Buffy stormed into her dorm room, slamming the door behind her. “Who does that bleached idiot think he is?!” she growled as she made her way to bed.
Across the room, Willow stirred from her rest to see her best friend start a not so quiet fight with the pillow, punching it at random. Blinking her eyes, she asked, “The night of smoochie funness didn’t turn out so good?”
“No,” Buffy answered, pausing mid punch. She turned to face Willow, her face all crumpled up. “It started out with the smoochie funness, then we had to go rescue Spike’s friend Clem from the Initiative – ”
“Spike has a friend? Wouldn’t he be all demony and evil?”
“Clem’s a demon, but he’s a sweetheart. But Riley didn’t know that when he and the rest were out patrolling, so I had to go over and there was this almost big scene which became a big scene after Riley was gone because Spike got super jealous and was all ‘Soldier Boy’s evil’ and so I had to yell at him and then we walked Clem home and then we started yelling again.”
“The biggest. Spike thinks I’m being stupid trusting the Initiative and that I should trust him instead but he got all husband equals I’m right when he said it so I got even madder at him and can’t I trust my own instincts about these things and – ”
“Um, I thought your instincts said the Initiative *was* bad,” Willow broke in quickly.
“No, my instincts said the Initiative was not good. There’s a difference. So maybe they should be a little more Animal Planet-y about chipping the demons and a little less mad scientist experiment-y that doesn’t mean they’re like Mayor bad or anything. Am I right?” Buffy didn’t wait for an answer before plowing onward. “And besides, it’s not like Spike is totally subjective, or dejective, or whichever ‘jective it is that means you don’t care –”
“Yes! It’s not like he’s a totally objective observer here, with the chip and all. Of course he doesn’t like them. They defanged him and everything. That doesn’t make them evil!”
“And, and since they’re not evil that means he’s got no business telling me *I* have to listen to him.”
Willow finally figured out what was going. Sometimes her friend was so easy to read. This wasn’t about the Initiative; this was about two hardheaded, opinionated people unable to give in. “Buffy, do you trust Spike?”
“He asked me the same thing.”
“And what was your answer?”
“I don’t know.” Buffy sighed. To herself, she added, I told him I trusted him to know me. It’s just everything else I’m not sure about.
“Figure that out and your problem will be solved, one way or another,” Willow advised before rolling over. “Now, could you turn out the light so I can get some sleep?”
A few moments later, Buffy lay in the darkness, thinking. Thinking very hard.
Forrest stood at attention in Walsh’s office, dutifully reciting his report on the targeted hostiles’ activities.
“Their interactions bear a mixture of affection and dislike. They argued a great deal about our organization’s position in their lives. One hostile sees us as a threat, the other one believes we are allies. I believe this could be used to our advantage. However, despite current discord between them, they still functioned as an efficient unit in combat. Hostile 95 often acted more aggressively in their pursuit of HSTs. According to Hostile 17, his reason for ‘hanging back’ was that he trusted her to defend herself appropriately. Though he did engage in combat when the other was significantly threatened. The hostile continued this pattern of behavior even at the height of their argument when a serious threat emerged.”
From her desk, Walsh absentmindedly added, “Ah yes, the Polgara/vampire pair I sent after them. How long did that encounter last?”
“The hostiles eliminated both threats within five minutes. It is in my opinion that if they fought in a more professional manner, it would have been less.”
Hmm. Her boys were far more professional than either hostile, and fighting a well-trained pair of demons would take a standard patrol group at least ten. Valuable information, but she wanted more.
“Agent Gates, how would you characterize their more personal interactions?”
“In many ways they mimic human codes of behavior for lovers. Prior to their encounter with Agent Finn’s team, the hostiles behaved in a flirtatious manner. Afterwards, they grew more argumentative, but did maintain human standards that private affairs should not be discussed in front of outsiders. They ceased arguing upon escorting the freed HST to its lair. The two hostiles did not resume their dispute until after leaving the other HST.”
“So their behavior could pass for human?” Walsh made another note. She so rarely had a chance to see how HSTs were able to blend into human society. It was so nice to see it proven they performed the logical act of mimicking current cultural norms. “Is it mimicry or natural behavior?” she wondered aloud.
“Nothing, agent. Did their interactions strike you as forced or natural?”
“If I did not know their true nature, I would have thought both hostiles capable of the full spectrum of human emotion, including love.”
Walsh nodded. “Thank you for your observations. Dismissed.”
Gates saluted and left the office. Walsh watched him leave before ordering Finn to see her. Agent Riley Finn marched in, his expression unreadable, as it often was these days. Walsh wanted to sigh at that. He really was a good agent when he put his mind to it, but the situation with Summers was making him quite unstable. She hoped he would return to form once the mess had been cleaned up.
“Finn,” she began. “Do you know why you’re here?”
“Does your little stunt last night ring a bell? I believe you were prepared to disobey a direct order and perform an unsanctioned capture of a hostile.”
“I did not, ma’am.”
“I know. That is all that is saving you at the moment, Riley Finn. I do not like my orders questioned, even by as talented an agent as you.”
Finn preened a little by the compliment. Walsh allowed him his moment before continuing. “That being said, I wonder at the wisdom of allowing you to pursue your vendetta against the Slayer and her lover.”
“They present a risk to us.”
“Gates tells me that the Slayer believes we are no threat to her, and she is the only one in a position to harm us. In fact,” she added coolly, “I’m considering reneging on my orders for the eventual capture of Hostile 95.”
At that, Riley felt himself grow hot with anger as something dark boiled inside him. The slut deserved this! She deserved all the torture the Initiative could deal out in the name of progress, her and her monster. It was what he dreamed about, what kept him from killing her in the cafeteria, on the quad, or any other time he was forced to see her traitor, demon face.
Walsh watched his reaction. A monitor on her desk informed her that his body was experiencing the requisite chemical changes for strong emotion (the demons weren’t the only chipped ones). While his face was turned purple and before he began to sputter, she continued. “Of course, that would mean you would be forbidden any personal revenge as well. If I gave you that order would you obey it?”
Riley thought of Buffy, of what she did to him. What she represented. He was just barely able to answer the question, “Yes.”
Walsh leaned back. The boy was lying, but it was the most deceitful she’d ever seen him. He was growing up, wasn’t he? Deciding the game was over, she spoke again. “Good. You remember your training. However, I intend for the plan to move ahead as scheduled.”
Finn’s eyes did bug out in such an amusing way when he realized she had been playing with him. Walsh smiled inwardly. “I have decided to take Hostile 95 first, with a particular emphasis on how her lover reacts. The point of this *is* to study their reactions, after all. I want it done discreetly, too. Since she still believes you an ally, you will call her and arrange a meeting. Make up any pretense you like, but I want you and a team to take her at,” she checked her notes, “25 East Street or thereabouts. Do it this afternoon.”
“Don’t question me. Just be grateful I’m letting you and not someone else perform this mission. Oh, and Finn?”
“I want her delivered in perfect condition. Do you hear me? Perfect condition. You can save your silly vengeance fantasies for another time.”
Riley’s eyes burned. There went his first plan for capture. Hopefully Walsh would let him have a turn with her after Hostile 95 was in custody. There was so much they needed to discuss. He saluted and left, eager to finally betray the bitch.
With Finn gone, Walsh finally let out the cat eating the canary smile she’d been holding in. This plan was perfect. She glanced down at her notes. 25 East Street was where the floppy eared demon of last night lived. With any luck, he would witness the hostile’s capture and go running to her lover with the news. Then the fun would begin. She cracked her knuckles in anticipation before putting a call in to her fellow scientists for arranging the proper facilities and experiments for their new toy.
Professor Walsh was lecturing. Buffy had a strong feeling that today’s lesson was important, as in final exam important, but she couldn’t get up the energy to care.
She was too busy obsessing about her fight with Spike.
And that fact alone was obsess-worthy. Since when did she care about fighting him? That was what they did. Only this time, she felt all growly sick in her stomach. And a person only gets growly sick like that when they feel guilty about something. What did she have to feel guilty about, anyway?
Oh. Yeah. The whole I told my husband I don’t trust him thing. That was pretty cold. Especially since her blasted moral voice was informing her that Spike was right – either give him his due or toss the ring and the whole package down the drain.
Why couldn’t the stupid soldier boys (to borrow a phrase) have left well enough alone last night? Then she wouldn’t be lying alone in her bed, she’d be sharing long, hot kisses with her lover. And then some.
The way things stood right now, she certainly wouldn’t be initiating any kissing. Ugh, initiating. Bad word choice. Made her think of the Initiative. Yet another BIG ISSUE in the life of Buffy Summers. On one hand, Spike was saying they were demony Mayor bad. And he was her husband. Okay, this is the nineties so that doesn’t make him her lord and master or anything, but still. That meant a lot. And if it meant so much, shouldn’t she respect his opinions? Especially when he might be right? Buffy bit her lip. That goes back to the whole not her lord and master thing. Her opinions should matter, too!
The only trouble is, the Initiative had always given her ooky tingles on her neck. And now she was defending them? Did she really believe what she had told him and Willow? Or was the little whisper, goading her into defending the Initiative, really saying up because Spike was saying down? Was their relationship that based in contradictions?
Alive. Dead (well, undead).
Whenever Buffy really thought about its, like she was right now, she wondered why she had agreed to try this accidental marriage. What made her think he was the man for her? Was he even a man?
That reminded her of Willow’s question from before. Did she trust him?
Yes for both, Buffy decided. She wasn’t sure what kind of man he was, but the depths he revealed to her cinched it. Spike was a man, one she trusted.
So maybe that was the only real difference between them.
But what came next? As Buffy struggled with that question, an unwelcome voice disrupted her thoughts.
“Summers, care to explain the example on the board?”
After making the necessary arrangements with his team, Riley returned to his dorm room, ready to contact Buffy and lure her to the correct location. As he pressed the buttons to call her, he savored the moment. The Slayer would soon be done playing games with him. Soon it would be time for him to play games with her.
The last buttons was pushed. A pause, and then the phone began to ring. And ring. And ring.
Returning from her last class of the day, Buffy heard the phone ringing while still in the hallway. She quickly opened the door, muttering a curse as her books spilled on the floor in her haste. Walsh’s pick on Buffy spree had sucked big time, making her even crankier.
With such thoughts going through her head, Buffy tripped over her notebook, Slayer reflexes failing her. That rug burn was going to hurt.
Finally she reached the phone.
Riley started, momentarily surprised that someone at last had picked up. He gathered his wits (what little there were to gather) and answered. “Buffy, it’s Riley.”
Buffy slumped against the side of her bed. Riley. It had to be Riley. Of course! She was still muddled up inside over her Spike fight, so the Fates would have to decree Riley to call, just to make things worse.
“What do you want?”
Way to be rude, Buff. But oddly enough, she didn’t quite care.
“I think we need to meet somewhere and talk,” Riley said into the receiver, using his most earnest voice. “Last night could have turned into a disaster. It’s high time we figure out where the other stands. Get our information straight once and for all. What do you think?”
He waited tensely for her reply.
“What do you think?”
Buffy stared down at the phone, trying to figure out how to reply. The request was legitimate, and it would give her a chance to prove that she was right. If she was right.
“I think that’s a good idea. We’re on the same side. We need to be on speaking terms.”
No, we’re not on the same side, you bitch! Riley wanted to scream. But Walsh wanted this capture done, and done clean, so he controlled himself.
“Good. I’ll meet you on East Street in an hour, then.”
Buffy frowned. “East Street? Why not here on campus? That’s on the other side of town.”
That was an odd request. Hmm, East Street. Wasn’t she there recently? ***
Uh-oh. Riley scanned his mind for a plausible excuse. “Uh, I, uh have an apartment there,” he improvised, “I keep some of our files there. I’ll need them if we’re going to do an info-sharing session.”
A pause. He waited.
Buffy decided she needed to clear up the Riley/Initiative situation. A meeting would prove once and for all where they stood. She needed the closure on this before she started fixing whatever broke between her and Spike last night.
“Okay, I’ll meet you there. What’s the address?”
Riley didn’t even bother controlling his grin. She was dumb, wasn’t she? “24 East Street. You can’t miss it.”
“I’ll see you there.” Click.
Oh, you will, he thought. I want you to get a good look at me when I shoot you, you betraying, demon loving whore.
Buffy set down the receiver and stood up. In the back of her mind, a very suspicious voice with a British accent was hissing that something was off. She shrugged away the feeling and headed to the door.
This was Riley, after all. She could kick his butt with her eyes closed. So there! she told her Spike voice as she marched out the door.
At 24 East Street, Riley waited, along with four other men. Their rifles were at ready as they crouched silently behind innocuous furniture. He himself held a taser, currently hidden in his pocket. Outside, a van’s engine idled as it waited for a hostile to transport away.
All they needed was for her to show.
Riley’s eyes flicked to his watch as the seconds ticked by. She would show any moment now.
His communicator buzzed. Riley jerked at the sudden sound. Quickly, he activated it. Over the link, a voice informed him, “Target is approaching the building.”
Finally. He motioned to his men to get ready. Not that he needed to – these guys were always ready.
There was a knock on the door. Riley tensed a moment, then stepped forward to welcome in his ‘guest’.
Buffy snapped her piece of Bubbilicious gum, courtesy of an entirely justified raid on Willow’s candy stash, and waited for someone to answer the door. Across the street, she noticed a building that looked an awful lot like the one they brought Clem to last night.
Ugh. Thinking of last night was making her feel all bad again. As soon as she finished this make-nice session with Riley, she was going to have to go all Apology Girl on Spike. Then the growly bad feeling would be replaced with humiliation, because she hated apologizing to Spike. Especially when he deserved it. Which he did, after her whole I don’t really trust you or your opinion rant.
The door opened before she could sink into full pout mode. “Come on in, Buffy,” Riley said as he ushered her in.
Buffy looked around the room. It seemed a bit nicer than anything a grad student or an army guy could afford. “Nice place you got here.”
Riley shrugged. “It works.” He turned, facing her straight on, a hand in his pocket.
Buffy stood there. “So,” she began a little awkwardly, “what do you figure we need to talk about? I was thinking that your guys talking to Giles about the not so evil demony-types would be a good place to start – ”
“That’s not why I asked you here,” Riley told her.
Buffy blinked, then sighed. “Riley, if this is your way of asking me out on a date, I’d like to point out that you know very well that I’m not available.”
“Like I’d want a whore like you.”
“What did you just call me?” she demanded. Her spidey sense, which had been murmuring since she walked in, started screaming at her. Her feet shifted slightly and she prepared to head to the door.
Riley didn’t respond. He simply said, “Get her.”
Two chairs and a sofa were knocked away as the Initiative team rushed her. Buffy dealt one a quick kick and another a punch as she sprinted for the door. Fighting guys with guns in a small room was a bad idea. Her hand closed around the knob. It wouldn’t budge. She prepared to kick the door open when two goons grabbed her by the arms. No worries. It wouldn’t take much of a Slayer’s strength to throw off two grown men. As her muscles tensed, something struck her legs, making them go numb. One of the men she’d knocked to the ground had taken some sort of cattle prod thing to her. Okay, worrying now. Buffy realized she would collapse to the ground if the two men weren’t holding her up. They turned her, making her face Agent Riley Finn.
Riley. Riley! He had set her up! After all the time she spent defending him, he had set her up! There was some sort of irony at play here, but Buffy was too pissed to see it. “You bastard!” she snarled, spitting her gum at him. The gum made messy pink tracks through his perfect soldier boy hair. Buffy smirked. Petty revenge had its moments.
Riley saw that smirk. Didn’t she know she was defeated? She was going to get tortured, and so was her lover, and this was all going to give him one big happy. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the taser.
“What are you going to do, shave me?” Buffy snapped.
“No. I’ll leave that decision to the brains over at the Initiative. I’m sure they have all sorts of tests to perform on an HST like yourself. Maybe you’ll even get a chip to match your husband’s.”
“Are you trying for the witty evil villain remark? Because that’s just lame.”
“Don’t you get it?” Riley pressed the taser against her flesh. She screamed as the electricity crackled through her. “You’re the evil one here.”
As Buffy’s world faded to black, her last thought was – Why did Spike have to be right?!
The soldiers quickly bound the hostile and carried her into the van. Across the street, a floppy eared demon looked out the window, his favorite soap on a commercial break. As a sultry voiced woman promised softer, smoother skin with a new lotion, Clem’s eyes widened as he realized that the pretty unconscious lady was Spike’s girl. Oh boy, this didn’t look good at all. The people carrying her were real scary looking, like the guys from last night. No, they were the same ones! His ears quivered in fear at the thought.
Its cargo now in place, the van rumbled off. The danger gone, Clem stood up. Spike needed to know that his ladyfriend had gotten herself Slayernapped. His ears trembled some more. Giving a vampire bad news was never fun.