A/N: I would like it noted that today is a Bad Day. Also, my posting is catching up with my writing, which is not good. Thank you all kindly for your comments.
In which Buffy has a staring match with papers. Very important papers. And a scorch mark.
Buffy sighed and poked at the thin stack of paper in front of her with one finger, glaring. It glared right back. She considered pulling the knife she’d won off Roque and using those papers to test its sharpness.
Really considered it.
Instead she pushed them to the left and inspected the longish scorch mark in the wood of the table. It was from a bullet, she could tell. There were more matching pock marks scattered over the table and a few holes in the walls of the safe house. The whole place had the look and smell of a few heists gone wrong.
A few years ago, staying in a house that was so obviously not
safe would have made her cringe. The bullet holes, the blood stains on the carpet in the lounge, all these things would have made her uncomfortable.
A lot had happened since then. She’d spent a few months helping Giles and Willow pull the new Council together until Graham had saved her from death by boredom and offered her a job. Liaison between the newly formed Para Squad and the equally new Council.
He’d had her at ‘hi’, but he laid it all out nicely for her. A branch of the military devoted to killing demons. Him and Riley in charge. No more experiments, no more Walshes. They could use her expertise, he said, in training people, teaching them what to kill and who to leave alone. She’d gone and within a month she’d been in the field, doing what she was good at: slaying.
The more seasoned Para people joked that she was Unit One, the very first and only unit made up of a single person. She lived up to the rep, that was for sure. It was a transitory life, always on missions, often with other people, equally often alone, and her downtime spent helping out around the Council, taking slayers on their virgin cruises. She spent the minimal amount of time in conference rooms, but even that took up time. Always busy, always moving.
She didn’t even have an apartment anymore, content to always be moving or, on the rare occasion when someone managed to slow her down, crashing on Dawn’s sofa.
She liked it that way. She really, really did. But she never quite got rid of the feeling that all the moving
she was doing was really searching
and she had no idea what for.
All she knew was that home wasn’t home anymore. Dawn and the Scoobies said too much time with the army had changed her but she was pretty sure she’d been different before she started hanging out in mess halls and field camps. Harder, more jaded. Sunnydale’s last days had killed something in her that hadn’t come back from the grave quite right in the first place.
Pity, pity. She didn’t miss those parts unless her family was holding up a mirror for her to see what was different.
Finding, she thought. When Lt. Colonel Franklyn Clay had asked for a Para Unit to help his Special Ops team in Columbia, she’d been sitting on the other side of Gray’s desk, listening to the conversation. And when he’d hung up the phone and looked at her, she’d simply nodded and gone to pack her things.
And then, Clay at the heli-pad, all gruff and grim and polite, Roque with his knives, attacking her like a rabid dog and laughing after she put him on his ass. Texas and Snake and their silly games, those conversations they had over comms concerning her ass and her boobs, forgetting she could hear them.
That op in the middle of the jungle, Clay’s muttered comment about ‘Jungle Expedition Porn’ right before he’d asked her to stay because with her the Losers had five members again, as they were supposed to.
It wouldn’t even be a lot of paperwork. She had the clearance, had the qualifications and could pretty much do whatever she wanted in the army. The brass knew what they had in her. This time around, at least.
She’d told Clay that it would mean the Losers would get more jobs like the last: demons and other assorted nasties, instead of the straight-up human jobs they were used to. He’d shrugged, grinned and said it’d be a challenge for a change.
And then he’d come back two days later and handed her those papers. The ones that were glaring at her. She pushed them back to their original place, straight in front of her and tilted her head to one side. She hadn’t signed them yet.
Didn’t know if she would.
Did she want to be part of a team again? A team where she was not the leader? A team like the Losers?
That was where the true dilemma lay. She liked this team. She liked the dynamic, liked the spirit, the gallows humor, liked the typical luck the unit seemed to have. Us against fifty dudes with AKs, man.
It was a running joke between them that it always came down to exactly that.
And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the past week, Buffy had cut up a pair of her favorite jeans to play a completely idiotic blonde, lie her ass off and then fight her way into the compound of a drug-lord, where she’d proceeded to kill a dozen demons with the running commentary of the Losers in her ear, critiquing her technique, her butt in those pants and the sloppy security of the place. After that, she had deputized Roque and together, they’d spent an hour chopping off heads and carving out hearts and when he’d been done, he’d chased Snake around the place with his bloody hands, making zombie noises.
To summarize: there’d been blood, guts, hearts and those guys had still laughed and cracked lewd jokes. Crude, rude and very, very numb to the horrors of the world, but still laughing.
Buffy fit right in with an ease that scared her because it didn’t scare her at all.
And now she had to make a choice. Sign those papers and stay, let herself slip into the easy rhythm she was already half used to. Become a Loser and make these men her new family. Belong to them, with them, and let go of the girl she’d been. Become Summers, the woman, instead of Buffy, the girl. There wasn’t much difference between the two, except for how Summers didn’t try to hide the unpretty parts of herself like Buffy did.
Or she could refuse to sign, pack up her bags and go back to Gray and Ri and Dawn and the Council and travel the world alone.
Maybe this wasn’t what she’d been searching for. Maybe, in a few months, she’d have enough of Roque’s constant anger, Clay’s knowing smirks, and the boys' idiocy.
But maybe not.
And she couldn’t…
“You still staring at those things?” Clay entered the room in a cloud of cigar smoke, sitting down on the chair across from her, tapping the contract with an amused air, fat cigar between his fingers.
Buffy didn’t lift her gaze as she said, “No.”
He laughed and his breath smelled like booze. Booze and cigars and sweat and blood and fistfights. Clay and his men were a far cry from anything little Buffy had ever dreamed her life to be.
Dawn and Willow would call them ‘seedy’ and shudder. Xander would be intimidated and try to downplay it with dumb jokes. But Buffy… Buffy had fit right in with Faith’s crudeness, with Spike’s brashness, with the soliders’ joking around at the Initiative.
Buffy hadn’t ever dreamed of sitting in a bullet-riddled safehouse in Columbia with a man who made a living of killing other men, but she’s always fit in surprisingly well with the undesirables of the world.
So why the hell was she still pussy-footing around?
“You want a pen?” Clay asked, none too subtly.
She snorted. “I thought you sign this type of thing in blood.”
“I’m sure Roque has a knife you can use, if you feel like doing this the old-fashioned way,” the Colonel offered without missing a beat. He took a drag of his cigar and leaned back in his chair, making it creak ominously.
She pulled the knife from the back of her waistband and laid it on the table between them without comment. Clay barked a laugh.
“Why’d you offer me the job?” she asked on impulse.
“You’re good at what you do,” he shrugged, picking at a scorch mark in the table, utterly unconcerned with where it came from.
“I’m the best at what I do,” she corrected, with more tease than heat. She was
the best. There was a reason Para referred to her as a complete unit.
He smacked the table once with his palm flat, applauding her. “That’s the kind of attitude we like around here.”
And that was, kind of, exactly her point.
She looked at him, very levelly, before asking, “Pen?”
He fished around the pockets of his cargo pants for a minute before coming up with a black and a red pen. Thinking he was funny, he handed her the red.
She took it with a roll of her eyes and signed the papers. And then, for the hell of it, she colored in the scorch mark on the table, too.