles and Willow) might be able to pin down more about what had been going on here. Maybe a counter-spell or a reversal spell or... something smart like that.

“Creepy.” Buffy muttered to herself as she ran her eyes over the dusty soil, so dry it looked like the very life of the earth had been drained away by something.

Spike smirked as he lit a cigarette. “Most summonings aren’t exactly a picnic slayer.”

Buffy ignored his jibe, instead circling the site cautiously. “Tell me more about what you saw.”

Spike sighed in annoyance. “Big robey fella, chanting in a daft language. Twisting, screaming corpse – “ He paused thoughtfully, “Was one of those army blokes.”

Buffy snapped her head towards him. “The guy was Initiative? You’re mentioning this now?” She glanced around warily, “They could be here any second.”

Spike smiled wistfully. “Wouldn’t worry about it. They’ll probably run into this thing long before you do. Keep ‘em nice and occupied it will. Might actually be a laugh.”

Buffy was about to reply when the wind suddenly picked up. One of the swings creaked ominously and then, in an instant, there was a robed figure standing there, equidistant between Buffy and Spike. “Good evening, Slayer.” The voice was cold and harsh, but also held a hint of dry amusement.

‘Great. Another bad guy with a flair for the dramatic.’

“That’s him.” Spike nodded at the figure helpfully.

Buffy unshouldered her weapons bag as she pointed her flashlight at the ground near the figure. “Nice entrance. With the cheesy wind effects and the billowy robes. Really it’s a classic. Not at all camp.”

The figure inclined its head at her. “I heard you were annoyingly talkative for a slayer. But I wanted to see for myself. I’m... not impressed.”

Buffy nodded evenly. “That makes two of us. But I think you should know that we don’t really go in for dark rituals in these here parts.” With a flourish and a smile she pulled out the crossbow, “I’m gonna have to run you out of town. You like that? More to the point, doncha think?”

The figure didn’t react. But its next words stopped Buffy cold. “Faith is none of your concern.” The words were softly spoken yet chilling, “She belongs to another and is beyond your help, Slayer.”

Buffy’s smile was gone. Her eyes were blazing. “What do you want with Faith?”

The figure chuckled darkly. “I want for nothing. But my master hungers for everything. And Faith will deliver it.”

“Your master?” Buffy replied levelly, “Let me guess, does he have an even bigger robe? Diabolical laugh and all that walking against the wind crap?”

“His gaze is upon you.” The figure answered simply, before turning its attention to Spike, who had been watching with dry amusement, “So this is the slayer you failed to kill William?”

Spike shrugged then looked nonplussed. “Just bad luck an... Hang on a mo. You’ve ‘eard of me?” He sounded mildly smug at the thought.

The figure nodded slightly. “The legendary William the Bloody, killer of slayers. I am honoured.” Then it rasped out a dry mocking laugh. “Of course, knowing how you started out has taken the shine off slightly.” The figure stepped closer its voice a lower whisper that Buffy almost didn’t catch what it said next, “’Hark, ‘tis the simpering, clotted idiot of a poet who clings to his mother’s apron strings.”

Spike’s face twisted in fury. “Bugger off, you soddin’–“

But the figure overrode him with a mocking sneer. “Desperately scrambling from one poor deluded doxy to another, a failed broken twisted failure –”

Spike roared and charged forward, lashing out with one furious fist at his tormenter. The figure casually stepped to one side to dodge, but had quit its diatribe, simply tittering derisively instead.

But Spike’s chip didn’t go off, which meant it was non-human. Buffy quickly levelled the crossbow at the figure’s back and fired off a shot. The bolt flew true, straight at the robed... thing. And slid right through right it like a ghost.

Buffy heard Spike curse in pained surprise and stumble back with the bolt lodged in his shoulder.

“Put this sorry creature out of its misery, Slayer. Let his life end as it began; in ignominious failure.”

With that the figure turned and fled on foot towards the tree line. Buffy stooped to grab her axe, although unsure how to hurt a... whatever this thing was. A ghost? A demon? A ghost-demon? Was that even a thing?

Buffy saw Spike flash past her as he ran full tilt after the fleeing figure, but since their foe could teleport out of nowhere and become all phantom-y, Buffy wondered what the hell Spike was going to do if and when he caught up with it.

“Spike. It’s a trick!” she shouted in wasted breath as she watched his retreating form drop into the shadows of the tree line. Gritting her teeth and gripping her axe firmly, Buffy picked up her feet and ran after the two.

The long night was looking even longer.

*****

Lawson was woken up by his nose.

A throbbing pain cut through the fog of his head as his eyes flicked open. The dank smell of sewer greeted him. He slowly sat up, dimly realising that he was wallowing in scummy water, and pressed a hand over his nose.

Not broken, just badly busted.

Riley was gone, as was the gun. Dammit.

Lawson slowly turned himself over onto his knees, braced one hand against an overflow pipe and hauled himself upright. He had to get out of the sewers, report Finn’s insubordination.

He noticed that his right hand was heavily smeared with greasy blackish blood, demon blood that had pooled around the corpse over to the other side. So where had this come from?

Lawson looked at the overflow pipe that he’d braced himself against. It lay about a foot off the ground, wide and flattened like an oval, not quite enough for somebody to squeeze through.

But something was in there.

Lawson pushed his hand carefully into the mouth of the pipe, feeling the same greasily slickness against his fingers. Maybe the other demon had escaped this way after all. His fingers brushed against something, he froze, cautious, before gently feeling around the solid mass. It was wet and slippery and had some kind of covering wrapped around it. Like clothing.

Lawson grimaced.

Apparently Miss Summers hadn’t gone far at all, or at least parts of her hadn’t. It couldn’t have been the most pleasant end for her, torn apart and left strew about the sewer.

Lawson vaguely wondered if Riley would find some part of the girl while desperately searching about for her.

Lawson bitterly hoped that Riley found her head.

Getting a better grip on the limb, he pulled the sucking, clogging limb out of the pipe. It resisted at first before popping loose with an obscenely wet plop onto to the ground.

It was a demon foot. Or more accurately, most of a leg. It had been bisected at the knee before being hastily stuffed down the waste pipe.

Lawson glanced back at the demon that lay in the centre of the chamber. It still had two legs.

That meant that the slayer was still alive and killing.

“Shit.”

The I In Psychopath (PART 3: Rules Of Engagement)

As Buffy nimbly hurdled a park bench, she found her mind considering the unique sort of questions that tended to crop up in her life. Like, ‘What was Spike going to do when he caught up with the grim Reaper wannabe… scold it?’

Or, ‘How come this thing can move so fast when it’s wearing a really long robe, which is pretty much like running in a dress?’ Buffy knew from experience how hard that was.

And even how about; ‘Why am I even bothering with any of this?’

Well, Buffy could answer that last one; this creature had an interest in Faith, had even warned Buffy away from the other girl, and had hinted at other, darker things during their brief conversation.

Bottom line; cryptic guy sounded like he had answers and Buffy felt like she had to pursue him. She probably couldn’t hurt him, but he did seem to fall into the ‘loves the sound of his own voice’ category of villain, so maybe he’d let something slip when he got to wherever he was leading them both. Because that was exactly what he was doing, baiting them so they would chase him somewhere.

Buffy hoped that it wasn’t into another deathtrap. That would be such a cliché.

Racing after Spike, Buffy’s feet pounded the soft earth as she struggled to keep pace with the enraged vampire and the fleeing cloaked figure. She’d persistently pursued both of them through playground, woods and Dog Park already and now the cemetery was flashing by in a blur of motion.

Surely one of them must be getting bored of this by now? Yet Spike showed no signs of flagging. The figure had, deliberately, hit some deeply buried nerve from Spike’s past all so that the former Big Bad would be compelled to follow.

Then, up ahead, the figure suddenly came to a dead stop between two headstones, where the cemetery thinned out into a line of trees. An old, rusted and twisted wrought iron fence marked the shadowy copse that was the edge of Breaker’s Woods.

The robed figure turned to face the oncoming form of Spike, raising its hands as if in defence as Spike launched himself forward, snarling, only to sail directly through and slam head first into a mouldering oak tree behind, crumpling to the ground. Buffy would’ve laughed if she hadn’t felt slightly winded. Instead she stopped a few metres away from the looming form, readying her axe. At least she could look threatening.

Still, Buffy always had insults ready. “What’s the matter? You getting a little pooped there? Need a time-out? A break while you readjust your ridiculous costume?”

The figure seemed to drift a little closer to Buffy, its cold voice taunting. “Do you yearn for more answers, Slayer? Is that why you followed me to the dark of the woods?”

Buffy readied her weapon against her shoulder and decided that it couldn’t hurt to try and bluff a little. “Nice, with the Red Riding Hood analogy, since I’m the one with the magical axe here, and you’re stepping up to be the next Big, Bad–“

The laugh that drifted from the form was more melodious that Buffy expected, almost like somebody had taken a voice distorter thing away from their mouth. The sound seemed...almost feminine.

“Oh, you are a spirited one aren’t you? I can understand why a misogynistic beast like William would so badly want you dead.”

Buffy raised her eyebrows and decided to bite. “So, you know him then? Or knew him before?”

The figure tilted its head, as if considering how much to say. “Not personally, but professionally, yes. He made quite a name for himself back in the day, and I made it my business to know much about his name.”

Behind the figure, Spike seemed to recover and slowly rolled to his knees and then his haunches. Buffy tried to keep the figure’s attention focused on her. “So, ‘back in the day’? I’m guessing you’ve been around for a while, huh? To be fair your outfit’s a little dated y’know? Plus, wicked conspicuous.”

The figure chuckled dryly. “Not at all. As I am seen only when I wish it. In turn I am rarely taken unaware.” With a spin and a simple gesture the figure picked Spike up off the ground and flung backwards with invisible force. There was an angry, choked groan and a dull clang as Spike was slammed down on a broken section of iron fencing that pinned him, dangling helplessly in place.

At the same moment, while the figure attention was diverted, Buffy took a quick step forward, readied her axe, and swung it overhead, hoping that it would find its mark.

The figure barely caught the weapon before it struck home, deftly catching the haft in one hand as it turned back to regard the Slayer.

Buffy was so close to the form that she could smell it, or rather its lack of smell. Demons were usually all kinds of stinky. Plus she could hear it breathing, raggedly. So not only was it not dead, it also got tired. And it was one of those bath-taking demons. Curiouser and curiouser.

Buffy also sensed that the cloak that surrounded the form, the way the cloth shifted and swayed in as if in a breeze, was an affectation, an illusion or disguise no more real than the low, scary voice. Another conjuring trick.

The figure tut-tutted. “Now that wasn’t nice, girl.”

“So, you’re not a spook. I’m guessing this is a ‘one spell at a time’ kinda deal, right?” Buffy adjusted her grip on the axe, preparing to yank it free and kick out at the now solid form at the same time, “So, what are you anyway? Or should that be who?”

The figure leaned closer to Buffy, so the edge of its hood was inches from her face. Buffy squinted to make out any features in the gloom, but saw nothing. It spoke, softly and mockingly. “I have a better question for you, Miss Summers. Don’t you ever get tired of stabbing those that you profess to love? Firstly it was Angel, not Angelus, that suffered in hell for your poor decisions. Then Faith suffered for your inattention.” With a surge of strength, the figure pushed the axe and Buffy inexorably backwards. Unnerved by the figure’s words, Buffy stumbled as she lost her footing and was thrown to the ground. The mocking voice that had been directed at Spike was now directed at Buffy herself. “And now, because of your tawdry sentiment, Faith will continue to suffer at your hands. But not as your nemesis, not now, but as your ‘lost love’. As the lost, sick little girl that, instead of putting her out of her misery, you now try to help – if only you could reach her ‘true self’.” The figure tittered darkly and shook its head slowly, “Be careful what you wish for, Slayer.”

Buffy managed to scramble backwards and then shakily to her feet. “Who are you?”

“The reckoning of your order, as promised. But if you wish for a name... ‘Marley’ will suffice for now,” it said coldly, drawing itself up to its full height before pausing and turning towards the tree line, as if sensing something. “And what is that?” It cocked its head expectantly, “If I’m not mistaken I think that is the herald of darker things to come. Perhaps by the night’s end you’ll be killing another loved one. Your pet soldier perhaps?”

For a moment Buffy wondered what the hell the figure was talking about, but then, from behind them both, somewhere in the depths of the forest, she heard somebody cry out in pain or terror. The voice, a male, was answered almost once by a low, growling roar that seemed to reverberate through the night air and set Buffy’s teeth on edge. It was followed by creaking, snapping sound of distant tree branches breaking.

“Ah, it seems that your attentions are needed elsewhere, Slayer. Kurenos will feed well tonight otherwise, perhaps if you hadn’t been so–” Suddenly the figure was swiftly tackled from the side by Spike, both of them tumbling to the ground in front of Buffy.

She saw the blonde vampire’s triumphant grin as he righted himself before the figure could and slammed a fist into its hooded face, following up with a fierce left cross that connected soundly with the now-solid form.

Spike let out a sneering laugh as shouted. “Leave this burke to me.”

But Buffy ignored him, already running flat out for the woods. Twisting aside to avoid railing and broken branch, flashlight and axe clasped in hand, Buffy’s ears already picked up the distant sounds of combat, the cries of panicking soldiers, the sizzle-snap of their weapons and the answering bellows of the demon.

Buffy sprinted through the dark, her keen eyes managing to avoid any low hanging branch or creeping tree root. She vaulted over bristling bushes, bashed aside springy ferns and veered off when the noises of conflict seemed to move to her right.

Clearing a fallen and decaying tree, Buffy almost tripped over the downed soldier who lay sprawling against a rocky outcrop. His face was turned away and his neck hung at a sickeningly unnatural angle.

A fierce blast of light and noise pierced the forest gloom half a dozen yards away and to her left, Buffy saw four more scattered soldiers retreating as orderly as they could, taser rifles pointed at a large, looming shape that strode after them, something gangly, skeletal and misshapen that loped between the trees.

Buffy hardened herself and, readying her axe, she cleared the last of the bushes and putting her in the centre of a clearing, between the scrambling soldiers and stalking demon. By the half-light of the moon, Buffy saw Kurenos for the first time.

“Oh crap,” she whined.

*****

From her position at the top of the stairs, Faith casually scanned the Initiative quad, taking in the bustle of activity, the comings and goings of scientists, techs and soldiers with an appraising eye.

When the Doc had taken off to analyse reams of paper full of important squiggly lines, she’s given Faith the run of the place, or at least the run of the places she’d been shown on the tour, and been told to get some rest.

But Faith had gotten plenty of rest already. She’d also been fed, poked, prodded, tested, exercised and now was at a loose end. There was just one more thing a growing slayer like her needed to take the edge off. And Faith was thinking that a secret facility filled with clean-cut military dudes was an easy place to pick up some nice, cute, well-muscled way to kill time. All she needed was a half-decent prospect...

And then she spotted one, a guy she’d seen hanging around before who’d given her a couple of side-on, curious glances when he thought that she wasn’t looking. Now he was busily taking to some other hunk of marine, but his eyes strayed her way once and saw her watching, then he pretended to scan right past her and went back to talking with the guy. But he’d noticed her; Faith was pretty good at gauging that sort of reaction from guys.

Faith stepped away from the railing. Time to make new friends.

Faith smiled to herself as she walked casually down the steps and made her way to intercept the guy as he now moved towards one of the exits. She got there with time to spare and leant back against the wall next to the door, one foot braced, arms crossed. Playing it oh so cool.

He was cute in a fairly obvious kind of way, square jaw, dimpled chin, nice smile, hair that sort of reminded her of Buffy’s mopey ex-meat. And he obviously took care of himself; he saw her and gave a small self-conscious smile as he approached. Faith gave him an obvious once-over and smiled widely. “Where you headed?”

He slowed, rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “Uh, containment cells. Just doing some last minute checking with the feeding schedule. It’s not on my duty roster but, uh…” He gave another uneasy smile, “Forrest is still recovering from the beating you gave him, so...”

Faith nodded. “Right. Mr. Pouty. I remember now. He shoulda learned his lesson and stayed down when I dropped his ass the first time.”

The guy gave a half-shrug. “Probably. I did try and warn him, from the last time. But the guy is stubborn.”

Faith pushed off from the wall and approached. She saw his eyes flicked downwards; linger for a beat before flicking back up to her face and staying there. “So, you aren’t sore about some chick honing in and beating on your pal…?”

“Graham...” He blinked and hesitated, “I mean uh, Miller, Agent Miller. And no, Forrest always needs to turn it down a notch or two, y’know. Wound kind of tight.”

Faith stepped closer. “I know the type. So, since we’re on the same team an’ all, how ‘bout you show me where I bunk around here.” Her smile became more suggestive.

He swallowed and hesitated. “Uh, well, I’d like to but...the duty roster...”

“Can wait awhile, right?” Faith reasoned with an easy smile, “I promise what I have in mind will be a lot more fun.”

Graham gave a small laugh. “That wouldn’t be hard. But, uh, I guess I could quickly show you a place to crash.” He hesitated as Faith caught his eye.

“Bunk.” Faith corrected as she put on her best ‘alluring tone’. “And I got all sorts of questions about stuff I saw on the tour. Could take a while for you to...satisfy me, y’know?” She licked her lips invitingly.

“Right.” He smiled like he was slightly dazed. Maybe the guy couldn’t believe his luck, “Well...I, the thing is...”

“Miss Lehane?” A voice spoke up from behind her. Faith turned to see a lab coat and specs type clearing his throat. “Professor Walsh would like to see you. It’s urgent.”

Faith grouched. “You’re fuckin’ kidding me right?”

“Not at all.” He replied straight-faced, “Right away, Ma’am.”

Damn, nobody ever called her Ma’am before. Nobody ever called her Mom that either. She kinda liked the sound of it. All respectful like.

Faith gave a shrug and turned back to Miller Agent Miller and tapped a single finger against his chest. “We’ll pick this up later, ‘kay?”

He just nodded shakily. Satisfied that she’d made the right first impression Faith turned and followed the lab geek.

Maybe the Doc had another way for Faith to take the edge off. Killing something tonight would be nice, make her feel like a slayer again.

*****

Buffy had guessed that there was something misshapen about the creature but seeing it clearly now she knew that that had been an understatement. The demon was over seven feet tall, even though it was hunched over. Tottering on two twisted cloven legs, its torso was emaciated, showing jutting ribs and odd knobs and spikes of bone. Its pelvis somehow half-twisted, bones protruded where they shouldn’t exist, and wiry muscles were visible through stretched skin.

The demon’s flesh was partially covered in short, bristly grey fur, like animal fuzz that lengthened into long tufts along its flanks, shoulders and emaciated arms. Where the fur didn’t reach, the skin seemed translucent; patches of rotted, pus-filled and scarred tissue covered its belly and groin. Un-guessable liquefied substances seemed to bubble and pulse just under patches of taut hide.

But the true horror was the thing’s face, which was a deformed hybrid of dead human skull and fetid animal characteristics. An elongated, lantern-like jaw supported a lamprey mouth bristling with wetly glinting, blackened teeth. The head itself was warped and narrowed into a vaguely goat-like muzzle, sunken pools of putrid blue filled its eye sockets and two malformed horns sprang from its forehead, added an additional foot to its already immense frame.

Buffy wrinkled her nose as the light night breeze blew her way, bringing with it unsavoury tang of putrefaction, as if the thing was decaying before her very eyes.

‘‘Reaper of Death’, huh? Personally I would’ve gone with ‘Goat-Boy with the heady scent of frat-house’ but there we go, what do I know about naming stuff?’

The demon seemed to pause as it noticed Buffy, coming up short in its stride as its eyes narrowed and snout twitched. Buffy tossed her flashlight to one side and got into combat stance with her axe. She realised that the Initiative soldiers had paused in their retreat when she had appeared, and while she was grateful for the gesture, she didn’t really want to worry about any of them when the fighting started. She briefly wondered if the robed being had been correct, if Riley was nearby?

No time for that. Buffy snapped a quick look over her shoulder and shouted, “All of you go! Get gone now! I’ll stall this thing.” Her eyes snapped forward as she addressed the demon to get its attention. “Y’know, I’m kind of insulted. I actually jumped in the shower for this and you couldn’t even throw on a little aftershave?” She made a show of looking him over, “Or maybe some flea repellent would’ve been more effective.”

Kurenos didn’t immediately reply, simply shifting in its stance, slowly bringing one taloned arm around from behind it, and moving it up to its mouth. In the creature’s grip were the bloody remains of another limp soldier. The demon’s mouth opened, but instead of latching onto the remains of the man, a whitish blue light emanated from somewhere deep inside its throat. The air around the two of them shimmered and vibrated and the corpse’s remains seemed to blacken and shrivel. With a casual gesture, the demon tossed the decayed remains to one side, its other arm already flexing thin, distended fingers tipped with talons.

“I’m going to share with you how much I hated seeing that. And I choose to do so through the medium of kicking your ass!” With that Buffy skipped forward, even as the demon shot out its razored reach at where she had been, and carved the axe into the demon, blade slicing it high up on the thigh. Buffy felt sinewy muscle part against the blade and the creature roar in surprised pain and reared its arm back, but she was already moving.

Buffy’s leg shot out against a nearby tree trunk, she braced, twisted and then jumped up, lashing out with a backswing so the axe caught the demon just under its raised arm, carving through rib bones. Buffy saw blackish blood and semi-luminous blue goo spill from the wound. Gross.

Already Buffy was thinking that she’d have to feign right when she landed, move in to the left and then chop this thing off at the knees. If this thing had hamstrings it was time to cut them. But the demon pivoted with far more speed that its size indicated, so even as Buffy landed on the dry earth behind her the demon caught her shoulder with a flicking backhand.

She managed to spin with the blow and rolled across the ground, coming up readily onto her knees only to throw herself back down as a clawed forehand the size of a tennis racket tried to tear into her. Buffy dived forward, using her small size and nimbleness as she rolled between Kurenos’ legs and came up, hacking the axe upwards into the back of the demon’s knee. Another bellow and the demon half-twisted, half-fell and Buffy was already moving again, even as she felt a six-inch-long claw stitch a line of hot fire across her lower back.

She lashed out blindly with her axe, feeling the blade slice through flesh and the sound of something wet falling to the ground followed by an ear-piercing howl of pain.

Buffy spun and dropped into a crouch, seeing Kurenos rearing in agony gave her some satisfaction. The demon clutched at its injured hand, its body already bleeding from the few wounds that she’d inflicted.

Then something happened.

The demon’s throat pulsed with whitish blue light again, but instead of the glow radiating out of its mouth, it spread downwards, just about visible under its papery skin, spreading along its side and down to its legs, to where the injuries Buffy had inflicted were located.

With a soft pulse the wounds closed up, trickles of bluish pus coming to a stop.

Buffy opened her mouth to say something. The words ‘totally unfair’ didn’t seem to do the situation justice. The thing could regenerate? How come nobody had written that down? Or maybe it was in the cliff notes that Giles hadn’t gotten to yet.

Buffy sighed. “Fine. You wanna go slowly, we can go slowly.”

With that Buffy started forward again, bringing her axe back in an obvious swing with her right, before ducking left and kicking out with her leg.

She hit the thing twice in its side and saw it stumble back under the impact. She ducked a clumsy sweep of a talon, spun and slammed a powerful roundhouse directly into its rotting underbelly.

Her foot struck hard but the demon didn’t even flinch. It had seen her feign with the axe and had responded in kind, faking its stumble to draw her in close.

Lightning quick, its claw shot out, easily encircling her waist and picking Buffy up off the ground. Buffy gasped at the things dank, chilling touch. Its fingers were like bands of ice, spreading a numbing sensation through her body. She writhed and turned as best she could, but the deadening feeling quickly spread up her spine, seizing her chest and within moments her arms twitched from lack of sensation.

Kurenos squeezed its talons hard and Buffy cried out as biting pain cut through the numbness, she lost the grip on her axe so it fell from nerveless fingers to the earth. As the beast brought Buffy towards its mouth Buffy summoned what feeling she could and lashed out, smashing a quick fist into the twisted knot that was its snout. Kurenos snarled in pain even as it opened its decaying maw and brought Buffy closer, so she did it again, a fierce cross, followed by an elbow directly to its front teeth. Lastly Buffy cried out in effort and brought both her knees up to smash the thing under its chin.

Kurenos shook its head in pain, but its grip on Buffy didn’t weaken. Instead its mouth seemed to grow; there was an unsavoury crack of tendons as its lower jaw unhinged and its mouth enlarged. The whitish-blue glow that Buffy had witnessed before now bathed her in a cold light. Buffy shivered as the powerful numbing feeling swept over her face and shoulders, she felt her eyes dim and vision become black-rimmed.

Grimacing, her hands grabbed at the demon’s iron claw encircling her waist, scrambling to gain leverage and use the last of her strength to get free; snap the thing’s finger, grab the axe; then retreat – possibly skedaddle. Hiding was also an option, at least until she could regroup, in front of a roaring fire, with soup.

Then a loud noise cut through the void of noiselessness that had engulfed her. A thundering clattering that filled the air around. Buffy saw the flesh of the demon churn up and explode, its throat, chest and far shoulder were chewed as something invisible cut into it.

Gunfire.

Another roar, this one from Kurenos himself, and Buffy was dropped, falling to the ground. Hard soil pounded soft legs and she folded, rolled away from the demon on instinct. Staying low as a volley cut through the air above her head Buffy slid across the earth and reached out, grabbing the handle of the axe.

Gratefully, the numbness was dissipating quickly from Buffy, pins and needles shot across skin and muscle, making Buffy hot and itchy. Buffy almost revelled in the feeling as she felt her muscles flex in response.

The gunfire stopped after a moment and a figure stepped forward out of the tree line, shouldering the gun. “Buffy?” The voice was soft, uncomprehending, and instantly recognisable.

Buffy raised her head. “Riley?”

*****

“Sit down, Faith.” The Professor said, sounding like her usual sore self. She was half-turned away and talking with a couple of other guys when Faith entered. A clipboard and briefcase sat on a nearby table. Faith shrugged and did as instructed, slouching in her chair as she watched Walsh, Angleman and some other guy (with a busted nose) talk amongst themselves. After a moment or so, just as Faith was starting to get antsy, Walsh turned to her and, after giving a slight nod of dismissal to the guy who’d lost a fight, she finally spoke up. “We have a situation.”

Faith sighed and laced her fingers behind her head. “Figured you didn’t drag me in here t’ask after my health,” Faith drawled, “Whassup? Some demon happenings?”

“Buffy Summers.” Walsh stated simply. Faith straightened at the mention of the other woman’s name. “She assaulted one of my squads without provocation, and allowed a HST to escape.”

Faith frowned before nodding after the guy who had just left. “No wonder your man looked pissed. Throwing down with B ain’t a picnic. What’s her deal?”

Walsh nodded absently but her eyes never left Faith’s. Cold, grey orbs. “That’s what we need you to find out. We need you to bring her in, Faith. This is a capture, not a kill. You’ll be given special equipment to assist you.” Walsh grabbed the clipboard from off the desk, “How you go about your assignment is up to you, but it must be done swiftly, within the day, and you must be discreet about it. No public brawls, is that understood?”

Faith smiled eagerly. Another chance to throw down with B, but on her own terms, felt like a sweet deal. Already she could feel her blood rushing in anticipation. The look on Blondie’s face was gonna be priceless. “Got it. I’ll be stealthy. No worries.”

Walsh pushed the large briefcase towards Faith. “For the sake of appearances it's best if you left our facility through one of the maintenance tunnels that feed up to the surface. No one will see you leave. And you’ll bring Buffy in the same way. Discreetly. Now open the case, its contents are yours.”

Still frowning at the implications of Walsh’s last statement, Faith stood up and grabbed hold of the case. Flipping the catches she opened it and her face lit up. The bottom was filled with some of that military foam stuff, which held a whole bunch of gear; a large survival knife, a handgun, flashlight, compass and map, one of the tasers from the armoury, plus a few plastic packages. Faith couldn’t make out what was inside them.

On the inside of the lid were rows and rows of cash, more money than Faith had even seen in her life. Crisp packets of plastic wrapped hundred dollar bills strapped in place.

Faith took it all in with a wide grin. “Wicked.”

Walsh’s dry voice continued, “Your signing bonus, as requested. Two hundred thousand dollars. And it will double the moment you bring Miss Summers into custody. Also there’s a tranquilizer gun plus darts, plus a few extras to aid you in you getting reoriented.” Walsh gently closed the case and caught Faith’s gaze, “Remember, discretion, Faith.”

Faith blinked and then smiled. She felt like she was in a daze. “When do I–”

“Now,” Walsh replied briskly, “Angleman will show you an access hatch that will get you into the tunnel system. Use the map from there. Good luck, Faith.”

Walsh turned away and busied herself with something else. Faith blinked at the abrupt dismissal, but stood up as Angleman made his way over to the door and gestured for her to leave. Faith paused a moment, thought that maybe she should say something to Walsh. Maybe a ‘thanks’ or a ‘roger that, boss,’ or whatever.

Instead, after a moment of unease that Faith couldn’t quite put a reason to, she grabbed her case and left.

Angleman led her out of the room and down a deserted corridor. Faith didn’t see any passing tech-heads or soldiers anywhere about. Real discreet.

Despite her lingering disquiet Faith felt her head spinning a little. She was rich. The poor kid from Southie, the bad part of Southie at that. Miss ‘loser who will never amount to anything’ was working for some government monster squad and making fat stacks of cash into the bargain.

Buffy wasn’t gonna know what hit her.

*****

Buffy risked a quick glance at the tree line but could see no sign of Kurenos, but the stink of him was still here, as well as a couple of splattered pools of blue ooze. It wouldn’t be a hard trail to follow once Buffy got her strength back.

There was movement to the other side and Buffy saw Riley race over to her before dropping to a squat half a foot away from her, wide-eyed, like he couldn’t believe that she was real. “Buffy...You’re okay? You’re not... hurt?” He seemed puzzled.

Buffy shook her head, allowed a tentative smile as she took him in. “A little tingly, and a couple of scratches, but other than that I’m fine. No trauma.” Then she remembered where she was and straightened up, “Although your artillery – which was very timely by the way – isn’t gonna keep this thing on the ropes for long.”

Riley, with visible effort, managed to snap himself out of his revere enough to gesture to the assault rifle he was holding. He scanned the surrounding forest. “Pattinson said that the taser blasts were having zero effect against the HST. But, since I picked this up on my travels, thought I’d give it a whirl.”

Buffy gave an appreciative nod. “Yeah, the whirl worked well.”

But any further conversation had to wait as was the bushes exploded with motion. With a keening howl, Kurenos burst into the clearing, far faster than before. Its body, already emaciated in the extreme before it was chewed up by gunfire, was even more distorted now. Gaunt and withered, bones were now breaking through its cracked hide in places, tendons and muscles fusing with fur and hair, as if it was rapidly consuming itself even as it attempted to heal its own wounds.

Buffy was reacting before Riley could even turn his head; she pushed him back and to one side so he dropped out of sight behind some bushes. Then, in an instant she was spinning and readying her axe.

‘Stick with what worked, stick with hacking at this thing.’

Kurenos’ voice became an eerie high-pitched wail as it lashed out at Buffy with bony fingers, attempting to grab and drain the life from her like it had done before. Buffy batted one claw away before bringing her axe up and then down in a chopping motion, cleanly separating the other arm at the wrist joint before it could grab her.

When Kurenos reeled back in agony Buffy pressed forward, slicing the demon at the knee, then spinning into an elegant cartwheel right that left the demon lurching at the wrong target. Buffy stomped on the back of its leg and then hacked at the creature’s spine and lower back as it stumbled backwards.

Buffy kept moving and spinning, chopping at the beast even as it attempted to heal itself after each wound.

Then it hit her hard across the face, a tremendous blow that sent her flying hard back up against a ragged tree stump; cracking her back against knotted deadwood. Buffy scrambled to right herself as Kurenos bore down upon her, spindly limbs outstretched and grasping.

Buffy flipped to her feet and jumped an extra foot up onto the stump itself just as Kurenos reached her. Buffy spun into a kick that had little effect against its tough, sinewy frame, dodged a raking talon before stomping on its overextended arm, and leaping forward. Buffy agilely kicked off the demons forearm as she surged through the air. Even as Kurenos arced away from her airborne attack her axe found its mark, slicing clean through the lower part of its throat, where the bluish white light seemed to originate from.

Metal cleaved flesh as the light dissipated in an instant and Kurenos’ head rolled to the ground, bouncing across the ground until one of its horns speared into the soil and stopped it dead.

Buffy hacked away at the demon a few more times, its spindly form writhing for several moments before dropping. Its arm separated from its shoulder, its torso cut in two, one leg hacked at the hip – but with a thankful lack of dripping pus, blood, or liquid. In the end the copse shed nothing but dust.

Buffy took a couple of shaky steps backwards and leaned on her axe, before grimacing and looking down at her outfit.

‘Huh, relatively clean actually, tear marks notwithstanding. Still, enough with the demon slice and dice already. It’s hell on my wardrobe.’

“Buffy!” She turned to see Riley striding over to her, “Are you alright? You seemed...well, with the hacking, you looked like you were handling things.” He stopped and cupped her face, smiling gently.

Buffy brightened with relief. Riley had found her, or she’d found Riley. Whichever it was she was just glad he was okay. “Uh-huh. No problem really. I think this demon was actually sixty percent jerky anyway, so no big.”

Riley stared into her eyes intently. “I thought... I mean, I was told that you were dead. Buffy, what happened?”

Buffy stepped away, her smile fading slightly. She stared at Riley for a moment, hesitating to disrupt his relief and happiness with her own troubling thoughts. But she had to tell him the truth now, she needed his help. Buffy glanced at the ground and then looked up into his eyes again, and found the resolve her voice needed. “It was Maggie Walsh. She tried to have me killed.”

*****

When Angleman returned to room 314, Walsh was waiting there for him. She was half bent over a microscope, re-examining the new evidence for the third or fourth time. Without looking up she asked, “Did our girl get away okay?”

Angleman nodded. “Unseen. As instructed.”

Walsh straightened up and nodded. “Excellent. That way, if she succeeds in her mission then Miss Summers vanishes without a trace, unconnected to us. And if she fails then Faith simply escaped our facility to continue her twisted vendetta with the Slayer.”

Hesitantly, Angleman disagreed: “It may be hard to argue that, when it’s discovered that Miss Lehane is in possession of our equipment and our money.”

But Walsh was dismissive; he had rarely seen her in such a good mood. “Oh doctor, the equipment could’ve easily been stolen before or during her escape from here. And the money, well, a girl like Faith, suddenly confronted with that much wealth, I guarantee that she’ll hide it away somewhere, at least until she’s secured her target.”

Angleman pressed. “But why even give her the money in the first place? She could run now. She has money, by tomorrow morning she’ll have no serious criminal record to speak of. It’s a risk. You can’t just expect to buy her loyalty.”

Walsh turned to the doctor. “I agree. But the money does serve a subtler purpose, doctor. It will, for the time being, allay any suspicions that Faith may harbour about our true motivations. It will blind her doubts and any cynicism for a short while. And it’s critical that, for the moment, she does exactly what we say, at least until she and Miss Summers are back in our custody.” Walsh walked over to the far surgical table, where the huge form of Adam lay. “And to think I thought that I wouldn’t be able to improve upon you, Adam.” She looked up at Angleman, “I want you to select the very best surgical team available Doctor. They’re going to have to work on two subjects simultaneously.”

Angleman nodded nervously. “Of course.”

“And have preparations made to store the harnessed tissue and nerve samples, plus the blood and bone marrow.” Walsh walked past Adam to Dr. Angleman, “It’s important we harvest as much from the two subjects while they’re still alive doctor, precision is the key.”

Angleman nodded again. He didn’t trust himself to speak. When he’d made the discovery, he had only been thinking in terms of more tests on the Lehane girl, perhaps even the other slayer as well. The properties of their blood and tissue samples, the genetic markers indicating human/demon hybridisation in their bloodline, were incredibly relevant to the work being done here.

But Professor Walsh saw it only as a chance to improve further upon her creation, to make it – him – truly perfect.

Angleman comforted himself with the fact that the two girls would be unconscious for most of the procedures that were to follow. It would be a small mercy.

Deep in thought, Walsh dismissed Angleman as she returned to her equipment. “That will be all Doctor. Remember my instructions and I’ll see you in the morning.”

Angleman didn’t say another word; he knew it would be best to just do as she asked, return in the morning when he’d found professionals talented enough to perform what she required of them.

The figure watched unnoticed, as Angleman left the room.

‘Alone with mother and child,’ the figure mused. Watching Walsh busily dream as she worked the figure drifted over to the massive, prone form on the slab. ‘A veritable marvel of science.’

The figure still ached slightly from its dalliance with William’s tender mercies, but had nevertheless managed to fend him off and lead the vampire into the woods. To the path that would eventually lead him to the lover’s reunion. Their touching reconciliation would have to wait, at least until secrets on all sides were uncovered.

The figure had heard enough of the scientist’s cold, clinical discussions. Slayers used for nothing more than spare parts, donations of life and essence that would help to complete a mad woman’s dream.

Well, time for the dream to become a reality. And, incidentally, a nightmare.

Now that Faith was settled on the next stage of her path it seemed prudent to disrupt the Initiative’s efforts once more.

The figure placed a phantom hand on Adam’s chest and sent invisible tendrils of power down into the creature’s mind, pulling him to awareness. To awakening.

The figure stepped back and waited a moment.

Nothing, not a stirring. The figure almost considered trying again, then, suddenly the creature sat bolt upright. Silently it looked down at itself before pulling out the few cables and wires attached to its limbs. Then, it rose off the slab without making a sound, fluid and elegant even for all its bulk.

The figure watched impassively as the looming creature made its way with deceptive stealth over to where Walsh busied herself. It saw the creature regard Walsh somewhat curiously but dispassionately for a moment.

Although nothing in the room had changed, no new sound had been heard, Walsh froze where she sat. She stiffly pulled back from her workbench and stool and turned around slowly, inching, her eyes widening as she saw her creation standing before her.

“Adam,” she whispered, almost reverently, seemingly too shocked to react any other way.

In one fluid motion, Adam impaled Walsh through the chest with the bone skewer in his arm.

Walsh gasped in surprise, frailly trembling where she stood, choking as blood filled her mouth. Slumping forward, she collapsed to the ground in front of Adam, whose expression remained fixed as he watched. “Mommy.”

The figure began to turn away, satisfied with what had happened. Now to deal with the Council’s simpering lackeys and Rayne...

And then it stopped.

“You,” Adam stated simply, looking straight at the figure. Somehow it had sensed the presence and had addressed it, which had never happened before. It was impossible. Adam tilted his head slightly, seemingly for the first time to be taking in his surroundings. Breathing in the freedom. “Thank you,” he stated flatly and then left.

The figure watched him go.

*****

Riley’s smile faltered. He took a small step backwards and frowned in disbelief. “What?” He shook his head, “What are you... Listen Buffy, I... We need to go over everything, step by step, okay? Because there’s just no way that Professor Walsh–”

Buffy interrupted, but kept her voice level: “She lied to you, didn’t she? She told you that I was dead, right?”

Riley struggled to make sense of it. “I was guarding the Slayer... Faith and I came out and...There must’ve been some mistake.”

Buffy shook her head and emphasised her next words. “Riley, she sent me there to die, with a malfunctioning weapon a-and the com-cam thingy so she could see it all happen, live. It was her.”

Riley touched his hand to his forehead, squeezing it. “T-then there must be something happening to her, something that’s making her act this way. Maybe controlling her.”

Buffy pressed him. “No, I don’t think so. She was acting the same. But I think she was hiding something maybe, not just from you, from everyone. And then I was asking too many questions. Like 314? Remember?”

Riley thought of something, he looked at her, appealing. “Maybe it was just a test. A drill?”

Buffy shook her head sadly. “Then why didn’t she say that? Why did she hide the truth from you? Tell you I was dead and that you should stand down? There was no drill, Riley, I’m sorry.”

Suddenly there was movement to the north of the trees and Spike appeared, brushing some bushes aside. “Bloody bint escaped again. Puff of bleedin’ smoke, more or less.” He noticed the mess at his feet and looked down, nodding at the ground with approval. “I guess that will do, Slayer. Nice to see that we bagged at least one bugger before the nights over, eh?”

Buffy felt the familiar growing aggravation at Spike’s interruption. “Spike, what are you doing here? Wait a sec; did you say ‘bint’, as in female?”

“Right you are. A girly evil somethin’ or other. With a mouth on ‘er an’ all. I see her again it won’t be pretty.”

“How do you even know – actually, I don’t want to know.” Spike just smirked in reply.

Riley looked slightly stunned by the surprise exchange, before his face hardened into a frown. “That’s hostile 17.” He turned to Buffy in confusion, “What’s going on? You’re working with HSTs now, Buffy?”

Buffy winced at his accusatory tone; their reunion wasn’t going so well. She put a placating arm on his. “Riley, it’s complicated. It’s... That’s Spike. Look, it’s a really long story b-but he’s not bad anymore.”

“Oi, what am I a bleedin’ broken record. I’m bad” Spike sulked. “Just can’t bite anymore, thanks to you wankers.”

Riley clenched his jaw. “We’ve been looking for this thing for months and, what; you’ve been working with it the whole time?” Riley shook off her arm, his body visibly tense with growing anger.

Buffy tried to reason with him. “Riley, it’s not like that. It’s...He helped me here tonight because this thing was really dangerous, that’s all.”

Riley gave a slight shake of his head. “Working with dangerous killers? Seems there might be a pattern emerging here,” Riley stated flatly, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.

Buffy shook her head. “Don’t put this on me, Riley. Your boss has my friend and... And I need your help to get her out.”

Riley frowned angrily. “How am I supposed to help you, Buffy, when you won’t even trust me? When you’re working with vampires and killers? How long has all this been going on?”

Buffy sighed. “Riley I didn’t lie to you...I just didn’t tell you everything.” Buffy winced at the sound of her own words. “And I know sounds really lame, but I promise I will explain everything, eventually. But Faith is in real danger, now, so it’ll have to wait. We have to get her away from Walsh; she doesn’t belong in the Initiative.”

Riley disagreed. “From what I’ve seen, that’s exactly where she belongs. The Initiative locks up monsters Buffy, it doesn’t work with them like you do.”

“Riley, think!” Buffy snapped at him, “You’ve seen what I do, you know me. We’re on the same side. But Walsh has been lying to you, she’s up to something, she is the one who set those demons on me, controlling them, experimenting on them and who knows what else. Faith-”.

Riley’s interrupted, his voice gaining an aggrieved tone to it. “What is it with you and her anyway? Why do you care so much about Faith? I mean, didn’t she try and kill you a couple of times, or is that just what you like about her? The danger?”

“Okay, that’s just about enough.” Buffy spat coldly, “I am doing my job here, Riley. And I know exactly the difference between a monster and a person I might actually have a chance at helping. She is a slayer, just like me, only she made some mistakes and I-I wasn’t...willing to help her last time. But I can now, and I will now.”

Riley looked somewhat chastened by Buffy’s outburst. And now he sounded confused, uncertain. “Buffy...I’m sorry, but I-I just can’t help you bust her out of prison on your say so? What do you take me for?”

Spike chipped in. “Idiots, the pair of yer. Well, I think I’ll leave you to your dramatic, Shakespeare-in-the-woods bollocks. Good luck with that.” He turned to go, before turning back to Riley, “Oh, and if you are trying to kill her –” He gave an exaggerated two thumbs up before turning again and disappearing off into the trees.

Buffy rolled her eyes before turning her attention back to Riley. “Listen, Riley. I do need your help here. Faith is in real danger if she’s left at the Initiative. And you can’t trust Professor Walsh either. I need you to ­–”

Riley shook his head firmly. “Actually the only thing I need to do is...get away from here.” His face was downcast. His expression pained.

Buffy reached out a hand. “Riley please, we don’t have much time.”

Riley backed away from her. “No. I-I can’t be here. I need to think this over.”

Buffy started after him. “Riley–“

“I mean it Buffy,” he said forcefully, “Alone.” And with that Riley turned and hurriedly left.

Buffy watched him leave. ‘Well, I handled that badly.’

She sighed and rubbed her temples. She was starting to feel the first soft ache of weariness in her back and arms.

She needed to rest and recuperate, think about talking to Riley again tomorrow, when she had put her persuasion cap on. Still, a nice lazy lie-in in her dorm room might brighten... Crap, she was gonna have to sleep in Xander’s basement tonight.

‘Whose stupid idea was that?’

*****

Pushing the metal grating to one side, Faith stepped out of the tunnel and into the night. She was in a forest somewhere; the air was heavy with the scent of pine, thin mist covered the ground and waning shaft of moonlight cast the surrounding trees into stark relief.

Faith slung her case to the ground and busily peered at the map with her flashlight. Noting the tunnel she came out of in relation to SunnyD, she searched the surrounding area for a landmark, something distinctive.

She found a nearby rocky outcrop surrounded by bushes and searched around it, eventually finding what she needed. There was a hollow in the earth beneath one of the stones, like something that had been made by an animal, or a demon knowing this town. Faith emptied her case of everything except the money. She took out one brick of cash, split the plastic and took out about two or three hundred bucks worth, just in case, and stuffed the rest down the hole, before moving a boulder the size of beach ball in front of the hollow, placing it over like a lid.

It was sensible not to carry around that much cash on your person, especially when Faith was guaranteed to be getting into a scrap or two. And this way her money was safe for the time being. Secreted away. It wouldn’t have to be there for long.

Sometime tomorrow she was gonna be out of here anyway.

Faith had been thinking as she made her way through the tunnels about how Walsh had stressed the secrecy in what she was doing; about how Walsh had just, bam, given her all this money right up front; about how she was being all shifty, hiding things, coming on too strong and then not strong enough. She thought about how, suddenly, Walsh wanted Buffy brought in real bad, bad enough to start flashing cash around and stressing how to do it quietly, like Faith was somehow gonna make a parade out of it.

Secrecy plus cash plus the way Walsh had been trying to get on Faith’s good side for a while now, being nice to her, not rising to her bait, all meant one thing.

From long experience Faith knew when she was being played and when people weren’t telling her everything. If somebody’s mouth’s open, then they’re lying. A good rule to live by.

‘Buffy, Post, Angel, Wesley. All a bunch of lying sacks. Gotta add Walsh to the list now.’

Still, cash to live on, a possible clean slate if Walsh was telling the truth about that guy taking the wrap for her. Even if she wasn’t, the money gave Faith some options. That amount would take her across the border for sure, and then some.

Lots of possibilities.

But, hey, Faith was nostalgic; she kinda wanted to see Buffy one last time. Give B something to remember her by after Faith had long gone. And Faith knew where to go to make the biggest impression.

*****

Morning came upon the woods slowly. Dappled sunlight caressed everything, bringing to life a hundred shades of vibrant green, the breeze gently swaying the treetops to a relaxed, sedentary rhythm as birds happily chirped in greeting of the new day and animals busily scurried around on the ground.

Except for one patch of the forest, where all was silent.

There, nothing stirred. Trees were brown stalks, small animals lay dead, and their cracked, brittle and dry corpses littered the floor. Birds were silent in their absence, and the ground was nothing but brown dust where there should’ve been lush green grass and fertile plants.

The remains of Kurenos, bloody and dismembered, should have rotted where they lay, dissolving and dissipating from the earthly plane into nothingness.

Yet they remained, unmoving, in the morning sunlight, hidden in the shadows cast by the nearby vestiges of life. Sunlight did not touch them and colour did not bloom there, except for a whitish blue emanation that occasionally flickered from the centre to shine upon the ground.

And something in the remains slowly began to stir.

*****

Joyce Summers yawned as she sleepily made her way into the kitchen. She used to love the mornings, the quiet before the start of the day, before the house was filled with Buffy’s frenetic noise and energy.

Now the house was like that all the time; quiet, lonely, far too big for a single Mom really.

‘Let’s try and get through the first cup of coffee before starting with the self-pity.’

Joyce smiled to herself at that thought as she switched the percolator on and filled the pot with water from the sink. Having Buffy popping by yesterday had been unexpected and very welcome, if all too brief.

Even bringing by that strange vampire that she’d apparently befriended –or worked with, Joyce wasn’t quite sure bout all her daughters ‘work’ associates – had put Joyce’s mind back to the years before, when Buffy was just a high school girl. A somewhat unknowable teenage daughter with a strange life.

Joyce wished that Buffy confided in her more about her life now; all those exciting new experiences and freedoms that a young woman goes through in college. She worried of course, but ultimately she knew how capable Buffy was, and how tough she had to be to do her...job.

Again, Joyce found herself lamenting uselessly at the unfairness of it all, not just for her sake but for her daughter’s.

How was anybody supposed to cope with all of that?

Joyce left the coffee (and her thoughts) brewing and went out onto the porch to pick up the paper. She gave a cursory glance at the front page: some new developments in regards to road works outside of town, continued excavation of the old Sunnydale Mission. Not much else, Joyce was glad to see.

More and more since realising the truth of Buffy’s secret other life, Joyce found herself lingering over the papers. All the disappearances and accidents and unexplained ‘muggings’ now took on new meanings. Pretty depressing for a small town paper.

She walked back inside and idly closed the door behind her.

A foot stopped it.

Joyce turned as the front door bounced back a little bit and a dark-haired young woman casually stepped inside. It was Faith.

Faith, who had been comatose the last time Joyce had seen her. But the girl was very much awake now, and smiling, and pointing a gun at her…

Faith quickly closed the door with her left hand, the right hand, the one with the gun, still pointed unwaveringly in her direction.

Faith smiled warmly. “Hi Joyce. Mind if I come in?”

Joyce was trying to think of something to say when Faith shot her point blank in the stomach.

...continued in Goodbye To What You Knew...

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