She should’ve seen it coming.
Seriously, Sunnydale Syndrome was one thing, but they had destroyed
a top secret facility three year ago. Then they blew up the entire town. Of course people outside the bubble of obliviousness would notice. The real wonder was that something like this hadn’t happened a long time ago.
It was just… after so many years on the Hellmouth, she had kind of gotten used to doing the whole slaying thing without any interference.
Maybe in more ways than one.
Buffy sank back down on one of the swings with a sigh.
She knew things weren't right between her and the others, no matter how much they all pretended it was. Even her relationship with Angel had become strained – right around the time she started asking him for details about the whole Jasmine thing and his new position at Wolfram & Hart.
The problem was that she had no idea how to fix it. She didn’t even know if she wanted
to fix it. She was just so tired.
And now they had this to deal with.
Closing her eyes, Buffy went over her little meet and greet with ‘Hawkeye’ while it was still fresh in her mind.
Though she would never, ever admit it– because the man clearly had enough ego to feed the world – he was good. Really good. The shots he made with that bow of his, not to mention his stealthiness.
Yep, he may have been human, but he definitely wasn't some amateur off the street.
The most obvious guess was military, some kind of special ops. Aside from his skills, he knew way too much about her, and she bet that the government had a hefty binder on her after the whole Initiative thing. Also, 'Hawkeye'? If that didn't scream military handle, she didn't know what did.
But then, she also couldn’t forget his casual mention of Tony Stark, which, considering the timing, may have not been so casual at all – not that it mattered as far as his offer went. The slayers weren't for sale, and they definitely weren't a shiny new toy for some bored billionaire to play with, particularly when said billionaire was an asshat with a capital A.
Of course, they might not have a choice. She could still hear Hawkeye's promise that he was only the first of many to darken the slayer door.
With another sigh, Buffy opened her eyes and hopped off the swing.
She needed to tell the rest of the group about this.
Half-walking, half-jogging, she quickly made her way back to the Hyperion. When she finally reached the front door, she rushed in without a second thought, ready to rally the troops, wake them up, whatever, only to be hit square in the chest by a huge green, glowing ball of light.
“What the—” she exclaimed, closing her eyes and throwing her arms up instinctively as the light seemed to engulf her.
"Why do you even have a cell phone if you never bother to take it with you?”
Buffy’s eyes flew open, immediately reacting to the anger in her sister’s voice, the blinding light suddenly becoming a non-issue.
“Look, can we talk about this later?” she snapped back, as Dawn, Willow, Kennedy, Xander, Giles and Angel all came into focus. “I have—”
Before she could finish her sentence, she heard the door behind her open.
Buffy whirled around, more than ready to lay into whoever dared to enter at that very inopportune moment.
Then she saw who it was, and all she could do was stare in shock.
Apparently when it rained military men, it poured.
"Riley!” she heard Dawn exclaim.
“Hey,” Riley said, nodding to everyone in the room. Then he looked directly at Buffy, a small, nervous smile on his face. “Hi, Buffy. It’s good to see you.”
Buffy opened her mouth, but no words came out. Even though she had been warned that something like this was going to happen, she didn’t think it would be quite so quickly – or that they would use her ex to do it. And she definitely didn’t think he would actually agree to it.
Thankfully, Xander stepped in just then before the silence could get too awkward.
“Hey, Riley,” he said with a little wave. “Good to see you, man. Of course, it begs the question — why
are we seeing you? And how?”
Riley looked at Buffy for a beat longer before he turned toward Xander, the small smile turning into a genuine grin.
“It wasn’t too hard to figure out the places you might go,” he said with a shrug. “As for why, well, I heard about what happened in Sunnydale and I wanted to make sure you were all right.”
“Is Sam here, too?” Willow asked, craning her neck to get a look behind him.
Riley’s smile noticeably dimmed. “No.”
Willow’s eyes went wide. “Is... is she okay?” she asked in a hushed tone, obviously assuming the worst.
But Riley just shrugged. “Last I heard.”
No one knew how to reply to that. Well, almost no one.
Dawn, already on the warpath, stepped forward, her hands on her hips.
“So you rushed here in the middle of the night? Because you were worried about ‘us’?” she asked, giving Buffy a pointed look at the last part.
And cue the mortification.
Buffy felt herself flush at Dawn’s not so subtle insinuation; out of the corner of her eye, she saw Riley do the same. It was time to get this conversation back on track.
Before Riley could say anything that could be embarrassing or ego-bruising, she cleared her throat. Loudly.
“This isn’t a social visit,” she said frostily. “Is it, Riley?”
The deer-in-the-headlights look Riley gave her was priceless.
“How did you…” He cut himself off before he could say anything else, obviously trying to measure his words carefully.
At the same time, Angel, who hadn’t so much as moved a muscle since she had returned, stepped forward toward Riley, though his eyes were on Buffy.
“What do you mean, Buffy?” he demanded. “What’s going on?”
Buffy gave a humorless smile.
“Guys, we’re in the army now,” she said. “Or at least, we will be, if our personal recruiter here has a say in it.”
If she didn’t have everyone’s attention before, she had it now. She felt everyone’s eyes on her, obviously wanting her to make with the explaining. She ignored them for the moment, though, keeping her eyes on her ex, who had gone a little pale.
“Why don’t we take this conversation to the back office?” Giles interrupted.
No one argued with him. The last thing they needed was for the minis getting wind of it before they knew the full story.
Without another word, they all filed into the back room. As soon as the door closed, everyone’s eyes were on Riley, who shifted uncomfortably on his feet for a moment before he straightened up, almost like he was coming to attention.
“It was suggested that I take a trip to see you,” he admitted. Then he hastily added, “This won’t be like the Initiative. They just want to talk, I swear, nothing more, nothing less.”
Buffy didn’t know if Riley had purposefully put extra emphasis on the ‘nothing less’ part, but she heard it, loud and clear. Everyone else did, too.
“What do they think, we’re going to try to take over the world?” Xander joked.
Riley’s silence was more than a little telling.
“Seriously?” Xander exclaimed indignantly.
“You have a small army of super-powered individuals here who have an uncanny knack with weapons yet look like teenage girls,” Riley pointed out. “On top of that, you’re staying on the property of a vampire who is currently in charge of Wolfram & Hart, which is pretty much the epitome of ‘evil law firm’.”That
struck a nerve with the entire group, and it showed. More than one uncertain look was sent Angel’s way. In response, Angel growled – right at Riley.
Riley didn’t back down, though. In fact, he saw his advantage and went for it. “However you want to spin it, it’s the truth,” he said to Angel. Then he looked at the rest of the group. “They just want to know that you’re not a threat.”
Buffy wasn’t sold. “And what if they think we are? A threat, that is?” she countered.
Riley’s jaw clenched reflexively. “That’s why I’m here, so it doesn’t come to that.”
Buffy was all set to make with a snappy retort; it was on the tip of her tongue even. Then she saw the look in his eyes.
In that moment, she finally understood. The army was going to come for them, with or without Riley. And yes, maybe he was here because the military thought the personal connection would help persuade her and the others, but he was also here because he knew just how wrong this could go, and he was worried for them.
It made the bitter pill currently lodged in her throat a little easier to swallow.
Maybe sensing the change in her attitude, Riley took half a step toward her.
“Please just tell me you’ll think about it,” he said quietly, directing his words only to her this time.
Buffy gave him a sad smile. As much as she understood what he was trying to do, it didn’t change the facts.
“We’ll think about. Nothing more, nothing less,” she said, purposefully echoing his words.
Riley ran a hand over his face. He looked like he was going to say something, but then he changed his mind. Instead, he reached into his pocket and pulled something out.
“Here’s my number,” he explained. “I’ll be in town for a few days. Call me any time, okay?”
Again, Buffy heard what he wasn’t saying; they only had a few days. What came after, she had no idea, and she had a feeling she didn’t want to find out.
Very reluctantly, she plucked the piece of paper out of his hand.
Riley looked at her for a beat longer. “It really is good to see you,” he said. Then he turned and left.
As soon as he was gone, the room broke out into chaos.
“Save the world, get put on the no-fly list. How’s that for a thank you?”
“So what? We have to do whatever the government tells us to or they’ll Gitmo our asses?”
“Can they do that? Some of us here are US citizens.”
“Yeah, and some of the girls aren’t, but I bet all they have to do is say the word and they’ll be GI Janed.”
“We have to get out of here,” Buffy said amid all the noise. When no one seemed to have heard what she said, she repeated herself, this time a lot louder.
Slowly, all the conversation in the room died.
“You mean run?” Kennedy spoke up. “I’ll be the first one to tell the military what it can do with its Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but don’t you think running away just screams ‘we’re a threat, come hunt us down’?”
“Maybe,” Buffy admitted. “But I think it will be worse if we stay.”
“Buffy, I don’t think leaving the Hyperion is really the answer,” Angel said with a frown, looking a little offended by the suggestion. “You’re safe here.”
Buffy shook her head. "No, we're not. And neither are you and your group, Angel, not as long as we’re here,” she said. Then she took a deep breath. “Riley’s group isn’t the only one looking for us.”
She proceeded to tell them about her own little run in.
“I wondered why Riley made no mention of Faith,” Giles murmured.
“Huh? What’s that?” Buffy asked, thoroughly confused.
Giles cleared his throat. “It was the reason why we used the location spell to find you in the first place. Willow was looking into Faith’s record to see if she could somehow hack into it—”
“And it’s gone!” Willow blurted out. “Not expunged, or sealed, or anything else. It’s as if it never existed.”
What Buffy knew about the criminal justice system could fit inside a paper bag. Thanks to Faith's current problem, however, she had gotten a crash course on how to erase someone's record through non-magical means – and it was next to impossible. Even when the government stepped in and expunged a record, it was still there, just hidden.
Someone really powerful was at work here, and Buffy didn't like it.
"I really think we should consider leaving the Hyperion, maybe even the country, and go underground for awhile. We need time to think this through, without
being at the mercy of the military," she said.
She could still see the objections on their faces. Before they could actually voice them, however, Giles spoke up.
“I think that we should seriously consider that option, Buffy, and indeed, it just may come to that, particularly in light of our experience with the Initiative. However, I want to be absolutely sure before we do anything. This entire situation is unprecedented, and our actions will have consequences that will affect slayers now and perhaps for many years to come," he said. "We also need to learn more about this other group, if they are indeed affiliated with Tony Stark, and whether they were the ones to eliminate Faith's record. If they were, we should consider why they did not use it to blackmail us into compliance. I do find it strange that this Hawkeye made no mention of it. On the other hand, if they were not the ones responsible, then there is another group out there that we need to be aware of."
Buffy slowly nodded. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the others do the same. His plan made sense, for now. Still, she wasn't going to sit and do nothing.
She turned on her heel and began walking out the door.
“Where are you going, Buffy?” Dawn asked, the anger creeping back into her voice again, along with something else Buffy couldn’t quite identify.
Buffy chose not to react to it. Instead she continued to walk away, calling out over her shoulder as she left. "To follow our best lead.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Xander take a few steps toward her.
“She went up to the roof as soon as she found out about her record disappearing," he said pointedly.
There were two things no one mentioned in front of Faith anymore. The first was Tony Stark, not even to check and see if his story was legit. The second was her record, ever since Angel had pulled Faith aside to talk about some memory spell Wolfram & Hart could do.
To bring up both He Who Must Not Be Named and the disappearance of her criminal record in the span of an hour…
This could get ugly. She didn’t think they had much of a choice, though. Besides, Faith deserved to know if Stark was playing her.
"Thanks for the heads up," she said.
Then, before anyone else could stop her, she began to make her way up toward the roof, taking the stairs two at a time.
When she reached the roof access door, she paused, trying to think of the best way to start the conversation. Unfortunately, aside from breaking out into “It’s a Small World”, she had nothing.
Steeling herself, Buffy turned the door handle and pushed.“...you’re just throwing in the towel on us? Just like that?”
“It’s not gonna work, and we both know it."
Buffy had expected Faith to be alone, so it took her a minute to realize that she had walked in on a conversation. A very, very private one.
Frozen with embarrassment, Buffy could only stare as Robin and Faith whipped around to see had interrupted them.
Buffy cringed, but before she could do anything – like stammer out an apology and try to forget everything she had heard – Faith used the distraction to turn away from Robin, leaning on the edge of the wall and clearly signaling that she was done with the conversation.
There was an extremely awkward moment as Robin glanced back and forth between the two girls. Then he threw his arms up in disgust and stormed toward the door, purposefully avoiding looking at Buffy as he passed by.
Then he was gone, and it was just Faith and Buffy and a canyon of silence between them.
Buffy didn’t know what to do. Clearly, her timing couldn’t have been worse, and Faith wasn’t exactly hanging out the welcome mat. But leaving seemed wrong, too. She and Faith had really turned a corner the past few weeks, and she wanted it to stay that way.
Hoping she was making the right decision, Buffy walked toward Faith until they were standing side by side.
Faith glanced over at her and shrugged. “Five by five. What’s up?”
Buffy gave a crooked smile. “Not much. Just putting the ‘fun’ in the dysfunctional as usual.”
She had meant it as a joke – mostly – but Faith didn't laugh. In fact, Buffy could have sworn she looked a little exasperated.
“Little D still bent out of shape?”
Buffy couldn’t help the snort that escaped. “Is that what it’s called?”
Faith glanced at her again. Yep, there was definitely irritation there.
“Man, B, sometimes you’re really oblivious,” Faith said, shaking her head.
Buffy crossed her arms over her chest defensively. “What do you mean?”
Faith rolled her eyes. “Do you know that your sister gets like this every night when you go off on your nightly stroll? That she’s just waiting for that day you walk out that door and don’t come back before you guys have a chance to make things right?”
A rush of guilt and anger washed over Buffy at this little disclosure. She decided to focus on the anger.
“Yeah, well, you reap what you sow,” she snapped. “Maybe next time she’ll think before she kicks me out of my own house.”
To her surprise, Faith whirled around, hands on her hips and a supremely pissed expression on her face.
“Hey, I’ll be the first to say that none of us came out of that night smelling like roses. But do you honestly think that’s where all of this is coming from?” she asked. “Face it, B, your sister’s always getting left, and it freaks her the fuck out.”
“Do you mean when my dad left us? Or when mom died? Or when I
died?” Buffy asked incredulously. “Because I didn’t exactly have control over some of that.”
She thought she had a valid point, but Faith just waved her off.
“Gone is gone, B. Doesn’t really matter how or why, not when you’re the one who always gets left,” she said, her words coming out in an angry rush. “That shit does something to you, messes with your head. Makes you wonder if there’s something wrong with you.”
Then, almost as if she had said too much, Faith spun back toward the wall, her breathing harsh and erratic as she stared at the horizon.
At first, Buffy didn’t know what to say. What could she? The fact that Faith was talking like this at all was surprising, but to say something like this, something so obviously personal and painful—
And suddenly it clicked; at least, she thought
“Is that why you ended things with Robin?” she blurted out before she could stop herself. “Leaving before he can leave you?”
As soon as the words left her mouth, Buffy cringed, fully expecting to be told to mind her own business; in much more colorful terms, of course.
Thankfully, amazingly, Faith just seemed to find this funny more than anything else.
“What? Fuck, no!” she laughed, though it turned into a frown a second later. “Well, not totally, anyway.”
Encouraged by this response, Buffy pressed a little further. “Then why?”
Eyebrow quirking, Faith glanced over at Buffy before turning her gaze outward again.
“When Willow first talked about doing her mojo to get rid of my record, I didn’t think anything of it. Fuck if I cared how it got done. But then when people started talking about what it would mean... and then Angel came with his solution...”
Faith trailed off then, her knuckles whitening as she gripped the cement wall.
Buffy didn’t move a muscle, afraid that even breathing too heavily would make Faith shut down. She had no idea what Angel had said to Faith, as Angel had been very closemouthed about it – another straw on the ever-weakening camel’s back. More importantly, she didn’t know why Faith was so averse to it, whatever it was, to the point where it seemed to have damaged her relationship with Angel.
As the silence stretched on, however, it seemed like the moment was gone. Buffy even began contemplating whether she should leave to give Faith some space, when suddenly Faith turned toward her with so much pain and anger in her eyes, Buffy felt as if she had been dealt a physical blow.
“I don’t want to forget what I did, B,” Faith said hoarsely. “I don’t want you
to forget, either, any of you. This is supposed to be my chance for redemption, not to play house and pretend it never happened.”
Then she turned away again, angling herself so her face was hidden in shadow.
Buffy frowned, not liking where the conversation was headed one bit.
“That doesn’t mean you have to go it alone,” she pointed out. “Seriously, redemption is one thing. Self-inflicted punishment is another thing entirely. Besides, the role of tragic hero has already been filled. All those who deserve more than that need not apply.”
Faith laughed, and some of the tension visibly eased away. "Maybe,” she admitted. “Still doesn’t mean there’s a white picket fence for me. Not right now anyway. I mean, I have no idea who the fuck I am, let alone how to be a girlfriend.”
"But...” Buffy began. Then it hit her. “Oh. OH. You’re cookie dough, like me!”
This caught Faith completely off guard. “Say what?”
Buffy grinned. “We're cookie dough, still in the making. Until we're done, we have no idea if we'd go better with a glass of milk or tea or—"
She stopped short when Faith let out a huge guffaw.
"Well, it sounded better when I said it before," Buffy said testily.
Now Faith began to practically hyperventilate with laughter. "You actually said this out loud
before?" she gasped.
"I— Nevermind," Buffy huffed, knowing it would only make it worse to admit she’d said it to Angel, of all people.
Instead, she just waited until Faith got control of herself again – the whole five minutes it took.
"Thanks, B, I needed that.” Faith grinned as she wiped a tear away from her eye.
Buffy made a face, though she couldn't help the smile that tugged at the corners of her mouth.
“No problem. That’s what I’m here for,” she breezily replied.
Faith’s grin grew wider, and Buffy just knew another insult was coming, when something made Faith pause.
"Hey, why did you come up here?” she asked curiously. “You know, before the impromptu sharing circle?”
Buffy bit her lip, unsure of how to answer that, because honestly, after this conversation, there was no way she was going to ask anything of Faith where Tony Stark was concerned. At the same time, though, Faith needed to know.
“We’ve got a problem,” she finally said. “The military sent Riley here to Uncle Sam us. Otherwise, we’ll be considered a threat to national security. They’re not the only ones, either. There's also another group out there. One of their people approached me in the park, basically asking us to join them
. We have no idea who they are, though.”
Faith nodded thoughtfully as she took all this in. “And?”
Buffy hesitated, which made Faith throw her hands up in disgust.
“C’mon, I just poured my heart out to you like some pathetic made for TV movie. Throw me a bone here. Tell me what’s going on,” she demanded.
Against her better judgment, Buffy gave in. “The second group knows Stark. He may even be working with them,” she admitted.
She didn’t add anything about Stark possibly exploiting his connection to Faith. She didn’t have to.
Faith began pacing back and forth on the rooftop, almost like she was trying to burn off a sudden burst of energy. “You want to talk to him, see what he knows.”
Buffy nodded. “But don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it—”
Stopping dead in her tracks, Faith let out a short, harsh bark of laughter. “Oh yeah? Cuz the way I remember it, the last time you saw him, you looked like you were going to hurl him through a wall,” she pointed out. After a beat, she said, “I’ll do it.”
Then the pacing resumed.
“Faith…” Buffy said hesitantly.
“It’s no big,” Faith said, immediately shrugging Buffy’s concern away. “Paper says he’s still in his fancy building downtown, right?”
The fact that Faith knew that Tony was still at Stark Enterprises showed that she cared more than she wanted to admit. Buffy knew a resolve face when she saw one, though, so she just nodded, choosing to let it lie for the moment.
After a few more minutes of pacing, Faith came back to her spot next to Buffy. The two looked out over the LA horizon, clearly neither one of them jumping at the bit to leave the roof and face reality just yet.
For Buffy, her thoughts were on Dawn. While things weren’t fixed by a longshot, she definitely had some things to think about, all because of Faith... who was currently elbowing her in the side.
“On behalf of my ribs, what?” she asked, moving out of striking range as she spoke.
Faith shrugged nonchalantly, though Buffy could see the smirk playing around the corners of her mouth. “Nothing, just thinking that this is the first time we're on the roof of a building and we're not trying to kill each other,” she explained.
Buffy snorted. "Yeah, it's a real watershed moment for us.” +++
A/N: So yes, I’ll be addressing the ‘incident’. Because there are multiple POVs in this fic, however, I’ll be looking at what went down those last few days in Sunnydale from multiple – and sometimes contradictory – angles. I know people have very strong feelings on 'Empty Places' and the subsequent fallout, so I hope this isn’t too off-putting/confusing/etc.!
Big thanks to eset for the rec and to those who reviewed!
Happy New Year!!