Buffy’s mood when she woke up the next morning wouldn't have been anyone’s idea of sunny. While she and Spike hadn’t actually come to blows over her decision to follow up with Riley in spite of knowing he had been trying to track her, they hadn’t spent much time whispering sweet nothings either. A final “stupid, stubborn bitch!” and “macho asshole!” had taken the place of their usual wistful “goodnight”s. Buffy had stomped off to her dorm room while Spike took out his anger on the stone walls of the crypt.
The day hadn’t gone much better, she was too distracted to concentrate in her classes, and catching sight of Riley or one of his similarly-built “fraternity” brothers every time she turned around wasn’t doing much for her disposition. Evening and it’s preparations for the meeting with Riley’s “friends” came as a relief; now the suspense would be ended, and she would find out what the soldiers were doing in Sunnydale.
By the time she and Willow had changed into something resembling party clothes, swung by Giles’s apartment to let him know what was going on, and been dropped off by Oz – who promised to wait with the van – it was already well after 8:30. They walked up to the ordinary-looking building, talking about inconsequential things and wondering why the party seemed to be so quiet.
“Well, Riley did say it wasn’t going to be as big a party as the last one. Maybe it’s just taking longer for it to get going?”
“Uh huh. Maybe. And maybe—“ Willow broke off as they entered the house to find Riley and several other large young men, some in cammo, some in more casual clothing. And no one else.
“Hey, Willow,” Buffy said as she watched the men begin to surround them, blocking the way to the door. “You left your purse in the van, didn’t you? Why don’t you go get it? I’ll just wait here for you.”
“Buffy, no! I—” She broke off when, at a signal from Riley, one of the men moved away, opening a path to the door. Buffy’s hand on her back was all she needed to hasten out, looking over her shoulder to see Buffy settling into a fighting stance when the men formed a tight circle around her. “Oh Goddess,” she breathed, breaking into a run. Oz already had the engine running and was moving toward her. He slowed only long enough for Willow to jump in, then floored the van, narrowly missing one of two black-clad figures that had moved out of the shadows to follow Willow as she ran.
“Where’s Buffy? Do we need to go back?”
“I think she’s introducing them to what the Slayer is,” Willow said. “But we need to tell Giles what’s going on. They were waiting for her.”
“Maybe we should tell Spike what’s going on.”
“Giles first, then Spike.”
“What the hell is this, Riley?” Buffy was giving her TA the benefit of the doubt, briefly, but when he shrugged and said, “We need to know what you are, Buffy. It’s nothing personal,” she exploded. “Nothing personal? You set me up, and you don’t think that’s personal?” The men surrounding her were not attacking, but remained in place while Riley interrogated her.
“Why do you know about demons and vampires?” he demanded, stepping closer. It occurred to Buffy that all he knew so far was that she could kill vampires if she had a stake – and maybe not even that much, if they hadn’t seen her actually stake the vamp the night before. After all, it could have been Spike’s stake she’d been holding before. She tried to wipe the anger off her face and relaxed.
“I know about demons because I live in Sunnydale, Riley. And I know about vampires for the same reason. And I know that you guys were looking for Sunday and her gang when we ran into you the other night. My question for you is, why do you know about demons and vampires, and what are you doing hunting them in my town?”
“Your town? What makes it your town?” He loomed over her. “And you didn’t answer my question. “Why do you know about demons and vampires? And why do you carry a stake?”
“I’m the Slayer, Riley.” When he blinked at her, she shook her head in disgust. “You’re demon hunters, but you don’t even know who’s on your side. Look it up. Slayer. The.” She turned to walk out the door, only to find two of his friends blocking her way. Giving them her sweetest smile, she said, “Excuse me, boys. I’m leaving now.”
When they just laughed and the blond one grabbed her right arm, she sighed and shook her head. “You know, I really try not to hurt humans, but I think I’m about to make an exception for you guys. You are totally getting on my nerves.” Without further comment, she took the hand that was clutching her – with a bit more strength than she would have expected from a normal man – and lifted it off her arm, using it to spin its owner into his friend, now moving in from the other side.
In seconds she was in the middle of a full-out attack by several strong and fast young men much larger than she was. Strong as they were, however, they paled in comparison to the vampires and demons Buffy faced every night, and she’d soon left them all moaning on the floor. So intent was she on incapacitating them without actually causing lasting damage, she hadn’t noticed Riley approaching from behind until he hit her with the taser. He did it twice, just to be sure, then stood back and stared at the small form crumpled on the floor.
“Let’s get her into the gym,” he said. “And tie her up with the vamp-proof ropes. I think she’s really strong.”
“No shit,” muttered Graham as he struggled to his feet. “She kicked our asses without even breaking a sweat. What the hell is she?”
“I don’t know. But we’ll keep her on ice while we figure it out. Forrest,” he said to another man just getting to his feet, “go look up ‘Slayer, the’.”
He picked up Buffy’s light body, marveling at both how pretty she was and how delicate-seeming, and carried her into the gym where she was quickly tied to the weight machine. She was already stirring by the time they’d finished.
Buffy waited, eyes shut, pretending to be more dazed than she actually was, while she listened to Riley giving orders to his men.
“While Forrest is looking up ‘Slayer’, one of you go look up Willow Rosenberg. See if there’s anything in her background that puts up a red flag. If she hangs out with Buffy, chances are there’s something off about her too. And run the prints we got off the door the other night. Let’s find out who that hostile is… or who he was before he became a hostile.”
“You don’t even know what ‘hostile’ is,” Buffy said, sitting up and opening her eyes. “But if I’m still tied here when Spike comes looking for me, you’re going to have a whole new definition of it.”
“No, I’m talking in my sleep,” she said, glaring at him from eyes that held no trace of fear. “Of course I’m awake.”
“A normal girl would have been out for hours,” he said, staying well out of reach of the legs she was stretching and flexing.
“Taze a lot of ‘normal’ girls, do you? I gotta tell you, as a pick-up ploy, that one pretty much sucks.”
He had the grace to look ashamed, but continued firmly. “I needed answers, and you were trying to leave.” He stared at her, frowning. “You seem human, but you wiped the floor with my whole squad. How did you do that?”
Buffy shrugged as best she could with her arms and upper body tightly wrapped against a pole. “I’m faster, stronger and probably more used to fighting things that want to kill me than they are.”
“You wanted to kill them?”
“No. If I’d wanted to kill them, they’d be dead now. They’re humans. Stupid, full-of-themselves humans, but humans. The Slayer’s job is to protect humans, not kill them.”
“Job? Slayer? What the hell are you, Buffy?”
Just then, Graham came back into the room. “Nothing on Rosenberg or the hostile. The girl was born and raised here. Went to high school with Buffy. Turned down scholarships to some pretty big schools to stay here and go to UC Sunnydale.”
“And the hostile?”
“Nothing. He’s not on anybody’s database. Even went back a few years, in case he’s older than he looks, but—”
Buffy’s snort of laugher brought their eyes back to her. “I think you could safely say Spike is older than he looks,” she said, shaking her head. “What’s your definition of old for a vampire?”
Graham looked at Riley, who shrugged, then back at Buffy. “We’ve run into one or two old vamps in this town. Twenty, even twenty-five years old, some of them. It must attract them somehow.”
“Yeah, that’ll happen when you’re on a Hellmouth,” she sputtered, unable to control her amusement at hearing them refer to a vampire that had survived less than a quarter of century as “old”.
“You know about the… what did you call it? Hellmouth? The power source here?”
“It’s why they sent the Slayer here. It’s where the action is.” Buffy smiled, still looking entirely too confident to suit the men.
“And we’re back to what you mean by ‘slayer’…”
“She means,” Forrest said as he came back into the room holding a printout, “that she’s some kind of mystical being made to ‘combat the forces of evil’; that’s what is says here, anyway.”
“Forces of… what?” They all looked at Buffy, who smiled back innocently, giving no sign that she’d been pulling on the ropes, stretching them until she thought she could almost twist her way out if she got enough time – or felt a strong enough need.
“Evil. Demons. Vampires. Big, secretive guys who think it’s okay to kidnap law-abiding citizens… You know. Evil.”
“You mean sub-terrestrials. Creatures that are hostile to man.”
“Yeah, okay. You say tomato, I say tomahto. Same thing. If they’re evil and dangerous, it’s my job to slay them.”
“Sounds like mumbo jumbo to me,” Forrest said. “But we probably need to run it by Maggie.”
“It’s kinda late to bother her now,” Riley glanced at his watch, and then at Buffy. “But I don’t want to let Buffy go until Maggie says it’s okay.”
Buffy narrowed her eyes. “You think you’re going to keep me here?” Her tone changed, as did the expression on her face. They unconsciously stepped back a few paces, not quite sure why. “Are you crazy?”
Ten o’clock had come and gone with no sign of Buffy. Torn between thinking she was probably still so mad at him she wasn’t keeping her promise to check in, and concern that there was a more serious reason she wasn’t there, he finally gave in to worry and left the crypt, putting a note under a candle to tell Buffy he’d gone to find her.
When Spike walked into Giles’s apartment, he took one look at the weapons being handed out and began swearing. He only stopped when Giles handed him a sword, saying, “If you’re quite through, it may be more useful if you arm yourself and get in the van with the rest of us.”
“I’m already armed,” he said, letting his vampire mien come to the fore, but taking the sword anyway. “Let’s go.”
By the time they reached the street Lowell House was on, Willow had filled Spike in on Buffy’s situation when she’d left the frat house.
“Slayer should have been able to take them on one-handed,” he growled.
“That’s what I thought, so we waited for her, but she hasn’t come back yet.”
“And if they’re really soldiers, they probably have guns,” Xander added, staring at their assortment of swords and crossbows. “We’re not exactly all with the firepower.”
Giles nodded his agreement. He looked at Spike, who was obviously ready to leap from the van as soon as it slowed down. “Do you think you can control yourself long enough to find out what we will be facing before you go charging in?” His eyes challenged Spike to disagree with the wisdom of knowing what they would be getting in to.
With an abrupt nod, Spike stepped from the van and waited for Oz to turn off the engine. “Come on, Wolfboy, let’s do ourselves some sniffing first. Find out what we need to know.” Oz shrugged and followed Spike to the house, putting a hand on his arm and pointing silently at the motion sensors near the windows. With a nod of understanding, Spike signaled for Oz to use his nose and ears. He leapt into a nearby tree and used his perch there to see through the window and into the large foyer of the big house.
The signs of a fight having taken place in that room were obvious, and the casually-dressed men, moving gingerly as though in too much pain to walk properly, told him they’d been in the fight. None of the men appeared to be armed, and some were clearly unconscious or otherwise incapacitated. “That’s my girl,” he whispered, dropping to the ground and pointing to another tree some distance away that would allow him to look in other windows.
He was only in that tree for a second or two before landing silently beside Oz, once again wearing his fangs and looking every bit the angry demon that he was. “They’ve got her tied up,” he snarled. “I’m going in.” Oz waved for the others before following Spike onto the porch. The heavy wooden door gave easily under one kick from Spike’s boot.
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