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Absolute Freedom

Author: FaithUnbreakable
Disclaimer: OK, I almost forgot this: Nothing mine, Buffy and the Highlander characters belong to whoever made them up, not me. Plot's the only thing that's mine.
AN: The rating is 15 for language and a little violence, and, just as a warning, I hate most of the Scoobies, so they won't get away very well. Faith will play a major part though, later, since I adore her.

0, At Least Look At Me…

Look at me, look at me
At least look at me
When you shoot a bullet through my head,
...Why do we live life, with all this hate inside
I’ll give it away cause I don’t want it no more
Please help me find a place, somewhere far away
I’ll go and you’ll never see me again,
At least look at me - Creed, Bullets

Buffy blinked.

It was dark all around her and she could smell the damp newspaper rotting only a couple of feet to her left. Somewhere in the distance a dog was barking. A strange thought crossed her mind.

How irresponsible is it to have a dog in the middle of L.A.?

She blinked again.

Something wasn’t right.

Oh, yeah, there was this guy, standing at the mouth of the alley, demanding her purse, a scared look on his face, sweat on his forehead and a loaded gun in his shaking hand. He was a kid, but she could see in his eyes that he’d never had the chance to act on it. He was trapped. Holding the gun aimed at her head, but it was him who was trapped.

It had nothing to do with poetic justice, she had long since learned that justice didn’t exist. No, she was who she was and he was who he was. And here they were, two destinies clashing and he couldn’t win. Nobody ever won when facing her.

Even if she wanted them to, she was the one who came out on top.

She didn’t have any money. She’d been out slaying and spent the five dollar she’d had with her on a little midnight snack. She couldn’t give him what he wanted, but she had a choice, right?

This time she had a choice.

She could probably get out of this, run, jump, break his wrist, or possibly twist his neck, and the run some more to get away before someone found the poor guy. She wondered if anybody would miss him. His parents, maybe.

Why was she feeling bad for the kid holding a gun to her head?

Or she could just stay where she was and wait, just to see what he was going to do. To see if he would do it. His hand was shaking badly, really. Cocking her head to one side she watched it, fascinated by the smallest thing, suddenly, as life began ticking out and her focus shifted.

The small things. It’s always the small things you notice last.

It was too warm, too damp, the smog weighed too heavy on her lungs and her leather pants were uncomfortable, too tight, too sticky. She could see his finger twitch. She could see a drop of sweat dripping into his left eye. He blinked, and his free hand twitched, as if to wipe away the sweat on his forehead, but he didn’t dare moving.

This fish was too big for him, no matter how small she was.

The dog barked again.

Cars zoomed by, the sounds of their engines breaking against the walls enclosing Buffy and her would be murderer.

Run or stay?

Life or death?

Be the oldest living slayer and train a hundred mini-shes every single day, just to walk the streets alone afterward. Face Angel everyday, and the question in his eyes, asking if she was baked yet, and watching Dawn grow up and don’t need her anymore. Watching her friends live the lives they always wanted and move something. They had a purpose, but to give them theirs hers had been taken away from her.

Breathing felt hard suddenly, and there was never enough air around.

Or take a bullet to the head and die. She hated that part, but maybe it was time. Maybe Buffy Summers was getting too old and too used to herself. Maybe she would die before she ever finished her thinking here.

At least that would make her choice a lot easier.

Was it even a choice?

The kid called something.

He was angry. Angry at her, for not handing over her money and making him go through with his threat.

He hated her because she was making him a murderer. Once more she felt something akin to pity for him.

Your life against mine.

If he shot her he set her free, just to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

If he ran nothing would happen. She would stay like she was and slowly drown in her self applied make up of the dumb blonde Californian girl.

She would stay Buffy Summers.

He shook even harder now.

He would shoot.

She realized it the second his finger twitched too hard.

The shot echoed in the alley, a little loud for her ears and the dog stopped barking. The kid looked like he was dying himself.

She didn’t look at him though.

Her eyes were on the bullet speeding towards her head.

This is going to be ugly.

Jump out of the way or stay?

She stayed.

The pain lasted only a second before black took over and everything was gone.

Buffy broke down, dead before she hit the ground.

She’d chosen life.

1, Watching You Fall...

I think I’m turned around
I’m looking up, not looking down,
And when I’m standing still
Watching you run
Watching you fall
Fall into me
And I’m making something worthwhile
Out of this chase -Azure Ray, Displaced

A clock ticking.

It was the first thing she heard, mingling with screams that sounded very much like her own and the pain of a whip on sunburned skin, blood running down her back and legs until it dyed the sand beneath her feet dark brown.

She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with oxygen and life and reality.

Opening her eyes Buffy lifted one hand to her head, to feel for the hole that had undoubtedly marred her forehead until only a few minutes ago.

She sighed.

No matter how many times it happened the first memory assaulting her still blank mind was always the one of her first death.

The only real death she had ever died, and the pain was still so fresh in her memory like it had been the day she’d first woken up.

The clock kept on ticking while her other senses slowly got back to work.

The cold against the naked skin of her back for one. She was in the morgue then, something she’d really hoped would not happen.

Giving her eyes a couple more seconds to get used to the darkness around her she sat up and wiped a strand of blonde hair out of her face. No hole in the head anymore.

Her feet hitting the cold tiles caused a sound similar to dead fish slapping against each other and it made her feel sick and her stomach turn around.

She must have been out a lot longer than she’d thought at first. Holding onto the metal table she had been lying on for support she looked around. It was dark, and the clock that had first pulled her back into reality told her that it was quarter to three a.m..

If the date hadn’t changed it had been about five hours.

Usually it never took her this long, maybe, she thought with a frown, it was because she hadn’t died for almost eight years. Not counting her dive off Glory’s tower, which had been a little different.

Deciding that pneumonia wasn’t how she planned dying the next time she started searching for her things, every step she took making a tiny wet sound in the dark.

She found her stuff three tables down the row, in a plastic bag. Pulling them out she pulled her leather pants back on, brushing some of the dirt from the alley off in the process. Damn forensics, those people had to love dirt. Next she pulled out her shirt. It was ruined, there was blood all over it, from the left shoulder to the bottom, same with the bra. Pulling on her boots she shoved the damaged clothing back into the bag and started looking for replacement.

The only thing she could come up with was a white coat hanging next to the door. She frowned. Maybe she should just go naked, it would be less suspicious, she thought, than walking around at three a.m., wearing a doctor’s coat and nothing beneath it. But she didn’t have a choice, did she? It was either sticky, bloody shirt or white coat.

She chose the shirt.

If somebody caught her she could still say that she had helped somebody who had been injured in an accident.

Ten minutes later found a newly risen body sneak out of the morgue, covered in blood and smiling happily.

She was free.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

After an hour of wandering the streets of Los Angeles alone her smile had vanished.

Buffy had spent the last nine years of her life with friends, a family and a place to run to, well most of the time at least. She wasn’t used to this anymore.

Once upon a time she would have gotten up and disappeared, without a word. But nothing was easy now. There were people that she had let herself get too close to and there were things she couldn’t do if she wanted to stay undetected.

She wanted to tell Faith that they were ok, and had been for a while, that she had been a stuck up bitch back in Sunnydale. She had forgotten that she was no better than her sister slayer. There was blood on her hands too, even more than Faith could ever imagine, and she knew the guilt all too well, but she had let herself get swallowed by the role she had played. She had been Buffy Summers the just and glorious slayer for almost three years then and she had ignored everything she’d been before that.

She wanted to tell Faith how arrogant and wrong she had been and she wanted to keep in touch with her, but she couldn’t.

Just like she couldn’t say goodbye to her sister and her friends or take anything with her. It was already suspicious enough that her body disappeared, she couldn’t risk anymore, not if she wanted them to bury her and finally let her rest.

In former times she would have shrugged it off and moved on, finding herself a new spot on earth to live on, but she wasn’t like that anymore.

She had found her heart again over the last nine years and now she couldn’t just get rid of it again.

Wrapping her arms around herself she kept on walking until she suddenly felt something tingle in the back of her mind.

Somebody was close.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Duncan yawned openly as he walked toward his hotel room at four a.m.. He was getting too old for this. When Richie had told him to take a vacation, he had said no. But Richie had called Amanda and Methos for aid and by the end of the week the three of them had had him in a plane toward California.

He had almost started enjoying his forced vacation when Rock had crossed his path.

Rock had been of the big, meaty and ugly variety and he had wanted the Highlander’s head, badly. And he had packed a mean right hook, but it hadn’t saved him.

Now, one quickening, a lot of bruises and half an hour later Duncan wanted nothing but a hot shower and a bed.

That was until he spotted her.

She was coming in his direction, on the other side of the street, her blonde head lowered and her arms wrapped around her tiny frame, she didn’t even seem to notice him. But what really made him suspicious was the small tingle in the back of his mind telling him that she was an immortal, as well as the blood covering her whole torso.

A Newbie.

She lifted her head then, probably she had finally felt his buzz, and eyed him wearily through tired eyes.

However she had died, it must have put her into shock and disturbed her deeply, for she was looking incredibly lost. And she could not be older than 18, he thought. Much too young to have such a destiny, or any destiny at all put on her shoulders.

Sighing resignedly he quickly checked himself over for anything that could scare her off. When he found nothing he slowly made his way across the street, every movement an effort to make her feel safe. Or at least not threatened. He really had no desire to chase her around town. The damage she could do if she only went home...

Finally she noticed his actions and stopped, looking around nervously. Like a mouse in front of the cat and she never looked at him directly.

“Excuse me, Miss?”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Using everything she had Buffy dampened her buzz in every way she knew, hoping that he would not try to fight her.

She didn’t know if she could kill again, yet.

Then she started watching him. He had not even noticed her yet.

She lifted her head to take a closer look and saw that his senses had finally kicked in.

He stopped. He stared.

And then he did something that she really had not expected.

He checked himself over quickly and started moving toward her.

When he stopped he was standing directly in front of her and she felt nervous, all of a sudden, damn Buffy inside her system.

“Excuse me, Miss?”

And again she had to make a choice.

Answer him or run. Let him kill her, or maybe even help her, or run and hope that he didn’t find her in time, before she could disappear for good.

Dying was not an option. At least not the head-losing way.

Suddenly she had an idea.

What if he really was one of the good guys? What if he was willing to train her? She could just play along. She would get a new life without the lore and the guilt of who she really was, without having to hide her Immortality. She could start all over again.

A new name, a new teacher, a new eternity.

His smile seemed genuine and the exhaustion and the small sparkle in his eyes told her that he was a fighter who fought with honor.

If she decided to take his help, it would be real.

He would not hurt her.

But could she really pull the trick? Could she pretend to be clue and powerless, and more importantly could she keep her buzz low enough to stay credible?

It was a risk, almost too high to take, but what were the alternatives?

Make up another mortal life and life until someone shot her in the head again? Or run around, looking for someone to take her head, just to land back where she had been after the energy of the portal had killed her and her immortality? She had known peace then, with Joyce and no guilt to weigh down her every move and decision. Or she could make her name known again amongst the Immortals, and watch them cower in fear, but she was alone. This time there were no riders to back her up and no lover to make her strong when she was weak.

All that had long since ended, and it was only her now.

Lil’old me, without a name and a home.

“Miss?”

Shaking her head to clear her thoughts she turned her eyes on him, but not his eyes. She was, for some reason, suddenly very afraid that her might look into her eyes and see the truth.

“Y...yeah?”

“I asked if you were ok.”

“Me? Well, I guess. There’s a lot of blood, but....”

She looked lost, and to her own surprise she felt it, too. With Immortals kneeling before her in humiliation, fear or quiet pleas for their life she could deal. But his one, this one reminded her of another one who had been willing to give her a chance.

Yes, the chance had been at ruin and bloodshed and he had still inflicted pain, but she had loved him, and in the end love had been her ruin.

She could deal with hate and fear but gentleness was something the woman beneath Buffy had never learned, even after all those centuries.

“I don’t know”, she finished quietly, and finally she looked into his eyes.

What she saw made her gulp.

It made her feel guilty, because what she saw was concern.

For her.

“My hotel is just a block from here, Miss. How about we get you a little cleaned up and then you can tell me what happened if you want to. How does that sound?”

She had always had a talent to swallow her guilt and so she took his offered hand and let him lead her away from everything she was.

Maybe this time she could make it work.

Maybe this time there would be less blood and hate and love.

The kid hadn’t killed Buffy Summers, it was the woman that had been hiding beneath the surface for years that that finished the oldest living vampire slayer off.

She allowed herself a small smile as she followed Duncan through the empty streets.

This time she would make everything work.

2, Didn’t Go Our Way - Interlude

There’s nothing more to say,
things didn’t go our way.
I’d like to slip away from all this pain,
I’d like to be a cell inside your vein,
I want you to hear the things I never said,
Someday... - K’s Choice, I Will Return To You

Faith shot Angel an angry glare as he blocked her path out of the hotel. She tried brushing past him but that stupid hunk of meat would not budge. Oh, how she hated him in that moment.

Hated the fact that he was trying to play Buffy’s knight in shining armor, even now, even after she was dead and cold. Hated him because he simply could not accept the fact that Buffy had allowed this to happen. That she had let herself be killed.

Faith had seen her sister slayer avoid speeding bullets before, when they had been so high and mighty, when they had been alright, still and again. To shoot Buffy in the head, Buffy had to have allowed it. And when the dark slayer had spoken that fact out loud there had been chaos. People crying, people screaming, people looking away, like everything was her fault just because she had voiced it.

And now Angel would not let her pass, so she could hunt down that piece of scum, that had killed the slayer and rid the world of it.

He treated her like there were no tears stinging her eyes as well, like she did not feel the death of the only one she had ever allowed herself to love, if not trust, down to her very core. He treated her like the pain she felt was not real, like it did not matter.

She was just Faith after all, the killer and escape convict, the rogue slayer and never as good and bright and shiny as their Buffy.

Buffy who had been so bright that she had blinded them to her pain and her isolation and her faults.

Buffy, whose broken smile had told Faith her own life story.

Buffy, whom Faith had loved more than she had ever loved herself and hated her almost as much.

Buffy, who was dead.

Buffy, who had once again one upped Faith and beat all odds.

Buffy, who had fucked her over real good and left her here, in the city of Angels of pick up the pieces once more, alone.

Finally Faith started to cry.

3, How It Feels

So this is how it feels
To breathe in the summer air
To feel the sand between my toes
And love inside my ear - Poe, Control

Kendra Joyce Jenkins was happy.

After allowing the Highlander to take her back to his hotel room and clean her up and interrogate her on what had happened, he had taken her with him to Seacouver without hesitation. He had started her training and told her everything she needed to know.

He had even seen reason when she had asked him if it was possible to change her name.

Within the last two months Buffy Summers had become Kendra Joyce Jenkins, a mixture of Kendra, the fighter and her soul sister, Joyce her best friend of 30 years and Anya, the ex demon that had been so much like her, ages old and trying desperately to fit into the life of a normal American teenager.

Anya had also been the only one of the Scoobies, besides Joyce of course, who had known the truth about the blonde slayer. They had met a long time ago, when they had both been different people, and Anya had understood Buffy’s need to keep what had happened back then a secret.

The names were pieces of her past, but Buffy found that she needed them, to remind her of who she had been and who she was now. They kept her from breaking up her mask and walk into the world as the ruthless killer she had been before she had taken over slaying from the real Elizabeth Summers.

Training had been hard at first, because she had tried to play dumb and act like she had never held a sword before, but after three hours of she had gotten so annoyed that she had spilled the beans over being the slayer.

Not the rest, though, she had just told Duncan about Buffy Summers and the last nine years. It had allowed her to practically skip training, since she was evenly matched with her teacher and it had also given her the chance of releasing the hold on her quickening a little, something that had really started to get hard.

Finally after a month with Duncan, she had found a spell that allowed her to keep a low profile at will, without having to concentrate on it every single second of the day. As long as she did not slip up big time, she should be fine.

She had also met Richie, a young immortal who had a better grip on the world than most other Immortals and after she had made clear that she was not interested in any kind of romantic relationship the two of them had quickly become friends, keeping their teacher and his watcher on their toes every time they were around.

“Buffy?”

“Yeah Richie?”

“Do you,... you know.... want to...?”

“Want to what?”

“Gooutwithmesometime?”

“Come again?”

“You understood what I said!”

“No.”

“You suck as a liar.”

Man, you have no idea

“So what?”

“Do you want to go out with me sometime?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I love you too much to ruin our relationship.”

“Please?”

“Richie I’ve had too many psycho killer boyfriends and I’ve been hurt too often. Can you just be my big brother and watch out for me, please?”

“Shit, stop making puppy dog eyes at me...”

...

“Alright. No dating, now at least give me a hug.”

“Richie?”

“Yeah?”

“Watch the hands.”

“Sorry, was worth a try.”

...

Joe was a difficult man for Buffy, because he knew so much about Immortals and there was always the danger that one of the watchers had gotten a hold of a picture or a portrait of her in former days, therefore presenting a threat to her new life, but after two months Buffy had stopped being suspicious and they were alright.

Buffy felt uneasy as she entered Joe’s bar, as she did every time, because he was the greatest potential danger to her new life, so far. The closer she got to the door the tinier her steps became until she was almost standing still.

Shaking her head at her own behavior she forced her feet to move again, step by step, one foot in front of the other until she grabbed the door handle and pushed her way into the dimly lit bar.

She sat down at the bar, putting her coat and purse on the chair beside her and smiled shyly at Joe who was sitting on a high chair in the middle of the stage and playing guitar. It was a slow sad song that made her feel all of her years all over again and she listened unmoving and unblinking, completely drawn in by the sounds of his skilled fingers on the guitar.

He didn’t acknowledge her at all, concentrating on the music instead, but she didn’t mind.

Only when he finished the song and lifted his head did he give her a nod and a skew smile before he awkwardly started his way down the stairs.

She could see the trouble his legs gave him so she quickly got up and offered him a hand, fully expecting him to bat it away and growl that he could manage alone. Instead he took it with a grateful smile that lit his battered face for a second and let himself be helped.

“Thanks.”

There was no suspicion in his eyes, no calculating what he might owe her now and no recognition form another time and life, there was nothing.

And it surprised Buffy because in the world she lived in it was rare that people had no intention and no motive, yet there was not a single spark of anything dangerous in this old man’s eyes.

Slowly, after almost two months she felt herself relax and smile back.

“Don’t mention it.”

And then there was Amanda, of course. Amanda who had come into her life with bags of clothes and her annoying quirkiness and who had dragged Buffy out to get a new style and a new haircut. Amanda who never called Buffy Kendra, but Ken, and who was the perfect friend.

The door to Buffy’s room was flung open violently, making her jump. In came a tall woman dressed in black with a scary smirk on her face.

“Who are you?”

She was also an immortal.

“Name’s Amanda. Duncan sent me to make you pretty.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m here to take you shopping.”

She ran a hand through Buffy’s long blonde curls and sighed.

“Oh my, I think you’re a full time job.”

“You got a problem with my hair?...”

“Never said that, did I?”

She gave Buffy a small smile and the blonde could not help but see herself in this whirlwind of a woman. Grabbing her coat she followed Amanda outside.

After a day out shopping they had already been friends, bonding over gossip and fashion. In fact Amanda was a lot like Ken, always dressed in leather, always doing what she pleased and always landing on her feet. But at the same time there was an innocence there that Buffy had never possessed, not even in the beginning when she had still been a victim and the only blood she had shed had been her own.

Back then there had been no innocence and with Amanda she wished she could just tell her everything.

She never did though, out of fear of the other Immortal‘s reaction.

So when Amanda picked Buffy up for their weekly breakfast and shopping trip two months after Mac had brought her with him from L.A., things were ok.

Running a hand through her short dirty blonde hair, Buffy sighed.

“What’s it, Ken?”

“My hair, it’s bugging me. I really hate the color.”

Taking a sip of her coffee Amanda suddenly giggled, “Do you even know what you natural color is?”

For a few seconds Buffy appeared to be deep in thought. Her hair had always been blonde, dyed from the scorching desert sun and the rough conditions, but she was sure that she wasn’t a natural blonde. Nobody in that part of the world had been back then. But nobody had had blonde hair from the sun either, so that didn’t prove anything.

“I’m almost sure that it’s not blonde, but I have no idea what else it could be.”

Her friend chuckled, “You know, usually the forgetting starts after a millennia or two, not after two months.”

Buffy shrugged, “I think it was dark.”

“Oh, I can’t imagine you with dark hair. No black, maybe brown, but you’re really not the type for dark colors. They would take the brightness out of your eyes.”

Buffy smiled. There was no brightness and no light in her eyes, what Amanda saw was merely the reflection of the world around them, but never real. There was nothing in Buffy’s eyes and hadn’t been in a while. She had learned how to adopt, though, made herself a mirror for the world around her, where everyone could see whatever they wanted, as long as they did not look too closely.

Still, she was fast becoming a shopping victim just like her friend. Three new hair styles in eight weeks had to be a record. She shuddered, then she pulled out her cell to make an appointment.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

The following evening Buffy sat at the bar of Joe’s, nursing a beer and waiting for her friends to show up. Technically the bar was closed that night, but they always hung out, as long as Joe was there. Amanda and Duncan were at some sort of cultural event that made Buffy sick to the stomach and Richie, well, nobody ever knew where Richie was until he turned up and told you.

Opening another bottle of beer Joe made his way over to her and gave her a small smile.

“I like your hair.”

She smiled back, running a hand through it. It was even shorter now than it had been before, just reaching her chin. But instead of Amanda’s suggestion at a light red, like spilled blood, really, Buffy had decided on a shocking white-blonde, that reminded her a lot of Spike and black streaks underneath, that reminded her of Faith. For some reason she had panicked when the hairdresser had gotten too close to her hair with the red. Maybe there were too many memories in hair that looked like blood. Ignoring Amanda’s confusion at the sudden change of mind she had decided on the opposite of blood, innocence.

Desert white, she had realized later, but she liked to call it Spike-white.

Out of all her friends she missed Spike and Faith the most.

Spike, who knew what it was like to be reborn after sacrificing one’s life and Spike who loved every part of her and Faith who was her mirror image, her twin and her sister.

She missed them a lot.

The two pieces of Buffy she had never gotten a chance to fully understand, because her false sense of justice and righteousness had been in the way. She had never gotten the chance to tell Spike that she really did love him, in her own way, even after he had rejected her in that cave and she had never gotten the chance to explore everything she and Faith could he have been, after they had started tightening their bond again.

Before she had a chance to answer Joe, though the door was flung open and the three Immortals entered together. Richie ran a hand through the mess that was her hair and grinned while Amanda pecked her on the cheek and Mac simply smiled at her.

Buffy couldn’t help but feel like a baby whose parents and big brother had just returned form a night out and now mad sure that their little one was alright.

She snorted and shoved Richie away from her. If they only knew....

It was so easy to be Buffy these days, to be Kendra and she felt a happiness that hadn’t been there in so long, not since there had been four more and she had lived as a god, feared and hated. Not since her other half had grown a conscience and left because he could no longer look into the eyes of his greatest creation. Not after she had spent centuries looking for him and discovered herself again.

Life had never been as easy as it was is the middle of her new friends and it was Buffy’s way of justifying the lie she lived. That she deserved a little happiness after all this centuries filled with pain and blood and guilt.

The others settled on a table, and Joe brought more beer and they began to chat about things without meaning. About Buffy’s occasional patrol of the nightly streets and her new hair color and about Duncan’s Dojo and Amanda’s new pet project which, as always, included a lot of illegal fun and pretty jewelry.

Suddenly Duncan slapped his forehead, making Buffy smile at him teasingly.

“What’s up, you finally realized that your hair is soo last century?”

It was a lame joke and she knew it but she didn’t particularly care, no need to be perfect here anymore.

“Very funny Ken, I forgot to tell you guys that Adam called this morning. He’s coming over tonight. In fact I think his plane landed about an hour ago. He’s probably going to turn up tonight.”

“Who’s Adam?”

Richie grinned, “Adam? Oh, he’s just a very old guy with a very weird sense of humor and real fun to pick on once you figured out what kind of stuff you can throw at him without losing your head.”

Amanda grinned at her friend,” He is also one of the hottest thing I ever saw. And that includes the one time I almost got burned at the stake.”

Buffy suppressed a shudder as she remembered her own experiences with fanatic mobs and fires. Still, hot Immortal guy did not sound like something she wanted to miss and she told that Amanda, who smiled coyly.

Suddenly an evil glint appeared in the Richie’s eyes.

“Hey, as the slayer, aren’t you some kind of invincible? How high are the chances that you can stop him from killing me when I put Mac’s ant farm into his bed?”

Buffy smiled back, ruffling his hair in a sisterly way and enjoying that nobody felt awkward because of her strength.

“That depends on the guy. If I like him I’ll probably help him chase you, since I really don’t appreciate ants in my underwear, if you know what I mean”, she raised one eyebrow suggestively and appreciated the fact that Spike was not there to tell her how much that one had sucked.

The comment took a couple of seconds to sink in and then some more to realize that Buffy had been joking.

“Maybe you should meet the old man first, before you announce the wedding date. He can be a worse bitch than you and Amanda in one, especially when you wake him up.”

Duncan pulled a face as he remembered one particularly bad morning experience he’d had with Methos on his couch and a real bad hangover. Amanda gave him a little sympathetic smile before turning in into a smirk and towards her blonde friend.

“And when would you start wearing underwear, then?”

Duncan had to give Buffy credit for the fact that she never blushed. Had he been the one to talk about having sex with someone hadn’t even met yet and then having facts about his underwear thrown at his closest friends he would have probably turned a lovely shade of red, courtesy to the uptight Scot inside of him, but Buffy didn’t even bat an eyelash. Ever.

No matter what you were talking about, she always looked like she knew what was going on, like she had seen it all before. In fact, that habit reminded Duncan a lot of Methos and a wicked idea began to grow in his head.

He hated Methos grumpy and on his couch, just as much as he hated to see someone as lovely and lively as Kendra Joyce Jenkins alone.

Those two might just make the perfect pair.

“Seriously now, what is he doing back already? I thought he was planning on spending the rest of the year in England.”

“There is an Immortal around that the watchers seem to take particular interest in so they sent him, since his research has been going slow anyway those last months.”

Buffy perked up at that. For one because of the new immortal around and secondly because it seemed like a great idea to infiltrate the watchers as an Immortal. She herself had not been assigned a watcher yet, since Joe kept quiet and there had been no real evidence so far that she was a newly risen Immortal. She planned to keep it that way as long as possible.

Looking around she saw that most of her friends were concerned with the newcomer as well, and sent Duncan scary looks because he had not told them earlier. Sure, they always had their swords with them, but being prepared for an attack was always better than running into it blindly.

That was something Buffy had learned an eternity ago and for quite some time she had used that surprise factor in battle, especially as the slayer in Sunnydale. But even before, she had liked to surprise head hunters that were after her by attacking them before they had a chance to challenge her. She had simply turned the tables on them.

But while the immortals worried about new challenges Joe looked sour and she knew why. He lived in Seacouver and he was the official watcher for the area and still they sent someone else for the job, without even informing him. It was a testament of the fact that the watchers didn’t trust him and it made Ken angry.

Joe was one of the best men she had met in a long time, he was honest and smart, he knew what went on beyond his little world and he was strong enough to make his own rules if need be. He had proved that fact more than once by warning the Immortals or helping them out.

He was the kind of watcher that most Immortals would accept a lot easier than the stalking type, but no one listened to him anymore, so Ken guessed things were not about to change anytime soon.

But instead of being angry like she usually would have been she just leant back in her chair, because tonight things just seemed a lot easier and she was too happy to be angry.

So she just sat and watched her friends talk and pick up where she had left off, teasing Duncan mercilessly.

Buffy was meditating when she felt someone enter her room. Opening her eyes she recognized Duncan, who was hiding something behinds his back. She invited him wordlessly to sit beside her on the bed and he complied, putting the long, blanket wrapped object down with a metallic clang between them.

“What’s that?”

He gave her a boyish grin and motioned for her to unwrap it.

“A present, from me to you. My last present as your teacher.”

A sword.

He had given her a sword and as Buffy pulled it out of its beautifully worked leather sheath she was choking back tears. Lifting her head she asked in wonder, “How?”

Duncan smiled.

“I found your drawings on your desk and thought, why not and had it made for you, after your sketches.”

Buffy lovingly traced the blade of the short sword, winding like a snake. It was perfect, with the handle designed to look like two snakes entwined, their heads forming the end of the hilt. The blade was short, made to fit her height, with not one, but two tips, splitting the blade like a snake’s tongue.

Once upon a time this sword had been her symbol, something to make immortals and mortals alike quiver in fear.

Serpia

The serpent.

She had buried her beloved sword before she had become Buffy and now she had it back, newly crafted and clean of blood.

She smiled at the Highlander and it said more than words ever could.

Buffy was torn out of her reverie by the sound of a door opening and a quickening like she hadn’t felt one in a very long time.

4, Cut Me Deeper

Cut off,
Cause I can’t remember
A face that could cut me deeper,
It’s all so familiar,
I’ve been here before,
I’ll carry this weight for your smallest reward
Because I’ll continue to break down the door.
Just let me in and I’ll swear it will not be like before... - Finger Eleven, Therapy

As the door opened Duncan immediately jumped to his feet. Not because he feared the immortal entering the bar, but to greet him like the dear friend he was. Amanda followed suit, hugging the oldest Immortal and kissing him on the cheek while Richie and Joe brought up the rear of greetings.

Adam laughed and hugged them all back, happy to be with them again. Strange, he thought, that he was so attached to them, because in reality they bugged him more than anyone else had since N.... in centuries. Duncan, the overgrown boy scout who had made it his mission to find and restore the Oldest’s morals and his conscience again. Amanda and Richie, who were just generally annoying and of course Joe who always tried to worm information out of him. Information that he simply was not willing to give because even when no one knew, there were still things that hurt Methos too much to tell.

But he loved his little family, in his own way and he would not trade them and the peace they brought for anything. So when Amanda chirped that she had missed him he smiled and said nothing, just like they expected him to. He was after all the grumpy old man.

Only when Duncan grabbed him by the arm (“I’d like to introduce you to someone.”), did he notice the additional quickening in the room, weak as it was.

The Highlander stepped aside and turned toward Buffy in order to properly introduce the two of them, but what he saw upon turning surprised him.

Buffy was standing in front of her chair, eyes fixed on Methos, unblinking. Silence fell heavily as the two immortals stared at each other, making the others wonder. Duncan, who lived with Buffy, claimed to know her best of the group, but he had never seen the fearless Slayer like this. She looked so scared and shocked, like she was just about ready to bolt from the room.

Buffy was in shock. She could not breathe could not move could not blink.

I am sorry, but I don’t belong here anymore.

He was dead.

You cannot just leave. We need you. The Horsemen need you.

He had been dead for a long time. Broken when she had last seen him, over two thousand years ago, he had to be dead.

Don’t you understand? The things I did, the things we did. The things I did to you. I can’t live with this anymore. We have to die. We all have to die for what we did. I am sorry.

She could still feel the tears on her face, an eternity later, the tears she had cried when he had finally admitted what he had done to her and she had realized that it killed her. He had been so broken the day he had left her.

He could not be alive.

But I need you.....

I love you.

Because I made you.

He had to be dead, because if he was still alive then so was everything she had done. Everything they had done and all the guilt. When he was still alive then he had left her.

If this man standing just ten feet away from her was the man who she had watched thousands of years ago as he rode into the sunrise then he had abandoned her and, god help her, she still loved him, even now.

Her emotions threatened to take over, after being held in check for so long and Buffy did not have the strength to hold them back.

Silently she began to cry.

He was alive.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Almost a minute passed while the oldest and the youngest immortal stared at each other, blind to the world around them before Buffy finally broke the spell.

She took a step back, tripping over the chair and making it fall with a thud that echoed in the silent room, while putting a hand over her mouth and starting to cry.

She looked like she was caught in a nightmare, one that Duncan could not wake her from and chase away with hot chocolate at midnight and hours of talking, and finally she whispered,

“Methos? Are you... how...you’re dead......you’re dead....”

Methos had stared for a long time, contemplating if this could really be her and he had almost managed to convince himself that it was not when she said his name. She sounded so broken and he found himself screwing his eyes tightly shut to keep the tears from falling.

This was not possible.

Suddenly Buffy seemed to awake from her trance like state, because she was screaming now.

“YOU’RE DEAD!”

She was screaming and crying and then she rushed past them all, faster than any human being should be able to, and was gone. Gone when he had just found her and he sensed a guilt that had been buried for centuries surge up in him and he could feel the pain almost physically.

Slumping down in a nearby chair he looked lost like a little child without his parents.

There was more silence, stretching between the friends until it grew and got a life of its own, haunting the oldest immortal like her face had done for so long, and finally he could not take it anymore. He opened his eyes.

“Why didn’t you tell me that she was here?”

He stared at Duncan, stared right through him and for once he made no effort to keep what he was out of his gaze, because he had never felt as old as in this moment.

The Highlander tried to return the gaze, but he found it impossible, for Methos may have been looking at him, but he didn’t see him, instead he saw a different face and a different time.

He watches her lifeless body reclaiming the breath that was driven out of her lungs by his hands, watches her choke and roll to her side, dry heaving.

Then, slowly, her consciousness returns and she looks around carefully, through eyes, greener than anything he has ever seen in his life and for a moment he longs to know everything those eyes witnessed, longs to see what she saw. Because he wants to understand her, to know her.

The moment passes, like everything does, here in the desert, where life is only a blink of an eye of gods he does not believe in anymore, and everything green is destined to wither. Yet here she is and as she lays eyes on him she even smiles.

“It always hurts”, she whispers but she does not sound sad, because, like him she wants to live, wants to escape, one day.

Only that she is not like him at all. He is a warrior and she is a slave, no matter how green her eyes. Roughly he pulls her to her feet by the arm, not caring for anything but the sun rising over the horizon.

The sun kills, even him, even them, that is a lesson all life learned long ago.

When she stands, weakly, tiredly he looks into her eyes one last time and what he sees is not the resignation he expects, but a fire that is almost as dangerous as the sun herself. He turns his eyes from hers and takes care not to meet them again as he hisses into her ear,

“I’ll make it hurt even more.”

“I had no idea that you knew each other. She became immortal just two months ago and what the hell just happened here?”

“Two months? Two months? This woman is older than anybody in this room.”

This piece of information was greeted with utter silence until...

“You’re talking shit old man. Her quickening is even weaker than mine, no way that she is...did you just say all people in this room?”

Tiredly Methos nodded.

“All of us, yeah. And the Quickening? Simple magic, she always loved to play with those things. Loved playing the whole world for a fool, she did.”

It was Joe who finally took pity on the devastated Immortal, by putting a glass and a bottle of scotch down in front of him and silencing the others.

“Why don’t we start at the beginning? How comes she can be older than you and how do you know each other.”

Ignoring the glass Methos took a healthy sip directly from the bottle.

“We found her in the very beginning. Before we even knew what we were ourselves. There was only the rage, back then and the sun. She was a slave and already immortal when we found her. Her quickening was the strongest thing we had ever felt, but not even she did know how old she was, older than us, we were almost sure about that, but who knows? Time didn’t matter back then, surviving did. Being immortal meant being different and that was never good. She was a play thing of her masters, something to.... We killed the people she traveled with and because she could sense that we were the same she came with us.

We should have saved her, but instead we took over where her former owners had left off.”

“Why?”

“Why not?”

Amanda gave him a disgusted look, “Because she was innocent, because she could not fight back? Because it’s wrong?”

Richie nodded his agreement,” So you made her a slave, like Cassandra?”

It took all of Methos’ self control not to close up like he always did when it came to his past, but he found it necessary to finally let everything out, now, that he knew she was back. A fact, his mind was still trying to process.

She was back

She was alive.

“Cassandra came a lot later, and the things we...I did to her was nothing compared to what we did to...”, Helplessly he pointed towards the door Buffy had disappeared through.

“And we did simply because we could, because she seemed older and potentially stronger than us and still she was ours.”

Mine

“Later, so much later...well, lets just say things changed. She became one of us. She became a Horseman.

You don’t like hearing this, but the Horsemen never rode out of pure evil intent, not in the early days. We all had been hurt past what was humanly bearable, by mortals and what drove us were the same things that made her stay that night.

Hate, anger, pain and thirst for vengeance.

Looking around Methos saw that every one of his friends hung on his lips and they did not even know half of it, because he felt that, many things were not his place to tell and he was already telling too much of the things he had left buried in the ever changing sands of the desert for millennia.

Suddenly his eyes came to rest on something else entirely, making him curse. He climbed to his feet and walked over to where he coat still hung over the back of the tripped chair and with practiced ease he pulled out a sword.

“Serpia.”

Duncan blinked,” How did you...?”

“Always the same sword, since the first night. The material changes and its uses, but the design remains the same, always. Serpia. That means that she is out there without her sword but with another immortal.”

Richie shrugged, “ After all you just told us, and all the lies she dished us over the last months, I don’t think that it is our job to look for her.”

Methos did not even have to think about what he was going to do, because he felt, that even if he had wanted to, he could not let her go now, not again, not before he had answers.

Forgiveness

“Whatever she told you, I’m sure, no, I know, that she had her reasons for it. She never meant to hurt you. And if you don’t go, which I understand, then I’ll go alone.”

Grabbing her things he moved towards the door, just to stop again, for a final comment.

“I’m shaking right now, but I have never been the emotional type, out of the two of us. If she’s still out there, she is in danger. And please, when she tries to explain herself, and she will if I still know her at all, then listen.”

Sighing Duncan got up and joined his friend at the door, wordlessly. Amanda got up next, saying that she had to find the blonde first before she could beat the crap out of her for lying and Richie, seconding that, joined last. Joe stayed behind to see if she came back.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

As Buffy fled from Joe’s there was no conscious thought, there was no clear level headed Slayer. She was shedding Buffy like a snake shed its skin, losing what protection she had offered, like a schizophrenic who becomes suddenly aware of their state of mind. Buffy had been fake and now she was gone, and so where a hundred other AKA’s, a hundred different me’s she had created over time. They were washing away like water and with them everything she knew and all the confidence she had until there was only a pre historian slave girl left, running from the one who had hurt her the most.

I’ll make it hurt even more

Everything that had been so easy mere minutes ago was now eluding her like water bare hands. Her life was gone, her friends knew what she had done and he was back, whatever that meant. She felt the spell she had been holding for a month break away, her quickening finally freed and the tears still running down her cheeks in rivers of despair.

She wanted to curl up and never move again, she wanted to be blind in the dark, wanted to die. Scratch that, some small sadistic and fully functional part of her thought, she wanted to be dead.

Something tickling the back of her neck told her that her request might be about to be fulfilled and she was ready to let go when, in the last possible second, ancient instincts kicked in . The same instincts that had made a slave a Horse(wo)man, so long ago and now they took over her whole being.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

They had been walking the dark streets around Joe’s in circles, in the hope of catching a faint trace of her quickening, but there was nothing. Not even the slightest something.

“She must have run at full slayer speed to get so far so fast.”

Methos did a double take.

“She has SLAYERPOWERS??”

Half of his mind was wondering how she had gotten the accessories of a slayer, while the other half was already contemplating the possible damage she could do, distressed and with a whole new dimension of magical input, through one of the oldest lines of warriors known to humanity.

Suddenly he moved a lot faster than before.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

It was only a couple of minutes later that the whole search party stopped dead in its tracks, with Richie looking positively green and ready to eat his dinner backwards.

The reason were the combined quickenings of Methos, Amanda, Duncan and something else.

Something incredibly old and strong.

Suddenly Methos muttered a quiet, “Well, at least now we know where to find her”, and took of into the night, faster than anyone had believed possible for the old man.

Richie swallowed, “That is Buffy?”

Instead of an response he got an encouraging slap on the back that almost sent him vomiting and then he followed his friends, although unwilling to get even one step closer to the source of his sickness.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

The sight that greeted the Highlander as he turned into a dank, dark alley behind Methos was beyond anything he had ever seen in his long life.

There was Buffy, yeah, but there was also a body, missing its head, the smell of a recent quickening in the air, and impossible amounts of blood everywhere. Obviously Buffy had been confronted by the new Immortal that Methos had been sent to check out and, not having brought her sword she had taken care of the problem another way.

With her bare hands.

She was kneeling in the middle of the alley, her hair veiling her face, holding her hands, covered in blood, out in front of her. Suddenly the morbid silence was broken by Buffy’s voice, small and broken between the high walls of the neighboring houses.

“I almost forgot what it feels like. And the blood. There is no messier way to kill someone than beheading. You always liked it messy though, didn’t you? And Kronos used to get so mad at us when the blood and the gore got everywhere.”

Slowly, like a broken rag doll she lifted her head and the hair fell away to reveal her face, streaked with blood and tears, her eyes locking with his immediately.

Greener than anything he has ever seen

“The blood never went away.”

Shaking his head Methos agreed, like there was nobody else there, except the two of them.

“No, it didn’t. And neither did the guilt.”

She giggled, and to his ears it sounded like insane cackling, completely out of place and too harsh.

“That’s why you left, remember?”

Of course

“What do you say, we get you cleaned up first and you can yell at me later, when you’re a little saner?”

“You used to like me all bloody and insane.”

Immediately the Immortal’s face closed up.

“I used to like a lot of things I don’t now.”

Carefully he moved closer then, and when she made no move against him, he wrapped her into his coat and lifted her up, once more surprised by how light she was. Then he turned and strode past his friends, ignoring their questions and demands.

“Tomorrow”, was all he said before he disappeared in the shadows, his precious cargo safely tucked away in his arms.

5, All I’ve Done

You’ve been the only thing that’s right,
In all I’ve done
And I can barely look at you,
But every single time I do,
I know we’ll make it anywhere,
Away from here - Snow Patrol, Run

It is a dark night, cold, and there is thunder without rain and the prayers can be heard, throughout the desert, it seems and the reason is simple.

The Gods are angry.

In a single hut, at the outside of the village, fire burns. It is dangerous, because the angry gods might notice the fire and come, but the people inside do not care.

The Gods are already there.

Prove is a woman, cowering in the corner of the hut, a baby cradled in her arms. The child is silent like the dead, while the woman and the Shaman are screaming at each other like the Gods scream their anger.

The baby is a girl, and she looks into the world like she knows that she is the cause of all the noise. The woman wants the Shaman to give her a name, to accept her into the tribe and grant her the rights of all tribe members, but she Shaman does not want the little girl, because the woman found her outside, in the thunder and he thinks that the Gods hate the little baby.

“What if they love her?”, the woman asks, making the Shaman think.

Outside lightening strikes, but it leaves the hut untouched. The Shaman agrees.

The girl will have a name, and she will be loved by the Gods.

He writes symbols on her tiny body with mud and his own blood and he gives her a name as the Gods strike again and set the crippled tree in the middle of the village afire.

He names her Naya and her new mother hugs her close and loves her with all of her heart.

But the Gods hate her.

Methos managed to unlock the door to his apartment without dropping the dead weight in his arms. Kicking the door closed behind him he walked straight into the bathroom, gently placing Buffy in the tub.

He wondered about it, wondered what had made her choose such a.... stupid name, but then he remembered that she had always been a little crazy and dropped it. There would be time for thinking later, much later.

First he had to get her cleaned up. A welcome task, because it kept his hands busy and his mind elsewhere.

Slowly and gently he started undressing her, boots first, followed by the leather pants and the knit sweater and all the while he made sure not to wake her. This would be easier when she was still sleeping away her exhaustion and stress. The bra went last and he quickly scrubbed the grime and blood off her petit body, marveling at a tattoo that she must have had done past his time and how small she was.

Some part of him must have been thinking that she would have grown a little during the last 2000 years, which was stupid of course, for she would never age.

”How old were you?”

“When I died?”

He nods and she shrugs.

15 or 25, she does not know, and he does not really care, for age does not matter here and they will never grow old anyway.

Carefully, ever so carefully he lifted her out of the tub and, tucking a loose strand of white behind her ear, he wrapped her into an oversized towel and carried her into his bedroom where he placed her on the bed and decided that he could leave her alone long enough to shower and put on some clean clothes to sleep in.

Afterwards, he dumped the wet towel on the floor and wrapped her into the sheets, before crawling into bed himself.

He joined her in sleep faster than he thought he would and soon the room was only filled with the quiet breathing of two not so mortal beings and the moon light, filtering dimly though the curtains.

He runs into the tent where she is still tied up and kneels down beside her, not bothering with the knots but using his sword to cut her free.

“You can go”, he tells her and for a second he feels a pang deep inside, because he does not yet know what those eyes saw, but the feeling passes and he gets back up. Upon leaving the tent she is almost overrun by slaves and servants, running for their lives, fleeing form the horde of soldiers storming the camp from two sides, intent on ridding the world of the four men standing by the cold camp fire, ready to fight.

Death takes a deep breath.

Four against 100 is not fair, but none of them consider running an option.

Suddenly there is movement beside him, and as he turns his head to look, he sees her, blonde and green fury. She stayed when she could have run and the answer why is in her eyes.

Hate.

Anger.

Revenge.

She hates the nearing soldiers as much as the four men beside her do, for the pains they all endured at mortal hands and what she wants is vengeance. Slowly he pulls his second sword off his belt and hands it to her.

She takes it, swinging it a little and admiring the handiwork. It looks like a snake and when the first of the enemy reach their defense line they are ready.

Death, War, Pestilence, Famine.

And Vengeance.

Buffy woke disoriented and worn. She was in a foreign room and a foreign bed, but somehow, it still felt right to be where she was. Slowly she turned towards the figure lying beside her and in a rush the memories of the past 12 hours came back.

Methos. Running. Methos. The fight. Methos. Methosmethosmethosmethos.

He must have taken her to his place, she thought, looking around. It was a simple room, maybe a little too much antique furniture stuffed into it, but it still seemed airy, thanks to the high white walls and ceiling and the sunlight pouring into the room.

Allowing the sun to calm her shred nerves, she stared at him for a long time, lost in memories and contemplation, he had, after all, just blown her new life to pieces by showing up like he had. Not his fault, some tiny voice in her head whispered. She didn’t listen, as it had always been easier for her to blame others.

Finally, after maybe 15 minutes he slowly blinked his way into consciousness, chasing away what was left of whatever he had been dreaming and his eyes focused on her immediately. She remembered that this had been one of the things she had loved him for, a long time ago. The fact that he always sought her out first thing after wakening, like the rest of the world could wait.

Like she was the only thing that mattered, yet as she looked into his eyes now, she saw nothing of the anger and the hatred that had once burned so brightly in him. She saw nothing of his glorious rage and the wild love he had once showered her with.

All she saw now was a wisdom that came from trying to forget over books for centuries and living with a guilt too much to bear. His eyes were as empty of his lives before Adam Pierson, as she had been after he had left her.

“You look like the man I once loved, with all my heart.

But I don’t know you.”

He smiled at her, tiredly, a smile full of a thousand regrets, concerning her, but also understanding. He understood what she tried to say.

“We both changed. We’re not who we used to be.”

“Guess you’re right”, she shrugged, like she didn’t care. He remembered how she always used to drive him mad with her indifference, even when he knew that it was just and act to annoy him and make him lose focus.

“Do you still love her?”

He did not have to ask who she was talking about, because even now, even without knowing anything about her, he could still read her better than himself. She was talking about the woman he had once named Vengeance and he was almost surprised by how easy the answer flowed off his tongue.

“Yes.”

“I love him, you know, still do and always will. Death. I kept looking for him, after he left.”

“What happened then?” Three words, an easy question, yet there were centuries of emotion and stored hopes sounding in it.

“I realized that you had been right. The world out there isn’t as we wanted it to be. There were innocents out there and I started to feel it. The guilt. I tried hiding away from the world for a while, but you know me, I can’t sit still for too long, never could. So I went out and started fighting the good fight, but it’s hard to break old habits. I fucked up a lot.

What about you? Where did you hide from your past?”

“Started reading all those books you loved so much. Found out that I don’t have an inch of magic inside of me, I can barely reduce my quickening. So I learned different things. Languages. Stuff. I’m a smart guy, nowadays.”

That made her smile. They may both have been different people 2000 years ago, but, she realized, inside, they were still the same. He made her smile and she knew what he wanted to say before he did.

Death and Vengeance.

Buffy and Adam.

Naya and Methos.

It really made no difference if you took a closer look. Still, Buffy thought, she would like to get to know Adam Pierson, too.

Finally after a long silence, filled with memories and an comfortable lack of things to say, Methos groaned and got to his feet, slowly.

“I’m getting old.”

“Yeah, you’re one to talk, remember little old me? Still older than you.”

Technically that had never been proven, and they both knew it. The quickening that had drawn the horsemen to her so long ago, before they had even known what they were, could have just as well been a result of the strange magic inside of her. Still, she was stronger, so she had earned the right of an elder, over time, and Methos was not in a mood to argue over something they had all silently agreed on thousands of years ago. As far as the world was concerned, she was the Oldest. And there was just no point in fighting over something that could never be resolved in any way.

So instead he looked her up and down, neither taking offense at the fact that she was still naked, and raised an eyebrow. Finally he shrugged, “No idea how you do it.”

Buffy laughed, “Try kicking demon ass every night, nine years in a row. That ought to keep you in shape.”

Forcing his tired legs to move towards the kitchen he called over his shoulder, “You’ll have to tell me how you did that, anyway.”

Then he was gone, around the corner and out of sight. Sighing Buffy forced herself to get up too, secretly hissing at the ache in her muscles from last night’s fight. She would never admit that in front of Methos though, she’d rather take a bath in acid, because if she still knew him at all, he would never let her live it down. And ‘never’ could be a damn long time for people like them. Then she went, in search of her clothes.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Ten minutes later Methos entered the living room with a tray and two cups of steaming coffee to find his guest pouting on the couch.

“Those pants? My favorites. And now they are totally ruined from all that blood. Being Immortal again sucks.”

He was about to remind her that being a slayer was probably not that much cleaner a job when the doorbell rang. Looking at the tray in his hands and then at Buffy he sent her a fake apologetic smile. Rolling her eyes the blonde got up from the couch and went to answer the door, smiling inside at how easy they still were together. Within less than 12 hours, most of them spent sleeping, they had fallen into an easy routine, without space for awkward moments.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Duncan risked a look at Joe standing beside him before he rang the bell of Methos’ apartment. The gang had had a long talk about what to do now, with Buffy and they had decided that it was probably best if Joe and Duncan, -the Highlander still did not know why he always got picked for such jobs,- went there alone, to figure out the situation, before they all crashed on Buffy, trying to get all their questions answered. Her impressive kill the night before might have had something to do with that careful decision, but, better alive than dead, Richie always said.

Of course, there was also the fact that Methos had seemed to become someone else the second he had laid eyes on her. Never, in all thew time any of them had known him had he talked that much about his past, without editing parts. He had even answered most of their question, which was obviously a big No in the immortal’s handbook.

That did, however, not mean that Duncan and the others were not angry anymore.

Inside the apartment the bell rang and after a few seconds of silence the door was opened just far enough for Buffy to poke her head through. She pulled a face upon seeing who was standing on the other side, and did not open the door further.

“Well, I guess I shoulda known that you would show up. I’m surprised you didn’t bring the cavalry.”

Duncan forced his face to remain neutral as he informed her, “We need to talk.”

“I kinda figured that one out. You didn’t, by chance, bring me some....clothes? Cause I’m running around in my birth costume here.”

The Highlander expected a full blown rant about how that was nonsense, because Immortals were not born, but when nothing came he silently handed over the bag with clean clothes he had brought after Richie had -unnecessarily- informed them all how gross Buffy had looked the night before, for the billionth time. For Buffy not to rant something big had to be going on. Or maybe, he knew her even less than he had thought.

“What would you have done if we hadn’t brought clothes?”

Buffy shrugged and disappeared from the door, just to be replaced by Methos, inviting them in with a wave of his hand.

“She probably would have flashed you like she did me the whole morning, since she never even considered wearing some of my clothes.”

He grinned at his two friends and took a quick detour into the kitchen to organize more coffee for them. His way was marked by an offended squeal coming from behind closed bedroom doors where Buffy was dressing.

“Like you minded!!!”

Immortal and watcher sat down on the couch as Methos exited the kitchen, smirk firmly in place.

“Never said I did, Sweet.”

Joe’s mind was reeling with the fact that those two people, that were not even supposed to know each other acted like old friends. The fact that they were old friends still had to sink in.

Finally Buffy reappeared in hip hugging blue jeans and a simple black shirt. Still pissed, the Highlander had obviously decided to let her suffer, for he had brought neither socks nor any underwear. As she sat down he dumped her coat, containing her sword on her lap with an icy glare, before sitting back down.

“You’re pissed”, she observed.

He snorted, “Why shouldn’t I be? You lied to us about your whole life. The question is WHY.”

Methos took a seat beside the blonde, sipping his coffee, and decided not to interfere.

“Well, actually, I didn’t lie to you. You assumed and I didn’t correct you.”

Swallowing hard Duncan decided that getting hypocritical with this woman would get them all nowhere.

“Why?”

She shrugged, annoyingly calm, like none of this did matter.

“Maybe because I was so lost. Maybe because you were the first person in god knows how long who just offered help, without wanting anything in return and I wished desperately for you to like me. Maybe I had people cowering in front of me in fear too long and I didn’t want to scare you away. Maybe because there were no lies and no malice in your eyes as you offered help. Maybe I all I wanted was to live without the guilt and the fight and self hatred and loathing for a while. Maybe none of this is the true reason.

Fact is, I’m not sorry for what I did, because, as selfish as it might sound, at the time, all I wanted was to get away from all the shit that was my last life and I never lied to you. Everything I told you is true. The only thing I’m sorry for is that I didn’t get the chance to tell you on my odds. I wanted to be her. That girl you let me be, I really wanted to be her. I’m sorry that Kendra never got a chance.”

She had started out neutrally, then gotten angry and finally she looked just plain lost, curled up on the giant couch, confessing how much she had wanted to be the person she had made up. In the end some of the self loathing she had been talking about like an old friend showed in her green eyes, betraying the young girl she looked on the outside.

“And why should I? Why should you accept me like I am? I’m just a fucking killer, a piece of scum, after all. Why should this time be any different?”

It was Methos who looked away at that, not willing to face the guilt of what he had once done to her. His greatest creation and his greatest sin. Maybe his friend’s guilt was what made Duncan allow his anger to subside, because he recognized that there was no more evil in Buffy’s intentions than in Methos’, as they had been the same once. She was just a little fucked up, as she would probably put it. And suddenly, despite the anger that had boiled inside of him only minutes ago at being used and lied to, he was willing to forgive this tiny slip of a woman, with time.

Joe’s thought must have been similar because he offered peace in his own way, just then.

“How about you tell us the rest now?”

Buffy blinked then, surprised.

“I’m sorry for the way I acted around you most of the time. I didn’t mean to be so squirmy and elusive, I was just scared that you might blow my cover.”

She turned to look at Methos sitting beside her, telling him with a simple gaze and a raised eyebrow to stop the guilty routine, because there was nothing either of them could change now and, knowing what she wanted from him he nodded and spoke up for the first time since they had all sat down.

“We’ll tell you. She will, and I’ll help where I can. Under one condition.

Keep it out of your records, Joe.”

The oldest looking of the four did not even have to think about the request, it was either miss the story of 5000 years of walking history or be a good watcher. He nodded, figuring the watchers would need a bad example for their trainees anyway.

For a second Buffy thought about where to start, realizing that she had never done this before. Methos and the Horsemen had been there all along and afterwards there had been nobody else she could have told the truth, really, at least not all of it.

There was also that part of her that was wondering if the two men in front of her could ever grasp the concept of what and who she had once been and the things she called her life. She wondered if even a 400 year old man could understand, morally, and otherwise, what she stood for. She doubted it, just like she knew Methos did, from the looks he was sending the men’s way. Well, she guessed, she had already agreed, so she might as well spill. Part of it.

“How about, you just ask what you want to know and I answer as best as I can?”

All three men nodded at that, thinking that if they, or at least Joe, did not want to die of old age in this room, Buffy’s approach would probably be the best.

Duncan opened his mouth, just to be interrupted by the doorbell. Methos climbed to his feet, “I haven’t had this much visitors in a long, long time.”

“That are probably Amanda and Richie.”

Simultaneously the two Ancient’s turned towards the younger Immortal.

“Tell me that you did not tell them to come as backup in case I was a schizophrenic uber bitch with a sword?”

Buffy stared at him with one eyebrow raised and her arms crossed in front of her chest. Methos laughed at the sight she made. Multiple murderer and Horsewoman pouting at the fact that she was not trusted. If this wasn’t a Kodak Moment...

“Knowing the Boy scout he probably formulated it a lot nicer.”

He went to open the door, leaving his comment hanging in the air like that, and Buffy suddenly found it hard to be angry at the sheepish looking Highlander. She had to laugh out loud, however when Richie came rushing into the room, a panicked expression on his face, looking around wildly.

Methos joined her in her laughter as soon as he entered the room with Amanda in tow.

Amanda and Richie stared at Buffy and Methos for a few seconds, stunned at how easy those two acted and how happy Buffy looked. It was an awkward moment, with everybody staring at the other and trying to keep their laughter from bubbling over and when the newcomers, too, started smiling Buffy just knew that they would be alright.

6, She Had A Name

Let your hatred grow,
And she’ll scream and she’ll shout
And she’ll pray and she had a name,
Yeah she had a name
Let your anger rise
And we’ll fly and we’ll fall
And we’ll burn,
No one will recall,
No one will recall. - Muse, Stockholm Syndrome

They all sat down, after a while, ready and willing to listen to their friend(?) telling them the story of her life, or at least a part of it.

Duncan was the first who got to ask a question.

“What’s your real name? The one you were given?”

It was Methos who answered in her stead, “Nay, or, actually: Naya.”

Buffy smiled at him, “I missed that. You calling me Nay.”

“Okeeey, so, am I guessing right that you two were a... thing?”

“For almost 3000 years.”

There was a collective sound of surprise in the room.

“What happened then, did you break up or something?”

Again it was Methos who answered, “It was over when I left the Horsemen for good.”

The smiles of the two on the couch dimmed considerable at that particular memory, so Amanda decided that it was time for a change of topic. It would take a blind man to miss all the pain and time that stood between those two, always strong, but suddenly so small.

“How did you become a slayer. And what about your Mom and all those things?”

Buffy took a deep breath, well that had to come up sometime, she thought.

“Lets start at the beginning.

I met Joyce, who is of course not my mother, when she was ten and living on the streets. I got her away from her old life and raised her, and with time, we switched rolls. First I was her Mom, then her sister, then her baby sister, and finally, for Sunnydale she became my mother.

In 1996 I met this girl in L.A.. Her name was Elisabeth Summers and she was 15 and the slayer. I helped her out and after about two month’s of slaying she got pregnant from her boyfriend, Pike. She asked me for help because she wanted nothing more than an ordinary life and so we went to see the powers. I offered them a deal.

I took over slaying, with all it’s good and bad sides and in return they granted me an immortal free time by taking me out of the game. I had no quickening while I was Buffy Summers. Only when I decided that my time as Buffy was up did it come back. That’s probably why it was so weak still when you found me. Although I had to dampen it down. The rest was a whole shit load of spells.

A spell to make all the people Elisabeth knew think that I was her. A spell to give me her memories. A spell to get her and Pike away from everything with the Baby. A spell to make Joyce think she really was my mom, to keep her from slipping up and make everything more credible. I lifted the spell however, after she threw me out of the house because of slaying in the second year in Sunnydale. There were a couple more little spells to make everything seem right, even to supernatural eyes, but it worked.

I was Buffy Summers and no one could find me.

When I died that first year Xander, a friend, did CPR on me, so nobody noticed me coming back to life. Things got weird when Dawn appeared.”

Buffy quickly filled Methos in on the phenomena that was her little sister before continuing.

“The monks put those memories in my head of Dawn being my sister and Joyce our mom. Both of which were impossible. And when I jumped off that tower, it killed me. It really did. The mystical energy finished me off.

I was dead.

I was dead and in heaven.

Until my friends ripped me back out.”

She broke off there, too shaken to continue and Methos wrapped his arms around her. He could only imagine how it must have been for her, to know peace after all those years all those millennia, and then have it taken away from her again.

“Well at least you know that you have been forgiven for what you did.”

He sounded bitter then and he knew it, but he could not say he cared, until the woman in his arms turned and stared him in the eyes.

“And so have you. You did nothing I didn’t do and when I’m forgiven then so are you.”

The room around then disappeared and so did their friends, leaving nothing but the two of them in their own little world. And looking back into those greengreengreen eyes Methos felt... he felt like something indescribably horrible.

“You”, he whispered, “ What about the things I did to you?”

Everybody else in the room was quiet, understanding that this was a private moment and to their surprise Buffy smiled.

“I learned some things, too, since you left. I learned that there is a reason for everything. And if nothing else those things brought us together, here and now. And I wouldn’t want to miss that.”

Suddenly she turned back to the room, breaking the moment, and stopping Methos’ protest in its tracks. He did not voice his thoughts then, but the look I his eyes never went away either. That look that spoke of horrors waiting in a mirror and guilt eating its way to the surface as soon as its chains were loosened just the slightest bit.

Duncan had to stifle a little smile. Seeing the Oldest, -or not so much anymore,- so whipped by such a tiny woman was glorious. Finally someone who had even the slightest chance of keeping the neurotic Immortal in line. Joe however, still wanted to know more, of course.

“That’s a lot of spells. Who did them all? You?”

Pulling away from Methos, Buffy sat up straight.

“Well, yeah, wasn’t anybody else around to do them, you know?”

She looked a little sheepishly at Methos and again they had a hard time blocking the flood of memories assaulting them. Richie groaned.

“Hey you two love birds, care to share?”

Moving further apart on the couch, like two teenagers getting caught doing something they were not supposed to do, they glared at the young Immortal.

“We are not love birds, kid. It’s been two millennia for god’s sake, we don’t even know each other anymore.”

Amanda grinned at Methos, “Well, you sure know how to hide that fact.”

Scowling badly Methos explained, “You want to know the deal? Here you go, but don’t tell me I didn’t warn you...

He walks out of their little camp and into the darkness, following the beacon of blue light hanging on the horizon.

She is standing on top of the highest dune, magic sparkling between her fingers as she watches, fascinated, spellbound.

He, too is spellbound, but not by the blue of her hands but by the look on her face. She is so caught up in the blue sparkles, she does not even notice him as he approaches quietly. He also knows that she would not want him there.

Yesterday Silan, Famine, had tried to make a move on her and dragged her away from the camp in her sleep. Upon waking she had found herself bound and gagged and not happy. As the insane Horseman had pulled out a knife her anger had made her snap.

They found him lying in the sand, bloody and burnt, blue still crackling around him.

Since then she stayed away from them, afraid that she might lose control. He knows that she will not and he trusts her. Or maybe he knows because he trust her. What he is sure of is the fact that he is not afraid of anything that is this tiny woman with green eyes.

And if there is really so much magic inside of her, then he is willing to learn everything about the blue force he can.

Upon thinking he gets careless and a board of sand slips down the dune beneath his feet, startling her.

Flying around, the blue is set free and races toward the camp’s closest hut. Silan’s. She seems to be angry still, yet as a scream slices the silence from below, followed by drunken, yet innovative, curses, they stare at each other for a second, afraid of the other’s reaction and then they both have to laugh.”

Buffy squealed, “That’s so not true, I didn’t do that on purpose. He just startled me and I lost control. It was all so new back then.”

Methos did look convinced for less than a second.

“So hitting him right where the sun don’t shine was an accident? Somehow I don’t believe you, Nay.”

Finally Buffy had to giggle too,”Ok, so maybe I wished for it to hit him there, he tried to rape me after all. But setting it off in the first place was not my intention.”

Surprisingly it was Amanda, friend of all dark secrets revealed, who cut the argument short.

“You can control magic just by your will?”

“Well, like I said that was the second time I ever used any magic and I had no idea how to use it back then. Come to think of it, I still haven’t figured out where it comes from.

I mean, it’s not like every Immortal can wield wild magic to their liking. Just little old me. I made the best out of it though, afterwards. Whenever we raided a village or a caravan I would go looking for books and started teaching myself. Luckily the Shaman in the village I grew up in taught me to read.

Before he killed me, that is.” She paused for a second, to acknowledge the hatred burning inside of her.

“Anyway, I taught myself all I could. Methos and the others used to laugh at me because of it. Until I had enough control to blow up their asses whenever I got mad. They never said a word about it again, at least not when I was within earshot.”

“Even when you were miles away we still didn’t have the guts, believe me. You had us whipped real good. All four of us.”

“The most horrible creatures in history, afraid of a little girl. I wonder why that never occurs in any history books. Hey, by the way, why is there never any talk of five Horsemen? Why only four? What happened to you?”

“Church.”

At the puzzled expressions she got from all around the room Buffy clarified,

“The Christian church, that’s what happened. Around the beginning of the fifth century the church started their campaign against all things female. You know, Eva, Original Sin, Mother Earth. They banned everything that was dangerous to their influence and since women were the reason man had been locked out of paradise....

There were a lot of cults worshipping female Idols, and it makes sense. The whole birth thing, the power of the earth, all that was seen as holy back then and the pope didn’t like it one bit. Women were evil. That’s why I disappeared out of history.”

Duncan did not understand,” But wouldn’t that be the ultimate move. Making a woman into everything that is evil. Like a female devil.”

“Too powerful. In the bible the four Horsemen are the ultimate evil. Everything bad on earth, the things that came out of Pandora’s box. Giving a woman that position would make the female into something to fear. How can something that is feared be subservient? Vengeance was too dangerous and not even considered really evil, measured by what was going on back then.”

Methos finally spoke up,” An eye for an eye mean anything to you? Vengeance was not considered evil.”

“But that doesn’t make sense, first you say being Vengeance made you too powerful and then you say that it was an accepted thing in the church? What?”

Buffy looked more pained than she had the whole morning, while unearthing all her deepest and darkest secrets. She had more than enough of people treating her like an airhead, after eight years as Buffy Summers, Californian Beach Bimbo.

“It’s about power.

When Willow told me I tried to ignore it, but it’s the truth.

It’s always about the power. Not about good or evil, light or dark, it’s not about who has the better karma. It’s about who has the power.

You land the right punches, get your kicks and your sword under the other’s defenses and you win, no matter if you’re good or evil. You have the power, you win.

If Vengeance came out of Pandora’s box or the bible doesn’t matter, it was powerful. Fearsome. Something you fear can never be powerless over you.”

There was a shadow on her face, of things past, things she remembered alone. And when she closed her eyes, not only then, but every second of every day, she saw flashes of bloody hands and mutilated bodies. She heard the screams that haunted her, echoing in an endless desert she had not set foot into for centuries.

Buffy remembered fear in the faces of children and women, fear she had put there....

Fear.

She feasts on it, nowadays, devours it like others once devoured her fear, like it was something delicate, something to savor.

She washes the memory of her own blood away in a flood of innocent red. The face of the man she called her father, the Shaman of her tribe, is replaced by her own as she stands over her victims, with spite in her voice and hatred in her eyes. She remembers every stroke of the whip and every curse for things she had nothing to do with, but it all fades with time.

She has power now.

Once the gods hated her for things beyond her understanding, now they fear her.

It’s about power.

She has the power.

Methos was the only one to notice the distant look in Buffy’s eyes and again he cradled her tiny frame in his arms and, in the process, made the other’s aware of their friend’s state of mind.

Wordlessly they began to gather their things and leave, understanding that despite their easy act there were still a lot of issues the oldest two had to work through.

It was Duncan who stayed behind a second longer, saying silent good byes for everyone and telling Buffy that she was welcome in his flat, just like before. He was willing to forgive her like he had Methos, all he needed was time to come to terms with who she was.

It was Methos who nodded his thanks and then the two of them were alone in is apartment.

For a long time they just sat there, curled up and intertwined on the giant couch, the sunlight pouring through the high windows illuminating them, painting fake halos over their heads and creating an illusion of warmth.

Truth was neither of them had felt warm in a very long time.

So, as the silence settled over them with a finality that scared Buffy, they sat, closer than they had been in millennia, yet alone.

Separated by a million memories and sins that had followed and locked them in their own worlds for centuries, changing them forever.

The question left was who they were now.

Not Vengeance and Death, but could they really be Buffy and Adam ever again?

7, Without A Single Life - Interlude

We slept a while,
To turn it up and get it off your minds
I slept a while,
To get it all,
It seems alright,
To find a place without a single life,
Where is the night we run into? - Guano Apes, Pretty In Scarlet

Watching her sleep in his arms, Methos felt a calm that he been denied to him for too long. He still couldn’t believe it.

She was there, she was alive and she seemed willing to forgive him for what he had done to her, even when he himself could not.

There were so many times he had wronged her, beginning with the day he had killed her and put her in chains to serve him. And even after her chains had come off, he had still been her master, by all means. War had reigned on the outside, but it had been Death who had controlled War on the inside and Vengeance who had been his queen. In the desert she had ruled over them all, but inside their tent she had been his slave, just like before.

And now she was here, in his arms, trusting him, loving him even.

Methos was no fool, he knew that they could and would not start over where they had left off.

There was too much between them, and they were still strangers, if you looked closer, but she was there with him.

And that was all that mattered right now.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Amanda had heard a lot of incredible stories in her time, but this was one of the best.

Her tiny strong friend, the newest among the Immortals was in truth the oldest.

It had been a lot to take in and deal with, especially the betrayal they had all felt after Methos had revealed the truth to them, but Amanda found that she could not be angry at tiny blonde furious Ken anymore.

Her friend, and Ken was a friend, no matter what, had proven her worth by staying and explaining, and Amanda was more than willing to accept that in return for a friend that she would not have to bury.

Who said eternity could not be fun?

As she dropped onto her own couch with a bowl of ice cream and a cheesy movie Amanda smiled quietly.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

At 400 Duncan had faced a lot of things, but seldom had he been as angry as he had been with Buffy that very morning, as she had opened the door, pretending that everything was the way it had been before.

It was not. And the Highlander had felt betrayed and used.

Maybe because there were no lies and no malice in your eyes

He understood her now, mostly. He understood why she had acted the way she had and he was willing to give her a second chance, since he himself had received more than one in his time.

He was willing to see over her faults and crimes as a rider just as he had seen over Methos’ and discovered a personality with a million layers beneath. And, if he admitted it, he felt like he understood Methos better, too, now.

The old man he never been forthcoming about his past, but with Buffy’s explanations of their motives, the demons of both their past seemed a lot more human.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

He needed a drink.

Now.

Joe had gotten too much information this morning, too much input to work trough, about one of his oldest friends and his newest.

The watcher in him was having a field day, of course, but the man in him was still reeling with all the malice and pain and anger and love he had been confronted with in less than 12 hours.

Methos had once told him that what defined someone was not their past or their future, it was the now. How they acted in every second of every day defined a person new, every single moment.

Joe had not listened then, knowing about the things that weighed his friend down, knowing also that he did not live by that philosophy. Now he realized that he did.

Methos lived by that philosophy ever second of his life to get through it without breaking down, and so did Buffy.

They redefined themselves with every breath they took and still they changed endlessly slow.

But they changed.

And that was why Joe would never be able to condemn them.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Richie had heard a lot of things this morning.

He had seen even more.

He had seen the way Methos had not faltered in the face of Buffy, bloodstained and slightly crazed. He had seen them cuddle on the couch and comfort each other, he had seen them laugh.

Technically the young immortal had always known that he had no chance with Buffy, but he guessed he had still hoped.

This hope was shattered now, because even a blind man could see that the tiny blonde and the dark haired man belonged together.

She had asked him to be her brother once, and Richie figured being a bother included scaring away any potential boyfriend. Now, he knew very well that he stood no chance at scaring Methos away from anything bigger than a pancake at breakfast.

But he would make sure that the Immortal never hurt Buffy.

That he could do.

And make moon eyes at her rear, of course.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Standing over a grave Faith stared at the inscription and almost laughed. She had chosen it, in a moment of emotional overflow,...

”How was it like?”

“What?”

“Come on B., you know what I’m talking about. Heaven.”

“It was, it was everything good and beautiful, beyond imagination. It was perfection. But do you know what I miss most of all?”

“Elvis?”

“Yeah, sure. The silence. It is so loud down here, with all the people and our heightened senses, I can barely stand it. In heaven everything was silent, there weren’t even words. It was just... existing. You don’t need sound to exist and the silence was perfect. I miss that most.”

...on the day after Buffy had been found dead.

The same day her body had disappeared from the morgue.

Not a vampire, of that they were sure, since her head had been blown to pieces and there were no holes in her throat, but the body was gone nevertheless.

Deep inside they all felt that she would be back, that whoever had stolen the body would come back to haunt them with her face one day. And it scared Faith, because she had never been able to kill Buffy.

Not even when she had had her knife in her hand and murder in her eyes.

Smiling at the gravestone one last time, she turned and left, without a word. Her visits always passed in perfect silence. Buffy deserved that, even if her body did not rest in its marked spot.

Buffy Anne Summers
1981 – 2004
In Perfect Silence


Walking away Faith tried to picture the day she would be face to face with Buffy’s body once more. She could not.

So instead she prayed that her beloved sister had found what she had so craved.

Silence.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Breathing in his scent Buffy committed it to memory, just in case.

She was barely awake, in Methos’ warm embrace, floating between reality and dream, not sure what was real.

She was only sure of one thing, that Methos was real, because even her dreams of him had never felt like this. She had never felt this safe with his dream self.

He had to be real, he had to be back at her side.

Well, not like before, she knew, because this man was, technically, a stranger.

There were things that had to be said, wounds that had to be mended and scars that had to be exposed and accepted.

They had to get to know each other again if this was supposed to ever go somewhere.

No matter how much she wanted him, after such a long time.

It would not happen, not before she could look into his eyes and allow him to read all of her, just like he would let her in, without hesitation.

But for now, being here, with him, in this dream bubble was all she could ask for.

Buffy was happy.

8, I’ll Show You My Sins

In this life
I’ll give it time,
Cause it’s always pushing up from behind,
It’ll be alright
It will be fine
It’s nothing more than ordinary life
And I show you my sins... - Kirsten Barry, Ordinary Life

She cannot remember ever running so fast. But there is an angry mob behind her and this time around their weapons are deadly. Not even an Immortal could survive a guillotine. There are French curses all around her, a staccato, drumming in her head, making her run even faster.

Suddenly she sees someone move ahead of her, a black haired man, staring at her with hazel eyes, scared and surprised, and she wonders if she put it there, or what follows her through the streets of Paris.

He turns his head, and for a second he looks almost like him. The way he moves his head, the way he carries himself as he, too, starts to run, but she knows that it is impossible.

He is dead.

She runs faster, hoping that by the time they catch her they will be too angry to bother with capturing her and simply shoot her.

It’s only a second that she actually wishes they would take her head.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

She watches the slayer move in the dark, killing vampires and the German soldiers, that are supposed to be their prey, alike. France is falling, yet the slayer remains, fighting a lost cause.

Because she believes.

Quietly the woman in the shadows wonders if she ever believed like this. Believed in something enough to die for it.

The answer comes easily, with a stabbing pain and a bitter sweet guilt that will never go away.

There was one thing she would have died for, without hesitation. But believe had nothing to do with it and that brings up even more questions. Why?

To protect her master, maybe, or her lover. To give him a chance to redeem what he did to her and others? Too many questions, so she pushes them aside with practiced ease, and concentrates on the girl, sneaking up on Germans between their tanks, once more.

Keep the slayer alive, that is why she is here. Not to remember.

Yet her thoughts keep drifting tonight.

Buffy was torn out of her reverie by the sound of a door opening and someone sitting down across from her on the floor.

“I’m trying so hard, but it’s impossible to concentrate.”

Opening her eyes she smiled at Amanda. Almost seven months had passed since Buffy had spilled the beans and the two women were growing close once more.

Things between Methos and Naya were still up in the air, since they never actually talked a lot. They were both evading what they would have to talk about one day and most of the time they spent together was spent doing things normal friends did, like going to the movies or watching TV. But if they did not act like friends then there was mostly silence.

Buffy felt like she was frozen every time she got near her counterpart of 3000 years. Like she was unable to open her mouth and just say the words that wanted out. Truth was he still scared her, as did all her emotions. Even when she meditated he kept invading her thoughts.

“What are you thinking about?”

Buffy just looked at her friend, not bothering to form an answer, until Amanda finally sighed.

“It’s always him, huh?”

The slayer nodded.

“I keep remembering things about him, things we did together, or just pieces of memories I had buried deep enough o forget them. It’s driving me crazy.”

“Maybe you should finally sit down and talk. I mean, I see how you two are dancing around each other.”

“Are not.”

Amanda raised an eyebrow.

“Ok, we are. But you have no idea how hard this is. We were a couple for almost 3000 years but we never talked. There are a million things I want to say. But every time I even get close to him my mind goes blank and I don’t know why.”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

“You don’t understand, Mac. It’s like there’s a wall between us. I can’t say a word when she’s around.”

Methos emptied another shot glass before turning back to the Highlander. He had been moaning about all things Buffy for the last seven glasses and there was no end in sight, the younger of the two feared. Yet, despite his remaining resentment against Buffy and hat she had done, he felt that he had to help Methos make some sense of what was going on in his life. Or maybe it was the romantic in him that simply wanted this one tragedy to end happily.

“Why not? You have to talk one day, so what are you afraid of?”

“Hello? You remember me telling you that she was my Slave for the better part of god knows how long? How can I even look into her eyes, let alone tell her how I feel after what I did?”

“She’ll forgive you if you just ask.”

Giving a tired sigh Methos shook his head, “I won’t ask.”

“Why not?”

“What if she say yes? What if she really forgives me? I have no right to be forgiven.”

“I thought you loved her.”

“I do!! That’s the problem.”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

“Talk to me.”

“And what am I supposed to tell you? I can’t even get my thoughts straight. I don’t think I can voice them.”

“Tell me about Methos. Anything, maybe it helps.”

For one Amanda’s smile was genuine and Buffy felt some dam break inside of her.

“When you came in, I was just thinking about something during WWII. I was watching a slayer and I thought if there was ever anything I would have died for. Him.

I would have died for him.

I loved him.

He hated me and yet I loved him.”

“I thought he loved you, too?”

Again Buffy shrugged and looked to the ground, almost as if she were ashamed. Amanda finally moved closer to the blonde, realizing that Methos was a wound even deeper than she had thought for the last months. Patiently she waited for an answer, hoping that her friend would finally share her troubles.

“There were those… moments. Moments when I was sure he would give me the world if I only asked. Moments when he would have given me anything.

But… they were just moments. There was so much…. I can’t do this. You wouldn’t understand, Manda.”

Reaching out, Amanda took Buffy’s hands in hers and stared deeply into the other woman’s eyes.

“Maybe I would if you would just let me.”

There was a whisper of silence between them, but finally Buffy tried again.

“There was so much anger. So much rage. Everything, every person, every action, it was all filled with all consuming hatred and rage. Everything we were was like the sun. Hard, bright, harsh. Deadly.

He was the sun and I was his.

Everything was a maelstrom of life and death and more life and… I don’t know how to explain it….”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

“I love her as much as I did the day I left her. She is the very reason I left. What right do I have to look into her face now and tell her that I want her to be part of my life of me again?”

Methos looked up at his friend thoughtfully, before he drowned the next shot. He wished he would get drunk faster. He wished he could talk to someone who understood what he was trying to say, but the only person who probably could was part of the problem. Scratch that, she was the problem.

“You don’t understand a single word of what I’m saying here, do you, Mac?”

Duncan shook his head as Methos made a decision.

“It’s because you’re such a baby. Much too young for anything, the kids of today. You have no idea what it was like back then.”

“What was it like?”

Duncan might not really want to hear Methos tales about blood and gore, but he would not pass up one of the rare opportunities when the other Immortal shared some of his history willingly. It seemed to be another side effect of Buffy. She made Methos laugh, really laugh, she made him smile more and she made him talk. Really talk.

Like she was something so big, so monumental that it was impossible not to talk about it.

“It was… perfect imperfection….

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

“It was freedom.

No rules. No boundaries. No law and no one to stop us.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“It was better. Worse, whatever. It was not only the absence of outside boundaries, but also of those inside. A conscience can be the heaviest of all chains.”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

“It was freedom.

Real freedom. And it was meant to last forever, but I was the one who had to open his eyes and break the surface of our lovely ignorance, and grow a conscience.”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

“Absolute Freedom.”

Buffy smiled slightly, painfully, as she finally found the words she had been looking for desperately as she had staggered her way through something that was never meant to be words.

“It was Absolute Freedom and it didn’t matter if I loved him or he loved me. Everything and everyone was a perfect mess, but somehow we worked. Because we had to….”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

And now there’s this cute thing called civilization and it’s getting in the way. It’s getting in the way with all its rules and morals and laws and ethics. And she’s someone else, and I’m someone else and I have no idea how…”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

“…How the fuck I’m supposed to get close to him, when we never worked that way. It’s like I’m looking at a painting with people in it that look a lot like us, but they aren’t and I have no idea how!”

Buffy dropped her friend’s hands as she threw her own in the air helplessly and Amanda finally understood. They were so close, so close and yet they would need an airplane to reach each other and everything they had once been, everything they had measured their love and themselves by was gone. Sands in an eternal desert and if they were honest with themselves then they had no idea how they were making it through every single day in this world, that was so unlike everything they had been raised and made to be and everything they were. And now they had found each other, like relicts left over from another time lying side by side in the museum, protected against the modern world trough panes of glass that separated them from each other as well.

Oh yes, Amanda could see the tragedy, alright. She just had no idea how to help, because, the burglar knew, if she just cut the glass open the artifacts may just fall apart like fragile patterns of ash in the wind. But if she waited until the glass fell away on its own, well, lets just say, she might have been immortal, but even she did not have that much time. So what was she supposed to do?

What?

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Methos had stopped talking in the middle of his sentence, finally realizing that it was useless. Words were not going to help him in any way, they never had. He was a man who lived by the rules of silence and the sword, not people. Duncan might have been smart and a stalwart friend, but in the end he was just a child to this game, someone who had just dropped in and barely moved past the entrance hall. Methos had seen it all, and maybe too much of it and he knew that the only thing that could get him closer to his goal was tearing down those walls that kept him from that someone he had loved long before he had met her.

And he had been told that destruction was the only thing he was good at any way.

But what If he tore Naya just as well in the process? What if behind those walls was something he never wanted to know, or be reminded off?

What if, what if?

He was running in circles with no way to break free, caught up in the net of his own love and guilt and maybe foolishness.

Running a hand through his hair he threw a wad of cash on the counter, hoping it was enough to silence Joe’s cries for the money the Immortal owed him for another couple of days, and left the bar without a word to Duncan or anyone else.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Eventually both women shook themselves out of their thoughts and although nothing had been resolved Buffy felt like maybe talking had helped a little. She felt like Amanda might just understand a little bit better now, and she found understanding among friends strangely important of late.

Another thing she had to add t the never ending list of things-the-Scoobies-made-me-feel-that-I-never-wanted-to-feel. Sometimes she missed being a ruthless killer and an unspeakable monster.

Amanda took Buffy’s hand once more, “How about I help you concentrate now?”

Closing her eyes Buffy allowed herself one last thought before her mind went blissfully blank.

She might miss a lot of things sometimes, but there was one thing she missed every single day.

The man she had once loved with all her heart and the rage of the sun and her freedom.

Absolute Freedom.

9, Make Us Remember

Because her rage burns like Chinese torture,
She’s just someone’s favorite daughter,
Spoilt and ugly as she willingly slaughters
Friends and enemies,
They’re all the same,
She’ll make us remember,
Remember her name. - The Curve, Chinese Torture

She watches helplessly as her daughter is pulled into the middle of the circle of living breathing rage. They scream her name, like a prayer, yet it is a curse.

The cattle is dead, their children are crippled and the water ran dry two weeks ago and it is her fault.

They always blame everything on her, because she is the child that does not belong, she is the child that was burn from lightening and thunder, from the rage of the gods themselves.

She is Naya and tonight they will give the rage back to the gods.

Naya’s eyes meet those of her mother as she is roughly pulled and tied to the post. It is the man that raised her like his own, taught her his knowledge and ways, who lifts the whip skywards, offering the gods their cursed child’s blood in return for water.

There is no answer and her mother knows why. Knows that the gods gifted the village with this tiny bundle, this tiny thunder born girl and they don’t want her back yet.

Yet, she is the only one who cries for her baby girl as her blood gets swallowed by the unforgiving sand and her whimpers finally fall silent.

She cries for her daughter and kneels beside her body when its over, holding her lovely face in her hands.

At least she found freedom now and peace, with the gods who love her so much. And never, never again will she have to endure the pains of mortal life.

Her thunder born child, finally where she belongs, where she deserves to be.

That’s when her eyes open.

Buffy shot up in bed, disoriented form sleep, troubled by memories of, of course, Methos. He seemed to be the sun to her system.

It was only after the fifth ring that she realized that what had woken her was the phone. Reaching out blindly she found that the phone was not in its usual place beside the bed.

Actually, she wasn’t even in a bed.

For a second she was confused before she felt movement behind her and a soft rumble of half asleep curses and things clicked into place.

She was on Methos couch, with him curled up at her back, because they had fallen asleep watching TV again.

It was one of those none talking activities they kept themselves occupied with whenever they were together and, as if their subconscious was as much of a match maker as Amanda and Duncan, they always ended up like this, or in similar positions.

Asleep on Methos couch, with him right there with her and despite their problems Buffy could not help but feel incredibly safe and cozy.

Finally managing the turn enough to reach over the back of the couch and reach the phone Methos barked into it, eager to kill whoever was on the other end.

He fell silent however when the voice was that of his favorite watcher in all the world, well, besides himself, greeted him with worry.

“I just got news from the Council, about someone taking a lot of head lately. And all of them attached to blonde immortals in their late teens to early twenties. Maybe you should come by.”

“How many?”

There was a second hesitation on the other end, enough to tell Methos what he needed to know. Whoever was the head hunter he was taking his job seriously. Joe though the same and tried to reassure his friend.

“Look, we don’t even know he’s after her. It could as well be Amanda or someone else completely. I just think we should make sure.”

Nodding wisely into the telephone Methos promised to be over in half an hour, before hanging up. He wondered a little how Joe had known that he would reach Buffy here. Then he figured that he had probably called Duncan first and come up empty handed.

Sitting up behind her he opened his mouth the explain when he saw her worried look. Thanks to her slayer hearing she had heard every word Joe had said.

They sat in silence for a few seconds before he sent her a skew little smile, telling her in his way that he would stick with her through this, if she really was the goal of this little homicide mission.

It was one of those things that had no need for words, never had had.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

They reached Joe’s bar 43 minutes later, due to Methos stunning ability to find a new spot to lose his car keys every time he came home. Entering they found Amanda, Duncan and Richie already there, as well as Joe.

If they had not realized that the situation was serious before, they would have had to now. When Joe called in the whole cavalry then something was seriously wrong.

Buffy steered towards a free seat beside Amanda, after grabbing the cup of coffee Joe had held out to her. She sat and gulped the coffee down at once, then blinked at her friends offering a semi happy, “Good morning.”

Joe smiled slightly at her antics, knowing full well that she was trying to lighten the mood at least a little, and he appreciated it.

“So what’s going on?”

Joe sighed,” Well, we have eleven bodies, all killed during the last month, all showing a stunning resemblance to you. They are spread all over the States. Unfortunately there is nothing special about the way they were killed, nothing that would lead us to a name.”

Knowing the way the watchers worked with unresolved cases (i.e. cases in which they didn’t know who had taken the head), Methos asked,

“Are there any Photos?”

Nodding his head Joe pulled them out from behind the counter and, handing them over he remarked,” Whoever this was has a lot of issues to work through.”

Methos laid the pictures out on a table between them all. Richie gulped audibly.

“Lots of issues.”

The Immortals had not simply been killed, they had been slaughtered. Every body showed multiple wounds, only half closed, despite the advanced healing and most of them deadly.

But what threw Methos more than the blood and gore was the fact that Joe had been right. They were all tiny and blonde.

The numbers at the back of the pictures told Methos in what order the women had been killed and it took a blind man not to notice the increasing anger of the one who had killed them. After looking the photos through at least three times he handed them all over to Buffy, for her to get a closer look.

She only looked at the first five bodies before slapping the photos down on the table and closing her eyes tightly. Methos watched her expectantly until she finally opened her eyes again. Immediately she found his gaze.

“Gregorios.”

Her eyes follow him everywhere.

Everywhere he goes her eyes are with him, always watching, because she does not trust him. And for good reason. She can feel the hatred coming off him in waves, even when his back is to her, because she was like him once.

She was a slave just like him and it was him who fed her when she was too weak to do it herself and him who tended to her fading wounds when she had gotten herself killed with her defiance once more.

She was a slave just like him and now he calls her mistress.

And her eyes follow him because she treats him like she was once treated and she knows of his rage. He never understood the game they play and what they are. For him life is the highest and greatest of treasures, yet he can only give it away, time after time.

Life is not an issue between those who cannot die.

But freedom is.

She is free now and he is not. She will not risk her freedom to his benefit, she will not lose her master’s hatelove for one who does not understand himself and for that he hates her.

However, she gets bored easily now and soon she climbs to her feet and passes him by as she exits the tent, her eyes still boring holes into his body and his rage and she can hear him hiss behind her,

“I will take those eyes one day, just wait. See how much he loves you blind.”

Methos slumped back in his chair, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands.

“What makes you so sure?”

She pushes the pictures back towards him pointing at something at the edge of the topmost one. It was a head. While taking the photos the Watchers had concentrated on the bodies and never the heads. It was pure incident that they were visible in some of the photos anyway.

“The eyes.”

Again she screwed her eyes tightly shut, like she was trying to shut out a nightmare, or maybe a memory and that was when Methos saw it.

The Immortal had been blinded. If before or after her death he couldn’t know, but as he looked through the stack of pictures again he found five more heads with five more sets of eyes.

All of them blinded.

“He can’t still be alive.”

“Who else would be after my eyes? It’s him, I just know it.”

Shoving the pictures pointedly farther away from her Amanda asked, “Who is the guy and why does he want your eyes?”

Buffy’s tortured look met Duncan’s for a second, knowing that he still had not forgiven her and also knowing that what she had to say would not help the matter. She did so anyway.

“Gregorios was a slave. Kronos brought him to the camp years after I...came.”

Methos threw her a look, as she used ‘came’ instead of the ‘was captured’ he had expected and again it hit him full force. She had forgiven him.

“He... today I think he had a... thing for me. He looked after me, although I never asked him to. And when I finally became Vengeance he thought I would treat him better, or maybe help him escape.

I didn’t.”

Nobody asked her reasons, knowing they would not get an answer anyway. Sometimes the resemblance between Methos and Buffy was scary beyond measure.

“He hated me. Hated me as much as I hated everything mortal and so I watched him closely, afraid that he would pull something on me. I think decades of being watched might not have helped him keeping his marbles together. Or maybe he was always a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Anyway, he developed this obsession.

Always sure that I was watching him, he felt my eyes when I was miles away from him and he threatened to rip them out of my face at every chance he got.. That’s what tells me it’s him. He blinded them all.

Because he hates my eyes, like they are the epitome of all his misery.”

Ducna looked disgusted, Amanda looked...maybe shocked was the right word, as did Richie and Joe. But Buffy noticed nothing of it, she was staring straight ahead, not meeting anyone’s gaze.

“You never told me that he hated you so much.”

Laughing coldly she turned towards Methos, like he had just cracked the joke of the week.

“They all hated us. And they all wanted us dead. Gregorios was the only one who ever voiced it, but that really makes no difference now. He’s killing innocents when it’s me he’s after. I have to stop him.”

With that decision made Buffy seemed to grow more confident. The Slayer inside of her was taking control, pushing aside all emotions and when she finally turned to Joe her eyes were void of any emotion and dead like she should be.

“The last murders, where did they happen?”

Methos knew the look of utter determination on her face, just as he knew that he would go with her, for those killings were as much his fault as hers, but Joe did not know Naya like Methos did and so he tried to stop her.

“Do you think this is wise? He is obviously insane and determined, not a good combination. He could kill you.”

The Immortal did not even bother shaking her head, she just ignored him completely.

“Where?”

Joe sighed.

“The last three murders happened in Nevada and California. The last one in Los Angeles. Buffy, please think about this.”

At this Buffy started laughing, like a maniac, until she had to hold her sides. She laughed like there was no tomorrow but it didn’t take Methos to hear the bitterness and the slow creeping cold in her voice. Then, as suddenly as it had started her laughter subsided again.

“Looks like it’s not only one, but two pasts catching up with me. Aren’t I lucky?”

Methos sighed,” So, what are we gonna do?”

She stared at him for a long time, contemplating the meaning of ‘we’, but finally she nodded.

“We’re going to L.A.”

10, Coming Closer

Watch me I’m coming closer
I’m the mood you’re in tonight,
Pretty poser,
Perfect Armageddon bride.
I am a circle it feels right,
I am the one who swallows light,
Multiplying parasite,
Perfect features,
Perfect sight - K’s Choice, Hide

Methos was quietly humming the melody of ‘Going to California’ while he distractedly threw things he might need for the trip on a heap on his bed. He was late, he knew, because Buffy was already sitting in the living room, waiting for him, all packed and ready to roll, as she liked to say.

After a lot of talking they had all together decided that it would probably not be the best idea to just roll into town, five immortals and a watcher were bound to raise suspicion. And since they had nothing to work with, except the location of the last kill, none of them had any idea how long it might take to find Gregorios, much less rid the world of him.

Duncan had the Dojo to run and Joe his bar, while Richie had college and Amanda, well Amanda had informed them that she ‘also had business to take care of’. Methos smelled a severe case of match making there, but did not dare objecting. Seven months and he and Naya were still dancing around each other like school children.

It was disgusting.

Amanda seemed to think the same, because she had volunteered to play host for Buffy and Adam, while they scouted out L.A.. She had bought a house down there in the late eighties, in a nice quiet suburb, and now had it cleaned for her two friends.

Oh, yes, it definitely smelled like match making.

Their friends seemed to have forgotten that there was a psycho killer on the loose who would kill them both on sight if he got the chance, because they had once enslaved and maltreated him, for a couple of centuries. Not to mention Buffy Summer’s friends, who were probably waiting for their former friend to return as some kind of demon, trying to gut them all.

The sentence ‘we had worse’, did not apply at all, Methos thought as he zipped his bag shut and shouldered it, ready to play along and go to Los Angeles.

Also ready to spend at least a week with Naya alone in a big empty house.

Upon entering the living room he found Buffy and Amanda whispering and giggling, like the chicks they were sometimes. He sighed dramatically, feeling somewhat easier around Amanda than he did around the others. Maybe it was because she was well over a 1000 years or maybe because her morals were as skew as his and Naya’s.

“Ready?”

“Yep.”

“About time, too. If you ever again make fun of me because I need too much time to get ready I’ll hit you, understand that?”

Amanda looked slightly stunned. “You mean that argument is that old?”

Methos sighed again, grinning this time, “You have no idea. We were all packed and ready to go on a killing spree and then we would have to wait because she didn’t know what daggers would best fit her outfit. Horrible, I tell you.”

The two women looked either skeptic or angry for a moment before they burst into giggles. Suddenly Methos was glad that Amanda would not be coming with them. Shaking his head at the immature 1000 , he grabbed Buffy’s bags standing by the door and made his way out of the apartment.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Kate Lockley had stayed away from Angel for almost three years. Whenever there had been a case that smelled like the supernatural she had steered clear of it, earning herself the nick name Scully.

Lockley got over her Mulder phase, she’s all Scully now

Sometimes she thought that castration was probably the only way a pack of blue clad doughnut eating over weights could be controlled. Or at least taken down a couple of notches. Still, she had steered clear of anything that might be Angel related, until this day.

Sighing deeply she climbed out of her car, deciding that she would not let the vamp get to her again, and made her way up the stairs to the front entrance of the Hyperion Hotel. Stopping and taking a final deep breath she pushed open the door and strode into the cool dark interior of the building, like she owned it, because it was the only way she knew she could stand Angel long enough to do what she had come to do.

Upon entering the first thing she noticed was that the place looked nothing like it had the last time she had been here. It looked… alive.

The big red sofa had been replaced by several chairs and more comfortable beige sofas, one of which was littered with all kinds of books and scrolls. She could make out a stack of empty pizza boxes at the far end of the room and magazines and dishes littered every available horizontal surface. But what surprised her most were the people. It looked like a Girls-only- High-school had taken a trip to AI. At least a dozen teenage girls were idly chattering and laughing in the big hall. Somebody had thrown a couple of early twenties and an elderly looking Gentleman into the mix and rounded everything with loud pop music, blaring from a radio, which stood on top the counter.

The Detective stopped dead in her tracks, about to turn around and leave, since she was sure that Angel was not living here anymore, when a red head, sitting in the middle of the book covered sofa noticed her. She got up, careful not to step on any of the texts littering the floor in front of her.

“Can I help you?”

Kate felt her false confidence fading, “I was looking for Angel, but I guess.... He doesn’t live here anymore, does he?”

The girl shook her red head no.

“He doesn’t, but you’re lucky”, she turned to one of the teenagers, with long chest nut hair and lovely blue eyes, “Dawnie, could you get Angel down here?”

Dawn nodded and turned towards the stairs, bringing her hands up to cup her mouth and yelled loud enough to make Kate’s ears hurt, “Angel, get your dead ass down here!!!!”

The redhead looked crossly at the teenager,” If I had meant ‘scream down the house’, I would have said ‘scream down the house’, Dawnie.”

The teenager shrugged.

“Don’t blame me just because I’m more inventive than you.”

Angel chose that moment to appear on the stairs and Dawn grinned, “See, you would have had to run all the way up there, I didn’t even have to move.”

Shaking her head the redhead sighed, “You are spending way too much time with Spike.”

Whoever that may be, Kate thought, before turning to Angel.

“Hello Kate. It’s been a while.”

Don’t let him get under you skin don’t let him get under your skin

It became a mantra.

“I’m here for a reason, so let’s skip the small talk. Is there somewhere we can talk privately?”

He nodded and turned to look at Dawn. She shook her head.

“No way I’m slayer sitting Angel. I gotta catch my flight. And Andrew promised to drive me there, so he’s not available either. Find someone else.”

With that she pecked the redhead on the cheek and left the three of them standing where they were. Angel sighed and turned around telling the teenage girls to get out. They all trooped either upstairs or out of the hotel, without too much complaints, until there were only grown ups left.

They all gathered in the middle of the room, where Angel introduced the redhead as Willow, a one eyed guy as Xander, a blonde as Spike, and the elderly man as Giles. She already knew Wesley and Gunn, but who really caught her eye was a certain rogue slayer named Faith.

“You should be in jail.”

The brunette smirked,” Probably.”

It was Giles who broke up the fight before it could even begin, by asking why Kate had come. Wordlessly she pulled a photo out and handed it to Angel. It was black and white, taken from a security camera and showed someone who looked vaguely familiar, but the photo was too unfocused to make out any details.

“Three days ago someone broke into the police station and stole our files on a murder that we think might be connected to at least ten others all over the country. This is the only picture we’ve got since they used something that was officially identified as an electromagnetic impulse, to get rid of the security system. They knocked out three policemen and left without a scratch. This picture was taken from a camera in the chief’s office, that isn’t connected to the others.”

“Why do you think this concerns us?”

“Because they were two, one man, one woman, and that so called electromagnetic impulse came from the tips of the woman’s fingers, right before she took out three grown men single handedly. And then there’s this.”

She pulled out another photo, showing the same setting, a dark room in black and white, with a shadow in the back, that was probably the man Kate had been talking about and a woman, staring directly into the camera. Actually, it was the same photo as the first one, with one difference. This time the face was in focus.

Angel dropped the photo like hot coals and closed his eyes tightly. It was Faith who picked it up to get a closer look at what had disturbed Angel so.

It was the face of a woman, more a girl actually, with short hair that seemed completely white against the grays of the background. She wore no make up and looked like she had gained a few pounds since Faith had last seen her, but there was no doubt about who this person was.

Buffy.

Faith was glad that Dawn had just left town for two weeks. She wished she could be with her on the way to the airport right now, to escape that sickening feeling that was settling in her stomach.

The slayer had dreamed about that day, a hundred times and every time she had woken, drenched in sweat and dreading the day that monster wearing her sister’s face would come back to haunt them.

This day was today.

Buffy was back.

Faith closed her eyes and wondered quietly if maybe, this was the time to start praying.

“So I was right. I thought I recognized her from back when you were arrested. That’s why I came. She’s your friend, you should deal with this.”

By now the other’s had all seen Buffy’s picture and they seemed to feel almost as bad as Faith did. Willow was on the brink of tears, Xander, Giles and Wesley sat rigid in their chairs, like this would not be real until they moved. Gunn looked deeply worried and Spike and Angel both looked like they were just dying for the third time.

“She’s dead.”

Kate frowned in confusion.

“She died about ten months ago. Shot in the head. This is not Buffy.”

They had known that she would come back. They had been waiting for it, preparing. But now, that she was really there, in this very city, they were anything but prepared to face the dead shell of their hero, their shining savior.

It was Angel who shook himself out of his stupor first. He got up and motioned for Kate to follow him. At the door he closed his eyes briefly, a testament of the pain he felt, but when he opened them again all Kate could see was determination.

“Thank you for coming by. I know that you don’t like being around me and I appreciate that you came nevertheless. We will take care of her. It’s what she would have wanted. That we kill the thing that is using her body for its evil. But please stay away from her. She was a slayer, and we don’t know what powers she has now. She wouldn’t have wanted any innocents to get hurt.”

Nodding the Detective silently slipped out the door wondering if she could kill someone she loved as much as those people obviously had loved Buffy. She felt a whole new respect for Angel, all of a sudden.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Inside the Hotel silence reigned for a few more minutes after Kate had left them alone with her shattering news. It was Xander who finally spoke.

“We have to find her. We have to kill her.

It’s what she would have wanted.”

Faith wondered why he sounded so much like he was asking a question that he hoped would be answered with no.

11, Not Her

Now I speak to you,
Are you in there?
You have her face
And her eyes,
But you are not her -Tori Amos, Bells For Her

Buffy was in one hell of a mood after the last two days. First the drive down to L.A. had been horrible, than they had tried to get information out of several demons all night long and failed miserably. And to top it all off they had had to do a little break and entering, at the police station no less, in order to get any information at all, and of course, they had gotten caught. Well, not caught in the classic sense, but somewhere there were a lot of nice pictures of her now. Why the hell did the stupid chief have to have an extra camera in his office that was not connected to the rest of the goddamned security system, which she had conveniently killed off with a little magic? And why did she, stupid as she was, have to look right into the camera?

They had made it out of there, though, and the Immortals were not too concerned with the mess they had made. They could just die and get another identity, but right now, well, the timing just sucked and it was eating at Buffy. She was 5000something years old, she just did not make stupid mistakes.

Finally, five hours ago Methos had decided that he had had enough of her pacing the length of the living room and cursing herself. He had thrown down the files, the only positive thing they had gotten out of their little stunt, and thrown a pillow at her. She had turned around, looking ready to kill and snapped, “What?”

“You’re driving me up the wall.”

“Well, at least I’m doing something right then, aren’t I?”

He had suppressed the urge to roll his eyes and climbed to his feet.

“Not.”

He poked her in the chest with one finger.

“Your.”

Poke.

“Damn.”

Poke.

“Fault.”

Poke.

“So stop beating yourself up over it already.”

He had kissed her on the forehead and, with a sigh, realized that there was only one thing that would get her to calm down. Sometimes he was sure that somebody was punishing him for every little thing he had ever done wrong.

“So….You wanna go shopping?”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Methos heaved a dramatic sigh as the mountain of bags Buffy had placed in his arms threatened to come down on him. He heard Naya locking the car behind him and started making his way up the driveway. Thinking fast Buffy dashed past him and unlocked the door to make sure he did not damage any of her things by dropping them.

He moved into the living room, and, knowing full well that her concern was for her new clothes rather than him, he sent her an innocent little smile and dropped everything on the floor with a loud thump.

She glared.

He threw his arms in the air, “Damn you, Nay, I just spent a good 1000 dollars to get you to stop bitching, so play nice, ok?”

With a look at the pile of bags she gave a resigned sigh, too and dumped her purse on top of it all. Then she flashed him a grin, which faltered as soon as his words sunk in.

“I did not bitch. I was in a bad mood, but I did not bitch.”

Giving in to the urge that had been nagging on him for hours he rolled his eyes at her.

“I’ve seem the mayhem and bloodshed your bad mood causes. You were bitching.”

“Was not.”

“Was too.”

“Was not.”

“Was too.”

She gave him her best ‘I’m Vengeance and I’ll make you scream’ look. Methos returned it with a ‘I’m Death and you don’t scare me’ look. But Buffy would simply not give up. It was time for drastic measures.

Yes, even more drastic than shopping.

Using all of his speed and strength he jumped over the couch separating the two Immortals form each other and tackled her to the ground. Then he attacked.

Buffy squealed and tried to fight him off, but she felt her strength fading fast under his relentless assaults. And finally she just gave in and let the laughter bubbling inside of her out. Methos tickled her so hard she thought she might faint. She squirmed and tried to get away from him, but she was shaking so hard with laughter that she could barely see, through the tears in her eyes.

“Stop!!!”

“Say it.”

“No. Stop!!! Stop Methos!!!”

She giggled.

He tickled harder.

“Stop. Please, just stop!!!”

“Say it.”

She took full ten more seconds of his torture before she caved, “Ok, Ok, I was bitching, now STOP!!!!”

He stopped as abruptly as he had started, but did not get up. Instead he sat motionlessly on top of her. Buffy stopped moving, too, and slowly got her bearings, just to notice Methos, frozen, sitting on her legs.

Their eyes locked.

Suddenly Buffy found it hard to remember the distance that had separated them for the last months.

“Methos?”

“Mhm?”

“Thank you.”

She spoke in her native language, like she only did when she was completely content. She only used it when she was with him, not because he was the only one who remembered it, still, but because he was the only one who ever made her feel perfectly happy.

She remembered that now.

“For taking care of me when I was down. Not only today, but for the last year. You were always there.”

He smiled, it was a genuine smile, one of those he allowed himself once every century.

“I’ll always be there for you. It’s my job, you know?”

She smiled back while he slowly reached a hand down to cup her face, giving her plenty of time to get away from him. She didn’t.

And when he finally bent down and kissed her Buffy knew what it felt like to be whole once more.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Faith’s hands twitched in her lap. She was nervous and tired and, although she loathed to admit it, she was scared.

They had found her.

The info had come from one of Gunn’s old friends. The guys name was Gigo, and with his giant chocolate eyes and longish black hair he looked like something Faith wouldn’t have minded taking home. He was in a gang and fighting his own fight, but still Faith had not dared making a move on him when he had come to the hotel that morning. There was an air of innocence around him, bright and brilliant, that had stopped her. He had been acting all tough and smart, but the slayer had sensed something underneath, hidden incredibly deep inside, that made her feel dirty beside him.

Maybe she would find him when this was all over and ask him on a real date. She would like to try and draw that innocent boy out of the man.

But first they had to finish this.

Her, Spike and Angel were currently sitting in Angel’s car, just across the street of where she was supposed to live. Kendra Jenkins. She had apparently been looking for information on the streets before she had gone for the police files. That was where Gigo had met her. She had given him this address in case he found something out.

Stupid move.

Now they had her.

Or at least they were close to her. Neither Faith nor the vampires looked capable of facing the tiny blonde that had entered the house about and hour ago. Not while she seemed so normal, with a handsome guy, shopping bags and a black SUV. Nothing about this woman screamed evil.

Faith figured it was a lot like with vampires. Always easier to kill them when they were in their true face and not faking the human. As long as this woman acted like the average twenty-something girl with boyfriend none of them would be able to take her down.

Then, suddenly there was movement at the front door and the tiny blonde came out, barefoot with only the tight jeans and the shirt her boyfriend had been wearing earlier on. She had not bothered with the buttons, but simply knotted the ends of the garment together, above her navel. Neither the guys nor Faith needed to guess what had happened inside the house since the couple had first come back from their shopping trip.

‘Kendra’ opened the passenger door of the SUV, obviously looking for something inside the car. After a couple of seconds she seemed to have found it and slammed the door shut again, stretching like a cat.

Faith and Spike both stopped breathing.

Spike knows that he probably shouldn’t do what he is doing, but Buffy is fast asleep on his bed and her back pack is lying openly beside it. There are keys, a wallet, a cell phone, a stake and a pair of daggers, a nail file and a folded piece of paper. He inspects the daggers, but quickly puts them aside to unfold the paper.

It’s a drawing.

A simple black and white drawing of a pair of wings, with white feathers and claw like black tips.

Well, who knew that the slayer had some talent with a pencil? Suddenly he hears her stirring behind him.

“You know, it’s not polite to go through other people’s stuff while they’re sleeping.”

“You draw those?”

“Yeah.”

“They’re beautiful.”

She looks at him strangely, for a moment, before she shakes her head, as if to clear it of something that Spike will never see and then she gets up.

“I have to go.”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

“You sure you want to do this, B.?”

Buffy nods, “I’ve been wanting to get this done for years and years.”

Faith shrugs, never one to interfere with things that were not her business. Actually, she feels honored that the other slayer asked her to come with, instead of all those other people. The Scoobies, or even the new slayers, they all would have come willingly.

But Faith feels that she and Buffy are starting to become friends once more. She also senses that this is something personal for Buffy, something that her friends probably would not understand.

Faith is good at understanding what makes the older slayer tick, these days.

Buffy grabs her hand and pulls her into the tiny shop, folded piece of paper in hand.

There was a pair of angel’s wings, with white feathers that centered beneath her navel, somewhere inside her jeans, where exactly only Faith knew, and black claw like tips that were seated atop her hips bones.

Angel did not understand what was going on, since he never saw Buffy’s tattoo, the one she got only a month before she died, but Spike’s sad declaration told him what was going on.

“It’s her. Her tattoo. Her body. This is Buffy.”

Suddenly Faith could not take it anymore, all that watching and waiting and worrying and she tore open the door and jumped out of the too small space of the car, knowing that neither vamp was going to follow her, afraid to cause a scene in front of this...this thing.

She took a deep breath and walked up the sidewalk, fast, in order to catch...it, before it reached to house again.

“Excuse me?”

It stopped. It turned. It smiled at Faith like every stranger would smile at another, hesitant, polite, empty. Faith stuffed her hands into her pockets to keep from tearing into that thing wearing her sister’s face.

“Uh, I, I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else. My fault.”

The smile got more friendly and it made Faith want to turn around and puke out her guts. What she didn’t know was that Naya felt just the same. She wanted to run forward and hug the slayer close, wanted to tell her how sorry she was and that she loved her but she knew she could not. If she dropped the act now then she would never be free of Buffy Summers and her friends and. Most importantly, her duties. She was scared of what the New Council would do with an immortal slayer.

So she swallowed her feelings like she had so many times before and smiled at Faith like she had no idea who the woman standing only a few feet away from her was.

Maybe she should have just left her cell phone in the car then this would never have happened. But the rest of the gang were due any minute now and Methos wanted to pick them up from the airport.

“So”, Buffy asked,” Do you live around here?”

Faith simply nodded.

“Yeah, but, uhm, you’re new, right?”

It nodded.

No trace of recognition, no trace of guilt for lying. Nothing. Faith wanted to kill it.

Suddenly the sound of a car parking beside her tore Faith out of her bloody fantasies. She turned and watched three people, one woman and two men, climb out of a cab. The men went to retrieve their baggage from the boot while the woman ran towards it and hugged it close.

It blinked.

“Hey, Manda, let me breathe! I thought you would call us to pick you up?”

‘Manda’ shrugged. “We figured you two might need the alone-time. And Mac’s paying, so no damage done here.”

It started laughing as Faith watched. A happy carefree laugh that killed something inside the slayer. It had family. It had friends. It had a life.

The life Buffy had always wanted.

‘Manda’ turned to look at Faith, “You a friend of Ken?”

The brunette quickly shook her head, “No, I just mistook her for someone else. I should be on my way anyway.”

She forced a little goodbye smile onto her face and turned around.

“Hey! Maybe we’ll see each other around!”

Faith nodded mutely and slowly made her way back to the car where she broke down into Spike’s waiting arms and cried like a baby.

12, With The Storm

Are you ready,
To attack the storm?
Are you ready? - Guano Apes, Storm

Silence.

It seemed to weigh down each and every one of the occupants of the lobby of the Hyperion Hotel. It pounded against their ear drums and pushed on their shoulders. It pressed them towards the ground and bent their backs.

It was perfect.

There were no shocked gasps this time, no pain filled tears, no desperate pleas for denial.

There was nothing.

Nothing except that one statement that hung in the air like poisonous gas, like the fallout of an atomic bomb, like that goddamned famous sword of a dead Greek guy and it threatened to kill them all.

It was a death sentence.

“Whatever that thing is, it is far from the woman we knew. It’s a thing. A thing that needs killing.”

Faith’s words still hung there after more than five minutes and no matter how hard she tried she could not force them back into her mouth. It was done.

She was done.

Done with crying like a defenseless child, done with denying, done with looking for a way out, done with torturing herself with ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’.

She had talked to it and it had sounded like Buffy, she had watched it and it had looked like Buffy, but it was not.

The words that had come out of its mouth were not that of the fallen slayer and the way she moved was not Buffy’s either.

And now they needed a plan.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Buffy took a series of deep gulping breaths as soon as the door closed behind her.

So close.

Faith had been so close, and so had Angel and Spike.

Close enough to touch.

She felt strong arms wrap around her and felt herself being moved towards the living room.

“Breathe, baby, breathe.”

I am breathing. Watch me as I’m fucking breathing, she thought, but she did not make a sound.

She was paralyzed.

“Nay, you need to snap out of it. You’re not helping anyone here.”

Am I? I’m not, I guess, Faith was just here

“Look, the faster we get Gregorios, the faster we get out of here, the smaller the chance that you have to face any of them again. Ok?”

That did it.

She could run, could get away if she just kill Gregorios fast enough. She just would not give the trap enough time to snap shut.

She snapped out of it. She steeled her resolve, knowing that no matter what happened she would not cave. She could not afford to cave. No matter how close and of the Scoobies came, she would play the part they wanted her to play. She would give them what they wanted in order to finish this and get back to the life she had come to love.

A life with friends and a purpose and, most importantly, with Methos. She would not lose him now, that she had just found him again.

Nope, here goes nothing.

She nodded to herself and sent her friends a reassuring smile, telling them that she was ok.

“So, you called us. We came. Do we get to see some action now?”

Richie looked hopeful. There were few things he liked better than watching Buffy beat the crap out of someone. It was simply beautiful. But that was not the reason he was here. Not at all. He had not come to see her in leather pants. Nope. He was here because that had been the deal. Naya and Methos would try to do as much of the job alone and only call the rest of the gang in when they needed reinforcement.

Methos had figured that having Buffy’s picture in every cop car in the city called for reinforcement.

“So how are we gonna do this?”

Buffy turned to look at Duncan and he could almost see the shift in her. From insecure girl with a past to the seasoned warrior she was underneath the soft exterior.

“We checked out the police files and, honestly, we didn’t find much, but we found out where the last murder happened. If good ole Greg hasn’t changed his tactics much over the last couple of millennia, and I dare say his white hot hatred of me confirms that, then he’s also hiding somewhere in the area. And if he watched TV he knows that the files were stolen. If he’s not completely stupid he knows that we’re after him, he did after all know that I had come out of hiding.”

She looked thoughtful for a moment, then wrinkled her nose and looked at Methos,” I’d still like to know how he pulled that one.”

She shrugged it off,” So, basically what I’m asking you to do is help us scout out the area, and hopefully find something that leads us to him.”

“You need us for scouting. You could have done that on your own. Not that I won’t help you, it’s just...This seems pointless.”

“Not at all, Mac. Between Nay and me, we can scout the area, but there’s still too much space for the bastard to slip past us. But if we’re five instead of two we have a chance of weaving the net tight enough so he comes out to face us.”

Richie jumped up and down in his chair and lifted his hand, waving it in the air like he was in school. Buffy rolled her eyes at hi behavior. The red head was not the only eternal teenager in the room. She had gotten over it.

Why can’t he?

“Yes, Richie”, she finally asked, sweetly. Lowering his hand he smiled back at her and answered just as sweetly,” So if he comes out of hiding, and kills us all because he’s like.... a billion years old and super strong, what are we gonna do then?”

Amanda, sitting beside him on the couch, slapped him upside the head, but still looked at the pair across from her expectantly.

“You’re not gonna do anything, because like you said, you’re gonna be dead. Nah, seriously, he’s not going to challenge any of you. He wants me and he’s not going to take the risk of getting weakened fighting someone else. You don’t ruffle his feathers, you should be fine.”

“Isn’t that a little too optimistic, Naya?”

Buffy blinked. No one but Methos called her by that name, especially not Duncan. Unless he was deadly serious.

“He leaves a trail of dead could-be-me’s all through the states. He kills without sense or caution. His mind is a one way road leading towards Buffyville. He’s not going to stop for lunch on the way. Not now, that he knows I’m after him. Trust me on this one.“

Richie pointed a finger at her,” If I still die I’m gonna kick your ass.”


::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Faith checked her watch. It had belonged to Buffy once. Three hours until sundown.

Angel had called in every favor anyone had owned him to find out what had been in the files Evil!Buffy had stolen. Giles had suggested her ask Kate but the vampire had simply pointed out that if he asked the Detective she would want to be in on everything and as long as they did not know what inhabited Buffy’s body at the moment he was not willing to let any civilians get close to her. It. Not as long as he could help it.

They had found out that the murder had happened in a rundown part of the town, consisting mostly of abandoned warehouses and a few office complexes. Evil!Buffy was looking for something in that case, and so would the Scoobies.

The plan was to go to the crime scene as soon as the sun had set. From there Willow would do a locator spell, in the hope of finding Evil!Buffy. Giles had thought it might be saver to do the spell from the hotel. But Willow had argued that since Buffy was no longer Buffy and the items the witch was going to use did no longer belong to her, the spell would not reach as far as a normal locator spell would. They had to build on the suspicion that the new Buffy would be in the area when Willow performed the spell.

The next point of discussion had of course been who was going to come with. They had decided on Willow, for obvious reasons, Spike, Angel and Faith, for muscle and Xander and Giles. On top of that they would take a couple of the more experienced slayers that were currently residing in L.A..

They were confident that between Willow’s magic and that much supernatural strength, they had an advantage over Buffy and her four companions.

They had not made a single blip on Faith’s or the vampires radar earlier, so they were, in the best case, not involved at all, or in the worst case, human fighters. No threat, really.

Checking her watch and the pile of weapons in front of her for the last time Faith leant her head back and closed her eyes, trying to ignore the building headache.

Something had been eating at the edge of her consciousness ever since she had faced Buffy’s body, hours ago.

It felt as if there was something important, something that she was supposed to remember, but could not. Just a feeling, vague at best. But it was there, and it did not seem to plan on leaving any time soon.

Biting her lower lips in frustration at her whole situation, and that annoying feeling in particular, she simply pushed it to the back of her mind and hoped that it would not bother her during that fight that was sure to come.

It was going to be a long night.

A really, really long night.

13, A Cold Room

It doesn’t mean much,
It doesn’t mean anything at all.
The life I’ve left behind me,
Is a cold room.
I’ve crossed the last time
from where I can’t return,
Where every step I took in faith
Betrayed me
And led me from my home - Sarah McLachlan, Sweet Surrender

Buffy was sorely reminded of her days as the slayer, when she had patrolled every night to keep the world safe. The only difference was that she had barely ever patrolled the streets of L.A. alone. At first there had been Merrick and then, after Sunnydale had fallen there had been Faith, sometimes even Spike, after he had become corporal once more.

No such luck tonight, she thought.

She was walking aimlessly, relying on her senses and instincts to tell her when something came up. It was incredible how much better her senses worked again, now that she was back in the Game. She could feel Methos, so strong, she could almost see him in her mind as he patrolled almost a mile to her right. Amanda was there too, and so were Richie and Duncan, although they were mere blips on her radar. What surprised her, however, was that she could not make out a single vampire.

She wondered about it briefly, but was not too worried about it. At least not until she felt a wave of magic flood the area. It was over as fast as it had begun, but Buffy could still taste its remnants in the air. It tasted like strawberries and salt.

Cursing Buffy whipped out her cell and speed dialed Methos’ number. She only had to wait for a second or two, but when he answered she did not bother with a greeting.

“They are here, and they know that I’m here, too. Stay low and tell the others. I have to go.”

She did not even give him the chance to answer. She did not have to, she trusted him blindly to do the right thing. In this case the right thing was to warn the others and stay low. Methos would keep her friends from interfering, unless she asked for help.

He trusted her, too.

Turning around herself she tried to find a better stand for the fight that was about to occur. She was still cursing. This really was the last thing she needed, but she also knew that once Willow had her tracked down, nothing was going to keep the Scoobies away. They were nothing if not stubborn.

She spotted a three story building, with a flat roof and quickly decided that it would have to do. If she had to make a quick exit she could jump, most of the Scoobies however could not. Spike, Faith and Angel were the only ones she would have to worry about then. She doubted any of the slayers they were sure to bring were into their powers enough to dare jumping off a three story building yet.

Buffy quickly made her way inside and up. Upon stepping out onto the roof she nodded to herself. The place was good enough for her purposes. At least something was going right.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Willow sat cross-legged on the ground, chanting. Suddenly the people around her all felt a whoosh of power that made Faith’s neck tingle. She hated magic. It was uncontrollable and control was the only thing she had. If she lost control, she lost her fight.

Willow jumped to her feet and started running without waiting for the others. Faith turned to the new slayers. They had finally decided on five different girls to bring. Keelie and Kylie, an Australian pair of twins with long limbs, white blonde hair and a cancer-tan and Lucia, a sweet 16-year-old, who had been one of the few potentials who were lucky and had come out of the First-Evil business with a watcher. The other two, Jenn and Tegassa, were two girls much to Faith’s liking, they had both grown up on the streets like she had, and they had taken to their new powers like a duck to water. They were also joint at the hip and worked extremely well as a team.

Faith did not believe for a second that any of them stood a chance against the thing in Buffy’s body.

She told them to keep together and stay alert and then took off after the rest of the gang. The six girls caught up with Willow and the others as they were about to enter an empty warehouse. Grabbing her sword tighter Faith pointed upstairs.

She could feel that it was on the roof.

She wrote it down to her Spider sense and moved toward the stair case, with Spike and Angel right behind her, followed by the others. They made it up the three flights of stairs without problems, except for a tiny shriek from Lucia when she stepped on a dead rat. Giles, however, quickly shut her up by holding a hand over her mouth.

Looking at either of the vamps beside her Faith slowly counted down from three to zero with her fingers.

Then she kicked open the door that led onto the roof.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Eleven people burst onto the roof, ready for anything Evil!Buffy might throw at them. Well, anything but that.

The tiny blonde sat about thirty feet from the door, Indian-style and unmoving. She even smiled.

“Guys, so nice of you to come here!”

Faith watched wearily as the former slayer climbed to her feet and stretched like a cat. Everyone else was just as dumbstruck as the brunette. Suddenly Buffy cocked her head to the side and pointed at the mini slayers.

“Don’t you think that is overkill? I mean, please, the high and mighty Scoobies need not one, but six slayers to face little ole me? Not that I’m not feeling honored, but, that really wasn’t necessary.”

Suddenly Buffy’s smile froze on her face, “The six of you would have been more than enough cannon fodder.”

Just because Buffy did not want to be here, that did not mean that she was about to leave a trace of doubt it them. She would convince them once and for all that coming after her was a very very stupid idea. So she watched, unmoving, as Willow wove her magic into a ball of green light and aimed.

One of the slayers, a tiny girl with pitch black hair chose that moment to attack Buffy’s right side. She was swatted away like a fly, but Willow had what she needed. She threw her magic and when Buffy noticed the flying ball, it was too late to move out of the way.

What the Scoobies had not counted on was that she did not have to move. She simply lifted her right hand and waited for the green energy to hit it. As soon as it did it was caged by a net of blue, which allowed Buffy to control it easily.

She sent Willow a brilliant smile, “Shouldn’t you stop playing with magic Wills? It’s not healthy for you, you know?”, and threw it back at the witch. Willow slammed into Xander and both of them went to the ground. Faith used the second of confusion that resulted, to attack Buffy, Spike and Angel followed suit. They attacked from three sides at once, Faith and Angel each with a sword, Spike with a heavy battle ax.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::


Buffy saw Faith’s sword coming, aimed at her knees, and simply jumped over it, then she bent backwards like an acrobat to avoid getting sliced by Spike. She brought up both feet to kick the vampire away from her and then somersaulted backward, and quickly drew her own sword.

She parried a blow from Angel and smirked at him, “Remember what happened last time we did this, lover?”

Angel growled, ”Stop using Buffy’s memories. You killed her.”

Spinning away from Faith and kicking Angel in the face her smirk turned into a snort, “I didn’t kill her. We simply made a little deal....”

Faith came at her again, but this time Buffy was not content to simply throw her of. Instead of her sword, she used her free left hand and sent the slayer backwards in a storm of lightening, then she kicked Angel’s feet out from under him, so fast he never saw it coming and straddled him, her sword at his throat.

That served to stop everyone around them dead in their tracks. Buffy spoke loud enough for everyone to hear her.

“See, she was just a little bit tired of all this shit. And when that kid raised his gun to shoot her, who was she to stop him?”

Again the vampire beneath her growled, ”She had no chance!”

“No chance my ass. A speeding bullet was no match for her and you know it. She wanted out, I wanted in. She got to die, I got to live, simple really. I didn’t kill her. I just took over what she didn’t want anymore.”

This time it was Giles who protested and took a step forward. Buffy pressed her blade against Angel’s throat, drawing blood, and shot the watcher a warning glance. He stopped, but she could still see Ripper underneath.

“Buffy would never have kill herself. She was happy.”

The blonde was at his throat in a second, her sword once more poised to kill, she hissed,” How would you know, you were all too fucking busy with your own lives to even ask her if she was ok. Sunnydale fell and you forgot that you threw her out only three days before and you forgot that she never learned anything, except how to kill. You forgot that the man she loved was dead and that her only purpose, the only thing she knew, had been taken from her. No. You couldn’t understand what it was like for her if you tried.”

Silence fell on top of the roof as Buffy finished her little speech. Willow was crying, and so was Xander, while Giles and Angel stared at her with hate filled eyes. Spike, too had tears in his eyes, but not because of what she had gone through, but because of that one sentence.

The man she loved

He did not want to believe that this was his Buffy, but there was no point in denying that she had Buffy’s memories, and that she was telling the truth. She had no reason to lie, the truth was painful enough. Buffy had loved him. And that was all the closure he needed.

Faith had not moved since she had hit the ground, about ten feet away from Buffy, but she had watched and she had listened.

That nagging feeling was back, and it was eating her even more than before. It was the same feeling that had told her where to find her sister slayer only minutes earlier. Hold on, this was not Buffy, this was not her sister slayer.

But the way she held her sword, the way she talked, Faith could hear the feelings underneath her words, she could feel the betrayal Buffy must have felt, those last days in Sunnydale. She knew that every single word the blonde said was the truth.

Buffy could have taken the kid out, Buffy could have lived, but she had been tired. The accuracy of the words was frightening.

So was the fact that, although she had had enough chances, Evil!Buffy had not hurt a single one of the gang seriously. She could have killed Angel and the others a dozen times over, but she had not even tried. It was almost as if she did not want to hurt them.

Faith’s eyes widened as realization hit her, but then everything happened at once.

Buffy’s senses went off the charts, as she suddenly felt a new presence on her radar. One that was filled with pure hatred and rage, and she knew that it could feel her, too.

The twin slayers exchanged a single look. The adults might have frozen in place at the tiny blonde’s words, but to the Australian girl’s they meant nothing. They were the story of a dead girl they had never met, tragic, but meaningless. They gave each other a tiny nod and charged, just as Buffy got distracted by her senses.

Angel, too, noticed Evil!Buffy’s lapse in concentration and jumped to his feet in one fluid motion, just as one of the twins, he had no idea which one, was about to throw a stake at the blonde who still had Giles.

Faith saw what the two slayers were trying to do and jumped to her feet, with every ounce of speed she could muster she threw herself in the path of one of the girls, just as the other one let loose her stake. She watched helplessly as the stake raced toward the blonde.

Kylie connected with Angel a split second before her stake went flying and they both tumbled to the ground. Kylie cursed, Angel cursed, everybody else just watched in shock as the two clumsy warriors hit the ground.

Buffy reacted, but it was already too late, she did not even have the time to turn around before the stake hit her. Instead she did the only thing she knew.

Keelie knew her sister had aimed for the woman’s heart, but her run in with Angel had thrown the stake off course. It hit her in the head instead, with the dull end first.

Buffy looked dazed for less than a second, but it was enough for Faith to sprint past the mini slayers and bring the hilt of her sword down on Buffy’s head, hard.

She slumped to the ground unconscious.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Faith turned to see the evil looks she got from Keelie for blocking her and pretty much everyone else for not killing Buffy when she’d had the chance.

She shrugged.

She had been acting on instinct, listening to the feeling at the back of her mind, the one she could not get rid off.

Not that she wanted to be right, for once she would appreciate being proved wrong, but for now Buffy was unconscious. Faith figured she had about ten minutes to silence her doubts, before the other woman woke up again.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Only about a mile away form the warehouse someone moved in the shadows, fast and soundless. Suddenly he cocked his head to the side, as if he heard something in the silence of the night. Then he moved faster.

Straight toward the warehouse.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

A lot closer to the warehouse Methos suddenly stiffened as he heard a voice in his head.

Honey, I think I fucked up. Could you rescue me? I’m...

“Aw, crap.”

14,Tried Too Hard

Trying to be misunderstood,
Just a product of my childhood,
And still I find myself outside
You can’t say I haven’t tried.
Perhaps I tried too hard. -Robbie Williams, Misunderstood

”B.?”

“Yeah?”

“Why didn’t you kill me, that night when I came back to SunnyD.. You know, in the cemetery, when I tried to off Spike.”

“Don’t know, honestly. I think I just felt that it was right. That you were right again. You felt like Faith again, not that evil version.”

She smiles tiredly and Faith knows that she will not get other slayer to say a word more than she already has. Buffy rarely talks these days, even with Faith. So she just points at the door of the training room.

“So, big sis, you up for me wiping the floor with your ass?”

Buffy’s smile turns teasing as she raises and eyebrow, “In your dreams, lil sis, in your dreams.”

Faith checked the cable holding Buffy in place for the 20 time in the last five minutes. She dimly wondered when she had started thinking of Buffy as Buffy again when she had made such an effort to think of her as a thing over the last year.

She could hear the mini slayers talking, wondering what Faith was up to and congratulating themselves, in the other room. Faith wondered how many of them would still be alive if Buffy had not gotten distracted by something none of them had noticed.

The Scoobies were gathered at the far end of the building, trying to figure out what they were supposed to do now. Somehow they all began to doubt that that thing inside of Buffy was completely evil. They had questioned the slayers on it, and had been surprised to find out that Faith was the only one who could feel anything supernatural from the blonde at all. The vampires could sense power, and Willow sensed magic.

No evil.

It did not help making the job easier.

They were all discussing loudly what they should do with their prisoner now, well, all except Spike who seemed to be somewhat distant since Buffy had held her little speech. Faith understood him all too well. He had finally gotten what he had believed he would never hear, after Buffy’s death. The confirmation that she had forgiven him, that he had been loved and that they had been ok.

Faith knew, in theory that Buffy had to have forgiven her, because of how she had acted during that last year. It had been obvious that even when Xander or Willow were around Buffy had preferred the brunette slayer’s company. They had done almost everything together, but Buffy had never said it out loud.

She had never said the words Faith craved so much, ever since she had realized what exactly she had done to her sister slayer.

Spike had been the same, and now he had gotten them. He was happy, and Faith could not fault him for it.

Suddenly Faith felt movement at her feet and looked down. She was met with a pair of brilliant green eyes, staring back at her.

“You didn’t kill me.”

Faith thought Buffy actually sounded surprised. Throwing a quick glance at the Scoobies, who were still deep in conversation she knelt down in front of the prisoner.

“Yeah, don’t know what got into me. Nothing that can’t be helped though.”

If her last sentence was a threat to Buffy or herself, Faith could not say. A slow smile stole across Buffy’s face.

“You felt it.”

The brunette swallowed. Ok, she had wanted some answers, but this was a little too fast for her taste.

“No idea what you’re talking about.”

“The slayer bond. The one you had with Buffy. It’s still inside of you, somewhere. Telling you I’m her.”

“Are you?”

The blonde shook her head, “Buffy’s dead. You know that. You know that she wanted it. And so did I.”

“You knew it, or you wanted Buffy dead.”

“You could simply unchain me now and I would walk out of your lives and never come back.”

“You are still evil.”

“Yep, and Kermit’s blue. Get over it Faith. Even if I was evil you couldn’t kill me. Could you?”

Well, that’s the big question here, isn’t it?

Faith shook her head to clear it. The thing in front of her had just told her what she had needed to know. What she felt was not Buffy. It was just the last remains of Buffy’s slayer-ness. The reason none of the other girls had felt it was that they were not Chosen Ones. They were simple slayers. Muscle, but without the mystical make up. No warriors of light or some such shit. They were just girls with supernatural powers.

And they were not even as strong as the Chosen Two had been at the beginning of their duty. Those girls were barely stronger than the average vamp, with no preternatural moral codex to match their strength. Faith thought that quite a few of them were bound to follow in her foot steps as rogue slayers. And she seriously doubted that there were enough Angels and Buffys out there to get them all back on the right path.

Quite frankly said, Faith was fed up. She was fed up with all those girls thinking they were heroes and able to take on the whole world on their own. She was tired of the Scoobies still looking down on her after she had proved that she was trustworthy over and over for the last two years.

Even Angel showed only polite reserve toward her. Technically the brunette knew that it was not her fault, that it was Angel’s guilt for not being there to save Buffy that made him treat the other slayer coolly. But Buffy was not Faith and Buffy had not wanted to be saved in the first place.

Faith sighed, somehow it all came back to the tiny blonde in front of her, it always had, but somehow Faith had thought it would end, now that Buffy played for the other team.

And she does play for the other team now, right?

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Buffy watched Faith carefully, and her heart went out to the other slayer. She could see her confusion and her longing.

Guilt slammed into her like a fright train, making it impossible to breathe for a second. She had chosen the easy way out, almost a year ago, convinced that she was not needed anymore, that no one cared about what happened to her anyway. Sure, she had known that they would cry for her, but her death would not numb them all like it had the last time. She had been so sure that they would all get over it and move on, just like she had.

And they had, they had moved on, all of them, all except Faith.

She was shaken out of her thoughts when the remainder of the Scoobies noticed that she had woken and came over to give her the interrogation of her life. Buffy took another deep breath, steeling herself.

Here goes nothing. I survived the Inquisition, so this should be a fun ride.

“So you’re awake, huh?”

Willow had always been sweet when she was unsure of herself. Sweet and easy.

“No. I’m fast asleep.”

That got a grin out of Faith and Spike and a scowl out of everybody else.

“Cut the crap. What are you”, Angel was staring to get pissed. Buffy almost giggled at the prospect. Angel had never been mad at her.

“Your captive, if the bondage fun is any indication.”

“He meant what kind of demon are you?”

“So you can go and shove your nose into a book to find out how to kill me? I remember that that’s what your good at, Giles. Reading. Reading and reading and then you always told Buffy smart things about the real world. You faced your books and she faced the monsters. That’s what I call team work. And, by the way, I’m not a demon.”

Angel growled, Buffy just gave in this time and let out a snicker, “You know, I always knew that you were a control freak, but this is actually worse. Not knowing how to deal with me is just blowing your fuses, is it?”

“If you weren’t a demon you couldn’t have taken over Buffy’s body.” Sweet gentle Willow, always trying to make sense out of everything. Buffy rolled her eyes.

“This got old about as soon as in started. Either you kill me now, or you let me go.”

Her announcement was followed by a lot of foot shuffling and exchanged looks. Faith did not take part in the action, instead she watched Buffy. She knew now why the blonde had caused her radar to blip, but there was still something off. The slayer could feel it. There was more to this. Suddenly Buffy stiffened, her eyes darting to the two only exits, on opposite ends of the building.

One of them, burst open and the Scoobies shot around to watch Buffy’s friends pile in, all with drawn swords. Giles was about to say something when the opposite door slammed against the wall.

Behind Faith Buffy groaned.

In the door stood a solitary figure, backlit by the dim light from outside, drawn sword clearly visible in his hand.

Only I will get bitten in the ass by two pasts at once. Only me. Why can’t crap ever happen to other people?

Gregorios stepped into the building, his eyes scanning his surroundings quickly, before landing on her, unwavering and full of hate.

Right, they aren’t me.

15,Center Of Your Hate

Take a step,
Don’t look back,
She could have made you great,
But she’s the center of your hate,
Your mirror image
Don’t look back.
She took her chance,
You’re standing still,
You’re standing still
You’re standing still

There were too many things happening at once for Giles to follow. Two sets of new people entered the game only seconds from each other and the Watcher had no doubt who they had come for.

He turned to look at the thing that had taken over his daughter’s body to find her looking decidedly annoyed at the dark haired man, that fit the description of Evil!Buffy’s husband, Angel had given him.

“You know a cry for help usually means that something is urgent, where the hell have you been?”

The man grinned at her, saucily, “Must be my old age getting to me.”

He got a scowl in response and a poked out tongue. She looked so much like Buffy - his Buffy - in that moment that Giles almost cried out loud. She turned to him and her smile faded.

“Untie me.”

“No.”

“Untie her.”

The latest newcomer spoke up and everyone turned to him, acidly he cried, “Now! So I can kill her like she deserves!!”

The Scoobies and the slayers were smart enough to retreat, leaving Buffy tied to a post in the middle of the warehouse, the other Immortals scattered on both sides of her. They did, however, not go very far, curiosity forcing them to stay at the sidelines of what ever it was that was about to happen. Gregorios advanced slowly, the hate in his eyes burning brighter that fire. To her credit, Buffy did not flinch, she simply looked him in the eye.

Methos tried to get closer, so he could at least untie her, but she stopped him with a simple shake of his head, her eyes never leaving Gregorios’. “Stay out of this.”

Cocking her head to the side she studied her opponent for another couple of seconds before speaking, “Ok, I deserve to die, for what I did, but what about those women? What have they done to you? Other than looking like me? Other than having my eyes?”

Faith almost groaned as realization hit. This was the murderer. The one who Buffy had stolen the files about. He had been after her the whole time.

“Your eyes? None of them had your eyes. Nothing like your eyes. Do you know what you did to me? Do you?!”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

From where he was standing Giles had a clear few of Buffy’s hands starting to move against the cables she was tied up with. She simply ripped them apart like they were made of paper and got to her feet. The Watcher suddenly wondered what had made them think they could contain such a powerful creature against her will.

She got to her feet in one graceful movement, catching the sword Methos threw her, effortlessly. It was hers, he had found it lying discarded by the door. Afterward he waved his friends over to where the Scooby gang stood, seeing in their faces that they would not leave, but intending to keep them out of this fight at all costs.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

He had known that it was going to come down to this, Buffy against Gregorios, but that did not mean that he liked it. He loved her and no 5000-year-old Immortal was something to take easily. But he also knew that Naya was too proud to let anyone fight her fights for her. Methos had found something akin to redemption when he had killed Cronos and he knew that she would never completely move on as long as she had not done this. It was not fair, killing someone who wanted the revenge he deserved, but Methos knew that in his wife’s eyes Gregorios had used that Get out of jail card when he had killed innocents in her stead.

So now she just stood there, waiting for him to attack and judging by the hate in his eyes it would not be long.

Gregorios charged about three seconds later.

He lifted his sword, using it like an ax to hack at Buffy’s left shoulder. It was not there when the weapon came down. Faith had seen nothing but a blur as the blonde had moved out of harm’s way and it made her gasp. Somehow she felt like it was something special to watch this fight.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Xander seemed to think differently, “Hope he kills her. What is this shit about anyway? I mean, what did they do, watch too much Star Wars? I mean, sword fights, hello???”

One of Buffy’s friends, standing next to the cantankerous young man used the hilt of her own sword to hit him in the back of the head. Xander glared at her. “Shut up boy, before I knock you out.”

Suddenly Buffy was on the move again. She danced out of the way of another sword stroke, spinning around, and used her own weapon to hit her opponent in the back with the dull end. He stumbled momentarily, before regaining his balance and whipping around to face her again.

“That all you got Greg?”

She got a growl in response and they started trading blows in earnest, neither leaving the other much space or time to gain the upper hand.

“Why them? What did they do to you?”

Faith wondered why an evil creature seemed to be so offended by the killing of innocents. Somehow none of this fit together. She was missing a piece, a big piece, to make sense out of all of this.

“Because they deserve to die!! They all do!!! They look at you and they promise you the world but they stab you in the back! It’s their eyes! Always their eyes! Just like you! Want to kill me, just like you, whore!”

Ok, I guess this isn’t just about me and my eyes anymore then

This fight, this conversation, it was making her sick. She had not wanted to kill Gregorios, at first, but now, that he stood before her after god knew how long, she realized that she had no choice. He may have been her creation, at least partially, but he was dangerous. He was deadly.

She moved faster.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Duncan watched Buffy speed up her movements, doing things that should have been impossible for the human body. She twisted and danced, using all of her 5000 years to outsmart and outmatch he opponent. Beside him Methos watched, with pride shining from his eyes. After Buffy’s revelation about her true identity Duncan had been somewhat unwilling to allow her back into his life, but seeing her now, her strength and her power, he knew that she was more that he had ever anticipated. She had all this power at the tips of her fingers yet she was not using them, unless necessary. She lived her life like a normal human, when she could have reined them in terror.

She dropped to her knees to avoid a blow to the head and stabbed backward, under her arm. She caught Gregorios in the side, causing blood to soak his shirt. Still he hacked at her like a mad man, convinced that he would defeat her. He never stood a chance, not once Buffy decided to end the fight.

She jumped back to her feet and kicked him hard enough to send him flying. Allowing him to recover his footing, she kicked him again, this time sending his weapon spinning. He cradled his broken wrist to his chest, wincing in pain, but still he would not stop. Neither would Buffy. She waited for him to attack again and he did not disappoint.

Using only the tip of her sword she slashed, causing laceration after laceration to slow him down. Finally she punched him in the face and brought her weapon down to stab him in the stomach.

He fell to his knees, staring up at her, the fire of fight still in his eyes, even when his body was denying the movements he requested to kill her.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Buffy just stared him in the eyes for a couple of seconds before she broke the silence that had fallen over the warehouse.

“I wanted to say sorry, for what I did, for the pain I caused you. I know it wouldn’t have meant much, but I would have apologized. I was like you once, you know? I got over it, and I thought maybe so had you. You haven’t. It’s been thousands of years and still you’re stuck in your hate.

You’re just like me.

All that hate and anger, the thirst for vengeance. You’re not better than I am.

Not anymore.”

She sounded sad, incredibly sad, but still she brought down the sword with practiced accuracy, beheading one of her greatest sins with one stroke.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Willow cried out, Xander’s jaw was working furiously, Giles looked pained and the rest of the Scoobies was just trying to work through what they had just witnessed.

All but Faith.

That look in Buffy’s eyes. That look of utter sadness, that showed so very clearly how much she hated her own actions, how much it pained her to kill, to hurt another, whose crimes had been, in part her own fault, Faith had seen it before.

That night when Buffy had stabbed her in the gut, she had seen it directed at her. That’s when the final piece fell into place. She could still feel the connection, although Buffy was supposed to be dead. She had never felt it when Buffy had jumped off of Glory’s tower. That shining thread of silver inside of her had snapped then, but it had not snapped a year ago.

The woman in front of her was Buffy, no matter how impossible that was or how it sounded.

It was Buffy.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Buffy felt like sick as she watched Gregorios’ body crumble to the ground. Quickly turning away she sent Methos a tired smile to let him know that she would be alright. Then she let her gaze sweep over the others, locking with Faith’s eyes.

The two slayers stared at each other for a second and Buffy knew.

She knew that Faith knew. Somehow she had figured it out. She did not know if she should be happy or angry about it. She decided to go with happy, because she knew that Faith would not tell the others.

She smiled and Faith opened her mouth to say something, but, just then, the Quickening struck.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

The Immortals watched the horrified faces of the humans and the two vampires as the Quickening zeroed in on Buffy, slamming into her with the force of a fright train.

Duncan watched with a worried look on his face, the bolt of Quickening surrounding his friend looked suspiciously dark. But there was nothing he could do now.

The blonde screamed and fell to her knees, looking for all the world like she was dying and the light show went on and on and on and on.

And then it stopped.

She did not move.

She did not breathe.

She just knelt there, on all fours, her cropped off hair hanging into her face.

And then she began to chuckle.

Duncan turned to Methos, “Do you think it was a Dark Quickening?”

Methos shook his head, a sly grin plastered on his face, as Buffy slowly lifted her head, looking directly at him.

“Wow, I forgot how good it feels. All that power. Like flying... Can I get laid now?”

Amanda laughed out loud at her friend’s question. Methos just raised an eyebrow at her, listening to her whispering all the things she wanted to do in his head. Just this, just those post battle moments, they had been worth every second of pain and bloodshed they had caused together for millennia and all the guilt that followed them eventually. She was glorious, bloody and with messed up hair and that maniac grin on her face.

Beautiful.

She climbed to her feet, facing her former friends with a cocky smile.

“You’ve seen what I can do, right?”

She moved toward Spike, trailing a finger down his jaw line, “You leave me and mine alone...”

Moving on to Angel and Xander she circled them like prey, “Or I will do the same to you...”

Finally she stopped beside Faith, leaning up to whisper in the slayer’s ear, loud enough for all to hear, “Every. Last. One. Of. You.”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Buffy stopped her seductive little dance as soon as she finished her sentence, happily jumping into her husband’s arms and together the five of them left as suddenly as they had appeared in Faith’s life.

The slayer just stood there, for a moment, letting everything sink in.

This was Buffy, Buffy who they had knocked out, threatened and tied up, Buffy who had just killed a human (?) being in front of them and then pulled the biggest light show Faith had ever witnessed, Buffy who had threatened them all like they were nothing and left them behind, like they did not matter.

“Well”, Angel finally said, “I better call the office, they can clean up this...mess.”

Giles shot the vampire a grateful look, before Willow spoke up.

“What are we going to do with her?”

It was Faith who answered. She knew that Buffy had betrayed them all, and to a certain degree she was angry at her sister slayer, but she had also witnessed the blonde’s downfall after Sunnydale had turned to dust. She had watched Buffy fade away and it had hurt, but this Buffy, this new version, with the blue special effects, she seemed happy. Faith could not fault anyone for being happy, not anymore.

“We let her be.”

At the strange looks she got she shrugged, “What? You want to go and face that again. Come on, you all know as well as I do that she’s going to take us apart. Just let her do her thing. She’s not gonna come back.”

With that the brunette slayer simply walked out of the building. She needed to be alone now.

Slowly she started walking, taking deep breaths to clear her head. She was almost down the block when she felt something tickle her left thigh.

Looking down Faith saw tiny blue sparkles shooting out of the front pocket of her pants. Carefully she felt around in it, once the sparkling had stopped and came up with a piece of paper.

Immediately recognizing the elegant, if hasty writing, she read her name on it.

The note contained nothing but an address.

Faith smiled.

16, Epilogue

Do I dare, disturb the universe?
-T.S. Eliot

One Year Later

Buffy sat outside on the steps leading up to the front porch of her house, watching as snowflakes danced from the sky, twirling and swaying, fighting to reach the ground before the wind blew them away.

Inside she could feel the presence of all her friends, Duncan and Amanda were sitting in the living room while Faith was chasing Richie through the house, yelling loudly at him for eating the last of her birthday cake without asking first.

Quietly she wondered when the two of them would finally stop chasing each other and admit that they protested far too much when it came to the other.

But Buffy did not mind the yelling and the loud laughter ringing through her brand new house.

Why would she?

She was officially Nina Elisabeth Pierson now, married to one Adam Pierson. They had renewed the promise they had made millennia ago, almost as soon as they had returned from Los Angeles. Faith had stood in front of their door three days later. She had told the Scoobies something about needing to come clean with herself, after everything, and packed her bag.

She had been living with the Piersons ever since, allowing both Immortals to mother her and love her, like no one had ever before. The Scoobies had never bothered any of them again.

Nina heard the door close softly behind her and moved forward on her step, to make room for Methos, who slipped in behind her, pulling her back against him. She leaned her head on his shoulder and for a long time they just watched the snowflakes’ mad dance.

The last year had been good for them. They had made a decent life for themselves, surrounded by people they loved and cared about. They had finally left most of their past behind and, most of all, they were happy.

Naya could not remember ever having laughed so much as she had in the last twelve months.

Finally Methos spoke, “Do you miss it sometimes?”

“Miss what?”

“You know what I mean.”

“The fighting, the blood, the rage, the rush, the glory, the sun so bright it killed, nothing that could stop us and no conscience to weigh us down.... Yeah, I know what you mean.”

“Do you miss it?”

“It was freedom, wasn’t it?”

“Absolute Freedom.”

“I do. Sometimes. It was perfect, after all.”

“That it was. That it was.”

Again there was silence. Inside Richie squealed as Faith finally caught up with him and started tickling him mercilessly.

Suddenly a small smile crept onto Nina’s face.

“You know what?”

Methos murmured a muffled “mhhm?”, against where his face was buried in her hair on the top of her head.

“I think this may be even better.“

Back

Absolute Freedom
Absolute Freedom

Author: FaithUnbreakable
Disclaimer: OK, I almost forgot this: Nothing mine, Buffy and the Highlander characters belong to whoever made them up, not me. Plot's the only thing that's mine.
AN: The rating is 15 for language and a little violence, and, just as a warning, I hate most of the Scoobies, so they won't get away very well. Faith will play a major part though, later, since I adore her.

0, At Least Look At Me…

Look at me, look at me
At least look at me
When you shoot a bullet through my head,
...Why do we live life, with all this hate inside
I’ll give it away cause I don’t want it no more
Please help me find a place, somewhere far away
I’ll go and you’ll never see me again,
At least look at me - Creed, Bullets

Buffy blinked.

It was dark all around her and she could smell the damp newspaper rotting only a couple of feet to her left. Somewhere in the distance a dog was barking. A strange thought crossed her mind.

How irresponsible is it to have a dog in the middle of L.A.?

She blinked again.

Something wasn’t right.

Oh, yeah, there was this guy, standing at the mouth of the alley, demanding her purse, a scared look on his face, sweat on his forehead and a loaded gun in his shaking hand. He was a kid, but she could see in his eyes that he’d never had the chance to act on it. He was trapped. Holding the gun aimed at her head, but it was him who was trapped.

It had nothing to do with poetic justice, she had long since learned that justice didn’t exist. No, she was who she was and he was who he was. And here they were, two destinies clashing and he couldn’t win. Nobody ever won when facing her.

Even if she wanted them to, she was the one who came out on top.

She didn’t have any money. She’d been out slaying and spent the five dollar she’d had with her on a little midnight snack. She couldn’t give him what he wanted, but she had a choice, right?

This time she had a choice.

She could probably get out of this, run, jump, break his wrist, or possibly twist his neck, and the run some more to get away before someone found the poor guy. She wondered if anybody would miss him. His parents, maybe.

Why was she feeling bad for the kid holding a gun to her head?

Or she could just stay where she was and wait, just to see what he was going to do. To see if he would do it. His hand was shaking badly, really. Cocking her head to one side she watched it, fascinated by the smallest thing, suddenly, as life began ticking out and her focus shifted.

The small things. It’s always the small things you notice last.

It was too warm, too damp, the smog weighed too heavy on her lungs and her leather pants were uncomfortable, too tight, too sticky. She could see his finger twitch. She could see a drop of sweat dripping into his left eye. He blinked, and his free hand twitched, as if to wipe away the sweat on his forehead, but he didn’t dare moving.

This fish was too big for him, no matter how small she was.

The dog barked again.

Cars zoomed by, the sounds of their engines breaking against the walls enclosing Buffy and her would be murderer.

Run or stay?

Life or death?

Be the oldest living slayer and train a hundred mini-shes every single day, just to walk the streets alone afterward. Face Angel everyday, and the question in his eyes, asking if she was baked yet, and watching Dawn grow up and don’t need her anymore. Watching her friends live the lives they always wanted and move something. They had a purpose, but to give them theirs hers had been taken away from her.

Breathing felt hard suddenly, and there was never enough air around.

Or take a bullet to the head and die. She hated that part, but maybe it was time. Maybe Buffy Summers was getting too old and too used to herself. Maybe she would die before she ever finished her thinking here.

At least that would make her choice a lot easier.

Was it even a choice?

The kid called something.

He was angry. Angry at her, for not handing over her money and making him go through with his threat.

He hated her because she was making him a murderer. Once more she felt something akin to pity for him.

Your life against mine.

If he shot her he set her free, just to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

If he ran nothing would happen. She would stay like she was and slowly drown in her self applied make up of the dumb blonde Californian girl.

She would stay Buffy Summers.

He shook even harder now.

He would shoot.

She realized it the second his finger twitched too hard.

The shot echoed in the alley, a little loud for her ears and the dog stopped barking. The kid looked like he was dying himself.

She didn’t look at him though.

Her eyes were on the bullet speeding towards her head.

This is going to be ugly.

Jump out of the way or stay?

She stayed.

The pain lasted only a second before black took over and everything was gone.

Buffy broke down, dead before she hit the ground.

She’d chosen life.

1, Watching You Fall...

I think I’m turned around
I’m looking up, not looking down,
And when I’m standing still
Watching you run
Watching you fall
Fall into me
And I’m making something worthwhile
Out of this chase -Azure Ray, Displaced

A clock ticking.

It was the first thing she heard, mingling with screams that sounded very much like her own and the pain of a whip on sunburned skin, blood running down her back and legs until it dyed the sand beneath her feet dark brown.

She took a deep breath, filling her lungs with oxygen and life and reality.

Opening her eyes Buffy lifted one hand to her head, to feel for the hole that had undoubtedly marred her forehead until only a few minutes ago.

She sighed.

No matter how many times it happened the first memory assaulting her still blank mind was always the one of her first death.

The only real death she had ever died, and the pain was still so fresh in her memory like it had been the day she’d first woken up.

The clock kept on ticking while her other senses slowly got back to work.

The cold against the naked skin of her back for one. She was in the morgue then, something she’d really hoped would not happen.

Giving her eyes a couple more seconds to get used to the darkness around her she sat up and wiped a strand of blonde hair out of her face. No hole in the head anymore.

Her feet hitting the cold tiles caused a sound similar to dead fish slapping against each other and it made her feel sick and her stomach turn around.

She must have been out a lot longer than she’d thought at first. Holding onto the metal table she had been lying on for support she looked around. It was dark, and the clock that had first pulled her back into reality told her that it was quarter to three a.m..

If the date hadn’t changed it had been about five hours.

Usually it never took her this long, maybe, she thought with a frown, it was because she hadn’t died for almost eight years. Not counting her dive off Glory’s tower, which had been a little different.

Deciding that pneumonia wasn’t how she planned dying the next time she started searching for her things, every step she took making a tiny wet sound in the dark.

She found her stuff three tables down the row, in a plastic bag. Pulling them out she pulled her leather pants back on, brushing some of the dirt from the alley off in the process. Damn forensics, those people had to love dirt. Next she pulled out her shirt. It was ruined, there was blood all over it, from the left shoulder to the bottom, same with the bra. Pulling on her boots she shoved the damaged clothing back into the bag and started looking for replacement.

The only thing she could come up with was a white coat hanging next to the door. She frowned. Maybe she should just go naked, it would be less suspicious, she thought, than walking around at three a.m., wearing a doctor’s coat and nothing beneath it. But she didn’t have a choice, did she? It was either sticky, bloody shirt or white coat.

She chose the shirt.

If somebody caught her she could still say that she had helped somebody who had been injured in an accident.

Ten minutes later found a newly risen body sneak out of the morgue, covered in blood and smiling happily.

She was free.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

After an hour of wandering the streets of Los Angeles alone her smile had vanished.

Buffy had spent the last nine years of her life with friends, a family and a place to run to, well most of the time at least. She wasn’t used to this anymore.

Once upon a time she would have gotten up and disappeared, without a word. But nothing was easy now. There were people that she had let herself get too close to and there were things she couldn’t do if she wanted to stay undetected.

She wanted to tell Faith that they were ok, and had been for a while, that she had been a stuck up bitch back in Sunnydale. She had forgotten that she was no better than her sister slayer. There was blood on her hands too, even more than Faith could ever imagine, and she knew the guilt all too well, but she had let herself get swallowed by the role she had played. She had been Buffy Summers the just and glorious slayer for almost three years then and she had ignored everything she’d been before that.

She wanted to tell Faith how arrogant and wrong she had been and she wanted to keep in touch with her, but she couldn’t.

Just like she couldn’t say goodbye to her sister and her friends or take anything with her. It was already suspicious enough that her body disappeared, she couldn’t risk anymore, not if she wanted them to bury her and finally let her rest.

In former times she would have shrugged it off and moved on, finding herself a new spot on earth to live on, but she wasn’t like that anymore.

She had found her heart again over the last nine years and now she couldn’t just get rid of it again.

Wrapping her arms around herself she kept on walking until she suddenly felt something tingle in the back of her mind.

Somebody was close.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Duncan yawned openly as he walked toward his hotel room at four a.m.. He was getting too old for this. When Richie had told him to take a vacation, he had said no. But Richie had called Amanda and Methos for aid and by the end of the week the three of them had had him in a plane toward California.

He had almost started enjoying his forced vacation when Rock had crossed his path.

Rock had been of the big, meaty and ugly variety and he had wanted the Highlander’s head, badly. And he had packed a mean right hook, but it hadn’t saved him.

Now, one quickening, a lot of bruises and half an hour later Duncan wanted nothing but a hot shower and a bed.

That was until he spotted her.

She was coming in his direction, on the other side of the street, her blonde head lowered and her arms wrapped around her tiny frame, she didn’t even seem to notice him. But what really made him suspicious was the small tingle in the back of his mind telling him that she was an immortal, as well as the blood covering her whole torso.

A Newbie.

She lifted her head then, probably she had finally felt his buzz, and eyed him wearily through tired eyes.

However she had died, it must have put her into shock and disturbed her deeply, for she was looking incredibly lost. And she could not be older than 18, he thought. Much too young to have such a destiny, or any destiny at all put on her shoulders.

Sighing resignedly he quickly checked himself over for anything that could scare her off. When he found nothing he slowly made his way across the street, every movement an effort to make her feel safe. Or at least not threatened. He really had no desire to chase her around town. The damage she could do if she only went home...

Finally she noticed his actions and stopped, looking around nervously. Like a mouse in front of the cat and she never looked at him directly.

“Excuse me, Miss?”

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Using everything she had Buffy dampened her buzz in every way she knew, hoping that he would not try to fight her.

She didn’t know if she could kill again, yet.

Then she started watching him. He had not even noticed her yet.

She lifted her head to take a closer look and saw that his senses had finally kicked in.

He stopped. He stared.

And then he did something that she really had not expected.

He checked himself over quickly and started moving toward her.

When he stopped he was standing directly in front of her and she felt nervous, all of a sudden, damn Buffy inside her system.

“Excuse me, Miss?”

And again she had to make a choice.

Answer him or run. Let him kill her, or maybe even help her, or run and hope that he didn’t find her in time, before she could disappear for good.

Dying was not an option. At least not the head-losing way.

Suddenly she had an idea.

What if he really was one of the good guys? What if he was willing to train her? She could just play along. She would get a new life without the lore and the guilt of who she really was, without having to hide her Immortality. She could start all over again.

A new name, a new teacher, a new eternity.

His smile seemed genuine and the exhaustion and the small sparkle in his eyes told her that he was a fighter who fought with honor.

If she decided to take his help, it would be real.

He would not hurt her.

But could she really pull the trick? Could she pretend to be clue and powerless, and more importantly could she keep her buzz low enough to stay credible?

It was a risk, almost too high to take, but what were the alternatives?

Make up another mortal life and life until someone shot her in the head again? Or run around, looking for someone to take her head, just to land back where she had been after the energy of the portal had killed her and her immortality? She had known peace then, with Joyce and no guilt to weigh down her every move and decision. Or she could make her name known again amongst the Immortals, and watch them cower in fear, but she was alone. This time there were no riders to back her up and no lover to make her strong when she was weak.

All that had long since ended, and it was only her now.

Lil’old me, without a name and a home.

“Miss?”

Shaking her head to clear her thoughts she turned her eyes on him, but not his eyes. She was, for some reason, suddenly very afraid that her might look into her eyes and see the truth.

“Y...yeah?”

“I asked if you were ok.”

“Me? Well, I guess. There’s a lot of blood, but....”

She looked lost, and to her own surprise she felt it, too. With Immortals kneeling before her in humiliation, fear or quiet pleas for their life she could deal. But his one, this one reminded her of another one who had been willing to give her a chance.

Yes, the chance had been at ruin and bloodshed and he had still inflicted pain, but she had loved him, and in the end love had been her ruin.

She could deal with hate and fear but gentleness was something the woman beneath Buffy had never learned, even after all those centuries.

“I don’t know”, she finished quietly, and finally she looked into his eyes.

What she saw made her gulp.

It made her feel guilty, because what she saw was concern.

For her.

“My hotel is just a block from here, Miss. How about we get you a little cleaned up and then you can tell me what happened if you want to. How does that sound?”

She had always had a talent to swallow her guilt and so she took his offered hand and let him lead her away from everything she was.

Maybe this time she could make it work.

Maybe this time there would be less blood and hate and love.

The kid hadn’t killed Buffy Summers, it was the woman that had been hiding beneath the surface for years that that finished the oldest living vampire slayer off.

She allowed herself a small smile as she followed Duncan through the empty streets.

This time she would make everything work.

2, Didn’t Go Our Way - Interlude

There’s nothing more to say,
things didn’t go our way.
I’d like to slip away from all this pain,
I’d like to be a cell inside your vein,
I want you to hear the things I never said,
Someday... - K’s Choice, I Will Return To You

Faith shot Angel an angry glare as he blocked her path out of the hotel. She tried brushing past him but that stupid hunk of meat would not budge. Oh, how she hated him in that moment.

Hated the fact that he was trying to play Buffy’s knight in shining armor, even now, even after she was dead and cold. Hated him because he simply could not accept the fact that Buffy had allowed this to happen. That she had let herself be killed.

Faith had seen her sister slayer avoid speeding bullets before, when they had been so high and mighty, when they had been alright, still and again. To shoot Buffy in the head, Buffy had to have allowed it. And when the dark slayer had spoken that fact out loud there had been chaos. People crying, people screaming, people looking away, like everything was her fault just because she had voiced it.

And now Angel would not let her pass, so she could hunt down that piece of scum, that had killed the slayer and rid the world of it.

He treated her like there were no tears stinging her eyes as well, like she did not feel the death of the only one she had ever allowed herself to love, if not trust, down to her very core. He treated her like the pain she felt was not real, like it did not matter.

She was just Faith after all, the killer and escape convict, the rogue slayer and never as good and bright and shiny as their Buffy.

Buffy who had been so bright that she had blinded them to her pain and her isolation and her faults.

Buffy, whose broken smile had told Faith her own life story.

Buffy, whom Faith had loved more than she had ever loved herself and hated her almost as much.

Buffy, who was dead.

Buffy, who had once again one upped Faith and beat all odds.

Buffy, who had fucked her over real good and left her here, in the city of Angels of pick up the pieces once more, alone.

Finally Faith started to cry.

3, How It Feels

So this is how it feels
To breathe in the summer air
To feel the sand between my toes
And love inside my ear - Poe, Control

Kendra Joyce Jenkins was happy.

After allowing the Highlander to take her back to his hotel room and clean her up and interrogate her on what had happened, he had taken her with him to Seacouver without hesitation. He had started her training and told her everything she needed to know.

He had even seen reason when she had asked him if it was possible to change her name.

Within the last two months Buffy Summers had become Kendra Joyce Jenkins, a mixture of Kendra, the fighter and her soul sister, Joyce her best friend of 30 years and Anya, the ex demon that had been so much like her, ages old and trying desperately to fit into the life of a normal American teenager.

Anya had also been the only one of the Scoobies, besides Joyce of course, who had known the truth about the blonde slayer. They had met a long time ago, when they had both been different people, and Anya had understood Buffy’s need to keep what had happened back then a secret.

The names were pieces of her past, but Buffy found that she needed them, to remind her of who she had been and who she was now. They kept her from breaking up her mask and walk into the world as the ruthless killer she had been before she had taken over slaying from the real Elizabeth Summers.

Training had been hard at first, because she had tried to play dumb and act like she had never held a sword before, but after three hours of she had gotten so annoyed that she had spilled the beans over being the slayer.

Not the rest, though, she had just told Duncan about Buffy Summers and the last nine years. It had allowed her to practically skip training, since she was evenly matched with her teacher and it had also given her the chance of releasing the hold on her quickening a little, something that had really started to get hard.

Finally after a month with Duncan, she had found a spell that allowed her to keep a low profile at will, without having to concentrate on it every single second of the day. As long as she did not slip up big time, she should be fine.

She had also met Richie, a young immortal who had a better grip on the world than most other Immortals and after she had made clear that she was not interested in any kind of romantic relationship the two of them had quickly become friends, keeping their teacher and his watcher on their toes every time they were around.

“Buffy?”

“Yeah Richie?”

“Do you,... you know.... want to...?”

“Want to what?”

“Gooutwithmesometime?”

“Come again?”

“You understood what I said!”

“No.”

“You suck as a liar.”

Man, you have no idea

“So what?”

“Do you want to go out with me sometime?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I love you too much to ruin our relationship.”

“Please?”

“Richie I’ve had too many psycho killer boyfriends and I’ve been hurt too often. Can you just be my big brother and watch out for me, please?”

“Shit, stop making puppy dog eyes at me...”

...

“Alright. No dating, now at least give me a hug.”

“Richie?”

“Yeah?”

“Watch the hands.”

“Sorry, was worth a try.”

...

Joe was a difficult man for Buffy, because he knew so much about Immortals and there was always the danger that one of the watchers had gotten a hold of a picture or a portrait of her in former days, therefore presenting a threat to her new life, but after two months Buffy had stopped being suspicious and they were alright.

Buffy felt uneasy as she entered Joe’s bar, as she did every time, because he was the greatest potential danger to her new life, so far. The closer she got to the door the tinier her steps became until she was almost standing still.

Shaking her head at her own behavior she forced her feet to move again, step by step, one foot in front of the other until she grabbed the door handle and pushed her way into the dimly lit bar.

She sat down at the bar, putting her coat and purse on the chair beside her and smiled shyly at Joe who was sitting on a high chair in the middle of the stage and playing guitar. It was a slow sad song that made her feel all of her years all over again and she listened unmoving and unblinking, completely drawn in by the sounds of his skilled fingers on the guitar.

He didn’t acknowledge her at all, concentrating on the music instead, but she didn’t mind.

Only when he finished the song and lifted his head did he give her a nod and a skew smile before he awkwardly started his way down the stairs.

She could see the trouble his legs gave him so she quickly got up and offered him a hand, fully expecting him to bat it away and growl that he could manage alone. Instead he took it with a grateful smile that lit his battered face for a second and let himself be helped.

“Thanks.”

There was no suspicion in his eyes, no calculating what he might owe her now and no recognition form another time and life, there was nothing.

And it surprised Buffy because in the world she lived in it was rare that people had no intention and no motive, yet there was not a single spark of anything dangerous in this old man’s eyes.

Slowly, after almost two months she felt herself relax and smile back.

“Don’t mention it.”

And then there was Amanda, of course. Amanda who had come into her life with bags of clothes and her annoying quirkiness and who had dragged Buffy out to get a new style and a new haircut. Amanda who never called Buffy Kendra, but Ken, and who was the perfect friend.

The door to Buffy’s room was flung open violently, making her jump. In came a tall woman dressed in black with a scary smirk on her face.

“Who are you?”

She was also an immortal.

“Name’s Amanda. Duncan sent me to make you pretty.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m here to take you shopping.”

She ran a hand through Buffy’s long blonde curls and sighed.

“Oh my, I think you’re a full time job.”

“You got a problem with my hair?...”

“Never said that, did I?”

She gave Buffy a small smile and the blonde could not help but see herself in this whirlwind of a woman. Grabbing her coat she followed Amanda outside.

After a day out shopping they had already been friends, bonding over gossip and fashion. In fact Amanda was a lot like Ken, always dressed in leather, always doing what she pleased and always landing on her feet. But at the same time there was an innocence there that Buffy had never possessed, not even in the beginning when she had still been a victim and the only blood she had shed had been her own.

Back then there had been no innocence and with Amanda she wished she could just tell her everything.

She never did though, out of fear of the other Immortal‘s reaction.

So when Amanda picked Buffy up for their weekly breakfast and shopping trip two months after Mac had brought her with him from L.A., things were ok.

Running a hand through her short dirty blonde hair, Buffy sighed.

“What’s it, Ken?”

“My hair, it’s bugging me. I really hate the color.”

Taking a sip of her coffee Amanda suddenly giggled, “Do you even know what you natural color is?”

For a few seconds Buffy appeared to be deep in thought. Her hair had always been blonde, dyed from the scorching desert sun and the rough conditions, but she was sure that she wasn’t a natural blonde. Nobody in that part of the world had been back then. But nobody had had blonde hair from the sun either, so that didn’t prove anything.

“I’m almost sure that it’s not blonde, but I have no idea what else it could be.”

Her friend chuckled, “You know, usually the forgetting starts after a millennia or two, not after two months.”

Buffy shrugged, “I think it was dark.”

“Oh, I can’t imagine you with dark hair. No black, maybe brown, but you’re really not the type for dark colors. They would take the brightness out of your eyes.”

Buffy smiled. There was no brightness and no light in her eyes, what Amanda saw was merely the reflection of the world around them, but never real. There was nothing in Buffy’s eyes and hadn’t been in a while. She had learned how to adopt, though, made herself a mirror for the world around her, where everyone could see whatever they wanted, as long as they did not look too closely.

Still, she was fast becoming a shopping victim just like her friend. Three new hair styles in eight weeks had to be a record. She shuddered, then she pulled out her cell to make an appointment.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

The following evening Buffy sat at the bar of Joe’s, nursing a beer and waiting for her friends to show up. Technically the bar was closed that night, but they always hung out, as long as Joe was there. Amanda and Duncan were at some sort of cultural event that made Buffy sick to the stomach and Richie, well, nobody ever knew where Richie was until he turned up and told you.

Opening another bottle of beer Joe made his way over to her and gave her a small smile.

“I like your hair.”

She smiled back, running a hand through it. It was even shorter now than it had been before, just reaching her chin. But instead of Amanda’s suggestion at a light red, like s