Her thumb absently twisting the band on her right hand, Buffy swung a left into the subterranean parking lot.
She felt it the second the car made the turn and, judging by the frown that had settled across the features of the girl next to her, so had Faith.
"Somethin' doesn't feel right," the Bostonian confirmed.
"It's strange," Buffy frowned, swinging into a parking spot and killing the engine. "I...can't place it."
Faith looked around for a moment, frown still in place, before shrugging.
"Could be nothin' I guess."
The pair swung their doors closed behind them, the Chosen One pointing the small remote over her shoulder and locking the vehicle as they reached the elevator door.
Hands thrust in her pockets, Faith gave a nod to the duo who vacated the elevator, noticing with a small stab of anger how the Active's gaze lingered on Buffy for a few seconds before his Handler ushered him to the waiting van.
"Jackass," she muttered.
The pair descended side by side, reaching the main body of the House and slipping into a side room for Faith to change.
"I look like a fuckin' dork in this," Faith scowled, gesturing to her standard clothing.
"You look adorable."
She couldn't help but smile a little in spite of herself. "Yeah yeah, so you tell me."
"I'll come by and get your stuff after."
Buffy rolled her eyes.
"And this time I wont shrink your leathers in the wash, I promise."
"Good," Faith nodded, taking a step closer and pulling the blonde into her, "'cause y'know if you wanted em tighter all ya had to do was ask."
"Gotcha," Faith agreed, leaning in.
Buffy happily received the kiss, wrapping her arms firmly around the other girl's neck and pressing in closer before a mumble from the door broke their reverie.
They turned to Ivy, who stood awkwardly in the doorway.
"We're, ready upstairs."
The Slayers sighed almost in unison, following the woman to the imprint room in silence, where Topher sat waiting.
"Ready when you are," he greeted, waving in the direction of the chair.
Faith leant in to the Chosen One for a last kiss before reclining in the chair as Topher moved to her side, entering the final command and watching with the others as the familiar blue lights emanated from around the brunette's head.
As always, he avoided the eye of the other Slayer in the room.
"Did I fall asleep?"
"For a little while," he replied with a nod, his voice carrying a trace of something that was never quite there with the others.
"Can I go now?"
"If you like."
He watched Echo stand, Buffy moving composedly to her side, hand on her lower back ushering her to the door.
"Oh, Buffy, I...when you're ready, I need you back here."
"Back up," he explained with a nervy laugh, tapping the chair. "Routine bi-annual full scan back-up of all Dollhouse employees, you're next."
"I'll be back in five minutes."
He turned back to his machines as the Slayer's left the room, Buffy leading Echo gently down the stairs and over to the crafting area. As she sat, picking up the scissors and beginning to carefully snip at the small plant in front of her, Buffy couldn't help but smile, and let her gaze linger on the girl for a moment before turning away, making her way back towards the imprint room.
At the foot of the stairs she paused as the uneasy feeling settled over her once again, and turned to her left, weaving through a well-known sequence of doorways and rooms, coming to a halt in the empty hallway.
Moving slowly, carefully, the Slayer approached the door to her right, body coiled like a spring as she reached for the handle, the door swinging inwards a second before she reached it, revealing one of the last things she had expected to see.
"You?" she questioned, searching her mind for the name. "Reese?"
The blonde raised an eyebrow in silent question.
"Uh huh. And what the hell are you doing here?"
"We have a problem."
"Yes, we," the woman iterated, not attempting to disguise the irritation in her voice.
"A problem other than the fact that you're trespassing on private, very private, property?"
"Our presence on this premises is irrelevant when equated with the magnitude of other events," a new voice spoke from inside the doorway, it's owner revealed a moment later as the younger girl Buffy had seen with Sarah Connor previously emerged.
"Judgement day," the girl answered bluntly.
"What is-" Buffy cut herself off, "why am I even asking you this. Get out, before I throw you out."
"And why is that?"
"The end of the world."
Buffy raised an eyebrow, interested piqued.
"In about," Sarah glanced at her watch, "twenty minutes."
Buffy glanced briefly to her left, noting the seemingly permanent frown marring the face of the older woman, a stark contrast to the almost expressionless mask of the younger female.
They'd been far from forthcoming with Buffy about their intentions, faltering not even slightly in the face of a disposition which made even the most deadly of demons think twice. They had, however, been more than willing -almost eager- to accompany her to DeWitt's office; a fact which did little to put Buffy's mind at ease.
As the elevator doors slid smoothly open the Slayer's unease heightened rapidly, and she held out an arm to halt the advance of the woman about to step into the room.
"Something's not right," Buffy intoned.
"Your observation is correct," another voice confirmed from behind them.
"They're here," Cameron stated in Sarah's direction, her voice finally showing some hint of emotion.
"Shit," Sarah muttered as Buffy's eyes darted between the two, before she turning back to the office and ventured carefully inside.
A half-empty glass of something amber-coloured sat on the desk, the wide-screen monitor mounted on the wall showing all the normal goings-on of the House below them, and the breeze from the slightly-open window shook the blinds; the room, as far as Buffy could see it, showed nothing out of the ordinary.
The Slayer could feel her two mysterious companions behind her as she made her way across the office, stopping short when her eyes fell on a pale hand, barely noticeable from its position sticking out from behind the sleek leather sofa.
Moving swiftly over she breathed out a horrified "no" as her eyes fell on the still form of Adelle DeWitt lying prone on the expensive carpet, eyes wide and neck twisted at a gruesome angle.
Kneeling beside the woman Buffy felt for a pulse, more out of instinct than any real hope of finding one, the stillness beneath her fingers confirming what she already knew.
Closing her eyes for a second, she took a deep breath, before rising to her feet and facing the mysterious duo with ferocity that made even these seemingly unshakable newcomers take notice.
"What the hell is going on?" she demanded, advancing on the women, her whole body tense, ready for action at a moments notice.
"Sorry? Five minutes after you appear Adelle DeWitt is dead and you're sorry? Who the hell are you?"
She watched the two give each other a sidelong glance, the younger one nodding.
"Yes. And if you're hoping that knowing my name helps your cause, you're out of luck. All it does it make me more suspicious, and therefore more likely to beat you-"
"Wait," Sarah responded, holding up her hands in a gesture of accord. "Look, I- We're not the bad guys here, we-"
"The most logical decision would be for you to accept the given explanation," the other woman interrupted, "we're wasting time."
Buffy turned to her, raising an incredulous eyebrow.
"Cam's right. You have no reason to believe us, but we don't have time to stand here arguing with you. We've got to get moving."
The room fell silent as Buffy's eyes bore into those of each woman in turn. While she couldn't at all place whatever it was that lurked behind the gaze of the younger of the two, Buffy could spot a liar even more clearly now than ever, and despite her misgivings, she was certain neither one was deceiving her.
As she opened her mouth to speak, her eyes caught a movement on the large screen over Sarah's shoulder, eyes following the progress of a man on the lower levels she was quite certain she'd never seen.
"You said they're here." Spinning back to face the duo. "Who's here?"
"They are all in very great danger," Cameron replied.
"Oh God," Buffy breathed, already moving for the door. "Faith."
She turned back to the voice, the doors of the elevator already sliding open in front of her.
Considering objection for a moment, Buffy frowned as she realized she was still very much in the dark and eventually nodded, stepping into the elevator and stabbing at the button as the other two followed her in.
"It's statistically unlikely anyone will be injured."
Her anxiety seemed to be slowing the speed of their descent, her normal cool and composure beginning to show cracks as they drew closer to the House.
"What she means," Sarah cut in, "is that none of the people in here are a target, as far as we're aware. They're-"
"And was Adelle a target?" Buffy interrupted, taking a breath to steel her fraying nerves. "I just want to get in there and make sure she's ok, then I can deal with who, or what, ever he is."
Deciding against pressing the issue with a clearly very angry Slayer, the other two occupants opted for silence, each pulling their weapon from their waistband and clicking off the safety.
Buffy turned towards the metallic click, eyeing the guns with hesitation.
"I don't have the time or the option to argue with you," she stated firmly, "but, if you hurt any of them, I will kill you."
"He's not up this far yet," Buffy surmised as her eyes scanned the open space below them. "The lower levels are a maze if you don't know where you're going."
"It won't take him long."
"How do you-"
"It wont take him long," Sarah reiterated firmly.
Proceeding cautiously along the walkway, Buffy hurried down the steps at the far end, glancing over to the crafting area.
The Chosen One spun, hands balling into fists in front of her instinctively.
"Hey easy, what's wrong?"
"Boyd," she sighed. "There's someone here."
"I know, I caught him on the monitor in Claire's office, who-"
"I'll explain when I know."
"And you are?" he enquired with a frown, eyes falling on the Slayer's companions.
"There's something else," Buffy ventured, "Adelle...she's dead."
"What? How did-?"
"I don't know."
With a stoic nod, Boyd too retrieved his gun from its holster.
"I hate to interrupt," Sarah cut in, "but you don't know what you're dealing with," she directed to Boyd.
"I'm sure I can handle myself."
"It'll kill you."
Head snapping around to the speaker, Buffy studied her for a moment, before turning back to Boyd.
"Boyd, I have no idea what what's going on here, but there's no-one else I'd trust to stay with the Actives. Please?"
For a moment, he looked like he might disagree, before falling silent and nodding.
"I'll be up here," he nodded to the walkway above them.
"You two," Buffy instructed, turning to the two women, "I'm assuming you came in through the corridors."
Sarah nodded silently.
"Check them out, see if you can't find our mystery man."
"I'm going to find Faith, we'll be ok."
She watched Sarah open her mouth to speak again, and cut in before she had the chance. "I can take care of myself."
A sigh and another silent nod from Sarah, before she and Cameron set off in the other direction, drawing inquisitive glances from employees as they went.
Buffy breathed deeply for a moment as she let her body feel the familiar tingle in her spine, the connection she shared with her fellow Slayer, before taking off surely in her direction.
Darting through rooms and hallways, the Slayer rounded corner into a deserted hall, scowling to herself as she glanced around.
"Echo?" she asked, confusion evident in her voice as peered into each door along the hall, coming to the last.
An unnaturally strong grip on her shoulder halted her hand halfway to reaching inside her pocket for her key card, her muscles coiling as she spun to face the perpetrator.
"Echo," she breathed out, relief emanating from her. "What are you doing along here?"
"There's a bad man," Echo stated simply. "I was hiding."
"How did you-" she began, stopping herself. "You've got to come with me."
Buffy couldn't help but let go of a little of her tension watching Echo smile as she walked briskly alongside her through the hall, eyes glancing around to take in their surroundings without a care.
Their arrival in the main body of the House was greeted by an anxious-looking Topher, rushing down the steps to meet them.
"Uh, what's going on? Something's going on."
"I'm not sure," Buffy admitted, scanning the area for any sign of danger. "Stay with us."
"Really? Not, uh, hide till it goes away?"
"Feel free, but if I were you I'd be sticking with the two Slayers."
"Uh huh?" he queried, looking pointedly at Echo, who was now engrossed in watching several fish swimming circles in the nearby tank. "Not all that comforted."
Sarah and Cameron chose that moment to burst through the door opposite them, both looking distinctly dishevelled.
"You found him I take it?"
"We dealt with him," Sarah nodded, her permanently worried frown still in place. "But it's not over, there are things going on here that you have no idea of."
"I don't doubt that for a second," the Chosen One muttered, almost to herself as her eyes flicked down and caught the unmistakable glint of metal under a deep gash on Cameron's forearm. "What are you?"
"We don't have time. You," Sarah asked, turning her attention to Topher, "you're the guy in charge of the tech, right?"
"Well-" her words were cut short by a low rumble from above, followed by a slight flicker of the lights.
"No," Buffy heard Sarah breathe, already taking the stairs two at a time and making off along towards the elevator with Cameron.
Grabbing hold of Echo's hand, Buffy followed closely behind, Topher pausing for a moment as he watched before rushing after them as they all piled into the elevator.
"You need to start explaining" the Slayer demanded of Sarah Connor, receiving silence in reply as the doors slid open onto Adelle's office.
In unison, the two new-comers hurried to the wide window, yanking on the thin cord to raise the blinds, revealing the world outside.
"We're too late," Sarah sighed, voice dripping with the pain of defeat.
"Too late for what?"
Opening her mouth to question the woman further, Buffy came to stand alongside her, gaze captured by the activity outside the window; somewhere in the distance, the sky burned red before quickly giving way to a mushroom cloud of dense grey smoke.
"What-" She paused as she caught sight of the lone tear slowly tracing a path down Sarah Connor's cheek; watched as her previously emotionless companion wordlessly took hold of the hand that wasn't clutching her gun, eyes fixated on the destruction unfolding beyond the glass.
As a new thought occurred, Buffy silently retrieved the remote sitting by her on the desk and directed her attention to the the large monitor, flicking through the numerous news channels.
"Reports beginning to arrive from Washington confirm that recent bombings are not a result of government action-"
"Across the world, cities are feeling the devastating impact of-"
"It is believed that world leaders will be scheduling talks to-" the screen turned to static as the voice of the newsreader was abruptly cut off, Buffy's eyes glued to the screen.
"Why does the sky burn?"
The trio spun to Echo behind them, regarding the devastation with curious eyes, head slightly tilted as she pondered her own question.
"Because," Sarah answered after a moment, "I failed. And now the world's their's."
The words broke Buffy's contemplation, and she moved to stand in front of the other woman.
"Listen to me," she began firmly, "I still have no idea what's going on right now, but I've saved the world more times than I can count. This isn't going to be any different. Tell me what's going on. What's Judgement Day?"
Dropping Cameron's hand, Sarah moved to lean on the edge of the large desk, tucking her gun into the back waistband of her pants as she moved, eyes on the ground for a second before rising to meet the Slayer's defiant gaze.
"The day the Machines take over."
Buffy couldn't mask the scepticism in her voice. "Machines?"
Another low rumble sounded from behind the glass as Sarah sighed heavily, the sky darkening behind her with every minute they waited.
"15 years ago a man named Kyle Reese was sent back in time, to protect me from them. We had a son-" She stopped, and Buffy's mind reached back to the last time she'd encountered the woman, the conversation she'd listened in on.
"He died," she stated softly, the words coming out a half-question.
A silent nod before Sarah continued.
"John was to be the future leader of the resistance against Skynet, he'd sent Reese back, and then he sent Cameron," she explained, gesturing to the girl who was still staring fixedly out the window.
Buffy's mind spun with the influx of new information as she tried to fit the pieces together.
"Theorigin. An artificial intelligence computer program that was to become self aware, and initiate the elimination of the human race. We thought we'd stopped it, so many times. But every time one path closed, another opened."
"And it brought you here?"
"About eight months ago we found a new lead, tracked it here. And then," she scowled, "we received a call from a source in Boston." She paused again, shaking her head disappointedly as she crossed her arms over her chest. "A decoy. By the time we realized what was going on...well," she waved to the window behind her.
Buffy nodded in understanding, though not feeling entirely more knowledgeable now than she'd been previously; at the very least, she knew they couldn't stay here talking for much longer.
"First thing first," Buffy asserted, "I'm going to go out on a limb and say we shouldn't be standing several dozen stories above ground while the city's being blown apart."
Expecting the room's other occupants to follow she turned and made for the door, drawing to a halt as she realized she was standing alone and turning back to the room.
"Hey," she addressed the room firmly, taking a few steps towards them. "This isn't it, we don't stop here."
Her eyes scanned the room; Topher with his gaze fixed on some unseen point out of the wide window, Echo still regarding the destruction on the other side of the thick glass with interest, Cameron with her back turned to the group, and Sarah with her eyes fixed on Buffy's own, as if making some decision, some analysis.
After a few more silent seconds, Sarah opened her mouth to speak, cut off by words from the room's only male.
"What lead you here?"
"The tech," Sarah admitted, standing from her position by the desk.
"You said the- Skynet, it originated from AI?"
"Oh God," Buffy breathed out in sudden realization.
"It is logical to assume that Skynet's origins are located within this establishment."
The others turned to Cameron, who had finally turned away from the nightmare outside to face them.
Topher backed up to the wall, leaning against it and frowning disbelievingly. "I did this..."
"It is probable."
"Enough," Buffy cut in, stern eyes on Cameron. "We have to go-"
A deafening crash from the far corner of the room cut her words short as the office began to shake; though from events outside or the crackling blue shape forming in the corner, the Slayer wasn't certain.
"What-?" Topher yelled over the noise of glasses shattering against the floor, shielding his face as paper's flew about the room in the gale that seemed to be passing through.
"It's a portal," Buffy observed, her hair whipping haphazardly about her face as she reached out a hand to pull Echo behind her, sheltering her from whatever might emerge.
"Temporal rift," Sarah corrected. "Something different about that though," she called over the noise, yanking her gun from her waistband again and directing it at the widening portal while Cameron mirrored her actions.
For her part, Buffy frowned at the pair speculatively. "You've seen it before?"
The five watched in silence as the shape grew, the noise of the room making any attempt at conversation worthless. It extended the full height of the wall before flashing a brilliant crimson, a dark mass forming in the centre before it got to its feet and stepped surely into the room.
With arms crossed across her chest, Adelle DeWitt peered down at her own lifeless body and quirked a perfect eyebrow.
"Well, that's unfortunate."