Cordelia was sitting in the Bronze, avoiding most of the people she knew (until it was time to dance) and listening to this student activist type --- name of Josie Palladino-- from UC-Sunnydale pour her heart out.
This time, it was state delegate Anna Vazquez, a publicly proclaimed champion of women’s issues, who was the target of some well-deserved wrath. To make a long story short, it turned out Ms. Vazquez (like this was a surprise) was one of those politicians who talk a good talk as long as it gets them elected, and then feels free to violate campaign promises left, right, and sideways.
Actually, Cordelia was surprised she hadn’t gotten more people complaining about politicians. (She’d been expecting hundreds of people bitching about Clinton alone.) But this was her first one.
But not her first time. She’d gotten three people bitching about Vazquez so far, and the woman simply hadn’t learned her lesson yet.
“I helped bring out the student vote for this woman,” Josie complained. “You know? And now this!”
“I hear you,” Cordelia said. “I liked her too. Would’ve voted for her if I’d been old enough.”
“I thought you said you were eighteen,” Josie said skeptically.
Stupid, Cordelia, stupid! What did D’Hoffryn tell you? Play it safe. Stay neutral! Don’t lose the vengeance because you say something controversial or designed to rouse suspicion. “I am,” Cordelia said. “But I wasn’t on election day.”
“Hmmm. Right, anyway, you know what I wish would happen to that hypocrite?”
“I would love to hear this,” Cordelia said, and meant it.
“I wish her lying tongue would fall out of her head.”
Cordelia nodded. She could do this. “You got it,” she said as her ring glowed.
When she got done talking, she went out to the dance floor and boogied the night away. The next morning before school she teleported into Ms. Vazquez’ hospital room.
The delegate’s eyes widened when she saw Cordelia’s demon form for the third time in a month. Then, wordlessly (because they’d just barely managed to sew her tongue back in; she’d never be able to speak as clearly, or effectively, again), she began to cuss Cordelia out.
“Well, if you’d learned your lesson the first time I wouldn’t have to keep doing this,” Cordelia said. “Now. QUIT LYING. Quit betraying people. This is your last warning. Next time I won’t be so nice.”
Sheesh! What was it with some people?
* * * * *
It had been a couple of days since they’d defeated the Sisterhood; the struggle had been one of absurdly narrow escapes and last-second saves, so much so that it almost came off like a microcosmic self-parody of their lives and battles up to that point.
The important thing, though, was that everyone had survived, though it had been a near thing for some of them. Faith had had a long-running battle through the streets of Sunnydale with one of the sisters that had only ended when she’d thrown it into the path of an oncoming train, and their climactic battle with the Hellmouth Beast had almost gotten Angel killed.
Still, the world continued to turn, and in the end that was the important thing.
Now came an even more difficult task: confessing to Buffy.
“You’re doing the right thing, Watcher-man,” Faith said as she and Giles sat there in the library. “You sure you want me and Angel there?” For his part, Angel was leaning against the rare-books cage, which was back to its normal appearance, the full moon being gone for another twenty-five days or so. The vampire had more or less completely recovered from his injuries.
“You know what happened. Yes. So she can get the complete story.”
“Because, you do realize if she decides to slug you a couple times, I ain’t gonna be stopping her?”
Giles chuckled ruefully. “As long as you stop her from actually murdering me, I think things should be okay.”
“Any word on this observer the Council’s sending?” Angel asked.
“Yes,” Giles said, relieved to be taking his mind off the impending discussion, if only fleetingly. “He should be here in a couple of days.”
“Well, don’t expect me to start toein’ the line just to impress this yahoo,” Faith said. “I’m a lot more into working and playing well with others than I used to be, but doing the things the,” and she affected an atrocious English accent, “proper way still ain’t my style.”
“We will continue to do things the way we’ve been doing them,” Giles said, “And if this Wesley Wyndham-Price doesn’t like it he can go hang.”
From near the door, Buffy asked, “Who can go hang?”
“New Watcher,” Faith said. “Giles and I have divvied it up. He buys the rope, I kick away the horse.” She smiled at Buffy.
“We have decided no such –“ abruptly, Giles realized that Faith was just, in current American parlance, “yanking his chain.”
Buffy noticed Angel and smiled, then frowned. “Something big up?” she asked.
“Kind of,” Angel said. “Not of the big impending evil sort, though.”
After looking around the room for a second, Buffy said, “Okay, there’s a definite something to be said and a definite lack of enthusiasm for wanting to say it. Spill.”
Wordlessly, Giles reached into his bag and pulled out a small case. Opening it, he produced the unused needle, still full of the narcotic he’d injected into Buffy’s system in preparation for that damned cruciamentum.
Slightly confused, Buffy said, “So we’re going into drug dealing?”
“You need to understand,” Giles said, “That this is done in the interest of full disclosure. Of not making the same mistakes that we made in regard to Xander and Willow’s encounter.”
“Giles,” Buffy said, exasperated, “What the hell are you talking about?”
Giles told her.
* * * * *
About twenty minutes later, Buffy was sitting, stunned, in one of the library’s many chairs, just staring at the yellow liquid. “I can’t believe this . . .”
“Believe it, B,” Faith said. “I saw it –“
Buffy shook her head. “That’s not the part I’m having trouble believing.”
Angel said, “I saw the vampire and several members of the Council –“
“That’s not the part I’m having trouble believing either.” After a moment, “Were you going to go through with it?”
“Excuse me?” Giles asked.
“If Faith hadn’t caught you. You called the cruciamentum a barbaric and disgusting ritual, but you were going to do it. So, let’s say Faith goes directly to a weapons store. Would your disgust,” and the amount of venom in that last word was overpowering, “have stopped you from finishing up the ritual? Would you at least have had the decency to tell me what was going on?”
There was an uncomfortable silence, which Giles finally broke with, “I don’t know. I’d like to think I would have – but I truly can’t say.”
“Well, that’s honest, anyway.” Then she turned to look at Faith and Angel. “And you two –“
Faith looked back at her. “Look. B. You know I’d never do anything to hurt you. Not after what you did for me. I would’ve burned that building down if I’d had to to stop that test from happening.”
“That should go without saying for me, too,” Angel added. “And I’d have done the same.”
“But you didn’t tell me about it,” Buffy said. “God! After what happened the last time, with Xander, with Willow, you’d think we’d have all learned.”
Earnestly, Faith said, “If Giles hadn’t told you, I would have. So would Angel. We did learn our lessons.”
“Because Giles was the one who told you,” Angel said quietly. “It may have taken him awhile, but he did. And he came to you.”
Buffy looked first at Faith, then Angel, then Giles. Finally she said, “There is that.” She chuckled bitterly. “I asked for honesty, it’s not fair of me to bitch about getting it.”
“I would give anything never to have started,” Giles said.
Buffy nodded. “I think I know that. But it did.” Before anyone could say anything, she stood up. “Look. I think it’ll be okay. Eventually. You and you,” she said, talking to Angel and Faith, “You’d have told me if he hadn’t.”
“Eventually,” Angel said without a trace of irony.
“You know it, B.”
“Well, then. Until eventually.” And she left the library. That had gone better than Giles had feared. It seemed as though his link with Buffy had been merely bent, not broken.
“Do you think she’ll be okay?” Angel asked.
Faith said, “’course she will. She’s B. She can get through anything.”
Giles stopped and looked at Faith. “You really believe that, don’t you?”
“Damn right I do.” The look on her face was almost worshipful. Giles recalled that Faith had more than once referred to Buffy as her savior. He now wondered how literally she meant it . . .
* * * * *
A couple of days later, Mr. Trick brought some swords into the Mayor’s office and dumped them on his desk.
“So what about these swords?” the deputy mayor asked nervously. What should we do about that?”
Mayor Wilkins examined them closely, then said, “Well, let's just keep an eye out. We've got the dedication coming up in a few days. We certainly can't have anything interfering with that.”
Jittery as a mouse at a cat show, the deputy mayor said, “Well, maybe we should postpone the... the-the dedication.” The Mayor looked at him as though he’d just suggested he run himself through with a sword.
“I believe,” Mr. Trick said, “The honorable mayor HATES that idea.” The look on the deputy mayor’s face clearly showed that he’d figured this out already.
Mayor Wilkins stood up and walked around the room. “The dedication is the final step before my Ascension.” As the deputy mayor dodged out of his way, the Mayor opened a cabinet and took out some towelettes, then began wiping his hands. After the Hundred Days, I'll be on a higher plane. And I'll have no more need for . . .well, let's just say I won't be concerned with the little things. Trick, watch these people. Anything you find out about them, let’s just see that the information reaches the Slayers. Who knows? With any luck, they’ll kill each other. Then everyone’s a winner.” He paused a second and started to chuckle. “Everyone, of course, meaning me.”
Cordelia hated Arashmaharr. The place stank and there wasn’t a clear floor and the smoke couldn’t have been doing her hair any good.
Still, when D’Hoffryn called, you came.
“I’ve been monitoring your progress,” he said.
“Good to know,” Cordelia said.
D’Hoffryn frowned. “Aren’t you worried about how I might judge you?”
“No,” Cordelia said. “Why should I be?” After a second, “Should I be?”
“Well, it must be said you’ve proven rather . . . imaginative. That one where the man wished his business partner would choke on all that money he stole . . . “
Shrugging, Cordelia said. “Nothing real imaginative there. He wanted the guy to choke; he choked. The man nearly died, and the eighty thou was ripped off by the man that saved him. Seemed fair.”
“You do seem to want to avoid actually killing.”
“I told you that going in,” Cordelia said. “I’m not out for blood. Besides, what good is revenge if the people you’re taking it on don’t understand what’s happening to them?”
“And that, I suppose, is the purpose of your . . . lessons?”
“Lessons? Oh, you mean when I teleport in and tell them to knock off the lying. Yeah, pretty much. They’re not going to learn if they’re dead. Of course, some of them are having trouble learning right now, but I think overall people are getting it.”
D’Hoffryn nodded. “I think you have a genuine appreciation for the finer points of revenge,” he said. “Too many of my demons just want to cause as much physical pain as they can; they seem to care nothing about the mental pain. By keeping your victims alive, you’re assuring that they feel that.”
“I should damn well hope so,” Cordelia said. “So, I take it I shouldn’t be worried?”
“Not worried at all,” D’Hoffryn said. “I think you have a real future in vengeance.”
“Always good to hear. So, can I go? I’ve got this one woman in Japan I need to catch up to.” Ability to speak any language was a nice fringe benefit of being a vengeance demon.
“Certainly, my dear. I never stand in the way of a good vengeance.”
* * * * *
Xander, Willow, Buffy and Faith were sitting in the student lounge around a table piled high with letters from colleges. Picking up a few, Xander began to read. “Harvard. Yale. Wesleyan. Some German Polytechnical institute whose name I can’t pronounce. Is anyone else intimidated? Because I’m just expecting thin slips of paper with the words ‘no way’ written in crayon.”
“Yeah, well,” Faith said, cracking her knuckles. “I don’t gotta worry about that. I don’t think college is the life for me. I’m working my butt off here to get C’s and occasional B’s; I don’t think I want to go where it gets even harder.”
“Yeah, but that’s your CHOICE,” Xander said. “Me? I get visions of people cracking open my applications and laughing until they collapse.”
Meanwhile, Willow and Buffy were looking through some of the other brochures.
Willow said with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, “I got in. Yay me.” She opened another letter and said sadly, “Oh. They’re even fighting over me. I’ve never had people fight over me before.”
“Sensing no thrill, Will,” Buffy said. “What’s up?”
Willow’s wordless answer was to point down towards her stomach. “A single mother in college? Yeah, that’ll be REAL easy.”
“Well, hell,” Xander said, “It’s not like I’ll be doing anything. Ooh. No. wait. I’m still waiting to hear back from the Corndog Emporium.” He gazed up towards the heavens ironically. Faith and Buffy laughed.
“No, Xander,” Willow said. “We agreed. I’m not going to tie you down –“
“Will,” Xander said, “This isn’t being tied down. This is my choice. Okay?”
“I just don’t want you to regret –“
Before Xander could answer, Buffy said, “You’ve got almost six months to work it out. No need to settle it all in one day.” Cordelia passed by and sneered in their general direction, but didn’t say anything. Ever since the big revelation, she’d not only stayed away from the Scoobies, she’d become almost a hermit. She’d given up her extracurriculars, and didn’t seem to go on many dates. The only thing the new Cordelia has in common with the old Cordelia was, well, her fabulous fashion sense.
The few times Buffy’d tried to talk to Cordy, she’d been rebuffed. At least Oz seemed willing to leave the lines of communication open. Eventually, Buffy’d shrugged and put it aside. Cordy was hurting, she had reason to hurt, so there was no point in trying to force her to talk if she didn’t want to.
Still sucked the way it had happened, though.
Willow started gathering up her acceptance letters. Faith said, “Yo. Xander. You mean what you just said?”
“About the Corndog Emporium? Naaah, they already turned me down.”
“No. The responsibility gig.”
Xander nodded vigorously. “I never would’ve considered doing anything else.”
“Good to see some guys getting it.” Xander smiled.
“Will,” Buffy said. “You still up for helping me with Mrs. Taggart’s chemistry exam?”
“I’m pregnant, Buff. It doesn’t affect my brain. Okay, it does, but not that way. Sure I can help. It’s a lot like witchcraft, only less newt. Come over tonight.”
“Faith, you good for the patrolling?”
“It’s more fun when you’re there.” After a second, “Still, likely nothing I can’t handle.”
Then the bell rang and they went their separate ways.
* * * * *
Faith trailed B to the library. It’d been a bitch and a half scheduling the two of them for the same free period, but somehow Giles had managed it.
B still wasn’t completely happy about what had happened with the test, but she was getting there. She and Giles kept it business most of the time, but B loved the guy too much to keep it that way for too long.
When they opened the doors, Giles was sitting on top of the table, looking like he would’ve rather been hitting his own head with a hammer. Some other dude with an English accent was standing up and talking. Cute if you liked that kind of dweebish charm, which Faith didn’t.
“Of course,” the man said. “Training procedures have been updated quite a bit since your day. Much greater emphasis on field work.”
“Really,” Giles said, bored out of his skull.
Course, the other guy didn’t even notice. “Oh yes. It’s not all books and theory nowadays. I have, in fact, faced two vampires myself. Under controlled circumstances, of course.”
“Yeah,” Faith said. “Nothing harder than killing a vamp who’s all tied up.”
Suddenly the two noticed B and Faith. “Hello, Faith. Buffy.”
“Hey, Giles,” B said.
“Well, hello,” the man said, pompous as anything.
B looked at him, and then at Giles and said, “The observer?”
Giles nodded. “The observer.”
He held out his hand. “Wesley Wyndham-Price. At your service.” Faith shook his hand, and so did Buffy. “Faith . . . is it?” he said. “The vampires were not tied up. It was more of an . . . arena setting.”
“With lotsa other Watchers around to take out the vamp case he got too frisky,” Faith said.
“Well . . . yes.”
B asked Wesley, “Are you evil?”
“The last Watcher we got was evil.”
“Ah yes,” Wesley said. “Gwendolyn Post. We all heard. No, Mr. Giles has checked my credentials rather thoroughly and even phoned the Council, but I'm glad to see you're on the ball as well. A good Slayer is a cautious Slayer.” After a moment or so of silence, he nodded to Giles. “Well? This is your show, after all.”
“How good of you to notice,” Giles said sarcastically. “How did the patrolling go last night?”
“Vampires,” B said.
“And?” Giles prompted.
“We killed them.”
“Yeah,” Faith said, not wanting B to get herself or Giles in trouble because of the strain they were going through. “One of ‘em was carrying a sword. Knew how to use it, too.”
Apparently, this prodded B along a bit, because she added, “Yeah. He also had on some kind of costume.”
“You mean, like a pirate outfit?”
Faith laughed. “Naah. Leather. Looked kinda Asian.”
“What happened to the swords?” Wesley asked.
B shrugged. “Don’t know. We looked for them after the fight, but they were gone.”
“Swords and uniforms,” Wesley said. “Hold on a bit, would you?” He opened a book he’d brought with him and began to look through it. “One long, one short?”
“Jeweled, too,” Faith added.
“That does sound familiar,” Giles said to Wesley. Wesley handed him the book, and Giles read “El eliminati. Fifteenth century duelist cult. Said to have almost vanished in later centuries – largely because they killed each other off.”
“They later became the acolytes of a demon named Balthazar,” Wesley said. “He brought them to the new world – specifically, here. But they were driven off and Balthazar was killed.”
Faith said, “Well, whether Balthazar kicked or not, the cult’s alive. Wonder what they’re doing in town.”
“This is the Hellmouth,” B said. “Not like vamps really need an excuse.”
“True enough,” Giles said. “But according to this, Balthazar had an amulet that made him stronger. After he died, a local man took the amulet and it was apparently buried with him.” He closed the book.
B said, “So what do you think? They just trying to find this thing for kicks, or you think maybe Balthazar isn’t as dead as they say?”
“Interesting question,” Giles said. “Either way, I think we need the amulet –“
“Right. We’ll get it tonight.” B paused. “Anything else?”
“Only that it was nice to meet you both,” Wesley said.
“Yeah, likewise I’m sure,” Faith said, and they both took off.
Out in the quad a few minutes later, Faith said, “I thought things were getting better with you and Giles?”
“They are,” B said. “I just thought that with the observer there I should be businesslike. You know? Not cause any trouble?
“Gotcha,” Faith said, though she wasn’t convinced. B still had some stuff to work through.
Faith was sure she’d do it, though. After all, she was B.
“ . . . it yourself?” B asked.
“Can you handle getting the amulet yourself?”
“What, you think you’re talking to an amateur here?”
B’s eyes widened. “You’re not an amateur? Well, tell me who’s sending your checks, because I’m not getting mine . . .”
They bantered like that for a few minutes before they had to split off and head for class. B seemed a little happier when she went.
And damn, but wasn’t that good to see.
* * * * *
That night, while B and Willow did some cramming, Faith headed to the Gleaves tomb. She’d opened a couple of coffins and was just about to take the amulet when she saw torches and heard voices. She grabbed it and dove behind the first coffin.
Six vamps, like the one she and B had killed the night before, came in and looked around. They poked at the open coffin and the leader growled.
Faith figured she had about five seconds before they checked the other coffin and found her hiding behind it.
Well, this wasn’t going to be fun . . .
Buffy and Willow were taking a quick break from studying.
“Just wanted to let you know . . . I’ve been talking with Oz. Keeping him in the loop.”
Willow sighed. “That’s good. The loop thing, I mean.”
“Yeah. He even says that if something really heavy goes down we can count him in.”
A little hesitantly, “How is he?”
“You haven’t tried to talk to him?”
“A couple of times, and, then, well, you remember how I was when you met me? How I kept tripping over my own tongue when it came to anything related to guys, or, well, anything?” Buffy indicated that she did. “Ten times worse. But, if you talk to him again, tell him I’m sorry, okay?”
“I will. He’s still mad. More at Xander than you –“
“No!” Willow said. “He should be mad at me.”
Looking at Willow skeptically, Buffy said, “You’re not going to tell me that Xander was completely innocent.”
“We were equally guilty,” Willow said. “Tell him it’s not fair of him to be more angry at Xander than at me.” Buffy frowned. “Tell him,” Willow said.
“Anyone ever tell you you’d make a good dictator?” Buffy asked.
“My life’s ambition.”
“Watch out. Get too uppity I might have to take you down.”
“Like you could.” They laughed, and then Willow said, “I hope Faith’s doing okay. You know, now that she’s not being completely skanky I actually kind of like her.”
“She does kind of grow on you, doesn’t she? It’s just –“
“Well, she still seems to be in full hero-worship mode with me. A day doesn’t go by when she’s not telling me how great I am, or how glad she is I saved her, or something like that. And don’t get me wrong, it’s flattering being up on this pedestal. But I feel like I can’t slip, you know?” She cracked her knuckles. “It’s actually a pretty big incentive to stay on the straight and narrow. But I’d like to think every once in a while I could get a little wild or make a mistake without worrying whether she’s going to end up back on the road to Hell.”
“I don’t think it’s only you, Buff. She’s friendly with me and Xander, she likes Giles—“ Buffy’s face twisted a second, but she didn’t say anything –“and I think she really loves your mom.”
“Got a point there,” Buffy said. “She’s just not used to the nice mom routine. Faith’s own mom was a bitch beyond words. Not only am I not surprised she ended up the way she did, I’m amazed there was anything left for me to reach at all.” She looked out the window. “But she should be okay. After all, it’s just a snatch-and-grab routine, right?”
* * * * *
Used to be, faced with six vamps and a do-or-die situation, Faith would’ve laughed and attacked – whether that would’ve been a death wish or just extreme sports taken a step too far, she didn’t want to know. But now? Now she’d gotten a little of her sensible back. “Damn-the-Torpedoes” was almost sure suicide.
Of course, just waiting there and hoping the vamps just didn’t look behind the next coffin wasn’t exactly the surest way to a long healthy life, either, but at least now she was able to give what she was going to do a little thought before she threw herself into the line of fire.
She had three options: Slug her way out, try to run for it, or talk. Slugging it out wasn’t an option. Running, well, they’d left the door open, but she’d have to plow through three of the vamps hanging back near the door.
What would B do?
She had it. She stood up and said, “Okay, now, you want this, right?” As one the vampires growled and went for their swords. “Whoa!” Faith said, putting the amulet on the crypt floor and putting her foot over it. “Let’s not overreact. I ain’t dumb enough to try to fight you, but if you try to take me out before I have my say I’ll smash this thing. And I’m thinking, you want it more than you want me dead.”
“Smash it and we’ll kill you,” the leader said.
“Looks like,” Faith said, “But I’m gonna take a few of you with me when I go.” They looked at her like they didn’t believe her. “Oh, come on,” she said. “You think I would’ve been sent for this thing if I couldn’t take on a vampire or two?” She reached forward and hefted the nearer coffin lid into the air, then dropped it, being very careful not to actually step on the amulet.
The vampire muttered among themselves for a few seconds. “—human either” – “Balthasar would be furious” – “can take her, I know” – “That bastard Wilkins must’ve hired her” –
Whoa. She was glad she’d just gotten the scoop on Balthasar’s not being dead, but what the hell was this about a Wilkins? Only Wilkins she knew ran the town. She’d run it by B and Giles, assuming she got out of here not dead. “So,” the leader said, shutting up the others with a look, “If you’re working for Wilkins why’re you so willing to sell him out? That’s not . . . honorable.”
Honorable . . . okay, she had to remember that too. Vamps with a sense of ethics. Who’d’ve thunk it? “I don’t . . . work for Wilkins. Not that way. Strictly a one-time gig, get in, get the amulet, give it to him, get out. I only get paid if I deliver the goods. So if I turn it over to you, I don’t get paid but I get to keep my life.”
They muttered among themselves again, more quietly this time. Apparently they didn’t figure her for super-hearing. Too bad she didn’t actually have it.
Of course, while she was wishing, she’d take heat vision and super-strength.
“All right,” the leader said. “Give us the amulet and we’ll let you walk.”
“Wasn’t born yesterday,” Faith said. “So here’s how it’s going to work. I’m going to pick this up and walk over to the door. Then I’ll drop the amulet and clear out of the neighborhood. I don’t want to be anywhere near here when Wilkins finds out I’ve failed.”
“You doubt our word?” the leader asked threateningly.
Faith worked out her response as she talked: “Not that, so much,” she said slowly, “But I think you think I’m not honorable . . . and that if I’m not honorable then you might as well not keep your bargain with me.” From the looks on their faces she knew she’d gotten it right.
Still, they couldn’t exactly say that. The leader did his best to sound like he’d been insulted and said, a bit snotty, “Of course not. But if you prefer to do it your way, then we will. We have to have the amulet.” Reluctantly, the other vamps nodded as well.
“Put away your swords,” Faith said. “Wouldn’t want your hands to slip or nothing.”
“Our swords will remain out,” the leader said.
Faith supposed that was the best she could do. She picked up the amulet and, carefully keeping her back to the wall, slithered around the edge of the crypt and to the door, avoiding the urns. When she got to the door she took one more backwards step and said, “By the way. You know that part about me being dishonorable?”
“You were right.” And she shoved the door open and ran like hell.
* * * * *
“A remarkable tale,” Giles said in the library the next morning. “Bluffing six vampires – that took quite a bit of intelligence. Well done, Faith.”
“Yeah, well, I just wondered what B would do, and I came up with this.”
“Normally,” Wesley said with a hint of reproof, “I would think it unwise to leave live enemies behind. However, the amulet was the top priority, and you indeed brought it back. Permit me to echo Mr. Giles. Well done. Plus, you wisely emulated an older, more experienced Slayer.” Faith smiled and said thanks.
During the conversation, Giles was examining the amulet. “This is it,” Giles said. “This is Balthazar’s.”
“Shouldn’t you verify it first?” Wesley asked. At Giles’ glare, Wesley said, “I’m just saying –“
“I know what you’re saying,” Faith said. “And if I’d found this thing out there lying on the ground somewhere, then yeah, I’d say run it through the crime lab. But it was supposed to be in this dude’s crypt, and it was. And that cult – who ain’t nearly as extinct as you thought – was in there looking for it too, and they all acted real nervous when I made like I was going to smash it.”
“Well put,” Giles said.
Wesley didn’t say anything, so Giles assumed he agreed with Faith’s surprisingly well-reasoned argument. He made a mental note to himself to stop underestimating the girl; that just because she was uneducated hardly meant she was unintelligent.
“Oh yeah,” Faith said. “One more thing and then I gotta haul ass to class: The cult thought I was working for some guy named Wilkins.”
“Wilkins?” Giles said. “Are you quite certain?”
“Yeah. Only Wilkins I know is the Mayor of this town. Thought you’d want to know.”
“Thanks. I’ll bear it in mind.” Then she left.
“Do you actually think the Mayor is involved in all of this?” Wesley asked.
“I have no idea,” Giles said. “Offhand I’d say no, but then this wouldn’t be the first time that a politician had decided to get into supernatural affairs. It wouldn’t even be the first time this decade. Nor would be the first time danger had arrived from some direction we couldn’t possibly have anticipated.”
“True enough,” Wesley said. Then, with no segue, he said, “Would you like to hear my opinion of you so far?"
“If I said no,” Giles said tiredly, “Would that stop you?”
Wesley forced a laugh and said, “No. In any event, while this is certainly only a preliminary evaluation, I am forced to admit that despite your not doing things by the book nearly as often as you should, your Slayers appear disciplined and intelligent and they seem to have their eyes on the bigger picture and not simply on the immediate kill.”
“So you approve.”
“Of your results, certainly. Your methods could stand some fine-tuning, and perhaps you could be a little firmer with your discipline, but overall I’d say I very much approve.”
And Giles was left speechless.
After finishing Mrs. Taggart’s test – she actually thought she’d done pretty well – Buffy went to see Giles. Faith had already given her the lowdown on her thrilling escapades of the previous night, but she didn’t know what any of it meant yet.
And besides, no matter what she’d said to Faith yesterday, she wasn’t still back on full speaking terms. No .matter how much Giles had apologized, no matter that he’d told the truth about her weakness, betrayal bothered her.
But she had to get past it. For her sake, for his, for the sake of the team. So while she’d rather just avoid him for the moment, she couldn’t do that.
She opened the library doors. Giles was sitting at the table, reading, with an amulet Buffy guessed was the one had gotten Faith chased over half of Sunnydale; Wesley was doing a little shadow-swordplay off in the corner, lecturing Giles on the Council’s “new training methods.”
Wesley was awfully green and pompous; kind of like early Giles. Maybe that was why he was being sent on a review mission; while he knew his way around books, and his swordplay wasn’t incompetent, he wouldn’t have lasted more than five minutes in actual combat. Buffy supposed the Council had to have its share of bureaucrats, and maybe Wesley was on that fast-track, because he’d obviously never make a street-fighter.
The observer saw her first. “Ah! Ms. Summers!” he said, fumbling the sword back into its scabbard. “Good morning!”
“Morning,” Buffy said back with distinctly less enthusiasm. “Hey, Giles. Anything on the amulet?”
Giles looked up. “I assume Faith told you of last night’s escapades?”
“Every hair-raising plot twist,” Buffy said. “Including this thing about the Mayor maybe being involved somehow?”
“It seems unlikely,” Giles said. “Still, as soon as the immediate threat is over, we should probably check it out.”
Buffy nodded. “Done and done. Now please, tell me she didn’t piss off a cult of warrior vampires for nothing.”
“No, no, this is it,” Giles said. “Which means that they’ll be looking for it . . . and Faith. I fear it’s looking more and more like Balthazar may actually be alive.”
“I’m still not convinced,” Wesley said. “All the records indicate –“
“Wes,” Buffy said, “No offense, but it’s been my experience that while books are a good place to start, they’re not always a good place to finish. Faith faced six of these cultists last night, and if they’re not dead then maybe there’s a shot Balthazar isn’t as well?”
“I suppose,” Wesley said, “That that’s a possibility. Well argued, Ms. Summers. However, as of yet we have no actual proof. Let’s not jump to any conclusions?”
“I won’t if you won’t,” Buffy said. After a second, Wesley smiled, but it was the smile of someone who didn’t quite get the joke.
“In any event,” Giles said, “Since the cult wants to get its hands on the amulet irrespective of whether Balthazar himself is around to claim it, what do we do with it?”
“Keep it somewhere safe,” Buffy said.
“Yes, but where could it be safer than here?” Wesley asked. “Where it could be protected by two Slayers?”
“We’re not here all the time, Wes,” Buffy said. “Don’t worry. I have an idea.”
* * * * *
“Hey. What’s up?”
“We’ve gotten ourselves into a fight with this warrior cult and their supposedly dead demon overlord –“
Angel smiled. “Supposedly is right, at least by the way they’re talking. Word on the street puts him in the packing warehouse on Devereau. You mean Balthazar, right?”
In mock exasperation, Buffy threw up her hands. “Why do I bother telling you anything?” Angel smiled a little wider. “Anyway, last night Faith nearly got herself killed getting this –“ She pulled the amulet out of her pocket. “She’s got the vamps out for her hide right now. She’s kind of laying low while I take tonight’s patrolling. Anyway, you think you could hide this?”
“You like Faith’s hide better than mine?” Angel said, taking the amulet.
Buffy stuck out her tongue. “Not hardly,” Buffy said. “But I’m the only one who knows you have it. Those vamps would have to be a lot smarter than they’ve let on so far to manage to track it to you.” After a second. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m okay,” he said. “I think all the injuries I got from the Hellmouth beast have healed.”
“Good,” Buffy said. “Good.”
Neither one of them said anything for a minute or so.
“So,” Buffy said, “Devereau, you say?”
Angel nodded. “You’re not thinking of going in alone, are you?”
“Unless they’re torturing kids or puppies, no.”
“Good idea. Do you . . . want backup?”
“Strictly recon,” Buffy said. “Thanks, though.”
“Always,” Angel said. “In that case, I’d better make sure this thing’s out of reach.”
“Good,” Buffy said. “Good.”
Eventually she got around to leaving.
* * * * *
The word on the street was right. The cult was in the warehouse . . . and Balthazar was in there, assuming Balthazar was the pale fat tub of goo sitting in, well, a tub. He angrily berated his followers while Buffy watched.
He had to have a dozen of his followers there; that alone would’ve made Buffy think twice about charging in, but Balthazar also used some kind of mind-voodoo to drag one of the vampires close to him.
Ick and triple ick. That had to be one of the grossest experiences imaginable . . . for once in her life, she sympathized with a vampire.
A couple of more minutes taught her nothing except that Balthazar had a lousy temper and REALLY wanted that amulet.
Okay. This should all prove useful. Come back tomorrow with a strike force, go in hard and fast.
Who said things were never easy?
* * * * *
Mayor Richard Wilkins had just survived a sneak attack from one of Balthazar’s warriors, and had only been saved by the timely intervention of Mr. Trick. After the Mayor ordered the vampire locked up, Trick said, “He wakes up, he's just gonna try and kill you again.”
As the Mayor sat down, he said, “Yes, yes; I expect he will.”
Deputy Mayor Finch said, “If you don’t need me, sir, I’ll, I think I’ll go check on security.”
Mayor Wilkins nodded. “You do that, Allan. And try to relax, would you?”
Entirely unrelaxed, Finch said, “I’ll do that.” Then he left the room.
“Why do you keep him around?” Trick asked. “I assume it’s not just so I’ll have a food supply case I don’t make it out one PM.”
The Mayor laughed. “Allan? He’s good with the paperwork. Also, he does all those pesky mayoral things I haven’t had time for ever since I began my Ascension. That’s a job of work, you know. But tonight it should all come together.”
The Mayor clasped his hands. “Everything.”
“Anything you want done about—“ he gestured towards where Vincent still lay –“his type? Near as I can tell the Slayers already know about them; dunno if they got the goods on your fat rival, but he still might be an issue.”
“Drop a few hints their way. Just in case. They should both be at the school.”
Trick nodded, but said, “Gonna be a little hard to manage, what with the daylight and all.”
Laughing, the Mayor stood and clapped Trick on the shoulder. “That’s why I pay you the big bucks.” He grabbed his notebook and left the room.
Trick watched him go. “Someone’s way behind on the paychecks, then . . .”
* * * * *
After a big breakfast the next morning – Joyce had been in the mood for a stack of pancakes, and Faith and B weren’t gonna turn those down – they hauled tail to the library. Xander and Willow were already there, and Giles and Wesley were chatting it up something fierce in his office. B went over and made small talk with Xander and Willow.
Meantime, Faith watched the fun in the office.
“. . . . they’re civilians,” Wesley said. “Normal, unpowered civilians. I can see bringing Buffy’s tame vampire into this –“ Whoa, good thing B couldn’t read lips.
“The civilians have spent more time fighting vampires than you have,” Giles said.
“Fine. I still register my disapproval.”
“See how it works,” Giles said tiredly, “Before you register.”
Wesley said, “I shall do precisely that.”
They came out, still glaring at each other. “Well, then, we’re all here,” he said. “Shall we come up with out battle plan?”
“We’re . . . not all here, Giles,” Buffy .
“Yeah,” Xander said, “But, darn that pesky sun, Angel’s kind of stuck where he is.”
B said, “I didn’t mean Angel – I’m gonna fill him in as soon as we’re done.”
“I think a daylight attack would be preferable,” Wesley said. “Surely the advantages of sunlight would more than make up for the lack of another combatant?”
“Angel’s the only other one around I’m SURE can take on these bozos one-on-one, Wes,” Buffy said. “We need that more than we need a few patches of sun.”
“’sides,” Faith said. “These guys are experienced. They’re not gonna leave a whole lot of sunlight streaming in anyway.”
Willow said, “You said we’re not all here, Buffy. Who else is coming?”
And, from the doorway, Oz said, “Hey.”
Weeks of practice and Cordelia’d gotten good. When she’d started this vengeance demon gig, she was careful to only do it before or after school – and she’d kind of given up her social life as a consequence. Not that she had much of one, what with her hating Buffy and her friends and Harmony and her flock doing their best to make her as invisible as possible, but she was no damn Marcie Ross and she was never going to be.
It had taken her a while, but she figured if she kept showing up at school and nowhere else then either Buffy and her crew would get suspicious, or even worse, they’d get CONCERNED. So she was now making the occasional Bronze scene just to hang out and be seen. And she made damn sure she WAS seen. She didn’t need any followers to be popular; she was Cordelia Chase, after all. She led the crowd, she didn’t follow it.
And she’d puzzled out how to dodge out in the middle of the school day simply by saying she was going to the bathroom. She’d managed to finish off four or five wishes that way in the last couple of weeks, including a Japanese woman wishing her ex-boyfriend would never have another honest lover for the rest of his life. Okay, not spectacular, but it was going to bring in some future business and the guy’d be suffering for a while.
So she wasn’t expecting this time to be any different – there was a guy in Cleveland who was primed and ready to curse up a storm against his auto mechanic. But when she got to the bathroom, before she could head into a stall and teleport out, she got thrown against the lavatory wall.
She found Anyanka glaring at her. “Give me my powers back,” the ex-demon demanded.
Not being particularly gentle about it, Cordelia shoved her across the room and sighed. “Go away, Anyanka.”
Standing up, she said, “No. For over a thousand years I wielded the powers of the wish, and now look at me. I’m mortal.” She frowned. “I’m pathetic. And it’s your fault.”
“It’s your own damn fault and you know it,” Cordelia said, losing patience. “Now go away and don’t bother me again.” She walked into the stall.
She could hear Anyanka vowing, “I WILL get my powers back. And if you won’t give them to me willingly, then – then –“
“Then what?” Cordelia snapped. “I beat you when you had powers and I didn’t. What makes you think things are going to change now?”
Then she teleported away.
* * * * *
“Oz,” Willow said towards the doorway.
Then, just in case anyone hadn’t gotten it, she looked back at the table and said, “Oz. It’s Oz.”
“We see him, Will,” Xander said. “Hey.”
Oz ignored him and looked directly at Buffy. “You said you had something big. What’s up?”
Buffy opened her mouth, but before she could answer Wesley said, “Now, really, I must protest. It is against my better judgment that Mr. Harris and Ms. Rosenberg be involved in this. But this young man, who, I’ve never even been introduced to –“
“His name is Oz,” Faith said, smirking.
Wesley looked at her sourly. “Well, yes; I’d picked up that much. But what does he bring to our combat?”
“An additional pair of eyes and arms and the best nose in town,” Buffy said. Then, looking at Oz, she said, “Oz, Wesley. Wesley, Oz.”
“Hey.” Oz moved over and leaned against the rare books cage. To Buffy, he said, “Observer guy?”
Then Giles said, “Right then.” He took a piece of paper from his briefcase. “According to what Willow was able to get off the internet, plus Buffy’s observation, this is the floor plan we have of the warehouse. Balthasar is here,” he said, pointing to the map, “and he is more or less immobile. Still, he does seem to have a telekinetic power of sorts . . .” Buffy and Giles had worked out the rough outline of a plan in advance; Giles was doing the majority of the presentation for a good reason. They’d figured he was bound to get testy when Buffy brought Xander, Willow and Oz into the action, so that the Watcher was the one doing the leading was a way of getting him to calm down.
“Oz,” Giles said. “How is your . . . nose?”
“If I concentrate, I can definitely smell things that I wouldn’t have been able to before. I could pick any of you out of a room. I can’t tell what you had for breakfast this morn – pancakes?” he said, looking at Buffy.
“Not bad,” Buffy said. She stole a look at Willow. She seemed to not be in imminent danger of hyperventilating, but she was definitely freaked.
“Buffy was able to slip in,” Giles continued, “Because she was by herself and knows how to be stealthy. Faith and Angel share the same ability. The rest of us, though –“
“Might as well be walking around in clown suits tooting those little horns,” Faith said.
“Not quite the metaphor I would have used, but effectively, yes,” Giles said. “The plan is for us to split into two forces. Buffy, Angel and I will be coming in in one direction. Faith will be leading the rest of you in the other. You will primarily be a distraction and will come in a grand display. Oz: We’d like you to keep your nose out for anyone along the route. It will do us no good if you’re ambushed. We’re going to be going shortly after dark, to maximize the likelihood that we catch the entire cult.”
Xander said, “Wouldn’t want one of those murderous little buggers to slip by us.”
“Oz, Xander: You will be given crossbows. Start shooting when you go in – try not to aim them towards Faith. When the vampires approach – and they will, Faith having thoroughly embarrassed them earlier --turn and run. Buffy, Angel and I will then attack from the other direction.” Angel was going to make his way through the sewers as close to the warehouse as he could, and then run the rest of the way there right at nightfall.
“And myself?” Wesley said.
Giles’ eyebrows raised. “I didn’t realize you wanted to come.”
Wesley said, “How am I supposed to judge your abilities as a leader and theirs in the field if I don’t observe?”
Faith said, “Can you take care of yourself? For real. I mean; not in those ‘controlled situations’ you were bragging about when you got here. Big difference, you know.”
Wesley started to speak and then stopped. “I’m not entirely sure,” he admitted. “I’ve never been field-tested. I think I can handle whatever comes, though.” He sounded confident – probably too confident – but not arrogant. “Also, I would like a crossbow. If you have a spare. I am reasonably certain of THOSE skills.”
“Very well,” Giles said. “Willow, now, are you sure you’re up to this?”
His question snapped Willow out of her confusion. “I stopped a group of zombies from blowing up the school. I think I can handle a few vampires.” She gazed sternly at Giles. “And I thought you were going to stop asking me that.”
“I intend to keep asking until you say no,” Giles said. “I trust you to tell me when that time is, however.” Not completely true; despite Will’s little Night of the Living Dead adventure, Buffy figured she was up for maybe another month or so or fieldwork before she got benched whether she wanted it or not. Everyone involved was hoping by that point she wanted it.
“I don’t know if my witchcraft is up to it, though. Can I borrow the tranq gun?” In the year or so they’d had Oz duty, they’d all gotten pretty good at using that. Willow was better than any of them. She’d practiced. And while a tranquilizer dart wouldn’t
“Certainly.” He clapped his hands together. “Are there any questions?”
Damn. He’d forgotten about how they were going to deal with Balthasar’s power. But Buffy wasn’t the only one who’d caught this. Oz said, “Telekinesis. Hard to fight.”
“Right,” Buffy said. “Gonna be kind of hard to fight if Fatboy Slim’s jerking us all over the room.”
“Ah. Right. Thank you for . . . reminding me, Buffy. The records indicate that Balthasar’s power, while great, is not unlimited – and he can only control one person or object.”
“Good,” Xander said in full sarcasm mode. “That means he can only kill one of us at a time.”
“If we keep moving,” Giles said a little impatiently, “We should be alright. Besides, you, Oz, and Willow are simply there as a distraction. Shoot off one or two bolts and leave. These warriors are too deadly for you to actually combat them.”
“I, of course, will not be leaving,” Wesley said. Everyone in the room looked at him. “Well, certainly not,” he said. “How do you expect me to observe if I’m not actually in the room?”
Faith shrugged. “Your funeral.”
“No one’s funeral,” Buffy said. “Wesley, at least try to stay back. And yell if you get in trouble.”
Again Wesley caught himself before answering. “I don’t anticipate being in any trouble,” he said cautiously. “But if it happens, I shan’t hesitate to scream.” Wesley seemed to have a clue. Only one, but that beat the none he’d showed up with.
“Good enough,” Buffy said. “That gives us the day to come up with any hitches or improvements. Sundown’s sometime after five—“
“5:19,” Oz said.
“So we should meet back here an hour or so earlier. See you all then.”
She looked over at Giles and nodded; it had gone well. Giles nodded back. Buffy suspected the way she they’d work through their problems was . . . well, work. They’d strategized together without much trouble. Maybe they’d need to talk it over at some point, but maybe they wouldn’t.
Actions spoke louder than words.
* * * * *
Inside the warehouse, Balthazar addressed his troops. Saying he wasn’t happy was something of an understatement. “Vincent made a noble effort. Man to man, as befits a true warrior. He had courage. He had honor. And I have JACK to show for it!” A bit more calmly, he said, “It's been a hundred years since my enemy me. Now ultimate power is within his grasp. And I shall NOT let it be! Forget about honor! Forget about everything but getting my amulet! Bring the Watchers to me! Find the Slayers and kill them! Kill everything that gets in your way! GO! GO!”
One of the vampires said hesitantly, “But it’s still daylight outside.”
Balthazar looked up and saw the sun streaming through the windows. “Oh. Right. Wait until sundown. But not a SECOND after, is that clear?”
The Deputy Mayor stopped. He knew better than to ignore the vampire. “Yes?” he asked. “What is it?”
“I need you to run an errand.”
“I don’t work for you,” Finch said, and started to walk away.
He was stopped by Trick’s hand on his shoulder. “All that means is that I can’t fire you,” he said. “Doesn’t mean I can’t kill you.” After a second, “Besides, this is on orders from the Mayor.”
Finch straightened up. “Why didn’t you say so?”
“More fun to watch you squirm,” Trick said. “I need you to deliver a message to the Slayers.” When he started to protest, Trick said, “I don’t care how you do it, or who you hire. But the Mayor wants them to know the details about Balthazar. In case they don’t already.”
Finch nodded. “He’s hoping they wipe each other out.”
“That’s the best case, sure,” Trick said. “Now get a move on. Wouldn’t want you to spend the whole day chasing them around. Sure you got plenty of papers to push.” Chuckling to himself, the vampire walked away.
* * * * *
About the only idea they came up with during the day made sense to Faith was figuring out how the teams would signal back and forth. Finally they decided that the decoys would just yell their lungs out if they got in trouble, and B would do the same; on the chance Angel got delayed B and Giles would come charging in anyway and let Angel pick up the pieces.
They all met in the library and divvied up the weapons and got ready to get going. There were only two crossbows available; to Faith’s total shock, Wesley went five for five on a target B set up.
Xander got a pair of knives instead.
Right around five they split. No point getting to the front door of the place too far past sundown; that’d just give the vamps time to skedaddle. Or to come out in force; Faith guessed they probably weren’t too happy with her about now, if honor was such a biggie to them.
One of the reasons B’d asked her to head up this decoy strike force was anticipating the bloodsuckers’d be so pissed at her they’d charge, which would kind of suck for her but would leave B and hers a great opening. Smart move on B’s part. And it wasn’t like Faith couldn’t handle herself.
Time came for the two groups to split and Faith began taking her group down the alley. B and Giles circled around the same block.
No one commented on the people carrying the weapons; Sunny D’s population was either too clueless or too used to it to care, apparently. Long as they didn’t call the cops, Faith didn’t care how they acted.
Behind them, Xander, Willow and Oz were having a conversation; they’d been having the conversation ever since they’d left the library. Faith could’ve listened in if she’d wanted to, but why? None of her business unless it got personal.
Wesley, now, he was doing the bored bit something fierce. Trying to act like he’d seen all this before and wasn’t impressed. If he wasn’t scared out of his mind, Faith would eat her stake.
The sun was down and they were just about there. “Shush,” she said, drawing her stake. “We’re getting close –“
She never finished the sentence.
Because coming around the corner was what had to have been a half dozen vampires.