“Hold still,” Shang Ko instructed. “This will hurt.”
Liv held herself as best she could as he dripped something into each of her eyes.
“She gonna see again?” Fin asked.
“Perhaps,” Shang Ko answered, “and in that, she is more fortunate than I can credit. The potion of the Eyeless One would have turned most mortals’ eyes into soup. Even a Slayer would have been permanently blinded – no doubt why the vampire threw it at you.”
“You were fightin’ blind that whole time?” Fin asked her.
She made a weak noise of agreement, trying not to struggle against what Shang Ko was doing to her.
“Daaaaamn,” Fin said slowly, “maybe I ought t’look into somma dat training.”
Liv sat on a cushioned ottoman in the private section of Shang Ko’s home. She’d been in there enough times to remember which rice paper prints hung on which wall, and which corner the silk screen stood in. Fin sat on a low divan beside her, elbows on knees, watching worriedly.
Shang Ko had already taken eighteen stitches in her right shoulder. What Liv had thought were razor blades wielded by that inhuman girl had turned out to be foot long talons she unsheathed as soon as the circle that bound her was broken.
“I don’t understand,” Liv said. “I know I can’t see a thing right now. Nothing. But I can.”
“How many fingers’m I holdin’ up, Liv?” Fin asked.
“Three,” she replied, without looking over at him. “Shang Ko, is this one of the Slayer abilities?”
He considered her for a moment.
“Not as such. Unusually acute sight, certainly. While no Slayer in history has lived to see her thirtieth year on this earth, I doubt any Slayer has ever needed glasses, let alone bifocals. Slayers may have prophetic dreams upon occasion, but that is not the sight of which you speak.”
“I knew it was Fin, even in the middle of all of that.”
“Well, sure,” Fin agreed. “We’ve worked together for years, Liv. You know my footsteps, probably the way I smell.”
“I’m good, but I’m not that good. Dammit, Shang Ko, can’t you give me anything for the pain?”
“No,” he said simply. “Anything that would work, would interfere with the healing spells I’m about to lay on you. Consider this your penance for such flagrant stupidity and clumsiness.”
Fin bristled on her behalf, but she took it as fair.
“Shang Ko,” she started, trying to keep her mind off the pain, “a man told me yesterday that…that I stink of magic, and that it’s not mine.”
“You do,” Shang Ko agreed, equitably. “I told you as much the night you made such a futile attempt to join your ancestors.”
“I thought you were talking about me being a Slayer.”
He sighed, impatient as always with her slow wits.
“Whatever makes a Slayer lies outside the realm of mortal magic,” he answered. “You reek of mortal magic. You bear the touch of…” and here he paused, took her chin ungently in his hand and turned her head back and forth, examining her. “…three different wizards. One of them nearly destroyed you. The other two worked together to keep you alive.”
“What? Why didn’t you ever tell me?” Liv demanded.
“Because you did not ask. Now, close your eyes and your mouth.”
“Yeah,” Fin muttered under his breath, “wizards always make everything better.”
Shang Ko gave him an expression that was almost amused. “That is not my purpose. If it happens, it is by mere coincidence.”
“So why are you around?” Fin asked, now that Liv had to sit silently while Shang Ko painted her face with a bamboo brush and the dregs of a cup of tea. “Why you helpin’ Liv?”
Shang Ko considered the questions for a moment. “Because it amuses me to do so. It has been a rather dismal century, mortal-wise.”
“And if you get bored?” Fin prompted him.
“Perhaps I shall take up stamp collecting.”
It took another half an hour for Shang Ko to complete his healing spell, and afterwards, though Olivia’s eyesight was no better, the pain had eased.
“Liv, why don’t you borrow my shades,” Fin offered, holding them out.
“That bad?” she asked, taking them from him without a bobble.
“You look like you got the worst case of pink eye ever seen. You’re creepin’ me out, though not as much as that teacher of yours.”
“Yeah, well, Slayers are supposed to have trainers, Watchers, and I’m short. He’ll do for now. If I don’t kill him first. Fin, what the hell were you doing there?”
He shrugged. “Elliot asked me to keep an eye out. This whole Harper thing has him nervous as a cat with an espresso habit. Said you’d been goin’ out, slayin’, and Harper was most like to jump you.”
Liv turned to face him, sunglasses shielding her injured eyes, her mouth open in astonishment. “Elliot knows I’m a Slayer?”
Fin paused. “Yeah, maybe I wasn’t supposed to say anything about that.”
If he’d actually tried to go to bed, if there had been the slightest chance that he’d gotten to sleep, it would have taken him longer to answer the pounding at the front door. Instead, it was just a short walk from the kitchen table to the front door, and when he opened it, his partner stood just on the other side, furious. Fin stood behind her, rather sheepish.
“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN YOU KNEW I WAS A SLAYER!” Liv demanded.
“Okay, could we NOT wake up all my neighbors?” Elliot asked, scrubbing the side of his face. He was about three beers into a six pack this evening, and feeling more than a little frazzled. “Come on in.”
He held out his arm to direct her in. She strode in, vibrating with anger. Fin followed behind her and gave Elliot a shrug.
“Sorry, man. Had some trouble tonight, found myself doin’ a little too much explaining. I’d have stayed out of this one, but Liv probably shouldn’t be driving.”
“Why not?” Elliot asked, closing the door.
“You KNEW I was a Slayer, and you didn’t say anything to me?” Liv demanded. “Do you have ANY idea how hard these last few months have been? I thought I was going crazy between the dreams and the stuff I saw.”
Elliot took a deep breath and regarded Liv and Fin. “Anyone else want a beer?”
He walked back into the kitchen, followed by them. Both stopped when they saw the guests.
Sitting at the kitchen table were Rupert Giles and Buffy Summers. Giles stood.
“Detective Benson, I’d like to offer my apologies. In most circumstances, the Watchers’ Council contacts a Slayer as soon as possible. However, because of the exigencies of the Harper case, we believed you would remain completely ignorant of your status and were better off that way.”
“Liv,” Elliot pointed out, “this is Rupert Giles. He’s the head of the Watchers’ Council. That is Buffy Summers, the senior Slayer.”
Liv glanced between the two.
“Rupert, you remember Fin,” Elliot added.
“Nice ta meet you,” Fin gave him an up-nod of the head in acknowledgement.
“Very good to see you again, Detective Tutuola. I’m afraid we still haven’t had a chance to deal with the vampire nest you mentioned in Harlem.”
Fin raised his eyebrows. “Oh, it’s dealt with now.”
Liv gazed at Buffy, who leaned forward, arms on the table. The senior Slayer. She looked like she was maybe old enough to drink alcohol legally, but there was a granite hard core to her, and a frank appraisal in her return gaze. Buffy Summers had been called as the Chosen One when she was not quite fourteen years old. She had, according to Shang Ko’s grudgingly respectful summary, died twice and saved the world so many times, only the most detail-obsessed academic kept track. She’d kept company with ensouled vampires, demons of every shape and variety, one of the most powerful witches of the age, and seemed to attract Apocalypses the way most people attracted credit card offers.
Suddenly tired, Liv took the shades off and rubbed her eyes. They didn’t hurt any more, but they didn’t feel right, and however her vision was currently working, she did not want to depend on it.
“Jesus, Liv,” Elliot breathed. “What the hell happened?”
She glanced at him, still angry.
“That was the trouble we ran into. Something about some demon sacrifice the vamps were workin’ on. The Eyeless One.”
“Kholaro?” Giles asked, eyes wide.
Liv nodded. “Shang Ko explained the last ingredients the vamps were going to add to the potion before drinking it.”
Giles’ eyes went wider. “Shang…I’m sorry, did you say Shang Ko?”
“Yeah,” Liv replied. “He’s been something of a Watcher for me, though he’d throw a very dignified hissy if he heard me say it.”
“Dude’s cold,” Fin added. “Think he figures this is something like running an ant farm.”
“He’s also approximately twelve hundred years old,” Giles said faintly.
“Wow, Giles,” Buffy looked up at him, “and here I thought you were getting on in years.”
Without acknowledging her comment, Giles took a step closer to Liv.
“May I?” he asked, indicating her eyes.
She held still while he examined her eyes, looking closely at the reddened sclera, the pinpoint pupils, and the brown iris.
“What exactly happened?” he asked.
“I was working over a bunch of vamps in the Harlem nest. They were preparing a ritual sacrifice of a human and a G’tar….G’tan…”
“G’telik?” Giles prompted her.
“That’s the one. G’telik demon. Number six had a goblet. I thought it was going to be used to collect blood. It threw the contents at me. Turns out it was the potion they were brewing.”
Buffy hissed in sympathy.
“Well, whatever Shang Ko’s done, it’s extremely subtle. Did he say when the healing spell would be complete?”
Liv took a deep breath. “In about a year. If I didn’t get myself killed before then.”
“What?” Elliot demanded.
She shot him a look, all the more intimidating thanks to the red glow of her eyes.
Giles made a thoughtful frown. “I hesitate to cast judgments on the spell of a twelve hundred year old sorcerer, but I do believe Willow and I can do better. I’ll speak with her when we return.”
That tickled a memory from reviewing the files involved with Harper’s crimes.
“Wait a minute,” Liv protested. “You’re the one – you and Willow – are the ones that signed for O’Shaugnassy’s body, aren’t you?”
She looked back and forth between Giles and Elliot.
“Elliot,” Giles looked over at him, “it really would be best if we explained.”
Elliot didn’t answer verbally, but made a gesture with his hand, giving up and giving Giles permission to go ahead.
“Liv,” she corrected him.
“Liv, Harper, the man who attacked you and almost killed you, was not a run of the mill psychopath. He was a very dangerous shadow mage intent on killing as many Slayers as he could. The victims, including Kennedy O’Shaugnassy, were all either potential or active Slayers. You were his last intended victim. Had he managed to kill you, he could potentially have destroyed the world.”
Liv stood, appalled. There was no doubt in her mind that Giles was being truthful. She had seen too much in the last few months, heard too many stories from Shang Ko, to doubt Giles now.
“Liv, why don’t you take a seat.”
Fin steered a chair out to her, and she sat down, shakily.
“So, Harper…waited for me in the basement and stabbed me so that…”
Giles pressed his lips together. “No. At least, not exactly.”
She stared at him, confounded. Buffy looked back and forth between her Watcher, Elliot, and Olivia.
“You know what sounds really good right now?” she announced. “Chinese! I’m starving. Why don’t Giles and me and Shaft here go pick up some Chinese?”
“Kid, you know how many Chinese restaurants are in Queens that AREN’T open twenty four hours?” Fin asked.
“Let’s find out. Come on, Giles.”
Buffy herded the two men out the front door.
Elliot handed Liv a bottle of beer, which she opened absentmindedly by popping the cap with her thumb. Elliot did a double-take but held his tongue.
She took a sip and stared at the bottle in her hand. Where to start? You didn’t tell me. You knew I was a Slayer, and you didn’t tell me. What happened? What was going on? It wasn’t like interviewing a suspect, where you picked a place to start and chased their story down until it unraveled or pulled together. He was her partner. They had been as close as husband and wife for going on eight years now.
“This Shang Ko,” Elliot began for her. “He’s a mage?”
It was strange beyond the speaking of it to hear him use those words that were so far outside of their ordinary parlance.
“Yeah,” she responded. “Good. Scary good, from what I can tell.”
“He’s the one you’ve been training with?”
She nodded. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him the story, of cornering a Skrar demon in a back alley, drawing it away from its human victim, and then misjudging its speed and being impaled on the spike that extended out from its forearm. If Shang Ko had not been collecting Skrars for a spell he was researching, she would have bled out on the asphalt of the alley, nothing to explain to her coworkers and friends what she’d been doing back there. The story was there to tell him, but she refrained.
“Elliot,” she looked over at him. “I cannot tell you the number of times I wanted to go to you and tell you about the dreams I’ve had, about how I’ve changed over the last six months, or about what I can do now, but I couldn’t, because I knew you wouldn’t believe me. You’d think I was insane. And now I find out that you knew all the time?”
He sighed, pulling over the chair Giles had sat in, reversing it, and sitting down, his arms over the back.
“All I knew, Liv, after the whole mess with Harper, was that you were alive and you weren’t going to remember any of what happened. Including the fact that you were a Slayer. Giles mentioned that maybe – maybe – you might figure it out on your own, but I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to bring it up.”
“What happened with Harper?” she demanded.
He took a deep breath. “I don’t know the details. The big picture was bad enough.”
“Elliot…” her voice turned hard.
“Look, Liv, we were down in that basement, like you know, but instead of Harper jumping you, you just…disappeared. Harper had his hands on you for the better part of ten hours. Cragen pulled me off the case because I was about to go spare. I went after Giles, who we’d originally thought was the killer, and he and Buffy and the rest of their people put things together. Willow was the ex-girlfriend of the second to last girl killed. O’Shaugnassy. She cast a spell to protect you. There was no way for us to know what was going on, so…”
He paused, scrubbing his face, suddenly aware of how close he was to losing it.
“El…?” Olivia stared at him, frightened.
“What he did to those girls…” he closed his eyes. “Uh…Buffy and Faith, the other senior Slayer, and Willow, and the rest of Giles’ gang and all of us-“
“All of us?” she interrupted.
“Cragen, Fin, and Munch. And me. We went in, fought Harper and took him down. I had to go in to this little…Giles called it an enclave…wearing Harper’s face. And I found you, and…”
He couldn’t meet her eyes.
“Fin didn’t say anything about this,” Liv said softly.
“He doesn’t know. Nobody but me and Giles remember the way it really went down. You can ask Buffy. She was there too. I…uh…I got you out of there, but Harper had hurt you. Tortured you. You didn’t break, Liv, but he just about killed you.”
He paused to take a long drink of beer, working past the knot in his throat. She watched him, terribly frightened by how strong his reaction was.
He took a deep breath. “Willow. And Giles. They put together a spell that changed things, altered reality. Took back the power Harper had stolen, and changed the damage he’d done to you so that it was something that could be fixed at a hospital. Changed people’s memories.”
“So…I was stabbed instead.”
“And in surgery for a really long time instead of Harper’s little homemade Hell,” he replied.
“That man, back in the mental ward said that I stank of magic,” she murmured. “He was right. Shang Ko said three different wizards had worked on me. One, Harper, tried to kill me. The other two – Willow and Giles – tried to save me. And they did.”
She looked up at Elliot, who had propped his head against his hand and dangled his beer bottle by the top with his other hand. No wonder he’d been so frantic when they’d learned Harper had escaped. It wasn’t just that she’d almost died on him. She’d been grabbed, worked over, and nearly killed, and he’d barely been able to save her.
“Hey, partner,” she said sharply enough that he looked up at her. “You saved my life, Elliot. That’s what matters. You did the right thing.”
He didn’t look comforted.
“About the Slayer thing,” she continued, “it’s okay that you didn’t tell me you knew. I can see why. Just…you’ll tell me if anything else comes up, right?”
He stared at her, a strange bleakness in his eyes that she couldn’t place.
“Okay,” he answered in a hoarse voice.
She took a deep breath, pushing the sunglasses away from her on the table. “I don’t know that I’m good for a drive back home.”
He gave her a half smile. “I put Buffy in the twins’ old room. You can bunk with her. If Fin wants to stay, he can take Kathleen’s room or the couch.”
The front door opened, and Buffy, Giles, and Fin stomped in, shaking old, wet snow off their boots.
“Place is as bad as Cleveland,” Buffy was saying.
“Can’t believe you found that place so fast,” Fin answered.
“All in the power of the google,” she answered. “And a cell phone that has unlimited long distance and a friend who has no problem doing a quick websearch.”
“Olivia,” Giles called. “I understand you are willing to eat mushu pork. If not, would you accept General Tsao’s chicken?”
“I’ll take both,” she answered, feeling her stomach rumble in response.
“Tol’ ya,” Fin smirked.
Giles and Stabler stood downstairs in the kitchen, only short hours before the day would begin anyways. It was hardly the first time either had stayed up all night to deal with some impending situation.
“Did you tell her about the two of you?” Giles asked softly.
Stabler shook his head.
“Do you really think that’s wise?” It wasn’t accusatory at all. Rather, Giles’ voice was filled with sympathy.
“Honestly, I can’t draw a bead on wise,” Elliot answered. “She doesn’t remember, and I can’t bring it up. It was so out of character for both of us.”
Out of character. Right. Good. Healing. Any number of things that he couldn’t begin to consider baring to Liv if she didn’t remember herself.
“It’s a complication,” Elliot continued. “And right now, we need things as simple as possible.”
“I see,” Giles replied. And he did, thanking his stars that he’d never been put into such a situation.
“What about this Raines guy?” Elliot asked, changing the subject. “What’s the story with him.
Giles took a deep breath. “Well, when I was young and very, very stupid, Ethan was the person with whom I shared my more distressing habits.”
Fenris stood in the shadows of a dying elm tree, watching the business across the street. Business. Busy-ness, he thought. The house was far too bright for him to tread close. There was too much light, too much movement, too many people, and far, far too much strength for him to strike openly. But he stood and watched, keeping count of people.
Slayers, he curled his lip in disgust. They flocked back and forth from room to room – dancing, laughing, talking, living. They were protected both by the scintillating light of the house itself and by the witch who lived in there. The sun. He would devour her. He would stalk her and bring her down like a deer. Her power would be his, and the shadows would become his as well. After her, the Slayers would be easy pickings.
He watched, picking potential victims. The woman, whom he’d seen in the battle when he’d been defeated, but hadn’t faced directly. There were shadows stretched the length of her soul. She had killed, and she’d done it for pleasure. But the shadows were faded and held in check. The man with one eye. He had seen things, been subjected to pain and worse, but there was nothing Fenris could see that would give him a handhold. Women and children, mostly. A few other men moved about the house, showing up in windows and then disappearing. Then, he saw the one he would use. A killer. A weakling. Needy and desperate for approval. Neglected and cowardly. Oh, yes, he would do.