By Any Other Name
“Buffy!” The cry came as soon as she entered the bar, “I’ve found it!”
Buffy raised her eyebrow at Joe’s exclamation, uncertain how to react to the bartender’s enthusiasm, hating the wave of fear that settled in her belly.
Finding out what he really did had shattered Buffy’s easy acceptance of the trust both Duncan and Amanda showed him. She could understand the reasoning behind recording the exploits of Immortals, of keeping an account of their impact on history. It was much the same as the diaries another group of watchers had kept of Slayers for centuries. But then, in so many ways, it was completely different.
At least, for all the troubles the watchers had caused slayers over the years, they had been open, given aid, hadn’t merely hidden in shadows as young girls died. There was something less easy to accept about people who deliberately thwarted the privacy of others without the offer of anything in return. Even their claims that it was necessary for them be silent, to avoid any interference in the lives of those they monitored seemed to be just another deception. Too many of Joe’s recent tales involved rogue agents or disclosed secrets.
The conversations about Death, the Immortal named Methos, which had followed her first fight against Duncan, had done nothing to ease her worries.
What would happen if she ever betrayed his sense of morality, or if another man rose within their elusive organisation and decided that whatever she was, it could be far more dangerous to humanity than any Immortal. Would she find that those who claimed to only watch were now hunting her down?
It wouldn’t be the first time.
Buffy and Joe had settled into something like an uneasy truce over her time with them, but she couldn’t bring herself to trust him. That was okay; these people understood that trust was something that took time.
What it was that Joe had found was apparent when she reached the table about which both he and Duncan were seated. A file was spread before them, complete with a series of photos dating from the last hundred years or so judging by the changing attire of the person depicted in each shot. The face in the photos was all too familiar to Buffy, that of a man whose death she had caused.
It had been years since she thought about that night, another meaningless death in a life holding thousands. There had been others. Those who mistook her for one of the things she fought, or merely feared the power a Slayer held, but the worst to recall were those who followed demons to their doom.**They were so young.
Their youth was what stuck with her, though many of his followers were far older than her. Perhaps youth was not the right word; naivety maybe or innocence, both traits she had long lost.
Whatever you called it, they would look up at her, wide eyed and blameless, as they threw themselves upon her blade. Not understanding the creature which they chose to call master, that he would suck that youth, that innocence out of them until all that remained was an empty husk. A husk he filled with his own power, made into a golem of flesh and sent them out to procure more prey.
He had to be stopped, prevented from doing this to more, to these men and women who were willing to devote their lives to this thing not understanding that it was that very life force he wanted from them. In order to destroy him she had to remove all obstacles from her path, fight her way through those whose only sin was to believe, to fail to see the horror. The slayer wept as she carried out her duty, regretting the necessity of every death.
She finally opened a path to his temple and ran into that ugly monument to his might; impossible architecture held together by magic. When she struck him down the power which maintained the structure was also snuffed out. The stones began to fall like the start of a rainstorm, one dropped, then two more, and then the building collapsed in a torrent all about her.
If there had been a means of escape she wouldn’t have used it, better to end here than to live with the guilt of what she had done.
Better to die than remember.**
Amongst the papers and photos littering the table was one that brought about a resurgence of her fears; a grainy photo of two girls on a bike. Behind it, collected together in the same sheaf of papers, Buffy spotted an image that made her heart freeze.
"They know?" she bit out, the sharpness of her tone alerting the men to her discomfort.
"What..." Joe trailed off following her gaze to the picture that had so terrified her; her driving license complete with photo, "No! They don't know about you.... well not really." he admitted sheepishly.
He passed over the part of the file which documented the Immortal's interactions with her, "They traced the license plate of the motorbike to your registration details."
"What about..." Buffy didn't know how well Willow's magic would stand up to intensive scrutiny. If they had found out who Faith was and linked that back to her prison sentence... she would have to go back. To warn them. Could she do that? Was she ready?
"Your friend?" he asked, "Our researchers found records of a tombstone carved for you in 2001 but no death certificate and concluded that you were the Immortal he was hunting, they didn't delve into the identity of your companion when it appeared you had been killed." Joe shrugged, "We only have so many resources."
She breathed a sigh of relief. Eventually she would go back, she knew that, had made a promise and it would be kept. It would be kept, but it needn’t be yet and she was glad of that. That she wouldn’t be forced into approaching them before she was ready
Buffy couldn't stop herself glancing at Joe, unable to answer Duncan's question without some reassurance that it would go no further than the three of them.
"Don't worry, according to the Watchers, Buffy Summers became Immortal in 2001 by unknown means and remained living with her family until 2004 when Terrance Blythe defeated her in Ohio. You will remain a perfectly unassuming Immortal who never broke the decade to them. I'd just like to know for my own interest."
She glanced to Duncan to once again confirm his trustworthiness, "Okay."
Buffy looked again at the photo of her and Faith on their bike and felt a wave of nostalgia, of longing for those simple weeks when she and Faith had ignored the world, doing only what suited them. What suited a pair of Slayers being, more often than not, hunting, slaying. It had been too long since she had last had the chance to give into that primal desire.
"We were heard the sound of a sword fight, but by the time we got there a man was dead, beheaded and his opponent had fled"
Joe nodded, "Roberto del Sienta."
"Roberto is dead?" Duncan confirmed with surprise.
"I didn't know you'd met."
"We hadn't, but I'd heard of him from... never mind." He caught Buffy's eye sheepishly, "Please continue."
"There's not much to say really. The next day I felt something following me, and when it refused to go we set a trap for him. He knew about Slayers, and that..." she trailed off and glanced guiltily at Joe, "my friend was one but not me. He told us that she shouldn't interfere in the fight and laughed when he realised I didn't have a sword. When he attacked I was aiming just to knock him out but I thought he was a demon of some kind so wasn't pulling my punches and he deflected one into his gut."
Duncan winced at the thought of the power in that blow which she must have given to his unprotected abdomen, "You killed him."
"Yeah, we left him there... we didn't know what he was but I could still sense something - his Quickening. My friend took his sword, it was still one of her favourite weapons the last time I saw her; good balance."
“You didn’t know what he was?”
“But I thought you knew about Immortals from Amanda?” Joe jumped back into the conversation now that his participation was unlikely to silence her.
“I knew what she was, that she couldn’t die, but we didn’t meet another Immortal while we were together. She never told me about the Game.” She shrugged, “To be honest, before I met Cassandra I probably would have guessed at the type of demon Amata had been if reminded of her.”
“So if you didn’t know what he was, why did you…” he trailed off.
“Why did I fight the man who was following me?” Buffy finished for him, “What would you have had me do? I met a man who wanted to ‘take my head’ and my every sense told me was not human.”
~ ~ ~
Duncan drew in a breath like a rattling sigh as they stepped out of the bar, “You’re going to have to get new I.D. soon.”
“What?” She had seen his disappointment when a quick appraisal of her outfit had revealed no lines of cloth out of place due to a blade and was surprised that the admonishment heralded by his sighs hadn't been about that.
“You look like you’re in your late teens, perhaps early twenties but your license puts you in your thirties.”
“And the watchers know my name.”
“Yes." He agreed with a grimace, however much he wanted to convince her to trust Joe, Duncan knew better than to extend that goodwill to others in his organisation, "If you want to stay dead to them you’ll have to change it.”
“Like you do?” She teased, well aware from Amanda that Duncan had been a MacLeod for as long as she had known him.
He shrugged, “It’s a family name.”
“Been in the family for four centuries or so, I know.” Buffy laughingly completed his oft spoken response to suggestions that he might need an alias, “What would you suggest I call myself?”
“While you’re here it would probably be best to stick to something which could be shortened to ‘Buffy’. People about here know you as that.”
“Elizabeth... Winter?” She suggested with a teasing smile.
Duncan shrugged, unwilling to rise to her taunting. An alias unrelated to the previous identity wasn't what was needed to stay hidden, whatever Adam might claim. All the name was needed to do was to stop questions being asked, alarms raised, prevent computer searches on known Immortals finding her.
"And where would I obtain this new identity?"
"Amanda would know best. She is usually forced to change her spots far more regularly than I do." He smiled indulgently thinking of the actions which forced her to do just that, "I have alternative persona's pre-prepared for the times they may become-"
Duncan broke off when Buffy put her hand on his arm, her body tense, senses searching for something mere sight wouldn't find. He too reached out, trying to find what she had felt but there was nothing, nothing but Buffy's quickening which for some reason was making him want to run, telling him not to trust his new friend, warning him of a danger he usually only felt when Methos was near.
“You wanted proof that vampires exist, right?”
He looked at her sharply, “Yes… why?”
“There’s a group about two blocks back." She cocked her head to the side; feeling, thinking, "Some of them have cut ahead to corner us.”
He glanced behind them, seeing noone else on the gloomy backstreet, “How do you know?”
“The same way they found me, the same reason you can feel the presence your own kind; all animals learn to sense their predators and prey.” Buffy pulled him onwards, trying to maintain a pretence that they were unaware of those stalking them.
“And which are we?”
“Depends how you look at it” with a wink and a flick of the wrist to toss a wooden stake across to him which Duncan caught with instincts caused by centuries of martial arts training, “They’re nearly on us, do you remember…”
“In the heart.”
“That’s… that is so completely right!” Buffy stumbled against him, her motions matching the drunken slur which had appeared in her voice.
A man lunged forwards and she swayed, seemingly unstable, yet managing to evade his attacks, dragging him to one side with a forcefulness that she hid in a stumble when another attacked from their side. He quickly righted himself, gaining stable footing with his back to the wall, facing the melee.
She hadn't yet dropped the drunk act, weaving her way between the five men, these men with faces distorted into unnaturally malicious grimaces, Vampires. Buffy fell into one and dragged him back, throwing him across the street to knock into one that had been edging up on Duncan, drawing him back into the fray surrounding her.
Another attacked and he was ready for him, ready for the clumsy hit but not the force of it which shattered down his arm, or the speed of the next attack. Fighting the vampire was a strange mix of speed and strength without any skill to direct it, power without purpose. Duncan knew how to deflect power, how to use it against itself and did so, letting his opponent's unstable footing be his literal downfall, luring him to attack, overreach. He thrust the stake through his back with surprising ease, the wood treated with holy water burning through flesh and bone.
Buffy, he found when he stood, was still toying with her foes, slipping in between them with a speed that matched if not exceeded their own. She ducked a punch, causing it to land on another vampire, but couldn't evade the attacks of both the third and forth of her opponents. One kick was caught in her hand and the limb pushed away with a force that caused the vampire to fall as a hit landed with sickening strength on her kneecap.
Duncan expected her to drop, to stumble, but any pretence of a disadvantage on her part was now over and she merely twisted into a stable stance for retaliation. Buffy had been holding back in their fight, he realised as she fought, throwing a stocky vampire at the wall near him one handed. She could have defeated him with half the skill she had used, but she hadn't.
"You don't like your present?"
Her words brought him back to the moment, to the vampire she had so kindly gifted him. This one wasn't as strong, not as fast. A youngster perhaps? Buffy had mentioned that vampires gained power as they aged, like immortals, like she had. He had left his stake in the first one and, rather than take a break in his fight against this unknown foe, drew his blade from its hiding place within his long coat. Beheading would work just as well.
“I didn’t realise you knew about Slayers, Mac.” the voice echoed along the street as his blade sliced through the vampire's neck. When the dust settled Duncan found Adam leaning casually against the wall, watching Buffy as she stopped playing and started dispatching the three vampires still attacking her, "Or that you'd found out about vampires for that matter."
He turned to Duncan and looked him up and down, assessing him with more than just his eyes, "You've been a busy boy, I can feel-" Adam broke off as he moved closer to them, and glanced sharply between Duncan and Buffy, "it's not you..."
"No. It's her."
Adam's face reflected the horror which had been growing within Duncan as he came to understand the true nature of a slayer's abilities, of just what had entered into the game.